Category Archives: Grounds For Discussion

GFD: Lei Lei Brunch Café, Hsinchu.

leavinghinschu

Today, Hsinchu is warm and sunny, and I have feelings which amount to optimism on the one hand and loss on the other. This afternoon I will leave Hsinchu for the last time, maybe never to return, but the future is bright, bright like a nuclear explosion.

Yesterday I tried to flog the scooter I bought only to discover that I never legally perchased it in the first place. So I’ve been driving around illegally for 5 months and now I can’t technically sell it. Instead, today I will sell it to a guy for a biscuit of what I paid. But ‘ey, this departure process has cost some money. What’s an extra  $NT5,000? I also virtually or literally gave away a rice cooker, hot plate, fan, frying pan, plants, and more as the escape plan took hold.

I’m now here with the wonderful Lisa Yang for a final breakfast. She probably taught me more Chinese than anyone and was more than patient with all my bad student ways. She’s also helping me with complicated and boring tax things, more of which would be do mundane to recount. We found this place on a post-tax hungry scooter run, and only have an hour before I have to meet the scooter guy. We get breakfasts. Mine is, fittingly, an ‘English breakfast’. It’s soup, bacon, salad, bread, egg and, most gratifyingly, scones. While the breakfast was anything but English (no grease) the scones were through and though die hard Brit.

How to pronounce scone? The o_e suggests a long o to rhyme with bone, but in my family we say ‘scon’. I think that whatever pronunciation you pick, you think the other way is for the poshos. I give Lisa some scone and she agreed with me about it’s tasty goodness. Creamy, jammy happiness. Yes, if nothing else made me want to go home, the scones do.

Turns out, I soon realise, the café owner spent a long time in Sheffield. Evidently the inspiration for the café came from this trip, and I commended him on his scones. How do they say scone in Sheffield, I ask myself. I didn’t ask the owner: the notion of regional accents seems to confuse the Taiwanese and their belief in a monolithic American accent reflected in their almost holy KK phonetics system.

Goodbye Hsinchu, your wind, and the friends I made. Goodbye to Yaxiang Fan, the duck place I frequented more and more as I got bored of cooking. Goodbye, the cool-dude street dancers under the roundabout. Goodbye to the scooters…oh I’ll see you in Taipei! For I leave for there in 3 hours.

by Adam

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好日, Hsinchu, Taiwan.

warm

This means good day, hǎo rì. But rè (熱) means hot, so it can mean very warm if you say it wrong, which is what I tend to do. It’s a teak joint of trinkets and pretty people. Unused bar stools line the bar and a posse of girls drink cold teas and talk on the next table. Sometimes, they do drawing or watercolour classes here, but not today – today is beverage time.

I’m slowly working my way through a Joyce novel but really I want to read the Cleanest Race, a book about North Korea. However, getting hold of English books in Hsinchu is a small challenge, unless you want One Day, Twilight or Jane Austen.

I went to the bank to ask about transferring money. With each bank I approach I am compelled to look at them with a kind of Larry David suspicious face, wondering if they can be trusted. They are banks after all. They stare right back at me with suspicion when I tell them I’m paid in cash. ‘Any shifty behaviour with money,’ they tell me, ‘should be done by us.’

You can buy clothes and bags and woven bears in here, all handmade apparently. I stick with an Americano. A bit like me in the Taiwanese summer, this mug conducts heat and cannot be touched. They give you a wicker basket thing for protection. It’s a nice touch, nicer than the branded cardboard cylinders you normally get.

Talked to both parents yesterday and the sister. The mother and sister might come to Taiwan. The father has run out of holiday for the time being. We talked about the ‘democracy in action’ – his words – which led to the rejection of war on Syria. What a mess that is. Oh to make a decision like that, when I am someone who frets about what movie to watch, sometimes for hours.

This morning I watched The Usual Suspects. Last week I did a Denzel Washington marathon. Movies have become something of a safety net, a comfort blanket, when aimlessly lingering at home.

But I got a scooter, and with that comes adventure. Today it came in the form of a trip to the bank and to 好日. In a while I’ll go to the music shop next door to ask about teaching music. Then home, work, home and sleep.

GFD: From Our Café Correspondent – Age Café, Hsinchu, Taiwan.

age

Dear Diary,

AFTER SPENDING THE ENTIRE DAY DEALING WITH ENGLISH STUFF, it was already 10:00 at night. Adam, my working partner, and I were searching for a nice place to relax. No place was better than a café where it stayed open until 2AM. It’s called Age Café. It’s for all the ages, not senior citizens only.

When we first came in, the waiter opened the door for us and took us to a seat politely. During the first ten minutes, we were getting too excited about language exchanging that we almost forgot to order. Then we started sharing English jokes, Chinese tongue twisters and other things from Jammatology.

I know I’m not such a brilliant language learner as I cannot get the main idea immediately. Luckily, my partner is so nice that he’s willing to explain everything in deeeeeetails for me. And I’ll keep trying hard.

But there was bad news for me. I found myself having difficulty saying the sentence, “I would like wood”. Adam told me he couldn’t hear “W” sound when I said these two words. This time he was not patient enough because he didn’t teach me how to fix the problem. That made me a little bit frustrated.

Anyway, instead of having fun in a bar or night club, I prefer to hang out in a quiet place. And it was indeed a lovely good night, thanks.

by Lisa Yang

Bruin – Hsinchu, Taiwan

bruin hshinshu

The highest recorded voice in a song must be that song Loving You by Minnie Riperton. I heard that every time the high part of the song came around a studio technician had to stab Minnie, because the note can’t be reached without the help of pain or fear. It’s playing in here, and Zijun and I chuckle each time it goes so high and the glasses on the shelves vibrate.

