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Tuesday, November 20, 2012

The Moochfest Continues

In which I take it easy for a week. 
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I arrived in Taiwan nice and refreshed.  When I reserved my ferry ticket, I got a coupon for a free upgrade from “Middle Class C” to “Middle Class B,” which turned out to be one of the “Luxury Suites” on the boat.  Apparently not may other passengers had the same good fortune, because I had the room and all six beds to myself.  And a private bathroom!  Fancy that.  This group of traveling dancers was also on my boat.  They had done a brief performance outside the ferry terminal in Xiamen, and did another one immediately upon deboating in Keelung.
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Within twenty minutes of arriving I had already met the mayor of the city!  Imagine that.  He even gave me a business card.  It was printed on flimsy paper rather than on stock.  Interesting. 
(Thank you to random photographer guy for neglecting to get my bicycle in the frame.)
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I lucked out when Teddy came up to chat with me and wound up leading me to the road I needed to follow  to Taipei.  Thanks, dude!  He’s a reporter for a local paper, so we did a little interview on the spot.  I showed off my 2-month old water bottle and the wooden chopsticks I’ve been reusing since who knows when. 
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After 20km on route 2, I finally found the Keelung River bike route.  Another 10km and I finally started to see some scenery I recognized, including the "Grand Hotel” in the background.  I’m almost home!
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Taipei 101 in the distance. 
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At long  last, reunited with my Taiwanese family!  Little Bro on the left, his girlfriend Apple, Uncle, and Auntie.  For five days straight they stuffed me with mountain vegetables, Domino’s pizza, GUAVAS, and other sorts of goodness.  

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The fields the provided the grub for the above meal.

Apple’s a fan of Winnie the pPooh….
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Uncle runs some sort of kitchen remodeling factory and is quite handy with all manor of things.  Here he and Bro are soldering some connections on one of my helmet lights. They also fixed my flashlight up. 
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We also took a trip to Shilin Night Market, home to millions of fruit vendors, fast-ish food stalls, and clothing of all varieties.  I believe this shirt belongs to the “unintentionally zen” series. 
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While us young’uns were out at the night market, Auntie cooked up some amazing focaccia bread for my road trip the next morning.  Nice and dense, stuffed with black beans, walnuts, sunflower seeds, raisins and more.  Even more impressive, she made it in a skillet! 
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The next morning I set out for Yilan, where Luke and Tanya live.  The first 50km were essentially retracing my steps back to the port city, Keelung.  Once I got off the river path, it was pretty boring riding.  One endless small town, tons of shops, tons of stoplights.  I did pass this beautiful cemetery though. 
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Eventually I got out of the mountains and reached the water!  I was hoping it would be the Pacific, but technically it’s just the Philippine Sea.

While snacking on some oranges and auntie’s bread, I ran into this couple on a honeymoon tour around Taiwan.  Awesome!
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I was already 55km and 3.5 hours into my trip when I ran into the honeymooners.  I thought I had about 60km left.  It turned out to be more like 85.  After riding what felt like allllll night (thank the Lord that I had fixed my flashlight the night before!), I finished off my longest day yet (140km).  I expect it’ll take me about a week of vegan buffets and good times with pals from a past life for me to recover.  Woohoo!

Sunday, November 18, 2012

Week 9-11 Food!

Our first run-in with fresh sugar cane!  It looks like bamboo with a big tuft of leaves at the top.  The vendors use a machete to hack off the bark and then to chop it into foot-long sections.  When you bite into it, all the cell walls collapse and you get a mouthful of sugar water.  Then you get to spit out all the fiber. A stalk as tall as me costs a dollar.  A wonderful, natural, plastic-free desert.

For several days, we couldn't find anywhere serving rice and had to "make do" with stir-fried noodles.  Life is rough.

Another favorite, which I eat almost every chance I get: sweet potatoes!  Awesome to eat right away, or while riding, or to pack up and save for dinner at the campsite.  Filling and creamy and healthy and, ,of course, cheap: between $0.50-0.75 a pound.

OK, I didn't eat this, but I am including it because of its plant status.  Meet Loofa, my new dishwashing helper.

Booya, I was able to read enough of this menu to know that I had to stop and order the following:

Xiang la something cai cai bao (aromatic spicy something veg veg dumpling).

Qingcai Qingqie bao (green vegetable green something dumpling)

Zhima hwasheng bao (sesame seed and peanut dumplings).  All of them, 12 for a dollar.  


Down south, they have another style of dumpling called "Caibao" (vegetable dumpling.)  It's super greasy, so the locals recommend stuffing it between hamburger rolls.  The taste puzzled me for a minute until I realized that it was full of seaweed.  Wouldn't have been my first choice but...actually, it was quite nice.  

Another thing I'm always happy to find: broad beans.  Usually they're quite oily and salty, but these must have been baked rather than fried.  Great as a salad topping or as an anytime snack.  Also plastic-free if you buy them from the right place.

Oh, the joys of pomelo.  First, peel off the giant rind.  (So thick, I hear, that there are no bugs that bother gnawing through, so farmers don't need to spray any pesticide on them).  Second, peel off the thin layer of wax-paper like skin to reveal this weird clump of juicy little cells.  Third, in the words of my very dear father, "EAT THE GODDAMN THING."  Go back to step two and repeat again on the next little compartment, zoning out in the monotony and savoring the taste.

Even the cauliflower is good here!

I have a stove, but this is the only "cooking" I do nowadays.  Carrots, cukes, tomatoes, raisins, and whatever nuts or beans I have on hand.

I've been carrying around three pounds of couscous since the beginning of the trip, but food is so cheap and abundant and novel that there's never any need to cook. When presented with the chance, I made a big batch, just to get rid of it.  Fried peanuts, sauteed onions, garlic, and carrots, a bit of vegan bouillion...magnificent.

Breakfast: Scallion bread, scallion pancakes, two pastries with peanut filling, one peanut with green lentil filling.  Cost: $1.  IHOP eat your heart out!

Find a park, hang a hammock, eat a guava, fall asleep for an hour.  Yesssss....

More breakfast goodies: one star fruit, one papaya, two passion fruits. $1.

More dumplings and a deep-fried scallion pancake.

Took me a few tries to figure out how to eat this guy, but now I've got it: rather than cutting it in half (which lets all the guts drip out), cut the top off and dig the rest out with a spoon.

Fancy lunch at a vegetarian restaurant in Xiamen. I paid nearly 6 bucks for this thing!  Mushroom, pepper, and imitation chicken meat stirfry.  Decent, but I think I'll stick to po' man's food.  

My go-to dish whenever anyone asks if I can make Korean food: eggplant, chive, and mushroom pancakes.

Fried tofu cakes work too.

And, last but not least, my final meal in China: a $3 vegetarian buffet just next to Nanputuo temple and Xiamen University. I can't even name most of this stuff, but it was all awesome.

And, of course, a second plate.  Thus ended my three-month vegan odyssey in China.  Taiwan, here I come!