Sunday, July 29, 2012

Taiwan A-Z (sorta)

Admitted art history nerd here. As anyone who travels with me knows, I have a thing for buildings. I love me some cathedrals when in Europe and I love me some temples when in Asia. So when we went to Taipei and our friend Peter asked us where we wanted to go, my first response was "Take me to see a building!" I was not disappointed!

In the middle of our first night in Taiwan, I woke up at 4a.m. due to jet lag. I stumbled down the narrow, dark hallway toward the kitchen wanting nothing more than water. The lights flickered for a while as they powered to life and I noticed something huge and black and hairy scurry past my feet: a Hunstman Spider. Incredulous, I stood dumbfounded until I heard Sean shriek. Who knew spiders came that big?! Thirty minutes and a lot of swearing later, the spider was defeated by my brave husband and a hot red miniature broom. Since then, we've encountered four more within our house. The last one woke Sean from a deep sleep as it battled a cockroach on our bedroom floor. That night it took far longer than 30 minutes to crush both the spider and cockroach; we had to move our mattress, take the bed frame apart, move the headboard, and then war. Sean swears the spider jumped towards him and his trustworthy red broom with fangs bared. Eke!

Car Trips
The winding, coiling roads of the east coast teeter hundreds of feet above the Pacific Ocean. Tunnels, some so rudimentary they look as if they're still under construction, plunge your car into claustrophobic pitch black with nothing but your headlights to guide you. Landslides from Typhoon Saola shred the mountainside and at some points leave the highway hanging precariously to the cliff side with 50 per cent of its support washed away. It's an exhilarating, petrifying experience, especially considering the road's hairpin turns, ubiquitous double decker tourist buses, less than satisfactory width of the lanes, and pile after pile, some 10 feet high, of recent debris brought down by storms.

Self proclaimed picky eater here. Italian and Mexican food are my thing, Chinese food not so much. So when we day tripped to Taipei with some friends via the high speed rail, I longed to take advantage of the city's abundant Western culinary pursuits. I was very quickly vetoed. Majority ruled and majority wanted dumplings now. Din Tai Fung, a world famous dumpling restaurant, was where a mass consumption of dumplings was to take place. I dragged my feet as we passed beckoning Italian restaurants and as I marched up the steep and winding staircase of the narrow and tall restaurant. Our eight person party of Americans, which consisted of me and seven guys, was stashed in a private room with a door that closed and everything. We were brought every kind of dumpling imaginable and fried rice and pig blood soup. And you wanna know what? It was all friggin' delicious. So there Jackie. As a new dumpling convert, I was very pleased to discover 10 freshly steamed dumplings cost only 30NT, which is $1USD, at local night markets.

While we were in Hualien, which is right on the Pacific Ocean, we had out first 5.3 earthquake. The epicenter was Hualien. It was not one of those rolling wave, side-to-side earthquakes; it was the jack hammer, jarring up-and-down type of earthquake. Suffice it to say, I kinda freaked out because we were staying in a really shitty (sex) motel on the first floor and the building was making all kinds of ugly sounds and I was just like, "FUCK!!!!!!!" and then, "HOLY SHIT will there be a tsunami?" but then we looked out the window when the quaking stopped and all the locals were like, "Hm. Whatever. Now is a good time to take out the trash," so all of us went to a (outdoor) night market and ate tons of dumplings and drank Taiwan Gold Beer. The best part of the whole thing? Luke didn't even feel it. Jerk.

These people make living in Asia rock!

Ghost Festival
During ghost month, it's not uncommon to walk past people burning money in temples or leaving food as an offering to long gone ancestors. It's also not uncommon to happen upon a festival honoring the dead. After our first official week of school, we hopped on the bus to celebrate and found ourselves in downtown Hsinchu smack dab in the middle of the ghost festival; fireworks boomed (dangerously) close overhead and haunting figures, some 15 feet tall, roamed the busy streets. It was a very surreal, mesmerizing Asia moment.

Let's be honest here: the apartment kinda sucks. But, we've taken great strides to make it ours. So while  the kitchen and guest bathroom make me shudder, I can live with it. It's free, it's spacious, and it has rockin' AC units. We slapped on some blue and red paint and bought tons of furniture covers and throw pillows. The end result? A place that's cool, cozy, and just ours. No complaints here.

