We make holes in teeth!

Saturday, January 22, 2011

Taiwan Day 23 - Traditional Arts Center

Full picture set of the day here: Flickr set or slideshow.

I have to admit, the sun seems such a long, long time away at this point. Yeah, I see little glimpses of it here and there but we're back to the grime-infested bike ride days. And Monday looks to be back in the 50s (ok, 59 but it counts) and I'm sort of yearning for a nice clear, sunny day. I know, my audience is basically sitting in a foot of accumulated snow with highs anywhere from 5-20. I guess I can't complain. On that note, I was bummed that there were no topless models to give me a hot cup of coffee when I woke up today.

On the bike front, I feel like I've just about ridden the whole county and there's not much left to explore here. I set out today with the idea to ride for 3 hours, with no purpose whatsoever. I was back on the road bike, which just fits me better. The McCruiser is a nice break, and I may actually use it tomorrow. But in all, the bike that I was fit for just feels so much better. The new rear tire is nice, and the new brake pads felt great. I left the house with literally no idea what to do, and there was no clear sky to chase, so I sort of fumbled around before going on a route I've been before, but only once. I soon turned in a direction that I know all too well, and decided to hit the "geothermal" which is basically a hot spring that is used to make energy. It's a tourist attraction that I haven't been to yet. So what they heck, having a target is always good.

I was going to do some fluff miles then hit it, but instead of going out the long way I decided to go directly there because it was wet and I wasn't motivated. As I was climbing up the hill to get to route 7 the long way, some guy on a road bike passes me, smiles, and says good morning. His English was awful, so I assumed he really could only speak a few token things which is why he didn't say anything other than that. I smiled, and of course went into hunt mode.

I was impressed. Dude was wearing real bike clothes, was riding a Giant, looked the part except for the fact he had flat pedals. But he was solid strong and seemed to know what he was doing out there. As soon as he passed me I picked him up and stayed about 20 feet behind. Ok, I'm going to go into race recap mode now, since this was a play-by-play sorta moment. Shortly after passing me, he slowed down a bit and was then soon out of the saddle. I've ridden up this hill several times and I assume he knows it well, so we both knew the terrain. He was going hard, I could tell, and his standing made me think he was throwing it down to knock out the fat whitey on the hill.

As we were going up, we passed some old timer on a scooter towing a food stand up the hill. This is common here, as people set up stands in random spots. So they tow the stands home at night, and back in the morning. As the road flattened out, the old timer passed us back, but the road soon started to get steep again and the scooter just couldn't keep it going. I pulled up to the other roadie and we stayed together for a little bit. He smiled as I rode next to him, and as the road started to pitch up I kept pace to let him know this was for real. I mean seriously, he threw down by passing me on the hill, right?

So we started pitching up, and I was ahead of him, giving it a reasonable amount of gas but not letting it fly. We rounded a turn, and the old timer was quickly coming back. The top of the hill was just about 200 yards away at this point and I started to push the edges a little. Of course, I never look back, not because I'm a big Don Henley fan but because there's only 1 way to see things. I took back the scooter with about 100 yards left to go and then just dropped the hammer to the top of the hill. The other guy was never in my line of sight the whole climb.

I crested the climb and coasted down the hill on the other side. I hit the bottom and just kept a pace for a little bit, then eventually turned around to look for him. Completely gone. Not sure where he went, but he was out of sight. I kept on, shortly after taking the turn to go to the geothermal.

The road out was paved, but a little chunky in spots. It didn't take long to get up to the touristy area. And shortly after I got there, the old timer was right behind me. I guess he hangs out and sells food to both the tourists and the people working he area.

He then went on to tell me that the other guy went straight where we went towards the geothermal. At least that's what I got out of it. When we get the car I may go back with Nat & Julia and have her talk to him and ask what exactly he said. But it probably doesn't really matter. The area was neat, and this was something that was just blowing from the riverbed:

Off in the distance you could see a few others, just blowing away:

There was a "public" one with a stone foundation and a temperature gauge (it was 80C) near the parking lot. But the major one was on the other side of the lot, and was so loud you couldn't help but both see it and hear it:

The area was neat, and I'd like to go back, assuming we ever actually get a car. Taking a taxi would cost us an arm and a leg so I doubt we end up doing that. Not sure any buses go up in that area. Once I start to take my days off we definitely need the car to make the most of it. But that's another day. For the rest of the ride, I ended up heading out to route 7, going north a bit, then heading home on the straight shot that I always do.

On the way home I decided I wanted a rice ball. I could have gone home and asked Nat to go. But I was feeling the need to redeem myself after that piss poor display when I was left on my own. So I decided to go and get one myself. I turned down the night market street on the way home, and was surprised at how many people were on the street at that time. So I went around the long way and hit it from the main road. I had never been thee before but I knew where it generally was. When I got there, I saw the stand that looked like the right one, and sure enough it was.

I have to say, there really aren't a lot of firsts that you as a human being can do. But I'm reasonably sure that I'm the only white guy to ever roll up to that stand on a road bike fully clad in spandex and order a rice ball. What's more, I was actually able to understand the conversation. First, she asked me if I only wanted 1. Then she asked if I wanted egg. Finally, they asked if I wanted hot sauce. Yes, yes, and yes. Or good, good, and good to be precise.

When I got back to the house Nat asked me if I wanted to go to Taipei for the day, and I said to let me think about it. I had no better ideas so I said as much. We sort of bummed around the rest of the morning then did lunch, which was veggies from Nat's uncle's farm, starch sausage, and some duck from Nat's aunt, plus rice. The starch sausage was banging this time. Better than the first time we had it.

At some point we decided to go to the Traditional Arts Center which is in town, not far away. We had gone there last time we were here and it gave us something to do. Here's a picture of the "main street"

As you can imagine, both sides of the street are lined with shops of all kinds. I'm not going to try and describe everything that was there, as I simply don't have the energy and you don't really care that much. There were traditional arts shops mixed with food stores as well as junk stores full of trinkets to buy, the latter being where Julia wanted 1 of everything. There were several shops in particular, but the 2 that were probably most notable were the pottery store where you could pay like $4 to make your own piece of pottery, which Julia partook:

And the glass shop, where we saw the guy making a glass dragon in the back of the store, which was super cool. This guy was the shit:

We also fed ducks, saw an absolutely lousy performance of some sort, and saw a guy making incense which was pretty cool. The performance art, combined with the show we saw down in GaoXiong, makes me wonder how lousy a show has to be for people not to sit down and watch it here. There had to be at least 200 people watching, if not more.

