Sunday, November 29, 2009

Advent, Mum's Impending Arrival, Copenhagen, Christmas, & Winter Break

"Look for me with the sun-bright sparrow
I will come on the breath of the wind"

The Decemberists - Yankee Bayonet (I Will Be Home Then)

December is nearly upon us & I celebrated the first day of Advent today. My Mum flies in on Thursday & Saturday starts the Copenhagen conference on climate change. One of my friends and I created a list of things I should take Mum to see & do while she is here. The list looks something like this: Taipei 101, the Taipei Zoo (who doesn't want to see a couple of gift pandas), Chiang Kai-Shek Memorial Hall and Liberty Square, Maokong for the tea houses & tea farms, Shilin Night Market to experience the largest & most famous night market in Taipei, and Huashan Culture Park! I'm really quite excited about her arrival & really hope that we'll have good weather during the week she is here!

So I'm flying to Corpus on Dec. 30/31st. I arrive in Cali on the 30th and arrive in Corpus on the morning of the 31st. I'll be in Corpus for 72 hours and then I fly out to South America. Mum & I are leaving on Jan 3rd for Guayaquil, Ecuador & then flying the next day to Cuenca, Ecuador. I submitted an abstract of a paper (I'm in the process of writing it) to an international conference on environmental, cultural, economic, and social sustainability & was told on Monday that it was accepted! I'm presenting in Cuenca, Ecuador on poverty reduction & achieving the Millennium Development Goals in Asia Pacific through the use of microfinance! I've studied microfinancing since I was in high school, but the thought of presenting an idea I've had to a room full of scholars & writing a paper to submit to an international journal is rather daunting!

Nothing says "die hard" quite like immediately flying to the Andes (Cuenca is 2500m above sea level) after living for 4 months in Asia & not taking a few weeks to overcome the jet lag! Still...2010 is starting off rather legendary! I'll be in/around Corpus from Jan. 9th - Feb.'s going to awesome, I'm going to use a fork every day!

"So surround yourself with good people"

Lost in the Trees - Fireplaces

Tuesday, November 24, 2009

Fun Times on a Friday Night

After our midterm debacle, we recovered by celebrating Sabrina's birthday and went to Grandma Nitti's for Western food in Shida! 5 Germans, a Russian, and an American spent Friday night eating Mexican, Italian, and just normal nonAsian food. Sebastian and Denis had quesadillas, I had chicken fajitas, and Sabrina had an enchilada! While not quite authentic, it was by no means was actually really good!

My chicken fajitas took on the interesting theme of Asian/Mexican fusion...they were served with a few tortillas (who knows where these tortillas came from), normal white rice but mixed with black beans, a side of salsa, sour cream, chips, and lettuce. The quesadillas and enchilada looked good and were served with the same sides and all parties were happy with their choices that night.

We followed our Mexican food with a chocolate and cherry cake purchased by one of the Fabians at Cafe 85. Since we had a lot of languages present, we decided to clap instead of sing Happy Birthday, and all clapped while Sabrina cut her cake. We then met up with a few other friends to shoot some pool, play a little foosball, and watch basketball, water polo, or a car race from 1994.

To get back to school Sebastian, Denis, Sabrina, Alex, and I had to convince a taxi to take the 5 of us back (even though it is against the law for a taxi to carry 5 people) and eventually found a taxi driver who was willing, but only if Sabrina would duck down. He drove really fast and practically dumped us at the gate of our school, but the policeman driving behind us didn't seem to realize/care that there were more than 4 foreigners in the tiny taxi.

Good times, good times!


So last week we had our midterms.

For the most part I just had to hand in drafts of my final term papers, but for one of my classes (Asia Pacific Regional Development) I actually had a multiple choice test.

After I turned in a 10 page essay on international political economy theory and a detailed outline of a development paper about the IMF/World Bank policies in Latin America, I finally got around to summarizing and analyzing 11 chapters of a book that wasn't really written for a multiple choice test. My classmates and I poured over the names of presidents and prime ministers in APEC or ASEAN countries, tried to remember which countries were part of ASEAN Plus Three or ASEAN Plus Six, traced the colonial origins of Asia Pacific back to the UK/Netherlands/US, and dreaded Friday morning.

Question: Who is the "O le Ao o le Malo" of Samoa?
Answer: Tuiatua Tupua Tamasese Efi

Question: Who is the president of Indonesia?
Answer: Susilo Bambang Yudhoyono

Friday morning came and it was a massacre. We looked at our 20 question test and pretty much all let out a groan. Usually tests have definite answers, but this test was a multiple choice test with an emphasis on multiple. We had 5 possible answers and we could circle as many of the answers as we wanted or choose to circle none of the answers if we thought that was best. Each question could legitimately have multiple answers and each answer a person gave could be justified through class notes, the chapters of our readings, or presentations given.

I think my favorite part of the test was where I had to decide if by answering the question, I would be losing more points than just skipping it. Needless to say, no one was very happy after that.

Yay for no more midterms!

Friday, November 13, 2009

Haircuts Can Be Quite Hazardous to One's Hair

I never meant to end up looking the way I currently do, but due to a slight language barrier, I now have amazingly poofy hair that does its own thing.

Sabrina and I went to go get a haircut and while waiting for our turns, she flipped through a magazine and found a picture that she thought might work for her style of hair. She then explained to the girl cutting her hair that she would like it to be similar, but of course, work with the style she already had and don't do anything too drastic! Since Sabrina speaks Chinese, but not really that much haircutting Chinese, the process was a bit sketchy. I was sitting beside her trying not to laugh as the girl kept nodding and responding to her Chinese, but cutting off more and more of her hair! The finished product was Sabrina with rather poofy hair, looking like she had been the victim of a bad hair day!

