A spinoff in proper "Rhoda" style of my patented e-mail blastograms, this blog was created with the intention of keeping friends and family updated on and amused by my life.

Saturday, August 21, 2004

Outta Here

Well, somehow a whole summer has managed to go buy…AAAAH! How’d that happen? I think that I was just finally getting used to things here, which must mean it’s time to leave! Otherwise life would be too easy, right? I must admit, however, that I’m looking forward to getting out of this hot, humid weather. Yesterday, for fun, I thought I’d try and experience what it would have been like to be in Florida last week during Hurricane Charley. Got soaked and had to change all of my clothes when I made it home. Actually, I was just caught down the hill when the Pacific Ocean decided it wasn’t happy in its current location and wanted to take over Taiwan. I don’t think I’ve every seen as much rain in my life!

I am also actually looking forward to, if not a little nervous about, starting my first real actual job too as English Professor at Yunnan University in Kunming. I leave tomorrow for Hong Kong to get my visa, then on Wednesday (assuming everything has gone according to plan), I will leave for Kunming.

I’ve been preparing a bit for my new job, and have managed to create a website that I hope that I will eventually be able to use over there. You can check it out at http://students.whitman.edu/~knezovjb/CIP/. It’s called the City Insights Project, and its designed to help introduce my Chinese students to American culture by looking at various jobs in the US. I’ll also e-mail you all my new contact information shortly. I already have my address, but maybe I’ll hold out on sending the information to everybody until I know my new phone and cell phone numbers….

These past weeks have actually been quite busy in and of themselves. Since I’m technically leaving a week before the semester here ends, I’ve had to spend most of this week with my nose in the books, learning an extra chapter that the rest of the class will be tackling next week, as well as taking the final and all that jazz. But now I’m done with class for a while, and that is, once again, a nice feeling. Of course, it’s back to it once I hit Kunming.

As for exciting events that have taken place since last I posted, several weekends ago, Nick, Kenta (a Japanese students who was the native Japanese speaker at Whitman the year I was in France who happened to be visiting Taiwan), and two of my Korean friends from here went to Hua Lian on Taiwan’s eastern coast to visit the beautiful Tailuge (Taroko) Gorge. It was really quite beautiful. It’s all marble, and the sheer number of boulders that the river has brought down with it over the years is impressive.

The first night that we got there we decided to go to some hot-springs that were about 2km up the road from where we were staying. Since we didn’t have a car or anything, we started out by walking, but eventually just hitchhiked up there. The hot springs were fun—the first I’ve been to since I was really young (I only every remember going to hot springs in Wyoming and South Dakota of all places). However, they were really hot, which meant that we often had to go down in the river to cool down. Well, at one point the to Korean girls and us three guys got separated: they were in the river and we were in the hot springs. We didn’t think much of it, but then, when we were ready to go, we started actually looking for the girls, but couldn’t find them. We called and called but got no response (keep in mind that it’s pitch black out. I actually haven’t seen as many stars in my life besides maybe in the Sahara or up in the Rockies). So then we borrowed somebody’s flashlight and looked more. Nothing. At this point we were starting to get worried that they had slipped down the river, so we took the light and started looking down the river a bit. Still nothing. Panic ensues. I mean, the place isn’t very large, where could they have gone?

So, we run up the path back out of the gorge to the road hoping we’d spot them. Nick took their clothes to “let them know that we’ve gone…” They were nowhere along the path, including the bathroom, which is where we thought they’d be. So, we start running the 2km down the hill to the little town where we’re staying. The creepiest part of that was running through a tunnel that was absolutely and completely pitch black. You couldn’t see a thing, and it made the sounds bounce around a bit. I think I would have been more creeped out if I wasn’t on such an adrenaline high, but it’s certainly an experience I’m not going to forget.

