We make holes in teeth!

Saturday, January 29, 2011

Taiwan Day 31 - Another Quarry Fail

This morning, a cold wet day awaits me. Again. But with 2 days off previous to this one, I'm going out on the bike, hell or proverbial high water. I suited up and took the McCruiser to the quarry again - the original quarry, up to 4000 feet vertical was the plan. I had 3 hours this time, which I assumed was enough to get me there & back in time.

I got to the bottom of the hill and the quarry wasn't running, the lot was empty of cars, and the area was quiet. Perfect, since it was raining. I got to the bottom of the climb and the gate was down. No matter, I went around and hoped nobody would care. A guy was in the small booth at the bottom, but either didn't care or didn't see me, and I was on my way. Things are just different here. No way that flies in the US.

The road goes up fast, faster than I remembered. This was my 3rd ride of the trip, way back on day #4, and it seemed steeper today. I guess my legs are getting tired of these hills. Some of them were downright brutal today, and they kept going up and up and up. The start of the climb was the toughest.

There was really no novelty to this ride, as I had done it before. And unlike the other quarry, there aren't any remnants of any sort to keep the cool factor high. Still, it was a climb, and I climbed. The one cool thing was that the rock conveyor was running, which I still find wildly interesting for some reason:

At 1300 feet up, I heard a dreaded motorcycle coming up the road, and figured my day was over. But before I actually saw the guy he yelled, "jia you," and then when he saw me he said, "Very good!" Another guy followed him, making no eye contact and saying nothing. I never saw them again, and saw nobody else on the way up.

This ride was a drag, for a few reasons. First of all it was pissing rain half the time and as I went up the temps dropped more and more. By the end it was probably 35-40 degrees and raining - sometimes vertically, sometimes horizontally. Being soaking wet and wearing spring gloves, this wasn't great for my hands. In the open areas the wind was hammering me. But more than anything, at around 2200 feet up, the rock conveyor took a left, I took a right, the cloud cover seemed to triple, and I entered an eerie world.

I was in the middle of No Man's Land, no noise, no visual, no heat. It was kinda tough mentally to like it up there, and one thought kept running through my head. A few weeks ago someone on Facebook posted this status, "I'm pretty sure that hell is cold." As I was riding up at 3000 feet today, I felt like the river Styx was going to come into view at any moment.

Then in an absolutely unpredictable turn, the road started going down. WTF?

This wasn't what I wanted. And to make a somewhat long ride story shorter, I ran out of time, yet again. As I was rolling along I looked at the GPS and it said 11 miles and 2700 feet vertical. I had lost 300 feet, and still had 3 miles to go. I was 1:44 in and said I'd only be out for 3 hours. I wasn't going to make it, yet again. I was both ok with it, and somewhat annoyed that the road didn't just go up and get to 4000 and be done with it.

So I turned around, and started going down and making my hands colder than they already were, I stopped to take a video, here's the raw footage from today. This one is only 1:18, shorter than yesterday:

The view from the gates of hell

When I got back to the apartment, the freaking shower gave me a short warm shower then turned cold. The washing machine stopped on its own 3 times. I have a water demon possessing me today.

The rest of the morning and early afternoon was spent getting ready to go up to Taipei again. Not exactly sure why we did this quick hit & run, though we were running on bare bones the first trip, meaning minimal clothes, and more importantly limited bike clothes and none of the computers. Sometimes I can travel light, but with the bike and work/play involved, it can get a little heavy.

Drove back up to Taipei and decided to hit up Taipei 101 on the way to Calvin's, since we had some time to kill. At this point, between the driving in this city and the bike explorations, I'm pretty sure I'm comfortable doing almost anything here. I imagine a lot of people would look at this trip and think I'm a little crazy, but it's really just a state of mind. That mindset is more or less: whatever, it all works out.

As usual, I can't get enough:

We tooled around at the mall there, and saw more white people there than in the rest of the trip combined. We didn't buy anything because it's probably one of the most expensive malls on Earth. But we did get some food, which of course meant KFC for Julia. Our dinner was some rice, veggies, and chicken.

Dessert was something different. Red beans, green beans, and rice noodles in a sweet concoction, with ice. I've had it before, but never taken a pic. Some might have a problem eating beans as a dessert. Once you get over that mental hurdle this stuff is really good:

We went shopping at this place called Jason's, which is apparently some sort of White People's Hangout, as I then saw even more white people than before. I guess they all shop here, which is too bad because it's f-tarded expensive. I found some Rogue Dead Guy Ale but at $4 a bottle, I'll pass. I also saw a quite attractive blonde girl shopping there, which is pretty rare here. The white guys here are generally good/average-looking guys. But my experience is that most of the white women who come here are the sort who audition for the part of Large Marge in Pee Wee's Big Adventure. So it was a bit of an oddity. Sorry T, I tried but the pic was way too blurry.

