February 2010 Archives

ptsd: post taiwan sleep disorder

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my sleep monday lasted from around 5pm until 7am tuesday (14 hours). i wouldn't say it was quality sleep. i got up and took a shower, checked my email and such, then decided i'd lay down again. so around 10am i started sleeping again.

i got up around 5pm and met the potts at an ihop at washington and i-10. this was the first time i'd driven a vehicle in two weeks. it felt a bit odd. (i took my pickup.) the potts were going because ihop was giving away a free short stack of pancakes to anyone that day. the martin-webbers were there too (i'd met the daughters at the potts before, but never the parents), as was eric hartley. later, tiffany showed up (who used to work for jack, and i hadn't seen in some time), and then later her fiancee showed up (whom i'd never met). all in all, there were about 8 adults at the table and as many kids (from just two families). i was the only one who got something to eat outside of the requisite short stack. my bill was as much as the rest of the table's. and i left double my bill to help with a good tip. while we were there, it snowed outside for about 30 seconds. never saw it again.

jack came back with me in my pickup to my house. i picked up my laptop and did a final sync of my phone and camera to the laptop, then we went over to the potts house. i hung out there until around midnight or 1am, then came home. i got to bed around 2am.

wednesday i got up and went to work. part of the reason i'd gotten depressed in taiwan the second week was because i'd read an email from work detailing the various promotions and new job responsibilities. several times over the last couple of years i've tried to break into some new areas that seem interesting to me, but it's never really happened. i've watched a lot of people go around me over the years. sometimes it doesn't bother me, but for some time now i've felt like my position is becoming more and more marginalized. i knew about some of the goings on before i got the email, but not all of them. so that was upsetting. enough that i felt like just emailing them to tell them i was quitting when i got back to the u.s. but very rarely do i ever behave rashly, so i gave myself time to think about it and talk to people. anyway, i got to work and talked to a manager who is a friend and he didn't seem to think things were like i saw them. i took his advice under consideration, but i didn't buy it. i left work, then went and did the radio show. it was nice to see the guys and do the show again. i came home and went to bed. i had felt tired in the day, but i felt like things were normalizing as far as sleepiness and sleep pattern.

thursday at work there was a wrinkle thrown into the promotions/opportunities situation. our main aix guy, who had just gotten promoted from senior to lead, gave his two weeks' notice. this left a huge hole in the aix world, and based on other moves that had just occurred i wondered if they would ask me about trying to get into that area. and they did. aix is big business, in demand, and usually good money. the problem is i don't really care to do it. they trained all us unix guys in aix (a flavor of unix) a year or two ago, and i saw enough to feel i wasn't too interested. i intentionally avoided getting involved in most aix-based projects. i prefer the feel and culture of linux and the bsds, or even mac os, to the aix mentality/culture. and if i take this, i'll have to throw myself in head first. i was ready to immerse myself in exchange, ad, ocs, ms pki. i even stated interest at work a couple of times. but nothing ever came of it. now, instead, i've got this opportunity i'm not excited about. plus, i feel like if i don't take it, i'll be viewed as not stepping up and taking charge and grabbing opportunity and i'll be even further marginalized at work. it all kind of sucks.

before i left work, chris came by to let me know they were going to be cooking out and hanging out that evening at his complex for his birthday. i planned to go, but when i got home i sat down at my computer to check mail and such and i fell asleep. at some point i groggily moved to my bed. around 8:30pm jack called and i woke up enough to have a half-coherent conversation with him. after that it was fitful sleep until about 4am, when i woke up and wasn't as tired. i got up around 7am and shaved and took a shower. then around 8:30am i headed to work.

friday after work i took a nap for a few hours, then sue came by and we went to coffee groundz. they closed down at midnight, so we left. i got to bed around 1am. i was awake for awhile on and off around noon and early afternoon, but then i was asleep again and stayed that way until around 10am today. i basically lost saturday. so i'm beginning to think it's not just jet lag. my sinuses have been messed up, so i probably have a sinus infection. i'm wondering if i'm having allergy problems after coming back, perhaps from my cat. she's been desperate for attention since i got back and every time i'm in bed she sleeps close to my head. or maybe i've relapsed my mono from being too run-down and tired for too long. i don't know. i just know i feel a serious lack of energy all the time.

also, during my extended sleep saturday and saturday night and sunday morning i had a series of bad dreams, one of them continuing through at least two points where i woke up for awhile. not scary dreams necessarily, just sad, depressing, and/or frightening. one involved a divorced friend and their kids, the multi-part one involved me and julia (the hrc). i don't really need my mind creating new scenarios to make me angry, freaked out, upset, and sad -- i've had plenty of those in real life over that stuff already, thanks. i'd kind of mostly dealt with the emotional fallout from the hrc (although i still miss her fairly often), but now all that stuff i had mostly resolved and/or put away has spilled out and is active in my head again.

man, some sleep would feel good right now. *sigh*

"all i ever wanted was a good job,
and some busfare,
and a rocket,
and a bomb"
--mike knott "rocket and a bomb"

it's a long way home

monday morning ash and i got up and took a cab to the bus terminal. it was 90nt and i paid with a 1000nt note, so i gave ash the 410nt and kept the 500nt bill for the airport. i figured he could use it, and i appreciated him dealing with me and spending money he normally wouldn't while i was around. plus i didn't have to worry about him losing face over it since he's american. plus it was a fairly small amount. (unbeknown to him, i'd also slipped 2000nt under the food i'd left behind at his place.) we said our goodbyes and i got on the bus. then the driver asked me which terminal i was going to and i had no idea. fortunately, they had a list (in chinese), so when i told him continental/jla he was able to look it up and tell me. although i'm sure i could have figured it out at the airport. the drive took awhile, and i took a few pictures and some video of people driving into work in taipei (i.e., lots of scooters). i said goodbye to the betel nut (bin-lang) shops and the betel nut beauties/girls (bin-lang xi-shis) working them as we passed. i got to the airport.

i got checked in and had some time, so i bought a mango smoothie and some snack chips (fiery garlic doritos, seafood platter wavy lays, and...hot pepper giant squid? it didn't have much in english on it other than the ingredient list) for a co-worker who'd asked for some weird chips. if i'd planned ahead, i could have gotten some other odder stuff i saw at the 7-11's, but i never bought much of anything to bring back. i didn't buy stuff for anyone else, or myself. i put the chips in my carry-on backpack and headed to my terminal.

i still had 30 minutes or so to wait, and the airport had free wifi, so i used the wifi with my iphone to call my parents via the skype app. thus the call cost me 0.02/min. not bad. (i used both google voice and skype during my trip -- google voice for free text messages, and both google voice and skype for cheap calls to lines in the u.s. they were pretty nice to have, considering calls, data, and texting would have been insanely expensive via my regular phone. of course, i could only use them where i had wi-fi access to the net.)

the plane from taipei to narita was a 747-400, i think. i got a seat on 2nd deck, which i'd never flown on before. the 2nd deck was 3 seats on each side, separated by one aisle. i ended up being the only person on my side of the row. i set near the aisle. i was listening to the music channels they had available, when they played a song i'd heard played at least a couple of times in the clubs in taipei. i'm guessing it is or was popular in the u.s., but i'd never heard it before. anyway, the song will now be forever tied to clubs in taipei that westerners frequent. it's "hotel room service" by miami-based latin rapper/artist pitbull. (i would say the song is probably nsfw...but i guess that depends on where you work :) i started watching the bruce willis film surrogates, but the flight ended in the middle of the movie.

i got off at narita, went through a security check, took a bus to another terminal, got my boarding pass for continental, then proceeded to wait for a couple of hours. narita didn't have free wi-fi. i heard on the paging system that the u.s. had enacted tighter security checks for flights into the u.s. when i went to get on the plane, i had to have my shoes and bag inspected and got wand-checked for metal. i think i had been put in the extra inspection line. this flight was on another 777, and it was pretty full. i had an aisle seat near the very back of the plane, and i saw no open seats. i watched whip it (drew barrymore film about flat-track roller derby), part of bullitt, listened to most of a best of album by the cure, watched another episode of "big bang theory"...and i don't recall what else. i was hoping to sleep on the flight, but i didn't sleep much. it was a d4mn long flight.

we made it into iah about 1:30pm local time. (fun with traveling: i left taipei at 10am mon feb 22nd, left narita at 5:30pm mon feb 22nd, and got into houston at 1:30pm mon feb 22nd.) i walked until i hit customs. the guy asked me why i'd gone to taiwan, what i did, what i was declaring, then welcomed me back to the u.s. it was kind of funny because he had that kind of serious/badass attitude that tends to go with being a cop or military or some kind of authority figure. i picked up my checked bag (which made it fine again) and headed outside.

i called jack, and he and the kids were already in the airport. it took them awhile to figure out where i was, but they eventually got to me and picked me up. they took me to chuy's. after not much sleep for the last 24 hours and a stomach full of mexican food (cheese enchiladas, to be specific), i decided to head home for a nap. i set my alarm for 1.5 hours, since i wanted to try and readjust my sleep patterns to here. that didn't work. i evidently hit the snooze button every 9 minutes for a couple of hours, and around 8:45pm i gave up and turned it off because i decided i could sleep through the night.

how do you say "fscking depressed" here?

