Monday, June 29, 2015

You Had Me At Free Shipping

For a long time I tried to avoid online shopping. Not only do I have a notoriously antiquated, near-Luddite dislike of anything far too avant-garde, I also am quite paranoid about laying myself out as easy prey to the never-ending online scams we all hear about.

Not to mention I get frequent nagging reminders to save, not only from my frugal brother - but surprisingly also my mother. For someone who knows her intimately, you would think her quite amazingly contrary! For reasons unbeknownst to me, my unreasonably paranoid mother seems to think that I live a recklessly opulent lifestyle in the hedonistic jungle burning dollar bills, running up credit purchasing idle frivolities and sipping bubbly by the bottle.

I'll admit to being quite the shopaholic - but only when I'm travelling. Adventuresome folks who wander the globe without picking up knick knacks boggle my mind.

However back in stone-cold reality here, I spend almost nothing here on this side of the Big Puddle because there's almost nothing worth buying; well apart from crawling out of my hermitage for my weekly exorbitant purchase of a two-dollar ice-cream cone.

Of course in the midst of lecturing me on my apparently senseless spending, the maternal temptress herself will then see fit to send me shopping brochures.

Mom : Take a look at this!
Paul : The shopping brochure?
Mom : Yeah, aren't the items great?
Paul : Some really great stuff here.
Mom : Look at page 21. Pretty yeah. 
Paul : You want it? 
Mom : Don't buy it though. Save money.
Paul : Seriously, what kinda passive aggressive shtick is this?

I wonder is it some form of sadistic test.

Really, my mom sends me beautiful brochures chock full of tempting tchotchkes, trifles and trinkets and then with her very next breath,  adjures me to economize! Like the tantalizing siren call of a grand sale, how can anyone possibly resist? Not only is it heavily discounted - 80% off really! - but they come with free shipping?!

Wait boys, what was that I heard about a price cut? 

No need to tell me about getting one absolutely free on purchase when you already had me at free shipping!

You can imagine how glad I am sometimes that our country is somehow blacklisted when it comes to many online shopping sites. Just see how often we are left out when it comes to places for free shipping when even the most peculiar nations such as Malawi and Mongolia get a free pass. Imagine how much I would spend if we weren't the pariah of the mailing service!

Maybe my mother's admonitions are well earned indeed! Perhaps it really is time I got a shop to place all my bric-a-bracs.


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Friday, June 26, 2015

The Horror Feminae

Or at least the horror feminae of Diffident David. Otherwise now commonly known as gynophobia.

Since I've never had any sisters as a child, the world of females with their whims, wiles and fancies has always held just a little mystique for me. Though they held but little erotic interest for me, I found myself quite fascinated by the covert happenings behind the high convent walls since the only girls we knew back then were to be found there. In an all-boys mission school, a living girl would be akin to some mysterious alien coming from a distant foreign land. What wildly exotic creatures were this after all?

Didn't take very long for me to find out though since adolescence came along fast enough - and with it came, tuition classes and campfires which signalled a time for inter-gender mingling. While the straight fellows found themselves shamefully tongue-tied in the presence of the girls, obviously I didn't have that unfortunate social impediment and easily established fast friendships with more than a few.

Wow, is that a real woman? 

No matter how different we may be in personality or temperament at least we did share one similarity; staring at the cutest boys.

With the throng of females in medical school - and later in the workplace, the feminine mystique soon became something we had to hastily decipher for our survival. At least if we weren't to be regularly annihilated for committing some sort of social faux pas.

Or during that time *ahem* of the month.

So I've always wondered why Diffident David could have such an inexplicable horror of females. Even the faint scent of a woman has him reeling in abject terror. Though he denies it vehemently, we have seen him unconsciously recoil from the mere touch of a woman so we do know his inner fears to be legitimate.

Madison : Did you just flinch?
David : No.
Madison : Yes, you did! I was just reaching for my drink. 
David : I didn't flinch. 
Paul : You practically fell over the chair trying to get away from her. Flinching would be an understatement.
David : I didn't!
Madison : We don't have cooties! 

So we have confirmed that at least vagina dentata isn't one of his anxious concerns.

Unusual to think that he has two sisters to deal with - younger and elder. In fact David has been dealing with ladies all his life, even in his university days where the girls would twice outnumber the boys and at his workplace as well. Could it perhaps be some horrific repressed memory of their mental / physical abuse?

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Tuesday, June 23, 2015

Listen to the Sea

It took only a few days before we were left wondering exactly what it was that drew hordes of tourists here. Surely they didn't decamp over here in busloads just for a taste of the tangy beef noodles, scrumptious though they may be? In fact Charming Calvin felt quite betrayed by the seeming misrepresentation of the city by his erstwhile friends.

Then again perhaps it was only the dull grey monotony of the capital city that had us fooled. Perhaps we were wrong about the Taipei but surely the smaller towns around would live up to their sterling reputation!

Since heading towards the mountainous interior didn't suit any of our temperaments, we decided to concede a little by making a day trip to Jiufen 九份 situated up in the hills not very far away from where we were. Hailed as a lovely picturesque mountainous village with old world shops and teahouses that wouldn't look out of place in a Chinese period drama, the place even served as the real world inspiration for the stunning animated film Spirited Away. How could I possibly resist! 

