Tuesday, July 30, 2013

Taiwan Expectations Revisited

Taiwan Beer and a mango ice in Kending.

Before coming to Taiwan, I made a list of how I expected things to turn out in my new home. I planned on revisiting it 6 months later, before returning to the states. 14 months later, I am still here, and finally revisiting my prior expectations. 

1) Most people will speak English, and it won't be too hard to get around speaking broken Chinese at first. 
Yes, many people speak English here, but the majority do not. Also, I didn't know ANY Chinese when I arrived and was extremely lost and confused. I am getting along much better with the rudimentary Chinese Mandarin I know now. 

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, potatoes, and bread every night in Argentina. 
The food is definitely not healthy here. Most of it is very greasy and fried. I try and cook at home as much as possible so I know what I am eating. 

3) There are many beaches in Taiwan, so I will be at the beach almost every weekend.
It is very easy to access the beaches here, and I have been going often. The beaches in the north are nice in the summer, and the beaches in the south are ideal for the winter. However, I have not been going every weekend as there is too much to do in Taipei!

4) I will learn to surf and windsurf, and get really good at both, obviously. 
I have been learning to surf, many friends of mine have surfboards and they are available in all the beach towns. Windsurfing is more difficult to access. I finally got up and rode my first wave in Dulan two weeks ago!

5) The mountains will be beautiful and inspiring and I will hike them all of the time!
The mountains are most certainly beautiful. I try to hike them or drive through them on my scooter as much as possible. It is only a 30-minute drive to get out of the city and into the fresh mountain air.

6) I will spend a lot of time in the ceramics town south of Taipei. So much time, that people will know me and will love having me in their studio.
I went to the town of Yingge once. It was touristy, and sadly no prolific ceramics guru discovered me for my badass ceramics skillz.

7) It is going to be hot during the summer and I will wear lots of linen. 
It is HOT. Unfortunately, I have not procured any linen. I will try and tackle that in Thailand in a few weeks!

8) I will probably like teaching a little bit at first, and will grow to appreciate it and really like it in the end. 
My teaching situation at first was a complete nightmare and my school was the WORST. However, I teach kindergarten now and really enjoy teaching my class art, cooking, math and everything else! I still prefer traveling and writing at a cafe most. 

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 running path. 
For my first year here, I lived right next to the riverside park, where I would frequently run and rollerblade. Now I live close to a public gym and work out there. At first I was afraid of going to a public gym, but it actually has everything you could ever want and it's clean. It's $50NT each time you go, which is the equivalent of $1.50 US. Also, all the men wear speedos at the pool and speedos are the funniest.

10) There will be lots of scooters there, and I fully plan on purchasing one and painting it turquoise. 
I have scooter that I drive everywhere, but never painted it turquoise. I opted for a turquoise helmet instead. 

11) There will be a lot of expats there, and I will become friends with both expats and locals. 
This is a large community of expats. Many of them are artists or are studying Chinese Mandarin. I have friends from all over the world and many from Taiwan.

12) There won't be many bars, but there will be a lot of night markets, and I will most likely spend my time and money in the city shopping and sightseeing. 
There are plenty of bars here. Old Taiwanese men love themselves a single malt scotch. I don't do much sightseeing or shopping in the city. I go outside of the city to explore. I spend most of my money on traveling, drinking and eating. 

13) I expect there to be beautiful world-class art and architecture around me, and plan to study it and be influenced by it.
HAHAHAHAHAHHA. I was sorely mistaken on this one. Everything human made here is pretty ugly, save a few memorial halls, temples and Taipei 101. I have been influenced and inspired by the natural settings and creative energy here more than anything else. 

14) I plan to take Tortuga the Turtle with me most places and to let him blog as much as he desires!
Tortuga wasn't so keen on traveling, so he hangs out in my garden now. 

****What happened that I was not expecting.****

1) I have started painting, sculpting and drawing again. Recently, I sold my first piece of art!

2) Have met some incredibly inspiring people.

3) After a year of struggling to figure things out, I am starting to get it. It is a completely different and beautiful planet. 

4) Chinese is really really REALLY hard. 

5) Things like the picture below have become normal, everyday occurrences to me. 

Family affair, scooting around. 

View of Taipei 101, from my rooftop, at sunrise. 

beach beach beach!


Selfie before scooting around the town.

Monday, July 29, 2013

Beach Daze

View of Turtle Island from Beach House Rooftop at Wa'io Beach

I have been finding myself saying: "This can't be real life." a lot lately. Why? Because my life has become 20 shades of amazing after finding myself in Taiwan for 14 months. 

This is what I did yesterday... on a Monday.

