Showing posts with label taipei_main. Show all posts
Showing posts with label taipei_main. Show all posts

Thursday, January 4, 2018

Don't trick people into civil disobedience


I want to keep this short, because I have a grad school paper to write and, while I'm doing OK with that, I am in real danger of getting behind.

But, ever since the labor protest on 12/23, something's been bugging me and I feel like I have to say something, because it's just not been reported to my satisfaction.

I touched before on a particular moment in that protest in which the demonstrators marched up to a row of police blocking the Zhongshan/Zhongxiao intersection, forcing them to turn towards Taipei Main Station.

The march stopped - it did not continue towards Taipei Main as directed, and announcements were made that the police had blocked the route they'd been approved to march, changing the route without notice and declaring the intended march from DPP headquarters to the Legislative Yuan as an "illegal" protest. It was made quite clear at the time - well, as clear as it can be in such a mob - that we had been approved to march through that intersection and now the police were stopping us in order to cause problems or to choke the march - and therefore that the police were in the wrong.

I didn't buy that - why would the police want to create conflicts with protesters? I've covered the reasons why in my other post on this demonstration.

It also makes sense not to approve marching in that intersection, rather than to approve it and later refuse entry. The Executive Yuan is on that intersection, and it was heavily protected with barricades and barbed wire. It makes a lot more sense that the government knew perfectly well that demonstrators would try to occupy it if they were allowed into the square, and try to head that off before it ever became a potential outcome (though I would hope Taiwanese protesters have learned by now that, right or wrong, that won't be allowed again).

So we get to that line of police, who are standing in tight formation but not instigating anything (though I'm no fan of the riot shields), and people start to push back, shouting "police give way!" and starting scuffles and short fights.

It is important to remember that the demonstrators confronting the police almost certainly believed that the police were denying the protesters the right to enter a space they were supposed to be officially allowed to enter, not that they were trying to push past police to occupy a space they had been told they could not enter.
I don't believe that protests and marches must or should always stick to "approved" routes, or that they must "apply" to be allowed to protest. Protesting with government approval undermines the whole point of demonstrating in many cases. Civil disobedience has a role to play in a healthy democracy, and I am not opposed to breaking unjust rules, regulations or laws.

I do not believe it was wrong to try and enter that intersection in principle.


Remember that as I continue the story.

The police stand their ground, with some physical clashes taking place (nothing too serious - there were injuries later but not at this point). Eventually, they give way, and the demonstrators occupy the intersection. As expected, some try to enter the grounds of the Executive Yuan.

Later, I find out via the friend I was with that the demonstrators had never been approved to enter that intersection, and the police were trying to ensure we took the route we'd been approved to take.

In fact, as I found out much later - because I am a terrible journalist I suppose - the people perpetuating the false impression that the police were blocking our path were the labor union organizers, not the youth. The two groups don't overlap much, with the former being older and skewed somewhat politically differently (lots of pro-unification leftists, not necessarily green but also not Third Force)  and the latter being younger, pro-independence and classic Third Force. After getting us to break through police lines, the union contingent left, leaving the younger social activists encamped in the intersection and later playing a cat-and-mouse game with police as they engaged in civil disobedience (perhaps this time the more honest kind) from Taipei Main to Ximen to 228 Park and back again. After engineering a certain outcome, the labor union demonstrators went home.

To be honest, I feel tricked and abandoned.

Again, I don't think it's a problem to deviate from what has been "approved". I don't think we have to obey every command we're given. I don't believe in allowing the government to render protests toothless. I absolutely believe in civil disobedience.

But here's the thing - the organizers lied about the reason for the police line.  They led us to believe we were being denied a space we'd previously been promised. They led us to believe the government was trying to provoke us, that the police had no right to be there (even if you believe in civil disobedience, you have to admit - the police did have the right to be there. We also had the right to try and push past them).

To me, civil disobedience must be genuine. It must come from a social movement deciding it must follow certain ethical principles that clash with unjust laws, and working together to insist that legal frameworks accommodate just actions. It must happen honestly - it must come from the crowd based on real situations and perceptions that are as accurate as possible.

If we were going to push past that police line - and I do believe we had the right to do so - we ought to have done it as an act of civil disobedience, not because we believed that the police were barring us from a space we were "approved" to be in.

We might have done the right thing, but we did it for the wrong reasons. We did it because we were lied to. We did not do it based on accurate perceptions of the situation - what we believed was dishonestly manipulated to engineer a specific desired outcome on the part of the organizers. We were their pawns.

