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On Suicides and Internet Cafes

As most people probably guessed or expected, my posts have become less and less frequent. This is due in part to me having a job, but is mostly due to me being selfish and choosing to spend ~99% of my free time entertaining myself or sleeping.  I apologize for my laziness.

Anyhow, a lot has happened since my last post. I’ve moved into my own place (hope to post photos soon on facebook) and I’m in the process of getting my residency card. I’m getting to know the area around my place more and trying to explore the city further. Before I moved into my new place I thought I had a good understanding of the city but having moved to nearly the opposite side, I’ve come to realize just how massive it is.  There’s still lots to be found, which is always a good feeling for me.

I’m about 90% happy with my new place. I like it a lot, but it’s a little more expensive than I wanted. It is very elegant and decorated quite well, it’s pretty modern and has a big window view that looks onto the whole city below. My one complaint is this near constant odor in the bathroom. I have no idea where it is coming from however it is most likely the drain on the floor or the toilet.  I’ve spent a fair amount of time trying to figure out how to describe the smell to other people. Currently I’ve been describing it as a ‘rotting beef’ smell. I’m not actually sure what beef smells like when it rots but this smell is how I imagine it to be. It’s very pungent and I am not able to adapt my nose to it. So even after showering and spending ample time in the bathroom, it is every bit as putrid as when I walked in. The only thing that has been able to alleviate the smell is when I used some ‘DRANO’ equivalent in the shower drain, the bathroom drain, the sink drain, and the toilet. However the smell’s absence was brief and when I opened the bathroom door the next morning my nostrils were shocked as usual. My idea for what to do next is split between buying a bunch more DRANO and using it multiple times to clear out whatever is causing the smell or having a plumber come over and use his expertise to figure out what’s up. Part of me is scared that I’m going to find out, “Oh, that smell? It’s no big deal. Everyone’s bathroom smells like that in the building.” I really would find that hard to believe but if it was the case at least I could have some others I could comiserate with. Maybe we could start our own taskforce and work up a solution to the problem.  I would  come up with the ingenious and cost effective solution, cheered on by all my building’s residents, and later be voted the president of the apartment’s government. Most likely though, it’s a blockage in the toilet, left there by my landlady, easily fixed by a plumber.

Well, besides my bathroom triggering my gag reflex every time I enter it, my apartment has treated me well. My bed is probably the most comfortable that I’ve ever had. My couch is also quite comfortable and I have a nice flatscreen TV in front of it. The apartment has a gym, a laundry service, and a videogames room with a big tv. I’ve really been digging it. Until this evening.

I added some new music to my iPhone, I was looking forward to riding my scooter to some new music. I popped in my headphones and started listening to Vampire Weekend’s Contra,  took the elevator down to the 1st floor, and started to walk through the courtyard to the lobby. After a few steps into the courtyard I noticed something a bit weird. I saw this guy laying on the ground passed out. My first thought was, “Damn, that guy must have gotten drunk as hell to be passed out down here.” After a second more of looking at him, I realized that his pants were ripped at the seams along the sides and that you could see his thighs. So I changed my view of the situation to something more like, “This guy must of had the shit kicked out of him/this guy must have done some serious drunk stumbling.” I walked into the lobby of my apartment and that’s when I realized it was something much more serious. I saw a lot of people who looked very flustered. They were frantically making phone calls and talking to one another. A guy dressed in gym clothes saw me and walked over, speaking to me in nearly perfect English, he said, “That man just jumped. He landed about 10 seconds before you walked out. It’s over. He’s dead.” I was a bit taken aback because what I’d seen in a glance didn’t seem to match up with how I would perceive someone to look after falling 15 or so stories. I expected someone falling from those heights would have more or less exploded, while this guy looked just like a guy passed out. I’m fortunate that it wasn’t a gruesome sight and that I never looked into his eyes. I think that would have made a much stronger image in my head. Anyhow, I left my place pretty quickly after I was told what had happened. I hopped around the city all night and i’ve ended up in an internet cafe with a friend where I write this post and put off going home a little longer. 

