Tuesday, January 31, 2012

a saturday with erica!!!

After telling everyone they should visit me in Taiwan and having no one take me up on my offer of a free place to stay. Someone finally did and this time not someone related to me! I was expecting Erica to be here on the 12th so when she arrived on the night of the 11th I wasn't prepared at all. Good thing I had just cleaned my apartment in anticipation for her arrival. Erica and I both got the dates wrong, what we thought was Jan. 12th was in fact Jan. 11, 2012. Since she arrived in the middle of the week, I still had to work so Erica amused herself by walking around my neighborhood, avoiding dog shit and cars the whole time, and stuffing her face with huge amounts of food. On Saturday I took her to Neiwan because so far it has been the best place I've found for good market food. Finally got to ride the Neiwan line, which is one of the only three remaining branch lines in Taiwan, and it took around 50 minutes from Zhuzhong station to Neiwan. The views from the Neiwan line aren't picturesque so feel free to take a little nap. Erica and I spent our train ride amusing ourselves with the girl we dubbed "puffin." She had a crazy perm or something going on and she looked like a cute little puffin who carried its nest (her hair) on her head. Lol. Train tickets cost less than $30 NT for a one way ticket and if you purchase a round-trip ticket you get a $1 NT discount and will cost $59 NT.
neiwan line
I had spent the whole train ride preparing Erica for the crowds in Neiwan but when we got there it was super empty. I didn't know until later that that Saturday was the day of the presidential election in Taiwan. This probably explained the lack of people in Neiwan. I pretty much just introduced Erica to my favorites from my last visit to Neiwan which were mentioned here. I was saddened that the young mango stall, which I was most excited about, wasn't open. Another stall that I bought from had young mangos that were all sour and no sweet. Since then I've bought young mangos from other areas and all of them have turned out sour without a hint of sweetness. I wonder if their season is over and hence worst tasting. Young mangos are super expensive, $50-$100 NT for a very small bagful. Did have a chance to try pink guava which is what is usually shown on guava drinks and it was very sweet and refreshing.
pink guava
Crossed the suspension bridge again and this time had a closer look at the little kiddie carnival rides. Contrary to electric powered rides, the ones in this park were human powered...

A man literally just pushed the boat back and forth while the kids were on there screaming with glee. Sucks to be the man who has that job. Next to the bathroom at the parking lot, there is an archway that leads to the Hengshan Caifeng Exhibition Hall which is a miniature museum of sorts.

This mini museum doesn't contain really old stuff but rather items from our grandparents generation.

The sad thing is I recognize some of these tins and have even eaten some of them... The same thing for the display of old telephones. Does anyone recognize the old rotary dial telephones where you placed your finger in one of the number holes and spin the dial until it stopped and then repeat until you finished dialing the whole phone number?? Future generations are gonna think we were ancient! Rode the train back to to Zhuzhong and then caught the 1 bus line to downtown Hsinchu where I played the role of tour guide, showing Erica the East Gate, the City God Temple and its surrounding market. At the East Gate roundabout there is a women who sells popcorn and ice cream on the street and she always has a mini line for the popcorn. I've been on a popcorn phase and with Erica giving me courage I decided to wait in line for some. A bag of popcorn cost around $25 NT, can't be sure since it was awhile back. It seems as if Taiwanese people favor sweet popcorn over buttery since all the popcorn I've eaten here besides the microwavable kind have been sweet.

At the City God Temple market I introduced Erica to one of the well known foods of Hsinchu, rice noodle. 

Erica bought some rice noodles to go which came with a sauce and cost around $40 NT. The noodles were delicious and at such a good price. Stopped by Yes! Tea, another drink chain store, and tried something besides pearl milk tea. I chose the Oreo Milk Tea with pearls, basically milk tea with Oreo bits mixed in, I recommend trying it.

Discovered a hall in the City God Temple that I didn't see the first few times I went there. I actually recognize the statue on this altar. I guess the main hall is dedicated to Taoism while the side halls are dedicated to Buddhism.

After checking out the City God Temple, it was time for the Zhudong night market. Again I was saying how crowded the night market was but when we got there it was super empty. It had started raining lightly and a lot of the stall vendors were closing up shop because of it.