Needless to say, I should have run for the door when the same girl who cut Sabrina's hair slid over to cut mine. Even though Sabrina said she told the girl to keep the same style I already had (and liked), the girl somehow decided that I would look good with a style similar to Sabrina's! Much to my horror, the girl started cutting off large amounts of my hair and she just kept cutting it off while trying to reassure me by saying "beautiful." Eventually, she left me with uneven bangs and more poofiness than my hair has ever had!

It's been rather rough since has not been possible for my hair to look consistently the same for a day, much less a few hours. In fact, it has been going through quite an evolutionary process as most of the time it looks rather wild or is in a state of total disarray! Check out the pictures and sympathize with me as my hair slowly grows out and possibly returns to normal!

Sunday, November 8, 2009

Headlines & Excerpts of Life

  • It's been pretty busy here lately
  • I've been here for 9 weeks
  • The campus has dogs. Lots of them. And the dogs form gangs. And the gangs roam the streets/sidewalks looking for loner dogs or dogs of another gang to beat up. I was walking to class when the Brown Gang beat up on Rogue and there was a show down on the steps of the Administrative Building (yes, we have a lot of time on our hands and have been studying the dynamics/politics of the dog gangs)
  • I got stuck inside of a watermelon slice (made out of cardboard) on Saturday
  • I got told that I don't speak English following a 5-7 min presentation I gave in English in class on Friday
  • I keep making friends & will have quite a lot of buddies/stalkers if I'm not careful
  • I enjoy going to the gym to watch people attempt to jump rope
  • There was an earthquake on Thursday
  • My mum is coming to visit me in December
  • I'll be flying to Corpus in January
  • I have been experimenting with yogurt and discovered that I like "hard" yogurt
  • While experimenting with yogurt I discovered that I'm not a fan of botanical yogurt
  • I've been having a hard time with the wooden chopsticks lately...I keep getting splinters
  • I got to hear Ander sing Twinkle Twinkle Little Star to me via Skype
  • I scared Cole by telling him that in Taiwan people don't really celebrate took me a while to rebuild the myth of Santa. Never fear, Santa goes everywhere and the good little boys and girls of Taiwan will get toys!
  • I am getting a haircut on Monday and would like to come out with hair while still looking decently good
  • The kids attending the experimental kindergarten next to my dorm seems to be getting louder...I think they might need to tone down their testing
The end.

Oh, I found Millicent (or Mildred) while doing laundry this past weekend!

Thursday, October 29, 2009

The Unfortunate Demise of Millicent (or Mildred) & Halloween Prep in Taipei

Let us pause in a moment of silence for the unfortunate demise of Millicent (or Mildred)- one of my beloved black socks. 6 socks went into the washer, 6 socks went into the dryer, and only 5 socks came out of the dryer. It was a sad day.

On a brighter note, the sun came back out and I got to wear my sunglasses while gallivanting around Taipei. That's right, I gallivant and I'm not afraid to admit it! In fact, I've been told I look pretty good gallivanting :p So oddly, the weather has turned hot again and it went from being rainy, to sunny and pleasant, straight to hot! Don't worry though, another typhoon is on its way and we'll be getting more rain soon. The only reason I know this is because I have become so fascinated with the weather that I created an account with Weather Underground to keep me informed!

Tomorrow is Friday and after my wonderful (required) Asia Pacific Regional Development class, I am supposed to go check out the Pixar Exhibit at the Fine Arts Museum with my neighbor/classmate. It's a conglomeration of 20 years of animation with all sorts of neat Pixar stuff to see and read about! After some Pixar fun, we're adventuring to the Shilin Night Market to find the remaining parts of Sabrina's Halloween costume and anything else that might jump out at us!

*I can't wait...Halloween is Saturday and a group of us are going out to celebrate at a rooftop party in downtown Taipei! It should be interesting since Sabrina is still assembling parts of her costume, I have a costume that when assembled looks something like an odd mix between a pirate, matador, and a rejected character from the Phantom of the Opera, Jose is supposedly an elegant vampire (?), and Clark is still looking for a costume! Get ready Taipei, these Westerners are about to take you by storm...odd costumes and all!

*For those of you who might be a little skeptical of my love for Halloween, don't worry, debauchery and "of the devil" behavior will not occur...perhaps it would be easier for some if they thought about it framed in the following terms:

I can't wait...research is occurring on Saturday and a group of social scientists with very diverse backgrounds in economic development, international relations, cultural studies, and international business are going out to collect data on social behaviors in a foreign country in the city's urban center. It should be interesting since the team is still assembling parts of their school uniform. Get ready Taipei, these enthusiastic researchers are about to learn a lot!

Monday, October 19, 2009

Ovaltine, Banana Bread, & Insults

This weekend marked the first time in about 3 weeks that the sun was seen! Knowing that it was likely to start raining again at any minute, most of my classmates and I spent the weekend soaking up the much needed vitamin d. As predicted, there is now another typhoon heading towards the Philippines, which means we will be getting more rain by the middle of this week. The funniest part about the lack of sunshine was watching the locals bundle up in their coats just because the sun was was a lovely 22°/23°!

Things that might need to be mentioned (and addressed later when I return to the States)...

1. I seem to have a fondness for pie. I never really ate pie while living in the US, but now, I love Tuesdays or Thursdays when the nice Asian man sells Mom's Pies out front of the supermarket with a logo of a lady who strangely resembles an Amish woman. I like to alternate between the chocolate marbled cheesecake, pumpkin pie, and cheesecake with blueberry topping.

