Friday, December 12, 2008

Everybody Dance with Matt

Hi all,

School is killing me. The semester ends after the first week of January, and then I'll give a full report of these last agonizing months.

For now, something that one of my teachers passed along, something that made me smile a whole lot. Make sure you watch it in the HD mode, and make sure you watch all the other videos he has.

Friday, September 19, 2008

Week Two Slightly Better

I've made through the 2nd week of university without killing myself, but it was touch and go there for a bit.  Last week was really, really tough, and I was near tears many times, as I couldn't understand a lot of what was going on, and I was having serious misgivings about the wisdom of deciding to attend college at my age when classes are taught in a language I'm not fluent in. When I went to talk to the Chair, he assured me that in three months I'll be fine.  Three months!  Aiyo....but the mid-term exams are in November, what about those?  How am I ever going to pass any tests?  The Chair also said that the teachers will grade me based on my ability.  I can only hope this is so.

At least my schedule got a little better, now down to only 12 classes per week:

10:10 - 12:00 Introduction to Literature (Difficult to understand a lot of what the professor says, but she's really nice and I think she'll be patient with me.)
12:00 - 4:10- a four-hour break, during which I can come home and relax a bit
4:10 - 5:00 Introduction to Computers - Practical Exercises (I cut this class this week, seemed pointless, as we hadn't actually had the real Intro to Computers class and had nothing to practice)

8:10 - 10:00 English (I love this class, hahaha, but I feel sorry for the teacher, as she can't seem to get any response out of the students at all.)
10:10 - 12:00 Phys Ed (First item on the agenda was jog around the track five times.  Well, I can't jog, so I walked as briskly as I could, in the 100 degree heat, playing Wu Bai songs on my cell phone for encouragement.  Since the others were half jogging, half walking, I was able to keep up, because their walking pace is extremely slow.  Then we did some stretches in the weight training room, and that was about it.  Next week we're supposed to learn how to use all the equipment, after the jog around the track.  I like the teacher, she's funny but no-nonsense, and she understands about my bad knees.  However, she told me I need to lose weight.  No, gee, really?  Gosh darn, if you hadn't told me, I just wouldn't have known, thanks ever so much for the enlightenment.)
12:00 - 4:10 - a four-hour break where I can go home and shower after sweating like a pig during the phys ed class.  I dropped the Grammar and Rhetoric class that I had at 1:00, because it's a 3rd year class, and I didn't understand anything at all.
4:10 - 6:00 Introduction to Computers (Incredibly annoying class, because while the teacher talks, the other students chat loudly or sleep, and I can't hear anything.  The teacher never once told them to shut up, just kept talking, and they got louder and louder......I mean, sheesh, I wouldn't understand an explanation of binary code in English, let alone Chinese!  Why on earth this is a required class for the Chinese Department, I'll never know.)

8:10 - 10:00 Computer Word Processing - the other students practice typing English, I'm trying to learn how to input Chinese with the keyboard instead of with software, it's kinda fun
10:10 - 12:00  Readings in Chinese Poetry (I like this teacher very much, he's cool, but I don't understand much, yet.  Too many references to things the Taiwanese kids studied throughout grade school and high school, and I have extremely limited knowledge in that area.)
12:00 - 1:00 LUNCH!  (I have a standing date with my friend Maria for Wednesday lunch in the cafeteria, where I can get a huge plate of rice with four veggie selections for only US$1.50, and it's tasty, too.)
1:10 - 3:00  Taiwan History (Another cool dude for a teacher, totally adore him.  I understand most of what he says, but sometimes he loses me.  In this class we'll also be doing some field trips, which I'm looking forward to.)
3:00 - Go home!  I dropped the Selected Readings of English Sinology Writings because 1) I discovered I didn't need the credits and the course is an elective, and 2) the teacher was pretty boring.  This class is taught in English, but his English is not very good at all, and he was nervous about having me in the class.  

Sleep-in-late day!
Originally, I had the practice class for English in the morning, but the Teaching Assistant said it would be silly for me to attend and listen to the English CDs with the others.  I just have to write a short paper for him, and that's it.
1:10 - 3:00 Chinese Paleography (Otherwise known as the study and scholarly interpretation of earlier, especially ancient, writing and forms of writing.  Not an easy class to understand, and requires one extremely huge, heavy book along with a smaller one, no fun lugging those to class. It's a subject I find very interesting, and I hope I'll be able to puzzle it all out.)
3:10 - 4:00 Labor for Education - Groups of students clean up the campus and sometimes go out into the community to clean up there, too.  I think it's a great idea, and American students should also be required to do this.  However, spending an hour in the hot sun in the summer in Taiwan is not much fun.  Still, I guess it's better than having to clean the stinky restrooms.
4:10 - 6:00  Introduction to Chinese Classics (OMG, so hard to understand the professors, who is also the Chair of the Chinese department, because he uses a lot of words I just don't know.  And his voice through the mike is SO LOUD.  Yesterday the itty bitty girl next to me was concentrating on taking a note, and the professor suddenly shouted to make a point, and she shrieked and jumped out of her seat in fear.  I had a bad headache by the end of class.) 

9:10 - 10:00  Introduction to Chinese Classics Practical Exercises (Sigh....yet another class where I'm clueless as to what's going on.  The teaching assistant has lousy handwriting, so I can't understand what she writes on the board.  Well, come to think of it, I can't understand most of the other teachers' writing, either.  It's like I've only studied printing, and they're using handwriting - big difference!  Anyway, in this class we're separated into groups to work on reports, and at least the guy who sits next to me speaks a tiny bit of English and can help explain stuff to me.
10:00 - go home!  Originally I had, of all things, a "nursing" class in the afternoon, but the school decided that foreign students didn't need to take that, hooray!  Now I have a day that I can go into Taipei to meet my friends for lunch once in awhile.

My classmates are very nice, but they're all 18 years old, and I don't really have much in common with them.  Some of the girls are just too giggly for me, and there are way too many of them who seem to want to make friends just so they can learn more English.  I'm going to be a little standoffish for awhile, I think, and I'm not going to be attending many of their group activities.  So far I haven't run into any crazy-as-I-am Wu Bai fans, but I'm still hoping I will.

When the typhoon left us on Tuesday, it took Autumn along with it.  It's been back to stinking hot for the rest of the week.  I do hope it starts to cool down soon.

Busy weekend ahead, got some reading to do and will meet with Aaron, who has finally come back from England.  I know Monday will be coming along far too soon. :(

Saturday, September 13, 2008

Sinlaku Lands on Northern Taiwan

Can you see Taiwan?  Nope, you can't!  We're just a bit to the left of the eye of the typhoon.

From's Hurricane Report

As of late Friday evening, EDT, dangerous Typhoon Sinlaku was centered near 24.1 north and 122.7 east, approximately 40 miles east-southeast of Taipei and 340 miles west-southwest of Naha, Okinawa. Winds were sustained at 100 mph with gusts to 120 mph, and movement was to the northwest at close to 6 mph.

Landfall on the northern tip of Taiwan has occurred tonight, EDT. A ridge to the north and east of the storm will cause it to drift slowly to the northwest, which will cause a direct effect on Taiwan over the next couple of days. Interaction between the storm and the varied terrain of Taiwan will result in torrential rainfall and flooding, as well as mudslides. Damaging winds will be a threat to Taiwan, as well as the southwestern Ryukyu Islands.

Sinlaku is expected to recurve later this weekend and could impact southern Japan early next week.

Sinlaku's close proximity to Taiwan will inhibit strengthening this weekend, but as the typhoon moves northward, over open water north of the island early next week, sustained winds could rebound to 120 mph.

Gosh darn it, why can't these typhoons wait for a weekday to hit?  The weekend is completely ruined (to say nothing of the Mid Autumn Festival tomorrow - no moon viewing, no barbecuing for us, phooey), and it will probably be classes as usual on Monday.  Boooooo, hissssss.

Sunday, September 07, 2008

An Even Briefer Appearance

Best news:  I successfully got my ARC!  Yup, I now hold that coveted little card that will allow me to stay here in Taiwan for the next year without the hassle of extensions, applying for new visas, dealing with the HK visa office, etc.  And I can finally apply for the National Health Insurance, which means I'll be able to afford the MRI on my knee and the possible surgery I'll need to get it back in shape, as well as the much-needed dental work that I've been putting off.  Yippee!

