Saturday, January 31, 2009

An Old Wedding Picture

1/21/09 Dad's sister Aunt Tsui-Mei and Uncle Ga-Lock moved to their new mansion--and a mansion it is. Dad and I were invited for dinner; Mom couldn't go as she had other plans that evening.

The house certainly is beautiful, as expected. The view was fantastic and I felt like I was in a Hollywood movie, wondering around in and out of different rooms to admire the spectacular decors. Dad and I agreed that the swimming pool reminded us of the Hearst Castle's swimming pool.

While looking around, the one thing that caught my eyes was not so much the chandeliers or the paintings, but this old weddin picture of Aunt Tsui-Mei and Uncle Ga-Lock. They were so young and happy looking. I've only seen Aunt Tsui-Mei clad in luxurious and well-coordinated outfits with, shall we say, sufficient amount of makeup; and Uncle Ga-Lock in, uh, uncle-like outfits. It was surprising to see them in their early 20s in the wedding picture. The happy glow of their faces were incredibly beautiful. I couldn't help to snatch a digital photo of it. It's a touching moment to see this picture for me. Aunt Tsui-Mei in her elegant bridal ware, with her typical Wun's slender eyes, the wide forehead, and the round chin; and Uncle Ga-Lock with his handsomely chiseled nose and thick brows. I tried to imagine their happy thoughts at the moment of taking this picture. They were looking forward to a life together, but they wouldn't have known they were to have five children who would grow up to be kind and talented individuals, and 10 beautiful grand children.

They are still happy looking after 50-some years, and now that I've seen this picture, everytime I see Aunt Tsui-Mei and Uncle Ga-Lock, I see the younger them montaging over their faces now with all the hopes in their eyes. Except now I also see fulfilled happiness in their eyes.

Aunt Sherry's Hot Spring Apartment

1/20/09 Taipei is known for its abundant hot springs with therapeutic effects. There are many bath houses in northern part of the City. Lately there are also hot spring residences and hot spring apartments in the suburbs.

Aunt Sherry's hot spring residence is a cute small condo near the coast of Ba-Li District in northern Taipei county (think of the Marina/Fisherman's Wharf District of San Francisco.) She took me there in the afternoon just to show me around.

Ba-Li is a nice little area, on the left bank of Tamsui River, which is the river that goes through Taipei basin. Tamsui River goes into the Taiwan straight right from the area nearing Tamsui and Ba-Li, as such there are some swamp lands right near the river mouth. The mangrove trees are quite pretty to look at, actually. One can see them even just riding on the MRT looking out the window.

I have never been to a hot spring condo, so I didn't know what to expect. WELL, the condo is acutally in a resort hotel-like high rise building. The security guards greeted us and showed us around the building and all its public facilities which is accessible to all residents of the building--includin reading room, gym, hot spring spa, sauna, steam room, entertainment rooms, and so on.

The condo itself is decorated very exquisitely. Aunt Sherry showed me the bathroom. For a small one-bedroom condo (only about 800 SQ FT), the bathroom is certainly beautiful and spacious!! The bathtub is extremely large and the hot water source is local sulpheric hot spring. Quite delux, one might say!!

No one lives here; Aunt Sherry and Uncle William just come here once in a while whenever they need a rest or a little bit of getaway. It certainly is a nice little relaxing spot. Aunt Sherry is thinking of renting it out and I get to manage the rental for her. Anyone interested, please contact me!!

After seeing the place we walked around the complex--the view from the riverbank is serene and gorgeous. From here one can see Tamsui and all the lights twinkling on the river water.

Aunt Sherry and Uncle William kept telling me to come here and use the condo whenever I want. How LUCKY I am!! Now that's Taiwan to me. Everyone is just over the top nice and kind. Thank you Aunt Sherry and Uncle William!! You Da Best!!!

Friday, January 30, 2009

Danzai Noodle House

1/19/09 After the massage, good food was in order. I was taken to a traditional Taiwanese noodle house to have "danzai" noodle.

Danzai noodle is a soupy bowl of noodle with braised pork topping, usually only sold on noodle stands on the streets. The word "danzai" literally means the noodle cart on the street. It originated from the city of Tainan, in southwestern Taiwan. However this restaurant where we had dinner has modified the taste of Tanan danzai noodle to suit the northern Taiwanese palette. The Haoji (pronounced "How Gee") danzai noodle house is located in one of the more historic districts in Taipei. It has been around for only 10 years but it looks like a store with a lot more history.

