Sunday, January 17, 2010

Taiwan Revisited, Part VII: Conclusion

The exciting (not really) conclusion to my Taiwan adventures. See the complete flickr set here.
Hi Angel,

After a subway, a train and an aeroplane I am finally here in the Seoul International Airport, waiting for the second-to-last leg of my journey to begin (bus to Taebaek, then taxi to apt) and writing to my baby so far away.

I've missed you so much these past few days. Wandering around a foreign city alone, contrary to whatever you may think, is not the cure for a lonely heart. I'm going to turn on my skype when I get home at night and I hope you'll call me when you wake-up tomorrow. I would very much like to hear your voice.

Yesterday was pretty mild but enjoyable, and a solid conclusion to my trip. It was raining so I stayed in and watched Rounders, which is an excellent film about card sharks with Matt Damon and Edward Norton. Then, after we spoke, I took the scooter out and tried to find a mountain pathway that Simon had heard (second hand) was worth driving along. I didn't end up finding it, but I did wander into several sets of military guards with heavy weaponry. They had no idea where the road was either.

After abandoning that ambition I tooted (scootered? puttered?) my way down to the Harbour, where I was to meet Simon to visit the tearoom at the old British Consulate. Despite getting horrendously lost (a constant feature of your Love's travels both at home and abroad) I got there about an hour early and spent that time contemplating the ocean (purdy) and taking short walks to warm my blood. The Consulate was a bit of a dissapointment, unfortunately. The "tearoom" the guidebok mentioned was merely an outdoor deck-style cafe with a counter and, unfortunately, a kareoke machine. Simon and I made it though some caterwauling while enjoying the tea luncheon, which they did have, in the tiered dish style for which I have such affection. It was a bit of a muted time because Simon's Grandfather had just passed away. He was failing all week and so Simon has been trying to wrangle an emergency trip home while trying to get constant updates from his parents. So, he wasn't exactly bubbling over with joy. Afterwards we went to a giant bizarre department store where we bought supplies for the Stenciling Party Simon had organized for my last evening. It was actually pretty fun. I met a bunch of Simon's friends plus saw some again that we'd hung out with over the week. I also made a tank-top that I'll take a picture of for you when I get home.

By the way, I finally saw Avatar a couple nights ago, in 3D. I don't know if you saw it in 3D, I can only surmise from your mild review of it you did not, because I thought it was totally amazing. Aside from the obvious storyline, thinly veiled speechifying and occasional silliness I have to say, with absolute convinction, that is was perhaps the best movie-going experience of my entire life. And I mean that percisely--it was a movie which came to it's full potential on the big-screen, in 3D, and seemed absolutely suited to those elements. It was visual thrilling and stunning and if it was perhaps all spectacle it was one of the best spectacles I've ever seen. Baby, if you haven't seen it in 3D don't walk, RUN to a movie theatre and see it again.


Taiwan Revisited, Part V: Of fishing casinos and things...

This weekend I had several people crashing at my stylish abode for Taebaek's World Famous (not really) Snow Festival! It was quite fun and I took bunches of photos so those should be up soon-ish. Now, back to Taiwan....


Dear Terry,

I got your note. It sounds like your pretty busy, poor angel. Barely enough time to hose off the meat particle spray before it's time to wake up and do it all over again. Just make sure you get lots of sleep baby. Those meat slicers are not for the unwary.

Things here have continued to be interesting. Yesterday morning I was left to my own devices while Simon was at work and so I took my time showering and breakfasting only to find that when I tried to open the front door that I couldn't turn the key! I was locked inside. I used skype to call Simon's cellphone after about 1/2 hour of trying (culminating in ineffective kicking, shouting, and tears) and then he informed be that the key had to be EXTENDED before it would work in the lock. Who knew.

After that debacle I made my way over to the art museum, which involved some backtracking and guessage. It was worth it though, the museum was excellent. I saw an interesting exhibit on indigenous-people inspired art (ie, the art was made by people descended from indigenous tribes but was not in itself indigenous). There was a series of photographs of Maori warriors showcasing their facial tattoos, which was cool. There was also a giant bull made out of tin cans, for some reason. It was anatomically correct... if you know what I mean.

The other exhibit I really enjoyed was a collection of sculpture and photographs focusing on hands and communication. I thought it would be about sign language but that turned out to be only a small aspect of the show. Actually it was a bit of a hodge-podge with several pieces and photographs I recognize from artists who I know weren't specifically focused on hands in their work... but it was still interesting. My favorite piece was a large statue of a hand making the Buddha benediction sign covered in blue sequined fabric and titled "The Glove of Buddha". I got some sketching done and it was nice to do some non-Darwin work. I always find it reinvigorates my love of drawing to sketch at a museum... I don't know why I don't go more.

