Saturday, 17 April 2010

Worst Blogger Ever...

This is the title that I've acquired now that it's been 3 months without a post. On the other hand, Best Blogger Ever seems even less desireable to me so I'll gladly take the hate mail and my new title :) . I've actually just been quite busy lately - trips, teaching more English classes, finishing up my university Chinese class, and well...laziness can all be attributed to the lack of updates on this captivating blog site written just for you by the Worst Blogger Ever!
So what's new in Taiwan?? Well, I went to Spain so I don't know. Only kidding...well partially - I'm still in Taiwan although I did go Spain for a week during my Chinese New Year break (mid-February). It seems quite funny to go all the way back to Spain from Taiwan when there are so many places in Asia and SE Asia that I want to see BUT I couldn't have made a better decision on how to spend my big break for the year. 4 flights and 34 hours after leaving Taiwan (stops in Hong Kong, London, and Madrid), far-from-haggard Kyrstie arrived in Malaga for an amazing week of traveling around Andalucia (the south of Spain). Adolfo and I drove to Cadiz for a night of insanity as the annual Carnival de Cadiz was being celebrated with hundreds if not thousands of costume-clad people partying in the streets. We then went to Sevilla for two nights, Cordoba for one, and a quick stop in Granada before returning to Malaga for the last few days (with day trips to Nerja and Frigiliana). We saw some beautiful sights, museums, cathedrals, a futbol game (Sevilla v. Osasuna) and ate a lot of delicious Spanish food (purposely avoiding every restaurante Chino - ha). It was a shame that once I finally stopped saying "謝謝(Xie xie)" when I meant to say "Gracias" that I then had to re-wire my brain back to Chinese because I had to start the journey back to Taiwan. The trip definitely reminded me of how much I truly love Spain. Although I'm enjoying being in Taiwan and experiencing this different culture, I'd be lying if I said my heart wasn't in Spain.
Plaza Espana in Sevilla:
El Estadio Ramon Sanchez Pizjuan:
Walking to the hotel in Cordoba:

The streets in Cordoba:
Looking towards Cordoba from Madinat al-Zahra:
Sunset at Nerja:
Upon returning I was determined to start making the most of my one-day weekends in Taiwan. It's amazing what you can do in one day really. Driving my scooter through the local mountains, hopping on the train to Pinglin (big tea-growing area), checking out the lantern festival celebrations in Taipei, riding bikes in Danshui, late-night bonfires at the nearby beach, and frequenting the ex-pat restaurants/bars in Taipei made up a few decent Sundays before the next much-anticipated-event arrived at the beginning of this month - My parents! :) My next post will touch on the week of more Wades "Wading through Taiwan"!
Lantern festival being celebrated at Sun Yat-sen Memorial Hall in Taipei:
Taipei 101:
On the North Cross-Island Highway:
Sunset in Danshui:

In Pinglin:
Notice the green and white teapot street lights in Pinglin:

Wednesday, 27 January 2010

Experiencing Cultural Assimilation...?

I started compiling a list of things that struck me as strange when I first got here. Now that I'm reading it again over two months later it all seems very normal. Can it be true? I'm slowly turning into a Taiwanese person! I'll keep measurements of my eyes for verification.

Here is my list:

1. Almost all signs are written in Chinese characters.
THEN: So this is what it feels like to be illiterate. This sucks.
NOW: Let's just say I won't find myself in the men's restroom again.

2. Beethoven's "Fur Elise" blasting from speakers at random hours of the day.
THEN: "Ooooh an ice cream truck?!"
NOW: "Ooooh the trash truck again." What this means: There is no specific day/time for people to put out their trash here. Instead, the trash truck blasts an obnoxious beeping rendition of Beethoven's classic so that people know it is time for them to collect their trash bags and bring them to the truck when it drives by. Gotta stay on your toes!

3. 7-11 stores are on almost every street corner.
THEN: "That's weird, they better have slurpees."
NOW: "Yesss I can get some frozen dumplings microwaved for my dinner before class!" Also, people pay their utility bills at their local 7-11. You also get a sticker for every 30NT you spend (about $1) and you put them on a card to get free stuff after you have 30 stickers. I surprisingly fill these babies up quite quickly...

