Showing posts with label living_in_taipei. Show all posts
Showing posts with label living_in_taipei. Show all posts

Saturday, June 8, 2019

My favorite Taipei cafes: 2019 rundown


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 I've done one for good coffee in Taipei as well - though that's a bit more outdated: My Sweetie Pie is long gone and there is now more than one George House in the Yongkang Street area.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


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.


This Cafe ((這間咖啡)


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

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.



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.)



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)


 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.



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.


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.


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)


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. 


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. 


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. 


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


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


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, May 23, 2019

Updated post: English-speaking OB-GYN in Taipei

Just wanted you guys to know that I've updated my post on an English-speaking OB-GYN in Taipei, as my old clinic has closed and Dr. Wang seems to have stopped practicing (I suspect she retired). You can get information for Dr. Hsieh here - I've just edited the old post as the old information was no longer relevant.

If anyone else has other recommendations or experiences to share, feel free to comment or contact me personally (I'm pretty easy to find on Facebook). 

Wednesday, May 22, 2019

Gym Recommendation: The Key

Over the past few months I've been gearing up to write my dissertation, and was feeling a bit blue about having lots of reading to do because I didn't want to sit like a slug on the couch doing it. A friend recommended The Key, them my husband joined and liked it, and I thought: there are surely exercise machines I could use while reading, even if it's just a bit of light elliptical or stationary bike.

I knew I could do this at the local municipal gym (which is not far from my house), but never seemed to make it down there - in part because the one in my district is in an odd location that isn't too close to anything else I need or want to do. Before The Key, none of the paid gyms really appealed to me either: either they always seemed crowded, or they were too heavily skewed toward weight training, or they were too expensive and only had annual memberships available (I travel often so don't necessarily want to pay for a month when I won't be around.)

Or, in one memorable instance, I had already heard some concerning things about the management at another gym and they way they treated people and interacted with the expat community - only to have those concerns abundantly validated recently. I didn't want to give money to a place that wasn't welcoming to everyone.

So, I joined The Key. From their Facebook page:

Screen Shot 2019-05-22 at 8.02.27 PM

It currently costs NT$1500/month (renewable monthly so you cancel if you won't be in town and then return), is conveniently located near other places I often go (just north of Zhongxiao Dunhua) and at the nexus of useful transport hubs, has a big-enough room of cardio exercise machines (not just a preponderance of weight training equipment, which isn't useful to me while I'm trying to get reading done) and has a decent cafe on-site - with discounts for members - as well as a comfortable rooftop relaxing space accessible to members.

I certainly recommend it for everyone, but especially for women. Most importantly, I've never once felt judged or unwelcome as, plump woman who isn't even necessarily there to lose weight the way I have at gyms in the past. Management is friendly and always accessible if you have questions or issues and they make a real attempt to remember their clients' names and faces. Overall it's just a place where I think women can feel comfortable. It's hard to put that sense of 'comfort' into words, but it's there.

The space is nicer and more inviting than the municipal gyms (though I'm happy those exist), with big windows looking out over leafy Dunhua Road. The actual gym portion of the space is above the cafe starting on the 2nd floor, so nobody on the street can see you huffing and puffing away but you can look out at the scenery. There's good wifi and free water. There are lockers (bring your own lock) including ones you can rent longer-term as well as changing rooms and showers which are clean and well-maintained.

Most of the cardio machines come with televisions and USB plugs, so you can watch TV or Netflix while you work out if you're not a hardcore nerd like me. The displays can be set to a number of languages, including English, and are fairly easy to use. They have classes where you can learn how to use the weight-training equipment (and other classes too, as well as personal training, but I'm there to work out as I read so I haven't explored those yet). There are English speakers on staff.

The space is tall and narrow as it's designed to fit into the building it occupies, but they make the most of it with an elevator so changing floors isn't too much of a pain.

So yay, The Key! If you're looking for a place where you can work out without feeling judged or potentially discriminated against or just want a place that's more conveniently-located, this is the place for you.

Note: I was not asked or paid to write this post. The opinions expressed in this review are my own.

