Taiwan: Summing up the culture, what we’ll miss about America, and our plans for the future – Diary of a Mad Expat, pt. 23

20 July, 2015 – Taichung, Taiwan

“Que Sera, Sera
Whatever will be, will be
The future’s not ours to see
Que Sera, Sera
What will be, will be”

-”Que Sera, Sera”, by Doris Day
No future no future no future for you
No future no future for me

-”God Save The Queen”, by The Sex Pistols

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Oh, crystal ball, crystal ball
Save us all, tell me life is beautiful
Mirror, mirror on the wall
Oh, crystal ball, hear my song
I’m fading out, everything I know is wrong
So put me where I belong

“Crystal Ball”, by Keane
This being the last one for a while, I think, I thought I’d put in 3 song quotes this time. I do love music!

What’s to come for us? How can I sum up where we are, where we’ve been, and where we’re going? I guess we’ll all know before this entry is complete.
The Sum of All Fears

We have been in Taiwan now more than twice as long as we were in Hong Kong and Hanoi, combined. So, how can I sum up this country, and its people, as compared to everywhere else we’ve been? Taiwan is…well…Taiwan. There’s no other place exactly like it, to be honest, for better or worse. There’s parts that remind me of Hong Kong, others remind me of Hanoi a little, but most remind me of nothing, because most of the places I’ve seen here, in some ways, are even more foreign than where we’ve been. The people here are friendly, and most try to make you feel welcome and at home, without putting out more than the minimal effort about it. This place, culturally, is such a mash-up of Chinese, Korean, Taiwanese, Japanese, European, and American influences, it’s hard to know for sure what the national identity is, or if there even is one. Taiwan and its people seem to be suffering from a national identity crisis. As a result, to the outsider, you’re not sure what to make of it at all…but I’ll try to give my opinion anyway, as best I can.

Taiwan is confusing. It’s certainly better than Hanoi, but to be honest, I doubt we’re going to stay here forever. In the part of Taichung we’re in, anyway, it seems like somewhere in between the developing world that Hanoi is in, and the developed world that America, Canada, and Hong Kong are a part of. It’s bearable, maybe even long-term, but permanently? I don’t think so.

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What You Leave Behind

I don’t want to go so far as to say we regret leaving, but there are some things we miss very much. We miss not having to search for a good place to eat, because we knew all of our favorite places to eat, one of which was our home kitchen. I know my wife actually misses being able to cook, especially the one thing that’s so difficult to find here: her chili. I know I miss it too, because it was so good! I miss a good hamburger; pizza, not so much anymore now that we’ve found good pizza. We miss some American television, as there are just some things we can’t get here without paying for it online. Which is another thing I miss. Without a checking account here yet, we cannot make purchases online of any kind. I miss Oregon rain, which is unique, though they aren’t getting much of it now anyway. I miss the stars. Yes, of course there are stars here too, but they’re not the stars I’m used to. I suppose that if we lived south of the Equator, seeing the Southern Cross would be cool, and might take my mind off of Oregon’s sky when I look up at night, but here, it’s just not the same; even the sky is foreign to me. We miss all of our conveniences of home: the space, the extra room for Mischa’s artwork, all of our DVDs, our books (though both are saved on hard drives), our freezer, using a dryer for our clothes. We miss a bathroom with a tub, where the shower is separated from the rest of the bathroom with curtain. We miss pine trees and deer foraging in our backyard. I know we’ll miss snow, when winter comes. We obviously miss being able to have a conversation with anyone, in English. But most of all, we miss our friends and (some of our) family. Kate, Jess, Holly, Jay, Shanan, and everyone else (you know who you are).

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Although we miss you all VERY much, I don’t want to come home. Rather, I wish you could all be here, with us, and share this experience with us, and all the journeys to follow. Miss these things, yes; sorry we left, no. It will just take time to forge new relationships, either here or elsewhere, and to find somewhere we want to be, and where we feel that we belong. And it’s good for us, and you, the reader, to realize that, despite what we miss, it’s already been an adventure, good and bad. In all the years I’ve lived before the end of March of this year, I had hardly seen ANY of the world outside of Oregon. Now, I’ve been in 5 different countries in the span of 4 months! And as I am writing this, it’s almost 7pm on Monday, July 20th; back home, it’s 4am that same day. I’m on the other side of the world! If that doesn’t help put things into perspective, and curb some of those yearnings of home, I don’t know what does.

