Gone fishing.

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Dear patient readers of my writing. I have moved away from Taiwan and will no longer be updating this with Taiwan relevant posts. I have started another travel blog for my travels outside Asia, visit it if you have any interest in Hawaii or Australia. Click here to see what I am up to next! https://crumblezabroad.wordpress.com/

If you find yourself in Kaohsiung and in need of an English-speaking doctor I recommend these offices which were all kind and attentive to me. The last is the tax office if you need information on tax returns for teaching English. Good luck and pleasant travels!

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Leaving Taiwan

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I will miss:

1. The people, foreigners and Taiwanese. The sweet tutoring students and their parents that gave me the benefit of the doubt.

2. Cheap produce, fresh tropical fruit and vegetables available at a reasonable price to everyone in every corner of the city.

3. So many transportation options:  bicycle, scooter, subway and motorcycle. Timely trains and cheap taxis all over the island.

4. Affordable rent.

5. Drinking alcohol in public with friends.

6. Having helpful policemen, instead of scary might-shoot-you policemen.

7. Finding a new job relatively easily and quickly.

8. Cheap healthcare for all.

9. Cheap shoes and handbags, easily bought and just as easily disposed of.

10. My expatriot traveler friends who support me in my adventures with suggestions and well wishes. I’ve never had such an incredible support system.

11. Having leisure time to pursue other interests and personal growth.

12. Cheap repairs and handymen.

13. Cellphone plans and mechanic services that won’t break the bank.

14. Clean and prolific public parks and campsites.

What I won’t miss:

1. The food; oily, over sweetened and usually brown and mushy. And funky salty drinks and desserts.

2. The racism, while not malicious, still a great show of willful ignorance of other cultures in the world.

3. The pollution: air and water.

4. Mandarin tones and never being able to adequately express myself and therefore treated like a helpless child.

5. The idea you should spend your whole childhood and young adult life in a classroom or at work.

6. Being stared at in the subway, supermarket, on the street and whispers or shouts of “outsider.”

7. Not having enough public interest in a variety of music in order to encourage outside touring groups to pass through.

8. Having to explain where I’m from, why I can’t speak Chinese and how much I love Taiwanese food out of polite obligation.

9. Terrible patched-up plumbing, trash pickup schedules and nosy neighbors.

10. Fire. Firecrackers set off at dawn on a Saturday. Ghost money burnt on the street choking the whole area with smoke.

11. Natural Disasters. Typhoons, flooding, earthquakes, rip tides and crippling humidity.

12. The constant smell of decay and war on cockroaches.

13. The lack of sidewalks and slippery marble tile shop entrances.

14. Riding a scooter in the rain.

15. How doctors act like you’re crazy for having a checkup and try to rush you out the door.

16. How difficult it is to build friendships of mutual reliance when everyone shows up late.

17. Trying and failing to date in a society that rewards quiet, weak and reserved women.

18. Being told I wear a large everything in clothes when I’m clearly a small on top and a medium on bottom.

19. Having 80% of your friends be foreigner men who turn into alcoholics because they can afford to, and the Taiwanese girlfriends that assure them their behavior is socially acceptable.

20. Only having two career options available to you: teaching English or making food.

21. Squat toilets and a lack of toilet paper and soap in the public bathrooms.

22. That nagging sense you will never belong so you ought to move on.

23. Having it assumed that I cannot order my own food, because I am a white female in a restaurant with a man and/or a Taiwanese person.

24. Everyone I know smoking cigarettes because it is cheap, and choking on smoke while dancing or out listening to music.

Falling

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People prowled the meadow camping area and forested stages in vibrant tie-dye everything, bizarre caveman outfits to incite conversation. Earth Fest, an underground music festival in the forest, was crawling with hippies and wannabes.

This past weekend I attended a music festival outside Taichung, Taiwan on a farm near Puli. It was difficult to reach without access to a car, and it was only through the kindness of friends I made it to and from unscathed.

