Saturday, February 28, 2009

And I'm proud to be an American!!

(gotta love that song, by Lee Greenwood!)

I just - finally - watched the inauguration of Barack Obama; how inspirational is he?

I have to say that in this month of huge change for me I have thought a lot about the United States and what it means to me. Moving to a completely new country with a foreign language and foreign culture is one of the most difficult things that I think a person can do. It is an exciting and amazing experience, but it is also full of challanges. The shear overload of new experiences - sights, smells, sounds, culture - can be exhausting. Nick and I were talking the other night about the emotional and mental stress we've felt over the last month and our individual culture shock experiences and he joked that sometimes he feels like moving to a new country is self-induced torture.

In some ways it is. Don't get me wrong, we are both really enjoying life right now and I'm so happy that we're doing this, but let me tell you, it is not easy. There are some days or hours or moments where I just am at my wits end. Sometimes the littlest thing can set me off or upset me and make me feel homesick. The whole experience has really given me a deep and profound respect for every immigrant who has come to the United States over the last 250+ years and made our country what it is today.

Those people had/have heart. That is why America is such an incredible country. Because our country is made up of people who left everything that they knew and loved to make a better life for themselves on US soil. These are good people; driven and brave people.

I have only come to Taiwan for the experience. I did leave everything I know - but only for a year or two. I know that I will go home again and live in my own country, and I am thankful for that. I can't imagine actually leaving everything I know and immigrating permanently. We should be proud of our heritage and history, it is quite inspirational.

Friday, February 27, 2009

RSS Feed

Hey there people,

I just added the option to subscribe to my blog with an RSS feed. I didn't understand what an RSS feed was until today when I decided to look it up, so if you're as clueless as I was, here is a little finformation:




Ok... there you go. take it or leave it.

Studying for The Drivers Test

Nick and I should be getting our Alien Resident Certificate (ARC) next week and are studying up to take our Taiwan scooter drivers license as soon as we are able to. Some of the questions are quite entertaining (not to mention poorly translated) so I thought I'd share a couple with you. You can try to answer them yourselves and I'll provide a key at the end :-)


  1. (T/F) I have driven for many years and have good driving skill. Therefore, when I'm driving, I often joke and sing. This shows my driving skill and will not affect the safety.
  2. If you slip and fall down because there is some oil on the road, you should (1)take it as bad luck and ride away(2)report to the nearest police station.(3)but tree branches or other visible markings on the area to warn other people.
  3. If a motorist wants to keep the traffic order to gain a good image for the country, strengthen the social safety and have the happiness of his family, he should(1)have good riding moral and spirit of obeying the law. (2)have good riding skills (3)not smoke and drink.
  4. When you ride to a store to buy things, you should (1)park your motorcycle at the assigned area and walk into the store to shop(2)stop at the road side and shout to the shop own to bring you the things(3)park your motorcycle as you wish in front of the store counter or pavement.
  5. A motorist cloth and appearance (1)have no restrictions(2)can wear slippers(3)should be clean and tidy.
  6. I am a good motorist and always follow the traffic rules, I hope the traffic policemen should for the sake of safety (1)strengthen observation and traffic law enforcement(2)not strengthen observation and traffic law enforcement(3)only strengthen the observation.
  7. (T/F) I discover from the two passengers whispered conversation that they are drug dealers. To help my country, I should take them to the police station and not let them escape.
  8. (T/F) On a narrow slope, if the car driving downhill does not give way to a car driving uphill. or a uphill car does not wait a downhill car passing the slope, and try to go uphill. or a car are driving along the inside lane of the slope does not give way to a car on the outside lane will be fined.

1. F 2. 3 3. 1 4. 1 5. 3 6. 1 7. T 8. T

Thursday, February 26, 2009

Woody Woody Hoo Hoo!!!

Hey everybody!
I am officially posting from my own HOUSE!! We have INTERNET!!!

This is very exciting for me! If anyone is interested in chatting, I will now be available via Skype :-)

In addition to this good news, I wanted to tell you all that I've added a "Lunar Informer" widget to my blog. This was inspired by the daily Lunar Prophecy section of the Taipei Times (the English-language newspaper that we read everyday). Every day it tells you what phase the moon is in and says things like "today is a good day to install a new kitchen, it is a bad day for everything" or "today is a good day for getting engaged, it is a bad day for getting your hair cut."

In case anyone is wondering, today's lunar prophecy from the Taipei Times is:

Today is a good day for:
  • worshipping
  • moving house
  • praying for good luck

Today is a bad day for:

  • nothing

The lunar informer widget is not quite as straightforward as the one we get in the Taipei Times, but I thought you might enjoy this little piece of Chinese culture!

