Friday, 31 August 2007

A new abode

After staying at Chicago Stu's place for a couple of weeks, and starting to stress about where I was going to live, I finally moved into a new place last night. It's what's known as a "rooftop" apartment, small and on the rooftop(!) It's on the 8th floor, I can catch the elevator to the 7th then climb stairs to the 8th. I'm actually only renting one of the two rooms, but the other room is empty so for the time being I have the whole place to myself. Well, myself and the shrine to my landlords parents and to the gods, which he comes up to every morning to pay respects(he lives on the 7th floor). I have good view of the city, especially of Taipei 101, the worlds tallest building (until one in Dubai is finished next year). The apartment is in YongHe city, across the river from Taipei, so technically it's in Taipei County not Taipei city, and only 2 metro stops from my school (I start Chinese classes next week). Is a really old part of town, more laid back the Taipei proper, lots of old style markets and restaraunts, and narrow winding alleys to explore. Old apartment buildings with old ladies sitting at the door, old shops selling dried mushrooms and powders and chinese medicine. There is a morning market on my street which operates every day, you can get just about everything you need. Today I bought some chillies and garlic, the vendor asked me if I was american, then if I was Canadian, I'm used to that now. He also gave me some help with my pronunciation. They seem like a friendly bunch around here. At this market there are people selling clothes next to vegetables next to a pork seller chopping up a pig with a cleaver, chop chop chop, intestines and stomach and other offal hanging on hooks, people and flies and dogs looking on with interest, next to a vendor selling high mountain peaches, next to a stall selling fresh fish and squid and shellfish next to a noodle seller next to a bra seller next to a kill while you watch chicken seller, next to a dried mushroom seller, and it goes on. There is a lot of noise and bustle, but come the afternoon and evening it reverts to a quiet little back street.

So, this is my new neighborhood.

Friday, 24 August 2007

I want beer

A rip off wannabe trying to cash in on the dubious good name and can design of Taiwan Beer.......

Studying Chinese in Taipei

Today I had a placement test for my Mandarin Chinese course. I studied here in Taipei for six months last year, and the test was to determine whether I could continue where I left off or if I would need to repeat some lessons. Fortunately I don't need to repeat any lessons.
To be honest I find Chinese a difficult language to learn, especially the writing, but I've surprised myself at how much I've learned so far, and being able to hold conversations with people in the street is a real buzz, and more than enough incentive to continue.
Walking to my school reminded me of a couple of things about Taiwan. It's amazing to me that when I come back here after a few months away to number of shops and restaraunts that have gone out of business or have opened up, the turnover here is really high.
One really good thing I was reminded of is the way blind people are treated on the metro. There are always attendents to escort people on and off the trains, and once on there is always somone willing to help, infact it's often the closest person to them, a complete stranger will just take them by the arm and offer assistance, and more than once I've seen sombody help a blind person off the train and out of the station, even though it wasn't their stop.

Thursday, 23 August 2007

White Lobster

White Lobster has been found washed up on the Mosquito Coast, wrapped in thick rubber packaging, labeled "made in Columbia" Perhaps an example of "Cargo Cult"?

Sunday, 19 August 2007

After The Typhoon

Sepat came and went, is now wreaking havoc in mainland China. The wind blew, the rain fell, trees fell, scooters fell, now it's calm and life goes on, the old people are back in the park doing their excercises, the young people are back in the internet cafes playing online games, or out on their scooters, or taking their bag dogs with them shopping for hello kitty and doreamon t-shirts. Life goes on.....

Friday, 17 August 2007

Typhoon Sepat

Taiwan is on high alert for super typhoon Sepat, the strongest typhoon of the year, which will make a direct hit on Taiwan tonight. It's already quite windy, and there are squally thundery torrential downpours. The island has recently been hit by a couple of tropical storms so the soil is already saturated and major flooding and lanslides are predicted.

Thursday, 16 August 2007

Beitou Hot Spring area, Hell Valley

My mate Chicago Stu is in Thailand for a couple of weeks and I'm doing a bit of housesitting for him. He lives in a part of Taipei famed for it's natural hot springs, Beitou. In fact his hot water supply in the bathroom is natural hotspring water known for it's health giving properties. It's strong sulphurous stuff, apparently with a pH of 1.2 - 1.6, which sounds quite acidic to me. It is definately quite corrosive, the taps and metal fittings in the bathroom are all black and severely corroded, and any shiny new coins you might happen to leave on a table will be black or have turned some funky other colours within a couple of days. There are many Hot Spring hotels and public bath houses in the area, as well as a small steaming kind of lake where the water comes out from the bowels of the earth, an aptly named area called "Hell Valley". Occasionally some drunk decides to jump in for a swim, but as the water is over 90 degrees celsius this proves to be a fatal error.

Back In Taiwan

Well it's been bye bye to Olomouc for Mr Quinky and hello to Taipei for Hello Xu Xu. What a contrast! It's like being teleported to a different galaxy. Taiwan is a most interesting place, evoking strong emotions daily, some pleasant, some not. Here are a few little tidbits regarding the island sometimes known as Formosa, or to the Chinese as "the renagade province that will oneday be returned to the motherland":
It's very crowded, Taiwans population density is second only to Bangladesh.
There are more scooters per capita here than any other country, that is to say there are 23 million people, and more than 10 million registered scooters, so it's something that strikes you at once. There are also alot of cars, the favoured colours being black and silver.
Taiwan has the highest per capita consumption of cement. They like using concrete to make stuff.
The fruit here is fantastic, a trip to a fruitshop yeilds seasonal wonders at a very affordable price.
The vegetables here aren't so many and varied, they consist mostly of green shoots and leaves, oh, and corn (anyone for Taiwanese pizza?)
There are the largest number of 7-Eleven convenience stores per capita in the world. They are everywhere, and are wonderfully convenient, you can buy food, beer, wine, photocopy items, pay your bills, enjoy a bit of air conditioning, and lots of other convenient stuff.....

Sunday, 12 August 2007

Bye For Now Olomouc

At the wine shop

Here's a shot from the inside of a local wine bar in Olomouc. A good place to try some local wines at a very affordable price. You can enjoy a glass at one of the few tables in the place, or get a takeaway by having any sort of empty bottle filled directly from the barrel, you are charged by the litre. The ten taps bahind the counter are where the wine is dispensed.
Outside the wine shop.

Sunday, 5 August 2007

the chess grand master

I saw this chess master in action when I was in Olomouc two years ago, and just happened to find myself in the upper square a few days ago and was able to see him in action again. Basically there are 25 boards set up, and he moves from table to table, playing all 25 people at once. Many of his opponents were obviously quite skilled, writing down every move played thoughout their game, relishing the opportunity to pit their skills against a grand master. He would make many of his moves without more than a couple of seconds hesitation, with pehaps three or four of his opponents giving him cause for longer consideration. On this occasion he was in fact playing only 24 opponents, as the bearded fellow in the denim jacket sitting in the foreground of the photograph is one of the local drunks, he and a couple of his comrades were having a rather animated game of their own!

The Diving Piggy

Those of you who live or have lived in Taiwan will be familiar with the "visa run", whereby you must leave the country and apply at one of Taiwan's overseas missions for a new visa. While visiting Prague on just such a mission I encountered a most bizzare piece of street art.

At the garlic festival

While Greg "Echuca" Chandler and I were at the festival of garlic in Buchlovice in southern Moravia, we happened upon this fellow admiring some carved wooden garlic.......