Thursday, July 17, 2008


Woke up early Wednesday to some warm breakfast breads, soy milk, and the All-Star Game - remember, we're 12 hours ahead here. We didn't stick around to witness all 15 innings, but it was good to see some good old American baseball on the tube.

At around 11am, we headed out to pick up Megan. She was eagerly waiting for her release, so we hopped on the MRT (subway) and went towards downtown Taipei City. We decided to go to Sogo, a high-end shopping mall that caters to people with a taste for international fashion - Givenchy, Kate Spade, Lacoste, Balencia, etc. We window shopped through the 9 floors and worked up an appetite.

Like any good mall, Sogo has a food court, so we ordered up some Japanese udon and rested our legs. For desert, we enjoyed this little delicacy, mango shaved ice. This dish is worth its weight in gold, my friends. It consists of shaved ice topped with fresh mango (it's in season right now), sweetened condensed milk, honey, and a scoop of mango ice cream. My sister and I are discussing opening a stand at the state fair this year and selling only this. We would make a killing.

After food, Dad headed home and Megan and I went back to the Ximen District. We wandered around the shops, discussing the finer points of Taiwanese fashion and her annoyance with FOB-by Asians from SoCal. We decided to get out of the heat by seeing a movie and we settled on Hancock, disappointed that Dark Knight wasn't coming out till the next day. After the previews, we were watching a Japanese kid's anime cartoon for about 5 minutes before realizing we were in the wrong movie. Oops. Megan used her Chinese skills to figure out we followed the wrong crowd, and we scurried off to the proper theatre. My review of Hancock: it was 80% of a movie. Not totally bad, but only because it wasn't a full movie. About the best thing I can say about it was that the theatre was cold.

After the movie, we called my cousin Su Miao (Diane) and her daughter Heidi, who is about Megan's age, and made plans to meet at the Shilin Night Market. I've written about this place before, and not too much has changed. We were wandering through the crowded market when apparently the cops showed up. All the illegal vendors scattered, pushing their carts into alleys and the backs of shops. It was quite hilarious.

After some more mango shaved ice and more Taiwanese iced, gelatinous, soupy, beany goodness, I dropped Megan back off at camp and headed home.

Thursday morning I decided that I needed to work out. All I've been doing here is eating, shopping, and sitting around. So, I walked over to the school down the street and started my routine. It was so humid, I felt like I was going to puke by the end. It took me a good hour, after I had showered, to stop sweating. New Jeremy rule: don't work out in Taiwan during the summer.

In the afternoon, we went out for tea with my aunt and cousins. The restaurant we went to was an Italian pizzeria (I know, weird) where they served us small pizzas, tortes, canolis, and cappucinos until we couldn't eat any more. To the left is my dad with my cousin Lannie.

After tea, Jo, Heidi, and I met up with Megan to go to the movies (again), but this time to see Dark Knight. A strange thing about movies in Taiwan is that you are given assigned seating. We ended up with crappy seats, and Jo complained, scoring us free tickets to a new movie. Peoples: go see this movie! Even from crappy seats, this movie blew me away. If you liked Batman Begins at all, you will be blown away. And, Heath Ledger will win a posthumous Oscar.

Wednesday, July 16, 2008


We started out the day by driving west of Taipei city into the mountains surrounding the city. We're staying in the suburbs already, so it becomes rural pretty quickly. After winding through the mountains, we came to the temple that is the resting place of Ama's ashes, and where my grandpa's ashes will be placed. After offering some fruit and flowers to the shrine of the god looking over the temple, we visited the large vault-like room where their urns will be kept next to one another.

The temple is in a beautiful location looking out over green mountains. As Dad said, Ago and Ama always loved the mountains.

After getting back to Uncle's, we spent most of the day inside, eating and playing with Yi Chin, my cousin's 2 year-old daughter. She calls me "Uncle," but is reluctant to play with me (she's rather shy). Noticing that Dad and I were talking in English, she said (in Chinese) that we're talking in "great uncle's language."
It's 95+ degrees outside and humid during the day, so we waited until after dinner to go out and check out the city. We decided to go to the Ximen District, where Megan and I plan to go see a movie tomorrow. As I've posted before, this is the part of town where the kids hang out. There are arcades, shoe stores, clothing stores, karaoke, food, tatoo parlors, and a slew of other things for young people to consume.

