Saturday, September 29, 2007

Searching and Finding

Two of the guys I met last weekend at the camp took me to find the climbing wall today. I was looking forward to finding out which building, around Beitou, had a climbing wall secreted away inside. The correct answer was none of them. I hadn't been able to find the climbing wall because there was no climbing wall at the Beitou stop. Or at the New Beitou stop. The climbing wall was at a completely different metro stop, two or three stations closer to town. The climbing wall was at the 'Beitou Sports Center', which was where I made my first mistake. I thought since it was at the 'Beitou Sports Center', it must be in Beitou, but indeed not.

I think these guys just came to show me where the wall was. One didn't climb at all, and the other went up once and called it good. After we finished climbing they took me to another night market, the Shi Lin night market. It is a lot bigger than the Shi Da night market (the one close to my house), and there are many more options for food. We got an egg/seafood dish which was pretty good. Then a drink which had 'frog eggs' in it. They weren't real frog eggs, and they tasted kind of starchy, like they were made from some sort of flour. After we had gotten the 'frog egg' drink we were walking over to go look at the rest of the night market, when we passed a vendor selling candied fruits on a stick. Xiao Chen and Zhi Yuan insisted I try some so I bought one. I chose the one he said was similar to the apple, but I could have gotten tomatoe, strawberry, or a couple other unidentifables. There were four little 'apples' on the stick, and the whole thing had been dipped into some sort of red sugary dip. It had solidified so that it was kind of like a tootsie roll pop, except with four 'apples' at the center instead of a tootsie roll. I started to feel like a kid at a fair. I had a sweet drink in my left hand and a stick of candied fruit in my right hand. Furthermore, the dynamics of the fruit stick were such that, in order to eat any of the fruit I had to smear red syrup all over my face. Now not only were my hands full of candy, but my mouth and cheeks were smeared with red sugar. I think a good time was had by all.


Classes passed without event, except that one of my teachers has heard of Asheville. To be fair, the town isn't so famous that it made it all the way to Asia. She's taught in America, and she probably heard of it then, but I was still surprised. One of my class mates had heard of it too, but he goes to school in D.C. so thats not actually that crazy either.

Aijin had heard of this bar called 'Underworld', so we decided to go out there tonight. We got there at 11:00, and right after we walked in the band packed up and left, so we followed suit. There was another bar near by Aijin wanted to go to, and though we had heard that it catered mostly to westerners (a drawback), we went in to see for ourselves. There were quite a few westerners, and it was obvious looking at the drink menu who they catered to. As far as I can tell the drinks of choice, in most places, are sake and a couple of other types of clear liquor, whiskey, and beer. This place had all the different little mixed drink shots, and everything was written in English. I didn't like the bar that much but tequila shots were buy one get one free, and I'm just a slut for buy one get one free things, so I had 2 (total). Then we left. The last place we went to had an English name (Oldie Goodie), but we were the only people with white faces there, and there was a band, so we stayed. The bad was pretty good, but it really hilarious. They kept playing Chinese remakes of classic American songs. They played one that originally has Spanish lyrics, but they had changed these to something else entirely. A guy at the bar we had been talking to told me that the new song lyrics were neither Chinese nor Taiwanese, and they certainly weren't English or Spanish. Whatever they were it did sound good, and this place had pretty cheap beer, so I was stoked. Aijin and I closed out the bar, and throughout the night I learned the words for drunk, alcoholic, and rude. When they were telling us the word for rude, Aijin went to do something (I don't remember what) that would visually illustrate the concept of rudeness. He ended up hitting a glass onto the floor and breaking it, and everyone yelled at him. Yeah.

Friday, September 28, 2007


I found the library on campus. They have a lot of books and manuscripts in Asian languages, but they also have and absurd amount of English literature. They not only subscribe to the "Mark Twain Journal", but also to the "Mark Twain Circular". Maybe they just like Mark Twain. The library doesn't have as many computers as the University of Idaho, but U of I must just be that badass. There is one thing this library has that U of I doesn't, and that is an elaborate security system. They have huge metal doors poised to fall down (between support pillars) to surround the books. I don't know if it is to protect against fire or theft, but either way, they are ready.

Ai Jin, Luke, and I went out to dinner with Iris and her friend Shirley. Ai Jin and I had met Iris the other night after eating dinner, when they were playing that teletubbies games. Dinner was good, and I was able to follow most of the conversation. Both Iris and Shirley are English students (basically all of the Taiwanese people we've met have been English majors), but Ai Jin doesn't beat around the bush at all. He calls everyone out, and tells (or asks, depending on who they are), not to speak English. (He even told me that we shouldn't eat with anyone who speaks English, and I could care less what they do, but in the interest of going with the flow, I agreed with him.) All of the Taiwanese people are really good about it and speak Chinese, though some of our classmates still speak English. I found out that most people studying English get to choose their own English name. Some people choose really wierd names that aren't English at all, like Yapple, or Abboz, or something crazy. I also learned that the name Jasper is really common here. I've even seen a couple bikes with Jasper written on them in big letters, and I almost bought one, but when I went to the store, they didn't have any left.
I had heard that Chinese people love to eat, but this was really brought home to me when I learned that Irises favorite thing to do is to try to find new restaurants with her friends. It's definitely a big city pastime, but it sounds like fun.

After dinner Iris and Shirley left, and Luke went running. Ai Jin and I stumbled upon another welcome party, similar to the one with the teletubbies game. All I noticed at first was a huddled circle of people all staring at something in the center, and every so often they would all scream of cheer. I thought they were playing dice, or had staged and organized wasp vs. spider showdown, but it was just a massive game of paper-rock-scissors. I think money was somehow involved, but I'm not sure. We watched for a bit, but it got awkward and we left.

Class Again

My individual class was intense. It was like having formal voice training. And I couldn't get my voice to do any of the things she wanted it to do. She just kept saying 'do ray me fa so la te do', and trying to get me to chime in at do, or ray, or somewhere in there. I think it was helpful though. I learned more of the secrets of the third tone.

