Dressing Taiwanese

11 Jul
♫ Dressing Taiwanese, I think I’m dressing Taiwanese. I really think so. ♪♫
I sing this anytime I put on pastel-colored lacy things, especially when black leggings are involved.
Fashion isn’t a passion of mine, but it’s clear that Taiwanese fashion influenced not just my style but also my understanding of Asia. Here are a few of my fashion and shopping experiences followed by photos of the more eye-catching outfits I encountered while living in Taipei, the capital of Taiwan. Or, if a humorous story sounds more appealing, skip to the last few paragraphs preceding the photos.
Take this color palette
large muted color palette
and add pale pink and green.
With these colors in mind, let’s discuss style. For your imagined Taiwanese female attire, conjure up a dress or skirt and blouse. Add any number of pleats or ruffles, possibly both. If those are lacking, plug in lace or a tucked-in, ivory blouse. When I got back to the United States in late 2013, I realized lace is popular here as well. However, Americans do not share the Taiwanese’s inclination to mix patterns. For many people in Taiwan, stripes with floral is no problem at all. I’m afraid it rubbed off on my roommate and me a bit. Luckily Austin, Texas is extremely accepting of pattern mixing along with just about every other fashion choice.
As most would guess, clothing sizes in Taiwan are smaller to match the people who are, on average, smaller than westerners. However, some western stores such as Zara’s and Net have similar sizing to what you find in the United States.
Inexpensive, often stylish Korean clothing is extremely small. Korean clothes are often found in Taiwanese night markets. Imagine walking in the night-market street breathing in wafts of stinky tofu and squeezing past 15 hand-holding couples when you see jean shorts. You think, “I need jean shorts!” It’s humid in Taiwan, and shorts seem like they could very well save your soul. You pull a pair off the rack and begin wondering if this is a little girls’ “store” (rack of clothes on the side of the street). But it’s not. And you ask the teeny tiny employee if you can try it on. She hesitates, guesses what you’re getting at, frowns, and with a clear shake of her head, says, “No try on.” Next time, you don’t ask because it’s very obvious there are no dressing rooms at most of these stands. But you also don’t shop for shorts at the night market anymore because you’ve got a bum and most Koreans don’t. End of story.
If you are a western female planning to move to Asia, this paragraph is for you. As a size 4, I was right on the edge of fitting into night-market clothing, and I had to be selective about which regular stores I shopped at too. When I became a size 2 (no, the Taiwanese cuisine did not help me lose weight, but a surgery to ameliorate sleep apnea did), my options increased considerably. Here are some places that carry western styles and/or larger sizes in Taipei: expensive department stores such as those at the Zhongsxiao Fuxing Mall, reasonably priced western chains such as Zara or Net, and this gem of a find—Best Buy—that sells  brand-name American clothes for cheap via some kind of arrangement with the factories.
My roommate wears a size 9 women’s shoe and had a very limited selection; I believe she only found athletic shoes in her size and waited for a trip back to the States to get additional shoes for work. My experience was much different because I am shorter. For example, for once in my life, I enjoyed shopping for dresses. Straps falling off my shoulders or cocktail dress reaching my calves were issues of the past while I was in Taiwan. I got into the Japanese-style clothing as it is a little classier than the imported Korean clothes and a bit more colorful and unique compared to Taiwanese clothes. Some of the Japanese clothing stores, like à-la-sha, arealasha more goofy-cutesy than classy, though, and carry items like this sock, which is just about the tamest thing I’ve seen at their stores. Most items have vague animal or people shapes conspicuously stitched on or hanging off. That might sound horrible, but I must admit that my relationship with my whale pants is still going strong.
Now for a funny and embarrassing story. Walking around Taipei one day, I wandered into a small clothing store. All but three Taiwanese stores are small, so don’t focus on that detail. As I browsed through some of the items, I was vaguely aware of two female employees staring at me from about five meters away. I began to have a funny feeling about the clothes, or perhaps the stares from the women, so I took a better look at my surroundings. The shop wasn’t very aesthetically pleasing, and I suddenly realized I was in a dry cleaning place. The clothes I had perused (with my hands. one by one!)  were customers’ dry cleaned items awaiting pick up. Mortified, I turned and walked out. I did it slowly so as to appear as though I’d simply decided those clothes were unfit for my taste, not that I’d became aware of my status as a moron who needs to learn Chinese.
 Now for the clothing photos I took in Taipei, Taiwan. Many are of brighter colored outfits because they caught my eye and make for better photos, but those are the exception, not the rule, except near the universities and on children.
IMG_3210 (2)

Ivory and off-white colors are very common for women.






