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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!

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.

Taipei Thing #19: Walk on those invigorating rocks in a park

13 Jun

Ouch!

Although I was sad to miss out on Jesse House Bakery, the trip wasn’t completely fruitless, and I was able to complete another of Jesse’s suggestions: walking barefoot on one of the rock paths often found in parks in Taiwan.

I had actually been keeping an eye out all week for one of these (I could have sworn Shida Park had one, but I couldn’t find it!), but it happened that Jesse House was right next to a park. Despite the fact that I was parked illegally, and should have been moving along to meet friends, I headed over to take a look. There it was!

Memories

The funny thing about this park is that, like Jesse House Bakery, I remember it from my very first morning in Taiwan. It seems like a million years ago now, though I recall my first glimpse of it quite vividly. I had taken a taxi from my apartment in Gong Guan to the head office of the school where I would be working. The taxi dropped me off directly in front of this park, which is where I was immediately amused by the sight of a group of old ladies country line dancing. I didn’t stop long because I was afraid of being late to my meeting, but I later wrote about the dancers in my journal. (Incidentally, I came across more line dancing ladies just a few hours after my invigorating rock walk. I’ll write about them later.)

As far as reflexology paths go, they are actually quite comfortable, in an uncomfortable sort of way, and are good for improving balance. I’d recommend seeing what the fuss is about, if you ever come across one. Most of the ones in Taiwan are clean and well-kept, and some have railings next to them to help you keep balance.  This particular design is rather unremarkable, but I’ve seen some beautifully-designed paths around Taiwan, particularly in parks close to temples. (Check out some examples here.) If I were to ever build a home, or even to open the homestay I dream of having, I will very likely install a path of my very own.

By the way, in case you have keen powers of observation and are wondering about the marks on my feet…

  • On the left: , a henna tattoo I’d gotten while sitting on a stool on the street in Kenting a week before this photo was taken. Reason: this is one of the characters in my Chinese name.
  • On the right: 我迷路了, a real tattoo I got while sitting across from a naked stranger (also getting a tattoo) in a forest one week before I came to Taiwan in 2005. Reason: this is how I feel every day of my life. Bonus: people ask me about it frequently, and their reactions are enlightening.

Taipei Thing #18: Jesse House Bakery

13 Jun

Jesse House, where are you?

Back when my friend Jesse lived in Taipei, he appreciated having his own bakery – or at least one that shared his name. I’m sure that’s why he wanted me to stop by this place on Song Jiang Road, which I still remember passing by on my very first day in Taiwan in 2005. And since I happened to be headed to afternoon tea with friends, I had a great reason for making a special trip.

Then, I got there, and saw this:

Foiled!

It seems Jesse House has disappeared from this location, as has the Burger King that used to be a couple of storefronts down. Apparently, I don’t spend enough time in the area, or I would have noticed this sooner. Fortunately, Jesse House left the sign up, so I was at least able to figure out that I had the right place.

A bit of research has since told me that the only location still open (unless the website is telling lies) is the one in Gong Guan. If I ever manage to find it, I’ll surely stop and celebrate, hopefully with a danish of some sort.

Sorry, Jesse!

Taipei Thing #17: Shop at Bear Mama DIY store

8 Jun

Felting is a hot craft in Taipei recently

Missy M., an all-around great lady and the rocking mama behind Rocking M farm, had recently asked me about wool in Taipei before I began this project, and later sent me some information on Bear Mama DIY, a rather large craft store on Yan Ping North Rd., just north of Taipei Main Station.

I used to consider myself a fairly crafty person, back when I had more time for it (and a bigger house to hold all the supplies!), so I was excited to check the place out. I’ve been to lots of craft stores in Taipei, but this is one of the first that I’d hold on par with my American craft store standards. First of all, it’s large:

Bear Mama DIY

Not quite a Michaels or Joann Fabrics, but a decent size, considering the competition for space in Taipei.

As you walk in, you’ll see tables to the left and right, where crafting classes are held. On this day, the place was bustling with grannies and middle-aged women weaving baskets, with store attendants nearby to help them with any crafting emergencies.

Crafting mamas

One difference I did notice between this store and its American cousins was the level of gaudiness, as evidenced by this entire row of beads that would likely be on clearance in a typical Michaels. Or maybe it was just the harsh lighting – I think American craft stores also tend to feel a little less like grocery stores, with nice displays and elegant packaging, unlike the hot pink in-house packaging used by Bear Mama.

Clear plastic beads, anyone?

You’ll also find all the typical things you’d expect in a craft store, like yarn and ribbon.

Yarn

Ribbon

I did make some purchases, which I carried around in the basket brought over to me by a helpful staff member, though I had to remind myself not to get carried away. Lots of interesting little finds in this store, and I’ll definitely be making another trip when I find the time and inspiration.

PS: If you’re in Taipei, and are interested in taking some crafting classes, you can find Bear Mama’s class schedule here (Chinese only). They also have locations in Taichung, Taoyuan, and Kaohsiung.