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

VIETNAM: Diary of a Mad Expat, pt. 9

Observations of Vietnam…get ready for the snark!:)

9 April – 2 May, pt. 2: Old Quarter, Hanoi

[as Walter Cronkite] “I just want to begin by saying to Roosevelt E. Roosevelt, what it is, what it shall be, what it was. The weather out there today is hot and shitty with continued hot and shitty in the afternoon. Tomorrow a chance of continued crappy with a pissy weather front coming down from the north. Basically, it’s hotter than a snake’s ass in a wagon rut.”
Robin Williams, as Adrian Cronauer, Good Morning, Vietnam

So let’s see, I covered our lovely accommodations, which improved only slightly a week or so into it, when they moved us up one floor, into a slightly better room. Still had the gnats though, which was okay. We needed some new friends…Timmy didn’t make it. Still, we had the whole outside world to explore! The people, the men, the women, the language, the sights, the smells, the sounds, the traffic, the weather, the hotel staff, the food, the shops, the currency, the culture!!!! Turns out that, for the most part, the only good thing about this place was it gave me a lot of material to be a sarcastic smart ass for this blog! So in that sense, thank you, Hanoi! Wow, look at all that material up there, three sentences back! Where to begin….

Buddhist Monastery
Buddhist Monastery

The Culture

OK, I’m getting the hard one out-of-the-way first. The culture is, to say the least, difficult to explain, and almost as hard to grasp. Most of their oldest traditions are based on Buddhist or local religious customs. I’ve seen a lot of hotels and other shops with little shrines just inside the door, where the workers or owners drop to their knees and pay homage. Just as common in the smaller shops and cafes (almost as numerous as the gnats), is burning fake money as an offering. This is usually done just shortly before or after opening or closing, in a metal container, out on the street curb. The smell of burning paper is one of the few things I came to like here for two reasons: 1] It reminds me of campfires, and 2] It drowns out the other smells, but more on that later.

There is of course, the customary bowing, which I generally return, as long as it’s someone I like or I’m in a good mood and feeling respectful, which at times was harder to do than it sounds, but most of the time I’m courteous, certainly more so than most people I saw. I even made a point to bow and step aside on narrow sidewalks where there was only room for one person to go through, particularly when it was someone older.

The Shops

There are tiny little shops everywhere, even shops on the sidewalks, selling various convenience store items in a couple of glass cases with wheels. Cigarettes are insanely cheap here ($1/pack at most), and almost ALL of the men smoke. We saw very few women doing so, but we’ve been told that more of them smoke when drinking, again, an occurrence we didn’t see much of. There are small markets strewn all over the Old Quarter, selling similar merchandise to what we saw in markets in Hong Kong. One difference though: Shoes. There are places to buy shoes everywhere, ridiculous numbers of them. They mostly sell either flip-flops, children’s shoes, or the most frequent, heels. Really. High. Heels. They’re usually 3-6 inches, and when women aren’t working, they’re usually wearing these. Shoes are an apparent obsession amongst Vietnamese women, and they all wear heels that any woman in America would be envious of. Personally, the heels made it difficult for me to know whether they were just dressed up for a night out, or if they were prostitutes, but that’s going into the subject of women here, so I’ll come back to that later.

The really bad one is a roaming street vendor. He or she is usually older, and either walking or cycling down the streets hawking shirts, hand fans, or shoe repair, just to provide a few examples. They are tenacious. At first, we tried being nice and polite, saying no while smiling. But early on, that wasn’t working. If we were sitting, we’d have to get up. If we were standing, we’d start walking, and they’d follow us, and keep trying to sell to us. On one occasion early on, a man called to me and pointed to my shoe. While I stood there, saying no, he grabbed my fucking foot and wouldn’t let go! I finally had to lurch my leg away from him to get away. That one really began my loathing of this place. Look, I know everyone here is poor and needs to find a way to make money. But I’m not going to pay for a physical assault (Yes sir, please repair my brand new shoe that doesn’t have anything wrong with it, oh and could you get all handsy with me too? That’s how I like it! Yeah, repair that shoe! Harder! Harder!). After that, we learned that if someone is approaching you to sell something, keep walking, show them the hand, and say no, without making eye contact. Deviate from that method, and they might get you or at the very least, persist in their sales pitch which we couldn’t understand anyway.

The Weather

See that quote up at the top of this article? That summed up most of our time here. There were some days that were cooler, in the high 70s, but even then, the humidity is insane!!!! It rarely dips below 50%, and is usually above 70%. Put that together with the fact that right now it’s 11am here, and it’s 90 degrees (not Celsius, for you non-American readers), and the humidity is currently at 70%. Combine that with my furry girth, and I’m flop-sweating my way through the Old Quarter. This place does get rain, usually at night, but we haven’t seen much rain, except for one really impressive night. A couple of weeks ago, a big thunderstorm rolled through Hanoi, and we got one hell of a light show, combined with a tropical downpour that made our heavy rains in Oregon look like a shower with bad water pressure.

More to come next entry!

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