Seven Rare, Unusual, or Otherwise Distinct Foods of Taiwan, Part 1

The vast majority of people familiar with Taiwan love the food. Taiwanese cuisine is basically a blend of Fujianese and Japanese cuisine influenced by indigenous cuisines, which has drifted from both Fujianese and Japanese cuisine over time.

The cuisine which is most similar to Taiwanese cuisine is Okinawan cuisine (another melting pot of Chinese and Japanese cuisines on a subtropical island), so much so that if someone told me that the ‘traditional’ Okinawan meals I had were actually Taiwanese, I would have believed them. Taiwanese people who have been to Okinawa have also told me that Okinawan food seems to be just like Taiwanese food to them. And if you look at the labels of some of the ‘Okinawan’ specialties sold in touristy parts of Okinawa, you might notice that some of them are imported from Taiwan.

When I say a food is ‘distinctly’ Taiwanese, I mean it is a food which is primarily consumed in Taiwan and not in other parts of the world. For example, even though Taiwanese people eat a lot of stinky tofu, is not distinctly Taiwanese because it is also widely eaten in certain parts of China. Likewise, even though mochi is very Taiwanese, it also happens to be very Japanese. Thus, they are not distinctly Taiwanese foods. That said, I do give myself a some wiggleroom with regards to whether a food is exclusively Taiwanese.

So here are the seven foods, presented in order most common to rarest.

This photo of aiyu jelly is by brappy! from Taipei (Flickr) [CC BY-SA 2.0 (], via Wikimedia Commons

This photo of aiyu jelly is by brappy! from Taipei (Flickr) [CC BY-SA 2.0 (, via Wikimedia Commons

1. Aiyu jelly
Region: Everywhere, but originally from rural Chiayi

This is a very common food in Taiwan, so much so that I don’t feel it belongs on a list of ‘rare’ foods at all. However, my research indicates that it is only produced and consumed in Taiwan and Singapore (and I am guessing that, due to a lack of farmland, the Singaporeans have to import the raw ingredients from Taiwan).

I really like aiyu. It is sweet and a little sour and very refreshing.

Aiyu jelly originated from Chiayi county, and the best aiyu I’ve had was in rural Chiayi, made from wild plants. There are also some villages which specialize in farming the plant in various parts of Taiwan. I’ve even been at the very spot on the Fenqihu-Rueili Historic Trail, where a man bent down along the path to drink water from a pool, only to notice the distinct taste and texture. He figured out that the water became that way because some seeds had fallen in it, and he figured out how to make jelly from the seeds. His daughter, Aiyu, sold the jelly in Fenqihu, and the jelly was named after her.

Here is a blog post about the Rueili-Taihe trail, which is connected to the Rueili-Fenqihu trail, though unfortunately since the blogger went to Taihe and not Fenqihu he probably missed the spot where aiyu was discovered.

A drawing of bird's nest fern.

A drawing of bird’s nest fern.

2. Shansu (Bird’s Nest Fern)
Region: Everywhere. It is one of the most common plants in Taiwan, and it grows abundantly in every county except Penghu.

Bird’s nest fern grows in many subtropical and tropical Asian countries, but Taiwan is the only place where people actually eat it. It’s a fairly common vegetable in Taiwan.

Personally, I agree with all of those Asians who refuse to eat it. It is my least favorite Taiwanese vegetable. I much prefer another species of fern which Taiwanese people eat and which is eaten in other countries where it grows, probably because it actually tastes good. But hey, this is a list of rare, unusual, and distinctly Taiwanese foods, not Taiwanese Foods I Like. Shansu is common, but it is unusual, and as a food, it is distinctly Taiwanese.

This photo, "Oriental Beauty", is by Cosmin Dordea, and licensed under Creative Commons.

This photo, “Oriental Beauty”, is by Cosmin Dordea, and licensed under Creative Commons.

3. Oriental Beauty Tea
Region: Hsinchu County

This is a kind of tea which is only grown in Hsinchu County (though there are similar teas grown in a few other spots). It is an unusual kind of oolong tea. Oriental Beauty Tea cannot be grown with pesticides because it requires a certain kind of insect to bite the leaves and flavor the tea.