Also at the museum was an exhibit on Pixar. That was awesome. There were a ton of movement studies, character design sketches, clay sculptures, environment color schemes and other stuff you wouldn't even THINK of. It's amazing how much work Pixar puts into each of their projects and seeing it all it's no wonder their movies come out as well as they do. I especially liked seeing the process of character design, and the sketch artists playing around with facial expressions and movement. Really impressive. My favorite pieces though were a series of x-rays of Toy Story characters (very clever) and this AMAZING zoetropic sculptural piece.

Let me explain.

A bunch of figurines of various ToyStory characters were arranged in concentric circles on a rotating platform. For example, one concentric circle was Woody bouncing up and down on a horse, with each figurine slightly different then the former and one whole rotation making up the motion. There was also Buzz Lightyear bouncing on a ball, the cute alien squeezy toys diving into a puddle and the army guys parachuting off a platform in the center. As I watched the whole thing started rotating fast until it was a blur and THEN then hit it with the strobe light and OMG--it was like watching animation. It was inconveivably cool, like having actual toys come to life before your eyes. And even more amazing, it was a sculpture, so that by moving your line of sight up and down you could actually see various angles on the figures which kind of blew my mind. I don't know if I can adequately convey how awesome it was. I couldn't take any pictures, sadly, but maybe there's a video of it somewhere.... here we go:

The video quality is terrible but maybe you can get some idea of what I'm talking about. Here's another higher resolution video, but it doesn't show the still sculpture first so only look at it after you see the other one:

Sign outside the Pixar exhibit:

I finally made my way back to Simon's at about six. My back has been pretty sore and painful since snowboarding and I think I might have to visit a doctor when I get back if I'm not fully recovered by then, so I was moving kind of slow. Simon met me with a very shiny red helmet and a rented scooter and I got my first-ever scooter ride--it was completely terrifying. I thought biking in NYC felt unsafe but it has nothing on scootering in Kaosiung. The city is completely congested with motor traffic and there are so many scooters that they even have separate scooter lanes on the major roads.

Posing on the (unmoving) Scooter:

I spent the first 40 minutes of my scooter experience totally terrified. We took the scooter over to Simon's friend Dan's place, where he climbed on (three to a scooter is, let me tell you, very cozy) and then went to a rock climbing wall where we met up with Simon's current paramour--or at least the girl he's been seeing for the past two weeks. It actually wasn't very awkward, as I had been fearing. I didn't do much climbing, having a) a back problem and b) being grievously out of shape but I did play around with my camera some and got some scooter lessons in the parking lot from Dan. The climbing area itself was kind of neat. Apparently it had been constructed for the "World Games" (no clue) and now it's basically free to all comers except that you have to put in some change to get the lights up and running. It's huge and somewhat abandoned.

Some climbing shots:

After that I actually drove the scooter, with Dan on the back giving helpful directions and tips, over to our dinner location, which Simon had been keeping the details of from me for a surprise. It turned out to be, no shitting, a fishing casino. Basically a large dingy room with a dank pool in the center surrounded by chairs and balding men gripping cheap fishing poles and ringed by bingo machines and arcade games. The pool was, reputably, filled with shrimp but I can't confirm that since the water was so brown as to be impossible to see though and we never caught one. Luckily other food was sold so we didn't have to wait on the shrimp to eat. A really nice Taiwanese gent gave us his basket of seven shrimp though so we did get a taste. The shrimp were huge, about six inches long, and you cook them by dumping the (live) shrimp into a bucket of salt, shaking that up, and then placing the (live, twitching) shrimp onto a wire mesh sheet and sticking that over hot flames. They were pretty delicious. I also got to see a police raid, if you can call ten cops (one with a submachine gun) coming in and checking everyone's ID a raid. I would say the whole experience falls under the "pretty fucking foreign" category.


Today I'm visiting Simon's school. Dude, this place is TRICKED OUT. There is an actual restaurant room with tables and plastic food, a sports shop with clothes and a register, a frickin' AIRPLANE with actual airplane seats and a SECURITY STATION--all just for playacting English-speaking scenarios. It seems that this is some kind of special school where classes from schools all over the area come in twice a year. It's pretty bizarre, really. I sat in on one of Simon's classes and while he's an excellent teacher, very funny and animated, I have to say Taiwanese children are not nearly as well-behaved as Korean children. They were all over the place. I gave some suggestions to him that he seemed to find helpful, although he's taught so much longer then I have I felt it almost wasn't my place. It was good to see another English teacher in action though. I wish we'd gotten more of that in our initial training.

