Sunday, May 24, 2015

Get Me To The Greek Mediterranean THROWDOWN: Opa! vs. Yiamas

There are two good Greek restaurants in Taipei: Opa! Greek Taverna, formerly in a fantastic space near Sun Yat Sen Memorial Hall (now in the brightly-lit and utterly soulless ATT 4 Fun), and Yiamas Greek Taverna just off Anhe Road across from Far Eastern Shangri La Hotel (where Toast used to be - I'm sad that place closed, I liked their ceviche, but happy to be within walking distance of a Greek restaurant).

I want to review and rank these two places based on their actual food, but honestly, the food is about the same. A few notes:

Hummus: used to be fantastic at Opa!, now merely good. It is also good at Yiamas but my homemade hummus is still better. It was silkier at the old Opa!, but something has changed at the new one...mostly related to texture but it could use more of a kick generally. I'm wondering if locals didn't like the old recipe.

Lemon chicken: I haven't tried this at Yiamas yet but at Opa! it's as good as ever, and a huge serving.

Moussaka: Very good at both restaurants, but my husband says it was better when Opa! was still in its old location. It was like heaven, he said, and when we went to ATT 4 Fun, it was still good but had an air of microwave about it. Not surprising as they must have a much smaller kitchen.

Htipiti (or roasted red bell pepper and feta dip): excellent at both restaurants.

Lamb ribs: excellent at both restaurants. You get more lamb for your money at Yiamas, but the ribs at the old Opa! were more tender and less chewy. No idea how they are at the new Opa!

Desserts: more or less identical at both restaurants.

They are literally almost like two copies of each other. The menus are virtually identical and prices similar, to the point where I wonder if one didn't steal the other's. So you could really go to either and get a similar food experience.

This is where ambiance comes in. Opa! used to be in a neat space decorated with murals inspired by Grecian scenery. I happen to like street-level restaurants in atmospheric side lanes in bustling neighborhoods with vibrant street life. I am less a fan of large shopping malls (that is to say, I hate them, especially in Taiwan where the ceilings are low, the aisles are narrow, the teenyboppers walk around like they couldn't ever be in anyone's way, and the music is blasting and usually terrible). I also hate what they do to street life: walking down a lane crammed with boutiques, restaurants, cafes, tea shops and vendors is interesting. Walking by shopping malls, giant monolithic buildings and apartment complexes without street-level retail space is not interesting (even when they have street-level space it often lacks atmosphere and liveliness). For this reason Xinyi is my idea of Hell: wide roads full of cars and slow traffic lights racing between hulking shopping malls with almost nothing of interest going on at street level (I do not think the shops along the pedestrian walkways between the department store buildings are particularly interesting: I want to see local businesses, not Crocs and Krispy Kreme).

I do not like the mallification of Taipei.
I do not like it in any way.
I do not like it in a tree, I do not like it in Xinyi.
I do not like it on the road, I do not like it with a toad.
I do not like it in my hood, I do not like it, it's no good.

It's not just no good, it's destroying the city. If I wanted to flit between hideous monoliths crowded with teenagers playing terrible music, while the streets are dead to pedestrians, merely conveyances for cars and scooters, I'd have moved to fucking Beijing. YUCK.

And now Opa! is in one of those monstrosities. It is brightly lit, overly white, noisy and modern, and completely soulless. It sucks the joy out of the food. I didn't realize how much I valued being able to walk in from the street, open an actual door, maybe pass by a front garden with some plants or at least walk through a neighborhood with some liveliness to it to get to dinner in a comfortably lit, comfortably decorated space that isn't too hard-edged or bright and jarring...but I do care about these things.

Plus, if every restaurant is in a freakin' shopping mall, how are they going to have kitchens big enough to make quality food, and how are we supposed to enjoy eating outside on the few nice days we get in Taipei?

