11 May 2015

MAY: Week Two

Currently listening: Wiz Khalifa, “See You Again.” Yeah it’s the song that they play at the end of Fast 7 during the Paul Walker montage. Yeah it’ll make you want to cry. And they ended the night with this track at a club last week. It was wonderful. Move over Al Green, this is my new closer. Here’s an hour of “See You Again” on loop, just in case you need it. Nine million views can’t be wrong...

This week marked my DJ debut. Yes, my long awaited dream of having someone let me DJ a party finally happened! My friend had a photography studio for her birthday party and her roommate (and me!) in charge of the music. Finally, yes yes yes! Basically I put together my dream dance playlist — mostly girl pop, with tons of Mariah, Janet, and Whitney — and downloaded Traktor.

By the way, Traktor for iOS is incredible. So easy to use and I haven’t even figured out any of the cool features yet. Just being able to semi-mix one song into the other is good enough though. Armed with a playlist that was sure to get the party jumping, I made my debut around midnight… and flamed out. I didn’t account for the fact that people literally a decade younger than me might not appreciate Denice Williams or Lisa Lisa and the Cult Jam quite as much as my peers. Argh, Millenials! Oh well.

I was booted after about forty minutes (“Do you have anything newer? More hip hop-y?”) or what I’d like to say was me “taking a break after my first set.” When the party was winding down and most of the crowd had left, I jumped back on the zeros and ones and cranked out more Madonna and Taylor Swift. "But I got a blank space baby / And I'll write your name." Anyway, I have an awesome playlist, please invite me to DJ for you soon. Especially if you’re over thirty.

List of ender songs I was considering (none of which was used, yet):
  • Adam Levine, “Lost Stars”
  • Ritchie Valens, “Sleepwalk”
  • Kanye West, “Family Business”
  • Spandau Ballet, “True”
  • Debbie Gibson, "Lost in Your Eyes"
  • Al Green, “Let’s Stay Together”
  • 2Pac, “Check Out Time”
  • Hall & Oates, "Everytime You Go Away”
I made the stunning realization this week that I don’t have (as) many American friends here anymore! Most of my first semester classmates are gone and of the people I normally hang out with there’s a Brazilian, an Indonesian, a Taiwanese, and a Malaysian. Only one American friend in the bunch! Of course, we mostly speak English so it’s not really that much different. And all our pop culture references are the same.

When I met my Brazilian friend, I swore she was from California because her English is tinged with an American accent (whatever that is). When I asked her how come, her reply was the best: “I learned English from watching Friends. Every episode."

One of the downsides of the past few months in school is that it’s severely stunted my meeting actual Taiwanese people opportunities. As you can imagine, everyone at Shida is a foreigner and it’s far easier to just clump together. So my goal, moving forward is to meet Taiwanese people again!

School’s over at the end of the month but honestly I’m already tapped out. I moved down a level and it got too easy and my previous dedication is just not there. Plus, my classmates are very quiet compared to my previous group and I'm much less inspired to attend. So yeah, I’m out! Now that I have a methodology to learning Mandarin, I can practice vocab on my own and it’s time to get my oral skills up to speed. I don’t feel like my speaking skills have improved much while I’ve been here — mostly a function of knowing only people who speak English well — so in the future, that’s what I need to focus on.

At the rate of 40-50+ new words a week, I’ve probably learned a thousand characters so far, in six months. Of those, maybe I’ve retained half? Chinese goes quick when you aren’t constantly practicing. I wouldn’t say I can read/write that well, but it’s still exciting to be able to decipher basic stuff. Or really simple karaoke songs.

Over the weekend I went to my first Taiwanese wedding. I’d been wanting to attend a Taiwanese wedding because it sounds so different than American ones. To start, you don’t really have to dress up. Sure, you can wear a suit if you want but nicer pants and normal shoes are fine. I’ve straight up seen pictures of people showing up in sweaters and sweats. The wedding I attended was very classy though, so people came looking good.