My guess is that she is not Taiwanese. I'm going by the loud colors and her appreciation of of the sun (sun tan).

My guess is that she is not Taiwanese. I’m going by the loud colors and her appreciation of of the sun (tanned skin).


I went into this store once and tried on a couple of these expensive wigs. There are several of these stores in Taipei, Taiwan.



Cute/strange clothing like this is common. As are seemingly random English words: Grey, be with you, happens, happiness

Playboy Bunny attire is very popular in Taiwan. The nurse at the clinic near my house had Playboy Bunny work shoes.

My friend helped me capture the popularity of Playboy Bunny attire. The nurse at the clinic near my house had Playboy Bunny work shoes. Work shoes.




Most elementary through high school-aged kids wore uniforms like these.


This is a “Taiwan Beer Girl”. At certain restaurants, these ladies serve Taiwan Beer.





Some of the store names are… cute.




This style is a common sight.


A not-very-extreme example of the pattern mixing: animal print shoes, plaid shorts, and triangular stripes.


This is one of my students whose mom always dressed him in something awesome or odd, or awesomely odd. His shirt has black fabric hanging from it. And his jeans have a built in faux boxer. The shorts that are sticking out of his jean shorts are not really shorts, just a bit of fabric to give the appearance of him bustin’ a sag. Gotta give those 4-year-olds a head start on the important lessons in life… ?


and shorter

and shortest!

These are likely Korean night-market shorts.


pattern and style mixing at it's finest

Pattern and style mixing at it’s finest



This gives you an idea of what the jewelry is like too. It was nearly impossible to find jewelry not inundated with cubic zirconia.


Art Museum in Northern Taiwan

17 Mar
Last August I went with three friends to Ju Ming’s incredible art museum outside of Taipei, Taiwan. Ju Ming is a 74-year-old, world-famous sculptor and artist from Taiwan. After traveling by bus for over an hour to the mountainous area of Jinshan, we took a taxi up a mountain to the museum. Photography is allowed, so I made sure to get 3,ooo photos. Here are the best ones!
Many of the outdoor sculptures depict soldiers in the Nationalist-Communist Civil War when supporters of the KMT fought against the CPC (Communist Party of China). The KMT supporters ended up in outlying islands such as Taiwan.

Many of the outdoor sculptures depict soldiers in the Nationalist-Communist Civil War when supporters of the KMT political party fought against the CPC (Communist Party of China). The KMT supporters ended up in outlying islands such as Taiwan. This soldier is carrying the Taiwanese flag.

These sculptures were spread throughout the property (acres and acres), and many were in large platoons as in the group partially photographed here. Ju Ming said he made one of these soldiers per day... out of bronze, I believe. It would have taken me all day just to count how many sculptures in this "Armed Forces" series alone.

These sculptures were spread throughout the property (acres and acres), and many were in large platoons as in the group partially photographed here. Ju Ming said he made one of these soldiers per day… out of bronze, I believe. It would have taken me all day just to count how many sculptures in the “Armed Forces” series alone.

IMG_7417 IMG_7420

Here a couple is chaperoned by an Auntie who is either bored or disapproving.

Here a couple is chaperoned by an Auntie who is either bored or disapproving.

Here my friend acts as the Auntie for a different couple.

My friend acts as the Auntie for a different couple.

Ju Ming's Thaichi Series is also made out of bronze

Ju Ming’s Thaichi Series is also made out of bronze

IMG_7444 IMG_7449

The navy on a ship

The navy and their ship

The airforce

The airforce

My friend Shelly and me. Shelly is a great friend, the epitome of an accommodating, smiling Taiwanese lady. This is the view right past that navy ship.

My friend Shelly and me. Shelly is a great friend, the epitome of an accommodating, smiling Taiwanese lady. This is the view right past that navy ship.

Waiting in line at the... post office ...?

Waiting in line at the… post office …?


I don't think this was part of the art, but it is for me.

Though this wasn’t technically part of the art, it was for me!

oh, Albert

oh, Albert


sadly, I really like this down-on-her-luck lady

Sadly, I really like this down-on-her-luck lady


the more provocative sculpture

the more provocative sculpture

Ju Ming, himself

Ju Ming, himself

At first glance, it appears as if Ju Ming might be saying that marriage is an institution that traps people. When you look closer (and read the inscription written in white in this almost pitch black room), you realize that he has placed the key and lock to this cage on the inside, saying that it is up to each couple to decide how to handle their commitment to one another. In other words, marriage is what you make of it.

