Monday, September 13, 2010

Adieu, Taiwan

This is it. The final entry in Taiwanablog. It culminates one hundred twenty six entries, three and a half years, and countless memories of living in Asia. It's also an impossibly difficult entry to write as what you read here is my final thought, my final say, my final story about Taiwan. It is my final goodbye to you.

I decided it was time to leave Taiwan about three months ago. I gave my job the requisite 3+ months notice, not realizing those three months were going to fly by. But they did and before long, I found myself in Taipei without a job and the days counting down to my flight off the island. It worked out pretty well that my last weekend was also my birthday, so a birthday party masked the difficult going away party.

The night began perfectly. I met Richard Jones and Steve Lambert, two very close friends, for a going away barbecue at our favorite all-you-can-eat-bbq restaurant. The drinks were flowing, the stories were being shared, and the camaraderie was in high spirits.

After we were well fed, it was then off to On Tap to celebrate the birthday. All my good friends were in attendance and we drank and celebrated 26 years of my life. My friends Yoyo and Jenna purchased a cake for me that had a picture of me on it, along with a naked body and an enormous penis sticking out of it. All I can say about that was it was interesting blowing out the candles!

They also prepared a farewell book for me where all my friends signed it and made a note of the good times we've shared over the last three years. The book was touching and will go with all my other treasured keepsakes that I have collected over the years. With that, the early birds returned home to retire while the rest of us took off to Roxy 99 for a canonical stopoff to any foreigner's night out. My nights began in Roxy 99 so I only saw it fitting for them to end there. And for those that know him, the rainbow guy made an appearance just for me (or I like to think so).

The next day was filled with last minute chores and meetings. I met some close friends of mine at a small dumpling restaurant for a goodbye dinner. They gave me a very funny t-shirt that said "lick here to add me as a friend" and an arrow points to my chest under the shirt. The lunch was divine and I saw some dragon dances outside, which was a goal of mine since I first arrived in Taiwan.

Later in the evening, I met some good friends, Steve, Mike, Yoyo, Jenna and Singing, for one last dinner at Din Tai Fung. I had long planned it that I would have a dinner here and then get on the bus to the airport, and that's what I did. I had all my bags with me. I arrived at 8.30pm, just like I used to do when I was a student and got to know all the waitstaff there. They sat us at the large table on the second floor where I used to have the Wednesday gatherings with the owner and his friends. We laughed and chatted about things as if we would always be around that table. They teased me because I ordered 3 baskets (30 dumplings) of Xiao Long Bao. We stuffed ourselves and spoke of plans to one day travel around the globe to see each other again.

Outside the restaurant, I said goodbye to the waitstaff I have come to know so well. I then said goodbye to Singing. I then said goodbye to Mike and Steve. I got into a taxi with Yoyo and Singing and we shared a cab to the bus station which was on the way to their house. On the way there, I joked that we couldn't start a conversation because there was no time to finish it. It was funny, but sad as it was also true.

We arrived at the bus station and unloaded my stuff. I gave Yoyo and Jenna a hug and said, "let's go to Roxy 99 next weekend!" They started to cry. I told them to get going or I would start to cry too. They got into the taxi and drove off. With that, I got on my bus which took me to the airport and early in the morning the plane took off and I left Taiwan behind me.

The island itself is behind me but its spirit is with me forever and always. She is a darling of an island, a secret tucked away in the middle of the Pacific Ocean. It doesn't even cross the radar screen of most people, but to those that take the effort to get out there, they find something magical, real and intoxicating. I spent three and a half years in a place I only intended to spend one year in. Three and a half years and I made some of the most memorable experiences of my life.

