Poagao's Journal

Absolutely Not Your Monkey

Dec 28 2008

Back in town

What if I were staying here, and not leaving, I thought as I looked out of the city from my hotel room yesterday morning. The light outside was brilliant again, and not cold as the day before. I decided that it would suck, as I’d have no job, friends or place to live. At breakfast I once again noted the ingenious nature of the butter/jelly packages that you simply fold, splitting the cover just so that the contents emerge cleanly in a perfect pattern onto whatever surface you desire. I’ve never seen it anywhere else, is it only patented in Japan?

I had to get to the airport, though, so I packed up my things and checked out, walked to Juso Station and took the subway across the river to Osaka Station, where I climbed and descended an annoyingly long series of stairs to wait on the platform for the airport express, taking pictures of the crowds and asking the conductor of each and every train that came by whether it was the airport train, just to make sure.

When the train finally came, I found a seat and watched the various towns pass by, some of them obviously quite poor, but fairly neat and well-kempt nonetheless. Just before we reached our destination I spotted what appeared to be a gothic cathedral in the middle of one of the town.

At the airport, after negotiating my way through a crowd of fans who were waiting for a Korean movie star to arrive, I found myself walking behind two Delta flight attendants, one younger white man and an older black man. The white attendant said he was getting out. “What are you going to do?” the other one said.

“Become a PI and follow your wife around,” the white attendant said, before talking about getting back into the health management business. When we came to the escalators, he insisted the black guy go first “to break my fall if I slip.”

I got a chocolate doughnut to eat while waiting for the plane, and finally found a usable wifi signal to twitter my impending departure, complete with a picture of the plane. Eventually they let us board, and I found my seat subject to an unsual odor, like glue, due to either the proximity of the seat to the restrooms or the guy next to me working at a glue factory.

The flight was uneventful. As we approached Taiwan, I saw a huge plume of smoke issuing from somewhere in Taoyuan County. We landed, and I spoke into my camera for the 109th and last time on the trip, saying “This is the end of our broadcast day. Thanks for watching.”

Now I’m back in town, re-engaging in this life here. It’s always interesting to see things from a slightly different perspective after a trip, even a short one. Last night I had a delicious Christmas Dinner with friends who live in a mountainside community nearby. Not only was the food good, we were treated to a show when Sandy Wee made a tribute to The Exorcist by regurgitating about 3.7 gallons of milk in a spectacular fashion. It really made the evening.

This afternoon most of the Muddy Basin Ramblers are going to be giving a workshop at the Taipei Artists Village, followed by a show later on. I’ve got most of my stuff unpacked, but my place is a mess and needs cleaning. I’ve also got 446 photographs and the 109 videos to go through. Luckily, there’s always tomorrow.

posted by Poagao at 12:33 am  
May 05 2008

Taichung Trip

luce chapelPrince Roy and I set out for Taichung in the bright, cool morning on Saturday. Driving a car up the on-ramp of a highway on such a morning is inordinately refreshing. PR is a good driver, but the further south we got, the more erratic and senseless the drivers seemed to get. Also, good radio stations were hard to find, and every time we’d get a good Taiwanese Nakashi cha-cha going on, it would vanish into static minutes later.

A few hours later, we were approaching the Chungkang Rd. Exit, which led up towards Tunghai University, where PR and I first met while studying there some two decades ago. The time of day, the angle of the light, and most of the view reminded me of the first time I approached the area, on a bus full of foreigners after a week or two in Taipei after my first arrival here. Looking back, I wish I’d taken the train on that trip, as I never got to leave from the old Taipei Train Station.

We drove up to the Utopia subdivision, where Daniel had already met up with our hosts, Reinhard and Xiao Mao, at their cafe just off Art Street. They were waiting for us at a sandwich shop, so we had lunch on the veranda. The area’s become quite nice over the years, with tree-lined lanes, interesting shops and restaurants. After the meal, we walked over to the Tunghai Campus, entering from the side gate by the auditorium and walking down through the campus.

