We make holes in teeth!

Saturday, March 15, 2008

Day 7: The Pottery and Domestics

I wake up at 6:30 after having gone to bed at 9:00 and Julia is there, waking up with me. "Books" she commands. I pull a book from the shelf and we look at some animals briefly before getting out of bed to see Nat's parents. I'm still tired from yesterday. The busy day and the exercise have left me spent. I'm also a bit dehydrated. This vacation thing can be tiring.

Nat, her dad, Julia, and I go to get breakfast and coffee and bring it back to the office so Calvin and family can sleep in silence. There, Nat's dad lectures me about why the DPP candidate is so much better than the KMT candidate. Apparently there was some sort of Watergate-like scandal recently where 4 KMT politicians got caught breaking into a DPP office.

I have a crutch here which is bottled green tea, lightly sweetened. I think it has 16 calories a bottle. I drink at least 2 of these a day. Eventually I will show off pictures of the trip, including what this bottle looks like. But I don't have the USB cable to download to any computers here. Speaking of computers and my comment yesterday about how ubiquitous they are here, Nat said that when she went to see her 70 year-old aunt yesterday she was sitting in front of a laptop. Things have changed a lot in the 6 years since I was last here, where Internet access was difficult at best. Now, my blackberry gets reception everywhere, including inside the 13 km long tunnel.

I went back to 7-11 to get coffee for Calvin and I and once again I was able to order in Mandarin. This time when he asked me a question I was able to answer! Woo hoo! The truth is though, I was able to pick up the meaning of his question by the context of what he was doing. So I knew he wanted to know what size I wanted. A lot of times I can pick out a few choice words and depending on the situation, I can basically guess what's being said.

Big, I answered.

We bummed around the apartment some more while people got ready to take off for the morning. Nat's dad spent some time trying to convince Calvin and I to go to the rally tomorrow. I hemmed and hawed and Calvin said he would go if we went. I punted and avoided the question. I'm sure we'll revisit it at some future time. I'm not against it per se. I just want to make sure it fits into our day and we're not dragging Julia around to her dismay for the sake of Nat's parent's politics.

Nat's dad is big on family stuff, and I'm totally cool with that. But Julia isn't having a great time with all this buzzing around so I don't want to exacerbate that
by dragging her more than she already is. If it's local, and there's nothing better to do, why not? But if it's an hour away while she needs to nap, we need to pass.

I got an email from Nelson. Apparently the fire department didn't get him. Maybe tomorrow.

This morning we're off to Yinkge, which is a pottery village we've been to before. This is a double-sided coin, in that there are a ton of awesome deals to be had here. The contrast to that is that it's ceramic, so you need to lug it around the world and when you get home it might be broken.

At the first shop Julia breaks a bowl, which is no big deal since these are family friends. We buy 3 things there, none of which I can name right now because I was out walking Julia around because she started crying when the bowl exploded. After that we amble around, eat some yam puffs, then make our way to lunch. On the way I spot some fish balls that I eat. Then for lunch we split a bowl of noodle soup because we want to get more food from the street vendors.

Aside from the fish balls we got stinky tofu, which smells worse than you can imagine but is tasty as hell, a dessert burrito-like thing, which is a small ball of ice cream wrapped up with shaved peanut candy and cilantro, a bratwurst being sold by a 350 pound German man who could not speak English, some puffed thing that Nat grabbed, and some rice thing that Calvin wanted. This is the style I like to eat, where you walk down the street, point and shoot, then eat. Calvin and Nat are down with that. But Nat's parents and Grace are not so cool with the street vendor food. So we compromise and point and shoot when they're not looking.

At 12:40 we're on the way back to the apartment and by 12:42 Julia is asleep. Right now it's 1:47 and I'm sitting in the parked but idling and air conditioned van writing this. Everyone else is either napping upstairs, relaxing, watching TV, or shopping. Nat brought me a cup of coffee so here I sit waiting for Julia to wake up as I bang out this entry.

Not sure what this afternoon holds but we should have a good amount of time to do something, as long as it doesn't involve being in the car much, if at all. Calvin wants to go to night market with me and I may try and push for that to get him out of the house. He and I actually get along pretty well and truth be told he's a little bit of a beaten man. He could use the time away from wife, kid, and parents. Too bad Nat can't come out to play as well but night market doesn't really get going until Julia goes to sleep. We'll see.

2:05 she's awake, as she opens here eyes and proclaims, "Uncle Calvin."

I take her upstairs and the kids play for the rest of the afternoon while the women are downstairs shopping. They come back with some drinks, the kids play some more, and some Adam Sandler B-movie is on TV, The Longest Yard. Is there an Adam Sandler movie that isn't a B-movie? I'm pretty sedentary today but my food intake is as high as any other day. I fear that with the lack of movement and the continued heavy eating I'm leaning a little towards the sloth side today. I may need to dial things back in order to keep my girlish figure.

