Monday, February 24, 2014

Starbucks Chocolate Pretzel Mocha


This is what greeted me when I returned from Taiwan back to my home in Japan:

A new beverage for the new year.

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Like all of Starbuck's unique beverage offerings in Japan, it was way too sweet and overloaded with toppings....


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Not surprisingly, it was better in a frappuccino form.


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Friday, February 21, 2014

Tea in Taipei

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If you’re set on having afternoon tea in Taipei, Smith & Hsu is a good way to get a local experience. There are many large chain hotels that offer afternoon tea in their lobbies, but I opted for something more local.

After checking out their review on the blog Hungry Girl inTaipei, which is basically the food bible for all things Taipei, I was curious to try the soft moist scones of Smith & Hsu.

Although the place serves traditional western style afternoon tea, the interior and décor is very modern and Asian influences. The dark wooden door and black cabinets with color coordinated tea sets had a posh and modern tone.

Instead of selecting tea form a menu with ten options, we were handed a wooden box filled with over 80 small glass jars of tea leaves. After sniffing all of them, we selected an aromatic vanilla tea, and the season Orange tea.

Both were savory and delicious. Our food arrived afterwards, and we were treated to a delight of finger sandwiches. Sweet pastries that were just the right ratios or size and sweetness.  We concluded with four scones, one of each flavor, including the season green-tea scone. Each one was better than the last, and as usual we left the tea feeling full all day.

I’ve had afternoon tea all over the world, and although this place doesn’t have the ambiance of the Burj Khalifa, or the prestige of f the Peninsula, I would rate this as one of the best afternoon teas I have attended, if anything for the lavish tea selection and the ability to smell before selecting.


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Tuesday, February 18, 2014

Letters from Taipei

I kept a short diary in Taipei from December 25th, 2013, to January 6th 2014. I had no purpose for writing, other than to chronicle my observations, thoughts, and feelings from each day. Taipei in a city of nostalgia from an untraceable source, inextricably tied to its mood, which changes every moment.




December 25th, 2013 Taipei midnight

Flew into Taipei on a rainy winter night. It was film noir weather. The rain crackled and sizzled. Here in this city, the rain doesn’t fall straight down from the sky, striking the ground like tiny arrows. It explodes in the air, flies around from all directions, lingers statically like mist. When you walk outside you are instantly wet, though you might not realize how that came to be. It’s the kind of rain that forms clouds around pockets of light, like tiny glowing bulbs in the night sky.
We arrived in Xindian just after 9:00 pm. The streets were alive with people eating seafood from rickety benches,  a clear plastic sheet enclosing the restaurant from the elements. Skyscrapers, illuminated, shot up in the horizon, marble geometric structures breaking the backdrop of the night sky.  And beside them, in that ever so sweet Taipei image of juxtapositions, were shanty condos with rotting iron bars on the windows.
We live up on the fourth floor of one of these charming structures. The iron bars made a pattern fashionable in the 1970s, but dated in the 2010s. I climbed the steps with excitement, a heart exploding with joy. How could I not love it here.
Taipei is dirty, gritty, raw. It’s the grainy details in an old film. It’s that foggy memory that conjures up excitement with no real image.
Even with the glass paned doors closed, I can hear the sharp sound of the rain striking the tin roofs. Like the jingling of keys. Loud enough to make you feel un-alone.  It doesn’t have a pattern, the rain, so that each time it hits the roof it has a different chord. A new melody is composed. 

Saturday, February 15, 2014

Starbucks Holiday Season in Taiwan

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Happy holidays from Taipei!



It's a bit late, but definitely worth being immortalized on the internet:

After enjoyed Starbucks’ holiday offerings in Japan, I was a bit disappointed to see only two special drink in  Taipei. However, seeing as how they were both excellent,  the disappointment was short-lived.

The drinks in Taiwan were simpler than Japan, relaying on interesting flavors, more than lavish toppings and decorations.

My personal favorite was the Toffeee Nut Latte. Considering that Starbucks in the U.S. has Toffee Nut syrup year-round, I didn’t think this was particularly festive, but apparently Starbucks n Taiwan and Japan only have Vanailla or Hazelnut lattes off-season.  The whipped cream light, gingery toppings was a nice added touch.


