Saturday, August 19, 2006 · posted at 7:58 AM
Taiwan, et cetera. A laundry list of observations because I'm too lazy to organize my experiences into anything coherent and because incoherence seems to best sum up the trip:

Betel nut girls. Scantily clad girls sell betel nuts on the streets in neon-lit, Hello Kitty decorated roadstands. The tour guide wanted to stop so that we could try the local flavor - the betel nuts, not the girl. One father yelled from the back, "Don't stop. Keep driving," which made you want to applaud his indignation at the situation and women's rights, et cetera until he continued and said, "Keep driving. This one is wearing all her clothes."

Do you really know American English? Apparently I don't, according to the same-named book, because I've never used the phrase "Sea monkeys have invaded the office aquarium" and I didn't know who Danny Kaye, Jack Benny or WC Fields were (American comedians).

Don't drink the water. Should you be suspicious of the tap in a place where the hotels provide you complimentary bottled water? Upon entering the bathroom in Taichung, my first thought was, "What the hell did my brother eat?" Later I would realize that the sulfurous smell was coming from the water pipes...

Western music. Ashley Simpson in the grocery store. Billy Joel on the radio. Destiny's Child in the gift stores. However, I don't think Taiwan is ready for that jelly.

Ro tang ji. A chicken dunked in hot water. Also what we looked like caught in torrential rain without an umbrella.

Chiang Kai Shek Memorial. Seen one memorial, seen them all? Possibly, if the famous figure is seated in a white mausoleum looking room with quotes inscribed in the wall.

Find the president... Oh wait, find the respected military leader... Doh - just find the one who's Chinese.

The China Times. Looks like a newspaper from the outside, but on the inside? So Us Weekly. There's a "Stars - They're just like us!" section, though their paparazzi is only able to muster up B-list tabloid stars such as Al Pacino.

Newspapers are in vending machinese, books and magzines (even the non-racy kind) are in plastic wrap... this is what happens when a country has a 96% literacy rate...

Dance, dance revolution. We watched a few aboriginal dance performances with young bare-chested males which reminded me that I should be much more appreciative of guys who work out their pecs. The dances encorporated many moves that your homophobic American would never attempt. But the scary part of the night came when the dance troupe asked for volunteers for what looked like a variation of square dancing. Asian people impromptu dancing? Shudder.

Real men wear skirts and aren't afraid to hold hands... or boast cheetah print and legless pants.

"It's A Small World" of bodhisattvas. At the Buddhist temple, there was a hallway that led you through something akin to the Disneyland bane. Complete with music, random scenery (tropical trees on the wall and fake icicles from the ceiling... at the same time), rows of animated people, and a subliminal chant. Then you enter the hall of huge ceramic figurines. It's a little bit unnerving - especially the guy who follows you with his eyes. My favorite was Virupaksa, a Dharma guardian. His weapon of choice? A mao bi (calligraphy pen).

From Point A to Point B, in one piece please. In following with the Disneyland theme, all the cities smell like the gasoline fumed Autopia. Instead of tiny race cars on a track, however, Taiwan has thousands of scooters, or moto-bikes, smogging up the air.

Walking in Taiwan is a daredevil sport. I need not bungee-jump or sky dive because I have already done something far more dangerous - walked the streets of Changhua. When I say streets I literally mean streets, as there are no sidewalks, only road. Instead you share the road with through and oncoming cars (also known as auto-mo-byes), motorscooters, bicycles and produce stands. Also the occasional stray dog, or as the locals like to call it, dinner (just kidding, I think).

No one has qualms about crossing into the opposite lane or obeys right of way - you have a destination and stop for no man, woman, child or little old lady to get there. The organized chaos that is morning and evening traffic (there is no noonday traffic as everything stops moving due to the immense heat) help explain the "crazy Asian driver" stereotype in America - to be able to drive means you HAVE to be insane.

Kim Tar rated F. Imagine on every corner a restaurant or stand akin to Kim Tar (you know, where the ducks hang and the same cutting board and bucket is used for all the parts). I wonder if Taiwanese people ever get traveler's ailments when visiting other countries. After seeing the way the food is stored and cooked (at night markets, out of vans, roadside shops, etc) you figure a lifetime of this would render you an iron stomach.

It doesn't take a public health wanna-be-professional to realize that leaving raw pork kidneys and ribs out in 30C weather is probably not the best idea.

Smells like feet... or cheese. Taiwan... on a hot day... 'nuf said.