Nat asked me how vacation is so far and it's good. Nothing amazing but not bad. I think we're falling into a little bit of a sluggish pattern with the 6 adults and 2 kids. It's hard to get out of the house in a reasonable amount of time when Calvin and family don't wake up until 8-8:30. By then Julia's morning is 1/3 over. So while we're up here it's a lot of play, food, and sitting around.

After a while we go up on the roof to shoot some baskets for a while. It feels good to have a basketball in my hands again but it shortly becomes apparent that I am toasted. I'm almost jittery at the end, I'm so tired. I go downstairs and drink 2 cups of water and eat a kiwi. Later Grace gives me a fruit I've never seen in the states and then she cuts up a guava. It helps. Fruit feels good.

During the basketball session Calvin tells me he's basically being forced into going to the rally, and it's a political rally to boot. I'm leaning against it due to needing to get a little break from the insanity of everyone together and the fact that I'm not really interested in partaking in local politics. I think Nat's dad is going to put on the full-court press to get us to go. But we'll see. Maybe he lets it go and that's that. But I doubt it. I think Nat wants me to just deal with it and go because her dad is making such a big deal about it.

Later Nat's dad, Nat, Julia, and I go down to the basement to develop some pictures. I waste all my change on parlor games trying to grab various stuffed animals with the mechanical arm machines. I get the animal every time but it drops every time as well. They're impossible to win. So it's a quick lesson in not wasting your money any further. Julia encourages me by saying "more" every time I try to walk away.

Dinner is dumplings from around the corner, then Calvin and I take a walk and get dessert. Overall a pretty domestic day which is better for Julia. I think I'm ready to head back to Lotung, as is Nat's mom. Lydia and Julia aren't playing as well together anymore. Lydia is basically at an age where she does anything to get attention, like running around the apartment screaming at the top of her lungs while Nat is putting Julia to sleep. Her parents both feed into it by rewarding her with attention and thus positively reinforcing it. So that cycle basically repeats itself on and off through the day as she seeks attention. To be fair, she's just a normal kid. I see it as a reflection of the way her parents handle these outbursts.

On top of that, it's really hot in the apartment, in the realm of 5-10 degrees higher than outside, if not more. So I'm constantly sweating while we're here. I'll be happy when the weekend is over and we're on our way back down to Lotung for both of those reasons. Overall, it's a good trip but a lot of it is too much for Julia. I think we did this a year too early to save $1000, which is probably the additional cost in a year from now. She would have been a little more able to handle it then because we
would be able to explain things to her better than we can now, at her age. I hope she gets over a lot of her skittishness before I leave because Nat is going to have a rough time handling her alone when I'm gone. It's tough enough for 2 of us to have to carry her everywhere we go.

OK, that's enough for today. Tomorrow is another day

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Friday, March 14, 2008

Day 6: Back to Taipei

Up again at 5:00 am. Looks like our routine is 8:00-5:00 right now. That's fine, since there's not really anything to stay up late for and they start making food at 5:00am. We're out at 5:30 to get steam buns, coffee, congee, and rice. This place is rapidly heating up with commotion already. A light rain is falling.

The highlight of the walk is an old-timer who broke out an abacus to figure out what the steam buns cost and how much change we had. I was so bummed that I didn't have the camera. I might need to go back and get him inaction. It's not every day that you see someone actually use an abacus. Awesome stuff.

Over breakfast we discussed what time to go back up to Taipei, either before or after lunch/nap. Nat's parents are going up too, so that means we get a ride. Part of me was excited about the train ride but then Julia on a2-3 hour trip can be tough to handle. Nat's parents are also very accommodating in getting us around and trying to make sure we have a good time. Her dad is insanely good with Julia. She loves him.

Nat's cousin is in town from Canada and wanted to see us but she wants the world to come to her. Since we have a kid and Calvin has a kid, it's much easier for them to go to Calvin's. But she doesn't want to leave their house and venture out, so it got bagged. Seems that her cousin is a bit Westernized and likes to not move too much.

This is one (of many) things that I really like about being here, that you can walk everywhere. People who are Westernized - like Nat's cousin and brother - don't like it as much because they're so used to driving. I like being able to walk out the door and get anything you need. Breakfast is a walk, post office, bank, coffee - anything really. It makes the amount of eating we do easier to manage. I estimated that this morning's trip got us about a mile and a half of walking. It didn't need to be so much but we were exploring a little and ended up cruising up and down a few different streets in search of something different.

Around 8:00 I got on the exercise bike again for another hour. This wasn't as easy and by the end I was tired. Vacation plus these tough hour long rides are a tiring combination. On one hand I could bag the exercise, but staying in biking shape is important to me. Plus, it helps me manage the food intake if I can burn an extra 500-1000 calories here and there. The walking also helps. It all helps. After a while the trip becomes an endeavor in calorie management.

After my shower Julia and I went out to walk around while Nat and her mom went to get a haircut and Nat's dad went to see his mom. I was heading to7-11 for coffee, but then found a Barrista Coffee. Why not? I went in and managed to say the following, in Mandarin:

"Cup of coffee, Americano, no milk, no sugar."