I learned how to ride a motorcycle. I went whitewater rafting. I became momentarily addicted to the hot springs. I ate snake and pig's blood. I learned Mandarin. I taught English. I climbed the highest mountain in Northeast Asia, in the snow. I camped on a volcano. I swam with whale sharks. I watched a guy box a cobra. I rode the death railway. I bungee jumped off a building. I gambled in Macau. I ate dim sum in Hong Kong. I dove with Bull Sharks. I climbed the highest mountain in Southeast Asia and then rappelled down the cliff side. I saw gold waterfalls, giant bamboo, towering mountains, endless gorges, sweeping cliffs and dramatic oceans. I spent Chinese New Year with family. I got shot at by fireworks. I ate barbecue in Seoul. I drank expensive wine in Singapore. I hunted with an aboriginal blow dart. I dated a Taiwanese girl. I went to the top of the world's tallest building. I rode an elephant. I petted a tiger. I paint balled. I went surfing. I climbed mountains. I fractured my wrist. I drove my motorcycle around the island. I met some of the most amazing people I have ever known.

And this last part, the friends, they are probably the greatest contributing factors to my happiness in Taiwan. The people are Taiwan more than the cities and the mountains and the bike trips. The friends I have made are by far the most incredible people and I will miss them terribly. From the folks at my training group to the friends that bade me farewell, and all the crazy cats in between, you have made the last three years something to toast to.

So there you have it. Not much more to say now. Three and a half years. Taiwan, you were too good to me. I love you.

And you, my readers. I started this blog not really knowing what it was going to be or what would happen with it. To be honest, I started it so that I wouldn't have to keep writing those mass e-mails to everyone. In the end, it has become a time capsule, a written record of my life abroad. And you have been there, for all of it. Good and Bad. Thanks for reading what was for the most part unedited chicken scratch on the Internet. I hoped you enjoyed reading it as much as I enjoyed writing it.

But the journey doesn't end here. I have an ambitious goal ahead of me- three months of traveling actually. And it's all being recorded on my new blog. You can read about it here at I'm looking forward to seeing you over there!

From your American-in-Taiwan, (maybe someday again, still looking for a Taiwanese wife!) Michael.

Tuesday, September 7, 2010

The Solo Bike Ride

The grand trip. The epic journey from North to South. The final voyage on my motor- cycle. It was to be five days with just my girl and me, all 200cc's of her, and long uninterrupted stretches of asphalt and dirt, through mountains and along coast. It was to rival my last motorcycle trip not in length, but in driving expertise as this trip was to be done almost entirely in the mountains. The only problem was I didn't get a move on until almost 2 days after my anticipated start.
The trip started out in disaster. My good friend Mike was to join me on this ride, but some schedule mishaps at work prevented him from coming along. Instead, we hung out on Sunday and went out to lunch in this famous Soymilk restaurant in Yonghe. Apparently this restaurant, which is famous for Soymilks, Xiao Long Baos and other small eats, influenced an entire food genre that has avalanched across China. In fact, most Soymilk restaurants now call themselves the Yonghe Soymilk Store in honor of this famous institution.

The lunch was nice, but it did put me a day behind. I was determined to take off early the following day. Before I left on my trip, I got online to say hello to my parents. I was speaking with my dad and we were talking about a birthday present for my mom. We came to the conclusion that we would buy her this spiffy new touchscreen laptop that you can only get in Taiwan. This, however, would be a full day task. I got on my bike and drove down to the computer store where I purchased the new toy. I then had to bring it to an Acer center for them to change the computer into English. After dropping it off, I went to lunch and then returned back to pick it up. I finally brought it over to the FedEx office to ship back to the USA. The ordeal was lengthy and I didn't get on the road until 4.30pm.
I took a different route through the back roads to Pingling (which took me through this lovely little village I had never been to) and then over to Yilan. I arrived in Jiaoxi just as the sun was setting and contemplated on whether or not I should check into a hotel. I decided to keep on driving.
Haphazardly, I took a wrong turn and started driving into the mountains. During the day this is a precarious route to take and seeing it was already pushing late into the evening, it was not somewhere I wanted to be. I turned around and got resituated on the coast road and before long, I was winding my way down the East Coast. I will be honest, I've driven this route in both the day and night, and I far prefer the night. Moonlit turns along cliffsides crashing into the sea, cool breezes wafting in from the ocean, twists and turns in the mystery of the darkness made this a very awesome ride.

