A Travellerspoint blog

Xi'an: Weeks 1 & 2

Sublime to the ridiculous?

sunny 23 °C

I'm not going to lie to you all, the first week was hard. Well, the first five days or so were pretty horrible, but it got better quickly after that, and I think most of it was just the overwhelming fact that I had arrived in China, and that was it. Everything was new and different, and it wasn't as though I hadn't expected it to be, but it was just overwhelming and I felt sort of hopeless against the tears that I seemed to be crying every day. I'm not a crying person usually, but clearly when things get too much, it's my only reaction. Which is awkward when you're idly sitting in class and then WHAM you start to cry, haha.

But aside from adjustment questions aside, which really cleared up within the space of a day and I was sort of astounded how quickly things turned around, Xi'an is great and I am getting back into the whole China thing. It seems stupidly obvious to say that things are different, that culture and expectations dictate different things, but I found it a real surprise to be confronted with the way that things were organized here. I felt a little out to sea, understandably, and while I knew that the teachers and the administrators of the whole program were there to help me (and did), I didn't feel like I knew what was going on, ever. For example, one day I turned up to class and they ushered me out to get a health examination at the local traveller's hospital (which is a funny story in itself)! I had no idea what was going on. Of course, it may have been a function of the fact that I'm here all by myself, having organized it myself and assumed that I would get detailed information on the way things worked, but I had no clue. Lots of people seem to be here with programs, or they've been here before, so they understand the system (such as it is), but I've felt totally out of the loop. Which finished, really, when I paid my last fee (for my room) last week.

Which reminded me to check my bank balance, and for a moment I thought I was terribly out of money. I did some calculations, and I was down to $8AUD a day! I thought, holy crap! How will I ever survive on that! Then I changed it into RMB and realized that's pretty much what I've budgeted myself to spend, which can easily be brought down if I need to. I love how cheap China is. :')

I've been out on the weekends into the city, which has changed a lot. It's got lots of big shopping centers now, huge brand name places, and everything's a lot more upmarket. It makes it more comfortable for the Western traveller, I'm sure, even though most people still don't speak English in the shops, but there feels like there's something missing. I'll be the first to admit that my memory isn't that great, and five years is a long time, but the entire stretch of Xi Da Jie has changed entirely. It used to be all little shops on a wide road, lots of trees, and all that seems to have been razed in favor of these multi-story shopping centers, and it's a little disappointing. Go down a street or two, and everything's as I remember it, but it was really sad to see all of the color gone from the main streets. Dong Da Jie is the same road it always was - shopping, shopping, and yet more shopping - but everything seems to have been been bumped upmarket a little. Nan Da Jie looks essentially the same (as far as I can remember, some big buildings instead of little ones but nothing drastic), and I never spent too much time on Bei Da Jie so I can't really tell. What I really want to do is go out to the high tech area where I lived last time - everything was always changing even while I was there, it would be interesting to see what has changed now.

I've met lots of foreigners, as you do living in dorms, but mostly people stick to their language groups. I've made a couple of Belgian friends who speak English - but one of them likes to speak Chinese to me - and a girl from California who I still don't quite know what to make of. I've gone out with people a few times, dinner and movies and things like that, but a lot of the time I'm just in my room.

The workload is fair. I get four hours of classes in the mornings - two sets of subjects, two hours each subject, with five minute breaks between the hours and then a twenty minute break between the two subjects. Then the rest of the day is free. Next month, they're starting some extra classes, and I signed up for cooking and calligraphy, which I think will be great. I don't actually know how long the classes go for, but I think they're all semester. Cooking is maybe once a week and calligraphy maybe three times - they haven't worked it all out, I guess it depends on what it popular and everything. I might go back and add my name to the Tai Chi list, even though there's the chance it might be early-morning Tai Chi. We'll see!

And the homework is few and far between. It's very relaxed, and you don't get scolded if you don't do the homework. The trouble (or the good thing, for learning I suppose) is that I'm in a class that's challenging my abilities in Chinese, so I can't just slack off like I usually do. I have to read the lessons before we go over them (tricky, when we don't always get told what we're doing next), I even read over my listening stuff so that I know what's going on. If I don't, I'm lost, and the class is much more difficult than it probably should be.

