Saturday, December 31, 2005
So, I'll be back tomorrow to tell you all what it was like to 跨年 in Taiwan - to go across or straddle the year.
Sunday, December 25, 2005
Went to Betty's party last night, what a blast. Upon arrival I was urged to don a Santa hat blazoned with "Heineken" across the front, probably scored from Hooter's, where Natari works. Since Charlene and I had arrived late, almost everyone else was already there: Xiao Niu, Xiao Sui, Natari, Betty, and her new hubby. Xiao Yu showed up a little bit later, since she had to come all the way from Keelung. We headed into the dining room, where the hot pot was waiting for us, smelling so delicious.
What more can one ask for in a party than to have a Wu Bai concert DVD playing while one is stuffing oneself with various seafood, vegetables, and sliced meat cooked up in a pot of boiling liquid while energetically chatting in Chinese (or in my case, listening and drinking beer) and taking photos? Getting together with Wu Bai fans is always such a pleasure - but I think Betty's new husband was a little overwhelmed at having a houseful of crazy women all talking at once!
After dinner we headed into the living room to watch the DVD while we opened our presents. I scored a nice knit hat and scarf from Xiao Yu, so now I have four scarves to keep me warm during the short winter season here. Had I known in advance that I'd be getting some as gifts, I wouldn't have bought the one for myself!
While I was waiting for Charlene to show up at the MRT station so we could go to Betty's together, I'd called Hiyoshi to see if he'd been OK during the day, since he'd had a bit of whiskey the night before. I discovered that he hadn't even been home yet, but was still with Lisa, William, Vivi, and Marx! They were heading into a movie and asked me if I wanted to go with them after to take Hiyoshi back to Wan Li. Since I'd never seen his place, I said sure, and they picked me up at 11:00. First we headed to the new Eslite Bookstore that just opened up near Taipei 101, touted as the largest bookstore in Asia. I was excited until I saw that 98% of the books were in Chinese, with just a tiny little section of English ones. Boo hoo! I guess I'm stuck with shopping at Page One, the outrageously expensive store. We wandered around there for a long time, and spent another long time waiting outside for William and Marx, who were lost in the computer books section. The weather was so nice, not cold at all, so it was nice to be outside instead of crammed in with all those people. It was around 12:45 a.m. when we finally headed out of Taipei to Wan Li.
I'm amazed that Hiyoshi travels this route every day to school. He has to take a bus, and during the day when there's so much traffic it takes a little over an hour to get to Taipei. It only took about 30 minutes in the car at 1:00 a.m., though. When we arrived in Wan Li, Hiyoshi pointed out where the bus drops him off, and then we proceeded to drive up a steep, winding road that climbs the mountain - and he has to walk that up and down every day! William kept saying, "Wow, Hiyoshi, you're my hero! You do this every day? Wow!"
Hiyoshi's place is an older building, which has been springing a lot of leaks lately, and is also quite cold in the winter, since it's right by the ocean and the weather is usually very windy and rainy. Poor guy has pans set all over to catch the drips, and the ceiling is looking pretty bad in places. But, it's actually a fairly large apartment, and it was surprisingly clean for a bachelor's place, especially one who didn't expect he'd have company! He showed us around and then took us up to the next floor, which is where his church is. Hiyoshi's faith is a Japanese religion called Tenrikyo (see Wikipedia entry: http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Tenrikyo), and their worship services employ music and dancing. He showed us the many instruments they use and even played a little bit on the flute for us (as did William, who is very talented). It was very interesting to listen to Hiyoshi talk about their method of "bai bai" or worship.
Well, by this time it was after 3:00 a.m., and we were all pretty trashed - and Lisa's father called her to ask where the hell she was. We said our goodbyes and wished Hiyoshi a Merry Christmas and headed back to Taipei. William had to drive me all the way up to Zhuwei and then turn around and go all the way back to Nanshijiao, a considerable distance! It was about 4:30 a.m. when I finally got into bed, and I slept until almost 1:00 p.m. today.
So, now it's almost 2:00, and Christmas is half gone, and I haven't done a darned thing! My plans for heading into Taipei to shop have changed, since I'm feeling extremely lazy and don't even want to get dressed. Maybe after more coffee I'll feel differently ;)
Saturday, December 24, 2005
I still haven't managed to get all my Christmas shopping done, but that's been my pattern for years, as most of you know. I tend to support the "Christmas in January" idea, which in the US is good, since everything goes on sale after Christmas. Things aren't quite as commercialized here, with the media push to get people to spend enormous amounts of money on gifts for people, but most of the stores have had sales going on. It would be a great time to buy clothes, if any of the clothes here actually fit my fat ass. Anyway, some of you can expect a package from Taiwan in the (hopefully) near future. And much love and thanks to all of you who have thought of me this year and sent me gifts to brighten my smile :) :) :)
Yesterday was an important day, as it was the day that the new Wu Bai concert DVD was released. Yeah! I picked my order up from Charlene at lunch time, and as soon as I got home, that DVD was in the player and I was plunked down on the sofa watching and reliving the joy of the June concert. I only saw myself once, a shot from the back (not exactly my best side) right after "Long Way Fall." I saw Guoxi a couple of times, as he was working the stage for that concert. I'd forgotten that at that time he had no hair! Watching Wu Bai perform always manages to get drool rolling down my chin, and by the time Hiyoshi showed up I was slavering like a mad dog, but I think he managed some drool of his own when he saw the number Wu Bai performed with that woman who managed (somehow) to get the label, "Most Beautiful Woman in Taiwan." I still don't understand that one, since I don't think she's nearly as attractive as many of the girls I see walking down the street. Maybe the skimpy white dress gets the guys looking away from her face and they don't realize she ain't all that and a bag of chips. Those of you who are waiting for your DVD will be very happy with it, I think. Oh man, I love that silky blue shirt, open halfway down his chest, yikes. I'm quite sure that I'd be unable to keep my hands off if I ever had the opportunity to stand close to Wu Bai while he was dressed in that shirt.
Tonight there's a party at Betty's, all Wu Bai fans, and that should be fun. I'm meeting up with Charlene at 5:30 to head over there together. Betty and her new hubby have a very nice, very large apartment, and I know she's excited to be a new bride and entertaining her friends at her place. Knowing how much Betty likes to eat, I'm expecting we'll have some tasty food tonight, and we're doing a little gift exchange, too.
I had a brief discussion with my friend Cheryl in Hong Kong about the possibility of a trip back to the US in July, renting a car in San Francisco, hitting Chico and Auburn for a couple of days, then driving to Oregon to see her grandmother and go to the Portland beer festival. If we can work it out, and if air fare isn't too high, I may be coming for a visit then. I have a week off at the end of January, but I want to stay over here for Chinese New Year! Hiyoshi and I might go to Hong Kong that week to visit Terry and Cheryl, though. Hiyoshi has never been there, and he has to go back to Japan in mid February, so this would be our last chance.
Chinese class is great (I'm even writing short stories in Chinese now as homework, and not doing too badly at it!), my friends here are wonderful, the dorks upstairs aren't overly annoying these days, and I'm extremely happy with my life. I'm looking forward to Steve's visit next month, hoping the weather will be nice for him and be too rainy. It's cold now, but it hasn't rained much, so I hope it stays that way.
So, again, Merry Christmas everyone! I'll be back next week with a Happy New Year wish ;)
Sunday, December 18, 2005
However, I did enjoy myself, because I got to see Monkey Insane, even though the performance was far too short for my liking. And afterwards I managed , with help from Xiao Sui, to track down the guys from XL and get them to sign my CD, and then all the guys from Monkey Insane, too. I told them all I was the official English teacher for the Taiwan music industry and that they could give me a call if they wanted to improve their English :) One of the guitarists for Monkey Insane, Joe, said he also wants to be an airline pilot like Guoxi, so he's working on his English. But, before he goes for the test, he has to complete his mandatory 18 months of military service.
Which brings me to sad news (for me, at least). Next year XL will be breaking up, because at least one of the guys has to do his service. This penchant for making war is sure hell on the music industry! And it breaks my heart to think of those cute little mop tops turning into buzz cuts, wah!
Tonight Mojo will be performing, so we'll all be going back to cheer Guoxi, Mo, and Robert on. Last night was freaking cold, so I'm going to Watsons to buy some of those hand warmers before this evenings jaunt!
Saturday, December 17, 2005
First of all, Doris is here! She arrived Thursday evening, but I didn't get to see her until yesterday, when she and Nat and I took a road trip to Xinzhu to pick strawberries. It was lots of fun, and the weather was just gorgeous, sunny and warmer than it's been. The wind was a bit annoying, though, making it difficult to see the darned strawberries! After we spent time picking, we went for a nice lunch, traditional Hakka-style food, and on the way back to Taipei decided to stop off in Ying Ge for awhile. We couldn't stay long, because we had to get back for the Indie Music Festival.