Not so good news:  When I attended the orientation on Thursday, I barely understood anything they talked about.  This does not bode well for my ability to understand an instructor in class.  And you should have seen me trying to fill out the 100+ questions personality test in Chinese!  Actually, I was surprised I understood as much as I did, but I'm thankful we didn't have to put our names on those things, because I may have given some pretty weird answers. :)

Another thing about that orientation.....they didn't tell me they were going to try to kill me. At 8:00 a.m. they made all the students line up on the playing field, in the hot sun.  There I am with a bunch of 18-year-olds, feeling quite out of place.  I knew the orientation would be held in the gym, which was a short walk away, so I was a bit surprised when they marched us all in the opposite direction.  Up some stairs.  Down a long road, around a turn, then back up the way we'd come.  Up a very, very, very long flight of very, very, very steep stone stairs.  And all the while the campus police were telling us to hurry up, making the students jog.  Not me, I can't jog.  I told one of the "herders" that my knee was injured and that I was going as fast as I could.  When we reached the gym, they wanted us to climb the stairs to the 7th floor!  Screw that, I said, and took the elevator.  Mama don't play that tune, is how I think my dear friend Romita would put it. This is apparently a school tradition, making the students experience a bit of exercise and see how it was back in the old days when the students used to walk to school instead of taking mass transit or riding scooters.  Yeah, wonderful idea for today's lazy teens, but bad idea for poor old me.

Tomorrow is the first day of school, very thankful it's only the two classes.  I'll make use of my four-hour break in the afternoon between those classes to finish up some registration stuff at school and to open a new bank account.  There doesn't seem to be a branch of my current bank anywhere near my house or the school, so I'm switching.

Thanks to everyone who sent me good wishes - please keep them coming!

Tuesday, September 02, 2008

A Brief Appearance Before I Vanish

Hm, been a couple of months since I wrote anything, guess I'd best let you all know I'm alive.  Not that anyone seemed worried or anything, which leads me to believe there isn't anyone reading this mess anyway.

So, I went to Hong Kong at the end of June, thinking I'd apply for my new visa.  Nope, that typhoon that was over Hong Kong was dumping enough rain that I decide to blow it off and just go back at the end of July instead, figuring I'd have more time to spend with Cheryl then, as she'd be done with work for the summer.  Wouldn't you know it, the day I was scheduled to fly out, a typhoon hit Taiwan!  What is it with me and typhoons?  I thought the flight would be canceled, but those nuts took off in the typhoon anyway.  It was bumpier than the flight in June, but we made it safely.  

I went to the visa office the next day, waited for an hour, and handed over all the stuff I thought I'd need (and had some stuff like bank statements for backup, just in case).  The woman (and I'd been unlucky enough to get the really bitchy one I've dealt with before) looked through my stuff, asked to see my original letter of acceptance (ha, she thought I only had a copy), and then asked me if I knew I'd have to get my diploma and transcripts approved in the US.  "Oh yeah, I did that already, in May!" beamed I, happy that I'd covered that base.  I'll be damned if that woman didn't look at me and say, "Well, we need to see them."  "What do you mean, YOU need to see them?  There was nothing on your website about that.  I have to turn them in to the university on registration day - those papers are very important.  I left them home so I wouldn't lose them!"  She smirked at me, bundled up all my papers, and shoved them back at me.  "You'll just have to come back when you have them."  

I guess I'm used to the ridiculous rules and regulations the Taiwan government has, having had so many occasions to be flabbergasted by them, so I didn't lose my cool, just thanked her and left.  Got back to Cheryl's and booked another flight back to Hong Kong just 10 days after I was getting home to Taiwan.  Imposed my presence once again on my oh-so-gracious host and hostess, taking over their couch for a few days, went back to the visa office with all paperwork in hand, got a much nicer woman this time, and successfully got my resident visa.

Got back to Taiwan on 8/14, went to apply for my Alien Residency Certificate (ARC) on 8/15.  Was told I'd have to wait 3 weeks to get it, which is this Friday, Sept. 5.  I didn't have it to show the university on registration day, thankfully not a big deal, but we have an orientation on Friday that lasts until at least noon, and it will take me almost 2 hours to get to Banqiao to pick up the ARC.  I'm expecting to run into some sort of problem when I go, as that seems to be the way my luck is going these days.

On September 8, 2008, I will begin my life as a university student, and my current life of leisure will be OVER.  I registered for my classes yesterday and was slapped in the face with the reality of the decision I've made:  16 classes, Mon-Fri from 8:00 to 6:00 on Tuesdays and Wednesdays, 10:00 to 6:00 on Mondays and Thursdays, and 9:00 to 3:00 on Fridays.  Oh, goddess, I just want to cry.

Well, OK, on Monday it's actually just two classes, one from 10:00 til noon, and one from 4:00 til 6:00, but it still shoots the whole day for anything else.  I get 50 minutes for lunch every day.  I have to put in one hour of hard labor per week (yeah, OK, it's only cleaning up the campus, but who wants to be sweating outside at 3:00 p.m. on a hot day, especially when you don't get any credits for it?), and I have to attend a two-hour phys ed class once a week (zero credits).  You can bet your booties I'll be getting a doctor's excuse for that one, because there's no way this bad knee of mine can handle any physical exercise that's any more than a slow walk.  I also have to take one hour per week of a course that translates as "Nursing."  WTF?  This is a required course for the Chinese Department?  I guess I'm going to learn CPR and other first-aid crap, all without getting any credits.  Why?  Why?

Truly, I had no idea that attending university would be this involved.  It seems to me that the Chico State University students I used to see running around in Chico didn't have a care in the world.  Study?  What's that?  Let's go out and party!  Perhaps it won't be as difficult as I fear, but I'm wondering how I'll fit dinner, chores, studying, homework, and my part-time job into the short hours between getting out of class and getting to bed at a somewhat reasonable hour.  I've grown too used to having all day to goof off, I guess, forgetting what it was like to have a full-time job.  I know, you're not feeling one bit sorry for me, are you?

Don't expect me to be answering any e-mails.  You think I'm bad at that now?  Ha, it's just going to get worse.  Don't expect any blog updates, either.  I'm sure you gave up on those long ago anyway, right?  This may be the last one you get for a long, long time.

Friday, July 11, 2008

Somber Reflections

Two things happened today to remind me of the recent tragedy in China: the Sichuan Earthquake.

First I received an e-mail from a friend showing the rescue of some pandas from the Woolong giant panda breeding ground after the earthquake. I'm glad those little fellas got rescued.

We had a 5.1 earthquake not far off our north coast this morning, which swayed my apartment for a little while.

In this day and age we seem to forget too quickly the disasters that befall others, so I want to put this link here so I won't forget how many lives were lost or destroyed on May 12, 2008. 69,196 are confirmed dead, including 68,636 in Sichuan province, and 374,176 injured, with 18,379 listed as missing.

For those of you who can bear to look, photos that aren't quite as heart-warming as pictures of pandas, from EastSouthWestNorth, Ronald Soong's blog.

Tuesday, July 01, 2008

Project Enlighten

Project Enlighten is a registered 501 (c) (3), Non Government, Non-Profit Organization, in the United States of America. The organization aims to provide non-discriminatory charitable giving that shall encompass education and humanitarian assistance to international communities based on need.

Asad Rahman, International Manager of Project Enlighten, is a good friend who was my roommate long, long ago. I've just recently tracked him down and discovered his very worthwhile project. Won't you please visit their website and blog and make a contribution to their cause. Thank you.

Woohoo, I'm a business woman now.

My eBay Shop, Gargoile's Far Eastern Bazaar
My Yahoo! Taiwan shop

My funds for that university education come from these shops, so go buy something!  The eBay shop is English, the Yahoo one is Chinese.

Monday, June 23, 2008

It's Gonna Be A Bumpy Ride

I have to fly to Hong Kong on Wednesday, because that's the absolute last day I can stay in Taiwan on this trip. Unfortunately, Typhoon Fengshen has chosen that day to park itself smack dab between Taiwan and Hong Kong, so we'll have to fly right through it.

Wish me luck.

6/24 update: No longer a typhoon, Fengshen has been downgraded to a tropical storm, and not even a "severe" one at that. Looks like all will be well, maybe still a teeny bit bumpy. Yay! And besides, I have confidence in the pilots who fly EVA's planes.

Tuesday, June 03, 2008


It's June.

It's Taiwan.

It's currently 67 degrees Fahrenheit at 5:12 p.m.

This does not compute.

It's usually around 80-85 and feeling much hotter (it was around 95 or higher on Friday, and that was still in May!). Historical data on the monthly mean minimum temperature for June, from the Central Weather Bureau's site, gives the low at 75.7F.

Not that I'm complaining, mind you....

6/24/08: I'm complaining now. It's frickin' hot.

Saturday, May 31, 2008

The USA, a nice place to visit, but wouldn't want to live there

Warning, it's a long one!

