Archive for the ‘Taiwan’ Category

New Website

June 7, 2011

Hello all!

Many thanks for all your support over the last year as I travel, work and write. It’s come time, however, to change things up a little. As a result, I’ve launched a new website:

www.stevensirski.com

I am still trying to figure out how to post pictures, but I hope to have that done shortly. I’ve tried to clean things up a little for easier navigation. Please let me know if I’ve been successful or if something needs to be changed.

If you have any suggestions, please contact me at stevensirski [at] gmail [dot] com. I’d be more than happy to talk/chat/email with you.

As for this site, I will keep it active for now, but will stop updating it shortly.

Many thanks for your continued support,

Steve

Coffee and Coffee Shops in Asia

August 27, 2010

While writing my feature film, I turn to my coffee cup and am reminded how far I’ve actually travelled. The coffee I made today comes Vietnam, some of the best damn coffee I’ve tasted on my travels. I spent a lot of time in coffee shops, usually alone. After reading through my notes of my trip, I realized that I make a lot of comments about coffee or coffee shops so I thought I’d write them up. I’ve even included pictures for my fans out there who requested them.

As a warning, I am a professional coffee taster. Fully certified by several countries since my graduate years. Every word in this article can be taken to be The Word On Coffee and backed by my caffeine-stained, yellow-toothed smile. Further, I drink my coffee “pure,” i.e. black, no milk, no sugar.

Laos:

The bag of coffee I bought here wasn’t fresh as the beans had already dried. But I think the greatest thing about having coffee in Laos is the utter tranquillity of the place. No rush here to get your move on, only freshly ground, brewed coffee and WIFI for all of us hardcore interneters. Not only that, Laos is still pretty cheap. It was in this country that I and my Polish travelling companion debated about my Ukrainian-ness and what heritage means. The beans for sale on the main streets were priced pretty high (30,000 Kip (~$3.75) for 250 g) while the markets offered larger bags for cheaper prices (maybe the robusta variety instead of arabica?). I bought my kilo for 50,000 Kip (~$6.25). Overall, either sitting on a balcony and watching the Mekong flow by or simply out on the street corner watching people (or debating Ukrainian-ness), Laos is one of the most peaceful places to sip a good cup of coffee.

My coffee beans from Laos.

Phnom Penh, Cambodia

Hard to find a decent cup of coffee in PP but, if you must, go to the Foreign Correspondent Club (FCC) along the Mekong river. Found in a renovated villa from the French colonial era, the place is both a boutique hotel and a cafe. Get the double since a single is something like $2 whereas a double is $2.50 and is a generous serving of caffeine. Again, atmosphere is pretty cool and the service is great. The cafe is located on the second floor, overlooking the Mekong River, and out of reach of the hawkers working the street below. Lots of foreigners inside, lots of hawkers selling weed outside.

Busan, South Korea:

Okay, not much to write about here since most coffee here is made by companies similar to Starbucks and Second Cup in Canada. That is, they’re chain stores. Notable mentions include Angel-in-Us for having the Jamaican Blue Mountain blend priced at a “holy shit” figure of 7,000 Won for a mug. It’s okay, but, given it’s hype are being one of the best coffees in the world, I didn’t write to my mother about it. There used to be a Turkish restaurant in the Kyungsung University area that served great Turkish coffee, but it has since closed down.

The gold star, however, goes to Cherami, the cafe and bakery outside of Goejeong subway station (exit #6). They gave me a free piece of cake with every espresso or coffee order. The espresso itself was very good, and served in a very generous double portion. This is the coffee shop that I practiced “copy chuseyo” the most. And every time, the girl who worked the counter giggled. Worth the admission folks. I can tell you that the most expensive coffee I tried was here during the Pusan International Film Festival, topping out at $12 for a single espresso at one of the fancy hotels near Haeundae Beach. Maybe I said something wrong to the waitress (or didn’t say), but I don’t think the espresso should’ve cost that much. Ouch.

Taipei, Taiwan:

Monument Coffee. I’ve written about it before so I’ll leave this description brief. Using the Chinese Siphon coffee making method, the coffee took a full five minutes to make and was worth the wait. Highly recommended.

Vietnam:

Despite my differences with the hawkers of this coastal country, I will hands down give Vietnam the title of having the best coffee I tried. I am saddened by the fact that I did not bring more of it home with me. I did bring home a small coffee maker, but it’s been banged up since I left Vietnam (pictured below). The brewed coffee tastes and smells a whole lot sweeter than any other coffee I’ve tried. Served either in ice or hot (they look at you funny when you order hot coffee on a hot day), the coffee is pretty much the same all over the country. Saigon, Nha Trang, Hoi An, Hue, and Hanoi all offer small Mom-and-Pop coffee shops that serve the same, if not better, coffee than the chain store, Highland Coffee. If you’re on the hunt for great coffee, go to Vietnam. Just watch out for those ladies around the lake who pretend to be English students.

