Friday, 8 November 2013
Second leg of the High Speed Train – the fifty minutes had disappeared before I got the chance to even half-finish writing my talk for the School of Nursing, due at 1330. And – in Taiwanese hospitality fashion that I’m now getting too used to – Lue’s ophthalmologist sister had invited us to lunch. Ten minutes back at the hotel afterwards to hastily scramble together the rest of the talk, as a Prezi.
Arrived at the talk just in time, to an audience of about 50 – mostly young student nurses. A bit of a technical glitch (almost exactly the same as last Saturday) when they couldn’t get my laptop to connect to the ceiling projector, so had a bit of jokey banter with the audience which seem to relax everybody – or at least it did me, and probably not the frantic technicians who were on their third projector by this time. I couldn’t really do without it as most of the talk was a photo slide show about different aspects of greencare. But it sparked into life and I was off – for about an hour. After the talk we had a good half hour for questions, and what good questions they were too: from ‘how do I start it on my ward?’ to ‘what is the inspiration that people need to get engaged in it?’ to ‘if it is aesthetic, how can you show that?’.
Off to the northern end of the metro to see sunset over Fishermans Wharf from Lovers Bridge in Tansui, and the planes streaking across the purple sky reminding me where I would be in just over 12 hours. Ever willing to pack in a few more activities, we then went to see Lue’s brother in the ophthalmology practice which he shares with his sister – but he was overcrowded with patients, so it was just a quick ‘hello’. Interesting to see how a medical clinic looks though (busy!).
Anxiety then started to rise as my nostrils twitched and Lue led me to sit down in a fast-food joint, opposite but about 10cm away from an attractive young Taiwanese woman who was tucking into a large bowl of rice noodles. It was almost embarrassing to have to watch her expertise with the chopsticks from 10cm away, but I think I picked up a couple of useful tips about how to hold them together, and how to shovel considerable volumes in without dropping it all over the place.
The anxiety was turning to panic as we waited and watched – then it arrived: the challenge was on. Having failed to master the art of enjoying stinky tofu the first time round, I was to be allowed a chance to redeem myself. Lue made it sound even more attractive by explaining that it was in a spicy dish with large intestines. I also found a large vermillion jelloid mass in my bowl, which I thought might be liver – but I was informed was clotted pig’s blood. So – unable to bear the shame and humiliation of a second failure – I dug the sponge-like slabs of stinky tofu from the bottom of the bowl, thought of England and demolished them. By the third or fourth I was almost wondering if I was getting to like them, but I don’t think I’ll be doing an experiment to find out for sure any time soon! Sadly, I was too full by then to manage the intestines and pigs blood – and simply basked in the triumph of my gastronomic achievement.
From there back by metro to the ‘must see’ Shilin night market – dazzlingly bright, noisy and smelly (guess what of!). The food hall downstairs was utterly bonkers – how could so many people be packed into a vast brightly-lit underground hangar with raw food bits of everything imaginable and more besides, mountains of freshly cooked food stacked up in every direction you could look, stalls, cafes, cooks, and swarms of people seemingly all mixed in together ? But so it was; we had a modest bowl of soup and single dumpling.
I have already mentioned a few branches of Lue’s extensive family, and as we were walking off the metro, we met two more of them, who were duly introduced to me. And – just to top the lot for warm and generous gestures to a stranger like me – they insisted I took packet of special spiced pork to have as my supper when I got back to the hotel. Food they had bought for themselves and their families, they gave away to a poor starving wretch like me!
And so, with hospitality overload and gratitude fatigue, and not quite having captured in this blog what Taiwan is really like, to bed. What an extraordinary week, and what amazingly generous and kind people.
New Thing of the Day
The frenzy of the food floor at the night market – and the question to which I need to give serious thought: why are Taiwanese people so thin?
Thursday, 7 November 2013
Another of those hang-around-and-see-things-as-you-like days today – with Sun Moon Lake and two spectacular temples on the itinerary.
New Thing of the Day
The thought that humble little bumble bees can mutate into murdererous flying death balls the size of a small bird.
Wednesday, 6 November 2013
Taiwan looks like a simple teardrop-shaped island on the map, about as long from one end to the other as it is from London to Newcastle, and from side to side about as far as Manchester to Birmingham. But in fact is a bit more like a doughnut – where you can’t get across the hole, because that’s where the impassable central mountains are (impassable, that is, except for some very slow and treacherous mountain passes). So, with Yuli half way down the rural and thin eastern coastal strip, and Puli right in the middle of the island, west of the central mountains, the distance from Yuli to Puli is just under 50 miles as the crow flies. But, because of the doughnut effect, we took all day travelling about 280 miles between them to do it – in an enormous loop around the south of the island.
And, to make matters more interesting still, we used almost every conceivable mode of transport we could – except a helicopter, which would have got us there in half an hour and not been half as interesting. So we walked out for our usual breakfast, got a taxi to the local station and then the ordinary train – four hours from Yuli to Kaoshung (the country’s second city). Then the deal-cracking friend drove us around Kaoshung, including lunch on the harbourside with a Ferrari and Lotus parked outside – now I’m not a car buff, but I know that they are seriously rich men’s (almost certainly) toys. Inequality is more important than GDP as Wilkinson and Pickett have taught us, and as Lue was explaining in its Taiwanese context to me last night. Anyway, so it must have been a good quality restaurant – and indeed we were not to be disappointed once inside: fish, fish, and fish and then a bit more fish. Then unknown fish organs (which looked a bit like kidney flesh). With a little bit of rice noodle and vegetable on the side. And we saw them all wriggling and crawling when we arrived and chose them – so as fresh as could be (except the organ bits didn’t wobble or quiver – obviously).