Day One - Saturday, May 10

I flew out of Taipei at 11:30 p.m. on Saturday, May 10 and arrived at SFO on Saturday May 10 at 7:00 p.m. - I love that time difference, get there before you leave, ha! My flight was on EVA, economy, for the outrageous price of US$1321. I'd been moaning about the fact that I couldn't afford the very lovely business class and dreading the discomfort of economy, but I was pleasantly surprised! The plane was one of the new Airbuses, and it was extremely comfortable. I was in an aisle seat with no one in the middle seat, just a woman in the window seat. Even though she got up to pee frequently, it wasn't a problem, because the distance between rows was much greater than on the last economy flight I took, actually enough room for a person to squeeze past! The aisles were wider, too, so I didn't feel as if I were bumping into every single person on the way to the loo when I went. The seats were very comfortable, and I was able to sleep almost the whole way. Well, at least after the small child who was kicking and bumping into my chair when we first took off was finally seated next to her mother and asleep. I think her mother was a bit shocked when I turned around and asked her in Chinese to please not let her daughter keep kicking my chair. Especially since I don't think she understood Mandarin, ha. They were apparently from Hong Kong and only spoke Cantonese and English, because the flight attendant had to speak to them in English when serving the meals.

A quite troublesome family, actually, as the father spent the flight coughing up phlegm and polluting our air. My seat mate and I kept exchanging disgusted glances as he did this, and sure enough, I ended up sick during my stay in the US. More on that later. About an hour or two before we landed, the little girl was once again wide awake, and the mother allowed her to stomp up and down the aisle. Yes, stomp. She was wearing wooden shoes and delighted in making as much noise as she could when she walked. I was ready to throttle all three of them!

Got through Immigration fairly quickly and managed to find my rental car desk. My knee was still not very stable, so dragging that suitcase around was tiring. I'd reserved a nice economy car, a Chevy Aveo, as I knew gas prices were through the roof. Imagine my surprise when the clerk told me I'd be getting a PT Cruiser. They acted as if it was a bonus: "We've given you a free upgrade!" I don't want an upgrade, I want the economy car I reserved. "Oh gee, sorry, we're all out of them." Hello? Does not making a reservation ensure that you will receive the model you want? Isn't that the whole point? The time to say, "Sorry, we're fresh out." would be when the reservation is made, so the reserving party can choose to try a different company. Grrrr.

I picked up the car, brand spanking new from the looks of it, and proceeded on my way out of the parking garage to my hotel in Chinatown. Or so I thought. As I left through the security gate, I asked the guy manning the gate how to get to the freeway for San Francisco. In his broken English he said said to go out and turn left, which I did. This brought me to an upper level and a different rental car agency. They wouldn't let me out of their gate because they couldn't be sure that I wasn't stealing the car I was in. The man at that gate told me to turn around, then take the first left, which I did. Ended up at a dead end, went back to the man, and he repeated his directions, this time telling me to go right. I said, "But you said
left last time!" He started over, once again saying "left" then changing it to "right" when I asked him to confirm. I gave up, drove off to the right, ended up in an employee-only parking area, got further directions from one of the guys driving a rental back to its berth, headed back the way I'd come, and finally stopped at a booth and asked a WOMAN to tell me how to get the hell out of this place. Her directions actually worked, bringing me back to the first dolt who told me to turn left. He looked at me in surprise when I pulled up (I'd been driving around for a good 15 minutes), and when I told him his directions were wrong, he said, "Well, I meant after you first drive to the right and down, THEN go left!" Oh, thanks. Anyway, I finally managed to get onto the freeway.

Got to the hotel with no trouble, as I'd stayed there in the past and still remembered how to drive in San Francisco. By this time it was close to 10:00 p.m. and I was dying for a beer. I checked in and then headed out to find a nice 7-11 where I could pick up a cold one. Ha, I forgot that I was back in the US, with nary a 7-11 in sight. After walking around the streets of Chinatown and Little Italy for some time, I stumbled across a Walgreen's that was still open, but alas, no beer. I settled for a bottle of soda and a bottle of water, although the shock at the price (over US$3!) dang near killed me. That's at least twice as much as I'd pay in Taiwan. Went back to the hotel and went to bed.

At 2:00 a.m. the assholes in the room next to me came back in, and they were in the middle of a big-ass fight. They were yelling and screaming at each other, the girl crying, and I pounded on the wall. That earned me a "Shut the fuck up!" from them. I thought about calling the desk to complain, but then I thought, "Hm, this *is* America, and lots of people have guns." Decided to just get up and read for a bit, as I wasn't really that tired anyway. Read until the guy left, slamming the door behind him, and the girl called a friend and cried on the phone for a long time. When it got quiet I went back to sleep, only to be awakened at 4:00 a.m. when the girl decided to play music, loudly. Oh fuck it, I might as well just get up. Later in the morning I went to the desk and asked if those people would be checking out that day, because if they weren't, I wanted a new room. The clerk said they were and asked me why I hadn't complained. I mentioned the whole gun thing and he said, "Oh. Well, we have a security guard." Yeah, right. I'd already seen his fat old self and didn't see as he'd be much use.

Day Two - Sunday

Brandi and Lisa were due to arrive at the hotel at 11:00 a.m., and they were staying for one night in another room. Since I was up so early, I headed out to find something to eat for breakfast. It was about 6:00 a.m. or so, and the streets of Chinatown were mostly deserted, which felt so odd to me, as here in Taiwan the early morning hours are when the old ladies go do their shopping, and all the roadside food stalls are selling yummy breakfast stuff. There were a couple dim sum places open, so I just bought a couple pork buns and went back to the hotel to wait. The music was still playing next door, but it eventually went off, and I took a short nap. Eleven o'clock rolled around with no sign of my buddies, and around 11:30 Brandi called to say they were running late. I sat at the little table to read, and shortly before noon I began hearing a thumping sound coming from next door, then some heaving breathing and a girl panting. Oh swell, first I had to listen to them fighting, and now I had to listen to them having sex! I'm thinking, "Jeez, noon is checkout time, what the hell are they doing screwing at 11:50 a.m.?" Then I heard the maid knock on the door, and the guy yelled, "Just 5 more minutes, we'll be out soon!" and they went back at it. Brandi and Lisa showed up, and I made sure to comment extremely loudly on what assholes my neighbors were and how I'd had to listen
to their sexual escapades while waiting for B and L to show up.

It was great to see my two best friends after two years, and we had a lot to catch up on. I still wasn't walking very well, but we headed out to Little Italy to find some lunch and then spent the rest of the day just wandering around lazily and talking, enjoying each other's company. We bought a ton of snacks in Chinatown and sat in the hotel munching on those, even though none of us needed junk food! Dinner was once again in Little Italy, and the food prices were so high that I was choosing the cheapest thing on the menu. When we were splitting up the bill, I had my phone out to use the calculator, figuring each person's meal, plus tip, plus tax. So much easier in Taiwan, no tax and no tip! And it's way cheaper to boot. But it was nice to eat some real Italian food, even though it was pricey. After dinner we stopped into Z. Cioccolato - "The Sweetest Spot in North Beach" to do some fudge tasting, and I bought a tiny box with two flavors. Boy, it's sure hard to choose when there are 65 flavors! If you're so inclined, you can shop online - you won't be disappointed.

Day Three - Monday

The reason I'd stayed in San Francisco was that I need to go to the Taipei Economic and Cultural Organization (TECO) to have them put the stamp of approval on my high school transcripts and diploma, as well as on the bank statement that showed I had enough money to pay for my university education. I also needed to apply for a new visa, as leaving Taiwan negated the visa I was currently using.

We first had a nice breakfast at the Victoria Pastry Company, an Italian bakery which has been in business since 1914. Absolutely scrumptious, and if you go to San Francisco, you must give it a try. Here's their website. We each ordered something different and 
split it three ways so we could try it all. Yummy!

We checked out of the hotel, and they were nice enough to let us leave our cars parked there in their lot. We walked down to the TECO offices, arriving a little before noon. I didn't have to wait too long before a gentleman was able to help me. The first thing I gave him was the letter my bank had given me with its accompanying notary general acknowledgement. He said that it wouldn't work, because it wasn't all on the same page. I asked him what I should do, and he said to find a local notary and just have him or her stamp the back of the letter. OK, fine.....I left and went to find a notary. After inquiring at several banks, I finally located a Chinese notary and told him what the TECO guy had said. He laughed and said that no notary would ever stamp that document and that it was already fine the way it was, just needed to be stapled together. He did so, gave me his card, and told me to tell TECO that it was fine and legal. I headed back.

By this time the man was gone, and I ended up with a woman, hereinafter referred to as The Bitch From Hell, or TBFH for short. From the first word out of my mouth she was rude to me, incredibly impatient, not taking the time to look at any of the papers I gave her, and telling me that nothing I gave her was right. We stared out with the bank letter. Nope! Won't work, I don't care what the notary says, if it's not on the same piece of paper you're shit out of luck. Fine, forget that, let's move on to the high school stuff.

