Sunday, December 23, 2007

Climbing ... Yeaahhh.


My momma has only ever made me promise her two things. The first one was to never join the military, and I've got that one on lock down. Definitely not planning on joining the military any time soon. The second one was to never get a motorcycle, and unfortunately I had to fib a little on that one. To get out to the climbing area here you can either catch a ride with the local climbing shop (in which case your arrival and departure time are scheduled and you are running around with a lot of people all the time) or you can rent mopeds and drive your own self out to the crag. Naturally we decided to drive our own selves out. Overall it wasn't too crazy, although I was normally in a healthy state of terror (just to keep things safe). They drive on the left side of the road here, so that took a little getting the hang of, but all the Thai drivers are pretty considerate, and I'm pretty sure they are used to stupid foreigners so they just kind of wait until you sort yourself out, then they go on their way.

Alonzo and I rode together and rotated most everything. One of us would rent, and the other would pay for gas, and usually I drove in the morning and he drove at night. Driving in the city was arguably more dangerous, but I think felt safer because we weren't going so fast. Mostly we didn't go to fast on the highway either, but one day we went to visit an elephant reserve, and we left Chaing Mai a little late, so we hauled ass on the way down there. I don't know if we were actually speeding or not because I couldn't read the street signs, and it hadn't even occurred to me until the second day that there might even be a speed limit, or that speed was something we should be concerned about. Mostly we just kept with the stream of traffic.

We ended up making really good time down to the elephant reserve, but it didn't matter too much because they had pretty regular elephant shows (we had thought they only had one). The show was pretty neat. They had the elephants do a sort of re-enactment of the work elephants used to do, which was logging. Then they had the elephants paint a picture. One painted a freestyle picture, and the other one painted some flowers (the people there had taught him how). We also went to see the elephant dung paper factory while we were there. Apparently they can not only make paper out of elephant dung, but they can also make bio-fuels if they ferment it right. So that was pretty neat to see. This was the only day Alonzo and I didn't share a moped, and on the way back we took it a lot slower. It was nice to be able to enjoy it, though it was still a little terrifying. We stopped at a roadside stand and got some strawberries, then turned off on a random road and happened to find a temple. So we stopped there and ate the strawberries. It was pretty cool. Needless to say it was some sort of a Buddhist temple. The statues were humanoid but had vague resemblances to a cat, and there was leopard print cloth draped around them. To top it off there was a cat living there by itself. I think it was the friendliest cat I've ever met. After we went polished off the strawberries we went up the hill and found a whole monastery. We only saw one monk, but he told us to show ourselves around. It was a pretty beautiful place.

Most of the other days we went climbing. The climbing here is all really good and not too crowded. There is a cave adjoining one of the cliffs and we saw in the guide book that there was a climb inside, so we went in to check it out. There was one or two short climbs near the entrance but the one we were interested in was farther back. It was a two pitch climb, roughly 5.11d in difficulty, which is out of my league, but a couple of the other guys we were with wanted to give it a try. Basically it was the kind of climb that makes me wish I was a better climber. It just takes a really cool line, looked amazing, and was really really exposed (which means that it is really obvious how far it is to the ground). The climb was fairly overhanging and was basically already 100' off the ground when it started, so as soon as you started climbing there was nothing between you and the ground but air. When I found the guys, they were already started. Conrad was sitting on a ledge 100' off the ground (the starting point) belaying Jessy, who was another 100' up, about 10' past his last bolt, standing in between two stalactites, staring down into the vast emptiness of the cave. After sitting for a minute I realized Jessy was looking for another bolt because he wasn't sure where the route went next. He ended up finding one right above his head (and after he clipped that one he found another down by his thigh). The second pitch traversed right out of the cave, then over the opening to the anchors. It wasn't quite as intense looking, but still made me wish I was a better climber.

Other highlights were finding a waterfall one day after climbing, and going to a Thai cooking school. The day we went to find the waterfall, we had originally planned to go to a hot spring, but we found out that there were about 3 different fees just to get into the area, and that there might be another fee to actually sit in the hot spring. We were also unsure about whether or not we'd physically be able to sit in hot spring because of the size of it. There was a lot of miscommunication going on. Our fall back plan was to go to the waterfall, so we set off. The drive was a lot more beautiful and got us back into the mountains. Alonzo was driving so I got to take in a lot of the view. After driving for a while we had to stop and ask for directions. A truck was driving past and Alonzo had the guidebook, so he spearheaded the initiative. While Alonzo asked directions, I commented to Conrad that they were pretty ballsy, trying to get information like that without any knowledge of the language. He laughed and said it was easy. All you have to do is point at the waterfall in the guidebook, then point down the road to the left and to the right. Touche. It really is that simple. The guy Alonzo asked even spoke some English, so he came away with more information than just a direction. We ended up finding the ranger station (really just a family's home, but they opened the gate for us and let us in) and the trailhead. The sun was setting as we walked in, which was beautiful, but also a little distressing because I hadn't brought my flashlight. At one point we came to a fork in the trail. We chose the left fork and kept our fingers crossed. The trail dropped steeply into a canyon and it seemed like we had chosen the right path. After a little further the creek crossed a stream, and right after that we found the waterfall. I had wanted to swim before, and there was a good pool at the bottom of the fall, and I could have swam but due to time constraints I didn't. It was a nice waterfall. We took a couple pictures and then hurried back.

Alonzo drove the first half of the way back, then I took over. This was the most terrifying ride of the trip. Nothing really special happened, it was just pretty intense overall. When we finally made it back and I stepped off the moped for the last time (that day), I heaved my first ever true sigh of relief. The stress of the ride back didn't even compare to anything else I've experienced in my whole life. Hands down. Tests and school are nothing. Climbing isn't even very scary compared with the ride back.

Anywhoo, the cooking school was fun (and we didn't have to ride mopeds out to it, which was a bonus). The chef teaching us kept making terrible jokes, and then laughing really hard, which made his jokes funny. I guess it was a testament to how important a good delivery is. And I learned how to make mango sticky rice, a delicious concoction involving mango, sticky rice, sugar, coconut, and salt. Unbelievable.

I kind of wanted wrestle with the trunk of an elephant, but since I'm pretty sure the elephant could rip me in half like a phone book, this is as close as I got. And the elephant spit on me a little.

One other neat thing about Chaing Mai was the Frog Women. There are a few night markets in Chaing Mai, and they are all saturated with Frog Women. They sell little wooden frogs, that have been hollowed out in the middle, and carved ridges on their backs. You take a stick and rub it along the ridges on their backs and it makes the frogs 'ribbit'. And the Frog Women push these things like there weren't no tomorrow. They've got a good system too, the whole Frog Woman union, that is. They all wear fakey little outfits with a red on black design that I though looked a little Peruvian. They also wear very interesting hats. The hats look a little like the Pope's hat, but smaller. They have high fronts (similar to the Pope's hat), but square, with a color scheme to match their jackets, and little silver bangles hanging off. And all of the women are shorter than 5' 4". Actually it is a little odd, because they really all are really short. Anyway, when you first walk in you get attacked by a few of the older more experienced ones. If you make it past them, then there is another rank of younger pretty Frog Women waiting inside the gate. They attack next. And each individual attack isn't easy to fend off either because there are so many stages of it. They use the frogs to lure you in, but once you've told them you don't want a frog, they are ready with a horde of other trinkets to push on you. See, they all wear those little rack that hang off in front of them, like hot dog salesmen in baseball stadiums. The racks are full of more frogs, and other trinkets, and they've got necklaces and bracelets hanging off of both arms which they push at you and point to. I really do like the Frog Women though. They're constantly making the frogs go 'ribbit' so they create a sort of nice atmosphere, and they are so stalwart and determined. Almost none of them ever smile, or even speak. They just point to the frogs and necklaces and stare at you. It is fun to watch them haggle other people too, but sometimes they notice me and start walking towards me. I shake my head 'no', but I think that is a mistake because it just encourages them. If I shake my head then I've responded in some way, and they have an opening.

Thursday, December 20, 2007

Thailand ... Yeeaaaahh.

One of my roommates from school (Alonzo) is spending a few months in Thailand climbing, and, because my school gets a few weeks off for Christmas, I'm going to meet and climb and catch up. He was planning on meeting me in the airport, and we had formulated vague ideas about meeting next to any columns with 'A' or '1' on them, for lack of a better landmark. So when I made it through customs I was a little concerned about actually meeting up, but as I was walking past lines of people Alonzo stepped up beside me. Then commenced a festival of hugging. At first we hugged cause it was good to see each other. Then we hugged because Brian (another roommate) had asked me to give Alonzo a hug for him. Then we hugged again because Brian had also asked me to tell Alonzo to give me a hug for Brian. Then we hugged again, just for good meAsure. Then we headed to the hotel.

After breakfast the next day we caught a bus to the train station. Here is such a contrast from Taiwan. There you can scan a magnetic card to pay for the trip, and the buses have TV's on them, and doors that open and close. The buses here have wooden floors, and the no real doors and a woman that comes around to collect the change for the bus fare. And our bus driver was wearing a pair of really dirty flip flops and his toes were about 3-4 inches long.

