Saturday, September 26, 2009

Ashley Navigates the Healthcare system

Ashley had an earache. I think it must have hurt very much. Saturday morning she rose early, without waking us she went in search of a pharmacy or emergency room. She'd heard from the Aussi that there was a private hospital run by 7th Day Adventists that was very good and spoke English. When she arrived at the hospital she was informed there was no one who could see her (this makes sense as it was the Sabbath for this crew) and she was given directions to go to Cathay Hospital and told to take a cab. She went to Cathay. In the emergency room there were several triage windows but only one with a woman who spoke English. Ashley was seen by an ear specialist, given three kinds of prescriptions (antibiotic, ibuprofen, and eardrops) and paid and picked up her drugs in no time. Total cost (including doctor and drugs and emergency room etc...) was $NT 500 which is less than 15 dollars US. She was back befor I woke.

Ficus Microcarpa

The trees of which I wrote earlier, the ones that line the streets and seem to shoot out of the cement rather than grow up from it, are called Ficus microcarpa, miniature fig, or Chinese Banyan.

There is an elevator which takes me to the hostel. It often reaches its weight capacity, which means no more than four people at a time. I take the stairs a lot. A large delicate cockroach died in the stairwell a few days ago and its body has greeted me every morning since.

Sometimes I forget I am on an island in the Pacific, so engulfed am I in the city and its distractions and opportunities, film, music, food. Then I look down one of the man made canyons of department stores and on the horizon I see the mountains. In fact, mountains can be seen from every direction. It almost feels like Taipei is sitting in a giant crater.

I met a woman selling bananas with Ashley. I had heard how delicious these were because they are grown on the island. I don't think I'd ever eaten a banana that hadn't flown at lease 2ooo miles. The woman wanted to know where we were from. Discovering that we were Megoren (Americans) she put out her left hand "Taiwan" then her right, "America" and clasped her hands "Pongyo (friends)." Scenes liked this happened more than once with older people and also with poorer people.
Wealthier people I've met seem noticeably to avoid talk of politics. I get the sense that even broaching the subject would be taboo. It is a very difficult habit to break.

Last night I was walking with an Aussi and Megan. Zach is his name. He is here studying Chinese and is a rather nice chap. We walked past a large map engraved into the side of the wall, we were in the business section of town and this was just outside the World Trade Center. I was struck by the map and said "hey, that map is backwards." Joking of course, because i'm used to seeing north and south america on the center left and aisia on the right and this map had asia focused in the center left and north and south america were being crowded out the edge of the right hand side. Understandable. Then the Aussie chap looks at it considerately and says "yeah, there is something off about that map" "that's because your maps are upside down." i said.

KTV is brilliant. I understand why it is so popular. We went to a place called "Party City". Everyone was dressed to the nines. You are in a private room and the staff comes in with pitchers of ice, casese of beer and to take your order for noodles and dumplings when you are peckish. there is a large semicicular couch and a table in the middle and the television screen at on end of the cozy room. Also a private bathroom for each KTV room. with a remote control you can make your song selections from the karaoke book. There were two microphones in the room but I'm sure more could be had if needed. And there were some kind of sound effects on the microphones that made everyone sound amazing, like it was autotuned or something.
One friend of Weiwei's who we have decided to call "cool Jeff" (he introduced us to Taiwanese hiphop, even rapped for us a bit) was so surprised when I explained the rough and humiliating way we americans practice karaoke. He was positively frightened. "you mean, you are in a public place? and everyone can hear you? what if you are bad! oh that sounds so horrible!"

Friday, September 25, 2009


taipei jobs are like lining up for a watering hole. first come first serve, large trample small, drink up drink up! i feel like the mythological tantalus though, so thirsty yet the water is ever so slightly out of reach. so the past five days we've been on our desert hunt for water. emailing, phone calls ("do you speak english...?" "no... well i would like to apply to teach english here.."). the schools have funny names too: Dear English School, Eurocentre, Joy English. consumed in the frustrating, funny, boring, nerve racking, ridiculous... has resulted in lots of cigarette smoking (tuna can ashtrays) and now lots of slacking (walking, walking, walking). though i have steered from planning day trips, i have found myself lazing in Da An park, as well as tagging along on my friends' mini pilgrimages- first to a mosque, then to the catholic church. i can see how necessary it is to have comfort in ones sanctuary; that your confident in what it's about even in the most remote of places... taiwan.

