We make holes in teeth!

Monday, February 14, 2011

Taiwan - One Week Later

One week later, and here I am. Here we are. I wanted to sit down 1 week, and then 1 month, later and write a little about the trip now that I've had a chance to decompress a bit. I'm pretty much over the jetlag, though I always contend it takes a solid week and with the stomach virus running through the house I don't think anyone is quite "normal" just yet. It was certainly harder coming back than it was to go.

On that note, the first few days, almost the whole week, I hated being here. I'm still not loving it, but it's a little better. Everything about "here" is just drab, so dreadfully boring. I've gone on a few bike rides, and the landscape just sucks. You have to drive everywhere and the drivers here, while fewer, all think they own the goddamn world. I also realize how much people here live an existence where they hide in their cocoons and come in contact with as few people as possible.

Jetlag and Being Sick

I'd like to thank all the parents out there who bring your children to school when they're sick. You know how people say "it's going around"? Well the reason it "goes around" is because your kid spikes a fever or throws up all night and you still send them to school. It's pretty easy to figure out really. If the kid has a fever, or is shitting and throwing up all over, yeah, go ahead and keep them home.

As you might guess, Julia and I are both sick with this stomach thing that's "going around." She got it from school of course, where some of her classmates have it. Mine was pretty low-key, maybe a 24 hour deal with some light residual the next day. Julia had a day of fever, then a day of crapping fire which was the most intense I've ever heard her cry, then yesterday was a day of vomiting all day. She must have thrown up 12 times. Awesome stuff.

Combine that with the jetlag and you have an awesome week. By "awesome" here I mean "not awesome" of course. On top of the jetlag, the past few days have just been a total drain on all of us. Julia was in constant pain with a stomach ache most of yesterday, which made all of us want to jump out the window many times. Living on the first floor takes some of the oomph out of that statement but you get the point.

I like jetlag sometimes. It's an opportunity to see the world in a time frame you normally wouldn't. One of the things a trip like this produces in you is a desire to get out of the ruts and routines you've established in the past whatever-time-frame. Waking up at 1-2-3:00 am makes life different, a little more interesting for a few days. Nothing is open, of course. So it's kinda limited. But it's not like you can run down to the breakfast shop and grab an early breakfast for $4. We went to the diner the other day and it was $25 for breakfast. This country is seriously cash mad. When the heck did 3 eggs start costing $6?

Speaking of diners, Utah said it best to me the other day when he said NJ is like a diner. Lots of things are good, nothing is great. Really hit the nail on the head with that one I think.

Diversionary Constructs

I used this expression the other day when talking to Bill. I think I create these diversionary constructs to remove my brain from the "here and now" a lot of times because it is so boring here that I need something else to make life interesting. I'm sure a lot of people are cool with the routine, and I'm sorry if I'm offending you in some way. I know that living elsewhere for 6 weeks like that seems like it would be a chore, and in some ways I admit it was. But for me, the routine often times means rut. I greatly dislike that in life.

So we, or at least I, setup what I refer to as diversionary constructs. And of course, you all know that this comes in the form of biking for me. Just 23 minutes into my first bike ride since being back, I started to think about training plans and how my race season was going to go. This is in stark contrast to my desire to just wing it this year, do fewer meaningless crap races, and do more epic rides and events to make life more interesting. I have time to rearrange my thinking. But it took all of 23 minutes of riding here to lose interest in where I am and start thinking about those diversionary constructs.

I think that's a lot of why I race and blog about it, because it gives me a vehicle to create this alternate world where NJ is more interesting than it really is. I've long contended that a place is as interesting as you make it. I still believe that, to a point. But I also have to admit that the grass field across the street is damn boring, no matter which way you slice it. So some places have additional perks which mean you have to work less to make it interesting.


I've spent a lot of time trying to learn Chinese and several people have said to me since I got back that my Chinese must be rocking now. Well, my "street" Chinese has gotten better but the textbook language that I've been learning has gone to shit. I can survive in the country, scallion pancakes and coffee being an obvious example of one narrow window of how I can do that. But the scores of audio lessons I've listened to and reviewed amounted to almost no use while we were there, other than showing off to the taxi driver that I can say "seatbelt" in Chinese.

The best analogy is like this. Here is how I learned to speak:

I walk into a bar in England and want to order a beer. So I say, "Hello old chap. I was wondering if I could have a full glass of your finest barely-based alcoholic drink."

Someone then says, "Kibbles! Hey Stumpy, Blarney here wants an up of the old nig-nug. Primp up on the quick!"

It's kinda like that. All this time I feel like I've been learning stuff that nobody says. I mean here and there I recognized some words. But people speak in more of a street talk, not the "proper" way that they teach. For instance, they teach you to say, "I do no understand what you're saying," if you are confused. But in real life, they say the equivalent of, "hear no understand." It's very simple, "ting bu dong." A street vendor selling scallion pancakes more or less taught me that. So all the time I spent learning Chinese seems to have been somewhat of a waste. Or rather, I've gone right to high school conversations where most people speak grade school, at least as far as actual conversation goes.

That sounds like people speak like hacks. But it's more like if they taught you to say in English, "I'm sorry, I don't understand what you're saying." But then you went to the market and everyone just said, "Huh?" The sad reality is that nobody ever teaches you WTF "huh" means.


