Friday, May 19, 2006

Not the usual place

Sometimes, even in very interesting cities, the club scene offers no surprise. The place closest to my apartment in San Francisco has a dance floor, and two spaces to hang out, each with a bar. On weekends, the dance floor is really crowded, and one can barely move. That is, until you hear
I don't wanna hear, I don't wanna know
Please don't say you're sorry

and then you cannot even move any more.

In Beijing, the place we went to has also two rooms to sit down, two bars, and a crowded dance floor. And then
I've heard it all before
And I can take care of myself

and it gets really crowded.

I was expecting more of the same in Taipei, but I was pleasently surprised. For one thing, the place we went on Friday had only one bar. More significantly, one guy was singing, and a screen was showing some music video. I was afraid we had found Karaoke night, but then the video featured the same guy who was singing. If I got it right he was Fan Ri Chen, a local celebrity. Later the music was a mix of the usual and of Mandarin pop, including Mandarin renderings of famous Western songs. The dance floor was already packed, but then we heard

and everybody came to dance. Sorry played, of course, but nobody payed much attention.

Update 5/24/06 YouTube has the video of Ai De Zhu Da Ge (爱的主打歌), the song that I liked. The video is embarassingly bad. They also have a song that Hoeteck likes.

Mother's day in Taipei

On Sunday we briefly hanged out in a shopping district.

A Malaysian singer, "Gary," who is apparently a big Mandarin Pop celebrity was performing on a stage to advertise his latest CD. Seeing at it was Mother's day, he was periodically joined on stage by his mother.

Hoeteck was there before me, and he told me that earlier they had a skit where the mother brought the singer some soup on stage, and then fed him with a spoon.

Being too late in the day to visit any major museum, we moved to the MOCA ("C" is for "contemporary") where, of all things, they had an exhibit of Italian fashion design. We then recamped to a cafe in Ximending, a neighborhood that I would call "yuppie." Locals who are around my age consider it "the place where college students hang out," although college-age folks belittle it as "the place where high-scholl kids go." I was not able to check with any high school student whether this kind of looking-down goes any further. In reality, Ximending has pleasent cafes, nice shops, and a mixed crowd.

Eventually, it was time to move to the Huaxi night market, which is famous for the restaurants that sell snake soup, snake meat, and liquors made partly from snake blood. Each such restaurant has a hawker in front advertising their stuff, and some of them handle a live snake. Every now and then, they feed a hamster to the snake, or even kill and cut open the snake in front of onlookers, but we were not lucky enough to see it. In front of each such restaurant there is a sign, in English and Chinese, that says "no pictures." I was wondering why, and then I noticed another sign that said "none of the snakes served here is a protected species." I did sneak one picture, anyways. These are preserved snakes, or something:

Hoeteck had been looking for Taiwanese eel noodles ever since tasting them in a Taiwanese restaurant in Boston several years ago. Apparently he never found such good eel noodles anywhere else. We found some good eel noodles in Huaxi, but apparently they were not as good as the Bostonian ones.

Monday, May 15, 2006

Rocks, giants, and more dumplings

On Friday Hoeteck gave his well-received and well-attended talk. Later Chi-Jen took us to have dinner at Din Tai Feng, famous for its dumplings. Their specialties are the steamed dumplings called shao long bao, which they make with soup inside. How do you get soup inside the dumpling? (Think about it for a bit, the answer is at the end.) The kitchen is at the center of the restaurant, and it has glass windows all around. The cooks all wear white shirts and surgical masks, and work around a big table. The image of an operating room is very strong. The dinner was great. Later we went to Taipei 101, the "tallest building in the world."

On Saturday, Chi-Jen took us to Yehliu, a seaside town famous for its rocks that have been eroded by the sea into amazing shapes.

Some of them look like mushrooms

This is the "sandal"

And this is the "Egyptian head"

But first, we stopped at a restaurant where we picked our favorite fish and crabs from an aquarium and had them cooked to order. The huge fish, which yielded three different dishes (sashimi, soup and grilled) was surprisingly cheap.

A religious festival of some kind was also going on. The parade included men dressed up as giants.

One can see the head of the person driving the giant showing up in the giant's belly.

There was a market of sort next to the park with the rocks. They were selling snacks such as these. (The ones closer to the camera are wasabi "chips", quite spicy.)

Here is how these flat things are made flat.

There was a lot more being sold in the market.

So, how about the dumplings? The soup is frozen, and a bit of frozen soup is put in the dumpling when it is made. When the dumpling is steamed, the frozen soup melts.