Anyway, we made it to the train station OK and we got tickets on the next train to Chaing Mai. It didn't leave until 2:30 in the afternoon, so we killed some time and tried to find a place where I could withdraw some money. We didn't find one so we went back to the train station, and put our stuff down. I went to make some more rounds on different ATM's and when I came back Alonzo had made a new friend. Or a new friend had made Alonzo. A middle aged Thai woman (with poor English) was trying to communicate. She seemed like a scammer but, I wasn't quite sure what her scam was, so I talked to her some too. She also had a ticket on the 2:30 train to Chaing Mai, which was a little dubious, but after talking to her for a few minutes, we grabbed out bags and went to get on the train. After I put my backpack in the rack above the seats, I went to get out my book, and found out that my tube of toothpaste had busted open, and green apple toothpaste exploded everywhere. I was disappointed and I cleaned my book off, but decided to wait until later to clean up the rest of it. Alonzo and I had the seats at the beginning of the row, and just as we started to sit down a man came around, and turned our seats to face the ones behind us. I thought this might be a little awkward, because then we would be staring at the people in front of us for a lot of the 12 hour ride, but then the man turned those seats too, so now Alonzo and I were sitting in the back of the car instead of the front.

The train ride wasn't too fast and was a good opportunity to see the countryside. It also provided a good opportunity to try real Thai food because people were walking past pretty regularly. And they walked past about a dozen times, so you could really scope out what it was first, and decide whether or not you wanted any. We ended up getting something that I thought was noodles, in part because a middle eastern guy across the isle got some too giving Alonzo and I a good opportunity. So we got some. It looked like fiber glass, and was a little scary to eat, but it was made from sugar cane, and tasted like cotton candy. It was pretty good, and we talked with the middle eastern man some. Later on we saw the crazy woman coming towards us on the train, and we pretended to be asleep until she walked past, but she outsmarted us and came right back after we stopped pretending so, we had to talk to her.

It got a little weird when she started leaning on my knee to support her as she sat down in the isle. It still wasn't clear what she wanted, but I wasn't cool with her using my leg as a backrest, and my thigh as an armrest, so I started to ignore her and try to read. Then I made an ass out of myself. Because I was ignoring her the woman shifted her attention to the middle eastern man beside me, and started haranguing him. I thought I should offer some friendly advice, so I said maybe if he said something in Arabic she might get confused a leave. My assumption he spoke Arabic wasn't completely baseless. I had seen him reading a Lonely Planet guidebook earlier, and it looked like Arabic. He'd also been talking to the girl beside him in what sounded like Arabic. Even though my assumtion had some basis it proved to be completely false. After I gave him my little tidbit of advice, he smiled and said he didn't speak Arabic. So I felt like a jackass, but he was really friendly about it. I made some excuses, and went back to reading. The woman ended up leaving, and Alonzo introduced himself. The couple was actually from Israel, and they had been reading and speaking Hebrew. They were really nice, and gave us some fruit.

After a while it got dark, and we couldn't look at the scenery anymore, so we went to sleep. It got really cold on the train and I pulled out my blanket, and Alonzo and I huddled together for warmth. The train got in at a little after five in the morning, and Alonzo and I caught a 'tuk-tuk' to a guesthouse called 'Same-Same'. Thai people have their own sort of English, and one of the common expressions is 'same-same'. I don't know why they say it twice, but they almost always do. Anyway, we made it to the guesthouse ok, but it was still only 6 in the morning, so we just loitered around out front. I tried to clean the toothpaste out of my bag, but it didn't work to well.

Thursday, December 6, 2007

Well ...

I've been living here for over two months now, and I hate to say this, but I still think a lot of Asian people look a lot alike. I even thought I saw Jerries mom working at the grocery store the other day. At first I was surprised, then worried because I owed her money, and I didn't have any on me to pay her back, then I realized it wasn't her.

And another thing. Up until this week I thought all the restaurants I ate in were very clean with no problems, just like the states. But earlier this week I was eating lunch and saw a rat running across the floor. I'm pretty sure it wasn't a pet rat either, though it did seem pretty accostomed to having the run of the place. And just yesterday I got served a piece of honey toast with ants on it. While I was debating whether or not to take I could get my money back for it, or whether or not I could eat it and get my money back for it, one of the people at my table took all the ants off. Now that there were no ants on my toast my options were a lot more limited. I couldn't very well take a peice of toast up there with no ants on it, and say that there had been ants on it, and I wanted my money back. So I just ate the toast.

This afternoon I got an opportunity to try the Taiwanese version of chewing tobacco (I don't think it has as many negative side affects, but it does turn your mouth red temporarily). There is a nut (very similar to an acorn) wrapped in a small leaf. You bite the end off the 'acorn', spit that out, then put the rest in your mouth and start chewing. It wasn't bad really. I thought it tasted a little like meat. I had swallowed a couple mouthfulls of spit before I asked my teacher if that was ok or not. Apparently you can but most people don't. So I spat out the rest of the 'mouth water' (chinese for saliva). Overall it wasn't terrible, but I don't think I'll be buying it for myself any time soon.

Tuesday, November 27, 2007

Thanksgiving

My school got two days off for Thanksgiving, so I decided to go backpacking. When one of the typhoons came, a couple months ago, I had rented a book on the Taiwanese mountains from the library, and picked out one that looked gorgeous. Then I found a store, and got a good topo map, figured out from the map some nearby cities and was pretty much ready. I tried to figure out the bus schedule to Lu Shan (the town I needed to get to) but because there are so many different bus companies, there isn't really a good internet website for the bus schedules. So I decided to skip my last class on Wednesday so I could get an early start and then wing it, and hope things turned out OK. I kind of wanted an adventure, and I went by myself, so I expected to have one. I had thought that getting to the trailhead would be the most difficult part, and once I got to the trailhead I would be home free. However, I was mistaken.

I took a train to Taichung, and when I got there, I just went in to the visitor services office and asked how to get to Lu Shan. They checked all the bus schedules, and quickly wrote up a little schedule. There were buses going leaving every fifteen minutes for Pu Li, so I caught the next one of those. The bus looked really nice on the inside, all the chairs were green leather, and even had those little triangular blocks on either side of your head, so you can just lean your head to the side and nap. I was excited about them, until I sat down and realized they were too low, and pushed my shoulders forward. So I had to slouch down, and press my knees either into the isle, or into the seat in front of me.

After the bus got to Pu Li, I got off and waited at the bus station (for about an hour) for the next bus to Lu Shan. At Pu Li I was already in the mountains, but they started to get serious once I headed out for Lu Shan. It was getting dark, but I caught glimpses of jagged ridges, and I started to get excited.

We pulled into Lu Shan at 8:00, which was basically the trailhead (at least according to the map). I had some vague sort of hopes of being able to camp somewhere, or stay without paying, but these were quickly dashed. I got solicited right away by a couple guys from one of the hotels, just waiting around at the bus stop. I told them the hotel was too expensive for me, and the asked if I wanted to camp. Naturally I said yes, and they told me there was a spot down the way where I could camp, but I was pretty unclear about the whole situation. I walked about 100yds down the road and got solicited by a couple more guys from the same hotel. I told them it was too expensive, and they asked how much I was willing to pay. I have no idea about the hotel market in Taiwan, so I decided to start low at 100 NTD (about 2.50 USD). They all burst into laughter, and a couple other people who were walking past stopped to watch. So now it was the main guy I was talking to, a couple of his co-workers, and a couple of strangers, all come to watch the foreigner. After they quit laughing I asked him how much the cheapest place was. 600 NTD. I've camped in city parks before, but I don't really enjoy it and 600 isn't that much so I decided to stay there. The main guy took me over to the cheap hotel, and the 'clerk' there showed me to my room. Then he gave me some hot water, and left.

Thursday morning (Thanksgiving, though I didn't get realize it until Friday), I got up early, had granola for breakfast, and went downstairs. The 'clerk' this morning was an old man, and so I gave him the key, then asked for some water. I was pleased with my decision to stay at a hotel. Flush toilets, free clean water, and best of all I could ask for directions to the trailhead. The old man had to get out a magnifying glass but he seemed to now where we were on my map, and how to get to where I wanted to go. That was as far as giving directions went, and was the point when the fiasco started. There were two trails leading out of the city, and he told me that everyone else took the one that I didn't want to take. I wasn't sure I would be able to get directions out of him because he seemed adamant that no one used the trail I wanted to use. The other one would have been OK too, but it would have taken an hour longer, and just seemed like too much effort.

