Saturday, August 21, 2004

Outta Here

Well, somehow a whole summer has managed to go buy…AAAAH! How’d that happen? I think that I was just finally getting used to things here, which must mean it’s time to leave! Otherwise life would be too easy, right? I must admit, however, that I’m looking forward to getting out of this hot, humid weather. Yesterday, for fun, I thought I’d try and experience what it would have been like to be in Florida last week during Hurricane Charley. Got soaked and had to change all of my clothes when I made it home. Actually, I was just caught down the hill when the Pacific Ocean decided it wasn’t happy in its current location and wanted to take over Taiwan. I don’t think I’ve every seen as much rain in my life!

I am also actually looking forward to, if not a little nervous about, starting my first real actual job too as English Professor at Yunnan University in Kunming. I leave tomorrow for Hong Kong to get my visa, then on Wednesday (assuming everything has gone according to plan), I will leave for Kunming.

I’ve been preparing a bit for my new job, and have managed to create a website that I hope that I will eventually be able to use over there. You can check it out at It’s called the City Insights Project, and its designed to help introduce my Chinese students to American culture by looking at various jobs in the US. I’ll also e-mail you all my new contact information shortly. I already have my address, but maybe I’ll hold out on sending the information to everybody until I know my new phone and cell phone numbers….

These past weeks have actually been quite busy in and of themselves. Since I’m technically leaving a week before the semester here ends, I’ve had to spend most of this week with my nose in the books, learning an extra chapter that the rest of the class will be tackling next week, as well as taking the final and all that jazz. But now I’m done with class for a while, and that is, once again, a nice feeling. Of course, it’s back to it once I hit Kunming.

As for exciting events that have taken place since last I posted, several weekends ago, Nick, Kenta (a Japanese students who was the native Japanese speaker at Whitman the year I was in France who happened to be visiting Taiwan), and two of my Korean friends from here went to Hua Lian on Taiwan’s eastern coast to visit the beautiful Tailuge (Taroko) Gorge. It was really quite beautiful. It’s all marble, and the sheer number of boulders that the river has brought down with it over the years is impressive.

The first night that we got there we decided to go to some hot-springs that were about 2km up the road from where we were staying. Since we didn’t have a car or anything, we started out by walking, but eventually just hitchhiked up there. The hot springs were fun—the first I’ve been to since I was really young (I only every remember going to hot springs in Wyoming and South Dakota of all places). However, they were really hot, which meant that we often had to go down in the river to cool down. Well, at one point the to Korean girls and us three guys got separated: they were in the river and we were in the hot springs. We didn’t think much of it, but then, when we were ready to go, we started actually looking for the girls, but couldn’t find them. We called and called but got no response (keep in mind that it’s pitch black out. I actually haven’t seen as many stars in my life besides maybe in the Sahara or up in the Rockies). So then we borrowed somebody’s flashlight and looked more. Nothing. At this point we were starting to get worried that they had slipped down the river, so we took the light and started looking down the river a bit. Still nothing. Panic ensues. I mean, the place isn’t very large, where could they have gone?

So, we run up the path back out of the gorge to the road hoping we’d spot them. Nick took their clothes to “let them know that we’ve gone…” They were nowhere along the path, including the bathroom, which is where we thought they’d be. So, we start running the 2km down the hill to the little town where we’re staying. The creepiest part of that was running through a tunnel that was absolutely and completely pitch black. You couldn’t see a thing, and it made the sounds bounce around a bit. I think I would have been more creeped out if I wasn’t on such an adrenaline high, but it’s certainly an experience I’m not going to forget.

Anyway, we eventually find someone to take us the rest of the way down the hill to the police station. There we were confronted with one very nice policeman, and one who was rather apathetic towards the situation—he was rather large, sitting in a nice big leather chair, smoking, and watching a soap opera. Once we finally convinced them that there was a problem, and that Kenta, despite being Asian, had worse Chinese than us, they finally motivated enough to take us out to the car and drive us up to the springs. Right as we got there I looked out the window, and lo and behold, there were our two Koreans walking down the road in their swimsuits. The cops honked, and they freaked, thinking it was somebody…ummmm…soliciting them.

As it turns out, they were sitting behind a boulder that absolutely obscured our view of them in the river chatting the whole time. They thought that the people shining the flashlights all over the place were very kind to show them what the other side of the river looked like… Since Nick had stolen all their clothes and everything, they ended up taking other people’s shoes to walk up the path back up to the road, thinking it was a practical joke and trying to figure out ways to get us back. So, it turned out to be a lot of fuss for nothing. BUT, to be fair, we went back the next day, and since it was crowded wandered down the river a bit to have to peace and quiet. While we were down there wading around a woman started coming down the river and couldn’t stop. I ended up helping her out (thank goodness we were downstream!). So I guess our fears were actually justified.

