Tuesday, November 30, 2010

day 75_today's top 10

1. I woke up at 3am and realized my alarm was set for the wrong time (I had an early meeting this morning)... so I actually changed my alarm in the middle of the night and was up and out the door on time! Good catch that helped my day to start out on the right foot (instead of the wrong one).

2. The weather has been gorgeous from the moment I crawled out of bed. Not hot, not cold, and no rain today!

3. I had enough band-aids in my purse to cover my new blisters (1 on each foot). At least my shoes didn't completely devour my feet... and I probably won't walk to work in those next time.

4. I found out TCU, my alma mater, has joined the Big East Conference for football. Go frogs! :)

5. I completed some preliminary work for a larger project and got good feedback! It is always nice to know I am on the right track.

6. I got paid! Yay!!! Christmas shopping here I come...

7. I ventured out and ate at a new restaurant for dinner - Vietnamese place, very near my house, delicious.

8. I found a place that sells Chai Lattes! (Also very near my house. I have been looking for Chai since day 1...)

9. I came up with a potential idea for a homemade holiday wreath for my apartment door.

10. I'm going to bed at a decent hour to catch up on my sleep tonight.

Monday, November 29, 2010

day 74_ceramics exhibition

[Disclaimer: Photos don't do this justice - you should see the exhibit in person!] One of the perks about working in a creative field is that occasionally - your paths cross other creative types that make you appreciate art even more. My boss was inspired by a ceramist from the UK and invited him to Taiwan to host an exhibition of his latest work. So this evening after work, I attended the opening reception for the Pure Simplicity Ceramic Art Exhibition (which will be on display for the rest of the week at National Taiwan University of Education). The artist is Mr. Jack Doherty.

The ceramics were as the name suggests - pure and simple - but I really enjoyed the exhibit. The pottery took on various bowl and vase shapes, ranging from pieces as small as a teacup to a large vase that came about to my hip. Strolling through and taking in the forms, colors, and textures was soothing. The art was original, and it made me wish I was still in pottery class, because I did feel like the artist must have affectionately shaped each piece. Each piece felt special, and had defining characteristics to set it apart from the others. Instead of "practice makes perfect," it seems that passion, self-expression, and imperfection are what made each of these pieces great.

The method of the artist is to glaze each piece once and fire each piece once, but the simple process results in an array of colors and textures. The unique coloring was my favorite part - the primary colors in this collection were rust oranges and pale teal... a gorgeous combination.

Unfortunately, most of the works were above and beyond my budget... so I did not commit to any purchases this evening (even though they will be here all week...). But it was encouraging to see someone who has found a way to express their creativity and still make a living out of it. After all, that's what all of us interior designers are trying to accomplish. How to be an artist without becoming a 'starving artist'. Before I left the show this evening, I heard rumor that there might be a sort of drawing at our firm... maybe the company is planning to purchase one piece that would be given to one lucky employee. Since it was only a rumor, I will be anxious to see if it comes true! Here's hoping :)

I wish the photos were larger to do the artwork more justice!
Hopefully you can still get an idea of how neat the individual pieces were.

Sunday, November 28, 2010

day 73_weekend wanderings

This weekend the weather was gorgeous for the entire weekend! Right now the daily temperatures range from about 65 degrees (F) to about 72 degrees (F), and on the days when it is not raining it makes me just itch to be outdoors! So this weekend I came up with a new adventure plan for myself - follow the sunshine. With the height of the buildings in the city, the sun finds it way and snakes up and down the lanes and alleys in between the buildings, so I decided to let the sunshine be my compass. I went out walking, as usual, and would turn left or right, east, west, etc. based on which direction looked the sunniest. It was actually a fabulous strategy.  :)

I set out in a general direction, with a vague destination in mind, but I really just got to see a lot of areas that I haven't spent much time in yet. Honestly, on Saturday, once I had walked what must have been at least five miles, I decided I should probably find a bus and find my way home. But I also ventured out on Sunday, so I feel like I really got to see some sights and enjoy the weekend weather. Most of my time this weekend was spent wandering to and from Neihu (a particular corner of Taipei ~ sort of like one might consider Brooklyn part of NYC).

Night Market Entrance.
I came upon the market just as the vendors were beginning to set up shop for the evening.

Night market ~ getting ready for the busy weekend crowds.
Temple just outside the market. It was really beautiful.

View from the pedestrian bridge. Basketball courts & river below.

Sunset over the city beyond.

Miramar Entertainment Park. The ferris wheel is actually located on top of the mall.
Ticket for one ~ here I go!
The ferris wheel is brightly lit at night - really pretty to see over the skyline.
View from my seat looking into the wheel.
View from the top.
I forget how big the city is - now that I live here, sometimes it seems small...
But this was a great way to see it all.
 Good weekend.

day 72_election day

Over the past few weeks - maybe even a month - Taipei has been infected with political campaigns. Everywhere you turn there are banners, announcements, billboards, hand outs campaigning for the candidates for the mayoral, city councilor, and borough chief positions. I'm told by my friends that you never see the politicians... it's almost as if they're in hiding... until the elections come around, and then you can't miss them! I would say I can attest to that. Due to my inability to read or speak Chinese, it is pretty much just all noise to me.

When I first arrived in Taiwan, I was oblivious to any present politics, but over the last few weeks I have been just as exposed as everyone to the many candidates vying for a seat in Taipei's government. It's is very similar to campaigning in the US I suppose... except that the compact city environment is more accessible than US suburbia. So, where as I may have never met a candidate running for office in Dallas, TX or Edmond, OK - I actually met 2 of the candidates here during the last week! Each candidate has advertisements with their identifying number... and since I can't read Chinese, I recognize each person as their number. I met #4 one day on my way to work...

Politician (#4), greeting the city. Campaigners passing out tissue packets.
Wishing good morning to all on their way to work.
[Side note - do you love the light shining down on him in this photo or what?!]
It was sort of nice to meet #4, to put a face/person with a number. He was all smiles and waves and greetings to the traffic and the pedestrians that morning. The campaigners hand out tissue packets with advertisements on the wrappers and I have a whole stash in my purse now (they've been busy). At least they pass out something useful!

Billboard I pass on my walk to work. (Note the bamboo construction)
In addition to the many handouts, there are endless banners to remind you of the upcoming elections. AND there are trucks with loudspeakers that drive up and down the streets broadcasting about the candidates or actually carrying the candidates themselves, who deliver their own messages to the city. At our Thanksgiving dinner this week, one dinner guest (new to Taiwan like myself) said something to the tune of "Well, at least they will stop driving and announcing once the elections are over! [The loudspeakers pass by at anytime - sometimes interrupting your nap or television program - for example.] Another dinner guest laughed and told her "No, now they will all come out to thank you for your generosity and support... even those who lost!" Ha! So, I guess we have that to look forward to, post-election.