At first glance, it appears as if Ju Ming might be saying that marriage as an institution traps people. When you look closer (and read the inscription written in white in this almost pitch black room), you realize that the the key and lock to this cage are on the inside, saying that it is up to each couple to decide how to handle their commitment to one another. In other words, marriage is what you make of it.

This is a juxtaposition of someone who has imprisoned himself and someone who has been imprisoned. Good vs. Evil is the name of this one.

This is a juxtaposition of someone who has imprisoned himself and someone who has been imprisoned. Good vs. Evil is the name. These are made out of styrofoam.

In this cage, the lock has been placed on the outside, so these people kept here by force. But the artist wanted people to also think of the intangible ways (social constructs) that imprison people in society.

In this cage, the lock has been placed on the outside, so these people are kept here by force. But the artist wanted people to also think of the intangible ways (social constructs, etc) people are imprisoned in society and in their own lives.

These were quite different from other things Ju Ming created. I'm not even 100% sure these were by him. They are definitely related to the Nationalist-Communist war because my Chinese-speaking friends said so.

These were quite different from other things Ju Ming created. I’m not even 100% sure these were done by him. They are definitely related to the Nationalist-Communist war because my Chinese-speaking friends said so.

IMG_7341 IMG_7339

What do you think?

Arriving in America

26 Nov

When I first returned to the United States last September, I noticed three things.

I turned into an animal, stepping on people and slobbering my way through customs and baggage checks in order to get home faster. I may have used the excuse, “I haven’t seen my family in years” a lot, but it paid off in at least one instance. You know the moment in way too many movies when the character is staring at an airline employee as she clicks and clacks the keyboard looking for a flight with an open seat?  And unless it’s the end of the movie and the character needs to profess his love to someone before we punch the screen, the airline employee fails to find an open seat. Well, if those characters would just say that they haven’t seen their family in years, I bet there is some kind of priority waiting list spot that could have their name on it. For the record, I was one of at least 100 people who missed my connecting flight from San Francisco to another U.S. city because …. well, the pilot said there was wind. That’s all we know for sure. Imagine that, wind between San Francisco and Tokyo!

In America I also noticed three screaming, pissed-off kids right there in the San Francisco airport, all belonging to different families. Of course traveling is difficult on children and me too apparently, but I realized right away that I hadn’t seen a public temper-tantrum in over a year.  Honestly. I’d seen Taiwanese kids cry at the school where I worked, and I even heard a few kids having a tantrum, but in this 7 million person city, the closest I’d come to seeing a public tantrum was one day on my way home from the bus stop. I don’t think I would have noticed if I were in a busy airport, but the streets near my house are fairly empty, and I could see a mother and father walking with their three-year-old daughter. The girl was whining and walking slowly. She was trying to say, “Buy me the doll with the purple hair!” but she was doing a really bad job getting her point across. If that family would move to America, she could learn a few lessons in voice level, materialism, and losing face. But as it was, she just kept whimpering and straggling behind her dad who was ignoring her other than glances back to make sure she followed.

The third thing is something I noticed in a gas station once I arrived in Texas. I got out of the car, looked to the left and saw a big pickup truck. To my right, a pickup truck. Behind me, a pickup truck. I peered around these trucks and saw at least two more trucks. I saw a few pickup trucks in Taipei, exactly two, but in that city I was usually surrounded by people, scooters, exhaust, bakeries, tiny parks, not trucks. So this was new.

None of it is new anymore. It only felt novel for about a week, maybe two. People ask me what I miss most about Taiwan. The answer is the people. I knew so many friendly, generous people. And here in Texas I only know screaming children and people with trucks. That’s not true at all. I have incredible friends, and none of them have trucks which is unlucky when I need to move. No job yet, though, so no moving in my future. I’m quickly sinking into the retired lifestyle we’ve got going on here. If only I had dividends and TRS checks being deposited into my bank account too. Then life would be just swell.

I have been telling my Taiwan friends about my parents’ house in the Texas hill country and the American food I’ve been eating. I said I’d post photos, so here they are.

This is my favorite thing about the property – see that bush? It’s the herb rosemary, and there are at least three of those bushes near the house. Yummy.

The back of the house

Not the greatest photo, but it shows the view from the second-story room.

Some kind of succulent? … cactus?

It’s common to see deer romping around out there , but here several came right next to the house to eat old birdseed my mom threw on the ground because it wasn’t “good enough for the birds”. I took this photo with my Hipstamatic app. That’s why it looks like these  deer are  from the 1970s.

