What the Duck?

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Kaohsiung’s massive rubber ducky at night.

Last weekend I wanted to check out a Cafe near Kaohsiung’s Sihziwan bay, but plans had to be aborted.

The streets near our apartment were impassably clogged with vehicles containing people hell bent on seeing the 60 ft. yellow duck floating in Kaohsiung Harbor.

The duck is the work of Dutch artist Florentijn Hofman, who has exhibited different versions of the childhood favorite in several countries around the world. In 2009 it was on display in Osaka Japan and it caught the attention of Kaohsiung city government officials including Mayor Chen Chu who–after hearing the duck would make a showing in Hong Kong–sent Hoffman a letter to persuade him to bring his duck to Kaohsiung.

You needn’t only search to hashtag, #rubberducky to see that the duck has been well received in the countries that it has visited, but Kaohsiung has gone absolutely crazy over this thing.

The duck was officially unveiled on September 19, as Typhoon Usagi was expected to hit southern Taiwan. The typhoon barely dusted Kaohsiung City and more than half a million people showed in the first week to get a glimpse of the floating giant.

500,000 people.

What exactly is the cultural relevance of a rubber duck? Remember Ernie from Sesame Street? He proclaimed his love for a rubber duck while taking a bath and the yellow fowl instantly became the symbol for bath time, but I doubt Hofman is taking his duck around the word in an effort to promote global hygiene. Do they even watch Sesame Street in the Netherlands?

Since the beginning of September everyone’s been looking to get their share of the $30 million in revenue the duck is estimated to bring in. Every 7-11 in Kaohsiung is selling small replica ducks and duck cups and duck hats and duck pens.  Bars and restaurants have put up duck decorations and have begun selling duck memorabilia, and some places have added duck inspired items to their menus.  The city has begun selling taxi tours that take in all of Kaohsiung’s sites before stopping to check out the yellow beast. Vendors near the pier sell  balloons, hats and other duck inspired souvenirs. Even the guy who usually sells peanuts in front of our apartment building has suspended his nut sales and is now offering 4-packs of miniature rubber ducks. It’s not the authorized merchandise you’ll find on the duck’s official website, but it doesn’t seem to have affected his sales.

Duck inspired birthday cake.

Duck inspired birthday cake.

Hoffman says his duck is meant to spread happiness around the world, but a comment he made for the Associated Press makes me question if he has other motives as well:

“This big rubber duck in your harbor, in Kaohsiung in this case, changes Kaohsiung. And it changes also your fantasy and your brain. And it’s a piece of art.”

My hope is that this is nothing more that artist jibberish, otherwise it sounds like Hofman is trying to induce all of Kaohsiung with a psychedelic animal fetish.

Whatever his intentions, some Taiwanese have wasted no time in comparing their duck with one currently on display in Beijing–also created by Hofman. Duck fetish or not, he may have just helped Taiwan stick it to China.

Taiwan’s duck is not only taller than the one in China (and second biggest in the world), but event workers in Kaohsiung have figured out a way to inflate their bird in a fraction of the time that it normally takes. In China visitors must pay to gaze at their duck whereas here in Kaohsiung it’s free of charge 24 hours a day. Both ducks had test runs before their official debuts, but the duck in China had a hard time staying inflated during it’s opening week.  Taiwan: 3. China: 0. Just saying.

It’s easy to poke fun at this for all of it’s whatthefuckery. Having a 60 ft. rubber duck parked in your harbor is certainly newsworthy, but is it really worth the hype? Is it worth battling the crowd and the heat to see a freakishly large piece of pop art? Can this even be considered art, given the amount of commercialism it’s drenched in? Are the aesthetics lost in a sea of cellphone photos and duck balloons?

Honestly I don’t know that any of these questions matter. The duck is a hit in Kaohsiung for the same reason that selfie foam art would’ve been a hit had it came to fruition: Taiwan is fascinated with displays of the quirky and strange, and if i there’s a line to view or partake in an weird spectacle, it only solidifies it’s legitimacy. That’s not a slam. If anything, Kaohsiung has turned it’s love for the odd into real dollars for the city. They can’t sell the official merchandise fast enough. On the duck’s website some items are completely sold out while others are waiting to be restocked. People have come from out of town to see the duck, so Kaohsiung hotels see a surge during it’s run.

Duck crazed tourist have an opportunity to take in other nearby sites as well. Glory Pier–where the duck is stationed–is a short walk or bike ride down one of the city’s bicycle/pedestrian-only paths to the Pier 2 art district. Go a bit further and you’ll reach Sihziwan bay and the beach. Go north along the Love river and there’s plenty of riverside parks and cafes to check out.

Clearly Kaohsiung has gone bonkers over this giant yellow duck, but at least the city has put itself in a position where it can benefit from the craze as much as possible. Really, Typhoon Usagi did nothing but help launch the duck to superstar status when it prompted event officials to suspend the exhibit for two days. A little drama just makes the fans love you even more.

