CNY 2012

Xin nian kuai le (shin knee-en coo-eye luh) Happy New Year!

You gotta love it when an entire country literally takes a week off to celebrate the lunar new year. Festivities abound and firecrackers are in the air! The color red (one of my favorites for any occasion) and dragons are seen EVERYWHERE!  Everyone is in a good mood: the people who have time off are happy and those that don’t are typically in service industries (transportation, food, retail) – they’re happy too ’cause they know they’ll make a ton of money. Stores are having HUGE sales and despite the chilly weather, a warm, inviting atmosphere prevails.

I was invited to Yingge to spend an evening with the family of my Melaleuca upline. She told me the “rules” for observing CNY with your family. Unmarried children go to their parent’s home for at least the first 3 days (Sunday, Monday, Tuesday) of CNY. Married children, spend the first few days with the wife’s family and the next few days with the husband’s. Parents give their small children hong bao (red envelopes) filled with money. Sometimes, the older children give their parents hong bao (I haven’t figured that one out yet….). It’s a sign of respect and, as far as I can tell, more of a symbolic gesture than a means to pad ones bank account. I think I shocked the nice people in the Temple below my apartment by handing them a red envelope. It wasn’t much; just a way to say “thanks” and to help towards the cost of updating their interior, which looks amazing.

Lots of people take  extra time off in conjunction with the national holiday so I’m sure the party feeling will continue…

Preparing for CNY 2012

It’s the “Year of the Dragon”, y’all! In preparation for the Chinese New Year, red, black, nd gold decorations are being hawked in nearly every store and street corner. The selection is mind-boggling: dragons in every size, “blessings” and wishes for health, wealth, and happiness. Red velvet and brocade “firecrackers” on a string. Hong bao (red envelopes) waiting to hold gifts of money to share with loved ones.

Chinese New Year decorations

At work, they hired three members of a local calligraphy club to create personalized red banners for each of us, to be placed above and next to our apartment doors. The ancient ones labored for many hours to share their “gift” with us. We had 60 different sentiments to choose from. Mine are in place – I’m really not sure what they say or even that I placed them correctly (for all I know they could be upside down!). A local business placed a wish for “heavenly blessing and protection” in our mailboxes.

The Temple downstairs has been busy renovating half of it’s interior with incredible bas relief tableaus carved out of stone, statuary, and other architectural elements I don’t the names of! Everyone is preparing for a week of celebrations with family and friends. My Chinese teacher is headed to Shanghai to visit her parents. Wellcome has aisles and aisles of specialty foods. I’ve been invited to several parties which I’m guessing are mainly about eating but I’ll find out soon enough…

Yingge take 2

I met up with 3 friends at Taipei Main train station, headed to Yingge. I have been wanting to see the Ceramics Museum; Yingge is famous for it’s pottery. One 30 minutes train ride later, we were walking with our hostess (my Melaleuca upline) to the museum. NOTE: despite the fact that rain was predicted, it was a balmy day. Not a cloud in sight, slight breeze, mildly warm. The museum is a gorgeous, modern glass-and-cement building housing a beautiful display of Asian celedon ware.

Admission is FREE, as are the guided tour headsets. We started on the top (3rd) floor and made our way down the sloping ramp, looking at gorgeous and amazing anatique vessels in every shape and size glazed in colors ranging from a delicate robin’s egg blue to a deep jade green.

Old Street map painted on ceramic

No trip to Yingge would be complete without a visit to Old Street, a pottery buyer’s dream come true! On the way from the museum to Old Street, we passed a street merchant selling his paintings. (Hadn’t we seen the old white man with the long beard on the train from Taipei?)  After looking through his art work, I selected three modern-style paintings – and began bargaining! I ended up with all three  for 1500NT (50USD). I asked to have them signed by the artist (who had gone walkabout) and was asked to come back for the signed paintings “later”. Okay, so here’s one big difference between Taiwan and the US: in the States, the artist and his helper would have been long gone (with the art AND my money) by the time I returned a few hours later. Not here. My art was signed and rolled up, ready for me to take home, have framed, and hang!

Election time in Taiwan

This weekend Taiwan holds elections for the country’s president and vice-president. I don’t know much about politics here; I purposely try to stay neutral (read: uninformed). It’s safer that way. I figure: whatever this country is doing seems to be working.

The enthusiasm of the Taiwanese for voting is epic. Folks literally fly BACK to this little island from all over the world just to vote. No absentee ballots. Then there are the banners. No little ugly plastic rectangles stuck into all of your neighbor’s lawns. No. These banners are colorful 6′ tall flags on even taller poles bearing the beaming faces of the candidates, spaced evenly along the street medians along with the national flag. And get this, Taiwan’s president may soon be a WOMAN. No kidding.

Busses and MRT cars all over Taipei (and presumably all over Taiwan) carry photos of all three partys’ candidate pairs, smiling  with fists clenched, held high, in apparently victory.

"vote for us!"

Small trucks, draped with giant banners of one set of candidate likenesses, slowly troll the streets, sharing the candidate’s canned thoughts via loudspeaker.