Sunday, March 3, 2019

No, those MRT station codes are not useful

Screen Shot 2019-03-03 at 6.40.29 PM

An article ran in CommonWealth Magazine recently about the usefulness of Taipei MRT's use of Hanyu Pinyin, and the letter/number coding system for the stations, pointing out that some visitors were "still getting lost" in Taipei, because they didn't speak Chinese and therefore didn't know how to pronounce station names like Da'an, Qilian, Xindian etc etc.

Now, in the past 5 years or so I've encountered exactly one lost person. It's not that hard, the maps are quite clear (the exits in relation to where one wants to go above-ground are less clear, however). But CommonWealth says it's a thing:

Donna is a Canadian studying Chinese in Taiwan. She chose to live near the Da’an MRT station for its convenient location. Yet the first time she met with her landlord, she was an hour late because she was unable to find Da’an Station on an English-language map, which indicated the station name as “Daan”. They way she pronounced the name, it sounded like the single character da (“big” or “great” in Mandarin), rather than the compound name Da’an (da + an), the standard Romanization rendering.

Yeah, okay, I get that it can be difficult to pronounce the station names if you are not familiar with Pinyin, and I'm sympathetic to non-Mandarin speaking visitors who get confused. But as some folks have pointed out:

I'm not defending it, but part of life in Taiwan is understanding that the competing and often incorrectly-applied Romanization systems are pure chaos, and there can be no order arising from them. This is most likely because there is a lot less agreement on the trajectory of Taiwanese culture, and it shows in battles over Romanization, which often act as symbolic battlegrounds for the minority in Taiwan who want the country to remain as close to China as possible (if not integrate completely), and the majority who don't. Contrast this to, say, Seoul, where my husband lived just as the old Romanization system for Korean was on its way out as a new one was implemented, and the transition went much more smoothly, with far less chaos and overall entropy.

It would be better if we could standardize. It would be great if we didn't spell 中和 as Zhonghe, Chungho, Jhonghe, Jhongho, Zeüngho, Zongh1983q, Jh0ñg0, Zheungheau, JZH*YFEJK¯\_(ツ)_/¯@)(jfh!!!  or whatever.

I don't even care how we do it anymore, though I have a personal preference for Pinyin despite it being from China (hey even a broken clock is right twice a day). I would prefer that whichever system we use be implemented correctly - for Pinyin, that means apostrophes and perhaps even tone markers. If we use the deeply annoying and old-timey looking Wade-Giles, then the apostrophes are necessary. Otherwise, how am I supposed to know whether, say, someone named Cheng Chi-chong pronounces their name Zheng Ji-chong, Cheng Chi-zhong, Zheng Zhi-chong, Cheng Zhi-zhong, Zheng Qi-zhong or whatever combination of these it might be?

But I also daresay that a part of "studying Chinese", especially in Taiwan, is understanding that tHeRe CaN bE nO oRdEr FrOm ChAoS. Welcome to Taiwan, m'loves. Get used to it?

The CommonWealth article then goes on to talk about the coding system:

As for the station coding system embarked on this month, TRTC relates that it is responsible only for adding codes on this project, and not for revisions to the Romanization of metro system names.

With a sizable sum of NT$30 million having been spent on the project, domestic traveler Ms. Kuo remarked that the addition of station codes has absolutely no impact on her, except perhaps for making everything a little more complicated.

However, in the effort to gain more overseas visitors, rather than spending a lot of money to codify the metro system, the money would be better spent on an overall rectification of MRT station names, Hanyu Pinyin, and signage, as helping visitors understand and spell the words properly is the most user-friendly international practice.

On this I agree. The coding system is completely useless.

The reason why? Nobody local uses them, nobody local knows them, and that's probably not going to change.

So if you need to ask directions, you'll probably be asking someone local, and they won't know because they don't know the codes. They're not helpful at all for getting information from others. And if you are just trying to read a map, you don't need to know how a station's name is pronounced, you just need to match the letters of the station name on the LED scroll on the train or on the platform to the one on the map you are using.

With that in mind, let me tell you about that one lost person I met. I was with a friend (who happens to be Taiwanese and speaks excellent English, having gotten her PhD in the US) entering Da'an station, and a lost looking foreign woman approached my friend while I was adding money to my card. She asked my friend - who, again, is local - whether the station we were at was "R2".

My friend looked at her blankly, like, "huh?"