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today ash and i got up and walked for awhile, eventually ending up at the ximending market. (at least i think that's the one we went to.) this is i guess a trendy market for the younger people. there were lots of people there, and lots of shops. there were also a lot of street vendors, selling food, trinkets, purses, clothes, etc. and some street artists. i had a small corndog, as well as part of an onion pancake ash got. they were both good. we walked around this area for awhile. then we hopped on the mrt (subway) and took it to taipei 101.

once we got to taipei 101, we decided to eat lunch in the foot court area that is in the mall that is attached to the taipei 101 building. my legs and feet were already hurting quite a bit from all the walking i'd done the last few days, but i ended up walking around the foot court trying to find what i wanted to eat. i went to a dumpling place, but they had mostly seafood stuff. so i ended up going somewhere else and getting fried wontons. i also went to another shop and got a preztel dog and a lemonade to drink. the fried wontons were good. the preztel dog was fair. while we were eating i started talking about the trip thus far, and my original desires to consider this a trial toward a possible long-term move to some other country like russia. i had already been feeling down about things but was trying to do some stuff for my last day, but the conversation really bummed me out. at the end of it, i didn't really care about doing anything. i mean anything. at all. period. so i told ash i didn't want to go to the observation deck any more, and we could go have a beer or go home or whatever, as i didn't care.

ash was a bit confused by my change in plans i guess, and didn't really understand why. he also wanted to go to the observation deck. i told him he could go if he wanted, i didn't care. so we ended up going to gordon biersch (where tim and i had gone) and had a beer. i had another winter bock.

the previous week ash and i had gone by a dr. marten's store that was in the taipei 101 area when we ate at kiki's, and i had decided it'd be kind of cool to buy some docs in taipei. the reason being, they last a number of years, so when i was wearing them i could say "i got these in taiwan." so we walked over to the doc marten's store. we went through a park, where they were preparing for the lantern festival. people were putting up lighted floats and such. i also learned at this point the new chinese year is the year of the tiger.

(aside: i later learned while the years cycle every 12 years (zodiac-ish), the aspect also changes, and this year just happens to be the year of...the white tiger! (you recall what i told you that was slang for, right?) well, that certainly makes me more excited about this coming year.)

well, we went to the store and i looked around and i couldn't really find anything i was interested in. i guess i could have bought a generic pair of docs, but my heart wasn't in it and i only wanted to buy a pair if they really stood out to me. and nothing did. so i left the store empty-handed.

we took the mrt (subway) back to ash's place, then we went to meet esther for supper. she'd wanted to take us out for supper, so we went to a place that was sort of japanese-ish. the menu didn't have much i was too excited about, but esther got a bunch of different stuff (trying to meet some of my taste interests). some of it ended up being pretty good. she was very friendly and nice, and also paid for the meal. at the end, she gave me a gift box that her family's japanese-style bakery makes. i think they're mostly used for wedding gifts or something. we thanked her and headed back to ash's.

once there, i talked with ash a few hours about various things, including how i was feeling and why as far as being depressed. we kind of had to cut the conversation short because we were both tired, plus we had to get up early to get me to the bus for the airport the next morning.

taiwanese national museum. and me.

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today tim, ash, and i went back to the first place i ate at here: formosa chang. this time i got something i'm more familiar with: rice with shredded pork, and some corn soup. (despite ash not liking it, corn soup is good. it's kind of like corn chowder.) we then got on the rail to head to the national museum. we could take the mrt (subway) part of the way, but we had to take a bus the last part. while we were waiting, i ended up talking to a guy and his wife or girlfriend who are korean and were headed to the museum also.

at the museum, we stopped at a small restaurant and i had a cappuccino and tiramisu. it wasn't really exactly what i normally have as tiramisu, but it was okay. we went into the museum and ash went off on his own to see stuff about ancient chinese writing (that's part of what he's specializing in at school). tim and i walked around together and looked at three floors of stuff: neolithic era stuff, ceramics, bronze, furniture, more modern work, etc. about the only stuff we skipped was some of the writing/calligraphy and treaty maps and such. there is some pretty cool stuff in the museum. i guess it is supposed to be one of the most impressive collections in the world.

we left the museum and went back to the mrt line. we ate at a dumpling place, which was very good. while there, we started having a theology discussion. i don't have those conversations much anymore it feels like. tim is a former hardline lutheran, who is contemplating orthodoxy. ash is a fairly entrenched modern non-denominational type. i'm somewhere in the middle...or maybe off to the left or right...or maybe i just bounce around everywhere. we got back to the apartment and tim finished packing and we saw him off to the bus line. (his flight was sunday morning, but he wanted to sleep in a hotel near the airport so it'd be easier for him to get there on time.)

when we left the bus line, we were walking down a street and suddenly someone say "heeeeeyyyy!" turns out it was the korean couple. how bizarre is it that we would randomly run into each other in a completely different part of the city a number of hours later? weird. we talked to them a bit, then headed off to 45's.

it was at this point that i finally started to completely lose it. there have been a few times here that i've been somewhat depressed about things, but i finally started to hit a wall. ash and i started to talk about it some, but then candy showed up so i didn't really want to be depressed for everyone. i drank enough white russians that i got fuzzy though. candy left before we did. i had been planning on buying her some chocolate and/or wine to thank her for cooking for me, so ash and i went by a 24 hour grocery store and i bought some taiwanese red wine and a bottle of yellowtail cabernet sauvignon and a small toblerone. we were going to take it by her place (since it's on the way walking), but in my drunkish fuzziness i decided i didn't want to see anyone or deal with anything, i just wanted to go home and use the bathroom and go to sleep. so i kept walking even though ash was saying my name as i was walking away, and i got to ash's place and used the bathroom and went to bed.

when it feels like there is no point in living, it's nice to go to sleep.

goodbye taichung, hello mexican food in taipei

we got up and were in the hotel until around noon. we left our bags with the hotel lobby staff and walked around some. we ended up stopping at a place and i had fried rice. it was good. we then walked over to a starbucks to figure out what we were doing. once again, it was cold and wet. most of the stuff to do in taichung was outdoors, and as a group we were generally tired and cold and unsure what to do. so after some discussion we decided to head back to taipei. i wanted to try and find a battery for my phone though, so we walked a couple of blocks and went into three small stores before we found one that had my battery. i bought it, then we headed back to the hotel. we got our bags and took a taxi to the high speed rail station. we got on the rail and headed to taipei. the only very exciting bit was i took the opportunity to use the bathroom, meaning i was pissing at ~160mph on the ground. not everyone can say that.

we got back to taipei and candy went her separate way and tim and ash and i headed back to ash's apartment. later tim and ash wanted to go to a mexican food place, so we ended up going to tequila sunrise. the rice was pretty crappy but the beans were okay. i got the flauta and enchilada, and a strawberry margarita. the margarita had tequila in it, but the flavor overall wasn't quite right. the flauta was pan-fried instead of deep-fried, but it was pretty good. except for tamales, i figure an enchilada is probably one of the easier items to mess up. this was a pretty good approximation. tim and ash kept telling me not to be too harsh, because they never get to have mexican food so it's not fair for me to compare this to authentic tex-mex in their presence. a female friend of ash's named esther met us at tequila sunrise after we'd finished eating, so ash and i split a fried ice cream. the ice cream was strawberry, but the deep-fried corn-flake-based shell seemed right.

from tequila sunrise we took a taxi to 45's. except for tim, who was cold and tired and didn't feel like being out anymore -- he went back to the apartment. ash and esther and i hung out at 45's, and esther gave ash/me a japanese desert her family makes (i guess they own a shop that makes this kind of stuff). it's like a flattened ball of rice paste with flour or powdered sugar on the outside, then on the inside is a gooey, pasty filling made of something and green tea powder or something. it was okay, but i couldn't get myself to eat the whole thing. esther left, then we were joined by a black american guy named devon that ash knows. he's also pretty familiar with the underbelly of taiwan. we talked for some time, then we all headed over to roxy99. this time i didn't really end up talking to anyone, and overall it wasn't too fun or interesting. when we left we walked by some place where there were three slavic looking young people, two girls and a guy, and the guy -- who looked like the russian boxer in the rocky movie -- kept clocking me. every time i looked over at him he was staring laser beams into me. not sure what that was about. we headed home.

everybody taichung tonight

the plan for today was to take the train down to taichung, which is a city maybe 150km or so from taipei. feeling we probably needed to get an earlier start on the day, ash came over and brought taiwanese breakfast. which was sort of an omelette-ish sort of thing with something sort of like maybe spinach or something in the egg, as well as maybe rice paste...i don't know. it was good.

we packed our stuff for a one or two day stay, then went by and picked up a friend of ash's named candy (who is the girl who cooked supper the first full day i was here). we all went on the mrt (subway) to taipei main station, where we then bought tickets to take the high speed rail to taichung. you can take a normal train or the high speed, the high speed is about twice the price but half the time (and has only assigned seating). i'd never been on a high speed rail before. in addition to riding high speed rail, it also gave me a chance to see some of the land outside of taipei. the area the train travelled was somewhat hilly/mountainous, and also some tributaries/rivers with water running toward the ocean (we were traveling on the west side of the island).

