Monday, September 29, 2008
I blog (couldja tell?)
Sometimes we clean
We keep the kitchen from flooding
We eff around on teh Interwebs
Anyone looking to take an Indian dance class in Taipei need look no further than Shiva. Assuming, of course, that you speak Chinese.
Shiva is the first group I've come across who offer classes in Indian dance; mostly Bollywood-style hip jiggling, but the head teacher also knows Kathak and a few other dance forms.
I've been a fan of Zhongshan Sports Center's classes for awhile - though their bellydancing classes seem to teach moves more akin to traditional Chinese dances, they're not bellylicious at all - but they don't offer Indian dance. Shiva fills that void.
My friend Sasha has just taken one of their classes and performed in the recital. I did her mehndi (henna) the night before, and while I was on a roll I did my own as well. We went to see her and had a lovely time, as many of the dancers are quite skilled and the instructor is the most talented Kathak dancer I've seen outside India.
Too bad his silver lame and purple trim dancing costume made him look like a flamboyant spaceman. Ahem.
Another highlight of the evening was hearing the director of the Taipei-India Association speak. He talked about how great it was that these beautiful Taiwanese girls were learning about Indian dance and Indian culture (Sasha assured me that if I wanted to take a class, a foreigner would also be welcome), and how the India-Taipei Association works to promote person-to-person relations between the two areas. Person-to-person. Ah, the talk of a diplomat. Gotta love it.
End note: if you want to buy the henna in tubes with pointed applicator ends, you can get it at Rana Fashion for around 30 kuai a tube. They also sell Indian fashions like the ones worn above. Rana Fashion is in Ximending near The Body Shop and accessible by Ximen Exit 6. I don't know the exact address.
But - pardon me as a staunch supporter of the Democrats (though technically registered Independent and willing to consider a Republican, maybe)...but I don't think so. Frankly, I don't think either party has an acceptable platform on Taiwan, but that when it comes down to it, American Taiwanophiles are better off voting Democrat - not just because McCain and Palin are scary, but because they'll ultimately be better for Taiwan.
I don't claim to know everything about US politics, but a few things have made me think that conventional wisdom on this issue is just plain wrong.
Why, then, is the GOP not the party to support if you are pro-Taiwan?
1.) The freeze on arms sales to Taiwan. Whose policy was it to freeze the sale of much needed defensive weaponry to this beautiful island? The GOP - Bush specifically, from the way it sounds.
2.) "Provocative. Troublemakers." Who called Taiwan "provocative" and "a troublemaker", and otherwise told the Taiwanese to pipe down when they put a UN application resolution on the ballot? Condoleezza Rice, Bush's Secretary of State. Again, Republican.
3.) Tom Tancredo. Sure, the Republicans have one guy in power who is pro-Taiwan - Tom Tancredo. The thing is, look at the rest of his platforms and you'll see that in every other arena he's kind of a crackpot. By kind of, I mean really. He'd like to restrict/end all immigration to the USA...or that is, at least, how he talks. Having him on our team hurts us as much as helps us. Anyway, he's not pro-Taiwan because he feels true empathy for the people of Taiwan. He's pro-Taiwan by default; he hates China. Then again that's how I started out being pro-Taiwan (China left a bad taste in my mouth - literally) so I'm not one to criticize.
4.) Obama and McCain's party platforms. Do either of them contain strong pro-Taiwan language? No. The last time I read up on it, McCain's platform says more than Obama's on the issue, but...still not good enough. Besides, which candidate is more hawkish, and therefore more likely to strengthen ties with other large countries in order to bolster this "war on terror"? Who is likely to reach out to China in our time of economic crisis? McCain. So who is more likely to pander to China? McCain. He may seem stronger on foreign policy but he's also the guy whose foreign policy knowledge is exactly the kind of knowledge we do not want - the kind of guy who would sell Taiwan's soul because it was the pragmatic thing to do.
5.) Ma. When Ma Ying-jiu was elected, who was the guy who got the press for congratulating Taiwan on being a beacon of democracy in Asia? Obama. Sure, Bush said something too but it was more along the lines of "finally you've done the prudent thing"...the obvious message in his pro-democracy congratulatory words. That is not a pro-Taiwan statement at all. One can still hope that Ma will have been a prudent choice for Taiwan in the long-term, but that's stretching it.
6.) The Olympics. What a perfect opportunity to tell China what we really think of them in the West. How great it would have been if our leaders had grown a pair and made it clear that China's human rights violations and treatment of territories (Xinjiang and Tibet) and sovereign states (Taiwan) were unacceptable?
We could have done this at any other time as well, if you believe that the Olympics is purely a sporting event...which I don't believe at all. Have we? No. Who has been responsible for America's pussymandering around China? Bush. Who is willing to sell out ideology because it's not politically worth it to be right? Bush.
7.) Inheritances. Between Condi Rice's "provocative" statement, Bush's inability to take a hard line on China, the arms freeze on Taiwan and the Bush administration's frank outreach to China in the midst of an economic and political maelstrom, you've got a pretty big cache of evidence for the Republicans being the wrong party to support if you are pro-Taiwan. Who will inherit this legacy as a party incumbent, if elected? McCain.
As I said, I don't claim to know every little thing about US politics, though I am American so I probably have a better view of it than, say, the Australians, Canadians, Kiwis and other expats who love to give their opinions on it. Of course they have that right, just that they're seeing it from a different perspective and one that doesn't take a lot of details into account.
And, of course, there are certainly details that I'm overlooking. It just seemed important to bring these thoughts up and challenge the notion that Obama is the candidate who will sell off Taiwan for political gain. I don't think either candidate is good for Taiwan, but we really need to question this notion that the Republicans have the better platform on this issue.
Sunday, September 28, 2008
...much more palatable than Chinese (or rather, Beijing) Opera, it's cousin. Less caterwauling, less beating-a-stray-cat-against-a-pole screeching.
More singing and music.