Was still able to get some food although it was slim pickings.

chicken samosa
We ordered the beef and chicken samosas, the chicken was better. Ran into one of my students whose parents owned a food stall. They insisted on giving me some food for free while I insisted on paying for it, I lost that battle.

fried popcorn pig
The pork was pretty good but there was still bone included which was off putting. Actually ran into several students while I was with Erica. None of them ran away from me like they said they would but actually acknowledged me first so that was pretty awesome. Grabbed a gravy steak on noodles with rice. Delicious as usual.

Friday, January 27, 2012

christmas lunch and sukiyaki

My school held a Christmas lunch for all the staff members in the first weekend of January. It was held again at the Lakeshore Hotel but this time every staff member was invited not just the foreign teachers. Everyone in attendance wrote their names down and there was a raffle for prizes, every person gets one entry and every person wins once. I managed to sneak my name into the drawing three times and every time one of my co-teachers who was the MC pulled my extra entries out he just crumpled it. I won a tea-set from Hong Kong that still had the price sticker on it... Most of the prizes were really shitty and now I got why some staff members opted out of the drawing. Saved themselves the embarrassment of having to act super happy about the shitty present they just got. Lunch was buffet style and again like last time the food looked and sounded better than it tasted... I ate a whole bunch of bread and butter. After the lunch I went with my friend Cody to downtown Hsinchu where we had dinner with her friends. None of them spoke that much English so it was fun to have Cody translate what each other was saying. Had a really great time and was introduced to sukiyaki which is a Japanese dish that consists of cooking meat and veggies in a shallow pot in a mixture of soy sauce, sugar and mirin and then dipping the cooked ingredients into a bowl of raw beaten egg. I didn't think you could eat raw egg so I was laughing as I dipped my food into the raw egg and saying how it was suppose to be bad for your health to eat eggs raw. I didn't think it would be delicious with the raw egg and all but it was surprisingly so!

This place was an all you could eat place at dinner time (17:00-2:00) for $399 NT and includes a 10% service charge. Waiters would walk around pushing a cart filled with different vegetables that you could add to your meal in addition to the trays of meat you ordered. If you had a party of four they also added a hot pot to your meal at no extra charge, but we largely ignored it unless it was to drink the broth.

The place was called Sukiyaki and is somewhere in downtown Hsinchu. Since I was just following the others I can't recall where it was located but the restaurant itself is very posh and done in all this black marble with glass doors. I thought we were heading into a hotel lobby. I would recommend sukiyaki to anyone whose never eaten it before, a delicious experience and the company made it so much better. Love meeting new people!

dentist, haircut, and dinner

So a couple of weekends back I finally had the time to get all my errands done. I got my teeth checked at the dentist a couple blocks from my house. The great thing about having health insurance here in Taiwan is that it applies to most everything: doctors, dentist, dermatologist, etc. The sucky thing is that what I pay for the health insurance is way more than I would pay if I just visited the doctor without the health insurance. With health insurance every visit costs you $150 NT, this applies to every check up type visit, however when I went to the doctors previously without health insurance the cost came out to be around $300 NT which isn't bad at all. Too bad every month I have to pay around a $1000 NT for my health insurance. Guess I shouldn't complain, not everyone has the luxury of not needing to go to the doctors and such.

On to my dentist visit. It is definitely weird visiting an office and not having people speak English. I had an x-ray done and the person who was working the x-ray spoke to me very politely and it was as I've never had this kind of x-ray taken before. The office I went to was definitely the nicest dentist office I've been in, with several floors and many dentists in one convenient location. Each room had a dental assistant in addition to the dentist who worked on the patients, which was a new concept for me. There was a big screen tv that was hooked up to a computer where the dentist could check the x-rays of your teeth and I guess show the condition of the patient's teeth directly to the patient. Mine was fine, nothing out of the ordinary, thankfully. Now on to the cleaning part... Right after rinsing your mouth with some water, they place a green cloth with a hole for your mouth over your head. The cloth wasn't suffocating and it was nice to not have to avoid eye contact with the dentist while they were working on your teeth. You could actually take a snooze if you wanted to since they couldn't see your eyes. What was weird for me was because there were two people working on your teeth, the dentist and the dental assistant, there wasn't a break time between cleaning various parts of your mouth like when only a dentist cleans your teeth. If you can recall the dentist usually takes a break from using that electric drill to suction all the saliva that had pooled in the back of your mouth. This dentist visit was super fast like under 30 minutes and it didn't hurt. I kind of expect a little pain whenever I visit the dentist because they have to get into all the tight places between your teeth and such. Also I'm use to spending at least an hour plus at my dentist back at home but that is probably due to the fact that my dentist likes to talk to me and tell me that I need to get married and have children... Well my dentist in Taiwan just went over my teeth with the electric drill and then polished a couple teeth and I was done. Lets just say I wasn't super satisfied. I would have liked her to use some of the manual picks and to polish all my teeth with the pink fluoride and to just really get into the nitty gritty so my teeth feel clean when I leave. I didn't get that feeling at all. If this light cleaning is all they offer then I need to visit more than just twice a year.