"R2? Is this R2? I was supposed to get off at R2 which is the terminus, but the train stopped here but this doesn't seem right. Is it R2? I think the map says it's R5? I'm so confused!"

My friend: "R....2? R...5?"

I walked up to them to see what the deal was just as my friend figured out what on earth she was talking about. We all walked over to a map and showed her that she'd boarded a train terminating at Da'an, not her destination of Xiangshan, so she needed to get back on the red line train in the same direction.

She kind of rushed off as I tried to advise her not to use the codes to ask directions, because nobody local knows them so they actually create confusion when trying to ask directions.

I really hope she figured it out on her own.

Sunday, December 9, 2018

A new hair stylist recommendation in Taipei

In part because Lao Ren Cha's initial goal was to write about life as a female foreign resident in Taiwan, and in part because I just can't face another political post right now (it really hurts, you guys), I'd like to update my recommendations for where foreign women can get their hair done in Taipei.

I recently decided to switch stylists - my old stylist did a good job with my haircuts (at least once he stopped giving me short bangs), but I wanted to go in a new color direction and, frankly, a change in price points. Around NT$6000 seems reasonable to me for a cut and all-over permanent color with Olaplex, and that's usually about what I pay in US dollars or British pounds when I get it done abroad, if not slightly less (my last cut and color in the US was $170, in the UK I paid £125), so that was what I was looking to start paying.

So after gathering recommendations from friends, I went with Yves Yu Tsui (find her on Facebook as StarletLaDiva - she's very responsive to Facebook messages), who gave me this lovely, current style in my preferred length:


I'd been looking for a color specifically that was bright, but not the very deep violet-toned red I'd been using. It had started to look fake in a bad way (I'd previously liked it because it was bright, and looked fake but in a cool, hip way, like I wasn't trying for natural hair). I wanted a more natural red with coppery, fiery undertones, but which also covered my encroaching gray. 

Yves gave me that - a red that hewed toward flame without being orangey - with a bit of base color to ensure the grays got covered. She also put Olaplex into the dye which lessened the time I had to spend in the chair and lowered the price point.

In the past, I'd often have to have my hair gone over twice with dye, because it wasn't left in long enough so it streaked, or was very obviously different on my roots (which I tend to let grow long, though that will have to stop now that I'm really graying because I'm ancient) than my pre-dyed hair. I knew that leaving it in longer helped create a more even color on my difficult hair, and wanted that to consistently be how it was done.

Yves was super great about it, and left the color in my hair almost up to the upper recommendation on the product. The result was that I only had to go through the dye process once, which was like a revelation!

Although it came out slightly darker than I'd wanted, I know hair color is not a perfect science. In any case, I appreciated that Yves warned me in advance that before the first wash it would be on the darker side because of the base color used to cover my gray, but it would turn into the color I wanted shortly. And it did!

I also appreciated that she did the whole thing herself. Generally I find stylists do listen to clients (I don't have a horror story to tell) but I have to say I felt especially listened to by Yves.

The whole thing took less than three hours (I was used to being at the salon longer, but had chalked it up to my difficult-to-dye hair; it turns out that it didn't have to be that way) and cost right around my price point - slightly less, if I remember correctly, which made me amenable to tipping. And the prices are set - there's no awkwardness around being charged more for "extremely long hair" (my hair is merely long, but I'd been charged for "extremely long hair" before) or what hair lengths mean exactly. The price is the price. I like that.

Yves also doesn't try to sell product at the end of the visit. I don't particularly mind being offered a product at the end as sometimes I do want or need them and saying 'no' doesn't make me uncomfortable, but I know a lot of people don't like it when stylists do that, so I figured I'd mention it.

Anyway, go to Yves. You won't regret it!

Thursday, November 29, 2018

Misery Loves Company: a review of "Ghost Month"

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Ghost Month

Taiwan, you monsoon-pissed on yam of the Pacific Rim! How many nations have sought and fought to possess you in a game of hot sweet potato! The Republic of China, the diplomatically shunned nation of my birth! You seismically challenged tiny leaf trembling at the real China's doorstep!