Don’t Stop Thinking About Tomorrow

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Together, my wife and I are making plans for the future. While I will continue teaching for the foreseeable future, I am starting to look into creating an online consulting business, dealing with work, life and research consulting. I suppose it could be face to face as well, but unless you’re where I happen to be, online consulting seems more likely. My wife, on the other hand, is putting her many talents to use. She has already started doing freelance logo design and has had her work selected by one company, which paid her a little over $100 for about 3 hours work. She already has more that she’s working on now. She is also looking into freelance writing, as am I, but mine is more slanted towards travel writing, for obvious reasons. She’s also looking into web design, but the big one is her own artwork, which I, and many others, think is brilliant. She won a contest for her art back home, a couple of years before we left, has sold a couple of her works, given away others to family and friends, so she is in the planning stages of starting an online art business. It would allow her to sell prints of her work, in various forms. Based on her success and popularity of her work thus far, it could allow us the potential to make a VERY comfortable life for ourselves anywhere in the world. As you can probably tell, I am her biggest fan, and not just because it might allow me to stop teaching. I think she’s an incredibly talented artist AND writer, and that she is capable of doing great things with her work…plus, I’d be able to stop teaching!

And what about that? Stop teaching? I must admit that, thus far, while it has it’s moments, if I can find other options, I don’t think that teaching is for me, at least not for the rest of my life, though that may be one of the better things about Taiwan: teaching salaries here allow you to save A LOT of money; as much as $1000 per month. As for us, once our financial situation levels off this Fall, we’ll probably save at least 500-700 a month. In 2-5 years, depending on how our other businesses go, it would allow us possibly to go anywhere we want.

Traveling makes me feel like Indiana Jones!
Traveling makes me feel like Indiana Jones!

Where would that be? Well, if teaching’s still in the plans there are still a few options. Here in Asia, if I could find the right job, I could go to Hong Kong. Yes, there it is again. If you’ve read my blogs since the beginning, you know I have a huge hard-on for this place. I found it exotic, technologically comfortable, and altogether enticing and more like a potential home for me than I ever thought possible in a foreign land. Another possibility (maybe the only other possibility for us in Asia) is Japan. Again, technologically comfortable, but it would mean more work, as the Japanese are another one of those live to work cultures, probably even more so than the US. However, with the money we will have saved, we could go back to the western hemisphere. There are lots of choices in Central and South America; Costa Rica, Colombia (all the drugs you want, some with complimentary kidnapping!), Ecuador (one of the American expat capitals of the world), Chile, or Uruguay (my personal favorite). If she, or we, are successful at our various online endeavors, then the world is our oyster! We could, conceivably, go anywhere, jumping from one country of our choice to the next, on our 90-day visas, seeing the world from New Zealand to England, from Argentina to Australia, from Africa to Turkey to Austria, until we found a place to settle down! That’s my dream and I hope, with my wife and I giving each other the love, support, and encouragement that we always have, that we can make those dreams a reality.

So there it is, now you know. I hope we won’t have to go back home. There’s too much of the world I want to see, and I hope that as we continue this (hopefully) ongoing adventure of ours, you’ll come with us, through these words, the images that accompany them or, if you’re feeling daring, come and join us on this adventure and wherever it may take us. We’ll keep a light on, the beer cold, and the pizza warm. I just hope you’ll be able to get a slice without my wife cutting your hand off. Until next time…

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

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Taiwan: The food and liquor – Diary of a Mad Expat, pt. 22

19 July, 2015 – Taichung, Taiwan

Letting the days go by
Let the water hold me down
Letting the days go by
Water flowing underground
Into the blue again
Into the silent water
Under the rocks and stones
There is water underground

“Once in a Lifetime”, by The Talking Heads

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This is not my beautiful house! Hello again, everyone! Let’s get started with the subject of today’s article.

The Water

Don’t drink it right out of the faucet…ever. Due to the seismic activity on the island, and the outdated water systems here, there are things in the earth which can leak into the reservoirs that would make you sick, and make your bowel movements look like the chunks of sediments that flow through the Mekong Delta. However, we have a Brita pitcher and we filter the water twice; we’ve had no problems. Before that, we bought bottled water, which is everywhere. You can get a 1.5 liter bottle for about $1.50. Two of those would be enough for one day, hence our decision to switch to a Brita.

Glorious drinkable water! Oh, how I miss you!
Glorious drinkable water! Oh, how I miss you!

