April 25, 2010

Taiwandering Episode 1: Taichung (no, that's not how you pronounce it...)

As I believe I've said before (and if I haven't it should be known), organizing a trip on the weekends is like trying to find a Taiwanese man without a ridiculous-looking haircut - it's possible, but takes extreme patience and effort. Between the weather and the general lack of decisiveness among the Travel Buddies, it's amazing that we ever actually go anywhere. Once a decision IS actually made, there is also the problem of figuring out the logistics of getting there, though this is becoming easier now that we are all more familiar with the rails, the cabs, and bus systems. However, we still do a lot of standing around, staring blankly in random directions, sometimes whimpering. Carrie often openly weeps.

So after much stalling, mind-changing, deliberation and debate, we found ourselves on a slow train (as opposed to the High Speed Rail) to Taichung (pronounced Tai-Zong...kind of. At least, that's what is SOUNDS like everyone is saying...I just parrot people now in hopes of not sounding like a total idiot), which is somewhere to the South of Hsinchu and not really famous for anything in particular. It does, however, have over a million people, and thus we all agreed that it should be seen at some point or another. So, on the train we went, the weather slowly improving from dreary to not-as-dreary-but-still-not-sunny as we headed South, the noise from the tracks clinking away and adding rhythm to the ride.

Authors Note: Dear President Obama. Trains are cool. We need more of them in the U.S.A. That is all.

After arriving and figuring out which bus would not get us lost, we hopped on the correct bus and immediately got lost. Apparently we should've gone the OTHER way. Soooo, a ten-minute ride turned into an hour-long tour through the streets of Taichung, which wasn't all bad in the long-run. (Fun Fact: paying on buses is OPTIONAL. At least, this is how we all treated the bus system. No one seemed to notice). Finally, we arrived at our first destination: The National Museum for Weird Art That No One Understands. Haha, not really, but we did see some pretty crazy-looking exhibits that were obviously too deep for my tiny Modernist brain to grasp the meaning of. Carrie, Denise and I played some fun games, including "Name That Art!" ("This is is called 'Blue Square over Red Square'"...."You're full of shit, it's called 'Red Square UNDER Blue Square'") and "How Does It Make You Feel?" ("This one makes me feel anxious and frustrated" or "This one makes me hungry for peanut butter sandwiches cut diagonally with no crust"). Overall, a great experience, and it felt good to do something cultural for a change from our usual routine of...well...killing brain cells.

But I'll get to that shortly...

(getting ready to get lost)

(ostrich with his head in a submarine - makes complete sense)

(me still trying to understand the art I just saw)

(the view from the museum deck)

Next, to the hostel to stash our stuff and then out into the chilly April evening and the Taichung Night Market (it probably has another name...I don't know it). For those who don't know, a Night Market is usually a narrow street lined with shops, street vendors, and about 6 billion Asian people. It is loud and bright and a great place to feel totally OUT of place, but we're all used to that by now so we just go with it. On this particular Night Market outing, the goal was to try every possible food we could, no matter how strange is looked or foul it smelled. Though I can't remember all the delicacies, some of the highlights were:

- stinky tofu

- a corndog (whoa...hold on, don't go too far out of your comfort zone now)

- japanese mini-burgers

- mashed potatoes that tasted like cake batter

- mushroom tempura (tempura is japanese for "dipped in fried batter-y heart-arresting goodness)

- cold squid with mayonnaise (I'd eat anything with mayonnaise on it)

- something that was probably meat covered in some sauces

- corn on a stick!

- watermelon juice

(The Taiwanderers)

(Taichung Night Market - lets play Where's Waldo with the white people!)

(stink tofu...its potency would make it illegal in the States)

(I don't know what Carrie is about to eat...we rarely do, but she'll never learn unless we let her make her own mistakes...)

(is it potato? Is it cake? YES!)

(me and Matt going super-cultural; corn dog. enough said.)

