Wednesday, August 31, 2005

Stay tuned

Wow, not just one but TWO typhoons coming in, one right after the other, big and fast. This means I'll probably not have school tomorrow and Friday (and will have to go today in the wonderful torrential rain that's already falling), so I'll have some time actually at home to write in this journal :) I was gone almost all weekend, and home late both yesterday and Monday, so I haven't had a chance to write about the weekend, which was very fun.

Oh, and today my e-mail is not working, because the whole Chiconet website seems to be down. Hopefully it's back up by later. Thank goodness for those alternate Yahoo addresses, huh?

So, catch ya'll later.

Friday, August 26, 2005

How to Live in Taiwan on Less Than $700 US Per Month

I've been playing with my budget worksheet, since I just picked up two English students who will actually be giving me money to teach them, three times per month for two hours each time. This will bring me the whopping sum of roughly $112 US per month, woohoo! I know, this sounds like nothing, but check out what it costs me to live here (in US dollars):

Rent for a nice, three-bedroom, two-bath apartment that's bigger than my house was in the US: $465/month (note: I hear there are places here that one can rent for around $100/month US - but I don't think I'd want to live in one of them)

Phone and ADSL Internet access: $12-$14/month

Electric bill: $22/month (average - lower in winter, higher in summer)

Water: $9/month

Gas for cooking and hot water: $6/month

Elevator maintenance fee: $16/month

Transportation via MRT: $70/month

Eating out every day, breakfast/lunch/dinner: $145/month (and this is only if I spend $150NT each day, and many times I don't come anywhere close to that)

So, with the money I'll get from teaching, my basic expenses are cut down to around $650 US per month. Yeah, I spend money on other stuff, but I don't have to buy a lot of what I buy. If I get a couple more students, I'll be way happy!

Wednesday, August 24, 2005

It's all in how you look at it

A very eye-opening article from the Taipei Times (do forgive the pun once you've read the piece).

I think I'll try looking at things differently from now on.

Tuesday, August 23, 2005

Movie day

Went to the 2nd run theater today with Kieko and Hiyoshi to see "Motorcycle Diaries" and "The Interpreter." The bad thing was that MD is a film in Spanish. And guess what, here in Taiwan, the subtitles ain't in English, no sirree, they're in Chinese. So, I did my best to read those, but they go by just a little too quickly for me, so I missed quite a few of the nuances of the film. It was a good movie, though, about Che Guevara in his youth, when he was still just Ernesto Guevara de la Serna, traveling with his friend across South America on a beatup 1939 motorcycle, and the scenery is simply wonderful. The most touching scenes were filmed at a real leper colony, where Ernesto and his traveling companion did a medical internship, illustrating the love Che Guevara had for his patients there. This was not Hollywood makeup, but real people with a real affliction. I know just about zip about Che Guevara, other than he was with Fidel Castro in Cuba during the Cuban revolution and that his face is very popular on t-shirts over here, so it was interesting to see some of the experiences he had that pointed him in the direction he went.

Oh, and "The Interpreter" was OK, too, but I'm glad I didn't pay more than $70NT ($2.00US) to watch it.

Next week Jet Li's "Unleashed" will start, along with the unlikely companion "The Emperor's Journey" (or March of the Penguins, I think the US title was). Looking forward to both of those and to the eventual arrival of Tsui Hark's "Seven Swords" since I don't want to pay the equivalent of $8US for that one.

And hey, popcorn and other snacks are way cheap here. Popcorn was less than $2.00 (first I bought a small cup then bought a big cup for the 2nd feature, not as huge as the US, but still a lot), and sodas and candies run around $.75US, what a deal!

Saturday, August 20, 2005

A fun-filled week for me, which is why nothing was written earlier

On Monday after class Hiyoshi and I headed to the Yong He area for some lunch. We got off at Ding Xi station and worked our way to the shui jiao/guo tie shop, where we had a very satisfying meal of guo tie, xiao long bao, and dou jiang. Then we explored the little back alley market for awhile, and then discovered a shop that sold really nice Japanese-made T-shirts for dirt cheap (like less than $5 each), so we bought some Goddess Surf Team ones. After our purchase we wandered around the not-yet-open night market, where I spotted this "shuai" guy advertising men's fashions. Too funny :)

We both wanted to check out the night market, so we found the nearest Dante Coffee and sat sipping and chatting until it was time for the shops to open. I really enjoyed this market, lots of cheap clothing and great food, including some way cheap xue hua bing (only $25NT! less than $1.00US!). Got to see my first civet cat for sale at a small pet store. Darned thing tried to bite me. Had to head home early Monday for a lesson with Guoxi, so parted company with my faithful friend around 5:30 p.m. By the time Guoxi left on Monday, it was almost 10:00, so no journal entry.

