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Sep. 1st, 2005 @ 09:22 pm old taiwan still lives
Current Music: echo - Please Stay
Since I'm leaving in a couple of days, my parents brought me to an upscale-looking sukiyaki restaurant in Nanliao for dinner tonight. Only it wasn't really an upscale-looking sukiyaki restaurant, it was an overpriced seafood joint that decided that calling itself a sukiyaki restaurant would draw in tourists. A very local seafood joint, I might add--the kind of food you'd expect from a cozy three-walled eatery in a small fishing village. As per Taiwanese buffet tradition, they give you these little metal clip things when they set your table, which you can give to the chef in exchange for your choice of delicious roasted fish.

The chef's area looks much like the fish section at the supermarket--neatly arranged rows of glistening, silvery fish on a bed of ice cubes. I didn't recognize any of the fish except an enormous and very appetizing slab of Pacific salmon. "I want that one," my dad said, pointing to it. "The head."

"One salmon head, coming right up," said the chef in Mandarin a thick Taiwanese accent.

"Cut me a filet," I said.

"Pick something different lah," snorted the chef, "they're from the same fish. Why don't you try one of these?" He pointed to a row of thin, mirrored fish. "Fresh caught. Try the ones on the right--they were caught in the wild. The ones on the left are from a fish farm."

"What kind of fish is this one?" I asked, pointing to one of the ones on the right. The chef blinked, uncomprehending.

"What kind of fish is that one?" my dad repeated slowly.

"Oh!" said the chef. "It's an awu! A very tasty fish. The one on the right is a nwei."

I looked at my dad.

"Awu! Nwei!" The chef babbled something in Taiwanese. My dad ohhhhhed and nodded his head, then laughed and babbled something back.

"So what is that fish called in Mandarin?" I asked my dad later.

He shrugged.

The fish had neither been gutted nor cleaned. This put me in an odd position--on one hand, it would be a waste to not eat the delicious stringy, wild-tasting white muscle-flesh, singed brown on the edges and covered in gleaming, edible skin. On the other hand, the more of it I ate, the more I exposed the bleeding, raw entrails inside, which leaked into the fish's body cavity and filled it with blood and goodness knows what else.

How would my friends handle this situation? I imagined Leo would leave it as it was and storm out of the restaurant in disgust, mentally composing yet another angry diatribe on the crudeness of Taiwan as he zoomed home on his motorbike. Most of my American friends would find a polite excuse to leave it alone, or reluctantly and painfully finish it in thousands of tiny bites. Felicia would down it without thinking, bones and all. Jesus would make his own fish.

I just ate it. I got through about half of it before the fish started to look a little too much like the frog I dissected in ninth grade biology.

My dad's fish head came out okay (or so he says), but the soup that came with it had a fist-sized, sausage-shaped, death-grey internal organ in it (complete with valves). For the life of me I cannot imagine what it was or what animal it could have come from.

Our prematurely aged waitress, tired of such squeamishness from fancypants city folk like me, was alarmed that I did not finish my meal. "Such a waste," she mother-henned. "If the entrails aren't done enough for you, I'll bring it back and have the chef cook it again." And she did.

You might expect me to be disgusted by the experience, but I'm actually pretty glad restaurants like this still exist.
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Sep. 1st, 2005 @ 11:07 pm pandora's box of indieosity
Current Music: Zero 7 - in the waiting line
Want to diversify your musical tastes? Try Pandora. Give it a song or band you like and it will search a giant, human-compiled database of songs and descriptive, snobby phrases ("mild rhythmic syncopation, subtle use of vocal harmony, vocal-centric aesthetic") to find similar music you may like. It will play samples for you, and it will refine its search if you tell it you particularly like or dislike one of its suggestions. Pretty hit or miss for me at first--possibly because it didn't recognize most of my favorite artists (the price of being too indie, I guess). But five or six songs into the search it's getting pretty good at finding music I like. Franz Ferdinand's "Auf Achse" led me to some real gems, like "The Lost Art of Keeping a Secret" by Queens of the Stone Age and "When You Go Out" by the impressively named I Love You But I've Chosen Darkness. Incubus's "Drive" scored me Idlewild and John Butler Trio and KansasCall; acoustic guitar + strings = YES. And Zero7, oh goodness, Zero7. I think I might have to start buying CDs again.

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