Friday, January 30, 2009

Kaohsiung! (Rhymes with Cow Dung)

At 4 a.m. Monday morning we polished off radish cakes James' grandma gave us the night before, and trundled down to the bus stop.

The bus to Kaohsiung was the coolest bus I've ever been on. There was only one seat on either side of the aisle, and all the seats were reclineable overstuffed armchairs. I slept better on the 4-hour ride than I do on my bed at home, which I'm pretty sure was designed to emulate a slab of concrete.

We woke up in Kaohsiung shortly before 9 a.m. and took a taxi to Love River.

So this is Love...doo do do doo...

James carried all our clothes in his fancy ergonomic backpack. So I had to carry the shopping bag full of snacks, which he packed. I don't think James thought there would be any food in Kaohsiung. Carrying that shopping bag around was like hauling a sack of flour. I punished James for his excess by referring to him only as Lunchbox for the entirety of the first day.

Kaohsiung proper is no great shakes, but there are some neat sites closeby. We took a harbor ferry to Cijin Island where there are plenty of temples and a fun market.

Cijin Island temple lanterns

I only saw one other white person on the island. Unfortunately, he saw me too. He was coming out of a temple as I was going in.

"Stinks!" He remarked to me. I assume he was referring to the smell of incense, which I happen to like. I ignored him, though I wish now I would've told him off. Ugh, I mean back home tourists don't waltz into my place of worship, complain about the smell, and leave.

I've run into a few ugly westerners, not too many, but a few. What amazes me is the ignorance or lack of concern that plenty of people in Taiwan speak English, and it's likely as not someone understands what you're saying.

Anyway, the island temples were fun. We had a delicious fish lunch and then some cactus ice cream, which was unremarkable.


Ice Cream

James decided he had to have this dried blowfish. Naturally, we named it Hootie.

Back on the mainland, we went in search of a hotel. $1,200 NT ($40 U.S.) afforded us a room in Kaohsiung's Little Indonesia that smelled like a convention of chain smokers just vacated the premise. There was a faux painting of a naked lady with big boobs on the wall and the headboard on the bed had a bunch of mysterious buttons that didn't do anything. But there was cable!

We went to the night market for dinner and ate BBQ lamb, giant fried octopus tentacle, hot and sour soup, duck sandwiches, pig feet, sugar cane juice and hot almond milk soup.

What Chinese people do for fun

The next day we took the train to Zuoying Lake to see the Tiger Dragon Pagodas.

You're supposed to walk through the dragon's mouth and exit through the tiger's rear end for good luck, but we did it bass ackwards. Hopefully, we wont get bad luck.

After the pagodas we were feeling templed-out. I popped out the guidebook and gave James the option of either a fine art museum or a hillside on the city limits home to 800 monkeys. James jumped on monkeys.

For some reason - perhaps due to a lifetime of watching movies wherein monkeys appear as mischievous but lovable sidekicks - I forgot that monkeys are foul, diseased, vile creatures. I remembered shortly after arrival at the home of Taiwan's largest tribe of macaque monkeys.

We'd only been there five minutes when one monkey, perched on a handrail, stuck his paw out and touched the middle of my back. I whirled around to see him bearing his teeth with his palm up - kind of like a really aggressive bum might.

Feeding is "forbidden." But that doesn't mean you can't buy bags of food meant for monkey consumption just outside the park. The monkeys are used to being fed, and thus are not afraid to ask for it. The irony was not lost on me when I saw a sour-faced old man trying to beat one monkey away with a big stick in one hand, as he tossed a piece of fruit with the other hand to another monkey farther away.

They were so bold and scary, I implored James to stick with the group. I kept us tagging close behind whatever group of people seemed to be wielding the most ski poles. Alas, we did not bring any sticks for our own protection.

The monkeys seemed to take particular interest in me. One came up and poked my ankle, prompting me to hurl expletives at it. This only made the monkey gnash its yellow fangs and suddenly there were three monkeys touching my ankles with their nasty little hands. I started to freak out a bit. As I wondered if I might have to curb stomp some Rhesus Macaque just to get my point across, James did what he does best in my moments of peril: He pretended not to know me.