After all my classes were over I went and bought a bike, and let me tell you I'm stoked off it. It is way too small for me, and is geared pretty low, but it is sweet. It has a basket in front, and rack in the back that people can sit on, and it has a bell, and a big fat comfy seat, and two solid brakes. And I could have gotten a pink one, but they had a gray one too so I got that. It doesn't even have any pink writing. Only pink flowers, and it only has a few of those. And I got a screaming deal on it. It was only about 50 USD, and I got it new (or at least its not very used, and they put some packaging on it to make me think it's new). I think it is more the type of bike a little kid would be stoked off of, but basically its pretty similar to every other bike on campus (of which there are thousands. This one campus puts both of the other towns I've lived in too shame, and I thought I lived in towns with lots of bikes. Bikes are everywhere, and people are not shy about riding two people to one bike. If a bike dosen't have a rack for people to sit on, then its got pegs for someone to stand on) It's a really cool bike though. I really like the bell. Every time I ring it it makes me laugh. And sometimes it rings by itself if I go over a bump, and that makes me laugh too.


Today is my last day of construction. All of the panels are up, and now Jerry is having the other guys go around, and put a fiberglass layer over the cracks in between panels. I got to attach wire mesh to a gaping whole in the wall, and form it a bit, so that when they put fiberglass over it, it will be a bit more exciting. It was Jerry's vision, but I was still stoked because I was the one who got to enact it.

At about 4:30 Jerry's parents showed up to take me back to Taipei, so I showered, and we left. On the way back to Taipei they stopped at this real ritzy art restaurant. It was kind of hokey, because all of the serving staff were wearing very plain, earth tone clothes, with yamika type hats on, and they all had earpieces in (presumably to help customers more quickly). Jerry's dad told me a few times, that it was high class, and I think he was just trying to gain face (which he has now successfully done, because I've told all of you how generous he and his family are). I really did like the restaurant though. They had a lot of neat art, and the food was good to. The only things on the menu that didn't have meat were soups, and the soups here aren't filling enough, so I decided to try 'milkfish'. It was really delicious. I think it was similar to cod, or something like that. It came with a side of fruit, and a little indidvidually wrapped toothpick. The package said 'toothpicks', so I thought there might be one toothpick for each piece of fruit. This seemed a little excessive, but, as Jerry's dad had pointed out, it was a high class restaurant, and they might just like to flaunt their wealth. There turned out to be only one toothpick, and it was just a grammar mistake. I guess Asians really can't handle the concept of plural words.

Thursday, September 27, 2007

Circle of Life

I got to see a spider and wasp fight to the death today. Not like in some sort of staged event either. Jerry had more people than he needed again, so I was standing around at the bottom of the wall when I saw the spider, and it was not messing around. It was almost four inches in diameter, and about two inches tall, with short gray hair. It had very thin legs were and a relatively small torso, but it moved lighting fast. It was exciting enough to see such a big spider, but then the wasp flew down. I use the term wasp loosely, because this creature was a lot bigger than wasps normally are, and it seemed a lot more aggressive. Its colors weren't as bright, and it had a sort of very thin hair on its butt, making it look more like a large long bumblebee, but I think its actions classify it as a wasp.

One of the other guys went over, and crouched down near the animals, and I followed suit. They wasp was circling the spider, and the spider seemed to know it was under attack because it kept circling to face the wasp. I don't think the spider ever really had a chance. The wasp can fly and the spider can't. Hickory Dickory Dock. The wasp got tired of circling, and swept down on the spider. It was very quick, and didn't look to violent, but I'm pretty sure the wasp stung the spider, because the wasp just flew back and waited. The spider continued to circle, and it seemed active in defense, but soon its torso began to slowly lower to the ground, and its legs began to straighten. The wasp landed and began walking around impatiently. Then it walked over and began to drag the spider away. The spider was clearly dead or incapacitated, but the wasp didn't fly away with it. It just kept dragging the spider along, even though the spider was the bigger of the two. The wasp dragged the spider under the panels at the base of the wall, on its way back home. Later I saw the wasp dragging the spider up the vertical wall, with no real trouble. I don't know how many appendages it had, but it must have been quite a few to just hold the spider with a couple, and mosey on up a vertical wall with the others.

Circle of Life.

Other than that the day was mostly uninteresting. Not enough work, and boring in the morning. Then in the afternoon I bolted the edge of the new fiberglass climbing wall to the old concrete wall. I had some delicious peach smoothie with lunch. I've always been against the use of ice in smoothies, but I can't argue with results. This had ice in it and was one of the top two best things I've ever drank. There were campers today, so no drinking tonight.

Wednesday, September 26, 2007

Looking but not Finding

I woke up late, and went out to get breakfast. I got lost on the way home. I get lost pretty regularly. When I first moved in I got lost almost every time I left my apartment. I would go out to buy food, and take a different way back, just to get to know the area better. Then I would always end up two or three blocks in the wrong direction. I have kind of a failsafe though, because I live beside one of the biggest buildings around, so if I get lost, I just find it in the skyline and head that direction.

After making it back home, and eating breakfast, I decided to try to find a climbing wall in Taipei that Jerry had told me about. Ai Jin had said he was interested in going to the climbing wall so I called him. He crapped out, but suggested I call Luke (one of the guys I ate lunch with yesterday). I decided just to send Luke a text, but after I had it written I realized I wasn't sure what his number was. All the numbers in my phone were labeled except for one, so I guessed that was his. I sure hoped so. I sent the message, and quickly got a response. He said he was interested, but wasn't sure who the text was from. It was like a crappy soap opera. I had sent a text to a number that I didn't know, but which surely belonged to some new classmate, and they (not surprisingly) didn't know who I was. So, I told them who I was and waited, as the suspense built, to see who I was talking to. Indeed, I had sent correctly, but Luke wasn't interested, so I set off alone to look for the climbing wall.

