Scooter moment: Ximending & TiT

2 Aug

Corner of "Movie Street" in Ximending

Okay, so I live in Ximending, and find myself at this intersection just about every day, but I still like the bright lights and variety of people, as long as those people aren’t getting in my way. The darkness you see on the left is the looming structure of  TiT (yeah, try Googling that!), which has been under construction for a couple of years now, and will consist of expensive apartments that run about 60-110 ping, last I heard. TiT, which is short for “Town in Town,” is being built by Aman Corporation, which seemingly should have at least one English-speaker on staff who might have advised against making the TiT acronym so prominent on all of the advertising. At one point two summers ago, they even had large metal lettering on the sidewalk in front of the site, proclaiming “AMAN TiT” to all who passed by. Yup, “a man tit” has come to my crowded little space in Taipei.

I have to wonder what this tower is going to do to the neighborhood when it finally opens, and if the developers have succeeded in filling it yet. Check out this advertisement, which shows the tower design for about 2 seconds in the midst of making Ximending look quiet and romantic:

If they succeed with this development, it will signal a huge victory in changing people’s opinions of the neighborhood. Pretty much every single Taiwanese friend I have thinks I’m crazy for wanting to live in Ximending, with the exception of a handful of bohemians who live and work nearby. The thing is, the people who actually like Ximending enough to perhaps want to live here (teenagers, artists, tourists) are not the people who will be able to afford to live in TiT. I would imagine that the people who do have enough money to live there are not the sort of people who want to deal with the crowds, traffic, and general mayhem of Ximending on a typical weekend. So if people are actually buying up these apartments, does that mean a new kind of 西門町人 is on its way? There are a few other large buildings going up in the neighborhood, so perhaps that’s exactly what developers are hoping for.

Incidentally, though it’s not visible in the photo, the tower has had a crane perched atop it for months now, which terrifies me every time I pass by. After last year’s crane accident near Taipei 101 in which a crane fell from a building and crushed a bus carrying Chinese tourists, I’m paranoid about cranes in general, and don’t like the fact that I have to pass this one regularly.

Anyway, if you’re in the neighborhood, be sure to check out this monster of a construction project. Perhaps you can get your photo with a TiT sign!

Taipei Things #23 & 24: Visit Di Hua Street & have a furoshiki made

2 Aug

Di Hua Street, Section 1

My friend Xiao Bih suggested that I visit 迪化街, which was absolutely fine with me because I love this old street. I had hoped to visit in the morning, but the rain on this day had kept me inside until it was too late to manage it before I met my friends for afternoon tea. Still, the place has its charms at night, and there were even some shops still open. Passing by one of the fabric shops, I realized that, although I wasn’t quite in the right place for it, I could fulfill @graphgetsen‘s suggestion that I get a furoshiki made.

After stopping in to ask the fabric store owner where I could get my bag made, I was off to the old market building in search of a seamstress. She was already closed, but the nice man at the store had called her and asked her to come out and meet me. While I waited, I came upon one of my favorite sights in Taiwan, which never fails to make me smile:

After watching for a bit, I was tempted to join in (and mostly surely would have been given a warm welcome, despite the fact that I don’t know any of the dances), but I was on a mission and the seamstress was waving me over from inside the closed gate of the market building. After trying to explain to her what I was after (which mostly consisted of showing her a picture on my iPhone), she said she’d be able to make what I wanted, and told me to come back with the fabrics.

Back to the fabric store, the owner was helpful with his suggestions, and I decided to get three different fabrics, which he gladly displayed for the camera:

A Japanese-style print, fitting for a furoshiki

Traditional Hakka flower print in red

Flowers in blue

I’m partial to the red because it’s the same fabric my dearest friend Shrchang uses in his clothing designs (see his collection, called 大囍堂,  here: http://shrchang.pixnet.net/blog), but had a hard time choosing the others. Frankly, I wanted to buy half the shop, despite the fact that I have no need for fabrics.

After making my purchases (very inexpensive, though I can’t recall now how much I paid), I headed back to the seamstress, who led me through the back door of the darkened building and into her small shop, which wasn’t much bigger than my bathroom. We talked prices, design, and another foreign girl who apparently comes to the same seamstress, and the lady let me take a few shots of her thread:

Waiting for their purposes in life

I don’t have any photos of the finished bags, but I’ll post them later, as soon as I have them. For now, here are some more images from Di Hua Street at night.

