Tuesday, May 31, 2011

We're moving in! And we'll have no internet :(

It’s moving day tomorrow!!!

We’ve already made a couple of trips with our stuff in the rain to avoid carrying all 90 lbs of our belongings on the train in one go. We spend most of the day cleaning at the apartment and I am particularly pleased about our kitchen now smelling like green apples and bleach rather than a drain. We still have lots to do but it all feels a lot more manageable now that we’ve put a good dent in our chores!

We are going to have so much space. I can’t wait! Today Brett was standing in the master bedroom and I called to him from the living room and he didn’t even hear me! At the condo in Calgary we were able to hear each other cough from anywhere in our domicile so this is strange and new. This is also a huge improvement from living in 100-150 sq feet ensuite hostel rooms for the past month.

A friend of our landlord’s is going to help us get set up with internet at the apartment, but unfortunately we’ve just learned that because of her intense work schedule (Taiwanese office workers spend 10-14 hour days at work... oie) we won’t be able to meet with her right away. Because of this, we have absolutely no idea when we’ll have internet. We’re hoping within one week. As in Beijing, we’ll keep track of everything that happens and do some post-dated blog entries once we’re back online.

If anyone needs to reach us in an emergency, we’ll still be able to check our emails on Brett’s phone using the wireless available at train stations. Hope you all have a great week!

Monday, May 30, 2011

Chilled pork fallopian tubes served with cilantro and ginger.

No need to be impressed. I HAVE NOT TRIED EATING THIS. I just came across the below picture and description in another blog and it evoked such a response in me that I felt I HAD to share it with you...

“Chilled pork fallopian tubes served with cilantro and ginger. These were plump and crunchy, much nicer than the ones I had in the US. We dipped these mild tasting nibbles in a thick and sweet garlic soy sauce.”

Saturday, May 28, 2011

The employee has no desire to bite through your vertebrae and gorge on your entrails.

So we have spent exactly one month in Taiwan and we have lived through one earthquake, two typhoons and two supposed apocalypses... ha! The earthquake was 5.1 with the epi-centre a fair ways away from Taipei. The two typhoons passed by the island only causing a little wind, rain, and pressure fluctuations which gave us both 36-hour headaches. As for the two apocalypses, well, the 14 magnitude earthquake and 175 meter high tsunami didn’t happen as “Teacher Wang” predicted and Harold Camping also seemed to have gotten his dates wrong. Mr. Camping has fessed up to having miscalculated the date of the apocalypse (what a klutz!!) and he has now issued a revised schedule that would have the rapture occur on October 21st. He really is very sure of himself this time, so be sure to mark the date in your diary... IN PEN!!!!

Amanda mentioned in an earlier post how when we went to a large grocery store the other day we were caught in a rainstorm, far from our hotel, and I’ve posted some pictures below which we took before we were caught in the storm.

Today we paid another visit to Carrefour, the large grocery chain. We stocked up on plenty of cleaning supplies in preparation for our move into the apartment and while there we took a few moments to marvel at the enormous section devoted to killing or managing various types of bugs. I sincerely hope I don’t have to spend too much time in that section, but I am relieved that I now know where to find these products!

While wandering through the store I couldn’t help but chuckle when I noticed that right in between the aisle that was stocked with cookies and chocolates and the aisle that was stocked with various crisps, chips and salty snacks, there was an aisle entirely dedicated to seaweed products. I particularly like this store because the aisles are labeled in Chinese characters AND English, and this aisle was in fact labeled “Seaweed”. I love stumbling on these little curios that take me by surprise. I must say, some of the snacks looked pretty tasty and I’m sure I’m going to try some once we start doing serious grocery shopping.

One last observation about grocery / department stores and then I will move on. There are SO MANY EMPLOYEES, certainly by comparison to Canada. Back home when I needed assistance at a store it would usually require some mental and physical preparation, breathing exercises, anything to prepare oneself for the infuriatingly futile quest that you were about to embark upon. Even if you manage to happen upon store “help” there’s still a 50/50 chance that you will find an unwilling, unknowledgeable, unhelpful individual whose only interest is in dismissing you at the earliest opportunity. Okay, that might be a slight exaggeration for comparative purposes. In Taiwan stores, and especially department stores, it is difficult to walk ten feet without meeting an employee that will eagerly watch you just as a lioness stalks a thompson gazelle but here the employee has no desire to bite through your vertebrae and gorge on your entrails, more than anything they just want for you to pass them a glance that in the time old art of “buyer-seller non-verbal communication” means “I need your assistance” and thus validates their job and in that limited context, their very existence.

Note to readers: I suspected and my editor, Amanda, confirms that I may have gone too far with the above narrative... but I stand by it.

