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Tuesday, May 26, 2009

Sushi à la Corb

I walk by a 7-Eleven everyday and recently I notice the store is promoting a NT$39 sushi roll for breakfast. The poster on the store window shows a sushi roll that is based on a progressive transformation of a rectangle into an ellipse.

I can't help but be reminded of Le Corbusier's St-Pierre at Firminy-Vert. The church was designed in the 60's and completed in 2006. The building's main volume is based on a transformation of a square plan into a hollow conic shell.

Sunday, May 24, 2009

What Recession?

Taiwan's economy shrank by slightly more than 10% last quarter. However, you wouldn't notice the downturn if you went to 鼎泰豐 for a meal. There is still a line outside with people waiting to get in. The restaurant is almost recession-proof. The good news is the food is still as good as ever.

Saturday, May 23, 2009

Cheaper Scoops

A 14 oz carton of Häagen-Dazs ice cream in Taipei costs twice as much as in New York. Since ice cream is so expensive, I decided to pull out my old Cuisinart ice cream maker and make some myself.

By my daughter's request, the first one we made is chocolate. I used a simple recipe from Mark Bittman's How to Cook Everything. In the near future I will start making more exotic flavors.

Tuesday, May 19, 2009


During a recent family gathering my cousins, niece, nephews, and I discussed the subject of pop music. I didn't have anything to offer to the discussion since I have been busying listening to Rudresh Mahanthappa; actually I haven't listened to much pop music for quite some time. Since I didn't know what's hip, I was curious to know what the tweens are listening to these days. The answer, according to my nephew, seems to be Lady Gaga.

Of course I had no idea who Lady Gaga is and what kind of music she makes. I thought the name was kind of intriguing but didn't think too much about it until I got the April 27 issue of The New Yorker. The magazine's music critic Sasha Frere-Jones wrote, "Gaga can really sing and really write" and "If you want melody and a cheerful embrace of the moment as it happens, Lady Gaga is a wise bet." Since I didn't want to be the un-hip uncle, I decided to buy Gaga's album and listen for myself.

I bought Gaga's The Fame from 博客來; another new experience for me. It is a bit like for Taiwan but with far fewer selections. Instead of using a credit card and having the goods shipped to me, I picked up my order the next day at the local 7-Eleven store and paid in cash. The CD comes bubbled wrapped inside a grey envelope. The whole process is quite convenient since there are 7-Eleven stores everywhere in Taiwan.

After a night of repeated listening, I quite like The Fame. The music reminds me a bit of Madonna and David Bowie. Some tracks are a bit like disco music. I suppose things tend to come back every 30 years or so; what's old is made new again.

Saturday, May 16, 2009


The Ju Ming Museum was established in 1999 by the Taiwanese sculptor Ju Ming 朱銘 to display his works. The museum is located at 金山, north of the city of Taipei. This weekend we took the hour long drive to visit the museum for the first time.

The museum is mostly outdoor and contained numerous works by Ju, including his Living World series, Nativist series, and Taichi series. The Taichi series are probably the most famous ones by Ju and remain my favorite.

The Taichi series are more abstract than Ju's other works. They are also more dynamic with more interplays of light and shadow.

The pieces often create very intriguing negative spaces.

The surfaces of the sculpture have textures that add to the spatial qualities of the works.

Since no museum can exist without a gift store, Ju Ming has one as well. At Ju Ming not only can one buy the usual t-shirts and bags, there are also Taichi cookies.

Friday, May 15, 2009

Finding Time

I am not sure when I will ever find the time to finish reading Proust's À la recherche du temps perdu, but for the time being I am spending time making madeleines.

I used to make the madeleines based on the recipe in The Gourmet Cookbook; they turned out very well. Recently I have been using Dorie Greenspan's recipe and chilling the batter before baking to get the hump on the madeleines. So far I have only made the traditional version with grated lemon zest and vanilla. In the future I will experiment with some other flavors.

Unlike Proust, madeleine doesn't bring back childhood memories for me. Instead, I am reminded of the warm mini-madeleines that I had as petit four at Daniel Boulud's eponymous restaurant in New York.

Wednesday, May 13, 2009


It has been a while since I bought a jazz album, but after reading the New Yorker article by Gary Giddins on Rudresh Mahanthappa, where he declares the album Kinsmen as "a momentous achievement that will be around for a long time to come", I felt I had to get one. Since Mahanthappa's album is from a New York based small label it is not available in Taiwan, at least I can't find it. Luckily, a good friend of mine came to visit from the US and was able to bring Kinsmen back for me.

I listened to Kinsmen almost non-stop last weekend and really enjoyed it. I found some passages in the album to be quite unique and beautiful. I am so glad I found Mahanthappa's music. Now I need to get Mahanthappa's Apti.

Monday, May 11, 2009

Les Gouttes de Dieu

I finally got my hands on 神之雫 (Les Gouttes de Dieu) in Chinese. This Japanese comic book written by the brother and sister team of Shin and Yuko Kibayashi is about a competition between the son and the adopted son of a deceased wine critic to find thirteen wines.

In the books, wines trigger dramatic stories and images. For instance, the tasting of 1982 Chateau Mouton Rothschild evokes The Angelus by Jean-Francois Millet. Since the wine is rated 100 by Robert Parker and costs around US$1800 a bottle, I probably won't be able to have the same profound experience any time soon. Nevertheless, the comic books are fun to read and quite addictive. I read three books at one sitting and learned a few things about wines.

