Taiwan: Weather, currency, and shopping-Diary of a Mad Expat, pt. 19

15 July, 2015 – Taichung, Taiwan

“Hot town, summer in the city
Back of my neck getting dirty and gritty
Been down, isn’t it a pity
Doesn’t seem to be a shadow in the city

All around, people looking half dead
Walking on the sidewalk, hotter than a match head”
– “Summer in the City”, The Lovin’ Spoonful

Good evening, everyone! Well, we are starting to wind down towards the end a bit, at least for now. So feel free to savor, go back through my previous entries, and reminisce with me. I enjoy reading back through my entries myself; just to experience again, what it was like to be “there”, wherever “there” was.

I wasn’t sure where to start this one, but when I thought of the lines from this Lovin’ Spoonful song, I knew just the subject.

The Weather/Climate

Now, I have been told, from several people here, and from meteorological history researched online, that it does get cooler here in the winter. It can get down into the 50’s (Fahrenheit) at that time of year, not bad when you consider what else lies along the 24th parallel north: Algeria, Libya, Egypt, Saudi Arabia, United Arab Emirates, Pakistan, India, Burma, southern China, the Baja Peninsula of Mexico, and the Bahamas. Right now, however…IT’S FUCKING HOT AND HUMID!!!!! Don’t get me wrong, it’s tolerable, and certainly better than Vietnam was, but it’s still sweltering compared to where I’m from! I am starting to get used to it, though. I remember when it would get hot during the summer in Oregon, and when it did, and I’d get sweaty, I’d start getting annoyed by it. Really annoyed. Here, I don’t know…I’m just getting used to it. I still sweat, A LOT, but it doesn’t bother me as much. Nevertheless, I prepare for it. I assume that between the walk to the bus stop and the walk from the bus stop to the school, that I’m going to sweat through the collar of my shirt, so I bring an extra shirt to change into at the school. Perhaps it’s that preparation that makes it more tolerable for me.

I’ll be using this photo a lot!

Temperatures here are regularly in the low 90s everyday for the at least the past month, and should remain so for 2-3 more months. Even when it rains here, it doesn’t really cool off much, maybe down to the mid-80s. Either way here, lots of people carry umbrellas, as shade when it’s hot, and for cover when it rains. We even had a typhoon brush past the other side of the island last week and it barely did anything to cool us off. Lows don’t drop any further than the mid-70s at night, and the humidity rarely drops below 60% – twice as high as what Oregon experiences with the similar temperatures during the summer. The result is that it FEELS much hotter here, usually somewhere on the heat index between 105 and 110 degrees. Fortunately, air conditioning is almost universal here, so long as you don’t step outside, a virtual impossibility. I imagine that the closest you get to this kind of weather in America is maybe Florida or the bayou country in the other gulf coast states. How you southerners handle this shit, I’ll never know. However, it does explain your ancestors firing on Fort Sumter to start the Civil War. When you’re that hot all the time, you get pissed off, and start thinking about doing some pretty stupid and irrational shit. Hell, if I had a cannon here, I’m sure I’d use it…maybe start some shit with China! Hehe….

Currency and banking

The currency here is called the New Taiwan dollar, or NT for short. One American dollar equals about 30NT. The coins come in denominations of 1NT (looks like a penny), 5NT (looks like a nickel), 10NT (looks like a quarter), and 50NT (kinda looks like a Sacajawea gold dollar). The paper bills themselves start at 100NT, and are somewhat similar in appearance to Hong Kong bills. If you have enough, they go a long way, but I’ll get to that later.

If only...
If only…

My knowledge of banking is somewhat limited thus far, as I don’t have a bank account here yet. Combined with the fact that my account back home is essentially extinct, that means we’ve been using exclusively cash here for about 2 months. You can’t get an account here, for the most part, unless you have an ARC (Alien Resident Card), which I should have within the next two weeks. Still, I think we’ve both gotten used to just having cash, but it makes purchases online impossible – something we used to do all the time.

I want my Amazon.com!!!
I want my Amazon.com!!!


