Crazy Taiwanese signs

Everywhere you look, there are Mandarin characters; you can’t escape them – and no, I don’t mean the people! Every so often, someone has attempted to translate these lovely symbols into English, sometimes with hilarious results! I’ve been collecting samples of these little faux pas for over a year now so allow me to start sharing them with you…

After a long day at work, who couldn’t use a little extra Prozac?

Mmmm, after the Prozac kicks in, I’ll bet this synthetic candy tastes pretty darn good!

I’m not really sure who these snacks are supposed to appeal to….maybe people who want to look good nude?

And if the “nude” pretzels don’t do it for you, you can always try this exotic-flavored popcorn as a treat.


In remembrance of my dear friend Ambrose, I decided to have a local artist create a more lasting momento: a tattoo.

I threw a “Tattoo and Pizza Party” and friends from work brought salad, chicken (for the meat eaters), and cheesecake (I provided the pizza).  Afterwards, we walked over to the tattoo parlor adjacent to the Tong Hua night market where “Queen” sketched up some ideas that would fit my current body art (and would complement it and not be readily visible when I wear a t-shirt). After agreeing on a design, a Taiwanese co-worker haggled with Queen over the price. The final cost: 3000NT (<100USD).  I love the result; see for yourself!

2 hours later…

One year in Taiwan

I’ve officially been in Taiwan for one year! In that time, I have had many adventures, made some new friends – and here’s what I’ve learned:

  • the Taiwanese are a happy, friendly, patient people; they will wait in orderly lines (for elevators, to check out, at the MRT)
  • if you at least attempt to speak Chinese, they will attempt to speak English
  • the Taiwanese love art – painting, sculptures, and colorful signs are EVERYWHERE
  • there are two prices: the foreigners-who-don’t-bargain price and the locals-I-will-bargain-for-EVERYTHING-EVERYWHERE price
  • it is safe to walk home alone after midnight
  • many stores and shops and foot massage places are open late or 24/7
  • the Taiwanese are a generally conservative people, yet you’ll see giant billboards advertising (very) skimpy lingerie, girls with super short skirts, and “betel nut” girls in bikinis selling their wares (I mean the narcotic nuts)
  •  the few foreigners you see on the street either pretend you don’t exist and walk on by or become your best friends
  • if you are a “normal” size (not a “tiny” person) you’ll have trouble finding clothing here (size 8.5 is the largest shoe size available for women)
  • foreign (European and American) goods are vastly overpriced (I once spent 6000NT/200USD on a pair of CK jeans)
  • thank goodness for UniGlo – I was actually able to find some reasonably-priced, quality clothing
  • when they say “rainy season” they mean it!
  • most people eat out for all meals (they don’t have actual kitchens here), and the food is relatively cheap (relative to the wages that is)
  • having a clothes dryer is a luxury few can afford
  • trash must be taken to the garbage truck in official blue bags
  • taking public transportation isn’t so scary anymore (I can ask directions and understand the answer!)
  • 30 verbs
  • Google Translate and 7-11 are a godsend!
  • Good customer service is a given, as is no tipping!

Earthquakes, typhoons, and floods – oh my!

This week started off with a bang – literally! At 5am I was awoken by the building shaking and swaying and the sounds of, well of a 6.0 earthquake!

It lasted about a minute but seemed longer. And all week, we’ve had after-shocks and a few more tremblers. (You haven’t lived until you’ve experienced a ‘quake on the top floor of a 20-story building.) I’m told this is normal for this region: I’ve experienced more earth-shaking in this past week than in the past year! Maybe there’s an earthquake “season”?

Then of course, on Monday, at 2am, the torrential rains started. And I mean TORRENTIAL! So much so that suddenly, my outside wall was leaking water – and “little Lake Tong Hua” was forming in my bedrooms. Needless to say, it was not a restful night. Between the sheets of driving rain and the howling wind, they cancelled work – of course only after I’d arrived. LOL

“Uncle” Stone

outside Eslite (the 24-hour one, on Dunhua) there are always vendors (unofficial and ones that are licensed), their wares spread out on blankets. usually it’s just umbrellas and sunglasses (probably from China) and clothing only a tiny person could fit into. this one time though, i saw something that made me stop and look. rocks. painted rocks to be more precise, a wizened old man selling them. several people stood around looking at them (and i was tired and wanted to buy book 2 in the Hunger Games series) so i hurried on past, thinking he’d still be there when i came out. (he wasn’t.) darn!

then, to my great surprise and joy – he was there again this week (when a co-worker and i came out of Eslite after getting some vegetarian dinner at the downstairs buffet).

after a brief conversation we learned that the artist had once been a social worker and teacher and, while looking for something to paint that couldn’t be crushed by little hands, came up with the idea of painting rocks with icons and patterns that have special meanings. I chose white dandelions on a white background signifying hope (and who can’t use that these days?). So enchanted with my little purchase, I went back a few days later and found “Uncle” Stone again and this time selected a classic design of rice, which is intended to mean “having plenty”. (well we’ve sure had plenty of earthquakes this week!)

Plenty of Hope

Tax time in Taiwan

Every year in May, everyone living and working in Taiwan makes their way to the closest district tax office (no appointment needed and most work places give you half-a-day off  for this purpose).

