Wednesday, December 30, 2009

Resolution Tyme

The worst part about writing resolutions down is then they're available the following year to look at. Last year I resolved to floss every day. I (practically) did and still wound up getting three fillings this month.

Despite my Swiss cheese teeth, it's been an incredible year, yet another full of travel:

9.5 months Taiwan (with lots of travel throughout the island(s))
2 weeks Mongolia
5 weeks China
3 nauseous hours (Thanks, United Airlines catering) San Francisco
3 weeks Oregon

I learned to speak Chinese. I learned a ton from teaching - about working, about responsibility, about cross-culture communication, about myself. I pitched a horror movie. I made story outlines for an established Chinese production company with international distribution. And I rode the train through China and Mongolia. That's a cool year.

I didn't think it possible then, but I might actually have less of an idea what next year holds than I did this time 365 days ago. That doesn't seem like progress. But I keep telling myself to enjoy it as the rest of my life will probably, probably be pretty predictable.

On to resolutions:

1. Ruin less stuff. I'm hard on my stuff. And, consequently, it doesn't last long - nylons, phones, bags, shoes, pants etc. With a little more consideration and care it would last longer and look nicer.

2. Continue serious Chinese studying, begin learning simplified characters.

3. Write more.

4. Don't be afraid to fail.

5. Cut out cute spelling (gotta toss in an easy one). I promise never to spell "time" with a y ever again.

Buh-bye decade of double zeros.

Monday, December 28, 2009

Christmas on the Coast

After a busy week with family, the relatives all shipped out today. I've been slacking on the blog front due in part to the festivities, but mostly because of a supreme lack of motivation. For a year the computer was my primary portal to the western world. Now that I'm surrounded by the familiar, it's hard to work up the motivation. But I intend to get back at it and figure out what I'm going to write about now that my life isn't all crazy adventures.

Christmas was lovely. I got lots of nice presents. The one that's occupying me presently is Death at Chappaquiddick, which is Papa Jones' idea of a timely, educational Christmas present, seeing as Senator Kennedy recently passed.

For the Taiwan folks - here's what Christmas looks like in my hometown.
Lake Woahink, taken from my parents' dock.
Bob Creek, north of town.
Me at Bob Creek
Heceta Head, one of the most photographed lighthouses in the world!
Aunt, cousin, brothers, dog & moi
Seal at Siltcoos Outlet
Our Tree!
Brothers opening new guitars Christmas morning
Ricky admiring his bass
Robe I got Billy in Shanghai

To see larger pictures, check out my Picasa.

Saturday, December 19, 2009

First Child Rights

As we sit down to watch a movie:

Billy: Hey that's my spot!

Me: I used to wipe poop off your butt, I'll sit wherever I want.

Hard to argue with that one - zing!

Thursday, December 17, 2009


I'm now into week two of my garage residence in Florence. I haven't blogged because I have nothing to say. Drinking coffee, watching the light change on the lake, and family board games are lovely, but there's not much to say about them. Then there's all that "what's next" anxiety, but I don't want to write about that. I also don't want to write about the Rose Bowl frenzy around here. Every time I hear this, I want to kick a UO fan in the shins.

I've spent a miserable, awful, depressing amount of time trying to organize my trip pictures, and eventually (hopefully) those will go up in vignettes here so you can see what I did for 7 weeks in Mongolia and China.

I went out in the kayak yesterday. Charlie whimpered as if distressed I was going to venture out on the water and just leave him on shore like that. So that's worlds better than my homecoming. I'll put up home pictures for the Taiwan folks soon(ish) too.

The middle school dance was fun. Lots of jumping. And screaming. And maybe a couple of sixth-grade girls crying. That covers all the bases, I think.

Thursday, December 10, 2009


Welcome to the United States of America, enjoy your food poisoning. That would sum up my first 36 hours on the ground. We left the airport and stopped into the Dixie Cafe on our way out of Eugene. The waitress slid a plate of potato salad under my nose and I promptly left for the ladies room and threw up. After more than a year of fantasizing about what there is to eat in America, I couldn't eat anything for my first full day.

I think the cause was some "chicken" United gave me, but then my brother is sick today - so maybe not food poisoning?

I'm all better now and loving being back with my people. Although my dog was pretty disappointing upon my arrival. I expected him to trot up wagging his tail. I spent so much time with him as a puppy and James' kept telling me about a dog's keen smell memory. Plus he's a lab. He's supposed to be smart. Instead he got all nervous and ran around barking, though he's usually friendly to strangers. My mom said the only other time he's been that upset was when she hauled a roll of fringed carpet out to the garage on her shoulder. He's over it now (I mean he's being nice to me, don't know how we feels about carpet).

Since I'm no longer globetrotting, the frequency of posts will probably depend upon the speed at which outrageous things exit my brothers' mouths. Yesterday Ricky told us he can't wait to grow up and blow up Billy's car. Tomorrow I'm chaperoning the middle school dance. Have yet to convince Billy to slow dance with me. Maybe if he sees my killer moves first.

I'm going to be here a good long while and after that I'm not sure what. Hopefully something awesome...

Thursday, December 3, 2009


It's Thursday evening, I have two more full days, and then back on the plane to America! It'll be the first time in almost 15 months.
I'm so excited to spend some QT with the fam. But I'm also curious as to how everything will seem. Will it smell different? Will I remember everything the same? How's it going to be to have all that clean air, quiet and space on the Oregon Coast after so long in such dense environs. What I'm really excited for is reliable western plumbing. No more excursions to the putrid bus station shit river/trough (which lacks stall doors, by the way).
Shanghai is fabulous, the most livable Chinese city we've been to yet. We spent the morning walking through art galleries in the French Concession and touring Sun Yat-Sen's house. In the afternoon our feet were so tired we shelled out a ghastly $15US each to park in a movie theater for the 2.5-hour long 2012. After that we ate ramen in a Japanese beer house and discussed which of our friends we would choose to repopulate the world after the apocalypse (engineer/science types and anyone with medical background curried strong favor).
That's most the news here. It's been an incredible trip. This will be my last blog from foreign soil. So toodles!

Saturday, November 28, 2009

From Wuhan

 We had a lovely float down the Yangtze. Aside from the tourist-trap ports along the way, we mostly sat in our cabin watching the scenery go by and eating oranges and roast chestnuts we bought on the dock. Our Thanksgiving feast included kungpao chicken, bak choy with mushrooms, and a clear tomato and egg soup. The dining room was awfully smokey (as is just about everywhere here), but I suppose that's a better Thanksgiving than last year (we went to McDonalds). On the last morning we discovered some small, furry abomination must have sneaked into our room as we found two of our sausages had been nibbled open. If it had to happen, I'm glad I didn't know until the morning we were disembarking. Shudder.

Today we're in Wuhan, which is big and shiny but not much else. We're taking a night train to Nanjing, we'll be there about a day and a half to see Sun Yat-sen's mausoleum and the Nanjing Massacre Memorial Hall. Then on to Shanghai, and in about a week I'll be home!

This morning we took a bus to Hubuxiang Snack Street. Americans really need to catch on to the "snack street" thing. We ate roast lamb skewers, garlic oysters on the shell, fried pork-filled pancakes, dumplings, spicy peanut oil noodles, fresh orange juice and egg tarts. Chinese people have much more liberal ideas about what's acceptable breakfast food.All that decadence before noon made me preemptively sad to be separating myself from Chinese food. On the other hand, I'm looking forward to pimento cheese sandwiches, guacamole, homemade cookies and brownies, etc. Can't wait!

Tuesday, November 24, 2009

Quick update

Writing from the itouch, so will make it quick: we're in Chongqing now
CKS's war-time capital, then known as Chung King. It is an amazing
city. Maybe my favorite so far.

Tomorrow evening we leave on our three gorges tour. Chinese boat,
first class. Met a nice lady from Iceland who took the same tour,
third class. She said the first night she took pain killers to go to
sleep and the second night passed out drunk topside and had to be
carried below. With that testimonal and our train ordeal behind us, we
paid for the nicer bunks.

