Tag Archives: Taiwan

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.

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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.

Space

4 Mar

I still love my job because my students continue to be adorable and well behaved. I have five additional students now, though, so what was once tiring is now exhausting. Many of them have just turned four or will soon, and two are closer to age three. Besides the fact that there are usually at least five students trying to tell me about what their mom said or that they found the smallest piece of lint ever on the floor and would like me to inspect it to see if they should earn some kind of reward for having saved us all, this many students proves a challenge because of the lack of space.

A 12 x 10 room with 15 three and four year olds is one crowded place. I am teaching them a kindergarten curriculum, so we have circle time spots, centers areas, a reading corner, math books, phonics books, handwriting books, and we eat lunch in there. Fortunately, the Taiwanese are great at making the most of small spaces. When I feel like all is lost and there’s no extra space for me to put something like the huge box of new curriculum that just arrived, my boss will come in and say, “Okay, what if we put this shelf on top of that shelf, scoot your desk over like this, and then I’ll get you another shelf to go here?” We do it, and viola! It does fit. Never mind that the recycling box is virtually inaccessible or that little Leo’s floor spot is now under Samantha’s chair. It works. Leo is short.

The level I and my co-worker teach has become so popular that they offered us the opportunity to switch to larger rooms. We turned it down. If you’re a teacher, I’m sure you can agree that taking everything off your walls and out of your cabinets mid-year to set it all up again somewhere new is an almost impossible and definitely scary feat to perform in one evening after school. As you might remember, we have to put up butcher paper to cover the walls because of the unfinished plaster and years of tape stuck to them. Therefore when anything is removed from the walls here, the butcher paper has to be replaced or covered up in those exact spots to hide the tears and discoloration. Remember the years of having to wallpaper? I do, I remember watching my mom do it in several rooms, and though the bathrooms looked like little perfect explosions of flowers, we were all relieved when she hired that one lady to do the kitchen.

No matter which room I have, I know I would continue to feel cramped at work. I’ve never given much thought to claustrophobia, probably because I lived in Texas. As a warning, if you consider yourself claustrophobic now, do not come to Asia unless you plan to be rich and choosy with your work environment. It’s not just when the kids are around that I feel squished; it’s during my breaks because it’s these times when some people need quiet and space the most. Let me give you the privilege of understanding lunch time in a Taiwanese kindergarten.

When the year first started, the youngest class came to my room to eat with us. A few months in, the lunch set up was changed. I began taking my students and about eight chairs to a different class to eat with those students while the big kids brought in ten chairs and a table to my room. When nap time was over, they retrieved their furniture from my room. They often left at least a few chairs behind, though. And just one small chair can block an entire passageway in this type of environment. Recently the lunch situation has changed again. A class I’ve yet to mention comes to eat with us in our room, bringing an extra table and several chairs.

After the kids eat, it’s the teachers’ turn. Luckily our company lets us eat the school lunch for free, saving us a lot of money and time. At noon at least five of us are standing up in the kitchen eating from small metal bowls. Standing and eating may not sound that strange especially to my dad, but except for Chris, who somehow manages to get in there first every time and stand in the safe spot in front of the closet, everyone else is in someone’s way approximately seven times throughout their meal. Either you’re standing in front of the sink where Auntie is trying to wash the bowls between her trips to clean rooms, or you’re standing in front of the cabinet of bowls and need to move when someone needs a dish, or you’re in front of the fridge and someone needs garlic, or you’re standing in front of the door to the kitchen, and I don’t think I need to explain why that one is inconvenient, or you’re standing in front of the food itself. When I say you have to move, I mean you have to find a new spot entirely. And the only spot you can move to is often the very middle of the kitchen where someone else is eventually going to need to be.

So just imagine the smallest kitchen ever and that’s where the Auntie prepares the meals. She doesn’t cook them; they are delivered by a man wheeling a cart. As he glides down the hallway to deliver the food in the morning, he taps on the metal containers so students and teachers get out of his way since the hallway is, as you might’ve guessed, not that wide.