I woke up in an old beach house, walked down a pebbled road, past a temple, and through two great, gold dragons who guard it, down to the beach. I carried a mat, an umbrella, sunscreen and a good book. I swam in the ocean, looking back to see great, green mountains falling into the sea. I opened my book, sat under my umbrella and read to the sound of the waves washing up to the shore.

After my beach time, I went with a Kiwi friend to check out a beach house for rent. Four stories tall and perfect for holding numerous guests, completely with about a dozen surfboards and a ping-pong table. Outside is a grill and a hammock. Umm thanks! I'll take it!

Next, I must get back to Taipei for a few appointments. I take my scooter through the mountain trails, two hours, speeding around tight corners, surrounded by tea fields... sunshine, lush greenery and fresh air clinging to me on every turn. 

I take a break by the river for a mango ice. So refreshing sitting there, listening to the birds and watching the schools of fish sparkle by. 

... So this day is one of many perfect days I have had of late. I have also started writing for a magazine here, which is why I have been absent from the Tortuga! 

Wa'io Beach BBQ with view of Turtle Island
Scoot Scoot down the Road 

Wednesday, May 8, 2013

Dragon Boat Race - Taipei City 2013

Morning Practice

Dragons Boats... I knew nothing of them before moving to Taiwan but, since early March, have learned so much.    

For the past few months, I have been rowing a 20-person canoe-like-boat with my teammates in preparation for the dragon boat race, a tradition that has been practiced in parts of Asia for decades; specifically in Taiwan, Malaysia and Singapore.  The Dragon Boat Festival, takes place on the fifth day of the fifth month of every year; AKA June 5th.

 In Taiwan, people celebrate by consuming rice dumplings, drinking wine, lighting a multitude of fireworks and racing dragon boats.

I happened upon joining my team, Team MAX, while out on the town.  I ran into a friend, who told me he was out with his dragon boat team. I then introduced myself to the team and let them know I would be at the next practice.  Everyone was very welcoming, but a bit skeptical that I would show up.  Practices are Tuesday, Wednesday, and Friday at 6:30 am, and Saturdays and Sundays at 8:45 am.  

Team MAX is compromised of 60+ people and three boats. There is a women's team, a men's team, and a co-ed team. The women's team won first place for the Taipei race last year.  Team MAX has been together for five years, the coach is Japanese, and there are 6+ different languages spoken between all of us including: Mandarin Chinese, Japanese, Spanish, Portuguese, German and English.

The race is typically 500 meters long, and there can be between 16-20 people rowing. Besides the people rowing, there is a drummer and a flag catcher in the front, and a steerer in the back.

 I was on the women's team and we won third place in Taipei City! 

Race! (I am the second on the left)

Team Max - Pretty Ladies!

Women's Boat after the race.

And... a video of our race!

Saturday, March 30, 2013

TAV Review on SparkJam

The Taipei Artist Village is always a good time. Last Thursday night Simmo Simpson put on a wonderful show featuring himself with three local artists. The dark wood, dim lighting and flickering candles created an inviting and cozy ambiance for the typical cool, damp winter night in Taipei.
I cozied up at a table in the back and watched the acts unfold over the three and a half hour show. First up was Ellery, a blonde, campishly-cute boy with his guitar. A passionate lyricist, his silky voice was the strong point of his performance. He did ramble, which was quite endearing. Aside from what seemed to be a little bit of inexperience, he was a lover of his music and his passion was bright.
Mark Darvill, a well-known musician around these parts, followed Ellery in what is said to be his last show in Taipei (for now). When Mark gets on stage it is easy to see that he is a seasoned, calculating musician. He and his shiny black guitar go together like a man and his mighty stead. Once a duo with partner Caleb, you can see that some of his songs were meant for two, but over time he has really learned to pull it off alone with confidence. As a musician he rubs you the wrong way at times only to double over and rub you the right way in his indie, country-esque tones. One can’t help but be hypnotized tapping their foot and bopping their head throughout his shows and falling deep into the music. His impressive tap tap taping on the guitar creating percussion while pulling off tuning at the same time highlights his obvious talent. Sitting down, he made me just want to get up and dance. Mark just makes you feel good; every time I see him on stage I fall a little bit in love
Next up was Trey Yip. He brought the crowd. While he was playing the cozy room was packed with attentive listeners. It is easy to see why people are drawn to him. He is a strong, clear lyricist with an unusually comfortable, feel-good style. At risk of sounding a bit cliché, I must say he just has that Bob Dylan dirty western vibe with his own unique twist; a great guitar player paired with command over the harmonica is usually a winning combination. I mean who doesn’t love a freshly showered dirty man in a polo? His voice and slam poetry styled narratives proved strong. I felt enveloped in an essence of something fucking awesome, arousing in me a healthy combination of satisfaction and wonder.
Read the rest and see Music Here

Saturday, March 16, 2013

Dog Fry Taiwan

With my sister Katherine and her friend Katherine visiting me in Taiwan, I have been blessed with the opportunity to see Taiwan with a fresh pair of eyes.  

