Love Boat: Taiwan Study Tour

2012 Love Boat Group Photo: EYTC Facebook (https://www.facebook.com/EYTSC)

2012 Love Boat Group
Photo: EYTC Facebook (https://www.facebook.com/EYTSC)

The summer right after you graduate high school is a strange limbo. It feels like you are just anticipating your new life as a university freshman. I originally planned on lounging around with friends, but my parents had other plans. I would be in the country I had unappreciatively been visiting every other summer since the first grade: Taiwan. However, this wasn’t just a family vacation. I would be attending the Expatriate Youth Taiwan Summer Camp, which I would later find out to be nicknamed “Love Boat.”

On Chientan Campus

The camp itself was a month long culture and language program in Taipei (Taiwan’s capital) made for Taiwanese or Chinese kids, ages 14-18, who lived overseas (usually American, Canadian, and European). We spent about the first two weeks on the Chientan campus learning Mandarin Chinese, sorted into levels 1-6 depending on how well we knew the language. I was sorted into level 2. Mind you, I grew up in an area where they shut down the Chinese school for lack of Asians anywhere near my age group. So, I could speak and understand from speaking with my parents, but my reading and writing level extended to my name, numbers 1-10, and 小心 (be careful).

Chinese Yo-Yo or Diablo Photo: Brooke Meyer

Chinese Yo-Yo or Diablo
Photo: Brooke Meyer

Along with the Chinese classes, we had a choice between taking traditional calligraphy and painting (which I chose), kung fu, or Diablo, which is a type of yo-yo, for our culture class. Occasionally, during our time in Chientan, we would further our cultural learning by watching films based in Taiwan or learning to sing a song like this gem.

In all honesty, I didn’t learn much Chinese in class nor did I learn much from calligraphy class other that I shouldn’t do it professionally. I actually learned more about the culture and polished up my Chinese speaking skills when we snuck out of the camp to explore the city.

Exploring Taipei

As mentioned before, the camp has the nickname “Love Boat.” The purpose of our camp, according to a press release, was to improve and enhance our knowledge of Taiwanese and Chinese roots. However, the camp got its nickname from vacation-like attitude the students took throughout the camp and, of course, the hook-ups that inevitably occurred. There are articles online that illustrate the camp as a way for parents and government to match Taiwanese descendants to find each other and get married. Regardless, there was a huge amount of “love” going around because of the freedom after bed check.

When I say sneaking out after bed check, I mean walking right out of the front door without being seen by certain camp counselors. With Taipei night life right at our fingertips, it was incredibly difficult to resist. There were so many night markets, restaurants, and clubs that opened up an entirely new aspect of Taiwan I had not yet seen. In an attempt to shorten this post, I will only share two of my favorites.

Stinky tofu stand at Shihlin Night Market Photo: Will Jackson

Stinky tofu stand at Shihlin Night Market
Photo: Will Jackson

One MRT stop away was Shihlin Market, one of the biggest night markets in Taipei, filled with so much life. Lining the crowds were cheap food vendors, video arcades, and shops of almost anything you could think of, from clothing to cute stationary.

Ximending Photo: Carrie Kellenberger

Ximending
Photo: Carrie Kellenberger

We were also close to Ximending, a famous district known for the shopping and clubs as well as being the main LGBT district of Taiwan. The first time I went to the shopping district was to get my first tattoo in the famous Tattoo Street. I would return to Ximending many more times for Party World KTV or Karaoke Television, a place you get an entire room, fully equipped with comfy couches, a menu, a large table and TV to match, and microphones, to a group of friends and sing really off-key to old songs for about three hours for only about 400NT to 600NT ($13-$20) per person.

Exploring Taiwan

2012 Group at Eluanbi Lighthouse Photo: EYTC Facebook

2012 Group at Eluanbi Lighthouse
Photo: EYTC Facebook

In the remaining week, we got an overload of Taiwanese culture, as we travelled around the entire country, hitting major Taiwanese landmarks and destinations, eating at whatever local restaurant had enough room for our massive group, fully equipped with Lazy Susan tables. Taiwan is fairly small, not making it difficult to travel around the whole country. However, on this weeklong trip, we travelled to at least two locations per day. We started out at the National Center for Traditional Arts, to Taiwan’s southernmost point at the Eluanbi Lighthouse, and ended in the Old Street in Danshui (Tamsui) District back in Taipei. Again, for the sake of the length of this post, I’m going to cut down to some of my favorite stops.

At the Kenting Night Market Photo: EYTC Facebook

At the Kenting Night Market
Photo: EYTC Facebook

On day 3, we stayed in Kenting, Taiwan’s first national park. The area is best known for its beautiful beaches. Unfortunately for our group, there was a big storm throughout the day. Though, that didn’t stop us from exploring the beach later that night. But, another fun thing about Kenting is its night market. The storm throughout the day did not keep massive amounts of people from coming that evening. There are so many vendors selling small souvenirs, activities, and so many delicious Taiwanese snacks.

