Tuesday, March 31, 2009
Sunday, March 29, 2009
We also saw some tombs placed right on - and in - rice paddies as well:
I guess that's kind of a nice place to be buried if you think about it... it seems pleasant.
When we finally reached the town of Da An, the first thing we saw was a big temple. The temples here in Taiwan are mostly very similar to one an other, so I didn't take many pictures of this one, but one thing that always strikes me about the temples here is the sheer amount of detail that goes into them. They are so colorful and vibrant, and covered in the tiniest little details. I always think about how much time and energy must have went into decorating these things. One of my favorite parts of the temples are the dragons that usually line the top:
I must say, Da An isn't the most beautiful beach I've ever been to... the area was apparently established as a Coastal Park in 1932, left desolate after WWII and then reopened in the early 1960's, but it appears to be mostly desolate again these days. It had a good amount of trash laying around on the edges of the beach and an old worn-down water park near by.
There was a kite-surfer in the water (you can vaguely see his kite in the picture below) and as a result Nick has added kite-surfing to his list of things he wants to do while we're here in Taiwan.
I also talked to a student today who said that he goes surfing at this beach as well.... this has also piqued Nick's interest!
So... all in all, it was a successful trip. Nick and I are doing our best exploring the island, but we have MUCH to see and do. Life has gotten quite busy with me going to school on Friday morning, us working on Sunday, plus our weekly language exchange dinner on Friday nights with Angel and Eric... we really only have one full day per week with no obligations... not much time to get too far from Taichung on a regular basis. Nevertheless, I'm compiling a list of places we'd like to see, I have high hopes that we will get to explore lots of this place before we leave.
Wednesday, March 25, 2009
Tuesday, March 24, 2009
The poncho that I'm wearing is one of the most popular designs here in Taichung, and for good reason! It has some very nice features. It comes in multiple color patterns, and includes a detachable hood with a plastic bill (also detachable). It also has a zipper / button-down front which allows the poncho to open up and keep your legs dry if you are riding on the back of a scooter, straddeling the driver. (Ponchos without this feature will ride up causing your legs to get soaked... this I learned the hard way)
My favorite feature of the poncho is a small square of clear plastic on the left wrist, allowing the wearer to check the time without exposing his wrist or watch to the rain... ingenious.
Monday, March 23, 2009
You would think it would be easy for me to practice my Chinese, since I'm living in Taiwan and all, but most of the people I come into regular contact with speak more English than I speak Chinese, so it often just makes sense for me to speak in English. This is also in addition to the fact that my pronunciation is soooooooo lousy most people can't understand me when I do decide to speak Chinese. This morning, however, I was feeling particularly ambitious:
Nick and I were at the breakfast place that we patronize about 3-4 times a week. The owner doesn't speak any English, but we found something we like on the menu and order the same thing every morning: a ham sandwich (on delicious french-style bread, toasted) with a hard boiled egg, some jello, and a coffee.
Nick typically cuts his hard-boiled egg in half and puts it on his sandwich and many mornings I think about how much better the sandwich would be if it had a fried egg in it. So today, I thought I'd ask him to fry the egg and put it on the sandwich.... let's just it wasn't as easy as I had hoped.
Earlier in the morning, my Chinese teacher gave me a vocabulary list of different food items. With this list, I now knew how to say fried. I already knew how to say egg and sandwich, so I figured I was armed and ready.
So I walked up to the counter, ordered my regular breakfast and said, "women yao zhege ji dian chao on zhege san ming che" which I thought meant "we want the egg fried on the sandwich."
He didn't quite understand me, so I kept repeating ji dian, ji dian.... and after much confusion he finally he picked up an egg and pointed to it, conveying the message "is this what you mean?" We agreed that yes, I am trying to discuss the egg, and so he clarified the pronunciation for me "ji dan" he said.
And then it clicked... I had been saying ji dian (幾點) which means "what time is it?" and not ji dan (雞蛋) which means egg.