Anyway, we eventually find someone to take us the rest of the way down the hill to the police station. There we were confronted with one very nice policeman, and one who was rather apathetic towards the situation—he was rather large, sitting in a nice big leather chair, smoking, and watching a soap opera. Once we finally convinced them that there was a problem, and that Kenta, despite being Asian, had worse Chinese than us, they finally motivated enough to take us out to the car and drive us up to the springs. Right as we got there I looked out the window, and lo and behold, there were our two Koreans walking down the road in their swimsuits. The cops honked, and they freaked, thinking it was somebody…ummmm…soliciting them.

As it turns out, they were sitting behind a boulder that absolutely obscured our view of them in the river chatting the whole time. They thought that the people shining the flashlights all over the place were very kind to show them what the other side of the river looked like… Since Nick had stolen all their clothes and everything, they ended up taking other people’s shoes to walk up the path back up to the road, thinking it was a practical joke and trying to figure out ways to get us back. So, it turned out to be a lot of fuss for nothing. BUT, to be fair, we went back the next day, and since it was crowded wandered down the river a bit to have to peace and quiet. While we were down there wading around a woman started coming down the river and couldn’t stop. I ended up helping her out (thank goodness we were downstream!). So I guess our fears were actually justified.

The rest of the trip wasn’t quite as exciting, but it was fun. Learned a fun Japanese drinking song from Kenta… My alcohol tolerance (not to mention my waistline) has certainly decreased over these past few months. While we were in the gorge, it only took me 2.5 beers to get pretty well toasted.

And, to sign off from Taiwan, let me finish with a few last fun facts from Taiwan:

Christian- The religion it is assumed all white people are. Also, the Taiwanese seem to think that Christianity and Catholicism are the same thing…
English- The language it is assumed all white people speak, much to the chagrin of my Byelorussian friend.
2- The number of typhoons we’ve had this week in Taiwan.

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Sunday, August 01, 2004

Relaxed to the Point of Exhaustion

Well, it seems a little early to update, but for the first time in a while, I feel like I’ve actually done stuff worth talking about, instead of just ranting on about various topics selected at my leisure. I’ve actually found myself starting to finally get settled into my life here in Taiwan…of course I leave in just three weeks. I suppose it always seems to happen like that, you get comfortable right before you have to leave.

If you thought I indulged myself last weekend with cake, as I’m sure you must have because I sure felt like I did, and are in any way jealous (*cough* Thothmuffin, *cough*), then you might not want to read on. If last weekend was indulgent, this weekend was overindulgent. For the sake of argument (and more stories), we’re going to say that my weekend started last Thursday night, the night of one of my friends’ (Zhunhao, a Korean studying abroad here) birthdays.

So, instead of studying, as would have been proper for a Thursday night, we spent the evening eating, drinking, and generally being merry. The night started with dinner at a really good Sichuan place right next to campus, then continued over to one of my favorite “haunts” on campus, Fan Square (as the name implies, it is a square [place if you will] in the shape of a fan) for drinking Taiwanese beer and eating Taiwanese cake. Good times were had by all, and I got to hear two different Korean songs sung by two different friends. I love how I came to Taiwan and am learning more about Korea than either Taiwan or China…that’s what you get when like have your friends are Korean though, and I’m really not complaining. I realized that I don’t really know any Koreans in the US (that are real honest to goodness Koreans that follow traditional Korean ways), so being exposed to a new culture is fun and exciting.

As for Friday, after class and lunch I had to take care of administrative business and get my visa renewed for the next 30 days so I can finish out the term. But really it went quite smoothly, and I just spent most of the time reading anyway. Then it was off to meet friends for a decent Indian style dinner. After we came back to the dorm, Nick and I just hung out and talked for a good long while and played cards. I probably shouldn’t say, but thanks to all the practice I got at Casablanca, I keep beating him pretty handily at Rummy.

