Saturday, February 21, 2009

Guest Post! "A Walk in the Park"

So this post was a long time coming. It's a recap of my sister's trip, by (yep!) my sister. Hope you enjoy! I've been pretty busy and haven't yet been able to get my thoughts on some of our time together down on paper. blog. Enjoy! I know she'd love to hear your thoughts, and will likely answer any questions you have for her through comments.


A Walk in the Park
by: Lynzi

As I’m lying on my couch on a very cold rainy day, watching only one of the greatest movies ever made, How to Lose a Guy in 10 Days, (sorry Chase, Batman is good too), I couldn’t help but to burst out laughing at a scene I have seen over a hundred times. I have always found this part hilarious, but my recent trip made it just about ridiculous. If you have never seen the movie, picture this- Andie Anderson (Kate Hudson) is trying to annoy and drive away her boyfriend Benjamin Barry (Matthew McConaughey) and shows up at Ben’s work with a new Chinese Crested dog and a gift for Ben. When she gave it to him, it was a plaid shirt that matched what she was wearing along with the outfit the dog had on.

I used to watch that scene thinking “Aw how cute, but oh please, no one would do that.” To my surprise, this was a common thing I saw in Taiwan. Even though I don’t think I would ever actually go that far, Chase, and others, would basically describe me as a typical OC blond who carries her dressed up dog in her purse. And there I was going to Taiwan.

I’m Lynzi, by the way. I went to Taiwan to spend two exciting weeks with my brother and got more out of it than most could imagine. With my busy schedule (planned for me by the family) I had no time to be jet lagged, and thank God, I managed. (That Starbucks' triple shot espresso that I was overwhelmingly happy to be given helped carry me through the first day.)

Chase wanted me to get up and be at the bus stop by “8:05am” my first morning with him to go to his school, but I replied with a laugh: “Umm, no.” I was going to sleep in and oh how I was excited after traveling. To my dismay, that “sleeping in” turned out to be an hour more than chase wanted to get me up. I was woken up by the family saying they were leaving for a company's fancy end of the year party and I should come. I said “Of course,” then was told we leave in 30 minutes. (This was a daily occurrence.) We pulled up to this beautiful restaurant where the party was held, and I got a little taste how Chase feels everyday. We were “fashionably late,” which in itself is an excuse for everyone to look at you, but throw a blond American into it, and you get one girl feeling extremely awkward. Especially considering 95% of the people in the room were guys. After the long three hours we spent there, I finally got to go home and see Chase for 5 minutes before he had to leave again. (This, also, was a daily occurrence.)

One of these “occurrences” led me to have a very interesting day. Chase had plans one morning, so I decided to go out. I went to see my friend Stephanie’s business. She had to work a little so she sent me off to walk around in a gem market, but took my money so I couldn’t buy anything and get over-charged. After a little while I got tired of just looking, and random people asking me where I’m from, and them yelling “Go Obama!!” after my reply. I walked back to the store, and Stephanie then gave me my camera, bought me an umbrella, and sent me across the street to Taichung City Park. I loved it. The park was simply beautiful with a lake in the middle. I snapped a few shots for five minutes and made it about 100 ft before I was stopped by the police; a police woman, actually. She asked me if I was alone, and I replied yes. She seemed almost a bit concerned. I told her I was alright, just taking pictures and wasn’t lost. “Well, come with me. I’ll take you to the station and tell you about the park.” I was up for anything seeing that I didn’t have any plans and wasn’t about to tell a police woman “no”.

“My name is Lady,” she said. I smiled and returned the introduction. I think she was excited to practice her English. We took the conversation slow, but she surprised me with what she knew and understood. She took me to the police station located within the park and then started to introduce me to the police Chief, as well as the other policemen. Four of them were there at that time. The Chief told one of them to make tea, and had another get their special, unopened Chinese New Year cookies and candies.

