Monday, December 27, 2010

The Fire Chicken and Asian Driving Stereotypes Confirmed: Merry Christmas!

You probably have been clicking your Reload button on the Caitlin Takes Taiwan webpage for weeks now, wondering when the darn title would change to something new. Well, international fans, the time has come: December in Taiwan.

The past month has been marked by two significant events: the holidays and my scooter accident.

What? You got in a scooter accident? That's horrible!

It's like C3PO being dismembered by a Wookie.
Yes...I would have to rank being thrown into the air after being blindsided by a car as being one of the scarier moments of my life, up there with waiting for college reply letters, watching the series finale of Gilmore Girls, and of course, my previous car accident in front of the Naval Base when I was 18.

The good news: helmets save lives, and heads (in that order.) Though I effectively did a mid-air ninja roll and landed smack dab on my back, my head was snug as Santa Claus' sash in my $25 Asia brand noggin defender.

The better news: the people who hit us knew it was their fault, stopped, took all of our details, paid all of our scooter damages, paid my hospital bill (I've temporarily joined legions of people with constant back pain, though I suspect that time will cure this quite well,), and we even "scored" an extra $300NT out of the deal (about $10 USD) which we used to drown our shock at the bar down the street. Wow, I'm old enough to drown things, hallelujah! I've heard over and over again: you are so lucky! We were lucky to drive our bike away from the scene (said the mechanics), lucky neither of us were seriously injured (said all of the ER staff), and lucky to not have to pay any bills (said everyone else) - because if the police get involved, there will be bills. 

So we were lucky. Though sometimes while trying to teach kindergarten with a bum back does not make me feel particularly lucky...but you know what makes me feel lucky?


It is now the 27th and while most of the Western world is still napping off food comas, I'm back at work. The Christmas vomit that has filled the school for the past month is gone and it hardly seems like it happened at all. My preschoolers brought down their house with a rousing dance to Mariah Carey's All I Want For Christmas Is You, my Home Room Teacher bought me an ultra-sexy cat purse, I had to play Santa Claus in a "party" for my older students, and virtually had every child in the school sit on my lap and tell me what they wanted for their happy day. That's Christmas in a nutshell. And what did I do most of the blessed day? Sat on Skype, that's what I did. Sat on Skype and ate the turkey that was my Christmas present! Sat on Skype and ate turkey and drank oodles of red wine and ate my very first fruit cake. Don't knock it until you try it; I'm heavy handed on the rum.
Skyping by the Christmas tree - note the festive handmade decorations.
***Note: My 9-10 year old students call turkey "Fire Chicken!" I thought this was terribly clever until I was informed that Chinese for turkey is "huo ji" which is literally "fire chicken." It's still pretty catchy.

Christmas is...uncomfortable in Taiwan. The 7-11 employees wear Christmas hats. All the apartment buildings put up trees. People rent out pontsettias. But there's no caroling or human excitement. Come on. Christmas is exciting. GET EXCITED, TAIWANESE!

Family, friends, high schoolers: this holiday season in the far reaches of Asia (and a part that isn't even autonomously recognised by the UN) I decided that next year, I 'd like to be a bit closer to home for Christmas. You might even see me. Until then, I'm holding my breath until the end of the semester (4 weeks!) and anticipating my trip to Thailand.

Love to you in the New Year? (And PS. Wednesday is my birthday :D)

Sunday, December 5, 2010

Sometimes, Not Even Food Solves The Problem

The fact is, I am a Scrooge when it comes to money. I don't like buying things. I don't like buying things I don't need, and I don't like paying more than I absolutely need to for the things I do need.

I keep mental lists of all the places in town it's cheapest to buy things. It's cheapest to buy oatmeal at a mom & pop dry goods store. It's cheapest to buy fruit and vegetables at the big wherehouse market on ZhongZheng. It's cheapest to buy dish soap at the 10 NT shop two blocks from school, and it's cheapest to buy meat at the Welcome market any time after 5:00PM, when they mark it down.

I'm a sucker for a bargain, which is why, when something is not a bargain, my reaction is completely adverse. Enter, last night:

James and I went stomping around for the bus for the mountains, which we discovered is located...DUN DUN DUN...on the other side of the train tracks. We had never been to the other side of the tracks before. It was crazy. It was intimidating. It was Vietnamese and Thai?

Apparently, the other side of the tracks is where all of the Southeast Asian immigrants do their thang. (Or their Trang, or Tran, or Nguyen.) We were so excited because as in the Bay Area, immigrants = good food. After a day of romping in the mountains, we picked out a funky looking Thai place and sat down.

Big uh-oh when the menu was opened and the prices were double the prices at our favorite Thai place on the other side of the tracks. And at the place, the waitress is angelically nice, whereas at this one, the man was mildly stand-offish. I asked if we could leave, and we did. Hungry and stranded in Southeast Asia OZ, we doddled up and down the street, not particularly happy. We walked into a Vietnamese restaurant only because we were tired and ready to eat.

The menu was not only in Chinese but in Vietnamese...which is no help because I don't speak Chinese or Vietnamese. 

This is where the night gets funny, I promise. James found something with beef and rice he wanted to eat, so he ordered it. I was stumped and tried to ask the woman "What do you like to eat?" but somehow she had no idea and just pointed at random things on the menu. I nodded when she found something she said was noodles and vegetables and really good. We crossed our fingers.

Still pretty grumpy from the overpriced Thai menu and wandering around in the dark, that's when the Vietnamese karaoke started. Ear shattering, whiney, and incoherent, the six metrosexual Vietnamese guys sitting at the table across from us were loving it. We sat there in shock, unable to talk about how awful this all was.

The food came to the table. One dish was seafood and rice, and the other was celery and something like greyish ramen noodles. The best part: both dishes had been generously sprinkled with giant pieces of organ meat - hearts, livers, etc. Also greyish. Sweet Gods of Dining, WHY?!?

Have you constructed the visual yet? Grubby restaurant with a group of possibly flamboyant, possibly simply attracted to very outlandish hairstyles, males, screaming Vietnamese karaoke, while the miserable white people choke down their livers and celery.

You just have to laugh sometimes.

Thursday, December 2, 2010

Stayin' Alive

But busy as a bee.

I would not like to complain about work, or my health, or my inability to be understood/understand a lot of things.

I am thankful for my two-foot $1.50 Christmas tree, Zippy, and fish to eat.

Looking forward to a lifetime of getting used to a full-time job and the delightful way it makes me too tired to think ;D

Until next time, stay classy.