After we all felt full and about to vomit, we went back to the hostel to change and pre-drink (Carrie found an alcoholic beverage called "The Cup" which happened to resemble the plastic urine-sample cups at the doctor's office - only in Taiwan...), then out into what Cynthia described as "the great Taichung Night Life". We found ourselves at a nice little bar/club called "Freedom", which offered an "all you can drink" special for $500 NT ($15 bucks). Mistake. Long story short, after much dancing, sweating, and tequila shots from an unknown girl literally pouring alcohol DIRECTLY into our mouths (I thought once you graduated from college you didn't have to do stuff like this anymore), we made it back to the hostel, but for all I know we teleported through space and time 'cause I couldn't tell you when or how this came to be. All I know is I woke up Sunday morning and the sun was shouting at me.

(our hostel which was more like a hotel)

(trying to get Mike to drink The Cup)

(Mike and Matt, 9 drinks down. It looks like Mike might be hallucinating, and Matt's face was frozen this way for the rest of the night)

(rehydrating, Mike catching the leavins')

(I'm trying to figure out where I am, both immediately and also in Life. I get deep when I drink.)

Another beautiful day to be alive and experience the beauty of Taiw...but first, hold on...I think I'm gonna have to hurl....

(On the next Taiwandering: Taichung Part II: Lonely Planet is full of it...)

April 23, 2010

Team Taiwander: Where Adventures Meet Alcoholism

Ahhh. Allright, well before starting off on our Taiwandering Adventures, I feel like everyone back home should know that yes, I actually DO have friends here. I know. You are shocked. Many probably got the impression, from my first 6 months of blogging, that I spent much of my time meandering the streets aimlessly and playing on the internet in my one-room palace. And while this was true of my first month or so here (which is about how far I got in my previous blogs - don't even get me STARTED on how behind I was/am and will forever be) - I have since made some awesome friends, many of whom will probably even reach "lifelong" status. (Those of you who have already attained this rank, you are aware of the perks that come with such a title; you know, like letting me sleep on your couches and getting to throw multiple goodbye/welcome back parties).

And no, for those who are wondering, none of my good friends/traveling buddies are, in fact, Asians. This is not because I don't like the Taiwanese; in actuality, I have yet to meet a Chinese person who I do not instantly like (with the exception of this dude at the bar who knocked over my guitar and then REFUSED to pick it up...who DOES that?!). It's just that, I guess when you're far away from home, you tend to gravitate toward things that are as familiar as possible. That is why almost all my friends are exactly like me (with a few outliers here and there to prove I'm not completely close-minded): They are all laid-back, enthusiastic, and like to explore. They are tell good stories and like to drink, which in turn makes their stories even better (if not less coherent and lengthier/louder/less based in fact). Most are Midwestern or Canadian, and while being Canadian is never to be viewed as a positive affliction, the Canuckleheads are generally chilled out, which lumps them in with the rest of the Midwest mentality. They are all good people.

SO, without further adieu, meet the players:

Team Taiwander


(don't worry Reefer Madness fans, it's a tobacco hooka)

Michael John

Aliases: Mike, George Michael, Serg (or is it "Surge" like the drink? Whatever happened to that drink, anyway? Didn't they discover it actually contained pure crack-cocaine or something? Is that why those people did all that crazy shit in the commercials?)

Hometown: Lansing, Michigan (Midwest represent)

Biography: Mike is known for his ability to dance better than any person I have EVER seen (and by "better" I mean that everyone who sees him says "oh my God! WHAT is that guy DOING?!?! AWESOME!"), his propensity for wearing neon, and his enthusiasm that rivals most five-year olds when their Ritalin prescription runs out. Oh, and he sweats. A LOT.

Authors Note: Dude is my best bud in Taiwan...until he gets hammered. Then I want to kill him. But in a good way.