Wednesday, February 25, 2009

Look what Nick Found!!!

So, last week Nick was driving through Taichung by himself and suddenly realized that he was not on the road that he thought he was on. He thought to himself, heck... I'll keep on driving and see where I end up. And look at what he found! -->

He just happened upon a 4 story buddah statue!!! These things just don't happen in the United States, do they folks? Ahhh, the perks of living in an Asian country!

So on our last day off (Tuesday) we were driving around the city and Nick decided to take me to the spot to check it out. (for anyone who is interested, This is located on JianShung Rd. east of Daya).

I'm still not sure what this place is called, because I guess its not important enough to be included on any tourist maps or in lists of "Must See" things in Taichung, although I surely think it should be. The Buddah is part of a Hindu temple, as is evident by the Hindu markings on his arm:

You can imagine our surprise the first time we saw this
marking! But we have recently learned that this is not a hitler-swastica; it is the marking for the Hindu religion. Ok... now we understand!

  • Anyway, the Buddah is pretty cool, so here are a couple more pictures from the site:




  • This is me in front of the buddah... for scale!

  • Here is Nick with a much smaller, but just as jolly, buddah!

  • This is the temple that the buddah belongs to. It looks like this new stone structure has been built around the original temple to protect it; however, this is just our speculation.




Monday, February 23, 2009

What have we been eating?

This is a good question!

Every day we go to breakfast at a little coffee shop across the street from our apartment. The owner knows us and I'm quite sure that if he could speak any English or I could speak any Chinese, we'd become fast friends.

We usually get the same thing every day: a cup of coffee, a ham sandwich, a hard boiled egg, and some jell-o. (Jell-o, by the way, is a very common thing here. Its eaten all the time and regularly served with meals at informal restaurants... I'm all about it!) The ham sandwich is on Italian or French style bread and its fantastic! It is the only good bread I've had since I left the States, and I'm quite happy to eat it every day. After breakfast, our meals are much less consistent and predictable.

One of our favorite places to go to grab a quick lunch is a dumpling stand on our way to work. Women are sitting at this table all the time making dumplings and a furious pace. Its quite amazing to watch. They just have these huge bags of ground pork already prepared with seasonings and they use a little wooden spatula to scoop some meat into the pre-cut dough and then pinch the dumplings shut.
Nick and I usually order about 15 dumplings each and just eat them all for lunch. They're quite delicious, but usually give me a bit of indigestion. I typically have to take a trip to the restroom about an hour later, but I still really like to eat them.



Another thing we recently found was a stand across the street from our house where we can get breakfast when our little cafe is closed (on Sundays). They serve a sort of breakfast sandwich, except instead of bread, the stuff is in between two pads of rice. I'm not quite sure what all was inside, but I do know there was an egg, some beef, onions, and an unidentified fried-something (possibly fried tofu). It was actually pretty good, but also had me running to the restroom not too long after eating it.



One of our favorite things to grab on the go is something called "manapua" in Hawaii, and I'm not even going to try to give you the Chinese name. They are basically dumplings but the meat is inside of steamed bread, instead of pasta. They are one of my favorite snacks and only cost about $NT10 each (which is about 30 cents US).
Well, that's all the time I have for today. I'm going to try to start taking more food pictures, because I think food is one of the most interesting and fun things to explore in new countries and I want to share it all with you!

Fun with Famliy Pictures

So my dad recently found this photo from my uncle's first wedding back in the 70's I believe. This is (from left to right) my Uncle Karl, Aunt Paula, Dad, and Grandma Colette.


The photo just happened to be sitting on top of this recent family photo:
And if you look closely at the two photos, all my sister has to do is grow a mustache and move her part a little to the right and she looks just like my dad, except his hair is longer! haha.
Fun stuff!

Sunday, February 22, 2009

Thai Massage

Last night Nick and I had our first Thai massage!

We spent Saturday hanging out with Nancy's cousin Chris: we went to lunch and then got dessert (which I will take a picture of and explain next time I have it... it was quite unique!) and we rode some go-Karts and then had dinner.... it was quite the full day.

Chris also made a reservation for he and his girlfriend and Nick and I to go to get a Thai massage at 10pm that night. Nick has never had a massage before and I've never had a Thai massage so we weren't really sure what to expect. Nick wasn't really excited about it, but that's what Chris wanted to do, so he went along with it.

