Tag Archives: Taiwan

Taiwan

More Ill-Advised Hot Dogs and Hiking

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It’s now less than 24 hours before we leave Taiwan and I should probably be packing…but I’m not. Irene is packing clothes right now and I’ve got a lot of gear to figure out where it goes…and to be sure I take everything I brought.

As tomorrow will undoubtedly be consumed with farewells and last minute things, today was my last unscheduled day in Taiwan. Irene and the kids were meeting friends to say goodbye, so I took the opportunity to go hiking one last time.

I broke out the trusty Chinese/Japanese hiking guide and scanned for my next excursion. This time I located a trail that loops through the mountains between Qilian and Qiyan MRT stations in the Beitou district, which is north, towards Danshui.

Yesterday, I left the house planning to eat one last time at Mr. Cong You Bing’s place, but he as closed. I don’t recall that he used to be closed on Saturdays, but then he also didn’t used to stay open past lunchtime either. Maybe he’s making longer days but shorter weeks. Being hungry I stopped at 7-11 and, not finding anything promising to eat, I tried a hot dog. I had managed to blot the whole experience out of my head and didn’t report on it yesterday.

Today, with equally small prospects, I decided to try a different “flavor” hot dog. They have “original”, “garlic” and “spicy.” I tried spicy yesterday and words cannot describe how awful it was. It bears no taste similarity to any real hot dog ever! Today I went with original.

For starters, I have a pretty subtle sense of taste, but as far as I could tell, there was no difference whatsoever. Perhaps they were misidentified.

Taiwan is a funny place. Take garbage collection for example. They collect garbage every day, but they don’t go door to door. They go to designated street corners and everyone in the neighborhood brings out their garbage and hands it to the garbage truck people.

This strikes me as an enormous waste of everyone’s time. We have to be home at 4:45 in the evening (or whenever it is) to have our garbage collected.

Taiwan is a heavily polluted place, the cars and factories belch noxious filth into the air all the time and rarely is there a day when you can’t see the air in front of you. Yet, Taiwan wants to be seen as progressive and “green.” So what do they do? Do they implement programs to cut down air pollution, which impacts the quality of life of every man, woman and child on the island? No, they decide they need to do something about their garbage dumps.

For starters, a few years ago, they implemented a scheme where you can only throw your garbage away in city bags. Bags that you purchase and are clearly identified. It’s a great way to make people pay for exactly the amount of garbage they generate, I can’t deny that, and since you have to go to the garbage truck and hand them your garbage, they won’t take your garbage without it being in the proper bag.

And woe to he who purchases counterfeit garbage bags! (Yes, of course there’s a market for counterfeit garbage bags.)

So, what happens when you implement a scheme like this? Yep, you got in one guess, people started dumping their garbage in street garbage cans to let someone else pay. And so all the garbage cans outside 7-11’s and on the streets disappeared.

So, what now? Every shadowy space, every rooftop accessible from an overpass, every hidden bush just off a trail has piles of garbage under it.

Eventually, the city had to put garbage cans back on the street, but only at bus stops on main streets and MRT stations, with a warning that they are not to be used for household garbage. They’re few and far between and they’re usually stuffed with household garbage.

Clearly this system doesn’t work, so do they abandon it?

Oh no, they expand it into a fascist recycling program. Now everyone has three garbage bags to take out, one for garbage, one for recyclable materials and one for food waste, which is apparently fed to pigs somewhere.

And so it was that I was walking down the street, looking for that next city garbage can thinking, “I’m going to continue to eat this horrendously awful hot dog until I reach the next garbage can and then I’m going to feed to back to the pigs.” Appropriate, since I think it was once parts of a pig, but I can’t stand to imagine which parts.

After yesterday’s experience with Taipei hiking signs, I wasn’t expecting much, and paid particular attention to the maps I had. Once again, my city map didn’t match with the Taipei hiking map of the area. This time, there was also no sign at the MRT station pointing the way, so I headed off in the direction indicated on the map and hoped for luck.

Pretty soon, I came across a sign; at least I was traveling the right direction, but my hopes were soon crushed when the next sign seemed to make no sense at all. I was walking down a city street, and the sign pointed directly to the gated entrance to a University.