From Kaohsiung

When the danger passed (and all witnesses were out of earshot) he turned and said, "It doesn't help if you yell at them, that only provokes them." Thanks DoLittle, information that would've been useful 5 minutes ago.

Somehow I avoided acquiring the rabies, and we left to watch the sunset at the old British consulate, which overlooks Taiwan's largest port. The next day we were up bright and early, bound for Kenting!

To be continued...

Home Again, Home Again

Love River, cactus ice cream, pig foot, fireworks, hidden beaches, hyper-aggressive monkeys and a whole heap of temples.

We're back from four days down south. It's cold and rainy here in Nankan. Today I had a post-vacation headache and some serious laptop issues. Tomorrow the recounting of adventures resumes.

Sunday, January 25, 2009

We Goin' to Kaohsiung!

It's 10:30 p.m. in five hours James and I will awake, maybe brush our teeth, and stumble down to the bus stop where buses leave for the South every half hour 24-hours-a-day. It'll probably take upwards of five hours to get there. By leaving so early, we'll have almost a full day when we get there, we figured.

We have no firm plans and no reservations. And it's Chinese New Year - one of the busiest travel times of the year. Foolish? Maybe.

But we haven't been out of the greater Taipei area for more than a month now. It's time to go.

I probably wont be posting for four or five days.

Oh yeah, and Happy New Year!

Saturday, January 24, 2009

Our House

Some of the folks back home have been asking about the digs over here. Finally, we made a video so you can see it. We spent several hours on it. Or rather, for several hours I ate Pringles and prodded James to add more special effects with his editing software. Hope you enjoy.

Friday, January 23, 2009

Spend $200M on grass seed? Yes we can.

There's a good post on my favorite political blog about the stimulus bill the House put together. Whatever your political beliefs, everyone should at least be aware of what's being proposed for $825 billion to supposedly end the recession.

Personally, I can't get behind $6 billion in corporate welfare and $200 million for National Mall repairs (including planting grass) as a means to improve the economy.

Right now I'm reading Thomas Sowell's Basic Economics: A Citizen's Guide to the Economy. Sowell does a great job of explaining how and why economies operate most efficiently when individuals, not governments, decide how money is spent.

At this rate, why not consider the Larry Flynt economic recovery plan? I saw Flynt once - or the back of his head anyways. Two security guards were wheeling him into the j-school on the USC campus. I knew it was him because there was a black Bentley, license plate HUSTLR, parked outside. Once a semester he gives a lecture on censorship to a communication class. Four years living in Los Angeles, that was probably my second most exciting celebrity sighting. Number one being when I got to see George Lucas at a campus screening of THX-1138.

Science fiction & Porn - I digress: Email your congressman, say no to corporate bailouts and pork!

'Tis the Season (again): Chinese New Year

Picture of a lantern display hanging in Taimall, my local mega-shopping atrocity/complex.

New Year Decorations
The Christmas trees came down shortly after Jan. 1 and now there are red lanterns, strings of firecrackers, and all matter of ox-themed decorations about town (if you haven't been keeping track, we're coming into the year of the ox). Department store caroling soundtracks were replaced with something I identify only as upbeat Chinese music that's heavy on the gong. It all sounds the same, but I like it.

I also like that, for the first time since October, I have an entire week off! I don't work very many hours as it is, but i do spend more than 15 hours a week commuting, and I'm tired. We don't have firm plans, but James and I are hoping to get about the island some with our time off.

I just finished my last class of the week so the holiday starts now, yeehaw! James wont be home until late. I intend to spend the remainder of the afternoon eating leftover Thai food and watching a movie that's not part of the Criterion Collection.

James: Gee, you know I really don't have very many fun movies.

Me: Yeah. I know.

Thursday, January 22, 2009

A Bad Day to be Dutch

And a terrible day for free speech.

