Stray Observations

Stray Observations From An Amused Foreigner #3

Coming to a foreign place ensures a certain level of culture shock. While I embrace the hundreds of new sights and sounds I come across on a daily basis here in Taipei, I feel it my duty to share some of the more out-there cultural differences.

ON THE LOCAL ZOO

–A while back I took a trip to the Taipei Zoo with the intention of seeing Taipei’s pair of Pandas. It’s hard to deny the cuteness factor of a Panda Bear and I’m pretty sure I had never seen one in person before this trip. The two bears, Yuan Yuan and Tuan Tuan (which according to Wikipedia means ‘Reunion’) have their own indoor and outdoor habitat and even on a rainy day draw lines of onlookers. The queue that can form to see the two bears is on par with the lines waiting to see Pope John Paul’s body at the Vatican a couple years back, which is to say you are shuffled in an out and are lucky if you catch the Pandas doing something interesting like scratching themselves or taking a dump.

–The Giant Panda also warrants its own gift shop, which proves that you can in fact churn out a panda into every kind of chotchkie imaginable. Panda plush toys. Check. Panda notebook. Check. Vile of concentrated Panda breath for good luck charm necklace. Could happen.

–Rocky the Raccoon, Chinese. It makes sense that an East Asian zoo would have a Raccoon habitat. These arguably cute but rather annoying creatures are common in the nocturnal suburban scavenger subspecies of North American vermin but over here they are only alluded to in children’s storybooks and the 1995 Disney film, “Pocahantas,” which featured Meeko the playful pet raccoon. It was quite a surprise to see that their display at the Taipei Zoo was not only bigger than, say, a lesser animal’s exhibit (some monkeys seemed to be living in squalor though it’s hard to say if a monkey would comprehend squalor, what with the penchant for dung-tossing and all). It turns out that when Raccoons are allowed to just lounge around and don’t actually have to clumsily scrounge through your trash can at all hours of the night, they can be quite playful and charming to watch, as seen in this Taipei Zoo Raccoon enthusiast’s amateur Youtube video.

–Anything advertised as, “The Luxury and Trendy Finger Food” has to be anything but. Even this hungry zoo patron seemed puzzled by the prospects of pizza served in a cone. NOTE: the bonus sprigs of fresh basil featured in the display photos (a nice touch). Brova!!

–I still argue that the Ocelot is truly underrated cat–beautiful and mysterious, while still sporting baadassss claws that could mangle a jugular.

ON MY NEIGHBORHOOD

— I share a flat on a fairly unassuming street. Our place is close to a grocery store, seven convenience stores, a riverside park, and numerous warring clans of stray dogs mark their territory outside my window.

— There are many noises in my neighborhood. For a while we would all wake up to the sounds of ripsaws and a pneumatic nail guns at the construction site one building over. At night we can hear the dogs howling and barking at said construction site, usually trying to put the scare into a stationary piece of heavy machinery.

— Every once and a while I can hear the sound of what must be a howling man of sorts across the way from my window. While at first I figured it to be a dog, the howls have become more nuanced in their tones and range. After recording a sample on my camera’s video feature I spent some time pondering what the sounds might be. The following is a shortlist of perfectly feasible explanations:

a) said noise is from a dog, albeit a rather unhappy, dare I say depressed pooch.

b) said noise is from an old man, possibly someone bed-ridden.

c) said noise is from a waking gimp, possibly being exuded from its cage or cabinet dwelling.

d) said noise is the result of some bizarre Tai-Chi ritual that I am not yet privy to.

e) said noise is from a zombie going through a self-identity crisis.

— Open letter to the neighborhood lady on her bike who feeds the local stray dogs and cats scraps of meat: Thank you for being such a kind soul. You go above and beyond my feeble attempts at feeding the animals store-bought treats.

— Open letter to the hungry/scared/impatient/impish kitten who cried all night long last Monday. If you had just waited till morning the bike lady would’ve have taken care of you. Also, if you want something and feel the need to whine at least make your presence known visibly. My housemate Antoni and I spent a good thirty minutes out searching for you, tracking your sounds to various possible hiding spots. NOTE TO READERS: The following night said cat was neither seen nor heard. While it could’ve gone elsewhere are been cared for by its owner I suspect the aforementioned gimp had something to do with the cat’s sudden disappearance.

