Showing posts with label best_of_taipei. Show all posts
Showing posts with label best_of_taipei. Show all posts

Wednesday, September 4, 2019

Where I'm drinking in 2019 - I get older, the bars get quieter

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Fancy G&Ts at Xiang Se


Because I can't write about politics all the time (literally, I can't - it induces too much anxiety), I decided to punt for the day and write up something about where I've been drinking in the past year. You know, to give the world a few more Taipei drinking choices - and one place in Tainan! - reviewed by a real person. I've tried to avoid the big restaurants, the fancy hotels and the huge (and already well-known) expat bars, because I prefer quieter, more intimate drinking experiences with friends. But, just to make a point, I'll address the big expat bars at the end.

My recent post on cafes also includes a few places that are good for drinking (notably Cafe Costumice, Cafe Le Zinc and Shake House), and an upcoming post on where I'm eating in Taipei in 2019 will also include a few places that are good for drinks (including Tanuki Koji for high-end sake and pretty much any of the Italian restaurants I'll mention for wine, Aperol spritzes and more). Of course, there will always be some overlap. 



Trio Original and Trio Bitters


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A lovely specialty cocktail at Trio Bitters

Some local friends introduced me to Trio Bitters near Zhongxiao Xinsheng. They have pretty good bistro food, a range of both regular and specialty cocktails, and a wine list. The wine is neither particularly cheap nor overly expensive and is fairly good, but I'd particularly recommend the specialty cocktails. I don't think I've ever seen another foreigner here, but it's popular with Millenial Taiwanese.

Another popular bar in this area is B Line By A Train - it's on the 2nd floor of a nondescript building on Zhongxiao East Road. I haven't actually been, but it's also very popular with the hip Millenial Taiwanese crowd, so it's probably worth a try.

I found Trio Original after trying Trio Bitters, and am reasonably sure the two bars are related. This one is just off Xinyi-Anhe - they have plenty of seating downstairs (though I like the upstairs atmosphere more) and will make you an excellent Manhattan with proper maraschino cherries, not those bright red things you can buy in any supermarket. 



L'arriere-cour (Backyard)

Hands down the best whiskey bar in Taipei, though it can be hard to get a seat - and there's nowhere to stand, so reserve in advance, even on ostensibly 'slow' nights. While not cheap, they have over 400 kinds of whiskey, the staff is friendly and will chat with you if you're alone, and the wasabi popcorn chicken is excellent. Get water with that - whiskey doesn't do a great job of cooling the heat of wasabi. I especially love the low lighting that makes you feel like you're in an upscale whiskey cave for hedonistic nihilists (or nihilistic hedonists).

The best part? They have so many types of whiskey that you won't be limited to the big names and the smooth, non-peaty blends popular in Asia. If you want a whiskey so peaty that it smells like the bottle smoked a cigarette by the ocean, this is the place to go. 



23 Public


This tiny little beer bar with floor-to-ceiling windows is simple and comfortable, and has a good mix of local and foreign. Right between Shi-da and NTU, it's not surprising that the local crowd is very grad-studenty. 23 Public only does local craft beer, and many of its beers are Taiwan themed (there's Taiwan #1 IPA, Love Motel Love, 22k IPA, a DPP-themed cucumber sour beer and more). They have light bar snacks - think small pizzas, spicy edamame, salted pork slices and rosemary fava beans. This place gets crowded so either go on a less popular night or make a reservation. 


Prozac Balcony


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Cool presentation at Prozac Balcony - the drink was good too


I haven't been here in awhile, but I like the shabby chic feel of this place, and their signature drinks are sometimes displayed in very fancy ways. I had a cocktail with fresh blood orange here once that cost NT$500, was absolutely delicious and was served in a large traditional teacup with a dragon design perched on a tray strewn with flower petals.

It's near a few more watering holes on Fuxing South Road south of Heping, including at least one whiskey bar with tinted windows that looks so masculine, I just want to go in there, order a drink and boast about how great I am while manspreading or something. Haven't done it yet, though. 



The Local 


Another beer bar! These are super popular in Taipei these days, at least until the next craze comes along (rum bars anyone?). The Local doesn't have a lot of seating but it's rarely crowded so it's easy to have a conversation. There are some video games you can play, and usually some amusing sport or other on the TV - who knew drinking beer and making light fun of extreme skateboarding could be so engaging? The big selling point of The Local, though, is the grilled cheese sandwiches, and the nachos aren't bad either. They occasionally have special events or food trucks stopping by. 


Xiang Se


This is the most hipster of hipster places to drink. With a funky garden - try to do some weekend day drinking in it, you won't regret it - and Brooklyn-meets-Miss-Havisham decor (think candles in weird holders with wax dripped artfully on reclaimed-wood tables - like that), you'll feel like a cooler person for having come here. The food is fun and unique as well, though I remember the atmosphere more than anything. A bottle of white wine in the garden on a hot summer weekend day is an excellent way to spend the day, and their gin and tonics come with sprigs of rosemary and the fancy tonic in glass bottles. Do reserve.


Zhang Men


Oh, yes, another beer bar! Like the others, this has a great atmosphere and local beer on tap. I habitually steal their coasters because they look so cool, and it's a solid drinking choice in the Yongkang Street area, which is more known for cafes and Japanese tourists than drinking, generally. 


Tavern D - The Rum Bar



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This place has good mojitos and great atmosphere


This place could go on a food list for its excellent Cuban sandwiches, corn tortilla chips and homemade salsa, but I'm putting it here because the real highlight is the excellent rum selection and fancy mojitos. The decor - think wooden bar, big green ferns, a Cuban-style wall mural - accentuates the drinking experience. It's not cheap but worth it for the best mojitos in town. It's not the only rum bar in town, but it's the one I prefer, and the only bar in Xinyi that I'll recommend here. Huge bonus points: they have fancy mocktails for your teetotalling friends. 