we got to taichung and were picked up by two guys in a toyota suv. the driver is a friend of a classmate of ash's, and is currently a student of ash as ash is teaching him english. they drove us to a place to eat in taichung. i had some meat that's wrapped in a thick ball of rice paste and boiled, then when you order it they drop it in a bowl and cut an "x" in the top. i also had some rice noodle soup with meat. i didn't eat the stuffed intestines. but i did eat some sausage, which has a casing made of intestinal lining. from there they took us by the hotel we'd be staying at. we checked it out and said "ok". there were always several employees in the lobby of the hotel, and every time you walked in or our or whatever, they'd bow over and over and say "you good?" and "thanks" (in mandarin). it seemed more like japanese style to me than what i'd seen in taiwan. then they took us to get some bubble tea. usually i'll get fruit smoothie or milk tea with bubbles (tapioca "pearls"), but this time they also had me add...it was a kind of clear jelly without much taste in long thick rope shape. i described them as clear snot worms. they were ok, but it's kind of weird sucking on the straw and suddenly sucking something that keeps coming through the straw for longer than you're used to. we went by a place where you get a traditional food item of taichung, which is the sun cake. but they were sold out.

as we were moving on, ash talked to them about beetle nut and me, so they stopped at a beetle nut shop. we were outside taipei, so the beetle nut shops had beetle nut girls. in other words, there was a very scantily clad girl in each beetle nut shop selling the beetle nut. we bought some and ash's friend showed me how to eat it: you bite the top of the nut off and spit it out, then you pop the rest in your mouth and chew. the first time i spit it was a sickly yellow, sort of like bird vomit. the second time i spit it was a dark red, which is what it continued to be. within a minute or two it felt warm, and it wasn't too long later i got lightheaded. before we drove off i spit it out, but i continued to have a buzz from it for awhile.

we drove to a mall and went to some place whose name i forget. it was a microbrewery with a mixture of typical bar/pub food and asian food. i had a large dunkel beer, plus i had some fries and a german sausage variety platter. when it came time to pay, they put the bill near me, so i put money to pay it all in and handed it to ash. well, one of the guys taking us around told the waitress in taiwanese (which none of us whities spoke, ash knowing a little) to leave our money and pay with theirs. when i figured out the ruse, i told ash that they shouldn't have to, because i wanted to thank them for picking us up and driving us around. continuing my explanation because it wasn't accepted, i told ash this was a type of service you'd pay for, and ash immediately gave me the smack down. you see, in most asian culture everything is about "face" -- gaining face, losing face, etc. (it's similar to concepts of honor in european cultures i guess, but a lot of that in the u.s. has become less pervasive than it used to be...remember duels?) so there are all kinds of expectations and ways of interacting and such. since ash was his teacher, and you are supposed to have ultimate respect for your teacher, he wanted to pay. ash said the rest of us weren't his teacher, but he said they were friends of his teacher. plus if i paid he/they were losing face, and if he/they paid they were gaining face. anyway, being polite is different. so i felt stupid and like i'd done something wrong and there was no way i could talk my way out of it, even though i didn't know what i was doing at the time.

we left there and wandering around a bit in the mall, then we headed over to a bar called "amuse". they dropped us off there and left. you could order drinks individually, or you could pay 500nt and drink as many as you wanted off a set list. we did that. the drinks were okay, but they were pretty weak. while we were there a band showed up and started playing all kinds of songs, some asian and a lot of u.s. hits. they played modern pop stuff as well as older hits (like nirvana, lady gaga, etc.). we stayed there a few hours, then we got a cab back to the hotel.

the hotel was okay, but it didn't have any heat. and as i said before, it's been cold and raining all the time. it was down there too. and the hotel had no heat. the bed was hard and cold, but the comforter was good and the bed warmed up pretty fast. ash had decided he wanted something to eat, so he'd gone to walk to a 7-11 while tim and i went up to the hotel room. once tim and i got into bed and gotten warm, neither of us really wanted to get out to let ash in. so i said we could play "rock, paper, scissors" for it. tim immediately went to sleep. so i watched tv to wait for ash. and i waited. and waited. and waited. eventually i started falling asleep, then ash came in. (he just explained to me the desk lady let him in.) turns out he'd gotten lost for awhile.

distorted realities in taiwan


today i got up fairly late, and tim and ash and i sat around the apartment and talked for some time about various stuff. ash was giving tim and myself some time, which also gave him some time to do things he'd not been able to do since i was here, so we wondered off in search of some food. this whole week being the observance/celebration of chinese new year, it's still hard to find places that are open. we were planning on going to the night market, but i turned too soon or too late or something, so we just kind of wandered around some other areas kind of near ash's school. eventually we saw a sign down a side street that said "kgb". we went over to it and it was "kiwi gourmet burgers". we decided to eat there. i had the special for the day, which was a mango-jalapeno burger. it came with fries, and i added cheese and bacon. and a coke. man, that food was good. i sort of felt like i was cheating by eating food i'd normally eat, but i soothed my conscience by saying it was new zealand food and not u.s. :) we sat in there for a pretty long time, getting free refills and talking. i later told ash about the place and he'd heard of it but never been there.

we left kgb and headed into the mrt (subway), where "true north" tim hustled us onto a departing train. headed the wrong way. i figured it out after about 5 stops without ever seeing the guting stop. we went pretty far south, but we hopped out and got on the correct train. we went topside and it was a different world. perhaps i should explain. living where ash does, i think it's probably a pretty accurate depiction of most of taipei (and probably most of big city living in taiwan, although i don't know that for sure). the place we were at now was the area around taipei101, a building which held the honor of being the tallest building in the world for several years (in fact, until just a month or two ago when the place in dubai opened up). the neighborhood around taipei 101 could be any big metropolitan city of the world: tokyo, new york, etc. no mopeds but cars, lots of buses and taxis, huge typical multi-story print ads for cartier, prada, or whatnot. we walked through a huge mall structure with movie theaters, burberry, dolce and gabbana, and all kinds of very expensive stores and places to eat. it wasn't "local" at all. if i had been on business or visiting a friend who lived in that area, i would have a very different perception of taipei. i think it would be an incorrect one, and i actually felt like i shouldn't be there. but i guess it was good to see, just so i have the experience and can compare it to what i'm normally experiencing. we went into the bottom of taipei 101, which has a multi-story mall, but we didn't go up to the observation deck. at one point i saw a body shop and since the soap i brought was about to disappear, i went in to get a new bar since i like their soap. tim felt odd about two guys going into the body shop (which it appears he doesn't patronize), so he said he felt like he needed to go get a beer afterward. but i really like their stuff, so i bought a bar of coconut soap. we later went to a chain place called gordon biersch (sp?), where i had a winter bock and he had a schwarzbier. we hopped back on the mrt (subway) and headed back to ash's part of town.

we went to 45's and met ash there. he had a couple of girls in tow. one of them spoke some english, the other one not so much. we all had a number of drinks and laughed and joked a lot. i think i had 4 or 5 white russians and a blue monday. i have a habit of tying knots in cherry stems with my mouth (something i picked up in high school i guess), so as the night wore on i had a collection of knotted stems. this is something the hrc (julia) was particularly fascinated by and appreciated. i wouldn't say i was drunk, but i kind of ended up taking a picture of all the stems on a johnnie walker coaster written in chinese and sent it to her with the text "i'm in fscking taiwan". which is stupid, since i haven't talked to her in some time, and the last time i emailed her i basically told her if she couldn't have some kind of normal relationship/friendship with me that i didn't want her sending me anything anymore. yeah, i'm stupid. but i already knew that.

tourism: the good, the bad, and the ugly


today was the first day i actually did much that was "touristy". we started off by eating lunch at mos burger. it's a japanese burger place. burger doesn't necessarily mean a beef meat patty though. and although they have bread buns, they were originally served on sticky rice cakes. so i got an original style with the rice cakes. the meat was sort of like cheese steak. it was good. it's also the first time i've had a soft drink since i've been here. i got a coke.

i should point out here that it's been pretty chilly and raining recently. i don't like carrying an umbrella, so i decided i would risk not carrying one. it turned out to be an unwise choice. it never poured, but it sprinkled and lightly rained pretty much the whole time we were out. the ground got very wet, there were lots of puddles, and my knit cap, shoes, pants legs, etc., all got pretty wet during the rest of the journey.

ash left tim and i to our own devices at that point. tim and i walked to the chiang kai shek memorial. the entrance is a giant gate painted white (wall with multiple archways) which opens into a huge concrete/stone courtyard area (several acres). on the right and left are huge buildings. one is the opera house i think, and i don't recall what the other is. in front of you is the cks memorial building. there are probably 80 to 100 stairs up the front, then there is a building on top of that several stories high with a big open archway that houses a statue of cks sitting. you can't walk up to the statue, and there are two ceremonial guards on either side. (don't worry, i took pics of all this...i just haven't uploaded stuff yet. but it's not like you can't find pics of this on the internet.) from there we went into the lower 3 stories of the building. there are a few exhibit areas, plus one telling the history of cks. we walked through that, which was interesting. we also saw a couple of exhibits of a couple of contemporary artists. one was mostly paintings of tigers. a few were funny because they had a naked woman with the tiger. the funniest (to me) was a naked woman with a white tiger. that's funny because the term "white tiger" used for the zodiac or whatever sign is slang for a woman with no hair...uh...down there.