We had two encounters with choreographed dancing in public today. The first was shortly after leaving the hotel today when we walked by a large open square in front of one of the big local malls. A large elevated stage was set up with covered seating in front and from what we could tell there was some kind of amateur group dance contest taking place. Several groups of kids in their teens were taking turns putting on their own choreographed dance routine to a set of songs that they seemed to have prepared in advance. At the very end of the day as we were walking through a city park we came across an elderly group of seven individuals dancing in the dark along to a boom box that was playing what seemed to be nineties techno-pop. 

Today was one of the few days we’ve ventured out without any cameras and I feel bad that we missed being able to document either of these choreographed moments, one starring the very young and the other starring the very old... but young at heart. Seriously, who doesn’t like choreographed dancing?!?.

Zuoying Train Station in the distance. This is where the high speed train comes in from the north.
The Love River
Dragon Boats on the Love River. The Dragon Boat Festival will begin next week.
By the Love River
By the Love River
I love all the extremely narrow but tall building we come across.
This one seemed to be a temple / shrine.

Thursday, May 26, 2011

We have keys!

We got the keys to our apartment today!!! We’re going to be gradually moving our stuff there in small trips and then we officially start staying there on Wednesday! Yay!

Our internet situation is going to be sketchy after the move... we have to acquire a USB stick. We’ve been given the email address of a Taiwanese woman who speaks English and will help us but we have yet to find out exactly how that’s going down.

I’ve been very homesick and experiencing a good deal of culture shock this past week. It all came to a head yesterday when we got stuck far from the hotel in a tropical rainstorm without umbrellas. The sole raincoat we packed was used to protect B’s camera and lenses. When we got back to the room, I considered what I missed about Canada and what I was having a hard time with in Taiwan and felt way better when I woke up this morning. A friend pointed out to me in an email last night as well that this time of uncertainty, wearing unwashed clothes, and not knowing what was going to happen next is good for me. I’m building character and learning to appreciate the little things! Little things like having 24 hour access to a washing machine (... yesssss!)

We’ve found some grocery stores (and a Costco!) in Kaohsiung and it’s going to be wonderful to do some cooking at home for the first time since we left Calgary. I have my eye on a cheap frying pan at IKEA that will be just perfect for making french toast.

Wednesday, May 25, 2011

IKEA: Kaohsiung

Today Brett and I went to IKEA to start doing some price comparisons for things to put in our new apartment! It was exactly like Canadian IKEA (super cheap hot dogs included) except for the Chinese signage, of course. It's going to be a little tricky figuring out how to buy bed linens as none of the packages confirm in English what's in them (is this a comforter? a fitted sheet? a set of pillow cases?) but we'll get there eventually.

Last night we found a really huge night market next to the Kaohsiung Arena, and we're definitely going back there soon to take lots of new exciting food photos for you all to see! There were actually lots of things we both thought looked edible, which is a change from the usual night market fare we've become accustomed to seeing and smelling. I saw quite a few pretty things I wouldn't mind going back for, either.

Another exciting shopping-related news item, for the girls anyways: I bought shirts today for only $100 NT each (about $3 CAD). Also I was allowed to try the shirts on before buying which is usually not the case around here! It was a lovely experience.

Tonight at dinner we were at one of our favourite eateries when we overheard/eavesdropped on four girls doing what seemed to be an English/Japanese/Spanish/Chinese/confusing language exchange. This was really exciting for us as we've advertised ourselves on Tealit for a similar thing and we've been getting a few responses! We're really looking forward to meeting some local people and learning how to do things like order tea in Chinese without insulting anyone.

That's all we've really been up to the past couple of days! We're getting the keys for the apartment on Friday or Saturday (depending on when a typhoon hits this week) and we're looking forward to showing off our new digs!

Monday, May 23, 2011


I hope everyone’s having an excellent May long weekend. They don’t observe Victoria Day here unfortunately so it was back to the grind for us this morning! (Hah!)

Yesterday was spent largely on a visit to an apartment we found online. As I mentioned earlier this week, we’ve been looking for a place to live in June and July and an agreement has been reached on a gorgeous three bedroom apartment in the city! It’s right next to Kaohsiung’s only authentic American-style sandwich shop and deli (where you can buy regular non-sweetened bread and all kinds of fancy cheese!) and is near an awesome park.

The apartment is being rented to us by a UK citizen who married a local girl. He doesn’t currently live in Kaohsiung so the place was shown to us by his adorable Taiwanese mother-in-law who doesn’t speak a word of English! She waited outside the deli for us in a BRIGHT pink denim jacket, bright red dress slacks (very lucky), and a huge, pink tennis visor with rhinestones and butterflies all over it. So cute. She showed us the apartment while speaking Chinese very loudly hoping we’d understand at least part of it. Her adorable factor was off the charts, and I’m sure that influenced my half of the decision to live there more than anything else.