My high school transcripts are in my stepfather's last name, because that's how Mom registered me, but he never formally adopted me, I just used his name from age 7 until 18. My diploma was issued in my legal last name. I figured this might be a problem, so I'd come prepared with my birth certificate, which had my birth date, place of birth, my mother's name, and the same name as my diploma. My transcripts also had my birth date, place of birth, my mother's name, and a note that the last name was that of my stepfather. To any person with half a brain and the willingness to look at the documentation, this was proof that I was that person. But no, "The last name on your passport is different, we can't approve these documents." "Well, yes, but you see, way back when I was in high school, I wasn't married. The name on my passport is my married name. Surely you realize that American women change their last names upon marriage." "Won't work, it has to match!" "Well now, I just don't think that's possible, since I WASN'T FUCKING MARRIED WHEN I ATTENDED HIGH SCHOOL SO HOW THE HELL CAN I GIVE YOU DOCUMENTS THAT HAVE MY MARRIED NAME?" Of course, I was exceeding polite when I responded to her, and did not use any profanity. That was all in my head. She was shuffling through the copies I'd given her, kept telling me I hadn't given her this or that, then I'd say, yes, it's right there. "I don't see it." Well, fucking stop and look, you bitch. Then she told me I'd have to give her my marriage certificates or I could just forget it. OK, I know when I won't win a battle, forget the high school crap, let's move on to the visa application.

I'd brought every single piece of documentation I'd thought I'd need - school attendance records, evidence of continued enrollment, a letter from my teacher saying I had a scholarship to continue, six months of American bank statements to show I wasn't working and depositing money in that bank, just making withdrawals to deposit in my Taiwan bank, an airline ticket out of Taiwan to Hong Kong in June, and a detailed letter stating that I'd applied for university to begin in September. I gave her the whole packet, and she proceeded to give it a cursory glance, then started tossing papers back at me. "You already gave me this, you already gave me this." Then I'd say, "No, there's only one copy of each, they look the same but they aren't, they have different dates on them." FUCK! This woman just wasn't going to be helpful if her life depended on it. I finally shelled out US$131, handed over my passport, and left.

I'd kept my smile and my composure the whole time, but as soon as I set foot out the door, I lost it. "Bitch! Fucking bitch! ARGH!" Definitely time for a drink. Brandi and Lisa tried to comfort me, but I had a bad feeling. I'd come all this way and spent all that money, and I couldn't get anything accomplished. What the hell was I going to do?

Lisa headed home to Fairfield, and Brandi and I went to her place in Alameda. We stopped off at Trader Joe's, my favorite grocery store, for some fixings for guacamole and some beer, and I picked up some orange juice and some Airborne, as I was feeling pretty lousy and knew I was getting sick. We had a great evening at her house, watched a fabulous movie called Boondock Saints while eating the guac with chips and drinking beer. Right before bed I discovered that Dad had called and left a voicemail, saying that a woman from TECO had called (I'd given his number as my local number, forgetting that I had the temporary cell phone) and that I needed to go to TECO for an interview. I didn't know if that was good or bad, but figured that at least they hadn't rejected my visa out of hand, so maybe it would be OK.

Despite Brandi's couch being one of the most comfortable places I've ever slept, I could not sleep. I just kept trying to work out what I needed to do, the fear of not being able to stay in Taiwan overwhelming me. Man, I'd die if I had to move back to the US. I got up really early and got online, finding the Washoe County Clerk's website, where I ordered a copy of marriage certificate to Mark, then I tracked down the address of the Yuba County Clerk's office, as I could go there when I went up to Chico. My biggest fear was that there was no documentation anywhere that had my stepfather's last name, other than my high school transcripts.

Day Four - Tuesday

Brandi and I went to lunch at a Mexican restaurant and had margaritas with our meal, then did a little shopping at the second-hand shops in the area. I'd called the TECO office and left a message, and TBFH finally called me back. She told me I had to have an interview to explain why I wanted to go back to Taiwan, saying I'd already studied for two years and that was long enough. I told her that all the schools in Taiwan tell the students that the government allows three years to study Chinese. I made an appointment for Wednesday afternoon (oh swell, I have to drive back to SF instead of going to Dad's as planned). She called back later in the afternoon and
flat out said they wouldn't give me a visa, but if I wanted to give her US$27, she'd fax a letter to the government offices in Taiwan and ask them if it was really three years or two. Oh, right, I'm going to give you even more money! That $131 application fee is non-refundable, and I'll be damned if I'll pay $27 for a stupid fax as well. After I hung up, I decided I'd just go pick up my passport, return to Taiwan for a 30-day stay just using my passport, since I already had the ticket to Hong Kong in June. I knew that once I had the acceptance letter from the university I'd have no problem getting a new visa in Hong Kong. My big problem was getting the transcripts and diploma approved.

Brandi took me wine tasting in the afternoon, and it was really wasted on me, because they were reds, and I just don't like red wine. Well, unless it's mixed with 7-Up or Sprite and had ice cubes in it, ha.

Day Five - Wednesday

Brandi took off for work, and I headed back to San Francisco, parking my car at the hotel parking garage because the fees were comparatively reasonable and it was only a short walk to TECO. When I got there, TBFH was not in sight, and another woman helped me. She was so nice, she already knew about my situation, and she apologized about having to follow the rules. I told her not to worry, I just wanted to pick up my passport and forget about the visa, since having a visa would do no good if I couldn't get the other stuff authorized. I asked her what I could do to get the high school stuff stamped, and she said if my high school would just type "aka (married name)" on them, that would be good enough. She said I'd have to wait for TBFH to get back from lunch, so I hung around waiting. When I saw her in the back, I told Theresa (the nice lady), and she went to get TBFH. As soon as she came out to the front, she started bitching at me, telling me I wasn't going to get a visa, blah blah blah. Theresa told her, no, she's just picking up her passport, she's not asking for the visa. TBFH continued her harangue, and Theresa, with a little more feeling, once again said, "NO, she's NOT asking for a visa, she's JUST PICKING UP HER PASSPORT." Even she was frustrated with her co-worker's bad attitude. I waited again, over a half an hour, mentally tallying the cost for parking my car, and finally yet another woman, a younger one, came out with my passport. She was also very nice and very apologetic. Damn, they should fire that other one, and I'm going to do my best here in Taiwan to complain about her attitude. I know her name!

Back at the parking garage, I forked over $14 for parking fees and headed off to Dad's. Traffic was light, and I got there quickly. It had been quite cool in SF, but the weather started to warm up on Tuesday, and by Wednesday it was pretty darned hot. I'd checked the weather report for the upcoming days in Chico, and it was going to be over 100F (38C) most of the time, yuck. At least Auburn was a little cooler.

Days Five through Eight - Thursday through Sunday

I don't want to detail every little thing I did while at Dad's and while in Chico. Let's just say that I had an enjoyable visit with Dad and Berti, with them insisting on paying for every meal we had. Dad also gave me $700 to pay for the car rental and gas, and Berti gave me $150 for shopping money. I felt so bad that I hadn't been able to do any shopping to bring them presents from Taiwan, but they insisted they didn't need anything. We went to the movies (What Happens in Vegas - bleah), attended one of Dad's retirement luncheons (salad bar!!!!), ate lots of good stuff, and watched TV.

I left for Chico on Saturday and got to Bob & Weiwei's place mid afternoon, where Weiwei had prepared a lovely salad for lunch. They apologetically told me that they had no air conditioning, as they were doing some remodeling and it had been cold up until the day before, so they hadn't worried about getting the air going. No problem, I took off to do some shopping while Weiwei did homework, and I picked up a fan that I could use at night. It wasn't too bad at all. We had dinner at Casa Ramos, and Weiwei and I watched a bunch of "I Love Lucy" episodes. Sunday she and I went out for breakfast and Bob went hang gliding, then we shopped all afternoon. More "I Love Lucy" that evening, really fun.

I'd thought I'd drive to Marysville on Monday to go to my high school, but then decided I'd just go by on Thursday when I headed back to Dad's. I sent an e-mail to the woman there who had helped send me my transcripts, detailing my troubles and asking for a letter from them and amended transcripts.

Days Nine through Eleven - Monday through Wednesday

On Monday I stopped by the City offices to visit with my ex co-workers, then went to my bank to ask them if they could give me a new statement with the notary on the same page. The gal there said no way, the way they did it was the way they always do it and that it was fine that way. She doesn't realize how pig-headed those people at TECO are.

Then I hooked up with Wendy and spent the night at her place that evening. Tuesday I visited with Mark for awhile during his lunch hour. He took me to our old house and showed me all the remodeling that he and Nancy had done, just gorgeous, and gave me a tour of their motor home. Then Wendy and I just shopped around, and I bought myself a nice Sony Viao laptop on sale at Circuit City, only $419! Of course I had to buy some software, Office 2007 and Kaspersky, and a wireless mouse, total came to $719, still way, way cheaper than I could get it in Taiwan.

All this time I was sick, either with a cold or allergies. I was taking antihistamine and blowing my nose all the time and coughing, and my eyes were itchy. My throat hurt and I just felt icky. The wind was blowing at about 50mph (80kph) at times on Tuesday and Wednesday in Chico, kicking up all sorts of pollen and dust. Not fun for me.