On the way out, another pic:

Driving was a bit annoying coming back but I think even Nat would attest at this point that my skills in this city are progressing quite well. I have to say, they give a license to any blind moron.

Back up to Calvin's around 7:00, hung out and so on. Opened up a bottle of red wine and it went straight to my head. I suppose I was a bit low on food today, which is good since I'm sure I could stand to have a few negative calorie days before this trip is over. I'm going to guess that the last 2 weeks will be plenty of eating, since it's new year's and all. It's good to be fully operational again. So when I wake up, if it's raining sideways I'll be able to go out and be reasonably prepared for it.

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


Taiwan Day 30 - Not Much

The trip is probably more or less winding down at this point. Even though we have 2 weeks left, we're at the stage where entire days go by and absolutely nothing happens. We didn't have breakfast until 11:00 today, and we did nothing of note that I can really even pass off as interesting to the reader, other than something which we saw down in Luodong which I'll mention in a little bit.

I woke up at 5:30 with intentions of going out for a 3 hour bike ride. I made coffee, ate some leftover pizza for breakfast, edited my entry from yesterday, posted the blog, then looked outside and saw it was raining sideways and it was 50 degrees. Then I went back to bed.

Eventually I woke up again at 8:30, fully dressed - just as I fell asleep. I got up, made another coffee, and sat on the couch thinking that I'd get out eventually and that I could use more sleep. As you could probably guess, I neither went back to sleep nor went for a bike ride. The big issue was that I left all my cold weather gear down in Luodong. So the thought of going in these gale-force winds with summer head cover, summer gloves, summer jersey, and summer shoes seemed like a really bad idea.

As I said earlier, breakfast was at 11:00, and it was nothing you could describe as "special":

Rest of the morning was sitting around talking family politics, which is what a lot of these Calvin trips turn into. With the new year coming up, it ramps up because of the various cash & gift requirements associated with the holiday. At this point, I should be cringing at all of this, but it's sort of like the last few days before your wedding when the knee-jerk reaction about what you're spending has been beaten out of your system. As long as I can get my bike explorations in, I'm happy.

Breakfast was so late we skipped lunch and hopped in the car and headed back south to Luodong. Getting there was a breeze, and now that I've got a reason to learn the area around Taipei I should have it down in the next 2 weeks. With my bike explorations bound to be mostly northern-based, I'm going to need to learn the area quickly.

When we got back the fire department was hanging up some banners for the new year celebration:

After a quick stop at the apartment we went out to run some errands, and came across this. Here's my first video of the trip, completely raw because I don't have the time to edit anything. Once I get home I'll have more videos from the trip but for now you get the raw footage:

Video of the day

However, it gets even more absurd at times, with strippers at funerals?

This is how funerals go in Taiwan. Nuts. After that we ran into Crash, then went to the bakery, the 7-11 for some Sam Adams, to the night market for strawberries, grabbed some pancake batter from the market down the street, then back the other way for fruit, and finally the corner store for milk. All of this was within a good half mile square, at most.

Julia dug the strawberries:

For dinner, I ate Julia's leftover pancakes and drank beer, which is a solid complement to the McDonald's and nothing I had for my first 2 meals. No pic of the day, it's in the video.

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


Friday, January 28, 2011

Taiwan Day 29 - Just Chillin'

I slept really poorly last night. It may have been the tea at night but more likely it was the bike ride. When I go for really long rides like that, I often times have trouble sleeping. I woke up in the middle of the night ravished, and hit up the fridge for some leftover pizza. After that I felt a bit better and finally seemed to sleep solidly after 4:00 or so. At 7:00, I woke up, not fully rested but enough I guess.

The morning was nothing. We went out for some breakfast and bought 14 pounds of food for $200 NT, or about $6 US. I ate enough food for 2 breakfasts and we fed 3 other people as well, plus an extra soymilk for Lydia. I'm getting spolied by the cheap food here. And it's not fast food by any stretch. The stuff is made right in front of you.

The rest of the morning was spent doing nothing around the house. The kids played and I had a few cups of coffee and generally felt lousy from riding myself into the ground yesterday. I probably should have just slept until 9:00 but my internal clock rings like the start of a Fishbone song by 7:00 and I can't sleep any longer than that.

Around noon the kids started to breakdown so we decided to head out, which meant I was able to drive again. It was nice to be behind the wheel after so long without it, and this car (Volvo something or other) drives well. So it was nice to get out of the house and get out on the road. Traffic wasn't bad and it took us no time to get to the mall.