Dutch lawmaker Geert Wilders will be prosecuted for making anti-Islam comments, the Dutch Court of appeal decided.

I'd like to think of freedom of speech as a right bestowed on all of western society. Europe is supposed to be the place where Americans got all their nifty ideas for our hallowed documents.

What happened to the spirit of Voltaire and "I disapprove of what you say, but I will defend to the death your right to say it."

Netherlands: wtf?

Wednesday, January 21, 2009

Fun with Fat Kids

In America, making fun of a fat person is not okay (or not to their face, at least). Americans don't make fun of fat kids because we're afraid we'll hurt their feelings.

But here, kidding the fat kid (or fat adult) is seen as a good time for young and old alike. It's not done in meanness, Chinese people just think fat is hilarious. Every fat kid in each of my six classes has been called out at one time or another for his paunch.

And when I say fat kid, I don't mean neckless and obese like you see some (too many) unfortunate children in the U.S. My fat kids are all just stout little boys who will probably become strapping young men once they're through the puberty business. They're boys who probably wouldn't reach the bar for fat kid in America. But that doesn't stop their peers and their teachers from laughing at them.

"Aaron is so big. He like to eat too much," cackled a Chinese teacher at my pre-school. She puffed out her cheeks to demonstrate. She was standing over Aaron at the table where the students were having lunch as she showed me.

"BORIS IS VERY FAT! WILSON VERY FAT!" a 15-year-old girl in one cram school class announced, giggling, in class one day.

"Hee hee, Gregory is so fat." Judy said to me this week.
Judy is a very sweet 10-year-old. Gregory is 7. Judy mothers the younger students at the school, I've never seen her do anything mean to anyone.
Judy rubbed Gregory's tummy and said something in Chinese.
What did you say? I asked.
"I told him he cannot have baby because he is not girl."

What surprises me as much as the jokes are the fat kids' reactions. I've never seen anyone upset. Mostly they smile, some pat their tummys, some look pleased to be noticed for something. It's not a big deal. Still, I am always at a loss for what to do. My American ways are too ingrained for me to laugh along. A couple times I've said, "nu-uh! He is not fat!" because, for serious, the kid really isn't fat, he just isn't skinny either. Or I say, "Hey be nice!" for lack of better words.

But I don't think that's the right approach: If the kid doesn't think so already, I don't want to be the one to make him feel like there's something wrong with his size.

Now mostly I half smile and lead off with, "Okay! As I was saying about gerunds..."

There is an upside to all this: Like many women who look at Vogue or InStyle from time to time, I operate under the sneaky suspicion that, despite my healthy B.M.I., I am really a lard ass who is no less than 20 pounds overweight.

I've been in Taiwan four months and no one has called me fat. This is the greatest reassurance I have ever received that I'm not actually overweight. The fact that no one has giggled while marveling at my stomach does more for me than all the countless times my mom has scoffed, rolled her eyes, and walked away as I whimper in front of a mirror. Thanks, Taiwan.

Tuesday, January 20, 2009


On Sunday James and I went and watched Red Cliff II. I can't understand why they aren't showing this two-part John Woo epic in America. It has everything - amazing sets and costumes, crazy battle scenes, a good storyline, and jokes that survive subtitles.

We had a fabulous trip to the movie theater, much more successful than last time: That was on New Year's Day. We went to see Changeling and I got to be the crazy white girl who ran out of the theater crying. I don't know what I was expecting from a missing child movie. But I wasn't prepared for little boys being dismembered in a chicken coop.

From now on I'm following my father's rule, which is no missing child movies - unless of course said missing child movie involves Bruce Willis dodging a fighter pilot who is blowing up a big rig on a freeway ramp. That is an acceptable missing child film.

"Can we watch something happy at home?" I sniffed as we walked back to the apartment, thinking we'd pop in Talladega Nights or The Jerk.

"How about Slumdog Millionaire?" James asked upon arrival.

"Is that happy?" I was wary.

"Fox Searchlight says it's the feel good movie of the year!"

"mm. ok."

