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

lovin-spoonful-do-you-believe-in-magic
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!!!

Shopping

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.

thank_god_for_beer_design_from_the_beer_shop_card-r7e04258371894b25b3a2367cc5432702_xvuat_8byvr_1200

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.

th

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

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TAIWANESE SUPERSTITIONS AND CULTURE: Diary of a Mad Expat, pt. 18

6 July, 2015 – Taichung, Taiwan

Very superstitious, writings on the wall,
Very superstitious, ladders bout’ to fall,
Thirteen month old baby, broke the lookin’ glass,
Seven years of bad luck, the good things in your past.
When you believe in things that you don’t understand,
Then we suffer,
Superstition ain’t the way.
-”Superstition” by Stevie Wonder


Okay! Up next on our experiences in Taiwan…

Culture

This is complicated, but in simplistic terms Taiwanese culture is a mixture of Han Chinese, Japanese, European, American, and Aboriginal Taiwanese cultures, depending on what aspect of the culture you’re talking about. Looking at their culture through western eyes, it can be confusing: ancient religious beliefs mixed with modernity of a vibrant pop and sports culture, on the surface, don’t seem to make any sense together. But it SEEMS to work here, though I’m just as bewildered by it as most of you would be, were you here.

Some aspects of individual parts of the culture are a mix too. Take religion, for example. Religion here is generally a mix of Buddhism, Taoism, and Chinese folk religion, including ancestor worship. The combination of these usually falls under the category of Buddhism-Taoism, of which 93% of the population considers themselves to be part of. There are some Christians here, and religious freedom is quite tolerant here (I’ve even seen a couple of protestant churches here, and I’ve heard there’s a mosque in town), but only 5% of the population considers themselves to be Christian.

Buddha is so cuddly:)
Buddha is so cuddly:)

You can find Buddhist temples everywhere. You can’t walk 500 meters without finding a decent sized one, and you can find one in every community park which, though small, are dotted all over the city.

There is a lot of etiquette and superstition here that comes from their spiritual beliefs, and some of it may sound ridiculous to a European or American, bordering on paranoia. Some examples from Wikitravel which I, through personal experience, can confirm:

Superstitions-explanations1

Some Taiwanese are superstitious about anything connected with dying – unlucky things should never be mentioned. One thing to note is that the number 4 (four, pronounced ‘si’) sounds like the word for death in Mandarin.
Do not write people’s names in red. This again has connotations of death. When writing someone’s name in English or another language, this is not a problem, but avoid writing Chinese names in red.
Do not whistle or ring a bell at night. This is an “invitation to ghosts”.
Do not point at cemeteries or graves. This means disrespect to the dead.
There are numerous taboos dictating that certain objects shouldn’t be given to others, often because the word for that object sounds like another unfortunate word:
Umbrellas, which in Mandarin sound the same as the word for “break up”. Friends should therefore never give friends umbrellas. Instead, friends will euphemistically “rent” each other umbrellas for a tiny amount ($1, for example).
Clocks. The phrase “to give a clock” (“song zhong”), in Mandarin, has the same sound as the word “to perform last rites.” If you do give someone a clock, the recipient may give you a coin in return to dispel the curse.
Shoes. Never ever offer shoes as a gift to old people, as it signifies sending them on their way to heaven. This is acceptable only if by mutual arrangement it is nominally sold, where the receiving party gives a small payment of about $10.
As with mainland China, symbols resembling backwards swastikas are commonly seen in homes and Buddhist temples. They are a Buddhist symbol and have no relationship to Nazism or anti-Semitism.

You get the idea. Also, I have found that the greeting culture is a mix of western and Chinese influences too! In America, if you’re passing a stranger and you make eye contact, you may give a nod upward, if anything. Here, a slight bow of the head is very common. If contact is more than just passing, they use a combination of Chinese and English: “Hello! Ni Hao (pronounced knee-how)!” And they often use “bye” or “bye-bye” at the end of an interaction, though I’ve discovered that this is, more often than not, about the only English they know, except for aspects of pop culture.

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Pop culture here is also a mix of influences, but mostly a combination of western, Japanese, and Korean. You see it in the phones, which nearly everyone has, and more often than not, their faces are buried in it, usually playing one game or another, so I guess that doesn’t differ much from American youth, except for the difference in the language of the games.

Though Taiwanese love their traditions and their culture, and can be a proud people, they apparently do not like the color of their skin. There are offices everywhere that offer skin-whitening sessions. Michael Jackson would’ve loved it here, though the people here might’ve been a little freaked out about his nose, which I’m convinced proved he was an alien. Nevertheless, these a lot of Taiwanese have self-esteem issues, no doubt brought on by the media.