At the banquet portion of the night, the food was course after course of rich foods: Lobster, duck, fish, crab, steak, etc. It was a little nuts how much there was. Traditionally the wedding is just a massive feast, and this one lived up to that advertisement plenty.

The big difference between American and Taiwanese weddings is that there's no party. You eat the food and then you’re done. The whole affair might take only a short afternoon even. Now I understand why the parents jet out of regular weddings so fast... For this particular wedding, since the bride was Christian, there was a church ceremony (similar to any church wedding I’d been to) so I didn’t get to see any of the traditional Taiwanese stuff. Next time I guess. Overall, a great time and the bride and groom had a singing/dancing portion that was in line with their fun personalities — not at all like most traditional weddings so I'm told.

Speaking of weddings, my sister and AMR’s December wedding was featured in a post from Exquisite Weddings! Click through if you wanna see: "Real Weddings: Georgette and Ameer."

Friday, we discovered badminton. I was unprepared in my camo shorts and no athletic gear. But next time I’m going with a headband and a plan. And I’m gonna win, win, win.

06 May 2015

Food Review: Slurpy Things

Let’s talk about some of the more off-beaten food choices in Taipei. This week I was introduced to octopus noodle soup, a Tainan specialty, at a downstairs mall sorta of area by Fuxing. I wish I could tell you where it was but I forgot to check-in for it. (That’s how I track stuff I’m eating, by checking in on Swarm.) The thin rice noodles, clear broth, and loads of octopus rings are a delight.

And then at Ningxia night market, we stepped into a seafood place on the side and my friend introduced us to milkfish soup. Milkfish is very popular but hard to eat because it’s very bony. I don’t like to work that hard for my food but in this version, the milkfish is already de-boned! And served with some ginger strips in the soup and a side of wasabi/soy sauce dip, the entire taste is very 輕輕, or light and delicate. At least I hope that’s what 輕輕 means.

Also at the night market we had this sesame peanut shaved ice concoction with giant mochi balls stuffed inside. The lady slinging the stuff was ruder than the Soup Nazi but her product was amazing. I guess if you have a huge line you can be as un-customer friendly as you want. This ice thing is totally worth the wait.

Other discoveries this week: a pretty acceptable tsukemen spot and also a very nice soba place, both in a part of town I’d never explored before. I’m starting to feel like Taipei is kind of small but I know there’s lots of little areas I’ve yet to explore, so it was affirming to find such a cool area still within striking distance of my house. Note: The tsukemen place is right across from the famous unagi-don spot, which I've never been to yet because I have a slightly irrational fear of eel still, after my college roommate got a bone stuck in his throat like ten years ago and we had to hit the emergency room. Also, I am not trying to eat Flotsam and Jetsam, thank you very much.

So this soba place, 二月半, is located in Zhongshan, which used to be quite a popular arty area before Huashan sort of took over. There’s a bunch of intriguing Japanese spots we walked by and this soba place was a definite find. Located right across the street from the old, Spot, an art house cinema, 二月半 served delicious soba in a relaxing and authentic atmosphere. Well, I don’t know if it was authentic, but hey, it had Japanese stuff on the walls.

And while I’m here, a plug for 小李子, which serves congee all night and is open until six in the morning. It’s basically my go-to place after a late night and to be honest, I’m more excited about the rice porridge than the actual going out portion of the night. If you want to get me out of the house fast, just text “Wanna go get 稀飯?!"

Also I did important work this week and compared the filet-o-fishes from McDonald's and MOS Burger, a ubiquitous Japanese hamburger chain here. Despite copying McDonald's in every way, the MOS Burger filet-o-fish is a mere knock-off. Don't settle for anything but the real deal.

04 May 2015

MAY: Week One

At the beginning of the week, I moved out of my little room by school. My three month lease was up so it was back to the motherhouse, literally. My rent for this room, which was barely bigger than my queen sized bed, was NT$15,000, or about US$500. That’s considered pretty expensive here and I definitely paid a premium for having such a short lease. Of course, five hundred dollars for your own room is a steal practically anywhere in the U.S., so I didn’t mind.

