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.

Friday

I went climbing again today. There weren't as many people there, which was nice, because it is a pretty small gym. It's not really different from American gyms though. Everyone is friendly, and people that are better than you give you advice on problems you can't do, and you try to help people on routes that you've already climbed. And every so often everyone will start working on one route, and everyone helps everyone, and encourages everyone, until the first person gets it. I met a Spanish guy who had actually shopped around, and gone to about 6 different climbing gyms in Taipei, and he said he had heard this one was where all of the good climbers in Taipei go, so I guess I just got lucky choosing the second one that I went to. I also ran into one of the guys I had worked with when I was helping Jerry build the climbing wall. We talked a little bit, and I met another guy at the wall too. After talking to him for a bit, he started talking in English and I didn't really notice, so he asked if it was OK for him to talk in English, and me to talk in Chinese. So, like good a good freedom loving American, I decided to restrict other peoples freedom, and I asked him to speak Chinese too. And like the good freedom loving Chinese person he was, he let me restrict his freedom, and he returned to speaking Chinese. I feel rude when I have to ask people to speak Chinese, but almost everyone tries to speak English (I think I've said this before, but every Taiwanese person who passes through the public school system gets six years of English). People are always really nice about though, and everyone who I've asked to speak Chinese always obliges.

Another thing that is sort of annoying is a sort of reverse condescension. The other day after I bought some groceries the teller held her hands together palms up, with the receipt and change pinched under her thumbs, then bowed as she handed it to me. I know she doesn't do that to Taiwanese people, because I saw here help the people earlier in line. It just seems like an unnecessary farce. Later, I talked to one of the guys at kickboxing about it, and he pointed out that they could just be intimidated, which I guess is a legitimate point.

Saturday, October 13, 2007

Thursday

It's getting cooler and so I slept with the windows open last night. I slept well, except that in the morning I woke up to a cat fight. Not two women yelling at each other, two real cats . It sounded terrible. I kept wishing an old person would go outside and separate them. I don't know why I specifically wanted an old person to do it. Maybe because when I used to get up early and run I'd always see old people out stretching, or walking, or doing Tai-chi, or Qi-gong. Anyways, the cats eventually sorted it out, and I fell back asleep for a bit.

Classes were pretty normal, and afterwar I went to get a haircut. My hair had been starting to get on my nerves, and then we learned haircutting vocabulary, so I decided to set off and try my new skills. The first barbershop I found was on the second floor, and when I walked up there, just seemed to be someones apartment. There was a sign downstairs that said the place was on the second floor, but there was no sign on the second floor. There were just two apartments, and I didn't know which door to knock at. I was a little freaked out anyway, after seeing those two horror movies yesterday, then coming into this empty apartment building, trying to find a barbershop that wasn't there. After a while, I knocked at one of the doors. A man in a wife-beater and boxer shorts came to the door and told me the barbershop was across the hallway. So I knocked at the other door, but no one answered. I was happy to leave unscathed.

I found another barbershop just down the street, and it wasn't creepy at all. There was an empty chair, so I got served right away. The woman asked what I wanted and I told her that I wanted it even all around. She repeated 'all around' a few times, and I just repeated it back. I felt like she understood that I wanted all of the lengths of the hairs to be even. Then she asked how long I wanted it, and held her fingers about an inch apart as an example. I said I'd like it a little bit longer, and she moved her fingers apart a little. I felt like this meant that she understood how long I wanted it. After we'd gotten that sorted out she started cutting away.

All of the barbers I've been to in America pinch your hair between their fingers, then cut it, but she just lifted it with a comb, and then cut. It seemed a little haphazard, but I didn't want to say anything, and probably couldn't have if I'd wanted too. It soon became apparent that she seemed to be cutting haphazardly because she was cutting haphazardly.

This was where I figured out that she had disregarded all of my instructions, and was giving me the haircut she thought looked best. So I got a regular neat, everyday hair cut. Now all I need is a good suit and a nice watch, and I'll be able to start heading into the office every morning. She even shaved my neck. It is a good haircut, but I was frustrated that she completely disregarded everything I'd said. I'm sure she understood because afterward, she kept telling me how much better it looked, and how you could see my face now. It was kind of like "Aren't you glad I made the right decision for you? If I'd done what you said, you would look so much worse right now!" On the bright side, she did wash my hair. She really scrubbed it too, and the whole thing was almost worth it for the scalpal scrubbing I got. Nothing beats a good head scratching.

