taiwan, day 9

We spend the last day very quietly—taking a walk down to a nearby park in the morning; I go to the gym in the afternoon for a couple of hours; and then we have homemade pizza for dinner.

It was a great trip and a very interesting experience. I was really surprised how easy it was to navigate in a place where you don't really know anyone or have much in common with the natives, and especially given not knowing any of the language. I was also amazed at how friendly and polite everyone there was and I loved learning more about their culture.

I'm happy to be home and ready to get back into the routine of daily life. Hopefully, my vacation buzz will last for awhile.


taiwan, day 8

The sun's out today, so we wander downtown and I take pictures of all the signage I can see.

We decide to take a stroll through the Flower and Jade Markets. They're pretty much exactly what you'd think they are. I'm not one for plants usually, but the orchids here are beautiful and I sort of wish I could figure out some way to get one home. The jade is many-hued and pretty. I'm surprised by all of the colors. I'd thought that jade was always just green. I consider buying something for my mom, but get nervous about getting something bad so end up passing on it altogether. Sorry, Mom.

Our hosts take pity on me and let me have a hamburger for lunch. It's delicious. I would sort of kill someone for a turkey sandwich by now. I've loved all of the food we've had so far, but I'm really feeling the need for something familiar. After lunch, I decide to wander around by myself a little and just take in their neighborhood. It's weird being out and about by myself. I'm a little nervous about not being able to find my way back home, but as I continue walking I start to recognize how the streets are named and begin to feel more confident as I go on.

I find the majority of the architecture here to be excessively ugly and depressing. M says it's because when The Nationalists came over they threw all of the buildings up quickly, thinking they'd be headed back to the mainland at any second. Slowly, as they've come to realize that they're here to stay, they've started to invest more thought and care into their buildings. So, there's a strange mix of old, decrepit and boring with modern, new and interesting. This is really apparent just on the outside edges of downtown.


taiwan, days 6 & 7

We pass the previous two days fairly quietly, only tackling one major thing per day. I think we're all getting tired. On Thursday we head downtown to pick up M's sister's friend for lunch and a trip to Yingge, a small town somewhat close to Taipei that is known for its selection of pottery by local artists. The friend, who is married to a U.S. army diplomat, lives in a swanky condo in a swanky building right across the street from the Taipei 101 (that big building I talked about the other day). Seriously kids, you have not seen the likes of this (and our tax dollars are paying for it). The parking garage has fountains and marble floors and marble walls and artwork in glass cases. Yes. You read that correctly—the parking garage.

One thing I really like about China is that you can take a picture of anything and everything here and no one looks askance, but this time I get yelled at by the security guard for taking too many pictures with the warning that I not post them to the internet. So if anyone asks, you didn't see these here. Capish?

Yingge is a cute little town, I imagine it would be called quaint by others' standards, but it still seems just as densely packed as everywhere else in Taiwan to me. And people drive like maniacs. I do find a nice little piece of Taiwanese art for a really cheap price though. I can't believe how inexpensive things are here.

On Friday morning, M and I go the gym again. This time I don't feel like running so I just lift weights. I don't know if it's true of all the gyms here, but they pack a lot of equipment into kind of small spaces at this one and I find it a little difficult to maneuver. About halfway through my workout, I go to the front desk to buy some water and say, 'Can I have some shuay mo, please?' The attendant looks at me blankly so I say it again and get the same reaction. Finally, I just point at the case and say, 'Water.' That does it. Apparently, I am wrong about what I thought was Chinese for water.

For lunch, we head to a market to have 'the best sushi in town'. To understand this correctly, you need to imagine if someone in the States said, 'Let's go to King Sooper's to eat fried chicken at the deli. It's the best you'll ever have.' But even I, who kind of hates sushi, have to admit that it's pretty darn good. The experience here is thus: you show up, you bring your own beverage, you get whatever they have that day. Apparently, some days are really, really...gross. But today we get pretty lucky and nothing arrives that has legs and brains and eyeballs still attached. Whew.