we left the cks memorial and started walking toward the longshan temple. or so we thought. i saw a phone store and we went in, but they didn't sell batteries. or maybe just not for my old razr. we stopped and got some bubble tea, then we stopped and got some kind of jerky. that's pretty much all they sold. they had pork, chicken, and beef, as well as something called "fusion" which looked sort of like bacon, but i'm thinking maybe it was pork and beef woven together. it's sweet, but they also have some that is spicy as well as sweet. we started walking again and then we were at a park. da'an park. which is one or two miles in the wrong direction from where we were planning on going. so we turned around and walked back.

we passed the cks memorial and started heading in the right direction. we went past something we thought was the south gate, but it wasn't. then we found it a little further down the road. except it looked exactly like what we originally thought was the south gate. kind of odd. we kept walking (man, i was tired of walking at this point) and thought we'd found the temple. but we weren't sure. and we weren't right. we went in and took some pictures. at this point i decided i didn't want to walk anymore, so we went into the subway and took the subway back to ash's part of town.

at the place we left the subway, we stopped at a dunkin' donuts and i got a donut. i got a square one with a hole, and it had boston cream filling on one side and chocolate on the other. it was covered in an icing that was semi-sweet. ash met up topside and we went to find a place nearby to eat. we ended up eating at an italian place called grazie or something. i got some bruschetta for an appetizer. maybe it's because i'd just walked like 7+ miles, but i think that was some of the best bruschetta i've ever had. i ordered some drink that was like blue caracou and something milky. then ash, tim, and i ordered pizzas and shared them: four cheese, margarita, and bacon/mashed potatoes/peas. they were all great.

once done there, we went over to 45's. i had a couple of white russians, then tim headed for the ash's place and ash and i went out to seek entertainment. we walked to roxy99, but they were closed. so we caught a bus to go to carnegie's, but they were dead. so we got a taxi to take us to the brass monkey, but he thought we wanted to go somewhere else. on the way we drove by brass monkey and it appeared to be dead, so we let him take us where he thought we wanted to go. it turned out to be this place called "my other place". there we ran into an american who was drinking at the bar. his name was lee. i had a malibu and pineapple, then he bought ash and i tequila shots. i had another malibu and pineapple, then lee bought us jager bombs (jagermeister and red bull). later, lee started talking to me all about taiwan, and asking if i wanted to experience the underbelly of taiwan. he evidently had a steady girlfriend (who was married), a side girlfriend, and two other girlfriends. and he went out all the time and knew places where, if you knew someone so you could get in, you could get a 20-22 yo girl to do whatever to/for/with you. while lee was busy hitting on some girls at the bar, ash and i slipped out.

another day in taiwan


today i got ash to go walking with me toward a river that runs somewhat near his place. he'd never walked quite in that direction. we walked over there and ended up by a big park. the street signs to the main entrance said "youth disaster prevention park". although the rest of the signs all just said "youth park". we went through a footpath under a highway and were at the river. there was a big open concrete area with lots of firework remains. we looked around, then left that area and went back to the park. we walked by a place where there was a guy standing guard in full military clothes and helmet with an automatic rifle. i don't know what that place was. (there are always two or three cops at the entrances to ash's building -- evidently a politician or someone famous moved in awhile back and now there are cops stationed 24/7.) while we were at the park we saw some squirrels. the squirrels here look like squirrels, but their coat has more sheen and they are a black and dark brown (instead of the lighter brown/tan of u.s. squirrels). they don't have big ear hair like russian squirrels though. the park was really nice. it had a skating area (wheels, not ice), tennis courts, golf driving range, baseball field, basketball courts, swimming pool, water park, plus lots of paths and trees and some ponds and such. ash said he'd never been to the park so i said "well, i'm glad i could show it to you."

while we were walking back to house, i got ash to stop with me while i got some beetle nut. evidently this is some kind of plant/nut that some people eat here. i guess it's sort of like chewing tobacco. i think it's considered more rural or lower class, but you can tell where places are that sell it because they have neon fan shapes outside the building. and i've heard there are "beetle nut girls" that walk around and promote or sell the stuff or something, and i guess they are hot young taiwanese chicks in skimpy clothes (sort of like the girls promoting/selling beer or alcohol or whatever in bars/clubs in the u.s.). when we got back to ash's place, i asked him if he could ask the police how you eat it or whatever. he said they would probably love that a foreigner wanted to do that. they did seem pretty happy/excited about the idea, although one of them didn't seem as happy and told ash i shouldn't eat it much or i'll get cancer or basically it's bad for you. i'm supposed to try beetle nut with one of the police later.

from ash's place we went over to the first starbucks i went to here. i used the restroom again, but this time i was a seasoned veteran and knew what to do. we hung out there until the police at ash's place called to say tim had shown up. we walked back to ash's place and took tim up to ash's apartment.

we decided to get some food, so we walked over to the night market by ash's school (ntnu). it was still very dead. we ended up going to a burger king for a snack. from there we went over to ash's department area. we ended up going on top of the building, but it was misting and started raining so we didn't stay up there long. we left there and walked around the night market again until we found a thai place that was open.

we left there and walked to 45. i had a white russian, a b-52 shot, maybe another white russian. then ash and i got absinthe shots. one regular and one cinnamon. absinthe was mostly illegal in the u.s. until not too long ago, so i figured i should try some. i can't say as i'm planning on getting an absinthe habit. (although i've always been told about using the spoon and some sugar, and we just had shot glasses.) after drinking there for awhile we headed back to the house.

it seems like every day i've been here it's gotten a little colder and a little wetter. i took an umbrella out with me today and used it some. (i try to have a more british view of an umbrella, and only use it when it's raining pretty good, not just if it's misting or sprinkling or whatever.) i didn't really pack for it being cold and wet. (although ash has said this is far wetter and colder than taiwan usually is, even during this season.)

happy chinese new year! we're closed.

today was pretty mellow. ash and i got up and talked for quite awhile about all sorts of things. eventually we walked over to the big park we had walked by with the german guy chris. it's called da-an park. it's a pretty nice park. we walked around in there for probably at least an hour or two. from there we walked over to a starbucks (a different one than we've gone to in the past...they're all over the place here too). we sat there for an hour or two, then we went to the night market area near ash's school (ntnu) to find something to eat. the first time i went there it was packed and really busy, but since chinese new year started it's been almost completely dead and almost all the places are closed. we ended up finding an indian food place that was open. man, it was good. we had some naan and i had a mango juice and chicken coconut curry. on the way back to ash's place we stopped by an electronics store and i helped him get a router/switch with built-in nat. i helped him set it up so he could have a local network for all of his systems, as well share his internet connection. as an added bonus, i can now get online without having to disconnect his ethernet cable from his desktop. i also configured my macbook air to serve up an ad-hoc wireless network and share its internet connection. that way i can use it to get my iphone online (and thus download mail, use the apps, etc.). it's chinese new year, so pretty much everyone has left the city. the traffic is way less than the last days i've been here, and almost everything is closed. i'm not sure how much of this is normal for a weekend, and how much of it is specifically due to the new year holiday. oh yeah, and the holiday actually lasts for a week. due to lack of choices for this reason, we ended up eating at a familymart. which is a chain of convenience stores, evidently all over the place in asia from what i hear. i had some pork dumplings and some rice vermicelli with vegetables and small bits of meat. there were a lot of fireworks going off as it got later, but i didn't stay up too late (for me).

trash: taiwanese, culinary, and american


today we got up way late. (surprise, surprise.) i got up around 1:30pm. when i woke up i kept hearing something playing the same short song over and over. i thought maybe it was for new year or something. i asked ash about it and he said it was the garbage trucks here. they play that so people know it is coming so they can get their trash ready. ash and i talked for quite a bit. we finally left his place around 5pm. we walked around, but almost everything was closed for chinese new year.

we ended up eating at a place called roxy jr. which is related to the roxy. it's a pretty western-style place, sort of like a tgifridays or chili's or whatever. there were mostly whites eating there. i got some mozzarella sticks (which they served with salsa instead of tomato sauce), a "hawaii fabulous" pizza (which i thought would be ham and pineapple, but turned out to be ham, pineapple, onion, raisin, and shrimp...hrmh), and a tom collins.

while we were there, a group of three people who seemed to be german (2 girls, 1 guy) came in and sat down. plus a table of all-male loud americans came in. i hadn't really thought through the international implications of wearing a jacket with an iron cross on it. when i got up and put on my jacket, the germans were immediately and noticeably fixated on my jacket. they kept looking at it the whole time we were standing and paying and such. they never did say anything directly to me though.

this was a pretty short day as far as activities go.

cuz all i want to do is drink and party

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this morning i got dressed and walked down to the 7-11 and used the atm to make sure it should work for tim (who will be here in a few days). my card worked okay. and for the record, the exchange rate through an atm is way better than at the airport. the airport gave me 26:1, while through the atm i got 32:1 (and just slightly below that even if you count the pulse international fee which was $2.81 i think.) and i bought a strawberry and banana smoothie, and another apple milk and strawberry milk tea. i drank the malt milk this morning and it was good, just milk with malt in it.

after ash got home, we went to meet the german guy chris. we went to the same market/shop area we were at yesterday. we ate at a korean place. i had beef and rice with a fried egg on top of it, plus a side plate with some rice noodles, vegetables, and some peanuts cooked in soy sauce or something with sesame seeds...i thought they tasted kind of fishy, but i ate them anyway. turns out they have sardines or something as well. my chopstick style has improved, although i've gone to some kind of western modified grip that i don't think is quite a common traditional style. but it's close...it's not like i'm using them as spears or something.