Jerry had just told me the name of a stop off of the metro, so I got my gear and headed for "Bei Tou". After I got there I basically just started out in a bit circle. I figured a building that would hold a climbing wall would be sort of obvious (probably not in a residential area, and possibly at at a larger gym, or near a school), and I would be able to figure it out. I was, once again, mistaken. I made a big circle of the Bei Tou station, and didn't see it. I called Jerry, and got the name of a place from him. I checked the map at the station again, but the only thing I found out was that there were really two Bei Tou stations. One was Bei Tou and the other was "Xin Bei Tou", or new Bei Tou. I thought Jerry might have said something about new Bei Tou, so I walked off in that direction. I also decided I had better start asking directions, so I stopped to ask little woman selling donuts. I bought a donut first, as a show of good will, then asked for directions to the climbing wall. She had never heard of it, but told me to ask the woman across the street. The woman across the street had also not heard of it, so I pressed on towards new Bei Tou. I saw a real estate agency, and thought that if anyone would know they would. They did not know, and had never heard of any climbing walls anywhere. After I made it to new Bei Tou, I stopped to ask directions again. This time, I bought an umbrella, before asking the guy for directions. (I really did need an umbrella, because it was raining, and it rains all the time here, and I tried to wear my rain gear, but it doesn't cool down at all when it rains, so I was too hot.) The guy hadn't heard of a climbing wall in the area, and said climbing was way too dangerous. I asked if he had heard of a regular gym in the area, and he said there was one but the definitely didn't have a climbing wall, because climbing was definitely waay too dangerous. The fact that he did know where a regular gym was seemed to be promising, but again, I couldn't find it. I stopped at a hotel to ask, but they seemed never to have heard of any climbing walls anywhere. Ever.

On the bright side, I did find some public workout machines in a park, and a public hot spring, but no gym and no climbing wall. At this point, I had been searching for about two hours, so I decided to call Jerry again. He told me not to ask for a climbing wall, and he gave me the name of a regular gym I should ask for. I was ready to ask directions, but thought that if I bought something everytime I asked for directions, I'd soon be broke, so this time I just went into a 7-11, and asked. They told me to take off towards the KFC, and head straight down that street. After going down that street for a bit, I asked directions again. This woman seemed confident in the location of the fitness center, but her directions were discouraging. She told me to head back up the same street, and turn left and it would be on my left. The only thing of interest I saw when I got there was a man standing beside a public swimming pool, preparing a fishing pole to go fishing. I saw another real estate agency and asked there, but no luck. They told me to ask at the police station, but I decided to give up. I was hungry and it was about to get dark.

I went home and gorged myself at the vege buffet down the street. At 8:00 Jerry came and picked me up, and we headed back to Fu Xing (where he was working). On the way, he stopped and picked up a guidebook to Dragon Cave, the local climbing area. It was still raining, and the traffic was bad, so it took us longer than usual to get there. This weekend, was the mid-Autumn festival, and I didn't have classes on Monday or Tuesday, so I would be spending the next few days here. Also because of the mid-Autumn festival, there were no campers at the camp (where Jerry was building the wall), so all the staff hand a barbecue and were now sitting around drinking. They handed me a TGM and we started talking.

It was great. I was meeting the Taiwanese outdoor crowd. And in proper style, at night, with cheap beer, and a big moon (it wasn't raining here). I spoke Chinese as much as I could, but one of the other guys had pretty good English, and could help me fill in specific words that I didn't know. One of the guys lives in Taipei and told me he could help me find the climbing wall near Bei Tou, so I got his number. I had been wondering whether or not Taiwan had any multi-pitch climbs, and I found out. Taiwan does indeed have multi-pitch climbs. The only thing is that most of them are in river gorges, so you have to kayak in to get to them. I don't know how difficult the kayaking is, but that sounds awesome. Basically you'd have to choices. Either climb out, or not get out. Unless you could keep floating out, but that would be really demoralizing.

After a while the other guys started talking among themselves, and I couldn't keep up. It had gotten to be the early hours of the morning, and so Jerry and I retired.

First Day of Classes

Basically all I did today was introduce myself 4 times. My first class is individual and my teacher and I just talked for a while, then reviewed a little. In my other classes I have the same two classmates. I will have only two other teachers (one teacher for one hour, and the other teacher for two hours), but one teacher is out so I have three other teachers. So in every class my classmates and I introduced ourselves, and the teacher taught a bit, but it was pretty simple.

I went to lunch with Ai Jin and a couple of other classmates. Afterward we had all decided we liked each other, and so everyone got out their cell phone, and we began the process of exchanging cell phone numbers. It all seems very silly to me, one person dials another's number, and then calls someone else so that person has their number, and its just a crazy confusing cycle of circular calling and dialing, and I bet it looks hilarious to other people watching the four americans trying to cross the street while all staring intently at their hand machines and repeating long strings of numbers to make sure everything is right. It may be a means to an end, but it is a very silly means.

I've decided I want to become a regular at a bar somewhere. Not drinking a lot necessarily. I just want to get to the point where when I go in the bartender just puts a TGM (Taiwan Gold Medal) on the bar, and doesn't have to ask. He just knows I like TGM. There is a bar about 55 seconds walk from my front door, and they advertise live music, so I thought this would be a good place to start. I got there at 10:00, and the band was already playing. It was a full jazz band, with 10-15 members, and it was loud. It was a pretty small place, and all of the tables were crowded into the center of the room, with only a little space on stage right (definitely not enough room to dance, though I don't think anyone would have wanted to). So I just sat a the bar and listened, and enjoyed my beer.

After a while the band took a break. I talked with one of the trombone players. He grew up in Eugene, Oregon so it was neat to talk to him. The band started back, and I hung around for a bit before taking off.


I found out what my new classes were today. My first class is "Modern Chinese Conversation", which I think is just a spruced up name for Chinese 101. My second class is "Audio Visual Chinese". That seems a misnomer, because the first lesson is about living in the dorms. I guess I'll figure it out. After I bought my books, I went home to watch some TV. At first I liked to watch the news, because they're talking almost all the time, so I think it helps my listening comp. Now I've taken to watching baseball games. I like the baseball games, because the announcers use Chinese, but I don't have to understand what they are saying to figure out what is going on. You know what I realized with all this baseball watching? Those catchers can squat. Seriously. I think most people's knee get tired from squatting within the first minute or two, but those guys squat for ages and ages. They do get breaks, but it's still an impressive feat.