Banners along a sidewalk.
Yesterday, when I went out exploring the city, I was curious what the random tents that I passed were for... and it took me a little while to remember that: "Oh yeah, this is the election day." Tents were set up in various locations throughout the city for voting. No cameras or cellphones allowed at the voting places. Plenty of people out casting their votes. I did not vote - I wonder if I would be eligible?

This poor pedestrian bridge was suffocated with campaign ads!
Towards the end of the day, when I stopped to eat dinner, the election coverage was on every television. People huddled around expectantly, anxious to hear the results. On my walk home, there were people setting off fireworks in the streets (fireworks are pretty popular here for special occasions) - celebrating the final election results. I guess the elections are complete! Now let the thank you speeches begin so that the politicians can go back into hiding.

Saturday, November 27, 2010

day 71_chinese lesson #1

If you haven't noticed the trend... there is a lot of Chinese language here in Taiwan. The locals speak Mandarin and write in traditional Chinese (as opposed to the simplified Chinese characters often used in mainland China). Even though I am thankful for the extensive use and teaching of the English language here, I have been really looking forward to learning Chinese too! Friday night after work, I finally had my first official lesson!

I have browsed online a couple of times, to see if I could find a good evening Chinese language class for after work. It looks like there are definitely Chinese language classes available here, but finding something for the right schedule and the right price has been a challenge. Fortunately, there is a coworker in my office who recently became certified to teach Chinese, so she has textbooks and lesson plan ideas, etc - and she has offered to teach me! I am so excited!

In the US, I have heard people say before that Chinese is the #1 hardest language to learn, because of the way 5 tones are used in the language, but come to find out... the other language spoken here - Taiwanese - is a local variation based on Chinese that uses 9 tones! Wow. After the lesson, I am more confident about the Chinese language. There are so many differences between English and Chinese, and I am hoping they are in my favor (with the exception of perfecting the tones, which is just going to be hard no matter what). I guess I will have to keep you all updated as far as how my lessons are going! Our first lesson was really just practicing how to speak the different tones. Language practice drills. It seems that when I have someone to mimic, I follow pretty well. Repeating the same tones once I am on my own though - that is the hard part. For now - so far, so good. :)

Thursday, November 25, 2010

day 70_Taiwanese Thanksgiving!

This morning began with my ritual bilingual conversation with my building's security guard. He speaks only Chinese, I speak only English - it's some of the best conversation I've had in Taiwan. Think - Pictionary meets a Mime, and they really like trying to guess what one another have to say! [In truth we each speak only a very few words of each other's language] We were carrying on as usual with lots of facial expression, hand motions, and a few scribbles on a post it note. I told him that today was a holiday. An American holiday. This much he understood... but when I said the holiday is "Thanksgiving," this word was clearly not a part of his vocabulary. I sketched up a picture of a turkey real quick on a post-it and gestured as if to say "We eat turkey today." He immediately recognized the image and made a motion with his hands to imitate the bird feathers spreading out behind the bird. He said the name in Chinese. I nodded. Then his eyes were very wide and he told me that he does not eat that!... Really? I responded. Why not? It is very similar to chicken, I suggested... His eyes got bigger, and he asked me in Chinese... Where can you even buy that in Taipei?!... You can buy it at Costco, I told him... You can buy that at COSTCO!? (He was very expressive by this point)

And that is when I realized, I had just convinced my security guard... that I would be eating Peacock this year for Thanksgiving.....[Followed by a second conversation and additional post-its, differentiating between the peacock (not on the menu) and the turkey that I planned to eat for dinner...]

Thankfully - Oh yes, I am so thankful! - My new American girl friend in Taipei invited me to her home this evening for Thanksgiving dinner... and it was a great! She served Turkey, fresh cranberry sauce, stuffing, mashed potatoes, green beans, dinner rolls... the works. I'm probably forgetting even more. I was not the only dinner guest and it was also nice to meet some new people.

Our Thanksgiving feast [Thank you J for cooking for us!!!]

Classic Thanksgiving dinner. Yum!

Flowers from our trip to the flower market last weekend - I loved her home :)
So warm and inviting
I am so thankful for so many things, but I am especially thankful that I was able to celebrate this holiday with friends - and that I didn't end up celebrating alone or skipping it all together. I hope you all have a wonderful Thanksgiving too! I am thankful for you. So, now that I am full and happy... it is past my bedtime, I'd better hit the sack!

Wednesday, November 24, 2010

day 69_Today I Am Thankful For Taiwan

Okay, so I know I am a day early - but I'm not completely jumping the gun - I will follow up with another Thanksgiving post tomorrow :)

Either way,
Today I am thankful for (Taiwan):
- The fact that smiles are universal
- New experiences
- A job that gives me new opportunities to keep learning
- Endlessly pleasant temperatures outside. Fall here is a little chilly but... never cold.
- High heel shoes that I can walk for miles in.
- The breeze that blows my hair back as the MRT rail approaches the station.
- A cozy apartment and big comfy bed that I never want to get out of.
- People who go to the trouble/or have the job to translate from Chinese to English
- Bubble tea!
- Skype, Facebook, etc - the technology that helps me keep in touch!
- Seeing mountains every day (I'm not used to that!)
- New friends
- 7-11, ha! ("Oh thank heaven for 7-11," seriously)
- Pictures of the hubby and me on my desktop background at work :)
- AND my blog readers of course!!! :D

Tuesday, November 23, 2010

day 68_a taste of taiwan

Really, the magic of being half way around the world is getting to experience a new and totally different culture - first hand. Obviously, not everyone fits a stereotype, and many things about the culture here are similar to my own, but what I really enjoy day in and day out is observing. So what about Asia inspired me today?

- Elderly people who I pass in the city. Always slow when I am in such a hurry, but usually patient, and often staring at me as if they know I don't exactly belong here. I find myself impressed by the mobility of men and women who must be older than my own grandparents age (I am terrible at guessing ages). Maybe they are imagining my story, just as I like to imagine theirs...

- Children. Adults may not know how to react to me (or if they should ignore me), but kids just come right out and speak to me, or giggle. It is always fun surprising a little girl by saying hello - in English or Chinese - they are always excited to talk to me... or startling a little boy by greeting him in Chinese "good morning"... My more animated conversations here are with children on the buses or subways. And I don't see that many children. As a matter of fact, I've started noticing how few children cross my path in a days time. Then again, how many children did I see previously during my car commute in Dallas to and from work... Zip. Zero. None. Maybe that's why I notice them so much now...

- Kindness. I appreciate the people here. I don't mean that in a specific way... I wouldn't say that I have any best friends here to speak of, but in general, the people as a whole are nice, considerate. It is encouraging knowing that if I were lost and turned to a stranger, they would likely try to help me (even if they didn't understand the words coming out of my mouth!). The people here have very strong values, and are genuinely kind. That is not something I could say for most of the big cities I have visited in my travels.