The Diner is in ATT 4 Fun too, though at least it has its own entrance. But I liked the Diner on Dunhua S. Road, where I had a shot at having brunch outsideand now it's closed, so I rarely go to the Diner anymore. (The one on Rui'an St. should still be there, but they once told me they didn't take reservations only for me to show up and be asked if I had a reservation, so screw them).

Anyway, enough of my rant. Yiamas is in a street-level space with moody lighting and a comfortable feel. It's not too bright, and it's not white at all. They have a full-sized, not mall-sized, kitchen. I don't feel like I'm a mannequin on display there, I feel like a person having a romantic birthday dinner with her husband. My glass of wine doesn't look like grape juice under the bright LEDs, it looks like delicious, murky wine. I want to eat the food there, because the atmosphere makes me want it.

So, in a head to head of the two Greek restaurants in Taipei...

Sorry Opa! - I really liked you once. Get a real location, not some ugly white box in a shopping mall, and I may like you again.

The match goes to Yiamas.

Monday, May 18, 2015

"We might actually lose, let's finally do a few good things"

Just a quickie here as I'm pretty busy this week.

Anyone ever notice that when the KMT has the presidency or is reasonably confident of keeping it, that they basically sit around with their thumbs up their butts, not doing jack squat for the country for years - or when they do do something, it's for their own benefit and tends to hurt, rather than be good for, Taiwan? (ECFA, I'm looking at you).

I mean, every party does this to some extent - if you think you're going to lose, you rush to pass politically popular or at least progressive legislation in the hopes that that will turn the tide somewhat before you lose your chance to take credit for it. Before that point, it's far more likely you'll milk the system to your benefit rather than do much good. It just feels more pronounced with the KMT.

In the very late '90s, there was a rush to pass a lot of women's rights legislation - if my memory serves, laws regarding abortion, divorce (though those were only changed to a degree), gender discrimination etc. were passed by the Lee administration...

...just before the KMT lost to Chen Shui-bian.

And now, we have the Ministry of the Interior starting programs to help the children of the children of Southeast Asian immigrants learn their native tongues, and to cap the work week at 40 hours. Both politically popular, or at least progressive (though as I've said, the work week cap lacks teeth and has some problematic language vis-a-vis gender roles), changes that don't remind people how disastrous the KMT has been in dealing with economic stagnation and Taiwan's relationship with China. All things designed to make the KMT look good. I'm sure they'll be trotted out in some sort of bluesplaining speech about how the KMT is the only choice for Taiwan because they know how to rule, or something.

It's not that these things aren't good, just as the women's rights legislation of the late 1990s was good. Helping children of immigrants know and understand their culture is a positive thing and can help Taiwan become a bit less insular vis-a-vis the foreign labor it needs.

It's feels so politically stage-managed to all happen just as we start hearing the first twinges of election season. And I know, it seems like I can't just let the KMT have a good thing, or do a good thing.

And you're right. I can't. If they'd been passing good legislation like this - even better if it had teeth - throughout their reign as Supreme Lords of Cross-Strait Relations (because to hell what the people of Taiwan think once you're elected, apparently), and really worked to do something about, or even showed that they cared about, domestic issues such as treatment of immigrant labor, the over-examining of students, wage stagnation, marriage equality and women's issues, I might be kinder in my assessment.

But I'm not willing to wait 8 years a pop for changes to be made (or 16 years in this case). Do it throughout your presidency, or your gestures are worthless, GTFO, buh-bye.

Sunday, May 17, 2015

"As mothers could leave work earlier to take care of their children"

Good news! The Legislative Yuan, apparently sick of being seen as a raving pack of fuckwits, has passed legislation that caps the work week at 40 hours, or no more than 84 hours (where'd those extra 4 hours come from?) for two weeks.

That's awesome, although I had thought that this was already policy in Taiwan, and the reason people worked such long hours was because basically every single company ignored the law (and many of them found ways to weasel out of paying overtime - my former employer did this to Taiwanese staff, making them clock in on time but not clock out, so there would be no time-stamp of overtime worked). Though perhaps I'm wrong about that? If I am, please weigh in.

