Took a Break from Posting on the blog

I haven’t made a post on this blog for almost four months now, and I’m trying to figure out why.

It’s not like anything big has happened since January that is taking up my time. My laptop and iPhone are still working fine.

I just haven’t thought of anything to write about because Taiwan is starting to become “home”. It will never be home because home is where my family is, but I have become so accustomed to living here that every day is a non-event. I now wake up and am not surprised that I’m in a tiny room filled with the sound of traffic. I don’t long for a home-made veggie-packed omelette in the morning because I know I can now get a triangle sandwich and soy milk at the 7-Elevens that are on every street corner.

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I also feel physically different than I was before I came to Taiwan. I have the small beginnings of a paunch. The muscles that I worked on so hard last summer on have slowly disappeared, especially in my arms. My hair has grown longer because I’m trying to be Taiwanese-style trendy. My back is stiff from sitting in class for so long. There are other health changes that I’ll get into in later posts (nothing serious at all, don’t worry).

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So I’ve become accustomed to almost everything in my day to day life. That’s why it’s been hard for me the last four months to post anything on this blog. I hope to start up again starting now, since my time in Taiwan is nearing its end.

Counterintuitive Solution to Street-Litter Problem

One of the biggest noticeable differences between Taiwan and China is that the streets in Taiwan are much cleaner. I’ve been walking to and from school almost every day, and I don’t think I’ve noticed any trash on the street so far. I then also noticed that I hadn’t seen a single public trashcan on the street in the last ~2 weeks I’d been in Taipei.

When I brought this up with my host mom, she pointed out that there aren’t any trashcans on the street in Singapore either. After googling this, the ostensible reason is that trashcans can house IEDs and by removing the trashcans Singapore is reducing its risk of terrorist attacks (http://www.citylab.com/politics/2013/04/world-without-trash-cans/5306/).

I thought Singapore was one of the cleanest cities/countries* in the world?

Maybe the secret to having a litter-free city is to remove garbage cans from the street? I think removing the garbage cans puts the pedestrians in the mindset of holding onto their litter and saving it for the garbage can in their office, school, or home.

If you leave the house and plan to eat your breakfast slowly, spaced throughout a 45-minute bus commute to Chinese class at another high school, you better bring a backpack to store your trash in (which I always do).

If you readers have any guesses as to why streets without trashcans are cleaner, please comment below! Perhaps it is just coincidence that both Taipei and Singapore’s streets are clean, but I think there’s a reason for everything…

*Singapore is both a city state and a country at the same time.

Food at the Mid-Autumn Festival (中秋節) in Da Jia(大甲)

The standard meal for celebrating the Mid-Autumn Festival in Taiwan is to grill meat (烤肉). I didn’t get a chance to this Mid-Autumn Festival, but my classmates are taking me to grill meat next week.

Instead of grilling meat, we had hotpot with my host mom’s brother’s family. Uncle took us to a giant restaurant that had every appetizer and dessert imaginable. I’d forgotten my Lactaid pills so I couldn’t have any… (I’ll explain Lactaid in another post sometime).

This hotpot was different from any hotpot I’d had before because each person had their own stove that was built into the table and each person then also had their own pot.

In previous hotpots, we’d shared a giant plate of raw meat strips and uncooked vegetables and noodles. Here, each person had their own plate and you went up to a supermarket-vegetable-aisle style place to get your ingredients:


 

Another thing I enjoyed about visiting Da Jia was the fruits. The first day in Da Jia I had so many cubes of fresh-cut mango that I actually couldn’t finish the bowl.

The second day was Asian Pear (水梨) day. It was single-handedly hosted by this one street vendor who was selling boxes of these giant pears from the back of his pickup that was parked on the side of a mountain.

In America, the asian pears are the size of apples and the skin is pretty tough. Here, the pears were the size of grapefruits and the skin was thin and the flesh was very crisp.

The vendor peeled and cut 3-4 giant pears and handed out slices to our group of ~10 relatives. He was really making a sale! I felt really happy until the relatives began bargaining with the poor man (in Chinese, bargaining is 殺價, which means to “kill the price”). The wealth gap between the two parties was making me embarrassed about us bargaining with the vendor, but no one there minded. I thought that since the vendor’d already kindly filled us up with juicy slices of pear, we’d be generous to him. I guess if the vendor really was having tough times he wouldn’t let us lower the price.

