Beitou and back

I got up early this morning to travel to Beitou (pronounced bay-tow) to look at some office furniture advertised in, hoping it would be a viable alternative to IKEA’s offerings. I walked 20 minutes to the bus stop and rode the 285 for 55 minutes, past the airport, the guy burning “money” in a kettle on the side of the road, the baseball park with its super-sized bat and ball sculptures, and an ENORMOUS Temple sitting on a hillside, to the northern edge of Taipei. Beitou is known for its hot springs smelling of sulpher much like Bumpus Hell in Lassen National Park in northern California and Glen Ivy hot springs in Corona. (That odiferous fun will have to wait for another weekend as will the Folk Art Museum.) NOTE: Look for a funny photo of something I saw on Shipai Road, to be posted shortly. Here it is; check out this guy back his backhoe out of a truck WITHOUT a ramp!

I was waiting for the truck to tip over!

I watched people waiting at the bus stops, getting on the bus and registering  that there was a non-asian sitting in a seat, sitting quietly (as the signs on the bus politely request), and then get off the bus to go on with their day  – they all seemed to be biding their time. An hour into my bumpy trip up north I got to thinking: the locals are so creative and resilient. I wonder what they could accomplish if so much of their time wasn’t spent on getting from one place to another, taking out the trash, and getting their clothes clean?! And then: perhaps there is something to be gained by focusing on the journey rather than the destination. Your thoughts?

Wellcome shopping extravaganza

Grocery shopping takes on a whole new meaning when you have a fridge the size of a single file drawer , very little storage space, and it’s hotter than Hades outside so walking any distance is not an option. It’s amazing, though, how much you can fit into one shopping bag and how much you can buy here for 370NT ( 12.00 USD)!

3 heads of romaine lettuce
3 Tomatoes
3 Cucumbers
6 lemons (that are probably limes)
Big slice of melon (won’t know what kind it is until I bite into it!)
6 brown eggs
4 cups of cherry non-fat yogurt
package of pineapple cookies
6 slices of wheat bread

Day 36 pm

I was walking a friend to the bus stop after returning from our furniture shopping trip (read: left work, walked down and across Tunhua to the bus stop, rode the 906 20 minutes to IKEA, loaded up a shopping cart with – what else? –  IKEA stuff, which was stuffed into a giant Costco bag, lugged up several flights of stairs to catch a cab home, and up five flights of stairs) and we took a short cut through the night market (read: a teeming mass of people buying, selling and moving VERY slowly through a quarter-mile long corridor of sights and sounds and smells) when we noticed many of the vendors covering their booths and pushing them (it was still prime selling time) quickly towards the street. It turns out, many of the vendors aren’t registered and the police were cracking down on them. Ouch!

Day 36 am

I’ve been in-country for a little more than a month, in the apartment for just over a week…seems like time is flying by! Every day I notice little aspects of Taiwanese life that amuse and intrigue me.

Yesterday on the way to work, I came upon a construction site. Instead of using people as “flaggers” they had a mannequin (complete with face and arms) doing it! (If I can figure out how to upload the pic I took with my new phone, I’ll add it here.) Here ya go:

Traffic Dummy

Today, walking along Dunhua, three armed men (guns are not legal here for the general population) in black uniforms with flak jackets and helmets on, carrying bags, ran to a waiting vehicle. Say what? Are they robbing the place? They had official-looking insignia on their uniforms. Or maybe they were EOD, having just foiled some sort of bomb threat, taking the offending explosive back to be dismantled. I mean, it’s really HUMID out. Who would wear dark clothing with added padding and then exert themselves in this heat ? Then I figured it out! They were monetary couriers (like Brinks guards) transporting cash to/from financial institutions (and there LOTS of those here)! Yikes! Remind me never to get in their way. (Sorry, it happened so quickly that I didn’t get a photo but I fear the consequences had I whipped out my cell phone to take one.)

Ah, just another exciting morning in Taipei. 🙂

My status: I’m legal!

My ARC was delivered today! (That means I’m a legal resident of Taiwan now, as long I have a job, that is!) I also received my business cards (one side in English and the other in Chinese). Woohoo!

A few thoughts on status…the word conjures up images of jewels, yachts, palatial homes, designer clothing. Oh, I’m sure there are those in Taiwan who can afford and enjoy shopping for those items (Taipei 101 mall is chock full of shops you’d find on Rodeo Dr.) but it seems that it’s the little things we don’t think about that define the “haves” and “have nots” here. And oddly it really doesn’t seem like a great divide. We are, after all, sharing the same limited real estate.

It’s strange how something that is taken for granted in one country is elevated to a status symbol in another. In Taiwan, most everyone lives in an apartment, renting a space smaller than a college dorm room! The apartments don’t have kitchens; you’re lucky to get a sink, one burner, and a mini-fridge. No  storage drawers, or microwave, no oven either – but they do have a dish dryer! I looked at some apartments I’d be scared to boil water in! And bathrooms…several of those I looked at had a showerhead attached to one wall and a drain on the other side of the room – and a sink and toilet in between. So those that have an apartment with an actual kitchen (2 burners, larger fridge, and possibly an oven – gasp!) are higher up the status ladder than those of us that don’t. Then there are those that OWN their apartment and finally, those that own a house! I don’t know anyone here who owns a house.

Most folks walk, use public transportation, or take a taxi. Next up the ladder is those that ride a bicycle, then a scooter, a motorcycle, and finally a car. I don’t know anyone here who owns a car.

