Tuesday, February 28, 2012

My Ears are Burning: A Taiwan Coffeeshop Rant

I have a whole slew of shorter posts I want to write, but I  think right now I am just going to have a short rant about something totally inconsequential, yet dear to my heart.

That topic is "coffeeshop music in Taiwan".

Last year, over Chinese New Year in Kaohsiung, we were watching TV with our friend's family and an advertisement for a set of CDs came on - the set was a collection of the "best" Western music -"if you want all the best songs, from The Carpenters to Richard Marx, don't miss this amazing CD set!" the narrator intoned in Mandarin. In the background, Yesterday Once More, something by Celine Dion, Love is a Battlefield (which I associate more with the Philippines than Taiwan), I've Been to Paradise But I've Never Been to Me and other soft rock hits from the 60s through the 80s played in the background. I don't know all of the artists but I assume they all have names like The J.C. Edwards Experience or Muttles McDougalson Sings The Blues and they've all released albums with mustard-and-brown covers featuring men with bouffants and way too much chest hair, and possibly a belted sweater.

from here
And of course there's Hotel California, which, whenever it comes on someone always says "Oh that's my favorite love song!"

But that's not the worst of it - although that's pretty bad.

I mean, I don't want to come off as some music snob. I like a lot of different stuff and I'm not anti-popular artist. I don't like to say "you've probably never heard of them". I like rap (Talib Kweli!), I like rock (The Dandy Warhols! The New Pornographers!), I like folk (vintage Ani DiFranco! Neko Case! Joni Mitchell if you wanna go old school), I like classic rock (Led Zep!), I even like "goth metal" (Lacuna Coil!) in small doses and lots of world music, on top of "everyone likes them except that one guy who thinks he's so cool" bands along the lines of Radiohead and Jay-Z. I admit to liking Cake even though they're so over. I like a lot of music I expect people to have heard of, like Esthero and Tabla Beat Science, and am surprised when they haven't. I don't like much contemporary music in Asia - not a big fan of Mando-Pop or Canto-pop or J-Pop or Korean pop. I do like a lot of classical music, Western opera and Taiwanese opera (but not Beijing opera, mostly), Indian music both classical and contemporary and world music, too.

The music in coffeeshops in Taipei rankles even my relatively modest tastes in music. Forget the '70s stuff -  some of it was innovative at the time, some derivative, some pure schlock. I'm talking the stuff that actually makes you want to rip your ears off and run, screaming and bleeding, into the street.

Here's a run-down:

-  A harp instrumental cover of I Am The Walrus, with no lyrics. What is the point of that? The same exists in piano form. WHY?

- The Entertainer, slowed down to ballad tempo and played softly and lyrically on a harp. WTF

- An R&B version of A Charlie Brown Christmas, notable for being played sometime in mid-July

- Ballad. Covers. Of. Radiohead. I really have no idea. Who thought that Wolf at the Door, Idiotheque, Paranoid Android and Everything in its Right Place would make good soft rock ballads? I mean this is seriously the worst thing to happen to music since hip hop artists figured out that "in the club" could be rhymed with "sippin' bub".

- Songs by Journey - fun as they are as a pure guilty pleasure to sing to if they're playing in a bar and you've had a few - played on and I seriously kid you not, a glass harmonica. I really wish I were joking but I am not.

- The Sonny and Cher Techno Remix, and again I wish I was making that up.

- Rap music that really has no place in a family-friendly environment. I mean it's funny enough when you're shopping in Old Chen's Bedding Emporium (which is a tiny store in a crowded lane flanked by a store that sells random stuff and a 7-11) and hear Slap That (All On The Floor) blasting, and you wonder if Old Chen really has any idea what the song is about, and funnier still when you're in a taxi chatting with your student (mild-mannered nerdy engineering type) and hear lyrics along the lines of "I'm gonna hit the club wit' it, and sip some bub wit' it and and later imma hit the limo wit' it and stick my **** in it..." and I can't go on, because I started laughing so hard that I couldn't understand the lyrics anymore. But when that starts up in a coffeeshop? Really, I don't need to know who you're going to stick your what into and where it will happen and after which events it will take place as I sip my siphon Yirgacheffe.

- Something I need to add as of today: entire CDs of synthesized dog barks and cat meows belting out famous tunes. You can buy cats meowing Christmas songs (great for your coffeeshop's ambience, especially if you play them in March), dogs barking show tunes, a mixed mammal choir doing their toe-tapping, bacon-begging renditions of Karen Carpenter songs...maybe you can even buy Eminem's Greatest Hits Barked By Synthesized Dogs! If you can name an artist, song or type of music, you can probably find it in Taiwan being barked or meowed.

I'd like to say "to each his own" but...I wouldn't wish this music even on someone who actually liked it!

It leaves me to wonder not who buys these CDs (clearly coffeeshop owners do) but who makes them. Why? Why create that and send it out into the wild to make our world just a little bit worse?

And I also wonder - do the baristas care that they have to listen to this all day? Do they get nightmares? I would.

Do the owners actually think that this is good music? Would they listen to it at home? Or do they not care for it personally but think it's what we want to hear?

Basically, what I want to know is - why?

Sunday, February 26, 2012

No Apology, No Way


Not too long ago, my sister told me about an incident at work in which both she and a Taiwanese coworker had independently made mistakes on similar projects (test-writing, I believe). When told that she'd messed up, my sister apologized and said she'd get right on fixing the error. She noted that her coworker did not - she said "Oh, uh, OK" and fixed it. I, too, thought it was odd to not apologize for a minor error that is clearly your fault,  but let it go. Then, at my job, I asked for a certain worksheet I'd created for them years ago to be prepared for my use for an upcoming seminar. In the intervening time they'd "lost" the digital file somehow, so I had to re-create the worksheet. They didn't actually tell me that they didn't have it until the night before, which put pressure on me (despite my asking many times for confirmation). Instead of "we're sorry" or "we apologize", I got a "I have checked with ______ and we do not have the worksheet you requested". I replied and said I was disappointed and felt their actions were unprofessional, and noted that when dealing with foreigners, it smoothes office relations quite a bit to own up to your mistakes and apologize. I'm blunt like that. I got no reply.

It got me thinking: is this a thing? I think it is, but I only have two anecdotes to back me up. In the US if you say you're sorry for some internal office screw-up and then present a solution and work to make it right, people will generally drop it, if not forget about it altogether. As though those two words are like memory erasers: "oh she screwed up...but she owned it, she apologized and we all make mistakes. So let's forget about it." In Taiwan, maybe apologizing causes you to lose too much face? Or admitting that yes, you made a mistake will cause people to remember and criticize you rather than forget? That if you mess up, the tacit social agreement is that you won't admit it and others won't draw attention to it? That it's not the smoother-over of interpersonal interactions the way it is back home?

Which would be fine if everyone lived by that rule, but we don't. In offices where you have to deal with foreigners, either in-house or from abroad, you need to know these things, because the average foreigner won't understand that cultural difference and will feel miffed and annoyed at the lack of apology or even recognition and ownership of the mistake. Not owning it will cause that person to remember it, not forget about it. They might not say anything, but the feeling is there and it does jeopardize relations.

