Saturday, April 30, 2005

Huh, and why am I not surprised?

A little report from the online Taiwan news service today:
Sleeping pills, including at least one controlled drug, were among the most heavily used medicines in Taiwan in 2004, the latest statistics on Taiwan's pharmaceuticals revealed.
Well, dang, if those people have the same kind of noisy upstairs neighbors as I do, I can't say that I blame them!

Yesterday (Friday) I got home around 2:15 p.m., after walking home all the way from Guan Du station (about 45-50 minutes, carrying a backpack full of books and other crap, and the weather was more than a little warm) and thought to myself, "Gee, a little nap would be nice." Oh sure, dream on, dear. A truck was unloading out front, lots of wood, a door, some other things. And very shortly the sounds of construction began. Nail guns rapping, hammers pounding, skillsaws whining. To drown out the sound, I finished watching The Return of the King, turning the volume up to 30 at times (in the evenings I'm watching at level 10 or 11 so as not to bother my next door neighbors). After the movie ended, I realized the construction was still in full swing. Ah well, time to play on the computer for awhile.

By the time 8:00 rolled around, and they had been going non-stop for almost six hours, I had a nice little headache. Still they continued, and yes, it was the family right above me, the curse of my days, family of the Demon Children from Hell Who Never Sleep. Dare I hope that they were building cages for these monsters? Unlikely, what a pity. At 8:30 I left and went to the local 7-11 for some beer (because I don't know where to buy sleeping pills!), chatted with the very nice mother/daughter team who work there (and mom looks more like older sis, love this moisture-filled air here), then went back home, fearful that I'd be hearing banging all night long. I'd already told Charlene that I may be asking her assistance to call up the local constabulary if they showed signs of going on well into the night.

I walked into the building - silence. Up the stairs and to my front door - silence. Went into my apartment - more silence. Am I in the right building? Strange. Watched a bit of another movie and at 10:00 decided that I was right pooped and would attempt sleep. Miracle of miracles! I was able to fall asleep and sleep (mostly) undisturbed until 8:00 this morning! I feel like a new person. But now it's that "waiting for the other shoe to fall" feeling. I can hear them moving around up there, and there are still big sheets of what looks like paneling in the hallways, so I'm guessing they aren't finished. What I'd really like them to do is install wall-to-wall carpeting, preferably six inches thick, so I don't have to listen to those kids bouncing their steel bowling balls anymore!

Methinks I'll be spending most of today out and about, lest the urge to kill overcome me and I march upstairs with my stuffed shark on my head armed with sharpened chopsticks to end my torment.

Thursday, April 28, 2005

Only one more week to go

Yay! Next week I'm headed off to Hong Kong on May 4 to 1) attend the Wild Day Out concert, which features Wu Bai & China Blue, and 2) spend some time visiting my good friend Terry and some of the other Hong Kong friends. I'll be missing a couple of days of school, but since I'll still be surrounded by people speaking Chinese, no worries! Yeah, yeah, I know, they speak Cantonese in Hong Kong, but some of my friends there will speak Mandarin to me.

I'm going to attempt to travel light this time, because I'm thinking I may just end up with some movies in Hong Kong ;) So the big decision is: do I bring the stuffed shark with me or not?

Wednesday, April 27, 2005

The end of the world as we know it

For some people, at least, the world has ended. The big news here in Taiwan is the surprise announcement that Wu Bai and his long-time girlfriend/manager, Ms. Chen Wen Pei, were married in Japan in 2003! The media let the cat out of the bag yesterday, and last night Wu Bai confirmed it on TV, and today the newspapers were full of stories about the secret wedding. While the majority of the fans are extremely happy for the couple, some of the gals are quite crushed and heartbroken. I'm in the happy camp, since to me the man is just a fantasy anyway, so my fantasy Wu Bai remains unhitched :) I mean, gosh & golly, it's not as if I was ever going to actually get him for myself, so why care that he finally married the woman he's been with for over 10 years? I say it's about time he stepped up to the plate.