I pulled into Hualien and went straight to sleep after a long day of driving around. I also had an early day the next day and I wanted to be rested for my long trip into the mountains. It didn't matter, though, as I woke up much later than anticipated and didn't get on the road until 10am. Fortunately, the road was clear and the ride through the mountains was bright and sunny. The entire affair was in good order. I continued along the same route as last only in reverse order. Again, I approached the highest road in Taiwan and coasted through the European style castles down into Puli.

From Puli, I continued along to Sun Moon Lake where I decided to stay for the evening. The clouds rolled in as I sat along the waterside and ate some aboriginal boar and drank some Taiwan Beer. I went to sleep early in the most comfortable bed I have ever stayed in (actually, funny enough it was the same hotel I stayed in when I first came to Sun Moon Lake years ago) and slept soundly.

I woke up early the next day and took off for a long day of driving. My ultimate goal was to travel from Sun Moon Lake to Tainan while stopping for some touring in Alishan. It was an ambitious goal, but waking up at 6am put me in the running. The first surprise I got was when I took a road up the backside of Yushan! The road wove back and forth providing stunning panoramics of Taiwan's most iconic peak.

Continuing on, it was a straight shot into Alishan National Park. It had been a longtime goal of mine to make it to Alishan and I was so delighted to have finally arrived! I paid the park entrance fee and parked my bike. I went up to the Alishan Train Station and booked my ticket for the Hogwarts Train. In a quaint station made of pine, an old locomotive arrived carrying with it antique wood carriages.

The train took us through the mountains to where the old sacred tree used to stand. Today, it has fallen and has started to decompose. Continuing on past the end of the line, the trail goes through some magnificent Red Cypress trees. Some of these trees are almost 2,000 years old and reign supreme in this old growth.

One unique location was a tree that had died and was reborn three times! The first time the tree grew up, died and fell down. A seed landed on the tree and the sapling took the nutrients from the roots of the dead tree. This tree then continued to survive for hundreds of years when it too passed away. At this time, a new seed came along and again started using the roots from the first and second growth. Remaining are all three trees and a very interesting story.

After the little walk, I sat down at a nice little restaurant and got some lunch. I had some famous Alishan Tea and then was back off through the sea of clouds. I zoomed down the mountain side and connected with route three. The road took me straight down through more precarious mountain passes until I reached Tainan at about 5pm.

In Tainan, I met up with my friend Mike who was supposed to join me on the trip in the first place. He took the bus down and we met a few of his friends that were teaching in the city. We checked out some of my favorite temples from last time and then met his buddy for some dinner and drinks. Afterward, we hit the town and went to a fun little night club. The momentum of the evening was disrupted a bit when they stopped the music and played a massive tournament of Rock, Paper, Scissors for thirty minutes.

Late in the evening, we retired as I was waking up at 10am the next day to continue my ride down to Kiaoshiung to visit a friend. I woke up on time, fortunately, only to be presented with a typhoon pouring down outside. I knew I had made it this far and I wasn't going to let a little rain ruin the rest of my trip, so I went to 7/11 and purchased five ponchos. I covered myself in plastic to the point that I was probably preserving my freshness all too well, and then I was off. At first I was doing quite well and was remaining fairly dry. But when you drive a motorcycle in a typhoon, you are going to get wet. And after an hour on the bike, I was soaking wet as were all my change of clothes in my bag.

I arrived in Kiaohsiung a little late and soaking wet from head to toe. No matter, my friend was happy to see me and off we went to this excellent little seaside restaurant to eat some great food and watch the waves come crashing in. It was by far one of the coolest restaurants I had been to in Taiwan! The typhoon was really picking up speed and at this point, the restaurant lost power. Without any electricity, they decided to close down for the day. The owner of the restaurant
gave us a ride out of there as it was pretty far out of the way and, well, there was a typhoon.