from there we walked for awhile, went past a large park, and ended up in a more ritzy area of taipei. we went to a coffee house that serves coffee in a japanese style. it's a little expensive, but you're also paying for the presentation and stuff. you order your coffee, then they bring out a tray with a coffee cup, a second cup, a carafe, and a ceramic filter cup that has a paper filter with the type of ground coffee you ordered. there is also a small spoon, and two small stemware glasses with cream and natural sugar. they give you the cup with the coffee grounds for you to smell (sort of like people do with wine, i suppose). they put the ceramic cup with the paper filter and coffee over the carafe, then they come back with a metal pot full of hot water with a long, thin, angled spout and the take a couple of minutes pouring water into the grounds. they are very methodical about pouring in circles, stopping at times to let some pour through, until they've poured enough. they move the ceramic filter cup over the extra cup, then put some water that was in the coffee cup (not sure why the water is in it) into the grounds. after that they pour the coffee from the carafe into the coffee cup. and now it's ready for you to drink. we spent a couple of hours there.

chris had to leave, then ash and i waited for awhile and then met the korean guy jun (sp? it's the first part of his name, pronounced like "june"). we all walked and took the subway (mrt) to a place called kiki's. there was a party for a guy ash knows. there were about a dozen people there, almost all of them who study ancient chinese language, taoism, etc. i.e., a bunch of academics and scholars and such. i had some hot rice wine (or something), some plum juice cider (or something), and some rice and beans with some meat and peppers and such. there was other stuff, but i wasn't much interested in it. i felt kind of out of place there mostly. i went to the bathroom before we left, and it was...i guess it's japanese style. it's not western style. it was like the one i saw in the airport in japan.

jun parted ways with ash and i, and ash and i took the subway back to his place. a little later we headed over to 45 and jun met us there. i had a b-52 and a white russian, then later a grasshopper. jun parted ways with us again, then ash and i went to a club called roxy 99. ash wanted to show it to me because it's where a lot of non-locals go to party and pick up women. on the way there a white guy and an asian guy were standing by a building and the white guy said "is that for the lucky 13 club in california?" (i have been wearing my lucky 13 "born to lose" jacket because it's been chilly.) we talked to them a bit, but they were sorta cool partying players. once in roxy 99, it was sort of a typical kind of rock/dance club. they played a lot of current u.s. top 40 and dance songs, as well as a lot of popular older classic alt and dance songs. i'm not a big fan of rock and dance clubs, but it was kind of nice because there were quite a number of people, both local and non, and people were pretty willing to talk to other people (over the loud music). the cover price included a drink ticket, so i got a rum and coke. ash immediately saw some people he'd talked to before, so he went over and talked to them. i went, but mostly stood there. i talked to one girl for awhile, then ash introduced me to some danish guys he'd met before. they had a swedish guy with them who had a style/look similar to me (blue jeans, black tshirt, wallet chain, long goatee, very short hair. the swedish guy bought me a carlsberg beer. it turned out the danes and swedish guy were all coders for cell phones. then a drunk white chick (maybe canadian?) brought tequila shots over to the table and so i did about 1.5 shots of tequila. then later she kept trying to get me to dance. the turncoat ash tried to make me dance with her too. eventually she got me to the dance floor, but i wouldn't dance. then a white guy came by and said she was his friend and i better be careful with her. which was funny, since i was trying to not do anything with her. she later said he was a really famous dj. later he came by and asked me what i thought of some song playing. it was some popular dance/rap song i guess, but i didn't really know it. i said i thought it was okay and he just kind of stared at me and then turned and walked away. a little later i started talking to a white guy and it turned out he was from Texas. he'd been here about 6 years, doing s.a.t. and math tutoring. he's from mcallen. so we talked for awhile. then he bought me a heineken. he knew the girl that had tried to get me to dance, plus he also knew the dj. evidently is a well-known dj here, and gets paid to get flown to casinos and dj parties and such. and was evidently blitzed because it was a vacation for him (due to chinese new year). i also kept having to talk to this taiwanese guy who ash had told i was divorced. he kept coming up to me and hugging me and giving me condolences and supportive advice. he said he'd been married to a white girl and lived in canada for 22 years and had two kids, but he was now divorced two years and had come back to taiwan. but everything had changed and he didn't have access to his old job and he had no family here anymore. anyway, the guy from Texas and i talked quite a bit. most of the time ash was off hitting on chicks. we ended up staying there until about 4:30am. i guess the bars don't close at 2am here.

i didn't really figure i'd enjoy the place all that much, and i definitely drank more than i had planned (although i was okay), but it turned out to be kind of nice because i got to talk to a fair number of different people and met some people. although i had to talk over pretty loud music most of the time, which i generally prefer to not have to do. and there were some girls there i would have liked to meet and talk to (although i'm sure it wouldn't have turned out good in any way), but i didn't because i'm me.

different country, same me

(i'm back-dating this entry to help keep the daily order going.)

i drank the juice milk. it was pretty good. it had a picture of milk with all kinds of fruit (orange, banana, apple, kiwi, grapes, peach, strawberry, etc.) but it mostly tasted like milk and orange juice. i also tried the formosa chang plum drink. ick. it tasted like prune juice mixed with sugar and salt.

since we are 14 hours off from houston, while ash was at work in the morning i got on irc during the radio show and had groove call me on skype and put me on the air. that was kind of cool.

for some reason, the second pair of jeans i brought smelled dirty when i got them out yesterday morning. and the ones i had been wearing smelled some as well. so i had to do laundry earlier than originally planned. when ash got back from work he helped me use the machine. you see, the washing machine is a hitachi and the menu is in japanese. i played with all the buttons but i couldn't really tell what most of them might indicate.

once the clothes were in the dryer, we went to get some lunch. we picked up some hong-kong style food (i got some sausage and i think pork, rice, tofu, and cooked vegetables) to bring back to ash's place, and i also stopped at a bubble/pearl tea place and picked up an iced milk tea with tapioca.

after we ate, we walked down to the school ash goes to. we sat outside in an outdoor park/rest area on campus and talked and read. i got kind of depressed about the future, because that's what i do, and i'm in a completely different culture which gives me the opportunity to feel more isolated. (i'm sure it would be insanely worse if i wasn't with ash. i'd have a hard time finding anyone to talk to probably.) i know i've written on here how i feel overwhelmed by going to a mall or places where there are a lot of people, how i sort of feel like i'm getting sensory overload. well, this is like that but insanely multiplied. although things are the same, so much is different, and almost all of the speaking/writing is so completely foreign to me (literally), it's really hard to let it keep sliding off. i'm generally a mellow person, i tend to be willing to go with things and take it in stride, but being overwhelmed with sensory data is an area i don't handle well. and this can be that in spades.

we sat there until it got dark, then we went up to the place where ash's department is. he/we talked to a few people there. we talked to an asian girl who thought her english was bad, which was funny because her english was great. she spoke it better and with less of an accent than many of the foreign people i've worked with in the u.s. at my jobs. we then went outside to meet a dutch guy ash knows (i'd spell his name, but i probably can't even say it right much less spell it). we walked through a busy market/shop area to go eat. ash knew of a macau (sp?) place, but it was already closed for the chinese new year. so we went to a thai place.

from the thai place we went to a bar called 45. it's actually a lot like an american bar inside, as far as dark lighting, stuff on the walls, etc. the menu had a lot of similarities too as far as drinks and bar food, although they also definitely had some items you would not see in the states. i had a mojito. candy (the girl who cooked the food yesterday) showed up later, then one of the guys we talked to at ash's school (a korean guy, who ash is good friends with) showed up. he brought some fried tofu and...chicken feet, cooked in soy sauce or something. i think on some level it was to be funny with me, but they also like them. i couldn't bring myself to eat one. i did have a piece of the fried tofu though. and candy bought me a whiskey on the rocks.

when we left, the temperature had dropped a fair bit, so ash, candy, and i took a cab. i guess it's pretty common to take cabs here for short distances if you need to get somewhere faster than walking. the price is pretty cheap compared to cabs in the u.s., i think. i've never taken a cab in the u.s. though, because they always sound expensive to me when i hear prices other people have paid. and over here i don't always do the conversion to u.s. dollars in my head.

speaking of the temperature...the first couple of days i was here it was in probably the 70's during the day and the 60's during the night. but last night the wind started blowing and the temperature dropped and now it's in the 50's. just looked at the forecast and it looks like 50's and 60's and rain for the next few days.

and completely off the subject of my trip, evidently the person who owned leifeste.org put it up for auction a few weeks ago. i just happened to have it listed at godaddy as a site i was watching, so their system auto-bid on it, and i got it. so i now own that domain as well.

the food cycle


right before i ventured out on my own today, ash texted me to see if i was up. i replied and said i was thinking about going out on my own. i went outside and tried to orient myself in my head to the map he'd drawn for me. but i misunderstood. i started walking down a road, but the things i was supposed to find never showed up. so i went down it a ways, then crossed over and came back to the intersection in front of ash's place. then he called me and asked me to walk down the street to meet him. except i was still unsure of the streets, so i chose another wrong one. after awhile i decided it was probably the wrong one, so i turned a corner to try and get to the right one. ash called to see where i was and i told him the intersection i was at, and it turned out i was about a block away. we met and then went to eat lunch. i also realized part of the reason why i stopped using the razr: the battery doesn't hold a charge. well, it holds it, it just discharges very quickly when being actively used. i may try to buy a new battery for it soon. (hopefully it's just the battery and not a fault in the phone itself.)

