Quarantine Freak-out

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My WHOLE kindergarten class currently has hand, foot, and mouth disease. It is terrifying. It started with just a few kids who were absent from school, but quickly, half of the class was gone. And the school wasn’t doing anything about it– they were ignoring it for fear of upsetting the parents. More and more kids kept disappearing from class until there were 7/32 left. Finally, one parent called the national health center, who came and shut down our classroom for a week.

 

We had been “vigilant” about hand, foot, and mouth disease for a while. A few weeks back, someone came and did a presentation about HFMD that involved graphic pictures of mouth sores and bodily rashes. The message was that kids should wash their hands more frequently. Of course, kindergarteners don’t really take these things to heart. They kept picking their noses and then holding each others’ hands, sneezing in people’s faces, and one little angel even used his toothbrush to scrub the floor of the merry-go-round, laughing in my horrified face while I tried to pry him away from it. I think this was actually the kid who started it all, because he was the first to disappear.

 

When we first discovered that some kids had HFMD, I was really freaked. Any time a kid would try to get close to me or hold my hand, I would quickly extricate myself. But I learned that most adults are immune to the disease, because they’ve all experienced it as kids. I think I may have gotten a mild form, which caused me to lose my voice for a few days and have an ongoing mild fever/cough. The school won’t let me take off to go to the doctor.

 

School was very quiet for a week. We spent the time sanitizing everything in the kindergarten department, and waiting for the kids to come back after a 7 day quarantine period. Today was the first day that some of the kids started coming back, and I’ve heard rumors that some kids in the preschool are beginning to go missing. What I find incredible in all of this is that the school, who charges 30,000 USD per year for tuition, is STILL watering down all of the hand soap in the kindergarten classrooms. Just another thing to show the fine caliber and deep employee/student concern of the school I’m working for.

 

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Happy Moon Festival!

 

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This week was the moon festival. It’s one of the major holidays in Taiwan, and it’s a day to spend with your family, perhaps while barbecuing, gazing at the moon, or reading poems about the moon.

This is also a day to give offerings to the moon goddess, Chang’e. There are many stories about her significance, but here is one that I think makes more sense than others I’ve read:

“In the ancient past, there was a hero named Hou Yi who was excellent at shooting. His wife was Chang’e. One year, the ten suns rose in the sky together, causing great disaster to people. Yi shot down nine of the suns and left only one to provide light. He was pronounced king by the thankful people. However, he soon became a conceited and tyrannical ruler. In order to live long without death, he asked for the elixir of life from Xiwangmu. But his wife, Chang’e, stole it on the fifteenth of August because she did not want the cruel king to live long and hurt more people. She took the magic potion to prevent her husband from becoming immortal. Houyi was so angry when discovered that Chang’e took the elixir, he shot at his wife as she flew toward the moon, though he missed. Chang’e fled to the moon and became the spirit of the moon. Houyi died soon because he was overcome with great anger. Thereafter, people offer a sacrifice to Chang’e on every lunar fifteenth of August to commemorate Chang’e’s action.”

Cool, so we’re celebrating that. I have been bombarded by my students with boxes of fancily decorated sweets. One of the most popular for this holiday are moon cakes, which are intricately designed cakes with rich fillings. Even I, as a sweets lover, have to take these a little bit at a time. Some of them even have whole egg yolks baked into the middle.

Another popular and very delicious gift is pineapple cake. It’s got a crumbly pie crust with sweetened, shredded pineapple in the middle.

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I think in total, I’ve received over 100 moon cakes and pineapple cakes from my students. And these things aren’t cheap either– some of the Taiwanese teachers were commenting that one of the boxes I received was from a designer moon cake store and had cost over 100 bucks. Yikes! I’d better not waste these.

One thing I found very unique was that, since we had a holiday that fell during the week, we had to work on Saturday to make up for the day off. This wasn’t a school decision, but a country-wide phenomenon. You can definitely say they have a good work ethic. There’s no way that would fly in most other countries.

Anyhow, happy moon festival!

The Almighty Mango

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The best thing about Taiwan is undoubtedly mango ice. This is a dessert served in a massive bowl the size of your head, and made of frozen and shaved “milk ice” with mangoes and sweetened condensed milk. I will never go back to regular ice cream, ever.

 

I can’t even begin to explain the perfection of this dessert! The ice milk has the most wonderful texture; it is flaked so that it is fluffy and compresses on your tongue. It’s exactly like eating freshly fallen, cream-flavored snow! That is so precious in a country with humid, 90-100 degree days and questionable air quality. I’m immediately transported to the top of a mountain in a Siberian forest, where I am sitting in the woods staring into the eyes of a lone deer, snow falling heavily all around us.

