11/25/2007

Thanksgiving in Taiwan



I decided to get a turkey this year for Thanksgiving. I had originally invited a couple of friends over for dinner -- not even thinking about Thanksgiving -- and then promptly forgotten about it. On Tuesday, Craig called me up and asked if I was going to be serving turkey on Thursday?

"What are you talking about?" I asked, wondering why I would get a turkey and also why he cared about what I'd be eating.

"Well, to serve Doug and myself when we come over for a Thanksgiving dinner."

Getting a turkey in Taiwan isn't so easy. First of all, I don't have a car. So I need to borrow one or take it home in a cab. Second, I've only got a toaster oven. Stoves aren't that common here as Taiwanese prefer to fry their food. I decided to check out the restaurants, to see if I could order a whole, cooked turkey to go. But the ads usually said they needed three days or more advance notice. I googled: "Turkey, short notice Taiwan" and read through a Forumosa thread on the topic. Then, I noticed that Sampras and Federer would be playing tennis in Macau! I read the latest tennis rankings on tennis magazine online and wondered how Sampras would stack up against today's top twenty. I was starting to feel tired, so I went to bed.

On Wednesday, I was in Chiayi when my wife called. She said she could get a turkey from the Ambassador Hotel for NT$2800 (just under US$100). It would come fully-cooked, with stuffing, cranberry sauce, gravy, bread, Caesar salad and pumpkin pie. She said she could even pop by the hotel after work and pick it up. So, I invited a few more friends over at the last minute and we had a turkey dinner.

When my wife asked the Ambassador why they had last-minute turkeys, she was told that they weren't selling well this year because people were depressed about the economy. (They're predicting X'mas sales are going to be down in the US this year for the same reason.) Anyway, the turkey was delicious, not dry at all. The stuffing was nice and spicy, and the Caesar salad was really Caesar salad (in Taiwan, restaurants often substitute iceberg for romaine). My wife said her office had ordered one from the Lai Lai and that it cost NT$3000, no pumpkin pie, no salad and no stuffing. How does one bake a turkey without stuffing?

BTW, my friend Ben "Ben Goes to Taiwan, not Thailand" came by. He's says he has updated his blog, finally: http://taiwanben.wordpress.com/ Igor http://www.igorsitnikov.blogspot.com/ was also there. Igor told me an interesting story. About a week ago he was sitting in a park by Taipei Train Station (I forgot to ask him which one, but I'm assuming it was 2-28 Park). A police officer was making the rounds, asking people who were obviously Filipino or Indonesian to show their ID. The cop came over and asked a couple of Filipinas sitting next to Igor on the bench for their ID, but ignored Igor. Igor thinks it was because he's white. The police didn't ask people who looked Taiwanese for theirs either. I'm bringing this up because I think it's important. If I'd been sitting on the bench, I would've shown my ID. I might've also asked why he didn't look at everybody's ID. I'm also bringing this up because about a week ago, I was told this on Michael Turton's blog by a fellow named Thomas: "I spent in Taiwan were the most comfortable I have spent in Asia. I never once felt any xenophobia."

11/21/2007

Chiayi, Taiwan



I went down to Chiayi, Taiwan today to give a speech at a vocational school about the magazines my company publishes. I was in the teachers' room when I noticed this portrait of Chiang Kai-shek on the wall and took a picture of it on my cell phone (I need to start carrying a camera with me). Anyway, one of the teachers expressed that she was surprised to see a "foreigner" taking a picture of Chiang Kai-shek because "foreigners" think he's a dictator. In my opinion, Chiang is a favorite topic of "foreigners", both here in Taiwan and elsewhere. Some "foreigners" even think that if Chiang Kai-shek hadn't come to Taiwan, it would be Communist today:

http://www.taipeitimes.com/News/editorials/archives/2007/05/22/2003361989

I'm not so sure about this however. The US, frustrated by KMT corruption and ineptitude, was ready to throw in the towel on the Chiangs in early 1950. Truman seems to have changed his mind after Mao invaded Korea later that year. In January 1950, the US was giving Chiang about four months to fall, and had all but left him to his own devices. It was the US, and the 7th Fleet in particular, that probably saved Taiwan. I think they would've gotten behind any government here at this time.

I had a nice visit to this school, my second in a week. While there, I met Martin, an English teacher with a degree from Fresno State. Martin's dad served in the Japanese Imperial Army during WWII - a topic that feeds into the thesis I might actually write some day (if I can ever get up off my butt and get to work). I'm looking forward to meeting him soon. I am particularly curious about the topic of the draft. I've read that Taiwanese were not drafted into the army, but rather chose to join as they were promised land afterward. This point has been questioned by readers of my blog in the past. Martin was an interesting individual. He's up on both Taiwanese and Chiayi history, and is easy to chat with.

I wonder what the teachers make of this picture. One teacher told me that it wasn't Chiang Kai-shek, but rather "the father of our nation", Sun Yat-sen.



I took this photo from the platform of the Chiayi High Speed Rail Station. Parking doesn't seem to be an issue down there. Neither is driving - the roads seem empty, people stay in their lanes and go along at a reasonable speed.

BTW, I'm always surprised by Taiwan's weather. To me, Taiwan is a small country. It amazes me that a city like Chiayi, 200 km. south of Taipei, can be balmy T-shirt weather. Then I return and it's cold misty smog, and I'm freezing to death. Brr.

11/14/2007

BMW Taxi



I snapped this shot of a BMW taxi on my way to work a few days ago at the corner of Dunhua and Nanking in Taipei. My friend Jeff says that a lot of car-loving Taiwanese are being forced to turn their babies into taxis just to make the payments. To me, it seems like a steep price to pay. If Taiwan's motorists are being forced to such tactics, it makes me wonder about how they get the financing in the first place.

Cycling Taiwan's Northwest Coast Highway



The monstrosity that Eric has pulled up in front of (above pic) is a failed real estate development from the nineties. Located on the northeast coast highway to Keelung, more than half the apartments seem deserted and the place has an air of abandonment about it. The gardens are overflowing. The fountains are clogged with weeds. The balcony railings are rusted and coming off their moorings. When it first opened, it was a hot property. Movie stars and millionaires snapped up parcels of it, which I suppose they still own, but the complex could hardly be described as a bustling center of power, media and boozy parties these days. I did notice, however, a couple of snazzy European cars making their way down the winding driveway as I got off shots of the dilapidated grounds on my cell phone camera.




I met up with my friend Eric at Hongshulin (紅樹林) MRT Station early last Sunday morning for a ride up the east coast of Taiwan. This station seems to be a launching point for cyclists. As we sipped our horrible convenience store coffee and chatted, we watched at least half a dozen groups embark. These were serious riders; they looked fit and had good bikes. The clams (pictured above), were the first of many strange sites we happened across. Built some thirty years ago, they are deserted hotels. My colleague Doug figures they look Soviet, but I think they're right out of "Clockwork Orange". According to the locals, they're haunted. The ghosts show up if you photograph them - just look closely and you'll see the shadows of ghosts in your pics. These ones are more preserved. Others are shedding siding and beginning to crumble. Eric says they're a favorited rendezvous point for Danshui gays, but I guess they could serve in that capacity for any couple, regardless of sexual inclination.