My coffee maker from Vietnam. Best damn coffee I had.

Chiang Mai, Thailand:

Fresh Arabica beans for you here! The coffee shop I most frequented while my travelling companion was out with the Dengue Fever was Momo’s. It was in this city that I was able to pen most of the script for my feature film, The Musician, energized by the caffeine I sucked down in Momo’s. Not only that, I managed to find a kilo of freshly roasted arabica beans to take back with me, costing only 400 Baht (~$12). If there is one place I’d like to go back to just to drink the coffee it would be Chiang Mai. As a side note, you can also order coffee from Doi Chang Coffee including the renowned “Doi Chaang Wild Civet (Kopi Luwak) Coffee” which has passed through the “digestive track of a wild civet”. Fascinating. I have never actually tried this coffee, but I will probably order a bag just to see what it tastes like. Hmmm, two civets, one cup?

And that about does it for my coffee experience in Asia. I’m thinking I may just order my coffee beans right from Thailand from now on. Why bother with Starbucks any longer?

In my earlier post I mentioned that the coffee is brewed the Chinese way, complete with a propane torch, glass bulb, and two-foot filtration system, making the coffee to have 1/3 more caffeine than if brewed the more modern filter method. That is what the lady told me and showed me in her menu. I neglected to take a picture of the machine, but managed to snag the image below from Google. In any event, the coffee was expensive but worth every dollar. I tried the Blue Mountain blend (yes, the same as the one from Busan) and here it was much better.

48 cities. 16 countries.

July 20, 2010

London (England)

Rome, Naples, Florence, Venice (Italy)

Vienna (Austria)

Prague (Czech Rep)

Berlin (Germany)

Amsterdam, Utretch, Rotterdam (Holland)

Brussells (Belgium)

Toronto, Kingston, Montreal, Vancouver (Canada)

Cheong Un, Busan, Daegu, Gwangju, Andong, Okpo, Daejeon, Jeonju, Kyongju, Boreyong, Seoul (South Korea)

Kuala Lampur, Cameron Highlands, Georgetown, Perhentian Islands (Malaysia)

Singapore (Singapore)

Bangkok, Phuket, Chiang Mai, Kanchanabury (Thailand)

Phnom Penh, Siem Reap, Kaam Samnoor (Cambodia)

Saigon, Nha Trang, Hoi An, Hue, Hanoi (Vietnam)

Vientiane, Vang Vieng, Luang Prabang (Laos)

Taipei (Taiwan)

48 cities. 16 countries.

What a journey! I’m exhausted just thinking about it! Although I was able to unpack my luggage for an extended period in Korea, it always hung over my head that, especially by month 7, I was going to be leaving. And, wow, who knew how much crap you can accumulate over a year?! Oh my! In any event, I’ve lived out of a couple cases of luggage for the last 1.5 years. I backpacked through Europe for a month before heading back to Canada to apply for my South Korean work visa, then jetted off to SoKo to teach English for a year. Deciding to stay in Asia for summer vacation, I travelled through Malaysia and Singapore before returning to SoKo, only to be quarantined at my apartment during the swine flu epidemic. Once my contract finished, I headed to Bangkok and, deciding that I no longer wanted to work there, I flew down to Phuket to do some Muay Thai training. After three weeks of intense training, I rested my shins (and possibly a broken thumb) as I bussed to Phnom Penh via Bangkok. Volunteering in Cambodia for a month left me with a choice to go to Vietnam, which I took, and spent 2.5 weeks there before taking the cheap, but long, bus ride to Vientiane in Laos. Three cities in Laos and then it was back to Chiang Mai for a few days before heading back to Bangkok to arrange my flight back to Canada. Not wanting to go back, I decided to stop over in Taipei for a week and absolutely loved it, I even started looking for jobs! But, it was time to return to Canada. Vancouver-bound, I stayed for a week with some friends and then booked my ticket back to my home town, Winnipeg.

Fascinating, that’s all I can say. I did that? I seriously travelled all those places?

Yep, says my bank account.

Yep, say the numerous self-portraits.

Yep, say the friends who politely smile when I ask what they’ve been up to lately.

Now I sit in Winnipeg putting some things together and meeting my family and friends. But I’ll leave that to another post at a later date. For now, it’s time to sit back and remember the good times.

Taipei? Fuckin’ eh!