Seen and done a lot of great stuff this week. Probably will post about
it from the states with pictures.

Wednesday, November 18, 2009

Day Out in Chengdu

Today we walked to People's Park in downtown Chengdu. I don't get too excited about parks because I - being American - naturally assume they'll be full of drug dealers and vagrants. But not so in the PRC!
First off, we made for the children's area because Lonely Planet said it had some sweet rides. Sweet rides weren't LP's words, but that's how we interpreted it.
We tossed down $20 RMB for a whirl on this rotating car contraption attached to a track about 12 feet off the ground. It had an engine/no engine option so you could pedal or just enjoy the ride - and it was horrifying, my stomach was full of butterflies. Not whee-I'm-upside-down butterflies, ah-I'm-on-a-ride-in-the-people's-park-in-western-china butterflies.
After that we went to one of the park's several tea houses. We sat by the koi pond and watched steam curl off our cups for a couple hours, there were people chanting/meditating a ways distant the whole time. A couple fortune tellers came up offering their services. I told the first one "we're Christians" and he ran off like he was afraid I might start sharing the good news. The second wouldn't be dissuaded and pitched us for a good three minutes despite repeated attempts to make her go away. I think I need to stop smiling when I say "No." The trick is to be gruff about it, it seems mean - but you save them the time.
On our way out we passed a dozen groups of old Chinese ladies dancing, brass bands playing, people singing, and a few impressive games of badminton. It was wonderful.
Afterward we walked to a Buddhist temple and ate imitation twice-cooked pork (potato) in the attached vegetarian restaurant.
And that was our day! We're off to the Sichuan hinterlands tomorrow, probably out of blog contact for awhile.

Tuesday, November 17, 2009

Baby Bearcat!

Today we got up early and went to the Chengdu Panda Research and Breeding Center in time for feeding hour! They were so cute, we watched them strip off the bamboo leaves with their lil' panda thumbs. The best was the nursery where we were just a windowpane and some inches away from the baby panda crib! It's impossible not to smile watching a 4-month-old panda toddle along his crib railing. Never have I felt warmer and fuzzier.
Then we watched a panda documentary with footage of a momma panda who had just given birth swatting away her tiny,  bald, mouse-like panda newborn because she was scared and didn't know what to do with it. In captivity, the handlers try to get in and scoop the baby away as soon as possible, but it's dangerous to enter the cage when the panda is upset. So so cute, so so stupid.
What wasn't cute was the spicy hot pot hangover that befell us at the Center. See, the problem with chili oil is it's delicious! And the consequences don't present themselves until 12 to 14 hours after the fact. Which is just enough disconnect to keep me eating it. But if you'd like the details of any - or all - the ladies rooms on the Panda Center premises, just ask.
Poor James wound up yakking. When we got back to the hostel I forced him to eat soup because he didn't eat breakfast. He got halfway done and ran to the bathroom. He's sleeping it off now. After this, his intestinal bug before we left, and a bout of food poisoning in Taiwan - I have surpassed him in the steel-stomach category. I don't want to brag too much because I'm superstitious and don't want to get sick too.
So now I'm in the hostel lounge waiting on laundry and plotting my return to China. I can't wait to see my family, but this is such an exciting place to be, and I'd like to come back and work and continue studying Chinese. Then again, I suspect prospects for print journalism majors are bad on both continents, so I'll take what I can get. Just no more English teaching.

Monday, November 16, 2009

24 Hours of Squalor

Spent our last days in Xi'an tooling around the Muslim Quarter, eating mutton served by Chinese men in skull caps, and popped down to the Tang Dynasty Paradise Theme Park which inspired James to croon, "Your body is a Tang Dynasty Paradise" ad nauseam. Ugh, John Mayer.
At 6 p.m. yesterday we left the hostel for what we thought would be an easy overnight train, arrive in Chengdu at 11 a.m. the next day. What followed was hands-down the filthiest 24 hours of my life.
We bought hard sleeper tickets - 6  bunks to a compartment, no doors - despite warnings from family and friends. The price was right, and Lonely Planet didn't have DIRTY in caps when it described hard sleepers. I thought we'd be fine. Ho ho...
I was also feeling bold because of all the traveling we did in Taiwan: bus, plane, train, taxi, boat. I thought I could handle it. But everywhere in Taiwan has a basic, tenable level of cleanliness that China sometimes lacks.
If you want to see glitzy, rising-power China, the flagship areas and tourist attractions deliver. If you want not-quite-there China, look no further than Xi'an train station.
The trashcans were all overflowing, there weren't nearly enough seats so people squatted on floors and slept on windowsills. Aaaand then our train was delayed three hours.
I passed the time watching a 2-year-old who was banging on a teapot, yelling at his friends, and generally having a fabulous time. It was all adorable until he whipped out his baby penis and pissed on the floor. His mother re-aimed him so he'd miss a man's shoes. But that was it. No clean up action. A man wiped his nose and threw the tissue in the pee puddle. Because, why not at that point, right? Around 10 p.m. James and I made instant noodles for dinner. Another man seated next to us took off his shoe and sock to pick his foot while we ate.
I felt relieved when our train was finally called at 11 p.m. (snow storms were the cause of delay). But that relief only lasted from platform to carriage, as our bed-pod was equally disgusting.
There weren't any lights, but we had to roust the people sleeping on our bottom beds and send them to their top ones. Apparently our bunkmates graduated from the "fuck it" school of hygiene: We picked orange rinds, half-empty pepsi bottles, chocopie wrappers and used tissues off the sheets. Surprisingly, we weren't sharing with feral children, just adults who couldn't be bothered to drop their snot rags on the floor instead of our beds. There was a mountain of trash on the shared table. The overhead bed creaked when the train came to a sudden halt and my first thought was, "If the overhead comes down and breaks my neck I will go to heaven and not have to be on this train for the next 16 hours."
I laid my sweatshirt over my pillow, slept on top of the blanket, and tried very hard not to touch anything while sleeping. The ride was closer to 18 hours (ugh, snow). Our bunkmates weren't any more enjoyable while awake. The woman in the middle bunk chewed sunflower seeds from her bed and spit them into a bag on the lower table, occasionally missing the bag. They also took time out to clean their ears and clip their toenails, charming people. Did I mention there was no flush on the toilet and the sinks ran out of water?
By the time we got off the train and to our hostel, it was 6 p.m. - the journey took a full 24 hours.
The takeaway is we'll be buying soft sleepers from now on (only four to a pod, doors that lock) though they cost twice as much. We had to make our own mistake, it was an experience. And I now know just how far my spirit of adventure extends.

Friday, November 13, 2009

Bing Ma You!

Got up and caught a bus to Bing Ma You (terra cotta warriors). Would've liked to sleep on the bus, but the conductor and a passenger were having a shouting match half the way there. I couldn't understand much of it except "qu si," go die.
The warriors are amazing. They were discovered in the 1970s when a farmer was digging a well and found a warrior instead of water. They've uncovered two thousand and expect there are 6,000 warriors total.
The first pit is located under what looks like a huge airplane hangar. Row upon row of warriors. We spent a couple hours wandering and taking pictures.
Like all major tourist attractions, we had to face the gauntlet of hawkers on our way out. It's exhausting. And they prefer me to James. I can shake my head, not make eye contact, and people will still follow me for 50 feet - Hello, hello, lady! LOOK! VERY CHEAP!
Our trip is about half over. Dare I type it - neither of us have gotten sick yet. I'm hoping we can keep it up. We read the other day that 2,000 Americans have been quarantined in Beijing at some point since the H1N1 outbreak started, which makes me doubly glad we stayed in Taiwan when James had his stomach thing.
We have two more days here. Still mulling our options for tomorrow. We could make a pigrimage to Famen Temple, home of a Buddha fingerbone. Or there's a panda reserve. Or the cheeseball-but-compelling Tang Dynasty Theme Park.