I do not like this. I do not like it one bit. I do not like being lied to. If I'm going to confront the police (which I generally won't do - I'm not a citizen after all and I can theoretically be deported), I want to do it knowing what the real situation is. I do not appreciate being lied to in order to steer me toward a particular action, and I bet a lot of people there that day felt the same way.

If that action was going to happen, it needed to occur honestly, sincerely, with demonstrators knowing what they were doing and why. We are not cannon fodder.

It discredits a social movement for the organizers to knowingly lie to participants to engineer their desired outcome. The government is opaque and often dishonest - the last thing we need is for those who organize to demand more transparency and accountability to the people to be opaque and dishonest as well. It discredits social movements as a whole if this becomes a regular tactic. We can't say we're the "good guys" if leaders can only get what we want by lying to us, if we allow them to keep doing it.

I'll be honest in a way the organizers were not - I'm deeply disappointed and disillusioned. I'll still turn up at protests and other civil actions to observe and report, but I'm not sure when I'll participate again.

All you do when you lie is lose our trust. We're not afraid of civil disobedience, but only if it's done honestly. Only if we really are the good guys, and we live up to higher ideals than the unjust systems and dishonest people we're fighting against.

Don't do it again, or you'll lose more than one unimportant white lady: you'll lose your supporters, the trust of the Taiwanese people, and any chance you might have had of getting the powers-that-be to take you seriously.

I am also worried that if the two main groups fighting the new labor laws can't get along and have divisions that run so deep that one would basically pull the rug out from under the other, and neither can seem to capture the public zeitgeist, Taiwanese labor is, well, screwed.

Don't be children. Grow up and do it right. Come on guys.

Sunday, October 7, 2012

Reason #27 To Love Taiwan

Learning mahjongg with some local friends

Learning new things.

I know, it's been six years, I should have learned to play mahjongg already, but I hadn't. (I'm still not very good, mind you).

I guess, after six years, you start to think you've done it all, even when there are some basic things you haven't done. You can go weeks - months even - without anything "new" happening. You have your favorite restaurants, your favorite hangouts, your group of friends (or in our case, our various groups of friends who sometimes meet), your daily routine and preferred activities/hobbies. You start to think you've done all you can do, learned all you can learn, seen all you can see.

Then you find yourself in an entirely new neighborhood for some reason - one thing I like about my job is that it takes me all over not just Taipei, but northern Taiwan (and sometimes southern Taiwan). I learned more about the 後車站 neighborhood directly north of Taipei Main Station from having a class there and seeking out places for lunch, or places where I could run errands, than I would have if I'd just wandered it on foot in my free time. I wouldn't have gone down this or that lane if not for being right near it due to work, but I was, and I did, and I am better for it.

Or you learn a new turn of phrase in Chinese that adds panache, or a bit of fluency, that you hadn't had before.

Or you make a new friend and they introduce you to something you never thought you'd enjoy.

Or you do something simple, like go to a friend's house to play mahjongg - a game you'd never played before and really never understood.

You meet new people, learn a new game, practice your Chinese, see another bit of the city, and have an experience that you wouldn't have had back home.

And you realize that there are so many other new things to do, new alleyways to explore, new things to learn and new people to meet - your experience hasn't grown stale and likely never will.

That's why you're still here. At least, that's why I am.

Friday, June 24, 2011

Lao Ren Cha's Ultimate Taipei DIY Shop Guide

I bought just about everything to make this necklace from a small bead-and-fixing shop in a lane east of Dihua Street - the crystals, tiny turquoise beads and lapis beads came from Taipei City Mall.

So, I’ve been slowly working on a post about navigating circles of friendship in Taiwan, but I’m not feeling like finishing it right now (maybe over the weekend). It’s hard, writing it in such a way to make it clear that I am observing, not complaining, and that I am in no way talking about anyone specific, just citing trends I’ve noticed. I’m having trouble creating a tone that conveys that, so it’s on the shelf for now.

Instead, I’ll do another, easier post I’ve been meaning to cover for awhile – the best places to get DIY products in Taipei. Many of you know that I’m totally into DIY jewelry making; I do other stuff too, but mostly stick to jewelry (I mostly branched out when it came to making stuff for our wedding, because for every piece of cookie-cutter whatever-whatever I found online, I figured I could make one more to my taste – from boutonnieres to corsages to seating cards to table numbers to bridesmaid jewelry to my own jewelry).

The hair stick came from a shop in the underground mall on Zhongxiao between Main Station and Chongqing Road. The leaf came from the shop near Yanping-Chang'an, the rest came from the small shop near Dihua Street.

I usually get my beads at a small shop in a lane just east of Dihua Street (I can’t find the exact address – the first lane, which I believe is a small street – just east of Yongle Market and walk north just a bit. On the right you’ll pass a lane that houses a small wet market, and where you want to go is the next lane north of that - turn in and it’s about halfway down on the left, across from a shop that sells fringes and ribbons).