It makes me wonder if I should be teaching this in my business etiquette class...

Linferiority Complex




I was chatting with a student about this article, in which an Asian-American writer, while thrilled with the sudden superstardom of Jeremy Lin, was simultaneously worried that Lin's ascent would make his life harder. Why? Because Lin actually embodies many of the stereotypes associated with Asians and Asian-Americans (and Asian-wherever-elses). You know, smart, humble, hard-working, loves his mom, a team player - the writer even argues that the fact that he loves Jesus, too, fits with the stereotype. He laments that this could cause a redoubling of such beliefs about those of Asian heritage - especially Asian men - and admits openly to wondering secretly if there will ever be a "cool" Asian-American role model , you know, a stereotype-flaunter who, as one friend put it, "snorts cocaine off a Kardashian's ass". (Sorry moms).

(Not that I think that's cool.  But it does flaunt stereotypes of Asian and Asian-American men).

So, the student thought about it - I didn't use the Kardashian sentence, by the way - and finally said "but that's OK!"

"Why?"

"Because it's good to be hard-working, smart and humble. Why not?"

"Well, those are good things, but they're also stereotypes of Asians in the US."

"Maybe, but they are good stereotypes. So that's good! I hope everyone thinks Asians are hard-working smart and humble. I hope we can all be."

...err. I'm chalking this one up to culture differences. I know many Taiwanese people who would completely understand the modern American aversion to stereotypes, and those who are aware of such stereotypes enough to know not only that such profiling can be a problem, but why. I can kind of see how many others in Taiwan (and the rest of Asia), would genuinely not see anything wrong with everyone thinking they are all smart, hard-working humble folks who love their parents, because that's what they want people to think of them. It's just such a fundamentally different way of relating to these stereotypes from, well, from pretty much every Asian-American I know. There seems to be a fundamental difference in understanding of whether and how a "good" stereotype can still be "bad".


On Rice: My Deep Dark Secret

Here is where I admit my dark secret.

I love inviting my Taiwanese friends over and cooking a dinner that involves serving rice.

All the food goes out on the table, including one pot on a cooling rack, with potholders on the top and bottom, wrapped in a clean dishcloth.

When they ask where the rice cooker is, I whip off the dishcloth to reveal a typical cooking pot with cooked rice inside, that I made on the stove.

Whaaaaat? They always say. That's how you cook rice? You don't have a rice cooker? I've never seen that before!

"I cook rice like your great grandma did," I said. "The way my mom taught me."

"But...nobody does that. You can just get a rice cooker!"

I can...but it's too much fun to shock the pants off my friends. I mentioned this to someone and her reply was "Wow. Usually I think 'foreigners are not too strange' but when I hear that you cook rice this way, I think 'no, that really is very strange'!"









On "Going Native"




A highly fluent student of mine used this phrase, not necessarily something I'd teach, to describe me after I mentioned in one class that I am an avid user of 白花油,萬金油 and various other aromatic, camphored oils, that one room of my apartment is decorated with Hakka flower fabric, that I go to temple parades regularly and actually try to keep track of where and when they will take place, and that I regularly brew lao ren cha at home. 

I thought about it, and realized that no, he was not quite correct. "Going native" implies that you're acting and thinking more or less like everyone around you instead of knowingly sticking out and staying somewhat separate.  But how many Taiwanese people do you know who use White Flower Oil, decorate their apartment with Asian textiles (not just the Hakka fabric - I've collected textiles from around the world - mostly Asia though - for years), make tea that way and actually follow those temple parades as a hobby? Some might do many of those things, but at the very least, I don't know many people who would decorate that way: it may look Asian, but deep down, it's super-duper-foreign-tastic to do that. Well, not the oils. Using them is totally common.

I joked that if I wanted to "go native" for real, my apartment would have white walls and a tile floor, bare walls save for one red-and-gold calendar with a fat Buddha on it, a round table with metal legs and some chairs, one of those wicker stools that's lacquered heavily, to the point where it's orange-yellow, a blue or black vinyl couch with lace doilies on the back, a flat screen TV attached to one wall, and a yellow wood over-lacquered side table topped with thick plastic that's a bit old and discolored, topped with one of those purple orchid plants (fake would be OK). I'm joking, but...you know. Not really joking.

Or, if I had money, I'd decorate it in a Hola Casa (ever been in that store? Furniture sets for the jet set) purely Western, white-leather-and-dark-wood style, not a trace of anything "Asian" anywhere.

And I'd pay little attention to temple parades, but a lot of attention to TV, although watching a lot of TV is hardly relegated to Taiwan.

And I wouldn't drink traditionally brewed tea, I'd drink lattes (I drink those, too, for what it's worth).

And, in the end, the very things that might cause one to believe that a foreigner has "gone native" are in fact the things that have caused me to stick out.

Or, as one friend put it, "Even if I didn't know you, if I saw this apartment I would say 'foreigners live here'."

Me: "Why?"

"Because it's too Chinese!"


Saturday, February 25, 2012

Chicken in Bok & Beer and The Shi-da Controversy




Chicken in Bok & Beer
台北市大安區浦城街13巷4號

With the controversy still roiling regarding overcrowding in Shi-da night market and the nearby "Exotic Cuisine Street" (Pucheng Street Lane 31), I figured I'd go ahead and review one of the restaurants on that street.

This place serves exactly what you think - fried stuff and beer. Mostly chicken, but you can also get fries, onion rings and fried tteokbokki as well as soft drinks and beer. It claims to be original Korean fried chicken.



The verdict?

Well, I didn't get to try to garlic chicken but the consensus regarding what we did get was that the sauce-less original flavor (above) was good enough but not fantastic - I found it a smidgen dry and lacking sufficient salt - but the ones in sauce (also above), both the "sweet" and "spicy" varieties, were awesome. I would totally go back for the spicy sauce crispy chicken. It's got a real kick of spice, it's not just sweet-and-sour sauce (although yes, I realize that that's what it looks like) and yet does retain some level of crispiness.

The fries are good by Taiwan standards, but they won't blow your mind.  The draft beer appears to be Tsingtao, which is unexpected. I've developed a taste for Taiwan Draft Beer (台灣生啤酒) but I'll take Tsingtao. As long as they don't give me Coors or Hite I'm generally OK. Draft beer is NT$100 a glass, and the glasses are fairly large.
 
A half chicken - which is one large serving - is NT $230-$260 or so. A full chicken is roughly double that.



Each order comes with a free "salad" - I ate it more out of pity for its continued existence, than anything. I considered it humane euthanasia to put that sad, limping salad out of its misery. It's basically shredded iceberg lettuce, a few corn kernels and thousand island dressing. Don't let it put you off, get it out of the way before the actual food comes. It's sad but it is not an omen as to the quality of the chicken.

Final verdict: pretty good, didn't tilt the world on its axis, would go back but only for the spicy sauce chicken.

