Monday, June 8, 2015

So Much for Making This a Habit

And the prodigal son returns... It's been a while since I've posted anything, but don't worry! I was diligently working to hone my craft. Consider this my second act, following the world's longest most unnecessary intermission. Yes, I have dedicated myself to becoming a better writer to bring you, the reader, the sporadic free blogging quality you've come to expect and most likely deserve. (Let's be honest, we've all done some bad things. Reading this can serve as a form of penance. Check with your local religious leader.) By immersing myself in some of the finest novels written by the masters of literature, I have absorbed their writing skills into myself and will now bestow my new-found  prowess upon you all!

Or not. I actually spent the last 3 months reading all of the Game of Thrones books and, let's be honest, if you wanted to hear someone talk about a made up world filled with backstabbing betrayal, slanderous gossip, and cries for the blood of tyrants you wouldn't have to read my blog. You could just click over to FOX News. Boom! Cutting political jab! Damn this blog is edgy and relevant!

But no, you're here to read about how a person who can barely function in his own culture manages not to die in a foreign country. Some people would say that's pretty deplorable, but you're just a savvy reader who knows what they like, and that's reading about other people in awkward situations and seeing what kind of bathroom picture I post. That's right, I know why you're REALLY here...

Let's begin.

No, you can't do that here, no matter how much you love your dog.


 I've been lucky enough over the past year to go on some pretty crazy adventures, as well as teach an incredible group of kids! There have been Halloween parties,


They're thrilled!

...trips to South Korea,

I prefer to be "That Guy" on vacation.

The other Korea. Sittin' over there plottin' and schemin'.

...a giant duck,

Like its brethren of the bathtub, it guards the lake from the dreaded Drain Monster.

...a Thanksgiving party with the "turkey's" (duck's) head still attached,

They're thrilled!

...visits from family,

Nathan drank a lot of high-grain alcohol on this trip.

...and even a visit from Santa Claus!

It's uh... it's been a rough year for the jolly old elf.

And if you've been keeping track that brings us all the way up to December. A few weeks after I took the flattering photo you see above, I made the decision to sign on and teach in Taiwan for another year. This was a fairly big decision, but I'm not quite ready to end this chapter of my life. Living in another part of the world is incredible. Most people don't get to experience something like this, and I don't feel one year was sufficient enough time to explore all Taiwan has to offer. Also, I need one more year before the statute of limitations runs out back home. You guys know what sticklers the police can be.

In February we got a week off for Chinese New Year, so my girlfriend Kyra and I decided to take the time to do some personal reflection on our lives and really grow as people. We decided we would best be able to do this on the beautiful beaches of the Philippines.

Just getting back in touch with my roots.

It was an awesome trip! After we landed in Manila our hotel sent a shuttle to pick us up and take us to the southern tip of the island. We would then take a boat to a city on another island, Puerto Galera, where our hotel was. Upon getting off the plane you could just tell there was a unique attitude about life in the Philippines. The best way I've been able to describe this attitude is, "eh, whatever." For example, when we merged onto the highway and fell into a traffic jam, our driver just went, "eh, whatever" and proceeded to ride up on the tail end of an ambulance en route to the hospital for the next 10 kilometers. No better way to start your vacation than whispering to your girlfriend, "Do you see the paramedic in the back?! Look at all those tubes!" But it got us out of the traffic jam so, hurray?

When we got to Bantangas on the southern coast of the island we discovered the next installment of our grand adventure.

Our chariot!

Puerto Galera was really cool though. It was a favorite destination of Ernest Hemingway and even has a bistro named after him. It's also world renown for its diverse coral reefs (yet somehow not for its homeless animal population), so there are scuba diving and snorkeling businesses just lining the beach. When we went snorkeling it was beautiful! We saw all sorts of incredible sea life, including a sea turtle, which I followed around for about a half-hour.

Puerto Galera

Near where we snorkeled.

Our favorite restaurant. Seriously, we went back there more times than I'd like to admit.

On another day we went on a tour of the inner parts of the island. Since no one else in our hotel signed up for the tour, it became a private trip (score!). Now the thing you need to know about the Philippines is that, while the Filipino economy is growing, it's still an island nation and it can be difficult to secure larger domestic goods, such as cars. This is especially true on the smaller or less populated islands. This means that Filipinos often rely on their ingenuity to develop other modes of transportation. Motorcycles are popular, as are motorcycles with homemade sidecars, but for our tour of the island we rode in something much more...shiny.