Le Puzzle Creperie and Bar 


This place could - and probably will - also go on a food list. Run by a friendly Frenchman whose name I've forgotten, I'm including it in the bar list because New Taipei deserves a mention, plus you can get a good bottle of wine for NT$700. You honestly can't beat that deal. They also do cocktails. The crepes here are absolutely worth trucking out to Banqiao for (it's a short walk from Xinpu MRT) - imagine an evening of wine, lemon crepes with sugar and delicious sorbet, or go all out and have one of their excellent dinner crepes as well. Just don't forget the wine. 


The Hammer

While we're in New Taipei, let's head on over to The Hammer, a small bar very close to MRT Dingxi Station. The San Miguel draft is a good deal, they have some nice bottled beers and you can get a decent glass of house wine. The food's pretty good too. It gets a bit loud and busy downstairs on weekends, but you can try to score a seat upstairs or come at a quieter time. A great place to go for a beer after a spicy dinner at Tianfu (天府川菜) which is right nearby, and has the best Sichuanese food not just in the Taipei area, but quite possibly all of Taiwan. 



BeerCat

The area between MRT Zhongshan and Dihua Street is slowly becoming populated with bars, cafes, teahouses and more. I could name a number of places in this area to drink, but I'm choosing this one not because the drinks on offer are particularly special (it's another beer bar), but because...guys. They have two cats. They have two cats. You can have a beer and pet a cat. You can beer and cat in the same place! BeerCat! The cats are pretty friendly too. We went to this place to drink away our sorrows the night of Taiwan's 2018 elections, and having beer to drink and a cat to pet really was therapeutic. 


Bar Ansleep


You would never know this tiny Japanese bar existed if someone didn't tell you, so here I am telling you. It's hidden away in a quiet lane near MRT Zhongshan Elementary School, on the 2nd floor. I don't even remember if there's a sign. The space is narrow but there are a few larger tables, and they do excellent cocktails in a quiet atmosphere.


Tuga


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Generous wine by the glass at Tuga


While technically a Portuguese restaurant (try the pan-seared green chilis - yum!), the real selling point of Tuga is the massive wine selection and inexpensive, generously portioned house wine by the glass. You can also buy wine by the bottle here - some bottles can run quite pricey, though - as well as some Portuguese condiments and cooking ingredients (think sardines, piri piri sauce). It's also near ABV, which has good-enough food, and an absolutely amazing beer selection.

Driftwood

Yes, yes, yes, another beer bar. This one is run by the folks at Taihu Brewing. I've had some great beers here, and a few misses (but not too many). The huge selling point is that it's pretty spacious and uniquely decorated, so you can probably get a seat. Ximenting, once the haunt of local teens and tourists, perhaps a few tattoo shops and not a lot else, is starting to become a great place for beer. Driftwood is one good option; try Ximen Beer Bar for another (yes, another beer bar). 



Bonus! Taikoo (in Tainan) 



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The balcony at Taikoo, in Tainan

It's not in Taipei, but hands-down it's our favorite bar when traveling in southern Taiwan. On Shennong Street in Tainan - you know, the famous old street with lots of quaint shops in lovely old buildings - there are two Taikoos, run by the same people. A cafe, and a bar. We prefer the bar. Taikoo (the bar) is in a two-story old house and has comfortable couch seating downstairs, with outdoor seating in the courtyard and even more seating in the (non-air-conditioned) building behind. Up a set of extremely dangerous old stairs, there's even more seating in a dimly lit space. The original roof beams are still visible, and there's a lovely balcony back here (it creaks ominously but I assure you it's safe) where you can sip your drink looking out over the courtyard below. They have a reasonable beer selection and make very good cocktails - I've never had anything I didn't love at Taikoo, and the staff is super friendly (and they speak good English, if that's something you prefer). 


As for the popular expat bars: 

Here's the thing about the Brass Monkey, Carnegie's, Revolver, Bobwundaye and relative (but very popular) newcomer, Red Point Taproom - I like these places quite a bit for drinking, at the right times. Go on a typically slow night - that is, avoiding Friday and Saturday (and in some cases Wednesdays, if there's a Ladies' Night) and grabbing a table or seat at the bar on a Tuesday, Thursday or Sunday. Brass Monkey has a solid selection of British beers, including Old Peculier, a particular favorite of mine. They also have an excellent range of British food. Carnegie's has an affordable "Crazy Hour", excellent brunch and they do make good cocktails, though they messed up once by putting sours mix in a Tom Collins - which might have been the worst drink I've ever had. Red Point has a great selection of local beers on tap, excellent appetizers and a fantastic Reuben sandwich, just don't go when it's busy. And Bobwundaye also makes a fine cocktail (some of the meals are good, but I've not been keen on the appetizers). Revolver is a great place to hang out when it first opens for the evening (around 6:30) and their nachos are tops. I find it's time to go, though, when it starts getting loud.

The main reasons why they get their own paragraph rather than a spot on the list are 1.) you already know about them, 2.) they aren't 'quiet, intimate' places to have a drink and 3.) they are extremely crowded on weekend nights, which is something I try to avoid these days.

Tuesday, September 3, 2019

A visit to Academia Sinica's history museum: the good, the bad and the weirdly supremacist

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A few weeks ago, we decided to escape the scathing summer heat and check out the history museum at Academia Sinica. It's a little hard to find once on campus and far from the MRT, but also air conditioned to the point of being refrigerated (seriously, bring a jacket) and best of all, it's free!

We expected a fairly small collection and were surprised to find that the two hours we'd set aside to explore the museum was not enough to see everything - it's far larger than it looks, with lots of interconnected rooms and corridors you don't know are there until you're upon them. We never even made it to the lower level but no matter, it's a good excuse to return.