Food

This is the moment where I hang my head in shame. I have not tried a lot of the local cuisine yet. Between our financial situation and culture shock, I’ve admittedly not tried much of the regular food here. To save money, most of the food we’ve bought for home has been bread and various things we can put on bread – we don’t have anything to cook with. Either that, or I’ve gotten stuff from the convenience stores, which have familiar items AND regional foods too. However, I’ve gotten out there a little more in recent weeks, we both have, so I can share some things with you. My wife and I have eaten at a bistro down the street, which is pretty good. The only problem is we’re never sure what we’re going to get in our sandwiches because no one speaks English. My wife has tried the little noodle stand across the street from our place. She says it’s good and spicy, but she doesn’t like the pork meatballs, which she says are all fat and sinew. We’ve both tried MOS burger, which is like Japan’s answer to McDonald’s. It’s still fast food, but its way better than McDonald’s. I’ve tried a meat patty in a rice cake with BBQ sauce and seaweed, which was surprisingly good. I’ve also tried a place that I mentioned before called My Love Chicken. They have fried chicken, fries, and assorted other chicken parts, and they season it as mild or as spicy as you like it. I thought it was WAY better than KFC and VERY crispy, especially the 2nd time around, when I asked for it to be extra spicy and crispy. It was wonderful, but definitely needed some Zantac after that!

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The Taiwanese people also love Italian food, or at least their version of it. It sounds a little odd, until you remember that Marco Polo brought pasta to Italy from China. It all comes back around, doesn’t it? While we haven’t tried the pasta here yet, one thing we did look for right away was a pizza place. Now, they have Pizza Hut and Domino’s here, but most of their fare is very different from those in America. Way more seafood pizza options, and way more mayonnaise and white sauce options for those pizzas. Eck! So, we looked around and found a place just a half a block from my work called Pizza Rock. Let me state here that back home we mostly ate frozen pizzas, Red Baron, DiGiorno, etc. Since being over here, we did have Pizza Hut in Hong Kong once, and pizza several times in Hanoi, which were okay, but the sauce was like ketchup, and the crust was like cardboard, both in consistency and in taste. But Pizza Rock is run by an Italian-Canadian who married a Taiwanese woman. As a result, you don’t get the weird shit they put on most pizzas here. Instead, he creates an authentic, neo-Neapolitan, Roma style pizza that is, in the words of my wife, the best. Pizza. Ever. When we had it for the first time (pepperoni, of course), our eyes teared up. It was that good, and a magnificent taste of home for us. She teared up again when it was almost gone. The crust was crispy on the outside, softer towards the middle, and thin throughout. The homemade sauce was tomato-y and glorious. Combined with the cheese and the pepperoni (all the ingredients are clearly top quality, and way better than anything else you’ll find for pizza in this part of the world), and the condiments (Parmesan, Tabasco, garlic oil, and red vinaigrette) and I swear you can hear angels sing with every bite! I’m not usually one to refer people to websites, but this one I just have to: http://www.pizzarock.com.tw/
Check it out. They do more than just pizza there too (panini, baked pasta, etc.), but we just haven’t gotten that far yet, but we will. Oh sure, as we get more comfortable, both emotionally and financially, we will do more food exploration. But Pizza Rock is already our go-to place, and we will go there at least once a month until we leave. Guaranteed.

It's like looking at porn, isn't it?
It’s like looking at porn, isn’t it?

Drink

Other than water, there are consistent items to be found here. Tea is high on the list of popular drinks here. Nearly everyone drinks it, hot or cold, and has more flavors and types of tea than you can imagine. My personal favorite is the chocolate milk tea. Tastes more chocolaty and creamier than chocolate milk, like melted chocolate ice cream! Delightful. There is also coffee, and it too is very popular here. In fact, about the only stores you’ll see more of here than Starbucks and other local cafes are either McDonald’s or convenience stores. You can even get coffee in cans here for less than a dollar. I’m not a coffee connoisseur, so I’m not big on coffee, so long as it gets the job done in the morning. However, my boss did take me to a Starbucks once, and I got an iced caramel machiatto, which was wonderful.

Coffee not your thing? Hope you like Coke! Pepsi is hard, but not impossible to find here, but Coke is everywhere, though it is harder to find diet. No big deal for me though, as I’m not fond of aspartame as a sweetener. You can also get Sprite here too.

