Wednesday, June 9, 2010

Burma Street

To get to Burma Street (Huaxin Jie - 華新街), take the MRT to Nanshijiao (南勢角), leave by Exit 4 and turn right on Xingnan Road right out front (興南路). Walk for about 7 minutes, through a weird intersection with Nanshan Road (南山路). When you reach Huaxin Jie, it'll be obvious: turn left through the two entrance pillars made to look like the domes of Southeast Asian temples. There's a Cafe 85 on the corner.

Last Saturday dawned dreary and rainy (ah, Taipei) so after my thing in Zhonghe, we decided instead of going too far afield that we'd hunt down the famous, yet elusive "Burma Street" in Zhonghe. Apparently, there are many such streets where people of a certain ethnic extraction establish businesses and restaurants in Zhonghe, including a Korea Street that we now have to find.

We took our friend Aliya's directions and made our way there with growling stomachs - and me with a broken purse (the strap snapped). We were not disappointed: store after store and restaurant after restaurant serving up Burmese food to Burmese immigrants*, blasting Burmese music (mostly Western-style Burmese) and selling Burmese groceries.

Doing our usual reconnaisance, we found a popular place with a crowd of locals - by locals I mean Burmese people - sitting 'round a table drinking and shooting the breeze with no particular plans to leave: if they like it, it must be good, right?

And it was! We got two kinds of noodle ("Give us your most popular dish...what's the most...Burmese?") - one was like a Taiwanese thin noodle (麵線) and the other was like a dry stir-fried ramen (炒拉麵), but with different flavors. There was a sour vegetable in the thin noodle and the stir-fry had a coconutty peanut flavor accented with fried garlic and dried scallions and, I think, a hint of lemongrass. The owner, deeply amused at the two foreigners asking for "the most popular/most Burmese" thing on the menu, gave us a free dessert - a fluffy bread similar to a Singaporean prata or Taiwanese onion pancake, but sweet and dipped in sugar. We also got a cake that the group of locals was eating, which seemed to be pan-baked, topped with what looked like white poppy seeds and delicious, though not astounding.

The milk tea was more Indian than anything else, and there were free refills of regular (non-milk) tea. There was a menu in Chinese and Burmese (for those of you who can read Chinese but have no idea what to order in Burmese - and they seemed to be the same stuff) and the owner has been here for over 20 years and can speak quite good Chinese. Other restaurants seem similarly well-equipped for us non-Burmese-speakers.

Oh, and the whole meal came to less than 200 kuai for 2. Yay!

We also stopped at a grocery and picked up some cooking supplies that are far cheaper there than at Jason's (fenugreek seed, kaffir lime leaves etc) as well as some unfamiliar snacks ("Saltcheese" crackers, V-cut "Pinoy Adobo" potato chips, something reeking of garlic etc.)

All in all, a good day. I recommend checking it out.

*interesting how those of us from developed countries are "expats", but those from developing ones are "immigrants". As Brendan says, "that's because they'll more likely stay here and make their kids do well at school. We're more likely to go home someday." Fair enough.

Saturday, June 5, 2010

Guest Book Card Box Finishing Dilemma

So I picked up this old tea leaf box in the antique/secondhand market near Guting:

I have no idea about it, except that it's about 100 years old but not a "valuable" antique. The owner of the shop told me as much: these things are apparently pretty common.

Thing is, none of my students or friends has ever seen one. So how common could they have been if everyone looks at it like..."huh? What's it for?" "It used to hold tea leaves, at least that's what I was told"..."Oh, cool!"


Our plan for this thing is to polish the brass latch and rings, refinish it with a red paint or stain (?), fix the chips and black paint, repaint the line of gilt (almost certainly not real gold) and come out with an object that can be written on with gold, silver and copper paint pens. Then, use it as the card box at our wedding, as well as the guest book. People can put cards in it, and then sign it in gold, silver or copper ink (or leave well wishes or even small drawings). We'll then finish and seal it to keep as a memento. Like this:


I really do not know anything about this. So, can anyone in the big fat Internet tell me more about the box we've got, so I'll have a better idea of where to start?

Much appreciated!

Wednesday, June 2, 2010

Zhaozhao the Hutt

I realized that I haven't posted any pictures of Zhao Cai, our pudgy, annoying, affectionate, neurotic fattypants in awhile. So, here ya go. Here's Zhaozhao posing with some tent-card signs I made for our wedding, for our cardbox/guest book and teapots for brewing tea as well as ginger after-dinner candies from Indonesia.

"It can't see me if I don't move!"

It's been humid recently and, at times, hot. Zhaozhao reacts to this by sleeping.

"I can haz Internet bedz for sleepin"

On cold/cool days, he finds the nearest warm thing to cuddle up next to, as we are so cruel as to refuse to turn on the space heater for him when it's not that cold. He likes to crawl under the covers with Brendan at night, and during the day, the warmest machines to sleep on are the wireless router, above, and our ancient Toshiba.