Monday, November 22, 2010

day 67_sushi

Just before I left for Asia, some of my closest girlfriends had a birthday dinner at a sushi restaurant in Dallas (miss my girls!). It was fabulous. The fish, the sauces, the seasoning. We had everything from sushi rolls wrapped in rib eye to a mixed fish salad, to fried rolls, fresh rolls, the works. And even in that moment, I had the feeling I might miss sushi in Asia. Ha! Well, it's true. Just like every other food group that has found a niche in American culture, "sushi" in the US has become very Americanized... and the sushi that I dine on here is much more traditional.

In Texas, some of my favorite sushi choices included all kinds of American flare: topped with jalapenos, wrapped in steak, dressed with mayonnaise, stuffed with cream cheese, drizzled with a sweet eel sauce, lightly fried crab. The list goes on... [Jamie, that cherry blossom roll is calling my name! ;) ] But now that I live much closer to the source... I have the feeling that what is served in restaurants here is probably more true to form - actual sushi and sashimi. Why should I be surprised that Americans have found a way to make even sushi an unhealthy food? Yet so delicious.... ;)

I heard more than a few people mention before I moved that now I would be able to eat sushi whenever I want - yay! It's true. Sushi is actually traditionally Japanese food, but there are many sushi restaurants in Taipei, and lots of Japanese influences in other ways too (cultural, fashion, martial arts, food, etc.) Many of you may not know (Unless you are a history buff like my husband... or brother...I didn't learn until I started studying my guidebooks...) that Taiwan was actually under Japanese rule for 50 years, which ended relatively recently in 1945.

So - Yes! Sushi is available! But it is what I would call basic. It seems to me that most sushi restaurants here have very similar fare (as in, practically the same menu anywhere you go...), which is primarily fresh fish, served raw, frequently with white rice or raw veggies. There are typically +/- two rolls available that have sauce or are more of a mix - see below, tuna salad (left center) and crab salad (right center) - so I try to get at least one of those each time. There is not much in the way of sauces, garnishes, and the like :) For example... my feast this evening:

[Sushi from the sushi to-go shop in the MRT station... I put it on a plate to help the photo a bit...]
[Note - I bought the egg from my favorite beef noodle shop on the way home... it is not sushi ;) ]

Just thought I would educate all of you sushi lovers out there! The good news? Sushi here is very healthy, very available, and very inexpensive (above dinner was $3.50 US... including the egg...) - so I can't complain! I guess, being multicultural, I get to enjoy the best of both worlds :) Yum!

Sunday, November 21, 2010

day 66_earthquake

Just as I was lying on the bed this evening pondering what should I blog about today, I could swear the bed started to sway beneath me! At first I told myself I must be imagining the sensation, but no - it was definitely moving...which means the entire building way swaying... and I was laying on a bed built inside of a -mostly- glass box that projects out from the face of the building! Yikes! (refer to previous blog posting for apartment bed photo...) As soon as I decided I was not imagining the swaying -which probably took me all of about 1.5 seconds to conclude- I hopped off the bed, thinking that is probably the last place I'd want to be mid-earthquake.

After the fact I looked out my windows, but all appeared normal. Cars passing by, people walking on the sidewalks... so I got online to try to find out if I was dreaming this whole bit, and no - I didn't imagine it! We had a 5.6 earthquake! Wild. I've really only experienced one or two earthquakes yet in my life, and neither of them was anything to report. I guess I was expecting the ground to rumble loudly and actually quake... like in the movies (ha!). This was my first earthquake during my time here in Taipei, but it probably won't be my last! I am glad to report all is fine (no damages whatsoever) and I'm happier and happier every day that I live in such a new building (ie - modern construction that is well prepared to withstand movement like this). Whew!

Saturday, November 20, 2010

day 65_out and about

Today I met up with a friend for lunch and some shopping / wandering in the city. First things first, I had to find the place we were meeting for lunch. I took the MRT to a different stop (new to me) and then walked for quite a bit... almost certain I was lost... before I finally arrived at the restaurant, Kao Chi. This restaurant is very famous for it's dumplings, and is better known among the locals than the tourists... definitely a good place to check out!

Yongkang Street
[From left: Steamed shrimp buns, Cold noodles, Steamed vegetable buns,
Steamed pork buns, Shrimp/Leek wraps]
Once we'd had our fill of some tasty traditional Chinese food, we went looking for an antique market nearby. Specifically, my friend had read about this place and was hoping to find some fun vintage items... but when we found what we think was the market... it seemed small and slightly disappointing. There were other antique shops on the same street, but they all appeared to be closed on a Saturday afternoon. So we wandered the small market and then noticed a staircase leading up. Thinking that this was an extension of the antique market, we hopped right up the stairs only to discover... a library! Yay!!! I have been looking for a library branch and had actually mentioned it to my friend as well, so when we stumbled upon this branch location, we decided to go ahead and get library cards - since we were there. Unfortunately, I still need to find the library branch nearest to my home, but no wonder I have had difficulty finding it! They are in the most random locations, typically labeled with Chinese signage only, and often located on upper floors of buildings - so that if you didn't know exactly where the library was, you would have a hard time finding it!

After the library, we shopped a bit. I suddenly realized that I have about a month left to do my Christmas shopping (which could be really fun here, exploring the little shops!) and we saw some really cute stores today, but I only ended up purchasing a few postcards... for now :) We finished up our adventures with a trip to the flower market. I had passed by the flower market before, but not yet stopped there. It was really lovely. Lots of plants and flowers, as you would imagine... and all at very reasonable prices.

Jianguo Holiday Flower Market (entrance)
So many varieties and colors

Orchids everywhere you turn! Beautiful.

day 64_good Friday

Fridays are pretty casual in my office (ever day is pretty casual, but Fridays are even more so...), so I decided to wear my all-stars. It's funny, as soon as I had mine on, I realized how many people wear converse all-stars here! I was noticing shoes like mine left and right. Any day that I have good walking shoes I feel much more ready to take on the world. :)

I set out for work and exited at the slightly further MRT stop from my office - to allow myself a little bit of extra walking and scenery on the way. The weather has been really nice these past couple of days (in the 70 - 75 degrees Fahrenheit range, not too much rain). It was a nice stroll.

I love the moss on the trees.
(it is probably difficult to see in the photos, but it is on all of these trees)


A little girl on her way to school. Backpack in the bicycle basket upfront.
I just thought she and her grandma(?) were cute, so I took their picture.

Friday afternoon we had tea time as usual. Today's treat was sweet soup - there were a few different varieties, both warm and iced options - mine was a warm red bean soup with some sort of soy pieces in it? It was tasty. Red bean is one of the most common flavors of desserts here, and I like it, so I usually pick red bean when I have a choice.

