Buns, Balls, and Crabs (part 2)

… Or how I ate my way through Taipei and lived to tell the tale. Or, how I learned sharing is caring. (Second of multiple parts)

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Crab legs and claws, snails, shrimp and other drool-inducing delicacies at the Keelung Maiokau Night Market

Taiwan is not a good place for dieters. There is just too much delicious food. Our first afternoon alone, in the first three hours in Taipei, we have managed to eat mee sua, which is thin rice flour noodles in a thick broth/gravy with pieces of meat in it and flavored with soy sauce and vinegar. It was mouthwatering. Before that, someone bought a packet of fried chicken nuggets that were out of this world, which our group all sampled. I must say, the Taiwanese really know their street food. And almost anything can be considered street food, as I would later see as we visited the night markets — the first of which, I would be introduced to that first night.

I love traveling by myself and getting lost in a new place. But I must admit, for this first trip to Taipei, I’m glad that I had colleagues who have been here several times and can just guide us as to where to go. I suppose finding the night markets would be easy, for a newcomer. But finding the little stalls and carts that sell the best buns, for instance, is going to be a problem for newbies. There’s also the language problem. More people now speak English, especially among the young university students, but non-Mandarin speakers may still have a hard time getting understood. Still, that’s part of the beauty of travel, isn’t it? On this trip, though, we had a guide who knew her way around. That saved time figuring out how to get to the different places. And of course, the company had hired a van to take us to the more far-flung areas we wanted to go to, which again, saved us valuable time.

We had planned to go to Shida Night Market on our first night. But first, we have to sample some buns. Another rule, we all discovered on this trip: Sharing is caring. We were all tempted, especially us newbies, to each buy a bun (or three) for ourselves, but we were warned that the night was still young and we would no doubt be eating for much of it; to actually gorge on buns this early would ruin your appetite. Suggestion duly noted and followed. So first stop: Yong Fung Sheng on Shida Road. It specializes in sweet or savory bao tzi or steamed buns. Bestsellers including the brown sugar buns, sesame buns and the meat buns. Looking at the steaming containers and the displayed buns, I was overwhelmed! Wanted to try them all, but in the end, I had the meat bun, just because I am not that fond of the sweet kind. But had to say that I had a taste of the brown sugar and it was light and not too sweet, perfect snack for walking around in. It was reasonably priced too, at around 15 – 20 TWD.

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(Top photo) I know exactly how you’re feeling, kid — too many delicious buns!; these two aunties were veterans at handling the long queue of drooling customers; I was already halfway through my bun before it occurred to me to take a picture of it. Walking on the street, eating and taking a picture of the food — it can’t get any more Asian than that!

Shida Night Market

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Shida Night Market is thronged with young shoppers looking for a good deal

We spent a lot of time in this night market. It’s one of Taipei’s most popular night markets, especially with young people because it’s near the universities and there are many shops and boutiques that sell trendy clothes. Needless to say, most of us ended up shopping in this area.

But first, a bit about Taiwan’s night markets: Night markets are intrinsic to the Taiwanese. They’re part of their everyday lives, so while they may be tourist attractions now, Taiwanese still flock to them as a way of socialization — to eat, certainly; but also, to meet friends, shop and just relax. The night markets start to come alive when the sky darkens and depending on which you go to, will be a hive of activity until the wee hours of the morning. Also, depending on when you go, they can get very crowded. So pay close attention to valuables, wear comfortable clothes and shoes and bring an umbrella or jacket for when it rains. It was the rainy season when we were there, and it wasn’t pleasant to walk through narrow streets and stalls hoping for the rain to stop.

Though I did shop some, I was not really in a full shopping mode that trip. So I contented myself with taking pictures of everything — and sampling the food, of course! And was there a lot to sample!

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(Top two photos) Women making fried xiao long bao (soup-filled dimsum) which were then fried. Needless to say, heavenly! (second row) I don’t know what the name of this bun is, but each steamed bun is filled with meat (pork and/or beef), vegetables and some crushed peanuts and sesame seeds. Delicious! I still dream of this up to now; a braised yong tau fu stall. This did not look too promising for me, but had some of a colleague’s bowl and it was delicious. Vegetables, meat, bean curd and different meat substitutes are braised in a soy-based herbal sauce and added to noodles. We bought two takeaway bowls and ate them later in our hotel. Those two bowls were enough to feed seven women!; Gigantic crepes. Wanted to try this, but it was just too huge!