ON CHRISTMAS

(NOTE: The following are merely observations regarding a recent Christmas fair hosted at my English school. For those curious, I was in charge of a Christmas dart game with a Robin Hood theme. Also included at the festivities: face painting (which morphed into hand painting when the quality of the paint brought to light suspicions that pain might leave certain kids with nasty face rashes), Christmas stocking-making, a fishing pond (don’t worry, more on that to come), indoor soccer, pinball, and for those not interested in games there were two back-to-back screenings of the 2009 classic Christmas film, “Terminator: Salvation.” The opinions displayed are of the curious and sarcastic nature and by no means show my dissent for my employer’s choices and practices in the arena of teaching English to Taiwanese children. Another column would suffice for that.)

–Look, I understand Christmas is not widely celebrated everywhere in the world. Even the Westernized commercial aspects of Christmas are only hinted at here. Taipei has a couple trees up in public spaces, some of the department stores are slinging holiday-themed items, generally presented with tinsel and ornaments. At a recent concert I attended the Midori Liquor girls were pushing the green libation from a tree of under lit green bottles. Still, if you’re going to claim to hold a Christmas party for a school full of curious minds, you must refrain from doing the following:

1) Grilled sausages and deep-fried onion/chicken circles are no doubt tasty but are about as Christmas as Bob Dylan singing “Here Comes Santa Claus.”

2) If you give a wild child a bag of live fish, there will be blood. Teacher Elle, one of my Chinese co-workers hosted a fishing pond game where students paid actual money for paper fishing nets and were given the chance to scoop up as many terrified little fish as they could. While cute in a carnival kind of way, a number of children were clearly not ready for the responsibility of caring for living things, even if said creatures were of the minnow variety. I had to rescue three different sets of fish that were spread across the floor of classroom 304 when my students carelessly dropped the bags. Student Jerry, who is truly a menace to society, was caught poking and squeezing a number of his fish. When I confronted him about his cruelty he belted out a sugar drink induced screech, the likes of which might give an Apache war party a run for their money. Give a student a life and their true colors come out.

3) Fact: A 6 oz plastic Hello Kitty juice tumbler can temporarily hold approximately 12-15 fish comfortably depending on size and girth.

4) Fact: Cold water from the school water cooler may stop fish hearts.

5) Nothing says Christmas like a giant inflatable giraffe head and neck, which I suppose could be used as a riding toy like the classic wooden pony head and stick. Still clearly the better choice is to hit tall Teacher Warner with said apparatus of mischief.

6) When Christmas trees, ornaments, Santa Claus’ and other red and green colored drawings are simply not enough to please naughty students for simple face/hand painting, one can always resort to safer themes like snakes, rats, spiders, and sharks.

7) Though probably an overlooked mistake, the paper vampire bat decoration (a leftover from Halloween, another misunderstood holiday here in Taiwan) on the windows of the teacher’s lounge/staff bathroom/kitchen was a fitting extra touch.

8) Nothing says ho-ho-ho like giant cyborgs battling it out in the future for survival of man after Judgment Day. Teacher Steffi was in charge of renting a movie for the screening classroom to keep the older kids occupied during the festivities. While I could think of at least a hundred charming Christmas films (hell, if you’re going the guns, explosion and cursing route why not settle on Die Hard, which actually was set during the holidays) Terminator: Salvation was ultimately chosen.

Jerry, our school’s resident problem child, watches cyborgs shoot humans
during the Xmas “Terminator: Salvation” film screening, the sugary contents of that
red bottle circulating through his system.

9) The total number of pleads to universal problem child Eason to put down the darts and to stop: 11

10) Eason: 11, Teacher Warner: 0

ON TAIWANESE MTV

— On a date of sorts a couple weeks ago I was introduced to Taiwan’s version of MTV, which has nothing to do with the American Music Television cable network. MTV is essentially akin to East Asian KTV, which, if you recall, are venues where you and your friends can rent a room equipped for Karaoke. MTVs take the same concept of renting a room (a seedy sounding diversion if you ask me) and incorporate film to the equation. You and your friends can show up, pick from a selection of DVDs, and get a room with a surround sound system and a digital projector. Pretty cool concept and one that I always envisioned in the States but I knew would never be profitable. Why watch a movie on your dinky home TV when you can rent a large high-definition screen with surround sound for less than the cost of going to an actual film house?