2. I was introduced by my Chilean classmate to the wonderful world of Ovaltine! I never knew that I liked Ovaltine until last Wednesday. Now I find myself wandering into the 7-11's around my school looking for the bright orange carton and being slightly disappointed if the 7-11 I happen to wander into doesn't have any. I once made one of my other friends go with me to several different 7-11's in my quest for Ovaltine! I think an Ovaltine intervention might be needed!!!

3. The same Chilean classmate who introduced me to Ovaltine, also shared the wonderful fact that the bakery near school sells banana bread! Needless to say, I've been a frequent customer at the bakery and I'm afraid that like the Fruit Stand Man, the bakery employees will very soon get to know me as the English speaking kid who comes in and gets banana bread (lots of banana bread).

Halloween is approaching and I need to start looking for a Halloween costume...I'm kind of afraid that I'll end up being Hello Kitty for this Halloween. It could be a really odd Halloween. Some friends from the States and I have thought about seeing who could collect the most free candy in Taipei, however, since trick-or-treating is not really a concept the locals are familiar could be quite the experience! Adding to this experience is the fact that we don't really speak Chinese...this definitely adds a new dimension to trick-or-treating!

In other news, my Chinese tutor taught me how to say "pig head," however, she taught me how to say it the polite way and her children corrected her with the less formal way to insult people! I think because I had learned the formal way of saying "pig head" that it was causing my Chinese speaking classmates to politely ask me what it was I was attempting to say- instead of feeling the sting of my newly acquired insult! I'll have to work on it! Perhaps by the time I return to the States for Winter Break I'll be able to count to 10 and insult people without them asking me what it is I'm wanting to say!

Friday, October 9, 2009

(Syncopated) Beats, Bagels, & (Assorted) Baked Goods

I've been on a weird music phase as I've been alternating between Bob Marley, K'naan, Michael Franti & Spearhead, Vampire Weekend, MGMT, and a sundry assortment of electronic or dance music. I've found myself rocking out on the MRT and the buses, which makes me look a little funny, but I've found it's a rather effective guard against a whole people group set in their personal space invading ways.

The sweet mix of a steady electronically produced beat has brought simple pleasure to my wandering and I have been reorganizing some of my playlists to make them either public transit friendly or a lack of sunshine pick me up...who doesn't enjoy a little sunshine inspired music or electronic dance music every now and then?

Life has been a little soggy lately as it has rained for the past 1.5 weeks. However, it finally stopped raining on Wednesday and the sun came out for a few minutes on Friday. The 5 minutes of glorious sunshine made Friday lovely and recharged my drained reserves of Vitamin D.

Aside from my musical adventures, I've also had some baked good adventures...I found a bagel store and practically overdosed on bagels and then walked down the street to a bakery where I tried a smattering of rolls, buns, and loaves. It's been a good food week (clearly a week filled with carbs).

This week marked a transition in available fruit at my favorite fruit stand as the persimmon season is now coming to a close and the peach season is in full swing. I'm in fruit heaven here! Picture me walking down the street with my ipod playing some sort of inspirational fruit shopping music and me perusing an insane collection of delicious's truly fantastic!

Sunday, October 4, 2009

Inclement Weather, Proselytization, & Mooncakes

Inclement Weather

Hello, my name is Jennifer and it's been 7 days since it's been truly sunny in Taipei (snaps for sunshine). So last weekend started the rainy experience as Taiwan was subjected to the aftereffects of the typhoon that slammed into the Philippines (and later Vietnam). It was during this rainy week that I learned that there are different types of umbrellas here...the basic version is apparently only used to protect from the sun. If you want an umbrella to use in the rain, you will need to make sure that you choose one that is structurally approved for actual usage in rain or damp weather. I became aware of this difference after my umbrella that must have been approved for sun & light drizzle turned inside out and broke- leaving me looking rather pathetic in the rain.


Merriam-Webster defines to proselytize as 1: to induce someone to convert to one's faith 2: to recruit someone to join one's party, institution, or cause. On Friday I found myself the target of proselytization. It was a different sort of experience. I was on my way to meet a friend after buying a badminton racquet when this young looking Asian girl stopped me in the middle of the street and said something to me in Chinese. First, you never want to stop in the middle of the street. Second, I get spoken to in Chinese all the time, so I didn't think much of it. Third, beware of young looking Asian girls with backpacks & clipboards! I quickly gave her my confused look and told her I only spoke English thinking that whatever she needed or wanted would quickly be passed off to someone who spoke Chinese. No. In laboured English she said something about saving me. Some parts of the conversation were lost in the obviously present language barrier, but I somehow went from being confused to being confused and captive. She kept a firm grip on my arm and led me over to one of her friends (who at that moment had another person deep in conversation) and told me to stand there and wait. She tried to talk to me while her friend wrapped up talking to her person, and it eventually came out that she wanted me to become a Christian. Thinking to myself, lucky me, I'm already a Christian...I quickly told her that I belonged to the Christian persuasion, whereupon she did the most surprising thing- she jumped up and down, clapped, and shrieked. Her friend came over and asked me if I had been baptized and when I answered that I had, she too jumped up and down, clapped, and shrieked. They kept jumping up and down, clapping, and I decided that it was time for me to leave. I thanked them for their time, wished them luck, and fled for my life! It takes guts to talk to complete strangers about becoming a Christian, but I think their exuberant reaction was borderline terrifying...


