Thursday, May 31, 2012

Journey to Taipei 101 and Beyond

Being that Taipei 101 is on the very top of every list of what to do in Taipei, my training group and I decided to be tourists for the day and discover what this building was all about.

Upon first observing Taipei 101, I wasn't stricken with the admiration I thought I might feel.  In fact, when riding the elevator up to the observation deck, we were all a bit disappointed.  It was one of those moments where you build something up in your head and then when you are there, it just can't live up to your expectations.    

 The thirty second ride to the top of the building was exciting, because it was so fast that our ears popped.  At the top, we walked around for a while, took some pictures, and left feeling defeated and utterly exhausted.

Then you live here for a while, talk to people, see it standing tall, alone and proud every day and you begin to understand the real beauty and accomplishment of it goes beyond just being a tall building.  

 Taipei 101 is one of Taiwan's most prized monuments and a treasure for the small island.  In fact, before 2010, when it was beat out by the Bruj Khalifa building in Dubai,  Taipei 101 was known as the worlds tallest building.  Today, even though it is considered the second tallest building in the world, it is still the tallest and largest green structure on the planet; a globally friendly edifice reaching up to 101 floors, which was also built to withstand both typhoons and earthquakes.  An architectural feat for such a small island with little to nothing to show for in the architectural field.  

I also really like that it is so much taller than any other building in the city.  You can almost see it from anywhere!

Below are some pictures from the Journey and Beyond!

Ticket to the top!
The massive weight that centers the building, working with the design to withstand both typhoons and earthquakes.  

Eating ice cream on the top with Heather and South African James.  There was a chocolate flavored ice cream called "Obama."  

Sign in the bathroom stall and probably my favorite part of the whole experience.  I mean really?  No pooping on the floor y'all! 

Trippy Journey through the hallways in the future!

The elevator ride was pretty magical, save being in really close quarters with a bevy of strangers talking in all sorts of tongues. 

An everyday type of view of Taipei 101 after coming out of the subway station.  Beautiful!

Tuesday, May 29, 2012

Get Your Soul Right

"All Wash Out" from Edward Sharpe & the Magnetic Zeros' fantastic sophomore album "Here" released today.
 May 29, 2012.

Eating Goose in Ximen

I didn't have to work until 5:30 today, so I decided to explore Ximen (pronounced She-men).  Ximen is the part of Taipei that my friend Suzanne compared to boys town in Chicago.  AKA an LGBT friendly neighborhood, which are always a good time!  

I walked around for a bit, did some shopping, and explored a temple I found tucked away amongst the shops.

Later, my fabulous Austrian flatmate, Valentin, met up with me to eat one of the best Taiwanese restaurants in Ximen, found in a small alley off the main road.  It is known for its goose and is apparently all the rage amongst the Taiwanese in the area.  So much so that we would not have gotten a seat had it not been 2 p.m., a very strange time of day for lunch around here.  I have no idea what it is called, but took a picture of the sign... 

  Hopefully I will be able to pronounce this soon and know what it says!

I ordered Goose Udon Noodle Soup!

Mmmm... I am getting good at this Chop Stick and Noodle thing!

  Vali enjoyed his too!

According to Vali, the thing to order here is the goose.  You can order it on the side, and in your soup, the variety of options compare to the different types of shrimp in Forrest Gump

On another note,  Vali has great tips on Taiwanese food and is a true Austrian who likes to wear lederhosen... Here is is modeling his grandfathers lederhosen! 

Haha those crazy Austrians!!

Lederhosen are amazing... no other traditional ensemble brings such joy to all! 

Image Via

Monday, May 28, 2012

Face Mask Fashion

The face mask is an integral part of everyday life in Taiwanese culture.  In fact, the respiratory face mask is even considered a fashion statement to some.  

Over the past few weeks, I have seen quite a few of them.  At the grocery store you can find face masks in different colors and even find a variety of prints.  I've seen leather face masks, canvas face masks, and of course the typical face masks that your doctor or dentist wears. 

I asked the HR girl in our office about the purpose of the face mask, while we were at the hospital getting my health check for my work visa.  Besides being an elderly person of sickly nature, they are worn a lot during the changing of seasons, a time where most immune systems are put to the test.  People working at restaurants wear them too.

Being a sick kid all of my life, this interested me.  I always get sick when the seasons change!  It is actually a very practical thing to do.  Who knows, maybe after I am accustomed to the culture, I too will sport a face mask.  

I am sure there will be many more masks in my future.  Whilst looking for pictures I stumbled upon the 'Emergency Bra", which can be turned in to a face mask in case you are bombed....?  