Ai Jin and I went out to a Thai place for dinner. When they brought our food, I was surprised to see that they served his with a flame underneath. His soup really started to boil after a second, and he blew out the flame. I couldn't read the Chinese menu as well as he could, and was mainly trying to order something without meat. Subsequently I got rice and veggies, which were good, but not fantastic.

After dinner we walked around the Shi Da night market some more. I bought a rice cooker. It and my electric wok combined ought to be money in the bank, both figuratively and literally. After a bit we saw some people running around in a square, playing what looked like musical chairs, but without chairs or music. At some command, they would all run around, and change places. Ai Jin wanted to know what they were doing so he went over and asked. We played one round with them. We were given name tags with Chinese equivalents to teletubby names. I was lala and Ai Jin was didi or meimei or something like that. We were formed into groups so that we had one of each teletubby. Then a woman would say a sentance like "lala went to the store". Then all of the lalas would run and change places. It was challenging for Ai Jin and I because they spoke Chinese, but everyone else playing was Taiwanese, so I don't know where the challenge was for them. After the game we talked to two of the other players. I heard again about K TV. Apparently it is a big karaoke megalopolis. You have to pay to get in, and there is food provided, but no one drinks really. Everyone just sings karaoke. It sounds intense. Anyway, I also found out where a local grocery store was, and on the way home I got a six pack of Taiwan beer. I thought it was the same as Taiwan Gold Medal, but indeed I thought wrong.

I take back what I said about Taiwan Gold Medal having a meaningless award. PBR's award may be meaningless, but Taiwan Gold Medal is significantly better that regular Taiwan beer.
After that little discovery, I went to bed.

Tuesday, September 25, 2007


My school had an orientation today. Basically, it wasn't very interesting. There was a lot of quickly spoken Chinese, but they had given out written copies of everything important so I didn't worry about not understanding much. I did find out that I can audit classes at this university (National Taiwan University), which is exciting, cause its a big university, I think there are some cool ones out there. Also at the orientation, I made a new friend. His name is Ai Jin (He has an English name, but I don't know what it is). He's from Texas.

When I started looking for a place to live, and Kuan had told me I wouldn't be able to rent a place with a kitchen (I was especially disappointed because I brought a cast iron pan, all the way from america and I wanted to use it. They are solid pans, and I wanted to be able to fry up a good egg, but alas, no dice.), I had become accustomed to the idea of eating out for every meal. Fortunately, I don't think I will have to. Jerry's mom gave me a little electric wok, and some frozen dumplings to cook in it. She also gave a set of sheets that she had, for my bed, and a set of utensils (and by a set of utensils, I mean three pairs of chopsticks), and a bowl and spoon. She also gave me HER OWN CELL PHONE. She spent over an hour transferring the numbers out of it to another phone so she could give me this one. I think she could have given me another phone, but she wanted the phone to have an English mode, so I could use it. FURTHERMORE, she loaned me almost two hundred dollars so I could make the rent and deposit. So that was pretty nice.

I was about to cook some dumplings for dinner when Ai Jin called me, so I went out to dinner with him. He wanted to eat out at an Italian restaurant. I thought about asking him why he had come to Taiwan to eat Italian, but I just went along with it. The food was good, though we ate outside, and it was unbelievably humid. I thought I grew up in a humid place, and I thought I could handle the humidity but I was wrong. Pretty much I start sweating as soon as I go outside.

Anyways, dinner was good. Afterward we walked around a "Night Market". It's pretty self explanatory. Just a lot of street vendors, and a lot of people walking around and buying things at night. Then back to my new home to sleep in my own bed again.

I think it would be nice for my parents to meet Jerry's mother and father, whether my parents visit here, or Jerry's parents visit America. It seems sad to me that they will never be able to communicate on any meaningful level. But then again, most of the time my communication with Jerry's mom is little more than smiles and nods, and I think we're pretty good friends. When she serves food, she just smiles and nods, and says 'come eat', and I smile and nod and say 'thank you'. I don't know her in the sense that I could tell you when her birthday is, or any of her hobbies, or anything about her life (I still don't even know her name). But I do know that I can trust her, and that she has my best interests at heart. And we basically just smile and nod. Maybe smiling and nodding are the most meaningful form of communication, and everything beyond that just clutters things up.

Friday, September 21, 2007

Jerry and Jasper's Big Day Out

It's still raining, but I don't mind cause I don't have to ride any mopeds this morning. Jerry even backs the van right up to the door of where we are sleeping so we can go in and out without getting wet. I hoped we were going to work again today, because I didn't really have anything else to entertain myself with, but we did not. No one usually sets an alarm. They just get up, but today no one set an alarm, and no one got up. After a while I got hungry, and so I got out of bed, right as one of the other guys (Ji Xie) got up also. I asked him about breakfast, and he pointed towards our 'emergency' noodle bowls. We both grabbed one (Jerry was still asleep), and went and filled them with hot water. Jerry woke up as we were finishing breakfast. He explained to me that because he had hurt his toe last week, he didn't want to work in the rain again because he would probably loose circulation to his extremities, and that would not be good for his hurt toe. He ate breakfast, Ji Xie went off on his own, and we took off in the van.

We were going to his office, because he had to do some calculations to figure out where to put the steel beams for another part of the wall. Rivers we passed were very high, but I think Taiwan already has a very good water management system. On the hike the other day, and around the camp, I had seen multiple dry creek beds. While we were hiking I asked if they normally had water in them, because I wondered if Taiwan was having a drought. The dad told me they weren't and now I think they serve as emergency water control. At one point on the way to his office, we encountered some people driving on our side of the road. We had two lanes, so Jerry got out of their way without trouble. We soon saw the reason. Their side of the road was flooded with water for about 50'. A couple cars were driving through it, but they were having a pretty hard time.

We finally got to his office, and I looked at climbing books and catalogs, while he did what he needed to do. He shares his office with Adventure Taiwan and Taiwan Outward bound. One of the courses Outward Bound Taiwan offers is stream walking. They get suited up in wetsuits and life jackets, and special sticky shoes, and walk up streams. I think the deepest they walk up might be about waist deep. I think it sounds pretty cool. After he got his work done, we headed back into Taipei. He offered to take me to Dragon Cave, the local climbing area, but it's on the coast so I decided against that. What with the Typhoon and all. I suggested we might go to one of the gyms in Taipei, and Jerry new the owner of one. Apparently his name is Duck. Anyway Jerry called him, but the gym was closed, so we just went h0me.

