About this blog

I am terrible at using chopsticks, no matter who shows me, and no matter how hard I try. I was born left-handed but the nuns beat me until I learned to write with my right hand, and anything requiring a lot of dexterity remains a challenge. Maybe months and months of living in Taiwan will help me get it... or I will lose lots of weight and probably will accidentally leave behind a few forks. It's all good.

Sunday, June 19, 2011

A Nod To A Friend and Farewells

Here I am again! Guest contributor, OsakaJack, with a link to another great blog by a foodie in Taiwan. I am doing this because there was a great post on some new eateries in Taipei and, sadly, some closures. And in linking, I wanted to add one more with a heavy heart.

- Sweet Tooth Club closed its storefront, though the owner Ariel is still baking from home. Follow their facebook page for updates
- Couldn't believe that longtime Chinese restaurant Shanghai Fans was closed after reader Jane L. left a comment on the post, but I saw the emptied location with my own eyes. Sadface.
- A few days after I posted my revisit to Patio Thai, I drove by and also saw construction and an emptied out restaurant (bye bye koi pond). But a different Thai restaurant is set to open in the same location in June 2011. We'll see if it's the same owner/management or new owners- hopefully they'll still have good pad thai.--Hungry In Taipei

There was a place out in Da an which was a small, cozy fusion bistro. The kitchen was solely run by a very capable Canadian chef and the bar was managed by a very generous Irishman. The place was really a second home to me. So it was very sad to hear that Galley Gong Bistro closed its doors about a month ago. The city is a little emptier because of this.

Thursday, May 12, 2011

Mobile blogging: The sweaty streets of Taipei

This is a test post from yours truly, guest writer here on CSeU. I will be doing more of these short posts from my phone while I cruise the streets and night markets in search of anything that won't give me food poisoning.
Here is a picture from earlier-to tide you over

Tuesday, September 14, 2010

Not the way to lose weight

I've had two days in a row now that do NOT represent a way to lose weight. C'est la vie! Sunday, I got up and had the normal breakfast offered by the suites.
I'm going to stop taking pictures of this breakfast pretty soon. It's damn boring, is what it is, though I am grateful for the free meal.

Instead of laying around all morning, I had a MISSION... get to the RT-Mart to go grocery shopping! This involved a five-minute walk to the MRT, a three stop ride to the end of the Xindian line, and then a longish walk in the sweltering heat of the noontime hour. I'd say the walk was about 20 minutes long, given that I walked five minutes in the wrong direction before realizing that the lane numbers were going down, not up, which meant I was going the wrong way. (Street numbering here is amazingly logical; I love the system here as it makes things VERY easy to find!)

I saw an interesting sign across from the Xindian MRT stop:
Note the swastika, used in the old cycle of life meaning, I"m sure, though I can't confirm that since I don't know what the Chinese says. However, it was in a tiny little park.

The RT-Mart was great; kind of a K-Mart/Fred Meyer hybrid. Some of everything, very cheap for the most part. I bought a juice strainer for draining small quantities of ramen for NT$19 ($0.59) and a vegetable peeler for about 30 cents US, for example. I also got some carrots, a bunch of yogurt drinks, Hey Song diet sasparilla soda that is quite frankly, AWFUL, some of my favorite Orion Choco-Pies, some imported Prego spaghetti sauce, and a few other things. Grand total about US$30.

While there, I perused the extensive Oreo selection and thought of Lisa:
But I didn't buy any. The one snack I did take a chance on proved to be EXCELLENT:

Golden Cheese Doritos. OMG they are SO good and I will miss them when I come home.

I lugged all my groceries home and put things away, then quickly changed out of my sweaty clothes and rounded up the games I'd brought, so that I could go up to Witch House to meet up with the Forumosan game players at 2 pm. 

I took the MRT towards town to Gongguan exit 2, National Taiwan University exit, and walked to Witch House, again, easy to find thanks to the brilliant system of roads, sections, lanes, and alleys. Inside Witch House, there were tons of people playing games; clearly, this was The Place if you wanted to play games! Unfortunately, my bravery ran out after introducing myself to three separate tables of people playing games, none of whom spoke English. I didn't bother with the guys playing Magic, because I had no interest in playing Magic, to be honest. It seems that the Forumosan game crew is flaky and probably nobody was there that day, but I left feeling pretty bummed out.

