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!

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.