After eating, most teachers leave the school because other than the basement, there is nowhere for them to go. I’m lucky in that there are no kids napping in my room, so I can get some work done in there. The hard part is that I’m in Auntie’s way yet again. She’s trying to mop and such and I’m traipsing around trying to get things done. She’s very nice about it, even when the gunk stuck to my shoes is making footprints on the floor she just moped. I haven’t accidentally worn my inside shoes outside in like five months, so I’m not sure where all that dirt comes from, but anyway, she taught me how to wipe them on the mop. When she leaves, she doesn’t close the door, which is about two feet from the office, which quite frequently houses conversations or a screaming kid. I don’t know what the screaming is about since they always yell in Chinese (plus the upset ones are always newbies who don’t know much English yet), but I know that I need peace and quiet, so I go and close it. Five minutes later Auntie comes in again and wipes the tables down. She leaves the door open again, so I go and close it. I start working again on creating some lesson or cutting, and Auntie comes back in to mop again. She mops twice because, well, school floors are dirty. And when she exits, she leaves the door open. The kid isn’t crying anymore, so I don’t notice until he comes in and starts rummaging through our toys. I ignore him, but then he approaches my desk talking to me in a forlorn voice. Once again, I don’t know what he’s saying. So I just nod and say, “It’s okay” while using my herding skills to get him out of the room. I close the door right as he starts crying again. Oftentimes comforting someone has the opposite effect. Or maybe it was because I closed the door in his face? I’m not sure, but I’ve learned not to get all compassionate because the bandage has to be ripped off at some point. I can only pretend we speak the same language for so long.

Now it’s not that I’m complaining. These breaks keep me sane, and I feel extremely lucky. Who gets two hours off in the middle of the day? Who gets to be sane these days? The breaks and holidays in this company are gold. But, sometimes I go down to the basement where it’s dark, musty, and relatively quiet and dream of the wide open spaces in my previous life. Sometimes that Dixie Chick song starts playing. “Wide open spaces, room to make her big mistakes…” Ironically, it’s a lot easier for me to let go of mistakes here in cramped spaces than it was in the wide open spaces of Texas. I think people here are so much nicer and forgiving because if you don’t learn this skill early on, you’re going to start hurting people for being in your way all the time. And I bet the prisons here are even smaller than Auntie’s kitchen.

