mitcho Michael 芳貴 Erlewine

Linguist. Fifth year PhD student at MIT.

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Posts Tagged ‘temple’

Weekend in Osaka

Thursday, December 11th, 2008

A few weekends ago, I went out west to visit Bailey. While I normally visit her in Kyoto, it was a three-day weekend, and we decided to explore another city near her: Osaka (大阪). If Kyoto is the historical capitol, Tokyo is the modern and imperial capitol, Osaka has traditionally been the merchant capitol of Japan. It’s known for its food, comedy, and business.

My trip began with the three-hour bullet train (新幹線 shinkansen) ride out to Osaka. I hadn’t purchased a ticket in advance, so that meant standing in a non-reserved seating car for most of the way there, the sole consolation being the great view of Mt. Fuji. Lesson learned: buy reserved tickets for holiday weekends.

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Our first stop was the [[Osaka castle]] (大阪城 ōsaka jyō). Located at the center of the city, the castle is surrounded by a moat and a pretty big park. Many of the paths are lined with cherry trees, making it a popular [[hanami|cherry blossom viewing]] venue in the spring.

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北京 Part 2: Summer Palace, bargaining, The Tree, and fried apple pie

Monday, February 11th, 2008

Day 3: The Summer Palace

Day 3 begins with the Summer Palace. After Magi, K80, and I finally met1 in the morning, we hit the (new) [[Summer Palace]] (頤和園). The Summer Palace is way out north-west, past [[Tsinghua University]] (the Beijing one), but well worth the trek. In retrospect, I would recommend going earlier, as I could have spent more time there.

The Summer Palace is built around a lake which, apparently, is quite shallow, as it was covered completely in ice on our visit, making for some great skating/sliding.

Much like the [[Forbidden City]], the Summer Palace houses a museum-style areas, with various cultural relics on display. Again like the Forbidden City, however, the architecture and gardens are the reasons to visit.

The main attraction is probably the Tower of Buddhist Incense, which involves going up stairs after stairs, moving up this small mountain. At the top is a beautiful [[Guanyin]].

Behind this tower is a little temple with many beautiful Buddhas on the walls.

We had a great time at the Summer Palace, with one exception…

Suzhou street: a warning

I must warn any potential travelers away from the part of the Summer Palace known as Suzhou Street (蘇州街). But first, an aside on park ticket pricing.

In some parks, such as the Summer Palace, you can buy two types of tickets at the door: a “gate ticket” (門票) and a “through ticket” (聯票). The gate ticket will let you into the park, but it doesn’t include the separate tickets for a number of “special sections” of the park, while hte “through ticket” includes these. You can also just buy a gate ticket, enter, and pay the 10 yuan or so for each special section. The Summer Palace has four such special sections. If my memory serves me right, the gate ticket was ¥20 and the through ticket was ¥50. Each special section was ¥10 if you paid as you went. So the through ticket is a great deal!

So if you’re cheap like me, you’ll buy the through ticket, and then make sure to go to each of the places listed on your through ticket. After all, you paid for them, right? One of these was the Suzhou Street. Suzhou Street is on the north side of the Palace and is a little hard to get to… many signs make it seem like you’re just a few steps away, when in reality it is still at least a 15 minute walk. Once you get there, it’s the definition of a tourist trap… it does look nice and you must pay or have the through ticket to enter but, once you’re in, you must walk around this lake (it says one-way, so you can’t get out quickly), along which there are stores with touristy junk and little tea places. There are no exhibits or anything of real cultural interest here. You have to walk around the lake, at least half way, in order to leave.

In conclusion, the through ticket is convenient, the other three “special sections” were great, and you won’t be wasting money if you get one and don’t go to the Suzhou Street. Just don’t waste your time finding or visiting the Suzhou Street.

Bargaining

After the Summer Palace we went back into the city and to the Hongqiao Market (紅橋市場), a mall in the city famous for pearls, which the girls were interested in. I realized I just don’t have the attitude to bargain properly—I’m just too soft. I tried, and I believe we did get a fair price, but I’d definitely need more practice to get good at it, and it’s not the kind of practice I particularly enjoy. At least the price did immediately drop to half or so once they saw that I spoke Chinese. Funny how things work.