we ate at formosa chang, which i guess is a fast food place. i had...some stuff. a small plate with some cabbage (?) and maybe spinach and some other plant. another small plate with some kind of sausage and a couple of sticks of...not sure what...maybe some kind of fried tofu...with hot mustard and a thick soy-based (i think) sauce. and a bowl with sticky rice, some chicken, some tofu, some fried tofu, half a hard-boiled egg, a couple of slices of the same sausage, and a piece of fish. (i gave the fish to ash.) some kind of cold, sweet, bean soup -- a thick-ish, sweet clear liquid with things sort of like bright orange dried grapes, acorns or nuts of some kind, cabbage or some leafy stuff, and small asian dates or plums. i guess this is a dessert soup.

things to note: i ate all of it, other than the fish. i used chopsticks for the first time. i've had plenty of opportunities to use them in the u.s., but i've always avoided using them because i didn't want to not know what i was doing and feel/look foolish and/or end up frustrated and/or feel pretentious, plus i found it easier to just get a fork instead of "play" using chopsticks. i didn't really have a choice this time, although i could have used the spoon that came with the rice bowl. but i didn't. ash left to get a drink (which i guess is fairly common here, as food places don't always sell drinks since they consider soup to be a drink), so this was the first time i was alone and someone tried to talk to me or ask me something. i just looked at him blankly and smiled until i guess he realized i didn't know what he was saying. they did sell a plum drink there but ash doesn't like that, so i bought one when we were leaving so i could try it.

we came back to ash's, then we had to go get another key made for me. on the way back i got ash to stop at the 7-11 so i could pick up some drinks. i got some milk tea, a peach and orange smoothie, juice milk, and malt milk. i drank the strawberry milk tea that i bought last night during the day today. it was good. we got back to ash's, then he wanted to take a nap so i did too. i slept about 2 hours. i was pretty groggy when he woke me up.

ash originally wanted to go to a coffee shop, but it was going to close soon, so we ended up going to...a starbucks. yep, they're here. the interior design was even similar to some starbucks i've been in before. the girls working there spoke english, but i ordered a misto and got a plain drip coffee. i didn't see misto or cafe au lait on the menu in english, so maybe they guessed. i read some of my walking dead graphic novel (courtesy of wheresthatbeen.com), then i decided to go to the restroom. and here's my first interesting toilet story.

ash had told me they're weird here about flushing toilet paper down the toilet. plus i guess most people don't have rolls of toilet paper, they use what has the consistency of toilet paper but comes in soft containers and dispenses like facial tissues. maybe it's multi-purpose for napkins, etc. anyway, he told me not to flush more than one of these down his toilet. so, back to starbucks...i walk in and they have normal toilet paper. however, they have a sign above the toilet that says not to put tissue or paper towel in the toilet. i didn't see any facial tissues, so i decided they were talking about toilet paper. there was a large metal waste basket next to the toilet. i looked in it to see if i could see or smell toilet paper, but all i saw was the paper towels for drying your hands. hrmh. while surveying the situation, i also noticed it appeared someone had put what appeared to be some kind of makeshift weapon against the wall almost behind the toilet...a metal shank about 1.5 to 2 feet long with some electrical tape wrapped around one end. i thought that seemed odd, so i decided maybe it was affixed to the floor or employees used it for something. to add complexity to this equation, the toilet itself looked like a toilet i'm used to, except at the bottom there was a black rubber slotted stopper (like you'd see over a garbage disposal in a sink). below that i could see a metal plate with some holes in it. so i wasn't really sure how this thing would work. i finally decided to just go ahead with it. i did my business, and when i was done there was a nice bit of solid waste in the bowl. i hit the flush handle and...some water went in the bowl, some water drained out. but absolutely nothing happened with the crap. i sate there and tried to figure out what to do, as i didn't really want to just leave a big log hanging out in the bowl for the next person. finally i got my phone and called ash (since i didn't want to open the door) and asked him. he didn't really know either, so he suggested i leave it. i decided the least i could do was...well, i could have tried to get it out and put it in the waste basket, but that seemed gross and wrong...so i decided i would get some paper towels and push it past the rubber piece. so that's what i did. eww. then i threw the paper towels in the waste basket. i decided to try flushing it, and right after i did that i quickly realized with fear "oh great, now it's going to stop up the metal grate and the toilet will overflow!" the water started rising, but then all of a sudden the toilet behaved differently than the previous one or two times. the grate moved and things sucked down fast and there was loud sucking noises and whooshing sounds. and with that it was all good. i washed my hands and walked out, a wiser man. i told ash about my victory, then as i was mentioning the odd homemade weapon i suddenly realized why it was most likely there...it wasn't a weapon, it was a tool. :|

we left starbucks and went to meet chris (a german guy in the same program at the school here with ash) and his girlfriend whose english name is vicky (who is the person who ordered the ipod touch and had it shipped to my house in the u.s.), then we all walked to the place of a friend of theirs whose english name is candy. (i must mention here i hadn't drank much of my coffee from starbucks, so i took it with me. i felt kind of stupid being a white guy walking down the street with a starbucks cup. i wanted to tell everyone "no! i'm not a 'typical' american who goes overseas and only goes to places they are familiar with! i don't even like starbucks that much!" but maybe that's just me projecting my own issues.) she had cooked a meal for us. other than the fish which i passed on, i had sticky rice with some beef with a green vegetable, some bitter gourd or balsam pear or something, and some dish with tofu and meat i don't know what else in a dark orange-ish sauce. (i think ash said the dish name literally translates to something like "old woman's pock-marked face" or something odd.) chris and vicky had brought some taiwanese beer, which we had with the meal. and for dessert, fresh strawberries with a sugar cream glaze. they spoke in english some, but all of them also spoke in mandarin a lot too. chris speaks german of course, and candy also speaks spanish.

when we got back to ash's place, we talked and watched part of the darjeeling limited (which i still hadn't seen yet). as we were watching it, i started to realize my digestive system...well, perhaps it wasn't too excited about my sudden change in diet. or something. my system felt unsettled, sort of like it does in the very early stages of it planning on evacuating things in one direction or the other. ash gave me a couple of pills of something, and so far i remain in an uneasy truce with my digestive track. also of note is that evidently in my consternation over the starbucks toilet i forgot to zip up my pants. it's a good thing i tend to wear un-tucked, longer t-shirts or there may have been an international incident.

(i'll work on making some pics available soon, hopefully. i've not taken many at this point though.)

i can see taipei outside my window


ash has to work in the mornings this week, so if i manage to be awake then i've got some time by myself in his place. so i'm sitting here drinking my apple milk and deciding if i am going to venture out by myself for awhile before he gets back. (it's about 11am here now.)

i decided to not sleep much the night before flying out, hoping to perhaps mess up my internal clock. i slept 3 hours, from 2:30am - 5:30am. jack came by my place as planned. he picked me up and we ate at house of pies. as we were paying, jack said "you should take ash one of these pies." he was referring to the mini pecan pies they make. (not as small as the ones at convenience stores...about two or three times that size, but maybe 1/4 or 1/3 of a regular size pie.) i said i wasn't sure how i'd transport it. he bought one anyway. so when we went back to my place i put it in a big ziplock bag and buried it in the middle of my clothes in the check bag.

we made it to iah without a problem. i got checked in with no problem. security was no different than it's ever been when i've flown in the past, so that was no big deal. i checked in at my gate, then i went and did currency exchange to get some taiwanese money. i had been told the exchange was currently about 31:1 or so, but i got 26:1. so i didn't get a very good deal. but it made me feel better knowing i had some ntw for when i arrived, just in case. the departure was on time. i flew in a 777, which i thought was going to be huge but it really wasn't. (unless i missed part of the plane.) in economy it's 9 seats wide, 3 seats in 3 columns with 2 aisles. my seat ended up being over the wing, middle seat, right side of the plane. i was a bit concerned because my row was the one right against the bathroom wall. no, not for that reason -- because the seats were even a bit narrower than the rest of the economy seats, and mine couldn't recline because of the wall. the window seat was taken when i got there, and a bit later an asian woman took the aisle seat. it was not crazy, but tight enough i was thinking "man, this is going to be an uncomfortable 14 hours." the woman was with a guy who had a seat somewhere else, and before we left he came and got her. i guess they found an open seat where he was. which left the one by me free, so i moved into it. that helped the comfort level a lot. although when you're in economy on a 13+ hour flight, there's only so much comfort level possible. the food was okay. with tech updates, now you get a touch-screen right in front of you (in the headrest of the seat in front of you) and you can choose from a large selection of movies, tv shows, music, games, etc. all for free. so i watched up and gangs of new york, as well as some episodes of futurama and big bang theory. and i listened to some of their music, including about 3 hours of sleep "listening" to nirvana's nevermind album over and over. the flight was mostly asians, although the guy next to me was hispanic. i was over the wing and the windows were closed most of the time, so i didn't really see anything (like the ocean, or alaska, or japan, etc.). there were a few people wearing surgical masks on the flight. oh yeah, and i believe this may be the first time i ever used a bathroom on a plane. i think...can't recall for sure. but when staring down the barrel of 13+ hours, i decided to not even consider holding out. the flight itself was uneventful, really.

