Student for Life

I’m going back to college! My university years were some of my best, and I have always wished I could just get paid to be a fulltime student. Think of all the things you could learn over a lifetime! Anyhow, I’m back in the game.  

Chris and Britton have been in class for the last week, and their absence has left me and Heather on our own. I never foresaw myself wallowing around the apartment when there is an entire city to explore, but pathetically that’s pretty much all I’ve done since. The heat and humidity have driven us indoors, and the 45 minute commute to the heart of the city ensures we don’t go anywhere even when the weather is bearable, so we stick to the confines of our apartment building as much as possible. Heather and I wake up, go to the lobby for an hour of internet time and risk running into a mean cat lady that who always yells at us in Chinese, swim laps (the only productive our of our day), and then burn time waiting for the boys to get home by reading. Even when they get home they have been so busy with homework, they might as well still be at school. I’ve been going bonkers. Initially I was hoping to get a job teaching English, but I only have a visitor’s Visa and getting deported isn’t part of the plan.

At church this Sunday Heather and I met a new friend, Samantha. She is from Switzerland and is fluent in French, Italian, English, German, and is planning on taking Chinese classes and encouraged us to do the same. (We are very impressed with her.) She suggested we meet on Monday for lunch and then she took us to National Taiwan University (it has the best Chinese program in the nation) and helped us register for classes. At first all we got was a big fat “No.” Applications were do a couple weeks ago and classes are starting Friday. You really can't procrastinate any worse than us, but with a little persuasiveness they let us in!

I have orientation tomorrow where I will get my class schedule, and after that I will be attending a beginner’s Chinese class 2 hours a day, 5 days a week at the MTC (Mandarin Training Center). No English allowed. ALL Chinese. Gulp. I've made it through our trip without any tears. We'll see how long that lasts once school starts. :) 

Update of last few days: 

Uncle Dick came to visit Chris and I in Taiwan--he must really love us. Ok, we was on the island to begin with, but it was still great to see family. 

We went to the top of the 101. Sadly the signage still advertises it as the world's tallest building, but it got beat out by some beast in Dubai this year. It was rainy and we were perched in the clouds, but despite the fog, it was disorienting to be so high. Unlike other skyscrapers in New York were there are other buildings competing in height, nothing in Taipei can compare with the 101 so the view is of the tops of tiny faraway buildings. The only thing at my eye level were the tops of distant cloud-covered mountains. 

(Below) - from the top of the Rock in New York - you see the difference?

Chris and Uncle Dick in front of the massive damper ball--a giant pendulum suspended between the top four floors. It acts to offset building sway caused by strong winds. 

The restaurant Uncle Dick so generously took Chris and I to was in the basement of this building. You know it's going to be good when you pass the building's glass encased parking garage containing a Rolls Royce.   

This was the first $1,400 meal I have ever had. Well, that's in Taiwanese dollars, but it was still highly impressive. Prime rib and mashed potatoes have never been more relished.

Monday we went to Amy and Zach's house for dinner (new friends of ours). They are house-sitting for a wealthy family from church, so unlike the rest of us, they aren't confined to an apartment. Check out that American food! We took full advantage of their grill. 

Samantha (girl who helped us get into class) and her husband Joe are the couple on the back left while Amy and Zach are on the back right. 


Bring on the Rain

It’s 3:30 am and the edge of a typhoon (hurricane) has snagged the island. You know that distinct sound of someone flushing a toilet or running a faucet a level above you--the sound of gallons of water rushing through the walls? That is what I just woke up to, and I was afraid that perhaps the apartment above ours was having some serious plumbing issues. I got out of bed expecting to be ankle deep in toilet water judging by how much water sounded to be filtering through the walls.