Thursday, November 12, 2009


The night train was two hours late arriving because of snow. And it's snowy/slushy/wet here in the old capital Xi (Western) An (Safety). This was where the ancient Tang Dynasty was HQ'ed, so we've been looking at lots and lots and lots of old stuff. I wish I knew more about Chinese history. Today we hiked up the seven-story "Big Good" Pagoda. Tomorrow we're trekking out to see the terracotta warriors.
What's impressed me most about China so far is how many cranes we see everywhere we go. Everywhere there are cranes and unfinished skyscrapers - and not just one skyscraper, batches of them!
We're both feeling the Facebook withdrawal. Before we arrived we contemplated the likelihood our hostel would have one of those sneaky servers that reroutes the Internet through a different country (allowing access to the sites that are blocked here). It doesn't.
Our hostel does have one free beer a night. And right now it's beckoning. So more after we see the warriors!

Tuesday, November 10, 2009

Magic Words

Today we went to the Pearl Market looking for a mini DVD player so we can start watching all the Chinese movies we're snatching up. It's all about the bargaining - hawkers started by quoting us 800RMB, and we couldn't seem to get anyone below 400, which was more than we wanted to pay.
Then we found a woman who got down to 400.
Could you make it a little cheaper? I asked her.
You speak Chinese, I wouldn't cheat you! She replied.
She offered to throw in a carrier case, we began to walk away.
390! She called.
370 I said.
Its only 20 dollars more, she said.
Then I remembered the last advice James' sister gave me before we came to the mainland: Make sure you say, "Be a friend!" My mom's friend always does that and she always gets the best price.
"Zuo yi ge pengyou."
The lady laughed and exchanged looks with her colleagues. She gave us our price. I don't like bargaining, but it's really satisfying to walk away successful. Thanks, Ellen!

Monday, November 9, 2009

Crab Walking the Wall

We arranged a Great Wall tour through our hostel. We were supposed to hike 8 km of the Wall today (with drop off and pick-up), but we got halfway there and it was sleeting.
Our driver pulled over and announced it was too dangerous to hike. A whiny Brit in the back of the bus demonstrated his ign'ance by declaring he knew it was going to snow today and that's why he chose to go. Surely we're all dressed for the weather and have walked in the rain before, he proposed.
There's a certain grim satisfaction that comes from being an Alaskan (or from anywhere, I suppose, that has real weather) and watching someone broadcast such stupidity.
So instead we just went to one sight, Simatai, and took a cable car up to the wall. We were initially told we'd take the cars up and then make a 90-minute walk down. From what I hear, there are typically two ways to do the Wall: You go to one of the postcard-picturesque sections and it's a madhouse, or you go to a dilapidated, less impressive section for a quieter experience. We got to go to the former, sans crowd due to weather (the sight will be closed for snow tomorrow).
My heart dropped when we arrived on top. It's really an awesome view. Then James and I had the unique and rather hairy experience of being the only people to walk down the wall.
We were tramping around, taking pictures, and then figured we better start walking down. I thought everyone else had started to walk down too and we were just behind. But really everyone else chose to take cable cars down. If I'd known, I would've taken them down too: There were sections of tall, steep, narrow, icy slick steps that slanted downhill. No handrails. But once we started, we weren't going to climb back up those same steps. For parts we crab walked, some we slid on our butts, and others just clung and sidestepped. I never felt panicked, but I did feel very nervous a time or two.
And that's how we got to walk down the length of five towers, completely alone with all that history. At the bottom of the section we took a zip line down to the parking lot ("very safe! Walk down 25 minute, fly down only 5!")
Great pictures to follow when I get back to the States.
Tomorrow we take the night train to Xi'an.

Sunday, November 8, 2009

Square One: Censorship

Six months ago we met a Beijing-based producer. She - I believe - got excited about our writing, and gave us some censorship pointers for the China market. But we have so far failed to come up with something that could run in theaters here.
Today she told us ours seemed like a solid Hollywood-type script. But not for China.
I wouldn't try to write a black family movie without watching everything Tyler Perry ever made, so how could we write a Chinese outline without a comparable education? It seems obvious in hindsight, but we went in figuring we knew something about action movies. But action movies aren't Chinese action movies. Infernal Affairs and Election don't count. That's Hong Kong.
And the censorship issues are almost insurmountable (which is why Hong Kong is the center of Chinese film making, and the mainland comes out with few action movies): the police must solve the crime, if a character commits a crime it's because he was forced to, anyone who commits a crime will go to jail or die, adultery is tricky to include, and the "independent woman" as we know her in the States doesn't exist. In our defense, it sounds like the producer is also still trying to feel out the censorship boundaries. She says a lot of filmmakers from Taiwan are coming to Beijing, this is an exciting time, everyone wants to get in on the market.
On the other hand she has a director who submitted a script several times to the censorship bureau. He's been working on it for two years. The first few times it was flat rejected. The last time it came back with 50 notes. That's considered a good result.
But what's really ridiculous is despite all that censorship for local-made movies, we walked into a few stores today and saw pirated copies of Surrogates, Jennifer's Body, and Michael Jackson This Is It alongside a dozen other recent releases. You'll never see Jennifer's Body in theaters here (horror is a no-no), but you can buy it illegally anywhere. AGEH!
The producer had on ankle boots and a knee-length tweed coat, Chanel bag in hand. She's off to Nanjing this week to scout a location. She'd been having brunch in the upstairs lounge with a cadre of international film-types while we waited in the basement McDonalds wondering what are chances of having a movie made were. Fitting, no?
The good news is we still have the contact, and the company wants to make this kind of movie. Possibly the one we've been working on. It just has to be redone - again - in a way that's really going to get past the censors. So the first order of business is to watch a whole bunch of Chinese movies. And not Johnny To Hong Kong stuff. We have to figure out how it's done in the mainland.
At the very least, it's been a good, emboldening experience. I'm energized and ready to keep scratching away.

Saturday, November 7, 2009

In the Flesh

Woke up early yesterday to stand in a huge line for a 10-second glimpse of embalmed Mao. Beforehand I imagined myself peering over a glass casket into the empty eyes of a mass murder. But the casket is behind a glass enclosure, so you can't get any closer than about 8 feet.
He looked like something straight out of Madame Tussaud's - could've been wax. But I guess he's the real deal - dressed in his uniform with a hammer and sickle blanket draped across him. They have lights shining on his face so it looks like it's glowing - altogether very weird. It was interesting to watch all the Chinese people laying white flowers and bowing below his statue outside the viewing room.
After that we took a bus to the summer palace. We stayed a couple hours. It was cloudy so the lake was obscured. Empress Cixi's marble boat was quite a sight though.
Later we were walking down the street and this old man with funky teeth came up smiling to us saying some word in Chinese neither of us understood. I think he was trying to tell us he was stoked we were a couple. He grabbed our wrists and clasped our hands together and made as if to push us off the curb into oncoming traffic. Then he walked away smiling. I've noticed we get a lot of double takes here ("Asian guy! White girl!") but that was a first.
In the evening we went to see a Chinese movie called Radish Warrior, or The Stubborn Robot, or Radish Solider [sic] depending on which key art or trailer was advertising. It wasn't bad! More on that later. Movie meeting today, wish us luck!

