Showing posts with label night_markets. Show all posts
Showing posts with label night_markets. Show all posts

Monday, September 22, 2014

Confucius and the Department Store

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It just so happens that I wrote this while listening to this.

Two weeks ago, a confluence of things happened.

First, I planned and executed a Mid-Autumn Festival barbecue near my apartment, which doubled as my birthday party because I knew I wouldn't have the energy, what with Delta Module 3 going on, to hold two parties in one month.

We hadn't noticed the sign that had been posted in our building, as there are a lot of notices and things that are usually irrelevant. So on the day of the party, we were upset to find out that maybe we should have read that notice after all: no barbecuing would be allowed in the main courtyard areas around where we live (which are perfect for barbecuing). The reason was not clear but usually it has to do with "smell and noise".

Two years ago, you could barbecue anywhere in this area. We barbecued in the small courtyard just outside our apartment. Then the next year, that was prohibited and you could only barbecue in the large courtyard further out. This year, they prohibited that too and we were only allowed to barbecue in a small, dark little area down by the wet market, and policemen constantly rode by on bikes making sure we adhered to that rule (this was the first year there was a police presence).

I can't help but feel that it's a slow, systematic attempt to ban barbecuing on Moon Festival in all urban areas, but to do it slowly enough that people don't complain much.

Then, I had a discussion on Facebook with Alexander Synaptic about this fascinating blog post of his about old "entertainment centers" in towns and cities in Taiwan. It's a coincidence, but a telling one, that he entitled it "Dreams of Empire". There's one in Sanchong that functions mostly as a string of pool halls rife with gangsters, and a closed-down one in Zhanghua.

I noted that while until recently, street-level commercial activity and entertainment was mostly-happily tolerated by local residents, and a proliferation of night markets and other "re nao" (fun) spots were allowed to thrive, which has given Taipei, at least, a sort of vibrant street life and sidewalk scene that Beijing and other cities in China are lacking - and which is a part of what makes Taipei a great place to live - that there seems to have been a culture shift.

This happened around the time that Brendan and I celebrated our fourth wedding anniversary. We had wanted to go to Opa! Greek Taverna, which has hands-down the best Mediterranean food in Taipei (Sababa is good for falafel, but I make better hummus). Turns out their old street-level restaurant near Sun Yat-sen Memorial Hall was closed, and they'll be re-opening in ATT 4 Fun at the end of the month.

Those old entertainment halls are now closed, but they're being replaced by glass monstrosities like ATT 4 Fun. Night markets (like Shi-da or Shilin) are being shut down (except for a few boring "fashion" and cell phone cover stores) or the food stalls relocated to indoor areas, which drastically reduces their appeal. Streetscapes are ruined as giant granite obelisks of luxury housing go up, leaving no room for shops or comfortable passage for pedestrians. Trees are torn down as a huge event arena is built - nothing wrong with Taipei Dome but those trees were a part of the street scape and we loved them. Restaurants are relocating to department stores. Street-level storefront rent is skyrocketing and only chain businesses can afford them, so interesting local spots are being crowded out. As ornery residents start complaining - which they didn't seem to do before - everything that was fun in some neighborhoods is either being shut down, or moving and often they end up in ATT 4 Fun or the equivalent.

Rather than go to Chun Shui Tang (which I know has been implicated in the recent gutter oil scandal) in one of their well-decorated branches which create street-level visual interest, I basically have to go to Chun Shui Tang inside Shinkong Mitsukoshi. One of my favorite Indian restaurants, Calcutta Indian Food, moved from a street-level shop on an interesting stretch of Kunming Street to a basement-level restaurant in a somewhat grody building called "U2". All the good places are slowly moving indoors, but the indoor spaces are expanding: walk underground from City Hall MRT through the basement of Hankyu Department Store to Eslite Xinyi, and it's a veritable food festival of eating options. All indoors. In the basement, even. Outdoors, you'd have to walk for awhile to find something decent to eat.

I don't care for this at all - and as a Taipei resident, I do believe that counts for something.

