Japanese Spring Festival

Wow, as always, we’re really catching up on old news.

Way back in February, my colleague Mike and I decided to go to Japan for snowboarding. While I had been many times, this was to be his first time to Japan.

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Night Marketing – Raohe Street

On my last night of free time (I’d be remaining in Taipei for another 4 days, however, my work schedule made it so I was eating a lot of hotel food and food court food for the rest of my time. So with my last night of freedom, I called up Abbie and we went to Raohe Night Market.

I hadn’t been to Raohe since my very first trip to Taiwan 16 years ago. I was between jobs, and agreed on a weekend visit to someone I barely even knew, and she ended up being sick the entire weekend. Armed with not very good Mandarin, I explored the city on my own. I barely even knew what night markets were back then, but I remember eating very well. I’d posit that Taipei has the best street eats in all of the East Asian Chinese world.

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Taipei Living

Sometimes in my life, circumstances collide and allow me to do something really fun things, even if they are for work. Over the last two weeks, due to the opening of a new Nike store in Taipei and the Nike Taipei Women’s Half Marathon, I was privilged enough to spend 10 days in Taipei!

Even better, for the first few days, when not working, my co-worker and I had some free time that one doesn’t usually have on business trips. In fact, from looking at my social media, it looked like all I had was free time to go eat. I assure you that wasn’t the case – it’s not like I was taking photos of me sitting in the hotel writing PowerPoint presentations. People actually looked at the photos that my colleague Tracy and I put up on Instagram and WeChat and thought we weren’t working. We were, we just had free time in the evening to go on a #taipeifattour.

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Tenya 22 in Shanghai

When you speak to Western expatriates in Shanghai, I feel as there is oftentimes a tried-and-true list of places to go to eat. Brunch? Madison. Spanish Tapas? El Wily. High end Italian? Mercato. I enjoy all of those places, but sometimes I think people don’t venture too far outside those set places. For example I think Otto E Mezzo 8 1/2 Bombana is overlooked, and yet every bit as good as Mercato. Same for high end sushi, especially of the omakase type, where the conversation usually ends at Sushi Oyama. But I think there’s a better place, and for my money, is one of the best meals to be had in Shanghai, and that’s at Tenya 22 on the Bund.

From the well known purveyors of tuna sushi, Tenya (or Tianjia to use the Chinese), Tenya 22 has been open for a couple of years now in a sometimes empty Bund facing building. Several weeks ago, I had the chance to go again with my friends Michelle and Colin.

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Love will tear us apart

Like many other Chinese Americans of my generation, New Order was an integral part of the soundtrack to much of my junior high and high school days. With cassette tapes (YES!) of Substance, Technique and Low Life riding around in my Honda Accord, the post punk electronic sounds of the Manchester Club scene blended in with the suburban Los Angeles landscape.

I’m a little bit younger than people who would’ve listened to Joy Division – so I wasn’t as familiar with the Joy Division catalog, until I got older. At my first job in Hong Kong one of my co-workers would wear a tie every May 18th to memorialize Ian Curtis’ suicide. So I soon picked up some Joy Division knowledge as well, but it wasn’t quite the same as New Order to me – I realize I’m in a distinct minority in this.

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Christmas in Hong Kong

Catching up on old happenings, I wasn’t planning to do anything for Christmas, just take a couple of days off and hang around in Shanghai. But my cubicle neighbor was complaining about the price of his tickets to Hong Kong over Chinese New Year (5000 RMB!) so I suggested flying into the new Shenzhen airport and crossing the border there. Normally, over a weekend, this is a terrible idea as the border crossing and bus ride takes 90 minutes each way and isn’t really the most pleasant thing in the world. Doing the same over the weekend just isn’t a good idea in terms of use of one’s time.

However, to do so over a 4 or 5 or 10 day trip? Well the savings can be pretty good. I checked on prices for my cube neighbor and it turns out you can get from Shanghai to Shenzhen for 700 RMB. Round-trip!

Well, if they are going to be that cheap for Chinese New Year, I had to check for Christmas, since I had those two days off – and moving times around to be a bit more convenient and it cost about 1000 RMB or $130 bucks. So I booked a trip down.

It was wonderful. Warm. Not a lot of time pressure to do what I wanted, as normally I have to for weekend trips. I went running on Lantau Island with my NBR teammate Joanne, as well as another run on Bowen Road. I explored different parts of HK I normally don’t go to. I avoided big tourist spots filled with Mainland tourists.

The run on Lantau Island was kind of funny. I had mentioned to Joanne that I wanted to eat seafood on an Outlying Island and she suggested traveling Tung Chung on Lantau Island and then hiking the 16km over to Tai O and stupidly I said “16km? Why don’t we just run it instead?”

So we met in the former village, now new town of Tung Chung (near the airport and on the Tung Chung MTR line) and set on on a run towards Tai O. About 5km in, we run into Police who warn us that there’s a protest going on and villagers have blocked off the path and we might not be able to go all the way to Tai O. We shrugged and kept on going – I mean, why turn back now, when we could’ve turned back at 8km? Well, it turned out the police were right. The path was blocked. Still, it turned into a nice rambling trail run on a warm, near Christmas Day.

