Wednesday, December 22, 2010

Taipei = Good Eating

If I'm going to talk about food in Taipei, and why would anyone talk about anything else, then I have to begin with dumplings. Above are the best dumplings in the world. No kidding fools. I die a little inside knowing I can't get them anywhere else but bloody Taipei, hogging all the dumpling action. You know how in the 'west' when you order dumplings you get either "steamed" or "fried", and if you choose "fried" they are deep fried completely, within an inch of their tender lives ?! Well, here's the news: in Taipei, they are steamed and then just fried on two sides. Maybe if you enlarge the picture and look closely you can tell - you probably don't want to do that though, or you might pass out from envy, and hanger.

At a Japanese place in the student area I had - a fried mix thing which ruled my life: lots of cabbage, gravy-ish sauce, cheese and an egg in the hot pot, served with rice. Weird fact: both Koreans and Germans are geniuses with cabbage (and apparently the Japanese). Maybe they had a secret meeting centuries ago...

Umm, this photo above is sub-standard ('cos I'm usually so Magnum), but I had to include it because that meal was my personal favourite. What I love about the Taiwanese (apart from their hot bods) is their total inclusion of vegetables and they devotion to making them really sing. In my country (New Zealand) many housewives spend their lives boiling vegetables into a soggy mess and wondering why their kids don't like it. In Taiwan, people cover their vegetables with delicious spices, throw in some chopped and roasted peanuts, and try to fight their kids off. Literally, this was happening at the table beside us.

Ooh and then I had a whitey breakfast of salmon eggs benedict at the most fabulous western-style cafe in Taipei - Grandma Nitti's. I was actually at the place across the road, but it's run by the same people, has more space and you don't have to wait forever to be seated. Bonus.

Below, Samuel's face when I had my eggs benedict and he didn't.

Pharmacy Products in Taiwan

A paradox indeed.

Below, a special inside joke for Joss and anyone who knows him, or any other Manc.

Monday, December 20, 2010

Atlanta Bangkok

Every time I go to BKK I have an internal argument about which area to stay in, and thus, which hotel to stay in. A few things have happened recently which has put this argument to rest, namely:

  1. I stayed in Khaosan Road again (main backpacker ghetto) and realised that while it is convenient (kind of), it's also way too much like Castle Street in Dunedin - full of drunk kids in their early 20s. Fine. That's amusing, and if I really want to see it, I can still visit. But do I want to be wallowing in the middle of it anymore? No. Fun while it lasted Khaosan, I do still have a place for you in my heart - and especially for the adorable Thai teenagers who hang around looking superior. There are more of them every time!
  2. The beautiful sky-train system in Bangkok now goes to the airport! I'm sorry, what?! Yes, the TRAIN goes to the AIRPORT. i.e. omg. i.e. now it's only like 60 cents to get into town. i.e. I don't have to fluffle around with taxi drivers anymore. i.e. BEST NEWS EVER. This train goes into the centre of BKK and not the tourist ghetto (Khaosan).
  3. I returned to my old faithful hotel the Atlanta, beautifully situated on the fringe of the Sukhumvit area, right smack on the train system. I am obsessed with the Atlanta, see why here.
The pictures in this post just show the view from my room, above after I cleaned my lens and below, before - when the heat was allowed free reign. I love the Atlanta.
Sitting in the diner, I heard two old British/ Australian men and a gorgeous young Thai man discussing whether it is acceptable to read Shakespeare. I just HAD to butt in.

"Excuse me, I'm sorry to interrupt, but my friend told me yesterday that reading Shakespeare should be illegal !"
The three men turned to me with amused/ perplexed expressions and begged me to defend this extreme viewpoint.
"Well, back in the day, hundreds of years ago, the actors were not even allowed to read the plays in their entireties. They were only given their own lines and the line directly before it, so that when they practiced they'd really have to respond and listen to the others."

Thank you Samuel for this extreme view and information, because it turns out they found my tidbit totally fascinating and it turns out they happen to be dear friends and long-term livers-in/ employees of the Atlanta hotel. Bless~!

Also, I went swimming alone in the pool after midnight, in the tropical heat, under these giant green palm like monstrosities and vines (Anthony, if you're reading: the plants have almost engulfed the pool since we were there!). Swimming under a star filled sky, fat moon and leaves as big as me, I realised, for once, that the exact moment in my life I wanted to be in was the one which was happening right then. For someone who lives perpetually in plans and the future, such a feeling is rare and treasured.

ex - oh - ex.

Tuesday, December 7, 2010

Mountains and Tea

Samuel always says he's actually not much of a traveler. People find this hard to believe, as he has lived in a few countries and speaks multiple languages. However, I know Sammy well, and I know it's true. Like me, he enjoys new cities and living in them, but once he's there - once his belongings are unpacked and all over his floor - he is loathe to leave and explore the rest of whatever country he is in. For example, in his 9 months in Colombia he only really left Bogota once, with me and John, on a trip to the Caribbean coast to find his biological grandfather. Even this required some prodding.

So, knowing Samuel wouldn't know anything, I did some lonely planet Taiwan research in the friendly Dunedin public library before I left and decided that my one demand was that we visit Jiufen & Jinguashi, two little villages (3km apart) in the North of Taiwan. These are only about 40 minutes train away from Taipei and their main boasts are mountain walks and tea houses - I knew I could sell all this to Sam.

Below: Jinguashi street, near the "Gold Ecological Park" (further below).

This year the 'Gold Ecological Park' motto is: "2010: Year of the Silver Grass."