If I wanted to live in a city with dead streets, where you walked between huge edifices, some new and marbled, some old and marbled in a different way, and cars whizzed by on the road, and I had to walk inside some concrete magnate's wet dream just to eat dinner at a restaurant I like, which is no longer within walking distance because they couldn't afford the rent, I would live in Beijing.

I don't live in Beijing, because Beijing sucks. I do not fancy walking a mile along a sidewalk flanked by a wall and a six-lane highway, with one overhead crosswalk every mile, and big empty spaces dotted with steel monoliths that spear the pollution floating overhead, where people hustle in and out of sliding doors into slightly less polluted air conditioned buildings to eat, drink and shop. Beijing is one of the worst models possible for urban planning.

And I don't want Taipei to become just like it.

I feel like all of this is related. There seems to have been a spike in old-school, stick-up-the-butt Confucian values, more influence from China (which has a distinctly different culture from Taiwan, and to Taiwanese or those used to Taiwanese culture can seem a bit stick-up-the-butt although I realize it's not always), and increasingly authoritarian leaders telling the public to basically go screw themselves. To the point where I wonder, as Letters from Taiwan implies, if the recent deaths - I believe that's a plural deaths too - of various high-profile Sunflower activists were, ahem, accidents. It would not surprise me at all if the government, taking its cues from China as it tries to force the Taiwanese to accept the idea of eventual Chinese rule, decided to off them. People complain about noise and smell on the streets, and the city slowly morphs into Beijing's stepsister (I'd say ugly stepsister, but it's hard to get uglier than Beijing).

I feel it's related to the increase in gang activity - White Wolf not only allowed to return to Taiwan but to rub shoulders with Ma Ying-jiu's sisters. A gang fight resulting in the death of an off-duty policeman which raises many questions about what exactly he was involved in (it's fairly well-known that the police let the gangs run the clubs in exchange for kickbacks). The subsequent inevitable closing down of Taipei nightlife (so it can reopen later, under the protection of newly-strong gangs who give the police better kickbacks). I won't even get into what happens if you cross a gangster in a KTV.

Some other gangsters, deeply entwined in real estate development, convince local politicians to ignore laws about having to provide "green space" for every building they erect in exchange for letting those politicians buy units in the buildings before they go on sale. The politicians can later sell those units at substantial markups. This is all perfectly legal. And we allow it, because they are Our Leaders.

We like to think that the heyday of gang violence in Taiwan was the '80s and '90s, but it wasn't. It's as bad now as it was then, only now we have "democratic" leaders acting like dictators telling us they'll do something about it, when clearly they won't. They'll shut down a few nightclubs, but nobody really important will face punishment.

Increasingly authoritarian "leaders" leaning both on the Confucian ideas regarding the masses doing what they say, inextricably intertwined with gang activity, huge corporations and development companies tearing down the city (and quite possibly encouraging "citizen complaints" about noise and smell from restaurants, night markets and even barbecuing, which is a Mid-Autumn festival activity associated mostly with Taiwan) in order to rebuild it in China's image.

I do not think this is deliberate. Nobody is sitting behind a desk going "mwahahahaha, let's make Taipei look more like a Chinese city, so the Taiwanese will accept annexation by China! Bwahahaha! My evil plan!" I know to imply that these events are deliberately connected is only a few steps shy of donning a tinfoil hat. My point is that the mood in Taipei has changed, and not for the better. And that these issues are all effects of that - the slow migration of street life to department stores, the budding New Confucianism in which we are all told to follow the rules, the increase in gang activity, the increasingly authoritarian government that is quietly trying to push Taiwan towards China and a future the majority of people do not want but many feel powerless to stop.

There has been a culture shift, and it's starting to really be felt.

So, to me, they are related even if not intentionally so. The same overly conservative, regulation-loving Neo-Confucian "follow the rules, do as we say" ideas that brought us the tragedy that is the KMT and President Ma have also brought us the steady department store-ification of Taipei. It's a whole culture shift, even if it is not deliberate.