Dennis was one of the policemen I met, and though I still don’t know his age, he wasn’t much older than me and I could tell Lady was on a mission. She got the two of us talking immediately, telling me “He speak good English. Better than me.” He was super sweet, and I could tell he was exceptionally nervous. Whenever he got quiet, Lady would very strongly say something to him in Chinese, like a mother would tell her son to say “Thank you” or “Please” to someone with that certain look on a mom’s face. Then Dennis would ask me another question. I also found out that Lady had a daughter studying at a university not too far from me in California. Small world, right? Her face lit up when she heard I was from there, and I saw this peace in her. We had an instant connection, and I made a wonderful friend.

I was with them for longer than I thought I was. We even played with a traditional Chinese toy, which made for some laughs. At some point when we were sitting at one of the work desks that they quickly cleaned for our tea party, I thought to myself “Hmm… I’m in Taiwan, at a police station, having tea and cookies with the policemen, woman, and Chief. Uhhh? Ok.”

Lady said something else to Dennis in Chinese, and he asked me if I wanted to take a walk in the park and he would tell me about its history. My heart kind of fell in my stomach at the thought, but luckily Lady came along with us. After our walk, and thanking them for an incredible afternoon, they said goodbye so they could patrol the park. I then saw Stephanie coming to me with a worried look on her face but laughing and telling me I have been gone for over two hours. “Two hours?!” I apologized and then proceeded to tell her everything that has gone on in my walk in the park.

My trip was filled with lifetime memories and crazy stories. That park was only my second day, and day by day Taiwan continued to excite me with its hidden charm that I had to discover myself in different unique ways. My time with my brother and being able to share in the outrageously ridiculous occurrences that take place there, is something that will never leave me, and will never cease to amuse me.

I love Taiwan, and truly hope to be able to take another walk in the park again someday.

Go on an adventure. You never know what might happen.


About the Author:
Lynzi is the second in the line of 4 kids, and just celebrated her 18th birthday.
Now entering adulthood, she has no idea what she wants to do when she grows up. She does, however, love to travel and has already visited England, Dubai, and Africa - which she's planning on returning to this Summer. She is a Ballet-Dancing Extraordinaire and (I think) hopes to marry rich.

Sunday, February 15, 2009

Valentine's Day = A couple movies with another guy

Last night, I saw Cape No. 7

Seeing as it is the highest grossing film ever to be produced in Taiwan (and was well on its way to highest grossing film in Taiwan's theaters), I've been meaning to see it for some time.

The story centers itself around a community throwing together - last minute, in true Taiwanese fashion - a local band to open for the big-name Japanese star and his beach-side performance. Of course, there's a love-drama brewing between the Japanese concert coordinator, and the rebellious, bad-a (a for attitude) lead singer of the band. His band mates are misfits, but to everyone's great satisfaction, they (of course) are able to pull off the show at the end of the movie, even playing an impromptu rendition of a song that the lead singer finished writing on his way to the show. (Both songs are chart toppers here in Taiwan that even I recognized. You'll hear them on any radio station, or out of any mouth of any 13-23 year old Taiwanese girl.)

Interwoven into that major plot line, was the story - through found letters - of a man written to his love during the era of World War II, when Japan occupied Taiwan. This was where I found the beauty of the movie. These letters painted a broken man's heart and why he would choose to leave the woman he loved. Though it was never fully expressed or explained in the film, what was communicated was the torment it left him in. But he was resolved. He knew what he had to do. They, of course, found the woman the letters were meant for 60 years earlier, and gave them to her in what was likely the most underwhelming - yet fittingly subtle - scenes of the entire movie.

Overall, I give this movie an A for effort... which is, of course, a kind way of saying "I know you'll do better next time." The plot line was predictable and the acting was campy, but the production quality was high, considering this started as only an entry to Taipei's Film Festival, and turned into Taiwan's highest grossing production. What I do admire about Taiwan is their Nationalism. It's different here than it is back home, but it's apparent. And it's apparent they are proud of this leap forward in the arts.