Dropped Doris off so she could shop, and Nat and I headed for the show, to meet up with Xiao Sui and Xiao Hu. The only band we were interested in seeing was XL, and while we waited for them to start, we chatted a bit with Dino, who was looking like a lumberjack in his plaid jacket. Got a lovely nice big Dino bear hug from him, and a little later I exchanged a few words with Xiao Zhu, who was wandering around taking photos. He's one of the organizers of the Indie Music events, so I didn't want to bug him to much, just told him we were having a good time. We'll be going back tonight to see Monkey Insane and a special performace we're all looking forward to (shhhh, it's a secret for now).
I'll try to write more either later today or tomorrow, but I need to get the place clean before Doris comes, or I'll be horribly ashamed when she sees what a mess it is.
Sunday, December 11, 2005
You know what? Taiwan is gosh-darned cold in the winter! I honestly didn't think it would get this chilly, and I didn't bring any heavy jackets with me. Luckily Guoxi had an extra warm coat to loan me, or I'd be freezing my heiny off. That wind is just no fun. The thermometer may read 50 degrees, but the reality of it is more like 40! But, it's still not as cold as northern California winters, so I can't complain!
And Taiwan homes also have no heating system. All this tile is mighty icy on the feet, even when wearing slippers. I bought myself a little portable heater, and it seems to do the trick, keeping me toasty when I'm reading or online or taking a shower. My apartment is better than many, having no chinks to allow the wind to get in. When I'm in bed at night, I'm comfy and warm, and all I'm using is a light quilt from IKEA.
I picked up another new student this week, again one of Guoxi's friends. This one is a song writer for Sony Music, a nice fella with the odd choice of Funck as his English name. He's written songs for Wang Lee Hom, S.H.E., Elva Hsiao, Wang Jie, Power Train, Sly (Shen Xiang Long), B.A.D., Lin You Wei, and Wan Fang (that's the girls who did Express Love Letter with Wu Bai). His "real" job is composing ring tones for cell phones! Who would have thought one could get a job doing that.... His English is very good, but he wants to increase his vocabulary and have more practice listening and talking, so we'll be meeting on Wednesday evenings for an hour. So that's Tuesdays, Wednesdays, and Thursdays that I'm teaching. Keeps me from being bored!
Guoxi will be going for his big interview on Tuesday, the one that will decide if he gets hired by China Airlines and becomes a pilot. He's been practicing so much, and Wednesday evening we went to the radio station to meet up with two more of his friends, DJs Elsa and Christina. Both of them speak excellent English, so the three of us pretended to be interviewers and cross examined Guoxi in both English and Chinese. We're doing it all again tomorrow evening. I think the poor guy is going to be exhausted. He never slept Wednesday evening, because at 4:00 a.m. that Thursday morning he and Mayday left for Singapore for the concert. I know he probably had to spend hours practicing, as well as some time running around with Lee Ying and Tona, searching out good places to eat. Doubtful he got much sleep last night after the show, and they're flying back today. Knowing Guoxi, he'll spend all day tomorrow practicing for his interview instead of catching up on sleep! (HE GOT THE JOB! I'm so proud of him, he passed the interview with flying colors, and next year he'll be heading off to Australia for training. I'll miss him, but I'm so happy to have been able to help him make his dream come true.)
This morning my dear friend Lisa will be calling me from the US. It's been so long since we chatted - e-mail just isn't the same. I'm looking forward to hearing her voice. Finally gave my dad a call yesterday, too (the man still does not have a computer, can you believe that?). I need to call my US friends more often, but I either have to call between 3:00 p.m. and 4:00 p.m. California time on weekdays, or after 8:00 p.m. on weekends. That doesn't make it easy!
Next week will be busy with school, teaching, and then on Friday Doris from Hong Kong will be arriving for a short visit with her Taiwan friends. This weekend is also the big Indie Music Festival, with Mojo, Monkey Insane, and XL performing, along with tons of other bands I'm not yet familiar with. We have plans to go for all three evenings, so it should be fun. Xiao Zhu, Wu Bai's bassist, is heavily involved in Taiwan's indie music scene, so he'll probably be floating around, and likely Da Mao will show up, too. Dino? Who knows - maybe!
Anyway, that's all for this week, unless something else pops into my head later.
Monday, December 05, 2005
Saturday, December 03, 2005
Although it wasn't quite as bad as I'd feared, it did hurt like a sonofabitch, and I was glad I was only getting about 15 minutes worth of work done. If you'd like to see this guy's work, go to http://www.pbase.com/bonfas/shefu He's extremely talented. I was a little startled when he put his left hand on my ankle to steady it while he drew the design, because he's missing all the fingers on that hand, looks as if he was in an accident. But his right hand was fine, and I was very comfortable with him.
I will someday go back and get "and China Blue" added (or maybe just "& CB"!), but that will take more courage, as well as more money. I got a good deal today, around $30 US. At the studio it would have cost twice that, but they were giving deals at the show.
Thursday, December 01, 2005
A few people have already asked me what I want for Christmas (or Giftmas, as Nicole so aptly calls it), and while I don't feel that anyone is obligated to give me anything, I know many people enjoy giving presents (thank goodness, huh?), so I'm obliging folks by laying out my heart's desires.
First and foremost on my list of "what do I want for Christmas" is online gift certificates for Amazon.com. (Alice, thank you, thank you, thank you!!!!) I just seem to be spending so much money on books here! Sure, I could ask folks to buy books for me, but then you'd have all the trouble of going shopping, then wrapping the book for shipping, then standing in those monstrous lines at the PO.....so forget it! Online shopping, yeah!
Now, in January a former co-worker will be coming to Taiwan for a visit, and he has graciously agreed to bring one whole duffel bag filled with goodies for me. So, if you're a Chico friend and you have the urge to send me something from home via Steve, here's my list of things I would love to have (in no particular order):
Some Smokin' Mo's Sweet Carolina BBQ sauce
A bunch of packets of Taco Bell hot sauce, the hottest kind
A few packages of Lawry's Taco Seasoning, spicy
A plastic squeeze bottle of honey (Carol, thanks, it's great to have!)
A loaf of Dakota bread from Great Harvest, or Jalapeno-Cheese bread (from anywhere!)
Shubert's malted milk balls, not the kind with candy shell, just chocolate on the outside
Shubert's chocolate cordials (rum flavor, brandy flavor, amaretto flavor, any flavor!)
Rum extract - Note: found lemon and almond here, still could use rum Giant bag of California pistachios from Costco (Taiwan ones just aren't the same)
A small bottle of REAL maple syrup, not that crappy imitation stuff, so I can pick up some frozen waffles at Costco (they're cheap, the syrup ain't)
A bottle of Monin Zero Free no calorie, no carb hazelnut syrup (hint: Has Beans has it)
Chocolate-dipped hazelnut biscotti from The Upper Crust
Trader Joe's roasted, salted pumpkin seeds (shelled) - cuz I hear ya'll are gettin' Trader Joe's, lucky bums (Romita, thank you, thank you, thank you!!!)
WinCo brand boxed macaroni and cheese (I like it better than Kraft and it's cheap, cheap, cheap)
Mini Reese's Peanut Butter Cups
A bag of Crunchy Cheetos
A bottle of really good Bleu Cheese, or Ranch, or Roquefort salad dressing (not Kraft, please....)
Huge box of Splenda (to counteract all the sugary stuff I want, right)
David & Sons sunflower seeds - about 20 pounds! Well, OK, maybe just a few big bags.....I sure do miss my sunflower seeds
A jar of Laura Scudder's or Adam's peanut butter, the salted kind that you have to mix the oil up in, no sugar added, just peanuts and salt
A jar of instant, liquid silver cleaner, because my silver jewelry is tarnished beyond belief, and I can't find cleaner here
Orville Redenbacher's Popcorn - the most buttery kind they make, packed with calories :)
A couple packages of Red Vines
A nice mix of Jelly Bellys (partial to buttered popcorn and fruit flavored ones) Kraft Light Mayo (not the non-fat gunk)
Now, my friends, you will have to tell me if there's something from Taiwan you would like to have. Because you know, Steve will be going back with an empty duffel bag, and we can't let that happen, can we?
Wednesday, November 30, 2005
A different kind of earthquake hit me when I read my mail. My friends will recall that about a year before I moved to Taiwan, my cat, who I'd had for nine years, was murdered by the vicious old man who lived across the street. He started trapping the neighborhood cats and taking them 25 miles away to an animal shelter, where they were killed. There was a huge public outcry, but there was no legal action we could take, because the law said this man had the right to trap cats that went into his yard. And, since he was baiting the trap with tuna fish, a lot of cats were going into his yard! I wrote about that here: http://fortune-cookie-500.com/Cat_Trapper.html
Well, he's at it again. I got an e-mail from a woman who works at the local animal shelter (not the one 25 miles away from the town), and she said old Joe Canzoneri is at it again. And this time he's not taking the cats to a shelter - he's taking them out into the woods and dumping them! She said she's hoping that since it IS illegal to dump an animal that the law will finally do something. So far he's gotten at least two pets (I called my ex this morning to find out more about it), and I'm sure he'll be after more.