She’s visiting from Taipei to give me some company on this typhoon weekend. The city locked down as the winds and rains approached, and I made the unwise decision to go and buy beer. I got caught in a pre-typhoon rainstorm. After that, confined to my room, we got drunk and listened to music. Friday’s work was cancelled and Saturday’s training was cancelled. If I know one thing it’s that not working is better than working. The typhoon was predictably wet and windy but its Sunday now and the sun is back out, hence our being here.

We’re in this cosy café with shelves of coffee grinders and cakes, stuffed bears and books. It’s almost empty. A young couple have come in. Other than them its just the woman who runs the place and, following the yelping Minnie Riperton, Rod Stewart as our company. I have a Brazilian coffee. It reminds me of many I’ve had in London, with that slightly metallic first taste. It helps with the reading of Joyce. Zijun has bacon, egg, peaches, toast, juice and coffee, all for $100 (£2.20-ish). Dang, that’s what I should have got…

With the typhoon heading over to China, it looks like work on Monday is assured. With that solemn truth sinking in, I listen to Rod Stewart’s timeless advice: Wake up Maggie I think I got something to say to you. Thanks Rod, it’s not just air within that sheepdog skull of yours.

by Adam

Abacus Coffee House, Richmond

abacus

‘Oh how I have longed for a café that stays open past the hour of six,’ I thought as I stared forlornly out the H37 bus window. No sooner had the thought entered my head that the bus passed Abacus coffee house, a sign on the door saying ‘Open till 11pm.’ Were my eyes deceiving me? It is true that anything beyond a three metre radius becomes a slight blur for me, but I felt that I had reason to shove doubt into the tight crevice of my shorts pocket.

Upon getting off the bus and approaching the café, my hopes were confirmed. The café interior seemed dark, but probably only in comparison to the brightness of the outside. As I reached the counter I was of course crippled by indecisiveness, a response to the array of teapigs teas on the shelf. I settled on peppermint in the hope that it would settle and refresh a slightly hung over and torpid state.

I placed myself on the sofa under a Jules et Jim poster,  hoping to channel French New Wave cinema as I got my notebook out. I had started writing a few words when my tea arrived, accompanied by a little bowl to house the soggy bag once it had been squeezed of all its minty goodness. I watched the tea infuse and turn golden as a teenage girl told her father how one of her friends didn’t have any common sense. ‘Well, she has more common sense than you do,’ he replied. Her protestations were drowned out by a group of men coming in to have shisha out the back.

The writing on the front window was reflected on the wall as the sun set, the words ‘whole leaf tea’ gradually disappearing. The words from my pen had ceased to make themselves shown in my notebook, so I abandoned the writing to make use of the free wifi, seizing upon the signal’s strength to stream live radio. The sound of funk permeated through my ears whilst I delved into Chekhov, and as the clock struck nine, I quite fancied that Abacus could be my new local café, or perhaps an office in which I could abandon doing work to escape into Russian literature. I chortled at the last few lines of the short story, the words on the wall having completely disappeared.

by Chris

GFD Map

gfd map 2

Fineliner wielding Jammatologist Chris has combined his lack of navigational and topographical skills to produce this Grounds For Discussion map of London cafés. See if you can spot your favourite caffeine fuelled haunts and check out their reviews on this blog. If you can’t see a café on there that you feel should be there, then why not write about it and send it to us, and it shall appear on these pages and become part of the winding roads and side streets of this GFD map.

Ink Coffee, Hsinchu, Taiwan.

ink coffee

I’m upstairs in the wooden Ink Coffee, Hsinchu’s 30 square metres of trendiness. Today we have Sigur Ros on the radio, last time it was Aphex Twin: could be rival for the Best Music in a Cafe award. And what’s this, I spot Haruki Murakami’s Kafka on the Shore in the little library that separates the room into two. A pang of nostalgia washes over with this music and literature combo, leaving me feeling somewhat lost.

So many coffees in this pricey and well presented menu of theirs: Kuroshio, Latte with Spices, Indian Monsoon Malabar, Costa Rica Tres Rios… I check my money and opt of a boring old cappuccino. It’s $140 dollars which is about £3. Considering the hourly wages of the Taiwanese and the price of normal groceries, coffee seems to be curiously expensive. It makes a coffee in a nice place a rare treat, rather than a daily habit. Of course you can always downgrade to Donutes or 85• but you can say goodbye to Aphex.

So you want to take your time over your slightly expensive coffee. The waitress helps you out by taking half an hour to deliver it. Today I don’t mind, I have the time, and a stack of homework to mark. The waitress apologises for the lax service and I mumble something convivial like, ‘take your time, I’m a friendly foreigner.’

For that is why I am here. I’m Teacher Adam as of last month. I’m marking the kids homework, chuckling at the amusing mistakes they make – “Yes, I like to eat the chair…”

The cappuccino comes on a wooden board in a glass, with a mini wooden spoon and a tiny metal jug for sugar. It’s not fluffy, like the capparchetype, but it is very serious and sustains the job of marking homework as it gets increasingly monotonous.

I came before with Joel and Kyle, two other teachers, just after I arrived in Hsinchu. We drank dark beers from Belgium and such places. These guys have been welcoming to me, the starry eyed and cynical newbie: they confirm my fears and accept my optimism in equal measure. As you might have guessed, these dark imported beauties have a heavy price tag too, so savour those bittery sips.

Not only is this a place for Sigur Ros, Murakami, dark beers and fine sugar, for I also started a reading group and our first meeting was here. We discussed Edward Said and Chinese food and custom, and boy, it is nice to have conversation again. We need conversations like air and love, and now I have two out of three – a personal best.