Front of the house. There’s a purple bush right outside the window of the room I’m staying in (at the far end of the house).

My dad grilled some sausage. YAY DAD!

This is the most I could get her to stop moving. YAY MOM!

The kitchen. Tiffany, look how big the cat is! I kept telling my parents that their cats are overweight because I was so used to your tiny cats.

Sandwich with basil and other greens from the garden. mmmm

Cereal with almonds, pecans, walnuts, raisins, and blueberries from HEB grocery store.

I resisted posting a photo of my parent’s cat snuggling on my bed. So if you’re really bored right now, rest assured that it could have been worse.

Eileen Koenig

11 Oct
Eileen Koenig passed away on October 8, 2012 at 9:05pm. She was my last living grandparent. She was my mom’s mom. After several minutes of holding each other and grieving, my mom and I began a search.
My mom remembered coming across a paper where my grandma scribbled a few notes about what she’d like her funeral to include. Along with this informal note was a collection of funeral service pamphlets. Was my grandma attending a funeral when she thought of what she wanted to happen during the grieving of her own concluded life?
The problem with this note is that it wasn’t safely stored in a file labeled “When My Mother Dies”. So, at 10 pm, instead of packing for a rapidly approaching departure to Chicago, my mom and I found ourselves searching through boxes of her mom’s old stuff.  Actually, my mom was searching through boxes; I was searching through one box of photos, pretending that maybe the little note was going to pop up in there somewhere. It’s not that I don’t think funeral wishes are important; it’s just that these memories from the past needed me, and that piece of paper about the funeral wishes was acting all aloof and secretive anyway.
In my grandma’s photos was a face I never saw while watching her make a pumpkin pie or show my sister how to walk in a ladylike manner. These photos showed a time before her six daughters were born, when my grandmother felt young and free.
Grandma’s stage play
I pulled out a stage play script and oversized photographs of actors. My mom gasped. Her mother spoke of acting in a play, but had never shown anyone the photos.
Then I saw scenes with toddlers and babies, my mother and her sisters. On the back of each photo my grandma wrote the background story of the moment she had captured.
My grandma, Eileen Koenig, earned a university degree at a time when only 12% of women age 18-21 were enrolled in places of higher education. With her degree she went on to work a few jobs before and while raising six daughters. She also helped develop a tutoring program for foreign- and American-born adults and a social service program for senior citizens in her area. In addition my grandma served as chairman and trainer for a national literacy program. In this article a reporter form the Chicago Tribune tells about the South Area Literacy Council my grandma started.
The note about my grandma’s funeral wishes was never found, but my grandma is not in that note. She is in her incredible achievements. She is in her six daughters and their children. She is in each of my uncles, too. She’s in her sisters and their families. Eileen may have been on the quiet side these last few years, one nurse even referring to her demeanor as “stoic”, but maybe that’s because she’d already said all the important things. Maybe she’s a bit tired from all she has achieved. And by the looks of how big and wonderful our family is, that’s a whole lot of achievements. I trust we will celebrate her life in a grand and proud way this Saturday. I also know that her integrity and beauty is in us and ready to be passed on each and every day.

My grandma on right

Even more poses were taken of her, but I chose four and made them into this collage.

My grandma on right

Grandma and Grandpa Koenig

My mom Jeanne, the oldest daughter, at the beach with her father.

My grandpa and grandma with my mom (on right) and her sister Kathie on Christmas Day 1954.

Written on the back: “Taken on our front porch when Lenore was about 3 weeks old. June 1955”

Kathie, the second oldest (also on the right in the previous photo)

Eileen Koenig in December 2009

My Taiwan Experience

4 Sep
I handpicked each of these photos below in an attempt to summarize Taipei, Taiwan as seen through my eyes. Each of these photos represents a much larger story or cultural aspect which I will hopefully delve into post by post at later dates. But I felt it was time to stop with the niche stories and give you a broader perspective.

Xinyi District near the famous 101 building, which you can see in the back left.

You see some graffiti around, but usually the less artistic types like this are carefully removed.

Corners of a Taoist temple in the city.

Typical view of Taipei city

The 101 building, world’s tallest building from 2004-2010. I must have taken this on a Thursday because it’s lit up in green. Starting on Monday night with red, it is lit up according to the colors of the rainbow – ROYGBIV.

Da’an market. These type of soy products are common in markets and restaurants.In fact each 711 convenience store has these products floating in hot water. You select what you want and pay by weight. I was always struck by how all the products like this are similar in color, and not usually an appealing one for a westerner.