After the haircut I went and bought some tupperware, and a proper kitchen knife (I had been using a little pocket knife). When I got home, I took the knife out of its package and started playing with it. I didn't have anything to cut, and so I just had my hand in a loose sort of a fist, and was rolling the handle around in palm. I wasn't really paying attention, and the corner of the blade rolled into the first joint on my thumb, and cut a little gash. It occured to me that this didn't bode well for my future relationship with the knife, but it wasn't a bad cut and was fine after I slapped some triple anti-biotic ointment on it.

That night at kick boxing I met Emilio. He was from Spain (I couldn't figure out which part), and I think he might have been a gangster. He was stocky, a solid 6 inches shorter than I am, and I only outweighed him by about 10 pounds. He was bald, with ears that stuck out, and a bulbous nose. He was only in Taipei for three days, I didn't ask doing what. And he already knew how to fight. Well enough that it might have been his job. I liked him though. He worked hard, and punched and kicked harder than a lot of the other people do, but he was always very nice about it. It made me think, what if he was a gangster. He could be really nice now, but when he has to break peoples' legs', that's when he gets serious. I don't know. It was a good session though. I like the class more and more every time I go.

Double Tens Day

October Tenth (10/10) is the anniversary of the founding of the Peoples Republic of China, so we didn't have school. I had wanted to get up early, but kept resetting my alarm, and until I finally got up. I made some rice, and had breakfast, before going to meet Aijin at 9:45. We were going meeting some Taiwanese people, and going to see a movie. We met up with them, and on the way stopped to get a mid morning snack. A couple of them got egg sandwiches, but I had just eaten, so I bought a piece of peanut butter toast, and some rice milk tea. We had a bit more travelling to do to get to the theater, I was hungry, and it was a delicious piece of toast so I ate mine on the way. No one else did, and I have since found out that Chinese people view eating and walking at the same time as uncouth. I believe that this stems from the general enjoyment of sitting around eating and talking. Why walk and eat if you could sit and talk and eat?

One of the girls we were going to see the movie with loves watching movies, and goes by herself a lot, so she had already seen all of the 'happy go lucky' kinds of movies. The only one she hadn't seen was this horror movie from Thailand, so we went to watch that. The spoken language was Thai, and there Chinese subtitles, but no english. Which wasn't really that bad because it wasn't too high of a dialogue movie, and if I couldn't catch any of the meaning from the subtitle, then I could always just look on screen and see what was happening. I don't like watching scary movies, and so I haven't seen too many of them, but I think this one was the scariest I've ever seen. It was about a pair of Siamese twins. One of them falls in love with this guy, and he falls in love with her to. Their love just makes the other twin bitter, and she comes back to haunt the happy twin. I think it was a clever strategy to take an already socially uncomfortable subject, Siamese twins, and make a horror movie out of it. They certainly succeeded too.

This movie turned out to be a buy one get one free, and we got to see another Thai horror movie in the same theater, right after the first one. This one had English subtitles, so I was able to follow the plot. It was really scary too, about a girl who is in the top of her freshman medical class. This rich guy bets his friends he can seduce her, and so starts trying, and he succeeds. They have sex, she gets pregnant, has an abortion and dies. Then she starts haunting her apartment. In the end she kills the guy who had sex with her, a couple people he had sex with in the interim, and her father who sexually molested her.

The combination of these two movies not only freaked me out about living alone, but made me not want to look at women at all. The fist movie made me not want to make friends with women, because it might hurt one of their friends, who might or might not go crazy, but I'd still be hurting her. The second movie made me never ever want to touch a woman.