Friday, November 6, 2009

Team America

Back in Beijing and full of duck, but I thought I'd put in a little entry before bed. This is my first time trying to email post from China. Mom, if you can read this, please email me.
The train back was full, but the ride proved interesting. Around 3 in the afternoon - in the middle of nowhere, still hours from the border - James and I headed to the dining car, craving amusement more than food.
And that's what we got. The moment we sat down a drunk Estonian plopped down beside us. We only understood about half of what he said. At one point he winked at James and said in Irkutsk, "There are some girls who are very good at holding their breath underwater." Then he invited us to join an international omelet-eating contest at 4. James rather reluctantly accepted the offer (they needed an American).
 A portly guy the Estonian introduced as "Slovak bastard" showed the dining crowd the prize - a portable shower apparatus he'd carried in his backpack for weeks to no use.
Norway, Sweden, Estonia, Slovakia, Mongolia, South Africa, England, Australia, China, Singapore, Scotland and then James. The waitress said there weren't any omelets. So the contest became a soup eating one instead. The hour arrived, and James took his position amidst the beefy, boisterous crowd of mostly Europeans. The Slovak passed out shots of vodka from a liter plastic bottle as contestants requested. Two older ladies - one from Chicago, one from Prague - judged. The Estonian implored the Chicagoan not to show favoritism to James.
But there was no need - James killed it in the  first round. No one was even close. "Make me proud, baby! AMERICA!" It felt almost unsportsmanlike as I was cheering: The men from South Africa and Norway were still blowing their spoons as James scraped his bowl dry.
Everyone clapped. Four continued to the final round - James, Mongolia, Australia and a European. There wasn't any more soup. The Estonian decided it had to either be a cracker-eating or a beer-drinking round. James voted for crackers, and he told me I had to make a point that he isn't usually one for drinking contests, but beer won the vote. And James won again! Australia came in a solid second.
It may have just been a friendly multinational game conceived out of boredom - taking place somewhere in eastern Mongolia - but we play to win.
James gifted the shower bag to the nice overseas Chinese lady from Mongolia in our cabin. We didn't want to carry it around for a month.
Other cool thing - this time we got to stay on the train as they changed the bogies at the border. Interesting stuff! Pictures next month.

Wednesday, November 4, 2009

Last UB Post

This morning we set out to find the Lenin Statue in "Liberty Square."

We followed Lonely Planet's directions and neither Lenin nor his museum were anywhere to be found. Maybe they were scrapped? Maybe we're just extremely directionally-challenged? Anyways, we didn't find him.

Next stop was the Lama Temple Museum. Tibetan-style Buddhism sure has a lot of monsters. The temple of Mercy was full of hell tapestries and God heads with skull crowns and decapitated human head necklaces. Yikes.

Went back to the expat place we liked for lunch. Last night we went to Strings, which was like a Hard Rock Cafe with a Filipino band doing great covers of American rock. Apparently killer cover bands are one of the Philippines chief exports.

Unfortunately, it was all over by 9 p.m. Five people died of H1N1-related pneumonia here last month, and therefore all restaurants that serve alcohol must close at 9 p.m. until further notice. We see lots of masks all over Ulan Bator. We had to buy them just to go into the movie theater. And a nice souvenir shop lady gently suggested I wear one. Damn my cavalier American ways.

Tomorrow we're back on the train to China. Despite the censorship problem, I've set up my account so that I think I'll be able to blog through email - though I myself wont be able to see the page in a Chinese browser.

Fingers crossed, I'll blog again soon!

Monday, November 2, 2009

UB Update

Well I spent enough money on trinkets today to make up for the week of spending almost nothing out in the boonies.

Thankfully, it warmed up. Yesterday it got down to 0 F/-18 C. Unfortunately, we chose yesterday to go to one of Asia's largest open air markets. It was fun to see the rows and rows of ger-making supplies, but my fingers and toes hurt.

Today we had lunch at an expat. hangout, I had fun eavesdropping. It was mostly businessmen, but interesting nonetheless.

After that we went to the Political Persecution Memorial Museum. The museum is housed in the home of the former Mongolian prime minister who refused to carry out Stalin's purge on his people (so he was taken to Moscow and executed). The curator said about 30,000 Mongolians were murdered between the late 1930s and up until the 1960s, the majority of victims being Buddhist lamas. Mass graves were being discovered as recently as 2003.

There wasn't much English. But there was a case of skulls - each with a bullet hole through the forehead, top or side.

It was a sobering stop. Communism is so evil. I had professors in college who smirked at that kind of rhetoric like it's hyperbole, but it's not.

Tonight we're going to check out a microbrewery which, according to Lonely Planet, serves some of the nation's best beer. Exciting!

Saturday, October 31, 2009

Back in the UB

Well we signed up for a crazy week bumping around the Mongolian countryside in a Russian p.o.s. van and what we got was ... a crazy week bumping around the Mongolian countryside in a Russian p.o.s. van!

We drank vodka distilled from yak milk and airag, which sort of tastes like a sour cream and feta soda beer. We ate sour rock-hard cheeses and way, way too much mutton.

A few nights we stayed in the gers of nomad families.

In short, it was an amazing trip. I'm even a little sad it's over, but at the same time thrilled to be back in civilization.

The most wonderful thing was seeing all that rugged country - the huge blue sky against red cliffs, our jeep rolling past herds of camels and horses. I wanted to take a picture of everything, but it's hard to capture the vastness of it all with a point-and-click, or really any camera. Mongolia is a beautiful country.

I'll be in Mongolia a few more days, and will blog again. Still trying to figure out how to blog from China.

Wednesday, October 21, 2009

Ulan Bator

We've arrived in Mongolia! Despite rumors to the contrary, there is no Blogger, Twitter or Facebook (horror of horrors) in Red China. So hurray for being back in the free world!

Our one day in Beijing was a lot of fun. We spent the morning walking around the Forbidden City. It was nice to see where all those treasures in the National Palace Museum in TAIWAN came from. I must say, the halls were a little barren in the Palace. And the audio guide failed to mention where all the cool, impressive Chinese art is hiding.

The palace itself was wonderful, though I had to fight off some old ladies to get a view of the rooms. Seriously, old Chinese women are shameless. Like if they don't see it RIGHT NOW they might die and never see it. S'ok - I'm good at throwing elbows too.

After the palace we walked over to Tiananmen Square. It's really big, but not much to see save for a people's statue outside the Mao mausoleum. We watched a soldier tell an old man to quit flying his kite in the square. That was about as exciting as it got. James said when he came to Beijing with his mom on a tour full of Taiwanese, they didn't even stop there, "Why would we want to go see a bad place like that?"

Pickled Mao was high on my list of sights to see, but unfortunately he's only available Tuesday through Sunday.

We ate dinner in the night market - delicious roast lamb skewers, a pancake sandwich and some other snacks. A guy tried to shiest us for some cream puffs, but we talked him down from 20RMB to ten (twenty is really outrageous).

The train was great, after we got here we finalized our Mongolia country tour, and we'll be headed out on that Saturday. I wont go into more detail now, because maybe I can find time to post entries with pictures later.

However, once I get back in China - it'll most likely be a blogless month, unless I can convince my mom to post for me via email...Hmm...

Sidenote: Because we've drank them all fairly recently - I can now say Taiwan Coke is different from Chinese coke which is different from Mongolian Coke. It's been so long since I've had an American Coke, I can't really tell you which is most similar. But they are different!

Saturday, October 17, 2009

Almost, Finally, Hopefully on our Way

Our flight leaves tomorrow afternoon. And barring any further illness or unforeseen weather, I think we'll be in the PRC tomorrow night. EXCITING!

First stop Beijing, then we leave for Mongolia by train Tuesday morning. Two weeks in Mongolia, and then back to China for about a month. I have no idea how frequently I'll post for the next six weeks, but hopefully a couple times a week (except for the 8 days we hope to spend in rural Mongolia).

Epic Land Journey, here I come!

Wednesday, October 14, 2009

The Waiting is the Hardest Part

Things I did today:

1. Ate a pomegranate.

2. Watched a 5-part YouTube documentary on Prussian Blue, the Nazi twin teen pop duo.

3. Sat in the hospital while James got his test results (FYI: According to said results, his poop is soft, brown and - drum roll - parasite FREE!).

4. Okay, I can't think of anything else interesting I did today. But here's a link to Tom Petty and the Heartbreakers The Waiting.

Tuesday, October 13, 2009

Taiwan is wonderful ... and full of diseases

I cancelled my phone. My bag is packed. I figured if I kept up my marathon pace the cleaning miiiight get done before 2 a.m. and then ... James' fever persisted at 101. We've both been sick half a dozen times this year, and Taiwan sticks it to us again as a parting gift. AAAAARGH!