After thinking about it for a while, and seeing that there was no guard at the gate, I decided to follow the sign anyway. I continued to find signs as it wound me up the steep roads on the University campus. Finally I came to not only what was obviously the real trailhead, but also a map.

This map of the trail also didn’t match either of my maps, so I snapped a picture of it for future reference.

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This trail took my up what shouldn’t so much be called a mountain, but a giant rock. The usual stairs were cut right out of the exposed rock, all the way to the top of a promontory called Battleship rock, or something like that. When i reached the top, I was surprised that the rock was scoured and worn and covered in white sand. It didn’t take long to figure out why – once I got up into the wind, I was being scoured with blowing sand, too. I’m not sure where it was coming from, but there was a strong wind from up the canyon and the sand was fairly constant.

Here’s a word of advice about Qilian station: It’s the only MRT station I’ve ever seen that doesn’t have a 7-11 or other convenience store right nearby. My plan was to buy a bottle of water when I arrived, but since there was no place to buy one, I was without water.

By the time I reached the top, I was considering going back. I sweated out the bottle of water I drank when I left the house, and was only about 1/3 of the way down the trail (not counting the roads to get to the trail.) It had been uphill every step of the way, hot outside and humid. I was worn out already.

After resting a while, I pushed on, mostly because the trail seemed to be level or slightly downhill. The mountain I was on was the highest in the vicinity, so I figured I wouldn’t be going up too much more. The gamble paid off, the rest of the hike was fairly easy and enjoyable, had I not been tired out from the first part.

At the end of the second segment, the trail ended at a Buddhist temple, which, as far as I can tell, all have soda vending machines. A can of “Sport” later and I was ready to go!

This trail, unlike yesterday’s, had trail markers all over the place, making it easy to walk along. Much of it was unpaved, and pines and other trees kept it shady and pleasant. By far it is my favorite trail I’ve taken in Taiwan so far.

Once I got back to the city streets, though, the city trail signs failed miserably, but I doggedly tried to follow the map just to prove it would work. Along the way, I passed an unusual place. A little temple had been built next to a stream. The stream was pouring quickly down the side of the mountain and had been cemented, presumably so that the water could be channeled under the road. Cars and motorcycles were parked next to the temple.

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At first, I thought they were worshiping, but instead they were washing their vehicles. They had brought buckets and were taking the water out of the small pond at the bottom and using it to wash their cars. Somehow I suspect this is in response to some water conservation technique in use by Taipei.

The signs continued to elude me and only the GPS saved me. By shear coincidence when we went to Danshui the other evening, I’d taken a GPS reading at Qiyan station, which now kept me on course. I still tried to follow the map(s) but I seemed to be walking in an arc around the station when suddenly I saw a sign pointing to an MRT station – in exactly the wrong direction. Just at that moment an MRT train came by on the overpass which I’d mentally dismissed as an expressway.

The sign was pointing to the Qilian station, but according to the GPS, the Qiyan station was still closer, so I followed under the tracks until I came to the station.

I rode into the Guting station, and as it was now well after 3:30 and I’d only had 3/4 of a hot dog all day, I was famished. I stopped at MOS and had what I expected to be my last MOS burger of the trip. I ordered in Chinese and the transaction went flawless. Just the way I’d want it to be.

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Some Bugs and Animals

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While I was hiking today (more on that in another post) I saw a lot more “wildlife” than previously.

There were lizards everywhere, and these two enormous bugs. (That’s a 58mm (2.3″) lens cap cover for size comparison.)

The mantis seems content to let me photograph him, although I think he may have been eyeing me to see if he could take a bite out of me.

The grasshopper didn’t let me get very close before he took off, but when he spread his wings and legs out, he was so impressive, I tried to get a shot of him in flight. He landed on the trail about 15 feet ahead of me, we I crept closer, camera on “sports” mode for rapid picture taking as he took off.

He wouldn’t take off, the camera just clicked away and he ignored me. Finally I tossed the lens cap at him while snapping photos. I got several great pictures of the lens cap in flight and the grasshopper completely ignoring it. A nearby lizard distracted my attention and he took off, never to be seen again.