The trees were the biggest difference, followed by all the new structures. The square where students erected a sympathetic Goddess of Liberty to copy the one in Tienanmen Square at the time is now shaded by a canopy of large trees that hadn’t even been planted when we were there. We walked down the slope between the oldest parts of the campus, flanked by the old Tang Dynasty-style buildings. I felt it was odd that, in 1955, people would be interested in building what appeared to be a Japanese-style university, but there’s probably a lot more to the story than I know. PR found the bell-tower not just incongruous, but downright ugly. I was trying to restrict my picture-taking. It’s just out of hand.

language centerWe found the old language center, from which we both fled after a short time to take regular university courses. All but one wing has been completely redone, causing PR to misidentify the location of the old classrooms and offices. Daniel took our picture in front of the non-restored bit, and I reenacted my dramatic exit from the department for my friend’s entertainment. We then purposely avoided the convenient new road to the dorms, choosing instead to cross the “Female Ghost Bridge” that had been the only route to the dorms from the main campus in the old days.

The old dorms that caused me so much dismay when I first laid eyes on them are still there, and only mildly refurbished. They are still all cement-floored, six-student rooms with no a/c and wooden slats for bunk beds. PR was a bit hazy on his experiences, but I immediately found all three of the rooms I’d lived in at the time. Now, of course, much better dorms have been constructed nearby, looking more like luxury hotels than anything else. I wonder how the students choose who gets to live where these days.

As we walked over to the local cafeteria, the site of some of the worst food either of us had encountered, it occurred to me that most of the current students probably hadn’t even been born when we were there. I told PR we should have a reunion; he said that we were. True enough, I guess; I didn’t hang out with many foreigners at the time, just PR sometimes, and Boogie, who was from Washington & Lee as well.

We walked down to the school store to find some Tunghai paraphernalia, but they didn’t have much. It seems that Taiwanese students don’t really get into the whole college paraphernalia thing. PR sees a huge market in this, but I think maybe they are tired of being forced to wear school insignia throughout their childhood and don’t want anything to do with such things after they can start choosing their own clothes.

A Farming-themed expo was being held by the gymnasium, and above the doors a banner had been hung that read: “Dances With Farmers”. We walked by the tennis courts, where PR spent a lot of time playing with the women’s team. He was taking short videos of various things and introducing the sights to his camera. I find it difficult to do that when I’m with other people.

We walked down towards the farming part of the campus, stopping at a store that used to be tiny and is now a Wellcome Market. I used to walk around that area quite a bit as a student, listening to Zhao Chuan songs on my Walkman and eating O’Smile peanut cookies from the tiny store.

magic gatePR wanted to catch the sunset from Taichung Harbor, so we walked back up the campus, pausing by the still-barbed-wire-encircled Women’s Dorms, the music department where I took many classes, and Luce Chapel, which is looking rather run-down these days. We then climbed the steps in front of the library, where I, PR and another students named Mitch used to park our motorcycles before class at the night school department in the morning. “Let’s go to Bieshu for dinner,” I said. We weren’t going to do that, but I just liked to say it, as it was something we were always saying back then. We walked up the broad path by the polluted stream between the campus and the industrial area next door. I was thinking it would be an interesting movie plot to have a portal somewhere on the campus that would take us back to, say, 1989. “I’m not sure I’d like to take that portal,” PR said. I had to agree.

The back gate is just just as magical now as it was then, though, at least to me. The first time I stepped through from the quiet, empty forest into the chaos of that street, I thought it miraculous. It still seems that way. Many of the old restaurants have since been replaced by fashionable clothing shops, but the spirit is the same.

On the way back to the cafe, we passed a curious collection of large plastic fish that looked like they had been used to decorate the ceilings of seafood restaurants throughout the city. The view down the hill was largely unchanged from that viewpoint, though the campus is now surrounded by high-priced apartment buildings.

We piled into PR’s Honda and drove down the mountain towards the sea, racing to catch the setting sun. Providence University, which was bare as a desert twenty years ago, is now covered in trees. The new Highway 3 overpass surprised me. Otherwise, everything seemed the same as when I took my first ride on the new-to-me 135cc Honda motorcycle down to the harbor, where I was warned by soldiers not to take pictures.

on the beachThe harbor proved elusive, however. We drove and drove, nagged by the annoying woman’s voice issuing from Daniel’s GPS device to slow down. The sun dipped behind impenetrable clouds as we pulled into the parking lot by the fishing port at Wuchi. By the time we had walked to the shore and climbed up and over the wall of sand, it was gone. We sat for a while, taking pictures of each other and ducking to avoid huge, cumbersome flying insects, before walking back to the harbor, where a loudspeaker cranked to full volume blasted the area with frenetically annoying music that gave rise to homicidal urges. Perhaps it was so loud to cover up the high-pitched squealing of the pigs behind the restaurant, but the smell was so obvious I’m pretty sure people couldn’t miss them.

