a reflection: and though much of the detail has now become muddled with time and lost in a translation lattice, language in itself is never comprising... and so i settle on this reflective compromise. as i left Lugu, stumbling through my poorly prepared taiwenese goodbye, the chang family, eyes rounded red, stuffing gift bags of tea and dried salty plums in my arms, pulled me into strong hugs and last minute snapshots. i felt honored and spoiled by their kindness. i felt humbled to realize how much more i have to learn. my mind now is swarming with a hazy swell of the taiwese everyday- where family is still family, yet this one is extended with Ama (grandma) living next door and Ping Ping as the polite cook n' clean (in traditional taiwan the son's wife will move in with her inlaws)- where groceries are still pricey yet most locals rely on the early morning hucksters circling round town blaring the contents of their truck bed over a loud speaker (cheap veggies, seafood, whole chickens that they chop-up right in front of you)- where birthdays are still celebrated with cake and candles but (at least in the case of Ama who was turning 81) also involves about 30 relatives visiting, playing mahjong till 2am, and drinking rice wine shots and tea chasers. i'm still processing. home cooked meals (usually prepared by Ping): very simple, always with meats and veggies, lots of garlic and ginger, exotic mushrooms, tofu, and my particular favorite bamboo, about 6 plates in front of you and left overs will be kept under a little table-umbrella (to keep away flies) for dinner, and always end with fruit and tea.
Ping took me to her parents house who live about two hours away. her dad is a retired fireman, i'd describe him as a gentle giant, and her mom flits about totting a strong and youthful spirit. they are Haka (an indigenous taiwanese tribe) who own a persimmon/ asian pear farm that they themselves work everyday. the farm resembles the board game candyland where you can look out onto miles of dwarfed trees with bright white blobs poking off branches. these are actually the persimmons covered in white paper bags to keep away the worms: untie the bag and cut the fruit close to the stem. Ping and i picked about four heaping baskets full in about an hour. their dog Abi (means 'ugly' in haka language) would lounge about and fetch stones as we worked. i like Ping for her honest work ethic, eagerness to speak english (always prepared with her computer dictionary- hey it got us through words like alkaline!!), and love for taiwanese traidition. when we entered her house there was a small shrine dedicated to her great grandfather who had passed the year before at the age of 103, with large red candles glowing against his gold embossed headshot. she lit some incense for him and said a prayer. ancestors in taiwanese culture are very much respected, and though the average taiwanese youth may not know much farther back than an average american (Lin confessed she really only knew about her great grandfather) they are still honored. last friday was a day of ancestral worship where Ping, Lin, Mrs. Chang, Ama, and I cooked a meal which they placed in front of their family shrine. each took turns praying and after brought the food back to the kitchen for our lunch. Lin said "our ancestors ate from this food...they didn't eat very much."
Ping also took me on a fieldtrip with Lugu's "I Love Tea Association." the bus trip started with an obnoxious chair woman commencing the fun with a little kareoke at 7 inthe morning. she shoved the microphone in my face... i said too early... the others agreed. we visited the black tea museum. i took advantage of learning how our own green tea differed, which has mostly to do with the withering process and extended baking time. the museum emphasized organic agriculture and the lunch they served was amazing: all natural, all handmade. the bamboo i was munching on could be seen swaying outside the window. the bus load of ladies and i, as well as lon lon who was one of two men, rode the bus around sun moon lake, one of the most scenic spots in taiwan, stopping periodically to look at some aboriginal art while sucking on champagne popsicles. the family and i had made plans to camp around sun moon lake, but Ama's birthday was that weekend and so we settled on camping in front of the tea plantation where mr. chang was preoccupied with the kareoke machine in the guesthouse, Ping left to watch 'lies of love' (a very popular korean soap opera that seems to run 24/7), and the mahjong players/ wild dogs made sleep impossible. i did teach them about smores though!
my memory is a whirlwind: wedding cookies, mountain biking, natural paper discovered while hiking, carving a pumpkin, restaurants with lazy susans and 10 course meals, forced to drink with Ping's uncle Peter Pan (yep, actually saw his business card), philipenoes taking care of the elderly, walking through the neighbors coffee plantation and getting free samples, rice bran for breakfast, siestas, Jew's ear mushroom, chinese medicine (don't eat ice on your period), hair washing as a popular past time (mine turned out looking like a poofy helmet)... and feeding the fish. and so the foggy of my memory...