If you want some really good Korean fried chicken, by the way, try the guy near the far end (far from Keelung Rd) of Tonghua Night Market who shares space with the Taiwanese meatball people. Portions are small but cheap, and his Korean fried chicken is great. He's actually Korean, by the way.



About that Shi-da dust-up. 

I don't have an opinion about the controversy itself - both the residents and the restaurants have good points - but I do agree that the government has handled it very poorly. Can't expect much better from Muppet-in-Chief Hao Lung-bin. (No, seriously, the guy looks like a muppet, and is about as smart as one). 

If I had to come down on one side, I'd side with the restaurants, even the ones I don't like (more on that below). They've been allowed to be there for ages, been officially inspected, have operated openly and have been given no reason to believe that what they were doing was illegal (even if it technically was). Sending a form letter does not equate to "communication" on the government end and I don't believe the government is trying even remotely hard enough to solve the issue.

While I do feel for the residents - I know how noise can impact quality of life - the apartments in that neighborhood can go for quite a lot of money. If I lived there, I'd rent mine out to students (who don't care as much, in my experience, and will love living so centrally) and use the rent money to rent myself a nearby apartment in a quieter lane. Or, I'd move. My issue would be roaches from all the food and crowds, though.

I know, I know, nobody should feel they have to move, but then that also goes for the stores and restaurants which have been operating with government blessings for years, and have even been promoted.

I also feel that while I still enjoy Shi-da, I don't like it as much as I used to. On Exotic Cuisine Street, Exotic Masala House has gone way downhill, I stopped eating at Out of India when they once served me garlic naan swathed not in fresh butter and mincedgarlic, but that nasty margarine-based "garlic butter" you get on toast in middling cafes. Seriously, as though I wouldn't notice. They must not think much of their clients that, if they'd run out of butter and garlic they couldnt've sent someone to the nearby Wellcome. That was years ago, maybe they've reverted back to real garlic and butter, but I'm scarred for life. I've never been a fan of the Tibetan restaurant, and I didn't think the famous Korean one was all that authentic (Korean Village closer to Roosevelt in a lane on the other side of Shi-da Road is worlds better).

I'd hate to see My Sweetie Pie go out of business, though, and while there is better Western food on offer in Taipei than Grandma Nitti's, I *heart* their caring for animals and their American Diner-style coffee.

I guess what I'd like to see are some genuinely good restaurants open up in this lane or nearby - I don't eat here often because I'm genuinely not that enthused by what's on offer.

                             

The main part of the market, the one that's so crowded you can barely walk, isn't much better. I used to enjoy it, now the crowds make it not worth it. Most of my favorite places (like the store with cats that sold interesting Chinese-style "vintage" looking gifts, jewelry, clothes, home decor items and postcards) are gone, I don't think the food is as good as Raohe, Ningxia or Tonghua Night Markets, and I'm not interested in the new stores popping up selling low-quality size-negative-two teenybopper clothes and gold tone jewelry.

I still stop by the guy who sells enamel Chinese-style earrings though. I'm buying him out before he disappears forever. 

Wednesday, February 22, 2012

VOMITING STOPS HERE


I just wanted to share this because it is a thing of beauty. Given to me by a student. Amazing.

Tuesday, February 21, 2012

Cervical Cancer in Taiwan

Something infuriating: without WHO data, it's quite hard to find information to back up things I hear regarding health in Taiwan.

Damn you, China. Damn you!

Anyway, today a student of mine (who is a medical doctor and researcher) said that cervical cancer rates in Taiwan were the highest in the world - this was because a.) cervical cancer, unlike other cancers, is generally caused by viruses (such as HPV), and Taiwan, being more humid, tends to be a place where women are more susceptible down there to such things*; b.) sex ed isn't good enough regarding STD issues; and c.)  not enough women regularly get the screenings they need to detect pre-cancerous conditions. "Many foreign women come to Taiwan," she said, "and if they stay for a long time more of them get cervical cancer than average. It is surprising."

This is not something I'd heard, and I do think such information is important not only for expat women in Taiwan but for Taiwanese women, as well. So I did some Google-fu, but I am a poor apprentice indeed.

We have Pfizer Facts, whose Google blurb notes that cervical cancer rates are higher than average in Taiwan but doesn't seem to have the data to back it up (if anything it looks like breast cancer is a bigger problem), something I haven't finished reading yet, but whose data is possibly out of date and doesn't seem to do a lot of outside-Taiwan global comparison, a blurb of an article I'd like to read but won't pay $31.50 for, another article I need to read more carefully whose Google blurb says that cervical cancer rates are highest in Taiwan, among the Maori and in part of Thailand, and this bit of uselessness from the WHO with no data for Taiwan, because politics apparently trumps world health.

All I can say is that I heard it, and even if it's not true, cancer rates do seem to be generally higher in Asia - so ladies, see your OB-GYN regularly (no excuse - there are ones that speak English, although I don't like how they assume I'll want to have babies) and get the vaccine. It is, so says my student, available in Taiwan, so get it.

*I'm not sure if I quite buy this first one, just reporting what was said

Monday, February 20, 2012

Beijing Duck in Taipei


Beijing Duck is one of my addictions. This delicious fowl is from Celestial Kitchen

You might have noticed that many of my restaurant and food-related posts are about Beijing Duck. There's a reason why - I absolutely love the stuff. I pretty much love duck in any form. It's like chicken but actually tasty (I hear that chicken used to taste good before it got all processed).

So here, for your pancake-wrapped gorging pleasure, is my listing of good Beijing Duck restaurants (well, one's not a restaurant) in Taipei.

duck congee at Rendezvous
台北市中山北路一段105巷18-1號(林森北路100號六條通巷口)
#18-1, Zhongshan N. Road Sec. 1 Lane 105
(closer to enter via Linsen Road near #100 )
02-2563923-6

This is my pick of all the choices. Wonderful, juicy duck that's firm but not dry and bursting with flavor, with a complementary sauce and a bit of red chili wrapped around the onions...and while service is a bit brusque - they basically ignore you if you want anything after you order unless you insist - it's world's better than Song Chu in that regard. Make reservations, go here.



3F #1 Nanjing W. Road (near MRT Zhongshan)

Also fantastic duck, with an atmosphere that's less "kung fu movie" than Rendezvous. The duck was good, the sauce not so memorable, other dishes were also good, very friendly and prompt service. I'd definitely go back.




#14, Lane 15 Zhongxiao E. Road Sec. 5
(Almost right next to/slightly behind MRT City Hall)
台北信義區忠孝東路五段15巷14號
捷運市政府站

Well, just read the review. Amazing duck (although really no better than Rendezvous'; the main difference is that Song Chu's sauce is luscious which amps up the duck while Rendezvous' is slightly more astringent which complements it) but the service leaves a lot to be desired. Good duck or no, I won't go back.

Too bad the service at Song Chu left me bitter, because I loved the sweet, sweet duck

106台北市大安區信義路四段199巷4號
02 2708 4242 
A friend really liked this place on his first visit, but when we all went together we agreed that the duck was a bit dry. It was pretty good, but not quite up to Celestial or Rendezvous (or even Song Chu, sad to say).