The first thing they did when we got there was to wash our feet, which I was all about. After that we were lead to a small private room with three beds and each given a pair of pants and a button-down shirt to put on. Chris and his GF were in a different room so Nick and I had to figure out what to do ourselves... for a couple of minutes we deliberated whether or not we were supposed to completely strip down or leave our undergarments on... but we (correctly) decided that we should remove everything.

The lights were low and we were in these weird clothes that we weren't even sure we had put on correctly (do the buttons go in front, or in back!?... answer: in front!) Needless to say... Nick was feeling WAY out of his element!

Once we were changed, the women came in to give us each a massage. We paid NT$1,000 for a two hour massage (that is about $33US, so its a pretty good deal).

Thai massages are quite unlike the massages that you usually get in the United States (which I think are Swedish??). Anyway, these women really work for their money! They use their entire body to massage you: Their hands, elbows, their knees, their feet... Nick's masseuse even used her chin to hold his knee while she was rubbing his thigh. It's pretty cool! They used their feet for moves like this:

and did all kinds of body manipulations putting their body weight on us to stretch us out. There were even times when the masseuse was sitting in between my legs so she could work on my thighs or whatever else she wanted to do. It was pretty crazy. My masseuse was a little chubby, which worked out because then when my leg was resting on hers it was like a pillow instead of a bony leg. I was all about it! haha.

The last move of the massage was this one:

(where the masseuse is the one on the bottom)

Nick's masseuse was a small woman and it was pretty amusing to see Nick on top of her like this. I said in Chinese "he is very big!" when she did it! haha. I can't believe he didn't crush her!

I have to say, I really enjoyed my Thai massage and I have a feeling that when we go to Thailand, we will be getting a lot of these!

Taichung Metropolitan Park (台中都會公園)

What a great weekend.

Last week Nick was researching things to do in the city on our days off, so on Friday morning after breakfast, we headed out to Metropolitan Park (台中都會公園).

This is a pretty big park on the north-west of the city, up on Dadu Mountain (大肚山). Because it is up on the mountain, it’s pretty windy up there, but it was a great day and we really enjoyed it.

One thing that was a bit....mmmmmm interesting was the wide array of phallic symbols scattered about the park. For example, the first things that you see when you enter the park is this statue:


When I first saw it, i thought.... noooo that's not a huge phallus! But yes... yes it is. It is one of the most phallic things I have ever seen. Here are some more angles... just in case this one pictures wasn't enough:

and finally... one more (sorry mom and ginger... we just had to do it)

Here is the official description of this sculpture from the park's website: Upon entering the Taichung Metropolitan Park, one sees a sculpture that looks shockingly like an unexploded missile that might have been left over from the Second World War. It is actually a sundial, representing the theme of the park, sprouting upward like a seed to meet the sun and serving as the marker of the park's center.


.... lets be serious people, it doesn't shockingly look like a missile... it shockingly looks like a penis! And it didn't end there. There was this lovely little water installation next to a lake...
lets take a closer look:
Ok, enough about with the penis pictures... anyway, my favorite part of the park was the “tranquility stream” which was just a little pond of water the fed a stream. There were lots of fish and turtles in it, and the turtles were super cute. They were playing "king-of-the-hill" on a rock and it was really fun to watch.


After we strolled in the park for a while, Nick taught me to drive the scooter and I spent about an hour driving around and practicing turning. I think I'm good enough now to pass my driver's test, although I probably won't be driving on the road for quite a while. Check me out:

video
A woman we work with called us on Friday and let us know that our work visa's came through so hopefully we'll get our ARC card this week. If we do, we can go to get our driver's licenses and then we'll be officially legal to drive scooters here. The ARC (alien resident card) will also make us eligible to have health insurance and own our own scooters, so this is pretty exciting!

Friday night, Nick and I took Angel and Eric out to dinner to thank them for how much they'
ve helped us over the last month. We went to a nice German restaurant and had some good beer and food and listened to a cover band that was playing at the restaurant. All of the songs they played were in English, like “Sweet Caroline” and Beatles songs, it was fun. I love hanging out with Eric because he likes to talk about the cultural differences between Taiwan and the US and it always makes for some fun and interesting conversations.

After dinner, I had my first KTV experience! KTV stands for Karaoke Television and is basically the Taiwan version of Karaoke. Just like in Japan, but very unlike the US, in Taiwan when you go to Karaoke, you get a private room for just your group of friends.


The room has its own bathroom and you can buy some beer and even food (the brought out some fruite for us) and its basically set up like a living room with some couches and a big screen in the front of the room where the music videos and the words to the songs are displayed. It was good times. Eric is a fantastic dancer, so whenever someone sang an up-beat song, he would twirl Angel and I around the room.


Nick even sang!

