From Beijing with Love

Dir: Lik-Chi Lee and Stephen Chow
Long said to one of Chow’s best, I finally found a copy of “From Beijing with Love”
at one of Chia-yi’s CD stores for about three bucks. Here Chow plays a pork butcher who has been waiting years and years for an assignment from China’s spy agency, despite having a large red “rejected” stamp in his files. Yet, as we see, he’s a dab hand with his curved meat cleaver, which he keeps in a holster. The film is–obviously–a parody of James Bond, with a Jaws-like villain, a sequence of useless spy goods (a solar powered flashlight), and a femme fatale, played here by dewy-eyed Anita Yuen.
There’s a disturbing mix of violence and comedy here that keeps it off my top list, with a father being gunned down in front of his young son in a shopping mall, and it’s missing “Uncle Nat,” but there’s still lots of good jokes: The springboard “Magic Box” which shoots Chow off in all sorts of wrong directions (the best gag from this sequence, though, is in the closing blooper reel), and a scene where a wounded Chow watches a porno tape, hoping the diverted blood flow to his erection with stop the bleeding. (Eagle-eyed porn hounds will notice the star briefly glimpsed is–I believe–Traci Lords.) In a way, the serious turns the film takes are a test run for the more successful mixture in God of Cookery. And Chow’s character, as usual, knows more than he lets on, which allows him to play fool and hero at the same time.

Taiwan Day Ten: More Bloody Shopping

At last this morning I was able to get something on my wish list: a hairwash at a salon down the road. At salons here you can request a hair wash and only that for something like $4. For 30 minutes a young woman will soap up your hair and give you a long scalp massage, take ages rinsing it, then make a fuss over drying and styling it. Even someone like me, with not much hair to work with, can enjoy the treatment. It’s very relaxing, and near the end, two women were working on styling my hair, which for today was spiked all over like a modest punk.
Jessica and I had brekkie at this nearby vegetarian noodle shop, which had plenty of Buddhist posters all around (most vegetarian food here is linked to Buddhism). Mama is pretty vegetarian, and eats here a lot. She still knows how to cook meat for the rest of us, though.
The parents took us out later to a roadside antique stall, where you never know what will be on sale, from the exquisite (a lovely chest of draws in ancient wood) to the utter shite (cheap plastic tchotches)
We had a last minute shopping excursion today, taking in Carrefour, where we bought a new water boiler (exactly the same as the one we’re replacing), and then downtown, where I bought tons of cheap, ex-rental DVDs for about a dollar each.
One of these was Stephen Chow’s “From Beijing with Love,” his parody/appropriation of James Bond. Jessica suggested we watch it when we got home, which we did, with only Mike and Ken really staying around to watch (and Jessica, of course). Mama was in and out of the kitchen, Lynn was sleeping.

Ali G Indahouse

Dir: Mark Mylod
I came across this purely by accident on HBO while we were channel surfing,
so I can’t be too disappointed that it turned out to be much much less than of what the Ali G show is capable. The Ali G shows gets all its tension and humor from the collision of a brilliant fiction with a unwitting reality, as Sacha Baron Cohen’s homeboy character asks blindingly dumb questions of his various guests, who have pegged him for a moron or worse.
But throw the character into a scenario where he must prevail as a sort of hero, and immediately you have problems. In reality, an Ali G would be brought up short by reality immediately, but then we wouldn’t have a movie, so Ali G’s story here paints him as the wise fool, recruited by a scheming politician to run for a local council seat and cause the Prime Minister to fall. This is the “Producers” ruse, and it comes undone similarly, where Ali G’s idiotic yet straight talk makes him the most popular politician in the land. There is a slim satire of Blair’s “Cool Britannia” in all this, but it never really pays off.
Instead we get poo jokes, dick jokes, and drug jokes, and though some is funny, most could have come from any number of inane teen comedies.

Taiwan Day Nine: Hot Spa!

