tag:powen.net,2013:/posts quintessential personal blog 2014-04-18T15:31:39Z tag:powen.net,2013:Post/678170 2014-04-18T13:55:50Z 2014-04-18T15:31:39Z A love letter to Taipei's public transit: MRT, you're awesome! Taipei (photo by Pedro Angelini)

I'm really impressed with Taipei's public transportation system: the subway, buses, and high speed rail are all extremely modern and amazingly convenient. From the moment I got off the plane, it was pretty simple to navigate. Even though there's not a MRT (subway) line from the international airport in Taoyuan yet, it was pretty easy to catch the bus for 125NT to central Taipei. I hope that by the next time I visit, the new MRT line will make it all the way out to the Taoyuan airport. Construction has been delayed, but according to the project's Wikipedia entry, it should be ready by end of 2015.

Taipei's MRT is cheap, clean, quiet, and frequent. I don't think I've ever waited more than 2 or 3 minutes, the cars are uniformly clean, air conditioned, and run smoothly and quietly. Only the very longest ride (all the way to Tamsui) has cost more than 30NT (about USD$1). The fares are calculated by distance, which is generally considered to be more equitable.

Buses are even cheaper, 15NT if you're just riding a bus, half of that if you're transferring from the MRT. I've only taken the bus once, but it was very nice and traveled quickly -- which you unfortunately can't say about buses in San Francisco.

EasyCard

One of the first things I did when I got to Taipei is get myself an EasyCard. It's an RFID smart card you can touch to the gate, and when you exit you do the same, and it calculates how much your trip costs. What's extra convenient is that you can also use them to pay for non-transit purchases in other places, like convenience stores, Starbucks, or YouBike (Taipei's bikeshare program). I actually haven't used mine for anything other than riding MRT and the bus, but it's awesome that you can.

Stations

I've found the stations to be really well-designed. Whenever I'm looking for a sign or not sure what exit to leave from, there's a map showing the surround area or a sign with the major destinations that you can access from each exit. For busier stations, there are a lot of paths and guides to manage foot traffic and transfers.

There are several machines in each station which let you add money to your EasyCard, and even though it's usually cash-only (the picture below is of one of the rare machines you can use a card at), there's always an ATM and a change-making machine (both from bills->coins and coins->bills). If that's not enough, I've almost always seen attendants on duty at each station.

There are also USB charging tables in many stations, which is quite possibly one of the most civilized ideas I've seen in a while. I don't think I would be patient enough to stand around waiting for my phone to charge, but I've seen lots of people using them, so perhaps it's enough just to plug in for a few minutes.

Why not all night?

The only thing that I find a little annoying is that the entire system shuts down around midnight. What actually happens is that the last trip starts around midnight, so there's service until around 1am if you're lucky. My aunt and uncle told me that on Chinese New Year, the system runs all night, but that's the only exception to that rule.

I consider Taipei's MRT a modern urban transportation success story, which I've had the chance to observe over the last twenty-odd years of visiting Taipei. It's only on my last few visits that I've been able to travel alone or without needing very specific directions from my relatives. The MRT system has only been built out significantly within the last 10 years, and apparently the first years of its construction were known as the "Dark Age of Taipei Traffic." Wikipedia has a helpful GIF showing the expansion of the system over time. Grey lines are in planning, colored lines are finished.

Taipei has had the advantage of constructing the system more recently, which means it's hard to compare with San Francisco, Philadelphia, or New York's metro systems. But it's not just having newer trains and buses -- the system seem to have been well-planned and well-executed. As an outsider, I don't know the details or the more daily frustrations with the system, but like with what I've read and heard about Taiwan's National Health Insurance system, I'm impressed. Of all the places in the world I've visited so far, I can only remember Hamburg's HVV being of similar quality of service, but it serves a totally different kind of metropolitan area. Taipei's population density is 2,800 people / km2, while Hamburg only has 192 people / km2.

