Tag Archive: Taiwan

Yes. Jackass. They do. Seriously, this isn’t the BFE for crying outloud.

Finding books in English can be tough when you live abroad.

In Poland, I had to scrounge for books. I read all sorts of crap that I wouldn’t normally read because I was so desperate to get my read on. I spent excessive amounts of time online because I was running out of options. Although some bookstores in Poland sell English books (Empik had an ok selection), I was watching my pennies, and those books didn’t come cheap. Most of their English selection was either from the U.K. or old.

Before I left Poland, I resolved that my next big purchase would be a Kindle. Might as well. I live abroad and hauling books from country to country isn’t feasible. What’s the point of buying a bunch of crap I neither need nor can take? I’m glad I live in a time in which regardless of where I live, with the right technology, I can have all the comforts of home.

Occasionally, I’ll hit the bookstore and spend a ridiculous amount of money on books I’ll probably only read once.

I know of two major bookstores in Taipei that sell English fiction: Page One (in Taipei 101) and Eslite (located all over town). Take my word for it: don’t waste your time on Eslite. It fucking sucks. All their English books are shelved with the Chinese books and it’s impossible to find anything without the maximal amount of irritation. I cannot fathom the logic that inspired this brilliant marketing strategy. Thanks, Eslite, you stupid douche bags. So much for your awesome 24-hour bookstore.

Page One is cool. They have a fair amount of English fiction and are up to date on the most popular authors. If Taipei 101 wasn’t such a drag to get to, I’d go there more.

Consequently, I’ve resorted to the old time-honored method of scavenging through my friends’ collections.

Luckily, last February, I made a couple of friends who loved reading and happened to house their own mini-library. Thanks to them, I’ve been introduced to both great new books and old classics I would never otherwise have read. Still, I feel guilty when I hold ten of their books hostage for months at a time.

A few months ago, I was informed that certain libraries in Taipei have English book sections. I couldn’t believe it! My dreams come true. I realized then that the main library didn’t have a metro nearby so I never got around to visiting it. Months passed. Dongmen Station eventually opened near Da’an Park, not too far from the main library. By that time, I had forgotten about the library. I had a borrowed stack of books taking up space at home, and a new stack from Page One that I was ready to dive into. Who remembers the library anymore anyway? Although I spent countless joyful hours at the library in my youth, by my late twenties it had become more convenient to buy books at the bookstore. The temptation to buy the specific books I wanted was greater than browsing through shelves full of authors I didn’t know, and I forgot about the library.

Fast forward to a couple of weeks ago. I was talking to a couple of friends at dinner, and they suggested the library. I knew I should go. They asked if I wanted to get together and make a trip out of it later that weekend. Well, fuck yeah, I did.

So we all met on Sunday to embark on our dazzling library adventure. By the time we met on Sunday our little group had grown from three to six. I had no idea I had so many nerdy friends. After a Dim Sum lunch we booked it across the park to find the damn thing.

I wasn’t sure what to expect. Do Taiwanese people read? Would there be strange Asian art on the walls? Little Japanese-style tables and cushions? Would they hassle me for not having two forms of ID and refuse to give me a library card? My stomach was a bundle of nerves as I waited with breathless anticipation.

As soon as we walked in, I could smell the scent of old ink and paper. It looked like a library. It smelled like a library. A bunch of irritating kids was running around to my annoyance. Yep. I was home.

We made our way up to the fourth floor where the English book section was housed. The place was packed. Well, that’s strange…I thought.

The floor has a large area in the center filled with chairs and tables, and damned if every single seat wasn’t taken. Tons of people were studying. It reminded me of hanging out in the university library when I was in college. During Finals week. Right before my exam.

We ventured into the English book section. I’m happy to report they have several aisles of pure fiction. I was impressed.

I knew finding the latest and greatest probably wasn’t going to happen, but I found a few new books published just last year. In short order I had a stack of eight books. My friends all looked at me like I had grown another head. “Are you really going to get ALL of those?” they asked. “Well…yeah. What the fuck? A girl can’t read or what?”

As a kid, every time I went to the library I would borrow seven or eight books, often more. I can easily finish a book in a day if I’m inclined to. And right now, I’m inclined to. It’s winter. The weather is crappy. It’s been cold and rainy out. Why tramp around in the rain when I could be reading nice and dry at home?

We hung around for a couple of hours and I started reading my first prize: Sh*t My Dad Says by Justin Halpern. I had it finished by the next day.

For those that actually live in Taipei, here are the facts: Only an ARC is required to get a library card. You can borrow books for five weeks, you can extend the due date on line as long as no one has put in a request for it and best of all…regardless of where you borrow the book, you can return it any location. That’s something the libraries at home should look into.

