13 April 2015

APR: Week Two

Finding a decent slice in Taipei is hard, especially when you’re coming from New York. There’s rumors that a place called Little New York Pizzeria is pretty good, but I’ve yet to make the trek up there. One of my classmates was on a Taipei pizza hunt for awhile but gave up after tasting too many subpar selections. My general attitude toward Western food here is “no thanks.” I’m living in a land of cheap Chinese food, why am I going for expensive, underwhelming, other food? Plus the taste profiles tend to be all wrong. You should have seen this schwarma I tried out the other day. Wrongness. The bagels at Good Cho are pretty delicious though I must say, after just trying two.

On Monday my friend invited me to a photography exhibit on the ninth floor of a department store in Xinyi. It was this guy, Kazuyoshi Nomachi's National Geographic-esque photos from his travels following around pilgrims through India, Tibet, Africa, and Saudi Arabia. Pretty, and eye-catching, but the exhibits outside featuring paintings made from trash were more interesting. Still, you can’t argue with free.

Plus, I dropped my friend off afterwards for her date with A-mei, the Madonna of Taiwan. A-mei is an an indigenous Taiwanese pop star that came out during my high school years and she’s the one pop star that every Chinese-American probably knows. She was in the midst of a ten show run at Taipei Arena and her fans outside hummed with anticipation and excited energy. My friend’s friend was going three nights in a row. Talk about a pilgrimage.

We discovered beer pong. Or rather, a bar in Taipei that has a beer pong room downstairs. I’ve only played beer pong once, during house boating two years ago. I sucked then and I still suck now. In the U.S. beer pong is synonymous with frat parties but remove the douchebags and it’s really quite fun!

Also, I’ve noticed that explaining American culture to foreigners is pretty easy if they’re well versed in movies. “Frats” are easily explained by referencing Animal House or Old School, etc. The difficulty is in the details, such as trying to explain the various uses of “bro” and which are good versus bad. It’s harder to break down what makes “bro (culture)” idiotic as contrasted to indicating closeness through the use of the term. I, for one, have never called anyone “bro” in my life. In related news, I have never won a game of beer pong in my life.

After beer pong, we were all so hopped up on drinking mass quantities of beer that we waltzed out to Elektro and had a smashing great time on a Wednesday night — for the first time in awhile. Elektro has definitely shown itself to be superior to Myst in every sense. Better music, better crowds, better ambiance. And now better memories.

On Thursday, I headed to the airport to pick up my cousin and escort her to Taichung. My aunt and other cousin had arrived earlier that morning and were in Taichung already. Also arriving with my cousin was my brand new iPhone 6+ and iPad Mini. So yes, there were ulterior motives in my sudden trip to Taichung, but there were other non-tech related reasons too. Like going to see my uncle and great aunt, whom I haven’t seen since my first trip back here, last September. Plus it felt like a good weekend to get away and do nothing.

And do nothing was exactly what I did from Thursday until Sunday. While my aunt and cousins spent their time running around looking at wedding stuff — my cousin just got engaged and wanted a qipao — I just stayed up all night setting up my new iStuff and being tech productive. I literally didn’t even leave my uncle’s house all weekend as I would wake up when everyone got home and then stay up all alone through the night, tip tapping away. It was wonderful!

Oh, yeah, my iPhone 5 needed replacing because the rear camera broke (apparently a common issue) and not having it was messing up my life. Cue the melodrama. No Snapchats, no taking photos for my moblog, no way to take quickie reminder photos of things. Basically I just borrowed friends' phones all the time to snap photos and then had to bug them about sending them over for me. I contemplated living without a camera phone but in the end I just couldn't do it. I mean, without Snapchat who am I? How will my friends actually know what I’m doing? Will they forget me if I'm not transmitting ten six seconds of my life at a time?

The iPad Mini -- not that much bigger than the gigantic iPhone 6+ -- was sort of a luxury but my laptop was getting way too heavy and I was sick of carrying it around. That sucker is almost six years old and while I should probably upgrade, the thought of going iPad and best external keyboard was very enticing. "It's so light, it's so portable, I'd be so gadgety!" (Plus, I have a running list of iOS games that are only available on iPad. Hello Hearthstone and Magic 2015...)