Denise Ritchie

Alias: Menace

Hometown: Canada (that's right, all Canadians just live in 'Canada'. Are there even real cities in Canada? I thought everyone just lived on frozen lakes and occasionally spoke French in between confused-sounding blurts of "eh? EH?")

Biography: Denise is probably the girl most like MYSELF that I have ever met, and therefore she (and Carrie) is just like sisters to me. She tells great stories that all involve alcohol in some way or another. She is rarely pissed about anything. She says she is going to the bathroom at parties, but instead just goes home and leaves everyone wondering/searching for her.

Authors Note: Part of the Dynamic Duo of "Menace and Cheddar Bob", which constitutes my other best buds in Taiwan.

(Plug: Carrie and Denise's VIDEO blog...check it out for some embarrassing footage of the Taiwanderers, myself included):


Carrie DIXon!

Alias: Cheddar Bob

Hometown: Canada (Me to the girls: "quick, name the Prime Minister of Canada". Response: "....uh....?". I love Canadians.)

Biography: Carrie is the nice, maternal member of our motley crew, but still laughs when we injure ourselves doing something idiotic. She is a terrible scooter driver, but sometimes cooks for us. She smiles ALL the time and snores like the wood-chipper from the movie Fargo. From the way she bruises, she may actually be a fruit of some kind. My guess is a tangerine.

Author's Note: The other half of "Menace and Cheddar Bob", the most ineffective superhero team ever.

The Internationals:

(no, it's not Halloween. This is how he always dresses)

Marc Woods

Hometown: Leeds, U.K.

Biography: Marc is the talent in our two man acoustic band affectionately dubbed by our "fans" (read: drink friends) as "Sex Church", after someone said "What is the most controversial name one could name a band? (I'm sure you can think of worse...don't bother telling me, the polls in the official "Vote For Marc and Tommy's Band Name Contest" ended last Tuesday). Hilarious individual, claims he is actually more British now that he no longer lives there. Also, one of the best guitarists I have ever met.

(yes...it's monkey)

Chris Bradley

Hometown: U.K.

Biography: Chris is another who COULD be a standup comedian but who actually has a REAL job (assuming that we foreign teachers are not actually real people because...let's be honest...we're not). He is one of the most chill guys I have ever met, but would go to war if someone messes with his friends. You can't buy loyalty like that.

Authors Note: The first time I met Chris, he was drunk and, within 2 minutes of meeting me, pyscho-analyzed me as "a guy who tries to appear confident and cool because in reality he has no idea what the hell he is doing", which of course made me hate him because...you know...he was dead on. I'm over it now, though. "No worries".

Jamil Leva

Hometown: San Pedro Sula, Honduras

Biography: Besides Mike and the girls, Jamil is one of the first guys I met in Taiwan. An all-around good guy, is always down for pretty much anything. He is fluent in, um, like 17 languages, and knows more about being a foreigner here than any other person I've met. An invaluable resource. A better friend.

Also starring:

Jason Lacoste

Hometown: New Orleans, LA

Authors Note: Smart guy, my favorite debate partner in matters of religion, philosophy, and determining the best way to terrify some random dude that owes him money into paying him his money.

Cythia Lapierre

Hometown: Canada (Is it a coincidence that "The Star Spangled Banner" and "Oh, Canada" both start with the word "oh"? I'm calling plagiarism)

Authors Note: A relatively new addition to my personal traveling entourage, but way fun to have around and always looking out. Holler.

Trey Gregory

Hometown: Somewhere in Indian, I think.

Authors Note: Yeah, Trey went to Mizzou. How crazy is it that I came ALL THE WAY AROUND THE WORLD and met a guy that went to the same University as me. M-I-Z baby.

