Sunday, December 21, 2008

Taipei Freemason's Temple

The Mason's Temple is tucked away in central Taipei, right off of one of the train lines. I kept catching glimpses of it from the train, and one day I finally tracked it down, only to find that it was as glorious as I had imagined. My guess on the construction date is late 60s, early 70s. Pretty run down. I'm sure years of acid rain and pollution didn't help much, but the result is a mysterious and groovy building, shrouded in mystery. At least for me.
More photos here.

Monday, November 10, 2008


I'm trying my best to document this unique(?) and rather wasteful practice that I've been made aware of in Taipei's real estate industry: Once someone is ready to build an apartment building on their land they naturally want to sell some of the units first. So before they build it, they construct an extremely modern-looking, but extremely cheap temporary structure in which they try to impress potential buyers.
The first one Devin and I became aware of was called Opus 1. For months we thought that it was some swank club where rich people went. That is, until Devin walked by and the place was completely torn down. Then, as I was passing a really ugly one with a friend one day, she told me that they stay up for about a year, then are torn down to make way for the real structure. And the final confirmation came to me a couple of months ago, when one started to go up down the street from my home. It has been interesting to see the process, and to see the fact that it is almost entirely made of plywood. There is no foundation (which may be a bad idea, since this particular one is on a steep, muddy hillside).
Here are a couple of examples of the buildings.

This one looked really nice at night, but a closer look during the day showed some shoddy workmanship. Note the ripples in what I assume is tin in the second photo:

This one is down the street from us. It looks super nice from the front, but the back reveals a tin roof and lotsa plywood.

This one is in a line of about 3 in the rapidly growing neighborhood of Nangang in east Taipei. Looks super nice, but is connected to some crappy little shack on the back end.

This will be an ongoing hunt. For more, check my photo page.

Tuesday, September 30, 2008


So, Taiwan is pretty damn cool, actually. Even if there are typhoons and millions and millions of scooters everywhere that spit out pollution and give me a sore throat. I can get over the counter oral contraceptives, I can take the bus for 50 cents, I can ride on the world's most efficient subway system for 50 cents to a dollar per ride, I can have cell phone service for US $12 a month, I can eat a decent meal for less than a dollar, and a great meal for $5, I can get almost every amenity that I enjoyed at home (sometimes at a price). Also, Taipei has some pretty cool little areas. I love wandering down alleys and side streets, where the noise of the traffic is blocked by the tall buildings and there are concrete walls and fences for me to imagine the other side of. There are some surprisingly peaceful spots just a block off of the main thoroughfares in this city. It's pretty great.
Lately I've been doing research on some other cities for a project at work, which has inspired me to get out more...
The first one was Kaohsiung, which is one of the southernmost cities. It's famous for its port, and industry, but it's trying to revamp and become an eco-city (sustainability is HUGE here). They also have a Container Arts Festival, where artists are given a shipping container with which they can do what they wish:

Thought that was pretty cool, but then again, I'm a trade geek so of course it's cool.

And then I started looking at Taichung (Central Taiwan) and discovered that they're building the coolest opera house EVER:

Scheduled completion is 2oo9. I can't wait. Yay for modernism!