This, my friends, is the beginning of a new era. If you’ve been wondering what I’ve been doing for the month of January, you have your answer. My head’s been stuck in a book all month. I’m only surfacing now because I need to make a return trip already.


The Little Things Remind Me

Now that I’m in my second year of living in Taiwan the newness and shininess of living here has worn off with a vengeance. I realized one day as I was plodding along that life was starting to feel a bit dreary, commonplace, and…well, normal. I was going through the same motions as I did back in the States. I got up, went to work, went out with friends, came home, and repeated.

Where did all the awesome go? The exhilaration of not knowing what was around the next corner, of knowing that each day could lead to an exciting new discovery or new experience?

Such feelings cannot stay with us forever. If they did we wouldn’t need any changes in life and life would be full of surprising humor and titillating stories. Still…I couldn’t help feeling disappointed that suddenly my life revolved around dinners, movies, hanging out with friends, and work. Same old, same old. Did I move clear across the planet for this?

However, last week, as I was walking to work, I realized my eyes have been closed to the true meaning of living abroad. It took only one little experience to open my eyes to the wonder of the place in which I’m living. The magic is happening all around me as it has for the last two years, and I’m disappointed with myself for feeling that life has become so dull and ordinary when I’m  surrounded by more than I’ve ever had before.

In Taiwan an “alley” isn’t an alley as we picture it in the States. They’re tiny side streets that are too small to fit a car. Off every major thoroughfare and street, alleys abound. Alleys are where local eateries are often found, good parking spaces, and where most entrances to homes are located. Although they’re often too small to accommodate cars, scooters roar down these bad boys with no fear or hesitation.

I was walking to work as I do every day rain or shine. The ground was damp beneath my feet and clouds loomed over my head. I cut through the metro park that covers the underground metro mall between Zhongshan and Shuanglian at an angle, and headed into a tiny alley to avoid the crowds that inevitably amass near every metro station. I must confess that I often try different routes to work to spice up my day. Every time I do, I imagine I might find a new shop or restaurant that will revolutionize my life. What I usually find are trash, puddles, and a mangy stray dog or two.

On this particular occasion I saw a little girl on my right peeking out of the entrance of her building at me. She was wearing her school-girl uniform and a pink raincoat. Strapped to her back was a little pink backpack, no doubt with a Dora the Explorer or Hello Kitty design stenciled in. She gawked at me and I smiled at her wondering what she was doing when I noticed her mother on my other side readying the “car” to drive her to school. Except that it wasn’t a car because most people here don’t have one. No. Instead, she was digging around in the storage compartment underneath the seat of her scooter looking for a rain cover for the seat, probably.

I had to smile. Such a normal little thing, and yet, because I live in Taipei still so different. Unlike the States, where the kid would be peeking into the garage, lollygagging in the yard, or more likely, shoving his face with snacks while he sat playing ps in the back seat while mom fumbled around in her purse for the keys, here it’s a scooter. It is so profoundly the way of life here that kids hopping on the back of a scooter to grab a ride is the every day. As is watching a family of three, sometimes four, plus a dog puttering around on one tiny scooter. Safe? Oh sure. And completely commonplace. The amount of newborn babies I’ve seen cradled in the arms of their mothers, puttering around behind their husbands on the back of a scooter is ridiculous. The last time I saw this, the couple nearly got into a car accident. Safe? Obviously not. Regardless of safety, it is integral to the everyday, here. This observation opened my eyes. The newness and shininess of living in a new country and city may have worn off, but how could I have forgotten all the little things that are so different about Taipei?

Like the night I went out with a friend of mine to play pool and grab dinner. Aside from one other woman and a little girl hanging out with her dad and his friends, I was the only other woman in the entire place, and the only foreigner around. Women, apparently, don’t play pool here. Ever. How could I forget to mention that the pool hall was on the sixth floor of some rickety old building? Housed in the same building as a club, a number of diners, stores, and god only knows what else. Probably a hostess bar or two. Had not my friend taken me there I never would have suspected it existed.

When we headed out for dinner later to a little pizza place, hidden away in yet another towering building downtown, somewhere on the second floor, I noticed that the check in counter at the restaurant had a little button to call an attendant over. It was labeled “Sing-Call”. Because what would Taipei be without a bit of Chinglish? Every table had a little call button that had to be pressed when we wanted service. Ingenious.

I could give you a list numbering into the hundreds of all the little things that are different. Like how many restaurants close between three and five and it’s damn hard to find food at that hour. Even restaurant workers have to take a break you know.