At one point, an animal crossed the trail in front of me. It was about cat-sized, but dark and furry. It didn’t give me the impression of being a cat, and it was only 10 feet in front of me, but by the time I got to the place it crossed the trail it had gone to ground and I couldn’t see it again.

There are feral cats and dogs all over Taiwan, so I nearly had myself convinced it must have been a cat, but about 20 feet down the trail there was a newer section of cement. The cement was riddled with these footprints.

While I know these footprints couldn’t be the exact same animal I saw, the prints prove something lives in reasonable abundance in the area that it would walk all over wet cement. I don’t know what kind of animal it was, but this print is neither cat nor dog. It looks a bit racoonish to me, but I don’t think they have them in Taiwan.

Anyone know what it is?

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It’s Not the Language

Report from Michelle’s class today:

It’s not the language barrier. Today’s class was all in Chinese and Michelle still has to be the first to answer every question. (Correctly.) I was afraid she was responding faster than the other kids in her last class because it was in English and she had the natural language advantage. This time, that couldn’t be the case.

She just enjoys showing off her knowledge. Good for her. Really the only thing I remember that I enjoyed in school was beating the other kids at answering questions.

Nowadays I gather they’re supposed to cooperate, collaborate and act like a colony of mindless ants.

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Waiting for a Game

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One of the things that always surprises me about trails in Taiwan is that “lived in” feel they have. Instead of the feeling of complete solitude, no matter how trackless the wilderness, you’ll come across signs of habitation. Often they’ll be signs of regular habitation, but there’s no one around.

Near the trail spur to go to Tiger mountain, there was a park table. On the table someone had scrawled a game board, and hand-drawn game pieces were still sitting on the table, as if the owners were coming back any minute.

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Elephants and Tigers and Lions and Jaguars…

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Michelle had class and a haircut scheduled for today, so I decided to take the “Taipei Metro’s Guide to Hiking and Cycling” and try to locate a good day hike from an MRT station.

Last night as we were coming home, very late, from Danshui, Irene noticed that the outline of Taipei 101 looked blurred and obscured by clouds. I told her it must be an illusion because there couldn’t possibly be clouds. There weren’t, it was pollution. Yesterday’s clear weather must have had an inversion layer and collected all the pollution. This morning when I got out, the air was disgusting.

Taipei is very proud that they’ve labeled their trails with signs in both Chinese and English, and I’m not complaining about that.

They’ve also published a guide to tell you which train stations have these signs pointing you at trails. The guide is only in Chinese and Japanese.

Nonetheless, it was with a sense of learning and adventure that I sat down this morning, comparing the hiking guide to a MRT map with both English and Chinese station names, studying the time estimates in the hiking guide for the length of the hike, rejecting those that said “Bus” in Japanese as the first step.

Finally, I settled on what looked to be a fairly long, but easy to follow trail looping from Houshanpi Station up to Tiger, Lion, Elephant and some other cat mountain. The Elephant Mountain trail is often mentioned in articles on day hikes from Taipei, although when I started, I didn’t realize that’s where I was going.

When I arrived at the station, I easily found the first sign (in fact, a the time, I’d forgotten that Taipei had placed the signs). The sign pointed in a consistent direction with the map. The map; however, seemed rather illogical. Rather than taking a straight street in an almost direct line with the trailhead, it turned away at 45 degrees, then sharply angled back to a line perpendicular to the trail.

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The only conclusion I can draw is that the path is designed to take you through a street market area, perhaps to help drive business through the market. Heaven knows how many times I’ve started to take a hike and I say to myself, “I need to buy some raw meats, fish and vegetables for my hike!”

I never saw another Taipei trail marker until I actually reached the entrance street. If I’d followed the one sign I saw at the station, I’d have never found the trailhead.

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When I reached the start, the trail was clearly marked and quite nice. One nice thing about some trails in Taiwan, they place distance markers facing both directions on the trail, so if you pass a 100m mark, and look the other way and see a 550m mark, you know the trail is 640m long and you’ve got 550m to go.