It's one of those tricky fevers - where the discomfort comes and goes, and James' temperature went down with every Tylenol dose (and then popped back up). I was getting really nervous and figuring if I did all the cleaning while he rested and then if James took a pill 2.75 hours before customs in Beijing and then - the obvious presented itself: "I better call my parents," he said. It's amazing at age 23 to how many questions that is still the answer.

Of course you have to cancel your flight, his mom and dad said (duh). The Chinese don't fool with illness, especially H1N1, and we'd rather not have James stuck in a 7-day quarantine when we have a train to Mongolia to catch (which, thankfully, doesn't leave until Oct. 20).

So we're just pushing the whole trip back 5 days. Since James has a round-trip ticket back to Taiwan with China Airlines he didn't even have to pay a change fee. My United flight back to America will cost $220 to change (insert weeping and gnashing of teeth). But then, James had to go to the hospital and poop on a stick and I get to tease him about it, so that's some comfort.

The other bad news is we're not making any more money, I already threw out all the food and we have to survive another 5 days here. The good news is 7-11 sells boiled eggs marinated in soy sauce for 10NT (0.30 USD) which are quite filling. Five lunches, $3 USD - it can be done!

Sunday, October 11, 2009


I've been so busy painting/cleaning/schooling/working/planning/packing that I've barely had time to reflect or feel sad. It doesn't feel like goodbye forever. But then, when I left LA I said I'd be back down in three months and here it is 16 months later.

It was hard to say bye to my students, and harder still to say bye to my Chinese teachers. At my goodbye dinner, the conversation took place almost entirely in Chinese. I can't put into words how satisfying that was. My favorite teacher gave me a silver bracelet as a parting gift, I almost cried.

I'm excited to get home Dec. 1st and see my family, enjoy the outdoors and eat the foods I've been craving for more than a year, but I'm not sure how I will feel or what will happen after that.

Every weekend for a year was a new adventure. I'm going to miss that.

Wednesday, October 7, 2009

Wide Open Space ... Will Kill You

My Chinese teacher asked me what I miss most about home. First I said family, then food, and thirdly open space - to which my Chinese teacher gave a little shudder.

"America is too big."


She told me about how she drove down the Pacific Coast Highway - through Redwood country. And the whole time was scared if "bad people' hiding in the woods shot her car and killed her, no one would ever know about it.

I tried to explain that the teeny, tiny number of people who would even consider such a depraved act live in the opposite end of California. I also wondered if she'd seen Wrong Turn. Decided against recommending it.

Then the Irish lady in our class backed up my teacher's irrational fear: "Oh when I was living in America riding the train - I tried not to look out the window. All that space is terrifying!"

I can't help but suspect this is a sour grapes mentality from two people from wee little countries: I just can't comprehend preferring a place that's smaller and denser. It seems unnatural. Bigger is better! But then, my preferences were formed in Alaska.

Tuesday, October 6, 2009


Today a ten-year-old boy walked into class wearing his school uniform - a pink button down with collar and cuffs made of brown and blue plaid. His pants were brown-and-blue plaid as well. Can you think of anything more emasculating? I wish I'd had my camera.

My boss once told me Taiwanese school uniforms are designed with the idea children should be studying books not each other. They're purposefully repellant, she said. Today's ensemble makes me believe her.

Monday, October 5, 2009

Ten Days Left

Places I still want to go to in Taiwan:
Matsu Island
Green Island
Orchid Island
Turtle Island
Alishan Forest Railway
Pingtung County (excluding Kenting)

Places I went:
Hsinchu County
Dharma Drum Mountain
Jade Mountain
Sun Moon Lake
Penghu Island
Kinmen Island
Glamour Studio
Taroko Gorge

Alishan is a big tourist draw. I was hoping to go this fall, but Typhoon Morakot blew in and washed out the roads. As for the other places I didn't get to, I have a feeling there'll be a "next time."

Saturday, October 3, 2009

Earthquakes, Typhoons and Moon Cakes - Oh My!

I woke up in the middle of the night feeling as if I were being swung lightly in a hammock - only with an air conditioner and a dresser overhead. Having grown up in Alaska, I'm no stranger to earthquakes. But I find them a lot scarier when I'm thirteen stories up and the entire building is rocking beneath me.

Typhoon Parma is headed our way. Thankfully, it mostly missed the Philippines - those poor people. I really don't like this typhoon season business. It's just so dangerous. Not for me personally - mostly for those in coastal or mountainous regions. But the loss of life year after year is hard to fathom.

Moon Cakes: Yesterday was Mid-Autumn Festival. We went into Taipei and ate with James' family. James' grandma sent us home with a tin of moon cakes. They are these little dense cakes filled with pineapple paste, black sesame, salty egg or green tea filling. Then when we went out for dinner last night, all the Nankan shop owners were barbecuing with their families and coworkers on the sidewalk. Needless to say, fireworks were also part of the festivities.

Friday, October 2, 2009

Chris Rock on Roman Polanski

When Roman Polanski was arrested this week, I honestly really wanted a reason to feel sympathetic. Frantic, The Pianist and Chinatown are awesome movies. And Rosemary's Baby is definitely in my top five for horror.

But I got to reading the news, and there isn't a reason. Yes, he's a holocaust victim. Yes, his wife was murdered when she was 8 months pregnant. But you don't get to pay for your sins in advance. Having sex with a child my brother's age is unforgivable.

Then there was this peverted outpouring of support in Hollywood. Whoopi said it wasn't "rape-rape." Uhhh...

So I was glad to hear one of my favorite comedians talking some sense:

“People are defending Roman Polanski because he made some good movies?!? Even Johnnie Cochran don’t have the nerve to go, ‘Well, did you see O.J. play against New England?’” Chris Rock said on Leno.

And while I'm appreciating Chris Rock, check out some classic segments: Abortion, Rap Music, Bullet Control.

Wednesday, September 30, 2009

Battle of the Ages

Three people joined my Chinese class last month. The new, less-advanced students decided they disliked my favorite teacher, the one I find most challenging. So, without telling the other half of the class, they requested a change. My favorite no longer teaches our class.

I would've raised more hell about this, but next week is my last and these new people are continuing another two months. But I think a telling issue with this incident is there's a 25-year gap between the new, less-advanced students and we three original classmates.

I guessed they thought when they wanted to go shake their jowls, there was no need to consult us young folks - we couldn't possibly have worthwhile opinions.

Then I talked to my favorite teacher after class today. The administrator told her when these older students went to harp on her, they also had some interesting things to say about us three:

They don't pay attention. They're always playing with computers, messing around, etc. during class.

"Playing with computers." That would be my friend's electric Chinese-English dictionary, which is pretty handy when trying to learn to read and write.

I think the old people were just so lost they figured we must not be paying attention - like we're just sitting there to pass time, because that's what kids do. But the thing is we weren't. My one friend already knows Cantonese. And the other is fluent in Mongolian, Russian and English. They are serious language learners.

Sometimes my friends pull out their iPods during breaks, while the old people continue to "practice" Chinese in stilted conversations with eachother. Personally, I think the iPod thing is antisocial, but people in college did it too. Further, Chinese class is intense - I can see wanting to zone out during the breaks.

Conclusion: Old people are so ageist! It reminds me of interning at newspapers when I'd show up and the source would ask, "Sooo, you're writing the story? By yourself?" I hope when I'm old I remember to withhold my judgement until it's validated.

Monday, September 28, 2009

Coming to America!

My plane lands in San Francisco December 1st! I didn't want to post the full story until I gave notice - not that my employers read my blog. And actually - I walked in today and saw my boss had written "furit" for the children instead of "fruit," so the jury is still out whether they read English anyways.

