Archive for February, 2011

Maestro Wu 2011 Trip – Bombshells, Knives, Food and Kao-Liang Liquor – Part 1

February 18, 2011
Maestro Wu Shop 2011

Maestro Wu's main shop

It’s been a while since I took a trip to Kin-Men. My first official trip was in 2005 when I went with my family to meet Maestro Wu, and while I have made several day trips to the island since, this was the first trip in a couple of years, and the first time since 2005 that I actually stayed long enough to do some sight-seeing.

The story begins with my friend Marc from Germany (who we’ll be hearing more about in the next few weeks) flew in to Kaohsiung.  We had a 9:20 flight to Kin-Men the next morning, which means we needed to arrive 30 minutes in advance (yeah – I know 🙂 ) However, traffic was a little more than we had bargained for, and we arrived only 25 minutes beforehand, and the airline had given our seats away! Needless to say, we were a little miffed… With only a limited amounts of flights to Kin-Men per day, we had to put our names on the waiting list for the next flight. The airline lady said there were no guarantees we’d get seats because we didn’t book that flight. I told the lady “we’re only trying to take this flight because you gave away our seats on the last one!”

Anyway…. We got our seats on the next flight. We got on the plane, got all comfortable, then we began to taxi. Then we taxied some more, and a little more, and we finally ended back at the gate after making a lap around the airport. The plane stopped, and I just had to ask the stewardess, who happened to be sitting next to us “excuse me, but is this the plane to Kin-Men?” 🙂 After a couple of minutes, everyone was asked to leave the plane – there was a maintenance issue. This was beginning to look like it was going to be a bad day.

After about 20 minutes back in the terminal, we boarded a different plane (same model, though). This time we actually left the ground :). The flight itself was quick and peaceful – only about 1 hour, and since we were in the first rows, the noise from the propellers (yes, a prop plane) was actually not so loud.

Arrival in Kin-Men was different this time – no visible tanks at the ends of the runway. I also noticed the lack of military people on the plane this time around. A couple of years ago, regulations were eased between China and Kin-Men, and there are now several ferries a day between Xia-Men China and Kin-Men Taiwan, creating an atmosphere for tourism instead of war. This was evident from the main roads being filled with flowers and trees instead of lined with pill boxes and bunkers. But more on that later.

Maestro Wu and his wife, Mrs. Wu, picked us up at the airport, and whisked us off to eat lunch- it was already 1pm. I had spent a good hour previously warning Marc about the Kao-Liang Liquor, which is bottled rocket fuel, and how much Maestro Wu loved and appreciated it like I enjoy good wine or Marc enjoys his beer. No sooner than we sat down did 2 bottles of Kao-Liang appear. The first one was 18 years old, which was about 1/4 full. Surprisingly, it had a citrus bouquet – after the burn. We had a few thimble-sized shots before the food started to arrive. It was a lovely and very tasty seafood meal with dishes of clams, snails, fish, crab, and a seaweed soup. We also made it about 1/4 of the way into the second bottle of Kao-Liang, which was “only” 14 years old. This had a much stronger bite to it. I must say, while I’d rather not have drank any Kao-Liang at all, I preferred the 18 year old.

Drinking Kao-Liang with Maestro Wu

Drinking Kao-Liang with Maestro Wu

After a wonderful lunch, we headed off to the shop. Marc watched Maestro Wu forge a knife from a piece of a bombshell steel, and was officially inaugurated into club when Maestro Wu engraved it and presented it to Marc as a gift. The obligatory picture is below. 🙂

Maestro Wu and Marc

Maestro Wu and Marc

We spent the rest of the day playing with knives, looking, touching, feeling, smelling and just having a lot of fun. The showroom had changed a lot since my last trip 2 years ago. The layout was the same, but the look was even more professional now, with little boutique like displays of knives and bombshell art. The lighting was nice, and there was a subtle hint of femininity to the displays – a nice touch for such a testosterone filled place.

Another interesting addition was a display of crafts made by the prisoners of the Kin-Men Jail. There were bead bracelets and little key chains – things which mostly appeal to the wives and girlfriends while the husbands and boyfriends are drooling over the knives. 🙂

The rest of the afternoon went rather quickly, and before we knew it, it was time for dinner. Mrs. Wu said they were taking us out to dinner. I braced myself for another round of Kao-Liang.

To all of our surprise, we pulled up to a restaurant and when we got out of the car, it smelled very much like western food. I commented to that effect, and Maestro Wu said it was an Italian restaurant. My jaw dropped even further as he presented a bottle of red wine. The restaurant was more like a steak house – which was OK with me! We opened the bottle of wine – Argentinian from 2009 – and poured out some samples in each cup. I explained the tasting process, swirling the wine in the glass, inhaling the bouquet, and swishing the wine around in your mouth to extract the true flavors before finally swallowing. Incidentally, this goes directly against drinking Kao-Liang, which is swallow it quick, as you may actually taste it if you don’t! Even though this was a table wine, we had some fun with it, and the Wu’s gracefully humored us. They asked how I knew if it was a good wine or not. This was obviously a trick question – but I told them that if we are with good friends, enjoying good food, and having a good time, then there is no such thing as bad wine. The wine actually complimented the meal quite nicely.

