Day Three: Politics and Asahi

It’s amazing how much you can learn in one day. Yesterday I was bumbling around trying different types of food from 7-11 and completely content with that. After last night, I have seen the light! The first half of my day I spent on the computer skyping with my parents before they went to sleep. Then I ventured out to 7-11 again and for the second time, left without razors. I figured out a good pharmacy here is called ‘Watsons’ but the closest one still required me taking a cab, so I decided I’d hold out for another day. Things were looking gloomy but then something happened…

As I mentioned in my first post, a lot of things tend to be all or nothing with me. Well it just so happened that at midday on the third day here, I saw the light.  I was sitting in my room feeling totally helpless when I heard a knock on my door. The hostel owner’s sister, who runs a nice little restaurant across the street, came over to let me know that a friend of mine was downstairs waiting for me.  I came down to see my friend Mike who’s from Orlando. I met him on my second night and he had stressed the need for a map in Taichung. Today he stopped by my hostel to give me my own map, which was very nice of him. At the same time that Mike handed me the map, I looked across the street and saw the other Mike (Canada Mike) that I know parking his scooter. I had a lot that I wanted to  ask C.M. about so we all went to 7-11 and drank beers out on its patio. Yes, at the 7-11s here loitering is actually tolerated and even encouraged. After a few hours of talking about the basics of getting set up in Taiwan and American politics, Asian politics, and many other subjects, we decided to go to an ex-pat owned bar and eat pizza.

I spent the rest of the night eating pizza, watching a UFC fight, playing darts, and asking everyone a ton of questions. Luckily, everyone was very friendly and didn’t seem to mind at all. There was even a girl there who called her boss on my behalf and set up an interview for me. Everything seemed to be coming together again. A lot of my concerns were resolved when I was talking with C.M.  He even called a Taiwanese girl who was moving from Taichung so I could check out her apartment. At the end of the day after a cab ride home I felt content.

Day Two: Thank Heaven For 7-11!

Yesterday, day one, was filled with mixed emotions: excitement, fear, disappointment, hope. I was sleep deprived and therefore slightly delirious. Something I didn’t tell you yesterday was that I hadn’t eaten in over 40 hours. Looking back, it’s quite amazing how much my mood shifted with just a little bit of food in my system. I was a true case of Jekyl and Hyde. I  can now sympathize with my ex-girlfriends tendencies to insult and berate me while I cooked for her, which is something I thought I’d never understand.

Anyhow, day two was definitely more upbeat. I didn’t do a whole lot in terms of productivity, meaning I didn’t travel to schools to inquire about jobs, but I did learn the street layout around my hostel. I walked around and found a 7-11, and I have to say, if all 7-11s in Taiwan were like the one I went to then I think I understand why they are so popular here. It was not quite the same as the 7-11s I was used to in the states, in that it was infinitely more clean and all the staff have been super friendly. I bought some fruit infused black tea, some peanut brittle?, almonds, a bag of “spicy” chips, and sunkist orange juice “jelly”. The jelly was the strangest thing I bought, but I really liked it. It was literally like drinking a slightly thicker version of a mashed up jello cup but with orange juice flavor and pulp in it.

In addition to the 7-11, I also found a music store that sells all sorts of instruments at what seem like incredible prices. I can’t decide whether they are actually as cheap as advertised or whether the price is only for renting them or something. In any case, if my boredom continues I may be inclined to pop into the store and use hand gestures to figure out if I can buy one. Just to give you an idea of the price, they are selling what look like well-made acoustic guitars for something like $55/60 US dollars. I’m sure you could find guitars that cheap in the US too, however these actually look like time was put into making them.

The rest of my second day was spent on the computer trying to research where I could find specific items (i.e. razors & shaving cream) which seemingly would be found in the 7-11 but are not. I also need to get a local phone set up. Hopefully day three will be more exciting and I will get all the things I need. For now I’m going to continue to read The China Study, which while fascinating has only made my finding food here more difficult. Also, does anyone know what to do if you pull an ab muscle? I don’t know if that’s the correct medical term for it, but that’s the closest way for me to describe it.  When I move my body in a particular way (sitting up in bed) I feel a fairly sharp pain in what I think is one of my abdominal muscles. I do think it’s a muscular thing because it doesn’t hurt when I put pressure on it, only when I engage the muscle by moving or when I sneeze. It seems to already not hurt as much today though, so it may have just been me sleeping in an awkward position or something. Yeah, I just sneezed and winced again….but still not as bad as yesterday, I think? This has actually happened before though, come to think of it. It was the result of me playing tennis too much and over exerting myself on my serve. It’s kind of crazy to think my sneezing has the power to aggravate it again. I’m not sure whether or not I should be proud of that…

That’s it for today but I’ll update again tomorrow.

– Calvin

Day One: From Paradise to Pandemonium

This is the story of how I traveled to the future and what happened when I got there.

Part I:

On December 8th, the day of my flight, I slept in until late afternoon (3:00) but I somehow managed to finish packing before leaving at 5:00. My mom drove me to the airport, we said our goodbyes, and then I was off. Everything went smoother than I could have imagined. There were no miracles performed or anything, things just went smoothly.

