Sunrise, Fresh Wasabi, and 7-11 Guardians: Visiting Alishan (阿里山) in Taiwan

    It’s been such a long long long time since posting anything, but I’ve really wanted to get back into blogging… For some stress release, for some connection, and to practice writing. Also, with Mai’s graduation and return home, I hope that this would be a great way for us to stay connected to each other besides social media! Plus, I have a backlog of Taiwan photos that I would love to give some more backstory to — I’m not going to approach them in any particular order but will just write about the ones that most stand out to me, and hope would be interesting to share with people — so here goes!

    Apparently, a must-do thing when visiting Alishan (阿里山), one of the most famous and scenic mountains in Taiwan, is to wake up extremely early and take a train to the peak-area of the mountain to see the sunrise. It surprised me that this is an almost-daily tourist event because the only time that I ever purposefully woke up extremely early to climb up a mountain and view the sunrise was on New Year’s Day in South Korea in 2015. Feeling the first rays of the sun on the first day of the year was a time for wishing and for new beginnings.

    Continue reading Sunrise, Fresh Wasabi, and 7-11 Guardians: Visiting Alishan (阿里山) in Taiwan

    An FOB feeling happy after reading Eddie Huang’s Fresh Off the Boat

      It starts with the food bullying that I feel I can relate to Eddie Huang‘s story. Cleverly, he begins the book with dimsum, so that got my interest, but he talked about dimsum for less than 2 pages. The food bullying though, where his classmates said that his food smelled bad, that he wanted the white kid lunches, that’s where my memories came back. The bully for me wasn’t in school and wasn’t by the kids. Comments, always by adults and mostly white females, that the food my mom made made the house smell bad, or the stuff I eat or drink that they haven’t heard of, much less tried, is “gross”, are this pet peeve of mine that I can’t forgive. Sure, they may not be intended to hurt me or anyone specifically, but they’re never well-meaning. They are too minute to confront the speaker about, so I have no way to tell the speaker that she’s disrespecting my whole culture. They are the papercut stings that you feel every time you wash your hands.

      Eddie Huang and I don’t have anything in common, except we both being born to Asian parents. He grew up liking basketball, seeing himself in hip hop lyrics, doing drugs (and selling them), working in restaurant kitchens, getting in fights and juvenile in high school and probation in college. I grew up doing literature, math and science competitions. He lives in the East Coast. I live in Texas and the Bay Area. He is a celebrity. I am one of many of the model minority. Unlike him, I didn’t have classmates bully me for being Asian, because lucky for me, I wasn’t in America until late high school. In Vietnam, at least in those days, when you make good grades, your classmates don’t hate you, the cool kids are not the ones that play football or are in the cheerleader team (there’s no such thing as cheerleading in Vietnamese schools), and there’s no nerd that talks only about science or Star Trek in an annoying, obsessive way that makes a bad name for everyone who actually likes to study and get good grades. So at Humble High, I joined a group of class-loving friends at lunch, we sat by the library, then I went to college wanting to be a Physics professor. In American terms, I’m a big nerd. But I can’t feel one bit related to or represented by Sheldon in the Big Bang Theory. That show is a cheap attempt of boxing all science students and scientists into this inaccurate, overblown stereotype of what a scientist looks and acts like. Not a single real physicist that I know fits into the Sheldon box. However, a few students that I’ve taught, who make themselves fit into that box because they want to be scientists, fit the box like a cat. Shows like BBT make teenagers mold themselves into erroneous molds without ever knowing the correct mold, if there’s even one.

      So yes, we shouldn’t fit ourselves into molds, and I’m a bit afraid of trying to fit myself into the Asian mold right here by relating to Edie Huang’s story simply on the ground that we’re Asians.

      Continue reading An FOB feeling happy after reading Eddie Huang’s Fresh Off the Boat

      one shot: Clay pot rice and beef

        This is Vietnamese clay pot rice at Saigon Express. The pot comes sizzling hot, and after 5-10 minutes, we have a nice rice crust at the bottom, while the top is flavored with the sauce from the meat and vegetable. I wish there were more rice just because the sauce is so good, but I already get quite full with this portion every time.

        The closest resemblance I can think of is the Korean dolsot bibimbap. In this Vietnamese case, there’s no kimchi, no gochujang, you don’t have to add anything to the already well seasoned toppings. I like this completeness of the rice bowl, as they say about the donburi (watch this Shokugeki no Soma episode for the donburi reference – ignore the sexy stuff, though, just focus on the food).

        It’s amazing how much a restaurant can change over the years, or how much dining with a companion can change your perception of the restaurant (did they even have this clay pot rice back then?). I was not so impressed before. This time, it’s a change for the *much* better.

        Continue reading one shot: Clay pot rice and beef

        Pho in Hawaii


        Near our hotel is a shopping center, where we regrettably spent more time than we should have, eating overpriced fried rice (P.F. Chang’s, no less, T__T) and okonomiyaki. The reason is just that it was hot. Unbearably, relentlessly, suppressively hot. We couldn’t walk for five minutes without perspiring like the underside of the lid of a cheap rice cooker right after the rice is cooked. Being the indoor sloths we are, we ditched the inner foodie, became the very tourists lounging out at American chain restaurants while on vacation whom we cannot understand, and dined at the mall. It was actually satisfying. Meatball pho at Pho Factory in Royal Hawaiian Center (9.10). Oxtail pho at Pho Old Saigon (14.60). I haven’t seen oxtail pho in the mainland, but it’s strangely and pleasantly everywhere in Oahu’s pho menus. Pho Factory also serves it. The oxtail is meaty, softer (fattier) than the usual rare steak/brisket option. Continue reading Pho in Hawaii