The store is decorated in a nostalgic old Taiwanese style from the 1940s and 50s. There are indoor seating or seats straight on the streets. One can also choose from dozens of sample dishes displayed right outside the store. This was an excellent experience in sampling some of the down home Taiwanese local flavors. It seems the composition of their client base is mostly locals or Japanese tourists. Well, I certainly felt somewhat of a tourist at this unique restaurant.

We had noodles, veggies, soy sauce and garlic-marinated clams, and this excellent steamed guord dish. Everything was delicious and it certainly was a great ending to a great day...

Sunday, January 25, 2009

Happy Chinese New Year

While I'm still catching up with posts on various over the last week or so, I do want to wish all my friends and family out there a Happy Chinese New Year!!

May the year of the OX bring everyone good health, good fortune, and lots of happiness.

Saturday, January 24, 2009

Thai Massage

1/19/09 I love massage. There are plenty of options in massages in Taiwan. There are foot massage parlors, 24-hour walk in parlors, "blind people" massage parlors--and yes, advertised as so--where the visually impared are often sent to massage schools by their families and then placed in massage places that employ only visually impared massage therapists. This is a pretty traditional practice that has been around for years, since massage therapy is a job that does not necessarily require the ability to see. Then there's day spas of all kinds; and then there's Thai massage, which came from Thailand, of course, and has caught on in Taiwan since Thailand is so close and Thai massage is so wonderful!!!

The Thai massage I received today was the first massage since returning to Taiwan. Again, this was compliments of my dear friend V. I'm spoiled rotten by friends and family here. Dad says that this is my Taiwan honeymoon; let's see how long this streak of luck lasts.

V and I stepped into the nicely appointed spa, and were ushered to the nice seats to have our feet scrubbe and washed. I felt like a princess already!

After having our feet carefully attended to, we were taken to a room with two mattresses on the floor, with television sets hanging from the ceiling. We changed into the pajama sets provided by the spa, each took a mattress and laid down and started watching TV. This is relaxing aleady!!

Soon thereafter, my massage therapist came in. V and I each requested a Thai massage therapist from Thailand--I have no particular preference but V is convinced that the Thai massage therapists--as opposed to Taiwanese ones--give better and more authentic massages. As such I went with her arrangement b/c she's a regular customer here.

My massage therapist came in and I greeted her with the only Thai word I know of: "sawadeeka", meaning "hello". She started kneadind me with all kinds of techniques and soon I was so relaxed I fell asleep. During the sleepy two hours I remember being bent in pretty interesting ways--as in I have no idea human body or my body could be as flexible as such. I was awaken again when my massage therapist needed to stretch me. I was asked to sit up, put hands on back of my head, and off she went sttttrrrrreeeeeetttcccchhhhhiiinnnnngggg me like a piece of dough. I heard my spine crack loudly although I felt no pain.

Hmmmm~that was total relaxation, for sure.

Here's the website of Siam Spa which I visited:

Friday, January 23, 2009

Playing Er-Hu at the Tea House


Friend V took me to a Chinese tea house for lunch. I was so pleasantly surprised with the unique look of the place. Who would've thought that there's such a cute place in such a non-descript alley? The tea house is of a Ming Dynasty Chinese feel in its interior decoration. The window frames, tables, and chairs were very traditional looking; I felt as if I've stepped into a different era.
The food was delicious and well presented. The tea was also aromatic and smooth to the taste. But what caugnt my eyes were the two Er-Hu's (pronounced "uh-rrr-hu") hanging on the wall.
Transliterally, "Er" means "two", and "Hu" means "barbarian"--yah, barbarian. The name clearly indicates that the instrument has two strings, and is from outside of China originally, most likely central or western Asia. However, seeing that this instrument has been around in China for over a thousand years, let's just say it's pretty much considered a Chinese instrument.
The owner of the place saw me looking at the Er-Hu's, so he took one off the wall and had me try it out. Well, I just knew at some point those violin lessons I took would come in handy!!
Er-Hu is a wonderful sounding string instrument. I wouldn't mind coming back here to give it another try. The owner said he would give me a few free lessons...