My dorm room is nice - I have some pictures up on my Flickr account, which is running dangerously low for this month, so anything else I take pictures of for the next couple of weeks might go up on the photo hosting service they have here at TP. Anyway, the room is nice - it was VERY stark when I first got here, and a bit of a shock, and though I've just cleaned it over the weekend, I seem to be settling into the place. Once I get some nice new sheets that are blue and colorful and remind me of me, I think it will feel much better. I'll also get some posters, maybe something to put on the floor, a beanbag (if I can find them??) and some more food-related things: mugs, bowls, spoons, etc. I've got the snack food all sorted, though. ;)

So everything's taken a little getting used to, and this week still feels a little out of balance, but I'm slowly but surely getting there.

And now, I have to be off to star in a promotional video for a fitness center! Ta-ta for now!

Posted by alexifer 22:16 Archived in China Comments (2)

Macau! (and the end of HK)

August 31-September 1

sunny 28 °C

It was awesome - I went to a whole other country! Well, not really, I mean technically Hong Kong and Macau are both parts of China, just special administrative regions, and you have to fill in exit and entry forms and stuff, but I think it's a bit like the border into Canada - easy to cross. Anyhow, I still had to carry around my passport all day which was a little worrying, but I just held it in my hand the whole time.

Now, I didn't really know anything about Macau before, and I have to say that I don't really know much more than before I left. I was totally baffled by the museum and the whole fact that I was entirely lost and had no grip on either of the two official languages (Cantonese and Portugese) meant that I pretty much spent the time following other tourists around so that I sort of looked like I knew what I was doing.

Frst of all, what I think Macau is about for Hong Kong residents is gambling. There are lots of huge glitzy casinos and waterfront properties and the big neon signs and the lot. But also, there's a bunch of history around. Basically, the Portuguese settled in Macau like ages ago, 1500s when they were still the kings of the water. So Macau is this weird mixture of Chinese traditions (Buddhist temples, modern Asian architecture with skyscrapers and air conditioning) and old-time European traditions (um, Portuguese architecture? Wide open plazas and Christian churches everywhere). It's pretty awesome, in that "what is going on here??" kind of way. You turn one way and there's a little pokey alley way that looks like it belongs in Beijing, and you turn another and there's another little alley that looks straight out of France or Italy! (I'm guessing it's probably pretty Portuguese as well...)

So anyway, you get to Macau via ferry. It's a wobbly ferry that takes an hour to get from Hong Kong, but I slept all the way through it both times. ;) What I did see of it on the way in was nice: there are lots of little islands and sometimes, you see some that you think are untouched, perfectly clean of human touch or interference, and then around the corner is a ten-story slab of a resort along the beach front. But that's really all I saw of it because next thing I knew, I was out like a light. I turned up in Macau, following signs and still feeling rather lost, and picked up a few dozen leaflets at the tourist info booth.

Then into the arrivals hall at the wharf, and there were people offering taxi tours, pedicab tours, anything and everything and I actually went back inside so I could figure out which bus I wanted to take so I could just walk right past them. Which I did, and after much fiddling around I got on a bus into the city. It was actually quite difficult. Most things were in Chinese in big letters and then Portuguese in little ones, and of course all the script was traditional. On the bus they read out the stop name in Cantonese and Mandarin, and then English floated by on a sign unread. So, I got out when I thought I should, into this great big piazza with white painted buildings surrounding it. This was about when things started feeling bizarre: like parts of Europe had just been supplanted in Asia.

I walked around, there were a few tourist signs (but not quite so extensive as in Hong Kong), and the first thing I stumbled across was a church. It was quite pretty, the sort of thing you'd visit in Europe or maybe South America (I say this because of the climate, only it was in the middle of China. Then there were some more signs to the Ruins of St. Paul's Church, which is apparently one of the great symbols of Macau. It was the doorway to what I'm sure was once an incredible church. The plaques were all in Portuguese, though, so I didn't really understand. Then I followed some other tourists up to the museum but it seemed they didn't want to visit the museum so instead I took a turn around the gardens at the top, which looked to be an old fortress of some kind.