— In Taiwan MTVs were largely successful for many years, catering to young teenagers wanting to watch movies and make out. It takes the concept of the drive-in movie and brings it indoors. I learned that due to internet movie downloading these establishments are a dying breed.

— I was invited to an MTV by a girl I met who told me that if I liked movies (which I do) then I would love MTV. Of course when it came time to make the film selection I knew instantly that my usual insistence on snooty art films wouldn’t fly. For starters the film library was limited to big Hollywood action and romantic comedies, many of which starred ponytail wearing white ninja Steven Segal (who apparently is quite respected over here). Setting aside my film pretensions, I allowed my friend to choose the film. She, without hesitation I might add, went for the teen vampire soap opera, Twilight, which is all the rage here.

Having not read any of the books of which the Twilight Saga is based on, I can’t accurately comment on its importance in the lexicon of American literature and film but it does seem to follow a fairly basic formula: Take one pasty white skinned, semi EMO teenage girl (Kristen Stewart, who was quite good in Sean Penn’s Into the Wild), send her to the Pacific Northwest, introduce the Romeo to her Juliet (who is part of a mysterious family of pasty-faced vampires), insert some hipster indie rock music, have a scene where said vampire love interest rescues her from a car accident and possible attack/rape from Oregon gang members, and finally, add a pinch of voice-over narration about the complexities of loving a vampire, all of which is said to be a metaphor for keeping one’s virginity sacred–give in to your lust for sex (with a vampire) and you might end up with two holes in your neck. Watch out girls!

— The whole experience was odd, to say the least.

— MTV summed up: A place to relive middle school.

ON MUSIC IN THE CLASSROOM

The songs written by Hess, my school’s parent company, are offered to teachers as a tool for helping to teach key grammar points and increase vocabulary comprehension. The majority of them lack any sort of catchiness and often drive the students (and the teacher) insane. My American Curriculum Program class (ACP) meets four days a week and is one of the few that actually enjoy singing the songs offered. While I’m gradually trying to supplement the material with classic English songs of my childhood–The Beatles “Octopus’s Garden” and Bowie’s Labyrinth film era “Magic Dance” are two that I’ve attempted (other song suggestions are welcomed!)–my class still seems to enjoy the text book offerings. Take for example, “Rock and Roll Days,” a wall of sound Hess production referencing the days of the week and featuring female backup singers, which the girls in the class love.

–The students also can’t get enough of “We Wish You a Merry Christmas” even after Christmas has come and gone.

— I’m toying with the idea of introducing the students to Prince’s “Starfish & Coffee.” Thoughts? Concerns of introducing his Purpleness to these innocent minds?

Those who doubt me just take a look at the lyrics:

It was 7:45, we were all in line 2 greet the teacher Miss Kathleen (Practice telling time)

First was Kevin, then came Lucy, third in line was me (Time adverbs)

All of us were ordinary compared 2 Cynthia Rose (Cynthia’s a fun name to say)

She always stood at the back of the line, a smile beneath her nose (Incorporates smiling)

Favorite number was 20, every single day (Favorite + (nouns) are big in our class)

If U asked her what she had 4 breakfast, this is what she’d say

Come on….

Starfish and coffee, maple syrup and jam (Food vocabulary)

Butterscotch clouds, a tangerine, and a side order of ham (Food Vocabulary)

If U set your mind free, baby, maybe U’d understand

Starfish and coffee, maple syrup and jam. (Starfish are funny.)

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Stray Observations #2

Stray Observations From An Amused Foreigner #2

Coming to a foreign place ensures a certain level of culture shock. While I embrace the hundreds of new sights and sounds I come across on a daily basis here in Taipei, I feel it my duty to share some of the more out-there cultural differences.

On the Weather

–As I’m writing this entry my housemates and I are anxiously awaiting the arrival of Morakot, as in Typhoon Morakot. I’ve always been curious how countries go about naming hurricanes or typhoons. Hurricane Andrew? Katrina? Why not Bob or Steve?