Saturday was a day of rest (as opposed to Friday…). I spent the morning in a café reading, went to lunch, and spent the afternoon in the park reading, eating that ice dessert I described in my last entry, and taking a nap in the hot hot sun (it reached a high of 37.7 [100] that day!). I met up with Nick in the early evening, and spent time with him exploring parts of Taibei that were fairly new to me. I swear I’ve done more interesting stuff than eating, but I have to mention that we went to Sushi Express for dinner (that’s the place where sushi comes around on little conveyor belts, and you just pick up the plates as you go), and we stuffed ourselves silly. Then it was off to Snake Alley, where we watched demonstrations of snakes being drained of their blood and whatnot, and tactfully avoided drinking any of it. As my back has been giving me some troubles, I thought it would be a good time for a massage, so I went in for a 40-minute half body massage. Good, but not the best I’ve had in Taiwan. For comparison’s sake, the cost of that massage was NT$500, or just about US$15.

And today? It was off to the beach with friends. We went to Fulong (foo-l-oh-ng) beach in eastern Taiwan, and really had a good time. It’s only the second time that I’ve actually ever swam in the ocean (the first being in the English channel), so I feel like it’s somewhat of a big deal. I managed to get slightly sunburned, but I certainly wasn’t as red as my compatriot from Byelorussia. The beach itself was quite beautiful, and the water much warmer than in the English Channel, that’s for certain! The only interesting “cultural” thing about Taiwanese beach culture is that they seem to be somewhat scared of the ocean. It was mostly (though not entirely) foreigners that ventured out far enough to really get their full body underwater. I’ve heard rumors that the Taiwanese don’t know how to swim as a general rule, which seems daft to me if you’re living on an island, but that’s only part of the explanation. I think that just the other month a group of college students went out to that beach, and one of the students was whisked away with the undertow, and a professor that went out to save him ended up drowning. So maybe the fears are justified.

For such a relaxing weekend though, I’m simply exhausted. It amazes me how much laying around in the sun (and swimming a good deal I suppose) takes out of you.

Next weekend will probably be just as exciting, but not as relaxing, as we’re planning a trip down to one of Taiwan’s National Parks to see Tailuge (thai-lou-ga), a really famous marble gorge, and do some hiking. It should be fun.

Also, for those of you who’ve made it this far, I have some more pics up of campus and some of my adventures. You can get to them by heading to:


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Sunday, July 25, 2004

Qu’ils mangent du gâteau!