4. Every receipt is a lottery ticket.
THEN: "Great...more trash."
NOW: "Another receipt! I'll file this away by number in my drawer at home!" Why? Every two months there is a country-wide lottery with the numbers from the receipts. You can win anything between 200NT ($6) to 2 million NT (over $60,000). Worth saving? I think so.

5. People wearing breathing masks. There is the perfect mask for everyone...different sizes/colors/designs...
THEN: "Wow, they're everywhere. I wish some of my students wouldn't wear them, I can't tell if they're talking or not."
NOW: "Maybe I should get one too." (Only for when I'm driving my scooter of know, keep out that pollution and all. I have seen some cute ones...ok no, scratch that.)

6. The local movie theater.
THEN: "It's inside a mall that looks like the Excalibur hotel in Vegas?? Cool!"
NOW: "It's inside a mall that looks like the Excalibur hotel in Vegas?? Cool!"
Upsides: Cheap deal: 2 tickets, 1 popcorn, 2 sodas = 670NT ($20ish). Upscale option: 2 tickets, 1 popcorn, 2 sodas, pre-movie lounge area with waiters, and waiters who bring the sodas and popcorn to you in your very own recliner! = $30ish (still yet to try this out).
Downside: Assigned seating. (My friend once went to a movie by himself and there was no one else in the theater. Then someone else arrived and where did he sit? He sat down right next to him in an empty theater - gotta sit in your assigned seat of course! Hahaha)

7. Hearing things like, "Coco, hurry downstairs!" blasting from my school's loudspeakers after class is finished.
THEN: (To myself): Why is a stripper being summoned at a children's English school?
NOW: (To my student): "Coco, your parents are waiting downstairs to take you home. Have fun on the family scooter. Please be careful, you will probably have 3 too many people on it for the drive home."

8. Driving my scooter in a sea of Taiwanese people.
THEN: Oh my
NOW: Oh my gosh...I'm still alive...aaaand I'm starting to drive like them.
Ok so it's really not too bad if you can predict the completely and utterly irrational decisions of the other drivers. I haven't gotten into any accidents while driving but unfortunately quite a few of my friends have. If there was a recording of my voice while I drive it would sound like this, "....WOWWW....haaaa! Are you serious!?....huh?....WOW, you really just did that....whoa whoa WHOA....HA!...Ridiculous....". I've decided it's best for me to keep a relatively good sense of humor about the fact that every Tom, Dick, and Sally is driving beside me on the road. Oh and when I say Tom, Dick, and Sally I actually mean Tom's mindless brother Ying, Dick's 100 year old grandmother Pei, and Sally's dear old friend Helen Keller.

9. The smell of stinky tofu
THEN: "Ahhhh!! Where did that absolutely foul/awful/disgusting/horrid/musky-puke smell come from?? Uh oh, I need to throw up."
NOW: My students dared me to try it this week sooo looks like Teacher Kyrstie has to finally come to terms with this famous Taiwnese dish. Next up: snake's blood.

Eye Measurement 1/27/2010: 3/4"
Eyelid Folds Check 1/27/2010: Still got 'em

Wednesday, 6 January 2010

Quick trip to the very green Green Island (Lu Dao)

My New Year's Eve included a trip to the local park where there were fireworks, tons of people, and a pretty big Taiwanese pop/rap concert starring what seemed to be the Taiwanese versions of Ricky Martin and Ja Rule (the real Ja was actually headlining his own show at a club in Taipei...see, I told you it's easy to hold celebrity status in Taiwan). Of course I got lost in the sea of people with my friend Julia and finding our other friends before midnight was a bit of a lost cause when the only landmark to describe our location was, "...we're right by the group of Taiwanese people." And so there we were as the clock struck 2010:

Here is a little video clip of the rap group at the concert that I took (see if you can catch the two badass English lines):

Not yet bright and early we woke up at 5am for our trip to Green Island (a small island off the SE coast of Taiwan). 40 minute bus to Taipei, 6 hour train to Taitung (no seats so we rushed to the most comfy floor spots which don't exist), and 1 hour ferry to Green Island that is notorious for making even the most settled of stomachs lose their sh*t. If you don't believe me, take it from trusty old Lonely Planet writer Joshua Samuel Brown in a piece entitled The Green Island Vomit Barge: "...Only twice in my extensive travels have I found myself, face pressed against a rolling floor, stinking of my own vomit, begging for the sweet, sweet release of death. The first time was on the boat to Green Island... The second was on the boat back. Consider yourselves warned." I managed to hold it in on the way there (while everyone else was running for the disgusting bathrooms) but the way back consisted of my face in plastic bag after bag that are kindly made available in front of every seat.