This weekend (Sat) was the Moon Festival and to celebrate the Moon Festival you apparently gift everyone with mooncakes and eat tons of mooncakes. Now don't let the cake part of the name fool you...these are little twinkie sized "cakes" that are nice looking, but filled with terrifying filling! I tried 4 one day, 2 another day, and have had many encounters with this festival food. Since I'm new here, my sweet friends kept giving them to me because they wanted me to try a taste of Taiwan. With every new mooncake, I was slightly scared to bite into it...not knowing if this time it would be pineapple with a salted egg yoke, or just pineapple, or something that was unidentifiable but chewy, or horror of horrors- the one with red bean paste AND the salted egg yoke! I started re-gifting them. It's kind of like when you are given a fruit cake at re-gift it or take it to a Christmas party! It's been fun gifting people with little wrapped cakes, but I think in the future- I'll just stick to giving them, not eating them!

Friday, October 2, 2009

Stinky Tofu

Ew. Ew. Ew.

That should suffice.

Pretty much think smelly squares of tofu that have been marinated in fermented goo and you've got it. My friends and I went night marketing last weekend and I was brave and tried the foul smelling food. I had the fried version and watched in horror as the lady took four huge blocks of this smelly delicacy and cut them into about 16 triangles (the more the merrier?). She then dropped my multiplying malodorous "treat" into hot oil, then drained them and placed them in a plastic bag with kimchi, and then covered the combo with a black sauce-like substance that kind of resembled tar.

With trepidation and hesitation I forced myself to take a bite and found that while the smell is worst than the taste, after the first few rounds of chewing, you can't really will yourself to swallow!!! For such a normal size bite of tofu, it's extremely hard to adequately chew or convince yourself that you've chewed enough to swallow the bite. I found that the more you chew it, the less you want to swallow it.

So on that note, you should come visit me...I've got a snack we can try :p

Sunday, September 27, 2009

Tasting My Way Through a Night Market & Visiting a Buddhist Temple

Taking the advice of another Thoreau quotation, “Live each season as it passes; breathe the air, drink the drink, taste the fruit, and resign yourself to the influences of each" my Saturday night was spent tasting, breathing, and experiencing.

So Saturday night my Vietnamese/Polish classmate (my long lost sister according to our classmates) called me to tell me to meet her and her boyfriend for an evening in one of the oldest districts in Taipei. She texted me the MRT directions and I set off for what would become an epic night of tasting Taiwanese traditional snacks/foods.

Upon arrival at the Longshan MRT station, I was taken to a little restaurant near the night market for an oyster omelet. The best way to describe this dish is that it's fishy, chewy, has sporadic bites of a green lettuce-like vegetable hiding in it, and is covered with a sweetish red sauce that tastes kind of like a mixture of ketchup & mayonnaise. It's practically impossible to eat without a spoon and definitely don't attempt it with the slippery plastic chopsticks of a slightly more established restaurant. This installment of Yum v. Yuck would be closer to "Yum" side of the scale, but I'm not that big of a fan of it won't be added to the list of things I eat routinely. Rest assured, it's really not a bad dish to try- I'd say it's actually one of the safer Taiwanese foods to adventure with.

After eating, we wandered around the touristic night market and watched various snake shows. Virtually, this gave new meaning to dinner & a show...what would happen is that the snakes would put on a show and then become dinner! If ever you wish to eat snake, just let me know and I'll take you to the night market and subject you to a rather traumatic show! I did not add snake snacks to my evening and I don't plan on having a Yum v. Yuck experience with them either!

We then went wandering through the outside portion of the night market and snacked on delicious biscuit-like Hello Kitty & Pokemon shapes. They were semisweet and tasted like what would happen if a waffle and ice cream cone ever got together.

We made a quick run through the Indigenous Market and tried White Pine juice...this is one of those things that normally wouldn't be consumed, but here, it's fair game. I had mentioned a while back that Starbucks provides a taste of home that I indulge in once in a while as needed...I must confess that I'm really looking forward to the weather cooling down here and getting to drink some fallish/Christmas flavored drinks. White Pine juice kind of has the same effect as Starbucks & its fallish/Christmas drinks, however, it recalls the Christmas season, but not in a good way. Instead of having a taste of Christmas in a cup, it's more like having a taste of a Christmas tree in a cup! I really would suggest skipping that flavor!

As if my taste buds weren't overwhelmed enough, it was decided that I would try Stinky Tofu. The Stinky Tofu experience is worthy of its own entry, so I'll write about that in a later post, but that by far was the hardest Yum v. Yuck I've done!

After the stinky tofu experience, we went to Longshan Temple. Longshan Temple was built in 1738 by settlers from the Fujian province in China (one of the southern provinces) and has had a rocky history as it has been destroyed in part or full multiple times. At one point during World War II, it was bombed by the Americans who claimed the Japanese were hiding weapons inside it!

Having never visited a Buddhist temple before, I was particularly impressed by the craftsmanship and intricate carvings that covered the temple. I think what was unique about this experience was the fact that to anyone there, I looked like just another Asian, but this Asian grew up in the West and was seeing things through Westernized eyes.

Up until the temple experience, it seemed like though the West and East were different, they weren't THAT different. This was my first real experience with such a stark ideological difference. I mean Islam and Christianity have similarities, but Buddhism and Taoism are rather different from Westernized Christianity. For someone who is neither Buddhist nor Taoist, and yet is Asian, the experience was one that left me feeling rather alien.

That's it for now...stay tuned for the most epic Yum v. Yuck experience ever!

Thursday, September 24, 2009

Cats, Kiwi, & Counting

David Henry Thoreau once said, “We should come home from adventures, and perils, and discoveries every day with new experience and character.”