I'm not sure whether these kids are weird, or just a whole lot cooler than me. They have hair styles that put American rockers to shame and clothes that make Brooklyn hipsters look like wusses. I've always contended that real Williamsburg hipsters spend at least 2 hours before going out to make themselves look ugly ... Taiwanese kids must sit at home all day thinking about how to pull off their latest fashion suicide. Or maybe I'm losing something in translation...

There were plenty of interesting things to see in Ximen, including this guy, who has drained a squirrel's will to live in order to train it to stand on this girl's hands. This girl was so shy she wouldn't uncover her hair from her face while her friend took a snap with her cell phone.

As always, English is always a humorous endeavor in Asian countries. Here we have two fine examples: (1) "Psycho Nerds," which pretty much sums up the style of kids running around Ximen District, and (2) IM ICEMAN, which I am going to assume refers to the character played by Val Kilmer in the 1986 classic Top Gun. What do these signs have to do with anything? Not sure.

I was quite tired by the time we got done with Ximen; I was also disappointed - Megan and I were planning on seeing Dark Knight on Wednesday, but it doesn't come out til Thursday. I fell asleep in the cab home, but stayed up to show Albert (my cousin) and his wife my new iPhone. It hasn't come out in Taiwan yet, but they are eagerly waiting.

We ate peanuts and mango (the sweetest I've ever had) and killed off some more Johnny Walker before heading to bed. I might finally be on an appropriate sleep schedule now.

Tuesday, July 15, 2008

Monday/Tuesday AM

After some breakfast, Dad and I headed to the MRT (the subway) to meet up with Megan. She is here on a cultural exhange program for kids in the US that have Taiwanese parents. To say the least, she's not having the greatest of times... I'm glad I can be here to break up the month of what she's dramatically calling "prison."

Dad tried to convince the wardens to let her have another day to attend Ago's (grandpa) funeral, but they wouldn't budge. I'm looking forward to jailbreaking with her for a couple of days, and we're planning on hanging out Wednesday when she has some free time. Gonna go try to see Batman...

After a short visit with Megan, Dad and I took a short walk up the hill to the Grand Hotel. We ordered some Taiwan beers and a sushi/sashimi plate, as recommended by my brother from his last trip. No disappointment here.

Also recommended by Chris was the Grand Tailor. My brother had some custom shirts made earlier this year by the shop owner, so we went in to take a look. He remembered my dad and greeted us kindly. After showing us some fine cashmere wool and cell phone pictures of the former president of Taiwan, one of his clients, he convinced us that we needed to get fitted for new suits. We obliged and within minutes he was wrapping a tape measure around us. Our custom-made suits will be ready on Friday.
We headed back to Uncle's and I took a much needed nap. Upon waking, we went to visit Ago's shrine. Normally, the shrine would have been set up in the apartment where he lived, but it is unlucky to have more than one shrine in the same house in one year (my grandma passed away earlier this year). We presented food and fruit at the shrine, lit incense, and recited some prayers from a book. In the background, recorded chanting played over the hum of traffic passing outside the building. You can always hear traffic in Taipei.

My sleep schedule is all messed up. Right after dinner, I layed down and didn't wake up until 2:30am. Stayed up for a little bit, catching up with email and whatnot, then tried to sleep again, with some success.

We woke up early and had breakfast of soy milk, egg dumpling, and sticky rice. We are planning on heading to the temple where Grandma's ashes are to pick up the urn for Grandpa.


So, just to let you know a few things...

I'm in Taiwan to attend my grandfather's funeral. He lived a long life (96!) and has left a strong legacy.

I'm going to be here for 10 days, along with my dad and sister Megan, who is here on an exchange program. My dad and I are staying with my uncle, my dad's older brother.

I'm going to be blogging as much as possible, but am somewhat limited in my internet access. Purchasing an iPhone 3G before I left turned out to be a good idea. I'm uploading photos from my phone and Twittering when possible. Links to those are located on the right ----->.

I hope that you will post comments and check back daily for updates. Something to break up the workday, right?

FYI, Taipei is 12 hours ahead of Eastern Time.

Much love from Taiwan,

Monday, July 14, 2008

NYC, Tokyo, Taipei

Well. I'm back in Taiwan.

After 24+ hours in transit, I arrived in Taipei to see my dad, uncle, and aunt waiting just outside baggage at Taoyuan Airport. Yesterday (I think - I lost a day), this was a site I could only hope to see.

It started with a cab ride to JFK, only to find my flight delayed from 11:45am to 1:30pm. I had a short layover in Tokyo, so it looked like I wouldn't make my connection. American Airlines was plenty snarky about getting me new connection info (thanks a lot), but eventually I decided this was a blessing in disguise, as now I could manage to have a few pre-flight cocktails.