Tuesday, February 17, 2009

Our First Hike in Taiwan

Tuesday was the first day since we've arrived in Taiwan that we had absolutely nothing that we had to do. What a glorious feeling.

We decided to head out to Da Keng, a scenic area near to Taichung (about 1/2 hour by scooter or car) where there is hiking and other outdoors things to do.

I wasn't sure what to expect, but in my mind I pictured trails similar to those in Colorado... maybe some nice relaxing hikes, maybe some more difficult ones, meandering through the woods with a great view at the top.... that was not quite what we got!

I'm not really sure why I still have expectations for things. If there is one thing that this whole experience has taught me it is this: my expectations are based on my culture and what I know from the US... I'm not in the US anymore, therefore nothing is ever what I expect it will be.

So Tuesday morning, after breakfast we both hopped on our little 125cc scooter and headed up into the mountains. Please try to imagine a scooter with about 350 pounds on it heading straight up a mountain... lets just say, the scooter was definitely hurting! Thankfully its a rental, so we weren't too worried about it!

We arrived at the head of trail 1 and started hiking.
Pretty soon we came to a physical fitness course with all kinds of things, like monkey bars (which Nick is trying out here) and a rope tunnels (which I made the mistake of trying out here)








After that minor detour, we were off on the hike. At first was walked along a concrete path. (This was definitely not undisturbed natural beauty... )But the concrete quickly faded and became basically a wood ladder for the remainder of the 3 hour hike. We were literally climbing up and climbing down this ladder for the entire hike.

Talk about not being able to take your eyes off of the trail. I have to admit I was a little confused. From what we had heard, it sounded to us like families go up there for a relaxing day with their kids... just walking through the woods.... but noooooooo sir-ie, that is not what this is.

We even saw a family of 5 hiking it. A mom and dad with two small children (one being carried by his father) and their tooth-less grandmother climbing with them! I was amazed. This is no walk in the park. It was about 80 degrees and humid and we were climbing one of the steepest things I've ever hiked on before. It was intense!
Based on the family we saw up there, and the fact that we hiked on three different trails, all with the exact same terrain, it seems to me that this is what people do to get out of the city!

Although it was a good workout, I definitely did not find it very relaxing. My legs felt a bit like jelly at the end!

The view from the top was pretty cool... Taichung is quite the sprawling city, although you can't see much from the pictures (it was a pretty hazy day). Anyway, it was definitely nice to get out of the city and be on our own for the day, although I'm not sure how anxious I will be to hike here again!

Monday, February 16, 2009

Hong Kong: Part 2

Our second day in Hong Kong was much better than the first. We decided to get out of the city and go to see the largest Taoist temple in Hong Kong. It is about an hour's train ride outside of the main city. Based on our observations during the train ride, it sees to us that everyone in the country lives in a high rise. They were everywhere! I mean we were an hour's train ride from the city, and still there were high rises everywhere!

The Fung Ying Seen Koon temple is actually pretty cool. I don't know much about Taoism (or Daoism) but I intend to learn more this year. The main temple houses three deities. Based on the extreme similarities between this temple and the one next to our house, I have to conclude that the temple that is on the same block as our apartment building is a Daoist temple.

I unfortunately didn't get a picture inside of this main temple because there were a lot of worshipers and I didn't want to be too intrusive. But it looked pretty similar to this one (this is a picture of a temple that we stumbled upon later in the day) Basically there are three of these alters. If memory serves me, one was gold like this one, one was red, and one was blue. Each one is perfectly situated directly in front of one of the doors of the temple.

There were lots of buildings on the grounds of this temple, including two other places of worship. I know that each temple served its own purpose and had its own deities, unfortunately, I don't have any details about them.


The first room we went to was very serene. This was the main deity in the room, but there were also a bunch of pillars in the room covered in tiny little deities in glass globes. I've never seen anything like it before, so I thought it was pretty cool. The second room had figures lining all along two walls, there must have been at least 50 of them and people were praying at and leaving things for each of them individually. In addition to all of the lesser deities lining the walls, there was one very large shrine in the middle of the room. That deity had like 6 hands, 4 faces, and looked pretty intimidating.

There were lots of people at the temple on Saturday and they were all burning incense and saying prayers at the alters. They also brought flowers, fruit, candy, and all kinds of small gifts.

In addition to the temples, they also had lots of "Ancestor Halls." These are places where people can memorialize their ancestors and then come to burn incense for them and pray to them. So, the halls are full of pictures of people's deceased relatives.

The temple also had some other cool things, like this big wall that had some pretty detailed carvings on one side and the entire Daoist text inscripted on the other side.