I think most of the Oriental Beauty tea I’ve had was low-grade and/or adulterated because the price was too low to be high-grade/pure. The one time I’ve had Oriental Beauty tea which I am sure was the real thing, it was refreshing and a bit tangy. It’s not my favorite kind of Taiwanese tea, but it’s nice and different.

There is a more detailed description of this tea at this blog.

The next four foods appear in Part 2…

The Ideal of Spontaneous Sex, and What It Means for Asexual-Umbrella Folk

Captain Heartless raises some really good points in his comment on “The Problem of Having Sex without Reciprocating Attraction or Desire”. One of the points he raises is that consent to sex is often confused with pleasure / desire / attraction. In other words, if someone does not express sexual attraction, desire, and/or pleasure during sex, the other partner(s) might feel that the sex is not mutually consensual, even if the sex was chosen by all parties.

The meme of only ‘enthusiastic consent’ being ‘real’ consent does not help, but I do not think that the meme is the origin of this issue. On the contrary, I think this meme itself came from a deeper cause.

In American culture, there is this ideal of sex being spontaneous and wild. You do it when you are hot and in the mood, and you have let go of your inhibitions. Sex is not supposed to be planned. As Captain Heartless says in his comment “… it seems a lot of partners want to believe sex is a natural and spontaneous thing where you get to see the ‘real’ person, instead of having to actually get to know me in all contexts to find a real me.”

What if sex is planned? What if someone pursues sex for a purpose other than satisfying desire or submitting to attraction? What if, instead of giving into a primal urge, sex is a calculated move?

If someone has the notion that people have sex because of primal urges, and it is revealed that someone who is not being motivated by primal urges is having sex anyway, they may mistake it for being non-consensual.

My gosh, I think I have discovered that asexual-umbrella people and sex workers have something in common. Both are groups which, when they consent to sexual activity, are often doing it for a reason other than being sexually attracted to or experiencing sexual desire for their partners.

Of course, the fact that some people generally only experience responsive sexual desire, and not spontaneous sexual desire, also indicates that sex sometimes starts with conscious choice, not by being overwhelmed by desire. Hence the stigma of only experiencing responsive desire which I mentioned in the previous post.

And if it is recognized that sex is made by conscious choice rather than irresistible desire, that makes it harder for the parties who consent to it to evade the responsibilities which come with sex.

In my previous post, I said that the problem was the expectation of reciprocation of attraction/desire/pleasure, and the potential pain which can come when that expectation is not met. As I ponder this issue more, I find that there are more and more angles. Somebody choosing to have sex without the attraction/desire also clashes with the worldview some people have.

So, what does this mean for asexual-umbrella folk? It can mean many things, depending on the situation. However, it generally means that some people are going to be displeased that we do not have the spontaneous sexual attraction and/or desire, whether we consent to sex or not.

For me, this is all support for my personal ‘sex is way more trouble than it is worth’ position.

As I have said in the comments to the previous post, the fact that I have no sexual experience makes it easier in some ways to discuss this since I can do so without revealing things which are too personal and I do not risk offending the sexual partners I’ve never had. However, there is a limit to what I can contribute, and I hope that people with more experience with these issues, like Captain Heartless, will continue to make this conversation better.

The Problem of Having Sex without Reciprocating Attraction or Desire

Talia recently wrote about how their lack of sexual attraction led to a problem in their relationship with an ex-partner. Even though I am not sex-favorable, this strikes at one of the issues which makes me stay away from sex.

Even without any practical experience with sex, I have gathered that people ‘get off’ on being desired by their sexual partners. Conversely, when someone senses that their partners do not desire them sexually … it is uncomfortable, and it can lead to hurt on both sides.

I took Health Ed (a large part of which is Sex Ed) during my first semester of high school. However, most students at my high school did not take Health Ed until their senior year, which meant I was a 14-year-old among a group of mostly 17 or 18-year olds, and we were studying/discussing sex together. I remember one particular conversation about orgasms. One (male) student talked about how his sexual partners always orgasmed, a (female) student said that some of those orgasms were probably fake, the male student said he believed that it was always real, and the female student replied that she fakes orgasms pretty often and that, by extension, a lot of women fake a lot of orgasms.

Why fake orgasms? Well, it is not hard to figure out, at least with a wealth of hints spread throughout the culture – people expect their sexual partners to enjoy the sex, and if they do not, they consider it a personal failing, and if they think that their partner is making them feel like a personal failure, they may lash back out at their partner. Thus, for a lot of people, it is better to fake pleasure than to risk going down that rabbit hole.