It wasn’t poor plumbing; it was gallons of water being sloshed against our windows. This rain doesn’t have the distinct pitter-patter or even drum roll of fast falling rain. It’s unlike anything I have ever heard, and it’s kind of exciting.  Usually the best storms are accompanied by discomforting thunder claps that although set me at unease, send electricity not just through the sky, but through my body. Give me some boom! Rattle me so I jump back into the safety of my bed and pull my comforter up over my chin. I want a scary thunder-cracking typhoon. Well…. Maybe I should watch what I wish for.

8:30 a.m. – I finally shook Chris awake and he assured me that we are not experiencing the direct effects of a typhoon. The wing of the hurricane is brushing across a different area of Taiwan, so we are experiencing the outskirts of it. There is a lot of horizontal “falling” rain that doesn’t appear to be falling at all, and bouts of heavy wind. The raindrops are so large it looks like hail. I’ve been watching the busy ambulance making frequent trips to the hospital all morning. People are still up and working because a national alert has not directed them to stay indoors and the prospect of potential business is too luring. I was hoping to do something fun with my Saturday now that I have Chris to myself, but it looks like we’ll be doing what I do every other day—reading, blogging, and possibly swimming. Maybe I’ll brave the hot springs again. Today would be a good day to soak.

A quick review of what we did yesterday:

Heather and I met the boys once they finished school. It so happened that a few of their past missionary companions are on the island as well, so we met up with them for a few different activities.

Mango flavored shaved ice with freshly sliced mangos and topped with mango gelatto. I think I got my fill of mango for the day.

My first look at the 101. It was HUGE. Sadly, the sign out front still advertised it as the tallest building in the world. Not true as of this year. We walked through the mall at the base. It is 5 stories of every outrageously expensive store known to mankind, so we left.

We ventured into the Eslite Bookstore. It too is located within a huge building mall that houses outrageously cool high end Asian fashion stores. The bookstore is 5 stories and puts Barns & Noble to shame. They had an entire half a floor devoted to interior design, architecture, photography, and art. It was glorious. You name it, they have it. Even the Harry Potter section was outrageous. They had H.P in different languages, H.P. with different book covers, the original British version of H.P., notes from fans to H.P, on and on. 

This is a small section of just the second floor.


Rainbows and Butterflies (almost)

Friday was Britton's birthday and the Lein family (Mat and Sheri) weren't about to let the day pass by un-celebrated.

Traveling with Taiwanese friends is the only way to go because they know all of the local secrets and hot spots. First on the list was a spectacular jungle hike. Between the dozen or so waterfalls and hundreds of butterflies (over a thousand species migrate to Taiwan every year), I kept busy behind the lens of my camera.

After hiking we drove into a small aboriginal village for lunch. There were all kinds of odd foods lining the streets. Sausage on skewers, baby birds on skewers, hard boiled eggs covered in what looked like wood chips, and gelatinized seaweed drinks. I tried not to show too much interest in any one food, because anytime I would do a double take, or pull out my camera, or ask "what is that?"  Mat and Sheri would rush over and purchase enough for everyone to try. I guess my grossed out curiosity was mistaken for hungry interest. On the plus side, it forced me to try some things I never would have the nerve to eat otherwise.

By the time we made it to the restaurant, I was full on the street food, but Matt and Sheri still ordered six large entrees so... we ate some more.

Bellies bursting, we got back in the car and drove to the Lein's privately owned hot spring resort in the mountains, but before we went for a soak in our private rooms we ate again.

Soaking in the hot springs was such a relaxing experience. It was peaceful and quiet in the mountains, and because the rooms were open to the sky, we caught the tail end of a shower that sent raindrops plopping in the warm water.

Well, it was peaceful until Chris saw a wasp fly into a hole near our little pool, so he grabbed a bucket of water and threw it in that general vicinity. I don't know what he was thinking... or not thinking, because the obvious happened. All of the wasps who made a home in the hole came swarming out looking for the source of the disturbance, so we spent a fair amount of time with only a sliver of our faces peeking out of the water hoping not to be the victims of a killer bee attack.

Following the hot springs we ate again and hit up karaoke (which apparently the Taiwanese are super into). Chis and I sung  "Unchainted Meoldy". A good portion of the words were spelled incorrectly, and it wasn't uncommon for the lyrics to be wrong either.