July 15, 2010

I’m glad that I decided to stop over in Taipei for a week before heading back to Canada. I never thought I would go to this small island so I didn’t know what to expect. I knew that they manufactured half of the world (70% of LCD displays, laptops, and computer chips; about 30% of servers and dsl cameras; and don’t forget that the company HTC built the Google phone), but I didn’t know that they had some great coffee :), good music, and very nice people. Not only that, I was offered three jobs within the week that I stayed.

With GN’R’s Chinese Democracy running through my head (if only because of the title) I take to the streets of Taipei. My first impression is that the city is a mix of Korean Kpop and Family Marts mixed with western novelties such as Starbucks, 7-11s and good sanitary conditions all covered by a blanket of funny characters called Mandarin (like the fruit).

I find a place to eat: spaghetti with meat sauce, bacon, fried egg and tea with honey in it. Yes, it was THAT good.

Calorically satisfied, I venture out of the restaurant saying “Thank you” in English because everyone here (except one taxi driver) is able to communicate with me in near-perfect English. I go find a proper up of coffee made by a local joint and then go sit in a park. While in the park I see in the distance a few old men sitting on benches and I couldn’t help but think that they were thinking up the next thing they could manufacture and sell to the world.

I decide it is a good idea to get my teeth cleaned. Ow. Not a good idea. Though the dentist was cute, she drilled my teeth hard, and it hurt. What would be used to tighten bolts on a race car in Canada is what they used to scrape my teeth. What I found most amazing is that they let me walk out without paying so I could get money from the ATM. I wonder if they trust everyone like this? I return and pay the $800 NTD (~$24) for the abuse and say “Shey shey” (Thank you).

Looking for a coffee fix after having my teeth “cleaned,” I stumble across Monument Coffee. Here, you have a choice of how you want your coffee prepared. If you want it prepared the Chinese way (which gives it more caffeine than a solo espresso or Americano) it will cost $1 per minute to make, topping out at $5.85. But it was phenomenal. I’m no pro coffee taster, but this coffee ranks up there with one if the best. A stronger cup of coffee, marked by dark chocolate and maybe brown sugar flavours (really? Sure.) And since it was raining cats and dogs that day, I decided to order the hazelnut milk tea. Costing somewhere around $2.60 per preparation minute ($160 NTD = $5.20) this cold beverage was just as good as the coffee.

A few days later I want to check out some museums. Taipei has many great museums. I visit four: the Taipei Astronomical Museum, Fine Arts Museum, Contemporary Art Museum, and the National Museum Of History. All were worth the money, and it’s hard to pick my favourite. If pressed, I’d say the National Museum of History simply because it had a vast collection of paintings, sculpture, ancient artifacts, and a special exhibition on the three kingdoms of China.

Visiting museums often makes me wonder what the museums of the future will keep from our time? DVDs? Books? McDonald’s toys made in Taiwan? It fascinates me to think what future generations will marvel at and consider “museum worthy.” (Serker berker merker lerker “BOOK.” Ashen bashen goin sacken lieven “Read” blacken slacken macken “with eyes.” Gerble gobble jabber babble “English.” <Crowd> Ohhhh!)

And Taipei even has a tall tower, Taipei 101. It was the tallest tower in the world until Dubai finished their Burj Dubai in January 2010. English teachers in South Korea will appreciate me stopping in front of the entrance and exclaiming, much to the confusion of those around me, “Look at the tower! What a tall tower!”

Though the entry fee was quite steep, up I went, some 89 floors, in a very sleek and quiet elevator. After taking some pictures of myself looking out into the Taipeian night, I stopped by the crystal shop on the 88th floor. Looking over the sparkly coral ornaments in the glass enclosures as if I had the money to buy one, a nice looking lady came over and asked if I’d like to see any of them. After politely asking for the price in Canadian dollars, I couldn’t stifle my laugh when she told me the price ($6,000 for a necklace?). I told her that I’m not looking to buy, just look. And then she left me alone.

But what really got me was the description of the citrus crystal. After suggesting that the crystal should be placed on one’s desk, the little card read “Citrus crystal will attract the opposite sex.” Well no shit. Who wouldn’t be attracted to someone who has a $10,000 crystal sitting on their desk? Feeling kinda out of place, I decide that I’d spent enough time to have justified the over-priced entrance ticket and it was time to go.

After a week in the Taiwan capital, I didn’t want to leave. I felt like I could live in Taiwan, especially after researching jobs. But, to Canada I go. I haven’t seen my family or many of my friends for over a year and a half and the heart string are tugging at me.

Good-bye Asia! See you again… soon?


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