In addition to those little differences are the glaring oddities. I couldn’t believe my eyes the first time I saw a couple with a stroller walking in Da’an Park. I thought it odd they were out so late with a baby (it was nine or ten at night) when I realized they were pushing their little dog around. In a stroller clearly made for a dog.

How about the number of times I’ve seen a pet cat on a leash? The poor miserable thing invariably being hugged by its loving owner, glaring over their shoulder at me. I laughed the first time  I saw that. Now I’ve seen it so many times I barely register it. I don’t remember who I was with anymore the last time I saw this. I just remember them exclaiming “Oh look! A cat!!” And I realized I couldn’t even be bothered to react. Eh. Who cares? Just another mangy old cat on a leash. Nothing exciting happening here.

It makes me realize I need to write these little things down more before I stop noticing them at all. In the first year of living abroad, we’re all focused on the big differences, such as the food, the styles, the homes, the language, and everything else that pops out in a glaringly obvious sort of way, but it’s the little things that stick out more and more, as time goes on.

I think I need a fresh pair of eyes to remind me of the crazy place I’m living in.

Who wants to come to Taipei?

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?


Making Friends Abroad

I was inspired to write this post after I read this one on a blog that I follow. The author talks about how she started her blog partly to make new friends. She had everything she wanted except for a BFF.

It got me thinking and remembering some of my own fears regarding moving abroad. Sure, fears of finding a job, navigating new cities, and learning to live in a country where I didn’t speak the language were huge concerns, but my biggest concern was making friends.

It’s something I had never learned to do, you see.

As a teenager I had incredibly low self-esteem and I was pathologically shy. I went to the same school K-8, and had the same friends since kindergarten. I started high school far from home, in a completely new environment, away from my family and friends. It was tough making new friends, mostly because, in retrospect, I never tried. It took a semester or more before I began making friends, and that made for a miserable year.

The following year, I moved back home, and began school at a new high school again. Some of my old classmates attended my school but they were not ones with whom I had ever been friends. The few attempts I made at reconnecting with my old friends fell flat. I had been gone a year and at that age that was all it took. We had all gone our separate ways to different schools and different lives. I did eventually make friends, but it took six months or longer, and in truth, I never felt especially close to any of my high school friends. During that time, I had one long-standing friend, and many who came and went. Once high school was over, so were the friendships.

I began college with the hope that things would be different, and eventually they were, though through no effort of mine. Most of my friends made themselves my friends, or became my friends after long association.

I didn’t learn how to reach out until I moved abroad. In Poland, I was lucky because I had my sister and her friends automatically became mine. Through her, I began meeting people. The night after I arrived, I went to a small dinner party with her and met a girl who asked me for my number. She called the next day and asked if I wanted to hit the club.

I didn’t want to go. Wouldn’t it be weird? I thought. I don’t even know her, what would we talk about?

My sister just looked at me and shook her head. I don’t think she could believe what she was hearing. She had to lecture me for some time before I screwed up my courage to go. But go I did, and didn’t come staggering home until five or six in the morning. Damn, that was a hell of a fun night. And that’s how I met my first Polish friend.

Over the next few months I began to put myself out there more and more, although it took the efforts of yet another girl before I tried in earnest. This one I met through work, and again, she had to make the first overture. We went out a couple of times before we began to hit it off, and she introduced me to some of her friends. As time passed, I increasingly met more and more people and grew closer to a number of girls. I attended Ex-pat events with them, the bar, the club, and the park. By summer of 2011, I was comfortable walking into social events where I knew people by sight only.

It turned out that all it took was some courage, a smile, and a willingness to make the first move. Beer didn’t hurt either. As my confidence grew, so did my group of acquaintances and friends. I no longer waited to be approached, nor did I hover at the edge of a group, standing mute, hoping someone would include me all the while feeling sick and ill at ease. Instead, I walked right in. I would walk right up to a group, and at the first pause in the conversation I jumped in. No one ever seemed to mind.

As a naturally shy person, I know we are often concerned with people laughing at us behind our backs, or thinking we’re weird. We’re convinced that we have nothing interesting to say and feel our every move is awkward and stupid. What we often forget is that no one is analyzing us that closely and no one particularly cares. Most people are willing to talk and most people don’t mind making a new friend.

My experiences in Poland gave me room to grow, not only in confidence, but in guts. By the time I left Poland, I was ready for Taiwan. I had a plan of action. I knew how to meet people, I knew how to chat them up, and I was ready to go. I arrived in Taiwan brimming with excitement, adventure, and an eagerness to get myself out there.

Taiwan made it easy on me. Before I arrived I had already scoped out a few groups on Face Book where I could meet people. I found more when I arrived, and joined Meet Up as well. I was introduced to InterNations  when I was still in Poland, so I made it a point to go to the first gathering that came up. Here, meeting people takes a minimum of effort. Any bar, club, Ex-pat event, or even any English-speaking event is enough to get the ball rolling. Actually, if you’re a Westerner, sometimes all you have to do is walk down the street.