Some Taipei MRT Tips

  • Students can get discounted bus fares, just bring your ID to get a student EasyCard from an attendant.
  • Return your EasyCard when you leave to get your deposit (100NT) refunded. If the card's been active for less than 3 months, you only get 80NT back.
  • Download this app for a Taipei MRT map on your iPhone -- it's not a trip planner and doesn't let you copy station names, so if anyone knows of a better one, please share in the comments!
  • Dark blue seats are reserved for the elderly, sick, disabled, and pregnant.
  • Escalator etiquette: Stand on the right, walk on the left
  • When riding a bus, check the bus display if you're supposed to tap your EasyCard when you enter or when you exist (sometimes both, if you're crossing zones)
  • How to get access to TPE-FREE wifi (in most MRT stations)
]]>
Powen Shiah
tag:powen.net,2013:Post/676896 2014-04-13T15:32:05Z 2014-04-13T16:55:20Z Eating my way through the Raohe Street Night Market Friday night, my friend Justin and I decided to have a walking dinner at the Raohe Street Night Market (饒河街觀光夜市) in Songshan. It's  an easy walk from Xinyi, the neighborhood where I'm staying in Taipei. In fact, during my daily wandering around the neighborhood, I had run across it in the daytime on my way to the river, which is just north of the market street. It didn't look like much during the day, because all the booths and shops are closed down, but at night it turns into a pretty exciting stretch to walk through if you're hungry for food or looking for neat shops to browse through. If you want to shop for clothes, Wufenpu is a huge clothing market in the same area.

The market itself stretches down one street, with the very pretty Ciyou temple at one end.

We passed through handily-marked gates (at both ends of the street), which in most American cities would indicate where a Chinatown starts. In Taiwan, it's to show you where the night market starts.

Right away Justin pointed out a really popular vendor selling hujiao bing (marinated pork in a flaky crust). I've waited in enough lines in San Francisco, so we passed by the 10-15 people queueing there and made our way down the street, when I couldn't stand passing by so much amazing food -- the smells were making my stomach growl! I'm not sure anymore what exactly we were looking for, but I got a pork sausage to take the edge off my hunger.

We passed by a few stinky tofu stands, but they either didn't smell stinky enough (a very important measure of how good it's going to be) or they were completely mobbed by other people. Eventually we found a stall that had a bunch of extra seating inside of the old Songshan market, and we settled in on our rickety stools for some really Taiwanese delicacies.

Oyster omelette

I have to admit, I'm not really a fan of this Taiwanese dish. I don't think my parents particularly like it either, so I also wasn't introduced to oyster omelettes as a kid. There's a little too much gooey starch mixed in with a gooey egg and some gooey oysters. I'm not squeamish about the texture, but combined with the sweet sauce, it's not particularly appetizing.

Stinky tofu

On the other hand, I've been eating stinky tofu forever. I remember as a little kid visiting my grandparents in Taipei, my parents put me in some sort of kindergarden/daycare for a few days, and when the stinky tofu man would come by in his cart, the teacher would order some and share it with all of kids. Up until this point, I've always eaten stinky tofu fried with kim chi and other pickled vegetables. It's hot and crunchy and spicy. This time though, I was introduced to stinky tofu in soup.

Blood cake

Obviously, that's not a picture of pig's blood cake. But that giant roasted pig was at the same stand that was selling blood cake, so I thought it'd be a slightly more exciting picture than some reddish-brown squares on sticks. I didn't have any, but I have had it in the past on sticks and in soups, and I don't really remember it being that different in texture from tofu. Definitely better than the German blood sausage I've had.

Giant fried chicken

Justin had a hankering for fried chicken, so we walked through the market with our eyes peeled for two ladies selling giant fried chicken. We eventually found a stand, but the two old ladies were nowhere to be seen. The chicken pieces really are gigantic (check out the photo above where Justin is holding his for comparison), bigger than any schnitzel I've ever seen. They put it through the fryer for you, and then you can choose what kind of powder to put on it. There are a couple savory options, but Justin opted for the sweet coconut flavor. You can have them cut it up for you. I think, though, that it's way more satisfying to take big, crunchy bites of a piece of chicken bigger than your head.

Yakult lemon bubble tea

You've heard of bubble tea, and maybe you've heard of Yakult (养乐多 yang-le-duo in Chinese), but did you know you can mix some lemon juice in and make a refreshing new drink? Yakult on its own would be a little too sweet to drink that much of, but adding some citrus makes it just the right amount of tart.