I will be wishing the worst of curses on this two-legged predator's head until the day he's cold in his grave, and I hope that day is not too far away.
Saturday, November 26, 2005
A fun-filled week, which started Tuesday night when I got an e-mail from Dino, the drummer for Wu Bai & China Blue, telling me that he, Da Mao (keyboard player), and Xiao Zhu (bass player), along with Bobby Chen's guitarist, Xiao Wang, had formed a pub band called ABS and would be playing Wednesday evening. Wah, talk about excitement! I quickly spread the word and plans were made to attend. Photos of the band are posted at http://www.pbase.com/500fan/abs
Wednesday evening a small group of fans (Natari, Charlene, PJ, Ah Ju, Xiao Yu, and me) made our appearance at New York New York Live to have a scrumptious dinner and then wait for the show. We'd made a reservation requesting the tables right at the front of the stage, so it was cool. When we arrived, we noticed the guys were there having dinner, too, and it just made me feel warm and happy all over to see that Da Mao was wearing the Sierra Nevada T-shirt I'd given him (I had given matching shirts to all the guys, sent back with Betty when she came to the US to work with HP). He changed shirts before the gig, so I didn't get a photo of him in it, but I did tell him it made me happy when he stopped by our table to chat before the show.
Dino was looking mighty handsome that night, and we could tell he was pretty happy about the band. He was so sweet, giving all the girls a kiss on the cheek and a handshake for PJ (but I'll bet PJ would have taken a kiss, too). Now I can't ever wash that side of my face again!
The band started up a little late, but that's so normal for Taiwan. They launched their set with "Mary Had a Little Lamb" - I can't remember who originally did the song, maybe Wilson Pickett? Dino had already told us that he'd be doing the singing. We've heard Dino sing just a little bit on China Blue CDs, but never got to experience the full range of his voice until this show. He belted out tunes from ZZ Top and Creedence Clearwater Revival, all the while making those drums shake, rattle, and roll. Takes talent to sing and drum, I'll tell ya.
During the break Dino came and sat with us a bit, clowning around with Xiao Yu's glasses, really cute. He had loads of friends in the restaurant, so he didn't stay long, but we were happy for the few minutes we got. During the second set some other Taiwan artists joined them on stage, but sadly I don't know their names. I had met the guy with the long hair (Dino dubbed him Taiwan's Oldest Hippie) once before at The Wall, but it was a quick intro and I immediately forgot his name. The audience obviously knew who he was, and they enthusiastically joined in the singing.
After the show, my darling English student, Guoxi, made a special trip to pick me up and take me home, because the MRT stops running at midnight, and I would have had to leave early and miss some of the show. He insisted that I stay, as he's always up late. Also, he had a chance to chat with his musician buddies, and that gave me the opportunity to chat a little myself, with Xiao Zhu. This was the first time I'd ever had a conversation with him. I'd always figured him for the quiet type, but he's actually fairly talkative! The chat was cut short by Natari coming in to tell me that she and Charlene had to leave and could no longer watch Guoxi's car for him (he's left it running, parked in a red zone). So, I did car-sitting duty until he was done, and then he took me home. What a doll, huh? I didn't get to bed until 2:00 a.m., and I was so beat Thursday morning, argh. Tried to go to bed early that night, but of course the little shits upstairs were running back and forth without stopping, so no way to sleep.
Last night I went with Nat and Hiyoshi to see the Cloud Gate Dance Theatre troupe performing Cursive III at the National Theater. This contemporary dance company was formed in 1973 and has gone on extensive tours throughout Europe, Asia, Australia, North and South America. The dance which was performed utilizes paper as its only set. Streams of white rice paper cascade to the floor, and black ink pours from hidden pipes above, seeping onto the paper slowly, almost invisibly. What begins as a white piece of paper with a small black spot at the top gradually changes to a work of abstract art. Since one's attention is on the dancers, one doesn't notice the transformation right away, it's almost like magic.
I don't think I can truly describe the dancers' movements in a way you can visualize. They used subtle slow motions along with martial-arts type movements. Most of the time there was no music, just the sounds of the dancers breathing, their bare feet slapping the floor, their clothes swishing through the air (they all wore very wide-legged black pants, no shirts for the guys and leotard tops for the girls), and an occasional sharp martial arts cry, accompanied by natural sounds, such as ocean waves breaking on the short, insects at night, rain falling, typhoon-like winds blowing, with a little bit of traditional Chinese instrumentals thrown in. It was as if the dancers were dancing the wind and the rain, the night and sunlight, life itself. The program called it a "constantly shifting feast for the eyes" and it surely was. I think the audience applauded for a good ten minutes at the end of the show!
Final excitement of the week was getting my new bed delivered today! Yes, I'm a big girl now, with a big girl bed (hey, no wisecracks about my weight). I got tired of trying to share that small single bed with a restless DZ, and the mattress was just one of those thick foam pads, not really super comfortable, so I went back to IKEA and got a double bed with a real box-spring mattress. Yeah! I also bought a chair for the living room, because the small couch I have will only seat three, and there's a Christmas party being planned, along with a spaghetti dinner, and I need room for folks to plant their butts. Funny, I looked at the US prices in the IKEA catalog online, and most of the furniture that I bought is cheaper here. But, the drapes that I was going to get are almost twice as much here! Very odd. I spent $350 for the bed, chair, delivery, and assembly. Not bad at all. Well, it would be better if I had a job and a steady salary, but it's still a good deal, ha.
Didn't do much else during the week. Met twice with Guoxi to practice English, had a Tuesday and Thursday night English class, spent lots of time doing homework. Still loving the new teacher and feeling as if I'm getting better every day. On Monday Hiyoshi leaves for Japan for 10 days, so I think I'll try to do even more studying and writing, since I won't have him to distract me. Darn. I like being distracted.
Oh yeah, I almost forgot.......I kinda missed having Thanksgiving dinner. But I made up for it by having a pizza blowout with Hiyoshi, at Pizza Hut's all-you-can-eat buffet. I was at about the same level of stuffed as I would have been if I'd eaten a turkey dinner, so it was OK ;) Hope all of you had a lovely time being off work and feasting with your families.
Sunday, November 20, 2005
The best news I have to offer is that after completing one week with the latest teacher, Ye Laoshi, I'm ecstatic! She's so good, and class has been so much fun, that I was actually sorry to have Friday arrive. This woman has what it takes to be a teacher - she's entertaining, gives clear explanations, keeps the class involved, and teaches more than what's in the book. And....I understand every word she says. Why? Because she's only using words that she knows we've studied, unlike the other teacher, who used about 10% words I knew and 90% words I've never heard before. Also, Ye Laoshi insists that we talk in full sentences. If she asks a question, we aren't allowed to give just short, yes or no answers, we have to repeat the sentence completely. For example, if she asks, "According to your experience, have you met people you consider to have a low standard?" we must reply, "According to my experience, I have met people I consider to have a low standard." and then most likely she will ask us to elaborate on our statements. The other teacher would just take "yes" or "no" and move on to the next question. Not much help. My confidence in my ability to speak has already made great improvement, and I'm looking forward to week two. And if they try to take this teacher away from me, I'll raise such a fuss they'll regret it! Even the jerk of a Brit who's in the class has changed and gotten to be tolerable and almost funny at times.
Yesterday I met up with two of my friends, Lisa and Vivi, to go shopping for a book for them to learn English. They brought along their boyfriends, William and Marx, and we had quite a nice time picking out a book, walking around, eating at a nice little buffet that had way too many yummy desserts, then going to the movies at the second run theater. We tried to get in to see Harry Potter, but every theater was already sold out, so we figured we'd wait a week or so. We ended up seeing Brothers Grimm, which wasn't bad at all, and The Cave, which was simply horrible (but the guys wanted to see it, what can a girl do?). Also caught the last 40 minutes of Must Love Dogs, which seemed to be a good movie. By the time we got out of the theater, it was too late for the MRT, so Marx and Vivi drove me home. DZ was irate at being left alone for so long, and she'd gotten up onto my dresser, knocking to the floor a piece of ceramic and breaking it. Little snot. This morning I caught her on the kitchen counter, too close to the gas burner where I was boiling some water, so I tanned her hide really good. Don't want my cat to go up in flames.