While I mostly enjoyed Slumdog, my idea of "feel good" doesn't usually involve Indian waifs being blinded with acid by gangsters so they'll make better beggars.

James is well intentioned, bless his heart, but sometimes he just doesn't get it.

Anyway, if you're reading this from my homeland, rent Red Cliff when it comes out on video and watch it on a really big screen! And if you don't have a really big screen, take it to a friend's house. So worth it!

Sunday, January 18, 2009

Sad Souvenirs

During my 10-year-old class, one of the vocabulary words in the reader was "souvenir."

Who knows what a souvenir is? I asked. They shook their heads.

"It's a special gift that you get from some place that is not your home. So we cannot get souvenirs from Nankan because we live in Nankan, right?"

They nod.

"Has anyone ever gotten a souvenir?"

Two hands shoot up. I call on Judy first.


"A wii-

"Yes because my daddy work in Shanghai, and he bring it to me from China."

The boy to her left looks eager to share as well.

"John, what did you get?"



"My daddy work in China too. And he give to me."

For a second I thought about explaining a souvenir is usually unique to the place it comes from, but immediately panned the idea. Too complicated. Plus, John and Judy seemed awfully proud of their "souvenirs."

When I started working my boss mentioned they had problems keeping students: The economy isn't good, she said, and a lot of the fathers found work in China. Some moved their whole families, my boss feared more would follow.

I know kids everywhere have dads who are far away for work. But there was just something sad about these two kids sitting next to eachother in my class raving about their video game consoles sent home by fathers they only see occasionally.

I feel bad for Judy especially. A couple weeks ago I started asking her if she was excited for her dad to come home for Chinese New Year. Yes, she was, she said. She knew what date and time he would arrive. Then last week she told me her mommy said maybe her dad can't make it. Missing New Year is like missing Christmas in America. Now I feel bad for even asking. She was clearly upset with the news.

Neither of Judy's parents made it to our Christmas show, both were working. Awhile back I asked the kids what their favorite thing to do was. Watch TV, play computer games, play video games were the obvious answers. But Judy told me "wash the vegetables."

Your favorite thing is to wash vegetables, really? I asked.

Yes. Because when my mommy come home from work she is tired. And my brother and I have to help her wash.

Judy is lonely. I can tell. And I really wish I could take her to a movie, and paint her toe nails and be her big sister. But I can't.

That's the thing about being a teacher I'm learning: It's so gratifying to see a kid grasp a concept and build on their knowledge under my watch. But it's a little heartbreaking to know something isn't quite right and there's nothing I can do about it. I don't like that.

Saturday, January 17, 2009

Tough Question

During break a few of the girls in my 12-year-old class pressed me with this question. I'm not sure if they thought I was young and cool enough to give them a straight answer, or if they really were completely clueless. Bella was the spokeswoman for the group:

Bella: Teacher, what is slee wit yo modda?

Me: What? Sleep with your mother?

Bella: Uh-huh.

Me: Sleep with your mother? Like...sleep, s-l-e-e-p?

I wrote the letters on the whiteboard as I said them.

Bella: Yes.

Me: Oh. Um...

I took the whiteboard marker and drew a bed. On one side of the bed I drew a woman. And on the opposite side of the bed I drew another figure. They were both smiling. There was nothing improper or untoward about the scene.

Me: There! It just means you go to sleep with your mother.

Bella: Oh...

Friday, January 16, 2009

Letters to Leslie

I made my 12-year-old class write me letters using the new vocabulary they learned. Results were as follows (vocabulary words are underlined, spelling errors intact):

Dear Leslie,

We take turns to talk to the Chinese and you are angry. I'm sorry for you. I will fill up my apologize in a box for you.

That one was from Teresa. She's known to burp loudly in class and then give me a satisfied smile. She prefers that I call her "E.T." (like the movie). The other kids are always telling me what a brain she is. She's a fun kid. Her letter references the fact that two or three times per class I bark "NO CHINESE!" which makes them giggle.