Let me just say here that it was HOT. Hot as hell, and no clouds or anything to cover it so it was just horrendeously hot and gross and I think I probably got a little bit of a sunburn in the process. So by the time I wandered down from the garden and tried to find (unsuccessfully) a cathedral that there were signs to, it was definitely time to cool off and have something to eat. It took me a while of walking up and down this one strip of a side-street to decide where to eat, and I'd walked back to the main piazza area before I realised that no, I was getting a headache and definitely needed to eat. I finally setlled on a set lunch menu at a french restaurant. Which wasn't anything really special, some soup and three meatballs (which doesn't sound like enough but was actually fine), and two glasses of Coke for like $18, which is all good by me really.

During lunch I decided that I should find something else to do, something else to find in Macau because it was silly to come all the way here and not see anything but the ruins and a garden. So I decided to find this Fora Garden place, because it had a cable car that shows off a view, and the buses ran straight from where I was and I could catch one in its loop all the way back to the ferry afterwards. It should not have been as much of an adventure as it ended up being.

I got on the #6 bus, and about two stops later, I realized that I was going the wrong way. But I didn't really know what to do about it! I didn't know where I was, and the bus was bleating at me in foreign languages, and I didn't really want to get off because it didn't look like tourist area anymore, so I decided to go to the end of the line. Surely there I could catch the same or a similar bus back to where I wanted to go originally! So after a forty-minute bus ride - which I have to admit was rather nice, driving through the side-streets of Macau that most tourists probably don't see because they take the right buses - I got off at the end of the line and there is nothing there, seriously. I was so frustrated by this point I thought it might be best just to turn around and go back to the ferry, but the bus that goes to the ferry left before I could wave it down. The next one that left went to Fora Park (finally!), but I couldn't fight my way through the bus to get off at the actual stop, so I had to backtrack from the stop after.

It was all right in the end, Fora Park. Not really something I'd have done every day in the middle of summer when all I want is a cool drink and no more walking thank you, but it was all right. I caught the cable car up to the top and wandered behind some other tourists, following a sign to the lighthouse. The park was rather nice, very shady and lots of trees, nice paths (though they were up hill to the lighthouse) and rather picturesque, as it was on top of the highest point in Macau. I followed the other tourists some more, through an old disused air raid shelter, because, well, why not! It was a little bizarre, a random air raid shelter on top of a mountain, and I couldn't find out why because it was all in Chinese and Portuguese. Thwarted again! However, it was very small, and a lovely shade of yellow. The lighthouse was also nice, and very picturesque on top of the mountain. There was a little church next to the lighthouse keeper's house, and it was all very nautical and had a spectacular view, but here I have to pause and tell another story.

Just before lunch, between coming down from the park at the top of the museum and failing to find the cathedeal, I'd gone into this little silkscreen painting exhibit, which was housed in an old 19th-century house that was influenced by both Chinese and Portuguese architecture. It was nice, but for some reason, the guard kept following me around. There were other people in the place, but he kept his eye on me, while I was taking photos and things. For a while I thought, maybe it was just this guard, he was just being weird and following me around, so I gave him a funny look and walked out pretty pointedly after that. However, it was not just this guard! There was another one at the lighthouse, in the church. There was some other random guy wandering around the place by himself, and a family, but the guard followed me wherever I went, just a few steps behind. I had no idea what was going on. What did they think I was going to do? I was just taking pictures, like everyone else!

Anyhow, I caught the bus back to the ferry after that, and that was kind of the end of my day. I got back to the hostel at about seven, took the MTR back, and ate my leftover California Pizza Kitchen pizza from the night before - yum!

The day I left for Xi'an was mostly spent online doing not much of anything, organizing photos and writing an email to the parents, and by the time all that was over it was time to go. I made a good trade, though! Me and this other guy from Melbourne were talking to this new British kid who had just arrived in Hong Kong, about all the things you can do in Hong Kong and our plans and, you know, general hostel talk. But since it was my last day, and I knew I wasn't coming back for a long time, I figured, why don't I give him my Octopus card (which you can use for MTR transit and also buying things at 7/11 and the supermarket)? It still had $50KHD on it, but I didn't need that much to get to the airport. And he was interested in Macau, so I also palmed off a few Macau patacas (just $8 in coins) and he was just so grateful! He'd noticed the Nick Hornby book on my bed and he handed over 31 Songs! So now, all I'm missing is Fever Pitch.