Another interesting thing I found was about the character 雫 in the title of the book. At first I didn't think 雫 is a Chinese character and certainly didn't know how to pronounce it. I thought 雫 is a Japanese character meaning drip and pronounced as shizuku. A little research on the Internet showed that many people were wondering about 雫 as well. This is a rarely used character and does not exist in most dictionaries. I finally found the character in the 10-volume 中文大辭典 in our home. The only problem is in 中文大辭典, the entry for 雫 says 義未詳. Since 神の雫 is a Japanese comic book, I will go with 倭俗 and interpret 雫 as drip.

Explanation of 雫 is also available here:

Saturday, May 9, 2009


We finally had some time to hang the artworks in the kids' room. Instead of hanging the pictures individually as we always did before, we decided to try the salon style. One advantage of the salon style is we can just keep adding pieces to the wall. We inevitably will have more and more things to hang because the kids keep producing new works of art.

Currently the wall consists of only five things, clockwise from the top left: Warhol reproduction from Vera's 乾媽, Yoshitomo Nara reproduction purchased at the MoMA store, original score by James Fei that we commissioned for Vera's first birthday, and two pictures by Vera.

Thursday, May 7, 2009

Ailuropoda melanoleuca

Since the end of 2008 the Taipei Zoo has two giant pandas and they have become the Zoo's main attractions. The pandas are housed in a new building designed specifically for them. To see the pandas requires a separate time-entry ticket and some time waiting in line.

Our family went to the Zoo last weekend and I finally saw pandas for the first time. The pandas did not disappoint and were exactly the way I imagined them to be. What was a bit unfortunate was due to the large number of visitors, people were not allowed to stop and look at the pandas. All the visitors were forced to move incessantly along the rope lines. Therefore, the actual time spent looking at the pandas was very little. Visitors were also discouraged to take photographs because that would slow the movement of the line. Nevertheless the trip was still worthwhile because the pandas were just too adorable.

I wish the mandarin speaking world can agree on what to call the pandas. Panda is called 熊貓 in China but 貓熊 in Taiwan. To eliminate the confusion, maybe panda should just go by the scientific name of Ailuropoda melanoleuca.

Saturday, May 2, 2009

.03 and A

Since we left our round Aalto table and Aalto 66 chairs (bought when I was still in college) in New York, we needed some new furniture for our dining area. Luckily we found an A-Table and several .03 Chairs designed by Maarten van Severen at Vitra's sale in New York.

Van Severen is one of my favorite designers. He was born in 1956 in Antwerp, Belgium. He studied architecture and started making furniture in 1989. I came to learn about his designs slowly. The first time I heard about him was probably in the early 90's when I read that he was a collaborator on Rem Koolhaas' Villa dall' Ava; Van Severen's role on the project was quite vague. Later on I would occasionally see his designs in publications. I certainly admired his large aluminum table designed in 1988. However, at that time I knew very little about him, partly because all his pieces were handcrafted in his studio in Belgium and not really available to the general public.

In the late 90's van Severen's work became more prominent. He collaborated with Koolhaas again on the Bordeaux House and the results were extraordinary. I was fascinated by all the elements in the house, such as the translucent bookshelves around the vertical lift, the plexiglas sink in the bathroom, and the burners on the concrete slab in the kitchen. I found the designs to be simultaneously minimal, technical, innovative, and sensual.

During the late 90's Van Severen also began collaborating with Vitra, and finally made his design available to the general public. The first design was the .03 Chair, which was a further development of Van Severen's Chair No. II designed in 1992. The idea for both chairs is a continuous surface that forms the back and the seat. The geometry of the surface flows down to the front legs of the chair. The back legs are treated as a secondary support system and expressed differently with round profiles instead of the rectangular ones of the front legs. The difference between the two chairs is, with the .03 Van Severen eliminated the exposed frame and cladding of No. II and replaced them with polyurethane foam. The construction of the .03 Chair is less obvious as steel springs are hidden within the foam, making the surface both rigid and pliant. When the chair is sat on, the foam at the seat and back areas will bend and conform to the body. The foam returns to the original shape when the forces are released.

The .03 Chair comes in a variety of colors. We have a total of ten chairs: four in red, three in dark green and three in black.

The Vitra A-Table was produced in 2005. This is also based on an earlier Van Severen design with the same name. The name A-Table refers to the two pairs of satin-finish legs of the table that are A-shaped. The original A-Table was designed in 1992 and constructed at Van Severen's workshop. The table has an aluminum structure with a rectangular bakelite top. For Vitra's version Van Severen made some modifications. Instead of aluminum, the legs are made of polished stainless steel. The bakelite has been replaced with a MDF top coated with rubber lacquer, which has a warm and soft feel and will be patinated with age.

This is the first time I am using a rectangular table for dining. I suppose I am always going against the grain. In New York where most people have a rectangular table, I have a round one. In Taipei, where most families still share a round table with a Lazy Susan, I have a large rectangular table.

So far Ava seems to like the chairs and the table as she sometime uses them as an obstacle course or support in her self-guided training to walk.

With the .03 Chair and the A-Table our dining area has finally taken shape.

It would have been nice to have a cupboard designed by Van Severen, especially since a large portion of his designs consist of cupboards. We have settled for the Grimle from Ikea, which holds many glasses, placemats, and snacks inside and provide a space for our old Francis Francis X1 espresso machine. The green plastic Puppy by Eero Aarino serves as our guard dog.

Van Severen died of cancer in 2005. His untimely death is a great loss for the design world. I deeply regret not ever meeting him or conducting an interview with him. Nevertheless, I am happy we have some of Van Severen’s designs in our apartment and they are an integral part of our daily life.