thursday, after a flurry of emails... and no replies, helen and i walked. we taught ourselves how to count on our hands, which makes all the difference here. we lost ourselves in high rise maze of streets. apartments with barred windows, and potted plants. a district filled with massage parlors, medicinal shops, and acupuncture (advertised by foot meridian charts). i like to take the MRT (subway) station at the Chiang Kai Shek memorial hall, though not the closest stop to our hostel. i love walking through the expansive plaza with the beautiful theater (promise to put pictures up soon) and gigantic archway. there is also a cornered pond encircled by rocks, and you spy lots of people feeding the orange and white coy. lots of old men sit by themselves here, and i've been told to bow my head out of respect when we pass.

my favorite past time now, is getting lost in the alleyways . unlike alleys in the states, which are trashy, dark backstreets that smell of urine, taipei alley's are mapped out and have the best finds. mini flower shops, mechanics, and the best street food. taiwanese vendors are smart here. they usually set up during rush hour (which ranges from when kids get out of school 3pm, to when they get out of the bushiban 7pm, to when adults get out of work... around 9pm here). our aussie friend had good advice... see what food vendor the kids go to cause they have good taste and little money. brilliant. my favorite so far has been the pork dumplings... steamy, plump, juicy goodness for less than a dollar. i've also taken to bubble milk tea (... hey! it fills you up and quenches your thirst!).

yesterday, i felt a little defeated in the job market. ashley has already begun teaching (in her pink socks and mary janes). she is teaching very young kids, in a very small class, and said that they throw their shoes a lot. she met the parents yesterday and had to put a demo on. she only works about 6-8 hours a week, but makes 650 NT hr. which equals out to round 20 dollars! helen showed me the bookstore. i felt instantly relaxed surrounded by the new book smell, soothing classical music, and air conditioning. most of the books are in chinese, but they do have an english section, and good finds too... Oscar Wao! most people were sitting on the floor reading, some sipping tea (which is usually in a small plastic bags... more convenient to carry as trash cans are scarce). the art/ architecture section was massive. we got turned around going home, which happens to me frequently but, unlike helen, i am so thankful to the taipei map that was gifted to me before i left and have no qualms breaking it out on a crowded street corner. getting directions seems to lead us in the opposite direction, as most people don't seem to take the MRT. the average wage here is around 80 NT hr., like our new friend Adams who works 40 + at TGI Fridays!! this weighs very heavy in my heart when i think of how much we will be making as simple english teachers.... hopefully.

- megan

no map.

Often I have know idea where I am until after I've been there.
This is what comes from not taking a map or a guide book.

This is some of what I've seen.

Thursday, September 24, 2009

Taipei Hostel

In the Lonely Planet guide book, our hostel boasts a rooftop garden. Like so many boasters it is full of hot air. The roof top garden consists of 10 wilted potted leafy plants, and two big yellowing aloe vera. And mice.
The hostel occupies the 6th and 7th floor of a tenement. On the 7th floor is a deck, maybe 30feet long topped with a dingy glass roof which turns the area into a sweltering sauna. There is a breathtaking (read: suffocating) view of a tall granite building (the Sheraton Mansion). Popping your head over the side you see layers of other roofs and laundry and steel and cement, layers of buildings. 25 feet of deck is devoted to the sheets from the dorms that the Philippine woman, Leslie, is always washing and hanging to dry. The mice are rather scarce in the day light hours. The mice do enjoy the garden tremendously though and every night you can hear them dancing in the plants. There are somewhere between 40 to 50 beds in this place and it is always booked. Many nights the rooms are filled with people just passing through from Germany, New Zealand, Mainland China, Japan, UK, Argentina, Korea, Canada, Australia, Sweden and the occasional Yank. There also seems to be a small contingent of people who stay here for protracted periods, the Canadian who has been here for three years is the most extreme example. Most of the others who stay for a number of weeks are usually in our position, people looking for jobs. Right now there is an American named Kevin, in his 40s from northern California; a blonde haired blue eyed Miami 30 year old, Josh; a man named Johnny, almost 40 whose parents come from Ghanna and Nigeria: all of these people are looking for jobs. There are others too but I have not talked to them, or seen them.
Yesterday as Megan and I walked down the street practicing our numbers and the particular hand gestures which accompany them, a young white guy stopped us to correct our gesture for the number 9. We were surprised because we've found that usually when we encounter white guys on the street they lower their eyes and run in the opposite direction. This guy was a Swede. He told me of a job, some work, under-the-table. I gave him our contact info.
Ashley has work again today. She spent the morning making a lesson plan. Today she meets the parents of the class.
When she returns, this evening we will meet with our friends Adam (from Richmond) and Wei-wei, his ladyfriend. It is Weiwei's birthday and we are going to a place to do some KTV, which is a private Karaoke room.

