Wednesday, November 30, 2005

Of Earthquakes, Both Literal and Figurative

This morning I discovered that a good-sized earthquake works just fine for waking one up six minutes before the alarm goes off. This one was strong enough to shake my bed and the rest of the furniture in the room (I could hear the wardrobe wobbling back and forth). Didn't knock anything off shelves so must not have been too severe :) 7:46 a.m. - just read the details online. The quake was magnitude 5.7, centered 29.6 km east of the coast city of Ilan, and we felt it here in Taipei County at a magnitude of 3.

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:

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

Wah! The China Blue Boys Have a New Band!

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

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

Weekly update time

Autumn in Taiwan has come again, and this time it looks as if it's really here to stay. The days have been overcast and cool, but not much rain, sometimes quite a bit of wind. It's a refreshing change from the heat and humidity of summer, but my skin is a bit sad to see the humidity drop. I watch the Taiwanese running around in heavy winter jackets while I'm in a t-shirt and just laugh. They're all saying how cold it is, and I'm wondering how 65-70 degrees could ever be considered cold! I'm still turning the fan on at night, but pointing it away from the bed. I use the noise of the fan to drown out sounds from upstairs and outside. This morning I'm wearing shorts and a sweatshirt inside, because it's about 62 in my office and slightly chilly on the arms.

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.

Public Service Announcement

A friend passed along this link, and everyone should check it out to be sure you are prepared for any emergency:

Sunday, November 13, 2005

It's all so clear now

This one has been going around the Net, and since everyone else is stealing it from someone, so am I :)

Saturday, November 12, 2005


Just a short report to say that all is well in Taiwan, nothing exciting has been happening, and there's nothing to write about. This is what a typical day is like, so you don't feel as if you've missed anything on the days I don't write: wake up at 6:45 a.m. Turn on the computer. Turn on the coffee pot. Give the cat some canned food while trying to avoid tripping over her because she's so excited to get canned food that she's dancing around my not-really-awake feet. Log into the computer. Make a trip to the bathroom. Spend an hour online reading funny websites, checking the daily weather and exchange rates, playing addictive games, drinking my three cups of coffee, maybe answering some e-mail if I'm awake enough to think. Take a shower and get ready for school. Clean out the litterbox, fill cat's bowl with dry food, make sure she has water, admonish her to be good while I'm gone and not knock over bathroom trash cans and open closet doors and jump up on the shelves above the TV. Usually doesn't work, but I try. Walk to the MRT station, an obstacle course filled with meandering, slowly walking people and scooters that ride 100mph on the sidewalks. Scramble for a seat on the train, pop on the headphones, and listen to Wu Bai while reviewing the day's lesson during the 1/2 hour ride into Taipei. Push my way out the door at Taipei Main station, trying to avoid the maniacs who will be either running for the escalator or running from the escalator to the train that's ready to depart. Walk to school, stopping at 7-11 on the way to buy a fan tuan for breakfast (rice triangle filled with tuna fish and wrapped in nori) along with a bottle of iced coffee to keep me from falling asleep in class. Suffer through two hours of torture trying to understand what the teacher is saying, more torture if the weird disgusting guy from England is in class that day. After class have a nice lunch somewhere with Hiyoshi and then spend all afternoon with him, doing whatever we feel like doing, but usually ending up at Dante Coffee to do some studying. After arriving home, either kick back with a book and play with the cat while reading, or teach English for two hours (now on Tuesdays, Thursdays, and Fridays). If lucky enough to have miserable, rotten, stinking, noisy family upstairs quiet by 11:00 (or in extremely rare instances 10:00), hit the sack. If not, wait until midnight to try to sleep.

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

Alone again

Boohoo, Cheryl went home to Hong Kong today, leaving me with memories of fun times and way too much food (I don't need to eat for the next few days, really). I showed her around my beloved Taipei - the jade and flower market, Ximen Ding, Longshan Temple, the Grand Hotel, the National Palace Museum, Danshui, walking around town - and Tuesday we took a nice day trip to Jiu Fen on the northeastern coast, dragging Hiyoshi along with us. Probably the first time in his life that boy has ever cut school to have some fun, hehe. If we'd had more time, I could have showed her so much more, but hopefully she'll be able to visit often, being so close. And maybe next time her boyfriend, Terry, will be able to get some time off work so I can see him, too.

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.