Category: Rants and Raves


Recently I received a stern lecture on the poor quality of my blog posts and my inertia toward a hobby I’ve claimed I want a future career in. I needed to hear it because my blog posts have been either non-existent or full of suck, and I my urge to write is at an all time low.

I met with a couple of friends for dinner (in keeping with the theme of this post, I’ll call them Ms. Thang and Ms. Bomb Diggity), and one of the points Ms. Bomb Diggity brought up was how I should write about my passions, my impressions, and my experiences, and why they are memorable.

She suggested I write about all the  highlights of my trip to  Hong Kong. I can’t, I told her. I don’t want to spew all my personal anecdotes and feelings to the world.

She reminded me that for readers to identify with a writer, an author must be open about their innermost reactions. This is what draws people in. She’s right. No one cares about how I climbed the escalator in Hong Kong, or how I couldn’t exchange my coins back to Taiwanese dollars, or even how the ten-dollar bills in Macau are made from plastic (it’s true!). An engaging story worth reading must include my personal introspections, cogitations, and reflections on why a situation is significant.

When I think about some of the books I’ve read, I confess that David Sedaris is one of my favorite authors because he spills his guts about the most humiliating, touching, grossly touchy-feely, ugly, and unattractive parts of himself, his life, and his adventures. These are the stories that resonate. These are the ones I remember.

He jokes in one of his books how his family begs him to not write certain stories or quote things they’ve said. He always promises that he won’t, and then writes about it anyway.

How can I do that? I asked Ms. Bomb Diggity. I have friends and family that read my blog. My mom reads my blog for Christ’s sake. Do you think she wants to read about the nitty-gritty details of my life or my sexual exploits (mom, I’m still a virgin. I swear), my worst moments of sheer meanness, cattiness, and lack of humanity? How can I put that on display to  my friends and my family? Conversely, how can I tell a story that involved the people I know intimately without revealing their less than sterling qualities and snarcastic remarks?

This is a problem that every writer must face, Ms. Bomb Diggity pointed out. Would the novel, Eat, Pray, Love have been so successful if Elizabeth Gilbert didn’t take that ultimate leap and write about the shittiest parts of herself and her divorce? Probably not. I just finished her follow-up book, Committed. Although I enjoyed it, the parts that I enjoyed the most were the shitty fights she had with her man, which she avoided mentioning until nearly the end, and only mentioned after repeatedly providing reasons why people shouldn’t think the worst.

No doubt, she felt her rationalizations were necessary, but reading them was annoying.

I decided to explore my feelings on this topic by hitting up my old pal, Google. Numerous articles have been written on the legalities of writing about people we know. In less than a minute, I found this article, this article, and this one, which offers advice on how to avoid problems.

And these articles mostly pertain to fiction! This article is helpful for bloggers, but it begs the question. If I have to worry this much about what I write or where I write it, then why the hell write at all, let alone blog?

Based on the Internet’s expert advice, here’s what I’ve decided to do: I’m going to give everyone the one-fingered salute and write what I want anyway. But until I hit the jackpot, and I’m making millions of dollars telling stories about how somebody I used to know had the sickest most disgusting toenails of all time, it looks like these stories will to have to go up on my ultra-secret, super sneaky, deeply undercover, hidden-better-than-the-X-Files blog that will be published from an anonymous and untraceable IP address that only aliens will be able to hack.

Sorry guys, but you’re not invited.

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Some Posts Just Never Die

I don’t want to bitch about getting more readers for my blog (I love you all, I really do), or when someone posts a link to my page on their Facebook wall. Cuz, well, that would be  the biggest sin in Bloggerdom. These are great things, and I enjoy seeing the random spike in hits, particularly since I haven’t posted too many posts that I’m proud of these past four months….but something must be said about the posts that never die.

What is it about hating or loving something too much that attracts people’s attention? This, thisthis, and (Oh GAWD) this post in particular just never seem to die. What is it about lists that make them so easy to read? I got sick of Cracked.com‘s list style ages ago. Why do so many people either love or hate Taiwan? Can’t some of us just be indifferent to it?