On the walk home from the train station (where the taxi dropped us) Nat looked into the possibility of me renting a scooter for a day. The people at first said no, then yes, and finally no. Apparently if I get a ticket they get held responsible so they don't want to take that risk. We walked away with the impression that if we looked around enough, we could find someone to rent me a scooter. I have to try this before I go.

For dinner, we headed out and randomly looked for something on the other side of town and stumbled on a place we had gone to last time. You basically take a basket, pick what you want, and they cook it for you. Here's an array of the things you can pick:

This meal was damn good. It was a bit more pricey than usual ($6 for the 2 of us) but it was fantastic. On the way back to the apartment, I stopped at the wine store and grabbed a bottle of French Merlot for $12. Since this wasn't made in Taiwan, I figured it was much safer than the beer. I ended up being right about that, thankfully. I'll give the beer a shot once we hit the basement of Taipei 101. But for now, I think red wine is the safest best.

Oh and Julia took this doughnut to the woodshed in a matter of minutes tonight:

Looks like a day trip to Taipei tomorrow to hang out with Nat's cousins.


Friday, January 21, 2011

Taiwan Day 22 - Halfway There

Full picture set of the day here: Flickr set or slideshow.

This morning is a hot breakfast. I slept in and didn't wake up until 6:30, and went to get coffee then woke Nat up since she told me to the night before. She hemmed and hawed a bit, but soon went out and got a few dumplings, and a cruller wrapped in dough. It was solid:

Maybe around 8:00 or so I decided to head out on the McCruiser, which is the loaner mountain bike that was my only good ride this morning. The road bike is on the IR and needs some serious attention. So I took all the accoutrements off the handlebars, removed the reflectors, pulled off the blinkey, raised the saddle, and hit the road. The first thing I noticed was that the bike was extremely upright. I felt like this is as close as you can get to standing on a bike without actually riding with no hands. I felt like I had less control, and it probably explains a bit more why so many of these kids bob & weave on the road, since they're all setup like Sunday drivers.

I headed up towards the Aborigine footbridge with the idea to cross that washed out road and take the unpaved road up towards the backside of TaiPing Shan. I had no plans of going the distance there, but I did want to see what I was up against. On the way there, I heard more sounds in the trees, and at the same time saw orange trees that had been more or less bum-rushed by some animals, so I slowed down and looked around, and sure enough the trees were full of monkeys. I pulled out the camera and of course, it didn't work. I'm pretty sure that one is cooked.

A little further up the road and I was chased by 2 wild dogs for a while. I know by now that they're all bark and no bite though, so when they would get close I would yell at them and they would jump away. Eventually they stopped chasing and I continued on to my gravel road. When I got there however, there was yet another one of the river dump trucks there, with a bulldozer digging out upstream from the road. A guy in a truck yelled when I went past him, shook his head no, and yelled, "Road broken!"

I'm sure if I would have kept going he wouldn't have followed me. But I have to assume that the road is either washed out or a landslide has closed the road at some point along the way. I may go back someday to see if the guys are still there. But I'm going to guess that it won't serve as a back door to TaiPing Shan on this trip. Who knows though. They do work pretty fast here so maybe it will be all clear in a week. One thing I'm impressed with here is turnaround time. I've seen entire storefronts go from empty shell to working store in 5 days. The bureaucracy doesn't seem to be as absurd here.

I turned around and did a little light exploring on some new roads, but like I've said before, all the roads go straight so it's pretty hard to get lost. I did end up on a dead end along a river which turned into a bunch of small farm plots. But I turned around and then just headed home. I did get some clear skies after some early light rain.

Back at the apartment I do some work, but I need to wait until a bit later for the test systems I'm working with to be down, so I do all that I can then head out and we run some errands. First we stop to feed some fish, then we head off to her cousin's jewelry store where Nat gets her necklace clasp adjusted. Next door she then gets her glasses adjusted. On the way to look for some lunch, we find a temple and bring Julia for her first visit.

These places are very ornate and interesting to go in and look at. Nobody cares what you do, if you take pictures, nor asks you for money nor food. They supply the incense that you can take and do the customary rite with, if you so desire. I'm not well enough versed to say what any of it is, or what it means. I just take pictures of the stuff. I do know that the food on the tables is something called "bai bai" which is an offering of sorts to the ancestors, or in this case perhaps the gods.

On the way back we stop for some apples then at a small stand by the apartment for some lunch. We get nothing new, noodles and wantons, soup, veggies. All standard lunch fare, really.

Back to the apartment again and I finish up my testing in the window that I can, they do a few other things that popped up while I was testing. A bit later we head out again, this time to the big Giant bike shop down the road. They have a solid road tire that I buy, as well as some brake pads which I need for the rear. Nice score on that front, but not sure it would have been an easy trip solo. Then we went upstairs to look at some of the eye candy:

It's hard to believe they even sell nice bikes in this country, the way the road decimates anything you ride on it. We talked to the girl at the shop for a while (well Nat did) and I asked how they keep their bikes clean here. She laughed, and said that one of the guys who works at the shop actually cleans his bike top to bottom every day. I totally feel that, as it seems like that would be the only way to keep a nice bike looking good. She also told us about tours that Giant does around the island, a 9 day venture that costs like $800 or so, food, lodging, and support included. Maybe if we come back next summer I'll do something like that.

After the bike shop we hit a 7-11, a bakery, KFC for Julia, found some fresh strawberries, then swung by the night market for a late afternoon snack. The strawberries ended up being a bit pricey, but fantastically good. Julia also wanted to take a quick pit stop to play the fishing game. Here, she contemplates the deep mysteries of the universe before diving in:

We headed home so I could start to work on the road bike. I got the tire on with no issue and it feel nice and beefy, which I like. It's actually a bit wider than what I had on, which is nice as it gives me a bigger patch of rubber on the road. I'll take every bit I can get and may go back to get one for the front. I had to battle a bit to get the old brake pads off, but I finally won and put the new pads on. A quick lube of the chain and it's ready to go again, which is good since the McCruiser was certainly not a perfect fit.