This past week has been fraught with discoveries and has turned into quite a character building exercise. This was my first week of homework, classes, and balancing the difficult process of living in a different country. Last week was a little different since we were all just trying out various classes, this week has been an intense experience as we all learned how/where to get books, how to use the multiple libraries (which are somewhat in English), and where to go to print our assignments. The little things add up to be rather time consuming and exhausting, thus making this week just a tiring blur in retrospect.

The Cat Coffee shop

I went with Lidia (a 2nd year classmate) to go pick up our ARC's and we had lunch at a pizza parlor over in an area that is famous for its night market experience. This area was a little more Westernized since it's close to National Taiwan Normal University and more foreigners live in that area. While over in Shih Da, Lidia took me to a coffee shop that catered to those patrons who couldn't own a cat, but missed their cats. At one point, it was advertised that there were 45 cats at this particular coffee shop! I was amazed by the idea, but at the same time, I was kind of weirded out by the fact that the cats could sit or stand near the food prep area and seemingly play with your order!

The Fruit Stand Man

I frequent this little fruit stand and have found that the Taiwanese climate is perfect for growing watermelon and pineapple. I've been eating a lot of watermelon, pineapple, oranges, and bananas...but right now is the season for persimmon and they are phenomenal! They look a lot like a square tomato, but they are sweet, delicious, and messy. I survived my first experience and went back for more this afternoon (the survival part was mostly due to the fact that I was told to try it right there in the store and didn't really get a chance to find out if it had been washed).

For those of you who knew I once wanted to be a kiwi farmer, I tried a kiwi smoothie (made from fresh kiwi) at the cat coffee shop and have found that fresh kiwi juice is available daily at the fruit stand! It's like kiwi heaven dream of being a kiwi farmer has been resurrected!

Mandarin Lessons

As of Tuesday I have decided that Mandarin is a rather hard language to learn and since I already have trouble with Spanish...let's just add a language with a gazillion characters! I was learning basic greetings and how to count, but because Mandarin has 4 Tones (ā, á, ǎ, à), I have trouble pronouncing the numbers 4 & 10. They sound so similar and yet are so different...I also have to be careful or I'll inadvertently say "lion" instead of 4 or 10!

That's it for now...I'm hoping to get some homework accomplished over the weekend so that I can wake up insanely early on Monday (3/4am) and go to the Confucius Temple to watch the Shidian Ceremony held in honor of Confucius' birthday.

Saturday, September 19, 2009

Haircut, Shopping, and Yum v. Yuck

It's Sunday afternoon here and instead of reading a my chapters on Asian development, globalization, and international political economy- I decided to update my blog :p

A quick recap of the past week:

- I got a haircut
- I kind of became employed
- I made new friends
- I went shopping
- I have made a game out of eating local foods...I now play Yum v. Yuck

The Haircut Experience

I went with Janet (a classmate & my Taiwanese mother) to a Japanese place and they served us milk tea, washed our hair, taped a visor on my forehead (to keep the water out of my eyes), made sure we were generally comfortable, and then cut our hair. Janet told them how she wanted her hair cut, I however, sat there like a mute kid and watched as Celine (my Japanese hair stylist) pulled out her scissors and started to chop off my hair. Seriously, hair was flying everywhere and I think there were moments when she must have thought I was terrified because she would say something to Janet and Janet would make sure I was ok. Janet had told Celine to keep it easy to maintain and cut it short to make it cooler...other than that, Celine was given the freedom to do whatever! After what seemed like hours, Celine was finished and I was thankful to still have hair!

On Being Employed

I was offered a job as a 3rd grade conversational English & writing teacher for 3 little boys. I'm meeting them on Wednesday and will start teaching them next Wednesday. The curriculum the school uses has me teaching them Balto: The Dog Who Saved Nome. Lucky for me, I'm rather familiar with the story due to a certain 7 year old boy (Cole, I love you) I spent a lot of the summer with.

I'm also supposed to be the research assistant for 1 or 2 professors who work at the Institute of International I'll be traipsing up another mountain to my office at the Institute and add to my personal studies a couple of research projects- one on human rights and another on some aspect of Asian development.

Making New Friends & Shopping

My family likes to eat at Hua Tai when in Corpus and the owners (who are friends of the family) had a friend (and former employee) who used to go to TAMUCC and now lives in Taipei. They passed along her phone number so I could call her and meet up with someone who used to live in Corpus and could show me around Taipei. I finally got around to calling her and we decided to meet up on Saturday and go shopping.

It was pretty awesome walking through the Ximen marketplace with a newly acquired friend who a. used to live in Corpus b. used to work at one of the places my family eats at regularly c. speaks English quite fluently!!!

Shopping was a little insane...the lady who ended up helping me kept telling Jen that I looked like I was 19 and just a kid. I ended up buying a pair of red shorts, a pair of blue/green (a teal-ish color) shorts, a striped shirt that was nothing short of mesmerizing (think Kaa's eyes in Jungle Book), and a cranberry colored plaid/flannely shirt that might have been a tablecloth in its past life. We had a lot of fun as Jen and the lady laughed while I tried on various items of clothing.

Yum v. Yuck

So after I was given some sort of food present on Friday by a classmate, I decided I would make a game out of trying local foods and call the game Yum v. Yuck...I don't purposely go out and find odd food to eat, I merely just try what's considered "normal" or try what is given as a gift to me.

Friday's installment was what can only be described as a greyish wad of sticky playdough like material that was dusted in flour and some how filled with red bean paste. I'm texturally challenged and some food I just don't like due to the way it feels (or wiggles)...this was a sticky, chewy, kind of odd tasting dessert that I kept spitting out. I voted yuck just because I couldn't seem to keep it in my mouth.