After we left the theater, we went and got some lunch, and after lunch we went and got some smoothies, and sat down in the smoothie place. We basically just sat and ate and drank and talked from about 2:30 when the movies got out, until about 9:00. I think this kind of thing is more in keeping with what most Taiwanese people do. All the girls we were eating with were freinds of a girl Aijin is trying to date, so it was sort of like an interview session with these three Taiwanese girls questioning him about life the universe and everything. There was that, and Aijin likes to talk a lot anyway, so I mostly just listened, but it was interesting, and funny cause they were grilling Aijin.

Before bed I was worried about having nightmares, so I listened to happy American music and looked at pictures from school on my ipod. It was kind of intense because I basically relived most of my college career to date in only a few minutes. Then I stood up and I was back in Taiwan. I didn't have nightmares.

Friday, October 12, 2007

Tuesday

I've tried a lot of different things since I've been here. One of the first times I went to the grocery store, I wanted to get some peanut butter, but it is really expensive, so I didn't get any. Then in the refrigerated section, I saw small rectangular containers of something that looked like peanut butter, but was had a little more red, and a little more green. I had no idea what it was, but I bought some anyway. Turns out it is basically a soy sauce spread. I put it on a sandwhich with rice the first time I ate it, and I couldn't force myself to finish eating it. This was partly because the loaf of bread I had bought was really sweet (almost like angel food cake), and the contrast was terrible. I thought I might be able to eat it if I just deluted it a lot, but I haven't been able to eat any since then, even though I found regular tasting bread. I also found some pretty terrible candy. There is a grocery store right across the street with bulk bins, selling different foods, and a lot of different types of candy. Naturally I tried to buy the cheapest stuff they had, while still getting something good. I also was trying to get something that wasn't pre-packaged, as a lot of the candies were. I found two things. The first was about the same shape and color as a dried apricot, but it was completely dry, a little smaller, and had a splotchy white coating which I assumed to be sugar. Despite its good looks, it tasted like sand, and had the consistency of fruit that rotted, and then sat in the sun and dried out. The other candy wasn' too bad really, and tasted a lilttle like licorice. It was shaped into little brown balls, about the same diameter as a quarter, and also had what looked like a sugar coating. It was pretty chewy, and good enough to eat, but I don't think worthy of a repeat buy.

Today was different though, and I stumbeled upon a real gold mine. Fake meat log. One of the things I really miss about not eating meat is salami, especially for backpacking. Its high fat, high protein, cheaper than dirt, and basically dosen't go bad. Now I've got a solid alternative. Fake meat log. Its probably not as fatty as real meat log, but that might be a good thing. I sliced off a couple rounds, and fried them up to make a sandwhich, which was where I found the second goldmine of the day. Some sort of spicy peanut sauce. They had a whole rack of hot sauces and barbeque spices at the store, but this one said it was ok for vegetarians, so I grabbed it. It really mixes well with the tofu meat log, and so I fried up a couple of sandwiches for dinner, before going to thai kickboxing. I like the class more and more ever time I go. I took kung fu in high school, and I think about that and compare it to this, and kung fu just had so many frills.

Thursday, October 11, 2007

A New Climbing Gym

One of my teachers had helped me find the website for the climbing/backpacking club on campus, and I had gotten their office number in the Student Activity Center. After class got out I went by to see what I could find out. I found the office ok, and low and behold, there was a club member there. At first, I thought she was there just to talk to strangers about the club, but I think she just had a break in between classes, so she was hanging out in the office. Whyever she was there, she was really helpful and answered all of my questions. She even got out a couple photo albums that I could look at. Then she told me that the club was going climbing tonight, and I was welcome to go if I wanted to. She gave me someones phone number and told me to be at Gongguan metro stop at 6:30, then call this number. So I did. The guy I called told me to wait. So I waited. Then he texted me another phone number, and a name, Keke (but with a lower 'e' sound, not like Kiki). I couldn't get my phone to call Keke, but, just as I was becoming frustrated, Keke came up to me, and everything was resolved. We waited a little on one other guy, then found out he was already on his way there, so we headed on too.

Keke was a nice guy, but we weren't able to communicate much because what Chinese I have failed me completely tonight. I think it was a combination of reading an english book all weekend, and there is just a lot of jargon that isn't in the regular Chinese curriculum. I did manage to find out that Keke is a physics major and he just started climbing because he thought it was a cool thing to do. He reminds me a lot of one of my friends from college (Zev), who is a Microbiology major, and started climbing for very similar reasons. They even smile in a similar way.