The rest of the trip wasn’t quite as exciting, but it was fun. Learned a fun Japanese drinking song from Kenta… My alcohol tolerance (not to mention my waistline) has certainly decreased over these past few months. While we were in the gorge, it only took me 2.5 beers to get pretty well toasted.

And, to sign off from Taiwan, let me finish with a few last fun facts from Taiwan:

Christian- The religion it is assumed all white people are. Also, the Taiwanese seem to think that Christianity and Catholicism are the same thing…
English- The language it is assumed all white people speak, much to the chagrin of my Byelorussian friend.
2- The number of typhoons we’ve had this week in Taiwan.

Sunday, August 01, 2004

Relaxed to the Point of Exhaustion

Well, it seems a little early to update, but for the first time in a while, I feel like I’ve actually done stuff worth talking about, instead of just ranting on about various topics selected at my leisure. I’ve actually found myself starting to finally get settled into my life here in Taiwan…of course I leave in just three weeks. I suppose it always seems to happen like that, you get comfortable right before you have to leave.

If you thought I indulged myself last weekend with cake, as I’m sure you must have because I sure felt like I did, and are in any way jealous (*cough* Thothmuffin, *cough*), then you might not want to read on. If last weekend was indulgent, this weekend was overindulgent. For the sake of argument (and more stories), we’re going to say that my weekend started last Thursday night, the night of one of my friends’ (Zhunhao, a Korean studying abroad here) birthdays.

So, instead of studying, as would have been proper for a Thursday night, we spent the evening eating, drinking, and generally being merry. The night started with dinner at a really good Sichuan place right next to campus, then continued over to one of my favorite “haunts” on campus, Fan Square (as the name implies, it is a square [place if you will] in the shape of a fan) for drinking Taiwanese beer and eating Taiwanese cake. Good times were had by all, and I got to hear two different Korean songs sung by two different friends. I love how I came to Taiwan and am learning more about Korea than either Taiwan or China…that’s what you get when like have your friends are Korean though, and I’m really not complaining. I realized that I don’t really know any Koreans in the US (that are real honest to goodness Koreans that follow traditional Korean ways), so being exposed to a new culture is fun and exciting.

As for Friday, after class and lunch I had to take care of administrative business and get my visa renewed for the next 30 days so I can finish out the term. But really it went quite smoothly, and I just spent most of the time reading anyway. Then it was off to meet friends for a decent Indian style dinner. After we came back to the dorm, Nick and I just hung out and talked for a good long while and played cards. I probably shouldn’t say, but thanks to all the practice I got at Casablanca, I keep beating him pretty handily at Rummy.

Saturday was a day of rest (as opposed to Friday…). I spent the morning in a cafĂ© reading, went to lunch, and spent the afternoon in the park reading, eating that ice dessert I described in my last entry, and taking a nap in the hot hot sun (it reached a high of 37.7 [100] that day!). I met up with Nick in the early evening, and spent time with him exploring parts of Taibei that were fairly new to me. I swear I’ve done more interesting stuff than eating, but I have to mention that we went to Sushi Express for dinner (that’s the place where sushi comes around on little conveyor belts, and you just pick up the plates as you go), and we stuffed ourselves silly. Then it was off to Snake Alley, where we watched demonstrations of snakes being drained of their blood and whatnot, and tactfully avoided drinking any of it. As my back has been giving me some troubles, I thought it would be a good time for a massage, so I went in for a 40-minute half body massage. Good, but not the best I’ve had in Taiwan. For comparison’s sake, the cost of that massage was NT$500, or just about US$15.

And today? It was off to the beach with friends. We went to Fulong (foo-l-oh-ng) beach in eastern Taiwan, and really had a good time. It’s only the second time that I’ve actually ever swam in the ocean (the first being in the English channel), so I feel like it’s somewhat of a big deal. I managed to get slightly sunburned, but I certainly wasn’t as red as my compatriot from Byelorussia. The beach itself was quite beautiful, and the water much warmer than in the English Channel, that’s for certain! The only interesting “cultural” thing about Taiwanese beach culture is that they seem to be somewhat scared of the ocean. It was mostly (though not entirely) foreigners that ventured out far enough to really get their full body underwater. I’ve heard rumors that the Taiwanese don’t know how to swim as a general rule, which seems daft to me if you’re living on an island, but that’s only part of the explanation. I think that just the other month a group of college students went out to that beach, and one of the students was whisked away with the undertow, and a professor that went out to save him ended up drowning. So maybe the fears are justified.

For such a relaxing weekend though, I’m simply exhausted. It amazes me how much laying around in the sun (and swimming a good deal I suppose) takes out of you.

Next weekend will probably be just as exciting, but not as relaxing, as we’re planning a trip down to one of Taiwan’s National Parks to see Tailuge (thai-lou-ga), a really famous marble gorge, and do some hiking. It should be fun.

Also, for those of you who’ve made it this far, I have some more pics up of campus and some of my adventures. You can get to them by heading to: