Wednesday, September 26, 2018

The stories behind my favorite pics from our Taiwan trip this year

The bf and I have a serious case of wanderlust. So we found ourselves traveling again this month. Now, it's Taiwan, the land of xiao long bao (which we didn't have) and beef noodles (which we also didn't have). I just went to Taiwan last year actually, but it was a guided tour. This time though, I'm with the bf, and he and I would be winging it. So here are my favorite pics from our Taiwan trip, dear reader, with an interesting story that goes with each one.

Our flight to Taiwan was delayed for 2 hours. Lots of groaning from fellow passengers every time the voice over said that our flight will be further delayed. As if their groans could translate to the flight being less delayed, no? Futile effort. Anyway, when we arrived in Taiwan, the weather was beautiful, and their airport's gorgeous. Took this pic just before the point where you can't take pictures anymore.

Love how the bf is framed in this shot. Taken at the Bopiliao Historical Block. Unfortunately, some of the establishments are closed, as they're preparing a block-wide exhibition on people with special needs. But we were still lucky to catch a few exhibitions on the history of 18th century Taiwan and Taiwanese cinema. Now if only the captions had English translations, it would've been perfect.

The first night market that we went to was the Raohe Night Market. And we hoped to sample all those iconic Taiwanese street food thingies that we would see. Here's the bf getting his dose of cranberry juice. Quite refreshing actually. Cranberry juice is so expensive here in Manila. So pricey that you finish it expecting to see gold flecks at the bottom of the cup.

I love Taiwanese food, although the flavors in one dish aren't as broad as those in Thailand, where you have spicy, sweet, sour, salty, and savory in every dish. The bf and I notice a slight herby aftertaste to many Taiwanese dishes. I don't find it unpleasant though, but it does provide a slight difference to all the Chinese dishes we're used to here in Manila, where the flavor is sometimes just salty and saltier.

We sampled the roasted wagyu cubes (fabulous!), the candied tomatoes on a stick (weird! but good!), grilled octopus tentacle (bit tough, and grotesquely big, very Chthulu-ish), the grass jelly drink (no strong feelings on this one), the Taiwanese sausage with raw garlic (love this!), the peanut ice cream with crushed peanut brittle and chopped cilantro leaves all wrapped in a spring roll wrapper (so goooood!), the pork paper, and the dozens of milk teas on every corner.

The sun was really shining so bright on our second day that it was hard for me to not be squinting the whole time. I have squinty eyes when the sun's up, and I can't even keep them open sometimes. Interestingly, I'm not a big fan of tinted sunglasses. Anyway, this was taken at the Presidential Office Building, well, technically at the parking lot near the Presidential Office Building.

Saw this old man buying something from a vending machine at the Chiang Kai Shek Memorial Hall. I think I love this picture the most.

The requisite jump shot. The person taking this picture kept saying, "So good! So great!" And she had us make several jumps. One thing about the bf and I is that we don't do things half-assedly. So when somebody says we need to do a jump shot, then we'll make it something extra, complete with fugly facial expressions and awkward body poses. Also, hitting the ground is another story. I thank my omega-3 supplements for giving me flexible joints (and icky fish breath).

The view at the top floor of Taipei 101. You have to pay NTD 600 (USD 20) to see it. I think it's worth it though, as you'll get a full 360-degree view of Taipei. Also, the elevator ride from the ground to the top is an experience in itself. It lasts for only a couple of minutes, and there's a cool animation that charts the progress of the elevator in real time as it ascends. And the elevator goes dark during those few minutes.

Once you get to the top floor, be prepared by a deluge of tourists taking selfies as if the building were to collapse tomorrow. Still, you can always find a spot where you can be undisturbed. I think they have a limit as to how many people can go up at any given time. It could also be interesting to go to the top floor at night and see all those city lights.

Should you decide to go down Taipei 101, you'll get to see its tuned mass damper on your way to the elevator. Quite a feat of engineering, if you ask me. I've always wondered how they managed to get this at this height. I know the answer's just a Google away, but I want to never stop wondering. Or maybe I'm just too lazy or forgetful.