After tea time and finishing up the work day, some of my coworkers decided to head downstairs to Dan Ryan's Chicago Grill to grab a beer and watch a Taiwanese baseball game. After all, it was Friday night and Taiwan was competing against Korea in what was described to me as the Asian baseball Olympics (the biggest game... I think that is equivalent to the US 'World Series'?.. but clearly you can see how little I keep up with sports...) Sadly, Taiwan lost... but I was just thrilled to spend some time outside of the office with my new coworkers / friends and to have some company on a Friday night. It was a good Friday. :)

Thursday, November 18, 2010

day 63_along came a spider

I am definitely little miss muffet, and a single spider can easily frighten me away, so that is exactly what happened tonight!

So far in Taipei, I have seen a total of probably 5 insects... and it has taken my meandering across town to encounter them (or disposing of my trash - I did note at least one bug there). No complaints here - I am grateful! Even though I know the buggers must be around, it is fine with me if we don't ever happen to cross paths. Even still, the one creature that I saw this evening counts as 5 in my book! On my way into my building tonight after work (think dim, dusk), I noticed -quickly- a large spider that scurried away at the sound of my heels clacking on the concrete. Thank goodness I wore noisy heels today! Mostly, it was just the SIZE of the thing that startled me! Tropical islands have tropical sized insects. : / We have a shallow pool of water on either side of the building entrance, and it looked like the spider headed straight for the water... not sure. My personal description of the beast: daddy long legs... meets preying mantis... on steroids. It was a quick meeting, I can't be entirely sure that I got a good look. I looked for a picture online to give you an idea of what it looked like, but digging through pictures of giant spiders was slightly disturbing... so I'll spare you and just hope that's not what shows up in my dreams this evening! I am suddenly thrilled that I live on the 4th floor. Not that spiders (or other insects) can't climb, but at least I'm not at a convenient ground level! *Shudder* I still have the creepy crawlies and keep itching, feeling like there is something on my arm, leg, etc.

In other news, tomorrow is Friday! What should I do for fun this weekend? The sky's the limit, any ideas? :)

Wednesday, November 17, 2010

day 62_a little more Local

Left: Pale foreign girl... Right: My building manager, Charles

If you are going to take a picture in Asia, you should probably throw up a peace sign. (Why???) Clearly, I was unprepared.

Walking across a sky bridge in between some of the department stores near my home
Taipei 101 - she is awfully pretty, and they switch up the lighting often to keep it interesting
I have been exploring my new book this evening, and there are so many interesting things to learn, I'm not sure where to start! Here are a few of the things I have learned so far:

--- How to prepare your child for an international move, how to pick the right international school for your children [Yes, I am practically an expert at this now]
--- How to dispose of your waste - trash & recycling, which includes listening for the truck that drives by each day playing Fur Elise over it's loud speaker, and taking pre-purchased blue bags with your trash or bags of your choice with your recycling, and delivering them by hand to the garbage men on the truck... (As it is, I currently live in a building which has a waste room, so I simply divide up my trash and recycling into the bins that have been provided by management - Whew!) Taipei has actually made huge improvements in the amount of waste vs. amount of recycled materials over the past 10 years - the city is significantly cleaner and provides significantly less waste than many other cities of the same size/population worldwide. Reading about it is encouraging!
--- Fines are rare in Taipei, but they do enjoy keeping the city clean, and one possible violation is spitting! [I am totally fine with that...]
--- Pretty much every bill you receive can be paid at the local convenience store, such as 7-11 [talk about a new level of convenience!]

And one last thing I have confirmed this evening... (not in the book, just in real life)... my air conditioning unit has a heating option!!! Which is fabulous, because A: Probably 90% of residential buildings here do not have heaters, B: Who can brave this 65 degree weather without a coat?! [Clearly, I am turning into a local more every day ;) ]

Tuesday, November 16, 2010

day 61_staying fresh

Day 61. Let's face it - the 61st day is not as sparkly as day 1 or day 2. I look back at my very early blog posts and they have so much eagerness, excitement, and sarcasm to them. Now, my posts are more leisurely, a casual daily habit... and as I was leaving my office this evening, I realized I need to spice it up a bit (not for the blog, for me!). Things are certainly not bad here, but my day to day is not as refreshing as the first week or two were. Who do I blame? Me. For sure.

Just like any relationship, the decision to move internationally has it's ups and downs, and you have to put forth the effort to make the relationship work. I think I have done pretty well so far at giving my 100%, but I have to remind myself to keep pushing. I am the kind of person who gets bored, who wants my day to day to be exciting, to learn new things, to feel alive. It's not entirely an international thing either. I can remember before I left Dallas, I had started to feel sometimes that my life was in a rut. The same routine, the same possibilities each day. I don't think anyone would be surprised that when you pass the same scenery everyday on the way to and from work, you begin to not even see the scene in front of your face.

Tonight when I left the office, instead of staring absent-mindedly while I waited for the crosswalk, I looked down and admired the glittering pave stones that twinkle under the street lights. I decided -instead of heading to the usual MRT station that is a 7 minute walk from my office- to walk to the MRT station that is a 20 minute walk from my office... plenty more to explore along the way. I took a little extra time as I strolled to peek in storefront windows, and admire cute little shops as I passed. I'd really like to travel the same path during the day time. I always take note of the same park on the right hand side of the road with the larger than life, primary colored sculptures. I need to come back and visit it sometime when the sun is shining. Tonight (I confess) I did watch my new favorite TV show - Britain's Next Top Model (TV show choices in English are limited here...) but afterwards, I switched off the TV to spend a little extra time chatting with friends and family. Now, I am about to snuggle up with a warm blanket and read more in my new guide book...

I think the magic cure to not feeling like your life is boring or in a rut is a mostly personal decision, so this week's goal = keep life interesting! I want to see the things I pass by, not just walk past them. So here's to a great week, and taking a new route home from work, one step at a time. :)

Monday, November 15, 2010

day 60_new book

*****Happy Birthday Mom!!!*****

Now that I have officially been here for 2 months, I have finally gotten the "Taipei Living" guide book that is offered by the Community Services Center. First of all, I didn't know that it existed/I needed it. Secondly, my new friend actually had two copies, so she brought one to me this weekend. Third, this would have been really fabulous to read before I made the move across the pond! Still... better late than never, I am diving right in and learning lots of interesting knowledge - both trivial & useful. [Ha, as I am sitting here typing this, I just caught myself rubbing my shoulder... still sore from a very aggressive massage 2 days ago!]

The book is put together for the international community who are moving to Taiwan, or interested in moving to Taiwan, and they cover every topic from local customs, to which hospitals have English speaking doctors, to questions you should consider to prepare yourself for an international move, and on and on! There is an abundance of information in the book (which will take me at least a few days to read) and it has re-inspired me to get out and about more often! I still haven't checked out many of the more traditional touristy landmarks this visit, so perhaps I will find a select few to explore over the next few weeks. But first things first, I have scheduled a doctor's appointment for tomorrow. The doctor is English speaking and works at a hospital near my office, so if he seems nice enough at least I will have a physician here in Taipei. The Center - who publishes the book - also has activities and newcomer orientation programs. Even though, I am a little past the stage of newcomer, maybe I will check one out. What could it hurt? I might meet some new friends with a similar background... you never know. :)

So for now, back to reading and exploring my new libro. There are a few select issues that I have been tiptoeing around since I don't exactly know how they're handled here [like: what is ok to pour into your sink?... and when they say never to throw paper in the toilet - yes, toilet paper goes in the trash can here (strange) - does that have to apply to my toilet in my apartment too??? (mine is brand new plumbing... not like many of the older buildings in the city)] I'm hoping to find some directions in here somewhere! Adios!