We walked through the unremarkable market, and then drove back up the hill to a restaurant for dinner. The waiter serving us looked about 15 years old, and the service was a bit addled. Still, the food, particularly the soup dumplings that Reinhard recommended, was all quite good. I was eager to try their sesame baozi, but found them not up to the quality of the kind we used to eat in the army. Then again, I’m biased.

After dinner we drove down Chungkang Road into town, a trip I used to make many times on my motorcycle, to meet up with Michael Turton and Sean Reilly at a bar called Bollywood. I ordered a green apple drink that tasted exactly like a gin and tonic. Michael had to leave a bit early, and Sean divvied up some delicious brownies before he, too, had to leave. It seems Taichung closes down a lot earlier than Taipei, or maybe it was just that area.

netroomBack at the cafe, Reinhard and Xiao Mao allocated us three places to sleep. PR got the room upstairs, and Daniel got the old traditional Chinese bed in the shop, and I slept in the back room. The a/c was very loud, but I had to have it on because the room was pretty hot. I ended up sleeping for a couple of hours at a time, waking up, and then sleeping for another couple of hours. Needless to say, I was somewhat less than rested when morning came and the singing from the church next door overpowered even the noise from the a/c. After some delicious egg-cakes Reinhard bought nearby for breakfast, I went upstairs and took a good nap. When I came downstairs, a new visitor had arrived: Carol, a pregnant British woman who lives in Beijing. We chatted for a while, occasionally diving beneath the table to take pictures of Suancai (sauerkraut), Reinhard’s and Xiao Mao’s flat-faced cat.

It was another beautiful day up on the hill, but it got a bit hot when we drove down into the city for lunch at a restaurant called Fatty’s. The kitchen smelled wonderful. We sat at a table on the sidewalk in the mugginess. I ordered the Sicily pizza, which the waitress assured me was not at all spicy. Apparently “not at all spicy” is some sort of Sicilian code for “very spicy” as I could only have a couple of slices when it came. Even PR agreed that it was pretty spicy, and he’s no lightweight. I sampled other people’s meals instead. When the waitress came back, I mentioned the level of spiciness in the allegedly non-spicy pizza, she just shrugged, as if it just hadn’t occurred to her, and really didn’t matter anyway.

gatheringWe considered driving out to Miaoli to some gardens there, but it seems that they stopped allowing people in at 4pm, so instead we walked around the area a bit, looking at the old two-story houses and yards. We ended up in one such place, which has been make into a somewhat modern teahouse. We all sat on the floor upstairs, which was occasionally frequented by cats, talking about the pros and cons of having an online presence, whether we are different IRL from how we appear online, etc. It was very pleasant. Taichung is very pleasant, actually. The pace is slower, and even on a weekend afternoon it seems halfway shut down, but it is nice. The appearance of the city may have changed a lot over the past two decades, but the spirit is much the same, and I like it. It’s too bad that they don’t have an MRT system, though.

But it was time to hit the road, as we were planning on having dinner at a Mexican place in Zhongli, so PR, Daniel and I saddled up and joined the long stream of cars heading towards the highway. As we drove, I began to wish I’d bought one of those gadgets that lets you broadcast your iPod to a nearby radio, as we had the same poor choice of music stations, and every time we found a good song, it was followed by 40 minutes of blather/advertising. Traffic was terrible, and it was after 8pm before we finally reached Zhongli. The restaurant, Sabroso, was packed with students, not surprising as it’s right by Zhongyuan University. At first I was afraid the service would be bad, as it took the woefully undermanned staff, which consisted of a couple of guys, to seat us. Also, I had a migraine coming on, so I wasn’t in the best of moods. I’d spent the past half hour with my eyes closed to avoid the flashing lights in my field of vision.

The meal made things much better. First of all, it came within a reasonable amount of time, but more importantly, it was really good. I ordered beef tacos and chicken tostados. The tacos were real tacos, soft triangles with toppings, not the rigid tacos gringos most people are familiar with. The tostados were even more delicious. PR was happy with the spiciness of his meal as well as the taste. I ate too much, and am still paying for it, but I’m glad I got to sample at least a few of the dishes there.