And we do need this - assuming that companies will actually pay attention to it. They seem to have found ways to creep work into Saturdays, which were made a day off as a two-day weekend some time ago (along with the somewhat Faustian bargain that if an extra day off was declared to merge a national holiday with a weekend, that day would have to be made up the following Saturday. I feel people work so hard they shouldn't have to do that). People are overworked, sometimes to the point of death. Almost always to the point of it affecting the rest of their lives. I'm not even going to continue talking about that aspect, because it's so obvious and well-documented that I don't have to. This is what the free market hath wrought, and it sucks. It needs regulation. It's screaming for it.

Even though what is most likely to happen first is bosses saying "sure, you can go home at 6" and then just never promoting that person, ever, for daring to actually use the new law to his or her advantage. The real change won't come until workers, coming to this realization together (whether they're organized or not - I happen to be pro-union but it's not strictly necessary for this to take place), simply refuse to work at places where onerous or even unpaid overtime is expected.

Along those lines, why is this clunker buried at the bottom of the article:

These include an increase of the monthly limit for overtime from 46 to 54 hours, Liu said.

If you increase the overtime allowance, it hardly matters that you're capping the work week. Work hours will be the same. So this law, while a step in the right direction, is not really going to change much. (Thanks to my friend V. for picking that up - I'd missed the line completely, so far down is it buried). 

What stuck in my craw about this otherwise great new legislation was this:

“Flexibility is conducive to a more friendly working environment and the enhancement of female workers’ participation in the workforce, as mothers could leave work earlier to take care of their children,” said Chinese Nationalist Party (KMT) Legislator Alicia Wang (王育敏), who proposed to include the clause in the amendment.


I mean, I am happy that new laws like this, if followed* and enforced** will make lives easier for individuals and for families, and people who want to raise children will find it easier to do so.

But this calls back to all sorts of bullshit stereotypes that women are the nurturers, they're the ones who always care for the children, it's their job. Their husbands' reduced working time is less important, because raising children isn't their job, or something. Nope, we leave that to the ladies.

That? That's crap. Why bollocks on about women taking care of children rather than parents taking care of children or families having more time together? Why ruin perfectly good legislation that way? I know you're taking a stab at feminism, and that's cool, and you can have your own brand of feminism (no True Scotsman here) but comments like this hurt as much as they try to help. 

*fat chance

Saturday, May 9, 2015

Dissecting Flowers: Rainy Day Musings

It's pouring today. This is a good thing in that we need rain thanks to the legislators tasked with keeping water management infrastructure up to date have done such a shitty job of it, but also a bad thing in that it's my only day off this week.

On the way to a cafe, I passed a familiar face - the woman on the corner who sells those fragrant flower blossoms wired onto little hooks that you hang around the house to give it a fresh, natural scent. I know her - she's a Taroko aborigine, a wife and mother, in her early 60s, a devout Christian (she gives me Christian literature sometimes that I don't read, not because it's in Chinese but because as an atheist it's just not my bag). A few health problems that you'd expect a 60-year-old woman who stands outside all day to have. Obviously she doesn't have a lot of money, if she did she wouldn't sell flowers on the sidewalk.

Today (or tomorrow?) is Mother's Day, by the way. It makes no difference to the story, except to highlight how crappy it must be to be 60, a mother on Mother's Day, when it's pouring out, selling flowers on the sidewalk.

So, I often buy flowers, but not always, as I am not always headed home when I pass her. Today I pass her and honestly, I didn't really want flowers. I already had some hanging up around the house that I bought from another guy who sells them on the sidewalk near one of my workplaces. I was heading to a cafe with a cat that is likely to try to eat the flowers (I'm pretty sure they're non-toxic but the owners don't really like it when he does that). I felt like as a consumer it's my right to decide if I want to buy something or not, I shouldn't be forced into it by a guilt trip, a sob story or a hard sell. My money, my choice (for my private money, obviously when it comes to taxes and contributing to the running of a society that's different).

