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25 Jan

Songzhi Road in Taiepei

During Chinese New Year, the whole city shuts down. “Taipei will be a ghost town, just wait,” they say. Tabitha described it as “horrible” and the time of year she dreads the most. Someone else tried to lift my spirits by reminding me that someone may still invite me to join his/her family’s festivities.  But, no one did, and it’s been glorious. I’m loving every minute. It is two days into the new year according to the lunar calendar, and most of the stores are still closed. It’s rainy and cold and I’m running out of instant noodles, but I’m happy. Carrie and Shaun were on a little mini-vacation in Taroko Gorge, a beautiful mountainous area a little south of Taipei, so I had the place all to myself. I had so many grand plans like use the kitchen, download new music, watch 40 episodes of Ugly Betty, decide my future, write a novel, learn Chinese. So far I haven’t made any progress on those last two, but all in good time.
On my first day of vacation, I went running. That was the last day of sunshine, so I’m glad I took advantage. It was getting chilly, though, so I needed running pants of which I have only one pair. I wore them earlier that week when I went to the gym during my lunch break.  So I did what any reasonable person who needs to shed four pineapple cakes worth of guilt would do; I pulled them out of the dirty laundry and put them on. I was about five blocks from my apartment when I felt it. The awkward bump near my right leg. It was sliding downward, and without looking, I knew. The underwear I had on last time I wore these pants was caught inside. Dirty underwear was about to slide out of my right pant leg onto the sidewalk. Chinese New Year was still two days away, so I couldn’t hope that only ghosts would be around to catch me crusty handed. People were all around doing their last minute errands before traveling to their grandparents’ house (or something, I’m no expert) for a big meal the next day.  Hoping no one would notice was out of the question. People were staring at me more than usual for the entire five blocks because I was jogging in the streets (it’s not common) and because I wasn’t wearing four layers of clothes. I could just hear their thoughts, “She’s going to get sick,” and, “She’ll never find a husband because those bare arms are bad feng shui.”
I was wearing those ankle socks that barely come up above the top of the shoe, but determined as I was, I stuffed the underwear into my sock. Then I went back to listening to Cut Copy. For Christmas this year my dad gave me a tiny MP3 player that clips nicely to my clothes while I run… or while I hide dirty underwear.

 

Rogue Behavior

12 Dec

This is going to be a bit mean…

There’s a guy we’ve seen around these parts who doesn’t follow the normal social customs, ones such as not grabbing things out of a person’s hands, paying for drinks he’s ordered. That sort of thing. Here’s him and Carrie. The fact that their arms are doing weird things is not surprising; she was probably deflecting his arm from snatching her purse or something.

Him

To keep this in perspective, our conversations with him have only amounted to about 15 minutes. The first time we encountered him, he wanted to buy us shots. His idea, not ours. I wasn’t really paying attention, as usual and am not really sure what they were talking about. I remember being surprised because no one offers to buy us drinks here. No southern hospitality? Too many cute Taiwanese girls overshadowing us? Not sure, but it doesn’t bother me. When people buy me things it makes me feel a bit guilty like I owe them something, especially if I don’t want to be owing them.

I drank it. Then the guy wandered off shortly before the bartender told us the total. We were surprised to be left with the total bill, “Uh… he didn’t pay for his part at least?” We flagged him down and made some come-back-here motions, pointing at the bartender. He shook his head and made it clear that he was not going to be paying. We turned back to the bartender with confused faces, and we all stared at each other for a while. Then we paid for our drinks, but not his. As I’ve been saying, the people here are really nice (besides the guy in the photo) and don’t make you do things just because it’s “the rule”. Then again, that’s probably because they don’t need a rule; most people have such a strong desire to do right, especially in public, that they appease automatically. Well, not us.

Needless to say we thought that was a bit strange of him. So, skip forward a couple months to when Carrie saw him at the ice skating party. He walked up and tried to grab her beer. Luckily Carrie has super reflexes and dodged him. “He’s actually kind of fun to have around,” She admitted. I know what she means. We need a little rogue behavior up in this country.

Ice Skating !

5 Dec

Ice skating bound

Ice skating is wonderful! I remember enjoying it in junior high, but I also enjoyed trying to get people to spell my name with two “ee”s instead of a y at the end. “Doesn’t ‘Emilee’ just look so much better?” I’d encourage, but they were always incredulous… or just annoyed. I had researched it though. I walked around with a chart, tallying up which spelling people liked the most, second most, and which one they definitely didn’t like out of Emilie, Emili, Emelie, etc. Wow, that’s embarrassing to admit, but it’s very true.