First stop was lunch which was the standard mall selection, so we each got our own thing with Nat and I getting some vegetarian buffet-like thing where you picked your meal and weighed it. The vegetarian here is nothing like in the US, and you barely even remember you're not eating meat half the time.

After lunch we got a Dunkin Donuts coffee which helped me wake up out of my daze that I had been in since I got up. We then went to the kids pseudo-arcade which was pretty much like Chucky Cheese where you spent a shit ton of money and played games and got tickets. They cashed in the tickets for about $3 of crap which will be gone in a few days. Then we got ice cream and headed out:

On the way out we passed a few betel nut stands that hold with the old tradition of having the girls dress really enticingly, and who are easy to look at. I tried to get a pic real quick but wasn't able to get it in focus. It was a quick shot while trying to drive and follow Calvin, so unfortunately it didn't come out. I may have to get Calvin to drive us out and take some pics before we go.

Another thing I always dig about this country is the constant construction going on. The speed at which projects are proposed, approved, and executed is admirable. This is the MRT (Taipei above ground subway system) line that's being built out to the airport. I'd say that's long overdue:

Next stop was a tea shop across the street from Grace's parents. Calvin and Grace went to see her parents and we went to try out some tea. Calvin had brought us some the last time he came to the states and I really liked it. So we went to buy some and try a few different kinds while we were there. The shop was run by a female monk, which isn't rare but it's also not that common either.

As an aside, I forgot to mention an odd thing from yesterday as I was climbing out of Pinglin. While I was going up the hill, I heard this music which was coming from the valley below. I can only describe it as Buddhist-based, and it was entirely surreal at that moment. It's the kind of thing you'd see in a movie, where the character was wandering lost in the wilderness and came across a temple and heard the music in the distance before he saw it. Not so odd here when you consider the prevalene of temples, but it was coming very loudly from the valley, not a temple I was passing right by.

After the tea shop we had a little time to kill before Calvin and Grace were done so we went across the street to this massive temple that was being built the last time we were there, 9 years ago. It is colossal. None of the pictures came out well because of the lights, but this one is good as it shows you how big the place is, plus the Hollywood Squares effect of the layout. Check the pic link below for more:

We drove back to Calvin's during rush hour and at some point a few cars started to get between us so I hopped in a faster lane and tried to get behind him again. The douche bag wouldn't let me in so I went ahead of Calvin and pulled in front of him. Eventually I lost him, and we had to figure it out and get back ourselves. Nat called Calvin and he told us which exit to take and where to turn, and we had no issue getting back. While it was a little tight driving in spots, it's really nothing crazy. More importantly, I was able to remember which parking garage was his and where I needed to go.

Dinner was noodles and chicken, plus a side veggie from down the road. Nothing unique, though it was good. By the time we wrapped up dinner it was 8:00 and the night was more or less over. In all a pretty low-key day, more kid-based than anything. But I did get to the tea shop which is 1 of the things I wanted to do before we leave.

Random pic of the day is the betel nut girls, but seriously lacking focus:

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


Thursday, January 27, 2011

Taiwan Day 28 - On to Taipei

The morning started out like any other morning (except yesterday) - wake up early, get coffee, eat half a bun, look around for more food, wish I had gotten myself 2 coffees, eat some more, and so on. The rain wasn't actually going when I went out this morning, it was just wet. As far as these things go, it was about as good as you can expect.

After getting things ready and packing for a few days up at the BIL's, I set sail at 10:00 with the idea that I'd be up there by 3:30. Figure close to 5 hours plus whatever stops. It sounded like a reasonable time. I set out with no issues, and took a short detour on route 191 to avoid the poor drivers of Ilan based on a suggestion from one of the guys on an English-speaking Taiwan forum.

The start of the ride was uneventful. Flat & fast, I hit the base of the first climb with an 18.3 average, which certainly wasn't going to last. I hit the hill and kept pressing, for no real good reason other than I wanted to. While it was a good climb, it was a middle ring climb, so it really wasn't the leg-burner that a lot of these climbs have been. It's also a well-traveled road, so the mystery that you see on some of the rides (like yesterday's quarry ride) just isn't there. Lush, green, and wet. Every time I go into the hills its raining up there, and today was no exception.

The trucks weren't so much of an issue going up either big climbs. You go slow, the trucks go slow, there's really no conflict. On the down side of the first climb though, I had a rare opportunity to actually get some speed. I still rode my brakes more than if I were at home. But it was certainly the fastest I've gone downhill since coming here. Of course the trucks want to pass you, and on this downhill I quickly learned that they will force you off the road. It's not like in the states where you can take over the road until it's safe. They will take it back, sometimes coming just feet from you if you're in a bad spot in a turn.