Much of the music was Psytrance or something psychedelic in nature with long, repetitive, rhythm sequences and minimalist eerie tones. It’s not my favorite music, but it was an excellent excuse to dance with friends in the forest and wear bright colors. Most of all to forget responsibilities.

At some point Saturday night I went on a tree climbing expedition with friends, Will and Micah.  Maybe their girlfriends were there, maybe not. At any rate the girlfriend’s presence was not felt because they didn’t climb and didn’t add anything to the conversation or overall experience.

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Taiwan doesn’t have many pine trees, since most of it is covered in tropical jungle, but of course if you travel to a high enough altitude you see the ecosystem become more temperate and there are a few pine trees.

We chose a tree and in my excitement I scrambled monkey like up the tree. One step, and a thunderous crack later I was back on the ground with an “OOOoooophhhh.”

I fell. The branch had broken under me, my feet sinking before I noticed just like a cartoon character.

It wasn’t a small branch, but a bigger one and even as I fell I didn’t feel a great amount of terror, just surprise. Before, I had felt so certain of my actions, maybe reckless in my lack of fear.

I hopped up quickly, to show myself and my friends I was unhurt. Their faces looked back with wide-eyed owl like concern, and I immediately apologized for scaring them before climbing back up the tree.

  
Climbing trees holds a significant memory from my childhood, one in which I had another fall from a Ponderosa pine straight onto a rose bush. My cousin Gabriel pulled me down the hill in a wagon to receive medical attention from the adults. Something about climbing makes me desert my cautious nature and instead focus on getting higher with a one-minded intensity I rarely experience in anything else.

I love getting a better vantage point and using all my limbs to pull myself up. It’s a completely different animal trying to get down a tree and just as difficult as it was going up. Climbing trees uses common sense, reasoning and probability. Can I reach that? Will it break? Which branch is a better reach? Where do I want to go? Up; is usually the direction I want, but we learn to compromise and move sideways sometimes.

Falling is a natural part of learning, or maybe I should say failing. When you are younger it is expected and a physical short fall on short legs. The reward is great and the risk, small. As we get older there is a stigma, people who fail frequently are pigeonholed as ‘losers.’ In reality these are the people who are learning the most.

I remember my mother telling a story about my brother touching a hot stove. She told him not to touch, explained why and then he touched it anyway. I recall thinking, “My brother must be so stupid. I don’t need to touch the fire to know it’s hot. I trust mom to tell me the truth.”

Our family has a long standing tradition of letting people learn their own lessons, but not when it comes to safety of course. Protecting yourself from bodily harm means you must trust the judgement of others and listen to caution once in a while. This is still a difficult task for me, to trust the judgment of others when they tell me I can’t do something.

When my father visited Taiwan he told me to sell the motorcycle I had, he advised and I paraphrase, “Sell that motorcycle. It’s too big for you, and buy a nicer scooter instead.”

I know my father has experience riding a motorcycle, he knows I have a small stature and he is only looking out for my safety. But I couldn’t sell it until I learned how to ride it. He was right, it wasn’t safe, but sometimes unsafe things are what make us feel most alive. Sometimes learning a skill that scares us, gives us confidence to change.

So I climb trees, and I fall. I learn how to ride scooters and motorcycles, and I fall. But falling is learning. The hard way, but the hard way makes a strong impression and it never hurts as much as you expect.

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My favorite excuse

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“I’m sorry I can’t come to your party! I’ll be out of the country.” No apology has ever been more ingenuine, in my opinion. This is my excuse in two weeks when I plan to jet over to Thailand for ten days of Bangkok and beaches.

Following that I have roughly a month and a half left in Taiwan, before heading to Australia for whatever my future holds. It’s a strange limbo as I have watched friend after friend leave the island, and finally it’s my turn and I don’t feel like I have many friends left to celebrate my absence. Which is alright, I have enough personal interactions to distract me, to the point of falling on my face tonight while night running. I never do that.