Then the 'clerk' from last night joined the old man (I think they were a father-son duo), and now it came out that I didn't have a permit. Before I left I had heard from multiple people that you had to have a guide to go about 3000 meters, and I knew that I didn't want a guide, so I had disdained the whole process, and anything to do with guides or permits. The two clerks started making it sound like people got lost and were never found again every other week on this trail, but what really scared me was this stamp they kept going on about. They claimed that if I got caught in the backcountry without this a permit, someone would put this stamp on my passport, and when I went to other countries they might not let me in because they would know I was a bad egg, and didn't get backcountry permits. This worried me because I've already bought my plane ticket to Thailand for Christmas break, and I really want to go see Alonzo (school roommate I'm meeting there). They told me I could apply for a permit, but it would take at least 3 days, and so I might as well go back to Taipei. This was very frustrating because the weather was gorgeous and I really just wanted to go backpacking. Not only that, but they had gotten my name and passport number early on so it seemed like if I were to leave now without a permit these two clerks would call the police on me, and I would be certain to get caught and stamped. Bastards. They told me the next bus out of town left at 9:30 so I had about 40 min to decide. So I left, and went to see if I could find the trailhead on my own. After walking for a bit I decided to give one of my teachers a call and see what she thought of the situation. She had never heard of the "hey other countries look, this guy didn't get a backcountry permit in Taiwan" stamp, and told me that the permit process could be completed in one day, and she thought I ought to go do that. I didn't think that my prospects of success were good because even if other people could get the permit sorted out in one day, I didn't know if I could. I think a lot of Taiwanese people think that us white people are little better than children, and it is a miracle we make it through every day. The benefit of this is that most Taiwanese people are really nice and willing to help foreigners who managed to make it across the ocean to get here. However, I didn't think this helpfulness would extend to letting a white guy go alone into the backcountry.

It turns out I was mistaken. I caught the bus at 9:30 and got of at Wu She. I had to go to the Police Station to get the permit, and when I walked in the guy at the front desk knew right away I was in to apply for a permit, (I think the backpack tipped him off) and he told me to stash my stuff in an adjacent room, and go upstairs. I had to ask for directions again on the second floor, but I got pointed in the right direction. As I walked into the room, another guy followed me in and immdeiately took me under his wing. He went and got the papers, and I started filling them out. Part way through the form filling out the guy found out where I wanted to go, and told me it would take 6 days. Then he got excited and showed me some pictures of somewhere he had just gone, and told me he would take me there next time I came back. He suggested, because my plan would take six days, that I just go back to Taipei, but I voiced my feelings about going back to the city. So, we settled on a much more simple trip. Hike in, camp at the same place for two nights, then hike out. I didn't want to press for an itenerary that sounded more interesting because I didn't want to get sent back to Taipei, and in the end I think the more relaxing trip was better. There was only one problem with the new plan. The original trail I had planned to hike left straight out of the city limits, but this one required a long drive in (with no public busses). However, the police man wasn't about to let this get in my way. He said he was going to go asking around to see if anyone else was going in there, and I think he told me if that plan didn't work he would take me up there himself. I'm not sure exactly, but I know there was a backup plan. I ended up not needing the backup plan because my policeman friend found some other people heading to the same place, and he talked them into letting me ride along.

I stashed my backpack in the back of their gear van (they were biking in) and got into a car with a stranger. As I did so, it occured to me that getting into cars with strangers isn't always the best idea, and I might ought to be concerned about it. I wondered why I wasn't concerned, and then realized that I had sort of expected to be getting into a car with a stranger. I tried to prepare very well for this trip, and I even brought along a piece of cardboard and a marker, in case I needed to do any spurt of the moment hitchiking. The stranger driving the car was, not surprisingly, very nice and we talked for a while then I just enjoyed the drive. When we got to the trailhead I grabbed my pack and left, looking forward to enjoying some quite and scenery. I stopped to pee beside the trail, and was immediately interupted by mopeds coming down the trail from the other direction. My hopes for a wilderness experience hadn't been especially high but they were shattered all the same.

The trail was pretty sketchy too, but that didn't stop the fellows on mopeds from shuttling gear in and out to the hostel (my destination). Most I didn't see the mopeds again until much later in the day, and I was able to enjoy most of the hike in solitude. The mountains were gorgeous, and the weather was pretty perfect. As I came around the last ridge the wind picked up, and the temp dropped noticeably. There was no one else in the hostel when I got there, so I just set up my tent in the field out front, then had dinner and went to bed. After I had been in my sleeping bag for a while I heard the bikers arrive, then the mopeds, then I heard them crank up the generator. I managed to ignore it and slept well.

In the morning someone came to check up on me. They were worried cause they hadn't seen me the night before, and I hadn't gotten out of my tent yet. Sweethearts. So I got up and had breakfast. The weather was beautiful again, though there was still a cold, moist wind blowing off of the ridge behind the campsite. The ridge had been covered in cloud the day before, and was again today, though the rest of the sky was completely cloudless. After breakfast I set off to climb Nan Hua Shan (the mist covered ridge behind the campsite). The hike was gorgeous, and the trail quickly led above tree line pretty quickly. About the same time the trail ducked unto the cloud, where it was colder, and much wetter, but it was still beautiful. Bamboo had replaced the trees, and in some places the bamboo overshadowed the trail. It wasn't bad if the trail was flat or uphill, but there were times when it went downhill steeply and it was overgrown. So I crept along hoping I wasn't putting my foot in a hole, or on a slippery pebble just waiting to tumble away as soon as I weighted it. I managed to make it through, if slowly. (It's kind of hard to tell in the picture, but I'm waist deep in bamboo. The trail stretches off behind me.)

Since I had come onto the proper part of the ridge the wind had picked up, and I was too wet to stop and hang out in the wind. I didn't regret that most of the time, and I found a couple spots where the trail dipped beside the other side of the ridge and was out of the wind. I took advantage of these spots to stand and relax, watch the clouds get blown past, and know that if I were standing there it would be really windy and loud. But I wasn't standing there, so I could really enjoy the calm and complete quite.

The actual summit of Nan Hua Shan wasn't terribly exciting, just a higher bump on a ridge. The view of the fog was the same. When I made it to the pass on the other side there was a monument ("Spreading Light Over the Land Monument") and a small informational sign with a picture of Nan Hua Shan. It looked very beautiful, and was neat to think about what it would look like, but my view wasn't terribly remarkable. Shortly after I left the pass I walked back into the sunlight, and was able to shed a couple of layers. Being inside the fog is beautiful in its own unique way, but there is just no replacement for real sunlight.

The American slogan "If it's worth doing, it's worth doing well." I think the Taiwanese version would be "If it's worth doing, it's worth doing with about 50 other people, all together." I got back to camp at about noon and there were already a few more tents up out front. In the afternoon I left again to get some peace and quite, and read by the trail for a few hours. When I went back to camp there were 5 or 6 more tents up and a bunch of people inside milling around. I talked to the bikers a little bit (they had gone on a day hike too, but had climbed another mountain in addition to Nan Hua Shan). I read some more inside but dinner time was rolling around and things were starting to get intense. People were starting to use multiple little single burner stoves to hold up a pot the size of my torso and cook oodles of rice and different kinds of meat. I went outside and had my dinner of vege chicken nuggets and some kind of mayonnaise/salad dressing. The mayo was pretty gross, but I wanted some extra calories to keep me warm in the sleeping bag, and all the butter they have here was imported from Europe so the mayo seemed like the more eco-friendly choice. Even though it was colder, I was hanging around outside mostly now because I was afraid if I loitered inside too much I would get wrangled into eating someone else's food. This isn't really that big of a problem except that all of my food that I don't eat, I have to carry back out, and furthermore I was full already. Standing outside ended up not being far enough away because I still got wrangled into eating other peoples food. I was licking my bowl out, and I think one of the bikers inside saw me thought I was doing it out of hunger (I've had this bowl for 6 years, and I always lick it out, just so I don't get food everywhere). In any case Xiao Fei, one of the bikers, brought out some soup and poured some into my bowl. It was delicious, and it was warm, making it leaps and bounds better than vege chicken nuggets and mayo. Xiao Fei insisted I come inside and take a seat so I obliged. I finished the soup, and Bo Shun (the guy whose car I'd ridden in) told me to stay around for more. I told him I'd already eaten, but he told me not to worry, we still had two hours left. It seemed as though I was in for it. I didn't know what was going to happen in two hours (my main timekeeper, the sun, had already set) but I did know I didn't want to be eating for the next two hours. I pleaded vegetarian some, and managed to get away with a little bowl of spaghetti. The biker group consisted of three Taiwanese guys and 2 british guys. Xiao Fei and Bo Shun were friends and I think they had just met the other Taiwanese guy because of this trip. I'm not to clear. The other Taiwanese guy spoke some English and he had brought along the two Brits. The Brits Chinese was terrible, so I got to serve as an impromtu translator for a while, but when the clutch moment came I didn't know the word for the kind of seafood they were having with the spaghetti.

I did get to talk with Bo Shun for a while. He was nice but I especially liked him because he didn't beat around the bush at all. When I introduced myself I gave him my full Chinese name, but he just told me Chinese people don't like that long of names. Also, because not that many people have my same last name (Ge), and because I'm a big guy they could just call me Little Ge. I was fine with that. All of my teachers call me my two given names (JingYan) but it was nice to spice things up a little. He also invited me to his house, but more importantly, he explained why. Apparently helping white people is some sort of status symbol. So, by helping me and showing around his town he'd be getting a leg up on the community totem pole. And I'd be getting shown around a new place, and I might get a place to stay and some free meals. Everyone wins. I've kind of had that impression before, but it clarified things a lot to have Bo Shun explain things to me.

I asked Bo Shun what they did after dark at the hostel and he told me there was some sort of party. I wanted to see it, but my stomach was too full and I just wanted to lay down. So I did. In the morning there was a cold wet wind blowing through camp, so I just threw everything in my bag and left. I knew the bikers were going out today, and I wanted to get a ride back to the bus stop with them, and since all they had to do was roll down hill, I felt like I needed a good head start to get to the trailhead at the same time.

