April 23, 2008

Italian-Indian Restaurant

This restaurant (which seems to be called Bistro, judging from the sign) is one of the remarkably few Italian-Indian Taiwanese restaurants. You might be disappointed to find that there are no dishes on the menu that mix Italian and Indian, but both the Italian dishes and the Indian dishes are prepared well enough that you can forgive that omission.

The restaurant is in Hsinchu across from National Tsing-Hua University in the Three Great Circles area. A good number of the customers are foreigners. I suspect that the Indian food is not the most authentic, but it gets the approval of some Indian customers (as well as myself). There are often some young South American people eating here. I assume they work at the university. So this little restaurant clearly has international appeal. There is an English menu, and the proprietor, shown in the picture as a speck of orange shirt, speaks English.

Above is the chicken curry, which goes for NT$70.

This is the lamb curry, which is the only item on the menu for NT$80. I recently read some tips for photographing food. One of the tips was that it is not a good idea to photograph foods with brown sauce. While the above photograph may resemble vomit or worse, I assure you that it looks better in person. I've eaten there at least ten times and the only complaint I have is that the last time I went, the curry was a little spicy. The dishes are cooked to order, so they are always hot. The other curry choices are shrimp and fish.

This is the pesto spaghetti with ground chicken, which is NT$60. There are other spaghetti dishes on the Italian side of the menu, but the one shown above is by far the best, in my opinion. The picture doesn't do it justice. It would be great if there were some other items on the menu besides curry and spaghetti, but at under NT$100, these dishes are a steal. In fact, I constantly worry that this restaurant will go out of business, so give it a try.


A Handful of Dust, Artemis Fowl, and Night of the Wolf

A few of the book I have read in the last couple of weeks are A Handful of Dust by Evelyn Waugh, Artemis Fowl, by Eoin Colfer, and Night of the Wolf, by Fritz Leiber.

I decided to read A Handful of Dust by Evelyn Waugh after reading some comments on the cover of the book The Tortilla Curtain. The author of the The Tortilla Curtain was compared to Waugh. Considering that I detested The Tortilla Curtain, this is probably not the best method for choosing a book to read. After reading A Handful of Dust, I can see the similarities between the writing. Both books have a light, witty tone that is used to describe tragedy. However, Waugh does a better job of keeping the tone light. The book describes adultery, death, and captivity, so keeping a light tone is not easy. The author accomplishes this by an almost total lack of internal dialog or introspection by the characters.

I had yet another flawed method for choosing the next book, Artemis Fowl by Eoin Colfer. Instead of getting suggestions based on a book that I didn't like, I got this suggestion based on a book I haven't read. On the Freakonomics blog, the author asked for suggestions for what to read after finishing the Harry Potter series. There were a number of people who recommended Artemis Fowl in the comments. I haven't read Harry Potter, but I decided to take this suggestion. My verdict is that it is a fun book for a small hypothetical child, but I would not recommend it for adults. The novel is about a twelve-year-old criminal mastermind who is trying to ransom gold from elves. One of the interesting elements of the book is that it describes Artemis using the internet to gather information. However, it might have been better if it were more hackerish, for lack of a better word. In one part of the story, a character sends data and/or firmware to a piece of hardware using email. That's a little too iPhone-ish for a computer whiz. What I'm saying is, Dear author, please rewrite your children's novel as a cyberpunk novel. That's not asking too much, is it?

The Night of the Wolf by Fritz Leiber is a collection of four short stories and novellas. The first story reminded me of the brief outlines of a science-fiction novel written by fictional author Kilgore Trout, as described by Kurt Vonnegut; the story is a what-if idea that is interesting but doesn't have any real feeling. After the first story, I almost stopped reading the book, but I am glad that I finished it. The remaining three stories were very good. This book is out of print now, but these short stories are probably included in other story collections of Fritz Leiber. The original names of the stories are "The Creature from Cleveland Depths", "The Night of Long Knives," "Sanity," and "Let Freedom Ring."


April 15, 2008

All New People, Pere Goriot, and The Moon and Sixpence

Three of the books that I read in the last few weeks are All New People, Pere Goriot, and The Moon and Sixpence.

I first read Anne Lamott's writing when she wrote for salon.com some years ago. That was before Salon had become a political magazine, before subscriptions were offered and before you had to watch advertisements to read the articles. That was when Salon was possibly the first general-interest internet magazine. The fact that I can still remember her name is evidence that her writing left a deep impression on me. (Although I think I did get her name mixed up with Anne Tyler, and for that reason I have a few unread Anne Tyler books on my bookshelf.)

All New People is Tyler's third novel, and I thought it was very good--worth reading again. The book flap states that the story takes place in Marin county in Northern California. It seems to me that there is a Berkeley-esque feeling to her writing. I get a similar feeling from Maxine Hong Kingston and Ursula Le Guin, other writers who have lived in Northern California. I tried to describe that quality, but it sounded silly, so I will just say that they are sensitive writers.