I walked back towards the MRT; it's a great lively neighborhood right across from the university, so it has everything a starving student needs... and staggered into Yogurt Art, deciding if I was gonna feel sorry for myself at least I shouldn't also feel hungry (it was 3 pm already!) While eating my yummy frozen raspberry yogurt, I heard a family speaking English with their three year old and chatted with them a bit. Then I walked back to the MRT via the university grounds.

They had these really groovy street pavers; see how sparkly they were in the sun?

They are cooler in person, as each little glint from the sidewalk is unbelievably bright. On the major road's sidewalk next to the MRT station is truly the largest bicycle parking lot I have ever seen.

It stretches on for blocks, literally, with bikes parked as close to one another as possible. Closer to the MRT station itself, the bikes are actually parked double-decker, another thing I've never seen before. Am I sheltered, or is this kind of unusual?

Do you see the big mean looking clouds? Yeah. I jumped on the MRT and hurried home to Qizhang. I walked directly back to the suites, and two minutes after I walked inside, the sky opened up and it rained really hard for 20 minutes, Georgia-style. I was glad that I left when I did!

Supper was the usual... cooked then drained ramen with spaghetti sauce.

Yesterday was my Monday... and it was a Monday. I didn't set an alarm because I've been getting up on time, and that was a mistake. I woke up at 7:41, way too late to get dressed, eat breakfast, and make the 8 am bus to work. So I set my sights on the 9 am shuttle instead, and had breakfast. You know what that looks like. I didn't bother to photograph it again.

I drank my protein shake on the shuttle on the way to work, and then had a Choco-Pie/Coke Zero snack mid-morning. We all went down to the cafeteria for lunch together at 12:40; it was unusually crowded but we queued up for the NT$65 buffet. I got chicken(?) in tomato sauce, a piece of roasted chicken, some white rice, and what looked like beef stew. I didn't like the chicken in tomato sauce and I'm still not sure it was chicken, the piece of roasted chicken was tasty but hard to eat with chopsticks (people just pick it up and rip off pieces with their teeth but I haven't been able to make myself do that, yet), and the beef stew would have been great if it wasn't so overloaded with five spice. Oh well. I picked at everything and it's not going to kill me to be a little hungry after a $2 lunch.

Back at my desk, I worked away diligently at the style guide I'm creating for my project from all the feedback we've received from that customer over time. The fourth PM, Richard, who I hadn't met before, stopped by with a piece of Starbucks cheesecake. It's amazing how that hits the spot at around 3 pm, but I can't make a habit of it. :-)

At around 5:30, Elen invited me to go with the crew for the daily 7-Eleven dinner run. The company gives us each NT$75 to spend there or in the cafeteria for working through dinner. OK. I discovered something delicious, and it will keep me fat if I make a habit out of it... LOL
The aforementioned Doritos are part of this dinner, but the best thing here is the Hot Snack fried chicken at NT$45, heated by one of the 7-Eleven workers (they were microwaving food for nearly everyone, in a bank of five microwaves!) That breaded fried chicken is awesome. I could eat that twice a day... especially at $1.50 a go... but I will never lose any weight while here if I do. Still, it is awesome to have some easy, cheap comfort food identified.

I worked for a while longer and then packed it up to ride the bus home with Joe, Jamie, and Hugo. Once home, I was still hungry and made myself the standard-issue ramen supper, and tried one of the little strawberry things I got at the grocery store for dessert. I thought they would be nice pieces of cake with strawberry gelatin frosting like we get at Mandarin Buffet, but it was just strawberry jello. Yummy anyway.

Grand total lost in two days after this orgy of eating: 1 lb. Oh well!

Saturday, September 11, 2010

Shopping in the city

I just need to get this out... the garbage truck that drives around this neighborhood every day between 8 and 8:30 pm is driving me insane. You know how ice cream trucks play loud cheesy music to entice you out to the street to buy their products? Well here, the GARBAGE TRUCK plays loud quasi-classical music to get people to bring out their trash. Even with modern windows, it's LOUD. I can't explain why it torments me so, but I can't stand it. Did I mention how LOUD it is?? OK, I'm done now... moving on...

