Thursday, December 9, 2010

Well, sitting here in my cold apartment, with the dog snoozing in the chair next to me
and Leah off tutoring, I thought this would be a finally put an update up. School has
come to an end and work is pretty much done until after Chinese New Years,
so I have that odd feeling that I have SOMETHING I need to be doing...but I don't.

I didn't realize it had been so long since we had written an update. So many things have happened. We have only been here for 4 and 5 months, respectively, but it feels like so much longer. We have had so many obstacles to overcome, and they seem to come one after the other. I don't think we understood what "culture shock" really was, and at times, when my frustrations boil over, I still don't chalk it up to culture shock. It's an often prayer of mine that I don't lump together all Taiwanese together when I get frustrated with things here, but it is usually what I do anyway. Culture shock invades every aspect of life, and I will expound a bit deeper as I try to sum up our life since our last post.

Taiwan has been playing some serious havoc on our immune systems. I spent most of November sick, and two of those weeks in bed. After a week with the flu, which I never-ever get, I spent a week struggling through school only to wake up on a Sunday with the worst sore throat I have ever had. This then turned into the worst sinus infection I have ever had. And I am a man who has had a rather storied history with sinus infections. They are like some dirty tramp that comes through town each year between Fall and Winter, sneaks into my widow at night, steals my innocence, and leaves me with her dirty sickness. But, it seems the Taiwanese tramp has been around the block a few more times, because this sinus infection knocked me on my ass for a week straight. It took another 2 weeks for me to completely get rid of it. (I wrote this part earlier, and since I have gotten two more really bad sinus infections),

So, being as I was sick for almost 3 weeks straight with two distinct sets of symptoms, I decided to head the doctor to rule out the SARS or the Yellow Fever or a strange Asian cockroach hadn't laid eggs in my head. The doctor office is quite different here. You are usually in the office with several other patients at the same time, unless you need something super personal attended to. So as I sat in the chair, with several local standing around me, the doctor asks the usual questions about my symptoms; sore throat, hurts to breathe, chest congestion, nasal congestion. He nods, and pull out two 8 inch wooden sticks with swabs at the end. He dips them in some orange antiseptic and makes a motion as if he is going to shove them up my nose. I back up into the chair as far as I can, and make a protesting notion with my hands. The doc just looks at me and says "It'll be OK" and crams both stick up my nose. Involuntarily I took a couple half hearted swings at him, and instantly had tears streaming down my face. This was to the boisterous delight of the locals standing around me. For 3 minutes, I had these sticks 8 inches up my nose, scrapping the front of my brain as my eyes involuntarily streamed with tears. The nurse gave me a box of tissues with a look that said "I can get you a skirt and training bra, too".

So, culture shock is not what I expected it to be at all. I guess I'm not quite sure what I thought it would be, but my constant frustrations never point me to the fact that I am in a very very different culture. I always lose my temper in traffic. I cannot get over the disregard for personal space. I have a bad habit of tearing down Taiwanese for what seems to be silly cultural actions; wearing masks, the giant fake glasses, short shorts with nylons, hypocritical trash issues (the lady downstairs will ream you for failing to separate your trash correctly, but every receipt you get is literally a book), their shyness, and most of all, their intrinsic, unstoppable need to "save face" (mianzi, look it up). This last part permeates EVERYTHING, such as getting an answer at work as to how a project should proceed (if no one answers you, no one answers you wrong) or getting a 500 word email from a classmate telling you to "eat your own shit" for pointing out flaws in their presentation.

This last point leads me to my next bit of news. We have decided that we will limit our Taiwan experience to 1 year, and move to the next year to finish school. It was a tough decision, but MCU is just not an institution I wish to be my future on. Besides the above mentioned problem, which manifested itself in other ways, like students refusing to speak or participate in group discussions or seminars, leaving 4 or 5 of us to carry every class (this did get slightly better towards the end), major plagiarism issues not being adequately addressed, a really skewed grading system, and a few teachers who just refused to teach because they "hate lecturing", I just really questioned where my degree would lead me. I can't say it was all bad, I had a couple professors that were very engaged, and a few classmates I learned a lot from; but in general the whole system was paralyzed by a fear of failure. So, we will either be at The U of Leeds in Leeds, England or The U of Edinburgh in Edinburgh, Scotland next year. For the time being, we are going to work our butts off, study Mandarin, and, hopefully, move to a beach town for our last month before we leave. I have plans of a grand vacation leading to the UK, and I really want to take a long trip through China and make a handful of stops in the US. We shall see, though.

We finally made it to Taipei for a night of fun. We saw the Chiang Kai Shek Memorial, which is one of the more stunning things I have seen here (front gate):

After words we saw a trio of old school hip-hop DJ's at a small club. Good stuff. I have been listening to nothing but J-Dilla beats since then:

Hopefully we won't be so stingy with our updating in the future. Much love from the Far East.

