Sunday, July 13, 2008

Settling in

I changed sites for my photos. You can catch them here:

So, my second and third week over here(I think anyway... time kinda loses meaning) passed pretty well. My roommate and I check out this bar last Wednesday... or maybe it was the one before that? Anyway, we were supposed to get there at 9:00, but didn't make it until 10:30. The line was soooo long we didn't make it in until 10:55, which was amazing timing because they stop giving out these really nifty tickets for free drinks at 11:00. I got four of them and since they don't charge a cover charge, I drank free that night. Most of the bars here play older rock songs, but once in a while they play a newer one, at which point every Taiwanese in the joint starts convulsing like Elaine on Sienfield in their attempts to dance... I fit right in.
The bar was about 30% white people, which is more than I've seen since I got here. Alliya and I found ourselves gawking at them and wanting to take pictures. Apparently that neighborhood has a lot of foreigners, whereas ours only has us.
Sunday, we went to the beach, which was freakin awesome. There was only one big problem- these little tiny red jellyfish all over the bloody place. I took a sting to my toes. It didn't really hurt, it was just quite uncomfortable.
Later that night, I met up with some of my Taiwanese buddies, Ray and Joyce. We mostly checked out the night markets. However, there was some excitement to be had. I drove my first scooter. Those things are hard as hell to control. Good news though, I didn't crash or hurt myself, barring my pride, of course.
Monday we went and snagged some sushi... the raw type.. fish, octopus, muscles, etc. It was pretty good, but my stomach felt like it wanted to explode the next day. I ate another weird thing a couple days ago, as well. It was a bunch of minnows, heads and all, in this brown sauce. No rice, no bread, just minnows. Oh, and last night I had fried crickets.
I also think the guy at the corner store thinks I am a huge lush. He seems to want to check to make sure I had eaten something before he lets me buy a beer. The other day I picked up two of them, one for me and one for my roommate and he looked very, very concerned.
We checked out apartments and settled on one today (Sunday). It is huge, by Taiwan standards, being 35 pings... I think it equates to 700 sq. ft. Although, that doesn't sound like a whole lot, most places we have been to are in the range of 18-22.

Tuesday, July 1, 2008

First days in Taiwan

Okay, first and foremost, you can view the pictures here:

If you click on a photo, it will take a while to load, as they are pretty high quality.