Yes, I admit it, I can speak Mandarin a little bit. I couldn't survive here because my brain just can't understand other people speaking. Most people can understand but not speak, I'm the opposite. My vocabulary is well on the way (or it was) to being considered literate. My comprehension is well on its way to being considered dead.

So the girl rolls with it, and asks me a question.


In English, "I, um, don't speak Mandarin that well."

So we continued in English, her English much better than my Mandarin. But I got my coffee, and everyone in the store commented on how cute Julia is. It turned out to be the most expensive coffee you can buy, almost $3 US. But it also turned out to be the best cup of coffee I've had here, and better than anything you can get in the states.

Before lunch Nat and I ran out and got hot and sour soup. Nat's mom was making lunch again, which I appreciate. I really do. But we're not here for leftovers. We're here to get as much eating in as we can, while we can. So we had to go out an cheat. The soup was good, but not as remarkable as I remember it last time. We're in a bit of a constant battle with both Nat's mom and Grace to eat at the little hole in the wall joints. We want to but they always shoot it down as being too dirty. So we sneak around them and go renegade from time to time.

After nap we ran out for a milk tea, aka bubble tea. They have them in Chinatown but at 4 times the cost. Back to the apartment to pack and on the highway to Taipei. In the car at 2:43 so we should be back by 4:00. Our 48hour whirlwind tour of Lotung is over. We'll spend the weekend in Taipei with Nat's brother then come back on Monday. After that, no clue what next week holds. I do need to make my way to a night market and a tea farm of some sort. I also need a scallion pancake and a mos burger.

I have tentative plans with Nelson tonight to grab dinner somewhere. Not sure how that plays out as I haven't heard from him all week. Not sure if he's still available or not. Tomorrow is the zoo. And Sunday we get a free day as Calvin has a wedding and Nat's parents are going to a protest or demonstration of some sort. They're all political and shit so they do stuff like that.

I call Nelson's hotel and nothing. So we go to dinner without him and get one of the most vaunted, respected, awe-inspiring meals on all the land. Italian food. What? Huh? Are you for real? Yes, I'm for real. Calvin does everything he can to steer the meals in the direction he wants them. Like I said in a pre-vacation blog entry, he's all about the food. But sometimes he just goes in the wrong direction. We told him we absolutely did not want to do non-Asian food while we're here, and of course he ignores us. It wasn't a bad meal. It's just not why we're here.

After dinner we went shopping even though Julia was starting to fade again. It's not that she can't handle being tired, she just squirms when we sit down at a table and eat a meal and she's tired. She needs more unstructured play time, which she is currently getting as I write this as she destroys the play room with Lydia. She woke up at 5:00 am and she's still on fire at 8:30 pm. But when we got in the car she slipped her wig and we let her sit on my lap for the ride home...across the street. Remember what I said about being Westernized? Driving across the street to eat Italian food. To that end, tonight is the only night I overate. Or was it the driving 5 minutes? I don't know, but I'm overfull.

Never heard from Nelson. Maybe he started a fire somewhere and got his comeuppance.

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Thursday, March 13, 2008

Day 5: Show and Tell

We all slept from 7:30 to 5:00am this morning. Sweet sleep, much needed honey-coated sleep. For all intents and purposes (incense and porpoises) we're over the jetlag now. Out to get coffee and breakfast at 5:30 and things are much more reasonable at this time of day. People only mildly look at the white guy funny here. I forgot to mention the park from yesterday when we went on our walk. It's maybe 1/4 mile from the apartment and every old man in the town goes there to pass the day. They all looked at me like I was a walking 6 foot tall squid.

One thing that I totally forgot about the people here are the visits.They're best summarized as frequent, fast, and furious. You might get bombarded by people but it's not uncommon to see someone for all of 10minutes or even less. I like this a lot. If you're in the area you can stop by and see an aunt for 15 minutes and there's no repercussions for such a short stay. In the states, if you did that people would think you rude.There are other various aspects of this practice, like showing up empty handed. But by and large it's ok to not plan half a day around a visit like we do. Say hi, quick cup of tea, and we're off.

Oh I should also mention on day 5 I still have not had a proper cup of tea,hot and sour soup, a scallion pancake, fish roll, fish soup, nor stinky tofu. This must change soon! My wife also mentioned bubble tea.

Out around 8:00 to the street market where people sell all sorts of stuff.I would even be tempted to use the word myriad. Fruit and veggies up the wazoo, raw meat, cooked meat, fish, meat concoctions, plus breakfast foods and snacks in hundreds and hundreds of little stalls. People buzz back and forth on foot, bikes, scooters, and even small cars. This is awesome,really alive with people. This is the culture I was talking about yesterday. Just being part of it all. Seeing the tourist stuff is cool and all. But this is a necessary part of the trip IMO. Shortly after we're back out to the family jewelry store to get a small diamond replaced that fell out of Nat's wedding ring years ago. I also got my first real cup of tea there. Ah, good stuff. Feels good to back back in tea country. But I need more.

