Massage Madness


Sometimes a weekend trip to the waterfall just isn’t in the cards despite the well laid plans of mice and men. My bestest girlfriend and I have a habit of making long-sighted plans, like “We should have a whiskey tea party” or “We should go see a baseball game one day.” These plans are open ended and often are pushed to the side for more immediate time sensitive plans.

Today, we actually can check one off of the list. I have been trying to do a spa day for a good year now, and finally we went for a pedicure and then a massage.


Day glow pink toes, make the day a whole lot brighter.

Sounds idyllic right? This was my first massage in Taiwan and I have to say I was surprised. I have had a total of two professional massages in my life and those were given in the United States where I had to fill out a health history and promise I had never had any neck injuries.

As might be expected there is no red tape when it comes to finding a massage parlour in Taiwan. We walked in and requested hour long body massages and were led to a chair to bathe our feet in a hot water and then given a brief neck rub down with a hot towel. My friend had a younger male masseuse and I had an older guy with some crazy strong hands.

This massage gentleman knew his stuff. He found every painful deposit of scar tissue in my body and tore it away from the bone. I felt like that carcass of a Thanksgiving turkey slowly being stripped down of all my muscle mass.

When that wasn’t good enough he smacked me until the muscle released. It was a shock to the system for sure. It felt a bit like torture at the time. I think it helped promote circulation and flexibility, but I swear I was almost crying when that man was leaning his elbow into my calf muscle.

This made me think about how different the approach is between home and Taiwan for a few things. For example medical problems are dealt with head on, there isn’t a way of tip-toeing around a medical issues it is all about dealing with it head on. For example a friend of a friend in a restaurant: “Oh your ankle hurts? Let me feel it. Yeah you’re fine just need to stretch it like this…” Me: “Owwwww! Yes, right there is where it hurts.” I swear he wasn’t far from telling me suck it up.

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The business card from the massage parlour. Just ask for masseuse number two.

I have a pretty high tolerance for pain, but apparently not as high as the average Taiwanese person.  When people pinch my tender bits relentlessly all I am able to do is wince and vaguely regret I don’t know enough Chinese to articulate “softer”. Plus I am used to requesting a masseuse to go harder, and if I admit it hurts I lose the game with myself where I pretend I have no weakness.

So aside from a few sharp intakes of breath I survived the massage and was rewarded at the end with a compliment from my masseuse in English! “Very strong.” And of course a recommendation to come back more often because I was a wreck. As I hobbled toward my scooter with my friend we juxtaposed the North American responses and Taiwanese responses on…
money N.A. (indirect) T (direct)
massage N.A. (indirect, feel good) T (direct, no foreplay)
emotions N.A. (relatively direct confrontation) T (indirect, what problem?)

Despite the spasms of my screaming nerves I do think I will go back for another massage. Maybe I’m turning Taiwanese afterall.

Sweet Nothings: around the island


I recently read NPR’s show This American Life is the most listened to radio show on the air in the United States. Consequently, I believe at least a few people have heard the show about having someone’s back and what it means to have a support network.

Last weekend celebrated Mid-Autumn Festival in Taiwan, known as 中秋節 or Moon Festival. If you are Taiwanese this three-day weekend  means traveling back to celebrate eating with your family, and if you are an English teacher it means going on a longer trip that wouldn’t be possible on a normal two-day weekend.

I loved Moon Festival last year. I was invited to a Taiwanese BBQ by a new friend and spent the afternoon and evening eating myself silly on all sorts of grilled delicacies with her family. The night was spent staring at the full moon from the road, and playing with fireworks that were purchased in the general store down the road.

My Chinese teacher told me the Taiwanese tradition of barbecuing over this festival is based upon the success of a soy sauce advertising campaign in the 1980s. I found it fascinating that over the past thirty years a brand of soy sauce could change the way a population celebrates a traditional Chinese holiday.

This year, since I had experienced the family celebrations of Taiwanese Moon Festival I thought I would head out of town and go camping as an homage to the classic American Labor Day camping trip. I wanted my two closest friends to accompany me in this venture, the idea was to take a train to an ecological park near mountains and scooter around to find the best camping spot.

As you may have guessed this didn’t happen, my friends didn’t have my back in this case. One told me reticently she had already agreed to go with her yoga group and invited me along. The other made plans weeks in advance with me looking at train time tables and hostels, and then on the Friday night we were supposed to leave town unexpectedly backed out. 

I was surprised how much that hurt. As Barry Schwartz from TED talks will tell you, “The key to happiness is low expectations.” But these are my best friends I am talking about, my inner circle so maybe I am doing this friendship thing wrong. I understand it was mostly logistical misunderstandings, but it stung because I got this impression I had been overlooked in favor of a better offer.

It is one thing to be stood up by a prospective love interest, it is another thing to be stood up by close friends. My point being, if I can’t have expectations of close friends then I can’t have expectations of anyone. I can only expect them to act selfishly, which is a saddening thought. I don’t expect everyone to be there all the time; I do expect someone to be there sometimes.


Beidawu Shan (北大武山) and lots of rain on all our scooters, my sleeping bag was soaked!