Jader Potater

2 Feb
Jade and I have been best friends for many years (precisely 12 years, 5 months, and 4 days), and since it is her birthday today (in the western hemisphere), this is a tribute to her. After the show please stay for a photograph quiz (or just scroll down and skip hearing about my best friend in the whole world, you heartless monster).
(Today feels parenthetical.)
When Jade and I began to hang out in choir freshman year of high school, we clicked instantly. We both shared the same fascination of all things unimportant. And by that I mean our giddiness about matters (such as our fake band) manifested itself in the form of secret handshakes, extensive and incriminating plans that we wrote down in about ten notebooks, and the overuse of exclamation points.
I just finished reading a notebook she mailed me titled, “Emily and Jade’s Letter Folder V”. Each page is filled with our correspondence during a month of high school. I just finished reading the whole thing, and I must say it was very anticlimactic. We were so afraid of someone getting ahold of our precious Letter Folder that all the juicy information is circumvented with vague references and promises to each other that we’ll “give the details later” and requests like, “Please switch places with Erik at lunch so you can tell me what happened. If you don’t want to do that then you can tell me in 7th”. Our fears were based on the hard, cold truth of the previous year. One of us (not I) had left the third CEJ Letter Folder (The breed of folder that involved all three of us) out on my patio where my mom found it, read the whole thing, grounded me, and then refuses (still) to give it back. But at least we know where CEJ Letter Folder III is; the others are MIA.
I even wrote about needing to buy a safe to keep the notebook in so no one can find out about what we are really up to. So now I’m just left with accounts of strange events like when I stopped brushing my hair because I discovered “it’s not actually necessary to do so”. True I suppose. But then I explain that it’s “an attempt to make my hair wavy/curly. “ I thought it was just another silly idea I came up with but never followed through on until I read about the  6th day of “my anti-brushing of hair campaign”.  Jade had to step in at that point and explain:
“Not brushing your hair isn’t going to make it wavy/curly. It might make it scraggly, like you just got finished riding in a convertible w/ the top down, but not wavy/curly. You can try though. If you’re not going to brush your hair, then I’m not going to cut my toe nails.”
It’s especially frustrating to read Jade’s letter on a certain Monday at 10:43am.
“I’m sorry, but this must be said. He is soooo obviously saying that b/c he feels dumb. How can he go from ‘I really love you’ to ‘I love you in a friend way’ in one night? I guess it’s possible, but it’s just so obvious. He really is starting to annoy me. Whenever we have a chance to walk alone together and talk, he always joins us and we can’t talk! It’s soooooooo annoying.”
Who is “he”?! Who loved me? Or Jade? I’m not even sure who he loved… or didn’t love, depending on whether he was telling the truth. I think Jade was onto something, his story doesn’t add up. But who is he? Jon M. or John R. or one of the Jakes? Seems like every other male name in the notebook was either Cameron (there was a big Cameron and a small Cameron), Jesse (there was a big Jesse and a small Jesse), Jake (there was an old and a new), David, Sam, or John (there were exactly seven, I know because there is a list of them on page 28). There are also tons of references to Carrie, of course. And, our friend Randee makes an appearance, writing, “HEY JADE THIS IS RANDEE! THE FOLDER IS NOW CALLED ERJ (Emily, Randee, Jade). REMEMBER THE TIME WE ATE THE BROWNIES @ KAYLA’S? IT WAS FUNNY! BYE!” in neon green marker.
Now that I really analyze the letter folder (despite all signs that point towards that being a waste of time), I realize Jade was often helping me with my problems. She had problems, too, but the ones she wrote about were of this type: “I’m exhausted” or “I hate graphing” or “I want to go to sleep in at least one of my classes, but I can’t today.” She always seemed to know how to fix her other real problems she alludes to in the letters, and I remember this being the case. I on the other hand needed help with everything from why un-brushed hair doesn’t turn curly to how to get over Jon, which was apparently…
“a serious, serious (and chronic) problem and you are really gonna need to help me overcome it. I’ll do anything (short of pass Algebra or make out with Henry)… I’M STILL NOT over Jon!”
Wow. That two month relationship must have really been special (relatively).
But just like a true friend, Jade figured out how to help me:
“About your “PROBLEM”, there really isn’t much you can do to get over Jon. I know that’s not what you want to hear, but it’s the gosh-darn truth!”
A particularly low point is when I complain about my “noisy neighbors especially the stupid crying baby!” and ask Jade if I should post the following note on their door:
“You don’t live on a farm. Our backyards are small. If you could please keep it down, I’d greatly appreciate it”
Jade said the note sounds like a good idea, but I should omit the farm part. By the way I wasn’t a baby hater usually. I babysat little kids starting when I was 10 (not sure why parents let kids babysit their kids, but it did happen… for two dollars an hour).
My favorite part is when I refer to Taiwan. So now I have proof that I knew this country existed. I even spelled it correctly. This is exactly what it says (there’s not even a new paragraph after the ellipses; I wrote it all together like that):
“Hey, I’m in sociology and we are discussing the possibility of a WWIII soon. I kinda got lost as soon as he started to explain the whole Taiwan wants this b/c this and we have a missile set up here or there b/c this or that…  New Jake is so cutie. You know what is so cutie: when he says something like “No way” or when something weird happens on TV and he opens his eyes real wide and gets all into it like he’s a little kid or something. It makes me laugh.”
See, in high school I was all international and stuff. In my defense, New Jake was from California and had natural white-blonde hair. He was also extremely tall, so he was a bit of an oddity and a legitimate distraction from learning about WWIII, which never materialized afterall, Mr. Mitchell.
And TWO pages later I wrote:
“Last night I reached an epiphany… I don’t like New Jake. He didn’t really do anything wrong; I just don’t like him. I have to tell you the details later.”
See, all the juicy stuff was left out.
Not everything about Jade and me was so superficial. Two times our relationship struggled when a boy came between us, but we always persevered in the end. And we’ve both helped each other through some rough times. Before I came to Taiwan, we even lived together in Austin. And she’ll be visiting me here in April!
 Life can be difficult and your hair might get scraggly, but as long as you have someone you trust with all your heart to help you through it, you can get it all brushed out.
Happy Birthday Jade!
I love you!
So here’s the deal readers. I’ll show three photos. Guess which of the three is the item that was bought in Taiwan. The other two are things in the care package Jade sent me from the U.S. Good luck! (If you’re wondering why on her birthday I get a package, I can’t write it here, so sit next to me at lunch and I’ll explain.)

