K.I.F.F. a “Delicious Success”

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These last few days have been rough.

Not only did I have a severe case of F-U-Mondays, but the recovery from my food bender last weekend has taken longer than originally anticipated.

I’ve never been a shining model of self-restraint–even less so when it comes to food, but all hell breaks loose when you subject me to a smorgasbord of culinary crack like what was found at the Kaohsiung International Food Festival.

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I had doubts about the chosen venue, but the Dream Mall worked well, allowing attendees to move though a corridor of food booths before being deposited in front of the main stage or along the side of it pass through and exit the festival altogether.

When we arrived Sunday afternoon I quickly went about the business of snacking on all there was to offer–successfully knocking off Taco Rico’s yellow corn soft shell tacos, roasted pork knuckle and sauerkraut from Deutsche Kuche and New Zealand hard cider from Sarkii alcohol importers. I then moved on to The Bayou’s catfish tacos, and a tasty Portugese egg tart compliments of Cafe de Macau. As promised, most of the food was priced to sell so wallet guilt was nil.

Haxstrong founder Greg Haxton

Haxstrong founder Greg Haxton

The Haxtrong charity crew was also out in full force selling raffle tickets, T-shirts, brownies, banana bread and other goodies to help further their much needed cause, and judging by the constant swarm of people around their booth I’d say their efforts didn’t go unnoticed.

Kaohsiung’s reigning burger champ The Eatery was de-throned by Foster Hewitt’s Pub and Grill for Best Burger accolades and The Bayou took the Best Pizza title, but my personal congrats go to the brave folks that entered into the Burger Eating contest.

Three 2-person teams spent thirty minutes trying to consume a 6-pound burger appropriately named “The Hulk.”

Why anyone would volunteer for such a task is beyond me as I’m sure there are health risks involved in consuming that much meat in one sitting, but I rather enjoyed being a spectator and snapping photos of a scene that looked like something out of The Walking Dead.

At the 15 minute mark the contestants were looking sluggish and I became increasingly concerned about whether or not I was in range of a potential projectile vomit barrage. The foreigner squad was well ahead of the two Taiwanese teams but I still gleefully cheered on, urging them to take one more bite to honor their respective countries.

KIFF Burger Eating Competition.

KIFF Burger Eating Competition.

When it all ended the stage looked like a lamb slaughter had just taken place and the six lethargic contestants smiled at the crowd with ketchup stained lips. The winners were given a couple gift cards, a plaque commemorating their victory and a liter of Coca-Cola.

Feeling inspired, I headed back over to the food booths to see what was left to sample.

Round two included a bratwurst from Cory’s Kitchen, more hard cider and several spoonfuls of frozen yogurt from Hello Berry. I flirted with a bite size sample of panzerotti at the Lulu John booth, but gave the full sized portion a miss in hopes of saving room for St. Louis style ribs from Blue Smoque BBQ. Sadly I had to throw in the towel. Vetti Vetti Vicci.

The food gave way to music towards the end of the night and those who weren’t too stuffed hung out and did their best to provide the bands with a dance crowd. By then my stomach was too full for me to do anything more that sway and bob my head, but I stuck around to hear K-Town’s much loved Liger Attack.

Kudos to Ryan Parsons and the participating vendors for putting together an event that everyone can boast about. I was pleased to see a healthy mixture of foreigners and local Taiwanese vying for positon in the food lines. Perhaps an added benefit to events like KIFF is that they help illustrate how diverse the foreign community is while dispelling the myth that we’re all a bunch of loud drunkards looking to get laid.

When I asked Ryan about next year’s festival he rattled off his process for figuring our how to make it even better.

One suggestion: cots and pillows for the gastro-inebriated.

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Peace.

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2nd Annual Kaohsiung International Food Festival 3/23-3/24

Image courtesy of the Kaohsiung International Food Festival

I don’t usually need a reason to gorge myself on international cuisine being that I tend to sample any and everything that catches my senses, but this weekend presents a unique exception.