"You have to die once in a while".

Ashley got a job.

For the last few days we have all been sending out emails. There is a message board called Ashley and Megan followed up places with a phone calls. One place called Megan to request an interview. She said she was interested. The woman on the other end of the phone gave her directions "take a train to Taoyuan" (this is another town 30 minutes, outside of Taipei, very industrial) "then get into a cab and give the phone to the driver". er... Rather than go to this interview she and I looked for a park.

Yesterday I got a phone call from Ingrid. I spoke to her briefly and she said she would call me for an interview. Then Ashley called Ingrid and got an interview for the following day (yesterday) from Ingrid. I accompanied her to to the appointment. We had to take a metro train and then "Get off at the department, walk 50 meters to the department, get on a bus, it free, go to the other department. Across the street". When one is unable to read what is on street signs or bus signs and neither does one know which direction to walk finding the free bus to "the department" is difficult. 'what departmetn' ooohhh. department store. SOGO. Turns out that little phrase book I bought has a phrase in it "where is the bus to the Sogo Department store, please". It is a magic phrase book.
Anyways. Ashley had the interview. She was called later that evening and asked to work the following day. Today she taught classes of kindergartners what a lighthouse was, what a water fall was, and how to sing Jingle Bells.
Megan and I being unemployed dilitants wandered the streets. Sat on a park bench. Fretted and talked nonsense. We walked many miles to out of the way English schools and secured business cards and promises of consideration.
I learned a great trick from the street sweeper women with the orange hats: some of them tie CDs to the backs of the bicycle baskets to serve as reflectors. Very smart.
I learned that the homeless people who sort through the garbage are able to take their recycles to a facility, where they are given a receipt and that is good for an evening's accomadation.
I saw beggars laying facedown in the street butting their head against the pavement.
I saw that many public bathrooms have an emergency help button installed in the stalls and I think that is strange.
I went to the Botanical gardens where plants are arranged by idiom and folklore, I walked down a street that was all dentists officies, a street that was all photo shops, a street that was all coffee sellers, a street that was all paper shops, a street that was all tailored men's pants, and a street that was all tea.
I visited the Holy Family Catholic church, walked around the mosque and the 7th day adventist, walked by store front temples and incense sellers, walked by old temples and fruit sellers and fancy gyms, and so much good food and a cafe called Helen's Coffee.
I learned that Taipei is big but not so big as I thought. Tonight we go to another night market.
Apparently, eating is discouraged at the Shilin Nightmarket where we went the other night. There is no running water there ever.
I am still alive.
I met a man last night at the hostel. He had to leave the Philipines for a night because of his visa. He is back there today I am sure. He loves the "slaughterhouse" that is Manilla. Encouraged me to go in fact, because he said with his thick Czec accent "you have to die once in a while".

Tuesday, September 22, 2009

Temples and Stages

I went to LongShan Temple today. It is very beautiful. It is tucked into a corner of the street and has been holding its own space since the 18th century. The modern buildings try to encroach on it, Japanese tried to burn it, Americans bombed it, the Earth herself tried to shake it down but the temple still occupies the space. It is topped with dragons and phoenix and miniature silver soldiers.
I bought flowers from a woman selling sweet smelling bunches of lotus looking honeysuckle scented flowers and a pink orchids tied together with wire. I walked into the temple courtyard. Many people were praying to their ancestors. Many people were preying on the scenery, shooting pictures of the altars and the offerings with their cameras. I walked passed a woman whose flesh was yellow and red in places and seemed to be falling off her body. I would be praying if I were her.
I stood amidst the hum and shuffle of the courtyard and followed the smoke of the incense skyward to the heavens, I caught a glimpse of one of the neighboring buildings with a Carrefour advertisement along the side of it and thought "Sweet!".
Then Ashley and I, hungry walked along the street. On one strip of side walk were buckets and pots of food, and a couple of stools and a table. We ate things. A big luke warm meatball. Tofu that had been stewing in a pot for some hours but was now just warm, a bowl of gelatinous rice and squash, some wilted greens. This meal which filled our bellies, and myself with fear that I would die, cost us less than $1.oo American each. As we ate, and it was very tasty, we watch a woman 5 feet from us pull live fish from a bucket, whack them in half and gut them with her bare hands.
We went to Eslite Books. This was my own kind of temple. A 24hr bookstore. I found a great book with English to Chinese phrases. In the magazine section of the store was a Buddhist Monk. I saw him grab a magazine from the shelf and sit down to read it. I caught a glimpse of what he was reading. I went and found that same magazine and picked it up. It was all in Chinese but it seemed to me to be about business and the stock market.
Tonight I went to Peace Park 228. There was a music show in the park. A little band playing Salsa and doing a comic show. Also in the park a makeshift temple had been set up. From afar it looked to us like a carnival with a ski ball booth.
I am wrong about a lot of things, my impressions change by the minute with the traffic lights.
Please forgive anything that seems to over simplify something or relegate it to something small. I am merely making notes. I am an expert in nothing and have nothing to recommend me to my new hosts. In part, I am at the mercy of the Americans who came to Taiwan before me. I will be judged not just by what I do but also by what behaviors are ascribed to Americans.

