The Big Band Theory

Who knew that techie, geeky types were also so musically inclined (wink, wink)?

an empty stage

Remember the Battle of the Bands they used to do in High School? Picture that, in a more intimate setting (no giant, reverb-prone gym) with a really well-behaved audience (no drinking or drugs or rowdiness), a wide variety of music (rock, hard rock, ACID rock, pop, and christian, plus popular Chinese tunes), and musicians that looked more like they walked off the pages of  GQ than Rolling Stone, and you’ll get the gist of TBBT.

A clever take on a popular television show’s title, this past weekend’s TBBT showcased 10 bands with varying degrees of experience and talent. Some of musicians looked like rock stars, others like hipster schoolkids. It was good fun, and definitely LOUD! My favorite though, was a Taiwan band playing and singing Led Zeppelin’s “Stairway to Heaven”!

Other than the slightly accented words, it was a dead-on rendition of a classic rock cover. Ironically, very few, if any, in the audience, were even alive when the song was released in late 1971, but for me, it sure brought back some happy memories.

rock on!

National Palace Museum

What does a newcomer to Taiwan do on her first day off, a paid holiday? She gathers some friends and goes to the National Palace Museum, of course!

One 300NT taxi ride and 30 minutes later, we climb out to witness a jaw-dropping sight: a former palace that now houses thousands of years of Chinese art pieces on three of the four floors of the main building. Someone said that if the exhibits were rotated quarterly for the next 23 years, you would see something new every time and still not see it all – and I believe it.

The National Palace Museum at night

No photo-taking was allowed so my mere words will have to suffice to describe the various items. We saw incredible objects carved  out of every imaginable color of jade. My personal favorite was the [calligraphy] brush wash carved to resemble a curved lotus leaf. The showcase piece was no more than 8″ tall carved out of a single piece of white and green jade to look like bok choi with a little green grasshopper on it. It was apparently part of a bride’s dowry and appeared in all manner of much lesser forms throughout the museums many gift shops!

Bronze cauldrons, copper daggers inlaid with gems, porcelain pillows (pillows?), intricate carved jade, ancient documents, ethereal paintings of mountain scenes (one was at least 50″ long!)-  each item more amazing than the next!

At one point we decided to go to the 4th floor tea house for some sustennance; even the food was a work of art.

Lotus tea with spring rolls and sweets


Songshan Temple

Yesterday, a friend and I made our way (bus 235 on Anhe > Technology building MRT on Fuxing > Zhongxiao Fusing (Blue Bannan line) > Taipei Main Station > TRA to Songshan) to Songshan train station. After shopping at the Melaleuca store, walked down Bade road to the Raohe night market and since it wasn’t open yet, stopped in at the nearby Temple.

Songshan Temple

Songshan Temple is on a main street yet once inside, the everyday worlds seems quite removed.  The noise level is significantly reduced as people, mainly groups, carry burning incense sticks and, holding them to their foreheads, bow and pray to various deities, stunningly set into alcoves on all four floors of the Temple.

Yearly hero Gods

I try to be a casual observer but taking in all the gorgeous colors and sights makes that impossible. Every surface is either carved, inscribed, painted, and/or gilded. One can’t help but feel awe and reverence for the 260-year old building and its inhabitants even if the meaning behind it all is somewhat obscured.

good vs. evil?


I wake up to the sound of rain – not the driving pre-typhoon kind, but a wind-blown spattering of drops on the ground, and people, below. The sky is grey and I can see the leaves on the trees on the balcony across the alley and the lanterns hung across the street below moving in rhythm with each other. It’s still quiet out; I smile, remembering that it’s Sunday and that I can sleep in and do a bit of reading (currently David Gunderson’s The Other) before having to clean the apartment and do laundry (my second least-favorite chore).

I do a lot of thinking in my many solitary moments. Some of it practical (how my family and friends are doing back home) and some of it esoteric (the similarities between the native Taiwanese peoples and the native Americans; how people can have so little, by Western standards, and still be so content) or even “deep” (what is the true essence of a family, how we are all connected on some level).

I open my curtains and watch the sky. Now, instead of just a covering of grey, I can discern subtle color changes in the clouds and even variations of the light coming through them. I feel a bit guilty for laying here when I know I should be DOING something useful. I rationalize: I’m following my own admonishment to become more aware of  my surroundings. So, while the buildings aren’t, at first glance, beautiful, they do, after a while, exhibit a staid solidness, as if they know their place in the organization of things. I suppose that part of my journey half-way ’round the world signifies a vision quest of sorts. My place in the world appears to change from time-to-time and I’m okay with that. It feels right to just BE here. Perhaps I have something to offer that will leave a positive mark on my environment.  I know without a doubt that what I’m learning from each new experience is enriching who I am and necessarily changing how I view and interact with my surroundings…

I see laundry swaying on balconies and am reminded of my own chores. The spell is broken and I start my day.

Art is everywhere!

I began noticing it when I went to Yingge several months ago: someone had painted the utility boxes to look like a bucolic mountain scene.

Check out the cherry blossoms...

This is common; I haven’t seen a single utility cabinet that wasn’t painted. The construction barricades have cheerful messages and bright colors painted on them. The freeway buttresses are adorned with all sorts of ocean creatures in little vignettes. Taiwan is, after all, surrounded by oceans!

Then I noticed the sculpture – it’s EVERYWHERE! Strange and wonderful shapes in the most unlikely of places. People just walk past them without a sideward glance. Although you’d assume that space is limited it’s because we’re on an island, there seems to be space enough for surprising reminders of an artistic nature. They even transform walls into vertical gardens!

Living Wall

Look down when you walk….