–For the record the summer months constitute as “Typhoon Season” here in Taiwan. Rainy days are plentiful and rather spontaneous. There will be days where I will walk to Chinese class under clear skies and scorching sun. By my third hour of classes menacing clouds and torrential downpour change what was once a pleasant morning into an unpleasant navigation home by way of awning hopping.

–Typhoon days are like snow days, only with the advance notice of a day-off from work, which allows for the planning and execution of various Typhoon Parties–gatherings where foreigners and Taiwanese alike summon the Tropical Storm gods through pints, tequila shots, karaoke renditions of the Beastie Boys and, as I experienced last night, hodge-podge libations with names like Baby Sleeps for Three Days, an unforgiving concoction calling upon nine different hard liquors and Ecto-Cooler-Green beverage dye. It resulted in the inevitable: me and a British bloak singing David Bowie’s “Heroes” to a bar full of unimpressed Taiwanese.

–If you let go of an umbrella during rain and strong winds it will in fact fly far away leaving you satisfied with the success of your little experiment, but ultimately unpleasantly moist and bitter.

–Rain can hit at any moment, sometimes lasting for the remainder of the day, sometimes for ten minutes or so. This will be my first proper Typhoon experience and I’m hoping that unlike the fairly significant earthquake (a six on the Richter scale supposedly) that hit a month ago I will not sleep straight through its fury.

-When it rains, it really does pour.

–Text message received from my boss last night while at a “Typhoon Party” at a local bar: “Hi it’s me Vicky, don’t go outside, there is a typhoon coming, be careful!” ROUGH TRANSLATION: “By all means let your curiosity take you for a stroll down by the river.”

–Mudslides: The messy and truly tragic killer.

–Umbrellas are a lot more complex than you might think.

–Umbrellas may prevent cancer. The Taiwanese do not like the sun. I’ve been told that at the beaches the Taiwanese rarely take off their shirts (or long pants!) when swimming or sun bathing (or sun dodging, really) and umbrellas are utilized for blocking the poisonous rays throughout the day.

–U-U uh uh uh, an U-M-B-R-E-L-L-A, when repeated ten times, will teach Taiwanese students one of many sounds that comes from the twenty-first letter in the English alphabet.

On Racism

–While sometimes easy to pardon due to good old fashion ignorance, there is a level of harmless racism in parts of everyday life here in Taiwan. Be it a casual comment from a co-worker or a bigoted reference made in an English teaching textbook.

–Probably the most fascinating examples of this widely overlooked phenomenon here in this otherwise fairly accepting culture are two everyday consumer products: racist toothpaste and a line of stereotypical iced-coffee beverages.

–Darlie Toothpaste (which in some places is actually printed as Darkie Toothpaste) is Taiwan and Mainland China’s most trusted name in plaque fighting. The toothpaste tastes like your run of the mill paste or gel, with just a smidgen of racism hidden beneath its explosion of peppermint and fluoride. The company’s mascot could be mistaken for Al Jolson, circa The Jazz Singer. The minstrel caricature totes a top hat, bowtie and shit-eating grin.

–Mr. Coffee has a nice little hold on the sweetened-iced-coffee market with its line of mini-cans and bottles. Mr. Coffee himself (or Kafei xiansheng as I call him in Chinese) is a blatant stereotype of an Italian Mafioso gentleman. His perfectly tailored white suit, matching white fedora and oddly shaped upper facial structure are dead giveaways. There are actually only a few degrees of separation between this jovial Signor and the ill-fated Don Fannuci in The Godfather Part II. It should be noted that Mr. Coffee beverages are surprisingly tasty and their tiny snack size cans make them an inexpensive shot of caffeine while on the road. If you can look past the blatant cultural generalizations, sampling the various flavors offered is always a fun part of grocery shopping. SIDE NOTE: Mr. Coffee was involved in a bit of legal debacle back in 2008 after some of its products were tainted with melamine (the wonders of Wikipedia) during the Chinese milk scandal. Two Mr. Coffee executives were subsequently whacked, chopped and buried out in the sticks of Taipei County, which doesn’t help to shed the company’s troublesome stereotypical image.