Village Store

With the airport in the background

Running Path

Running Selfie with Jo

On the way to Tai O

Bridge Jumping

Finishing the run at Tung Chung

I also threw another run in at the Bowen Road Fitness Trail, which is still one of my absolute favorite places to run in the world.

All of this running had a purpose though – I was training for both the Hong Kong Half Marathon and my snowboarding trip in Japan. which I’ll update this blog about soon.

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Korean Chicken Wings

So my friend Tiff and I have become obsessed with Korean Fried chicken from this place out PAST Gubei. It’s actually a chain from Korean called Kyochon 1991. They make fried chicken. Koreans and fried chicken? Yeah, it’s seriously good.

You can see from my last trip to Seoul that I actually had the fried chicken while there – the streets are filled with fried chicken and beer joints. Kyochon is a large international chain (Malaysia, the US and Singapore all have them) and they have a branch out way deep in the middle of Koreatown in Shanghai on Ziteng Road.

You can get there via line 10 on the subway, getting out at the Ziteng Road exit and then walking up Ziteng Road for 5 minutes. Once you get there, you need to put your name down for a table (even though it’s a fast food setting, your meal is anything but). Usually the wait has been around 20-30 minutes. Then you can order – they have three flavors – soy sauce, spicy and honey. I love love love the honey wings. That’s all I eat now. I found the soy sauce slightly salty. And I’m not very good with spice. The wings take another 30 minutes and then you feast!

It takes a bit of time to get out there, and it is crowded and closes too early for my tastes (10pm) – but it’s pretty much a weekly trip now.

Kyochon 1991
Chinese Listing
182 Ziteng Lu, near Wuzhong Lu. Near Line 10

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Taipei redux

I was actually in Taipei, not to eat, but to run. Despite being woefully unprepared (wrong shoes!) and tired (just having run the Shanghai half two weeks prior).

I went for a warm up run around my hotel neighborhood just to get a feel for the weather (humid, rainy) and came across the Chaing Kai Shek memorial hall.

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Beef noodling

Here’s a secret. Up until recently, I thought Taiwanese Beef Noodles were overrated. *GASP*. Yes, it’s true.

Let’s go back a bit: Beef Noodle Soup is one of the National Dishes of Taiwan. In fact, it has it’s own wikipedia entry:

Beef noodle soup is a Chinese and Taiwanese noodle soup made of stewed or red braised beef, beef broth, vegetables and Chinese noodles. It exists in various forms throughout East Asia and Southeast Asia. Stewed beef noodle soup was first created by the Hui people (a Chinese Muslim ethnic group) during the Tang Dynasty of China. The red braised beef noodle soup was invented by the veterans in Kaoshiung, Taiwan who fled from mainland China during the Chinese civil war.

Here’s the wiki link

With all of the times I had been to Taiwan plus additionally all of the Taiwan eateries in Shanghai, I’d eaten beef noodle soup dozens of times. And I always thought “huh, it’s ok . . .but national dish? It’s no Hainan Chicken Rice”

Turns out, my issue was not getting it from a really good place.

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Off to the other side of the straits

Until I flew over, I didn’t realize it had actually been 4 years since my last visit to Taipei, but it’s a real shame, because Taipei is one of my favorite cities in east Asia.

As a tourist, there’s actually not THAT much to do there, unless you’re really really into the Imperial Museum, or eating, but as a mini-break from being in China, and, again, as someplace to eat well, then Taipei is great.

First off, one of the more charming things about the city is both how nice the people are and how provincial the city seems. While beset by all the problems of a large modern metropolis, Taipei’s citizens are overwhelmingly nice. So while dealing with pollution, economic stress, traffic, the people of Taipei uniformly put on good cheer, are polite and are decidedly not grumpy, which already is a welcome change from Shanghai.

I have to stop here and mention one thing – for a long portion of my life, I had a terrible image of Taiwan. And I’m going to say it was completely unfair. But here’s the background. When I was young, my maternal grandfather visited Los Angeles. I’m not sure how many times he came, but it was either once or twice. He treated the entire large Chung family out to dinner in Arcadia or Monterey Park or some San Gabriel Asian bedroom community. That meal was not only one of the worst Chinese meals, it was one of the worst meals I’ve ever eaten. Cold, insipid food. I may not even be remembering correctly, but we thought it was a Taiwanese restaurant. Strike one.

Then when I went to Cal, my roommate Rich and I fell into an anti-Taiwanese state of mind. Possibly because we were two Cantonese guys surrounded by a bunch of Taiwanese guys or more likely our neighbor Fred who was Taiwanese and he never failed at any opportunity to show off how much money he had or tell us how terrible a school Cal was – he eventually transferred to UPenn/Wharton.

Anyways, I missed a lot with this anti-Taiwanese attitude until I started to go for work in the late 90s and early 2000s and fell in love with the country and the city of Taipei and now its one of my favorites.

With four years between trips, I used the excuse of the 2013 Taipei Fubon (half) Marathon to fly over and re-discover the city.

The first stop: Night Markets! We went to Tonghua in Xinyi District – which is near Taipei 101 and city hall. It’s the not the big night market, but it’s central and food focused.

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