Does anyone know how this would work/why it was created?  If you know do tell...

Images via,,

Sunday, May 27, 2012

Street Food: Taiwanese Hot Dogs

Yesterday, Suzanne and I talked ancient history, watched a crazy light-riddled religious procession and ate what looked to be a rice hotdog.  Basically, they put the sweet Taiwanese sausage in a rice sausage that they cut open, and the rice sausage serves as the bun.  You can also eat them separately. 

Lots of sausages

Hey, lady can I get one of those sausages?


And a nice, cold Taiwan Beer

... and NO all of my friends wondering if I got sick from ordering weird street food (which would be typical).  The Taiwanese take on the hot dog was not my favorite thing I have ever eaten and I am sure I will find much tastier street food in the future.  

Apparently, it is very common to have a rice sausage or patty used for the bun here.  They also do it for hamburgers. 

Tuesday, May 22, 2012

First Day Teaching in Taipei

Today was my first day of work. I am working as a substitute for the first month, then will be put into a normal schedule. Hopefully, I will have lots of time to explore before I am put on a schedule.
I was needed in a franchise school outside of the city.  I went to the office and made my lesson plans.  I got the directions and left the office, stepping lightly, confident that I was headed in the right direction.

What I didn't factor into the equation is that my head is constantly in the clouds, dreaming about pretty much anything; unicorns, clothes, food, traveling to other places.

Today, I was dreaming about dumplings. I love dumplings.
I was thinking about these wonderful soup dumplings I had my first night and about how many dumplings I will be trying in the months to come!  

Sooo many dumplings.

and then I missed my stop...

Cursing myself for not paying attention, I get off and flagged down a cab.  I have only 30 minutes to get to the school and prepare for three classes of screaming 6th, 7th and 8th grade children -- and a private lesson with a boy named John.

Grateful, I open the door and glide in from the sticky heat to fresh AC when my pants rip. Rip right up the middle, unvieling a very white rear end.

This can't be happening.

I have to go face a cruel army of children for the first time ever and my pants are ripped in the worst way.  I get to the school and panic - run outside and look around to see if there is a last minute pant situation on the street that I could purchase.
Nothing. ABSOLUTELY nothing. 

Thankfully, I am wearing a longer shirt today, so I pull it down enough to cover me. Now just need to not to bend over and keep my back to the wall at all times.
All ending up great! 

Taught the kids and everything went fabulously from there!

I was worried that I would be too friendly and they would take advantage of me, but I guess the ripped pants just made me kind of nervous the whole time and I just came off as not-that-nice, which got me the R-E-S-P-E-C-T I needed.

After my triumphant work day, I bought myself a nice bottle of Argentine Malbec Wine and drank it with my new roommates named Valentin and Nottingham. I also consumed a dumpling or two. Or maybe ten, but whose counting. 

Monday, May 21, 2012

River Trecking, Muddy Mountains, and Eclipses

So I spent the day Sunday hiking Camel Back mountain in Yilan county, an hour outside of Taipei.  It was a gray, cloudy day, which I have been told is typical of the rainy season here in Taiwan.  The rainy season lasts until June and then SUNSHINE!.... and then monsoons in August.  Although its rainy, I am enjoying it.  Its light, warm summer rain, which is the best kind.  Something I have learned is to never leave home without an umbrella.  I have already purchased two; I am currently the owner of three umbrellas.  More to come I am sure.

So...  I woke up at 7 a.m. packed a backpack with an umbrella (which obviously wouldn't really matter hiking through waterfalls, but I guess it's habit now)... and met up with a group of people at the main station of the MRT (the subway).  From there we took a bus an hour outside of Taipei and walked to the base of the mountain and river bank.  We were the only group hiking the mountain, and it was so beautiful.  Everywhere I looked I couldn't believe my eyes, I was obviously the new girl.  Apparently this is what Taiwan is: beautiful, tropical green and water in all forms.  Eventually, we made it to the waterfall, where we stripped off our clothes to our bathing suits and pranced under the waterfall.  It was my first waterfall experience and it was cleansing and refreshing mind, body and soul.  I've been so tired and jet lagged since I got here that I haven't been particularly interested in even talking to people, but after that I just felt more awake.  I know that sounds lame, but its true.

After hiking through mud and waterfalls for 3 hours we were exhausted.  We went to the town below to find hot springs awaiting our arrival; so we got to relax, rest our weary toes in the rejuvenating water and have a nice, cold Taiwanese Beer.

  I was dead.  So tired after the hike.  I passed out and woke up for the Solar eclipse on my rooftop.

View from the bus, Noice curtains.

Camel Back
I saw this and thought "This would be a fabulous fan!"