Monday, September 21, 2009

It is Tuesday in Taiwan

Tuesday, this morning I awoke and went for a run around Chiang Kai-shek Memorial. I ran up the 89 steps of the monument that represent each year of the dictator's life and back down them. Returned home by a different route. Found some graffiti near the National Taiwan University Women's Dormitory. I don't think the graffiti is related to the domicile. I would like to find more. I should get a camera or convince one of my travel mates to lend me theirs. I jogged past one of the morning street sweepers. These are women. They where hats that are round, like farmers wear in the rice paddies pictured on Chinese restaurant walls back home. The street cleaners' hats are covered with reflective orange and black material. These women wear reflective orange vests and are obviously municipal workers. They sweep the streets with brooms they assemble themselves out of twigs they tie into bundles. I know this because I watch a woman construct her broom this morning. I don't know what kind of twigs they are.
Showered at the hostel and tried to fix my computer which has been uncooperative for the last couple of days. If I was successful, you will be able to read this.
The Madam (for that is what the Philippine maid calls the Taiwanese woman who manages the hostel) asked everyone in the common room if they wanted something from "the good breakfast place". I'd already eaten my toast and apple, but the others gave her money for breakfast. They are now eating bread sandwiches. Well, it is kind of a soft cibatta shaped roll, some scrambled egg and a soft bread stick, like a churro also in the middle. They wash is down with soymilk.
Eating off the street is very easy. It is hard to find fresh produce besides Fruit and Mushrooms. It is easy to find ready-made tofu treats, and chicken feet and roasted cuttlefish and noddles and pork and tea eggs.
7-11 is the world.
There is a 7-11 every two or three blocks in the busier parts of town. In the more remote areas they are every 4 blocks apart. At 7-11 you can buy whiskey, phone cards, make photo copies, order books in English, buy spicy beef soup flavored Lays potato chips (or roasted chicken potato chips if you prefer), pen ink, cigarettes with pictures of rotting teeth, blackened lungs and smoking bellies, and did is mention you can buy whiskey? It is my sadness to inform some of my friends they have no taquitos here, but big bites are still abundant. They are next to the giant vat of hardboild eggs floating in a black liquid. 7-11 in Taiwan is like a tee-shirt I saw yesterday "Impossible is nothing".

I owe this blog a Sunday and Monday but I have little patience, I want to go to the Eslite bookstore (open 24 hours), so I will be brief.
I met with a cousin of a friend of the family. He is a Canadian Jamaican. He has lived in Taipei for 10 + years. He has a Taiwanese wife, Susanna, and two beautiful children under age seven. We made arrangements to meet with each other over the phone. We went to what seemed to be an American chain restaurant, though I'd never heard of it- Gordon Bierche? It was a Steak house. All of the staff had protective anti H1N1 masks on. I felt like I was being served in a hospital, but my companions were great. I told Susanna and Ted that I will babysit their children anytime. I think Nicolas and Alexa would help me with my chinese.

There is an American man in the hostel who is sneezing. This makes me angry. Yesterday Ashley Megan and I got a prepaid cell phone, a number and a phone card.
We applied for jobs. I sneezed three times. I made soup.
I had an accident with mung beans.
I went to bed early.
I had a dream I was in the forest and was mugged by bears who attacted me with rice cookers.
The heat here makes for strange dreams.