We have just 16 days left in Taiwan. Then we're going to Bejing. Then we're taking the train to Mongolia. Then we're taking the train back to Beijing. Then we're backpacking around China for a month passing through (hopefully) Xian, Chongqing, Three Gorges and ending in Shanghai. Or at least that's the half-baked plan. People who know better have told me it's doable.

My parents say my long johns and my ski coat are in the mail. It's hard to imagine next month I'll have use for them. James put a clean shirt on yesterday morning and by 6 p.m. it smelled like mildew. So I'm ready for a break from the subtropics. But I'm going to miss Taiwan. It grows on you: You move some place, don't know anyone, and 12 months later you realize you're part of a community - and you're leaving it. Sigh.

I'll be home for the holidays, which is totally exciting. Last year I worked on Christmas Day (and Eve) and somehow wound up eating KFC with my employers for Christmas dinner. This year I plan on compensating. It's gonna be double the Christmas. Carols 24-7. My family will be yearning for Dec. 26.
China. Mongolia. China. Home. Christmas. Not 100% on what's next. But probably adventures.

Friday, September 25, 2009

Use It or Lose It

Today on the subway I think there was a woman speaking Spanish on her cell. And that is a sad, sad statement after all the years I off-and-on studied Spanish. I'll give myself the benefit of the doubt, maybe it was some related dialect ... because the only words I could pick out were "si" and I think maybe bastante, though I couldn't remember what the latter meant.

But how lame is it I wasn't even sure it was Spanish?! Because whatever it was, it sounded about as foreign as Chinese did 12 months ago.

I'm going to continue my Chinese class through our last full week in Taiwan. And as soon as I'm home, my priority will be formulating a study plan so that wherever I end up next, I'll continue to learn. Also, I've found a blog that posts nothing but links to Chinese talk shows on YouTube, and the author seems to post several links a day. So I'm going to make a habit out of that - despite the miserable and gratuitous sound effects (BOINK!/WAH~WAH/BLINGBLING!) all Chinese talk shows seem to use. Small annoyance for a lifetime investment, me thinks.

Wednesday, September 23, 2009

Peacing Out of the Buxiban

I'm giving notice at work tomorrow. I expect it'll be pretty straight forward and wonderful, because I'm ready to be done with the people I work for. But recently James and I have been fantasizing about what it would sound like if instead I spelled out my resignation in hip hop lyrics. This is what we (mostly James) came up with:

Boss: Hi Le-Suh-Lee!

Me: What up, home slice?

Boss: How are you?

Me: I gotta pocket fulla stinkies, my bucket's low and my swagger's right.

Boss: What?

Me: Bitch, I'm trill.

Boss: Are you quitting? (The only natural response to such an onslaught)

Me: I gotta stay fly 'til I die.

Boss: But what will you do without us?

Me: All I want to do is ride around shining while I can afford it. Plenty of ice on my neck so I don't get nauseous. Float around in the greatest of Porsches.

Boss: Why are you quitting?

Me: Cash Rules Everything Around Me. C.R.E.A.M.! Get the money, dollah, dollah bills y'all.

Boss: Okay, this is inconvenience to us that you are quitting.

Me: If you can't respect that your whole perspective is whack. Maybe you'll love me when I fade to black.

Monday, September 21, 2009

If you laugh long enough, it's not an argument.

Recently, my boss has been observing my class. She never did this - not once - the first six months I worked there. I guess she had a change of heart about her supervisory role, which is unfortunate because she likes to translate what I say into Chinese before the kids have a chance to digest the English. Did I mention I'm supposed to teach English?

The following conversation took place yesterday after class. I had one student who failed to answer a question, despite much coaxing and hints. Everyone else answered. I know she understood. She was just gripped with a bout of "I'm so embarrassed I'm going to pretend I don't understand anything you say even if you say it in my native language" - a common affliction among Taiwanese children.

Boss: Maybe next time you just tell her what to say then she can repeat it.

Me: She needs to think for herself.

Boss: But this is how we teach here, even if she doesn't understand, she needs to repeat something.

Me: That's why so many students speak such poor English after studying a long time, they've just been taught to parrot, they can't actually talk.

Boss: This is Taiwan's way.

Me: Well it's a bad way to learn a language.

Boss: Ha ha ha ha ha ha.

Me: ha ha ha ha.

Boss: ha ha ha. ha.

Me: ha. ha.

And that was this week's dose of passive aggressive behavior. Stay tuned kids, there's still a few weeks left!

Happy One Year!

I have been living abroad one year, today.

I'm so glad I came, I'm so glad I stayed. I learned a lot. In hindsight, there are some things I would do differently now: I would've started learning Chinese right away; and I would've given myself longer to look for a better work situation.

I've learned so much this year. Some things I would've learned anyways - it being my first year not being a student. But I don't think living aboard is a learning experience that can be replicated at home.

I think that perhaps the most important thing I've learned is that I can live abroad. The idea of living far away from home - in or outside the U.S. - doesn't daunt me as much anymore. And I think if opportunities present themselves in the future, I'll be more ready to jump than I would otherwise.

Saturday, September 19, 2009

Foreigner Hate

Considering I've been in Taiwan almost exactly a full year, I haven't met that many other waiguoren. But based on the small group of Canadians/Americans/South Africans/Australians I do know - I think we get an undeserved bad rap.

"Oh Leslie, we're so lucky to have you. You're not like other foreigners - they just drink, party, aren't reliable." It's a backhanded compliment: I'm good because I'm not like the other white folks. I used to repeat the common wisdom in passing, "yeah, a lot of people are just here to drink, make a little bit of money," until I realized I had no substantiating evidence. So I stopped.

The truth is white people like to drink more than locals. The truth is we tend to be louder and more obnoxious whether or not we're drinking. And the truth is there are some unreliable fly-by-night characters here, just like everywhere else. But it doesn't match the hype.

And it's a convenient stereotype to believe in if you're a school owner who wants to not feel bad about treating a foreign employee like crap. James and I love Taiwan, but we've both dealt with some pretty crummy work situations.

Unfortunately, I think we foreigners perpetuate our nasty reputation: The foreigners I know are all responsible and gainfully employed. But they all, have at one time or other, mentioned/agreed with the idea that we're all just here to "drink and party" and do bad work.

James has a friend who has been in Taiwan almost a decade. His theory is foreigners like to hate on other foreigners because everyone wants to feel like the "real" expat. - Everybody else is just visiting. Ppptttbbbb.

We're almost out of here. I'm really going to miss Taiwan. I wont miss the racial stereotype.

Wednesday, September 16, 2009

Sorry, Sorry, Sorry...

If you've been wondering recently what's in right now with the Chinese grade school set - look no further! This is it!

Everywhere I teach - kids keep coming into my class mumble-singing "sorry, sorry, sorry, sorry..." At first I thought it was a joke or a game, but then I got cool and realized it was SUPER JUNIOR! Only the most gigantor Korean boy band ever - if not the whole world!! Seriously, they're like 20 strong. Too many to count.

I posted this video to Facebook and a friend in Taichung replied that on several occasions she's seen groups of kids doing all the choreography in the street.

The Soulja Boy of Taiwan?

Monday, September 14, 2009

Hsinchu for a Day

My wonderful Taoyuan language exchange partners treated James and I to a day trip in Hsinchu County, the Silicon Valley of Taiwan. Hsinchu is part massive industrial complexes and part beautiful mountainy splendor.

The gang in Neiwan
My friends introduced me to these tiny fragrant zhongzi - special to the area. They're wrapped with flower leaves (I think....regular zhongzi have big banana leaf wrappings). And on the inside there's rice cooked up with bits of meat, mushroom and nuts.
From B-day, Hsinchu
We spent the first half of the day at Neiwan Station, a touristy old town with an old movie theater converted to a restaurant and lots of little stands with people peddling Hakka wares.
Outside the old Theater
Lots of other tourists
Old Neiwan Station, still in service
oink oink
Then we drove up into the mountains to the "Lavender Cottage" a beautiful restaurant with great views of the valley. Everything was lavender themed. I couldn't help but feel bad for the poor employees who have to wear purple every. single. day.
View from the Lavender Cottage
Somebody's Bunny Photoshoot
Everything was very cute - not the kind of place grown men would venture to on their own accord.
The "cottage"
Working mailboxes, one for mailing family, one for mailing exes. Go figure.
Then for dinner we went to Zhubei, a wealthy city where lots of the tech people live. I was surprised by the clean storefronts and wide sidewalks - it reminded me more of streets I'd see in the U.S. than anywhere else in Taiwan.