But, I did get the hard sell: it's Mother's Day, it's raining, I want to go home, maybe buy some on your way back?

I don't have the heart to tell her that I already have flowers hanging up, and I don't know when I'm coming back.

I still don't really want the flowers.

Yet, reader, here I am in the cafe with a little plastic bag full of flowers on wire hooks.

On one hand, I'm not wrong about feeling I have the right to spend my money as I choose. On the other, what a privilege it is for me to not have to sell flowers on the street just to make ends meet. Even if it's raining. Even if I'm tired. Even if it's Mother's Day (if I were a mother - I don't think being a Cat Lady counts). Even if it's raining, I'm tired, and it's Mother's Day. What a privilege to have enough money to not have to, to have enough, even, to go to a pricey cafe and get a Bailey's latte and sandwich. What a privilege to have the discretionary income that I could drop NT$100 on some flowers I don't need and hadn't intended to buy and not have to worry about it. I haven't always had that luxury (see: Jenna ages 23-25, and briefly after first arriving in Taiwan). As a foreigner here I am relatively well-paid, though I lack a lot of the securities enjoyed by citizens despite their lower salaries - jobs with paid leave, bonuses, pension plans, access to credit in Taiwan. Does that status of being paid well above the average for a teacher - more like the average for someone of my age and experience in finance - confer a responsibility? If so, a responsibility to do what?

Put in a situation where I could say "no", keep my NT100 (about $3 US), meaning she'd have to stand in the rain that much longer until someone else bought them, leaving my right to only buy things I want intact, or spend the $3 for something I really don't want or need so she could go home that much earlier, I chose to spend the money. (I would have just given her the money and turned down the flowers, but that probably - and rightly - would have offended her. She wasn't a beggar).

This brings with it all sorts of tough questions of privilege and right - exercise my right not to buy an unnecessary item and feel like (and, honestly, be) kind of a jerk? Or be a nice person - a softie even - but give up my ability to resist a hard sell? What would you think of the sort of person who said no? The sort who said yesWould it have been better if she'd not given me the hard sell and I'd chosen, without any push, to buy the flowers? Then it would be me owning the fact that I didn't really want them.

What is to be done about the fact that there are people who need to make money to survive, or need money to accomplish certain worthy things (like feeding their children or going to school), and people with the money to make sure everyone is fed and can get a level of education that suits them, but that we can't force that money to be more equitably distributed? (While I'm in favor of using tax dollars to redistribute wealth - make sure everyone has access to the necessities of life, health care and an appropriate level of schooling - not even I would agree that it's okay to force people to spend their non-tax dollars in this way).

I thought about this especially as Stephen Colbert made headlines recently by funding every single teacher grant request in his home state. He chose to do this - nobody asked him, nobody told him he should, nobody gave him the hard sell. He got to own that decision. I do think it's a shame that our children's education is now in part funded not by communal tax dollars, which are inadequately allocated ([s]I guess we gotta feed the military industrial complex somehow because that's soooo important[/s]) but at the whims of the wealthy, but what he did was fundamentally good.

Would it still have been so good if he'd been pressured by teachers to do so, and relented?

I can only dream of having the kind of money that would allow me to do something like that. I like to think that I would. But even then, would it be the same if I'd been pressured into it?

People calling on a random rich person to fund something - however important - when that person would not have been inclined to fund it otherwise - has the whiff of "moocher" to it, and would probably be whipped to death by the media, especially in the USA (I can't say for Taiwan).  A flower seller calling on a random relatively-rich person to buy some flowers out of pure empathy, not so much. Then the person who does so feels like she had her agency taken away, but the person who doesn't comes away feeling like a bit of a selfish prat.

And how is it that the intertwining narratives of consumer discretion and relative (lack of) privilege turned a fairly simple exchange into something so complex?