It was good to be back at Jerry's home. His mom fed us lunch and dinner. It's kind of funny, she never asks if I'm hungry. She just puts food on the table and tells me to come and eat. Also, shes taken to telling me to take my time eating. She just says 'slow slow eat' , and at first I thought she was telling me I was a slow eater, but she says it once or twice every meal and that would seem a little excessive for that sort of name calling.

The whole family plays the Wii. Jerry and I watched a climbing video in the afternoon, and the dad napped, but he woke to play some tennis before dinner. He's good too. He had me play one round, and I lost every round. Every single one. After dinner Jerry took me to my apartment, and I slept in my new home for the first time.

Beginning of the Big Wind

It was raining when I woke up. I was a little disappointed because I knew I would be riding a moped later, and moped riding and rain didn't seem to go well together, especially since I had left my raingear at my apartment. Anyway, I had breakfast, and after Kuan got up we left. It wasn't raining that hard, so I think Kuan took the brunt of the rain, and he had a raincoat so it worked out well. For now.

It was kind of a long ride, and he ended up parking very close to Taipei 101, currently the tallest building in the world. I've never been very close to it, but the way it's built, it's kind of separated into about 10 sections. It looks like you would be able to climb it and each section could be a pitch. Except you probably couldn't protect it, and you'd certainly get deported.

Anyway, Kuan said the best option for a cell phone was to buy a prepaid card. It will cost to make calls, but not to recieve them. Getting set up was really quick and easy, but by the time we had finished it was raining harder, and it was about a thirty min ride to my apartment. There was really nothing we could do so we just went for it. At one point during the ride, rain was spashing into my eyes, so I closed them. This was poor decision because it made the side to side movement of the moped so much more pronounced. I opened my eyes again.

We made it safe and sound to my apartement, and Kuan told me all I needed to do was put the SIM card into my American cell phone, and then it would recieve calls from my new Taiwanese number. I was pretty sure my American cell phone didn't have a SIM card, but Kuan came up to make sure. He looked, and did not find, so he told me he'd help me buy a phone, but that he had to go to work just then.

I tidied up my room a bit and ate lunch. At 1:30, Jerry's mom picked me up and took me back to Jerry's work site. The work today was much more interesting. Jerry and the other guys he was working with had finished bolting the beams to the wall, and had attached metal bars, which stuck out perpindicular to the wall. Now we were bolting the fiberglass pieces of freeform wall onto these metal bars. It was still raining, but we worked anyway.

No one seemed very worried about this 'big wind' (taiphoon literally translates as 'big wind' or 'huge wind') so I tried not to either. However, when I saw camp staff, going around and putting an X of tape on each window, I assumed this was to keep glass from scattering too widely after being broken by projectiles hurled by the 'big wind', I did become a little concerned. After we finished work, we went and bought dinner, Jerry also got some noodle bowls and said they were for 'emergencies'. I think he was just joking though.

The Selling Fields

Earlier on I was talking to Jerry's mom, and she found out I liked hiking, and immediately invited me to go with her and Jerry's dad. They go every Sunday and today was no exception. I got up at 8:30, and got ready. Basically they told me everything I needed to bring, making sure I had plenty of water, and giving me some food to put in my bag. I thought we were going to be hitting the road without breakfast but I was mistaken. Jerry's dad and I went and got the car, then picked up Jerry's mom, who had been buying breakfast. It was a seasame seed cake with some sweet rice milk to drink. On the drive up we passed a steaming gash in the side of one mountain, which the parents said was a volcanoe. I think. They said it was a fire mountian, which I would think would mean volcanoe, but I'm not sure. We also passed about 100 bikers. It was a long hill, and they were almost all still going up.

After finding a parking space we all unloaded. We had brought YuanYuan along, and I carried her for a bit, in one of those under arm bags. They always look a little foolish to me, but it was kind of enjoyable. After we got on the trail, the parents let her loose, and she sprinted around just like all dogs do when they're outside. The scenery was very beautiful, even though it was absurdly crowded. About half way we passed a little temple. I think someone lived beside it too, because there were chickens and roosters running around. We were mostly in a pretty normal deciduous forest, but at one point we went through some bamboo. I was surprised by how thick it was. There were some patches that I couldn't even see through.

At the end of the hike we reached an old volcanoe crater, where we stopped to have lunch. I had rice, rice noodles, and regular noodles. I think there were some shrimp in the noodles, but I'm not sure. We walked back almost the same way, except for at the very end. We veered off and went through a little meadow beside a lake, and came out a little bit down the road from the car. On the way I saw a 2 foot long goldfish. Must be a different species.

Once we got back into town, and got cleaned up we went to sign the contract on my apartment and drop off my stuff. Kuan and his mom both came along. I had sort of forgotten what the inside looked like, but it was nicer than I remembered, so I was stoked. I was also glad to have Jerry's mom along. I knew if she approved, it had to be good, and I couldn't be getting the wool pulled over my eyes. I thouroughly perused the contract, but it was in Chinese so I didn't understand a bit of it. Even though I had an apartment, I was going back to stay at their house for one more night, because Kuan was going to help me get my own cell phone (I had been borrowing his) in the morning. After we got the contract sorted out, we went shopping. To CostCo.

I think the whole CostCo complex must be about 200' from top to bottom. They have 2 floors of shopping above ground (each of which is between 35-45'), and 3 levels of parking below ground. We parked on the second level down, and I noticed that the sign directing people up to the shopping literally means (as far as I understand) selling fields. I'm sure of the word for sell, and the other one is the same character used for baseball or soccer field. It really was just like a selling field too. They have elevated moving walkways instead of escalators, so people can bring their carts along. When we came out onto the main floor my first impression was of some sort of Asian stock market. Many short dark haired people milling around and talking with occasional disturbances and flurries of activity.