  1. Issue: new guy I like, that is probably a bad idea and definitely a cruel attachment to form since I plan on leaving.
  2. Issue: my roommate’s girlfriend, friendly, but keeps calling me to ask where her boyfriend is,  if I took her raincoat and can I let her in. Dude, so many reasons not to have a girlfriend.
  3. Issue: renewing my visa in Taiwan, shouldn’t be problematic just red tape and waiting in lines.
  4. Issue: scheduling wisdom teeth removal, I’m terrified of finding a good English-speaking doctor here.
  5. Issue: should I work constantly to save for travel or try to enjoy my last few months in Asia?
  6. Issue: international bank accounts, how and why is it so complicated?
  7. Issue: should I be fading out of my friendships to wean people away from me, or just cold turkey it?

If I’ve learned anything from my research of oral surgery, extraction is difficult and painful. I hope I can handle it with as much poise as possible

Image credit to Jim I'll Paint it. http://jimllpaintit.bigcartel.com/

Image credit to Jim’ll Paint It. http://jimllpaintit.bigcartel.com/

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Modern connections: Updates vs battery charge

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At 26% battery I attempted to update four different applications on my iPhone at the same time. By the time I reached 14% I realized the folly of my ways and with an unreasonable amount of panic I canceled two updates in order to see any finish updating before my phone went completely dead.

With anticipation I watched the semi-circle, ends reaching towards each other getting closer, and the longer I watched the more the edges seemed to flutter. As if the two ends were making frantic attempts to connect, hold hands. Meanwhile the battery percentage ticked down 10%, 4%, 2% and finally at 1% the update completed. The circle was full, much to my surprise. I never expect things to work when it’s down to the wire.

I had watched the last few seconds countdown because I wanted to see the light leave my phone’s eyes if it was going to die. Yes, I had totally personified this phone and its struggle to be complete. I also was in a delirium that follows an afternoon nap.

But there remains that thought in the back of my mind as a human that I can be more complete and multifaceted, and holding hands helps. From a survival aspect holding hands doesn’t seem logical. The opposable thumbs that give people so many advantages, climbing and gripping are fully neutralized by hand holding. Walking and running are both more difficult while holding hands.

But it connects us and comforts us, and not just humans, other mammals as well. Look at elephants holding trunksmonkeys gripping eachother’s tails and puppies nuzzling closer into the dogpile to feel that contact.

Social creatures have similar habits, but human social contract dictates a certain distance be observed for acquaintances and friends. The rest comes down to fear of rejection and personal embarrassment. When really, there is no reason not to hold hands. Unless there is a sweaty palm situation.

Some of my younger students reflexively reach out to hold my hand or to lean against me, and every time I am surprised by the maternal instincts that make me instantly want to protect that little person. All from these small, unconscious actions that make me feel close not just in body but also mind. It is an acknowledgement of something tribal, a connection recognized that all parties will try to protect each other.

Some infants spend the majority of their young lives attached to their mother’s back, or in close proximity of people who love and reach out to touch consistently if not constantly. As people grow older and develop independence the need for physical touch is still present, but open affection is no longer socially acceptable as it was with dependent toddlers drooling all over themselves.

We still want hugs. We still want to hold hands, link arms, fist bump, shake hands and grab shoulders. It reduces blood pressure at a micro level, and at the macro level it reassures all of us in our everyday moments of insecurity. It reminds us we aren’t alone, but part of an ever updating circle.

Sky is the Limit

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“But it’s also sometimes said the people who work quietly behind the scenes are the most important people. They really do the work and not the noisy ones.”

A quote from a beautiful song called ‘Pushy’ by the musician Lemon Jelly sampling from Harold Williamson’s 1968 BBC series “Children Talking Part 1: Ambition.” It got me thinking about my friend Sky.

She reminds me of my mother a lot, in that she is amazingly productive in her workload, and she took on a great deal of responsibility at a young age. Now, she satisfies this problem-solving fix by acting as an unofficial champion for the Taiwan newcomers.

She isn’t a saint of course, she gets frustrated, as someone who gives far more than she gets back. But her work ethic and selflessness is legendary. In turn she has adopted and acted as a mother figure for more than one of my guy friends. To the point of possessing the title of Sky’s Guys.

She makes them food, bails them out of sticky jail situations and defends these friends with a fierce loyalty, almost blind to their shortcomings. I admire her greatly, but I haven’t been a direct benefactor of Sky’s rescue because it demands a submissive act of admitting ‘my life is falling apart.’

That and the fact I’m a girl, and she only has room in her heart for a few close girlfriends and I am not one of them. I lack the drinking stamina for one, and I cannot spend every hour of the day with people. I am an introvert at heart, and teaching leaves me with no time to myself or the privacy that I crave.

After years of experience in the kitchen she has a natural ease while entertaining and making food. But will occasionally lash out at those she considers outside her sphere, or those she feels are attacking her tribe. Her travel buddies and contacts are her most valuable resource.

It’s easy to pick apart someone else’s character instead of turning around the microscope to examine myself. But I write about Sky, out of a deep respect for someone who I believe possesses a striking ability to include and love many people at one time. Spreading the love around to a great variety of friends.

I, on the other hand, select a few people for my limited time slots and dedicate myself to giving abundantly to these few, and somewhat sparingly, almost stingily to the rest of the general public.

aboveIt’s a challenge to be an all-encompassing introvert. Drinking alcohol certainly helps introverts become more extrovert. I still feel after spending two hours around most groups I am ready to go somewhere new or find a cozy corner to talk to just a few people at a time.

So I salute Sky and her sandwich shop of friends, her aptitude for tempting old friends to visit her in a foreign country. Few people could do what she has done, and what she will do.

All Growed Up

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This past weekend I attended an engagement party one night, and dinner party birthday the next. These acted as reminders that, yes, although I often practice avoidance in all avenues of maturity and romance my contemporaries do not waste time finding their own complimentary significant others.

I can now say I know three awesome couples in Kaohsiung in which I enjoy both members individually and as a unit. It gives me something to look forward to, like a barbeque fire on the roof in a typhoon that stays lit despite all odds. At the same time these important moments emphasize the idea that compromise is essential, but only to a certain extent.

We want to find someone that understands how we work. Someone that knows when I say, “I will give you time to pack.” I really mean, “Hurry up and clean the living room or I will cut you.” Alternately when I say, “The dishes can wait until morning,” I really mean it. I hate doing dishes after the meal, and I like doing them when I wake up in the morning.

No one wants to give too much or too little. And it is wonderful to see couples together that have found that balance without bitterness. People that remain friends inspite of the lack of privacy that successful relationships require.

I feel honored to know them, and always that aftertaste, a nostalgic pang like the last taste of wine when you realize your time together as friends is fleeting.

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My friend groups here in Taiwan are exceptionally transient, both the foreigners and Taiwanese because those are the kind of people I like: adventurous, mildly unpredictable, accepting and entertaining. I love them because of these factors and I will miss them just the same when they leave to their ‘Next New Adventure.’

Unfortunately, I have little confidence in our abilities to stay in touch, even with emails and Facebook, Instagram and the rest. Travelers live in the present, and although they reminisce about the past the majority of their energy is spent making new memories.

So I will try to preserve these friendships in writing, adding a safeguard to my memories, some sort of false sense of preserving the non preservable.

K and J I wish you all the best wine in Spain. S and R I will miss our music classes and art talks. S and P I hope you enjoy your trip back to France, your spice collection fills me with great appreciation. If I ever get around to growing up, I want to be just like you.

Ballin in Bali

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A few weeks ago I found myself chasing a monkey in the Ubud, Bali monkey forest. I definitely wasn’t supposed to be chasing monkeys, or carrying plastics bags or taunting monkeys with delicious metal elephant sculptures they misconstrued as food. But it turns out monkeys aren’t that bright, in fact they are quite savage in their search for more bananas.

Kuta man

Kuta man

It is probably obvious that I don’t like monkeys. I might go so far as to say they are on my list of least favorite animals because they are intelligent, but disinterested in following human contracts and they carry a number of communicable diseases for humans.

View of the rice paddy from the ecotourism garden and kopi luwak coffee tasting.

View of the rice paddy from the ecotourism garden and kopi luwak coffee tasting.

So why was I hanging with a bunch of monkeys in Bali? It was a holiday, for my friend’s birthday vacation and a reunion with my elder brother. I had never visited Indonesia before and it was a pleasant surprise. I appreciated the artistry present in the everyday sculptures and Hindu household offerings: canang sari. And I definitely didn’t appreciate the Muslim call to prayer that was amplified over one town five times a day. It just didn’t sound good.

Kuta morning market dragonfruit on top, mangosteen on the left and local snakefruit on the right.

Kuta morning market dragonfruit on top, mangosteen on the left and local snakefruit on the right.

Balinese people surprised me with their good humor and their hustle. Everyone has an angle and a friend with a taxi, but sometimes they really do just want to help you. Sometimes they feel entitled to your money just for giving you advice whether you asked for it or not. Kuta morning market looking at balloons. The island is covered in thick, nearly impassable jungle interspersed with rice fields and beaches along the coasts. The flowers and fruit are beautiful. The sarongs are cheap and the festivals plentiful.

Mountains near Padang Bai harbor, Bloo Lagoon view point.

Mountains near Padang Bai harbor, Bloo Lagoon view point.

The food varies greatly from one region to another. Luckily for me there was an abundance of curries, which I love. There was also a lot of fish and bananas and thick, almost muddy sweet coffee. I really loved the strong flavor of the coffee each morning and the fried fruit pancakes, almost chewy on the inside, and crispy on the outside.

Balinese Hindu daily offerings

Balinese Hindu daily offerings

I flew into Kuta at the Denpasar Airport and appreciated some good and reasonable priced Indian food. The next day we headed to a festival in the mountainous region of Candi Dasa. Then we spent a few days chilling in a port town Padang Bai, the leaping off point for the party island Gili Trawangan, known fondly as Gili T.

Chandi Dasa fighting festival with sharp leaves and woven shields. Sacrificing shed blood to the gods for prosperity.

Chandi Dasa fighting festival with sharp leaves and woven shields. Sacrificing shed blood to the gods for prosperity.

bloodback Gili T, while possessing many water sport opportunities and a colorful range of accommodations from flophouse to fancy resort, and recreational drugs, was the low point in the trip for me because it was all foreigners and people intent on trying to take their money.

Chandi Dasa princess at the temple the women gather in beautiful clothes to bring fruit offerings.

Chandi Dasa princess at the temple the women gather in beautiful clothes to bring fruit offerings.

After ferrying back from Gili T, we taxied over to Ubud the yoga and art cultural capital of Bali. We went to see a more traditional Balinese dance at the palace on Sunday which ended with characters flying away on a Geruda, a winged-beaked flying monster. We also found the best food the night before we left that offered food from different islands in Indonesia.

Invited to sit, drink coffee, palm wine and sing with these Chandi Dasa locals back for a visit.

Invited to sit, drink coffee, palm wine and sing with these Chandi Dasa locals back for a visit.

I would definitely recommend going back, with more plans to explore Ubud and maybe take a boat along the coastline. IMG_3981

Temple Business Time

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A few weeks ago I was invited to a Taiwan temple fair for a banquet. This particular temple was honored for business purposes, for example burning incense and ghost money to certain gods that will help a business prosper and ultimately make more money.

Trisha, a friend I made through Couch Surfing meetups in Kaohsiung, is a member of the business that bought a table at the event to support the temple. As the representative she hosted and invited a few crazy foreigner friends to eat ten courses of food and watch the Chinese opera afterwards.