On our walk through the park back to the train station we were on a bridge crossing a pond when a whole group of turtles swam up! They were so friendly and were all craning their necks out of the water as though to catch a glimpse of us. As we walked on, more and more of them swam up near us and the whole cluster followed our progress along the bridge. There were even some tiny baby turtles! I’m in love with Taiwan.

Today we were FINALLY going to the Lotus pond with our little backpack and our sunglasses and our mosquito repellent. We took a ride on the subway to the northern part of the city, rode to the top of the escalator at the Zuoying train station and immediately turned back around and headed downstairs. Why? Because a rainstorm hit the island while we were underground on the subway. It was raining so hard. People were just standing under shelter staring at the rain like “What do we do now?”

Luckily Zuoying station is also where the High Speed Rail and regular train lines meet, so there’s tons of food and shopping! We had a quick lunch and wandered around some gift shops. There was plenty of carved sandalwood, cookies, and trinkets on display, and a whole booth full of Canadian ice wine! We were very proud.

I think I may have figured out how to post videos on here! Check out our new friends from yesterday (and me sounding like a giddy idiot all stoked on the turtles):

Saturday, May 21, 2011

"You can get a drink if you walk 200 miles that way!"

Rain rain rain. More rain today. Very grateful for the free umbrellas to borrow at the hotel entrance.

We’ve begun to notice a strange pattern with every encounter with the hotel front desk staff in the mornings. Today was our third morning at the hotel and also the third time that we have been asked by a group of individuals at the front desk if we are here for business or pleasure. The way they ask the question as well leads me to believe that it is not some arbitrary “lost-in-translation” greeting but instead a genuine curiosity or concern. Funny because I don’t know what kind of business they could possibly believe Amanda and I are here doing, given that we leave the hotel every day in our shorts and t-shirts business attire and return at the end of the day with our pink faces and hard earned beads of sweat proudly worn on our foreheads.

We had planned to go to the Lotus Pond today but decided not to owing to the persistent rain. Instead we went for a lengthy walk and ended the day at the harbour where I got a little trigger happy taking pictures of the sunset.

As we were walking today we stopped at a store that had baked products that looked to be pretzels but were shaped like croissants and ultimately tasted much like a sweet bagel. I noticed three other customers sitting in front of the store with identical drinks and the same baked goods. I was quite thirsty but couldn’t see any beverages listed on the menu or any contraption behind the counter that might dispense beverages. I took a risk and as we were buying our pretzel-croissant-bagel I indicated to the very friendly cashier that “wo men hen ke” (we are thirsty). Well, this place did not in fact sell any beverages, but I now had the cashier trying to tell us where we could find beverages. Her English being very limited, she decided to enlist the help of another customer that she seemed to know, his English being approximately one iota less limited than hers. I do love how friendly strangers become when there is an opportunity to help us. In this particular case the gentleman indicated there is a “big building that way” while motioning down the street with his arms and that we can “walk 200 miles that way” to get a drink. It was obvious to us that he was referring to the mall (big building) which was approximately 200 meters down the road. An endearing moment of a perfect stranger helping us and mixing up his meters and miles. I’m sure that Amanda and I, too, make plenty of comical mistakes when we try to speak Mandarin!

The Tuntex Sky Tower
Kaohsiung Harbour
Sunset over Kaohsiung Harbour
Sunset over Kaohsiung Harbour
Sunset over Kaohsiung Harbour

Friday, May 20, 2011

The Best and Worst of Taiwan!

While waiting out some dreary weather, we haven’t been up to very much in the way of sight seeing. We’ve been settling into our new neighbourhood and putting out some feelers for short-term apartment leases to tide us over until our plan is more concrete. In the meantime, we have decided to take a snapshot of our impressions of Taiwan so far in the form of a list of our favourite and least favourite things about Formosa nearly one month into our trip. We were each going to write our own but found we had so much overlap they've been compiled into one:

Our favourite things:

1. Taiwanese bakeries where we can eat our fill for a fraction of what you'd pay back home! And the quality and variety are amazing!
2. ICE CREAM! It is everywhere and it tastes better here, I promise.
3. Random curious smiles and head-nods from strangers and their adorable children.
4. Musical garbage trucks. (As described by B in this post)
5. Walking down a dingy alley and stumbling upon a park filled with palm trees or an ancient temple lit by red paper lanterns or some equally gorgeous landmark.
6. Knowing you could approach any Taiwanese person on the street to help you out as best they can, even if you speak no Chinese and they speak no English.

Our least favourite things:

1. The indescribably bad smell of stinky tofu.
2. Occasional whiffs of raw sewage, especially when you're eating outside... barf.
3. Feeling like a sweaty mosquito buffet every night when we get back to our room.
4. The sometimes traumatic and always awkward process of ordering food through the language barrier.
5. Dodging scooters whenever we try to cross a street.
6. Again, the indescribably bad smell of stinky tofu... SERIOUSLY!