On the hike out I passed what seemed like over 100 people heading in to the hostel. When Xiao Fei passed me on the trail I commented on how many people there were. He said that there had been 70 people there the night before, and there were indeed well over 100 heading in tonight. He said the hostel was expecting close to 200 people, camping and staying inside. Its no wonder those two guys at the hotel couldn't get there head around me going by myself. The Taiwanese like to camp by the hundreds.

The bikers did get to the trailhead a little before I did, but I wasn't too far behind. Right after I got there Xiao Fei handed me a beer, and a handful of M & M's. I don't know how well they mixed, but they were both good to have. Bo Shun was going to give me a ride back to a bus stop, and he was ready to go pretty soon, so I threw my stuff in his car and we left. I hadn't finished my beer, but he said it was alright to drink in the car so I just did that. I don't know if I'd say my mind got blown, but driving back was certainly an interesting experience. The initial road was just a series of steep switchbacks, in very quick succession. The steepness or quickness of succession didn't seem to slow Bo Shun at all. On the contrary I think it might have made him want to go faster. Anyway, for whatever reason he was rallying his car down this road. It occurred to me again that I didn't really know him that well, but my options seemed limited so I just sat, sipped beer, and tried to enjoy the ride. He ended up wailing his car a little bit, where some concrete had fallen down, making a sort of extended pot hole. He slowed down after that, but by then we were at the end of the switchbacks anyway, so it didn't really matter too much. (You can see the switchbacks in the foreground.)

Bo Shun and I talked a little on the way back, and we got to the bus stop pretty quickly. We exchanged info and shook hands. There was a bus waiting at the stop, so I headed off. Back to Taipei.

Wednesday, November 14, 2007

The Monk Part 2

I ran into the monk today after school. I was standing next to the stairs talking to one of my classmates as he came up the stairs. He was showing some other Thai people around, and decided to take them here. We talked for about an hour, and it was really satisfying because I didn't ever have to stop the conversation to ask what a word was. We did have one little glitch because the word for province and tone are the same except they have different tones. So I asked him how many tones the Thai language has, and he said 74. I was incredulous, but we finally got it sorted out. Thailand has 74 provinces, but the Thai language only has 5 tones (Chinese has 4 or 5 depending on how you count, most people say it only has 4). We talked about excersise some, and I asked him what he did. He said he runs up and down stairs, and does yoga. I asked him how he learned yoga, and he said he went on the internet just like everyone else. I just thought it was funny, a Buddhist monk from Thailand surfing the internet finding out how to do Yoga.

Wednesday, November 7, 2007

"To Install"

In class today we went over the word for 'to install'. In Chinese it is really similar to the word for put, except for that it is specfically to put inside something. My classmates and I were having a hard time, so my teacher got out all kind of props, and had a sort of festival of putting things inside other things, and taking them back out, then putting them back inside again. She got a towel from somewhere, and for a while that and a bag were her main props, then she broke into her tupperware stash, and it started to get crazy.

On the way home from school, I saw someone sending text messages with their cell phone, and riding their bike at the same time. This isn't the first time I've seen it, and everytime I think about how reckless it is. Then I remembered I had to send this guy a text message, so I pulled out my cellphone and started biking and texting at the same time. Things were going well enough until I pressed end instead of the 'd-e-f' key, and lost the message. I decided it was too much trouble, so I re-stashed my phone.

A miracle happened the other night. In my rice cooker, I had been only cooking 2.5 cups (I don't think it is an actual cup measurement, my rice cooker just came with a cup, and I fill it up 2.5 times) of rice each time, but I would always have to make 2 batches. So, I decided to up the ante and cook 5 cups of rice in one go. Things got off to a rough start when I wasn't able to put the last 1.5 cups of water in the pot because it was already full to the brim. Furthermore, the pot usually has 2 lids on it, and this time one wouldn't fit on because the pot was too full, so I was a little worried about rice overflowing everywhere, but I decided to press on. The rice took so long to cook that I forgot about it, but then I heard the click when it turned itslef off, and I remembered. 1st of all, my rice cooker never turns itself off. I mean ... it is supposed to, but it never has in the past. Anyway, after it cut off, I went over to check it out, and found that the rice had filled up exactly to the rim of the pot. It couldn't have been any more even. I checked it and the rice was cooked, so I started spooning it out into my tupperware. I was worried that I would come to the point where I had dug deep enough and I would come to water that hadn't been evaporated, but I never did. The rice was perfectly cooked.

Monday, November 5, 2007

Saturday Number 2

One of my classmates just moved into a new house, so she had a sort of house warming party last night. For a while it was just Luke, Lauren, and I. Then a couple Norwegians (our classmates) showed up. It was pretty cool to talk to them. One of them kept going on about Dr. Ron Paul M.D. (I think that was his name, but I forget exactly), a candidate for the next presidential election. Lars was super stoked because America has a serious candidate for the presidency who wants to reintroduce the gold standard. After that we talked about how fu&*ed the American political system is, and then a bit about the Norwegian political system. My mind got blown again, but not quite so much as before. It was just a really unique experience.

Tonight I went out with the French girls again. It was pretty funny overall. Luke had other dinner plans, so he couldn't serve as the translator, and we had to communicate ourselves, which was a challenge. While we were eating dinner they asked me why I was a vegetarian, and I was pretty sure that last time I had told them it was because beef production is inefficient, so I decided to switch it up and tell them that it was because cows produce so much methane, and contribute to global warming. I felt pretty confident that they would have heard of global warming, so I tried to explain in English, but we caught a snag right away when they didn't understand 'warming'. I managed to get everything across (I think) and went on to explain how cows tied in to the whole scheme. I didn't say the word 'methane' because I was pretty sure they wouldn't know that one, but after I had explained for a while Estelle came out of left field and wrote down 'methan' on a piece of paper. I was stoked, and at the time I though she knew the English word 'methane', but in hindsight I think the English and French are just really similar here.


After we finished dinner we went out to 'Underworld'. It sounds like a crazy dance club, but it is really just a regular bar, in the basement. The music was some sort of combination of heavy metal and electronica. Estelle and Alice both hated it, and I liked it at first but after listening for a while it sounded more and more like noise. The band quit pretty early, so we were able to talk for a while. I think overall everything went well.



We are able to communicate, as long as nobodies in a big hurry. And they've both got a good sense of humor, so if communication ever breaks down completely everyone just laughs.

Friday, November 2, 2007

Saturday

I took the bus on the way to Thai boxing. The subway stop I get off at is the 'City government' stop, so I assumed it would be the same one and I got off there. Indeed, I assumed wrong, and I got off right at Taipei 101. I looked at it for a bit, because the last time I saw it it was dark out, and raining so I couldn't get that good of a view. After I had seen my fill, I walked off in what I thought was the right direction. I think I was going in the right direction for a while, but I got lost, and when I found myself I was two metro stops back towards home, so I just took the metro there.



On Thursday I had invited Martin to come out with Luke and I to Oldie Goodie, and he seemed interested. He still was today, and we went over to his house for drinks before we went out to OG. He and Luke talked about the Middle East mostly, but I think keeping up with the news is just depressing, so I didn't have anything intelligent to add. I felt kind of bad because Martin might rather talk about something other than political issues all the time, but I guess it comes with the territory.



OG was great, and Luke mustered sufficient testicular fortitude and asked the lead singer for her unber (which she gave him). So thats cool.

Wednesday, October 31, 2007

Friday

Someone ran into me as I was riding my bike to school. I was passing another biker on their right, and I was mostly past them, then they turned and ran into my rear wheel. It didn't shake my balance, so I kept riding, and looked back to see if they were ok. They had put their foot down, but they seemed to be alright. I wondered whose fault it was, and naturally I decided it was theirs.



It was raining, and a little cold so they were wearing a jacket. They had the hood on, and the drawcord pulled tight all the way around so they had no peripheral vision, which I think was what caused the accident. There are no real 'rules of the road' on campus, and a whole lot of people ride bikes, so it is a little crazy at class changes, especially at intersections, where there is a constant flow of bikes in one direction, and the people who want to cross just have to get up the gumption and go.



After school I went climbing. Earlier in the week, I met another girl in my same program who wanted to go climbing too, so we met at one of the metro stations. She had forgotten to bring gym shorts, so she went to buy some, and I tagged along. At first we found a lot of those pants girls wear with things written across the ass. Things like 'slut' or 'hot' or 'pink' or 'cheerleader', or meaningless enticements like that. Well, the Taiwanese took it to the next level. Lauren found a pair that said 'Surrealism'. All I really know about surrealism, is that it sounds intense, so I looked it up. Goodgle found this on Princeton's website: "a 20th century movement of artists and writers (developing out of dadaism) who used fantastic images and incongruous juxtapositions in order to represent unconscious thoughts and dreams". I'd say writing surrealism across the ass of girls pants represents an 'incongruous juxtaposition' if I've ever seen one.



