Monday, January 25, 2010

Nancy Coffee

I have a new favorite place. Located just south of Nanjing West Road on a lopsided intersection of Tianshui Street, near Huating Street and some random lane, Nancy Coffee and Snacks looks as though it’s been frozen in time in pieces between the 1920s (with its dark wood lined, art deco windows and Depression Yellow glasses) and the 1970s (with its retro burnt auburn faux-leather chairs and equally worse-for-wear tables).

I love the view from those vintage windows. I love the funky mid-century light fixture that forms a starburst of light on the ceiling, and the hanging birdcage lamps in one corner. I love the horrible brown-rug creaky floor and the old wood post room divider that reminds me, for some reason, of the first house I lived in (even though it did not have such a divider). I love the old folks who look like they live in the corner, covered in cobwebs, and the wall-installed HDTV they watch. I love the hideous art on the walls.

I love how the counter is about two feet high, horrible brown Formica (I think – I missed Formica’s boom years) with two hairsprayed women who are clearly more comfortable with the dips and twangs of Taiwanese than dry, proper Mandarin.

I love how the Cheese, Ham and Egg sandwich is exactly what it says it is and the coffee comes in small cups but makes your heart race. I love that it’s bitter but it’s not that Starbucks burnt bitter that forces you to add sugar. I like how they don’t have wireless access (though I wish they did).

I love the neighborhood – whatever you need you can find it in the bylanes and backalleys of Nanjing West Road. I love the store that sells widgets and the other that sells dingbats. I love the rows and rows of chemical lab supply shops and apothecary jar stores (I love that the pharmacies in this neighborhood still use apothecary jars). I love the old scraggly dude who sells sausages, and the old scraggly lady who naps in a folding chair under the monolithic temple – really a glorified gate – across the street from the 2/28 marker (the 2/28 incident began near here). I love the shops that sell baubles and crystals, and how every kind of fabric and jewelry supply is available. All those hoo-hoos and whatchits you see in the USA and have no idea where they come from are sold here, except they’re not attached to any coats, briefcases or handbags. I love how next to those stores are other stores that sell pressed fish eggs and shark jaw. I love how some of the stores are so old that their signs are crumbling, and some of the proprietors are as crumbly as the signs.

So, I love Nancy Coffee and Snacks. I think it might be my new favorite place on Earth. Bad lighting, strong coffee, stained walls, wobbly tables and all. I hope it never changes.

Thursday, January 21, 2010

Three things

First: Seven Reasons Why Taipei is Better Than Singapore

Second: I now teach a class in Xinzhu on Wednesdays (HSR and taxi fares are reimbursed in full so this is fine). I mentioned to the class that I've been to the Temple to Chiang Kai Shek (whom I intensely dislike, but it was a cultural thing, like an anthropological interest) in their city and one of the students said: "Yes, I know that one. It's near Qinghua University Night Market. Do you know why he is a god? Because in Chinese culture, if you kill a lot of people or you are a robber, you will become a god when you die. So Chiang Kai Shek is a god now."

He's got a point, I must say.

Third: Saw a dead monk encased in gold the other day. (Link is to a site in Chinese). I didn't take a photo because it's not exactly respectful to do so, and we had to ask someone to open the shrine with the actual monk for us, as it was closed when we a temple representative was there. And yes, it was very kind of them to open the shrine for us when it would otherwise be closed. But I found this online:

In the 1970s the monk under all this gold sat down to meditate and continued meditating, apparently, until he died in that position after taking no food or water and not moving from that position until...well, until it killed him. His devotion caused him to be considered a minor deity and have his gold-covered idol worshipped at Anguo Temple. So yes, that's really him under there.

Anguo Temple also has a well-known vegetarian restaurant that we were too full to eat at, but intend to return to and try. The view looks fantastic but it's hard to see through the trees.

To get there, take the MRT to Beitou Station and turn left after exiting. Take the 小6 bus from there (comes every half hour) - ask to be let off at an1 guo2 si4 - 安國寺. it'll go past a few hilarious storefronts on busy streets (we were quite charmed by Internet Technotronic, Taiwan Buffet New Conception, and Black Magic Rabbit Kitchen.)* Then it'll pass Xin Beitou station before climbing a steep hill. Soon after that you'll be let off - there's no stop, which is why you have to tell the driver in advance.

It's not a long walk back down the hill to Xinbeitou, so it's a good outing to combine with hot springs or something else in the area.

* Almost as good as Chili Lubricants and Cherry Grandfather Cake near Wanlong, Lady Juice on Changchun Road, Oh! God! Ya! near Shuanglian MRT and We Deliver Trust & Dreams on Minzu Road).

Wednesday, January 13, 2010

Google may pull out of China

Google May Pull Out Of China: Search engine cites attacks on human rights activists' Gmail accounts and says it will no longer filter search results as per Chinese law.

YAY! I hope they do.

These attacks are almost certainly the work of the government itself and what the article calls its vast "army of proxies". Nobody can prove it, but come on, they have the capability, the desire and the sense of entitlement.

Diplomatic pressure, as we have all seen, has failed. No country (except maybe Panama and their tiny Central American friends) has the balls to stand up to the CCP - a government that really needs a standing-up-to. The reason - if my saying so isn't too pendantic - is purely economic.

So what's left? Economic pressure. Pulling out of China may hurt Google's balance sheets in the short term, and possibly even the long term, but ethically it's simply the right thing to do. China doesn't need another search engine that bows to the CCP's cracked up vision of human rights and freedom. They need actual freedom - freedom of speech, of information and of the press. This may be the only kind of external pressure that has some, possibly small, effect.

Or maybe it'll have no effect at all. I'm no economist, nor am I a political analyst. Maybe Bing (*ptooey*) will make inroads in China, ride that wave as China becomes the world's next economic center, and Google will be left in the dust.

But I certainly hope not - and now, I feel a lot better about using Google.

Saturday, January 2, 2010

Nikko, The End

The final set of assorted photos from our trip to Nikko - all the stuff that didn't get posted before!