Sunday, October 30, 2005

Wild girls on the loose

My friend Cheryl from Hong Kong is here visiting, and we're preparing for five days of debauchery and craziness, club hopping, drunkeness, eating until we puke, picking up guys, etc.

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

Notice to all my friends with AOL addresses

November 4, 2005 - the AOL problem is now fixed, yippee. I think Hotmail is still a problem.

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

Where's Animal Control when you need 'em?

Rant time.

Stupid friggin' dog started howling this morning around 5:00 a.m., somewhere close to my bedroom window. It's 7:24 a.m. and it's still at it. Someone's gonna die when I find out who this mutt belongs to.

Saturday, October 22, 2005

Really weird

I went to the hair salon today to get my hair highlighted, to a place that was recommended on a message board for foreigners in Taiwan. The woman who owns the salon, Diane, has studied in the US and in Sweden (and is married to a Swedish guy) and speaks excellent English. After the last fiasco with the haircut from hell, I wanted someone I felt I could trust, and she was it. She did a great job, and the salon is very attractive. Plus, she played a Wu Bai CD just for me :) So I'm pleased to be looking more blond again and not having those dark roots sticking out, and I'll be going to her when I'm ready for my cut.

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


When I arrived in Taiwan in March, my rent was equivalent to $483/month US (not bad for a three-bedroom, two bath, 1224 sq. ft. apartment, huh?). Today my rent is $447/month - yippee! The exchange rate has steadily been getting better, and boy, I hope it continues to improve, or at least stays at this level. Every month when I withdraw my monthly living expenses from the US bank, I take out less. I'm lovin' it. Oh wait, that's the McDonald's slogan....

Sunday, October 16, 2005

Powerful quake rattles Taiwan

"TAIPEI (AFP) - A powerful earthquake struck off the east coast of Taiwan, rattling the capital Taipei but without causing any casualties or damage.

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

And in other news...

How was the rest of my week? Well, not bad. Nothing greatly exciting, but the weather has taken a much-welcomed turn to the cooler side, in the high 70s and lower 80s, and that's been great. The breeze has been cool and refreshing, and even though it's overcast and sometimes rainy, it's preferable to sweltering in the sun. Autumn has truly arrived.

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.

Week 2 Wid Da New Teach

Tuesday sucked. Wednesday sucked. Thursday sucked. One day one of the Japanese girls actually had her head down on the desk, sleeping, because it was so damned boring. Much of the time the class was just staring at her with the "deer in the headlights" looks, while she did her standard "look at the class and smile brightly, then say 'hao!' and quickly move on" method of teaching. Whenever any of us did ask questions, the answers were either not related to the question (because she didn't understand what was asked) or the explanation was too complicated for our level of Chinese or just simply wasn't enough info. I was getting more answers from the guys who have lived here for years and actually do know spoken Chinese (just not how to read and write, which is why they're in the class) than from the teacher.

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

Miss Betty's Gettin' Married!

On Saturday I had the privilege of attending my friend Betty's "ding hun" - a Taiwan engagement party. Getting hitched in Taiwan is a big to-do, with the bride throwing a huge party about a month before the wedding, inviting her friends and family and the groom's family, and going through a traditional procedure to celebrate getting engaged. Pity the family with lots of daughters, because bashes like these don't come cheap! I now understand why the Chinese custom is to give money in red envelopes rather than a gift, and why the very least amount of money you can fork over is $1200 (around $36). And there are rules for the money amount, too. For weddings, one cannot give an odd number, so no $1300, $1500, $1700, $1900, etc. But, since 4 is an unlucky number (the pronunciation is almost the same as the word for death), you also can't give $1400. Not realizing what a feast I would be treated to, I opted for $1200, but I have now determined that more red envelope money will be going Betty's way!

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:

Sunday, October 09, 2005

Give me back my old teacher!

Well. I have ended week one with the new teacher, and I'm less than happy. OK, so Lin Laoshi (my original teacher) wasn't perfect. She had a little lisp and a fairly pronounced Taiwan accent, but she was fun, and she taught us a lot of new words, more than what the text has, and also about quite a few Taiwan customs and traditions. We always had interesting discussions in class, and she always talked on our level, being familiar with what words we'd studied and could understand. Alas, the school decided that our class was too small, so they stuck us in another class, a class that had also lost its teacher and had for two weeks been under the tutelage of Li Laoshi.

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

It's nice to be friends

In January 2001 my husband, Mark, and I split up. But, I only moved across the street from him, and we didn't get a divorce, and we stayed friends. He needed to be on my health insurance plan (accident prone, always breaking bones), so we never bothered to file for divorce. Well, once I decided to really make the move here to Taiwan, we filed the paperwork. Also, he had been dating someone for a couple of years, and it was just a little awkward to still be married, especially since she only lived a couple houses down from me and then eventually moved in with Mark. Bless her heart, she did pretty good at being friendly with me, too.

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

Open wide.....

Made my first trip to the dentist here in Taiwan. On the whole, not a bad experience, had one filling done. Best of all was the price - $1200NT for the white kind of filling (I cannot think of the proper name right now), not one of the ugly silver ones. Oh, and X-rays, too. Sheesh, that's only $36 US! Unbelievable, isn't it? You can't even get your teeth cleaned for that little in the States. Hell, not even when you have insurance!

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

Weekend Weekend!

Ah, another Saturday at home, kicking back. This afternoon the torrential rain from the approaching typhoon will hit, so I have no plans for going outside. Guoxi invited me to see a band at The Wall tonight (they're called Backquarter, never heard of them), but I don't think it's worth getting half drowned for. I mean, it's not as if it's Wu Bai & China Blue ;)

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!