No, the horn doesn't play "La Cucaracha."

And no, there is no backdoor... or seat-belts.

This is a jeepney. A converted US army jeep left behind from WW2. Yes, there are a lot of them. Yes, they are all shiny. Yes, they are awesome! People just hop on the back, hitch a ride for a while, knock on the roof when they get to where they're going, and then hop off. And thus, we made our escape into the jungle!
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Escapes into the jungle are best accompanied by Eminem.

One of the first stops was this really scenic waterfall called Tamaraw Falls. Despite having a name that sounds like a hillbilly trying to tell you about the day after today, it was really beautiful.

You might be a redneck if you enjoyed the previous joke.

Afterwards we rode further into the island and came to an indigenous tribe. Our guide told us the locals prefer to be left alone but wouldn't mind too much if we were respectful. So no pictures. You'll just have to trust that I'm not a big liar who makes things up on the Internet to sound cooler than I really am. I know I'm asking a lot.

Follow me, on this probably safe bridge!

There was also a little campground where the river was diverted into a very cold pool and man-made waterfall. The owners even built little rock tables and chairs in the river. You just want to make sure you get the table furthest upstream. You're already sitting in fish pee, and you know any jerk sitting two tables further up than you is just going to add their pee to that. I prefer to be in the position of control in these situations.

Pictured: Position of Control

Not Pictured: The old man laughing at his wife who was too scared to get under the waterfall.

Once we were done eating came, what I consider to be, the highlight of our tour: lunch!

Add in a monkey butler and 8-year-old Eli would have considered his life fulfilled.

We ended the tour with a stop at a pebble beach. We were there just briefly, but it was incredibly beautiful. When we first got there our tour guide pointed to a tree and said, "Look a monkey!" We got really excited until we saw the monkey was chained to a tree branch. Encountering a wild animal loses its sense of adventure and danger when it's tied up and heavily sedated, isn't that right Russian President Vladimir Putin? However, we did see another monkey in a tree later on.

....it's me. I'm the monkey.

The following days were just as amazing. Relaxing on the beach, being solicited on the beach, checking out the local shops, being solicited on the street, eating delicious food, being solicited in the restaurants, reading by the pool, being solicited while we were snorkeling... Seriously, a boat came up to us in the middle of the ocean to try and sell us a tour. Either he was banking on us finding sunken treasure or he was really trusting about where I put my money when I wear a swimsuit.

But it was a fantastic trip. Here's a view from one of the places where we ate breakfast.

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I don't think she was being sarcastic.

And here's another one of the jeepney, because those are just fun.

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The vacation ended with Kyra and I having to take a 4AM boat ride back to Batangas. It was so dark that the boat had a hard time reaching the dock. So instead we walked on a rickety plank to one boat, went to the back and then walked on another rickety plank to our boat, surprisingly without being thrown into the ocean! It was a bit of an intense, dark ride but we made it back to Taiwan in time to greet my parents as they arrived for their visit. But those pictures are for another day. So for now I'll leave you with the latest installment of BATHROOMS OF TAIWAN!!

This latest entry comes from a week long music festival. The picture was taken the first day of the festival. You don't want to see what it looked like at the end of the week. I present to you, the Taiwanese Port-a-Potty!

Damn, it's great being a guy.

Sunday, September 14, 2014

Tonight, on 60 Minutes...

It's been a mere five minutes since I found myself emerging from the clearing fog of war, victorious in what was without a doubt my toughest battle yet, or at least that memory allows me to recall. The fading adrenaline gave way to a clarity that only a brush with death can provide. I realized that for far too long I have been absent from those who matter most to me. From all of you. And as I picked up the lifeless body of the most insanely hulked out cockroach you've ever seen in your frickin' life, I knew that I must return to this mysterious ethereal known as my stupid blog.

Some of you may have been wondering where I've been away to for so long. In the rush of life had I abandoned you? Left you for the promise of greener pastures? Perhaps I was curious to test the old adage, absence makes the heart grow fonder. Or perhaps you should stop nagging me so much as to what I've been doing. I told you, I've been busy! I swear you're turning more into your mother everyday...

Let's start this off with some pictures of something crazy that happened to me a while back. You know those stories where a person is going about their day when all of a sudden they see something so different and strange that they instantly know it's been neglected by everyone who has ever set eyes on it? Well that happened to me. My softer side came through and I decided to pull out some cash and bring home the newest addition to my Taiwan life. Everyone, meet Double Banana!