This gym dosen't beat around the bush at all. Its a small gym designed for training and little else. It is on the second floor, in what probably used to be an apartment, but someone decided it would be better as a climbing wall. It is one rectangular room, about 10 feet high, with about 2/3 of the walls set up for climbing and covered in holds. Roughly half of the cieling is covered in holds, so you can go from one side of the room to the other, without touching the floor. There is another room that has pads, and has obviously been used for climbing in the past, but right now I think they are chaging the holds over.

I talked to a couple other people from the club, but not too much. This was the first time I've been completely unable to communicate, in any way. My Chinese isn't that good, and my grammar is frequently poor, and I very frequently don't know the word I'm looking for. But I can always communicate. I have to work at it, and it takes a lot more time, but I've always been able to get my point across, even if I do have to use long complex and roundabout explanations. I wanted to tell this guy, "I think I could get it if my foot would stick on that hold." The concepts of 'get it' and getting my foot to 'stick on that hold' were the most difficult. I managed to get across 'get it', but I was at a complete loss as to how to say, 'stick'. I tried saying 'not move up or down', and 'not move up' and 'not move down', but all were to no avail. It occurs to me now that I could have tried to say that I didn't want my foot to fly, but I didn't think of it at the time, and even if it had, whether or not my companion would have understood is a mystery.

However, I like the gym a lot, and if I keep going back, I will certainly learn all of the jargon.

Sunday

I wanted to get a lot done today because yesterday had been so worthless, so after I ate breakfast I went over to Luke's house where I had left my bike and my umbrella. The typhoon had pretty much moved on, but on the walk to Luke's house I could see the aftermath. Whole strings of mopeds blown over like dominoes. One of those big vertical signs, the kind that only stick out a couple feet from the building, but are about 10-15 feet high, had blown over. Quite a few of the ornamental trees that grow in square of cement free sidewalk had blown over.

As I got to Luke's house, I looked for my bike. It was not blown over, laying on the ground as I expected. In fact, it had been moved across the street, but probably not by the hurricane. My umbrella was missing, and Luke said, his roommates had had a party the night before, and it was likely someone had walked off with it. He gave me another one to make up for it (they had a communal umbralla pool), and I think I came out on top. My old umbrella had a plastic sheath you could slid over it when it was closed, but it the whole thing was pretty flimsy. My new umbrella was a lot sturdier, and a much more fitting color (the old one was a cornflower blue, but my new one was a much more masculine navy blue).

I took my new umbrella and headed for the library to try to get some work done. I found out the library was closed, but I rode around on my bike for an hour or so looking for some building I could go in and do work. I found one that had a fairly constant stream of people going in and out, but you had to have a card, and a password to get in. I thought about loitering by the door, and waiting for someone to leave, but I lacked sufficient testicular fortitude, so I left and rode my bike around campus some more looking for another place to work. I got desparate, and even thought about going into KFC or Starbucks to get a table, but I ended up just going home and reading "Catch 22" somemore. In the evnening I got bored, and went out for a walk down Roosevelt (the road I live on). I stopped in at a grocery store, to see if they had anything that the one I usually shop at dosen't. I looked for a long time, but didn't see anything, so I bought some candy and left. I had stashed my umbrella in the rack outside the door, but when I went out, I couldn't find it. This was the second time my umbrella had been stolen. I found out about the first time this morning, and less than 6 hours later, someone stole my second umbrella. I loitered for a bit, looking for my umbrella (there was a very large mass), but I couldn't find mine. I didn't want anyone to think I was looking for a good umbrella to steal, so I went up the stairs a little, and scoped it out from there. I stood, eating my candy, and trying to decide what to do. Eventually I decided to go and look once more for my umbrella. I still didn't find it, so I gave up the search. (I rode my bike back the next day to look for it, in case someone had returned it, or in case it had been hidden. I was still unable to find it.) So I had to walk home in the rain, but I was under awnings most of the time, and it wasn't raining that hard, so I did ok.