Was this bought in Taiwan?

Was this bought in Taiwan?

Was this bought in Taiwan?

The Secret to Happiness

13 Jan
fun friends
massages
flowy pants
elephants
tropical climate
falling
I found these in Thailand. Let’s start with the last one: When you fall down, get up and try again, and as long as you don’t die, you may find that you are happier… or maybe not, but at least you’re not a quitter.
It starts with my friend Freddie. I won’t go into how I know him. But let’s just say he’s the most gregarious and craziest of my friends. Some other people come close, but they just can’t quite beat Freddie. I doubt they ever will because Freddie’s been at it longer and will stay at it the longest. Just pray that you end up in the same nursing home as him because that’s your only chance at not being bored there. Anyway, we just happened to have plans to be in the same city at the same time, so we planned to meet up. The timing was perfect. I had just met Duncan at the airport, and as we drove up to my hostel, there was Freddie taking off  his helmet.  We made plans to visit a famous mountain near Chiang Mai. Before we set off, though, he needed to drop off his scooter in a village 45 minutes away.
“Huh? You rented a scooter that far out?”
“No, I borrowed it from a Thai lady.”
“A random Thai let you borrow her scooter without some kind of collateral!?”  But I really wasn’t that surprised because I know Freddie just enough to know these kinds of things happen to him all the time. But that wasn’t all. He also needed to pick up his rooster feathers. The previous day he had attended the Buffalo Market with his boss, and purchased twenty roosters so that he could take the feathers back to Texas for his girlfriend to use in people’s hair. It’s hugely popular in the Austin area. First it was my coworkers, then my students, and now apparently every other Texas girl (and Freddie) has thin purple, red, and blue feathers semi-permanently imbedded in their hair.  Any other states experiencing this hair enhancement fad? Anyway, he said it took a long time to explain to the chicken owners that he didn’t want the meat. He needed someone to skin them and dry the carcasses. “They were really angry at me because they thought I wasn’t taking their roosters seriously”, Freddie explained to us. In his photos you can see at least ten locals in a circle around him as he makes wild hand gestures in his attempt to act out which part of the bird he needs.  Finally a lady who spoke English came to his aid.
Anyway, before he could go up the mountain with us, he needed to run these errands, and wouldn’t it be really convenient if both Duncan and I rented a scooter and went with him so that he can have a ride back instead of trying to find a taxi out in rural Thailand? That sounds great except for the part about how I’ve never ridden a scooter before, and they drive on the left side of the road in Thailand, and I’d be getting up to highway speeds, and neither of them were actually going to teach me, just sorta encourage me…
I agreed of course.
On my scooter
Freddie took off to find gas, and Duncan and I rode around the block. Some ladies who were going about their daily business started screaming at me because I guess it was obvious that I lacked control as I made the 90 degree turns in their tiny alley ways. Then, it happened. I don’t really know why I fell.  I was making a right turn (crossing the opposing lane) onto a medium sized street, and when I realized I was swinging too wide, I turned the bike so that I didn’t hit the parked cars. Either because I turned it too sharply or because I was going to slow or because I didn’t know what I was doing, the scooter and I made a dive. It skidded along the road, and people hanging out in nearby shops and homes yelled out sounds like, “Woahaaahhhh!!” My first thought was, “This is really happening?”, and my second thought was, “Did my sunglasses break?” and my third thought was, “This is going to be a waste of money”. I had just finished telling the guy who rented the scooter to me that, “Yes, I’ve driven a one before”.  After I paid, he just stood there to watch me ride off on it, but I didn’t even know how to start it, so I just pretended to have lots of things to do, like open and close the seat compartment, and rearrange my backpack until he finally got bored and walked back to his store.
“Woe is me,” I thought as I picked the scooter up and wheeled it over to the side of the street. Duncan was next to me by this time, and his grimace just as difficult to stomach as was my damaged scooter. “I don’t think this was a good idea” I lamented. Looking at my knees, I expecting to see big holes in my thin, black jeans, but they looked the same even though I could feel my skin burning underneath them. My bottom lip burned slightly, and my palms had scrapes. Nothing was very visible though. It was mostly my confidence that was shaken. Well, and the scooter. It had a huge scrape on the side and on the handle bar, and a piece of plastic was broken off of a part towards the back, making an obvious hole in what looked like an important area. But Duncan said it’s just a covering for the actual goods inside of it. After five minutes I had a fair amount of pain when I bent over. My lower back had been jolted when I landed on my knees. I started to worry that I damaged my body and bank account just for chicken feathers.
Duncan wisely said we should just chill here for a bit so my nerves could return to their usual amounts of worry and agitation. I was torn as to what I should do with the scooter because I didn’t want to ride it, nor did I want to take it back to the place twenty minutes after renting it, which is the same as saying, “I’m a huge moron who owes you money”.
Luckily (I guess) Freddie showed up and coaxed me into trying again. Repeatedly ignoring their requests that I should increase my speed and stay close behind Freddie, I rode at a comfortable pace and began to get the hang of it. It’s really quite easy. The rush of the wind and overcoming my fear was amazing. It was surprisingly easy to get the hang of driving on the other side of the road and alongside many other scooters, passing the slow ones by going to their right, yet staying to the left of the cars. The hardest part was making turns because it took me a long time to think about what lane I am aiming for, which lane is the turning lane, and where the heck we even are.  Luckily, I didn’t have to make too many turns. Towards the end of our journey I was even keeping up with Freddie except when he wanted to pass huge garbage truck type vehicles by driving on the weird brick shoulder with only inches between his scooter and about a million potential death objects. For my first time on a scooter, I was going plenty fast enough, 60 mph, and weaving around plenty of things, like that girl who darted out on foot in front of me.
Following Freddie. Don’t worry, Mom, this was on the way back when Duncan was driving me. But it gives you an idea of what the roads look like.