Man, Youtube comes in handy.

On Sexism

–According to a rather sexist example sited in lesson three of The Step-Ahead Level Five workbook, “dumb blondes” are an actual demographic. (PHOTO OF THIS JAWDROPPING CASE OF UNFORTUNATE BRAINWASHING COMING SOON…)

On Karaoke: A Dissection of KTV

–KTV’s are literally giant hotel like buildings that house private rooms for groups of friends to get together and sing in front of a giant plasma TV. It’s Karaoke, but with style! I’ve been to the Party World KTV twice since coming to Taiwan and both experiences were memorable for the following reasons:

1) KTV’s music selection needs a reboot. Sure for Japanese or Taiwanese Pop, you have all your bases covered. When it comes to Western pop, the masterminds behind KTV’s song selection must be stuck in 1996. On both occasions I took part in the 1984 spooky anthem, “Ghostbusters,” I’ve contributed to a gripping rendition of Prince’s “Kiss” and “When Dove’s Cry” (sadly there wasn’t enough room for my tall ass to do the floor hump dance routine that made Prince squeal, “Baby, I’m a Star”), and lent my pipes TLC’s “Waterfalls,” with an added shout out to the departed, Lisa “Left Eye” Lopes that fell flat with the heartless bastards in my company. We miss you girl!

2) Most Karaoke music videos in this part of the world are makeshift films that generally have nothing to do with the songs that they accompany. Generally the videos are shot in parts of Western and Eastern Europe, cheap locales like Ukraine or Romania’s Carpathian Mountains. While a modern hip-hop video will sport the predictable amount of bling, babes and shiny cars, and many feature state of art special effects, a Karaoke video for say, something like Michael Jackson’s “Black Or White” (which I sang days before he departed to his Neverland space ranch on to the moon, I mean, after all, like Elvis, the King of Pop is still alive, right?) will feature a beautiful blonde Moldovan frolicking in the hills or enjoying a the sunshine in a European plaza. A pity since the original “Black or White” video made history back in the day.

3) The makers of KTV songs seem to enjoy the editing (or shall we just say, destruction) of perfectly good songs. Whole verses will be cut out or in some cases altered all together.

4) I discovered that when it comes to KTV it’s best for me to accept my limited Eeyore pipes and aim for more comical song choices such as the aforementioned Ray Parker Jr. ballad, “Ghostbusters Theme,” or say Toto’s mighty anthem, “Rosanna,” which I just happened to video for your enjoyment!

5) Local pop song music videos seem to share a bizarre fascination for food and the forlorn. On one evening three videos were either set in restaurants (one, featured below, set the stage in a fast food restaurant) or involved female singers eating their worries away while singing.

6) While supposedly hush, hush, you can bring your own booze to KTV, thus avoiding the inflated price of their otherwise dirt cheap Taiwan Beer. The caveat when partying with the Taiwanese is you must drink your local brew over ice and with a dried plum dropped into the cup to give the stale beer some sweetness. The Taiwanese truly are the sugar-eating people.

7) When shared, a bottle of cheap Taiwanese whiskey will go fast.

8) The Taiwanese fail to understand the David Lynch reference to the now eerie song “In Dreams” by Roy Orbison.

9) The KTV experience is best described as Lynchian.

On Taiwanese Television

–I don’t get very many opportunities to watch the boob tube here in Taipei, mainly because I’m too busy. On the rare occasion that I do sit down with the housemates there are only a few English language channels to choose from. National Geographic, Discovery, Travel, CNN are all favorite channel surfing stops. As are the four movie channels offered, including an East Asian version of HBO and Cinemax and two random movie channels, Hollywood and one simple called C Movie.

