Sunday, July 29, 2007

Steaming Toilets

A quote from funny friend Cheryl's latest dispatch from Hong Kong:

"you know it's hot when the toilet bowl is steaming. yes indeedy, when you flush the toilet here, steam comes out. the water in the pipes is that hot. silver lining: you get your toilet bowl and your ass steam-cleaned for free."

And here in Taiwan, you feel a blast of heat when you raise the lid. Haven't quite noticed steam upon flushing, though. Suffice it to say that it's demmed hot.

I've spent the foregoing week on holiday from school, and as expected, bored out of my mind for the most part. What's the use of time off when it's too hot outside to have fun? I did manage to read the new (and final) Harry Potter book, but that only took up about 9 or 10 hours total. This was a long-awaited book, and it was over far too quickly. I was left with a bit of a sad feeling that the Harry Potter tales are now over. Gosh, couldn't Rowling have dragged them on for a few more years? How could she end them so abruptly??? Nine years of my life with Harry, watching him and his friends grow up, and now no more. Phooey.

I've also been reading Japanse author Haruki Murakami's (村上春樹) excellent novel, The Wind-Up Bird Chronicle (發條鳥年代記). If you've never read his books, run right out and buy one now. I know, I've only read Kafka on the Shore and this one, but that's enough for me to know that all of his works are marvelous. I have to thank Wu Bai for allowing me to discover this author, because the only reason I bought Kafka was that I knew that Wu Bai's favorite author was Murakami. Not all of his novels have been translated into English, but I fully intend to read everything that is, providing I can find them at decent prices, which ain't easy.

And I went into town (read: Taipei) twice, for language exchange and teaching, but the rest of my time has been spent loafing around the house, with only brief forays to nearby shops for victuals and the weekend beer, fans and/or air conditioner at full blast, computing, reading, and watching movies. I watched Arthur and the Minimoys, Death Note and its sequel Death Note: The Last Name, Night at the Museum, Curse of the Golden Flower, Monsoon Wedding, Lady in the Water, 300, and most of Devdas. While none of these flicks sucked, none rate glowing reviews, either. The least enjoyable was probably Lady in the Water, which I found simply too far-fetched and weird. It borders on sucks without actually falling completely over into it. Night at the Museum was better than expected, with some pretty funny scenarios (loved the "throw the bone" dinosaur skeleton); Curse of the Golden Flower was a feast for the eye with its incredibly lavish sets and inspired in me a desire to learn more about the Tang Dynasty; Death Note featured two quite adorable young Japanese actors who weigh about 121 pounds (or less) sopping wet, along with a couple of well-animated Death Gods for laughs (and let me tell ya, I'm on Kira's side all the way); 300 took liberties with history that made the Persians out to be right weird folks and had me wondering if all those buff guys were weighing body suits or were really that buff; and Monsoon Wedding and Devdas are the usual fun-filled Indian movies that pair comedy and tragedy so well. Arthur and the Minimoys....I need to re-watch this in the Chinese dubbed version, because Wu Bai was one of the dubbers. Don't know which part he dubbed, don't really care, just like hearing his voice. Cute movie, anyway, and I hope to see lovely little Minimoys hanging around in the garden someday.

I haven't neglected my Chinese this week, either. I've read the next lesson, practiced writing the new characters, looked them all up in the dictionary, and have started typing my compilation of synonomous grammar (jeez, how many ways can you say "if"???) that I hope will be helpful as I write compositions. I still have no idea who my teacher next semester is, but I sure hope it's not the dragon lady the students who were switching to an 8:00 class were afraid they'd be stuck with. I'd rather end up with the not-so-lively Chen Laoshi, whom I had for one week in February, than this fearful woman who seems to enjoy yelling at the students in class. I'll be the only girl in class this semester, and I don't like that. I'll miss my female classmates and am not looking forward to having to Westerners in my class, especially since one is a friend's ex-boyfriend.....

Poor DZ, she's also much too warm these days. She tries to find a cool place to sleep on the tile floor or waits for me to go into the living room and turn the fan on so she can lay in front of it on the coffee table. I gave her a bath last weekend, hoping to cool her off and clean her up in one swell foop, and I got hate glares from her the rest of the day. But damn, she was filthy. Even though she doesn't go outside, the crap that blows into the house is pretty bad. For months they've been slowly digging away at the little hillside next to my building, and every day dirt is coming in through the open windows. I should probably get myself a few air filters to put around the house, but that's money I don't want to spend.

