May 12, 2008

Singaporean restaurant

This restaurant, 168 Singaporean Cuisine, is one of only two Singaporean restaurants in Hsinchu that I know of. (The other one is The Curry Garden, which used to be located near Chenghuang Temple, but is now across from National Tsing Hua University in the Three Great Circles area.) For the past few years, it has been a tiny food stall in the Huayuan (花園) night market with barely enough room inside for the owners, an elderly and very hardworking couple. In the last couple of months, they have expanded their operation to a bigger area, still in the same night market, and there are now about five other people working.

The main thing of interest on their menu is the curry. They have curry with chicken, pork, goat, or beef over rice. There is also curry chicken over noodles. The dishes are only about $60 or $70 a plate, so the chicken is mostly bones and the other meat is not of the greatest quality. Despite the small amount of meat, the chicken dishes are good, but the best option is to order a curry and rice plate with an omelette on top. There is a seafood omelette on the menu that is made from squid and shrimp, but I like to get it with just shrimp. The omelette is huge.

The curry omelette is not actually on the menu. The menu lists a Korean omelette over rice, but does not list any omelette dishes with curry. There are other dishes not on the menu. I got one dish with curry and peanuts and dried fish, but I can't remember the name of the dish.

They have always done a very brisk business. I'm not sure if it is because of the location or the cuisine, but there are usually a number of Indonesians who are eating here. There are usually people lined up in front of the stall waiting for their orders, so be prepared for a little wait.

You can see some red sauce on the shrimp in the above picture. That is the hot sauce, which is more flavorful but less spicy than the normal hot sauce.


May 09, 2008

Mr. Muo's Traveling Couch, Harry Potter and the Philosopher's Stone, and The Electric Kool-Aid Acid Test

Three books I’ve read in the last few weeks are Mr. Muo’s Traveling Couch by Dai Sijie, Harry Potter and the Philosopher’s Stone by J. K. Rowling, and The Electric Kool-Aid Acid Test by Tom Wolfe.

Mr. Muo’s Traveling Couch is Dai Sijie’s second novel. I wrote about his first novel, Balzac and the Little Chinese Seamstress, a couple of weeks ago. Like the first book, this book is translated from French and reads very well in English. In the previous review, I noted what aspects of the first novel marked it as French despite the story being entirely centered in China. Mr. Muo’s Traveling Couch, on the other hand, is a truly French-Chinese novel. Mr. Muo is a disciple of Freud, returned to China from France. He seeks to procure a virgin to bribe a judge (Judge Di) to acquit his love. Based on this description, Mr. Muo sounds like an unsavory character, but his ineptness and neurotic ways make him a comic hero. Muo compares himself to Don Quixote, which is the most concise description.

The French title of the book is Le Complexe de Di, which alludes to the Oedipus Complex and the character Judge Di in the novel, who is an allusion to the character Judge Dee from Robert van Gulik’s novels (as mentioned in the story). The English title refers to Muo’s traveling Freudian dream interpretation business.

I finally got around to reading Harry Potter and the Philosopher’s Stone, the first book in the Potter series. The book is short, only about 200 pages, which was not enough for me to develop a full blown case of Potter fever, but it is easy to see what is appealing about the book. As for story matter, spells, magic, and potions are all fun things. As for writing, Rowling does a great job of constantly creating anticipation. Near the beginning of the book, Harry finds a letter addressed to him but it is intercepted and confiscated by his uncle. The next day the mail addressed to Harry is again confiscated. The next day he receives twelve pieces of mail, then twenty-four, then the next day the residence is deluged with mail, which, once again, Harry does not receive. You want to know what happens next, don't you? This is just a simple example of what is happening throughout the book. Just about everything is foreshadowed or hinted at such that the reader has to know what happens next.

The Electric Kool-Aid Acid Test by Tom Wolfe should come with a warning label. It is difficult to enjoy this book if you don’t like tripped out poetry. Using poetry or “experimental” prose to describe a drug experience seems natural enough, but the psychedelic writing isn’t confined to acid trips. There is an author’s note that explains that this is needed to understand the experience, but it felt like it was necessary to allow the author to show off. Furthermore, if prose isn’t in fact sufficient to describe the experience, video would be a better choice.

This is the story of Ken Kesey and the Merry Pranksters. It is the also the story about acid-related culture. A lot of notable figures from the sixties are mentioned, such as The Grateful Dead, Allen Ginsburg, the Hell’s Angels, and the Beatles. It’s interesting stuff, but the author’s voice got in the way of the story.


May 02, 2008

Snow Crash, White Noise, and Momoko's Picture Diary

Three books that I read in the last couple of weeks are Snow Crash by Neal Stephenson, White Noise by Don DeLillo, and Sakura Momoko's Picture Diary.

Neal Stephenson’s Snow Crash is a book popular with programmers, and it is easy to understand why. The protagonist, Hiro Protagonist, is a hacker and the plot revolves around new exotic types of hacking—neural hacking performed via a human’s AV inputs. Most importantly, the book gives an importance and an air of mystery to programming by inventing for it a history that dates back to the beginning of history. I read some reviews that complained that the research scenes where this mythology is exposited and analyzed are boring, but they were probably the most interesting part of the book for me. The theories are far-fetched and incomplete, but at least interesting.

The other part of the book that was most fun was the hypercommericialized world of the future, where gated suburban communities have evolved into city-states and the US government warns not to use the hyper-inflated currency as toilet paper.

I enjoyed this book so much that I recommended it to a friend even before I was finished reading. However, after finishing the book, I’m not sure if I should cancel that recommendation. My main complaint is that there is just too much action. It was originally supposed to be a graphic novel, which may explain why the action is so non-stop. I also wasn’t happy with a brief “love” scene that I would like to say was out of place, but it actually seems right at home in the action movie genre.

White Noise by Don DeLillo also left me with a mixed but mostly positive reaction. The book is neatly divided into three sections. The first section of the book is almost plotless. It introduces the narrator, a professor of Hitler studies, his wife, his children from his many marriages, and a friend who is a visiting professor. The focus is the intellectual discussions with the professor friend about the supermarket and about modern society. In the second part of the book, a “real” plot unexpectedly emerges when a chemical accident occurs in the fictional town. The third section of the book takes off in a different direction.

The dialog in the book is unusual—clearly not intended to reflect actual human speech. Several times when reading a scene, I had to backtrack to assure myself that the dialog was not occurring in a dream. Sometimes it is satiric and terse, like Catch 22 or a two-man comedy routine, sometimes it is dense like a computer-generated post-modernist theory generator.

I found the book interesting from beginning to end. The only negative element that led me to have a mixed reaction to the book is that it is so saturated with little theories and analysis, some of them interesting and some of them nonsense, that you don’t have time to digest it all. After finishing the book, you can’t help but wonder if you missed a major part of the novel.

The last book here is a comic diary by Sakura Momoko, author of the Chibi Marukochan comics and cartoons. The book is titled Momoko's Picture Diary (桃子的繪圖日記 in Chinese). The book has almost a hundred drawings, each one illustrating a short anecdote from the author’s life. Most of the anecdotes are only a few sentences. They are mostly unconnected and are not dated but appear to be in chronological order, so the book still belongs in the comic diary genre. I think picture diaries are great. Would the autobiographical American Splendor comics have been popular as a novel? Probably not, but add artwork and they are classics. The drawings are in color and the book is hardbound.