Aside from a few annoying drivers, there really wasn't much issue with the trucks though. The downhill lasted quite a while and as much as I like the free miles, I was getting cold and looking forward to going up again. Eventually I hit Pinglin, and recognized the downtown area, even though I had only been there once, 10 years ago. I shot Nat a text and said I was 34 miles in.

Up was more or less the same, though I pressed maybe a little less with this one. The first climb hurt a bit, and the water from the camelbak was tasting pretty bad, so I was having a tough time putting too much of that down. But it was up, since the hills go up, so I went up. Top came sooner than I expected, right around the planned (foreshadowing) midpoint of the ride at 40 miles. From there it was almost all down or flat.

Going down was more of the same, but the trucks sucked a bit more than the first hill, especially when I got buzzed by 5 in a row. The problem when you get 1 slow driver (ie, safe driver) is that the trucks stack up behind them and the betel nut-chewing stormtroopers get psychotic. So they tailgate, and pass when the road is clearly not fit for a pass. By the end of it, I was yelling expletives at any truck that came too close, or more frequently the ones that blasted up the road in the wrong lane.

I dumped out into Xindian, which was a huge town, maybe a city, much bigger than I expected. I found the bike paths and soon was out of the traffic, no cars, no trucks, no scooters, just a few walkers and a handful of other bikers. From insanity comes peace.

The bike paths were solid, much better than I would have expected. At one point, I was on a road looking to see where the path went and realized that the road I was on was the bike path:

Shortly after, I looked to the right and saw a white guy sitting under some concrete retaining wall with an overhang playing a trumpet. Seriously, of all the odd things I've seen in this country that one may very well take the cake. When I got on the path, it looked like I had about 27 miles to go, and I texted Nat saying I was done with the tough part. She texted me back saying I might beat her there.

Of course I pressed on, thinking that it would be neat if I could get there before her. The paths down here were really solid and relatively free of traffic. There were a few baseball games and some people hanging out doing whatever. But more or less it was pretty quiet and fast, save for the occasional bit of construction in the parks.

Before long, I realized I had missed my bridge and I had to "eat the duck", which means I had to go around the penninsula which is described as a duck head, and take a slightly alternate route to get there. This was all well & good, since the paths are on both sides of every river. But I probably ended up adding almost 7 miles to the total. On the bright side, I got a good look at this:

Imagine my surprise shortly after when I saw a pump track:

And a white horse:

And even a boat:

Eventually I found the bridge and crossed over, and then the people started, and the headwind picked up, and more people found their way to the bike path, and then there were cobblestones, and boardwalks which jackhammered my back, and so on. By the end of the bike path, when I jumped out to hit the road up to Linkou, I was thrilled to be back out with the trucks and scooters again. The people on the bikes were starting to pose a serious threat to my safety, especially the tandems with the girls on the back trying their best to lay completely vertically and fall asleep.

The end of the ride was a small but brutal 800 foot climb. Normally it really wouldn't register here but after 84 miles this one hurt. I had pretty much used everything up keeping the 16 average to the base of the hill, and when I hit it, I just slogged up at turtle speed. My average went from 16 to 15.4 in the last 2 miles or so.

I rolled up to the apartment and shortly after Nat let me in. I showered up, washed my clothes, ate, drank, ate again, drank again, then had dinner, which was Dominos. Normally I'd never agree to eat pizza, but after this ride I was in the mood for damn near anything, up to and including animal genitalia. So pizza was just fine.

The rest of the day was spent in the apartment, eating and drinking some more. Have to say, it's pretty swank here, and makes me realize the place in Luodong is a bit of a dump. Oh, and the bedroom has heat, which is like super awesome. I may never leave if this bed is comfortable.

Terren's people pic of the day is yours truly, since I saw no people out today really. Here I'm reading to Melissa, who is apparently trying to fly away:

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


Wednesday, January 26, 2011

Taiwan Day 27 - More Quarry Exploring

So it turns out that there are some people still reading, which is nice to know. Someone did mention that enthusiasm is quite low on the east coast these days, with the weather being what it is. I can understand that, though this morning's rain was still annoying to me. Yeah, it will be "interesting" to see how I handle the real cold. But I think I'll be fine. You just more or less adapt to what you have, and when the temps fall, you want them to go back up. When it rains or snows, you want it not to. I'm sure the people in Yuma, Arizona complain when it's not sunny too.

Someone asked me if the word Starbucks was actually translated or not. Now if I just said "Starbucks" do you think my wife would have been shocked I knew how to say it? Everything has a transliteration, but they would have understood if I said Starbucks. Starbucks is "xin ba ke" where "xin" is actually the word for star, and the ba-ke is a transliteration of the rest of the word.

