Sunday, September 16, 2007

Just for fun, here's a bunch of Polish people singing on the MRT in Taipei.

The Taiwanese guy in orange at about the 1:30 mark doesn't look amused.


Well, I've been abroad for three months now, and have been in Taiwan for almost two. It seems like longer, but it's really just the beginning. In three months I've lived in a couple of different countries, learned bits of a few different languages, ate all kinds of new foods, and met a whole lot of cool and interesting people. I have started a new job, and am working on making this place my home.

I am actually starting to feel more at home here. Even though I am still illiterate, and can speak slightly less Mandarin than a Taiwanese two-year old, I am beginning to feel less out of place. It will be a long and hard process I'm sure, but having a place to call home and a growing network of friends and associates is making the transition easier. I am also glad that I at least speak English. I can't imagine what it would be like to come here knowing only Russian or Spanish or Swahili or something. At least English is studied by enough people to make it easy for me to get by.

I was however, feeling kind of nostalgic for American stuff today, so I jumped on my scooter and headed over to the local McDonald's for lunch. Big Mac, fries, and just to add a little Asian flare, an iced tea. Then I went and signed up for a Blockbuster Video account. I miss Netflix a lot. Millions of DVDs to chose from, all kinds of films from the classic to the esoteric, and TV shows to boot. The local Blockbuster has an decent selection of new Western DVDs, but I'll still have to find a way to watch my shows from back home.

Saturday, September 8, 2007

Thel Local Drinkeries

Yesterday was payday, so after a satisfying meal of beef soup and fried Korean pan sticks at our local dumpling joint, Luke and I decided to find a place to do some drinking. We had heard from coworkers and local acquaintances about perhaps the only bar in our area. We started walking, crossed the highway that divides our city of Linko from neighboring Gueishan, and found the bar straight away using our coworker's directions.

The place was called Tequila Music Bar. In external appearance, it was exactly the kind of bar you'd see on your local urban or suburban street corner. Flickering backlit sign, neon Bud and Miller ads, and posters covering the glass door and windows, blocking the view in or out. Even the inside was authentic Americana. Low lighting, a hardwood bar complete with stools and a brass footbar, and shelves full of Jim Beam, Jack Daniels, and Famous Grouse. A TV on the bar played downloaded Justin Timberlake music videos the whole time we were there. I guess that's what made it a "music bar". Luke and I took a seat at the bar and ordered some beers. At about NT200 ($6) each, these beers carried a Taipei premium price, but what did we care? We'd just gotten fat envelopes of cash and dammit, we wanted to drink in a bar.

Our bartender for the evening was a very cute young Taiwanese girl who introduced herself as Sa Sa (or Sasha, tee-hee.) She chatted with us for a few minutes before going back to bar tending for the other nine or so patrons. Almost immediately after her departure, another attractive woman came up and took a seat next to us. She introduced herself and chatted for a few minutes before returning to the company of a table full of businessmen. I was beginning to feel like a sexy, popular Norm from Cheers. A few minutes later another woman came and did the exact same. "Oh," we realized "it's one of those places."

It's not uncommon in Taiwan to enter a bar full of pretty girls dressed fairly skimpily, and a few average looking male patrons. It's exciting at first, seeing the ratio of goofy looking men to attractive women. But as one finds out quickly, these women are paid employees of the bar. Employees disguised as fellow customers, but who will only come sit or talk with you if you pay them (or at least buy them rounds of overpriced drinks which they undoubtedly take a cut of from the till.) They aren't prostitutes per se, at least not in the traditional sense.

Upon noticing this, the bar lost a lot of its appeal to us. I asked Sa Sa about the other girls and she admitted that they were "customer service" employees. She furrowed her brow and acted like I had just cracked DaVinci's code. We're not that lonely or desperate for female companionship. We decided to pay our tab and leave. Sa Sa tried to cornhole us out of an extra NT100, but we corrected her and she apologized through a plastic smile. That bitch.