Tuesday, October 9, 2007

Typhoon #2

I have since learned that "Big Wind" isn't completely accurate. There is a sort of a negative connotation, like too big, or too much. Just a little FYI.

I spent the whole day hungover, which wasn't really so bad because this typoon was a lot bigger than the other one, and it probably wouldn't have been a good idea to leave the house even if I hadn't been hungover. I had planned ahead though, and had checked out some books from the library. I got two books in Chinese, one was a kids book on a specific national park somewhere. It was pretty good because it would have a paragraph in English for each Chinese paragraph, so I could compare notes. The other was a great big picture book on the mountain ranges of Taiwan, which had a lot of good information, and also very beautiful pictures. I also got one English book, which was deffinetely a mistake, and is detrimental to my Chinese. I got "Catch 22", and read that for most of the day. It really is a funny book, and I was glad I had something to read that didn't take too much mental effort.

I'm seriously thinking about not going out to much anymore. Plenty of people think that when they're hungover, but I have another good reason. Good, traditional Taiwanese people don't go out and drink, in the same way that regular American people do. There were a whole lot of foreigners at the club last night, and the people that weren't foreigners were pretty westernized, and certainly dressed like western people dress. I think 'going native' is a worthy aspiration, and it would certainly help my Chinese, and if I'm truly going to 'go native' I'm going to drink less. Another big reason is how much money I could save. Lots of people work so that they can have money to spend on going out and having fun. I've already done the work, and now I just want to save they money. By saving money, I think I could be a lot more comfortable when I leave Taiwan and stop having a 'Taiwanese Voyage', and start having a real 'Asian Voyage'.

Monday, October 8, 2007

Friday

I went out to dinner with Luke today. I've neve met a Luke that I didn't like and this Luke is not exception. We spoke English, which was probably bad on general principle but to be fair it would have taken a very long time to get to know him as well as I do know. I had gone out to lunch with him (and others), four or five times, and all I really knew about him was that he liked spicy foods. And I only knew that because he slathered hot sauce on his food, and if there was no hot sauce on the table, he always asked for some. Now I've come to find out that he's already graduated, and is pretty sure he's going to go to grad school in international environmental policy, which is something I'm interested in too. He had wanted to go try this place that is famous for its stinky tofu, and apparently cooks it differently than anywhere else, but we were unable to find the stinky tofu place, so we had Thai food instead, which was delicious. After dinner we walked over and looked at Sun yat-sen Memorial, and then went over to Taipei 101.

You definitely could climb it. I think you could even protect it. The first part is relatively low angle, and I think it would be kind of like a ladder. After that the tower is built in 8 or 10 sections that angle outward. It would be overhanging, but the corner of the building is knotched in, so I think you could stem your legs out, and get pretty good rests. There are big symbols pasted onto the building at intervals. They aren't very close together, but I think you could sling them, and use that for protection. You might be able to get in other stuff too, its hard to say.

After seeing Taipei 101 we decided to go out somewhere. So we both went home, and got ready, then I went over to Luke's house. I've thought before that you could live here without learning any Chinese at all, and Luke's roommates are a perfect example. They've all been living here for over two years, and none of them have any language skills beyond "Can I have a beer?". I don't think they've put a lot of effort into learning the language, but also, so many people want to speak English. They learn English for 6 years in public school, unless the family is rich, then the kids start learning even earlier. When I introduce myself, most people give me an English name. The local dialect of Chinese has numerous English words in it. T-shirt and cool, are both in regular usage while okay and bye-bye are more common than their Chinese synonym. It is beginning to become somewhat frustrating.

Anyways, Luke got spruced up, and we headed out to the bar. Luke has already been in Taiwan for one year, and so he spearheaded the choice of bar. We were going to WAX, which I had just heard the night before was one of the trashier bars in town. I figured it couldn't hurt to try it once, which turned out not to be entirely true. This was the first time I'd been carded since coming to Taiwan. These guys made a big deal out of it too, like the only reason I'd come to Taiwan was because I couldn't drink legally in the states, and they were damn sure going to make sure I could drink legally here. The did accept a North Carolina drivers lisence, which was fortunate, because I wasn't about to bring my passport to the bar with me.