Finally, pets. It’s a sign of status here to own one. I see a lot of folks with dogs. They bring them outside to do their business in whatever small patch of green is found close to where they live. The smaller, more common dogs are less of a status statement than the larger, furrier dogs (golden retrievers mostly and I’ve seen a few of those around). Since this is an island, space is at a premium, and spaces where dogs can roam – I haven’t seen any of those. But then I’ve only seen a small part of this lovely country!

Trash, trash, and more trash

Well, I finally screwed up my courage and set to pre-sorting my trash in preparation for its disposal. Bright blue bags filled with recycling, organic waste, and just plain trash. I locked my door, walked down five flights of stairs, out three locked doors, turned right down the narrow hallway leading to the street and followed all the good little lemmings also taking their trash to the corner in front of Watsons. There is a 10 minute time window for disposal (2245 – 2255) and you can imagine people did a double-take seeing a tall foreigner holding the official blue bags! I was approached by the gal handling the recycling. I then dumped the gathered organics and ceremoniously dumped them in a big bin. Finally I placed two blue bags directly into the garbage truck while the driver nodded approvingly. Ah, a job well-done!

Laundry day

Today’s the day I get acquainted with the washers two floors up!

Washing Machines

I load my laundry into a basket, carry it up four flights of stairs and hope I can remember the instructions for use (all the controls are in Chinese characters). Mistake 1: I did not empty the lint catchers prior to use. I load the dark colored items in one washer and light ones in the other. Mistake 2: I put the new towels in the with dark jeans. 43 minutes later, the washers have finished pumelling my clothes. Next up: figuring out how to hang everything up in order to dry it out. This is when I notice that my dark pants have lint all over them (darn those pesky mesh baskets).  A few minutes later I have my stuff spread out all over one of the drying decks…wonder how long it’ll take to dry? Answer: three hours and four trips up and down – and still several towels aren’t dry yet. Plus, most of my clothing has lint on it and needs to be ironed. There has to be an easier way!! Laundromat?

Laundry drying

Party time

There are so many little details we take for granted in the US: getting from one place to another, doing laundry, taking out the trash. We expend the minimal amount of effort on these activities. Not so in Taiwan. Perhaps folks here are so used to the “way it is”, but for us newcomers it’s a bit of a shock to have to expend so much time and energy on these everyday events.

Last night I went to get a co-worker to go to another co-workers place for a party. Sounds simple enough, right?

Here’s how that really plays out:

down 5 flights of stairs, out three doors, down a long alley past the temple, right onto lane 39, left onto Tong Hua lane for 2 blocks, left into the Tong Hua night market (read: a GAUNTLET), 10 minutes later right onto a main street looking for the bus stop, running to catch the 611 (almost run down by a bicycle on the sidewalk) only to have it leave, waiting for 14 minutes for the next bus, on the bus for 20 minutes to Xinhai MRT station. Meet my co-worker at his sleek  new apartment, and then onto the MRT four stations to the Technology Park, walking up Fuxing several blocks, right on Heping to another bus stop, taking the bus 10 minutes to Daan Forest, walking 10 minutes, up 3 flights of stairs to the party! NOTE: We had a wonderful time eating homemade filipino food, drinking sassafras tea, and enjoying some lively conversation!

Getting back to the apartment at 3am was a lot easier: jump into a cab for a 10 minute ride!

Day 31 First weekend in Tong Hua

I walked around my new neighborhood with a co-worker last night – she lives nearby – and discovered a theater that plays second-run movies, allows you to bring treats, and lets you see AS MANY movies as you want! Cost: 140NT (less than 3.00 US)! Popcorn and soda: 55NT (1.50US). This morning I watched 2 movies, got popcorn (half salty, half sweet), and as I walked out, they stamped my arm so I could get back in later!! NOTE: while watching the movies (one set in NYC and one in London) and it occurred to me that I was probably the only person in the entire theater (maybe the entire neighborhood) who had been to both places! I really want to go back and see Water for Elephants before heading out (on bus 611, if I can find the bus stop!) to meet some friends for dinner tonight.

First month

I survived!! No wonder I’m exhausted: I visited my entire family, flew for 17 hours across the Pacific, and landed smack-dab in the middle of a cultural conundrum!  In the past month I’ve started a new job assignment, travelled around parts of Taiwan, searched for (and found!) a place to live, purchased furnishings! When I say everything about Taiwan is different than anything I’m used to, I mean EVERYTHING. It’s not just a new country, it’s a country where I cannot read the signs or understand the words. For a directionally-challenged person who must now rely on public transportation, this is definitely an issue. I got an MRT map and have started figuring things out, but it’s slow going. A country where, thankfully, the people are very friendly; most do attempt to help when asked. I managed to get on the right bus down the street from work, bound for Nanjing E. Road, but almost got off on the wrong stop (hey, it said Civic center which is on Nanjing E. Road). The kind bus driver indicated I had two more stops to go when I started to get off the bus. It’s a country of ironies. For instance, there are clear signs saying “Pedestrians have the right of way.” but it really should read “Pedestrians must get out of the way (of any on-coming traffic, even in a cross walk, if they expect to live another day)!” The humidity here is INCREDIBLE, but on the upside, I’ve probably lost another size just from sweating, and I can save 5 minutes each morning by NOT drying my hair. (What’s the point? By the time I walk the 20 minutes to work, it’s wet again!) I will spend this weekend RESTING, maybe catch the latest Harry Potter movie, doing laundry (that’ll be an interesting experience which I’ll surely share with you), and checking out the night market (photo ops galore). Thanks for your encouraging words….the adventure continues!

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