25 May 2015

MAY: Week Three & Four

Listening to: Flight Facilities, "Clair De Lune.”

Sometimes, I’m sitting in a cafe here and a great (relatively old) song comes on. Like the Flight Facilities track above. And I wonder how it got here. "Here" being Taiwan. Do some of the cafe proprietors just have the same taste in music as I do? Or more likely, they are just using Spotify playlists. Which is both good and bad. Good because I like the music but bad because you can't even tell who has good taste anymore when we all just resort to pre-curated playlists.

This is the “What I miss about America” edition of weekly updates — besides certain foods, that’s a constant. Basically, I’m starting to feel out of the loop on everything back in the States. Not that I was on top of everything but at least I could keep abreast of the conversation. I was behind on some stuff -- as generalized here -- but for most things I was either slightly ahead or right with the zeitgeist.

Now I’m just behind on everything: movies, books, TV, news, whatever. The same thing happened when I lived abroad last time, like fifteen years ago. I used to be on top of everything and after eight months in China I came back lost and confused -- especially music wise. And it took forever to semi-catch up. For someone who prides themselves on being aware of what’s trending or coming down the pipeline, I’m distraught.

“But the Internet…” you say. I mean, of course the Internet. But when nobody else around you is talking about stuff, it’s easy to let it slide too. I mean, what is Empire. What was Ferguson? Who is Drake? Has popular slang changed while I've been gone? How long can I live like this? Is it time to return?

I can only imagine how this effect magnifies if one's been away for longer. I fear being that out of touch. My friend likes to ask, "But behind according to whom?" And my answer is invariably, "everybody!"
This week was our big exam for the semester. I showed up, took the test, and then disappeared again. School’s out in two weeks, technically, but I’m done — I’ve lost the motivation. Theoretically, I have no reason to be in Taiwan anymore, now that school's over, but I’m not quite ready to leave. So what to do with all this time?

Well, the U.S. is pulling me a bit, and I was looking at swinging home for summer camp, a June wedding, and then some weeks in New York, but somehow it feels like my life is, more or less, here. It’s only been seven or eight months but Taipei feels home-ish.

The weather has been warming up though, which could quickly drive me away. Heat is my enemy. Given the choice, I’d take frigid winter over torpid summer but maybe with enough air conditioning and cool thoughts I'll survive. "Brr, it's cold in here..."

Without school I don’t have much of a routine, unless you count dance class on Wednesdays (the only thing I regularly commit to), and then an assortment of random social things during the week, followed by weekends trying to find music and/or dancing. Chasing the stars, as it were. It’s a shapeless existence, and not that different from when I lived anywhere else. But it’s starting to become tiresome. For awhile it was nice having school to anchor the day, but truthfully, I was feeling resentful about the daily obligation.

So yeah, now what?

Our friend’s rooftop has become our de facto hangout spot and we go up there at night to drink wine, chain smoke, and blast music. The most enjoyable dance party I’ve been to in awhile has been on this rooftop, just three or four of us, dancing like idiots because nobody’s watching. And because we could play our own music. Fun danceable music is impossible to find here. That alone might drive me back to New York.

Question: What is the smallest number of people that qualifies as a “party?” Same thing for “crew.” I’ve noticing the term “crew” thrown around to describe just a handful of people. That seems like overstating the fact. The minimum number for a crew can’t be lower than, say, seven people right? Please rank in ascending order: crew, posse, entourage...

There are certain things you can only do here in a bunch of people. I have yet to assemble that many friends but one day, I would like to. If simply to take advantage of the sharing potential of a high headcount. Come, let us break bread together friends and semi-friends.

My new thing is skipping the going out portion of the evening and heading straight for the food at 3AM. It’s much more efficient.

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.