I had heard correctly and WAX was a shady sort of place. It was in the basement for starters. Secondly, I think it was the loudest place I've ever been to. I put toilet paper in my ears, but about half way through the night it fell out. The next day I noticed a ringing in the ear the TP had fallen out of. I feel bad for people that go there regularly. I don't think it would take that long to get permanent hearing damage. Most of the clientele was pretty shady too. Dressed like americans, with sports jerseys, big nylon bandannas, ear rings, and a sullen expression on their faces. As far as I can remember, they also played exclusively American music. The most dubious thing was the reserved tables. The were there for people who have money, and want to use that money to make themselves feel better. The kind of people who want to lord over the crowd at a dirty, 500$NTD all you can drink bar, where the most popular form of dress is gangster. The kind of people who's friends are friends because of fear, not because of love.

All those things didn't stop me from wanting to dance, and Luke had already started, so I waded out in it. As soon as I started dancing I started laughing. I think sometimes I dance, and laugh because of joy, but this music wasn't that inspiring of joy. I think I laughed because people are funny looking when they dance. Not that there is anything wrong with that. I'm sure I'm funny looking when I dance too, but I can't watch myself, so I watch other people, and they make me laugh. There were a lot of foreigners at this place, but there were a couple of Indian guys really going getting after it. They were leaning pretty far back, keeping their arms straight, while quickly moving them up and down, and their torso side to side and up and down. They were really going to town to. They got an A for effort, and I don't know about style or effect.

It was an all you can drink bar, so like a good American, I abused the "all you can ..." privelege and drank too much. At 3:00, I left and ran all the way home, just as the Typhoon was getting started. Before I got left, I did notice one thing. While I was dancing they played one song by the "Black Eyed Peas". I don't remember which one, but I know it was one we used to play at small parties we had in the house I lived in at school. A year and a half ago, 15,000 miles away, in the small living room of a small college town, I was dancing to this same song. And now here I was, in a seedy, basement level club, surronded by dancing Asians, but dancing by myself. I was stoked off it though. It brought back memories of home.

Friday, October 5, 2007

More Rain

It rained for my first 2 weeks, give or take, and then it was sunny for about a week, and now the rain has started in again. So today I got to ride my bike while holding my umbrella for the first time. My bike getting beat up actually helped, because the left handlebar is now closer to my body, and I had my umbrella in my right hand, so it was generally easier to steer. Which was lucky, because with the rain, came the wind as well, and the umbrella served as a sort of wind trap swining around this way and that. Sometimes I had to point it forward (if I was biking into the wind), and sometimes I had to put it off to the side. I always wanted to keep it pointing into the wind, because it was a pretty crappy umbrella, and I was afraid of what would happen if the wind got carried away and turned it inside out. After a while I realized it wasn't really raining that much, and so I closed it and made it to class without event.

I try to be a vegetarian here but it is hard. Partly because I don't understand what I'm ordering a good part of the time, and partly because I don't think that people understand why I'm doing it, which would make the whole thing pointless. Going back to not understanding what I'm ordering, today at lunch I was pretty sure I did. I could read every word, and the dish was named "Five Flowers Homestyle Food" or "Five Flowers Dish of Politeness" or something like that. I was 100% sure about the five flowers part, and I recognized the other characters, but one apparently had more meanings that I had thought. Anyway, five flowers seemed a promising name for a vegetarian dish, so I ordered it. When it arrived there were big fat chunks of beef strewn about. Since I ordered it, I ate it, and it was good, but now I know not to order 'five flowers something something'.