So that, my friends, was Hong Kong and Macau!

Posted by alexifer 22:24 Archived in Macau Tagged transportation Comments (0)

Hong Kong!

August 27-30

all seasons in one day

The flight from Taiwan was fine, I took an earlier flight because it was such a short flight that I was there in WAY too much advance even despite the driver being late. Then, once in Hong Kong and clutching the very informative emails from my mum's friend who lives here, I braved the MTR from the airport, and ended up at my very small but very clean hostel. There, I found a girl named Liz, who was from England and on her way to Brisbane and Sydney with her friends for a couple of months. It was good, we went to lunch and she went to see Victoria Peak but I thought I'd leave it for another day because my ears by that point were really wigging me out, they were hurting and changing pressure when I moved my head, which was not exactly comforting. So I wandered around Causeway Bay, but of course I forgot all of the informative emails in the room so I just sort of walked and walked around the place.

After my walking around I had about six cups of chamomile tea and a ham and cheese croissant at a place in one of the malls around "fashion walk" (just a collection of malls). That was a nice break, I killed probably a good forty-five minutes reading Vanity Fair and just looking at my surroundings (which were rather nice for a shopping mall). For dinner I just picked up some instant noodles from the supermarket across the street from the hostel and ate them in the room, and fell asleep probably at about 10PM, I was tuckered out entirely.

Then, the next day I headed into Central to find myself somewhere to eat. My plan was to eat there, then maybe wander around for a while before heading up the Peak. Which isn't what happened at all, in the end! I did, indeed, have lunch in Central, at a nice Thai place I only realized afterwards I spent about $17AUD on (though admittedly that was a three course set meal and a nice drink). Before lunch I was feeling pretty wretched from my cold, wondering if I should go back to the room and abandon all plans for the rest of the day, take a taxi, it was awful! But during lunch, of course, I started to feel much better. I read my book (Nick Hornby, How To Be Good), watched the people outside (so many suited foreigners, clearly the hangout of the rich and western), and my ears unblocked after a while too. So I was refreshed and replenished for the day ahead.

I went walking for a while, Central's really hilly but I took it slowly. Hong Kong has these tourist signs everywhere, so I followed one to a Temple right in the middle of the city and had a walk around. I skipped over "Hollywood Road" because it was just antiques shops and that's kinda boring if you're not going to buy anything. So I just followed the signs back to the MTR and hopped on a train, planning to go a couple of stops to check out Hong Kong Park and the Museum of Teaware on my way up to The Peak.

But I got off at the next stop and decided to connect over to the Tung Chang line and caught it all the way to the end - to Lantau Island. From there I took a bus to the Po Lin Monestary and the Great Buddha. I'd heard of these places before in my travel book and things that mum's friend had sent me, so it wasn't entirely random, but it felt a little bit like it, because I hadn't really planned on it. I just sort of got off at the right stop. It was a little confusing, but eventually someone asked "buddha?" and pointed me to the right bus. It was $16HK ($2.50AUD or so) to get to Nyong Ping (the town), and it was definitely worth it. Just the bus ride was entertaining! It was up and down these huge hills with tiny, winding streets that of course were having roadworks done on them as well! It was loads of fun just getting there.

Then the Buddha statue and monestary itself was amazing too. The Buddha was on top of a mountain (you could actually see it from the drive, but I'd fallen asleep on the way in and only saw it on the way back), so I had to walk up a lot of stairs to get there. Not being 100%, I stopped halfway through and took some very tired-looking pictures of myself. I wandered around at the top for a while, which was a lovely view and also nice and windy, which was refreshing after all the walking. I looked out at the big mountains surrounding us and the clouds that settled over them, which was gorgeous and definitely photo-worthy.

