Saturday, May 30, 2009

Biking in Hou Li (后里), Taichung County

Bike riding in Taiwan is a very popular past-time and since I arrived in Taiwan I've been hearing all kinds of great things about the bike paths in Taichung County.

Finally, this weekend, my friend Claire invited Nick and I to take a trip out to Hou Li (后里) for a nice afternoon bike ride.

We should have had a reasonable expectation that the place would be crowded because of the holiday weekend, but I really had noooooooooooo idea what I was in for.

Imagine you are trying to leave the parking lot of a concert just after it's ended; now instead of everyone going one way, there are just as many people going out as there are coming in.
Add to this a bunch of kids and adults, who don't really know how to ride a bike, plus a large portion of people who find nothing wrong with coming to a complete stop in the middle of the bike path... and you can begin to get a picture of what we were dealing with.

In some places it was bumper-to-bumper, or tire-to-tire traffic. Literally there were places where it was so bad that people had to get off of their bikes and walk because they couldn't keep their balance riding the bike at such a slow pace. Don't Believe me? Check out this short video I took on one portion of our bike ride:

In addition to dealing with the massive crowds, I was riding on a bike with broken gears and a flat tire! Of course I didn't realize the tire was flat until hours into the bike ride, so I was working my ass off to ride on a virtually flat trail. Let's just say there were moments when I was more than a little bit irritated.

For example when I was hit by a 12 year old girl who was looking for someone behind her, or when I was almost hit by a grown women who also wasn't looking straight ahead despite the fact that she had her 1-year-old child in a basket on the front of her bike!

In defense of the bike path, the whole bike ride wasn't stop-and-go traffic. Despite my rough ride, I did manage to enjoy the day (especially after we finally put some air in my tires!) The trail is actually a really nice paved path that is lined with big shade trees in many parts and is a really pleasant place for a bike ride. That being said, I have to say that I will probably never return on a weekend. I just kept thinking to myself, "my dad would be freaking out right now!" ha ha.

As is the case in any place with large crowds, the people watching was fantastic. People rode all kinds of crazy bikes. It's very common in the city to see a regular bike with an extra seat in between the rider and the handle bars for a child to sit on, but on the bike path this idea was taken to an extreme.

Every where you looked there were tandem bikes, and it wasn't uncommon to see a tandem bike with one child in the very front, two parents peddling in the middle, and a small child in a little basket on the back. That's four people on a tandem bike! Or you can take out the second parent and have two children as passengers on a regular bike - Biking certainly is a family affair here!

At one point early in the bike ride, we went through a long tunnel that was pleasantly cool.

(here's a picture of my friends coming out of the tunnel)

While I was in the tunnel, there was a continuous, faint buzzing sound, similar to the hum of an insect like a bee or a mosquito. I had no idea what the sound was, but at first I thought maybe it was just the hum of all of the bikes.

Then I noticed something else peculiar: an old lady who was barely peddling her bike passed me! And she was not the only one who was able to pass me with such apparent ease. At first I was really confused. Watch this video of a boy riding up a slight incline, and you may be confused as well:

You may have noticed that he wasn't moving his feet, but I have to reiterate to you, he was riding slightly UP-hill, not down-hill!

So after putting to use my critical thinking skills, I realized that some (many) people on the bike trail were riding motorized bikes like the one pictured below!

Well, what can I say... the Taiwanese love their gadgets! (Take a look again at the picture above with the man and his child on a bike... notice that no one is pedaling that bike either!)

This actually can be really helpful if you're trying to haul all those children around on your bike, but it's hard for me to see the point of renting a motorized bike for a crowded day on the bike path when these people ride scooters around the crowded city all the time; to me these two experiences are virtually identical!

Tuesday, May 26, 2009

China Internet Censorship

I've been re-reading George Orwell's book 1984 for the last couple of weeks and, among other things, it has inspired me to spend a lot of time learning about Internet censorship in China. So, I'd like to take a couple minutes to share with you what I've been reading up on this last week:

As you may or may not already know, China spends millions of dollars and countless hours of man power in a never-ending effort to censor the ever-growing Internet. Their censorship is quite extensive and extends not only to the Internet but to all media and means of distributing information to the people.

Among other things, the government regulates it's citizens from creating, replicating, retrieving, or transmitting any information that they perceive as:

  • Inciting to overthrow the government or the socialist system
  • Inciting division of the country, harming national unification
  • Making falsehoods or distorting the truth, spreading rumors, destroying the order of society
  • Promoting feudal superstitions, sexually suggestive material, gambling, violence, murder

The kinds of information that is actually restricted on the Internet is wide-ranging and includes:

  • News sources that often cover some taboo topics such as police brutality, Tienanmen Square protests of 1989, freedom of speech, democracy, and Marxist sites.
  • Media sites which may include unregulated content, social commentary or political commentary censored by the PRC.
  • Sites hosted by Taiwan's government and major newspaper and television media and other sites with information on Taiwanese independence
  • Web sites that contain obscenity, pornography, and criminal activity.
  • Sites linked with the Dalai Lama and his International Tibet Independence Movement, including his teachings.