Dear Leslie,

According to the teacher I can sleep. Can the kids take turns sleep? I fill up I bag with the book I am sleep in the class. Don't talk to me. I will sleep, when you take thie letter.

That's from the one boy in the class. Every class I have to threaten to take away his chair if he can't sit up with his eyes open. Not that I don't feel bad for him: The class is 4:30 to 6:30 on a Friday and he's been in school all day and all week.

Bless you fill up wallet with blenty of money.

An excerpt from Bella's letter. I'll accept that blessing.

Dear Leslie,

According to you said, where are you from, I know you live in America. We learn to take turns to play game. You fill up more happy. You wear yellow clothes in class.

From Annie. And it's true, I really like yellow.

Dear Leslien,

According to your letter say. You have runny nose. We go to look you, I friends and classment take turns to bring fruit and food and bring fill up the wather. but we go to you home in uniforms.

That's Michelle. She wont speak English in class unless I force her to.

Betty's letter included this lovely anime drawing of me.

I'd say it's a fairly accurate depiction, except I don't think I have a klingon forehead. And for the record, my boots are flat-soled and I didn't wear fishnets to class, I wore black tights.

Thursday, January 15, 2009

Leisure Activities

This week's English chapter for the 4-year-olds was Leisure Activities: reading, drawing, fishing, hiking, playing computer games, etc.

I asked each of them what they like to do for fun. The answers were predictable - watch TV, play with toys. But when I asked what their daddies like to do it got interesting.

Roy: My daddy like to use a bathroom.

Me: For fun?

Roy: Yes.

Me: Are you sure?

Roy: Yes, he like to use a bathroom.

Roy was smiling and insistent. I decided I knew enough and moved on to Ivan.

Ivan: My daddy likes to drink a water. It comes in a circle, I cannot drink.

Ivan smiled mischievously, like he was saying something naughty.

Me: Your daddy likes to drink water? Okay. that's good.

Ivan: Yes, but I cannot drink. He can drink, you can drink peejioe.

Ah-ha! Peejioe, another one of those useful Chinese words I have actually learned.

Me: Oh! In English we say beer. Your daddy likes to drink beer.

Ivan: My daddy like to drink beer.

After this revelation, it was time to move on to mommys. The mommys had an easier go of it. According to their sons, the mommys liked to read, watch TV, and play with their kids.

Roy: Teacher Leslie, you mommy like to what?

Me: My mommy likes to paint pictures.

Roy: You mommy?

Me: No. No no no. I am not a mommy. But I have a mommy. And my mommy likes to paint pictures.

Roy: Oh ... You have a boy or girl?

After that, no matter how carefully I said it, Roy remained convinced I am a mommy. He probably thinks I'm withholding some strange and interesting little white playmate from him.

Tuesday, January 13, 2009

Incidental Brutalism

Building in Beitou

This building reminds me both of a canister of film and of the type of building we'll probably all live in during the post-apocalyptic era.

Terrible and strange, no?

Being in Taiwan makes me appreciate American building codes (height limits especially). Here, even "small fishing villages" are crammed with high-rises. In Taiwan's defense, there's 23 million people and not an overabundance of space. But being surrounded by gigantic towers of dirty concrete does tire the eye after awhile.

Monday, January 12, 2009

Lost in Translation: Laundromat

Everywhere I go in Taiwan, I see stilted English. Awkward menu items, obtuse signage - but nothing beats my laundromat. Clearly the owners didn't want to trouble anyone who'd even had basic English lessons with a little proofreading. The best I can figure is they plastered their walls with English words translated through an online program, no humans necessary.

Ever wondered what the family of a high-ranking military officer has to do with baking clothes? Look no further:
James' rough translation of the Chinese: "Pull door hard to open."
Garbage Sort
For recycling your pot bottle.
Only omnivorousness will save the planet

Friday, January 9, 2009

Ivan the Budding Xenophobe

I can't lie, I have a few favorites, and 4-year-old Ivan is one of them. But on Friday he dashed any illusions I might have had that I am his favorite too:

During class, Ivan turned to one of the other students and said: "I don't like meiguoren."