  For the non-French speaking crowd, that would be the famous quote “Let them eat cake.”  A lame excuse for a threat if you ask me, but one used (supposedly, although my high school French teacher seems to think it’s all a nasty rumor) by Marie Antoinette during the first French Revolution (out of six) upon finding out that the peasants had run out of bread.
What does this have to do with anything, you might ask?  In addition to being inspired by an article I saw in today’s paper that claims that Napoleon died of an enema (and I thought it was stomach cancer all this time…okay fine, that’s what specialists thought, I don’t think I ever considered how Napoleon died before this evening), it actually has more to do with tonight’s dinner—eating cake seemed like a much less daunting of a task when I found myself at one of Taibei’s all-you-can-eat dessert bars.
My friend Nick woke up this morning to a corneal abrasion caused by removing his contact the previous night.  After a trip to the hospital, and a day walking around downtown Taibei with a huge patch covering half of his face (the eye doctor got a little happy with the tape), we both agreed that a relaxing evening was in order.  So cards and cake for dinner it was.  Nick seems to think that all-you-can-eat places are all the rage these days in Taiwan—he thinks it has something to do with recent (more or less) prosperity.  He likened it to America’s obsession with the concept back in the 90s, but I only seem to remember being haunted by memories of Country Buffet in Illinois.  I suppose it is better than that with which I’m haunted nowadays, the voice of the lady who reads out the Taibei MRT stops in Hakka (a local Taiwanese language) repeatedly saying “koki allo zhan” (Technology Building Station) is penetrating all of my dreams.  Creepy!  But I digress.  I guess my point is that I don’t have particularly fond memories of all-you-can-eat buffets.  Were they really popular?  And if so, why do you think that was (okay that’s the food sociologist in me speaking)?
Anyway, back at this cake joint, I worked my way through a piece of black forest cake (which has the exact same name in Chinese BTW), a croissant, chocolate mousse, garlic bread (don’t ask me why this was included in the cake menu), and tea cake.  And by tea cake, I mean quite literally tea cake.  Specifically, it was a green tea cake, with red beans (adzuki if you will) in the frosting and everything.  It’s a combination that I think originated in Japan, but is also quite prevalent in Taiwan.  McDonalds even has a green tea and red bean McFlurry if you can believe it (it’s really good BTW).
But my new favorite dessert is actually cua bing (pronounced something like tswa bing).  Imagine a big ice cone with toppings and you’re heading in the right direction.  For example, my last one was shaved ice drizzled in syrup covering red beans, tapioca balls, mango chunks, and taro root (as opposed to either green tea or yam) flavored rice flour dumplings (think gnocchi).  So good!  There are plenty of other options as well (most of them jellied…or agar-ed rather), though I understand that condensed milk is also a common addition.
I was originally planning on using this example of a Taiwanese dessert to help explain today’s fun facts (regarding obesity figures), but I can’t help feeling that the all-you-can-eat dessert place didn’t help my argument.  Essentially, my theory was that Taiwanese are generally less caloric and healthier—I mean the dessert is essentially ice, beans and rice.  Fruit is another common dessert.  But maybe that’s why sociology is such a frustrating discipline, because there are so many causes, and social trends are so hard to nail down.
And now on to the sizzling sino-thoughts for Saturday:
1/3-  The amount of the Taiwanese population that is considered overweight or obese.
2/3-  The amount of the US population that is considered overweight or obese.
1-  The average number of hours I spend walking per day here in Taiwan (despite the heat).
15-  The average number of minutes I spent walking per day in the US.
Cause and effect?


Thursday, July 15, 2004

Lions, and tigers, and... snakes? Oh my!

Well, it’s time yet again for an update from little old me. Last time people (okay my dad) complained that drinking stories were hardly interesting, and that it was the cultural experiences that were really more appropriate for posting. I pretty much disagree on the basis that life here has pretty much become exactly that, life, and emphasizing how normal things are here helps to break down misperceptions about how foreign foreign countries really are. But, in order to somewhat appease him, though without really cow towing to the parental authority, I thought I’d pick another aspect of life here to discuss this time (that and I haven’t really had anything to drink since the last time I wrote…).

Today’s topic: Taiwan’s biodiversity. It simply astounds me on a daily basis. At first I thought that maybe it was just that I wasn’t used to a semi-tropical clime and the ecosystem such a clime supports. However, upon further consideration, I’ve decided that it’s not really the case. It’s not like it’s the first time I’ve seen a lot of these animals/insects/etc, it’s just the first time I’ve seen them all in the same place and on such a consistent basis. Take for example the animals sighted (or heard, damn cicadas) on an average walk home: several varieties of lizards (one of them has this crazy purple florescent tail. I’ll try and get a picture for people, cause it’s just really cool!), frogs, slugs, cicadas, birds, bats, a snake (the one I saw was probably like a meter and a half long!!), florescent beetles, ants, praying mantises, millipedes, spiders (some bigger than others), and probably more that I’m blanking out on at the moment.

What have I learned from this astounding biodiversity you ask? Simple:

Lesson 1: Ants are the enemy.
Lesson 2: Ants are most definitely the enemy.
Lesson 3: Bats are schizos. I had never realized how different their flight style really was from birds. They change directions so fast, and they seem to always be doing so. They have none of the grace of birds, but are just as interesting to watch.
Lesson 4: Yes that log in the middle of the street is actually a snake (thank goodness I was actually paying attention that time…)
Lesson 5: Sitting on anthills is a bad idea.
Lesson 6: Sitting on benches on top of anthills is an equally bad idea (*grumble*).
Lesson 7: The real name for cicadas should be “obnoxiously-loud-to-the-point-that-it’s-almost-oppressive-forever-screeching insects.”
Lesson 8: Praying mantises are not to be disturbed.
Lesson 9: Spiders are amazing creatures. The Xinhua News Agency (mainland China’s official news agency) reported that several farmers in southern China witnessed a spider ensnare and poison a snake in its web the other day. Talk about getting a dose of your own medicine.
Lesson 10: Watch where you step!