How's the diet coming along, you ask? Well, it's not. I was so pissed last Saturday when I found that a half a kilo had come back, and I'd been darned good all week! I'd walked, eaten sensibly, hadn't pigged out, and still I gained some back. Well, that just made me feel less like being good this week, and I haven't. I didn't gain back any more, but I didn't re-lose that half kilo, either. I'm going to try to force myself to walk a lot this next week, even if it's 108 degress outside (you know, we had the hottest day in July in 80 years last week or the week before - global warming, ya think?). I'm not giving up this fight!

I'll be back next weekend with more of this exciting report from Isle de Formosa!

Sunday, July 22, 2007

What Dreams May Come

Today didn't start easily, for I read the news that my friend's husband, Tim, had left this world behind. Cris and I were co-workers and friends for many years at my former job, and although I didn't know Tim well, I liked and respected him and was especially fond of his political views, and I will sorely miss reading his thoughts.

I've been following the story of their last journey together since the day Tim was diagnosed with incurable lung disease a few months ago. The journey has been too short, but the pain of one has now ended while the pain of the other grows stronger. I can't be there to hug my friend and give her what little comfort I might offer, so I will ask any of you who read my blog to visit hers and discover this lovely lady with a beautiful mind, and leave her a short note. I know she's strong and that she will handle whatever life dishes out to her with grace and aplomb, but every little bit of love will help.

Cafe Imagine

Tim, I hope your adventurer's heart is finding this new journey to be wonderful and exciting. I hope there's a river for you to ride, mysteries for you to delve into, and music for you to enjoy while you wait for Cris to someday join you. You touched so many while you were here, and you will be missed.

Sunday, July 15, 2007

The Dog Days of Summer

{Trumpet Fanfare} Hear ye, hear ye! Please note the passing of 6.5 kilos of ugly flab! That would be 14.3 pounds for you US folks. Ah, the little things in life that can make us so happy.

Next week is the last week of the semester, with the semester final on Thursday. So, I've been cramming for that, plus trying to write the compositions that I haven't yet written (yeah, I'm a slacker sometimes and do my best work at the last minute). And after the semester is over, I have 10 days off before starting the new one on July 30. I'm guessing I'll be bored senseless most of the time.

However, I do have one lovely thing to look forward to - Harry Potter and the Deathly Hallows! The book comes out on July 21, and I've already pre-ordered at Eslite. So this week I'm re-reading The Half-Blood Prince, since it's been two years since I read it and have forgotten some of the details. This is a strange sort of anticipation, because this book is the final Harry Potter book, and I'm so sad about that. How can Ms. Rowling leave us like this? I'm hoping she won't, that she'll continue writing books related to other characters or at least set in the same magical universe. Surely she needs to make even more millions than she currently has.

One of my friends here in Taiwan is writing a book, and she's been letting me to read it as she writes. It's a quirky vampire novel, and I love it! After reading some of the complete drek that's on the market now, I'm quite sure she'll have no difficulty getting published, as her work is miles above a lot of that crap.

The weather this week has been truly miserable, hot and humid like you would not believe. We had one or two days of marginally cooler air thanks to super typhoon Man-Yi that was making a fly-by on its way to Japan, but it wasn't enough. Today is supposed to be a RealFeel of 106F, bleah. At least there's wind, which does help a bit, and it will probably rain sporadically all next week. Being the bright bulb that I am, on Tuesday I decided it would be an excellent idea to walk from school to Zhongshan MRT station. The temp was probably around 103F degrees and not a cloudy day, and no breeze. After my almost one-hour walk, I damn near collapsed at the station! First thing I did when I got home was take a cold shower and then guzzle down a bunch of water. Yikes, won't be doing that again soon. Although I will try to force myself to go for early morning walks along the river while I'm on my school break, instead of sitting on my fat ass in the house all day long.

I started teaching a brother and sister last week. Jerry, the guy, is quite good looking (IMO) but a bit shy. He's 33 and is an interior designer with his own business. His 31-year-old sister, Celine, is an interesting person. She says she has "healing hands" and can use qi gong energy to help people heal. I'm hoping to get her to try on my bad knee, which still bothers me quite a bit sometimes. And I'm trying to surreptiously find out if Jerry has a wife, girlfriend, or boyfriend, because if he's single and straight, I'm going to introduce him to some of my friends!

Wu Bai & China Blue will be going to Malaysia in August for a concert at Genting. I will not be going, because if I leave, I ain't got no visa to come back. Just as well, since it would cost me tons of money that I can't afford. I also didn't go to the autograph sessions that were held today in the central and southern Taiwan because 1) it appeared that it would be just Wu Bai and not the whole band and 2) I have to study for my final. Hopefully there will be a session in Taipei that will feature everyone. Not that I don't madly adore Wu Bai, of course, it's just that if I'm going to get a CD autographed, I want EVERYONE'S signature since EVERYONE worked on the CD, not just Wu Bai.