At this point, two notes should be made.

First, most people, at least in American culture, conflate sexual attraction, sexual desire, and to some extent even sexual pleasure. Thus, even though these concepts are differentiated in asexual discourse, they are not differentiated by a lot of people.

Second, gender roles have a huge impact. In American heterosexual culture, males are supposed to have the power to use sex to control women’s pleasure and pain. In other words, using sex to make another person feel pleasure can be an act of dominance. When a male has sex with a female with the intention of making her feel pleasure, and she does not feel pleasure, it can make him feel impotent (pun intended!)

Likewise, if someone clearly is not experiencing sexual attraction/desire (remember, these ideas are often conflated) to their sexual partner, well, in our culture that implies that either the sexual partner is not good enough, or at least they are lacking in power.

Emily Nagoski writes a lot about spontaneous desire vs. responsive desire (i.e. only experiencing sexual desire when already in a certain kind of sexual situation), and the stigmatization of mainly feeling responsive desire, as well as how this ties with flibanserin. I strongly suspect that the idealization of spontaneous desire and stigmatization of responsive desire is connected to these cultural ideas that people want to evoke sexual desire in others. Speaking of flibanserin, this New York Times Magazine article pointed out “And men, if they are willing to confront the truth, might not be so happy about the reminder, as their partners reach for the pill bottle, that their women need chemical assistance to want them.”

Now where do I fit into this?

With preparation – say, a good director, a well-written script, and rehearsal time – I could probably fake sexual attraction and sexual desire well enough to pass in front of, say, the audience of a play. In a real-life situation? I probably would not be able to fake it. I would not even know what to fake. Ditto faking orgasms (note: I have never had an orgasm). I probably would fool very few sexually experienced people. And then I might go down the rabbit hole of emotional drama.

Second, I would not want to fake any of that. If I am not experiencing attraction/desire/orgasm, I want to be honest about it. If that’s a problem, well, I am totally fine with living without sex.

This whole possibility of getting dragged into emotional drama because a sexual partner perceives that I am not experiencing sexual attraction/desire/pleasure and takes it personally is one of the reasons why I am not going to have sex unless there is a super-compelling reason to try it.

Linkspam for Asexual Awareness Week: Blogs which I Read When I Was Finally Firmly Identifying with Asexuality

This is a linkspam for Queenie’s Asexual Awareness Week Linkspam Challenge.

Whenever a survey asks ‘When did you start identifying as asexual?’ I have to put something like ‘I don’t remember” or “It’s complicated.” It took years for me to go from feeling that I might be asexual, to saying with confidence ‘I am asexual’. Around the time I started saying, with confidence, ‘I am asexual’ (very late 2009 – first half of 2010), I went on a binge of asexual blog reading.

This linkspam features the four blogs which I read the most extensively during this time period: Asexy Beast, What do you mean by sex, Asexual Explorations, and Shades of Grey which, years later, was resurrected as Prismatic Entanglements.

These are not necessarily the best posts of these blogs, or even the best posts which were written in the time period I went on my reading spree, but they are posts which were memorable to me for some reason.

Asexy Beast

This blog has influenced the style of the notes which do not fit more than any other single blog. This is the first blog I found which combined musings on asexuality with musings on miscellaneous other topics, and though there are some long posts, most of them are of modest length, like this blog.

Spotlight on the Forbidden Topic – I believe this was the first post I ever read at The Asexy Beast
Aces in Fiction: Animythical Tales – This was possibly the first mention I ever encountered of asexual-fiction written by an asexual writer.
Representation (Now with Extra Flibanserin!) – I remember reading this post around the time it was originally posted, yet I totally forgot the flibanserin part of the discussion!
Quirkyalone: A Manifesto for Uncompromomising Romantics – The idea of the quirkyalone stayed with me when I was first diving into the realm of Asexuality 201.
A-s through the ages, Episode 1 – This is the first place I encountered the notion that Sherlock Holmes and asexuality have anything to do with each other.

What do you mean by sex

This blog does a very good job of articulating the difficulty of understanding what is sexual and what is asexual, which, as someone who was just becoming comfortable with an asexual identity, was very helpful.