Tuesday afternoon I asked Hiyoshi to go with me to Xinbeitou because I'd been reading about the area in a magazine & wanted to check out some of the parks. We checked the station map when we got there and headed in the direction of the one park that looked interesting, stopping to eat some "mian xian" at a little restaurant. Dang, it was good. Mian xian, called "e ah mi sua" in Taiwanese (that's the closest I can get to spelling it, sorry, and there's no way to write the nasal sound you have to make when you say it) is thread-fine noodles in a broth with tiny oysters and some other stuff. Yummy yummy - and cheap, only $35NT. Fortified by food, we continued.

And continued. And continued. By this time I was pretty sure we'd missed the park, but we kept going and found a large Buddhist temple that we checked out. It was very quiet, hardly anyone around, so we spent a little time "bai bai-ing" and then headed off again. We saw what looked like a park up ahead, crossed the street, and discovered a flood-control sluice that ran up the mountainside, with a funky imitation bamboo railing, paited an bright green. Since there was a pathway, we decided to check it out. Keep in mind that I'm carrying a backpack filled with two dictionaries, one school textbook, a notebook, some folders with papers, an umbrella, and the miscellaneous odds & ends that a girl just can't leave home without. And it was hot, full sun, no shade. By the time we reached the first set of stairs (the first of many), I was ready to toss Hiyoshi into the sluice, since he was the one who actually suggested we climb. And the stinker wouldn't even carry my backpack.

No matter, we climbed. Finally reached a spot where we could go either left or right, saw a sign indicated temples in both directions, and picked the right hand side first, since the left had a very steep set of stairs going up, while the right had a more gentle incline. We found a very small, very charming temple that had some relatively fresh water we could use to cool off (but not drink, and I did not have the foresight to bring water with me, dammit). More bai-bai at this temple, then back down to check out the other one.

Man, it was rough going up that last hill. I opted for the road since the steps were very shallow and it just seemed easier to hike the road. By the time we reached the top, I was soaked with sweat head to foot and my poor heart was letting me know just how out of shape I am. But it was worth the climb, because the view was fabulous. All I had with me was the phone camera, but I got a few shots you can check out by clicking the link. I plan to go back here again, and next time I'll leave the backpack at home and take the digital camera!

The walk back down was much nicer, and we found a very cool park halfway down the mountainside, but we were so thirsty we didn't stop to play. Water was all I could think about at this point. The first 7-11 we found we bought water for our tortured throats and we did find the park that was our original destination on the way back. We didn't realize the children's playground we had seen was the entrance to the park. Nice place, with some very fun exercise equipment to play on, must go back again one day and act the child ;)

I was so exhausted by my day that I went to bed at 9:30 p.m., after sitting on the couch trying to stay awake enough to read my book. No journal entry.

Wednesday I went with Guoxi and his English class on an outing to the bowling alley. Whoa, fun, hadn't been bowling for over a year! I did much better than I expected, too, and bowling with a passle of youngsters was a blast. Most of Guoxi's classmates are in their early 20's, with Guoxi and two others being a bit older. I got to be team captain once, too, yeah! Next week I think Kieko and Hiyoshi and I are going to go give it a try.

After bowling, Guoxi took me to the pet store so I could buy a kitty tower for DZ to play on (too big to try to carry on the MRT), then I tagged along with him while he fed a friend's dogs. Was too lazy to write anything when I got home :)

Thursday afternoon was kinda regular, just spent some time at the library with Hiyoshi, studying for the test we had yesterday, then just wandering around, having our usual Dante Coffee break. Met up with Guoxi and some of his friends for dinner at a hot pot place, drank lots of beer and had lots of fun. As usual, the Taiwanese friends ate way more than I did, still can't figure out how they do that and still stay thin. Went back to Guoxi's friends' guitar shop and saw this cute little amplifier made from a teakettle. Isn't it cute?

Another late arrival at home, somewhere close to 10:30 p.m. Had to listen to DZ scolding me for leaving her alone so much. Didn't even bother to turn on the computer before I went to bed.

Yesterday I had planned to just come home after school, but Hiyoshi invited me to go with him to his Taiwan friends' home. He goes there every Wednesday and Friday to teach Japanese, and he assured me I'd be welcomed. Boy howdy, was I! Great family, mom, dad, son, and daughter. Not that the son and daughter had anything to say....typical 20-somethings, too involved in their own things to care who's visiting....but the mom, Sherri, was great. Dad (didn't get his name) was busy working (their home is also their office), but I did discover he's a big fan of rock & roll. After Sherri, Hiyoshi, and I had chatted for awhile and eaten some pizza and zong zi, Sherri fired up the karaoke machine so we could sing some Wu Bai songs. After we ran out of Wu Bai songs, and after Hiyoshi and Sherri sang a few Japanese songs, we started on English ones. There were times when I was laughing to much to sing, and times that songs were making me cry (Puff, the Magic Dragon does it to me every time). Then Sherri dragged out all the concert DVDs they have, and I couldn't believe how many! We watched a bit of Heart on tour, Dream Theater, Journey (oh man, I used to love them so much, and their new singer sounds *exactly* like Steve Perry, but doesn't look as good), some special in England with tons of bands.