Wednesday, May 18, 2011

You scream, I scream, we all scream for... garbage anyone?

The pictures below were taken on Monday in a beautifully landscaped park in a more northern part of the city. We had heard about a soup and sandwich restaurant that also sells western style bread and cheeses and decided to check it out.

I use the term “western style” to refer to breads that do not have the typical sweet taste that you will find in Taiwanese bakeries. A little research (on Amanda’s part) has suggested that for the most part the Taiwanese prefer their meals to be a little sweeter (and less salty) than what it common in the west and by contrast, for desserts, the Taiwanese find ours a little too sweet for their liking. The restaurant was really great, with very comforting sandwiches, milkshakes, and other treats we rarely see here in Taiwan.

We are slowly getting to explore more and more different areas of the city. Today we changed accommodations yet again. Hooray!!! We will be in our new digs (the Sanduo Hotel) for a whole two weeks! We’re very happy about this arrangement for a variety of reasons.
1. It is the nicest and concurrently the cheapest place we have yet stayed at.
2. Two whole weeks without having to move!!
3. We were very very very tired of the last place!

I think I mentioned in a previous post that there was construction going on outside of our window at the hostel we were most recently staying at up until today.

Let me be clear that when I say “there was construction going on outside the window”, I do not mean to say “there was construction across the street”. Attached is a picture that illustrates just how close the construction really was.

Every morning, but for one, out of the last seven mornings, we have been woken up by the sound of a jackhammer being operated within 20 meters of our heads.

The one morning that we were spared was because there were heavy rains that day. Heavy rains that revealed a leak in the bedroom ceiling, resulting in water dripping onto the bed, just as though a bulls-eye had been drawn on my pillow taunting the water to come hither.

The construction and the rain were unfortunate additions to what was otherwise a pleasant stay. The area we were staying in was in the Hamasen community that is right by the ocean and by Sun Yat-sen University. This community also comprises what was “downtown” Kaohsiung during Japanese rule that began in 1895 and ended in 1945. It is an older community with a large student population and lower income families. There is a great deal of character and there are a lot of interesting sites to visit that Amanda and I have yet to check off the list, hence I’m sure we will be back there soon!

The area we have just moved to is further inland, much more modern, urban and developed. We are looking forward to exploring the area over the next couple weeks.

I’ve been asked about the layout of Kaohsiung and thought I would post a map (see below) that shows Kaohsiung along with the population densities of the relative communities. We are presently staying in the area highlighted as having 20,000 inhabitants/SqKm, which is approximately twice the population density of New York City.

Something I haven’t yet blogged about is how very shortly after arriving in Kaohsiung we heard what we thought were ice cream vans rather persistently cruising around and even well into the late evening. We soon learnt that what we were hearing were in fact the local garbage trucks that drive around while playing a standard and very recognizable jingle. Local shop owners are able to hear their approach from a ways away and bring out the garbage to help keep the entire operation running smoothly. Quite ingenious really. I wonder if the hopes of any tourists have been dashed whereby they actually tried to chase down the mystery ice cream van only to come across the garbage truck. Quite the disappointment for anyone who has made that mistake, I’m sure.

The construction "right outside our window".
Leaky roof. I have a feeling of Deja Vu!

The former Kaohsiung County. In December 2010 the county merged with Kaohsiung City to form a single municipality.
(Reproduced with permission from

Saturday, May 14, 2011

Beach Day!

Today we walked through a tunnel under a mountain just two blocks away from our hostel. On the other side of the tunnel was the gorgeous and tropical Dr. Sun Yat-sen University. It’s where the proprietor of our hostel goes to school and when we complimented him on how beautiful the campus is he shrugged and said, “You get used to it. Also we have natural hazards. Monkeys attack students and steal our food and our money sometimes.” He was not kidding.

Luckily we made it through campus unscathed and we went to a lovely sandy beach on the other side. The water was so warm and as I am so unaccustomed to hanging out near the ocean I was enthralled. The novelty of standing at the water’s edge letting the waves crash over my shins took about two hours to wear off. Poor Boje! He also had to deal with my manic shell-gathering and then petulant pouting once it was pointed out to me that I had nowhere to put my treasures. Next time I’m bringing a bucket!