Needless to say, I prefer Ge Tzai Xi (not sure of that second word should be a "c" or "z" so I made up my own Romanization. Hey, everyone's doin' it!). I can't understand what's going on most of the time unless local spectators fill me in, as it's sung mostly in Taiwanese. That doesn't matter, though. I don't speak German and I love The Ring of the Nibelung, Die Meistersinger and Rienzi. I don't speak Italian and I love Aida.
In a way, it's almost better not to understand. Understanding the chanter at the Confucius Temple took all of the mystique out of it.
I'm especially a fan of a local troupe made up entirely of women who perform regularly at Bao'an and Dihua Street - their productions are entirely in Taiwanese. I think this was the same group but I'm not sure.
After watching the rehearsal for Confucius's birthday and before going to Dalong Street Night Market for dinner to have the best octopus of my life, we found this performance going on across the street from Bao'an Temple, in the property owned by Bao'an where the firewalking usually takes place.
I'm hoping to inspire more travelers to come and explore Taiwan and take advantage of the confluence of cultural heritage, friendliness, delicious food and stunning natural beauty here. With that in mind, here are some photos and a video, for those who aren't familiar with it:
And some videos...
I know it's not this exciting thing where I'm grabbing onto trees as cars are carried by the wind and floods...but I'm not inclined to go back out.
Though apparently just that is happening on the east coast now, and I wouldn't wish that on Taipei (or those affected on the east coast who have to go through it).
The storm is getting worse in Taipei as evening rolls in, marking 2 alternating weekends of being stuck at home in the middle of a typhoon. Our kitchen is a pond, our living room (which has no outside walls or windows - it looks out onto the kitchen) is leaking, and for once we're actually worried about losing power. Wellcome is sandbagged and they're taping up the windows. Water is in the aisles as well as some nasty brown stuff that I presume is from a broken soy sauce container. The customers looked shell-shocked, the checkout guy weary, and the doors are sandbagged as is normal during a typhoon.
ICRT's typhoon alert says that motorcyclists can't ride around in downtown Taipei anymore, but, ahh...they were definitely out in the lanes of Jingmei.
...and to think, I was promised free post-Ramadan Punjabi food tonight! Damn!
We started with what appears to be the local specialty - stir-fried mutton with noodles. It was good but needed some spice.
Then we moved on to what I can only say was some of the best seafood I've had in a long time - Shengmeng Haixian (生猛海鮮) at #251.
We had deep fried spicy octopus, which marks one of the very few times that I have truly enjoyed deep fried seafood...I generally prefer it to be cooked more gently to let the lighter flavors come through. This frying, though, brought out a savoriness that I didn't know octopus could possess, and got rid of the rubber-chicken feel that many octopus dishes possess.
We also had a Taipei seafood restaurant stalwart - basil clams. Clams cooked in a basil-heavy broth. Always delicious.
Finally, we got shrimp seared in a sweet black pepper concoction that was positively delicious. I didn't realize that caramelized something and black pepper could go so well together.
The restaurant itself is unassuming but a bit more upscale than the other joints on the block. It has a Japanese-style seafood restaurant feel to it, with fish on ice, tanks of shellfish outside, dark lacquer wood tables and little stools, the blue and white "curtains" the back and lots of beer and noise.
It seemed to be a restaurant for everyone - there was a group of 20-somethings celebrating an unknown event loudly and in Taiwanese. There were three middle aged drinking mates smoking and getting plastered together, and next to them was a family including a 3-year old and a grandmother who looked as though she remembered a time before the Japanese arrived in Taiwan.
Definitely delicious, and definitely a place to return to.
I was also curious about the much smaller, homier A-Qiu Seafood closer to the beginning of the night market and will return at a later date.
Shengmeng Seafood - #251 Dalong Street, near Bao'an Temple (head to Bao'an but before entering the area with entrances to the temple annexes, turn left at "Milk Houses"bakery), MRT Yuanshan.
Curious about the taste of deer meat or wild boar? Ever wanted to try snails or "virility soup", rice in a bamboo stick, cold millet wine, white pine plum jelly?
Ever wanted to see how coffee grown in Taiwan tastes?
Then go around lunchtime to Naruwan Indigenous People's Market (or dinnertime on Fridays and Saturdays, if you want live aboriginal music) and go wild.
I have to admit, we were expecting something homier - "just ten stalls" made me think of a tiny covered market or a few stalls along the street, not an entire building given over to those stalls with a huge sign on the front, and a sign near Longshan Temple MRT pointing to it.
It didn't look good at first - we walked inside and were greeted by a tacky plaster statue of a cartoon aborigine.
The place quickly redeemed itself, though, through its delicious food. We sampled millet wine (they wouldn't let us sample the hornet wine, as it was $900 NT a bottle and they didn't have an open sampling bottle) and tried some snacks from Hualien, then went over to another stand for deer and wild boar. We did get the bamboo rice, despite the fact that it's a recent addition to the aboriginal diet (rice was not an aboriginal staple before being influenced by the Chinese) and finished it off with Heliwan Mountain Coffee from Taidong.
The pig was delicious and garlicky, cooked with just the right amount of spice. The fatty parts weren't rubbery or gooey - I normally don't like fatty pig but this was quite good, it had an almost buttery flavor.
The deer reminded me of Sichuan cooking - hot and savory. The meat itself was exceedingly tender, and apparently is domestically raised (we didn't realize there were still deer in Taiwan - we go to the countryside often and only once do I think I might have seen a deer in the distance.)
The coffee was delicious, though a little strong and a overpowering. I did need a little sugar to get it down - I measure good coffee by whether or not I need to add sugar. To be fair, I needed to add a lot less than to Starbucks drip coffee.
Throughout the meal, a local aboriginal family (most of the people hanging around - not really being purposeful, just eating and hanging around - looked like they came from aboriginal communities) was sitting near us and one woman was either very enthusiastic or had imbibed a little too much millet wine.
"You have to order the soup!" she said (in Chinese). "Is that your boyfriend?"
"No, this one is. Isn't he handsome?"
"YES! He should order the soup. Then, when you go home, WOOOOOOOOOO YAAAA!"