Some specific sites that are (or were) blocked include:

Wikipedia and Chinese Wikipedia
Amnesty International
Human Rights Watch
The New York Times
The United Nations
You Tube
All Blogspot and Blogger Blogs (that means this one!)
Flickr and Webshots (two popular photo-sharing websites)
(this list came from
this wikipedia entry)

Despite the PRC's exhaustive and endless effort to weed out all virtual dissidents, people are more clever than algorithms, and some things will inevitably slip through the cracks. The video below, a song of the "Mud Grass Horse" is just one example.

I'm not going to go into too much detail about the video because the New York Times did a great job in
this article, but here is the video, check it out for yourself:

Pretty clever, huh?
I am sure that there were, are, and will be more videos like this least I sure hope there are. I guess that's the American in me feeling the need for democracy to spread throughout the world...

But I do believe that in this "information age" it will become virtually impossible to censor the Internet from it's largest user-base, and for the sake of the people of China... I sure hope I'm right.

Friday, May 22, 2009

Zhaori Hot Spring (朝日溫泉), Green Island, Taiwan

One of the things that we were told we had to do during our trip to
 Green Island was to visit 朝日溫泉, the Zhaori hot springs (also spelled Jhaorih, Jaori, and Chaori). The Zhaori hot springs are one of only three salt-water hot springs in the world.

The hot springs are on the east side of the island and are supposed to be one of the best sites from which to watch the sunrise. So on our last day on Green Island, we awoke at 4:30am to check it out.

There are two main parts to these hot springs; the upper area (mostly pictured below) is a section of various modern, tiled pools with two temperatures, one cool and refreshing, and one too hot for me to sit down in.
The second area of the hot springs are more 'rustic' concrete basins with no lining and have a bed of rocks on the bottom. These pools are built right into the rugged Green Island coast and are only a couple yards from the ocean. Here is an aerial shot of it from the hill over looking the hot springs. These are the pools that I was really looking forward to experiencing.

And here is a shot I took during our visit of the larger pool in the middle of the picture above.  It really is a beautiful place to sit and enjoy the ocean. 

We arrived at the hot springs about 10 minutes before the sun began to come up and headed straight for one of the small round pools out near the ocean. While it was still dark out, we hopped into the pool expecting an experience similar to a hot-tub - steamy, relaxing sea water. But, let me tell you.... we were sorely disappointed.  What we got was tepid bath water.

TEPID!! Tepid water at a hot spring

So here we are sitting in the dark in some luke-warm water in a concrete hole in the ground, but it's ok, we know we're about to see a fantastic sunrise over the ocean.... right?

Wrong! Now, I know that this was not the fault of the Zhaori hot spring, but it was difficult to separate one disappointment from the other.  The sunrise wasn't really worth photographing, but here are some pictures of it none-the-less. 

So, the hot springs were disappointing, the sunrise was disappointing, and we were about to hop on our scooters and head back to bed when... wait, what is that over there on the edge of the hot spring that I was just sitting in??? Noooooo it can't be what I think it is.... but yes, yes it definitely is. It's a pile of  human fecal matter. 

YES!!! There was POOP ON the HOT SPRING!!!!! 

So, there you have it folks... If you're really interested in checking out one of only three natural salt-water hot springs in the world, my recommendation to you is to check out one of the other two. 

Karaoke in Class?

Why Not!?

Today was my last day of Chinese 101 before finals begin next week. (I am taking a university Chinese class at Feng Chia University (逢甲大學), so what did we do?? We learned a Chinese Karaoke song of course!!!

My teacher handed out the words in English and pinyin and bopomofo, so that we could read the Chinese, read the English, and read the romanization of the Chinese. She went over the song with us and then we played the Karaoke video and sang a long a couple of times.

I've been practicing this afternoon and can't wait to bust out my new Chinese singing skills next time I go to a KTV with my friends! The song, Tian Mi Mi, is by a very famous Taiwanese singer, Teresa Teng.

When I eventually do sing it, I'll try to get a video to share with you all, but for now you can watch the video of Teresa Teng singing it and just imagine that it's me!

Tuesday, May 19, 2009

Green Island (Lu Dao, 綠島)

I apologize for my extended absence this week, but Nick and I just got back from a nice 4-day vacation on Green Island.