After the dentist I went to get a haircut. The bad thing about short hair it needs to be cut pretty often. I have really bad experiences with getting my haircuts from anyone other than my hairdresser back in San Francisco. Back when I was still attending college, I would wait for vacation breaks to go home to get my haircut. Since I didn't speak English I made one of my friends translate for me. It turned out to be such a disaster. I saw as the hairdresser cut my hair that it was too short and had to stop her from cutting both sides that short length. I completely flipped out and almost had a meltdown inside and outside of the hair salon. In hindsight I was probably PMSing but I was not happy at all. You can tell when a haircut is bad when no one mentions how cute it is when they see it. When I asked people how my haircut was, the answers I received were "It's ok," "It's fine..." Not stuff you want to hear at all. It looks ok now but not as I envisioned it to be. I think I'm gonna have to look up an English hairdresser in the area just to ensure that I get the haircut that I want.

Around the area I live in there is a restaurant called Alamu that serves aboriginal cuisine. The exterior of the restaurant actually is the thing that caught my eye and I was excited at the chance to try aboriginal cuisine.
Their menu has English and they serve such delicacies as pupas and crickets. I didn't try any of those so I can't tell if they are as delicious as they sound...
Instead of eating off a plate or out of a bowl, at Alamu you eat off a fresh banana leaf.
Pretty neat idea except for the fact that it made it a little difficult to get things into my mouth without being able to scoop things against the sides of a bowl.
Alamu calls this dish ku-la but I can't find any information on such a vegetable. I'm pretty sure I've had this in the states before because it tasted familiar. I strongly recommend this veggie dish, a nice detour from the regular water spinach.
beef with peppers
This dish is basically stirred fried beef with onions and peppers. I also really liked this dish just because the peppers gave it a nice kick and the meat was tender and not super chewy and overcooked. I ate one of the peppers and that was such a bad idea..
reeves muntjac
The next dish isn't on the menu but we were served it because we had asked what dishes were considered very traditional. Apparently Reeve's Muntjac is hard to obtain so this is why they don't have it on the menu. I could tell by the taste that this meat wasn't anything I've eaten before. The bones were very thin and the meat was chewier and a little tough. I loved how all the dishes were served with peppers and had that extra kick of spiciness to it! Dinner also included skewers of guava and a sweet red bean dessert soup free of charge, rice is charged per basket. Eating at Alamu is pretty expensive and our dinner for two came to a little less than $800 NT. Pricy but the food was delicious.

The Details
No. 8, Lane 8, JinShan 6th St., Hsinchu City
tel: 03-567-9646
hours: 11am-2pm, 5-9pm

Monday, January 23, 2012

the last day of 2011...

I didn't just spend New Year's Eve eating and shopping, I also soaked up some culture by visiting the National Palace Museum. This museum has a permanent collection of over 670,000 pieces of ancient Chinese artifacts making it one of the biggest in the world. Displays are rotated every three months which means in one year you can see up to 60,000 pieces. Even then it would take up to 12 years to view the entire collection. I started the visit full of enthusiasm because it's pretty interesting to know that such a huge piece of Chinese history was contained in this one building. Visitors are not allowed to take pictures but that didn't stop me at all. Most exhibits didn't even have visitors or people patrolling the place, enforcing the rules. One of the most famous pieces at the museum is the Jadeite Cabbage which is famous because the artist was able to use the discoloration and impurities of the jadeite to form a very realistic cabbage. A lot of people were always next to the display so I couldn't take a picture. I had the feeling that I would be reprimanded by the other visitors if I tried to take a picture. In Europe when I sneakily took pictures, other tourists just followed suit. Lol.

national palace museum
an agreement between president roosevelt and the president of china
a pagoda made of ivory
It was interesting to see scanned documents between different countries and China. The ones between America and China were interesting to look at because they detailed all these different treaties and agreements between the two countries and because I could actually read them! The pagoda was super cool because of the exquisite details. On each floor of the pagoda you can see a face of a monk sitting inside, each with a different facial expression!