After wandering around the monestary and Nyong Ping (which has been built up for the grand opening of a cable car from Tung Chang to Nyong Ping, which will be gorgeous), I took the bus back to the MTR, the MTR back to Admiralty station, which isn't the one that's conventionally for the Peak Tram but I managed my way around with the tourist info signs, basically (thankfully I'd had a look around and knew that the Hong Kong Park was close by, so I followed signs to there first and then from there to the Peak Tram.

It was crazy busy on the Peak Tram, but it was well worth it. the tram is certainly an experience, and it only cost $5AUD! It goes basically at a 45 degree angle up the side of the mountain, which was pretty awesome. The top is nothing special except for the view. I was there at around 7PM, and there were lots of people around, but the viewing platform was closed so you had to take pictures from outside. I had a wander around there, a rather LONG wander because I thought you could stop the tram on the way down as well as the way up, but it turns out you can't, so I made it all the way down to the first stop and then had to walk all the way back up! It is a very steep hill, did I mention the 45 degree angle! So by the end of it, I was grossly grossly (in both senses of that word) hot by the time I got back to the top so I had a frappacino at the Peak Tower, cooled off, and then headed back to my hostel via the Central station.

The next day (Wednesday I guess it was), Liz and I went around together for most of the day, starting out at around 10ish, I guess. Our first stop was dim sum at the Kowloon Hotel in Tsim Sha Tsui, generally a tourist trap and the whole ordeal was pretty pitiful as well. I mean, the food was okay, and the decor was nice and hotel-sterile, but it was at a hotel so there was none of the raucous cart-pushing, just a set menu that cost us about $50 in the end! The trouble was, we couldn't find any other dim sum places, and I didn't really want to drag Liz on a wild goose chase to find one. So I went with the one in the Lonely Planet book and it was hideous. It was made worse by the fact we were sat in a god-awful position between two sections of the hotel dining area (one half for dim sum, one half for Italian buffet - can we say wtf?), so the whole palava took around two hours to complete!

Anyhow, then we got on our way, and we went to see the Museum of History. It's like this park that has a bunch of museums, and I think Wednesday must be general free admission day, because there was a MASSIVE line out front of the Museum of Science - I can only imagine that Wedesday is a popular field trip day. ;) The whole place was a little confusing and difficult to get a grip on, and I thought it was a function of the amount of people that were there, but after a while of going through the various historical periods of Hong Kong's history, trying to keep up with the story and understand it as told on the boards, I realized it was a function of the museum itself. It was so badly organised you didn't know what to read next. Case in point: We went to the first interesting bit about the beginnings of foreign trade up to the Opium Wars (section 5). You walk into a wide open area that has random cannons in the middle of the room, and the next thing you see is a big sign for section 6. Any pertinent information is hidden away on walls, or in a video room which we got to see but only because some guard lady who couldn't speak an ounce of English ushered us into a darkened room. It was awful! Trying to follow the story chronologically was just impossible, and I even knew what event was supposed to lead on from the next!

At any rate it was a good sight-seeing trip, something interesting that taught Liz about the history of Hong Kong and for me at least I saw a bunch of artifacts from the time periods I've learned about once or twice (the cannons were actually cool, and there were boats and post boxes and mock pawn shops, and the section on popular culture was cool). At least it was free, haha!

Then we walked back, went on a wild goose chase for a bank because Liz had to get some travellers cheques exchanged and the woman at HSBC told us that this place on the 9th floor of some building (it turned out to be a Travelex; harmless, but still weird that it was on the ninth floor) would do it for free. So it was a bit of a walk around but we managed to find it and it all got sorted.

Then we were on our way again, to a temple. It was about 5 by this point, and by the time we got to the temple, it was bloody well closed! We took some pictures at the gate anyway, just because we'd gone out of our way to see what seemed like a very reasonable-looking sort of temple, and then we hopped a taxi to what we thought was the Kowloon Park, where there was an old walled city.

Somehow, we ended up at the water's edge, Seafood Alley or something like that. It seems the picture we had pointed to in Liz's guidebook had been mistaken for the one on the opposite page. Still, we paid the $70HKD fare and got out, just because - well, the driver didn't seem like he was prepared to admit it was his fault, and also really, what was one tourist destination from another?