Friday, October 22, 2010

I am yours, You are mine

The wind is howling in Hsinchu. It has been for about a week. 50 kph wind gusts burst through our windows, making the drapes fly around and causing the doors to spontaneously slam shut (at 3 am sometimes). A typhoon "the size of western Europe" tore through the Philippines, and has lingered about in the South China Sea for the last couple days. And while it has made life hard for some, it has made Hsinchu rather enjoyable, aside from all the rain. I enjoyed my day off by drinking tea and coffee and lying in bed, reading about internships and enjoying the breeze whipping through the house and the weird pre/post-storm light coming through the windows (STL people will understand this).
I'm still fighting it here. I haven't resigned to the fact that the culture is different here and that I should just assimilate and learn something new. I seem to be on this one man mission to Americanize everything here so I feel more comfortable. A lot of little things bother me. Here is an example:
We are required to have printer cards at school. You pay 100 NT and get a card to print out papers and copy things, etc. I have been having this problem where I keep accumulating cards with 15-20 NT on them, and they are useless, because all the papers I need to print out are bigger than 20 NT will buy me. I bring this up to the librarian, and in true Taiwanese fashion, she calls a small meeting of a handful of people to discuss how to fix the situation. She returns to me, looking very satisfied, and says "You need to buy a new one". I explain to her that my problem is that I am wasting 20 NT for every card. So a girl leads me to the printer room, looks at the computers, and then at the printers, and says "You need to buy a new one". I am starting to figure out that this is the only English they can say to me. Which irritates me even more. Not that I expect Taiwan to be filled with English speakers, but that in an international college that is vying for the precious American accreditation, NO ONE speaks English in administration, the library, or anywhere else (aside from our department secretary).
So I threw a small hissy-fit, told them I didn't want a new card, and stormed out. As I made it into my building and toward the elevator, the giggling Taiwanese girls in the elevator did another very Taiwanese thing; they started pressing the close button when they saw me coming toward them. As I have mentioned before, the Taiwanese do everything possible to avoid awkward situations, and riding in a elevator with a foreigner definitely qualifies as awkward. I made it to the door with enough time to shove my arms in and rip the elevator open. I am assuming I looked like some crazed, bald, American Hulk or something, cause when I did this, all the girls cowered into the corner of the elevator like scarred little puppies. They remained silent and huddled close until we made it to the 5th floor.
On a happier note, I feel like I can understand a very small, minuscule amount of Mandarin, enough to catch a word here and there on the street and get excited cause I know what it means, or to order coffee AND hand them the correct amount of money. School is going really well and I feel like I finally have the endurance I have been looking for. It's really going to be up to me to challenge myself in grad school here. I could get by quite easily by doing the bare minimum. There is a lot of "suggested assignments" that I could skip and not be penalized for, grade wise. But, I want to make sure I am fully prepared to do my thesis next year and for my job when I graduate, so I have to push myself which is not always easy. It feels a little bit like extended undergrad here, which is disappointing. I was really looking forward to being academically challenged. The possibility is still there, its just not compulsory.
We are finding more places to eat, which is awesome. Leah and I went to "The Mosquito" with some friends last weekend, and we dined on cold beef, ostrich (which was awesome), birthday shrimp, and gambei'd a lot beers. The table next to us was celebrating a birthday, and decided to buy us a large amount of beer. I took one of the bottles (they are like 600ml) over to the table later on to share with them, and it turned into "drunk guy" telling me to tell his wife she was "bullshit!" for agreeing with George Bush. He repeated this a lot, and when I would look at her, she would just shrug. Then I would try to pour a round for the table, and it would end up just being me and this guy, and him telling me that Bush "OK and not OK, but all the time OK? Bullshit!". Eventually I just stood up and said "Ok....Happy Birthday!" and walked away. It was at this time that drunk guy decided I looked like Charles Barkley, and for the rest of the night, I heard "Ba-ka-ree!". I tried to explain to him that Charles Barkley was black, but that just made him say a lot of things in Chinese and then say "Ok BaKaree!". This guy was a jackass. Eventually all the women apologized as they helped him and his friends out.
So I have had these songs in my head that remind me of 2003 when I was at MSU. That was a time of such magnitude that I cannot fully explain it here. But, this song has been in my head all day now, so I will close out with its video. Zia Jian!

Sunday, October 10, 2010

Service at it's finest- or addiction at it's worst.

Today I walked into McDonald's for my soda fix. Bottled soda here taste funky- It's missing that bubbly-crack goodness), so I gave up drinking it. I am slightly ashamed to say the Diet Coke is my thing- BUT it's not my fault! I used to work for a family that had Diet Cok stocked in the fridge all the time, so I drank it with food to disguise the taste, then I began to drink it cause it taste good- and that's when the addiction began.
ANYWAY, back to McDonald's. It's literally right next to our building (which doesn't help my problem), and I walked in and waited in line. One of the workers waved me over to an empty register and I walked over and tried to say what I wanted in Chinese. "Nihao!" Large Kul La, Please. She smiles and points to the Coke Zero in her hand that she had already poured for me.