The 2nd annual Kaohsiung International Food Festival kicks-off this Saturday and will offer ample opportunity to stuff your face with foreign goodies from Kaohsiung’s expat chefs. Expect to see less stinky tofu and more smoked ribs and levercase.

Around 30 restaurants and food vendors from 19 different countries will be showcasing their fare throughout the weekend and several will be competing for Best Pizza and Best Burger titles. Festival goers can also flex their skills in several competitions including the Waiguoren Wok Challenge (foreigners cooking Taiwanese food for a panel of Taiwanese judges) and an air guitar competition benefiting local charity, Haxstrong.

Besides the food there will be a DJ ad several local bands on deck to help deal with “The Itis” (AKA food coma) and an MC will floating around interviewing participants and helping to move the event along smoothly.

The festival is being put on by Event Chairman and Kaohsiung veteran Ryan Parsons who was able to field a few questions about this year’s KIFF and the festival’s origins:

DT: How long have you been in Kaohsiung?

RP: On and off since 2000.  I arrived the day Chen Shui-bien got elected and the country was going crazy!  It calmed down the next day but I thought it would be that hysterical all the time. 

DT: What are a few things that you’ve seen change since you arrived?

RP: The city isn’t even close to what is was like in 2000.  The government has (since) funded city projects that have truly made Kaohsiung a city of the future.  The international community was non – existent when I arrived and now we have the largest international food festival on the island that is completely run from top to bottom by the expat community.

DT: How did the idea come about to put together a food festival in Kaohsiung?

RP: When I used to have restaurants what I loved most was sharing my culture’s food with the locals in the same way they get excited about sharing their local cuisine with us (foreigners).  As the international community increased in size so did the restaurants opening to serve them.  Its been a project of mine for 4 years and I’m blessed to have such great foreign restaurants to be able to make it a possibility. 

DT: Can we expect to see Taiwanese food vendors as well?

RP: The Taiwanese have so many unique and fantastic festivals and markets. It’s our turn to serve them and treat them to a weekend of our food, music and culture.  Thank you for making us feel at home, Taiwan!

DT: What’s included in this year’s KIFF that wasn’t a part of the festival last year?

RP: The Waiguoren Wok competition, Kaohsiung’s Best Pizza competition, Latin dancing lessons, (food) demonstration and interactive video tents, A Bourbon Street bar and stage, more food and drink and a wider array of music and activities.

DT: One thing the absolutely MUST be sampled at this year’s KIFF?

RP: With prices starting at $60 NT we’ve made it possible to sample everything, though you may have to come both days.

Ryan graciously dodged plugging any specific vendor on that last one, but I’ll personally be seeking out Deutsche Kuche’s Bavarian roasted pork knuckle, and Mama Africa’s roti.

Keep in mind that this is a green event and everyone is encouraged to bring their own plate and utensils or else borrow them from the KIFF information desk.

The festival takes place at the Kaohsiung Dream Mall (look for the dubious ferris wheel on the roof).
Sat. 3/23 12 pm-9 pm
Sun. 3/24 12 pm-7 pm

Be sure to check out the KIFF website for updates, full menu and entertainment listings and vendor & sponsor info.

Peace.

 

 

Insta-Blurb: 5 Tips for Scooter Parking in Taiwan

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Of all the vehicles on the road in Taiwan none is more ubiquitous than the scooter. They’re everywhere, zipping up and down streets and sidewalks alike, sometimes carrying whole families, several puppies, groceries–all at the same time.

It’s estimated there are more than 15 million scooters in Taiwan (Google it) and one needs only to walk down the street  to realize that finding parking for them can be damn near impossible.

A friend of ours recently offered to loan us a scooter (to help me out with my recent job search and because he had nowhere to put it) and we happily accepted, promising not to destroy it. The first night it was in our possession it was towed from in front of our apartment building. We figured it would be fine parked next to a row of other scooters, but were mistaken and shelled out NT $800  (about $27) for a lesson learned.

Hoping to avoid being towed in the future, I decided to enlist the help of my iPhone to compile a short list of tips for choosing a place to stash the ride.