After several hours schlepping our unfit selves around Taiwanese mountains, we caught the bus to Jiufen, famous for it's traditional tea houses. Once there, we ordered the "mountain dragon" tea, known for it's energy and strength enhancing qualities, and were taught how to pour tea the 'proper' way. Note how serious we are about this.

The tea gave us just enough energy and dragon-like strength to get the train home, have a disagreement about Lars von Trier, and watch another episode of "The Walking Dead" (uh-mazing), before passing out - exhausted, contented and disproportionately proud of ourselves.

Sunday, December 5, 2010

Retrospective: Sydney + Surrounds

The central reason I even came to Sydney = above. Karen - my darling friend you may remember from Colombia. Karen is wearing a puppy umbrella, a penny-farthing t-shirt and a real Greek fisherman's hat she just found in a vintage store. AMAZING.

After an all-night train journey and a morning at the most amazing market (more below), Karen bundled me into a car with lovely Lydia (below) and we drove to coastal NSW on an ill-planned, mis-informed and riotous road trip.

On the first night we stayed at Karen's mother and grandmother's house in Ulladulla and, despite us turning up with about 40 minutes notice, they were some of the kindest and most hospitable hosts I've ever had the pleasure of being hosted by. It was also fascinating to see where Karen gets many of her traits from, both physical and psychological. See the three generations below.

Karen's mum Judith is going to NYC for Christmas this year, and plans to wear her vintage fur coat (passed on through generations) - "Well when else am I going to wear it?! In Ulladulla?! I don't think so."

After a much-needed sleep, we drove to a beach famous for it's wild Eastern grey kangaroos - here is one of the cutest ones. They were everywhere and quite used to humans gawking at them. I amused the Australians by being constantly blown away by the whole event = "oh my GOD. oh my. I can't believe there is a kangaroo just literally standing right there. I mean, I knew they had kangaroos in Australia, but not just everywhere like this, not just like hanging out."

While in Melbourne and prancing around the gardens, Telford made this statement: "This is just like, so nice, I mean, where are the homeless people?! If I was homeless, I would come to the park to hang out." I've never been to a city as consistently rich and secure seeming as Melbourne - this is not to say there is no poverty (I am not an idiot), but that the poverty is not visible to a casual observer, in the main areas of the city.

In Sydney, this is not the case. Sydney has a much more visible and arresting 'under-belly', and the wealth there, maybe by consequence, doesn't feel quite as cushy and definite.

Above are the old carriage works - a fantastic red-brick industrial space now used as a huge open air farmers market - i.e. a farmers market which can still function comfortably in the rain; genius. I had a savoury crepe there with spinach, mushroom and cheese and it ruled my morning. Across the street, there are the old workers' homes which are now, of course, highly desired and trendy places to live.

I really liked Sydney, quite a lot more than people had led me to believe I would. It has more of a harsh edge than Melbourne and is certainly busier, more competitive and more corporate, and I can see why that puts people off, but it is also an exceptionally pretty city with really interesting history and wildly varied neighbhourhoods. I think I'd have to be feeling very secure (and wealthy) to want to live there though.

Friday, December 3, 2010

Up to the Minute News: Breakfast

Breakfast in Taipei this morning: three manic passionfruit, a sleepy dragonfruit and a HUGE and excited pomelo. Not Pierre, he's just joining us.

"Oh Leila, nous n'avons pas les fruits comme ca en France!"

post script: thx Gigi for inspiring me to put faces on my previously faceless fruit.

Thursday, December 2, 2010

Retrospective: Melbourne

Although I am now sitting in the bedroom of my dear friend Samuel in Taipei, many miles and days away from Melbourne, I thought I would finally get around to posting about it. I spent much longer than anticipated in that fine city, as I 1) missed my first deadline to leave due to ineptitude, 2) missed the roadtrip which was going to take me to Sydney due to exhaustion and 3) missed my flight, two days later, due to a heinous lack of planning. So, after very numerous days living in the beautiful home of Chloe, Hamish, Telford & Louise, I finally got the only kind of transportation I can handle (a train) and chugged to Sydney in a daze of disbelief.

Also, I feel like a loser posting these pictures as they already exist on facebook, but MOM doesn't have facebook so at least they'll be new to someone. <3>

What I love about Melbourne (a brief sampling):
  1. My friends. The circle of people living in Melbourne, and granting me access to their floor, fridge and liquor cabinet, are some of the greatest and warmest people around. Not to mention caustically offensive. Oh heart.
  2. The architecture. (See first picture!). That terraced housing, swoon. North Fitzroy was just named 'whitest' suburb in Melbourne by the Stuff White People Like author, partly due to its incredible aesthetic.
  3. Umm, everything. I kinda want to live there ok? Bright sun, strangers who smile and talk to me, people not staring at each other if they wear something slightly unusual, FOOD FOOD FOOD, the fact each neighbourhood could almost be a seperate city in terms of it's feel... lalala shut up.
  4. Oh, those trams.

(Hamish 'incognito' and Chloe).

The photos above (taken by the jolie Cindy from very rural French Canada) and below were taken in the middle of a very long period of partying. Just after these photos we went to the spa, where Cindy pranced around in her lingerie (much to the chagrin of the pool supervisor, who was wearing crocs to match his vest, much to my chagrin) and then, after changing into more respectable clothes, to a Russian orthodox Church service. First, we tried to go to an Italian Catholic service, but they had a notice on the door in very fine print, covering an entire page, about how abortion laughs in the face of human rights or some junk. Could Not Deal. Anyway, the Russian service was seriously moving. I recommend.