During the past week I did a few very Asian things: (1) I took pictures in a Japanese photo-booth and decorated them (2) I ate weird flavored ice cream…twice (3) I went to cram school.
I did this once before with my friend JiWon in South Korea and the concept in Taiwan seems mostly the same. You, along with some of your best friends (preferably Asian), go into a small photo booth where you are given 5 chances to strike your best pose. Then, run around the side to the touch-screen computer and choose the best 4 pictures. You have 70 seconds to decorate each picture with fluorescent-colored backgrounds, hearts, stars, and cutsie phrases. When times-up, you then choose how many pictures you want and–voila! A sheet of your photos are spit out of a slot on the side of the photo-booth machine. Price: $200NT and lots of goofy laughs.
(2) Strange ice cream
In general, ice cream is not on the top of most Taiwanese people’s favorite dessert list (if there exists such a thing).
Most prefer shaved ice （挫冰） to actual ice cream, which is why, I think, most home-grown Taiwanese ice cream is very watery and leaves a sort of bacterial-soap aftertaste. Don’t get me wrong, I am a HUGE fan of shaved ice, but sometimes the summer just calls for a large scoop of mint chocolate cookie dough ice cream and hot fudge sauce on top straight of the Halo Pub tub…whoo…gotta hold my horses. Princeton is only a week away ;)
Anywho, I was very excited to read about Taipei Snow Ice King, a little ruddy-duddy hole-in-the-wall homemade ice cream shop located just outside of Ximending famous for dishing up some very strange flavors. I was so excited, I went twice. First time my friends and I more or less played it safe and tried: sweet corn, almond, guava, and litchi flavors. Next day, my other friends and I were slightly more adventurous and tried: bitter melon, oolong tea, sweet rice wine pudding with longan, and red bean. My favorites were a tie between the sweet rice pudding and the red bean; each was very fresh and tasted so much like the real thing–but better! That was probably my problem with the bitter melon flavor (except it wasn’t better); it tastes fine at first, but the bitter aftertaste hits you full-force. Blech! They have an English menu if you ask and offer 70+ different flavors. Other strange types that we failed to try include: soybean curd, pig’s feet, Taiwan beer, tomato, and mustard.
(3) Cram School/Buxiban (補習班).
Cram school is a Taiwanese phenomenon (though China, Korea and Japan can all give them a good run for their money
as well). Basically, all students attend extra classes at cram school every day (and sometimes on the weekends and during summer vacations) after the regular school day to “get ahead,” or rather at this point, merely to keep up with fellow students. Just about any and all subjects are taught in the cram schools and an average class size can range from 100-400 students.
My friend Carl took me to Cram School Street, aka Nanyang Jie 南陽街 near Taipei Main Station to check it out. He pointed out the ones he used to attend and even took me and my friend Jon up to see one. His old teacher wasn’t there at the time, so we didn’t stay very long, but it was interesting to see the other side. The place was very utilitarian overall in appearance albeit for a giant list of student names descending down the entire hallway, denoting class ranks and which university they got into. Talk about (unhealthy?) competition. To what extent is it really helping them?
For me it is difficult to imagine such a life spent studying all of the time. Already I am tired of so much schooling. 台灣的學生太用功.
In other news, official count-down is one week. Here is what is left on my list of things to do:
At least 3 more new teashops in Maokong
Hand shaved noodles
Burmese food on Burma street
Beijing duck to-go from that place I heard about near Shida
Tainan – eat a lot of food and visit a couple of temples
Jade Mountain – hike (if not possible, go to Alishan)
Hike Maokong from NCCU
Hot springs in the rain and/or fry an egg on the sidewalk by the springs
Learn how to play mahjongg
Check out the tombs on the mountain by my apartment
Buy a bamboo hat
See a show at the National Theater
Unfortunately, on a limited budget and limited time, I don’t think I will be able to accomplish too much. But that’s okay with me. Just means I will be back sometime in the future :)