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Dressing Taiwanese

11 Jul
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♫ 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.
Capture
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.
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Ivory and off-white colors are very common for women.

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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).

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

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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.

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

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

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Some of the store names are… cute.

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This style is a common sight.

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

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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… ?

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and shorter

and shortest!

These are likely Korean night-market shorts.

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pattern and style mixing at it's finest

Pattern and style mixing at it’s finest

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

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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.

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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

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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 …?

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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

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

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

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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.

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What do you think?

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.
Jason
0918-868-342
yen.jason@gmail.com
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).
RAYLEIGH PING-YING CHIANG
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

Taipei Streets

25 Jul
Some time ago I described driving and biking in Taipei. If you missed that post or tend to liberate unnecessary information from your mind, just picture a video game, say Grand Theft Auto, multiply the obstacle amount by four and add an anxiety level appropriate for endangering your actual life. Today, for example, a blue truck (not a simple pick-up truck) pulled out onto Tong Hua street without looking, causing me to swerve into opposing traffic in order to sustain my current bone configuration. This was .4 seconds after I had carefully calculated a deviation to narrowly miss a lady toting a bag of vegetables yet not interfere with the scooter on my left nor the pedestrian attempting to cross the road by dodging oncoming traffic two steps at a time. To the man in the blue truck, I shouted, “Watch out!” which probably was a lot like what, “少心!” sounds like to me. But my scowl was an unmistakable sign of road rage and malice.
I showed you photos of people sitting on scooters, opening scooters, driving scooters in precarious locations such as sidewalks. That was nothing. It’s time you see the way children, dogs, and old people roll. Parents don’t pull children in little red wagons, dogs don’t ride in pet carriers in the backseat of a Ford, and old people don’t sit in nursing homes, waiting for… well, you know what they’re waiting for. Instead, they all cram onto a scooter OR walk in the middle of the street. Keep in mind that the following  photos show fairly empty streets because this is when it’s most reasonable for me to pull out my camera: at a stoplight, in the market, near my house where traffic is light. What I really need is a photo of me harassing photographing the public on their way home from work. Then my collection will be complete.

This kid gets a 10 for posture.

Here is a step by step procedure for getting a little kid to take a ride with you. First, you find one in the market and offer an alluring toy, preferably something dinosaur or Transformers related. For female riders, anything pink will do, and if it’s reflective enough to see your own grimace, then it’s perfect. Think cubic zirconia.

Act nonchalant as he climbs aboard, and definitely don’t help him.

Before you drive off, look forward because the market is pedestrian land. (Note: This photo is a non-example)

Seeing a child on a bike with mom, dad, or grandpa is very common. So common, that I’m not even sure if it’s interesting at all. But I remember thinking so when I first arrived here. Especially with the bustle of a big city around them. I remember as a little girl having to practice sitting still in the dining room on Sundays when I wiggled around too much at church that morning. The pews were stationary.

The above photo shows how the scooters (and bicyclists) often wait at stop lights, in between the cars. The car on the right is probably surrounded by scooters. So when the light turns green, it will wait for the path to clear. At rush hour, the traffic guard will often signal for scooters and bikers to begin crossing about 8 seconds before the light turns green to help everyone stay sane and safe.

No helmet. She gets on and they drive off. I have a photo of that part too, but you can’t see the little girl as clearly in that one. I’m sure they’re just going around the corner… although that involves passing twenty grandmas, 30 scooters, ten cars, two buses, and eighty nine 711s.

Yea helmets!

They can fit much more than this.

This scooter has a little trailer bed hooked up behind it. I guess I should explain how the trash service works here for this to make more sense… coming soon… ish (but in the mean time, this is not the official city trash service, the official truck has a more powerful engine and plays classical piano music like Beethoven’s Für Elise)

This game is called “Where’s the White Poodle?” You win!

This game is called… You win!

Traffic has built up at the Liuzhangli Circle intersection, but it’s mostly scooters. I took this at around 5:30 pm from my seat on the bus (clean windows).

This is a little misplaced, but I really wanted you to know that in December some of the bus drivers dressed up as Santa Clause and had a little bag of candy.

After you’re done noticing her unpleasant expression, look at the patterned cloth pieces attached to her handle bars. These are used even in 90 degree weather. The purpose is to keep the sun off her hands. The reason I like this photo is because it shows the fabric type used by many. Where are these purchased? Reminds me of visiting my grandma’s house. Maybe my grandma has an internet business.