We're in the country now and the looks that the old-timers give the whitey are great. I've never actually seen some one's jaw drop open but a few times this morning I did. Good stuff.

Immersing yourself in the culture also means work, which is good as it means I am nominally useful as opposed to little more than an eating machine. Back at the apartment I am enlisted in helping Nat's aunt disassemble a bed and bring it downstairs for a relative coming to town to vote in next Saturday's presidential election. You would think that I could get away from politics here but their election is the day I leave. Plus, Obama was on the front page of the local newspaper yesterday. Today he takes a back seat to the Taiwanese baseball team that just qualified for the Olympics. Cool stuff.

Lunch is "in" which means only 3 of the things we ate were bought outside and brought back. We bought a bunch of veggies today because it's hard to get enough veggies when you're on vacation. We also found a Domino's so Julia can have her pizza. This will also give us an opportunity to try pizza here, which is not something we would normally do. It turned out to be about what you would expect anywhere. Generic Domino's pizza. I guess if you needed your fix you could easily get it there.

After lunch I hopped on the exercise bike for an hour of hard exercise. I needed to make it short and to the point because this isn't a riding vacation, per se. Maybe I should say fuck the race season and balloon up to220 over these 2 weeks. It was a tough start but after I was done I felt really good. It was certainly a needed shot to the system.

We went out for our afternoon show and tell at 2:30 with a planned stop at some park along the river before dinner. Today was a lot of sitting around the apartment so overall not terribly exciting. The park was cool. We got to feed some fish and ducks which Julia loved so that was nice. Stuff you used to think was lame is now great when you have a kid who loves it.

After the park we went to see Nat's grandmother again. Nat's dad tries to get the entire family to go see her every day which is a bit tedious but then again we only have an hour before we meet Nat's oldest uncle for dinner. So what else are we going to do? At least it gets us out of the house. Show and tell, show and tell. Do tell, you smell.

Dinner is one of "those meals" that makes coming here the eating festival that it is. When the first dish came out it was a big plate of shrimp.Everyone took only 1. I know this game so I did the same. I knew many more dishes were coming out and I needed to save room for them all. I had enough room but it wasn't for a lack of food. When all was said and done we hadn't cleared the table. There was far too much food for that to happen.

I would try to describe the food but it's useless to try and itemize everything we ate. We had dinner in an absolute hole in the wall, a place where the 3 Second Rule would be suspended and replaced with the 0 Second Rule. Very possibly I'm the only white person to ever eat there. We had dinner in Suou which is an international port known for its arsenal of fishing boats that sail from there. So the meal was seafood based, and it was really good at that. All good stuff, not a single dish I didn't think was excellent. These Taiwanese know their tower, tunnels, and food.

Julia wasn't a big fan of the show and tell. Her comfort zone is being threatened and all these new faces and strangers who want to hold her make her pretty nervous. Not much you can do with that. All these people want to see her and in the end, they all give her money and leave her be, more or less. Hopefully she gets used to this a little bit over the next few days,though after we've been here a week most of it will be over for her.

Another day ends in Food World.

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Wednesday, March 12, 2008

Day 4: In-Laws Arrive

Up for the day at 2:30. We decided that we totally played the jetlag card wrong with Julia yesterday. She isn't able to handle the forced manipulations to get her used to local time. She did well on the plane and for the first day on the ground, more or less. But she broke yesterday and slept most of the time from 3:30 until 2:15 this morning. This from a child that often sleeps 9 hours overnight. Now our approach is to milk her towards a sleep schedule that matches the local time.

The take away? I'm up again early, but this time Nat is too. By 3:00 am I'm feeding Julia the very Taiwanese meal of a white bagel with Philly cream cheese and Nat is showered. There's a local 7-11 where we're going to get coffee in a few minutes. I'm sure the workers will wonder why a whitey with a little kid is going there at 3:30 am. So it goes. That may get us to 4:00and then we'll go back out at 6:00 for breakfast. Then we wait for the house to wake up.

Nat's parents should get here around 8:00 am. We don't know what today holds exactly. We're thinking to head to Lotung until Friday then back up here for the weekend. I'm sure Nat's dad has something else in mind but that's a pretty fair guess how it goes. But why get too caught up in plans at 3:10 am on a Wednesday morning?

Going out at 3:30 elicits some interesting looks from the few locals that are awake. The lobby guard gave us a half-smile at first as he tried to put together what he was seeing. The 7-11 guy was downright perplexed. Then a tiny newspaper delivery van showed up and the guy announced, "What a beautiful baby!" Most people speak some scattered English here. On the way back we saw one of the breakfast stands opening and found out they have food at 5:00. Woo hoo! A new favorite breakfast place!

As a side note on cars here, as I mention the mini delivery van. Everything is mini here, including the tractor trailers. Do the math on that. The island is about double the size of NJ but at least 60% of it is rugged mountains where building a house is inviting a landslide. It has 25 million people. Everything needs to be smaller, especially the cars. Copious numbers of people drive scooters to work. It's entirely normal to see a guy in a 3 piece suit on a scooter.