Then we took a ferry boat across the harbour to visit the old British consulate, and had tea – colonial style - with a commanding view over the ocean and harbour entrance. Two friendly nations, both with an obsession about tea – but, despite the elegant Staffordshire bone china, I’m afraid the English Tea was like nothing I have ever or ever will drink in the UK. Very pleasant, just a quite different drink. But then I very much doubt that London Taiwanese tea – like Oolong - can be made to taste anything like it does over here.
|Tea at the old British Consulate in Kaohshung|
The train was extraordinarily fast, smooth, quiet and comfortable – and wide. The indicator at the end of the carriage read that we were doing 292kph, about 185mph. Exactly 42 minutes to zip up from the far south to the middle of the west coast – hardly time to get to the noodles and nuts at the bottom of the dinner plate. So four hours to go half way down the east coast, and less than three quarters of an hour to go half way up the west coast – which means it must be a pretty wonky shaped doughnut to flog the analogy to death…
Then the bus to Huli – a bustling brightly lit city of about 100,000 with what seems like an endless succession of roundabouts: the Milton Keynes of the Far East? Finally to Lue’s home village, a few minute taxi drive into the mountains from Huli. Journey’s end, for today at least.
New Thing of the day:
Travelling on a train which feels more like a (super luxury) plane, and barely having time to finish a plate of food in 120 miles.
Tuesday, 5 November 2013
Another day, another few and varied meals ahead.
We started with a short walk to a breakfast cafe and had an egg and noodle pancake-type thing wrapped round a slightly sweet load-bearing element. Easy! Uncharacteristically, I was rather relieved to find it was not involving octopus, garlic, chili or any really strange new tastes, textures or smells.
Then to visit various centres of the hospital group, after paying a courtesy visit to the superintendent and deputy superintendent: both psychiatrists. My over-riding impression was of sense of space, and apparent belongingness, even in wards of over 100 patients. Yu-Li, being a rural area with much space, takes more than 80% of its patients from outside Heulein county. But I was left feeling that we have lost something in the UK by selling off large rural estates, as well as spacious urban ones, to property developers - and rehousing many of our most frail and vulnerable citizens in 'fit-for-purpose' pressure-cooker hospitals and therapeutically vacuous community residences.
But there is always greencare - and I was shown round the hospital farm, which has 34 hectares of arable land, and where suitable patients find work, and cycle to and fro from the hospital. The main production is of rice - they have paddy fields as far as the eye can see, and all the machines to turn it into 25kg sacks ready for the kitchen. In fact, it does just about suffice for the 2500 patients in the hospital group. They did have pigs until the price of pork fell too much, a few years ago. I was confident and enthusiastic with them that it could all be turned into a thriving greencare therapeutic community!
|Greencare - Taiwan style? [Hospital in the distance, paddy fields in the background]|
Then over the coastal mountain range for a rather special lunch: a seafood restaurant on the Pacific Ocean in the sunshine. Phoned Ben in California (trying to wave was not successful), -16h, and Nicky at home, -8h: felt like we were truly spanning the globe! Then a great drive south along the pacific highway to a visitor centre, and back across the mountains.
Just a small dinner with some work colleagues, he had said. Well, two tables each of 15 people from the hospital was not small in my book*. The seating had to be carefully arranged to maximise the Chi - me next to the superintendent, who was next to the deputy superintendent, with Lue my host on my right, all on the psychiatrists' table (including the friendly resident who was laughing the whole time); the others were adjacent. Then there was the food: lobster, chicken, lamb, tofu, prawns, crab, pork, more strange chicken legs, ostrich, duck, special rice and then birthday cake. With toasts throughout, to and from everybody - collectively and individually. Maybe a bit like group analysis' maxim of 'in the group, of the group and by the group'!
Then the big one - thankfully not in the restaurant where I would have to do it in front of the assembled multitude - STINKY TOFU. Bought home in a double-layered plastic bag (which still had me quivering) presumably to prevent undue atmospheric pollution (I reckon horse poo, though Wikipedia says ripe cheese and decaying flesh), Lue decanted onto a plate for me. But I had a 1cm piece and knew that I was not going to be able to see it through. "Oh well, at least you can tell Nicky the the food was horrible so she doesn't get jealous of your trip", said Lue, quite helpfully.
* Banquet number 6 (I think!)
New Thing of the day
It has to be stinky tofu
This is the first thing yet
that has truly defeated me..
This is the first thing yet
that has truly defeated me..
Monday, 4 November 2013
Time to wind down a bit today: Lue is at work, so he has asked a driver friend to take me to see Taroko National Park. Utterly spectacular, not easily describable in words, so I won't try.
|Safety helmet? Moi?|
NEW THING OF THE DAY
Sitting in natural spring water at 46 degrees