Dinner is a big box of food that we actually split. Rice, a huge hunk of meat, 2 veggies, tofu, and another small bit of meat. Pretty good, but not really enough food for the 2 of us. After the garbage truck came, Nat went out to get dessert for us. She got her usual sweet soup with sticky rice balls, and I got my favorite, which is the taro ice cream dessert burrito with shaved peanut candy and cilantro. It was too light on the cilantro though, so it wasn't as good as it could have been.

Discussed some weekend plans today, but not having a car limits us a little bit. Looking like we may go to Taipei with Nat's uncle on Sunday and hang out with her 2 English-speaking cousins. Then we'll crash at Calvin's and then head back down here on Monday at some point. I was hoping to watch the Jets game Monday morning but it turns out that they're not on TV. I just don't even know how to comprehend that. I may have to call Darin.


Wednesday, January 19, 2011

Taiwan Day 21 - Soiled Wig

Full picture set of the day here: Flickr set or slideshow.

Much rain this morning. As I go to the 7-11 it looks like a pretty wet morning. When the sun rises, that doesn't change. Since nobody is around I end up doing work instead, since I frankly don't want to go ride in the rain. I may have had too much bad beer last night, so I decide that riding later is a better idea. If the rain keeps pissing down, I might skip the day. No big deal really. I had 2 good rides the last 2 days and I have some work I needed to get done so I play the boring card and pick up where I left off last night, minus the beer, which is eating, drinking, working, and watching TV in between. Unfortunately the National Geographic channel has been stuck on lame animal shows since yesterday afternoon.

Breakfast is strange, with some form of goo inside:

By mid morning the rain had let up and the sky was a lighter shade of gray, so I headed out with the idea to get 2-ish hours of flat riding done today. I planned to go up to Ilan on route 9 to the base of the climb up and over to Taipei. But at the base I'd hook a hard right and come back down on route 2 along the coast. If I had the time I'd head all the way down to Suao, then back up 9 to home.

It took me no time to get up to Ilan, where there was apparently a Retarded Drivers convention taking place. Now I understand that every one of these towns is always a game of Russian Roulette in terms of riding your bike there. But jeez, this was just stupid. I've talked about how oblivious people can be on the side of the road, but this was absurd. People turning their cars sideways in heavy traffic, totally ignoring traffic lights, not looking before they pull on the road, and on and on. Really nothing abnormal, just a whole lot of it. I couldn't get out of there fast enough, and was thrilled when I started to clear the traffic and pop out the other side of town.

On the way north from there, I was going back and forth with these 2 girls on a scooter. They passed me, and the one on the back waved. Eventually I passed them at a stop light, and they passed me again, and waved, and we went back and forth like this a few more times. I'm pretty sure that a bike is faster when you get a certain density of traffic lights here, mainly because having any number of cars on the road starts to cause idiotic behavior and I roll through the traffic lights once it's clear. Eventually they buzzed past for the last time, and shortly after I hit the coast and started heading south.

Route 2 was crap. It ran along the coast in name only. The ocean was blocked from view by a mound of dirt, my guess could be due to it being fortified by various concrete reinforcements and dirt to prevent the island from washing away. I saw a small view of the ocean as I started going, but that was it until the very end when I turned off route 2 to head back home. I decided that I was too tired from yesterday and was cutting the ride short. Aside from the glimpse of the ocean and a bunch of trucks, I did see a pond with maybe 50 white herons in it. But it was pissing rain the whole ride so I didn't bother taking a pic of it.

On that note, Terren suggested I put the camera in a bag of rice, but last night I had put it on the dehumidifier and that seemed to have done the trick. But by the end of the ride, it was acting goofy again, surely because of the rain. I fear that it may be on it's death bed either way, and the ride pics may come to an abrupt end sooner than later, and you'll be left with crappy iPhone pics until that dies too.

Terren also asked about the hydration pack, It's just like wearing white after Labor Day. You just don't do it and expect people to hang out with you.

So why is this blog post named "Soiled Wig"? Here it is:

With about 4 miles to go, I started to hear a thump-thump-thump and wondered that the hell was going on. It sure didn't sound like a good thing, so at the next traffic light I got off the bike and looked down to see that, but with 100 PSI in the tire and the tube bulging out like a frog in full croak. I've been down this road before, and the tube never lasts. But you can get a little bit out of it by lowering the pressure and riding slowly. I dropped it down to a fair balance between not sticking out of the tire too much and not bottoming out on the wheel. Against all odds, I was able to ride it out back to home.

After I got cleaned up and so on, I went out looking for lunch. I walked around with no luck, then walked to the "go to" corner for the usual. Unfortunately, the scallion pancake shop was closed and I didn't feel like getting a coffee, so I turned around and went home and ate cold rice (no microwave here) and random crap. I'm starting to feel isolated and grumpy. I can't say shit, can't read shit, and can't understand shit. And I'm sick of breakfast buns, scallion pancakes, and coffee. Actually, I'm not sick of scallion pancakes yet.

Nat texted me and said she was going to be back after dinner, which didn't help my mood because that meant dinner was probably going to be scallion pancakes and beer again. I also have no properly working bike and my translator isn't here. Finally, my bike clothes were in the washing machine, which was apparently made by the people who drive in Ilan because it constantly turns itself off in mid cycle, completely full of water.

I decided to venture out and try to get some new tires from the bike shop. The first shop I went to had some, but I didn't like the look of them (too light, one was a race tire) and they had a huge tool stand with every Park tool imaginable, except for a pedal wrench. The next Giant shop was closed. So I walked to the bakery and grabbed something that would pass for dinner, as well as a red bean paste bun for breakfast.

I then ventured to the night market and got myself a scallion pancake (shocker) for a late afternoon snack, or maybe call it dinner course #1. The guy asked me a question to which I just shrugged my shoulders. He pointed to an egg, and I said yes. He asked a few more questions to which I shrugged my shoulders again, and he said, "ting bu dong" which means, "hear no understand" or basically, I have no idea what you're saying. I said yes, ting bu dong.

I walked away with a scallion pancake. It was actually really good, better than the place next to the 7-11, but $5 more. That's like 16 cents I think.

