Monday, November 28, 2011

Taylor comes to Taichung

This past weekend, our friend Taylor (a friendly, Taipei-dwelling Texan) came down for a quick visit and his first expedition out of the city into the rest of the island. We met him at training back in August, and it was so nice to see him again on Saturday and catch up over some dinner and Carslberg! After our very early dinner, we went out with some other teachers to a place in our neighbourhood called LM Relax, home of the world's prettiest restaurant decor. It was also home to some of the world's prettiest/tastiest alcoholic milkshakes. I'm definitely going back for dinner sometime! After drinks at LM Relax, Taylor headed out with another friend from training to a club, and I went home to promptly pass out after a full day of teaching and a full night of eating.

The next morning, we had pancakes at Early Bird - an awesome experience for any foreigner missing home. Once we'd all had our fill of carbs and coffee, we walked over to the Taiwan's National Museum of Natural Science where Boje and I had our whole Silk Road debacle back in September. For $250, we decided to try again. The special exhibit on the books this time? "Quest for Immortality - The Hidden Treasure of Ancient Egypt". We weren't allowed to take photos inside the exhibit, but we did have a good time checking everything out. The collection was thoughtfully curated, and despite the very heavy crowds we felt comfortable milling around. There were multiple human mummies, as well as several different species of mummified animals! It was really cool, especially after having recently read this BBC article about how ancient Egyptians were mummifying certain animals to the point of endangerment and extinction! I highly recommend this exhibit! You still have plenty of time to go, as it will be here until February 12.

Once we'd finished the exhibit we wandered around the grounds. The NMNS is a huge facility adjoining Taichung's botanical garden. It's a really cool park with lots of tree-shaded trails and big, open, green spaces. There were people there doing tai-chi, meditating, napping, and playing with their kids.

Brett took Taylor back to the HSR station that evening, and I must say it was lovely having him. I'm always happiest when there's someone staying in the guest room, so drop by any time!

Amanda and Taylor in front of the Taichung canal.
Taylor in front of the Taiwan National Museum of Natural Science. Say that three times fast!
Taylor riding a sidewalk dinosaur!
When cropped close in... Taylor riding... the sidewalk. Weird.

Sunday, November 20, 2011

Crabby Birthday

Last weekend, our Canadian friend who lives a short train ride away in Taichung County, came into town to spend Saturday and Sunday with us. We went out Saturday night in a semi-celebration of my birthday with a few other friends. We had amazing Mediterranean food at Uzo once again and then went crab fishing!

Let me explain... In Taiwan, there are many indoor venues with big salt water pools that are used for recreational prawn and crab fishing. The particular place we chose (which is walking distance from our apartment) happened to have crab on the menu. You pay either $500 per hour or $1000 for 3 hours and receive a pink slip of paper, then a nice English-speaking girl took us poolside to show us how to bait our hooks with pieces of raw prawn. Staff were throwing live crabs into the pool, old Taiwanese men were chain smoking everywhere, and tiny children were up way past their bedtime. It was chaotic, but in the best possible way. We gingerly balanced my birthday gifts (a big chocolate cake and a bottle of wine!) on a plastic lawn chair and got down to business!

I was seated at the end of our little group and had clearly missed the memo on effective crab fishing techniques, so a chain-smoking local man with full sleeve tattoos sitting to my right took it upon himself to teach me. Using his limited English and my limited Chinese, it was agreed that I should balance my fishing pole on the edge of the pool. Occasionally I'd get a sharp slap on the arm from my mentor, which meant "1, 2, 3, now!" I was also yelled at twice to "WATCH!" Catching crabs is tricky! (Shhh.) They were biting a lot and you could pull them up to the water's edge, but it was so hard swinging them up and into your bucket! Then, out of nowhere, I caught one! It was big, too! Getting it into the bucket was scary - naturally, I supervised as my friends and the Taiwanese man took over for that part.

Then we had a crab in our bucket... what now? It actually made me a little sad. The crab looked scared and was so defensive and upset. They're seriously the tanks of the underwater world. Delicious, tender tanks. Because there were five of us and only one crab, the proprietor's English-speaking daughter suggested we have it in miso soup. We were seated at a table by the water's edge and waited as they cooked our catch of the day. It was pretty awesome to eat delicious crab miso soup before heading back out into the night. Best. Birthday. Ever. Brett will post pictures when he's more organized.

Crab Fishing in Taichung
The Crab Fishing Pool
The photographer had steady hands, everything else was moving.

Mesmerized by the bubbling soup.

The one that almost got away.
Fun Song Bar! at Tiger Bowling.

Bills, bills, bills

When we get bills in the mail, we take them to work for a coworker to assure us that they're bills we should open rather than personal correspondence for our landlord, then we pay them as soon as possible at our local 7-11. This month, our cable and internet bills came up. I don't know if this is a standard Taiwanese contract or if our company is unusual or what, but basically we pay in advance for three months of service. We had a pretty confusing snag in the first week of November. We don't get paid by our branches until the 7th of the month, so our November bills were in a stack waiting to go when we were paid. The 7th is also when our internet happened to shut off.

The next day, I paid our whole pile of bills not really knowing what they were, but with the understanding that one of them was from our cable/internet company. The same day, the company contacted our landlord who lives in Japan to say her internet had been cut off, so she contacted Brett's Taiwanese colleague who asked him why we hadn't yet paid it. We thought we had!

Two days later, on Thursday, what do we find in the mailbox but a bill from our cable/internet company, this time for a much larger amount. It also said it was due to be paid on Monday, November 7! But it arrived on the 10th! We were never given a key to our mailbox by our landlord, so it just stays permanently unlocked. It's possible our mail was given to the wrong person who then let it sit on their dining room table for two weeks before thinking to put it in our mailbox. I don't know. All I know is it's been paid, and a week later we still have no internet in our apartment. Fortunately, we learned today that there's wifi in our building's lobby! Hooray!

Saturday, November 5, 2011

Scooter Milestone!

Today Boje took on his first scooter passenger - me! He picked me up from work (grumble Saturday mornings grumble) and scooted me to lunch all under the watchful eye of our more experienced scooter-driving friend. I do love planning for contingencies. Riding with Boje has opened a whole new world of dinner possibilities, and when Boje’s more comfortable we’ll be able to head out of town at our leisure! Don’t worry, Mom. We’ll capture and post pictures soon.

In other news, for those of you we haven’t caught up with lately, teaching is going really well! We’re both a lot more comfortable with our curriculums and we’ve been getting to know some of our students and coworkers really well. It’s Saturday night, we have nowhere to be in the morning, and our bellies are full of pasta and a familiar wine we’d been missing from back home. All is well in Taichung.

Friday, November 4, 2011

One Thousand Meters Up

I thought I would add a short post of my own to describe my paragliding experience in Puli. We were told that the first person of our group to go should be one of the lightest because the thermals would only just be kicking up and hence if you have too much weight then you will end up at the bottom of the mountain needing to be picked up and driven back up the hill.

The second person to go should be one of the biggest because if the sun is out then the thermals will quickly pick up and you actually want your total weight (instructor and passenger) to be as heavier. I qualified as the candidate for this task and so was second of our group to take to the skies. I’m not sure if Yuri (our instructor) is permanently elated when he is in the sky, but he suggested that the conditions were perfect and that we were very lucky. At one point an altitude meter that beeped at different rates depending on the speed of your ascent sounded like the electrocardiogram of a rabbit while mating. Yuri told me that we were climbing at more than 3 meters/second and he was very excited about this.

At our highest we were more than 1,600 meters above sea level and just over 1,000 meters above where we had launched. Upon reaching our zenith we were amongst the “solos”, as Yuri called them, and there was only one para-glider in the sky higher than us.

On our way back down Yuri asked if I wanted to try going into a descending spin as I could see other para-gliders performing. Naturally I answered with the affirmative. The g-forces on the way down were incredible and I very much imagined my face to look like that of a dog with its head out of a car window covered in slobber that is spraying into the wind. I sincerely hope I didn’t slobber on Yuri!

We shot long on our first landing attempt and so had to circle around and gain back some altitude, but then we successfully landed on our second attempt.

It was an amazing amazing experience and I can definitely see myself return again while we are in Taiwan.

Amanda took this picture of me during my climb. Yuri and I were in the yellow-green-chute.