I still think Taipei has gotten a lot right in terms of urban planning, and I hope that this is a temporary phase.

Sadly, I fear it's not.

Everybody shut up, everybody shop here, don't protest or your motorcycle will suddenly go off the highway outside Pinglin. You just don't understand because you don't know 'correct values' and you need it explained to you like you're four years old. Listen to your leaders! Confucius said so! Buy these items produced by our good friends at Uni-President who swear they didn't know about the gutter oil, in a building they built, so they can profit more. They need profit. They need to make sure the politicians and police get their cut, you know, so they need it. Stop shopping near your home in stores that line your sidewalks. We have air-conditioning, and your favorite shop is here! We're not in bed with both gangs and politicians, and real estate developers hell bent on driving out every bit of soul this city has! You don't like those street-level shops anyway, you would rather it be like this. Come on, lay down, calm down, it'll hurt less that way. You know you want it. Listen to us. We are your leaders. Confucius says that the emperor is above the people. We are above you. And we are Chinese. Therefore, so are you. You must identify as Chinese. This poll said that you do.

There's no reason to muddy the waters like this. We are all Chinese. We don't like noise on the street. We do like strong leaders and air conditioning. We want our residential areas quiet and our entertainment to be safely contained, in a building built by someone rich and powerful, in another part of the city. We like it to be clear. Don't you hate these blurred lines?

Monday, August 5, 2013

Sun Moon Mainlanders

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OK, so, I figure mostly what people want to see are photos.

By the way, I am really sick of only being able to post small photos while about 2/3 of the browser window are taken up by green nothingness.

I can't change the widths on this template, and don't want to move to Wordpress just yet. Any suggestions for good templates that will allow me to have a far wider text-and-photo section without all the empty space on the sides, so I can post much larger pictures? I'm really, really not tech savvy at all (I can haz computator!) which is why I stick to pre-designed templates and don't have my own.

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Fengchia Night Market in Taichung

Anyway, people always say getting to Sun Moon Lake is tough: it's not really. You can take a bus directly from HSR Taichung Station. Or take a bus to Taichung City - make sure to get one with a Taichung Railway Station destination, not Chaoma Terminal, which is halfway across the world from downtown Taichung and basically sucks. I don't know whose idea it was to build that thing out in the middle of nowhere, but there ya go. The bus will let you off in an area that is an easy walking distance from tons of other buses that go to Sun Moon Lake: if you're let off on Shuangshi (雙十) Boulevard, just pick any given one and ask about buses to Sun Moon Lake, or to Puli with a transfer. If you're let off in front of the actual train station, ask at information about the Sun Moon Lake buses, or just hop any bus to Puli and change.

There is, according to the guidebook, a bus straight to Sun Moon Lake from Taipei, but I have never seen nor heard of this theoretical bus in real life.

Once in Puli, either bus station should have buses to the lake. Or just show the characters to the driver, who will tell you where to get off.

"I, for one, welcome our new fedora overlords." photo 182944_10151806263671202_1825991549_n.jpg
Fengchia Night Market, Taichung

I got to Taichung before Brendan, who had to work late due to postponements from Typhoon Soulik the week before. So rather than hang around the random hotel I grabbed, I hopped a cab to Fengchia Night Market on the outskirts of town (because I'll be damned if I'm going to tolerate Taichung's craptacular "public transportation" joke of a system). What a great place to spend an evening eating and shopping - recommended for anyone with any time in Taichung after dark. Probably the best part of that whole godforsaken city.

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We hit up Sun Moon Lake the next day after arranging a fairly inexpensive homestay, given the summer weekend rates (NT$2500 - okaaaay).

As I said in my previous post, it's really amazing that I've managed to spend 7 years in Taiwan and only now visit Sun Moon Lake for the first time. Generally speaking, I enjoyed myself more than I thought I would, and while touristy it wasn't as horrific as I imagined it might be. I would even go back, although it's not at the top of my list.