Tuesday, September 2, 2008


I thought I should post something, since it's been a while, although there's not too much to report. Devin and I have been working hard. Working and commuting seem to occupy most of our time. I even have a class on Saturday mornings, and he's got one Sundays. We're pining to get out of Taipei, but we never seem to have the time. We're also cat-sitting, so going away for a weekend is out of the question until the kitty is gone.
I've had a lot of ups and downs lately. I lost confidence in myself and my job for a good while. I feel that my company doesn't trust me as a teacher yet. Although I know I have a lot to learn and they're trying to help me, I feel that it's not being done in a constructive way (they have a pretty skewed ideas on constructive criticism and professionalism in general). But I have to remember that most of my students really like me and feel that they've learned a lot from me. I just had a couple of bad experiences, which I suppose is normal for most new teachers.
To add to my frustration (or maybe as a result of it), I became really homesick. I am sad that I missed my old roommates Jereme and Amy get hitched, and I may miss my dear friend Carisa's wedding in October (although I'm looking at ticket prices taking donations).  At the same time as I started to get frustrated with my job and got terribly homesick, I happened to come across an amazing job opportunity in Portland at a company that I've been drooling over for years. They seemed really interested in me and my experience, and I corresponded with the HR person for about to weeks. In the end, the company decided to hold off on hiring for a few months. So I'm not moving home quite yet, but talking to this company (which deals in import/apparel production/all the things I like), made me realize that the apparel trade world is really where I want to be. It will be harder than I previously thought to pursue that avenue here, so if I want to carry on with that, I'll have to move back to the States. But I'll be saving that for later.
So for now, I want to see this whole teaching thing through. I signed a year contract, and I want to reach the end of it. I have turned my attitude around and am improving my teaching skills by leaps and bounds. I am once again happy to be doing this and appreciate the experience. I also have a lot more to see here in East Asia. I haven't been to Southern Taiwan yet! or Japan! or Korea! or the million other places that are just a short plane or boat ride away.
PS: Check my photo page for new additions.....

Monday, July 7, 2008

Engrish names

So, most people here, for the convenience of foreigners, choose an English name. I have to admit, it helps a lot in class, seeing as I have something like 42 different students now. There are various methods used for choosing a name. Some hear a name that they like and use it as their own, while others choose to honor a hero (usually an athlete or celebrity), and a few people take their Chinese name and choose the closest sounding Anglo name. All can have interesting results.
Some of them are what you'd call run-of-the-mill (in an old fashioned way): Esther, Joyce, Eileen, Carol...
Others are a little more more modern: Aliyah, Katrina, Jessica.
And then there are the unforgettable ones: Moss, Kia, Apple, Cherry...
But for me, one stands out above the rest. I have a student who has hands-down one of the best self-given names I've heard so far: Champion. Champion Chu. Could it be one of the best names ever?

Tuesday, July 1, 2008

Jingmei Girl's High School

So I did it. I hopped off the bus in front of the old high school I'm obsessed with and worked up the guts (and an excuse as to why I was there) to walk onto the grounds. I don't know what I was worried about, because the "security guard" didn't even look up when I walked by. The place was awesome. I didn't venture past the front of the huge grounds, because I got nervous that someone would stop me and ask what the hell I was doing there, but I took a stroll around the perimeter and got a glimpse of some of the other buildings on the campus.
Here are the main structures that I see from the street every day:

Click here for more... Oh I also added a photo album of retro window cages, gates, tiles, etc that I keep seeing around town. You can see it here.
Next photo adventure topic: It's always Christmas in Taiwan.

Monday, June 23, 2008

retro cool

So I'm constantly on the hunt for a hint of retro in Taipei. It's not easy. The buildings here are not striking, and if fact they're usually kind of drab. The exterior is often just concrete, brick or tile (oh, they looove the tile here) and I'd say that 60% of the windows in this city have a cage on them. Most of them, like the exterior of the buildings are drab, but as I've traveled from one end of the city to the other, I've noticed some very groovy cages.

It all started with this one in northern Taipei:

Whoa! This one's craaazy.

A discarded one in our favorite neighborhood:
As far as retro buildings, I have my eye on one place in particular: It's an all girl's high school near our place. There are several buildings that are all super cool. They have a slight Saarinen feel but they're definitely knock offs. When I get brave enough to sneak onto the premises, I will certainly post the photos....