Friday, May 13, 2011

Busy with Buxibans

Brett and I have been busy seeking work since our arrival in April and as a result haven’t had a chance to meet and hang out with any fellow travelers. That all changed the other day when I was on the train coming home from an English school. I noticed a foreign girl by herself holding a map and looking confused in one of the biggest KRT stations in the city, so I approached her and asked if she needed help finding her train line. We walked together and she explained she didn’t even have a place to stay for the night! I told her to come back to our hostel for the night where there was lots of room. Turns out she’s Brett’s age, from Florida, and has already been teaching in the country for almost a year. After she got settled in, we headed out for an awesome walk to Cijin (a long, skinny island right along much of Kaohsiung’s coastline). We took a quick and cheap ferry ride there from Kaohsiung Harbour, ambled up to an old fort, followed a trail to a beautiful lighthouse and then wandered down a rocky slope where I ripped my pants on a modest scramble. Then we went to Amy’s which is quickly becoming mine and B’s favourite Taiwanese restaurant. We tried to be good and order lots of veggies but MSG had clearly been liberally sprinkled all over them. Over dinner our new friend gave us lots of advice about what to see and eat in Taiwan. An excellent evening!

B and I have applied to quite a few schools in the city and so this week was spent catching up and being interviewed for some of those positions. The schools that most foreigners are allowed to work at in Taiwan are called buxibans (pronounced bush-ee-bans) or privately owned cram schools. Each of these schools has very specific things they look for in their foreign teachers. Some schools prefer South African, UK, Australian or Irish accents, and some prefer Canadian/American accents. Some prefer teachers with little to no experience so they can train them, while others refuse to hire anyone without several years of Taiwanese ESL teaching under their belts.

A common step in the interview process is a “teaching demo” where you’re given a scenario a few hours before class starts and are asked to teach an hour long lesson to a group of ESL students. I had two of those this week and it was really cool to see how some of the schools work and to interact with some very bright kids. There is nothing quite like a cluster of adorable Taiwanese children crowding around you asking “Teacher, what is your name? Teacher Amanda, are you our new teacher?” I was also really surprised at the end of each of my lessons when I was pulled aside and PAID!

Between the two of us, we’ve had appointments nearly every day this week. It feels great to spend a lazy Saturday morning doing nothing and I think this afternoon we’re going to the beach! I hope everyone back home is getting ready to have an awesome weekend too. We miss you!

Catching the Ferry to Cijin
On the Ferry to Cijin
View of Cijin from Cihou Fort. Tuntex Sky Tower in the background.
Sunset at Cihou Fort on Cijin Island.
Dusk on a beach on Cijin Island.

Thursday, May 12, 2011

Apocalypse Later

Swishy Shorts

Remember the Seinfeld episode where George holds out for a clothing sale before buying a nice suit but the suit ends up making a “whooshing” noise wherever he walks? He is so paranoid about the suit’s whooshing that he is sure it is going to be the reason for him not getting a job that he interviewed for. In the end he doesn’t get the job, but not because of his whooshing suit, instead because he refuses to eat from a dessert ordered by his prospective boss.

In my last two years of high school (my introduction to Canada) at times I was the source of much amusement to a number of people, including some of my closest existing friends, with things such as my strange accent, mannerisms or the way I dressed. I even garnered the South Park inspired nickname of “Pip” which even one of my teachers used for referring to me on occasion. Along with these ways in which I stood apart, I also had a reputation for the “swishy shorts” that I wore in gym class and, as you can guess, made a distinct “swishing” noise wherever I walked or ran. It was never a source of grief for me and I think I appreciated the comedy in the matter as much as any of my friends did.

Well my latest incarnation for the accoutrement accolades is my “squeaky shoe”. I don’t know when, where or how it happened, but at some point since leaving Calgary my left sneaker has started making a distinct and loud “squeak!” every time I lift my foot to take another step. If the shoe had a personality and a hidden agenda then I’m sure it would be to drive my crazy before we leave Taiwan. Having packed light, you can understand that these are the shoes I brought to wear pretty much everywhere, pretty much everyday. I did bring one pair of much smarter shoes which may soon ascend to the position of “every day” if I can’t fix the issue with the sneaker. So far I’ve tried varying the way I walk in a number of different ways while attempting to keep the altered stride imperceptible. Much to my avail, I’ve found that the only thing that works is for me to adopt the most absurdly exaggerated “quasimodo”-like hobble, something that would lead any onlooker to believe I’m in need of not only physical assistance but mental assistance as well!!!!

Moving on.

This women is white!!!

Yesterday Amanda and I stopped in at a make-up store to get some concealer for the small tattoos on Amanda’s wrists. Amanda is interviewing for some ESL Teaching positions and wanted to appeal to the more conservative Taiwanese values of her prospective employers. While I lurked in the corner Amanda was attended to by two very friendly Taiwanese ladies that I would estimate to have been in their thirties.

The two attendants worked on applying a variety of different concealing products to the tattoos in an attempt to find a colour match to Amanda’s skin tone. It took a while. The whole time this was happening the one attendant was repeating to the other the phrase “bai se, bai se, bai se”. In Mandarin “bai se” means white. So it seemed that the one attendant was in awe at how white Amanda is. Fair enough, even amongst Canadians Amanda would be considered “fair skinned”, so to a Taiwanese person she must be quite the exception!