Now American McDonald's, you can learn from this girl.

The End.

Sunday, September 26, 2010

American Things = $$$

Today we went to Dunkin Donuts for some birthday coffee and donuts. Mmm! We are saving money til pay-day so we haven't been able to buy a coffee pot and other non-essentials. So this was my birthday splurge.
Dunkin is in the mall where there is a good size grocery store in the basement with lots of American goods. We walked around to see what we could find: a 30$ muffin tin, a box of cheerios for 9$, a jar of peanuts for 9$, Tostitos for 6$ and method laundry detergent for 13$ and a bag of shredded cheese for 6$. So every now and then we'll be making a trip to the American grocery store for a carton of Hagen Daaz ice cream that cost 10 bucks, and we're talking a small carton.

Friday, September 24, 2010

Y tu Hsinchu?

I think I often forget that Leah and I take on challenges that people often steer clear if at the beginning I am prepared for the difficulties that lie ahead, but once I get going, I forget, and act all surprised when thing get difficult and irritating. I mean, its the reason most people don't move across the world to live in a different culture. I felt like this when I first moved to D.C. I said so many times "I hate this #$%^&* city!", and then I eventually fell in love with it.

Well, Hsinchu has proven to have its difficulties and obstacles, and I think they get the best of me sometimes. Example 1: Asian people stare. It's just not an impolite thing to do here. So when the foreigner gets on the train, it's totally acceptable to stare at him for like 4 minutes straight, even if he meets your stare back. It's not the American stare but don't stare, and then look away if you get caught. It's unabashed gawking. I had this guy at the grocery store stare at me and turn in a full circle as I walked by. Then I stopped and stared straight back at him...nothing. Just kept looking at me, like I was a giant bald leprechaun or something. So, I raised my arms in frustration and let out a "WHAT????"...still nothing. After a few curse words, he finally looked away. I am not proud that my frustrations got the best of me. I guess I can just start going around saying Ni hao to every on who stares...but, alas I am human.

I got pulled over yesterday. In typical fashion, I got the treatment that "no one gets" and it "surprises everyone". Usually cops are rather helpful to foreigners, and for the most part they just wave you on once they see that you are not Taiwanese. Well, it seems that Billy Badass was on duty yesterday, and he was having none of my turning left on a green light. That's right, I turned left on a green light. You can drive down the wrong side of the road, you bust U turns everywhere, you drive like a complete maniac with 4 children crammed onto a scooter, but you CANNOT turn left on green if you are on a scooter. Fine, whatever, but dude took 40 minutes to write my ticket. He just kept looking at me and screaming in Chinese. When I would tell him, with increasing impatience, granted, that I did not speak Chinese, he would scoff and start yelling some more. Then he'd get out his cell phone, which apparently had 10,000 numbers, cause he would just start scrolling down..beepbeepbeepbeepbeepbeepbeepbeepbeepbeepbeep for 5 minutes, call someone, look at me, walk around, look at the ticket, scroll, call, repeat. Anytime I'd ask what going on, he'd scoff and turn his back to me. The other cop wrote tickets for 8 people in the time I waited. I finally got my ticket and got to work just in time. I had my boss read the ticket, and it turns out it pretty much a warning. for some reason that made even more mad, and I was a very unpleasant teacher for my first 20 minutes. It didn't help that my student are catatonic in this class, probably due to the fact that they are in school for 10 hours before they get to me. I get a lot of confused stares and refusals to speak. They're good kids though.

In more hilarious news, I met the crazy old guy at the RT Mart. He is awesome. And annoying. And crazy. He is apparently an old teacher from some university around here. According to him I am "Superman" "The most handsome boy ever" "The wealthiest person ever" and Leah is "The Female Jesus" and "like a beautiful baby Asian girl". He then told us how to say thank you in 50 different languages. When we finally politely pulled ourselves away, we realized we forgot some essentials for typhoon preparations (wine and ice cream), so I ran back in. Crazy guy saw me, and started running towards me yelling "Handsome boy! Handsome boy!". I waved and ducked back into the store as quickly as I could.

Well, back to reading, which I am totally slacking on to write this post. I am lacking the endurance to read this much so far...hopefully it develops soon.

Wednesday, September 15, 2010

Train Ride

So, I found this small book I wrote for a project I did in 2009 where I rode the subway and wrote a poem during every stop of the Blue Line in DC. I re-read them tonight, and I thought "I should share this with the masses". I wrote these all in about a minute or two. I still find them humorous. I decided to choose a topic beforehand, so I could write quickly and not be stuck thinking too much. Be forewarned; there is a lot of cursing.

