Monday, June 29, 2009

Jessie Visits

My good friend and one-time college neighbor, Jessie, and her friend Alyssa visited last week. It was lots of fun hanging out with them, though it reminded me how much I miss the company of folks back home. I especially liked taking them to Din Tai Fung, Celestial Peking Duck Restaurant, and all the other little places where I love to eat.

On the subway with Alyssa and my langauge partner, Miona.

It's so much fun introducing friends to something you know is both awesome and unobtainable back home.

There visit was almost exactly a month after Lily's, and I can tell my Chinese has improved a lot just in that four-week period.

On their last night we made an obligatory Modern Toilet run. Thankfully, we'd eaten dinner ahead of time, because the food was just as bad, if not worse, than I remember.

I'm completely miserable when it comes to directions, so we got off at Ximen MRT station and darted around frantically for 10 minutes searching for the restaurant.

I got a little strung out because I knew it was nearing closing time. I stopped a couple times to ask people to point me in the right direction. (In Chinese: "Can you please tell me where this address is?")

Finally I ran up to a short old man with betel-nut teeth standing outside a storefront.

The following took place in Chinese:

Me: PLEASE! Do you know where this address is?

Him: Is it a store?

Me: No it's a restaurant. It's the toilet restaurant.

Him: Toilet?

Me: Yes.

Him: Oh yes, the alley in front of us. Turn right. You'll see the big toilet outside, and you'll know you're there.


We were there in under a minute. Only when we were taking our seats did I have time to wonder what this old man must have thought of a big, frantic, white girl desperately searching for the toilet restaurant.

Bah. He probably gets it all the time.

Jessie and Alyssa at Modern Toilet. They're blogging about their trip through Taiwan, Vietnam and Thailand, here.

Form and Function

Maybe they have these in the states now, but the first place I ever saw them was at the theater up the road here in Nankan.

Popcorn and a drink ... in one hand! What you're looking at is a vessel that holds the drink cup within, and then the popcorn is heaped around the drink - the zenith of modern design.

I especially like it because it's not too much coke and not too much popcorn.

More Teacher Lee Wisdom

Today Teacher Lee congratulated one of my classmates on the straightness of his wrinkles. Straight wrinkles mean you have an organized mind. Crooked wrinkles mean you're disorganized, your life is a mess.

Sunday, June 28, 2009


Last weekend my Chinese class went out to karaoke (we call it "KTV" here). We went to this really nice place in central Taipei (Party World, near Zhongxiao Dunhua Station) that had fancy couches and flatscreens.

For about half the group it was a first. But my Chinese teacher and her sister came, and they were old hat.

We drank tea, nibbled cookies and crackers, and sang our hearts out for FIVE HOURS. It was a blast.

By the pictures you can tell - I'm that special person you want (or don't want?) at karaoke because I make up for talent with enthusiasm.
Feelin' it in my heart, if not in the right key
The Mongolians try on a little Backstreet Boys
My wonderful classmates
Rumi, from Japan, was the karaoke queen. And that's not a yawn. That's air guitar.
My Chinese teacher (right) and her sister. They were really good and lively.

Squash the Little People

From karaoke

James bought these socks at the nightmarket. The two characters are "xiao ren," or literally: "little people."

Now he can tromp around all day smiting the meek.

Friday, June 26, 2009

The Wisdom of Teacher Lee

I'm taking 15 hours of Chinese class a week. Teacher Lee is one of my three teachers. Here are some of the more interesting morsels Teacher Lee has imparted.

1. Drinking anything cold is bad. Ever. It just shouldn't be done.

2. It's also bad to eat too much lychee, because lychee is a "hot" food, and if you eat too many you'll get a bloody nose.

3. Eating watermelon after 3 p.m. - also a bad idea.

4. If you be sure to be asleep between 10 p.m. and 2 a.m. every night - then you'll only need four hours of sleep. Teacher Lee only sleeps 5 on average.

5. That way you can get up very early and walk around Chiang Kai-Shek Memorial Hall hitting yourself in the arms, legs and torso. This prevents cancer and other maladies.

6. Night clubs - places where girls take off their clothes.

7. Karaoke joints - places where people smoke, drink, and throw up.

8. Chronic marijuana smokers will develop Parkinson's-like symptoms.

9. There are a lot of gay men in Beijing. But it's not their fault: Because of the one-child policy, these men grew up pampered princes, and this in turn made them gay.

If I didn't know anything about Chinese culture, I would think Teacher Lee was batshit. Since I do know a little something, I just think she's very traditional - and a tad eccentric.

And I can't dismiss all her Chinese mumbo jumbo: Today she read my palm and told me that while my health was fine my "QI" was "BU GOU!" I write in capitals because she spoke in capitals - it felt like a scolding. That is, my qi is not enough. I don't have enough energy, and if I exercised more, it would be a very good thing, she said.

