Wednesday, August 25, 2010
Monday, August 23, 2010
Lilian, the Spicy Girl friend. ;) She always has the best dresses - managing to look womanly without looking trampy.
Tuesday, August 17, 2010
Beginning in October, a public review of the food sold at the airport will be held on a regular basis to encourage caterers at the airport’s two terminals to present more appealing food, Taoyuan Aviation Office Director Wei Sheng-chih (魏勝之) said.
Complaints from passengers using Taiwan’s main gateway are all too common, with the food generally criticized as being of dreadful quality, overpriced and with little variety.
Responding to the criticisms, Wei said the airport has made some improvements, including introducing popular restaurants to cater to passengers.
He said it would also invite passengers, food critics and travel tour organizers to review the food at the airport to encourage caterers to offer more local gourmet foods and make dining at the terminals more attractive.
Wei’s office will also take measures to encourage the businesses there to drop their prices to more reasonable levels and to provide consumers with a wider variety of dining options, he said.
OK. That's nice. It's true that most of the food in the airport is overpriced and atrocious. There's only one place I find acceptable - overpriced but at least the food is edible - and that's the one with the lanterns and the fake hedgerows that has a Western side and an Asian side. The Asian side food is overpriced, but at least it's basically OK. (The Western side provides soggy sandwiches and subpar coffee).
Otherwise there's that painfully horrendous bakery thing where two small danishes that taste like they're made of plaster and kids' glue sticks and charred, bitter coffee could cost you NT $300.
Terminal 2 is slightly better, but astronomically overpriced for what you get - more so than other airports (pretty much every airport has overpriced food, but Taoyuan manages to go beyond).
Here's my idea, guys. Tell me if I'm crazy.
Instead of a food review system to review food we already know is bad, why not encourage more restaurants to open?
I know, it's just nuts to think about, isn't it? /sarcasm
I realize that having sixteen duty free shops that all sell the same stuff somehow brings in more revenue and that most airports have overpriced, unsatisfactory food because the entire point is to keep you shopping, not eating, while you wait for your flight, but you'd get happier customers snapping up manicure kits, stale Godiva and souvenir mugs if they're well fed and haven't spent all their money on baked goods that put the "paste" in "pastry".
It is true, by the way, that there are far more storefronts to shop in than eat in because they bring in more money, though I have to wonder why. I mean, how many bottles of Bulgari Omnia (for the ladies) and Chivas (for the men) can Japanese tourists buy? Do we really need all those shops that sell the same stuff?
And the Hello Kitty waiting area for kids? Really? I don't like Starbucks, but if there were one I'd go because their lattes are vaguely drinkable if you're desperate. So why isn't there a Starbucks? (If there is, I haven't found it, and I fly out of Taoyuan fairly frequently, as many expats do). Why is a Hello Kitty waiting area somehow higher on the Places of Importance scale than a coffee shop?
I don't need a review system to tell me that the coffee at TPE is made of spent jet fuel and costs half my monthly salary.
What we need are more restaurants. So why not spend the time and money you're wasting on the review system and open more restaurants?!
I mean, is this really so inconceivable?
Friday, August 13, 2010
In my continued effort to be a better blogger, here are some photos from our trip to Kending and Eluanbi last month:
This trip completed our trio of planned rental car trips – conveniently all before Emily leaves, as neither Brendan nor I are good drivers, and neither of us have an international permit. A few months ago you may have seen my post on the North Cross-Island Highway, then the other day I posted about the Central Cross Island Highway (such as it is – more like the road from Puli as the actual highway remains unrepaired), and so here’s Kending.
Before I arrived, Brendan and Emily wandered around Kaohsiung with Emily’s friend Robin who, bless his heart, manages to look like the most generic Taiwanese college kid or young office worker in…well, in Taiwan. I wasn’t around for this part of the trip as I had a seminar, so I can’t report on it much. I heard, though, that it was very hot (thanks Captain Obvious) and they drank, among other liquids ingested continuously during their blistering, scorching walking tour, a Kaohsiung specialty: green tea with cream.Very nice and Typical Taiwanese Kid Lookin' Robin.
I should note that I wasn't in Kaohsiung - all of the photos above were taken by Emily Taylor. (Some may have been taken by Brendan, but I am pretty sure they're all Emily.)
Donggang's Huaqiao Seafood Market.
I met them at the HSR station at about 8pm, and we rented a car with Car Plus. Emily chose the cheapest thing on the car menu and we ended up with a Yaris. In her words, “it aspires to be a car. It’s got the engine of a blender and the protection of a plastic bag, really brilliant cupholders.” We made fun of the poor Yaris through the entire trip: “I think I can I think I can I think I can!” while climbing even mild hills or passing someone on the highway. With its 1600 CC engine (or so), I joked that it was about as powerful as two large pearl milk teas (700 CC each) on a skateboard. “Do you think this thing could do 100?” “It wouldn’t do 100 if you chucked it off a cliff!”
