Monday, May 26, 2008

A Show of Hands: Hands Tailung

I went to Hands Tailung in Taipei with high hopes, that it was an outpost of my favorite store Tokyu Hands. Tokyu Hands is something for everyone; lumber, beads, a complete line of high quality hand and power tools, knives, electric toothbrushes, toilets, rice cookers, pens, screws & washers, luggage, seeds, camping supplies; what Tokyu Hands carries in Japan is seemingly endless.

What a disappointing tease
Hands Tailung (Google translation) was. Think of Hands Tailung as Tokyu Hands Lite, compared to the several Tokyu Hands stores that I experienced in Tokyo Hands Tailung is half a floor of some Japanese gadgets. It’s a fashion statement for Taipei’s young hip class, not a store to necessarily buy quality and unique products.

So what does Hands Tailung carry? Cosmetics, a few tools, pens, office supplies, clocks with or without built in weather forecasting gauges, camera cases. Lots of relabeled Japanese crap made in China. Mostly things you can buy elsewhere for less.

When I was at Hands Tailung in Taipei's upscale Breeze Center the place was mostly empty.

Taipei - Hands Tailung  Interior at the Breeze Center 2
Taipei - Hands Tailung  Interior at the Breeze Center 3

Saturday, May 17, 2008

Taipei: 2 Chinas, Superior System?

The food and language might be Chinese but there are some distinct mainland Chinese characteristics missing. Where’s the homicidal, almost Braille driving? What about the complete deadly disregard of drivers by pedestrians and of pedestrians by drivers? Also thankfully conspicuous by its absence was the Chinese National anthem, the ominously loud, nauseating, guttural phlegm pre-expectoration sounds that mean take cover and watch your shoes because a mighty spit is coming. The subways I've ridden in Shanghai, Beijing, Guangzhou and Shenzhen are a Chinese fire drill free for all, when the train stops and the car doors open it’s best to drop your head like a halfback and force your way through an imaginary goalpost to get on or off the subway car. On Taipei’s MRT there are painted lines on the ground on either side of the door openings and people calmly wait for the arrival of the next train. The result is efficiency and order: people leaving the car go straight out while those getting in enter from the sides. There’s very little yelling and bellowing into cell phones as there is on the mainland (Hong Kong too).

Thursday, May 15, 2008

Taipei: One China Policy

The US government may follow the mainland’s one China policy but there’s no such policy here at Strange Taste Horsebeans. I’ve visited Hong Kong and it’s a wonderful orderly yet chaotic contrast to the mainland. Hong Kong prospered while the mainland suffered under communist dictatorship and economic ham handedness. At the time of suffering and deprivation on the mainland it was same people, different system. Now Hong Kong and Macau are considered “Special Administrative Regions”, or SAR’s of China. Or as Beijing now describes the curious situation, “one country, two systems”. But there’s still one more China. While the mainland was ruled by the whims of Mao the Republic of China on Taiwan was ruled by Chiang Kai-Shek, the loser of the long and bloody Chinese civil war and only a slightly lesser despot than Mao. Both Chiang and Mao remain only on having their regal mugs on the face of their country’s money but the division between the People’s Republic and Taiwan remain, the mainland still considers Taiwan as a rebellious province of China, Taiwan sees itself as an independent country (others see it differently, it has official diplomatic relations with only 23 countries). And when China was mired in economic Commie chaos Taiwan blossomed into a first world economy of innovation, creation and comfort. Once again, same people, different system. For me the question is simple: what’s Taiwan like and why is it like that?

Saturday, May 10, 2008

Out of the Jungle

On our 3rd morning staying at the resort on the Ping River we were marooned. The friendly owner had promised to take us into town with her but when we reported for breakfast at 7 AM to be ready for a 9 AM departure we found that she had already gone into town. A taxi would set us back 300 baht each way or around $9.50 US. That is, if we could find a taxi. The accommodations were fine although the owner admitted that the reason she hadn’t picked us up at the airport was because she accidently deleted my email containing our flight information.

When we checked in the owner asked if we had any dietary restrictions and since she was asking I checked “no pork” but each meal arrived containing pork, sometimes in multiple forms such as pork ribs with a side salad garnished with fried pork rinds. Moo! Moo’s the Thai word for pork. So we went back to our cottage, broke out the laptop and booked a room in town and found a way to call a cab. Within a half hour we were gone.