What didn’t make sense was that the trail looked a lot longer than that. (Actually, I don’t remember the numbers, but there were less than 1/2 a kilometer) Still, I was there to see what I could see.

What happened was that when I reached the “end” of the first trail, really the only place to go was the beginning of the next trail. After a while, the distance markers become useless because the reset at the beginning of each new trail.

At one point the “trail” became a mountain road, but after walking down it for a while, with doubts in my mind that I was still on the right path, I came to another Taipei hiking sign indicating this was the right way. I believe I eventually managed to reach all four animal mountains. A couple of them were difficult to reach.

Many times as I walked along the road, there were trails leading up and down off to the side. Some were unmarked completely, others had simple Chinese signs. Every once in a while, I would feel like I should be going on one of those and would end up at someone’s shack, or cultivated field. I’d always return to the road and continue on my way.

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At one point, I came to a peak in the road and there was an open air restaurant, with a woman belting out karaoke. I’d swear it was the exact same woman and exact same song as I saw at Chiang Kai-Shek Memorial and in the town of Puli. There really ought to be a law against that outdoors.

Eventually, I concluded I was lost. I came to a Taipei sign pointing down the mountain (stairs, lots of stairs) indicating a temple was there. I decided to gamble and headed towards it, hoping that it would have a parking lot and a road that was a lot closer to the bottom of the mountain.

When I got there, it was as I’d hoped, and I finally broke out the GPS, which was low on batteries, and checked my distance and bearing to the train station. I was about 1.5 miles away as the crow flies, but at least it was downhill. I reached the city streets and would my way around until the GPS lead me unerring back to the entrance of the train station.

This part of town has lighter traffic in the streets, but the sidewalks are completely covered over with overhangs and stores extending out to the street. To keep the GPS signal, I finally just walked in the middle of the road and the traffic be damned. They went around me without a second thought.

That’s the attitude you have to adopt on the streets here: you just drive around the other people and not get mad. If they didn’t do that, there’d be a 50% reduction in drivers every day as they killed each other off in road rage battles.

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No Part Goes to Waste

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There was nothing on the schedule today, so we had a “free day”.

In the morning, we did some shopping back at the Breeze Center. There was no line at Mister Donut, so we picked up some of those awe-inspiring donuts that lead to lone lines just waiting around for their delicate taste.

They kinda suck. We had about 6 kinds and even Michelle and Irene didn’t like them.

The weather was still bright and clear, finally a perfect evening to go to the night market without the kids. Irene wants to eat from one end of the market to the other.

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She didn’t really, but she did have stinky tofu and misc. duck bits. The picture you see up top is the duck bits vendor… I’ll call them “The No Part Goes to Waste Shop” because (and I know it is difficult to see in the picture) those little plastic trays contain all the parts of a duck that you’d expect to be thrown in the garbage. Heads, tongues, necks, internal bits of an unidentified nature, feet – it’s all there. The only think you won’t find are legs, thighs or breasts… at least, I couldn’t identify them clearly. The only things reasonably “normal” on the cart were wings.

I had another example of the vendor’s food that I’m not describing until I develop my own recipe and make a fortune. We had this one slightly custom-made and, as I’d hoped, it was even better than what they normally sell. I’m looking forward to experimenting with this when I get home!

The night market is along the Danshui MRT line, and they run until midnight. It was still early enough that we decided to head home, pick up one or more kids (depending on if Michelle wanted to go with us of stay with grandma) and return to Danshui to take a boat across to the wharf on the other side of the river’s mouth.

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Michelle didn’t want to come and the boats stopped running a few minutes before we arrived, but it was still a lively evening and there was a foreign (American) street performer playing with fire. He wasn’t bad, and he obviously collected a lot of money at the end of his performance. Watching his take, I’d say he got about $NT3000 ($US90) for 5 minutes prancing around with fire.

Considering that MOS Burger apparently pays well and only pays about $US2.70 an hour, he was making good money. I wonder if he was working legally? I’ve heard of foreigner performers getting deported for such things.