My friend Barry, super author and Mac-ophile, has a series of posts about his various writing setups. “For the Tech of It” includes hardware and software breakdowns and since Barry is very prolific, I can’t help but be a more dedicated writer with his setup, right?... Oh, also! Barry and his wife, Morgan, who also works in publishing, now have a podcast! Go check out Writing in Real Life (WiRL). I love when friends start podcasts, it feels like I can still keep up with them, however one-sided the conversation might be.

I would also love to detail my weekend struggles with upgrading to Apple's new Photos app and trying to figure out why my iPhoto wasn't exporting, but I wouldn't want your excitement level to combust. Plus, a full-on podcast episode with AMR is long overdue about our (theoretical) solutions to photo bloat and efficient organization. Oh yeah, my podcast is here, but half the links are broken and new episodes are intermittent at best. Please come and be a guest?

06 April 2015

APR: Week One

Currently pushing: Alto’s Adventure. Get on this iOS game. It’s a beautiful endless runner — not a genre I normally enjoy — but the soothing visuals, stripped down gameplay, and snowboard plus llama (chasing) theme is irresistible.

The personal hot pot, a true revelation for the hot pot experience. We grew up under the communist idea that one pot would serve us all, but many of the hot pot restaurants in Taiwan have small individual pots. It's revolutionary! You don’t know personalization until you’re freed to throw in whatever you want into the boiling water, irrespective of other people's wishes. Plus, loafers aren't rewarded by just sitting there eating while someone else does all the cooking.

One of my best friends is here, all the way from London. I haven’t seen her since she had her baby, maybe four years ago, and it’s been a trip to see her mini-me. He’s got her mega huge eyes and a lot of her personality, which involves just sort of being often adrift in her own creative world. Back home, Sally was also my semi-F.O.B. Taiwanese friend, as she came over to the States as a teenager. So, you know, we spoke some Chinese from time to time and now we find ourselves in Taiwan together, after fourteen years of friendship. This may not be that exciting from the outside, but to hang out on her home turf, as it were, was a novel experience for both of us I think.

Oh, also, for lunch we met up with her friend, Ringo, who recently relocated back to Taiwan from London. Ringo makes the most amazing socks and beanies and clothing. Super bright colors and wonderful patterns. Go look, go! Yu Square Knitwear. I totally got some socks from her latest collection to keep my sock game strong.

And speaking of clothing, over the weekend I went up to Tianmu, where Sally is from, and she pointed me in the direction of several pants stores. I’ve been on the hunt for linen pants since summer is around the corner and shorts don't always cut it.

There’s a particular style of pants I want: yoga-y with wide legs, baggy, and preferably cut above the ankles. I’ve seen the look around Taipei a lot, mostly on Japanese people, and it’s amazing. There’s several designer stores I’ve found that sell them but at a very hefty price. After checking out a few places, this store, Mana, turned out to be the answer and I found my dream pants. They’re basically half skirt and half pant, and all the way awesome.

Plus, at the weekend street market, I picked up an incredible black denim satchel for all those weekend trips I take to nowhere. But I can’t turn down a good (and cheap, NT$500) bag so I had to get it. And thus concludes the shopping portion of the month, although now I need to find the appropriate shoes and tops to go with the skirt pants. It’ll be a brand new me!

Also, the weather has really been heating up, right as school gave us the back half of the week off for Qingming Jie / Tomb Sweeping Day. So it’s been broiling days and toasty nights. On Thursday, after a stomache bursting dinner at Addiction Aquatic Development — the spot for not too pricey super fresh sushi at the stand-up bar — my friend and I hopped on bikes and cruised down the few miles back home. It was her inaugural YouBike ride and there’s no greater joy than sharing that experience with somebody. I can only hope it's life changing, and even if it isn't, it's always a blast. I seriously can’t live in a city without bike share anymore, it'll just be too backwards.