Finally, the Concert...


While in the US of A before my return to Taipei, I found out that Natsukawa Miri, one of my favorite singers was holding a concert on January 17th in Taipei. I asked my friend V to go with me; and V was so generous that this ended up being a treat to me!!

We met up at the MRT station near my place, and then trained into the Eastern District of Taipei.
East Taipei has become quite the neuvo downtown. During my childhood years, Western Taipei was all the rage. I still remember Mom taking us to the bookstores or shopping arcades in Western Taipei. But now, with Taipei 101 (the tallest building in the world) located in Eastern Taipei, this area has become the more happening part of TPE, and it definitely exudes that worldly metropolitan feel. I almost did not recognize my way even though I worked around here for two years on assignment in the mid-90s. Thanks to V we found our way in no time whatsoever.

We walked briskly towards the Taipei Convention Center, which was where the concert was; but this being my first chance to go by Taipei 101 since my return, we stopped to snatch a few pictures. I can't really quite explain why a tall building makes me proud, but yes, I'm pretty darn proud that I'm standing looking right at the tallest building in the world, and it's right here in my hometown of Taipei, a short MRT ride away. It's an awesome sight at night, with all the lights on. I couldn't help glancing up at the building as I walked down the street!
At the Convention Center, we bypassed all the venders selling those glow-in-the-dark wands, rushed upstairs, got to our seats and eagerly awaited the start of the concert.
The singer we were there to see was Natsukwa Miri, who is a Japanese singer originally from Okinawa, Japan. She is from the Ishigaki Island, which is so close to Taiwan that on a good day supposedly one can see Taiwan from Ishigaki with bare eyes.
Natsukawa has a beautiful crystal-clear voice and she sings with such moving emotions that I fell in love with her songs the first time I heard her. She sings Japanese pop, folk songs, as well as songs from the islands of Okinawa. Cliche as it may be, I do like best the one song that is Natsukawa's claim to fame, that everyone else also likes, which is "Nada Sou Sou". This is a song written by my all-time-favorite Japanese folk song singer Moriyama Ryoko. I went to Moriyama Ryoko's concert in the Bay Area at Yoshi's a few years ago hoping she would sing this song. She sang many wonderful songs that day, but not this one. I could only listen to it on her CD. It's such a treat that I get to listen to Natsukawa sing this beautiful tune live--and I know she would. The song Nada Sou Sou was written by Moriyama in memory of her older brother who died at the young age of 23. It truly is a beautiful song and I never tire of listening to it.
The concert started pretty much on time and Natukawa's sweet voice filled the entire convention center. Everyone was quiet and mesmerized. When she finally sang Nada Sou Sou, it was so moving my friend V started crying!!
Natsukawa talked to the audience in between songs. She talked about how she liked Taiwan; introduced her newly wedded husband who is the drummer on stage; and talked about the songs and their meanings, and so on. One can tell she's a woman of very sweet but lively nature. The last few songs were Okinawan songs, and the Okinawans are known for their festive and fun-loving nature. Natsukawa got the entire audience of several thousand people to stand up and sing and dance with her to the Okinawan tunes. The singer told the audience to carry away and not worry about the person in the next seat looking at you funny...and the audience was really cooperative. As far as I could see the entire convention center was really into the Okinawan song and dance. What a sight!
After the concert, seeing that we were in the neighborhood, we went to the Grand Hyatt Hotel where I have many treasured memories because I spent so much time there back when I was living in Taipei. Had a few (too many...blush) drinks and some snacks at the Cheers bar and hopped into a taxi to get home, thus concluding a perfect evening.
Natsukawa Miri's website:

Thursday, January 22, 2009

The Economic Stimulus Coupons Are Here!!