–Open letter to whoever chooses the films screened on the aforementioned Hollywood and Movie channels; I want your job. These two channels broadcast the most random selection of C-Grade films, mainly residing in the horror, action, sci-fi and the “man merged with beast” genres. Case in point is the low-budget 2005 film, Hammerhead (AKA Sharkman), which my housemates and I enjoyed one evening with jaws wide open to the film’s shear stupidity. The plot is a bit complex, you know with the character development and all, but it goes something like this: overly acted mad scientist creates a half-man/half-shark mutant, which then escapes and goes around eating low-paid actors, including females willing to strip and get eaten by a CGI sharkman, possibly as a means to pay off art school loans. Sharkman eventually confronts his maker, has an emotional “Do I eat my master?” moment. Then Sharkman eats his master before biting it in a lame lab explosion. Most of the gory kills that you look for with anticipation when watching films of this caliber are edited out or the channel’s programming bastards deliberately air the commercial break right before said scientist eats it by way of fatal sharkman bite.

–Taiwan: Where bad movies go to die.

–One could spend an entire hour just soaking up Taiwanese commercials.

–You could also spend an hour just soaking up what the Hakka Channel, made for a large group of aboriginal Taiwanese.

–There is a game show here in Taiwan, which, as far as I can tell, consists of young female celebrities eating weird food in front of live giggling studio audience members and a flamboyant host. I’ve found that it’s more fun when you don’t know what the hell they are saying.

–The Japanese have apparently made a lot of Samurai films. Few come even remotely close to anything Kurosawa contributed to the world.

–The Malaysia tourism board’s commercial for traveling in Malaysia, which features the tagline, “Malaysia, Truly Asia” makes me want to travel to Malaysia.

–According to the Internet Movie Database (IMDB.com) Hammerhead’s tagline is: When he began fusing human and shark DNA, his colleagues laughed at him. Now his creation is taking his revenge, and they aren’t laughing anymore.

Now this is how it’s done! The 80s was a magical decade.

Stray Observations #1

The Mister Donut–Photo c/o the internet

Stray Observations From An Amused Foreigner #1

Coming to a foreign place ensures a certain level of culture shock. While I embrace the hundreds of new sights and sounds I come across on a daily basis here in Taipei, I feel it my duty to share some of the more out-there cultural differences.

ON SCOOTERS

— Never mind the fact that the thousands of scooters flooding the streets of Taipei only add to the city’s growing smog presence. The real hazards of these motorized zoom-zooms come at the pedestrian level. Walking in Taipei requires the same amount of focus and attention to the surroundings as someone traversing through a minefield. Scooters ignore most logical street signs, and will hit you if you happen to be in their path. Not too long ago while sauntering my way through a local night market I was struck by an anxious scooter’s side view mirror as the rider weaved his way through a mob of shoppers. Instead of apologizing for smacking my elbow the elderly rider scolded me in Taiwanese and may or may not have responded with a fist of dissidence in the air.

— Riding a scooter (or in my case, hanging off the back of scooters wearing helmets made for children) is on par with the thrills of walking. Taxi cabs and buses would just assume cut you off if it meant catching a fare, red lights are merely suggestions for some Taiwanese commuters who see the lights as an excuse to speed up, and helmets protect the skull but do nothing for the flesh (check any MRT train car and you’re guaranteed to find one wicked flesh wound from a recently scarred ex-scooterist).

–Riding during a torrential rainstorm, aka the month of June, is about as smart as taking your Mazda Miata out for a spin on the Dan Ryan during an icy Chicago winter. Finally, a note to all the Taiwanese, just because you wear a body-sized “scooter poncho” during aforementioned road conditions, you are hardly the wiser commuter; you’re, however, a hell of a lot more colorful. This all said and done, I still desperately want a scooter of my own. Is this wrong?

ON FOOD

— I don’t care that you’ve flash-fried the specimen to a “delicious” black char, you WILL NOT trick me into munching on a whole duck/goose head–neck, skull, beak et al–even if you somehow manage to impale it on a convenient stick like some ruthless Hun.

— Chicken as an animal and food group is a lot more complex than you may think. Summed up: If you think you’ve had chicken, you really haven’t.

— If you put custard pudding in ice tea, they will come.

— Duck blood by any other name is still duck blood.

— If you pretend that the surprise pieces of pig intestine at the bottom of the delicious steaming bowl of Mian Xian (oyster noodles) are really morsels of calamari, you can in fact fool the mouth.

— Unforgiving Taiwanese rice liquor could and should be used to remove paint. East Asian whiskey, however, should not be overlooked on the world stage.

— Dumplings are understood.

