Tuesday, January 31, 2006

Mystery Guest

Yesterday Hiyoshi, Lisa, and I went to see Jet Li's new movie, "Fearless" - great flick! I was a little disappointed that there were no English subtitles, because I just can't read Chinese fast enough to catch the Chinese subs, and I could only get part of it by listening. I'll for sure be buying the DVD of this one, should they release it with English subs. It was great to see one of my favorite Asian stars back in his own element instead of churning out crappy Hollywood films. I know Jet said this was his last martial arts movie, but I'm hoping that he changes his mind, because he's just so damned good.

After the movie the three of us wandered around Ximen Ding, where we bought blue hair dye in spray form for Hiyoshi. He'd been blathering on about wanting blue hair, but he was too chicken to buy permanent dye, so we talked him into the spray can stuff ;) And dang, you know the boy looks pretty good with blue hair! I'll keep working on him to see if I can get him to make the plunge to real dye, because I think it will look mahvelous.

So, we're sitting in a shop eating some dessert when my phone rings, displaying a number I didn't recognize, a local home telephone. I answered, and a woman began talking to me in Chinese. I assumed it was Jill, calling me back (I'd missed her call while in the movie and had left a voice mail on her cell phone). As we chatted the usual "what are you doing, do you have plans for this evening, how about tomorrow?" I kept thinking, "This doesn't sound like Jill....is it Mabel talking a little strangely?" Then she asked me where I lived. Well, my friends know where I live, so I was a little confused. "Uh, you know where I live." "You don't know who this is, do you?" "Well....I thought it was Jill - or Mabel." "Wah! How soon you forget me!" At this point I'm completely stunned - "JUSTINA??? What, you're in TAIWAN???" Sure enough, it was her, calling from her grandmother's house in Taipei. What a total shock, because the little stinker didn't tell me she was coming, not even a hint. We made plans to meet up at 6:00, which meant I had to call Aaron and tell him I wouldn't be joining him and his family for dinner (made me feel rotten, but hey, my friend from the US was here, how could I not visit with her?), and for the next hour and a half I drove Hiyoshi and Lisa nuts by singing, "Justina's here, Justina's here!" as we walked along.

The second surprise came when we showed up at the MRT station to meet Justina and I saw that her hubby, Chuck, was also there. She hadn't told me he'd come, too, and they frequently go visiting family solo. Wah, such a great Chinese New Year present for me! We picked up some beef noodle soup and some xiao long bao, along with some Taiwan beer, and went to my place to eat, chat, and watch part of the latest Wu Bai DVD. They're leaving today, so three hours last night was all I got, but it was so nice to see them again. I made Justina swear that next time she'd give me advance notice so I could give her a shopping list, ha.

Today is another day of out of the house early and hanging out with Hiyoshi, Lisa, and some other friends. I'll be back to write about the gambling with pistachios another time - stay tuned.

Sunday, January 29, 2006

新年快樂﹗ 恭喜發財﹗

Welcome The Year of the Dog! Today is the first day of the Chinese New Year celebration, which will continue for 15 days. Here in Taiwan this means that the city of Taipei has emptied out as families disperse to the central and southern portions of the island, the banks and post offices are closed (how weird is that, huh?), many businesses are shut down for the duration, and fireworks are exploding all over the place.

Last night I had the honor of joining Natari and her family for their traditional 年夜飯 - New Year's Eve family dinner. Present were Natari, her mom, her two brothers, their wives, and their four children (two boys, two girls). Nat's mom had prepared quite a feast, I'm sure with help from her daughters-in-law (as I understand it, Nat does not cook). For this traditional feast certain items are required, including a whole chicken (and I do mean whole) and a whole fish (I think it was a piranha, look at those teeth!) - click the photos for the larger versions. At this meal the diners are allowed to eat only the meat on the top of the chicken and the fish, no turning it over allowed. The remaining portion is kept for the next day, when the family eats all the leftovers (unless they go to Japan, like Nat's family did!). All the food was tasty, and I really don't know what some of it is called. OK, well, I wasn't too fond of the dried fish roe, that was too fishy tasting for me. But there was a dish of small pork ribs, some veggies, some soup made with dried scallops and abalone, and a dish that is called 佛跳上 "Buddha Jumped Up" - so tasty that even Buddha jumped up to get it. We had some marvelous wine, a red that Nat had carried back from France two years ago and a nice white. Everyone toasted each other and spirits were merry.