Internet cafe’s here are actually pretty cool. You might be wondering, what the hell is the point of an internet cafe when you have internet at home? Well, for one, you aren’t all alone. I like being around other people while I waste my time. I suppose it’s roughly akin to people wanting to study at the school library instead of in their room. So besides there being other people, the cafe also has tons of games on all the computers that are free to play, they serve excellent tea, and have the most comfortable chairs ever. I’ve been playing really easy computer games because I’m awful at any kind of videogame. So it’s mostly been racing games and ‘angry birds’ for me.

Well, I’ll try and update again soon.

– Cal

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Monkeys and Monkey Bars!

My past few weeks have mostly been spent making phone calls to set up interviews, dropping off my resume, and asking everyone an insane amount of questions! I’ve also explored Taichung more and met a lot of great new people, whom I will also ask a lot of questions. I’m now taking Chinese classes, which is both good for me and all of the poor souls who find themselves victim to my endless curiosity. I am really enjoying using the little Chinese I know, it’s amazing what good even 5 new words can do for you. Knowing how to say “and” has been particularly helpful! The tones can be a bit tough, but thanks to being raised in a very musical home, I feel that recognizing them may be slightly easier for me. The job hunt looks better than ever, with a few places more or less giving me a job offer, however I want to make sure it’s the right company before I sign a year of my life to them.

My last week was really fun, this past saturday I played bocce ball, ping pong, pool, badminton, and did an obstacle race with some friends for hours on end.  The obstacle race consisted of crossing monkey bars, running up a ramp, across a bridge, through a ball pit, up a slide, down a slide, and jumping off a ledge to the end. It felt like being a kid again and it was awesome.

The next day we went hiking in a mountain area here called Dakeng it was really beautiful, although ‘hiking’ here may not be the same thing you are thinking of. The ‘trails’ would be more aptly titled, ‘giant log ladders’, which is exactly what the trails are. Despite ascending more than 400 meters I don’t think I ever put my foot on soil that had even a slight incline to it. But any disappointment I had about it not being a true trail was soon dismissed. There is a sign posted at the bottom of the trail warning hikers of poisonous snakes that hide in the bushes. After reading the sign, I was happy to be elevated and somewhat guarded. In addition to venomous snakes, Dakeng is also home to monkeys!  Yes, there is an area where you can go to meet/feed(?) monkeys. We didn’t make it there because our hike was a little more taxing than I think any of us expected + plus repeatedly stepping on logs induces a strong desire for a chair. So we left to go eat delicious and fresh fried chicken, noodles, shrimp, and a few other dishes that were out of my palate’s bounds. Shellfish with frosting and sprinkles? Yeaaah. I’ll admit it though, I need to buck up and eat some octopus and other sea fare. The time will come soon enough, I know it. Aha! I almost forgot to mention, despite not visiting the monkey area, we did, in fact, see a monkey. He was a chipper fellow, content to watch us watch him for several minutes before bowing out to report us to his clan.

All in all, I’ve had a fantastic few weeks despite a minor scooter accident and a few communication hiccups, but those will be topics of other posts.

Until next time, Happy New Year!

Calvino

 


My last week was really fun, I played bocce ball, ping pong, pool, badminton, and did an obstacle race with some friends for hours on end. It felt like being a kid again and it was awesome.

Week Two + Christmas Eve

A lot can happen in a week, especially when you are living in a foreign country with a lot of time on your hands. This past week I bought a scooter, moved into my own place, and took a day trip to Sun Moon Lake with a mini-celeb. Also in the past week I’ve posed in the photos of three strangers, but I’ll get to that later.

