Sunday, March 21, 2010

The Noodle House

The Noodle House
堂慶(character I can't read - funny script on the card) 手麵食
1st floor #103 Xinyi Road Section 3, Taipei

It's near Da'an Park, on the north side of Xinyi, very close to the Xinyi-Jianguo bus stop if you are coming from the east.

If you try any one not-expensive, low-key restaurant in Taipei, try this one. Well, this one and "Taste Good" restaurant (好 口甲 - can't type it in Taiwanese) in Nanjichang Night Market, and the Sichuanese restaurant of awesome in Dingxi that I can't say enough good things about.

Anyway. The Noodle House is spectacular, yet simple. The interior is decorated in a half-industrial, half Old China style that works really well - unfinished brick walls are painted a dark factory gray, and accented with Chinese-style carved wood. There is carved wood in lots of prominent places including at the counter and on the windows and door, and the tables are the old style square wooden ones with stools.

The Small Eats (小吃) in front of the counter are just as fresh and delicious as they look - we had mi fen (jelly-like squares made from rice flour in a chili oil sauce), cold chicken with ground Chinese chives, garlic and chili, something with tree ear mushrooms and a chewy squishy thing that was either tofu or fish-paste based, and cold cucumbers. All of it was just astoundingly good. The cold chicken is a house specialty and I highly, highly recommend it.

We also had regular green veggies (Chinese celery or 空青菜) that were fresh and good and split a bowl of regular dry noodles, also fantastic. We each got a bowl of dry wontons draped in a hua-jiao laden chili sauce that was spicy and mouth-numbing at the same time.

And it was all soooooooo good. For cheap! Everything was extremely well-made, fresh and nicely presented.

I highly recommend this place to anyone and everyone.

Da Jian Mountain (大尖山)

I apologize for not updating for some time - after a long break from wedding planning, I've realized that as dumb as this seems, photographers and DJs are already booking up for September. I think it's ridiculous that one needs to book such things six months in advance - a party for 100 people should not take this long to plan or need to be planned so far in advance, it's purely idiotic - but there it is. After several photographers I liked were either booked already, too expensive or both, we found this very talented professional. We can't afford her for more than 4 hours, but we're fine with 4 hours of coverage and getting photos from the end of the reception from guests. We'd rather have 4 hours of an amazing, offbeat, non-traditional pro than 7 hours of someone not as good, or a typical "Wedding Photographer" who takes the same dumb poses and pictures of pearls and soft focus roses for every wedding, who won't get the vibe we're going for (non-traditional "party to celebrate a marriage", with lots of color, all our favorite people, good food and shenanigans, not a Wedding with a capital W in any way except for the part where we get married. No white in sight, no roses, no satin or taffeta, no pearls, no white dress, no cake that tastes like Styrofoam, no garters, no bouquets, no YMCA, no dried up Wedding Chicken, no "giving away", none of it).

But in the midst of all that - happy to have a photographer, still no DJ because we can't afford the usual cost of a pro - we managed to go hiking last week on Dajian Mountain, and do some other fun stuff in between. More on the other stuff later.

Dajian Mountain is a mountain and scenic area in the town of Xizhi, 20 minutes east-ish of Taipei. The "summit" (not the true summit, which has less of a panoramic view) commands fine views from Taipei - including 101 in the distance - all the way to Keelung, the Pacific Ocean and Keelung Island.
A view of Taipei from Tianxiu Temple in Xizhi

You can also see Yangmingshan and Guanyinshan on the other side if the weather is clear. (Yangmingshan is peaking out over another mountain, so you can only see the top). While it is theoretically possible to set out from the Xizhi train station and climb from there, I highly recommend taking the free bus - it comes every 45 minutes to an hour from the train station to Tianxiugong (天秀宮)- a temple 3/4 of the way up the mountain. Ask around for where it picks up. If you take the bus, you won't miss much in the way of fine views that you can't get at the top.

This area is protected - at least I am pretty sure it is - and, like Pingxi, is a riot of butterflies. I saw several different species and while I'm no lepidopterist (that's your word of the day, kids), I was impressed by the color and variety found there, so someone with an interest in butterflies would quite enjoy it.

Creepy Pandas at Tianxiu Temple

We had just missed a bus so we took a taxi to Tianxiu Temple (125 kuai). We ate lunch there - there are many options, all of them mediocre) and you can also pick up water and Pocari Sweat.

Then we headed to Xiufeng (?) waterfall, up the hill and then down a peaceful, easy wooded trail that can be slippery in wet weather. The waterfall was lovely, cascading down a rippled rock face into a heart-shaped pool. The rocks were red and gray -red where the water was not constantly flowing over, allowing lichens to grow, and gray where nothing could grow due to the force of the water. The cool air spilling off the waterfall was also a treat. Down the trail a bit to the end, you'll come to an area with four chairs and what used to be a table - a fine spot for a picnic.