The shop also sells real stone beads – if you are willing to get spendy they are behind the counter, and some of the cultured pearls can get expensive. Some strands are more expensive than in Taipei City Mall, so you may want to look there first. Some things I really like here are the large selection of copper-tone beads and workings, the metal-dipped colored glass and the Venetian-glass style beads.

This lane is also great for ribbon lace of all kinds as well as ribbon – the ribbon shop is the best of its lot.

Pretty much all of this except for the lighter amethysts came from the small shop near Dihua Street (the amethysts came from Taipei City Mall, as did the amethyst pendant at the end)

I also get my workings at this shop: the metal bits that hold it all together, such as clasps, jump beads, wires, rods and earring hooks. They also have a good selection of chains and charms including faux keys and you can buy pliers here. I have a pair of needlenose and a pair of fatter, heavier pliers.

For fabric and buttons, I go to Yongle Market. Get your fabric on the 2nd floor, but the button mecca is a small shop on the far south end of the first floor, near the entrance that’s just beyond the outdoor coffee shop and lets out into the lane with the food stalls. For Indian fabric and Thai silk, go to the shop on the 2nd floor of the building with the watch store on the southwest corner of Yanping-Nanjing. Just buzz up if the door is locked.

The whole lot of this came from Yongle Market, either the far side shop on the ground floor or the shop with all the sparkly fabric on the 2nd floor. The copper thing came from the small shop near Dihua.

On the other end of the market, near the street just east of Dihua, the first floor houses the go-to shop for feathers. You can get feathers elsewhere (including inside the market itself just inside the main 2nd floor entrance).

On Dihua itself across the street from Yongle Market you’ll find a shop that sells more beads and other accessories – this is a good place for sew-on patches (they have Chinese dragon patches, which is cool).

Whatever I can’t find here I get in the Yanping-Chang’an area. Just west of Yanping-Chang’an intersection on the north side is a DIY shop that is not as cramped as my favorite one, but is also not that well-organized.

If you head east on Chang’an, Chang’an-Chongqing has a great fake flower and basket shop, for those who are into that sort of thing.

Heading south on Yanping, you’ll pass a DIY shop that has plastic beads (not my thing), lots of yarn and other stuff. I generally walk all the way to Civic Boulevard – on the Yanping-Civic Intersection you’ll find a large shop full of bead, mostly crystals. This is a good place for fake jade if you are looking to make something of that sort. Lots of bracelets that you can cut, take the beads off of, and turn into whatever you want.

Some of these charms are old broken earrings (the bottom one), or I've had for years and didn't know what to do with them (the glass one). The lapis one came from Taipei City Mall, and the Venetian-glass-style beads came from the small shop near Dihua.

Taipei City Mall is also a great place for beads and especially crystals. I can’t even say which shop as the whole thing is so vast and difficult to navigate in terms of remembering what stores are where. I particularly like one shop that sells affordable faux turquoise, real (but low-quality) lapis, real amethysts and interesting charms and pendants. Unfortunately, I can’t tell you just where it is – I believe it’s toward the eastern end and in the southern corridor (there are two corridors separated by more shops), if coming from Taipei Main it’d be on the left. This entire area is the bargain-basement mecca for crystals and real-but-not-stellar-quality stones.

Ribbon: ribbon shops in the lanes around Dihua. Fixings: my favorite shop. Leaf skeletons: Jianguo Weekend Flower Market.

I get my leaf skeletons at Jianguo Weekend Flower Market – the Flower Market is a great place for this and other dried or fake flower DIY stuff, and the jade market, as long as you are careful not to get ripped off, is great for fake jade (don’t even try to buy real jade here) and antique-looking Chinese beads and charms (some might even be real antiques, but don’t bet on it).

This is what I made with the paper I got at Chang-chun Ever Prosperous Co.

I get my paper at Chang-Chun Ever Prosperous Co. paper shop, near Chang’an-Songjiang Intersection (on Chang’an, south side, just east of Songjiang, past Su Ho Paper Museum which also has a nice shop). They sell almost everything you might need at good prices, including Japanese chiyogami paper.

I get all my other stuff – hot glue, regular glue, gold paint and paint pens, cutting implements, ink, paint, brushes, rods etc. around Shi-da – the huge stationery store next to Watson’s in the night market is one good place, and the art shops on the south end of Heping in this area are also great, especially for paint and spray paint. For hot glue, the “everything” shop next to the stationery store can help. Further east, Sheng Li’s 2nd floor (the huge green store on Heping-Fuxing) has a lot of stuff, too, including more leaf skeletons, ribbon, string, paint etc. and gift boxes and bags.

