Sunday, November 14, 2010

Dashboard Confessional: Out of Order

To preface this story, I will tell you that the dashboard on my scooter recently stopped working completely.  Prior to a couple weeks ago, at least the gas meter worked, even if the speedometer and oil gauge did not.  So now I'm running totally on memory.  Recipe for disaster.

Anyway, last night Mary Ann and I went to a going away party for a couple American teachers we're friends with at a nearby bowling alley/pool hall/batting bage/arcade wonderland.  It was a pretty fun time, especially when I housed everyone at arcade-style basketball (think MA's).  Just about everywhere here is BYOB, so I was reasonably shwasted by the time we left, and by the time we left the after-party at another teacher's nearby house I was also hashed.

It was around 3:30am, just after  leaving the 24-hour McDonald's, that disaster struck.  In the middle of the empty road our scooter shuts off without even a sputter.
Mary Ann: "Greg, when was the last time you filled this thing up?".
Me: "Fuck."

We ditched the scooter and got home via cab at 4am.  Today we scouted out the most direct route to the nearest gas station and it was time for me to start a pushin'.  It's pretty hard for me to stand out more than I usually do here, being white and not a midget, but the white boy wheeling a dead scooter like a push cart was bringing the yucks today.  One of the stranger things I've had to get used to here is how Taiwanese people will just continue to stare at me even while I am staring back at them.  Cultural differences are disconcerting.

The process of getting the scooter to the gas station actually went about as smoothly as could be hoped for, although there was one scary part of the journey where I had to go through this tunnel-like underpass that reminded me of the mineshaft scenes from Indiana Jones and the Temple of Doom.  Fortunately, no monkey brains were spilled en route.

Essay Contest

Two weeks ago on a Thursday evening, my boss approached Mary Ann and I asking us if we'd like to enter an essay contest for foreigner teachers in which we could win some money.  $5000 NT for first place, $4000 NT for second, on so on down to fifth place.  Since $5000 NT is only equal to 150 American dollars, we responded with feigned interest and excitement. 

The weekend came and went with no essay writing accomplished.  Come Tuesday night, we'd both given up on the idea of even attempting to write essays on account of laziness and being out of writing practice.  Within five minutes of arriving at work on Wednesday the head teacher comes to me asking for my speech.  It took a couple of minutes for Mary Ann and I to figure out that she was asking for my essay since this teacher's English isn't the best.  So I found myself in a bit of a bind.  Apparently my school was actually expecting us to enter at least one essay into this contest, even though our boss had phrased it like an optional kind of thing.  Bitches.  Chances are that they're just hoping I'll win so they can brag to parents that they have such smart teachers and get more students.

I made up an excuse, telling them that I had it on my computer at home and would e-mail it when I got home.  Of course, I hadn't done a thing up to that point.  So an hour after I got home that night, I sent out this 1,000 word literary gem.  It responds to the prompt, "Transnational working and living experiences in Taiwan".  Some of it is definitely wishy-washy drivel, so chew the meat of it and spit out the gristle. 