So I got food but I'm in a bit of a bind with the bike situation. I think my fallback plan is to use the mountain bike with flat pedals and sacrifice my jogging sneakers if I have to. Not ideal, but apparently nobody takes off, or puts on, pedals in this country. Or perhaps the mafia controls all the pedal wrenches. Between bike pedals and scooter tires, you could probably completely throttle transportation in this town.

Second part of dinner is the bun, and it's ok at best:

The afternoon was generally work, TV, or waling around town looking for food, so it's a pretty boring day in all. Nat and Julia rolled in around 7:30 with some real food, at which point I realized I was hungry. I hadn't eaten a solid meal in over a full day, and I was hurting for some actual food, as opposed to what my limited vocabulary can get me.

Language is important. It now strikes me that these 5 levels of learning Chinese that I've done are worthless. I can sort of understand crap about totally useless things, like an interview or the new hat you got or the haircut you don't like, but I can't order a freaking meal. You'd think that any language lesson worth its salt would spend a significant time talking about food, water, the bathroom, and every possible scenario pertaining to them. I can say "I want to go see the historic sites and temples in your town," but I can't say, "Oh shit my eyes are bleeding, I need a hospital." Really, shouldn't you work on the essentials first?


Taiwan Day 20 - Big Ride Blue Sky

Full picture set of the day here: Flickr set or slideshow.

On the way to 7-11 this morning, I actually saw a star. Crazy! I never thought I would see one here. Fitting, since the day before I saw snow in Taiwan while sitting at sea level, which is something else I never thought I'd see. I took a picture of the sky in the hopes that it would come out, but it didn't of course. It was all black. If I had Photoshop on this laptop I'd make a reenactment of the star. When I got to the 7-11 I didn't want to disrupt the routine and ask for only 1 cup of coffee, so I let the guy make the normal 2. I've been itching for a second cup after my first most days, so I just went back and drank them both. The downside to asking for only 1 coffee could have lasting repercussions for the next 3 weeks. No thanks.

I did some token email work and nothing really needed any attention, so I got myself ready to go, which included trying out some of the new toys that Nat's cousin's kid Crash had brought me. Today was the hydration pack and small bag that attaches to the top tube of the bike. I put the 2 bottles on the bike and 2 in the pack, and I stowed my iPhone and camera in the bag for ease of use when on the road. Many of the people reading here know that a hydration pack on the road is a major bike fashion faux pas, but for those who don't know, let me tell you that it is. Having said that, there's just nowhere to get water on some of these rides, when there's a 1 lane road and some monkeys out there, you're not going to find a 7-11 ready and waiting for you to stroll in. So on the bigger rides, I'm happy to have the backpack full of water. The aim today was 5 hours.

The goal was the same as yesterday, follow the blue sky:

Once again, beyond my wildest expectations, the weather was nothing short of awesome. I couldn't believe my luck in getting a blue sky ride for the 2nd day in a row. I took the road out more or less north, then headed up towards the botanical garden climb that I had done 2 weeks ago. I really didn't have much of a plan, but the sky was blue here and down south. North-ish looked gray, so I decided not to explore any of that stuff today. I was going to put together a lot of what I've done already.

The climb up was uneventful, other than seeing the sky and sun and my shadow again. These are such cool days right now, I have to enjoy them to the fullest, which is what today was. As I got almost to the top I could see (I think) Ilan down in the valley:

After this the road opened up to the fields like I described on the first trip. I don't think I posted this picture last time but I got a better shot of it today. This was at the top of the climb, close to the end of route 9 and start of the 1 lane road that winds through the fields and on to the botanical gardens:

It's an abandoned house, which is odd in the sense that nothing really gets left to die here (see next pic). But what's more, and this struck me later, is that this house seems to be of a western design, which is exceedingly rare here. This leads me to guess that this was built by some influence from the west, maybe a whitey who lived up here or something, who knows. And looking at it, it does not appear to be the cement structure that everything here is made of. I didn't go inside, but my guess is that it is infiltrated with insects and mold, which is why it's been abandoned. I'd love to know the story of this house. History like this really intrigues me.

As support, witness this as a testament to how nothing is left to rot here:

This is nothing more than a rock shack, which has probably been up here for eons. Off to the left was a small garden, and you can see the old woman in front of the door of the house. I continued on for a little bit, to where the river and road come together. There I took a small break then rode back down the mountain to route 7, where I passed an older guy going up the hill on his bike and yelled "jia you" to him. He smiled. Then I was off to the south where the sun and sky were going. When I got to the bottom I could see that the mountains in the distance still had a little snow on them. I took a pic (link here) but it's kinda vague to really see much. That may be TaiPing Shan, I don't know. Still cool to see.

The ride up route 7 was long and more or less uneventful, save for the army of cement and rock trucks that were going by in both directions. On this more northern section there was much more truck traffic, and I realized that the entrance to the "river quarry" was here, so trucks were going in & out quite a bit. After I passed that things got more quiet, but this side of the river is still a bit tight on some of the turns. I don't think I'll do that long haul again. The ride on that road alone must have been well over 20 miles, which is a lot of trucks.

I also realized why huge sections of road are often wet. I saw a huge water tanker on the road, spraying it down as I passed the entrance of one of the quarries. I'm guessing that they have to do this for the sake of keeping their mess off the road, which makes sense. The roads are pretty messy as is, but they would be really bad if the trucks weren't sprayed down (I saw this as well) and the road wasn't cleaned. I think they should be forced to run street cleaners for several miles in both directions.

Somewhere along route 7 the ball of my right foot started to hurt like hell, and I had to shift down a lot on the climbs to help the pain a bit. I brought my old road shoes and pedals and the fit probably isn't quite right overall. On these big climbs that probably adds up as I'm putting a lot of pressure on my feet when I do climb. I was able to deal, but it was a nuisance for the last 2 hours of the ride. I eventually got to the crossover point of the river, at the base of TaiPing Shan. Looking upriver you can see where they've completed the mining and groomed the riverbed for some unknown reason:

The last 1.5 hours was quite and uneventful aside from some rain that dropped on me in the last 30 minutes. For 4 hours it was sunny and beautiful out. Then the sky grew overcast as I returned home, and finally it let out and dumped on me. All in all, I'll take it. Incidentally, the small bag that I put the camera in doesn't seem to be very water-resistant, as I took the camera out and it was wet. When I put it on the table it started to turn itself on and off randomly, then cycling through the pictures on its own. Eventually I got the pictures off the camera but that may be it.