Friday night was rechao with new friends, an introduction to a fancy bar or two, and then the requisite late night dancing. Plus the weekend included viewings of cult classics Tank Girl (Naomi Watts?!) and Luc Besson’s second finest, The Fifth Element. And a quick swing through on Saturday night of the Treasure Hill Environmental Art Lantern Festival, otherwise known as mosquito-ville. Overall, a solid week. Grade: A.

20 March 2015

Undiscovered Bum

Listening to: Carly Jae Jepsen, “I Really Like You.” Carly does it again! Hello early summer jam. I’m ready for her latest hit to take over my life. Also I’ve been concurrently listening to a lot of Enter the Wu-Tang. So, you know, I’m either skipping or poseur-ing down the street. Same look.

Ah, so many Wu memories. Remember the Wu Name Generator? I used it to create the conference names for my long running fantasy football league. So the two sides are named “Inscrutable Drama Kings” and “Spunky Misunderstood Geniuses.” It might be time to update those after more than a decade. But nostalgia you know?

My introduction to Wu-Tang was at the hands of JMZ, when we were seventeen. At the time, he was really into doing all the lines and especially the movie open from “Liquid Swords.” “When I was little, my father was famous. He was the greatest samurai in the empire…” I didn’t know Wu-Tang, I didn’t know hip hop, I barely knew JMZ. I didn’t know anything about New York or its boroughs until years later. It took me many listens of De La Soul to figure out that their "Strong Island" was not the same as Wu-Tang’s "Shaolin" aka Staten Island. Rap is geography.

Another one: Loading up Raekwon’s "Only Built 4 Cuban Linx” on the drive from San Diego to Santa Cruz to see my first girlfriend. It was, and still is, the longest I’ve ever driven to see someone. I remember just feeling pumped and wondering what would power me through this epic, and romantic, drive. Mainly it was just Raekwon on repeat and repeat and repeat. We broke up three months later.

Lasting image: Watching three upperclassmen people dance to "Da Rockwilder” at a college diversity show. One was the coolest girl in pretty much all of life (still is and I count one of my major life achievements being able to call her “friend”), the second is an award winning chef in L.A. as well as a MFA grad, and the third is a hardcore political dissident for Taiwanese independence. And I believe he works for the company that makes all those Taiwanese animation videos as well. Basically, if you can dance to “Da Rockwilder,” you can do most anything.

Carly Rae, Wu Tang, and I'm finally discovering the greatness that is Fleetwood Mac. Basically my entire (current) music game has fallen off completely since being in Taiwan. Who is Schoolboy Q? What are collard greens? Why did I not know that "I'm in love with the coco" was in reference to cocaine? Because I'm lost, that's why.

Also because I'd prefer to think that the "coco" in question is in reference to the ubiquitous Taiwanese boba chain that expanded to New York last year. My drink of choice at Coco is the "three brothers 三兄弟" which is boba, grass jelly, and custard all in one cup. It's a tall glass of delicious.

13 March 2015

Broken Promises

Currently pushing: Did the LA Times lift my idea for a publishing board game and make their version of it? Of course they did! I guess they added an interactive die and actually made a whole game so they win. So go ahead, try out How to Be a Writer.

Did I totally fail on my stated goal of blogging daily in March? Did I not even post once? Of course I did! In a hilarious attempt at resuscitating my writing habits, I figured I'd start from the beginning: blogging a lot. Instead I find myself digging through half written posts, Evernotes with mysterious phrases randomly scattered around, and trying to reconstruct things I was trying to talk about weeks ago.

The obvious solution is to just back date every attempted post from this month, because blogs are basically time travel. In related time travel news, watch Predestination. It’s not as good as say, Looper or Edge of Tomorrow, but it’s better than most. Plus, Ethan Hawke in sci-fi stuff is generally good. Evidence: Gattaca.

Advanced analytic stats on my blog: A high of 140 posts in 2009 to 23 posts in 2014. And then a whopping one post for the first three months of 2015. It's been a precipitous decline; I'm the Deron Williams of blogging.

So I think I’m going to put myself on a blogging schedule. Something I’ve never had to resort to. The mere idea of a schedule is anathema to me. But once I catch up on March, it’s onward with three posts a week. I mean, can I even call myself a writer if I can’t produce three sloppily written posts a week? Of course not right?