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There really weren't quite as many tourists as we thought there'd be, but that doesn't mean there weren't any. As you can see here, the ferries were straight-up packed, mostly with Mainlanders, but some domestic tourists as well.

All in all my favorite parts of Taiwan are the parts that aren't saturated with tourists (I guess this might cause you to think I like very non-touristy Taichung: you would be wrong). I liked Kending OK, but I liked Cow Mountain Beach more. Taroko Gorge is beautiful but I left my heart on Hehuanshan. Jiaoxi is fine but my soul really sings in the East Rift Valley. I've never been to Alishan, but dollars to doughnuts I'd pick Lishan over it any day. The Museum of Contemporary Art is by far my favorite - preferable to the tourist-packed National Palace Museum (which I've never really gotten into, although I don't deny it's packed with priceless treasures).

Even in terms of domestic tourists, I don't really like places full of 'em (although I don't begrudge them enjoying their own country, of course). I'll take a quiet Dihua Street over a packed Sanxia Old Street, a puppet show in a night market to some big traditional production that requires lining up, Yuemeikeng over Wufengchi, the Xiaotzukeng Old Trail over Jiufen (although I do like Jiufen), Donggang over Yilan, Fushoushan Farm over Cingjing Farm.

So I wasn't really expecting to love Sun Moon Lake.

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I wasn't wrong, per se. I didn't adore it. I liked it well enough. Years of exploring the less touristed nooks and crannies of Taiwan, and being able to explore Taipei on relatively quiet weekdays, have meant that I've become acquainted with what it's like to live here without the tourists, be they Taiwanese or Chinese, or from any other country. What it's like to partake in activities that locals themselves are partaking in, or even talk to locals who aren't trying to sell me something (the good thing about Taiwan is that even the locals that are selling you things are generally honest, friendly people. Unlike, say, most of China).

So many Mainland tourists. photo 1014029_10151806268216202_1309692207_n.jpg

My main complaints?

First of all, the Shao aborigines are getting fucking shafted. We didn't poke around to see if most of this tiny tribe still live in shoddy temporary housing since the 9/21 earthquake, but most do seem to live a working class life - anywhere from outright poverty to middle class just-getting-by.

With all the money that gets poured into Sun Moon Lake from the tourist hordes of Asia, who stay in lakefront hotels and by bags of tourist crap to take home, who drink Starbucks (and buy the mug!) and eat subpar food in banquet-hall like tour group restaurants, who stay at the Lalu, go to spas and have afternoon tea, charter boats, rent cars and cycle around, you'd think the Shao would be doing pretty well seeing as this is their land and all.

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But nope.

Many own shops (I think I could tell which were the aborigine owned shops and which were owned by Hoklo or otherwise Chinese-descended people dressed like aborigines) or restaurants, but most seem to be completely passed by by all the money that runs through this area.

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Certainly, you'd think we could do better by the aborigines - whose land this actually is - than to build the Lalu and then exhort richie-rich types to come stay here and then take pictures of locals in traditional clothing with beads and headdresses and such for a pittance.

You'd think, rather than even build the Lalu, that they could make sure all of the Shao have non-temporary, secure and livable housing - something they lacked (and may still lack, I'm not sure) since the turn of the millenium.

You'd think.

Kind of sickening, really.

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Next up? Falun Gong.

I may be an atheist, but I am one that is all about religious freedom (after all, religious freedom also means freedom to not practice a religion), and as such, although I don't believe in the doctrines of Falun Gong, I do support them having the freedom to practice as they wish.

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Every tourist site popular with Chinese across Taiwan is chock full o' Falun Gong, espousing their views and quietly protesting-through-meditation right in view of passing Mainlanders. It's almost like a symbiotic relationship at this point (except not): Falun Gong need Mainlanders for an excuse to give themselves exposure, and Mainlanders wouldn't lend the changes to the local areas they visit that they do without Falun Gong protesters nearby.

So I gave 'em a 加油 just to piss off any Chinese tourists who might believe the government propaganda (not everyone does).