Sunday, November 14, 2010

day 59_Errands

After my glamorous mountain get-away, Sunday has been mostly filled with errands and prep for the coming week. This might be a grand adventure, but I still need clean socks, you know? :)

I did get to adventure to Costco today. I have a new friend with a car, and she was headed that way so I decided to tag along. Costco was just like it would be in the US (I don't really know - I never visited one, but it is like a Sam's Club and I've been to those before). While we were there, she picked up a frozen turkey and fresh cranberries for the upcoming Thanksgiving holiday! So fun. It's too bad I don't have an oven to bake a turkey in. We were pretty impressed that we found both items at all! Turkey is pretty rare in Taiwan. We also saw plenty of Christmas decorations, and I almost bought a wreath for my door... but as I am planning to be in the US for the holidays, and I would have to store the wreath for the rest of the year (somewhere? pretty small apartment...) It is probably best that I didn't end up with a wreath.

Anyways, now I am back to laundry & cleaning. I bought a swiffer equivalent at Costco (yay!), so I can finally really clean my floors. Not too much excitement around here on a Sunday evening, but it has been a great weekend. Ready for the work week to start tomorrow.

day 58_Tien Lai hot springs resort

Friday night our company retreat continued on to part 2 - we rode buses to Tien Lai hot springs resort to spend the evening. Tien Lai is also located in the mountains just outside the city, and arriving after dark, I couldn't tell much about the place except that the resort grounds are quite large and include multiple buildings/facilities. We checked into our rooms - typically 4 women or 4 men to each room - we had 3 in my room. Just another chance to get to know a few of my new coworkers a little bit better (for example, I now know that neither of my two roommates snore - yay!) It was a nice place to relax after a long day at camp.

Cookies and Candy welcome token, on hotel beds
The resort takes advantage of the natural hot springs that are common in the mountains near here and specializes in hot spring leisure, including hot springs tubs in the hotel rooms, hot springs pools and spas of various kinds around the resort. My crew was tired. We took turns showering the campfire smell out of our hair, enjoying some pure solitude in the hot springs tub in our hotel room [The hot springs tub was like a custom hot tub fed by a combination of modern plumbed hot/cold waters and naturally supplied hot springs water - used for leisure only (no shampooing & soaping in this tub). The tub was located adjacent to the shower... so you could bathe solo in the hot springs tub and then wash off in the shower after.] The hot springs tub had a window at shoulder level in a seated position so that you could look out on the mountains while you lounged.

My favorite part of the resort was definitely the view the next morning upon waking. Coming from my entire life of living in very flat terrains, I LOVED waking up and creeping out onto the balcony to see the views. Soft, low, green mountains with swirling clouds dancing in between. It was gorgeous! My first trip this far out of the city reminded me of how much I want to get out and explore more outside of Taipei City... must work on that!

Tien Lai Hot Springs Resort, Taipei County
After a bountiful breakfast, I decided that a massage sounded great [-Wrong-]. After all, I was on vacation, why not indulge myself? But... let's just say it wasn't exactly indulgent. : / Unfortunately, I am convinced that the masseuse was trying fervently to rub the bones clear out of my body... and thankfully she failed! As I laid face down on a table at the hands of a young Taiwanese girl, I tried to ask her to please be softer. She would try again and say "ok?" to which I would reply even softer... and this continued about 6 times until I decided that there was no softer setting in her hands! So I laid there and tried to tell myself that it was 'not that bad'... but let's just say, my sore body even now begs to differ! Oh well! [Ha, I actually talked to another foreigner who had a similar experience... and we are wondering if that is the expectation of massages here? Less relaxation, more pressure???]

Regardless, my weekend in the mountains was fabulous and I was not eager to ride back down the hill to the city. Must get back and enjoy some more time in the great outdoors soon!

Saturday, November 13, 2010

day 57_camp taiwan


Fridays are always great, but this Friday was even better than usual. Our company decided to have a team building retreat, so instead of sitting down at my desk on Friday morning, I hopped onto a bus to head to 'Camp Taiwan'! (www.camptaiwan.com.tw ) The camp is located about an hour from the center of Taipei, in the mountains, and is run by an ex-pat from the US and his Canadian wife - both of whom speak Chinese - and the camp activities are all offered in Chinese & English. The camp reminded me SO much of the many camps that I attended when I was younger. It was most similar to Camp Dakani in Oklahoma City (which seems like a long shot since Oklahoma and Taiwan are so different...), it had a lot of the same ideas, or kinds of activities -including giant swings, zip line, archery, hiking- and it was just as fun :) There is something about the atmosphere of a camp that is so light-hearted and (at least in my experiences) you can just feel the camaraderie.

[Left to Right: Emmy, Me, Queenie - About to tryout the zip line!]
We divided into multiple teams. My team took turns on the zip line and shooting archery. Both were fun, and I think everyone else thought so too! Let's just say archery was not my forte [I think the last time I tried it was probably around 15 years ago...] but if I had the chance I'd try again tomorrow! It was fun :)

[Archery range]

We also spent quite a bit of time playing ice breaker and team building games. It is really refreshing to see people out of the office, and just kicking back. Even though in many ways the camp seemed like a childhood memory, I also think it was the right type of environment for people to really be at ease and open up. At the end of the day, we cooked out - tons of fresh veggies, seafood, and meat - over open fires. Yum! AND to top it all off, we had s'mores for dessert.

Even though I got some strange looks (I really wanted a crispy marshmallow, so I let mine catch on fire...) dessert was awesome! It hadn't really occurred to me - because how often do people really eat s'mores anyways? - that many Taiwanese have never had a s'more. It's a strange concept... because I think of s'mores as being such a classic camp food, something that any American would recognize... but if I only eat them once in a blue moon, why would I be surprised that other people have not tried them?

All in all, the day at Camp Taiwan was great. I personally enjoyed the whole day - everything from the scenery, to the games, to the food, to getting to know some of my coworkers. For those of you who've never been to a camp, you're missing out! I'd definitely go again sometime if I get the chance. :)

Thursday, November 11, 2010

day 56_business cards

Any Thursday that feels like Friday is a welcome day, and because my company has planned some "corporate team building activities" for all day tomorrow, this was basically my Friday for the week. I made it to work at a decent hour, stayed busy-busy and had lunch with a couple of coworkers. The weather was lovely... definitely the kind of day when I wish I was outdoors instead of living behind a desk! But the real excitement to my day came just as I was preparing to head home.

