And the crazy signs continue…

Everywhere you look in Taiwan, there are signs. Some of them in Chinese only, some of them accurately (more or less) translated, and my favorite: those with a few language gaffes.

A new lounge, off of Dunhua S. Rd.

A new lounge, off of Dunhua S. Rd.

I wonder what a mam moth is? A new winged night creature? Or did they mean mammoth? As in big and extinct? If I owned a lounge, I’m not sure I’d want to advertise “dead” whiskey. Does it kill you? Does it contain inert matter?

At the unloading zone of the National Palace Museum

At the unloading zone of the National Palace Museum

Uh, so is this the bus for overweight foreigners?

At a food stand on Fuxing, near Xinyi

At a food stand on Fuxing, near Xinyi

Wow, this must be really old rice! Are the leaves from the paleolithic age as well?

It always amazes me that folks don’t verify their translated messages with a native English speaker…

Halloween 2012

Last year I didn’t do much for Halloween. This year, I was determined to find something to create a costume out of. As I wandered the neighborhood night market I spied a wonderful headdress, collar, and cuff from Bali. I tried them on and then asked the price. Yikes, they were asking more than 10,000NT (325 USD). Tai gui (too expensive)! Thinking they were quoting me the “rich foreigner” price I had a local friend go in to inquire about the price. The same. Maybe a trip to Indonesia was in order. Found one, including airfare, for around 9000NT but the kicker: the headdress and accessories are still expensive to purchase. What to do? I waited until the evening of the 30th and then went to talk with the shop owner. After some spirited negotiations, I walked out with all of the items + a stand for the headdress + extra cuff + gold earrings for 8000NT.

Next, I studied Balinese dancer make up and movements, painted some “witchy” nails gold, selected some sandals, and ironed one of my sarees. The result?

Bali Dancer


Needless to say the costume caused quite a stir both to and from work, and in the office.  Success!

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.

River Tracing in Wulai

I feel lucky to be alive! This experience in under 10 words: sheer terror punctuated with moments of fun!

Our work group decided to do a team building, and (unfortunately) didn’t do much research after someone suggested something called “river tracing”. A few people asked questions: is there much hiking involved? No. Do you have to know how to swim? No. Any snakes? No. All of  these turned out to be incorrect.

Let me clearly say: this is an activity for those who love extreme sports and are addicted to the attendant adrenaline rush!

Knowing what I know now (having experienced this first hand), I’d tell you: Do not attempt this activity if you are:

  • overweight
  • out-of-shape
  • not a seasoned rock climber
  • not a strong swimmer
  • over 40
  • have any unusual medical conditions
  • afraid of heights

We were to meet at the Xindian MRT at 8am on a Friday. 8am? Xindian is an hour away by bus + MRT ride so I got only a few hours of sleep before having to get up and out the door. After a harrowing taxi ride from the station into the Wulai canyons, we stopped at a hotel where we put our bags in lockers and met our guides (2 guides to 12 Trenders).

We were given a helmet, a life vest, some neoprene booties, and woven gloves, and told: test each rock before you step on it; if it’s slippery, find another rock to step on.  Uh….okay. Sounds reasonable. Perhaps the guides thought we were all well-versed in river trekking and that no additional safety precautions or information about what we were up against was needed…and off we went.

Beginning of the trek

30 minutes of hiking later, we came upon the low bank of a a river, with an 8′ waterfalled dam and shorter rock barrier. We were instructed to fall off the rock barrier backwards. The water was cool, but not too bad. Then we had to find a way to the top of the dam and jump off into a “deep area” below. This was a bit harder and by the time everyone was done, we were soaking wet and ready to start the trek.

For the next few hours, we pushed our way upstream, through running water that was often chest height (for me) or higher. Over rocks. Through rocks. Several other groups passed us by, evidently in a hurry to get somewhere; we never saw them again. We saw myriad exotic butterflies, a water snake, huge water spiders and praying mantis, small fish, tadpoles. I got my foot stuck one and twisted it getting it free. I slipped and fell into a shallower area, onto some rocks, once. Finally, it was lunch time. There we were, wet, bedraggled, hungry, huddled like sea lions sunning ourselves on rocks. Our guides, who make many such trips every week, broke out a camp stove and  fixed a gourmet meal of….yup, ramen noodles (with canned fish for most, and plain for us vegetarians). It was served in a small tin cup. (Luckily I had brought an energy bar + drink + orange for later.) After lunch some people went back into the water. I sat and talked a bit with the guides. They siad that once, their boss took a group out past dark and the police had to come and give them flashlights to get out of the canyon. Eek.  It must have been somewhere around 2pm when we left the lunch (rock) site and got back in the water. The guides said that the exit from the river was “100 yards” ahead. Okay, I thought I can do that. Then, we came upon a rock slide. Of course everyone had to try it out (I went twice but managed to bruise my one kidney) even if it meant climbing back up a huge boulder with the use of a rope. Lots of pictures were taken and then we headed for….not really sure except I thought it was the end of our odessey. Wrong.

