Day 8 pm

I know I said I’d NEVER ride a scooter in Taipei but I lied! After work tonight, one of my kind co-workers took me (on his scooter) to see an apartment (my first one here!) – and I lived to tell about it! There is a definite etiquette to driving a scooter, especially when one wants to turn or cross a street! Suffice it to say, my “driver” handled his scooter beautifully and we arrived safely at our destination. The apartment manager proudly told us that there are two entrances to the building and we could see that a lot of care had been taken in keeping the place clean. There are two partially furnished apartments in tonight’s offering: one on the more desireable second floor (called 2F) and one on the less desireable 4F. This is because there is no elevator in the building so imagine having to cart your shopping up the stairs daily and the trash down. By the way, apparently, if your landlord doesn’t include trash handling in the rent, you must sort your trash before handing it off (literally) to the garbage collector!

I really liked both apartments (very new, clean lines, HUGE clothes closet) but could probably get a better price on the fourth floor one. I liked that one a bit better anyway because it looked out onto a street strung with – you guessed it – Chinese lanterns! So beautiful in yellow and red! And, it’s closer to the top floor which houses the two (count ’em, two) washing machines and laundry drying veranda (clothes dryers are somewhat scarce here). Having someone who speaks fluent Chinese along to communicate with potential landlords is a MUST! I have several other places (within walking distance of work) to look at this weekend.

Oh I forgot to tell you: when you purchase something from most store here, the receipt you get also acts as a LOTTERY ticket! Every so often (not quite sure when), a winning number is posted. The idea is that you check some number printed on your receipts to see if you’re a winner. I already feel like one, having landed on this friendly island!

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Day 7 pm

The apartment hunt is ON! The goal is to set up appointments with landlords who will rent to foreigners and take someone with me to check them out, and negotiate a lease. I’ll keep you posted on my progress!

I found out that I can use Skype for making phone calls to the US. For a small fee (6.99 USD) I can use Skype VOIP to make actual phone calls. (No clue though if I have a “phone number” for return calls….ah, the learning curve continues.)

I read about a fancy Taiwanese restaurant in the Air China magazine and wanted to try it out. A foodie co-worker cautioned me about eating alone at nicer establishments. He said local families eat in groups (that makes sense) and order many dishes to share, plus many of them order drinks.   You know me, I’m just ornery enough to try it anyway. I figure my money is as good as theirs and what I lack in volume ordering I’ll make up in sheer charm and “tall, white foreigner” interest points. In all fairness, I did have the hotel staff try to make a reservation at my aforementioned co-worker’s recommended sushi restaurant but the chef was going to be out of town. Back to Plan A. Hah!

One of my co-workers invited me to go a boxing class with her after work. How hard can that be, I thought? I’m in decent shape and it’s a beginners class. Think again! It’s just a bit intimidating to realize your teacher has zero percent body fat, which enables her to move so quickly on her feet. It was a lot of fun despite be TOUGH physically and I made it through the entire class. I’ll see how I feel tomorrow.

Day 7 am

Ah, apartment hunting in Taipei! In addition to absorbing a new culture, language, and workplace, I’m about to begin the search for a place to live here. I checked out Craigslist Taiwan prior to arrival but it seems their ads cater to “foreigners”, with correspondingly higher prices! I checked out (or attempted to) a website recommended by the locals; the choices are so overwhelming it’s daunting! What should I look for? What do I read into the (translated) wording of the ad? One of my co-workers (fluent in Chinese) has been reviewing ads and sending me those that fit my criteria (walking distance to work, under NT 20,000.) Another has offered to call potential landlords to verify that they do indeed rent to foreigners and to schedule a viewing. Good advice for what to look for abounds! I think my first appointment is tomorrow evening; I’ll let you know how that goes….

