Destination: Taiwan

36 Hours in Taipei: Realist’s Edition

Vanity Fair’s Juli Weiner has a bone to pick with the NYT’s latest “36 Hours in…” travel feature. “We are very aware of the fact that The New York Times is an internationally read newspaper,” she writes, “and that many subscribers probably do live a short drive from Taipei, but does The New York Times recognize that ... many subscribers would have to travel for 36 hours just to reach Taipei?”

Weiner offers up a revised version of the itinerary. It’s funny and, at times, too familiar:

Five a.m.

After a total of eight hours of flight delays, arrive at Taiwan Taoyuan International Airport and ask your significant other whether he remembered to exchange currency before you left. He did not. As it is five a.m., there are no banks open. There is a currency converter at the airport. Wait 25 minutes behind a very large family who seem to be exchanging their country’s entire G.D.P.

Six a.m.
After collecting your luggage, argue bitterly with your significant other about whether to “just take a cab to the hotel” or “get acclimated with the mass-transit system.” Roll your eyes and snap that you will “have lots of time to wander aimlessly around the subway but after sitting on a plane for 20 f*cking hours is not the time to start, O.K.?” Your significant other will stomp off and get a cab. The ride will be circuitous, bumpy, and extremely expensive and you will feel miserable and responsible for everyone’s unhappiness.

(Via @skiftnews)

World Travel Watch: Machu Picchu Closed, Security Boosted in Goa and More*

Larry Habegger rounds up global travel news

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The Minor Glories of Constant Motion

The Minor Glories of Constant Motion Photo by Matt Gross

What do all the hiccups and surprises and kindnesses and connections of travel add up to? On a trip to the airport in Taipei, Matt Gross finds out.

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Beef Noodles in Taiwan, With a Persian Twist

Beef Noodles in Taiwan, With a Persian Twist Photo by unicellular via Flickr (Creative Commons)
Photo by unicellular via Flickr (Creative Commons)

I love a good tale of food cultures colliding—and this mouthwatering blog post from The Atlantic, about a Persian immigrant serving up his own brand of beef noodles in Taipei, certainly qualifies.

Here’s Davod Bagherzedh, the owner-chef of Laowai Yi Pin Niu Rou Mian (Translation: The Foreigner’s Bowl of Beef Noodles), on the key to his recipe:

“If I cooked them the traditional way, I could never compete with Taipei’s other stands, but if I make it with all Persian spices, I’d also have no business. So I import a spice from Iran called bahorat, a 12-spice mixture, and I add that to a blend of Chinese ingredients. It’s different, and people seem to love it.”

Photo We Love: Two Faiths, One Prayer

Dalai Lama REUTERS/Pichi Chuang
REUTERS/Pichi Chuang

The Dalai Lama listens to his interpreter as Cardinal Paul Shan Kuo-hsi of Taiwan’s Catholic church says a prayer during a religious dialogue in Kaohsiung, Taiwan.

McWorld Goes Local

Further evidence (not that we needed it) that a globalized McWorld does not necessarily mean global homogeneity: Increasingly—though it has been going on for years—fast food franchises around the world are rolling out menu items created for local tastes.

From Global Post:

Domino’s pizzas come topped with squid in Taiwan, black beans in Guatemala and feta cheese in Greece. In China, Kentucky Fried Chicken sells rice congee, while Col. Sanders in India woos vegetarians with offerings like the Chana Snacker, a chickpea burger topped with Thousand Island sauce.

Dragon Boats Go Global

Dragon Boats Go Global Photo by Andrew Deacon via Flickr (Creative Commons)
Photo by Andrew Deacon via Flickr (Creative Commons)

Though the Chinese Dragon Boat Festival has long enjoyed popularity in Hong Kong, Singapore and Taiwan, mainland China only made it a public holiday last year—one of many signs that traditions abandoned during the country’s Cultural Revolution are finally being restored. 

The funny thing is, the festival—which commemorates the death of a famous poet who drowned himself in a river—has become so globalized that China itself looks like it’s late to the party.

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It’s a Reality TV World, After All

It’s a Reality TV World, After All Photo by Aaron Escobar via Flickr (Creative Commons)
Photo by Aaron Escobar via Flickr (Creative Commons)

Is reality television a viable conduit for cross-cultural understanding? It’s an interesting question now that the world has gone reality TV-mad.  Global versions of “Big Brother” have sparked discussions on everything from racism to AIDS, and wacky game shows continue to fascinate foreigners trying to understand Japan.

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My Twice-Cooked Pork Epiphany

twice-cooked pork Photo by avlxyz via Flickr, (Creative Commons)

Living in Shanghai, Julia Ross wasn't too hot on Chinese food. Then she moved to Taiwan and stepped into Shao Shao Ke.