The news of the week in Taiwan would be the issuance of the ecnomic stimulus shopping coupons by the Taiwan Government. The coupons are coming and everyone's excited about them. Mom and Dad were eagerly awaiting the notification slip in the mail. The first thing out of everyone's mouth seems to be: "Have you gone to get the coupons yet?" It seems this economy stimulus policy would at least make people happy for a day or two amidst the dismal news one sees each day.
I too was thinking that I made it back just in time to get the coupons. ALAS!! I am not eligible for the coupons due to the fact that I have not "resided" to Taiwan over the last two years. As such my household registration expired and I was not considered a valid resident at my household when the government counted heads for coupon issuance. Boohoo. Nevertheless, I still benefited from the coupons disseminated by the government. How? Well, in the most quintessential Taiwanese way--I was taken to a great meal by Aunt Pauline.
Aunt Sherry, M and I showed up at Aunt Pauline's around 5pm as planned; and we sat around and chit chatted until it was time to go to dinner. Aunt Pauline took us to the Jily (pronounced "jee-lee") Restaurant which has been around in the Pan Chiao district in Taipei County for the last 40 years under the same ownership.
The food at the restaurant is a fusion of tranditional Taiwanese seafood fare with Japanese influence. We tried to order a light and healthy combination of dishes, and were quite successful at it. The meal started with an Asian seafood salad, which was beautifully presented and tangy and refreshing; then we had a brothy tofu dish, a huge piece of grilled Spanish Mackerel, and a drunken chicken cold cut platter; and I also ordered an asparagus and shrimp temaki sushi roll.
Even though we were in our own compartment when eating, one could tell that the entire restaurant is packed and everyone is in this joyous mood. According to Aunt Pauline this has not been the case for a while no matter where you go in Taipei. Well, I'm glad the stimulus coupons put everyone in a good mood, and that I got a great meal out of it even though I didn't get any myself!!

Church on Sunday


My friend M, whom I met in Poland two years ago, has moved back to Taiwan as of last year. She asked me to meet on Sunday and to go with her to her church. I thought it would be a good idea so we made plans to meet early the first Sunday upon my return to Taiwan.

M's church is called Change Life Church, and is an evangelical covenant church. I seldom visited an evangelical church, so I was pretty excited to see the service knowing it would be pretty festive.

The church is a good 20 minutes by MRT from my home. M and I met at the nearest MRT station, and a short stroll later we arrived at the church.

I was surprised by how modern the church looked like. From the street level the entrance is modern and simple looking. Once I entered the church from the staircase sprialing downward, I was taken by surprise how spacious the church was! The congregation currently numbers 500, which is sizeable; it felt like the total number of people who showed up for the service were many more than 500.

This is truly one of the most beautiful churches I have seen. Not in that it is solemn or awesome in scale at all; but rather the design of the space is so pleasant and different--it's very contemporary and modern, in elegant soft earthy tones. On the podium, there are some gigantic orchid plants. I felt quite at home upon stepping into this space. Those serving as ushers and greeters were dressed in soft pink and blue sweaters. The entire place is color-cordinated to the tee!

The service started with beautiful hymns and a really great band (!) on stage. There were some large projectors on the walls and on the pillars throughout the church. Everyone sang along. There was a lot of clapping and exclamation throughout the service. One might say it was a really cheerful experience! The surmon that day was really humorous and interesting, too. Time passed pretty fast didn't feel like the entire service took 2 hours whatsoever.

After the service, M took me around to introduce me to various people from the congregation. I was very intriqued by how young the congregation seemed. Many are in their early 20s. I was greeted very warmly and soon I was invited to all kinds of church activities...we shall see how this pans out.

After the service it was time to eat. The lunch was simple but superbly delicious. Then there's the birthday celebration, so I partook a slice of the birthday cake--mmm, cake.

This was quite an experience and I may say I quite enjoyed it. What do you know!! Since then I have received several other invites to other churches. It should be interesting.

Change Life Church website:

Wednesday, January 21, 2009

Yingge, the Ceramics Town


After several hours of doodling in San-Shia, P and I decided to move on to Yingge, a town 10 minutes drive away from San-Shia. Yingge is famous the entire Island over for its fine ceramics and procelain products. We went to the downtown area and saw various b-e-a-u-t-i-f-u-l ceramics goods, especially fine china tableware. It made me think of my own kitchen back in the US of A and I itched to pick up a tea cup, a bowl, a something that I can bring with me as a souvenior for today's outting. Alas, I cannot buy anything right now lest we run out of space that the kitchen here at home is cramped as it is.

Curiously I didn't take any pictures while in Yingge; perhaps due to the fact that the main street in Yingge was not as scenic as San-Shia; and then one is not allowed to take pictures inside of these stores.

