Murder at the Jianguo Jade Market

I headed down Xinyi on the 22 to the Jianguo markets (crafts, flowers, jade).  I was meeting my friend Najia and wanted to shop for gems – or at least see what was available. The jade market is so large (at least 3 city blocks long) that we decided to start on the east side and work our way up and back on each section, making our way to the other side. I could see vendor after vendor with jade, jade, and more jade. Finally one vendor pointed out one of his neighbors, saying that she sold gems. Then suddenly it seemed that many vendors were packing up their booths (and it was only 1pm). At the night markets this happens when the police show up to check vendor permits; those without permits cover up their booths and wheel them away to avoid a fine. We saw police officers and thought that was happening here too. The gem vendor tried to be polite while she was throwing items into boxes, asking us to come back next week and pointing to the middle section of the market, one aisle from hers.

We still didn’t get it. The police tape should have been our first clue. And then we saw it and I wish we hadn’t.

A large pool of blood spreading over the floor. A forensics officer taking photos. Thankfully there was no body but it was obvious that something dire had occurred. We moved away and asked several of the nearby vendors, what had happened. One made a slashing motion across his throat. Suicide? Apparently not. A vendor at one of the booths nearest the scene said “fight” and made the same slashing motion. There wasn’t a lot of emotion expressed. A person had just been killed, in broad daylight, in a crowded market and no one  screamed, no one was crying, no one seemed in shock. (Violent crime is definitely not the norm in Taipei but I could find nothing in the news about this incident.)

As we moved further away from the crime scene, it seemed that most of the vendors had heard about the killing but again, it was more of the British stiff upper lip reaction than outrage or horror. We did a little more window shopping but in truth, it was difficult to concentrate. I doubt I will ever look at the jade market in the same way again. RIP unknown victim.

 

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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…

My Sogo guru

If you’re ever in need of a makeover, I highly recommend heading to Sogo (Zhongxiao-Fuxing, the big green building). First stop? Go see Allan, manager of the Dior counter, on 1F. Not only is he adorable, he’s very knowledgeable about the latest in skin care and cosmetics. Despite the store being mobbed by shoppers taking advantage of Sogo’s annual sale, he took the time to listen to what I wanted and then suggested colors/products and actually showed me how to create several different looks. Who wouldn’t love that? And, if that wasn’t enough, he was willing to walk me around the floor, introduced me to the manager of a high-end and act as my translator. When I asked who I could talk to about complimenting his excellent customer service, he blushed, saying it was just part of his job. Of course, my purchases were elegantly wrapped. And at one counter, I was given a bottle of water; I felt like I was flying first-class.

NOTE: make sure you shop the Sogo accessed from the MRT.  If they don’t know who Allan is at the Dior counter, you’re at the wrong Sogo. Head outside and across the street and look for a GREEN building with the Sogo logo.

A slice of antique HEAVEN!

I was talking with one of the volunteers from the Community Services Center charity auction about antiques and  how I enjoy hunting for antiques back home and had yet to see any actual antique stores/malls/estate sales/ secondhand stores here. She told me about a place on Roosevelt that was known for it’s great selection and low prices on antiques. I’d been meaning to go and finally today I did.

It was raining lightly when I hopped on the 235 and got off at the Guting MRT. I didn’t know the name of the store, only that I was to turn right onto Roosevelt off of Heping and look for a green and yellow building I couldn’t miss. From looking at a map I knew that Roosevelt was the main street adjacent to the Guting MRT but when I double-confirmed (Taiwanese-speak for double-checked) on my phone’s GPS, I didn’t see the name “Roosevelt” where I’d expected to. Hmmmm, now what? I used a life line and called a friend. Turns out I was on the right track, I just needed to cross the street and look for a storefront with “old stuff” out on the sidewalk. And then, there it was!

Wow! I felt like I’d just won the asian antiques lottery: two floors of room after room of every imaginable item. Furniture, pottery, masks, artwork – each one more strange and wonderful than the last! The icing on the cake was that the super friendly staff spoke English. And when I used the hackneyed ” is possible be cheaper a little” phrase in Chinese, the owner laughed, pointed to a sign (“one-price” store she told me) and then offered a 10% discount. Sweet! That’s certainly better than a poke in the eye with a sharp stick! I ended up with a Japanese hatbox (complete with a gorgeous black wool hat), a “crystal” ball + stand, a gorgeous handmade wooden box with red and gold painted design, and what looks like an aluminum funnel with a old-fashioned corkscrew on top – to be used as a hat stand.

this is so "me"

Ahhhh, I don’t even know the name of the store but I know I’ll be back!

Weekly review

I started out writing at least daily and now it seems I’m so busy enjoying all Taiwan has to offer, I write a lot less frequently. Every day I find something else to marvel at. One interesting factoid: the Taiwanese can be a superstitious lot. They don’t like living on the fourth floor because the words for this floor sound like a word with a bad meaning. HINT: if you want to pay less for an apartment in a nice building, check out the 4th floor!

On Wednesday it was Luoshi (low-sure) Day, a day to celebrate and thank teachers! Several of us share the same Chinese teacher so we got together to get her a gift (lucky bamboo) and a card. The card was red and the envelope pale pink so I thought it would look nice to write her name in red ink on the envelope. Oh no, big faux pas! Writing someone’s name in red ink means you’re predicting their death. Say what? Who knew? (When folks here use a “chop” to stamp their name on a document, they use….yup, RED ink!) So, crisis averted; I used a black pen instead. Whew. Luoshi said it “made her heart happy” to get our gift. Awwwwww.