It's part banana, part anomaly.

 Oooohh.....
 
 Aaaahh......

 I ate it. It tasted like a regular banana. I still don't have super powers. So much disappointment...

A few weeks ago Nina and I decided to go to Taipei for the weekend and check out all the sights the city had to offer. Within 30 minutes of being in the city I left my wallet in a taxi. Not on purpose, mind you. Simply because I wasn't paying attention and the universe is a fickle mistress. My journey of seeing the wondrous sights of Taipei took a quick turn into urban survival 101: last the weekend with the money in your pocket.

And for those of you who are saying, "Just call the cab companies, dummy," well I tried that. As far as I know it merely resulted in several taxi services in Taipei being aware that a confused sounding white guy rode in a taxi the previous night and he was calling about something. Who knows what? Just tell him you don't speak English and transfer him to another line.

Nina and I had heard that the Taipei Zoo was an absolute must see, so we decided to go the next morning. It was HUGE and they had a ton of fantastic animals. The best part was that they had information in Chinese and English posted at each exhibit. For example, had it not been for the dedication of the zoo's staff I never would have known the following:

 Nope. Never would have known that. Or seen that. Thanks zoo.

 Normal people would take lots of pictures of the animals. You know, because it's a zoo. That's not really my thing. So go find another blog if that's what you want.

If you're still here, good; let's move on.

Things got weird when you got close to the zoo's bathrooms. There were a lot of signs that I suppose you could label as "encouraging." Maybe motivational is the better word. I don't know, you tell me.

Groups get a discount.

...and you will know thine self.

And for those of you who need a little bit more coaxing than a mere sign can provide, there's this:

Well if you insist.

Pictured above: Me keeping an open mind.

Perhaps it's a not so subtle take on modern art.

We did get to see the new baby pandas at the zoo though. This was a VERY popular attraction so naturally there has to be someway to maintain order. Taipei Zoo is on the case! After standing in line to enter a giant concrete building you stand in line to go through zig-zagging walkways. Eventually you approach a giant pane of glass guarded by zoo personnel droning the Chinese equivalent of, "Move along, move along, move along..."

As you move along (which is highly recommended by zoo staff) you can catch a glimpse into the panda exhibit and capture breathtaking moments of the pandas interacting as if they were actually in the wild.

This is what pandas do in the wild.

See? He's right there, being a panda.

Just look at him! Being all barely alive and such!

Also, this was outside the zoo. I guess maybe it represents Mother Earth.

Or an oncoming law suit from PETA.

After the zoo we went to the Huaxi night market which was really cool. We visited the Longshan Temple and took part in the burning of incense. Out of respect, I didn't take a lot of pictures of the temple. Sometimes I'm a good person.



Afterwards we headed down to the main strip with all the little shops. It was pretty busy but really cool to see. Luckily, my height allows certain perspectives not easily attained by most locals.

If you believe most locals are incapable of holding a camera over their head.

There were lots of neat little things too, including what I can only assume was supposed to be a penguin and panda version of Cheech and Chong.

He's seen some things man, some real crazy things.

Still better than the zoo's panda.

Glenn Beck playing Communist Asian instruments? Maybe. Who's to say? I'm just asking questions.

The next day on our way to the High Speed Rail we stopped in at the Shandao Temple. And when I say "stopped in" I mean "clapped at and redirected by temple security." We had mistakenly tried to enter some other random building at first. The clapping helped to correct this blunder.



We reached the train station with plenty of time to spare so we decided to walk around and see what we could find. And wouldn't you know it? There just happened to be a dance competition going on across the street. Because of course there was.

Some of the "crews," as the kids are calling them these days, were really good. Some were really strange. Actually, a lot were really strange. Take these guys for instance.

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I believe this is what is referred to as "pop, lock, and drop it"

The last group was even stranger, dancing to this traditional Taiwanese music that morphed into some sort of goth rock opera. All the guys were dressed up as emotionless fan wielding geishas in denim jackets and the girls looked liked half-dressed emo kids. I didn't get a recording of their performance and I don't think anyone else in the crowd did either. We were all too distracted by the fact that we were experiencing the truest definition of a waking nightmare. Thank you Taipei, I would have hated for my trip to end on a normal note.

