Din! Tai! Fung!

After 2 months of eager anticipation, the day is finally here.

Three simple words has graced our welcome since we arrived to Kaohsiung over 2 months ago:


For those that don’t know, Din Tai Fung is the Taiwanese contribution to world cuisine.  They have been rewarded with the famed Michelin star since 2009.  And (Lani thought I shouldn’t say this since she felt it would ruffle up a lot of feathers) seeing that Michelin has stopped rating restaurants in Los Angeles, and seeing that there is actually a branch of Din Tai Fung in Los Angeles, I would argue that Din Tai Fung is the only restaurant in Los Angeles that has a Michelin Star.  Heh heh heh…

They are most famous for their 小笼包 (xiǎo lóng bāo), which are similar to dumplings, but are steamed in small bamboo baskets and are typically incredibly juicy inside, and thus, wonderfully delicious.

In fact, xiǎo lóng bāo buns are so juicy inside, that in Taiwan they are actually called 湯包 (tāng bāo), which is literally translated “soup bun”.

Din Tai Fung originally started as a cooking oil company but opened up a restaurant in Taipei in the early 1980s.  Since then, they have become world-renown, with about 50 locations throughout Asia (8 in Taiwan alone), 2 in the US (Arcadia and Seattle), and 3 in Australia.

Unfortunately, while I am such a major fan of Din Tai Fung, I cannot say that I have been to all their locations.  In fact, I have actually only been to three: the one in Arcadia (which we’ve been to like a dozen times), a new one in Taipei 101 recently with Jonathan and Kathy, and the original Din Tai Fung on Xinyi Road in Taipei.

Eating with my mom at the original Xinyin Road Din Tai Fung back in 2008

Interestingly enough, even though there are 8 locations throughout Taiwan, there are actually no locations in southern Taiwan, including Kaohsiung, which is especially surprising considering Kaohsiung is the second largest city in Taiwan.

Well, that is all about to change.

When we first arrived to Kaohsiung back in November, I took a walk through the food and restaurant area at the Hanshin Mall right next door to us, and there… shining like a beacon of light, calling a weary traveler back home to the comforts of love and peace… was a sign that had the sweetest 6 words I have ever seen written on a wall:

Din Tai Fung
Coming January 2013

Fast forward two months later, and we finally got word of their actual opening date and time: Tuesday, January 22.  Hanshin Mall put up banners all over the mall to celebrate the occasion.

So, even though I can’t say I have been to all 50+ of their locations worldwide, I have the unique opportunity to say something that I think even some of the most die-hard fans of Din Tai Fung would not be able to say: that I have eaten at a Din Tai Fung on opening day.

I have a very strong feeling that the lines on Tuesday will be very long, so I intend to get there bright and early to wait in line.

Funny enough, I think most people know how much of a die hard fan I am of Apple products.  After all, on our trip to Taiwan alone, we brought the following Apple-branded products with us:

  • (2) iPhone 4S
  • (1) iPad Mini
  • (1) iPad (1st Gen)
  • (1) MacBook Pro 15″ (Early 2011 Model)
  • (1) MacBook Air 13″ (Late 2010 Model)
  • (2) iPod Touch (4th Gen)
  • (2) Bluetooth Keyboard
  • (1) Bluetooth Magic Mouse
  • (1) Corded Magic Mouse

Yet, despite all my Apple fanboi-ism, I think it’s probably pretty surprising that I have never done the get-in-line-early thing for an Apple product launch.

In fact, I don’t think I’ve ever really done the get-in-line-early thing for any sort of launch whatsoever.

But all that is about to change this coming Tuesday.

I’ll be live-blogging from this once-in-Mike-Ho’s-lifetime event.  Stay tuned.

P.S. We were chatting with Lani’s mom about our plan for Tuesday… and she snidely remarked, “What’s the point of getting there so early?  No one’s going to be there.  It’s not that big of a deal.  Just go there around 2pm, no one will be there and you won’t have to wait.”

I tried to explain to her that I’ve been to 3 different Din Tai Fung’s, all at times that are not traditional lunch times, and all three have shown crazy wait times.  So especially given that this is opening day, and the first Din Tai Fung in southern Taiwan, it’s going to be even crazier.