I have to admit even after almost two years in Taiwan passing by temple gatherings, it was surprising to be part of one. I was also exhausted and possibly hungover on this particular Sunday evening.

To create the venue the temples string together multiple rainbow striped tents like an outdoor wedding, then block off a whole street, like a block party. Then there is the makeshift stage that has a percussionist onstage to the side, and lots of cross-dressing mothers with long wigs holding microphones.

But first, the dinner. They started with some thin noodles served with a haunch of pork, then a brown viscous fish soup, a beautifully steamed whole fish, some boiled shrimp (most beloved by Taiwanese), some small individually wrapped sweet rice dumplings with pork filling, herbal soup made with black chicken, some broccoli covered in another syrupy sauce and something meaty and suspicious, and finally a fruit platter. That’s nine, so somewhere along the way I think they served duck as well.

I tried to talk to the host sitting next to me and my friend Amy on my right, however it was too difficult to communicate seated in front of the speakers blaring traditional squeaky music. Think of music you might consider Chinese, and then think of a polka and it will be close to  the 100 Best Taiwan Traditional Hits mix they put on at all they temples.

Luckily, my friend saw the anguish I was feeling over the music and continued to pour me Taiwan Beer into the small glass cups at the table. A group of temple elders walked around doing cheers and “ganbei” with all the tables that were drinking. Afterwards they had a trio of women in pink qipao walk around serenading each table in turn; the live Chinese violin and cello made the recorded music sound less offending and the result was not as loud.

With the dishes being cleared there was time to watch the opera that was happening at the opposite end of the tent. My Chinese comprehension isn’t good enough to translate the play, but what I could infer from the acting was a family drama. The insolent son, the abusive father, the ruined family business, the protective mother and obedient daughter; all the stereotypes were present and accounted for.

There was acting interspersed with long-sleeve gown dancing and music with an exceptionally loud wood block to punctuate certain movements.

Overall, it was enlightening and served as a reminder of the gap between feeling comfortable living abroad, and really understanding the cultural context that is behind so many traditions. I certainly have a long way to go before even partially understanding why some things are acceptable and others are not. For instance this temple gathering was conservative in nature, but some temple gathering have half-dressed women dancing. Of course, what god wouldn’t want to see more women? But in a culture where women are considered slutty for wearing bikinis at the beach, its a serious double standard.

All countries and cultures have their blind spots, and traditions that are inherently contradictory. That’s part of the reason being in the presence of others’ traditions can be so interesting, and sometimes frightening.

Slideshow of some of the photos I took, hopefully next time I try I will figure out how to add audio of my choice.

Food in my Hood

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I recently found a new Taiwanese private tutor to encourage my neglected Mandarin Chinese studies. My tutor is a 24-year-old graduate student at Wenzao University in Kaohsiung. She is getting her masters in English, and I am her lucky practice student.

Wenzao is known for teaching languages, and for a suspiciously  female-dominated student population. Most of my foreigner male friends date the English student “Wenzao girls.”

Ruhua was a tutor for my friend, and in yet another stroke of luck, she loves food as much as I do. So last week she showed me a few of the famous places in the Yancheng neighborhood.

I often go to the Buddhist lunchbox restaurant with lots of traditional Taiwanese food served completely vegetarian. It isn’t  vegan though, they still have egg options.

We went to a Cantonese-style lunchbox with roast duck and pork over rice. She explained that even though it was comparatively expensive for lunch, 90 NT = $3, she would treat herself because, she groaned, “The skin is so crispy!”

Afterwards she wanted to show me a dessert place around the corner, mochi the glutinous rice Japanese dessert is pronounced more like ‘mo-sure’ in Chinese with another more formal name niangao 年糕.

The fillings she suggested were peanut, taro and red bean-strawberry. I would recommend the taro. Taro is that purple starchy sweet root vegetable so popular in Asian countries, like Taiwan, China and even the Philippines. I still don’t like the sweetened red bean filling. For me beans are more at home in bean dip and enchiladas, but not desserts.

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