Thursday, March 03, 2011

Things I Miss About Taiwan

Pretty much what I expected. They include:

Bike rides. Just being able to hop on a bike, ride for half an hour in one directions and assuming you stay on the right side of that big annoying river that was north of me, being able to find your way back. Here there's cold, potholes, piles of slush, and weirdly enough, I seem to get more lost here than I did in Taiwan. In Taiwan the mountains were always to your east. Except for those few days when the smog obliterated them, you had a built-in compass.

Pools. Cheap, plentiful, with hot tubs and plenty of people who swam slower than me.

Fruit. I saw a pomelo at Trader Joe's the other day and almost bought it. I never bought a pomelo in Taiwan- random people always gave them to me.

Fresh tofu. At the corner store.

The kids. I'm a substitute teacher here. I admit it now: those 6th-graders I taught in Taiwan were not rotten.

Filling up my tank for $4 and it lasted all week.

Topping up my pre-paid cell phone with a $9 card and it lasted more than a month.

Plenty I like about being back, of course. Those things include: ovens, furnaces, English!, driving a car on a rainy day, the Steelers, English!, my family, English!, snow, my friends, snow days, races that you can register for in English and hear the announcements in English... and did I mention I can read everything everywhere? Cause it's in English?

Wednesday, December 22, 2010

It seems like I have more readers since I've pretty much stopped writing my blog. The short story is, I'm back in the US and had plans to do a couple dozen posts of old vacation photos and stories, more for my own benefit than anyone else's (because I have a horrible memory, and soon Taiwan will basically be a vague blur punctuated by some stinky tofu).

Thanks for reading!

Thursday, December 09, 2010

What to bring, what to buy there

A few people have asked me about this. You can get most things you need in Taiwan, between regular department stores like Carrefour and occasional trips to foreigner-catering places. But a few things you either can't get or would have to look really hard for during your first few weeks:

~ a flat sheet. They just don't use them and you just can't buy them. Don't bother bringing a whole set of sheets, as they won't fit, but you'll be happy to have a flat sheet.
~ cold medicine. You will get sick, and cold medicine technology in Taiwan is kind of stuck in the 80s. So bring your Nyquil and Aleve Cold & Sinus.
~ Reese's PB cups, York Peppermint Patties. If you like them, bring a bag. They're tough to find. Snickers, Twix, M&Ms and Doritos are all at your local 7-11.
~ an electric blanket if you like them and you're going to be there during the winter. I didn't have one but there were nights I wished I did.

For the ladies:
~ All the shoes you'll need, if you wear anything bigger than an 8. You can buy Birkenstocks and there are a few specialty shops for shoes but they're expensive. And bring comfortable shoes.
~ All the clothes you'll need, if you wear anything bigger than an 8, or are above maybe 5'6". I'm 5'8" and a 10 (US) and I just barely didn't fit into the biggest size in stores. There are big-ladies shops but tend to fit an Asian body, and are usually too short or just awkward-looking.
~ "feminine hygiene" these products are also stuck in the 80s. You'll be able to find good ones after you've shopped around but it's nice to have a supply when you first get here.

What to buy here:
~ A puffer jacket. When it's 50 degrees and drizzling you will want to be bundled up. These are easy to buy in any size.
~ Glasses. Relatively cheap and easy to get, and there are eyeglasses stores everywhere.
~ Prescription medicine. Bring a months' supply to tide you over, but even without health insurance, it's easy to get at pharmacies. You can't get everything at every pharmacy but ask around and you can find a place to buy everything from allergy medicine to birth control pills to Xanax over the counter, probably cheaper than you paid for a co-pay in the US.
~ vitamins, shampoo, soap, face wash, toothpaste, makeup.... Basic recognizable brands (Colgate, Dove, Pantene, Cover Girl) are all here and there's usually enough English that you know what you're getting. Department stores like Sogo have all the expensive brands and Body Shop. There's also a few brands I didn't know of in the US that are natural and sulphate-free, readily available at Carrefour and Watsons.