Breaking it Down – This post helped me think more clearly about personal relationships and what I might seek in them.
Recognizing lack of sexual attraction – This post explains how the fact that asexuals don’t know what ‘sexual attraction’ is makes it harder for them to recognize that they don’t experience it.
Vicarious Attraction – Though I have not experienced ‘vicarious attraction’ myself, I found this idea very interesting.
How does asexuality feel – What really made me feel comfortable as an asexual was discovering that ‘asexuals’ felt the same way I did, and this was one of those posts where I learned how another asexual feels.
Word games – sexual attraction again – A humorous post about how difficult it is to find a good description of sexual attraction.

Asexual Explorations

This blog started out as a blend of personal exploration and reflections on what it means to be asexual. As the years went by, the blog became more focused on academic study of asexuality, which interests me less. However, the early posts really spoke to me as I was figuring out what it means to be an asexual person.

All People Are Sexual Beings – I think this is still the most epic asexual blog post series I have ever read, and this is still the best takedown of the ‘All people are sexual beings’ meme I am aware of. This is the blog post series to which I referred a certain professor.
Asexual people of the past: should we care? – This discussion of asexuals in history stayed with me.
Repressed! – I do not use the concept of ‘asexual repression’ myself, but the personal part of this post and the main point about ‘sexual repression stayed with me.
Asexy Ambivalence – This is a good description of the simultaneous relevance and irrelevance of asexuality.
Some reflections on coming to identify as asexual – This story has a lot of parallels to my own journey to identifying as asexual, which is no doubt why this post made such an impression on me.

Shades of Grey (now known as Prismatic Entanglements)

This is the blog which introduced me to a lot of Asexuality 201 topics. It’s the first place where I found any in-depth discussion of grey-asexuality, what it is like to participate in sex as an asexual, some of the broader social implications of asexuality, etc.

Radicalizing the Children – This post is notable mainly because I think it’s the first post from this blog which I ever read.
Positive Metaphors: Chandelier Culture – At the time I was coming to terms with being an asexual, I had … mixed feelings about the negative definition of asexuality. This post helped put than in a different light (pun intended!)
Confessions – This post supported my suspicion that some non-asexual people do not like sex as much as they claim they do.
So what is a sex drive, anyway? What does “libido” mean? – What stayed with me about this post is a) that in Ancient Greece the most popular male-male sex act was frottage, and that anal sex is not necessarily *the* gay male sex act (this was news to me at the time) and b) the “lovely little conversation” Elizabeth had with her sister
That Weird Couple – The post which introduces Cupcake! I generally like the posts which discuss the relationship with Cupcake. It’s one of the first examples of a good intimate relationship involving a self-aware asexual which I read about.


Though I did not binge on The Venus of Willendork the way I did the above blogs, this particular section from Now the Story Is Different made a deeper impression on me than almost anything else I was reading in ace blogs at the time:

In contrast with several other queer populations, asexuals — largely because of their “newness” on the social radar — don’t seem to have a consistent story that’s being touted. That’s one of things I’ve found most striking about the asexual communities I participate in, actually … Asexuality is revolutionary partly because it offers people a chance to define their story outside of the “we are all fundamentally sexual beings” template, challenging the very definition of “sexuality.” It gives people the opportunity to define for themselves who they fundamentally are. I would really hate to see that compromised, to see it transition to the point that it offers only one alternative story, the collapsed Asexual Person’s Narrative, instead of a space where people can explore themselves and define their “character” in their own terms.

I’ve Seen This Movie Before, and I Remember the Ending: On the Tech Bubble and Unaffordable Housing (Part 2)

Read Part 1

You know how I mentioned that a lot of Silicon Valley workers were living in San Francisco? One of them was my dad. He was a computer programmer, and he would drive or take the train down to places like Menlo Park, Mountain View, and Redwood City. He was living in San Francisco partially because my mother owns a house in San Francisco, but partially because he doesn’t like Silicon Valley, and does not want to live there. Silicon Valley reminds him of how the semi-rural town he grew up in got developed into a suburb full of generic houses and businesses, ripping out most of the natural environment in the process. He prefers San Francisco because, as he puts it, “San Francisco has history”.

Anyway, what happened during the dot-com bust?