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One of the coolest things on display: a letter from the Manchu emperor in China requesting one of Zheng Chenggong's descendants (either Zheng Jing or Zheng Keshuang) to leave Taiwan and return to China, written in both Manchu and Chinese

The best parts of the museum were the ones showcasing artifacts relevant to Taiwanese history, like the scroll above. Below, although a scroll announcing the capture of the Yongli Emperor (last of the Southern Ming, after a fashion) in Burma doesn't seem particularly related to Taiwan, it is. If I remember correctly, that was the emperor who gave Zheng Chenggong/Koxinga his title (Lord of the Imperial Surname), and so the Yongli Emperor's rise and fall is directly related to the events that spurred Koxinga to come to Taiwan, and for his descendants to stay on as Ming loyalists for a few generations.


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Here's another one regarding sea traffic between Qing Dynasty China and Taiwan:


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And then we have this, the explanatory plaque for the cover photo of this post:
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This is a request from the "eldest son of the king of Liuqiu" for a new patent and seal, sent in 1654 to the Ming imperial court in China.

Okay, so what? You might ask.

Well, this is exactly the sort of "historical proof" that China routinely uses when making territorial claims on various islands off its coast, most notably the Senkaku islands (not the same as the Ryukyu islands, but nearby). Of course, they also claim the Ryukyu islands, including Okinawa.

This is relevant to Taiwan not only due to these islands' geographical proximity to Taiwan - some of them are actually off the coast of Taiwan, not China, including Ishigaki and Yonaguni, which are closer to Yilan in eastern Taiwan than either Japan or China. It also matters because the Republic of China (you know, that old colonialist windbag of a government currently on life support as the official government on Taiwan - yeah, that) tends to claim everything China claims. The ROC officially claims the Senkakus - Diaoyutai in Chinese - just as China does, as well as those islands in the South China Sea. I think all of that is completely ridiculous, but, anyway, it's a thing.

(As far as I know, the ROC does not claim the Ryukyu Islands, but I could be wrong.)

The museum also has a large collection of rubbings of stelae and other large engravings. Many of the original stone and metal artifacts have been lost; some I presume are still in existence somewhere in China. To be honest, although these are valuable pieces, they come from various parts of China and are not directly relevant to Taiwan. So, while I enjoyed looking at them for their aesthetic beauty, they weren't of particular historical interest to me. Which, of course, does not mean they're not worthwhile. Not everyone has a laser focus on Taiwan the way I do.





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Yes, I made a joke about "full-surface rubbing". Because I'm 12. 

One of the great things about this museum is that everything is rendered in competent English. Although the National Museum of History, for example, has more artifacts from Taiwan's Austronesian past (which makes up the bulk of its history, but is often ignored due to a lack of recorded history), but no English. It's also clearly designed for adults, whereas the National Museum of History is more of a place to take your kids for the day.

On the other hand, there is a tendency in the information on items in the collection to expend way too much verbiage on the archaeological processes or techniques used to unearth the artifacts, or how the artifacts were made (see the tutorial on "full surface rubbing" above) and not nearly enough - if any - telling the stories behind the artifacts or what we can learn about history from them. 


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Here's a prime example. We learn what kind of shells these were (the shells themselves are not very photogenic), and why they matter, but we don't learn anything about the bits that are actually interesting: what kinds of ornaments and tools were they and what were they used for? What were the consumption habits of ancient Austronesians living in Taiwan? What was the ancient environment like, and what were the harvesting seasons? All we learn are that archaeologists have ways of finding these things out, but we never get to read about what they learned.

The most egregious example of this - and I wish I'd taken a photo - was an ancient scroll described as having something to do with some 'lama drama' in Tibet. I don't remember exactly, but it briefly mentioned that one lama could no longer be lama and was stepping down, and another lama would take his place, all written to the imperial court.

Cool, but it seems like there's a real story there! What happened? Why'd the first lama step down? That would be an interesting thing to know, and also an engaging narrative to really get visitors interested in the colorful history behind these items, but we never find out.

Here's another:

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Interesting! What was the discrepancy? Do we know why? Any hypotheses? Also, who are Kao Lishi, Pan Yan and Zhang Shaoti, and why do they matter?

We never find out.


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I'd also be interested in knowing more about the cultural underpinnings behind the use of human teeth as ornaments.

But, we don't learn that either. We do learn quite a bit about how archaeologists unearth all of this stuff, though.

This is a minor complaint, however. If even that - more a kind suggestion that perhaps there are more engaging ways to put together a museum collection, which it would be fully within Academia Sinica's ability to implement. Think about it, guys?

If you thought that was critical, wait 'til you hear what I've got to say below.


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I already knew that in minority communities in China, the men tend to dress in ways that imitate the dominant group (that is, Han Chinese) whereas women are more likely to wear their traditional clothing, because men were more likely to leave their villages and mingle with society at large, and would want or need to 'fit in'. These days, that means men from these communities in China are more likely to dress in Western clothing, but women might not. In fact, here are some of my old photos from my life in Guizhou, China, when I went traveling in the countryside:

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I'm sorry they're not that clear - I only have hard copies. A friendly local in Kaili offered to accompany me on my travels and helped with translation, so all of these photos were taken with the permission of the subjects.

What bothers me is this:

"'National tradition' reinforces the unification of nationality yet at the same time represents a backward past."

Excuse me, but what?

I get the notion that the dominant group - Han Chinese - often view minority communities as "backward" but what's up with saying that in a way that takes it at face value, rather than interrogating it? Why would you drop that word in there as though it's a legitimate way of describing the cultures and histories of these groups?

The same goes for "the unification of nationality". "National tradition" in China only exists as it does because the authoritarian government there decided it would be that way. They decided to promote the notion of all citizens of China as Chinese, sharing the same blood, language, traditions etc. They - not some amorphous, societally-agreed-on force - decided to treat 'ethnic minorities' like adorable living museum exhibits with cool costumes, existing mostly as people the government can point to and say "see! China is tolerant and diverse!" while treating them in very intolerant and marginalizing ways. Or, if not that, as entertainment for domestic tourists who show up as visitors to their festivals and surround them with audio-visual equipment without their consent.

That's not "national tradition", it's a form of cultural assault. Come on Academia Sinica, how are you not even questioning it or highlighting how problematic it is?