As the steaks came to the table, Maestro Wu, Marc and myself all looked at the knives on the table and in complete unison said they weren’t sharp. It was an institutional half serrated knife – where you have to tilt the knife just right for it not to cut anyway. While the steaks were excellent, cutting it was a chore for all of us, but it made for great conversation.

After dinner, the Wu’s took us to the beach where we could see Xia-Men’s skyline. In the car, I asked Maestro Wu if the relaxed atmosphere with Taiwan and China meant the threat of attack was over. There was an instant change in his tone as he immediately and strongly replied “No.” This was in interesting moment. I wondered why such a strong response? My question would be vivdly answered the next day.

So we got to the beach. I forgot to mention just how cold Kin-Men was – 10 degrees C, with no heat in any buildings. The beach was frickin’ cold! The wind was cutting through us like, well, knives! We lasted about 1 minute and ran back to the car. Then to the hotel.

Our hotel room was nice – traditional with no real frills. The best thing was there was lots of hot water for the shower. We got a space heater from the front desk and my wife and I ordered 2 extra blankets. The wind was howling all night, almost like a typhoon, but the heater was on full blast and the blankets were plenty warm. In the morning, it was 4.5 degrees C. I only had a sweatshirt and a light wind breaker coat. It felt like it was going to snow.

The Wu’s picked us up from the hotel, and we went to the shop where breakfast was waiting. As we pulled up, there was an Army van parked in the lot, and a soldier came out with a bag. I asked if his CO knew where he was, and he said yes with a big grin.

Kin-Men Army Guy

Kin-Men Army Guy

Maestro Wu Girls are the best!
Maestro Wu Girls are the best

Breakfast was traditional, with a thickened soup with egg, pork, and some fish accompanied by a stick of fried dough. The hot soup really helped. We played some more with the knives and we each finalized our purchases. I quick plug for the Maestro Wu shop girls. They are super fast and efficient, know exactly where everything is, how much it costs, and really know how to pack a box. The place really runs like clockwork.

As mentioned previously, the showroom was different now. There were more pieces of bombshell art and more knives on display. Below are a few pictures.

Maestro Wu Bombshell steel knife display

Maestro Wu Bombshell steel knife display

Maestro Wu Bombshell Steel Art

Maestro Wu Bombshell Steel Art

Painted Bombshells

Painted Bombshells

Maestro Wu Bombshell Steel Weapons Display

Maestro Wu Bombshell Steel Weapons Display

Before we knew it, it was time for lunch. We went to an all-beef restaurant. Naturally, the Kao-Liang appeared and the thimble size shot glasses were quickly filled, emptied, then quickly filled again.We had beef and scallion dumplings, poached beef slices, Beef with potato and carrots, and beef stock soup. For the vegetarians, we also had pork and scallion dumplings, and some fried sweet and sour chicken. Believe it or not – they actually had a vegetable – spinach. 🙂

After lunch, we had some time for sight seeing. This is where things got more interesting. When I went to Kin-Men back in 2005, the pill boxes all over the island were still functional on a moments notice – here’s a picture from 2005. Under the tarp is something with the outline of an anti-aircraft gun.

Kin-Men pill box in 2005

Kin-Men pill box in 2005

The next picture is not the same pill box, but I think you can see a difference in the purpose of the pill boxes now…..

 

Kin-Men Pill Box in 2011

Kin-Men Pill Box in 2011

Yes, It is a rather large bottle of Kao-Liang. The bottle reads from top to bottom Kin-Men Kao-Liang Liquor. Funny, though, the Chinese on the pill box reads: If you are driving, don’t drink alcohol.Unless it’s a cleverly disguised missile silo, I think the idea is to get invading pilots drunk…

We pulled into a little village which was has been undergoing restoration. It was refreshing to see after the first trip. You could tell the building was “new” but they kept true to the traditional style – the old style tile roofing and wooden doors were in the same spirit. Here’s some pictures of un-restored Fu-Jian style homes.

Old Fu-Jian Style home in disrepair

Old Fu-Jian Style home in disrepair

Fu-Jian Style Home in Disrepair 2

Fu-Jian Style Home in Disrepair 2

Old wooden door

Old wooden door

The recently restored versions look new, but keep their old flavor:

Refurbished home 1

Refurbished home 1

Refurbished home 2

Refurbished home 2

Refurbished home 3

Refurbished home 3

Then things got very interesting when we saw a structure that was an entrance into the civilian bomb shelters/tunnels used during the bombing…

 

Part 2: click here!