Wednesday, May 6, 2015


There's been some change
But we're still outsiders
If everybody's here
Then Hell knows we ride alone

Franz Ferdinand, "Outsiders"

Around the same time that I wrote my long diatribe on sexism in ELT in Taiwan (and generally, but my experiences are Taiwan-focused), there was a presentation going on at IATEFL about women in ELT, especially in the upper/academic echelons. And, a new special interest group, Teachers as Workers or TaWSIG, was submitted and rejected by IATEFL.

IATEFL gave a reason for the rejection that makes a lot of sense, but I still feel there is value in an organization aimed at promoting teachers as workers globally, even though such an organization could never really interfere in labor issues at any sort of local level (local, perhaps affiliated organizations would have to do that). But English teachers around the world share enough common issues - from low pay to a tolerance of untrained newcomers to management that knows nothing about ELT to a lack of CPD to outright workplace abuse - that a global organization would serve the useful purpose of awareness-raising and knowledge-sharing, so that local associations (unions, really) would have an easier time of forming.

Note: I am not a member of IATEFL. I will probably become one at some point, but for the moment I'm not.

These two points - teachers as workers and women in ELT - are more interrelated than you might think.

I want to now go wildly off topic with a tangent point. I'll bring it back, I promise. If any of you watch Mad Men (if you don't, you should), you'll be familiar with storylines in the show where men (Don and Roger mostly) who otherwise look out for their female coworkers (Joan and Peggy) fail to support them in crucial ways at crucial points. For example, when Joan was being harassed by a copywriter and Peggy went to Don with the problem, only to be told to fire him herself (a great response in 2015, but not in the mid-1960s where a woman firing a man was fraught with gender politics that have faded a great deal today), or at points when Peggy was ready to move ahead but needed a leg up from Don just because that's what the working world demanded at the time - and didn't get it, leading to her leaving the firm for awhile. The most notorious of these plot points is when Joan was pressured to sleep with an executive from Jaguar's dealership association. She doesn't want to do it. Neither Don nor Roger want her to do it. And yet, she sees her options: go through with it to secure the account, or don't and see no immediate fallout but watch her horizons dissolve at work through watching herself be blamed indirectly for losing a major client.

Peggy and Joan mostly look out for themselves, but they live in a world of deep institutional bias: the male characters often take this for granted and expect that looking out for oneself sometimes means you can do it all the time. This is true in a world with no, or little, institutional bias. But that's not the world we live in. So, Don goes to Joan and tells her she "doesn't have to do it" (except it's too late), and she smiles sadly and says "you're one of the good ones".

It's clear what she means: you mean well, but when it comes down to it, you aren't going to support me in not doing this in the way I need you to if I am going to have any future at this company. And she was right - she needed the strong support of a person in an influential position to even take the option to not sleep with the Jaguar exec, and she knew she wasn't going to get anything more than words.

That's how it works when you're on the bad end of systemic sexism. You can look out for yourself most of the time, but there are times when you need people at the top to get the conversation going so your interests can really be put out there.

Note to regular readers: I will be referencing this scene again in a future post. Keep an eye out.

Back to the point of this post, for now.

If I were to distill my last post on this topic to its core elements it would be:

1.) Female English teachers are stereotyped as teachers of children, and as such it may be easier to get those jobs (in many cases employers offering them outright insist on female teachers), but those jobs tend to be poorly-paid, or at least not as well paid as teaching adult English, creating a push toward lower salaries for female teachers. Beyond lower salaries, it's harder for people teaching ESL to children to access basic CPD (continuing professional development), let alone the more academic levels of ELT.

2.) The majority of CELTA course attendees may be women, but it's actually fairly rare to meet a female Director of Studies. A lot of books in the field were written by women, but the majority of big names do tend to be men.

3.) ELT as a profession may be more egalitarian than others (and I believe it is), but as an international profession, we teachers come in contact with a lot of non-Western cultures that have their own ideas about gender and the role of women. It is quite common to be treated as an equal through your training only to come up against a deeply sexist boss.