The morning is a mish-mash of eating and people and coffee and so on, with the highlight being Nat's parents arriving at the expected 8:00. Julia was happy to see them and she got to see Lydia this morning too. Even though she was fading, once we got upstairs she perked up and lasted longer than yesterday. The 10+ hours of sleep helped. Lydia threw a tantrum because she didn't want to go to school with all the coolness around, so they let her stay home. She was understandably upset because cousin and grandparents were here so she wanted to play.

Julia lasted until 10 and while she napped we packed our luggage to bring to Lotung, our post-nap destination with Nat's parents. We were only going to bring a subset of our stuff but we decided to bring it all and then bring a subset back here for the weekend. If I'm lucky I can get some time on a bike of some sort later today. Smart money says doubtful though, since we have to do a little show and tell before anything else. Probably tomorrow is more likely.

As I'm sitting here I'm a hair still under the jet lag gun but I'm really surprised how well I'm adjusting. Given the amount of biking I do at 4:30am I think that's not a surprise. A nap wouldn't hurt but then I don't feel like I'm desperate for one. In the past I've felt it takes about a week to get there. If Julia wasn't waking me up at 2:00 I think I'd be pretty good to go. Staying up until 8:00 wasn't a problem last night.

On the road at 1:15 after lunch, a noodle dish that was good but nothing remarkable. This morning was a lot of food and not a lot of movement, so feeling a bit bloated here in the back seat. Julia is like a happy little pig now that she's well rested and with 2 more familiar faces. In the last18 hours she's gone from absolutely miserable to quite happy, thankfully.

The ride is supposed to be 1:15 which gets us there at 2:30. First order of business will be to see Nat's grandmother who is 93 years old and about 4feet tall the last time I saw her. She's the queen of the family in the old culture, so you have to go see her as soon as you get into town.

While I have some time let me explain to you where the expression Chinese Fire Drill comes from. I know my wife is going to roll her eyes when she reads this. But I'm pretty sure the expression originated with my wife's family. When a decision needs to be made they stand in a tight circle,raise their voices, and all speak at once, rapidly. I have to assume this tradition has been seen in many Asian families and in the event of a fire,the chaos surrounding it would be pretty apropos of the expression given it.

Or maybe the Asians are first rate fire fighters. Who knows?

The ride down is really awesome. I took some pictures which won't do any justice because they were from a moving car. But the landscape and how the Taiwanese work with it is nothing short of awesome. Tiny little shacks sit on top of just brutally steep hills. I can't imagine what's up there but someday I'd love to come back for a picture and hiking tour. Farms sit on grades that must literally be 45 degrees. I think you'd need to spend 6months here to get enough sunny days to film everything right. But there are so many little picturesque places here it would be a great thing to do some day. Maybe in a few years.

The reason we drive to Lotung now is that they completed a 12.9 kilometer tunnel through the mountain that separates the 2 places. So it used to be like a 2 hour train ride just from Taipei. Now we start on the other side of Taipei and it takes 1:15. That's a good idea of just how rugged these mountains are. This plus the Taipei 101 building are good indications of the direction the country is going. I imagine that if they really put their minds to it they could kick some serious ass fighting fires. I could imagine myself living here in some circumstances in the years ahead. But I said the same thing the first time I came here.

Visit with Nat's grandmother is less than 30 minutes total and everyone was stoked that Julia would repeat the name for great-grandmother in Taiwanese.I got a few pics of all 4 generations which was pretty cool. We really should do the same thing on our side of the family. Julia is starting to repeat anything we ask her to which is a pretty solid source of entertainment.

Back to the apartment in Lotung and we went out for a walk after dumping the luggage. After we got back a few aunts stopped by, one with cake the other with homemade turnip cake which apparently everyone knows I like.Dinner was some rocking Japanese food then we all went to bed at 7:30.Given that Julia crashed at 3:30 the day before, this is major progress.

Oh, and I found the exercise bike and it's a pretty nice looking bike. I adjusted the saddle and put my pedals on so it's ready to go. Hopefully it's worth something.

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Tuesday, March 11, 2008

Day 3: Good Vacation Bad Vacation

The day begins at 1:30 am when Julia decides that 5.5 hours of sleep is enough. She manages to occupy herself for a while but by 3:00 she and I are awake and the rest of the house is asleep. Armed with a loaf of bread,cheese, water, a banana, a yogurt drink, some blocks and the TV I manage to keep her occupied until 5:00 when Nat wakes up to lend a hand.Unfortunately, at the site of mom Julia goes wild and just starts making an insane amount of noise.

Waiting for the island to wake up on the first full morning always sucks. I want to get my breakfast on but nobody else seems to care that we're awake and in need of salty, greasy breakfast food. So we wait. When the time does finally come we get coffee, soymilk, some meat buns, and a Shanghai bing(pancake) with egg in it. Pancake here means doughy fried thing, much different than what we in the states call a pancake.