For dinner we went to an amazing Hakka restaurant (Hakka is a Chinese ethnicity. There are lots of Hakka in Taiwan and in Southern China). Swordfish, squid, salty-soft tofu, kung pao chicken - everything was great. But my favorite were the sweet potatoes!
Candied sweet potatoes
My picture isn't very good, but the owner brought warm sweet potatoes to our table covered in a syrupy substance. We were told to eat them immediately. We picked them up and dipped them in icy water. The effect was the outside hardened into a candy coating while the inside was still warm and delicious. Something I really want to try at home!

Thursday, September 10, 2009

Reasonably Enlightened?!

Thomas Friedman's column Our One-Party Democracy in yesterday's paper is crrrrrrrazy! Friedman argues China's autocracy is preferrable to our current slow-moving democracy.

Duh, autocrats can enact policies faster. But I can't think of any such state - past or present - I'd like to live in. Checks and balances, yo!

What bothered me most was Friedman's assertion China is a "reasonably enlightened" country. I don't know what that means, but it sounds ign'ant: Imprisoned bloggers, state-controlled churches, negligible property rights and comprehensive media censorship are not the traits of an enlightened society.

I know I've been influenced by living closer to it - and, this is anecdotal - but, whenever people come back from the mainland (read: traveling outside Beijing and Shanghai) they never fail to say, "It was really, really dirty." Reading Friedman makes me wonder how my perception of China has changed from being here, or how mine differs from the average American's. There's a whole lot more to it than the flagship cities.

I have a friend who works in Beijing, she only comes back to Taiwan once a month or so. She likes Beijing, but says when she stays too long she starts to feel trapped. The international news censorship is such that she finds she has to resolve just not to care about what is going on or deal with constant frustration of struggling to circumvent the censorship to find information.

I'm not even anti-China! I just think we ought to call it like it is.

Enlightened? Friedman, you crazy.

Tuesday, September 8, 2009

Birthday Song

I got up this morning and found a link to this waiting in my inbox. This guy ... I sure miss him. But how lucky am I to have a brother who is ten years younger than me, whom I haven't seen much of in the last year, that writes, "the older you get the more I miss you."

I love it.

Link to my 22-year-old b-day song. Look to see how much he grew!

Friday, September 4, 2009

Happy Burfday to ... Meeeeeeeeeeeeee

Today I am 23. One of my good friends from high school is in town for the weekend from Japan where she's currently studying. And I'm planning a get-together tonight starting at an expat bar. I have six hours of English classes to teach, starting at 2 and ending at 9, but besides that it should be an awesome day.

It's been almost a year (just 17 days shy) that I've been living in Taiwan. I've been so many places and learned so much. This time last year I never would've believed that I would become conversant in Chinese.

Turns out all those things people say about living abroad broadening one's perspective, teaching how to handle challenging situations, etc. are true. Those things are also all platitudes, so I wont go further. I'm just happy to be at a point in my life where I can still say I know so much more than I did a year ago.

Thursday, September 3, 2009

The Good Brothers

By the lunar calendar, today is the middle of Ghost Month (the month where ghosts get to take a break from hell, stretch their legs, eat something, and what not). During Ghost Month you aren't supposed to say "ghost," instead people say "Hao Shong Di," or "good brothers."

Lots of storefronts have little altars piled with food - instant noodles, litre sodas, fruit, crackers - and incense burning, all for the ghosts to eat. Some people don't eat the food after it has been on the altar because they believe the ghosts having eaten it takes away all the flavor. Praying and making an offering today is supposed to bring your household peace for the year.

Last night people were setting off fireworks all over Nankan and there was a big "Hua Che" (literally "flower car," means parade float) procession through town, replete with traditional horn music that always sounds exactly the same and consistently awful to my ears.

I don't have a problem with feeding ghosts. But it's really windy today. And people are burning gobs of ghost money in small altars on busy sidewalks ... seems like a recipe for disaster.

Tuesday, September 1, 2009

Reviewed: Jodie's Kitchen

Jodie and me

My mom and I spent Friday afternoon in a cooking class. I recommend Jodie's Kitchen to anyone looking to add a few Chinese flavors to their repertoire.

Everything was simple and delicious. Jodie showed us sour-and-spicy soup, how to prepare homemade soy milk (which is delicious!), as well as a sesame paste, spicy Sichuan flower pepper oil, and a simple Taiwanese dressing - all of which are easily added to veggies, noodles or meat.

Jodie does a good job of giving a basic explanation of vital ingredients, and then showing how they can be mixed together to create the various flavors.

Hopefully I wont forget everything before I'm back in a living situation where I actually cook regularly...

Monday, August 31, 2009

Pride of Taoyuan

The Little League World Series concluded this weekend. Chinese Taipei won the international bracket by clobbering Mexico 9-4, but lost the championship game to California. The final score was 6-3. This is America's fifth consecutive Little League World Series title, sayeth ESPN.

I couldn't decide who to root for. The Taiwan kids are actually from Taoyuan - they live just up the road from me! The game took place in the wee hours of Sunday morning local time, so that solved the "rooting" problems for me.

Taiwan has about one-tenth the population of the U.S., and has more Little League World Series titles than any other country besides America.

Taiwan had 17 championship titles between 1969 and 1996, but this is the first time in 10 years Taiwan has made it to the LL World Series. Let's hope this signals the return of Chinese Taipei as a major LL World Series contender!
EDIT: Taiwan has the second most championship titles. I originally wrote Taiwan was third behind Japan and the U.S. The U.S. has 32, Taiwan has 17, Japan has 6.

We got a fever...

And - unfortunately - the only cure is not more cowbell. Several people in Taiwan died from H1N1 recently, and today was the first day back to school. And we all know how awesome kids are at spreading infectious disease.

As a result - the security guy at reception in my school's building took my temperature before I was allowed in the elevator to go to class.

Sunday, August 30, 2009

Adventures in I-Ching

Aren't they cute?!
On Friday night I took the boys to Snake Alley. A fortune teller called us over and in perfect English offered to answer questions for $100NT a pop. Is this "eye-ching?" I asked, using my best gringo pronunciation, as I've forgotten how the Chinese say it.

Curiosity outweighed shyness, and the boys lined up. Always the more adventurous, Ricky went first. The lady had him write down a bunch of information - his address, phone number, age, parents names, etc.
Then she asked him what he wanted to know. Ricky shrugged his shoulders and with a goofy grin said, "My wife?"
From I-Ching

Okay, that's a long ways out, but I'll see what the I-Ching tells me, the woman said, and she set to tapping away on the circular board.
tap tap tap
These guys gathered around to watch my goofy brothers

She told Ricky he would meet a woman of "marriage potential" when he is 25. They'll meet in an academic setting, she said. But they'll both be very career-focused at that time, Ricky more so than the lucky lady. The woman will be athletic and smart. Then the woman said he could ask again in 15 years whether or not she was the one.

Billy asked about the future of his band.
From I-Ching
The teller said it is a "practice band" and not to worry too much about the future. Her assistant had a premonition about Billy in a movie.
From I-Ching

And that was that.

Saturday, August 29, 2009

Already Gone

I saw my family off last night. The week just went by way too fast. We did quite a bit of running around, but on top of that I was in charge of all the planning so at the end of every day I was exhausted.

When it comes to driving me nuts, my brothers haven't gotten rusty at all. But then as we took final pictures before they left James had to bark, "Don't cry," to keep me in line.