Very occasionally I need sequins or glitter – I like to peruse the more unique offerings at the Hess Bookstore (B1 level) on Minquan/Songjiang. They also have a good selection of fancy gift boxes.

Anyway. I hope this fairly extensive list helps out another fellow DIYer in Taipei who is searching for the perfect beads or needs something weird like leaf skeletons or gold spray paint. Enjoy!

Saturday, April 30, 2011

Dangly Bits

Brass, treated lapis, turquoise (possibly artificial or color treated) and onyx earrings by Tai&Vin - NT$450 on sale - Yongkang Street #28-2

As I've written two sequentially thought-provoking posts - at least they are to me! - I thought it was time for a little fun. There is more than just frivolity when one starts talking about independent artists and designers, as well as small businesses (even if the product are not hand-designed or made): I do find meaning where others may find fluff.

And what kind of fun do I like more than earrings? No kind, that's what. I'm a total earrings-and-scarves hoarder, which I think may be some sort of weird personality issue (seeing as before earrings and scarves it was nail polish, and for awhile it was colorful striped socks with individual toes). But as quirks go it's not a financially or personally devastating one, so I think it's fine.

I've found that a combination of a strong creative spirit (yes, it's there, if you look for it), massive consumer goods shopping opportunities from department stores to night markets - heck, the streets are filled with stores selling FOOD and STUFF in a way that not even the USA could imagine - and low prices make Taipei an excellent city in which to scout out awesome new earrings, which means I can enjoy my little habit without breaking the bank or pondering seeing a therapist for my compulsive-collector tendencies.

Here are a few of my favorite haunts, interspersed with photos from my own massive collection of earrings:

The lady who sells silver by MRT Jingmei Exit 2 (past Family Mart) - people selling silver from SE Asia - usually it really is sterling, but do check each item for the stamp to confirm - are all over Taipei, but I particularly like this woman's small shop. She goes to Thailand a few times a year and buys items there to sell in Taiwan. Yes, it would be cheaper if I just bought my own stuff in Thailand, but I haven't been since 2003 and if you are a regular she starts giving discounts.

Yongkang Street is full of places that sell cool earrings, both new and old. Be careful for fake antiques sold at real antique prices, though. I bought these gold vermeil and jade beauties there, got them checked and have been told that yes, they are the real deal and probably came off of an old Chinese headdress (the big kind with dangly bits that brides used to wear and that I personally think brides should still wear because they RULE). Tai&Vin is also great to browse in this area - it can get very expensive but some of their items are affordable - it depends on whether you're buying just nicely made earrings or earrings made from real jade and antique pieces.

That Turkish earring guy (sometimes a woman works there and I'm not sure who owns it) at Tianmu International Square weekend flea market. Whenever the area across from the big stationery store in Shi-da opens for a little artisan's market, you can also find them. They sell beautiful "Turkish" (not sure if they really are - who cares) earrings in a variety of colors and shapes, screened and engraved with mehndi-like patterns.

Shi-da night market - I completely love the guy who sells cheap but gorgeous enamel earrings on the busy street in the market - another woman near the big stationery store sometimes sells them too, along with watches. At NT150 each, I couldn't help but build a collection!

Earrings above by Aliko Chen (found her in Shi-da and have not seen her since)

The weekend market at Red House - I haven't been in awhile but I assume it's still around. I bought these beauties there - the chain goes through your piercing and they hang that way. They're well-weighted and don't slip. You can find a lot of cool stuff here - and some of the same jewelry makers (and some who just sell cheaper jewelry that you can wear for fun) can also be found in the mall under Caesar Park hotel approaching Taipei Main Station.

Chinese Handicrafts Market on Zhongshan Road - I know, such a cliche, but they sell cool stuff like this. Well, I made the little puffy stars, but the two cloisonne earrings are from the handicrafts shop. Check out the selection at the National Palace Museum gift shop on the top floor, or wade through bins of ugly faux-silver-abalone earrings for one piece of pure gorgeousness on the first floor.

The Indian import store in the Wuchang Street covered market (Wuchang Street east of Bo'ai, near/across from Zhongshan Hall) - with earrings starting at NT100, you can't go wrong. The styles are ethnic, sometimes overwhelming, and very colorful. Also, extremely cheap: these are wear-for-fun earrings, not investment pieces. Also the best place to get earrings in copper tone if you're into that (I am).

Anyway, that's my fun post for the weekend - enjoy!

