Dec 31, 2010

BenShake: Cafe with Character

Old Ben (老班) is Gu Lang Yu’s soda pop, gumdrop and candy floss. The bispectacled, baseball cap wearing man with jug ears and a goofy smile has quips and witticisms for any occasion and banter.

“No one’s as beautiful as you are Ben!” yelled Rain.


“Why, thank you very much! But all that flattery won’t get you a free drink… :P.” 

BenShake: Cafe with Character - Ben
Ben working from behind the bar counter

He’s one of the reasons why the islet’s tourist population keeps returning to his hole-in-a-wall cafe. The other reasons being mean cuppas of coffee, scoops of ice-cream and looong, tasty cocktails.

From outside, Benshake (6 Fujian Road; Tel: 865 1014) looks like any other cafe on the islet. But within, it’s a cosy corner of books, little lamps and, of course, Ben - owner, barrista, bartender, waiter and Seinfeld. It’s so small that it can comfortably seat 15 people. Any more customers and we’d spill out onto the streets.

BenShake: Cafe with Character - BenShake

Check out the menus which were illustrated and created by art student Mandy T ( | QQ: 604 893 128) in “half an hour. That’s all she took to do it. She was a customer of mine who came in and kept doodling. I liked what she did. So I asked her to create my menus.”

BenShake: Cafe with Character - Menu

While you’re there, try his Avatar cocktail. Ben made this cocktail as blue as the Nabu giants, with a whole lot more sour to boot. Methinks it’s a nice way to start the afternoon.

BenShake: Cafe with Character - Avatar

Where: Benshake (Gu Lang Yu, 6 Fujian Road; Tel: 865 1014)

Photos courtesy of Rain

Dec 29, 2010

Rude Illusions

What do you see?


More by Richard Wiseman

Scene: Gu Lang Yu (Food Edition)

The food on Gu Lang Yu (鼓浪屿 aka Drum Wave Islet) is depressingly similar to Taiwanese food (see my Taiwanese Food posts).

Taiwanese Food isn’t bad. But I wanted a change of palate after two weeks of sweet and thick soups, meats, and oyster omelettes. If you’re wanting the same, try these dishes that were recommended by locals and savvy tourists.

Bamboo Worm Jelly

 Scene: Gu Lang Yu (Food Edition) - Bamboo Worm Jelly

Fat white worms hollowed, boiled and turned into jelly. Splash on some soy sauce, a dollop of wasabi, and cucumber for a surprisingly refreshing snack.

Black Sesame Mochi

Scene: Gu Lang Yu (Food Edition) - Black Sesame Mochi

Rice flour packets filled with sesame seeds, sugar and rolled on a bed of black sesame seeds.

Ngor Hiang (Five Spice Meat)

Scene: Gu Lang Yu (Food Edition) - Ngor Hiang

Instead of minced pork, they use a solid length of fatty pork mixed in with a tasty unidentifiable paste. Plenty of bite with artery-hardening overtones.

Grass Jelly

Scene: Gu Lang Yu (Food Edition) - Grass Jelly

I’m sure I’m getting the name wrong. But this clear jelly concocted by slowly boiling and congealing herbs goes down oh-so-smoothly. Must have with barley, peanuts and sugar syrup.

White Cake

Scene: Gu Lang Yu (Food Edition) - White Cake

The cake’s rather tasteless. One gets a feeling that it should go with some kind of rich meat sauce.

BBQ Shell

Scene: Gu Lang Yu (Food Edition) - BBQ Shell

Chewy, spicy and like escargot – rubbery. Beer food on the not-so-cheap.

Dec 27, 2010

Scene: Gu Lang Yu (Sights & Buildings)

Gu Lang Yu (鼓浪屿 aka Drum Wave Islet) is a tiny islet just 10 minutes from Xiamen. China has islets and islands aplenty, but Gu Lang Yu packs in the tourists for two things:

  1. It’s full of lovely Victorian architecture (quite like TsingTao come to think of it) as Gu Lang Yu became a treaty port because China lost the First Opium War
  2. There are no cars, bicycles or motorised conveyances on it. The only way to get around is by your own two feet.

Scene: Gu Lang Yu (Sights & Buildings)

The red bricks make for a nice change of urban scenery where buildings are white tiled into sterility.

Scene: Gu Lang Yu (Sights & Buildings)

One should explore Gu Lang Yu by wending through the sandwich-like alleyways and into people’s courtyards…

Scene: Gu Lang Yu (Sights & Buildings)

…where paper and bamboo lanterns hang high in alcoves to welcome tourists to part with yuan for the inside look. Of course, where there were Europeans, there are churches -- beautiful white constructs of stone, stained glass and Gothic frescos.

Scene: Gu Lang Yu (Sights & Buildings)Scene: Gu Lang Yu (Sights & Buildings)

Sadly they’ve all been converted into Retirement Homes for the aged and infirm.

Of People & Sunsets

Somehow folk living outside of cities make for great photo ops with taciturn old lady resting her back,

Scene: Gu Lang Yu (Sights & Buildings) of people and sunsets

young ‘uns striding along the beach,

Scene: Gu Lang Yu (Sights & Buildings) of people and sunsets

or friends arguing over tides and she who sells seashells by the seashore.