By 8:00 the house is still asleep and Nat puts Julia asleep for her nap. I guess this can be considered a nap though her schedule is up in the air still. We wanted to wait for cousin Lydia to wake up to help keep Julia awake but the timing was wrong. Jet lag still in full effect.

So how to play the rest of the morning, and the day for that matter? Julia is hopefully out for 3-5 hours and we'll let her go longer this time which means we have some totally dead down time until lunch. But we're hoping this sets her up better to sleep through tonight. At this point I'm not100% but I could be out and about doing the vacation thing.

Looking at the next few days we have an array of opinions of what we should do. Calvin and Grace want X, Nat's parents are here Wednesday morning and they want Y, and Nat and I want Z but we don't know what Z is yet. Even though this is par for the course you never get used to it. And to be honest we don't even know what we want, what we can get away with, or what even works with the various sleep schedules and transportation options. We do, however, continue to eat while we think and wait.

Julia eventually wakes up at 10:15, much earlier than we thought she would.So we decide to go a little old school and make it up on the fly. the last2 trips were a lot of us just going and figuring things out as we went. So we went to Calvin's office which is the 6th floor of the building and told them we were going to burn some time. Calvin and Grace ditched work to take us out. Food shopping.

So it's not such an exciting vacation foray after all. So sue me. At least we get to pile in the car and go buy cheese products for Julia. We're tooling around and I see Taipei 101 which is currently the world's tallest building (but not for long apparently). I'm all like, "Hey cool check it out it's Taipei 101. Today would be about as good a day as you can expect in this city to get a view." You see, I saw a shadow today which is pretty remarkable in this country of overcast weather. So while it is still hazy,it's as good as you can get. I'm sure there are clearer days but they don't come often.

So, I got to actually see Taipei 101 which was cool. I snapped a few pictures off in the hazy distance and that was that. Well we kept getting closer so I kept taking more pictures. Eventually we were right next to it and I'm taking absolutely vertical shots. They seemed to come out really cool but it's hard to say until we download them. Cool, I got to see it from close up which was even cooler than just seeing it from afar.

Then Calvin pulls into the parking lot which, like many other parking lots in Taipei is below ground. The sign says, "Taipei 101 parking," and I'm like, "I didn't know we were going here."
Calvin says, "There's a supermarket in the basement. And a food court."

Cooler, we actually get to go into the basement and get some food there. We sit down for lunch, a mediocre bowl of noodles and soup plus a really good oyster pancake, where pancake in this instance is actually an omelet with all kinds of gooey stuff. It was good.

Then I asked Calvin if he wanted to go up. "Not really," he says. A few minutes later and I ask Nat, "Not really, it's up to you."

I'm like, well I can't go to the world's tallest building and not buy the ticket. Aside from the fact I'm on vacation and it's only $10, what are my readers going to think if I bail? I decide to go up solo while the 3 of them wait behind with Julia. I had to make sure the elevator wasn't glass and exposed to the outside because I am deathly afraid of heights.

The ride up was 37 seconds. The thing flew and covered almost 2/3 the distance in 15 seconds. Then it slowed down dramatically and inched its way to the end. When I got out of the elevator I found that every white person in Taipei was there on the observation deck with me, while presumably all their friends were in the basement waiting for them to finish.

It was cool but as expected very hazy out. I was nervous at first to get too close but I did inch close to the glass and take some pictures from all sides as well as some looking straight down. Hopefully they come out. The neat thing was the super-weighted ball that helps prevent sway from the wind and earthquakes. That was a behemoth of a weight which must have been a hell of a task getting up there. Now I have to learn more about the construction of it.

Then I took another 37 seconds to descend and that was that. We eventually made our way to the market which was basically a high-end US-like market with the prices to match. The reason we went here at all was to buy cheese to prevent our daughter from starving while we're here. Everything we bought was imported from the US.

When we got back to the apartment the 3 of us went to the local market and bought some fruit. We couldn't imagine paying the $9 per Japanese apple at the first place. So we went a bit more native with the fruit trip. Even though it's cool to do some of the tourist things I really dig the whole"going native" vibe and eating and shopping in the little shit holes.That's what I really enjoy about taking vacations here. It's the antithesis of the beach resort, food festival that a lot of Americans like. I really dig the whole idea of just living life as another person while we're on the island. We do eat well. But meals are $2-3 between us so it's not like we break the bank to eat.

Nap #2 started at 3:30 which was a bit problematic and turned our day a bit upside down, because it turned out nap #2 was not a nap at all but her going to bed for the night. We tried to wake her up twice and both times she handled it extremely poorly, to put it mildly. So we put her back to bed and at 7:00 decided to eat dinner then call it a night ourselves in anticipation of being up really, really early for day 4. Things could be going the wrong way at this point and I am forced to question the wisdom of this trip at all right now. I'm sure she'll be fine in the long run but where do you draw the line? At what point do you say that it's just not worth it so you can eat a bunch and parade her around? Today my fears for the worse have been realized. I didn't think the first 2 days would be this bad for her.

I'm sure it all works out in the end, but right now I'm not looking atthat. I'm concerned about my little girl.