Sunday, January 30, 2011

Taipei City Mall: Journey to the Bowels of Taipei

Hello Kitty men's (yes, men's) briefs on sale at Taipei City Mall

It's been cold and steely gray all weekend, so we decided to spend our Saturday wandering Taipei City Mall, a long two-aisle shopping extravaganza underneath Civic Boulevard. After writing up a few posts on Taipei Main Station, it made sense to follow up with a post about some of the things to see and do in that neighborhood.

It runs roughly from Chengde Road - if it's called Chengde Road that far south - to Yanping Road just north of Taipei Main Station, and is one of the key components of what locals call "車站後" or "Behind The Station".

Above ground, the area has changed both a lot and hardly at all in the past few years: the new Taipei Bus Station was plonked down in all its hulking glory recently, and include a chi-chi department store. Hoity-toity is clearly trying to make its way to this old area.

That said, the twisted lanes and alleys full of shops bursting with consumer goods - from gray acrylic aprons to silverware to lamb's leather and faux leather handbags - those are still there, creating a bit of a tangle of traffic and Made in China goodness all the way up to Nanjing Road. The entire Circus of Stuff reaches a peak at Chang'an Road, where shop after shop of seasonal plastic junk vies for your attention over the hanging drapes of LED fairy lights, blinking off into the distance. So winding are the roads here that the one clear four-corner intersection (of Chongqing and Chang'an, I believe) is called "Ten Intersection" (十字路口) because it looks like the Chinese number ten: 十.

Stuff, stuff, stuff, stuff, stuff

This is also the neighborhood where one finds DIY makeup and beauty care product stores (you'll find these along Tianshui Road - 天水街), DIY beading and jewelry making stores (those can be found down Yanping, to the far west along Chang'an and all the way up to Dihua Streets) and store after store of precious and semi-precious stones (along Chongqing between Nanjing and Civic).

For that matter, don't miss Jiayi Chicken Rice (嘉義雞肉飯) - actually turkey rice, I believe - along Chongqing Road near Chang'an. They're the best place to try this specialty of Jiayi city that I've found.

Below ground, where we hid out for most of yesterday, is a rough-around-the-edges, slightly downmarket shopping experience that, with its ratio of usefulness to classiness (low classiness, high usefulness, pretty much the opposite of the new Bellavita in Xinyi), reminds me of a down-at-heel suburban strip mall. You know, the ones with a Dollar Plus at one end, a Crazy Cal's Discount Liquor, a hardware store, a Cambio de Cheque and a Szechwan Panda Bamboo Palace. Not to mock any of it - it's all very useful stuff. When I lived in Arlington VA I did most of my errands at places like that.

Such is Taipei City Mall. One end has a dance bar and mirrors, and young'uns come here to practice their moves:

And the other has a whole setup of blind masseurs waiting to give you a backrub (NT$100 for ten minutes, and they do a good job).

In between, you can find stores full of beads and semiprecious gems, stores that sell inexpensively made Old Chinese Lady clothing, shops selling tea items, things to hit yourself with (paddles with magnets, brushes made of semi-stiff bamboo sticks, plastic balls with spikes: there is an amazing array of stuff you can beat yourself up with in the name of "improved blood circulation" available in Taipei), about seventy kajillion toy stores, a few Indonesian restaurants and other shops and an assortment of Random.

Back to the Old Chinese Lady clothing: which I totally wear because it's made for sizes that fit older women, not young stick insects, and I rather like Chinese clothing as old-timey as it may make me look (which is totally fine because as a foreigner I get to bend the fashion rules).

Someday I'll take a picture of my Crazy Obasan Jacket and post it here: a jacket I wear to work sometimes made of shiny blue-green fabric embroidered with purple and pink flowers and green vines and trimmed with blue and purple sequins all the way up and around the Mandarin collar, with frog buttons down the front. It's super awesomepants.

Old Chinese Lady Clothing - Love it!

And here are some assortments of Random for you. I am not sure what Maiden School teaches, though it seems to be something like an etiquette school for girls. Below that, the Tea Shop Post Office. Get some Bubble Tea and send your letters, all in one stop!

The Tea Shop Post Office

A great deal of the toys on sale are definitely not for children:

When I first moved to Taiwan, I knew guns were illegal for all but military and police officers (of course that doesn't stop certain unsavory elements from obtaining them). I kept seeing these stores, though, and wondering how guns could be sold so openly if they were illegal - even in the USA I've never seen a gun shop like this, and I've been to Texas! I've taken a road trip through Texas, Louisiana, Mississippi, Alabama, Tennessee, North Carolina and Virginia and never seen such a display of firearms for passerby to notice.