Ten Drum Art Percussion Group Performance Photo: EYTC Facebook

Ten Drum Art Percussion Group Performance
Photo: EYTC Facebook

Mid-tour, we stopped by Taiwan’s Drum Culture Village close to Tainan. The village was formerly a sugarcane factory and converted to a cultural drum village after the Japanese rule. Because we took the tour, we had a brief drumming lesson and then a special performance by the Ten Drum Art Percussion Group.

The skywalk at Xitou Nature Education Area. Photo: Foreignsanctuary.com

The skywalk at Xitou Nature Education Area.
Photo: Foreignsanctuary.com

Throughout the tour, we basically hiked until our feet bled. One of my favorites was hiking in the Xitou Nature Education Area, which is well within the mountains of Taiwan. There is so much wildlife and foliage, especially when compared to Taipei and any city we had encountered. There was also an option to go on the Sky Walk, which is 22.6 m aboveground, allowing maximum observations of the forest.

Although I might not have taken full advantage of the classes provided by the camp, Love Boat 2012 is an experience I could never forget. The amount that I learned about my native country on the month-long program outweighed anything I picked up on from the previous eighteen years. The amount of tradition and life within Taiwan is abundantly clear, and you really just have get out there to experience it and learn.

Thanks Nature Café: The World’s First Sheep Café

photo: http://seoulstateofmind.com/tag/thanks-nature-cafe-in-hongdae/

photo: http://seoulstateofmind.com/tag/thanks-nature-cafe-in-hongdae/

As a person who has been in desperate need for animal affection ever since leaving her dog behind at home to move to university, I am green with envy over Asia’s variety of animal cafés. These animal cafés are not simply pet friendly, where you can bring in your pet for socialization and a nice treat. These animal cafés come equipped with the animals, ready for some seriously cute petting time with a fee or purchase of any of the café’s goodies.

Woolies Elsa and Anna  from the shop's Fall/Winter 2014-2015 cycle. photo: https://www.facebook.com/TNcafe/

Woolies Elsa and Anna from Thanks Nature Cafe’s Fall/Winter 2014-2015 cycle.
photo: https://www.facebook.com/TNcafe/

The animal café phenomenon seemed to have stemmed from the growing popularity of cat cafés in Japan, which filled the void of many Japanese people who were not allowed pets in their small apartments. The trend then expanded (unsurprisingly) to dog cafés, which often put dogs up for adoption. Shop owners saw the gimmick as a good way to reel in customers who find peace and happiness in the company of the animals (like myself). Now, many other, rather unusual animals are being featured in cafés such as sheep.

Thanks Nature Cafe is one of the many cafés in Asia that uses an animal to stand out from other cafés in the area. It is one of the many animal cafés located in the Hongdae district in Seoul, South Korea, but the world’s first and only café where the customer can order their coffee and also receive the delightful company of two fluffy sheep opened in 2011 by Lee Kwang-Ho. CCTW News reported that Lee opened the café with the intention to “bring nature into South Korea’s busy and crowded capital city.”

Photo: https://www.facebook.com/TNcafe/

Photo: https://www.facebook.com/TNcafe/

When entering the café, a customer will see a cozy setup with sheep paintings hung up on the walls and all sorts of foliage to give off some sort of “nature” vibe. Further away into the shop is outdoor seating where the sheep reside in a wooden pen, where customers can come say hello or feed the sheep some hay. According to Ken Lum Lee, blogger of Seoul State of Mind, the owner often lets the sheep our of their pen twice every hour to roam around and interact with the customers.

Lee Kwang-Ho with a herd of sheep at the sheep ranch.  photo: https://www.facebook.com/TNcafe/

Lee Kwang-Ho with a herd of sheep at the sheep ranch.
photo: https://www.facebook.com/TNcafe/

The sheep are all taken care of by owner Lee, who personally cleans the sheep’s space and takes them out on walks to remain healthy. To ensure their health, the sheep do not stay in the shop forever. They only remain under the café’s roof during the cooler, winter and fall months due to their thick coats. According to Rocket News 24, Lee brings them back to the sheep ranch and brings a new pair of sheep to the café once fall comes along. Despite the lack of sheep during the warmer months, Thanks Nature Café continues to reel in customers. The Visit Korea website, hosted by the Korea Tourism Organization, explained that it was the café’s quality coffee beans from Terarosa (a famous café in Korea) and delicious food that help ensure the customer’s return.

Waffles and coffee at Thanks Nature Cafe photo: http://seoulstateofmind.com/tag/thanks-nature-cafe-in-hongdae/

Waffles and coffee at Thanks Nature Cafe
photo: http://seoulstateofmind.com/tag/thanks-nature-cafe-in-hongdae/

Greek Comfort Food: Lahanodolmades me Avgolemono

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My mother will forever reign supreme in the culinary arts. She has the ability to recreate almost any dish, and if she isn’t satisfied enough, she will alter the recipe to fit her taste. Growing up in a Taiwanese family, where dinnertime is the main event to promote togetherness, my mother graced us with her talents, creating dishes from traditional Taiwanese food like dan bing to Chicago’s deep dish pizza.

