February 5, 2016

Favorite Taipei Things: Late Night Bike Riding Along Xindian River (Plus Midnight Breakfast)

Note: I currently live in Norway, but I lived in Taipei from August 2014 to June 2015, and I have a million things I want to share about my time there. Why didn't I do it earlier? I'm slow.

Night bike ride
Night bike ride with Xiangtai and Charlotte.

Do you like drinking? Dancing? Karaoke? Being smushed into dark, noisy enclosed spaces with strangers? Spending money doing the aforementioned activities? Did your face contort into a series of exponentially more horrified looks after you read each of the preceding questions? If so, then [smack] HIGH FIVE [/smack], we might be on the same page when it comes to favorite forms of nightlife entertainment. A page from the book, Cosmopolitan Living: How Not To.

Thankfully, Taipei has plenty of fun things to do at night for those averse to bars, KTVs, clubs, and spending more than NT$200 (that's about US$6) in one go. You can hang out in one of many cafes (well, one that's open late). You can walk around one one of many parks. You can go on a snack crawl through one of many night markets. And if all else fails, you can always rely on one of a million 7-Elevens. It's always open. Always watching.

華中河濱公園 Huazhong Riverside Park
Park, then river, then New Taipei City.

But my favorite cheap thing to do in Taipei at night is to go bike riding with friends along Xindian River. The Greater Taipei Area has over 100 kilometers of riverside park paths reserved for bicyclists and pedestrians. (You can download maps at travel.taipei.) If you don't have a bike, it's easy and cheap to rent a YouBike for a night. I much prefer riding at night than during the day. The main problem with day is the sun. Day is when the sun comes out and melts brain cells. Because the sun is very hot. (I took an astronomy class once—I know what's up with the sun.) Night is a much better time to go out, when the air is cooler, the neighboring lights of New Taipei City dot the skyline and glimmer in the river, and there are waaaay fewer people to hear me belting out off-tune Disney songs, which is a thing you might want to do when you're bicycling maybe I dunno "WHOOOO IS THAT GIRL I SEEEEEE?".

My favorite place to enter the riverside park is from Hakka Cultural Park near the south end of Shida Road. There you'll find a YouBike station next to a bike path that takes you up over a small bridge with a scenic platform. Keep going down the ramp and it drops you into a wide open section of the park with little else besides grass, trees, and paved road. I have no problem living in cramped city quarters, but as soon as I cross the threshold between ramp and park, I feel a burst of blissful freedom that I didn't know I was missing. "Ohh, this is what nature smells like. Mmmmm. Chlorophyll. Lack of exhaust fumes."

Here are some sights along the bike path if you go west:

» Continue reading "Favorite Taipei Things: Late Night Bike Riding Along Xindian River (Plus Midnight Breakfast)"...

Posted by roboppy at 7:35 PM |

January 24, 2016

My Favorite Cafes Near Shida (and a Bit of Taida) in Taipei

Click to enlarge! This map lists the cafes I mention in this post. You may as well just skip reading this post! Haha! ...Please don't. This map has multiple layers, to be used in future posts.

"Be careful. Taipei is a petri dish for addiction...to cafes."

No one warned me about this before I moved to Taipei in August 2014 to learn Chinese, but even if someone did, I wouldn't have believed them. I spent the first 29 years of my life indifferent to coffee and the places that specialize in it, and, by God, I had to keep that streak going, for some reason. Taipei's cafes couldn't change that. Not with their cozy decor. And their cool art. And their hip music. And their freshly baked desserts. And their cute menus. And their Wi-Fi. And their air conditioning. And their cats.

Latte Adorable latte art Latte art Picnic
LATTE LATTE LATTE LATTE

Less than a month after living in Taipei, I developed a near latte-a-day habit. Things escalated quickly.

Here's a flowchart that illustrates the inner workings of my decision-making process:

"Should I Go To a Cafe?" flowchart
Click to enlarge!

For me, the catalyst of my cafe addiction was taking beginner intensive classes at the Mandarin Training Center. Study habits that worked for me over ten years ago when I was an undergrad were no longer effective. The library was distractingly quiet. My apartment was distractingly boring. Memorizing traditional characters every day was pounding my brain into a frothy mush of frustration and despair. (If there's a poetic Chinese idiom that conveys the idea of frustration and despair froth-mush, please tell me. I'd love to know it.) If I couldn't focus, I would fall asleep. I needed a place that would motivate me. Perhaps...a place with cake. And beverages enhanced with sugar and milk. And a closing time before which I have to get my shit done.

I could also blame my friends for encouraging my cafe-going habit, but that would be unfair. I'm not a sheep. I have volition. Or half a volition. I CAN STOP WHENEVER I WANT TO. Because if there's anything addicts are good at, it's stopping.