All over Taipei!

You won't be getting a high-end gourmet experience with duck from one of these blue food trucks, but at NT250 for half a duck (which is too much for one person but barely feeds 2) you can't go wrong on price, and with the food truck craze sweeping the US, being able to say that you got dinner off the back of a truck and it's Beijing Duck, so you can stick that in your mobile taco and suck it, well, who can resist? And the duck isn't bad. It's not going to elevate you to new heights of culinary rapture but it's just fine for an evening in. Plus the stir-fry of all the non-breast duck with chili and basil is always fantastic.


...and more. I know there's at least one place in Shi-da with carry-out duck only that's pretty decent, and I've seen a place near Taipower Building, but these are the ones I've tried. I've had the duck from Shi-da and it's pretty decent, but I can't seem to track down the address.

Sunday, February 19, 2012

Big Diamond

Photo from here, not that I think you want to buy an engagement ring, but to
give credit for the photo

Not long ago, I was standing in a crowded MRT car as the train hurtled towards Zhongxiao Fuxing. I looked down at the guy in the seat directly in front of me. He was  quiet, self-contained, a bit nerdy, had the look of an engineer or first-year market analyst. Those ubiquitous black thick-framed glasses sat on his nose. I noticed that he was pallid, hunched forward a bit, and his hands were shaking.

I was about to ask if he was OK - mostly out of self-interest, because if he was as close to hurling as he looked, my shoes were right in the line of fire - until I looked again and noticed the handles of a small bag wound through his blood-drained, earthquake fingers.

A small, bright blue bag. From Tiffany. Inside was a ring box. And then I thought: awwwwwww. Even though I'm not the kind of girl who melts over diamonds, it was still sweet. I mean, he could have been buying his mother diamond earrings - this is the country where Listen To Your Mom (聽媽媽的話) became a hit song - but judging from his apparent need for a sick bag, my guess is that he was about to propose.

I wanted to then say "加油!" (good luck / you go!)  but didn't - didn't want to freak him out any more than he clearly already was.      

What got me thinking, though, was that diamond engagement rings are only a fairly recent thing in Taiwan and are still not all that common. Someone else commented on this story - saying ask your non-Westernized local friends if they bought or received a diamond engagement ring. They probably didn't, because it's not the "done thing" here the way it is in the USA.

But, you know, I was surprised. I did do just that even though I don't have a lot of married, non-Westernized local friends (I do have a few). The majority of those under age 40 said that yes, they did in fact buy their fiancee a diamond engagement ring. I mostly asked the men - I don't have that many married, non-Westernized Taiwanese female friends. They're generally single or at least unmarried. I do plan to ask a few, though.

One student I was chatting with said that his wife wouldn't marry him until he bought her a Cartier diamond ring (he's an executive at a well-known company, so don't feel too bad. He didn't scrimp and save and go without to do this). Two more admitted that they bought their wives or fiancees rings - both still from Cartier. So Cartier seems to be the default place to buy a ring if you're an under-40 upper middle class Taiwanese man about to get engaged.

My own engagement ring - I think I've posted it before. Check out the AWESOME DRAGON

The one person who said no, he did not buy his wife a diamond ring, was the student over 40. I didn't ask a friend of mine who is 40 because he married at about 20 - too long ago (back when it wasn't a "thing") and far too young and just starting out to be buying diamonds.

I was just surprised at how many "yes"s I got - I expected at least an equal number of "yes" and "no" answers, since there's no history of diamond marketing in Taiwan. All those LED-covered shiny "Bridal Diamond" stores you see - especially around Zhongxiao Dunhua, where Hearts on Fire's sign will make you go blind if you look at it directly - seem to be a new thing, not something that started gaining momentum in the early-to-mid 20th century as it did in the USA.

New as it is, it seems to be surging.

I can't say I'm happy about it: the diamond-is-the-only-acceptable-engagement-ring cult in the USA makes me a bit ill. People can like what they like and spend what they want on whatever they want and yes, diamonds are puuuuurty, but the marketing practices, the prices forced up as high as they are and the whole conflict diamond thing stirs great acrimony and sadness in me. I don't really want to see it come to Taiwan.

One thing that was great about living in Taiwan during my engagement was that nobody questioned the fact that I did not get - and did not choose, and would not have chosen - a diamond. In the US during our brief visit it wasn't a big deal, either, because I surround myself with awesome, loving people who wouldn't make shallow "but it's not a DIIIAAAMMMOOONNNDDD" remarks, but if I'd lived there for the entire engagement, someone who wasn't a friend or beloved relative probably would have said something like that - you can't be just around your loved ones 24/7. Sometimes you have to deal with others. Sometimes those others are great, sometimes they're, for lack of a better word, nincompoops.

But in Taiwan, it was totally cool. I didn't even really need a ring to be accepted as "engaged". No judgment, no problem. I would hate to see that eroded by Big Diamond.

My Feminist Rant - Wooooooohooooo!

I've been struggling for awhile with a way to get this from my mind to written word without coming up with something totally nonsensical, or writing with the wrong tone, and I am sorry to say that I'm not sure I can do it -  so I'm just going to jump in anyway.

Of course I'm still procrastinating - every time I get the chance I jump away to do something on Facebook or on a forum I like, purposely and not-so-subconsciously slowing down my writing of this post. I'm only still trying because I feel it needs to be said.

A former friend of mine on Facebook linked awhile back to two blog posts: I can't find one, but the other is here. Normally I wouldn't bother linking to such crapulent tripe, but it makes a fine example of what I'm going to talk about. Be warned, though: I'm not exaggerating when I say that it's crapulent tripe.

The one I couldn't find was all about how "Western women have lost their femininity" - but it made no clear points, it refused to even define femininity, it assumed we would all know what it was (like porn: "I know it when I see it") and then, after dipping her toe into what that might be, backpedals and includes a bunch of traits that could be both masculine or feminine, and a few that are generally associated with masculinity. At no point does she make clear what she's actually talking about, which is strange considering that she's claiming we Western women have "lost" it.

Now, I wrote an entire blog post about femininity and didn't define it, but then I was talking about a general feeling I had, not going on about what it was and who did or did not have it. I could have been more rigorous in my definition, but I do feel that my attempt to discuss my general mental state is quite different from pointing at a specific set of traits that an entire group of women has apparently "lost".

Back to the main topic.

What bothers me about this whole thing - "Men like Asian women because they are more feminine" or "cute" - is not that lots of men believe it, or that lots of them feel that way. Clearly, they do. Whatever - they can like what they want. It's fine: I have a certain set of traits that I find attractive, so does my husband, so does everyone. All it means for me is that if I were single, that men who feel that way aren't men who would be right for me, and that's OK.

It's more that it's racist, sexist (but not in the way that you think I might go off on) and overgeneralizing.