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Monday, March 10, 2008

Day 2: On the Ground

So we land, and Calvin is there to pick us up. Good to have Nat's brother there as it saves us the headache on so many levels. The first 3 obvious ones are a ride, an apartment, and breakfast. Again, breakfast is the best meal of the day.

The drive to his apartment brings it all back in an instant. The country is enveloped in rain clouds right now but you still get the lush greenery, the mountains, and of course the traffic that's exacerbated by it being rush hour on Monday morning. Taipei makes New Jersey look like Maine. The rice paddies next to the highways are another neat touch. I could point out 100 things that are cool to look at but the best way to put it is that you're in a different country and it shows every which way you look.

First food stop is near the house, a little breakfast action as I get a rice ball filled with a bunch of different goodies like fried cruller,eggs, picked spicy veggies, and dried pork. On the side a cup of coffee and a warm soymilk. Yeah baby this is what I'm talking about. Fucking a Walter,life is good.

Took a shower and when I closed my eyes the world started to move. I am on an earthquake-heavy island and I have experienced a small one before. But no, this is also something that I remember from last time. Being overtired and showering almost washes it out of you. The funk of flight gives way to the weariness of travel in no time. I quickly turned the water to cold because a hot shower only makes it worse.

While Julia napped we had some lunch, where I got a little more of my roadside food on and had some stewed beef over rice with a side of meat-broth soup, a standard meal in these parts. Then I listened to my wife and napped for 30 minutes while she pulled the plug early and didn't nap at all. We woke up Julia at 2:30 in an effort to manage her jet lag and it went over pretty poorly so we put her back to sleep and got another coffee. The30 minutes will end up doing me a lot of good. But Nat is going to crash severely at some point for lack of siesta.

The first day on the ground is always this routine of food, coffee, and snippets of rest with copious amounts of staring into space and the logic circuits in you mind crossing connections and telling you things are different than they really are. With child, it's harder to manage it all and it's a fair guess that we fucked it up today. Not much in the way of vacationing gets done this first day.

As I'm sitting here writing this, while Nat tries to re-nap Julia, I swear I hear a rooster somewhere. I would later hear it again more clearly 2hours later. While there is a lot of country even right here in the city of Taipei, I'm currently on the 10th floor of an office/apartment building.

Dinner was dim sum, a pretty standard version with nothing exotic. Julia started to really lose it then, just lost in space. We played that one wrong by going out at all. Should have stayed in and made dinner at the house.

8:00 and the day is done for all of us. Just shot all around the horn. It is then when I realize I have not brushed my teeth in about 60 hours. Holy crap.

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Sunday, March 09, 2008

Day 1: The Plane

Arriving to the airport helps you mentally take a big step in seeing the trip from something that cost money to something you now see as a reality. When you step into the airport it's real. Then you see the long line and say, "Yeah, this is going to be a long flight." But then, you paid for Deluxe Economy, which is like a cheeseburger Royale, or whatever the Pulp Fiction line is. So you go right to the line for your class which has exactly 1 person in front of you. Nice! I can't imagine the service you get if you pay for Business Class.

Due to the high winds the flight was delayed 45 minutes and since it took all of 10 minutes to check in we had nearly 2.5 hours to burn. We started by going up and down escalators then riding the air train from terminal to terminal then getting some fries. That got us to 9:30 and boarding was10:35 so we decided to go into the terminal and out of the main concourse area to try and burn some more time.

Inside the terminal we found out it was further delayed to a 10:50 boarding. Thankfully Julia had sacked out until 5:30 that afternoon so we weren't worried about her losing it. I got my traditional pre-flight beer which helps me deal with the fact that deep down I really don't like flying that much, especially when the high winds have the whole airport delayed an hour. Sadly all they had other than crap was Sam Adams Cherry Wheat. Surprisingly it was really tasty. Even Nat thought it was good. I guess we were both ripe for a drink. To recap, the flight still hadn't started yet.

As a side note, the copy and paste made all the sentences run together, so if you see 2 words together likethis you know I missed it in edit. I'm posting this while Julia naps on day 2 and I'm on 3.5 hours of sleep over the last 40. So I might miss some stuff.

1:35 and she's finally asleep. Hard to believe she made it that far with no complaints. I don't mean little complaint I mean none at all. She's a really good kid and when she gets tired she just deals with it. Then she fades and she's out. I guess this is a little of why we're expecting this to be a reasonable (not easy) flight. But then, we still have 18 hours until we land.

So the little green leprechauns, a name I used on the stewardesses on our2001 trip here, hooked me up with 2 monster cups of red wine so right now I'm floating above the continent in several different ways. The plane is new, and the state of the airlines in 2008 is much better than it was in2002. The food was pretty good, and the cake and rice pudding were actually quite enjoyable.
I'm loving this interactive TV thing. We all have touch screen TVs which allow us to watch whatever we want. I always love the map thing. They had that on previous flights but now I can dial it in on demand. Currently we're already past Chicago. Not bad given that we only left 2 hours ago.