We're heading back soon - I want to go to the handicrafts stall to buy gifts for people back home - behind the cell phone charms of bobblehead aborigines, they had some genuine handmade leatherwork and other interesting things. And, of course, we have to try the custard apple ice cream at another stall as well as hearing the live music.
On the same trip we visited Xuehai Academy, though we couldn't enter. Xuehai is one of the oldest buildings in Taipei and was once the most prestigious academic academy in Taiwan. It's beautiful, though it is crumbling a bit at the edges and covered with an ugly protective plastic roof. It is now the Gao family temple, so not accessible to the public. We're thinking we need to make friends with some Gao family members and get let in one day.
Also nearby you can stop at the Mangka Gate over Guangzhou Street Lane 223, which is not impressive at all...but inside there are several tiny hole-in-the-wall Taiwanese restaurants that look as though they're positively delicious. We're planning to go back and try some. You can also see Kenny. KENNY!
To get to Naruwan Indigenous People's Market, go to Longshan Temple MRT station and walk to the Guangzhou Street intersection (Longshan Temple will be on the right). Turn left and walk down the stone-paved street to the end. The market is at the intersection of Guangzhou and Huanhe Roads. Xuehai Academy is across the street. Mangka Gate is on Guangzhou Street over Lane 223 on the righthand side.
OK, I can't say that the dress rehearsal for his birthday on September 28th (happy b-day, bro) wasn't eye-catching. It was - it was stately, dignified, sedate...all the things you expect in a ceremony to honor Confucius.
It's just that the real thing is happening tomorrow at 6am and the ceremony was so stately and dignified that I have no idea how anyone could stay awake for it at that ungodly* hour. If I were Lord of the Universe, 6am on a Sunday would be banished from Time.
Not only that, but only a few hundred passes will be given out, so hardcore Confucius fans line up as early as 3am to get them. In what is shaping up to be a drenching typhoon.
We got there as the rain for the latest and greatest typhoon started up - and found that only people with a special ID ("can li zheng" or "ceremony attendee ID") could enter to watch the rehearsal. I knew my sister was inside - Zheng-da brings its foreign students there - so I tried that angle to get an ID, figuring I could get Joseph and Brendan in later. No luck.
Then two students who were not impressed came out and gave us their IDs. Their loss, our gain. The gatekeeper shooed the three of us in before anyone noticed that there were only two IDs.
"Feather dancers" in yellow robes stood in front of the main shrine, occasionally doing a decorous dance lacking completely in flash. Red-robed musicians played instruments "from the Zhou Dynasty" (obviously meaning that they were invented and used in that time, not that the actual instruments in use date from that time)...though I'm not sure I'd call it "playing" so much as striking the same four notes, each held for at least one measure, over and over.
A Master of Ceremonies sang a long, spiraling tune detailing all of the witnesses and groups present. I guess those chants are more mysterious and haunting when you don't know what the guy is singing. When you do know that he's belting out "Reeeeeeeepublic of Chiiiiiiinnnnnaaaaaa in the yeeeeeeear niiiinnneetttyyy seeevvveeeennnnn....wiiittnnessedd byyy stttuuuddeenntss frrooomm Naationaaaaal Taaaaiwaaaan Zheeeeengzhiiiii Universityyyyyy", it loses that sacred touch, you know?
There were more feather dances as people in the various small shrines around the main building gave offerings - or rather rehearsed giving offerings - and they practiced how things will go when Ma Ying-jiu comes to make an offering to Confucius in person.
It was quite fascinating to compare this example of austerity and reserve with the wild pageants that take place at the Bao'an Temple next door. At Baosheng Dadi and Sengnung Dadi's birthdays you can be assured of several giant (ten to fifteen feet high) costumes of various folk deities coming out, some martial artists with painted faces, lion dancers, pole balancers, and other costumes...and the occasional firewalking. I've grown fond of the large porcelain floats depicting mythical beasts and creatures with lit-up eyes and steam blowing out of their mouths. Take all that riotous color and noise and place it next to - literally next door to - the quiet dignity of this ceremony and you end up with a very good metaphor for Taiwan.
When all was said and done, the feather dancers (mostly teenagers) looked relieved and we retired to "Confucius Coffee", located in the temple behind the gift shop. Or tried to - it was closed.
For anyone interested in watching the ceremony next year or sweet-talking your way into an attendee pass for the rehearsal, The Con-Meister's birthday is not on the lunar calendar (or so I'm told); word has it that it's fixed on September 28th every year (ceremony 6-11am), with the rehearsal on the 27th around 3pm at the Confucius Temple near Yuanshan MRT station.
Tuesday, September 23, 2008
I have two thoughts on this - one of them biased and unobjective, the other just plain immature.
1.) He was lambasted by Beijing in 2006 for being so controversial as to call Taiwan "a law abiding country".
For this, I like him. I like anyone willing to stand up and say that to China's face; though it might have been merely a linguistic snafu.
Then again, he also said he'd like to make Japan into the kind of country where "rich Jews would like to live" which is horrifically politically incorrect but almost excusable given Japanese notion of political correctness (or lack thereof, depending on who you ask.)
2.) His name sounds like it ought to be a dessert. I'll have the soba noodles, three yakitori and taro aso for dessert.
Which is biased and which is immature? You get to decide.
Sunday, September 21, 2008
From the link:
Offering a rich blend of innovation, tradition, creativity and originality, a market in Taipei featuring Aboriginal gourmet, farm produce, millet wine, handicrafts and other items was inaugurated yesterday.
The Naruwan Indigenous Peoples’ Market is located not far from Longshan Temple (龍山寺), a popular tourist attraction in Taipei City’s Wanhua District.
Although the market only has 10 shops at the moment, one tour is enough to showcase the rich culture and creativity of Aborigines.
“When you come here, don’t just shop,” Taipei Mayor Hau Lung-bin (郝龍斌) told a crowd of Taiwanese and foreigners during the inaugural ceremony yesterday afternoon. “Rather, you should try to understand the stories behind these vendors and their culture.”
“There are people who came to Taipei decades ago selling things or serving food on the side of the street — they finally have a storefront. There is a single mother who was struggling to raise her kids and there is a husband who is working to feed his cancer-stricken wife because he remembers the vow he made in church,” he said.
