Archive for August, 2010

Life in New York City

August 29, 2010 - 9:49 pm 1 Comment

For the moment, I’m suspending the continuation of my Asia blog to provide a short catch-up on my current life. After returning home, I basically moved immediately to New York City to start work. With two different Masters degrees under my belt, I eagerly embark on the next chapter of my life. I love school and loved my classes and the academic experience, but at the same time, I want to engage the world from a professional setting – to tackle new challenges and learn new insights from the perspective of a practitioner, rather than an observer.

Life in New York City moves quickly. I live in a nice neighborhood conveniently located close to work. Despite my rather risky venture to find an apartment through Craigslist without seeing the place, I am pleased with the outcome. Even though my room is small (back to the days of International House!), my roommates are nice, the building has good facilities, the area connects to nearly all the major subway lines, and I can walk to work within 15 minutes.

I finished training, passed my Series 7 exam, and have now formally started at my desk. On the weekends, I find myself leaving New York City for the pleasures and comfort of home. For example, I came home to celebrate my dearest little sister’s birthday on the 13th of August. We saw Macbeth at the local theatre and ate a half bushel of fresh in-season Maryland blue crab at the Vienna community center – a picnic in a park! (Grace courageously squished a yellow jacket without fear…indeed, that epitomizes my little sister, an expert in insect biology.)

Grace spent some time with me in New York City before she left for Virginia Tech. We went to Book-Off, one of the most extraordinary used book stores I’ve ever been to! I picked up nearly a complete collection of hardcover Thomas Friedman books for $1 each, while Grace bought lots of Japanese magazines featuring her favorite stars. We ate Korean barbeque in Koreatown, snacked on kim bap and Pinkberry, and then enjoyed karaoke together! Given my location, I go running alongside the river in Battery Park, particularly in the cooler evenings. With the glorious night view accompanying my run, I feel so wonderful – as if I could run forever!

Just this past weekend, I went home to see my parents. After a mishap at the beginning, the weekend went really wonderfully, with tasty homemade food from my favorite vegetable frittata to a traditional breakfast of Chinese porridge and compliments. I helped my mom sort through her personal finances and investment options, and just spent so many wonderful hours chatting with my dearest parents. On Saturday evening, the three of us drove to Maryland for a sumptuous feast of Chinese vegetarian cuisine before watching a Midsummer’s Night Dream at the Olney Theatre. I was truly impressed with this particular production by the National Players, the longest running traveling troupe in the United States. Even though they didn’t use period costume, which I typically prefer, the electronic theme and use of dance music throughout the play somehow fit the mood and storyline perfectly. I laughed so hard – the actors delivered the comedic moments in a refreshing manner. Imagine, nearly three hundred years later, Shakespeare’s jokes inspire the same riparian response.

Being back in the United States is wonderful – back to a familiar culture and pace of life! I find work really interesting, and with so much to learn, each day brings new discoveries. Alas, being the new person in the office has its own challenges, but at least I did an internship before here.


August 22, 2010 - 7:45 pm 1 Comment

July 24, 2010

This morning, we gathered to eat lunch with Aunt Jennifer at a gigantic seafood buffet serving everything imaginable from fresh sashimi and self-serve hotpot to baked fish of all types, seafood dim sum, and even the famed fish’s jaw! After seeing the astounding array of choices and delicacies, I felt completely floored as I wondered: would it be possible to try everything? Alas, as a glutton for variety, I just ended up eating too much to the point of extreme discomfort. A practical lesson learned in the Confucian ideal of the “golden mean”: avoid excess, even in a good thing.

In the afternoon, we went to Danshui – one of the most scenic areas of Taipei. We started off at Cousin Jerry’s posh renovated apartment, before walking down the hill to go to Danjiang Middle School, where my father taught for a few years. Unfortunately, we couldn’t see much of the school as a fire squad worked to clear out a deadly nest of hornets. Watching my dad in an element of his past created a strong sense of nostalgia – he remembered all the details of his time there, such as walking from his teacher’s dormitory down to the sea to call my mother at night. Danjiang Middle School is certainly a very old school – the gnarled bark of the trees belies the age of the buildings. Even though the school has achieved modern recognition as having Jay Chou pass through its walls, Danjiang remains consistent with my father’s memories. Admittedly, I have trouble imagining my father teaching as a tempestuous 24-year old, with a fiery disposition and an impatience for troublesome inquiries. I wonder to myself: what did his students think?