At the bottom of the rock slide

The river bank butted up against the mountains. And I asked how we were getting out since I saw no trail. “Up” said the guides. You’ve got to be kidding! So, soaking wet, we began our ascent on a barely visible (and super slippery) path. Several times I thought I was going to have an asthma attack, I was breathing so hard and wheezing.  There was nowhere to stop (I had people ahead and people behind me). Thankfully, everyone stopped until I could catch my breath and then, up again. Finally, after what seemed like an hour but was probably *only* 30 minutes, we emerged onto a paved area and rested. We all decided to let the person having the most difficult time with this activity choose the next one.

I thought we were nearly done. Wrong again! The next few hours is a blur but I remember walking up another steep incline and then down. Imagine an 18″ dirt path, littered with smooth stones and a 200’+ cliff with no barrier on one side and the mountain on the other. There was NO ROOM for error here! Then came the “stairs” (old railroad ties holding up dirt, still on a steep incline). My hips hurt, my knees were killing me,  I was hot and thirsty, but we still had a ways to go. Finally we made it  to a paved path (hallelujah!). Again the guides told us it would be another “10 minutes” back to the hotel. 30 minutes of walking mostly uphill again, we got to the hotel. Some were so exhausted they had no energy for a (cold) shower. I was covered with dirt and leaves and brine from the river and had to get clean. Then, another crazy taxi ride downhill to the MRT. Onto the MRT and a bus and then in search of dinner near my apartment. Afterwards, those last 8  flights of stairs up to my place were torture.  I hurt so bad, was sunburned; I slept all the way through Saturday.

Was the teambuilding activity a success? I think everyone is glad to have survived. I wonder if any of the younger, fitter members will do this again? I can say for certain: for me, once is more than enough!

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.

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…

Christmas in Taipei

I finally got all my packages and cards mailed out last week; lord, I hope they make it safely to their intended recipients!  People here are so trusting. I have no doubt the packages will make it across the water. I am, however, worried about what happens to them once they land stateside (that’s a sad state of affairs, isn’t it). The postage was outrageous, but then again, the packages are travelling 10,000 miles and I had them insured. I carefully selected the gifts – all made in Taiwan. The Taiwanese pride themselves on their workmanship. And their pride is well-placed; it’s amazing to see how much care goes into even the simplest of items. I was invited to a co-worker’s house for a Christmas Eve party and to Yingge for Christmas day. It’ll definitely be a different celebration this year…

I found a live Christmas tree, all bundled up in the florist shop across from the bus stop. I wrapped my arms around it and breathed its smell in. Ah, such a lovely scent! I made the mistake of asking the price….are you ready for this? 20,000NT, the shoplady said with a straight face. That translates into nearly 700USD – for one 6’tree that won’t last one month. Yikes! Instead, I went to the “everything” store and purchased a  small fake white tree and some LED lights (both made in Taiwan). Total cost: less then 500 NT (18USD)! I can still smell the spendy pine when I turn the LEDs on…

Merry Christmas 2011

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.

Will the rain ever stop?

No one told me that “Winter” in Taiwan consists mainly of lowered temperatures, high humidity,  and non-stop RAIN. Ugh! Ok, not completely non-stop. I think last Monday night the rain stopped long enough so that I didn’t need an umbrella (a handy little Totes, one of the two smartest items I brought with me from the States) on my walk home from work. Seriously, if I’d wanted to live in a world of grey and green, I’d have moved to Seattle! On the upside though, I do find the sound of raindrops soothing while I’m indoors… and oddly, the wet weather doesn’t seem to affect the multitude of bicyclists and scooter drivers clogging the roadways. They cover up with colorful full-body rain gear and take each kilometer in stride.

Taipei World Design Expo

Entrance to Songshan venue

As a teambuilding activity, all of our company’s Taiwan-based tech writers took the day off  on Friday to go on a field trip – and what a day it was! Taipei was selected to host the 2011 Design Expo divided among three venues: Songshan Cultural and Creative Park (great name!)  and two Nangang Exhibition Halls. We met at Songshan @ 10am under gorgeous skies along with hundreds (thousands perhaps) of like-minded design aficionados. After waiting in line to get a program we entered the Expo. Much like a county fair, there were exhibits in various buildings; we opted to start in the “back” and work our way to the front, since it was obvious that the exhibits closer to the entrance were mobbed! Every type of object (for work or play) you could imagine was represented. My favorite was the floor housing the “Golden Pin” award winners for innovative design of products sold in Taiwan!

The eponymous golden pin!

Room after room of colorful, useful, imaginative products! I love this stuff! I could have spent all day there but our plan included catching all three venues in one day, so, off we went. After a wonderful lunch at a nearby pizzeria, we road the MRT (blue line) to the end-of-the-line: Nangang. The giant exhibition halls housed more industrial displays with vendors from all over the world. My personal favorites were the BMW booth with it’s upbeat music and crazy lighting and a local handbag designer:

Designer handbags

speed demon

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