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Getting Your Priorities Straight

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There’s a little temple, four buildings down on the same street from my in-laws’ house. I’m not really sure of its exact purpose. In addition to the worship trappings, it’s mostly a room with desks, chairs and tables.

During most of the day, old men sit around, chat and play cards. Just outside there’s a semi-permanent porta-squattie (Portable squat toilet) that seems to serve as the principal toilet for the temple.

As I was returning from my morning walk to 7-11 this morning, a man stepped out of the porta-squattie. He carefully closed the door, stepped away from the squattie, out from behind the cars, slowly put out his cigarette on the ground and then, and only then, bothered to finish pulling up his pants and fastening them.

Every day is an adventure in Taipei. Some adventures are less pleasant than others.

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On the Hoof

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Time is winding down now in Taiwan, at least for this visit. We’ve now reached the point where we have to pick and choose the activities that we wish to do before leaving.

This trip was really all about the kids spending time with their grandparents, and in that respect it’s been a great success for Michelle and quite successful for James.

James, just shortly before the trip started, entered into the separation anxiety phase of babyhood, and doesn’t want to be long away from mommy. We’ve been unable to leave him alone with the grandparents for any length of time and take him pretty much everywhere, which limits their time with him some. Meanwhile, Michelle wants to spend all her time with them.

Despite that being the primary goal, I can’t help but consider this a vacation and as such, there are a million things I could do that, with the primary objective in mind, I couldn’t accomplish.

Now, there is very little time to accomplish anything else, and Michelle still has classes through Saturday, which limits our available schedule time.

In the morning, we went shopping for DVDs for Michelle (and myself) in Chinese so that she’d be able to continue being exposed when we return. Watching the Taiwan Disney Channel has really helped her. We hunted all over and cleaned out our available cash as most places still don’t take credit cards.

We stopped at MOS for “brunch” and the girl at the counter, as she saw me enter, switched to English to say, “Hello, Welcome to MOS Burger.” That’s a first for MOS. Immediately, the other girls in the back started giggling and mocking the girl at the counter. Too bad, she did a good job, but she was relieved when I told Irene what I wanted in Chinese and she, in turn, spoke to her in Chinese. She actually had pulled out an English menu, the first I’ve ever seen at MOS.

Later, Irene and the kids were to meet her friend Ivy. Ivy, her ex-husband and their son, Danny were living in California several years ago, and it was a trip to visit them that really convinced Irene that it was time to have children. (Really it was Danny who convinced her.)

Ivy is now divorced and alone. I’m not really privy to (nor care much about) the details of the divorce, but there were mistresses and abusive mother-in-laws involved, but in Taiwan, Dad always gets the children in a divorce. Irene didn’t even get to see Danny to see how he’d grown.

The meeting effectively cut the day into a wasted half (my perspective) and so I set out to do some walking and try to cover a few places in Taipei that were optional to visit. On my walks I like to go to places they tell me a “too far to walk” from a train station, when in reality they’re less than a mile.

The first was the Living Mall. Once Asia’s largest shopping mall, now it is simply the world’s largest “ball-shaped” mall. It was brand new on our last trip. This trip it is beginning to show some age. Admittedly, it was Thursday during the day, but it was nearly deserted. Inside, the mall now has a Taiwan lived-in look. The vendors have extended their stores outside the stores and into the mall space, like street vendors, and the proprietors try to entice people in as they walk by. I wonder if it will even be open the next time we return.

Somewhere on the 9th or 10th floor, there is a Coca-Cola store – that in itself is not so interested, except that Coca-Cola stores usually have a little food stand, and on that food stand they have corn dogs: American, Foster Farm corn dogs, not the god-awful, vienna sausage in hyper-sweet corn bread they call corn dogs here.

We really did spend all our cash, and so I had very little to spend on food, but I wanted that corn dog. No one working the store ever showed up, even though it was open. I visited 3 times before giving up and going to the basement food court.

There, the food was either too expensive or just downright unappealing. In ended up “playing it safe” at McDonald’s, knowing exactly how to order and exactly how much it would cost.

It was a fiasco. They kept having to try to talk to me, despite the fact I clearly didn’t understand what they were saying.