Tuesday, May 15, 2012

Tortuga in Taiwan

Good morning everyone! I just wanted to check in, as Helen has just now found a place and I can relax after SO much traveling. I know helen mentioned having a long trip to taipei, but can you imagine being stuck in the hot and stuffy luggage department between a bunch of high heels, socks, and undergarments for almost 40 hours? It was tough, but at least I could go into my shell whenever I was poked by a high heel or an underwire. Turtles are pretty good hanging out in their shells si it wasn't too bad, but boy was I happy to be able to stretch out my little turtle legs! Thats a picture of me when we got to the hotel.

Anyways, I haven't been able to do much since I have been here because I am suffering from jet-lag - I think thats what it is called anyways. Its tough moving to the future 13 hours. I can't imagine what it would be like to go in a time machine back in time. You would probably have so much energy! Maybe thats how my friend tortoise beat that rabbit in that race that one time. To this day I can't believe that happened, I mean tortoise asthma and all other sorts of respiratory issues, and is just not that athletic. 

Anyways, I need to go out and get some sun and its hard for me to type with my claws (this post has taken me almost an hour!) so goodbye for now!  

- Tortuga the Turtle

Monday, May 14, 2012

Taiwan and Argentina: A Comparative Tale

The last country I resided in abroad for over a year was Argentina.  When coming to Taiwan, I really didn’t know what to expect.  Most of the people you talk to these days have traveled to Thailand, Cambodia, and other countries in South East Asia. 

When I immediately arrived to Taipei, I felt it somewhat resembled Buenos Aires, with the tall sky scrapers and little shops below, each with their own delightful specialty or honed craft; a furniture shop here, a cute little bread and pastry shop there.  Except everything was also COMPLETELY different.  Symbols written everywhere replacing my familiar alphabet and sweet and not-so-sweet smells in the air that I had never smelled before, that would probably have made me sick to my stomach had I smelled them at home.  The streets were also somewhat quiet for a capitol.   

So far, here are a few obvious differences I have seen:

1)   The subway system in Taiwan is incredibly clean and efficient.  They even have lines painted neatly on the subway tiles for people to file into, so that it is orderly when entering the train cars.  In Argentina, people run through the doors, pushing and shoving the person next to them and in front of them out of the way just to get in, hopefully in time for the doors not to close on them, and when inside, if you have made it you are tightly packed like a can of sweaty sardines. 

2)   The streets are SO clean; I have yet to see any dog poop, but maybe I just haven’t found the Belgrano of Taiwan yet.  A neighborhood riddled with poops that cause you to play hopscotch down the street  (although, this may have changed after a few years).

So far, these are the main differences I have seen.  I really loved the way Argentina worked, or didn’t work most of the time.  That was the beauty of it for me.  So free.... Taiwan is wonderful as well.  I  have met a lot of foreigners who have been here for 8 to 10 years, and most of them have told me that they just wake up one day and 10 years later they are still here, like no time has passed at all.  

Sunday, May 13, 2012

Flats and Love Hotels

When I arrived to Taiwan my school arranged for me to be picked up by a driver.  As I walked through customs and was greeted by a lovely Taiwanese man with holding a sign with my name, as you see in ever airport.  “Miss Sharp?” he asked, and I nodded and walked with him to the car.  On the way to the hotel he told me stories of how 20 years ago, things had been different for he was not driving people around in his 1990’s Mercedes, but instead the owner of a textile factory.  We went on to talk more about the history and eventually ended up in my hotel.   When we got there I couldn’t be happier to get into a bed.  I took an elevator to the 7th floor and wandered my way around to room 707, opened the door and this is what I saw:

Yes, to the left is a coin dispenser to make the bed vibrate.  I looked at the round bed and at my reflections in the mirrors surrounding me, and then heard the faint sounds of pleasure wafting down the hallway.  Interesting, my school had put me in a love hotel! All I could do was laugh and then promptly pass out after traveling for 40 hours. 

So, many moons and... moans later, and after only 4 days of searching, I was lucky enough to find the perfect place to live.  I spent Friday and Saturday looking at apartments, and Saturday night at 8 p.m. I found the one!  I was debating at first whether to get my own place or a shared apartment.  I thought shared would help me in a new place, and help me to not feel so lonely.  My room is amazing and has a large window, there is a rooftop overlooking the entire city and the river that runs through it.  I have a kitchen and a dining room and a living room all the way up on the 9th floor.   It’s an older place with lots of character, which was also a prerequisite.  Here is a view of my rooftop.

Now that’s more like it.  I have a home and am far from the Chang Lai Love hotel!