Rents fell. Housing remained expensive, but there was much less talk and protest about gentrification, and housing was no longer the top political issue. What became a more important political issue? I’ll give you a hint: according to the California Employment Development Department the 1999 unemployment rate in San Francisco was 3.1%. In 2002, the unemployment rate was 6.9%. And then a year later the municipal government started issuing same-sex marriage licenses, which both provided a welcome boost to the economy and gave everyone another political issue du jour…

2002 was the year my dad lost his last job. His plan was to live off his savings until he could get another job – but he never did get one. Luckily for him, a combination of Social Security (once he became eligible), his savings, and what he inherited from his parents has been enough for him, and I now describe him as ‘retired’. Granted, he had ageism working against him, so his employment situation can’t be entirely blamed on the economy, but I don’t think it’s a coincidence that he dropped out of the workforce around the time of the dot-com bust.

The fall in both housing and commercial rents were a boon to some folks who were hurt less by the dot-com bust than by the heights of dot-com era rents. I knew some of these folks. Nonetheless, there is a reason why nobody says ‘Let’s reduce the rents and the cost of buying a home by doubling the unemployment rate!’.

I think, however, that an economic downturn is going to be the very thing which brings down the cost of housing in San Francisco, just as it was in the dot-com boom-bust. I see signs that the downturn is already beginning – such as the layoffs at Twitter (note that Twitter has never turned a profit). And I fear that, just as this housing crisis was more extreme than the dot-com one, the coming economic downturn will also be even harsher than the dot-com bust.

I’ve Seen This Movie Before, and I Remember the Ending: On the Tech Bubble and Unaffordable Housing (Part 1)

If you live in the San Francisco Bay Area, you are almost certainly aware that available housing is extremely expensive, and that there is a lot of fuss about the ‘tech’ industry – by ‘tech’ I mostly mean companies which have something to do with the internet and associated devices. The connection between the ‘tech’ companies and their cash, including their employees and their cash, and the high cost housing, is widely understood. The (Inner) Mission is being gentrified, South of Market (SOMA) is being gentrified (for people who aren’t familiar with San Francisco, these were once poor / working class neighborhoods), and the high cost of housing is the top political issue. Meanwhile, there is a lot of buzz around companies which make content/apps for the internet and smartphones. Some of these companies are actually in Silicon Valley, yet their employees live in San Francisco.

All of this gives me a powerful sense of déjà vu.

I was in San Francisco during the dot-com boom. I was a lot younger, and I wasn’t aware of a lot of issues at the time, but a lot of the things I see and hear now feel like flashbacks.

Housing has been expensive in San Francisco for as long as I can remember, but during the dot-com boom, it got even more expensive, and commercial rents also went up. A lot of people talked about how San Francisco was turning into a bedroom community for the tech employees. Heck, I’ve heard anecdotes about young tech employees buying condos in the Tenderloin back then (the Tenderloin is another neighborhood known for having a concentration of poverty and crime).

The cost of housing became so expensive because the demand became so great. One of my high school teachers described the dot-com boom as a time when you could show up in San Francisco and get a job – the tough part was getting housing.

Of course, now the rents are even higher than they were during the dot-com boom, but as far as I can tell, the difference is only a difference of degree – pretty much every angle of today’s housing crisis in the San Francisco Bay Area seems like something which was going on in 2000.

One of the things about the dot-com boom is that very few of those companies ever made a profit. Likewise, very few offered any good or service which was more helpful to people than the alternatives. However, investor money kept on pumping in, for a while.

Once again, in the present day, we have companies with a lot of buzz and … no profits. I hear people making pitches for their startup which will make some type of app on public transit.

Speaking of public transit, about a month ago I saw an ad for an app which allows you to pay you rent with a debit/credit card at Van Ness Station. Assuming one has enough money to maintain minimum balances, it’s not hard to open a checking account and write checks to landowners, yet this company still thinks there is a market for this service. Aside from the high cost of the credit card fees, there are legal questions. I am not a lawyer, but my understanding on San Francisco law is that, even if there is no clause in the contract barring third-party checks, a landowner can legally refuse any check which bears the name of any party other than the tenant whose name is on the contract. The only potential market I can think of for this expensive service are young people with high salaries who are intimidated by the thought of learning how to deal with checks. Will their salaries remain high indefinitely?