On that note, I have not rolled out of the vacation trying to continue my Chinese skills. I'm not sure what my plan is. I need to do something, or give up entirely.

Food & Fat

I'm not going to deny it, I got fat on this trip. I don't yet know how much weight I gained because I've been avoiding the scale. Well I got back on it 2 times. The first time was right after the trip, and it said I gained only 3 pounds. The second was like 2 days ago and it said I gained 9. So it appears that I have gained 6 pounds in the week we've been back. I'm still sick right now so I'm going to wait to normalize a bit since my weight goes up when I'm tired/sick. But the takeaway is that unless I carefully track my calories in/out numbers, I get fat. Of course, those who saw me in the old days can attest to that. But every now and again I need to make sure. I'm sure.

Since we've been back, I've made my own soymilk, rice milk, and scallion pancakes. The soymilk was really good (though Nat thought it was a bit "beany"), the rice milk was once good and once so-so. And the scallion pancakes were ok, still a WIP.

Nat made one of the stewed pork & bamboo concoctions which came out great:

This looks good but was lacking salt, and may have been a bit too thick:

Open invite for any of this stuff to those people who a) still read and b) don't scare me.

Terren's Comments

I have cherry picked these, but I'm trying to pare stuff down. Terren gets his own section because he was the most consistent person to comment. I really had no idea who was reading the whole time but I did know T was. So in no particular order...

Look forward to next year's 60-day trip even if it means we don't get to see you guys for two months.

As I sit here now, on Saturday, kid vomiting up a storm and the weather sucking out there, I'm thinking that another winter trip is what I'd like to do. I'm actually bummed that we missed the Lantern Festival. I can do without the Chinese new year, since it's kinda meaningless in terms of public outings.

But there are a few considerations which might roadblock this. First being work. I need to make sure that whatever role I'm in allows it. Second would be Julia's school, and if she can bow out of kindergarten for 2 months. The final piece would be Nat's parents, and their plans to be there at the same time which would make things more difficult.

The lean right now would be to go for summer next year, or perhaps spring. Summer would eliminate 2 of the 3 issues, with the only remaining 1 being work. Spring would eliminate the in-law's trip plans. We'll see what pans out but at this moment, I'd say we're likely a lean to go again.

Anyway, looking forward to whatever you have to say about it. I'm a big fan of Alan Watts as you may know and everything he said about Taoism was fascinating, to me anyway. It might be the only mystical type religion I'm actually interested in.

Unfortunately I have nothing to add on the subject of Daoism right now. It's on my radar, but I'm too busy with work and vomiting child to think about much right now. Also rearranging the deck chairs on our own personal Titanic we refer to as a house. I get like this after every trip, but this effort has been the most effective so far.

Hey, know what, I dreamed last night that I was in Taiwan with you guys. I was driving around and kept messing up because the traffic was so strange. And then we made it the apartment you guys were staying in and Natalie proceeded to unfold this incredibly complex contraption which turned out to be an ironing board. I wish it was more interesting then that but I had to share.

I really have no comment on this but I wanted to share it with the larger audience.

You weren't kidding about the Betel Nut stands... just found this:

There used to be many easy-to-look-at Betel Nut girls but those days are mostly gone now. You can still see them in Taoyuan county, but by and large they're manned by, well, sometimes men, but more often than not middle-aged women that don't exactly turn the eyes like the Wikipedia pic. We did see maybe 3 really nuts stands, all of which I missed the pic on. I wanted to go back and get a good shot but like many other things, we just never made it. If they sold good beer and had hot betel nut girls at the top of Taipei 101, that might have been 1 trip I was sure to have made.

These days, the girls that used to "man" the stands are working at cell phone stores or the mall, among other places. There's too much money elsewhere for most girls to slum to the truck drivers, which is the majority of the business of these drive-up shops. You often see the stands on busy roads that lead in & out of the towns, easy pit stops for the trucks as they leave town.

By and large, that era has passed in the country though. They will almost always draw my attention still, since there remains the off chance that you may catch a real Betel Nut Beauty. But more often than that, it's a middle-aged man who could stand to lose a few or 20 pounds sitting in the booth watching TV.

Stay Tuned

I hope to come back again with a last follow-up, 3 weeks from now, to put a final cap on the trip. Like many of the small plans we had for Taiwan, it may fall by the wayside and never happen. But I have some things written down that I'd like to address. I also hope to be done with the deck chairs here and maybe the weather will be nice and I won't dislike this state so much by then.

One thing I will add because I have it written on a post it note is that we brought back far too much snack food and far too little real stuff. In all, we seem to have carried back 20 pounds of things to eat, none of which will be around in a month from now. But the persistent things, like the tea seat and the glass dragons, were pretty sparse. In hindsight I wish we would have done more of the permanent additions and less of the stuff that turn into little piles of shit you flush down the toilet. Oh well, live and learn.

I also hope to be able to report back that I did not, in fact, gain as much weight as feared, that my Chinese is at near high school conversational level, and that the spring came astoundingly early this year. Alas, I won't hold my breath on any of those points but one can hope.



Post a Comment

<< Home


Accommodation in aviemore