He dropped us off at the movie theaters where we tried to dry out a little more by catching a film. We ordered some hot drinks and enjoyed the movie for a bit. Before long, it was time for my friend to head home and for me to get on the bus back to Taipei. I sent my motorcycle back to Taipei by bus and I took a five star luxury liner overnight. Early in the morning, I found myself back in sunny Taipei, out of the typhoon's reach and checked into a short stay hotel where I freshened up and caught a short nap. From the final road tripper around Taiwan, Michael.

Monday, August 23, 2010

Murphey's Law

Murphey's Law states that whatever can go wrong will go wrong. This weekend served that mantra perfectly, but still resulted in an excellent time had by all. The ride was to be my first of two major bike trips around Taiwan- our goal was to leave Taipei on Friday afternoon and drive down to Taichung, cross over the island on the cross island highway and then back up to Taipei from Hualien. An ambitious plan to say the least even for two experienced motorcyclists like Steve and me.

Steve got out of work early on Friday and I had the day off, so our plan was to get out of Taipei by 3.30pm and down to Taichung by nightfall. I showed up at Steve's apartment with all my gear ready to go. Steve just returned from a two week holiday from the UK so he hadn't touched his bike in sometime. As a result, the battery was dead and, being the only bike in existence not to have a kick start, required me to push him down the road while he popped the clutch in first gear getting the bike to start. It worked well on the first go and we were off.

Shortly into the bike ride, Steve pulled over and I followed suit. He showed me that the brake handle on his bike was broken and that he needed to get it repaired before we left. I agreed with him and told him we needed to get gas ASAP as my bike was on empty. There was a station en route to our local mechanic and we stopped in. I topped off and then took off only to notice Steve was not with me. He turned off his bike, as he should have, when he got gas but couldn't get it started again. I got behind him and must have pushed it ten times and still no luck. We pushed the bike over to a mechanic's shop across the street from the gas station and asked him for a jump start. That's when Sherlocke here (Steve) noticed that the bike wasn't actually turned on. I almost killed him considering how many times I pushed that damn bike in the summer heat. Well, as luck would have it, we pushed the bike, got it going, and off to our mechanic's we went.

We got to the mechanics and, while the handle was broken, it was not crucial to fix it right away. Instead, the mechanic suggested we replace his brake fluid to ensure its proper use. He told us it would be about 30 minutes to change it, so we went to a local canteen and grabbed some fried rice while we waited. When we got back, Sherman (our long lost friend who went to China) made a surprise return. We chatted graciously and happily and, being almost 6pm, we informed him we were driving down to Taichung that night and had to get going.

Driving through Taipei took the most time, but once we got on route 3 proper, we were in open stretches 0f untamed, uninterrupted road. It turned dark quickly, but the warm summer night and the wind against our faces left us with a spirited heart and an bounce in our drive.

We decided to stop off in Fongyuan instead of Taichung because it was more conducive to our route. After checking into a hotel, we went out to a local bar called the Office for a few drinks. Just as we sat down to order our drinks, I received a phone call from a teacher that just arrived saying that the school was not at the aiport to pick him up. I talked him through what to do and the crisis was averted. I returned to my seat to see Steve chatting up a waitress who seemed very interested in him.

Before I had time to say something to ruin all his chances, I received another phone call from another teacher saying that her visa was denied and she was due to get on a plane that same day. I spent about an hour on the phone with various people at twelve o'clock at night trying to sort out her situation. Fortunately, it all came together and we got her to Taiwan without issue. Meanwhile, I finally returned back to Steve (who was on his third beer by now while I had hardly even touched mine) and with some more flirting we retired for the evening.

We woke up early the following morning for a long day of driving ahead of us. We hopped on our bikes and took off for the Cross Central Highway. The sky was clear, the road was pleasant, and nothing stood in our way between us and Hualien. Nothing, that is, except maybe a massive landslide wiping out the entire road. After about an hour into our ride, there was a checkpost and police blocking the road. They informed us that a large landslide had taken out a massive section of the road and that there was no way around it. If we wanted to get to Hualien, we had to find another way.