At Chinese New Year, the children are giving red envelopes filled with cash, and Nat's mom handed out these gifts to each of her grandchildren, as well as her children. When she presented me with my own envelope, I began to cry. It was such a sweet gesture, to include me as a family member, and it meant so much to me. 聖誕節我爸爸不但沒送我禮物也沒寄卡片。我的心非常難過。 所以娜姐媽媽當我媽媽讓我覺得很開心。

So, I have a week off school, and hopefully I won't just be stuck at home with nothing to do. Jet Li's new movie is playing, and I'll go see that for sure, and I'll probably head to Wu Lai with friends one day. And......I'll answer all the e-mail I need to answer! I will, I will, I will......

Saturday, January 21, 2006

Why am I awake?

Too tired to write much.....

Steve's visit was loads of fun, but I also wore myself out with all the walking and hiking! This old gal just ain't what she used to be ;) But I was a good tour guide, and Steve left here knowing exactly why I moved to Taiwan. I hope his rave reviews will encourage more of my City friends to consider a vacation on Treasure Island.

Last night a few of us crashed a Chinese New Year party thrown by a local computer company for its employees. Why? Because Wu Bai & China Blue were performing! We have a "mole" who gets good inside info, and we boarded the bus to Linkou, without dinner or anything, to wait for two hours to see our guys. We sat way in the back when we arrived (it was outside but under a roof), and as soon as Wu Bai & China Blue hit the stage, we made our way to the front. It seemed that Wu Bai's face lit up when he saw us in the crowd of employees, and I think I saw Xiao Zhu smiling our way, too. I couldn't really see Dino and Da Mao from where I was standing, so I'm not sure they saw us. Even though it was a short set, it was worth the trip.

So, got home late, stayed up until 1:30 a.m. reading and having something to eat because I was starving. Wanted to sleep in today, but the folks upstairs are remodeling or something, and they started in banging and sawing at 9:00 a.m. I soooo hate that family.

Four days of school next week, then January 27 through February 5 is Chinese New Year vacation! It will be nice to have some time to lounge around, reading and watching the first season of Lost, which I bought myself with the eBay gift certificate Trish gave me almost a year ago when I left my job! Steve brought that with him when he came (most places just don't ship to Taiwan, which makes it tough to shop on eBay).

That's all I have to say now, sorry!

Thursday, January 12, 2006

New Job: Tour Guide

Hallo folks,

This week I'm not home much. Steve is here visiting from Chico, so I'm spending my time showing him around Taipei, mostly getting back to the apartment pretty late in the evening. It's been fun.

Yesterday we'd wandered all over the place, and before we left Taipei Main Station to begin the rounds, I'd stuffed my school books and other unneeded items in a locker there. We eventually ended up at Yuanshan Station to see Bao An Gong temple and the Confucious Temple, and that's on my way home, four stations away from Taipei Main. Since I had a student last night, I decided not to go back to Taipei Main, because I knew I wouldn't be using my books and could just pick them up on the way to school. I had laundry to do, and I knew I'd get home in time to get that started before Funck showed up for class.

So, I walk up to my door at 7:10 p.m., looking for my keys, which I keep tied around the strap of my purse. I notice they aren't there, and I have a clear vision of myself standing in front of the locker saying, "Well, I don't need my keys right now, so here's some extra weight that can go in the locker." Crap on a rope. I'm locked out. And my keys are a 7 minute walk, 5 minute wait, 30 minute ride away.

Back I went, after calling Funck to tell him I might be a few minutes late for our 8:30 appointment. The only good thing was that I was able to score seats on the MRT both going and returning, for which blessing my knees sang constant praise to She Who Rocks and Rules.

Taking Steve out for hot pot tonight, hoping it's a fun and interesting experience for him.

Thursday, January 05, 2006

Climb Every Mountain

Yesterday's weather was simply gorgeous, around 75 degrees, sunny, hardly any wind, wow. And today it's freezing cold, go figure. Anyway, Hiyoshi and I decided to take advantage of the sunshine and make a trip to Yang Ming Shan Mountain (http://www.ymsnp.gov.tw/HTML/ENGNEW/INDEX.HTM). We hopped on a bus and off we went.

The bus stopped down the road from the tourist center, so we made a little hike up a trail (OK, a steep hike up a trail) to the center, where we picked up a map and got directions from an employee on how to get to the waterfall. I almost died when I saw the path upward. It was a series of stone stairs, and it went up and up and up and up......OMG. The bad thing was that both of us were lugging around our schoolbooks! Every day I carry two dictionaries plus my textbook, plus miscellaneous other crap girls must have in their purses. I think after 10 minutes of hiking up I was ready to go back down, but we kept on. Actually, I was hiking much more quickly than Hiyoshi, because I was walking alongside the steps rather than stepping up onto each one. Thankfully there were many places to stop and sit and catch our breath. I know we climbed from 552 meters to at least 800 meters, but I'm not sure what the final height was, I just know it was higher!