If you're hoping for a look at some stereotypes and humor of Taiwan culture, and don't mind reading English sub-titles - unless of course you speak Mandarin, Taiwanese, AND Japanese - then this movie worth your time. It's cute, and light, and easy to swallow.

After that, my quasi-roommate and I watched Hancock. I'd seen it before, but actually enjoyed it much more the second time around.

I won't say much about this movie, but one thing stuck out to me. It did a great job celebrating "Humanity." In a culture of perfection, youth and infatuation with our "super-heroes" (mind you, I'm typing this with The Dark Knight Calendar suspended over my head), they regarded the human condition and the idea of growing old with someone as a blessing.

While reflecting on these two back-to-back films, I noticed they had something in common -- and no, it wasn't subtitles.

Both these movies had an emphasis on forsaking a love by choice. Sacrifice, for the greater good of two people - or the whole of the human race, in the case of Hancock. The love for the other didn't end - not even after 60 Years of silence, in the case of Cape No. 7 - and the sacrifice happened before everything was fully understood. But nonetheless, it was carried out by a conscious choice for what was understood to be the best.

Made for some interesting reflections and internal dialog on this Valentine's Eve.
I hope all of you were able to spend the day cherishing the ones you love - despite your view on over-commercialized holidays.

Saturday, February 14, 2009

Reasons I Miss the States - Top 3 Goodies from Home

So today is Valentine's Day. (Happy Birthday, Lynzi!)

I took no regret in dropping 300 bucks (about $10US) on Chocolate and other goodies ... all for myself. Peanut Butter M&Ms, Dove Dark Chocolates and ice cream bar: never a bad choice. Admittedly, I would take back the Strawberry flavored milk tea and the "Muscat of Alexandria" Grape-flavored Kit Kat Bar if I could (yeah, you read that right). The milk tea I downed while plugging my nose, and the green Kit-Kat I pawned off on some unsuspecting kids.

But the chocolates were well worth it. I'm convinced it's these little comforts that let expats like myself live day-to-day in strange and foreign places; places that consider green grape Kit-Kats a good idea. I mean really, give me a break. (think about that one...)

When my sister, who still has a promised guest-blog-post to publish, came to visit, she brought more gifts and goodies from home.

Though everything she brought me was a welcomed treat (and most of the chocolate didn't make it to today), here are the top 3:

3. A box of Honey Nut Cheerios. Undoubtedly, Honey Nut Cheerios is one of the greatest comfort foods available - and it's not available in Taiwan. (I'm sorry, but there's a HUGE difference between Honey Nut and the regular variety...) I do believe the only comfort food that trumps this breakfast cereal is a bowl of ice cream. If you know me, you know that. But Ice Cream doesn't pack well...

2. A Snuggie. Yes, that's right: a Snuggie.

Don't even joke. It's great. Snuggie has been quite the companion many a recent cold mornings. Plus, since no one in this country hugs anyone, its the only arms I have to hold.

and finally, clocking in at our number one position:

1. My bottle of febreeze. Seriously great stuff. My room smells fantastic. And now, so does my laundry. It's a gift no bachelor should live without... no matter where they are.

Now a word from our Sponsor:

Friday, February 13, 2009

Adventures in the Back of the Bus

Today ranked as the best bus-experience to-date.

After waiting by the curb outside my classroom for less than 3 minutes, I saw the bus round the corner and I rose to greet him with a wave.

He slowed and pulled open the door with a lurch. I stepped inside, flipped my wallet against the plastic box, scanned my bus card (bought at 7-11) and turned to greet my traveling companions.

And that's when I saw it.
Or should I say, didn't see it.
Or should I say, didn't see them.

Any of them.

The bus was empty.