*** Love hotels are very popular here, because people live with their families until they are married.  Apparently, many people stay in these hotels, because they are a nice, cheap accommodation.  This is where my school places all of its teachers for the first few weeks, because it is close to the main office where training is.  

Thursday, May 10, 2012

Taipei, Taiwan: What I expect

So I have landed and here is what I wrote on the Plane on what I expect - 

So often life surprises us and the picture that we paint in our heads is worlds apart from reality.  Just like reading a book and imagining what people look like and how the scenes will play out and then watching the movie, which is a completely different version of what was in your head.  Here is a list of what I think the relationship between myself and Taiwan will be like after talking with people and reading up on it… I plan on revisiting this list in six months or so to see just how wrong or right I am!

1)   Most of the people will speak English, and it won’t be too hard to get around speaking broken Chinese at first.
2)   I am going to be really skinny because the food is healthy.  Unlike when I got fat from drinking copious amounts of Malbec and feasting on steak, bread, and potatoes every night in Argentina. 
3)   There are many beaches in Taiwan, so I will be on a beach almost every weekend.
4)   I will learn to surf and windsurf, and get really good at it, obviously.
5)   The mountains will be beautiful and inspiring, and I will hike them all of the time.
6)   I will spend a lot of time in the ceramics town south of Taipei.  So much time that the people will know me and will love having me in their studio. 
7)   It is going to be HOT during the summer and I will wear lots of linen. 
8)   I will probably like teaching a little bit at first, and will grow to appreciate it and like it in the end.
9)   I probably won’t find a gym to join, so I will try and find an apartment that is close to a park or a running path.
10) There will be a lot of scooters there, and I fully plan on purchasing one and painting it turquoise.
11) There will be a lot of expats there and I will make friends with both expats and locals.
12) There won’t be many bars, but there are a lot of night markets, and I will most likely spend most of my time and money in the city shopping and sightseeing.
13) I expect there to be beautiful world-class art and architecture around me, and plan to study it and be influenced by it.   
14)  I won’t drink the tap water and I will try not to eat anything raw.  If I do, I will be in the hospital with something miserable and will feel like I am going to die. 
15)  I plan to take Tortuga the Turtle with me most places and to let him blog as much as he desires!

So that is pretty much what I am expecting.   I know that I could be 100% wrong about a lot of this stuff, and we shall see!

Chinese Airport Adventure

After eating Chicken and rice for dinner and shrimp and rice for breakfast (gross) I wait for everyone to get off of the plane to get my bag, which is all the way in the back.  I am in an extra sleepy state due to being prematurely awoken after taking an Ambien.  I slowly walk through the empty airport, so eerily silent.  You would think that the airport in Beijing would be full of noisy foreigners rushing form one place to another like most international airports, but there is literally no one.   I am lost.  I have no idea what to do and everything is bright white and obviously all the words are written in symbols that I don’t understand.  I follow what looks to be the right direction, where there are ten big throne-like checkpoints, each with two Chinese officials staring down upon me.  Everything is simple, stark, and clean.  All very uniform and communist, just like the architecture I saw flying overhead.  I find the one that says foreigner and walk to it.  I let them know that I am going to Taiwan and they tell me to go to the “Special line” where I wait and am called to another line.  They stamp my passport and tell me to go.  Again, hazy-headed, I have no idea where I am going.  I take the only route possible: an escalator down stairs to a train.  A few Dutch coeds around my age look just as lost as I do coming out of the train.  We exchange smiles, confused looks, and laughter.   Maybe they were laughing at me, maybe we were laughing together, and right now I still don’t know or care.  At this point I am thinking that I can either go through airport security again or leave, but I can barely think about how to even go though airport security, much less leave and if I were to go I have no Idea where I would go considering there was no internet on the plane to do research, and my brain is mush.  Moral of this story, which I have learned before is to NEVER rely on Internet.  There isn’t even Internet in the damn lonely, cold airport that keeps playing that Bach song over and over again.
            Anyways, I go through security and everyone is nice and helpful and can probably tell that I have never been here before and am thoroughly confused/exhausted/alone, so after I walk through security I feel some sense of relief that I finally am where I need to be to catch my flight in 15 hours.  15 hours.  That’s a long time.  I try to look around at the shops, but am too tired to think.  Then the heavens shine down upon me and I see a sign that says “reclining chairs”!!! I immediately follow the sign where I find the best chair I have ever seen and sit down upon it.  I put my arms through my bags and to make sure that they are not taken while I am sleeping and pass out.  Then, a few hours later, I am woken up by a man who I think was asking if my plane was taking off, because he was yelling at me and pointing at a plane …. Maybe he wanted me to panic and get up so that he could steal my perfect airport recliner.   I was immediately suspicious and still hazy-headed so all I did at the moment was look at him, scowl, and pass back out scowling.  There is no way that I had slept even close to 15 hours yet.  Now I am awake and the phones don’t work and the Internet doesn’t work either, I have 11 more hours.     
            …2 hours to go!!  I spent most of the night relocating to different wings of the airport, walking around, eating the chocolates I bought at the Tax-free shop and passing out for a few hours at a time.  There was no food, water, or Internet.  So I just walked around, ate chocolates, and slept.  Haha wow, that really happened, and I am a fat kid.  I think I got a good enough amount of sleep to get to Taipei around noon and meet the people I will be working with without looking and feeling completely haggard.  I also plan on never traveling on Ambien or Xanax again.  EVER have literally been a sloppy, chocolate-eating zombie for the last 24 hours.  This lady needs to have her wits about her. 