I slept until 7:00 today, which is a record for me while we've been here. I knew something was odd when I woke up and it was light out. I'm often up at 5:00 with no alarm, so to sleep in until 7:00 is pretty late. I did the usual morning thing then headed out for more exploring on the McCruiser in the rain. Having taken 2 days off after riding something like 43 hours in the first 3 weeks, my body was thinking that a 3rd day wouldn't be so bad. And this rain...but I had to cut off all thoughts and head out the door. This is a unique riding opportunity. It would be a shame if I just sat in the apartment and got fat, as opposed to riding my bike a bit, then sitting in the apartment getting fat.

The first stop was the original quarry from ride #3. I started up and said that if the trucks were coming down I'd bail and do something else. Trucks and dry, ok. No trucks and wet, ok. Wet and trucks, I need to minimize risk and do something else. That something else would be the other quarry down the road. This was the one that turned to gravel shortly into the ride. I made my way there and started up. The road really wasn't very steep to start, it just rolled gradually up along the river. At one point the road went under an old metal bridge, which I thought was kinda interesting:

At the left side of the bridge was an old police station, and a fairly large temple. There had been a small shack temple on the way up, literally a 5x5 foot place. I checked it on the way down and the candles had been lit. So of course, there were burning here as well. I thought it was pretty cool. I turned around and started heading back up the hill. Shortly after, I heard the un-rare event of monkeys screaming at me and saw a few in the trees. I couldn't get a good pic but at this point I've given up. I feel like someone who goes to NJ and marvels at the deer. They're just everywhere it seems.

I also saw a few more bridges, 2 of which were really bare-bones steel cable bridges. The second one had 2 motorcycles parked at the end, the occupants having gone to the other side for something or other. I was intrigued but not enough to go search out what they were doing. Very possibly hiking up to the rock conveyor towers to check on them. The conveyors were running today, as it turns out.

Eventually I rounded a corner and saw a sort of "station" on top of the hill, where the rock conveyor was making a pit stop. It didn't really stop there, but it turned out that people were manning the station. This isn't a good pic but it was sorta crazy looking on top of the hill there:

I kept going and it turns out that there's a shack where the scooters park and make their way up to the start of a bridge:

Then they have to walk across this bridge to get to the base of the hill:

Then they have to climb up the hill on foot to get to the station. That truck in the pic had 2 guys, who both yelled out hello as they drove by. This was the only moving vehicle I saw on the day. I kept on after this point, and the road started to get steeper. And the road itself had started to go through the river flowing down the mountain, and there were high-wire bridges for the people on foot, scooter, or bike:

This was a little nerve-wracking. On the way over, it was slightly downhill so I could coast. On the way back, I had to pedal and was afraid I was going to slip out, where the "risk" in the risk/reward equation was kinda tough. I made it either way, and the road here started to get insanely steep, and I had to grunt my way up. For sure this isn't a heavily traveled road, and there's no way trucks could come up & down this all day.

Finally, I got to a point where it flattened out, and I felt like I was on the moon:

There was still some climbing to do, but I called it a day here because I had run out of time. So I turned around and headed back down the mountain, and was enjoying the fact I had a mountain bike until I bombed a water crossing and bottomed out the rear tire and said to myself, "crap crap crap, you didn't just do that." But of course I did, and shortly after I was tearing apart the tire and putting in the spare. Thankfully, I had everything I needed and was able to get myself out of there with no issue. The tube I had bought was kinda light, but I pumped it up a bunch and rode gingerly the rest of the way out.

So I did get to explore something else today, but now I have a second quarry road hanging over my head. I'll need to come back when I have a little more rope to explore. It looks like I wasn't very far from the top. So it shouldn't be too long of a round trip.

Lunch was more stuff we've had before so I won't go into detail there, though we did sort of "eat in" which means Nat made rice and veggies and bought some meat out. We had some plans to go to this carving lady's exhibit place this afternoon so I worked for a very small amount of time then we were off around 1:30 with Nat's cousin's daughter Vivian and her aunt, who has seen better days behind the wheel of a car to be sure. A lot of people comment that the roads I ride are not safe, but the least safe place I've felt the whole trip was in that car ride.

The place was cool but I wasn't allowed to take pictures. Those of you who have been in our house have seen the glass dragon which she made. At this point she's way too cool for school and has moved into a big place that's got people working there selling things, making coffee, and producing pineapple cakes. We used to go to her little house in the countryside and see the stuff there and have tea with her husband. He once gave me 2 bags of really good tea, I think it was on our first trip. Since then, her world has exploded.

Here's the posse listening to the sales lady pitch her stuff:

We got some coffee then headed upstairs and the sky peeked out a bit. This is the roof of the building. They grow lotus in there most of the time.