And that's not getting into how none of the clothing of minority groups on display looked particularly similar to what I saw in China - I'm willing to let that be, as a lot of those groups are actually quite differentiated, and dress styles may vary even between nearby valleys, let alone longer distances. 


If you think that was a one-off, poorly-translated information panel, get a load of this: 


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It says:
Under the impact of modern nationalism, 'nation' has been defined as a group of people with common physical traits, language and culture persisting through generations. Since the early twentieth century, scholars have investigated native cultures or traced the migration and diffusion of various peoples for the purposes of identifying and classifying nationalities in China, providing a basis for carrying out national policy, and illustrating the unity of the Chinese nation. 
Based on ethnographic and historical materials, non-Han natives in southwestern China have been classified into twenty-five minority nationalities. The identification of nationalities and the concomitant principles of national policy and education have changed traditional relations among the natives and also the relations between the Han peoples and the natives.

I just...excuse me? The Chinese doesn't seem much better to me, but a native-speaking friend looked it over and said the Chinese is, in fact, more acceptable, but still. Excuse me? 

First, I'm not sure calling them 'natives' is a great idea. Don't we have words with fewer negative connotations? "Indigenous", perhaps?


Second, "common physical traits"? If by "modern nationalism" you mean the kind of ethnocentric nationalism that got us into world wars a century ago, sure. But these days we can talk about nationalism as a shared cultural and historical identification - which can include immigrants who come to identify as part of that society - or perhaps as a group of people with shared values and principles of how they'd like to exercise self-determination. So I really don't know what to say there. I have a friend who doesn't share "common physical traits" with Taiwanese who nevertheless is a citizen of Taiwan now. There is a pathway - albeit a narrow one - for me to become a citizen someday as well, and it is not possible to look less Taiwanese than me. Taiwanese themselves don't have that many "common physical traits" - having backgrounds from Indigenous to Han Chinese to non-Han Chinese to modern Southeast Asian and beyond - unless you think all Asians are the same (they're not, and indigenous Taiwanese are Pacific Islander anyway.)

In any case, that sounds like making an argument for biology determining political destiny and I'm sorry, that's just not on.

And no, saying so is not a "Western" idea. Taiwan is diverse and multicultural too. Always has been. The same is true for China. Plenty of Taiwanese, including indigenous Austronesian Taiwanese, Southeast Asian immigrants who have married and settled here, Hakka who have also been historically discriminated against and a good number of 'dominant' Han Chinese have been pushing for more acknowledgement of Taiwan as a nation bound by shared identity and cultural and political values. That's coming from them, not 'the West'.

Third, and most importantly, is Academia Sinica really justifying the study of minority cultures in order to enact national policy that seeks to assimilate those cultures? To either turn them into groups who willingly subject themselves to being seen as costumed, dancing entertainment for Han Chinese, or to eviscerate their cultural heritage altogether in the name of "national unity"?

Because seriously, that sounds like something the Communist Party of China would write, and it's really not cool. Taiwan doesn't need to have museums with exhibits that follow the same ethnocentric, jingoistic, nationalistic, supremacist garbage logic that the Chinese government puts out.

I don't think Academia Sinica is intentionally writing supremacist placards for their museum collection. Either it's a failure of English translation, or they are in dire need of updating but nobody's really taken that on. In any case, it's time to do some updating. Imagine if a foreign visitor who can't read the Chinese or doesn't have a well-connected local friend to discuss these things with goes to this museum and reads the English here - what will they think? That the English doesn't clearly express the sentiments of Academia Sinica, or that Academia Sinica has supremacist views on indigenous peoples?

We can, and must, do better. 

Saturday, June 8, 2019

My favorite Taipei cafes: 2019 rundown

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In the past I've done reduxes of my favorite cafes for atmosphere - which is mostly accurate still, though a few places have moved (such as Nancy), rebranded as restaurants (Anhe 65), are now noisy tea shops (Red House Theater), or closed (Mono Cafe). I've done one for good coffee in Taipei as well - though that's a bit more outdated: My Sweetie Pie is long gone and there is now more than one George House in the Yongkang Street area. I don't think Naruwan Indigenous People's Market is still a thing anymore, either, though I haven't been in awhile.

Both posts are now badly in need of an update - most of the places I mentioned are still open, but I've found new haunts that I like just as much.

To deal with that, I'll leave those old posts as they are (links above) and provide here a new redux of where I'm imbibing right now. This isn't just for folks who live here - when I've traveled to other cities with hopping cafe scenes, I've found blogs in English by committed residents of those cities to be helpful guides as to where to go. So I want to be one of the people who does that for Taipei. Plus, as a grad student, I spend a lot of time in cafes getting reading done or writing papers so my list of good spots has grown.


You'll see some of my old entries repeated here, with new ones added, and I've prioritized places with outdoor seating, as that's so hard to find in Taipei. I've also noted where some cafes are near other good options, as seating can be so hard to come by. There's also a bias towards southern Taipei because that's where I live and hang out. Overall there's simply a lot of bias for "places I actually go to", so there's not much more to unite them thematically than that. No pretension to "the best" or "the top 10" or whatever - just my real world.

Instead of looking up each address like it's still 2010, I've gone ahead and made a Google Maps list, which you can access here. (I realized after I'd made it that I could actually create a map rather than just a list, but I'm too lazy to go back and re-do it, so this'll do for now.) 



Heritage Bakery and Cafe

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This 'newcomer' (opened in 2016) has quickly become a go-to spot in the Taipei Main Station/Ximen area. Pretty much everything about it is excellent - you feel as you walk in that you're somewhere in New York being exceedingly posh in that middle-class hipster sort of way. If that doesn't sound appealing to you - a bit to gentrificationy - don't let that deter you (you're not gentrifying much here - the neighborhood is much the same as it always was). Go for the bright, attractive upstairs seating with exposed brick walls, the very good coffee and other drinks (non-coffee drinkers can choose a variety of teas or fizzy drinks, or beer) and most of all, the desserts.