To drown my sorrow, I went shopping for some new reading material. There's an awesome bookstore called Page One at Taipei 101 (you know, the tallest building in the world, that place), and managed to find five good books for my library. I got Volumes 1 and 2 of The Romance of the Three Kingdoms, which is China's oldest novel. Then I found Gail Tsukiyama's The Language of Threads, which is the sequel to Women of the Silk, a novel I very much enjoyed. Keeping with the Japanese trend, I then picked up Cloud of Sparrows by Takashi Matsuoka, a novel of Japan in 1861, after Japan opened their doors to the West (boy, I'll bet they're still sorry about that). My last purchase was pure fluff, the latest Spenser novel in paperback, Bad Business. Dang, I love Spenser and Hawk! Robert B. Parker's books are so simply written, and Spenser's wit keeps a smile on my face through the entire book. Yup, I already finished reading it.

The distressing thing about my book purchase is that for these five books, I shelled out the sum of $90 US. Ouch ouch ouch! The Spenser novel was the cheapest, and that was almost $9. Thank goodness I've managed to find one secondhand book store here in Tian Mu, but it's not easy to get to. I'll have to make the supreme effort to go there more often, because I'm an insatiable reader, and I'll quickly go broke buying books here!

Monday, April 25, 2005

Hey, I know that guy.....

Pretty decent weather today in Taipei, cool with just a little bit of rain. This morning I picked up my health cert from the hospital (costs only $35 US for tests, which include blood pressure, eye exam, hearing test, chest x-ray, blood test, and short visit with the doctor - try getting that in the States for so cheap!), got my passport photos from the photo shop, and applied for the university classes which will allow me to get a residency visa.

Since the weather was so nice, I decided to walk a little, took the MRT to Shandao Temple Station and from there walked to a little daily jade market just to look around. On the way back, I stopped at Yong He Dou Jiang to pick up some xiao long tang bao to bring home for lunch/dinner. Yummy stuff.

Headed into Shandao Temple Station and was walking down the stairs to the platform when I espied a fellow heading up the escalator, talking on his cell phone. Ballcap, ponytail, glasses, tiny goatee - hey, I know him! I waited until he was almost directly across from me, just inches away, then spoke. "Xiao Zhu!" He looked at me as he rode upwards, me with a big silly grin on my face, recognized me and smiled back. "Oh! Hi...!" If he hadn't been on the phone, maybe I'd have talked to him a bit. Who was he? Oh, just the bass player from China Blue.... Around here, even the famous guys take the MRT because it's so convenient :)

Friday, April 22, 2005

BBQ, Taiwan style

But also Japanese style. Last night a friend and I went to a restaurant called Kan Pai for dinner. Kan Pai is Japanese for "gan bei" which is a toast in Chinese meaning, literally, "dry glass" or in other words, "Bottoms up!" We sat at the bar, which was the BEST place to be. The workers in this restaurant were mostly young, cute guys (bonus!). The music playing was some pretty damned good heavy metal in Chinese, Japanese, and English, and the guys sang along at the top of their lungs as they worked. Betty and I had our own little grill on which to cook the many savoury items we ordered (and I ate intestines for the first time, hot & spicy ones, not bad, just a bit chewy), and we laughed and talked while cooking our food and eating. At 8:00, one of the workers made an announcement for all the events that were being celebrated, and then everyone was challenged to drink their glasses dry in order to get a free drink. No problem :) Sadly, the beer was Miller, yuck. I highly recommend the cook-it-yourself restaurants here. Some are very inexpensive, like $9.50 for all you can eat. Not a good way to lose weight, though....

Tuesday, April 19, 2005

And some not so happy news :(

Despite being wild with joy at the prospect of seeing Wu Bai & China Blue's Li Hai concert coming up on June 11, I'm less than pleased at the way the tickets were handled. The normal routine for Wu Bai concerts is to queue in line for a few days to ensure a place at the front, if there is no seating, just standing. The concerts in September/October 2004 were great, because we were able to buy the most expensive tickets, which were seats right up front, so cool! This time, the most expensive seats are NOT close to the stage. And the flippin' stage is going to rotate, so no matter where we are, at times we will not be able to watch the band from the FRONT. So, although we've purchased the expensive tickets, we may still decide to change them for the cheaper ones and queue in line to be up front. Stay tuned for further developments ;)

Happy news :)

Just got a nice e-mail from my ex-hubby (thanks, Mark!!), telling me that he sold my car for me and got $500 more for it than what I was going to sell it to some former friends for! See, all things work out for the best in the end. Maybe you think it's something bad, but it turns out to be something good.