4.) When women do get jobs teaching adult English, we still face discrimination: learners often mistake the "guy in a suit" for the lead trainer on any Business English course. I have had to prove to students that I am, in fact, the lead teacher and that guy in a suit over there may well be a trainee! That aforementioned sexist boss may shunt us over to soft-skills classes (which pay less) because he thinks they're more "suitable" for women.

I mean, I went into freelance teaching because I was sick of the rampant sexism at my former employer, starting with the director but really just going all the way down the pike. I felt that, as a woman in Business English, the only way I was going to get paid what I was worth would be to go it alone. And lo, I was right.

(Note: outside of my private classes, I have no problems with my current part-time employers. But I've been burned and so for now, Hell knows I ride alone). 
This poses its own problems - as a freelancer, I have no access to CPD unless I make it happen myself. Nobody invites or sends me to conferences, nobody gives me access to important ELT journals so I can keep up on the latest research in the field.

All of these issues are related to teachers as workers - from systemic sexism to choosing freelancing to escape bad working conditions. Sexism in the workplace is a worker issue. Salary differentials due to being pushed down different career tracks is a worker issue. Overcoming learner bias is something of a pedagogical issue (I am not sure what it falls under - affective filter?), but also a worker issue as to a lot of us, our learners are also our clients. Being present in large numbers - majority numbers! - on courses like the CELTA but not nearly equal let alone a majority in plenary speaker or director of studies roles is a sign of institutional bias, and as such is a worker issue.

Gender in ELT may be just one aspect of being a teacher who is a worker, but an important one that merits debate.

And debate it people did. I do recommend listening to the IATEFL talk, and Scott Thornbury's blog has a very long comments section (many comments are by me, but not all!) on this and related topics.

But, I have to say, I still feel disappointed. Debating this at IATEFL is great, but let's be honest - IATEFL has limited reach. Most of the private language schools that perpetuate these problems in the industry don't even know what IATEFL is, let alone care what they say about workplace conditions. Hell, most don't even know or care what the CELTA is and that's the most basic TEFL qualification there is.

So, in a way, TaWSIG not going through IATEFL may actually be better for it in the long run. Working at a more grassroots level where it can have more of an impact for workers whose employers couldn't give a toss about IATEFL may well turn out to be an advantage.

I'm also disappointed because, if you read Thornbury's post, well, he basically says that while there's room for debate on women's issues, that non-native speaker teacher (NNEST) issues are more important. It's great that he's getting the word about TaWSIG out there. And I completely agree with the need to also focus on the inclusion of NNESTs.

But, I was disappointed with the horribly cliched way he pivoted the discussion away from women in ELT in order to talk about NNESTs. First mentioning that the incoming and outgoing presidents of IATEFL were women (which is a good point, but comes across as not much different than "why are we talking about racism when America has a Black president?"), and then saying that the discussion of women in ELT was "distracting" people from a more important issue. Which reeks - reeks - of the same thing being done every time women's issues come up for public debate. "Yes, yes, we can talk about that, but not now, this other thing is more important, just wait, we'll get to you."

1848: "Yes, we know you ladies lack suffrage, but what's really important is slavery, you'll get the vote someday." 1963: "Yes, we know you feel dissatisfied and shut out of the chance at meaningful careers or even to be taken seriously as anything other than a housewife or mother, but what's really important is civil rights." 1970s: "There's a lot of shit going on right now so will you women's libbers please shut your traps for awhile? We'll get to you." 2015: "We already have equality even though many people deny that a well-documented pay gap exists, we have bigger things to deal with, we can talk about this later...or never."

It's not that those other issues weren't important - they all inarguably were. But they all shunted women's issues to the backseat time and time again, to the point where we are still waiting for equal rights explicitly stated in the constitution, we are still waiting for a roadmap to equal pay, and we are still fighting to retain control of our bodies and health care rights.