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The peaceful view from the upper Xuanzang Temple

The worst of the tourist crowds was at the famous Grandma's Tea Eggs at the pier below the two famous temples to Xuanzang: the old Japanese one, and the newer, bigger, fancier one which currently holds a piece of his skull. I have no reason to believe it's not really what it purports to be. I'm more skeptical of the little white nuggets said to be relics of the Buddha. The first temple was overrun with Mainlanders, and while picturesque, we didn't stay long. There was no peace and quiet anywhere.

This is one point at which I really felt the tourist development hindered a local experience most of all. Of course, I too am a tourist: I'm a part of that crowd, not apart from it. But fewer tourists generally could be had with fewer Mainland tour groups more easily than with fewer Westerners (of whom there were a fair number, but not really that many).

This is where I really felt a cultural difference, too: the Chinese tourists moved in huge groups, masses really. Human amoebas. They were loud. They didn't respect lines or waiting. They hogged space. They weren't unfriendly, but weren't a positive addition to the atmosphere. You could almost see the annoyance on the faces of Taiwanese and Japanese tourists who wanted to quietly enjoy the temple (I know a few people will respond to that with "What? Taiwanese tourists? Quiet??! No!" but trust me on this one).

Instead, we took the Qinglong Trail to the upper Xuanzang Temple.

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The trail was beautiful and quiet, and quite easy, with only a few spots where the recent typhoon downed some trees and a few steep sections (both up and down), but only a kilometer in total and nothing any normal person couldn't do. The only downside? The mosquitos that infested each resting point. They were the little black kind whose bites are super itchy: not even White Flower Oil can stop the itch, which penetrates deep into the skin.

At the top I was so desperate for something to alleviate the itching that I bought some cream on the recommendation of a shop owner below the temple, which worked (the cream is called "White Flower Snow" and is more potent than White Flower oil. It won't kill the itch permanently but you'll get a few hours of relief).

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The only other hikers were a few independent tourists, all of them polite and friendly. Xuanzang Temple, the one at the top, was one of my favorite stops on the trip. The famous Ci En Pagoda above it is closed for repairs (damaged both in the recent earthquake and Typhoon Soulik) and so the tour buses aren't all stopping at Xuanzang Temple - it's just not worth it to them, I guess, without the pagoda to visit further on.

This meant that the upper temple was blissfully quiet. It reminded me of visiting Nikko, in Japan, except Chinese style (duh) and in the summer, not the winter (duh). But the whole feeling of quiet temples on a hill with tall trees was very reminiscent of that trip.

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The best part? You could get a drink - hot tea, water, whatever - and donate what you wanted (we donated NT100) to the temple for it. Then you could take it to the verandah overlooking the lake and just drink your tea quietly and enjoy the view, with some other Taiwanese daytrippers and their families generally being lively, but not overly noisy. What a relief after the crush of people and noise at the lower temple!

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These guys (first shop as you exit the Qinglong Trail), sell 白花雪 cream, which kills mosquito bite itches and other skin irritations.

Decisions, decisions... photo 581445_10151806267331202_335393531_n.jpg
So many choices! What's a girl to do?

We had to walk back down the way we came, as the bus wasn't coming for another hour and we couldn't be bothered to wait for it, and Ci En Pagoda was closed.

The way back was not quite so lucky for us: a few Mainlanders were loitering around the base of the trail (I could tell by the accents), dropping the plastic baggies that their tea eggs had come in along the sides. I wouldn't have minded the crowd there, but the littering was really not OK.

So, rudeness be damned, I walked in front of one of the offenders, reached down, looking her right in the eye, picked up her tea egg baggy that she'd just thrown onto the forest floor, went "ㄔ!" (cchh! - the Taiwanese way of expressing wordless irritation) and threw it away all within sight of the group.

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On the Qinglong Trail you'll pass a betelnut farm.