But the important one is alcohol! Vodka costs about the same as back home, as does the cranberry juice or orange juice to go with it. If you want to save some money, and try something local, there’s Kaoliang liquor. It’s made from fermented sorghum wheat and when taken straight, tastes like gin to me, as it burns on the way down. My wife detected a taste similar to tequila which, lucky for me, it wasn’t, otherwise she may have put me in the hospital. Either way, probably not something we’ll try again. Beer, however, may be a different story. The Chinese actually invented beer thousands of years ago, so you’d think they’d be pretty good at making it, which they are, but you get what you pay for sometimes. The least expensive beer here is Taiwan Beer, which tastes about as original as the name. It’s less than a dollar per beer for good reason; it tastes so bad, you’ll wish you’d bought Budweiser. However, for not much more you can find other good beers, foreign, regional, and domestic, depending on which stores you go to. Thus far, I’ve found Budweiser, Heineken, Carlsburg, Tiger, and my new personal favorite, Tsing Tao Beer, a Taiwanese beer. Tastes very good and smooth, like Tiger, but costs much less, and has almost the same alcohol content, about 4.7%, much more than most American brands. Go up on the roof near sunset, with a couple of beers and some smokes…and pizza…that’s about as good as life can get in Taiwan!

Alcohol-is-cause-and-solution-of-lifes-problems

Well, I think this covered just about everything I can tell you thus far about Taiwan. As I have more to add, I will, but that’s it for now. So what’s next for us? How does Taiwan rate, and how can we sum that up, compared to the other places we’ve been? That will be coming up in my next post. Until then, keep your feet on the ground, and your knees above them. Same as it ever was…
– For images of our journey, please visit my wife’s Facebook page: Mischa Elaine Johnston

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.

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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.

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

PERSONAL OBSERVATIONS ABOUT TAIWAN: Diary of a Mad Expat, pt. 17

5 July, 2015 – Taichung, Taiwan

It’s funny how some distance
Makes everything seem small
And the fears that once controlled me
Can’t get to me at all!

It’s time to see what I can do
To test the limits and break through
No right, no wrong, no rules for me I’m free!

-”Let it go”, from the movie, Frozen, and one of the most popular American songs in Taiwan amongst children

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In my last blog, I probably nearly bored you to death with a history and geography lesson about Taiwan. Now, I’ll get into more personal observations about the various aspects of living here. First up is…

Our Neighborhood

There are many different sections of the Xitun (pronounced Zhi-tune) district. Some are nicer than others, and you can often find these differences within a couple of blocks of one another. Ours is a lower middle-class neighborhood at best, with narrow streets, a small park across the street with a small temple next to a basketball court (they LOVE the NBA here…and baseball, of course). During the day, street vendors set up shop up and down the street on the other side of the park, but we have a small vegetable market next door to our apartment complex, and a place that sells noodles right across the street, which is only wide enough for two scooters or one car to drive through without flinching. Our apartment building is run down on the outside, and we live on the 5th floor with no elevator. That may not sound too bad, but try going up 5 flights of stairs when it’s 95 degrees, with 60% humidity, and see how you fare. Sweaty, isn’t it?

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The inside of our apartment, thankfully, looks nicer than the outside, but it’s small, about 300 square feet, and that includes the bathroom, which has a washer, sink, toilet, and what I’d call a “showering area”, as there is no curtain separating it from the rest of the bathroom. The main room, which is basically a bedroom with a separate (but not separated) area that has a desk and a mini-fridge, serves as bedroom, living room, and dining room all in one. It also comes with an air-conditioner, which is a MUST, and a smaller flat-screen TV with about 80 channels, most of which are in Chinese.

There are a few English channels, but not many: Nat Geo, Discovery, Animal Planet (English sometimes), and 5 different movie channels including HBO. There are three others, but they mostly have crap shows that we’d never be desperate enough to watch, like reality shows, various CSI shows, and How I Met Your Mother…ugh. They repeat the movies a lot, so what we do watch mostly is whatever I can download or watch online.

Even the puppets look confused.
Even the puppets look confused.

The commercials are almost entirely in Chinese, with many of them being for video games for your phone. And in most of them, someone (man, woman, or child) is whining, which seems to be the national pastime here. I swear, if you could get the International Olympic Committee to make whining an official Olympic sport, Taiwan would finally win something other than the Little League World Series…and they’d win gold, silver, and bronze every time!

I'm just gonna burn the house down now.
I’m just gonna burn the house down now.