This is the first half of the absurdly angry screed that Jing-nan, the protagonist of Ed Lin's Ghost Month, published in his high school yearbook. The tone is perfect: high-school-aged Jing-nan's contempt for his homeland is real, and yet also absurd in the way only angsty high-schoolers can get away with.

This comes several chapters after Jing-nan admires the country the Taiwanese have managed to build in the face of every obstacle facing them, not least of all an angry China, but several chapters before he admits to having called the place "stupid Taiwan". In between, he reckons with his views on religion (also stupid according to him, but maybe it's not great to be in everyone's face about how dumb their beliefs are all the time?), muses on everything from architecture to rule of law, and compares Taipei during the day and at night (he prefers night). An image of the Tamsui River at night cuts across these metaphors: looking at it late at night, conflicting currents render the water as slow black sludge trudging in one direction, and colorful vibrancy swooshing in another.

I found this to be the perfect novel to read while I recovered from a particularly severe head cold: literally, but also metaphorically. I picked it up two days after 2018 midterm elections here, where the moving currents of my own feelings about Taiwan were in the greatest conflict they'd been in years. They still are. (And I'm still recovering from the head cold.)

To be blunt, Jing-nan doesn't like Taiwan very much. He doesn't seem to hate everything about it, but he's clearly far from happy with his own existence here. He's trapped carrying on the family business (in more ways than one), and feels hemmed in by the superstitious beliefs of people around him. He feels assaulted by bad Asian pop music (his own musical tastes, specifically for Joy Division, play an important atmospheric and symbolic role in the book) and cornered by soulless office buildings and high-rises on one side, and hideous illegal shanties on the other.

His malaise runs deep - though he does eventually come to terms with it - whereas my own was a season of ridiculous optimism capped with a feeling of being absolutely, devastastingly crushed. This past weekend I had hoped the people would not vote to remain a 'trembling leaf' at China's doorstep, but to continue to stand up for themselves. Instead, newly-elected KMT mayors are talking about doing an end-run around the national government and recognizing the 1992 Consensus on their own. (These elections were not a referendum on how Taiwan feels about China, but try telling the rest of the world that.) I had hoped they'd recognize stupidity for what it was: either by those pink-shirted anti-gay jerks or Kaohsiung mayor-elect and guy who beats people up for no reason, Han Kuo-yu. Instead they voted for hate and idiocy.

This country really has accomplished so much despite every obstacle set against it, from geography to military dictatorship to diplomatic isolation. After the anti-gay referendums passed, there was an outpouring of not only grief over what their fellow citizens had done, but also support and love for LGBT friends from almost every Taiwanese person I know. I know Taiwan is capable of better than this, but it can be hard to feel it through the greasy stink of homophobia and populism. There's all that vibrancy and color moving in one direction, but it's hemmed in by turgid black sludge.

In short, Ghost Month is a moody piece of Taipei Noir that more or less perfectly aligned with how I've been feeling about the place myself these days.

There's a story, too. An interesting, fast-moving one. I'm not writing about it because while it intersects with Taiwanese culture in ways that set it apart from typical thriller/murder mystery novels in the West, at the end it's...a story. Don't get me wrong - it's a good story. It kept me up until 3am reading and drives the book nicely without feeling tacked-on. I won't describe it here - you can read a plot synopsis on Amazon. The Taipei Noir aspects of the book are what drew me in, but they couldn't exist without the story, and the story couldn't exist without them.

Lin more or less perfectly captures the vibe of Taipei - the layout of the city, its neighborhoods, communities and haunts (and I don't just mean in geographic terms). It gives a solid, accurate survey of Taiwan's cultural landscape to readers who may not be aware, and very clearly moves away from the overly-Sinicized "Republic of Chhhiiiinnnnaaa!" view of Taiwan that a lot of people who don't actually know this country are happy to ignorantly embrace. It is very clear that Taiwan is Taiwan, and China is China, and those who would sell Taiwan out to China are traitors, without being overly sympathetic to a misty-eyed 黃昏故鄉 view of the place (in fact, problems from shoddy law enforcement to political corruption to sexism are laid bare without making Taiwan seem like a horrible place, and Lin does a great job creating complex characters that defy stereotypes.)