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A Chef’s Travels in China

It’s hard to resist chef Martin Yan’s enthusiasm for the innovations of Chinese cuisine in this recent conversation with New York Times reporter and author Jennifer 8. Lee, taped at the Asia Society.

The voluble Yan discusses his travels into China’s far corners, doling out praise for hand-pulled noodles in Shenzhen, the spice markets of Xian and Taiwan’s night markets. In recent years, many Western-trained Chinese chefs have returned home to introduce a new fusion cuisine, he notes, including pizza-like dishes in the north, and recipes making liberal use of eggplant and tomato, ingredients not traditionally associated with Chinese cooking. 

Among Yan’s favorite Chinese comfort foods: the doughnut twist (with soy milk) you can find on just about every street corner in Taipei during morning rush hour.

Chinese Tourists Deluge Taiwan

It got off to a slow start, but a long-awaited travel agreement between China and Taiwan, forged last summer, has finally yielded a huge bump in mainland tourists traveling to the island.

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Returning Home: A Tougher Transition?

taipei taiwan train Photo by *Solar ikon*, via Flickr (Creative Commons)
Photo by *Solar ikon*, via Flickr (Creative Commons)

In a recent Wall Street Journal column, Alan Paul writes that he’s feeling persistent grief, three months after returning to the U.S. following a three-year stint in China. He misses his neighborhood noodle restaurant in Beijing, and his kids miss the friends they made at their international school. It’s been a rougher transition than moving to Beijing in the first place, a sentiment shared by several former expats he interviews about cultural re-entry.

“I have certainly found myself carrying a heavier sense of loss here than I ever did there,” he notes. “During my stay in Beijing, people in the U.S. would ask me about missing home and often didn’t believe me when I said it wasn’t a problem. I longed for specific people or places, sometimes profoundly, but I never had a deep sense of loss, simply because I knew that my old existence wasn’t gone forever; it was on hold and I would be returning to it ...”

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In Taiwan, A Toilet Too Far

My great affection for the Taiwanese notwithstanding, sometimes I’m just plain baffled by the trends that take hold on the island. Case in point: toilet-themed restaurants. Yes, a chain called Modern Toilet now has nine outposts in Taiwan, and is apparently a hit among teens and college students. GlobalPost describes the fad this way:

“Here, customers sit on toilets and eat on covered washbasins. The most popular dishes are chocolate ice cream or curry chicken, served in a mini-toilet. Why? ‘It looks like poo-poo,’ explained Jary Wei, assistant manager at the chain’s Taipei branch. ‘The customers think it’s funny.’”


Airplane, prison and hospital-themed restaurants have also caught on in Taiwan—more evidence that the island takes its cultural cues from Japan, which pioneered the trend—but, really, toilets?

In defense of Taiwanese college students, I’ll just say that I advised a number of them while I was living on the island and found them to be exceedingly bright and cosmopolitan. Then again, they’re under a lot of academic pressure, so maybe a visit to Modern Toilet yields some, uh, relief.

How to Ring In an Ox Year

chinese new year of the ox Photo by bfishadow via Flickr (Creative Commons).
Photo by bfishadow via Flickr (Creative Commons).

Today, millions of Chinese usher in the Year of the Ox by lighting firecrackers, handing out cash-filled red envelopes, feasting on whole fish and texting friends, “Happy Niu Year,” a play on the Mandarin word for “ox,” pronounced “niu.” Me? I’m feeling nostalgic for my old flat in Taipei’s Muzha district, the sound of motor scooters buzzing until midnight, and the raucous atmosphere of Taiwan’s temples, where thousands will pray this week for an auspicious year ahead.

In mainland China, it’s a different story. The holiday period sees the world’s largest annual human migration, making travel a nightmare for those trying to negotiate packed trains and sold-out flights (in fact, most China-based expats leave the country this week). But there are plenty of parties to be had elsewhere, in Chinatowns across the world. So if you’re jonesing for a Chinese culture fix, check out CNN’s round-up of celebrations here.

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China-Taiwan Flights Go Daily

Travel between rivals China and Taiwan got a whole lot easier this week. Airlines launched more than 100 daily weekly flights between the two sides, stepping up a historic opening in travel kicked off last summer with weekend charter flights. Two travelers set to take advantage of the new policy: “Tuan Tuan” and “Yuan Yuan,” giant pandas expected to arrive in Taipei Dec. 23 as a gift from the mainland. Their names linked together—“tuanyuan”—mean “reunion” in Mandarin, a not-so-subtle hint that the Chinese government would like to see Taiwan return to the fold.