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."


Anonymous said...

Cooking a turkey in a toaster oven can be done. All one needs is a lot of time and patience.

MJ Klein said...

Patrick, we have a convection oven. It cost a whopping NT$2,000 and it can cook anything that you can fit inside it.

i've also had the ID checking experience, only the cops were checking people who did look to be Taiwanese but ignored me. on another occasion, when i did volunteer to give the police my ID they scrutinized it for a lot longer than i expected.

btw, i think it's quite a stretch for the management to make the comment about people being depressed about the economy as a reason for the turkeys not selling. a more plausible reason would be that Taiwanese don't really like turkey.

Patrick Cowsill said...


I just double-checked with my wife about the Ambassador making the comment about the economy influencing turkey sales. She said: "Which company would be so stupid to say they are unable to sell their own products? They just asked me how many we needed." I must have read that online, and then projected it on my wife. She did point out that this year they didn't include a bottle of read wine. She said no hotels were including them, whereas in the past they were. That was OK, as many of my guest showed up with a bottle (in fact, I'm working on drinking one right now.)

When I told Igor that I would've shown my ID, he said: "I wished I had thought of it. I was really angry." I'm sure you felt the extra scrutiny was worth it. They might've even got your point.

Anonymous - I am sure I could cook a turkey in my toaster oven. It even has a rotisserie function. But I wouldn't want to. I'd rather pony up the NT$2800. How would I stuff it? Where would I get the time?

Patrick Cowsill said...

If you're wondering what "read wine" is, well it's how I spell "red wine" after consuming a few glasses of it. I work for a publishing company. One of my responsibilities is to edit books and magazines, heaven help them.

Anonymous said...

That was good turkey. BTW, you missed a nice ride last Sunday. Check out the pics on my Flickr. Ben is one tough mofo.

Patrick Cowsill said...

I'll check out the pics. I didn't want to miss the ride, but I've got a lot of freelance stuff that has been stacking up and it's starting to stress me out. And my sister is coming on Tuesday, so I needed to clean up and get stuff figured out. I couldn't do it today, because I was in Hualien. It was miserable down there. It rained all day. My feet were soaked from the moment I got off the plane, and that way all day. I left at 6:00 a.m. and got home at 9:45 p.m.

I'll catch up with the hogs on the next ride.

Anonymous said...

When I'm in Taiwan I never carry ID with me...I guess I should start. What kind of ID is it? Does the ID indicate whether or not you are legally in Taiwan or does it show your visa expiry date? If not then what's the point of checking ID?

Jeanne Wang
Toronto, Canada

Patrick Cowsill said...

The type of ID "foreigners" are supposed to carry is an Alien Residence Card (ARC). They have expiry dates on them and people can be fined NT$5000 (or maybe it's NT$3000 - I can't remember) for not carrying them.

It has become a lot harder for 430,000 marginalized "foreigners" living in Taiwan since Chen came to power in 2000. One of the reasons, I suppose, is Chen uses the "we are Taiwanese and they are not" rally to appeal to his base. This is a bit on the ironic side, as a.) Chen's son lives in N.Y and b.) there are so many Taiwanese living overseas, enjoying the more enlightened immigration laws of the West (or pretty much anywhere else in the world).

If you look Taiwanese, Jeanne, I don't think you'll be targeted. It seems to be done on skin color.

MJ Klein said...

Patrick, i've never had anyone give me any trouble for living in Taiwan on a visitor's visa, which i did for quite a few years. my occupation required me to travel frequently and i hardly ever ran into the 60 day visa limit without having a work-related destination that i needed to visit anyway. the few times it did happen, i got a nice little break. the one thing about foreigners who live here on visitor's visas is that they fly under the radar. i've never had anyone ever ask me any questions about why i entered Taiwan so many times and what i was doing here. they saw my US passport with 5 year visa and just stamped it. i know of a few people who've been here for 20 years on visitors visas.

if you can manage to stay in Taiwan without overstaying your visa, once you are here for 4 years, a window opens up and you can get residency without the usual requirements.

Jeanne, if you don't have residency in Taiwan, just carry your passport with you.