Finally we reached the turnoff to head toward the waterfall. Good thing, because the other direction was up, and our direction was down. Bad thing, going down made my poor knees hurt worse than going up. Down, down, down, with a little up here and there, and finally we were at another tourist center. By this time we'd been hiking for over two hours. Hit the bathroom at the center and continued on our way, down a relatively flat pathway. Not for long, soon we were back at the steep stairway going up. WAH! Hiyoshi was nice enough to carry my bag for part of the way, and that really helped. My knees were screaming at me with every step, especially the one I injured in March. But we finally made it to the waterfall. I was too tired to really appreciate it, and it was rather small and unspectacular anyway. We sat and rested a few minutes, then realized it was going to be dark soon and that we had at least another kilometer or so to go before we got out of the park. No way would we be able to see to walk if it got dark, and no way did we want to spend a cold night on the mountain, so we hustled off down a nice, level road.

Got to the bus stop just as a small shuttle bus came, but since I needed to go to the bathroom, we decided to go into a restaurant and eat dinner before leaving. I called my student and told him no way could I handle teaching after four hours of hiking, and Hiyoshi and I sat there burned out, eating the hottest kung pao chicken I've ever had in my life, along with some sort of green leaf veggie and rice. Damn, it tasted soooo good! It could have tasted like dirt and it would have tasted good after all that exercise.

Got home around 7:30 p.m., read for awhile, played with the cat, hit the sack at 9:30 and slept like the dead.

Gee, next week I'll have to do it all over again when Steve is here :)

Monday, January 02, 2006

Day 2 of the New Year

I went to bed at 7:30 p.m. last night, after being awake for only 8 hours. It was all I could handle! Getting 11 hours of sleep felt pretty good :) Tonight I'd like to hit the sack by 10:00 if the kids upstairs will allow it.

Forgot a couple of things about New Year's Eve. One of the bands we saw at Miramar consisted of four guys who were prettier than most of the girls I see. I swear, I could not believe they were guys until they started to sing. The one right in front of me was so beautiful, long hair tinted a brownish-red with the top portion tied back in a ponytail, full red lips (yes, they were all wearing makeup), sultry eyes - I think some of the guys in the audience were drooling until they realized it wasn't a woman! I tell you, it just isn't fair for men to be prettier than me, I hate it. They weren't a very good band, though, so I didn't bother to find out who they were.

Second thing is that while we were walking back to the car after XL's second performance, we stopped outside a 7-11 to wait for William to get the car and come back for us. While there, outside in front of tons of people, Lisa, Xiao Sui, and Charlene proceeded to teach Hiyoshi how to say, "I want to sleep with you." in Taiwanese. Never mind keeping your voice down, oh no. I was cracking up so bad, because he had to keep practicing it. Why did they teach him this? Because in one of XL's songs, the singer says that, and Hiyoshi didn't know what it meant, so of course the girls had to explain it to him. Later, in the car, I got Lisa recorded saying it and then Hiyoshi. Then I threatened to use those recordings as the ring tones on my phone when they call me. I'm so evil.

This morning Guoxi's mom called me and invited me for lunch, since Guoxi's grandmother is here visiting and she makes the best 涼麵 (liang mian) I've ever had. Hiyoshi and I headed over there after class and got stuffed to the max on liang mian (cold noodles with lots of garlic, sesame paste, and cucumbers), 大餅 da bing (giant fried sorta pancakes/sorta tortillas), tian jiu (甜酒) rice pudding (a special kind of rice soaked in sweet wine), soup (made with the ubiquitous corn), and some other dish that was absolutely great, but I'm not sure what it was (but it had chicken and that special rice). While we were there Guoxi called from New York, because he knew I'd be there. What a sweetie!

I'm still a little burnt out from the weekend celebrations, and I have to do homework. I also have to answer a lot of e-mail, but I'm not really sure I can manage that. 誰會給我加油?

Sunday, January 01, 2006

New Year's Half Day

Urgh.....I got home around 5:30 a.m. Slept until almost noon, not enough. Now 2:18 p.m., first day of 2006 half over, me half awake.