The duck will remain in Kaohsiung until October 20, before heading to Taoyuan (10/26- 11/10) and Keelung (from 12/21). Should you want to see it in Kaohsiung head down to Glory Pier at night when there’s less of a crowd. There’s lights on the duck until midnight so photos are still possible.

Check out the Yellow Duck website for more info (Chinese and English) including a map with the location of Glory Pier.

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Taiwan’s Selfie Latte’s

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Taiwan just stepped it’s coffee game up.

Coffe company Let’s Cafe has made it possible to print your portrait onto a latte, taking foam art to a whole new level. The Company operates it’s coffee kiosks out of Taiwan’s Family Mart convenient stores and are striving to give customers something they can’t get at the more established coffe joints.

How does it work?

Order a latte, upload a selfie from your smartphone and the machine sprinkles the image into the foam using cocoa powder. Boom. You don’t even have to drink it. Just stare at yourself in all your frothy goodness. Of course the point is not just to stare and marvel. You’d be missing out on the moment if you didn’t whip out your phone and take a photo your foam portrait.

Kudos should be given to Let’s Cafe. They’ve found a clever way to capitalize on both Taiwanese photo glut and a ridiculous “selfie” phenomenon gone global (thanks, Instagram). Now, instead of having cell phone photo shoots in your bathroom in fornt of a dirty mirror, you can have them at a local convenient store in front of random customers. As you pay for your latte  you can seek the admiration of the store clerk for haven taken a picture that transferred to milk froth so well.

It’s a quirky idea and I’m sure it’ll be a big hit, but it’s not winning any awards for practicality and there are still a few questions to be answered:

How long will it take to get your latte?

The reason Let’s Cafe has launched its new latte machine is so that it can better compete with larger coffee chains like Starbucks And Taiwan’s own Donutes Cafe. But they’ll do little to knock off  the competition if it takes twice as long to get your order because of hyper stylized foam decorations–which begs another question to be asked: what exactly is an appropriate time value for detailed latte art? A nifty Starbucks barista can drizzle a maple leaf into your morning Cappucino and it only takes a few seconds. Let that same barista take an extra 5 minutes crafting your leaf and there would be a line of  pissed off customers who couldn’t give two shits about the barista’s artistic pursuits.

Of course Let’s Cafe’s foam art is derived from a digital image so you would think it shouldn’t take too long, but I would hate to be stuck waiting for my drink behind a group of Taiwanese middle school girls trying to decide on just the right photo to upload. Inevitably it would happen on your way to work or some other important engagement, but you would be in the wrong let your frustations get the best of you. If all you want is a quick latte you can go somewhere else. Those girls are there for the ultimate experience in Taiwanese coffee consumption; what Let’s Cafe is calling “ridiculously unique and fun.” Never mind that it took half an hour to get it.

Will a photo latte be more expensive than a non-photo latte?

After watching the promotional video it’s clear Let’s Cafe feels their latte photo machine is already a big hit in Taiwan, though I have yet to see one anywhere in Kaohsiung. They mention how their customized latte art became “the talk of the town” and “won over the hearts” of customers. What the video fails to reveal is how much it will cost, but I noticed something that makes me think it’ll cost a lot more that your average convenience store latte .

At one point a guy in the video get’s his customized latte and decides to share it with his lovely female companion. He carefully hands it to her with a subtle but stern glance that says: “if you fuck up and drop this, you’re buying me a new one.”

It seems odd to charge more for something that will most likely disintegrate as soon as you put a lid on the cup which, unless you plan on enjoying your drink inside Family Mart, you will have to do, but not before taking a photo of it to share with others. This of course could create a vicious cycle: take a picture of yourself, have it put on your latte, take a picture of yourself with the latte containing your portrait, then have that put on another latte….I’m probably thinking about this too much.

Are we allowed to put ANY photo on a latte?

If so, we shouldn’t overlook the fun to be had from this in the form of well executed social experiments.

Imagine, for example, how interesting it would be to put a random stranger’s photo on your latte. You’d want to catch someone unexpectedly–either right when they’re entering the store or while waiting in line to check-out:

“Excuse me, sir. Would you like to have your face on my morning latte?”

Better yet, instead of asking permission, just whip out your smart phone and snap a photo of an unsuspecting stranger (happens to me all the time) then head straight for the latte machine. If you’re lucky, you’ll end up next to that same person in the check-out line. They’ll glance down and see their mug shot sprinkled on your drink and you’ll have made a new friend. After posting the photo on Facebook the stranger would arouse the curiosity of your closest friends:

“Say Gary, who’s that person on your latte?”

You can boastfully, “Some guy I met in Family Mart. We’re meeting for drinks and sashimi later tonight.”

Better still, how fun would it be to have a dirty photo dusted atop your latte? Perhaps a set of tightened buttocks or a voluptuous pair of double D’s? Of course doing such a thing would mean putting the store attendant in a rather precarious situation: does he ring up your latte like normal and pretend not to see the pair of protruding orbs afloat in your cup? Does he refuse to sell it to you? On what grounds? Indecent espresso? Does Family Mart have a contingency plan in place if such a thing happens? They should.