As I said above, if you have enough money, it can go a long way. During our first two months here, we managed to live on 6000-8000NT per month. That’s about $200-300. Okay, maybe it wasn’t living, but merely surviving. With a full paycheck now, that will change, but only slightly. Other than rent, we’ll be living on less than 10,000NT per month, saving the rest (For what, you ask? That’s another blog! So show some fucking patience!). But again, that can go a long way. Some things cost more here, others cost WAY less. Candy bars and soft drinks are about a dollar each, maybe a little less than back home, but not by much. Peanut butter is WAY more, about $5 for a small jar. A good pizza costs about $9, and most street food is between $1-3. If you want a taste of home like McDonald’s or KFC, you pay much more, about 6 or 7 dollars, about the same as back home. For that price, you can go to a real restaurant (serving food from all over the world) and only pay a dollar or two more. You can get a beer for under a dollar, but it’s Taiwan Beer, and personally, I think it’s shit. The best beer I’ve found so far is Tsing Tao beer. Still not much more, but the quality is better than anything I’ve tried in Asia, with the possible exception of Tiger beer.


Cigarettes are about $2 a pack…not that I’d know anything about that! All the bedding on our bed (5 pillows, sheets) ran us about 1200NT or about $40, and that was for pretty crappy quality pillows. A note about bedding here that makes NO sense to us. Fitted sheets are available everywhere, but we have yet to encounter regular bed sheets! However, there are comforters everywhere too! Who in the hell needs a comforter in this weather?!?!?!?! Do they just bring them out in the winter, or do they crank the A/C way up at night? Makes no sense to me, but we’re still searching. In the meantime, my wife undid the seams on one of our fitted sheets to make a reasonable facsimile of a bed sheet.

Oh, an additional note on grocery shopping here. Whether it’s at an actual grocery store here, or a convenience store, they always are playing music, and it’s fascinating and hilarious. They can go from a dance song from Maroon 5, to a dance song in Chinese, to “Careless Whisper” by George Michael, to some 70s pseudo-hippie choral song in Chinese. If you stay in the store long enough, your mind will go from “oh, I like that song!”, to “what the fuck?”, and eventually to either barely controlled hysterical laughter or the panicked realization that you have to get out of the store NOW, so that you don’t kill someone in a maniacal homicidal spree. As I’m not writing to you from a Taiwanese prison, you can be assured that I’ve always gone with the former…so far.

Mother says to turn off the music or she will be displeased...
Mother says to turn off the music or she will be displeased…

Well, that wasn’t the most interesting post I’ve ever done, but I suppose it was informative. However, I do have some observations to make. I’ve been keeping up on current events back home, and all I can say is, “Shit!” Part of the reason we left was to get away from the stupidity of America! Then you go a make a historic nuclear deal with Iran (if something pisses Israel off, it must both a good idea, and a rational one: I’m talking to YOU, Netanyahu, you psychotic fuck!), get rid of that idiotic Confederate flag, and you make gay marriage legal nationwide. You can’t see me back home, but I’m giving you a standing ovation, America! And I hate you for pulling your head out of your ass AFTER I leave. Don’t get me wrong, I’m still applauding you, I’m just doing it with my two middle fingers. Well done, my fellow Americans, especially on gay marriage. I’m proud of you, and it’s about goddamn time! With that, have a good night, and I’ll see you next time.


– For images of our journey, please visit my wife’s Facebook page: Mischa Elaine Johnston

HANOI, VIETNAM: Diary of a Mad Expat, pt. 10

9 April – 2 May, pt. 3: Thaison Palace Hotel, Old Quarter, Hanoi

Adrian Cronauer: Here’s a little advice: Never eat in a Vietnamese restaurant next to a pound.

Robin Williams, as Adrian Cronauer, Good Morning, Vietnam

I know you’ve been waiting to read more about everything that’s fucked up with this country and laugh at my snarky misery, so here we go!

The Currency

OK, get ready to laugh. The currency in Vietnam is called the Dong. Go ahead, get it out, I’ll wait…………..OK, done? Moving on. One American dollar is worth about 21,000 dong. If you have about 50 dollars, that’s one million…that’s a lot of dong! It would probably go further, if you ate the local cuisine, especially the street food, but….

