Sunday, February 26, 2006

Random Rambles

What does one write when the week has not held any outstanding events? Do my friends care about normal things? Who knows.....but write I shall.

First of all, I still haven't decided when to make the trip back to the US. I got all excited when I thought I found a super-dirt-cheap flight from Hong Kong in March, and then I realized the price was listed in Hong Kong dollars, not Taiwan dollars, which made it about the same price as the May/June flights I was checking. My balloon of happiness popped so fast that I dropped with a resounding thud to the ground, bruising myself quite badly. I'm now checking flights around June 8 to Jun 19, which are marginally cheaper than any other time, but still more money than I want to spend, given the fact that I am jobless and the money I have is ALL the money I have and must last goddess knows how long. Perhaps I should solicit for donations, ha.

Hm, what did I do this week? Well, I got a haircut on Wednesday, the second I've had since arrival. I went back to the woman who had done the highlighting last time, and although it was expensive (around $30 US), I did get it cut the way I wanted it and not how the stylist thought it should be. No need for a paper bag on my head this time. I don't think I'll have her wash my hair next time, since she charges $10 US for that (it is not included in cuts and other services here in Taiwan), and she doesn't even give the half-hour marvelous head massage I can get at other salons for about $3-5 US. Paying $10 for a Western-style wash that takes all of five minutes just doesn't cut it.

I've lost my Tuesday night student, which means I've lost $100 US per month income. Double crap. She's going to be living in China for four months, working with her boss there. I think when she returns she'll want to come back for class, but I need to look around for more students to make more money to be able to afford a trip back to the US! Also, the Thursday night gals aren't really reliable. They have to work overtime quite frequently, so that means the class is either short one person or gets canceled altogether. Again, no money. Hiyoshi's friend Sherrie has a friend with two small children, and the three of them together are interested in studying English, so I may give that a try. Gee, you all know how much I love children, right?

The funniest thing that happened to me this week is this: One day after class Hiyoshi, Mao Fu (another Japanese guy), and I were still in the classroom, talking about something or other, Hiyoshi standing across from me and Mao Fu between. All of a sudden, as he's talking, Hiyoshi unbuckles his jeans and unzips his pants and proceeds to tuck in his shirt, treating me to a nice shot of his colorful underwear. I was so shocked that I began to sputter, "What the hell are you doing? You can't just unzip your pants in front of a GIRL!" while at the same time laughing so hard I almost peed myself. He honestly didn't see anything weird about it and told me later "it's a common sight in Asia." Well, damn, it's the first time I've seen it, but I'm looking forward to the next experience. Mao Fu said it seemed as if I was incredibly happy :) Truly cute undies, sort of a tie-dye effect, requires closer inspection, I'd say.

Today is Guoxi's 30th birthday. I'm hoping this evening to have dinner with him and Tona and David from Singapore, but still haven't discussed it with the boy. Since he got back from New York on January 6, he's been busy recording the Mojo CD, and Friday he told me it was finally done. Now they just need to complete the mixing, and next month the CD will be released. There will be at least two performances in Taipei to attend, and then on April 2 Guoxi will head off to Australia for a year of pilot training. Dang, that makes me so sad. I know I'll hardly see him between now and then, and I miss hanging out with him.

I've started reading a book in Chinese, my first! It's very simple, a book for young people, called "Diane's Diary." I also bought a book of Hans Christian Anderson fairy tales in Chinese, but it's a little more complicated, and I have to spend too much time looking up unfamiliar words. At least with "Diane's Diary" I know most of the words and can figure out the meaning first, then look up the words later. I'm looking forward to the day I can read easily in Chinese, because Chinese books are way cheaper than English ones here.

Ummm, I think that's it for this entry. Hope no one fell asleep while reading.

Sunday, February 19, 2006

Where the Heck Did Last Week Go?

Holy moly, it went by so fast....I spent almost all of my free time trying to help a friend, translating an extremely complicated introduction to Taiwanese opera into English. Thank goodness I had the help of two other friends, Aaron and Caroline, or it never would have gotten done! You would not believe how "flowery" Chinese can be, yikes. I had to have my friend give me a translation into simple, easy Chinese before I could even begin to comprehend the sense of the thing!

And then there was Valentine's Day. I loathe VD (my little pet name for the occasion). This year I at least got some chocolate - one piece from the teacher and one piece from a British classmate. And I got to go to the movies with Hiyoshi and finally see the latest Harry Potter film (at the cheap, second run theater). I also got a gift - a nice little cold. Tuesday afternoon, while hanging out at the arctic-chilled Dante Coffee waiting for movie time, my nose was beginning the itchy-drippy stage. By the time the movie was over, I was definitely feeling bleah. Took some Theraflu that evening (thanks, Steve, I was happy you'd brought that for me), and then stayed home on Wednesday to sleep, sleep, sleep. Unfortunately, I slept so much that I was up at 5:00 a.m. on Thursday!