Climging was good. We climbed for a long time, and there were some fun routes up. Afterward, we went to a night market in the area. We walked around for a long time, and I finally found some honey peach smoothie (my favorite drink in Taiwan), which I was stoked about because I haven't been able to find very many places in Taipei (none near my home) that sell it, so the more I know about the better. There were a bunch of places that sold Stinky Tofu, but it is really hard to eat, so we held out, and finally found a good vegetarian place.

I Met a Monk at Lunch

I met a monk at lunch. I was eating in the school cafeteria, and he sat down beside me and we started to talk. He was really interesting to talk to and I took this opportunity to ask him about what he can eat. When I first got here Jerry had told me a little about vegetarians here, but I was still unclear. Basically all Taiwanese vegetarians are vegetarians because of religion, and so their diet is, in some senses, more strict than mine. The main difference I know about is that they can't eat garlic. I was curious, so I asked this guy about it. He said that they try not to eat garlic, but that they aren't allowed to cook for themselves, so they really just eat what is served to them.

We talked for a while, and I found out how intense his schedule is. He lives at a temple farther south in Taiwan, so it takes him 2 hours each way to get to class every day. He's taking 22 credits too so he is almost constantly doing homework. I forget how long he said he slept everynight but it wasn't very much. And he hasn't been back to Thailand (his home) in three years. Certainly a pretty sparse life. He does have a cell phone though.

I went to Thai boxing in the evening. One of the other guys who goes works for the state department as a Foreign Service officer, and I got to talk to him tonight. I heard about the Foreign Service earlier in the summer, and one of the only things I knew about it was that it is incredibly competitive. Around 25,000 people apply and they only select 80-90 new officers each year. My momma asked me why it was so competitive and I had no idea, but I got to find out tonight. Martin has been with the foreign service for a little less than 20 years, and has spent about 15% of that time getting paid to study languages. He's studied Korean, Japanese, French, and now he's in Taiwan for 2 years getting paid to study Chinese. Then he'll go to Hong Kong for 3 years, then he can retire. Not a bad deal.

He also got to serve in Paris for 2 years, and he told me about the competition for a posting like that. There might be 100 other people who want to go Paris and have put their names on the list. So now, you are competing with only 100 people, and the reward is getting to live in Paris for 2 years. However, of those 100 people, only 10 might be calling and talking to people and actively getting after the position. So then, you are only competing with 10 people to live in Paris for 2 years. And you don't have to pay for your housing. Definetly pretty slick. The catch thing is that you'd have to move every 2 years. So it would be hard to make any lasting friendships, which is a pretty big drawback.


Martin and I talked about all this on the bus ride back from thai boxing. He lives at the other corner of the NTU campus, so I caught the bus back with him to see if it was more convieneint than the subway. I still don't know if it is more convinient, but it is a lot cheaper. I could cut my travel costs in half if I start to use the bus system all the time. When his stop came around, I thought I could cut down on my walking time (I left my bike at the metro stop, past my apartment in the other direction from where the bus was heading) so I waited a couple of stops. I got off when I saw something familiar, and managed to find my way onto campus where I could get my bearings. It was about 11:30 at night, and I was shocked at how many people there were still on campus. I saw women standing by themselves, not concerned at all for their safety, and people sitting around talking, or strolling casually around. There was even a big group of people next to the time telling bell, playing some sort of game. From the number of people out I would have guessed it was a sunny Sunday afternoon, but indeed it was a slightly rainy Thursday night.

Friday, October 26, 2007

My Neighbors

When I moved into my apartment my landlord told me that there were two french girls living in the apartment next to mine (I think he told me as a sort of incentive to rent the apartment). I had heard them out in the hallway one day, and went out to introduce myself. There was actually only one there, and we talked a little, but my French is non-existent, their English isn't great, and neither of us are that good with Chinese, so communication was difficult. It was a little awkward, but we talked for a bit, then I headed back to my room.

Last week I ran into both of them downstairs, and we talked a little more, then earlier this week the first one I met, Alice, said that the three of us ought to go out to dinner sometime because we were neighbors, and so we exchanged numbers. I sent her a text earlier in the day, and the same thing happened the first time I texted Luke. She had no idea who the text was from (I hadn't said because I had given her my number so I thought it would show up on her phone). We got it sorted out, and decided to meet in the hallway at 7:30. Luke lived in France for a year, and so I invited him to come along and meet the french girls too.

Luke showed up thirty minutes early so he went out and grabbed a couple of beers so we enjoyed them while waiting for 7:30 to arrive. At 7:30 we all congregated in the hallway, then headed out. Luke and I had talked a little about where to go, and just decided to walk south (there is a night market pretty close, and the vege buffet is that way to), so we headed off. The vege buffet was closed already, but we found a Vietnamese place pretty quickly and decided to eat there. The conversation wasn't the most thrilling I've ever experienced but we were able to communicate, and if I ever couldn't get anything across in Chinese I could just ask Luke and he either knew it in French or could explain it. After dinner when Luke paid, then we went outside and the Alice, Estelle, and I settled up with Luke.

It blew my mind. Standing outside a Vietnamese restaurant in Taiwan with my new friend Luke and two good looking French girls with whom I can barely communicate. My mind gets blown a lot more frequently since I've been here. Everything is so similar, like the river Luke and I drove beside on the way to the waterfall, and the Lochsa in Idaho. And people, one of my teachers and one of the managers at the camp I worked at in England. Their personalities are really similar, both work-aholics, generally nice, with a good sense of humor, and they even have similar haircuts. But everything is so different too. Getting to go out to dinner with these girls, and have such a melding of languages (Luke was starting to mix French and Chinese saying two thousand in French and 5 in Chinese). Anyways, it was crazy, and really made me think about communication. It's really intense if you stop and think about it.

After we walked back, Luke suggested we ought to go get a bottle of wine so he and I went to the 7-11 and grabbed one. We went to their apartment and drank and talked. Luke and I tried to explain the phrase 'shallow and pedantic' to them, but I don't think it made it across. We also tried to explain the concept of 'the shit'. If something is shitty, it is a bad thing, but if something is 'the shit', then it is superior to all else. I don't know whether or not they understood, but it was fun trying to explain.

Tuesday

I ate a flower today. I've found this cafeteria on campus, which not only has a vegetarian buffet, and is cheap as all get out, but I usually get full when I eat there. Furthermore, the food is good, but they also always have soups (which come with the meal). They have a sweet one, and a regular filling one, and I always get the sweet one. Today, it was dragon eyeball, and there were little flowers floating in it. So I ate one. It tasted fine, but I felt bad for destroying something so beautiful. When it was floating, all the petals were perfectly evenly spaced apart, and it was just flowering at the exactly appropriate degree. And then I ate it. I don't think the pleasure or nutrition of eating it was worth destroying it, but it was certainly better than throwing it away.



In the evening I went climbing. The last time I went I had to quit because my fingers started hurting. They had even hurt for the next couple of days afterward, but I was hoping they wouldn't hurt tonight. I was disappointed, but I think I managed to keep it from getting to out of hand. I went with one of my classmates, and a couple of her Taiwanese friends, so I got to know them, which was good. I brought all of my climbing gear (rope and other stuff) to Taiwan, and they have a car, so I think I might be able to get out with them.

Wednesday, October 24, 2007

Monday

I learned the difference between Chinglish and Englese today. I had thought that my little western version of Chinese was Chinglish (that was what my teacher in the states had told me), but today I was corrected. Chinese people speak Chinglish when they try to speak English, and English people (or Americans) speak Englese when they try to speak Chinese.

The mystery of how my bike got beaten up last time was solved today. It definitely got hit by a car. I know because I saw my bike get hit by a car today. I had parked in front of the bank to get some money out, and as I was walking up the steps I heard a crash, and turned around. There was a big truck stopped, and my bike laying down at the front corner of it. A man jumped out of the cab and apologized. I smiled and say 'no worries'. I was actually a little worried (I don't know because my bike had already lost the bell, which I was most attached to), but I didn't want to say so. I think bikes are just less valued because their are so cheap. Which makes sense. My bike wasn't really hurt though, the basket got bent a little, but not quite as bad as the first time.

Here are some pictures of my bike and I. I took the first one while I was riding, but my arms aren't quite long enough to get the whole bike and I in one picture.

































Monday, October 22, 2007

Long Distance Moped Trips

I went downstairs to meet Luke at 9:30. We were planning to go to Wu Lai today, on his moped. He texted me and told me he'd been up late talking with his mom (about style), and 10:30 would be better, so I went to the library for a bit, and researched travel to Thailand. At 10:30 I met Luke, and we took off on his moped for Wu Lai. I had previously ridden on Kuan's moped, but I think Luke's isn't quite as nice as Kuan's. It is little, and maroon colored, and the rear shocks bottom out when we go over a bump. It took us about 40 minutes to make it there, but it was a beautiful drive. Taipei is in a basin, so we started to gain elevation right after we left the city. At one point it really reminded me of Idaho, because we were driving alongside a river with steep slopes on either side. To get to one of the good backpacking places in the area, you take Highway 12, which runs between two national forests for most of the way, and also follows the Clearwater River, then the Lochsa (a famous whitewater river). These rivers have carved out a deep canyon, and it is a really scenic drive, travelling between steep pine covered slopes, with a beautiful whitewater river flowing beside you. Riding on Luke's moped through this canyon, following this turquoise Taiwanese whitewater river flowing between steep, densely vegetated slopes really reminded me of Idaho.