Sunday, April 17, 2005

Wu Bai & China Blue in Chiayi April 16, 2005

10:30 a.m. on Sunday morning, April 17. Still feeling quite happy and high from the little mini-concert yesterday at Chiayi, where Wu Bai & China Blue performed 11 songs at the 94 Nian Quanguo Zhongdeng Xuexiao Yundong Hui Xuanshou Zhi Ye - Year 94 National Secondary School (which is equivalent to junior high school, I think) Sports Event Competition. (Taiwan uses a different calendar, and it's currently Year 94.) The event was free, so we decided to make the trek there, even though we knew Wu Bai & China Blue would probably only perform for about a half hour.

It was a very long day, but quite worth it. Charlene and I left Taipei at 10:00 a.m. on a bus bound for Chiayi County, which is where Wu Bai grew up. Traffic was heavy, so it took us a little over four hours to get there. Most of the trip was spent snoozing while listening to Wu Bai & China Blue on my MP3 player. I needed the sleep, since I'd been up since 7:00 a.m. and knew I'd be getting home late.

Arrived in Chiayi with the intent to find something to eat and then maybe take a little visit to the sugar factory where Wu Bai's father worked in years past, but a phone call from Shun changed that. He informed Charlene that Wu Bai and crew had arrived and were getting ready for rehearsal, so we hot-footed it over to the stadium to watch. The stage was set up quite far from the bleachers, so we didn't have a very clear view of the band, but the sound was good. We sat with a few other fans who had arrived early, and also Wu Bai's parents, who were of course there to support their son. Exchanged a few nods and smiles with Auntie and Uncle and proceeded to enjoy the rehearsal, continually kicking myself mentally for leaving my camera at home. Yes, stupid, I know, no need to remind me.

Bless Shun, who went on a food/drink run for us and returned with some really good xiao long tang bao and some fresh dong gua cha. That's little meat dumplings and winter melon tea ;) Was able to exchange a few bantering words with Dino when he walked underneath us, giving him the thumbs up for growing his hair back. Since I was the only wai guo ren (foreigner) in sight, I got a lot of stares from the kids. The various bands and cheerleading groups were constantly going back and forth in front of us, carrying water and other supplies, and some of the security folks seemed to be amazed that I was singing along with the songs during rehearsal. OK, so I don't speak Taiwanese, but I can fake it pretty good when it comes to singing! I've listened to these songs for years now, so some of it has sunk in, although I'm never quite sure I'm saying it correctly, since determining the proper pronunciation from a song is a bit difficult. Still, I have to sing along, can't help it.

Lonely Bird and his girlfriend, Jane, showed up to join us, and poor Sharrie arrived just after rehearsal was over, so she missed it all. We wandered around for a bit, checking out the venue and watching the police scrambling around getting ready for the arrival of the Taiwan president, Chen Shui Bian. Eventually located a suitable spot to eat and hung out there for awhile. Two other foreigners appeared (even though one was Chinese, he was from Canada and was therefore wai guo ren), and they sat with us for awhile. They were Mormon missionaries, and I felt compelled to try to convert them to the worship of Wu Bai & China Blue ;) Nice kids, enjoyed chatting with them, felt sorry for them when they said that as missionaries they are not allowed to listen to music. Told them that if they just happened to be strolling by the stadium later in the event, they couldn't help but hear the music......hope they did.

