Saturday, July 07, 2012

Week of (Mostly) Work

I realize I have let a whole week pass without writing. But the days are so full.

Outdoor Hotspring at Xin Beitou
Last Saturday, because my back was sore, I decided to be brave and go to the hotsprings at Xin Beitou. Hotsprings in summer seem a bit of a hard sell, but having my body submerged in water seemed like a nice idea. I waited until evening when the sun was down so it would be less hot out. I just went to the cheap outdoor pool, though there are many places with "genuine natural hotspring water" piped into the room. That seems weird to me though.

The outdoor place was fun but crowded. There were various pools of different temperatures and a cold shower. It didn't seem especially clean, but hey, everyone else was in there. They wouldn't keep going in there if there were some serious hygiene problem right? As usual, my lackadaisical approach to hygiene had no bad consequences.

I guess it is a bit low-cut...
The town was interesting and I should go back during the day sometime. But maybe sometime not in summer. The Japanese made it into a real Onsen style town back in the day, and it retains a lot of that feeling but a bit exaggerated in a touristy way. Cartoonish Japanese motifs. Anyway, I had a nice time.

I will say though that my swimming suit was wildly inappropriate. Most women were wearing one-piece suits which showed now cleavage and had little skirts, kind of more like tennis dresses. My bikini is not atypical for home, but was a bit odd here. It being the polite and civilized city that it is, though, no one gave me any trouble at all. There was just a bit of involuntary staring, but nothing serious.

On Monday we had our first calligraphy class. I was a little disappointed that we didn't actually get to try anything. Why is that? I happened to have been contemplating an essay I had to write for class on theory versus practice in education. Our system is really slanted toward practice. Do stuff! try stuff! or at least form opinions about stuff! The first calligraphy class involved a lot of advertisement for why calligraphy is cool (and by the by, why our teacher is so good at it). But I have heard that speech many times over. That part does not make my calligraphy any better. My calligraphy never really gets too much better because so much of the time allotted for class is involved with proselytizing calligraphy or talking about the theory behind it. Still, it was interesting in the second half of the class because he wrote each of our Chinese names for us.

Right after the class, I went out to a hotpot restaurant with one of our teachers and all her students, as well as one of the other teachers and her students. It was a big group, about 20. The restaurant was interesting, buffet style, with all kinds of appetizers and desserts as well as hot-pot ingredients. Then everyone had their own little bowl of soup. I ate way too much, but had a fun time chattering, mostly with the teachers (who are roughly my age).

On Tuesday it was busy busy busy as usual. I was supposed to write two essays, but I could only manage one, plus my other homework. The other essay is always optional anyway. They just said, "However much you can write, write that much." That is a kind of devilish proposition, because usually I end up writing a lot. Tuesday night, though, "however much I could write" turned out to be nothing. That was okay too.

A Yellow Shrine
One thing that did happen was that a little shrine appeared down the street from me. It's strange how spaces just open up sometimes in these little lanes. Is it a room in someone's house? Is it usually a business? Entirely unclear to me. I think there is less zoning here than at home! Things are more interspersed. I'm not sure what this shrine is dedicated to, but it has been around every day.

Wednesday was the Fourth of July. I started out the day in kind of a bad mood but I had a meeting for the school e-bulletin at lunch and the teacher who runs it said really nice things about my writing in Chinese. I had written a brief report about a talk I had gone to see (on visual representations of the garden from Hong Lou Meng) and she really liked it. Usually I do not much go in for compliments, but it is easy to feel discouraged about my Chinese sometimes. I am working hard at it, but the bar is always getting raised. So it was a very cheery thing.

After school I had been intending to go with some of the students to a big ferris wheel, but when I went there no one was there. Kids today. I later found out they had changed the meeting time via Facebook only about half an hour before, but I hadn't thought to check. Anyway, I had been sitting in a cafe with R doing homework, so we just wandered back to my neighborhood and went to a Korean restaurant instead. I introduced her to naengmyeon. She liked it! It was pretty good naengmyeon. I was reminded that there have been many Fourths of July in my life when I have eaten Korean food. Anyway, I companionably walked R to her bus stop after dinner and it was all really nice.

On Thursday I had a cafeteria lunch. I have them whenever I don't have specific lunch plans. They are just so tasty. This one was particularly jaunty looking I thought. The two pink balls turned out to be a sort of fried mochi? Strawberry flavor. I like it on weekdays because they have free tea which you can put into your bowl instead of soup. On weekends, there is only soup. But at least it is always a different kind of soup.