As usual kudos to the best taxis anywhere in the world - took barely a second to flag them down - and just another second for them to agree to the hour-long journey with barely any bargaining or bickering. 


Would have to say that Jiufen has lovely scenery. Precariously perched on the steep slopes of a hill overlooking the tranquil bay, I would say the original inhabitants - apparently all nine families hence the name - knew how to pick the perfect spot to call home. Even with the endless stone steps - thankfully we were going down, it was easy enough to navigate the modest village filled with teahouses, boutiques and food stalls, all charmingly lit up with the soft glow of dozens of vermillion lanterns.

And like any other city in Asia, obviously overshadowed by twice the number of notices and signs in Chinese script!

You would almost expect bushy-browed gentlemen with queues dressed in changshan strolling out of the quaint teahouses with giggling courtesans. Or even fierce gangsters flying out of the shuttered wooden windows above.

Eddie Peng fending off the bad guys to keep the city safe

Unfortunately no shirtless hunks like that - even bleeding profusely - came around the corner though. That would have definitely made my day.

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Sunday, June 14, 2015

Holding Hands

Perhaps I had been unfortunately misled but fanatical raves about Taipei frequently mention the endless choice and variety of food available in the apparent gourmet's paradise. Since I'd been brought up on a regular diet of tangy beef noodles from a local Taiwanese eatery as a child, I knew I had no choice but to head over to check out the real deal.

You can imagine that my personal expectations for the food were impossibly high. Probably right up there with Taipei 101. After the endless exhortations by Diffident David, could you possibly blame me?

So Charming Calvin and I made a checklist of everything we had to try from the aforementioned beef noodles to deep-fried chicken steak to oyster noodles to lots and lots of chinese dumplings... and everything else in between with gallons of taro / tapioca balls to wash it down with. After all Taipei was apparently famous for the scrumptious street food!


Perhaps it was too early to clap our hands loudly. Or maybe we set the unachievable bar just a tad too high.

Absolutely no complaints about the food of course. Loved the beef noodle as always. Liked the fried chicken steak as expected. Didn't mind the Taiwanese pork sausage. Certainly deliciously snack-worthy but anything to write home about? Really don't think so.

Perhaps it's a case of being acclimatized to our more ... savoury foods back here for I find the food in Taipei just a bit too bland. Half worried that I'd turn into that horridly inappropriate tourist that splatters everything with chilli and spices just for that zesty wallop. Maybe throw in a spoonful of spicy sambal? Thankfully I refrained from such atrocious behaviour!

Wouldn't mind having him on my plate though!

Then again I would presumably refrain from enthusiastically offering Taipei as a foodie's delight as well! Short of having Eddie Peng in all his wiry muscular delight slathered with said dishes for a manly buffet.

Somewhere along our walks though, I did see a peculiar dish that looked really familiar - and yet wildly foreign to my eyes. Red yeast wine nearly ubiquitous in most Fuzhou dishes but yet gelled into a clear gelatinous meat concoction. Even I found that a bit hard to swallow!

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Thursday, June 11, 2015

Sisters

Not that I have any.

Though Charming Calvin has something quite close to it with his devoted trio of Crazy Calvinettes. Actually make that four since there's one apparently hidden somewhere in Taipei - hereby dubbed Salesgirl since my knowledge of her career is still somewhat murky.

So with Calvin making plans to find said Salesgirl in Taipei, I found that it suited my nonexistent travel plans perfectly - especially since Pretty Panacea recently decamped over there after her hurried wedding. Close enough for a quick trip after all and thankfully visa-free.

Honestly though it has never occurred to me to even pay a visit - despite all Diffident David's enthusiastic exhortations after his last eventful trip. There was some mumbled mention about the innumerable food choices there, I believe! Maybe some talk about the waterfall? Though I was still somewhat skeptical. Even after half my medical school classmates applied to Taiwan for their electives years back, the place still seemed somewhat obscure.

Nevertheless it must be worth ticking on my Asian travel list. After all with the appalling incidents that befell David during his travels there, Taipei must be quite a place for him to still recall it fondly!

Though first impressions are frequently inaccurate, mine turned out to be quite precise. As the taxi brought us to our hotel somewhere in the Shihlin area, we drove by numerous dreary grey apartment buildings, starkly nondescript in their eerie similarity. Reminded me of every other medium sized mainland Chinese city honestly.

Pretty boys saying welcome to Taipei!

Our first evening walking around didn't change my opinion very much. Though tourists - and David - often rave about the night markets in Taipei, notably the one in Shihlin, I didn't find it very much different from the ones we have back home. Seriously guys, you don't find our pasar malam here quite as impressive? Replace the beef noodles with our nasi lemak, swap the fried chicken steak for vadai - and it wouldn't be very much different from back home.

Not to mention the knickknacks and clothes on sale could easily be found in our backalleys here as well.


But it was still worth it finally getting a bite of my favourite chicken steak right in Shihlin itself. 

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