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Taipei Thing #22: Get a powder & floss facial at Xing Tian Temple

18 Jul

Tools of the trade

My co-worker Tiffany suggested that I go to the Xing Tian Temple on Song Jiang Road to get a facial from one of the old ladies who work in the underground pedestrian passage near the temple. I had been to this area when I got my fortune told in 2007 by one of the many fortune tellers who have small booths in the passage, which is why there are large signs outside calling it “The Street of Fortune Telling.” I was slightly tempted to get my fortune told again, but I didn’t think it was necessary considering my last visit.

Entrance to the Street of Fortune Telling

On that visit, the fortune teller (who uses the 八字 method, for those who are curious) first told me some accurate things about my personality, most memorably that I’m quick to toss people out of my life when they disappoint me (which got laughs from the friends who were translating for me, since they knew me well enough to know that this was true). When it came to my future, however… Well, none of the significant years he mentioned have happened yet, so I can’t say whether or not I believe his predictions. If I get married next year (2011) as he claimed I will, perhaps I’ll become a believer and go for a follow-up. For now, though, perhaps I just need to wait and see.

Some of the fortune tellers you can try your luck with

Anyway, my mission was to get the kind of facial done with thread and powder, a somewhat painful means of removing hair from the face and sloughing off dead skin. In the US, this has become a seemingly exotic way of achieving roughly the same results as tweezing and waxing, though I believe it still isn’t very common. However, I had seen this done in Taiwan many times before, usually on random sidewalks. I wouldn’t have known where to get it done, but Tiffany’s suggestion implies that “The Street of Fortune Telling” is a reliable place to find people who can do it for you.

I don’t have any photos from the actual process, unfortunately, since I went alone, but here’s how it works:

First, your hair is tied back out of your face as well as possible to prevent getting it caught in the thread. Stray hairs will most certainly get torn from your scalp, which isn’t so fun. Then, you’re given a cloth to clean your face of any make-up you happen to be wearing, and the lady (usually an old woman – in my case, an old Japanese grandma) begins to use a block of powder to cover every inch of your face. This was the point at which I had to giggle, imagining how I must have looked to passersby as I sat on a very short stool in a dimly-lit passageway, having my already-rather-white skin being made more white by a woman pushing 80. I felt silly and was glad I didn’t have anyone to take photos, but the woman just smiled at me, showing her lack of a full set of teeth, probably wondering what I was giggling about.

The next step in the process is the painful part. This video probably gives you a better idea of the experience than any words I could come up with. The woman in the video had a slightly different experience than my own (no hair tied back, no powder that I could see, and mine was done sitting up), but I’m sure our facial expressions were the same throughout. Fortunately, I think I had less peach fuzz than this woman, which made the threading a bit less painful. The parts that were the most uncomfortable were when the Japanese grandma was doing my hairline and seemed to be intent on creating a receding hairline for me.

After the threading, there may be another round of powder and more threading, which is what happened to me. Apparently, my hairline was simply too unruly, since that’s where the lady focused most of her efforts for Round 2. When the treatment is finally done, out comes the aloe.

An extra piece of aloe my Japanese grandma sent me home with

The aloe is cut down the middle and rubbed all over your face, presumably to reduce the trauma to your face, and to counteract the dryness of the powder. It felt like someone was rubbing my face down with ice, which wasn’t such a bad thing, but it certainly felt sticky and a little like being covered in mucus. Finally, the aloe is wiped away, and you’re done. I was offered some foundation, which I used despite the fact that I don’t wear foundation. I had seen my red face in the mirror, and was hoping to cover it up before heading out.

The end result? Pretty smooth skin! I was surprised that, for the next few days, I didn’t experience the red cheeks that usually plague me. Taiwanese folks think my pink cheeks are cute, not realizing that it is in fact a skin problem that I’m always trying to resolve. I hadn’t expected that the facial, mostly designed for hair removal, accomplished something (temporarily) that dermatologists hadn’t been able to do.