Keelung Miaokou Night Market

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Deep-fried little crabs and shrimp — choose if you want it spicy or not

Located in Keelung, northern part of Taipei, this night market was brimming with seafood, because Keelung is a port. It’s supposedly one of the smaller night markets in Taiwain. But its maze of alleys, side streets and profusion of stalls made this one big place to me. Aside from, seafood, the market also sells other kinds of goodies, as well as nonfood stuff like dry goods (clothes, toys, etc)… But who cares about those, when the food just about dominates everything?

The night market gets its name from the area and from the temple located near the market entrance. “Miaokou” means “temple’s entrance”. Dianji Temple is reportedly the largest temple in the area and is believed to be the reason why the market grew popular in the first place. People would flock to the temple for religious rites and celebrations and naturally, a market sprang up around it. It was first built around 120 years ago, but was refurbished in 2007.
Despite how crowded it can get, Keelung is very orderly and organized. The market is characterized by the distinctive yellow lanterns running along its main alley, where row upon row of food stalls are located. You can actually sit in one and have a proper meal, as vendors will call out to prospective customers to come and try their dishes. But it’s equally fine if you want to take your food to go. I suggest taking your food to go so you get to see more of the market. Above each stall are signboards in various languages (Chinese, Japanese, English), which is a boon for someone like me, so I actually know what I am eating!

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(Top photo) Dianji Temple at the entrance of the market. Did not get to go in here, which I regret. Oh well, next time! (Second row) Food galore! Dough fritters, grilled meats, seafood barbecue; (third row) sushi, a juice stall (important to find one so you have a drink with you while eating!), fruit on sticks — I love the name of this stall; more grilled meat, the yellow lanterns at the entrance; the crowds of people

Jiufen Old Street

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The main drag of Juifen Old Street

Not exactly a night market, but am including it in this post just for the food and the sheer picturesque-ness alone.

Juifen is an old town up in the mountains by the seaside, some two hours from Taipei. It used to be a sleepy seaside town until gold was discovered there in 1893, which quickly doubled the town due to the gold rush. The Japanese occupied the town around that time and up to now, there are still a very prevalent Japanese influence in the old streets and buildings. Perched on the edge of a hill, Old Street is very picturesque and is lined by tea houses, food shops, and souvenir shops with a fabulous view of the ocean. Of course, it’s very touristy, but I loved it just the same.

Fun fact: Lovers of Japanese anime will know this street as the inspiration for the location of Hayao Miyazaki’s classic, Spirited Away!

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Views near Jiufen

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As you go up the winding street, you’ll pass by many vendors and stalls selling all sorts of delicacies. Up to you to choose which to patronize. The variety can get dizzying. There were varieties of fishballs, meatballs, meat pies, sausages (of all kinds), tofu (all kinds)

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To escape the crowds on the Old Street, I went into this quaint tea house, which was an oasis of calm and quiet from the madness outside. Didn’t sit down for tea, but wandered the place taking photos — the proprietors didn’t seem to mind. Lovely

Writing this, I thought I had forgotten a lot of things about this trip. But the pictures just brought forth a lot of memories and information I didn’t know I retained! Next up: Taipei’s hipster hangouts. Coming soonest!

Addresses, drections and such:

Shida Night Market: Get down at Taipower Building MRT station, and walk down Shida Road. It should take you about 10 minutes to get to the night market. Yong Fung Sheng and other interesting bakeries are along the way.

Keelung Miaokou Night Market: We had a shuttle bus taking us around during the trip, but people say getting to the night market is easy via train. Here’s how: Go to Taipei Main Station and take a train on Taiwan Railways to Keelung Station. Train ticket will be 41 TWD and there’s one train leaving every 15 – 20 minutes all day. At Keelung Railway Station, walk down Zhong 1st Rd and turn right at the intersection of Zhong 1st Rd and Ai 4th Rd.