#1. White lines are your friend

As a general rule, when you see parking slots painted white, you’re in the clear to park. In busier areas you might have to pay a small fee for these spots, usually via a small ticket that a meter maid attaches to your ride. Pop into the nearest 711 to pay it.

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Keep in mind that actually finding an open white slot can be easier said than done.

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#2. Sidewalks are for walking, except when they’re for parking.

This is a parking grey area. Technically it’s not legal to park on the sidewalk, but if it’s directly outside outside a business (in this case, a casino) whose patrons have claimed the sidewalk for parking, give it a go, but try to get a spot in the middle of the pack to give you a buffer in case the tow fellas show up. Parking on the sidewalk during the day for short period of time is generally acceptable, but leave it over night and there’s a good chance it’ll end up at the impound lot.

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#3. Be mindful of the yellow “X.”

The yellow “X” is a certified no parking zone. You usually see them in the lone space where one can access the sidewalk to enter a building. This one has the advantage of side-rails for added parking deterrence.

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But every rule has an exceptional asshole who is above it.

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#4. A little wiggle room is helpful.

Don’t be afraid to move the scooters around you for added space. I assure you no one will think twice about moving yours. I’ve come downstairs many times to find that some prick has taken my scooter off the prop-stand a put it on the leaning kickstand so they could squeeze their ride in, scratching my muffler to hell in the process.

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Teamwork is sometimes required to achieve the perfect fit.

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#5. When all else fails, stand guard and wait for something to open up.

Why make loops around the block when you can wait and enjoy the finer things in life?

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Have parking tips of your own? Drop them in the comments section. Find me on Instagram @jaywoodson.

TADIT Fights for Diversity and Fairness in Taiwan

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The Taipei Times recently published a story about a group of foreign English teachers who have  launched an effort to combat discrimination in Taiwan’s ESL market. The group–Teachers Against Discrimination in Taiwan(TADIT)–was started by Annie Chen, a Taiwanese American with dual citizenship who had trouble finding work as an English teacher in Taipei because of her Asian appearance and last name. Her experience echoes that of many other non-white English teachers who have come to Taiwan eager to teach.

I remember sifting through hundreds of threads on Forumosa and Tealit before I left the states that mentioned the discriminatory (and in some cases, racist) attitudes of English cram school operators and Taiwanese citizens. When I arrived almost all the expats I spoke with told me that I would have a harder time finding work due to my skin color. It’s not that I took it in stride per se, but I wasn’t going to let it deter me from from trying. I’d survived living and working in Korea–perhaps one of the most xenophobic nations in Asia–so I didn’t think Taiwan would present me with anything I couldn’t handle. Or so I thought.

For me, reading about TADIT could not have come at a better time.

Last Monday I was called into a school that I had sent a cold email to the previous week. They were in need of a part-time teacher and I was invited to come in for a demo and interview. I arrive to the same surprised expression I’ve been getting when walking into schools; the “oh shit, he’s black” look. No problem. I smile and inform them I’m there for a scheduled lesson demo and interview. I expected to do the demo in front of an actual class, but instead had to do it for one of the managers and a Taiwanese teacher. It doesn’t bother me at all and I feeling like I nailed it. A quick vocabulary activity, some simple sentence structure and I’m done. As I’m leaving the manager tells me that when I come back she’ll show me how to use the special interactive white board. Her choice of the word “when” has me feeling like I got the job.

The next day that same manager gives me a call and explains that there is a “small problem.” I need to come back for another demo–this time for the director of the school and a different manager– because they’ve never had a teacher who was black. The explanation leaves me offended and a conflicted about rather to return for the demo. I contemplate going in and giving a lesson on the importance of diversity in leaning environment instead of anything from the textbooks. During my second demo I’m made to feel as if they were now looking for reasons to not  hire me. The director leaves after only a few minutes and I keep being interrupted with requests to demonstrate how I would teach some minute detail of a lesson I had all but five minutes to prepare. This time when I leave I’m told they will all me if they need anything else. The “if” left no question as to rather I’d be hired or not.