I tried to buy a new bed on Monday, because I'm tired of sleeping on the too-hard, too-small single bed I originally bought. However, IKEA was out of the bed frame I want, so I have to wait until the end of the month. Bought some curtains for the bedroom (been here 8 months, still don't have curtains in the place), but they were too long and the blue didn't match the bedspread, so took them back. Picked up a heater for when winter arrives, since all the foreigners here say it will get colder and I'll be sorry if I don't have one, along with two small bookcases (only $10 for both, wow) to put in the office. Guoxi was once again driving my ass all around town doing the shopping, so I treated him to lunch at The Outback Steakhouse. Hadn't had a Bloomin' Onion in a couple of years, so it was a nice treat for me, too! Wanted to order a Wallaby Darned to drink, but it was around $6 US, and I figured it just wasn't worth it.
Wednesday Guoxi invited me to his house for lunch, because his grandmother was visiting, and she's the best noodle maker around (he said). He was right. I had the best "liang mian" I've ever eaten. This is a cold noodle dish made with garlic, vinegar, sesame paste, a little sugar, and ground peanuts. I got Guoxi to give me the recipe, and as soon as we buy the right kind of sesame paste (gotta have the good stuff), I'm going to make some at home.
Friday night I made another cheesecake, this time using Oreos for the crust. It turned out fabulously, not overdone this time (because I finally figured out how to use the mini oven). It's too bad that sour cream is so difficult to buy and so expensive when I find it, because I'd make cheesecake all the time :) Well, maybe it's a good thing I can't easily find sour cream......
Next Friday night I'm going with Natari to see the Cloudgate dance troupe perform a ballet. They're rather famous here in Taiwan, so I'll have a report on that for the weekend.
No turkey dinner for me this year, and I'm a little sad about that. I think I'll just try to find a nice place for lunch on Thursday, something more expensive than I usually go to.
That's about all my fuzzy brain can remember about last week, so I'll sign this one off here.
Sunday, November 13, 2005
This one has been going around the Net, and since everyone else is stealing it from someone, so am I :)
Saturday, November 12, 2005
I did go to Betty's wedding dinner last night (blowing off an English class which meant saying goodbye to $800NT), once again eating a great meal with interesting food (ever had sea cucumber? If not, don't bother.). I'll have some photos of that later when I have time to tweak them and get them posted. Didn't go along with the some of the gang to karaoke afterwards, because it was already after 10:00 and I knew my lonely cat was likely destroying my apartment in anger.
Oh, and I went to Zhong Hua University in Xinzhu on Tuesday with my school, about an hour by bus. We have a relationship with that university, and they're trying to get new students, so they invited us, gave us a free meal in their cafeteria, took us on a little tour, made us watch a lovely promotional film. Nice campus, fabulous pool and fitness center, but not a very convenient place to live. Still, with the right incentives, I could be persuaded to move.....maybe.
Tonight I'll be going to the Riverside Cafe to see Mojo perform. Never been there before, hope it's not too much of a smoke pit, but probably will be. Not too many chances to see Mojo before Guoxi goes off to become an airline pilot, so must take advantage. Helps that Guoxi is providing free tickets. Hope the beer is cheap.
Apparently all the bitching and complaining about the new teacher did some good, because the school has decided to start rotating teachers. Guess they figured it was too much trouble to keep transferring the students to other classes, so now they're just switching the teachers ;) So, next week, we get a new teacher, and we'll have her for a month, or maybe two. I sure hope she's better than the one we have now. If not, I can assure you that you will be hearing about it.
Coming soon: Marla's Christmas Wish List, since some folks have been asking. No one is under any obligation to give me a gift, but if it will make you feel guilty not to, by all means feel free. I wouldn't want to be the cause of great mental distress. If any of my friends has a desire for something cool from Asia, please drop a line.
And for those of you unfamiliar with the acronym I changed slightly and used as my title, the translation is Situation Normal NOT All F*cked Up - in case anyone was worrying that they hadn't heard from me.
Oh, which reminds me, I've been picking up a little Japanese (no, not Hiyoshi, he's not little at all, and no, that's not a sexual innudendo). "Baka gaijin" means "stupid foreigner." Anyone traveling to Japan, keep your ears tuned for this one.
Wow, things just keep popping up. Political campaigns in Taiwan, very interesting. You think it's bad in the US, having to deal with billboards and signs in people's yards when it's election time? Well, here it seems there's always some sort of election happening, and the campaigning is particularly obnoxious. The candidates hire people to drive around in little trucks, the sides plastered with the candidates' faces smiling beatifically upon the populace, and the driver plays very loud music alternating with blaring political messages, usually recorded by some woman with a high, whiny voice. They drive around all day, starting at 9:00 a.m. and ending around 10:00 p.m. If I had the right to vote here, I wouldn't vote for anyone who used these tactics because they annoy the piss out of me. Although, there's one guy, Wu Ming Xiu, whose truck plays a Wu Bai song, so maybe I'd vote for him. I'm not even sure what these people are running for......
Thursday, November 03, 2005
Nothing of any note occurred, other than witnessing diners ordering live shrimp for their dinner Tuesday night. I thought Cheryl was going to pass out when she realized what those things jumping around on the plate were. Natari told us the live shrimp come with wine, apparently to get them so sloshed they don't realize they're being eaten...... Don't understand the fascination with eating live food. Want my food dead and preferably cut up and decorated so much that I don't see what it used to be. No, thank you, I do not want the chicken with its head and feet still attached. Chop those puppies off, please.
Going back to class today was a bit tough after three days without hearing the teacher's indecipherable babblings. I've mostly been speaking English since Saturday, so getting back to listening and responding in Chinese wasn't easy. And I'm a bit behind on the current lesson, no clue what's going on, haven't studied the grammar. Reviewed everything all the way in on the train this morning and should be studying now, but got sidetracked by a book (oops).
More interesting quirks about the cost of things in Taiwan: got my phone bill. I'd made one call to Hong Kong (2 minutes), four calls to my dad (1 min, 1 min, 4 min trying to actually reach him, and 31 minutes when I did), one call to a friend (29 mins), and three other calls leaving messages on a machine (1 min each). The bill came to a whopping $180NT - about $5.50US. Jeez, talk about cheap! And now for the quirk. I also called my Taiwan friend's cell phone and talked to her for an hour. That bill was $365NT! Holy schamoly, almost $11 US to call from a home phone to a cell phone, locally. Why didn't anyone warn me that it's horribly expensive to use one's home phone to make a cell phone call? I would have used my cell phone if I'd know. Yikes. But hey, the total bill was still only $924NT ($27.50US), and that includes my ADSL, so I truly can't complain. And I'll for sure be calling the US more often!
Then today the electric bill came, for September and October combined. Once a week I do my laundry, and I use the electric dryer because I hate hanging my clothes up to dry. Sometimes I do two loads on the weekend, sometimes only one, and each tiny load takes two hours to dry with this weakling dryer I have. And I'd been using the air conditioner a lot in September, almost every night in my bedroom while I was sleeping, because it was so hot. The bill before this one wasn't too bad, but I thought maybe I'd spend more this time. Nope. It was only $1223NT, around $36.50 US. Huh, only $18.25 per month. I can live with that. If it was still really hot, I'd be cranking that air, let me tell ya.
I owe tons of people e-mail, and I expect this weekend I'll be busy playing catch-up and studying (and going to a tattoo parlour to check out what it's like, watching someone getting inked and maybe even getting one myself). And honest, I've written to a lot of folks who just aren't answering me, and I have a feeling my mail is still going astray. Chiconet said they were straightening out the problem with AOL, but I think they ended up on a "spam blacklist" and some providers are blocking mail from their domain name with no notice to me that it's blocked. I may be resending some mail just to see.....
Well, done now, rambled enough, time to fetch that last Asahi out of the fridge and kick back with my lesson book. Ta ra.
Sunday, October 30, 2005
Oh, who am I kidding? We're going to shop, eat, and watch movies :) And talk. But, whatever we do, I'll be too busy to write about it, so you'll just have to wonder.
Alive and well and happy to have a visitor in Taiwan. When are the rest of you going to come join the fun????
Tuesday, October 25, 2005
Well, none of the mail I send to an AOL address is getting through. They're blocking it because "AOL does not accept e-mail transactions from IP addresses which generate complaints or transmit unsolicited bulk e-mail." Like that's my fault???
I'm sure there's other mail that's not going, too, because I've written back to a lot of people and have never gotten replies. I know that Hotmail also sometimes doesn't deliver my mail. So, if you think I'm ignoring you, I'm not. You're just not getting my mail.
I encourage everyone to sign up for a free Yahoo account so I have an alternate address to use to write to you. If you haven't heard from me, and you think you should have, send me another e-mail and tell me, OK? I'll respond here, unless you provide a Yahoo address to use.