Towards the beginning of my second week here I’d heard from the hostel owner that another American had checked into the hostel. She told me it was a girl but didn’t know much else about her or her reason for visiting Taichung. I spent most of my day on the phone and computer and heard no English being spoken downstairs nor any foot shuffling coming from upstairs. It wasn’t until I ventured out of the hostel and came back at night that I saw her. We ended up hanging out late into the night and getting lost in Taichung together. Her name is Vickie and she was traveling throughout Taiwan until she heard back about some film/tv work in the mainland.  It was great to hang out with someone who could speak both Chinese and English very well. Amidst conversation I found out that she can also speak Korean well, so well in fact that she was a regular on korean tv. We got along well and I was very happy to have met her because the next day we took a day trip together to Sun Moon Lake, which is only a stone’s throw away from Taichung (about an hour and a half ride?). I definitely would not have been able to have gone there alone. It was so nice to have someone who could tell me the meanings behind everything and explain it well. Vickie found out I liked taro fairly early in the day, so it turned into a taro themed food day for me, which was definitely all right by me. I started the day off with this taro filled pancake sandwich thingy then I drank taro bubble tea, then I had a big mochi ball filled with taro. It was awesome.  Below are some poor quality photos of our trip:

After Vickie left I spent the next couple of days calling schools about jobs and trying to set up interviews. In the midst of all that  I also bought my own scooter and moved into my own place. The scooter runs very nice, but when I first got it I noticed that some of the paint was starting to come off. I knew that inevitably the paint was going to all come off, so I decided to take measures into my own hands and repaint the whole thing myself. I spent several hours online trying to find the perfect color scheme; I even made a facebook status to ask other people’s opinions on the matter. I found a website for Krylon and picked out several of their colors that most closely corresponded with the colors I’d found online. Unfortunately what I didn’t consider it that I was in Taiwan, which is much less likely to carry a brand like Krylon. When I walked into the paint store down the street from me and motioned a gesture like someone spray painting, they pointed at an aisle across the store. I walked down the aisle and found the spray paint section, which consisted of about 8-12 different colors. Needless to say, I had to abandon my original plans of a stylish scooter and instead I chose: green, blue, and a red-brown.  Below are a few pics of the scooter after its transformation. Unfortunately I took no ‘before’ pictures.

I finished the week spending Christmas Eve with my adoptive parents: Brittany and Jonas. They were nice enough to invite me over to their place for Swedish meatballs (cooked by a real swede) with mashed potatoes and a corn & cheese casserole. Everything was fantastic! It was the first home-cooked western food that I’d had since coming over and it was delightful. I wish I had pictures of us eating together. We spent Christmas Eve watching awesome tv shows (brule’s rules & tom goes to the mayor) and then I showed Brittany and Jonas the caribbean dancehall sensation known as, ‘daggering’. You’ll have to look that up yourself if you don’t know what it is. I offer no explanation. Anyhow, I’ll try to put a little more thought/time into my next post. Below are some more pictures of the past week:

Day Seven: Cold Weather = Pinky Toe Amputation?

My seventh day here was probably the least productive. Looking back I can honestly only remember going to a luxury shopping mall with Mike from the US. We didn’t mess around looking in clothing stores or any other typical mall type shops. We headed straight for Jason’s, which is a western style grocery store. Now, I haven’t been here for anywhere near as long as Mike has, so I’m assuming that with time I may feel the need to reconnect with my western identity in the same way he seems to be. He has been showing me a lot of the more western friendly/western style establishments, which I appreciate, but I’m also still very much interested in Taiwanese food, culture, etc. I’m guessing after a year here, I too may coo at the site of Jif peanut butter, however at this point in time I just shrugged.

After leaving the mall, we rode once again through the frigid cold to get back to my place. The temperature was a steady 45 degrees and riding around wasn’t so fun. After Mike had left my place I decided to change my socks and shoes. The moment I took off my shoe, something happened that changed the course of my day. As I slid my shoe off I noticed that I couldn’t feel it against my pinky toe, everywhere else on my foot could feel the shoe sliding, but not my pinky toe. I thought that it was strange so I took off my sock. I looked down at my foot and noticed that my pinky was flushed of color. It looked very yellowy, like there wasn’t good blood flow, jaundicey even. I took the sock off of my right foot to inspect its pinky and compare. It looked perfectly normal, just as like all of the other toes did. This is when panic began to set in.

