Archive for August, 2008

Stupid Things You Do in a Foreign Country

Saturday, August 30th, 2008

When you’re living in a foreign culture and do not know the language you frequently do things that you find in retrospect were very stupid. This is common enough occurrence that you learn to just go with it and laugh at yourself. Earlier this week I did something that is a great example of the type of stupid things we do every day.

As often happens, I had a business dinner that I needed to attend after work. As usual, I was running late leaving work. I recognized the name of the restaurant and quickly printed the Chinese version of the address, to hand to the taxi driver to tell him where I needed to go. Paula and I rushed home from work. Once we got home I gave our doorman the address of the restaurant and asked him to call a cab. He called and told me it would arrive in 3 minutes, which was good news because that would allow me to arrive just in time.

Unfortunately the cab did not arrive in 3 minutes. This is not too unusual, since it was the busiest time of the day for cabs and they often can’t find our place. So the doorman called again and continued to help me get a cab. Finally, about thirty minutes later the cab showed up. I was definitely going to be late for dinner. The doorman gave the taxi driver the Chinese directions and appeared to tell him how best to drive to the road into downtown Taipei.

The cabby drove off, took the usual turn 2 blocks from the apartment, but did not take the following left turn. He then started to slow down in front of a bank, which I thought was rather strange. Then he started reading the Chinese directions, obviously comparing them to the numbers on the buildings, and suddenly stopped.

The cabby thought I was a little strange when I started to laugh out loud. I had just waited over 30 minutes and paid US$3 for a taxi to drive me 3 blocks that I could have happily walked in less than 10 minutes for free. I really wish the doorman had told me the restaurant was so close, but he thinks a lot of things we do are strange so he did not think twice about this request. The good news is that I was actually the first to arrive for dinner!

on the other side of the island

Sunday, August 24th, 2008

Last weekend we did something we’ve been needing to do: we took a day and a half off from work and had a long weekend / short vacation at the beach. We stayed at the Howard Beach Reort at Green Bay, on the northeast coast. It’s on the far side of the island, but Taiwan is narrow enough that it’s less than an hour away. The hotel wasn’t the five-star resort they claimed to be, but it was clean and comfortable, and if the recipes on the “Mediterranean” buffet actually came from considerably farther east, the seafood and vegetables were very, very fresh and there was a wide variety. Breakfasts featured both Asian and western food. The ocean there is warm and gentle (actually, we’d have liked more waves!). Some trash washed up in when the tide was coming in, but not the rest of the time, and they were working to keep the beach clean. There were a few other Westerners staying there, but we had some kids staring at us to the point of turning around to look back as they walked by.

Here’s the hotel itself (actually we took this photo this weekend – more about that later) and two views from our balcony.

We drove out on Friday night. Saturday we rented a kayak (unfortunately I lost my watch when we flipped it trying to surf) and Sunday we sweated buckets hiking around the Yehliu Geopark. It’s a narrow promontory with a lot of rock formations formed by erosion at different rates in rocks of differing hardness. We’d like to go back sometime when the temperature is more conducive to hiking.

We drove home the long way, through Yangminshan National Park. The steep, green mountains there would have been utterly spectacular if it had been a clearer day, but there was so much haze that we didn’t even try to take any photos. We haven’t quite figured out the Taiwanese urge to take a reay beautiful piece of scenery and… put a factory in it, or some other very ugly building. Even the park had a few, though the factories seemed to be closed down. Maybe they’re left from when Taiwan had more of a manufacturing economy.

This weekend we went back to a mountain overlooking the same spot, with our colleague German Jan and his wife Chris. We were hoping to begin paragliding lessons, but they are very busy right now and tod us we’d need to wait until next month to begin lessons. In the mean time, though, we were able to go up on tandem flights (three of us: Chris is still considering). The mountain actually has a millitary installation with a bunch of Patriot missiles on it – I don’t think we were supposed to overfly those, but we did, a little. Not a good feeling. I forgot to bring the small camera to take up in the air, but we had the new lens on the good camera, which is why some of these photos are such close-ups.

Here are the three of us, and a few other paragliders.

I think Jan had his arms folded like that to avoid grabbing onto the straps. I know I kept finding my hands in a deathgrip on those and having to loosen them. It was cooler on the mountain, but we were still pretty sweaty once we were done flying – very convenient to have that oceanright there to cool down in!

off to the beach

Wednesday, August 13th, 2008

Yay! We’re doing something tomorrow that we really haven’t done since coming to Taiwan: we’re going on vacation. It’s just a long weekend, though. We’re going to a beach resort on the north end of Taiwan’s east coast. I’m hoping that “complete water-activity facilities” means surfboards and boogie boards and windsurfers, not just “we have a beach and a pool. But either way, there’s an ocean to swim in, so I’m happy. Really, despite all the trips we’ve taken to San Diego and LA, I haven’t had much time to actually swim in the ocean since our honeymoon fifteen years ago. We were always too busy racing.

On our drive along the beaches a few weeks ago we didn’t get quite this far North, but it should be the same sort of scenery: rocky outcroppings Ted can climb on, huge green mountains rising just beyond the beach. There’s rock climbing somewhere in the area, but I haven’t gotten a copy of the guidebook yet.