Anyway, I wasn’t sure what to expect from this ice skating party, but I was optimistic since I usually like sports, especially when combined with music and beer. Which this was. DJs all night and a bar ON the ice. In other words a recipe for fun in Carrie and Emily’s book. This “book” really does exist by the way. Carrie has a notebook now, a new one. The very tiny ones still come in handy for taking notes, but we realized she needs a larger, but still ultra portable, one for writing down things she observes, especially since she doesn’t have a camera. I take enough pictures for the both of us in a sense, but she does a lot of people watching on her two hour lunch break in a very interesting part of town. She’d like to have our first year here documented through her eyes more. She’s writing and drawing pictures in the book now. So we’ve started saying, “Put it in the book!” when we see something funny. To contrast her two hour break with mine, I sit in the basement of my school and read a literature textbook and then fall asleep. Not exactly worthy for “the book”.

Okay, so back to the ice skating last night. Turns out I’m still a decent skater. The only time I even touched the ice was when I was holding hands with this guy from New York, helping him skate. He hadn’t been skating much (this was later in the night when he was fully aware of his propensity to fall I guess), but the rest of us wanted to get back out there. Not wanting to leave him alone and wanting to help him, off we went. I held him steady, but he’s not a small guy, so I couldn’t really prevent a fall. When it happened, I had to put my hand on the ice. It was cold. End of story. Oh, and by the way it seemed like most of the people there couldn’t really skate: white people, Massachusetts people, Michigan people, but especially French people and Taiwanese girlfriend people. I’m not sure why Carrie, Gretchen, and I were relatively good at it. We’re all from Austin. Met another guy who went to college in Austin, grew up in Dallas, and he skated well too. Do Texans do more ice skating? Is it our deprivation of sledding that sends us rink bound? This would make a good PhD thesis, Danea.

The best part was when these really good skaters started chains. You know like when that one song about a bunny or something comes on at a reception, and everyone gets in a dancing line? It was AMAZING. An exhilarating work out. Sometimes my arms felt like they were getting ripped apart when the front of the line started to speed up all of a sudden and the back of the line wasn’t ready yet, but it was well worth it. The leaders skated fast, made tight turns, and in the corners of the ring, they’d stop and make a bridge with their arms, having the rest of the line skate under them. Then someone would fall and the line would have to break up and reconvene at a later date, after the casualty got another beer.

Then when those kind of shenanigans were dying down, Carrie and I made up a little synchronized routine to do when we skated side by side.

Best Day in Taipei Part II

10 Nov

After exiting Jungle Hill (see Part I for those photos), I continued on to eat at Good Morning restaurant. Because of my picture snapping mood, I’m now able to show you around our neighborhood in Da’an District, Taipei as I go to the restaurant, a store, and then my apartment.

Let's start off with one of the first people I pass on the street after I exit Jungle Hill. Wow.

This is very typical looking. Just wanted to share.

Wolong Street (our street) is windy because the east side of it follows Jungle Hill (s).

This is actually the first time I've seen a truck of chickens or any live animal other than people transporting pets on their scooters... like a dog between their legs on the "floorboard", a space that basically only accomodates the dogs bum. I'll be sure to do a post all about scooters and their drivers once I have collected a good amount of photos so you don't have to just take my word for it.

Walkin down Wolong. As I've said, this is on the edge of Taipei, so not crowded.

Still Walking

Can you see the lady wearing pink in between the two vehicles. She is getting off the back of a scooter that I watched her get on approximately five minutes earlier. She is old, and someone was helping her put her helmet on. Then that person transported her about four blocks down the street. I remember having the oddest feeling seeing those people again because I guess I kept comparing their version of those same five minutes and same route to my version. I have a picture of when they were helping her put the helmet on, but that one is just as boring looking as this one, so I won't subject you to it as well.

Now, as Wolong Street comes to an end, I find myself at the brown line of the MRT. This is Linguang Station, a few minutes walk from our apartment. But instead of turning right here towards home, I am going to turn left and be at Good Morning cafe in one minute. If I passed up Good Morning cafe and kept walking, I'd be in busier territory very quickly.

