Monday, March 4, 2013

Eating in the Old Country (Part I).

Taiwan doesn't have a lot going for it. It is a small island with very little habitable land, as a mountain range travels from north to south, bifurcating the west coast and east coast.

It also doesn't have a lot of natural resources. Timber is almost always imported. Even sand and stone used to provide aggregate in concrete is a natural resource that must be rationed and properly managed by the government.

So in lieu of having nice beautiful lawns and large houses, people eat. Because the country is really small and densely populated, there really isn't a lot of things to do or see - so people eat.

 So yes. I ate a lot in Taiwan.

HeySong Corporation's Apple Sidra. Tastes just like how I remembered it and if I were capable of producing tears I would shed tears of nostalgia. Coca-Cola and Pepsi may dominate the international beverage market, but neither has anything on HeySong. 

HeySong Sarsaparilla. The triangular object is a rice triangle with tuna fish, wrapped in seaweed. Both are awesome and cheap too.


As previously mentioned - a sausage betting cart.

Mmmmm more food.

Yummy mutt dog.

My aunt bought me a caramel macchiato. 

A millet porridge. I dream of this. Literally. If anyone knows where to score some foxtail millet in the United States, please let me know!!!

Seaweed, bean curd, kimchi, and sour and spicy soup.

Dumplings. Steamed meat-filled buns, beef wraps.
Garlic chives filled pie.
85°C Bakery Cafe. The breads looked good. The coffee? For $2.50 USD? Sort of underwhelming.

I drank a lot of coffee. Jet lag sucks. But this can was only half a dollar. Since 1994!!! How can you lose with Wincafe? Heh heh heh. So cold.

7 Eleven coffee. Not bad for $2 bucks.

This was the most ridiculously expensive bubble tea ever. $4 USD for a large bubble tea. In Taiwan? !@#$%!^@!!!! I wanted to flip a table, throw a few chairs and burn the store down. 

Hot pot. This was my last meal in Taiwan. It wasn't bad - but unfortunately, due to climate change, I don't think it was hot pot suitable weather.

Wednesday, February 27, 2013

Height Comparison by a Vertically Challenged Person.

I'm not a tall dude. But in the old country, I feel like a normal sized person.

Waiting to board in Detroit. This was taken at eye level. Wow I feel taller already.
Annoying embarrassing Taiwanese children in Tokyo (they didn't understand the concept of lining up).

Taken in Taipei. See a pattern?

Monday, February 18, 2013

Amusing Signage in Taiwan.

Shoe washing station.

The Chinese portion of the sign basically says "Child specific sink - do not step/place excessive weight." Somehow it got translated into "Hand basin for child only do not beat." Who doesn't love Engrish?
"No hunting or electrocute or poisoning fish. No contaminating to water or air." But my favorite? A toddler playing with two balls and Thor's hammer in a bathtub with wheels = vender?

"Inshallah" is an English transcription of the Arabic phrase for "God Willing." Guess what is this business? It is a store that provides bride services (e.g. dress/nails/hair).

I will try to build a top notch leisure environment that can be enjoyed by all!

Political correctness has not eradicated signs that bring joy to my life.

I'll be sure not to "bring outer zone's food."

This is an evacuation radius map for the Nuclear Power Station 3. It is written in both Chinese and Engrish. 

Sunday, February 17, 2013

My experiences flying with Delta.

Like most people, I'm not particularly fond of flying, but I do try to amuse myself by trying to find random things to do on a flight.

So I read the safety card.
I don't think the angle of approach for the aircraft going into the ground and/or water is survivable. In pictograph #1, the dude in first class is throwing up. First class is also where people are basically surrounded by their seats and flight companions do not talk to each other. In pictograph #2, the lady is flying coach by herself in an empty flight. In pictograph #3, a dude is using a child's head/neck as a hand rest In pictograph #4, the lady is pregnant?

Alaska is pretty cool!
It was pretty fun to watch people watch different movies from the back of the plane.
Delta's Boeing 747-400s cabin's have been significantly retrofitted since the last time I flew with them back in 2006. The new interiors feature an interactive entertainment system for every passenger flying economy and USB ports for charging smartphones. I watched a slew of movies on this trip. Bourne Legacy, Safe House, Trouble with the Curve, The Campaign, Children of Men, Promotheus, 聽風者, Arbitrage, Gladiator and The Hunger Games.

