Thursday, July 26, 2012

Cat vs. Crab

I'm not feeling like posting much this week, so please enjoy this photo I snapped of a cat in one of my favorite cafes (Cafe Mono on Fuxing S. Road) entranced by a crab fearing for its life.

Ah, Taipei.

Wednesday, July 25, 2012

Sa jiao sa jiao la

Here's an interesting article - note I did not say I agreed with it, merely that it was an interesting read - on 撒嬌 or the idea of womanly coquettishness. 

I am way too busy to write a typically long post, so here's my immediate reaction:

This runs so counter to the personality pretty much every Taiwanese friend I have that I don't believe it's as common anymore as the article says it is (although I *have* seen it in action among strangers). My female friends don't do this - and my male friends don't like it. While they are interesting and intelligent people, I wouldn't say they're weird, quirky or "the exception rather than the rule" - I think they're one subset of people from a younger generation that is slowly eschewing this sort of gender role...gender role...gender role what? Well, I hesitate to say bullshit but my instincts scream it, because I have zero tolerance for "gender roles". Individual roles, sure, but gender roles can suck it.

There are other thi
ngs I don't like about the article - no mention at all of foreign women dating Chinese or Taiwanese men and how they might be affected by this cultural issue, the *(non-threatening)* in parentheses to denote women's careers (how condescending!), the somewhat
outdated assumptions that I've found don't ring as true in Taiwan...even if they used to, and even if they still exist to some extent. I also find it funny that the article notes the "strong, manly presence" of the male partner in these relationships as though it is the only thing, or the best thing, the man brings to the table. As if.

If the widespread acceptance of 小三 or "mistresses" in China and Taiwan is anything to go by, sa jiao doesn't even really do what the author of this piece claims it does, which is enable a woman to test and ensure her partner's devotion, love, and putting of her needs above his own. Which, anyway, since when is either partner's needs "above" the other's, and since when is a healthy relationship one in which love needs to be "tested" or "proven"? 

I also think that a lot of Taiwanese women who date Western men generally do it because they don't want to sa jiao...and plenty of Western men pretend to be exasperated by it but secretly love it. They whine, but deep down they don't want a woman who doesn't appear to need them 
in this way. I don't really care for that sort of attitude, but hey, those guys can like what they like and I can keep my distance (honestly, I don't even want friends who view women in that way), and we're all happy.

As a Western woman, I do have to admit that while I see the cultural aspects of sa jiao and can basically tolerate it from that perspective, I do have biases and one of my biases is anti-sa jiao: I do lose a bit of respect for men who like it (Asian or Western) and for women who engage in it (Asian or Western). I should probably be more openminded, but you know, the first step is admitting your biases.

There is an obvious answer here: my female friends in Taiwan don't engage in sa jiao because I do gravitate toward women who don't act that way, and my male Taiwanese friends wouldn't be my friends if they liked coquettish women (even in friendship) or were with a woman who was jealous of their female friends (even though I am zero threat, in fact, if it were possible to be a negative-number threat I would be).

The article mentions that needing a man and not being too independent are considered "positives" in Chinese culture - although again, I am around so many women in Taiwan who are not needy but are independent, and they've been doing just fine in the dating world - I'd like to see sa jiao die a natural death not because it's considered "wrong" to be coquettish, but because it stops being considered a good thing for a woman to act (or be) needy, clingy or dependent...because it's not a good thing.

If my friends are anything to go by,  already dying.

Monday, July 23, 2012

Taipei Wine & Gourmet Food Expo 2012

Honestly this one tasted like licking the butthole of a civet cat. Not that I'd know what that tastes like. It was a like a "civet cat butthole licking fantasy", if you will.
Taipei is a fantastic city for the sorts of big-venue "come and get a discount" expos that draw average consumers (unlike where I'm from, where you'd generally be a huge gung-ho hobbyist, dedicated pro or industry specialist if you were to actually go to something like that). When I have the time, I love "expo surfing" the various trade shows and events that pass through Xinyi and Nangang's exhibition spaces. 