Wednesday, August 25, 2010

Loudspeaker Advertising Trucks

One thing I won't miss in Taiwan is the advertising trucks. They're typically a small blue truck with a loudspeaker, sometimes with an advertisement on the side. They usually play a recording telling about what they're selling (most common seems to be cram schools, but also lots of restaurants, stores, stuff like that), then a little snippet of music- kids' songs for cram schools, pop music for other ads.
They're a curse on the roads, because they tend to drive very slowly in the scooter lane, forcing you to maneuver around them. They're also a curse when I'm at home because I can easily hear them on the 7th floor and they tend to drive around my neighborhood for about 1/2 an hour.
Here's a recording of one from my apartment window. Don't be jealous of my view. You can see the truck go by pretty early on but still hear it for the whole video.

Tuesday, August 24, 2010

Thunderstorms

Remember when I said Taiwan seldom gets thunderstorms? I don't know what I was talking about. I think since I said that, we've gotten late-afternoon-thunderstorms about 5 times a week here in Taichung. It also seems like Taipei doesn't get them as often, so there goes (again) the whole Taichung-weather-is-better thing.
And they are some crazy shake-the-building type of thunderstorms. Usually pretty short and they do make for some cool nights. Also good for washing away all the crud in the air & on the ground from people frantically burning ghost money- I think it's the end or the beginning of Ghost Month. The ghost money is doing double-time.

Monday, August 23, 2010

TTJ bus (a cool thing for Taichungers)

This service has been around for a while but I never posted about it. There are some free busses going around Taichuing, called "TTJ".

I haven't found an English map on the web, but you can find a Chinese map of all the routes here: http://www.ttj.tw/en_route.html

They run every 10-15 minutes and are nicer than most of the pay busses I've been on. The bus drivers are friendlier too and will tell you where to get off if you can tell them or show them where you want to go. The bus does flash the next stop on a display at the front of the bus in both English and Chinese; some of them make announcements but I don't think those are bilingual.

I've found it to be a pretty slow way to travel if you're going a long distance on the weekend, because of so many people getting on and off. But during the week they're not crowded and as fast as a normal bus.

There's also an option on Google maps where you can search for your starting point and destination and get it mapped out by public transportation. I've found this really helpful if I need to go to a part of the city I'm not familiar with. If you can recognize street names and places in characters it's not a bad way to get around on occasion!

Sunday, August 22, 2010

Gettin' it together

Q: So have you started packing yet?
A: Dude, I've got almost a week.
Q: You're selling everything, right? So what are you sleeping on?
A: Hahaha. Of course I still have my bed.

4 years after I started to get rid of everything back home, 3.5 years since I got off the plane with 2 suitcases, and it's time once again to get rid of an apartment full of stuff. It's actually going OK. Moving is always stressful and moving to another city (much less another country) is moreso because you've got the selling/ packing/ throwing away, plus all the good-bye dinners and coffees and dou-huas, plus sadness plus wanting to get in one last epic bike ride... plus other life things that have nothing to do with moving that have kept me busy these past few weekends.

But... it's all going pretty well. The only things I have that are worth more than I'd take out of an ATM machine at once are my 2 bikes, both of which are half-sold now, and if all goes well will be all-sold soon. I've had a few people who have come to buy one thing and then treated my apartment like an artfully arranged store with limited inventory, so I've gotten rid of a few more things. Now it's just a matter of pinning down who wants the rest of the stuff.

I actually feel a lot sadder about leaving here than I did about leaving the US- I've realized it's because I knew I'd go back there someday and see everyone again. But I'm working on enjoying the time I'm spending with my friends and not being sad about the time I won't spend with them. I know I'll be happy when I get back to the US, but it might be a sad plane ride!

And... I have one of my two suitcases packed! And 18 suitcases worth of stuff to fit in the second one. But we won't think about that now. We'll just be happy about that one suitcase.