self rejuvenation

caught in a whirl of taipei, especially hostel living: close quarters with a slew of foreign accents ranging from aussie to argentina, also a couple squeaks and creeps from some unwelcome vermin friends, while adjusting my ear to the up n down tones that is mystery chinese whilst my tummy adjusts to eating rice, rice, rice, eggs, eggs and ...we'll see which strange meat, from which strange body part i'll try today, all the while getting over on my stranger in a strange land complex equaled out to a day of self rejuvenation. this in 'megan terms' meant temple... first and foremost. this perhaps due to my fondness for the religiously ornate and extravagant, which i credit to growing up with cathedrals... yawn... hehehe. i first found myself lured to the famous Longshan temple. walking up you'll street carts filled with everything from frisbees with magnolia/ lotus flowers (sold as offerings) to buddhist caravans selling cds with religious chanting. it was a saturday and absolutely bustling. walking in you find a two charming waterfalls framing the entrance and inside, despite the amount of people, it is as if a golden/redwood opium haze has settled. everyone becomes lost in a prayer tizzy involving lots of bowing, lots of incense, lots of offerings (everything under the sun: fruit, flowers, chips). i watched for about an hour, and while the anthropologist in me should recapture the details... the anthropologist in me knows that i will need more than just an hour.

after Longshan i decidedly got lost in the back alleyways, and though dim and shanty the smell of woodchips and fresh herbs carried me through the shadows and curves. then to Da An Park, which is more or less the central park of taipei, very relaxed and very green which is a nice break from the dirty concrete and shabby food stalls. i was suddenly drawn to the sound of a drum... then to many a women carrying bundles,bags, bouquets of flowers. i followed, finding myself in first in the most massive warehouse (lets say 5 blocks) flush with bulbs, blossoms, cacti, and seeds of every color and shape. i couldn't see it all if i wanted... especially when i got to the end where a second 5 block warehouse filled with brown, emerald, yellow, pink jade necklaces, rings, watches, stamps, statues, beads, ect. ect. ect. i had stumbled upon taipei's weekend flower/ jade market... and i was awed to say the least.

and yesterday was beach day. escorted by new friends, one a richmond local, and his lady who is a taiwanese local... nice match for us i think, we hopped on a train to Fulang Beach. beers on the train, ripetide like crazy, and lifeguards high and teeth stained with betel nut. we made a day of it... lounged, raged, and just plain had fun on my first trek outside the city. but now its crunch time, and after soaking up rays i should have enough battery to last to survive this grinding job hunt.

on a side note we also purchased a phone today
... we'd love to hear from you: 011 886 922454365
keep in mind our 12 hour indifference


Sunday, September 20, 2009

Morning coffee and Betel Nut

Went for coffee with ashley. I think I have to give it up. It is rather expensive and no good. I will drink tea starting tomorrow.
On the walk back we passed a man selling betel nut. Ashley told me that when she was at Fulong Beach yesterday, all the lifeguards had red teeth and they were chewing it. They offered her one and she took it. I wanted to try it. She went up to the man to buy one for me. He gave it to her for free. I put it in my mouth. My mouth quickly filled with a yellow saliva. Sweet grassy taste, a slight tobacco like sting. And writing this now makes me dizzy.

Saturday, September 19, 2009

Opposite Land and Shilin Night Market

Last night the three of us made our first trip to a night market here. There are several. They typically are located near the temples that are dedicated to the City gods.
We had heard of the Ke Zai Jian (the oyster omelet) and we went in search of it.
Each night market seems to have a particular focus, some for cheap electronics, some for bloody shows like at the Snake market where they flay snakes alive for the tourists and make people drink their blood. At Shilin most of the stalls were devoted to designer knock-offs, clothes, shoes, sunglasses, handbags. Our first mistake was going on a weekend night. The alleyways, tight enough on their own were further obstructed by individual vendors in the middle of the walkway. There were so many people that walking was effortless, we were simply pulled along by the flesh tide. It was effortless but not easy. Capitalism on crack.
We found the omelet. An ounce of oyster meat, maybe 5 or 6 little bellies, thrown onto a hot round flat-top-a ladle of oil-then a ladle of some white stuff, like a very thin batter-then the scramble egg on top. The egg sets, the cook takes a big spatula and flips it, throws some lettuce on the cooked side. lets it sit a minute. flips it again so the lettuce is directly against the the hot surface. Once it is wilted, it is served with a big splash of an orange colored sweet sauces. Three four bites were delicious, but I could not go any further. Ashley was a champ and finished hers.
Megan then got some corn on the cob. It looked like typical street fair fare. Throw some corn on a stick and put it on the grille. I was surprised at the price of it NT$84. The oyster omelet was itself only NT$50 (about a dollar). It was a surprise this corn. Black on the outside, like a sweet sticky salty soy caramel covering it. And the kernels were hard and starchy, like it was dried for a long time and halfway re-hydrated.
I order a little thing like a hashbrown for NT$15. it was battered with panko and deep fried. The filling was like in a potato pirogi. This was than stabbed with a stick , splashed with a brown sauce that was a little sweet, drizzled with a mustard that was a little hot and topped with two teaspoons of tiny little raw silver fish. Fish so tiny that maybe each spoonful contained 60 or so of them. It was delicious.
We ate sitting on the steps of the temple. Mixed feelings. Was it sacrilegious? Everyone else, young and old were sitting on the steps eating and drinking and chatting, but our ignorance gave us degrees of dis-ease. The chanting from the temple and the break from the massive crowd were calming. We walked into the temple. Many robotic fuzzy little dragons banging on toy cymbals and flashing lights, every color of the rainbow. paper money, ghost money, plastic flowers, paper lanterns and light everywhere. I couldn't help but think it reminded me of Atlantic City. I am in no way trying to diminish the solemnity or importance of this place. I am rather commenting on the way spirituality and seriousness is designated in the place and how opposite it is from my own. Lights and bangles and noise in the West denotes lightness and fun.
On the way to the night market we passed through Chang Kai shek park and we are not sure what was going on but it was clearly some Nationalist event and very political. There were police everywhere and protesters, and Taiwanese pride paraphernalia being hocked and the occasional American flag waving. And very passionate political speeches being made on stage against a back drop of electronic flashing lights of the kind that would be used back home to advertise a girlie bar.