Other than the ferry ride, the trip to Green Island was a breath of fresh air after being in Taoyuan City for almost 2 months now. We rented scooters to drive around the small island (you can drive all the way around the island in 30 minutes), went in the seawater hot springs at night (only 3 of which in the world), checked out tide pools, sat on the beaches, hiked to beautiful viewing points, enjoyed the lack of tourists (other than ourselves of course), made a beach bonfire one night, went snorkeling, and ate some traditional island Taiwanese food (shark, fish, crab, bamboo with mayonaise and colored sprinkles, venison, seawood soup, and tofu). Did I say bamboo with mayonaise and colored sprinkles?? Why yes, yes I did. Not sure where that came from but yogurtland is definitely behind the times by not having those 3 things in soft-serve yogurt form. Oh and did I say that I ate those things?? Ok so I only tried the bamboo deal, venison, and tofu...this is simple-food-eating me we're talking about.

Oh and a quick note on Taiwanese snorkeling: bring your own snorkeling gear and go out on your own! The hypocrisy when it comes to safety in Taiwan is ridiculous. One one hand you have nut-jobs on scooters without helmets who think traffic laws are merely suggestions. Common scooter spottings include: 1) woman on scooter with one dog standing on the floorboard attached by a leash (I cringe thinking of what would happen if he fell off during a turn) and another dog in a pouch around her neck (on a rainy day); 2) entire family on one scooter (tiny child standing on floor board, father driving, second child behind him, mother on the back); 3) old men chewing and spitting betelnuts; and 4) someone smoking a cigarette and simultaneously talking on a cell phone (keep in mind that one handle is the throttle). I'll keep updating this list with more ridiculous things I see daily. Anyway, on the other hand we have the safety while snorkeling at Green Island. First we had to get into a full wetsuit (mind you it's not even cold). Then we had to put booties on our feet. Then we had to put on life jackets. Then they check to make sure you buckle the stomach straps and crotch straps...yes straps to go from back to front between your legs - 4 straps total. As if that wasn't enough, once they finally hand you the only needed thing (the mask with the snorkel), they bring out a long rope with pink buoys for everyone to hold as you snorkel 25 meters from the shore. HA! We almost lost it. Luckily they allowed us to snorkel around without holding the group's rope; however, diving down to the coral reef for closer looks didn't really work out. The overly-secure life jacket really limited those dives to maybe 2 feet so I floated sans movement at the top. Regardless, I had a great time and there were lots of different neon colored fish and sea creatures to amuse my lifeless (but still technically snorkeling) body.

Getting ready for snorkeling
To give you a better idea of driving around the island:

Yeahh...about my pants... ha I was in my bathing suit of course. We had just finished the extreme snorkeling adventure.

Sunday, 27 December 2009

A Very Taiwanese Christmas

So Christmas just came and went and it was strange being without family for the first time but I had some new firsts:

  1. I worked on Christmas Eve and Christmas Day
  2. I dressed up as and pretended to be Santa Claus multiple times over the past week (which I never thought I would do in my entire life, I mean...look at me) for the students (I did the best manly "Ho Ho Ho, Merry Christmas!" I could but when I gave my students candy they still replied, "Thank you teacher," to which I insisted I was not their teacher, I was Santa Claus! My best impression still wasn't quite convincing enough but it was good to see how things might be should I decide to go into the sober Santa look-alike profession at the local mall one day)
  3. I wore a face/breathing mask (under my Santa beard because that beard has been used way too many times for me to want it to touch my face)
  4. I played a youtube video of Nat King Cole singing "The Christmas Song" to which my students pointed and yelled, "Obama!"
  5. I had my Christmas dinner with my friends at....TGIFridays!! This might not sound exciting but this food is like gold to me now.
  6. I received Christmas cards from some of my students which made my Christmas - check out a few of them:
Ok so maybe their English isn't perfect but I've only been teaching them for a short period of time. Next year's cards will be flawless....right.

Oh and here is the creepy poster for the Christmas party at the university I am going to...

As appealing as crackhead Santa makes the party look, I decided not to go with my fellow naughty Taiwanese boys and girls for the rager that took place between 6:00 and 9:30pm.