Taiwan Adventure
     Halfway home on the road from Taroko Gorge, the thought really hit me that I have never done anything like this, ever.  Such a realization rarely occurs in an average person’s life, and has rarely occurred in my own.  Being only twenty two years old, my life experiences almost exclusively have involved my parents, home, schools, or friends.  Almost nothing from my past can be accurately described as very new or unfamiliar.  I suppose I knew that coming to Taiwan would be very different from anything I had done before, but I certainly did not understand the extent to which that notion would prove true.  The mundane and the everyday, like even watching television or going to a restaurant, becomes strange and new in the adventure that is Taiwan.
     Yet after being in Formosa for nearly half a year now, it also seems to me that I have become somewhat accustomed to all the new and strange things that surround me daily.  I am no longer nervous that I have improperly sorted my waste when I throw my trash bags into the jingling garbage trucks alongside my neighbors.  I do not hold my breath while driving my scooter through the crowded Yilan night market in search of scallion pancakes.  Walking into a classroom full of students does not make my stomach tie into knots anymore.  It seems that after initially being bombarded with a million new things and people when I first got to Taiwan, I have quickly grown accustomed to newness.  Now, getting lost on a Sunday afternoon scooting around obscure parts of Yilan and Luodong does not make me feel worried and anxious.  Having learned to accept and deal with newness, getting lost has become a fun game instead of a nightmare. 
     Still, there have been some moments of overwhelming difference from my home in America that I cannot help but think, “We’re not in Kansas anymore”.  One of these instances came during that trip of mine down to Taroko Gorge.  The drive was three hours each way on my scooter, but in no way do I regret choosing that mode of transportation.  While the road is of course very curvy and dangerous, I cannot help but think that it will be the most beautiful driving I will do in my entire life.  Looking out from where the sea meets shoreline far below the mountain road, out into the endless expanse of the sparkling Pacific, has burned into my mind mental pictures I doubt could be erased.  And all this is saying nothing of the breathtaking majesty of Taroko itself.  Nowhere on Earth have I been more impressed and taken aback by the beauty and power of nature.  While at the Gorge, I felt a strong impulse to maintain a certain reverence in the presence of something far greater and older than myself.  Presented with evidence of millions of years of work and creation, it is hard to not have spiritual and philosophical stirrings.  Knowing that Taroko Gorge is such a treasured and important place in Taiwanese culture only increases my respect for the Taiwanese people.  Taroko is absolutely something to be treasured. 
     Another moment of overpowering awe struck me while visiting a nearby tidal park, a short stretch north, up the coast.  Simply walking the stone paths of the park was a memorable experience since the park looked like it came straight out of a storybook, or from The Lord of the Rings.  The curvy paths wound around ancient, beautifully gnarled trees, creating a wonderful union of man and nature.  Emerging from the path, the park opened up onto the shore: a collection of enormous boulders reaching out into the rough ocean waters.  Climbing out onto some of the further rocks, I was able to sit and let the violent waves crash around me while still remaining dry.  In the distance, a group of local fishermen patiently waited for catches on another far out rock.  The image of them created a beautiful silhouette with Turtle Island looming behind them in the background.  The moment struck me as so perfectly Taiwanese that I am sure I could never forget it.
     Yet Taiwan has a powerful effect on my psyche not only through its gorgeous natural scenery but also through its people, specifically, my students.  I often tell my older students, who are high school age, that I think I learn just as much from them as they learn from me.  Just the other day, I heard that one of my favorite students described me as being like an older brother to the class, and of course my heart swelled.  With more experienced students like them, the learning process is not nearly as one-sided as it is with younger students.  Every class I have with these high school students teaches me more and more about the details and nuances of Taiwanese culture, little facts and opinions that I find absolutely fascinating since they are pieces of information I probably would never be exposed to otherwise.  I am continually impressed by the complexity of the ideas my students are able to express in English.  Just the other day I was able to explain the difference between the conscious and unconscious mind to one of my classes, and they understood it.  Since I learned about that topic in my university English Literature classes, I would say that I have some pretty remarkable students. 
     So it seems that Taiwan has stretched my worldview to limits far past what I thought possible a year ago.  The shockingly new has settled into being familiar and even comforting, like shaping my apartment into a home.  Yet I am sure that I have not exhausted all of the fascinating secrets Taiwan holds; many rocks still remain unturned.  So as I continue on, I will do so with the happiness that comes with knowing you are on an adventure.

The End.

Thursday, October 28, 2010

Baked and Cold

So I was rummaging through my backpack for a pen at work the other day, and what do I find?  Drugs!  Apparently I unknowingly left the scraps of an eighth chilling in one of the inner workings of my bag for about five months, and then traveled internationally with the bag and baggie.  I guess its not so hard to smuggle drugs after all, especially if you don't even know that you're doing it.

In other news, the weather in Taiwan has abruptly shifted from hot and humid to cold and humid in the span of about a single day.  Apparently weather patterns in this country always work so comically fast here, with autumn lasting about two hours.  I can't wait for spring.  In addition to it being winter it is also the rainy season now, so the flowers are getting watered almost every day at some point.  Though one of my students told me that just ten years ago it would rain every single day during the winter, and now it is only most days.  I asked her if this was just due to normal climate shifts and she told me its because of global warming.  It's real folks.

In other news, MA and I have been getting caught up on the second season of the Jersey Shore (I know, I know... I'm a little behind here), and its making me feel very disappointed that we never got to do t-shirt time.  I guess for us the closest thing was "Smoke Dood?"

If anyone is curious for lengthy explanations of any pictures I posted on facebook, please fire away.  I'd love to elaborate on whatever has peaked anyone's interest.

MA has also turned me on to a really good band that you all may or not be familiar with, "Someone Still Loves You Boris Yeltsin".  I know the name is a bit much/retarded, but give them a chance.  Parts of their songs remind me strongly of Vampire Weekend, if that's any incentive to give them a listen.