Just one more month and my friend Ye Ying will be leaving for Holland for her studies there. I'll really miss our language exchange sessions. She's an excellent teacher and a fine friend, and I'm so proud of her for passing her IELTS exam and being accepted at Leiden. If the opportunity arises, I'd love to be able to visit her there, but I'm afraid it's probably far too expensive a trip to make.

And then in September my good buddy Aaron will be returning from England, where he's been studying for the last year. It will be great to have him back, and I know he'll be happy to be on home ground again. He called yesterday, and we talked for an hour and a half. One of his best friends had gone to England to visit him, and the cheap bastard sponged off Aaron the whole time! This guy is a teacher who makes good money. The only thing he brought as a gift to Aaron was one single pack of instant noodles, that's it. He stayed in Aaron's dorm, in Aaron's bed, while Aaron slept on the floor. Aaron had to spend his money eating out every day while his friend was there, and not once did the guy offer to pay for a meal - even after he won 25 pounds (around $50US) at the casino! Like they say, with friends like that...... So yesterday on the phone I taught Aaron all sorts of new words: cheapskate, tightwad, miser, stingy, penny pincher, niggardly (which I told him to avoid using, as it sounds far too much like a very unpleasant word, despite having nothing at all to do with that word). I'm so grateful that my friends are the generous sort.

The first year I was here, I wasn't very careful with my money at times (what a dork!), and I also spent a lot furnishing my apartment. My bank balance dwindled by $22,621 that year, which is not bad by US standards but for a person without an income not so great. So the next year I was much more careful, and I also managed to earn a bit more from teaching. Yesterday I finally calculated the cost of last year to my bank balance, and it was $11,223. Wow, I managed to cut expenses in half without even realizing it! I've been working on paying off the two credit cards I have, so I've been spending about $250-$300 per month on that (and was spending a lot more per month that first year). So, once I get those paid off (I have about $2300 to go), I'll be spending even less. I just want my little nest egg to get me through four years of university, and I think I can squeak that by, especially if I can keep teaching just a little bit.

By the way, a big thank you to all of you who faithfully read my blog instead of sending me e-mails asking me what's new (yeah, you know who you are, if you finally dropped in to read, cuz I already chewed you out for it). I have to say that it's truly disappointing to know that some friends don't bother to read it, especially now that I write so little, so it's not as if they have to spend hours a day catching up on my doings. I admit that I don't check my Chinese friends' blogs very often, because it's not so easy to read the Chinese, but everyone who blogs in English gets an almost-daily visit from me to see if there's anything new. I may not always leave a comment, but I'm reading!

Wednesday, July 04, 2007

If at First You Don't Succeed.....aka No Joy in Mudville Part Deux

Steeeeee-rike two!

I didn't get the scholarship. Again. Despite having the highest grade in the school (no applause, just throw money), they didn't give it to me. Why? Because out of 110 hours of instruction (one semester, 11 weeks), I missed 8 hours (4 days of classes). Two hours was because I had a recording job that day and earned $1,800NT, nothing to sneeze at, but I could have not gone. Two hours was because I was home puking my guts out after eating something bad, and there was no way I could get to school. Two hours was because the fucking unhelpful girls at the front desk couldn't be arsed to tell me in advance that I'd need two weeks to apply for the ARC, causing me to make a frantic run to the Banqiao immigration office in the morning for a short extension and then on a futile trip to the Ministry of Foreign Affairs (you'll recall I didn't get the ARC), leaving me no time to make it to my 1:00 p.m. class, which wasn't even a real class, as the teacher had taken everyone to a teahouse that day. Two hours was because I had to friggin' leave the country because I didn't get the friggin' ARC and there weren't any cheap flights on the weekend or even later in the evening, so I had to vacate on a Friday afternoon, again missing a class.

The Powers That Be at the school only allow you to miss 6 whole hours if you want a scholarship, so I was over by 2 hours. The rules the government sets down for student visa requirements allow one to miss 10 hours (5 days of class) per month, and you'd think they'd be the stricter ones. Deng Laoshi told me that although they really, really, really wanted to give me the scholarship, they thought the other students would complain. How the hell the other students would even know how much time I missed was a question she couldn't answer.

Pissed? Yes. Disappointed? Yes. Giving up? No. But I swear, if they blow me off one more time, there's an explosion gonna be happening.