I knew that something was seriously awry, how serious though I wasn’t certain.  I made my way to the bathroom and turned on the shower to let the warm water flow over my toe to heat it. I began to notice the coloring in my pinky toe change from yellow to red to a purplish color. This is when panic mode turned into extreme panic mode.  Around this moment I also considered, “Wow, I may no longer have a pinky toe…” I actually glanced down, held my thumb in front of my eye so as to simulate how my foot was going to look when they took off my pinky toe. I nodded my head in acceptance made my way downstairs and called the hostel owner to find where the nearest hospital was. She came down and walked me across the street to a doctor. The hostel owner spoke some Chinese to him to explain the situation. He had me pull my sock off then he looked at me and smiled. He started laughing and spoke some Chinese to the hostel owner, who told me, “He said, you’re going to be fine. You just need to put it in some warm water because it’s cold outside.” The doctor then laughed again, patted me on the back and said, “I’m sorry, I speak English forty five years, but I never good at conversation. You going to be fine, I promise.” I went back with my head hung low and embarrassed but the hostel owner and her boyfriend thought it was funny and didn’t mind at all. I put my foot in a tub of warm water for about 15 minutes and my toe looked back to normal.

 

– Cal

Day Six: Pick Up Sticks

Once again I woke up with a snotty nose, beautiful golden flow anew. I threw on my shoes and made my way out of the hostel to hail a cab and make it to my first Chinese class on time. Mike Schram was nice enough to offer me a seat in his beginner’s Chinese course to check it out. As a foreigner here in a land with complex written and spoken languages I decided it would be a good idea to check out.

The class was about 2 and a half hours long and was definitely a help even after only one session. My teacher’s name was Kate and she was very helpful and good at offering constructive criticism. I also ended up getting the number of a guy looking to sell his scooter from one of my classmates. Today was going good.

When I got home I took some medicine and decided I was going to investigate a little more about this Ang Lee thing. I looked online for information on future casting calls and other details but only turned up articles that referenced the one already passed. I ended up finding a phone number of the girl in charge of casting and  I called her twice, only to hear the sound of a automated chinese voicemail. So I decided I would try a second approach and send an e-mail with a head shot and some hopeful words. I sent the e-mail and went back to feeling glum. I was reading the ‘Compass’ magazine, which is a magazine dedicated to foreigners/westerners, and came across an interesting article. Taichung is soon to be home to one of the coolest buildings I’ve ever seen. Here’s a photo.

Yes, those are clear bubble things with propellers. They are made of an ultra-lightweight material and will serve as lifts that take  80 people up and down the tracks of the tower. The tower is also supposed to feature a museum, restaurants, and many offices. for more information on it check out the Daily Mail’s Take.

As I was reading the article I heard my phone begin to ring. It was a call from some number I didn’t know, which is not too unusual considering I only know about 4 numbers here. I answered the call and the girl on the other end said she was Katie. I was confused because I didn’t expect my Chinese teacher to be calling me and what’s more, I thought she had gone by “Kate” not “Katie”. It took about two minutes of me asking awkward questions until the lightbulb above my head stopped flickering and finally shone bright: Katie was the name of the girl who worked for Ang Lee. She told me that the casting process is far from over and that I definitely had a chance to appear. She actually told me that Ang had initially thought he would need 25 westerners but was now thinking it needed to be more like 75. So she asked me to help her out and start telling all the westerners I know to call her or e-mail her. She was really nice and appreciative of my eagerness to become involved. I ended the conversation feeling like I’d redeemed myself.