Since the bleachers were crammed full and so far away from the stage, we decided to wait until the music portion of the evening began to see if we'd be allowed to go onto the field, right in front of the stage. Sure enough, our wait paid off, and we all made the mad dash for the front as soon as security gave us the go ahead. We got to watch a few of the La La Dui (cheerleading squads) perform, and these kids were amazing! The groups consist of guys and girls, and the girls are routinely tossed up into the air and perform marvelous balancing feats propped up on their teammates hands. It was pretty darned cool to see, very talented group of young people here.
The opening music act was F.I.R., a very popular Taiwan group (two guys, one girl), and the press of people trying to get to the front was unbelievable. There were so many teenaged boys and girls in that crowd, all of them intent on getting as close to this group as they could, that I finally have a very clear understanding of the idiom "packed tighter than sardines in a can." Even though the evening weather was quite cool, with a great breeze, it was so hot in the crowd that I felt as if I'd been dunked in water. My glasses kept fogging up from the humidity, and none of us smelled very good at that point. My hair was dripping, and I got even wetter when one of the Wu Bai fans had had enough of the pushing and shoving and emptied her water bottle on the folks around us in an attempt to get them to be reasonable. Some of those little Taiwanese girls are so tiny that I was worried they'd be suffocated by the press of bodies around them. You could almost smell the testosterone in the air when the boys were trying to get the attention of the cute little female singer, and the young girls were swooning over the pretty boys on stage. Thankfully, some people departed after seeing their schools' La La Dui teams perform, so Charlene and I kept edging our way closer and closer to the front, hanging onto each other for dear life, trying to find the rest of our group. I thought perhaps all the squashing might end up making me a size smaller, but it didn't. Damn it.

At long last, Wu Bai & China Blue made their appearance, and the crowd's energy skyrocketed. All the songs were in Taiwanese, except for Beidong (Passive) at the very end, because this was a celebration of being TAIWANESE. The band did quite a few numbers from the new CD (and the music is even better live, as I had expected it would be) as well as a good selection of classic tunes from the past. By the end of the show, Charlene and I had managed to get to second row from the front, and I'll bet a lot of people in Taiwan saw me on TV, because it was being broadcast live :) The sound was magnificent, so much better than what they had at the show in San Francisco. The performance was perfect, and I'm just sorry I didn't get to see much of Da Mao. We were right in front of Xiao Zhu, and I could usually see Dino and Wu Bai pretty good, but poor Da Mao was hidden on the other side, mostly by the camera crew who kept getting in the way. All the guys looked as if they were enjoying themselves immensely, big smiles all around. Wu Bai was pretty funny, at the end of their set telling everyone goodbye, as if they wouldn't return for encores. Yeah, right. Are we going to let them get away with that? No way! We only got one encore, though, two songs, and then we had to leave.

Sharrie drove us to Chiayi city, where we boarded the Aloha Bus back to Taipei at 11:30 p.m. Now, this bus was impressive! It was like being on an airline, for crying out loud. There was even "flight attendant" who served drinks and snacks and blankets. The interior of the bus was emerald green, with huge seats (OK, so not like an airplane) that had motorized foot rests and back adjustments, as well as vibrating back massage (ooooh, nice). Sure, it was a little more expensive than the other bus, but what the hell, comfort is worth paying for. It only cost $25 US for the trip there and back, and then I had to take a cab from Taipei to Zhuwei (about $10.50) because the MRT stops at midnight, and we arrived back at 2:30 a.m. (much faster when there is no traffic on the road!) - try getting those prices in the US! I was home by 3:00 a.m., where I kicked back with a beer and a book for awhile, since I'd slept on the bus.

So now it's just waiting for May 5 in Hong Kong, where I'll see the boys again at Wild Day Out, and then June 11 for the Li Hai concert here in Taiwan. Why did I move here? You figure it out..... ;) Wu Bai & China Blue three months in a row, yeah!

Tuesday, April 05, 2005

Week 3 update

Hello everyone!
Well, I'm into my third week of living in Taiwan. Today is a holiday here (it's Tuesday the 5th in Taiwan), the day families go to the cemeteries to clean the graves of the ancestors. So, no class today.

First let me say that class is quite interesting. This is my second week, and the other students have all been studying for some time. I began with lesson 20 in the book, since I already knew most of the words and grammar that had previously been covered. However.....the teacher doesn't speak English. The entire class is given in Chinese, and although I can read quite a bit and form sentences, I'm not at all used to LISTENING to Chinese and translating it, so I'm missing some things. I'm amazed at how much I do understand, though. Even when the teacher is using words I don't know, I can usually figure it out from the context that I do know. She speaks enough English to understand and answer some of my questions, though. I'm very grateful that there is a student from France, Nicolas, who speaks fine English and is able to help me when I'm totally lost.

