Monday, August 31, 2009

The pictures made it look so much bigger

You mean I have to crawl into my closet. On my hands and knees.
(That is the start of a scene in The Grudge.)
I’m in a 250 square-foot loft. A staircase with no rail leads from the kitchen/living area to a platform where you can roll out a cushioned mat to sleep. Actually, the first stair is your seating area/couch if you lay pillows down. You shower over the toilet. And your closet is a crawl space.

Ugh. I hate looking for apartments.

Saturday, August 29, 2009

Things I've learned in a few days...

- All of the receipts have lotto numbers on them. I could be a Taiwanese millionaire.
- Bubbletea which was born in Taiwan, is so popular at TenRen’s that tapioca balls are only available at 1, 3, 5, and 7 p.m. People line up outside, buying up all of the bubbles until the following two hours.
- I keep hearing Für Elise everywhere which I thought was the ice cream man. Actually, the garbage trucks play Beethoven and people have to run out to drop off their trash.
- You park your car. A ticket agent eventually comes around, gives you a pass and stamps it to indicate how long you’ve parked. Then you take the ticket to a 7-Eleven where while you're paying for it, you can buy concert tickets, pay your cellphone bill and buy a bag of Doritos.
- Movie theatres require that you purchase designated seats. They reward you with two kinds of popcorn, salty and sweet.
(The first movie I saw in Taipei was in French: Coco Avant Chanel.)
- I need more practice using public restrooms that feature the basin-in-the-ground toilet. I tried it once and I’m pretty sure that I peed a little on my feet.

Photo credit: Tina Chen

Friday, August 28, 2009

English menu please...

Food sounds so much more appetizing when lost in translation. Some examples:

The sheet iron burns ostrich meat (when it arrived, it was meat sizzling on a hot plate)
Deep fried dragon pearl (fancy code for fish eyes)
Fries the fish stomach
Fries the goose intestines
Buddha's casserole

And my favourite:
Explodes the small fish (simply, fried fish)

Thursday, August 27, 2009

Taiwanese people are kind and understated. Their bugs, not so much.

I have never been so itchy in my entire life. I got dozens of bug bites while standing beside a park for a few minutes. My legs are covered in grotesque, bulgy lumps, as if someone flicked globs of cookie dough at me. I ran into a pharmacy and the man whose eyes are just visible over the boxes of medicine stacked on the counter, sensed my urgency and came to greet me. I pulled my skirt up, pointed at my bites and then mimed scratching myself.
Freaking bugs.
At an apartment two minutes from my university, I found a big can of Raid for cockroaches in the closet. The landlords said it was just a precaution. Then I pulled open a drawer and found traps for a precaution.
I'm a little scared of them. I have this vivid memory of eating Dim Sum in Hong Kong a few years ago and feeling something tickling my leg. When I put my hand over my pants, there was a thumb-sized lump against my palm.
Oh, at another apartment near the Shida night market, this spider, the span of a Toonie, invited me to live with her. Only if she would protect me from the cockroaches.
Click the image of her, she's got Cyclops's sunglasses:

Wednesday, August 26, 2009

Apartment hunting in a heat wave

Taipei. Day One.
"I find the only way to keep cool is to walk with your mouth open," Tina says to me, "Like a dog."
We wade slowly through the city's heat. Every breath of thick air is work. Wetness persists in places where I have never sweat before, like where my leg meets my butt. Tina, my first and most fabulous Taiwanese friend, assures me that I will get used to it.
My prospective landlady had said that the apartment is 15 minutes from my university. But a walk to the address reveals that it is actually 45 minutes. When I get there, there is no elevator. And six flights of stairs.
The owner of the apartment is cute. She is middle-aged and likes to giggle. We both sit on the bed in the bachelor unit for a moment, panting from the climb. Sweat is running down either side of her face and pooling under her chin.
Six flights of stairs. At least twice a day. In punishing heat. No way.