Mortality

Yesterday I got an email from my high school’s graduating class Yahoo group telling us that one of our classmates had recently died. I didn’t remember her by name but my heart went out to her friends and family.  It can’t have been easy for her, hearing the words “breast cancer”. She was so young! Too young to be gone already! And then it hit me: she is MY age! Sigh…..

 

I have an apartment!

After work I viewed 5 apartments, arranged by several kind co-workers. One of them (and his girlfriend, a Taipei native) accompanied me on this journey. I knew I really like the first apartment I’d seen: close to a night market and a temple, overlooking a street of Chinese lanterns! They wanted a bit more than my budget allows so I went to see various other places, saving the the second viewing of that first place, for last, tonight.

The first apartment was across from the Sun Yat-sen Memorial on the top floor. It was a rather strange layout (no kitchen sink or even kitchen to speak of, clawfoot tub but strange Taiwan shower next to the toilet) but the view from the GARDEN was fantastic  and it was in a desireable neighborhood (hence the higher asking price, nearly 24000NT)! Unfortunately, it would be difficult to enjoy the garden because the mosquitos about ate us alive! Next, we looked at a LARGE furnished apartment in the same building, definitely out of my price range: 45000NT/month.

Our next stop on the apartment hunt express (on a scooter no less!) was across town. The first apartment was good-sized and there was an elevator in the building but no effort had been made to clean the place up. Ugh! Next! Then came a lovely little suite, very thoughtfully laid out and newly renovated. The building had an elevator but there was no washer and again the strange shower in the smallish bathroom, along with no electrical outlets in the kitchen, plus is was nearly 4000NT out of my price range.

Finally, onto the partially-furnished apartment I liked so much the first time I saw it. I still liked it and had discussed with my companions/translators that I’d take the 4th floor apartment (less desireable for Taiwanese) for a reduced rent, within my budget (20000NT). Initially, the polite young broker told us he’d have to ask the owner. So, through my friends I told him that if he would make an aggressive offer (3000 less than they had asked for) I was prepared to pay CASH tonight – and I pulled out my envelope full of 1000NT bills. I have never seen someone dial a phone so quickly! Yes, they would take 20K and would I come at lunch tomorrow to sign the lease? How about now, I said? So, on the scooters again, across town to the broker’s office. It was all very dignified: he bought us all dinner at a noodle place and we ate while waiting for the owner to arrive. Once she did, the contracts came out (in Chinese of course) and I counted out 40 1000NT bills (2 months rent is the standard down payment), signed the lease, (she placed her stamp on it) and got the keys! WOOHOO! Now I can apply for my Alien Registration Certificate (ARC), get a bank account, and receive mail!! Pictures to follow soon!

Day 11

I walked to the intersection of Heping and An He to meet the kind co-worker who is helping me with my apartment search. While I waited, the  folks at the real estate shop invited me in and gave me water and a lovely COLD wet wipe (where they trying to tell me something?). They also offered to help me find a place, asking me only what I could afford (kinda like a used car sales person!). I’ve got an appointment to see a place in my price range, close to work, tomorrow evening. In the meantime, I walked up 4 flights of steps to view an apartment that most closely resembled something I’d expect to see in an inner city! I could not get out of there fast enough! Next up, was a place I found on Craigslist, which was an MRT + bus + walk away from work. Gorgeous apartment building, (pool, sauna, workout room, Wii room, Karaoke room, library, laundry center, meeting rooms, modern landscaping), all amenities (“full” sized fridge, 2 burner stove, dish dryer, washer, bathtub AND shower) – it’s in my price range, even with the 2000NT “management” fee but it is a bit of a commute without a market nearby…The first place I looked at, that was just out of my price range,  called back and I’m going to see that tomorrow evening as well (my kind translator told them my top price is 3000NT less than what they are asking so maybe there is some room for negotiation…)

Not being able to speak the language and gauge the subtleties of the unspoken leaves one feeling rather vulnerable. I’m feeling a little pressure have to find an apartment to have an address to get an ARC card to get a bank account and phone! I still have a few weeks left in the hotel and don’t want to make a desperate grab for the first available place. There are a LOT of considerations to finding a place anywhere. In a foreign country, it seems as if the difficulties are multiplied!