I had lunch with Rose on Wednesday at Burger Hut. Man, it had been a long time since I had a good burger! Stopped by the City offices again to see some people who hadn't been there on Monday, and that evening had a nice dinner at Turandot with May, Krista, Trish, Cindy, and Cris. Cindy gave me the new volume two of My Hometown Chico book to go with volume one that they'd all given me when I left. After dinner I went back to Bob & Weiwei's, and I think I kept them awake with my coughing. Kept myself awake, too, so was pretty tired.

Day Twelve - Thursday

I got an e-mail from my friend who works at Tamkang University, telling me I'd been accepted by the Chinese department. I was ecstatic, and I asked Weiwei to print that for me so I'd have it when I returned to TECO on Friday. I stopped by her office and visited with her for a little bit, then for Dad's. Dad had also called to tell me that the marriage certificate from Reno had arrived, yes!

I stopped in Marysville on the way, first at the high school where I was told I needed to come back at 1:00 to see the head counselor, so I went to pick up my copy of my first marriage certificate at the Clerk's office. Got that, headed back to the school, met with the counselor, who of course said the school couldn't alter official documents by putting my married name on them, but they typed my legal maiden name on the transcripts to match my diploma and birth certificates, and they gave me a letter which clearly said I'd attended school under both names and that the diploma was in the legal name.

When I got to Auburn I decided to make one more stab at the bank letter, so I stopped by the branch there. When I told the gal what I needed, she said, "No problem!" and proceeded to give me a new statement with the notary all on the same page. Huh, and why couldn't the Chico branch do that? Dunno. But, I had it, and I was happy. Now I had everything I needed!

Another nice meal with Dad and Berti at a very nice restaurant, with them once again treating me. Tried a new beer called Duvel Golden Ale, a Belgian ale that is bubbly like champagne. It was fabulous, and I've discovered I can buy it here in Taiwan, so I'll be making a run to Jason's soon for some of that.

Day Thirteen - Friday

Now, my original plan had been to go to Fairfield and spend my last evening with Lisa and Steve there. However, now I needed to go to San Francisco, which is about an hour farther south than Fairfield. Did I really want to drive back to Fairfield on Friday afternoon, the start of the Memorial Day long weekend? Uh uh. So, Lisa called Brandi and asked if the two of us could stay with her in Alameda, and she said sure. Great, I'd get to see both of them one last time before I came home!

I got to TECO around noon, and was happy to see Theresa at the window. She told me TBFH was off that day. Oh gee, too bad I missed her. I gave Theresa everything, the marriage certificates, the birth certificate, the high school stuff, and explained each and every page. She said she wanted to confirm with her boss that all was in order, and of course that meant I had to wait for an hour for her boss to get back from lunch. More parking fees! No problem, I went for a cup of coffee then came back to the TECO office to play with my new laptop while I waited. Eventually Theresa called me over and said that everything was fine and that they'd be able to approve it all, just not on that day. I'd come prepared with a postage-paid Priority Mail envelope so they could mail it all to Dad, and I'd left him money and instructions to send it on to me Global Priority. Man, what a fiasco getting this done! I swear, if this stuff gets lost in the mail, I'm either going to go on a killing spree or just kill myself.

Hung around Chinatown waiting for Brandi to get off work, got back to her place just as Lisa was getting there, and the three of us went our for Mexican food and margaritas. Then we bought a bottle of tequila on the way home and had more margaritas while we watched a hysterically funny movie called "The Lost Skeleton of Cadavra", a parody of the old black and white B movies of the 1950s. I highly recommend this one, and Brandi kindly gave me her copy to bring back with me.

Day Fourteen - Saturday

My flight was leaving Sunday at 1:40 a.m., and I needed to get the car back to the rental agency by 8:00 p.m., or I'd be charged for an extra day. Brandi, Lisa, and I went out for breakfast, then we went shopping in Emeryville. I was afraid my suitcases were already over the weight limit, so I couldn't buy anything else, boo hoo. Then we went to Hangar One for some vodka tasting. I didn't like most of them, but they had a marvelous pear liqueur that I loved, and Brandi bought a bottle for me to take home.

We parted at 6:30 p.m., I drove to the airport and dropped the car off (got a tiny discount for early return, too), then spent many boring hours waiting for the EVA check-in window to open at 10:00 p.m. I'd done the online check-in, so I figured it would be quick and easy. At 10:00 I headed over to the check-in counter, and there was an enormous line already. I didn't see the online check-in window, so I asked where it was. "Oh, we don't have one here." Peachy. If I'd known that, I would have gotten in line sooner! Took me over 45 minutes to get checked in.

When I went through security, they pulled my carry-on and said they needed to inspect it. Apparently the fudge from San Francisco looked suspiciously like a bottle in the X-ray, or maybe they thought it was plastic explosive. I had the carry-on packed with chocolate stuff, because I was afraid it would melt in the suitcase, and that earned a strange look from the inspector. Once they were satisfied that it was edible stuff, they sent me on my way.

Day Fifteen - Sunday in the US, Monday in Taiwan

I had an aisle seat against the bulkhead this time, no way for a brat to kick the back, and loads of leg room plus space to stand next to my seat - and right by the bathroom. Sadly, the young man on my left spent the entire 13 hours of flight time snorting snot up his nose instead of blowing it, so I had to keep my earplugs in the whole time to avoid listening to that disgusting sound. He also coughed a lot, and I expect the funny feeling I have in my throat right now means that I caught some germ from him. Sheesh.

I landed at 6:00 a.m. on Monday, breezed right through Immigration (right, I don't have a visa this time, I'm just using my passport, here's my ticket to Hong Kong next month, thank you very much, goodbye.), and got the limo service back home. Yeah, it's pricey, but I still had leftover money from Dad, and being driven home in a nice clean Mercedes beats wrestling two extremely heavy suitcases onto the bus (no, the driver does NOT help), then dragging them to the MRT station, then either getting them on the little bus or taking a taxi for the last leg of the journey. That method requires about two hours, while the limo service is under an hour. Sometimes that's just worth it.

Got home before 8:00 a.m., unpacked all my crap, bought some groceries, took a much-needed shower. The house seemed very empty without DZ, but I wasn't able to pick her up from Selena's until almost 10:00 p.m. Boy, was she happy to see me. She'd spent the entire two weeks hiding behind their couch and only coming out at night. I thought she might enjoy playing with two other cats, but she just wouldn't warm up to them. Selena said she came out once when Mimi was eating and took a swipe at her, then ran back to hide when Mimi hissed at her. Poor DZ, I guess she's just not well adjusted socially. When we got home, she kept meowing and running from room to room, as if to assure herself that she was home and all was well. She used to sleep at my feet at night, but lately she's been sleeping up by my head.

I've spent this week trying to catch up on the lessons I missed, had a test on Wednesday and actually managed to get 91% even though I'd missed the whole thing and just studied it on my own Tuesday evening, and I have to turn in a composition to make up for missing the mid-term test. So, I haven't had any time to write to anyone, just figured updating the blog would have to suffice.

Well, this has gone on for nine pages, and I'm sure it's not been easy for you to read. I guess I'll just stop here, saying that I'm very happy to be back where I belong, and I'm looking forward to my continued studies here in Taiwan. I should be getting my acceptance letter next week, but I probably have to wait until August to apply for a visa. I'll have to go to Hong Kong in June, July, and August, but that's OK, because I'll get to see my Hong Kong friends.

Ta all!

Friday, May 09, 2008

Gone Bye-Bye

I'm outta here tomorrow evening at 8:00 p.m., flight to the US is at 11:30 p.m., and I'll be back on May 26. Dad lives in the dark ages and has no computer, so I'll only be online when I'm staying with friends. Don't expect to hear from me! Yeah, like I answer mail anyway, right?

Let's hope the leg holds up for the whole trip. So far, so good, walking fairly well, but still wrapping it in the brace. Today was the first day I didn't drag that stupid crutch along with me. Guess I won't take it to the US, either.

Wish me luck getting a new visa. Back with a report sometime around the end of May.

Saturday, May 03, 2008

I Can Walk Again!

My knee seems to be getting better every day, thank goodness. I'm still bringing one crutch with me every day to school, just in case I need it, but I'm mostly walking without it. I'm wearing the knee brace when I go to and from school, but at home and during class it's off. It actually feels better without it, I think, but I'm still a little scared to walk without the support. I felt like I pulled a muscle in my left thigh getting off the bus one day while trying not to put too much weight on the bad right leg, but that cleared up quickly, too. The right calf muscles were really sore for days, but now they feel OK.

So, it looks as if I'll have no trouble making the trip next Saturday, although lugging around those suitcases might not be so fun. I'll take it easy all next week, which sadly means I won't be able to shop for presents to take with me, boo hoo!

The auction business is paying well, my total income for March and April was about US$267, and my boss is confident that June will be even better (May will suck because I'll miss 2 weeks of work, but in June my share goes up to 50% from the current 40%). I still make a lot of mistakes, mostly because I confused with some of the Chinese, but it's getting easier.