And even though that’s kind of like fun facts, I thought I’d leave you with yet another few:
2- The rank of mainland China’s economy in the world—second only to the US.
1.3 billion- Mainland China’s current population
280 million- The US’s current population
2035- The year India’s population is expected to surpass that of mainland China.
10%- The percent of energy consumed per capita in mainland China as compared to per capita consumption in the US!!! In other words, the average Chinese household consumes 1/10 the energy that an average American household consumes. Of course, they are already experiencing rolling blackouts in Shanghai because energy consumption is maxed out. Perhaps the American ideal, for which the Chinese are so desperately striving, needs to be reevaluated…

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Monday, July 05, 2004

Quatre juillet à la taiwanaise

When in doubt, revert to French, that's what I always say! Besides, I was inspired: people are busy setting off fireworks as we speak (late is better than never, right?).

Anyway, I'm back for another round of my parallel universe blast-o-grams. Hopefully it will be as good for you as it is for me ;o). These past couple of weeks have been minorly eventful in their own right. Actually, and I swear this is not typical of my life in Taiwan no matter how much you might believe, the most fun stories have involved alcohol.

Story 1- Why bringing beer on hikes is the worst idea ever (future MCAT question, I assure you): A couple of weekends ago Nick, me, and a few other acquaintances here in Taiwan (including a professor of British origin) went on a hike in the hills behind campus. The British professor, being British, suggested that we bring beer to have for lunch on this journey. Me, being a lush, thought it wasn’t a horribly bad idea. A bad idea maybe, but not horribly bad. I sat through enough biology to know that alcohol is a diuretic, or as my biology teacher (also of the British persuasion as a matter of fact) called it back in high school, a “wee.” But it was only going to be one beer, right? Well, that was fine for me, but when it came to Nick, who appeared to already be dehydrated, it wasn’t the best of all ideas, especially since we were busy climbing up what were effectively cliffs using ropes. But with minor injuries—okay fine, no injuries but it sounds more exciting that way—we made our way all the way up and around. It was actually an absolutely beautiful hike, and you could see for miles (or kilometers, your preference) despite the omnipresent Taiwan mist.

Story 2- A friend from Whitman and I have two personal traditions that we hold near and dear to our hearts. Hers: throwing up the day after drinking too much. Mine? Throwing up in capital cities after drinking too much. That’s right, such fortunate cities as London, Paris, Walla Walla (capital of my heart?), and now Taibei have been blessed with my, umm, upheavals. But, in what is quite the twist of fate, I’ve now apparently also joined her club, not throwing up until the morning after. It was a great way to start the 4th. I really don’t think that I had had that much to drink the night before, at least not comparatively, but I blame it on some crazy Korean alcohol and the fact that it was the first time I had really drunk in almost a month. At least I can say I’m in a new club, right?

As for the fourth, Nick and I fêted it up for us Americans by bowing to the whims of the Hollywood hegemony and seeing Shrek 2. We wanted to see Spiderman 2 since his suit is red, white, and blue, but it was all sold out. Then it was off to a Japanese department store to watch the diffusion/cooption/integration of American culture in other ones. Okay, so really we went to eat Korean kim chee. We figured that since it was red and white, it could pass as patriotic? Hey, when you’re abroad for the 4th, as I often am, you’ve gotta make do with whatcha got!

