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Curious John

English Service host John Van Trieste is curious. There’s nothing about Taiwan’s many cultures that he doesn’t want to know more about. Join him every week as he gets to the bottom of yet another question. What will he be curious about this time?

What's On

15 May, 2021
Biandang- Taiwan's power meal

The humble biandang is a Taiwanese institution, simple as can be, but full of enough calories to power an entire nation. Biandang can be rich in meat or vegetarian, but they always include cooked vegetables and perhaps some tofu, all served over a bed of steaming white rice and packed into a simple square box. These days, biandang are served to order, and you can order them in train stations or in take out form. But these ready-to-eat boxed meals—deeply seated in Taiwanese culture though they are—haven’t always been this way. In fact, they’ve undergone decades of change and innovation to evolve from their foreign forbears to the distinctly Taiwanese meal we know today. This humble boxed meal of meat, tofu, vegetables, and rice is the subject of the latest exhibit at Taipei’s Museum 207. The museum’s director, An Qi, joins us today for a tour of this Taiwanese meal’s history.

08 May, 2021
The Story of Taiwan's Black Tea

Taiwan has plenty of world-renowned teas. But until recently, black tea was not among them. Sure, Taiwan’s black tea was long widely exported. But until not that long ago, this was just cheap swill for foreigners. No one here would drink it. When the foreign markets collapsed in the 1970’s, Taiwan’s unappreciated black tea might well have disappeared. But the work of a team of local scientists and farmers has seen black tea’s fortunes not just revive but prosper here in Taiwan. Today, black tea has taken its place in the pantheon of teas connoisseurs associate with Taiwan. The journey of black tea from to Taiwan’s shores and from Taiwanese boom to bust to boom again is the subject of a new exhibit at the Pinglin Tea Museum. The museum’s director joins me today for a look at a long-ignored Taiwanese treasure that’s finally gotten its due.

01 May, 2021
The Grand Hotel

How do you make a hotel thrive in the time of COVID? It’s a question RTI’s neighbor, the Grand Hotel, has figured out, even as the foreign tourism market has collapsed. It hasn’t been easy, but this nearly 70-year-old hotel has two aces up its sleeve that have helped immensely. One is the hotel’s romantic past. Who wouldn’t want to stay in a place that’s hosted everyone from Dwight D. Eisenhower to Elizabeth Taylor? And then, there’s the hotel's current chairman, Lin Yusheng. Under his leadership, the hotel has started to use its storied past to its advantage, opening up its long-hidden secrets to the Taiwanese public. The response has been enthusiastic to say the least. The hotel has even started turning a profit, something it hadn’t done in more than 20 years. Over the past two weeks, I’ve taken you to some of the recently opened attractions the hotel has to offer. We’ve seen the secret Cold War tunnels that run beneath the hotel and the house where the hotel’s first manager, a mysterious woman named Kong Er, once rested in her off hours. This week, we’re heading to the hotel’s top floor to the office of Mr. Lin Himself to see just how far the hotel has come despite all the crises the past few years have thrown at it.

24 April, 2021
The Mysterious Boss of the Grand Hotel

Join us in search of the real story behind the Taipei Grand Hotel's first manager, a mysterious and formidable woman whose private quarters have just been opened to the public after many decades of seclusion.

17 April, 2021
The Mysterious Tunnels of the Grand Hotel

Imagine finding out that a place you thought you knew well is actually full of secrets. I’m talking false walls, hidden doors, and secret passages. It sounds like the premise of some pulpy spy novel, right? Well, that’s what actually happened to me this week. For close to eight years, I never suspected anything about the great stone wall off to one side of RTI’s parking lot. But the wall is hiding something, a Cold War mystery that’s only just been solved. Join us today as we descend into the tunnels that hide beneath RTI's neighbor, Taipei's Grand Hotel!

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