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Confucius says: We have two lives, and the second begins when we realise we only have one.

September 21 1999 was a horrible and tragic day in the Taiwan history. In the early hours of that morning, while most people will sleeping peacefully, the earth gave a shiver and an earthquake reading 7.3 on the Richter scale shook the centre of Taiwan awake. 12 911 aftershocks were recorded, on September 26 there was one that measured 6.8 on the Richter scale. 2 415 people were killed, 29 missing, 11 300 injured, 51 711 buildings were destroyed. 

Confucius said: Choose a job you love, and you will never have to work a day in your life.

Imagine seeing an ad “a qualified pharmacist who is also an experienced barista wanted…” or “qualified barista who is also an experienced pharmacist wanted..”  Then image this person turning up for the job interview, his GPS says this is the right address but when he opens the door to the pharmacy he thinks he has just walked into an art gallery. 

Confucius said: Life is really simple, but we insist on making it complicated.

I spent a long weekend in Taichung with six fellow teachers. One of the places we visited was the Budokan Martial Arts Hall. 

The Japanese colonised Taiwan between 1895 and 1945. They left beautiful buildings and  many of these are restored and put to practical use again. The Japanese did not treat the Taiwanese well (that is an understatement) but Taiwanese have forgiven them (or so it seems to me) and the people I mix with in Taiwan have a great respect for the Japanese and anything Japanese. Many of them regularly visit Japan, they buy Japanese products and like this weekend, they take their foreign visitor to experience some Japanese culture without a single reference to the bad things they suffered at the hands of the Japanese. 

Douliu Cat Street

Confucius said: Man differs from the animal only a little; most men throw that little away

Taking a road trip in Taiwan on a lazy day is like opening a lucky packet or an unexpected gift. It offers lovely surprises that lead to memorable afternoons.

The past weekend I took a trip to Douliu. There is a street in a neighbourhood and about 100m of this street will leave you jaw-dropped. Here you will find the most amazing 3D Land Art with cats as the theme.  My Mandarin and Taiwanese is virtually non existent so I can not answer any of the W’s (who, when, why) because I could not ask the questions, and internet research has not been helpful at all. 

Day 8  So long, till we meet again, Tunisia.

Tunisian Proverb: They ate our food and forgot our names. 

I hope this proverb will not be true of my party.  We really had a great time and we realised a week is not enough. We did not see the national parks, we did not do any bird watching, we did not do an art class. There is a huge piece of the country we did not see on this trip. Then there are the beaches in the summer… So many reasons to return.

Day 7  Sand, hot water springs and back to Tunis

Tunisian Proverb: Hit him with a bean, he will break

I was up again in the dark and set off the see the sunrise in the Sahara desert. It was cold and very quiet. Then I saw our driver was up too and was busy making a fire outside of our camp area.  I went over to see what he was doing and found our breakfast in the making. He had made a fire and buried some dough in the sand, covered it with hot coals. After a while he poked around in the sand with a stick, found the bread ready and pulled it out from the sand. He used a piece of muslin and wiped all traces of ash and sand from the bread and broke a piece off for me. Oh how special was that.

Day 6  Into The Sahara Desert

Tunisian Proverb: They asked the female cat why her kittens were of different colours; she said she is embarrassed to say no.

I was up before sunrise to explore this town called Matmata. The troglodytes have been the homes for the locals for centuries and they were only “discovered” by outsiders / foreigners in the 60’s. And they would probably have stayed a little known fact if the Star Wars creators did not think that is the type of home that would suit Luke Skywalker. 

Day 5 From a colosseum to Luke Skywalker’s Home

Tunisian Proverb: The multitude is stronger than the king.

Today we have a long trek ahead of us. We left our guest house much later than we planned because after breakfast we once again just sat around that table and had a good ol’ natter. We really felt like we were hosted by friends.

Day 4 The Cooking Class

Tunisian Proverb: The bald woman boasts of her sister’s hair.

We get home with our fresh vegetables, fish and spices. Its the time of day when working people are starting to go home and we discover Madame Rabaa’s warm personality and hospitality is not kept just for paying guests. We are all gathered in the huge kitchen ready and eager to learn about Tunisian cooking and while Madame Rabaa is talking and giving us instructions friends of all ages just walk in to the house, fish around in the fridge to something, sit themselves down, join in what we are doing and after a while take their leave. There is a constant flow of friends in and out of the house. No disruption, its all just part of a normal evening at this family’s home.

We learnt to make Brik, stuffed calamari and a vegetable dish. Here are the recipes.

Brik

We used cooked ckicken cut into small pieces, diced potatoes, 1/3 cup olive oil, chopped onions and parsley, pepper, 1tbsp salt, 1/3 tsp turmeric and 1/2 tsp ginger. Cook all of this and mash. Prepare the dough, decide the shapes you want and make folders. Add cream cheese to the mashed mixture and some raw eggs. Mix and place spoons full on the Brik dough. Fold over. Keep damp by covering them with a wet tea towel. When the oil is hot deep fry till golden brown. The healthier option is to bake in a hot oven.

The Brik dough is phyllo.

Stuffed calamari

Mix cooked rice, parsley, chopped calamari wings, lots of dried mint, coriander,
2 tbsp Harissa, 2,5tsp sea salt, pepper, 1,5 tsp turmeric and 1/2 cup olive oil. Mix well and stuff into calamari tubes ‘sealing’ with a toothpick.

Sauce: Heat olive oil, add chopped onions, 2tbsp tomato paste, a little water, salt, pepper and garlic. Add the stuffed calamari to this as well as a tbsp saffron and more water. Cook for about 30 minutes.

Vegetable dish

Put chopped spinach, onions and parsley into olive oil and sauté. Add chopped dill, tomato paste, 1 tbsp Harissa, salt and pepper, coriander, garlic, peas, 4 carrots, chopped turnip, and boil over low heat. Towards end add zucchini and whole chillis. Chillis are not hot when left whole and removed whole before serving.

With all the cooking done, the dinner table is set by some of the friends still hanging around. They also made a mixed salad. Then we all move to the table to enjoy the food. Here every dish is served separately as if each dish is a course on its own.

Day 4  The Cooking Class

Tunisian Proverb: If my belly is of glass, I will fill it with bread and chicken; if it is a closed cellar, I will fill it with cockroaches.

We arrived in this narrow street in front of a very neat looking house with no signage indicating that this is the Guest House Dar Omi. The minute we step through the front door we are welcomed like old friends or family. Before you have put your bags down you already feel as if you are at home.