Still we had a lot of fun walking down the street, hitting every store and browsing through various kinds of dishes, tea pots, vases, art pieces, wall hangings...and various porcelain things.

I found that the Yingge Township has an excellent website. It's worth a visit.

Tuesday, January 20, 2009

A Day's Outting in the Town of San-Shia III

After the Li Mei-Shu Memorial Museum, P made the executive decision for us to visit the Old Town. Old Town San-Shia consists of several criss crossing old streets, with Taiwanese style buildings dating 300 years back. The row houses are historical looking yet modernly outfitted on the inside. The shops are nicely displayed. I was really stunned by this unique sight.

P took me to a store which was a furniture and home furnishing store. We went inside and pleasantly discovered further the beauty of the old house. The interior is narrow and long; however the lighting and the cleverly positioned windows make it so that the interior of the house was bright and cheerful looking.

We went up to the second floor and third floor, and I caught a few pictures of the rooftop of the streets at P's suggestion. This was indeed a very memorable sight!

The Old Town of San-Shia has not always been this pleasant to look at. The Taipei County government made a real effort to preserve this area. The entire Old Town area was practically "re-designed" to ensure the authentic look and feel of the old days. This was particularly obvious when one looks at the man hole covers for the sewage and underground electric cables. All the covers bear artistic designs echoing the surroundings. P helped me identify every single different cover and I now have a nice collection of pictures of San-Shia Old Town Man Hole Covers.

A Day's Outting in the Town of San-Shia II

After the Zu-Shi-Yeh Temple, I wanted to visit the Artist Li Mei-Shu's Memorial Museum. It is across the San-Shia Bridge, away from the old town. A short stroll later, we arrived at the Memorial Museum. The entrance fee was NT$100 per person = USD$3.30 or so. The museum is small, quiet and nicely appointed inside.

We stepped in and entered the time capsule. Li was born in 1902, during which time Taiwan was still under Japanese rule. There was a small display of his personal belongings, including his homework exercise books, letters, clothing, family photos, all of which reflected the nostelgic old romantic times. He was the first and leading realist oil painter of his times and I was very touched by how his paintings were not only beautiful but also full of emotions.

Some of the paintings were unbelieveably realistic. The one I loved the most was of a woman by the creek, looking straight ahead and smiling, the ray of the sun twinkled on the water and the woman's glistening face. The picture was so realistic looking you can almost hear the creek water splashing.

Another painting was of a few women sitting in a traditional Taiwanese shredded ice dessert house (the equivalence of a gelato or ice cream parlor) relaxing. It reminds me very much of my own childhood years when my mom and aunts would dress exactly as the ladies in the painting.

We slowly perused all the paintings and displays, took a long rest on the chair in the waiting room savoring the quiet and cool air, before exiting the museum into the raucous street again.

Monday, January 19, 2009

A Day's Outting in the Town of San-Shia

1/17/09 My friend P and I decided to drive to some scenic towns in Taipei County for the day. P picked me up at the MRT station nearest to southern Taipei County, which is at the end of the blue line, and a good 50 minutes ride from my home. However the Taipei MRT is a kick to be on, and with my newly loaded iPod, the ride was more than enjoyable.

P was there to pick me up at the MRT station, as planned. We hopped into his car and the road trip was off to a good start.

We decided to go to the town of San-Shia first, which is on the very southern end of the Taipei County. I've been to San-Shia only once about 20 years ago (!!) with a highschool girlfriend who is from there. The last visit left a rather faint impression, so I'm glad to be visiting again. San-Shia is known for its historical old-town area, and the national historical heritage site of the "Zu-Shi-Yeh" Temple, boasting exquisite carvings and sculptures througout the entire building. The town is also the birthplace of one of Taiwan's premier artist Li Mei-Shu. There was much to see and enjoy in just a few hours.

We first went to the downtown area for lunch. The narrow and winding streets were extremely congested and no one was going anywhere. There were also police everywhere. Soon we figured out the reason. On top of the weekend tourist crowd, the Taiwanese President Ma was visiting the town for the day. In fact his cars passed right before us. We were lucky to have found an excellent parking spot, which was directly opposite from the restaurant where the President was having lunch that day. Everyone around was excited. Commotion everywhere. We decided to go further away from the crowd to have a simple lunch. P took charge of ordering and I just sat back and thoroughly enjoyed yet another simple but delicious Taiwanese fare. We had some rice with soy pork toppings, some regional specialty fish dumpling soup, marinated bamboo shoots, and stir-fried vegetables. Especially, there's a soupy Milk Fish dish cooked in broth with herbs--mmm~mmm~good. We sectioned off the fish and dipped it in wasabi and soy sauce. My gosh. Fish here is so incredibly fresh and delicious, it makes all these years of eating frozen seafood in the States a rather terrible tragedy!!