Calves for days. This one was shot by the bf, at the Martyrs' Shrine. We witnessed the changing of the guards here, which was quite different from the one at Chiang Kai Shek Memorial. For one, you can literally march with the guards as they go to their posts. I wonder what all these guards feel, being surrounded by tourists and all.

That day was hot, dear readers. I had flop sweat, which was also probably running down my butt. And we were there in the middle of the afternoon. I just knew I'd be getting sunburned around the back of my neck in a couple of days, which always happens. The bf had to constantly stop me from scratching and scratching and scratching.

A pagoda, also at Martyrs' Shrine. I love pagodas. They don't seem to perform any function other than make the place beautiful. Much like a gazebo. Now I wonder—if there's going to be an Asian version of The Sound of Music, will they do that "I Am Sixteen" number in a pagoda? Stuff of wet dreams, I tell you.

On the train, on our way to Pingxi. The last time I was here, I went on a boring tourist bus, with a very friendly tour guide whose English was so difficult to comprehend that I just tuned out. It was quite an experience taking the train. We took 2 trains actually—one to get us out of Taipei, which took around an hour, and another one to get us to Pingxi, where we planned to do more touristy stuff.

I envy Taiwan's train systems. They're so efficient. In Manila, arrghh, I just can't. I don't even take the trains here because they're like hell on Earth during rush hour. But in Taiwan, you can even get tickets without speaking to an actual human.

So the bf and I were seated on the train when someone boarded and told us that we were in his seat Confused, we showed him our ticket and tried to ask him if he can point us to our correct seats. He just looked at our tickets, and said, "No seat number." Whut? Turns out that if you get your tickets using a machine, you're not assigned any seat numbers. But when you buy your tickets from the counter, the person gives you a ticket with a seat number.

The last stop of the Pingxi Old Rail is the town of Jingtong, which is so quaint and quiet that I want to live there. There's nothing much to do here, so you have an hour to kill before the next train arrives. The bf and I ended up having coffee at this really charming cafe where we were the only customers. Good coffee, but very, very expensive. My latte cost NTD 250 (USD 8).

The waterfalls at Shifen, which is a good 20- to 30-minute walk from the place where they release sky lanterns. Not shown in pictures are the hundreds of tourists taking selfies with the waterfalls in the background.

Another thing about Taiwan is that they love their milk tea. There's like 3 different milk tea stalls in every corner. I love milk tea, but I can't really tell why one milk tea stall is better than another. In Taiwan, it's probably easier getting milk tea in a food court than water, which we experienced unfortunately. We were in a food court at a mall and I couldn't find a stall that sells bottled water. I'm guessing that if we stayed a few more days in Taiwan that if you cut me, I'd bleed milk tea.

I like my milk tea straight up, with none of those pudding or pearls or jelly or fruit bits. Those pearls are weird. They're black, gooey, stick to your teeth, and don't even taste anything. They take way too much space in the cup. Anyway, don't you love these Hello Kitty cups? Perfect for gay guys, no?

At Jiufen, where we again overwhelmed by the number of tourists. I can't even recall if there were this many the last time I was here. My advice to anyone going to Jiufen: just skip it.

Wednesday, September 19, 2018

Bookstore run in Taiwan

Hello, dear readers! Just came back from our 4-day Taiwan trip, and tired as hell. It was an adventure though, as unlike last year when I went there on a guided tour group, I had the bf with me and we just planned to wing it. And wing it we did—from shuttling between trains, taking confusing buses, being told that we're taking up somebody else's seat on the train, getting lost, and being misunderstood most of the time. I tell you, there's no other way to travel. Guided tours are all convenient and everything, but I don't think they'll give the full experience. Also, going DIY in your travels is hardcore, no? (Also, cheap, which is the best reason.)

Anyway, like in all of our travels, we've decided beforehand to visit at least a couple of bookstores in Taipei. So that's why we usually ended up going back to our hotel room around 9 or 10 pm already, as the bookstore run was usually the last thing in our itinerary. We actually visited 2 bookstores—Eslite Bookstore Dunnan in Da'an and Kinokuniya Books inside the Breeze Center in Songshan. Both proved to be pretty interesting and worth visiting. But when you think about it, bookstores are always worth a visit, no? No matter how many times you tell yourself that you're not getting anything, you do end up with a couple of things, whether books or stationery stuff, to take home with you.