I can tell you, if it were me, I’d want to read the more in-depth posts that actually talk about something like this one or this one. I spent a lot of time on those posts! That last one has only been viewed 26 times in all of forever. That’s ridiculous! I’m disgusted with this unspeakable outrage and I insist you read it. Right NOW.  And then comment. A lot. Do it. Come, just do it. Come on. I know you want to, I know you do.

For those inquiring minds out there that really want to know what living in Taiwan is all about, then may I just recommend this post? No? That doesn’t excite you? How about this one then? No? Ladies, what about this one? Aw come on. Go ahead. There’s nothing like getting harassed on the streets of Taipei to brighten a girl’s mood.

For the record, this has now happened, not once, not twice, but three, yes three times. I just wish they all had such good lines. Maybe I should have gotten that first guy’s number? Who knows what sort of adventure I might have gotten into then. It might even have involved a deep dark creepy basement and dirty stained mattress somewhere. OR maybe I could have a sugar daddy right now. Sometimes that doesn’t seem like such a bad idea. Kidding. Or am I?

Still no, huh? Ok then, what about the quirky things about Taiwan like this or this? Annoyances? I’ve got some of those too.

How about it, should I write a Part Two list on things I love and hate? Should I write shorter and snarkier posts with less emotion and depth? Tell me, honestly, cuz sometimes I’m tempted to just go off. What better place then a public blog available to all 6+ billion of us, and that will follow me for the rest of my life, right?

I can’t think of a better, more daring, and smarter idea right now.

What are your thoughts?

 

The True Horror of Life in Taiwan

The other night I went to bed as I normally do, around midnight.

Just as I was drifting off to sleep for the second or third time that night, I heard a soft sound next to my head. Naturally, I jerked awake and jumped out of bed. I take these sorts of things seriously because you never know if it’s a bug or just a dream, and its wise to check it out. You know…just in case. Nine times out of ten it’s just a dream. In fact, every time this has happened to me it was because I was dreaming and I honestly can’t remember if I ever found a bug, though I could swear it has happened. At any rate, obviously this doesn’t stop me from checking…just to be sure.

I have been on red alert, in general, because back in June when I moved into this room, I was sitting in the dark late one night, and watching a movie on my laptop, when I felt a gentle brushing over the top of my foot. Thinking it was a hair, I turned on the light just to be sure, and saw one of the biggest, nastiest cockroaches I had ever seen. It was plump, juicy, and had an excess amount of feet. I was forced to smash it into oblivion with my favorite red flip-flop so I could regain my sense of security.

This night was no different. I jumped out of bed, turned on all the lights, and carefully inspected my entire bed and the surrounding area. I saw nothing. I did another brief check in case I missed anything, and still, I saw nothing. Well, OK then. Must have just been a dream.

I made my way to the bathroom, still bleary and only half awake. Might as well go since I’m up anyway, I thought.

Just as I finished, and had dragged myself up from the toilet seat, out of the corner of my eye I noticed something brown on my shirt. I shrieked and jumped, my leg tingling and burning with pain. I glanced again but there was nothing there.

I looked. Nothing.

I looked again. Nothing.

I looked all around the bathroom. Nothing.

My entire leg was tingling up and down a sensation much like ants crawling all over, so I checked it out too.

Still nothing.

Musta been imagining it, I thought. I’m just freaking myself out now. I gotta settle down and go back to sleep. This is ridiculous.

Then I glanced behind me.

There, on my favorite towel, was an enormous cockroach. Easily two and a half inches long if not three. Significantly longer than the one I had seen in June. I screamed like the girl that I am, jumped back, and nearly fell over the toilet. OH GOD! SHIT! Shit! I slammed the door shut. No way was this fucker going to get away from me this time. I knew I’d seen him before. Ohhh yes.

We were old friends.

A month ago. That’s when it started.