(For those of you unmentioned, it's not because I don't love you, it's mostly because I'm tried of writing and my readers have a short attention span...doubtful any of them have made it this far anyway...you'll be in version 2.0)

So, now you know my friends and can reference them when i say something like "Mike set a Filipino bartender on fire" (actually happened) or "Marc broke up with a Taiwanese girl after three weeks only to have her threaten to fling her tiny Asian body off the roof of his apartment building" (actually happened). I guess it's true what they say..."No man is an island who has friends, unless his friends are made of water and then yes, I suppose he could be considered an island in a metaphoric sort of way, but who are these 'water people' you refer to....?" Don't ask me what it means...its a Taiwanese Proverb.

April 22, 2010

Preface: Taiwandering Blogisode

I woke up the other day and realized that I have been in this country for almost eight months. This marks the longest I have lived in any one place since graduating college, a feat which I'm not sure if I should take pride in or be slightly ashamed about. Am I adventurous or fickle? Probably a little of both. My transient nature has begun to inform me that yes, it will soon be time to move on to the next chapter in this crazy novel that is my life, and therefore my time in Taiwan is limited and quickly waning. Where will I go, you ask? At this point it seems like Saint Louis is the logical choice (with a pit-stop of undetermined length in Texas to see the family, of course); almost all my friends and half my family live there, I love St. Louis sports, and let's face it, the low cost-of-living in the Midwest makes it ideal for a struggling....um....whatever I will be when I return. But rest assured, I WILL be struggling.

But the point here is that, in eight months, I have seem almost NONE of this beautiful country. Part of the reason for this is because, for the last 5 months, it has rained literally every other day, making planning a sight-seeing trip nearly impossible. Part of the reason is that my school, along with every other school and institution in Taiwan, doesn't believe in Holidays. In the Sates, I remember we used to get off school for EVERYTHING. ("Happy '3rd Tuesday in September Day!' Stay home!") However, the parents in this country would never stand being around their children this much (because they actually HATE their children), and so here we are required to go to school ALWAYS, even during typhoons, earthquakes, and sometimes even on Saturdays. And lastly, part of the reason I have been nowhere is because, as with any routine, complacency tends to arise after time and repetition. I get stuck in a rut, and happy (or content) with being just...there. Sometimes it takes a push to get me out.

So here's the push...

I've got four months left here. That's 16 weekends and possibly a week off in July if the scheduling cooperates. My goal is to see as much of beautiful Formosa as time and money will allow, and hopefully blogument much of it for your reading pleasure. (I will do my best to be as un-educational as possible, and in all likelihood will probably make up a lot of what I don't immediately know off the top of my head. You can get your facts from Wikipedia...I'm here to entertain.)

Let the Taiwandering begin.

(On the next episode of Taiwandering:
Taichung ("no, I don't know what it is. eat it anyway.")

Complacency in action.

April 20, 2010

Welcome Homeless

All right, so I know I JUST got finished saying how I'm actually NOT the kind of idiot that routinely misplaces his keys; I actually thought I was getting more responsible. Exhibit A: I haven't lost anything of value since I've been in Taiwan (except my dignity on various occasions), this including keys, passport, I.D., phone, wallet, scooter, or my Barry Sanders rookie card that constitutes my 401K retirement plan. Exhibit B: I haven't ONCE slept through a class, which is phenomenal considering in college I retook the SAME course THREE times because they only time I could ever get into it was 9:00 a.m. and, for the love of God, do they REALLY think a 19 year-old kid is going to be awake any earlier than 11:00? Exhibit C: I actually (brace yourself) sort of follow through on stuff now. I mean, not everything, but I used to have more flakes than Tony the Tiger. (rimshot) OH!

So yeah, things have been going well, and I seemed to be slowly progressing toward that foreign land of responsibility that some might call "adulthood" but I just refer to as "I'm tired of people giving me a hard time because I keep screwing up so I'm trying to get my shit together-hood". Smooth sailing. That is, until this last weekend.

These are too stupid NOT to tell.

