My first night here in Kaohsiung, I was wandering around after visiting Liuhe night market. I knew my night wasn’t done yet, but like in a lot of Asian countries, finding a bar was proving difficult. On top of that, I’d had a weird kind of almost-altercation earlier at the market. I wanted something sweet, which is a stupid thing to be searching for in Taiwan unless you’re prepared to eat red bean paste, but I had finally found a stall making pancakes.
“You can have two additions,” the man told me, so I asked for chocolate and condensed milk, because calories are all we have.
Anyway, it wasn’t until the woman was half way cooking the pancakes that I realised they were stuffed with bananas. Now, I really don’t like bananas. Never have. Even a bit of banana in a meal is enough to ruin it for me. However, living in Asia, I’ve become a lot more relaxed about this.
“Excuse me,” I said. “I didn’t know it had bananas. I don’t like bananas.”
The man looked at me like I was crazy. “But these are banana pancakes.”
Of course, I realised that then. The stall was actually and literally covered in bunches of bananas. But I had just thought they were an option, like condensed milk or candy floss.
“Right,” I said. “Okay. But I don’t like bananas.”
He explained this to the chef who immediately became angry and stopped cooking the pancake.
Alarmed, I shook my head and said, “no, no, it’s fine! I’ll just pick the banana out before you put the chocolate on.”
This suggestion seemed to enrage the chef even more and she threw down her spatula and stormed away from the stall. The young man who spoke English explained that, well, no banana, no pancake, and gave me back my money.
This was, to put it mildly, a deflating experience. Now, more than anything, I wanted a pancake, banana or no banana.
This is the situation I was in, wanting either a pancake or a beer, when I walked past the most improbable of all signs:
Ken’s Pancake and Bar
It was as though a light had shone down from heaven upon me. Pancakes AND a bar? Even if it were only one or the other, I was winning!
And so this is how I met Ken, of Ken’s Pancake and Bar, a Japanese guy living here in Kaohsiung. He runs this tiny Japanese-style hidey hole bar down a quaint laneway which is like nothing else in the city. There’s room for only two or three people inside, and maybe half a dozen outside, and each night a few expats and a few Taiwanese will gather at the small tables, chatting until long into the morning. The neighbours don’t love it and complain about once a month, but Ken perseveres.
He’s a man who doesn’t take up too much space, is Ken. He hangs back from a group, his long fringe covering his eyes. He looks out from under his hair when he asks a question and then hides back under it when he’s done. When he smokes, which he does frequently, he looks at the ground while he inhales, and when he exhales, he looks at the sky.
He studied English in the Philippines, and we exchange our few words of Tagalog in between long silences while drinking Asahi from carefully iced glasses. We have become friends very quickly, in the way of foreigners in a foreign town.
Ken told me last night he was getting a haircut today. He doesn’t trust Taiwanese barbers, and will pay extra to go to a Japanese hairdresser. I didn’t quite understand the finer points of the difference between Taiwanese and Japanese hair, but I suppose it is important. I wonder how the haircut went? It must be time for me to go find out. Because I still haven’t eaten any pancakes in Kaohsiung – Ken stops making them at 7pm – but I have found the best bar.