The subway system here is brilliant... it's efficient, clean, and cheap. On a Saturday night, the MRT is also hella crowded, but everyone is still very polite and orderly. People helped each other, gave old people and little kids seats, and picked up dropped things for other people. They wait in line patiently and don't shove. The walk left-stand right escalator rule is uniformly observed here, excellent if you are in a hurry or just can't stand to stand still in a huge crowd. The busiest stations actually have glass walls at the edges of the platforms, I guess so people don't get pushed accidentally onto the tracks (yes, it's THAT crowded). There are lines painted on the floor where people are to queue up, and there are arrows indicating the getting-on and getting-off lanes.
Note that there's ALWAYS English AND Chinese... brilliant for tourists! We can get around the system without any trouble, without asking anyone for help, as long as we can read the system map and know where we're going. The trains run every four minutes or less and there are signs telling you how many minutes until the next one. My 47-minute, three train journey from Dapinglin to Zhongshan Junior High School cost NT$35, or just over $1.

I am SO glad that I am a good map reader, because getting around in Taipei itself can be a bit daunting. The big roads are BIG, often five or more lanes in each direction, with hundreds of scooters and cars whizzing through the major intersections at each cycle of the lights. The good news is that the crosswalks are clearly marked and the walk-don't walk signs are sensible and people follow them. They do allow enough time to get across too. Many streets, ironically especially the larger ones, are not signed very well for pedestrians (you have to hunt around for a sign that's in good line of sight for vehicle drivers, which is often hard to see from the sidewalk). If you pay attention to the numbering of the alleys and lanes, though, it's really easy to figure out where you are; the system is pretty brilliant really and the signs for the smaller streets are easier to find.

So anyway, after the subway journey to Nanjing E Road, I walked several long blocks to Asia World to go to IKEA. Honestly, what was I thinking? EVERY IKEA is a train wreck on Saturday! Crowds! In an odd way, it was all very comforting... the same laminate flooring, nearly the same product line (I'd say there's less than 15% difference in product lines between IKEA Renton and IKEA Taipei), the same food, the same arrows painted on the floor, and the same people, if you know what I mean. Some of the prices were much lower -- the Poang chair was very cheap at about $40 -- and some were much higher -- memory foam pillows were essentially $45 US each! In the end, I didn't buy a thing as the crush of the crowd got to me. This too is no different from IKEA at home.

Asia World is in a posh district, and apparently posh districts spawn American chain restaurants... I saw an Outback Steak House, a TGIF, a Trader Vic's, a Ruth's Chris Steak House, and coming up on countless Starbucks, 7-Elevens, and McDonald's. I couldn't believe the prices at TGIF... having already accepted the notion of lunch costing NT$100 and dinner at about NT$200, their meals running NT$800 to NT$1000 seem shocking. My entire budget until next Wednesday is NT$2500, so there's no way in hell I'm blowing a third of it on a single meal that I could eat at home!

I was walking towards Costco, but I could tell that there was no way that it was a good idea... my foot was killing me, and even if I survived walking the 2.5 km there and then the shopping itself, I was going to have to face the 4 km walk back to the MRT station and then probably another 1.5 km of walking to transfer between trains and then from the station home. Not happening. I did enjoy the sunset:
So having decided to bail on Costco and RT-Mart, I started looking for food. Guess where I ended up? You already know...
In my defense, it's open 24 hours, you can order in English, and I knew I wasn't going to have to worry about being allergic to any of it. Weak excuses, I know. It IS true that in that neighborhood it was the only meal I was likely to find for less than NT$600... save buying a crappy sandwich at 7-Eleven.

On the way to the station, I noticed an interesting store and wandered through it... Santa Cruz Organic Foods. What it had to do with Santa Cruz I haven't a clue... but the products, even though they were all labeled in Chinese, were familiar, some of them. Tiger balm, Dr. Bronner's soap (Dilute! Dilute! OK! OK!), and Celestial Seasonings tea were all on the shelves, along with kefir capsules, calcium citrate, hemoglobin capsules, and other interesting products. The prices ranged from "no way!" to "WTF!!" so needless to say, I did not buy anything. To give you an idea, the bottle of 100 calcium citrate tablets (which would last me 12 days) was NT$800, or $25... I can get twice that many at Target for less than $15.

Some firsts on this journey... I saw an albino Taiwanese guy with incredible brilliant white hair and lovely creamy-brown caramel eyes. I saw a guy driving a scooter with a golden retriever standing on the floorboard (and I thought I'd seen EVERY possible scooter-passenger combo!). I heard my first French, and first English, "in the wild" -- all my other trips out into the neighborhoods I've only heard Chinese. I don't think I saw another natural blonde all day, and given how nice people are to babies and little kids in general, they are just going to eat Felix up with those strawberry blond curls of his when I finally get him here! :-)

I think that's all. Man, I am TIRED. Tomorrow, I am going to take the MRT in the other direction, to Xindian, and then I will walk ~8-10 blocks (~1.5km) to another RT-Mart. I've heard that that's the best grocery store around, and I hope it's true. I'm almost out of spaghetti sauce and I'm totally out of all other foodstuffs.