Also, I’ve been thinking of what the grace period is for when you should stop calling yourself a writer/author after your last book comes out. Number twelve on Simmons’ rules for being a true fan says that you can’t complain about your team for five years after they win a championship. I think that five year window is also a nice way to delineate when you're not an author anymore — this is in contrast to my ten year rule for things you used to do.

After those five years, you go from “I'm an author” to “I wrote a book once.” So basically, the clock is ticking. My last published thing was almost exactly a year ago so I have four years and counting to produce something else. Hurry Jon, hurry!

In the meantime, I bought this highly recommended Logitech Bluetooth Easy-Switch K811 keyboard at Guanghua Digital Plaza the other day to increase my mobile productivity. Of course, I don’t have an iPad to use it with yet, but this is how I do things. First a keyboard and iPad stand, then the actual iPad. Because backwards is forwards.

06 March 2015

Concept of School, Seems So Secure

Currently pushing: The mysterious and ancient frilled shark. Of, um, ancienty. And the blue bull of India, the nilgai. You’re welcome.

Well, school started again, in early March. After initially thinking I would only stick around Taiwan for one semester, I wasn’t nearly ready to make future life plans yet so decided to continue on for another exciting three months of learning Chinese at Shida.

This time out though, I was going to drop the intensive course and take regular classes because I felt like the three hours of class plus studying and homework were providing me with little time to do much else. (Perhaps only semi-true, since I’m not the most efficient time manager ever. But many of my classmates agreed.) So my big debate for spring semester was which time slot to pick: 12-2pm or 2-4pm? Clearly the latter was my preferred option but then I decided to be responsible and go for the earlier than noon wake up.

Plus, my new-ish apartment was only a seven minute walk to school, cutting my commute time by at least half an hour. No more rushing to hail a cab to class...and then sending Snapchats to classmates that basically said "I'm coming!"

Also this semester, upon suggestion of my teacher, I demoted myself down a few levels, switching from the classes with mostly ABCs (American Born Chinese) to ones with mostly expats. Which meant that I went from one of the worst students in the class to one of the best — at least speaking-wise. I spent most of the first few days of the spring semester hopping around and shopping for a new class as being the best speaker was of little use to me.

As I discovered, in language classes, it’s far better to be one of the lesser students, because you are challenged and can learn from everyone around you. For example, my initial class was made up of people who had only started learning Chinese for six months. There was one ethnic Chinese, aside from me, and he was from Europe. Everyone else was straight foreign. Technically I’d been learning Chinese for twelve to fourteen years, plus I spoke Chinglish at home. Actually I’ve been quite impressed with how fast people can learn rudimentary Chinese — as most of the Shida beginners have their writing and reading skills comparable to mine — but it was a struggle to have basic conversations and that wasn't the challenge I was looking for.

So I went up a level and found people — still mostly foreigners — who’d been studying for maybe nine months, and while my listening/speaking might still be one of the higher ones in class, their overall proficiency was definitely higher than mine. Perfect.


One thing I do miss is my old classmates who, being mostly raised in America, were brought up in educational environments that stressed participation. Ironically, the bane of my young educational career was speaking up but now I find myself wanting a classroom setting where I won’t be the only one volunteering answers.

Having the teacher ask a question and then hearing crickets make for dull classes. Part of the silence is perhaps due to people not being as expressive in a language they are still learning, part of the non-participation comes down to individual personalities of course, but in general, the students from Asian countries tend to be quiet as mice unless called upon. Without classroom dialogue, two hours can crawl by pretty slowly.

One day I should post about the entire educational experience at Shida but for now I can say that its pedagogical model is exactly what you would expect: the Prussian one most of us are familiar with. It’s an effective method (debatable) but can be boring as hell without the right teacher and classmates. So I kept shopping around and settled for two out of three: Right coursework, right teacher, right classmates. Which would you choose?

Seen in the image above: I kept a sketch log of my classmate's earring selections. I was jealous of her many fine birds so this was the next best thing to actually owning them. And yes, I was paying attention in class. I just need to keep my hands busy when I sit down, otherwise I zone out.