Green Island is a small island (VERY small, only 7 square miles at low tide!) off the eastern coast of Taiwan.

During our 4 days on Green Island we visited one of only 3 natural salt-water hot springs in the world, went SCUBA diving, snorkeling, and hiking; swam a bit, and we drove around the entire island at least 6 times. I have a couple of posts lined up about some of our activities, but first I'd like to introduce you to the beautiful 綠島 (Green Island) with some pictures I took during the trip:

One of the first things that we did when we arrived on Green Island was to walk their "mini-great wall" to a look-out point on the edge of a mountain peak over looking the ocean.

(here is a view of the look-out point from afar)

The trail looked a bit intimidating at first, but it only took a couple of minutes and the view was worth it:
Green Island is a relatively young volcanic island surrounded by thriving coral reefs. This makes for a very rugged and beautiful shore line (and great diving and snorkeling) but unfortunately, it means that there really aren't any sandy beaches with easy access to the ocean (for swimming and wading purposes).

Because of the young age of the island, in the couple of places that you do find beach, the sand is very course (but also very beautiful!)

Most of the water directly off the coast of the island is home to coral reefs (very beautiful to look at and great for shore-dives, but again... not so good for the casual swimmer).
There is one road that goes around the island with two little off-shoots to take you up the mountains for a birds-eye view. The road is beautiful and gives you great views of the mountains, the sea, and the rugged Green Island coast.

At any place on the road, if you look to one side, you'll see the ocean, and to the other side, you'll see lush green mountains.
On a clear day, you can even see the mountains of Taiwan off in the distance:
Unfortunately, my pictures don't even begin to capture the beauty of Green Island, it was absolutely gorgeous. Nick and I definitely enjoyed our vacation.

If you're a beach bum hoping to lay on the beach, read a book, and dip into the water very 30 minutes to cool off (like yours truly)... this is definitely not the place for you! I have to admit I was very disappointed by this unfortunate fact!

BUT it was absolutely beautiful and the activities were very enjoyable. Overall I give the vacation a 7! (If the island had a swim-able beach, it would have been an 8.5 - but I'll save the rest of my review for another post)

Tuesday, May 12, 2009

Frozen Treets!

This past Friday I spent some time with my friend Clair at a local night market in Taichung. It was a bit early in the day (about 5:00) so it wasn't too crowded and we had a nice time browsing through the stalls and picking up some food to eat.

After eating our main course of delicious fried chicken, we had two frozen treats that I have never had before.

The first dessert we tried was Liang Yuan (涼圓), which translates directly to "ice circles." Basically they were small balls of flavor-less, semi-solid jelly-like substance surrounding a sweet inside. The purple-looking ones had a sweet red-bean paste inside and I'm not sure what was in the white ones, although I liked those ones better than the purple ones.
The second dessert that we ate that night was more similar to a traditional western frozen treat, but still very different from anything you'd find in a typical American ice-cream shop.

The top scoop here is red-bean ice cream (made from azuki beans). You may be thinking, "red bean ice cream... sounds gross!" But actually it was surprisingly delicious! I can't quite describe the taste, but I definitely recommend checking it out if you get a chance. It was light and refreshing. I would have never known it was made from beans if Clair hadn't told me.

Underneath the ice cream was a small layer of beans, which were actually a really nice addition, and then the bottom layer was green-bean slush. Again... something that sounds quite unappetizing, but was actually really good. It didn't taste at all like green beans. It had a mild, sweet flavor and a texture that reminded me of the Italian ice from back home.

All-in-all, I give both desserts two thumbs up!

In addition to our food, I did make one purchase at the night market. With Clair's encouragement, I bought my first face-mask! haha. Now I'm a real local!

Many Taiwanese wear these masks while they are driving scooters around the city to protect them from the pollution, although I'm not sure how much they really help. You can buy them for $25NT (about $0.75 US) and most of them are basically a piece of cotton with some elastic (although you can buy some with filters). I believe they're often worn as a fashion accessory just as much as a means of protection. My mask has snoopy on it!

Me and Clair with our new masks!

Friday, May 8, 2009

The Best Home Work-Out Machine Ever

Friday night after work, I went over to Angel's friend's house for our weekly dinner / language exchange.

As usual, a good time was had by all.

During our visit, I spied an interesting little contraption in the corner of the room that I had to investigate further:

It's a tiny mechanical bull, complete with stirrups!

This little home exercise machine for working out your abs and I have to tell you, I give it two enthusiastic thumbs up! You can adjust the speed and the angle of the saddle to work out different parts of your abdomen at varying intensities and after only a couple of minutes on the thing, I felt it working!

(Here is an unflattering video of me riding the bull!)

What a fun way to work out your abs while watching the TV. This is on my list of random crap that I'd like to own one day!