Apocalypse Later

You might have seen something in the news about the Taiwanese “Doomsday Blogger” that has been “causing widespread panic throughout the island”. Well I certainly haven’t seen evidence of any mass hysteria.

Anyway, I’m glad to say that his/her doomsday predictions did not come true and yesterday (May 11th) passed without a magnitude 14 earthquake, without a 170 meter tall tsunami and without Taipei 101 toppling over.

New Hostel

Yesterday we also moved to Hamasen Hostel, our new digs for the next week. We learnt that hamasen is a Japanese word and apparently “hama” means “by the sea” while “sen” means “train" or "rail road”. The hostel as well as the surrounding community is referred to as Hamasen because it used to be “downtown” during the Japanese occupation as well as being... by the sea and by the rail road. Goods that were brought into dock were transferred to rail and shipped throughout the island.

The hostel itself is considerably cheaper than our last stay. We don’t really mind the place at all other than for the air conditioning not working terribly well and the fact that there is construction going on during the daytime right outside of our window. By right outside of our window I mean to say that there are construction workers standing outside of our window at our level with pneumatic drills and concrete cutting saws.

Earplugs please!

Tuesday, May 10, 2011

The Very Best Drunken Chicken (a Chinese Shaohsing Jiu Marinade)

Brett and I took it easy today as we are moving to a new accommodation tomorrow morning. It’s called Hostel Hamasen and is a “Scandinavian-Taiwanese inspiration” with beer on tap so we’re pretty excited. It’s also in the older part of the city right by the harbour so that will be nice.

Anyways, today we saw Fast 5 at the same theatre we went to before. It was... wow. I really empathized with the Rock’s character. His level of sweatiness throughout that movie is a daily struggle that Brett and I can both relate to since moving to Taiwan. It makes a person cranky.

For dinner we went to this Taiwanese place (with an impressive English-language website) called Amy’s and had a pretty good experience! We eschewed the one thing we know how to order in Chinese (chicken with spicy peanuts and dried chillies) and ordered “The Very Best Drunken Chicken (a Chinese Shaohsing Jiu Marinade)”, sweet-and-sour pork, and rice. Brett ordered a coconut juice and I got watermelon juice. They were sooo delicious! Brett’s had giant pieces of coconut flesh in it and mine was garnished with a huge wedge of watermelon. (See below!)

The very best drunken chicken was decent, but definitely an acquired taste. It was the first thing to come out and it was a plate of thinly sliced, cold chicken topped with a brownish jelly I assume is animal-based and marinaded in something with a distinctly alcoholic taste. It was served with a pile of shredded fresh ginger and you can see the edge of the plate in the photo below.

Pureed Watermelon juice and Drunken Chicken platter

Monday, May 9, 2011

wǒ de pí dài shì fěn​ sè de.

It came up again yesterday. Rosetta Stone seems determined that I will know how to say this by the time it is done with me.

If you have been following our blog closely then you will know the answer to this question.

1, 2, 3 or 4? Which is it?

Sunday, May 8, 2011

Stupid Canadians

I just had to add my own observation to Brett’s post about the helpfulness of Taiwanese people. I’ve been noticing a pattern here and I have to laugh because I’m sure it’s something that happens to non-English speakers in Canada all the time.

You know when someone doesn’t speak English so an English-speaking person will just sort of yell slowly and really articulate and even repeat themselves but to no avail? That’s the treatment we get every day. People are so friendly but I think it is sometimes because they think we’re slow!

When we first arrived in Kaohsiung I went to the ladies’ room at the train station. I walked up to the sink and tried getting some soap out of the pump. There was none left so I tried the adjacent sink, but a local woman watching this got my attention and started saying something very loudly and slowly in Chinese, and showed me repeatedly the “magic” faucets that run water when you put your hands under them. I was so embarrassed that I just ran my hands under water and smiled and nodded until she left, then I resumed my hunt for the soap.

The guy at the movie theatre who figuratively held our hands while we bought our tickets must have been thinking the same thing. He took our asking, “How do we buy tickets?” as “We don’t know the big city movie machines. Halp!”

Our server at the restaurant tonight was the same. She was very concerned that we didn’t understand the time crunch, and nudged us along by suggesting to us in Chinese that we order drinks, order rice, order more meat, order vegetables, order dessert, get free ice cream, etc. She kept saying urgently in Chinese, “two more, do you want to order more?” which we interpreted as meaning we could order two more items, then two more, and so on, but by which she really meant “You only have two hours. Do you want to order more food and actually get your value from this? Do I need to force the food into your hands?”

At least people here have been patient and sweet with us, and any attempt whatsoever at communicating in Chinese has been met with big smiles and giggles and thanks. Brett said, “zai jian” (goodbye) to a cashier at a restaurant the other day and she was so surprised and pleased that she dropped our change all over the counter. Taiwan is awesome.