 I'm about done with this entry but before I sign off I have one last quick story. Do you recall the earlier photo of the Chinese Civet? With the scented glands? Of course you do. That's the kind of mental scarring that requires lifelong therapy. Anyway, another interesting fact about the civet is that they will eat a steady diet of berries and coffee beans. And as you know, when you put something into your body eventually it must leave your body. What you may not know is that farmers go around collecting the poop from these civets. They then use them to make specialty coffee. Some people swear it's some of the best coffee in the world. Others say it tastes like crap (insert rim shot here). Well guess what a coworker of mine gave me the other day...

Well if the package says it's OK for all...

So yes. I drank the squirrel poop coffee because I'm an open minded individual and being single for the rest of my life can't be all THAT bad. Be proud of me Mom and Dad. This is what I went to school for.

Sunday, August 10, 2014

This Blog Is Utterly Useless for Travel Advice

Let's start this entry off with a game! Everyone loves games. Try and figure out what this glue is supposed to be called:

The answer will be at the end of this post, provided I don't forget to write it down.

Taxis are nice. They take you where ever you need to go and in Taiwan they operate at a reasonable price. They also have air conditioning and deep cushioned seats. Hurray taxis, right? No. You're wrong and I'll tell you why. While those deep cushioned seats seem like they only want to gently caress your derrière, what they really want to do is steal your keys. But this is only a partial explanation as to why I was wailing on the door to my house like a Rock 'Em Sock 'Em Robot at 2:30 in the morning. Really it was a social experiment to see how many dogs live in my neighborhood and whether or not they would wake up to the sound of loud banging. Conclusion: 3 dogs and yes, they wake up.

But at least this gave me an excuse to meet our friendly neighborhood key master.

If Taiwan were the Matrix, he would be KEY-anu Reeves. (Insert laughs)

So last weekend a group of us went to Sun Moon Lake, which is just a two hour (karaoke free) bus ride from Taichung. It's a really beautiful area of Taiwan with lots of trails and temples to explore. We had to take a ferry boat to the other side of the lake which gave me plenty of time to reflect on important issues.

 "Sure Superman can fly, but Batman has to rely on his cunning..."

As soon as we got off the boat we immediately started sweating because Taiwan's climate hates you and hates your clothes. Most of the time I look like I finished last in a wet t-shirt contest. Seriously, you'd think my belly button sprang a leak from all the sweat on my shirt. I'll post picture evidence further down.

ANYWAY, the trail we were on was going to lead us to a temple at the top of this small mountain. It was amazing and we basically had the entire area to ourselves, since no one else had started hiking yet. Either that or we were on a path that people aren't intended to take but we can't read Chinese so we ignorantly do whatever we want. Illiteracy - 1, Education - 0

Pictured Above: The happy ending to a great movie or the opening scene to a horror film.

This pretty much sums up all the pictures I've ever had taken of me.

"Then again Superman has heat vision. One look from him and Batman would be fried."

Apparently I'm learning how to whistle in this picture.

Taiwan's secret Cabbage Patch Kids garden.

"But the Batmobile is just so damn cool!"

Along the trail were quite a few betel nut farms as well. Betel nut is actually areca nut wrapped in betel leaves which is then chewed for it's effects as a mild stimulant, kind of like chewing tobacco. Go ahead and take a moment to Google Image search "betel nut smile." Go on, I'll wait...

For those of you who looked it up, that's pretty gnarly right? For those of you who said "I'll do it later" and then kept on reading, I'm disappointed. You know you're going to forget later. It'll be just like last year when you forgot to call your grandma on her birthday. Your good intentions aren't going to magically wish Nana a happy birthday because your forgetful brain was too busy watching Dancing with the Stars!

Where were we? Betel nut farms. You see more of them the further inland you get and I guess they're a hot commodity because the farmers post warnings about their intense security systems to dissuade trespassers.

The rough translation is: Warning: Dog shoots lightning from mouth.
You don't want to know where the fireballs come from...

A stupid idea is being contemplated...
Not pictured: The path we're supposed to be on

It took us about 30 minutes to get to the end of the trail where the Xuanzang Temple was located. It was an incredible building with so many intricate details. Absolutely worth the hike.

Xuanzang Temple

 Possibly an ancient alarm clock?

We couldn't take pictures on the top two floors of the temple but we were allowed to take photos on the first floor. It seemed a bit inappropriate though, so I don't have any photos inside the temple. But nobody said anything about taking borderline inappropriate photos outside the temple!