Thursday, June 5, 2008


So, from our balcony, we don't have the most spectacular views of our beautiful town. But if you do happen to take a look, you can see a pretty rad temple and and old-school neighborhood. I have grown attached to the old, pieced-together buildings, with their illegal rooftop structures. There is (was) one place in particular that I enjoyed peeping out at: a rooftop apartment where a man housed dozens of doves and other birds in cages. I've seen him outside, tending to his birds, showing them off to friends, etc. But tonight his apartment caught on fire and the whole neighborhood watched it burn. It took the fire department about a half hour to respond, but the streets were so narrow that they couldn't bring their trucks close by. So the response time was delayed even further, as they tried to figure out how to get to the place. The firemen did contain the fire, but only after it had spread to two other apartments. So now the guy (who we realized escaped from the fire in nothing but his boxers) lost his apartment and probably all of his beautiful birds.
On that note, before I fell asleep last night, I was flooded with memories of Frank Strong. For those of you who don't know, he's a friend who passed away earlier this year. I have had many vivid memories of him since he left us, but this time it was different. It was all so positive. Dozens of images of him flooded my consciousness all at once. Images of how I remember him. Happy, always smiling and radiant. It made me smile, as it's one of the first times that I haven't felt pain and sadness in his memory. It was almost like he was coming to say hi.
By the way, this town is apparently known for the ghosts who like to hang around. Coincidence?

Monday, June 2, 2008

night market fun

Last night we decided to hit up the Jingmei night market for dinner. These markets are a great place to get really cheap local food and cheap knock off goods. We had been there once before and had the best fried rice ever at one particular food cart, so we decided to have it again. It was a slow night, since it was Monday and rainy, and the lady running the place had more time to talk to us. By 'us' I mean Devin, as the ol' Mandarin is still new to me. The woman was the sweetest lady I've met here so far. She praised Devin for his Chinese proficiency and told him that she cared for us and felt that she had to take care of us because we had come from so far away. So she gave us some free soup alongside our rice, which we couldn't have turned down. It was obviously a small gesture, but it was one of the kindest things that anyone has done for us here. It also made up for the fact that a rat ran practically under my feet during the meal...

Tuesday, May 27, 2008


The rainy season has started. This means incredible storms every afternoon. Today the lightning was right above our building, which was kind of terrifying. I'm not used to seeing the flash of light and hearing the deafening crash of thunder at the same time. It's a little disorienting. Devin and I both learned really quickly that we can't go anywhere without umbrellas. We have both been caught in downpours and have had to walk home in flashflood rains.
Otherwise, we've both been in a bit of a funk. Not that we're sad at all, but we still don't know that many people, and we've both quickly realized that our work contracts are not all we imagined them to be, which has been pretty frustrating. I'm considered a 'full time' teacher, but have only been given 7 working hours per week. Because I'm full time, it may be problematic to add a second job, as I'm contractually obligated to prioritize our first, visa-sponsoring employer. Boy I wish I would have known that before signing. I have a second offer, and I could start teaching the day after tomorrow, so I hope that I'm not punished when I break the news....
We did go to a tango night over the weekend, which was put on by my friend Che. Neither of us danced, but we had the opportunity to meet some more locals, who all happened to be awesome. But we're still short on the friends, which makes our weekends pretty uneventful. We're working on it, but it seems to be a slow process.

Sunday, May 18, 2008

finally... some apartment photos

We have enough furniture to no longer be sitting on the floor all of the time, plus we took the time to tidy up, so check out my photo page for some pics of the place. Now all we need is some art for the walls....

Tuesday, May 13, 2008

For the record

There is a vegetarian restaurant down the street from us, that happens to be some of the best food I've eaten here so far. We've only been there twice, and I had the same thing both times, but Devin got different dishes, which I happily tried and loved. I was going to be adventurous the second time we went, but what I had the first time was a cure-all for anything, and I was feeling a little under the weather. It was a noodle soup with a sesame oil broth that had like 1/2 lb. of ginger in it, plus tons of vegetables and exotic mushrooms, and the best darn fake meat I've ever eaten. Vegetarians don't really eat onions or garlic here, which is kind of a downer, but the food is wonderful regardless.
*Bonus: No Guts Guaranteed!*

Also, we both finished our first week of teaching, and it went really well. I am currently teaching 4 classes. Some are really easy to work with, others are a challenge, but it's been really fun so far.