After dinner we dropped Daniel off and made our way back to the highway, and back to Taipei. This city always seems a little different every time you leave it, so it was good to get away for a bit. Now I’m back at home, amidst the native calls of the local jackhammers. Back to work.

posted by Poagao at 1:01 am  
Feb 08 2008

The Ghibli Museum and Shibuya

Another brilliant day, weather-wise, though still cold. I am loving the sharp, clean-edged light in Tokyo these days.

I took the JR (Japan Rail) for the first time today, to get out to Mitaka, changing trains at Tokyo Station. The JR runs above ground, or at least that line does, so I got a good few of the city on the way out. We passed an amusement park with a ferris wheel before the suburbs began. Soon we were cutting through a sea of slate rooftops.

I got off the train at Mitaka and walked past the bus to the museum, as I wanted to walk there instead. The map said to follow the canal to the park, where the museum is located. It was a nice stroll along the canal, which was clean and didn’t smell at all. The park, when I reached it, was full of joggers and bicyclers. Then I came to the museum.

robotApparently Miyazaki didn’t understand why anyone would want to build a Ghibli Museum until he actually saw the place. The building is a kind of stucco design, half buried in the earth with a glass tower. The line was short and quick, and I soon found myself in the huge atrium. Overhead was a large ceiling fan with wings straight from a flying machine in Castle in the Sky. The windows were stained glass, and many featured scenes from the various movies.

I watched the short film they show exclusively to visitors, about schoolchildren playing with a sailboat and meeting a whale. I couldn’t understand what anyone was saying, but it did seem to be fairly anti-whaling in its message. I was sorry that I couldn’t see any of the other films in rotation there.

In another room was a series of steampunk animation devices. Everything is located more or less at a child’s eye level, so if you’re an adult of average height you’ll spend a lot of time bending over to see the exhibits. One particularly fascinating piece involved a spinning wheel with clay figures lit by a stroboscope so that a circle of animated figures formed like magic.

In another room was a mock up of the animators’ workspaces, complete with storyboards, inspirational materials, backgrounds, etc. I wondered if the cigarettes in the ashtray were really smoked by animation staff members.

One section features the story of the three bears, with a huge table and chairs you could sit at, with the bears themselves in another room. The books in the original Russian were on display. At the bookstore upstairs I found a few Miyazaki stories that would have made excellent movies, but I guess were never made. It’s too bad. One book described a huge warrior cat and a girl hunted by an evil samurai. Man, I would love to see that movie.

I went to the gift shop to look around. Unfortunately, there were no big-balled raccoon dolls available. The necklace piece from Castle in the Sky was for sale for 26,000 yen. “Will it let me fly?” I asked the woman behind the counter.

“Only if your last name is Laputa,” she said.

“Sorry, I bet you get asked that a lot,” I said, realizing that I was just adding to her misery. She nodded and smiled.

I bought a small Totoro with Umbrella figurine and went up to the roof, where a full-scale model of one of the robots from Castle in the Sky stood, surrounded by tourists and children. Everyone wanted their picture taken with the robot, so it was hard to get close to it. Instead I stood a little ways in front of it, and found that it was looking right at me. It was an odd experience; not unsettling, but as if I were just a little closer to that universe where it could come to life.

In all, I spent three hours at the museum. They’re strict about their no photography or filming rule. I snuck up to the third-floor balcony to try to catch a vidlet, but almost immediately a woman was there with her walkie-talkie telling me to knock it off. Then she somehow used technology/magic to wipe the video from my camera’s memory, I found later.

b/w neighborhoodThe restaurant was full of people, so I decided to leave and walk around the neighborhood a bit. Snow still covered parts of the park, but it was nice to walk on something other than concrete for a while. The smell of pine trees and the cold, still air were refreshing after the warm, child-filled museum. I walked through a nice subdivision and then a not-so-nice but still neat and orderly one, then along the canal back towards Mitaka Station. Some of the long wooden houses along the train tracks reminded me of San Francisco.

There weren’t many trees out there, except for along major thoroughfares. The crosswalk signals sounded like they were searching for life-forms on Ceti Alpha VI (or is it Ceti Alpha V? I always get those two mixed up).