When I got back to the house Nat had texted me and asked if I wanted to go to Taipei. But since I was still most of the day in the hole, I needed to get some work done. Plus, I needed to shower, get lunch, do laundry, and clean up the kitchen still. The in-laws fly out tonight, so I didn't want to be the one to make the FIL late. He said something about leaving by 2:00 from Suao (the town south of here where his brother lives) and I knew he would be very skittish about missing the plane. But really, I'd never get any work done up there so I decided to stay at the apartment for the day.

So lunch was the rest of the liver from yesterday's lunch, the tofu from 2 days ago, and various snacks around the house like dried scallion pancake, pineapple cake, the rest of the chocolate cake in the fridge, and so on. Since I had ridden just over 5 hours, I ate whatever I wanted. I was able to put my medium jersey on today (I had been wearing the spring jacket until today) and it wasn't overly tight or anything. So the ride & eat balance is working out just fine.

Mid afternoon I went out for a coffee and scallion pancake. This is the extent of the food I can go out and order here. I can go to the bread store and pick stuff off the shlves. But in terms of walking up to someone and asking for something, this is pretty much it. I think I can get the rice ball for breakfast too, but dinner is a pretty weak spot. So my getting coffee and a scallion pancake for mid-afternoon snack sort of means I've used up the 1 food that I can order, and I've run out of leftovers. I still have a lot of duck in the fridge but I don't want to eat that since Nat hasn't had any yet.

While waiting for the pancake to cook, I took this pic of someone burning "ghost" money across the street:

This is done several times a month and is done for good luck. The more time I spend here the more I realize this is a much more religious society than where we live in the west. I never really thought about it before because Buddhism is so passive, while Christianity is so aggressive, but it's really everywhere in the culture. There are temples everywhere in town, as well as randomly strewn across the hillside when you're out on the road. This ranges from the huge ones I've taken pictures of to tiny ones which are barely more than a 5 foot square footprint and an incense bowl on a table. Some farmers have small temples on the side of the fields. They're everywhere, and add a lot of nice color to the landscape. Call it cultural flair if you like.

Back to the apartment I eat, drink coffee, work, make tea, and so on. With the family up north that means my day is bike, work, and eat. Aside from the bike tour, the day is pretty boring. Nat sent me this pic, which Grandma will enjoy:

(picture removed, because I think there are some sick fucks out there)

Eventually I have to face the music and find myself dinner. First I go to the bakery and get some breakfast. This morning was a lousy 7-11 bun that draws to mind the quote from Big Lebowski, which is: this aggression will not stand. Well, at least the "will not stand" part. Last time we went there some woman was buying a bun with 4-6 pounds of dried/shredded pork on top. There were 2 left when I got there, and I snared 1 of them. I also got a small backup bun to eat when I get hungry later tonight. I need to stop persisting on snack foods.

Next I went to the fried rice place and asked for lamb fried rice. Nat had given my the words to use, which I knew but wasn't totally sure of. I think I may have asked for lamb fried dogshit by mistake. But I went and asked for the right thing, and of course the woman asked me a question, to which I replied, in Chinese, "I don't understand." She then repeated it, and I told her, "My Chinese is bad, I don't understand what you're saying." I have to say, all this goddamn time spent studying Chinese and I still can't understand jack shit.

Eventually we got it together that I wanted lamb fried rice, and the veggie that was sitting there, to go. I did understand the to go part, I think it's "wai dai" which I believe translates to "out carry." Then I went to the grocery store and bought 2 big beers because it's going to be that kind of party.

And I watched TV and worked some more. This project is coming along well, if I do say so myself. Of course, I'm with drink so take that with a grain of salt.

I also look back on today and think I missed the perfect opportunity to do TaiPing Shan. The ride is probably a 5-6 hour ride, and the whole area was under blue skies today. You really never know with this weather. Maybe tomorrow, or the next day. Hopefully I'll get there before the end of the trip.


Tuesday, January 18, 2011

Taiwan Day 19 - Snow-Capped Mountains and Flying Solo

Full picture set of the day here: Flickr set or slideshow.

As requested, I'll give a shout out to my cousin Bec. Today is her birthday. Happy birthday! I'll buy you dinner tonight as a special gift. You just gotta get here. Moving on to my own self-absorbed world...

For breakfast I ate food. Rubba dub dub, gimme some grub.

Nothing like this strange phenomenon called the "sun" and "sky" to help the motivation issue. I set out on the bike closer to 8:00 today because I was content to sit in the apartment and talk to Nat. Eventually I got out, with the plan to do about 2.5 hours. I saw some blue sky in the distance and decided my plan was to follow that blue thing that is so elusive here these days. I headed straight west but the blue was actually south, so I made a left and saw this in front of me for the better part of the first hour:

It's hard to see well, but those are snow-covered mountains looming in the distance. And that blue thing is called "sky". They are both really cool concepts and after riding a lot in the rain over the past week, this was a welcomed addition to the usual gray ceiling my days have. As I rode on, the mountains went in & out of the sunshine and alternately went from cool to awesome. There was 1 peak in particular that kept coming in & out of view, and it was sharp, steep wall of white. When the sun reflected on it a certain way it looked pretty unreal. The whole scene was pretty unreal, and certainly helped keep me pedaling today.

I took the closest bridge over ride to route 7 and stopped to take a pic there as well. The snow seemed to be fading a bit, and the temps were rising for sure. So I knew it wasn't going to last:

My plan was to shoot up route 7, then take the route 7 bridge back across the river then up the backside of that hill to the overlook where I took that awesome pic last week or 2 weeks ago. I was hoping the snow would last until then but I wasn't holding my breath. As I was climbing the hill to the overlook, suddenly these things were on the ground that sort of looked like the outline of telephone poles, trees, and bushes, as well as myself on the bike. They were dark and flat against the ground. After some searching I found that they are called "shadows" and are caused by this phenomenon known as the "sun". I was able to grab a pic of this thing in the sky today:

I got to the overlook, but as expected the snow was almost entirely gone. This must have been amazing in the morning when the sun rose. You can still see a little bit there but not much. I'm sure by late morning it was all gone:

I turned around and pounded out the rest of the ride to get home between 10:00-10:30, which is when I said I'd be back. I stopped to take 1 more picture. In the foreground are orange trees, and in the distance is what I refer to as Monkey Mountain, or at least something a bit north of where I was that day. The whole area was bathed in sunlight, and the climb up would have been awesome today. This is just what you get here, some days good, and some days bad. When you get a good one you need to take it in because you never know when you'll get another one.