These are the very nice ladies who are here every time I come in. The menu you can see is all in Chinese. Luckily they have a little booklet that has both English and Chinese, so I grab that (it has a picture of a cat on the front). Once I decide what I want to eat, I go back and forth from the cat booklet to the paper menu looking for the Chinese characters of the items I've chosen, so I can mark down what I want to eat. Even when you're just trying to match the characters, it can be difficult especially because in this case, the fuzzy print quality of the cat book menu makes all the characters look even more muddled than they already appear to my brain.

I have to be very sneaky when I invade people's privacy all in the name of... well, nothing very important. I mean, she's just a regular girl right, but that's the point.

On my way home from eating. I walked through the MRT breezeway to show you where you can buy your MRT token for 70 cents up to 1.30 USD depending on if you're going a couple stops away or across the entire city. Carrie and I have the prepaid card, so we don't need to buy a token anymore. Oh, and If you care, we live about four stops down from where the brown line meets the blue.

People waiting for the walk signal

Instead of going straight home, I went about 30 seconds out of the way to go to the Something Store Near Our House (This is what we call it to differentiate it from the Something Store and the Everything Store). First here's a photo from street level.

As soon as you walk down those stairs in the previous photo and walk through a set of automatic glass doors, you see this. It gives you an idea of how tightly packed stores are here, and of how little importance they put on the aesthetics of entry ways, unless you consider orderliness beauty, but some shops don't even have that really.

This is how you get downstairs and also where I buy my water. We finally figured out why we should filter our water - heavy metals. You can see the metal build up when you remove the screen on the tap. We still don't really get why people boil the water though since that doesn't get rid of metals, only bacteria, which we don't seem to have a problem with... yet.

There is a packed downstairs floor that has household stuff. I often need to buy things on this wall you see along the stairs. It's very common for multilevel stores to put the merchandise along the stairs.

Just in case you want to know what it's like to try to buy a drink here. I've had that Asparagus drink; it's... interesting.

Girl waiting for bus. This is the bus stop where I wait on rainy mornings for bus 292, which has happened very day this week. It's pouring as I write this actually.

Garden area next to our apartment building.

Our apartment building on the right.

Oh, there goes a man pushing boxes. If it's boxes, it's sometimes a man, but if it's trash, it's almost always a lady. The ladies are usually pushing more trash than this, and sometimes they are on a bike, pedaling huge amounts. I already have many photos of these trash ladies, so you have a trash post to look forward to reading.

Our security guard. The fact that we have security, an elevator, and trash service (as opposed to having to take it in special bags to the truck that stops in the middle of the road at 7pm) means we have a fancy place (AKA over-priced).

The breezeway between the two sides of our apartment complex. We live to the left.

Wow, here comes Carrie

Getting closer

and closer

and closer

The Best Day in Taipei

26 Oct

I ventured around Jungle Hill for over two hours this past Sunday. The weather was so nice I named  it The Best Day in Taipei. I only had my camera phone with me, so please excuse the quality and deception due to all the shadows created by the plentiful foliage. Don’t worry, they come fully captioned, so sit back and relax while I share with you my Jungle Hill experience.  Then in Part II I’ll show the street sights on my route from Jungle Hill to Good Morning restaurant to our apartment.

So, it turns out the Taiwanese did not name it "Jungle Hill", though if you don't mind I will continue to refer to it as such, especially since memorizing the spelling of that F word seems time consuming Of course now that I've said that, I'll probably remember it. As for pronunciation, that's a bit harder: the "zh" makes a sound similar to the combination of a "j" and "g", for example. FYI, as soon as you enter this park you are walking up a significant incline and will eventually come to stairs and then more stairs and then more stairs.

I saw many of these red flowers throughout the park.

After climbing A LOT of stairs, this is the view. Look at that nearly cloudless sky!!! Incredible anywhere and rare for Taipei. Once again, the tallest building is the 101. Look behind it to see the mountains that surround Taipei along the western edge. I've taken a couple of night photos from one of those mountains.

At first glance you see only the closest set of stairs, but in the distance the stairs continue and continue and continue. That's what I had just climbed to see the view in the previous photo. What is most astonishing is who was also up there with me: old people meditating and sitting around.

See.

These two not as old people are doing stretching/yoga. The man stopped to stare at me, hopefully out of curiosity, not annoyance.

Stretching/workout stations are up here too.

This may or may not bore you, but I was curious to whether or not these rules are different from what might been seen at a state or national park in the United States. What do you think?

More stairs I just walked up. Check out the view of the city in the corner.

And more ahead!

Tree with an interesting complexion.