Jiufen Old Street: http://guidetotaipei.com/visit/jiufen-%E4%B9%9D%E4%BB%BD

Buns, Balls, and Crabs

…Or, how I ate my way through Taipei in five days and lived to tell the tale. (Part 1 of several parts)

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Entrance to Keelung Miaokou Night Market. Taiwan is crazy with night markets and they’re fabulous places to eat, drink, eat, shop, eat, meet friends… and eat

This was a company-sponsored bonding trip that happened mid-2013. Yes, a bit late to be posting it now more than a year later, but you know how it is — sometimes things just pile up! So Taiwan. Had to admit, it’s not on my travel bucket list (I don’t really have an actual list; but when pressed on where to go, I can name a few places) — in fact, it’s not even top of mind of places that I would consider visiting. Blame a friend’s comments more than a decade or so ago when she was on a business trip to Taipei and had a miserable time of it because ordinary people didn’t speak English and there were not enough signages in English to make your way around on your own. But since then, had heard great things about Taipei and Taiwan in general, so when the office went for a trip there, I was excited. Who wouldn’t be, when it was practically a free trip to go gallivanting?

First Day: Getting to know you, Taipei

As soon as we checked in to our hotel and dumped our bags in our rooms, we went off exploring. The hotel was located in the Ximending area, which I was told was one of Taipei’s commercial areas — with lots of shops and of course, food carts, little cafes, hole-in-the-wall places where one can get any kind of Taiwanese street snacks imaginable, which you eat, streetside basically. First stop, get some delicious fried chicken nuggets and mee sua (flour noodles). Our gustatory adventure was starting.

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(Top two photos) Crossroads at the Ximending area; (middle row) a leather goods shop, queueing up for fried chicken, gray and colorful — practically the words to describe the surroundings for the whole trip; (bottom row) queueing up for mee sua, nothing beats a bowl of mee sua on a rainy day… except maybe sharing it with your girlfriend or boyfriend

When you’re traveling, there’s always a tendency to make sweeping observations about a place or the people based on what you observed. Professional travel writers caution against this because you are, after all, an outsider looking in, soaking up a place for a temporary period. One doesn’t get to know a place until one has lived in it and experienced it for a while, I think. So when I do a travel post, I try not to make sweeping generalizations about a place. Though in Taipei, I think it is safe to say that it’s ambulatory culture has given rise to a travel experience that is at once delightful and interesting. All over the place, there are little shops, carts, vendors selling food items all designed to be eaten while walking — in bite-sized pieces that can be consumed from a packet, a stick or little bowls as you stand on the sidewalk. It’s a very informal and fun way to dine.

The Red House

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Bright red brick facade of The Red House

Right near Ximen MRT station is an imposing octagonal brick structure known as The Red House. Once Taiwan’s first market, it is now a cultural and artistic center housing little boutiques, a movie theater, a pub and cafe and various other interesting establishments. For the artistically inclined as well as for those who want to shop at curated boutiques, this is an interesting place to visit. The original structure was designed by Kondo Juro, a Taiwanese architect who was educated in the West. His design for what was once the market, was based on an octagonal and cruciform-shaped plan, which has been maintained till the present. In 2007, The Red House came under the jurisdiction of the Department of Cultural Affairs, which them commissioned the Taipei Culture Foundation to manage the place. The result is a vibrant environment of arty and fashionable shops and an engaging nightspot. We managed to tour part of the facility, along with the boutiques (but of course!) but did not manage to see the movie theater or how the area would be transformed at night.

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Interesting finds at The Red House: (Top row) Old-style mural; the cafe; “The Cradle of Cultural Creative Dreams” is the picturesque name of this part of The Red House; (second row) the first two photos are from a fashion exhibit that was in the main lobby, the third is the mannequin in front of a shop; (third row) cute mascots at the entrance of several boutiques; I saw a lot of these during the trip, which I had assumed were a way for shop owners to advertise their establishments; (fourth – sixth rows) different goods on display. Oh, if only I had lots of cash then to shop! (Tip #1: if you’re going to Taipei, bring shopping money!)