After lunch we hit The National Palace Museum—a...history museum that is more focused on artwork than artifacts. When The Nationalists left mainland China and seceded to Taiwan they shipped a bunch of Chinese historical art pieces over ahead of them. Now, of course, mainland China wants them back, but the Taiwanese aren't giving them up. The museum has over 300,000 pieces that they rotate constantly. Our tour guide says that it would take 12 years to see every piece. There are some really interesting pieces here, including one that is made of 21 concentric balls carved out of ivory each nestled inside one another. Apparently they were carved out of one tusk. An hour and a half is way too short a time for me to really feel like I got much out of it, but our tour guide was very knowledgeable and it was nice to get the extra information that the displays didn't provide.

The people here do really drive like crazy people, treating traffic more like a river than an orderly progression. It's not uncommon for people to turn left in front of cars coming straight from the other direction. This attitude carries over in how the Chinese treat personal space in crowds. It's fairly common for people to just walk directly in between you and an exhibit, even stopping in front of you so they can read the display that you're reading. Or for a mob of them to just surround you while you're looking at something, trapping you there until they're ready to leave.

At dinner, M's 4-year-old nephew teaches us how to ask for water in Chinese. It is 'schuay' but I had the inflection wrong.


taiwan, day 5

We decide to give our hosts a break today and M and I jump on the subway and head down to the coastal town of Danshui—situated on the northern tip of the island where the Danshui River runs into the ocean, it's the Taiwan equivalent of Coney Island. Kind of. It doesn't have an amusement park, so without that it's really just a boardwalk with a lot of weird food on sticks. I vow to at least try the Taiwanese version of the corn dog, but M warns me off saying it's really gross.

We try to find the Red Castle, a place our guidebook says is good for lunch, but can't seem to figure out where we're at on the map. So, we end up at another place right on the river. It's our first time ordering food without our hosts and we discover how hard it is to communicate with someone who has no language in common. And, we're not good at the pantomime. At one point, I absurdly start speaking some of the little Spanish I know. I'm not really sure why, my brain just defaulted to it when I couldn't think of anything else to do. At some point we get water and a coke and finally end up with some Kung Po chicken.

After lunch we take a ferry across the river and visit the town of Bali, which sprang up due to the oyster industry here apparently. We take a walk along the river and decide we like this side better than the other just because it's a little more picturesque and much more calm. And there's a weird statue of a monkey doing Tai Chi. You can't beat that with a stick.

Unlike in big American cities, the Taiwanese don't walk around with headphones stuck in their heads. I'm not sure why this is. It certainly can't be because they don't have access to the technology. I do better with the Chinese phrases I know today, but I still can't get used to how exposed you are in their public restrooms. The doors are basically just a wooden shutter, which makes me shudder. I hope I never, ever have to poop in public here. They use common sink areas to wash your hands, though, which are out of the bathroom proper and open to the main dining areas of the restaurants. I think this is ingenious. It would insure that people wash their hands when they're done I think.

Oh, and Chinese babies are just about the cutest things on the planet.


taiwan, day 4

Today we take a drive through Yangmingshan National Park, up over the pass and down to the coast. We stop at various points in the park to get out and take pictures, but the Gobe is still wreaking havoc in our part of the world, so the views aren't as great as they could be. Supposedly, the city of Taipei is out there somewhere, but for all we can tell, it might've disappeared off the planet. I'm still finding the English translations on signage pretty fricking adorable.