Friday, September 18, 2009

reflections on the haze of the remainder of day two

It is now early afternoon of day three. I have developed a theory. Humans invented cities to mask their smell. No way in the tropical heat that boils me like a salty ham would i survive in a jungle. To a hungry jaguar my smell would be a beacon like the golden arches, advertising a convenient, if slightly toxic snack. The cities with its barrage of smell is protection from beastly predation.
Myself, I like my stink, but part of civilization is thinking of others, so I shower everyday. Maybe twice. Uncharacteristically. Part of my civic duty.
Day two continued: We went to the prearrange metro stop. We were to meet Jeff at 12:30 just outside the platform. On the way to the train I was chewing gum in the station. A cop stopped me and made me throw it away. I was lucky. I could have been fined $7000NT (around $215 american). Got off the train. We were early. We had ridden to a part of the city we had not seen before, infact we had not seen much at all and still I can't really figure out how big it is. We will walk more. At the foot of the station stairs by the exit was a Buddist nun. She stood in the hot sun, in her long grey robes, in her hands she held a bowl for alms. Her eyes were shut and she was chanting quietly. When an offering was put in the bowl she bowed. Passing the Buddist nun and entering the station I saw a Catholic nun in her full habit that was kaki colored and she headed up the stairs toward the train.
This district was very business. Tall buildings, tall reflective buildings lined wide avenues. Along the avenues were islands of trees, palm trees and others which I must get the name of later.
Whereas the district we are living in at the hostel is crammed, all gas stations and street vendors and tennaments everywhere, this neighborhood was sunnier, breezier. Money-er. We went back into the train station. Jeff arrived promptly at 12:30. He man is very tall. I hadn't realized it because when i was given his height it was in centimeters. but the man is well over 6 foot. He beckoned us follow him. He had an habitual slouch and a genial smile. We passed his co-workers on the street and it was obvious from the deference they paid him that though he called them "co-workers" they were actually his employees. I asked where is office was and he pointed right behind me at a large caramel shiny building. "Can you use chopsticks?" he asked. We all said we could. "Do you eat chicken?" We nodded. "Pork?" yes "Beef?" yes. He raises and eyebrow "Snake?" Of course he has no idea how willing I am eat snake. But Want will be my master for now because he was only joking.
We walk into a small restaurant across the street from his office. Very simple. Flimsy tables, white walls. Menus on clipboards, entirely in Chinese. He checked of nine or ten different dishes. "Can you eat...hep, hop" "frog? yes we love it" "oh really?" "yes" "OOOKAAAY"(hey was skeptical). The dishes came out one by one on simple white plates. soon there was hardly room for our tea cups. Cold chicken with the most translucent skin; A ham and cabbage dish; Thin thin slices of pork belly draped over a mound of baby radish sprouts drizzled with a delightfully salty brown gravy; Oysters, all shucked, cold, in an oyster sauce accompanied by crispy hollow tubes,like savory crunchy funnel cake; more pork, thin ham like strips, sauteed with onions over julliened cucumbers; a metal bowl still bubbling with bits of frog seasoned with what, prepared how, i don't know but grabbing the hind quarters of Kermit was delicious and heavy with ginger. A plate of starchy warm bittermelon; chili chicken; some beef thing with onions and maybe more I can't remember.
He taught us Taiwan boxing. He taught us not to ask for tofu because if you say it wrong you could be saying you want to eat a woman up. He told us he never eats rabbit because he was born in the year of the rabbit. He was amused sitting next to megan who is a tiger "Rabbit sits next to Tiger, OH No!" He was very fun and very generous. He even tried to assist us with getting a cell phone but we will pursue other options.
After lunch we decided to walk to the Taiwan 101 building which enjoyed at one time "tallest building in the world status"
We walked that afternoon until our feet could barely support us anylonger. From a payphone I managed to contact Adam, a Richmond transplant. He made plans to meet us at 8pm.
We waited on the train platform as he directed. He was there at 8. His face I could not place but the tatoo on his arm was very familiar to me. I know I knew him in RVA. And he recognized me too. He was accompanied by his friend Weiwei.
He took us to a belgian bar. This may be a false impression but things seemed to be grouped here in Taipei. There is one street that is entirely outdoor sports supplies, like Patagonia and Archterix and then other knock offs. The belgian bar he took us to is called Odeon. It is in the same neighborhood that Megan and I went to the night before. Along two blocks of this street, you would be hard pressed to find anything but Belgian beers to drink.
so there we broke the ice. I think he and Weiwei decided maybe we were worth a little more time. He invited us to his apartment to go up on the roof. Taipei is surrounded by mountains. These were dotted with lights. Other than 101 and one or two other extremely large bulidings, the sky remains unmolested by probing, prodding pointing building like pictures I've seen of Shanghai or Kuala Lumpur.
On the roof we had a language lesson. The Taiwanese are great for wearing these protective masks, they look like hospital masks but many of them are designer and have burberry print or hello kitty printed on them or something. About20 to 25% of the people one sees on the street are wearing them. These masks have a name. (I can't quite remember but it was something like shotien but that could be very wrong). The only thing that separates the word for mask from the word for blow job (which is also shotien) is the tone. Also the word for "buy" is mai. the word for "sell" is also mai, but these are separated by the tones. I must be careful if I buy a mask that I don't instead, sell a blow job.
We then went to a bar called ChowChan which directly translated is playground but their official english name is "The Fucking Bar". We were the only foreigners in the place. It was full of what i would call upper echelon emo hipsters. Weiwei assured me that the people trickling in were all very famous. Artists, musicians, tv stars. it was a young place. It was inexpensive. They played great music. The were artfully disdainful and amused by our motley crew. I hope I can find it again. I want to go back.