Thanks, friends :)
Monday, October 24, 2005
Saturday, October 22, 2005
The weird thing is that it cost me more for the hair color ($2,500NT) than it did for two trips to the dentist for cleaning, X-rays, and a filling ($2,200NT). The dentist is dirt cheap compared to the US, and the hair salon is about the same price - go figure!
Wednesday, October 19, 2005
Sunday, October 16, 2005
The quake measured 7.0 on the Richter scale and struck at 11:51pm (1551 GMT) with an epicentre around 250 kilometres (155 miles) east of the capital in the East China Sea, the Taiwanese Seismology Centre said Saturday. The centre initially estimated the temblor at 6.5 on the Richter scale. An official from the seismology centre said that the quake's impact was reduced because it struck around 180 kilometres under the sea bed. The US Geological Survey and Hong Kong Observatory both gave the quake as 6.6 on the Richter scale.
Taiwan, lying near the junction of two tectonic plates, is shaken regularly by earthquakes. The country's worst, measuring 7.6 on the Richter sale, struck in September 1999 and left some 2,400 people dead."
So there I was, sitting on the couch reading Gone with the Wind when my apartment began to sway. Then it stopped. Then it immediately started again, a little stronger. "Hm, earthquake," I says to meself, as I watch the cat staring around with wide eyes. The floor lamp gradually settled back to a stationary position, and I kept reading.
Anyway, all is well, thanks to the quake being so far out to sea and not right under our feet. Let us hope that none decide to pay us a closer visit.
Saturday, October 15, 2005
Hiyoshi and I went to the cheap movie theater yesterday to see Madagascar and Stealth. I totally loved Madagascar, and if you haven't seen it, you should. Silly, fun movie, really. I'm sure it's funnier in English than in the Chinese-subtitled version, but the crowd was laughing. You simply can't translate some of the jokes, though, because the audience here wouldn't understand the references and see why it was funny. I did notice the subtitles in the other movie made a reference to something that only Chinese people would understand, so at least they're trying to find something comparable to get the point across.
Speaking of the other movie, Stealth.....shades of the HAL9000! Obviously a fan of 2001: A Space Odyssey wrote this one. I mean, the voice of the plane even sounded like HAL. Are there no new movies ideas out there? And gosh, I see we're getting another Zorro movie, I simply can't wait. That one's been done to death.
Had a very nice lunch with Hiyoshi and his Japanese student, Sherrie, on Thursday. Sherrie is a doll, very bright lady who is truly interested in improving her English as well as her Japanese. I'm hoping she and I will continue to become good friends and maybe even go out on the town sometime. She may be dropping by this afternoon.
And yesterday on the MRT I met a very nice woman who owns a jade and antique shop. She asked me if my Wu Bai & China Blue concert shirt (the black one with the orange square with the smiling shark in it) was a uniform, and that started a lovely conversation. Her English is excellent, and I assumed she was actually from the US, but she's never lived outside of Taiwan! Wow, I hope my Chinese gets so good that people will think I was brought up in Taiwan. Anyway, she lives only one MRT stop from me, in Hong Shulin, so we're going to get together and do language exchange. Cool.
We thought we'd be getting another typhoon, but thankfully it looks to be heading north instead of west. We're getting the cooler weather and the little bit of rain it's pushing our way, but that's fine. However, Japan might get hit with it, which is not good.
In just two weeks my great buddy, Cheryl, will be coming to visit. She made the move to Hong Kong in July to be a teacher and to be with her sweetie, Terry, and this will be the first time she's been to Taiwan. I'm looking forward to hanging out with her, chatting about the latest Korean and Indian movies, eating like pigs, showing her the sights around my beloved island. Too bad her stay is only Saturday afternoon through Thursday a.m. (flight back is Thursday 2:00), because there's so much to see and do. But, we now live so close, it will be easy to visit back and forth.
Maybe more later, 'nuff for now.
Every day I complained to the front desk, sometimes joined by Sam or Midori. Hiyoshi is too polite to complain or to even admit a problem when asked. Midori was only there one day, and she was trying her best to find a class to transfer into. So was Sam, but he can only come 10:00-12:00, and all those classes are full, and he's just dying of boredom in this class. Hiyoshi and I discussed maybe switching to a later class. On Thursday afternoon one of the gals from the front sat in on the class again to monitor things, but it was only for the last 20 minutes of class - she should have tried the first hour and a half.
Yesterday morning when the teacher arrived, there were only three students present (sometimes people don't arrive until 11:00, even though the class starts at 10:00). She asked if there were problems, so I piped up and told her a) I required more information on new words, such as examples of how to use them, not just reading the one sentence the book provided (and that's only for some words, sometimes there's nothing), b) I needed more information on the grammar usage, and that our previous teacher had drawn sentence diagrams on the board and given us various ways to use the grammar, and c) YOU TALK TOO FRIGGIN' FAST AND USE WORDS I'VE NEVER LEARNED SO HOW THE HELL DO YOU THINK I CAN LEARN FROM YOU? Ahem.
Anyway, yesterday was better. For one thing, the annoyingly weird British guy wasn't there, so he couldn't hijack the class for his own purposes - that was a huge plus. And the teacher did make an effort to use the board more, drawing diagrams, etc. And I just kept asking her what words meant when she used them, instead of being lost in a fog. But she's still not a very good teacher. She used one phrase "zhuan xin" that I couldn't find in my dictionary, only the two words separately. I couldn't get a clear meaning of the phrase from her explanation, and finally the guy from Canada wrote the definition on a piece of paper - "pay attention." Oh, great, so all the teacher had to do was say, "Zhuan xin means the same as zhu yi." and I would have understood. I mean, jeez, could she just sit down and look at the vocabulary lists from our textbooks and see what we know?
And what does it say about a teacher if 11 out of 13 people in her class make the identical incorrect choices for two sentences on a multiple-choice test? I think it means that the teacher did not clearly define the grammar usage because if she had, then we would have switched our choices and gotten them right.
Hope next week is better.
Monday, October 10, 2005
Charlene and I arrived at the restaurant an hour before the banquet was scheduled, because we wanted to see the tea ceremony. The bride, dressed in a beautiful evening gown, hair and shoulders dotted with glitter, false eyelashes aflutter, must serve tea to members of the grooms family (men on one side of the room, women on the other). She was assisted by her mother and her aunt (someone had to hold up the train of that dress so she could walk). After waiting a few minutes in another room, back she goes to the tea room to collect the tea cups, which have now been filled with red envelopes.
Now the formal engagement ritual. Back to the tea room and seated on a chair in the middle of the room, feet up on a little stool. Here comes the groom to bedeck his lovely bride with jewelry - a gorgeous gold necklace along with two gold bracelets, a gold ring, and a diamond engagement ring.
There was another little ritual that involved feeding each other some sort of small fruit, but I didn't really understand what was going on, so I can't elaborate on that part. It was cute, though, similar to American couples feeding wedding cake to each other at the reception.
At noon the party finally began, and the huge banquet hall was packed. The wait staff began to bring out the plates of food, and oh my, what fabulous dishes. I don't know the names of them, but we had an appetizer of crispy skinned duck, BBQ pork, chicken; some little round balls that were warm and sweet, made of some sort of dough; a whole lobster on some glass noodles that was scrumptious (and if the photo upload program hadn't decided to stop working after the first one, I'd show you what it looked like); a dish of mixed seafood and red and yellow bell peppers in a nest made from noodles; a very tasty noodle soup; Japanese-style unagi eel on rice that was incredibly good; a whole steamed fish; shitake mushrooms and greens in a nice sauce; some bamboo and carrots; and then dessert - superlicious cold sweet soup made with mango and tiny tapioca balls (I would have taken a pot of that to go). We also had a very nice Bordeaux to drink along with some fresh kiwi juice.
During the feasting, the bride changes into another outfit, this one a fancy pink tulle with a hoop skirt and pink lace gloves for her hands, and she and her groom, along with their parents, make the rounds of the tables and drink a toast (or two or three) with each table. No wonder they give them teeny tiny glasses to use!
As the party begins to wind down and people begin to leave, the bride assists her father, and then her mother, in doling out candy to the guests and to the many children who have come. Each person who has come has been given a huge bag containing a large box of specialty cookies (two layers!) that has on the bow a lovely little silver heart set with a cubic zirconia, suitable for using on a neckchain, and a box containing a large "bing" - a circular cake with sesame seeds on the outside, apparently a traditional wedding food.
Since the photo upload here was giving me fits today, I've made a small gallery at my photo site where you can see some of what I've talked about. Here's the link: http://www.pbase.com/500fan/journalwed
Sunday, October 09, 2005
My classmates (Hiyoshi, Yin Ting, Midori, Ya Di) and I entered the classroom on Monday with more than a bit of trepidation. We knew a couple of the students in that class, because they'd been with us for a short time, but the others were strangers. And damn, there were a lot of them! We were crammed in, thirteen students (by the time everyone arrived, because some people always come late).