        Cheapest eat in Waikiki: udon at Marukame


        Everything in the touristy Waikiki is designed to scorch your wallet, but Marukame Udon does it most gently: each bowl of udon sets you back only around 5, which can be even cheaper than Coconut Cafe’s shave ice! This bukkake udon in cold broth is only 3.75, and it’s good, especially to give us some relief from the heat and humidity. Granted, because we add the goodies, the ticket goes up fast: shrimp tempura is 1.75 each, sweet potato tempura is 1.25 each, etc. What’s even better is the self-serving, cafeteria style: grab a tray, place your noodle order, take noodle, grab a few tempuras, pay, find a seat. Fast, efficient, and no tip.

        Shave ice from Coconut Cafe


        Hawaii is paradise if you are: 1. into constant heat and 90% humidity. In Hawaii, the world outside your air-conditioned box (e.g., your house, car, or office) is a sauna. 2. in the shave ice, juice, lemonade, or ice cream business. The owner of Coconut Cafe is in *full* control of her life, her shop, and her customers. Her main sale is undoubtedly shaved ice, although her menu also has other dessert drinks (such as bubble teas), sandwiches and burgers. Coconut Cafe has no fixed hours of operation. She opens and closes when she wants to, and even if you walk into the door when she has already decided to close, she will tell you firmly so and there is no changing it. We know this fact, because we experienced it not just once, but 4 times. The first day, we got there at 9:30 pm, after dinner, doors were shut tight, understandably, although we were somewhat surprised by how early stores and restaurants close in Hawaii compared to Berkeley. There was no sign anywhere saying what hours they’re open. Continue reading Shave ice from Coconut Cafe

        Sasa no Yuki – Ten courses of tofu


        This is ten courses of tofu. Without*), I can’t read half of it, the hostess speaks only a minimal amount of English to me and mostly just smiles, my company simply tells me that this is the menu. There’s little necessity to go further anyway, they probably think, the joy is in eating the courses and not in knowing what it is, since I’m just a foreigner who most likely eats here only once. And they’re right… This stylish restaurant, Sasa no Yuki, is not quite for a student’s everyday dining, the cheapest lunch course (Uguisugozen, 6 dishes) is 2200 yen (~$22). But I keep the slip of paper, and I will remember what everything is called! First 2 courses: ike mori namasu (生盛膾) – vegetable (and jelly) assortment with a tofu dipping sauce, and sasanoyuki (笹乃雪) – a block of cold white tofu. Don’t underestimate the tofu block, it’s uncooked, extremely pure and actually tastes like soybean. Continue reading Sasa no Yuki – Ten courses of tofu

        one shot: Pluots in season


        Years of slouching at the computer and frozen pizzas have finally shown in my belly. The realization came when I bought a dress the other day without trying on, and if I grew just another quarter of an inch, the button would fly (… could it just be poor design? T__T). In any case, midnight pizza will have to go. The problem: when you know you shouldn’t have something, you want it more. Every night, the hunger looms over me like a bright full moon…. The solution (maybe): pluots are in season again! YAAAAAAAAYYYY!!!! Pictured is 4 point something pounds of pluots. From darkest to lightest color: Flavor Royal, Eagle Egg, Tropical Plumana, and Golden Treat. (づ ̄ ³ ̄)づ

        Eating in Jeju: 4 Course 갈치 (Kalchi) Meal


        Two months ago, I went to Jeju Island for the annual Fulbright conference to present my research. I stayed a few extra days after the conference to explore the island. Which, of course, means trying different foods as well! For our first meal after the conference, we decided to stop at a restaurant that specializes in the fish known as 갈치 (kalchi) in Korean, which literally translates to sword fish, but is not the same type of sword fish with the long nose that is more common in restaurant menus in the US. The official name of this fish is the largehead hairtail, and it is a small and long fish shaped like a sword, hence the name in Korean. This fish is a speciality of Jeju Island and this restaurant (which I unfortunately forgot the name of and I didn’t take photographs either of the name of the restaurant!!!) is located in Seogwipo, which is where we stayed. We had just walked an incredibly long distance, following one of the beautiful Blue Pony trails (officially they are the Jeju Olle trails, but the mascot is a blue pony), which is also the same name […]

        Continue reading Eating in Jeju: 4 Course 갈치 (Kalchi) Meal

        One Hot Pot & Grill: countryside taste for city price


        These days I keep craving noodle soups. There’s just no end to it. Plus, it rained this morning. If I were in Houston, I would go downtown to get this: a crab noodle hotpot (lẩu riêu cua đồng). The crabs are tiny freshwater paddy crabs, pounded into a paste and strained to make the broth. Throw in some crab meat and fried tofu, some light seasoning, and you get a bubbling soup to dunk your noodles and vegetables. The size of the hotpot in this shop is enough for two, you have to pay a few dollars extra for some chrysanthemum greens (cải cúc or tần ô) and some thin rice vermicelli (they absorb the broth better than the flat kind), but the package doesn’t taste complete without them. What does this hotpot taste like? Imagine yourself in a remote area on a mildly hot day (not blazing though), sitting on a low chair under the shade, looking out to some green rice paddy in Can Tho, a canal in Giethoorn, or some other kind of open field with flowing water. You’re hungry but not famished, it’s hot enough that you just want […]

        Continue reading One Hot Pot & Grill: countryside taste for city price