Holy shit I just found this stuff:

Distance Travelled: 1066 mi
Distance to Destination: 2372 mi
Outside Air Temperature: -54
Time to Destination: 4:32
Ground Speed: 559 mi/h
Altitude: 33998 ft

That's just a subset of what we have available. This is friggin awesome!Maybe all this real cash money didn't go to waste on this airline ticket.

OK it turns out that we're approaching Winnipeg already, well past Chicago.If I zoom in further, I see that we're just passed Sioux Lookout, Canada.I'd live to know the history of that place.
Oh, feels like we're slowing down. Julia just stirred. She probably not going to sleep remarkably all night. So it goes. I better try to get some sleep. The tough part is still ahead of us, to say the least.

6:00 am now. I'm still using our time to give an idea how far along we are. I slept for the last hour and most of the last 2. Maybe 2.5 in total at best. Julia has been asleep the whole time but woke up a lot before 4:00. Since then, she's been pretty quiet. Nat tried to put her on the floor on a little bed I made but that didn't go over well. We have the first row of the section so there's more room for her. People with kids get the front row.

We'll be down in Anchorage in another 190 miles which won't take very long, 25 minutes according to the Info Map. Not sure how that's going to go over with Julia. My guess is not well at first. But she'll have 5 hours of sleep under her belt by then. Not a lot but hopefully enough to be able to deal with the layover. No idea how long the second flight is. I guess about 12 hours.
Had a meal when we got on the plane which wasn't so bad. Pork in some sauce, roasted potatoes, mixed veggies, fake seafood salad, fruit, roll, and cake. That was when I had the red wine. In all it didn't do much to help me sleep. Not a lineup that will make you say wow but not bad for airline fare.

Got to check out now and play some video games while I have a few minutes. This is going to be the tough part soon.

7:30 am EST now, but that's before the time change. So my time is all whacked out. Suffice to say we left the house 12 hours ago and that's where we are. I feel surprisingly refreshed but I can see my writing is getting strung out and mundane. When I describe airplane food I know things are scrambled in my brain. Just about halfway there, all told.

I had a cup of complimentary coffee, called my mom, then took a leak and suddenly it was time to get back on the plane. We let Julia sleep as long as we could so they kicked us off, the last passengers to get off. Why get off first when you're just going to sit around an airport? The layover was effectively 30 minutes. Back on the plane in no time and another 9:15 of official flight time. Using my keen Batman powers, that gets us to Taipei at about 6:15 am. Even though we left 1:45 late we seem to be just about on time. They must have used high octane on the way out.

10:00 am and the 2 of us are on the floor playing with an Elmo flap book. She's really starting to need some hard-core real-life entertainment. She's not even that interested in the TV much anymore. She gets mad if we play video games. The ETA has slipped and now we're 7:35. So the 9:15 flight has been bumped to 10:35. I guess wind is a huge factor, or they ran out of super gas.
We've gone 1198 miles from Alaska and still 3661 until Taipei. They served us a Jimmy Dean breakfast bagel with egg and cheese. I'm tired but doing ok. Nat is zonked, sleeping. And Julia just fell asleep on her lap in the 5 minutes it took me to write this. I wonder if I should try to nap as well. I think I have BO. Actually I know I do.

Instead I played video games for an hour. I'm kicking ass at Zuma.

I should also not that the 7:30 arrival time is 6:30 pm our "old" time, just for reference. That's making the door-to-door trip look like 24-25 hours or so. I'm sure none of this is terribly clear but I'm tired so cut me some slack.

4:20 pm by our old clock. Got in an hour of sleep and feel refreshed. Maybe 3.5 hours total in the last 36, and it's going to need to last another 16 or so. May need to nap. Feeling surprisingly good but I know from past trips it won't last. Julia zonked out for another 3.5 so that's 9 total hours of sleep for her, all on Nat's lap. Nat is going to crash later.

The sun is rising to our left. It now becomes clear how colossally large this 777 engine is. Crazy what modern engineering can do. Crazy what a semi-delirious mind will write as "vacation notes" at this stage of the game. I feel bloated, dehydrated, full, and constantly hungry all the time. The symptoms of being really tired. Oh, and the video game Zuma got me through this trip. On my return trip I plan on playing it for 12 hours.

In the home stretch now. Less than 90 minutes until we hit the ground. Still another 90 after that to call it a trip if we're lucky, maybe 2.5 if we're unlucky. This has been a long entry but really it reflects the sick long trip this is to get there. I feel like our neighbor Graham dropped us off at the airport a week ago at this point. One brain can only take so much.

That may be about all for this writeup. If you got this far give yourself a pat on the back and consider what the actual journey is like. But then, we have some vacation ahead so it's all good at this point. The line to the bathroom is longer than this post. Jesus Christ people get a move on.
6:05 on the ground (7:05 local time). Out of the airport by 6:45. Back at Calvin's apartment at 7:45. All told, the door-to-door trip took 24 hours,15 minutes.

Wow that was rough. But I'll be damned if I'm going to go edit it any more than I did. Time for a nap.

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