I had come home late one night, and saw him hanging out on my closet door. Hanging out, feelers waving, legs wriggling, as if he was at some kind of house party that he had crashed. I wasn’t about to let him crash my party.  I went to smash him straight to hell but he took a flying leap into my closet and disappeared while I shrieked like, you guessed it, a girl.  I had hoped he flew in there to die. I knew I had clipped him.

BUT NO. Oh no. Here he was again. Creeping around my room as if it were his own playground. As he had been creeping around for the past month. I knew it! I simply knew it was too good to be true. No doubt this little demon spawn from hell had been crawling all over me every night for the past month, just  like he did tonight. I know he has been. I know it. God. I still feel sick just thinking about it.

Having no other weapons at my disposal, I grabbed a bottle of Clorox and started spraying him and my towel. And that is when he flew. Did I forget to mention that cockroaches can fly in Taiwan? He flew, straight behind my bathroom mirror but I knew I had him. There was nowhere else he could go. No corner he could hide in, no hole he could crawl in. Not this time.

I took the bottle of Clorox and sprayed behind the mirror with all the strength and fierceness the spritzer would let me. He came bounding out of there looking confused and disoriented. Crawling all over the wall, stumbling around like a crazy drunk. I knew I had poisoned him but that wasn’t enough. Glancing wildly around, my eyes fell on a big jar of lotion. I grabbed it up like it was a gun and smashed the shit out of him.

Roach guts spurted out on all sides. Feelers and bits of leg stuck to the bottom of the jar. But I got him. I got him!

The danger having passed, I wiped down the bottle, wiped down the wall, and threw him straight into hell.  Ok, ok. I threw him in the trash. Its hell for dead roaches though, I’m sure.

It took me a while to steady my nerves I’m not gonna lie. There is no doubt in my mind that he was ON me that night. Crawling over me as I lay vulnerable, sleeping the sleep of the innocent.  For that and for causing me agony, as if I haven’t already suffered enough, he deserved to die. In the war of humans against cockroaches there can be no prisoners of war. No ransoms will be sent, no hostages will be released. Death.

It is the only way.

The war is on, so today I bought Raid. I sprayed down my whole apartment after I got off of work. Stepped out when the fumes started to make me feel light-headed. When I came back in I saw the other smaller cockroach I knew was creeping around running around disoriented, drugged, poisoned. Running in and out of my shoes as if that would save him. I killed him too. I knew he was there. I saw him last weekend. In the dead of night. Why, oh why does this always happen in the dead of night? He got away from me too.

Not this time.

This time he died. His carcass is sitting in my trash now, where it belongs.

I had to escape the fumes because they were getting to be too much. When I return tonight, I’m telling you now, I had better not find anymore.

If I do, they better be dead because I can’t take this sort of nightmare shit anymore.

So here are the take-away lessons if you live in Taiwan:

The spiders are as big as your face and they will kill you.

The roaches can get to be as big as three inches easily. No exaggeration necessary.  They fly.

If you think that thing that just landed in your hair isn’t a cockroach, think twice.

I don’t care how rich you are, or how nice your place is, you have cockroaches. Count on it. It’s only a matter of time before they crawl all over your vulnerable unprotected body as you sleep. Guard yourself.

Even the caterpillars aren’t safe. Many of them are poisonous and if they bite you, the bite will swell like a bee sting. If you’re allergic you’re in danger.

There are rats everywhere. There’s one that lives in the alley outside my window, but as long as he stays in the alley and makes no threatening moves we can be friends.

Taiwan’s a great place to live, but oh god. The insect life. Why does it have to be so big?

 

Last week when having lunch with a friend, we talked about the top ten list I wrote about the Things I hate in Taiwan. In the midst of us bitching about things we hate, I had a moment of clarity.