We were routed straight to the second floor, and given a chance to make some impulse purchases before we made our way to the first floor to buy some dinner. We got sushi for dinner, and they also got some regular supplies for their home. After dinner, I watched a little more TV with the fam before bed.

Wednesday, September 19, 2007

House Search

I woke up before anyone else, so I started to watch TV. I was waiting on Kuan, because he was going to take me house hunting today (his mom was busy, and parking his moped was easier that parking her little SUV). I ended up watching TV for about 4 hours, becasue he slept late (He had been out shrimp fishing the night before. Not on a big boat with a net like back home. He just went out with a pole, to a kind of commercial shrimp fishing pond, and stayed out until about 5:30. I think that they have many more varieties of shrimp here. Not only the small ones, like in the shrimp pancake, but ones large enough to catch with a fishing pole). At one point while I was watching TV, I heard a crash on the street outside their living room window, and I went to look. A car had mowed down a moped at, based on their skid marks, would appear to be high speed. The moped driver was unconcious on the ground, and the driver of the car called an ambulance. The ambulance and a couple of police officers came, and they sorted it out, but it was a disconcerting sight on the morning of my first real moped ride. Anyways, he woke up, got ready, and we left.

I wasn't sure what the proper man-man etiqutte was for moped riding. Man-woman is obvious, the woman holds onto the mans waist, but man-man?? The proper action is less obvious. The first night I arrived I had riden with Jerry, but only a short distance and at low speeds. Then I had held onto Jerry's shoulders for support, but I didn't know Kuan quite that well, and I didn't really think that shoulder holding would provide that much stabalization. Instead I chose to hold onto the little bar behind my ass that helped keep me from sliding off during frequent periods of rapid acceleration, and off we went.

I have always thought mopeds were funny looking. People sitting up completely straight puttering along, and squinting to keep the dirt out of their eyes. Now I got to be that guy, squinting, sitting up straight, and holding on to the ass bar for dear life. Kuan told me I didn't need to hold onto anything, and that he had been driving mopeds for 10 years, but the roads are bumpy, and I didn't think any length of piloting mopeds could prevent me from getting bucked off if we hit a solid bump at high speed.

The mopeds here are like liquid. At intersections there is a space marked out in front for the mopeds, and they just flow through all of the waiting cars, filling up each little gap. At rush hour, they get so thick at the front that it is hard for pedestrians to walk through them. Kuan didn't hesitate at all to fill right in there with the rest of the mopeds. My knees stuck out pretty far on both sides of the moped, and sometimes Kuan didn't slow down that much when weaving in and out of the cars to make it to the front of the line. I was worried about my poor knees, though not to fear, I never hit them.

By far the most interesting part of the ride was being in the moped pool when the light changed. All the drivers watch the other light at the intersection, so they can get moving as soon as the light changes. I think it is sort of like NASCAR. Just before the light changes, all the mopeds rev their engines loudly and their is a noticable increase in fumes. A couple drivers speed off just before the light changes, then as soon as the light changes everyone else hurrys off. The drivers weave in and around other drivers, trying to get every advantage that they can to get to the next light first. Kuan was no slouch and we were usually one of the first ones to the next light.

The first apartment we looked at was little more than 6 feet wide, and generally dissapointing. The second we looked at was on a different floor in the same building, and was a lot nicer (and more expensive). We looked at another one in that building. It was decently large, but on the roof and would have been very hot. We saw a couple more, but one had a bad location, and we thought the other would be too expensive. Basically Kuan made this decision for me too. I just came along on general principle. I wanted to wait to find out how much the expensive one would actually be, in case by some fluke it was a good deal, but the guy never answered his phone, so I went with the second one we saw. It is in a good location. The campus of the university is basically right across the street, and my building is a 15 min walk. There is also a vegetarian buffet around the corner, and a bar advertising live music around the other corner.

Kuan and I went back home. The mother and father had gone out to a party, so Kuan and I went for a walk. I went into a convience store, and bought my first Taiwanese beer. "Taiwan Gold Medal" The name reminded me of Pabst Blue Ribbon, and I liked it already. Kuan told me there is no open container law in Taiwan so I drank it on the way home. Basically I think it is PBR's Taiwanese little brother. For instance, they both advertise an award that is not only meaningless, but that they won in the distant past, and they are both cheap and delicious.

After a while the parents came home, and we all watched TV for a bit before bed.

Sunday, September 16, 2007

My First Day of School (Sort of)

I love Jerry's mom. She is really on the ball. She had told me she would give me a ride to school at 9:00, and when we got in the car to leave, it was exactly 9:00. Coincidence? I think not. She doesn't have a job, so she has just perfected the art of being a mother. Both of her children can function on their own, but I (hopefully only temporarily) cannot. So she has stepped up to the plate.

Anyway, she dropped me off at school at about 9:30, and the oral exam didn't start until 10:00 so I went inside to loiter for a bit. At 10:00, they called me in. There was one woman sitting at a desk immediately in front of me. Her desk was covered in papers, and a small machine which I think was a timer. Behind her, on her right side sat another woman behind another desk covered with papers. The first woman told me that I was to repeat after her. She said the first sentence, and as soon as I began speaking the second woman began writing furiously. They kept having me repeat sentences for a while. I usually forgot the second half, making the second woman write more, and the first woman repeat the sentence so I could remember.

After they stopped making me repeat sentances we just talked for a while and that went a lot better. There were a couple more parts to the oral exam. I think I did mediocre overall. After the exam I had a couple hour break so I went around to explore the campus and vicinity. I also wanted to buy a dictionary, because I'm pretty much naked without one. I asked the teachers where I could get one, and they gave me a good store. I kind of got lost on the way there, and ended up taking the long way. On the way I passed a bookstore, and thought about stopping, but decided to go on to the store my teacher had recommended. I got there, and found their selection of dictionaries. Alas all of their dictionaries were directed towards chinese people wanting to learn english, not english speaking people wanting to learn chinese. After staring at their dictionaires for an eternity, I decided not to buy one because I wouldn't be able to look up Chinese characters in it. I looked around the bookstore a little more, vaguely looking for the book Dune. I didn't find it, but I did find "2001 A Space Odessey", and some of the Narnia books (all in Chinese). I decided not to buy any of those either and started to leave.