In the afternoon I went to the library for a while. It got dark, and I decided it was time to go home. As I left the library, I went to grab my umbrella, and I though someone had stolen it, but I just forgot what color it was. So I grabbed it and headed out to my bike. The wind had picked up more (apparently there is another typhoon coming in this weekend. The first I heard about it was when my individual class teacher told me to call ahead because we might not have class tomorrow.) I opened my umbrella and started riding my bike home. I made it to the crosswalk over New Student road without any problems, where I waited for the light to change so I could cross. As soon as the light changed a man in a uniform started blowing his whistle vigorously and loudly. It seemed to me he was blowing his whistle with far too much gusto, and I wanted to harangue him with a number of questions such as: "Who are you?", "Where did you come from?" (That was the first time I had seen, the man. I think he just comes out at night, when traffic is heavier), "Why are you blowing you whislte so loudly? Can't you see that everyone you're signaling to is within ten feet of where you are standing, and would certainly be able to hear you if you blew less loudly?" and most importantly "Do you think we couldn't perform the simple function of crossing the crosswalk without you blowing your whistle and waving your batton so aggresively?". But I didn't ask him any of those questions because the were mostly rhetorical, and I really just wanted to cross the street. So I ingnored the man and set off shakily into the intersection. I made it about halfway across without hitting anyone, when the wind gusted, and my umbrella suddenly turned inside out, throwing me off balance. I turned the handlebars, but I kept peddling too, and as I turned the handlebars, my left knee hit the left handle bar (the one that was bent closer to my body) and swung the bike back around the other way. I was forced to put down a foot and stop. As soon as I stopped the umbrella flew right side inside again, and I decided to have done with this umbrella business, so I closed it and rode on my way. Due to my consternation with the whistling man I got a late start, and stopping in the middle to close my umbrella put me further behind. The green man walking on the electric sign turned into a red man standing before I got out of the intersection, but no cars honked at me so I think I made it through alright. I left my umbrella closed for the rest of the trip home, and the jury is still out on its overall usefullness.

I had some sandwiches with rice, tofu, and peanut butter powder for dinner. Almost like a good old PB&J sandwhich. Afterwards I went to my first Muay Thai class. It was pretty good. The teacher is an English guy, but he's lived in Asia for the past 6-8 years, and I think he knows what he is talking about. We just practiced a couple of different types of kicks. He made an analogie between the human leg and a baseball bat, you just swing it in from the hip. So that was cool. I really do think it will be good training. He seems to train in a smart way too, which is good, because I don't want to hurt myself.

Thursday, October 4, 2007

Poor Bicycle

My bike got the crap beat out of it a couple of times today. I understand the first time, but the second time is a real mystery. I left my apartment early to go run, and saw that my bike had fallen over. I picked it up, and nothing appeared harmed, so I rode off to the park. On the way I realized that the cover on the bell had fallen off, so it wouldn't ring. This was a real blow. I really like the bell. It was such a happy bell, I never rung it at people, for warning or anything, I just liked to ring it every so often. It was still really early though, and I hoped if I made it back quickly enough, I could beat the street sweepers, find all the pieces, and I could put it back together. When I came back, I forgot to look for it right away, and wend and ate breakfast first, but I did remember to look for it before I left for class. I found one piece, but not the bell itself, so still no ringing. Now it only makes a despondent click when the thumb catch falls back into place.

The second beating I found out about after class. I came out to ride my bike home, and it had fallen over once more, but this time with some damage. The basket is bent up, so instead of a nice square-ish shape it is more of a triangle, and the handle bars are turned at an angle, so that the left side is closer to my body than the right side. I tried to try to fix either of these problems by banging on different parts of the bike, but after hitting it for a few seconds, and nothing happening I gave up. I figure the crappier my bike looks the less likely it is to get stolen.

I have been told (by reliable Taiwanese sources) both, that their are no thieves in Taiwan, and that Taiwan has lots of theives, and I should watch out. My own judgement is that there are not very many thieves, and I should only watch out for my stuff in crowded places, like night markets. On campus the accepted bike locking stragety is a lock through the spokes of the back tire, so if anyone tried to ride it it would destroy the spokes. Within this, most people go around the whole back wheel, and through the spokes, but quite a lot of people also just put a lock around the one or two spokes, and maybe the supports for the rack, then call it good. The moral of the story is that no one acutally locks their bikes to anything, and that you could just drive through campus at night and fill the back of your truck with bikes. But no one does.

People are even more lenient with umbrellas. The whole city goes on the honor code. Whenever it rains people use umbrellas, but they can't bring them into stores because then the inside of the store would get all wet. So everyone leaves them at the door. At the library on campus (on rainy days) there are well over one hundred umbrellas outside the door at any given time. Anyone leaving any store with umbrellas at the door could just take one that they liked the look of and be off. But no one does.