Tseng Chun-yu (曾春玉) is that single mother.
An Aborigine of the Amis tribe, Tseng has had several jobs in the past 20 years since she moved to Taipei from her hometown in Hualien.
She now runs a small coffee and juice bar with her brother and her brother’s two daughters.
“Coffee and juice may not be anything special, but all the fruits I use are grown in Aboriginal areas,” Tseng said. “The coffee beans that I use are also from Aboriginal townships.”
The Haliwan coffee comes from Taitung, the Makutu is from Pingtung and the Pangcah is from Hualien.
“I make very good Pangcah coffee — you have to try it,” Tseng said, smiling.
Next door, an Atayal cook prepares stir-fried wild boar “a l’Atayal” and egg pancake with makau — a spice often used by the Atayal.
Further down is a small Bunun food stand, an Aboriginal handicraft store that offers do-it-yourself courses, a shop selling “sparkling millet wine,” a shop offering organic vegetables and fruit grown by Aborigines, and high-mountain tea from Alishan (阿里山).
This article is particularly fun to read - all about food in Taipei and why it's, not to mince words, better than food in Beijing.
Which, of course, it is!
It's long so I'll just post a link: Feasting at the Table of the Other China
But hey, I bet some NY Times editor somewhere realized that it would be big trouble to write about Taiwan without implying a kinship to China (it might "seriously hurt the feelings of the Chinese people" or some other such bullcrap), so they have to put it in there somewhere.
Or maybe they figure "Taiwan" won't grab readers - and therefore sell ads - as a headline, but "China" will. I dunno.
This follows up on several other NY Times articles, including the good - but not fantastic - 36 Hours in Taipei where they have great suggestions but hit the tourist points mostly, leaving out some of my favorite spots. With limited print space I guess that's what one has to do, though.
Both of these articles use the adjective "Taiwanese" later on in the piece, but not after a top heavy spiel about China, its influence and its pull. Why not be neutral on the issue, or better yet, call it what it is - Taiwan? I realize I'm starting to sound like Johnny Neihu on a bender here, but there's no way to avoid that.
There is, of course, the extremely well-written but also very long "Last Days of Taipei" in their magazine a few months ago.
This last one is the only one that seems to really get to the heart of life in the quiet lanes that lie just off the busy thoroughfares of Taipei city. It's worth a read, or at least a skim.
We spent our day a little differently. We made some time for the market and stair street, but also explored the old residential parts of Jiufen in a drizzling gray rain (head left at the end of the market street and then keep going, making an eventual righthand swing around the side of the mountain to where the Jiufen residents live), went up to a Japanese shrine above Jinguashi and walked around to the other side of Keelung Mountain for some gorgeous ocean views.
To get to the viewing platforms you have to take the bus from Ruifang to the very end of the line past Jinguashi. If the driver is nice he'll take you a bit farther so you won't have to walk uphill.
For the Japanese shrine, the entrance is not far from the Gold Museum and requires walking up a lot of steps with no shade.
I wish I still had my photos of Jiufen, but due to a recent computer crash, they're gone. I do, however, have these:
Tuesday, September 16, 2008
Monday, September 15, 2008
Just wanted to provide a rundown of places in Taipei to buy and sell used books, since it's a question that gets asked a lot and definitely deserves a solid answer available online. You might think that a city like Taipei wouldn't have these options - we're not a backpacker haven like Bangkok (thank the gods!) nor are we an expat hell like Seoul (again, I thank thee, O Heavenly ones). Options do exist, however, and these are the ones I've found so far:
Update: this storefront is gone. Whose Books' main store has moved to Gongguan. The sign is visible on Roosevelt Road right where Xinsheng S. Road terminates and the entrance is in the back (enter the lane and turn in to get to the entrance at the back).
Both stores buy used books (but don't give much)
Best selection of used books in Taipei, and seems to be getting bigger. They've got something for everyone - nonfiction, sci fi, old guidebooks, cheesy chick lit and romance novels, serious fiction for serious people, Booker Prize winners, backpacker fare, self-help, technical manuals, whatever. You can sit on ledges or on the floor and there are 3 tables in the back. Coffee and water available. Will provide a "VIP Card" for discounts, and will buy books but not at a competitive price (if your aim is to get rid of old books and make space for new ones, not to make money, it's a good deal). With the tables, good selection and windows in the back, it's a great place to spend a rainy Saturday, finishing with some wine and a smoked salmon sandwich at the cafe down the street.
Mollie's Used Books I
Taipower Building MRT - take the southernmost exit on the west side of Roosevelt Rd and walk down past the actual Taipower Building. Turn right in the lane next to the building painted bright yellow (used to be Asto Gelato if you know the area, now it's a Bossini). Walk down past Karma and the Buddhist Library and turn left in Alley 10. It's down a little ways.
Of the three Mollie's, this one has the best selection of English books, but that's not saying much. There's a small selection mostly of self-help and business "How to Re-Engineer Your Blue-Sky Deliverable Envisioneering" wankology and some cheap sci-fi paperbacks, among a few books actually worth reading (not that I'm dissing "The Return of Xargax" or anything...oh wait, yes I am). But they make OK coffee for 50 kuai, have used CDs that are sometimes good and sometimes horrific (Chumbawamba?). Downstairs there are a lot of cheap kid's books in Chinese, good that's where your Chinese reading level is. Finally, downstairs there's a decently eclectic selection of old guidebooks. They say they buy books but they wouldn't take ours. Strange, as our books are better than what they've got.
South side of Heping East Road between Shida and Xinsheng S. Road. I don't remember exactly where but it's a basement entrance and very easy to miss, so look carefully. It's near that Chinese restaurant that looks Italian, which is next to an actual Italian restaurant.
This one has a few tables and benches, and they don't mind if you use the floor. They also have 2 cats and seem to provide coffee. One small nook on the far righthand side of the store has English, German and some French books, and there are a few used CDs. This is a fun place to grab random stuff and read away a day, but don't come expecting to find anything. I've never tried to unload old books here.