My business cards have finally arrived! <Insert cheers here> And I really wanted to post a pic for you! [But I've decided I don't actually want my business card on the world wide web for all to see...]

I have been anxiously awaiting the day, and so excited about my new bilingual business cards... but there is a catch. They sort of, kind of, definitely printed the wrong Chinese name for me - and I was totally depressed about it. You may recall -from previous blog- that the office had quite a bit of fun tossing out Chinese name ideas for me, and eventually settled on a first and last name that I liked and could more or less pronounce. This also meant that the hubby could be given a Chinese name with the same last name as me. But instead, the cards were printed with a shortened version of Elizabeth (in Chinese). No last name.

Even as I type this, I am kicking myself for being so frivolous (I know)... but I guess it was just a moment I have really been looking forward to (!) followed by a letdown. I took the cards, acted grateful, and will get over it... but it was a hard moment for sure. There's not really anything to argue. The cards were printed with a more literal translation of my true English name. Even still, there is something about it.

Now before you start pitying me - because I have done such an excellent job of playing the poor innocent lamb - let's consider the following:
A. This is a frivolous fret all together
B. Technically the translation is my name
C. I work for the green building design team and was just handed a large stack of business cards. There is NO way that I am going to ask them to reprint that entire stack... so not green! : /
So there.

I have always like my English name -and the many forms of it- I have adopted the nickname that I think "feels like me". Maybe having a Chinese name that I liked and could pronounce made me feel a sense of belonging? Where as, receiving a different name all of a sudden made me feel like I don't belong. [Oh, your name has been Jan for the past two months? Sorry. It will be Jananee from now on every time you introduce yourself...] Having cards still beats not having them. I no longer have to accept someone else's card only to tell them that I don't have any. I just need to learn how to say my new name now... I think I will still refer to myself using the initial Chinese name that I liked so much whenever the setting allows... It just won't be on my cards.

Hmph. So there you have it.

Wednesday, November 10, 2010

day 55_*Fingers Crossed*

What is better than buying a lottery ticket and winning money? Not buying a lottery ticket and still winning money! There is a lottery in Taiwan, and I have seen both shops and vendors selling tickets on the street... but that is not what I am referring to. Don't fret dear ones, I'm also not referring to anything illegal.....

During my first few weeks in Taiwan, I was always baffled that the store clerks so kindly, sometimes eagerly, offered me the receipt - even when my purchases totaled to around 50 cents (US) - and looked surprised when I said no thank you [Boo Yao, Fapiao. Xie Xie... I don't want receipt, thank you].  So I went on about my daily routine and kept turning down the extra paper that seemed like a waste. Seriously, I already carry around a survival kit in my purse, why increase the load? Until one day... a coworker was having lunch with me, and when I started to turn down the receipt, she stopped me! Come to find out, every receipt you receive, everywhere, has a number printed across the top on a government seal. Every two months, the government releases prize numbers (there are probably 9 or more different series of numbers each round that win prizes) and offers cash rewards.

Now that I've been schooled on the receipt game, I have been stockpiling every last one! Crossing my fingers that by some profound miracle, I become one of the grand prize winners (about $50,000 US, after taxes). I'm just saying - that would sweeten the deal for sure!

(Left) Front of receipt, with #s (Right) Back of receipt with award dates

My receipt stash at my apartment
The awards are based on two month cycles. For example, I arrived in September, and the awards for September/October receipts will be announced later this month. I know that some of the prizes are small [for example if you get 3 winning numbers in a series, instead of the full 9 digits] but here is hoping! After all, who says 'There ain't no such thing as a free lunch' anymore? :) (yes, for you bookworms... http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/There_ain't_no_such_thing_as_a_free_lunch)

Tuesday, November 9, 2010

day 54_set menus

Tonight after work, as I was headed towards my -staple- beef noodle shop near my apartment... it suddenly occurred to me that I have never explored the dinner places on the other end of the same street. When I first moved here, I was intimidated by the all-Chinese text menus, and was certain I would have difficulty on this block, so I'd been avoiding it... but it is so unlike me to frequent a place rather than trying new places on a daily basis! (even though I still do plenty of that) Tonight, for the first time, I took a left instead of a right at the familiar intersection.

I was just reading a Chinese menu at a small shop and noticing their special was beef noodles... which almost made me turn to head towards my usual shop (I'm a sucker for independent, hard-working shopkeepers. :/ Once they are kind to me, I always feel like I'm cheating on them to not give them my business!... My weekly visits to the donut shop in Dallas owned by the sweet Korean couple, even when I knew I might not finish my whole donut or I was on a diet = proof), but suddenly I had the bright idea to look behind me. And there it was! A fair sized -but very local- Italian restaurant with bilingual menus. How have I never realized this exists less than a block from my home?

Restaurant name was in Chinese... the room was also not as bright as my camera made it look...

I was very pleased to find a cozy interior with dim lighting, and -bonus!- Christmas decorations :) Which is mostly just amusing, but I wonder how many of those I will see in Taipei? The menu was very fairly priced, but more than the average noodle shop.

Set Menu Options A + B
In Taiwan, it is extremely common to be handed a "set" menu, which includes the appetizer, entree, sides, and a drink... if you're lucky, even dessert! This menu had options "A" and "B" (see above). Typically the portion sizes here are smaller than the US, but I find it ideal. This way you can actually enjoy an appetizer, entree, and dessert, without having eaten 3 full meals (the way it might be if you ate 3 of those on your own at Chili's, for example (Mmmm...Chili's...). I don't understand why this concept isn't popular worldwide??? [Of course, anyone can order the regular entrees without the full "set" if desired, so the system is still flexible]. Oh and the best part? This set cost about $9.00 US including soup, salad, entree, drink, and tip - good deal! [In Dallas it would be double that...]

My salad & soup - Yum!

Seafood pasta, and Coke Zero from a glass bottle - impressive.
New restaurant near my house to add to my possible dinner locations list? Me waking up and finally venturing to the left? I'd say it was a successful day :)

Monday, November 8, 2010

day 53_I rock.

No seriously. I totally do ;)

Actually, I don't have a car to dance in anymore on my way to the office (I was always so relieved to think "ah, that stranger who caught me dancing in my car will probably never see me again... unless they catch me tomorrow morning on the way to work too..."), but I find myself spending more time listening to my iPod while I work here. For one thing, the tunes are mostly in English - with some Spanish exceptions - and secondly, it is how I keep in touch with people.