"AALLLLRRRRIIIGHT!!" I shouted. The bus driver looked a bit perturbed. He may have been rolling his eyes at me. I paid no mind. I knew just where I was going:

Priority Seating.
(picture coming after the weekend)

I sat down in the seats perfectly balanced between the wheel-wells. Typically, these are the seats reserved for the elderly, cripple, and Taichung Elite. Today that was me.

It was around this time that a slight fear struck me. I imagined the scene played out in my mind:

The stop immediately following mine swarmed with noisy high school children. Immediately, the hungry students filled the back of the bus: Blue Suits on one side; Green on the other. Before we took off, I felt a chopstick spit through a straw and strike me in the back of the head. I didn't turn to search the giggles.

The next stop had 4 elderly ladies, all carrying canes, AND 5 pregnant women - one who looked peculiarly like this young lady. I have no idea how any of them got up the stairs to the bus.

Two stops after my glorious discovery, and the bus was completely full. But that's when it happened. The next produced only one sole rider. An elderly man, with cane, and member of said Taichung Elite.

After boarding, he waddled towards me swifter than I've ever seen a swift-waddler waddle.
"You're in my seat." I was caught. He knew I didn't belong. But this was my glorious ride.
"What about her?" I said, nodding at preggo #5.

He didn't buy it: "Please relinquish your seat."

"Look here pops," I stated, resolved to enjoy my ride, "I'm the minority here. And I was here first. Waddle on back now. I'm declaring a Rosa Parks."

The old man, fire in his eyes, raised his cane over his head annnd...

...and I was brought back to reality with a jolt.

did we just fly past the first stop? I thought in anxious excitement - rather satisfied that I didn't have to actually declare a "Rosa Parks". (I don't think it would have the same lasting affect here as it did back in 1955. I made light of it here, but really, she inspires me every time I step onto a bus. Happy African-American History Month to all of you back home.)

Before I could decide whether or not I actually passed an empty stop while riding on an empty bus, we soared by another. And then another. My Excitement Grew. Like winning Roulette.

"Come on! Show me the nobodies! Show me the nobodiesssssYYAAH! One more! Good."

By now, I was sure the bus driver hated me. The trip went on like this until the stop a block before my let-off (You can't have all the luck). Still, when it came time for the doors to open, I stepped off that bus feeling like a Champion.

By far, best bus ride to date.

(Hat Tip: Rachel for doing the leg work and reporting on the Pregnant Lady, so I didn't have to.)
(Disclaimer: All verbal conversation found within this blog existed in and only in my head. No, I did not scream like I won the lottery to that poor bus driver.)

Wednesday, February 11, 2009

Penny for Your Thoughts?

When I picked up my computer from the shop this past weekend, I turned it on and was surprised (pleasantly) that all my settings were preserved.

I'd forgotten I had this picture as my desktop background.

What do you see/think when you look at it?
I'd value your commentary.

(Picture found @ FreshPics Hat tip: The Daily Dish)

Update: Some great comments to read. I posted my thoughts down there.
Make sure you check out Don's story here.

Monday, February 9, 2009

Adventures in the Back of the Bus

So today on my return trip on the Taichung City Transit System, I had someone to sit next to.

Two stops after where I stepped on (New Bus Pass in hand, purchased and refillable - of course - at 7-11), a portly hoodlum of 4 12 year old Taiwanese boys waddled to the back towards the only four seats available.

Three of them sat down fast, and one was left standing, staring at the only seat open near his friends: the one next to mine.

I glanced up from my book (Three Cups of Tea, a great read).

We made eye contact.

I looked at the seat next to me.
I looked back up at him.
I nodded at the seat next to me.

He looked at the seat.
Looked at me.
And with wide eyes, shook his head "No" enthusiastically.

I shrugged, and returned to my book.

Now only a few stops away from my destination, the boy worked up some nerve and crept towards me. He backed in and lowered himself down onto the furthest most corner of the bus-seat.