Flesh of the Paradise Treasures Futon

Let’s Backtrack: Upon arriving at our hostel in Kaohsiung, our very friendly hostel staff member, Caleb, provided us with a map that conveniently identifies all of Kaohsiung’s tourist attractions along with a short description.

Very convenient. Oh wait, did I say “convenient”? What I meant to say was “deceitful”! 

Perhaps I shouldn’t lay blame in the map but rather in myself for assuming it was an exact scaled down cartographic record of all the streets in Kaohsiung. Let me tell you, it isn’t. Only the busier roads are mapped and so when I reviewed the map in the morning thinking that our leisurely walk to the former British Consulate would be oh two blocks this way, a block up, then another couple blocks over, cross that bridge, go around that bend and we’re there!... well, let’s just say I was sorely mistaken.

Amanda’s reference in her previous blog post to us walking for “a couple hours” is a slight understatement. It was about four hours that we spent traipsing around in the mid-afternoon sun, not entirely sure where we were going - the limitations of the map having dawned on us by that point.

As you may know already, our epic blistering trudge to the former British Consulate ended with us then being filmed by a mainland Chinese man who was no doubt intrigued by whether or not these large pink faced and rather shiny white people would collapse before his very eyes.

I hope you will understand that the following day we decided to take things a little easier.

Movie Time

On Friday we took a leisurely walk to a movie theater a few blocks away from the hostel. On the way there we came across a nice, clean little restaurant serving lunch. Italian food seems very popular here, but with a Taiwanese twist! Amanda had an excellent chicken and cheese risotto while I opted for a smoked duck spaghetti. The meal came with a small bowl of delicious pumpkin soup to start and we were both very satisfied.

When we got to the movie theater there was our usual awkward ineptness at having to deal with something new in a different language. We managed to locate some self serve terminals for the movie tickets but our efforts were scuppered from the get-go since the screen was filled with a veritable ocean of Chinese characters which simply stunned Amanda and I into bemusement.

Yes, here comes the embarrassing moment. So an employee noticing that we looked a little lost came to help us and once we conveyed that we wanted to buy tickets for a movie, he took us back to the self-serve machines and tapped the screen (it was a screen-saver!) at which point we were presented with a screen that in giant yellow letters gave us the option to continue in Mandarin or switch to English. English please! At this point we were presented with the exact same screen that any Canadian has become accustomed to if they have ever used the self-serve machines at a Cineplex Odeon in Canada. Same menu, same colours, same everything. Nevertheless, he still guided us through the entire transaction as though we were too stupid to do it ourselves.

Having successfully purchased our tickets we bought some popcorn (you can choose sweet or salted) and watched the movie (Thor) which was in English with Mandarin subtitles. Interesting fact, the movie was directed by Kenneth Branagh, better known for his work bringing Shakespeare to the big screen. We enjoyed the movie and it was a nice way to forget that we’re on the other side of the world from home, if only for a couple hours.

The Tuntex Sky Tower

Not far from the theater, we made our way to the 85-floor Tuntex Sky Tower, the tallest building in Kaohsiung, and 13th tallest in the world. The elevator is touted as one of the fastest in the world and travels at speeds up to 10.17 m/s (33.4 ft/s).

The views of Kaohsiung City and the harbour were beautiful and our timing was just right for us to linger and watch the sun set.

Friendly Locals

One of our meals the past few days was from a street vendor who was so friendly that he asked of our situation and, upon learning that we were looking for ESL teaching jobs, took my email address so that he could ask his other customers if they needed to hire an ESL teacher and provide them with my contact details.

I’m not holding out hope for this job search technique, but I was touched by his friendliness and genuine desire to be of help to us. The Taiwanese are so friendly and accommodating that it has been a really great experience so far.

“Watch those people and do as they do!”

Tonight (Sunday) we found our way to an interesting venue for dinner.

We selected a place that had English subtext on their menu and through the restaurant windows we could see other people cooking their own food on a little pot filled with coals and a wire grill cover.

It wasn’t until later in the meal when we had a moment alone with the menu that we learnt that there is a rule that you only have two hours at your table from when you sit down and then you have to leave. This time limit certainly explained our servers haste and what seemed to be concern that we were taking too long or not understanding her.

We most certainly weren’t understanding her as she spoke to us in what felt like rapid fire Mandarin and she didn’t seem to realize that no matter how many time she repeated herself it wasn’t going to aid our understanding.

It was sheer luck that we were sat at a table right next to a similarly aged couple that had also just sat down and so for our benefit we were able to pay close attention and do as they did.

The meal turned out to be a sort of order, drink, cook and eat as much as you can until your 120 minutes is up. Amanda and I got to try what I think was lamb, pork, beef, chicken, onion, broccoli, bamboo shoots, cabbage, corn, and for desert... “mushmellows” [sic, marshmellows] and “britney chocolate” [sic, brownie chocolate].