Simon's School:

OMG baby, this e-mail is a million miles long so I'm going to finish up. I hope it wasn't too dull. I miss you.


In a final note on Simon's school, it would be remiss of me not to highlight their most glorious aspect: the instructional English signage. In order to increase students' English abilities, schools around the globe (mine included) post signs with useful English expressions. Here are some of the highlights of Simon's school:


And my personal favorite:


Until next time!

Taiwan Revisited, Part IV: Taroko, More Gorges

My Taiwanese expedition continues. For the full photoset go here.


It's been pretty uneventful since my last missive to you. After I e-mailed you last night Simon and I cracked open a couple of Taiwanese beers and watched movies in the abandoned men's dormatory. It felt like we were the only guests in the entire hotel. We watched "Wristcutters: A Love Story", which I want to watch with you sometime and I think you'd really love, and "Terminator: Salvation" which was totally silly. The next morning I got up and we walked over to the (actually not very impressive) temple across the way and gawked some more at the gorge. It was actually a amazing day so the gorge was particularly gorge-ous (warning: I may have been making this pun all weekend).



Then we ate some more greasy food and started out on what turned out to be an epic journey from the north to the south end of Taiwan. First we took a bus from Taroko Gorge to Hualien (1 hr) and then we took a train from Hualien to Kuasung or whatever the name of this town is (4 hrs). With various delays it took all frickin' day. I wanted to visit a hotspring but we ran out of time and so Simon bought me some apology stickers instead (not actually stickers that apologize but stickers as an apology). It was fun though. We talked a lot about kind of inconsequential easy things and I kicked his butt at Gin Rummy. Then when we (finally) arrived in Kaosiung we dropped off the bags at his enviably appointed apartment and met up with some of Simon's friends to go eat burritos at this ridiculous western-themed restaurant called Smokey Joe's. It was actually kind of awesome, if you miss burritos as much as I do. I also had a mango mojito which was extremely delicious. Good times.

Right now I'm sitting in the lofted guest bed in Simon's apartment with his netbook in my lap and his warm rent-a-kitty purring at my side. Macaroni (for that is his name) is a foster kitty who Simon gets to keep indefinitely as long as once every month he brings him in for an adoption auction where other families can see if they want to give him a permanent home. It actually sounds like a really nice deal, and I am totally envious. He's a very talky kitty and we've been having nice meowing conversations since I arrived. I think we'll be best buds.

I'm going to get some water and go to bed now. I love you so much! Write me.


Taiwan Revisited, Part III: Taroko Gorge, Cont.

Yesterday interrupted my unprecedented stream of posting as I was required to travel to Donghae to get a new residency card. Happily, another teacher also had to go so it was a more enjoyable time then it might have been otherwise. Our various bureaucratic deeds only took about 15 minutes, after the two-hour train ride down, so we had time to visit the Donghae e-mart. Previously, I had been unimpressed by the e-mart chain (kind of like a Korean Wallmart) but now I know that it's just that the one we have in Taebaek is lame. I bought some things, among them this amazing hat, modeled below.

Anyhoo, the adventure continues in Taiwan so here is Part III of my travel narrative:

Dear Terry,

Things have been way more pleasant here then in Taipei. The town our complex (there really is no other name for this assortment of functional but ill-shaped rooms and echoing hallways) is in is very minimal but friendly and cute. After everyone (and I mean EVERYONE) in the complex went to bed we "borrowed" some unattended bikes and rode circles around the enormous dining room. It felt like something out of a movie.

Today started a bit more abruptly then I might have preferred. First the other ladies in my room started chit-chatting at eight in the morning at full volume and then after that the maid kicked me out to clean the room at 10am. It was not very restful. Eventually we got it all together and hit the road to go hiking in the Gorge--quite literally too because we had to walk for about 40 minutes along the highway before we even got to the trailhead.


It was actually very pretty and scenic and included not one but TWO hazardous-looking suspension bridges. Unfortunately my camera battery ran out before we got to that point so I have no evidence but I DO have pictures of the super cool abandoned tunnels we found on our way to the trailhead. The highway ran along the Gorge and we passed through several tunnels on route. One tunnel branched off into the dark and so we went exploring. It was totally creepy, and I would not have done it without Simon's flashlight. We didn't see and bodies but it was definitely the kind of place where there would be bodies if any were to be had. The one tunnel came out onto a very swampy trail where I managed to soak both my feet and then lead to another tunnel which was disturbingly warm and musky-smelling and terminated in a wall and a large shallow pool. The whole experience was pretty exciting though. I definitely felt very adventurous.


I love you so much. I miss you.