Well, after this conversation, Lani and I ended up walking through Hanshin to get a few things for the week.  Even though they do not open for another 40 hours, they finally pulled down the construction barricades and revealed the restaurant, and staff was running around doing the last minute preparations.  The crowd that was already there checking out the restaurant confirms to me that it’s going to be crazy on Tuesday.  There was even a queue of people who had lined up just to ask some of the staff questions!

And finally, speaking of crazy, clearly I am not the only one who is looking forward to Tuesday:


This past week, the most unfortunate thing happened… Lani’s MacBook Air broke down.

Actually, it turns out it wasn’t her MacBook Air, it was more specifically the brand new SSD “upgrade” that I had put in her Air a few weeks before we left for Taiwan.  (Other World Computing will be hearing from me shortly after we get back… but I digress…)

Unfortunately, and for reasons past my understanding, there are actually no Apple Stores in Taiwan.  My hunch is that it has to do with some sort of Taiwan vs. China thing — China has 8 stores, yet the GDP per capita in Taiwan is over 4x that of China’s, which is odd considering Apple’s notoriously high prices for it’s products.  I tend to wonder if there’s something else going on, especially considering that the products, themselves, are made in China… but I digress… again…

Anyway, in order to have repairs done in an Apple product in Taiwan, you can go to any number of Authorized Apple Service shops.  The closest one to us was a little store called (no joke) Lemon Computer.  It is located on Jiànguó Road, which is known colloquially here as Computer Road.  But I prefer to call it… “Nerdvana”.

In California, it is all about Fry’s Electronics.  It is the place where I can get my weekly (or sometimes daily) hit of geekdom.

And if it’s after 9pm or before 9am, then there is always NewEgg.com online.

But I tell you… all the Fry’s locations in California combined, plus NewEgg.com, have nothing on Jiànguó Road.

We are talking a whole mile of computer stores… back-to-back.

Anyway, as inconvenient as it was to have to do computer repairs out here, I was pleasantly surprised with one thing.  The total cost it took for them to do everything, including diagnosing the problem, replacing the faulty SSD with the original one (which fortunately we had brought with us to Taiwan), reinstalling the latest copy of Mountain Lion, and then running final diagnostics on everything: 850 NT, or roughly $29 USD.

Imagine that, compared to something like Geek Squad in the US, where (I believe) that an initial consultation for computer hardware repair starts at $90.

Anyway, I’m happy to announce that Lani is back up and running with her MacBook Air now, so that I now have full, unimpeded access to my own 15 or so Apple devices here. =P

The Day in Taipei

Some friends of ours from the Bay Area (Jonathan, Kathy, Danvin and Frankie) were all in Taiwan this week, so we decided to meet up in Taipei for the day.

Interestingly enough, today was the first time we’ve been in Taipei since arriving here a month ago.  And actually, it might actually be the only time we’ll be in Taipei for the remainder of our stay here.

Since we knew we’d be running around a lot today (and since we wanted a day off), Lani’s mom was gracious enough to take Jennica for the day… so, in short, Lani and I partied.

Going Giddy at Taipei 101

More strangeness at the coral stone exhibit, at the top of Taipei 101

It was actually a pretty chill time… we spent most of the day walking around Taipei with Jonathan and Kathy, eating lots of food and checking out the sites (and since we’re technically tourists, sightseeing would obviously include a trip to Taipei 101).

At night, Danvin and Frankie were able to join us as well, and we headed to Shilin Night Market, indisputably Taiwan’s most famous night market.

Kathy and Jonathan enjoying probably one of Shilin’s best known dishes, the larger-than-your-face chicken steak

Okay… so the rest of this is slightly NSFW. =)

Now, I’m not sure if I was just being overly joyous with having a full date-day with Lani without Jennica, or if it was the motorcycle exhaust that I had been breathing in all day from walking the streets of Taipei, but I couldn’t help from acting completely immature (like, teenage boy-style immature) at the night market.

Most Taiwanese night markets have a dish called 大腸包小腸 (dà cháng bāo xiǎo cháng), which directly translated actually means “small sausage wrapped in big sausage.”

By itself, this shouldn’t be particularly hilarious or unusual.  I’ve actually known about it for years, and I’ve had it on occasion (it’s a pretty fatty/oily dish, but it’s not bad).  But for whatever reason, on this night, I couldn’t stop giggling at the name.