I didn't die...I move to Taiwan.
I didn’t die…I move to Taiwan.

As you would expect, Karaoke is HUGE here, with Karaoke businesses all over the place, some reputable, some a little more shady. In Asia, most Karaoke establishments are private rooms that you rent for a few hours with your friends to drink and sing in. In the shadier establishments, women who work for that particular establishment will come up and offer you other forms of “entertainment” as well, since prostitution is now legal here! That’s right, guys! You pathetic little bastards can come over here and pay to get your rocks off in this country, at a fraction of the price you’d have to pay back home! Oh sure, the cost of the flight would make up for the difference in price, but hey…Asian girls! Need I say more?

Taiwan! The home of happy whores!
Taiwan! The home of happy whores!

As I mentioned in the previous blog, TV here is mostly Chinese, as is most of the print. But in both cases, anime and manga are massively popular here, thanks to the Japanese influence. You put some COMMON form of anime memorabilia, which can be found anywhere, between two ADULTS, and they’ll fight over it like two male cats fighting over a female in heat. Seriously, come over here and try it. Bring a Hello Kitty glass or backpack that you got as a kid and lay it on the ground around a bunch of grown-ups here, and stand back! Maybe not hours of entertainment, but at least a few minutes!

Obsess much?
Obsess much?

Music is a mix too. Lots of pop songs, both American and Asian. No rock here…they LOVE pop stars, though, so while I do hear plenty of American artists, I don’t hear any that I like, because pop = no talent. Nevertheless, the music has taken its toll on me. There are times when I want to drive a sharp implement into my brain because I caught myself whistling Wiz Khalifa’s “See you again”. That’s my greatest fear; that somehow, listening to crappy American music in Taiwan will make me retarded (P.C. People, get over yourselves), and leaving me looking like a combination of Stephen Hawking and a zombie on The Walking Dead.

PLEASE...MAKE...IT...STOP!
PLEASE…MAKE…IT…STOP!

Another thing about music. You can hear an odd thing coming from ringtones, school speakers, and garbage trucks here: Classical music. Among the annoying tunes I’ve gotten stuck in my head from these odd sources for music are Verdi’s “Spring” (you’ve heard it at weddings), Beethoven’s seemingly endless “Fur Elise”, and “Edelweiss” from The Sound of Music. Lovely music in their own right, but absolutely maddening if you get it stuck in your head.

Sports, too, are big here, particularly the two American sports of professional baseball and basketball. Now, baseball’s been huge here for quite some time, as anyone over 30 might remember from watching the Little League World Series as a kid, and watching some team of 12 year olds from Taiwan beating the shit out of some 12 year olds from Davenport, Iowa. (Maybe that’s what happened! Those 12 year-olds from Davenport got their asses handed to them by some team from Taiwan, resulting in a trauma from which they never recovered from as adolescents. In response, to release the guilt and anger they felt from being violated on the baseball diamond by a score of 13-1, they formed Slipknot! Now it makes sense!)

American Georgetown University men's basketball team and China's Bayi men's basketball team fight during a friendly game at Beijing Olympic Basketball Arena

Now, the NBA has surpassed it, and while every other Asian country has men and boys alike sporting gear from Liverpool FC, Manchester United, or Barcelona, Taiwan has men and boys alike sporting gear from the Cleveland Cavaliers, the Miami Heat, and the LA Lakers. They play basketball everywhere here too…not very well, though, from what I’ve seen. Sometimes I watch them playing, laying more bricks than a construction worker, all the while thinking they’re the next Jeremy Lin, and I’m thinking that even though I’m 44, out of shape, and a smoker for 18 years, that I could take them! But even so, you’ve got to admire their enthusiasm for the game, and with all the other culture shock we’re enduring, even watching an American sport I can’t stand suddenly seems comforting.

It's like a church in Taiwan.
It’s like a church in Taiwan.

Lastly, there’s convenience stores. Yes, convenience stores. They. Are. Everywhere. There are, quite possibly, more convenience stores per capita than in any other country on Earth. There is one convenience store for every 2500 people. There are 4 major chains here: 7-11, Family Mart, Hi-Life, and OK Mart (known back in the states as Circle K). I walk 500 meters to catch the bus to go to work, and I pass two of them! I walked 700 meters to the bank to send money via Western Union, and I passed three of them! And there are always people inside! It’s bizarre, but it works…I know because I go there everyday too! Maybe it’s the air conditioning.

Whew! That was a long one! Hope you enjoyed it! I’ll be back soon, with more tales from Taiwan!

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