I didn’t plan on sharing this story via Dreadlock Travels, but after reading about Chen and others efforts to fight this type of behavior I felt I needed to share it. Everyone seems to be aware that this is happening, yet until now no one has taken the effort to do anything about it, possibly because of the assumption that nothing can be done.

According to Taiwan law it’s illegal to for schools to discriminate on the basis of race class, religion, etc–something I didn’t know until this morning.

The face of the English speaking world is a muti-ethnic one and I applaud TADIT for understanding that this is not just an employment issue to be fought in schools and courtrooms. There’s also lot to be done in changing a social psyche that perpetuates the myth that a proper English education can only be attained from someone who is caucasian. Schools become reluctant to hire people of color because they’re afraid parents will pull their kids out. No students, no profit.

TADIT has set up a blog and Facebook group urging teachers who have been discriminated against in Taiwan to share their stories. They also have projects in the works that include lobbying politicians and media outlets, as well as hosting a Diversity Day event to show the many cultures of English speaking foreigners.

From the Taipei Times article:

“We think this fear of non-white English teachers comes from a lack of exposure. If we can expose people, especially families, to greater diversity, we can help change things,“ added Hales, who is organizing a soccer tournament, face-painting, live music, yoga classes and an Aboriginal dance performance to feature in the event.

TADIT is also seeking to garner close ties with schools by creating a brochure to encourage them to become equal opportunity employers and there is talk of working with schools to give presentations on diversity awareness to students. All of these projects require help from volunteers. The group is based in Taipei, but the problem is island wide. I encourage anyone who teaching in Taiwan who wants to help to join the Facebook group and help spread awareness. I’m of the mind that this common practice can be stamped out. Chen and her TADIT organization have already taken the first step.

Big shout-out to Byran Harris and the Taipei Times for the feature article on TADIT.

Peace.

Bang Bang–(Surviving)The Yanshui Fireworks Festival

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It’s Saturday night and we have our friends Simon and Tina over for dinner. In between bites of tacos we’re discusing our plans for the rest of the weekend. I have to turn down Simon’s invitation to a pick-up game of ultimate frisbee on Sunday because Kay and I have made tentative plans with some other friends to visit a town north of Kaohsiung in search of a fireworks festival. Tina says she’s been to the festival before, but that she probably doesn’t need to do it again. She also tells us that if we go we’ll need to wear motocycle helmets.

“What for?” I ask. I’d heard very little about the festival and was putting off doing a web search until I knew for sure that we were going, but  certainly didn’t anticipate needing a helmet to attend.

“For protection against the fireworks,” says Tina.

Now I’m confused and thinking about all my previous firework  experiences: numerous Fourth of July celebrations, carnivals, the Minnesota State Fair, the Busan International Fireworks Festival in Korea. I don’t recall needing protective head gear for any of them.

Maybe the Taiwanese have different, more sinister versions of fireworks than what I’m used to. Maybe the festival is a town-wide Roaming Candle war pitting visitors and tourist against the locals. Maybe “fireworks” is an incorrect English translation and the meaning is closer to “gunpowder” or “dynamite.” Who wouldn’t want to visit a Taiwanese dynamite festival?

The next day I do a quick web search and discover that every year on the 15th day after Chinese New Year visitors flock to the town of Yanshui to be repeatedly shot by hundreds of bottle rockets.

The Yanshui Fireworks Festival (widely considered to be one of the most dangerous festivals in the world) stems from a cholera outnreak  in the late 19th century that nearly wiped the small town out. The citizens of Yanshui called upon the Chinese god of war, Guan Dong (also called Guan Di) to help fight the the disease by carrying his statue around town on a palanquin while shooting off  fireworks every step of the way. The epidemic receded and the locals have been paying homage ever since by annually reenacting the pyrotechnic exorcism.

The highlight of the festival revolves around the sporadic lighting of “beehives” –large structures built with wood or steel, laden with thousands of bottle rockets connected to a single intertwined fuse. Once lit, rockets fire in all directions and festival goers donned in motorcycle helmets and coveralls gather around and allow themselves to be pelted.

Positioning the beehive.

Positioning the beehive.