So suddenly, the rest of my evening was spent on a mission to try and buy a “small sausage wrapped in big sausage” and to take an inappropriate photo of some kind with it.

After about 15 minutes of searching, I had found my food stall.

Thankfully (and to Lani’s relief), I guess it ended up being not-so-inappropriate of a photo.

But should any of our friends think I was being inappropriate, let me just tell you that I was not the only one with a dirty mind.

Check out the stall that was right next door to the sausage guy:

(Half) Marathoning and Morning Markets

So I forgot to give the quick update, but I’m officially registered for the Half Marathon in the 2013 Kaohsiung International Marathon.  After doing a bit of research… I found out that this race is no joke.  They’ve got three events: a full marathon, a half marathon, and a 3.5k “Fun Run”.  Last year, they had over 17,000 runners (most of which were doing the Fun Run), and this year they’re expecting over 20,000.

As a reference point, this past year’s US Half Marathon had only 4,000 people.

The breakdown for the events are 2,000 marathoners, 5,000 running the half, and the rest (they’re expecting over 14,000) running the 3.5k.  They have registrants from all over the world (and by “all over the world”, I mean Kenya).

I actually almost didn’t get in… they had originally closed up registration pretty fast (sold out within 4 days).  But then they announced that they would open it up again for a few more spots… and so I made sure to be my computer when they said they would open it up again.  Apparently I wasn’t the only one trying to get in on the second-chance registration pool — the webserver crashed continually when registration opened up again (btw, HTTP 503 errors look pretty funny in Chinese).  After about 45 minutes of hitting Command-R in Firefox, I finally got registered.

Soooo… I guess that means I need to start training.

So I’ve been waking up early to do some of my longer runs… and this morning I passed by something that I had never seen before.

Taiwan (and most of East Asia in general) are well known for their night markets, which Lani posted about last month.

Well, this is the first time I saw… a morning market.  Scores of rows of fresh meat, vegetables, etc., and it was getting some pretty decent traffic, all at 6:40am on a Saturday morning!

I’m at about 6.5 miles, with about 8 weeks of training to go!

Mi Casa es Su Casa… um… literally

I can’t believe we’ve been here for a month already!  The time is really flying by.

I wanted to put up a few posts that would help  illustrate what we do on more of a day-to-day type of basis… and of course, one obvious post would be about our apartment here in Kaohsiung.

As I mentioned earlier, with the help of Lani’s relatives we were able to secure a great 2 BR, 2 BA apartment that is in a prime, central location.  It has a great view (13th floor) overlooking Bo Ai Road (one of the main roads in Kaohsiung), and it is right next to a 7-11 and it is just across the street from a mall, both of which can provide almost every amenity we would need.

We had booked this place way back over the summer, so when we arrived into Kaohsiung, we were naturally eager with anticipation to finally be able to see it in person.

When we entered our new home, it was everything we had hoped it would be.  It was cozy and nice (about 900 square feet).  Not extraordinarily big, but definitely enough room for the 3 of us for the next 4 months.  Furnishings were a bit sparse (the definition of a “furnished” apartment is slightly different in Taiwan than it is in the U.S.), but the view was spectacular:

A nighttime view from the larger apartment overlooking Bo Ai Road and Hanshin Department Store

Now, one interesting little twist to all of this is that just a few weeks before our trip, Lani’s mom had found a second unit in the same building… a smaller 2 BR, 1 BA unit which would be perfect for her.

So as we were looking at our place, Lani’s mom went straight to her place in the same building.  As we were walking through, about 5 minutes later Lani’s mom walks into our apartment and is nearly in tears.  “My place is too small!  I can’t live there for the next 4 months!”

Then, she takes a quick glance at our place, and says, “Do you want to trade?”

At first, we thought she was half-joking.  But it turns out, she was totally serious.


So now, we’re living in a much smaller (about 600 square feet) apartment with the three of us… while Lani’s mom is living by herself in a 900 square feet, 2 BR unit.

Our apartment… the living room, dining room and kitchen… in one room.

Despite the comical disparity of the two units, the apartment is actually not bad at all… sure, it’s definitely smaller, and the one bathroom for the three of us was a bit of a concern when we first moved in… but as you can see from the pictures it’s definitely a very nice place, and I’m excited to be able to call it our home for the wonderful months that we are here.