I know this wasn't his intention, and that he wouldn't disagree that both issues merit a discussion, but that's not how it came across, and that's not, I am sure, how most readers will take it. They'll take it as yet another "sure, we could talk about that, but let's not. This other issue is more important."

Which, if anything, was a blow to the discussion for those of us who see women in ELT as a major issue: we might have been better off if he'd mentioned TaWSIG and not brought up women at all. At least then there wouldn't be an established figure in the ELT world telling everyone our conversation isn't as important, or is distracting people from real issues.

So...the whole thing left me with a big "gee, THANKS" feeling.

Which brings us back to Mad Men. In a world of institutional bias, disadvantaged groups need a leg up. Thornbury - arguably the most prominent name in ELT at the moment - had the opportunity to give women one. A discussion started by him might have had some impact, at least in awareness-raising or inspiring people to think a little more about their situations and the situation of women in the industry.

Instead he told everyone to move right along, nothing to see here.

Posts like this are made by...the good ones. And that's a damn shame.

It's not that a person of influence is obligated to start discussions about whatever people might want them to - certainly everyone has the right to their pet issues. But, it's disappointing when someone of influence actually makes things worse for your own pet issue.

I want to add here, though it will be discussed at greater length in another post, that I not only feel like an outsider in adult ELT. I also feel like one being in the private sector, a freelancer even, in an industry where access to higher echelons is through academia. IATEFL folks can talk about these things at length, but it doesn't really affect us on the private side. There needs to be a bridge, because otherwise it's academics talking about academia, with little real-world effect. I'd like that to change as well, and I'll explore it at length - at great length, because you know me - later on.

Saturday, May 2, 2015

Safranbolu Turkish Restaurant, and Shared Culture

Safranbolu Turkish Restaurant
#60 Nanjing E. Road Sec 2
(corner of Nanjing and Jilin Roads)
Zhongshan District, Taipei Taiwan

Pictures on this will come later, as I only had my phone with me and haven't uploaded the photos yet.

Anyway, I was quite excited to hear about Safranbolu, which as far as I know is the only Turkish restaurant currently operating in Taipei. Middle Eastern food exists, but until now, I couldn't find Turkish. As someone of Armenian descent - Armenian from Turkey - this is like a godsend to me.

The atmosphere is quite good - well lit (perhaps a little too brightly lit for a romantic dinner, but not overly dim as a lot of restaurants are), with the sort of lanterns one might find in the Istanbul Grand Bazaar hanging from the ceiling, Turkish coffee sets and evil eye charms for sale and Turkish music piped in.

We got hummus, ezme (a finely chopped salad of tomato, bell pepper, parsley, lemon juice, walnuts and pomegranate molasses), ayran (a savory Turkish yoghurt drink), lahmacun and Iskender kebab (my favorite kebab), Turkish coffee and two desserts (a custard and a rice pudding).

The food came quickly which we appreciated, and the ezme was perfect - exactly like I used to eat in Turkey after long days on the CELTA course - I would put it on thick slices of Turkish bread spread with soft cheese and eat it with a bowl of olives and local wine (Ancyra Okuzgozu), occasionally with some kofte. The hummus was chunkier and grainier than I prefer - I think this might be a regional difference. My ancestors' homeland is in the deep south of Turkey, near Antakya (Antioch) and the Syrian border. Around there they make their hummus silky smooth, doused in olive oil, garnished with parsley, cumin and cayenne pepper and served with bread, tomato slices and pickled vegetables (usually turnips or beets). When we had hummus in Patara, a little further west, it was chunky with nearly whole chickpeas and didn't have the same seasonings. This hummus was more like what we had in Patara. It was fine - though I still haven't found anyone in Taipei who makes hummus the way I like it - although we were a bit annoyed that the bread took awhile to arrive and was not very substantial. The bread was, however, good. I hope that they can sort out this service snafu and remember that bread comes at the same time as the hummus, and should be adequate to eat all of the hummus on the plate.

