Tuesday, April 28, 2009
I believe that for the Taiwanese, the convenience of their country is a source of pride. I have read in a couple of places that Taiwan has the most convenience stores per-capita than any other place on earth, and while I don’t have a verifiable source for this one, I definitely believe it.
On a routine day at work teaching conversational English with students ranging from the very lowest to the very highest levels of English proficiency I will have a conversation similar to this one:
Q: Why do you like living in Taichung?
A: It's very convenient
Q: What’s your favorite thing about Taiwan?
A: It’s convenient.
Q: Why is the sky blue?
A: Because it’s convenient.
Q: Why would you not want to live in the United States?
A: Because it is not convenient.
Woah woah woah… Hold on here. Now anyone reading this who is an American would immediately react the same way I did when I first heard that answer: What the Hell are you talking about!?
The US is inconvenient? The US - the king of 24-hour service and Wal-Mart - is inconvenient!? These people obviously don’t know what they’re talking about!
My natural follow-up question to this statement is:
Why do you think the United States inconvenient?
One very common answer to this is:
The US is inconvenient because it takes ½ hour to drive to the grocery store (or an hour and a half, depending on who you ask)
--> The reasoning behind this is that the US is a very big country and therefore everything is spread apart. This reasoning also led one person to tell me that in the US people never have trouble finding a parking spot because there is room for everyone… so if you’re in NYC and you’re having trouble parking your car, don’t worry, there’s room in North Dakota!
The number one answer to this question, however, is a variation of this:
All the stores close at 5 or 6pm.
This common Taiwanese belief that America is inconvenient is something that I have been grappling with for a couple of months now. In my quest to understand this, my mental process has gone through three distinct phases:
Phase 1: What the Hell are you talking about!?
Initially, Nick and I were both completely blown away by this misconception, especially because even our clients that have been to – and have lived in- the US felt this way. What on earth would you ever want to buy that you couldn’t buy because the store was closed? Malls typically stay open till 9, boutiques until 6-8pm, and we have grocery stores, convenient stores and Wal-mart all open 24-hours. That pretty much covers anything I could ever need at any time of the day. These people – I concluded – were crazy and delusional.
Phase 2: Maybe they have a point…
After a couple trips to a Taiwanese night market I began to see what the Taiwanese were talking about. Taiwanese shopping culture is really quite unique. Shopping is a cultural and social event here in Taiwan, and night markets are bustling with activity almost every night of the week until around midnight. At night-markets, you can buy pretty much anything you would want from street vendors and stores: food, clothes, bags, shoes, trinkets, kitchen items…
In addition, because of the bustling late-night shopping activity, it is not uncommon for other stores, non-night-market stores, to follow suit and stay open until or past 10:00pm. These include cell phone stores and furniture stores to name two. (This was one thing Nick and I were quite perplexed about when we first arrived in Taiwan… who wants to buy a couch at 10pm?! Apparently, the Taiwanese do.)
So, I guess they have a point. In the US, you really can’t buy furniture or go clothes shopping late at night; so, I reasoned, maybe Taiwan is more convenient that the US.
Phase 3: no, no, NO… definitely not!
Not too long after my night market revelation, I had another eye-opening experience. Every morning I go to my Chinese class from 8am – 10am. The university I go to is right in the middle of the biggest night market in Taichung: Feng Chia Night market.
One morning after class I wanted to go shopping and pick up some new clothes and some other random wares. I figured Feng Chia would be a great place to shop, and because it was so early in the morning (10:30am) I could miss the crowds that amass in the evening.
However, I was sorely disappointed when I realized that none of the stores were open! I knew that the street vendors wouldn’t be around until the evening, but come on… I just wanted to go to some regular clothes stores before lunch time… and NONE of them were open! Now THIS, I thought to myself, is REALLY inconvenient!
And then it hit me – convenience is based on a cultural expectation. How could I have missed it!?
For me it is hugely inconvenient that I can’t run any of my errands in the morning; I like to get all of these things done and out of the way early in the day.
Sure, I enjoy shopping at night, but usually as purely a social experience. Maybe I buy something, maybe I don’t . But when I really have something I need to do, I like to wake up early and get it out of the way.
But here in Taiwan, people get their business done in the evening. Their expectation is that almost all shopping activities occur in the evening. If a Taiwanese woman realizes at 10pm that she has nothing to wear tomorrow, there is no need to fret, her favorite store is still open for a couple more hours!
So, for my American self, Taiwanese shopping can be really inconvenient sometimes. In general, I'd say that the amount of hours a retail business stays open in the US are the same as those here in Taiwan, they just operate on different schedules - 9am - 9pm vs. 12pm - 12am for example.
So, it really all boils down to one simple mantra: expectations are cultural!
Sunday, April 26, 2009
Unfortunately, I did this so clumsily and awkwardly that I actually made the little girl cry after the first take! We were worried that we wouldn't be able to get her to act in the rest of the commercial, but luckily she warmed up to me and became the star of the show!
After about 4 takes, it turned into me rubbing the sheets with my hands and then rolling onto the bed and running my hands over the sheets with a pleased look on my face. It ended up looking a bit... well a bit like the sheets weren't all I was enjoying. I have a brief little video of the director telling me what to do for that scene, so you can check it out yourself:
Tuesday, April 21, 2009
The karaoke system was actually pretty advanced - exactly what you'd find in any karaoke bar in the US - a big book of songs and 5 microphones - two of which were cordless - which were shared by all of the passengers. When someone picked a song, the sound system played the music and the words were shown on small TV's throughout the bus.