Because it captures Taiwan this well, the tiny ways in which I knew Ghost Month to be inaccurate got to me, even though I know they shouldn't matter. From a reference to a 50-kuai banknote (!! Those have existed but aren't exactly a normal thing) to entering the Taipei 101 office tower without needing an access card (not possible) to references to being sunburned after some time in Taipei (how? it's basically always cloudy) to the notion that Taipei is blanketed by Western tourists (there are tourists, but honestly if you're a Westerner here I basically assume you either live here or are visiting someone who does), I found myself nitpicking in ways I wasn't proud of. None of these details matters, and yet, because I live here and am fiercely protective of the place, they matter to me.

I also found myself thinking "Jing-nan's charming, has interesting tastes and an independent mindset, and is obviously meant to be pretty good-looking, but he's not that bright, is he?" Of course, as a first-person narrator, he admits this, saying his (dead) love interest had been far more intelligent than he was. For example, when a betel nut girl is killed on the job, you can be pretty sure gangs are involved. And if gangs are involved, you can be damn sure the police won't be much help. And if you know that, why the hell are you going to the police as though you can talk to them like some Big Man? I'm not even from here, my dude, and I know that's not how it works! And don't even get me started about Ah-Tien and the scooter. You just don't know when to listen, do ya?

In the end, I was grateful to come out the other end of my post-election funk (and head cold) with the end-of-novel reckoning Jing-nan experiences. To be honest, everything he feels about Taiwan, I could say about the US, just in a different way (excuse me sir, do you have a few minutes to talk about how we should fuck the police?) I won't say too much about this, as you should read the book instead of my ramblings about it. But, by the end, you come to realize that it's possible to care about a place, even love it, while not always liking it very much.

Which, as I wait to see what happens now that the people of Taiwan have rejected the basic humanity and right to equality of their LGBT brethren, is pretty much exactly how I feel about the place. I consider this superstitious, parochial and weak - it is not the Taiwan I have come to know and love. It hurts to find out there is a lot I either didn't know or have been ignoring about this country.

In other words, I have been miserable these past few days, but at least I had some good company.

Wednesday, May 2, 2018

Yes, it is weird when strangers randomly invite you to things.

This shouldn't be necessary, but I feel the need to put out a gentle reminder:

If some perfect stranger approaches you on the street and invites you to something without knowing you at all, yes, that is an unusual thing to do and you should treat it as such.

Every few months or years, reports of this or that organization (there's more than one, with more than one intention) trying to recruit people through random street approaches start cropping up. It's a problem around the world but seems to me to be particularly bad in Taiwan, especially in Taipei (but that could be because I don't know other cities as well.)

No, the rules are not different because you're in Taiwan - if you're new here, Taipei is a normal city full of normal people who don't approach total randos to see if they want to attend some event. They have their own lives and their own stuff going on, and don't live to just befriend totally new people they know nothing about. That's not a thing anywhere. You wouldn't do it in the country you come from, so don't do it here.

If you would do it in the country you come from, good luck to you, but I'd advise against it.

And no, this isn't a thing that happens because the Western community in Taiwan is small. There are friendly fellow foreign residents who, if they meet you under normal circumstances, will be happy to make a new friend and show you how things work here. But they do not approach you out of nowhere on the street and they don't just happen to have fliers for whatever it is they want you to attend. They carry those on purpose, to find people and get them in the door. It is intentional - they are not new friends you made because of some happy accident of timing. They aren't just super nice people who keep their eye out for Westerners who seem new to help them out. Of course they seem nice. Of course whatever they are inviting you to seems cool, or just a chance to make new friends. Of course they seem really empathetic, perhaps to the fact that you're new here and don't know many people yet. That's the point. It wouldn't work if it didn't seem like a great opportunity.

It could be some "direct marketing" scheme, it could be some religious or spiritual thing, it could be whatever. It doesn't matter. It's no less unusual to approach strangers here than anywhere else. Same for parties and other gatherings. Normal people get to know someone first: if the purpose of the interaction seems to specifically be to invite you somewhere or show you some new product, and not to get to know you as a person, that's a sign. Heed it.

If it's a marketing/sales thing, then no, it's not an amazing new product. No, the way people sell things isn't any different here than anywhere else.