Of course, these are toy guns - they shoot BBs and are exceedingly popular among Taiwan's adult male set. There are entire BB gun shooting ranges where Taiwanese men go to...shoot things with BBs.

The mall has a fairly good selection of food - from tea stalls to full restaurants that look like they serve some tasty meals. There are two Indonesian places - we tried the one at the far end across from M Toko Indo Indonesian grocery, but there's also a place called Nanyang (南洋) that is supposed to be quite good. Both serve decent downmarket Indonesian food - the sort of thing you'd get at a hole-in-the-wall in rural Sumatra. Both places and the grocery are on the western end of the mall.

For more upmarket, take-your-date-there, downtown Jakarta fare, try Milano on Pucheng Street in Shi-da (I'll write a review of it later).

And all down the long corridors, benches are set out where you can find all manner of random people sitting, snacking and relaxing.

Like this guy.

All in all, not a bad place to spend a rainy, overcast day - and I picked up more beading supplies, too!

Sunday, January 23, 2011

Muji Oughta Redesign Taipei Main

In my last post, I reviewed the plentiful eating options at Breeze Taipei Main, giving the second floor shopping-and-food court a pretty firm thumbs-up. In fact, I wondered why Taoyuan Airport was so substandard when Taipei Main had such good offerings: to the point where I look forward to eating there. When going to the airport, I have to think ahead: what should I eat now, so I don't have to eat there?

Now, I want to deconstruct some of the aspects of Taipei Main's design that ought to be remedied as soon as possible.

I don't mean to come down on Taipei Main too hard: I realize it was built decades ago, and as such can't possibly meet modern needs as well as a new building could. That said, it was opened in 1989, and I am not joking when I say that I thought it was opened in the '70s.

As there do seem to be imminent renovation plans, I have a few suggestions for Fumihiko Maki that I'd like to throw out into Internetland.

1.) What's up with the downstairs restrooms?

Seriously, they're not wheelchair accessible (at least not easily), hard to find, inconvenient, not nearly plentiful enough and they smell like pee (more so than regular restrooms). Better restrooms with expanded women's stalls to meet the needs of female users need to happen NOW, and they need to be on the first floor. In Taipei Main Station, the solar plexus of Taipei City, I shouldn't have to go down a set of stairs to get to a bathroom.

As it is, I avoid going at Taipei Main at all costs, and wait until I'm on the HSR or in the MRT station. The addition of restrooms at Breeze upstairs has helped, but still, the first floor of Taipei Main needs restrooms. Who on Earth thought it would be acceptable to design them to be downstairs?

2.) A more navigable lower floor with better signage and flow

You've got 3 minutes until your train departs; you're running, You pound down the stairs and look frantically around to try and find the gate for your train. HSR trains here, TRA there, oh, but more TRA over here, and these gates are for that platform, and who knows where those go, but where's the gate for your platform? AHHHH!

It's amazingly difficult to figure out which gates you need for what train if you aren't familiar with the very un-intuitive layout of the lower level of Taipei Main. This needs to be fixed. Like, yesterday.

3.) Easier transit between the MRT and the Main Station building

The entrance to the MRT is practically hidden in a corner: I can never find it quickly, and it takes awhile to go through all the hallways to finally get to it. I'd prefer an exit that opened straight into the lower level, but barring that, designing the lower floor layout to make finding the MRT entrance easier is a key renovation. If you can't do this, how about:

4.) Better signage to the MRT

If that can't be done (though I fail to see why it can't), I am sure you've noticed that the signage is nowhere near adequate on the lower level. If you are on one end, and the hallway that leads to the hallway that leads to the MRT entrance is on the other, there is not even one sign telling you this. You have to cross the entire concourse to find a tiny sign that is only visible from one angle. If you approach it from the wrong angle? Sorry, buddy.

5.) Escalators to the lower level.

I know you can take escalators up from the lower level, and while it won't kill the average person in transit to walk down a flight of stairs, one assumes that the people heading downstairs at Taipei Main will be about to embark on a train journey. This likely means that they'll have a suitcase or heavy bag. People taking the local to Shilin or the HSR for a weekend trip to Tainan can walk down the stairs, but the kid lugging three suitcases full of laundry from Tai-Da to his hometown in Yunlin County should be able to take the escalator to get to his train.


6.) More English

I understand the train signs, mostly (I can't read characters for every town but I know all the major destinations and termini)...but foreign visitors? Do they? No. The MRT has signage and announcements in Mandarin, Taiwanese, Hakka and English. Is Mandarin and English too much to ask of the Taipei Railway Administration? I think NOT.

I realize that they do have some English signage, but they need more, and I know there are English announcements, but there also need to be more.

While we're on the signage tack...