Thursday, May 7, 2009

Obama budget cuts funds for 'abstinence-only'!!!!

Don't have much time to write, but I just read this article on Reuters. According to the article, Obama's proposed budget eliminates spending for programs that teach U.S. schoolchildren sexual abstinence and shifts funds to programs aimed at reducing teenage pregnancy. All I have to say is:

Glory Glory Hallelujah!!

Proponents of abstinence-only sex education should ask Bristol Palin how well that works! Maybe if her mom had taught her what a condom was, she wouldn't be an 18-year old mom right now.

Finally we have someone in the White House who is able to separate his faith from our government!

Karaoke.... In a Cab!?

Would you could you in a Cab?
I would, I could Cab!

Would you could you on a Train?
I would, I could on a Train!

I'd Karaoke on a Train,
I'd Karaoke on a Plane!

I'd Karaoke in a Cab,
I'd Karaoke with my dad!

I'd Karaoke here or there,
I'll Karaoke anywhere!!!

That's right folks.... I am NOT making this up! This weekend, I was actually in a taxi cab that had KARAOKE!!! (or KTV as the Taiwanese call it)

My friends and I were riding in a cab this weekend when we noticed that the TV in the front dash of the car was playing music videos with the words to the songs on them... just like KTV videos.

So, I asked the driver: Ni yo may yo mai ke feng? (你有沒有麥克風?) - Do you have a microphone?

And sure enough, he pulls out a full sized microphone! The thing was wired into the cab's speaker system! HAHA!!!

Just when you think you've seen it all!

Tuesday, May 5, 2009

My First Encounter with Taiwan National Health Insurance

As you may or may not know, everyone in Taiwan is given national health insurance. This even applies to foreign residents who are legally working in the country.

The process of getting health insurance is a rather simple one; I actually didn't have to do any work for it at all. As soon as I was hired at my company, they got me an Alien Resident Card (ARC) and my National Health Insurance Card followed within a couple of days. Just like that!

(this picture comes from

This weekend, I had an unfortunate accident: I walked into the wall in my apartment very late Saturday night. It was dark and I was tired..... It's a mistake anyone could make! I smashed my 4th toe pretty hard and let out a howl that I am sure woke some of the neighbors.

After hobbling around on my gimpy toe for a couple of days, my Taiwanese friend, Clair, told me that I should go to the doctor to have it checked out.

But, as I told Clair, going to the doctor back in the US is a hassle, so I figured that going to one here would be even worse (based on the fact that I don't speak Chinese) and I wasn't interested in spending the time, energy, and money on my 4th toe.

Clair insisted that it's not a big deal and I really should take care of it. So she drove home from work with me to help me locate a doctor in the area.

About one block from my house, she found one. A small orthopedic clinic with a doctor who speaks English! I'm blown away by how easy it was to find one, the sign is even in English... I could have found it myself if I would have bothered!

I have to hand it to the Taiwanese, this is pretty darn convenient! Nick and I even noted when we first arrived in Taiwan how many small clinics dot the city here. It seems that there are practically as many health clinics as their are 7-11's! And, based on Clair's attitude about the whole thing, it seems that randomly finding a clinic where and when you need one with little effort is par for the course over here.

So today, after work, I went down to the clinic. There was no appointment, no line, and no waiting. After filling out some very simple paperwork and handing over my health insurance card, I was asked to pay a very small co-pay - $150NT (about $5US) - and then it was into the Doctor's office.

The doctor looked at my toe and told me I needed an X-ray before he could tell me anything, so the nurse lead me down the street (about a block) to the X-ray Clinic. No appointment, no line, no waiting. They immediately took me into the back room, x-rayed my foot, and within 10 minutes we were back at the Orthopedic Clinic, X-rays in hand.

The Doctor checked out the X-rays and told me that I didn't have a broken foot, but he recommended that I ice my foot over the next couple of days and apply an anti-inflammatory ointment three times a day for the next week.

He also recommended that I get some physical therapy to aid in my recovery. So, I headed next door to the adjacent physical therapy clinic. Again, no appointment, no line, no waiting... I was immediately put on a bench and given infrared heat therapy followed by ultrasound therapy on my afflicted area. The whole process took about 25 minutes.

All-in-all, I spent about one hour and $150NT ($5US). In return for this time and money I received a visit with an orthopedic doctor, anti-inflammatory ointment, an X-ray, and one session of physical therapy.

The doctor recommends that I come back daily for at least 1 or maybe 2 weeks for physical therapy sessions which will cost $50NT each (less than $2 US).

Of course, I'm still new here in Taiwan and I don't know too much about their national health care system, but from what I've seen so far, I have to say... I'm very impressed!