After lunch we walked to the Zu-Shi-Yeh Temple which was only a bit further up the road. The temple was stunningly beautiful. The temple was first built in 1769 and has gone through continuous renovation and supposedly it is still not completed to this day--one of those stories that parallels that of the Sagrada Familia in Barcelona. The most recent round of renaissance renovation was as an effort of Li Mei-shu (1902 - 1983,) a famous and pioneering Taiwanese artist from San-Shia. Li spent much of his life raising funds and working with the artisans who turned this temple into the masterpiece that it is. His family continued the effort after he's gone.

We strolled along the walkways in the temple, then went up to the second floor where we looked down at the people worshipping quietly and devoutly at the main offering table. The atmosphere inside the temple is one that is peaceful and serene. while we enjoyed a quiet moment, the ornate marbled and gold-leafed architecture and carvings glisten in the sun, making my eyes quite busy at the same time. It was a very interesting spiritual experience all in itself.

Sunday, January 18, 2009

DA-AN Park


The Da-An Park is one of my favorite parks in Taipei. I still remember when the park was first built 20 years ago, when the trees were still barren looking and the park had no shades throughout. Now, the trees are nicely grown in.

I met up with Aunt Lisha here this morning. Aunt Lisha is Mom's youngest sister and one of my favorite people in the world. One of the most comforting things about returning to Taiwan is that I know I'm always that little niece in Aunt Lisha's eyes no matter how old I am... :-)

To go to Da-An Park from home, I took the bus #606 which has a stop right outside of the Taipei European School, which is 1 minute by foot from my front door. The bus stops are well marked, albeit entirely in Chinese. I wonder how overseas visitors who are English-speaking only would get around!?
I arrived at Da-An park early and saw some kids dancing to the music of the Carpenter's "Wait a Minute Mr. Post Man" on the outdoors music concourse. Super hilarious. Before the song and dance of the kindergarteners were over, Aunt Lisha and her youngest daughter, my lovely cousin Young-En showed up already. It's good to see them. We chatted and had breakfast on the bench first; then went on our way to see the flower show within the Park. There are squirrels and birds playing amongst the trees and bamboos; people exercising at the park; the sun was out and the temperature most ideal. It's a beautiful day indeed.

The 2009 Taipei Flower Show is ongoing at the park. So many potted flowers and small gardens and vignettes are on display; quite nice to look at. Among the flower displays, the most impressive to me were the massive crysanthemum flowers. One plant would produce as many as 400 flowers. Amazing!!
After walking around the park and seeing all the gorgeous floral displays, we headed to see Uncle Sydney, the husband of my aunt Jenny who passed 20 years ago. He is a retired Reverend and has moved back from Canada after retirement. Uncle Sidney now works in Taiwan fully on a volunteer basis for the church. Uncle Sidney's office was very nice; he looked like he was hard at work. We spent a bit of time chit chatting there, before making our way to the National Taiwan University Campus.
At the National Taiwan University we had some coffee and had a great lunch. I asked to have something with lots of veggies as I was feeling a bit deprived of vegetables. Aunt Lisha made an excellent choice and took me to what I can best describe as the Chinese Vegetable Bar. The restaurant is within the Student Activity Center on campus; and is one of the many that are housed in the middle of the center's food court. An enormous buffet bar with countless choices of things were present. I picked mostly vegetable dishes; but also a mackeral fish with head and tail and everything intact. It was a delicious lunch. As usual, the entire meal was but a couple of dollars. After the meal we headed back to Lisha's home and I caught up with some family photos and more chit chatting, before catching another bus ride to go home. All told, a very relaxing day indeed.