Oh, the desserts.
Westerners who complain that Taipei doesn't have good dessert options can shove some of this cake in their cakehole - from fluffy, perfect, cinnamony cinnamon rolls which sell out quickly to pink guava cheesecake to sea salt caramel Belgian chocolate cake all in generous or even huge servings, this place knows how to do Western-style desserts. The foccaccia sandwiches are quite good too - try the chicken avocado club.


It's not particularly cheap - drinks, sandwiches and a cinnamon roll for 2 will cost you NT$900 and change - but it's not insane. 90-minute limit on holidays and weekends. Otherwise, pretty much the only downside is that the air conditioner is often on full-blast, which makes it a bit chilly. Bring a cardigan.

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This Cafe ((這間咖啡)


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This is quickly becoming one of my favorite work cafes. Very strong social movement bent (check out the "I Support Taiwan Independence" banner in the back), good wifi and lots of plugs - it's quiet and you can usually get a seat. It's a little dimly lit but that just adds to the charm and isn't a problem if you're on a computer, and the table in back is set under antique Taiwanese milk glass hanging lamps. They have non-coffee drinks including beer, and a small selection of sandwiches and salads which are reasonably priced. I think I also like it because the guy who most often works there knows me on sight and knows my order by heart now. Plus they're open pretty late. There are other cafes nearby, such as Perch (nice, but often crowded) and PuiBui, which I haven't tried yet. 


Cafe Le Zinc


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Set in the back of an old Dihua Street shophouse, Le Zinc can be accessed through the Art Yard ceramics shop from Dihua, or directly from a little lane that snakes around the back. Seating is limited but I've never had a problem, and the well-lit long table has plugs. There's also strong wifi. Windows look out into the narrow courtyard of the old house, where the bathroom is. There's an extensive (but expensive) wine list - house wine by the glass is more affordable - beer, coffee and light food. Music leans toward the jazzy and old-fashioned, which I like. It's a good place to work (on account of the big table, wifi and plugs) and also a good place to meet friends just to chat.

In fact, this whole area is bursting with cafes - if you can't get a seat at Le Zinc, you can surely get a seat somewhere. There are so many that I can't possibly put them all on my map.

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Fleisch

Dihua Street is actually bursting with cafes these days - a huge change from my first few years here when it was a somewhat forgotten corner of the city where you could do a little fabric or dry-goods shopping and check out the old buildings, but not much else. If anywhere in Taipei has gentrified, it's here - and yet the fabric and dry-goods sellers still mostly seem to be in business. Where Le Zinc stands out for its table space and wine/beer list, Fleisch has some unique coffee drinks - my favorite being a latte with dried Mandarin orange (dried citrus slices are fairly common dried goods in Taiwan - they make a nice drink steeped in boiling water.)



Hakkafe

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A very new addition to the Dihua Street cafe scene, Hakkafe was opened by an entrepreneurial Hakka guy named Terry who is friendly and enthusiastic about his mission to create a modern cafe space with a traditional Hakka twist. The space is large, minimalist and quiet, done in shades of black, white, gray and wood. We especially liked the Hakka BLT (with Taiwanese pickled green chilis), and the brownie was wonderful. I highly recommend the Hakka breakfast tea - Terry noticed that England has a 'breakfast tea' culture but Taiwan, another tea-drinking nation, does not. So he set out to blend his own. The results are stunning.

This is the only place on the list that doesn't actually serve coffee, but you won't miss it if you try the Hakka Breakfast Tea.

It's also near funky-looking Chance Cafe (
一線牽), which I haven't tried yet. 
 

The Lightened

Formerly Backstage Cafe, which had a student activist/social movement theme (yes, a theme, but the former owner was apparently active in those circles), The Lightened is now associated with Anmesty International Taiwan. Located on Fuxing South Road near the back gate of National Taiwan University, The Lightened is unpretentious, well-lit, there are lots of plugs and good wifi, and you can always get a seat. The coffee is good (and fair trade), there's a small selection of beer and the desserts are homemade. On weekends a spunky black-and-white cat might be around.



Rufous Coffee


Almost directly across the street from The Lightened, Rufous is a bit darker, more famous, and is known for having top-notch coffee. Any of the single origin choices are good, and the Irish coffee is spectacular. That said, non-coffee drinkers won't find much here, and they don't have much in the way of food, either. I like it for its cozy, friendly atmosphere, though it can be hard to get a seat sometimes. Not far away there's a 2nd branch, which is quite close to URBN Culture. 



Shake House (雪可屋)


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 I simply cannot write a post about coffee without including my long-time hangout. I don't know why I go to Shake House. There's no wifi, nor any plugs. The bathroom is tiny and through a dilapidated passageway. Lamps are hanging flower pots with ribbons. The chairs are ancient. But I just love the place - it's like, in every city I live in, I need my student hangout in some old building that's falling apart, and I just get attached to it. That's how it is. The coffee is good, the chicken sandwiches above average, the beer selection excellent (and affordable as cafes go), they're open very late and the music is...eclectic. From odd movie soundtracks to church music to Johnny Cash to John Coltrane to whatever. You just literally never know what you'll get. Also, I know the owners and they know me.


If you really need plugs and wifi, Cafe Bastille is just across the lane (and there are other cafes in the area, including Drop Coffee and its new neighbor).


Drop Coffee (滴咖啡)

Drop is another coffeeshop I always include. On Xinsheng Road just across the street from NTU, the space is a renovated Japanese wooden house. The owner is passionate about coffee and does a mean siphon brew. The dog - 橘子 (Orange, although he is black) - is unfriendly in a comical way. There are a few teas on the menu as well as some desserts but really you come here for the coffee. A new place has opened across the lane which has more space, but I haven't checked it out yet.


Cafe Philo


If you go to any sort of political or activist talks or activities, you know Cafe Philo. They have a space downstairs just for that. Upstairs, they have generous space and a wide menu which includes food. I've been going there recently as I'm taking a course (not related to my Master's - because I'm insane) and I can always get a seat.