This guy makes foldy bikes look cool. Folding bikes are really popular here. I suppose the cheaper price and the fact that you can take them on buses and the MRT are the appeals. Can’t be how cool you look riding it or how fast you get to your destination.

Take note of the lady riding her bike with an umbrella (due to sunlight, not rain). I just noticed the cut-out man in the window of the second floor shop.

This is a common site- older person on a bicycle like this one. The seat is usually set really low as well.

This is at the top of Maokong mountain. I think I remember him having a flat tire.

Pick-up trucks are a rare sight.

And we’ll close up here with a more average looking photo.

Scooter Culture

29 Apr
Looking closely at a person sitting on a scooter, I chuckle. But when I observe scooter traffic as a whole, I’m in awe.

Arriving in Asia, I thought they were called Mopeds. Turns out mopeds have the word “ped” in them because they often have a mechanism for pedaling in addition to a weak motor. My co-worker Chris set me straight, “Is that what they’re calling them these days? Well, stop. It’s ‘scooter’ here.” Chris is one of those people you listen to even when you haven’t verified with google yet. It’s something about his height and long hair that reminds you of a Viking and the bad guy in a fairy tale mixed together.
Seeing this city even by foot used to be overwhelming when Carrie and I first arrived, so being on a scooter was like a special tour. It still is. I found scooter rides so fun that I don’t know why Tiffany or David even bothered to take me anywhere. They could’ve just offered, “Wanna go down Heping Street and back?”
“Yeeeeaah”
“Okay, pick you up at 7”
I really trust the way Tiff and David drive. I can’t say the same for Denise, a previous friend and co-worker of mine. My first ride with her was also my first night ride in Taipei, though. I hopped on with Denise, and Carrie rode with Tiffany as they took us to an ice cream shop. The traffic was thick, and Denise was swerving around people, cars, scooters, bikers, stray dogs, all the while yelling at them about their bad driving decisions. You may think she has road rage or is a bad driver. Are those the same thing? But after riding my bike here for a while, I can relate. That’s all I’m going to say about that because if I tell you about how I ring my bell and yell, “Really?” at drivers who pull out in front of me after assuming my bike and legs max out at 3 miles per hour like the other bikers, you might think less of me.
Another scary time was a trip up a mountain to drink tea. David is an excellent driver, and we weren’t in the city, but curvy, narrow mountain roads always make me nervous when I’m a passenger. And, this time my head was about 2 feet from the pavement when we leaned into each curve. It was worth it.
I still enjoy scooter rides even as I’ve begun seeing them in a different light, a foggy, polluted one. On any given bike ride to work, I encounter at least one scooter with major exhaust problems. I always have the urge to punch the person in the face. Imagine yourself huffing and puffing from pedaling, trying to make a green light, and just as you feel victorious, a piece of junk scooter gets in front of you filling your lungs with thick smoke. Please understand that this black stream of monoxide, sulphur, hydrocarbons is continuously pouring out of the exhaust because there is something drastically wrong with the vehicle. There’s no escaping, no alternative air to breath. I can’t switch lanes; my bike and I are lucky to have this meager space allotment as it is. At any moment a bus might be in my way, or a parked car, or a turning car, or a slower bike, or a scooter looking to park, or a pedestrian. If I suddenly deviate my path even three inches, I might cause a wreck.
Saying the streets are congested gives the wrong image. It isn’t bumper to bumper stop and go traffic. Scooters only stop for red lights. They are like ants. Ants can always circumvent obstacles  without even slowing their pace. In the photo at the beginning of this post you can  get an idea of how many scooters there are compared to cars and buses and how they favor ants.
I hope the rest of these photos help you understand Taipei traffic and the scooter culture. Unfortunately, I usually only have my phone handy when I witness an interesting scooter situation, so the photos are mostly of low quality especially when the scooter is moving, which they tend to do.

Parked scooters. This is a very common sight. All of these photos are pretty mundane actually.

This is near my house where the traffic is comparatively very sparse.

This is still close to my home, but traffic builds up at almost any red light.

Motorcycles are nowhere near as common as scooters, but you see them frequently.

This is one of my all time favorite photos. I took this within the first month of living here. I found it interesting that many people don't adjust the scooter helmets to properly cover their heads. The combination of her helmet and how cute this couple is gets me giggling.

Raincoat, mask for pollution, gloves so his hands don't get tanned.

Jade and I driving a scooter on Green Island

Now Jade's driving

Now I'm driving again

Scooters ready for tourists to rent on Green Island

The lady who rented us a room on Green Island made sure to give us her crappiest scooter she owns since she didn't trust my skills. Smart lady. After the first ride I became much more comfortable and the next day even took us up a mountain trail a little ways. Jade, on the other hand, was comfortable the moment she sat in the drivers seat.