Here’s a short list of things that were good:

  • My bag was only 48 lbs.
  • Security had a long line but went very quickly.
  • No charge for food and drinks on my flight to LA.
  • Free in-flight internet (Thanks Google!)
  • I navigated LAX with ease while on the phone with Taylor Carr.
  • Sat next to a Vietnamese girl who spoke English very well and suggested all sorts of things to do in Taiwan.
  • Despite a 40 minute delay before our take-off , we were only 2 minutes late of the original arrival time.
  • I passed through customs with no questions and my bag was already waiting for me when I walked up to the belt.
  • I successfully bought a ticket and took a bus from the airport to the high speed rail station.
  • Got on the right train with only seconds before it was to leave.
  • Got a taxi to the hostel with a driver who knew no English and me knowing no chinese. (Thanks again google!)
  • Met with the hostel owner who spoke English well and she gave me a hand-drawn map of the city with points of interest highlighted.

Even though the trip to get here was ridiculously long it felt like it was as efficient as possible. There were no instances where I was waiting on anything. This is what it felt like: You know how when you’re in between two mirrors your reflection is infinite in both and it almost looks like a tunnel? Imagine that instead of you in the reflection it was a bunch of automatic glass doors, like the ones you see when entering any target, best buy, etc. Now imagine walking through all those doors, each one magically opening as you near it. I was like Neo.

Part II:

Before I leave you all thinking that I was somehow able to control my own destiny, there was one downside during the trip. I was seated in the center seat of the center aisle, which was located directly above the landing gear and between the engines. There were no air vents above our seats and the plane was hot. I’d honestly never experienced a hot plane before, but after having experienced it, I don’t recommend it. If you think being cramped in one space for an extended period of time is bad. Imagine being cramped for a very extended period of time and having your back sweat through most of the flight. Add on to that being seated in the worst row in the worst aisle of this sad plane. Yes, our row was unfortunate enough to have black metal boxes under the seats in front of us. The area where you typically can push out your legs a bit, all gone. I don’t think I ever want to keep my knees bent at a 90 degree angle for 14 hours straight again. The final touch was the babies. I’m normally not too bothered by babies on airplanes. I understand that new mothers still need to travel places and their babies are a part of that. I accept all of the unavoidable crying and ear-piercing screams. I sympathize with the mothers whose attempts to calm their babies fail and whom have to deal with the embarrassment of glares and passive aggressive throat-clearing from the surrounding passengers. My brain somehow identifies the situation and allows me to zone them out. This flight however was the exception. There was a trifecta. Yes, three babies all within my danger zone. I was like a child with a front row seat at the Shamu show. I really had no idea how bad things could get.  As the engines roared so did the babies. Their formation was that of a triangle, there was a baby in the row to the right of me, there was a baby in the row to the left of me, and there was a baby sitting directly behind me. Picture yourself on a 14 hour flight, you’re becoming tired, your back is stiffening and sweating, all you want to do is sleep a little. Impossible! The baby behind you is out to ruin you. What do you do? Do you try and sleep upright or do you risk waking the beast when you recline your seat? This was my dilemma. It was a tough call but eventually I reclined. I later found some ear plugs I had stuffed down in my bag, which definitely helped me to rest some. I managed to get a little sleep, probably like 3 hours worth despite all of the infants.

I went on a lot longer about the plane ride than I expected to, so let me finish out the rest of the dreary details in list form as I did above.

  • Walked several blocks to get a pay as you go cell phone. No one spoke any English but I figured out I needed a passport with me.
  • Walked home, grabbed passport, went back. I was handed a cellphone to talk to the shop’s owner who told me I also needed an ARC or Taiwan ID. Walked home in defeat.
  • Took a long cab ride to the other side of the town to visit Sun language school. I saw the sign and walked in. I was met with the most bizarre looks ever. A bunch of women stared at me like I was a freak and whispered to one another. Eventually after asking them a few questions in English with no response, I heard, “They move!” So I walked a bunch of blocks to find an expensive cab ride home.

As negative as it may sound, my first day was not entirely filled with failure.

The owner of the hostel I’m staying at has been very helpful and kind. She’s given me some advice on other ways to get a phone and she’s e-mailed me a list of schools that are located in Taichung to consider visiting. A guy I’ve been talking to named Mike has given me a lot of advice and encouragement. He’s letting me sit in on a Chinese class at his school and I’m expecting to meet with him later this week to have a beer and talk. He owns his own language school and speaks Mandarin, so he’s a very knowledgeable guy and someone I respect a lot. I already owe him a ton for answering my seemingly infinite amount of questions. I met another Mike towards the end of day one in the lobby of the hostel. He also gave me some advice and some hope. He said it took him several months to find a job but he was eventually hired and now lives comfortably. Even later on day one, something else good happened. I met the only other person staying at the hostel. She’s from Malaysia and speaks Mandarin and English although it has been a struggle sometimes. I went to the Feng Shia Night Market with her  and looked at all the cheap clothing and tons of different food. One of these types of food is a Taiwanese staple called “Stinky Tofu” and it definitely lives up to its name. As I walked through the streets of the market I saw tons of people eating it! I was curious to try some myself but I couldn’t bring myself to wait in a long line for something that smells that awful. I ended up eating a piece of fried chicken that was a shape I’d never seen before. It seriously looked about the size of a piece of paper only a bit thicker and had all these little bones in it that Elaine (girl from malaysia) said you were supposed to chew up and eat. I really didn’t want to eat the little bones but I also didn’t want to spit them out. It’s considered rude to spit and I didn’t want to call any more attention than I was already receiving as a westerner so I swallowed, ugh… That was pretty much it for the night, except for the cab ride home, which was nice because the driver was playing Rachmaninov. I enjoyed riding in the cabs with Elaine ten fold more because of the animated conversations she had with the drivers. All the cab rides I’ve experienced so far have been dead silent, no music even.

That is it for day one, but I’ll keep updating as the days go by and more craziness goes down.

– Calvin