Technically, this is my birthday present. Given that my birthday was 5 months ago, that tells you how badly we need a vacation. Ted may end up bringing his laptop, but at least we’ll be away from work; I’ll probably bring my Macbook and do some research to figure out where we want to go for the Chinese New Year holiday (I’m thinking maybe ice hotel).

assorted recent experiences

Monday, August 11th, 2008

I am not happy about the Olympic coverage here. So far all we’ve been able to get is hours of volleyball, handball and tennis, plus innumerable replays of the Opening Ceremony. I enjoyed the ceremony the first time, but really once was enough. With luck, people willl start posting videos of the sports on Youtube soon.

Last night we went and tried out the other restaurant on top of Taipei 101, Diamond Tony’s. They have a few other restaurants which serve pretty good Italian food, but with this one they attempted Italian / Asian fusion. I can’t say it’s a completely successful blend, but the view makes up for it and the menu is at least interesting. All of it is set menus, where you select a set then choose a started, cold appetizer, hot appetizer, and main course, followed by a dessert and coffee or tea. We both started with something they called antipasto, which turned out to be two discs of chicken (maybe duck) wrapped around a few vegetables, a shrimp on an olive on a cube of, er, something, and a tube of squid (?) filled with rice. Next I had an appetizer of king prawn with beans and chopped onion, drizzled with the sauce they use for a traditional dish called crystal shrimp, while Ted had Caesar salad. For the hot appetizer, he had something involving an entire small fish (the server warned him that it came complete with eyes!) while I had a chicken soup that I didn’t like all that much – too strongly flavored and greasy. We both had steak, him the rib-eye with tomato sauce and mozzerella, me the filet with duck liver. The latter turned out to taste much better than I expected, though I didn’t eat much of it. Dessert was mango tarts; I liked them a lot, Ted was more ambivalent.

If you go there, be sure to use the restrooms, which are spectacular.

Traditionally when Ted is away, I go out and get a massage. I haven’t had many since leaving the US, but I’ve increased my workouts lately so I decided last week was the time. We’d passed a spa near our house a few times; none of its signage is in English but I decided to try it anyway. Fortunately on the night I dropped in to make an appointment, there was a young worker there who spoke a good bit of English, because the procedure turned out to be unexpectedly complicated. She explained it for me so I would be ready for my appointment the next day, though they did en up having someone that day who spoke English as well. The place is called Stone Spa, because their big thing is a bed of heated stones. These are a special type of stones and supposedly attract anions from the body, promoting health and digestion (yeah, whatever). First you shower. You lay on the hot stones for 15-30 minutes alternating front, sides, and back facing down, then you get out and shower again, then dial 9 to get the masseuse to come up. Oh, and somewhere in the process you put on a little pink netting thing like a cross between underwear and a loincloth – I wasn’t sure if that was for the stones, the massage, or all of it.

The masseuse begins by using a special tool called something like a ‘naijou’. It looked like wood, but someone told me they’re made of bone. The only other time I’d had a massage here, back during our house-hunting trip, it was soft enough to feel like it wasn’t really having much effect. That wasn’t the case this time! Especially when she put all her weight on the tool it felt like she was trying to push it through my back and out the other side, and I started wondering how much force it actually takes to break a rib. Nothing broke, though, and after going up and down both side with the tool she switched to using her hands and went slightly easier on me. After that I got back on the hot rocks for 15 minutes, came out and rinsed off again, rested “to get my heartbeats back down”. (If 15 minutes laying down on a hot bed sends my heart racing I really need to revamp my training strategy!) Then it was back on the rocks one last time. This time I was instructed not to rinse off; the theory is that the first time you sweat water, the second time you sweat a mix of water and oils, and the third time you only sweat oils (again, yeah whatever) which are good for your skin. All in all, I found the hot rocks less boring and more relaxing and the massage firmer than expected, so I’ll probably be going back.

transparent air, for a change

Monday, August 4th, 2008

Taiwan has a real pollution problem, and while some of it is undeniably home-grown, people here say the worst of it blows over the Straits from China. I’m beginning to think that’s true; for this week, China has banned most traffic and closed factories near Beijing to cut down on pollution, and I can see a difference. Taipei is looking as though it’s been freshly washed. The air is sparkling clear, the buildings are glinting in the sun with sharp edges instead of the usual fuzzy ones, and the beauty of the mountains around the city is evident instead of being buried in haze as usual. Last night I drove home into the most beautiful sunset I’ve seen here yet, all blues and pinks instead of the harsher oranges I associate with polluted air.

Too bad it won’t last any longer than the Olympics. Also, too bad about that home-grown pollution: today I walked to work from the parking lot through air that sparkled clear but smelled of hydrocarbons.

I guess you could say I got a wild hair…

Saturday, August 2nd, 2008

Because Mom wanted to see it.

I haven’t decided if I like the way it looks, but I like the way it feels a lot, especially in the steamy weather here.

my life gets a bit confusing

Friday, August 1st, 2008

Today I walked into the local mall wearing a size S shirt (a trifle tight in the shoulders and sleeves, the curse of a weight-lifting woman) and a size S skirt (a fair bit large on me, actually – US brand bought in the Netherlands). I walked out again with a couple of shirts size M and a bathing suit size XL.

Yes, these are all for me.