So I had basically said "we want the what time is it fried on the sandwich" and that is BEST case scenario - if I managed to say all of the other words in the sentence correctly....
Thankfully, through some basic hand gestures, he did finally understand what I wanted and - I must say - the sandwich was delicious. It was a small victory for Nick and I but; unfortunately, it was in no way thanks to my mastery of the Chinese language. I guess I'll just have to keep practicing!
Saturday, March 21, 2009
In other great news, we met up with some colleagues for drinks on Friday night at a place one block from where we live. It has good, cheap food and REALLY cheap beer: 3 large bottles of beer for $100NT, which works out to about $1 US for a large bottle of beer... it's a good deal no matter what country you're in. And, it's pretty cool because this place is their regular hang-out and it just happens to be a stone's throw from our place! It definitely felt good to finally go out with a group of people, let loose, and throw a couple beers back.
We also found a great place to nurse a hangover: PJ's Cafe
We both had cheese steaks for breakfast and they were delicious! So it's good to know that anytime we're missing home, we can go down to this place and have a taste of home. (Although he doesn't have a PJ gobbler on the menu... yet).
However, I fear that my culture shock post may have given off the wrong idea. Culture shock is something that happens, to some degree, to everyone who moves to a new country. I even experienced some symptoms of it while studying abroad in South Africa. The good thing is that it's not a continuous feeling. We are not and will not be stressed out, angry, upset, etc. for 6 months straight. It comes and goes and as time goes on we know that it will come less and less frequently.
Generally, I am very happy to be here. Some days are just not good days. (maybe a couple rough days a month) I get irritable or little things upset me, or I feel overwhelmed.... but it has never made me wish that I didn't come or made me want to go home. There were lots of reasons that I wanted to live in another country and one of the reasons was that it is a challenge. I knew it wouldn't be easy, but the good far out weighs the bad. Life is exciting right now, everything is new; I'm learning and experiencing new things every day. This is exactly what I want to be doing in my life right now.
I just wanted to clear the air to make sure that no one is worrying about us. We are happy. The world is our oyster and we shouldn't be wasting time doing something that doesn't make us happy... and that's why we quit our jobs and moved across the world!
Thursday, March 19, 2009
Since we are now living in a Chinese-speaking country, we need to have our own Chinese names. It just so happens, that since both of our last names start with S, we have been given the same Chinese surname.
In Chinese, your last name - surname or family name - comes first and your first name - given name - comes last. So, for example, the English name John Smith in a Chinese format would be Smith John.
Keeping that in mind, here is my new Chinese name:
The first character 史 is the surname that both Nick and I share, pronounced "shi"
The second two characters were chosen because their sounds closely resemble my English name:
瑞 (pinyin: Rui) is pronounced like "ray"
秋 (pinyin: Qiu) is pronounced kind of like "chio"
So together it sounds like Ray-Chio... pretty close!
Nick's name is also sounds pretty similar to his English name:
Again, his surname is pronounced "Shi"
His first name is made up of two characters:
尼 (pinyin: Ni) is pronounced like "knee"
克 (pinyin: ke) is pronounced "kuh"
So together, his Chinese name is "Knee-Kuh"
Pretty cool, huh?
Yes.... as much as we'd like to pretend that it's not happening to us... we can't deny it: Culture shock is rearing its ugly head.
As you probably know, culture shock refers to the difficulty people have adjusting to life in a new country. What you may not be familiar with is the fact that there are multiple stages of culture shock; it is quite a complex phenomenon. Here's a little excerpt from the Wikipedia entry just to give you an idea of what I'm talking about:
The Phases of Culture Shock:
The shock (of moving to a foreign country) often consists of distinct phases, though not everyone passes through these phases and not everyone is in the new culture long enough to pass through all three
- Honeymoon Phase - During this period the differences between the old and new culture are seen in a romantic light, wonderful and new. For example, in moving to a new country, an individual might love the new foods, the pace of the life, the people's habits, the buildings and so on.