Gubo gen Palanka. Thank you comrades. I thought most of those mandarin phrases I learned from you two (and Ding-yun) were useless, but whaddya know I used kongr (free time), chang ge (sing songs) and da xue sushe (college dormitory) among others. All I need now is to hear that someone is having a tiaowuhui (dancing party)...

The breast touching alley. What are they trying to say? That Taiwanese men need to build a road 12 inches wide in order to get some action?

The pecker hypothesis: You can buy a souvenir penis in any tourist country. Whether its clay people banging on a Corona bottle (Mexico), a wooden penis ashtray (Hawaii), or an aborigine sculpture of a girl on a penis rocket in Taiwan. I tried to get my mom to look at one but she wasn't having it. I wonder if she even knew what it was. Later, my parents would ban me from the "adults only" room of my grandfather's antiques. Gees, I hope they don't even understand what's going on in some of those sculptures...

Porcelain... not just for the Ming Dynasty. Prevalence for skin cancer in Taiwan must be at rock bottom levels because pale skin is so chic. Everyone is lily white - okay, ivory. Enter me, stage left, where at the big relative reunion lunch, I looked around and realized I most resembled the Indonesian cook.

Geology for the carnivores. Taiwanese people don't just love meat, they even love things that look like meat - like stones that have been dyed to imitate the fatty layers of pork...

And I thought the Bodies Exhibit was gross...

Lip my stocking.My uncle found a puppy in the mountains, took it home, and called it Rocky, like the boxer. Or was it Lucky, like the adjective?

Your huddled masses... We get off the plane at LAX and are immediately herded down a one way corridor to crowd each other in standing room only buses. How is it that I always get stuck under an armpit - even when the average height is mine?! The buses then dodge landing planes as it crosses the airstrip to the real gates, not the second class citizen ones. Now I know how my relatives at Ellis Island felt, well, that is, if I had relatives who passed through Ellis Island and we were subjected to egregious classist separations, bodily violations, and unsanitary conditions. Still, there is something shady feeling about cramming as many immigrants as you can into a darkened vehicle during the dead of night.

To see more cheesy photos, knock-offs and Engrish at its best, visit my flickr page.

Friday, August 18, 2006 · posted at 7:58 AM
National Palace Museum - home of 70,000 artifacts taken from the Mainland during Chiang Kai-Shek's flee. Somewhere in mainland China there sits an empty museum waiting for something to display...

Things of interest:
  • Jade...everything
    Man, the Chinese sure love their jade. There were jade bear goddesses, jade pig-dragons, jade cicadas, jade jewelry, jade weapons. However the winner of the day was the jade cabbage - #1 proclaimed by the tour guide - complete with jade inspects.

    Good old Napa cabbage - good for fermenting kimchi, steaming shao lum bao (soup dumplings), and making decorative items.

    I've also seen this piece labeled "Jade Bok Choy," however, you can see the ruffling of the leaves along the sides. Bok choy has smooth sides. Oh yes, this ABC knows her Asian produce.

  • a late Neolithic (5000-1800 BCE) necklace with shell beads

    Translation: we never have and never will be rid of the puka shell necklace as an accessory.

  • a ship in an olive pit
    I'm impressed by any artwork you need a magnifying glass to see. Hell, I've even been taken in by the "Your name on a grain of rice" bit! Not only was there a miniature boat, complete with sails, carved into an olive stone, but there was a poem scrolled on the bottom of it!

    And you thought the ships in a bottle were a major feat...

  • auspicious animals

    The term for any creature that looks like nothing on this earth.

  • the "cow" wine vessel
    Unlike any cow I've ever seen... And then you find out that that's because it's not really a cow. The idea is that if you store the wine in a vessel shaped like an animal that tastes good, it'll also make the wine taste good. So this particular vessel was a hodge-podge of hen hao chi (very good to eat) animals: sheep and cow legs and rump, pig legs, rabbit ears and... you guessed it, gao tou (dog head).

    There was a dog in the street and one of our tourmates joked, "Uh oh. Dinner."

    According to a National Geographic special I watched in the hotel the previous night where a chef prepared a 3 foot long bull penis for human consumption, Taiwanese people will eat anything... and apparently collect everything!

I'm sure there were many, many more interesting items, however, I have a short attention span when it comes to museums, and even more so when it involves 40 tourists crowding around the same display case as the guide narrates in 3 different languages - only one of which (English) I understand remedially.