Again, maybe I’ve gone too far, but mobile photo glut has the tendency to bring out the worst in people.

I have no information on when these machines will hit Family Mart stores in southern Taiwan (if they haven’t already), but if anyone in Taipei or elsewhere has tried it, I’d love to see the results. Drop a link in the comments or find me on Instagram @jaywoodson.

As for me, I tend to get my coffee from 7-11, but I won’t pass up an opportunity to try it at least once.

*Update: As fellow Taiwan blogger, Taiwanvore so nicely pointed out, Let’s Cafe will not be rolling out it’s photo latte machine in Taiwan after all. The video was shot by a marketing company hired by the makers of the machine itself. Looks like we won’t be able to plaster our faces (or body parts) on our lattes after all.

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.

Please take a moment to back-hand yourself if you missed it. DSC_1049

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.

Anthony Bourdain VS Eddie Huang: Taipei

I recently watched the Taipei episode of Anthony Bourdain’s “The Layover” (big thanks to Thinking About Languages for the heads up). To be honest this was the first episode I’ve seen since the show first aired in November of 2011. I’m a die-hard junkie of “No Reservations,” often times watching it to scout for future travel destinations. I didn’t enjoy everything that Bourdain and his producers chose to highlight (the dancing and guns segment in Greece was a little odd), but they did a solid job of showcasing the glamorous and gritty of different countries.

The premise of “The Layover” is different from “No Reservations” in that Bourdain only spends 48 hours in each location, mainly focusing on the must-see, must-do and must-eat.  We still have the normal bleeping-out of Bourdain’s colorful language  and a solid mixture of destination insiders to consult, but the clock is always ticking. It’s not a format I would personally ascribe to for visiting anywhere, but it works for the purposes of television.

That being said, I couldn’t resist comparing Bourdain’s view of Taipei to that of Eddie Huang, the badboy chef/hipster host of Vice Magazine’s ‘Fresh Off the Boat.’ Here, the Taiwanese American raised in Orlando but based in New York, along with his crew, strive to “venture into subculture through the lens of food”  (though the food part sometimes takes a backseat to other subjects). Since the show’s release (via YouTube) last October Huang has shown us some of the lesser known angles of his destinations (he goes hunting for rabbits in Oakland), utilizing an eclectic cast of chaperones and a heavy dose of east coast slang. It’s not the type of stuff you’d find on the Travel Channel, but that’s not surprising given Vice’s reputation pushing the envelope.

Coincidentally, the last segment of “Fresh Off the Boat: Taiwan” was released a week after ‘The Layover’ and naturally I thought the two hosts would present us with different but equally important views of the island. After watching however, I was surprised at how similar the two episodes were. Normally Chef Huang has a penchant for slamming other celebrity chefs.  

Both Huang and Bourdain do a good job of talking about the different foods they sample and Huang in particular seems to dim his east coast bravado when doing so, taking great care to explain the different flavors and textures. They both stroll throug night markets stopping periodically to showcase a specific item; Bourdain quickly gobbles down a pork belly gua bao (steamed bun sandwich) at the Keelung night market and Huang pauses to joke about penis shaped waffles at the night market in Shilin.

The two hosts also visit the 24-hour shrimp fishing restaurant, Cheun Chang as well as a place where western and Taiwanese fare is served in different types of miniature toilets. Neither of them seem to enjoy either experience which makes me think the shrimp fishing and toilet food segments were included only for their novelty.

I could see why both hosts decided to include a trip to Din Tai Fong. Bourdain and Huang rave about how good the restaurant’s soup dumplings are, and the process of how they’re made is worth showcasing. I’ve never been there personally, but I’m inclined to seek the place out next time I’m in Taipei. (If there’s a Din Tai Fong chain in Kaohsiung let me know and the first round of dumplings is on me.)

Given all the similarities between “Fresh Off the Boat: Taiwan” and “The Layover: Taipei” there’s still enough differences to warrant taking in both. Bourdain has a drink or two during his time in Taipei, but Huang goes for the gusto and picks up some betelnut, a popular Asian stimulant that is chewed–similar to chewing tobacco. Huang (who speaks fluent Chinese) is able to mix it with locals without a translator and is thus easily able to tackle the sticky subject of Taiwanese independence, while Bourdain focuses keeps it pithy with conversations about strippers at Taiwanese funerals and an odd form of martial arts. The aims of “The Layover” involve giving a short-term visitor an idea of what to see on a visit, but “Fresh Off the Boat” attempts (with varied success) to unearth the layers of culture often unseen by tourists. Fair enough.

I haven’t been here long enough to decipher which account of Taiwan is more encapsulating, but I’d love to hear feedback from anybody who has.

Fresh Off the Boat has two episodes in Taiwan, broken up into six parts. Find part one as well as The Layover: Taipei below.

Peace.