Tag Archives: temple

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.
Thank you
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
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)
Is/am/are (verbs do not change their tense in Chinese!!!)
Good bye
Go straight
Go! Keep going! (a phrase to encourage. It literally means add gas)
Good night
What is this? (Literally, This is what?)
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.


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.


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


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.