Walking home, I snapped this photo of a brother and sister with their MdDonalds to-go bags.

There are small city parks everywhere in Taipei and they are most definitely used at all hours of the day, especially on weekends as seen here. I have many more photos like this, showing people of all ages using the parks for all kinds of reasons.

Along my jogging route

The next five photos depict what the nightlife is like in Taipei

All this is a planned part of the performance. This type of club is somewhat common; often it’s about a $20 USD cover charge for all you can drink. Classier clubs charge just as much but only give you two drink tickets. Sometimes those clubs have performers as well.

Part of these girls’ show is to walk around onstage pouring this disgustingly sweet liquor into people’s mouths.

Barcode in Xinyi district

Most Taiwanese don’t go out to clubs or bars at all. They hole up in their room alone or with friends playing computer games. People whose parents disapprove or don’t have their own computer or internet come to this internet cafe and pay $1 USD per hour to feed their addiction. It’s common for the place to be filled up like this.

In an underground level of one of the malls near an MRT station, I saw these young kids playing some kind of card game.

Rain is a big part of living in Taipei. A scooter driver always has a raincoat in his/her seat.

I snapped this photo in the house of a lady I tutor. There are six people in this family including the grandmother and grandfather who live on a separate floor. The two children age 4 and 7 have their own floor consisting of three rooms as well. There’s an elevator to get between floors.

711s are usually filled with people at any time of day.

As with many foreigners, teaching English is a big part of the experience. The classrooms are a fraction of the size of public school rooms in the U.S.

Not knowing Chinese has its effects. I could figure out how to use this remote to turn on my air conditioner, but it wasn’t until the wet winter was over and many things in my room had molded that I learned it had a dehumidifier function.

I will definitely do an in-depth blog post on Taiwanese fashion in the future. I have many more photos like this.

Typical couple scootin around. Oh, this is a motorcycle actually.

Street dance performance in Ximending shopping area.

Parade on a special Lunar Calendar holiday that comes only every 12 years. I felt so lucky to have been able to see over an hour of it.

This isn’t exactly a typical sight, but if you wander into the smaller alley ways you see more and more of people’s taking their lives outdoors. Living space is crowded and some people like congregating on the sidewalks anyway.

Dancing in the City

26 Aug

One day when walking around Ximending shopping area in Taipei, Carrie and I stopped to watch a dance competition. Can you tell the age of the dancers?

After teaching my four and five year old students many dance moves throughout the year, I’m not exactly surprised at the quality of these highly choreographed dances. If you go to a club in Taipei, both guys and girls love dancing, but it’s interesting to watch their impromptu dance moves. For the most part, they don’t get very creative, except when reciting a move or sequence previously practiced. This has its benefits. For example, on an extremely crowded dance floor, a foot inside an open-toed sandal isn’t as vulnerable to being impaled by a high heal or squashed by a boot. You can count on 97% of  Taiwanese dancers to bob up and down in a controlled manner, and the 3% who like to go all out, stay on the fringe for more space and an audience of bystanders. Me? Let’s just say I don’t fit into either of those categories; I’m all over the dance floor and sometimes on stage.  If I’ve surprised anyone by admitting that, you must not know me very well. I’ll take this opportunity to thank my mother for dancing with me in the rain. I know Erika was always worried the neighbors would see us from their second story windows, but I secretly never cared.

Four Reasons I Could Kiss Dr. Chiang

21 Aug

Dr. Chiang is the sleep specialist and surgeon who performed a UPPP surgical operation on my throat to improve my obstructive sleep apnea.