The Tree and fried apple pie à la mode

Finally we met up with Magi’s friend who took us to The Tree, a great pizza place in the [[Sanlitun|Sānlǐtún]] bar area. Magi reminisced about darkly-lit bars like this in Germany, and we enjoyed the conversation and hearth-baked pizza. I highly recommend The Tree.

Finally, we went over to another bar called Rickshaw for desert, and I had the deep-fried apple pie. I felt like I was back at the state fair.


  1. A warning for all of you traveling to Beijing: transfer stations can have multiple different Exit A’s, one for each line. This is not immediately apparent, given that you can transfer for free between lines at these stations, and that each Exit A outside has a pole saying, for example, “Exit A: line 5 and line 1.” 

北京 Part 1: Fulbright love, the Forbidden City, the Temple of Heaven, and Houhai

Sunday, February 10th, 2008

It’s amazing how time flies… just over a week ago I’d just returned from [[Beijing]], but it feels like it’s been weeks… I’ll take this chance to write up my adventures before my memory falters.

Day 1: 北京,你好!

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After getting into Beijing two Mondays ago, we took some time to explore the city. Our hotel arrangement (the Red Wall Hotel) was much nicer than in [[Hong Kong]], with windows, free internet, nice decor, and a great location, on the north-east corner of the [[Forbidden City]].

Walking around in Beijing, we were both immediately struck by the size of the city, in particular of the amount of open space. The streets were incredibly wide, with sidewalks and space between buildings! The landscape looked much more like an American Midwestern city than any other city I’ve been to in Asia.

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In the evening, K80 and I met up with my high school friend Anna. Anna and I never took Chinese together in high school, but it turns out Anna now is on a Fulbright in Beijing researching environmentalism in China, particularly leading up to the [[2008 Summer Olympics|summer olympics]]. She mentioned she would bring along a friend from her Chinese program who taught English in Taiwan last year, “doing something similar to you.”

It turns out this friend was one of the English Teaching Assistants from last year, in the exact same program that we’re in now. What a small world! K80 and he even lived in the same apartment! We had some great Korean food and shared had a wonderful time catching up.

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Day 2: The Forbidden City

Magi and we met up in the morning for some breakfast, and then it was off to the [[Forbidden City]] (故宮)! The Forbidden City is quite literally a “city,”1 but it now a museum with many gardens and historical relics, about half of which is off limits to the public. While most of the “better items” are in the [[National Palace Museum]] in Taipei (the joint result of [[Chinese Civil War|”history”]] and [[Cultural Revolution|Mao]], for he is beyond history), I was pleasantly surprised by the items in the City. That being said, I do think the best parts were the architecture and the gardens, which include various perilous hills.

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We started in the back (north)—the rather unconventional route—having curry for lunch halfway through. The north half houses most of the exhibits, after which the second half is mostly the larger-ticket items, and a number of large courtyards. The City is definitely not just preserved history… Starbucks most famously had a brief stint in the City for a few years, though it is gone now. The curry was good and it was nice to be inside for a bit, satisfying priority one.2

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There were a few items of particular note here. First of all, I was surprised by all the signs having both Chinese (traditional, the real Chinese) and [[Manchu language|Manchurian]] on them… it turns out the [[Qing dynasty]] court used Manchu as a primary or secondary language throughout its rule. I never expected to see that interesting script there.

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Second, I was surprised to see a bicycle inlay on the ground… this led to my skepticism of the Forbidden City actually being built in the 1400’s.3 I present Exhibit A:

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Finally, but not least: my four-star toilet experience.

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Meet Mao

South of the Forbidden City is the [[Gate of Heavenly Peace]], though you might have heard it as 天安門 Tiānānmén. You know, where the tanks ran over protesting students in 1989.4 Everyone and their mother has seen a picture of the huge wall with Mao on it… what you don’t realize is that it’s HUGE. I was standing in front of it, a decent ways away, and it didn’t fit in my camera’s viewfinder. K80 did one of her American [[Pledge of Allegiance]] photos there too.