Somewhere in the crazy lanes of Gongguan Night Market - good luck. It's near a Vietnamese restaurant.
The only English selection seems to consist of old textbooks and manuals, but they have a pretty good used CD collection. Doesn't matter as nobody can ever find the place.
Update: the books at Grandma Nitti's are gone. Gone gone gone. Now, go to Bongo's.
Sunday, September 14, 2008
Oh well. Without further ado:
Saturday, September 13, 2008
I have asked the fine folks at Lonely Planet's Thorn Tree YC branch to entertain me with videos of dancing monkeys. For all of you out there who are just as bored as me, stuck indoors while the lame typhoon sort of rages on (and off, and on), here they are:
more dancing monkeys
and still more dancing monkeys
The typhoon isn't getting much press because Galveston is so much worse off...but it's not fun. It's about the same strength as Hurricane Ike but without the killer eye and storm surge. There's also the fact that Taiwan handles these storms better than the USA, and because we're in Asia (not the USA), we don't get as much international coverage. There's less damage because the Taiwanese are quite used to it all and built cities that can withstand the typhoons.
Ahem. So yes. I am bored. We went out earlier and rented 6 movies and 1 season of a TV show but that's getting old. We got a cup of coffee since we were already out, and did a crossword. We cooked lunch, enjoyed some together time, and cleaned up our flooded kitchen for the second time.
But it's only 8pm, and this thing isn't even going to make landfall until tomorrow!
So one day down, one day to go of HORRIFIC BOREDOM.
I feel worse for the residents of Galveston TX of course, and for my younger sister studying at Zheng-da. Today is her birthday and she spent it hanging out in a dorm room. That must have been fun.
I guess I could go clean up the kitchen, which has just flooded for the third time...
Exotic Masala House: #19 Lane 13 Pu Cheng Street Taipei (turn off Shida Road at Red House pub and it's a ways in on the right).
We went for an almost entirely South Indian spread - idli sambhar, masala dosa, Kerala fried fish. We also got samosas just because, and several cups of masala chai each.
The verdict? Not bad. Not perfect. The only two times I've had idli-dosa outside of Tamil Nadu that really tastes exactly like the tiffin there have been in Singapore (Little India - one of those tiny spots with card tables and aluminum plates and tumblers) and Amma Vegetarian Kitchen in Georgetown...and even Amma sometimes spiced its sambhar a little too mildly. Singapore was my favorite because the feeling of the place we went really felt like a tiffin joint in Madurai. Tamils, hair dripping with coconut oil, sitting around shoddy tables with metal cups, talking shit and eating, pouring foaming hot chai between two cups to cool it down. Amma us good but it feels like an actual restaurant, which is just not right at all.
But back to Taipei. Exotic Masala House's idli-dosa satisfied a craving. Scratched a culinary itch. The sambhar was good but not quite as laden with lentils as it ought to be (and no drumstick). The idli was just fine, if a little crumbly. But that's alright, idli in India isn't always fluffy either.
My favorite dish was the masala dosa - it was small compared to what one normally gets and the dosa was definitely closer to ghee dosa (not paper dosa at all), but the potato masala inside was delicious and spicy. It wasn't the bright yellow potato curry I'm used to; it was more reddish, almost like a chutney dosa. I'm OK with that; a variation that is also present in India.
I liked the chutneys, but wish that with the sambhar they'd serve pure coconut chutney (white with black mustard seed), not the green kind that includes extra cilantro and green chili.
The Kerala fish curry was a bit disappointing, more like a fish fry. It was good enough, but my memory of Malayali fish is a massive white filet encrusted with spices and sauteed in coconut or just grilled. If they'd serve that, I'd be in heaven.
The samosas were...samosas. Good. The wrapping was a little different, but a totally acceptable variation. But they were no better or worse than samosas at any other Indian restaurant in Taipei.
But then we come to the masala chai. Ahh, the masala chai. It was...superb. We drank it as dessert, since they didn't have any on the menu (no big deal - many restaurants don't offer Indian desserts because they are not popular with the locals, and even when they do they come out of a can). It would have been nice to get some gulab jamun, samiya payasam, khulfi, burfi or kheer...but no such luck.
But that chai. If you go for anything, go for the chai. It's laden with cardamom - as in, positively reeks of it. It's spicy and cinnamony and milky and sweet. Heaven in a cup, served so hot that you have to sit there and smell it for about 10 minutes before it's drinkable. An orgasm in a cup.
We drank two cups each and I was considering a third, and the friend who met us there just for the tea raved about it.
Some other notes - this place doesn't seem to be getting much business, but then we went just before Typhoon Sinlaku blew in, and none of the Shida restaurants were raking in the cash that night. Just because they make idli and dosa even possible in Taipei, it really deserves to stay afloat.
The prices are great. Nothing we ordered cost more than 150 kuai, and many were closer to 80. A huge meal for two and tea for three didn't even reach 1000 kuai; a strange occurrence in a Taipei ethnic restaurant.
The music is great; it's all MS Subbulakshmi and Dr. Yesudas with others thrown in. Very relaxing, very atmosphere-appropriate. The restaurant is decorated in saffron orange and is warm and welcoming.
Brendan and I sat around in the table by the window reading the paper and chatting. We were comfortable - practically fuzzy - from the tiffin rush, the soft undulating music, the warm colors and the amazing chai. The three of us ended up hanging around a lot longer than was strictly necessary before giving up on a typhoon movie and deciding on typhoon Belgian beer at Red House, drunk giddily on the terrace as Sinlaku began its rainy rage.
The waitress came up and asked - hao chi ma?
"Quanbu dou hao che...nimen de masala dosa zuihao laaa. Zhe bei cha ye feichang hao he oh!"
The waitress goes to the back, where a plump Dravidian lady with a massive nosering was standing around.
"They said it tasted good! They especially love the tea and dosa!"
The woman squealed delightedly, sounding younger than her age, happy that her customers enjoyed her food.
I don't know why, but that was quite heart-softening.
Is it exactly like Madurai? No. Is it worth going back frequently? Definitely!