On our second night in Taipei, we went to Eslite Dunnan branch, which is a 24-hour bookstore. We just came from a city day tour and we figured we might as well visit it as it's just a couple of train stops away. I wasn't really expecting many titles in English, as not many Taiwanese speak the language and there aren't as many English-speaking expats and tourists in Taiwan, as compared to, say, Singapore and Bangkok. Still, there were a couple of shelves that had English titles. And when I checked out the American and British literature selection, there were a few English editions located together with their Chinese editions.

I also wasn't expecting that many people to still be in the bookstore at that time of the night, but there was still a significant number of customers So I'm assuming that business is doing good. And I noticed that there are so many titles that had Chinese editions, so I'm thinking that the locals love to read. (I love Taiwan already)

I gasped when I entered Eslite. So beautiful.
And the books in stock are so diverse.
At the ground floor of Eslite is their stationery section.
Had to stop myself from buying those Moleskine notebooks.
The bf couldn't resist making a quick doodle on the sample pages.
Of course, he had to draw a chihuahua.
Another floor in the Eslite building houses their music stuff.
And there was a live performance of a local group when we got there. 
On our final night, we troop to Kinokuniya Books in Songshan. We always make it a point to visit a Kinokuniya branch in the countries that we go to. So far, we've been to Kinokuniya in Singapore, Bangkok, and now Taipei. Hopefully, we'll get to visit the ones in Tokyo and Kuala Lumpur next year. I can't seem to describe it, but every time we find ourselves in Kinokuniya, it feels like coming home. It's like ordering your favorite dish at a restaurant. You're just comforted by its familiarity.

Like Eslite, the Kinokuniya in Taiwan didn't have that many English titles. Actually, I didn't see any book in English except in the long shelf that housed their graphic novels. I was eyeing a manga that has a gay BDSM storyline, but ended up not buying it because, one, I wouldn't be able to appreciate it fully and, two, I can always just check out porn in the internet for free. The bf was interested in a couple of figurines (which I call "dust gatherers) but unfortunately they were out of stock.

We're actually quite wet in this pic.
From sweat because we walked a few blocks, and there was a light drizzle.
Rows and rows of books I can't read.
It's still a heady feeling being around books though.
Also, a couple of other bookish things last week. On our way back from Jiufen and Shifen, we chanced upon a book vending machine at the train station! I (figuratively) climaxed; I would've literally if there were books in English. Still, books are books are books, no matter what language. Also, I don't think book vending machines are for me, as I usually have at least 2 books in my bag. I've been known to lug a hardcover of Infinite Jest in my backpack, born out of the fear of having nothing to read while stuck in traffic, in a boring meeting, in a restaurant that's taking it's time to fulfill my order, or in less-than-pleasant company.

The Manila International Book Fair happened last week as well. We visited on the day it opened, which was a Wednesday, which was also the day before our Taiwan trip. So it's either we visit on that day or end up missing the book fair entirely. The latter is out of the question, as I've been going to the book fair for 31 consecutive years. I still remember the time when exhibitors simply had tables to showcase their titles and everything was still low key. Now, it's become so hectic and stressful to go there especially during the weekends. And what bugs me even more is that there are quite a few stores selling non-bookish items like stationery and toys. Nevertheless, going to the book fair will always be something in my calendar.

The book vending machine at the Songshan Station in Taipei
An initiative of the Taipei Public Library
Book loot!
The 3 books in the top row were from the book fair. The other 2 were from Eslite. 

Tuesday, September 11, 2018

Dark reads (also being artsy fartsy)

Sometimes, all I wanna do is curl up in bed with a novel that has a very dark plot. So dark that it feels like every time you open it, you're dipping your fingers in blood. I guess that's one reason why I'll never have a liking to Austen. But give me a novel where the women kill, where the world has gone into anarchic chaos, and a speculative world where the society is deeply matriarchal and religion is controlled by sorceresses. For some reason, the novels I chose for this post all feature women as major characters. Woot!