But I digress. Despite the scraps of food and fruits and vegetables that scatter the streets after the morning street market closes at about 2pm, the neighborhood is somewhat clean, though I did encounter a scurrying rat on one evening walk back from work. Fortunately, I was (slightly) bigger than he was, and he turned and ran the other way. Our home is mostly clean too, though like most places, we do encounter spiders and ants, though the ants here are surprisingly tiny and FAST! The spiders aren’t any bigger than back home, though we’ve heard stories of people encountering Huntsman spiders in their homes (Seriously, look it up! Their size may literally scare the shit out of you!). We thankfully haven’t seen any of those, but during one shower, we did see the typical tropics-sized cockroach scurrying across our bathroom floor! Terrified us both! It was about 4 inches long and at least an inch wide. It took me stomping on it 3 times with my boot to ensure that it was dead! Bleh!!!!!! We cleaned RIGHT AFTER that! Otherwise, pretty clean, just small. But, it’s only about 8000 Taiwanese dollars per month, including electricity, which comes to about $260 American dollars per month! Try finding that price for ANYWHERE in America, with A/C, cable, a fridge, and free internet! I’m not gonna even wait for you to look because it doesn’t exist there! Plus, when I want to smoke, the roof is one floor up, from which you can look to the west to see the skyline of the western half of the city at night or look up into the night sky (depending on visibility that night). All in all, it’s not home, but I’ve been amazed at what we can adapt to since we arrived here.

Smoking central on our rooftop.
Smoking central on our rooftop.

I know skirted several subjects here, including the culture, shopping, weather, food, people, and money. Don’t worry, I will go in-depth on all of these subjects in the blogs to come. Until next time, stay cool, and try not to blow any fingers off on the 4th!

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

THE HISTORY OF TAIWAN: Diary of a Mad Expat, pt. 16

5 July, 2015 – Taichung, Taiwan

“Whose life is it? Get it? see it? feel it? eat it? spin it around
so I can spit in his face
I wanna leave without a trace
get out, I don’t want to die in this place”- Slipknot, “People = Shit”
Okay, so nothing in the above lyrics has anything to do with Taiwan, except for maybe the last line. Anyway, it’s the morning of July 5th here, but it’s the night of July 4th back in America, so Happy Birthday everyone back home. As you probably know, the Chinese invented fireworks, so without them, you’d be celebrating Independence Day with nothing but confetti. So, on behalf of my neighbors here in Taichung, you’re welcome.

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Wait, was that sarcasm? Yes it was! I drank a Coke for breakfast, knowing I’d be writing this. It has temporarily brought back a manic sarcasm that will hopefully allow my snarkiness to come out in this article.

Yay!

I figured I’d start out with an introduction to this country, then go from there. If you look on Google Maps or something, you’ll see that Taiwan is a small island nation, sitting about 110 miles off the coast of southeastern Mainland China. It’s formal name is the Republic of China. The current incarnation of this land was formed in the aftermath of World War Two. After Japan was defeated, China experienced a power vacuum. Chiang Kai-Shek’s so-called “democracy” faced off against Mao Tse-Tung’s communists. Obviously from what we see today in China, the communists prevailed, forcing Chiang Kai-Shek, and his like-minded followers, to abandon mainland China for the relative safety of Taiwan, where they established a separate nation there. Taiwan was not a democracy during most of the post-war years, but rather a somewhat benevolent military dictatorship.

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Nevertheless, their economy grew thanks, in no small part, to the United States, who continued to support them in opposition to communist China, both militarily and economically, as part of the Cold War, in an attempt to prevent the expansion of communism. If you are anywhere near my age, you probably remember a time, when you were young, looking at the bottom of your Hot Wheels cars, or any other number of your toys, and seeing the phrase, “Made in Taiwan”. Well, that was one of our major trading partners during the 1970s, and Taiwan became an economic power in Asia during that time, rivaled only by Japan.