Mitaka sunsetBack at the station, I stopped in at a small restaurant that had just opened for business for some lunch, even though it was already 6pm. Then I ascended the stairs of the train station, only to find that the sunset was rather nice, so I took out my little camera to take a vidlet. Next to me an older man was talking to someone in Japanese. “He’s talking to nobody,” I said to the camera. Then I realized that he was actually talking to me. He had seen what I was shooting and took out his cellphone to take the same shot. I still had no idea what he was saying, so I just looked at him, waited until he finished, and said, “Ok!”

“Ok!” he said, smiled, and left. I hope he got a nice shot.

I took the train to Shibuya next. Upon exiting the massively crowded station, I was immediately confronted with the huge screen from Lost in Translation, as well as the huge intersection that everyone films when they want to emphasize overpopulation. It was a sea of people getting off work and just a little bit daunting. It was also full of white people, Gaijin Central for some reason.

Shibuya crowdI walked up the road and found a guitar store that sold bass ukuleles. I tried one out and really liked it, but I couldn’t afford something like that, even if it didn’t involve getting something that fragile back to Taiwan in one piece. Down another street, I found a decent toy store and bought a comic book and a small model of the Enterprise, but refrained from buying a Captain Benjamin Cisko (AKA the sexiest Captain in Starfleet) figure with TOS uniform. Outside, a bus inexplicably played the Pink Panther theme while it drove around the block, PP cartoons playing in all of its windows.

tricolorFor dinner, I stopped in at an all-white ticket-style diner for a pork chop on rice with a raw egg on top. It was delicious. Then I walked around the block and spotted a nice pedestrian bridge where I took photos of the traffic below.

It was getting on towards 11pm at this point, but the square around the station was still full of people. Rock bands were setting up. I visited the statue of the dog who waited for his deceased master for a decade in front of the station, and wondered if it was the inspiration for the touching Futurama episode with Fry’s dog.

My feet were sore, so I sat on a railing and watched the ebb and flow of the crowds, enjoying the spectacle and grinning like an idiot. The huge screen would show a live feed of the crowd in the square, and I waved at myself. I know, I know: I’m such a tourist.

I’ve been here a week now, but it feels like just a couple of days. It’s hard to think about going back, but I guess I have to start. Tomorrow I’m meeting Arnd at Harajuku for some afternoon shooting, and Sunday I hope to go to Yas’s film festival. I’d also like to see the view from Odaiba at night, and some more Krispy Kreme donuts wouldn’t go amiss.

posted by Poagao at 12:40 pm  
Dec 29 2007

A Shitty Christmas

Christmas sucked, for the most part. Sure, I had a nice Christmas dinner party on Sunday night with Darrell, Judy, Maurice and other friends at their friend Barrie’s incredibly long Banqiao apartment. We had delicious roast beef and huddled around the glowing TV screen, picking out Youtube favorites to show each other and chatting during the downloads. Judy baked me my favorite kind of cake, yellow with chocolate frosting, and Maurice brought wrapped gifts for everyone. I got a retro glass.

But Christmas Day, i.e. Tuesday, was a different story. My stomach was upset after eating the disasterous results of Webster’s turkey experiment at The Source the night before, and I sat in the office all day plowing through a sudden onslaught of monotonous extra work, shivering because the people in the meeting room next door mistook my air conditioning controls for theirs, and instead of figuring this out, decided to turn the thermostat to precisely 17 degrees in an effort to make the meeting room cooler in the face of the fierce December heat.

I finally got done some time after 8pm, and I had arranged to meet Prince Roy, Wayne and some others at Citizen Cain, which promised a genuine turkey dinner with all the trimmings. When I arrived, however, the waitress pointed to a long table in the back surrounded by a pack of people wearing santa hats. “They just came in and ordered 32 turkey dinners,” she told me. “We’re all out.” When I tried to order off the main menu, she told me they weren’t serving other dinners until after the Christmas Dinner period was over at 9.

I was in a foul mood as I sat watching Prince Roy chat with his friend Aaron, who greatly resembles Chandler Bing of Friends, about learning Chinese, for that is what Chandler is doing here. Wayne arrived with a lady friend, and we talked a bit about cameras just to bore PR for our own sadistic pleasure. Dinner, when it became available, was something with chicken.