Two moments, actually. The first being, I could NOT believe that for the life of me, I had forgotten to include people chewing with their mouths open and smacking their lips. Oh God. I HATE it, and its part of the culture here. The second moment, right on the heels of the first, is when I realized that somewhere in this city there had to be, at that very moment, two Taiwanese people eating lunch and bitching about foreigners and all the things they hate about us. Foreigners don’t corner the market on bitchy snotty conversations, after all.

So I asked some of my Taiwanese friends about all things they hate about foreigners and here’s what they told me:

10. Foreigners don’t follow the traffic signals. If it’s red, they go anyway. ( I’m thinking this has to do with jaywalking, as not too many foreigners drive. To be fair, the Taiwanese treat traffic laws as if they were funny suggestions anyway, so I’m not sure about this one.)

9.  Foreigners act very friendly and buddy/buddy and then blow you off the next day. Even when you have really good conversations with them the next time you see them they sometimes act like they don’t know you. Maybe its the alcohol involved. (Too true, there are a lot of people like that out there.)

8. Some foreigners are flaky. You can’t trust them with your secrets or depend on them to be there for you. (I’m not sure if my friend was thinking of something specific that happened here. I wish I had asked for an example.)

7.  (From a female Taiwanese friend) girls don’t like it when a lot of foreign guys call them ‘Honey’, ‘Sweetie,’ or ‘Baby’. I’m not your baby, and I don’t even know you! (Yep, that happens. There are a lot of mixed feelings about foreign men here in Taiwan.)

6.  Some Taiwanese are very proud of their English. They’ve studied it their whole lives so when they are talking to a foreigner they want to use it, and its insulting when the foreigner switches the conversation to Mandarin. (I totally understand. That happened to me in Poland too, where I’d start off the conversation in Polish, and they’d switch to English. It’s insulting.)

5. Foreigners/Americans make very good money as teachers here. They have a good life. Easy to get a job, easy to find a date, and everybody helps them. It’s not fair. (It’s not fair. Even as I take advantage of the system here I can understand the resentment.)

4. (From a male Taiwanese friend) a lot of the Americans think they are better than people here. They think they are special and want to be worshipped, even when they (the guys) are not so popular back home. (Um yeah, but more on that in a separate post.)

3. Foreign men picking up Asian girls. Asian guys hate that. They refer to the types of girls that go after foreign men  as “pumas”, which translates as old dirty, worn-out slipper.  Or, basically, dirty worn out ho-bags. (Ouch!)

2. Foreigners are loud and call attention t themselves in places where it is inappropriate like the MRT, buses, museums, and other areas. (Yep, I’m looking at you Americans! This is a worldwide reputation for a reason.)

1. Foreigners throw lots of loud parties that turn into orgies (this perception is the reason some Taiwanese won’t rent to foreigners), and they aren’t trustworthy. (I mean…I guess. I haven’t been to any orgy parties yet. Do you think I’m just not getting invited? Why wouldn’t I get invited an orgy?? Doesn’t seem fair…)

I’m sure there are many more things that Taiwanese people hate, but they weren’t sharing that information with me.

What are your thoughts and experiences?

 

A couple of months ago I published a post about all the things I like about Taiwan.

Well, where there’s love there’s also hate, and it wouldn’t be fair to only show the positives.

So here are the top ten things I can’t stand about Taiwan:

10. Pedestrians

People walk at the pace of crippled snails and pay no attention to where they’re going. None. They don’t pay attention instead they mindlessly get in the way of faster walkers.   If you go left to pass, they’ll be sure to veer left at the last moment and block your path. Go right and magically, there they are again. There’s no walking in a straight line here or sticking to one side of the sidewalk. Because. Well. That would be too damned obvious.

The magic doesn’t stop happening here either.

When it comes to oncoming foot traffic Taiwanese women are the worst. You know how its instinctive to veer out of the way of on-coming people? Where you veer six inches away from the person and they veer six inches away from you and you pass each other peacefully without a collision? Basic human instinct, right? Turns out that’s a learned behavior. One that isn’t being learned in Taiwan.  Oh no. Instead you veer the prescribed six inches to your right, and they just plow right into you.  Who cares about little things like full bodily contact?