I adore my job for multiple reasons. Here they are:

A. My schedule
Mondays: three 50-minute classes
Tuesdays: two 50-minute classes
Wednesdays: five 50-minute classes
Thursdays: four 50-minute classes
Friday: two 50-minute classes
Everyday: 10 minute passing periods that I do not have to supervise, 1 hour lunches

B. My students
When the bell rings, they automatically sit down and stop talking. I don't have to say a word. Plus, they have everything on their desks: books, supplies, homework. Once again, I don't need to ask. They work really hard. They are nice.

C. My coworkers
Well, that's easy. They are my friends. We go out to eat, we watch movies at each other's homes, we go on road trips, we go grocery shopping together, we scoot around town together. There's no work place crankiness. Wow what a difference that makes!

D. My parents
So far, they have high expectations for their kids and keep in contact in a pleasant, considerate way. I'll take it.

Words fail me, so here's a video:

Lost in Translation
Restaurant menus are very amusing to me mostly because each item listed on a menu comes in the form of a complete sentence with both a subject and predicate. My favorite noodle bar in town serves the best ramen I've ever had. Every time I go, I order "the garlic sauce burns the spicy pork noodle."

Night Markets
People and sounds and smells burst from the narrow alley ways littered with all kinds of food, drink, and goodies. Every Asian town has at least one night market. Some are just a small street filled with a few vendors and others are these complex mazes that take up multiple city blocks. They all have a few staples in common: stifling heat, towering piles of dumplings, and stinky tofu. The best part about a night market? You just never know what you're gonna find!

Sometimes, words paint the best picture. This is not one of those times. I'll let the island speak for itself here:

I moved to the 8th most densely populated country in the world. There are tons of people, like everywhere, all the time. And their scooters. And their noise. It's hard to be alone. It's hard to find quiet. It's hard to find space, good old fashioned open space with no apartments, cars, etc. But Taiwan does one thing right: its parks. Nooks and crannies hold beautiful temples and paths and ponds; small trails you can lose yourself in for a minute or two and hide away from the commotion of people living on top of one another.

Sex Motels
So, once upon a time, Peter, Luke, Jamie, Sean, and I drove to Hualien. We booked the second cheapest motel we could find and, as it turns out, it was a sex motel. Now, what does that entail, you may find yourself asking. First, it's a motel that charges by the hour so one can "rest" or stay the night. Then, as a courtesy, there are handy condom dispensers outside each room. The real treat, which I'm pretty sure we paid extra for, was the sex chair. A what? I know, I likewise had no idea such a contraption existed. Well, words will fail me so just soak it up:

Typhoon Saola
What nasty piece of work you were! Two days after landing in Taipei, we experienced our first Category 2 Typhoon. Our bedroom flooded in one inch of rain water and a tree smashed through our bedroom window in the middle of the night. Hsinchu City flooded in one foot of standing water and the entire country closed shop for the day (except for my school, which held orientation the day Saola made landfall. It was a soggy two minute walk to school!).

Universal Healthcare
I got an ear infection a few weeks back. I went to see an ear, throat, and nose specialist. The doctor prescribed me two medications. For the doctor's visit and drugs, I paid a whopping $13 USD. And that's without any kind of health insurance as I'm still waiting on my health card. Before I left the states, I had to pay $25 just to see the doctor and forget about tests or meds. Thank you Taiwan.

Scooting around town is just about my favorite thing to do in Taiwan.

The second we step out from our air conditioned apartment, our skin grows sticky with moisture. By the time we've reached the bottom floor, we're miserable and sweaty. After 10 minutes walking along Jeishou Road, we're looking for the closest 7-11 so we can pop in, grab a drink, and most importantly linger in the freezing cold safety of the store. Bless you, 7-11, for your 30 cent iced teas and frozen air. Apparently we can look forward to this until mid October. Rumor has it that it actually gets "cold" in Taiwan over the winter but I simply cannot believe that this hellishly humid place will ever be anything other than roasting. If it does get cold, I'm going to run naked through the streets and relish it. I miss scarves and sweaters and seeing puffs of breath and fire places and not sweating.