Thursday, April 26, 2012

Ten Random Things I *Heart*: Reason #26 to Love Taiwan

Also, pets in coffeeshops.
Continuing my weird love letter to Taiwan, here is a set of ten things I absolutely love about living in Taiwan - as random (and seemingly annoying, at times) as they are. I'm not going to write about the obvious things, like great hiking, ridiculously beautiful mountain vistas, temple festivals, stinky tofu or friendly people, although those things are all great. I'm trying for something more random - although some entries are obvious, if not obvious reasons to love this country.

With that, please enjoy:

1.) Beer: Anywhere, Anytime

Seriously, you wanna hang out in a manhole and drink beer? GO FOR IT. You can also drink beer in your apartment building's main doorway, at temple festivals, in a temple (just try sneaking a Pilsner into church. I dare you), walking down the street, in many movie theaters (and you can sneak it into ones that don't sell it outside without a problem), in the park with old guys, while rowing a dragon boat. Once, we got beer for free on Donggang, because we wanted to buy some on the street to walk around while the boat burning was starting up. The vendor was so pleased that there were enthusiastic foreigners that the beer was free - I guess he was doing his part to thank the Thousand Years Grandfather, or 千歲爺, for another year of good luck. Whatevs, man. Cheers.

2.) Sleeping Guys in Office Clothes

I know, I'm a total meanie for snapping this picture and putting it on Facebook with the caption "every Taiwanese coffeeshop needs a Sleeping Guy in Office Clothes - it's part of the 風水 (feng shui)". Seriously, I think coffeeshops hire feng shui masters to carefully calibrate the flow of qi through their establishments and then hire a Sleeping Guy in Office Clothes to sleep in an auspiciously-oriented position so as to help control or manipulate the qi for profit, success and customer comfort. That is pretty much the only explanation for why every single coffeeshop in Taiwan, from Starbucks to Dante to Ikari to  more local places has a Sleeping Guy in Office Clothes during all business hours. I'd say I was joking, but peek in next time you walk past a coffeeshop. You'll see that it's basically always true. I love this. And it's not the only place where people sleep.

3.) Ultimate Convenience

Imagine it: it's 3am. You're awake for some reason. You really need whiteboard markers, a bottle of whiskey, disposable underwear, a poncho, 45 AAA batteries, microwave dumplings, six cans of Red Bull, bleach, K-Y jelly, three decks of playing cards, lip gloss, a road atlas, a box cutter or two, a Hello Kitty charm, some Lindt chocolate, a pre-fab apartment rental contract, access to a copy machine, a place to pay your gas bill and bullet train tickets, and you need this stuff like right now. Nevermind why you might need all this stuff - you just do, and you have five minutes. 

Well, you've come to the right country.

In the USA this might sound like a frat house hazing ritual in which you speed to the nearest 24-hour Walmart and run around like a crazyperson before the brothers whip you for failing, but in Taiwan this is a perfectly doable list: you can have all that stuff in a matter of minutes at any time of day or night, and you can usually walk to a place where it's all sold.

Seriously - I know "it's really convenient" and "there are a lot of convenience stores" are easy things to say about Taiwan, but seriously. In Shilin, there's an intersection where, from one 7-11, you can look across the street directly into the storefront of another 7-11. There is a crosswalk connecting them. Around the corner is a 3rd 7-11 and one of the three is next to a Family Mart. It's insane. Near me, there are two 7-11s and a Family Mart within a 2-minute walk, and that 2 minutes includes the time it takes to get out of my building. Sometimes I want a Sam Adams and think to myself, "eh, but the 7-11 that stocks Sam Adams is across the street. It's so inconvenient to have to cross the street! If I stay on this side of the street I can go to the 7-11 that has Asahi Dry." Once, I bought myself a bottle of plum wine (also sold at the 7-11 near me!) and six bags of M&M's to make cookies...and I didn't even worry that the cashier might think I'm weird.

Because clearly I've been here too long.

