Monday, April 26, 2010

Are you a good driver?

OK, I've been trying to get around to writing for a few days now, but I've just been so busy.

The extra work was enough to keep me going all day, but add in having a bunch of extra foreigners around and you can understand why I haven't been able to find much of a free moment.

I'll just give you the basic highlights of the past few days plus a lengthy description of Sunday.

Tuesday, April 20, 2010

What kind of mood are you in today?

I was super cranky all day.

Well, the first 20 minutes of my day I was pretty aloof... and that's when everything went downhill.

I sort of dawdled when I was getting ready this morning and I ended up not leaving the apartment until 10 minutes before I was supposed to be catching a train.

Monday, April 19, 2010

What would it be like to live alone?

So today began Tess' last week in Taiwan.

It's totally bizarre to think about because not very many people have left since I got here last summer. Which is weird considering this is generally a pretty high turnover job.

Either way, her mom and sister will be here tomorrow morning. She's super excited and to be honest so am I. I can't even count how many conversations I've overheard between Tess and her family on Skype and of those how many I've actually ended up giving my two cents in. Then there are just all the families she's told us.

Saturday, April 17, 2010

When are you absent-minded?

The past week has been insane.

Saturday night we went out for Angela's birthday. Of course we went to our usual club — Search — but this time Angela reserved tables. That put a nice twist on things and we all had a blast. (Except for when that super creepy Taiwanese guy kept following me around the dance floor and literally tried to kiss me at one point...)

Every time we go to this beach we go all the way down to this old war bunker to set up camp.

Saturday, April 10, 2010

Who needs a $200 bill?

So I have apparently been teaching for nine months now, if you take out the vacation time that is.

According to our contract, they hold the first two weeks of our pay. Then when you've stuck it out for nine months, they give you back a week of it. They hold on to that other week to make sure you stick around for the next three months.
I guess the $30,000NT bonus at the end isn't enough for some people so they had to tack on that extra $14,000 or so.

So for the next week I'm getting double pay. That's nice. Of course, this was all accounted for in my budget and so it must be sent directly to my bank account never to be seen at again until I'm ready to pay off bills or travel.

I have, however, gotten to see some interesting money.

I've already told you about the $2000 bill in all its purple glory. It's slightly longer than the other bills and in general a major pain in the butt unless you're going to make a pretty large purchase or just put it in the bank.

Every time I've gotten one I've just put it in the rent pile or given it to the bank in exchange for the funds I send home for my student loans. (Insert grumblings about student loans here.)

A few weeks ago though, I found this really random looking coin in my bag. It took me awhile to realize it's a $10NT coin and not some random other money. It just looks so sleek and new and it has the random circle on the back of it that's a different texture from the rest of the coin.

According to Linda (my Chinese teacher) they were trying out a new look for the coins, but people decided they didn't like them and that they were still very similar to the old version (I mean they are still silver and the exact same size, but so?) so the government stopped minting them.

But today, well today I had a special discovery. I got really confused when the accountant at school handed me this:

It's green!

I don't know about you, but when I see green money I automatically think American money. This was especially true since all the money in Taiwan is red and blue and purple (Purple. How can you take this seriously?). At least I thought it was.

Someone told me the $2000 bill was elusive, well I hadn't even heard of the $200 bill until last week. And why would I?

It's the equivalent of the American $2 bill. In theory, it's kind of cool. But in practice, it's kind of annoying.

The way things are priced here, it's rare you would need $200NT and if you do, why not just use two $100NT bills or a $500NT bill. Chances are you have a ton more of those than $200NT bills. If the government really wanted anyone to use them enthusiastically it would make more of them. But it's stingy with them, and that's because they know that they really don't fill a need.

They're simply not necessary.

They are kind of nifty looking though. They're very clean (not like "not dirty" clean — though I suppose that's true too given its lesser use — but well organized). And I would guess they're more difficult to forge than the average $100NT or $500NT bill.

There are quite a few water marks and this one strange spot on the right side of the bill that looks like a guy wearing a dou li (those pointy bamboo hats) in the back of a red truck driving through a dessert. (For the record, I'm sure that's not what it actually is, but it's kind of hard to tell so I'm letting my imagination take over.)

Anyone know of any other infrequently used currency out there? I think it's kind of interesting.