Updates: Friends, Nuisances, and My Chinese (or lack of)

3 Apr

It’s time for some updates on our lives. I’ve left you so in the dark about recent developments that you probably don’t even know what questions you should have. I’ll help you out: Is there still mold growing on our things? Did Carrie’s boyfriend have a nice visit? What has Tabitha been up to all this time? Did she really exist in the first place?

Yes and No. As you may remember her name is not really Tabitha, but she really did sit across from me and eat a quesadilla today for lunch. Now, you’re wondering about Mexican food and where we scored some in Taiwan. Chili’s. So not really Mexican food per se, now don’t you feel silly. There is a Mexican restaurant three minutes from my apartment, owned by a guy who grew up in California and told me about how he smuggled in the chilies for his sauce. I’m glad he’s willing to be a criminal in his efforts to add more flavor to the Taiwanese cuisine, but the enchiladas I ordered were not spicy, not even a tiny, tiny bit. To make matters worse, I kept picking out weird ligaments from my chicken. And if I’d gotten this meal at a cheap price I wouldn’t be such a snob, but it was about 12 USD, and for that price, I could’ve gotten the same dearth of Mexican spice at Chili’s. I’m trying to observe how popular this “Mexican” restaurant is with the Taiwanese, though, because marketing to the tastes of a girl from Texas isn’t really smart business anyhow.

I am reminded of when my friend described nachos he ordered at a bar in Taipei: cheesy Doritos covered in artificial melted cheese.

Oh, right. You were wondering about Tabitha. Well, her parents recently came to Taipei to see her after two and a half years of being apart.

Her parents

In her effort to show them every interesting thing about Taiwan, I think she was really wearing them out, but I bet they’ve returned to New Hampshire better informed about this city than I am. Her parents are really nice, warm people, and I’m glad they were able to see Tabitha in her element. Okay, I can’t stand it anymore. Her name is Tiffany. Anyway, Tiffany really knows her way around this town. For example, when we visited a temple, she asked David (Taiwanese) to explain the customs, but she was the one who reminded him of all those customs. “Can you tell them about the prayer sticks?”

“Yeah, people use those sticks over there to pray.”

“But you forgot to say how it works. You ask a question, and then you pull a stick out of the bucket and take it to the people at that table. Using the number on your stick, they look up the answer in a book.”

I wish the temple hadn’t been so busy because I would’ve really liked to try this out. I think I would’ve asked, “Why does my bike make an aggravating clicking noise?” If I received an answer like, “Do try to do good but not to be great, otherwise you will be in danger”, then I’d know to stop hating on my bike for being less than great.

Incidentally, when I showed David a tiny little magic 8 ball that I brought from the States, he said he’d never seen one before.

Incidentally again, my friend Jason told me that there are different types of temples, so if you go to a relationship temple, the answers you will receive from the fortune sticks will be geared toward helping you dissect or predict your love life. I’m not sure how these temples differ from the regular fortune tellers. But, some people take the fortunes pretty seriously. I’ve heard about people saying stuff like, “Well, I knew we would break up in November already anyway”. Also there are temples near retail shops to help business owners have faith in their financial decisions.

Tiffany and David also told us about another way a temple goer can receive an answer to a question. You throw two little crescent shaped stones on the ground. If the flat sides of both stones face down, then the answer to your question is “No”. If both flat sides are facing up, they are laughing at you, so you have to try again. I don’t know who “they” are exactly. I guess that’s probably the first question I should have asked. And, if the stones face different ways, your answer is “Yes”.

You can see a man bending down to pick up his stones that he just threw on the ground in an effort to get an answer.

Much of the temple is in this courtyard type area. It was very crowded because this was around Chinese New Year.

I'm not too sure what these ladies do. They may be the ones who you bring your fortune stick to when retrieving your answer.

People bring food and put it on this table. At first I thought it was an offering, but they get to take it back when they go home I think. The point is for the food to get blessed.

David is explaining how the stones work. Tiffany doesn't look impressed.

She's confiscating the stones so she can correctly explain this tradition.

Oh... actually she just wanted to pretend the sacred stone is a smiley face.

Outside of the Temple

About Carrie’s boyfriend, she doesn’t have one anymore. Shaun is now her fiancé! He proposed to her on the beach in Thailand. If you’re thinking Awwww!, you’re not alone. I didn’t spend much time with them when he was visiting, but I can tell you a few insider details: he’s an excellent cook, he’s extremely amiable, they got along really well, and they plan to live abroad at least another year either here or in Thailand.