The Taiwanese are so mannerly, I doubt any of the potential presidents mount any type of “dirty” campaign. I know that one party is called the “blue” party and one is the “green”. One is pro-unification (with China) and one is for independance – but I don’t know which is which. And I don’t know what the third party is….Happy voting Taiwan!

Daily life….

I wake up at 9am most days. It’s cold at night now and there is no central heat in most apartments. I use two portable heaters (used, found on Tealit) to heat my bedroom and living space. I get up, have some hot tea, make my lunch (usually a chopped salad and fruit). NOTE: my two new favorite fruits are the rose apple and passionfruit. I shower, dress, and get ready to leave. Often that means I am packing all sorts of stuff (lunch,  stuff I have to take to work, workout clothes for after work). I have to leave two windows open for ventilation and am out the door. I walk downstairs and to the little store next to the temple where they make me a mocha protein shake and fill a GIANT pitcher with guarana tea. Then, depending on the weather, I either walk 17 minutes to work, or take the 235 to the Anhe street stop. At work, I hit the ground running – there is ALWAYS something going on, not always strictly related to work! I take a lunch break maybe once a week. Today one other vegetarian and I went to the “Green House” on Heping where I had a vegetable soup, pesto rice (yum!), and roselle tea (made with some flowers I have yet to identify but turns the water a lovely deep ruby color and tastes a bit sour). Total for lunch: 209 NT (<7USD). After work, I go to yoga, eat dinner (mostly I fix something on the one-burner stove) and then relax (read, watch TV, play Words with Friends). On the weekends I sleep in, shop, do laundry (when it’s humid outside it can take DAYS to dry), clean the apartment, and dream of warmer weather…

6 months in Taiwan!

I’ve enjoyed my time in Taiwan, though I’m looking forward to coming home! There is a lot to love here. For a small island country, they get a lot of things right! The stellar customer service, those cool glued-on cup tops and angled straws, fresh-squeezed juice, 45NT vegetable noodles, Loving Hut’s toon pancakes, 24-hour Eslite (bookstore) , Watson’s (pharmacy) and Wellcome (grocery), the brightly painted utility boxes, NO TIPPING, real Chinese medicine – did I mention the customer service? And then there is the low cost medical and dental services, and cheap and plentiful public transportation, cheap taxis, how helpful and friendly people are, the night markets, the day markets, the flower markets, the jade market, how SAFE it is to live here.  The temples (large and small) and lanterns, and everything red and gold. How beautifully all purchases, not matter how small, are wrapped. Being able to pay all my monthly bills in a single hour. 7-11. Dish dryers. Taipei 101. High-speed rail. I’m sure I’ll think of more….

There are things I’ve missed. Like clothing in my size! And being able to read signs and menus. And my car – well, I don’t miss DRIVING. The quiet in the great outdoors, wide open spaces with no one around. Stoves, ovens, clothes dryers, garbage pick up, central heating, thrifts stores, the Goodwill, Ulta, free samples, and my Neptune!

Cole Porter with an Asian flair

Broadway comes to Taipei. Enthusiasm. Several co-workers and I decide to check it out and bought tickets. Theirs were on the 5th level (read: far from the stage) and cost 1500NT (50USD). I didn’t want to be in the nosebleed section of the 3000 seat Taipei International Convention Center, using opera glasses to see the action, so I spent 3200NT to sit in the 2nd section center stage. Excitement. We met up at Taipei 101’s food court for dinner (I had a salad from Jason’s Fresh Market). Anticipation. Afterwards, we walked to the Convention Center. It’s chock full of other musical theater fans and HUGE flower arrangements, Taiwan’s custom for sending good wishes.

break a leg

Hundreds of people, in a very orderly fashion, ascend elevators to find their seats. While I waited in my plush seat, I browsed through the program and watched a music video of the title song performed by the show’s lead performers on two Jumbotrons! (That was anti-climatic.) I wondered, would the live musical performance be shown on the large screens? (As it turns out, it was, making it a distraction to the action happening on-stage.) Hmmmm, I’ve attended Broadway shows before (NYC, LA, OR) and don’t recall ever seeing the show being broadcast on-screen. 15 minutes after the show was due to start, the 11-piece orchestra filed in.    Yeah, here we go!

And then….disappointment.

The good: the musicians, under the direction of a spirited band leader,played their hearts out.  two of the supporting cast turned in stellar performances (too bad they represented only 5% of the cast). the one tap dance number was rousing (despite the spotty choreography). the venue was lovely and a very civilized.

The bad: the sound board seemed to be manned by a tone and decibal-deaf technician. At times, the singers were drowned out by the orchestra and at other times they faded into the background. the leads seemed to phone their performance in (at one point, the male and female leads simple stood and sang – i’ve seen more spirited performances at a concert).

The ugly: what happened to passion? singing what you feel? sharing what you feel with the audience, in song? what happened to artistic integrity? many of the performers were difficult to understand speaking English.

So sad – a classic American musical chopped up and spit out; completely unpalatable. Verdict: it’s a MISS. I should have spent the ticket money shopping 101.

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