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Sushi Masa (Taipei)

Sushi Masa

Masa is a newish entrant into the high-end Japanese dining scene in Taipei that's been garnering rave reviews online since opening in late 2006. Located on the noisy and busy thoroughfare of Civic Boulevard near Dunhua South Road, Masa's stark white interior caught my eyes immediately when it opened. Somehow it's a year and a half later that I've finally made my way there for a tasting.

First, the good: The sushi served that night was impeccable as were the cooked dishes. I can see how others might be impressed.

Where they faltered was unfortunately everything else: the pacing, the selection, the service and even the amount of food. Each misstep is small enough to overlook, especially in light of how good the sushi was, but details like these are arguably more important in haute sushi than in other cuisines.

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May 14, 2008 |

Big Crowds, Greasy Noses and Rare Chinese Art

Crowd at the National Palace Museum

The National Palace Museum of Taipei holds the world's foremost collection of Chinese art, much of it never exhibited, much less lent to other museums. After a badly needed four year renovation project, the formerly-dowdy museum[1] has reopened with a blockbuster show that displays some of the rarest and most valuable works from its vaults, said to be a once-in-a-lifetime opportunity. The crowds are understandably big which is always a challenge for anyone trying to enjoy art but the Taipei show presents an additional obstacle: nose grease. The entire show is presented in darkened rooms and everything is behind glass (owing to the fragile nature of the works). After you fight your way to the front of the throng of people, you discover that every pane of glass protecting the artwork is dotted with nose grease. Yes, Chinese paintings and calligraphy often require closer examinations to see their exquisite details, but still it's not necessary to plaster your greasy face against the glass like so many people were doing. The oily residuals blur the view of the details and all I could do was try to look around them. But there were so many nosey smudges to try to look around that it was distracting, frustrating and kind of disgusting. At one point my eyes just glazed over and all I saw were the nose prints (kind of like when your camera struggles to focus and end up focusing on something in the foreground).

I don't know if the museum wipes down the glass every night (let's hope so), but on the chance that it does, you should plan your visit right as the museum opens in the morning (9am every day).

[1] Less shabby now, but let's just say it's no Metropolitan Museum of Art. Nevertheless, the works on display are indisputably magnificent.

Feb 17, 2007 |

Taiwan Storyland

Taiwan Storyland 台灣故事館 (táiwān gùshìguǎn/Taiwan Storyland) is a nostalgic recreation of 1960s Taiwan located in the basement of KMall (an electronics and computers mall across from Taipei Main Station). You would think it would just be cheesy as hell but it is surprisingly well-done, featuring a great selection of vintage furniture, cars, bikes, posters, you name it. It's just like the old days, except it is immaculately clean and climate controlled—which is to say, it is nothing like being in the old days at all, but rather a sanitized, Disneyland version of being in the old days. Actually, to be fair, it's not like Main Street Disneyland since it is not at all cartoon-like or unrealistically colorful. It's in fact quite a faithful recreation, something akin to what you would find in a museum.

I didn't realize how big this fictional neighborhood would be until I walked in. Because it is located in the basement of a building, I had always thought it would be just a big restaurant with some nostalgic decorations, like a Hard Rock or some similarly idiotic theme restaurant. But it is a whole lot more than that—it's essentially a small theme park. They have faithfully recreated a tiny neighborhood, all in the basement. In it, you'll find: a police station, a doctor's office, a dental office, a classroom, a salon, a bar, a tiny cinema showing period films, shops, restaurants, etc, etc. There are alleys and streets and cars and bikes and old signs and posters. Aside from the no-dirt aspect of it, everything looked straight out of the 60s. There are lots of great photo opportunities throughout (there are over 1,400 photos tagged with "台灣故事館" on Flickr).

While I may not have been born in the 60s, a lot of the things in the theme park are stuff I remember fondly from my childhood in the 70s. Things like games and snacks and drinks that you don't see anymore in modern-day Taipei. My favorites were the fun old posters and signs from the past.

The entrance ticket is NT$250/US$7.51, but you are given the entire value of the ticket (NT$250) in vouchers to spend inside.

Everything is slightly overpriced, as can be expected from a theme park, but not exorbitantly so. The traditional Taiwanese food I tried was mediocre, but it's certainly edible. There is also a Japanese restaurant and a Chinese restaurant, serving fancier meals, but I didn't try those. Going for an elaborate meal at a place like this makes no sense (plus, I didn't want to spend any more than what I had in vouchers).

Anyway, it's worth spending an hour or two there, especially on a weeknight. On a Monday night when I went, there weren't many people, so you really get the feeling that you are transported back to some quiet (and slightly surreal) old town in Taiwan and you get to take pictures to your heart's content without having people in your frame all the time.

台灣故事館 (Taiwan Storyland) @ KMall B2, 台北市忠孝西路1段50號B2 (B2, No.50, Sec.1, Zhongxiao W. Rd., Taipei), 0800-887-701

Oct 27, 2006 |

Computer Shopping in Taipei

So I went looking at Mac Pros (yes, I've decided to switch back... a long story for another day). I went to an authorized dealer and asked (in Mandarin, of course, so I'm paraphrasing here): "So, is the price for the Mac Pro what is listed on Apple's website?"

"Yes," came the answer.

"So why should I buy it from you instead of buying directly online?" I'm fishing for a discount.

"Well, we could install programs for you."

"What do you mean? I thought everything comes installed and ready to use."

"Well, we could install Office for you, that doesn't come with it."

"You mean, the full version?" I asked.


"What about Photoshop?" I asked.

"Yes, that, too."

"So you can get me anything I want."


And I thought this type of blatant piracy is only available in China.

Oct 25, 2006 |

Taipei Subway Etiquette

You are not allowed to eat or drink in the subway system in Taipei and the rule is strictly followed by everyone. The trains and stations, as a result, are immaculately clean.

I was on the train today when I saw a woman accidentally spill some of the drink she was holding (but not drinking, of course) onto the floor. What happened next stunned me. She and her two friends immediately got out some tissues from their purses, kneeled down and wiped the floor clean!

Oct 9, 2006 |