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This large black-and-white space on Yongkang Park advertises itself as an ice cream shop, but you can absolutely get coffee here. They have a good deck if you want to sit outside, and the coffee is high-quality. You can get some interesting coffee drinks here that you may not find elsewhere - I had iced coffee in a glass flask that I could pour over a giant ice ball, and my friend had a huge ball of iced coffee that melted as he poured foamed milk over it.


Caffe Libero


Another classic, I've found myself going here less ever since Red On Tree left (they used to sell excellent French-style pastry confections on-site), and they close early on Sundays. But I still love the place for its outdoor seating, quirky indoor decor, cigar selection and more.



Yaboo

Near 8% and Libero, Yaboo has decent sandwiches and - most importantly - cats! Also a nice atmosphere, but it fills up on weekends. A seat is not guaranteed. But the cats are sweet and friendly.


Angle

Another minimalist place, I like it for its weird shape and good coffee (though all they really have are coffee and a small dessert selection). Big windows let the light in, and it's called Angle because it's set in a weird triangular building outcrop on Rui'an Street (Pillow Cafe, which is also good and used to have a corgi, is nearby. They're under new ownership - hence no more corgi - and friendly.) I find myself here on the occasional Sunday as one can usually get a seat, and there are good views from the bar seats.



Slo-mo Cafe

This place has generous indoor seating and an outdoor area partitioned off from the lane - although smoking is allowed outdoors, it's never too overwhelming. The lane is not particularly busy (except at rush hour) - you may know it as the shortcut between Keelung Road where the gas station is and the Far Eastern Hotel or Carnegie's. The only real downside to sitting outside is that there are some mosquitoes - but that's an issue with all of the outdoor options listed. The desserts are standard cafe fare - though I like the lemon cake - and the glass of white wine I once got on a scorching day was pretty good. Even better? This place never seems to fill up.



Beautiful Tree Coffee (美樹咖啡館)

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This place is tiny and odd, run by a friendly older man. I absolutely love it. There's something of a rainforest theme going on, with a little outdoor area that has birds. And a ceiling with faux stained glass skylights! I'm not sure how to describe this place beyond that, it sort of defies description and, like many quirky spots, is in a gussied-up old building. The coffee was fine, and I genuinely liked their ham and cheese sandwich. Not too expensive, either. It's very close to Slo-mo as well as another place called Kaldi that I haven't tried yet. 



A8 Cafe

A8 is one of my favorite workspaces. It was opened by world-famous Taiwanese indigenous pop star A-mei and employs indigenous staff. The space has a sort of industrial decor (concrete floor, warehouse windows, exposed brick) with good lighting, big shared tables as well as individual tables and couch areas (one of which is set under a real potted tree - my favorite spot), quirky decorative elements, plugs and good wifi. They have a full menu of cafe standards as well as meals and alcohol, but they close a bit early (around 9pm, but they'll let you stick around until they really pack up for the night.) They're closed on Mondays and sometimes take business breaks, but nearby 青沐, which is technically a restaurant, will let you order a drink and just hang out if they're not too busy. There's also a nearby place called Pachamama which I haven't been to, but looks cool. 


The FOLKS

I go here because it's near my home - it's not really a workspace but you can sit outside on the little deck, and it's basically a cool, bare-bones espresso bar in a quiet lane. 


Cafe Costumice

The Big Mama of cafes where you can sit outside, Costumice is that cafe everyone knows about, and yet you can usually get a seat (not always outside, though). Its major selling point is the huge front deck (bring bug repellent) which feels like an outdoor urban oasis. Though they are a little expensive, they're worth a splurge. There's a modest but pretty good food menu, wine (including a sparkling white which makes for a decent champagne on a hot brunch-y day) and beer.



The Key

I'm including The Key's cafe - The Key is my gym - because I've been spending a lot of time there, and they make a real effort to provide quality fare at good prices (and members get discounts). Strong wifi, plugs, a range of sandwiches and a protein-rich chicken meal if you're keto and a good range of drinks beyond coffee make it a fine place to hang out. It's been useful for me to go to the gym, do a short session on one of the cardio machines, and then head to the cafe to get some grad school work done. There are a few tables outside as well. Just down the road is another cafe decorated with hanging plants which looks promising as well - I think it's where the churro place used to be - but I haven't checked it out yet. 


Coffee Tree (咖啡樹)

This spot near Zhongxiao Dunhua has a range of fattening desserts, beer, coffee and more. The interior decor is interesting, but we go because they have outdoor seating along a lane popular with pedestrians. It's near Quay Cafe which I haven't been to but would like to try. 


Coffeeology

My go-to spot when I'm in the Taipei Arena neighborhood. Coffeeology has truly excellent coffee at great prices. No food - just some cookie-like snacks - but you can get a large latte with Irish cream (real Irish cream, not just a flavor syrup) for very little money by coffeeshop standards. There are a few chairs outside, but the whole space is fairly open so you feel like you're outdoors even though you're technically not. Great beans to bring home at good prices, too. 



Zabu (in its new location)


I actually haven't been in ages because it's quite far from where I live, but if I'm in the north Tienmu area, this is my spot. It's the same Japanese-influenced hipster haven it's always been, with great rice balls, cats, and student-funky decor that it used to be in Shi-da all those years ago before the jerks made that neighborhood boring. 


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Every few months, I teach a six-week course at the Shi-da school of continuing education, on the campus that Yongkang Street hits as it ends. During one of these classes, I have to give my trainees their final exam and then stick around to pick it up, so I go to cat.jpg while they work.

You'll find cat.jpg one lane behind that Shi-da campus, where are a small klatch of cool places, including Bea's Bistro (friendly, but more of a restaurant), Nom Nom (below) and cat.jpg. There's also a local population of yellow-and-white street cats and an urban garden, some of whom are friendly and all of whom seem to be kept healthy and fed by the local community.

cat.jpg has two of their own cats who are sociable enough (one is firiendlier than the other). They have wifi, a big work table and sandwiches on the menu. 