I got in at 6:00 AM on Wednesday. Rough, tired and in need of a shower. A limo driver in a very nice Camry picked me up from the airport. He spent the first 3 minutes of the drive pointing at terminal 2 and repeating “terminal 2, yes?” “Yes, that is terminal two.” “Terminal 2.” “Thanks for pointing that out to me, I’ll keep terminal 2 in mind.” “Terminal 2.” “Yes, I freakin’ get that is terminal 2!” So, terminal 2 guy dropped me off in front of a building in downtown Taipei after a blurry half-hour drive. Some guy, introducing himself as Gary met me downstairs. He tossed me some keys and pointed at a door. Okay… I guess that is my apartment.
I went upstairs into the surprising well furnished apartment to find one of my roommates. She introduced herself as Brie. I didn’t have any NT dollars and made mention of the fact, and neither did she (she arrived an hour before me and all the exchangers at the airport were closed). As it would turn out, I lacked a towel, soap and shampoo, so we decided to find a money exchanger and then find some shower equipment for me. After setting down my stuff, we depart forgetting it was only 6:00 AM in Taiwan (24 hours of traveling will do that to you).
We walked around and found out that no banks were open. After about half an hour we decided to return home and wait. As it would turn out, we had become completely lost. We wandered around for a good three hours. Later we discovered that we had walked by our apartment at least four times, but all the damn buildings look alike.
When we finally made it home, Alliya, one of our other roommates was awake. She offered to point us to a market after she took a call. We thought that sounded splendid. While waiting for her we went to an ATM and withdrew some cash, ignoring the wad of American dollars in our pocket, and bought some lunch. The lunch was an interested ordeal. We stopped at a little alcove that had a kitchen and four guys cooking crap up in a wok and a huuuuuge frying pan. The spoke about 4 words in English, hello, okay, cooooool, and bye bye. Not that I begrudge them for that, as I can barely stammer out bathroom in Chinese. Anyway, after we shrugged at their ramblings for a few minutes, they eventually just cooked us up some dumplings and gave us some sweetened soy milk. Good stuff.
The market was pretty interesting when we got there. Brie wanted a watch, so we asked a clerk. He apparently didn’t speak any English. Some lady walking by understood our gesturing, tapping our wrist and making a circle with one hand on it, like the face of the watch. She didn’t speak English but she chuckled and said beya, like be ya’ll without the l’s at the end. The guy pointed downstairs. So, we went downstairs. We found another clerk and said beya, she pointed upstairs. Okay, then upstairs we were directed by someone else downstairs. Then downstairs, upstairs again. Finally we just split up and scoured the store. As it turns out, they were next to the cash registers.
Later that night, Brie went to bed early, so Alliya and I took off to find a bar or something. We initially hit up this bar called the Brass Monkey. It was probably the biggest ex-pat bar ever. A drink cost about 200 NT, which is about 6 US bucks. It was more than back home… screw that. So Alliya and I grabbed our stuff and high tailed it, much to the anger of the waiters… no we hadn’t ordered anything yet.
We spent perhaps an hour walking around until we found a local market. There were plenty of places to eat, but nowhere to grab a drink. Finally, we happened upon this bar looking place. Its entire front wall consisted of a clear plastic sheet… awesome. They had a special on a pitcher of Tsing Tao for 200 NT. A pitcher for the same price as a beer at the other place, hells yea… hells yea. We got a pitcher and ordered what we thought was beef, mutton, and pork skewers. For once, we were correct. It was fine food.
We stumbled back to the apartment and picked up a few beers at the local market. Every time we go in there, by the by, we ask him how to say the price in Chinese and he asks us how to say it in English. He is a pretty cool guy.
The next day, Brie and I had to go to the head office to fill out paperwork… at 10. Well, thanks to jet lag, both Brie and I woke up at 4:30… woo woo. We hung out for a bit, then went out and snagged some breakfast. We got some Dawn Bing, which is a pancake type thing wrapped around a fried egg and a slice of meat.
After filling out paperwork until noon, we tried to change some money. You would figure that at a Citibank someone would speak English. Nope, that’s just silly. So, we learned that changing money is an hour long ordeal. The money changing dude kept looking at one of my bills, then staring at another. After twenty minutes of this (I really am not exaggerating) he got someone else and they looked at it for another ten minutes. He came back pointing at the dates on the bills. I think they don’t take anything pre 1998. So, I have a hundred useless dollars in my pocket, sitting right next to some euros.
We hit up the hospital after that for our health check. It was probably the worst physical I have ever been to. They check our sight and made sure we could hear by making a sound and asking us which ear we heard it in. Then they pinched our skin and shooed us away. We kinda figured we needed blood drawn, because I think someone mentioned something about that at some point, so we went to the blood lab… meaning we walked around aimlessly for ten minutes until we saw needles and a tourniquet. Yea, they drew blood without gloves.
Anyway, that night Brie and I waited for Alliya, but by eight she hadn’t shown up so we took off to find some dinner. On a side note, we have another roommate, who I am pretty sure is a ninja and sneaking out the window, because I have seen him once so far, although we do hear him from time to time. Back on topic, we walked around for maybe thirty minutes and only found expensive restaurants. Finally, we found an alley dumpling place near our apartment, so we ate there.
We woke up at 5:30 again the next morning. Still haven’t seen Scott since the first day here and Alliya was still asleep, so Brie and I took off to check out the temples. The nearest MRT (subway) station is about a twenty minute walk. We hadn’t been there yet so we tried to find our way on the shitty maps they gave us. Finally, we stopped and asked a police officer and he pointed back towards our apartment. We walked twenty minutes back and rechecked the map. After some guestimation we figured the cop had to be wrong. As it turned out, the MRT station was only one block past where we asked the cop. Thanks dude.
The train stations are pretty pimp. It is easy to find your way once you figure it out. We took the subway a few stops to a run-down looking area of town and made our way to a couple temples. They were pretty sweet. Check out the pictures.
At 2:00 I went to my first day at my school. More paperwork and the suchlike. I observed a few classes, but that is about it. I came home at 9:00 not too happy, mainly because my school was so very clickish. No one really talked to me and the Chinese and foreign teachers sat at separate tables. I talked with the one nice guy there and Christian told me it had always been like that… great. At home, Alliya and Brei told me their schools weren’t like that at all, so it seems like I got the short end of the stick. Oh, well.
The next few days were pretty much like the first... a lot of walking to find some place to eat and observing classes. Sunday, we took off for the mountains. We climbed up Mount Cicing, which is about 2 miles straight up. It was pretty crazy. By the time we had reached the top, the rain had come in and we couldn’t see anything, but it was a fun hike, none-the-less. Sunday also happened to be my birth day. As a special treat, I actually got about 20 second of hot water during my shower. Woo woo!

P.S. Although the pork intestine soup smells exactly what you would think pork intestine soup would smell like (they make it everywhere… the scent is thick and oppressing, and quite often, such as in the night markets, enough to make you sick), it is extremely good.