...I will not return to the USA for any purpose other than a visit until they are gone.
It's just....I mean...I'm so...I totally...受不了 their platforms, policies and personalities. Ugh. They're just as bad, if not worse, than George W. Bush. I could go into detail as to why, but..何苦呢?
*I don't say that to be sexist. I'm a woman after all, and one of those latte-swilling university-age-protesting urban liberal feminist women at that. It's not me, it's her. She pretends to represent the average American woman, and yet she wants to take away our right to choose - and would probably love the chance to force us all to turn Christian. I don't like her beliefs or platforms, and on top of that I don't like her as a public persona.
I may not like President Ma over here, but I get the feeling that he's trying, in his own totally wrong way, to do his best by Taiwan. It's really the KMT that turns me off; Ma as a person is sort of acceptable. The only platform of his that I truly disagree with is of course the big one - Cross-Strait relations. Some of his changes in Taipei have been fantastic; he sponsored the Maokong Gondola and I do like those executive bus lanes.
So, hmm. We were planning to stay for another few years while I perfected my Chinese/got a Master's degree and we both built more corporate training experience (yeehaw). Interesting to think that the earliest possible return-home date could be four years away. Or - Heaven forfend those zealots actually get elected twice - eight years.
It's OK though. I love Taiwan and truly can envision this damp, green island as my home for the next eight years. Fortunately, Brendan feels the same way.
As long as one keeps in mind that the bias does exist and is willing to read news from other sources with other biases to get a better sense of the truth, that's fine.
But all that aside, this was interesting:
Lawsuit thrown out - Gods won't show as witnesses
So Chang Li-tang (former mayor of Tainan) had been active in this monastery. That's pretty normal here; I'm fairly sure my own company donates large chunks of its profits to a Buddhist monastery somewhere on the island. He posted some scriptures online and the monastery board decided that this act angered and insulted the gods. They summarily fired him, but Chang filed a suit for wrongful dismissal.
The suit was thrown out. Why? Because the court decided that they needed the gods to testify as to whether they were offended or not.
Since the gods are not likely to show up, they dismissed the case.
Friday, September 12, 2008
Gold Mining Country: Xiao Tzukeng Old Trail
Two things immediately stood out as I followed Xiao Tzukeng Old Trail near the Taipei County town of
Ruifang one beautiful early morning recently. The first was the beauty of the mountain scenery rising high above my head, which is rugged and precipitous, yet covered in a dense canopy of trees and undergrowth.
It's hardly surprising that this is an outstandingly beautiful slice of countryside: the upper Keelung River valley is possibly my favorite part of Taipei County. More unexpected is the high quality of the wide, expertly cut steps that carry the trail up to the heights, quite unlike the usual uneven, narrow and slippery slabs of rock that negotiate the steepest stretches of most historic trails I've followed.
It's not until exploring further up the mountainside, as we start to decipher the information boards placed alongside the trail at intervals, that we learn why the trail here was built with so such care, and it's a surprising discovery. Xiao Tzukeng Old Trail connects the lowlands of the Keelung River valley just north of the village of Houtung (侯硐) with the tiny, long abandoned settlement of Xiao Tzukeng, a tiny place perched high in the mountains (unreachable by any road), built to house the families of miners hoping to make their fortune at the gold mines above Jiufen, which is just a short climb over the ridge behind.
Recently upgraded and signposted, Xiao Tzukeng Old Trail (小粗坑古道) is a gentle walk, yet one that's peppered with fascinating relics from an exciting period of Taiwan's history -- the Jiufen gold rush. A few minutes after leaving the road, the first of many stone buildings, now nothing but a picturesque ruin enveloped in the jungle, stands beside the track.
In another minute or two, the track becomes a trail, crosses the rocky stream twice in quick succession, and reaches the bottom of a grand staircase of wide, well-hewn steps that lead all the way up the mountainside to the abandoned village and beyond.
The width and careful construction of these steps really is quite surprising to anyone who has walked more than a couple of Taiwan's hundreds of "old trails," so it's obvious that the villagers here were far wealthier than the farmers, villagers and fishermen who laid many of the other trails across the mountains throughout Taiwan.
About half-an-hour from the trailhead, the path climbs onto a large, stone platform rising high above the stream that flows at its foot. A quick look at our trusty hiking book revealed that a waterwheel was apparently once fixed here, and that gold-bearing rock brought from the mines was crushed and washed at this place. Or at least maybe it could be after wet weather -- the streambed was bone dry on our visit.
A long, wide staircase now climbs for about twenty minutes from the bank of the stream to the edge of the abandoned village of Xiao Tzukeng, a wonderfully atmospheric place, with a handful of half-ruined stone buildings lining the path, half hidden by the thick foliage of the encroaching jungle.
A trail on the left leads past the ruins of the village's old elementary school (which had a single classroom and just one teacher, so that only first and second grade kids could be taught here), and on up more steps past a picturesque small Earth God shrine to a wooden platform atop the nearest summit, providing a good view of Ruifang and the Keelung River Valley.
It's hard to imagine a bustling community of over 200 people once lived here, but another helpful info-board informed us that Xiao Tzukeng was once quite a lively place. A stage once stood in the playground of the school, and the village even had its own ensemble of Chinese Beiguan musicians!
Continuing onwards and upwards, after diverting around the grounds of the only house in town that's still inhabited (apparently by a couple of monks), a short but narrow, overgrown and difficult trail leaves the steps on the right and contours the precipitous hillside, reaching (after about five minutes' scramble) the foot of the small but very pretty Yingssu ("silver silk") Waterfall (銀絲瀑布), a hidden little place that's worth the trouble of getting there even when it's dry (as is often the case!).
The steps (a bit dilapidated in places now) climb steeply for another hot twenty minutes to reach a large and dignified stone shrine, protected by an unsightly concrete roof. This is the Temple to the Mountain Gods, a place at which miners en route to the mines at Jiufen would request permission before extracting rock from the mountainside, in the hope that the assent of the gods would ensure their safety while underground. The shrine is big enough to enter. Inside, in a niche at the back, sits a small stone figure, a replacement for the original statue (covered in gold leaf) that once sat here.