Tuesday, May 25, 2010

I am a huge fan of this blog post.

I'm not exactly an off-road cyclist, or even a long-distance cyclist. I have a little city girl bike that I take on the back lanes of southern Taipei (I think once or twice I've gone north of Ba-de Road, but I do cycle in Wanhua occasionally and that takes parts. I think I deserve some cred for that). Usually I ride it down to Jingmei Riverside Park and get some exercise biking up to Machangding Park and back, stopping to pet the occasional tiny dog on the way. The only danger on that bike lane is the occasional ojisan walking down the lane slapping his hands together to facilitate the flow of qi, turtles that come out after dark, and renegade tiny dogs.

(I love the tiny dogs. So?)

It's safe enough that I've even been known to listen to my MP3 player while riding it, as cars aren't allowed.

Anyway, regardless of this, the post above is a hilarious roll-call of bad driving in Taiwan, and the cars that bad drivers use to endanger us all. Ah, the blue trucks. Taxis, yes. I agree about the Cefire but I think Benzes and Beamers are just as dangerous.

And, y'know, taxis are fun. They can do anything. 6pm, in Xinzhu Science Park, need to make it back to the High Speed Rail station in 25 minutes? (This is doable at 10pm, but 6pm? You'd have to be suicidal *and* on drugs to attempt it in rush hour traffic) - tell the driver. He'll say "可能來不及喔!" (Oh, you probably won't make it!) But you know what, 9 times out of 10 he'll get you there. (The 10th time, you end up at a strange tunnel of light).

Plus, bonus! Get 'em talking about politics. They love to talk about that. I have heard so many amazing opinions on things from taxi drivers. It's like pulling political opinions out of a hat. It's like a box of chocolates. You never know what you're gonna get.

Sunday, May 23, 2010

Large Size Shoes For Women!!!11!!!!1


(Yes, this is that big of a deal. I had to break out the "1"s.)

Shu Flies already covered this in her post about plus-size stores in Taipei, but I didn't want to post about it until I'd checked it out personally.

Sandy Ho Shoes

#68 Zhongshan N. Road Section 1, Zhongshan District, Taipei

#100 Nanjing E. Road Section 4 Songshan District, Taipei

#336 Zhongshan N. Road Section 6, Shilin District, Taipei (Tianmu, near Whose Books, The Community Services Center and Best Buy clothing, a bit south of International Square)

#100 Meicun Road Section 1, West District, Taizhong

#71 Ximen Road Sec. 2 Zhongxi (Middle West) District, Tainan

#342 Zhonghua W. Road Qianjin District Kaohsiung

#165 Wufu 1st Road Lingya District Kaohsiung

#289 Minsheng Road, Pingdong City

Or you can browse here. They're also mentioned here in a great article about larger-sized clothing stores for women in Taiwan. (As a curvy Western woman who has to shop in these stores, I do intend to put a review of them up later).

Sandy Ho has three locations in Taipei, one in Taizhong, one in Tainan, two in Kaohsiung and one in Pingdong City. Her stores aren't large but carry a fair selection of women's dress shoes in all sizes - some were even too big for me (that has honestly never happened before). I even met a Taiwanese girl who has to leave the country once a year to buy shoes, or at least she did until she found Sandy's store. As the first Taiwanese girl I've ever met who has feet that are actually bigger than mine (I wear a US 10 - it's hard to find nice shoes in a US 10 in the USA), I greeted her quite enthusiastically. "我很,真,這麼那麼高興見到妳啦!"

Most of her shoes are in the $60 US range, which for shoes of fairly good quality, I am OK with. If she's only got a few left of any one style, it goes on sale - I got one pair for NT $600.

The important thing is that they're dress shoes. I can get effeminate men's running shoes that could easily pass for women's sneakers here. I wear flip-flops or Birkenstocks (or even Tevas) as sandals, so those are easy to find in men's sizes. I have a pair of Grandma-tacular Obasan local-style cloth shoes (the quilted ones with rubber soles) in black for comfy days when I don't care how trendy I look - not that it matters as I wear boot-cut jeans.

But I do have a job that requires me to work in many different offices in Taipei and Xinzhu (not that my Xinzhu clients care one jot what shoes I wear: they're engineers. The best engineers in the country. They wear jeans and spectacularly unfashionable shirts every day). My finance/banking clients, however, probably do notice.

I posted a question about just this thing on Forumosa - "Where can I get large-size women's dress shoes" and I got a bunch of crap back that told me the following:

- where to get large-sized men's shoes

- where to get sneakers / running shoes / sandals that women can wear (because you know most foreigners here are either students or work in some kid's school where it doesn't matter)

- that I have to go abroad - "oh, go to Thailand and have someone make them for you" - as if. The whole point was asking where to get shoes domestically.