We get to the coast in a couple of hours and find our way to the Jingmu Museum. Apparently this guy is a fairly famous (in Taiwan) Chinese sculptor who has been producing since the early 80's. The museum has intentionally left off any descriptions of his work, which he barely even titles, under the direction of the artist who, according to our guidebook, wants the viewer to interpret the pieces for himself and make the art his own. Personally, I find this kind of annoying as I'd like to learn a little more about the guy and what his motivations are. I think everyone else is happy there aren't a lot of things to read though, as I warned them beforehand that I like to read every single word when I go to a museum. The few displays we find that have any explanations at all are fairly horribly translated, so the struggle to glean any information out of them overrides any absorption of knowledge. Oh well, the sculptures are still pretty interesting. There's a huge sculpture garden out back with a truly astounding volume of work displayed, which I think everyone ends up finding to be a pretty enjoyable experience. All three of them, at least once, exclaim how much fun they're having. I guess they have a lower opinion of museums than I.

We stop for a late lunch at some small coastal town I've since forgotten the name of, where I walk into the restaurant feeling fairly nervous. All week everyone's been teasing me about making me eat squid legs and octopi heads and eel brains, so every time we go out to eat I steel myself for what might possibly be a pretty revolting experience leaving me simultaneously nauseous and hungry. After we park the car, we walk along the road looking at the wares in an open air market—wares being things that are 'swimming' around in plastic tubs of water ready for you to select them, take them home and eat them. The fish smell is overwhelming and pretty nauseating. Plus, it's hot and humid. By the time we get to the restaurant I'm fairly certain I won't be eating anything. Luckily, they picked out fairly benign things and everything came to the table cooked and pretty delicious. I typically like to be really removed from my food sources. I know this is not in vogue right now among the more enlightened set, but I don't really care. I'd much rather go to the store and get everything pre-packaged without any extraneous body parts attached. Plus, I'm still more vegetarian than not and anything having to do with handling meat kind of grosses me out. Not that I would ever turn down a hamburger or anything. (Don't worry, I realize this makes me a hypocrite.) I do find it pretty fascinating though, the culture of picking out something live to eat and then a few minutes later it shows up on your table ready to be digested.

By the time we get back to home base, I'm feeling pretty overwhelmed and assaulted. Everything is so dense here and it seems like there are people everywhere. I cajole M into going to the gym with me. I run for a bit and feel re-energized and better about life in general. An aside: even though there are plenty of treadmills open, the one I am on is constantly surrounded on all sides by a rotating gaggle of little Chinese women. I can't decide if it's because of how enamored they are with westerners or just what's showing on the particular television screens above those particular treadmills.

The Chinese are an unfailingly polite and seemingly happy people. They honk their horns at other drivers (and pedestrians) and they'll run you over in a heartbeat, but you never see anyone arguing or flipping each other the bird. And they go out of their way to help westerners navigate through their world. I'm constantly amazed by this actually, because I can't imagine that it's not highly annoying to have to try to understand a language you don't know just because some dumb tourist can't be bothered to learn your native tongue. I overcompensate by using the few phrases I know over and over again to let them know I'm not entirely ignorant of the annoyance factor.


taiwan, day 3

Today we hop back on the subway and head into the city for a fairly full day of touristy things. The Chiang Kai-shek Memorial is our first stop. An aside: Taipei is a fairly friendly city for non-Chinese speakers. Most of the signs have English translations written under the Chinese characters so you have some idea of what's going on. But at the two memorials we visit today, none of the displays have much translation on them, so we have to rely mainly on M's family's knowledge of who these people are and why they are important. And, I have to say, it's fairly lacking. All they know about Chiang Kai-shek is that he was a terrible despot. I will need to Google these things later in order to learn a bit about them.

After lunch we stop at the Dr Sun Yat-sen Memorial on our way to Taipei 101—which, until the new skyscraper in Dubai was completed, was the world's tallest building. Nobody knows anything about Sun Yat-sen so I won't even bother. What I do learn is that unlike Americans, the Chinese don't care about having the actual 'thing' associated with the person in question in their museums. Instead, they use replicas of the objects or even just show photos of what the objects looked like at some point in time.