4.) Ridiculous Dogs

This one is best captured in photos:

This one's my buddy 胖胖 who lives nearby. Don't make fun.

5.) Crazy Things People Say To Other People

And I don't just mean the insane things that locals say to foreigners (although that can get pretty crazy, too). Even things locals say to other locals.

I have a student who is a doctor, and she works with a lot of elderly patients. This particular student is in her late 40s or so, and is married but has chosen not to have children. An example of a conversation (translated into English for you) that she might have with one of the old folks she works with goes thusly:

"Doctor, are you married?"
"I am."
"How many kids do you have?"
"I don't have kids."
"Why? Are you infertile?"
"Oh, I know. Your husband shoots blanks, doesn't he. That's too bad."

6.) Designers of Packaging for Consumer Goods Who Have NO IDEA

Again, I'll express this one in photos for you:
WOW! Frog eggs!

Taken by a friend

My Nuts: a timeless classic

I also want to put up a picture of "American Style 6 Hot Dogs in a Jar" but I can't quite find it (it's a friend's photo).

7.) Random Beautiful Things

You know, you're walking through a Taiwan cityscape, one that's maybe more ugly concrete than usual, or is all motorcycle repair shops and betel nut stands (although betel nut stands have an amazingness of their own), and you look down, or look more closely at something, and see a little bit of beauty amid all that gray:

This is why I just can't get behind the notion that Taiwan is all that ugly, even in cities. It has its bad points - there's a lot I'd like to see torn down - but it has its little points of beauty, too. Most major cities do, but some more than others. I'd say that at street level Taipei is one of the more vibrant cities I've visited.

8.) Signs! Signs Everywhere!

Because everyone loves coffee that tastes of coal.

Well, it makes sense...

This is an eyeglass shop. My husband's glasses came from C*NT. Really.

This company has apparently changed its name. I haven't seen this sign in awhile - it changed on the original establishment where I spied it. Too bad.

Oh good. I wanted some pot plants.

Oh no! You killed Grandma!

I'm a monkey. Please throw bricks on my head. Yay!

9.) The Amazingness of Consumer Goods

From here - go visit

I actually have one of these - I just ganked a photo from the Internet because it's a pain to get out my digital camera and impossible to take a photo of my iPhone in its GameBoy case with my iPhone. You know, because of Physics or something.

These are available outside Taiwan, but I do think their availability in night markets says something about the ridiculous and varied consumer items one can find here. Here is another thing I own, thanks to Taiwan:

Yes, this is a lighter shaped like a crab claw, with the flame coming out when you open it. It used to spit out a much bigger flame - can't say much for the quality of this thing!

I mean it, though - from giant chicken head masks (which I have seen) to bright pink fuzzy pencil cases (bought one for my sister) to glitter pants to lobster lighters, the stuff you can buy in this country never ceases to amaze me.

10.) The Willingness of People to Laugh at Themselves

I don't mean this in a bad or insulting way - I mean a certain willingness in Taiwan to self-deprecate a bit. In China, I felt that if you dared to make fun of anything about China, even in jest, and even in that "we laugh about it because we actually love it" sort of way, you're met with silence: either non-comprehension ("why would you make fun of something you actually like?") or offense ("you disrespect China!!!!"). At best people just don't seem to get what's so funny about, well, any given hilarious thing about their country - and every country has hilarious things. It's a little sad to pretend that your country is to be taken 100% seriously. I felt that "don't laugh at us!" attitude in China, and I also come across it too often in the USA - although these days I look at the USA, especially the political realm, and I just feel sad.

What I love about Taiwan - and also India - is an innate sense of humor about themselves. You can imitate an obasan, make a joke about Kaoliang or 藍白脫 (the iconic blue-and-white plastic sandals you see everywhere) or make a humorous observation about culturally-learned behavior, and people will laugh - really laugh, not a fake "I think this is meant to be funny" laugh - rather than stare at you like a weirdo or offensive foreigner who Just Does Not Understand Our Culture. I appreciate that. It keeps things light.

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