Nom Nom


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Nom Nom is not only a great cafe (and place where you can buy ceramic ware), but also a decent brunch spot. Sandwiches and fried chicken are served with luscious little salads, and there's French Toast on the menu. Try the cumin chicken sandwich with apple and honey for sure. Their milkshakes are straight-up luxurious, served overflowing on lipped coasters so they don't mess up the table. The mint chocolate milkshake is garnished with mint leaves and a dried orange slice and then sprinkled with chocolate bits. Also, the place is Peak Taiwanese Hipster.

 

Classic Coffee (品客經典咖啡)


Classic Coffee, in the Shi-da Road neighborhood which used to be fun, doesn't look like anything special. There's food and perfectly good coffee. But this place has a major selling point - a super friendly old cat who will aggressively love you, and a similarly friendly fat corgi who gets jealous of the cat. It's my favorite cat cafe because that cat is just so in-your-face with the cuddles and snuggles, and it's a fluffy cat, too. 


Notch (Front Station)


I don't typically expect funky, studenty coffeeshops in the Taipei Main Station neighborhood - it's an area loaded with cram schools, cheap shopping, a few government buildings...not a place where students really hang out. But this particular branch of Notch brings it. It's also not particularly far from the Legislative Yuan, so if you need a place to go after a good hearty protest, this is a great choice. When the same-sex marriage bill was passed last month, I spent a period of time here out of the pouring rain, watching the deliberations at the Legislative Yuan on their good wifi (far better than trying to connect alongside 20,000 other people standing outside in bad weather). 


Look Upstairs (上樓看看)


An excellent 'work cafe' in Xinyi near City Hall Station, this place has good drinks and beer. There's food too, but it's a little expensive. Lots of space, good light, wifi and plugs - you can settle in here to get things done, especially upstairs. Some tables and countertops even have desk lamps. 


2730 Cafe

Another cat cafe! This little place in a tiny shack-like building is very close to Liquid Bread and is attached to a vintage store (of which there are not too many in Taipei). I've only had the beer and coffee - they have a DPP beer! Which...odd, but tasted fine! But a big selling point here are the two cats, one black and the other white. It's also easy to get to from Xinyi, an area that isn't exactly known for its great cafes, so it's a solid choice in that neighborhood.



BreakFirst Cafe & Studio (棗點咖啡)

Sometimes we take care of a friend's pets in the Dazhi area, and this is our go-to when we're around there. The main selling point (beyond seats usually being available) is that they have several cats! 



Lion / LineUp Dessert


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I ended up liking this place because I reviewed it for FunNow - but it's a funky little spot in an area not known for cafes (the Zhongshan Elementary School MRT area), with great desserts and solid croque sandwiches. The coffee is just OK, but I go for the desserts.


Jing Xin Cafe (晶心咖啡館)


To be honest, this isn't a place I go to hang out - it's sort of a hybrid coffeeshop and crystal shop in an odd corner of Taipei. But, they roast Taiwanese coffee beans which make great gifts (and they sell them at a reasonable price), so I wanted to include them for this reason. 

Thursday, March 1, 2018

I'm in this month's Centered on Taipei!

The March 2018 issue of Centered on Taipei is the "women's issue" - I wrote a piece about shuttling between multiple identities as a foreign woman in Taiwan - likening it to being a human version of a Newton's Cradle which you can read on page 32.

To read the magazine, click on the cover photo in the link.


Thursday, January 11, 2018

My latest for Ketagalan Media: an interview with artist Lin Ching Che

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Moving in the Space Between Light and Rain
Lin Ching Che, 2017

(used with permission of the artist for this piece)

I know it seems like I'm writing more for other people than for Lao Ren Cha, but rest assured, that's because I'm balancing writing with grad school, and I only have time for some writing. When my papers are done, you'll see more content here again. I'm not someone who'd start a blog, run it for awhile and then use it only as a vehicle to link my work elsewhere.

With that said, I am super excited about this interview with talented watercolorist Lin Ching Che, who paints beautiful rainy night scenes of Taipei - the soft and the gritty alike. I tell a personal story (which I've touched on before), we learn what Taipei looks like from someone who grew up there and loved it enough to paint it, we talk about neglected alleys, the meaning of the rain, 7-11 and "cha bu duo".

I tried purposefully to weave together ideas concerning light and dark, inner and outer life, smoothness and imperfection, detail and abstractness, being at home and being a foreigner, belonging and loneliness, city and country and beauty and ugliness, all through the back-and-forth of a conversation about painting that focuses on the comparison and contrast of two different personal experiences: one of the local painter, and the other of the foreign viewer. But, I have no idea if any or all of those ideas came through.

In any case, don't miss it.

Tuesday, February 21, 2017

The Emotional Geography of an Accidental State

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That tiny gray plaque in front of the Men's Tailor on the right marks the place where the 228 Incident began. Across the lane on the left, the colonial-era black buildings are the site of the Tianma teahouse, where the vendor who was beaten was "illegally" selling cigarettes. On the far left at the top you can see the sign for Tianma Teahouse (it's the white rectangle above the windows if you can't read the Chinese). 


Last summer, a student of mine asked me if, instead of regular class, we could walk around Dadaocheng as she'd never actually been. She's aware I go there often and know the area well. I met her at the Jiancheng traffic circle - this was before that glass circle building was torn down - and was genuinely surprised to learn that she didn't know three things:

- That the area was a swamp until Qing times
- That the circle itself had been a pond/reservoir as well as a bomb shelter, with the water from the pond used to put out fires from air raids, and after that was a popular culinary destination for local street food
- That the 228 Massacre began nearby, just to the west as one approaches the Nanjing-Yanping intersection.

After a quick backgrounder on Jiancheng Circle - which, again, I was truly surprised to be giving - we spent quite a bit of time ruminating at the plaque that marked where 228 began. It felt weird and slightly inappropriate to be a foreigner giving this information to a local, but here we were.