I knew I was in trouble from the instant the teacher opened her mouth, because she was speaking Chinese at warp speed, and I didn't understand more than a couple of words. I was able to figure out that she wanted us to introduce ourselves, so we did that. When we started the text, it wasn't too bad, just reading the new words and the sentences. I thought it was good that she was having the students read the sentences containing the new words rather than reading them to us, gives us practice. But, she didn't really spend any time explaining the words to us. I'm OK, I can read the English translation, and I get it. But some of the Korean and Japanese students don't have that great a grasp of English, you know? Our other teacher was really good at giving us more examples of using the words and having us try to make a sentence ourselves. We just ripped through the words, and when she did try to explain, I missed 95% of it. Yin Ting was sitting on my right and Midori on my right, and we just kept looking at each other in horror. We ended up getting through the whole lesson in one week, and it has always taken two weeks before, which I prefer, since it will stick with me better if I spend more time studying it.
Also, we get the distinct feeling this teacher has more experience teaching small children than adults. She'll make a statement, pause for a long time with a silly smile on her face while we stare at her (I guess no one knows what she wants us to do), and then say, "Hao (OK)" and move on. What the f*ck? Midori says she's going to request a transfer because she's insulted at being treated like a child.
I can't remember if it was the first day or the second that Sam, the guy from Poland, complained to the front desk during our break, and then one of the secretaries, Yvonne, came in for the remainder of the class to see what was going on. She asked us afterwards what we thought, and of course we told her. She said the teacher was using more complicated language when she talked (no friggin' wonder I couldn't understand). Yvonne said she'd talk to her. But one of the complaints was also that thirteen students in one room was too much, and no one has tackled that yet.
OK, so every day in class I ask the teacher if she could please speak a little more slowly, telling her that I don't understand most of what she says. She'll slow down for a sentence or two, and then it's back to rapid fire Chinese. JEEZ! Fine, I'll ask her ten times during class if I have to get my point across. Friday she made us listen to some god-awful song while reading the lyrics. Ick. If she'd give us something contemporary (and by Wu Bai) maybe we'd be interested. One Japanese girl actually had her head on the desk, fast asleep, for part of the class!
I'm trying to look at the good points: 1) Her Chinese is very standard, very "biao zhun" - and that's good. It's best to learn the more standard way of speaking than the Taiwan-accented speech 2) She's young and probably trainable (I hope) 3) I still have fun classmates to study with (although the addition of a really weird guy from England isn't doing much to improve the class) 4) I need to learn to listen to a variety of voices and understand, so it's a good thing to have to adapt to hers (right? right?)
At least next week only has four days, thanks to the National Day holiday tomorrow. Wish me luck.
Friday, October 07, 2005
He and his new love, Nancy (a really great gal who seems to fit him much better than I did), got married last month. I'd been waiting for an e-mail telling me about the Alaska cruise they took for their honeymoon, and he hadn't answered my e-mails to him. I knew he'd returned home, but I was a little worried (see above: accident prone, etc.). So, the day before yesterday I called his shop, but he wasn't there (more worry, why wasn't he at work when he should be?). So, I left a message on the answering machine. Last night (his morning), he called me back! We had a great chat about his honeymoon (on a cruise ship with a whole bunch of old people with walkers, so funny) and the wedding (sounded very lovely, wish I could have gone) and what was happening in his life and his son's (he's now in the Navy, hard to believe he's matured that much). It was so great to hear Mark's voice after six months and laugh at his stories.
Anyway, I think it's sad that so many people who get divorced absolutely hate each other afterward and can't even have a civil conversation (hubby's first wife was that sort, what a bitch). I'm so thankful that we have remained friends and that we respect each other. Just because I can't live with another person doesn't mean I can't like (and on one level, love) him. Mark is a great guy, totally faithful and with a good heart, truly a cut above many. I'm ecstatic that he found someone who loves him back and who makes his life happy. I think I was mostly making him miserable, for sure during our last year together. But, it was my problem for the most part, not because he was a stinker or anything. Poor guy really did put up with a lot from me.
This is just a post to say I'm thrilled to have such a good friend who still cares about me and who doesn't blame me for needing to live my own life in my own way. I'm eagerly awaiting the arrival of the CD with the wedding/honeymoon pix, too!
Wednesday, October 05, 2005
I had asked my friend Guoxi to recommend a dentist, and this is where he goes. As I was chatting with the dentist about my passion for Wu Bai & China Blue, I discovered that this is also the same dentist that Dino, the drummer, goes to! Cool.
Going back next Wednesday for the cleaning, how fun.
Saturday, October 01, 2005
Yesterday after school Hiyoshi came over to my place. We went to grab some pizza for lunch at Napoli. Their pizza is pretty good, and on the weekend (which begins on Friday here) you can get a small pizza for only $100NT ($3US). We got the special that included two pieces of fried chicken and sodas. Man, their chicken is great! I don't know how the Taiwanese fry, but it's much better than anything I've ever eaten in the US.
After lunch we scooted over to Carrefour to buy stuff to make tacos. Had to wait around for a long time for ground beef because they were sold out. Apparently they needed to actually butcher another cow before making more, because it took for friggin' ever. Picked up onion, lettuce, tomato, cheese, some fruit, a nice big pot to use for future spaghetti cooking, other odds & ends. I was taking advantage of having a nice strong guy to help me carry the stuff home, ha. Got back to my place and watched one of my favorite Korean movies, My Sassy Girl. Not sure how much of it Hiyoshi understood, because it only had English subtitles, and he doesn't read English very quickly. He said he was getting most of it, but I think he missed some of the plot. I cried my eyes out, like I do every time I watch it.
Unfortunately, Hiyoshi is allergic to cats, so the whole time he was here he was blowing his nose, sneezing, and scratching his itching eyes. Poor baby! And the cat, who never comes and lies down right next to me, plastered herself against him on the couch. He loves cats, so he put up with it. After the first movie, we mixed up a pitcher of margaritas and drank a couple while watching the second flick, a Japanese movie called Bayside Shakedown 2. We never did have time to make and eat the tacos, because Hiyoshi had to leave by 9:30 in order to get back to Taipei Main station before the last bus to Wan Li at 10:30. It's a shame he lives so far away (about an hour by bus), because that means we can't really have fun on the weekend evenings. At least we discovered that tequila doesn't make his face turn beet red like half a glass of beer does. He handled it surprisingly well, considering this was the first time he'd tried it. The margaritas weren't as good as I would have liked, since I had to be content with using margarita mix and regular Cuervo Gold instead of making ones with Cuervo 1800 and Grand Marnier. Phooey.
This was a bit of a sad week, because our classmate Kieko went back home to Japan on Wednesday. Class isn't the same without her, either. We had loads of fun on her last day, though. Guoxi treated us (Kieko, Hiyoshi, me) to a fabulous lunch at his friend's BBQ restaurant. We had so much food - lamb chops, chicken, turkey, beef, pork, huge fresh oysters from Canada, giant scallops, small squid, fish, ribs - all expertly cooked at the table for us by the restaurant's owner, Max. In addition to the meat, there was also the hot pot with some veggies and more seafood stuff. And after lunch, three brands of ice cream: Movenpick, Hagen Daas, and a Japanese brand. Then Max brought out the special ice cream that is only for special guests, a French honey flavored kind that was scrumptious. Oh man, I could barely move, and we ended up walking all the way back to Taipei Main station, over an hour. No dinner for me that night!
The rest of my week was pretty run-of-the-mill. I taught my English class Thursday evening, this time to only three of the six students. We had fun, but it was almost 11:00 p.m. by the time they left, and I was tired.
We've now finished book two of our Chinese lessons, and next week we will join another class to begin book three. Our current teacher will be teaching a beginner's class of bo-po-mo-fo, the Taiwan way of learning how to pronounce Chinese. We're going to miss her very much. She was so sweet, gave us all little labels with our Chinese names to use on our books, pens, etc. I don't really want to join the new class, because I like the very small one we have. Now we'll be about 15 students - but I think I actually saw some cute guys in that class, so maybe it won't be so bad! I just hope the teacher is good. Book three is supposed to be more difficult, so I'm guessing I'll have to spend more time at the library, writing and studying.
Monday I'll be picking up my passport with my new residency visa and will head to Banqiao to get my alien resident certificate (if the typhoon has moved on and offices/schools are open). After I get the ARC I can open a bank account here, and I will also be able to apply for the National Health Insurance. Good thing, because I have to go to the dentist on Wednesday. Not sure what type of work I need, but I'm hoping it's just a cavity that needs to be filled. Hot or cold food on the left side of my mouth produces the kind of pain that makes me want to cry. It's weird, because it feels as if it's in the area between two teeth that already had root canals - and I thought that meant they were basically dead and capped! Guess I'll find out. And Guoxi told me the dentist is a handsome guy, so I'm certainly looking forward to this visit.