Freshly made pineapple cake, and the woman in the background making more:

On the way home Nat's aunt dropped us off at the Giant shop and I picked up another tire. I'm not going to put it on, but bring it with me on the long trips, of which tomorrow is supposed to be one. I'm planning on riding up to Calvin's apartment, west of Taipei. So I'm going to bring the tire in the event that anything happens. The tire is one of the big things that is hard to fix when you're 40 miles from either end. The ride tomorrow is going to be in the 80 mile range, so I need to be prepared.

On the way home I peeked through a hole in the cement wall and saw carnage:

Back at the house and dinner is oyster pancake, squid balls, veggies, and a few small bites of meat, all from the night market. I forgot to take a pic but these are all repeats so I should have them somewhere.

I only had 1 of my random people pics come out today, though some would argue that the focus was on the wrong person here. The Terren people pic of the day. The only place to get scantily-clad women, or people of any sort, is going to be at a betel nut stand. And even then, it's becoming more and more rare these days. Random pic:

Putting it back on the bottom:

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


Tuesday, January 25, 2011

Taiwan Day 26 - Ilan & the Mall

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

Today we were greeted with some sort of smell in the apartment that had us concerned for our safety. It wasn't a burning smell, exactly. But it was a strong odor which smelled sort of like paint thinner, but we couldn't tell where it was coming from. The best guess was the air conditioning unit, since that's the general area where it seemed the strongest. The a/c units here are embedded in the wall, a permanent fixture in every room. It's took expensive to run the a/c all the time, so you just turn it on when you go into a room, as needed. We weren't running the a/c at the time though.

We moved Julia into the other bedroom, and I found a fan and blew the air out into the back foyer which is vented to the outside, and we shut the door. After maybe a half hour, the smell got a bit better, and more or less went away after about an hour. We had been waiting for Nat's aunt/uncle to wake up to ask them what the deal was, but it went away on its own, for better or worse. I'm never a big fan of letting things go, so even after the smell faded we got Nat's aunt and as soon as she walked into the apartment she smelled it, and said it smelled electrical, and she guessed it was the dehumidifier. It turns out that upon further inspection, the back side of it was indeed emitting the smell. Apparently it was about to catch fire. I had turned it off at the time, but didn't notice it stink at all, even after I moved it into a different room to try and isolate the smell.

The combination of this and the rain kept me inside this morning. Still feeling tired from the past week, so it wasn't an unwelcomed easy morning.

I also forgot to post this pic Nat got from yesterday of some guy on a scooter towing a cart along side him. And you wonder why the driving here is so chaotic?

Once we got things taken care of on the "poison gas" front, we settled in and did some more nothing for the rest of the morning. Since I didn't ride I was able to front-load a bunch of work which gave me time during the day to burn, which we decided to do by hopping on a train and going up to Ilan to pick up some stuff at the store which we can't get here, like cream cheese and Nutella, 2 of the 5 or 6 items on the Julia Food Pyramid. They also have a different beer selection up there so it was something to give a shot at.

Terren also posted a reply at some point in there saying that he's still reading. So aside from my mother and my wife, who admits she doesn't even read all of my posts, I have at least 1 reader for the duration, which at this point is only another 17 days after this day is over. He requested nudity, which I really can't help with. But I started taking more random pictures of strangers, since so many of them like to stare at us. Funny, but I felt like a rock star in Ilan today. I guess not a lot of white people go there, as it seemed like many more people had the staring thing going on than usual.

On the train to Ilan:

The train took 8 minutes and cost about $1.50 for all 3 of us to ride. We then walked to the mall from the train station in about 10 minutes, with a quick detour at a bike shop that we happened to pass along the way. We went in looking for a Taipei bike map, but he didn't have on. Nat had also been warned by her aunt that the route I was planning to take was very dangerous and that I shouldn't go. So Nat asked the guy, and even I could understand him when he said it was "extremely safe." He said it would take around 3 hours to get to to the other side of the mountains. From there it's a flat ride to Calvin's, though I still don't know where he lives.

On the way to the mall we saw a big tower made of old plastic bottles. They were gearing up the park for next week's Chinese new year's eve celebration.

At the mall, Julia showed off her skills that she's learned from daddy:

The mall was Toys R Us, then some lunch in the basement, over to do some food shopping (cheese, cheese, Nutella, and beer), then up to get some Mister Donut donuts for everyone, which includes the 3 of us plus the 7 people upstairs. Lunch was veggies, noodles, and wantons, surprisingly good for a mall:

As we were heading out, we needed to find a bathroom for Julia, so we stopped to ask some woman where it was. Nat asked, and she told us the floor above us. I wanted to know where we had come in, so I asked, using all Chinese, "Where's the Starbucks?" The woman pointed behind her and said it was that way.