That’s not exactly true, I knew exactly what they were saying to me – they were telling me that they didn’t have any fried chicken ready and that I’d have to wait several minutes. I didn’t understand the words they were saying – and they were optimistically trying long and complex sentences. I couldn’t key in on a simple verb to respond appropriately, and I couldn’t phrase a new sentence to make them understand that I was in no hurry.

They called over the manager, who also spoke not a word of English, and we tried again. Finally I (poorly) phrased the question “How many minutes?”

They seemed to understand somewhat because their behavior changed: they started making gang signs with their fingers. With their right hands, they they pointed their index finger towards the ground, elbow straight up in the air, thumb fully extended. All that was needed was a, “yo yo yo, word up”, to complete the illusion.

In the end, they were trying to make the number “7” with their hands.

Once that was out of the way, more bad news arrived. They fries weren’t ready either and we began again.

Finally I got my food, which was delivered to my table in waves as the food came out of the fryers.

I wasn’t happy about how that panned out, and hate the fact that I get flustered so easily when things “go wrong”. Equally, they were flustered, too, and with more good reason.

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I left the Living Mall with only $US2 and enough for train fare back home on my Easy Card, so rather than taking a train to get closer, I decided to walk the mile or so to The Breeze Center – the newest mall in Taipei, and the name I hear bandied about as a potential location for Taipei’s long-awaited Apple store.

When I got there, it wasn’t very busy either, but the day was getting on and more people were on the streets. It’s certainly aimed at the high-end market and therefore not of much interest to me.

It had a Mister Donut (Japan’s #1 Donut store) which, like all the others I’ve seen on this trip, had a long line out the door. Oh how the Taiwanese like their fad food places! Whenever you see a restaurant that gets a bit of press, the line is out the door.

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One other place that wasn’t too busy, but showed signs that the line to get in sometimes stretches around the whole darned mall is Build-A-Bear Workshop.

When I first saw Build-A-Bear years ago, my immediate response was, “Put one of these in Taipei and the line will stretch a mile.” Irene and I discussed the concept with several potential investors back then, but, sadly for us, they all didn’t see any potential. It seemed to me to be exactly the faddish, cutsey, name-brand experience that they love here.

Perhaps it will fail and I won’t feel so bad.

I then hiked another mile or so to Michelle’s school, just in time to meet Irene and the kids and sit through her class. It was English Playtime class, where they played games and had some English instruction.

The teacher told Irene that Michelle, obstinately, responds to her in the opposite language that she speaks to her in, and expects the teacher to do the same.

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One thing that I noticed while watching the class, either Michelle is highly-competetive, or she understands the instructions faster than the other kids. She’s always immediately off the mark when the teacher tells them to run or jump, which the others have a delay. I assume that’s language more than a fierce competitive drive.

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Odd Sizes

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While I was walking to Zhishan the other day I was looking at the shops along the streets.

I don’t remember if I’ve mentioned it, but a large portion of the business you walk by are small, single-family businesses. Many of them are quite literally their homes, converted into storefronts. It’s a little unnerving to look into the open front of a business and see the family sitting in the back, the parents watching TV or eating dinner, the kids doing homework. They turn their expectant eye to everyone who lingers to see if they are customers. I always feel like I’ve suddenly been dropped into someone’s living room; an uninvited intruder gawking at them in their personal space.

In any case, the area around Zhishan has a lot of small businesses, and, I studied them all as I walk by. This time I noticed a window manufacturing business. The small business, no bigger than a living room, was building windows by hand. Another business was making doors.

I got to thinking about that and it really drove home something I’ve probably known subconsciously for some time: Taiwan doesn’t seem to have standard building sizes. I’ve mentioned that bathtub faucets are never consistently placed. I’ve passed dozens of hand-made mattress shops, because the beds aren’t made in fixed sized, and I’ve passed through every shape and size of door I can image.

For all Taiwan’s former industrial output (seeping away to the cheap slave labor in China), they must never have established firm building standards. It fits completely, but it must add a significant cost to building things and repairing them.