Afterwards, we walked down the mountain towards the “Fortress of the Red Haired Ones”. In visiting this historic location, I got a glimpse into Taiwanese colonial history. Evidently, the Spanish arrived in Danshui in the 17th century, constructing Fort San Domingo with the purpose of securing the Philippines against the Dutch. In 1641, the Spanish were expelled from Taiwan by the Dutch, who built a new fort in the same location called Fort Anthonio (after the Governor-General of the Dutch East India Company Anthonio van Diemen).  Fort Anthonio later became the site of the British Embassy in Taiwan – as such, when we visited, we saw a curious collection of English furniture and décor – so familiar to me from my time at Oxford, and contrasting so sharply with the local environment of Danshui.

The Dutch left Taiwan in 1661 following their defeat by Koxinga, who continued the policy of increasing Han Chinese immigration until the defeat of his descendants by the Qing Dynasty. Danshui, given its ideal situation as a port and harbor for fishermen, soon captured the interest of the Qing Dynasty, which established an outpost in 1808. With Japanese occupation in the 20th century, Danshui then became a popular tourist destination given its beauty. What a complex history!

We left the complex in the evening to walk by the seaside – imagine beautiful ocean framed by mountains with the sunset casting a warm glow across the waters. Grace and I enjoyed the fresh, salty air the refreshing breeze, a welcome change from the stuffily humid air of Taipei City Center. We shopped the boutique stores along the boardwalk and then went to the famous nightmarket, where I ate my favorite Danshui fish balls and Ah-gay, two Taiwanese delicacies. With such a flurry of human activity, my eyes could barely absorb the spectacle of sight and sound. When we finally got back home late at night, I felt so satisfied and happy with all my discoveries of the day!

Reliving my Mother’s Past

August 21, 2010 - 9:08 pm 1 Comment

July 23, 2010 (Friday)

We woke up comfortably late, before heading off to “Yi Tiao Long” for a tasty lunch of steamed dumpling with just the four of us – mom, dad, Grace, and me. With so many relatives surrounding us all the time, I enjoyed taking a break from the constant influx of people to enjoy an afternoon to ourselves. Dad relished the steamed dumplings greatly, polishing off two full bamboo steamers of the succulent beef pockets.

Mom grew up around this area, so we took a stroll in the neighborhood. Despite the passage of more than thirty years, she still remembers everything, from the bookstores and the pharmacies that she used to frequent to her favorite ice cream shop near the park (50 years strong and still unchanged). In fact, when we went into the pharmacy adjacent to her old residence, the owner of the pharmacy immediately recognized her!

We began by walking down a street renowned for bookstores, in search of DVDs to bring back to the United States of my mom’s favorite series. As a nostalgic throwback to my first trip to Taiwan at age 5, we bought a few volumes of “Bao Qing Tian” – the famous judge who solved difficult crimes in ancient China. As my mom has taken a keen interest in acupuncture and Chinese medicine, she purchased a few books and instructional posters on the subject. (Even though I insist I am fine and my primary care doctor agrees, my mother remains convinced that my liver will fail…) I really enjoyed the bookstores greatly; I just wish I paid more attention in Chinese class so I could be fully literate.

Afterward, we went to the 2-28 Memorial Park, formerly known as “New Park”. Given the political agenda of the Green Party, the name change reflected a resurgence of “Taiwanese identity” – in this particular case, commemorating the native Taiwanese who suffered subjugation under the Nationalist Party. In my opinion, however, given the atrocities suffered on both sides, these symbolic gestures only ignite greater conflict rather than palliating the injustices of the past.

In the park, we saw the pond that my mother accidentally fell into when she climbed up a tree while playing with the neighborhood boys. We then walked through the park towards Beinu High School (First Girl’s High School). Throughout my childhood, I’ve heard so many of my mom’s cherished memories at this school. As matriculation required the highest level of achievement, attending Beinu gave my mom and my grandparents a lot of pride and honor. Watching my mom share her memories made me so happy; she returned very much into a giddy girl while showing us her favorite places. Along the way, we also saw the western-style presidential palace.

