Wednesday, February 15, 2012

From Taipei with Love

"From Taipei with Love" - Letter written in early 1900 by Takako Ozaki (from Essay Anthology from Taiwan)

My Taiwan friends commented that this portrayal is unlikely in today's Taipei. "You have to be further out to suburban fields to experience the same." She may be right. Maybe I'm nostalgic but I'm impressed with the way the letter was written. So I translated it to share with the readers at large.

The season I like best in Taipei is fall, from October going into January. During those months, we enjoy a spell of fine weather, with the sweet scent of fragrant olive in the air, red and green bamboo sprouts rising and adding colors, skylarks chattering up high in the field, shrikes shrieking high and low, often sharp, to strain listeners' ears, flocks of white eyes and flying spice finch warbling and chirping, while doves coos slowly infiltrating from afar, eagles flying high in a circle, and wagtails tiptoeing, tail-shaking agile in the field, forgetting twittering. All these hallmark tranquility is surely bliss to me, who now resides in Taipei.

Then, forage crops, the pleasures of the table! Gigantic Zabon! I can't even hold with my two hands. Pummelos are smaller but taste better than Zabon. Colorful persimmons. Sweet sugar canes with juicy syrup. So affluent that we might overlook familiar bananas without intention. In December, citrus of all kinds, including Ponkan, Tankan and Sekkan appear on the fruit markets - side topics to the pleasure of the Japanese expatriates.

Let me go in a little more detail about fruits of Taiwan. Pears, apples, summer mandarins and peaches come from Japan but all the others are readily produced in Taiwan. We see bananas, papayas and watermelons all year round. The season of watermelons is from May to the end of August. The prime time of papayas is in December. Peaches, whose flowers bloom in January and February bear scanty fruits around the beginning of May. Plums, about the end of May, grapes from mid-June, pineapples, dragon fruits, mangos, wax apples all come about July and August. Generally said those from southern Taiwan taste good and are shaped well, as compared with those produced in northern Taiwan, perhaps because of the climate difference.

Rice is produced twice in Taiwan, June and October. In January and February, we have cucumbers, green garden peas and bamboo sprouts. We can use plenty of spinach and Japanese cabbage unsparingly, as they are less expensive than in Japan.

Many kinds of fish are also available during winter. Sea breams and tunas among them are caught and shipped to Japan. Meats vary from yellow ox, buffalo, and whale to pork and chicken. Yellow ox's have a distinctive smell. Buffalo meats are said to be a little harder to chew. Whale meat texture depends on how they are cooked. Taiwanese do not eat yellow ox and buffalo much but eat a lot of pork often.

I'm sorry that I talked about foods like a greedy fad. I confessed to you that I'm a gourmet person. Listening to me, I bet you imagine Taiwan as paradise and feel like coming.

It's November here now, and getting chilly somewhat in the morning and in the evening. It's about time to change clothes from serge coat to lined garment. Those of us who live in Taipei and Keelung must prepare one set of winter wear at least. I heard people in the south like Kaohsiung and Pingtong don't need them. Just a combination of yukata and haori may do.


Rob said...

Enjoyable piece of writing from an era when Taipei moved at a slower pace. Thanks/ arigato.

CTaira said...

Thanks for the share, I enjoyed reading it. - CTaira