Jiufen (and, of course, its crowds) is now just a short climb, over the ridge.
Wednesday, September 10, 2008
I've been going to
The sports center itself is, while not exactly top-of-the-line fantastic, certainly very good for a municipal facility. Better than anything most American cities seem to throw together.
Every Tuesday and Thursday it's an hour on the treadmill followed by stretching (I am also starting to do crunches and the like at home to help tone a few petulant muscles), and every Friday (and sometimes Monday) I head to the basement and do 15-20 laps in the pool followed by a lovely soak in the hot tub.
On many of these days, there's an elderly man who comes to the pool and occasionally ends up in my lane or one next to mine. As the regular swimmers all know each other by sight now, if not by name, swimming near each other is becoming more common. We gravitate to the people we know - at least we know they won't kick water in our face, cut in line and then swim a very slow butterfly stroke, or spit in the pool.
I’m no Michael Phelps, and I never took proper swimming lessons (just learned on my own) so you can imagine that my form is pretty awful. I know this.
The man, despite being about 75 to my 27, can swim dolphin-like circles around me. He claims that this is because he “is from an island” which means “of course he is a good swimmer.” I assumed he meant
He started giving me tips on my form, from how to move my arms to how to get my body to glide through the water, when at that point it was more like bumbling through it. I listened to him, because I was jealous of his ability to sluice through his laps while I gurgled along, competently but in a very ungainly way.
But every time I tried to chat with him in Chinese he seemed confused, uninterested or just plain uncomprehending. I think it’s rude to ask about ethnicity so I never asked, and just assumed that my pronunciation was tripping him up.
One day he finally said that he is, in fact, Japanese so he barely understands when anyone speaks Chinese to him. Well there ya go.
I was curious about what brought him to Taiwan, what he thinks of Taiwan as compared to Japan (Taipei reminds me more of Japan than of China, though the rest of the country doesn’t necessarily share this similarity), what he was doing in Taiwan and other culturally-minded questions. The barrier down, I began to ask.
He, however, just didn’t feel like telling me. He grew quiet - even a little distant - when talking about
I realized pretty quickly that he wasn’t interested in cultural exchange or even chatting about his origins – he just wanted to get down to the business of swimming or at least talking about swimming, and wanted to help the nice (if talkative) foreign girl swim better.
And I have. I don’t quite glide seamlessly through the chlorinated lanes the way he does, but I’m a little less like a swimming Labrador and a little more like a creature who was born to the water (not a dolphin or fish, maybe a walrus or polar bear) and I don’t look so embarrassingly clumsy. I’m faster and stronger, as well.
You can find
Monday, September 8, 2008
This is not a complete list, but I think it comes pretty close.
Mayur Indian Kitchen
2 locations: Keelung Road just south of Ren'ai, and Xinsheng N. Road Sec 1 #38
They have idli-dosa, and other regional specialties! Most Indian restaurants (OK, all other ones) seem to go for the "three types of meat four ways, and some vegetables" style of Indian food. Mayur actually cooks regional recipes from various states in India. My current favorite. VERY highly recommended.
Out Of India
Shida - off Shida Road on the "foreign food street", turn left by Red House pub, on the left.
Update: Still open, offering good deals on food in a "save us from closing" effort. Even though I strongly advise against ordering their garlic naan (although you can ask if they've switched back to using real garlic and not that nasty fake garlic butter spread Update - they haven't - UGH!), go eat there and thumb your nose at the Shi-da residents who are wreaking havoc on the neighborhood.
Delicious butter chicken and good curries overall - the vindaloo is also especially good.
Kingfisher Beer? Check. Well, usually.
Gulab Jamun and other desserts generally come from a can; it's not profitable time-wise or ingredient-wise to make the real thing.
The naan leaves something to be desired, especially the garlic naan, which used to be fine but is now just naan with that cheap fake butter-garlic spread on top.
They used to have mango pickle but don't seem to offer it anymore. Damn!
Price: Kind of expensive, but OK considering how expensive it is to cook Indian food in Taipei
They do catering and carry-out.
Exotic Masala House
Update: Closed - while I am generally upset by what's going on in Shi-da, which is starting to spread to other parts of Taipei (so I hear on very unreliable Forumosa), I can't say I'm all that sorry. I really liked this place when they opened but they quality slid into the gutter pretty quickly and I'd stopped recommending it awhile ago.
This place deserves a look because it looks more reasonably priced than Out of India and it has south Indian food - idli and dosa! Yay! If you really know your Indian food, you'll want to go here for the only southern Indian delights in town. I'll tell you if they're any good next week. I've lived in south India so you can trust my judgement.
Calcutta Indian Food
Update: Moved. Go to the old place at #126 Kunming Street (follow Chengdu Rd. from MRT Ximen and turn right on Kunming), then keep going to the first light. Turn right and across the street from Holiday KTV there is a building called "U2". The new location is in the basement food court, towards the back. The food is still the same great stuff. They have Kingfisher!
Kunming Road #126 off Ximen MRT Station (exit 1 is the best) - take exit 1 and cross the street and Red House Theater square, head straight up Chengdu Rd. bypassing Ximending proper, and you'll come to Kunming Road. In the vicinity are several movie theaters.
Great food - though they don't have butter chicken (my all time favorite Punjabi dish). The naan is better than Out of India and the curries can be made spicy on request. I especially like their lamb pasanda. No more desserts as they're "not profitable" and the beer is good, but there are no Indian beers on offer (update: sometimes they do stock Kingfisher now). Prices are lower than Out of India and they offer a mutton samosa which is delicious.
Ali Baba's Indian Kitchen
Nanjing E. Road by Jilin Road (you can walk from Zhongshan MRT or take a bus a few stops from there) across from poorly-named Silverfish Thai.