That evening we drove back into Taipei and ate a huge dinner (since we hadn't eaten all day) and then hit up the movies.

Thank you Britton for having a birthday--I'm now fatter for it. :)



We went to CostCo and I would imagine that standing in front of those sliding glass doors gazing into air conditioned, Americanized bliss is what it must be like to stand before the pearly gates of heaven. 

Taiwan's CostCo did not disappoint. It's a 2 story building with very spiffy ramped escalators that the shopping carts lock onto to while moving between floors. The brands were gloriously familiar, and although it was still difficult to find specific foods (tortillas, lunch meat, ranch dressing), I felt it would be sacrilegious to complain in that blessed place. 

300 guiltless dollars later, we loaded up the car and headed home determined to never be forced to eat on the street again. Our plan has been working like a charm. I lost whatever homesickness I had (pathetically food plays a large roll in my state of happiness). Our poor fridge (smaller than a standard fridge) is so weighted down that I'm afraid it might drop through the floor, but there's a will, there's a way. 

I think we exceeded the elevator's weight limit. 


We Ran Away

We ran away, and that's why you haven't heard from me in a while.

The boys started school today, so Saturday we decided to take full advantage of what free time we had left by going on an un-planned adventure around the island, but we kept running into the same obstacle--transportation. I did enough research in advance to realize that trains wouldn't get us close enough to anything worth seeing, taxis were too expensive, and we didn't register for an international drivers license before coming leaving renting was out of the question.

Fortunately, Britton has an amazing connection here (the same family who hooked us up with our sweet place), and they gave us their car. They literally handed it over saying--oh, it's one of four, keep it as long as you need. So we woke up at 7:00 on Saturday morning planning to travel using a combination of public transportation and hitch hiking, and by lunch we were zooming off in our courtesy car.

Driving in Tiapei is nuts. People have no concept of traffic laws. Cars frequently park in the middle of the lane, and the right lane converts into a left turning lane every block which makes for a merging nightmare. Then you throw in the hundreds of moped drivers who drive like they want to die. As if it wasn't hard enough navigating through one of the world's largest cities, stress levels were up because 1. we were using a friends car whose insurance wouldn't cover our accidents and 2. we didn't have drivers licenses. If we hit someone we would probably be stuck in jail or paying off medical/car bills for the following 20 years, but we are young and stupid and looked at this as a once-in-a-lifetime opportunity, so we risked it.

On the plus side, we had the comfort of knowing that our chances of getting pulled over were slim. It takes a lot to get noticed as an outstandingly bad driver in Taipei. We accidentally blew through a couple red lights, and got stuck in the middle of an intersection, but you are like a bolder in a river and with inches to spare, cars find a way to get around.

Finally we wove our way through Taipei's complex streets and found ourselves in the refreshingly open country. We didn't have much of a plan for the road trip. We packed a couple of backpacks, a tent, a map, and a guide book, and $300. We knew we wanted to head East, so we headed East.

We drove through Taiwan's intense mountains which are a combination of switchbacks and hairpin turns. The roads are narrow, and the country drivers proved to be more nuts than those in the city. We would be on a rink-a-dink road clinging to the top of a mountain with a thousand foot drop to one side and a rock face on the other stuck behind some pokey fruit truck. Although we were never dumb enough to blindly pass the truck, everyone else did--mopeds, cars, other trucks, whoever. There was NO visibility, and it was pitch black outside. Occasionally there would be a 50' straight shot and some dark, looming turn ahead with-who-knows-what vehicle on the other side, but apparently we were the only ones who thought that playing leapfrog with our lives was a bad idea.

We rolled into Hualien (a little East coast town) around 10:00 at night and had absolutely no idea where to sleep. Fortunately the area is cram packed with hostels and we were able to find a very clean, newly renovated room for just $15 each.