- Negotiation Phase - After some time (usually weeks), differences between the old and new culture become apparent and may create anxiety. One may long for food the way it is prepared in one's native country, may find the pace of life too fast or slow, may find the people's habits annoying, disgusting, and irritating etc. This phase is often marked by mood swings caused by minor issues or without apparent reason. Depression is not uncommon.
- Adjustment Phase - Again, after some time (usually 6 - 12 months), one grows accustomed to the new culture and develops routines. One knows what to expect in most situations and the host country no longer feels all that new. One becomes concerned with basic living again, and things become more "normal".
Well we're definitely through with the honeymoon phase and definitely not into the adjustment phase, so where does that leave us? The "Negotiation Phase" as Wikipedia calls it, or what others call the "hostility phase."
Earlier this month, Nick and I had our first encounter with this stage of culture shock.... it was pretty ugly. We were rejecting the culture (especially Nick, with regards to education philosophy) - staying up late into the night to discuss it, basically coming to the conclusion that our way is better - and were both highly irritable.
It did help us, though, to spend some time reading about culture shock on the Internet. We were able to understand that what we were going through is normal and come to terms with that. After a day or two, the hostility passed.
For the most part, things are good. We're generally happy to accept the challenges that daily life in Taiwan brings, but there are moments - minutes, hours, days - that we feel irritable, angry, frustrated, overwhelmed, and in general ill-at-ease. There's really nothing we can do about it except accept it for what it is, hope to grow from it, and not let it get the best of us.
It's a bit of an emotional roller coaster and does sometimes feel like self-induced torture - we were the ones who chose to quit our jobs and move around the world to a country with a completely foreign language and culture - but even when I'm feeling the lowest, I try not to loose sight of the fact that this is really a cool thing that we're doing. It is giving us a really great opportunity for personal growth and introspection as well as a chance to expand our world views and strengthen our relationship.
I have to admit... this week was a tough one for me. It was BUSY BUSY BUSY (we bought our scooters this week, pictures to follow!) and between school, work, and the logistics of registering our scooters, I have barely had time to breathe. That combined with the language barrier and the stress of everyday life and I was at my wits-end by the time I got out of work tonight. But, it's the weekend, and I am already feeling renewed.
So, here's hoping that next week is better.
Monday, March 16, 2009
Night Markets are quite amazing her in Taiwan, and I promise that I will get to writing a post with a great description of them.... but right now I'm just not up to it, so I'll just skip to one of my favorite things about Night Markets - the food.
Night markets are one of the best places in Taiwan to try out local food. They are filled with an endless array of choices, so much so that even after two months here I still find the selection over whelming.
We were starving when we arrived at Feng Chia and almost immediately happened upon our first purchase at this stand: Cheese potatoes!MMMMMMMMMMMMMMMMM. Potatoes are one of my favorite foods and I love them any way they are cooked. Back in the states on average I would make myself a baked potato once a week and often they were loaded with melted cheese, so this was right up my alley. As anything, though, it was done with a Taiwan twist.
I'm not really sure what all was on this thing but, damn, it was good! Ingredients included a liquid-cheese substance, ham, bacon, and corn. It was DE-LISH!
After the potato, we found some pearl milk tea and "window shopped" until we stumbled upon this little gem:
It was basically a waffle in the shape of a hand gun! We got four of these little guys for $30NT (about $1 USD) in the shapes of a rooster, a motorcycle, a gun, and another random shape that escapes me now. Again, delicious!
I have to say, I really enjoyed my bloody rice cake. It was about 1/4 inch thick slab of sticky rice (held together by congealed blood) dipped in peanut powder and sprinkled with cilantro. (Nick says the peanut powder is the same stuff that is put on powdered peanut donuts back in the States, although, I have never heard of a powdered peanut donut, so we'll have to take his word for it.) The actual blood-rice cake doesn't have much of a flavor, but has a nice chewy texture. The over-all flavor was mild and peanuty with a refreshing mix of fresh cilantro.