1. Oxygen reaches my brain easily and more consistently when I sleep.
2. I can also breathe better when awake. When standing and in any position in which my neck is slightly bent, I can relax my neck muscles and still receive a lot of oxygen.
3. Cost of surgery = $256 USD (7,680 NT). In case you’re interested, here’s the breakdown:
  • Initial consultation appointment – $16 USD
  • Over-night sleep test with polysomnogram – $50 USD
  • UPPP throat surgery and four nights of hospital stay/care including cost of medicine used for the week during and after my hospital stay – $140 USD
  • Three post-opp check-ups with surgeon and medicine for those two weeks – $50 USD
I do have the Taiwan national health insurance, which anyone who works a legit full-time job here can receive.
4. He is a very nice man, and I didn’t even have to threaten him like my mom suggested. He just knew I should be handled with care. The Taiwanese handle everyone with care; it’s in their blood. His job is difficult, though. I think it’s safe to say that doctors here are overworked and underpaid. From a patient’s point of view, though, I’m really going to miss this place.
If you are interested in sleep apnea, Taiwanese medical care, or my health this post might be of interest to you. It’s fairly detailed because that’s how I roll, but you can scroll to the part you’re interested in.
Why This Is Important to Me:
If I can help just one person realize she has sleep apnea and that the situation can be improved, this post will have been worth it. Life is actually easy and enjoyable! I really didn’t know life could feel this good. I figured I just didn’t like people much and that for some reason I feared mistakes more than other people did.
Maybe that “depression” I had in junior high and high school was largely sleep deprivation. Young children sometimes have sleep apnea, especially those with large tonsils, large tongues, and or lower jaws that encroach on their throat space. My sister and I are pretty convinced I’ve had this sleep ailment since I was young. She’s observed my cessation of breathing and the resulting gasp for breath several times as I slept. And my whole family has had the unpleasant experience of waking up in the same house as me. I’ve been reminded of how we would eat breakfast in the dark because I would throw a fit about the lights being on in the kitchen. Normally my parents didn’t cater to bratty whims, but there were so many battles to fight with me in the mornings, that I think this was one they just decided not to waste energy on, no pun intended.
I could go on and on about all of my negative past events that are possibly linked to sleep deprivation. But, I’ll sum it up like this: I felt like I was in a fog, I could barely manage to be on-time to anything, and until I learned to cope with it by sleeping for many hours at night, I wanted to fall asleep everywhere. I know teenagers sleep a lot, but I’m telling you it wasn’t quite normal. My friends were always waking me up when it was time to switch classes (I’d sleep right through the bell). I’m surprised I had any friends at all considering how often I had strange imprints on my face and a binder full of drool. And as I’ve said, pre-surgery I was grumpy and easily irritated. I’m sure it’s not too hard for you to imagine. You’ve been tired before. I was perma-tired.
Why didn’t I do anything about it all these years? I think we all know how it can be when we live with something for so long; it seems normal, so you spend your time coping without even realizing you’re coping or how much better things could be if..
The Diagnosis:
After reviewing my sleep test results, the doctor said that my case is very mild, not even qualifying as moderate sleep apnea. I cannot fathom how people with moderate to severe sleep apnea function at all! I suppose those are people at severe risk of falling asleep at the wheel (this is how many sleep apnea patients get diagnosed unfortunately), and in rare cases, some may even die in their sleep if they have taken any sedative-like drugs because their brain could theoretically not be active enough to wake them up from a sleep apnea episode. My sleep apnea episodes lasted from 30 seconds to a full minute, with a frequency of 2 per hour and 11 per every hour of REM sleep. This means that my brain was not getting oxygen for that amount of time. Then my brain was alerted to the problem and woke my muscles up enough to allow myself to move my tongue and tonsils out of the way and breathe again. But waking up your muscles like this is counterproductive for a restorative sleep.
My results show that I usually went right back into the level of sleep I was in, but the quality of sleep overall was still suffering. During stage 3 sleep, your body repairs itself and hormones are released, aiding in muscle growth and development.
During REM sleep, sleep apnea patients have the most problems because the body is in a state of paralysis while the mind is very active in reviewing the day’s events, converting short-term memories into long-term ones, and conserving body energy so that upon waking, the body is ready for a new day. In this state of muscle paralysis, though, the throat muscles and especially the tongue are so relaxed that they may slide into the airway and try to murder you.
One interesting thing I came across in my research is something that may bring to light a horrible cycle that sleep apnea patients deal with. Sleep apnea sufferers are often overweight, but perhaps this is why!
“Sleep helps us thrive by contributing to a healthy immune system, and can also balance our appetites by helping to regulate levels of the hormones ghrelin and leptin, which play a role in our feelings of hunger and fullness. So when we’re sleep deprived, we may feel the need to eat more, which can lead to weight gain.” http://www.sleepfoundation.org/article/how-sleep-works/what-happens-when-you-sleep
More Diagnosis and the UPPP Surgical Option:
Besides my upper throat obstruction, the one I just corrected with surgery, I have two other causes of the sleep apnea: large tongue and poor placement of my lower jaw, both of which have their special corrective options. Nasal passages are another common problem area related to sleep apnea, but not in my case.
I chose to focus on correcting my upper throat obstruction area because it is virtually free in Taiwan with the National Health Insurance and because I’ve always felt like my tonsils are a nuisance. UPPP is a surgical operation removing upper throat tissue, my uvula (dangly thing in back of throat), and tonsils. I was of a certain percentage of people whose tonsils never shrink down after childhood.
My doctor is known internationally and worked with Stanford University, a leader in sleep science, so he performs the more modern method of not removing the upper palate tissue and uvula completely. Instead, he creates some sort of flap that reduces and relocates the tissues with the option of returning them to the previous glory in the case of a patient experiencing the regurgitation of liquids up their nasal passages when swallowing, which is one of the main complaints of a UPPP surgery. Other complications that have given what was once perhaps too popular a surgery a bad reputation are: potentially deadly bleeding during recovery, abundance of scar tissue forming that may eventually negate positive effects of surgery, and reduced effectiveness of CPAP machine (this device forces air down a person’s windpipe to further help someone who has sleep apnea). Apparently, those with severe sleep apnea are much less likely to see drastic improvements from the UPPP surgery alone; they usually need to deal with their lower throat obstruction instead of or in addition to.
Did I mention that the UPPP reduces snoring? According to my sleep test, I snore 130.7 times per hour. This is enough to scare a boyfriend back to his own apartment for sure. Post-surgery my snoring is probably much improved if not gone. I believe some people get the surgery mainly for this reason.
My Surgery and Hospital Experience in Taiwan:
Hospitals in Taiwan are a very popular place compared to hospitals in the United States. Most Taiwanese have had an overnight hospital stay at least once by the time they are my age, 28. They take health matters very seriously here and the cost of visiting a doctor or staying at the hospital is very low compared to many western countries. The most common forms of going to any doctor in Taiwan include these two avenues: Chinese medicine doctors who give Chinese medicinal herbs and acupuncture and the doctors in the hospitals who will prescribe pills. A hospital here is like a super market for health. You can get your eyes checked, your teeth cleaned, and blood work all while you wait to see a doctor about your lower back ache.
One catch is that you do a lot of the leg work yourself. The system is fairly advanced and organized, but you will be running around to little rooms, knocking on the doors, waiting in the hall for a few moments, sitting in a tiny room with five other people, talking to the doctor briefly and possibly in front of the other five people, and then going on your way to the next little room. The pharmacy is on the first floor, so you can easily pick up your medicine before you leave. They even print out the labels in English if you request it. When you pay for everything at the end, the bill always makes your jaw drop because it’s all extremely cheap, even if you don’t have insurance.
During most of my five days in the hospital, my friend Jason was with me. Without him, I’m not sure it would’ve even worked because like I said, you have to do a lot of things yourself. I would have had to get all my water and food by myself. People don’t drink the tap water in Taiwan, but each floor has a water machine. Not to mention I can’t read most of the paperwork or communicate with at least half the staff. The nurses were especially glad about Jason helping me because their English is really not good enough to speak to me. Sometimes I would try to ask them for something, and when it didn’t work, I would say, “Let me get my friend,” and the relief on their face would make me feel guilty for even trying by myself.