Farragut West

Turkey, I roast you in my oven.
I eat you with potatoes and some fucking corn.
I make gravy of your juice.

McPherson Sq.

Get in my mouth hamburger
Your so delicately mashed
So I can taste your fat and blood

Metro Center

Green Beans are for fags, as my Mother would say
So I chop them small, so I still feel straight when I eat them

Federal Triangle

All communists praise the embalmed corpse of Lenin.
And eat pizza.
But commies use goat cheese.
Not mozzarella.


C'mon, eat my taco, you silly bitch.
Put hot sauce on that shit.
Lettuce, cheese, fuck yeah.

L'Efant Plaza

I went to France, once.
In my dreams.
I had powdered cakes and watered down wine.
Then and only then was I able to see the French, as before, they were invisible.

Federal Center SW

Oh, cheese, you vile mistress.
I will conquer the Mongols for you.
They are begging for it anyway.

Capitol South

I put NyQuil in my orange juice in the morning so I can live my dreams during work.
Occasionally I drool on the keyboards, but they are shit, anyway.

Eastern Market

Squash, Rhubarb, Cabbage.
These are all things a rich man carries in his knapsack while crossing the great deserts of Arabia.

Potomac Ave.

Little fishes, you have no central nervous system.
Which makes stabbing you with my trident all the less meaningful.
Lie to me, fishes, and scream in pain.
You are delicious fried and dipped in tar-tar sauce.

Stadium Armory

Nachos make a man...a man.
Melted cheese.
Boys cannot handle jalapenos until their balls have dropped and grown large.

Benning Road

Splattered green, flat and explosions on my plate.
Peas...I have vanquished you!!!

Addison Road

Oh, yes, flower up you uppity bloom of cauliflower.
Nourish my body...Great!
I am SO fucking thankful for your vitamins. Hooray.
You snide vegetable, you posh little plant.
Feel good about yourself.
Feel good about stealing jobs from broccoli.

Capitol Heights

What wonders lie stuck to the sides of my old repulsive microwave?
What stories could be told by burnt spaghetti sauce and old Ramen Noodles?
Those few who made the escape, only to perish in the radiated hell of my kitchen appliance.

Morgan Blvd.

Oh, worthless corn.
You do nothing for me.
Our affair was brief.
But you knew it, and so did I.
Now get out.
There is cab fare on the breakfast nook.


Little bits of food, I floss you from your temporary home.
I spit you in my drain.
My gums bleed in grief, but are quickly sanitized with Target brand mouthwash and a stern talking to.

Largo (Return)

What magic box can cook my bread so perfectly, to make it so warm that the butter melt immediately?
Toaster, what the fuck would I do without you?
Ignore those who say "Use a broiler".
Broilers are bullshit.

Morgan Blvd (Return)

Refrigerator, you squeaky, clunky, metal, old moldy box.
Keep my ice cream frozen and my Kool-Aid cold, and keep your mouth shut.

Addison Blvd (Return)

I put my stick of butter in you, butter dish.
Hold those melted juices.
Firm them up in the cold, cold refrigerator.

Capitol Heights

Stir, pour, on, off, on, off, on...done.
Blender of breakfast, grind up though naughty strawberries.

Benning Road (Return)

My dull knife.

Cut, cut, cut, cut, fuck, cut, cut, cut, fuck, fuck, cut, shit! shit, damnit! fuck, cut, cut.

Stadium Armory (Return)

How the neighbors will bow when they behold my mighty dishwasher!
8 cycles, and it warms dishes.
Those peasants will beg to wash their dishes in my kitchen, but I will scoff at them.
Scoff, I say!

Potomac Ave


Capitol South (Return)

Where art thou, magical machines?
Of which dreams, and sliders and 1 chop coleslaws are made?

L'Efant Plaza (Return)

Heated to a mushy texture, your steamy insides scald my mouth!
Your grade D meat churns the acids of my stomach.
But I am drunk, and Hot Pockets are delicious when I am drunk.

Smithsonian (Return)

Given as a wedding gift, you are worthless to me, salad bowl.
You are giant and wooden.
I cannot eat that much salad.

Monday, September 13, 2010

Stir Crazy!

I've been in Taiwan almost 2 weeks and still haven't started teaching, which was OK till now. Steve started school today and I'm on my own till he gets back. It would also be nice to be making that money. So my day will be filled with cleaning and settling in to our new place and watching episode after episode of "True Blood".
We also joined a "tennis club". I would describe the court as playing on kitty litter. So maybe I'll go play tennis to get my body moving. I still haven't been able to find Bikram yoga, my favorite way to exercise, but there are many other kinds of yoga here to try.

Sunday, September 12, 2010