The Master Bedroom

Jennica’s Bedroom… with Lani napping in it…

Oh, except for one thing…

The unit is on the 4th floor, so we get a lot more of the street noise.  And since we’re right next to the 7-11, for some reason it’s like the total post-bar or post-KTV hang out spot for the local Kaohsiung hoodlums.  Basically, most nights at around 4 in the morning, we here a barrage of laughter and loud conversations right outside our apartment.

Ah… the joys of city living.

Learning About Taiwan: Sales

As would be the case if we were in any other part of the world, one thing that we do regularly is go shopping.  With all the malls and shopping centers and department stores here in Kaohsiung, it’s pretty easy to spend a whole afternoon looking for great deals.

This past weekend we wanted to do a bit of Christmas shopping so we decided to check out Eda, which is a new outlet mall, amusement park and hotel complex located about a 20 minute bus ride from the center of Kaohsiung.

An outlet mall, an amusement park and a hotel.  All in one place.  How awesome is that?

Jennica loving the Ferris wheel at Eda

Anyway, like in any materialistic society, Christmas sales are in abundance here as well (even though they don’t actually celebrate Christmas here… more on that in another post).

However, one thing that took me a while to figure out: how much is something *actually* on sale for?

So 200 points for someone who can answer this on the first try: what does the following mean?

What does the “6″ on this sale sign mean?

If you thought… oh, it means everything here is $6.  Nope.

How about: 6% off?  Negative.

Or: Take 6… and run as fast as you can away from the security guard that’s running after you!?  No.  Well, maybe… but no.

Give up yet?

It means… 40% off!

No… not 60% off as you might be able to guess… but 40% off.

Yeah.  That’s right.  A big “6″ on the sign means 40% off.

Basically, what the number is telling you is that prices are marked at so-many tenths of what it originally is.  Got that?

Hmm… okay, for those that need a little bit of further assistance with this, I’ve come up with a formula which you can feel free to commit to memory next time you decide to come shopping on the island of Formosa.

p = 10 * (10 – x)

Where p is the “% off”, and x is the number that you see on the sign.

Is that better?

If not, or if you are having trouble committing the above formula to memory… please wait a few months and I’ll put up my “Help Me Understand This Sale Price in Taiwan” app up on the App Store.

Faster than any Potsticker in America

One of the amazing things about Taiwan is their bullet train, more formally known as the High Speed Rail (HSR) or 高鐵 (gāo tié).

Where we live in Kaohsiung is actually the southern-most point of the HSR, and Taipei is the northern-most point.  The 214 mile trip takes just 90 minutes.  (For those that are following along, that’s about the equivalent distance between Sunnyvale and South Lake Tahoe!)

It’s incredibly convenient, as trains depart at least every half hour.  Cost is a bit on the more expensive side though… one-way adult tickets between Kaohsiung and Taipei will run you about $45 or $50 per person.

As a small tangent while staying on the topic of convenience… there are 7-11 stores everywhere here.  I think if you total the number of Starbucks and McDonald’s in what most people would consider Northern California (which is roughly the size of Taiwan), you would find that it would only total to about 2% of the total number of 7-11 stores that exist in Taiwan.

No joke.

In relatively short 2-1/2 block walk I take from the train station to my office, I pass by no less than five (that’s right… five) 7-11 stores.

In the Kaohsiung HSR station alone… there are 2!  There’s one regular 7-11 store… and then there’s a second store which is so cute, I’ve started nicknaming it “.7-11″ (as in, “point seven eleven”).

And in fact, in the Taipei HSR station… there’s an even cuter one which I call “.007-11″ (as in, “point double-o seven eleven”).

Okay… enough about 7-11′s and the train stations.

Back to the train itself…

Nothing beats the feeling of traveling at almost 300 km/h…

And if you’re like me and can’t do the math in your head… thankfully “there is an app for that” (Convert from Tap Tap Tap… which by the way is an invaluable app if you plan on traveling to any country that uses the metric system… which is pretty much the rest of the world).

181 MPH.  On a train.  Ugh, we really need a bullet train in California.

P.S. Oh, and for those that don’t know, the Chinese for potsticker is 锅贴 (guō tiē)… so Lani and I have always been wondering: if we jumped into a taxi cab and asked to be taken to the “potsticker station”, would the driver think it was funny?