After I come home from the store, I'm off to Gongguan on the MRT to meet up with a bunch of ex-pats who play board games at 2 pm at a cafe. I'm looking forward to that.

Shopping Saturday? More like slouching

I meant to get going today and go shopping... I was up really early, ate breakfast from the suites' food back in my room (I think I'm the only one staying here this weekend), but then I fell asleep. I woke up at noon.
The usual breakfast... but there was bacon today in addition to ham slices and kielbasa. Still haven't figured out what that flavor of yogurt is!

I messed around for a while, took a bath in the amazingly big and deep marble bathtub (the water comes to my shoulders if I'm sitting down, and if I put my back against one end, my feet don't touch the other), and then took a quick shower to wash my hair.

I got my stuff together and headed for the Dapinglin MRT, but then I realized 1/3 of the way down the stairs that I didn't have my VISA card with me, and therefore, had just NT$156 on me... that's only about $4.50, so I wasn't going to get any real shopping done!

I walked back to the suites and decided to hang out in the A/C for a few minutes... and then a thunderstorm started... so I said the heck with it and made myself lunch... my old standard, instant ramen noodles drained with spaghetti sauce (I have one more meal's worth of the Trader Joe's bolognese that I brought from home).

It is still raining but there's only two more hours of daylight, so I'm going to go now. I really want to do the Costco/RT-Mart walk in the daylight... I have no idea what that district is like. I'm sure it will be fine.  More later! IKEA MEATBALLS are on the shopping agenda! :-)

Tasty Taipei... R&D Friday

Most of the people I work with live in Taipei, which is a 25-mile drive from the HTC headquarters building in an industrial part of Taoyuan. The company offers a free shuttle bus from the Taipei R&D building which is across the street from the suites where I'm staying, but my co-workers still have to commute to take that bus. So, once a week, our manager allows the staff to work in the Taipei office, saving about 90 minutes of commuting. We work in the glassed-in conference rooms, two or three to a room. It's a good day for collaboration.

This is an awesome commute for me... I just walk across the street! But before I left for the office, I tried out the free breakfast bar offered in the suites. There's a selection of bread, white and wheat, for the toaster; a few small pastries, cut up; some miscellaneous healthy-looking flake-type cereal; pots of yogurt in an unidentifiable flavor (lychee? cherry?); and then in the hot food area, there's ham slices, little pieces of sausage (kielbasa, to my palate), some other kind of ham, fried eggs, scrambled eggs, and hash-brown patties. There are tea and coffee dispensers on another table. Regular condiments are offered, like butter, jelly, peanut butter, ketchup, mustard, and so on. This is definitely a reasonable breakfast offering and though it will get dead boring, honestly, how much excitement are you looking for at breakfast every day? I start out each day with a Champion Pure Whey Stack shake, so it's not like I'm starving when I hit the breakfast bar. :-)

The four Canadians I'd met earlier, including Erin and Juhani from PineLake Communications, were eating breakfast and we had a really friendly conversation. They were scheduled to travel home to Toronto today via Seoul, so I wished them happy travels after we chatted over our food.

Utensils: fork, knife, and a spoon... they don't seem to have teaspoons here and eating yogurt with a giant spoon is weird!

I walked over to HTC and shared my conference room with Hugo, who is one of the product managers, and we had a productive day. I learned a lot about the new phone I'm working on (an Android phone for Sprint) and learned how to do some of the critical technical-writer tasks that are specific to HTC, like how to update the software on a device and how to take screenshots from an Android device.

(An aside.... my fascination with restrooms has not yet worn out. The restrooms in the Gigabyte building are OK, but not the most posh I've used here. Here are two amusing photos...)

What does this sign mean? The little drawing is clearly to remind you to put your cell phone on top of the toilet tissue holder instead of dropping in the loo or from your pocket. No idea what the Chinese says, but I'm sure it's partly a reminder to not put anything um, extra, in the toilet, not even paper (there's a trash can for that)... don't know what the three rules are though. I just love her little smile and rosy cheeks. :-)
On the other hand, who the hell is this creepy but sincere fellow? Is he pledging allegiance to the pissoir? He's on a sticker on the toilet-tank lid. The toilet (and the sinks) in this restroom are made by HCG (which unfortunately, makes me think of pregnancy tests!) so is this dude trying to reassure us that this porcelain is the finest, most comfortable, most reliable? Or what? All I know is that I did not like to see his smiling face as I sat down. YICK.