Thursday, August 17, 2006 · posted at 8:15 AM
Why We Fight. When I was in college, I met many people who were well-traveled after annual vacations with their parents to foreign locales such as Thailand and France and India. I was so envious and wondered why my family never went on vacations like that. Now, upon reflecting on my recent trip to Taiwan with my parents, I remember why we don't.

Fight #1 - Cerritos
We've not even left the house yet and the 'rents are arguing about suitcases, and how we have too many of them and they are too heavy. Reality: They have too many of them. I have one suitcase which is 3/4 filled with Barbies (my mom's notion of what a 15 year old Taiwanese girl wants) and assorted sundries like Planters Peanuts.

Fight #2 - Somewhere over the Pacific Ocean
On the plane my parents start bickering, loudly of course - the volume is always turned up partly because my dad is hard of hearing and partly because they're just like that. This time it's about my mom's desire to buy duty-free liquor for our relatives. Apparently they must be lushes, as the number of bottles my mom tries to purchase starts at one and increases to four, plus some cosmetics, chocolates, perfumes, and some angry eyes and a bouncy ball... My dad immediately vetoes this idea and I hear them "discussing" it as I make my way to the aft of the plane where I hide in the xi shou jian (bathroom).

Fight #3 - Grand Palace Museum
Passport anxiety. My mom needs to know exactly where their passports are as the tour guide is droning on about the Ming Dynasty. Apparently something about porcelain screams "Where are your documents?" Solution? My mom practically dumps the contents of her purse out in search of the passports, which she finds in the zippered portion of her purse - exactly where my dad said they were.

Fight #4 - Tour bus
My dad wants to know how much money they changed at the airport. I have no clue - only that they probably walked away with half of what the money was actually worth since airport currency exchange is on par with highway robbery. Da sheng (loud voices) yet again... about money... for the whole bus to hear. Luckily the people behind us are wai guo ren (foreigners from NZ) and riben ren (Japanese), however, right in front is the Chinese family from Temple City. Oh well, I think they long ago decided we were not good company.

Fight #5 - Hotel elevator
We're on our way to dinner and my mom has just proceeded to push half of the elevator buttons because she wants to see the floors she's not allowed on (banquet hall floors). Even if we were allowed on them, I'm not sure I'd want to eat in a place that has pink tulle draped all over the seats.

Cheesy Chinese banquet anyone? Anyone?

Fight #6-99 - Somewhere in Taiwan
They're all the same, yet varied enough to be rehashed at every instance...

Fight #100 - Home stretch
We've just unlocked the door and my parents are already arguing because they both just paid the shuttle driver.


They say that nothing in life is free.
     Plane ticket: $0
     Four-day tour: $0
     Room & board at a-gong's: $0
     Last threads of my sanity: priceless

· posted at 7:56 AM
Gullible's Travels. As Christian Finnegan once said (paraphrased) about traveling with loved ones, "let's take a stressful situation and make it even more stressful." Traveling, even when on a cushy far-from-roughing-it tour can be stressful. There's the necessity of punctuality for a minute-by-minute schedule coupled with an inescapable close proximity. This is inevitably a recipe for bad decisions and faux pas.

And it starts, not even 10 minutes after we've landed. We're standing outside waiting for the express bus to take us from the airport to the hotel. It's probably about 80 degrees out (at 10pm), but the heat is made worse by the fact that we're standing in the lower level of the airport, meaning the hot air from the exhaust is trapped by the ceiling, leaving any inhabitants to fester in the steam.

Then we arrive at the hotel and check in. Another family from LA is also checking in and asks if we're on the same tour. They then tell us they're from Temple City and ask if we know where it is - at which point my dad has already turned his good ear and leaves the question hanging. With my remedial Mandarin I manage to say women zhidao (we know) but can't muster anything more substantial. Wan an (good night)? Strike 1 for us asocialites (not to be confused with A-list socialites).

The next morning we discover that on those shady tours, see, view and visit are three entirely different verbs. First stop, and literally, only a stop was Taiwan 101 - the tallest building in the world with, you guessed it, 101 floors. Shaped like a lotus flower, with 8 delineated sections (because 8, ba sounds like prosper, fa), with a beautiful green color, the Taiwan 101 is quite a sight. And that's what it was for us, a mere sight from a distance. What a gyp! Of course, the tour guide said, we could always come back later (translation: on our own time and dime) and visit the observation deck. This "come back later" sentiment will become a common theme throughout the entire tour. Sure I could come back at another time, but by the time that happens, it'll no longer be the tallest building, replaced by the Freedom Tower and then Jaipur Building! And with only 10 minutes to run around and take pictures, there was no time to plot how to hold the Taiwan 101 in your hand, lean against it, or manufacture other cheesy tourist photographs.