Shortly after a big meal of hotpot (again), we feasted again on slices of the pear and mango juice:

We ended up buying two giant boxes of pears (each box had 22 pears) and they were split among the different relatives that came to visit this Mid-Autumn Festival.

 

Animals of Da Jia (大甲)

This weekend I went to my host mom’s uncle’s house in a small suburban town in the center of Taiwan for the Mid-Autumn Festival.

It was my first time staying in a rural town in Taiwan. Oceans of rice plants and tons of little animals everywhere. This rabbit was caged in Uncle’s garage. It stood on its hind legs whenever I approached so it looked really human, which made me feel bad about it being in a cage (funny how that works!).

Uncle took us out at night to walk along the narrow streets that had deep gutters on both sides that bordered the rice fields. He brought a flashlight and we looked for fish, shrimp, and birds in the gutters. Most of the fish and shrimp only come out at night. When the flashlight shone on them they just stood still in the water. I amazingly didn’t get bitten by any mosquitoes even though I was always slapping at my neck and legs.

A flattened snake (we’d brought a walking stick along just in case we saw a live one that wanted to attack):

Learning Chinese Zodiac Pairings

Over the Mid-Autumn Festival (中秋節)I went to my host mom’s brother’s house in the middle of Taiwan (台中). He is a textile factory owner and has lived in a suburban town (pop. 70,000) called 大甲 for most of his life. He (Uncle) gave me a detailed demonstration about the zodiac and also told about me some zodiac-related rules that should come in handy later in life.

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Uncle first drew on the back of a calendar the twelve Chinese zodiac animals. I was born in the year of the Rat (鼠). Challenge: Can you find that character on the paper?

I learned that drawing the zodiac animals on your hand (like the photo below) is a good way of learning of the pairings:

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I also learned of two things to pay attention to when interacting with others:

1). The Six Groups: Rat(鼠) is paired with the Ox(牛), Tiger(虎) with Pig(豬), and moving to the index finger and pinkie finger, go upwards and pair the animals directly across from each other. End with the animals on the middle finger and ring finger (Horse(馬) and Sheep(羊)). These pairs are compatible with each other for business or marriage.

2). The Four Groups: So Rat (鼠) would be paired with Dragon(龍) and Monkey(猴). These three are also compatible.

He said people born in the year of the Horse(馬) are easily scared of people born in the year of the Snake(蛇).

I really enjoyed staying overnight at Uncle’s house because the surroundings were really peaceful and different from the bustling city.

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Sigh… Because of the sun in this photo, I’ll have to say: #nofilter

This was the view of a rice field from the bathroom window.

Yangming Mountain National Park

I visited Yangming Mountain National Park which gave me the best view of Taipei that I’ve had so far. Before getting to the good view, we stopped at some hot springs and we dipped our feet in the hot water.

It took a few seconds for my feet to get used to the heat and then I was fine.

The young man in the above photo drove me and another exchange student all around Taipei. He is the son of the current Chungho Fullmay Rotary Club president. He brought his girlfriend along. She’d just bought a fish=eye iPhone attachment as well as a monopod phone thing:

Yangming Shan (Shan(山)=Mountain) National Park has four mountains, the tallest of which is Mt. Qixing (七星山) which means Seven Star Mountain.

The mountains aren’t that tall, Qixing being only 1,120m, and the four mountains were all connected by rolling, grassy hills. The grass was super tall in some places.

The grass’d brought cows, which brought cow chips that scattered the grassy hills. Some were fresh and some were dried. The exchange student and I shared a laugh over one that had apparently be used as an ashtray.

The freshest cow chip was one about ten seconds old from a cow that was crossing the walking path. After it’d almost tripped on the rope handrail, it pooped on the gravel path and continued, going down the hill and towards a shepherd who yelled in a deep, hoarse voice at the cows. The tourists around us all looked towards the dark shapes of the cows as they moved through the sea of grass, down the mountain, mooing all the way.