It's been four days in Taiwan and I have already eaten something I wanted to spit out into my lap (oyster omelette), used a rain umbrella as a sunshield (when in Rome...), spoken unintelligible Mandarin ("bathroom" is a hard word to pronounce!) and been called "Lady GaGa" by a woman in the Taipei hospital. This is going to be an eventful year.
I hate to be a busy adult woman, but these first two weeks are quite jammed pack, and I will only really be able to dip my toes in the blogging pond during teacher training. Therefore, I would like to simply create an outline of my first impressions today, using my interpretation of the CIA World Factbook as a design guide:
Taipei is a giant modern city with a gagillion motor scooters, half a gagillion traditional Chinese/Taiwanese food carts, 14 million grinning inhabitants, a metro system that runs like a bazillion bucks, and the safest vibe in just about, well, a tragillion years. It's pretty damn fascinating, bustling, and Taiwan strikes me immediately as the friend I never had, and the friend I will not tired of getting close to.
Taipei is big, but my world exists within my current living neighborhood, Zhongshang, and the tourist destinations reachable via the MRT (rapid transit system.) The buildings are tall, the buildings are sleek, they are covered in bright and rainbow colored billboards, and the streets are very flat. What I love so much? The city is surrounded by mountains on all sides, and you can even see the mountains through the hazy smoggy heat during some points in the day.
Taipei is a sauna right now. We might as well all just be walking around in towels, because terry cloth might make a bit of absorption difference. It is always hot. The Taiwanese jog after 9:00 PM because a) they are smart and b) only idiots run in 35 degree weather.
They may wear doctors' masks in public, but do not fear: underneath that mask is a giant grin that you just can't quite figure out. It's as if everyone's saying "I know it's freaking hot, Caitlin, I know you might be in for a bit of a shock here, but we are going to help you every step of the way." And they do: they love to help, they love to speak English if they can, and they love to play charades if they can't. Sure, there's a bit of a sidewalk-bumping culture (You'd better push and not apologize!), but have you ever been to a country where people actually line up for the subway? Simply breathtaking.
So far as I can tell, my favorite part of the Taiwanese government is the way they handle healthcare. On Saturday we had to go the national hospital for physicals, as is required for all foreign workers, and it was the most amazing process I have ever been through. Sure it took 3 hours (but there were 30 of us, and they kept alternating Taiwanese-foreigner-Taiwanese-foreigner in their number calling): but once you got the ball rolling, they were medical machines. "Number 127: how are you? I will now take your pulse. Very good, now go to the desk. Step on the scale. Sit down. I will now take your blood pressure. While I do that, I will take your temperature. Scoot over one seat, we check your eyes. Excellent, now pay the front desk and get your blood taken. *Slurp* goes the blood needle, great! Now get your chest x-rayed - put on this soft cloth gown in our changing closet! Done." The best doctors' visit ever.
I love everything about Taiwanese money. I like talking about how much I have.
"I guess I don't need to go to the ATM for a while, I've got, like, 2,000 dollars in my wallet."
"How much for those shoes? $190NT? That is so cheap!"
The Taiwan dollar trades at about 31 to 1 USD right now, which makes this one of the best economic deal I have ever made. Price of a street cart steamed pork bun (around the corner): 9NT = 25 cents. Price of cute black flats Caitlin might have bought: $190NT = less than $6.
It's like living in the 20's, but with internet...
I don't speak Mandarin. Many, many/most things are written in Mandarin...or Japanese...or any other language I don't understand. But "xie xie" has turned out to be my most useful phrase, because everyone says it so often (of course - it's smiling helpful island!)
I am hopeful for my linguistic future. Stay turned.
I have never been more afraid to cross the street in any country, except Taiwan. The lights take about 90 seconds to change, and even if you have the animated WALK sign, cars may still just see it fit to run right on through the intersection.
Then there are the scooters, the elegant, numerous scooters. They scare me too, as a pedestrian, but they are so cool in transit. Everyone seems to know what to do, even though there are so many. I saw a crash the other day, and the rear-enders immediately jump off their bike, pull up the guy they hit, dust him off, and everyone was happy and moved on their way. Just like a bike accident in Davis, I should say, only with a bit more plastic and petrol involved.
I realize I haven't touched on, well, practically anything. But I have oh so much to say, so please, stay tuned. As soon as I become insta-teacher, I will plenty of time to continue my diatribe...and it might as well be exclusively about food. Coming soon!