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.