My only complaint about the experience was that grandma got a little too zealous with the thread around my eyebrows, and left one side noticeably shorter than the other. To be fair, the side she over-threaded was already rather sparse due to a scar on my eyebrow, but I think the major reason for the eyebrow imbalance was that she didn’t put her glasses on until after she was finished. I had to use eyebrow pencil for a couple of weeks afterward, another thing I don’t normally do. If I were to do it again, I’d certainly ask in advance for the person to be careful with the eyebrows!

By the way, another difference between my own experience and that of the woman in the video linked above is that she spent about $39 USD in the US for the torture, while I spent the equivalent of about $9 USD in Taipei. In other words, if you want to pay someone to make you wince, it’s cheaper to do it in Taipei!

Here are some more photos from the Street of Fortune Telling and the Xing Tian Temple:

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Taipei Thing #21: Have some scallion pancake

18 Jul

蔥油餅

Yet another suggestion from Jesse was fulfilled by Christine during our afternoon feast: scallion pancake! I was originally intending to seek out one of the famous (read: one with mile-long lines) places in Taipei, but I didn’t need to bother after Christine said she’d be glad to help me cross this one off my list by cooking it for me!

To be honest, I don’t normally order this dish because I don’t like oily foods, and the very name of it in Chinese literally translates to “onion oil cake.” That’s not to say I don’t love it, though, and Christine’s was perfect. Somehow, I finished the whole thing, despite the fact that I was already full – that’s how good it was.

The moral of the story is that, if you visit Taiwan, scallion pancake is one of those things that you simply can’t leave without trying. Just be careful not to get addicted. My solution to that is to only eat it if Christine cooks it!

Not on the list: Afternoon tea with friends

18 Jul

Waffles a la mode

This post is primarily an excuse to post more photos of food, as you can probably tell. My friend Christine, who is pictured below, and whose brother supplied my delicious peanut mochi, loves cooking for friends, and she invited me on this day to join her for afternoon tea. Besides waffles with bananas, ice cream, and whipped cream, here are some other things she put together for us:

Vegetarian sushi

I ate about half a watermelon by myself

More of the spread, including Christine's awesome homemade pizza

Christine is one of those people who really embodies the welcoming nature of people in Taiwan, and you can tell by the diverse company she keeps. Every time she hosts a dinner or barbecue (always featuring Christine’s home-cooked food, which is so good she really ought to have a restaurant), I meet people from so many countries and backgrounds that I can’t keep track of them by the end of the evening. I never cease to be amazed at how well she gets to know so many people, never forgetting a name, particularly since I myself constantly struggle to match names with faces. I really ought to take a few lessons from her!

Our lovely host!

Taipei Thing #20: Eat peanut mochi

18 Jul

花生麻糬

Summer has wreaked havoc on my plans to finish writing these posts within a month, but I seem to have found a free moment to get back into the swing of things. The delicious treat you see above was suggested by Jesse, though I’m sure just about everyone who made suggestions seconded this one as soon as they read it.

I must make a confession about the peanut mochi above, however. If you’re from Taiwan or are familiar with important names in food, this photo might give you a hint:

陳記 brand!

Yes, that’s right, my 5 Days in Taipei included a treat from down south: Taitung’s mochi masters, 陳記. When I visited my food-loving friend Christine on this particular day (Day 3 of my “trip”) and mentioned some of the food tasks I had left, she immediately brought out these snacks, which had been brought up to Taipei by her brother that day. So, though it’s technically a Taitung mochi, I did consume it in Taipei – that counts, right?

The good news is that, even if you live in Taipei, as long as you can read Chinese (or have someone who can help you), you can get your own 陳記 mochi delivered to your nearest 7-11 if you order through their website at: http://www.machi.net.tw/index.htm.

And how did it taste? Well, mochi is one of my favorite desserts in Asia, and this one didn’t disappoint. I brought some Japanese mochi home to my family in the US a couple of years ago, and they weren’t impressed, but I’m thinking they might have had different impressions of mochi had they eaten this one. Recommended! And I’ll definitely be making a stop to the original store in Taitung when I visit there this fall. Can’t wait to try the other varieties.

Scooter moment: Bible speed-read?

14 Jun

Searching for something?

This woman was searching furiously through a book, which I was surprised to discover was actually a Bible. I thought for a moment that she was searching for wisdom, until she turned the book upside and shook it, apparently trying to dislodge an important scrap of paper or a business card. I hope she found what she was looking for.

The church behind her is on Chang An Road, by the way.

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