Every passenger gets a little touchscreen with a
headphone jack and a USB port.

Watching Gladiator with Chinese subtitles while approaching Alaska.
Passengers get a huge selection of movies, TV shows, music, games
as well as the good old time to destination/map screen.

Food and beverage service hasn't really changed very much in a decade, and I can't say I envy the job of planning or preparing airline menus. Many people have a very limited comfort range when it comes to food, some of it is cultural and some of it is personal. On an international flight between two regional hubs, the cultural and personal combinations of the myriad of passengers means that you can't be too adventurous or you'll risk starving picky eaters, but if you go too bland you'll get a bad response from the airline's food focus group.
This was served between Detroit and Tokyo. This was supposed to be a fried pork Katsu dish - but somehow became a beef stew. The beef stew wasn't bad, but I had been looking forward to the pork Katsu. The shrimp cocktail and salad tasted like what I remember from my last long range from six years ago. The Asahi was good.

This was the snack between meals. The Milano was the best part of it. The sandwich reminded me of something University catering would throw together for a student organization on a limited budget, and the banana was unripe and difficult to peel, and when I tried to peel it with my teeth, I found that the bananas was frozen. Oh well.

This was probably the best meal of all the flights. The chicken was tasty and the noodles weren't clumped together as a solid mess. The salad and cake was fine and the bread was meh. I thought this meal was missing a fruit dish or something. The Sapporo was good.

This dish was served between Tokyo and Taipei. This was a fried rice breakfast. The fried rice was more like a rice pilaf (which I suspect was never fried for health conscious reasons), and I thought they should have just called it a rice pilaf. The roll was ok and the fruit was not bad. 

Served between Taipei and Tokyo. This was an attempt at 肉燥飯. The sauce was actually not bad and the rice was properly steamed. The fruit was not edible and the roll was gross. But it looked like it was missing a tray of something.
Served between Tokyo and Detroit. The salad was good. The meatball dish was good. The sponge cake was not bad. The dinner roll was meh. The main dish was supposed to be a Korean bibimbap, but tasted like a Japanese attempt at making Korean food (i.e. devoid of spicy seasoning of any kind). If would ave been better received had they just called it a beef dinner.
Snack served between meals on the flight between Tokyo and Detroit. Cookies were the best part.

Yakesoba breakfast served on the flight between Tokyo and Detroit. The fruit wasn't bad but the roll was gross. The noodles weren't bad tasting, but were unwieldy and difficult to eat because the noodles had cooled into a solid block and they didn't provide any chopsticks. 
My concluding thoughts for flying? Doctors should fly free. On my flight between Detroit to Tokyo, a doctor was hailed twice to different seats for emergencies. I was also seated right in front of a section of the overhead cabin where medical supplies were stored, and saw flight attendants running down the aisles and grabbing the bags. Also... people really ought to be more patient when traveling. If everyone patiently lined up properly, boarding becomes a more pleasant, less stressful and faster process. Likewise, when deplaning, if no one tried to squeeze past people/jump the gun and we all deplaned in order from front to rear, the total amount of time it'll take would be reduced.

Finally, airlines should distribute pills that knock people out so they're not puking and so that kids aren't causing a ruckus. Kids are increasingly poorly behaved because they have permissive and worthless parents. Also, on a particularly bad landing in bad weather on the flight between Taipei and Tokyo, there were people puking into bags throughout the cabin. It was gross and the problem was exasperated by the tendency for airlines to serve meals about 60-90 minutes before landing. The smell in the cabin was well... gross.

Monday, February 4, 2013

Leaving America.

It is sort of scary how long I've lived in America. I would say that just six years ago - I still found America to be very alien, foreign, and sometimes downright confusing. But overtime, slowly and surely, through the course of regular life and also the generosity of very kind people who have shared their experiences and opened their lives and homes to me, I think I've sufficiently mastered the rather marketable skill of pretending to be a natural born American citizen.

Similarly, life in Taiwan, like the time and tide, waits for no man. I'd imagine much has changed in the last six years, and I suspect it is entirely possible that I could experience culture shock at "home," and I wonder how long it would take for me to feel comfortable again.

But anyway - enough with my random musings!

I took the Port Authority bus to Pittsburgh International Airport, a perfectly nice airport that is unfortunately too large for western Pennsylvania. The 28X bus was about 6 minutes early - which can really ruin the day for someone who is not familiar with the Port Authority's customary business practices and misses their bus and possibly their fight.

