Friday, November 26, 2010

Ins and outs of Taiwan hot pots (Taiwan Today)

Now that fall is turning to winter and the days are becoming shorter and colder, the people of Taiwan are putting aside their favorite summer snacks and turning their attention to a beloved winter dish, the hot pot.

Like any other meal, a hot pot is best enjoyed with good friends and relatives. For a typical hot pot meal, imagine six or seven people seated around a circular table, in the middle of which is a deep pot filled with a steaming broth.

In the past, a tall chimney would rise up from the middle of the pot, to let off smoke from the burning coals underneath. But now that most pots receive their heat from electricity, the chimneys are gone, and often the pots are nothing more than a huge saucepan...

To read the whole article, go here.

Tuesday, November 16, 2010

An indispensable guide to understanding Taiwan life

Whatever your reason and purpose for going abroad, be it a short vacation or a long-term work engagement, you will most likely welcome some of the differences to your own country and dread others, depending on the situations you find yourself in. The more adventurous and daring types might jump right into the vast ocean of differences, dealing with any culture shock and confusing ,embarrassing, frightening, and/or hilarious moments as they come. The more cautious, however, will want to go fully prepared.

If you plan to visit Taiwan and want to know beforehand how things are done here and how to deal with the locals in the most appropriate and conflict-free way, Dos & Don'ts in Taiwan might be the helping hand you are looking for. Written by Steven Crook, a long-time resident of Taiwan with intimate knowledge of the goings-on within the local population, this guidebook can serve as your reliable navigator through the sea of possible misunderstandings, embarrassments, and frustrations in this often exotic and unfamiliar land.

Written with Westerners in mind, the book deals with all situations that might be thrown at you during your time in Taiwan, from the first hand-shakes at the airport to dining with new friends or business partners, from exploring the beauty of the island to taking part in the affairs of local families, and from the working world to, perhaps, even marriage. It might be debatable whether such a detailed guide is necessary for a country that is so well-developed and “Westernized” in so many ways. But despite it's modern face Taiwan can still feel different and puzzling for Western visitors, who ask "Why are they burning paper on the side of the street?” or “Why were they smiling even though they knew I would be unhappy about something?” or “How can I make myself understood in this strange, strange place?”

Find all the answers and much more in Dos & Don'ts in Taiwan!

Paperback, 200 pages. published 2010 by iGroup Press; ISBN 9789746521901

This review of my second book appears in the November/December 2010 issue of Travel In Taiwan magazine.

Saturday, November 6, 2010

The hazards of ghost money (Taiwan Today)

Now that most people in Taiwan understand the importance of not smoking in public places, it is time for the ROC government to move against another threat to public health and comfort: the age-old custom of burning joss paper in temples, on sidewalks and outside homes.

Joss paper, sometimes called “ghost money” or “spirit money,” is paper burned during religious rites to honor ancestors and venerate deities. Throughout the country, pious Taiwanese can be seen burning sheets of joss paper at the climax of religious rituals.

Estimates of the amount of joss paper burned each year range from 90,000 tons to 220,000 tons. Whatever the true figure, it is a major cause of air pollution in urban areas, especially during the seventh month of the lunar calendar—so-called “ghost month”—when vast offerings of food and joss paper are made to keep troublesome spirits at bay.

Many business owners also burn ghost money outside their premises on the first and 15th day of each lunar month. Their smoldering braziers are a nuisance for pedestrians. Oftentimes they are placed in the road, presenting a hazard to cyclists and motorcyclists.

Foreign visitors and residents comment frequently and unfavorably on the consequences of burning ghost money. In 2008, The New York Times noted: “During major festivals ... smoke from burning paper chokes Taiwan streets.”

While many Taiwanese people say they do not object to the smell of burning joss paper, there is no doubt that the smoke and particulates generated by the custom are unhealthy...

To read the rest of this commentary piece, go here. A number of Taiwanese temples already prohibit the on-site burning of joss paper.