I went before lunch time; walking the Daan MRT, changing trains at Zhongxiao Fuxing, and getting out at 4 stops later at Ximen. I exited at exit 6, walked 10 minutes (not sure which direction) and there was the tax administration building.

The tax office in Ximen

As you walk in, the signs are very clearly marked, so that foreigners know where to go, and in a large room, several friendly interns looked at the forms mailed out by the government months ago and helped me fill out a one-sided form. Then, they bundled everything up neatly and pointed me towards a bank of desks where I had to wait about 20 minutes until my number was called. The senior clerk then checked the work of the interns, making additional computations in red on the form, and asked me to produce my passport and work contract.  Oops, no one told me I would need those. So, back home again, got the items and back to the tax office. Another short wait and, voila! My taxes are done and  I’m getting a refund. Yeah! Simple and sane. Wow, what a concept.

First day in Nanjing

I know I need to grab breakfast before taking a cab to work (I’ll figure out how to get there more economically later on). The buffet at the Jinling Hotel is, like everything else in China seems to be, BIG. Every type of bread, butter jam (but no peanut butter). So many vegetables (raw and cooked), fruits (no surprises, darn it, I wanted to try something new.). I am shown to my seat and they cover up my purse when I get up to make my food selections. I am addressed in English and wonder what would happen if I answered in German. They ask what I’d like to drink and I speak in Chinese (I have one cup tea.) The tea is waiting for me when I get back with my salad, veggie juice (!), and fixin’s for a croissant veggie sandwich to take to work for lunch.

Then, I’m off. I get the address written in Chinese and show it to the cab driver. He deliberates for a while and then we join the throngs on the road. The super modern streets and highways are crowded. I have no clue where we’re going. I know the office is in something called the “Soho International Plaza”. The driver is obviously lost and I’m not able to help. I’m also not able to use my phone to call anyone… by sheer luck, I see our company logo on a sign and point excitedly to it.  To the driver’s credit, he didn’t charge me the full fare. That 25 min. ride cost me 30RMB. I check in with the receptionist (who, I later find out was the one who made most of my in-China travel arrangements) who makes some phone calls. I am met by the tech doc manager who shows me to my seat. NOTE: the building is very modern and new, like so much of Nanjing. It’s a 4-floor square, built around a courtyard. Flower, bushes, and trees abound – as does the dust and, sorry to say, SMOG. My throat is already burning, reminding me of growing up in soCal. How do folks here deal with this?

Our office in Nanjing

A few short minutes later, I’m plugged into the corporate network and answering emails and setting up appointments for the week. ( I am here to work, after all.)

My development group takes me out to lunch. Unlike Taipei, most people here have cars. Nice, new ones! They know I don’t eat meat and kindly find a place that serves literally at least 20 different types of mushrooms! See? More BIG options!

At the end of the day one of my China colleagues (another American) lends me his subway card, prints out a map (there are currently 2 lines in Nanjing, with at least one more, to the airport) planned. The metro station is clearly marked and he shows me how to use the card. All metro signs are in English and Chinese, making it easy to figure out when the next train will arrive. The subway tunnel is clean. The subway cars are clean. People openly stare at us foreigners.

check out the artwork on the walls

On the way out to an expat bar owned by an Aussie, I purchase what look like logan berries (5RMB) – and although I have been warned about street food, I find they are really quite delicious. At BlueSky I have a veggie burger, fries, and we play pool.

We climb into a cab; I go back to the hotel and then he’s onto apartment, across the street from the office. At the Jinling my room is immaculate and the bottled water I requested is waiting for me. Yeah! It’s been a long day but I am excited to try my luck at taking the subway on my own.

Birthday in Taipei

For my recent birthday (39 again –  hah!), I tried to keep it under wraps, hoping that if no one remembered it, I would not age. Word got out and my work mates feted me with a lovely tiramisu cake. Several friends took me out for dinner, one came over for dinner bearing gifts, another took me to my favorite pizza place (fifteen pizza!) and gave me a beautiful artisan tea set. My assorted friends, “adopted” children, and friends of friends threw me a party at a local vegetarian buffet (and wow, what a spread it was!). Thanks everyone for taking the time to wish me well….

Taiwan National Lottery

When you make a purchase in Taiwan, you will receive a receipt, on which is printed a “uniform receipt number”: several letters and eight numbers, and a 2-month date range. These “lucky” numbers are used as lottery numbers and every other month, a list of winning numbers is published online. Lottery prizes range from 200NT (~8 USD) for matching the last three numbers in a series to 2 million NT (67K USD) for matching all 8 – gee, wouldn’t that be nice to win?!

On the 23rd of each January, March, May, July, September, and November, the government’s lottery website is bombarded. Then, on the 6th of the following month, winners show up at their local post office to claim their prizes. How do I know this? Because I was recently a “winner”!!

I save my receipts, put them in numberical order (according to the last 3 numbers), and check the numbers every other month. Finally, last month, a receipt for a 249NT purchase at Shengli paid off: I matched 4 numbers and won 1000NT! woohoo!

At the post office on the corner of Anhe and Tonghua, I marched my receipt upstairs to the post office bank, took a number and when my number was called, presented the receipt with my ID and walked out 1000NT richer (ok, I had to pay 2NT to process the ticket but I still WON!). And this month again, I won: 200NT. Better than a poke in the eye with a sharp stick! Can the 2mil be far off?

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!

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