7.) Eliminate those irritating "names" for trains of different speeds.

I still haven't figured out how to remember the difference between the "ziqiang", "fuxing", "qujian" and whatever trains are in between (OK, I know "qujian" is local and that "ziqiang" is pretty fast, but otherwise? No. I've tried to learn but I just can't seem to remember.)

How about trying these new and novel train names? Express, Limited Express, Regular and Local? See, easy.

8.) Less Dead Space

There is a huge surplus of space on the main, ground-floor concourse that doesn't get used. I am sure once a year at Chinese New Year that concourse fills up, but the rest of the time, it really is unused, under-utilized dead space. That space could be used for a larger tourist information desk, more stores and shops (a larger 7-11 would be nice), some restrooms, more ticket kiosks, a bank of ATMs...anything other than what it's used for now, which is nothing.

There honestly isn't much "stuff" on the ground floor, and yet it takes several minutes to cross, and the lines for the manned ticket counters are rather long. Ask yourself: if there isn't a lot of stuff there, why does it take so long to cross?

You have space. Use it.

9.) ATM! ATM! ATM fix everything!

(If you remember that old commercial)

Why are there only two ATMs in the entirety of the main concourse of Taipei Main, both run by the post office? I do applaud there being a small post office on the main concourse - good thinking - but there need to be more ATMs, full stop. It'd be best if they were the kind that dispensed 100s as well as 1000-note bills, since the HSR kiosks give change in coins.

10.) Better ticket kiosks, HSR kiosks on the first floor, and change in bills

I've never been good at those automated kiosks, and the manned ones have long lines. Why not invest in better automated kiosks with more English (I can read Chinese, but others can't) and more manned kiosks to meet demand?

As for the HSR, it's fine except that you can't buy a ticket from a kiosk on the first floor: most of the time you have to go to the lower level, which is, frankly, annoying. There is a manned service window on the main floor, but they don't provide all services.

While I'm at it, what's up with change in 50NT coins? What if I want a one way ticket to Xinzhu, but I only have a 1000 note? Does that mean I have to deal with 700 kuai in 50-kuai coins? That's 14 coins, 15 if you count the 10NT coin too. Seriously?

11.) That giant board above the manned TRA windows?

Make it easier to read. Without my glasses I can't even try, and with my glasses it's mostly incomprehensible, so I don't try. C'mon, you can do better.

12.) A taxi stand that's closer to the main building from which taxis can depart in multiple directions, easing congestion on Zhongxiao W Road.

At the moment you can only (legally) get a taxi by leaving from the East Exit and crossing the street. How about a taxi stand right outside so that people lugging suitcases off of trains or buses from the airport can immediately get into a vehicle, rather than having to drag their luggage across the road?

As it is, if the taxis at the one legal stand want to head west, they have to backtrack to Zhongshan and turn further up on Zhongxiao, which worsens traffic and takes longer. Have a stand from which taxis can depart in more than one direction.

I take taxis to Wugu quite often for work, meaning I cross the Zhongxiao Bridge. I'm so annoyed by the taxi situation that I will generally catch one illegally on Zhongxiao while the traffic attendant isn't watching, or catch one from in front of the Cosmos Hotel, because the taxi stand is so annoying.

Friday, January 21, 2011

Breeze, Taipei Main!

Last Monday, I spent several hours in Taipei Main Station. For Chinese New Year, we're going to Kaohsiung to spend a few days with our friend Sasha and her family. After New Year, we're going to move to a hotel in Kaohsiung city to spend a few days mooching around down south, eating Donggang seafood and enjoying the balmy weather.

To do that, we'd need a hotel, meaning I spent a few hours at the tourism information desk finding a hotel that still had room, was near the Kaohsiung MRT and wasn't charging $5000NT a night and offered private rooms with private baths (I don't mind shared bathrooms for a night or while on a long trip, but for a two day jaunt, I want something nicer). We did find one in the old part of town after quite a long and painful search.

I then went upstairs to Breeze Taipei Main to seek out dinner, and ended up at Lacuz (a branch of the Thai restaurant reviewed by Hungry Girl). I thought while eating there that it was not just worthy of a review of Lacuz but of the entirety of Breeze Taipei.

In a later post, I will address some of the design flaws with Taipei Main itself, but I do feel that is something of a separate topic.

Breeze Taipei focuses on food-based souvenirs (you know, the ones people buy to bring back to their home cities or countries to share with colleagues...and tea) and food, served in a food court layout not unlike the average Taiwanese department store (hence the name "Breeze Taipei": it's run by the Breeze Center of Zhongxiao Fuxing fame).