We'd been drinking tea, but somewhere in the middle of all this Sherri brought out a large bottle of sake, which Hiyoshi and I managed to polish off, with only a little of it going into Sherri's tummy. Hiyoshi is quite funny when he drinks, because his face turns bright red. Someday I'm going to see what tequila will do to him...... One tequila, two tequila, three tequila, floor. What, me, evil? Who says? I deny it!

And here it is, almost 1:30 p.m. on Saturday (and I've spent an hour writing this entry), and I'm still in my jammies, because I stayed up until almost 1:00 a.m. and got up late today. Gotta get dressed soon and head out to buy more gas, because my bottle is now empty. Tried to boil some water this morning, and the flames went "phhht" after about a minute. This bottle has lasted since May 8, so that's pretty good.

Here's hoping next week will be just as much fun as this one. Oh, did I mention how much I love not having a job? ;)

Sunday, August 14, 2005

Blog comments

If people aren't leaving their names, I can't figure out who is leaving comments, so I've changed the settings. You now need to be a registered user in order to leave a comment. Once you register and log in, you can stay logged in so that you don't have to sign in each time.

The Gates of Hell are open

Last Friday marked the beginning of Ghost Month here in Taiwan, which will continue until September 3, with the highlight coming on the 15th day (I'm looking forward to that). To ensure that wandering ghosts will not disturb the peace and prosperity of the living over the next year, many Chinese burn enormous amounts of paper money, sometimes called "hell money," ( so the dead can have money to spend on the other side, and set up tables laden with food and alcohol during this time. Chinese people really believe in taking care of the ancestors.

There are many "no-no's" for Ghost Month. Our teacher was telling us about a few of them, such as no flute playing, no whistling, no opening umbrellas inside the house, no hanging your laundry outside to dry in the evening, no surgeries, no burials (and boy, are you ever unlucky if you die during Ghost Month). Also, you don't call them "ghosts" - you call them "little brothers" so they don't get offended. I also read that children don't stay out late during Ghost Month, because parents are afraid a ghost will possess them.

You can read more about Ghost Month at the following link.

Humdrum life

You haven't seen a post for a week, because last week didn't have much of note, just the usual going to class, hanging out with Hiyoshi and Kieko, etc. I did have quite a good time Wednesday evening going with Guoxi to see the Air Force band perferm at the National Music Hall at Chiang Kai Shek Memorial. When Guoxi invited me along, I didn't expect that I would enjoy it as much as I did. The band's best performance, for me, was the Nutcracker, which I love.

And then on Friday night Caroline arrived! I met her in May 2002 when I came here for my first Wu Bai & China Blue concert. She's from Scotland and was here studying and was also a Wu Bai fan. We've kept in touch ever since, and she'd gone back to Scotland in December 2002 to complete her studies there. Now she's taken a job with Hess English school and has returned to the home of her heart. She got in quite late on Friday, but even after a flight (with two stops/layovers) of almost 24 hours, she still wanted to get out and about a little. We ended up going to Danshui and walking around. The wind was pretty fierce, due to another tropical storm that was whipping things up, but at least it was cooler than usual. We missed the last train (midnight) and had to take a taxi back to my place, where we stayed up chatting and watching some Wu Bai & China Blue music videos :)

Last night Caroline and I met up with Katsu, one of her friends from her school days. He's half Japanese, half Taiwanese, and he was working at a great little restaurant (might actually be part owner of it) called Kushiyaki. Katsu treated us to some yummy food, chunks of beef and lamb and whole prawns on skewers, tempura squid, bell pepper chunks filled with savory meat, pao cai (similar to kimchee but not quite Korean), and something I couldn't give a name to but was incredibly tasty. All this food, along with many, many bottles of Taiwan beer made for a fun evening.

What made me happiest was that I actually understood 99% of the Chinese conversation going on around me, and I understood it when people talked to me! I've been worried that I still don't usually understand people when they start talking to me, thinking I'm just not doing very well with the language, but this was a piece of cake. And the Chinese speakers at the restaurant (Katsu, the cook, a girl whose name I've forgotten, some of the customers) all understood me just fine. When I first asked them to speak just a little slower for me, they told me the reason they were speaking so quickly was because I was, so they figured I was fluent. Once they slowed down just a tad, no problem. So hey, yeah, I'm getting it! I think maybe it's just when people speak to me unexpectedly that my brain refuses to process it, like in the stores and such. Or if they're going at it a mile a minute and peppering their speech with Taiwanese words as well as standard Mandarin, like so many of my friends do. I think that will take more than five months to get used to.