The sugar babies are growing rapidly, and Warren had sprouted a bifurcated penis (Wiki it, it's not a defect).  I wonder how long it'll be before him and Maude are bifurcatedly fucking.  Or maybe he's already knocked her up.  Who knows?  Maybe they fuck while I sleep.  Fuckin' skanks.

Sunday, October 10, 2010

I'm Not Racist, I'm Just Perceptive

The reactions to my first entry were mixed (some negative Nancies found it a tad negative?).  So now I will turn the eye of my genius literary wit onto the good things in Taiwan.  Moses has come down from the Asian mountain with another pair of tablets for your reading pleasure. 

10 Things I (Don’t) Hate About You(, Taiwan)


It might just be me, but I think motorscooters are the duck’s guts (urban dictionary it right now).  When MA and I got here, we “inherited” a pair of fourteen year old scooters from our teacher predecessors, and by “inherited” I mean paid 350 bucks a pop for.  They’ve broken down a few times and we can’t leave them out in the rain much, but I still love them to death.  Mine tops out around 70 kph (40ish mph), and MA’s can go over 100 kph.  Most of our driving is on relatively empty regional highway, so cruising along with headphones while gazing around at the scenery is just awesome.  The county we live in is surrounded on all sides by either mountains or ocean, so any direction you look in can seem like an oil painting.  Of course, in some corners of the county there are giant smokestacks that can be seem from miles around, but I think the juxtaposition of a dirty, polluting smokestack against a beautiful mountain vista is actually quite nice to look at.  Sometimes I can see the clouds of dark grey smoke working their way out of sight into the grand valleys dividing the various mountains.  It is doubtful that the mountain foliage appreciates the smoke much, but its always cool to see a mountain peak poking through a cloud.  Who cares if it’s a naturally occurring cloud?

Oh, and also, scooters get unreal gas mileage by the by.  I spend 10 dollars a week on gas and I drive a shitload.  I’d like to say that I’m getting one for myself when I get back to America, but my whole lack of a driver’s license (and money) is bound to put an end to any such pipedream.  I guess I’ll just get a bike. 

Sidenote: Am I crazy for thinking that being a bike messenger would be the most fun job ever?  You get paid to bike around a city all day, you’re getting paid to exercise and have fun.  I know its dangerous and blah, blah, blah, but I think that’s only if you’re bad at bicycling (cough, Katie, cough, cough).  I don’t even understand how bike messenger is still a real job.  What are you delivering that can’t be emailed, precious Tridium so Doc Oc can carry out his misguided experiments?  As long as I don’t have to deliver anything radioactive, sign me up.  I want to be the guy with the bike and the bag.  

Wednesday, September 15, 2010

The Title Of This Blog Is Ambiguous!

People in Taiwan believe in about a million different gods (silly Daoism), so I've decided to make some Commandments of my own.

               The Ten Chingchangchongments

Drive poorly, so you won't get killed by everyone else who's driving poorly.

Run red lights, start driving on the wrong side of the road, turn left out of the right-hand lane... anything goes as long as you don't die.

Funny aside: Mary Ann and I got into a car crash a couple weeks ago.  The car we hit blindly pulled out of a narrow alley directly into the middle of a busy road, and then slowed down once directly in our path.  Of course, the driver was Asian.  The kicker?  Also a woman.  We didn't stand a chance.  Fortunately, MA slowed down enough in time to prevent us from breaking any bones; she got a few patches of fresh black-and-blues and I got a dinged-up elbow.  I escaped the collision so relatively unscathed because I executed a flawless shoulder roll mid-air and landed with ninja-like softness.  I swear, that's exactly how it went down.

Beware the snakes and spiders.

I read online that Taiwan has the highest concentration of poisonous snakes anywhere on earth.  And they're fucking everywhere.  MA has spotted two roadside, and we both had a little run in with a spicy seven-foot number last month on a hike.  I was walking in front on this narrow path through the woods and suddenly MA screamed my name, and when I looked down this huge fucking snake was about my penis' length away from my foot (~9 inches), and it was as fat as a baseball bat (just like my penis).  So I freaked and bolted forward up the path about 30 feet, high stepping like a little girl who runs funny.  Death averted.  When we were going back down the path later on, the snake was still around, this time laying directly across and blocking our way.  We were standing there waiting for the fucker to move out of our way for a solid ten minutes, giving me a chance to take a few pictures of it.

As for the spiders, apparently this species called cane spiders are really prevalent here, and they're about the size of a girl's hand.  MA and I have only found one of these in our apartment (thankfully), though MA did make me help her catch that one (which sucked) and now it's one of her pets.  Catching that thing took forever and involved several makeshift traps, none of which worked all that well because this spider can move scary fast.  Finally getting it into a cage was pretty sweet though because it let us look at this sucker real up-close.