About an hour of meandering through the market brought us to the last, and most exciting, epicurian adventure of the night: the bloody rice cake! These are actually sold at multiple stands throughout the market, but none of them have as great a sign as this one (notice the blood dripping from the red character in the center... priceless!).
Saturday, March 14, 2009
I wasn't really expecting to see any monkeys, I just thought it was a funny sign. (Which is also why I took a picture of this sign:)
Anyway, we finished our little exploration and were on our way back down to the city when two monkeys ran across the road in front of us!!! They ran right across the road, up into a tree and just plopped down for a snack. So here we are, sitting on our scooter, just chillin' with two monkeys. Watching them eat some leaves.Pretty F'in cool!
Friday, March 13, 2009
Wednesday, March 11, 2009
We went to a Taiwanese restaurant here in Taichung for dinner last night. Ian and I followed his girlfriend and her cousin on their scooter through town in some truly amazing traffic.
Ian drove with me on the back. Disney, or Six Flags should consider such a ride, as it was more thrilling than any roller-coaster ever built.
Scooters are the dominant vehicle here, and Saturday night there are thirty or forty waiting at every light. Since scooters are not "allowed", ha ha, to make left turns, if a rider wants to go left, they make a partial right turn, then a quick left at the front of the intersection and stop to wait for the light. Cars are supposed to wait further back, which they do most of the time.What actually happens when a light turns green is, (after a brief period where the people; running the light, making left turns across two lanes of traffic, and those who have started the race early, sort out their differences), something like the start of a motorcycle race. A slow motion race, but a definite race none the less. In lieu of high speed the Taiwanese add obstructions to the "official" half lane to the right of the two normal lanes used by vehicle traffic. Bicycles, scooters pulling over-sized trailers, scooters driven slowly by old ladies with both legs hanging down, parked cars, portable signs, a surprising number of people driving against traffic before heading whatever direction they'd really like to go, and an occasional suicidal pedestrian can be counted on to liven up the competition. The track is gaily lit by bright signs of every color and store fronts, so scooter lighting is optional, and since working mufflers are also optional, the sound of the race is authentic.
Once the pack gets up to speed the riders jockey for position ready to squeeze between the various moving as well as stationary obstacles and the now overtaking cars and trucks. To assure the action never slows an assortment of vehicles backing into the roadway, making U turns, and maneuvers of unknown purpose are performed randomly.
It was amazing to me that we were able to travel several miles each way through this mayhem without observing an actual collision. By the time we got back I had begun to develop a begrudging admiration for these fearless riders, and today I'm ready to rent a scooter and join them, slowly with both legs hanging down.
[quoted from Taiwan Dreamin']
Tuesday, March 10, 2009
But let's start this story from the beginning. After finally receiving our ARCs last week, today was our final hurdle to legitimize ourselves as citizens of Taiwan. As you know, Nick has been driving us around Taichung for the last month and 1/2 on our rented scooter and I have recently started driving myself to school every morning. Both of us have been driving without a valid drivers license. Well, we have licenses, they are just for a car not scooters. In my mind, potato or potatoe, right?
Now, this may sound alarming to most of you, but it's actually quite common to drive around without a licence among the ex-patriot community here. Some people drive without licenses for up to a year or more after their arrival and lots of ex-pats purchase and drive un-insured, illegally owned (as in not properly registered) scooters for the duration of their stay here. Nick and I, being the straight-laced citizens that we are, have been renting a scooter, waiting for the time when received our ARCs, got our licenses, and were legally allowed to own, register, and insure our own scooters.
So here we are, on our day off, ready to become street-legal! The morning started off a little rocky when we realized that Nick didn't have enough ID photos left (we needed 3) and had to run to the Kodak store to get some more printed. [note to people coming to Taiwan: come equipped with about 20 passport-sized ID photos, they'll come in handy!] Initially the shop-keeper told him to come back and pick them up 8 hours later... 8 hours!!!! To print a digital picture!!! Thankfully Nick was able to put a rush on the order, we only had to wait 2 hours.