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After that we took a ferry to Itashao, where we had pigeon and mountain pig for lunch, cooked up by a local Shao woman. It was goooooood, but very meaty and we did miss the addition of some sort of vegetable. Otherwise, Itashao kind of depressed me: Shao (and possibly other) aborigines in their traditional garb, seemingly not because they wanted to be, but because it was good for business. Wear what you want because you want to, not because it'll get more curious tourists to buy tchotchkes (on the other hand, tourists buying tchotchkes is what keeps many locals gainfully employed).

Again, I felt that tons of money runs through Sun Moon Lake, and the aborigines whose land this actually is and should continue to be get very little of it. They live pretty normal, even impoverished, lives, allowing people to take pictures, dress up in Shao clothing and get their own pictures taken, and buy keychains and such...and then the big developers behind the fancy hotels that obscure the view from Shuishe rake in the most profits.

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I asked this kid, "what's the best country in Asia?" photo 1000197_10151806266556202_1311455646_n.jpg
I asked this kid which part of Journey to the West he liked the most, and he pointed to Taiwan. I'm pretty sure Journey to the West never went through Taiwan!

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I also wasn't big on all the big hotels in Shuishe hogging waterfront view space. It's all advertised as "come see this beautiful lake" but unless you walk out of town, you can't actually see it unless you get an expensive hotel room overlooking it. Ridiculous.

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No tourist trip would be complete without a selfie!

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If you walk out of town towards Wenwu Temple (which we didn't get to stop at - I'd come back for that) you can see more of the lake's actual beauty. Too bad so little of it is visible from Shuishe itself.

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My favorite stop was pausing to watch dog trainers teach German Shepherds how to swim! Dogs can swim in Sun Moon Lake, but humans aren't allowed to except once a year in a race.

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Our cute homestay had really, just too many bears. photo 544467_10151806264141202_407286678_n.jpg

Our homestay was cute and, well, homey with free breakfast and a balcony overlooking a 7-11 and car park. A few too many bears for my liking, but it was affordable and accessible.

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Some tour group taking a group photo - otherwise Shuishe, while touristy, wasn't totally crawling with tour groups.

They're more Taiwanese than I am. photo 969345_10151806263856202_1944399518_n.jpg
These guys are more Taiwanese than me, with the cameras and the cycling and the athletic performance gear and the group meal.

Saturday, February 25, 2012

Chicken in Bok & Beer and The Shi-da Controversy

Chicken in Bok & Beer

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

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

The verdict?

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

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

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

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

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

About that Shi-da dust-up. 

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

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

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

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

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

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

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


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

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

Saturday, January 28, 2012

Taipei Love: Guiyang Street

The weather yesterday was beautiful - one nice day out of 11 days (for me) off - so before some friends came over, we went to the Longshan Temple area to wander and take some photos on and around Guiyang Street.

Guiyang Street is one of my favorite overlooked streets in old Taipei - it's not as fancy or lengthy as Dihua Street nor as renovated and promoted as Bopiliao, but also usually not as crowded. It really only gets going once a year for 青山王's birthday festival  and otherwise a quiet, lovely place to take a quick stroll, see some old architecture, eat a few snacks, visit two historic temples and have a cup of coffee. The shophouses here aren't as "wealthy" as Dihua's, but that almost makes them more charming in their slightly decrepit way. My not-so-secret: deep down I was hoping I would have the chance to live in this area, and rent a renovated apartment in an old shophouse. That didn't happen - I ended up on the other side of the spectrum completely - but it really would be my Taipei dream come true.

Crab for sale!
First we wandered up Guangzhou Street, which is the non-touristy branch of the popular Huaxi Night Market (this part is often called Guangzhou St. Night market). At one end is Longshan Temple. Midway through you reach Huaxi Street, and if you keep going you'll hit Naruwan Indigenous People's Market and Xuehai Academy (also mentioned in the previous link). You'll also pass Mangka Gate  - worthy of a quick bite of history and also shown in a scene in the Taiwanese movie Monga. We had some food, did some people watching and walked north a bit.

I prefer the Guangzhou Street part of this market to Huaxi - the dingy, mostly-for-the-tourists sex shops (although the area does contain brothels) and mediocre food in the covered market keep me away, but Guangzhou Street is packed with good food, people to watch and interesting stuff to buy.