We drove past the waterfall (the main attraction), and parked the moped near the town-like area. Luke quickly stumbled upon the main food item, 'mountain pig on a stick'. Basically long, fatty, greasy hot dogs (presumably made of pork), and so he got one of those. I held out for a rice filled bamboo stick, and some dragon eyeball (little grape like fruits, that are mostly see through) smoothie, and some honey yam. We wandered around the city for a bit eating different things and looking around. There were a lot of people on bikes, and a lot of them had nice regular bikes, but about 50% had tiny ridiculous little circus bikes. They had about 12 inch wheels, and the frame would usually come to about 15 or 16 inches, then they'd have a 3 1/2 foot long seat post. Then the people would deck them out with accessories like a rack, and panniers, and water bottle holders, like they were going to bike around Taiwan with their tiny little bikes.

After we finished looking around the city and eating delicious foods, we headed back to get the moped. On the way there, we passed a man, yelling advertisements for his restaurant. He yelled something which I didn't understand, but Luke repeated it, and the guy grinned and yelled something else, which I also didn't understand, and Luke also repeated (I came to find out later that Luke also didn't understand.) Then he said in Chinese 'come look, there are quite a few'. Luke and I walked cautiously over, and he gestured to a group of white people eating inside. It seemed as though he was trying to tell us, look this place is "White People Approved", or look, these people are white, and you are white so you must want to eat with these other white people. We politely turned him down, and rode the moped back to the waterfall.

It was a nice waterfall, but there wasn't a whole lot to do. We walked down to the viewing platform, and viewed it. Then we took some pictures and left. The ride back was a little scary. I think Luke was in a hurry to get back, and get some homework done, so he was driving a little faster. The shock also seemed to bottom out a little more easily, but I was mostly scared going around corners. It is all fine and good for one person to lean into a turn, but when two people have too, it gets a little more dubious. One person can keep their center of balance just fine, but when two people with two different centers of balance lean, it would seem fairly easy for them to lean at different angles, and cause chaos. However, my fear was for naught, and we ended up making it back with no trouble at all.

I proceeded to eat some, because the bamboo stick with rice in, hadn't really filled me up. After eating, the same thing happened as yesterday, and even though I felt overwhelmed with homework, I couldn't muster the motivation to get up, so I napped for about 2 hours. I'm getting a little concerned. I like a good nap every now and then, but I think I might be getting carried away.

In the evening I went and bought a computer. A guy I met at Thai boxing offered to take me to this electronics warehouse/blackmarket/graymarket/wholesale store where computers and electronics were cheaper. I had expected a large room, or possibly big open shelters with lots of tables, kind of like a farmers market but with electronics. It was actually a whole lot of regular sized stores , and one or two bigger stores all selling computers or electronics, and all right next to each other. I shopped a bit, and ended up deciding on an IBM. Hopefully it will make things a little more convienient.

Here is another picture of the waterfall.

Breakfast


I got ambitious and took a picture of my breakfast (choclate almond milk, bannanas, rice, tofu, and cinnamon.) I even tried to make a smiley face with the cinnamon, but I think it actually looks kind of scary. Oh Well.

After breakfast I went to Thai Boxing. Great as usual. After I got back, I showered quickly and wolfed down a PB&J sandwich, then headed off to meet the Taiwanese Wilderness Society guy at 1:00. I found the place ok, and ended up a couple of minutes early. A few minutes after one, the secretary came out, and said Mr. Xie was still on the road, so she sat down and talked to me. She asked a little about me, but we mostly talked about what the Taiwanese Wilderness Society does. I didn't understand it all, but inferring was easier than normal, because I think they do a lot of the same things that American NGOs do, like going into classrooms and giving talks on the environment, trying to conserve native species when people put in new roads, and working with existing land management to more effectively protect what is there already. After a while Mr. Xie got there.

When I was at Thai Boxing in the morning, I asked David (the instructor) about travelling to and in Thailand (he travels there frequently). So we talked about Thailand for a while, and he and another guy both said that Thai is a lot easier to pick up than Chinese. They also said that if the Thai complement you on your Thai language skills, it really is a complement. As opposed to in China and Taiwan, where if your Chinese is fluent the people don't complement you, but if your Chinese is bad their complements are profuse. After I had been talking with Mr. Xie for a while, he began to complement my Chinese, which was kind of disappointing because I thought we had been communicating pretty well (and I'm pretty sure David is right about the Chinese, I'll know my language is good when people stop complementing me.)

I took a nap in the afternoon. I didn't want to, but after I eat, I'm so comfortable, and I lack the movitation to get up off the couch. So I just move the other stuff off the couch, and lay down. The couch is terribly short, and I have to drap my legs around at different angles, but I'm so comfortable from eating that I doze right off.

In the evening I went out to dinner with Luke and his friend Levi. They showed up on Luke's moped, and I had to follow on my bike, so I just took it out into the street (fortunately there wasn't much traffic) and kept up as best I could. We made it to the Indian restaurant without event, and after parking moped and bike we walked over to the restaurant. There was a bit of a ruckus outside, with a huge pink truck advertising some sort of food, and a small crowd of people in pink shirts. Furthermore, there were two polices officers standing in the doorway. I was a little concerned about what was going on, but when we walked up one of the police officers grinned jovially, and beckoned us inside, so we took that as a good sign and went in. Apparently some of the people in pink shirts had broken something at the Indian restaurant, and somehow the police had gotten involved. The menu was printed in Chinese, but it also had Hindi words in roman script, which (for the most part) meant little more to me than the Chinese. We decided what we wanted to eat, but after waiting for a while they never came to take our order, so we left. We crossed through a night market, then headed to an Italian restaurant (I haven't eaten cheese in ages, so I thought this would be a good place to go). Tipping at a restaurant is not the norm here, and I think it makes a difference in the service. The Indian restaurant was slow, and at this Italian place we had about five different servers, and the woman who took our order just wrote it on the palm of her hand. The food was good though, and the conversation was interesting. Luke is concerned about his 'style' so he spent a lot of the time asking Levi about different articles of clothing, and how they matched together, where to buy what, what kind of fit you're looking for and all of the things related to style. I put in my two cents every so often, but mostly just listened and laughed.

After dinner Luke and I went to Oldie Goodie again. It was just as much fun as last week. We're starting to be regulars. We talked to one of the singers in the band for a while, and the bartender knew what drink I wanted when I came in. I didn't even have to order.

Saturday, October 20, 2007

Swear Words

I have the same teacher for the last two class periods. I really like her. She is the oldest teacher I have, and shes written her own textbook, and taught in America, and every summer she travels to Panama to teach Panamanian teachers how to teach Chinese. Anyways, we go off on terrible tangents pretty regularly, and today the tangent was 'swear words'. She taught us well though, giving us the proper usage for each one, and I took good notes. "This one goes before the verb, and this one is like 'f*%k' and can be slung in anywhere in the sentence, and this one is something you call people." Most of them were just combinations of words we already knew, like 'turtles egg' is a rude thing to call people (like the a word, but worse), but she wouldn't write the character for one of them. She just told us the pronunciation, and the meaning, and usage. She didn't say it either, she would just say a sentence, and when the word would come up she would just purse her lips and nod her head, to signify 'the word'. I asked her for the word you use when your car's gas tank is on the left side, but you pull up to the right side of the pump, or when you are trying to make over easy eggs and you break the yoke. She said I could use 'gan' (the one she didn't give us the character for), but she emphasized that I should use it quietly to myself. It shouldn't take long before I break a yoke and I'll be able to use that one. Previously the only word I knew was 'rotten cake', which just kind of means, 'crap' or 'shoot' or 'darn', but now I've got a full repertoire.



I went out to dinner with Luke. We went to a vege buffet, and we got there about6:30 and the place closed at 7:00. Pretty much the only vegetarians in Taiwan are Buddhists, and I guess they eat early. After we ate, we wandered around a night market for a while and talked. I spent ages looking for a place that sells honey peach smoothies (the delicious beverage I had while helping Jerry), but to no avail. Luke and I finally decided to go see a movie, and after we bought our tickets I asked the ticket vendor if she knew of any place that sold honey peach smoothies. She pointed right across the street, and so I went there and ordered, but I got peach ice cream, not a peach smoothie, which was good, but it was a little expensive, and the quantity left a little something to be desired.



After I finished the ice cream we went into the movie. We went to see Lee An's (he did Brokeback Mountain) new movie. It's English name is 'Lust and Caution'. All of the speech was in Chinese, but it did have English subtitles (in addition to Chinese subtitles), so I was able to follow the plot. It was really intense. It kind of made me not want to see any more movies here because the last ones I saw were scary horror movies, and this one has a gruesome scene of a man getting stabbed to death. Overall it reminded me of '1984' (by George Orwell), and I think it was good, but I don't know if it will make it in the states because there were a couple scenes of hardcore porn. I think that he definitely could have gotten his point across with out the stabbing scene, and the two porn scenes.

