Tuesday, October 7, 2008

Alright, it’s been awhile since I’ve posted. It’s time to start making processing with my backlogged photos. Trust me, I’ve got plenty of em’. Today’s entry is about the Yangkong Street Market in Taipei. It may not be one of those famous night markets of Taiwan, but I liked the area. I’m not sure how famous the area is. Maybe it’s just known for its proximity to Din Tai Feng, a world-famous Taiwanese restaurant known for its juicy pork dumplings. (Actually, I went a location in Shenzhen, China, but I wasn’t that impressed with the dishes. I need to give it a second chance though. Maybe the food is more “authentic” here in Taiwan. The restaurant does have Taiwanese origins after all.)

Actually, my friend’s mom (Mama Yu) showed me this place. After a night of sightseeing at the Chiang Kai-shek Memorial Square, we headed to the Yangkong Street Market for some food. The area is a fine matrix packed with narrow roads. These are slender streets that can barely accommodate two lanes of traffic, especially with the crowds of people walking in the street. The nightlife seemed pretty active with foreigners and locals alike walking down the street., visiting the numerous clothing boutiques, convenience stores, restaurants, cafes, and street vendors.

Obviously, my favorite part was the eats. And I must say that so far, the street food is pretty damn good. (Although, I suppose I should reserve judgment until I visit the Taipei night markets on Thursday. I can’t wait to get me some 小吃 or street market snacks.) Anyway, let's get to the pictures!

The first stop was the well-known Ice Monster shaved ice shop. What a wacky, cool mascot! (Okay, go ahead say it. Alan's a dork.)

Anyway, here are some customers ordering at the counter. As you can see from the menu, there's an extensive amount of choices. You can choose traditional toppings such as taro or red bean, or just go with fresh fruit. And man, the place was so crowded. There was a long line with no open seating available.

And here is the pièce de résistance: the Fresh Fruit Mix shaved ice. It's shaved ice with freshly diced strawberry, mango, and kiwi. It's topped off with a scoop of mango sorbet and drizzled condensed milk. Delicious!

Across the way was this street vendor selling those traditional green onion "pancakes." Note that these were different that the type I had in Foshan, China. Apparently there are a bunch of types of 饼 or Chinese flatbread. This type was fried on a griddle. As the batter cooked, the vendor would thrash the pancake with two spatulas. Thus the flatbread became airy, crispy, and flaky. Comes optional with egg.

Also across the way from Ice Monster was this other street vendor selling "pepper buns" (also known as "hu jiao bing.") These buns are filled with spicy peppers, green onion, and pork. It's got a crispy, firm outside with a warm, moist center. It's my favorite snack so far!

I liked the food so much that I went back there again on my own! I'm really craving those pepper buns right about now.

Sunday, October 5, 2008

This morning at work I came across an interesting article on the Skype blog. (Hey, I gotta find something to do for those eight hours at the office.) Apparently there's a security and privacy breach in the Skype software released by TOM, Skype's local Chinese partner. Don't get me wrong, it's not a completely different program. It's still called Skype and it has the same graphical user interface. Now it's been known for awhile that TOM has a text filter that blocks certain words in chat messages. And if it's really "offensive", the entire message is discarded. What's new is that TOM has been uploading and storing these offensive chat messages.

Now censorship in China shouldn't come as a surprise to anyone. (Note that this censorship applies to mainland China, not Taiwan, Hong Kong, or Macau.) It's been going on for many years now. And it extends way beyond just the internet; it includes all forms of media such as television, film, radio, phone calls, newspapers, magazines, literature, etc. The government has some control over all of those forms of communication. You know that whole Chinese milk scandal going on right now? Some of the Western media is speculating that the Chinese media was hushed up, prevented from reporting the recall during the Olympic Games.

Today though, I'm going to write specifically about internet censorship in China. (It's not like my Chinese was strong enough to understand what I saw on TV or read the newspaper.) Internet censorship is often referred to as the Great Firewall of China, though it's officially called the "Golden Shield Project." It's apparently prettty extensive. In addition to completely blocking certain IP addresses, some web pages are filtered, i.e. a China language Google image search of "Tiananmen" yields different results than an English language version of the same thing. And yes, there are even supposedly internet police who can monitor and manipulate information under fake names on forums. In Shenzhen, their mascot are these two cute cartoon characters called Jingjing and Chacha, (Their names are a play on words of the Chinese word for police 警察 or "Jingcha").

Personally, I wasn't really been able to tell a difference in the quality of internet in China. Maybe it's because I don't normally visit the types of websites they block. Honestly, how often do normally I go to sites about anti-communism, Tiananmen Square, Falun Gong, or Taiwanese independence? Actually, I did try to look up "Free Tibet" one time just for kicks. Many of the Google search results yielded a dead page. You know, some message like "Firefox can't establish a connection to the server..." The only blocked websites I cared about were certain personal or news blogs. (In fact, all wordpress.com blogs are blocked in China.) Honestly though, just give me my personal blog, Gmail, Facebook, AOL Instant Messenger, and Skype and I'm a happy camper.

I do have a couple of theories about why my Internet seemed alright. Maybe it was because I was unaware of what was filtered. How am I supposed to know what's been changed in a webpage when I can't compare it to the original? Or maybe it was because of the Olympics. Restrictions were supposedly more relaxed during this time for foreigners and journalists. Or maybe it was because I did all my browsing in English. I'm not sure if the search engines are set to censor certain English words as well. The list of blocked Chinese words is quite extensive.

Anyway, I hope that didn't come off as a rant. I try not to put too much of a slant on my entries. This is just something that I've been meaning to write for awhile. And now that I'm in Taiwan, I can write it safely!

(And yes, the title is a reference to last night's vice presidential debate. Even though I'm in Asia, I'm still trying to keep up with U.S. politics and news. Ironically, I'm not getting an absentee ballot for this election. So I guess I'm not allowed to complain about the next president for the next four years. Haha.)