Tag Archives: Taipei

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.

Woops

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.

Mountain Number Nine, Jiufen

26 Nov

When I first arrived in Taiwan and was subbing at JumpStart, I worked with a girl named Vikki. We taught Blue Class; those kids are now my students in Purple Class. I remember how clueless and eager I was then. I asked her plenty of questions and was immensely thankful for her presence. For example, on the first day I asked, “Vikki,… um, how am I supposed to sing the Goodbye Song at the end of the day? How does the tune go?” She laughed and looked a bit uncomfortable because it’s not her song; she neither made it up nor has she ever sung it. I felt like I could hear her thinking, “Oh geez, now I have to sing in front of this random girl, damn Teacher Valerie and her stupid goodbye song”. Now I know Vikki wouldn’t think that at all, but I’m sure she was a little caught off guard. The Taiwanese teachers at my school don’t ever sing along with the our Wiggles or Christmas songs. They have their own songs in Chinese that they sing with the kids during the Chinese school weeks. Can you imagine if someone was asking you to sing in Chinese? Can you even imagine singing a Wiggles song without being coerced?

Anyway, Teacher Vikki sang the little song for me. But for the entire four weeks of this job, at the end of the day when I was supposed to sing, “We have had a happy day, happy day, happy day. We have had a happy day, see you tomorrow!”, I would start off singing the wrong tune. Then I would stop and look desperately at teacher Vikki until she chimed in with the correct tune. Eventually it got to the point where I was so embarrassed I wasn’t embarrassed anymore. Apparently there’s a cap on that sort of thing at least when it comes to singing jingles to three year olds.

Another thing I was clueless about was the schedule. I understood the main parts: when to teach the alphabet, when to read a book, and when to have them watch me do their art projects for them, but what I didn’t understand is when to drink water (now I know it’s all day). So, we’d come back in the room and I’d say, “Okay Blue Class, I want you to sit on your name spots and I’ll tell you about a a little girl who gets REALLY scared when she goes to visit her Grandma! Who is sitting nicely, nicely, nicely? Who is sitting nicely, nicely, who? Very good! Okay, it’s called Little Red Riding Hood.”

Then I would hear, “Um, Teacher Emily… I think they need to drink their water first”.

“Oh, right… didn’t we just do that?… Oh, because we played downstairs again?… so like every time we enter the room then huh…”

“It’s okay,” Vikki says as she sets out all their water bottles and the kids sit down for a marathon session of beverage avoidance.

Looking back I find it amusing that I overlooked this part of the day. It’s ingrained in me now.

Anyway, Vikki is about the best combination of sweet and cool that you can imagine. When I was subbing, she said she and Teacher Shelly want to take me to Jiufen, a mountain village with amazing views and a famous shopping area.  Jiufen is actually “spelled” like this: 九份 and means “nine”. I could never remember the name (pronounced “joe fin” by the way), so I just told Carrie, “They want to take us to a mountain.”

The trip to the mountain finally happened a couple weeks ago, and we were extremely lucky to have chosen a day with excellent weather. The view was fantastic, which is somewhat rare since it rains even more often in these surrounding mountains than it does in Taipei. Carrie didn’t come because that weekend she was with a friend doing some much needed clothes shopping. You should see her new clothes, bright colors and adorable little details that I can’t describe in words without making you throw up in your mouth a little. I’ll try to remember to take some photos because I know that description makes them sound bad, but they’re not.

Before I start posting the amazing photos I took while at Jiufen, I have to say that I had a wonderful time. Shelly (my current co-teacher) is really good at making someone feel comfortable. She does it everyday with the students at our school, especially the newcomers. When we went to Jiufen, I didn’t have to worry about anything. Shelly and her cute smile met me at the MRT station that is between our two houses, and I followed her around for the rest of they day, trying to take pictures of everything, even the commute so I’d be able to remember how to make the trek on my own one day. Fail. In my defense, it was a little confusing (MRT train, regular train, taxi, and then on the way home: bus, train, and MRT), and well, I’m just really glad I was with Shelly.

Buying the train tickets. They were very cheap... maybe five dollars or less, but we had to stand up for 30 minutes. Look how they are dressed and compare it to my plain clothes in an upcoming photo.

Shelly on left, Vikki on right

I thought the taxi driver would just dump us off at the special mountain place and we'd hike around, but apparently there are cheap taxi tour deals (my share was $12 USD for two hours) The next several photos are of the first of about five stops on the tour.

This is what a plaque (that had English on it also!) said about these rocks: The layers formed by the sequential deposition of sediment provide a unique and visual record of sea-level change. The exposures are known as "cross" or "false bedding."

Our taxi driver tour guide. As is probably obvious, he was really nice. Even though I couldn't understand anything that he said, his demeanor told me enough.

Next stop, gold mining factory and gold water (pollution from the factory floating around in the water). Here are some tourists taking pictures with the "gold" water; you can see the factory in the background on the left. Speaking of tourists, Shelly said a lot of Japanese tourists visit Jiufen, and we saw a large group of them while shopping.

Third stop - A waterfall

Fourth stop, a temple! Check out the awesome details in the next several photos.

genius

This circular opening is how you get into the bathroom. So, I was taking photos in the bathroom. Technically.

mmhmm

It's weathered, but still incredible

More roof of the temple

My camera battery died while at the temple. I don’t remember what the fifth stop was, another view I think. See, this is why wasting time taking photos and not “living in the precious moment” is important. My friend Megan said her mom encourages her to “take a picture with your mind”(a phrase I’ve since adopted), but my mind is just not strong enough to hold all those scenes. And how deprived would I be if I forgot the beauty of this temple, allowing it to waste away in the recesses of my mind where I stuffed my experiences at that one babysitter’s house when all the other kids had left and I sat on the couch made of cat smells, trying not to look over the edge where the amount of hair makes you cherish your mom’s spring cleaning days even if you are the only kid who dreads Spring Break. I know, I’m exaggerating, practically likening my lack of memory to the guy’s in Flowers for Algernon, but I really don’t remember when your birthday is, trust me.

Then we went to the famous shopping area that overlooks all these sights I’ve just shown you. I took a lot of photos (with my mind) of the interesting food and sights in the shopping area, so I’ll post those later.

Disclaimer: Since my phone is now an extension of my mind, I meant that I took them with my camera phone.

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...