Yesterday at breakfast, there was an unfamiliar item on the fresh fruit table. It looked a little like a melon (green rind, pale greenish flesh) so I tried it – OMG, delicious! I asked it’s name: baa-luh (phonetically). I must look for that at night market (when I go!). On my way home from work, I passed a vendor selling cherries – lovely! When I stopped to look, he gave me a sample and said they were from WA state! I bought a small box NT99/unit of measure (NT 500 total = yikes, 16.00 USD ) and he gave me a “discount”. I probably should have bargained but it was worth it for a taste of home! Speaking of taste, tonight I’ll share with you what I’m learning about the restaurant/lone diner experience.

Day 5 pm

I knew I was in trouble when the taxi driver pulled out a MAGNIFYING GLASS in order to read the 1/2″ high characters indicating the address of the Taipei Zhongshan Hall, where tonight’s screening of “Three Sparrows” was to be shown. He tried to drop me off at the police station (across from the Hall) but eventually asked some passers by where the venue was! (I’m sure the local constabulary would also have been happy to direct me but, best not to chance it!) After opening remarks from the film’s writer/director/producer (in Chinese) and annoying technical difficulties (20 minutes of screeching feedback drowning out the soundtrack) the film played (in Aussie English, thank goodness, with Chinese subtitles). The theater is beautiful inside although I should have asked for a “bulkhead seat” in order to stretch my legs. Sorry, no pics; I wanted to enjoy the show. Afterwards we received free vouchers (I’m guessing to compensate for the late start and audio issues). Taipei at night is quiet colorful: lights, signs, high rises next to ancient temples. And the traffic! Mark my words, NOTHING would induce me to take a chance on a riding a scooter , especially at night!

Day 4 am

Has it only been four days since landing on this island?!

Dinner last night. After having been diligent about trying new country’s foods (minus the carbs) I had a craving for PIZZA! I checked online and found that yes, there is indeed a Pizza Hut (several) in Taipei. I checked out their menu: http://www1.pizzahut.com.tw/English/news/sidedish.asp and selected a Vegi Delight pizza (w/o the BBQ sauce) along with a Stick Salad and Egg Tart – all for around 12.00! (Darn it, they didn’t have the Stick Salad, but the pizza and egg tart were delish!) I guess no matter how adventurous one is, if familiar (food) items are available, they are an attractive alternative to local delicacies.

Taipei Pizza Hut

Several of my co-workers gave me their phone number and encouraged me to call so my adventure for today is using the phone (hey, that isn’t always as straightforward as it may sound!).  Oh, and I’m gonna see what the scoop is on doing laundry locally (rather than paying the Hotel to do it for me).

Road Names and Wrapping Paper

A few observations:

Each and every road here seems to have many different spellings.

For instance, Tun Hwa Rd. could also be Tunhua Rd., Dun Hua Rd., or even Dunhua Rd., making it challenging to Google map directions!

Also, vendors seem to take a lot of care when wrapping purchases. A simple paperback book I bought was placed into a lovely high-quality paper bag, folded over at the top and taped shut. The chocolates were presented in a golden bag, sealed shut with an engraved sticker, and then placed into an even fancier bag with handles. The flowers were carefully arranged, taped together, wrapped in paper and then in cello so that water could be added. Such attention to detail!

Day 3 pm

After breakfast and a nice long nap (still getting adjusted to the time zone difference) I decide to venture out, despite the weather. The hotel staff surprise me by saying it’s an easy walk to Taipei 101 when I ask them about it. (Usually they recommend a taxi for everything!) I take my camera and dress in layers, which I realize was a mistake the minute I step outside – it’s so humid. I am gonna love it here!

Approaching Taipei 101 from Xinyi Rd.

Along the street people are walking, riding bikes, scooters. Cars and taxis dart across streets, barely missing pedestrians. It’s a wonderful cacophony of sights, sounds, and smells. 40 minutes later I’m going up the escalator to the Observatory but it’s closed until the end of the month. Guess I’ll have to console myself with shopping the mall (5 floors of super high-end stores, many I recognize).