Scene: Gu Lang Yu (Sights & Buildings) of people and sunsets

Here’s a truth: you just can’t beat sunsets over the beach.

Scene: Gu Lang Yu (Sights & Buildings) of people and sunsets

Dec 25, 2010

Scene: Che Cheng

Talk about getting to the end of the line. 2 hours up from Kaoshiung, change at Er Shui, hop on colourful train to Long Chun, and commute the rest of the way by bus (NB: entire line is scheduled to reopen after Feb 2011).

Scene: Che Cheng

Che Cheng is a pretty town where busloads of geriatrics pour through the last stop on the line. It’s got great mountain views, fresh chilly air and pretty timber structures. The last being a result of their legacy as a logging town.

Scene: Che Cheng

Scene: Che Cheng

But when the last tourist leaves, Che Cheng becomes a quiet, idyllic town best for a draught of beer on wooden benches as the sun goes down.

Scene: Che Cheng

Scene: Che Cheng

It’s great for a day of staying over. Because in the frosty morning, heaps of actors, directors and winsome models crowd the old streets to film and photograph the next big idol drama or photo shoot.

Scene: Che Cheng

Scene: Che Cheng

Dec 23, 2010

Scene: Kaoshiung

Kaoshiung, Taiwan’s second largest city, the southern-most stop before Ken Ding (beach party anyone?). It’s according to Robert, a German traveller whom I’ve met in Tainan, “a very relaxing place.”

It shows. The city is leisurely and strangely empty.

Scene: Kaoshiung (art district)

Even during rush hour, the streets are relatively scooter- and car-free, while a fair number of shuttered shops open for a scant 3, 4 hours a day. The most people that I saw in a place was along an art gallery stretch where they posed and preened under a door sign.

Scene: Kaoshiung (people posing)

I liked the arty bits in this industrial port city.

There was a smattering of graffiti,

Scene: Kaoshiung (grafitti in a tunnel)

Scene: Kaoshiung (art district)

a smidgen of pop-art sculptures,

Scene: Kaoshiung (sculptures)

and plenty of fish drying in the sun.

Scene: Kaoshiung (drying fish)

Look out for vegetables in styrofoam boxes. According to Roman McNamara, owner of Sea Art Hostel, “The Taiwanese are only 2 to 3 generations removed from being a developing country. That’s why you’ll see people growing whatever they can, wherever they can.”

Scene: Kaoshiung (people growing vegetables)

Now that makes all sorts of sense.

Dec 22, 2010

24 hours in Changi Airport…

Stayed in Changi Airport for 24 hours. Blur like Sotong, but hey I got a story out of it. And if you’re thinking of visiting Singapore, visit the airport.

There’s plenty to see, do and of course shop.


Travel chaos has hit parts of Europe, hitting the holiday plans of thousands of tourists. Many have been left stranded as key airports like London's Heathrow shut down due to severe weather.


And when you are not snowed in, airports generally are transitory places: fly in, hustle for bags, then into a taxi, perhaps with duty-free goodies.


However, stuck with nowhere to go, an airport can be torture. Admittedly it is not going to snow in Singapore anytime soon, but this is probably the best place to camp out an an airport anywhere in the world.


Changi Airport, recently voted the World's Best Airport, has plenty to eat/see/do/shop -- so much so that this writer came away rested, inspired and without a single aching muscle. Beat that Heathrow!!

More at: I was trapped (voluntarily) in Changi Airport ... and I loved it!

Dec 21, 2010

Scene: Tainan (Temple Edition)

Tainan is Taiwan’s cultural heart. Just look at the number of temples packed into this sleepy city. There are so many of them that wherever I turned, there’ll be a temple dedicated to Matzu or Confucius.

Scene: Tainan (Temple Edition)

Scene: Tainan (Temple Edition)

Scene: Tainan (Temple Edition)Scene: Tainan (Temple Edition)
Two students taking photos of relics

She doesn’t like me very much

Scene: Tainan (Temple Edition)

Dec 19, 2010

Scene: Tainan (City Edition)

Would you believe that I found Singapore in Tainan? This shocker aside, one of the best things about Tainan is just walking (oh my aching feet) within the city.

Scene: Tainan (Everything Else)

Their wet markets are more akin to those in Laos than to say Hong Kong.

Scene: Tainan (Everything Else)

Scene: Tainan (Everything Else)

Preserved mangoes, plums, oranges, whatever. Name it they probably got that fruit but the drink is oh so sacchrine!

Scene: Tainan (Everything Else)

Scene: Tainan (Everything Else)

Scene: Tainan (Everything Else)Scene: Tainan (Everything Else)

Good night.

Dec 17, 2010

Mood: Tainan

Mood shots courtesy of Confucius Temple in Tainan. 

Mood: Tainan

Mood: Tainan

Mood: Tainan

Mood: Tainan
This one isn’t though… Took it at An Ping Old Fortress.

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