She also pointed to a bluish spot below my thumb and said I have bad lungs: I had asthma as a kid, I've had pneumonia a few times, and whenever I get a cold I have to fight it with an inhaler so it doesn't become a bronchial infection. So yeah, my lungs are kind of lame.

Futher, I haven't been exercising, and recently I've been really tired. The gym in our building is hot, small and filled with outdated equipment and 1980's-style fitness posters. Plus it's only open select hours. And there isn't an athletic club in Nankan.

I've been mulling the lack of energy/lack of exercise correlation for some time. It's time I get it together and re-start a real gym schedule.

And for that realization, I have to thank Teacher Lee.

Monday, June 22, 2009

Number One

Ricky took first place today in the MLB Pitch Hit Run competition at Safeco Field, making him the number one Little League Minor (9- and 10-year-olds) in the Pacific Northwest Region.

I'm so proud of my baby brother. Woohoo!

Sunday, June 21, 2009

Fallen Princesses

Poking around on the Internets, I found a recent photography project called Fallen Princesses - where the photographer put Disney princesses into modern, not-so-happily-ever-after situations. There's an article about it here.

Some of the images are rather macabre, but I thought Cinderella was funny.

Friday, June 19, 2009

Who Signed Off on This?

In January it became illegal in Taiwan to smoke in most public places except bars. I don't like coming home smelling like someone else's habit, but I kind of like that Taiwan is still the kind of country where you get far enough outside Taipei and people still smoke wherever they want. The guy who ran our hotel in Penghu sat in the lobby smoking all day.

These kinds of billboards are everywhere, encouraging citizens to obey the new rules. But I have to ask exactly which group of citizens is the government trying to win over.

If a relatively- modestly-dressed dominatrix told you to quit lighting up ... would you? To me, she kind of looks like she secretly thinks smoking is pretty cool. If nothing else, she does grab your attention.

Thursday, June 18, 2009

Sleeping Beauty


7:30 a.m.: wake up

8:30 - 9:15 a.m.: Sleep on bus to Taipei

9:30 - 12:30: Chinese class

1 - 2 p.m.: sleep on bus back to Nankan

2:30 - 3:30p.m.: sleep in house

4 - 6 p.m.: go to work (still sleepy)

9 p.m.: go to bed. sleep for 10.5 hours

After all that sleep - I was still able to nap on the bus back to Nankan today. Truth be told, I hadn't slept well for a few nights - so I'm sure that contributed to yesterday's semi-hibernation.

Still, I'm rather amazed/appalled at my new-found ability to sit around, sleep, and do nothing on Saturdays (or in this case, on a Wednesday too). Today it was about 84 F (29 C) and humid, yesterday about the same. If it were 20-degrees colder I'd feel guilty and depressed. But in this weather it's just impossible to care.

Tuesday, June 16, 2009

Talkin' Movies

Awhile back James and I were introduced to a local movie producer through James' uncle. After we first met, we arranged a meeting with her because we thought we had some good ideas for an as-yet-unwritten movie her studio plans to make.

The meeting was in Ximending, which is like the Times Square of Taipei. I arrived thirty minutes early, so I found a bench and stared at all the movie billboards - and a six-story add for Coldstone's - while my stomach juices marinated.

James showed up, and shortly thereafter the producer. The first thing she mentioned was she'd just returned from something called "Khan."

Visions of Star Trek whirled through my head.

Thankfully, James caught on faster and asked if she had any favorite movies, what she'd seen, etc. etc. Then I realized they were talking about that one sorta kinda really important French film festival - the one I like to call "CANES."

We ate lunch in a Japanese pork chop shop, and after some small talk James and I launched into our pitch. After which the producer gently told us the movie had been shelved for the moment and certain decisions about location had already been made that rendered our pitch unfeasible. Uhhhhhh.

Then she asked if we wanted to get coffee.

"Do you want to go to Starbucks or I know this older place?" she asked.

We picked the older place. When the coffee arrived, the producer told us that this was the shop all the directors used to hang out at back when there were more movie theaters in Ximending.

They'd come to the coffee shop to watch the lines form outside the theaters - a sort of early indicator how there movie was going to fare, she said. Supposedly Ang Lee used to hang out there. As an added bonus, I drank the most delicious latte I've had in about 9 months. A lot of places you go here the coffee is all wrong.

But I digress: Next the producer told us about a couple projects her studio is currently working on. She said they're looking for writers to develop one of the ideas further and asked if we'd be interested in taking a crack at it.

So that's what we'll be working on for the next couple weeks. Of course, it's all very tenuous and intangible right now. Nevertheless I'm going to take it as license to toss around annoying terms like "development meeting" and "treatment," even if they only apply to activities taking place between James and I in our living room.

Move over Joe Eszterhas, here we come!

Monday, June 15, 2009

Death Wish

I got in a cab this afternoon to go to Taoyuan station to meet my language exchange buds.