Thursday, April 8, 2010

What's a tostada?

Yesterday was simply amazing.

I leaped out of bed at 11:30 a.m. which is incredibly early for me, especially once you consider I didn't go to sleep until 5 a.m.

I was so excited I couldn't sleep. All I could think was: "Today, I'm making a Tex-Mex feast."

I received a package full of Tex-Mex essentials from my mother the other day: A 30-count package of corn tortillas which I've been whining for since I got here; a block of Velveeta (I won't even attempt to call it cheese now that it made the 7-day journey from Texas without harm.); and six cans of El Pato sauce — the best jalapeno sauce ever and the base ingredient to my dad's enchilada sauce.

Since it was my week to cook, I decided it was Tex-Mex time.

All from scratch, I made refried beans, Spanish fried rice, salsa, and tostadas. I also made queso, but you can't really call that from scratch. Although I did make the "rotel" to put in the velveeta from scratch.

All I could think about all day was that it was Tex-Mex day and by the end of the day I would be eating some of my favorite foods that I grew up with my whole life.

In my class, I was super bored because my kids were taking forever to do anything and I was just thinking, "I want to go home and eat my food."

It's 12:30 p.m. the next day and I'm still full.

Of course the Girl Scout cookies didn't hurt.

My friend Terena sent me four boxes of girl scout cookies — two Thin Mints and two Samoas, my favorites! Now I just have to savor them.

Even if my supply is limited, having all these foods back in my life is probably less of a blessing than I would like it to be. Last week one of my classes asked me if I was pregnant.

Well, first they asked if I had a boyfriend. Then they asked if I had a husband. Then they asked if I was pregnant.

Now in my defense, I can still fit into every piece of clothing that I brought with me. Everything fits me just fine. And I am perfectly content with these sizes.

I honestly think it was just the dress I was wearing last week, but the whole experience has left me a little body conscious.

I mean, I'm used to my kids saying I'm fat (even the pudgy one's call me fat), but I honestly can't blame them. The average Taiwanese woman is a size 2 and a size 2 in Taiwan is equivalent to a girls' size 16 in the States. It's programmed into them to believe that all women are stick thin.

My curves seriously throw them off.

Either way, though, pregnant is a whole new level of insult and I'm not quite shaking it off the way I normally would.

I had better get into a better routine before it gets hot outside otherwise I'll just have one more excuse to add to the pile of reasons not to exercise.

In the meantime, I love Tex-Mex far too much and having it back in my life — even temporarily — has put me in the best mood ever. I don't think I'm capable of any level of restraint here.

Tuesday, April 6, 2010

How do you make aboriginal culture "amusing"?

Having a long weekend is always welcome no matter where you are, but especially when you're the kind of person who works six days a week.

I constantly think of places I want to go but it would take more than a simple day to travel, do the things you go there to do, and then come back home. 

It sucks only having one day a week to yourself.

So we all took full advantage of the three-day weekend. 

One of my roommates went to Kenting for the Spring Scream Music Festival with the regular crowd of Gloria friends. Another went to Hualien with her boyfriend who was visiting from Hong Kong where he's studying abroad.

I opted for a chill weekend at Sun Moon Lake with Leila because I knew that if it weren't for a long weekend, I simply wouldn't make it there.

Sun Moon Lake is the largest fresh-water lake in Taiwan and it's smack in the middle of the country in Nantou County. 

Being that it's hidden away in the mountains, it is a destination that is a tad on the expensive side, but I'm proud of myself for how little I managed to spend. 

It's also where you find plenty of beautiful views.

Now if you've ever been to Taiwan, you would know that Tomb-Sweeping Weekend (the holiday responsible for our blessed three-days of grace) is infamous for terrible weather.

Before the weekend Leila and I had toyed with the idea of going to Peng Hu, but finally stuck with the Lake. And while the weather at the lake wasn't perfect, it was still pretty good. 

Cloud and a little dreary at first, but we certainly managed. 

We honestly didn't do much hiking, which was the original plan. I don't know about Leila, but I was feeling a little lazy and just kind of wanted to look at the pretty things.

Both evenings we promised each other and ourselves that we would wake up super (ridiculously, really) early and hike up the Maolan hiking trail to see the sunrise over the lake.