I don't feel it's sexist insofar as men should like Trait X but they actually like Trait Y. As I said, I don't care what they like - we all like what we like and it's fine. It's sexist in that it groups women into categories: cute and not cute, feminine and not feminine, Western and Asian. It makes blanket statements about women as though we are one amoeba-like mass of people who are all more or less the same in that we can be generalized about: Cute Women GOOD, Uncute Women BAD. Asian Women GOOD, American Women BAD.

I don't know about you, but last I checked most of us exist in more than two dimensions. I can be difficult, tough, even bitchy with people who piss me off, give me a hard time, say stupid things or make my life difficult. I can also be sweet as pie to good people. My friends, and Brendan, might describe me as "tough" or "stubborn", but not difficult - because I'm not. To them. I'm nice to them. I'm nice to people I don't know who give me no reason to be anything other than nice. I'm not so nice only if I need to be. It's the same for "cute" - while I wouldn't say I am cute, I have had people tell me I'm cute (apparently a foreign woman swearing in Taiwanese - 殺小! - is absolutely freakin' adorable). We - men, women, Americans, Asians, Westerners, Taiwanese - are not flat-screen displays of archetypes or stereotypes of the groups we belong to.

And yet, men who say they like "Asian" women because they are more "feminine" (or the one in the comment thread in the link above who said I was a "typical American woman") are assuming just that: where do they get off thinking that being female Asian or American, or that there even is a typical Asian or American woman, is enough information by which to judge a woman? Do they not know enough women to know that we are, in fact, individuals? Have they never met a cute, shy, quiet or sweet American woman EVER? Do they truly believe that 51% of a population of over three million would all share the same character traits in the same relative quantities and display them in the same ways?  Do they feel the same about this amorphous - and even bigger - group called "Asian women"?

Yes, there are ways in which one can generalize that contain a kernel of truth, but those generalizations about women - or anyone - break down so much at the individual level when you dare to look at someone in 3D that they are basically irrelevant. I mean, is it true that from a cultural standpoint, women in Asia face more pressure and social education to act a certain way that could be seen as "sweeter", "cuter", "more feminine" or whatever, and that many of them do follow those prescriptions? Is it also true that Western culture has a different view of what is and is not expected of women? Yes, and yes. But then I look at my Taiwanese female friends - one who swears openly and talks about sex happily, another who is strong, clear, independent and direct, another who is loud, talkative, opinionated and not even remotely meek, another who expects and demands equal and respectful treatment, another who can hold her liquor and isn't worried about being seen as stronger, louder or more stubborn than the men around her, and still more beyond that - and think, wait a minute. They're all Asian women. They're all very different people and not one of them fits generalizations about Asian women. Looking more broadly, I don't think I've ever met an "Asian woman" in real life who actually fits all the stereotypes about Asian women (some meet a few, to varying degrees). This is called being human and being an individual.

These women are not exceptions, is what I'm saying. There is nothing abnormal about them. They're examples of millions of other women who don't fit this generalization that's been built up about Asian women. You can say the same for American women, Western women or Whatever women.

What makes it sexist is that I am not sure these guys actually look at women in 3D. When I hear "Asian women are cute", I see a guy with a cardboard cut-out "Asian woman" in his head. I see a guy who doesn't think of women as actual individual people but rather as these strange, inexplicable Other being who can all be lumped together as "Asian" and "Western" in order to help him make sense of the world.

It's also sexist towards men, assuming that all or even most of them want the same things, but I'll cover that under "over-generalizing".

Finally, the post linked above is specifically sexist for the implication that if Western women want to "compete" that they should pay attention to this. Really - I was pretty sure that this whole "modern times" and "egalitarianism" thing meant that women were free to develop our personalities based on what our personalities naturally are, not on what one subset of men would prefer that they be. Why is it incumbent on us to change who we are to please a certain type of man, but not incumbent on men to accept that not all women need to be what they prefer - and that it's best for any given woman to just be herself rather than try to fit into some mold of what he wants? Why the implication that we should alter our personalities to get a man that we probably don't even want, who wouldn't want us if he knew what we were really like? That sounds like hell to me - did it ever occur to that writer that pretending to have a personality that is nothing like who you really are might make a woman unhappy, and that (gasp!) some women might just not want men who prefer personality traits that they don't possess - and that that's OK?

What makes it racist is, well, basically the same, just shift the emphasis from the gender to the ethnicity. "Asian" women are X, "Western" women are Y - what's not racist about that? There's nothing wrong with liking a specific woman from whatever ethnic or cultural background, or having a set of traits you prefer in a woman - it's thinking that all or even most women of that ethnicity share those traits that's racist. Again - have these men talked to so few women that they've never met a fair number of quiet American women or opinionated Asian women, or "cute" American women and "tough" Asian women? I mean, I'm a straight woman and I know enough of both to know that generalizations based on race hold no water at the individual level. Even if there's some truth to them, when it comes to dating any specific woman (or man), they are irrelevant.

It's the same reason why I avoid people who say things like "oh, I'm done with Western women. They're so ________" - so, you wouldn't even consider the possibility that some Western women aren't _________? Or even if you met one who wasn't, you would still avoid her because you're "done" with them as an entire group? Yeah...no thanks. I don't even want you as an acquaintance if you think that way, let alone a friend. I mean, change the sentence just slightly to "I'm done with black people / Jews / gays. They're so ____________." Then you see how offensive that really is. But somehow because it's about women, it's OK? (Which brings it back to "sexist").

It's over-generalizing not just because it over-generalizes about entire (MASSIVE AND GINORMOUS) groups of women, but because it does the same to men. It assumes that all, or even most, men want the same things. How is that not disrespectful to men? Plenty of men don't want those things. Just as not all women want a "provider" (I sure don't), not all men want a "cute" woman ("feminine" is harder to pin down), a "sweet" woman or a "submissive" woman. I have said (anonymously) that I am who I am, and my husband chose to marry me because he loves me for me - not gorgeous, really stubborn, quite loud, foulmouthed (sorry, moms, but I am), tough-when-I-need-to-be but also kind, loving, thoughtful, sincere, honest, hardworking and intelligent me. Often I get pushback - that I bullied him, or that he's just an exception, or he's with me because he can't do better, or that deep down he *wishes* I were more [insert trait they think women should be here] and will eventually tire of me and my troublesome opinions and outspokenness.

Yeah, uh, how is that not disrespectful to him?  Just because he chose a woman who doesn't fit some mold of what they'd prefer in a woman, that means he is either lacking in some way, or he settled, or he was bullied, or he doesn't really know what he wants? Yeah...uh, no. This is where overgeneralizing comes in - what's with assuming that all men want the same things? Are men not individuals who exist in 3D, too? Should we not also accord them the respect of knowing what they want even if it might be different from what you'd want, and trusting them to make those decisions?

Is it really so threatening to these guys that a man would choose a different sort of woman that they must assume he was cowed into it? Gee, I wonder why. What's so terrifying about the idea that someone might like something different from what you like?

What is so wrong with saying "*I* prefer [this type of woman]" instead of "*Men* prefer [this type of woman]"? If you did that, you'd earn a lot of respect from me!