Now, the truth is he probably didn't know how to say Americans in English. But the mischievous grin on his face told me he also thought I wouldn't understand him.

Me: WHAT?! How come? Why don't you like Americans? Why don't you like meiguoren?

Ivan: I don't like. I only like Taiwanese people.

Me: Why?

Ivan: Because Taiwan people is so cool.

Me: How come you don't like Americans?

Ivan: I don't like speak English.

Me: No?

Ivan: I only like speak Chinese.

Me: But WHY don't you like Americans?

Ivan: Because Americans is ... Gang-Gang!

All the other students laughed when he said this. I didn't know what "gang-gang" is, but thankfully one of the Chinese teachers walked in.

Me: Teacher, what is gang-gang? Ivan said he doesn't like Americans, that Americans are gang-gang

Teacher: Oh it's just a word they like, it was in a move last year, some movie you know at the museum one night-

Me: Night at the Museum?

Teacher: Yes, that one! Someone said gang-gang in the movie. And now they just like to say it.

When she said "gang-gang" my students burst into gales of laughter and "gang-gang"s. From the way they said it - and from what I remember of the movie - I deduced that the "gang-gang"er was the Easter Island head that harasses Ben Stiller throughout.

And that's what Ivan thinks of me and my countrymen.

Have it noted, this is the same kid who grabbed a lock of my hair a month ago and asked, "Teacher, why so ugly?" Of course, I did the sensible thing, grabbed some of his bangs and replied, "No, no, why so ugly?"

Making up for New Year's

I have to work tomorrow - only a couple hours - but I don't usually work Saturdays. And I'm not the only one being pressed into this unusual six-day work week: All the kids will be in school, and most businesses (from what I'm told) will be having their employees come in too.

Why? Because New Year's Day and the day after were national holidays (Thursday and Friday, in case you forgot already). Taiwanese government doesn't hand out four-day weekends willy-nilly. This Saturday and next Saturday are government-mandated regular work days imposed to compensate for the lost Thursday and Friday.

What's the point of a four-day holiday when you have two consecutive six-day work weeks to look forward to?

Wednesday, January 7, 2009

They're baaaaaaack!

Rock of Love, season 3! The boobs are bigger, and the girls are dumber. Who knew season 2 could be outdone. And thanks to, I get to watch it all.

If you don't know - Rock of Love is a reality show where lots of vile, nasty women get drunk, choke each other and vie for the heart of Bret Michaels, lead singer of 80's glam rock band, Poison. Basically, this is Bret's swan song.

I believe we're entering the golden age of reality television: First there was MTV's Real World, which was really boring, people sat in a house, talked out their problems - yawn. But look how far we've come - reality shows are now so divested from reality that the same long-haired, eye-liner wearing bachelor can attempt to find his true love amidst a pack of interchangeable floozies time after time after time.

Rumor has it this is the final season. But I don't buy it. I think we'll be watching Bret search for his leading lady longer than people were watching Gunsmoke or Ozzie and Harriet.

Tuesday, January 6, 2009

Breakfast of Champions

I thought I knew something about Chinese food before I moved here: I'd done Dim Sum, been to Chinese New Year dinners, and James occasionally made me congee.

Of course, I only had to be in Taiwan a matter of days to realize I barely scratched the surface in the States.

I never had a green onion pancake before moving here - an oily flatbread made with minced green onions, and sometimes fried with an egg. They're available at most breakfast shops for about $30NT ($1 U.S.). Now I eat them at least once a week.

I would go buy one right now except the breakfast place downstairs is already closed for the day.

Saturday, January 3, 2009

Leslie Eats Where She Craps

This weekend I ate Sichuan-style hot pot out of a ceramic toilet bowl.
More Pictures: Modern Toilet, the restaurant

It went down at Modern Toilet, a restaurant franchise with a bathroom theme. To eat or to pee? Its website proclaims. And no, none of the patrons looked older than 32.