Afterwards, Prince Roy walked me back through the nearly empty streets to the MRT station, and I sat on the three trains back to my little cave, where I turned on the Christmas lights on the balcony, watched them blink for a couple of minutes, then unplugged them and went to bed.

posted by Poagao at 4:27 am  
Nov 25 2007

A day of eating

One of my college roommates, Yao Fu-wen, got married today. The banquet was held at a fancy Dunhua North Road restaurant starting at noon. He picked a nice day; the weather was bright and the air fresh, possibly due to the proximity of a late-season typhoon down in the Philippines. Once I’d handed in my red envelope and signed my name, I walked inside the elaborate hall and found three tables of Tunghai University classmates, some of whom I hadn’t seen in almost 20 years. Yu Long-tong, another roommate with who I got into fights with in the dorm for reasons I can’t recall except that he was completely insane, was there with his wife and children. We used to talk a lot about politics back then, and I learned to ride on his little red 100cc motorcycle in the cow pastures below the campus proper.

Also present was Cai Jian-shu, who was my friend Boogie’s roommate back then. Tong-ah, who is rather green, dabbled in political promotions for a while but is now doing research at Academia Sinica, and Jian-shu is teaching at a university in Kaohsiung. With the exception of the grey in Tong-ah’s hair, neither of them had changed that much. They said that I have, however, in that I look a lot more like a terrorist now.

The dinner started off with lights, music, bubbles and a parade of chefs with LED-lit trays. Before we could eat, we had to listen to various officials from the KMT (Fu-wen’s employer) give speeches about how good a worker Fu-wen is, and how perfect the happy couple are for each other, and what a good, useful-around-the-house kind of gal the new bride is. The food, when it came, was good and plentiful. We ate and chatted and gave toasts until about 3pm, when the food ran out, and we lined up to get candy from Fu-wen and his new bride.

Outside, we decided to go to a teahouse and catch up with each other, so we all piled into various cars and met up again at a place on Dongxing Road, not far from the old China News office. Tong-ah kept telling Jian-shu he should move back to Kinmen, where he’s from, but when Jian-shu asked Tong-ah why he hadn’t moved back to his old family home in Penghu, Tong-ah was silent. “Don’t think I haven’t considered it,” he finally said. We talked about marriage, politics, stocks, cars, the economy (Jian-shu got his PhD in economics), and many other things. It was a good time. We finished around 6pm, and walked out of the teahouse to find it was raining and blustery outside. Jian-shu had was going to catch a ride with another schoolmate back down to Kaohsiung, a long car ride. I said I’d visit him after Kaohsiung’s MRT system finally opens. It’s been delayed for a while, but I’m guessing they’ll do their best to get it open before the elections next year.

I said goodbye to the group and walked through the rain down Dongxing Road, recalling the days when I worked at the News office there and there was nothing to eat except biandangs from downstairs. The area’s changed a bit, though, with a lot of new buildings and even a Mister Donuts. I made my way to the City Hall MRT station to take a train back to Xindian, where my friends Gordon and Xian-rui were hosting a genuine, full-fledged Thanksgiving feast at their house at New Garden City. Gordon had truly outdone himself, and I found myself regretting having eaten so much earlier. Still, I managed to eat two servings of turkey, dressing, candied yams, cranberry sauce, mashed potatoes and string beans, as well as the chocolate mousse and mince pie afterwards. It was delicious. They had also invited Xiu-juan, a woman Xian-rui and I play badminton with, as well as her husband, a Filipina woman who exclaimed, “Your Mandarin is better than mine!” when she heard me talking, and a Canadian woman named Glennis (not sure how it’s spelled), so the dinner had an appropriately festive, semi-familial feel to it. There was also wine.

After we’d all stuffed ourselves, we sat around talking and digesting while Amour, our hosts’ dog, explored the floor around the table in case anyone had dropped anything. The lights of Taipei glittered outside through the raindrops on the windows.

posted by Poagao at 12:05 pm  
Jul 27 2007

My lunch with Norm

Norm wanted to go eat Burmese food in Yonghe, so I met him at Nanshijiao Station on Wednesday just before noon. I’d emailed a bunch of other people, but nobody was able to make it at that time. I’d been out there before for violent go-karting sessions with Shirzi before he disappeared, but I haven’t been back to the area since.