At 2:00, pictures in hand, we were off to the DMV. After the initial confusion and language barrier were bridged, the process began. First, we needed to get a health check. We were told to go out the door and walk for 5 minutes until we found the place... that was IT! About ten minutes of confusion later, someone finally handed me this ridiculous map:
Map in hand, we confidently headed out to get our health check. However, upon close inspection of the map, you will notice that
- the body check place is shown on the left side of the road, but the directions say it will be on the right (it was on the right)
- there is absolutely NO description of what we are looking for.
We had walked about 50 meters (or what I thought was 50 meters, but who knows how far 50 meters is, I work in feet and yards, not meters, God Bless the USA) when I stopped to ask someone for directions; he pointed down the road across the street. Another 50 meters later (after being attacked by a stray dog) I asked someone else for some help and was pointed back to where I had just come from... The body check place was NEXT DOOR to the first person I had asked for help! Let me tell you, frustrations were HIGH.
We finally found the place and I can't believe we missed it:
Seriously, there was nothing about this place that remotely indicated that it was in any way associated with the DMV and it certainly didn't look like a doctors office.
The health check entailed a height and weight check, a brief eye exam (i don't even think she was listening to our answers) and lifting our hands above our heads and squatting down. Upon receiving our 15 or so rubber stamps to certify that we are actually living humans and not limp corpses, we proceeded to the written test.
I've shown you some examples of these questions before, but if you'd like to test yourself, there's a practice online exam at this website. I took it three times this morning, in order to prepare. The questions were tough, and our scores were close (you need an 85% to pass and we got an 87.5 and a 92.5) but both of us passed!
Finally, we were ready for our road test. I have to admit I was nervous. The course looks something like this:
You have to stop at the pedestrian crossing, stop at the railroad, and stop at the traffic light. (Not that you would do any of these things in real life.) Along the whole way there are sensor strips lining the road and you get deductions for hitting the strips and for putting your feet down. The course ended with the stability test , which is basically driving slow in a straight line on a narrow path w/out touching the sensor strips that line the sides.
Nick went first:
O NO!!! At the very last minute, once he thought he was in the clear, he turned the scooter and touched the end of the sensor strips, thus failing the test. Thankfully, everyone is given a second chance:
check out his license!Unfortunately, only one of us was victorious today... I failed my test. My nerves were high and driving a scooter slowly on a narrow path is not easy. I have to say it was messy from the get-go. The instructor didn't seem to care much when I put my feet down, and I didn't hit any of the sensors on the first half of the course, but my confidence was supremely low. In the end, it was the stability test that got me. I ran over the sensors both times.
So here I am.... license-less. I'm going to spend some more time practicing driving slow this week (while continuing to drive myself to school every morning) and go back next Tuesday to try again.
Monday, March 9, 2009
Most places that you go here in Taiwan also have "western" style toilets. In some places you may get a choice between the two options while other bathrooms will only have one flavor of toilet, although in my experience most homes have a "western" toilet.
I am wondering if the use of the female squatter toilet has something to do with why some women lift the seats of "western" style toilets, but I can't quite connect the dots... how could these two things be related?? I don't have a clue.
Unfortunately, at this point I don't have any Taiwanese friends who I feel comfortable broaching this subject with, and it's not like I can just approach someone who's just used the toilet and ask her "excuse me, why do you lift the toilet seat when you go to the bathroom?" Aside from the fact that this is obviously an inappropriate question to ask someone, I can't even imagine trying to discuss this through broken English.... that would just be a complete nightmare! HA HA can you picture it!? O dear Lord.
Anyway... I will have to get to the bottom of this issue and report back at a later date!