After we wandered around the temple for a while, Nick found a small set of stairs way at the top of the property. It kind of looked like a place we weren't supposed to go, but we went up anyway and stumbled upon a cemetery.


I had never seen a Daoist cemetery before and it was pretty cool. Ancestor worship is very important in Asian cultures and based on what we saw at this temple, its very important to the Daoist religion. Instead of simple head stones like the ones we get in the U.S. the grave-sites here were all little alters to for the ancestors. Some of them even had little urns on them so that the surviving relatives can burn incense at the grave site for the dead.


(here is a shot of the graveyard hillside)

(Here is what the typical grave sites in the cemetery looked like)


(This is one of the more opulent grave sites... we figured this guy had some dough!)

The temple was pretty cool and it was neat to have some time exploring on our own. We had our backpacks with us because we were getting on the plane later that night and it was so hot out that while we were in the grave yard (no one was around) I changed out of my jeans and into a pair of carpi's.... I hope I wasn't being too disrespectful, but it was FREEKING HOT!

Saturday, February 14, 2009

Hong Kong Visa Run: Part 1

Well, we're back from Hong Kong... and boy are we glad to be home!

Hong kong is quite the country, it is one of the
most densely populated places in the world, with an overall density of about 6,303 people per square kilometer... now that number may be difficult for you to grasp, but let me tell you, that is a whole lot of people.

Literally everywhere you are, you can look up and see this-->
I wasn't able to take any pictures with my camera that capture the insanity of their skyline, but you can see it in the Hong Kong wikipedia entry here.

We got to Hong Kong on Thursday night and were excited to be in a place where people speak English. That night we went to see the Hong Kong city light show. This is the largest permanent light show in the world that is put on every night at 8pm along the Hong Kong skyline. Below are some videos I took during the show, it was pretty cool.


video


video


video

After that, the trip went down hill! Friday morning we headed out to the Taiwan Consulate to get a 2 month visitor visa. The visa that we entered Taiwan on was a non-extendable 30-day visa that expired on Monday. So we had to get another visitor visa to cover us until our work visa is processed.

The first snag in the day happened on our way to the visa office: Nick's ATM card was eaten from an ATM machine! So I took out the most my bank allows me to take out in one day and we went on our way. When we got to the visa office, however, we realized that we didn't have enough money to pay for our visas, so I had to go all the way across the city to get our Travelers checks so that we could pay for these things. The whole ordeal took about 3 hours!


After that we wanted to grab some lunch, Hong Kong is supposed to be the culinary capital of Asia... unfortunately I have to admit we weren't able to find any exceptional food while we were there. Friday afternoon was no exception.


I think we were in the financial district or something because it seemed we were completely trapped inside a maze of buildings and there wasn't a side walk or a way out in sight. It was unreal. I had a mini-breakdown because there were so many people everywhere and I couldn't handle it, I kind of freaked out... I was just overwhelmed by the whole thing. It was quite the ordeal.


Our first impression of Hong Kong (and lasting) was not very good. I'm sure that there are some very beautiful places in Hong Kong and it certainly has its positives, but the sheer amount of people makes it a very unappealing place for us.


Here is a short list of the pro's and con's of Taiwan as we see it:

Pros:

  • light show
  • Victoria Harbor Skyline
  • Ferries
  • Very diverse population
  • Great public transportation
  • pretty cool temples built in the 1700's
  • Kowloon Park
  • Shopping.... LOTS and LOTS of shopping!

Cons:

  • Rude (cold) people... I guess you get this in any big city
  • Billions of people
  • Buildings that you can't get out of
  • Dirty bathrooms (this I found amazing... the city in general was very clean, but the public bathrooms were just atrocious... horrible!
  • There are run down high rises EVERYWHERE!
  • It is very difficult to walk around the city
  • Relative to Taiwan, its very expensive
  • Hawkers: there are hawkers everywhere. If I got $1 every time someone asked me to buy a tailored suit or foot massage, I'd be rich right now... its very annoying

Here are some more pictures from Hong Kong:

  • This is a picture of the bathroom in our hostel (we got a private room, so it was basically a cheap hotel). Right behind Nick is the shower, so you take a shower in the same place that you go to the bathroom. Nick literally used the toilet while he was taking a shower, just because he could!
  • oooooooooooo the humanity!

  • This is called the "travelator" its basically a people mover that they use to transport people from a lower area of the city to an upper-section of the city. Its pretty long and I'm guess it can save you over an hour of walking. Next time you're going to get on the people-mover at the airport you can say "I think I'll take the travelator now," haha!


The second day we were in Hong Kong was much better than the first... but I'll save that for part 2!