Did I mention waiting for the bus made me really cold?
The bus was pretty fun. A young fella who was probably drunk got on the bus and tried to avoid the bus fare. The bus driver called him out on it and the young fella pays - but then began to curse up a storm. Then he sat down and whipped out a new smartphone (I think it was even HTC! Yay Taiwan represent!)

Anyway - so he made the bus really awkward because there was toddlers going to the airport and this smuck was saying things that would make a sailor blush. But karma is a bitch - and the young fella forgot his charger on the bus. I guess I could have said something to him - but I swear everything happened so quickly ;)

Lonely and sad micro-USB charger.
Once we got to the airport - I got up and grabbed the lost charger and handed it to the bus driver.

"I believe that young fella who was giving you a hard time left his."

*bus driver and I share a laugh*

So anyhoo - I proceeded to the bag drop area, went through security and found my gate nearly two hours ahead of schedule.

There were not a lot of people, so it was particularly odd when this (pictured below) showed up at the gate, sort of eyed everyone up, then sat down next to this Asian girl. He then kept looking at her, put his arm on the back of the seat over to try and start a conversation, and was generally quite creepy.

Creeper. He was sort of large. Thankfully he bought two seats so no one would have to sit under his arm.
But his creepiness was to my benefit because it provided amusement while we waited for our flight to Detroit   to arrive in Pittsburgh. It was a good distraction because I was a tad bit anxious at this point as I only had a little over an hour between my flight from Pittsburgh to Detroit and the connecting flight from Detroit to Tokyo.

The little plane finally arrived, and by the time we started boarding after a torturous wait for the passengers to deplane, we were thirty minutes past our scheduled departure time. Once we finally we on board - we then taxied around on the tarmac until we got to the deicing station (as it had started to snow rather heavily).

The plane landed after we had been scheduled to board.
By the time we had departed, we were over an hour late and I resigned to the possibility that I would miss the flight from Detroit to Tokyo.

But I think the pilot maintained a higher cruising speed and managed to get us there with only a half hour delay. We deplaned just as my next connecting flight began boarding, so I made a mad dash from one terminal building to the other, weaving through the crowd and running up the stairs to pass people on escalators. Thankfully I made it for the flight!

Good bye America! I'll miss you!

But I'm not sad I'm leaving behind your weather.

Friday, January 25, 2013

Going home!

In a few more days I'll be getting on a jet plane and leaving Yinzburg for a little time at home.

It has been about six years since I have been back home and over a decade since I had the opportunity to spend the Chinese New Year with people who actually partake in Chinese New Year festivities (Chinese New Year is the American cultural equivalent of Thanksgiving, Easter and Christmas combined). So I guess at one level I am somewhat excited.

However, until mankind perfects teleportation technology, in order to get there, one has to spend nineteen and a half hours in a dry pressurized metal cylinder. That is a long time to spend watching family movies and enjoying the wonderful food and service offered by Delta Airlines followed by a two and a half hour bus ride from the airport (basically more than 24 hours door to door). Unfortunately I'm not 19 anymore and I get stiff, tired and cranky.

Also, one of the primary reasons why I'm making this trip back is to sort of um... see some older members of the family while I still can. So it is a rather somber trip.

Going back to the old country is a lot easier than leaving. In the United States, people go through customs and border controls for entering the country. But as long as you're not a criminal/terror suspect on some watch list, someone who has knowledge of information subject to export controls, or someone out on bail, you're free to leave pretty much whenever you want.

In Taiwan, the customs and border controls exist for people entering and leaving the country. In fact, in my experience, I have spent more time waiting for the customs official to permit me to leave the country than I have awaiting permission to enter the country.

The reasons for this peculiar setup is twofold. First, Taiwan was in a continuous state of martial law from 1949 until 1987. Law enforcement found it beneficial to be able to able to control departure since it made it hard for criminals (both genuine and political) from leaving the country.

Second, Taiwan still has a military draft. All males between the ages of 19 through 36 are subject to conscription for service in the armed forces. Those subject to the draft are not permitted to leave the country unless they fall within a few rather specific categories. The draft is being phased out in the coming years - but I'd imagine the departure inspection to continue for the foreseeable future (because frankly it is such a nice law enforcement tool).

So we'll see how this trip goes - hopefully it will be smooth sailing with plenty of joyous festivities, yummy food and wonderful Engrish of the Day blog posts.