The structure of the book is pretty free form. There is very little plot. The editorial reviews at amazon.com describe the book well. The narrator describes her childhood so well that I remembered many things from my own childhood that I haven't thought about in years. One recurring thought as I read this book was that if Taiwanese people wanted to know what life is like in America, this would be a fairly good start. The story takes place in the late sixties or early seventies. Although I wasn't around then, the book's world still felt very familiar.

The next book here is Pere Goriot by Honore de Balzac. I was inspired to read this after reading Balzac and the Little Chinese Seamstress. I enjoyed it, although I prefer Balzac's Eugenie Grandet. Much of the plot is concerned with money. The protagonist needs money in order to establish himself in society. Unfortunately, reading about people losing money is painful to me, in the same way that it is difficult to watch a gory movie. One thing that I found amusing is that the last ten pages of the book is almost pure babbling. Even if you loved the book, I don't think you could deny that it is babbling.

The last book here is The Moon and Sixpence by Somerset Maugham. Below is the picture of the book cover. The book is loosely based on the life of Paul Gauguin. I didn't catch on to that until almost the end of the book when the painter moves to Tahiti. There are a lot of similarities in the story to Cakes and Ale, also by Maugham, and the writing is very good in both books, but I didn't appreciate this book as much. The narrator can barely understand the heartlessness of the main character and the reader is in the same boat. After reading the story, there's a good chance that you'll want to take a look at Gauguin's art and see if you can see the genius or the painter's idiosyncrasies in it.


April 07, 2008

Eastern-Style Western Food

An article in the New York Times from a couple of weeks ago describes Japanese-style Western food in Japan, called yoshoku. The article is relevant to Taiwan because much of Taiwan's idea of Western food comes via Japan. Not all yoshoku dishes are common in Taiwan, but the dish that is arguably Taiwan's most popular "western" food, jukao (焗烤) is probably a Japanese import. (Jukao is rice or noodle casserole with cheese on top.)

Spaghetti Stir-Fry and Hambagoo: Japan Looks West

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Pronunciation Web Site

I came across the web site forvo.com on Lifehacker today. This is the kind of the site that make you think, "Why didn't I think of that? I did think of that, didn't I? I must have." It's a multi-lingual pronunciation site. You can search for recordings of words in different languages or you can request that other users record their pronunciation of a word.


April 02, 2008

Chinese Theme Songs to Cartoons

Yesterday I posted about cartoons that were shown in both America and Taiwan. I thought it would be interesting to see the Chinese theme songs in English, even if the Chinese theme songs are totally different from the American versions. Here are the lyrics for the theme songs of The ThunderCats, The Smurfs, She-Ra Princess of Power, and Dennis the Menace.
The Chinese lyrics came from here.

ThunderCats theme song, translated from Chinese

Thunder Planet exploded
The ThunderCats took a spaceship and escaped, escaped
On the ship was the most wise Magical Cat,
Tiger Cat, capable of becoming invisible,
Fleet of movement Leopard Cat,
The most fierce Fierce Cat,
There were the strange cats, the little Kai Cats,
And king of the ThunderCats, Lion Cat
Mutants from Plun-Darr pursued, pursued
The Thunder Eye of the mysterious sword they wanted, they wanted
We have the most wise Magical Cat,
Tiger Cat, capable of becoming invisible,
Fleet of movement Leopard Cat,
The most fierce Fierce Cat,
There are the strange cats the little Kai Cats,
And king of the ThunderCats, Lion Cat
Plun-Darr mutants, you come on, come on
The most brave ThunderCats don't fear, don't fear
Beat you until you are utterly defeated

Key to proper names:

Thunder Planet - Thundera
Thunder Eye - Eye of Thundera
Magical Cat - Jaga
Tiger Cat - Tygra
Fierce Cat - Panthro
Leopard Cat - Cheetara
Kai Cats - WilyKat and WilyKit
Lion Cat - Lion-O

The Smurfs theme song, translated from Chinese

Little elves, little elves
In a little world,
A beautiful little village,
Live a group of cute blue elves
Wearing a little white cap
Their faces glow with blue light
Innocent and lively, happy and peaceful
Peace-loving, clever and alert
Not afraid of hardship or difficulty
United in cooperation
[To] defeat the enemy
Every one is brave
Little elves, little elves
Carefree, happy and healthy
The sound of their happy voices in song travels everywhere
La la la la la la
La la la la la la

Note: The name of the show is The Little Blue Elves.

She-Ra Princess of Power theme song, translated from Chinese

Superwoman, Superwoman
Magical Superwoman
Riding a flying horse from the magical kingdom
Swift and mighty magical sword
The power to uphold justice
Going all out against the Thousand Demons King
Fighting evil and overthrowing tyranny
Upholding loyalty

Note: The name of the show is Magical Superwoman.