Many of my friends and classmates thought I was addicted to lattes. BUT NO sort of. The lattes enabled the cafe addiction. I've spent my whole life thinking black coffee tastes like poison sewer drainage. Then, during the developmental stage of my cafe addiction, I found if you temper the poison sewer drainage with a tub of steamed milk and a scoop of sugar, it transforms into something that tastes good to my infantile palate. (I still think black coffee tastes like poison sewer drainage.) And thus lattes became my default drink. There was a week where I dabbled in only ordering non-coffee drinks because I thought drinking coffee coupled with simmering in Taipei's oppressive summer humidity was making me smell extra pungent, but no other drink could match the goodness of a latte. If lattes were making me smelly, then too bad, innocent bystanders who enjoy breathing through their noses, because I'm gonna stink it up.

Taipei is flush with indie cafes, my neighborhood especially. During my ten-month stay in Taipei, I lived in Daan near two major universities, Shida (National Taiwan Normal University) and Taida (National Taiwan University). Where there are universities, there are thousands of students who need caffeine and places to study. I had a mission to try as many cafes as possible, but after a few months I got used to my regular cafes and stopped exploring. There are surely more awesome cafes near Shida and Taida that I never tried.

Although this post is about my favorite cafes, it doesn't have much to do with coffee quality. I don't know how to rate coffee. (It's brown. And it's hot. Or it's cold. It's a brown liquid with a temperature.) I just know how to rate environment, attitude, music, non-coffee food, and opening hours on a super subjective scale. Also, cats. Cats are a factor. I figure the coffee quality at these cafes is all good or better.

Some of the information I list for each cafe might be outdated, like prices or menu items, considering I haven't been to some of these cafes in almost a year. If you want to help update anything, please let me know in the comments!

» Continue reading "My Favorite Cafes Near Shida (and a Bit of Taida) in Taipei"...

Posted by roboppy at 5:15 PM |

December 11, 2015

You Should Make Dominique Ansel's Banana Bread, Plus These Other Recipes

Dominique Ansel's banana bread

A few months ago I recommended Dominique Ansel's banana bread recipe to a friend. It's a recipe that alchemizes minimal effort into cake gold: a light and moist crumb encased in a crackly crust of caramelized hallucinogenic magic. The source of that magic is 2 cups of sugar and 14 tablespoons of butter. To some people, myself included, 2 cups of sugar and 14 tablespoons of butter translate to "I TASTE REAL GOOD, YOU CAN TRUST ME, WITH ALL YOUR SECRETS, AND YOUR FUTURE BABIES." To others, they translate to "HELL NO, I PREFER A LIFE WITH LESS BUTTER AND SUGAR FOR SOME REASON."

My friend is in the latter group. I wasn't completely surprised he balked at the ingredients, knowing his food preferences, but I was still disappointed. I mean, we're good friends. I trust this guy. ...Or do I?

He looked up another banana bread recipe online, one less buttery and sugary, which is probably every other banana bread recipe in existence. Kåre and I were at his apartment when he baked it. We tasted the banana bread together, fresh from the oven.

"It tastes kind of...healthy."

"...Yeah."

[Everyone continues chewing]

"..."

There wasn't much else to say after that. He sent Kåre and me home with a chunk of the banana bread that we may or may not have eaten. I don't think we talked about it after that. We love our friend, and the friendship is better off that way, I think.

Dominique Ansel's banana bread

Don't make my friend's mistake. Try Dominique's recipe and let me know what you think. I don't think it's too sweet, but if you're concerned about the sugar content, according to this blogger you can use 1.5 cups of sugar and still get the amazing crust.

Unfortunately, that amazing crust doesn't last forever. Ideally you'd consume the entire loaf within hours to get maximum crust action before it becomes a moist husk of its former self. But nausea would probably kick in at some point and stop you. I know from experience. Without the magical crust though, the cake is still moist and delicious and will stay that way for days.

Here are some other recipes I've made in the last few months that have made me think, "Man, this is a good recipe that I should tell other people about someday when I'm less lazy."

» Continue reading "You Should Make Dominique Ansel's Banana Bread, Plus These Other Recipes"...

Posted by roboppy at 10:51 AM |

December 9, 2015

How to Watch Star Wars, Plus JEDI DANCE FIGHT

Yesterday, Kåre and I finished rewatching all six Star Wars movies over six consecutive nights in preparation for seeing The Force Awakens. We watched the original trilogy first, followed by the prequels. (I realize now we should've finished with Episode VI if the whole point was to prepare for the new movie, but whatever.) Then I found out someone came up with a recommended viewing order for optimal Star Wars absorption called Machete Order. WE DID IT WRONG.