So far I have to say that the wine expo we went to yesterday was the best one I've been to, even though it was also one of the smallest. Taking up only one portion of one hall in Xinyi's World Trade Center complex, it wasn't as packed as the travel expo, as chaotic as the pet expo or as bewildering as the book expo (I'll be honest, the book expo left me a bit cold. I love reading, but almost all of the booths sold books in Chinese. That makes sense, I've got nothing against doing that in Taipei where most expo-goers will be native speakers of Chinese wanting to buy books in their main language, but it meant there wasn't much for me there and we didn't stay long. I can read Chinese, basically, but I don't really want to shop for books written in it).

People sniff truffles

This was for a group, not just her

It cost 400 NT to get in, but it was worth it. There were crowds but few lines (unlike the open-to-the-public food events and restaurant fairs and "Taste of Wherever" events in cities in the USA, where you often line up for 30 minutes to get a little bite of something that isn't even as good as it would have been had it been served in the restaurant itself). You get a free wine glass - not a bad one, either - and you would go around and get free tastes of any wines you wanted from any booths. My sister was impressed - she said that in Portland you'd go to something like this and pay $10 to get in, only to pay 50 cents or a dollar per tasting once inside. 

The discounts were also pretty good - we got thousand-NT wines for maybe NT$500 and some other good deals (we came home with four bottles - three Portuguese reds and one Spanish white). The selection was impressive - some local companies, some importers - German, Slovakian, Spanish, Portuguese, French, Chilean, Californian, Australian, South African, Italian - all good stuff, with a wide selection from sweet frizzante moscato to super dry cabernet. 


They didn't just have wine - other than a booth full of women in Neoprene dominatrix outfits hawking delicious Dictador Colombian rum (and it was REALLY GOOD), there were booths featuring fine meats, cheeses, honey, jams and truffles, as well as coffee and fancy mineral water. They had booths selling wine storage devices, but we skipped those.

It was easy to take a break, which is good, 'cause we got pretty tanked and would have been far worse off without those other options.

All in all, this expo is my most highly-recommended one to visit in Taipei. Go, drink, enjoy, have fun, and take a taxi home.

The first rule of wine expo is "don't talk about wine expo"

Wednesday, July 18, 2012

Taiwan's Invisible Innovation

India's Invisible Innovation

Interesting talk, especially when he quotes people who say "Indians don't do innovation...they aren't good with the creative has nothing to do with Indians, it's their schooling, based on rote memorization".

This reminds me of what a lot of people say about Taiwan - oh, it's not that Taiwanese aren't creative, it's their schooling which beats creativity out of them and doesn't value opinion, independent thought and artistic expression" - what I myself have said about Taiwan, although I'd like to take a lot of that that back.

I do think the teaching methodology and ideas about education in Taiwan are screwed up: I feel that the education system here doesn't foster creativity, and they don't value opinions, independent thought or artistic expression. There is a lot of regimentation and rote learning, a lot of teaching to the test, a lot of cramming and very little encouraged inquisitiveness. My opinions in that regard have not changed.


Despite this, creativity breaks through - more than most Westerners think. In fact, I'm beginning to believe it's snottiness as well as possibly mild (but probably unintentional) racism. It's true that I've noticed trends: students who reply to a question asking for an opinion with a fact ("what, my opinion matters?"), students who come into a class believing that cramming their head with new words or phrases - which they will forget or use incorrectly - is more important than taking the time to practice fewer new lexical items and gain more fluency, students who think that formal usage is always better, or that grammar accuracy always trumps fluency, or who think that fluency is something that can be memorized.

BUT, again...

I've also noticed that there are many creative souls in Taiwan, and that there are people who love to ask questions or who just enjoy gaining the confidence and fluency to talk in a language as naturally and effortlessly as possible. There are so many more inquisitive people, thoughtful people and artistic people than many foreigners give Taiwan credit for having.

All this, not because of but despite the cramming and test prep that defines Taiwanese schooling (both government-run and cram school-based).