Saturday, 26 December 2009


That's right, I'm living in Taiwan and teaching English to adorable Taiwanese children. I have been here for over a month now and I'm definitely happy about my decision to do this. You might be wondering why I wanted to teach Taiwan. Well, I noticed that the thought of me following the "real world" path evokes similar emotions to the ones that I feel when I see trailers for the new apocalyptic film, 2012 - horror and agony for the world's end. Ok, so having a full time job may not be the end of the world but before I find out for sure, I want to have an adventure and do the seemingly "unconventional" thing for a while. I want to put myself in new and difficult situations, see as many new places as possible, learn about different cultures and ways of life, try to learn an increasingly important language (Mandarin), and just have an adventure!

I chose to come to Taiwan specifically because I want to travel around SE Asia, the official language is Mandarin, English teachers get paid pretty well (and I want to save money to travel), education is highly revered here (my students are amazingly well behaved), I can quickly get to a large city if I want to because Taiwan is so small, the cost of living is much lower than a lot of places (you can get your own room in a nice apartment and pay only $150/month!!), and the people are known to be very friendly.

Now that you know why/how I came to be here, here's a quick blurb about my new life: I'm living in Taoyuan City, Taiwan (30 minutes SW of Taipei) and I'm working for Gloria English School. I found the job online, did a phone interview, and jumped on a plane hoping for the best...and phew, everything has gone well so far. I live in a dorm with about 15 other English teachers (12 guys and 3 girls...soon to be even fewer girls - ahhhh! As you can imagine our kitchen is not suitable for the faint of heart). We live on the top floor of one of the Gloria schools for almost no rent which is awesome.

The other teachers (American, Canadian, and British) have been teaching English in Taiwan and in other countries from anywhere between 1 week to 18 years! There are many Gloria schools around Taoyuan County and I drive my scooter (much more on this later!) to a number of the different locations throughout the week to teach. Gloria is a pretty well-known buxiban in Taoyuan and I feel pretty lucky to have found this job especially when I hear some of the horror stories from teachers at other schools and in other countries. "Buxibans" are also known as "cram schools" and these are schools that students (kindergarten through high school) attend after their regular schooling during the day. I usually teach a few 2-hour classes between 4-9pm Monday-Friday and anywhere in between 9am-9pm on Saturdays. Yes, these poor kids go to school on Saturdays too! I can definitely see why Asian parents are known to push their kids pretty hard now. I thought I worked pretty hard growing up but I don't have anything on these Taiwanese kids - academically. Athletically, now that's another story. Any game that I have my students play in class that involves throwing balls is a pretty sore sight but I keep it going for my own amusement.

Lastly, it is definitely possible to get around Taiwan knowing minimal Mandarin (young people know the English that people like me teach them and there is the occasional menu with English on it) but I think I will have a more fulfilling experience if I actually try to learn the language well. Don't get me wrong, I've had quite the fun time this past month and a half miming/drawing/pointing in order to communicate but I know that if I want to try to learn Mandarin (and maybe be able to use it in the future) I have to get a bit more serious about it. Soooo, I enrolled at Ming Chuan University's Mandarin Studies & Culture Center for 15 hours of morning classes per week for 12 weeks. It is a 15-20 minute scooter ride from where I live and I'm enjoying my 5-person beginner class with other beginners from Gambia, Indonesia and Vietnam. Walking around campus is pretty funny as I'm pretty sure I'm the only Westerner at the school. I should be used to this homogeneous population after attending UCLA for four years but for some reason my different appearance is still quite apparent to me. Maybe it is because Taiwanese university students take pictures of me while I walk to class...yea, maybe that's it. Going to bars is also quite funny as Taiwanese girls and guys (that I don't know) will randomly put their arm around me while whipping out their camera phones so they can snap a quick picture of themselves with a Westerner! Turns out that becoming a celebrity is as easy as hopping on a plane to Asia. I'm pretty much Julia Roberts now, no big deal. Ha, only kidding.

So that's a little intro. Now that the basics are established I can start posting more interesting/funny/ridiculous things that happen while I'm living/teaching/traveling out here.

Oh and I actually have refused to watch 2012. Maybe I will when I decide it is time for me to face the "real world"...however, if the Mayans are correct with their prediction, I might not get that chance to watch it. I might still be globetrotting...