Thursday, September 17, 2009

morning day two

Woke up. 5:30 am. signed to ashley to take a walk with me. tried not to be too loud as there are three other girls in our room.
it is hot here all the time but early morn is cooler. the city is calmer. the herds of scooters have not yet begun to roam. they begin their migration around 7 pm. Walked strait down Linsen Rd which dead ends at Chang Kai Shek park. It is a grand affair. all ponds and pagodas. Maybe 15 or 20 different groups of people doing tai chi. Not all tai chi is the same it seems. some is very Karate Kid, sure, but some looks like a cross between gene kelly and ballet. some people use disks some people use sticks. each group had their own boombox belting out the appropriate tunes. everyone doing it was middle age to ancient. some were doing it up at the top of the monument. some were doing it in the little wooded area. others in the garden. there were singles doing their own freestyle along the banks of the pond. there was a man feeding chunks of white bread to giant coy. many people seemed to think walking backward down stairs was a healthy form of exercise. there was a group of men and one woman at a picnic table. they had large thermoses. what they contained i do not know. they had a tv and microphones set up and they were howling out the numbers to their favorite karaoke. i followed a man who was power walking. as he walked he held his left hand palm side down in front of his body and at regular intervals, like keeping time, he smacked the back of his hand with the back of his right hand. after a few feet he began to pinch his ears. first one then the other very rhythmically, not breaking his stride. after a few more feet he began slapping his kidneys and so forth.
i got back on the street. the scooters were out.
have not given up coffee yet. i know tea is the way here. becoming a discouraged enough in my coffee adventures to switch soon. yesterday's coffee i bought for $25NT which is about 70 cents american. I had no option. it came with milk and sugar. tasted like coffee from a hospital vending machine. good in a pinch. the paper cup it was served in had pictures of little animals, rabbits, horses, turtles-dressed in marching band clothes. on the cup it was written "after opening canned, please did not use the paper cup and stored in the cup barrel." if anyone knows what that means let me know. i think it is important because the cup also let me know that it was "taiwan invention winner of golden brain award".
The phone is....well, the telephone is a great invention; very easy to use, facilitates communication and information exchange with an ease never even conceived of 200 years ago. but it works on a very important premise. You speak the same language as the person on the other end. My sister-in-law, Wanfang, gave me the number of some of her friends here. I was given both the work number and the cell number of one man in particular. Wanfang told me to not just ask for him by name if I called his work, because there was another man with the same first and last name there, I was to refer to him as Jeff K--- and then give his height, which she supplied me with (193 cm). Calling his work the phone was answered by an automated woman's voice. I didn't know whether she was asking me to wait on the line, or enter an extention number or that the office is closed call back later, or what. So I typed in 193. Then it hung up on me. I tried his cell phone. An answering machine picked up said something then beeped. I began to speak "ni how, wo shi Andrew mei mei" and then the answering machine voice came on again and it beeped again so i don't know if i left a message or not. I gave the phone to Ashley. She called his cell. He picked up. She spoke to him "wo shi pong yo Helen" and then continued in English. I am glad i know his height. We are meeting him for Lunch.
I have not been out of my neighborhood much yet. I am itching to move around the city. I am staying close to the others till we get our bearings.
Last night, Megan and I found a coffee shop that looked promising. Along the walls were records of Coltrane and Miles Davis and 60s hippy jazz and stuff. We walked in and the guy next to the turn table pulled out a selection just for us. Coldplay. We have to learn how to communicate with these people soon. I hate Coldplay.