So we decided to take a gander. The tourist signs told us there was another temple, and a lookout point, through Seafood Alley (which I shall henceforth call it). Seafood Alley, I must admit, was pretty foul. It smelled terrible, there were fish heads everywhere, and people asking if you wanted to eat in their restaurant all the way along. I wasn't particularly skittish, but I was heartened by the fact we saw some other people wandering through like tourists as well. We kept following the signs, following and following, and we found the lookout. It was actually gorgeous, we couldn't have picked a better time if we tried - it was just on dusk and the sun was setting over the harbor, it was quite pretty and we definitely took some snaps there. But the damned temple was still strangely missing from our adventure.

We kept walking, prompted on by the occasional sign, and we seemed to be going through people's back yards. In fact, that's what they were, we knew, because there was a gate with a name on the door, and letter boxes, like an apartment complex. Only, it wasn't an apartment complex, just these small squat houses and people hanging around outside to keep cool. It was a bit bizarre, wandering through there, but it was interesting anyway. And even more bizarrely, nobody seemed to give us funny looks as we walked through their streets! So we figured we were on the right path. Eventually, after much confusion and wondering whether we were, in fact, going to stumble onto this fabled temple any time soon, we turned a corner, the houses cleared, and there was a little red temple at the end of the windy shore pathway. It was stunning, right on the water's edge, lots of rocks and the water and mountains in the distance, it was gorgeous!

Anyway, back through the people's houses and fisherman's alley, and we were so gross and sweaty and smelly that we caught a $15HKD taxi to the closest MTR station. It wasn't far, but it was up a nasty hill, so we felt justified enough. There was a handy purple line taking us from where we were to a stop before where we needed to be, so Liz got back to the room on time to get to the airport, and I went on to Causeway Bay because I knew I was going to want to use my computer for longer than the hour it tells me my battery only has, so I needed a converter. I wandered for a while, took a tour on the escalators of the local department store, SOGOs (they had no travel section! I was confused) before I found an electrical place I had spied earlier and I got my converter for $15HKD - very fair, I think!

With that accomplished, I had nothing better to do so I wandered to Times Square, a HUGE mall (15 floors or something insane) that was still open at something like 8PM (my phone also ran out of batteries so i failed at knowing the time). I went to Page One, a bookshop with an extensive English range that Shiva introduced me to in Taiwan. There, I was able to find a proper Chinese dictionary for myself (proper as in, it uses simplified script instead of traditional) and, my reward for the find, another Nick Hornby book. After that, I was only missing 31 Songs and Fever Pitch.

Then I was LAME and went to California Pizza Kitchen for dinner. Cost me $106HKD, expensive really, and I had to watch everyone being all happy chappy with their birthday parties and dates, haha. It ended up being all right, eating alone, and I had some good quality time with my travel book. Which is when I came up with the FANTASTIC idea to visit Macau for the day!

Posted by alexifer 07:57 Archived in Hong Kong Comments (0)

Taiwan!

August 24-27, 2006

all seasons in one day 24 °C

I was staying with a friend in Taiwan, a lovely girl named Shiva who I met through a mutual friend in Sydney and who's working with kindergarteners teaching them English. There are so many jobs like that in Taiwan (and pretty much everywhere in Asia), and Shiva's is just one of many programs that trains people who have never been teachers to teach an immersion class for little kids. This is the sort of thing I think I'll end up doing in China after university, just teaching kids and running around after them, because it sounds like so much fun and I think you'd get a lot out of it, even if you weren't completely enamoured of children.

Anyhow, first things first: Taiwan was HOT! So damn hot, and sticky and gross! It was definitely very weird being transplanted to a completely different climate - from the cool of Sydney's waning winter to the end of a tropical summer - and of course it didn't help that most of the things I've packed have been in preparation for cold cold winters in Xi'an! Thankfully, my tshirts were all on top, so I didn't have to root around for anything and displace too much.

Shiva and I didn't do much that first night; I got very well-acquainted with the public transportation system and went out to a temple that's somewhere in the city. It was a nice and relaxing place, but it seemed to take forever to get there! We set out just after getting to Shiva's apartment at about seven in the evening and didn't make it back until ten! We had some deep-fried food vendor stuff for a very late dinner, which was absolutely delicious, but it's hard to eat too much in hot weather.