Saturday's installment was pig's blood cake and that can be described as a reddish/blackish wedge of sticky rice that has been cooked in pig's blood, then dusted with crushed peanut powder & cilantro, and then served on a stick. I had a bit of trouble psyching myself up to take the first bite, but after the first initial shock, I eventually ate most of my odd treat...I wouldn't say that this is something you would want to eat multiple times though! It actually didn't taste bad at all, you just had that lingering thought in the back of your mind "oh man, I'm eating something called pig's blood cake and they used pig's blood in this recipe!" While I wouldn't give it a full Yum ranking, it definitely isn't in the Yuck tasting range!

Tuesday, September 15, 2009

Karaoke, Class Hopping, and Gelatinous Material


I rode the bus to Taipei County and met up with friends for Sunday afternoon fun. On the way, I stopped at Starbucks and had a wonderful taste of was so amazing how with just one sip I was transported to Barnes & Noble with Brittany, early morning at debate tourneys with my brother, and heart to hearts with Amy. A friend sent one of her friends to pick me up at Starbucks, so in what seemed like a few seconds a guy arrived on a scooter, tossed me a helmet, told me to hop on, and the next thing I knew I was having another scooter experience, but this time while holding a Starbucks cup!

We later decided to go sing karaoke (well they decided and took me along) and I was transported to Holiday KTV via motorcycle! We spent the next 3 hours at this karaoke place eating, singing, and drinking slurpees! They sang a gazillion songs in Chinese and then told me to sing a song in English. The selection was kind of odd...I guess they don't get that many people singing karaoke in English, so they opted for me sing "Let It Be" and then all joined in to make it less awkward for me. It was a pretty hilarious experience!

I had an unfortunate accident Sunday evening...Laney had bought me a Taiwanese dessert- colorful gelatinous material layered with not so colorful gelatinous material, interspersed with beans of two colors, and then syrup- which I was eating it on my bed while skyping with my parents. Trying to eat would be closer to the truth...I find food that wiggles kind of disturbing and I so the questionable dessert already had that going against it. Well somehow I managed to I spill it on my bed, which led to it quickly soaking through my little mattress and squishing in weird colors on my sheets. For someone who already doesn't like jello or food that wiggles on its own...I really dislike this dessert now and probably won't be trying it again in the near or distant future!


Nothing much to say except I did laundry and my clothes came out the same size and color! My neighbor and I were told to fill out a dorm checklist form and had to get the RA's help deciphering which bookshelves were actually cabinets, which cabinets were actually closets, and if the desk drawers were considered different pieces of furniture! We made a pretty comical team as we tried to figure out what exactly our rooms came equipped with!


I started classes on Tuesday and was originally registered for 2 on Tuesday and 1 on Friday, but that all changed after I started class hopping. We were told to try all the classes we might be interested in and then choose after hearing the first lecture, so I tried 3 classes on Tuesday and spent about 8 hours finding out that 6 of those hours were classes I did not want to take! I dropped them (well I actually don't know how to drop them because the form in in Chinese, but I will drop them) and have decided to take classes focusing on intl political economy and development. Both are topics I really like and I'm going to try to incorporate my past years of research on Latin American development into papers and projects for a comparison between Latin America and Asia.

I had fantastic Korean food between classes with classmates and I'm loving the diverse cuisines available in front of the school...I get asked often if I miss the food back home and it always surprises them when they find out that I don't really like hamburgers etc, so I'm really loving all the Asian food! I do miss the abundance of vegetables in the US, but I often go to the fruit stand to buy fantastic fresh fruit!

I need to get a haircut, but I'm a little concerned that if I don't go with a friend who speaks Chinese, I might not have hair left when I come out! I'm sure this will be a great experience, so expect me to blog about my adventures as I get my haircut!

Saturday, September 12, 2009

Experiencing & Exploring

John Keats once wrote, "O Solitude! If I must with thee dwell, Let it not be among the jumbled heap of murky buildings."

So yesterday (Friday), I was able to go downtown and explore the area around Taipei 101. I have a rather odd fascination with skyscrapers and to be able to go to the observatory in what is currently considered the world's tallest building was simply an amazing experience. With Burj Dubai still under construction, Taipei 101 is considered the tallest building in the world with a height of 509 m (or 1,671 ft). Taipei 101 also has the world's fastest elevator with a speed of 1,010 m/min when ascending and 600 m/min when descending...this translates into- it took less than a minute to come down from the observatory!

It was a clear day so we were able to see for miles from each cardinal direction, and when facing the south side, we were able to identify the College of Social Science at NCCU! The observatory had lots of art displayed from around the region and would match up the artist's homeland with the direction of the country from the Taipei 101 observatory...por ejemplo: if the artist was Vietnamese, the art was displayed on the side of the observatory facing in the direction of Vietnam.

After touring Taipei 101 and walking around the buildings near it, my friends and I decided to take the MRT to Shilin Night Market. Shilin Night Market is considered one of the largest and most famous night markets in Taipei, so needless to say, it was a hopping spot on a Friday night!

We were kind of hungry and tired, so we walked around looking for food and a place to sit down, and finally settled at a little restaurant that serves seafood omelets. One of my friends is a vegetarian (but she eats seafood), so we had to find a place that served vegetarian safe food, which was a little difficult because there seemed to be a plethora of hot pot opportunities, but very few vegetarian safe choices. We passed cart after cart of various meats on a stick, seafood that was still alive, and much to our horror- tons of stands of stinky tofu!

