Tuesday, May 27, 2008

Food, glorious food!

I love to talk about how delicious the food is here in Taiwan, which has lead some of my friends to (gently) demand, "Well, then, show us some pictures of what you eat!" OK, here they are. Click on the photos to see larger versions.

Of course, the best food is made at home. Here, Zenny and Marc have prepared a breakfast for us of congee (rice porridge) with various toppings, and pan-fried daikon. Unfortunately, I didn't get many photos of the food that Zenny and Marc prepared while I was staying with them.

If you watched my first apartment tour video, you saw the pathetic contents of my refrigerator. I'm happy to report that the situation has improved somewhat, as you see. I lived in my apartment for a week before I got the fridge, which necessitated eating out quite a bit. Since the fridge arrived, I've been trying to eat at home as much as possible. I still don't have a cooktop, but I've been managing with a steamer, coffee maker, and small toaster oven.

Many times I'll make some rice, and steam some frozen pork dumplings or meat-filled buns that I have in the freezer. Other times, like tonight, while the rice is steaming, I'll go to a local food stand and pick up something to go on top. While I write this, I'm eating what you see here: Tofu, fried squid, and flash-fried green beans & basil, over a bed of rice.

Saturday Marc and I went to Danshui, a seaport town north of Taipei City. There we had a local favorite, A-Gei (阿給 ah1 gei3)--transparent noodles stuffed into a tofu pocket, sealed with fish paste, and served with a spicy sauce. In the photo they've rendered it "arcade" in English. We also had the other items you see on the menu, fish ball soup (魚丸湯 yu2 wan2 tang1) and "tubular" rice cake (筒仔米糕 tong3 zi3 mi3 gao1).

For breakfast I'll usually have coffee (some habits never die) and some fruit and/or a steamed bun. Now that I have a toaster oven, I just bought some honest-to-goodness bagels in Taipei (and some cream cheese, of course). For the price of those bagels, they must have flown them in by First Class. I also occassionally visit a bakery down the street where I pick up items like this ham-cheese-onion stuffed pastry.

That's not to say that I don't junk it up. I always keep ice cream in the freezer. And, as of this writing, I've eaten at McDonald's twice. But even then, the menu items here are slightly different, so that you don't feel quite as bad eating corporate fast food. For example, this wrap from KFC has, in addition to the fried chicken, shredded cabbage and seaweed, giving it a Japanese twist.

You've probably noticed that a lot of the food here is deep fried. This is true, and to counteract that, I try to vary my meals with soups, other ethnic dishes, and those mouthwatering Taiwanese fruits. For lunch on this day, I paired the fried chicken wings and sweet potato with bubble tea and my favorite fruit, 蓮霧 (lian2 wu4).

The variety of ethnic groups living and visiting here, along with the Taiwanese desire to be more cosmopolitan, means that the choice of food seems endless. I've been here 6 weeks and already I've eaten Taiwanese, Chinese, Japanese, Thai, Korean, Vietnamese, Italian, Indian, and, yes, American food. German, French, Mexican, Indonesian, and many others still await. Also exciting for a food fanatic like me are the unusual varieties not found in the U.S. Just the other day I found, not one, but many brands of starfruit juice for sale at the local market. And why they don't offer pomelo-flavored Sprite in the US is a mystery to me.

Thursday, May 22, 2008

In defense of chopsticks

Thanks to my friend Leslie for sending me the following photos. The pictures are real, and you can read more of the story at Snopes.com (http://www.snopes.com/photos/medical/forknose.asp)

Two days later...

Here's what happened...

Wednesday, May 21, 2008

My trip to the nightmarket

Here's a video of my first trip to Taoyuan City's night market. I added subtitles in case it's hard to hear me.

Be on the watch for part 2, my bus trip back home (and I get on the wrong bus!)

Night market in Taoyuan 桃園 觀光 夜市

I'm baaack...

I've been in Taiwan now 5 weeks, so I guess it's about time I start making some regular blog entries.

So today I had my first experience with a squat toilet. Actually, that's not quite true. Way back in 1982, when I spent a month in Europe, I encountered one of these beasts in a train station in Italy. How appropriate then that, 26 years later, I meet up with my old friend, once again, in a train station.

I went to Taipei today to turn in the paperwork to get my Residence Visa. It was when I got off the train at Taipei Main Station that my morning coffee decided to kick in. I made a mad dash to the nearest restroom, found one stall unoccupied, and grabbed it fast, since time was of the essence. I quickly discovered that my porcelain throne was more a porcelain foot tub, but there was no backing out at this point. Thank God I followed everyone's pre-arrival advice and had tissues with me, or I might have left the stall sans t-shirt. (I almost had to do the shirt-as-TP trick in Italy too, but I'll leave that story for another time)

I'd have to say, though, without getting too graphic, that squat toilets aren't all that bad. When you consider the general feng shui of human anatomy, those gaping holes in the ground do make sense. I mean, what do you do when you go camping? (I mean real, no-running-water, no-porta-potty, camping) You do what those bears in the woods do, right? (I mean real, non-animated, non-Charmin-Tissue-spokesmen bears)

While my meeting with the squat toilet was a bit surprising, my experience at the Bureau of Consular Affairs was utterly painless. I was in and out of there in a half hour. If anyone reading this has been to a big city Dept. of Motor Vehicles, you know just how incredible a half hour in a government office is. I go back on the 30th to pick up my visa, then off to get my ARC, which is my golden ticket to a bank account, cell phone service, etc.

I met up with Marc and Zenny in Zhonghe and we had lunch at a nice little Japanese place. Had some sushi and unagi and tempura, yummy! They were doing some kind of photo shoot at the place, I assume for advertising, and they asked Marc and me if we would be in some pictures. They pointedly did not want Zenny in the shots--a dok a's only! Guess we know who they're aiming their advertising dollars at.

I've been having problems uploading videos to both YouTube and MySpaceTV, so I may try it here too, just for Gits & Shiggles.

Saturday, May 3, 2008

New job and new apartment

Man, I really must keep this more up-to-date.

Briefly, I got a job in Taoyuan City, which is about an hour from where I'm staying in Zhonghe. I'm moving there this weekend. I'll write more once I have internet service in my apartment, or when I'm at an internet cafe. I'll be busy, though, for the next few days.