Wednesday, August 18, 2010

communication gap

I wanted to get a new pair of glasses before I come home (by the way, are big nerdy 80s glasses back in style in the US?). So I parked in an area with a bunch of eyeglass shops and started looking. Eyeglass shopping is a bit challenging because a large percentage of the eyeglasses are very cute. And I am not a cute person. Also even seemingly non-cute glasses have overly cute arms on them.
So at the first place, they asked me if I needed them to read. That was a bit of a blow. I said no, I need them to see...uh... far away things. Looked around a while, went to the second place, found an awesome pair of sunglasses- and again, do I need them to read. Who uses sunglasses to read? And do I really look like I'm close to 50?
I took a detour to the Sogo Department Store to buy a new tub of Clinique All About Eyes, which I had run out of and I thought I could last until I got back home but seriously people. Everyone had been asking me lately if I'm tired (nope, just out of the good eye cream) but I needed to do something about this reading glasses thing. The 3rd eyeglass place, they spoke English and realized right away I don't need reading glasses, so I was happy and figured that just goes to show you how awesome that eye cream is.
Back to the second place to take care of business and get those sunglasses, and after an extended conversation and some blank looks... it turns out the phrase for reading books (du shu) sounds an awful lot like the word for your vision prescription. Oh.

Sunday, August 15, 2010

Things I'll Miss About Taiwan #2

Gettin some respect when I tell kids to be quiet!

Back home:
It's 12:30 in the morning. Darn kids out on the street making a crazy ruckus.
Me: "It's really late. Could you keep it down."
Darn kids: "Hahaha! Did you hear what that lady said!"

Taiwan:
It's 11:30 at night. Cute kids out in the tiled area that separates the apartment building making a ruckus. My shouts of "be quiet!" from the 7th floor didn't work, so I went outside.
Me: "Do you know what time it is?"
Kid: "sorry, sorry, auntie."
Me: "Where are your parents?"
Kids: (run in fear)

Now that's what I'm talking about.

Thursday, August 12, 2010

Hong Kong Day 2

hong kong penghu KHS 037For my second day in Hong Kong, I made my way to Lantau Island.  It’s easily reached by subway, but I took my hotel’s shuttle to Tsim Tsa Tsui (?) and caught one of the frequent ferries to the Central Ferry, then rode another one to the town of Mui Wo on Lantau Island.  This island is pretty cool- it has Disneyland, the airport, an old fishing village, amazing beaches and amazing hikes.  And an outlet mall. 
The town of Mui Wo didn’t have much going on- I failed to change some money (small banks don’t take Taiwan $$) and went to a grocery store to stock up on food for the day, including…
OK, my self-photography skill are poor, but those are salt & vinegar potato chips, baby!  At regular potato chip prices!  Also water, nuts and a coke, all of which I needed as the day went on.  I got a quick lunch from a stand at the pier, then caught a bus to Tai O, the old fishing village.\

hong kong penghu KHS 019
The houses there were built on stilts over the water, but really it was only the porch that was over the water and you couldn’t see them that well.  Lots of shops selling dried fish and whatnot.  There were also people offering boat rides, which might have been cool, but the busses only ran once an hour and I didn’t want to spend much more time there.  Also on the boats supposedly you have a chance at seeing pink dolphins which are only found in Hong Kong.  But I feel bad about chasing endagered species so I don’t know.  Having a bus to catch made it an easy decision.  By the way there were really clear bus routes and schedules at all the tourist stops so you knew when the next one was coming. 

hong kong penghu KHS 039
My next stop was PoLin.  The ride there passed some beautiful beaches and really rural areas.  I was going there for the hike to Lantau Peak and the cable car ride down the mountain, not for the giant Buddha and monastery- but seriously, how cool is this picture?  Me and my sense of composition.  :)  I guess the Buddha weighs as much as a jumbo jet! 
After a little time at a gift shop I started searching for the trailhead for the Lantau Peak trail.  Things got a little confusing and I ran across an Australian couple who seemed to think I was on the right path. 


