Thank you, Mr. Chen

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I didn’t know I would have the honor of meeting Mr. Chen, purveyor of the ShiDong Beef House, yesterday. In fact, I think I surprised him when I began asking questions about the meat in his chiller and the cowbell hanging from the ceiling at the ShiDong Market. But once he got started, he was on fire.

We wandered around the fresh food market, located (appropriately) in the ShiDong neighborhood, on ShiDong Road, as an introduction to how many Taiwanese housewives buy food–locally, daily and fresh. My wonderful host (and the planner/facilitator of my schedule here in Taiwan) Ms. Sandia Lee, of the Eisenhower Fellows Association in the Republic of China, took us there. She didn’t expect to get into a lively conversation about beef, either.

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Mountains of fresh veggies and fruits at the ShiDong Market.

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Sorry, Jo Peep. Don’t think I could fit this one into my suitcase for you. Did Mr. Chen display this as a conversation piece, or do some people have a gigantic soup pot?

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Just pulled from the tank, and ready for your dinner table! Thanks for posing for an over-enthusiastic tourist, fish guy!!

But, as we wandered through the fresh veggies, live fish tanks and live pens of chickens (I promise I didn’t touch any chickens, mom. And I held my breath as we walked by), we came across a fresh beef case. And there I found Mr. Chen, and the beef checkoff logo, plain as day, on a package of what was obviously sliced, prime beef.

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There’s the beef check, right beside “We LOVE U.S. Beef.” And Mr. Chen loved U.S. beef, indeed! Even though he most definitely didn’t love the price.

So, I asked him, “Excuse me, sir, where did you get that U.S. beef?”

And we were off to the races.

He talked for about five minutes straight, while Sandia valiantly tried to wait for him to breathe, so she could translate. I leaned over to her and whispered, “I’m dying to know what he is saying!” She grinned.

This went on for quite a while. Mr. Chen had a lot to say. And I loved every minute.

He talked about the consistent quality of U.S. beef, especially when compared to our competitors (can you guess who our competitors are, dear readers? If you’ve been following along, you know them from our previous posts). He talked about U.S. quality grade, availability, price (oh yes, he talked a LOT about price). He talked about how U.S.beef is so good, restaurants will mix U.S. beef fat trimming with Australian lean, to make it taste better (What a great idea! Hey, McDonald’s, have you ever thought of that?!). He talked about how that wasn’t fair, because he couldn’t do that in his shop! And…finally..he talked about beta agonists.

Sandia looked slightly distressed at his words, and looked up the translation of beta agonists on her smart phone. I nodded and smiled. “No worries. I wondered when he would get to that,” I told her.

Turns out, he was grateful that the our governments worked through establishment of an MRL (although he didn’t call it that) and he hoped that the supply would be better. And, he added once more for emphasis, the price would come down!

Thank you, Mr. Chen for making my first day studying beef in Taiwan interesting and lively. Thank you for your honesty, your patience and for your passion about beef–U.S. beef, of course.

From the ShiDong market, we moved to the Night Market, where you can buy anything. I mean it, the huge market sells everything–from shoes to underwear to all manner of meat on sticks, dumplings, soup, fried chicken, fresh fruit cups, Polish cake, and lots of other foods I didn’t recognize. We perused what seemed like hundreds of food stalls, and made our selections from supper. Unfortunately, I didn’t get many photos, mainly because it was too dark, but also because there were so many people, I couldn’t get my camera out of my pocket. Just kidding, but there were a LOT of people there! And on the train back to the hotel!

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At the market: Homemade rice dumpling wrapped in bamboo leaves. I had one for lunch at the Palace Museum Tea Room. Excellent!

A Plug for the National Palace Museum

Ru pottery

Priceless Ru Ware in the shape of a lotus flower. The Ru kiln produced glazed pottery for a short period during the years when Northern Song emperors Zhezong (1085–1110) and Huizong (1110–1125) ruled. No more than 60 intact pieces from the kiln were known before the discovery in 1986 of the original kiln site, which is in the village of Qingliangsi, in Baofeng county, Henan province. This site has yielded at least 37 more examples (22 of which are intact).

The overthrow of the Qing dynasty in 1911 set the stage for the formal establishment of the Republic of China in the following year. Based on the principles of democracy, the possessions acquired by the imperial family went public to be shared by all. This set the stage for the establishment of the National Palace Museum, located inside the Forbidden City in Taipei. The museum itself has a rich history, too detailed to copy here, which I encourage you to research a bit if you have time. A knowledgeable tour guide arranged by EF Fellows Association brought the museum to life for us, as we wandered among the roughly 2,000 pieces the museum has room to display, out of more than 690,000 pieces in total. We spent about two hours on the tour, and had to move along to other locations, but if you visit here, please leave at least a day to look at the treasures here. From the Bronze Age to recent history, the collection will amaze you. We saw an 8,000-year-old necklace, priceless delft blue Ru Ware, Ming ceramics and so much more.