Nat looked at me and said, "How the hell do you know how to say Starbucks? I don't even know how to say that." Yet more proof that this Chinese course is totally random. I can say Starbucks, McDonalds, and Google, but not bleeding, hospital, or help. Actually I used to know "help" because of the Chinese Dora we had. But I've long since forgotten. In any event, if you need to order a double chocolate macchiato with skim milk from Starbucks in Taiwan, I'm your man.

On the way out we considered taking the bus but it was taking too long, so we walked away to the train station and the bus came and we missed it. No big deal, we just hit the train with no issue and took the slow train back, which was $1 for us both and took 12 minutes instead of 8. At the station I finally found the school uniforms that match our team colors:

These 2 couldn't stop looking at us and smiling. They seemed friendly enough and they actually saw me take the picture so then they just kept looking and smiling. They got out where we did and got their money's worth enjoying us being their show for the day. We walked back to the apartment, the whole trip taking about 4 hours, which might seem long but it was a leisure trip more or less meant to get us out of the house, and pick up a few things.

In all it was another generally lazy day, but with a near inferno and a trip to the mall. I was talking to Nat today saying how I'm sure I'm getting desensitized to everything now. I'm sure I do 25 things every day that are strange to people (like watch Taiwanese people play pool on TV) but I'm used to it so I don't take pics nor do I write about it.

That night dinner is the same "pick your own pig snout" place that we went to the other day with the trays of various things that a lot of people reading would never eat. I'm really liking this meal, and it might be the 1 "eatery" that I'd bring back with us if we could. It's also solid spicy, which I really like. Good times, good times:

And since there are only 1-3 people (Hi Maureen too!) who read this far every day, I'm going to start catering to 1 of them for the rest of the trip. You have to give me a bit of a pass on this one, since I just decided to do it. Hopefully tomorrow I can do better. With that, I give you Terren's pic of the day:


Monday, January 24, 2011

Taiwan Day 25 - A Down Day

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

Man, I just saw a pic of myself from during the summer. There's just no doubt that I'm getting fatter now. I mean, before this trip I was and now I'm sure I am. I don't know if I really care though, which is what it is. I mean, I do, but at the same time, man I don't care anymore. Anyway, the pic is from a trip to the zoo we took in the summer. It's hard for me to believe I was this thin:

Funny, I remember that day and seeing that pic when we got him thinking, "Jeez, I really look like that? I feel like I'm much fatter." I guess I've come into winter form and I'm "filling out" so to speak.

Anyway, going out and getting breakfasts like this may very well be why:

This morning was another small verification that I can go out and exist on my own. I have to admit though, the conversation was strained. They asked me a few things and I just couldn't get the meaning at all. I finally did, but I have to say their hand gestures were really out there. Like for the word "bag" they made a motion like they were pulling a snake out lengthwise. Just not sure where that one was going. Anyway, I got the job done, and came home with rice milk, the same dough/egg thing we got on the way to the bus yesterday, and some turnip cake. Good stuff, as always.

Aside from that, today was a total down day. Once in a while you need those, and today was one of them. No ride, as I'm exhausted. And we didn't go on any real adventures, since we were all pretty tired and in need of a day off. Yesterday was apparently more tiring than we thought. It was sorta good to do nothing for the day.

I'll keep this one short and sweet, since we didn't really do much of anything other than go grab a coffee at Barista Coffee, which was absurdly expensive. Before we went, lunch was some lamb fried rice, veggie, and pig heart. Anyway, after that we went and dropped $10 on coffee and hot chocolate, but it was nice to get out and lay around somewhere else. Plus is was dark yet bright at the same time, making for some colorful pics:

Julia even got in on the action and took this one:

The afternoon was goofing off in between getting some work done. Nat's cousin's kids are in from China (they grew up here) and Vivian made everyone a big pot of Japanese curry, like what we make at home sometimes:

But the real score of the day was Nat managed to land at the 7-11. It's probably a good thing she only got 1:

Aside from that, not a lot went on today. I got some info about riding my bike to Taipei, and once I get up and over the hill it looks like Taipei is extremely bike friendly. We don't know what our plans are yet, since Calvin hasn't gotten back to us. We may go up for a few days, or not. Ideally Nat and Julia can go up early, then I can get a day and change of work done, then I can ride up and take a few days off, and we can go from there, maybe driving the car back or them taking the bus again and me riding my bike. I've sort of given up on actually having a car while we're here. If we get it, sweet. If not, so it goes.

On that note, part of me is getting ready to go home. I'm starting to feel enclosed in a box here and not easily being able to go anywhere limits us a bit. I sort of set myself up for this when I expected to have a car for 3+ weeks. I shouldn't have expected it and planned accordingly. Rookie mistake on my part. To that end, as far as vacation goes, I'm likely working 3 more days then taking Friday and the last 2 weeks off. After that, who knows, maybe we'll take a boat out to Turtle Island and set up a tepee for 2 weeks, eating fish that we spear ourselves.