I am all in favor of this: food courts in the USA are rather Kiosk after kiosk of chicken or beef served in various sugary sauces and a load of lard. Greasy pizza, nasty burgers, horrific hot dogs.

In Asia, the same food courts in department stores - the Asian version of shopping malls - are generally pretty good. I never feel trepidation about eating in one.

The same is true for Breeze Taipei Main: food offerings are divided into food-court like areas with kiosks and shared tables, and individual restaurants dotting the square set of aisles in between.

One side offers night-market style snacks and inexpensive Taiwanese fare. Most of the food here is pretty good (I've tried a few) and inexpensive, though of course you can get the same thing more authentically and for less money at an actual night market. It's a good option for a quick local meal when a true hole-in-the-wall with folding card tables, plastic plates and a 90-year old woman in a stained apron dumping duck tongues into a metal vat isn't an option.

For good standard Chinese-Taiwanese fare, keep walking around the bend and eat at stand-alone restaurant Xiao Nan Men (小南門) - no drinks, but you can bring your own. Good, solid dumplings and small snacks (小吃) in a nice atmosphere with a good view over the first floor train station concourse.

Another concourse is dedicated to curry - mostly Japanese, but some Singaporean and Indian curry vendors can also be found. This area used to have a Sai Baba, and I was quite sad to see them close up shop and be replaced with yet another egg-rice omelet with curry shop. The Japanese curry is basically what you'd expect - nothing terribly special but not bad. The Indian curry is unfortunately not very good despite having an Indian cook, and the Singapore curry noodles are good but they don't really compare to the amazing food in Singapore itself.

For good Japanese fare, there are many stand-alone choices. There's a "various pancake" (okonomiyaki) place that looks good (I haven't been), a Genki sushi that is a few steps above Sushi Express, and a few well-appointed restaurants that I figure would all be fairly good. The okonomiyaki restaurant replaced a Vietnamese pho place that I was partial to, so I am quite disappointed about that. You can still eat the same pho in the Taipei 101 food court, at least.

Yet another concourse, decorated with futuristic white egg-shaped booths and colored lights in interesting arrays through Swiss cheese apertures, is for "foreign" foods.

This includes a tasty Japanese kiosk with noodle soups, a fairly good Korean-style place (not authentically Korean) and a few Western options - Asian-style Western, not genuine Western. Your best bet here is the Japanese kiosk: I'd steer clear of the Asian-style-Western places.

The chef's board for the Japanese place I recommend.

Lacuz itself, off in a corner near one escalator across from Beard Papa, is quite effeminately decorated and nowhere near cheap, but the food is quite good. Especially given their limited kitchen space and the fact that much of it is obviously pre-prepared. Stick with the easily-transported and served red and green curries - the red beef curry is quite good - the spicy meat salad, which is excellent, and the easily-prepared vegetables. The wok-fried seafood we got was good, but the sauce was a bit syrupy and nowhere near the "three chilis" indicated on the menu. Fish and seafood are fickle: you need care and space to prepare them to delectability. I just don't think you can do that in the space that Lacuz Taipei Main has.

Do get dessert - the mo mo cha cha is a great choice for culture-shocking friends and relatives who have flown in to visit and want to eat before heading to your apartment or their hotel. With blue tapioca (sago?) balls the color of a Ming Dynasty cobalt paint and tiny neon green balls at the bottom, slices of jackfruit and other tropical delights, you really can't go wrong.

Terrifying Mo Mo Cha Cha

They do have a good beer selection, so if you don't want to while away the time before your train leaves at the Starbucks or Mr. Brown at Breeze Taipei Main, you can always stop in here with friends and have a few beers. Even if you don't order food, I don't think they'd begrudge the business, and you're not going to find a bar up there.

You can also pick up snacks - mostly sweet ones - at Breeze Taipei Main. I strongly recommend cream puffs by Beard Papa, a Japanese brand. They are seriously the best cream puffs I've ever had, and I've been to France! You can really taste the vanilla in the custard and they have a perfect texture. I am sad that the Japanese dessert place with those delicious matcha muaji balls is gone (I used to get them before an HSR trip), though. It's a good place to buy vacuum-packed food gifts for friends and family back home, including muaji, dried meat and tofu, tea and Taiwanese biscuits, cookies or other baked goods.

Beard Papa's: The Perfect High Speed Rail Snack

There is some shopping at Breeze - two stores, Hands Tailung and Muji - both Japanese and both good for a wander.

I just have one question after spending so much time up there (I work in Xinzhu anywhere from one to three days a week, see)...

For serious, Taoyuan. Get your bleepin' act together. All Breeze Taipei Main needs to be an excellent, Singapore-Changi-Airport rivaling food court is a bar.