Our parents left us early, but Grace and I went on to Wufenpu for bargain shopping of “Asian fashion”. What a mind-boggling large collection of vendors! We ended up purchasing so many pretty dresses and shirts for cheap, before straggling home late, fully satisfied. Even for a reluctant shopper like myself, I really enjoy perusing the shopping districts in Asia – unlike the US, the styles are much delicate and cute. Alas, where else can I buy a pretty lace skirt for just $3.00?

Meeting Old Friends

August 10, 2010 - 9:41 pm 2 Comments

July 22, 2010 (Thursday)

We started the morning quite late, with a screening of “Food Inc.”. Even though I already knew the main message of the documentary prior to watching, the guttural images of the inhumane conditions of the chicken farm, the grim indifference of the meatpacking industry, and the genetic tampering of crops and seeds astounded me nevertheless. Alas, the pressure of cheap food and mass production has created a huge agribusiness industry that manipulates consumer tastes in favor of unhealthy, processed foods so far removed from nature. In light of the severe health problems and escalating costs of care stemming from the epidemic of obesity in America (30% of adults!), we seriously need to reconsider our existing patterns of consumption. The fatty, salty processed foods that Americans eat not only shorten their own lives, but destroy the livelihoods of small farmers around the globe who are unable to compete with multinationals subsidized by our government.

After a tasty lunch of my dad’s seafood pasta and fresh fruit, we departed to Taipei Main Station to meet Jason Wu, the son of my mother’s college classmate. Jason took us to the Taipei Fine Art Museum, where we enjoyed the special exhibition featuring the highlights of the Philadelphia Art Museum, with works by Degas, Monet, Picasso, Chagall, Leger, among others. (Ironic that I went to Taipei to see again the collection I often frequented while a student at Penn!) The works seemed so familiar to me, yet seemingly so out-of-place, as I still remember their original location in Philadelphia.

After the special exhibition, we went through the museum’s collection of modern art created by local Taiwanese artists. In particular, I enjoyed an odd exhibition featuring interactive visual displays from France, each stretching the boundaries of the sight, sound, and touch. For example, we entered into a room filled with sand and light, a completely dark room playing a 3D movie of space-age shapes, and yet another room with glass instruments generating sounds from movement. As an aficionado of modern art, I really enjoyed the collection, particularly the opportunity to interact with the display to create my own personal experience and interpretation of the piece.

Around dinner time, Grace and I left to meet up with Sharon, my colleague from Credit Suisse.  Hard to imagine that we met nearly five years ago, and since then, she’s gotten married and settled into a new life and career! With her sister joining us, the four of us went to an upscale Thai restaurant and chatted about the changes occurring in our lives. After a pleasant, relaxed dinner, Grace and I walked home, relishing a taro bun at a famous bakery along the way, perhaps the tastiest baked treat I’ve ever eaten with its generous helping of sweet mashed taro encased in semi-sweet, soft bread.

Alas, a wonderful day in the company of old friends!

The National Palace Museum

August 10, 2010 - 9:32 pm 1 Comment

July 21, 2010 (Wednesday)

I finally got to visit the National Palace Museum today, perhaps my most favorite museum. The permanent collection houses over 677,687 pieces of ancient Chinese artifacts and artwork, making it one of the most spectacular cultural Meccas in the world, particularly since the vast majority of these pieces come from the private collection of China’s ancient emperors. As expected, the exhibits showcase extraordinary workmanship – the finest, most ornate, and highly adulated paintings, curios, calligraphy, bronzes, and porcelain of the zeitgeist.  As my grandfather informed me, the curator rotates the displays once every three months. Yet, even with such frequent turnover, it would take nearly 12 years to display the entire collection owned by the museum! Chiang Kai Shek’s seizure and transfer of these Forbidden City treasures from China engender a fierce debate, but I believe that by doing so, he preserved the integrity of so many important cultural relics which would otherwise be sold or destroyed under the communist regime. As you can see from the photos and the video, the weather was near unreal – the bluest skies framing the imposing main exhibition hall.