Tuesday, October 2, 2007

This is the Craziest Shit Ever and it Blows My Mind

The other day in class one of my teachers said she had previously had another student in her class that liked climbing, and was from NC too, so she gave me his number (He's now a grad student at NTU). We had lunch today, and I found out he's from Tuxedo, NC. About 45 min or an hour south of Asheville. He worked at a couple of camps in Western NC too. He's a few years older than I am, but if he wasn't we might have known some of the same people. And now we meet in Taiwan. Far Out.

Other than that nothing much else happened. I did decide that I just love a good challenge. I think that might be part of the reason I wanted to study Chinese. My individual class is consistently really intense. We work on my pronunciation a lot, and I usually do bad at it, but I'm grinning and laughing the whole time. I really enjoy it.

Monday, October 1, 2007

Interesting Indeed

I saw a robot on the way to the library this afternoon. At first I thought it was one of those signs that tells you how fast you are going, but as I got closer I saw that it was indeed a robot. It was kind of shaped like a big trash can, with a blue plastic hull, and where the opening would be to put in trash, there was a computer monitor and I think there were a couple video cameras above that. My main clue that it was a robot, was that around the base in yellow letters it said "NTU Robot" (NTU is National Taiwan University). I wanted to look at it a little more, but I was scared and confused about why there was a robot in the middle of the street so I kept going.

Before that I had spent a couple of hours looking for a place to buy envelopes. The post office doesn't sell them, and I biked around for ages, but didn't see a sationary store or anything similar to that. I did, however, buy nice electric pan. It's pretty deep, and non-stick coated, and came with a free spatula. I already had an electric wok, but the heating is uneven and I couldn't cook eggs. Now that I've got this, I think my kitchen is basically complete. Except for tupperware. I think I need some tupperware.

I also went out to lunch with one of the teachers. He had substitute taught in one of my classes the other week, and just seemed like a nice guy. His name is Golden Dragon. Or something like that. His last name is gold, and while someones last name has it's own meaning and isn't just a last name, I think people usually ignore the meaning of the last name, and only attribute meanings to the two given names. But one of his given names definitely is dragon, and I don't know what the other one is, but I bet its cool too.

Later on that night, I ended up finding a place that sold envelopes, right across the street from my house. I think it might not have been open when I first went by, but regardless, its a pretty sweet store. In addition to envelopes, I got a broom and a toilet brush and some toilet cleaner. The store has a bulk bin section, which I'm really excited about, but its hard to tell how much things are because I'm not familiar with the measurement increment. They mostly have candy, but they've got nuts, and dried tofu too. So that's pretty cool.

I had my first experience with Taiwanese trash service today. There is a notice out in the hallway saying what I needed to do with my trash, but I had been unable to completely decipher it. I went out to look at it a couple of times, and had gathered that I needed to take my trash somewhere. After I had figured that out, I had bad visions of me walking around Taipei for hours with a bag of trash asking for directions, so I got scared and quit trying to figure out what to do with my trash.

My trash bag had reached capacity, so I finally took the notice down, and brought it into my room, and sat down with my dictionary.

I have to say, I think they've got a pretty awesome set up going on. First of all, all of the trash trucks play ice cream truck music, so you know where they are, and can hear them coming. It is important to know where they are because you have to meet them to give them your trash. Everyone gets a time and a place (I think mostly where the alleys intersect with the main roads. I only have to take my trash about fifty feet.), and they have to bring their trash and recycling out to that spot. The recycling comes through first, and as far as I can tell they take everything. They even take organic stuff, like fruit peels and egg shells. They must just have a huge compost pile somewhere, cause I bet 2.6 million people create a lot of organic garbage. After the recycling truck comes the garbage truck, happily playing its music. Everyone goes up and throws their garbage in their own selves, its not just one poor guy handling everyone else's trash. Its a really cool thing to see, because it's sort of like a mass exodus. People come out of everywhere, in their bathrobes and slippers, or whatever, sometimes carrying a dog in one hand, but always bringing little bags of trash.