Just as I was in San Francisco during the dot-com boom, I was also there for the dot-com bust. I’ll discuss that in Part II.

An Aromantic Reader and Fictional Romances

This is for the October 2015 Carnival of Aces: Aromanticism & the Aromantic Spectrum

In what I think is my first post where I actually discussed aromanticism, I mentioned being an aromantic who enjoys fictional romances.

I want to delve into what that means.

I rarely read any work of fiction which would be labeled as mere ‘Romance’. In fact, the only novel I can think of which I have read all the way through which squarely belongs in ‘Romance’ as opposed to, say, ‘[Genre] with a Heavy Dose of Romance’ is Venetia by Georgette Heyer. And even that one is historical fiction, albeit generally known as ‘Regency Romance’, not ‘Historical’.

For the record, I thought Venetia was okay, but I was not inspired to read more Heyer or ‘Regency Romances’.

Have I read a lot of romance comics, mostly from East Asia, as well as watched a lot of Taiwanese idol dramas, which are usually mostly about romance? Yes, yes I have. Have I read a number of yán​qíng ​xiǎoshuō​ (言情小說) by Qiong Yao? Yes, yes I have, though I have argued that yán​qíng ​xiǎoshuō are not the same as what we call ‘romance novels’ in English. I should point out that one of my motives for reading/watching a lot of these stories was practicing Chinese.

I don’t seek out fiction for the romance, but romance is really, really common in fiction, and I often find myself really enjoying reading (well-written) romance.

The thing is, I am a sucker for intense, passionate relationships between compelling characters, and a lot those relationships which are presented in fiction are, well, romantic.

(Also, I am a sucker for melodrama, which is why I can get addicted to soap operas).

I didn’t used to like romance in fiction. When I was a younger reader, I strongly disliked romance being in my fiction. It was only when I was in high school that I started to actually enjoy romances in fiction, which at the time I assumed had something to do with puberty and becoming a sexual/romantic person … ha ha ha ha ha ha ha.

However, even then – and ever since then, I may add – I have found romances where the main couple does not get a happily-married ending to be especially satisfying. Okay, sometimes I do root for the main couple to get together and get their happily-paired-for-life ending, but I often like it better when they don’t.

For example, one of the things I adore about Shēn Diāo Xiá Lǚ (if you’ve been following this blog for a long time, you should have known I would mention that novel at some point) is the fact that the wedding happens in the middle, not the end, of the story and the main couple still has to go through a lot of … suffering even after being married (spoiler: they do get reunited in the end, but it doesn’t feel like a typical happy ending for a romance to me).

Another example is The Widow Claire, Part 4 The Orphans’-Home Cycle (The Orphans’-Home Cycle, the second most famous cycle in the American theatrical canon, is a set of plays depicting the life of Horace Robedeaux). One of the things I love about that play is that Horace and Claire separate at the end of the story! Suffice to say, I don’t like Part 5, Courtship, nearly as much as The Widow Claire.

Anyway, I strongly suspect that the satisfaction I get out of fictional romances where the couple ends up separated, not together, has something to do with the fact that I aromantic. I don’t want to be romantically together, I want to be romantically apart.

These days, the appeal of fictional romance is waning for me because a) as I read/watch more, they seem more and more the same and b) I am getting better and better at critically analyzing romance in fiction. Or to merge those two thoughts together, I am getting really tired of the Relationship Escalator.

However, I am just as interested in well-written and intense personal relationships between compelling characters in fiction as I ever was. An example I discovered in the last year came from a direction I did not expect at all: Harry Potter fanfiction (at some point, I plan to write an update of this old post). It’s Siggy’s fault for introducing me to Harry Potter and the Methods of Rationality. My favorite part of the story are the scenes featuring Harry and Draco (yes, I am shocked by that second part – I find Draco in the original Harry Potter novels uninteresting). Those two characters have chemistry, and it is totally non-romantic (as well as non-sexual).

Strangely, I’m not especially personally interested in seeing aromantic characters in fiction. I would love to read about well-written aromantic characters, and I encourage fiction writers to include aromantic characters because broader representation is good, but, on a personal level, I am also OK with the absence of explicitly aromantic characters. What I really, really want is even more fiction which explores all of the different kinds of intense, passionate personal relationships which aren’t romantic, and acknowledges that these relationships don’t need to be romantic to be fascinating and important.