Back with more later!

Saturday, April 26, 2008

An Engineer's Guide to Cats

Bum Leg A Bit Better

Went to another hospital yesterday, saw another doctor, had another X-ray, this time of the right hip, just to be sure there was no problem there.  Nope, no problem there.  The bill this time was even more amazing, only NT$673 total, which is about US$22.  Unfortunately, if I get the MRI the doctor recommends to find out if there is internal damage that needs repair, that's gonna set me back US$330-US$395 - that's rent for one month!  I elected not to have it, for now.

I can walk without crutches, very carefully and slowly.  The doc said to see if the knee gets better on its own, just keep doing the heat therapy and no walking, plus stretching exercises to fully extend it.  I'm feeling a little more optimistic now and think I'll be OK to make the US trip.

My troubles seem so minor compared to my poor friend, Maddy, who slipped in the shower, broke her tibia, and had to have a titanium rod put in it! I can't imagine how much all this is costing her, because like me, she has no insurance, but unlike me, she's in the US and having to pay the outrageous costs there. Ya think maybe the next president can do something about that? Sure hope so.

Friday, April 25, 2008

Bum Leg Blues

Three years ago, about two days after I arrived in Taiwan, I fell down and slammed my right knee into the sidewalk, hard. It's never been quite right since then, but never really, really bad, just always felt like it was bigger than it should be and uncomfortable sometimes. Didn't stop me from being able to walk long distances or anything.

Over the Chinese New Year holiday I sat on my butt almost every day, with my legs extended either propped up on pillows on the coffee table or on the sofa itself, because it was freezing cold outside and rainy, no incentive to get out and move. Toward the end of my two-week vacation, I noticed my right hip joint had a burning pain, hurt to press on it. When I started back to school and began walking every day, I gradually got a pain that was going down the side of my leg and to the knee, and that seemed to worsen every day.

When I reached the point where I couldn't walk without a lot of pain, I finally went to a clinic that Guoxi had taken me to before for some acupuncture on the knee. The first treatment was a chiropractic type, lots of bending and twisting. This was right before the Hong Kong trip. The doctor told me to go back the next day, but I couldn't because I had too much to do. I ended up hobbling around Hong Kong in pain, but after I got back here, I seemed much better, so I thought the walking had actually helped. Spent lots of time walking around with Carol, and still seemed OK.

But then the pain started again, so I went back to the clinic, where they performed an absolutely awful treatment called fire cupping that hurt like hell, left my leg looking as if it had been attacked by a giant octopus, and did no good. The next week I hurt so much I could hardly walk, so I decided to go to the chiropractor Nat had taken me to in March 2005 when my bursitis was so bad. He'd gotten me well in only two visits, so I was hoping he'd be able to fix the leg.

The first day I went he told me a nerve down the side of my leg was pinched and that I'd waited too long before going to see him, almost to the point where I needed an operation. He may have been talking about the knee, too, I didn't understand everything he said because he spoke so quickly (in Chinese, of course). He twisted me and cracked me and make me yelp and cry, but I felt a lot better after that. He told me to stop walking so much and let the leg heal, and I made an appointment to go back a couple days later. That visit was last week on Friday, and it hurt so much! On Saturday my leg really hurt, but I could tell it was more the pain of muscles that had been pushed and stretched into unfamiliar positions, not the same pain as before. By Sunday I was feeling great, walking normally (I'd been doing a very stiff-legged limping along for quite a while), and happy. I noticed a clicking sound coming from my leg when I walked, but since I'm old and already have a bit of arthritis in the left knee, which makes it creak and crack at times, I figured that's what it was.

On Monday I left for school, happy that I was walking without pain. I wisely avoided the stairs, going through the underground parking area and up the elevator to the lobby of the main building instead. I walked out the front door of my building down the small wheelchair ramp, and something snapped behind my right knee, leaving me in severe pain, completely unable to walk because I could put no pressure on the leg at all. There I was, standing outside on one leg, while other people walked by to catch the bus. One woman stopped to offer her arm, but she was a lot smaller than me, and I didn't think she'd be able to support my weight. I got the security guard to bring out a small plastic stool, which I hunched over and scooted across the ground, hobbling back into the lobby, where I sat on the sofa waiting for Nat (I'd called her with a "Help! I can't walk! Help!"). She took me to the hospital, and I spent the whole day there, because we had to wait there for almost three hours to see the doctor in the physical therapy department (the first doctor who looked at me was a surgeon, and he said it wasn't his speciality). Nat had to go back to work, but she'd called Kennie and asked her to stay with me and help with any interpretation necessary.

The X ray doesn't show any bone problem (the doc wanted to be sure there weren't any bone fragments from that old injury that were poking something), but there's some degeneration of the meniscus in the knee. The doctor said it's possible there's a torn ligament, but without an MRI he can't say for sure. I know that it felt like my hamstrings snapped in two, but since I can use the leg, it's not that, just felt like it. He gave two types of painkillers, told me to rest at home for the next two days, and to immediately go back to the hospital if it hadn't gotten any better by then to see a doctor in Orthopedics (doctors are at the hospitals here, they don't have offices like they do in the US).

I spent Tuesday and Wednesday at home. Monday evening was bad, because I couldn't put the tiniest bit of pressure on the leg, and any small bit of twisting to the side also brought tears to my eyes. I managed to use crutches to get around, but it wasn't easy. I slept badly because I was afraid I'd twist my leg in my sleep. Tuesday I used the heating packets a lot, and there was less pain if I moved the knee. On Wednesday I was actually able to put pressure on the leg and could stand as long as I still propped myself up with the crutches and kept most of my weight on the left leg. I could walk slowly, step by step, using the crutches, instead of hopping on one leg and dangling the other.

I went to school yesterday, but I had to take a taxi from home to the MRT station in Danshui and then take another one from the station by the school. After class I had to go to my bank, which is only about two blocks away, to pick up my proof of sufficient funds letter for my university app and to pay my rent (which was already overdue). It took me forever to walk there, and my armpits and palms were so sore from the crutches. Took a taxi to the station, MRT back to Danshui, then taxi home, where I collapsed, exhausted. My knee is huge, looks like it's totally whacked out of place, quite ugly. That might be because I can't quite straighten the leg completely, I don't know, I just know it looks awful.

I wanted to go to school today, but I just can't do it. I'm afraid if I do I'll end up hurting the other leg, and then where will I be? As it is, and I have no idea if I'll be able to make the trip back to the US on May 10 like I'm supposed to, or if I'm going to need surgery, or what. My landlord is so nice, he's taking me to a different hospital this afternoon (they are famous for their orthopedic department), and I hope they have good news for me. I may end up having to delay the trip, but one way or another, I have to go get my documents stamped and approved for my university application.

On the bright side, I have wonderful friends here to come running to help when I need them. Nat and Kennie really went all out on Monday, Carrie came by on Wednesday evening, did a little shopping for me, and kept me company, and then Nat, Charlene, and Betty came over last night with some dinner and companionship. I know I can call on the landlord's mom if I need something, and he and his wife are taking me to the hospital today. Also, on Monday the hospital visit, the X ray, and the medicine only cost US$37 (I don't have insurance, either)! Isn't that amazing? Sure can't go to the hospital in America for that, not even *with* insurance. Funny, though, the crutches and the 2 heating/cooling packs were about US$20.

Wish me luck, everyone. I hope I'll be seeing some of you in May, but if not, then likely June or July. I already have my plane ticket, so I'll be back, just a question of when.

Thursday, April 10, 2008

You CAN Go Home Again, But You'll Pay For It

Holy crap, I just booked my flight to the US - $1321! Now you know why I don't go back to visit you all more often, hm? That's more than three months' rent, for pete's sake.  Thank goodness for the scholarship, that's all I can say.

I'm sure sorry I won't be able to meet up with good friends like Romita, Carol, and Alice, because they live so far away from where I'll be staying. Ah well, Carol already came to visit me, and I know Romita and Alice will make it eventually, Romita after visiting Korea, and Alice after getting that son of hers married off on the 4th of July!

Friday, April 04, 2008

Boycott the Olympics in Bejing!

Why? China doesn't play nicely with the rest of the world.

From today's Taipei Times:

The number of tactical ballistic missiles deployed by China against Taiwan reached more than 1,400 at the end of last year, said the National Security Council (NSC), which said in May 2006 that the figure would rise to more than 800 by the end of that year.

An NSC report released on March 26 said that China had more than 190 cruise missiles targeting Taiwan at the end of last year, rising from more than 100 a year before.

The council said the deployment “allows the People's Liberation Army [PLA] to launch a nine-wave, 12-hour saturation missile attack on Taiwan and conduct precision strikes on more than 100 key targets in Taiwan.”