Then I thought, “This can’t be.” Surely this only applies to old houses and the new homes are all standardized. So I decided to do a bit of research and travelled to B&Q a UK-based DIY chain in Taiwan. A quick scan of their website showed one within walking distance of Shihlin station and so, with a free afternoon to explore, I headed out.

B&Q turns out, not unsurprisingly, to be very reminiscent of Home Depot back in the States. A bit smaller, but really quite large by Taiwanese standards. Even the layout was very similar.

While I didn’t make a complete aisle by aisle inventory, I did find that all the bathroom faucets are designed to fit unevenly and non-uniform spaced pipes. In fact, they don’t even even space them for the store display, presumably to give that “authentic” look.

They had a small selection of doors, and, as far as I could see, no windows.

They did have a massive flooring section, with every kind of wood flooring and foam mats conceivable. I could really go nuts with the flooring choices they had.

Time ran out before I could really work the place over, I had to get back to the house in time to collect Michelle and take her to class. Circumstances prevented Irene from taking her, so it was up to me to get her there, then deliver her to her grandparents after class, and head over to the photography place to pick up our children’s album.

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Irene and James arrived their early and he was having pictures taken with wings and a halo on.

Three years ago, when Michelle was James’ age, we were in Taipei, and attended a trade show at the Taipei World Trade Center for parenting things. The photography studios were there in droves, trying to sell parents on albums. Michelle was causing a riot, literally, we had difficulty moving through the trade show because the people, both the vendors and the other attendees were thronging around her. At times we’d be surrounded to 20-30 people asking to hold her and trying to look at her.

More so than anything, the photography places were bouncing off the walls trying to get us to bring her in. One place, Hollywood, made us a great offer and we took it. They produced a great album which we really love.

This time we went to them first to see what deal they’d give us. We got a good deal, and, after the pictures were developed, they offered us more stuff to let them use our kids pictures, especially James’ for promotional items. We agreed, but when they called us up to tell us the album was done, they wanted more pictures of James. It turns out that another trade show is coming up and they want him as one of their posters at the booth. They already printed up hand-out name cards with him on it.

They got their pictures, which they’ll be forwarding to us also, and picked up our album and posters. It looks great, they did another great job.

The only problem is age… Michelle is at that age where kids can’t smile naturally, so some of her expressions are… a bit odd, or grimace-like. Can’t blame the tools or the workmen for that one.

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Day of the Pig

As my in-laws live near Din Tai Fung, you’ll often seen Japanese tourists in the area. It’s no joke that most of them are carrying tour guides to places to eat in Taipei. They come to Taiwan for the eating and the hot springs.

I’ve helped Japanese tourists, in my own bad Japanese, try to find the feeding grounds and I see them with their guides almost every day. The area just behind Din Tai Fung, (To the south of Xinyi Rd and west of Xinsheng Rd) has a couple streets packed with restaurants, surrounding a small park. In addition to locals taking their kids to the park, this seems to be the area where the Japanese gravitate towards. Many of the restaurants have signs in both Chinese and Japanese and they do good business.

Tonight, after a busy day which I’ll describe later, we went to that area to find something to eat. It was after 9, which means many of the restaurants were already closed. It’s a good thing, too. If they hadn’t been closed we wouldn’t have eaten in a Japanese Ramen & Curry shop. Not in any way modest, they claimed to have won the awards in Japan as best ramen and best curry, separately. When you figure they’re in Taiwan, that’s got to be pretty darn good.

It is. I only wish I could tell you the name of the place.

We were both hungry, so we went with curries instead of ramen. Irene had their special beef curry, which was chunks of pot roast, covered in curry with rice. I tried a bite of hers before my dinner arrived and it was excellent. Even though it was mild, it was very flavorful, the beef was tender and moist.

I had a tonkatsu curry. The tonkatsu (pork chop) was flawless. Perfectly cooked, great tasting on its own, no waste. It was absolutely top notch. I also had curry and asked for mine to be spicy.

The sauce was, like Irene’s, excellent, but it was unbelievably hot. I couldn’t believe this was coming out of a “Japanese” restaurant. It was almost too hot to eat, but not quite – once I got hold of something to drink with it.

I highly recommend this place and will post an update with I get their name so they get the recognition they deserve.

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