Back to the house and I inhaled some food, showered up, and made my usual post-ride pot of tea. Nat went out to run some errands and grab some lunch, and I did some work and hung out with Julia. I like this new pure flex hour work routine. I know that most people like a standard routine where things are more or less laid out. But I actually prefer to just throw it all together however it works. When I get back to NJ I may try to keep the random work hour approach. Seems to work better for me and I think I'm more productive.

While mom was out Julia and I drew some pictures, which resulted in her getting some seriously messy hands. Showing off her hands and hiding:

I did some email work while Julia played on Nat's other phone, and enjoyed some of the view from my "office". This is what I was able to enjoy from my seat today:

Nat got back with some food for lunch plus some veggies. She put on rice before she left and brought home some veggies to cook. Crazy that this is a partly homemade lunch, since we eat out almost every meal. Now that we have the place to ourselves we can dial back the all-out, all-the-time eating and conserve some eating karma for the really good days.

After lunch, they both went out to get a backpack for Julia, and I put on the headphones and pounded out some more coding. When they got back, Nat brought me my afternoon coffee and I enjoyed it while we talked a bit. Calvin called shortly after, trying to get her to come up to Taipei tonight instead of tomorrow, which was her original plan. I was hoping to do some work early tomorrow, hang out and have a good (ie, "bad") breakfast, send them off on the bus, then take off for a long ride in the middle of the day, then return and finish off my work day.

Nat decided to go this afternoon instead, which is fine as it gives me tonight to do some work instead. I can always put in hours whenever I get to it, then ride when I want. Unfortunately, either way you slice it the weather report is at 70% rain, which is in that dreaded 70-90% realm. So I'm probably going to be wet tomorrow. Not sure where I'm going to go but I would like to get in 5 hours. I may set sail early anyway, just to get some hours in. Then if they stay 1 more night I'll work tomorrow night and maybe ride big again Thursday morning. Otherwise, the routine will be the same as usual.

I walked them to the bus station and found a bike shop right next to the stop. We asked about a pedal wrench and the guy only had a multi-tool that cost like $40, which is nuts. I have something like that, but unfortunately it's in NJ. My multi-tool here doesn't have the pedal wrench. I did buy a tube for a whopping $6, which is nuts since the stuff is made in this country. He told us that a mom & pop shop would have a cheapie version.

Back to the apartment and more coding. Nat texted me and told me when they got on the bus Julia asked how they would get off if the bus falls over. I'm glad the little munchkin is paying attention. Luckily, it didn't fall over and they made it to Taipei in 1 piece. Nat also said the driver was less aggressive so apparently we did have someone with a Death Wish yesterday.

The rest of the day was more or less uneventful. I worked most of the rest of the day, aside from a run out to get a scallion pancake next to the 7-11. I had seen the stand on the way back from the bus station and went back around 6:00. When I got home I put together a dinner of leftovers plus some duck that Nat's aunt had brought over. In all, a reasonably solid dinner. Here's the scallion pancake stand:

And the full spread shortly after:

Rest of the night was more coding, some National Geographic TV, and the last beer in the house. We'll need to go get some more soon, as in tomorrow. I can hold the fort for a few days by either skipping or going to 7-11 for some more McBeer. But eventually I'd like to make my way to Taipei 101 and hit the basement there, which has probably the best selection in all of Taiwan, or so I'm led to understand. We shall see.

Tomorrow I get to ride as long as I want. Naturally, it will be a monsoon.


Monday, January 17, 2011

Taiwan Day 18 - Taipei Day Trip

Full picture set of the day here: Flickr set or slideshow.

Cold and wet rain greets me as I step out of the apartment to go get coffee this morning. I was hoping to get a short ride in before we hop on a bus for Taipei, but this may be Buddha's (when in Rome) way of telling me to take the day off the bike. Yesterday I was flat and disinterested, so perhaps I need a day off to revitalize myself. I decided to figure it out later and walk to 7-11 as fast as I could, since standing in the rain thinking just made me cold. The front cover of the Taipei Times was talking about the cold snap, and verified that snow has started to fall in several places on the island that rarely see snow. There was a picture of a guy holding a thermometer that was sub-zero (Celsius, let's not get crazy here). The subtitle said something like, "Subtropical my foot."

Here's the Taipei Times link.

The rain never let up so I stayed in today, since The Dude abides, even when Buddha speaks. Instead I called the folks to see how they were doing and mulled around the apartment eating small bites of anything I could see. I'm pretty sure we have enough snack foods to last until we leave, which is good since we won't have to buy anything, but also lame because we'll be eating the same stuff for the next nearly 4 weeks. It's hard to believe we're on day 18, but then we really still have 26 days to go, which is plenty of time for me to get fatter. I'm still not sure if I'm gaining weight or not. I'll wait until I get back to figure it out. My clothes still fit so that's good.

off to Taipei for the day, which means a bus trip. Of course, as we left it was beautiful out:

We trekked a few blocks to the train station then over to the other side and 2 more blocks to the bus station, which is really nothing more than a bus parked in front of a small office that sells tickets. We didn't know any better so we just got on the bus, which we later found out was wrong. We were supposed to wait for the bus to pull up to the "office" which would explain why nobody was on it when we sat down. No harm, no foul though, and the bus driver didn't seem to much care.

This is because he clearly had a death wish. I don't know if every bus driver is like this but I'm fairly certain this guy fancies himself either a race car driver or a kamikaze pilot. Every time we went around a turn on the highway I was worried that if we flipped over, we would plunge over the guardrail and 50 or more feet to our certain demise. It didn't help that the TV on the bus was literally playing videos of what to do in the event that the bus rolls over. It got to the point that when we were off the raised highways, I felt better knowing that if we flipped over, we would at least drop directly to the ground and not over the bridge to an uncertain end below.

I was thrilled to be off that blue death on wheels.