I'm running out of steam on these. I can't imagine many of you are still reading. I'll try harder.


Sunday, January 23, 2011

Taiwan Day 24 - To the Zoo

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

Today was our planned day trip to Taipei, so of course this morning is totally clear, and I can see stars in the sky when I go to get coffee. Before I go, however, I eat the bun we got yesterday which is chocolate filled with chocolate chips on the outside. It's good, but not really what we came here for. And let's be real, it's not exactly the most healthy breakfast in the world. We actually thought it was plain inside when we got it. I assumed the chips were actually red beans, which are often used in buns here. They have the same color when baked. I probably need to eat more fruit.

My bike time was limited so I just went up to Hero Hill again and signed the book. Nothing of note happened, but I did see a guy coming down as I was going up, and another signing the book as I got to the top. I rode to the very very top of the hill, and when I turned around he was gone. It was clear out, but really hazy. Visibility was pretty poor all in all. This is the view from the top of the climb, 1800 feet up:

When I came home it was sort of agreed that we were only going to Taipei for the day to meet Nat's 2 cousins, YuFang and LiJin (not sure about the second one's spelling) and not go to Calvin's for an overnight. Calvin wanted us to bring our luggage plus computers up on the bus then check them into the storage of the bus station then go to his apartment after our day. While it may be perfectly safe, if I lose my work computer my trip takes a major punch in the gut. Plus of course there's the mass of fans (all 4 of you who have made it this far) who need to know about the trip. Plus, who wants to lug that stuff back and forth?

On the way to the bus station we grabbed a second breakfast of this doughy thing with egg, which was stupid good. I haven't had that in a while and forgot how much I like it.

We hopped on a bus around 10:30 and had a generally uneventful trip to the station in Taipei. We did pass right by Taipei 101 which I always feel the need to gawk at and take pictures of. Nothing good on the way in, so nothing to post here. We got to the bus station and met YuFang right away. We grabbed a Mister Donut offering for Julia, then found a seat and we were joined shortly after by LiJin. YuFang had brought some goodies for Julia:

Lunch was some Shanghai style food, which is usually dumplings of some sort, very often something called "soup buns" which are buns that have a meat and liquid in them, which is the "soup" part. It was good:

After lunch we grabbed a coffee at Starbucks just a few blocks from the 101 and the massive haze only got worse:

There were 3 whiteys sitting in this sort of open area where we were, and as we walked past none of them said anything, or gave any indication of acknowledgment. There were plenty of white people in Taipei, and this is the general greeting you always get from them. While there are more up here, we still stick out. I find it odd that in general the white people here actually go out of their way to ignore you. One guy at the zoo gave me a good solid nod. But everyone else pretends you're invisible.

This sort of goes along with my theory of the white people here, specifically that most of them have run away from their own country because they simply can't hack it being just another person in a big country. In a place like this, they stand out, feel special, and are always some form of entertainment. So when they see someone who looks like them, they go out of their way to not be friendly. I just find it odd.

We weren't sure what to do because the weather was iffy. We had talked about the zoo, but the rain was kinda rolling in. So we figured we would go, then not, then would. Finally I said that if we kept bouncing around back and forth we'd never do anything. So we decided to just go and the weather ended up being fine.

When I got into the taxi I said in the front seat and the driver made a motion to put on my seat belt. I said, "an chuan dai?" which of course is Mandarin for seat belt. This is just another example of how f'ing useless these Chinese lessons have been. I still don't know how to say my eyes are bleeding and I need a doctor.

At the zoo there were lots of animals, including an Panda Bear that was absolutely filthy:

And there were other things, like this indoor turtle exhibit which made for a neat pic:

And we stopped for an exquisite treat right after the penguin exhibit:

And a rhino, which you could get pretty close to:

And lions, which were on the other side of the glass, just 2-3 feet away:

Have to say, they get you right on top of the animals here. I guess this is why you hear of people getting eaten randomly in various Asian countries.

The hippos were cool:

And then we found some props to take a pic of Julia on and there was a spectator section watching. Not a day goes by without someone saying how cute they think Julia is. This yellow army just stood and watched us:

And a bright fish:

Then we went back to the city center and got ice cream for Julia and saw the 101 all lit up:

The pic sucks but it was hard to get anything worthwhile. We then hopped a bus and headed home, which saw all 3 of us going stir-crazy from the long day. This is basically why you're getting a recap as I just don't have it in me to write the day up. It was a good day, and Nat's cousins are very nice and easy to hang with, and they can speak English which is always a bonus for me.

Dinner was noodles, wantons, and veggies. Then I finished my bottle of red wine from last night.



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