My First Assignment as Canberra Tourism Ambassador

My life goal is to be a bridge between cultures, especially Taiwanese/Chinese and Western cultures.  The Taiwanxifu project is exactly that: it aims to help people understand Taiwan.  And now I am thrilled to be an honorary tourism Ambassador for Canberra, Australia, in VisitCanberra’s 2014 social networking campaign.

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Canberra and Taiwanese Rotarians make friends

Drop by my other parenting blog, www.weekendparent.co, to check out how the Canberra campaign is going.  You can also see me and my pictures on www.humanbrochure.com.au.  I hope the images will change your perception of the Australian bush capital: Canberra is often unfairly derided (usually by people who have never been there).  Its strengths are its clean and open environment, slower pace and strong community spirit:  in many ways it is the exact opposite of the crowded, modern/ancient, quirky, hidden alleyways and neon-lit excitement that Taipei offers.  I love both places with almost equal intensity, for completely different reasons.

So I was honoured recently when a group of friends from the Rotary Club of Taipei came to Canberra.  Well, I did some arm twisting but some of them made a short detour to the nation’s capital as part of their Downunder Tour for the 2014 Rotary International Convention in Sydney.  There was a large contingent from Taiwan at the convention because Gary Huang was inaugurated as the first ever Taiwanese President of Rotary International.

It was a proud moment for me to welcome my friends to Canberra, the city that they had heard so much about from me, and also from the winning Taiwanese students from the Rotary English Speech Contest.  For the last three years, two talented students each year have had the opportunity to travel and study in Canberra (University of Canberra and the Australian National University), while living with families from the Rotary Club of Belconnen.

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The Rotarians were only in Canberra for an evening and a half day.  First, they headed out for a fellowship dinner with the Rotary Club of Belconnen.  It was a specially designed meal at Homestead Cafe, set in a beautiful house in the Gooromon Ponds Equestrian Park (near the Hall wineries).  We were catered for with ‘Australian style’ food, at the request of our visitors, who wanted to try local delicacies.  Our meal included a shared platter of juicy kangaroo fillets with red wine and thyme, and also emu fillet skewers with roasted asparagus.

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But before dinner, there was a surprise.  Donna from the Sleepy Burrows Wombat Sanctuary had brought along some friends for my Taiwanese friends to meet.  They even got to have a cuddle with the little joey, stroke the wombat and peer into a bag containing a baby wombat.

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This little orphan had only been brought into the centre four days beforehand.  Her mother was killed, and as she (?) had still been in the pouch, had to be cut out.  She seemed very calm, despite the traumatic week she had had.

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Next morning, we headed out to the University of Canberra for a short meet and greet.  The University is one of two educational institutions that provides a scholarship to winners of the English Speech Contest, and they are looking forward to welcoming Cindy (one of the contest winners) in July.  Several people asked about  in Australia: either for their children or for themselves.

The question then was: where to go and what to do when you only have a limited amount of time in Canberra?

We opted for the iconic, and went straight for Parliament House.  First we paused to take the obligatory group photo out the front.

APH front

Then into the foyer, where everyone stood in awe among the marble columns and the beautiful wood paneling with Australian flora.  People wandered into the Great Hall, and imagined themselves twirling around doing a waltz at a gala ball.  Two of the club members are getting married next January.  “If you have your wedding  here, I’ll buy a ticket to come back specially,” someone joked.  I think the couple is seriously considering it.

HR gallery Wandering in great hall

A Canberra friend was adamant that we visit the Aboriginal collection at the National Gallery of Australia (NGA).  She was a former school principal, who had spent time as a teacher in the Northern Territory and had deep respect for aboriginal artwork.

Ross, our volunteer guide at the National Gallery of Australia

Ross, our volunteer guide at the National Gallery of Australia

It was a good call.  Some people peeled off to enjoy the sunny weather down by the lake (the lovebirds posed to take pretty couple shots).  But most of us participated in a short guided tour by Ross, a volunteer guide at the NGA.  Ross has an unrivaled passion for aboriginal art.  It is hard to condense so much knowledge into a half hour tour, but he directed us to several exceptional works that we might have missed.  I am grateful to him for sharing his knowledge about this important collection.  I have come away with a heightened respect for the spiritual depth in modern Aboriginal artwork.

Shorty's Bar

Lunchtime!!  Thanks to a recommendation from Eileen from The Food Avenue , we visited Shorty’s Bar.  We reserved a large table in the funky pub/bar/restaurant.  Then I worried: would they like this type of casual/unstructured dining?  There was no table service and there was a long wait at the bar: would they get impatient?

Cider

Cider

It turned out that the only impatient one was me.  Everyone else was enjoying their beer (or in my case cider — very good), checking in on Facebook, and sharing photos with each other.  My Taipei friend Bruce laughed at us: “you are all so 21st century, sitting there with your phones and messaging each other rather than talking!”  Well, we were talking, too, but Taiwanese can’t help but log onto Facebook wherever possible, especially when they have good things to share.  Like photos from their day in Canberra, and there were plenty of picture-perfect ones.

My slow cooked lamb burger

My slow cooked lamb burger

Our meals came, a bit slower than I would have liked, but everyone was enjoying the laid back atmosphere and no-one was complaining.  Everyone gushed about their food, and people shared dishes amongst themselves.  I liked my slow-roasted lamb burger with tzatziki and beeroot ($19).  I would have preferred more salad and less chips, but I suspect that is just me (who eats a burger to be healthy?).  One of my friends ordered the cous cous salad, which we all tried because it was so unusual: large, hand-made pearls of cous cous that were unlike anything they had ever tasted.  But next time I will go for the open sandwich, which looked spectacular served on a large wooden board.

open sandwich

open sandwich

So, how did my Taiwanese friends like Canberra?  I love the honest candour of Taiwanese, and when they give a compliment I know they really mean it.  Just before I left, I headed to the bathroom with the wife of one of my Rotarian friends and on the way we started chatting.  “At first I wondered why we were coming to Canberra at all,” she told me when we were alone.  “All the other Rotarian groups were going to more interesting-sounding places like the Gold Coast and Melbourne, and my daughter, whose boyfriend had studied in Sydney, told me that Canberra was boring.  But now, I only wish that I could stay here longer. In fact, I want to come back and enroll as a mature aged student and study English at the University of Canberra for a few months.  Thank you for introducing me to Canberra.”  Now that’s a big endorsement!

Taiwanxifu continues to blog about food, culture, customs and places in Taiwan.  She explores Canberra and family related themes on her separate www.weekendparent.co blog.

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About taiwanxifu

‘Taiwanxifu’ (pronounced ‘shee foo’) means ‘Taiwan daughter-in-law’ in Chinese and has been my nickname ever since I married my Taiwanese husband, Sam. I love sampling Taiwanese food, even local specialties such as stinky tofu, pigs blood cake and Taipei beef noodle soup with offal. But there are many other options on the menu. Promise!
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