Street Foods II

In Taiwan, there are many, many, many kinds of cheap eats that are sold primarily on the streets, and rarely in formal restaurants. One of the things that I have been most looking forward to is to catch up on all these foods that can only be had in Taiwan, and on the streets. Ask any Taiwanese, and he or she will recount for you right off the bat over twenty kinds of mouth-watering varieties of street foods. Street foods are firmly and deeply a part of the culture.
Earlier this evening, my friend Robert and I went to the Shih-Pai Central Market two MRT stations away from my home, where we ordered up a storm at one of the hole-in-the-wall eateries.
Robert and I couldn't decide on what to have, so we ordered one each of stir-fried rice noodle (its name in Mandarin is pronounced "chao-mi-fen"); traditional meat dumplings in thickened broth (better known and pronounced as "row-gun" in Mandarin); rice with soy braised shredded pork topping ("lu-row-fan"), and "tempura" (tem-pu-ra).

The stir-fried rice noodles ("chao-mi-fen") are famous and popular as a snack rather than a formal staple served as a meal. My mother's family is originally from the city of Hsin-Chu, which is 1 hour south of Taipei by car, and is famous for two things: the science park which accounts for such a huge portion of Taiwan's IT product-based GDP, and secondly but not less famously, the rice noodles. Growing up, Mom frequently made this dish for us at home. Today we ordered one huge servings for the grand price of US$1.5 dollars.

The "row-gun" soup is a nice, steaming hot dumpling dish in thickened soup base, with profusely fragrant herb topping. I love it and have attempted to make it in the States by myself--to miserable failure. For some reason these street stands make these specific dishes so much better than one can at home; and they just seem to taste better if you eat them sitting down on a little stool on the streets...
Another all-time-popular local dish is the "Lu-Row-Fan", which is white steamed rice with savory but sweet soy sauce-braised shredded pork topping. A huge bowl of it is US$1.5 dollars, and it's so filling I couldn't even make a dent in it.
Lastly, here's a dish that I enjoyed tremendously--the dish that is referred to in Taiwan as "tempura". When one goes to a Japanese restaurant, "tempura" refers to prawns or vegetables in pieces, battered fried to golden crunchy exterior. Here in Taiwan, on the streets, "tempura" is essentially fish cake drenched in this red spicy sweet sauce.

The fish cake is much similar to the Thai fish cake, or the Japanese Satsuma-Age. But the perfectly steamed fish cake with the red sauce topping makes it a refreshing snack to have that hits the spot when I get just a tiny bit hungry in the afternoon...I don't know why the fish cake is called "tempura" here. It is perhaps one of those misnomers that remained since the Japanese occupation times.

Due to the diet that I am still on (yeah, it's hard, but I'm trying!!) Robert finished about 2/3 of the entire portion. Still, both of us walked away completely stuffed. Those were US$8 dollars well spent.

Thursday, January 15, 2009

Fancy Dinner

The first full day in Taiwan ended with an invitation to a dinner banquet held at a restaurant 2 minutes away on foot from my parents' place. This is a fancy dinner indeed!! The restaurant is quite nice and we were seated in a banquet room housing 2 tables, each can seat 10 people. So there were about 20 people at the party. It was the year-end party of the Rotary Club's Taiwan Multidistrict Youth Exchange Program Committee, of which Dad is an active member.

The food was really great--it was Chinese food but with some fusion cooking methods. We had stir-fried bamboo shoots, lamb chop grilled with herb crusting, shrimp salad with Asian vegetables, cherry shrimp with chive, and several other delicious dishes. I was very full and did not have room for desserts which were fruits and cute little pastries with red bean fillings (which I am not too fond of to start with, but everyone else in the whole continent of Asia seems to like.)We had individual portions of 10 dishes served to us; wine, tea and the Chinese liquor; aged "Shao Shing" was served. Shao Shing was served warm in a small decanter, and then in shot glasses. I had a few shots in bottoms-up style at the urging of a few "uncles". Hm. Carb. Sugar. Not good for diet. But hey, I gotta do the socially acceptable thing.

I had a great time talking to the "uncles" and the "aunts"--that's how I generally refer to Mom and Dad's friends. As one can imagine, in the rather Joy Luck Club fashion, somehow the conversation turned to who at the table has grown children who are not yet married. An awkward moment occurred when the aunts and uncles found out that I am single and just landed in Taipei not even 24 hours prior. Those seated at the table were quite eager to see to it that I am married off, and started giving all kinds of advice--now, I truly feel that I'm back in Taiwan. That's when the lady Mrs. Lee sitting next to me starting to give me all kinds of very specific advice. Well, at the very least I got the telephone number and address of her hair stylist who supposedly is EXTREMELY good and can make me look very glamorous. We shall see.