Leaky belly button!

One of the more spacious places I've been in Taiwan.

It symbolizes all the wild elephants that absolutely do not exist in Taiwan.

We decided to get some food after touring the temple but unfortunately the only food we could find was from this older gentleman selling "Chinese hamburgers" out of what appeared to be a giant wok full of boiling oil. Group consensus was to hike to the visitor center and get food there instead. Luckily a shop owner was nice enough to point us in the right direction and inform us that it was only a 25 minute walk along the road. Even though the shop owners grandson was pretending to shoot us with a toy gun, most of the people you meet in Taiwan are super helpful!

But wanting to be helpful and being helpful are two entirely different things.

Twenty-five minutes into the walk we were still no where close to civilization. And then it began to rain. And rain. And rain. There are few sights more pathetic than 3 people huddled under a tree on the side of the road, trying to seek shelter from a torrential downpour that Taiwan decided to dump down. After about 10 minutes of this a man on a scooter drove by with a look that said, "What kind of morons walk around Taiwan without ponchos or umbrellas?" I agree sir.

Luckily a few minutes later he came back by and gave us two ponchos out of his scooter. Hurray for kindness! But some of you may recall that there were 3 of us huddled under that tree and the man only had 2 ponchos to spare. Through the power of math and deductive reasoning, you probably figured out that one of us was going to have to keep getting rained on. UNLESS we tied the two ponchos together and held them over our heads. BOOM! Human ingenuity over nature!

The truth is that nature doesn't care about your ingenuity and if Taiwan has decided that you're going to get wet, then you're going to get wet. No way around it. I realized this as I continued to get soaked despite the colorful ponchos being held over our heads.

Finally there was a light at the end of the tunnel. It came in the form of a light at the end of the road. Nina and Rhonda flagged down a passing car and the driver was foolish enough to stop. Before anyone could say anything Nina was in the back seat of the car introducing herself and asking for a ride. One look at the three confused Taiwanese faces in the car told me that we were all about to become best friends.

So there we were. Rolling 6 deep in a 5 passenger car. The guy in the back seat with us awkwardly accepted his fate of getting squished and wet. He was a good sport about it. Hurray for kindness!

You can't even tell we were sweating earlier!

We ended up getting dropped off near a pier where we could take a boat back to the other side of the lake. As we walked up to the visitors center we were given a hero's welcome by the all the laughing Taiwanese people. I guess getting caught in a rain storm and looking like a drowned rat is a pretty white person thing to do.

Let's look at some food! Shaved ice is awesome! The last couple of times we got chocolate with frosted flakes and chocolate with banana slices. This time we switched things up and got shaved ice with fruit and mango ice cream.

 Guava, banana, cantaloupe, watermelon, and cherry tomatoes.
 Because tomatoes are a fruit. Stop asking so many questions.

 This is a toilet themed restaurant. You can tell because of the happy poop
everywhere and Keiran's thrilled expression.

 Ever since I got off the plane I've been experiencing this pain in my back. Recently it got worse so I decided it was time to do something about it. Nina and I went to a carefully selected massage parlor (read: no "happy endings") near her apartments only to discover upon arrival that I couldn't get a massage because I'm a guy. Fair enough I suppose.

We found out about another place from some of the other teachers and decided to try again. The thing about massages in Taiwan is that the goal isn't so much to massage the tension out of your body as it is to force out the tension through extreme pressure and well placed elbow grinding. One painful hour later, Nina and I had to go get tea to discuss what just took place, like we were in some sort of victims support group. Strangely enough my back feels much better. I still think I might try acupuncture instead next time...

 My Chinese is terrible but I'm certain one of those symbols means "death massage"

Alright that's enough blabbing for now. On to the Bathroom of the Week. This week we have a special two-for-the-price-of-one deal! Our first entry is a tiny little bathroom from a restaurant called The Local. Good food, but not a lot of space to work with.

Number two? Go to the women's restroom. That's literally what you're supposed to do.

The next entry is just a funny little sign hanging in the bathroom at a place called Smith & Lo.

You'll realize that since the last sentence doesn't have a 
question mark that it must actually be a demand.
Apparently there's some Will guy running around not aiming appropriately.

Oh yeah, the answer to the question at the beginning of this post is Super Mega Bond. It's OK if you didn't get it right, neither did the manufacturer. Zàijiàn!

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 Just a couple of gringos bringing sweet Mexican tunes to Taiwan.