James and I dined with Panda and B, whom we'd never met. Panda and I became familiar through our blogs (read her telling of it here). She and her husband live outside Taipei, but were traveling to the big city for the day, so we decided to get together.

"I'm sure they'll be nice! They're from the Midwest!" I reassured James on our way to meet them.

On the other hand, I'd watched plenty To Catch a Predator. And I knew if these people offered lemonade and candy to lure us down some dark alley - Chris Hansen would not be able to save us.

But our new friends didn't disappoint (they even sounded like they were from the Midwest!). James and I haven't met many people and we've met only a few Americans. So it was refreshing to sit down with a couple who understood the importance of college football and giant margaritas at the favored Mexican joint. I can't take that kind of common ground for granted here.

As for Modern Toilet, well, that's best explained in pictures:
We paid twice the price for bland food. S'ok. We were there for the atmosphere.
Taking a sip from my commemorative urinal, mine for $30NT ($1 U.S.)!
New Friends
Shaved ice came on a dish shaped like the squat toilets I use in the subway.
I left my signature in the sink basin below the glass table top.

Girl throwing up gang signs at the end of the table? We don't know her.

During dinner we talked about the strange habit some people have here of asking to take pictures with us white folks. There are too many of us around to be very novel, especially in Taipei. And what does one do with such a picture? Stick it in the family album: "And look, there were some honkeys we saw there too..." Maybe it's a national inside joke. I really don't know.

Anyway, B was telling us how odd it was the other day when a stranger plopped her toddler on his lap and whipped out a camera when the girls at the table beside us asked to take pictures with them. So I asked them to take one on my camera too - proof I am so fabulous strangers want my picture.

Thursday, January 1, 2009

Deaf Chihuahua and Dancing Queen

The year 2008 ended in a dive in Nankan (if someone would've told me that 12 months ago...). I didn't want to brave the madhouse in downtown Taipei. So instead watched Taipei 101, the world's tallest building, explode into a column of fireworks on a projector screen in a narrow, smoky bar up the street from my apartment.

I rang in 2009 holding a Heineken in one hand and a deaf chihuahua wearing a pink tracksuit in the other. I guess he was the bar dog, but he looked like the father time canine incarnate. Old and frail, he smelled like cologne and cigarettes, not dog.

After midnight, I began the new year right by winning a popularity contest - a lifetime first for me.

The Radiohead cover band that played before midnight packed off its gear and the dance contest began. Asian girls, like white girls, are bad dancers. So I was completely in my element. And I managed not to blacken anyone's eye with a rogue elbow. After one Flo Rida and some DMX, I got the loudest claps.

"Yay! Dancing Queen, Dancing Queen! You are dancing queen!" The bartender handed me my prize, a bottle of peach wine cooler. Then the host announced Dancing King, and the guy's friends - unsuccessfully - attempted to depants him. The two of us danced a victory number together.

Some guy at the bar, who introduced himself as "Willy," shook my hand half a dozen times.

A beefy gentleman wearing a wifebeater handed me a shirley temple and managed to talk the bottle out of my hands (who drinks that stuff anyways?).

Several minutes later he brought it back.

"My brother say you dancing queen! This only for you!"

At 2 a.m., James and I trundled home and fell into bed. I got up the next morning and called my family. Reactions were as follows:

Me: "I won a dance contest!"
Dad: "Wow, sweetie! That's great!"

Me: "I won a dance contest!"
Mom: "Really."
Me: "That would've never happened in the U.S."
Mom: "Noooooo. No it wouldn't have."

Me: "I won a dance contest!"
Brother: "REALLY? Were there just Chinese guys or guys like you there too?"
Me: "Umm, just Chinese guys."
Brother: "Oh you probably won because you're not Chinese."
Me: "WHAT?"
Brother: "They're probably trying to be nice because you're new and you're not Chinese and you're a teacher and stuff."

Clearly, my father loves me best. But my brother takes home the prize for brutal honesty.

A Really Cool New Year's Greeting from My Brothers

They also do a great version of "I saw the light."