This place is actually run by Pakistanis and offers halal food - they are best at tandoori and other Punjabi treats (there is a dish that is basically butter chicken under a different name) as well as more Muslim-influenced fare such as seekh kebabs and other dry meat dishes. Great food though the spice level varies. We went once, ordered vindaloo, and nearly got our taste buds blasted off - OK in my book! - and yet another friend claimed that their spices were tame. Ask for spice and you'll get spice, don't and you'll get mild, I suppose. The veggie-covered papadam is fantastic, as is their masala chai. The kheer is good but the gulab jamun comes from a can. This is the only place in town that offers kheer. As they're Muslim, there's no beer available. Update: they allow BYO alcohol!
SaffronUpscale classy Indian place behind Shinkong Mitsukoshi/Miramar in Tianmu. Take buses 285, 685 or many others to Shinkong Mitsukoshi/Tianmu Sports Stadium and walk up the road between the two towering department stores. On your left.
Saffron is upscale and chi-chi looking, which is why I haven't eaten there yet. But they seem to have Indian cooks and the place smells nice, so give it a try for a nice date. Looks expensive.
The Spice ShopNext to Saffron (above)
Expensive but very good Indian food with a 1950's funky wallpaper feel that brings to mind curryhouses of the UK. I've never had a curry I didn't like here, but I've always paid through the nose for them. No Indian beers though, and they don't seem to know the difference between mango chutney and mango pickle. Good thing I like both.
Me and Brendan at The Spice Shop
Tandoor#10 Lane 73 Hejiang Street, Taipei
We finally ate here and I can give the place my stamp of approval. The food is solidly good and we enjoyed everything we ate, except for the very lackluster samosas. The only reason we don't eat here more often is that it is rather expensive compared to my twin faves of Ali Baba and Calcutta, and it's kind of out of the way for us.
As always, you need to specifically ask for truly spicy food.
Bollywood Indian Pizza
It's not really quite right to say that this is an "Indian restaurant" - they serve Indian curries (good, real ones, though a bit creamier than usual) with cheese on naan in a pizza-like way. But you know what? It's good. Really good. Go try them out! They have some interesting choices and I liked the unusual presentation.
In some lane or other near Zhongshan Junior High School MRT
Maybe they were just having a bad day, but I wasn't impressed with my meal here. The lamb rogan josh felt and tasted as though it had been microwaved, the sauce was watery and the samosas and naan thoroughly mediocre...yet it was an expensive meal. I saw some Indian expats eating there so maybe they are capable of something better.
Alla-Din Indian and Pakistani Kitchen
#101 Raohe Street, Songshan District (in Raohe Night Market)
Update: Now that I regularly teach a class across the street from Raohe Night Market I eat here fairly regularly (tip: take the train to Songshan Station, don't take the MRT to Houshanpi to get there. The Bade Road exit of Songshan Station is right across the street from the Matsu Temple at one end of Raohe Night Market).
Update: We ate there again recently, sit-down, and it was good but not great. The spice was slathered on chili, with no depth or care.
Tianmu, somewhere a little north of Zhishan MRT and a little west of Zhongshan North Road
Good luck finding it, but it's there. I haven't tried this place yet so I'll let you know, but it looked unpretentious and reasonably-priced. The spice shop near Taipei City Hall MRT has business cards for it so it should be pretty good.
Taipei 101 Food Court near Karen Teppanyaki and the Pho shop, and other department store food courts
My boyfriend vouches for their "pretty good" aloo gobi and lamb rogan josh, but says their butter chicken is dire. I've tried a curry there - can't remember what it was and it doesn't matter - and was resoundly not impressed. Also, um, soup? Really? Soup is not an Indian thing (sambar is like soup, but isn't soup, and mulligatawny soup was invented by the British). Update: appears to be closed, but I could be wrong.
Breeze Taipei Main Station food court
It says it serves real Indian food, but it doesn't. We had "curry noodles", whatever that is supposed to be. Don't take this as biting criticism - for what it is (Japanese style curry) it's pretty good, but it's not really Indian. None of the "Indian food" in Breeze Taipei Main is really Indian, to be honest.
Halal Indian Restaurant
Wenzhou Street just inside Heping-Wenzhou intersection, next to the Halal Thai place
Well, they don't get any points for naming creativity but they've got pretty good stuff, very homemade taste, but not a lot of selection (you can get beef, chicken, lamb or vegetable curry or biriyani, that's about it). The lamb curry is a bit watery but it packs a punch and I quite liked the chicken and veg that we got, too. We skipped the beef because, honestly, I never ate beef in India, so eating it in a curry is weird to me although I know under halal guidelines it's fine. The chapatis are thick and soft - you only need one for a meal (chapatis in India are thinner and you usually eat multiple ones in one meal - these are more north Indian/Pakistani); I'd add a touch more salt to them but enjoyed them nonetheless. The veg curry is made with chick peas but is more reminiscent of chole bhatura than channa masala. All in all we had a very enjoyable meal there; it's a simple but good standard place to have within walking distance of home.
Guangfu Road right around the Bade intersection
Haven't eaten here, will soon, will tell you how it is.
Some new Indian restaurant on Keelung Road, south of Mayur, close to Xinyi
Haven't eaten here, but Brendan has. He got a set menu. His verdict - "eh".
Lane 118 Sec. 2 Heping E Road, Taipei
This one is near where this lane (#118 off Heping, Section 2) meets Xinhai north of National Taiwan University, very close to where Fuxing S. Road ends. We haven't eaten here, but it looks serviceable and is near our home, so we will soon.
Trinity Superstores (import store)MRT Taipei City Hall Exit 4, somewhere after Taipei Milk King and Dante Coffee on Zhongxiao Road (north side)...it's in an innocuous building and the only clue that it exists is a little 8 1/2 x11 sign. Buzz to unlock the door and go to the 2nd floor.
Not a restaurant, but I wanted to let you know where the only Indian import store in Taipei is...or at least the only one I've found. They've got everything you need to make your own curries, or just to stock up on spices at home without paying Jason's or City Super prices.
New: I've found a place on Ren'ai Road near the Howard Hotel (south side between Jianguo and Fuxing). I'll try it soon and let you know how it is.
More reviews of Indian restaurants can be found here at Hungry Girl - I didn't include many of the ones in department store food courts because they invariably disappoint me, and I can't possibly hit every restaurant.