So why do I still hear the same "blah blah blah Taiwanese don't do creativity" bullshit, which I myself have been guilty of spewing? Why don't people see it?

Because, like India, a lot of it is invisible. I mean, you have a lot of artistic types who make things, who create, who cover walls with art, who run booths selling their work at markets and fairs, all that terrible poetry from poetry contests published on the MRT (I'm sorry, I'm not a fan) - and you have the entrepreneurial types who get creative when starting up their small businesses. But so much creativity in Taiwan goes into products that don't get branded as being created in Taiwan. "Made in Taiwan", maybe, once upon a time, but not created here. Not innovated here. And yet, in many cases, they were.

Who do you think designed the technology that allows you to stream video on your smartphones? A bunch of Taiwanese R&D guys, that's who (and some other folks, too, but the R&D labs of Taiwan were involved). Who is behind the push to make ever smaller, more powerful semiconductor wafer technology? Taiwanese R&D guys. A lot of apps, branding and design come out of the USA, but a lot of graphics, games and innovation not meant for end users (or meant for end users but not branded as having come from Taiwan or, more generally, Asia) comes out of Asia, including Taiwan.

Basically, everything Nirmalya Kumar says about India in the talk above could also be said about Taiwan - possibly more so (although I don't want to get into a debate on that, I can't really say for sure).

Taiwan is home to innovation, and it is home to creativity. A lot of creativity. You just don't see it because it's not branded that way. It's in the research, development, design and production of components within a product that you think was innovated entirely in the West.

Monday, July 16, 2012

The 2012 Taipei Pet Expo

Taipei's annual Pet Expo was held this year at Nangang Exhibition Center - not sure if this year kicked of with a "parade of 100 poodles" as last year's did, because I didn't make it until Sunday, but the pet expo (along with the travel and book expos - but not Computex, not yet) are my favorite annual expo events in Taiwan. And by "favorite" I mean "the only ones I go to".



I don't have much to say about the pet expo - except that if you have a pet and are looking to pick up some discount goods, or just want to take friendly Fido out for a fun day sniffing other dogs' butts, it's worthwhile. We have our cat, Stupidface (just kidding, his name is 招財) and did want to price new carriers and buy him a longer-lasting scratch pad that wouldn't leave cardboard bits all over the floor, and were successful (although we didn't buy a carrier - the one we wanted wasn't actually for sale that day). It's also a good chance to drop by Animals Taiwan's booth and donate, or any of the other rescue organizations there.

The expo mostly has booths catering to dogs, but people did bring other pets - cats, rabbits, gerbils, guinea pigs, a sable (pictured below) - I don't know how they got their cats to tolerate it. Our Stupidface would have freaked out in that sort of setting, so we left him at home. He freaks out on the short walk to the vet's office.

And, of course, many of the dogs are either ridiculously gussied up (above), or preternaturally cute (below).

I got tickets for free because one of my corporate clients is Merial, a manufacturer of animal medicines, and they gave me two free entry passes. I stopped by to say hi, saw the showgirls, browsed, petted cute animals, bought a wooden cat scratch pad, and took photos.

Seriously, none of the cats we saw looked even remotely happy. The dogs were, however, delighted to be there.

It was extremely crowded - actual traffic jams, not unlike Computex, made it hard to get around (plus all the dogs underfoot). I also found it hard, as it usually is. to take good photos of animals who aren't necessarily interested in cooperating - especially when I am the least interesting thing in their field of vision.

Even the pet expo has booth babes - these ladies worked for my client's booth.

Adorable sleeping sable. I was all "I could make a coat out of you!!" and the owner was all "Nooo!"

Mexican Food in Taipei: it's getting better!

