9/26/2011

It's Taipei Signs, I Think


I received this message from an annoyed Twitter pal, responding to one of the signs of Taipei I had posted: "No, I can't handle the heat. Now leave me alone. Stupid adverts. Let me get to work!" I didn't realize I was causing so much grief with my iPhone Tweet-photos, nor do I intend to leave off with them. The signs of Taiwan bring joy, confusion and thought to many. Filled with the spirit of this knowledge, I grabbed the above sign coming out of the Longshan (龍山) Temple MRT today. It is language chaos at its finest. The character 艋舺 is the Taiwanese name for the neighborhood I live in -- 萬華 (Wanhua). The Romanization Bangka means canoe in one of Taiwan's aboriginal languages. 

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I showed the two shots directly above to a friend (I took them on the Yuan-shan MRT platform a while back) and he said I should follow up. You see, Taiwan is normally tolerant when it comes to religion. I didn't really know how to follow up though. If I were to go over and ask the security guard, my questions would surely vex him. Or, he would avoid getting in trouble and not tell me anything. 

I am no expert on Taiwan's various religions. The main religion here is, from what I can make out, a combination of Taoism and Buddhism. Instead of being resistant, this religion seems to incorporate a range of possibilities. I've also heard that Taiwanese Catholics have special permission from the Vatican to worship their ancestors. The Catholic clergy has adjusted and gone from there.

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Let me reiterate: Taiwanese people in general are tolerant. I'm married to a local and her Taiwanese family has definitely taken me in. They are the nicest people I know. I am now going to segue into a facet that probably doesn't reflect the population as a whole. Still, this blog does exist for the blog author, so I think I'll touch upon an incident that disturbs me. I'm going to write it down before I forget. Someday, I'll look back at this head-shaker to know where I was at this moment.

A couple of weeks ago, someone I know posted a picture of herself with an African-American friend of mine. The first comment was as follows (here is the rough translation): "Funny! The reason you put that picture up is to highlight your own pale skin!" The African-American friend was a.) tagged in the photo b.) able to read the Chinese quite easily. To her credit, she responded: 

"I think his skin color is beautiful." It was clearly time to chime in and I directed my point of view at the first speaker:

"That is the most retarded [bad choice of diction, I admit] thing I've heard all week." To my surprise, I was informed I think too much. Huh? Think too much? It's not like I had written a paper on it. The line I wrote took me about 10 seconds. 

I was also told the reason I didn't like the comment was I didn't know how to assimilate into Taiwanese culture. Is this actually Taiwanese culture though? I know lots of Taiwanese people who would find this line of labeling disturbing, starting with my wife. They would say: "No, it is not us." Ironically, what had started out as an attack on (aversion to) my friend's skin color had come around to focus on my skin color. The groundwork for the conversation became "I was white;" thus, I had no right to an opinion. Let's just say it came down to rights; more specifically, it was one person telling another they did not have rights. 

My wife is adamant: That is them, just a small minority, not Taiwan. I am inclined to believe her. The optimist inside says most people are not like this. It's just a few giving everyone a bruised eye.  

9/22/2011

Can I Have Another Bowl of Soup?


Taiwan’s President (upper and lower) showed up at my apartment complex last night. I missed his speech, but I did manage to get a few photographs. This is the second time the KMT has used our home for a political rally since I moved in. They were also here for Hau Long-bin’s (郝龍斌的) last mayoral run.

I’ve taken some flak for allowing my daughter to have her picture taken with Ma Ing-jeou (馬英九). One guy even told me he’d never let his daughter be exploited like that. That seems like a bit much. I will say this though: I didn’t plan on going to the speech. I just wanted to hang out in the courtyard and people-watch. I love a good spectacle and am not overly serious about politics.

This is how it went down: My daughter asked at the front door if she could go in. She was then gruffly brushed aside by a dullish bodyguard. One of Ma’s advisors took offense at his attitude and said: “Of course you can go in. And you can sit in a reserved seat at the front too.” Once inside, Ma noticed my daughter and waved for her to come over. I wanted to get some shots to amuse my friends, in-laws and self, and so I encouraged her to do just that. A nice conclusion for all involved.