But I walked ahead to find this blocking the road:
hong kong penghu KHS 041
Yes, I grew up around cows.  Yes, there were other people around.  And I figured the chances were, those guys were pretty tame.  But… see those horns?  I turned around and ran into the Australian couple again… I guess several paths interconnected but soon enough I saw a sign pointing me to my trail.





hong kong penghu KHS 042
This is the view from partway up.  It was slightly rugged, though there were steps in places.  It was HOT (if you go, I’d recommend doing it in the morning, when the sun will be on the other side of the mountain) and steep.  The guidebook said it would take over an hour to reach the peak and it took much more than that.  There weren’t many people on the trail but enough that I felt safe.  Most were other tourists.  I stopped and had my chips and soda at one point- glad I had it!





There were also people week-whacking the trail. hong kong penghu KHS 047 This turned out to be really helpful- I’d say less than 20% of the trail hadn’t been weed-whacked yet but it was some tall grass to walk through.  No snakes in Hong Kong, right?
As I got near the top some clouds started rolling in, as you can see in the picture above.  I ran into some girls from New Jersey who seemed content with the view near the top and decided to turn around.  I considered it but I figured if you’re going to climb 1.75 km, might as well climb 2.  I ran into the girl at the bottom of this photo, who is a Hong Kong native and spoke English. 

hong kong penghu KHS 044
So she helped me take this picture at the top!  And then the clouds started to roll away so we got to see all around- the guidebook said you could see to Macau on a good day, but then I looked at a map and realized Macau is really close.  It was so clear, we could see all of Hong Kong and over to China.  I had always thought that the entire east coast of China is just one line of factories, but I was wrong!
hong kong penghu KHS 043Can’t seem to find all the pictures I took but this is overlooking the airport and another part of Hong Kong I believe.  In the other directions you just saw mountains and a beautiful lake. 
After a short rest my new buddy and I started down the mountain.  I planned to take the cable car down from the Buddha and then the subway back to the hotel.  Except I got there at 6:02 and the place closed at 6!  Such a bummer.  And all the food stands were closed too- it had been such a busy place earlier and it was like a ghost town!  So I took a loooong bus ride with my new buddy, but it was all I could do to maintain a little bit of pleasantness cause man was I hungry and thirsty.  The outlet mall had food options- I chose a grocery store which was set up like a maze- I was this close to sitting down and eating my turkey apple salad first and paying for it later- and I was too beat to do any outlet shopping.  It looked like a regular mall anyways.  Overall this island was very cool, although I’d plan things differently if I had it to do again.  Oh well.  So amazed that there were so many beautiful and wild places in Hong Kong!  I honestly think I could spend a few days on this island just hiking and beaching.

Monday, August 09, 2010

Penghu video

A 1-minute intro to the beach for those of you who don't like to read!

Penghu Day 2

OK, Penghu was beautiful. By far the nicest beaches in Taiwan.

On Day 2 we had some breakfast, and did a little bit of shopping, and then split up- 2 went for a glass-bottom boat tour, and Jessica and I went to a beach to hang out and later have surfing hong kong penghu KHS 090lessons. She wanted to surf and we randomly saw a Chinese flyer (that did say “Surf Club” or something in English) and we read enough to see that they offered surfing lessons, and had a name and cell phone number of a foreigner. We called him in the morning and he told us to come to Shan Shui beach, and the waves would be best around the high tide at 3 pm.