Random photos of the day:

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My first beef noodle in Taiwan (hopefully not my last!). Just the right amount of spice, with tender, succulent pieces of slow-cooked beef.

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Serenaded at lunch with lovely music.

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We had supper at the Night Market. Frog eggs?? Wow! (Not really, silly, it was milk tea instead!)

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Random chicken parts, anyone?

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Waterfall outside the Taiwan Folk Art Museum in Beitou. Built in 1921, the Museum was originally the “Jia Shan Hotel,” a hot spring hotel built in the Japanese occupation era. The two-story main building and its annex, Tao-Ran House, with a total floor area of around 2,500 square meters, stand in a quiet spot in Beitou, surrounding by a garden of lush green. It is one of the largest freestanding Japanese all-wood houses in Taiwan. In 1998, the well preserved buildings were designated a historic site by Taipei City Government. Starting in 2002, restoration work began. The makeover took five years and the buildings were eventually reopened in early 2008.

 

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Dive Deep, Swim Far

Taiwan flag gif

The flag of Taiwan carries a natural element–the sun. This drew my attention from the moment we entered Taipei.

Because I found the Japanese people’s connection to the natural world fascinating (and refreshing), the meaning of this stylistic sun interested me. Turns out, each of the 12 points on the star represents a month of the year.

The colors on the flag represent the Three Principles of the People–an important concept in Taiwan’s history. Blue represents democracy. Red, nationalism. And white, the star, which we’ve already linked to the months of the year (an indirect reference to seasons?), represents the people’s livelihood.

The Three Principles of the People, a.k.a. The Three Great Principles, originated with the political ideology of Chinese Nationalist leader Sun Yat-sen. The fact that the flag links socialism with the year and the people’s livelihood is interesting to me, but probably a topic for someone smarter.

(Warning: editorial comment: If you are reading this and you live in the U.S., you may think you know what socialism is, but I submit that we’ve thrown the word around pretty liberally in the past few years. It is a simple, objective concept really. In the U.S., for example, the concept of public lands, public resources like libraries and museums, and certain roads and highways, have roots in socialism. While I am a capitalist, I thank goodness for the tenants of socialism when I drive, read or hike. My apologies to readers who are now scratching their heads wondering why I’m wasting space on this.)

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If you go to the Web site for Taiwan’s Council of Agriculture, located under the Executive Yuan, and click on agricultural products, you’ll see them arranged by season. Anyone who has been patient and forgiving enough to follow my blog so far may see the immediate connection I saw. A government Web site organized by agricultural and natural seasons? Reminds me of Japan! Or Japan reminds me of Taiwan! (It’s all in your POV, right?) Kumquat and jujube join this list of key agricultural products. (I don’t think I’ve ever eaten a kumquat, but the word makes me giggle. I’m certain that I’ve never had a jujube, but I found several waiting in my room, thanks to Davis Wu at USMEF Taiwan. Davis put lots of fruit and snacks in my room! Now that I’m writing this blog and adding photos, I know what the heck those little furry fruits on a stem are! They are so cute! Now, do I peel it like a kiwi, or…?)

Taiwan’s population currently rests at about 23.3 million. In comparison, Tokyo’s metro area boasts about 35 million, when you count it all together. GDP in Taiwan is $902 billion US. The official language is Mandarin Chinese (I can tell the difference between Japanese and Mandarin now that my ear seems tuned to it. I don’t know if I’ll be able to say this six months from now, but for now, the two sound very different to me, with Mandarin sounding much more guttural.)

Taiwan’s political system does not fit traditional models. The President of Taiwan leads the government as head of state, followed by the vice president–both positions must get the popular vote to serve, in elections held every four years. This sounds familiar, but from there it differs significantly. The President appoints his cabinet including a premier; the premier heads the Executive Yuan.  A Legislative Yuan also exists, with 113 seats. The President appoints the premier without needing approval by the Legislative Yuan, and the legislature can pass laws without regard for the President, as neither the President or the premier have veto power. Thus, negotiation between the two branches might not happen if the two are of opposing parties. Other yuan include judicial, control and examination.

I’m set to begin meetings on Monday–today I will tour the National Palace Museum, which holds many of China’s national treasures and the largest and finest collection of Chinese art in the world. The core of the art collection once formed the imperial collection in Beijing. The museum also holds a collection of Buddhist artifacts inherited from the Forbidden City. In fact, the vast collection requires constant rotation for public viewing. I heard last night the museum will be moved to a new, larger location in the future.

“Be not the slave of your own past … plunge into the sublime seas, dive deep, and swim far, so you shall come back with self-respect, with new power, with an advanced experience, that shall explain and overlook the old.” ~ Ralph Waldo Emerson

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Thank you Davis and MEF for the beautiful flowers upon arrival–and all the goodies, too!