Today the family took us all swimming at a pool/spa about a mile away from the house. Mama goes here every other day and does 30 laps in their olympic size pool, as her way of keeping healthy. More on that later. Only recently Baba has decided to occasionally tag along. One day last month, when Mama was out of town, Baba decided to go swim alone, and being slightly cheap, didn’t want to pay for a locker key.
When he came back to the locker room, his clothes were gone! He had to walk home in just his swimming trunks, then realized that he’d locked himself out and now had no key. He eventually got in through an upper window, but the story is now “legend” around the family.
None of this happened today down at the pool. The center contains a lap pool right inside the main doors (the olympic butts up against the half-olympic length pool, the former much colder than the latter). Another section contains a large spa, with all sorts of ways to treat the body, from bubbling, submerged chairs, hot whirlpools colored with herbal remedies, and saunas, to steam rooms and a series of punishing hoses meant to massage the muscles. One hose sent a stream shooting out and down 50 ft into the pool. I watched an older man stand in its path, the jet pounding his back, sending a spray arcing out like a peacock’s plumage. When it was my turn, I found I could only stand in the way of this jet for two seconds. The pressure was up there with riot hoses–it felt like a knife in my back, and the first attempt knocked me off my feet. Less harsh, but still pouding, was a series of
hoses that blasted straight down onto the person, who was forced to lay on their stomach helplessly and maneuver the body into the most massage-worthy path. Outside there was a water park, but being the off-season, its canals and slides were all dry.
Mama challenged me to a lap in the Olympic pool, but I soon found out how knackering this was, and how out of condition I am. She lapped me before I was even half way. How embarrassing.
Much much later in the evening, Jessica and I went out by ourselves (with the help of Ken, who dropped us off) to the row of coffee shops that line a rather upmarket street to the north of town. We were surprised to see our favorite shop was still there: “Five Cent Driftwood House,” designed by a female architect/owner Hsieh Li-shiang from bricks and huge pieces of driftwood she’s collected over the years, as well as big blocky wood tables, stone sculptures, and other pieces of ephemera. There are two other versions in Tainan and Taichung, both slightly different.
Apparently made without a blueprint, it has all the warmth and homey feeling that most structures in Taiwan lack. It points a way forward for Taiwan’s architects, not that everything should be made out of driftwood. All their coffee pots, mugs, and plates are charming and hand-made too. The coffee was excellent and the free side of mochi (rice cake rolled in peanuts) was the single best mochi I’ve ever had, seriously. The texture was closer to jellified yogurt than rice. At last by ourselves, Jessica and I had a nice relaxing conversation, mostly about architecture. Ken came and picked us up and getting home I found that the Ali G movie “Ali G Indahouse” was on HBO, so I stayed up for that. Not exactly good, but oh well.

Taiwan Day Eight: Down on the farm

We all slept in late today, but as it was the sisters’ last day here (a Sunday), it was decided to spend this afternoon at the farm, having a barbeque. All except Jessica, who had a lunch date with a high school friend of her’s. So off I went with Mike and everybody out to the farm where a makeshift grill was set up over a makeshift bbq made out of a car wheel hub. Baba also had a steamer/griller set up into which we put a chicken. If you want to cook chickens here, you better get ready to dealing with the whole chicken. They come with head and feet intact. Mike suggested we stuff garlic and basil under the skin instead of inside as everybody else was ready to do. I bent back the legs and stuffed them inside the body cavity, which is a yoga postion that a chicken can do only in death. The chicken was then sat upright on a spit and lowered into the pot and cooked very quick. Thirty minutes later I was having some lovely roast chicken.
We didn’t stay too long and Ken stopped by to help cook some pork on the grill. He drives the family car now, and drives it three times as fast as Baba. When he took us home, we actually hung about 20 minutes before the rest turned up. After the sisters left, I walked over to Carrefour (the French supermarket chain is big here) with Mike and Lynn to look around. Upon returning, Jessica was finally back from her eternal lunch. But then, bleedin’ hell, another friend of hers turned up and we were stuck in the house a little bit longer. We got out finally just in time to get downtown and pick up my new glasses. Woo-hoo! Images coming soon. Unfortunately, this computer I’m doesn’t have anything approaching batch processing of images and so things are taking longer than I thought.