Jason wrote this note for me to show the nurses when I wanted to be unhooked from the IV in order to go downstairs and have my hair shampooed and dried at the salon.

The day before surgery, I did a bunch of paper signing, x-rays, etc., and then I checked into my room. I had one roommate who was attended day and night by a girl who is probably from the Philippines or Malaysia. They were very quiet other than their Chinese soap operas blaring every waking moment.

Oh NO! You spilled yogurt on my poofy, pink dress!

I’m angry ennough to talk about the yogurt for 10 minutes.

Your rant is hurting my son’s ears! Poor poor thing, now he’ll be scared of poofy, pink dresses forever.

I was instructed to not drink or eat anything starting at midnight the night prior to surgery. I wasn’t worried about this until I was told I will have my surgery after all the young and old people, since I’m healthiest. That’s fair. But I didn’t go into surgery until 3pm the following day! And they have strict instructions not to drink anything for 6 hours after surgery, so it was a full 25 hours that I had no water. I guess I was hooked up to an IV after surgery though. When I awoke from the 2 hour surgery, I felt nauseated and nobody was around to care. I began banging my hands on the arm rests of my hospital bed so that I could tell someone my stomach hurt by pointing to it. I was really worried I’d have to throw up, and since I couldn’t even swallow my own spit at this point, I didn’t know if throwing up would even be possible. Then I passed out again from the anesthesia.
When I was wheeled back to my room, my throat felt like no throat should ever feel, and I was scared. Swallowing was my enemy, so I had to spit into a napkin constantly. After about 10 minutes, I ran out of the napkins I brought, so Jason went to the convenience store inside the basement of the hospital to get more. Mornings were the worst because the swollen, raw wounds in my throat would dry out and hurt fiercer than anything I could have previously related to. I wore a surgical mask at night to prevent drying out, but it still didn’t prevent the pain in the morning. Drinking even the tiniest bit of water was a huge feat. Creamy products like the Nutrimeal produced by USANA and oatmeal drinks were better than any other food because they would slide right on down without irritating my throat. The instructions about salty products being a really bad idea didn’t get translated to me correctly, so I tried to eat the broth of a soup from the hospital kitchen. Sooooooo bad!!

