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.



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.


Taipei Thing #16: Visit 228 Peace Park at night

1 Jun

Nighttime stroll

Besides seemingly wanting to get me stuffed, Jesse also proposed some exercise – of the mildly frightening variety. His idea was to make a nighttime visit to 228 Peace Park. When I told my friends Curis & Shelley of this plan during our dinner at KGB, they didn’t think it was a very good idea, pointing out that it’s very dark there at night. However, when I was passing sometime after 11:30, it didn’t seem so scary to me.

During my stroll, I ran into a number of park characters: foreigners having a drink next to the pond, a homeless guy digging through trash for something to eat (he found an unfinished bag of Lay’s), a random guy seemingly trying to steal things from the tents along the main walkway (where vendors sell things in the daytime), a guy sitting in front of the stage all alone, with a couple doing the same thing not far way, lone joggers, gay men hanging out by the pagoda, a guy reading the newspaper under the monument, women in business suits hurrying through the park in the direction of the MRT, and students passing through in a loud group. In short, there were still plenty of people around despite the late hour, which made me feel fairly secure. I’m not sure the scene would feel that way a few hours later, but I’m not particularly interested in finding out, at least by myself.

If you’d like to find out exactly where the name of the park comes from, check out this article on the 228 Massacre.

And here are some of the things you might come across in the park:

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Taipei Thing #15: Have a KGB Burger

31 May

KGB: Kiwi Gourmet Burgers

Michael Turton suggested that I have a KGB burger, which I had no problem with, since they’ve got two things I love (see below). And I was already scheduled to have dinner and language exchange in Shida with my friends Curis and Shelley, so it wasn’t a tough sell getting them to agree.

Thing I love about KGB #1:

Hunter's Gold

I seriously miss Woodchuck Dark & Dry (now called “802”), which I drank religiously at Gandalf’s, a mainstay of the artsy/musical/treehugger crowd in my hometown until it burned down the year I graduated from college. For that reason, cider is a bit nostalgic for me, and I never miss ordering it when it’s available.

Thing I love about KGB #2:

CC Heaven

I’m not sure I’ve ever ordered anything else at KGB. CC = cranberry & camembert cheese. On a burger! Try it. Trust me, you’ll love it. The one pictured is a “slim,” since I was stuffed from all the other food (and those fries all ended up on Curis’s plate, too), but I still finished every bite because that’s how much I love this burger.

A few more shots ought to do it for this post:

Enormous side salads



Mmmm. Just writing this post makes me want to go get another CC Heaven right now…

Taipei Thing #14: Eat 甜不辣

31 May

甜不辣 (tian2 bu2 la4)

Jesse sent me on yet another food mission: to eat 甜不辣, otherwise known as tempura.

Kaifu and I had been eating all day already: vegetarian food at 新卡莎, a sharwarma from Mohammed, and red bean & mochi ice from Tai Yi Milk King, not to mention the strawberry iced tea I sipped while people-watching in Yong Kang Park. Furthermore, I was on my way to meet friends for Thing #15 (another food task).

It was a day to make any hungry girl or inner fatty proud. But there was still tempura to be had, and we were able to find some off Shida Road, among all those food stands near the Wellcome grocery store. It really was delicious, though I think I’d be able to appreciate it better on a day when I hadn’t been stuffing my face for hours already.

And for those curious about the black piece on the left, that’s pig’s blood cake (豬血糕, zhu1 xie3 gao1). The video below will explain everything you need to know (and for those who can read Chinese, the subtitles offer some extra fun – check out 4:23):

Taipei Thing #13: Buy unfamiliar fruits

31 May

Helpful fruit stand guy

A comment from Melissa sent me on a mission to find unfamiliar fruits. She said to buy one of every fruit I couldn’t identify, and a ripe mango if I could find one. I actually stopped at a lot of fruit stands during the course of my travels, including a couple of traditional markets, but was surprised at my apparent knowledge of fruits available in Taiwan (vegetables would have been a different story!). Actually, I encountered more unfamiliar fruits during my dinner at Nonzero than I did at the fruit stands. Strange. Still, I did manage to find one I didn’t know, the melon below (with my ripe mango):

Mango and, um, I don't know what this is called...

I’ve been told that the melon is called 香瓜 (xiang1 gua1), but I have yet to find a proper English name for it. Do you know?

I think this adventure might have resulted in several more purchases 5 years ago when I first came to Taiwan, since I’ve already encountered so many fruits here that I’ve come to know and love, particularly lychees and dragonfruit. Still, I think this is a great way to experience new things, and I will definitely buy more curious fruits whenever I see them from now on!

Not on the list: People-watching in Yong Kang Park

31 May

Crazy kids

After our visit to the secondhand store, Kaifu and I picked up some drinks from a drink stand and took in some relaxing entertainment in Yong Kang Park in the form of people-watching. I guess there’s not much else to say about it, since most of the amusing parts are of the you-had-to-be-there variety, so here are some photos of all the fun.