 

– Cal

Day Five: Ang Lee and Me

I can’t quite remember the beginning of day five. I was still in a haze for most of the early morning. What I do remember was feeling gross. I woke up congested and blowing out a beautiful flow of golden colored mucus. “Yes”, I thought. This is just what I need thrown at me while I’m already struggling. Aside from my congestion, I had also been feeling overly acidic, and I was sporting what I thought and still think is a nice spider bite. Today was all about me feeling better so I could motivate myself and be more proactive. At some point in the day my friend Mike said he would help me out and give me a scooter ride to a pharmacy so I could get some tums, decongestant medicine, and maybe benadryl too. We ended up going to three different pharmacies maybe even four. At the end of the day though, I came home with Robitussin, Gelusil Plus (which I’d never heard of), and some weird allergy medicine called “Minconlin”, which I’d also never heard. However it was recommended to me by a bilingual girl who was with some Aussies in the same pharmacy as us. I was content to just sit home alone that night, so long as it meant me feeling better.

Mike ended up giving me a ride back to my place and hanging for a while. While he was there he mentioned that Ang Lee was filming his next movie in Taichung. Mike had already told me that he likes to perform and that he was into theater growing up, so I figured he would be the one to tell me about it. He said that there had already been an open casting call specifically targeting westerners with a european background. He had auditioned to play the part of a younger Gerard Depardieu. I was pretty excited at that news considering only months earlier a friend of mine just so happened to find his way into the film industry in a similar manner. I went to bed that night with a mild fever, a congested nose, a swollen left pointer finger, and stomach that felt like it had just eaten a big spoonful of Bubbe’s Fire Rubble, but I was happy.

 

– Cal

Day 4: Filipino Post-Apocalyptic Mall

After sleeping off my night at FuBar I called my friend Brittany who’d just gotten back from Hong Kong. I took a taxi over to her side of town and she showed me around the city. She took me to Taiwan Mobile and got me a sim card for my iPhone, allowing me to have a Taiwanese number. After the phone store we walked around some of the more seedy parts of Taichung, which finally culminated with the Filipino shopping mall.

If I remember correctly, Brittany told me that the mall was once Taiwanese owned but there was a fire or some sort of damage caused and they abandoned it out of fear of bad spirits, ghosts, etc.  Anyhow, that’s when the Filipinos moved in and set up shop. The mall is now filled with different merchants who sell anything and everything although it’s mostly the types of things you’d see in any American flea market. What separates this place from an American flea market is the setting. The mall is around nine stories however the top two were closed when I went. Brittany told me that there used to be a disco on the top floor but that parts of the floor had holes in it now. We went to one floor that had a little grocery store with a side area where old men were singing karaoke. Another floor was sort of like a movie theater except that you rent the movie from them and then watch it in a private room, kinda shady…

After the mall we walked around a bit more, passing by a lot of little shops where we saw all sorts of weird food for sale. We saw turtles for sale and we weren’t sure if they were marked as pets or for making soup. We saw a HUGE hog, as in around 500 lbs. huge, standing inside a motorcycle repair shop. I  thought it was some kind of furniture at first glance.  Later on we stopped at a restaurant where I ordered some salad, which was nice because I had eaten no vegetables and mostly junk food for the past couple days.

I ended up taking a taxi back to my place where I set up my phone and got changed.  Pretty soon I was in a taxi again headed back to Brittany’s to meet up with her and her boyfriend for dinner. We ended up going to a Taiwanese beer house/patio, which was amazing. You order some food and the waitresses come around to bring you new beers periodically. It was nice to sit outside, relax, and take in some of my surroundings especially while eating some fried rice and fried shrimp. We were lucky enough to be seated across from some older european and taiwanese businessmen who ended up being great guys. They bought us a few rounds of beer and also introduced me to stinky tofu, which I dare say may be the most adventurous thing I have ever eaten. It has the most pungent smell that can perk someone’s nose from a distance; I mean it really permeates the air.  Anyhow, I’d already been told several times before that it doesn’t taste as bad as it smells. Since I was drinking and experiencing multicultural peer-pressure, I figured what the hell. I ate only one piece, but that’s all it took for me to know that I never want to eat it again. It wasn’t horrible or vomit-inducing as I’d expected but it was hard to swallow.

 

Yeah, I ate that. See wikipedia for more info on it: Stinky Tofu

 

– Cal