If it's "free lessons" - guitar, English, Mandarin, whatever - but the person inviting you doesn't know you, no, that's not how you get music or yoga or Chinese lessons. They're probably at a church or temple.

If they are nice white guys on bicycles wearing ties, no, nice white people who want to be your friend won't stop you at a traffic light, that's weird. They want you to join their religion, not to be their friend with no strings attached.

And if it's a religious/spiritual thing, no, it's not because you're in the "East" or whatever and so people are, like, so totally more spiritual here and they want to share that which is why they are so nice.

That's not a thing and it never has been. If you're into Dao or Buddhist philosophy, good for you. Enjoy! Even so, people who share your interest in these things, yet are normal people with normal lives, still don't just randomly go around inviting strangers to things.

Please keep that in mind.

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?

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!

Monday, June 13, 2016

Officially Unofficial: A Review

I thought I was a little late to this party, but a quick look online shows that no, the only other person I can find who has actually reviewed Officially Unofficial (and not on Amazon) is my husband. Seems odd, I would have expected it to have been widely read and commented on in expat circles though not necessarily much outside Taiwan, but okay.

Brief recap - this is a memoir about moving to Taiwan, working one's way to national and international recognition as a journalist, coming to care deeply about Taiwan, and about Cole's time at the Taipei Times and his not-so-amicable split from them, as well as his own observations of the political and military goings-on from the perspective of a journalist with access to the key players.

First, what I liked about it. I can't find the specific reference but it seems that Cole arrived in Taiwan about one year before I did, and is older than me, but not by a huge amount. Which is to say, we experienced Taiwan at about the same time and at not terribly disparate ages, so it was fascinating to look back at the experiences someone else with a very different trajectory had during a time I was also in Taiwan and also learning how things worked. At many points, reading this filled in the gaps of news events and other important issues I was either too new to know much about or too busy with my own life trajectory to pay sufficient attention to (I wasn't that interested in Taiwanese politics until I had already been here several years - my interest bloomed just as I was starting to realize this could be a long-term home for me).  I appreciated this quite a bit.

A few examples: I had been in Taiwan one month when the Red Shirts marched. I went and observed but didn't participate and didn't know much about it (nevertheless, being more knowledgeable now, I am glad to have seen it with my own eyes), so reading about how businesses at times paid employees to participate or donate was of some interest - especially as I went from a green organization (a large chain of language schools) to a blue one (a singularly awful 'management consulting firm' with great clients and terrible management) back to an apolitical-but-greenish-leaning one. I did notice that the blue one was a far worse place to work than the green or greenish ones, though.

I was also a Taipei Times reader when the quality started to suffer and I have to say, that one line in the book about how "readers noticed"...yes, we did. I did. I was one of them. I used to contribute the occasional reader editorial, but don't now.

Huaguang, Losheng sanatorium, Dapu, Want Want's Next Media acquisition? I was there for all of that too although, again, too busy with my own career path to pay as much attention as I should have. Reading this book filled in a lot of very useful blanks.

My mother was a journalist, so it was equally fascinating to me to read about how other journalists got to where they were and how they worked, as well. Although I have a lot of respect for (most) (good) journalists, the kind who really live up to the industry's standards of professionalism, it cemented my choice way back in the day not to pursue that career path. That is not meant as a jab at Cole, the profession, or any other journalists - it's just not for me. The low pay, long hours, poor treatment and lack of freedom and free time to pursue other interests? As a young arrival to Taiwan I was only willing to put up with perhaps one of the above, and now that I'm older I'm not willing to put up with any for any appreciable amount of time. The idea of only having 7 days off per year indefinitely, for example? Not acceptable.

In Cole's shoes I would have flamed out at the Times far earlier than he did simply because I'm not willing to do work towards an item for publication that will make someone else money on my day off, and not willing to put up with much bullshit. I also probably have a shorter temper. If that's what you have to do to break into journalism, then it's not for me and I'm quite happy I realized that early on (when I considered, and ultimately rejected, the idea of double majoring in journalism back in college).