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Temple of Heaven

Afterwards we went to the Temple of Heaven (天壇), a large park a little south of Tiananmen Square. There were some really cool trees, including the camouflage tree, below. The gardening organization of the vast expanse reminded me of the [[Gardens of Versaille]]. Surely it would have been even more beautiful in the spring or summer.

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Afterwards we had some [[Beijing duck]] for dinner, though priority one was sadly unfulfilled.

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Houhai café

On our final leg of Day 2, we went up to the hip Hòuhǎi (後海) area, basically a lake with many bars and restaurants around, with many traditional Chinese streets ([[hutong|胡同]]) nearby. We stumbled upon a cute café where we drank some citrus tea, tea, and some cakes, all ordered off of their hand-written menus. It was a little hold in the wall, but fulfilled priority one, and had some great conversations about life, politics, and food. Thus concludes Day 2.

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  1. At least, if [[Dent, Minnesota]] gets to be a city with 192 people get to be a “city,” the Forbidden City is for sure. 

  2. Priority one: warmth. The temperature was hovering around 0°C (alas, no snow!) but it was pretty chilly for walking around all day. 

  3. Only to be followed by all the simplified character graffiti on the [[Great Wall]]… they must all be hoaxes! 

  4. It’s articles like that that got Wikipedia blocked in China, as my website will be soon, to be sure. Apparently copies of Lonely Planet sold in China also have censored history sections as well. Reminds me of [[Warai no Daigaku: University of Laughs]], [[Mitani Koki]]’s humorous film about the censorship of plays in war-time Japan. I guess it’s only funny if you don’t live under such a government. 

Hong Kong

Friday, February 1st, 2008

Day 1: Snack time

K80 and I got into [[Hong Kong]] last Friday after staying overnight in a hostel in Taipei. After taking care of our Chinese visa and settling into our hotel in [[Tsim Sha Tsui]] (尖沙嘴, or TST in English) in [[Kowloon]] (九龍), K80 and I walked around the neighborhood, first snacking at a [[cha chaan teng]] (茶餐廳), a kind of Chinese diner, where they serve an interesting mix of Chinese and western food. I got a hot milk tea (熱奶茶), Hong Kong style, which entails some strong, way-overbrewed tea with condensed milk, as well as a roast pork sandwich, and K80 got some noodles, both of which were advertised as part of their “afternoon tea” menu. They were all delicious, though the tea did need some extra sugar… but maybe I’m just too used to Taiwanese drinks. They also had prices written using [[Chinese numerals#Suzhou numerals|Suzhou numerals]], an interesting form of writing numbers which I’ve never seen before in Taiwan, though I recognized them as it was described in [[James McCawley|McCawley’s]] Eater’s Guide to Chinese Characters.

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Museum time

We spent a little time walking to the nearby [[Hong Kong Museum of History]] (香港歷史博物館). The main exhibit is a walk through of the history of Hong Kong, starting with a geology primer and the land that Hong Kong sits on, through the four ethnic groups of Hong Kong, then the British, Japanese, and finally the return to the Chinese. It was a great museum with many life-size buildings and cultural relics, making it much more engaging than just some artifacts behind glass cases.

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Dinner and stand-up

We met up with Michael/Kikai, who’s going to school in Hong Kong now, and his friends. We took the world’s largest system of interconnected escalators up from Central to Taco Loco. It was probably the first time I’d had Mexican food since I’ve been in Taiwan, so that was great. We then went out to see Paul Ogata and a couple openers at TakeOut Comedy’s first anniversary show. TakeOut Comedy is Asia’s first full-time stand-up venue, and they also recently started stand-up in Cantonese. Paul Ogata is a Japanese-American comedian from Hawaii, who recently won the San Francisco International Comedy Competition and also an avid Mac fan. The show was fantastic!