Since they left late last night, my parents bought the room for the whole night. So, out of principle, James and I are going to go enjoy the pool this morning and eat steaks for breakfast, since it's included with the room.

Wednesday, August 26, 2009

My People

From Family in Taiwan

They've been here about half a week now, and I'm really not looking forward to seeing them off again Saturday.

We've done the usual tourist stuff - Chiang Kai-Shek Memorial, Palace Museum, Taipei 101, Taroko - but the highlight for me was when James took us to a practice space and I got to hear my brothers go through their band set list.

Tuesday, August 25, 2009

Baby of the Family, in the morning

My family is in town (!!!). Much more on that later. But, before I forget, I feel compelled to write down what the littlest (age 10) ate before lunch yesterday:

7:30 a.m.

-sirloin steak
-donuts (2 plates' worth)

Mid-Morning Snack

Carmel Smoothie

Later-Morning Snack

Ice Cream

Keep in mind that was followed by a several-course teppanyaki lunch. Seriously, who is this guy?

I'll tell you who - he's the kid who ran out of lunch money early because he was eating breakfast at home and then eating school breakfast half an hour later. When he was really a little kid (5 or so) we'd go out and eat Mexican food. Then, after the 20-minute ride home, he'd rush into the kitchen before the rest of us were even out of the car.

Some things never change.

Friday, August 21, 2009

Ghost Month

Ghost month started this week. Ghost month is the month in the Chinese calendar where ghosts get to come out and have summer vacation (or that's how it was explained to me). There was lots of ghost money burning in brass alters all about Taipei this week.

Some people avoid travel and swimming in the ocean or rivers during ghost month. Actually, lots of Chinese people never swim in the ocean because it's dangerous. But the water ghosts are supposedly out in full force now.

One of my Chinese teachers says she sees ghosts - some heavenly, some from hell.

I asked my buxiban kids about ghosts.

"Who thinks ghosts are real, who thinks ghosts are not real?"

All hands shot up for REAL.

"YIDING YOU!" The brainy kid scoffed, which is Chinese for "of course there are," as if I'd asked her if gravity were real.

From there, the class was devoted to personal ghosts stories. We didn't get through much book material, but even the quiet students wanted to tell their ghost stories. And hey, whatever gets them to talk...

One girl told me when her father was young, he saw a ghost rattling dishes in the kitchen. Must've been one of those hungry ghosts. One boy said he and his cousins saw a blue boy ghost in the kitchen when he was little.

A pair of sisters said they always hear footsteps when there parents aren't home. They said they live near a cemetery, and it's the ghosts walking. They didn't say whether they live in a giant complex like most of us here, in which case I would guess the footsteps are one of their bjillion neighbors.

But the sisters also said they have an adult family friend with a keen third eye who doesn't like to spend the night with them because there are too many ghosts. When she sleeps in their home, she can feel the ghosts pressing on her chest.

One student warned me that if I swim in the ocean a water ghost can make itself look like my mom, but when I ask it a question it'll grab my ankle and drown me.

Then someone told me about a ghost possessing a girl. In one day, the girl's hair became very long. And her baby died, and she cradled it even though it was dead. The ghost possessing her was a dog ghost, so it couldn't talk.

By the end of class I had a full-on case of the heebie jeebies. You try two hours in a tiny classroom with uniformed Chinese schoolgirls staring up at you with their dark-brown-almost-black orbs warning you about all the ghosts to watch out for.


Stinky Kid Mistake

I have a stinky kid in one of my Friday classes. Actually, she wasn't stinky today. But some days she's pretty ripe, poor girl. She's real quiet, a good student, and the other kids are - of course - completely unforgiving and heartless. I can't tell if she really doesn't notice when they're teasing her or if she just puts up a super good face.

Anyways - today I made a big mistake and felt awful afterward. I had a rowdy boy in the front row who kept distracting his friends. So I ordered him to switch seats with Stinky, who sits in back with the other good kids.

As soon as she sat down in the front row - it was like a magnetic field went up and everyone scooted their desk away until she had a three-foot clearing in all directions.

She didn't even smell bad today. I didn't want to draw more attention to what was going on by making the others move their desks back.

But I definitely should've picked a different kid to change seats. Poor girl. Kids are so mean.

Thursday, August 20, 2009

Wednesday, August 19, 2009

Why I have got to learn to curse in Chinese

This evening I was walking back to the apartment when a still-glowing cigarette fell from an apartment above just a foot or so in front of me.


I thought a moment: All that came to mind that I knew how to say in Chinese was, "Here has people walking!" or "I'm walking below you!"

Neither of those quite has the ring of, "Hey asshole, there are people down here."

And by the time I'd formed a not totally dorky response, the moment had passed. For all I knew this idiot had returned to the dark recesses of his home where he could more completely ignore the people around him.

So I settled with shaking my fist, muttering, and hurrying the rest of the way home.

Monday, August 17, 2009

Taroko Gorge Weekend

A couple friends plus James and I took the train down to Hualien this weekend. It's hard to capture a magnificent twenty-kilometer gorge in pictures, but I did the best I could with my point and shoot:

Indiana- Jones-style rope bridge
Shrine for the 200 people who died building the gorge highway.

At the train station, we hired a cab to take us around for the day. Then that night he drove us to Carp Lake - the biggest lake in Eastern Taiwan - for a water/dance/fireworks show put on by Hualien aboriginals:
Free show on Carp Lake on weekend summer nights

On our way to Taroko, we drove through an aboriginal village with a little cemetary where all the headstones were marked with Christian crosses. Our driver said the tribe is all Christian now, because of missionaries who came and helped them a long time ago.

Cute father/son pair dancing to the music at Carp Lake

James has to go home early Sunday morning for work. The three of us went to the beach:
at the beach
It was pretty, but not suitable for swimming.

After that, we had lunch in town and headed back to Taipei. The train ride was definitely a highlight, lots of beauitful scenery along the way. Back in Taipei, I managed to leave my backpack on the train. But I was so impressed with how quick and helpful the transit folks at Taipei Rail Station were. They got on the phone with the next station and assured me my bag would be back in Taipei today.

Friday, August 14, 2009

Morakot Relief

EDIT: Michael Turton and Forumosa have information on donating locally.

We had it easy up here in Nankan, but down South there was terrible devastation: The death count is in the hundreds, and thousands of people are trapped in rural areas without supplies. Hundreds of people have lost their homes.

If you're moved to do so, this is what I've found about giving:

The Tapei Economic and Cultural Office (Taiwan's equivalent of an embassy) in Los Angeles has set up a fund:

1.For checks

Please make check payable to: TECOLA 88

Send check to:TECOLA 88 3731 Wilshire Blvd., Suite 700,Los Angeles, CA 90010

2.For wiring

Receiving Bank: Mega International Commercial Bank, Los Angeles Branch
ABA No.: 122040922
Address: 445 S. Figueroa St., Suite 1900,Los Angeles, CA 90071
Swift Code: ICBCUS6L
Beneficiary Account No.: 1004564
Beneficiary Account Name: TECOLA88

World Vision is also raising funds.

I'm still scratching around trying to figure out where to donate locally here in Taiwan. So if you read my blog and you live here - let me know!!

Wednesday, August 12, 2009

Wuthering Heights Abridged

Two people are in love, but one is poor. So they marry other people, have lugubrious arguments, fall sick and die. Unfortunately, they don't die before procreating. Man named Heathcliff carries 20-year grudge. He steals some people's land and provokes others into emotional fits. Those people, once provoked, also fall sick and die. Eventually, Heathcliff himself falls sick and dies.

I know medicine was not super awesome in the 1800s ... but did people actually get so emotionally distraught they just keeled over? Often enough for it to be believable in a book?

My Chinese school has a leave-one-take-one book bin. It was either the Heights or One L: First Year at Harvard Law School. Guess I made the wrong choice. Oh yeah, someone also dropped in some sort of proselytizing literature, the kind I was totally handed for free at college. Whoever you are that dropped that in the box, that's totally cheating.