Now onto the foibles...
  • The squat toilet. Now when you use them, what direction do you face? For number 2 it seems obvious - get it as close to the hole as possible. But number 1? You figure males use urinals facing the stall (for more obvious reasons)... but what of the female? A guidebook for any country might tell you the rule of thumb is always "do as the locals do"... but do I really want to peek under (or over) the stall door? Future problems are avoided by holding it to the point of kidney infection until a Western toilet, with toilet paper, can be found. Similar to Mexico, toilet paper is often not provided gratis and if used, encouraged to be thrown in the trash can, not the water. Dissimilar to Mexico, it is not purchased from bathroom attendants lurking outside, but from coin vending machines.

  • The awkward exchange with the relatives. My mom, finally coming to her senses, realizes we have far too much stuff and calls a nearby relative to come haul away some goods (if you can call a suitcase of Barbies that). Do you hug or not hug family members you haven't seen in 15 years? I'm in my pajamas and not wearing a bra! And what if you're not sure one of them is even a blood family member because you (and your siblings) swear they remember this particular uncle getting divorced and your aunt definitely didn't look like this... And then it's time for the "my children are better than yours" but framed with "my children are so terrible" language. Example: "Jobs are so hard to find. My eldest daughter only has an hourly wage job even though she has a Masters." Zing.

  • Pai Pai. Is there a Chinese Culture for Dummies book? All of a sudden I'm getting sticks of incense shoved in my hands. "What do I do with this?" "Pai pai." Is my mom's response as she looks at me with a "what's wrong with you" look. Okay, that's helpful. Maybe I should have been in closer earshot when she offered a better explanation to the white New Zealanders. By the way, so not zen to be thrown into this situation. You're supposed to be meditating and opening your mind and all I can think is "Sh**. What am I supposed to be doing? Am I bowing low enough? Too many times? Too little times? What am I supposed to pray for? Do I even pray? What am I supposed to think about. Oh sh**. F*** I just cursed in the temple. Damnit I did it again. Can these golden buddhas hear all of this?" So much for enlightenment.

  • The garden of buddhas. Would it be sacrilege to make a music video out of them? If you're happy and you know it clap your hands... All I could think was, "This would make a great Amazing Race challenge - 'Find the Buddha that is doing the hokey pokey.'" But then I could imagine the over-enthusiastic pairs (in slow mo) running through the garden, leaping over buddhas, breaking off arms, etc and that's probably not good for karma.

    Hey Macarena

    Rock, paper, scissors

    Check out the rack on that tourist!

  • Jinx. At the Buddhist temple there are wishing fountains. You throw a coin at a bell and the more sounds it makes, the better your luck.... I threw a coin at the bell. It came right back at me. Does that mean my wish was rejected? I tried again but undershot it. Good thing my mom already paid for good wishes for the family.

    In addition, I burned my arm on an incense stick. And what does it mean when you buy a pack of them, pai pai at the different shrines and end up with 3 sticks leftover? Some fortune god is brewing a grudge and I probably ended up giving the extra sticks to a fertility god. Whee.

    To top it all off, we watched a DVD of my grandfather's funeral. Halfway through, my uncle started fast-forwarding! That's gotta brew some bad spirits there...

So you see, the thing about vacations is that you always need another one just to recuperate from the previous.

Recent Posts
Cringe - it's not just a reading at Freddy's Hav...

Faith without FearAt an especially dark time, I as...

Booty Nomad Something seemed off about her descrip...

The Big HappyThere it was. My first composition bo...

Generation MeOrdinary people can also find a taste...

Miss American Pie About the time I started being g...

Speak. I need a new friend. I need a friend, perio...

Cinema Paradiso. Sooner or later a time comes when...

Year of the Dog. My favorite chapter books when I ...

Grab on to Me Tightly as if I Knew the Way. Trudy ...

Morning news
babie goose ryan
daves son
high entropy
invisible cube
starfish + coffee

March 2004
April 2004
May 2004
June 2004
July 2004
August 2004
September 2004
October 2004
November 2004
December 2004
January 2005
February 2005
March 2005
April 2005
May 2005
June 2005
July 2005
August 2005
September 2005
October 2005
November 2005
December 2005
January 2006
February 2006
March 2006
April 2006
May 2006
June 2006
July 2006
August 2006
September 2006
October 2006
November 2006
January 2007
March 2007
April 2007
November 2008

 all humiliation © by author