When I started writing this post, I had thought that I would be able to cram everything into one post. But there were just so many highlights to this trip, that I couldn’t write it all at one go. So I decided to do it in parts. This is Part 1. Part 2, on Taipei’s famous night markets, coming soonest!

Addresses and such:

The Red House
No. 10 Chendu Road, Wanhua District, Taipei City 108, Taiwan, R.O.C.
Operating hours: Sun – Thur, 11am – 9.30pm; Fri – Sat, 11am – 10pm (closed on Mondays)
http://www.redhouse.org.tw

Midday, Humpday Reflection: Boobs

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I was inspired by the nymag.com article to draw my own pair

This is a somewhat odd, middle of the week post. I don’t usually overshare personal reflections in this blog, but I just came across the article, “New York Women Draw Their Own Boobs” on nymag.com, which amused me. Reading it, I had an immediate flashback to my mom, getting dressed. I don’t know if she would appreciate me sharing this, but she’s not shy about getting dressed in front of her kids, even now that we’re grownups. When she needed to take off or put on a top, for instance, and we happened to barge into her bedroom to ask her something or talk to her, she would just blithely go on doing what she was doing, without self-consciousness, as if it were perfectly natural for her kids to see her naked. And we all got used to it, growing up. It was just mom being mom.

I guess because of her attitude that I never really had a complicated relationship with my own breasts. And I’d get really weirded out by friends who had such angst over theirs. To me, they were just there — a part of me — or not part of me. Maybe because I was a late bloomer. Growing up, and up until I was in my early 30s, I was really thin and didn’t have much by way of “boobage”… I remember a gay college classmate telling me one day, while I was wearing a really nice sundress, “It’s a good thing you have hips and a butt, because you would just be stick straight.” He meant it as a compliment. I could wear a tank top, no bra (though I didn’t. It wasn’t exactly frowned upon, but my mom insisted on a bra always when I was out and that stuck) and jeans and traipse around the campus, with no one bothering me. Contrast this to a good friend who would wear oversized T-shirts and roundnecked shirts because she developed early and was always conscious that guys were staring at her breasts. The fact that she was also drop-dead gorgeous might have something to do with it as well, but I remember she only fixated on her breasts, maybe because she got them a little too early.

I started getting them in my mid-30s when I started gaining weight and by then, I was enough of my own person that they never really impinged on my life, until those times when they would become the focus. Like when I’d catch guys staring or the boyfriend would say that he likes them. Or when girl friends would comment, “Shit, Terrie, you have big boobs!” as if they themselves were suddenly made aware of these apparitions. Or when we’d all good-naturedly compare our sizes (the way young boys compared dicks) — and I’d humble-brag that they can be a hassle. The only time that I was embarrassed about them was during a trip. A friend and I were at a resort, where Another Friend (AF) and her husband and their friends were staying. We were going to have dinner with them. Because it was an informal dinner and we had just come from swimming, my friend and I just put on coverups and off we went. I remember AF had this odd look on her face when she greeted me. Didn’t think much of it at that time, until she suddenly blurted out when we were having cocktails, “Gosh, Terrie, your boobs are really huge! I wish I could borrow them!” and all of a sudden, my breasts seemed to be the focus of the evening! The moment got glossed over, of course. But I was self-conscious the whole evening after that.

But that was only one of a few times. Most of the times, my boobs and I get along extremely well. Sometimes I wish they were smaller, but that’s only because I couldn’t fit into an outfit I wanted — they can sometimes get in the way — which can be a problem for someone who occasionally obsesses about clothes like I do. (Though, I don’t think it’s my problem, as much as it is more a reflection of how the fashion industry is still grappling with the diversity of women’s sizes — but that’s another story for another time.) But then, I learned — and am still learning — to complement my figure in my fashion choices.

So boobs. Yes, I have them. And yes, I like mine, thank you very much! And yes, this is a strange thing to be thinking about in the middle of the workday, but there you go. These things happen.

F1 Rush

Because Captain Mal (my mac) was sidelined for months, I’m playing catch up with posts in the next few weeks….