Of course, we all go to lunch together. Lunch is at 12:30 (no sooner, even if you're starving, as I was!) We walked to the group's usual Friday-lunch restaurant, a Thai place about two blocks from the office. It turned out to be a lovely day... the remains of a typhoon blew through yesterday and have left the air clean and fresh and not quite so hot... it was 90 today... though there were a few sprinkles and the threat of rain all afternoon. There were 7 of us... Elen, Joe, Ben, Hugo, Tina, Mervin, and I. The restaurant is tiny, maybe 12 2- and 4-tops downstairs, but she sent us up the steep stairs to another smallish room with a 10-top and a few 6- to 8-tops. We took over the big 10 by the windows since there was only one other group upstairs.

Here, you can pour yourself water into interesting pressed-tin cups. Many restaurants do not serve anything to drink by default; you can always pay for tea or Coke or, often, beer, but water is not offered as a matter of course. I was glad to see the water because I am always thirsty these days, I think partly because I am hungry and partly because I am not used to the heat yet. Anyway, the menu is a tiny laminated listing in Chinese on the wall. I am at a loss. Elen is great though, VERY helpful. She and Joe and Ben all totally understand the peanut and soy allergy and have been so helpful. Elen has taken me under her wing... her Chinese is excellent... and she, like me, is not super-wild about spicy food. I ended up telling her, no soy, no peanuts, not too spicy, how about chicken? So she ordered for me. :-)

The meal was cut up crunchy chicken (I'm not sure what the coating was; some kind of really nice crumb, maybe toasted rice?), sticky white rice, and a few other little sides. The soup was miso, so off to Joe it went, and there were two different kinds of tofu on the plate; one was the sort of standard marinated chunky kind, and the other was a softer, stringy kind with carrots that looked like noodles. I just left those alone. There was also cooked cabbage on the plate, which I ate with the chicken and rice. It tasted good.

No chopsticks issue here; everyone's food was served with a fork and a spoon, and that's what we all used. Lunch was NT$100 each, a good deal for the food we got. Also, in Taiwan, there's no tipping which makes the total bill cheaper.

Utensils: fork and a spoon

Back to the office we went... I filled my brain several times and took my usual constitutional walks every couple of hours for five minutes. Elen showed me where the printer's located in this office, and I was really amused by the "secret" hallway you use to get there... in places, the ceiling is about 5'7" tall... I could only put part of my hand between my head and the padded beam. There are advantages to being short, but of course, there's NO WAY that hallway would be deemed safe or legal in the US in a commercial office building! You can also get to the printer via the lobby, but from our conference rooms, that is a much longer walk.

I was really tired by 5:30 (keep in mind, that's 2:30 am Seattle time, and my body clock is not completely in Taiwan yet) but Elen told me that officially, people start work at 9 and work until 6:45. I went for another restroom break and kept working until the bitter end. At 6:45, Elen showed me how to use the special meal-ticket printer in the lobby to get an NT$100 voucher that can be used at any of 15 restaurants nearby that are under contract to HTC to accept them. Elen left, but gave me her voucher as well, and Tina and I walked a few blocks to MOS Burger.

Americans, prepare to be disappointed a bit. If you're thinking beef hamburgers, well, yes and no. MOS Burgers (the MOS stands for Mountains Ocean Sky) is from Japan, and the food is different than you'd guess. The fries are excellent (thank goodness), better than McDonald's, actually, and cheap; a huge order is NT$35, just over a dollar, and it's more than I can reasonably eat; a small order is NT$25, and more my speed.

The burgers are a bit challenging for someone like me who doesn't like sauces. Of course, I don't (yet) know the Chinese for "no sauce" so I am at the mercy of however things are normally prepared.
I ordered the teriyaki chicken burger, foolishly believing that the teriyaki sauce would trump the desire to add MORE sauce... nope. There was a giant glob of mayo on it, a near deal-breaker. But I didn't discover it until we were back in the office, I was hungry, and I didn't want to make a scene in front of Tina. Relax! I didn't eat the mayo! I took off the top bun and the top layer of lettuce, which contained the vile goo. Then I ate the rest open-face. It was tasty. I washed the whole operation down with a Coke Zero, which is what most places have instead of Diet Coke. 