Next we hit the 'world's largest bookstore', but really it just seems like the world's largest department store. Maybe. I find some kitchsy, and pretty cool, Asian postcards and stickers, as well as a graphic novel which is entirely in Chinese so I have no idea what it says. The artwork's pretty great though.

The last stop of the day is Taipei 101. Here I learn a little more about the building as many of the displays are in English also, but none say why they built the building or what it's used for now. The sand has blown back in again by this point, so visibility is a bit lower than if we'd hit earlier in the day. Still pretty impressive views though.

I have learned how to use, mostly correctly I think, three phrases in Chinese (I highly doubt I'm spelling these correctly):
-Mei hao (me how) = Hello
-She she (shay shay) = Thank you (sometimes you add a 'nee' on to the end to make it extra polite, but I'm still not entirely clear on when to do that)
-Dei bo chi (dway bo chee) = Excuse me

I've also learned that Bu yao (boo yow) means, 'I don't want' but I haven't had a chance to use it yet. I'm really afraid with that one that I will say boo-ya instead and sound like a complete moron. I've also learned that when making a transaction, it is polite to hand over your money with both hands with a slight bow and to accept your change and receipt in the same manner.


taiwan, day 2

We think it sounds like a good idea to be a little more active today, so when we get up we go a couple of blocks to the base of The Stairs which climb up into Yangmingshan National Park. The guidebook says there's a possibility of seeing wild monkeys, but sadly we don't make it out of bed early enough. It's weirdly (or so the locals say) really hazy today, apparently because there is sand blowing across the Taiwan Strait from The Gobe. Which is unfortunate, because a big reason to go up the steps is to see the view from the top. It's still a pretty good hike though—I'm amazed at how intertwined the city and the jungle are here.

At the end of the hike we visit 'The Buddhas'—a monestary that has a garden out back with rows upon rows of statues of the Buddha (we think). I speculate that they're illustrating some fable or another, but no one knows for sure.

That night we get invited to a friend's friend's house for an authentic Taiwanese dinner. I think the food is pretty good, but everyone else (who are pretty major foodies) think it was just ok. I'm aghast at the bathroom setup—there's barely any door (everyone could hear everything you were doing in there) and the shower is not enclosed and just hanging out there on the wall. Luckily, there's a real toilet at least. It's interesting to see how the typical people live here and our hosts are very nice and accommodating.

taiwan, day 1

We get in at almost midnight after what feels like a pretty grueling day. Right before we get on the last leg of the trip out of Tokyo, the world feels like it's slowly rocking back and forth and I feel kind of nauseous and dizzy. The second after we sit down, I ask, 'Is it a bad idea to take a nap right now?' And don't even wait for the answer before I pass out, oblivious to anything that comes after for the next three hours.

Thankfully, we arrive at a decent time to go to bed and get quite a bit of sleep before we get up to start our day. The jet lag is still pretty bad though so we take it pretty easy this first day, eating a really good lunch of 'soup dumplings' at a place called Fong's. Then we walk around a little gathering up stuff for dinner, trying to stay awake. I feel like a zombie.

They have scooter parking spaces everywhere here and scooters pretty much rule the traffic world. Which I find pretty adorable.

They weren't lying about the translations of stuff into English.


that happened

Well. Hello Internets. How've you been?

I have no excuses really, just pure, unadulterated laziness. And an unwillingness to talk to you people. I'm back for one reason and one reason only—M and I are headed to Taiwan for a few days and people (I'm looking at you Doug) have pressured me into writing posts about the trip. And, there's nothing I'll succumb to like a little peer pressure.

So. Here we go.

For today's post all I'll say is airports make me anxious. And, I'm a little sad that I'll miss most of the NCAA tournament. I was so happy that UNC didn't even make it in this year, that I blew off filling out my brackets until the last possible second. Therefore, they were rushed and not really well thought out. Oh well. UNC didn't even make it—what's winning a bracket pool compared to that?