 

This dessert is so good that every time I suggest that one of my friends and I meet up later to get mango ice, I obsessing about it so hard that I can’t wait any longer and I go buy it immediately. The other day I caved in and went to eat mango ice only 20 minutes before I was supposed to meet with a friend to eat it… I couldn’t wait! I ended up having the same mango ice at the same shop again 20 minutes later when the friend arrived. You may think I’m crazy, but you have got to try it before you’ll understand.

 

I fear that I will go crazy when I leave Taiwan and can’t have mango ice anymore. Hopefully, I will forget the flavor and texture of it sooner rather than later. But if not, I can somewhat imagine myself as a fat middle aged woman chained to Taiwan, eating mango ice day in and day out… if it has to be that way.

 

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Typhoon Hype

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Before I moved here, the world “typhoon” was terrifying to me. The only things labeled as typhoons in the US media were major disasters. As it happens, typhoons occur on a regular basis here. In the first month of being here, I experienced at least 4 typhoons.

Basically, when a typhoon comes to town, it just rains a lot… for days straight. It becomes hard to keep track of the time passing, because you feel like you’re stuck in an endless rain spell. It seems that the world outside my window isn’t real, it’s just a rainy scene being played on a loop night and day.

Everyone stays inside for the entire four days of the typhoon. You’d think that with so many typhoons and so much rain, people would just be used to the wetness and go about their daily lives. But I guess no matter how used to rain you get, it’s still not fun to be outside with wet feet. It sure gets boring though during the typhoons.

 

The real action happens mostly off shore. We always see pictures of the massive waves hitting the coasts and the strong winds bending the trees. I guess things could be worse than this endless rain– those destructive forces could see their way to Taipei.

Wednesday Extravaganza

Wednesdays. Wednesdays are wonderful. The best day of the week, in fact.

 

I go into work, teach for 2 hours, and then take a massive nap on the mat that I spread out under my desk at work. Afternoon classes are canceled on Wednesdays.

 

I leave work, feeling unstressed and energized, and I head to the public gym for a long workout. They are usually playing some strange and diverse things on their big screen TVs, such as footage of typhoons, snakes being skinned, MTV, and a cooking show, usually at the same time.

 

Next, I eat a big dinner out with friends, usually at the fried kimchi dumpling place near my house. They have the most delicious wax gourd tea.

 

On Wednesdays, most of the clubs in Taipei have “ladies night”, which means free entry and drinks until 12 am. You can usually find me at myst, because it’s the prettiest dance floor, with a giant lit-up waterfall in the background.

 

Yay Wednesdays!!

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Dawgs

Dawgs are everywhere in Taiwan. There is an abundance of large dogs in the street nowadays, since it’s been illegal to kill dogs since 1998. (A law was passed to stop people from eating dogs, since this was hurting the national image in foreign eyes). However, that doesn’t explain what the F this is:

http://www.capitalfm.co.ke/news/2013/01/taiwan-confiscates-435-dog-penises-at-illegal-abattoir/

Anyhow, no more eating dogs. Darn.

Usually pet dogs are of the tiny variety. People carry them around on the streets in little pouches meant for babies. I have never seen dogs with such ridiculous hair styles before. The picture below, while not of the highest quality, illustrates two of the craziest dog hairstyles I’ve seen. Big black dog disguised as poodle, and dog with two 10-inch braids. How does that dog even walk? Or does it get carried around all the time?

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What is up with this dog stuff? Let’s just do normal things with dogs.

 

Another thing that puzzles me is that none of the dogs here EVER bark. I guess what I’ve heard is that the population density is so large that if a dog barks, it will disturb about 50 people. So all of the pet dogs are sent to be trained not to bark. I don’t know if I want to know how they manage that one.

But at least the dogs here aren’t rabid, like they are in Thailand… throwback to this post

https://hotpotatohottomato.wordpress.com/2012/08/23/a-day-on-the-town/

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So, I started to learn Chinese… but I just can’t. With all of the languages I speak at this point, my brain just explodes when I try to learn something new. Plus, no one could understand me when I reproduced the phrases that I learned from my Pimleur’s Mandarin audio tapes. That was extremely motivating, and I thought– If I’m going to study this and still be unable to communicate, then what’s the point?

Chinese certainly has a higher learning curve than most languages. First of all, the tones make it really hard to speak correctly. Locals have admitted that if a foreigner says a single word, they usually don’t know what the person is trying to say… it’s only from the context of an entire sentence that a local can get the gist of what we idiot foreigners are trying to say. Again, encouraging. Stuff.

Plus, the characters give me a headache to even look at. When I walk into a restaurant and there are a million characters on the menu, I’m screaming inside. I have a lot of respect for every kid who has to memorize what each of these characters mean. Probably while also being pressured to learn English.

