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Don't Eat With Your Mouth Full

Where can we live but days?

steepholm steepholm
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Ni hao Knowhow
Usage note. Several people here in Taiwan have asked me whether I've been to Asia before, and when I tell them I once went to Ankara they don't feel this counts (or only on a technicality). It seems that the word here carries connotations closer to American than British usage.

Meanwhile my little Mandarin phrase book is remaining sadly unused. Here in the hotel people somehow guess that I'm a Westerner (what is their secret?) before I've opened my mouth and greet me in English. Outside I've generally been accompanied by my hostess, who is Belgian but has lived here for thirty years. I occasionally chip in with a "xièxiè" to show willing, but it feels a little pathetic. Tomorrow will be the acid test, when I take a solo day trip to Taipei, weather permitting. What will await me?

Today, though, has been another talk, and another university campus. This one is a Christian college, and perhaps for that reason is even more focused on Christmas than the rest of Taiwan (which is saying something). Here the festival has been given a superhero theme, as you can see from this picture of my guides, Ivy and Betty, in front of the chapel:


And here's my eerily convincing impression of a cardboard cut-out at the nativity scene, where I look considerably less animated than the postpartum Virgin. Personally I think that "pumped" is a viable alternative to "serene":


The strangest feature of the campus, though, was the female students' dormitories. While the male students are free to come and go as they please, the women have a curfew (with nighttime checks to make sure they're still in bed), and are surrounded by a high wall with broken glass and razor wire:


I mean, wtf?

What else? Ah yes, on the plane I watched a documentary about the making of these things:


It's a plate of plastic food, which is displayed in the window of a restaurant so that you can see what you'll be getting. Here's the whole menu:


This practice started in Japan before WWII as a way of speeding up service (no excuse now for dithering over menus!), and has become an art form there, one they're beginning to export to other parts of the far East. I was pleased to catch a glimpse here in Taichung.

Less delightful was the discovery of this more recent Japanese import in my minibar:


A pocari, as you know, is a type of mongoose that thrives in the hot springs of Hokkaido.

Goodnight, all.

Love the pix. Looking forward to your report on Taipei.

Great pictures! I have always wondered if the real food actually looks like the plastic food.

I haven't tried it, but according to the documentary they go to huge lengths to make it so, working from samples sent by the restaurant. There's nothing off the peg about those models.

Sounds rather courageous to go there!

Everyone's been very friendly!

All fabulous (if a little terrifying). I am particuarly taken with the Genki BVM.


the Genki BVM

Radiant, isn't she?

Well, if one wants to be technical about it, you're not in Asia now. You're on an island. (I realize I'd be sparking a Fierce political argument if I said the equivalent re Britain. But this is purely geographical, not cultural or political or economic.)

The plastic food serves its function, as I can see even from here that the entree is katsu of some sort. (Assuming I'm not wrong!) I've never had any katsu that wasn't dry and tasteless; I wonder if it's better in Taiwan. I've seen this in the US, but rarely. Mostly restaurants have photos in the window, which fade in the sun and make the food look most unappetizing.

Nomenclature is at least as much of a hot potato here as in the UK. All the people I've met seem happy to call themselves Asian, but then many of them are descended from mainland Chinese. (The Taiwan parliament had seats for every part of mainland China for a long time.) The native Taiwanese are ambivalent about the C word - although they themselves may be looked on with equal ambivalence by the many aboriginal communities. And then there are the Hakka...

In many ways it feels just like home.

If they consider their island to be part of Asia, it could be because they are calling Taiwan merely an insular annex to mainland China, which is the official ROC government position.

But that's a political stance. More likely it's because they're using "Asia" as a cultural grouping meaning what we usually call East Asia - China and Taiwan and Japan and Korea and maybe Indochina. And since Turkey is not part of that cultural grouping, that's why they're uncomfortable calling it part of Asia.

Noting the irony that Ankara is right smack in the middle of the territory that the word "Asia" was originally invented to describe.

I wonder how people would have reacted on your visit to Readercon, if, on being asked if you'd ever been to the US (or to "America", whatever that is) before, you said you'd been to Hawaii. Or, if that's not disconcerting enough, Puerto Rico.

Noting the irony that Ankara is right smack in the middle of the territory that the word "Asia" was originally invented to describe.

Similarly, I sense that "Africa" (originally coined for what is approximately modern Tunisia) now seems to be applied more wholeheartedly to sub-Saharan Africa than to the Mediterranean coastal countries.

How is the food???

Pocari Sweat is actually good, despite the hilariously unappealing name and advertising ("The exact composition of human bodily fluids.") It's a sports drink that isn't as sweet as Gatorade.

Mellin's Food used to be advertised as "Similar to Breast Milk," but that's a bit different. However, here it is apparently being compared to worms: http://www.southboroughhistory.org/History/Burnett%20Company/Medical/Medical%20Picture/60pm16.jpg

Pecori sweat is at least preferable to pelican blood.

The food is great - as promised! I've been too busy eating it to photograph it, but it looks wonderful, too. Favourite so far is a traditional tea house I visited two nights ago: wonderful won ton, some kind of satay celery, and Korean cutlets. (Not all their food is alliterative, but mine was.)

Ah yes, on the plane I watched a documentary about the making of these things

That's really cool. I've been aware of the existence of plastic food since 1989 (when I saw Big Bird in Japan), but I have no idea about the industry. (Also my major takeaway from that TV special was the retelling of Kaguya-hime.)

You look a lot better than the animated Virgin, I think.

I'd quite like to get a sample or two as a souvenir/present, but I don't know if you can buy them. I shall keep a look out today!

... giant sign reading X Man? Okay then.

You can definitely buy the plastic food as a private person in Japan, because they've been doing it a long time and have seen that people want it, but I don't know whether it's available to non-restaurant types in Taiwan.

Pocari Sweat is a surprisingly nice drink, actually. I like it a lot better than the other Japanese sports drinks I've had.

I was looking at some in a mall today, and wondering how you'd even know whether it was for sale. Since it's usually shown with a price tag next to it anyway, you'd need some system of meta-labelling.

Ankara isn't Asia to Australians, either. Nor are the Indias, really.

That's a real difference with UK English, then. If you describe someone as "Asian" to most Brits they will default to assuming they're from the subcontinent.

I discovered this! It amuses me greatly. "Asian students" in my youth were always from Malaysia and Singapore.

I suppose that plastic food displays in Singapore are mostly found in Japanese restaurants, but there are enough Japanese restaurants in Singapore that it's pretty easy to find plastic food displays ;-)

Love that anime style nativity scene! Don't think I'll ever see it the same way again...