After criss-crossing the market a few times, I'd definitely eaten enough and seen everything. That's what I liked about Raohe over the Shilin market. Shilin is a maze of multiple streets and buildings, I always feel like I've missed something really cool. Raohe is basically just one street, and you can walk up one side of it and down the other, and you'll have seen, smelled, and tasted everything.
]]>
Powen Shiah
tag:powen.net,2013:Post/675605 2014-04-10T09:40:45Z 2014-04-10T09:45:34Z Panorama Bonanza I've thought this for a while, but the last week of exploring Taipei has made me sure: the panorama option is a really underrated iOS camera feature.
  • Square: How stupid, just crop the image later.
  • Video: Very convenient, but so far all I've done is accumulate some shaky footage.
  • Slo-Mo: Still no easy way to export to Instagram or Facebook.
  • Filters: The native iOS options are decent but I still prefer Instagram, or even VSCO's advanced options.
  • HDR: fun to play with at first but the difference between regular and HDR is pretty minimal, and I often prefer the non-HDR version.

I've had a lot of fun taking super wide-angle shot with it since panorama was included in iOS 6 (fall of 2012). Before it became part of iOS, I'd tried a few specialized camera apps, but they always ended up looking funny, and I found one desktop tool called Hugin for stitching pictures together on the computer, but it wasn't that easy to use. I did use it to create a beautiful photo view from the top of the US Bank building in San Francisco.

I admit, I've got a thing for views, whether from the top of a hill or a tall building, or even just a big open space. Particularly when I'm traveling or visiting touristy sites, taking a picture of up to 240 degrees helps capture the experience of being there.

Here's a photo I took recently on the Rainbow Bridge above Keelung River:
Panorama from Rainbow Bridge

Exposure

What I didn't realize until recently is that the panorama has improved a lot in iOS 7. I think it's gotten way better in using dynamic exposures so that if I'm taking a panoramic shot of something bright and something darker, it adjusts automatically, which helps with sunsets like this one a few nights ago in Tamsui:
Sunset Panorama in Tamsui
Compare it to this one where the sun was a bit too much at Sutro Baths:
Sutro Baths Panorama

Alignment

I think I'm getting better at shooting with a steady hand / body twist, but I've also noticed fewer problems lately with misalignment, which results in black bars along the top or bottom of the image. You can see those streaks in this picture on the top of Twin Peaks in San Francisco, taken almost exactly a year ago (might have to click through to Flickr to see the full image):
Twin Peaks Panorama

Vertical

The other day I saw someone had taken a vertical panorama, meaning they moved the phone up and down instead of from side to side. This blew my mind (I am not much of a lateral thinker). I thought we were stuck taking pictures only in the horizontal format. So I tried it out a few days ago when I went to visit Taipei 101, thinking it'd be a great subject to capture in all of its vertical grandeur. I ended up cropping down to a square anyway.

So a couple things went wrong here:

  1. I didn't get close enough to the building for the impact of a vertical panorama to really be interesting.
  2. I held the phone too close to myself. Basically started out with it in front of my chest and moved it upwards. That meant, to capture the sky above and behind me, I found myself contorted into a backbend, which I haven't since my last failed attempt at a Yoga class around 10 years ago. There are obviously less gymnastic ways of accomplishing this by just holding out your arms and moving them. I'll give that a try next time :)

I know there are some other cool tricks you can do, like having someone run from one part of the panorama to another to appear multiple times. I haven't tried anything like that yet though -- any suggestions?

]]>
Powen Shiah
tag:powen.net,2013:Post/672730 2014-04-04T07:53:55Z 2014-04-04T08:07:09Z A Visit to Grandma Yesterday I went over the river and through the woods to Shilin to visit my grandmother (on my father's side) which is the same area where the famous night market is. My grandmother lives in an apartment with one of my uncles and his wife and a live-in caretaker. She's been in that apartment for a couple years; before that she lived with a different uncle. The house we used to visit her in when I was a kid was torn down to make way for what I think is now a public park. I haven't been back to visit that area, and actually I couldn't point it out on map. The details of what happened are beyond me, but it's possible that the whole neighborhood was built on public land, with a semi-legal status like a shantytown. Building- and neighborhood-wise, though, I couldn't tell you the difference between that area and the part of Taipei New City (formerly Taipei County) that my other grandmother lived in.