By Shih Hsiu-chuan
STAFF REPORTER, The Taipei Times
Friday, Apr 04, 2008

March Blew Away

OK, I've put off updating my blog for far too long! Let's see if I can actually remember what the month of March was like.

First big news is that I got not one, but two scholarships! The school gave me the monthly one (for 4 months only) that they give to students with high grades. That's NT$12,000 x 4 = NT$48,000 (approx. US$1576). I've already gotten the money for that one. The second one is offered by the government to American students only, and it's a refund of tuition after completing a semester and attending class like I'm supposed to. I'll get at least NT$16,000 (approx. US$525) for that, but I may get it twice (I hope!).

Second is that I'm tickled to have made NT$3228 (US$106) during my first month of business with the landlord. It's easy work, and so far in April I've already made almost half that, so by the end of the month I'm expecting at least NT$5000.

Carol visited from March 16 through March 25, and we had a lot of fun. First we met up in Hong Kong March 13 and attended two Wu Bai & China Blue concerts on the 14th and 15th (I don't need to write about the shows, they were the same as the ones in Taiwan, basically). That was a blast, despite some after-concert stuff that still has me a bit angry with certain people and still in need of some confrontation with one to air it all out. We spent a little time hanging out with Terry and Cheryl, who took us to Sai Kung for the afternoon, and then just shopped around a bit at the jade market and the handicrafts store. It's not easy finding vegetarian food in Hong Kong, so Carol was delighted to find such an abundance and variety here in Taiwan. She said it's a vegetarian's paradise! I took her to Jiu Fen and to Ying Ge, and she graciously paid my way up into the observation deck at Taipei 101 so I finally got to see the city from way up high. We went up just as it was getting dark, and it was fun watching the city lights slowly come on all over.

On February 29 we went to see ABS play, and at dinner before the show I was eating some simple penne pasta with pesto sauce, bit down on a miniscule hard something or other, and broke a piece off my already cracked molar. That was fun. I haven't been to the dentist yet, because the tooth doesn't hurt, and I'm chewing on the opposite side for now. But, I have to go, can't ignore it forever. At the show that night, Nat and Charlene gave me a birthday cake (oh yeah, I had a birthday on March 4, nothing much to say, got older and feel it), which was unexpected. Dino got one, too, but I don't think he appreciated it as much as he liked the bottle of alcohol someone else gave him. I didn't want to spend money on a cab home, so I asked Xiao Zhu if I could catch a ride home with him and his wife, since they live in Danshui, and he said sure, but I'd have to wait a long time. So, Charlene and I ended up going with the guys to some other tiny little bar so they could continue drinking (since Du Du was driving, she abstained, thank goodness), and once Xiao Zhu had his fill, we took off, me in the back seat with Da Mao, who also lives in Danshui. By the way, his little daughter is simply adorable! His phone was full of photos that he proudly showed us. I got home around 4:00 a.m. and only slept for about four hours. I'm too old for this!

On my actual birthday I went out for pizza with Shannon, to the all-you-can-eat place. We stuffed ourselves, and it was great. Other than that, it was a pretty average day.

March 22 was election day in Taiwan, and the KMT party won. Phooey. I hope it's not the death knell for democracy here, we'll have to see what happens. I don't trust the new prez, Ma Ying Jiu, one tiny bit. He takes office in May.

I'm on a semester break this week, and damned if the weather hasn't been sucky since day one! Why is it that every time I have a vacation, it's rainy and cold? I hate being stuck inside. And the weather report says that it will clear up on Sunday and be stinking hot. So far today doesn't look so bad, so maybe I'll get out for a walk. I took a walk on Wednesday and ended up buying a new computer desk, so maybe staying home isn't such a bad idea. :) Yesterday my landlord and his wife took me to Costco, where I loaded up on cat litter (3 30-pound containers) and cheese (5-pound block of cheddar, 2-pound block of pepper jack - it freezes well!). Couldn't resist a box of Act II microwave popcorn, but I managed to NOT buy all sorts of other tempting treats.

I'll be making a trip back to the US in May, as I have to take my transcripts and diploma to TECO in San Fran to get them stamped. Leaving Taiwan will probably mean that I once again will have no visa, but I can just do the monthly trip to HK until I get my acceptance letter from the university and then apply for a new one.

Well, heck, I can't think of anything else right now, and the tummy is saying it's time for food, so I'm outta here.

Saturday, March 01, 2008

The Boneless Woman

A friend sent me this link, and I was so amazed by this woman's flexibility that I had to share it with you.

Friday, February 29, 2008

University, Here I Come!

Boy, it was nice to get back to school after all those boring days at home. I can't believe how cold and miserable it's been here, absolutely no desire to go outside if I don't have to. It warmed up briefly and then got back to chilling cold, bleah.

I went to Tamkang University on Wednesday and talked with the head of the Chinese department. He loves me! Looks as if there will be no problem getting in, which was a great relief to me. I'll be going back on Monday to discuss how to get my transcripts and high school diploma approved by the Taiwan high mucky-mucks. Normal procedure is to have them stamped in your own country, because most folks apply for uni from there, but I'm already here, so it's not so easy.

I've been spending time getting training from my landlord, Mr. Zhang, on how to do the eBay and Yahoo business, and I'm hoping I'll start seeing a small income from that. Still waiting to hear if I actually get the scholarship at the language school this time, and of course I'll apply for the university one, too.

Eagerly anticipating my trip to Hong Kong on the 13th and meeting up with Carol. Tonight we're going to see ABS at Riverside Pub and will have a cake to celebrate Dino's birthday, which isn't until March 6, but this is our only chance.

Gotta run, stuff to do. Had yesterday off and today, too, yippee.

Thursday, February 07, 2008

Dear Diary: Day 5 on the Island....

I've been on vacation from school since Friday the 1st. And since Saturday the 2nd, I've been spending hours and hours a day watching the most faboo TV series, Lost. It all started when Shannon arrived on Saturday afternoon. She spent the night Saturday, Sunday, and Monday, leaving Tuesday morning, and except for a couple runs to the store for victuals and food prep time in the kitchen, we had our asses plunked down on the couch, working our way through all of season 1 and part of season 2 before she had to leave. I've continued the grueling ritual and am now into season 3. Hopefully, Shannon managed to find the series for rent at Blockbuster, because my set is region 1 coded, and she's unable to play it on her DVD player. Hoo boy, she was so pissed off Tuesday morning, because the student she left my place at 9:30 a.m. to meet stood her up, and she could have stayed here and watched at least two more episodes before her afternoon student!

My ass hurts. My legs hurt. I'm really tired of sitting. However, it is rainy and freezing-ass cold outside, so I have no incentive to vacate the premises and get some exercise. I walked to the store yesterday afternoon and got soaked, because one shoe seems to have sprung a hole that caused my left sock to become a soggy lump and the wind was so bad that my umbrella did a "kai hua" - that's Chinese for "blossoming flower" and I think you get the idea. It's not raining right now, so there's a good chance I'll get out and about today, before I lose all feeling in my nether regions.

In the wee hours of Wednesday morning, around 2:00 a.m., I was awakened by wailing and moaning. I figured it was the kids next door crying, tried to fall back asleep, but it kept up. Finally, I took my earplugs out and walked over to the wall, thinking maybe I'd bang on it, but then I heard the sound again, coming from outside. It was the wind, sounding just like it does during a typhoon! I guess the way these buildings are set up it sort of makes a wind tunnel that gives the wind a lot more force, and it just wailed and wailed for over an hour, keeping me awake. Can't imagine what it will be like during an actual typhoon, but guess I'll find out.

So, hey, it's now The Year of the Rat! Happy Lunar New Year to everyone! I'd dithered a bit about whether to make the trek into Taipei and pick up some yummies from Shanghai Dumpling to bring back here to eat or to fend for myself, and the sorry state of the weather pretty much decided me on staying here. I already had some stuff to make hotpot, so I bought a little more and sat here with DZ eating fish balls and mushrooms and sliced beef boiled in broth and dunked in hot & spicy sha cha jiang. Trust me, it tastes a whole lot better than it sounds. There were lots of fireworks and firecrackers last night, but not all night long, thank goodness. I went to bed around 1:30 a.m., I think. No wailing winds kept me up.

It's perfect baking weather, and last week on Friday I made chocolate chip cookies and some muffins, which Shannon and I made quite a nice dent in. Today I'm going to make a cheesecake, just because I feel like it. Having the little oven on for hours sure makes it warmer in here. If you remember, Taiwan apartments don't come equipped with central heat (or air), so all I have for warmth is a standing space heater that actually does quite a good job. Taking a shower ain't fun, though, as the bathroom is really cold. Best I can do is set the heater up outside the door and try to get the tub/toilet room warmed up before I get in, and get dressed as fast as possible when I'm done.

OK, so I'm gonna get myself outside before the rain starts again, and then when I come back I can continue my immersion into fantasy island life with the cast of Lost, trying to figure out all these mysteries.