Utensils: none. Burgers and fries are finger food everywhere. :-)

I left Tina and went back to the suites, with a quick stop at Family Mart for a snack. I couldn't decide and ended up getting Chicken flavored potato crisps and a bag of Swiss Cheese Lay's potato chips.

I ate the Swiss Cheese chips first, and didn't like them all that much. The cheese flavor was good, but like so many Asian salty snacks, they had MSG, and I hate that weird metallic tang that MSG imparts. I won't buy those again; they were NT$25 for a big bag (62 grams, just over 2 ounces). 

The Lay's Stax Chicken flavor (essentially, chicken Pringles) came in a 95 gram box (3.5 ounces) at a cost of NT$35 (just over $1). They are DELICIOUS. They totally taste like nice roasted chicken, and Pringles are Pringles... you either like that sort of dry crunch, or you don't -- I do. I'm sure I will buy these again. Interestingly, the chips here seem to be fairly low fat. A 25-gram serving has only 1.3g of fat and 137 mg of sodium... both of those numbers seem lower than a typical 1-ounce serving of potato chips at home. I'm going to have to look that up to see if it's true.

Not covered so far here in the blog, but true... I'm almost out of the Trader Joe's chocolate bars I brought with me (I only had 4 in my bag). I guess one of the grocery store items for this weekend will be chocolate... it seems there are many imported brands to choose from, so I'm sure I'll find something I like.

I'm on my own for the weekend and I have the grocery store as my #1 priority. I woke up at 2 am and the sun is just coming up now, so it's time for me to go back to bed for a while.

Thursday, September 9, 2010

First day in Taiwan

After the great food on the plane, I had no expectations for the first day. My driver met me and was nice about helping me with all my things, but there was no Delicious Sandwich offered this time. There were, however, many tiny (237  ml) bottles of Kirkland Signature water... which earned a WTF? from me... there's Costco in Taipei!!

Once in the suites, I had to deal with several little snafus and eventually changed clothes and headed for the shuttle bus. After way too much Diet Coke, I was finally on the bus! I worked for a few hours, got my new badge, and then it was lunchtime.

Lillian took us to the only restaurant that they consider good near the corporate HQ, which is in Taoyuan. I can't remember the name of it now, which is really frustrating me.. Maybe someone reading the blog can remind me... it's a beer that's brewed in Taiwan but sounds vaguely German... they are definitely courting the brew pub atmosphere and have some pub classics on the menu. It being Taiwan, I veered away from the relatively familiar pub-grub.

For starters, we got a little plate of things that looked like dark green candy wrappers (seaweed) and a plate of little spicy pickles. I guess I was hungry, because I liked them both! I broke out my red trainer chopsticks and they were examined and discussed...  nobody had ever seen trainer chopsticks before. The spicy pickles were exactly the maximum spicy I like... hot enough to have an afterburn, but no sweating.

There were a number of things on the menu that looked good. Everyone was ordering "sets" -- that's just how it's done. You get a main meal, soup, rice, and a few little sides, plus dessert at most places. I ordered the Premium Pork Chop set which was NT$260 ($8) -- VERY pricy for lunch in Taiwan, where many places have lunch for NT$100, or about $3. There were several other options for pork chop, including deep fried, but who can resist "premium"? Ironically, it was not the most expensive pork chop set offered.

My soup was miso -- no can do, soy -- but I traded with Joe, who had gotten a pork-knuckle soup. That was OK; a tough little meaty bone in some broth with a little bit of egg swirled in and some chopped green onions. The pork chop was really nice; the sauce was between a teriyaki and regular soy sauce. It was cut into reasonable pieces (by Taiwan standards; I would have cut each piece into three, but I am fussy about things like that). The rice was good, sticky enough for me to use the trainer chopsticks with reasonable success. I gave away the tofu cubes that were on my tray. The bamboo shoots were in sort of a tangy sauce that was just OK for me. I ate about half of those. The most interesting thing was what I THOUGHT was julienne-sliced green beans and shaved carrot. The texture was amazing; very firm and dense... and it tasted GREEN... turned out to be a different kind of seaweed and shaved carrot. I really liked it. Did the flight change me somehow? I am so *not* a seaweed kinda gal!

Dessert was again a slight challenge... Lillian (my manager) ordered me a soft spun tofu thing, but of course, I can't eat tofu. I traded with Joe, who had ordered ginger ice cream with tapioca... and that was fantastic. I'm lucky that Joe, the UK expat on the team, is so good-natured about trading food.