More later....

Sunday, May 4, 2008

More photos

I've added to my album for the amusement park. Devin and I had been seeing these empty structures from the street that we wanted to locate, and we discovered yesterday that they were all most likely part of the amusement park at one point. There are 2 that stand out for me, some old temple-looking thing, and what may have been a refreshment stand/viewing tower. Both are gutted and have banyan trees gobbling them up.
It was a great day for exploring. Not only did we locate the mystery structures, but we found a swimming hole and some new amazing Taiwanese friends. Can't say it too many times: I really love this neighborhood!

Wednesday, April 30, 2008


So we'd heard about this abandoned amusement park in our neighborhood, but hadn't made any effort to go find it. Yesterday's wanderings, however, brought us right to it. There is very little left, and it seems as if the land is just being used by the locals as a garden space. It also offered some amazing views of the surrounding areas. It was pretty sweet.... Click here for more.

Monday, April 28, 2008

Nice New Photos

We live in a pretty awesome area. Here are some neat things we've seen or that we see every day:

A nice door somewhere

Our pool. Yessss!

Paddleboat graveyard down by the river.

The temple on the way to our grocery store.

Tuesday, April 22, 2008


Devin and I found jobs yesterday. At the same company. We didn't anticipate doing that, but we will be doing entirely different things, so it will be ok. We will be working at a place that does business English on-site for companies all over Taipei. There is a headquarters, but teachers are dispatched throughout the city. We had to do a demo class yesterday, and it was my first time doing something like that. Of course I need some practice and training, but they were still willing to employ me, even though I have little experience as a teacher. I guess I showed potential. Also my corporate experience didn't hurt.... Also! They may have me write an 'English through yoga' class, which would be so amazing.
We will be moving into an apartment and out of the crappy hostel tomorrow, once our Ikea order arrives. Yipee! I cannot express how beautiful the building and its surroundings are. The hotel style pool over looks the hills and the town below. I'll post photos once we get some good daytime shots.

Saturday, April 19, 2008

so here we are...

It's Sunday morning, 'bout 6 am. The jet lag is still bugging me a bit, but it's getting better. We literally lost an entire day in transit and time zone shifts, which is kind of strange and disorienting. I keep waking up at 4 am ready to start my day, but realize I have to wait 4 or 5 hours before any shops or restaurants open.
To start out, Devin and I got a room at a youth hostel in the center of Taipei. It's loud. All the time. We're right on the corner of 2 really busy streets, one of which also has a freeway up above it. But we're close to the central station, lots of shops and restaurants, and it's as cheap as can be. Cheap=dingy and dirty, but family run.
The travel/moving gods have been looking after us though. We may have already found an awesome apartment (conditions being that we are provided with essential appliances for the place) that is very reasonably priced, roomy enough for 2, and in a beautiful complex complete with a gym, dance studio, small movie theater and an outdoor pool that overlooks the hills south of Taipei City.
Taipei as a whole is a pretty awesome city. There is a lot to do and see. It's super modern and cosmopolitan, but has a touch of the traditional as well. There are tons of shopping areas and outdoor food markets. It's actually overwhelming how much one can shop here. There are districts that have concentrated shopping areas, which we have already realized must be avoided on the weekends at all costs. The people are laid back and really kind. It seems like the Taiwanese aren't really phased by foreigners. We don't get stares, there isn't a constant feeling that people are trying to exploit us (something I'm used to from India). I need to learn how to let my guard down a little, but at the same time I'm glad that I'm not a naive pushover when it comes to people who may be trying to rip me off.
The food we've had has been awesome, of course. There has only been one misreading of the menu so far that provided us with a bowl of pig gut soup, which was something I was sooo not ready for. Otherwise it's been great.
If you want to check out my photos, click here. I'll keep adding to it as we experience more awesomeness.