Event #1:

So, as per Thursday routine, Marc and I go down to Mr. Sevens pub and play some 80's hits on acoustic guitars for the regulars (I realize no one back home knows of this, but I will soon blog about it so you can say, with confidence, that Mr. Sevens is a terrible name for a bar). It had been raining all day, and though the precipitation had lazily tapered off to a light drizzle, the temperature had dropped to around 50 - unusually cold for Taiwan, and worthy of hoodies and jackets. We played until about 2, then (although I had to teach at 9 the next day) continued to "hang out" (which is code for "drink White Russians and learn Chinese profanity from the locals") until 4. God only knows what inspired me to think this was a good idea.

At 4-ish I decide to call it quits, and with my buzz nearly gone I scootered the short distance back home to my apartment, squinting my eyes against the cold and the mist. Safe at home, I went up to the 7th floor and realized immediately that my "security door" was closed. [the security door is just a giant metal door on the OUTSIDE of the normal door]. Strange, I never close my security door, and I don't even have the key so I most CERTAINLY would never loc....oh hell. I yanked and I pulled and I twisted. Nothing. Who would be playing such a mean trick on me? WHY?!?! Is it because I sometimes watch old "Scrubs" episodes too loud on my computer at 1 a.m.??? I'm sorry, I'll never do it again, I swear.

So, after a brief attempt at problem solving - which my faculty for had also, apparently, been drinking - I decided my best option was to....call a friend? No. Too easy and logical. Oh, I know! I'll camp out against my stupid self-locking security door like a homeless person. Yeah...that's what I'll do.

Cut to me, 2 hours later, after shivering and passing in and out of florescent consciousness. One of my neighbors had probably left for work - I can't imagine WHAT they thought of this creepy white homeless guy - and the sound had woken me up. I tried to collect myself, tested the door again. Still nothing. Damnit. I turned around to go (I don't know where I was going to go exactly), and was suddenly overtaken by a fit of rage. I whirled, Street Fighter II style, and flying knee-kicked the metal security door.

With a click, It opened....

And just in time for me to start getting ready for school.

Event # 2:

"Tim-Tom, wake up. We're leaving in 10". What? Where I am? Why is the sun shouting? I roll out of bed and realize that we had made it back to the hostel. Hm. The last thing I remember was eating 7-11 rice that, judging by the feeling of my tongue, was actually ON fire. In the state I was in, I probably would've eaten the flaming molten-rice off the pavement.

Out the door in a hurry, more sight-seeing in Taichung (more on this as well). About halfway through the day I realize that I no longer, in fact, possess my keys. Awesome. Oh wait, I know where they are...sitting right where I left them the night BEFORE so I wouldn't lose them at the club. I'm an idiot. Call Trey. "Sure man, I'll bring em back up to Hsinchu when I come home around 9". Cool, thanks Trey. We make it home, but not before my phone dies rendering me unable to communicate with anyone, and in a country where I am unable to communicate with anyone this can be a problem as far as problems go.

We get back early, around 7, and I drag my hungover feet around town for a little while to kill time until Trey arrives at 9. At 8:30, I go and sit outside the exit to the station, undoubtedly looking haggard and ready to sleep. Nine o'clock comes and goes, as do thousands of Asians, through the exit carousel and out into the night. No Trey though. And no keys. No scooter key. No house key. And no phone to call and politely ask "Where the hell are you, dude?"

I sit on the sidewalk until 11:30. The Asian train station workers are obviously concerned. My ipod has since died and, though my headphones are in as a disguise, I can hear them mumbling in Chinese and sending sideways glances at me. "Is he going to sleep here?" "Doesn't he teach my son?? What is he doing, trying to score drugs???" Finally, the digital marquee is blank, which I assume means no more trains. I surrender, and begin walking to the nearest 24-hour McDonalds, where I will try to sleep until I have to get up and work in the same scummy traveling clothes that I have been wearing all weekend. This will NOT be a fun day.