I ended up staring at their dictionaries for a while longer, rehashing my decision not to buy one. I ended up sticking with it, and decided to go back to the other bookstore I had passed to look for a dictionary there. This necessitated another huge circle, because the cross walk was a good distance away. (I have since found out that they put some cross walks underground in high traffic areas, and that indeed there is one there.) After I got to the other bookstore, I encountered the same problem. It was deeply distressing to me, and I ended up standing by their dictionaries for a good ten minutes looking at different ones, and thinking about whether or not to buy. This proved to be a poor decision because all of their dictionaries were on one of those tables that bookstores put out in the isles to attract books to you attention, so I was basically taking up the hole isle. I finally decided just to go get lunch.

After ordering I asked how much it was. The server held out four fingers, so I gave him four hundred dollar bills. He laughed, and took one, then gave me sixty dollars change. I laughed, felt like an idiot and left. I think I have learned my lesson though. Food is cheap.

I went back to school to eat, and wait for my afternoon exam. I think I did worse on the afternoon exam than any other exam I've ever taken. They told us not to guess if we didn't know the answer and so I left over half of the test blank. It was mostly just demoralizing. Jerry's mom picked me up (right on time), and we went home.

Sometimes I like to adopt the decision making strategy of "It will sort itself out". I think it works pretty well, but here a more accurate description of events would be "Jerry and his family (mostly his family, because he is working now), will sort it out for me". I try to help, but it dosen't happen. On Wednsday Jerry's mom basically did everything I just tagged along and filled out a form every-so-often. I really couldn't even do that because I only understood bits of the form, or if I did understand it, I didn't have the information they were asking for.

Now that I am need to find a place to live, Jerry's mother and his little brother (Kuan), have taken over the operation. I was tired again (I think I'm still a little jet-lagged), and was going to go to bed early. Then Kuan and his mother started looking on the internet for places for me to live. I felt like I should at least be there even if I couldn't add anything constructive, but after I told Kuan what I wanted, he insisted I go to bed. So I did.

Friday, September 14, 2007


The most interesting part of today was the food. Chopsticks are used with every meal, though this isn't as crazy as it sounds. Everything is designed to be eaten with chopsticks. If it is rice, it sticks together. If it is noodles, they stick together. Almost everything else is either in chunks, or in a sort of a pancake shape, which is cut up into chunks. For breakfast I had a couple more of the bread omlette dishes I had yesterday. They were cut up into little squares, and again were delicious. For lunch we had a feast. Jerry picked out a couple small buckets of food, one of a kind of breaded sweet potato fries, the other of little globs of veggies, tofu, and maybe flour. I saw a shrimp pancake (basically it was many small shrimp, somehow cemented together into a flat semi-rectangular shape), and so we got that too. Jerry and I sat down, and they quickly brought food. However, I think his co-workers must have kept ordering, because they kept bringing food. In addition to the shrimp pancake, the sweet potatoes, and the tofu globs, they also brought a rice and peanut dish, a huge bowl of soup, and a plate of fried veggies.

The shrimp pancake was excellent. It was crunchy but not too crunchy, and basically just tasted like shrimp. I think the sweet potatoes were my favorite dish. They were pretty straightforward, just lightly salted sweet potato fries. The rice was cooked and served in stalks of bamboo about 2 inches in diameter, and about 6-8 inches long. I think to cook it they filled the stalk part way with the rice and peanuts, then put a cap of aluminum foil over the top, then boiled the whole container. To serve it they cut four slices into the bamboo, so that you could peel the woody part off. They inner paper-like layer of bamboo was left around the rice, helping it all stick together. I think it would have been better with a little salt, but they don't serve it on the tables, and I didn't know where to find any. They veggies, soup, and tofu globs were all pretty self explanatory, and not surprisingly, delicious.

While we weren't eating we continued work on the wall. I didn't usually have anything to do so I talked this Chinese man for a while. He was originally from Taiwan, though for the last decade he had been working in mainland China at a factory. The factory had recently closed, and he had come up to the job site to see if he might want to work for Entreprises. He used a strange sort of Chinglish, interspersing one or two English words into a Chinese sentence. I think he was doing it to make things easier on the foreigner, but it was just a lot more confusing. Anyways, I talked to him for a while, then took a nap, then helped a bit, and pretty soon it was time to go back to Taipei. I went to bed early because I wanted to be ready for my placement tests in the morning.

Day One

Jerry had to be at work at 8:00 and had a long drive so he had to leave early. He got me up before he left, and we went and got some breakfast. I got a sort of an omlette. It is a thin piece of bread with an egg vegetable mix fried on top of and around it. The inside of the bread is filled with bean sprouts, which are quite crunchy. All together, it is quite a delicious item, though I have no idea what it is called. Jerry also got me a sweet rice soup mix. Also delicious. After I had my breakfast I wandered around a bit. I was about to go back to the house, when I heard someone yelling, and I turned around to see Jerry's mother chasing me waving one hand, while with the other she carried their dog. I forgot to mention the dog yesterday, but it is really a great dog. I was surprised in the first place that they had a dog at all, though I don't know why. It is a breed that we don't have in America, very small, with thin white white hair. You can see her little pink scalp underneath. It's hair is about one and half or two inches long except on its feet, where the hair is very short. Yuanyuan also has huge black eyes, and overall is a very cute little dog. Furthermore Yuanyuan has a great personality. She is not like other small dogs, constantly yapping and carrying on for no reason. She dose go sort of crazy when you first enter the room, but all you have to do is pick her up. She just wants to say hello. Then she will stare into your eyes, and after a little judgement she might decide to lick you. Even then she doesn't go crazy, and if she did, her tongue is too small to accomplish anything.

Anywhoo. Jerry's mom was chasing me, carrying Yuanyuan. She thought I got lost. On the way back home we got some fruit. One that I think is called dragon fruit. It has a red peel, with a few thin extrusions. Kind of thin triangles that come off of the fruit, all pointed towards one end. There might only be 8-10 on one fruit. The meat of the fruit is greyish white with many seeds. The seeds are similar to sesame seeds, though a little smaller, and they don't make the fruit anymore difficult to eat. Another kind of fruit is about the size and shape of grapes, but brown. You take of each one, then pinch the top, and the flesh comes out. It is chewy flesh, not too sweet, with a huge seed. I liked the dragon fruit, but the other seemed like a lot of work for not a lot of fruit.