When I first arrived here, everything was new and exciting, but now that I am accustomed to life here, the little things that were once filled with wonder have become mundane, everyday occurrences. 

The two Katherine's have been very curious, asking questions about EVERYTHING.  Many of the questions I can answer, but there are still quite a few mysteries to be solved.  

One such question was about this sign.

“Does it mean don’t eat your dog?” they asked.

At first glance I clearly assumed that it did not.  I scoffed a bit at the idea, but many people have that thought that people eat dog in all of Asia.  This is not the case for Taiwan, but it is so in Mainland China.  So, it is a valid question being that there is a pan on the pooches head.

I took matters into my own hands and sent the picture to my friend Ian, who is from here, asking him the meaning of the sign.   His response made everything make much more sense. 

There are a lot of stray dogs in Taiwan and the sign tells you not to abandon your pets.  Many people adopt a puppy only to release it on the streets when it proves to be more of a chore and responsibility than they cared to take on.  

Also, the symbolism of carrying someone’s black pan in Chinese culture means you are in a situation that you didn’t sign up for.  

This is Ian, a dashing pilot for Eva Air, and one of my favorites here. 

... and I leave you with another sign.  I recently saw this while riding my bike to work.

I'll let you try and decifer the meaning of this one.

Monday, March 11, 2013

Blonde in Taiwan - Where to Get Your Hair Did

2F, #175, Zhongxiao E. Rd. Sec. 5
MRT: City Hall Exit 4

Gettin My Hairs Did.

My sister, Katherine, and her friend Katherine are visiting me from Texas.  Three blonde Texas girls taking over Taiwan.  Quite a site to behold.  Already, we have been dubbed triplets and people keep mistaking my sister for me.  It goes without saying that all blonde, white girls look the same here. 

When I first arrived in Taipei I was worried about my hair.  Yes, its true, I am a bit vain and cared about my hair color, but you must know that this fear all stems from my time living in Buenos Aires.  The blonde there is straight up YELLOW.  I came back home to the loving arms of my friends and family with bright old-yeller hair.  It was not pretty.  

So the seed was planted and the fear was preparing to sprout, when a mutual friend wacked that possible buttery-daisy-problem away by introducing me to Dra's Hair Lab

This is the place for a Blonde in Asia if there ever was one.

Dra lived in Los Angeles and studied hair there, so she has seen a blonde or 5,234,234,123 most likely in her day.  It is dubbed the Expat Hair salon in Taipei and I am always happy with the results. 

As far as prices go, its much cheaper than back home (around US $100 as apposed to US $300+).  Usually they will ask you to send a picture and they will quote you the maximum.  

So, check it out.  Have some coffee, get your hairs did, hang with Dra, read some trashy magazines, sit back, relax and enjoy a good hair do all whilst in Asia.  

Saturday, March 2, 2013

Taiwan and Dog Clothes

Did you know....

Taiwan is the worlds largest producer and exporter of dog clothes in the world. 

Below is a picture my sister sent me of my dog, Floyd, dressed as a pumpkin for halloween, looking ashamed and a little bit angry.  

Monday, February 18, 2013

Chinese New Year Episode II

By the fourth day my Chinese New Year plans veered away from beach, sun, art and carefree living, when my friend Ted and I took off on his scooter to meet some friends at the Lisong Hot Springs, the most remote and hard to reach hot springs in all of Taiwan.  Discovered in 2002 by Aboriginal hunters.  

We began the 2.5-hour journey going the wrong way for about an hour, making it more of a 4.5-hour journey.  It was no problem though, I am always happy on a scooter in the sunshine, and the scenery was breathtaking.  A place where the mountains meet the sea is always a good place to be.  When we were on the right path growing closer and closer to the mountains, it dawned on me that I was not at all prepared for this impromptu change of pace to hike a hot spring.  In fact, all I had brought with me was what I was wearing: a swimsuit, a dress, and a pair of Tom’s.  Over my arm was a straw beach bag with some notebooks, pens, makeup and a random pair of dinosaur socks.  As the mountain air grew colder it was decided it would be beneficial to pull over and purchase some warm clothes. 

On the right path, with our new warm clothes, we were ready to take on the mountain.  We scooted up the road through rock faces, caves and cliffs deeper and higher up, up, and up on our way to meet friends at the mouth of the path to the hot springs. 