R and I had made a pact that we were going to work on our own research after school. We headed to a non-school part of town, near the Zhongxiao Dunhua subway stop. It was a much more ritzy part of town than I am used to.

View from the Window of Rainbow Cafe
We went to a lovely upstairs cafe called Rainbow Cafe. The coffee was very good there. At nice cafes, the coffee is always expensive, $4-5 usually, because you are paying for the air-conditioning, the nice tables, the atmosphere, and the wireless internet. But they do treat you nicely even if you just have coffee and nothing more.

This was the view out the window of the cafe. I should have been more conscientious about taking a picture of the inside. I have been to very many cool cafes lately, and never even the same one twice, though each one was easily cool enough to go back to. There is just such a thriving cafe culture here. There are chains (Starbucks, Dante), but there are also just a lot of great independent ones which have so much character. People know what they want: a nice place to sit and do their work. Taipei is happy to provide it.

I got a good couple hours of work in on the manuscript, which made me feel satisfied. We got a nice dinner and some frozen yogurt, and then I bought the next installment of my comic book at the nearby Eslite Bookstore. I am up to volume 4! It really makes me happy to feel like I can read something in Chinese for fun, even though it is translated from Japanese. I also feel justified in buying them because they are not available for sale outside of Taiwan (supposedly).

By the way, I have also seen some exceptionally fine looking lizards. They are hard to catch on camera, but here are a couple:

In the Grass

On the Tree

There is not too much else to tell I guess. Yesterday (Friday) there was a big and violent rain. I dropped by the library after class. After I came out I walked down the Avenue of Palms and it was very soggy.

Rainwater on the Avenue of Palms
I paid my rent and was a little shocked to learn that my electric bill was 1400NT, or around $50. The room is badly insulated, and I am a wimp when it comes to heat, but still, I feel bad. I had just read an article about how much the spread of AC is contributing to global warming--seems like a vicious cycle. So I am trying to make myself leave the AC off sometimes. I can tell I am already getting slightly better acclimatized to the hot weather because today it was 29 degrees C and I walked out a felt like it was a pretty fresh and pleasant temperature. Really it's like, up in the mid 80s or something. One step at a time. I remember the point in Chicago winter where you go out and feel like 20 degrees F is balmy. But it is so much easier getting used to the cold...

Marvelous Moth
Today I spent almost all day in the library. I saw an incredible moth when I was on my way to lunch. Isn't it such a beauty? I'm not actually touching it in this picture. I just put my hand in there for scale.

There is so much life here. It springs up everywhere. The people seem lively too. I'm sure they have their flaws, but I feel inclined to see them best in them, almost all the time. Really my only complaint about being here is the weather which is no one's fault, and of course I did know what to expect.

Unexpectedly, the library closed at 5. Since it didn't seem like time to stop working (I was doing an abstract for a conference I might go to) it was off to another cafe. It was a great one, near the Gongguang MRT, again up on the second floor above a fantastic "guabao" (steamed bread sandwich). Of course I had a sandwich too. Here is the adorable hand-drawn menu from the cafe:

I am definitely going back here again. For real!

First Taipei Haircut
After I finished my abstract at the cafe, I finally gathered up my courage and went to get my haircut. Getting my haircut was always a fairly traumatic experience in Beijing. I'm not sure why I keep expecting things to be similarly difficult here. They're not. There was no fuss about the haircut at all and I think it came out nicely. To be safe, I said I just wanted a bang trim and a little bit off the ends. But the guy, who was dressed incredibly casual and looked like a teenaged convenience store clerk, was an artist. He boldly and thoughtfully recut all the layers a little more sharply. He didn't painstakingly clip up each layer. He just did it all by feel and look, checking and correcting, obviously totally comfortable. The Cook Ding of haircutters.

It's always hard to tell with a new haircut, but so far I feel really happy with it. The guy also seemed to enjoy talking with me, and I was having an okay Chinese language day, so I managed to understand most of what he said.

Tomorrow it is more new cafe and social adventures, and I am going to update more regularly so I don't have to do everything at once like this. I am resolved!


Anonymous said...

Somebody passed away, and the family is holding a memorial thing in that make-shift shrine thing. It should have a photograph of the deceased on it. (In fact, I think I passed by this very one the other day.) -SG

ZaPaper said...

That's really touching. There was a photo but I didn't look closely. Now it is full of flowers.

Jeannie said...

Great haircut!

Re: bathing suit
A beautiful woman in a bikini? Of course there was some staring. Enjoy it, my dear.
Auntie Jeannie