"Oh, I don't know Mexican food. I only know American food, like tacos."
- my (Taiwanese) friend Michael

I love you, Hungry Girl, and Imma let you finish, but I decided to post this because, as much as I love your blog and what it does for the food scene in Taipei, I just can't abide a page on Mexican food including Chili's and Friday's. I'm sorry, I just can't. Many chain restaurants have things to recommend them, for example, the TGI Friday's in Reagan National Airport will serve you from the bar, anything you want, at 7am on a Sunday, and I love - sincerely, not ironically - the Happy China Buffet in Bangor, ME, but despite that, I am sorry, TGI Friday's does not offer "Mexican food" or even Tex Mex. Chili's has a stronger claim, but still, no. That's not guacamole, that's prepackaged crap from a plastic bag. At its heart it's an American chain restaurant, not "Mexican food". Even Jake's Country Kitchen, which claims to offer Mexican food, doesn't make the cut in my book because they're more famous these days for their fried chicken and their desserts than any cuisine that may have originated south of any given border.

Also, an update is in order as Eddy's has moved, Macho Tacos has expanded and Yuma is closed. It's worth it to check out the link above, though, because there are a few places on it I haven't tried. I haven't even seen them, so they're not listed here because I'm not sure they're still open.

So, not-so-humbly, I offer up my own suggestions for where to get OK, pretty OK, even good Mexican food in Taipei.

Eddy's Cantina

No.1, Alley 3, Lane 450, Zhongshan North Rd. Sec 6 (Tianmu)

Very well-known - what's less well-known is that their Danshui location is now permanently closed. Fortunately, the new main location is easier to get to, or as easy as anything in Tianmu is to get to (I don't go up there often due to insufficient MRT coverage) - I recommend eschewing the MRT and grabbing the 285 0r 685 bus to International Square and walking south, or grabbing the 902. You have a few other choices, as well.

I have to say that Eddy's is my favorite of the bunch, by the way. That's why it's first. Although Mayan Grill's drinks have a special place in my heart.

This place makes its own guacamole. It's not always available but when it is, it's fantastic. It's real, it's chunky, it's made fresh and tastes of its own fresh ingredients. A lot of other Mexican places squeeze a smoother, less real-tasting guac out of squeezey-tubes and that's just not OK with me.

The yellow cheese is clearly processed in some way, but the good white cheese and other flavors make up for it (although given a choice I'd take a more obviously real sharp cheddar, even though I realize that this is very Tex-Mex and real Mexican food isn't exactly heavy on the cheese).

Also, good margaritas and a strong beer selection. It's a good, casual place to go with friends.

Mayan Grill 
#6, Ln 65, Zhongshan N. Rd. Section 2 (near MRT Shuanglian/Zhongshan, behind Ambassador Hotel)

We have only been here once, and it was for a group event and came with a set meal, so I feel I can't rate this place fairly just yet. What we had was good, but it was at its core a set meal and I do believe that if we went on our own and ordered off the full menu we'd get something really memorable. They clearly put a lot of effort into good drinks: they top off the sangria with soda just before it's served so it won't be flat, and they use good tequila in their Mayan Margaritas, so I have high hopes for the food. The atmosphere is more high-end - this is where you might go for a small group dinner or a fancier date.

Macho Tacos
#3 Lane 126 Yanji Street / #15 Pucheng Street (Shi-da)

I've eaten at both the Yanji Street location and the Shi-da location. I was happy with the food at Yanji street: the salsa was good and fiery, the nachos were generous, the burrito filling. I got the soft tacos at Shi-da and found them dry, and the sour cream and guacamole had a too-smooth, liquid consistency when they should have been chunky and thick (the guac) or just thick and creamy (the sour cream). I intend to go back, though, to see if they've stepped up their game on the toppings. On the upside, they are generous with the jalapenos and as I said, the original location impressed me quite a bit. I hope to go back and have my mind changed about the Shi-da restaurant. Very informal setting. Good place to grab some spicy food and knock back a few Coronas, especially if you don't feel like going all the way up to Tianmu.

Jake's Country Kitchen
#705 Zhongshan N. Road Sec. 6 (Tianmu)

This place bills itself as "Mexican" Go here for fried chicken or their luscious-looking desserts, but don't come here for Mexican. It's very close to Eddy's (at least the location I know of), go there instead.