Is this my dinner, or did you just poop on a plate?

A lot of the food here is pretty gross.  To be fair, there's also plenty that's quite good.  The fruit and noodles are great, as are the dumplings.  There's even a sweet hibachi restaurant that only costs about $4 a person, and a locally famous scallion pancake vendor (if you've never tried a scallion pancake, do it)  But a lot of the more "traditional" foods here are just, well, yucky.  The school MA and I teach at had this big dinner to celebrate "ghost month" a few weeks ago, and my boss made me eat five of the most expensive item on the menu for that evening: chicken testicles.  I'm not sure how many of you have ever had a ball pop/explode in your mouth (I'm surely not the only one; I'm looking at you Zach), but my advice is to never try it.  After I forced myself to swallow the last one, I felt like I might deposit all five back onto the table so I excused myself and bolted for the bathroom.  Thank god I didn't puke those up.  It's one thing to eat balls, and a whole different thing to vomit balls.  My boss told me that people in Taiwan think men should eat these testicles because they make you more virile.  This strikes me as taking the concept of aphrodisiacs a tad too far.  Do I get even more sex power if I eat human balls?  By eating 5 chicken balls, does this mean I have the sexual potency of one adult male and 2.5 adult chickens?  I guess I'll have to ask one of the asians to help me do the math.

Other "interesting" delicacies include the intestines of various animals (which MA, quite accurately, says taste like septic tank), non-headless shrimp, mayo-slathered steamed bamboo, and "stinky tofu".  This last tasty treat emits a stench so potent that I can catch a whiff from halfway down the block on a windless night.  If I had to try to match words to this unique odor, I'd say it smells like the tofu was cooked in a solution consisting of hot sewer water and low end cat food.  I can proudly say that I have not given this "classic" Taiwanese dish a try yet, despite assurances that it doesn't taste as bad as it smells.  What a ringing endorsement.  I'll stick to cheeseburgers and french fries, thank you very much.

No one can say my name right, even remotely.

All the ching-chang-chongers call me by a new name they have unknowingly given to me: Gweguh.  Think is has a chance to catch on back in the states?  Yeah, I hope not too.

Carrefour is Mecca.

Carrefour is apparently the french equivalent to Wal-Mart.  This means that they carry much more products from America and Europe (you know, the civilized part of the world) than any other stores here do.  This is where MA and I got our Wii (but it's all in Japanese, wah-wahh).  It's also where we get our fixes of Americana, mainly Oreo's and Pringles.  There's also a stand in the store that sells fresh corn dogs, so you can eat a corn dog while shopping for a new lufa because your old one unraveled in the shower yesterday while you were scrubbing your ass (Baller!).

At all times, know where the nearest Western-style toilet is.

If you've never experienced a squat toilet, google it.  It's basically just a hole in the ground.  Apparently Asia keeps installing these shitholes because some people actually prefer them to Western style toilets (because your bum doesn't have to touch anything). 
I'd love to say that I've never had to use one of these, that I've just conducted all of my poo-poo business in the Western-style privacy of my own apartment (where there is not one, but two Western-style toilets!).  But sadly, much of Taiwanese cuisine is prone to inducing instant d, which has made squatting a necessity on several occasions.  Yucky. 

Don't go in the ocean.
Actually, this is one of the Taiwanese's rules for themselves.  They believe in this legendary tidal occurence called the Crazy Dog Wave, a freak wave that crashes the shores of Taiwan once in a lifetime and  washes everyone near the water away.  Therefore, beaches are largely deserted except for a handful of brave fishermen and foreigner surfers.  Of course, Crazy Dog Waves do not actually exist, and probably came into myth because of the occasional tidal wave or two.  So MA and I go swimming all the time on a lovely, deserted beach that's only a three minute walk from our apartment.  Its one of the few places where we can be outside and not get gawked at.  Apparently the people in our region don't see white people much.  They all think I'm some super hunk and MA has the biggest rack ever (she doesn't, you do Mariel!). 

One cool story about the ocean here, one night when we went swimming there was this special iridescent algae in the water that made any part of my body that was moving underwater look like it was glowing with green sparkles.  I think the potency of this magical effect was also heightened by two factors: the brightness of the full moon that night, and the proximity of the sewage treatment plant to our beach. 

*The Schafe-God's brain now hurts from writing and will strike with more Chingchangchongments at some time other than now.  Until then, your mantra for meditation and reflection is the name of one of my sugar gliders: Warren Peace*