The adjustable beds are so convenient. I really didn’t want to leave on day 4 after surgery.

I gained about 3 kg of liquid weight from this being pumped into me for almost the entire five days I was in the hospital. When I left, I could barely fit my swollen feet into my sandals.

Maybe trying a couple soups is what caused ulcers to form in my mouth. The ulcers came the day I left the hospital, day 4 of post-op, and it was one week after that when I found out they were ulcers. I spent that first week at home thinking that something was terribly wrong with my recovery because the burning was so bad. I can only describe it like this: Every liquid felt like I was swallowing acid water. And when I tried to drink a banana smoothie, it felt like pure acid on that ulcer spot.
It’s now day 14 and the pain has been easier to tolerate these past two days. Around day 7 and 8, I searched online to see if the level of pain I was experiencing was normal. So if you are reading this for the same reasons, do not fear! It does get better. And the enormous holes you see in your mouth do fill up with scar tissue. I kept looking at one of the holes thinking, “It will get infected! I know it will; it probably already is, and that’s why it hurts so badly.” But it wasn’t infected. The fact that my stitches on one side of my throat fell out on day 6 doesn’t seem to matter now; that side is looking somewhat like a human mouth lately. The ulcers just caused me to lose more weight (10 lbs altogether so far), so I’m now at my ideal weight for my height. The weirdest part of this whole process has been the side effects I experienced while on the steroid prednisone.
It wasn’t until I was home from the hospital that I realized how crazy I felt. As the steroid built up in my system and I became more and more sleep deprived (prednisone gave me insomnia), I began to feel like I was in an alternate world, like I was a character in a movie and everyone was watching me deteriorate from my addiction to methamphetamines. Why didn’t I stop taking them? Because the pharmacist had put a star on that one, saying it must be finished. And because I couldn’t just call up the doctor’s office and speak to someone in English. And because I knew steroids would help with the inflammation.
But on my first post-hospital visit, I asked the doctor if I can please stop that medicine, and he said yes, a week is enough of the steroids anyway, and that I was having an adverse reaction that some people have- excess of energy. Jason had spent only four hours with me under those conditions and he was about to shoot himself. I was fidgety and spoke rapidly, but I talked in circles. I even had hallucinations during my nights of not sleeping. Unfortunately the week of my craziness with the steroid was also my last week of work and when I needed to pack and move out of my apartment. Luckily, Carrie was sympathetic and helpful.
Now she’s gone back to America. I put the finishing touches on our apartment and sealed the deal with the landlord. He gave us this note:

But it’s not bon voyage for me. Not yet. I still have a wonderful two weeks ahead of me. I plan to cram in as much Taiwanese fun as I can, but it’s looking like at least two typhoons are headed for Taiwan in the very near future. My plan is to post on here every other day or so, even if I’m posting about past events. I have files and files of photos and stories to share with you, so check back soon 🙂
If you are ever put on a liquid diet for any reason or if you want to lose weight in an easy, healthy way, I highly recommend you try Nutrimeal. My friend Jason can help you buy a bag of strawberry, vanilla, or chocolate for $1,100 NT which has at least 12 meals in it. I think the strawberry is the best flavor. I added vanilla ice cream to it and still lost 5kg in a week, but I’m sure that’s not the recommended method. It doesn’t have a ton of taste, but it’s pleasant and creamy and has all the protein and vitamins your body needs.
Here’s some more information about the surgeon I had at Shin Kong Wu Ho-Su Memorial Hospital in Shilin (along the red line MRT).
M.D., M.M.S.
Address: 95, Wen Chang Rd, Shih-lin, Taipei, 11120, Taiwan.
Department of Otolaryngology.
Shin Kong Memorial Hospital
Office: + 886-2-28332211 ext. 2551
Fax: + 886-2-28389335?
E-mail: rayleighchiang@ntu.edu.tw or sleepapneasurgery@gmail.com
Website in National Science Council Researcher’s Website: http://researcher.nsc.gov.tw/rayleigh_stanford/en