we landed at narita and i got off the plane, not really knowing what to expect. but pretty much everything was in english and japanese, and you pretty much have to follow certain limited paths with fairly simple choices. plus most of the people working in those areas spoke decent enough english to help if you had questions. i had to go through a security check there, but it was also no big deal. since i wasn't leaving the airport, i didn't have to go through customs or anything. i had to walk a ways and then hop on a bus, which took me to another terminal. there i had to wait in line to get my boarding pass. then i had to get on a tram/rail that took me to another terminal area (it was a short, straight trip though). i had wanted to look around some, but i was worried about not knowing what i'd have to do and end up missing my flight. i had a 3 hour layover, so i ended up getting to my gate with about 2 hours left. i decided to walk around the terminal area. it really didn't seem all that odd, other than stuff was in yen and it looked like the japanese section of the international area of grocery stores. :) i didn't ask if they took u.s., and i didn't exchange any money for yen. i also went to the bathroom. it was just like bathrooms i'm used to, except they added a third option: a japanese style toilet. which was a ceramic ovalish hole in the ground with a half dome hood covering 1/5 or 1/4 of one end. kind of imagine if you took a urinal and shrank it to about 1/3 or 1/4 of its size and then put it in the ground. i could imagine how you might use one of these, but i decided to be friends with the kind of toilet i'm used to. i thought about taking a picture, but i didn't really want to (a) appear too naive and foolish, and/or (b) get questioned, beat up, etc. for taking pictures in the bathroom. :) other than that, it was just a couple of hours of waiting, watching a lot of asian people walk past me.

the plane from narita to taipei was a 747 (747/200 i think). it was bigger. it had 10 seats across in economy (3/4/3) and had way more wasted space as far as headroom and such. it also had a second deck, which i assume was just the bump you see on them so it is probably fairly small (compared to the rest of the plane). (you might think as a person with an aerospace engineering degree i'd know my planes. but you'd be wrong. i was way more interested in the "space" portion than the "aero" part.) up until i got on this flight, i'd been pretty awake and functional. (i had been hoping to sleep on the first leg, but that didn't really happen.) once i got in my seat (window seat, over the wing) i ended up sleeping most of the flight. but i guess it didn't really matter, since it was dark outside and i could mostly just see a wing anyway. i didn't eat any of the food they offered, but i did have a cup of apple juice. of course, i'm not sure what informational stuff i might have missed while i was asleep.

we arrived at taipei. as with narita, fairly fixed paths and limited choices. i did stop at a duty-free shop and buy ash a bottle of glenlivet single malt scotch (the aged 18 years one). i was looking for disarrano but i couldn't find any. (when we were roommates i noticed one day my bottle was almost completely empty, and when i asked ash about it he said he'd just drink a little bit. but the bunch of little bits added up.) i got in line to get a free 30-day visa. when i got to the lady helping me, she was very nice and then said "did you fill out one of these forms?" and held up a paper. i guess i did miss something because i was asleep on the flight. so i took it and went to a desk and filled it out. well, most of it. it asked the address of where i was staying and i wasn't about to try writing the address in chinese. so i got back in line and went to her again, then she wrote the address in for me. i went down to baggage claim and got my checked bag (which appears to have made it fine). at this point i wasn't sure about declaring stuff and all that, but i didn't i was good and walked through the "nothing to declare" area. ash was there waiting for me.

leaving the airport was the first time things seemed too different. it seems airports are little bubbles where things are somewhat the same. the people working there and the people flying may change, but the airports work about the same and look about the same. once out of there, there was much less english (written or spoken). ash got tickets on an express bus and we went back to his place. it was probably at least a 20 or 30 minute drive, although we were in slow traffic for some time so i'm not exactly sure.

ash lives in...well, think of downtown lofts. hard not soft. he lives on the second floor in a corner room. it's a single room, probably about 450 square feet. there are tons of mopeds driving around. he lives at an intersection, and i assume it's a fairly busy one. when we got here last night it was midnight or 1am here, so we talked for awhile then walked to a 7-11. they're all over the place. i got some kind of pre-packaged beef and rice, an "ice fire" brand lemon juice and vodka "malt beverage", apple milk, and strawberry milk tea. he keeps the windows open, and there is quite a bit of street noise. fortunately, that doesn't really bother me.

i drank the apple milk this morning while writing this post. the picture on the box is some milk being poured onto apples. and that's about what it tastes like: apple juice mixed with milk. the only thing on the box in english says "premium flavored milk". i hadn't really thought of apple and milk mixed before, but it's pretty good.

ash gave me an extra sim card he had, so i've got my razr with a local phone number. although ash said it's expensive to call, so i should just text if possible. i have no idea what the rates are on any of it though. as i mentioned above, ash is working in the mornings this week, so if i'm up during that time i have the opportunity to strike out alone. i may do that this morning for a bit. ash made a map by hand of the surrounding area and some things i might care about (like coffee shops, places to eat, etc.). he also said last night he was planning on letting me deal with taking care of my own stuff while we're out and about, so i can get more culture shock. i'm not sure if i'm excited about that or not. but it's probably good for me.

taipei time

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i made it to taipei a few hours ago. it's 3am wednesday here. i've done it...i've finally figured out how to blog from the future!

final prep for operation taipei


well, everyone will be happy to know that even though i was doing some legwork toward various things since i bought my ticket two weeks ago, i really didn't start packing and/or pulling stuff together until yesterday. (i wouldn't want act out of character all of the sudden -- i have a reputation to uphold.) i did, however, plan my final meals.

thursday for lunch i ate at tacos-a-go-go. thursday evening i had chicken carbonara at corner market. friday for lunch i ate at goode company bbq with some co-workers (who had suggested i needed to eat some bbq before i left...something i had no problem agreeing with). friday evening i spent at coffee groundz for the geek gathering. (thanks for the shirt, loopylow!) there, kojo gave me a list of a few books he'd like for me to look for and buy while i'm in taiwan. and sue showed up and hung out. saturday i went to the saint arnold's brewery tour. on an empty stomach. and i brought one of their glasses. i came home and slept about 5 hours. then i met the potts at chuy's. i went over to their house and watched snl. today i ate lunch at the house of pies. i watched the super bowl. (yea, saints!) then i walked over to subway and picked up a chicken breast on flatbread. the only place i'd had on my list that i didn't make it to was niko niko's. oh well.

i appear to have managed to fit everything i want to take into what is traditionally a full-size carry-on bag -- which i will be checking, and a combination laptop bag / backpack. i bought a full bag of cat food, made extra house keys for the potts, made copies of important documents, talked to my parents and grandmother, and so on and so forth. i went to the grocery store and picked up some stuff for ash, and bought some cashew packs, granola bars, and cracker packs. (half went in my carry-on, the other half in checked for the trip back). i've got about 5 or so days worth of clothes. i put an empty backpack in my checked bag just in case i need to come back with more than i took. i've got a point-and-shoot camera, an iphone, an unlocked razr, my macbook air, a micro mag lite flashlight, a fine-point sharpie and a cross pen, etc. i've emptied my pockets of my knife, my lighter, various keys, etc. i will be putting my wallet chain in my bag i'm checking. (although i did decide to wear my belt that is covered in metal studs. i'm guessing i'll be taking that off at security.) i just checked the weather and it appears to be lows in upper 50's to mid 60's, highs in mid 60's to mid 70's. i was planning on taking a jacket of some kind anyway.

i have not made any lists at all. hopefully i'm not forgetting anything. yesterday was the first day i finally started getting a bit nervous about forgetting something, not knowing something and causing/creating issues for myself, etc. i'm completely out of my element, having never flown internationally before (and it's not like i've flown domestically all that much either), so i have no experience and don't feel completely at ease with this unknown-to-me process. but hopefully everything will go well.

it continues to be funny to me just how many friends, family, co-workers, etc. appear to be really, genuinely excited about my trip. a lot of them have gotten giddy when they found out, or continue to talk about it to me. but i'm still not excited. i finally (as mentioned above) got a little nervous. i'm overall just not all that excitable. it just doesn't seem like a monumental thing to me. maybe it's because i've known a lot of people who came from other countries, go on overseas trips, live in other places, etc. i know i don't/haven't, and i know a lot of people i know don't/haven't, but maybe that is what helps make it seem less like a huge deal. plus, like i said, i'm generally not known for how giddy and excited i get about...well, much of anything. i'm going overseas. lots of people do it. i hope it's cool. i hope i have a good time. it'd be really nice if it did affect me in some meaningful and profound way. but i'm not counting on it.

the current plan is for jack to come around around 6am and go eat something at the house of pies, then he'll take me up to iah. my flight is at 10:45am. i should be in the air for about 14 hours on a 777, flying into tokyo. then i'll have 3 hours to switch to a jal flight from tokyo to taipei, which is supposed to clock in at around 4 hours. i'll hopefully be using wifi a lot. doing stuff with google voice, skype, twitter, flickr, email, and maybe even this blog. if i can pull that off then it'll be just like they say in the russian blog spam i get:

Мы путешествуем по всему миру и исследуем. Присоединяйтесь к нам и вам не придется скучать!