For Chinese New Year, the entire street was open during the day as it would be at night on other days -  rather like the area around Anping Fort outside Tainan. In fact the entire neighborhood was one big outdoor market that has been running for most of the week.

Shredded savory pancakes on Guangzhou Street
 Then, if you take Xiyuan Road north, up the left side of Longshan Temple (if coming from the MRT station), you'll pass lots of stores selling idols. Some are Buddhist, some are Dao/folk religion, some are for home shrines, other supplies are for actual temples. There's usually a bit of decent people-watching - and dog-watching - to do up this way as well.

I particularly like this one

One thing I really love about this neighborhood isn't just the old shophouses - it's the mid-century architecture of note (some of the stuff from that era is godawful - some is charming, though, and some give Taipei a special "look" that I really haven't seen in other Asian cities.

Other than living in a well-renovated shophouse, which is next to impossible (if not actually impossible) to pull off, though, living options in this colorful neighborhood tend to be run-down and cramped, and probably very much roach-infested (because the whole city is, and this area is a lot older and in many ways not well maintained). For example, I wouldn't want to live here and hang my clothes out to dry directly over a busy street, to pick up all sorts of grime and exhaust fumes:

 But then you make it up to Guiyang Street and more charming buildings come into view. I love this one and hope it can be more fully restored - the outside looks fine, but it seems to be unused, and possibly uninhabitable. I'd love to see that change - I've never seen any sign of life on the upper story, although there is some use made of the first floor.

Turn left and you reach Qingshan Temple - it is said that it was built here when settlers from Fujian carried Qingshan's idol up what is now Guiyang Street (it's that old, yo) and the idol suddenly grew heavy and immovable on that site. The carriers knew this was a sign that the Lord of Green Mountain wanted his temple placed there, so there they built it (interestingly, this story of idols becoming too heavy to move when they don't wish to be moved is not limited to China and Taiwan - Amitav Ghosh mentions similar stories in North Africa, the Middle East and India in his book, In An Antique Land, which I highly recommend).

I tell the story of Qingshan in the link to his birthday festival above.

Of course, these days kids just check their cell phones outside.

One thing I really love about this neighborhood is that it's not all shiny and perfect - that you get lovely little details such as these roof decorations on temples, right next to apartment buildings, many of which are older and downright ugly. There's a strangely pleasing contrast in that.

 Much of the ceiling work in this temple was put in without nails, by the way. Some master craftsmanship, that.

Some more photos of Qingshan Temple:

We didn't visit Qingshui Temple on this walk, because I actually sprained my ankle slightly at Qingshan, and we had to get back to Da'an to greet guests who were coming over (and who showed up five minutes early - a first for people I invite over). It's at the other end of this section of Guiyang Street and well worth a visit (photos in the link above, with some background and photos of Guiyang Street during festivals).

Guiyang Street is quite charming
Other than shophouse architecture and old temples, Guiyang Street is also home to an old incense shop, at least one Pu'er tea shop and a jade store. Many of the shops on this street are also historic, some dating back at least a century.

This is basically my dream apartment - maybe with nicer windows with wooden Chinese screens. It's hard to find something like this, though, to rent in Taipei.

Next door is a coffeeshop, kind of decrepit and ancient with an old cat (who may or may not still be alive) - tables for that shop and the street stand shown are positioned to take advantage of the pleasant street atmosphere. The coffee's dark and bitter, but the neighborhood makes up for it.

Walking back towards Longshan Temple MRT via Kangding Street, you pass a lot of this:

I feel like this is 50 years' worth of hardware, machinery and junk buildup. I have to wonder how long it would take to create something this dense and chaotic. It's almost like a modern art installation exploring neglect, hoarding, decrepitude, industrialism and chaos in the modern world.

Walking back this way you pass Bopiliao and, around New Year, a whole market full of stuff to eat and buy - something worth doing if you're in Taipei over Chinese New Year and want to get out and be around people.