Á Mà

We took a day trip up to Taichung today to visit my grandmother, affectionally known as 阿媽 (á mà).  It was a really good trip.

Unfortunately, my grandmother is suffering from dementia, and the last time I had visited her (2 years ago), I was caught completely unprepared with the first line that came out of her mouth when she greeted me at her door, “And… who are you?”

Anyway, the updates I received on her condition over the past 2 years weren’t too good… it was mostly that her condition was continuing to deteriorate.

So when we arrived, I was very pleasantly surprised to see how healthy she looked. She seemed vibrant and full of energy… and she was definitely excited to see me and her great granddaughter.

But despite her strong physical condition, her mental condition was indeed deteriorating.  Not only did she not remember me again… but I would actually have to re-introduce myself to her every 15-30 minutes.  Whenever she left the room and then came back again, she would ask things like, “What’s your name?  What’s your daughter’s name?”

Despite all of this, we still had a wonderful time going to lunch and hanging out in her house.

Learning About Taiwan: Basketball

I had the opportunity to play some hoops yesterday morning with Lani’s cousin Tong Fu.

Over the past decade or so, basketball has quickly become one of the favorite sports of the younger Taiwanese pop-culture generation.  Anytime you go near a gym or a sports apparel shop, you can see life-sized posters and advertisements featuring Kobe Bryant, Lebron James, or (and this was a bit more surprising) Derrick Rose.

You can see NBA games live every Sunday morning on channel 75 out here (which ends up being the Saturday afternoon NBA lineup in the states)… and they even replay them on Sunday night / prime time.

But add on top of that the recent fanfare surrounding American-born Taiwanese Jeremy Lin, any time you walk by a park or a school with basketball courts you’ll see scores of kids playing ball, wondering if they could be the next Taiwanese NBA star.

And speaking of Lin, he’s gotten to be quite a household name around here.  Lani was a wee-bit too excited to see him featured in a television commercial for Volvo out here… speaking in Mandarin and everything.

But I digress…

Anyway, I learned that there are quite a few differences between the way we play in the US vs. the way they play out here.

First of all… they don’t typically run 5-on-5 full court.  The preferred game is 3-on-3 half court.  Walking by the courts near our place, I regularly see groups of 10 or so guys… but because of their preference to play 3-on-3, they’ll only have  6 playing, with 4 guys waiting… even though the other half of the court is free and can be used for a full court game.

I asked Tong Fu why, and he basically said “eh, too much running.”

Second of all (and I guess partly due to the fact that they typically only run 3-on-3), “pick up” basketball is pretty rare.  Usually, when guys come together to play ball, they’re only playing with friends or guys that they already know.  And I guess it’s a lot easier to regularly get a group of 6 friends together than it is to get 10, which is why there is not as much culture or history for “pick up” ball here.

Anyway, since it was just Tong Fu and I, we did end up getting picked up — well actually, Tong Fu just went up and asked a group of 6 whether or not we can join.  Fortunately for us, the spirit of hospitality that is engrained in Taiwanese culture did extend onto the basketball court.  So while the group of guys did look a bit surprised to be asked, they were nice and let us in anyway — so we ended up running 4-on-4 (but still half court).

It was a ton of fun (I hadn’t actually played since moving away from the Bay Area back in March)… but a few other quirks that I noticed:

  • Even though it’s half-court, they play “losers ball” and not “make it, take it”
  • They always count by 2′s and run with 2′s and 3′s
  • When the ball goes out of bounds, they inbound from where it went out of bounds (similar to organized play)
  • Whenever there is a foul, they inbound from underneath the basket along the base line (also similar to organized play)

I wasn’t entirely sure if this was just the style that this particular group of guys played with or if it was more the cultural norm… but looking around at the other games going on on the schoolyard we were playing at, it did seem pretty consistent across the board.

Anyway — it was a lot of fun, and it looks like Tong Fu and I are going to try and make this a regular weekend thing.  Woot!

It’s Cold… in Kaohsiung

Similar to how when we had left San Diego, it has gotten cold in Kaohsiung.

Like, unseasonably cold.

For those that know me know that I rarely wear a jacket, let alone pants.  Well, this past week I had to wear both.

And for Jennica, well we had to bundle her up as if we were in Tahoe:

Anyway, after I received the following email from my mother, I finally realized why.

Hell has frozen over… again.

LOL.  Again.