About halfway through the ride - in rush hour - one of Taiwan's many, many oblivious motorcyclists cut in front of the taxi. I slammed my hand against the roof and almost crashed into the front seat. Taiwan has a terrible shortage of backseat belts, this cab was no exception.

As I climbed out of the car at the station, I looked up and saw my language partner's wife smiling down at me. She was leaned up against her scooter with an extra helmet in hand.

Out of the pot, into the fire were the first words that came to mind.

People in Taiwan don't drive differently. They drive badly. When faced with the prospect of being hurled over the handlebars of a pink, low-powered contraption of unknown origins - what you really want is a nice beefy driver. Someone in the 250-pound range who can take the blow for you. My friend? I could throw her over my shoulder and take a couple laps around the track without breaking a sweat.

Paula is little, but she's a fine driver (which is more than I can say for my boss). Most of the drive was down side streets and alleys. We made a stop at her mom's house to pick up a bottle of soy sauce. Sure, she got uncomfortably close to a bus a time or two, but hey, this is Taiwan.

Most importantly I was able to keep up a fairly steady stream of Chinese conversation the whole ride. And try to tell me that's not impressive: Staring death in the face over the top of your friend's yellow pikachu-themed helmet, wondering whether your own chinstrap is sufficiently tight, and concentrating on the upcoming hard right - all while discussing her trip to New York in Chinese.

Stupid ... or awesome? Awesome.

Saturday, June 13, 2009

Proud Big Sister

Ricky placed first among 9- and 10-year-olds for the State of Oregon in the MLB Pitch Hit Run contest. In a week he'll be on to the regional competition in Seattle at Safeco Field where the Mariners play.

Last year Billy placed first among 11- and 12-year-olds in Oregon, and then took first in Seattle where he competed (and soon Ricky will) against kids representing Alaska, British Columbia, Washington, Idaho, and (I think) parts of Montana and Wyoming.


Two Rickys: Big and Little

Friday, June 12, 2009

I Wrote to Les Moonves and You Can Too

If you haven't heard, recently David Letterman made fun of Sarah Palin's "slutty flight-attendant look" on the weekly top ten.

I just don't understand: Whenever someone in the media, publicly or privately, is found to have used an ethnic slur, there's uproar. But somehow it's okay to call a woman, who is a public figure, a slut.

If you, like MSNBC anchor Contessa Brewer, don't understand what's so bad about being called a slut - has a good article on the issue.

The National Organization for Women has set up a website where you can write to the head of CBS: Here.

Wednesday, June 10, 2009

Boys will be Boys will be Boys

Today I was reviewing word families with my 7-year-old beginning readers. One of our "ab" family words was "scab."

"Gregory, can you make a sentence using scab?"

"Today I eat a scab."

"Gregory do you remember what scab means, it's not crab..."

I go over and turn his arm over to point out a scab.

"YES! YES! YES! Today I eat a scab!"

Tomorrow James and I have a pitch meeting with a local movie producer. Ironic, my first such meeting will occur one year after I left L.A.

More on the details of that later (just like I AM going to get around to blogging about Tainan and Penghu). Cross your fingers for us! Until then, this song has been playing in my head all day.

Sunday, June 7, 2009


James and I were all a titter when walking through the antique ceramics exhibit at Anping - the place where the Dutch East India Company set up shop in Tainan way back in the 17th Century.

This was a sign posted over some of the vases, talking about their features and characteristics.

See, I only knew the second definition of this word.

It's hot for serious now. I had big plans to clean, plan lessons and study Chinese Saturday. But all I did was nap. I plan on beating the overpowering sense of languor and getting some more stuff about Tainan and Penghu up ... eventually. Yawn.

Friday, June 5, 2009

Misc. Temple Post

I'm busy. So here's the best temple pictures I took on my vacation. Some of them are in Tainan. Some of them are in Penghu. That's about all I can say on that.
Paper to burn.
From Tainan, Penghu
From Tainan, Penghu
This poor dog with PUKi shaved into its back was lapping up attention within the Confucius Temple in Tainan. So it still counts as a temple photo. Look on his left, and you can see the top of the heart that was shaved into his side.
It's a boy!
Confucius Temple
QUICK! It's golden hour, take my picture before I get ugly again!

Wednesday, June 3, 2009

Hip-hop culture ... Taiwan-style

In America, it's bling-bling.
In Africa (pronounced Eh-Free-Kah by Leo) it's Bling-Bang.

In Taiwan?

Yep, here it's "bring bring bring." This, I thought when I saw it, is a t-shirt I must have.
I found it at a night market in Tainan, where I also ate coffin bread. More on that later. Over the next few days I'm going to bit by bit post pictures from the trip.

Tuesday, June 2, 2009

Returned From My Travels

We ate, we toured, we played in the China Sea, and I fell in love with James' SLR (see above). More later.