What I don’t get is who do these girls think they’re messing with?  Girl, your 5’0 ninety pound body isn’t going to push me out of the way of anything.  They try to shoulder check me and go flying.  I laugh to myself because they totally deserved it.

9. Fascination with White Skin

Idolizing or idealizing white skin is a centuries-old cultural phenomena  that has negative psychological and physical side effects. In Taiwan you will see rows and rows of  skin care products designed to whiten skin. You will see women walking around in 90+ (32+) degree weather with jeans, slacks, tights and long-sleeved hoodies and jackets. All designed to prevent darkness.  Most absurd of all, you see both men and women with permanent umbrellas attached to their hands.  Like the rainiest day, the brightest day too requires heavy and consistent umbrella usage .

Considering the equally unhealthy Western obsession with tanning products and tanned skin this is just laughable.

Hey. I have a suggestion. Maybe, just maybe, we should all stop hating ourselves and each other for the colors of our skin. I know, right? Totally revolutionary.

8. Passive-Aggressive Behavior

Being non-confrontational is part of the culture. I understand that even though it is difficult to live with. So yeah. They’ll smile at you  through their anger, never let on what’s bothering them and then knife you in the back when you least expect it.  It is in all fairness, something that happens in every culture, and I’ve always thought it a strong indicator of a person’s maturity. From an outsider’s perspective though, it can be tough to deal with when you’re up against a cultural trait that you don’t understand, and have no tools or training to deal with.

7. Treating Foreigners like Monkeys at the Zoo

I’m sorry, but could you stare and point a little more?  You’re not making me feel alien enough yet.  For crying out loud, welcome to the 21st century. There are people out there who aren’t Asian! Yes. My skin is white, my eyes are green. I have double creased eyelids and my nose is “tall” or “high.”  That doesn’t mean my purpose in life is to satisfy your every curiosity about Westerners. You want a cultural exchange that will educate you and enrich your life? Awesome. So do I. But don’t sit there and watch me like I’m some monkey in a cage there solely so you can satisfy your prurient curiosity. Is it really any of your business what I’m doing in Taiwan, how long I’ve been here, or what I think about anything? Should you really make comments about my “tall” nose, my white skin, or try to touch my “golden” hair? Can you stop staring at me and treat me like a normal person? I am that, you know. A normal person. Just like you.

6. Noise Pollution

I’ve bitched about it before and I’m bitching about it again. The level of noise in Taipei is ridiculous. From vendors hawking their wares over the loudspeaker, abnormally loud conversations (everywhere), and scooters, to ear piercing street announcements and advertisements over loud-speaker or massive flat screens, noise is inescapable in Taipei.  There is no respect for the peace and tranquility of silence.   It’s absurd to run into people on mountain trails with their little attachable radios blasting away. God forbid you have to listen in silence to your own thoughts even for one moment. Who knows what horrors you might uncover if you actually unplugged from the world?

5. Pests

Hideously large spiders, cockroaches, and rats.  My first week in Taipei I saw an enormous rat squeeze its fat body down a rain drain hole into the sewer.  I was not thrilled.   Large spiders the size of your hand can be found in the woods, mountains and caves where they like to hang out and scare the crap out of you. Cockroaches are the worst though. They fly. Your apartment can be the cleanest, nicest, newest one in Taipei but it will still have cockroaches and you’re kidding yourself if you think it doesn’t.  I’ve been pretty lucky so far and only seen a handful in my place all year. But yesterday I had the extremely unpleasant experience of having one crawl across my foot. In the dark. while I sat writing on my laptop. It was HUGE. Then I had to chase after it and beat it to death with my favorite flip flop while it frantically scuttled around the floor.