Taiwan Day Seven: Family Trip Part Two (of two)

I had a dream that I was walking near Alameda Park near my home and an old lady was moving out of the large home she had owned for years. She had stacked all her goods in a tower that looked more like a sculpture than something waiting for the moving van. Inside was a working Super 8 Projector [in real life I still need one of these] and I was hoping she was throwing it out.
Not much of a dream, but there was more to it I can’t recall well, and the Jenga-like tower of goods was fascinating. There was even a working reel-to-reel inside.
Anyway, we got woken up by family members who had already showered and dressed and were on their way to the hotel’s dining room for the complementary breakfast. So we had to rush and get down there half awake. The breakfast buffet was okay, though pretending you are offering sausages when they are Vienna from a can is pushing it.
Jessica and I took a little stroll while waiting for our tourbus to come and get us. There was a path that led up into the hills and for a while all we could hear was the rumble of a nearby hotspring, a bird with a very particular call, and far off sounds of people and farming. Suddenly I was reminded of Spirited Away, mostly because of the steam rising from the buildings all around and the vertiginous nature of the whole village.
We were pretty high up to begin with, but our busdriver took us higher and higher until we got to a place called Chingjing Farm. Being so high up, the surrounding architecture quoted Swiss chalet, and the meadow itself was something that the Taiwanese see little of: rolling hills of green grass (a bit yellow in November’s dry season) and sheep. And it was not so quiet, as tourists were spilling all over the hills, fully enjoying the grass. Teenagers sat around in circles, children rolled down it, parents hiked up and down. And inbetween them roamed sheep of all shapes and ages, being fed and sometimes ridden by the humans. At the top of this hill was a sort of assault course for kids–ropes and log bridges and swings and monkey bars–on which Mike and I promptly embarrassed ourselves.
Roaming among the sheep and lambs (awwww!) was a real Australian sheep shearer who told us he’d been working here for seven years. (By choice, I assume.)
We kept walking and came to a honey farm, where eager beekeepers were pulling out the hive slats, smoking off the bees, and then spinning the hive in a centrifuge to extract the honey. I tried some of this honey straight from the spigot and damn if it wasn’t the freshest thing I’ve ever eaten. I bought a bottle right there. I don’t usually eat honey, but recently I tried a cup of plain yogurt with honey mixed in and it was slappingly good.
More walking and we reached the top of the hill and, not surprisingly, there was Chiang-Kai-Shek standing there in bronze. Back at the LuShan Hotsprings we had been shown one of his holiday houses (in a Japanese style…some nationalist!) and now here he was on one of his hiking excursions.
Then 500 steps led down, made of a lovely dark mahogany-style wood, to a vegetable stall selling huge fruit–Asian pears over 8 inches in diameter–and something called “honey apples” which contain compacted “golden sections” inside.
Lunchtime and the bus pulled us up into a Swiss style food court where we saw two signs of “civilization”: a Starbucks and a 7-11. Lunch was eel and rice and veggies, served from a stall below a sign that said “You Have To Eat It!”–which to me sounds like a future reality game show.
Afterwards much more driving and at last we came to Ao-Wan-Da National Forest. A full hike around this area of grassy plains, deep woods, and a large shale-based river takes about 90 minutes we were told, and what everybody comes to see are the oak trees that are up so high on this tropical island that they change color through the seasons.
We walked for about 30 minutes, and there was great shale cliffs near us, as well a series of aqueducts diverting water from somewhere. In one of the passing river there was still detritus from 921, a series of twisted ribars and concrete. How hard would this be to move? Oh well. Some ways along, returning hikers told us that, dammit, the oaks weren’t red yet, so that was used as a reason to turn back. It was nice being up in the mountains here with the air so fresh. Too bad the cities are all smoggy.
A long bus drive back followed and we had only a few stops left. One the “Center of Taiwan” a little marker in Nantou that was decreed to be the geographic center some decades back. The real center is probably somewhere halfway up a cliff, but this’ll do.
The other stop was along a road known for its scantily clad Betel nut girls. A few years back, the government tried to clamp down on these betel nut sellers, found near all main service road. For the most part they complied–now they dress in go-go outfits and short skirts. But this road is more like the days before the ban, and the girls wear very small bikinis. So the bus driver set up a contest: he would stop three times, one each for Baba, Mike, and myself, and the rest of the bus could vote on who got the cutest girl. Well my girl was kinda cute and certainly busty, but I think Mike won for getting the girl with the most exposed flesh.
After a stop at a service area, we made our way back to Chia-yi, where the karaoke was busted out again and I wound up singing “The Girl From Ipanema.”
When we got back, Ken was there to greet us and soon take us out to the night market at the back of Carrefour, which was now three times as busy as the other night we went.

Taiwan Day Six: Big Family Trip Pt. One

When Mama and the daughters came to visit us in Santa Barbara in early January, Mama realized that she had somehow “failed” on all my previous visits to Taiwan to show the country’s beauty. So for this visit, Berry (mostly) arranged a two-day trip for all of us to go on to take in the sites. They rented a small bus and a normal-sized bus driver to take us into the mountains north-east of Chia-yi.
So off we went at eight in the morning on a typical gloomy day. When we hit the main motorway, Mama busted out with the karaoke (mandatory equipment on all tourist buses) and Baba entertained us with his particular brand of caterwauling.
First stop was a tea shop a little bit up in the mountains. When the Taiwanese (or, from experience the Japanese) say “countryside” they mean anything that doesn’t have a mass transit system. Malibu would be countryside, for example. Anyway, this was “the countryside” even though there were plenty of convenience stores and tons of political posters for the upcoming election (total number of candidates: 11…or more). We were given a little teamaking demo by the co-owner of the shop, and given some shortbread cookies made from green tea (with actual leaves in the middle instead of jam). At first I thought this was going to be a typical Asian road trip, where every stop is some sort of shop. But the co-owner boarded our bus and directed us to a tea farm up in the hills.
The tea plant is not the most amazing thing to see up close, not like seeing an orchard or anything. From a distance they have the orderly look of suburban shrubs, and up close they are bushes of dark leaves. The mountain air is clear, fresh, and free of carbon monoxide, but nothing smells like green tea. A small monorail goes up the side of the mountain to carry buckets of picked tea back and forth. I didn’t get to see it in action, though. Today was the workers’ days off, so we were the only ones walking through the rows.
Next up was a leftover of the “921” earthquake in 1999, the 7.6 rumble that destroyed quite a lot of Taiwan and changed the landscape a lot. In towns that saw lots of crappy buildings crumble, they have quickly rebuilt and put up newer, still crappy buildings. Here, in the back of an alfalfa farm, they’ve left the destruction and can take you around with a megaphone-bearing tourguide. The site is a traintrack that was twisted beyond recognition. At one point the earth raised twenty-five feet, leaving the rail hanging in the air. Right nearby a section of rail was bent into a 90 degree angle. Near this iron pretzel is a large electric pylon that is now imitating the Leaning Tower (don’t worry it’s disconnected from the grid).
Of course, after this tour, they take you to the gift shop to sell you plums. Typically, I found, the gift shop sells nothing related to the actual site. A twisted, unworkable toy train set would be fascinating here, no?
Onward! And off we went further into the woods, stopping at Jiji Station. If you’ve seen Hou Hsiao Hsien’s Dust in the Wind, you’ve seen this station. Unfortunately, it’s now a bit commercialized, trying to look like some Swiss Railway concoction, with the usual plums on sale in the gift shop among other tat. The train station is still working, though. Nearby we saw another victim of the 921 earthquake, a fairly recently built temple that had collapsed on itself. This be would be oh-so-tragic if it weren’t for the fact that a) it was completed one year before the quake and b) the collapse was the fault of half-assing the construction (you can bet there were kickbacks involved).
I began to wonder if just leaving shit around and claiming it’s a notable evidence of the tragic earthquake is just easier than cleaning it up.
We then arrived at “Sun Moon Lake,” one of the major lakes in Taiwan, and one with a horizon that disappears into the mist…and the Taiwanese like it that way. The nearby town offers numerous restaurants and hotels, all quite ugly, and a harbor that is much better looking. We took lunch here in an average restaurant, the defining feature being the owner’s daughter’s pet: a potbellied pig. No, he wasn’t on the menu, and he had the run of the place.
We walked on the harbor for a while, which floats up and down with the tide, then continued on again.
I was told before the trip we’d be visiting a rice winery, but I was very disappointed, as it turned out to be one large gift shop surrounded by other, smaller gift shops. Most of what was available to sample was food, as well. Blimey. Rice wine popsicles. Cakes made of wine. Plums pickled in wine. Even an ointment made of wine, which a helpful assistant sprayed on my neck. My neck was on fire for the following hour. Wine samples were restricted to about a teaspoon and were mostly weak. And no “winery tour,” but rest assured there was a remnant of the earthquake outside, a busted storage tank with accompanying concrete girder, now reset in a water-garden display. Actually, you could have passed it off as post-modern sculpture. The place sold good egg tarts, though, creamy and with a lovely puff pastry crust. No wine inside either.
Just as I was thinking the trip was mostly going to be these type of places, we really went into the mountains, taking a winding path until we were thousands of feet up, all that was between us and a sheer cliff sometimes being only a concrete lip less than a foot high. And still there were flags and posters for this election’s candidates. Imagine being in the middle of an American National Forest and seeing a Bush/Cheney card on a tree.
As the sun went down, we hit our final destination for the day: Lu-Shan hot springs. The town exists on either side of a steep gorge through which a river rushes. The side where all the hotels and hot springs are can only be reached by a pedestrian bridge that spans the gorge, and it wobbles a bit let me tell you. There are several hotels on this side and food stalls that sell food that is boiled on the spot in various pools being pumped full of sulpherous water.
Our hotel is centered around the many pools it offers which you can use even if you’re not staying there (though what you may be doing in the area otherwise is strange). There’s a series of whirlpools, a “waterfall” that you can stand under, a series of jet hoses that massage your back with high water pressure. There’s a lap pool, a sauna, a steam room, and the usual spa amenities. First thing I did wasn’t swim but sign up for a 90 minute full body massage.
This turned out to be quite different from the ones in the States. First of all I didn’t have to strip down too much. Instead of tinkly new age music, the window was open, so I could hear the house music from the “activity pool,” the drunken karaoke from the lobby area, the constant white noise from the water, and the chattering from the people passing by the window (and looking in).
But the massage was gnarly, all pressure points. I lay on my side first and the masseur (yes, I know, bad luck, eh) started pressing down on my jaw and then my neck. Oh man, it was exquisite pain. First one side, then the other, then my back, then–laying on my back–my stomach. The man was playing with fire there, I tell you.
By the time I was out, most everybody had finished swimming, but Jessica was still waiting for me and so we tried the lap pool, which was excellent fun, especially as I’m still trying to find a foolproof way of teaching Jessica to swim. By the way, Taiwanese swim fashion judging from this visit is based upon outfits your grandma used to wear. In her not so risque but still small two piece, Jessica had the effect that the first bikini must have made in the ’50s.
By the end of the night I was pretty exhausted. Our room opened out onto a tributary of the river, leaving us with nothing to do but fall asleep to the sound of falling water.