New and approved photos of them. Enjoy!

 

I, on the other hand, will not be revealing my future plans, yet. I know what they are, roughly, but I’m not really in the mood to discuss future prospects, and would like to continue to rehash the past.

Remember that one post about Jade in which I included a photo quiz. No one, except Jade, attempted to guess which item was bought in Taiwan. But, in the event that one person out there has been wondering, I’ll go ahead and tell you that it was the orange container of lotion, picture number 1, that was bought in Taiwan. Jade bought the other items in America and sent them to me.
As you can see in the picture of that lotion, some products here have English labels. Actually a lot of products need a Chinese label stuck on, often covering the English words and thoroughly aggravating me. I mean I understand why and all, but I really want to know what the other vitamins in my Gummi bears are. If I’m not getting Riboflavin, I’d like to know.

As for the mold in our apartment, I had joked about that in a previous blog, but perhaps I subconsciously knew I was breathing it in at that very moment because a few days later I realized it was definitely growing in the corner of my closet. I scrubbed that particular colony of mold off, but there’s something suspect about the air in here and my perpetual bad health is proof.
Anyway, turns out the wood coffee table I keep right beside my bed had mold growing on the underside of both shelves. My mattress sits right on the floor, so as I slept I was breathing in mold spores. Super. I’ve cleaned and removed that piece of furniture, but have since found mold growing on many different bags inside drawers and even on my jewelry that hangs on the wall. After cleaning all the known moldy areas, the air in here feels much better, and my symptoms have been improving dramatically.

While I’m at it, I’ll also tell you about the mosquitos here. In Texas I was allergic to mosquito bites, so the bite area would swell up to a very large size and itch, but then after a few hours there was little or no trace of it ever having been there. In Taiwan, the mosquitos are awake and biting at all hours of the day, and on me at least the bites are visible and extremely itchy for several days afterwards.

I have so many more pictures and stories to share, but I haven’t been good about squeezing the last bits of energy out of me at the end of a day or on the weekends. I’ve made a few new friends, too, which is taking me away from the computer and to the beach, to new food (like the Mandarin Chinese speakers’ version of Dim Sum), and to meetings with my new language exchange partner. Starting tomorrow, I’m finally going to learn Chinese at a decent pace! Wǒ shì hěn kuàilè! (I already knew those words, including the tones, though I’ll admit I had to look up how to spell “kuài lè” in pinyin. It sounds like this to me: “kwhy luh”.) This whole sentence means I am very happy! But the “very” only has to be there so that it doesn’t state a comparison, like: I am happier than person x. So, don’t get to thinking I’m extremely happy or anything. I’ll need some enchiladas verdes before I can add some “very”s up in here.

Here’s a list of things I can say in Chinese:
I am from America. (Literally, I am America country person)
I don’t want (Literally, No want)
Please, I want a cup of pearl milk tea
I want a coffee (I’ve never actually ordered this, but the word “coffee” is borrowed from the French word for this drink, café, so it’s ka fei in Chinese.
Tea
Thanks
Thank you
Please
Hello
What is your name?
My name is Emily
How are you? (Literally You good question? To ask a question you add the word ma to the end of the sentence. This is also the word for “mother”, but you say it quickly and with no tone… whatever that means)
I am doing well
I am not doing well
Yes
No
Street
I want to cross this street (Literally, I want cross ___ street)
If it’s not too much bother/trouble for you…
You cannot (Literally, No way)
I
you
Is/am/are (verbs do not change their tense in Chinese!!!)
Good bye
Left
Right
Where
Go straight
Guava
Rice
noodles
Mom
Go! Keep going! (a phrase to encourage. It literally means add gas)
Good night
Happy
Good
Okay?
This
What is this? (Literally, This is what?)
Number
Almost all the numbers, though I can only say the following quickly with little thought:
1,2,3,4,5,6,7,8,9,10, 100, 200, 1000

As you can see, this is a fairly limited list for having lived here for 8 months. Let’s hope my language exchange partner can help it grow. On the other hand, I’m fairly proud because at least half of this list is from self-study using an app I downloaded onto my phone. It’s called iStart Chinese! The company makes user friendly language tutorials. The best part is that the tutor (some guy with a British accent) tells you precisely how to place your tongue and how and when to push air out in order to pronounce the unfamiliar Chinese sounds. And, I can listen to a female and male Chinese speaker pronounce miàn tiáo (noodles) over and over until I have memorized the correct tones. I average about 83 listens per word.

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