Nat's parents came to pick us up, and maybe 10 minutes later we were parking the car, which is just an over-elaborate fiasco with my FIL for some reason. He will literally, and I swear I'm not making this up at all, try to squeeze his car into a spot with a foot on either side just to park 4 spots closer, which is exactly what he did today. I'm not sure why he does this, as the effort involved by everyone makes the 4 spots saved seem more than meaningless. First, we all have to get out of the car before he tries to back in. Next, we have to wait for him to pull up and back at least 4 times. Finally, my MIL has to get into the space to guide him into the spot without hitting anything. He could have easily pulled into one of the empty spots in the 3/4 empty lot. But he insisted on the spot that was closest to the direction we needed to go.

On the walk over he went back to move the car to a closer spot in another lot.

Nat's uncle is a bigwig at Dentsu, which Wikipedia says is "one of the largest advertising brands in the world." All I know is that we show up, hang out and have coffee, then go to lunch. Lunch was a Hakka place around the corner which was decent. It had a few really good dishes like the eggplant, stewed pork, and soup. The pork probably looks the best of them all:

After lunch we went back to the office for another coffee, and Julia got to sit in the big boss chair and draw with the colorful markers. She also found a magnifying glass which we had some fun with:

You can see Taipei 101 from his office too. It's not a great pic but it shows you the cool view. I do miss being in Taipei, it's just another world than from where we are. We "cut our teeth in Taipei, so to speak, and it's just a massively different place than Luodong. I miss the apartment there and having such a cool place to stay. The view:

Taipei is just different. It's a metro center and a white guy is run of the mill there. I think I saw 2 in 10 minutes just at the bus station alone, where in Ludong I've seen 1 in 18 days. People are more upscale, of course. Things are nicer, cleaner. The air is dirtier though. The sense of wonder here is more like if you visit another city in the US than if you go to the countryside where we are. Of course, there's more to do, more to see, and a mass of traffic. Though it does seem like people obey the traffic rules much more up here. I think the risk of pulling out of a side street without looking is much greater with the speeding traffic here.

After lunch we headed back to the car and the sky mocked me yet again. This is the bluest sky we've seen so far. As you'd expect, as soon as we got out of the long tunnel and into Ilan county, it was cloudy and raining. I guess it's just the way things are going to be this trip:

Before we left Taipei, we took a quick pit stop at this snack shop that has small pineapple cakes that Nat's parents often bring back to the states. I was surprised to find they had other kinds of the same cake, though again, I guess I shouldn't be. Their MO is pretty much to identify the single thing they like the most from a place and it exclusively. They did break this rule at the Hakka place in Luodong here, since we went there so often. But for the most part, this is how they roll.

On the drive home, or really before we even got going, Julia was losing her patience. I guess I can understand since there really was nothing kid-specific in her whole day from 9:30 to about 3:00. We finally got home and we all decompressed a bit while Nat's parents put the final touches on their exodus. On one hand, they will be missed as a sort of "normalizing" presence here. On the other hand, nearly 3 weeks with them was plenty. Having 3+ weeks of freedom will be a good thing. And there won't be a full court press to go see the relatives every day.

Plus, we get the king size bed!

After they took off, we did our afternoon tour of town, with a quick stop first to feed the fish in the park, where we saw a dead mouse floating in the pond. Julia looked at it and said, "That's a dead mouse." Then she proceeded to grab a handful of fish food and throw it in the water. I guess she's not really a big fan of mice.

We did the bakery, though something Nat said makes me think that we should break this habit as well. I'm sort of brainwashed into going here because it's something to do every afternoon. I like getting out of the house, but our breakfast is a bit pigeon-holed at this point. It may be time to branch out and go for some of that good greasy food that I love so much. As we were walking to the train station it did strike me that I really haven't gotten enough of my breakfast on during this trip. Breakfast is so fatteningly good here, I really do need to partake more.

After the bakery we hit the Junk Store for some markers and a sticker book, then I looked for a bike shop a block over from the night market but Google Maps failed me. I did find a low-rent liquor store that had some beer, basically more of the same that you can get everywhere. I think everything they sell here is more or less Budweiser, just packaged in a different bottle. Here's Julia playing with her new sticker book while I drink beer out of my monkey mug:

Dinner is noodles, sticky rice, soup, and a veggie, plus an apple we had in the fridge. Total cost was $125 NT. I've been lax in saying how much this gluttony cost. Of course, nothing is free. NT is New Taiwanese dollar, which is the unit of currency here. The exchange rate is currently about 30, which means that the 4 course dinner cost us about $4 and change in USD.

Rest of the night was the sticker book and moving into the new king size bed, which is much softer than the other rock-hard bed.


Sunday, January 16, 2011

Taiwan Day 17 - Wonder Lost & Hopefully Gained

Full picture set of the day here: Flickr set or slideshow.

I'll go ahead and say that today marks a sort of "loss of wonder" point as far as my riding goes. I don't know if I'm getting used to everything, or I've done all the local exploring I can, or the cold rain has started to wear on me. But something has been lost since the first time I went out on a bike just 16 days ago. I do think the cold rain is starting to wear on me, and this morning's 45-ish degree wake-up call didn't help. Nat's mom would later say that the last 2 years are the 2 coldest in the 10 years she's been coming here for the winter. It looks to be warming up in a few days but this morning, I just had no motivation to do much.

I did set out for a new twist on a known area, XinLioa waterfall. But it turned out that you had to hike to the actual waterfall and when I got there, I wasn't about to go on the dirt paths with the road bike. I ended up going up and over the MeiHua hill again from the backside, then deciding to skip the Toughest Climb (Nat's dad calls it Hero Hill) and loop around some new roads at the bottom then explore a few other roads back to town. In general, the roads are all a grid here, and it's pretty easy to just point and shoot. The GPS tells me I started east, I just turn right and go. I always manage to figure out where I need to go.

I did find a duck farm though:

I realized that I was becoming jaded today when I saw some red paper lanterns in the park that would have been a cool picture, and I just more or less said "meh" and rode on. I was going to ride for 3 hours but I cut it short at just under 2 because I didn't feel like being out that long, and Nat had mentioned her parents were going out and she wanted to go. Since I had no actual goal in mind, I went back to the house. I suppose not having a goal is a problem. I need to look for some new roads, maybe towards the ocean. And I need to land a mountain bike so I can do those road bike unfriendly roads.