By yesterday the cold was just about gone, yay! Yesterday was Charlene's birthday, and it just so happened that Mojo was having a performance, so we (Natari, Charlene, Caroline, and I) met up for a dinner of Indian curry (passable, but the Japanese curry at Aubergine is better) and then headed over to queue in line for 40 minutes, in the misty rain, waiting to get into the pub. During the wait, my phone rang, and I saw it was Dino calling. Huh, strange, why is he calling me? "Hello? Dude, what's up?" "Hey, hi, I want to ask you something." "OK, shoot, what?" "What did you put in your garlic bread last weekend? Carrie really liked it and wants me to make some." What?! You're Italian and you don't know how to make garlic bread? Whoa.... So, I gave him the secret recipe. "Fresh garlic, lots of it, and real butter." "That's it?" "Yeah, that's it. Oh, and sprinkle a little Parmesan on top." "OK, thanks." Too funny, really.

We had to suffer through another band before getting to enjoy Mojo. They were rather crap, I'm sorry to say, nothing at all special about them. They have a weird name, Rock Ben. I think maybe it's supposed to sound like "rock band" but they weren't rock. Thankfully, their set was very short. The place was totally packed, all Mojo fans for the most part, and we were squeezed onto small, portable stools rather than in comfy chairs at tables, but it was OK. Mojo started up, and a few people who had been there just to see the other band got up and left, so Nat & Charlene snagged a table, while Caroline and I stayed put. Then some guys came along and sat right next to us, and the girls at the tables on the other side of us kept turning and looking. Finally I looked and realized it was the guys from Mayday, come to give Guoxi a little support. He'd gone on tour with them to Shanghai and Singapore, and I thought it was nice they came to see him. There was a lot of banter between Guoxi and them throughout the evening, very fun. I know these guys are a huge success all over Asia, but personally I didn't care all that much for their music, just thought it was average. Eh.

Guoxi was my ride home, and he ended up having to stay and have a band meeting, so Caroline and I sat around drinking beer, chatting, listening to AC/DC blaring over the speakers (love it, love it, love it), and watching first a bad Steven Segal movie on Cinemax, and then a bad Mr. Bean movie. It was after 2:00 a.m. before we could leave, and Caroline caught a taxi back to Banqiao, and Guoxi took me and two other gals home. Got to bed around 3:00 a.m., and this morning the brats upstairs started their running (apparently with 10 pound weights strapped to each leg) at around 9:00. I gave up at 10:45 and got out of bed. At which point they quit running. Figures. Damned kids.

Now I'm sitting here waiting for Aaron's sister to emerge from the front door. She's getting married today, and a caravan of cars has come to fetch her. Tradition says that her family can't go past the front door, can't say goodbye to her, and her new mother-in-law will be throwing a fan, which Aaron has to retrieve (he can go outside) and give to his mother. The cars are decorated with bows, and as it's raining, everyone is hidden under umbrellas (I'm watching out the window). They all sound very happy, chatting away while waiting for the bride. I'm sure there's an interesting ritual taking place upstairs at Aaron's home, because I saw gifts being brought in, and I sort of remember some of what happens because I saw the video of Chuck and Justina's fetch-the-bride doings. All very interesting and complicated, and there's sure to be a nice feast at the end of the day for all involved.

Oh, I called my dad yesterday, which only costs me around $5.00 US for a half hour. He told me that last time, when he called me to wish me Merry Christmas, he got charged $5.00 US per minute! Crap, that is totally uncalled for. I told him to go see if he could buy an international calling card for cheap.

It's possible some of you might be seeing me in May. Maybe. We'll see.

Sunday, February 12, 2006

Guess Who's Coming for Dinner?

I meant to get this posted sooner, but between being busy and sick (I have an icky cold), I didn't get around to it.

Saturday night's spaghetti dinner was a big success, at least from my point of view. I'm hoping everyone enjoyed the food, although Mr. Too-Honest Hiyoshi told me my sauce didn't have a lot of flavor. Well, I think it might have been because he'd taken some allergy medicine so being around the cat wouldn't kill him, and likely he couldn't taste things very well. I think next time I cook for him, I won't ask him how it was! He did eat two pieces of garlic bread and two pieces of Kahlua cake, though.

The guests of honor were Dino, Drummer Extraordinaire, and his lovely girlfriend, Carrie. When I got here to Taiwan, I told him I'd cook spaghetti for him, and it's taken almost a year to actually manage to do that! It was a little strange cooking such a big meal in my little kitchen, and real Italian sausage is nowhere to be found in Taiwan (ah, perhaps that's why my sauce didn't suit Mr. Picky's taste), but I managed to turn out a huge pot of sauce with minimal effort on my part. Thanks to my buddies Cheryl and Steve, who obligingly carried hard-to-find items with them when they came to visit, I was also able to provide decent salad dressing and not the ubiquitous 1,000 Island crap that is all one can find here, unless one wishes to pay an exhorbitant amount of her rapidly dwindling cash at the "foreigner" supermarkets.