I mean, sure, it's fun to pretend that I have a whip and a leash and I bend men to my will, but actually, I don't.

As for "cute" and "feminine", in Brendan's own words: "Well, if you ask me what attracts me, then yes, I can give you a list of traits I'd consider 'feminine' or that I like in a woman. But otherwise it's such a social and culturally specific thing and so subject to individual tastes and preferences that no, if you want to say these things are definite, then that's nonsense."

I say this because I know Brendan is merely an exception, and neither am I. We might seem to be in the minority but in truth, there are so many people like us - so many men who love assertive women, so many women who are not looking for certain types of men, so many people who do not fit the stereotype of what they "should" be. We're only an exception in that we prove that the rule is ridiculous. A mathematical proof along these lines would not stand, so I fail to see why a sociological one should.

And, again, you can say that there are general trends, but they're so irrelevant when it comes to individuals that I don't see why it should matter. Which is what bothers me about "this is what men like" - no, this is what YOU like. Don't pretend to speak for all men or even most men. That's sexist, too. Even if it's true that many men like these traits, it is meaningless when you look at what this man or that man likes.

I admit that this is, in part, why I am not that active in the expat community. While I realize that all expats are individuals (and am happy to befriend them as such), I run up against this attitude often enough that it's kept me away. I don't want to be around it, I don't want to hear it, and I don't want to be friends with people who spew it. Since I'm all on about "don't generalize", I will say that this hasn't kept me entirely cut off. Why? Because people are individuals and not all expat men are like this. Brendan's not. My friend J is not. My friends' husbands are not.

So, you know, wouldn't the world be a better place if we all just admitted that our tastes are unique to us, and that regardless of general truths about culture, people are individuals, and that two individuals deserve the respect of being seen as whole people who are influenced by, but not entirely defined by, their culture? And that some people like "cute" and some don't, and that people have varying definitions about what "cute" or "feminine" (or "masculine") even are? And then, can we banish the generalizations to the far corner of the conversation where they belong? Is this not a happier world, a world with greater respect for all?

In the end, I said something along these lines - but shorter - on the Facebook status update where the two links appeared. I figured, if someone is going to post something that controversial, then they clearly are fine with strongly opinionated replies. If they weren't, they wouldn't post it. I got defriended, probably not just because my reply contained an opinion, but also because I suspect the original poster disagreed.
               
I told a friend (Taiwanese, male - if that matters) about this. His reply sums it up: "Well, that is not any big loss."






Saturday, February 18, 2012

龍都酒樓 ("Rendezvous Restaurant")


Rendezvous Restaurant (龍都酒樓)
台北市中山北路一段105巷18-1號(林森北路100號六條通巷口)
#18-1, Zhongshan N. Road Sec. 1 Lane 105
(closer to enter via Linsen Road near #100 )
02-2563923

I know I've been writing more fluff than thoughts recently, but for whatever reason, these days, despite having a lot of things I want to write about in terms of thoughts, musings, meditations on life, whenever I try it just doesn't come out right or my brain short-circuits.

Hoping that will pass - it always does - and not beating myself up too much for writing fluff in the meantime.

Anyway, last weekend I had the chance to go to the famous 龍都酒樓 in a lane between Linsen N. Road and Zhongshan N. Road, just south of Nanjing E. Road. They're famous for Beijing Duck and dim sum style dishes.

The place caters more to groups, and yes, you should make a reservation.

I can say that the duck is truly fantastic - just as good as other heavyweights like Celestial Kitchen and my personal bugbear, Song Chu. Definitely worth the reservation and price (we had duck and lots of dim sum at two tables with about 8 each, and it cost us all approximately NT650 each).

It's juicy without being greasy, it's flavorful without being cloying, and the little green onion spears are wrapped in a bit of chili pepper to give them a bite. Song Chu's sauce is better, but Rendezvous' is not overly sweet, it's almost slightly antiseptic which is a nice match for the luscious duck.

The decor is like something out of a scene in a restaurant from a kung fu movie - back-lit Chinese medallions, crystal chandeliers, light-colored textured wallpaper, round banquet tables, a balcony and lower seating area. Not usually my style but whatever, the food is good.


I went with a newer group of friends (the one in the picture is the one I know best, his wife is the one looking away) - unfortunately, due to work commitments, my husband couldn't join us. The upside of going out occasionally with a group of locals who are also food lovers and interested in trying the city's best restaurants is that I get to try places that are not often on foreigner radar.  A few savvy long-term expats might know about them, but they rarely make it into guidebooks (guidebook restaurant listings in English make me a little sad sometimes - the world is not right when Kiki gets a nod but 天府, which is quite literally the BEST SICHUANESE FOOD IN TAIWAN HANDS DOWN, is ignored). I get to try the places that locals believe are the best, and it's opened me up to a lot of new options.

And you know, one of the great things about Taipei is that the best restaurants are not necessarily the most expensive restaurants. In fact, they rarely are. You can completely avoid hotel restaurants or places that charge $6000 a head for bird's nest soup (and they exist - I have students who regularly entertain clients at such places) and still forage through the best Taipei has to offer.

Another great thing about eating out with a group of locals is that I have to speak Chinese. I've written before about how having to socialize entirely in Chinese is good for my Chinese, and well, duh. Of course it is. My friend (above) speaks English well, but his wife does not - or she's afraid to, but he insists she really can't and she concurs - and he didn't really start inviting me out to such meals until it was clear that I would be just fine speaking Chinese the entire time. I can understand this: even if someone does speak a foreign language - at least two others at lunch can also speak English well - when out with friends and not at work or in class, the average person will prefer to converse in their native language and having one non-native speaker there, even if that person is a native speaker of a "popular" foreign language like English, can cause discomfort if it means that everyone has to then speak English when, in their free time and with friends they know, they'd perhaps prefer not to.

It happens in business, too: a group of Taiwanese people and their one foreign guest go out or have a meeting, and the presence of the one guest means that the entire language of the group changes to English, not the mother tongue of the majority of the group. I understand completely how someone might not want to repeat that dynamic at a fun Saturday lunch with friends.

I hate to say it, because it sounds suspiciously close to something annoying expat who says things like "oh I only hang out with locals, I get along with them so much better than other [*snicker*] foreigners" would spout, but it's true: not long ago I had another lunch at a restaurant that was not really good (but well-known in foreigner circles) with a group of expats. It was fun, although some things that were said bothered me, but honestly, this was more fun. Instead of conversation topics like "are Taiwanese women materialistic" (sadly, the general consensus seemed to be "yes"), I got to explain, in Chinese, why "Bear Bar" and "G2-Paradise" - two bars behind Red House Theater in Ximen - are such funny names in English. I learned a useful new bit of Chinese vocabulary, too ("G點"). I feel I owe 文昌帝君 for that one. As for the other diners - they were delighted at this tidbit of cultural knowledge. Who says that Taiwanese people are conservative and uptight? That's not been my experience!