After breakfast Jerry's mother helped me run errands. I had to get a bank account (for which I had to get an ID number in the R.O.C.), register and pay tuition at the school, get some small photos for a student id, and get a cell phone. It was mostly just me following and Jerry's mom doing all of the talking. I tried some, but it was mostly futile. For instance, at the bank the teller asked me if I could speak Chinese, and I told her I knew a little bit. As soon as she began speaking, I lost her, and she ended up speaking English. I don't really mind though. It is more important to understand these things, and get everything right than to only speak Chinese all the time. My cell phone number is 0968021008. I think the whole number you have to dial is 011-886-968021008 (I think you don't need the zero, but I'm not sure). The first two sets are the international code, and the country code respectively. Taiwan is twelve hours ahead of the east cost.

In the afternoon, after running errands, Jerry's mother drove me out to his job site. He builds climbing walls for a French company, Entreprises. Right now he is working in the northern part of the island, in a mountainous region. It was beautiful. I got to see bamboo forests, which was great because that was the original reason I started studying Chinese. Helping Jerry wasn't that interesting because it is really only a three man job, and I was the fourth man. He was also still in the beginning stages (bolting beams onto a concrete wall), so we weren't handling any of the textured panels that people would actually climb on. It was fun though, because Jerry and I were in a cherry picker (which offered quite a nice view), and I was able to learn some construction Chinese. While we were driving to dinner I saw a tree in the road. Not just a tree that had fallen into the road, or a tree that had started to grow into the road. This tree was in the roadbed when they built the road, and they just cemented around it. It takes up about a third of the road, but cars here are much narrower so it isn't too crazy. I was surprised the first morning when I woke up, I was watching traffic out the window, and one of the first cars I saw was a Lexus SUV. They are not uncommon, though the preferred method of transit is moped. After dinner, we worked a little bit more, and I went to bed early. Jerry hurt is toe right after I left, but I think he is ok.

Thursday, September 13, 2007


I was surprised during the flight, there was never a sunset. We just kept chasing the sun around the world, until I got to Taiwan, and the sun finally pulled ahead. I got in at about seven, and the sun was already down. Jerry picked me up at the airport, right on time. I had slept on the plane, so I wasn't too tired, which was good, because I didn't end up getting to sleep until midnight. Jerry took me out to a street vendor and we got some food. They just have baskets of food. You pick out which ones you want, then they deep fry them in a sort of water-soy sauce-grease concoction, which they also use as a sauce. I picked tofu block, mushroom stalk, and another kind of tofu that was seasoned more, and shaped in little blobs. It was all quite good. Jerry also got me a sort of Taiwanese burrito. The "tortilla" was a lot thinner, and probably made from rice. Inside there were green bean sprouts, rice, some other stuff, and the think I tasted most, peanut powder. Jerry got duck blood and stinky tofu. I tried both, but don't think I will be eating them again. The duck blood, was a dark brown, and came in soft and floppy cubes. It also tasted the way you think poop would taste. It didn't just taste bad, it really tasted like poop smells. The stinky tofu just didn't smell very good, and it tasted the way it smelled. In the future I would choose stinky tofu over duck blood, but neither were very appetizing. We took all this food home (he lives with his mother and father and brother), and while we were eating he, his mother, and I discussed how we would get done all of the things I needed to get done. Pretty much the consensus was that Jerry's mom would take me under her wing, and help me get everything sorted out. After dinner I showered, and Jerry showed me some climbing videos from the Asia cup. Then I almost made it to bed, but his family asked it I had ever played Nintendo Wii before, which indeed I hadn't. Jerry and his brother could speak english, so they taught me how to bowl, while his parents watched, and offered vague encouragement with a lot of smiling and nodding. Then I slept.

Friday, September 7, 2007

Last Hurrah!!

I leave for the beautiful island of Formosa, or Taiwan as it is now more commonly know, in three days. I decided to have one final night on the town to say goodbye to both Asheville, and America. The Dark Star Orchestra (they play a lot of Grateful Dead setlists, though I think they do have original work) played last night at the Orange Peel, and so my last hurrah began.

When I got there the line was going out the door chock full of hippies in tie dye and dreadlocks, both old and young. I don't believe I've ever seen so many dreadlocked people in one place before. I finally made it inside, and the band had already begun to play. The place wasn't fancy, just a large square with a stage in front, and a bar along the left side, though it did have the largest ceiling fan that I've ever seen. The blades must have been about twenty feet long. The floor was pretty full when I got there, very tightly packed in front of the stage, while those with an inclination to dance were around the outside.

I got a beer and began to enjoy the show. After drinking a bit I waded into the crowd and began to dance with everyone else. I got to know (in my mind at least) the people dancing around me, and how each person danced. For example, orange shirt girl who kept her arms more straight and her feet more firmly planted, looked like she was more comfortable dancing to a hip hop band. Or bald head man, who was in his late thirties and wore a full beard, but the only hair on his head was the horseshoe band above his ears bordering his total bald spot on top. Despite being lacking hair, bald head man danced like a fiend jumping more while keeping his arms bent and moving them up and down. Other people moved in and out, dancing in their own way. The band played all the classic Grateful Dead songs, like Sugar Magnolia, Uncle John's Band, Casey Jones. When they played these old favorites, the amount energy and happiness was unbelievable. I giggled happily through almost the whole of Uncle John's Band, and I was not the only one. I was trying to sing along, though there is one line I always mess up. I messed it up last night, and it just made it all more enjoyable. Bald head man was just grinning and dancing and jumping around, as were everyone else. As an encore they played Quinn the Eskimo. Everyone was immediately stoked and continued dancing happily. At the end of the show they announced that they had played the setlist from the Grateful Dead show on July 2, 1988. This announcement was greeted with fanatic applause and, even though that didn't mean anything to me, I cheered and yelled with everyone else.

It was an incredible show and a solid Last Hurrah in America.