The class seems very informal. Students arrive when they feel like it (I'm always the first one there) and don't think anything of walking out during the class to answer their cell phones. I think I was the only one who was there every day last week. We have a Korean woman, Yun; a pregnant Japanese gal, Keiko; another Japanese girl, Natsuko; a Japanese guy who only started last Friday, Ri Shan; my good buddy Nicolas from France; and one day there was a girl named Katy from Canada, but I haven't seen her since. I do think the teacher is pretty good at getting her point across, using a lot of drawing on the board and gesturing. I'm struggling a little with her Taiwan accent, because it's not what I'm most used to hearing. Taiwan Mandarin and mainland Mandarin are quite different, so I need to get accustomed to hearing it. Funny, we're supposed to be learning the standard Beijing Mandarin, which employs what is called the retroflex "R" sound at the end of many words, but our teacher isn't able to make that sound! Thankfully, I had a marvelous teacher in Weiwei, and she taught me how to do that (thanks Weiwei!). Although I may be far behind in terms of listening and speaking, I have to say my pronunciation is the best out of all the students, and again I have to thank Weiwei for that.
So, what have I been doing for the past two weeks? Shopping, mostly, it seems. I needed so much for the apartment that I've been cruising around Ikea and Carrefour on almost a daily basis. Last week it rained quite a bit, and it was rather cold, so a few days I just went to class and then home to putter around here. But no matter how cold (or hot) it is outside (and it gets down into the 40s this time of year, colder during December and January), my apartment stays around 66-69 degrees, which is great. It never feels damp in here, either. I hope this is a good sign for summer, since I don't have an air conditioner.

Sunday March 27 was a gorgeous day, so a little before 9:00 a.m. I took the MRT to Danshui (two stops up the line) and walked from the station to Danshui Fisherman's Wharf. It was about a 40 minute walk, and it was very crowded that day, because there was some sort of event going on. The walk back was better, no people! That afternoon my friend Natari and I went to the flower market so I could get a few plants. I got three gorgeous orchids for around $3.00 US each, plus two green plants, a lucky bamboo, and a cute little potted plant, along with a very nice wooden plant stand. Photos of the new members of the family are posted, along with other new pix, at Just ignore the big pile of cardboard on the living room balcony - although I finally figured out where the garbage truck stops, I haven't gotten all the boxes from everything I've been buying thrown away yet! If I'm not home at 9:00 p.m., I miss the truck. Or if it's pouring rain at 9:00 p.m., I miss the truck. Or, if I'm too lazy to take out the get the idea.

I still haven't explored my neighborhood, other than the walk to the MRT each day. Again, there was so much rain that I didn't want to be outside, but now that the sun is out, I'm more inclined to just walk around looking at things. I've discovered some great places to eat for cheap! Almost every day on my way to school, I stop to get two shui jian bao for breakfast. It costs me about 44 cents. These are about the size and shape of hockey pucks, dough that's like potsticker dough, filled with vegetables and glass noodles. Very tasty with some soy sauce and chili (yes, for breakfast). Another street vendor on the way to my place serves up some yummy ge li tang (clam soup with ginger), chao fan (fried rice), chao mian (chow mein), and kong xin cai (a tasty green vegetable). Again, the price is very cheap. When Natari and I ate there the other night, we were stuffed to the max, and it cost us $3.30 US each.