Wandering over to the bar, I ran into a couple of fellow Brooklynites - Will (Flatbush) and Christian (Greenpoint). I ordered a couple doubles of scotch and settled into my bar seat. After learning that our flight was delayed another hour and a half (supposed mechanical issues), we decided the only thing to do was to drink more beer. Fine fellows, these guys.

Eventually we parted tipsy ways and boarded the plane. Thus began 12 hours of airplane food, movies (Batman: Gotham Knight - recommended), TV (Mad Men - recommended, The Wire - obviously, The Office - yeah, and Big Bang Theory - eh), and bad sleep.

The transfer in Tokyo was rather harmless (except for getting my gift of Johnny Walker confiscated), and I got booked for a later flight to Taipei. 4 more hours of flying and little sleep and we landed in Taipei.

Once we got to uncle's apartment, we settled in eating frest fruit (the most amazing grapes ever - it was like biting into grape drink) and Taiwan beer (also highly recommended). Dad, Uncle and Auntie talked about Grandpa before he passed away. This was definitely a case of "old age" and nothing more. He had a long and bountiful life.

Dad and I stayed up, drinking whiskey and talking about work, politics, and golf until about 4am local time. We turned in for some well-deserved sleep.


The food begins. Dumplings, vegetable buns, and what I can only describe as "peanut milk soup". Expect the theme of "food" to reoccur here.

We are hanging out with my niece for a bit, then heading out to see Megan.

Monday, September 11, 2006

Coming Home

Our journey home proved to be long and testing.

We left early Sunday morning, before the sun came up. After saying goodbye to grandma and grandpa, my dad, his two older brothers and me packed our luggage in the van and headed for Chiang Kai Shek International.Our first flight was from Taipei to Osaka, where we had an excruciating 9 hour layover. We took turns napping, getting food, reading, putting coins in the massage chairs, and doing sudoku puzzles. Only after 7 hours did I realize that they had free wireless in the airport. The time would have gone a lot faster if I had discovered this earlier . . .

From Osaka, we crossed the International Date Line to Honolulu, Hawai'i (you pronounce EVERY vowel). After 7 hours on a plane full of Japanese tourists, the smell of fresh air upon arrival was welcome. We passed through customs, hopped on a city bus, and headed for Waikiki Beach.

What a way to end the trip: sitting on a sunny beach, warm sand under my feet, and a cool breeze blowing across my face. I jumped in the water and tasted the salty water on my lips. After a couple of hours on the beach, we walked to the bar and grabbed some food. Having eaten mostly vegetarian meals for the past nine days, we both ordered steak. We took in the beach scenery as we sipped on Hawaiian cocktails and inhaled the salty air.

Our next flight threatend to end the good mood that we were in. After reaching the mainland, our captain came on the PA and informed us that we would be making an emergency stop in Phoenix. Apparently, a woman was experiencing some medical problem during the flight, so we had to drop her off. This only made me more anxious to get home.

After another two and a half hours in the air, we touched down in Minneapolis. Our luggage arrived and we drove home. A hot shower and some breakfast was my way of kissing the ground.

Sunday, September 10, 2006


When I arrived back in Taipei at my uncle’s home, I had a feeling that I hadn’t felt until this point in the trip. It was the feeling that I was home.

Today was a special day for me. I woke up and spent some time with my cousin’s children. We watched Saturday morning Japanese cartoons and The 36th Chamber of Shaolin (made popular by Wu-Tang), which is probably the best kung-fu movie ever. Ever.

We ate lunch with grandma and grandpa and relaxed into the afternoon. Then people began to show up.

First, my dad’s oldest brother arrived. Then, my dad’s sister arrived with her husband, daughter, and her daughter’s children. Then, my cousin arrived with her husband and daughters. Then, my dad’s sister arrived with her two children. Cousin after cousin after cousin walked through the door. Pretty soon, the house was filled with my family members, at least 25 people from 4 different generations. I was overwhelmed at the number of family members that showed up. And this is only a fraction of the entire family!

As dinner approached, the men headed upstairs. We feasted on various dishes prepared by my aunt, sipping on whiskey Dad brought from the duty free store. At dinner, men raise glasses to one another, similar to a “cheers”, except it happens constantly throughout dinner. My cousin Kunlam told me to raise my glass to Grandpa, and I obliged. We drank and Kunlam told me in English that it made Grandpa very happy.