(you'll have to copy that and paste it into babelfish or google translate if you don't read russian. i'm not going to be around to hold your hand the next couple of weeks, you know.)

vehicles, travelling, and time machine

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(no, that subject is not a back to the future reference. well, now it is i guess, but it wasn't originally meant to be.)

let's see...i called the taipei economic and cultural office (or something..."teco") here in houston monday or yesterday to inquire about visas. i had to leave a message. i called a few hours later, to voicemail again (didn't leave a message). i called again today and someone answered. they said if i had a u.s. passport valid for at least 6 more months and an itinerary showing a return flight within some number of days (30 or 60, i don't recall) then i don't need a visa. so hopefully they're right, and that's one less thing i have to deal with or worry about.

car update: edelbrock never called me after the new year. i gave them a week or two and called them. i eventually got in touch with someone. they said they would get info and call me back. they haven't. so my expensive edelbrock crate engine still sounds like crap, ostensibly because of a lifter knock. i guess i'll have to call them again. it's annoying to have to push a company who i had thought would be professional and customer-focused.

another car update: a couple of weeks ago the windshield wipers, which had always worked, stopped working. the mechanic re-wired them because they were going straight to the battery. now they don't work at all. (although i'm pretty sure they were working after i got the car back from him.) also, i recently realized that my gas tank is leaking gas. well, at least when the tank is full. i'm not sure where it's leaking from. so i guess i'll need to get a new tank here sometime. joy.

on monday i had my mom (who works at a bank) wire some money from an account at her bank to my local accounts here. one for my credit card, one for my atm card. i'm pretty sure i'd be okay financially, but since i've been pushing a lot of money toward the credit card with my engine/car work on it, and i hadn't really planned to take this trip, my local reserves were low. so i'm borrowing money from myself to help make sure i'm good to go during the trip.

i upgraded my macbook air to snow leopard earlier this week. that went fine. what didn't go fine though, was time machine. i use an external drive hooked up to an airport extreme base station as my time machine backup drive. this is possible, but not supported by apple. unfortunately, something with snow leopard borks time machine backups -- especially when doing them over wireless. since it's not a supported config, apple doesn't have to offer help. but what happens is for some reason time machine ends up corrupting the sparse bundle that all of the backup info is stored in. so the only solution is to delete your sparse bundle and start over. or pull the drive local and use hdiutil to try and fsck fix the sparse bundle. joy. other than that annoyance, so far so good with snow leopard.

i had a scare yesterday after work. i got in my pickup and went to start it and the starter made scary ratcheting sounds. that in and of itself isn't too scary, it does that now and then. but usually i turn the key off and back on and it works fine. but this time it never did anything but the scary sounds. i was annoyed about having to figure out how to get home, when to replace the starter in the parking lot, and what i was going to do about getting out of the parking lot. (you see, you pay for parking and then take the token to get out. but you have to get out within a time limit.) i eventually got out and knocked the starter around a bit with my mag-lite. after that it started right up. unfortunately, i had already paid my outrageously overpriced $12 for parking, and by the time i got to the gate after the starter fiasco the system decided i'd taken too long and charged me $2 more. i hate tmc parking. and i had to pay more than the maximum amount because of that.

back to my impending trip. i want to take my wallet chain, but i'm worried they're going to have a problem with it because it's sort of long and heavy. since i'm now planning on checking a bag, i can put it in there. but i've read about stuff like that going missing from checked baggage. so i don't know if that's any better than just having it on my person or in my carry-on baggage. i should probably just leave it, but i pretty much always wear it and i like having it. of course, i also always carry a lighter and a pocket knife, and i'm planning on leaving those behind. i guess i'll figure it out in the next few days.

i've still not come up with any good way to get free (or even cheap) calls back into the u.s. via cell phones, or google voice. so i think i'm probably going to see about using skype for that. (if i need to make calls back to the u.s.) if i have a wifi connection, i can use my laptop or iphone (i have the skype app) to make calls to u.s. phones via skype for about $0.02/min (plus a $0.04 connection fee). not bad. (stupid at&t/apple and not unlocking u.s. iphones...otherwise i could have a local taiwanese sim in my iphone with a data plan and make cheap calls to the u.s. over 3g/edge as well.)

of skimmers and shoes and odds and ends


ever thought about being paranoid when using an atm? i mean, being really paranoid? perhaps you will after looking at these examples of modern skimmer designs. (skimmers are devices that swipe atm card info without you being aware of it.)


and a series of pics showing one being removed from a machine:
1. the machine when you walk up
2. the card slot
3. hhmmm...that was an added part
4. hello...what's all this then?
5. and the reveal
(originally via a tweet from mikkohypponen)

gives you something to be even more paranoid about, right?

in sad news, evidently today i blew a seam in one of my metallic-blue-flame leather sha-sha shoes. it doesn't appear to be fixable. i mean, it's seriously ripped. oh well, they were cool shoes and lasted a few years. this may have been a premature blow-out since the rubber sole was coming loose on this shoe and i hadn't glued it back together. but i treated them pretty roughly and wore them quite a bit.

pee-wee herman gets an ipad(via funnyordie). i used to love watching pee-wee's shows. i haven't seen any of that stuff in years. this made me kind of nostalgic, it did.

css is awesome coffee mug (for those of you familiar with css, you'll enjoy it)

here's a nice blog entry about how the way people view and use computers is changing.

want to be scared of mac fanboys? here's a one-hour documentary on them you can watch on hulu: macheads

chevrolet is working on a new ad angle (link from chron.com), and one of them uses the front of a black '55 chevy (i.e., looks like mine).

i started checking on luggage limits today. both continental and jal (japan airlines) have a carry-on size limit of 45 linear inches (height+length+width) (although it's 115cm for jal). the bag i'm planning to take, from measuring with it empty, comes in at around 49, although the ends are loose pockets and the top height varies based on what i put into it. hopefully it'll work out. the other thing is the weight limit for continental is 40 lbs, while the limit for jal is 10kg. that's 22 lbs. that's about half! i haven't packed yet, so i have no idea what my carry-on will weigh, but i might have to check for the jal leg.

in addition to the carry-on, you can also bring one "personal item" which can consist of a briefcase, purse, laptop bag, planner, etc. other than purse or briefcase, the list is pretty small. i was hoping to also use a college-style backpack. even though it's really not much bigger than a briefcase or some purses, i'm now concerned they may have an issue with it or something. i've also got a sort of day-bag/satchel kind of thing, i guess that might work. i don't think it can hold as much as a briefcase though. :)

update: while i was attempting to not check luggage for simplicity's sake, i was also under the mistaken impression checking luggage costs extra money. that changed for inside-the-u.s. flights over the last year or three, where now even the first checked bag costs (except southwest, at the least) -- but evidently in trans-continental flights you still get free checked luggage (as long as it doesn't go over the size/weight limits).

status: +listening, +watching, -reading

i've scanned, ripped, collated, etc. cds from several purchases over the last few months, but i forgot to note the cds i bought at the half price books on westheimer out past beltway 8 a few weeks ago. so i went through the stack and tried to separate what i've already mentioned from what i haven't. here we go:

  • aphex twin - richard d. james album (sire / warp / elektra / warner)
  • assemblage23 - binary ep (metropolis)
  • bjork - drawing restraint 9 - surrounded (one little indian / rhino / warner)
  • david byrne - the forest (luaka bop / sire / warner)
  • david byrne - live from austin Tx (new west)
  • calexico - carried to dust (city slang / quarterstick)
  • the chemical brothers - come with us (astralwerks / virgin)
  • cute is what we aim for - the same old blood rush with a new touch (fueled by raman)
  • dieselboy - project human (human imprint / system)
  • dj dara - the antidote (breakbeat science)
  • moby - i like to score - music from films vol 1 (elektra / warner)
  • mortal - nu-en-jin (tooth & nail)
  • the revolting cocks - cocked and loaded (13th planet / megaforce)
  • she wants revenge - she wants revenge (flawless / geffen)
  • sixpence none the richer - sixpence none the richer (squint)

i was stepping a bit outside of my normal purchases, picking up some stuff i'd thought about but never done, taking a few chances on some unknowns.

i think i also forgot to mention that a while back i picked up (on ebay, i think...or maybe it was on amazon) one of the last devo recordings i've been trying to get:

  • devo - pioneers who got scalped: the anthology (rhino / warner)

in other news, i managed to borrow a t-mobile sim from someone at work today and used it to unlock my razr. it appears to have worked. i have also spent some time trying to figure out if there was any way i could use my google voice phone number to get cheap or free calls from taiwan back to the u.s. i couldn't figure anything out.

this evening i watched my life, which i had rented for 99 cents from itunes. it has tom hanks and nicole kidman in it as husband and wife. nicole is pregnant and tom is going to die from cancer. he decides to make a recording for his child so the child will know who his father was, and in the process tom learns about himself and deals with stuff from his past. blahblahblah. it was okay. the movie didn't seem to move very smoothly, particularly in the beginning -- the story just felt sort of stilted and forced at times. it also got a little too into the (imo, shallow) fascination some americans have with eastern / mystical spiritualism and healing. but whatever, it had some good things to say and point out too. i took a chance on it, and it turned out to be fair.

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