Utensils: trainer chopsticks (mine, used with success), spoon for soup, fork and knife provided by restaurant but not used

On to dinner... I didn't really eat dinner. I was just too tired. I sat at the computer and ate a big bag of Cheetos, and then later, a bag of Doritos, both purchased in the Sea-Tac airport before I left. Very lame.

Put me in coach

Quick post about the airplane food on EVA Airlines in coach class. Summary: pretty good!

First up, we had "dinner" at about 4 am Seattle time (7 pm Taipei time).
I chose the chicken and pasta (fish and rice was the other choice). There was a big piece of chicken with pasta underneath; some steamed broccoli, a mediocre Caesar salad, a wheat roll, fruit, and a yummy cheesecake brownie.

My midnight (Taipei time) snack was a favorite: water and a Choco-pie. Actually, they had Choco-pies, little bags of mixed nuts, and little packets of soda crackers available all the time, along with glasses of juice and water.

Breakfast was your choice of omelet or Chinese porridge. The omelet was good, if plain; the bacon was not pork -- turkey maybe? and the potatoes were good. The blueberry muffin had soy flour :-( but the blueberry yogurt was good. Also, she brought me a Diet Coke! 

Each meal was served with nice plasticware, as you can see; the Asian meals came with chopsticks only if requested.

Utensils: plasticware

Friday, September 3, 2010

A fork in the road?

I'm trying to decide if I care that people will probably think less of me if I cave in to being a stupid American while in Taiwan. How would I do that? Well, I would bring my own fork to meals.

Chopsticks continue to REALLY challenge me. I'm almost too embarrassed to try using them when I'm by myself, and when I'm with others, I might as well be trying to parallel-park a full 6-passenger SUV judging by the insane pressure I feel.

I'm going to be:

  • learning a new corporate culture
  • meeting my direct team of 14 people and trying to remember everyone's names and roles
  • meeting probably dozens of engineers
  • meeting the CEO and other C-level executives
  • learning tons of new software and business processes
  • 6100 miles from my husband and children for a month
  • living in a place where I know nobody except the eight co-workers I met for a few hours last month, all of whom I will very likely see only at work
  • living in a place where I don't speak the language of the staff
  • without organized activity of any kind after work hours unless I stay late at the office (45 minutes from home) to work out in the gym... I'm usually good for a week before I'm ready to die from boredom and loneliness... 
  • challenged continually by cuisine I don't recognize and might be allergic to components of, with no way to check beforehand (and therefore, will have to stick to clearly "safe" choices)
  • trying to learn enough Mandarin to not be incredibly rude
  • living in a climate that's much warmer and more humid than what I'm used to

I don't even know if there's English-language channels on the television in the suites... I didn't turn it on when I was there in August.

So, while I'm NOT feeling sorry for myself (even if it sounds that way), I am thinking that the challenges are sufficient without messing with EVERY aspect of the most basic human act: eating. I feel a little defensive about it, but if I'm going to have to eat food I don't recognize, can I at least catch the break of using a familiar utensil?

I am going to make plenty of dumb-American blunders anyway. I'm blonde, and I will naturally stick out a bit even if I do everything "right". If, after a month of "damn it, I forgot my fork" struggles with chopsticks, I accidentally have the breakthrough of coordination that will let me actually get measurable quantities of food to my mouth using these devices, huzzah! If it doesn't happen, oh well.

Feel free to blast me. I'm ready. But I think I've decided. Maybe after I work through all the homesickness and missing my toddler and feeling anxious about my tween and integrating in every way with a dynamic and demanding new team doing tons of unfamiliar work with products I have to learn all about (probably 12 hours a day) *breathe* without becoming an alcoholic or a weepy, dysfunctional mess, then on the next trip, I will address the issue of locally-appropriate eating utensils. Until then, I think a fork wrapped in a handkerchief will be in my purse at all times.

UTENSIL(s): None

Tuesday, August 31, 2010

Going back to Taiwan

I'm scheduled to fly back to Taiwan on September 8... the EVA Air flight takes off at 2 am local time and arrives at 5:45 am local time on September 9 (yes, you lose an entire day)! The flight takes almost 13 hours but the time change is 15 hours... it's actually easier on the body than traveling to the UK, I think.

I am booked into coach on this trip so I will get to try that class of food this time. (On my first trip to Taiwan, I got free upgrades to Premium Laurel (first) class on the way to Taiwan and business class on the way home; the food was excellent in every way, if somewhat odd sometimes).