How the sea began... long ago when our world was young

where to begin. with anxieties or hope? with slant expectations or first impressions? should i be perceptively articulate or unforgivably blatant? the first day, to say the least, was heavy with wacky nerves and brain waves on fritz. starting off with a cup of sugary espresso in our bellies (we will find you regular black coffee!!!!) we found ourselves drawn to the idea of 'Peace Park' for our first venture. the mornings here are steamy and flurried for the average jet-lager, where despite the heat daze, nostrils flared with pungent wanton air, you need to be strictly adherent to the traffic or else be run over by the pack of wild scooters racing down the busy streets. Peace Park was beautiful, with stone foot paths that the average masochist would love (but after the fact make the body feel amazing), eucalyptus leaves!!!, beautiful fountains, and apparently the Taiwanese are very fond of exercising so the park is full of several conditioning setups and even old men practicing slow motion martial arts. after, with tummy grumblings we felt peaky at the sight of hundreds of street vendors, yet desperately lost in the slew of chinese that makes ordering where, what, and how much beyond difficult. food was quite the problem my first day, where salty, sour, and rice, rice, rice seemed a popular theme. i am so happy that helen is a cook!! heading back to the hostel and feeling exhausted from the heat we decided to relax a moment and let our anxieties dissipate. the rest of the day was dedicated to our own reality check 101, which for helen and i included getting lost in a nearby temple as well as many a 'Taiwan Beer."

leaving home is always a those trapeze artists my mom and i spied before getting on the bus to New York. decidedly separated from your family, comfortable routines, and loves to plunge into an unknown takes more than just patience but courage in self. we will all need to remind ourselves. and though this sauna is not making coherence easy, it is at least making our skin look great!


night of first day

there are wild white elephants running through taipei.
so i will chase them away with pink ones.

Wednesday, September 16, 2009

First Full Day

Forgive me. I haven't picked a voice yet. 3rd person First person, or all three in one, because it is early and it may not always be my voice anyhow. Maybe another author will take over. This is Helen.
Yesterday we arrived. We had an 8 hour lay-over in Korea. Ashley took it into her head to do some sightseeing. Megan and Helen were reluctant to leave the airport. None of us can say or read one word in Korean, though Megan tried. We had to go through Korean Immigration, and customs, Megan and Helen ate Megan's apple as fast as possible before it would be confiscated. We got a new stamp on our passports and permission to stay in Korea until December. And so we got on a bus, Ashley bubbling and smiling excitedly. Megan and Helen grinning through gritted teeth and worry clenched fists. We were on an Island. Icheon. It was still very early morning. We watch the sun push the curtain of morning beside at the busstop. The bus took us to a place called Eulwang Beach and we watched the sunrise over the mountains that framed the Yellow Sea. It was very misty and the tide was out and there were many fishing boats beached on the shore. I felt something between relief and chagrin. Those feelings became relief and gratitude when we made it back to the airport. The flight to Taiwan was short. Two hours. We are in Taipei now at a hostel which is very centrally located. It is about 9 dollars a night. We are going to stay here at least until Monday. We spoke with a Canadian man who has been staying here for almost three years. We arrived on the last day of the Deaflympics. We were very tired so for Charity's sake I am not going to record our first impressions now. It is thenmorning of a new day. Our first full day. I'll vist yesterday later tonight.