So, what did I do after my dear friends left me for dead? I joined another group of friends of course, a group that planned to climb a mountain with only a few acquaintances and many strangers. It was an interesting mix of crazy Eastern European men and Taiwanese women cram school teachers. We set off late to the mountain on Sunday morning and as soon as we arrived it started pouring rain, this continued for another two hours as we huddled in an aboriginal village near the trailhead.

The good news was my biking friend who had invited me to bike to Beidawu Shan 北大武山 was also discovered huddling in the same village so I got to spend a few hours catching up with him about his impending trip to Brazil. As the rain thundered down monsoon-style, the aboriginal lady at the open air restaurant offered to let us sit in her living room until the rain stopped and we spent some time talking and looking at wedding photos in her home. A touching example of Taiwanese hospitality, not only towards foreigners but to each other. (See photo at the top.)

It was getting dark and it was looking unpromising as a damp destination to spend the night, so the travel group improvised by heading to a nearby Sihjhongsi Hot Springs. We ate a banquet of food in town and then camped out in a park near the public pools. The next morning after very little sleep, the group was looking a bit ragged and we had to pick between visiting a waterfall or the beaches of Kenting that were not far from the hot springs.


Celebrating at the hot springs with a few sparklers, who knew they would still light after being soaked.


So we once more got on our scooters and rode to the beach to relax for the afternoon. On the way home Monday evening we stopped by a Buddhist restaurant and were served seven courses of delicious vegetarian food while overlooking the water during the sunset. It was an ideal ending to a weekend of improvisation.

Getting Trashy in Taiwan


Momentarily I was unsure what to write about, then I found inspiration in the trash. Taking out the trash in Taiwan is complicated

The first complication is the obvious: there is communal living in the apartment buildings, but not a communal dumpster at most buildings. Instead, a garbage truck plays an ice-cream truck song to alert neighborhoods to its presence several times a week. It falls on the citizens to chase after the truck with their bags of trash.

Correction, bags of trash and recycling. The auntie in my building tried to explain all the intricacies of this recycling business when I moved in, but either I wasn’t listening or some of it was lost in translation.

1. Regular trash/unrecyclables: bathroom stuff, plastic bags, maybe food scraps. I have a hunch they might even have a special place for the food scraps. People come out their doors with what looks like slop buckets.

2. Glass bottles, cans, plastic – not really sure if they are supposed to be separated.

3. Paper: I don’t have  a lot of paper but I do know the trash truck wouldn’t accept my pizza box despite my confusion.

At first I thought it was great recycling was so prominent in Taiwan. Until my life became that much more … trashed. On the point of trash and recycling the old biddies in my building are unyielding and unhelpful. One guanlix (a “security guard” but really just someone who sits and watches soap operas in the lobby and judges me coming and going at strange hours) tried to tell me what hours the trash and recycling trucks came. Yes, that’s right they come at different times and frequencies each day and no recycling trucks on the weekends when they would be most useful. Most of the times she rattled off seemed to be during business hours that I was already in class learning Chinese or teaching English. 

A few weeks after moving in when I caught my first trash truck after rushing home from work I was handed a pink time schedule, all in Mandarin so good thing I can’t read any of the helpful information. I have it though, as a sort of consolation prize perhaps I will take it out one day and reminisce about the days I couldn’t read Mandarin and with tears in my eyes translate the times my trash truck would come.

I was getting along comfortably with my recycling and trash routine until my housewarming party when my recycling over runneth. A few friends were kind enough to help me bag up all the recyclables before disappearing into the night, but that still left me with three large bags of recycling and my trash. Then I got busy, and the beer cans and wine bottles started to draw fruit flies onto my balcony. One night the week following I returned home from work in time to tow the trash and two out of three recyclables to the trucks on the corner.

This still left my remaining bag of putrefying recyclables for this week. The other night I brought down my current bag of trash, the recyclables bag and a third bag with a pizza box, two plastic teacups and an old shampoo bottle. As I dashed for the truck I recalled overhearing a conversation with friends at a rooftop party a month before on the art of disguising recyclables to look like trash.

As I stepped up to the trash truck, sweating, I heaved my trash into the back of the truck and realizing there was no recyclables truck that night I guiltily threw that in as well. Meanwhile the shrewd old lady trash worker stared me down and when I attempted to discard the pizza box and plastics she shrieked at me. No doubt, I was trying to get rid of recyclables in the trash truck, but I am just a stupid foreigner so I was looking for a little pity.

She pawed through the bag of plastics and pizza box and said a lot of loud sounds that I didn’t understand while I looked confused, sweaty and a little guilty. Then she dismissed me with a pointed index finger that clearly meant, “You can leave young lady and don’t come back until you learn how to dispose of a pizza box properly.” Then I trudged back into my building towing the offending pizza box and plastic bottles with a little vindictive pleasure that I had gotten rid of the last bag of recycling from the party without her noticing. So there, I’m a trash reprobate and probably a repeat offender.

I love recycling. I love doing things right the first time. And I love following the rules, within reason. But this system is designed with the understanding someone will always be at home during the day to catch the trash truck. Now, I live alone in a foreign country and I just want to take out my own waste on my own terms. I don’t want to inconvenience anyone by asking them to take my trash and recyclables for me, but you can’t blame my friends and I for disguising some of our trash on the nights we rush down to find only a trash truck option. You can’t make everyone happy all the time, especially if those everyones are grim old Taiwanese ladies.