I was really happy to see my grandmother, though it pains me to watch her age and for life to get more and more difficult. She's always been somewhat hard of hearing since I've known her, but that's getting progressively worse, and she was telling me this time about various other ailments (teeth, heart, stomach) and how she just feels like she's breaking down.

This sounds like way more detailed of a conversation that it really was. In addition to her not being able to hear me well, she's also difficult for me to understand. First, my Chinese (Mandarin) has gone downhill since I stopped living with my parents when I graduated from high school, which is 13 years ago now. Second, my grandmother is from Yunnan province in China and raised her kids in Burma, so her accent is also hard for me to understand. Some customs are beyond language though. My mom reminded me that I should give my grandmother a little bit of a present as a dutiful grandson, so I went to Sogo and got a red envelope. It's a little bit of a role reversal, since I used to look forward to getting these from her when I visited as a kid, but it feels like a nice gesture now that I'm older and have a job of my own.


So we're not a chatty pair, though she always makes sure to ask me whether I have a girlfriend, to which I have to answer awkwardly no. For most of my visit, we just sat next to each other on the couch while she watched a Chinese soap opera on TV. These are always subtitled, the one we were watching wasn't even in Mandarin. More often than not, they're period dramas, so people are in traditional costumes and have the most hilarious hair.

After about an hour of sitting with my 80-something grandma, I made my excuses, said goodbye, and took the train to Ximending, where I suddenly felt like I was too old.

]]>
Powen Shiah
tag:powen.net,2013:Post/657998 2014-02-25T08:43:07Z 2014-02-25T08:43:07Z Confronting my own cynicism: Facebook's new gender options Last year, I had this exchange on with my friend Laurie on Twitter. It's the kind of topic that straddles two of the worlds I live in in San Francisco: one fabulous queer world that acknowledges and celebrates the sexuality and gender diversity in the world, and a more normative world that's looking to quantify and measure people for better product development and marketing -- or more cynically, better advertising.

So it was a really awesome surprise when Facebook announced custom gender options for user profiles, almost exactly a year after that conversation.

But I'm the really cynical one these days, because I never expected a big company Facebook to do something like this and acknowledge different gender identities. Even more surprising is that Facebook added around 50 custom options, several of which I wasn't familiar with (and I try to keep up on these things). If you're wondering what all of the different identities mean, The Daily Beast did a pretty good job of explaining the options as well as the difference between sex and gender, if you want to brush up on that.

What's next?

Well, sex and gender are not sexuality, and Facebook has never given an option to identify as gay, lesbian, bisexual, or any other sexual orientation. I just checked on my own profile, and there are still only two checkbox in the "interested in" section: men and women. Either we get to list our sexual orientation, or there should be 50 new options for the "interested in" section. Which will it be, Facebook?

]]>
Powen Shiah
tag:powen.net,2013:Post/633325 2013-12-22T04:53:56Z 2013-12-22T04:55:16Z Right-sizing the American Dream

"In either case, the financial hegemons win, since they, essentially, get to have someone else to pay their mortgages. As for society, it's a losing proposition. Rather than the yeoman with his own place, and the social commitment that comes with it, we now have the prospect of a vast lower class permanently forced to tip its hat to – and empty its wallet for – its economic betters. This is the fate ardently hoped for by many urbanists, who see a generation of permanent renters as part of their dream of a denser America."

Yes, there is terrifying and growing economic inequality in the US. But I disagree with the fulcrum on which the argument of "Downsizing the American Dream" balances: you can have wealth-building suburban single family home ownership or you can have dense urban permanent "rentership".

Read more »

]]>
Powen Shiah
tag:powen.net,2013:Post/624411 2013-11-29T01:02:53Z 2013-11-29T01:03:04Z Thanksgiving musings This year, I'm grateful for change.