It was more than half way up the mountain that Ted realized we were almost out of gas.  I had no idea what was going on at this point and was exhausted.  He stopped and spoke Chinese with a police officer for a while and was told to take the road leading left, because along that was an aboriginal village, where there would surely be petrol for our trusty stead. 

When we arrived to the village I was in awe.  It was so picturesque and different.   We were in another world on this road.  The people were so friendly and it seemed like such a happy place.  There were people outside and puppies frolicking around everywhere!  We spoke to a woman and she led us to a young big-bellied man who happily siphoned gasoline into our empty ride.  The people were so friendly and happy to help.  I was pleasantly pleased to be in the presence of these aboriginal peoples.  Then I heard a yelp and looked to my right to see a cute brown and white Taiwan dog being completely run over by the back left tire of an SUV.   “Oh my god, oh my god, oh my god!!!”  I gasped as I put my hand to my mouth and did everything I could not to cry in front of this ancient civilization.  As I am watching this dog squirm, and die, dragged to the side of the road, I look around to see the poor girl who lost her dog running to its aid.  However, there was no little girl, little boy, old lady or anyone who this dog belonged to.  He was just left on the side of the road.  Shocked, I tried to look anywhere but at man’s best friend dying in the dirt.  I looked away only to see a baby waddle out of its home and pop a squat in the front yard, peeing like it ain’t no thing.  “Where are we?” I thought.  Ted immediately just started laughing nervously and we decided to get the hell out of that time capsule.  In a strange daze, we slowly found our way back to the road leading to our friends. 

It was starting to get dark now and the clouds were beginning to descend on to the mountains.  The higher we climbed, the darker and thicker the misty mountains became.  Eventually, we found the trail marker.  We were close.  The path to the trail led us on a muddy, rocky journey to what was the beginning of a horror film.  Dogs viciously barked at us, chained to multiple wooden dog shacks along the chilling, dirt road.   

When we arrived to the trailhead, there was no trace of anyone.  We looked around and an old woman emerged from a small house surrounded by dark, ghostly mist.  She was small, and old and scary as hell.  She spoke in Taiwanese tongues and told us she had seen our friends.  Eventually, we were able to find a spot to get service and called our friends.  They were not on the trail or even near the trail.  They were down the mountain and had texted us earlier to tell us the locals said it would be crazy to drive up at this time of day.  Yeah it was crazy, but kind of fun at the same time. 

So we made our way slowly back down.  All that could be seen were the scooter lights for about two feet and the white lines on the side of the road.  As we made our way down the mist eventually cleared and we found our friends and feasted.

That night we found our way to some hot springs down the mountain where we hung with a rowdy bunch of Taiwanese people.  We drank beer, relaxed and thanked our lucky stars that we had made it out of this day alive. 

We all woke early the next day to take on the path to the most remote and hard to reach hot springs on the island.   Wearing only a dress, bathing suit, and ill-equipped shoes, I wrapped my mom’s old pink bandana around my head ready to take on this trek.  I led the way.   The hike began as a nice path with a few steep inclines, and poles and ropes to lead you.  Then the trail led to a 400-meter steep path straight down, complete with ropes used to repel.  So I took them in my hands and began to step down the face of the mountain into the gorge.  We slowly made our way, panting and sweating, when I heard the earth grumble above me.  “Helen!!! Move!!” “Helen, watch out!!”  The boys above me screamed.  I looked up and saw a large boulder coming my way.  After a second of hesitation, I angrily pushed off from one side of the rock face to the other.  I swung around Just in time for the gigantic stone to graze my elbow and lodge in a few rocks next to me.  In just this small second in time on a mountain, in Taiwan, I literally almost died, or lost a limb, or something.  Had it not been for the rocks it lodged in, if it wasn’t me, it surely would have been the old Chinese couple or their fat, annoying Chihuahua below.  I sat and waited as the people hopped up on adrenaline rehashed the tale above.  I was alive, and I was a Jedi, that much was clear. 

After my near death experience, we couldn’t wait to get into the gorge that housed the hot springs.  We made it down to the bank of the river and followed it to to our destination.  Here we sat in amazement that we were alive.  Damn, we deserved these waters.  It is said that each hot spring has something they are good for.  It could be skin, or health, or bones.  These were for healing and they did the job.   

Aboriginals gifting us gas.  SUV and perishing perro in the background.

Crazy dog attached to his house in the mist.

Creepiest tractor I ever did see.  

Beginning of the hike.

The boulder.

I call this: "Shit, I almost killed Helen."

Lovas in the Gorge. 

The beautiful Lisong Hot Springs.  Totally worth it.