“套房,” one of our first vocabulary words last semester, means “suite, apartment, flat” and it’s what a lot of young people start off living in here. Basically a 套房 is a larger space gets cut up into separate rooms and each portion is rented out separately. Oftentimes you share amenities, like showers or whatever, and the walls are thin and you're very close to your neighbors so being quiet is a big deal. Just like cheapo housing Manhattan actually!

My number one qualification for my own place was to have in-unit laundry. You wouldn’t believe how much laundry I do here. Between the smoke in bars/clubs, the sticky heat, and my limited wardrobe, I am constantly washing things. And you gotta have fresh towels and stuff right? Sidenote: I would pay a princely sum for Febreze here, as all the fabric deodorizer alternatives I’ve tried are ineffective.

While the laundry machine didn’t turn out to be in my rented room, the communal one was located right outside the front door so it was close enough. Also, dryers are not a thing here so everyone hangs stuff. That’s not so bad in general but when the apartment below me churned out greasy food three times a day, the smell pummeled my clothing and made my fresh shit smell like oily Chinese food. Problem! Thank goodness my mom purchased a dryer for her apartment recently, so that’s like a major life upgrade when I move back in.

So yeah, my three months of living like a college kid are over, and now I can say I lived like a semi-local. Of course, in such a confined space, I didn’t spend that much time in the room, much less sit down at the tiny desk to crank out writing. Or much studying for that matter. Whoops.

As for this week’s happenings, there was a lot but I’ll summarize since I spent so much time rhapsodizing over noodles and soup. The only thing I’ve got scheduled nowadays — aside from school — is my friend’s hip hop class on Wednesdays. After dance class this week, I jumped over to a semi-new friend’s house near Taipei Main MRT and we had wine and cookies and talked about like, life and stuff. It’s been awhile, I guess, talking about that sorta thing. Ensconced in school, it’s easy to just talk about the present — what classes are like, what’s due tomorrow, etc. — but when you’re around thirty-somethings, and people who are working, you get to talk about life over red wine and Hello Kitty chocolates.

There was a lot of “stuff” talk this week actually. My friend, the one who took me out for octopus noodles, also invited me to a business-y seminar she was involved in. Our conversation involved a lot of sharing about life goals and desired achievements. I’ll spare you my non-answers but it was a good reminder that school’s almost over and it’s probably time to start looking at what’s next.

Other things this week included a quick run-through the MOCA (unaffiliated with the one in L.A.) for a straw and feathers exhibit, and then another gay club on Friday. This one totally sucked though, with music that was not nearly as fun as last week, with way too small of a dance floor. Oh well, the search continues… The weekend wrapped with a hookah lounge — first one in Taiwan — and then a long night of karaoke.

Anyone know if the "secret KTV" with a large English language selection is now closed down or what? I didn't even get to go!

Oh, also saw a trio of movies this week. First up was a double-feature of Park Chan-Wook's Sympathy for Lady Vengeance and Sympathy for Mr. Vengeance. My friend hadn’t seen any of Park’s films so that was a doozy. Of the two, I think I liked Lady Vengeance better (almost solely based on the strength of the long coda), but Mr. Vengeance was more interesting plot-wise. Both are must-sees, of course, and maybe if you’re feeling lots of “WTF am I watching!?” then toss in Old Boy too for a night of light entertainment.

Noah Baumbach’s While We’re Young was a total disappointment. Like I was I was stunned that this was a Baumbach feature. After Frances Ha I thought Baumbach would give us a great take on getting older, but it seemed like he aimed squarely for mass appeal and the potshots he took at Millenials seemed so broad and cliched. The result was funny but not in any sort of Baumbach-ian way. I was hoping to gain some insight into what it's like being child-less in your mid-thirties while hangout out with people in their twenties but Noah was no help this time around. I guess I'll just have to look inward.

27 April 2015

APR: Week Four

Currently pushing: An article about Diplomacy from Grantland, "The Board Game of the Alpha Nerds." Also this from fivethirtyeight, "Designing the Best Board Game on the Planet."