All-in-all it was a good experience if a little stressful.

Oh yes, and now for the blog post title. When looking up movie times on the Internet we found the appropriate website but there was no English language option. I turned to Google to translate the website into English and indeed it did. “Thor” and “Fast 5” were translated perfectly, but either the remainder of the movies being screened were ones that I had never heard of before or, much more likely, Google Translate had made a hodgepodge of the translation. My favorite being “Flesh of the Paradise Treasures Futon”.

Sounds like a thriller to me!

Thursday, May 5, 2011

Happy Birthday Brett!

We had beautiful weather our first morning in Kaohsiung! Blue skies, palm trees, flowers, and the occasional whiff of raw sewage greeted us on our walk from the hostel down to the pier. It was a scorcher of a day. We walked for a couple of hours and we passed by the commercial docks as well as through a very cool bike/walking path area where local artists had put up some beautiful tributes to Kaohsiung’s dock workers and to the city’s commitment to sustainability. B will add some photos to this blog entry for me right away!

We scampered up a steamy, jungly path to the “Former British Consulate Residence” but unfortunately our four hours of liesurely walking meant we missed afternoon tea. It was still great though, and an adorable tourist from mainland China spent several minutes filming us and trying to get us to give him the peace sign (which we obviously did because he was SO cute). He even went so far as to follow us with his camera into a gift shop while B bought a post card. We speculated after Brett talked to an English-speaking guy from the same tour group that we might be some of the first white people our paparazzo had ever seen up close.

After that we caught the subway back to the hostel where we met the owner, Sam, for the first time. He was much younger than either of us expected, and so friendly! (We’ve really lucked out with our accommodations so far. If you ever want to book a hostel internationally, definitely go to Hostel World). After talking to Sam we gussied up and headed out for B’s birthday dinner! Wherever you are in the world, I hope you’ll take a moment to eat an enchilada and think of el Bojo today.

We're going to continue the celebrations tonight by drinking some of the millet wine Sam gave us! We’ll let you know how it tastes!

Oh, and before I end this, I wanted to point out how troubling it is that we are the only people here who seem bothered by the heat. Brett is usually the only guy in a given venue wearing shorts, and I haven’t noticed anyone who looks as sweaty as we do. And what’s with the leather jackets and sweaters?! It’s 30 degrees out!

Kaohsiung's version of the Calgary Art Cows?
The Tuntex Sky Tower in the background.
Painted on the wall of a house that we walked past.
Painted on the wall of a house that we walked past.
View of Kaohsiung harbour from the former British Consulate.
Detail on a small pagoda at the former British Consulate.

Wednesday, May 4, 2011

Kaohsiung Today.

Today was the first day we saw blue sky since landing in Taiwan. Blue sky and lots of it!

We checked out of our hostel in Taipei this morning, cabbed it to the train station and caught the THSR (Taiwan High Speed Rail) to Kaohsiung. There were just two stops on the way and with a top speed of 300km/hr we were in Koahsiung in an hour an a half.

Before leaving Taipei I had taken a half hour to meticulously copy out, in large print, the Chinese characters for the address of the hostel we are staying at and it seems my ability to transcribe Chinese characters has proven not too shoddy because twice now a taxi driver has had no issues with my addresses.

Once again, Amanda and I were very impressed with how well organized the journey was, even catching the cab from the train station in Kaohsiung involved four uniformed employees coordinating which traveler would take which taxi. While loading our 40Lbs backpacks into the back of the cab, another uniformed employee stepped in to provide assistance, this individual seemed old enough to deserve a walker, never mind to be grabbing our backpacks from us and handing them to the cab driver. Best of all was that during the whole exchange the old man couldn’t stop laughing and grinning ear-to-ear, showing off his one last tooth, while nodding to the cab driver and repeating the word “heavy” over and over.

Our hostel is lovely and we will be staying here for 6 nights before moving on. The individual that checked us in, Kaleb, was incredibly friendly and has been the most proficient English speaker we have met on our travels. The hostel owner, Sam, has provided us with a complimentary bottle of millet wine to say thank you because he does not usually have guests stay for as long as us. If you, like me, know very little about millet, then just read the write up on this website and you can get away with pretending to have a Phd on the subject matter.

For dinner we wandered around a fair bit, explored a bit of the harbour and the “Love River” and we eventually stumbled upon a city park with palm trees and a stage where a band was singing and food and drink was being served. By this point we we both very “è” and “kě​” (hungry and thirsty) so we sat down, watched some of the performances and had dinner.

We haven’t planned out our day for tomorrow yet but there is an enormous amount to do in Kaohsiung so we will certainly be kept busy!

Good night, for now.

View from our room.