We got a taxi to take us to the “Fenggui blowholes” (cool rock formations) then drop us at the beach. hong kong penghu KHS 087 We wound up getting the same taxi driver from the day before (I didn’t recognize him because I was in the back) and he was like, “Yesterday, there were 4 foreign English teachers who went snorkeling. Do you know them?” Uh, we are them! It was a pretty funny taxi ride. At one point he said he was over 60, and I said he only looked to be in his 40s. He was all happy so I asked (jokingly) if he could give us a cheaper fare. “If you tell me I look like I’m in my 20s, it’s free!” he said.

hong kong penghu KHS 095The foreigner told us that beach umbrellas and pizza were available at the Penghu Surf Club, but it was so hot and the sun was so strong that we didn’t want to walk around looking for it. We found a place that had umbrellas to rent and basic Taiwanese food and they were the least friendly people I’ve ever dealt with. :) No matter, we got an umbrella and a quick lunch and headed to the beach. It was around noon and the umbrella was awesome. There was hardly anyone on the beach at this point. We went in the water for a while, and relaxed for a while. The beach was great, with no rocks or coral, and the water was very clear. Pretty enough that some people came to take wedding photos! In Taiwan they take photos in their wedding clothes early and then give out pictures at the actual event. Still, I can’t imagine getting sand on such a pretty wedding gown!

After a while the crowds started to pick up but the waves didn’t. Behind the beach over a flood wall there were some vendors setting up so I would occasionally go to get more cold water and then I got a snack that I thought was some mysterious sea creature. hong kong penghu KHS 096 It turned out to be a kind of fried sweet-potato pancake. Well my poor Chinese skills got me delicious food for once. But as soon as I got back under the unbrella this dumb dog came up to us, thinking it would get my food. I had to eat my snack away from our blanket and encouraged the dog to go away in both English and Chinese, much to the amusement of the other beach-goers. I had to go throw my wrapper and drink away so she wouldn’t lay by our towels and stink it up.

In the meantime, as the sun made its way across the sky, our umbrella began to cast more and more shade. A family with 2 little boys kind of camped out at the edge of our shade, which was no problem at first because they were cute. Later though it got awkward. Many little kids just wear their underwear at the beach but in this case their underwear quickly go wet so the parents took it off, leaving us with 2 half-naked boys playing in the sand 3 feet from us. And it was the wrong half that was naked.

When they left, the other 2 made it back from the glass boat and onto the beach. Even before they came, these 2 Taiwanese guys, in jeans and t-shirts, started standing at the edge of our shade, staring at us, and discussing us in Chinese. My efforts to get them to go away went from glaring at them, to asking them to leave, to having a rather poetic Chinese exchange in which I extolled the virtues of looking at the sea, the mountains and the many Taiwanese people instead of at foreigners, and finally to moving our umbrella so that it was between us and them, at which point they just moved so they could keep looking at us. Happily the sun was going down and it was soon time to leave anyways.

After a quick shower at the hotel we walked over to a restaurant we’d seen last night- “Havana Bar & Grill” with 6 choices of thin-crust pizza and lots of choices of coctails, with a bilingual menu and English-speaking manager. Quite delightful.

Tuesday, August 03, 2010

Greetings from Hong Kong!

1. Everyone speaks English.
2. I can understand more Cantonese than Taiwanese.
3. Holy smokes is everything expensive.
3a. Um, Western food everywhere? Like I'd have to go out of my way to get something other than a Cobb salad and crepes?
3b. I cry a little inside when I think about how much I spent on water yesterday.
4. Having fun and have figured out how to spend only moderate amounts of money.
5. Public transportation is convenient and easily understood (unlike in Pittsburgh and Taichung). But mostly expensive (see 2).
6. Except the Star Ferry across Victoria Harbor, which is apparently one of the 25 things to do before you die? That is 2 Hong Kong Dollars... which is more than it sounds but still way less than an American dollar.

Sunday, August 01, 2010

Out for the summer, out forever!