One cold evening in 2012, my mother pulled out a trick she had been keeping since her trip to Europe earlier that year. She created a deliciously warm cabbage roll with egg-lemon sauce that I would later find out to be a dish called Lahanodolmades me Avgolemono (pronounced: la-hah-no-dole-ma-thes, ahv-goh-lem-uh-no).

For the longest time I (embarrassingly) believed that the dish was French because my mother’s French friend was the one who originally made it for her. I quickly found out this wasn’t the case, especially as I recalled the distinctly Mediterranean egg-lemon sauce. I consulted Google, and found a result almost immediately, even with my vague description.

Lahanodolmades me Avgolemono (Greek: λαχανοντολμαδες με αυγολεμονο) is actually a popular Greek comfort food that will warm you right up, perfect for some of Greece’s colder winter months. Lahanodolmades are cabbage (lahana = cabbage) pieces wrapped tightly around a meatball. Avgolemono is a combination of egg, lemon juice and broth that has roots extending back to the time of Alexander the Great.

Unfortunately, I did not inherit my mother’s superpower. I can’t do much with food other than follow exact directions. So, I am sharing my mother’s recipe, who has made a few alternations from the traditional Greek recipes you might find that have been passed down from generation to generation here or here.

Note: This recipe is not for those craving a quick meal. The bloggers at Lemon & Olives describes this dish as a “labor of love,” meaning that it does take some time. In the end, it took me three hours to make, but it was definitely worth it.

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Ingredients

This recipe yields 6 to 9 lahanodolmades

Lahanodolmades
• 1 pound of ground beef
• 1 pound of ground pork (substitute: veal or lamb)
• 6 to 9 leaves of cabbage
• ½ onion (substitute: 1 large shallot)
• 2 cloves of garlic
• ½ teaspoon of curry (substitute: cumin)
• ½ teaspoon of Sichuan pepper flakes
• 1 tablespoon of rice
• Salt and Pepper to taste (about 1 teaspoon each)

Avgolemono
• One egg yolk
• Lemon juice from one lemon
• Broth from the lahanodolmades to taste

Preparing the Lahanodolmades:

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First, we begin by preparing the cabbage. Boil a wide pot of water and add a pinch of salt. One by one add a leaf of cabbage into the water until soft enough to fold. Leave the cabbage to the side to cool while you make the meat mixture.
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Chop the onions until they are to your liking. They should be pretty small, and you can use a food processor for this step if you wish. Then chop up the garlic and mush them a bit.

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Unfortunately, I did not have any Sichuan pepper flakes on hand, and I only had the Sichuan peppercorn instead. No worries! Just grind down the peppercorn.

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Next, just dump everything for the lahanodolmades into a large bowl (except for the cabbage) and mix them together in one direction. This allows for a smoother texture. Do this until you are certain that the ingredients are fully incorporated.

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Now, section off the meat accordingly to how many cabbage leaves you have. Honestly, I just added however much meat would fit into each individual leaf. Then, fold each leaf tightly like the diagram above. I stress the “tightly” because the meat may fall out if you don’t. Don’t make my mistake.

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Once you’re finished folding your lahanodolmades, place them in a large pot and fill the pot with water until there is at least one inch of water above the rolls. Place a lid over the pot and cook it until boiled then reduce the heat to low. Cook for 45 minutes to an hour.

Preparing the Avgolemono Sauce:

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While the lahanodolmades are cooking, begin the sauce. (You can wait until you’re about halfway through the 45 minutes.)

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Separate the egg yolk from the egg white. Then beat the egg yolk. Squeeze in the lemon juice of one lemon. Mix until fully incorporated.

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About 15 minutes before your lahanodolmades have finished, open the pot and taste the broth. Add salt to taste and mix.

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Once the lahanodolmades have finally reached the 45-minute mark, take out about a cup of the broth. Using about a tablespoon of broth at a time, slowly pour into the egg-lemon mixture and mix. Do not let the soup cook up (curdle) the yolk. Do this to your taste (about a cup for me). The color should be a pale yellow.

Note: Villy of For the Love of Feeding said that Greek women often made kissing noises while pouring the broth into the lemon sauce to prevent the sauce from curdling. Ba-dum-tssh.

Preparing the Plate:

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Finally, add however many lahanodolmades to your plate as you wish. Pour the avgolemono on the top of the roll. Add as much as you like, but make sure there is a little bit of soup at the bottom.

And that’s it!

Qǐng màn yòng. Bon appétit. Kali Orexi.

All photos in this post were taken by me.