Road Names and Wrapping Paper

A few observations:

Each and every road here seems to have many different spellings.

For instance, Tun Hwa Rd. could also be Tunhua Rd., Dun Hua Rd., or even Dunhua Rd., making it challenging to Google map directions!

Also, vendors seem to take a lot of care when wrapping purchases. A simple paperback book I bought was placed into a lovely high-quality paper bag, folded over at the top and taped shut. The chocolates were presented in a golden bag, sealed shut with an engraved sticker, and then placed into an even fancier bag with handles. The flowers were carefully arranged, taped together, wrapped in paper and then in cello so that water could be added. Such attention to detail!

Day 1 am

It’s amazing how good 6 hours of sleep in a HORIZONTAL position feels! After unpacking last night, I sleep like a log! 0630 comes way too early but yet, I was up and headed down to my first Taiwanese breakfast: rice with corn, olives, and tuna – yum! Lots of fried things (tofu, “wheat cake”, something that looked good but I have no clue what it was). They serve a green salad for breakfast, along with fish, an assortment of side dishes (I recognized seaweed) that looked interesting. NOTE: must try new country’s breakfast foods! Thank goodness I’d packed some oatmeal. And I’m eating chocolate like there’s no tomorrow! I worked out in the “gym” (free weights and some cardio equipment). It took me a minute to figure how to get to floor 13, where the gym is located; the elevator only goes up to 12! (Kinda like how I’m feeling this morning.) There’s a rooftop garden even (see below). Wishing I had grabbed my camera from my bag and taken pics on the way from the airport to the hotel last night….oh well. Time to get ready for my first day of WORK!!

Another view from the roof of the Fullerton

Taipei as seen from rooftop garden

 

Take off!

Yesterday was my last full day in the States! Seeing my children and grandchildren the past few days was wonderful!

I puttered around with my parents and attempted to handle last-minute details: talking with the customs broker in SFO, arranging a shuttle to LAX, printing out hotel and work information (in case my driver doesn’t speak English). After dinner, my Mom helped me pack – she somehow managed to shoehorn all my stuff from three suitcases into two! I tried checking in online with China Airlines but was missing a code on my Delta itinerary (I’d booked my flights through Delta; CI is one of their partners.) The Delta representative tried to explain how my itinerary says Delta but the flight is operated by CI – all I care about is that I have a seat on a plane (please, please, please let them change it to one with more leg room!) headed to Taipei and that it arrives safely!

After packing, I weighed the suitcases – ouch! One is just under 50 lbs and one is definitely OVER! The airline representative told me that 51-70 lbs over will cost an additional 50.00. Heck, I should try to shove more into my Samsonites…

I think I’m prepared….but who knows! I’ve got all my paperwork in order and hopefully I’ll be able to make it through Taiwanese customs with all my items intact! It’s a sobering feeling knowing that all support systems I’ve relied on in the past will be…in the past! I’ve still got my wits and sense of humor – and really, isn’t this the essense of adventure? I explained to the ‘rents that it’s like one of those cooking shows: you have a basket in front of you and are required to create a meal. You won’t know what ingredients you’ll be using until the basket is opened. So that’s me: getting ready to open the basket and make something wonderful out of whatever is inside.

T minus 3

Great news (for me, at least): BOTH of my suitcases arrived in Los Angeles – ahead of schedule! Thanks FedEx and the Ship-it Shop (love that name!) in Summerville SC.

I’m in SFO visiting with my youngest, having left SLC after seeing my older two children and four (count ’em, four) grandchildren!  I sat on the SLC > SFO flight next to a Chinese gentleman who, along with his wife, was taking his only child (a son) to college.  He spoke fairly good English and was very excited to learn that I love Chinese food. We talked a bit about Wei Wei and how the Chinese government is making small strides towards recognizing basic civil rights. One hopes that is true.