School, that is!
Now, whenever I hear a Taiwanese kid whine, I can just ignore them. :)
One crazy-fun thing was participating in a "water fight" on Thursday- this involved, well, a good hour of running around the basketball courts throwing waterballoons and being shot with squirt guns. Amazingly no kids were badly injured. I gotta say, though, when a water balloon doesn't break when it hits you, man does it smart.
The other thing about Water Fight day- remember how when you were a kid playing in a pool for a while made you super-hungry? I thought I'd gotten over that because swimming laps now doesn't make me super-hungry. But man the water fight made me hungry. And I have been an eating machine ever since. Like I wake up at 5 am starving and eat my breakfast then go back to bed, then wake up at 7:30 and have to eat again. It's nuts. Today I went out to eat with a bunch of people from my congregation and we had to wait a bit for a table and I was like, sorry, gotta go to 7-11 and buy some almonds. They were like, here's a piece of candy! Um, no.
After lunch I invited them to go for ice cream and being Taiwanese people they were like, "Aren't you afraid you'll get fat?" well, yes. But I'm still hungry!
Hope that will go away soon. Honestly it's kind of tiring even procuring that much food. Tomorrow early early I got to Hong Kong and then a few days on the island of Penghu. I am quite unprepared for this trip. I have a hotel and a barely-read guidebook that made me realize that Hong Kong is not 10 square miles. But I think it'll be OK.

Wednesday, July 28, 2010

Frizzle-frazzle

Rar. This day drove me crazy.
First off, it's been raining relentlessly for 2.5 days. Started on my bike ride home on Monday and hasn't really stopped. Which has led to 2.5 days of wearing my raincoat to drive my scooter which has led to 2 days of heat rash in... well... whatever you call the armpit of your elbow and knee. The crook? Man do I hate heat rash. That is some misery.
Then, all of the activities I did with my students today seemed to involve them screaming. Not a big deal, they were having fun, but I think my patience- level was up to here by the end of the day. Also I bought these dumb Merrell shoes and my feet are killlling me- don't know if it's because they're a mens size or because my feet aren't made for them? Had some things to do after work, including a haircut (fail).
So I took my ugly hair to Caves bookstore to buy a travel guide to Hong Kong and possibly some other books, because it has the biggest selection of English books around. It's actually quite a nice place and like I said, tons of English books. Except it has 4 floors and every time I go they have moved the English books. The clerk directed me to the fourth floor and in spite of the fact that I can ride my bike 100 miles in a day and just be a little sore afterwards, walking up four flights of stairs is a bit of a stretch for me. Turned out the fourth floor only had English teaching books, but the third floor had regular English books. Picked up the only travel guide they had to Hong Kong (hint to Caves: better to have 5 guides for Hong Kong and 1 for Honduras, rather than the other way around)
Then I went to look at the novels and there were a Taiwanese boy and girl- teenagers- sitting on this little bench, talking rubbish in Chinese. "Hello, I am a foreigner. Are you?" "No, I'm Taiwanese!" "Really! But I am a foreigner." They were sitting right in front of one of the bookshelves, so I told them, "There's another seat over there." "Thank you, we're very comfortable here," they said. Fine.
I moved a little past them and they started up in English:
Boy: "Your English is very poor."
Girl: "No, your English is poor."
Boy: "I know because I am a foreigner... I come from Vancouver, Canada. The weather in my hometown is seldom sunny."
OK, in spite of sore feet, ugly hair, and a dayfull of screaming 4th-graders, I had to laugh at that.
Then I went to a pretty nice vegetarian restaurant nearby, that even has an English menu. Except this tableful of brainless girls kept taking pictures of me with their cameraphones and talking about me. Daft girls.
Then I got some gelato. Very random but there's some delicious gelato to be had in that neighborhood. Salted caramel gelato. Man was that good.

Friday, July 23, 2010

Workin' for the man again

I was somehow filling up my days as a lady of leisure without really accomplishing anything, but one of the teachers at my old job had a scooter accident and broke her leg very badly, so I'm filling in until the end of the month. It's a more fun summer session but it's still kicking my butt. Part of it is coming in without really knowing what's going on and then teaching 6 periods everyday. But it's mostly fun and the kids are grade 3-4 which is my favorite age.
Then it's fly to Hong Kong... fly back to Taichung and 2 hours later fly to Penghu (an island btwn Taiwan and China) then back here to clean out my apartment. Over the course of 3 weeks. Which will still be tough for me.