Here's how that went on Sunday morning:

Alarm goes off.
Leila: I kind of want to keep sleeping.
Me: Yeah, me too.
Leila: OK, I'll set the alarm for 9 a.m. and we'll shoot for breakfast around 10 a.m.
Me: Sweet, *roll over and pass back out*

Sunday night we swore we would go on Monday morning since that was our last chance.

Alarm goes off.
Me: It was POURING down rain about an hour ago.
Leila: Seriously.
Me: Yeah. I don't know about you, but I'm not looking forward to that.
Leila: OK yeah me either. I'll set the alarm for around 9 a.m. so we can catch the 10:30 a.m. bus.
Me: K, *roll over and pass back out*

Now I suppose Monday morning was a mix of my lack of stick-to-it-ive-ness and the fact that I seriously hate mornings and most the time 4 a.m. is the time I'm going to sleep not waking up.

Se we never made that hike.

However, we walked around the lake a bit and we went on the brand new cable cars (Gondola) up the mountain and over to the Formosan Aboriginal Cultural Village.

Yep, it's an aboriginal-themed amusement park and it's easily the most fun I've had since I've been in Taiwan.

I love amusement parks. They remind me of when I was little and we lived in East Texas. We used to drive into Arlington every summer so we could go to Six Flags Over Texas as a family. I loved those days.

Anyhow, we didn't do a whole lot, but it was a fairly relaxing weekend, at least until we had to come back.

We spent literally the entire day Monday trying to get home. Note to self: Any time you're traveling on a holiday weekend, book your way there and back in advance.

If you're interested in seeing more photos, I set up a Flickr page that you can check out. I'll try to add extra photos now and then. As soon as I can I'll put up photos for old trips (Hualien, The Philippines) and fun times in Taiwan.

Friday, April 2, 2010

Where are we going?

So the Tomb-Sweeping Day holiday is this weekend. 

We get a whole three-day weekend out of it — both Saturday and Monday off work — which means that I obviously have to get out of Taoyuan so I can go do some exploring.
A few weeks ago, I asked Leila (my partner in crime for the Chinese New Year Island-Wide Trip) if she would like to go with me to Sun Moon Lake. I figured that was the next big tourist site I needed to go to that would take more than a day in order to get there, do things and come back. 

Then it turned out the weather at Sun Moon Lake is supposed to be terrible. 

So I checked the forecast and the only places in the whole country that were to be sunny were Kenting and Peng Hu.

Well, Kenting was out. They're having the big Spring Scream Music Festival this weekend and as much as I love a music festival, I need a chill weekend exploring not another fantastically drunk weekend to add to the collection. 

So we changed out minds and decided we would go to Peng Hu. This was Wednesday-ish. 

Last night Leila and I started figuring everything out and then today I went to buy tickets to Kaohsiung for tonight where we would then catch a ferry to the island tomorrow morning.

As the guy is printing out the tickets and getting ready to ask me for $1400NT — for two tickets, don't worry — I get a message saying all the ferries to Peng Hu from Kaohsiung are sold out on Saturday. The next earliest one we could get is Sunday morning. 

Apparently everyone and their dog (I mean this literally, I am in Taiwan after all) had the same idea to go to Peng Hu. 

We mulled it over for about 20 seconds while the guy behind the counter at the bus station started to get very impatient with me and decided to switch back to Sun Moon Lake — Ri Yue Tan in Chinese if you were wondering.

So we're off to Taichung tonight and catching a bus inland tomorrow. (By the way, I totally rocked it with the Chinese today!)

It's probably for the best anyway. I don't mind hiking in the rain, but as of this morning Peng Hu is even supposed to be getting a bunch of rain throughout the weekend. I'm not down with hanging out on a flat, basalt island for three days in the rain. 

That would be torturous. 

That brings me to this legendary weekend. Everyone says that apparently Tomb-Sweeping Weekend — I realize this epically coincides with Easter Weekend — is renowned for terrible weather. People here tend to not make plans because they know the weather will kill it.

Now, I have about an hour to pack before I have class so I better hop to it. I get to use my brand-new backpack that I bought for all the traveling I plan to be doing soon.

Oh and you should be looking forward to pictures. Rain or night, I finally got my camera charger back. I now have two camera batteries and two 2GB memory cards at the ready. 

This trip is going to be "picturetastic" no matter what.