Sunday, August 2, 2015

Slowing down in Taipei

We've been on the road a while now but have just arrived in Taipei. This is nearly the end of our trip. We can now switch from being tourists to being family. Much of our time will be dedicated to seeing relatives and enjoying the cafes of Da'an. After our push across the Malay peninsula and the islands of Hong Kong we are happy to just drink tea and play with little cousins. A little rest before our next stop in Seattle and the ever approaching new semester of teaching.

Hong Kong can't go wrong

We were missing big cities and Hong Kong fulfilled our need for hustle, bustle, and outrageously good food. I had never been before, but had heard a lot about it passively from culture (Kung Fu movies etc.) and actively from other travelers. I had the idea that it was big and crowded and money driven and that I probably wouldn't like it. What no one ever told me is how beautiful the city is. It has dazzling architecture framed by lush mountains and expansive sea. I'm not sure why people neglect to mention just how visually striking this city is, but it is absolutely one of the best skylines in the world. Lilly and I loved Hong Kong in a way we never expected. Enough that we could imagine living there, and we did spend some afternoons daydreaming about it. Part of what attracted us to the city was all the great people we met or reconnected with. It was a very social visit full of art, food and conversation.

This is really the first city we have visited this trip with a sizable contemporary art scene. We certainly don't believe that every city needs one, but it is still nice to reconnect with artists and art spaces when we can. The pictures above show very different corners of the Hong Kong scene. First is of Gallery Perrotin (a blue chip gallery based in Paris) the second is the AAA (Asian Art Archive: a really lovely space dedicated to collecting printed material about Asian art), and finally a pop-up art event put on by Para-Site (They are a nonprofit art organization. Lilly is picking up a fantastic book they wrote about the cultural impact of the SARS virus on Hong Kong art).

Oh and did I mention the FOOD! Really some of the best, if not the best, of our whole trip. Here are some highlights.

 Pork blood congee with scallion donuts.
 Steamed mantis prawn.
 A mushroom dumpling made to look like a mushroom. Even more delicious than it is cute.
 There were also a lot of good coffee shops doing really amazing single origin small batch roasting. This was a great flat white in Central.
 Good webbing with abalone. This was amazing and had some of the most interesting textures of anything I've ever had.
HUGE fishballs and dumpling soup!

But what really made this trip was visiting old friends who now live in Hong Kong. This included our good friends Gyun and Andrew and my cousin-in-law Shawn.

We left wanting more. The time in Hong Kong flew by and we feel we could have spent many more weeks there. Let's hope we get the chance to!

Approximately One Night in Bangkok

This is a picture of me at the royal barge museum. A wonderful and strange floating museum of the Thai Kings barges used during official ceremonies. One of the many unexpected but delightful finds in Bangkok.
When I was backpacking in 2006 I met a man who was on his 8th consecutive circumnavigation of the globe. We met in a hostel in Serbia but I told him that I would eventually be heading to Bangkok on my travels. In his worldly way he said that was good and that Bangkok whatever I need it to be whenever I arrive. I never really knew what he meant by this but on this most recent trip it made more sense to me. When I arrived in 2006 I was an exhausted backpacker and Bangkok gave me a quiet place to rest. This most recent visit Lilly and I wanted a little more city grit and energy and we got it. Bangkok has given me two completely different visits and each tailored to my mood, as if it knew I was coming. But this should be no surprise because Bangkok has been welcoming visitors since the times of the Angkor kingdoms. Thailand was never colonized but always hosted visiting armies, merchants, and foreign powers. They have mastered the politics of hospitality and at some point, by accident or design, every traveler will come to Bangkok. I left with the uncanny feeling that we will inevitably be back even if we have no plans to return and it will be exactly the place we need to be whenever that happens.

Here are some photo highlights of our time walking, getting lost, and eating across this enigmatic capital.

It was mangosteen season and we ate our weight in this delicious fruits. They have a thick read rind and a tart white flesh. The queen of fruits!

At JJ Market, a massive weekend market on the north edge of the city, we found some of the best American vintage clothes we've ever seen. Some of the most amazing were Vietnam war-era bomber jackets with embroidery of skull headed geishas and snoopy. This is where all the detritus from GI's who came in the 70s for R and R has ended up.

The Thai government has created a space for farmers to sell directly to city folks. We went and ate ourselves silly. It was amazing and not on any of the street food or tourist food blogs we found. There was a huge variety of fresh and prepared foods. Some highlights included crab legs with lime sauce, and curried fish stew on rice.

 And ofcourse we made time for temples. Here are shots from Wat Pho and Wat Arum.

One night we went to a "ladyboy" show. Last year Lilly was asked by the New Yorker to write the text for a photo essay about this Bangkok transsexual cabaret ( She did a great job researching from Atlanta, but we felt we of all people needed to go see it for ourselves. To our surprise it was billed as "family friendly" and the audience was composed of ourselves and Chinese families with kids. The show itself was an hour of lip-sinked dance routines to pop songs. It was all camp and a lot of fun, and we of course got our pics taken with the performers.

We don't know when or why or how, but we do know we'll be back to Bangkok one of these days.