Next morning we headed to Tarako National Park on the outskirts of Hualien. The park is the crowned jewel of Taiwanese nature. It is a marble canyon split by a river and softened with tropical fauna, and it was a spectacle.

After Tarako, we jumped back in the car and headed South. We didn't know where exactly, just South. We had the simple plan to stop once something caught our interests.

The drive from Hualien was one of the hi-lights of the trip for me. I got a very realistic look at Taiwanese culture. True, old fashioned, rural culture. The highway ran along the coast which provided a spectacular view. Small towns dotted the road and flaunted beautiful rice fields with driven people growing and harvesting.  

This is such a poor picture. I shot it out of the window as we were flying by, but I had to include it. The rural Taiwanese were thrilled to see Americans. These folks were packing in from a hard days work in the field. I'm pretty sure the guy driving is missing a tooth. So classic. 

We reached a point in the evening when we were far from the next town and wanted to 
find a place to sleep, so we changed our non-existent plans and found a back road through the mountains that led us to a nearer town. The drive was awesome. We witnessed a spectacular sunset, saw wild monkeys, and passed through some tiny no-name town that must never see American passerby's.

By the time we got to Ruisui it was 9 at night. We discovered along the way that the town is famous for its natural hot springs and were fortunate to find a resort/spa that was still open. We were led to a small outdoor pool that is directly plumed from the springs so we could fill it to our liking. It was awesome to turn off the outdoor lights, stare up at the stars, enjoy the warmth of the water and have no clue where we were going to be sleeping later that night. I guess that's the exhilaration of flying by the seat of your pants.  

Aside from the hot springs, the town proved to be pretty sketchy and didn't have any affordable hotels or clean hostels, so we found a campground around midnight. I slept terribly. I didn't have a pillow and our tent was pitched on a wood platform which was so uncomfortable, and just as I was drifting to sleep I woke up to red and blue flashing lights outside our tent and the silhouettes of two police officers.

We were all up in a paranoid frenzy whispering about what to do. We suggested that Britton get in the car and drive away with his headlights off so the cops wouldn't ask for our licenses. But that was a dumb idea and looked totally suspicious. Then I suggested we carry our tent to the neighboring spot so the car wouldn't look like it was ours. Even more dumb and more suspicious. In the end, we just decided to lay low, look asleep, and pretend like we only spoke English.

The police were checking each spot to make sure everyone had purchased a permit which we hadn't because we arrived after the office was closed. Aside from their initial check, the police came back at three in the morning and did  a second check. Somehow we were bypassed each time. I guess playing dead/dumb works?

Next morning, up at 6:00 and back on the road. We stopped in a random town for church, and continued to the Southern tip of the island, Kenting.
The town itself is a little more to my liking. The shops lean more towards surfing and swimming. The restaurants are a little more diverse, and the architecture is typical beach front.

The south of Taiwan is beautiful--Hawaii beautiful. But because areas of Taiwan are polluted and neglected, it lacks the same reputation. It is a shame, and that we saw such a travesty in Kenting

When we got in, there was a large popular beach that automatically caught our attention. It was covered in colorful umbrellas and there were jet skis, banana boats, and tubes zipping through the ocean. After finding a parking spot in the packed area, discretely slipping on our swimsuits in the car and walking in the heat eager to swim, we stopped dead in our tracks once we reached the beach. This was the sight that greeted us.

We just stood there, towels and sunscreen in hand staring. None of us budged. Then we all turned around disappointed in the lack of care and the lack of sense displayed and trekked back up the road to the parking lot. On the way back we ran into someone who gave us directions to a quiet little beach.

 The water was refreshing and the waves were huge. Occasionally we would get pounded against the rough sand and have salt burning our noses and throats, but thats the ocean and it was a blast.

After swimming we were pooped out and in need of a good shower, so we found a great little hostel and had the whole place to ourselves.

Kenting has a great night market that pops up along the side of the main street once the sun begins to set, so we enjoyed some good food and had ourselves a fun time.