Taiwan Day Five: Mike’s Butt Massage

Whaaaaaaaaaat? Well today, Mama took us to the acupuncturist, with Mike saying he wanted to get a check up on his back and other things. This acupuncturist we visited last time, and he cured Jessica’s bad arm (tweaked nerve) with two needles. He’s so popular that about 50 people were jammed into his waiting room to see him. You better not cherish your privacy too much when going to the Taiwanese doctor here: people are lining up while you’re being examined, or are laying down nearby with needles sticking out of them. Plus, if you like the smell of ganja–and who doesn’t?–the moxibustion herbs will make you feel right at home. In this way, I got to hear all about Mike’s bad back and tweaked leg nerve, and he got to hear all about my…well, I won’t tell you, but those that have stayed over my house know what’s wrong with me. My problems didn’t require needles this time–I was kinda disappointed–and so I was prescribed some herbs instead. Mike got 15 minutes of needles in his gluteous and then, when we went to go see him, a bit of a deep tissue butt massage. Excuse me! I said and immediately started talking about football.
Mama took us to the Chia-yi City God Temple, which is nearly 200 years old (young for a temple here). Mama was had prayed for us before Mike and I came, now we had to return the favor and shake insense at the various dieties inside the blackened temple. Pantheism is pretty cool when there’s little houses of the holy to go visit, full of sculptures and no preachers to bother you.
I went to fill my prescription for my lenses downtown and brought with me the one my eye doctor wrote out in June. But when the assistant in the glasses store gave me a sample of it, the lenses were totally wrong, as if I was a farsighted person, not one with a stigmatism. It didn’t make sense; surely the doctor’s writing wasn’t that bad?
No matter, because the guy in the shop took me in the back and reexamined my eyes. When I looked in the machine to check my eyes, I could see a small photo of a hot air balloon above a road. It gave me something to stare at, I guess. The glasses would be ready by 8 p.m. Cost: $15. Blow me, Lenscrafters.
We also checked out Chia-yi’s best department store, Idee. Well, it’s best because it has a decent bookstore up on floor 10: Eslite. They usually have a good CD listening booth, and indeed I wound up with three CDs of Norwegian triphop: Slowpho’s Hotel Sleep, Frost’s Melodica, and Subgud’s Xpander. I also picked up a copy of The Economist as I’m wont when I’m here–strange if you know me well.
Before the sun went down, we drove out to Baba’s farm, which he’s been keeping for several years. This season he’s had a bumper crop of cherry tomatoes, corn, Chinese string beans, and eggplant, and we went to help pick some for dinner. On the way, Baba stopped the van at one of the many roadside betelnut stands, so we could ogle the barely dressed girls who sell them here. Our girl was a bit homely with died blonde hair, but made up for it by wearing little else except a slip and a purple g-string. But then again, a closer inspection found scabby knees and something like white ointment smeared on her foot. Er…
Tonight we made a quick trip over to “Giraffe supermarket” so called because it is lorded over by a large giraffe head at the top of a thick light pole. We bought food and drink for the trip. I was tempted, I must say, by the asparagus juice I saw in the drinks section.
Then a quick trip to the night market at the back of the Carrefour supermarket, Chia-yi’s biggest. I had a cup of fresh watermelon juice for about 30 cents. At 10:30 tonight, the sisters from Taipei (Emi, Berry, and Mei Mei) came in by train, all set for our big family excursion to the East end of the island. My blogging may stop for a few days depending on Internet availability. Who knows. If I have no luck, I’ll be back in 3. Keep well, everyone!

Taiwan Day Four: Back to Chia-yi

That’s Chia as in “chai tea” not as in “Chia pet.” As in the city where Jessica’s parents are and where she grew up.
Before that, Mike and I set out to pick up breakfast from the corner shop while the ladies got ready. We got, um, a bit lost, and when we did find the place, they were closing after the breakfast rush (other places stay open all day).
We returned to the nearby shopping area we went yesterday so Mike could pick up some glasses he’d ordered. Unlike in the States, prescription lenses come free with the frames on purchase. I finally wound up buying some frames of my own, months after snapping mine in half and freaking people out when they didn’t recognize me. So soon I’ll be updating the website logo. However, I decided to wait on the lenses, as we won’t be in Taipei for long.
Emi took us on a long busride across the city, passing the Taipei 101 skyscraper, currently the tallest building in the world…I think. I thought we were going to stop, but instead we continued to this area on the other side of the city…so the women could continue shopping in a wholesale clothes district. Blimey. Mike and I opted to go sit in a park and chat.
We became a bit late, rushed back via a scary taxi ride, then shlepped our cases downstairs to another taxi and rushed over to the bus station to catch a coach down to Chia-yi (one way ticket, luxury seats, 3 hour trip: $8). On the way down we were played two videos against our will: “Kill Me Again” (Selma Blair saved from suicide by handsome bankrobber) and “The Weight of Water” (Katherine Bigelow’s little-seen time-jumping tale which hopes that the tale of murder in a fishing village a hundered years ago can compete for our attention with shots of an oily Liz Hurley in a white bikini).
So we turned up around 7:30 and Baba (Dad) picked us up in his mini-van. Currently, Baba tends a family farm as something of a hobby, and Mama volunteers at the hospital down the road. She is also learning sign language to lead karaoke for the deaf (yes, I know that sounds strange. When she practices it looks like a cross between a hula dance and performance art.) Mama did teach me one non-karaoke phrase: “Chen Shui-bien [the president] is an idiot.”
Their house is off of one of the main roads in the city, not far from any number of tiny stalls serving food, boba tea, and more. They’re also right next to a park, so after we ate dinner, all of us headed over there and strolled around the perimeter several times (Mama’s routine.)
(While writing this, I just got bitten by a bloody huge mosquito. Though I was able to kill it, leaving a mess of bug guts and my precious blood on my finger, I still got bit, and now it hurts like a sumbitch. Time to bust out the Chinese red oil medicine.)
Even at around 9:30 the park is bustling (could you imagine this in the States?) A group of ladies are in one paved section practicing ballroom dancing for health. In another a similar large group is doing yoga. All this is organized by the city. Dotting the perimeter are groups of old men playing Chinese chess. Sure, some look a bit, er, drunk, but hey, they’re not shooting smack! By one corner, somebody has set up a pickup truck-based stall and is doing a good business selling coffee. When Starbucks opened stores here some years ago, coffee was mostly a) instant or b) already expensive, served in fancy shops desperately trying to look French. Now it has hit the “stall” level of familiarity. Cool.