4. The Weather in Taipei

Since we’re talking about the environment let me also say that the weather in Taipei sucks giant monkey balls.  I specify Taipei because due to a unique formation in the geography it rains constantly in the northern part of the island. Last winter it started raining in late November and didn’t stop until April. It rains all the time, even now, though at least the sun does come out from time to time. And now that it’s nearly July the heat and humidity are becoming insufferable. Summer’s here and with it comes 90+ degree weather and outrageous humidity.

3. Shopping Assistants and Customer Service

This can go both ways. Sometimes the service is truly excellent and I’m grateful for it. On the other hand, in all shops except for supermarkets and major department stores, I get followed around like the store assistants assume I’m a body snatcher.  And if that doesn’t happen then I’m followed around by someone trying to sell me something so hard it’s an instant turn off. Both are intolerable and have led me to avoid small shops completely unless I’m with a Taiwanese friend. I’m not Asian. That doesn’t instantly make me a thief so stop shadowing my every step like I’m on the top ten most wanted.  I hate getting pressured to buy. I have walked out of so many stores because I’m not left alone to browse in peace.  If you want my money this isn’t the way to get it.

2. Buxibans and the System of Education

The system of education in Taiwan is based on a rigorous process of elimination.  It is based on the idea that only the best survive.  Everything is designed to break students. It starts in preschool, intensifies in grade school and gets worse from middle school and beyond.  I don’t know what the suicide rates, depression rates, and rates of nervous breakdowns are for the students of Taiwan but I’m willing to bet it’s obscenely high.

These poor kids have no life whatsoever. They are robbed of their childhoods. Instead they are little learning machines. They go to school during the day, then they go to cram school every day for a variety of subjects. They are in school from eight a.m. and some of them don’t get home till after nine or ten at night. Every single day. Weekends? What weekends? They’re lucky if they get a Sunday off for fun and relaxation.

Even the kids that don’t have tons of classes are stuffed into cram school where they ghost the halls rain or shine in sickness and health for their entire childhoods.  I come to school in the morning and teach my kids. They’ve already been there all morning. When I’m leaving at nine at night, they’re still there, waiting to home.

They don’t get the time and attention they need from their parents and as a result we teachers see a lot of behavioral and self-esteem problems.

To make matters worse, the methods of teaching endorsed in schools consists of browbeating children into submission. They are not encouraged to question anything, they must simply process, and learn by rote reams and reams of material, some of it utterly useless.  They are often screamed at and punished for the most minor of transgressions.

In the areas of math and science, and indeed, in all subjects, they excel. They excel and are so far beyond the standards of a typical American student that there is no comparison. What they don’t excel at is imagination, questioning the status quo, innovation and thinking things through for themselves. This is not encouraged. In fact it is stifled brutally under the vicious tongues of their teachers. Where physical punishment may now be outlawed, it can still occur, and even where it doesn’t, kids are often demeaned and terrorized psychologically.

No wonder they are so meek and submissive. No wonder they have no self-esteem.

It is painful to watch. It is painful to be a part of this system.

1. The Work Culture

People in Taiwan are literally working themselves to death or they are forced to work themselves to death. Their rights are ignored or trampled, and that is only when they have any perceived rights at all.  The situation in Taiwan is beyond obscene. You only have to punch in the words overwork and Taiwan to come up with thousands of articles highlighting the problem. Here are a couple for your edification: http://affleap.com/overwork-culture-in-taiwan-leads-workers-at-their-late-twentys-to-fortys-to-their-untimely-death/http://rollrollrun.com/2012/05/01/literally-working-to-death-in-taiwan-33-2/http://ozsoapbox.com/taiwan/culture/taiwan-cant-seem-to-make-up-its-mind-on-overwork/.

As a culture, the Taiwanese are taught not to complain, to work hard, not to question their elders or their superiors, and it has disastrous results.

I don’t know much about civil rights but I do know that there have been no rights granted by anyone anywhere that have not been fought for by the oppressed.  It is the responsibility of the people to go out and rip from the hands of those in power their rights to their time, their health, their freedom, and their lives. Everything that we have in America, we have had to fight for. Someday, I hope to see the Taiwanese do the same.

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