...all of which was ridiculously unhelpful.

So yes, I am very excited about the discovery of Sandy Ho's business. Not all of her shoes are to my taste (there are a few designer-style disasters like the plaid upholstered heels and lots of shoes with blingy crap on them, and some '80s monstrosities) but quite a few suited me perfectly. They had a fine selection of office shoes, flats, kitten heels, low heels ("court heels" apparently) and high heels. They even carried sizes too big for me to wear.

I am happy that their selection of flats was so good: a lot of companies in Taiwan erroneously believe that high heels are mandatory office wear for females, which is of course utter bollocks, to borrow a phrase from the British.

So, hooray for Sandy, and all you foreign females out there, give her your business!

Clunky Puns

Ah, Taipei district elections.

The Chinese language has a proud history of puns - word play is considered one of the highest forms of comedy and wit, and while I question any "wit" that's based on a pun, since it's more difficult to pun effectively in Chinese (at least for me), I can sort of almost be OK with it. I will even do it sometimes, to which those who have heard my "下很大!" joke on rainy days can attest.

Well, as a friend of mine noted, Presidential candidates have the money for professional staff to come up with their witty lines and groan-worthy puns - that's how we got "馬上改善經濟“ (actually not sure it said "gai shan" - it was years ago during the Ma/Xie election). It means "Immediately improve the economy". For those who don't speak Chinese, "Immediately" is "馬上", which also means "on the horse", and now-President Ma's name is the same "Ma" as "horse". And of course those ads had pictures of President Horse riding...a horse. Ha ha. Oh, you slay me. (Ba-dum ching!)

District candidates...don't have that money. As you can see here:

We've been kind of following the Zhongshan-Datong election because we have a friend who lives in that area, and we haven't seen much happening in Jingmei. The fight seems to be between Yeh Lin-chuan, the KMT candidate above with a penchant for the color scheme of a Pretty Pretty Princess dollhouse, and one A-Yu, whose last name is not that important.

(I do love the super-feminine Yeh Linchuan poster on the ubiquitous blue truck with the ubiquitous undershirt wearing dude driving it).

I originally mistranslated this poster as "(Yeh Lin) Chuan comes out to love" because, as many of you know, I am capable of heroically misusing the "把" construction. I was corrected: his name is used as a pun here. The "chuan" of "Linchuan" is added to the phrase to say "Take the love and send it out".

Aww. Peace, man. Love yer scrolling purple characters. I think you should add a few more flowers, though.

Then there's A-Yu, who, instead of the usual tissues or notepads (I still have my "Ma and Siew" notepad. I drew devil horns on Ma and have him saying "I love China!") has been giving out face masks:

A-Yu's name (餘) is basically the same as pronunciation as 魚 for "fish", so the little card says "With one fish, eat three times" and three reasons why you should vote for him (the usual stuff, like he'll help bring development, he'll speak for you in city government etc.). Under that it says "Plus, get a side dish: Twenty years of experience!" - though that seems to be referencing some other guy also on the ad.

Sigh. I mean, it's cute & all, and Americans do it too, even if our candidates don't do it themselves ("Obama-rama" or "That's my Bush!" anyone?). But I feel like you either need to be truly witty or hire someone who is, or you get kind of clunky puns like the ones above.

(BTW, simply because I lean green with a dash of brown, I'd vote for A-Yu if I could vote here).

Friday, May 7, 2010

Kunming Islamic Restaurant (昆明園)

Kunming Islamic Restaurant
#26 Lane 81 Fuxing N. Road Taipei Taiwan


Seriously. Just go. Don't wait. Go. Now. I'll wait.

(tick tick tick)

Back? So...wasn't that great?! I mean, YUM! I know. I KNOW. Sooo good.

In case you didn't obey my instructions and did not just run out and eat there right now, let me just say that this place is gooooood.

We had:

Coconut chicken: good
Channa Masala: great
Chili Shrimp: Amazing
Chapatis: pretty damn good
Indian Masala Tea: good, needed more cardamom
Plain lassi: Sooooo good
Samosas with yoghurt and coriander chutney: MMmmmmmmMMMMmmmmMmMm!
Biriyani rice: Taaasty!
Gulab jamun: may have been from a can but was served in a very nice sugar syrup (*may* have been homemade from a mix, not sure) and hot the way I like it.
Moussaka (eggplant and beef): except for green peppers, yummmmy

No beer though. Boo on that. Fortunately the plain lassi was quenching enough that we barely noticed.

So yeah, for serious, go here. Eat all the food. It's a really interesting mix of Middle Eastern, Indian, Southeast Asian and Chinese - we stuck mostly with the Indian but there was other stuff on offer.