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Toffee Nut Latte



The Praline Mocha was also a great offering. I generally avoid mochas unless it's the white mocha. However, this praline mocha was delicious. The drinks is Taiwan have are less sweet and more subtle than Japan. It was a nice break from the toppings crazed 30-flavor madness of Starbucks Japan.


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Praline Mocha




While I was in Taiwan, I also tried the Asian Dolce latte. Although it is not a seasonal offer, it is unique to Taiwan (and Singapore, apparently). I loved it the best, and I am so glad that it is offered year-round. The unique ingredient is apparently “dolce sauce,” which means nothing to me. I still don't know what is particularly "Asian" about this drink, but I love it.


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Asian Dolce Latte

Tuesday, February 11, 2014

The Halfway Point


I'm beginning this entry at a café in Kyoto. It’s drizzling outside. Not so much as to drench someone, but steady enough to be noticed after a twenty minute walk.  Even now, I'm seeing out of my glasses frames through the tiny drops of rain that remain on them.

This week was my 6 month anniversary in Japan. That means I'm exactly halfway into my one-year adventure. Halfway done with my one-year work contract, and halfway home.

I have mixed feelings about reaching this stage.

So much has occurred in the last six months, and I just can’t imagine spending the equivalent amount of time here and having just as many experiences, good and bad. It’s almost depressing that I’ve come this far and I am still only halfway finished.

The neighbor's house in winter
Just when I thought I had overcome the most difficult phase in culture shock I regressed almost as soon as I returned from Taiwan this January.
I’ve realized that process of changing myself is not linear. There are periods of regression, and plateaus. The hard moments seem to last forever, and the good times are all too fleeting.

I expected to be further along and better off by now. But I'm still wresting with many unmet goals and unfinished developments, emotional and professional.

I came to Japan with specific goals and an inflexible deadline, and I don’t feel that I have halfway met my expectations. I'm afraid that soon I’ll be sitting on the plane back home to America this August and writing about how I didn’t accomplish the things I needed to in Japan. 

These past six months have been filled with experiences, both profound and mundane, that I never expected to have. I butchered and cooked a wild boar (coming from someone who get grossed out in the meat aisle at a grocery store), I ran a 10K (coming from someone who was totally sedentary in the states), I drove (um, drive) on the opposite side of the road (coming from someone who was so afraid to drive, her parents had to force her to go to driving school and get a license at 16), and I made an ATM wire transfer in Japanese (coming from someone with only rudimentary language skills).

More profound experiences happened at a slower rate, taking days and months to manifest. 

I managed to find joy in my job (I never write about work because 1. I'm not allowed to, and 2. I generally despise my job).  However, in recent times the 40 hours a week I am spending at my office are becoming more bearable, which has greatly improved the other 128 hours I have for myself each week. 

I learned to live with, and love, the odd quirks of my strange home. I have learned how to live alone, a process that has taken six months to learn, and one that I am still learning.

I  managed to meet and make new friends in ever changing situations. I learned how to step outside my comfort zone and into theirs, so that I can accommodate and cultivate relationships with an even wider range of people in my life.

I learned, and am continuing to learn, how to  successfully navigate a long-distance relationship, how to share my joys and struggles with somebody halfway across the world.

A black cat watches from a balcony in Kobe

Something else I have come to realize:

I didn’t do any of this alone.

Whether I was receiving support  from my friends and family across the globe, or my neighbors right next door, everything takes teamwork.

Nothing good in my life exists solely because I created it.

I owe words of gratitude to those people who helped me. From the foreign friends who graciously taught me how to use my household appliances and pay my bills, to my Japanese friends who translated everything from cleaning bottles to hospital forms, and helped me through awkward cultural situations.


ありがとうございますand thank you.  Thank you. Thank you.

I also owe some words of gratitude to complete strangers, sometimes for what they do, but also for what they don’t do. They don’t stare, they don’t ask rude questions, and they don’t steal my belongings if I leave them at my seat while using the restroom in a café.  This is great. Strangers, keep not doing those things. Thank you.

In the next six months I will be discovering new places, (Kyoto, Sapporo, Wakkanai), and revisiting old ones (Tokyo, Osaka, Hiroshima).  I will be doing a lot more writing, a lot more running, and a lot more living.

I will probably  also be doing a lot more driving, and ATM transactions. But no more boar-slaughtering. 
Once was enough, thank you. 

Cafes of Taipei

Last time I was in Taipei, I was overwhelmed by the sheer number of cafes present on every street corner, I didn't ev...