The Food

Nearly every food travel show touts Vietnamese food as some of the best, kind of second tier behind Thailand, Hong Kong, China, Japan, Spain, France, and Italy. From my experience, I say BULLSHIT! We tried, we REALLY tried at first! We had some street food just across the street from our hotel our first full day here that was pretty good. There was rice noodles, broth, a variety of greens, chicken, and tofu. I didn’t really like the tofu, but everything else was pretty good! And they kept feeding us until we stood up to pay, and it was only about $5 for the two of us. One thing to know about eating at these street food stalls. The chairs are plastic stools that are about the size of what you’d expect in a preschool. It doesn’t even make sense for Vietnamese to be sitting in these chairs even though they’re all smaller than us. But still the food was alright. On another night, we had fried rice and what I can only describe as smoked water buffalo jerky, that our waiter was certain I wouldn’t like…but I did! Sure shocked the hell out of him! And we both liked the national dish, Pho (pronounced like the 1st two letters in “fuck”). It’s basically rice noodles in a beef or chicken broth, topped with assorted greens like mint, lemon grass , and parsley. But other than that, it was a series of bad experiences, topped off with when we went to an indoor restaurant down the street. They had burgers on the menu! Beef or chicken. Unfortunately, they told us that they were out of beef and chicken (again, a common occurrence). So my wife ordered what was called Vietnamese Spring Rolls. When they showed up, they smelled funny…like swamp ass. My wife, who’s eaten with Filipinos in Hawaii, took a bite, already suspecting what that bite confirmed it to be: Dog. Fucking dog! After that, we only ate foods that we were previously familiar with.

We went to a KFC, but their version was comparatively bland, surprisingly. They had a fast food burger chain here called Lotteria; tasted like fast food, though my wife liked their Teriyaki burger. Otherwise, we stuck to crap we could get at the grocery store and 3 restaurants. At the grocery store, we mostly got chips (they have Pringle’s here), chocolate (Kit Kat, Snicker’s, M&Ms are about the only familiar versions), soft drinks (most of the Coke brands), and bottled water (you can shower and brush your teeth with the tap water, but nothing else, unless you want to be sick in bed for a week, or worse. Dysentery is not your friend!). As for the other three, I’ll take them one at a time, in the order in which we visited them during the day.

The AB Restaurant: They offered many different things, but the ones we regularly went for were an American steak for $9 (better than any steak I ever had in America), spaghetti for about $7 (again better than any pasta we had in America), a Caesar salad for $4 (big enough to be a meal by itself, and better than most salads you can find in America) and big plate of fries for about $2. For meals, this was about the only place we ate meals at, unless we ordered room service, which we did a lot of just to have SOME variety.
Kem Ti Amo: The name combines Italian (Ti Amo means I love you) and Vietnamese (Kem means Ice Cream). The place is owned by a couple of French guys, but staffed by numerous cute Vietnamese girls who were all very nice to us, probably because we came there so often during our stay. Best. Chocolate. Ice. Cream. Ever. It was dark and rich, like eating Denzel Washington! There were other good flavors there too, but I never strayed too far from the chocolate. It was like an old-fashioned ice cream shop, with a wide variety of flavors and ways to have them. Glass dish, waffle cone, sundaes, shakes – you name it, they had it. Wonderful!

Shi Sha Bar: Shi Sha refers to tobacco with flavoring that you can smoke out of a hookah, but we never tried that. We mostly went there to drink and smoke. I usually had a Tiger beer, probably the best Vietnamese beer out there, though probably not the cheapest. My wife found here perhaps the only place in the Old Quarter that could do a decent Long Island Ice Tea. After various traumatic tourism experiences in this town, we frequented this place probably more than we should’ve, but it worked wonders on our outlook on life!

So that’s it for food and money. Tomorrow, I’ll get into the sights, sounds, and smells of this city. It won’t be pleasant.
– For images of our trip, please visit my wife’s Facebook page: Mischa Elaine Johnston