Red lichen rocks at the waterfall

The lovely waterfall off the side trail

After that we walked back up to the road and continued up to the viewpoint of Da Jian Mountain, hung out there, befriended some other hikers, ate lunch and continued on our way.

A view of Yangming Mountain peeking out behind a ridge

Partway up the trail, a prayer-bead holding Guanyin was placed next to a golden rooster and a maneki-neko (招財) cat.

We tried to continue along to another waterfall, skirting Monk's Head Mountain and going over a series of easy hilly summits, and then going down a slippery, narrow path through the underbrush, but met some hikers on their way up who insisted that further down, the trail was no longer passable. It had taken a lot of energy to get down, using our arms and always precariously balancing on the slippery mud and rocks, and we didn't feel like going further only to have to turn back without reaching our goal, so we turned tail and went back up the trail. We decided not to continue along but rather to walk back to Da Jian Mountain, enjoy the late afternoon and then head down on foot to Tianxiu Temple and by bus further down (though we ended up on foot for most of it as it took awhile for a bus to arrive).

An Earth God (土地公)shrine partway down the path that led nowhere

Towards the end, we tried to head to a temple at the base of the hill, not far from the train station, that has a preserved monk idol (another one, like the one we visited in Beitou a few months ago, where the idol is in fact the real body of a departed monk) - but when we got to the turn-off, it was late, we were meeting someone in Raohe Night Market for dinner soon, and it was up another hill that we were too tired to climb - so we gave it a pass for now and will revisit it some other day. We plan to return to Xizhi for the Old Street as well as the Xinshan / Dream Lake hike, anyway.

Back at Tianxiu Temple, some guy was feeding his varmint. Awww, what an adowwable wittle varmint!

Dajianshan in the late afternoon

Saturday, March 6, 2010

Ice Monster

This *also* appeared in the Taipei Times this morning:

OK. Ice Monster was pretty good. I always enjoyed eating there.

But it was not the best shaved ice in the Taipei metro area. It was one of the best, sure, but come on.

Like Dintaifung or that lady in Xinzhu who sells popcorn (any local will know what you mean), it was considered the best because of its fame, not necessarily because it was the best. I like Dintaifung, though I think they are overpriced. Shanghai Dumpling on Minsheng E. Road (east of Dunhua) is just as good for 1/3 the price.

And as for Ice Monster, again it was good. But if you want fantastic shaved ice, then you need only go to Sugar House in Nanshijiao night market (The market is T-shaped - it's on the base of the T, a left turn about halfway down if you enter the market from the MRT).

China - takin' care of the peeps

This Guardian article appeared yesterday in the Taipei Times.

I have to say - seriously? Really? I would think that Kishore could do better, being the dean at a Singaporean school of public policy and career foreign service officer/UN representative and all.

A few choice quotes below - and I followed them with quips from Brendan, my wonderfully witty fiance, because his one-liners are often better than mine.

"The key to understanding Asian approaches is their pragmatism. Asians constantly adapt and change."

"Really? I'd hope that that's true of all people. Oh, those crazy non-adapting white people!"

At a recent workshop that we co-chaired in Singapore, the inevitable question was raised: can Asians lead in meeting global challenges? The responses from the Chinese and Indian participants were striking. They argued that by taking care of more than two billion people – and taking care of them well – both China and India were already making a major contribution to global stability and order.

"Well, you could argue that China is taking care of its people better than it has in any other time in recent history."

and my personal favorite -

"China takes care of its rich people well. Like all Communist societies."

So, uh, Kishore. Yeah. About that. What the hell are you smoking?! India does the best job it can of taking care of its people - I've been to India, I've seen the challenges the Indian government is up against, from natural disasters to a giant poo-storm (hey, my family reads this thing, sorry about the kid-friendly language) left by the British, to institutionalized corruption.

China may be developing faster and have a slightly wealthier populace but it's clearly on the wrong track. A track that was laid in 1984.

So...yeah, Kish. The Kishmeister. Kish-ore-rama. Um. Do you really believe that China is taking care of its 1+ billion people well? Really? Forserious?

If you do, then either you've drunk the Kool-Aid, or you've never been to China. Which, as a career diplomat, I find surprising.

Oh, wait. I studied International Affairs. I met tons of diplomats in training. I could have been one and chose not to (I'm too blunt, see). As such, I don't find it surprising at all.

Tuesday, March 2, 2010

Pingxi Sky Lantern Festival

Some photos from this past weekend's lantern festival in Shifen (near Pingxi). The quality of the photos isn't as great as it could be - my camera doesn't take fantastic night shots This is one of the few times I've felt, though, that having an older Canon PowerShot (A520) was a real hindrance, because I can't get the quality of photos I want if it's not ideally bright, or if it's too bright. That means most shots of the lanterns actually in the sky are blurrier than I'd like.

Anyway, enjoy!