We continued to eat, drink, and talk into the night. Like most of my “talking” in Taiwan, it involved a lot of tracking the speaker, trying to figure out certain words that I know, and nodding. Dad will turn to me often and say, “We’re talking about . . .”

My dad’s youngest sister, Sharon, has three children that are about the same age as my siblings. Her younger son, Su Yi, is going to be a senior in college this coming year. He can speak some English, so we connected and had a good conversation that lasted into the night. We talked about girls, drinking, music, baseball and family. I made him a promise that I would come back to Taiwan very soon and bring my siblings with me.

This large family gathering made one thing clear to me: family transcends language. While I didn’t have the words to say the things I was thinking, the feeling of family made me feel at home.

Saturday, September 09, 2006

Sun Moon Lake

My American grandparents visited Taiwan in the late 70’s, when my mom was a mission nurse in Chiayi. My grandmother fell in love with a lake high in the mountains called Sun Moon Lake. This morning we visited the clear blue waters of this mountain lake.

Sun Moon Lake is a man-made reservoir, a fact that is made apparent by its almost fluorescent blue color and pressure spout that sporadically shoots water several stories into the air. There are several Buddhist temples overlooking the lake, as well as more commercial establishments such as hotels, restaurants, and souvenir shops. One of the most expensive hotels on Sun Moon Lake is the former retreat of Chiang Kai Shek. Almost all of the buildings around Sun Moon Lake have been or are being rebuilt since the earthquake in 1999.

One of our stops as we drove around the lake was a peacock pen. It started raining and all of the peacocks were shoed inside and we moved on. The rain quickly cleared up and we stopped at another spot for a snack of boiled eggs and a gelatin/tea/lemon drink.

I can see why my grandma liked this place so much. The mountains surrounding the lake make it feel like it is isolated from the rest of the world and the color of the water gives it a tropical vibe. Time seems to stand still at Sun Moon Lake.

Friday, September 08, 2006

Pinang (Betel Nuts)

I've encountered a strange social phenomenon in this part of the country. Pinang, or betel nuts, are very popular in Nantou and are available just about everywhere around here. These small nuts grow on a tree that looks similar to a palm tree.

The culture behind pinang is rather strange. Older men usually buy and chew the nuts, and they are sold in little stands on the side of the road. The stands have large glass windows for walls, are decorated with bright neon lights, and are attended by young, scantily clad women.

The effect of chewing on these nuts is a mild stimulant, similar to the effect of nicotine. It causes your mouth to go numb and produces a "dry" effect in the back of your throat. For me, it just made me gag and want to spit. It tastes a lot like peppermint, and you spit out the husk after you chew it thouroughly.

Chewing on pinang is known to cause mouth, throat, and stomach cancer. There is a warning on the box from the department of health describing such damaging effects. I guess this pretty much equates to cigarette smoking in the States, including the social stigma.

Mountains of Nantou/Puli

About 2/3 of Taiwan is covered in mountains, and we are now in a mountainous county called Nantou. Nantou is the only county in Taiwan that does not border the coastline. We had spent most of our time in urban areas up to this point, so it was time to explore some nature.

Our first stop was a landmark near Yi-Wun's home. This spot is famous because it is the geographical center of Taiwan. I am a bit skeptical as to how they measured the "center" of Taiwan, considering that the island isn't anywhere near a perfect geographical shape. AnywHavingays, it gave us a good view of Puli, and warmed us up for our next hike.

We drove up a winding road into the mountains, traversing up the steep slope. We stopped along the way to get some coffee, at the highest Starbucks in Taiwan. Yes, Starbucks really is EVERYWHERE. After taking a short break, we headed up further into the mountains.

After parking, we began our ascent by foot. The first obstacle was a large set of stairs, 487 stairs, to be exact. My calves burned towards the end, convincing me that I need to hit the gym when I get back home. Another set of stairs led us to a large statue of Chiang Kai-Shek, the former Kuomingtang (KMT) leader that fled China during the Communist Revolution. At the end of our hike, we arrived at Green Green Pastures, an open area near one of the mountain peaks. Here, we saw sheep and enjoyed an ice cream bar.

Heading back out of the mountains, we stopped at a vegetarian restaurant for some lunch. Many of my family members are strict vegetarians, due to their religious beliefs. We enjoyed a hot pot meal, with tons of mushrooms and veggies. For desert, we had almond soy milk with red beans, which was deeeeelicious.

Yi-Wun brought us to a paper factory after dinner, where we did a short tour and watched some of the workers make paper. Check out my Flickr account for more pictures from the day.