Side note: stinky tofu is just what it sounds like- really stinky tofu! It is a very famous food option here in Taiwan, but smells kind of strong since it's tofu that has been marinated (possibly for months) in a brine of fermented milk, vegetables, and meat. It is then either served grilled, fried, or in soup...there are other ways of serving it, but those 3 are the most popular. Unfortunately for me, it is the unofficial national snack food, and is quite abundant and can often be found smelling up the marketplaces of Taipei.

After eating, we decided that we should venture back to the MRT and start the long journey home and so I consulted a map and my friends dutifully checked to see if I was reading it correctly. It was decided that we needed to ride the red train all the way back to Guting and then make sure that our red train magically switched to the green train, so we could grab our bus at Gongguan. I've learned a lot in the past few days...I'm getting better at it!

So while walking back to the MRT station, a runaway sausage cart came out of nowhere and tried to take me out...luckily, I was able to jump out of the way, and I'm still here today because my friends were able to scream, "lookout!" in English!!!

Moral of the story: be careful when in night markets for 1. stinky tofu and 2. runaway sausage carts!

Thursday, September 10, 2009

Climbing Mountains & Learning How to Prevent Fires & Disasters

It is a well known fact that I cannot read a map, fold a map, or navigate in just like early day explorers, I too think I am in the East Indies :p

I was informed by notification (one that was mostly in Chinese) that I needed to attend a mandatory Fire & Disaster Prevention Workshop, or face getting kicked out of the dorm.

Not wanting to risk getting kicked out, I asked around and found out that the workshop was taking place in the Performing Arts Auditorium on the mountain. Oh fun. Now something to keep in mind is that NCCU has a river (or two) running through it and part of the campus is on a mountain (the part where the boys live and apparently where the performing arts auditorium is as well). So I was told by my German neighbor that the auditorium was over the bridge and up the mountain on the right...thinking nothing of it, I left my room at 9:40am to go over the bridge and up the mountain to fulfill my obligation to prevent disaster.

The bridge is rather close to Building 9 (my dorm) and my neighbor said it wasn't very far up the mountain, so I decided to walk it instead of taking bus. I took my ipod with me and was listening to inspirational mountain hiking music as I passed signs saying things like "danger, go in groups when going up the mountain" and "lookout for poisonous snakes!" I thought that the signs were a little odd, considering the boys live up there, but it didn't really seem too weird since it was pretty much jungle on either side of the road. After a bit, I found it strange that no one was walking up the mountain behind me or in front of me, and for a mandatory workshop for all dorm would think that there would be tons of little students rushing around.

So after walking briskly for 15 mins, I came to a do not enter sign and what looked like erosion control repairs and a large fence. I kind of suspected I was lost and had missed something, so I consulted the campus map and realized that I had taken the wrong bridge over the river and was now on another part of the mountain- far away from where I needed to be.

I trotted down the mountain, walked beside the river, went over another bridge, climbed up the mountain, and walked past a less jungle-ish area with more college buildings, and arrived at the Performing Arts Auditorium. Success.

So upon arrival, I walked up to the girl at the info table and she said something in Chinese and I flashed her my now perfected look of confusion and said hello to her in English and she handed me a blue slip of paper with blanks and only Chinese characters on it. She pointed to a line and there I stood until a group of us were taken up the stairs to the 3 floor. I listened rather attentively to a long lecture in Chinese, which probably told the students something about in the event of fire or smoke in your building do this, and then we entered what I thought was just another hallway.

Imagine my surprise and the other international students surprise as we entered a room full of manufactured stage smoke and darkness. We were being tested on what the proper procedure for smoke in your building was and we weren't really sure what to do since all the instructions had been in Chinese and we couldn't see what the Chinese students were doing since it was dark. Finally some nice Chinese boy behind me (who had run into me several times) told me to follow the wall and duck my head. I eventually made it out of the "smoke" filled darkened hallway and got a stamp on my blue slip of paper.

We filed downstairs where I made friends with a kid from Germany and a kid from Mexico and we asked Info Girl if we were finished, or if there was more fun to be had. Unfortunately for us, Info Girl didn't speak much English and had to call for backup on her cell phone. Adding to the unfortunate experience, Info Girl's English speaking backup was unavailable, thus leaving us unsure of what to do next.

After sizing up the situation, we decided to head downstairs with another group and found that we had luckily stumbled upon Part II of the preventative measures workshop. In the basement, we were lectured (still in Chinese) on the finer points of using a fire hose to put out a fire and watched brave volunteers get wet while trying to use said fire hose. We got our stamp and were turning to leave when the Fire Guard miraculously started the English version of his lecture for the next group! We stayed. We listened to him tell us to flip things that weren't switches, touch this like this, put the pieces together softly, etc...until we just couldn't stand it and the entire English speaking group was giggling like little kids. Needless to say, we were highly amused at that portion of the workshop and were rather glad we stayed to get part of our training as volunteer fire brigaders in English!

It really is too bad that US colleges don't put together a Fire and Disaster Prevention Workshop for their was kind of like going to a disaster themed amusement park!

Wednesday, September 9, 2009

On Being an Alien & Getting Lost

So I went to the intl students orientation and found that it was less useful than it sounds and escaped early for a delicious Thai lunch with a few friends from my program. Tim, Igor, and I had a great lunch and then decided that Tim would drop Igor and I off at the Immigration Office on his way home. Igor wanted to see where the office was located and I needed to get my ARC (Alien Resident Card). I entered the country with a resident visa, which allowed me a single entry on the promise that I would apply for an ARC within 15 days.

Side note: Apparently, an ARC is needed for just about everything (opening bank accounts, getting a cell phone, etc), and if you don't go get one within 15 days, trouble occurs!