The only thing that any of this takes is getting over that initial hump. As an Ex-pat I’m used to showing up to events alone. I’m not going to lie and say it didn’t suck the first few times. It is every shy person’s nightmare. But if I got over it, anyone can. Being alone and not knowing a soul is a common part of the Ex-pat life. Every Ex-pat can identify with it, and every Ex-pat has had to learn how to overcome it. Consequently, every Ex-pat has learned that there are thousands of people out there willing to know us, help us, and call us friend. People are warmer, friendlier, and more willing to be kind to a stranger than I ever imagined.

Whatever your fears are about moving abroad, or if you’re already abroad and feeling lonely, don’t be. The world is at your feet waiting to share the best experience of your life.

All you have to do is screw up your courage and step out the door to meet it.

How have you met some of your friends? What is the most or weird story you have about meeting a friend?

What’s Your Blood Type?

This has nothing to do with my blog except for the bloody ears. It is a Japanese blood donation cartoon. Check out the rest, if you’re so inclined: http://pinktentacle.com/2008/11/japanese-blood-mascots/

We’ve all done that high school litmus test at some point that tests our blood type. What’s yours? Do you remember? I don’t.

Normally, I pride myself on knowing these things. A responsible person should for medical reasons. I used to know. I guess that means I used to be a responsible person. At some point. I think it was back when I was a teenager.

My friend Zona and I were sitting around in the park one evening talking the good talk about life, the world, and everything, when out of the blue she asked me what my blood type was.

I couldn’t help myself. What is up with blood types in Taiwan? I barked at her. This is the second or third time this has come up!

It so happened that I was doing some on-line dating shortly after I arrived in Taiwan. A Taiwanese guy messaged me, I responded, and we started to email back and forth a bit before he went all crazy. He started asking some fairly personal questions, which was already annoying, but the one that stopped me cold was when he asked me about my blood type. Being the open-minded adventurous traveler that I am, naturally I thought “Um, what?” Who does that? Who asks someone what their blood type is before you’ve even met?

Needless to say, we never did meet. Or talk again.

It was weird, but I figured I was just dodging another random nut job on-line and didn’t give it much thought.  A few months later when I switched to FB’s time line I went scrolling through my personal settings, which is something I like to do a couple of times a year. It’s good to keep an eye on how they change and expand.  Much to my shock, in my basic info section I saw an entry for blood type. I couldn’t believe it. What the hell would FB be asking that for? Who would put that up on their profile? I know FB wants all your information so they can sell it to advertisers but this is kinda ridiculous.

By the time Zona got around to asking I realized there had to be a cultural quirk that I was missing. Through her, I learned that, in Japan, blood types are very important. The Japanese believe that your blood type indicates your personality type, much like Zodiac signs in the West. Because Taiwan was occupied by Japan for so long, a strong Japanese influence remains in the culture.

She told me about a study done among kindergarten children. The video for it can be found here. In this video, Japanese kindergarten children are grouped together based on their blood type, and then forced to react to a tense situation involving an unknown teacher and vase they were explicitly told was very important, and not to be touched. Their regular teacher left the room, and the unknown teacher came in, and broke the vase. Later, when their regular teacher came back in, she demanded to know what happened to the vase. Their reactions, as a group, supposedly reinforced how their personality was influenced by their blood type.

Zona went on to tell me how blood type is believed to have a strong influence over the type of partner you should pick, and career you should have. She had even written up a worksheet about it for the classes she taught because it was such a popular topic.

After checking around on-line it appears there is no scientific evidence that blood type has any influence on our characters or personalities. The BBC recently published this article a couple of weeks ago, and Wikipedia provides a fairly comprehensive general report here.

Mystery solved. Maybe I wrote that guy off too soon. Then again maybe not. He did email me three times in the space of three hours, the last one demanding to know why I hadn’t responded, and how I could forget about meeting him now because he knew his own value and he didn’t need to be blown off by someone like me.

I think a dodged a bullet there after all.

As for blood types, it appears that, like the zodiac signs in the west, it’s a bunch of superstitious nonsense with no basis in reality, science, or facts of any kind. Naturally then, it’s incredibly popular.

I encourage you to check your bloody horoscope and let me know what you find out. I’d tell you what mine says but it’s not worth a trip to the hospital to find out my blood type.

But, mom, if you happen to remember, you should totally tell me.

Who knows what kind of bloody future I have in store? We should all be prepared for these things, don’t you agree?

What does your blood say about you?

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