Taiwan, Day Three

Sleeping from nine until 8 cured my jet lag, I believe. For some reason it took ages for everybody to get ready and get out. We kept making tentative trips outside–to get breakfast, to go to the bank around the corner–until finally getting out proper by 11. Mike and I were laden with the unanswerable question–where do you want to go? How should we know? I did mention the brand new Ferris Wheel they’ve built along the river here, but we were told that was such a good idea that wouldn’t we prefer to go shopping a bit instead?
It seemed that the sisters were thinking of only one thing today: the obligatory trip northeast to Keelung (Taiwan’s major port city) and a visit to Dwaiyi (Auntie), Mama’s older sister. When Dwaiyi tagged along with Mama when she visited the states last January, Dwaiyi spent most of the time sleeping. We have a good photo album of the numerous and scenic places she slept.
Being Chinese, this was all about obligations. And also being Chinese, this was all about grudging obligations, things you have to do, not even want or like to do. Nobody really wanted to go, and so Lynn and Jessica started strategizing. Could we get out of there in 90 minutes (after a 30 minute trainride from Taipei)? Somebody was under the belief that we could just get them to accept tea and gift giving. (We were going up with two big bags of gifts from the States, as the Chinese tradition goes.)
On the way up, I checked out the surrounding architecture and decided that a)post-war modernism hasn’t done any favors to Taiwan and b) bathroom tile isn’t exactly best used as an exterior.
Back to Keelung. Anyway, we arrived at the apartment and soon Lynn busted in with her idea–a drink of tea and a (through gritted teeth) friendly chat and we’d be off. But Auntie and her son and daughter-in-law weren’t having it. Dinner was in the works, or at least threatened. Lynn tried to put her foot down. No, we had to leave soon. Auntie played her trump card and called her sister, and Mama got on the phone to give Lynn some hassle. It was a saving-face face off! At one point, the duaghter-in-law tried to move my bag into the guest bedroom to force me to stay, but I clutched it to my chest.
Jessica now stepped in as good cop to Lynn’s bad. Why not go out to eat nearby–that way we can eat and get away early enough. And so it was. The hostage situation ended a little into hour 2 and we went out to eat. You’ll see these photos soon enough but the highlight was a hotpot of blood sausage and intestines in a spicy broth that smelled like marinara sauce. Actually, the sauce was pretty good, and I don’t bring it up to say that Chinese food is all freaky.
We took the train home, sitting across from two drunk old men in various stages of leprosy.
Next up was another night market, one of the biggest, at Shulin. Here we met up with Jessica’s younger brother (and youngest of the six siblings) Peter, or as he now insists we call him when he’s in Taipei, Ken. Last time I was here he was doing his required two years in the army. Now he’s out and selling jewelry wholesale and wearing nice suits. I was full, so I didn’t grab much to eat at the market, but we did end the evening in a coffee shop nearby.
I fell right asleep when we got home and apparently woke the entire house up with my snoring.