trucks piled even higher than this are common
Riding in between cars/lanes like this is pretty common in Thailand and Taiwan. I do it on my bicycle in Taipei pretty frequently actually, mostly at red lights.
We returned the scooter Freddie borrowed from the very trusting lady and then went to a different house where his feathers were drying on a clothes line. I felt lucky to be able to see a normal house in Thailand. I’ve heard that on some treks (hiking tours to waterfalls and such), the guide will sometimes do things like pay a local woman to go to the river wearing traditional Thai clothing and pretend to wash her clothes in the river so tourists feel like they’ve seen a civilization truly different than their own.  I was seeing the real deal though: bunnies hopping around, tons of frogs swimming in vats of dark water, and roosters scurrying about. A grinning man made it a point to show me around the property while the other people smiled at us. None of us could communicate except to the girl that Freddie had originally happened upon at the Buffalo Market

One of the houses
Free roaming chickens and rabbits
My tour guide
The frogs
A lady was kind enough to hand her adorable son over to Duncan.
Freddie inspects his feathers
Duncan and Freddie
Yep
As you can see, the rooster feathers were nice and ready. Freddie haggled with the guy who wanted 500 Baht (about 16 USD). Figuring he just gave the guy free meat to feed the entire village for a day or two, he got him down to 300 (10 USD) for his services.
This part of my trip was priceless. Next story, the elephant camp, where I learned that Toy’s name means “backwards”. Toy is the owner of the Thai Kitchen restaurants in Austin.  We used this word to command the elephants.
Oh, and I almost forgot. I had my fingers crossed all day that they’d somehow overlook the scooter damage and return my passport to me as if my little accident was all a dream. And that’s exactly what happened. To everyone who gets Tierney to put feathers in your hair, I almost died for you. You’re welcome.

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.

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