This was a major blow to our plan. We were hoping to get into Hualien around 5.30pm at the latest but with the detour, we were looking at 9.30pm at the earliest. We had to return back toward Fongyuan and then down top Puli in the central part of Taiwan, which is only moments away from Sun Moon Lake.

After Puli, we drove up north along route fourteen which is, by far, the most bizzare road I have ever seen in Taiwan. Basically, this road travels through a re-creation of European castles in the middle of a farmland. These castles are enormous and are straight out of Bavaria. The road continues on for a bit of time and stretches up to become Taiwan's highest road at 3,225 meters high.

The view at the top was simply outstanding and bordered on the verge of phenomenal. During the winter, you can take this route most of the way and admire the snow capped peaks of the central cordillera.

I also learned something about motorcycles up here. Basically, motorbikes, as with most engines, have carburators that mix the gasoline with the oxygen to form the combustion. At high altitudes, there is less oxygen and this can affect the torque of some bikes. Unfortunately, my bike happened to be one of those bikes and the ensuing drive became an absolute sluggish nightmare. Anything about 2,500 meters, apparently, really affects my motorbike.

Fortunately, after the highest road in Taiwan, it's all downhill so the momentum helps out tremendously. We reached Taroko Gorge National Park at nightfall and I have to say it's crazy creepy driving through the gorge in the pitch black. It's borderline insane when it's raining, as it started to do as we emerged from the first elongated tunnel. But once we were out of the gorge, it was a straight, dry shot to Hualien where we arrived and found a nice clean place for a real bargain.

Steve and I then got ready for one of the best nights out I have ever had in Taiwan. We began with a visit to my favorite pub in Hualien that has a quaint little outdoor bar to it. When the outdoor part closed off and we had to move inside, we decided to move the party out to another location.

As we left the bar, we noticed some flashing lights and decided to check it out. It was a bit of a night club (albeit a small one) with a police car stationed outside. We decided this is where the party HAD to be, so we made a note to return back here later.

We checked out this old fashioned Karaoke pub that had live karaoke. One of the waitresses came over and chatted with us for a little bit. She urged one of us to go up and sing, but I informed her the only song I knew in Chinese was Zhir Yo, and that I know minimally at best. That was a mistake because my song came up next and before I knew it, I was singing a Chinese Karaoke pop song in a real local bar with a bunch of Taiwanese. It was pretty well received, none the less, as the crowd even joined along singing with me.

Steve and I then decided to check the club that was being busted by the police earlier. We showed up and the police were gone. We paid our entry and went into the bar. We sat down next to this Taiwanese guy who took an immediate interest in two foreign guys sitting next to him. I used my Chinese and we hit it off right away. Before I knew it, he was ordering us shots of tequila, which I hate, and we sat there and toasted to him.

Before long, it became quite apparent why this place was broken up earlier by the cops. It included a PG-13 strip show which is a serious deal in Taiwan! Essentially, a girl went to the middle of the dance floor in a sexy bathing suit and danced. Once she pulled me up to dance with her for a bit and feeling the groove I enduldged her for about five seconds before I returned to my seat. It was a good thing too because then they got this other guy on stage and stripped him down to his underwear. (Apparently it was his birthday and the dancer was a friend of his so it was all in good fun).

I have actually seen these shows at other places in Taiwan and believe it or not, they are actually family appropriate. They are in restaurants all over the island and I would not mind bringing my mother to them. However, seeing as this was in a club, it was probably a bit more risque than most others.

We hung out there for a while and I met the birthday boy in the bathroom. We talked for a bit and asked him where else we could go to continue the night. By now, it was about 1am and this place was thinning out. He directed Steve and me to a local night club called Queency and a short taxi drive later, we were there.

When we walked in, we were treated like kings. A group of friends immediately came over to me and wisked me away to their private booth. There they gave me free whiskey and beer to celebrate the evening. Some great songs came on and suddenly we were on the dance floor leading charge. It was as if a hollywood movie star just walked in and were given the royal treatment.