Taipei mall

I head straight to Godiva where 2 truffles set me back 8.00 USD! They wrapped them up so beautifully I suppose it’s worth it. I find the food court – wow! NOTHING like back home. I almost succombed to McDonalds, just to get a happy meal toy! The choices are pretty wide-ranging: sushi, hotpot, all sorts of stuff I had no idea what it was because the menus are all in Chinese; I ended up getting some fresh veggie juice (2.75 USD). I noticed an Aveda salon and made a mani-pedi appointment for next Saturday. I bought a book at the bookstore (20% off) which cost as much as the two chocolates; I’m still getting the hang of figuring out how to convert NT into USD to figure out the price. NOTE: must find a used book store! On the way back to the hotel, I stopped for coffee (1.50 USD) at 7-11. Each coffee cup has a “2-point” sticker on it; if you save enough of them, you get a lovely piece of Beatrix Potter china. I see a little flower stand and stop in. I ask if the vendor speaks English; no, she motions, so I pantomime what I’d like.  Two pink roses, two ivory chyrsanthemums, some greens, all wrapped up for less than 6.00 USD. Now I need to figure out what to do for dinner…

Day 3 early am

I’m awakened by the sound of heavy rain pounding the hotel window. Weather reports say a typhoon is supposed to hit parts of the island. Taipei 101 is shrouded, barely visible, except for blinking (emergency?) lights on several of the top floors. The sound of rain is soothing and I feel safe, eight floors up. Below me in the street, trees are swaying wildly. Hot chocolate would be good right about now. I wonder how long the storm will continue? I had wanted to go walking the neighborhood around the hotel this weekend. On my way home from work yesterday, I saw several restaurants that looked promising, along with a hair and nail salon. The Taipei Film Festival (www.taipeiff.org.tw) started yesterday;  I asked around to find out if any of the films would be subtitled in English but no one is sure. I hear loud voices and laughter in the hallway. Maybe the bars close here at 2am too…

Day 2 am

It’s 3 am and I’m wide awake. I was having a strange dream and woke up. The room is quiet, no traffic noise from the street below my window. I made some tea and had a protein bar, thinking that might help me get back to sleep but no. I’m awake. I read a bit (The Little Princes, about an orphanage in Nepal) and then look out the window. It is light outside, Taipei 101 looks closer now. Low, gray clouds hang over the skyline. Yesterday we heard that there might be a typhoon headed our way but for now, all is calm. After breakfast, I will ask the front desk to map a walking route to work and call that my workout. Maybe I’ll try to sleep some more, until my 0600 wake up call…

Clouds over downtown Taipei

Day 1 pm

Taipei 101 from my hotel room

No jet lag….yet! My taxi driver dropped me off several blocks from my building but no matter, it was a beautiful day in Taipei: a slight breeze offsetting the rising heat and humidity. My head is spinning with all the new input I received today. I met many of my new team members and began the on-boarding process, complete with gifts!  What a happy change from a previous job incarnation! At lunchtime, my new boss took me to a great little restaurant and ordered for me. I had a cabbage salad, another consisting of lettuce, tomatoes, asparagus, and cucumber, and “hot pot” – tofu, assorted veggies, and rice noodles swimming in a bubbling broth – yum! The green tea was delish, as was the tea served with lime (!) at the end of the meal. Maybe I was just HUNGRY but everything tasted fresh. After lunch, I had to have photos made (for the national insurance and ARC cards). The shop must have Photoshopped the pics because they look good! lol Midafternoon break consisted of a quick trip to a local tea shop (I ordered passion fruit tea). Why does everything taste so good here??! More friendly co-workers introduced themselves. Got some great advice on looking for local housing: by translating a real estate site from Chinese-to-English (using Google’s free Chrome product) I can find better deals. I hit the wall about 1830 and made it back to the hotel just as it was getting dark. I was told that sunset is typically around the same time every day – good to know! I also learned that I can see Taipei 101 from my hotel window.

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As for me, I will take the road less travelled…