Since we weren't yet sufficiently soused, we decided to go to a place we'd found a couple of weekends ago. This place is a large corrugated steel building in Gueishan that is full of food vendors and is open late nights. It looks like an old airplane hangar, and it's very much the kind of place you might stop to eat at at a county fair. The length of the walls is lined with food vendors of all varieties. Noodle vendors, seafood, pig parts, stinky tofu, and soup places. The middle of the building was dotted with folding tables and plastic stools. Along the back wall, a few rows of homemade arcade machines and basketball games kept the kids busy.

We got a couple of tall mugs from one of the beer vendors (at only NT120 for 1 liter) and took a seat. There were no miniskirts here. No Justin Timberlake. This was a working man's place. The customers here were all real people. No plastic smiles at this place. The smiles here were real. Smiles with blackened or missing teeth. Smiles blood red from constant betel nut chewing. The men were sweaty and tired from a long work week, and undoubtedly many of them would work again on Saturday and Sunday. Men without shoes, men with paint staining their hands and arms, or with scars and sores from working with their hands all day. Women with equally hardened features, yet still undeniably feminine, accompanied their men to this social mecca where everyone can eat and drink cheaply and without the social pressures faced by bar and club goers.

This place suited us much better. We drank, we ate, and we people watched. There were stray dogs and cats, there was no bathroom so we were forced to use the parking lot. There was no air conditioning, and occasionally someone fell off their stool or spilled a beer and everyone laughed. We loved it.

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Wednesday, September 5, 2007


One of the first foods I encountered on the streets of Taipei was stinky tofu (臭豆腐 cho dofu.) The Taiwanese love the smelly delicacy, which is basically tofu (bean curd) which has been fermented in a bath of vegetable brine for several months and then deep fried and served with chili sauce. You can smell the stinky tofu from down the street if a vendor is close, and it has a unique, powerfully pungent aroma that is unlike anything else I've smelled before. It tastes okay in my opinion, but the smell alone turns many people off.

I saw an interesting article on Google today wherein a stinky tofu vendor was actually fined by the government for the stench of his product.

The Taipei County Environmental Protection Bureau slapped the T$100,000 fine on the Kuang Tou Lao stinky tofu restaurant in Hsinchuang, a satellite city of Taipei, for reaching a stench level of 30, in an area where only a level 10 was permitted.

I'd like to have a look at this "stench level" scale and its various benchmarks. Is there a stenchometer? Do you know what the acceptable stench level in your hometown is? My guess is that Linko's is fairly high.

A lower court imposed the fine in April 2006 after receiving 16 complaints from neighbours who could not stand the odour, but restaurant owner Peng Tien-jung appealed the ruling. The Administrative High Court rejected Peng's appeal on Tuesday.

Peng protested the fine, saying for stinky tofu, the more "aromatic", the better quality. "Who wants to eat stinky tofu that does not stink?" he asked environment inspectors.

Indeed, who would eat just regular, non-stinky tofu?

Cable TV channel TVBS reported that Kuang Tou Lao is not the smelliest stinky tofu restaurant in Taipei. TVBS showed an unnamed stinky tofu vendor who rubs a type of smelly gravel onto the tofu to make it more pungent.

Cat litter?

All in all, it's good to see the authorities cracking down on smell pollution here in Taiwan. Now if only they would do something about the air pollution, water pollution, constant loud noises, other bad smells, and terrible traffic...

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Sunday, September 2, 2007

WTF Japan?

The folks over at cNet's Crave blog have posted a promo video for Sony's new executive tech toy, the 'Rolly'. It's exact functions and purpose are still open to speculation, as Sony hasn't released much but a teaser video, but it appears to be some kind of rolling, flashing, spinning football shaped thing that 'dances' along to music, and possibly does other stuff too. Here's the video, which I actually find quite funny.

My only question is "why?" Why does the world need this? At least their robotic dog could serve as a poop free companion to those who for whatever reason can't get a real pooch. All I can imagine this thing doing is rolling around your house, freaking out your cat, and perhaps getting into a fight with your Roomba. Actually, since Battle Bots went off the air, I've been jonseing for a good robot v. robot deathmatch. Let's see what you got, Sony.

Crave also reports that Taiwanese laptop manufacturer Acer is set to buy Gateway, which will make the company the world's third largest PC maker. Pretty cool, nice going Taiwan.

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