I received all sorts of great travel tips from my youngest (who is fluent in Mandarin) along with guidance on how to pronounce and use basic words. My goal is to learn one new word a day. She will also be sending me more “insider” information on Taipei from one of her teachers, who is a native.

NOTE: one thing I learned today (not related to the Chinese language) is that Netflix blocks all foreign IP addresses. In order to access your Netflix account overseas one needs to download a “hotspot shield”: http://download.cnet.com/hotspot-shield/ . I’ll let you know how that works out.

Next stop: soCal, my jumping off point for Taiwan and a visit with my parents! I have a lot of last-minute items to take care of before I’m out of cell phone range.

T minus 5

My bags are packed, which is a minor miracle considering I left SC Tuesday afternoon, scheduled to fly out of ATL Wednesday evening. I managed to keep them both under 50 lbs; the items must last at least 6 weeks until the boxes I hastily packed Wednesday morning, arrive. I decided to mail my suitcases to SoCal (I fly out of LAX) so as not to have to lug them through the various stops I’m making to visit family before leaving this continent. I hope they make it to CA before I leave.

When I arrive in Taipei, I’m to collect my luggage (sure hope I have luggage to collect!) and make my way to the car rental counter where my “driver” (sure hope he/she speaks or understands English!) is to take me to the Fullerton. My flight is 16+ hours, non-stop on China Airlines (sure hope I can get an aisle, bulkhead, or emergency row seat!). The flight arrives at 8:20pm and I’m curious as to how long it takes to make it through customs. (The last time I had to pass through customs was last year in Belize and that was a breeze. The time before that, when I returned from Germany, took literally hours despite having nothing to declare!) Wish me luck….I’ll let you know what happens.

 

 

 

T minus 14 – planning and packing

OMG, only two weeks before I leave for Taiwan and I’m waiting for my work visa to be issued  by the embassy in Washington DC. If I think about it too much, I’ll stress myself out! I applied at VisaHQ.com (“one-stop shopping for all your visa needs”), included all requisite documents (application, 2 passport photos, passport, offer letter, work permit, and application fee)  so everything should go smoothly, right?. But what if it doesn’t? I can’t think about that now because…

I have two weeks to go before departure and WAY TOO MUCH TO DO!  

Having never lived in the far East, I have no idea what will be available locally. Should I pack everything I think I might need for the next 6 months or just pack a few weeks worth of clothing, accessories, and toiletries until my packages – I still need to contact the custom’s broker – arrive? I know my new work environment has a casual dress policy so I know I don’t need any suits or heels. But honestly one never knows….maybe I should take a dress or saree (or two) just in case.

 I’m 5’11” so I’ve gone a bit overboard on jeans in “Long” and “Tall” sizes. How many pairs of pants will I really end up needing? I’m assuming that nothing will be available on the economy in my size so I plan, write lists, shop, re-write lists, and SHOP. I know I can only take two 50-lb suitcases on the plane so planning is crucial. Or maybe I’m just getting worked up about nothing. Oh, and did I mention that I’m teaching myself how to blog? (The writing is easy; the mechanics of the blog itself are foreign to me!)

 Note to self: get used to feeling like a stranger in a strange land. I wish “grokking” were actually possible!

Hello world!

Join me on my adventure as I travel to a land once known as “Formosa”.  It still exists today, though it’s known by a different name: Taiwan.

When I began entertaining thoughts of living and working in Taiwan, I looked online for recent information on the local culture and came up blank. I checked out Craigslist Taiwan (yes, there really is such a thing) and several expat sites. I scoured travel blogs and online travel magazines and found a nugget or two here and there. Whatever the reason for this dearth of information (perhaps those living in  Taiwan want to keep their lovely island home a secret?), it has prompted me to create this blog.

Hang on, as I prepare to have my life turned upside down – and dare to share the ensuing wild ride with you. 

I have a million questions. 

If you have answers, or just want to relate any Taiwan travel stories, tips, tricks, or “gotchas” about living in Taiwan, or heck, even a restaurant recommendation – don’t hesitate to holler! At the fuzzy front end of this voyage of discovery, I’ll take any and all information (related to Taiwan) you’re willing to pass along.

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