This trip will be a month long, and is primarily meant to train me in the processes used by HTC, to introduce me to everyone, and to get me started on my work. I'll be returning October 9th.

I've discovered that there's an IKEA in central Taipei and I'll be headed there within the first 24 hours. On my list:
  • a non-feather pillow and duvet (the ones in the suite are all feathers, and I am allergic)
  • a cheap set of silverware, a sharp knife, and a few bowls
  • an electric fan
  • a pair of scissors (too hard to travel with, too hard to live without)
  • those unbelievably good crispy oat chocolate-dipped cookies
  • Swedish meatballs!
I can't get anything too heavy at IKEA because I have to transfer three times on the MRT (green line from Dapinglin, then red line at Guting, then change to the blue line at Taipei Main Station, then change to the orange line at Zhongxiao Fuxing, then get off finally at Nanjing E. Road and walk one block) -- it will be an adventure for sure!

I have to admit that I am considering freezing a couple quarts of spaghetti sauce and/or chili to take with me. I just can't imagine living completely without those foods for a month. Insane? Sensible? What do you think?

UTENSIL(s): None

Wednesday, August 4, 2010

First dinner in the HTC cafeteria

Ben (from the Philippines) and Joe (from the UK) took me to dinner tonight. They're two of the technical writers that I'd be working with all the time.

I was on the fork situation this time and didn't embarrass myself too much with the chopsticks. The guys both used them without problems, but to be fair, they've both been in Taiwan for years and years... Joe actually speaks Chinese well enough to argue with his landlord about the rent! :-)

For dinner, I had really delicious fried chicken (this will be one of my staples, for sure), white rice with some soy sauce, and the broad flat noodles (in Seattle they call them hand-shaved noodles; I'll have to find out what they're really called, but they're probably twice as broad as fettuccine) with bok choy. Not exactly health food, and I find it so odd that you're not ALLOWED to get food from the cold salad bar and from the hot buffet bar. Shouldn't EVERYONE eat a little salad?

Another thing that seems really odd to me about the cafeteria is that NOBODY has a drink with their meal. There are no facilities to even get a glass of water in the caff, never mind tea or soda. Most people do get soup (miso only, unless you go to the noodle bar station) but that's salty too, not cool and refreshing. I really expected that some kind of tea would be completely standard, like it is in Chinese restaurants in the States, but I guess it just isn't. I'll pay attention to beverage options as I dine in restaurants to see if this is common or not.

People also eat a lot less than the average American does. I totally expected that and with my nerves and the fact that I was trying to eat dinner at 2 in the morning stomach-time, had no problem eating less than I might otherwise.

UTENSIL(s): chopsticks from cafeteria (terrible technique), plastic fork from Starbucks

First meal in the HTC HQ Cafeteria

During my day of final interviews, my new manager, Lillian, kindly took me to lunch in the company cafeteria. I embarrassed myself by hunting for a fork; Lillian said she would get me one and in the end, had to go all the way out to the lobby to Starbucks to get me one! I will definitely be bringing my own in the future....

Choices included a tofu bar (called "Natural Alternative"), a noodle-soup station, an uninspired cold salad bar, and a hot buffet line with probably 10 choices (you take 2-3 side dishes, 1 main, miso soup, and brown or white rice).

We chose the hot buffet, and the food I liked best was the duck-blood pate with sour squash... I can't explain that, but it was actually delicious with brown rice. The sauteed pork just sucked by comparison, and I actually got up for a second helping of the duck. LOL

Lillian and I had a great conversation, ranging from our families, to travel, to fruit we like (I tried fresh guava for the first time, and that got us started there), and a little bit about food. She confessed to not much liking the cafeteria where we were eating because it gets very boring; I can see that. :-)

I got a real kick out of the signage where you dropped off your dishes. There were three lines: Buffet Persuasion, Noodle Persuasion, and Other Persuasion.

UTENSIL(s): chopsticks from cafeteria (terrible technique), plastic fork from Starbucks

Monday, August 2, 2010

My first food in Taiwan

My driver brought me this 7-Eleven Delicious Sandwich with a flourish, pronouncing it "my breakfast". A sweet gesture to be sure but I was glad I had an awesome breakfast on the plane!

Note: I did not eat the Delicious Sandwich; this is not my kind of thing. Instead, I put it in the communal fridge, where it was eaten within 12 hours.

UTENSIL(s): proper metal fork, knife, and spoon in Premium Laurel (first) class on the EVA Air plane flight; none used to drink strawberry yogurt beverage in the private car