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Taipei Thing #12: Visit the basement secondhand store on Yong Kang Street

31 May

永康地下階 - I absolutely love the design of the 下

Another of Jesse’s suggestions was visiting this very cool second-hand music-book-junk store on Yong Kang Street (across from Ice Monster). I had been there before, but not for at least a couple of years, so this was a good excuse to visit. The store is easy to identify because there are also CD’s and DVD’s outside at ground level, and they’re always playing something on the screen outside.

Descend the stairs, and you will find yourself in a bizarre little vault of random junk that no one wanted anymore.


You’ll see a few new CD’s near the entrance, but everything else is secondhand. You could literally spend hours in here checking out everything they’ve got because each of the sections is packed from floor to ceiling.

The children's section

For people learning Chinese, the children’s section is a great place to get resources. They’ve got language books elsewhere, but if you’re looking for great native-language books to practice your reading, you’ll be able to get your fill here.

Looking for vinyl?

There is also an enormous vinyl section, particularly cool for people who are looking for classic Taiwanese music. Was so tempted to get this one, if only I had any way to play it:

Take me home

Admittedly, the store is mostly filled with things no one will ever want, but there are a lot of cool finds if you have the patience and an eye for coolness. Some of the things I’d have taken home if I had either the cash on hand or the space in my packed apartment included some old Japanese books (would make excellent craft materials) and this gorgeous photo book:

Gorgeous shots of Taiwan

I’m not quite sure when it was published, but I believe it was 15-20 years old, and was filled with photos of the life and scenery you’ll find in Taiwan. Alas, I hadn’t stopped at the ATM after lunch, so I didn’t get it. If fate has anything to say about it, I’ll pick it up the next time I visit, if it’s still there.

Incidentally, the atmosphere of the store itself is rather cool. There aren’t a lot of places in Taipei where you’ll find so many dark corners in which to discover things, but this store has plenty of them.

In the back

Oh, and I did buy something.

A steal for $9 NT.

This CD case caught my eye on the shelf of random (read: so random that they’re marked down to $9 NT) CDs, and I was delighted when I opened it up. Needless to say, I bought it mostly for what was hidden inside:

Someone else's cat! With a stylish border! Eureka!

If you’re at all curious as to what’s on the CD, check out this video, which I dug up after I got home. Cute.

Side note: The Ice Monster Returneth

27 May

It's coming...

I had been told that Ice Monster will reopen in June, and that seems to be the case, if this apparent facelift is any indication. I can’t say I particularly care, since I didn’t actually go to Ice Monster very often, except that it will be nice to have a Taipei institution on the map again. There had been news reports this spring that business has gone down for other shops on Yong Kang Street since the closing of Ice Monster, so hopefully its return will bring back the tourists and the shoppers. I’m also interested to see what changes are being made behind those temporary walls. We’ll find out soon.

Taipei Thing #11: Visit Japanese-era housing

27 May

Hidden gems.

Xiao Bih suggested that I check out the military dependent’s villages around town (you can read more about these here). I had actually been to one of these before (四四南村), and in fact used it as a performance space for VDAY Taipei in 2008. However, at the time, it was mostly a work space, so I didn’t spend much time looking around. I didn’t really understand the history of the place, and there were, and still are, limited English resources on places like it.

I was told that there was another one of these villages near Jin Hua Street, so Kaifu and I headed there after finishing all that ice. Of course, I was ill-prepared, and had no idea how to find it. I was ready to give up and come back after doing more research, so we started to head down Yong Kang Street to the next destination. Fortunately, I came across a familiar face as we were passing California Grill – a face with information. Extra, one of the friendly folks that runs the restaurant (whose original branch is on Yong Kang), told us that there were some old houses across the street and down an alley, and she guessed we’d find them if we wandered a bit. A short walk later, and we found ourselves on a quiet street off Heping and Jinshan, which looked like it could be what we were searching for.

The lane is made up of very old homes, though all were hidden by walls. It seemed, though, that the places were occupied and well-kept, which I found unusual. It wasn’t clear where we were until I later wandered into the park next to the lane and spotted this plaque:

Jin-an Japanese Colonial Houses

So, it seems, we hadn’t found exactly what we were looking for, but we did find something just as interesting. Another cool part of the lane is the information on natural resources:

Catching the rain.

About the area.

I would like to have been able to see the insides of the houses, but, as I mentioned, they were occupied, and furthermore, there were security cameras and barbed wire. I’m not sure if they were just trying to protect the place from vandals or what, but the cameras certainly seemed out of place.

What’s kind of funny to me about this experience is that, as with many things on my list, this is something I’d passed before and never noticed. I used to work right around the corner from the place, and had to drive down this lane, and yet I didn’t realize there was anything special about it. I’d be happy to hear if anyone else has information on this street (off Li Shui Street), since it’s still a bit of a mystery to me, even with the plaque in the park. We didn’t see exactly what we came for, but this place seems to have a special history of its own.

Quiet and peaceful.

Scooter moment: Umbrella

27 May

You can stand under my umbrella-ella-ella