The Details
National Palace Museum
Open Daily 8:30-18:30 Extended Hours on Sat 18:30-20:30 (free admission)
Admission: $160 NT, $80 NT during off-peak hours 4:30-6:30pm M-F

Sunday, January 22, 2012

eating my way through taipei...

Spent the whole day in Taipei, eating my way through the city, waiting for transition to happen. Again I ate at places that were recommended on hungry girl's blog. I was craving Vietnamese food so the first stop of the day was Yue Yuan Pho or Savoy.

yue yuan pho
The restaurant is on a street filled with restaurants and all the trees made it hard to spot the restaurant, just look for the bight yellow sign. Anyone who goes with me to eat Vietnamese food knows I only order one dish, not being a big fan of pho or rather boiled meat, barbeque pork with rice. I'm sure as people know depending on where you are food is served depending on the tastes of the people. For me the biggest difference I've seen in food is with the barbeque pork with rice. In nor-cal the pork is grilled and amazing. In so-cal the pork was either the Chinese barbequed pork, char siu, or canned pork that is grey in color, super disgusting. I definitely recommend the pork at Yue Yuan Pho, succulent and flavorful. I wished this restaurant had fish sauce but they only had hoi-sen and sriracha.
barbequed pork chop with rice
There are two different options for the rice dishes, one that comes with an egg roll and egg or one with just the meat by itself. The fuller meal for the pork cost $150 NT while the meat only option cost $90 NT. Rice costs $10 NT and isn't listed on the menu but you can request it.

From there we walked to find a photography store, Tokyo Masamune. I recently purchased a Fuji Instax Mini 25 and wanted to buy a bag for it. Trying to locate the restaurant and store in Taipei has given me insight on how streets work in Taiwan and to read a street map. There are a ton of big streets in Taipei that consist of several car lanes, these streets are given names which are the ones on the street maps. The road is divided into sections, not more than four or five. Streets that come off the big street are called lanes and streets that come off of the lanes are called alleys. Lanes and alleys are numbered and in order to locate them you need to be in the correct section off of the big street. It is such a weird concept for me that not each individual street has its own name.

tokyo masamune
A few buildings down they have second shop that is way smaller but has a wall full of stickers. If people are interested in lomography or instant film photography, this store is a must visit. I was still a little hungry so took the MRT to the next eating place. I've been dying to try Chao Zhou Bao Zi's cheese and bacon baos mentioned by hungry girl because it sounds like such a unique combination in a bao!
chao zhou bao zi
cheese and pork bao
I'm not sure if this is the cheese and bacon bao mentioned by hungry girl but my friend stated that this was the only cheese bao. This bao contained cheese and pork and cost $20 NT. The bao would have been better without the pork. The pork was good but it just distracted from the awesomeness of the cheese. The cheese was so amazing and I wanted to buy another after taking just one bite. The cheese is reminiscent of cheese on pizza, flavored with garlic and whatnot. If you turn back and walk straight across, through the big intersection at ZhongXiao East Road, and keep going for another two blocks you'll end up hitting a store called Mogoo. If you love kettle corn I recommend this store!
american original
Mogoo sells kettle corn in a variety of different flavors from caramel to seaweed. Be warned that the other flavors are on top of the already sweetened flavor you get with kettle corn. This kettle corn tends to be more sweet than salty but is the closest I've found to my beloved kettle corn from the UCSD vendor fairs. The shop only sold two sizes, a bucket that cost $110-$130 NT, depending on the flavor, and a smaller size that came in a resealable bag ($90-$110). I bought the bucket of American Original for $110 NT. The food eating continued into the night with a stop at the Raohe Night Market.

This market isn't as popular as the Shilin Night Market with tourists but the market was super crowded. I'm not sure if its usually this crowded or because everyone was in Taipei to celebrate New Year's Eve. I felt like this market with the crowd was worst than Shilin because while there are humongous crowds in Shilin there is also more space. The most popular thing at the Raohe Night Market is the black pepper buns which I didn't try because there was such a long line for it. Did try a pork bone soup and some Indian cuisine.