First of all let me say that this New Year's Eve was a unique one for me, and not just because I spent it in Taiwan. No, what made it unique is that I didn't have one single drop of alcohol. No beer. No wine. No tequila. And no champagne. Wow. I don't think I've passed a New Year's Eve in my adulthood that didn't include excessive drinking. Wow.

I left my house at 9:00 a.m. yesterday, headed into Taipei to meet Lisa. We first went for breakfast at a little place she recommended (I had 大腸棉線, which is a bowl of thin noodles with oysters and pieces of.....intestines. I love it.), and then we made a mad dash through the jade market. Since Lisa had arrived late, and since we stopped for breakfast, we didn't have as much time to shop as I'd hoped. Rats!

We met Hiyoshi at noon and then headed off for our movie. The tickets for the showing we wanted were sold out, so we bought ones for the later show, which meant we had time to kill. So, we wandered around the mall and then went to Starbucks for some overpriced coffee. Hiyoshi and I went to see The Promise, and Lisa and her boyfriend, William, went to see King Kong. The Promise was OK, but wasn't the great epic I'd hoped for. Still, Nic Tse and Jang Dong-Gun were looking mighty fine, so it was cool.

We thought the XL performance was going to begin at 7:00 at Miramar, so we decided we'd better head over to that part of town right away, in case there were traffic jams. Stopped on the way to buy some deep-fried sweet potato balls, some fried octopus tentacle, and some fish balls to munch on in the car. Yummy! Once we got to Miramar we had to park quite a distance away and walk, and there we discovered that XL wouldn't be starting until 9:20. Again, time to kill. We ran into Xiao Sui, who had come up from Taichung to see the show, so the five of us decided to ride the big ferris wheel. Didn't matter we'd have to stand in line for a hour, since we had nothing else to do!

This ferris wheel is probably the most boring one in the world. It just inches its way around, taking about 17 minutes to make the full loop. And Lisa kept her eyes closed most of the time, and hung onto the door as if she was going to fall out! I told them if they rode a ferris wheel at a carnival in the US, with no cage to sit in, just and open swing, they'd have something to be worried about.

We got off the ride just in time to arrive at the stage for XL. As usual, they put on a great show, and we were close enough to the front to get some good video shots. The only other band we were interested in was Mojo, but they weren't going to begin until 11:30. Since we didn't want to relinquish our places at the front, we stayed for the other performances, suffering through many appearances of two incredibly annoying women who talked without stopping for a breath and tossed silly gifts into the crowd, causing everyone to push and shove trying to catch these things. I'm sure the men in the crowd appreciated the shortness of the white skirt....

So, finally, Mojo hit the stage! Guoxi was full of energy, despite having completed a prior performance. He left at 8:30 this morning for his flight to New York, and I'm sure he was so exhausted that he's fast asleep right now. But he and the rest of the band, Mo the bass player and Robert the drummer, put everything they had into the show. At 11:50 they stopped so we could do the countdown and watch the fireworks, then they started up again, even giving us an encore.

OK, so now it's after 1:00 a.m., and we're all tired from standing so long. Trip to the bathroom before heading off for the next venue - another XL performance! This time it was near Taipei 101, slated to begin at 2:40 a.m. We began the long walk back to the car, and William forgot where he parked. He had a few moments of panic when his car was nowhere to be found, as he'd put his laptop in the trunk (worth more than the car!). But, we found it, after he listened to us when we said he was on the wrong street :) Traffic was bad getting to Taipei 101, and we again had to park far away and walk - half dead by this time. Got there just in time for the show, one hour of kickass music. Sad, though, because this is one of the last times we'll be able to see the band, since the drummer has to go for his mandatory military duty this year, and the other guys will also have to go soon. I was coerced by Xiao Sui into having my photo taken with the band after the show, despite my protests that I was only interested in pictures of them, not me. They remembered me from our chats at the Indie festival (not hard, since I'm probably the only American fan they have).

We hung around that area until after 4:00 a.m. There were still huge crowds of people around, including small children. Taiwan folks really know how to ring in the new year! We dropped Xiao Sui at the MRT station, and then William and Lisa took Hiyoshi and me to Taipei Main Station. Hiyoshi said he wanted to wait for the first bus to Wan Li so he'd get home in time to sleep, and I was very happy the MRT was running 24 hours so I could get home. It was 5:33 a.m. when the train hit my station, and I think I fell into bed at 6:00. Although I wanted more sleep, I got up close to noon, because I knew if I didn't, I won't sleep tonight - and I have school tomorrow!