I'm grateful that I'm not done growing up yet, that I'm still learning, discovering, and experiencing new things. This year's Thanksgiving lesson: if you substitute cream for milk when making cornbread, add water!

I'm happy that the world continues to evolve and that I have the chance to change with it.

I'm thankful that when life throws curveballs, I'm still nimble enough to jump out of the way (that's how I deal with balls flying at me at high speed).

I turned 30 this year, and I'm grateful that growing older can mean growing bolder too.

I look forward to new friends, new travels, new chances. And lest you think it's all about the new: I'm look forward (and back) to the old friends, revisiting places, and remembering past choices too. 

The aforementioned cornbread:

Read more »

]]>
Powen Shiah
tag:powen.net,2013:Post/616657 2013-11-06T21:52:34Z 2013-11-06T22:34:53Z Neighborhood changes: 23rd & Bryant laundromat to restaurant

I wonder what kind of friendly neighborhood restaurant is coming. Fancy like Local's Corner across the street or more accessible (yet delicious) like El Metate up at 22nd?

We do our office laundry at that laundromat, so I guess we'll be on the lookout for a new laundromat now.
]]>
Powen Shiah
tag:powen.net,2013:Post/616397 2013-11-06T07:45:40Z 2013-11-06T07:46:34Z My day in the Mission: Serendipitous street art, Local Mission Market, and HBO's Looking I walked out of my apartment and headed down Valencia Street towards my polling place, only to realize that I'd be late for a meeting at work if I voted now. If I hadn't walked down Valencia though, I wouldn't have seen this parking space-turned-temporary street art installation.

At lunch, I walked over to the grand opening of Local Mission Market at 23rd & Harrison, the latest in the "local" Mission empire (see also Local's Corner and Local: Mission Eatery, but not Local Edition, which is downtown). Nothing suitable to grab for lunch, but I'll check back in a week or so to see what else they add.


As I left work, HBO's Looking was filming at Punjab again. What is their obsession with our local cheap Chinese joint? I don't care, I just want to meet Jonathan Groff and Russell Tovey. How hard can that be?

]]>
Powen Shiah
tag:powen.net,2013:Post/613649 2013-10-28T06:50:42Z 2013-10-28T06:50:42Z 588 Days Later... Looks like there might be some life left in this thing after all!

Like so many blogs, I neglected this one when life got busy. I didn't feel good about posting once Posterous was acquired by Twitter. Despite the assurances that the service would keep running, I figured these were pie crust promises, and it was time to start looking for somewhere else to keep the written part of my digital life.

Sure enough, less than a year after that (and still no replacement found), I got a real shutdown deadline. Not nearly as scary or important as the recent federal government shutdown. In my case, though, procrastination paid off and Posthaven launched in time to save the day.

Looking through the archives, I posted a lot of photos and few random videos and other things from around the web. It may still be about food (half of those links were chicken-related) and other silly stuff, but I'm also hoping to sprinkle in a few honest-to-God blog posts with more than a few sentences and at least one or two opinions.

I'll leave you with a cartoon made with the suddenly popular Bitstrips, which is spreading among my friends on Facebook. In a really unscientific sampling, it seems to be spreading from East Coast to West, unlike many other tech trends.

Welcome to the inside of my brain.

]]>
Powen Shiah
tag:powen.net,2013:Post/387252 2012-03-20T03:50:00Z 2013-10-08T16:45:20Z Ada's 30th Birthday!

]]>
Powen Shiah
tag:powen.net,2013:Post/387284 2012-03-19T17:59:08Z 2013-10-08T16:45:20Z Drag Queens + Wilson Phillips + Chick-fil-A ]]> Powen Shiah tag:powen.net,2013:Post/387292 2012-03-06T01:36:00Z 2013-10-08T16:45:20Z San Francisco's Summer is in March Some photos from walking around yesterday on one of the best weekends I've had in SF!

]]>
Powen Shiah
tag:powen.net,2013:Post/387313 2012-02-23T19:42:00Z 2013-10-08T16:45:20Z @imchriskelly's tweet from a year ago captures my feeling on DOMA being ruled unconstitutional

This DOMA thing makes me nervous. If gay marriage passes soon, I'm going to be a failure instead of a victim.