For now, I'll leave you with an especially humorous sticker that Nick and I found at our local "Ho Easy" store which is what Nick calls "a poor man's Wallmart, with cheaper crap and less stuff"
This is very exciting for us. Tomorrow, Nick and I are going to the DMV to get our Taiwanese drivers licenses, so we'll be able to legally drive and purchase our own scooters and insurance! Hopefully by this time next week, we'll own our first scooter!!!
It's pretty cool to have an ID card w/ Chinese on it, I'm all about it! I especially think it's cool that my nationality (American) is written in Chinese 美國 (pronounced meiguo) how neat!
Sunday, March 8, 2009
Over the Internet I can tell all of my friends what's going on in my life (via my blog) complete with pictures and videos, instant message with friends around the world, video chat with my mom and 5 year old nephew, and correspond with my friend Matt - who is currently serving in the army near Baghdad - just as much as we did when he was in Kansas and I was in Denver....
The world is a crazy place these days! I can't even imagine the culture shock I'd be going through if I didn't have access to all of these things and all of you guys at home.
Saturday, March 7, 2009
Here it is: my first video post! I decided to give you all a tour of our apartment, since some people have asked me what it looks like. I hope you enjoy!** note the door bell ringing right in the beginning... it sounds like a bird chirping! **
(if you are reading this through email or Facebook and you can't see the video, go to http://razzelberry.blogspot.com to check it out.
p.s. I don't know how many more of these I'll be posting since it takes aeons to upload!
Friday, March 6, 2009
When Hot Pots (火鍋 or huo guo) come out, they typically look like this:
Ahhhh Hot-pots: a bowl of mystery. Typically you get a bowl or pot of broth over a fire (which may or may not already have some food in it), then you get a bowl of random food that you put into the pot to cook. Usually there are some vegetables, tofu, tofu skin, cabbage, lettuce, corn, meat (or seafood, depending on what you order), fish cakes, noodles, mushrooms.... and other random things.
The first was a bloody rice cake. It was a small, black rectangular block of rice; rice mixed with pigs' blood. It was actually really good. The consistency was that of sticky rice, it was chewy and a bit grainy. The taste was mild and I really liked the texture of it. I ate mine and then took Nick's and ate his as well!
I have to say that after this encounter, I feel ready to try out the bloody rice cake stand at the night market!
One way you can tell you are becoming acculturated is when someone tells you there is duck blood in your soup and you don't really think its a big deal! At this point, we are no longer surprised or frightened by this. Ahhh c'est la vie.
In Taiwan children's books are written with this alphabet as a way to allow them to read before they have started learning characters. This alphabet is also used in the dictionary to show the phonetics of characters:
Input is similar, you spell the Chinese word and characters pop up for you to choose from. This is actually not the only way to type in Chinese, but the other system is a similar I believe.
So... there you go. I hope that wasn't too confusing!
Anyway, I guess I should get back to studying and stop procrastinating!
Thursday, March 5, 2009
Tuesday, March 3, 2009
Basically they have us on a graduated pay scale for the remainder of 2009 which looks like this:
- super duper sales = base pay + 15%
- super sales = base pay + 10%
- increased sales = base pay + 5%
- regular sales = base pay
- decreased sale = base pay - 5%
- extra bad sales = base pay - 10%
- extra extra bad sales = base pay - 15%
The pay cut is uniform - from upper management down to customer service. Right now, it looks like we're looking at an immediate 5% decrease in pay, and we'll see where it goes from there.
People were pretty up in arms about the whole thing, especially since everyone is already dealing with reduced hours (for example: full time is 35 hours / week. Nick and I are full time, but we only work 25 hours / week.. if things get better, they will increase our hours up to real full time).
Needless to say, we were all feeling a bit uneasy after the meeting. I really don't like to think about it too much because it makes me nervous. I left a VERY stable job back in the United States as well as some VERY large student loan payments that need to be taken care of - this leaves me feeling pretty uneasy about my financial future at the moment. (not in the long run, but for the next couple of years) But, you can't live your life being scared... I came here for adventure, so here I am; hoping for the best.