So Tim drops Igor and I off and then Igor writes out instructions on how I should get back to school from the Immigration Office and we part ways. After dropping off my application I leave the Immigration Office and start what turned out to be an epic journey back to NCCU.

I was told to take the MRT (what they call the metro) from Xiaonanmen, switch trains at Chiang Kai-Shek, and go to Gongguan. At Gongguan, take Bus 236 and go back to school. It sounded simple enough.

I found the Xiaonanmen MRT station and headed towards Chiang Kai-Shek Memorial Hall station, and then got on a train headed towards what I thought would be Gongguan station, but sadly, it wasn't. Igor had told me to change trains at Chiang Kai-Shek, but forgot to mention 1. you need to head towards Guting and 2. you need to change trains at Guting. In Chiang Kai-Shek, I went the wrong direction and headed towards the hospital instead of Guting and had to jump off and switch directions at the next station to return to Chiang Kai-Shek. I eventually got to Guting, but I stayed on the train instead of getting off and switching and found myself quickly speeding off in the direction of Dingxi (and the Lenhua Night Market) and not Gongguan! So at Dingxi, I switched directions again, and headed back to Guting to figure out what exactly went wrong. After a few moments of confusion, I noticed that there was a sign with some faint green trim with an arrow pointing up, and realized that the upper platform was where I needed to catch the MRT to Gongguan and the other green line stops. By the time I finally made it to Gongguan, I felt like I had ridden the MRT for quite a while and was only too glad to catch the bus back to school!

The rather frightening thing is that all those steps must be duplicated in reverse to get me back to the Immigration Office on the 23rd to pick up my official permission to live as an alien in Taiwan!

Monday, September 7, 2009

Scooters, Oven Mitts, Umbrellas, and Outings

So Saturday morning I arrived in Taipei. I managed to cause a chaotic scene as soon as I stepped outside the airport doors as taxi drivers started calling for backup as they tried to figure out just where it was I needed to go. Somehow this tiny little lady muscled the men aside and grabbed both of my nearly 60lbs bags and tossed them into her taxi and motioned something that I interpreted as, "get in my taxi or I'll toss you in." I don't think I can adequately describe the feeling I had when I settled into the taxi and watched the sun rise over my new city.

Fast forward through what seemed like an activity you would find on an academic version of Amazing Race and you would have experienced my moving in process. Dante's Inferno and all the rings of hell would also add to illustrate the experience seeing as I got stuck outside the gate, then inside the gate but outside of the building, then inside of the building but outside of the dorm room, and then finally inside the dorm room in general. A nice girl (Laney) helped me out and with her fantastic linguistic skills, and convinced Den Mama to let me in etc. She then helped me move in and took me to find breakfast, which ended up being egg rolls (but not the type that typically accompany Chinese food...literally bits of egg rolled around various ingredients such as corn or ham)! Eventually the nice girl (Katy) who works in the Office of Intl Cooperation met up with me and took me to the University store to buy a mattress, a few pillows, and other essential dorm stuff (like a card to buy air conditioning). She also showed me this wonderful dumpling hut and I've been living on dumplings and soy milk for practically every lunch and dinner since then!

Sunday was awesome! I got to ride on a scooter and have my first near death experience in Taipei!!! In situations such as scooter v. bus, always place your money on the bus! I found it quite hilarious that all the ladies riding around on their scooters were wearing oven mitts. Why they wore oven mitts baffled me, so I asked Laney and she said it was to protect them from the sun! These same ladies also never go anywhere without an umbrella 1. because it rains quite frequently here and 2. because they don't want to get a tan! I can only imagine the strange looks I would receive if I wore oven mitts while riding about or carried an umbrella on a beautifully sunny day.

Today was pretty awesome as well...I got internet in my room and was taught by a Russian how to ride the bus & metro, and then he left me at a bus stop and told to find my way back to school by taking Bus 236 all the way over the bridge. It was highly exciting and I wasn't really good at going in the right direction to the right metro stops. I blame it on the fact that they seemed to announce the stops in English only after leaving the stations!

It's great here and I'm having tons of fun...I met a classmate of sorts from Nicaragua and convinced her to join me in my quest to find a Dragon Boat Festival rowing team! My classmates are super helpful and I think I'm going to enjoy should be entertaining at least! Well it's almost dinnertime and I'm about to run out and grab more dumplings and soy gets dark here around 6.00pm, so I try to do all my getting lost prior to the sun going down. (Don't worry,'s rather safe here!) Since classes don't start til next week I'm spending most of my time getting lost, perfecting the look of confusion with light shrugging, and going to various orientations. I have Intl Students Orientation on Weds and a Fire and Disaster Prevention workshop on Thursday...I'm also kind of scared the mythical creature named the "Military Instructor" who lives in our dorm and apparently does drills with us?!? I'm also kind of scared of the antiquated exercise equipment and hula hoops provided on all floors in all the common areas! It would appear that I'm going to need to learn how to hula hoop before I go to work out!!!

Wednesday, September 2, 2009

To Infinity and Beyond!

"If I take one more step it'll be the farthest away from home I've ever been." - Samwise Gamgee (Fellowship of the Ring)

I can't quite believe that tomorrow will take me far far away on an adventure of a lifetime! My friends have been the best and my family has demonstrated an outpouring of love as the days have diminished on the countdown to departure. Thank you to all who have made my last few weeks/days in the US so fantastic! I love you guys and will carry such great memories of our times together with me as I travel. Stay tuned as I update and document my newest adventure in Taiwan!

To infinity and beyond!