We ended up at the Mr. Liu Cafe, which is the place we went before to get snacks and coffee. Not sure why, but nobody could answer me when I asked where we were going, and Nat's dad said something about "knuckles" which I still can't figure out. I was happy to see we were heading up that way, since that's where the MIL had gotten the soft guava that I liked so much last week. I had been trying to find it since that day with no luck. First we stopped in for a coffee and some stuff for the in-laws, then I took Julia down to pick out some guavas. I can tell I'm still a novelty in this area, as some people looked at me with shocked astonishment. It must have been doubly so with Julia and not being accompanied by a "native" so to speak.

I admit that I really get a kick out of the fascination some people have with Julia and I. Just tonight I was taking out the garbage and this family was getting out at the store next door to the building, and the daughter couldn't stop looking at me. In general I smile, sometimes say hi, nod, piss on their feet, and so on. Sometimes they smile back, but other times, like tonight, they just seem too dumbfounded to react in any way. I'd love to hear the conversation when they get back in the car. The vast majority of people ignore us when we go out. But you notice the people who are overly friendly or overly astonished. I get a kick out of the the 2 extremes.

So back to this morning, Julia and I were walking to the fruit stand and some people were just looking at me like I had snakes coming out my ears. Other people would smile and say a few words in English. The fruit seller rolled with it, and offered me some samples. I grabbed 7 guavas and paid for them. And then we walked around a bit more before my MIL came to see what we were doing. On the way back to the cafe Nat's mom suggested a snack, which I was actually eying up on the way to buy fruit:

This is what this island is all about, IMO.

After a quick stop at the apartment, we were off to meet some totally tangential and random friends of Nat's parents. Apparently they are godparents, which is a concept I don't totally understand here as I don't really know the religion well at all. What I do know is that we were at the same place we had lunch yesterday, which is the 4th time we've been to this same place, maybe 3 times in 5 days? I like it and all, but it's a bit too much. Given that they go to the same place in the states every time we go out, I shouldn't be surprised by this. But somehow, I am.

Either way, Julia is not amused by this turn of events:

After a lunch that simply would not end, we went back to the apartment and Nat's parents got all their stuff ready to haul up to Taipei. They fly out on Wednesday and their exodus begins in part today, and they're expecting to stay up there for the next 3 nights to spend time with Calvin & company, as they won't be back here until November. They're coming back down tomorrow for a bit, and then again Wednesday morning. But by and large, they're done with the apartment and will mostly be in Taipei for the rest of their stay.

Nat went out to see her cousin and in the process attempt to get me a mountain bike. Her cousin, who they used to refer to as Fat Brother, has one which he apparently doesn't use. I have no doubt he'll let me have it for as long as I want, but we haven't asked yet. Looking at him, I'm reasonably sure he hasn't ridden a bike in a long, long time. In the meantime, Julia and I were left to entertain ourselves while Nat was out.

To start we bummed around the house for a little bit but then we were off to town to run some errands. First was the bakery, as usual. The shelves were bare and the floor was jam packed. So getting something and not losing the child in the madness was a bit of a chore but we managed to make it. I was only able to score one sample today so my bakery snack was less than normal. We went to the 7-11 for an afternoon coffee and I was actually able to understand everything the 2 clerks said, even when the girl asked me if I wanted a bag. Of course, I answered incorrectly at first (mei you, or "don't have" which does the job but makes me sound like a retard I'm sure) but then realized my mistake and corrected myself. Getting better, and I haven't screwed up anything yet.

Over to the grocery store where I saw the first white man of the trip who wasn't performing in an amusement park, and he was friendly in saying hello. I'm pretty sure he was one of them-there "men of god" here in Buddha Country. But I'm not sure. He appeared to be doing your garden variety shopping while I was busy representing the white man in proper fashion:

Next we went to the Junk Store (not the actual name) and I bought Julia a "fish set" as she called it. This was sort of the parallel to the animal set I bought her the other day but for the ocean. There was a stingray, and what appeared to be several sharks and indeterminate animals, presumably of the sea. Some must have been deep sea dwellers as they had no eyes.

Back to the apartment and we did some playing, watching videos, laundry, and the like. This was your standard "average day" which we sort of signed up for. Actually most of it was in that mold, from start to finish, including the bike ride even.

Then I got word, Nat landed me a bike. Well, to be fair it was probably the combination of Crash and Nat. While it may not be the best bike in the world, it will certainly do the job for my road/un-road touring adventures that I've been looking to do:

Yes, there are reflectors, a handlebar mirror, kick stand, and apparently some sort of glowing tire valve extensions. And no, there are no disc brakes. But for my purposes, if I can get the saddle height close enough to right it will certainly do the trick. I do wish it had disc brakes but these should be fine. And the added traction of the tires will allow me to explore those 3 main targets I've been itching to do. I just need to give it a once over (the brakes were way too slack) and make sure it will stand up to going these hills before I risk my well-being to gravity. Oh and I need some spare tubes.

It turned out that Fat Brother didn't even recognize his bike when Crash had used it earlier in the day.

Since we lost our babysitters we now either have to send 1 of us out for dinner or we all go as a unit. Tonight, it was the unit option. First we went to get a scallion pancake that I was denied last night. Then we grabbed some noodles that were nothing to write home about. But what can you expect for $1 a bowl?

After a quick stop at one of those night market parlor games which features a big vat of fish that you can scoop out, we landed some dessert and veggies and went home for the night. As I mentioned above, I took the garbage out for the first time tonight. This is slightly more than it sounds like, as the garbage truck rolls through town playing music and people run from their apartments and throw their own garbage and recyclables in the trucks. So I'm now more than just the white guy around town who rides (and occasionally cleans) his bike. I now wait outside and take the garbage out. I'm sure some people are starting to think that I'm here for the long haul. As soon as they really start to accept me I'll pull the end-around and disappear for 1.5-2.5 years.

That Michelob Dark sucked, by the way. Oh and just 34 miles (on the road) from here, it snowed on TaiPingShan. That's probably no more than 20 miles directly from here, if that. This is one of the roads I want to climb before I go, but if there's snow up there, not sure that's going to happen.



Accommodation in aviemore