I think I will have to go to the next tenant’s meeting and voice concern about the following though: When I asked the building supervisor how much Ma’s team was paying for the use of our multi-purpose room, he did an “ah” and hand sweep to indicate it was silly to worry about such trivial matters. Meanwhile, I’m paying NT$2000 a month in building fees. We don’t have a swimming pool. We don’t have a library. We don’t have a rec. room. We don’t have an indoor playground / play land. No Friday night movies. In other words, our money is just going into a black hole. Building management is so cheap when it comes to the tenants that when the lock was replaced on my building, only one key was issued to my family. When I said I’d like two or three, I was told, with much hyperbole, it was quite impossible (沒辦法) because of the budget. Under such circumstances, let’s hope an individual representing one of the richest political parties in the world doesn’t get to use our multi-purpose room for free.




9/03/2011

Another Wanhua Business Bites the Dust


I grabbed the shadowy picture above on my iPhone coming home today. This place was, until last Thursday, our neighborhood's most popular Shabu Shabu restaurant. It's right around the corner from where I live in Wanhua (萬華), Taiwan.  

Shabu Shabu is from Japanese and means, I think, swish swish. It's an onomatopoeia for how the food is (should be) cooked at this kind of establishment. The process for getting your meal is as follows: Customers are seated at tables with individual pots. They then choose what broth they would like and it is poured into the pots by the server.  Once the broth comes to a simmer, they add vegetables, meat and other. The meat should be held in chopsticks and swished back and forth until cooked. In Taiwan, however, the meat is simply dumped in the pot and cooked until well-done. When the ingredients appear to be cooked or over-cooked (every man to his own), they are fished out and seasoned for eating. New ingredients are continuously added by the customer, who is also the cook. Seasonings include green onions, garlic, chili, cilantro parsley, soy sauce and sand-tea sauce (沙茶醬), which is a clumpy peanut butter and fish sauce. I usually throw a little white vinegar in as well. Here's a link for the run-down on how to proceed at a Shabu Shabu: http://www.squidoo.com/hotpot

The reason I took this shot was my family just ate dinner there 12 days ago. It was a Monday night and still the place was packed. The restaurant was popular because they had all-you-can eat vegetables, shrimp and clams, ice cream and cakes. There was also a soda pop machine, coffee brewer and half a dozen varieties of tea. To top it off, these creative restauranteurs kicked in a multi-tiered chocolate fountain for marshmellow and cookie dipping. Who would have known the restaurant was on its last legs? I guess there were signs though, see the outrageous bill we paid -- almost NT$1,000 which included new goodies (a ten-percent service charge even though you retrieve the food yourself and do your own cooking and a NT$140 surcharge for infants). 

When a restaurant that can fill its tables on a Monday suddenly closes down in Taipei, it's a probably a matter of paying the rent. This is how it seems to go here: If you can't bring in customers, you shutter because you're not able to make ends meet. If you are successful, the owner of the property recognizes you are in the black and raises the rent to a rate that you can no longer be profitable at. Two McDonalds and a Wellcome Supermarket have also left our community in the last couple of years. Not that I am lamenting these facts. I was curious about McDonalds vacating the corner of Wanda Road (萬大路) and Dong Yuan Street (東園街) though. After they left, the landlord wasn't able to find a tenant for this extremely high-activity spot for over a year, and I'm guessing it came down to a staggeringly high rent proposal. (Cafe 85 has since moved in and is packed into the wee hours.)

My family has a lot of memories from this Shabu Shabu spot. In a previous life, it was the banquet hall in which my brother and sister-in-law were married. I'll never forget being left with a bag containing around US$10,000 full of red envelops after all of the festive relatives, friends and associates had staggered off. That'll teach me not to go off for a last-minute leak. Anyway, I did the negotiating for their wedding dinner. I am proud to say I held my own too; I even pretended to count empty beer bottles. 

I wonder how long it is before another business establishment settles here, how long it lasts and what it is. Hopefully, the new owners will take into account the high turnover of previous businesses when they enter into negotiations.