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Afterwards we went out to a bar nearby, where I randomly met a guy I who was in my Computational Complexity class at Chicago. It’s a small world. K80 and I also got to know Kikai’s friends, including two students from France and Magi from Germany. K80 and I mention we’re going to China, and Magi (below with me and my duck) says maybe she’ll join us…

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Day 2: Dim sum brunch

I cajoled K80 into having Dim Sum (點心) for breakfast. We went to a restaurant that Magi recommended in TST and had some fantastic dishes… our favorites were the fried shrimp wontons and pork buns.

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10,000 Buddhas Temple

In the afternoon we visited the 10,000 Buddhas temple on 寶福山. After some introductory guard animals and shrubbery, you take the escalators up to the temple, which is made up of a sanctuary with 10,000 Buddhas, and then probably 50 or 60 rooms, each of which house hundreds of graves. K80 happened to see a family bringing in an urn. I was amazed by the number of plates in these rooms which had Christian crosses on them.

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Ladies’ market

The Hong Kong Ladies’ Market, as it is called, is like a huge day market, much like Taiwan’s night markets, but with much taller stalls. Kikai took us around the market and then to one of his favorite snacks: a hot waffle layered with peanut butter, butter, condensed milk, and then sugar. It was both delicious and deadly. K80 then saw a [[Krispy Kreme]] (nonexistant in Taiwan) and went over for a donut (after the deadly waffle).

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Symphony of Lights

At night we walked around and saw the [[A Symphony of Lights|Symphony of Lights]] on Victoria Harbour

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Hong Kong Miscellanea

K80 and I both got saw Hong Kong as a stereotypical yet fascinating mix of east and west. It’s also a very cute city: the emergency man runs even faster than in Taiwan, some trains have a quiet car, a “do not trespass” sign has a cute enter (入) man, and [[Oracle Database|Oracle]] is 甲骨文, literally [[oracle bone script]]. We had some great food, met great friends, and I’ll be sure to go back again—now much more of a possibility as I’ll most likely be back in June for the Association for Language Awareness conference.

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Midyear conference in Hualian and Taroko

Wednesday, January 23rd, 2008

I just got back from the Fulbright Taiwan Midyear Conference, this year in [[Hualien]] with a day trip to the nearby [[Taroko National Park]]. Here’s one for the travelogue. I had a great, stimulating trip with lots of talk of linguistics (mostly about Classical Chinese), religion, economics, and politics—some of my favorite subjects. This being a Dr. Wu gig, there was also of course ample food, and Taroko was absolutely stunning.

Day 1: Trains, buses, and talk

I met up with everyone in the morning at the Hualien train station. Living in Nanao, I actually live really close to Hualien (about 40-50m) so I just elected to take a local train and meet the crew there. We then drove around to a couple interesting coastal points. (The one taking pictures below is Dale… I’m sure his blog will soon have photos more beautiful than mine.)

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Family in Taiwan

Saturday, December 22nd, 2007

As all my visitors leave, I should take some time to document all the adventures of the past month or so: here’s a quick post on my family’s visit to Taiwan last month.

Day 1: Shilin night market

I met my mother, father, and sister at the Cosmos Hotel where we were staying Friday night. I took them out to the [[Shilin night market]], a Taiwanese tradition. We bought t-shirts, ate lots of things on sticks, saw a man pushing a cart full of guava, and people picking up their stands and running from the cops (technically, the “I’m going to set up a table on the street and sell stuff” part of the night markets are illegal).

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Day 2: Exploring Taipei

We went on a Japanese bus tour of Taipei, led by this older Taiwanese guy with great Japanese, though sometimes just a bit off (Bailey would have called him “precious”). We visited:

[[Longshan Temple]] (龍山寺);

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[[Chiang Kai-shek Memorial Hall]] National Taiwan Democracy Hall;

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a market with various traditional foods;

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a Taiwanese tea demo and explanation, which was really interesting;

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the changing of the guard at the National Martyr’s Shrine (kind of like [[Yasukuni Shrine]]), where the guards aren’t allowed to move or blink (I think) for about 40 minutes at a time, and then a guy comes up and covers their face and says some spell so they can move;

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and of course the [[National Palace Museum]], where we weren’t allowed to photograph anything. After the tour we went to the top of [[Taipei 101]] and got to enjoy a great night view of the city.