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However, during the 1970s, America began reaching out to communist China, in attempt to develop a formal relationship with the massive country, and to further isolate the Soviet Union from the other major communist power in the world. Nixon established relations with them, followed by Jimmy Carter, who started the beginning of major trade with them. This signaled the end of formal relations between the United States and Taiwan, not to mention the United Nations, who shifted allegiances, and chose to recognize communist China as the legitimate government representing all the Chinese-speaking peoples (money talks).

gyt

China, in fact, considers Taiwan to be nothing more than another one of their provinces, though up until now, have chosen not to enforce that belief through occupation, out of fear that it would destroy relations with the rest of the world, which it would. Taiwan, for its part, refuses to acknowledge China’s view, vowing to remain an independent nation until ALL of China abandons communism and acknowledges the Republic of China (Taiwan, or ROC), as the legitimate nation of all China. This situation is likely to remain in stalemate for the foreseeable future, as China will not provoke the world (as mentioned before), and Taiwan does not have the military capability to seriously challenge China. Nevertheless, Taiwan has remained an economic power throughout east and southeast Asia, and has grown by leaps and bounds, economically, in the last 20 years. So there’s your fucking history lesson…you can wake up now, I’m done.

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Taiwan itself is just under 14,000 square miles (almost 36,000 sq. km. for all non-American readers). For comparison, it’s about the size of the northwest part of Oregon, from Eugene, to the Columbia River, and from the Cascades to the Pacific Ocean. For everyone else, that’s about the size of Maryland and Delaware combined, or bigger than Belgium, but smaller than Holland, in terms of land. However, there are a LOT more people here, relative to its size, than any of the aforementioned locations; over 23 million to be exact, making this island the 17th most densely populated land on earth, with nearly 1700 people per square mile.

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As for the city we live in, Taichung is a city of about 2.7 million, about the same size and population as Tampa, Florida, and a little higher in terms of population density. It has sister city agreements with numerous American cities, including New Haven, Connecticut, Tucson, Baton Rouge, Cheyenne, San Diego, Reno, Austin, and Tacoma. Taichung is broken up into numerous districts. The one we live in, Xitun District, is one of the largest and most populated districts in Taichung, and considered to be the shopping center of the city.

There are many aspects of my neighborhood, this district, and this city. I will start looking more deeply into those on my next blog. Hope I didn’t bore you too much.

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

TAICHUNG, TAIWAN: Diary of a Mad Expat, pt. 15

Our experiences in Taiwan in my husband’s words…

13 May, 2015 to present – Taichung, Taiwan

I see that it’s been a little over a month since I posted here, but there has been so much to do and worry about, that I simply haven’t had time! It’s been a very stressful, worrying, and emotional time. Can’t say that my sarcasm has come back enough to make this post entertaining, but I’ll do my best.

When I last left you, it was mid-May. I had found my job, but we were damn near broke. Since then, I’ve been teaching, and as you can imagine, it takes up a lot more time than just the time spent in the classroom. There is time before, to prepare for class, and there’s the time after, grading the work the class has done. So it takes up most of my day. When it doesn’t, I’m trying to keep our heads above water. We’ve gotten lots of help from several sources, most of all the director of my school, Crystal. She, along with our recruiting agent, Sandra, have been invaluable to us. Providing us with information regarding the visa/residency process (which is lengthy, costly, and bureaucratic, to say the least!) and money to stay afloat here until we have a steady income.

Thanks to their efforts, the efforts of others back home, and a budget that we are strictly adhering to, we are at the point where we can live here, breaking even while we complete the visa/residency application process, and paying people back, until November. At that point, we’ll be able to start saving money, and hopefully, a lot of it. Until then however, we’ll be scraping by on the occasional street food meal, local fruits and veggies (which I’ll cover later), and peanut butter and jelly sandwiches.

Things are tight here right now, but we are managing. I’ll be starting summer classes next week. We’re getting used to the neighborhood that we’re living in, and they are getting used to us. It’s a poorer neighborhood to be sure, but our studio apartment is nice, VERY cozy, and (thank god!) comes with A/C, which is an absolute MUST here! Since before the 1st day of summer, it’s been in the 90-95 degree range (Fahrenheit…I don’t think I’ll ever get used to the Celsius scale, but I’m using it here out of self-defense, just like the metric system), with humidity double that of Oregon on a dry day. As a result, any time I walk more than a few hundred meters, I sweat – a lot! More than I have ever sweated in my life, except for when I played tennis in college. The good news is, I’ve lost at least 20 pounds since I got here! So yay!

Also due to our budget, and our unwillingness to borrow any more money, the aforementioned application process for our visas/residency has been pushed back. I have gotten my physical checkup done (passed with flying colors for all those concerned), gotten my work permit, and applied for my visitor visa yesterday. Now all I’m waiting for is to get my visa, then I have to apply for the Alien Residency Card. I might have it by the end of the month. Due to our finances, however, my wife has to go to Hong Kong to renew the 90-day visa on her passport, and I may go with her, depending on whether my ARC has arrived in time. That will buy her another 90 days, which allows us to get our marriage certificate authenticated back home at a Taiwanese consulate, get it translated into Chinese and notarized back here, go to Hong Kong again within another 90 days to apply for HER visitor visa (which she has to do there, since she cannot work here), then bring it back to Taiwan to get her ARC in November.