The problem with not speaking any Chinese is that there is less English on signs here than in any other country I’ve visited. Nothing is in English on menus, transportation websites, etc. Well, I take that back– sometimes the sign will say one word in English, like “Schedule” and then the rest is just in Chinese. It’s just enough English to let you know that the solution is in your hands, if only you had the key.

I know that the last time I went out travelin’, I vowed to myself that the next place I lived would be one where I spoke the local language well. Wouldn’t it be nice… I don’t know when that idea went out the window. But I’ll say it again, and hope it sticks this time: the next place I live will be one where I speak the local language proficiently.

Trash Island

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Since Taiwan is a small island, there’s not really anywhere for trash to go. This means that recycling gets intense.

Everything, everywhere, is recycled. In my apartment, we have 7 different recycling bins for different kinds of material, plus a compost bin. Recycling is free and encouraged. Garbage, on the other hand, is super expensive. So, we only throw out a tiny bit per week.

Every Wednesday, the garbage truck comes around (playing tunes as if it were an ice cream truck). People shuffle out there and dump their tiny trash bags and pay their fees.

There are few public trash cans; the government doesn’t want to bear the cost of hauling out a bunch of people’s trash. The trash cans at the MRT stations explicitly forbid us from placing household trash in them. I imagine that before that sign was placed, people would bring big ol’ bags of trash to these cans!

Scary things can happen…

I was reading this article the other day about an ESL teacher who died while teaching in China, and his family back in the US was scrambling to come up with nearly $13,000 to have his body shipped home before the Chinese government decided to “dispose of it”. The full article can be read below.

http://www.lostlaowai.com/blog/expat-stuff/warnings/family-of-dead-hangzhou-esl-teacher-desperate-for-help-getting-their-sons-body-home/

This article gave me a real scare because it’s easy to feel almost invincible while teaching abroad. It’s true that it can be an escape from the “daily grind” of life, since it’s easy to feel secure in having a place to live and plenty of money to get by, along with an undemanding job. But it’s important to be reminded sometimes of the fact that this is real life and not just an eternal holiday, and real things can happen. And when they do, we’re alone over here, with no family or lifelong connections to help us through. Or even a familiar government who is on “our side”. What a horrible thought and a horrible event.

Snake Alley: Only for the bravest warriors

Warning: Graphic Descriptions

The other day, my friend and I decided to stop in to “Snake Alley”, which is famous for its snake meat restaurants. As I understand it, these restaurants used to be very popular with tourists but are now illegal due to backlash from the government. Everything was very secretive and you’re not allowed to take any pictures (I found the picture below on the internet). Nowadays, this area is also home to prostitution and all of the other vices of Taipei, thus adding to the creepy allure of the place.

As we walk in, we are greeted by tanks with humongous snakes. I quickly walk through this area and into the restaurant. I should mention– I’m deathly afraid of snakes. But I was there to test my gall.

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Luckily, we chose one of the restaurants that does not do a live demonstration of preparing the snake. I don’t think I could have eaten it after watching. But as I understand it, they slit the snake along its length, and hang it over a bucket to collect the blood, like in the picture below. Then they mix the blood with alcohol to kill the bacteria. The rest they chop up for soup.

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We also tried snake wine and snake penis wine. For these, they leave the snakes (or relevant parts) in jugs with the wine over time so that the snake becomes infused into the wine.

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There’s snake medicine, which I’m not sure about… but I think it had some medicinal herbs and snake oil.

Then there was snake venom. Apparently this is ok to ingest because venom only works if it gets in your bloodstream; stomach acids break down the venom, so it’s not harmful to drink. But I read after the fact that if you have a cut in your mouth or digestive tract that the poison could get ya. Cue panic.

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Luckily, there was a snake venom antidote included in there. Not sure what that was made of.

Finally, we had a big dish of snake meat with basil sauce.

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So… the blood was a bit sweet. Venom tasted like turpentine (yes, I’ve tasted turpentine before. It was an accident, ok?) And the wines tasted winey. The soup had a bunch of snake heads in it which were hard to eat because they were all cartilage. But the basil snake dish was easier to try. People have said that snake tastes like chicken, and I have to disagree. That’s just something they always say with new meat due to a limited descriptive vocabulary. I’d say that it was more like a soft eraser. You know there are much better things you could be eating, but it’s not so unpleasant that you stop chewing on it.

The funny thing was that after eating the snake meat and drinking the blood, I went back out and stood next to the ginormous snake and stared into its eyes for a while. I didn’t have any urge to run in terror. Maybe with the snake blood running through my veins, I became one with the beast for a short while.