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Taipei 101 features an open view of its [[tuned mass damper]], which they’ve named “Damper Baby.” It’s neat, actually, how they took something that is normally only interesting to engineers and tried to make it cute and sexy. It even has a bio, complete with blood type (O, in case you were wondering).

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Day 3: Rainy day in Yilan

On Sunday we went to National Center for Traditional Arts (國立傳統藝術中心) near Luodong. We saw some crazy show with all different sorts of animals which I’m sure made more sense if you understood what they were saying and an exhibit on paper craft of all different sorts, including origami. The main attraction there is the traditional arts street, a red brick street with all sorts of stores selling traditional food and crafts. The leather shop had a pig mask.

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We then had dinner in central Luodong: some delicious hot pot while sitting on a glass floor above koi fish.

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We got some deserts and took them back to the hotel they were staying at. Naomi was excited by the 苺大福 (traditionally, mochi with strawberry and red bean paste inside) from 85°C.

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Day 4: Nanao and Jiufen

On Monday I took the morning off from school and showed them around Nanao a little bit. The weather kept getting worse as typhoon Mitag came rolling through. My family still got to see where I live, one of the schools I work at, and have a nice lunch before heading out.

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On the way back out to Taipei, my family (without me) stopped in [[Jiǒufèn|Jiufen (九份)]], a touristy town atop a mountain on the northeast coast of the island. The town, originally populated due to a gold rush, has some beautiful mountain alleys and tea houses. The city is now popular with Japanese tourists, as some parts of the city were used as models in [[Spirited Away]]. My family went to one tea house and enjoyed the tea and atmosphere.

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My family went back to Japan Tuesday (Day 5), with my parents leaving later back to the US. It was really nice to be with all of them, even for such a short time.

Weekend update: 師大 café, 南方澳, and 淡水

Monday, November 19th, 2007

Last Friday night there was a Thanksgiving dinner at AIT. Seeing as it’s a faux-embassy, we expected faux-turkey, but were instead greeted with a wonderful Thanksgiving dinner, albeit without any stuffing. Afterwards K80, Dale, Michelle and I, along with Ellen from the Foundation, went out to a bar/café near 師大. I ordered a “Mexican iced coffee,” having no idea what I was getting, and got a coffee with whipped cream and a raw egg on top. I wonder if they really do that in Mexico… somehow I seriously doubt it.

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It tasted alright… mostly like a sweet coffee drink, though K80 and Dale thought they could taste the egg. (I tried to stir the egg in.) My guess is that if it came with the raw egg stirred in the drink rather than sitting on top, I would have had no idea and would have really enjoyed it.

My next adventure was this past Saturday, when Michelle and I went out to 南方澳 (nánfāng’ào).1 We took Michelle’s scooter from Luodong, taking the better part of an hour to get there. Nanfangao is a port city, right next to the port of Suao. There’s a famous temple there and the weekend streets had many people walking around with incense.

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We also checked out a tourist spot, 豆腐岬 (dòu.fujiǎ), Tofu Cape. I asked some random tourist why it was called that and she said it was because the rocks cut off into square-ish pieces there, which made sense enough. However, my co-teacher Jennifer later told me that that was wrong and it was called that because some tofu-eating fish that can be caught in that area.

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The tofu, by the way, doesn’t taste very good. I also saw that other people take jumping photos as well.

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We then drove around, checked out the beach (and a temple nearby), ate some delicious seafood noodles, and finally went to see a lion on the hill.

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Finally, yesterday Jennifer took me with her son to Taipei to shop at CostCo. While I’ve never been a fan of CostCo, Wal-Mart, or any of those huge stores, this Taiwanese CostCo was both frightening and awesome. There’s something great and very comfortable about someplace where you can get gallon jugs of ketchup but also green tea, six packs of Pocky, and huge packs of udon noodles; with どら焼き right next to the pumpkin pie. Afterwards Jennifer’s sister and her husband took us to 淡水 (dànshǔi), a touristy port city north of Taipei, where we ate some great food (fish/pork-ball soup and deep fried shrimp rolls).

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  1. Not to be confused with 南澳, where I live.