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The race cars were so fast that the photos I took of them were a blur. This is probably the best one

The last time I watched F1 was in 2009, during the second year of the Singapore F1 Grand Prix and my first year in Singapore as the editor of a travel magazine. One of the hotels invited a few editors into the McLaren enclosure because the McLaren group was billeted at their hotel. It was luxe personified, with white suited and white gloved waiters offering champagne and nibbles as you watched the race in airconditioned comfort. We even got to go down into the McLaren pit. Ahh, the perks of the job. It was a heady experience that I was glad I got to do, especially since I was not really a fan of racing and wouldn’t buy a ticket to the races if it were up to me. But, even if I weren’t a fan, there was no mistaking the energy and anticipation of fans who watched the race.

Flasforward to 2014. And here I am back on the track. I wasn’t a guest of a hotel this time, but had accompanied D, who is an F1 fan and his friend. I still wasn’t a fan, but as in 2009, the excitement and anticipation was palpable. The races were exhilarating and it’s hard not to get caught up in the mania. The activities in between races were also fun, too. As far as I know, Singapore is the only leg of the F1 which goes all out with companion events to the race itself. So here are some pics:

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First night of the F1 weekend: At the Padang, with the Old Parliament Building as backdrop. This building will be opening soon as the Singapore National Gallery. On this night, it was majestically up in lights for the race.

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A part of the retelling of an old legend of the Lady in the Moon. Was not really listening much to the story, but the theatricality of it all was breathtaking. This performer was sailing up above the crowd in the field.

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Lady in the moon floating over the delighted crowd

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Parade of vintage cars and F1 drivers

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Crowd at the Padang. This would get even more crowded in succeeding nights

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All lighted up
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Part of the crowd on race night (Sunday). I loved the friendly rivalry that would erupt between groups of people. Our row (we were on the second row) was vocally cheering on Hamilton, while the first row were all Germans cheering on Rosberg. There were some close calls but Hamilton was just far enough ahead to eventually prevail. The noisy-but-good natured Germans in front of us lost, but they enjoyed the bantering.
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These cars were so freakin’ fast! My only pic of eventual winner Lewis Hamilton’s silver car going past

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The British flag was everywhere, in support of Brit Lewis Hamilton

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Post-race concert with Robbie Williams. Crowds waiting for the show to start. For non-F1 fans, this was the highlight of the evening. Even with the downpour (no pictures, alas!), Robbie delivered. Till next year, folks!

Well, I’m back….

…. again. Captain “I am to misbehave” Mal (my mac; and yes, I name my macs) was sidelined for months. The battery died and swelled up and I couldn’t find a replacement for a long time, until D ordered one for me from London. So what’s been going on? in my side of the woods, I’ve had to deal with some major issues at work, the scope of which won’t appear on this blog, but suffice to say, the conflagration was hard to put out. Been trying to exercise more (largely D’s doing; posting more on my activities in this regard soon) and traveling more (yay!).  In the next few days — or ok, maybe weeks — will be busy posting more entries — starting with this!
house arrest--books

Accomplishment: Finished (finally — after three years!) Stephen King’s Under the Dome! Wrote about this in an earlier post and back then, I was telling myself I would finish it, but ended up shelving it for other titles. So I finally finished it. So how was it? Hmmm, not as good as some of his other works. I get the impression it was some sort of thought experiment that went on too long. I don’t really regret reading it, but I can’t help feeling that it was a bit of a letdown. Still, and all, that’s a book off the book debt — though I’ve racked up several additions to the pile in the meantime!

Accomplishment: Finished The Rosie Project!  I love this book and I wish I had an actual physical copy! This was languishing in my e-book library and so one time that I was madly trying to finish an article but couldn’t, I procrastinated and read this in a day — in my cube! Best decision ever! It managed to get my brain un-stuck and distracted me so I was able to write my article better, after I’ve read it. Best procrastination ever!The Rosie Project is about Don, a geneticist who had problems finding a partner/wife so decided to design a questionnaire that would find him the perfect woman. Then he meets Rosie, who is totally unsuitable for him in every way. Needless to say, things do not go according to plan. It’s a light read, yet made me think about the choices we make and is a great commentary on the dating scene and the hoops people go through to find someone suitable. Go read it!