We stopped in Donggang for dinner after getting lost in Zuoying – we ended up going the wrong way on the highway and having to turn back, and getting lost. Fortunately Donggang, small as it is, stays up late – probably due to fishermen coming in fairly late. We found a grill-your-own seafood stand still open by the harbor, and had an amazing meal of fresh seafood, mostly unseasoned. Think just-grilled oysters, flavored only with their own deliciousness and some sea salt. Giant crab claws. Eel on a stick. A big pile of fresh clams. A fish sprinkled with sea salt, pepper and lemon. A few grilled veggies (peas and mushrooms). We downed it with lots of beer – well, we two non-drivers had lots of beer. Emily had one tiny cupful.
I do rate Donggang’s Huaqiao Seafood Market as one of the best meals in Taiwan – where the old guidebook writers got off saying that Shida Night Market is in the top five but this place isn’t clearly didn’t know what they were talking about, or have no tastebuds. Shida is good, but it pales in comparison to this. Only in Keelung have I had seafood this good (and Yehliu – that was good too.)Cold coconuts available at Eluanbi - they chop the top off with a machete and give it to you with a straw to drink the juice. Refreshing and healthy!
We hit the road after that and reached Kending at about 2am. The place was still hopping with a makeshift night market (oxymoron that) full of shell necklaces, friendship bracelets and surfer t-shirt shops alongside mediocre looking snack stands, a few bars and what appeared to be a strip club. We moved on and ended up in Eluanbi – quieter and more to our taste. We agreed that our first stop the next morning would be the southernmost point in Taiwan – quite near our camping area. I do recommend camping here – it’s not that expensive and facilities are good. We stayed just over from “Coconut Forest” (椰子林) which looked creepy and abandoned, and the owner woke up for our late arrival to find us a spot, and gave us a discounted rate thanks to the late hour.The view from just below the nuclear power station to the east of Eluanbi. This is a nice place to stop, get out of the car, walk to the cliff and take photos.
There are outlets – if you do camp, bring a fan. Otherwise the humidity and heat make it unbearable even at night. By the end the accumulation of sweat and bug spray had me waking up feeling like I was covered in a viscous slime. (I don't have any good photos of Slimy Jenna, so I posted this below that nice picture near Chuanfan Rock). Our sleeping bags acted as mattresses - it was too hot to sleep in them - and we had to air htem out and wipe them down with water before moving on - they were really...horrid. Think sweat, sunblock, oily skin and bug spray all coming together to form something truly otherworldly and disgusting.
Oh and bug spray? Totally doesn't work that well if you get the nice-smelling kind like I did. I still got many huge bites from these nasty black mosquitos.
I have to say that Kending town did not impress us even a little bit - we aren't really ones for bars, Thai food (like it's trying to be Krabi, Ko Samui or Bali) and cheap shell necklaces. We never went down to the beach - if the crowded road was any indication, it would have been packed and filthy with the hordes of people. So not our thing. Good place to go if you want to party - or if you are taking the bus, as you can get a hotel and walk to the beach and shops, but not really leave. But not if you want a relaxing vacation with good scenery and peaceful ocean scenes. In fact, I felt the whole town was trying way too hard to be something it should never have become. I was also a bit put off by all the backpacker food (overpriced Thai, lackluster Mexican, underwhelming American) - half the quality at twice the price! Give me some fresh oysters from Huaqiao anyday - and you can get there by bus, too.
So yeah - Kending? Not recommended.
Kending National Park and Eluanbi, however, I highly recommend. Unfortunately, these require a car. There are buses - we saw buses that said "Eluanbi" on them, and there are stops marked - but we would rarely see a bus actually go through the small town, and never saw one coming up the other way past the nuclear power plant.
This was, however, the most beautiful part of the trip.
Tuesday, August 10, 2010
One of the peaks of Hehuan Mountain. At this point I turned back toward the soaring views beyond and shouted "WOOOOHOOOOOOOOOOHOOOO!" at passing cars. A lot of people shouted back!
Happy folks from Tainan on a weekend trip. It is amazing, the hospitality up in the mountains - we shared tea, shared food, swapped stories and had conversations with so many people.
Maple leaves at our farm homestay, right outside our door, from the porch. I loved that in the evenings we could sit out there, drink tea, futz around and enjoy the cool (cool!) air.
This reminds me of the lyric of a favorite song, "Falling Is Like This" - One minute there was road beneath us - and the next just sky..."
The owner of our farm homestay - Mingxiu (明秀) - it's a kilometer down a steep hill from the top of Lishan proper, but totally worth it. Not cheap ($1500-$2000 /night for a double room with electric blanket, cable TV, hot water and other amenities in a cabin built with local wood) but the best deal in town for what you get and the lovely setting, if you ask me. The owner and his family are very friendly. Drop me a comment if you are ever interested in staying there - I highly recommend it.
Tea at a farm stand just off Hehuanshan.
Lanyang River Valley - after Lishan you basically head down, leaving Taizhong county and entering Yilan County. The signage is terrible once you hit Yilan.
Lanyang River Valley from the top of the mountain on the way down.
View from pagoda on the way to Tianchi lake at Fushoushan Farm about 4km up from Lishan and walkable for those hardy enough - though we drove.