It can be very inexpensive to eat in Taiwan. Last night I went with some friends to a place known as a Chi Dao Bao - literally "eat until full" which is what they call buffets here. This is not your ordinary buffet. It's a Japanese style place with each table having a griddle for frying and a pot of boiling water to cook in. You order all kinds of things from a checklist, and the waiters bring them to you. Then the cooking begins! Here's just a sample of what we ordered last night: sliced beef, sliced lamb, sliced chicken, squid, prawns, clams, a few varieties of fish, a few varieties of mushrooms, tempura, mochi (a kind of dough ball the Japanese use as noodles), cheese balls (mochi filled with cheese), tiny sausages, intestines (no, I don't eat those, but my Taiwan friends like it), fish balls, tofu, potatoes, miniature yams, and some stuff that I don't even know what it was - and we didn't even get half the stuff that was on the menu. There were four of us, and I was done eating about 45 minutes before the other three! I don't understand how these tiny little Asians can eat so much and stay thin. And after the main course, there was Haagen Daas ice cream, all we wanted, and that stuff ain't cheap in Taiwan. The price for all of this was $399 per person - that's $12.63 US. Doesn't matter how much you order, same price. I'm afraid if we bring Betty there, the place will go broke ;) I was kinda hoping I'd lose some weight here, but not if I keep going to those places!

One thing I find very odd here is the willingness of these folks to queue in line for hours for new food fads. There's a donut shop, Mr. Donut, where people will stand in line for up to three hours to buy donuts! What the heck? And last Friday some friends from the south part of Taiwan came into town on some business, and the two of them queued for an hour and half at this new place that makes sandwiches with fried pork pieces. It's a Japanese fast food shop that's all the rage right now. We got to share the five Sharrie bought for us (she took five back home with her for her hubby & kids), and it was just a sandwich.....a bun with some tomatoes, onions, lettuce, and a nice piece of battered pork. It was good, but it sure wasn't worth standing in line for! I'll probably never get to taste those donuts unless some other crazy friends stand in line for them.
My neighbors.... I have a family upstairs, right above me, who at times seem to have 20 children. In reality they probably only have two or three, but these kids never go to bed. They are up until sometimes 3:00 a.m., running back and forth (and not barefoot, either), bouncing lord knows what on the floors, dropping heavy objects - and I'm trying to sleep! I finally got a long pole off the balcony and started banging on the ceiling yelling, "Wei! Wo bu neng shui jiao!" which is "Hey, I can't sleep!" but it hasn't stopped them from doing it again. I haven't decided if I should confront them in person or simply leave a nice note on their door (which Weiwei so kindly wrote for me). Other than those people, it's actually fairly quiet here at night. I'm not near a main road, so not that much traffic, and the other neighbors hardly make any noise at all.
I'll be heading to Hong Kong May 5 for a Wu Bai concert (yay!) and staying there for a couple of days to visit with my friend Terry. When I come back, I'll apply for the university class that my school offers so I can get a residency visa and won't have to keep applying for monthly extensions. The cost is a little more, $408 per semester as opposed to the $313 I'm paying now, but I won't have to leave the country as often, and that will save me money. The whole visa ordeal seems very complicated, but I'm hoping it's not as bad as I think. The school will help me when I apply for my extension, which is great.

Paying bills here is also different from the US. You can actually just transfer money from your checking account to another person's account by using your ATM card or just by going to the bank. So, when I pay my rent I just go to the landlady's bank and deposit the money into the account. The water bill I'll be paying at the 7-11, not sure about the phone and electric bills. I've opted not to get cable yet, but I might in the future. And I'll need to figure out how to get another tank of gas. Will probably have my friend order it for me until my Chinese is a little more fluent. I've also discovered that in addition to the monthly rent, there's a charge for "maintenance" of the building, so my total rent output will be around $490 per month. Still a darned good deal for a place this size!

I made my second trip to Costco, on Sunday. Bad idea. If you think Costco in the US is insane on weekends, try shopping here! My goodness. But, I'm happy I went, because the coffee is way cheaper there - and that's where I can buy a clothes dryer! Although I have to say that it wasn't too awful drying the clothes outside. They weren't as wrinkled as I thought they'd be (but the socks are like cardboard, must get some fabric softener), so perhaps I can live with a dryer, but they're only around $200 if I decide it's a necessity. Too bad Costco is in an area where there is no MRT and no buses. I won't be able to get there unless my friend drives, and she's not all that fond of the place.

That's about all for now. I hope some of you will eventually be visiting me one of these days and experiencing all this for yourselves!

Zai jian, bai bai, catch ya later,
Ma La