I can't think of anything else to chat about right now, so I reckon I'll head off and make some tacos for myself. And then have a piece of cheesecake for desert!
Wednesday, September 28, 2005
Saturday, September 24, 2005
Now, people in Taiwan just don't bake. Really, they don't. There are no ovens in most Taiwan kitchens, unless you have a fancy, ultra-modern, Western-style apartment, which I don't. So, I had bought one of those small tabletop ovens to use. I was uncertain whether this thing would actually bake a cake without catching on fire, and there was one loud sparking snap at the beginning of the cook cycle that prompted me to make sure the fire extinguishers were still outside my front door on the landing. But, all went well, no further mishaps.
I now have a cheesecake that has a slightly overdone top (OK, more than slightly. I meant to turn the bottom element on and picked the top one instead, what a dork.), but I tried a little sliver of it, and it seems to taste close to the ones I produced in the US. The sour cream was a different texture than what I'm used to (the stuff I got is imported from Australia), and I didn't know I was out of almond extract (yeah, try finding that here) so I couldn't add that, but it's still not bad! I tallied up the cost of the ingredients, and it's around $20US, way more than it would cost me to make there. I suppose that's good, because now I won't be tempted to make too many and eat them ;)
I also cleaned my house today, mopping all the floors squeaky clean, and did some laundry. Such an exciting weekend, bet you all with you were here, right?
Thursday, September 22, 2005
So, on October 3 I can pick up my passport with my residency visa, then I go to apply for an Alien Residency Card (ARC). Today I shelled out $4400NT ($133US) and for the ARC I have to cough up another $1000NT ($30US). Well, it's cheaper than a plane ticket to Hong Kong, and if I didn't have this visa, I'd have to make a lot of trips out of the country and then back!
Wednesday, September 21, 2005
So last night I'm just sitting on the couch reading a book, about 11:00 p.m., thinking it's about time to hit the sack. Suddenly, an air raid siren went off. No, wait - it's the "children" upstairs, screaming at the top of their lungs out the living room window. I suffer it for a few minutes, and then the overturning of tables begins. FUCK! Excuse my language, but I've just had it. Really, truly had it. I was in my Victoria's Secret nightshirt (nothing sexy, purely functional and decent), but I didn't care. I grabbed my keys and headed to the 5th floor.
I rang the bell fiercely, and the door was opened by what looked like a toddler maybe two years old (you're not fooling me, I know you're a demon). Then another one a little older appeared. I glared at them while asking in Chinese, "Are your parents home?" Then a man popped his face around the corner, and I started in on him. Since I've spent months practicing what I'd say to these idiots when I finally popped, I had no trouble expressing in Chinese, "Your children are extremely noisy. Every evening they're yelling loudly and banging on the floor - I can't stand it!" I think the guy was a little bit freaked out to find a wild-eyed, crazed foreign woman at his door scolding him in Chinese. He kept saying, "Sorry, sorry!" while I ranted. Finally, I just said, "thank you," and departed. It was immediately quiet, not another sound from upstairs, and I was able to go to sleep before midnight for a change.
This evening I went out at 6:00 to toss my trash into the trash truck when it came by, and when I got back to the front of the apartment, the mom and the demons were outside on the steps. Mom was talking on the phone and ignored me, but the demons were staring at me in terror. I resisted the urge to bare my teeth at them and hiss. This evening has been remarkably tranquil, with only some normal sounds coming from above. I wonder how long this will last..... If I have to go up there again, I'm going to really scare the pants off 'em by wearing my custom-made vampire teeth!
I know it's a waste of time wishing for this, but I would like to see Wu Bai parade around with a shirt once in awhile. Sure, he doesn't have a perfect body, but I just so happen to like his body and wouldn't mind seeing it once in awhile, not covered up by long, baggy shirts.
And now on to the bitch session: I hate the system. Today I went to apply for my residency visa. I had to bring a bunch of papers that the school gave me, and they also wanted a bank statement. My bank issues a statement once a month, at the beginning of the month, so all I had was the one dated August 31, 2005. Now, I have enough money in the bank to live comfortably in Taiwan for at least five years. So I take this statement to the visa office, and they whine about it being dated three weeks ago. Hello? Do you think I could possibly have spent that much money in three weeks? Do you suppose it might have vanished into thin air? Did I give it away to charity? I think not. Regardless, I have to give them something with a more current date. On top of that, one of the papers the school gave me was wrong, listed dates that have already passed and not showing that my tuition is paid through December 25. Nevermind that I had the letter from the school that said I was enrolled through then, nor the fact that I had my receipt for paying said tuition. No, I have to go back to the school and get the correct paper. Sheesh! So, I gave it up for today and decided to just wait until my September bank statement is online, which will be around October 5. My current visa is good through November 17, so no hurry anyway.
Time to go coach Guoxi with his English....
Saturday, September 17, 2005
Please read the Taipei Times review here: http://www.taipeitimes.com/News/feat/archives/2005/09/16/2003271923
I think a majority of Westerners would not appreciate the Taiwan style of opera, because the music sounds a bit discordant to the ear that is not accustomed to it, as do the singing voices. It is very stylized, with hand and body gestures that look a little odd, until you get used to it. The spoken parts can be very normal sounding, or very "sing-songy" depending on the actor/actress and the context of the speech. Taiwanese is a language with a lot of nasal "twangy" sounds, and opera language is more exaggerated than normal speech. I loved every bit of it.
Sadly, I do not understand spoken Taiwanese (and written Taiwanese is not easy to understand, either). Although subtitles in Chinese were shown on two screens to the right and left of the stage, I was not able to read much of it, because it was too fast, and I also didn't want to miss the stage action. The costumes were gorgeous, the performances outstanding (Tang Mei-yun was amazing), and I will be sure to return to catch a future performance.
So OK, I told everyone how cheap it can be to live here in Taiwan. I also recently got my summer electric bill, which I was dreading because I'd been using the air conditioners quite a bit, along with the dryer (because I hate the way my clothes feel like cardboard when I hang them to dry). When the bill arrived, I squinched my eyes closed while I opened it, then took a glance. Wow, only $1557NT! That's like $47.18US, and it was for two months, so only $23.59 per month!!! Holy crap, when I hear how some of my friends in California are paying $175US per month (around $5,775NT) for their summer electric, I know I'm way lucky.
But then we decide to go shopping to buy some "Westerner" food for the house. Most of the local grocery stores have some types of food products that are imported, but there are certain things that are difficult to find, and for those we must make the trek to Tian Mu, to a tiny little store called Wellman's. Yesterday I headed off with Guoxi as my driver, since Wellman's is not anywhere close to an MRT station, and lugging bags of groceries on a bus ain't no fun. I had a shopping list of things I wanted to get to make a cheesecake and my world-famous Kahlua cake, plus a couple other yummies. Here's the sad news:
One bottle of Kahlua - $560NT ($16.96US)
One bottle of Jose Cuervo Margarita Mix - $280 ($8.50US - but dang, I was sure happy to find it!)
Lawry's Taco Seasoning - $52NT ($1.58 US - and in the States you can buy taco seasoning for around $.25 per package. Guess what I'll be stuffing in a suitcase when I go back for a visit?)
Rosarita Taco Shells, pack of 18 - $89NT ($2.70US - would probably not survive being packed in a suitcase.....)
Rosarita Fat-Free Refried Beans - $60NT ($1.82US - can be found at WinCo for around $.50 per can most of the time, will also add to the suitcase)
Kraft Macaroni & Cheese - $52NT ($1.58 US. I actually prefer the cheaper store brands that run around $.25 per box. Not a food I need to eat frequently but it's a "comfort food" for me, so had to have a box on hand)
Sour Cream, 16 oz - $210NT ($6.36US!!!! Damn, guess who won't be making too many cheesecakes nor adding sour cream to her tacos very often?)
Root Beer, 12 oz bottle - $59NT ($1.79US - why buy? see next entry)
Vanilla Ice Cream - $69NT ($2.09US - didn't buy this at Wellman's, thank goodness. What do you get when you add root beer to vanilla ice cream? A root beer float! Yeah, it sounded good, so I splurged on two bottles of root beer)
Pillsbury Devil's Food Cake Mix - $120NT ($3.64US - won't be making too many cakes, either. I don't even know for sure that my little tabletop oven will bake well)
Reese's Peanut Butter Cups, 2 pack - $28NT ($.85US - wasn't on my list, just was happy they had them, because this is the only store where I've seen them. Had to buy two)
Baker's Semisweet Chocolate Chunks, 12 oz bag - $126NT ($3.82US - for the Kahlua cake. No Nestle's Chocolate Chips in sight, just their butterscotch ones)
Well, then I recalled that I didn't have a mixer with which to make the cheesecake and Kahlua cake (and I still haven't found the stupid graham crackers to make the cheesecake crust), so I had to go to Carrefour to buy one, and of course spent even more money.