Dennis the Menace theme song, translated from Chinese

There is a child
His name is Adam
He's a real hassle
Tell him to help out and he won't
But will make a mess of everything
And he'll come around pestering

There is a child
His name is Adam
He's something else
Look at all the tricks he's got
Mother can't control him
He makes people cry and laugh in equal halves

Dan Dan Dan Dan Dan Dan Dan Dan
Naughty Adam
Dan Dan Dan Dan Dan Dan Dan Dan
Naughty Adam

Note: "Dan" is the second syllable of Dennis's Chinese name, Adan. The name of the show is Naughty Adam.

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April 01, 2008

Balzac and the Little Chinese Mistress, The Tortilla Curtain, and Cakes and Ales

Three of the book I've read over the last few weeks are Balzac and the Little Chinese Seamstress, The Tortilla Curtain, and Cakes and Ale.

Balzac and the Little Chinese Seamstress is a novel written in French by Chinese author Dai Sijie. As I read the book, I looked for signs that this novel was translated from French rather than Chinese. The first sign is the title. If the book were written in Chinese, there would have been no need to specify that the little seamstress is Chinese. Also, it's no coincidence that the author mentioned in the title, Balzac, is French. The book mentions non-French literature, but of the novels mentioned by name, almost all of the them are French. And of the novels mentioned by plot, I think all of them were French.

Another clue is when the book states that the seamstress puts her hair in a "chignon." It can be argued that there is some difference between a chignon and the more common word "bun", but it is clear that neither the narrator nor the little seamstress would know the difference. Another word that seems slightly out of character is "auto de fe." I don't think any translators from Chinese to English would have dared putting such a grand-sounding phrase in an English translation. It is in a much higher register than the rest of the vocabulary of the novel.

I don't have any problems with the previous two words mentioned, but I did have a problem with the translation of currency. The narrator mentions that a room at a hotel cost "five-pence." Rendering Chinese money as "pence" sounds too English for me. Another strange item is that when the narrator mentions the phonetic pronunciation of "Balzac" in Chinese, he writes it as "Ba-er-zar-ke." If that was transcribed from Mandarin, it would be "Ba-er-za-ke." Perhaps the author is not transcribing Mandarin Chinese, but I still find it doubtful that the third syllable would be pronounced "zar."

The novel as a whole is funny and creative, and it does not waste any words. The ending is surprising, funny, and fitting. The book is set during the Cultural Revolution. I have read a dozen other books that concern the Cultural Revolution, and this book is totally original.

The Tortilla Curtain, by T. C. Boyle, begins with the narrator, a white upper-class liberal writer, accidentally hitting a man with his car. That man is an illegal immigrant from Mexico whose luck goes from bad to worse. This scene brings to mind the car accident that sets in motion the novel Bonfire of the Vanities. But where Bonfire of the Vanities was a brilliant and hilarious satire, The Tortilla Curtain only makes a half-hearted attempt at wit and is lukewarm as a tragedy. To put the book in the best possible light, it was a social novel that may have been controversial when it was written ten years ago. However, reading it now feels like reading an old newspaper.

One of the problems with the story is that the tragedy of the immigrants is too relentless. The author is presumably trying to show how the whole world is up against them, but reading the story, you instead feel that the author has some grudge against the main characters. Or worse, you feel that the novel is shaming you into thought or action. For these reasons, I quit reading less than half way into the book. I skimmed the last few pages of the book and was satisfied that I wasn't missing anything.

The last book is Cakes and Ale by Somerset Maugham. This is the first book I have read by Maugham. As I started reading, I thought his writing was too caustic for me, but as the story develops, the narrator paints an affectionate portrait of Rosie, and he also turns his critical eye on himself as a boy, which balanced things out. So I ended up really enjoying this book. The structure of the novel is impressive. Half-way through the book I began to wonder if there was in fact a plot, but the story is wrapped up nicely in the end.


Cartoon Lyrics

I read this post today where the lyrics from the Teenage Mutant Ninja Turtles cartoon, which have been translated into Chinese, are then translated back into English. I thought it was funny, so I should steal the idea and translate some other cartoon lyrics into English. I looked at a Taiwanese web site that has the lyrics for about forty cartoons in Chinese, mostly from twenty or more years ago. Most of the cartoons shown in Taiwan were Japanese cartoons that were not shown in America.

Other then Teenage Mutant Ninja Turtles, a few of the overlapping cartoons shown in both Taiwan and America are He-Man, She-Ra, Popeye, The Smurfs, Thundercats, Voltron, Transformers, and Dennis the Menace. But I don't think any of these cartoons have the same theme song in English and Chinese, at least not lyrically. So the backwards translations would have to be based on fan translations from English. Well, there's always rap lyrics to back-translate into English. Quick, translate "then I put the mack down" into Chinese and then back into English...