I realize that probably sounds strange, so let me explain:
For as long as I can remember, I have named the CD's on my iPod after the people who gave me the CD. I have mom, sis, bro, and most of my BFF's somewhere in my collection. Some people even have multiple albums (ahem... Jason, Dave & Chrissie, you know you do!). I totally love it because every time that I listen to a tune given to me by a friend, I think of the friend - which means that some people cross my mind often.  Mind you, I have learned which music keeps me motivated and working quickly, versus the tunes that I get totally caught up in and have to save for the MRT ride home or something so as not to be too distracted whilst I am trying to accomplish things! Thankfully, I have the original iPod (it has long since been passed by many updated versions that you all are probably more familiar with) but - my iPod holds (I think) 60GB? Something like that. It has a pretty serious collection for my listening pleasure.

Right now, my favorite CD's (just in case you've never checked these out) are:
(in no particular order)

*Miranda Lambert - Gun Powder & Lead/Crazy Ex-Girlfriend* - I confess, I play these two albums in a row, so they sort of blur together for me. Why this CD? Because "baby, to a hammer, everything looks like a nail" (that is so me on a stubborn day) and her music has just enough country flair to feel like Texas to me.

*Switchfoot - Dare You to Move* - Talk about some soul searching, motivational music. This album asks all the questions that no one ever asks you out loud... "This is your life. Are you who you want to be? Are you everything you dreamed?" I know it may seem pretty basic, naive schoolgirl type questions, but really - I like the music because it feels like so many of the reasons that I'm on this big adventure.

Sunday, November 7, 2010

day 52_blogging ~ creative writing

I can remember a time when I was still in school (middle school or high school, I can't remember...) and I was trying to explain to my Dad about my creative mind. We were talking about a math score or something like that, and I told him that even when I am doing math, even when I am calculating formulas, my brain is usually designing a piece of furniture out of a discarded piece of metal that I saw on the way to school that morning or imagining the way that a flower might translate into an item of clothing, and so on [the list of possibilities is endless]. When I was younger I often drew on my hands with pens and markers, creating designs that looked similar to henna tattoos, and -even though I know it drove my parents crazy- it was just an outlet for my creativity. :)

Now that I am an adult, I no longer draw on my hands ;)
I haven't kept a sketchbook since it was required of me, maybe sophomore year (?) in college.
I no longer sing in the church choir. I don't play piano or practice with a band.

And my creative mind gets bored. One of my friends during college was describing me to another acquaintance of ours, and said that I basically live in my daydreams, and I only remember things and pay serious attention when it's worth abandoning the daydream. Ha! This is not entirely true - I can focus when needed, and I can be a very hard worker - but I thought it was funny that she pegged me this way, because maybe my mind is most often in my own little world. My creative energy changes from one day to the next, but lately it has been through creative writing and keeping up with my blog. There are days that I can't wait to get home and type up a new post... and there are days that I don't feel like writing at all.

But as a whole, I like the challenge. I like having something to push me to create. To express new ideas in a serious or playful way. To convey a message or just play on words with sarcasm. My blog encourages me to stay creative. My Mom pointed out that maybe I should start sketching again - start a sketchbook... and I totally agree! If creativity is what gets my blood flowing [clearly, old news], I'm looking forward to getting back into sketching.

What do you do on a daily basis to keep your mind alive with new ideas? I imagine it's different for everyone. Maybe you like to sew? Maybe you like to dance? Maybe you enjoy creating art in the kitchen by cooking? Just some food for thought. :)

day 51_Satisfied

I know that I am not "old" but every day I am getting older... and especially this year, I have heard the same thing from many of my friends. I have heard [these are not exact quotes, but this was the long and short of it...]
- "Sometimes I feel like I folded my hand too early, and I wonder how the game would have played out."
- "I have reached the point in my life that I thought I would be ___ (married, gainfully employed, a mom, etc!), but I haven't done it, and I'm not getting any younger. It's just hard"
- "Sometimes I just wonder what I am doing. I am ready to move forward with my life."

It always blows me away when I hear this from peole who are near and dear to me -  because I wish I could make life better for them in some way. And there are things that I ponder... moments that I can relate to those conversations. I have had some moments of doubt when I thought to myself: "I left my husband, my dog, my family, and a good job... and moved halfway around the world. Have I lost my mind?!" But as a dear friend pointed out to me - my husband will follow, my dog is happy, my family will always miss me when I'm away (can't blame them), and my new job is cool! I am so grateful for the love and support that everyone has shown me so far.

So at the end of the day (or the early morning in this case... 12:30am), I am just grateful to know that I am satisfied. I am not wandering the world searching for something. I am not unsure of my future. But instead, I am chasing my own dreams. Even though I have no idea where I might be in 3 years, 5 years, 10 years... I know that I am doing what is right for me. Whatever the challenges, the lessons learned, the life experiences, I am doing something that makes me feel alive. Every day, I feel like I am really living :) And there aren't really words for that - a blog just doesn't cover it. I don't question my life, but instead I am able to push forward and take it all in one moment at a time. I just wish I could share my satisfaction with the people I love.

Miss you all!

Saturday, November 6, 2010

day 50_Headache?

Wow! A full 50 days in Taipei so far... and counting.

Many people have asked me, 'What is the health care system like in Taipei?' and although I haven't had any reason to find out so far - I hear it is actually quite good. The country of Taiwan has a universal health care system, provided by the government to all citizens. It is paid for just as you pay your taxes, so there is not any excessive additional expense (quite a bit cheaper than my previous set up in Dallas, where I payed a portion and my employer paid the balance of the monthly fee). Hopefully, whenever I finally do reach the point of needing/visiting a doctor, I will be equally impressed with the efficiency of their system here.

Even still - doctor or not - in the US, how often do you take medicine? Benadryl on a miserable allergies day? Robitussin for that cough? Tums when your stomach is unhappy? It is routine to take something even if a doctor's visit is unnecessary. Where I've lived, pharmacies are common, and large. Aisles after aisles of meds with entire rows dedicated to one ailment (for example: 'cold & sinus,' 'indigestion,' 'allergies').

I sort of had the feeling that it is not the same here...Friday I found out I was right. Around 2pm, I developed a splitting headache [maybe a side affect of staring at a computer for 40+ hours per week... surely that can't really be natural for any human] and started to ask around the office if anyone had any Tylenol or the like? No luck. The answers were mostly 'I don't get headaches' or 'I don't take Tylenol, Advil, etc.' I actually have some headache medicine at my apartment (thank you Abby!) but that was sort of a hassle to get to during te middle of the work day. What do the locals do for headaches? Well, I didn't exactly get the answer to this question... but they did point me to the nearby Cosmed [like Walgreens - but limited to the makeup, beauty, skin care, grooming departments + a limited selection of vitamins and medicine]. I browsed through the boxes quickly, and immediately recognized the Ibuprofen logo on a box that looked strangely like a pack of cigarettes! Ibuprofen in a fancy cigarette pack or generic headache medicine that I am not 100% sure what it is? I'll take the cigarette box... thanks.