Also attending were Natari and Charlene, so in order to accommodate six people, I had to use the table in the office and two of the office chairs. I thought at first I could squeeze us all around my one small table, then I recalled just how big a guy Dino is.......nah, wouldn't work. It was nice to finally be able to use the pretty dishes I bought here, but I should have also gotten some placemats. Dang, some hostess I am, huh?

What's a dinner without some spirits? Natari had stashed a bottle of wine at my place last March, so she finally got to drink that, sharing it around with Dino, Carrie, and Hiyoshi. I was sticking to tequila, with a mixture of almost-margarita made with Cuervo Gold, Grand Marnier, lime, and orange juice. It was pretty tasty. Hiyoshi and Dino finally had some, but I drank most of the half bottle that was used that evening. Charlene behaved herself, sticking to soda for the duration of the dinner.

We had a great time chatting (well, OK, listening to Dino talk). The guy is funny, I tell ya, funny. He has some great stories to tell, had us laughing a lot. Here's how Wu Bai's band got its name (because you know, they were a band on their own before Wu Bai came along and hooked up with them): Dino and Xiao Zhu were sitting around talking. Dino was speaking probably a mixture of English and a little Chinese, and talking rather quickly, because that's his style. He was telling Xiao Zhu how he felt about Taipei, saying it was like a "jungle land." Xiao Zhu said, "Zhongguo lan?" (that's Chinese for "China blue"), and Dino said, "Yeah, a jungle land." "Zhongguo lan?" Dino repeats, "Yeah, jungle land." He sees Xiao Zhu is obviously puzzled, so he says, "Wait a minute, man, what are you saying?" Xiao Zhu explains to him that he thinks Dino's saying "China blue" in Chinese, and Dino slaps the table. "That's it, man! That's the name of our band! China Blue." So don't you believe any other stories, because this is how it happened.

Party broke up quite late, and since there was no bus back to Wan Li, Hiyoshi decided to go ahead and stay in the spare room, since he needed to be here on Sunday anyway to meet with Lisa in the afternoon. Poor baby, even with Benadryl to help he still was miserable because of his allergy to cats. At 5:00 a.m. the light in the dining room went on, waking me up because it shines right in my face, and there was Hiyoshi, at the table, working on the Chinese-to-Japanese translation he's doing for Lisa. He said he couldn't breathe while he was lying down. I gave him more Benadryl and locked DZ out on the balcony, where she stayed for the next 12 hours. Hiyoshi finally went back to sleep around 9:00 and slept until 11:00 or so. Probably be awhile before I talk him into coming back over to my house ;)

Saturday, February 11, 2006

Long Time, No Blog

It's been mostly business as usual for me, wake up, go to school, fritter away the afternoon, teach English in the evenings. Ho hum, huh?

The highlights of this last week:

1) Exceedly happy to find out that my dear friend Hiyoshi is not returning to Japan on February 17 as originally planned, but will stay in Taiwan for at least another six months, providing he manages to earn enough money to pay his expenses. YAY! I was dreading the day of parting, knowing I'd be sobbing my heart out, which would likely make him very uncomfortable, being the proper Japanese that he is and not accustomed to a show of emotions :)

2) Last night was treated to another butt-kicking performance by A.B.S.! Wah, the guys have gotten even better than they were at their debut show. Dino's drumming is nothing less than awesome, Xiao Zhu's bass is the heartbeat of the music, and Da Mao's keyboarding sends thrills up and down the spine. The guitarist, Xiao Wang, can play blues riffs just as good as Stevie Ray. I was mostly shooting movies, and the only still shot that came out not blurry is this one, without Da Mao, who was off to the right (click for the larger version). Still, it's a darn fine photo of the greatest drummer on earth, flanked by the world's finest bassist and a super-talented guitarist (yeah, I'm still loyal to Wu Bai as the best guitarist, ha).

The Riverside Music Cafe was packed to the max with friends and admirers, and we had a lot of fun urging the guys to drink the often-provided shots. Since Sunday is Xiao Zhu's birthday, everyone sang "Happy Birthday" to him, and his adorable wife gave him a big kiss on stage, while Charlene, Natari, Xiao Niu, PJ, and Xiao Hu provided a birthday cake with a candle in the shape of a question mark. Considering the amount of alcohol those guys were sucking down, I'm hoping that they're all feeling fine today (and that they made it safely home!).

