Sunday, March 27, 2005

March for Freedom

Outraged by the bullying tactics of their giant neighbour China, more than one million Taiwanese people and a handful of foreigners took to the streets of Taipei in a vast protest march. They jammed the subway system so comprehensively I was forced to interview some of them as I walked home.

"I'm here because my mother taught me to stand up to bullies. And bullies don't come bigger than China. Except maybe America. And the New York Yankees," said Bei Jianbe, a computer engineer from Danshui. I asked him if the bullies in his school had 700 missiles pointing at his house. "No," he said, "they didn't."

I talked to some girls. "I love Taiwan more than I love my boyfriend," said Cherry Lin, a pretty high-school student wearing a blue and white school uniform and blue knee-length socks. "Actually a future-teller told me my boyfriend - he's a computer engineer - would die aged 19, so I don't love him very much. When China made this new law which says they will attack Taiwan, I cried. It took me twenty minutes to re-cake my face with whitening powder. Now I'm here to wave these inflatable green balloon-sticks and sing songs about peace. That will show the governments of the world that Taiwan is a country and a democracy."

Tiffany Yen, a curvy middle-aged woman with pleasant short hair said, "This issue is so important to me that I cancelled my study group today. We were going to do the chapter about nonrestrictive modifiers, so you can tell how excited we were. Of course, it's my study group so I should have realised there would be a scheduling conflict. Today's march has been publicised for a long time."

But why are you protesting? "At first I was angry about China's new law. How can they prance around the world trying to position themselves as a major world power while they point their vile missiles at us and threaten our peaceful way of life? Then I thought about the implications of a Chinese invasion. The end result would be millions of stunning Chinese women flooding into Taiwan, taking our boyfriends and husbands. My anger grew into thundrous rage. My boyfriend may be fat and old, but he's mine. Like my study group. And the sooner that bitch Maggie Zhang, who wants me to move it to Sundays, which are more convenient for her, understands that, the better. It's my study group, and my country. That's why I'm here wearing a missile costume asking strangers to spank me." By the way, is your boyfriend a computer engineer? "No, he's a software engineer. Why do you ask?"

There were some white people there too. I spoke to a Canadian who asked not to be named. "Oh, man, Taiwan, yeah, those missiles, that's scary, right? Fuck that shit." And why are you joining the protest? "Oh, dude! Look around. 1 million people, half a million chicks. Emotionally charged. Hot, sweaty, vulnerable. I've got 20 spaces left on my cellphone and I'm gonna get 20 numbers today. I love democracy." I stared at him. And took out my phone.

I had 80 spaces open.

Saturday, March 26, 2005

Faster Pasta - a review

Restaurants come in all shapes and surprises, especially in Taipei where owners retain a healthy hatred of all customers. Faster Pasta adds a delectable twist - uncooked meat in the bolognese.

I spoke to 49-year old Michael Chen, the forward-thinking entrepreneur who believes his idea will transform the way we eat. "When I opened the restaurant we made a lot of money, but I wanted to make more money so I could go to Vegas and pay to urinate on blonde women. I watched customers come in to my restaurant and was dismayed by the inefficiency. They sat down, they took time to choose their food, it took time to cook the food, and after their meal they sat around for ages without giving me any more money. It was intolerable. I suddenly realised that I could solve all three problems by reducing the menu to two items; spaghetti or spaghetti with raw meat. I stood up in the dining area where I'd been masquerading as a customer and shouted 'Stop cooking the meat!' Since then we give them the cold meat. When people finish that they clear out real quick because I blocked off the toilets. They gotta go someplace else to do their shit. Business is booming, I gotta tell you."

Did he go to Vegas?
"Sure I did."
And did he urinate on the women?
"Dude, finding a girl who'll let you do that is as easy as writing a check for 400 bucks."
"No, I didn't. Couldn't do it in the end. I can't go if someone's watching. She was pretty disappointed."

Faster Pasta
Taipei City, 565 Zhongshan North Road, 212-715-2400
Lunch, Monday through Saturday 11:30 a.m. to 2:00 p.m.; dinner, 5 to 10 p.m. daily.
Spaghetti, $20–$25; with meat, $35–$40. A.E., M.C., V.