Not the easiest or funnest way to stay in a foreign country legally, but it is what it is. That particular phrase is one that we have needed to tell ourselves frequently, in a country that has been foreign to us, in more than just name. That is a subject that I will try to delve into next time, which I assure my readers will not be long.

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

Taoyuan, Hsinchu, and Taichung, TAIWAN: Diary of a Mad Expat, pt. 14

Our experiences so far in Taiwan from my Husband Richard…

3 May to 13 May, 2015 – Taoyuan, Hsinchu, and Taichung, Taiwan

At the time I’m writing this, it’s June 1st. A lot has happened, most of it not really funny enough to be snarky and sarcastic about. This has been a difficult month, no two ways about it. My wife and I have come to the brink of economic destitution, and while it’s not over yet, it is looking better.

We landed in Taiwan on the 3rd. A thankfully uneventful flight from Hong Kong, but I wished we could’ve stayed, but there were too many opportunities in Taiwan to take the risk. Vietnam had been a waste of time and money, and by the time we left, paying for the flight to Taiwan, we were getting down there, money-wise. I just couldn’t put my wife in a hostel – just didn’t feel safe enough to me – so I had to find some decent hotel for as low a price as possible. Fortunately, we found one for a little over $40 a night. The bedroom wasn’t much, but the bathroom was beautiful and spacious. They even gave us a free upgrade on our last night there.

Meanwhile, I was exploring job options in the area, but nothing had worked out. There were a few schools, but they were NOT good. One wanted me to start the same day, without a contract, in a run down school where the American who showed us around referred to the children I was to teach as “dumb”, and “little shits”. NOT encouraging…so I held out for another one that I was to interview for the following week.

Meanwhile, we were running out of options. I set us up to check out of this hotel on the 8th, to one about the same price, but closer to the airport and the high-speed rail station. That one was more like a stereotypical hotel, but still about the same price. It felt safe there, and it felt familiar, and we needed this now, when our situation was getting scary. I had a couple of interviews set up the following week in cities south of here, which meant we only stayed here for a couple of days, before moving on to Hsinchu. By the 10th, we checked out and headed to Hsinchu on the slow train because it was cheaper. We made it, but it was a fucking pain in the ass to take the regular trains. Unlike HSR (high-speed rail), nothing is in English, so we were using deduction and luck to determine what the right train was, while toting two laptop bags, two rolling carry-ons, and a 50-pound suitcase in the sweltering heat. Not fun. Nevertheless, we made it to Hsinchu, to an even cheaper hotel to stay until Wednesday the 13th. During that time there, I finally got a job in Taichung to start the following week. Still, we were getting even lower on money, and running out of time.

At this point, I should go back and say a few things about our experiences during our first 10 days here. Because of our money situation, we only ate what we could get at either grocery or convenience stores, both of which are cheaper than eating in restaurants, and none of our hotels were located near where there was street food. However, every hotel we stayed in did have a free breakfast. Unfortunately, half of them served only Chinese breakfasts, which my wife loved but I cannot do yet.

Anyway, we left Hsinchu on Wednesday the 13th, taking the HSR this time (with ALL of our luggage), and it went infinitely more smooth this time. We got settled into the Grand Hotel, just a 10 minute walk from the school I’d be working at. We were staying there, as it turned out, from Wednesday the 13th until Sunday the 17th…just two weeks ago. Fortunately, through making reservations on hotels.com, I’d only have to pay for one of those nights in Taichung; the rest we’d get for free. On Thursday the 14th, I’d be sitting in on some classes, to get a feel for it, and to talk to the person running the school, Crystal, who will feature prominently in the next few blogs. For now, things are only beginning to improve, and financially, things were going to get worse before they got better.

At this time, there have been countless people, back home, in Hong Kong, Vietnam, and Taiwan, who have helped us in countless ways. I’m not going to name names here, but to each and every one of you (you know who you are), we say “thank you”. You may never know how important your efforts were to us getting where we are going now, but we do, so thank you, from the bottom of our hearts.

Until next time…

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