Kay and I decide to visit the festival with some friends, but opt out of being bombarded with fireworks. In fact, of the four people in our group only our friend Jenna (author of the blog Nomad Notions) is brave enough to join the rocket fodder. We hop a train to Tainan City then continue by taxi to Yanshui. We don’t make it more than 5 feet out the car before  hearing the rumble of fireworks in the distance.

The streets are lined with food vendors and local shops have tables set up with scooter helmets, gloves, safety glasses and other rocket protection gear for sale. the air smells like rotten eggs and the entire town is under a heavy blanket of smoke. Dim pulsating lights can be seen flickering through the smoke overhead and groups of people wearing matching coveralls with burn stains are roaming around–no doubt in search of the next beehive explosion.

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We stroll towards the center of town stopping sporadically to sample street food and buy beer. There’s not a lot to do for those uninterested in pyromania, but families still gather for photo ops near a creek littered with glowing ornaments of different sizes, and to send  the occasional prayer lantern floating into the sky. It’s been about two hours since we arrived and we still have yet to witness the lighting of a beehive. We’d gotten word that a large one was set to go off at 10pm, but when that was pushed to 11 (and later, 11:30) we followed others who claimed to have knowledge of one being lit a few blocks away.

Anticipation mounts as the large contraption is rolled into the middle of the street and a fellow who’d clearly been chewing betel-nut all night encourages all the foreigners who want to get blasted by the bottle rockets to be doused with water beforehand to avoid their clothes catching fire. As with many small towns in Asia, the large group of foreigners draw a lot of attention and many of the locals are taking pictures with several expats who have added themes to their protective gear (big shout-out to Captain America).

Waiting for the Beehive to be lit.

Waiting for the Beehive to be lit.

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Participants have water sprayed on them to avoid catching fire.

I snap as many photos as I can then retreat to what Kay and I think is a safe  distance–20-30 yards from the beehive, behind a parked car. They parade the palanquin of Guan Dong around the premises and the crowd quiets as the fuse is lit.

When it starts the first few shoot straight up into the air and rain down sparks onto the entire scene. Then row after row of the rockets fire directly into the crowd, causing those in the front to dance and turn away in an attempt to dampen the force of the barrage. As the fuse travels through the frame the smoke thickens and only long streaks of light left in the wake of the rockets are clearly noticeable. None of them have shot in our direction yet so I rise from the hiding spot (fully exposing my head) to take some photos. By now everyone close to the beehive is hopping around trying to cover the more sensitive areas of their bodies and the entire street looks like an astronaut rave in the middle of a meteor shower.

I whip out my iPhone and begin recording video hoping not to catch a bottle rocket to the face, and a Taiwanese gentleman appears at my side gesturing for me to follow him to a better vantage point. I crouch down and scurry behind him, feeling like a solider scrambling into a foxhole for cover. As he ushers me into a nearby tent (turns out it’s the same tent where they were storing the beehive) two rockets go off near my head and I give up on the recording. I’m way too close. 

 Luckily I end up next to a couple who have gotten ahold of some cardboard and together we hunker down behind it.  After a few minutes the barrage of rockets shifts to a different direction and I’m able to make my way back to the previous shelter behind the car. It’s been ten minutes since they lit the damn thing and it’s still going strong. Some people emerge from the crowd to take a breather and bat out the flames on their clothes before retuning to the onslaught.

When it’s finally over we emerge from our shelter and search for Jenna and some other friends to inspect for injuries. There’s a few burn holes and a mangled umbrella, but no one is hurt and everyone is wearing a wide grin. Beers are drank and we take some time to enjoy the fireworks that are being shot overhead instead of into the crowd.

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Captain America took one for the team.

We watch a couple more beehives explode (one made to look like Sponge Bob and the other shaped like a tea pot) before calling it a night and heading back to Kaohsiung. It’s 1 a.m. but some people are just arriving as the festivities will continue until 4. I’m secure in my decision not to join in on the action, but pledge to partake next year. It’ll be two hours before we make it back home–plenty of time for my ears to stop ringing.

Peace

*Author’s note: If you’d like to read about Jenna’s recount of her experiences on the front lines, you can do so here.