The next day, Friday, I traversed Taipei by myself, as Shiva was working with the kids from 8-4. I went to the Sun Yat Sen Memorial, which was MASSIVE, and all I really wanted to see was the big statue of him and the guards standing extra still. Which I found eventually but not before being whisked upstairs by excited English-speaking guides saying "how great would it be to look at some calligraphy?!"

So I went upstairs to look at the calligraphy of some Venerable Master Hsing Yun which was kinda cool, all these scrolls of Buddhist sayings. There was also a poster or two that you could take, so now I have one hanging on my wardrobe door where there's a dent as though someone's punched the door. Anyway, back to Taiwan... they also had a place where you could trace one of the more famous of the Venerable Master's sayings, which of course is right up my alley (haven't done calligraphy in AGES!), so I sat down to do some and one of the exhibit people came over and started talking to me in English and I spoke to her in Chinese. Once I'd finished, we talked in Chinese some, about why I was there and where I was going. It was definitely good to see I could speak Chinese somewhat conversationally before getting there!

Then I was lost, trying to find the famous statue, and this place is HUGE, like I mean MASSIVE. The hall is... a New York City block, easy. I did find the statue and the guards doing their thing in the end, but only after walking around the hall once (and it took me ages!). I took some photos there, it was fun to watch the guards do their little rituals every so often. The funny thing was, though, there was this DUDE, employed by the hall, and I think all that was in his job description was straightening the guards' clothes after they'd moved around in them! It was hilarious!! Imagine having that job.

So I wandered around, then took a bus to the MRT (subway) station because it was just... ridiculously hot to be walking around in, and then made my way out to the Museum of Contemporary Art.

I really missed my sister at the MOCA, because she is so much more the expert at these things than I am. The exhibit was called "Slow Tech" and (I think) it was all about the concept that technology is great and progressive and helpful in society, but we need to slow down and use it to reassess the things we already have in life. I kinda just made that up, actually, but it sounds pretty good. There were some video installations, and this one that had like panoramic pictures put into globes and hung from the ceiling, that was pretty cool. Not very technological though ;)

Then I met up with Shiva in the city (back near the memorial), and we went to Taipei 101 and went up to the observatory in this super-fast elevator that cleared my blocked ears! The view from Taipei 101 was spectacular, as it should be from the ONLY tall building in Taiwan. During the entire drive from the airport, it's the only tall building. I don't remember how many floors it has, but it's the tallest building in the world at the moment, until something in China and then, later, the World Trade Center memorial site (or whatever it's called) in New York. Then, once back inside Taipei 101, which is essentially a big mall, we also bought some English books at a place called Page One. I bought some short stories by Roald Dahl (which I am now reading) and 'Crash' by J.G. Ballard, which Shiva suggested. I don't usually read books at home, but I have been reading them voraciously here - I've only got three left!

Anyhow, then we went to an Italian restaurant - of all places - for dinner, and it was actually quite good. Plus, the price! Antipasto, pasta for two, and two glasses of wine cost us $44AUD total! Insane! Then, for some reason, we had been talking about the movie Cruel Intentions, and Shiva knew this place where you could just rent a movie and sit in a little room and watch it, it's called MTV (like KTV is for Karaoke, MTV is for Movies?). I thought it was a bizarre sort of concept at first, but it works really well! They should have them everywhere. We also got a free drink with it and could buy a bag of popcorn, it was awesome! They played the movie for you so you couldn't pause or anything, but it was definitely a great concept. They had all types of formats - even laser discs!

Then on Saturday we went into Xi Men Ding which is basically street after street of shopping malls. Also there are street food vendors, but apparently they're illegal, so whenever the police come around they just start running - and they did! I didn't see any police, but at once point they all randomly started high-tailing it out of the streets, pushing their carts of fried dumplings and tofu as fast as they could!