Norm’s here on a visa/business run from Thailand and has to get a new passport, so he has time. When I met him he was wearing, as always, a large Hawaiian shirt, shorts and flip-flops. I’ve never seen him wear anything else. We walked up the road, past the Texas Instruments factory to the rows of old, dilapidated buildings on “Burma Street” where most of the restaurants are located. Norm, just managing to keep his large frame out of traffic, pointed out the spots he’d visited and preferred, and we found a place employing an attempt at air conditioning for lunch.

Our meal consisted of curry chicken noodles, beef noodles, and a kind of pancake. The chicken noodles had crunchy fried noodles and were delicious, while the beef noodles were more or less the same as regular beef noodles.

Norm doesn’t speak Chinese or Burmese, so I translated his requests for mint tea after the meal. They said they had milk tea, but no mint tea. Norm was perplexed at this apparent impossibility, but a little later he spied the glasses of milk tea and pronounced that the drink he was looking for. “It is kind of minty,” he explained. We decided to go to another place for tea, an open-air place with a decades-thick layer of dust and grime hanging from the ancient electrical cords. Shrimp, vegetables and other unidentifiable food lay soaking in sauces on the counter while we drank our iced tea. Norm was full of stories of crazy people he’d known in his travels. I’d first met him years ago at The Birdhouse, a run-down hostel in Taipei where Dean used to live. Norm had no recollection of this meeting however. I suspect the Mohawk I sported at the time might have something to do with that.
We finished our tea and walked down the street a little ways looking at the groups of men sitting and sweating around small tables out in front of the various restaurants. I paused to take some pictures of a building while Norm wondered aloud why backpackers felt the need to carry so much damn stuff with them. “All I need is a small backpack,” he said. “You’re a photographer, so you need all that crap, I guess.”

Walking back to the station we passed a few more local restaurants, the owners of which would call out for us to come inside. “Notice that the real Burmese restaurants don’t do that,” Norm said. Back on the main road, I saw a few fashionable high-rises being built near Burma Street and wondered if they would change the nature of the neighborhood by filling the sweltering stores with young, well-off office workers. Perhaps more of the little shops will put in air conditioning, and raise their prices. I hope they stick around, though. Something tells me it will take more than office workers in tiny apartments to drive them out.

posted by Poagao at 5:30 am  
Dec 06 2006

A night out


Prince Roy was meeting some friends for dinner on Monday, so I decided to skip badminton. The pug-nosed women could wait.

I got off work a little early, so I walked halfway to the teahouse where we were meeting before finally catching a cab. Prince Roy, Spicygirl, Dan and Eric were already there. Dan and Eric are both into martial arts, so a lot of the conversation revolved around that. I might have come off a bit badly by expressing my opinion that Tai-chi and competitions are a weird mix at best.

Our thirst for tea quenched, we took another taxi over to the Tonghua Night Market, which PR and SG visit weekly. I’ve always felt the Tonghua market a bit watered down as compared to other night markets, but maybe it’s just that that part of town gives it a different vibe. I don’t actually get over there that much in any case.

We found the restaurant PR and SG always go to, but their favorite chef wasn’t at the table. If you can imagine. PR promptly informed the management of this grievous error, and the skinny kid was dispatched to the kitchen and replaced by an older fellow with a yellow handkerchief around his neck. Our group responded with everyone taking out their cameras to document the event as he dumped our food on the grill and moved it around in an expert fashion.

My beef dish was good, and the other dishes looked good, though, so the guy obviously knew what he was doing. Eric and I didn’t have the spicy stuff, while the non-Taiwanese at the table all got super spicy dishes.

It was drizzling again as we exited the restaurant afterwards. We walked to An-he Road and went our separate ways. I set off to the nearest MRT station, taking pictures as I went because it’s been too long since I’d done that kind of thing. The nearest station was Da-an, where I used to live when I was at the horrible old Chungking Mansions Taipei. It was a great area, and still is; the mansions themselves were, and still are, a mess.

When I got to the Da-an Station, however, I didn’t feel like getting on just yet, so I continued walking up Fuxing South Road, taking more pictures, until I reached Zhongxiao East Road, where I finally got on the train home.

posted by Poagao at 3:53 am