But by the afternoon we were back, in my haste I had left a bag behind. Eleanor did some hard bargaining with a tuk-tuk driver who took us tear-assing through traffic and into the hills and back for only 200 baht to retrieve the bag. Most of Chiang Mai’s foreign visitors seem to be European. I’ve seen and heard more than a few willowy gay German couples with shaved heads around town. Souvenirs seem to be targeted to Europeans as well. Lots of soccer jerseys with European player’s names on the back are for sale along with some snarky and offensive t-shirts. Lots of shirts for sale in Chiang Mai equate George Bush with Adolf Hitler, because if anyone would understand that the deaths of 20 million Russians, 6 million Jews and countless European Frenchmen, Dutch, Englishmen, Czechs, Poles, etc are being repeated on the same scale today at the hands of George Bush it’s Europeans. Pictures of Bush and Hitler with the caption, “Same Shit, Different Asshole”, pictures of Bush with a furher moustache, drawings of Bush as a monkey being blown up by the dynamite in his paw. Picture of a woman’s public region labeled , “Good Bush”, next to a picture of a smiling George Bush labeled, “Bad Bush”, pictures of George Bush labeled, “Public Enemy #1”. Che Guevara staring into a bright revolutionary future, Mao as a disk jockey. Hard hitting satire that’s obviously far beyond a course American cowboy understanding like mine. Non political shirts say strange things like, “Eat Your Rice, Bitch!”.

In the afternoon I decided to go for a walk on my own and within minutes I was lost. I had wanted to get away from the touristy Chiang Mai of souvenir t-shirts and massages and instantly succeeded, within minutes I was in a land of tin shacks, dog packs and strange street food that I knew would curdle my tender North American stomach. The tropical sun rocked down out of the sky and toasted my pale white skin that has been nurtured on winters of Seattle’s cold and damp. After several hours of walking in what I later discovered to be a circle that was nowhere near my hotel I swallowed my pride and succumbed to a tuk-tuk driver’s pitch. I heard thunder off in the darkening distance and if there was anything worse than being lost under the searing tropical sun it was being lost in a tropical downpour. When I got back to the hotel I discovered that I had soaked through all of my clothing with sweat. My shirt was sopped and my pants looked like I had forgotten toilet training. I had even soaked through my belt. The friendly tropical sun that on this trip has given me abundant banana, mango, mangosteen, lychee, rambuttan and especially durian had a darker side. Actually the sun has given me a darker side, perhaps there is affirmative action in my future. Or skin cancer.

Look carefully, some of those signs are in Hebrew.


Wednesday, May 07, 2008

Chiang Mai

Chiang Mai, Thailand: When I plan my Asian excursions I often scour the Internet looking for places to stay. I look for a good price, good reviews on sites like and a favorable central location. But the hotel pictures and reviews are like dating, pictures are embellished, favorable reviewers have taste that is different from mine and what looks like a nice location on a map provided by the hotel is often inaccurate. This is one of those times. I’m here at a small resort south of Chiang Mai in northern Thailand. If you look at the map on their web site it shows the location as being on the southern edge of Chiang Mai city close by to a bank, restaurants, stores and all of the comforts of city life. Not so, I’m about 15 miles out in the countryside. It’s a nice location but it’s kind of in the middle of nowhere. Our room is on the bank of the River Ping which is muddily flowing by as I write this. The owner says that a taxi into town will cost about 300 baht each way, about $9.50 at today’s exchange rate.

Is this Indo-China village living at it's finest? Nah, obviously I've got access to the Internet and my cell phone registers a good signal. The room has TV but to Eleanor's chagrin all of the available channels are in Thai. High class hotel it ain't. Eleanor originally found this place on the Internet and regrets it. On the wall near the bed she found a spider about the size of a small bar of soap and she absolutely freaked. This is semi jungle, bananas are growing on the premises.

Small lizards are hiding on the sides of buildings. The insects are being merciless with Eleanor biting her on the face and legs but they leave me along, perhaps they don't like white meat. This place seems to be bug heaven, I've seen several kinds of insects in our room that are unknown in North America. There's a noise outside; it's a tropical jungle downpour! Bugs, lizards, tropical fruit and a torrential downpours; can giant snakes be next?

The owner of the place, Lin, has been nice to us even after she forgot to pick us up at the airport. She said that she has a 2nd job in town and would take us into Chiang Mai in her pickup truck.

Saturday, May 03, 2008

Bangkok: Eating Durian

Bangkok - Packaged Durian 

The refrigerator in my hotel room in Bangkok smells like durian. What does durian, sometimes called “stinky fruit”, smell like? A delicious and exotic tropical fruit? Or, "pig-shit, turpentine and onions, garnished with a gym sock"?

The durian was in the refrigerator in my hotel room for just a few hours. I bought over Eleanor’s objection and brought it back to the hotel for desert. Eleanor knows durian and religiously avoids the stuff. She won’t eat it because she can’t get close to it without gagging. The durian was good, smooth, exotic but more fragrant, complex and flavorful than I recall from my last trip to Bangkok. But I noticed the distinctive acid smell again when I opened the door to my hotel room and it’s in the fridge, maybe forever. The hotel has my credit card number. For those that can’t bear the odor or the spikes of the durian I bought this, durian in a handy sausage pack.