From Xi Men Ding we went to the Chiang Kai-Shek memorial. it was also MASSIVE MASSIVE MASSIVE. It was this HUGE plaza with two traditional-looking temple buildings, with the red roofs and everything, which are used for concerts and plays and things, and then a gate at one end (white with blue trellices) and a huge white and blue building that housed a big statue of Chiang Kai-Shek looking rather smug and benevolent (though I'm not entirely sure how they go together). We saw the guards coming down from the changing thereof, and I snapped a picture of them furtively (I felt like you shouldn't, somehow). I think the guy I mentioned before who was straightening the guards' clothes at the Sun Yat-Sen Memorial, I think they're just the security for the guards. Because the guards are like the ones in London that don't talk or move or anything. But they are somehow scarier in the blue military outfit with big guns. I think it's the silly hats that make the English guys less scary.

Then yesterday we were going to go to an antiques market somewhere or other, but it started TORRENTIALLY POURING as we went. I had just made an awesome purchase of a 1GB memory stick for my camera for $90 AUD when it started pissing down with rain! We hung out in the local Mos Burger (Japanese burger chain, with very tiny burtgers!) to get dry and have a snack, but other plans for wandering around were sort of shot, so we went back to the MTV place and we watched Clueless - perfect, minus that we were drenched and it made drying off a rather cold experience in the air conditioning. After that it was about time to head back to Shiva's place to see her parents off. So it was a bit of a lazy day, which was all right, because then...

We went to a teppanyaki place for dinner, where they cooked up all of the food for you right there, it was awesome! But after that, I had terrible traumas trying to get some more money out for the trip to the airport the next day. Nowhere seemed to accept my bank card and in the end one did, but it tried to tell me the available balance on my account was $100NT!!! I did not have four dollars in my account so we went to check at the internet cafe and it was kind of all right except it showed I'd made two withdrawals of the amount. I messaged the bank over the internet banking message center and they got back to me saying I had to fiill in an official complaint or something, which is almost worth losing the $80 to ignore the hassle. Still, at that point, anything was a relief after thinking I only had four dollars in my bank account!!

And then I woke up late this morning because my phone had somehow switched the AM/PM function, which was more than frustrating to say the least! It worked out in the end though, the taxi driver was late so I still got some time to hang around and cool off. And don't worry, I remembered to take my vaccine!

Posted by alexifer 02:27 Archived in Taiwan Comments (0)

Vaccines and Disorganization Ahoy!

I don't know when this all happened, but somewhere along the line, I became the most disorganized person I know.

I got my vaccine for Hepatitis A today, which I was supposed to get at least a week before I left (and I leave in three days). I also bought my Cholera vaccine which has been a ROYAL pain in my ass.

So here's the deal: you're supposed to take two doses, a week between them. As I mentioned, I'm leaving in three days now, which means I need to take the vaccine with me. Which freaks me out a little, but I have been assured that it won't be any trouble at all getting it into Taiwan - the chemist's exact words were, "even with all these crazy terrorist scares, you're allowed three things into any country: your passport, your travel documents, and drugs that are prescribed to you." That's okay, but then this particular vaccine needs to be refrigerated at all times. Not to worry, the chemist gives out little refrigerator bags and eskis to carry your drugs with you!

There are two things still worrying me: I have to take the first dose today, but I will have to take the next dose on the Monday morning before I leave for Hong Kong - fun for the whole family. Then also, the refrigerator bags and eskis are appartently will last you about a nine hour flight - with the messy stop-over in Brisbane, my total travel time just from point A to point B will take 11 hours. I am cutting it so very very close just because I was too lazy to get off my ass LAST Monday when I'd already had the prescription for like a week and just take the damned thing!

This all makes me worry, but what's done is done. And besides, quite frankly, I'm not an idiot, and I don't really think I'll be doing any stupid-ass eating while I'm in China.

My doctor also gave me some antibiotics for stubborn chest coughs, but I'm not really sure whether I want to take them with me or not. I mean, it's a good "just in case", I guess, but I just spent $220 on vaccines and a birth control supply so I'm not really into spending more money at the moment!

Not to mention, the money from the university has been delayed and will get into my bank account "within the next two weeks" - registration for Xi'an university is over in two weeks' time, and I don't know when they expect payments! Fuck a duck, seriously. That one, though, was out of my control. I'm just riled up because I created too much of a hassle for myself with the stupid cholera vaccine.

Posted by alexifer 23:04 Tagged health_and_medicine Comments (1)

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