Besides my weird morning this morning I feel as though there is not much else to report, with the distinct exception of my Titillating Taiwanese Tidbits for Tuesday! So here goes nothing:

3- The number of times my glasses have fogged up after exiting an air conditioned building/bus into the sultry Taiwan weather.
NT$250- The cost of a student ticket to the movies here in Taibei (approximately US$7.50). And for comparison:
NT$50- The cost of a cheap lunch here (approximately US$1.50, or 1/5th the cost of a movie...)
5- The number of days it took for the “typhoon” Mindulle to finally hit Taibei.
20-30- The wind speed in MPH of said typhoon by the time it hit Taibei…I’ve seen stronger storms in Colorado. But to be fair…
18- The number of people killed by the same typhoon in Southern Taiwan

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Thursday, July 01, 2004

Taibei 102

Taibei 101

Well, again I find myself in a foreign country with limited access to the internet, and you know what that means: time for my patented blast-o-grams of course. I was hoping to avoid them this time around, but it just seems like the most obvious thing to do. If, however, you'd prefer not to get these fun mailings, just let me know. Also, if you'd prefer that I use a different e-mail address, that would be good to know as well. Now onto the good stuff...

I've been in Taiwan for almost two days now. The flight went generally well, though the movie selection and the four hour layover in Tokyo left something to be desired. But then my friend Nick picked me up at the airport here in Taibei, and we went for an hour long taxi ride back to the dorms, where I promptly had to go buy a "mattress" for my dorm bed. It might could use a little bit more padding, but oh well. I have three roommates, all of which seem quite nice. Two of them appear to be Taiwanese and just graduated the other day with journalism degrees. The other is a Japanese student in the same language program that I am in here at the university.

As for Taibei itself, it a quite extraordinary city. Chengda (pronounced more like zhengda-the Taiwanese have had some trouble with their transliterations...), the university that I'm at, is actually a bit outside the city center and up on a hill. In fact, it's a 20/30 minute MRT ride in (don't ask me what MRT stands for, but picture an elevated version of the trains they have at DIA or SEA-TAC and you're on the right track). It means that we've got a great view of the city-center, and the feeling of being right next to a forest, but the 15-minute hike up the hill to the dorm is going to be a bitch in the midsummer heat.

Yesterday I did venture into the downtown area a bit. It reminds me a lot of Tokyo-at least the part that I toured around yesterday. Taiwan is now home to the tallest building in the world (which I just found out the other day) called 101 (pronounced yi-ling-yi in Chinese). At the base they have a crazy big mall with all the name brands you could ever want. Prada, Gucci, Tommy Hilfiger, Ralph Lauren, Sisley, Mango, and even The North Face! I guess I'm not quite sure how the Taiwanese can afford these stores, but maybe I just have a grand misperception of the Taiwanese. Needless to say, the pink, striped, pre-wrinkled Tommy Hilfiger shirt I bought at the Bon in Pasco for around 20 bucks (or less, I don't exactly remember) was priced on sale here at around NT$1500, or roughly $45!

My favorite part of yesterday was, while walking back to the MRT station from 101, I stumbled across a Swenson's Ice Cream Shop. For all of you not "in the know," Swenson's is originally a San Francisco ice cream shop, that we used to have in Fort Collins as well. Anyway, when I was young, my parents would take me out for ice cream there, and I would get a Mr. Clown. A Mr. Clown is an ice cream cone turned upside down on a plate with a cheery put on top, a ring of whipped cream around where the cone meets the ice cream, and two gumballs jammed into the ice cream for eyes. Although they didn't have a Mr. Clown at the store in Taibei, it still brought me back.

Anyway, since this letter already seems awfully long, I'll sign off here with my contact information and by bringing back the Fun Facts-I don't care if it isn't Friday.

Kim-chee topped raw squid: the most "interesting" thing I've eaten since my arrival that I haven't liked Blood rice/octopus ink dyed sausage: the most "interesting" thing I've eaten since my arrival that I have liked (it's a tie) 101-the number of stories (I think) as well as the address and name of the tallest building in the world. 2.65 million- the population of Taibei
7-11- the most popular, or at least most abundant, store I've seen in Taibei

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