— Becoming a regular at a street vendor cart is easy. Show up once, spew out some complimenting Mandarin phrases, and reap the benefits the follow. A neighborhood dumpling shop owner (one of the few places around my apartment open late) is happy to slip in an extra dumpling or two to my order since we are on a first name basis and she is still amazed at my height. A steady use of the word “haochi” or delicious also helps.

— A long line may not ensure quality but will most definitely beckon the flock. The Taiwanese seem to attribute long lines at food vendors and shops as being a sign of quality. Case in point, the popular JiPai, or over-sized fried chicken breast stands. In the Shi-Lin night market there are two prominent stands that sit right next to each other on a busy drag. The vendor on the right side will at times have a queue thirty people deep, while his neighbor on the left will be empty. When I ask one university-age girl why she chose the vendor on the right, she replied, “Because the line was longer.” It should be noted that the final products at both stands are identical and the two supposed rival vendors might in fact be brothers.

— The Taiwanese truly believe that American food consists of hot dogs and hamburgers. One afternoon at my school the staff ordered delivery McDonalds from down the road. When I declined the chance to order a value meal and said, “I actually don’t really like McDonalds” my boss, Vicky, was downright shocked. “Don’t you miss your hamburgers?” she inquired. From peeking at a carryout menu Taiwanese McDonalds appear to be the same as say a Nebraska McDonalds.

— No matter how much area you conquer, you will never win, Starbucks. 

— Mister Donut, a Japanese donut chain sprouting up all over Taipei, serves your typical donut. That they offer chopsticks for their sugary treats does however up the establishment’s weirdness.

— The consumption of properly prepared Chinese cabbage is an ethereal experience.

— I have long argued that adding a fried egg to just about everything ups the ante. Eating in Taipei only confirms this position. Lunch boxes are not complete without the essential fried egg topper for the rice. The sandwiches at my housemate’s restaurant, Kiwi Gourmet Burger, served with a fried egg (not to mention pineapple and pickled beets) are to die for.

— Keep the chili peppers coming. It turns out the Taiwanese are not as brave as their Sichuan brothers on the mainland when it comes to spicy food. “Hen la” or very spicy has become a favorite phrase when surveying the culinary canvas here in Taipei, however, I have yet to come across something that numbs my mouth and rips my insides apart. I need to find a true hotpot!

— Noodles shaved by hand from a mothership of homemade dough into a giant vat of boiling water are worth the extra time and money.

— Sprouts, yes please!

— In a country where half of the food you see is still a mystery I’ve realized it’s best to just jump right in and hope for the best. Over the years my stomach has definitely become a lot more adventurous through travel and interest in foreign cuisine. East Asia is like one giant test for the inside. So far I have yet to take ill from anything thing eaten on the streets or inside more established restaurants. I haven’t turned down anything that has been offered to me (save of course for the aforementioned duck/goose noggin, because, and let’s be honest here, one must have limits) and have already found a number of must-go hotspots.

ON PUBLIC TRANSPORTATION

— I’m tall and yes, I just hit my head on the hanging support handles. Get over it. 

— The Taiwanese are a polite and organized people. Sometimes. The MRT trains are a perfect example of a society that respects their elders and knows how to make a system work. The commuter trains here can fill up fast but no matter how busy or full a car might be, people will always offer up their seats to small children, the elderly and women. The Taiwanese also know how to line-up, whether it be to board the train (lining up on in a marked and designated area) or to wait for an escalator. For as busy a place as Taipei is the people never seem to be in a hurry (though it could be said that due to long work weeks many commuters are anything but anxious to get to work). I wish I could say the same for the street traffic scene here, which is a cluster-fuck, free for all of fleeting scooters, ambitious taxis and fearless buses.

— You are forbidden to eat or drink on all MRT trains inside each station creating a sterile but delightful area. Ever felt disgusted by the homeless guy eating a bucket of hot wings on the Howard Red Line ‘L’ train in Chicago? Well, behavior like that is non-existent here in Taipei. 