Tequila Sunrise
#42 Xinsheng S. Road Sec. 3 (Xinsheng and Xinhai Intersection)

I went here years ago and was sorely disappointed. I got a sizzling fajita platter, and it arrived not sizzling at all, in fact the meat and vegetables were a bit sad and limp. It wasn't spicy - it was barely even spiced. Pretty storefront and nice atmosphere but don't bother; the food isn't nearly as good as it needs to be.

That taco stand in Gongguan that I haven't been to yet
10-2 Lane 75, Xinsheng S. Road Sec. 3, next to Dako which used to be good (and sadly, isn't anymore)

...but I intend to try. It's there, it seems popular, it's tiny, it's clearly aimed at fast-food style eating, and I figured I should mention it. I'll come back and update here once I try it for myself.

#3 Alley 5 Lane 74, Wenzhou Street (Gongguan)

I don't know why I'm bothering - Bongo's has its strong points - wrap sandwiches, the sticky toffee pudding dessert, used books, cats. A lot to recommend it if you want a casual place to go and eat Western food with friends. Mexican food, however, is not one of them. I was really disappointed with their fare in this area: stick with some of their other menu items, instead. It wasn't spicy, it wasn't Tex-Mex cheesy, it wasn't sizzling, it was just meh.

Wednesday, July 11, 2012

The Eyes Have It

This photo has been making the Facebook rounds today - I got it from here:

For those not in Taiwan, the look on the left is the fake-lashes-and-heavy-eyeliner look that is popular among many Taiwanese women now. 

Most of the comments in the thread below are along the lines of "too exaggerated!" and "looks scary" - but I doubt they'd say that if both her eyes were done up that way. It's only jarring because just one of them is done. One person said "ah, makeup can give us self-confidence". What I wonder is how we can get self-confidence without having to wear makeup, so that makeup is an expression of confidence rather than a means to finding it.

These before/after, half/half makeover projects are fairly popular in Taiwan (as in the rest of the world) - this one is just more surprising because of the way it's portrayed.

I found myself feeling similarly about this picture as I do about other makeover photos, though, including those from my home country.

My comment in the thread of that photo (basically, the makeuped side looks like a Fembot) is harsher than it perhaps needed to be, but honestly, I do like the makeup-free side more. I do think it's more natural, and therefore, to my eyes, prettier. I don't think the fake eyelash, eye-enlarging contacts and black eyeliner look popular now actually makes girls look better. I do not think it is objectively more beautiful. To my taste, it does look kind of Fembotty - although I like what they did with her eyebrow. By my aesthetics (which I admit are just mine), she went from no makeup (fine!) to needing a makeunder.

But that's my taste - other than the health concerns surrounding those contact lenses, if that's how a girl wants to look, well, OK. Good for her, she can do what she wants, and I too occasionally wear makeup (although I don't wear it to try to alter my appearance so much as I use it as color art for my face, and occasionally cover zits if my acne is really out of control).

On the other hand, wouldn't it be great to live in a society with a beauty standard that did elevate natural beauty, where this woman's right side, with no makeup, would be considered the prettier one because it was the one that looked most like her real face? And if she wanted to do something fun, crazy or different she could do that, too? And wearing makeup for fun didn't help perpetuate beauty standards that pretty, average women couldn't possibly meet without makeup? So that wearing makeup was, you know, a choice rather than a social imperative?

I mean, whether or not any given woman decides to try to look like that (the makeuped side), that is the beauty standard currently making the rounds in Taiwan. That's what's held up as "pretty". That's what women - whether or not they go in for it - are being encouraged to emulate. I'll always be something of an outsider in Taiwan, and I don't mean to judge the local beauty standards too harshly - really, it isn't my decision - but I do feel that as a woman who is also subject to beauty ideals, I have the right to an opinion on this and a right to be bothered by it, and a right to wish that around the world, beauty was set less by makeup and more by nature.