Luoshi is super patient and I like that she’s open to “alternate” teaching methods. For instance, one of my lessons was supposed to be about negotiating the price of a new car, something not likely to happen during my stay. Instead, I asked teacher to help me decipher all the junk mail I get. It’s colorful and looks interesting; ads for restaurants, real estate, foot massage places, retail store circulars. If I peruse them long enough, I can detect patterns and figure out a little of what is being said. It’s amazing how much you can learn about a culture by reviewing their junk mail!

On Saturday I met some friends at the local “bookstore”, Eslite. This place must be seen (and experienced) to be believed. 5, or is it 6, floors (only one and a half of which contain books) of the latest clothing, gadgets, accessories, paper products, music and movies, food, jewelry, cosmetics – and everything in between. I had a delicious fresh vegetarian lunch at a buffet that came to 88NT (less than 3.00) and included 5-grain rice and green tea. You can almost do all your shopping in one place!

Eslite Bookstore - and so much more!

Sunday, I planned to ride a gondola up a mountain to where the oolong tea Taiwan is famous for, is grown. The weather has been dicey – windy and rainy – this weekend; I hope they don’t cancel the ride.

Watson’s

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…

Jade market

Next up, the trek through the Taipei jade market, adjacent to the flower market under a busy overpass. Row after row after ROW of jade, beads, pearls, and all manner of  pretty shiny and carved things.

Jade (and other) Treasures

It’s difficult to know where to look next and after just a few minutes, the sheer volume of  -well – EVERYTHING overwhelming. I take a deep breath and soldier on. I attempt conversation with various vendors; most don’t speak English. I see a lot of antique-looking items from Tibet, old Chinese textiles (gorgeous!), Japanese watercolors, ivory carvings, and rhinocerous horns (ewww) among the most amazing translucent green, white, pink, and yellow jade  treasures.

 

Holiday flower market

A lot of Taiwan’s sights are located in spare spaces: hidden underground, beneath overpasses, in some really unlikely spots. You might easily drive, ride, or walk by them without notice. The Taipei “Holiday” flower and jade markets are no exception. I stumbled onto the flower market when I walked down the wrong side of Jianguo, trying to find the main Taipei Library.

Greenery Galore!

Inside the market, the first thing you notice is the fragrance of a million flowers and flowering plants. There are blossoms of every shape, size, and color. It’s like a wacky kalidiscope image, bursting at the seams. The market stretches farther than I can see and I wander along, simply amazed by it all.  The Taiwanese love their greenery and you can see why – so many options. Bonzai galore, one even taller than me (and that’s saying something!). Water plants (lilies, lotus) for dish gardens and outside fountains. Pots, saucers, rocks, gardening implements and garden furniture. Herbs, fruit and citrus trees, strange insect-eating plants, orchids galore all being misted from above to maintain their health (I guess the intense natural humidty isn’t enough, but I must say the mist feels good). Vendors pass out samples of their teas and various drinks made from herbs, and lots of, well,  I’m not really sure exactly what the ingredients were, but most of it was delish! So many choices but finally I settle on a bunch of sweetheart roses (20 stems for 50NT) for less then 2.00US. Of course the bouquet is beautifully wrapped, the stems inserted into water for the trip home, and then placed into a long plastic bag to protect it on its journey on public transportation.

Bougainvilleas

Library card

Heat was coming off the road in waves; oddly, you can feel it most when a slight breeze kicks up. Luckily I didn’t have to wait long for the 235 to show up on An He and transport me along Heping road to Daan Forest, a green slice of botanical planning. I walk through the “forest” and watch groups of people practice martial arts under the the cool of the trees, families bicycling along the packed clay paths, and one lady playing a haunting melody on her flute, under a gazebo. When I reach Xinyi I realize I’ve gone too far and haven’t seen the library (too-shoe-gwahn). But I have discovered the Flower Market! (I’ll go there later; now I’m focused on finding the library.)

I ask one of the policemen directing walkers across the busy streets. He points back the way I’ve come, on the other side of Jiangao. I’m feeling the heat and humidity descend now, wishing I’d brought a bottle of water. I’m not sure what the library’s address is exactly but I figure it should be easily visible – it’s the main one after all. And there it is, all 11 floors of it. I go inside, present my ARC and within a few minutes receive my very own card. Now to check out the books….

The entrance to Taipei's Main Library

On 4F there is one section of books in English, mainly non-fiction (I select a macaron cookbook, despite not having an actual kitchen) but there are a smattering of fiction options as well. One consideration: anything I select must be lugged around so I pick our several paperbacks and go up to 8F to check out the movies. Maybe I was looking in the wrong area but I found nothing of interest. Oh well, it’s hot inside and I still want to make it back to the flower market…

Drama in the pet store

We were walking along Zhongshao after dinner, on the way to Breeze, when the normal, ambient road noise spiked. Looking around it wasn’t difficult to spot where the cause: something was happening in the pet store. An iguana on the loose? A cat coughing up a hairball? A customer complaining about the price of Iams? Who knows?! What became obvious is that someone wasn’t happy – and they were letting everyone know about it! I could see a stocky man with short dark hair winding back to sock someone – it seemed like that object of his ire was a store employee (wearing an “official” smock). Several other people were attempting to hold him back. Then the altertercation spilled out onto the sidewalk with the angry man chasing the other man Next,  they were down ono the ground (sidewalk actually) and at least half a dozen bystanders had their cell phones out. Literally within 2 minutes, the cops showed up: 4 on scooter and 4 in two cars, all with lights and sirens. What excitement! A crowd gathered to watch. We had a great view point from across the street. Instead of cuffing or tasing anyone, the cops surrounded the angry man and his nemesis. No guns were drawn; I’m not sure the cops here even carry. And then they LISTENED to what each person was saying. What a concept! Even from a distance it was obvious that the angry man was calming down. After a few minutes the crowd began to disperse; talk can be boring when drama is expected. And just like that, the soothing sounds of another evening in Taipei enveloped the shoppers…

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