Saturday, January 26, 2008

My Beautiful Island

For those of you who still don't understand why I left the US behind and came to Taiwan, please spend 10 minutes or so watching this little introduction, and I think you'll see the light. :)

I hope this inspires some of you to make a trip here and see for yourself why the Portugese named Taiwan "The Beautiful Island."

Saturday, January 19, 2008

The Honeymoon is Over

I committed some heinous crime in a previous life. I'm not sure what it was, but it must have been particularly awful. That's the only explanation I can think of for why I'm unable to find a quiet place to live.

The first couple of weeks here at the new apartment were so nice, very quiet at night, no problem sleeping at a decent hour. Then the noise from upstairs gradually became worse and worse. When it first began, it was only a couple of nights a week, beginning at 10:00 p.m. when the kid took his shower and got ready for bed, continuing until 11:30 p.m. Well, OK, just a couple of nights, I can handle that. Then at the beginning of January, it was every night. Every single friggin' night, and every three to five minutes (yes, I'm keeping a written record) a bedroom door slamming, a cupboard slamming, drawers slamming, things dropped on the floor, dragging furniture across the floor. So, I talked to the security guys, and they said that noise after 10:00 p.m. was a no-no in this community, and if it continued I should call them.

Finally, I did call them one evening and asked them to call the upstairs folks. Didn't have any effect, the noise still continued until 11:30 p.m. After a few days, I'd had enough again, and once again asked them to tell the 10th floor folks to knock it off. I heard the guy upstairs on the intercom phone, saying "OK, OK, sure." then talking loudly to his wife as the noise continued. Obviously this is not working.

Fine, I decided I'd make a change in my own lifestyle. Most people here shower at night before bed and not in the morning like I'm used to, so I've been doing that. This allows me to sleep in a bit longer, but it also cuts down on my morning "drink-loads-of-coffee-while-fiddling-around-online-to-wake-up" time. I still don't feel I'm getting enough sleep, and I usually get shocked awake by some loud bang at least once after I hit the sack.

Last Sunday I wrote a very nice letter, which Shannon had helped me compose, really polite and all, asking the upstairs neighbors to be more considerate after 10, close doors, drawers, and cupboards gently, etc. I gave it to the security guy to give to them, because he said that was the best way. Attached to security's copy was a two-page record of the time and type of loud sound I'd been experiencing. After about a half hour, my doorbell rang, and it was one of the security guys. He said the upstairs folks had refused to take the letter and maintained that it wasn't them making the noise. Needless to say, I was incredulous, mouth agape as I listened to this hogwash. The guy said the next time the noise started, I should call the desk, and they'd send someone to my place to listen to see where it was coming from.

Strangely enough, Sunday night was very peaceful, no slams and thunks, and I heard the first shower running much earlier than usual. I had a meeting with my landlord on Monday evening, and I talked to him about all this. He told me that in Taiwan buildings sometimes the sound is actually coming from three or four floors up, that the people right below don't hear it, but the folks two floors down do. I'm sorry, but I don't buy this. Granted, the origin of some noises seems difficult to pin down, but those slamming doors and dragging furniture are quite obviously right over my head! No way in hell that sound is coming from two floors up.

Monday and Tuesday were also quite peaceful, and I was able to sleep early. To me, having it suddenly become quiet after security talked with the 10th floor people just seems to reinforce the fact that it was them making the noise. I mean, why else would the noise cease like that, after being a nightly ritual for over two weeks? However...... Wednesday it was business as usual with lots of noise. I tried to listen carefully to see where exactly it was coming from, putting my ear against the ice-cold concrete walls on both sides. I thought maybe some sound was coming from next door, and since I'd already met that woman and she was very nice, I went to ask them if they were possibly closing doors and cupboards quite loudly. She and her husband talked to me for a long time, both maintaining that their living room, which is right next to my bedroom, has no cabinets or anything that would make that sound, and that since she babysits infants she has always taught her family to be very quiet, so as not to disturb the babies. OK, so not them. Didn't seem that the noise was coming from the apartment on the other side, either. After the loud noises continued until 10:40, I called the desk and asked them to send someone up. Of course, just as when you take your car to the mechanic it will NOT make that funny noise, so it was that as soon as the guy arrived (bringing with him a disgusting miasma of cigarette smoke that polluted my entire apartment), the upstairs was silent. And as soon as he left, the noise began again, but thankfully ended at 11:00 p.m.

On Thursday they started early, around 8:00 and continued until at least 10:40, this time someone using power tools, dragging furniture around and rolling something heavy across the floor. I tried to ignore it best I could, certain that if I once again asked the guys to come listen, it would be quiet. Last night we had more power tools and hammering, and when someone fired up that drill at 10:20, I lost it and called the desk. But then I heard the drill sound twice more, and once it really did seem to come from the babysitter's side. It's hard to tell, is it upstairs and making the wall vibrate and the sound is traveling down it? I truly did believe the neighbor when she said they try to be extra quiet all the time, because she has that honest sort of look. I tried listening at their front door to see if the drill sound was coming from in there, but I couldn't hear anything. And there was clearly some sound that was coming from upstairs, because in the small bedroom, there are no other apartments on either side, just two balconies, so the sound is definitely originating from upstairs.

So here I am, once again dealing with inconsiderate neighbors (somewhere) who don't seem to sleep much themselves. It's still much better here than in Zhuwei, and I don't have the added burden of tons of noise from outside 24-7 to deal with. I will try to adapt and just stay up later than I want, since I don't think anything is going to make them stop. I sure wish I were the sort of person who could roll out of bed, wash my face, get dressed, and be out the door, because then I could sleep until 7:45 a.m.! Alas, that's not me. The latest I can sleep is 6:45 a.m., I need that hour of wake-up time in order to be fully functional. I don't know how the Taiwanese do it, getting only 5 or 6 hours of sleep a night - or less.

Now that I've gotten that particular rant over, on to a new one. My teacher this semester is incredibly boring. We're third-year students and we're being treated as first-years. The first test she gave was so laughable, two pages, handwritten (badly, my writing is much nicer), of simple "fill in the blanks" and make some easy sentences. For the last three semesters, each time I've had a test it has taken me almost the full two hours of class to complete it. Most required writing some small essays, and most were four pages of typewritten questions. It took me less than half an hour to complete the test last week. And so far this teacher has not asked for any homework! OK, so that's sort of nice, except that it doesn't really push me to make progress. Another thing that bugs me is that she loves to hear herself talk and doesn't give us much chance to say anything. This may be helping me improve my listening skills, but I need to talk, too! We're all frustrated and not looking forward to dealing with this every day until March 28 when the semester ends. Argh.

Despite all of the above, I must say that I'm still incredibly happy here in Taiwan and have no desire to leave it. Anyone who knows me knows that I will always have a complaint about something, no matter where I live. It's the way I am, I'm a griper for sure, and too old to change my ways.

Sunday, January 13, 2008

A Strange Sense of Deja Vu

The day after the presidential election in 2004, I read with incredulity the news that Bush had been re-elected. I couldn't understand how that happened, couldn't understand that the American people could be so blind that they would re-elect such a war-mongering idiot, but they did.

I have much the same feeling today as I read the Taiwan election news and see that the Kuo Ming Tang (KMT) party kicked the Democratic Progressive Party's (DPP) collective ass in the legislative elections. With the presidential election upcoming in March, this does not bode well for Taiwan. Since I suck at discussing politics, I'd like to refer you to an excellent letter in today's Taipei Times, written by Lee Long-hwa in New York. I truly fear that if Ma Ying Jeou wins the presidential seat in March, Taiwan will soon be hanging "Welcome to Communist Taiwan" signs in the airport.

In other articles in today's Times (worth a read if you have the time), writers point out the low voter turn-out. I do understand the voters' frustration, with neither party being worth much, but this is a case of choosing the lesser evil, and they should have gone to vote green (DPP) just to keep the country from turning blue (KMT)! I used to half-jokingly say that in 2004 I would have voted for a serial killer just to keep Bush out of office, and the slogan "ANYONE but Bush!" appealed to many people. I wish Taiwan would wake up and see that if the KMT gains power once again, they're likely to lose their freedom. Surely many folks recall the days of martial law (which only ceased in 1991) and the "White Terror" they endured after the massacres in 1947. The Wikipedia article will give readers more information on the party, and please do pay close attention to the "Current issues and challenges" to see what a great guy Ma Ying Jeou is (also note heavy sarcasm).

I was recently contacted by a fellow I knew in the US, who had moved back to Beijing before I came to Taiwan. We were chatting a bit on MSN, and I wanted to show him photos of my place here. He couldn't access the website. Then I wanted to let him read my Chinese blog. He couldn't access the website. He asked me why I didn't go to mainland China to study Chinese, and I replied, "You have no freedom there. You're not even allowed to visit simple photo and blog websites because your government blocks them. Why would I want to live like that?" I don't want to see Taiwan end up like this.