For anyone who knows me personally, you don't even have to ask... yes I did sing one song: Country Roads by John Denver (it was a duet with my classmate Christine).
An import from Japan, Taiwanese KTV buildings are divided into a bunch of living-room style rooms, each with a projector screen (for the words to the songs and 1980's music videos), some couches, a coffee table, maybe some random art on the walls.... basically just like any living room. So, Taiwanese karaoke is done in a much more intimate setting than in the US - usually just friends and family in these small rooms (or on a BUS!), where people have little choice but to listen to you.
One of the most shocking things to me about Taiwanese KTV is that alcohol is absolutely not a necessity! I can hardly imagine an American listening to or singing karaoke without a cold beer in their hand, can you?
From my experience, Americans typically partake in Karaoke as an excuse to drink some beers and revel in the embarrassment of ourselves and others. The Taiwanese, on the other hand, seem to simply do it for the pure enjoyment of singing. No matter what your singing ability, you are expected to sing proudly and everyone else is expected to listen and enjoy you shamelessly butchering the song.
At this point, you may be thinking to yourselves, maybe the Taiwanese people are simply great singers.... but let me tell you, this is definitely not the case!
The first couple of times I was invited to partake in Taiwanese karaoke, I found myself declining the invitation for fear of feeling very uncomfortable at being so exposed - singing to such a small group of intent listeners without any liquid courage. However, my insecurity is waning and with each invitation I am feeling more free to join in on the fun.
Monday, April 20, 2009
While this little contraption hasn't solved all of my problems, it certainly is a fun way to kill mosquitoes, and it has helped me to control the population to some degree. When you get one there's a little flash of light and a satisfying CRACK sound.... it's great! At night before we go to bed, I go on the hunt to try to purge the apartment of blood-suckers. Here is a picture of me "on the hunt"
I even take the thing to bed, so that it's within reach if I hear any buzzing around my head during the night (although it is almost impossible to get one of those suckers in the dark).
I have found that the easiest way to kill a mosquito with this thing is to wait until the mosquito lands on the ceiling and just hold the racket up next to him. But, sometimes, the thing gets away and I end up running around the room looking like a crazy person. Here's a video of a successful "hunt" last night:
Overall I give this thing a 10 for fun and an 8 for effectiveness. I also bought a little Raid mosquito plug-in thing last night, so hopefully that will kill them while I'm sleeping w/out needing active interaction from me.
Saturday, April 18, 2009
One of the interesting things about the sculptures is that a great deal of them are nude. In Fengle Park's defense... I really only took pictures of the ugly statues, but those are more fun to show you. So here are some pictures of the art in the park:
Nick made some friends by the pool - that is not currently filled with water - with these nude, chubby, pink people.
After that, we made one small pit-stop at a place for lunch with a nice view of a waterfall and then it was off to Xitou Forest Recreation Park. Xitou is a beautiful place, lots of hikes and walk-ways through a sub-tropical forest. I wish we had some more time to spend there. Perhaps, one day we will go back on our own to explore more. Some of the walking paths are quite scenic and peaceful.
In our quest to get away from the crowds Nick decided that we should hike to the highest point in the park, which is supposed to have a great view. Unfortunately, the entire way was paved with stone and granite slabs which are partially covered in moss and, due to the humid environment, very slippery.
The whole hike I just kept wondering WTF is up with the Taiwanese and their "hikes"? I really don't understand why every trail we've been on so far has been completely developed into a staircase. We're assuming that it was done to preserve the trail, maybe to prevent it from becoming a mud slide.... I don't know, but I really don't like climbing stairs in the woods, especially slippery stairs.... it's just not my thing!
All in all, we both really enjoyed our trip to Xitou and I would definitely recommend it to anyone living in central Taiwan. I think we'd both like to go back and spend some more time there exploring.
Tuesday, April 14, 2009
Sunday, April 12, 2009
Unfortunately, it wasn't exactly what I had in mind; however, it still turned out to be a nice afternoon. What you might want to know about Taichung Folk park is that it's not really a park... Nick called it an "open air museum." There are some nice little parts outside, but the main purpose of the Taichung Folk Park is that it is a place to house some old Taiwanese / Chinese artifacts, like teapots, farming equipment, ox carts, boats, porcelain pillows, and some rooms set up to replicate living conditions in the days of yore.
It was nice, but it wasn't exactly what I had been hoping for. The only picture I have of the museum part is this picture of some old bedroom furniture.
After we were done touring the museum, we walked around the grounds which include a little fish pond (Nick called it a scum pond) with some HUGE gold fish in it.
The park was pretty small, so it didn't take us long to walk around it, this is a small amphitheater that they have for - I think - cultural performances. It's actually a pretty cool little venue, so hopefully one day I'll check it out when they have something going on. And here are a couple more random shots of the park:
At one point, I heard some bizarre chanting coming from just outside of the park, so I looked through the decorative brick fence and saw this little make-shift place of worship.
I'm have no idea what religion this is or what they were doing, but I thought it was an interesting scene, so I took a little video so you could all hear:
One of the coolest things about living in Taiwan, at least for me personally, is that there are eastern religious ceremonies all the time at the seemingly most random places. You never know what to expect!
Anyway, all in all the day was enjoyable but rather uneventful. For any of my Taiwan readers wondering what the Taichung Folk Park is all about, overall, I'd say if you live in Taiwan it's worth visiting on a day when you're bored, tourists need not apply. (not a very high rating... huh?)
As as aside, Nick had an unfortunate incident while at the Folk Park and lost one of his socks.... for my small group of friend's who went to Moab with us last year, all I have to say is: He pulled a "Kevin"