Luckily, though, the story has a happy ending. On my way to my McHostel I happened to pass an all-night internet cafe, and after figuring out how to pay (50 cents an hour...nice) get on The Facebook and start frantically messaging anyone and everyone. Denise, my dear savior, agrees to come get me and I traded a McBooth mattress for my familiar place on the girls' couch. Thank Goodness for good friends. I totally owe her. And Trey eventually got me my keys, so I eventually go to return to my home. Eventually.


So, in summary, I'm dumb. That said, my experience also affirms my theory that everything works out in the end, even if the getting there kinda sucks. It ALSO affirms my theory that actually being homeless would not be NEARLY as fun as everyone has led me to believe. I thought it was like a party with fingerless gloves....not so. I guess it's time to rethink my future occupational choices. I'll get back to you when I find something with more perks but which still doesn't require me to, you know, do anything.

It's like looking into the future. Eerie.

April 19, 2010

Comebacks Are For Losers, Winners Never Leave

I realize I haven't blogged in, oh...forever. Part of the reason for this was because, in what I can only assume to be a restructuring of Universal management, Someone pulling the strings decided that I had just too damn much positive energy in my corner and needed to be humbled. Word trickled down from Upstairs that someone was getting the axe, and shortly after New Years a death blow was dealt to one of my dearest friends - my computer, Brian. (That's right, I tried to name my CPU icon "brain" and misspelled it. Thank you $40,000 education.) So, as it was I have been unable to write anything because, honestly, who would even THINK of using a pencil or pen these days?! I don't even think I remember how to hold one, and even if I did, my gnarled fingers are forever frozen in the "poised over the keyboard" position. My opposable thumb can no longer even make the connection with my other digits; it can only move in a repeated and swift downward space-barring motion, and also occasionally stick itself straight up whilst I am trying to communicate that yes, I do very much want the coffee you are pointin....no, not that one. Go up one. No, not the soy latte section, i just wanted the....fine. Whatever. I always end up leaving the coffee shop with something decidedly NOT coffee. And a scone. When the hell did I order a scone?

The Reaper's sickle not only did a number on Brian's video card, but also grazed my motivation as well. My first and only nine-to-five job was starting to wear me down, and all I wanted to do when I got home was do something unproductive. Luckily, I have been practicing this technique for years, and I am quite deft at it (I will soon be publishing my first "How To" book entitled "Time Consumer: Waste Your Way to Happiness" featuring chapters on: staring blankly, walking around a house aimlessly for long durations, and concluding with a tear-jerking and well-written editorial by my good friend Sam Miles called "Facebook - Internet Friends Are Better Than Real People Anyway".

Not only this, but weekends, when I usually got most of my writing done, were now booked solid doing actual THINGS, not just writing about doing actual things. Every Friday my pesky friends would drag me, fingernails peeling up the hardwood, out of my apartment and into the world. Didn't they realize that I have an eager fan base of maybe TWELVE whole people that SOMETIMES get around to reading the first seven sentences of my blogs before my incessant descriptions and run on sentences force their brains into boredom comas?!?! Who do these people think they ARE, tearing me from my work this way? Everyone back home now thinks I've died!

So these are the reasons why I hiatus, and now I have returned bigger and better than ever. No, I still won't have any pictures because I still don't have a camera. And no, I still am not funny. But there are some crazy things that have happened in my life that I would love to share - some of them directly relate to being in Asia, most of them directly relate to me being kind of an idiot. But, you know, one of those loveable "aw, the dog got his big dumb head stuck in the banister railing" idiots, not the "if losing my keys was an olympic sport, then I would have missed the medal ceremony because I can't find my keys to drive there" kind of idiots. I hope that my readership will return once they realize that I have not actually been lost to an earthquake, scooter accident, or H1N1, but if your patience has worn too thin and your girlfriend has thrown it out even though it was your favorite patience and you always wore it on Sundays while watching your favorite team lose, then I guess I'll still enjoy writing this, as it was meant to be an exercise in reflection anyway.

Oh, who am I kidding? This has always been all for you.