Also, I got bored in the afternoon, and made this video. It's just a little tour of my room.
video

Thursday, October 18, 2007

葛先生

I got called 葛先生 for the first time today. 葛 (Ge The e is pronounced like you got punched in the stomach. Like in father.) is my last name, and the other two characters just mean mister. So I got called mister Ge for the first time today. Needless to say, I was excited about it. I had called the Taiwanese Wilderness Society to try to get in touch with Mr. Xie on Monday, but he was out of the office. I called on Tuesday but he was in a meeting, so I called back after 5:00, but he was still in the meeting, so I left my Chinese name, and number. Today they still hadn't called me back, so I called again today. After I asked again to speak with Mr. Xie, the woman I had been talking to asked if I was 葛先生, and I said I was. She said something which I didn't understand completely, but I think meant that he was out of the office a lot. Dr. Wu (the professor I met in Taichung) had given them my English name when he recommended me, so I wasn't sure if they knew that 葛先生 and Jasper were the same person, so I told the secretary my English name, told her I wanted to do some volunteering, and asked if there was any other way I could get in touch with Mr. Xie. She asked me to leave my number and she would get back to me, then we hung up. A few minutes later, she called back and asked if I could come by on Saturday afternoon, at 1:00. So now I've got an appointment, and I'll just have to wait and see what happens then.

I went to pay the rent today. I had gone to the bank yesterday to transfer money, but they close at 3:00, which I didn't expect so I came later, and didn't get in. Anyway, I went today, right after class got out, and got helped pretty quickly. I only brought the piece of paper the landlady had given me. It had the account number and bank, but not the branch number of that bank, and so the teller had to call in the teller next to her for backup. The were talking in Chinese and the backup teller asked the other one what information I had brought. The backup teller recognized me from previous visits, and the next thing I knew my Chinese ability was (briefly) the subject of their conversation. The main teller helping me said that I didn't understand very much. Which was ironic because I understood what she said? I think the other teller knew I could at least understand that because she didn't agree to heartily. I sat quietly while they continued talking, knowing that this only further contributed to her belief that I didn't understand a whole lot. It was an interesting situation to be in, but I'm sure calling her out wouldn't have been the right solution. The two tellers did get everything sorted out, and I payed my second months rent.


In Moscow, I had to ride the bus to get to my Chinese class. It was usually the same driver, and after a while I started to say hey to him when I got on and off the bus. After a while I looked at his name tag, and found out his name was Patrick, so I began to attach a whole personality to him, based on the fact that he drove a bus and his name was Patrick. Once I saw him at the Co-op buying food, and that opened up whole new realms of his personality. All of this is important because now I have a new person who I start becoming friends with on the most vague sort of level. I see him almost every morning. He stands in an alley, next to a car elevator, and if a car needs to get out, he stops traffic for it. When I bike past there are usually no cars coming out, or traffic to stop if there were, so he just stands there waiting, holding his baton with both hands behind his back, and keeping a vigilant eye on the alley. I started to say hey to him a few mornings ago. The first time I caught him off guard but he managed a small smile and a nod. I got a little worried cause he was gone for couple of days, but he was back this morning, and he was ready. I said good morning, and he went for the full smile and nod and say good morning combo. It made me absurdly happy, and I laughed to myself all the rest of the way to school. Now I can start to attach a mostly meaningless personality of trivialities, which are, almost certainly, all wrong. I'm pretty stoked off the opportunity.



My bike had picked up a creak, and I lived with it for a while, but it was getting out of hand, so I took it back to the same place I bought it, to see if they would fix it. The guy recognized me right away, which I was impressed about, because it had been a few weeks since I'd been here, and I'd gotten a haircut in the interim, but nonetheless he seemed glad to see me. I don't know the word for creak, but I managed to get my point across and the fixed it without a problem. He also straightend the basket and handlebars. It is probably a good thing that he got the handlebars straightened out, but it felt really weird after riding with them crooked for so long. Hopefully my left knee won't hit the handlebars so easily anymore.

Wednesday, October 17, 2007

The Welcome

The grocery store I shop at is called Welcome. I've been there everyday this week (since Sunday) looking for egg coated peanuts. They are another one of the things I have tried that have turned out to be delicious. I was a little dubious at first, but they make regular peanuts the tinniest bit sweeter, and I think they add a bit of protein too. I still haven't been able to find them, and so I've gotten a couple of replacement snacks. The first is watermelon seeds. I usually spit them out when I eat actual watermelon, but I thought the processing might make them better. I thought right, the processing does make them better. They are licorice flavored, and they actually taste pretty good. The only downside is that they are just as hard to chew after the processing as the are straight out of the melon. To some extent this makes them a good snack for studying because you don't have to be constantly putting something in your mouth. The other snack I've gotten is a couple packs of what could be the most delicious peanuts I've ever eaten. They are pretty oily, and so the salt really sticks on them. In addition to the salt, there is just a hint of garlic, and an occasional big fatty piece of it (the first one I ate I was a little concerned about, because I thought it might be the appendage of a small animal. I thought about taking it back out of my mouth, but I pressed on and got a big taste of delicious garlic.) In my wandering around the Welcome, I've also found a couple different kinds of milk. I had been drinking good old-fashioned cows milk, but now I've found almond milk, and another kind which is either soy or rice milk. I'm still not sure.


On another bright note, I bought "Dune" yesterday. I've never had a favorite book before, but I'm starting to think that it is my favorite. It almost makes me want to change my goals for my Chinese from "be able to function in a professional work environment", to "be able to read and understand Dune at a reasonable speed". I had been looking, in a vague and not very dedicated way, for the book, since I got here but I hadn't been able to find it. I don't know why I didn't think of this earlier, but I finally realized I ought to just look up the word for 'dune' in my dictionary, then search for it on a library computer. So I did that, and it came up with a few results. After going to the appropriate section of shelves and looking thoroughly for a few minutes, I was unable to find it. I realized it might have been checked out (In my excitement to find the book, I hadn't payed very close attention to anything but the call number.) I looked at the computer again, but I got confused, then I got scared, so I left, and went to a bookstore. I found it right away in the bookstore, so I bought it and took it home to peruse. I wasn't able to get a whole lot from it, and this morning in my individual class I got my teacher to go through and underline all of the names in pencil so I don't go through with a dictionary and waste hours trying to figure out what the word for button, the word appointment mean together (they mean New York, just so you know. It is the pronunciation that is important, not the meaning.) Even if knowing which characters are names won't help me that much, but I get a real kick out of the names, because they are all switched over phonetically. It's kind of a fun guessing game to, because my teacher would say the Chinese pronunciation of the name, and I have to guess which person or place it is.

I almost forgot to say this but the title isn't completely literally translated. There is the word for Dune, and then 'magic castle'. So the new name for one of the most masterful works of fiction in the past 50 years is "Dune: Magic Castle".

General Announcements

Thanks to some serious teamwork by Aunt Sally and Jessica (a friend of hers, and the family, who is also Taiwanese) I've not only gotten my address sorted out but I also have a couple of solid dictionaries (I finally have one that I can look up English words in, so now I can start to get down really everyday vocab words like 'almost', that we haven't gone over yet in class.) Just for everyone's information my address is:



Room 405, 4F, No. 4, Alley 244, Lane 2, Sec. 3, Roosevelt Road, Taipei, Taiwan


My phone number is 0919644954. The whole thing you have to dial from the states is 011-886-919644954. I'm pretty sure. Skype is, I think, the cheapest way to call. I don't really understand it, but you use a computer to call a regular phone, and I think you need a headset too.


Also, I love it when people post comments. I pledge from now on, that if people post comments, I will respond to them, so we can have a regular old conversation (To post comments, you click on where it says "# Comments". Then you type what you want. I think to actually post it you have to have an account, but I don't imagine they're hard to create.)


Anywhoo, not a lot happened on tuesday. I went to class in the morning, then studied and wrote this in the afternoon. Then had a delicious tofu log and peanut sauce sandwhich for dinner. Then went to kick boxing. It was the most enjoyable part of my day. I like it more and more every time I go. We worked on a lot of defenzive moves today, then towards then end of class, we sparred some, and got to practice the defense we had learned. One of the blocks is for when someone goes to kick you in the thigh. You raise up the leg they are aiming for and turn it outward, to try to get their ankle joint to hit with your shin bone. Shin to shin contact usually happens anyway, and it is terrible (though we were wearing pads during the practice and sparring, I can only imagine how terrible it would be in a real fight). I really learn so much every time I go, and there is always so much more new that I can learn.

Tuesday, October 16, 2007

Monday

I've lived in my apartment for about a month now, and I had started to wonder how I was supposed to pay the rent. When I signed the contract, the landlord had told me he that I needed to transfer the rent, and that he would give me an account number. Tonite I took the trash out before going climbing, and when I came back to my apartment to grab my gear, and old woman was waiting for me. She is the apartment manager, so she gave me the account number, and told me how much the electricity was (I had been wondering about that too, I'd heard that the bill just came in the mail, but I'm still a little unsure of where my mail comes to and how to get it.) So now I don't have to worry about that anymore.


After she gave me the info, I grabbed my climbing gear and went to the bouldering gym. I had felt pretty good Friday, but today my tendons in my fingers started to hurt, so I had to stop. It was good though, because I'm starting to get to know some of the other climbers. Not a whole lot else happened. One of my classes is starting to move more quickly, and so I'm getting busier with school.