ON DOGS

— For the most part the Taiwanese are a dog friendly people. It is very popular to own dogs, particularly four specific breeds–a long haired brown lap dog of sorts, run of the mill golden retrievers, some curious lab/terrier mutt, and some no-name cross breed that I can’t recall seeing in the States. The dogs are sold at night markets, which is even worse than it sounds. The ones that don’t sell are unleashed to the streets. The city is full of strays. The lucky ones find a nice old lady who feeds them regularly and they mark their territory. Others create instinctual gangs and roam around parks and by the river. Outside of my apartment there are at a given time at least four, sometimes six dogs. They are covered in fleas, attract flies, and in the case of one doomed pooch are riddled with stomach worms. Depressing. I make it a habit to buy dog biscuits at the grocery store as often as I can but the problem is clearly too big for the occasional treat. I hear that it is 50 times worse in Mainland China where strays are even more abundant and certain breeds, i.e. the unfortunate raccoon dog, are bred for their pelts, faciliating a hush-hush illegal tender of fake furs that might just end up on the racks of JC Penny.



— Then there’s the amusing side to the Taiwanese’s love of dogs. Not only are dogs accessorized much like the downtown Manhattan purse pooches that you might run into at a Dean and Deluca but they are also given fashion cues. It is not uncommon to see a beautiful golden retriever shaved completely bald, save for the hair around the neck, head and tail. I kid you not. A friend’s Taiwanese girlfriend has at least two-dozen photos on her cell phone of her dog dressed up in various inappropriate costumes. From a watermelon to what looked like an airplane pilot’s garments, the dog’s masculinity is non-existent and would probably last a good six hours out in the wild. Dogs ride scooters with their owners and sometimes even manage to fit on normal bicycles. Finally, certain Taiwanese, specifically at said dog haven night markets, carry their miniature canines on their chests in makeshift doggie backpacks.

— Stray cats are present in the city but I have yet to figure out if felines are welcomed pets here or merely a type of training-pet for future dog owners.

— Bringing your pet rabbit to a busy park with dogs and hundreds of people may not be the wisest move, even if you walk the bunny on a leash.

ON TEACHING

— If you give a mouse a cookie, he just might kill Teacher Warner. It’s hard to say how it happened but ever since I started teaching my three day-a-week “Treehouse Class” seem to have this fascination with creating English sentence patterns that place yours truly in harms way. Teacher Warner has been eaten by a shark, a lion, and spider, not to mention a monkey who is a mascot in the book series. I was once hanged using the keyword ROPE. Last Thursday Lucas, the classroom’s resident terrorist, decided to use the new word SAW (part of a construction/cleaning unit) to cut my head off–verbatim sentence spoken out loud: “I will use a saw to cut Teacher Warner on head.” And I can’t even begin to tell you how violent things got during the Natural Disaster debacle of Unit 8 when I met my demise in lethal hurricanes, typhoons, volcanic eruptions, tornados, drought and somehow by a mudslide. Still, if it teaches the children English then I guess I don’t mind being their personal voodoo doll.

— Apple will never be a real name. For that matter, neither will Rock.

— The Taiwanese love ‘em some office supplies. I have never seen such adoration for pens, pencils, notebooks, pen cases and erasers than inside the Taiwanese school system. Pencil lead flows like water. Erasers are traded like currency. Hi-lighters come in more colors than you might think. And don’t even think about using the pencil’s built in eraser to correct your mistake. For the task of homework editing you must utilize the heavy-duty pencil/pen eraser that’s shaped like a Hello Kitty.

— White board markers are bitch to clean off clothing.

— If your teacher ever seems dazed and confused he/she has probably been inhaling too much white board marker ink. Weekly ink re-fillings of these tools of the trade could very easily be killing my precious brain cells.

— The game of Hangman, it turns out, never ends. No matter how many letters the students go through before reaching the correct word there are certainly more body parts and accessorizes to add to the hanged stick figure. Top hat? Why not! Backpack? I can’t draw that, but sure.

— Trying to practice my rudimentary Chinese with the students only leads to trouble and requires at least one class period of reclaiming my authority.

— Finally, in response to my Step Ahead Class Level 5 workbook’s written suggestion that I reward the winning student of a word puzzle activity with “a big sloppy kiss,” the answer is, No. No, I will not.

ON THE TAIWANESE

— Never before have I felt so welcomed in a foreign place than here in Taipei. Not unusual but worth mentioning.