Wednesday, January 14, 2009

The Street Food

1/14/09 marks the first day of my new life in Taipei...

Surprisingly, I woke up at a decent hour at 7:00am. A good night's sleep is essential in getting over the jetlag. After breakfast, Coco, my long time family friend, and I met up at the MRT (Massive Rapid Transit) station. We took the MRT to her office, where we chatted and sat for a while. I have to say, the Taipei MRT is just so awesome. It's clean and efficient. Not only is the service punctual, smooth, and just generally good; it's cheap, too! I rode way across the city at NT$24 dollars, which is 80 cents in US dollars. It took me about 2 transfers, and only 30 minutes!!

Coco's office is set up differently from what I'm used to in the States. But the office is nice and bright, with some desks, and two conference room areas. Out the window, the Taipei street scene looked a bit grim on this cold winter day. But for some reason I couldn't stop looking out the window at the not-so-pretty sight. It must have been the "welcome to Taiwan" honeymoon sensation.

For lunch I was taken to the street stand right around the corner, for the mini personalized hot pot, and the soy sauce braised goodies generally and collectively referred to as "Lu Wei" (pronounced "loo-way"--no pun intended...) I picked the seafood tomato hot pot bowl, without cellophane noodles, but with seafood, to go; It been a while since I've had lu wei, therefore I went a little crazy at the stall and ordered a bunch of different things.

The hot pot stall guy was super efficient. There were a lot of phoned-in orders coming to this tiny little street vendor. There are 8 pots in the making on make-shift stove ranges at any given time; and there are rows of all these assembled bits of ingredients that can be customized upon the customers' request. With amazing speed and precision, our lunches were made and packed beautifully, and we were on our way. The pot was NT$90; for a little shy of $2 dollars I've got a great steaming pot of tomatoes and seafood made to my order.

The lu wei we picked cost about $3 dollars and it was a big bowl's worth of hodge-podge, including broccoli, seaweed, bean sprouts, dried tofu curds, and chicken blood-infused sticky rice squares--yes indeed, just as it sounds, and one of my favorites despite the shock factor for non-Chinese population. Sanitation concerns? As far as I can see, it's no worse than a picnic. Especially, all foods are cooked and packed right on premise. Sure there are some germs; maybe even dust. But as far as I can remember, I have not ever gotten sick on street food; and I can never bring myself to ban street foods because, gosh darn it, they are just that good.

That was a satisfying meal at a very low cost. The only thing I would do differently would be to carry around my own container so that the vendors don't use plastic ware--at least with me.


My homeward-bound journey started smoothly on January 12, 2009. After 17 hours of flying, with a transit stop in Tokyo, I arrived in Taipei, safely and in one piece, all luggages intact. On the way I enjoyed 3 movies, 3 meals and a very pleasant conversation along the way with my new friend and next-seat neighbor Bob, a global account manager for a semi-conductor manufacturing equipment supplier. Off to a good start already!

Dad was there to pick me up at the airport and was happy to see me. He was afraid it was going to be too cold for me with Taiwan in the midst of a severe cold front and advised me to wait inside the terminal; however it was too warm for me inside the terminal and I decided to wait outside. I had with me the same down jacket that I wore to Alaska--and Taipei couldn't possibly be colder than Ketchikan! The temperature was 8C Celsius upon arrival--which is considered extremely cold in Taiwan. I found it a bit chilly, but rather refreshing and pleasant, especially after the long stuffy flight.

I find Taiwan a slightly different place each time I return--that's always good; it means the economy is moving forward. This time, I arrived at the new building--Terminal II of the Taoyuan Airport. To start off, I saw a tomato-headed mannequin sitting and using a laptop, with signs indicating that there is free Wi-Fi at the airport. Well!! That's a good and new thing. Free Wi-Fi at the airport!! I like it in Taipei already. Last I checked at the SFO airport there was NO free Wi-Fi--in fact there is no free anything at the SFO!!

Got home, was late, went to bed. That concluded my first night in Taipei.