Taiwan Revisited, Part II: Toroko Gorge Arrival/Taipei Escape

For the past 1/2 hour my school principal has been playing the tuba, badly, in the teacher's lounge. Since this renders any real work or concentration impossible I am taking this time to put out the next section of my Taiwan travelogue. Enjoy.


Dear Terry,

I am e-mailing you from the Taroko Gorge Youth Hostel, where I will be staying with Simon for the next two days. So far Taiwan has been... mixed. On the negative side of the spectrum I had some disagreements with my travelling companion and lost my wallet, but on the bright side I saw a live snake being gutted before my eyes and Simon lent me a pile of money. Soooo... I'd say it's about 50/50 right now.

Snake stall man preparing shots of snake blood:


Taiwan is definitely different from Korea, whatever your expectations may have been. It's kind of like Korea's dirtier more superstitious cousin. The buildings are all coated in layers of grease and smog and the food is likewise greasy and questionable-looking. I've been trying to keep an open mind though. Last night I went to two night markets in Taipei, one of which contained the snake-gutting locale of earlier mention. There were a lot of strange sights and despite it being a Friday night and it being on the "must-see" list in my guidebook there were hardly any foreigners. Seoul feels very much like an international metropolitan city but Taipei felt much more... alien. One of A's friends who I was with on New Year's Eve said that Taiwan is much more "authentic" then Korea, but I think it's a mistake to equate dirt with authenticity. However, you know of my passionate love for cleanliness so maybe it's my bias that's the issue.


I will say one thing for Taiwan--the temples are amazing. It's like Las Vegas and Buddha got busy with it and produced a side-show freak. Everything is neon and color and incense and insanity.


I went with A to one of the big temples in Taipei and I guess because it was New Year's Day it was full of worshipers lighting incense, doing physically demanding series of bows and piling tables with offerings of inedible looking candies and fruit. It was pretty different... or to reference one of our favorite quotes, "pretty fucking foreign".


Anyway babe, there's not much more to tell. The next morning Simon and I took a train to Hualien and then taxied it up to Taroko Gorge. It's dark here so the many natural splendors of the Gorge are lost on us but I think we're going to walk into the two-store town and poke around a probably drink some of the Jack Daniels Simon brought. We had a fun and alarming incident earlier where Simon tried out his new camp-stove and burned off a small portion of his arm-hair but your personal baby remained unsinged. Some of us know better then to poke small burning metal containers of pure alcohol with sticks.


I miss you very much and your ears should be burning since I've been talking about you non-stop. I wish you were here with me but I'm also looking forwards to telling you all about my trip next time we skype.


Taiwan Revisited, Part I

For those of you not in the know, I spent 10 days in Taiwan for Part I of my winter vacation. While I was unable to blog effectively on site, I will revisit my travels here with the help of my photolog (available in its complete form here ) and the (edited) e-mails I sent to Terry detailing my expedition. Here goes:


Dear Terry,

After a number of planes, trains and automobiles I have finally arrived in not-so-sunny Taipei. So far I would have to say the most unsettling thing about Taiwan is that no one here speaks Korean. I mean, I guess any rational person would have taken that for granted but even knowing it was going to be so I find myself always wanting to use my Korean and then feeling very silly about it.

We're sitting in our hostel right now waiting for the lady who runs it to come back and check us in. I'm typing to you on a keyboard that has at least four languges on each key. The board is also really resistant so I have to hammer each keystroke in--which is why this e-mail might contain a higher incidence of typos then usual.
((Editor's note: not anymore. ))

I've seen very little of the city so far but there seem to be a high incidence of clausterphobically small alleys, open trashcan fires and burning incense. Also the smells are more poweful, alternating between delicious spicy food smells and less enticing open-sewer smells. I am pretty excited about taking my camera out and taking some photos. I've already glimpst enough strange things to make an intriguing photo essay.

I'm still painfully sore. ((editor's note: I had tried snowboarding for the first time since middleschool the day before I left and fell down... a lot)) Moving around is unpleasant and feels overly physical. On the bright side, I took a really hot shower this morning in Seoul and that helped a little. Before that I was having trouble even getting out of bed.

As might be expected, I packed way too much and am already regretting it. My rolling bag is extremely unpleasant to be lugging about. On the bright side, I have some pretty dresses I can look forward to wearing. ((Editor's Note: yeah, never wore those.))

I miss you, and I wish you were here to share this with me. I'll try to keep you updated as much as possible. Happy New Year, my love.


I'll post more letters soon, but meanwhile, do check out that Flickr page (linked above) which contain many pleasures unspoken of here such as:

Unidentifiable Street Food!


Exploding National Sites!


Soups Served in Toilets!


Aaand Funny Hats!


Until next time!