While there was a lot that happened this week, the only thing of true importance was a board game, Pandemic. (Technically, it’s a digital board game because we played it on iPad.) In Pandemic, players team up to fight against four diseases threatening to overtake the world. As you assume the roles of medic, scientist, researcher, dispatcher, etc. you have to work together and cooperate, otherwise you’ll lose.

Actually, you’ll probably lose anyway. To date, I haven’t won a single game of Pandemic yet. The closest time we’ve come to eradicating all four diseases is one turn away, and then a rule we didn’t quite understand came crashing down and we lost. Again. Seriously, I haven’t been this upset at a game in awhile. For a few days there, we were on a serious Pandemic addiction. Now we are just looking for that elusive dedicated fourth team member to take us over the hump.

Also, Hearthstone for iPhone released, which is bad news. Part of my reason for getting an iPad Mini was to play games on it but if Hearthstone is going to be available on-the-go, that’s the option I’ll get with. There’s been talk of getting together after school to play some real live, physical, Magic the Gathering but now that Hearthstone has invaded my life, it’s actually better. Blasphemy, I know. But the fact that Hearthstone is free, and that it’s much easier to teach people how to play, leads to Hearthstone being my collectible card game of choice at the moment. I know playing any CCG is a dangerous road to go down given my past history but I’m doing it anyway…

Sometimes school takes us on field trips so last Friday we hit up the pineapple cake factory. Making pineapple cakes were much more fun and interactive than making tofu at Shenkeng. There’s the mixing, kneading, chopping, rolling, stuffing, waiting, and then packaging. Versus with tofu which is like five minutes of stirring and pouring and then voila. The final pineapple products were super legit too, so much so that my mom thought we had bought the cakes from a store.

School trips are super fun (with the right people) and you get a chance to visit things you never would have normally been inclined to. For example, when we went to Fort San Domingo in Tamsui last semester, I learned about the Spanish, Dutch, and British history of Taiwan. Without our teacher leading the way, I never would have known, or been inclined to, go to Fort San Domingo on my own.

Another field trip, of sorts, took place over the weekend as we finally got to go to a gay club in Taipei. The spot we picked was apparently catered toward the very young — let’s just say that if you were within the age range of 18-23 you got in free — but it was fun as hell. Maybe because we had a large group, maybe because I was just excited to hear some Taylor and Carly Rae on the dance floor, but Funky was an absolute blast.

The dancers that came on intermittently were amazing too, way better than the Luxy Girls or any of the other ladies that the big clubs bring on stage. Let’s face it, those girls can barely dance and are basically rhythm-less. Bleh. The dancers at Funky, on the other hand, were incredible and they worked that shit.

One thing that stayed consistent was how shy the boys/men are in Taiwan. I expected a lot of meeting people and chatting but shy Taiwan boys are shy regardless of their sexual orientation I guess. Or maybe everyone was just too young but overall the vibe was similar to any other club here, with guys plastered along the sides like mice. Anyway, forget the clubs in Xinyi, it’s time to explore Taipei’s gay scene and dance dance dance!

On Sunday, we shot through Young Art Taipei, which was held at the Sheraton Grande Hotel. That’s the innovative part I guess, with 80+ rooms open for visitors to cruise through and look/buy stuff. (And isn’t it great to be an artist, where “young” is defined as under forty-five?) Overall I didn’t think the pieces were that much different than stuff I saw at Art Taipei last year, but that made sense because most of the galleries presenting were likely the same. For alternative art spaces though, a hotel is a pretty neat idea.

And oh yeah, Avengers 2 was seen immediately upon release day, ahead of the rest of the world in fact. Somehow Taiwan got Age of Ultron a week early so I got to experience the vision that was The Vision before everyone else. Critics are saying that this second installment isn’t up to snuff but I’m not sure what people were expecting. With so many characters to service and the requisite city smashing that has to happen, I think Joss Whedon did a terrific job. Plus, getting Linda Cardellini and Julie Delpy some of that Marvel money is a-ok with me! Now to catch up on all this Joss Whedon and Black Widow business...