It also helped me better articulate, oddly enough, how and why I chose teaching as an actual career and not something one does for a few years before moving on. It is a career - a profession. One would never call a math, science, history or literature teacher someone who "does it for a few years then moves on" (though some do) - they train to become professionals, and they are. So, when Cole subtly disparaged the teaching profession a few times in this book, as though it were somehow beneath him, it caused me to realize that no - I worked hard for my degree and my job is no less respectable than that of a journalist. It reminded me that I chose this and I trained for it in lieu of pursuing other careers (I used to work in finance, and have been offered non-teaching jobs which I have turned down) and no detractor can take that away. It is not 'beneath' anyone unless they don't know what being a professional educator actually means.

It reminded me, while reading about events that happened while I was busting my butt doing a Delta that, hey, it's okay that maybe I let my political observation slide a bit - I was busting my butt doing a Delta! It is absolutely fine that rather than go down and see the Huaguang protests for myself, that I was reading a book on discourse analysis. That rather than read every article on the Next Media acquisition that I was improving my knowledge of language systems. That it was perfectly logical for me to have been honing my knowledge of training practice and theory, language testing and assessment and various pedagogical approaches as well as doing data gathering on a group of real students rather than watching political events during the lead-up to the Sunflower occupation. I did it for my career, and now it's time to go back and fill in what I missed (you may have noticed that there were a few quiet years on this blog as well - now you know why.)

It was engaging, informative reading providing angles and backgrounds to things I either didn't know much about or missed due to my own studies.

In short, there was quite a lot to like.

Let's talk about the things I didn't like.

I noted there were a few inaccuracies in his portrayal of the ELT industry. Most importantly, that in his time drafting articles for an English teaching magazine, rather than realize that the reason it wasn't fulfilling was because he didn't know what he was doing, he just immediately reverted to the idea that it was "beneath him". Sure, it's easy to think that way if you have no background in second language acquisition, materials or curriculum development, scaffolding, early childhood education (for the articles aimed at kindergarteners), text-based language extraction pedagogy etc., it's easy to think any idiot could do a perfectly good job and smirk at such work. That's why so many such publications (and schools) in Taiwan are sub-par. For a real professional, such work would present a chance to grow and develop text-creation and other curriculum development and pedagogical skills. Simply put, he thought the job was beneath him because he was a hack at that particular job, and the crappy company he worked for doesn't do the profession any favors, either.

Moral of the story? Get your facts right before you write about a profession you know nothing about.

And finally, okay, look. This author didn't care for the book being in the third person, which creates not only wonky referencing but a sense of pomposity that just doesn't need to be there. It was a poor narrative choice that detracted - and distracted - from the otherwise very interesting story, she said. But, beyond does she say this?

When a fairly large section, and several passages interspersed later through the narrative, reference how much one has  read in such a way as to come off as bragging about how well-read one is rather than telling a good story about a journalist's life in Taiwan which is all I really want to read about, one comes off as...well...also a bit pompous if not outright sybaritic. I didn't think those paragraphs added much to the overall story. He's a good journalist and well-read, we get it. If he had interwoven observations and references based on his wide and diverse reading it may have come off a little better. As it was I was not terribly interested in paragraphs about all the stuff he's read. Great. I've read a lot of it too. Do you want a gold star?

That, and his disparaging of English teachers (discussed above) and bloggers (discussed below) were the book's greatest weaknesses. I would not go so far as to say it caused me to dislike Cole. I have respected and will continue to respect his excellent work, and having never met him, it is not fair for me to make any such judgments. But, you could say it put me off a bit. I can see why Ben Goren called him "alienating", although I have no such personal story to corroborate that. That said, we have a rather large number of mutual friends, people I respect immensely, so perhaps he is more likable than he at times comes across in this book.

As for the bloggers, because I seem determined to make this review as long and messy as possible, I find a lot to disagree with. There are plenty of idiots, but there are also plenty of excellent Taiwan bloggers. I won't go so far as to group myself in with them - at the end of the day I'm a loud woman with opinions and a platform and that's about all, and I write Lao Ren Cha for personal pleasure rather than to try and get readers - but it is quite unfair to imply that excellent personal blogs that comment on politics, such as The View from Taiwan, Letters from Taiwan and Frozen Garlic are amateurish or beneath Cole's own work (I do not imagine that my blog was in any way considered as an instigator of those comments, simply because I assume Cole doesn't read it, nor, given my proclivity for sailor-mouthed vulgarity, should he necessarily do so!) What really bothered me was his assertion that such people, who don't have the access he does, "shouldn't" have a voice. To quote my ever-oratorically-appropriate cousin, you can fuck right off with that.