Patrick Cowsill said...

I've been here for 12 years, so I'm a bit acquainted with what's going on with visas.

MJ, you've known people who've been here for 20 years on a visitor's visa? Well, me too. My question to you is this: why are they still on visitor's visas?

MJ Klein said...

Patrick, the answer is "they don't need a resident visa." one of my friends who is married to a Taiwanese woman lived here for 5 or 6 years on a visitor's visa before getting an ARC even though he qualified for it. at that time he was going back and forth to the US on business. in more than 60 entires into Taiwan he was never asked anything about his reason for coming here. there wasn't any reason/advantage to getting an ARC during that time.

sometimes people complain about Taiwan's immigration laws, but i find them to be quite reasonable, even lax. you can do almost anything you want to except overstay your visa which is a serious offense in Taiwan.

Patrick Cowsill said...

Taiwan's immigration laws are not lax. As it stands, only 11 Americans have ever been naturalized as Taiwanese. Every year in the US, around 10,000 Taiwanese are naturalized in the US.

MJ, you say that people "don't need a resident visa." But they do, or they're at the whims of the bureaucrat they're facing. Take one of my friends for example. He has lived here for 30 years. He speaks fluent Mandarin and he's pretty good at Taiwanese. He owns a house, is married to a local woman and they have two kids. Yet last year, the Taiwanese government was going to deport him for "working illegally". Luckily, one of connected friends bailed him out.

I have another friend. He's been here 20 years. He was also going to be deported for working illegally. He has tried to get a resident visa, but has been denied. The only reason he didn't get deported was a friend of a friend worked in the government, and was bought off with six hotel dinner coupons. But he knows it could happen at any moment.

"Foreigners" are marginalized here. Their status remains at the whim of the bureaucrat they happen to be facing. I think it's bullshit and every time I hear politicians whine about reciprocity, I think about this issue.

MJ Klein said...

all i can tell you is that i personally haven't had any problems. my situation is admittedly different than most foreigners who live here.

as for the naturalization process - the question that should be asked is "how many Americans actually want to be naturalized?" the vast majority of foreign people here have no intention of staying. of the few who do stay here, most intend to return to their origination country someday. i intend to eventually go through with the process myself, but i personally know of no other American who has expressed that interest.

when i got my ARC, there were no financial questions, no tax returns required, no interview. the most difficult part was the CRC that had to come from the USA. besides that it was just running up to AIT.

OTOH, every fool in this world wants to go to America.

Patrick Cowsill said...

I'm married to a local, so I don't have very many visa issues either. Almost everyone I know, however, has problems with their visa pretty regularly. They face all kinds of grief and harassment. I can tell anecdotes all day.

"As for the naturalization process - the question that should be asked is "how many Americans actually want to be naturalized?" the vast majority of foreign people here have no intention of staying."

LOL, most of the long-term expats never thought they'd stay. I would imagine it is more than just 11 American that would like to be naturalized. Taiwan finds all kinds of ways to eliminate permanent resident applications, the step that comes prior to naturalization.

Citizenship is not a birth right in Taiwan either. It is conferred by the parents, and until 2002, by the father. This is just one more way that Taiwan can keep those it imagines to be non-Han out. It is also another example of how the government, which cries for reciprocity with the West, is hypocritical.

MJ Klein said...

very interesting Patrick. my wife's father gave me permission to use the family name and her mother named me. some say that makes me a legal heir. that could be useful. truth be told if i could renounce my US citizenship right now and become a Taiwanese citizen i wouldn't hesitate for more time than it would take for me to find my pen.

Patrick Cowsill said...

I took my wife's last name so that my daughter would have it as well. According to Taiwan's law, offspring must take the father's last name. We could've gotten around the law if my wife didn't have a male sibling. Alas, my wife has a brother, so I had to give up my "foreigner" last name. We're allowed one name change, so I am a Cheng (鄭) for good.

I was thinking about changing my first name to 成功 after 鄭成功, the 17th liberator of Taiwan (known as Koxinga in English). We often wonder if there is a connection here.