I couldn't see his face, but I could see him beaming reflected off of the faces of his three friends across the aisle. He turned his head at the neck, "Hi."
"Hey kid, how are ya?" Then it happened.

High five.

We were friends forever. I had to leave him all too soon though. But after I swiped my card and descended down the stairs to the curb, I turned to see eager eyes and two thumbs up pressed against the window in my direction.

It's good to have friends.

Sunday, February 8, 2009

Jesus Loves the Little Children

I was with the medicine man and his family walking around the Taichung Lantern Festival, which celebrates the Chinese New Year coming to a close.

He told me, "Ye-su has a special place in the Festival."
I didn't know what he meant, but it sounded cool.

That's when I saw this.

I laughed. So hard. I couldn't believe it.
Then I got really sad. And kind of embarrassed. Embarrassed of being a Western Christian who told the world this is the best way to portray Christ. No wonder so many thinking people consider Christianity a joke.

There was a sign (no banner, or church passing out flyers or anything like that...), but it was in Chinese. I don't know why this was there - and next to the Festival's mascot. I mean, I know he said "I am the light of world," but come on. Really?

Anyways, just thought you might be amused.

Saturday, February 7, 2009

Haircuts as a Multi-Cultural Experience

I've written about getting my haircut before. But this week, I decided not to go to "Beautiful" salon, and rather opted for the little shop around the corner where my Taiwan family goes for a trim.

For awhile now, I've had this silent sneaking suspicion that something else other than haircuts goes on upstairs. But my Taiwan family being friends with the shop owners was reason enough to choose to step through the doorway.

It's run by a young, cute, trendy couple in their 30's. They do all the cutting and styling. They have a girl that, for all I know, might live there, too. She acts as the assistant/front desk/shampoo girl. She also dresses stylish, and wears a fair amount of makeup - which is not something you see a lot here.

Besides her hipster appearance, she basically look like death. Tight-lipped and no emotion. No life in her eyes, and little acknowledgement that the world exists.

People like this typically fascinate me. And I always tend to subconsciously scheme ways to find out if there's anything underneath the surface. There usually is, if you know where to dig.

When it came time after the hair cut for me to hose off, the owner sent me to the back with little-miss-lifeless. She apparently decided I needed a shampoo, which cost me a hundred bucks. But after she started massaging my freshly exposed scalp, I didn't care at all.

I have to wonder if all shampoo sessions are this long. She went on for a solid 5 minutes. I think she wanted an excuse to chit-chat. I was surprised she started to open up - Little-Miss-Lifeless showed signs of vitals.

This is horrible, I know. But, going back to my sneaking suspicion perpetually held in the back of my mind, I thought at first she might have been soliciting me. After some post-salon research, I found out she was just asking me if I understand Chinese. (Apparently, I don't.)

But she didn't speak any English, except "Me, girl," so we kept the conversation to what Chinese I could understand. She asked if the girl I was walking around with last week was my girlfriend,
"No, she my American little sister," I managed to reply.
She asked if I have a girlfriend in Taiwan. I said I don't. And then I think she asked if I like her - which was just a strange inquiry all together. I fumbled to respond. I was going to tell her she should smile more, but I was distracted by the tingly sensation on my scalp and couldn't find the words.

Then she said she goes running everyday. I think. She was jogging in place. I was confused. Mostly because the scalp-massage stopped, and I didn't know why.


I'm sure I missed something. She smiled some when she talked, but there was still not much in her eyes for me to read. I have a lot more Mandarin homework to do...
At least my "sneaking suspicions" are calmed for the moment.

But back to the haircut. Before I came to Taiwan, a friend gave me a "Mandarin Chinese Dictionary" with a whole bunch of how-to-get-around phrases. I looked up how to say "I want it cut short."

When I botched that, the stylist switched to English. "You want it short?" I was grateful. Halfway through the cut, I could see where she was taking it, and told her to hack off the top-center before it gets too pointy.