Nobody gets to decide who "should" and "shouldn't" have a voice. That's for a bygone era. Now, everyone with a computer and rudimentary writing skills has a platform, but that does not necessarily mean they have a voice. You can get a free blog and write what you want, but if what you write is crap, nobody is going to read you (or at least not anyone in any great enough numbers to matter). The readers decide who has a voice or not with their clicks and eyeballs. The downside of that is not that unqualified people comment, but that qualified people feel reduced to creating clickbait headlines and going after angles that will hook readers rather than the story people actually need to know. That's why Taiwan is so often shoehorned into stories about China. In the end, though, good people do tend to stand out and get readers, and incompetent ones don't get read and don't get link-backs. The readership tends to sort the wheat from the chaff pretty accurately I'd say.

I'd also like to note that towards the end of the book he writes about how mainstream media is failing and alternative media is increasingly becoming the place to turn to. Wouldn't that also include personal blogs?

Such comments, again, only serve to put readers off Cole's larger narrative by dint of making him seem like a less likable, more priggish person than perhaps he is.

I'm also curious who these bloggers who "revile" him and other journalists are. Seems to me most decent bloggers are big fans of Cole's work, myself included. He seems to group them in with the "white wise men" he so often references, but I honestly don't have a clue, blogger-wise, who he is talking about unless there are a ton of blogs I haven't noticed. For now, though, I feel like he's describing a world at odds with my observations.

A few quibbles before I finish this.

I was happy to see in the Afterword that he changes his previous "the KMT is not so bad, they are a modernized political party functioning in a democracy" into something more realistic. I may strongly dislike the KMT as a whole, but I do realize that individuals within it are not all necessarily evil, corrupt, chauvinistic or incompetent. I also appreciate that not everything reported as done by the "evil underhanded KMT" went off exactly as it was reported by pan-green publications and that not all pan-green politicians are great people or good leaders.

However, the idea that the past is the past and now they're a perfectly normal political party? No, again, you can fuck right off with that. A normal political party doesn't withhold transitional justice or try to ignore-away its past the way the KMT has. They don't keep records from the Martial Law era sealed to a large degree and hold the line that victims and their families - many of whom still don't know what happened to their ancestors - should just forget it and move on. As the descendant of genocide survivors who are also being told to "just forget it" by the Turkish government, in my gut I feel that that is simply not acceptable and is proof that the KMT is not, and likely never will be, a normal and modernized political party.

Furthermore, this idea that these "white wise men" Cole references parroted the DPP party line for years, which was both self-serving and self-defeating, and that they called the youth and their critics "brainwashed" by the KMT. Certainly a few did do that, but what I saw during the Ma years was those "white wise men" (who all seem to think they're freakin' Confucius) towing the KMT, not the DPP, party line! It was all about how ECFA was good (it wasn't), the economy was bad under Chen but good under Ma (not true), that closer ties with China was invariably and in every situation a good thing (wrong again), the DPP were "troublemakers" (nope) and pro-independence "agitators" were the "brainwashed" ones, and the students impetuous and naive. All that nonsense. Maybe it was because I stopped reading the Taipei Times soon after its quality dropped, but unless I'm living on a different planet, the commentary he heard and the commentary I heard was quite different indeed. Any given Economist article on Taiwan from that time period will show you what I mean.

I have a few things to say about noting that a journalist was "female" without that adjective being necessary, the ridiculous Taiwan/Israel comparison (don't get me started on that) and the unnamed-but-we-know-who-it-is reference to Ralph Jennings (the short of it is that my reasons for disliking Jennings have nothing to do with his wife, whom I hadn't known and don't care is Chinese). I'll save all that for another time, maybe.

I'll end with this: despite its flaws, it was an engaging book and quite fascinating to read about someone else's experiences in Taiwan just as I was having my own, very different, experiences. I enjoyed some but not all of the autobiographical elements, overall wanting to know more about Taiwan. So, in the end, I have to say it has whet my appetite for Cole's next book, Black Island, which I have the feeling I will enjoy even more.