Yes, this novel is one of those that seems to ride on the popularity of Gone Girl and The Girl on the Train. It's not as suspenseful as those two novel though,but still entertaining. I guess I will never get tired of unreliable narrators.

This one I was 10% behind. It's some sort of a post-apocalyptic novel set in a world where people lose their shadows, and along with this loss goes their memories as well. It's a bit of a downer actually, especially when the protagonist couple get separated because the woman, after losing her shadow, decides to flee so that her husband is spared from all the tragedy that's bound to happen to her.

I've a thing for beautifully illustrated graphic novels,  much more if the story is so rich that every pagea is a delight This one is that rare comic. I love the world building and the religion-inspired imagery that the story conjures. Also, plus points for having relevant themes on feminism and race.

There's another thing that's happening this week, and that's our trip to Taiwan. Packing for trips gives me great anxiety. Do I pack an extra pair of shorts? How about underwear? Do I really need all these toiletries? Also, more importantly, should I bring two or three or four books? Or five?

Wednesday, September 5, 2018

Crazy rich gaysians

I found my calling in three words—to be a crazy rich gaysian. And that's primarily because I saw the movie Crazy Rich Asians last week, and I loved every part of it. I guess you'd say that I was predisposed to liking it, being a crazy Asian myself, but frankly, I wasn't expecting anything much except to watch how two things this movie has in buckets, which are diversity and inclusion, would be translated to the big screen.

Singlish is love.
And I miss hearing the expression, "Can?"
Like, "You free for dinner tonight, yah? Can?"
The mostly Asian cast did it for me. Ah, Henry Golding . . . Just be the next James Bond already. I swear, every time he's on screen, you're struck by how shiny he is. And that voice, so sexy it can make polar ice caps melt. Good fashion sense too, on and off screen. There was this issue about him not being too Asian enough, as his father's British. But let me tell you, dear reader, when I look at him, I see only an Asian face. Constance Wu is so precious that you wanna put her inside your man-purse (murse?) and just take her out to show her to your other gay friends and fag hags. Can't believe she's 36, a few years older than HG, who is 31. Asian age can be deceiving, yes? And when I grow older, all I want is to be Michelle Yeoh. If HG is hot, MY is so icy that the temperature drops whenever she enters a room. And don't we all wish that we can have a bff like Awkwafina?

The book club discussed Crazy Rich Asians in 2015. I remember liking it and defending it when a few people commented that there's an inherent shallowness in its story, that it's all fluff and too materialistic. Well, isn't that the whole point of the novel? I think I mentioned that we shouldn't really think too much about it. And that it doesn't ask you to read it in another profound, deeper level. It's all about Asians who are filthy rich, some of whom are so full of themselves that they're blind to all of their shortcomings. The novel's storyline is classic telenovela fodder: outsider girl marries into an old rich family. It's something we've all read and seen in varying permutations, even when we were young when we listened to fairy tales. But Kevin Kwan't novel is distinctly Asian. For that alone, reading it is an experience.

Anyway, let's get back to the movie, yes? It's just so fabulous. I suddenly miss Singapore, with its shopping malls with their airconditioning on at full. I swear, every time I enter a mall in Singapore, my balls shrink a few centimeters. What is going with the AC? It's like people there want to escape that tropical humidity as much as they can. Also, one is amazed at the genius of the costumes in the movie. Constance Wu's character isn't rich, but she ends up not wearing the same thing twice because of crazy rich Awkwafina, who plays her close friend. Yes, some of the things she wore might appear frumpy and too fussy, but they suit her. Henry Golding looks like a god with or without clothes. Michelle Yeoh's clothes are all clean lines and sharp silhouettes, which fit her stiff character. And Awkwafina is one of the few people on this planet who can rock a pajama-type ensemble. Did I mention that seeing shirtless HG is life changing?

Taken right before the book club's discussion
Gaysians know that one should hold wine glasses only at their stems.