"Of course I know 228," she said. "But I didn't know where it happened. I guess I never thought about exactly where in the city it started."

We fell quiet.

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See that barely-noticeable granite plaque on the left? You'd miss it if you weren't looking for it.


"I already know this history," she repeated. "But maybe now I feel more connection to it, because I actually went to the spot."

This is not to say she does not know her own country's history. By her own words, she does - quite probably as well as I know my American history. This will not be a hectoring "Taiwanese don't know their history!" post. I will never write such a post. If I ever approach that topic, it will be in a more realistic and nuanced way.

However, as we wandered around various other Dadaocheng landmarks - the old riverside mansions of major trading families, the municipal brothel, the old Yongle Market, Wang's Tea and more - she kept commenting, and I could feel, a deeper connection to her city being formed. We finished the day with her exclaiming again that she was genuinely surprised and regretful that she'd never taken the time to explore that neighborhood before. She seemed the most affected by the simple 228 commemorative plaque on that unexceptional stretch of sidewalk on Nanjing West Road.

I've come back to this story because, as 228 approaches and as I plan to visit Nylon Cheng's office (the Cheng Nan-jung Liberty Museum) on that day (some people who want to go in our group are not free on the more appropriate date of April 7th), I have found it helpful to reflect on the importance of attaching knowledge of historical events to the more visceral feeling of visiting the places where they happened. Knowing the historical and emotional geography of your city, and even your country. Taiwan is an accidental state (as the shiny-brand-new book of the same name points out), and also accidentally in its current state. Knowing not just the facts and dates but also visiting the places where these things happened imparts an emotional connection to that history that reading a book or memorizing a list of dates can never do.

It is more fruitful, then, to reflect on how the 228 Massacre continues to affect Taiwan by connecting it to a real geographical point, a historical locus from which to better understand the city and country. This, not "history", is the connection I have noticed some acquaintances of mine lack. It's a problem not limited to Taiwan, but feels especially jarring here, where the Taiwanese identity movement is so closely tied to associations with history - many social activists think of themselves as carrying the torch of civil society from their predecessors - and the land itself. Cycling around Taiwan and climbing Jade Mountain are seen, if subconsciously, as activities that bring one closer to the land and identification with it, so it is confounding that so many loci of political and social history are unknown or forgotten. How many other Taipei residents know about 228 but haven't a clue where it happened?

Again, this is not to say nobody knows. I know many socially and politically active people who can and do visit these places regularly. I'm describing a trend I see among some friends and students; it is not meant to be an indictment of an entire society.

Of course, 228 is not the only site of historical interest that make up Taiwan's emotional geography. I could do a sweeping survey of the country and list many - from the (likely) beach in Manzhou where the events of the Mudan Incident began to the Wushe battlefield to Baguashan in Changhua to Guningtou Beach in Kinmen. Instead I'll just name a few that resonate with me in Taipei:

Qingshan Temple, which has an interesting backstory that very weirdly mirrors some of the stories told about shrines in In An Antique Land about an entirely different part of the world and, while not a great historical turning point, is a story that brings to life the temple culture of the waves of Hoklo immigration from China.

Students and friends: "Where is Qingshan Temple? I didn't know that story about Qingshan Wang!"

Machangding Memorial Park, which gives me the heebiejeebies at night (though I wrote this post awhile ago, when I wasn't the writer or Taiwanophile that I am now, so please don't judge me too harshly for it)

Students and friends: "I've never been there - was it really an execution ground?" (Yes.)

Dihua Street - the old commercial center of Dadaocheng and subject of a well-known painting. Not for any major historical event but just the general sense of history (I'm particularly a fan of Xiahai temple and one house in particular, the one with the decorative ginseng around a high circular window. See if you can find it).

Students and friends: "What is there to do on Dihua Street?"

Ogon Shrine in Jinguashi (close enough to Taipei!) - simply because it's one of the easiest and only Japanese shrines that still has some existing structure that's within striking distance of Taipei. There is a much better-preserved temple in Taoyuan but the setting is not quite so evocative.

Students (not so much friends): There's a Japanese shrine ruin up there?

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Yes, there is. 

The Chung Nan-jung Liberty Museum, which I will admit I have not yet been to, mostly because that sort of thing tends to make me emotional, and I think deep down I've been avoiding it. However, it is crucial to understanding Taipei's emotional geography to know where Nylon Cheng immolated himself in his burning office and why, and to see the spot for yourself.

Students and friends: That's downtown? It's right near the MRT? I had no idea it was so close!

Chen Tian-lai's mansion - there is quite a bit of history here that you can read about in the link, but honestly, I've been known to head down there and just look at the facade. I'm a huge fan of 1920s colonial architecture. Very close to Dihua Street (I also like the Koo Mansion a bit to the north, down a lane you would never think to walk down, occupied currently by a kindergarten).

Students (but not friends, most of whom know this place): There's a mansion here?

The Wen-meng municipal brothel - no survey of women's history sites in Taiwan is complete without a stop here, although chances are all you'll get to see is the exterior.

Students and friends: Prostitution used to be legal? There was a government-run brothel? What?


Qingdao and Jinan Roads around the Legislative Yuan - frankly, if you weren't down here some evenings during the Sunflower occupation, you missed a seminal moment in Taiwanese history. I spent quite a bit of time here around this time three years ago, and the two streets are now synonymous in my visual memory with social movements in Taiwan.

Wistaria Tea House - first the home of the Japanese governor-general, the setting of Eat Drink Man Woman, and also a gathering place for political dissidents in the Dangwai era. Also, great tea.

OK, everyone knows this.

These are just a few of the many possible choices, and I narrowed it down by choosing those that matter to me - the ones that have made the history of Taipei and of Taiwan come alive for me (and in one case, really come alive, as I was there in the crowd when things went down).

In any case, I encourage you to leave your homes this long weekend commemorating one of Taiwan's greatest tragedies and saddest cultural touchstones and go out and see some things for yourself. I promise, you'll connect with the city on a more physical level. Go!