The lahmacun was excellent - the bread was not as thin as you can get it in Turkey but they got the flavors just right. My only comment here is that in Turkey lahmacun usually comes with a lightly dressed side salad of onion, tomato, possibly lettuce, cilantro or cucumber and you wrap the salad in with the lahmacun, and no salad was provided. On the other hand, I feel I should not be quite so picky: there is nowhere else in all of Taiwan to get decent lahmacun.

Iskender kebab is from the city of Iskenderiya just north of Antakya - it's the closest "regional kebab" to Musa Dagh, where my ancestors are from. While my family has apparently had a long-running feud with the Iskenderians, an Armenian family most likely from Iskenderiya (I don't really subscribe to the "old family feud" school of thought though), Iskender kebab remains my favorite. It's thin slices of grilled meat over chopped flatbread, doused in tomato sauce and served with yoghurt and rice. This Iskender kebab was pretty good, though it doesn't hold a candle to the huge heap of perfectly cooked lamb I had at a Turkish restaurant in New York not to mention the delicious Iskender kebab I had in Sanliurfa or Antakya. But, it was pretty good...I guess I just wish lamb had been an option (they only had chicken or beef).

The ayran was served in Moscow mule mugs, which I liked, and tasted basically like ayran, so yay!

All in all though I would say they hit the mark on all the flavor combinations - the tastes were all just like we had in Turkey - the other issues are just small kinks to work out.

The desserts were quite good - both fairly Turkish and tasty. We had them with Turkish coffee, which came in lovely cups with Iznik tile designs on them (not real, of course) and a pistachio Turkish delight. They don't do different sugar levels though - you can't say you want your coffee sweet or not. But, the way it's made, it's basically perfect so I'm not complaining.

Prices were not cheap, but then for good foreign food in Taipei you will usually pay a premium. The lahmacun (which is a light meal) was about 260NT, the Iskender kebab topped out in the 400s and the appetizers were about 60-90NT each. For the two of us - coffee, appetizers, ayran, meals, dessert - we paid about NT1800.

Oh, no alcohol on the menu. That's one major downside.

Before I finish this, I'd like to add something on a personal note. As an Armenian whose ancestors lived in Turkey before the genocide (the 100th anniversary of which just passed), it's kind of weird for me to eat Turkish food, because that's OUR food. The food of my family. The food of my ancestors. It's integral to our culture as Armenians...but that food is Turkish. But, it's also Armenian. I want to claim it as my cultural heritage, but I do not want to claim Turkish as my heritage, as I am not Turkish, I am Armenian by ancestry. It comes across as - this is our food! So, you're Turkish? No, we're Armenian. But this is our food too. But it's Turkish food. It's also Armenian. Armenian from Turkey? Well, yes, but food in Armenia proper isn't that different. So if they lived in Turkey, weren't they technically also Turkish? Not under the Ottoman Empire they weren't - there were Turks and then there were millets, or ethnic minorities under Ottoman control.

But a lot of the words of Western Armenian (the Armenian variant spoken by Armenians in Turkey) are Turkish borrowings, the food is the same, the culture is essentially the same, the tea and the games are the same, but we're not exactly the same. So on one hand I'm claiming my own heritage, on the other, I feel like I'm claiming one that is not entirely mine. Or, by claiming it, people make assumptions about my heritage that are not true.

All this to say, I understand how a lot of Taiwanese feel, wanting to claim aspects of Chinese culture that are also Taiwanese, that the two groups share (with the added aspect that they are ethnically the same), but wanting to remain culturally distinct. Wanting to say, yes, this is our heritage, we have this too - but we are not "Chinese", or, in the ways that we are, that is not the same as being from China. We share cultural touchstones, but we are distinct, and having that claiming of cultural heritage confused by the world at large for identifying as "Chinese".
I mean, I can never fully "get it", but I get it well enough, I think.