Phillips Hand Mixer - $990NT ($30 US)
Espresso/Cappucino Machine - $1790NT ($54US - been wanting one of these since I got here, finally broke down and paid the price. There are Mexican Mochas in my future!)
Barista Seattle Espresso Blend Coffee, 2 pounds - $285NT ($8.64US - the best deal of the day, since coffee is usually way more expensive. This is close enough to US prices to make me happy - bought two bags in case the price goes up!)
Was actually surprised that the black ink for my Epson printer was cheaper than the color ink, because in the US, the black is the most expensive. Got a cartridge for $385NT ($11.66US), so felt pretty good about that.
I ended up spending $6753NT yesterday ($205US) with all of the above plus some other groceries and such at Carrefour. Crap, that was way more than I had anticipated. I'll be eating $30NT bowls of noodles for lunch for the rest of the month, no going to more expensive places.
Sunday, September 11, 2005
As a matter of fact, yes, I am. I've been thinking lately about some of the things I actually do miss about the US, so I'm making a list. All of you who have intentions of someday coming to Taiwan, take note. Should there be an item here that you cannot live without, best bring it along. This post will be limited to food items, and there will be a future post dealing with other things.
10/1/05 additional "misses"
a. Great Harvest bread. Do you know how difficult it is to find bread here? Oh, sure, I can find white bread and bread filled with things like red bean paste or shredded pork, but finding good, hearty, wholesome bread is difficult. Sometimes I'm lucky enough to find a weak type of wheat bread at the local bakery, but it's just not the same.
b. Crunchy Cheetos. They have weirdly flavored ones here, don't taste the same. Thank goodness the Lay's potato chips are about the same :)
c. Baskin-Robbins ice cream.....
d. Salt shakers on the table in the restaurants. Man, I love salt, and hardly any restaurant here has salt shakers. Some of the "western" style ones do, like Chili's, but I rarely go there.
e. US salad bars. Tried the local Sizzler the other day with Hiyoshi. Not too bad, but rather expensive (almost $10US) and not nearly the salad selection as in the States. They had some interesting items, though, and it was tasty. Which brings us to.....
f. Real salad dressing! Oh, for a bottle of Bleu Cheese or Roquefort dressing, or Ranch, or even a good Caesar (which, thankfully, they did have at Sizzler). The most popular type in Taiwan is (yuck) Thousand Island. I hate it. And on the teeniest bowl of salad they will dump one cup of dressing. Bleah!
1. USA diet Pepsi. Yes, it's different there. It's not easy finding any sugar-free sodas here, and even when I found Pepsi, it didn't taste good. Luckily, the diet Coke is better here than in the US, so I'm drinking that.
2. Splenda. Apparently, since the majority of the population here is so much thinner than Americans, they see little need for artificial sweeteners. I've seen some aspartame-based ones in the grocery stores, but I really like Splenda. I brought a small supply with me, but it's fast running out.
3. International Delight liquid flavored coffee creamers. Oh my, I really miss those. I knew they weren't to be found here, and I'd bought quite a few boxes of the individual hazelnut flavored ones, the kind that don't need refrigeration, thinking to bring them with me. Well, it turned out they were all spoiled. That's what I get for buying them at the discount store! Crap.
4. Monin Zero Free Hazelnut Syrup. Now, see, if I had this, I'd make my own creamer, because we have the plain non-dairy liquid creamer here. Again, serious lack of sugar-free items. I've found regular Monin, but of course it's a) loaded with sugar and b) expensive. I did use it for awhile, but decided I needed to cut my sugar intake, so now I have plain, boring coffee everyday. Pooh.
5. Kashi brand cereals. I love Kashi - Kashi Go-Lean, Kashi Good Friends, Kashi Go-Lean Crunch. Loaded with soy protein and very low in fat and sugars. Can I find it here? No. I'm left with Kellogg's Muesli, which is a poor substitute. And again, cereal is expensive, because it's imported. It's not that I don't love Taiwan style breakfasts, oh no. I just think I need more fiber and less fat in my diet!
6. Reese's Peanut Butter Cups. If you've read previous entries, you already know they're hard to find and hella expensive. But hey, I don't really need all that fat and sugar so I guess it's a good thing. I can always munch peanut M&Ms, although they taste a bit different here. 10/1/05 edit: Found these, and they're not too expensive! Yay, now I can fulfill the craving - and if I make myself walk to Wellman's, then I earn the treat :)
7. David & Sons sunflower seeds. I want my salt! I tried sunflower seeds here, and they are just YUCK! No salt, bleah. I should have brought one suitcase full of David & Sons with me, cuz they're simply the best.
8. Joint Juice. OK, well, it's not exactly a food, but that brand of liquid glucosamine is the best, and it tastes like drinking juice. I was hoping the Costco here would have it, but they don't. I brought along a couple bottles of another type of liquid glucosamine, but it's pretty nasty tasting. I know the pills are next to useless, but once I run out of the liquid, I'll try dissolving the pills and drinking them.
9. Sour cream. Can't believe how difficult it is to find this here. I want to make a cheesecake for a friend, and this is just not a popular food! I heard there's a store in Tien Mu that has it, so I'll see. Maybe they have graham cracker crumbs, too, because I also need those.
10. Laura Scudder's or Adam's peanut butter, just peanuts & salt, nothing else. All the peanut butter here is that nasty Jiff or Skippy with added sugar. Bleah.
11. Honey. Well, cheap honey. It's not non-existent, it's just extremely expensive.
12. Weight Watchers vanilla milkshake mixes. Who would have thought I'd miss those? But I do! They're so good in the summer, and there's so much good fresh fruit here that I could be adding to them. Dang. Poor planning on my part.
13. Sierra Nevada beer. Don't get me wrong, I totally love Taiwan Beer and the Japanese brands, but once in awhile a nice cold SN Wheat or Pale Ale would taste pretty good.
14. Good, inexpensive white wine. Not only is wine pricey here, it's not very good when you buy the cheaper ones (minimum is about $10 US per bottle). Such a shame they don't have something like Two-Buck Chuck here (such a shame they don't have a Trader Joe's here, boo). I'd be willing to pay for a nice Fetzer Gerwurtztriminer (and I'm sure that's not spelled correctly) if I could find one, but red wine seems to be the popular one, and the most common white is chardonnay, which I don't like as much.
15. Casa Ramos margaritas. Hell, Casa Ramos food and margaritas! Good Mexican food is not to be found anywhere here, or at least I haven't found it yet. Tried two places - one was merely OK, one sucked. The margarita at the merely OK place was marginal. However, I've found Jose Cuervo tequila and Rose's Lime Juice, so once I find that bottle of Grand Marnier (surely someone sells it), I'll be mixing up my own margaritas at home. Sadly, I can't cook Mexican food, and even if I could, I wouldn't be able to find the ingredients.
16. Rosarita Fat-Free Refried Beans. 'Nuff said.
Now I've made myself hungry, so I think I'll go make a grilled cheese sandwich for din-din.
Tuesday, September 13, 8:30 p.m., after thinking some more.....about all kinds of food that just isn't good for me and I should be thankful I can't find it here.
17. Lynda Cameron's baked goods. Oh dearie....
18. The Upper Crust's peanut butter/chocolate chip cookies and their chocolate-dipped hazelnut biscotti. And their Chocolate Rum Raspberry Oblivion cake! And their broccoli-bacon-raisin salad! Oh heck, I just miss the whole shop.
19. The Council meeting leftovers on Wednesday mornings ;)
20. Mexican Mochas from Has-Beans. We have Starbucks here, but none of their drinks taste quite like the US versions, not really sure why. But no one made a better Mexican Mocha than Has-Beans. I do have some of their cocoa, but I still haven't bought an espresso machine. But when I do, I'm making some!
21. Morning Glory muffins and Tuna-Wasabi sandwiches from Cafe Flo.
22. Pepperoni pizza. OK, so there is pizza in Taiwan, and some of it is pretty darned good (but weird by US standards). However, when I went to Pizza Hut with a friend for their buffet and saw what passed for Double Pepperoni, I was in shock. Sheesh, if there were six slices of pepperoni on the whole pizza, that was pushing it. Hate to see what Single Pepperoni is like.
23. Taco Bell. Never thought I'd miss a fast-food joint, but I do miss this one. At least the McDonald's and KFC and Burger King here have tastier food than their US counterparts (not that I frequent these places, but once in a blue moon get talked into going). Hm, wonder if Taco Bell would like to sell me a franchise for Taipei?
Dang it, I've gone and made myself hungry again. Guess it's time for dinner.