And guess what? No hangover this morning, despite the beer ;)

Sunday, August 07, 2005

Feeling a little regretful

Yesterday I had had plans to go to Fulong with Natari for the Ho-Hai-Yan Music Festival ( but, for the second time, a typhoon canceled it So, my day was freed up to do other things.

There was another big event happening yesterday, but it was in Gaoxiong. Originally I told Charlene I wouldn't go, because I had the prior plans with Natari. When I realized there was a good chance the typhoon would wipe out those plans, I began to consider the trip to Gaoxiong, a long bus ride and an expense of around $50 US (remember, I still don't have a job). I thought about it for a long time, vacillating between yes and no, weighing the pros and cons. What was the event? Oh, it was a Wu Bai & China Blue autograph session. Apparently ticket sales for the September 10 concert in Gaoxiong haven't been good, so the guys headed down there for some promotion.

My ultimate decision was not to go. I know, most of you think I'd do anything to get close to Wu Bai, right? Well, you're wrong. I love the concerts, but I'm not too keen at standing directly in front of the man and having his undivided attention. And with this horrible "Little Dutch Boy" haircut I'm currently sporting, I'm even less willing to plant myself in his line of sight! At least by the September 10 show my bangs might actually be down to my eyebrows again, or at least close to them.

Charlene got all our tickets signed by Wu Bai, Xiao Zhu, and Da Mao. Dino wasn't there, because he's still in the US. I'm sure his absence caused a lot of sadness for the fans, because he truly is well-loved here, probably the most popular of the group besides Wu Bai. I'm a tiny bit sorry that I didn't go, but at least now my fantasy Wu Bai will stay intact and not melt away because I got close enough to realize he smells like an ashtray from all the smoking he does.

Thursday, August 04, 2005

It's a holiday!

Just got the word that there's no school tomorrow, because another typhoon is whipping up the wind and rain here. The eye won't even make landfall, but they're expecting some high winds tomorrow, so schools are closed. Darn, have to stay home and play, ha. That's fine with me, because tomorrow is a military exercise at 2:00 p.m., and I would have had to remember to be underground or in a restaurant, because no one will be allowed on the street from 2:00-2:30. Like being in the underground mall will save anyone's butt if the Chinese decide to bomb us.....

It's been a quiet week, not really much going on. My "better-than-a-boyfriend" chum Hiyoshi returned from Japan on Tuesday, but didn't get back to class until yesterday. He graciously consented to go along with Guoxi (who also falls into the "better-than-a-boyfriend" category) and me to Carrefour to buy stuff. I hope the women these two guys end up marrying will thank me for all the husband training I'm doing by taking them shopping with me. I know Guoxi is doing it because he feels he owes me favors for the help I'm giving him with his English, but I'm not quite sure why Hiyoshi is willing to tag along after me through a crowded supermarket! I guess life way out in Wan Li is pretty boring and almost anything is preferable to being stuck out in nowhere alone. Anyway, I finally got a cute little vacuum cleaner and a blender - and a full-length mirror. No more kidding myself about how I look, because now I'll be able to see the full picture .

Today, since it was raining so hard, Kieko, Hiyoshi, and I headed for the underground shopping mall to have lunch and wander around. I like listening to the two of them chatter away in Japanese, even though I don't understand it. I get a completely different view of Hiyoshi when he's speaking his own language. His Chinese is better than his English, but it's still difficult to converse with me, because my Chinese isn't as good as his, so he can't really express himself well. I knew he was good at making jokes, but the way Kieko laughs when they talk, I can tell he's funnier than I imagined. She thinks he's pretty strange, and we constantly tease him that he's an alien from outer space, not a real Japanese, because he seems unfamiliar with so many popular Japanese things. I think he's just led a rather sheltered life.

After Kieko took off for work at 3:30, Hiyoshi and I went up into the rain to get to our favorite coffee hangout, Dante Coffee. It was, for once, very quiet in there, no obnoxiously loud music playing, so we sat drinking iced coffee and talking in English to give him practice until 7:00. We kept hoping the rain would let up a bit, but it didn't, so we just decided to hell with it and got wet. By the time I got back to Zhuwei, it was a downpour that had water three inches deep in places. Of course, as soon as I got in the door, the rain stopped. Figures, huh? Hasn't been too bad since then, and the wind is pretty minor, and it's nice and cool in the apartment, yay!

So tomorrow, play with the new vacuum and put the mirror together. And make a smoothie with the new blender. And maybe read the last of the four new books I got. Heck, who knows, maybe I'll even study!