Headed down Jianguo to return my library books, I wasn’t paying attention to the sidewalk.  It was there; I was walking on it. I was thinking about what flowers to get at the Holiday Flower Mart. Then, about 100 yards in front of me I saw two ladies – it looked like a Mother and a daughter – look down and swerve when nothing obvious was in their way. Hmmm, maybe a bad dog owner not taking care of his pet’s “souvenir”? ewww! As I got closer to where they had swerved I nearly jumped back! On the sidewalk was a greyish-brown SPIDER as big as my hand (I kid you not)! Had I not looked, I would either have stepped on it or…..I hate to think of the alternative. It might have been a tarantula although I wasn’t getting close enough to see how hairy it was (it looked kinda hairy) or even take a pic (though I wanted to). The thing had FANGS. Maybe it was an escapee from a nearby pet store? Maybe it was disturbed when the storefront it was in front of got cleaned out? Why was it out in the sunlight, albeit in the shade on that side of the street? Who knows. What I do know is that I will be a whole lot more careful in checking out the ground where I walk, especially when wearing sandals.


Junk mail is not an unknown concept in Taiwan.

Everyday when I get home, I check my mailbox for something other than a Chunghwa bill but all I find is junk mail. Most of it is colorful and looks interesting; sometimes I can tell by the pictures what is being advertised. (Written Chinese still looks like a foreign language to me!)

Last week a multi-page flyer arrived, with the recognizable white-lettering-on-aqua-banner logo of Watson’s on every page. Watson’s  are like 7-11: everywhere! There are two in 1/4 mile from my Lane 39 down to Xinyi. They sell cosmetics and personal items. Like CVS without the pharmacy.

SALE!” the flyer proclaimed in bold letters. Now that I can understand! I flip through it, matching the pictures to the numbers next the “yuan” (money) symbol and find ads for products that:

  • “whiten” the skin
  • help you lose weight
  • promote good health (herbal supplements and drinks)
  • help you enhance your beauty (cosmetics in a dazzling array of colors and packaging).

How’s a girl to know what to purchase? So I look for the prices. Strangely there are numbers that couldn’t possibly be the price for, say, a well-known high-end brand of face cream (85 = 2.50USD). At first I think the item is 85% off – wow, what a bargain! Then, I realize that that 85 actually means 15% off (so the item is 85% of its original price). Why not just say 15% off? Now that I’ve figured that system out, the  numbers next to the yuan symbol start making more sense. I can do the math, then divide by 30 to get the price in US dollars.

As I’m checking out, having purchased Naruko “Night Repairing Dew” (made with narcissus, smells wonderful, and at 80NT, it’s a bargain) and some blueberry tea bags in glass jar (Made in Germany) for 90NT, another bargain, I notice people using what looks a “frequent shopper” card. When it’s my turn to pay, I point to the poster for the card and am handed a beautiful silver packet containing said card and several informative brochures in Chinese, along with a package of cosmetic samples (for “sensitive Asian skin” which, let’s face it, does NOT describe me or my skin). It was a nice gesture though. I’m made to understand that I need to go online to register the card. Of course the entire site is in Chinese and even trying Google’s Chrome browser to translate isn’t helpful. Ah well, guess that explains why no sales associate ever offered  me a card…

Drag Queens

Taiwan Drag Queens

I was invited to a birthday party/fundraiser (for the Taiwan equivalent of the Humane Society) for a friend of a friend of a co-worker. In lieu of gifts everyone was asked to donate 1000NT ($20) to the animal charity. The party was held in an open air cafe/bar in an area of Taipei known for its colorful stores and even more colorful characters, appropriately named Ximen (pronounced she-men)! The birthday “girl” and some of “her” friends dressed in drag and lip synched their way (in English) through some torchy ballads I’d never heard before. By midnight, you can imagine that the crowd had had plenty to drink so it was VERY entertaining, to say the least.

New lipstick and haircut

MOD failure

I was relaxing, in the middle of watching a movie when suddenly, the screen froze and turned blue (the blue screen of death)! I tried turning the cable box off and on and realized that the power button (on the newly installed box) wasn’t operational. Hmmmm, what now? I unplugged everything from the back of the box, plugged it all back in – and still nothing. The green power light is on but I definitely don’t have a signal. I’m thinking the box is defective. What to do….I don’t pay a lot for the few channels I get on the telly but when I am in the middle of watching something, it’s annoying to be interrupted. Equally annoying is attempting to call Chunghwa telecom on a holiday weekend for a solution. I call the number on the top of the box. The first issue is finding someone who speaks English. Then, after explaining the issue, I wait on hold while an animated discussion in Chinese ensues between several customer service reps. They want to know my username (what?), password (yeah, no)  phone number, address, ARC number. All I want to know is, is the cable out in my area. I explain that I think it’s the box and can someone please bring me a new one. Sure, they say, NEXT TUESDAY! Great! I get to take time off of work to wait around for the cable repair guy. Arrrrgh! In the meantime, I’m going to unplug everything and see if perhaps the box just got overheated….

Moon Festival 2011

This weekend is considered a holiday to celebrate the harvest moon. I’m sure it’s an ancient tradition with its roots somewhere in the long Taiwanese history but these days, what it means is:

  • we get a day off work
  • the company execs give everyone a gift box of moon cakes (moon cake sales skyrocket during this time of year)
  • we also get a small bonus.

Moon cakes are small, tart-like creations wrapped in a shaped and decorated pastry crust, filled with – well all sorts of interesting fillings. Flavors include pineapple (a big favorite on the island), red bean, lotus. Lotus is my favorite! Moon cakes are perishable so their shelf life isn’t long; they must be eaten within a short time after being baked. I took an extra box to the temple downstairs and they seemed very happy to receive it.

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