It doesn't matter to me if I never go out with that group of expats again, but I honestly do look forward to going out with this group of Taiwanese food lovers in the future.

And I will definitely be returning to 龍都酒樓.


Friday, February 17, 2012

Lao Ren Cha goes Lowbrow at Modern Toilet


This chain of bathroom-themed restaurants is nothing new - certainly old news - but it's new for me. Readers in Taiwan won't be surprised: many of them will have already eaten at one. So, I'm posting this more for family and friends reading from abroad, who are more likely to raise their eyebrows at a restaurant whose theme is "toilets".


Yes, you sit on toilets with strange-looking lids. Yes, the tables are glass-covered sinks or bathtubs. Yes, the food comes in toilet-shaped plateware. The food on offer is basic pseudo-Western fusion (think hot pots, meat-with-rice dishes, spagettis and gratin-inspired dishes, Japanese curry) and is thoroughly mediocre. Perfectly edible but I'm not going to be writing an actual culinary-based review of the place anytime soon.


 What I loved is that so many people seemed to be eating there non-ironically. Now, I can't know that for sure, and Brendan's comment was "Jenna, that's a pretty big assumption to make without much evidence. Considering how hard it would be to eat at Modern Toilet non-ironically, you better have something to back it up when you assert that that's what someone does."

And yes, in the back corner of the photo above, that is a gold-toned poo coil adorning the railing. And yes, below I am sitting next to a faucet fixture attached to the wall (obviously, it doesn't work). Also I wanted to show off my new haircut. I totally look like a college student! In my twenties everyone thought I looked older than I was. In my early 30s, everyone seems to think I look younger than I am. The acne doesn't help.


We decided to go much at the last minute: we wanted to meet a friend for dinner and she was in Zhongshan - but we wanted a not-too-tiny restaurant that we could linger in that would be suited to a small group and has real full meals on offer.

Zhongshan (I'm talking about the area immediately around Zhongshan station, not the entire district) has three kids of restaurants: 

1.) Cafes - great atmosphere, perfect for a coffee or other drink or a dessert, good for small groups and lingering, but generally overpriced, under-portioned and middling food.

2.) Great restaurants that cater to large groups - Celestial Kitchen (天廚) and 龍都酒樓 are in this group. I've eaten at both and they're both fantastic, but you really need to be going there with six people or more. I'll be posting a review of the latter restaurant soon.

3.) Hole-in-the-wall local joints with card tables and disposable chopsticks with great food but lacking a lingering atmosphere.

There's also Ali Baba Indian Kitchen, but we had dinner there less than a week ago.

Then I realized that Jiantan was on the same MRT line and that I'd never been to Modern Toilet, despite having lived in Taiwan for 5 1/2 years. We wouldn't escape uninspiring food, but I'd be able to tick a cultural establishment (I say that half-ironically) off my list. I mean, the place regularly receives global attention and I am asked fairly often by friends in other countries if I've eaten there. It's always a surprise when I say "no". 


So, we went, and it was pretty much exactly as we expected. I had "Korean kimchi hot pot" (about as good as I expected). Brendan had Japanese curry (about as good as he expected). Cathy had some sort of chicken dish with rice (about as good as she expected).


The most famous menu item at Modern Toilet is the poo-coil like soft-serve chocolate ice cream in an Asian-style toilet shaped bowl.

It sure looks the part, but it's really not that good. But, you know, I can now say I've been there, done that, and I don't need to go back unless visitors from abroad are really excited about it.


Wednesday, February 15, 2012

My humble offering

...to the meme gods.

Let me know if it's too small to read (I made it a size that works well on Facebook)

Tuesday, February 14, 2012

My Taiwan Valentine

awwwwwwww
"My Taiwan Valentine" being different from "My Taiwanese Valentine", of course. If I had a Taiwanese valentine I think Brendan might be a leeeeeeettle upset.

First, enjoy this. Watch the video, too.

And enjoy this. I think next year Brendan is getting Easter candy and a bag of hammers.

So generally we're not big V-day celebrators. Not because I'm anti-Valentine's day, but rather that I'm anti-crappy chocolate (and most of what's sold on V-day is crap). I'm also, while not the sort who says "I don't want to feel pressured to express my feelings by marketing behemoths for their profit" (although there's some truth to that), I am the sort who has come to realize how unimportant the day really is when you're in a good relationship. I have found that stuff like this takes on outsized proportion when things are bad - like you need that planned expression of affection on the corporate-mandated day to prove to yourself that things really are OK. When things are good, you don't care as much about meeting these expectations.

For me anyway. Some folks are in great relationships and still place importance on days like this, and that's fine too.

But, Brendan and I still like to spend time together, and figure there's no harm in having some of that time be around Valentine's Day. This year, however, we're both working in the evening. In a few short hours I'll be back on the HSR to Hsinchu to teach in the Science Park. Since the day itself is not that important, we had our Valentine's Day Love Fest on Sunday - and took advantage of the gorgeous weather.

We took the Maokong Gondola   - I know a lot of people worry about its safety but I personally think it's fine. I've been on it many times and do not fear that something will go wrong. They should change the name, though. "Gondola" is a dumb name for a cable car, and it's doubly annoying to have to teach students what a "gondola" is and then shrug my shoulders when they ask why that was the name chosen for the cable car.

As you can see, we shared a car with a group of women from SE Asia. At first I thought they were Filipina (I thought they were speaking Tagalog) but now I'm not sure - they didn't say much. They could have been Thai. I know they weren't Vietnamese by the language spoken. They spent most of the time taking glamour shots of themselves, though, not chatting - so it's hard to say.

This is a tough time of year to take the Gondola - with the cherry blossoms on Maokong in bloom, if the weather is even remotely decent and it's a weekend, the thing is packed. We were blessed with a lovely, clear day on Sunday, so we had to wait about an hour to board. They were handing out required "reservation" tickets with boarding times. We arrived at 1:37pm and were handed a ticket for 2:30-2:45. We expected this, though.

There aren't as many cherry blossoms on Maokong as on Yangming Mountain, but enough that the easier task of taking the gondola - vs. driving or taking a bus up Yangmingshan - is a good alternative. They also bloom much earlier in Taiwan than elsewhere (esp. Japan) due to the warmer weather.




It's fairly common in every country where Valentine's Day has made some inroads - it's certainly known in Taiwan - for people to celebrate it when they're young and in love and forget about it when they're old fuddy-duddy marrieds (like me!). I kind of understand that: as I said, if your relationship is good, then Valentine's Day, birthdays, other holidays etc. stop becoming a barometer of your relationship status or "goodness", because you don't need them.

What I've noticed in Taiwan, though, is a different sort of not celebrating Valentine's - in the US you'll get the V-day haters, and the ones who are romantic but not on that day, or the ones who are fine without romance but don't really announce that. You get those who say "oh, we don't bother" but they rarely explain it with "because we've been married for so long". Usually there's an implication that there's romance elsewhere or at other times.