Journey to Taiwan!

Thought there would be Internet on an international flight, but not on Air China.   I am unusually rested for a journey of this nature, and for the first time I know I am really going to miss my family and can think clearly about it.  It has been three years since I last traveled abroad, which is straight crazy talk.  I love travel, its what keeps me alive and the light within me shining bright.  I love it the way most girls feel about the newest designer whatever; it is something I work towards, dream about, and feel absolutely me when enveloped in it.  In the past, I have decided to go somewhere and have just up and left.  This trip is different. It is true what they say; the older you get the harder it is to move abroad  - “So do it while your young!”  That’s all everyone kept saying to me. I could tell they were worried/didn’t get why I would leave again at the time when most Texas women are looking for a husband or people have found a steady career choice.  This is something that I needed, but not something that came easy, because this is the first time that I have not just wanted to get the hell out of wherever I was.  I loved Chicago and made some wonderful friends there.  The city is an architectural delight with massive buildings rising up around a snaking river, greeted by the emerald, oceanic Lake Michigan.   However, with all the beauty surrounding me, I was antsy and uninspired.  This was not Chicago’s fault by any means; it was mine. What inspires me is being somewhere that both seduces and challenges me.  Chicago was lovely, but it was easy.  This is why I am on my way to Taiwan. 
In the past, I have left for my adventures sprinting, head up and you’d never catch me looking back.  Things are a bit different this time around.  One thing that remains the same is the ritual that takes place when I leave home.  This consists of our three hysterical cocker spaniels barking, my father freaking out yelling/having me do very important things that slipped his mind until minutes before we needed to leave the house,  my little sister(s) yelling, and me yelling at all of them; basically all of us howling like a panicked, confused pack of retarded wolves to keep our minds off the fact that I am leaving for an indefinite amount of time. Except for my mother, who is picture of patience, elegance, and grace at all times.  This is literally what it is like every time I leave.  Usually, I get angry, but today I held onto it, because this is my family and I love them; I have left home before, and know I will miss them.  I was also on a nice, heavy dose of Xanax, which may be the real reason for my calm demeanor this morning. 
            At the moment, I am on the second leg of my 37-hour journey to Taiwan.  First was the flight from Houston to San Francisco.  Now I am on my way to Beijing.  The flight from San Francisco to Beijing is about 13 hours, and I arrive there at 5:30 p.m. with a 13-hour layover.  I am debating whether or not to go out in Beijing.  First, I don’t know the language or anyone there, but I feel that if I am going to be in Beijing for such a long time, I might as well take advantage of it.  I guess I will see how I feel when I get there.  I was planning on researching on the plane, but again, no Internet.  I guess I will have to study up on my Mandarin and see if I am good enough by the time I land to run around the town, but there have got to be people that speak English in such a big, international city, right?  Already this is a very different trip than any I have ever taken.  To begin with: I am going alone.  I am also going to a country where I know very little of the language except to say “hello”, “yes”, “please”, and “thank you”.   I am pretty sure I also just learned how to say “beef”, because the boy next to me asked for beef for dinner with his rice.  I ordered chicken.  This is also the first time I have ever felt like a minority.  At least in Argentina, I knew the language enough and was usually mistaken for a local, due to all the German immigration they had there after WWII. 
            Its funny, I was looking at the people around me while we were eating dinner to make sure I was doing everything properly.  I was.  I guess we all eat the same.  Haha…  saweeet - I found something I have in common with the Chinese so far.  Something that I have noticed that is different is that a lot of people on the plane take off their shoes and/or wear slippers…. I am going to have to invest in a nice pair of slippers.
             To end this post I just want to let you all know what that I had chicken and rice for dinner and shrimp and rice for breakfast.  On a plane. Gross.