Today I'm cooking up a batch of spaghetti sauce and will have some friends over for dinner, the first one I've cooked since I've been here - almost a year! I'm hoping it all turns out good, since I wasn't able to find Italian sausage here, and the sauce is much better with it. At least I have the Ranch salad dressing from the US and don't have to use the ubiquitous 1000 Island dressing that seems to be all one can find at the stores here. I'm going to roast up some garlic, too, although that's a bit dangerous. There's nothing worse than roasted garlic farts the day after, peeeeeyoooouuuu!

Yikes, better get the butt in gear and clean my house. Signing off....

Friday, February 03, 2006

Dicing for Nuts

OK, I guess it's about time I wrote about my actual Chinese New Year day on Sunday. I'd received an SMS on my cell phone from Lisa, asking me if I wanted to come to her opera troupe's office and "have fun." Well, since I didn't have anything else to do, I said sure. We made plans to meet up at Da Ping Lin station, and of course I got there first, and she was late. I called Hiyoshi, who'd spent the night in Nan Shi Jiao, very close by, and he showed up at the station to meet me. He had a hard time finding me, because on Friday I'd colored my hair black cherry :) I'd realized that it was just way too expensive to keep paying $2500NT for highlighting on my budget, so I opted for the $300NT box of L'Oreal do-it-yourself color. It was actually kind of nice to go back to dark hair (but I'm a bit worried Wu Bai won't be able to spot me in the audience next time!).

Hiyoshi and I headed for Dante Coffee to wait for Lisa, and she finally showed up. Then she said we couldn't go to the opera troupe's office yet, that we'd go eat first. Then another gal, Vivian, showed up, and the four of us headed off in a taxi to the department store.

Chinese New Year to the Taiwanese is like Christmas to the western world, time to buy presents for the children. Hordes of people were at the department store, shopping, eating, talking. Little children were dressed adorably in traditional Chinese outfits, and the colors red and purple dominated the scene. There was barely an empty table at the food court, but after walking around a bit, we spotted one. I opted for a cheap meal of "e ah jian" which is sort of like an oyster/green veggie omelet with a sweetish red sauce. Lisa and Vivian shared a meal that had a whole squid, some rice, some bean sprouts, and some green beans served on a sizzling metal plate, with Hiyoshi helping a little (he'd already eaten before meeting up with us). After lunch we wandered the store for a bit, something I find very boring, since everything in the department stores is way too expensive, and even if it weren't, the clothes are all too small for my fat ass, so what's the point?

I talked the group into walking part of the way back to the opera troupe office, because my legs needed some quick walking, as slowly strolling always makes me feel very, very tired. However, after listening to these two young girls whining and complaining, and having the sky begin to spit a couple drops of rain, I relented and allowed them to hail another taxi. I swear, you'd think it was an act of torture to walk for thirty minutes around here!

Lisa's teacher and owner of the opera troupe is the famous Tang Mei Yun. This Taiwan opera troupe sometimes visits the US, so hopefully some of you might be able to experience Taiwan opera someday, as it's really a kick. There were posters up all over the office, and I took lots of photos, as well as one with the painting of Ms. Tang, who was not there that day. We sat around watching TV for awhile, eating snacks, then two other gals showed up, and eventually we started playing a very interesting dice game, using pistachios as money. The dice have numbers only on one side, with the rest blank, and you toss a handful into a bowl and hopefully get the right number to be able to grab "money" out of the pot (everyone antes up 5 pistachios at the start). If there are 20 in the pot, and you throw 12, good deal. If there are only 2 in the pot, and you throw 12, well, you have to put in 10. This goes on until someone throws the exact number of what's left, and then everyone else has to give that person that number of pistachios. Hiyoshi was amazingly lucky, raking in nuts like mad. The rest of us had to keep borrowing from the bank! Finally it was down to just two players, and the game just kept going on and on and on.

Someone ordered pizza, which at first made my tummy perk up, but after I realized it was Domino's, I lost interest. I tried one piece - like eating cardboard, but with less flavor. And the price! Holy cow, they charge almost $20 US for a large pizza (and it ain't all that large), and so what they give you a second large pizza "free"? There were six of us, and we only ate one pizza, it was so bad. Bleah.

Anyway, that's how I spent Chinese New Year day. Not very exciting, but with good friends, and that's what counts. I think I'm done socializing for the rest of my holiday. Lisa wanted me to go to Taoyuan with her after work today, but she won't be coming back until Sunday morning, and I can't leave DZ alone that long (plus I kinda like my own bed). Yesterday I cleaned out the big cupboard in the dining room and got stuff all arranged, finally unpacking the last two boxes that have been sitting in the spare room for almost a year! I really need to get some storage bins and a file cabinet so I can get the office cleaned up, so maybe I'll run over to Carrefour today and pick something up. I just hope that my landlady doesn't decide that she wants to sell this place when the rental contract expires in March! Sure would hate to have to move again and do this all over.