20 April 2015

APR: Week Three

Game of Thrones is baaaaack! And so is my GoT fantasy league! *faint* This season, just like last year, I’ll be doing recaps about the episodes from a fantasy perspective. So I encourage you to get to Fantasizr and put a team/league together so we can watch our favorite characters verbally eviscerate, shockingly kill, and get all slobbery on Dornish wine together. And oh yeah, I did a quickie draft guide: "Who to draft in Season Five".

My cousins were still here for their visit, which gave me occasion to visit Taipei 101 for the first time. My interest in going up tall things to look at cityscapes is pretty low but I figured this had to happen at least once during my stay here. So up we went in the freakishly fast elevator and then when we got to the top…greyness. Yup, most of the city was covered in clouds or smog or whatever that was. Basically the experience was as I expected. Except for one thing, the gigantic tuned mass damper located on the 87th floor. Aka, big yellow gumball that keeps the 101 from collapsing by sucking up kinetic energy or something. (Like a round Sebastian Shaw or Strong Guy, if you’re really into X-Men.)

As we queued to get upstairs, we kept seeing the stupid looking Damper Baby mascot and commenting on how generic and dumb it looked. After I actually saw the thing and learned how a tuned mass damper worked, I was all in on Damper Baby and his merchandise. Everyone needs a damper baby in their lives, to stabilize us in times of need. Amiright?

Mid-week I discovered the Taipei Zoo. Since I’m a bit of a zoo snob — I am from San Diego after all — I hadn’t really considered going to the zoo here before. But we went and I was sold the instant I saw a (fake and oversized) pangolin mounted on a pay phone. Of course, that was as real as it got because the pangolins inside were no more alive. But still, very cool of Taipei Zoo to have some (stuffed) pangolins!

The entry fee for the zoo was only NT$30 for students so basically I got in for a dollar. It cost me more to subway over! So now my go-to day activity will be visiting the zoo, just to chill out and enjoy the quiet and hang out with some camels or hippos or something.

Also I want to tell you about the plight of the Formosan black bear and how China’s pandas have pushed them aside, even in their native Taiwan. The Formosan black bear is a wonderful (also endangered) animal and very cute in its own right but the dumb pandas capture everyone’s attention — even the Taipei’s zoos staff. No more I say, no more! Look for the distinctive V-shape on the Formosan black bear’s chest and support the fight against those Chinese attention mongers! Okay, I guess you can fight to preserve both, but the way people flock to the panda and ignore the Formosan black bear is really the perfect animal metaphor for China and Taiwan's standing in international circles. The Formosan black bear, my new favorite animal!
The rest of the week involved a hunt through Shida night market for plush Tsum Tsums — if you have to ask, you don’t know — and a send off for a classmate that involved a visit to Honey Pig for Korean barbeque. The line for Honey Pig is crazy here, even at three in the morning. Like, it's good but it's not thaaat good. The rest of the weekend involved a drop-in at Chess for a music video premiere and then I also paid my taxes because I’m a responsible human being. Well, until I showed up to Sunday brunch an hour and a half late. Whoops.

Oh! But I can’t forget bubble ball, which was half an hour of complete madness. I don’t know if you’ve seen it already but bubble ball is when you get inside a plastic bubble and then try to ram people. Technically there’s a soccer component involved but I didn’t care about that. I think I kicked the ball maybe twice the whole time. My focus was on the bump, bump, bump.

Once safely cocooned in my clear bubble, I was on the attack and only interested in hitting or being hit. It was so fun! Even though half an hour sounds short, once you’re in your inflatable tank and running around and sweating like crazy, fifteen minute sessions are plenty. I tried to work on my “dive, somersault, spring right back up on my feet” move but I’m gonna need more practice. In sum, bubble ball is a high recommend and I can't wait to go again. And here's a video my friend made of us playing!