The pork bone soup wasn't even comparable to the soup my grandma makes. Also after finishing the soup there was a strong aftertaste of what I assume is MSG. The lǔròu fàn (braised pork rice) wasn't impressive at this stall at all. Then got to fill up on some Indian food.

allah din indian kitchen
chicken kabab
The night ended with shawarma! Brings back wonderful memories of gobbling down shawarmas all around Spain and Italy because they were the cheapest thing around. We asked for it to be spicy and it was! My mouth was burning as I was eating this. I forgot the price of the wrap but I think it was a little less than $100 NT. Of course I didn't spend my whole day eating even if it looks that way. I'll post all the touristy stuff I did later.

The Details 
Yue Yuan Pho (Savoy)
No. 12, Lane 155, Dun Hua N. Road
tel: 02-2718-0660
M-F 11:00-14:30, 17:30-21:00   Sat & Sun 11:30-21:00
website: http://www.phosavoy.com/home/index.html
-They have several restaurants located around Taipei check their website for the locations.

Tokyo Masamune
No. 2, Alley 7, Lane 346, Bade Road, Sec 2
tel: 02-2777-3036
M-F 11:00-21:00  Sat & Sun 13:00-21:00
website: Yahoo Auction  (Chinese only)
facebook: Tokyo Masamune

Chao Zhou Bao Zi
No. 52, Lane 216, ZhongXiao E. Road, Sec. 4
tel: 02-2773-8371
MRT: SYS Memorial Hall or ZhongXiao/DunHua

Mogoo Popcorn
No. 2, Alley 10, Lane 223, Zhong Xiao East Road, Sec 4
MRT: SYS Memorial Hall or ZhongXiao/DunHua
website: http://www.mogoo.com.tw/ (Chinese only)
-Check website for other locations around Taipei

Tuesday, January 17, 2012

sun moon lake: ita thao

Ita Thao, a village located on the southeastern corner of Sun Moon Lake, is inhabited by Thao aboriginals. The Legend of the Deer Hunt is the story that tells the tale of how the Thao Tribe came to be settled at the lake. It was said that long ago a group of Thao tribal men hiked over mountains and crossed rivers trying to hunt a white deer. Their chase led them to Sun Moon Lake and was impressed with the beauty of the land. They believed it was a gift from heaven and decided to relocate.

I only managed to glimpse a little of the village before having to leave. The first thing I did was grab something to eat and drink. The Round-the-Lake Bus stops right in front of the village. At first glance the village is disappointing. I was expecting the village to be all traditional and rustic but it was just another city.

fried bun stall
Seems like this place is very popular with all those pictures in the background. Never had a fried bun before so decided to try it.

fried bun
The bun had mushrooms, cabbage, and crystal noodles. I believe the bun contained no meat but was pretty delicious. Then waited in a long line to get some tea. The black tea or Ri Yue Tan Hong Cha is well known here and a must try. I asked why if it's black tea then why is it called red tea in Chinese and that is because the tea has a red color to it.

black tea
Follow the signs for the Zhulu Market where you can see some Traditional Thao Song and Dance performances. The most famous is the Pestle Dance where people use pestles of varying lengths to beat stone slabs on the ground to create music. Unfortunately they only did this dance at the last dance performance of the day at 6:20 pm. So wished I could see the Pestle Dance but all the public transportation stopped a little before 6. If I stayed to watch that performance, how would I have gotten home? At the end of the performance they will ask for audience members to go up on stage to learn and to perform one of the dances.

zhulu market
thao dancing
Tried something that looks very familiar to a gyro... Can't recall how it tastes like so it must not have been that outstanding.

While I was here I ran into one of my students with their parents. It was awkward since I don't speak Chinese and my kid was too shy and embarrassed to really talk to me. After that caught a boat ride back to the Shuishe Visitor Center.

ita thao pier
Grabbed dinner before heading back to Hsinchu. Dinner wasn't anything special. It started raining so just ran into any dining establishment that wasn't super expensive to fill my stomach.

beef curry with rice and a side of pig's blood
vegetables with some meat sauce
I actually recognized this and have eaten this vegetable before! Kind of like a green bok choy.

The Details
Traditional Thao Song and Dance Times
Weekday: 11:20 am, 2:20 pm, 6:20 pm
Sundays and Holidays: 10:20 am, 11:20 am, 2:20 pm, 4:20 pm, 6:20 pm
Each show lasts around 40 minutes