Even more to my surprise, inside the box was filled with little packets of granular medicine. Which looked like light blue sugar and tasted like sugar with a hint of citrus flavor... pretty tasty actually! This would be an easy solution for people at home trying to get their children to take medicine... Anyways, I swished it down with some water and felt almost instant relief. Yay! At least now I have a box on hand at the office for any future crises. :)

Let's face it, I bought the Ibuprofen because I was amused by the packaging... but what on earth was the marketing department thinking when they wrapped up the medicine that way??? Any insight?

Thursday, November 4, 2010

day 49_Oreos & Milk

First: Picture a young American girl. Mousy brown hair. Big dollface brown eyes. Fuzzy pajamas. Eating an Oreo cookie with a glass of milk (dunking the cooking in the milk, of course). Classic :)

Now add the honking cars and city sounds in the background. View of the world's second tallest building out the window. Chinese commercials running on the TV in the background... and the hum of a light rainy drizzle outside.

Just one of those you can "have your cake and eat it too" moments. Best of both worlds when I have the Oreos and the milk ;)

Have some things I'm looking forward to writing, but I am going to save them for the weekend when I have a little more time... Looking forward to Friday!

Wednesday, November 3, 2010

day 48_do you speak English?

Since I seem to be working on a theme this week - the groups of people you encounter in Taipei - I'm still sort of thinking in the same circles today. I've mentioned the foreign men and women... but what about the locals???

For starters, the Taiwanese are generally a very kind, friendly, and helpful society who -in my experience- happily assist whenever possible. The Taiwanese use Mandarin Chinese language in school, and typically speak Mandarin, Taiwanese, or a combination of the two in their homes. In the present school system, English is taught in schools as a mandatory second language, beginning at a very young age - at some point in elementary school. English curriculum is continued all the way up to high school graduation, and I imagine many people take English in college as well, if they don't decide to go to college in an English speaking country all together (which also seems to be common among the more educated circles). Some people have more conversational experience than others, but I get the impression that most educated locals can at least read quite a bit of English, and follow a conversation, even if they are simply listening. What I've noticed in particular is that I constantly pass locals who just look like they speak English. How does that work? I don't know what it is about a face that says to me "I speak English" - but it seems like some do more than others. Is it the set of their jaw? The way the muscles fall when the face is relaxed? The expressiveness or familiar expressions such as the way they lift their eyebrows? I don't know the answer... and honestly, I don't even know if these faces that I pass do speak English [since I don't quiz each passerby :) ]

But maybe this explains why on countless occasions in Texas I was approached by native Spanish speakers? And always surprised, but at the same time curious - do they know that I love speaking Spanish? Maybe I really do have a sign on my forehead ("I speak Spanish") ;) Food for thought.

day 47_foreigner's code of conduct

My last post was about foreign men here in Taipei, but some of you may be thinking... that's ok, you're already spoken for, how about a foreigner girlfriend to run around with? So I thought I should touch on the women as well. [Mostly because, the #1 question I hear from people is "Have you made any new friends yet?" And yes - I am working on it, but it just takes time!]

There is something that I refer to as the 'foreigner's code of conduct'. It is the intentional avoidance of contact or conversation with other foreigners. This is not a new idea, nor is it original to Taipei, and in fact - perhaps it is actually the 'big city code of conduct' that I have just rarely been exposed to until now? For those of you who have been to France [and I know many of my readers have ;)], think about how you act on the subway. Look away, look down, look straight faced, unemotional, and keep to yourself. You don't smile or wave at people. You don't joke with the good old boy standing next to you who looks like he might speak your language... avoid!

Well, that is the same way that foreigners act here. The difference is... if I remember correctly... in France it is the locals who act this way, and as a tourist there I always played along... but in Taipei it is the foreigners who act this way at all times. The locals just have occassional moments of solitude and silence on the MRT each day. It is slightly worse than having other foreigners being indifferent to me, because it is even more exaggerated... it is more like they have to go out of thier way, which means they aren't just indifferent, they are avoiding! Basically, this means that I can't just approach another foreign girl and chit-chat... or maybe I could, but I'm not sure I have the nerve to be "that girl" who is totally crazy and just breaks the code like that! Yep, I definitely fear that they might look at me like a crazy person... Hmm. So I am really good at following the 'code of conduct'. I can avoid just as well as the rest of them! Since that seems to be the norm... Besides, it might be strange to just approach another foreigner out on the street. I picture it something like this... "Hey, so, uhhh, you look like you speak English too!?" <The approached stranger opens mouth and begins to speak in German...>. Seriously, people.

On the other hand, the locals all seem to be quite helpful, and on many occassions I (or whoever I'm with) have approached strangers on the street with some question, and they have always been very kind, and helpful. Eventually, I am really hoping to take some Chinese language classes, and because the other students will be individuals who don't speak Chinese, I will likely meet some foreign friends there - it is much easier to make conversation with a stranger [and break the code :)] when you have something in common (oh, and the something in common needs to be more than your native language and skin color...).

Monday, November 1, 2010

day 46_Oh, to be an American Boy

Well, I haven't been up on a soap box recently on the blog, so here we go...

There is nothing more free and powerful than an American male, and I am reminded of that every time I leave my home here in Taipei. Being here, as a foreigner with pale skin, I attract a certain level of attention. People are kind to me. People stare at me. People are interested in me, by me, about me, and so on. I am a walking novelty (to many). Nevertheless, my magic pales in comparison to that of an American male, preferably one young enough that he might still on occassion be referred to as a young man... let's just call him a boy. [Even though it doesn't seem to matter if you are old and unattractive either...]

It doesn't matter how many people watch me as I walk by, wonder what I am asking when I open my mouth - they don't aspire to be my companion, or I guess my presence is more intimidating than mystifying. For the white men, women cling to them. They each have a Taiwanese girlfriend, maybe two or three for all I know??? Whatever it is about being a white boy, it is all the leverage they need to find the right job, meet the right girl, have women lining up to be thier 24 hour tour guide and translator. For me, it is not the same. Now don't get me wrong, you all know I am already spoken for, but when people ask me if I've 'made any new friends?' - this is one segment of the population that you can count out. With so many beautiful locals vying for thier attention and eager to be of assistance - the foreign men that I've seen could care less about a foreign female crossing thier path!

It doesn't end there. Who else in the world has such access to education, power, fame, wealth and prosperity? Who is born with the right to vote, choose who they marry, borrow money, purchase land? I was speaking today with two different coworkers who have just recently finished their military service terms. In Taiwan, all males serve a minimum of one year mandatory military service before they become a certain age. The term may be served before or after college, should they choose to attend, but it is still required - there is no easy out. [I actually find this concept fascinating; I can't imagine what friendships and experiences the men take with them from this chapter of thier lives. In my mind, it would be comparable to the ups and downs of the journey I am on... but I am still grateful that my husband wasn't swept away from me at age 25 to serve a min. one year military service term with little pay and lots of hard work...]

Moral of the story? If you woke up this morning, and saw your pale, grizzly, American face looking back at you in the mirror (hopefully that excludes the women...), I hope you count yourself lucky! :)