Sunday

I slept in, then went to the library after breakfast. When I was parking my bike I went to put the kickstand down with my foot (I leave it down a lot, but if I turn too sharply it makes a terrible scraping noise, so I had put it up). Anyway, as I was putting it down the tip of it got caught in the front hole of my shoes (those rubber gardening shoes, AKA "Crocs"), and I didn't want to start a tear in the front of the shoe (that was what had happened to my last pair, and it was just a downward spiral), so I tried to deicately remove my shoe from the kickstand. While trying to extract my shoe off of the kickstand I lost my balance. I couldn't throw my foot down for stabalization, and in the process of finding my balance I knocked over both of the bikes on either side of mine, but I finally managed to get my shoe off of the kickstand without tearing it.

In the afternoon, the kickboxing place had open gym, so I went in and practiced for a while. I wanted to get a lot done in the afternoon, but after lunch I couldn't bring myself to do anything but take a nap and be generally worthless. I read "Catch 22" some. I'm pretty sure it is bad for my Chinese, but I want to finish it. Especially because I'm to the sad and depressing part now, and if I quit part of the reason would be because it is so depressing, which would be a poor reason. So I pressed on through, and managed to finish it before bed.

While I was cooking dinner I had the radio on. The mostly play Chinese songs, but an English song came on. It was one that I had heard in England a lot, and everytime I hear it it reminds me of the time I spent there. It was really surreal to hear it now, tucked in between Chinese songs. It reminded me more strongly of all of the good times I had in England, and the fact that now I'm having my second international experience, and listening to the same song. It made me both really happy, because it reminded me of England, and sad because I was the only one who was in England with me, so I had no one to share the experience with me. It was just incredibly surreal all around.

Monday, October 15, 2007

Culture Shock

I would call what I experienced as Distance Shock, but it may have been some Culture Shock as well. I would describe it as the most terrible form of claustrophobia. Not necessarily being home sick, but knowing that if I was, there isn't a single thing (within the realm of reason) that I could do about it. Once, my mom called me, and her phone card cut her off in mid sentence, and I just felt naked. It was late here, so I couldn't go out and try to find a calling card, and even if I did I wouldn't have a land line to use it with (I'm pretty sure I can't use one with my cell phone), my cell phone can't make international calls, and I couldn't get access to a computer to email because it was so late. There was no real way I could get back in touch with her.

The fact that there are Asians everywhere, and everyone speaks Chinese could have had something to do with my periods of sadness, but I'm certainly used to it now. It still amazes me how many people are out during class changes, and especially how many people are riding bikes. There were a lot of people between classes at U of I, but usually only for the few classes in the morning, and not nearly as many people ride bikes. Here there will be as many people out at 7:00 at night as there are at 9:00 in the morning, and most are on bikes. It did occur to me that part of the reason people don't ride bikes as much in Moscow, is because pretty much all of the Univeristy is on some level of a big hill. The edges of campus are flat, but to get to most of the buildings on campus, you have to go to some level of a hill, and people just might not be willing to do that. Here the whole campus is flat, so you never have to exert yourself biking.

Anyways, any sadness I felt was never too prevalent, and it usually just hit me when I woke up, and first remembered where I was. However, I'm pretty sure I'm passed it now because I woke up this morning stoked. I was excited because I thought that I had woken up just before my alarm went off, because the sun was up, and I was well rested. Now I think I woke up because my alarm was going off, but I was happy about it at the time. After I got up, I put some rice on to boil. I eat rice at almost every meal. For breakfast I usually have rice, with tofu, cinnamon, honey, and milk stirred in. Sometimes I even add bananas. Its actually really delicious, and tofu and rice are not only cheaper than dirt, but they also make a complete protein, so it's pretty good all around. I usually eat out for lunch, but for dinner I usually have tofu log and rice sandwiches, or eggs and rice, or sometimes rice and peanut powder sandwhiches (its almost like a good old PB&J, but not quite). I hope I don't become allergic to it.

After I finished breakfast, I took off for the subway, and headed to the main train station in town. I was going to Taichung today to meet the Director of Graduate Environmental Studies at National Taichung University. When I got to the train station, I tried to use one of the automated machines to buy my train ticket, but after I selected Taichung as my destination, it asked me for a further destination, and gave me another long list of Chinese town names, which really confused me, because I only wanted to go to Taichung. So I abandoned the machine and got in line to buy a ticket from a real person. I told him I wanted to go to Taichung, and he asked if a train leaving in 5 minutes was OK. I said that it was, so he printed the ticket, and told me to hurry. I got a little nervous and hurried upstairs to find my platform, then jumped on the first train that I saw. Once I was on the train, I looked at my ticket, and found out that I was on the right train, but on the wrong car. I was trapped in the middle of the aisle, by people trying to get into their seats, so I waited, then jumped right off again, and went to find the right car. Everyone else was on the train already, which made me a little more nervous, but I made it on OK, and the train took off right after I sat down. It was satisfying to have successfully caught the train, and it reminded me a lot of England, because I took trains all the time there.

When I got to Taichung Dr. Wu (the professor I was going to meet), came and picked me up at the train station. It was good to finally meet him, because we'd been in email contact for a couple of months already, and person to person is just less awkward than email. He took me to his office at the University and we sat and talked for a while. After we had exhausted the topics of mutual interest, he gave one of his friends at the Natural Science Museum a call and we headed over there. After he parked, we went into a side door, into an office where we got little visitor badges that insured VIP treatment during the rest of our visit. His friend came and got us and took us into a back door, through an unfinished area, and out in the bug exhibit, then into the main hallway. Dr. Wu and his friend then had a quick conversation in Chinese, and we headed over to the IMAX. His friend went over to the reserved ticket counter, and got us two tickets for free, and then we headed to the front of the line, and straight into the theater. I asked Dr. Wu what the movie was about, but he said he hadn't really been paying attention, something about Africa. We ended up getting to see two, the first on a probe sent to Jupiter, and the second on Dinosaurs in both Africa and Patagonia. It was all in Chinese, but I understood a little bit of it, and even when I didn't understand it was still cool to see IMAX. I'd forgotten how intense they are. You can get nauseous if you're not carefull.

After it was over, we looked around the museum a tiny bit, then headed back to Dr. Wu's office. On the way, I told him that my goal for my Chinese is to be able to function in a professional work environment, and that I thought you could spend an awful lot of time in the classroom, and still not be able to do that. Therefore, I would like to start volunteering, and was there anyway he could help me find a good place to volunteer? He asked whether I would prefer to work in an academic environment, or a practical one. I said practical, so when he got back he called the PRESIDENT OF THE TAIWANESE WILDERNESS SOCIETY (an organization with over 10,000 members). He told him that he had the student of a friend, who was here studying Chinese, and who wanted to do some volunteering. So the president said he would give it to Mr. Xie, and I should call him on Monday.

Networking, I think, is the best invention ever. Sam Ham (who is technically a professor in my department at U of I, but whom I've never met), recommended me to another professor whom I'd never met (Dr. Wu), who in turn recommended me to the President of the largest NGO in Taiwan, and it looks very promising that I will start volunteering there.

Taiwanese grad students seem to have it more difficult that American grad students. When Dr. Wu and I were first talking, a girl came in and dropped of some sweet snacks, and offered to bring us some coffee or tea. I really truley thought she was a secretary of some kind, but after she left, Dr. Wu said that she was just one of his grad students. While we were visiting the museum, they had gone out and bought meals for us, and they were waiting on the table when we returned. While we were eating lunch the same grad student came back in and asked if we needed anything else. They were really nice, and Dr. Wu seems to have a pretty good set up going on.

After we finished lunch in the afternoon he had a meeting to go to, so he asked me if I wanted to be taken back to the regular rail station, or if I would prefer the bus, or high speed rail. I said whichever was more convenient for him, so he took me to the high speed rail station. The place looked more like an airport than a train station. It had a huge lobby, with 35 or 40 foot ceilings, and massive steel girders making great sweeping curves and arches. The ticket counters, and the turnstiles were all dwarfed by the size of the building. I can't imagine how high the electric bill is to keep a place like that at a comfortable temperature. The high speed train was a lot smoother than the regular speed, and took about half as long, although it was twice as expensive.

I went out with Luke in the evening. We both only wanted to go out for a little while, but we ended up staying until the bar closed. I hope people don't think I'm shallow, but I feel pretty confident that most people like looking at good looking members of the opposite sex. Anyway, there was a band, and the lead singer was really good looking (and she could sing), so Luke and I just sat, and drank beer, and looked and listened, and talked in the intervals between songs. This was also my first experience with Taiwanese "Beer Girls". I learned from Luke that there is a whole industry of women who's job it is to promote one brand of beer at a bar on a given night. Tonite the beer was Blue Girl. Not only was the girl cute, but if you bought three you got a free pair of dice, and a Blue Girl cup, so you could play craps. The beer wasn't good enough for me to buy three (and I didn't really want to start playing craps any time soon), but I liked the beer girl anyway. I'm pretty sure she only had the job because she was cute (and I think she knew that), but she had the sort of attitude, "I may only have the job becasue men like to look at me, but damned if I can't try to do a good job anyway." So I bought one beer, but I really prefer dark beer, so that was enough for me.