We escaped the crowds during the lunch, but soon got plagued by tour groups from Europe and Asia. Between the audioguide we rented and Dad’s supplementary explanations, I felt truly fulfilled and happy. My father brings history to life with his antics, from emulating the calligraphy strokes of the grand masters to marveling the paintings of the ancient dynasties. Growing up in the States, I regrettably have only a cursory knowledge of ancient Chinese history (if only mom were here…she’s a true expert!). In going to the National Palace Museum, I have a unique chance to absorb some of the main cultural and historical highlights, as exhibited in the work admired by the imperial courts of the time. I found the layering of commentary particularly fascinating – different owners of a notable work would affix their own seal and commentary, providing a historical record of the passage and transfer of the artifact.

We stayed at the museum for a good four hours, entranced by the breadth and depth of the exhibitions. Of course, we saw the famous jade cabbage, the stone resembling a juicy chunk of fatty pork, and the intricate ivory carvings designed to astound viewers with its extraordinary mastery of microscopic detail. Grace looked forward to Giuseppe Castiglione’s painting of 100 horses, but unfortunately, we couldn’t find it. In particular, I enjoyed the exhibition dedicated to the emperor’s curio boxes, in which each intricate treasure chest hid a trove of secrets.

Dad, Grace, and I then left the museum for an evening snack of dumplings before taking the metro to the Eslite bookstore to read books and relax. That evening, I dreamt of living within the paintings of the rich landscapes – the quiet serenity of the misty mountain in early morning broken only by the sweet tones of a zither accompanying the recitation of poetry. Alas, a life so far removed from the conundrum and materialism of modern life!

Sister Time in Ximending

August 10, 2010 - 8:53 pm 1 Comment

July 20, 2010

We woke up relatively early, but didn’t leave until lunch time, when we went to Ximending to feast on steamed dumplings at “Yi Tiao Long” with our grandparents, Aunt Grace, and Cousin Billy. I love Northern Chinese cuisine – instead of rice, the dishes are mainly wheat and flour based. Imagine succulent pockets of beef and scallion stuffed within a thin dumpling skin, cooked to perfection in traditional bamboo steamers!

After lunch, we walked around town with grandparents, who reminisced about the past and the changes occurring over the last five decades. Despite her age, grandmother still possesses an extraordinarily sharp mind – she remembers details with great clarity and manages her personal finances and affairs without hesitation.

Grace had given me a list of her top 5 “must-do’s” while in Taiwan, so I was more than happy to oblige. As an avid follower of K-pop and J-pop, she really looked forward to doing KTV (the Taiwan version of karaoke). As such, we went to the popular Partyworld venue in Ximending – an establishment so large that it completely resembled a hotel! Although the limited selection of Korean songs dismayed Grace, we still had a really great time singing some Chinese classics (Theresa Teng) and enjoying sister time together. Grace has such a powerful voice – rich in tone, near perfect pitch, and with a unique resonance…alas, I wish I could sing like her!

After KTV, we headed off to the movie district in Ximending to watch Eclipse.  Although Gracie is far from an avid Twilight series fan, she really looked forward to watching the movie, especially since the third installment featured her favorite battle between vampires and werewolves. (Admittedly, I am probably more familiar with the books than Grace. Even though the writing and content do not particularly ensnare my attention, trashy novels tend to read quickly and enjoyably during a boring weekend…and who possibly can dislike a story featuring vampires?) Despite the overdone tones of teenage self-inflicted angst, we still enjoyed the movie greatly, particularly the action scenes involving the wolves. Photos of Edward (the main vampire protagonist) pepper Ximending – I can’t imagine why he would be so popular!

After the movie, we went shopping in Ximinding – #3 on Grace’s list. We browsed clothing shops, trinkets stores, and jewelry stands, just absorbing the environment and the energy of the district. Mom and Aunt Grace strongly recommended Ah-Jong’s “Mian Xien” to us for dinner, touting the generous helping of pork intestines that propelled this particular establishment to venue. Grace and I enjoyed the taste, but frankly, still much prefer our dumplings!

Hitting 3 out of 5 on Grace’s list certainly is not a bad start. Although we did not have bubble tea today (#4), we’re visiting the National Palace Museum (#5) tomorrow, which should hence complete the list. What a wonderful day spent with my sister – just the two us exploring Taipei’s youth culture and delights!