She was trying to give me a faux-hawk. (I love that I just wikipedia'd "Faux Hawk") "You don't want it like that?!" she asked, shocked. I said, "Honey, I created the Faux-Hawk years ago." (No I didn't say that. Besides, Wikipedia credits David Beckham with that accolade.)

But I did tell her I've had that for many many years. (see here.)
"Change style" the stylist added knowingly.
"Yep. Change style."

I chose to cut it short because, well frankly, I know I'm not going to have hair forever. I might as well get used to looking at my own skull. I'm still getting used to not styling it in the morning... But it's growing on me. (did you see what I did there? "Growing...") I think I like it.

So here it is... the new me.

It's okay, say what you think. So far, everyone here hates it. And they haven't been shy to tell me. No reason you should either.

But that's fine. I didn't do it for them. Or You.

A New Year, a new motherboard.

Well, I'm back online.

My laptop completely died on me about a week and a half ago or so (made in Taiwan.. go figure) and after 8 or 9 days in the shop, and a replaced motherboard, it's back in my hands. And I'm shocked to announce, so are all my files/taiwan pictures/etc.

Today was a Beautiful Day, and retrieving my connection to the world put me in a particularly good mood. So, after little debate, I neglected my bus pass (bought at 7-11), my bike, the possibility of mooching a ride off someone, and the taxis that slowed down and honked everytime they passed, and chose the 50 minute walk to the computer store. My laptop is small. It fits in my shoulder-sling bag, so I knew getting it home wouldn't strain on my back.

After the near-hour trek, and retrieving my life-stream (sad, I know), I decided the only thing that could make this day better was a trip to Cold Stone for a waffle bowl of Ice Cream.

So that's exactly what I did.

There were two girls behind the counter preparing my Peanut Butter Paradise. They were chattering about, glancing occasionally and nervously in my direction. From what I could tell, they wanted to wish me a Happy Chinese New Year in English. They thought the single earbud in my ear was playing music, or maybe that Rhianna's "Umbrella" was playing loud enough that I couldn't listen in on their conversation, but they were less than subtle.

My suspicions were validated when "Eighteen" (Yes, that was the name on her badge, though my guess was she looked at least 24. The other was "Amy") placed a full sized Reece's Peanut Butter Cup into my Waffle Bowl.

Looking at me with a smile, she decisively stated "This one is free because Chinese Happy New Year."

Thanking her, I smiled back and replied with "Happy New Year!" Chinese.

Amy giggled.

I dropped my change in the Tip Jar. And with a wink and a wave of my hand, I told her she didn't have to sing.

Typically, when I am in Cold Stone with my Taiwanese friends, I enjoy tipping because I love watching the Taiwanese-Coldstone employees nervously prepare to serenade me with one of their pre-selected songs ("High-ho, High-ho, sank you for your dough"). I enjoy this because I love the thick cloud of awkwardness that rises in the room.

You see, Coldstone is pretty much the only place in Taiwan that has a tip jar, so not only are Taiwanese not used to tipping, they're not used to being sung at afterwards - and the unsuspecting Coldstone Employees aren't used to it either. My Taiwanese friends grow uncomfortable because they have no idea why I would do such a thing. The innocent diners look around curiously before burrying their faces into their green tea ice cream, and the kids behind the counter are seized with stage fright.

In the midst of it all stands an out-of-place white guy, beaming through the cloud of awkward tension. Great moments.

Today, however, I was alone. And Coldstone was fairly empty, despite it being a perfect February ice cream day. So with a wave of my hand and a wink that said "I'm about to walk out that door, and I promise not to write your boss" I released the steam building up in our little kettle of awkward.

Amy and Eighteen were quite gracious. I could see it on their faces.

Anyways, now that I have my computer back I'm going to rattle off as many blogs as I can to update you with the last three weeks.

Also, look forward to pictures and a blog post from my sister to recap her trip.
She's got some stories for you for sure.

Til then, "Chinese Happy New Year!"