I can't watch that video without thinking of Max. We may not work together anymore, but his legacy continues to haunt inspire me.

If you like Star Wars but don't know about Machete Order, this guy's post is an interesting read. Here's the abridged version:

IV, V, II, III, VI

But you should check out the post! Unless you've never seen the movies before and/or know next to nothing about the story, in which case you should go straight to watching the movies. Like my friend who's only seen Episode I. She has yet to watch any of the other movies because after watching Episode I, she had no interest. Because that's what Episode I does to you. IT DESTROYS. As you may have noticed, Machete Order excludes Episode I altogether. I daresay this may call for a...

Or maybe you don't want to watch any of the prequels again. That's cool too. At least watch the Auralnauts versions, where you should start with Episode I:

It's the dubbed retelling of Episode I you've always wanted! Darth Maul is a regional manager of Space Hooters! Jedi battle through the power of prolonged lightsaber-enhanced dance fights! And C-3P0 wants flesh so very badly! In later episodes he'll try to destroy all mankind. C-3P0/Creepio is the main reason to watch all the episodes, but the Jedi dance fights are good too. Plus the original music. I'd point out my favorite, but you should discover it on your own in STAR WARS EP 3: Revenge of Middle Management.

You promised me flesh!

Kåre and I watched all four episodes in one sitting. Since then, we've been incorporating the phrase, "You promised me flesh!" into our daily conversations. Or if not in conversation, perhaps yelled at each other from different rooms. We are very good at the romance.

Being married is cool.

Posted by roboppy at 2:09 PM |

November 18, 2015

I Got Married! And I Moved to Norway!

edit-220_Kåre+Robyn_wedding
OMG WE DID IT U GUYZ. Photograph by Amber Marlow.

I had a dream. Then I googled "custom talking pull string toy" and my dream deflated with a thin, pitiful squeal ending with a blubbering balloon fart. The dream isn't completely dead—somewhere in China there's a factory with my dream inside of it, as long as I order a minimum of 3,000 pieces of that dream. But I was thinking something easier, a single digit commitment more along the lines of those creepy custom 3D-printed figurines mixed with Build-A-Bear Workshop, plus a plastic ring tied to a string. (I know I'm not the only person who wants custom talking pull-string toy. This random person of Internet's past knows what I'm talking about.)

So there will never be a pull-string toy based on me on my wedding day. And thus I have preemptively made landfills less filled. But if there were, this is the list of phrases the toy would have stored in its plastic voice box:

"WHERE'S THE COTTON CANDY MACHINE?"

"WHO'S GONNA PUT THE COTTON CANDY MACHINE TOGETHER?"

"WHAT? PEOPLE ARE HERE ALREADY?"

"CRAP, WHERE'S THE WATER?"

"THERE'S BEER NOW!"

"WANNA LEFTOVER PORK? TAKE A PORK BAG!"

"PORK BAG? PORK BAG? PORK BAG?"

"OH GOD I FORGOT ABOUT THE GLOW STICKS!"

"WANNA ROAST MARSHMALLOWS? TAKE A STICK!"

"HEY EVERYONE, PARTY'S OVER, WE HAVE TO CLEAN UP NOW!"

I yelled a lot at my wedding. Not in the bridezilla "DO MY BIDDING" sense, but in the "I'm trying to convey information to a bunch of people at once and I don't know how else to do it because I don't have a bullhorn" sense. Considering loads of people were eating cotton candy, all the pork and marshmallows were consumed, there were no leftover glow sticks, and no one keeled over from dehydratio, the yelling worked. Also, I think all that collective activity means people had fun.

» Continue reading "I Got Married! And I Moved to Norway!"...

Posted by roboppy at 10:12 AM |

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previous entries

» 02/05/16: Favorite Taipei Things: Late Night Bike Riding Along Xindian River (Plus Midnight Breakfast)

» 01/24/16: My Favorite Cafes Near Shida (and a Bit of Taida) in Taipei

» 12/11/15: You Should Make Dominique Ansel's Banana Bread, Plus These Other Recipes

» 12/09/15: How to Watch Star Wars, Plus JEDI DANCE FIGHT

» 11/18/15: I Got Married! And I Moved to Norway!

» 08/18/15: My 80-Something Favorite Places to Eat in New York City

» 07/07/15: 30-Something Things You Might Want to Know About Taipei Before Moving There

» 06/20/15: Bye, Taipei, and Thanks for the Despair Juice

» 11/17/14: Visiting Seoul from November 23 to 30

» 11/10/14: Thank You, Cafe Kuroshio, For Pulling Me Out of "I Don't Know How to Chinese" Dumpsville

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