— Chris Kelly (@imchriskelly) February 23, 2011 ]]>
Powen Shiah
tag:powen.net,2013:Post/387345 2012-02-16T08:13:00Z 2013-10-08T16:45:21Z My Boyfriend is Pixelated ▀ ▄ █ □▫

This really touched me... guess I'm not such a grinch after all :)

]]>
Powen Shiah
tag:powen.net,2013:Post/387377 2012-02-11T19:26:28Z 2013-10-08T16:45:21Z It's like even Foursquare is telling me to get the hell out of bed and do laundry

]]>
Powen Shiah
tag:powen.net,2013:Post/387381 2012-01-22T08:26:19Z 2013-10-08T16:45:21Z chicken and waffles sandwich out of the back window of boogaloos

at 22nd & Valencia Oh yeah, it's wrapped in bacon and dressed with jalapeño cole slaw]]>
Powen Shiah
tag:powen.net,2013:Post/387417 2012-01-14T23:28:00Z 2013-10-08T16:45:22Z Infographics of the Day: How Segregated Is Your City?

Wow, metro Detroit is super segregated.

]]>
Powen Shiah
tag:powen.net,2013:Post/387448 2012-01-05T04:04:34Z 2013-10-08T16:45:22Z Seriously, iTunes? I'm not allowed to play this on the TV connected to my computer?

This is the same series you wouldn't let me sync to my iPhone. ARGH APPLE!

]]>
Powen Shiah
tag:powen.net,2013:Post/387505 2011-12-20T04:20:25Z 2013-10-08T16:45:23Z Geeze Foursquare, it's like you think I'm an alcoholic or something

]]>
Powen Shiah
tag:powen.net,2013:Post/387535 2011-11-29T08:27:38Z 2013-10-08T16:45:24Z Little Dragon Tales: Chinese Children's Songs

SO CUTE!
]]>
Powen Shiah
tag:powen.net,2013:Post/387542 2011-11-23T18:41:23Z 2013-10-08T16:45:24Z @foursquare @groupon this hair salon deal at the Apple store seems like a bug

]]>
Powen Shiah
tag:powen.net,2013:Post/387602 2011-11-22T10:54:11Z 2013-10-08T16:45:25Z Holy crap, Shanghai Pudong airport has super fast internet

]]>
Powen Shiah
tag:powen.net,2013:Post/387649 2011-11-12T07:10:10Z 2013-10-08T16:45:25Z The brannan filter for Jay Brannan

]]>
Powen Shiah
tag:powen.net,2013:Post/387674 2011-11-06T21:49:28Z 2013-10-08T16:45:26Z Pork hash at Brunch Drunk Love

]]>
Powen Shiah
tag:powen.net,2013:Post/387678 2011-11-01T05:06:21Z 2013-10-08T16:45:26Z I'm not sure which face is scariest

Happy Halloween!

]]>
Powen Shiah
tag:powen.net,2013:Post/387681 2011-10-18T13:53:53Z 2013-10-08T16:45:26Z Svenja hat ein Smiley von Himmel bekommen!

]]>
Powen Shiah
tag:powen.net,2013:Post/387704 2011-10-10T20:41:10Z 2013-10-08T16:45:26Z @hermioneway, cookie dough pirate! cc @jimdo @basiccookies @springub @therealaudreyyy

]]>
Powen Shiah
tag:powen.net,2013:Post/387736 2011-10-10T19:51:39Z 2013-10-08T16:45:27Z Infuriating DOUBLE FAIL: Nitwit Anthony Holtz at Baldini Property Management emailed everyone AGAIN

exposing my email address to everyone who apparently ever even vaguely expressed interest about some apartment Baldini Property Management is listing.

Thanks. As if the first fuckup weren't enough.
]]>
Powen Shiah
tag:powen.net,2013:Post/387740 2011-10-08T01:50:39Z 2013-10-08T16:45:27Z Baldini Property Management just emailed me & 40 other people in the to field. Thanks for exposing my email, assholes.

Thanks for fucking that up, Anthony Holtz.

I'm going to be especially pleased if someone goes reply-all happy.
]]>
Powen Shiah