I think this couple had a similar idea
for how to spend the day
In Taiwan, you get the older married folks who not only admit to not celebrating Valentine's, but  say that it really is because they're older and married, and, you know, everyone knows that old married folks don't have romance (that last part isn't actually spoken, but it's implied heavily in the tone), that's for crazy young kids. Not that I ask, but I get the strong sense that there is an acceptance of less romance in these relationships overall. Not so much that they don't bother with Valentine's Day, but that they don't bother with that kind of romantic expression at all.


I can't be sure of this, of course - many American couples wouldn't necessarily cop to having a romance-free marriage, and I could be reading the tone wrong in Taiwan, and be adding an implication that wasn't intended: perhaps the tone used merely conveys a deeper sense of privacy about such  things.

But, you know, while divorce - at least in Taipei - is reaching numbers that rival the US's divorce rate, the whole concept of divorce being acceptable, or no-fault divorce, or even "wow, it's not the woman's fault, we can't automatically blame the wife for not being pliant or dutiful enough" divorce, is fairly new in Taiwan. The idea of remaining single by choice or because you  have high standards is new, too - especially for women. It's a more recent change, which means that old feelings of "you marry because it's socially expected, you have kids because you should and you stay in that marriage even if you're not happy, and even if that can't be fixed, even if your husband as a mistress" still linger. I could see how that would bring about a feeling of "eh, people who have been married for awhile don't have, don't need and shouldn't expect romance or love" which might be echoed in the comments I hear.




But enough dreariness. The weather was so balmy and rejuvenating that, between soft pink sakura and bright blue sky, who can help but feel that love is a beautiful thing?



After walking around - and dodging traffic - we settled in at Mountain Tea House, a short walk from the gondola station but beyond most of the crowds. We go there often, because the view is good and the food is tasty. I especially recommend the Lemon Diced Chicken (檸檬雞丁).

As per my blog's namesake, I brewed lao ren cha and we talked, chatted, ate snacks, and quietly read or studied Chinese. I don't consider retreating behind a book to be unromantic (retreating behind a computer or iPod is more unromantic to me, not sure why) - part of what makes our relationship so great is that we can both be quiet and doing our own thing, and still feel a vibrant connection. That's important - because who can talk all day and all night to one person? Even if you have that early chemistry that makes you want to just spill your guts and talk for hours, it eventually fades (not completely, but it does) and something needs to be there to replace it. A connection that transcends conversation.


We also spent a little time taking glamour shots of ourselves.  Here's my frank admission: while I'm fine with being curvy and average looking in real life, there are two things I know are true about my looks:

1.) I am really not photogenic. At all. Even if I look fine in real life, I look terrible in most photos. I'm OK with that, too, until I actually see the photos, which I quickly delete or de-tag.

2.) I have one really great feature. One thing that, when I look in the mirror, I think "wow, that's just great. That looks good". One thing that helps me be totally OK with being otherwise completely average-looking. I won't tell you what it is. I think I've mentioned it before, and anyway it should be pretty clear. 

So, when good photos of me come along - which happens about once a year, if that - I milk those babies for all they're worth, because it'll be awhile before more good ones are taken.


But first, some glamour shots of my super handsome, I mean really handsome, I mean "da-yum how did I land me such a hottie" husband.


I *heart* the green eyes
I mean I love him regardless, I'd love him even if his face got all messed up or he gained 200 pounds. I'd love him if he was not so good-looking...but you gotta admit, I lucked out in the Hot Husband department.

Then, Brendan took some shots of me, when the sun was providing good light:




We stuck around past sunset, because I love the night view from Maokong. I also have a camera now that has a timer, so I can set it on a flat rail and take decently focused night shots, as though I had a tripod.


Then we ventured down to Nanjing E. Road for dinner at Ali Baba's Indian Kitchen, but that's not terribly exciting - just tasty!


Sunday, February 12, 2012

SYS Memorial Hall Lantern Festival 2012


I am a horrible, lazy person. I went to this last week and didn't put up photos, or even edit them, until yesterday (Catherine here certainly beat me to the punch by about 7 days). I've had a long week - I unexpectedly found myself in Hsinchu three nights out of five working in the Science Park, and that not only takes a lot of time (for which I am well compensated, don't feel bad for me) but also a lot of energy.  Generally on Wednesdays I get to race back up to Taipei at warp speed in the passenger seat of a student's car, but that student was on a business trip so it was the HSR for me - which is great, but when you factor in MRT and taxi times it still takes awhile.

But, here, enjoy - we didn't make it to Pingxi this year but we did, for the first time, make it to Sun Yat-Sen Memorial Hall, where an entirely different sort of lantern is on display. It's slightly less crowded, too - although even at some distance from the hall it was hard to get a seat anywhere for dinner. We ended up at Harbin Dumpling King and got the last available table. All out of dumplings but that was OK, they still had spiced lamb kebab!

Mmmm spiced lamb kebab - I could go and just eat this.
The lanterns at SYS are spread out over four axes, coming together at a central sculpture by the fountain on the Ren'ai Road side which, every thirty minutes or so, puts on a water and laser show that also involves fire around the edges. A bit corny but fun to watch as part of a crowd.


Now, my camera doesn't take great night photos - even though what I'm using now is technically a professional camera. I'm not sure why this is - you'd think with its huge lens and pro specs that it would do a better job. My best guess is that, because it is a pro camera and not a little one you can shove in your purse, that Canon assumed that for shots like these you, as a real photographer, would obviously have a tripod. I mean duh. But I don't and even if I did I wouldn't want to lug it around this crowd or try to set it up in the unending stream of people.

But, you know, enjoy anyway!


Many of the lanterns this year focused on dragons - "Year of the Dragon", "around the world", "Taipei" and "Taiwan" were popular, if not necessarily creative, themes (love the dragon above though. I think he was my favorite lantern of all).





I also quite like this white tiger. The White Tiger Star is apparently very important in this dragon year, meaning many people will be more prone to sickness or accidents - including those born in the year of the monkeys (that would be me - great).


Less crowded and arguably more romantic was the walk through the park near SYS and Taipei City Hall - the trees were decked in fairy lights and the winding paths were perfect for a short walk hand-in-hand with a loved one (awww).




Back to SYS - we didn't make it through the entire festival - it was just to crowded - although in retrospect I wish we'd stuck it out. At the time it seemed like they were all starting to blend together, but now, looking back at my photos, I can see how different and unique - and well-made - many of the lanterns were.


Also, robots!


 I have to say that I think this one is a tad...I dunno. I raised my eyebrows for sure. I think the guy with a bone in his hair is meant to be a Taiwanese aborigine, which, c'mon - maybe a little racist? The generic white kid is, I think, meant to be French (there's an Eiffel Tower next to a Native American to the right of this photo). I"m not quite sure what to make of it. There's a Pyramid, too!



I didn't get that close to some of the lanterns - it was really a madhouse on Sunday. If you go next year (assuming it's not still going on), try for a weeknight. Trust me.



 These are some of my favorites, too - I love the detailed paint job that gives this set of lanterns more depth.



The park across the street has a whole set of lanterns from Chinese mythology.