A nice grassy knoll greets you at the top. I've been to this area before, but I reached it from the other direction.

Under a pavilion on the grassy knoll. These two girls were being very secretive and cute until the men with the dogs showed up and they tried to act all nonchalant.

These rows of similar aged trees suggest that they city planted them. Why there was a need for trees here, I don't know.

I feel giddy when I find an English mistake, which is often here. He he, "slipper". On another note, this photo buys me the right to call it Jungle Hill.

Yep, looks super slipper alright.

Taking that path, I came to a little area with hulla hoops, a plastic chair, and this bamboo bed hanging off the edge of the hill. When you lie in it, which I did for 20 minutes, the wind rushes up through the poles and gives you the odd sensation of not being on solid ground at all. Then you get to thinking about how sturdy this random bamboo thing really is... but you lie in it while you mull it over.

Just so you know, crossing paths with people on Jungle Hill is fairly common though not overly so. About 1/3rd of the people are carrying umbrellas to prevent darkening their skin. I didn't wear sunscreen, and my skin wasn't noticeably darker, but many Taiwanese people are very cautious during outdoor activities.

This man was making brooms up here. He smiled when he saw me photographing him.

Jade, what are these called?! They are soooo pink and vibrant.

This is just a little taste of what's to come in Part II - The Neighborhood in Which We Live. Dun Dun Dun...

Taipei Streets

20 Oct

About nine posts ago, I uploaded some photos of five cute men on the bus. The post is titled Five Cute Men, and I asked people which man is their favorite. I suddently feel the need to say that man number 2 is my favorite. He is watching the scenery outside of the bus, and his posture appeals to me the most.

Below you can view this man #2 as well as the other top qualifiers.

When I look out the windows of the bus, I am often in awe of how the traffic works because it really does seem as though it should not work at all. When a light turns green, you will see about thirty scooters pour around the sides of the bus, like water sweeping past a protruding rock in the rapids of a stream. The bus has to start moving slowly so as to not kill any of these people who are mere inches from its four sides. It’s fun to watch the traffic while sitting on the bus because you can see the scooter drivers clearly, their clothing, bags, shoes, helmet choice. Sometimes you see interesting helmets like a girl with one painted like a strawberry holding onto the waist of a boy with a kiwi head.

Cute Man #2

Cute Man #1

Cute man #4

Oh, and by top qualifiers I mean, they were voted for more than zero times.

The Honor System and Photos of Taco Night

12 Oct

In Taiwan the honor system still works. They use it when appropriating your gas bill. We have come to understand that when we see this one paper taped up in the elevator it means we are supposed to write down what our gas meter reads, so that the gas company can bill us appropriately.

The first time we were supposed to do this, we took no more notice of the paper in the elevator than we would of any other paper that is in Chinese. So, our landlord had to come (he doesn’t live near us) and knock on our door to try and communicate the issue to us without language. He knows almost no English and we don’t speak Chinese. One time he saw Carrie in the street, and the only thing that he was able to say was “banana”, referring to the bunch of them she was holding. So, he said this word about five times and they went on their separate ways.

Anyway, when he came to try to show us how to do the gas bill,  he came at the one possible inconvenient time. We had people over for taco night, and Carrie was in the middle of making tortillas. In all the confusion, we didn’t really pay attention to how to do it exactly.

Now that it’s a new month, the landlord’s son, who speaks English, called Carrie last night about this gas issue. He didn’t know any more than Carrie did about which of the two numbers on the gas tank is the correct one to write down in the elevator. She ended up writing both of them, and then asked him, “What if someone wrote the wrong number, how would the gas company know or what kind of problems could it cause?”

His reply was simply, “It’s Taiwan.” I guess he means that people in Taiwan perform things correctly and do not lie or steal.

Carrie said what I was thinking, “In America, some people would write the number of how much gas they wish they had used, especially for months when they went over their budget.

I never did relay anything about taco night other than the above blurb. I think these photos and their captions should suffice. I wish I had gotten one of the actual food because it was delicious, but you can see the satisfaction on people’s faces in the third photo.

Carrie preparing the food while talking to Oh (I don't know how she spells her name, but it's pronounced Oh)

We were going for snobby wine drinkers. Ha ha, I look a bit scary, but Carrie looks great.  I’ll post it to make up for the ones I posted where she is wearing her pajamas in the background.

We made all the guests take their ice cream up to the roof of our apartment and get lightly rained on while looking at the awesome view. Someone took a lot of shots of the sky with my camera.