By the time we emerged from the club, it was very early in the morning and the sun was in full shine. Steve and I looked at each other and we both agreed that we were going to have to take the late checkout. We returned back to our rooms and passed out for the evening. We woke up at 2pm and checked out. We went for breakfast at this small little waffle shop to get some food and assess our hangovers. My head and stomache were functioning at about 80% which was pretty good but the truth is I was incredibly exhausted. I made the decision that I was in no condition to make the motorcycle trip back to Taipei.

Steve, tired as well, decided he would make the trip back that day. I took the train and returned back to Taipei in a sweet, sleepy haze. A week later, I returned back to Hualien by train and met my friend Brian. The two of us hopped on our bikes and made the awesome ride along the coastal route back up to Taipei in record time. Before long, we were back in Taipei sipping on tea and chewing on dumplings.

From your Murphey's Law Enforcement, Michael.

Sunday, August 15, 2010

The Temples of Tainan

Tainan, the old capital of Taiwan, is a city of temples, mystery and and historical sites unlike anywhere else in Taiwan. Exploring the old district of Tainan, secrets and treasures are held at every bend. Burning incense wafts out onto the streets from religious temples and prayer rituals. It is a stunning location with architecture to match even the finest Chinese temples in Beijing. Albeit the scale is not as grandiose, but the craftsmanship, artwork, history and intricate details rank up there with the world's finest.

I hopped on a bus late on Thursday night as I took Friday off for a bit of exploration. The drive down to Tainan is a long one, pushing on four hours. But the five star luxury bus, complete with your own television, makes this ride much easier. Getting in late to Tainan, I decided to check into a cheap hotel right across the street from the bus station. I was tired and didn't feel like searching for accomodation late in the evening. I retired with the first place I found with hopes of waking up early the next day.

I got up the following morning and went to the train station where they have a scooter rental shop behind it. I rented a small 50cc scooter to help me get around town to see the sites. Being more of a motorcycle man, it was quite the experience to drive around on the 50cc. They might be small, but they sure can move!

My first stop was at the Chikan Towers, Tainan's seminal tourist destination. Built by the Dutch in the 17th century, it served as the central administrative office. During this occupation, the Hans Chinese came to call it the "Tower of the Red-Haired Barbarians", fitting for the western powers inhabiting the dweeling. Today, on the tower's front lawn, there is a bronze statue depicting a Dutch soldier (wildly out of proportion) handing control over to the Chinese.

The towers are also famous for the nine tables carried by turtles surrounding the tower. It is believed that these massive stones were produced elsewhere and transferred to the towers.

Behind the Chikan towers is an often overlooked temple. It's such a shame too, as it's the oldest Matzu temple in Tainan. It is small, but the art and decorations speak great worth to it. At the entrance to the to tmeple are large columns.

At the top of the columns, savages are depicted holding up the ceiling. This is in contrast to the lovely painted tiles adorning the walls in the entrance.

Inside, you are hit immediately by the strong embers of incense and antique treasures identifying this as a masterful temple. One particular art piece that struck me was the massive tiger. It is a sculpture of a tiger that is incorporated into a mural, giving the impression that the tiger is emerging off the landscape and into the temple itself. It is a unique and memorable piece of work.

Not far from the oldest Matzu temple is the largest Matzu temple. You could explore this temple for hours and still not come across every last bit it has to offer. But the coolest thing about this temple is not the temple itself but the street it's located on. This street is called fortune teller's alley because of all the old astrologers that live here. If you speak Chinese and are into the sort of thing, then come on down and tempt fate!

Exploring temples can be exhausting work. After these bits of history, I decided it was time to check out another part of Tainan- Anping. This is the oldest part of Tainan and holds some splendors for those willing to make the 3km journey out there. For those travelling by scooter, of course, it is just a quick and painless shoot over there!

Anping is a port town on the Eastern side of Tainan. It is home to the old Dutch fort where the Dutch first set up shop. There is a newly constructed watch tower at the top of the fort offering nice panoramic views of the city.

Below the fort is an old street selling some famous and traditional Chinese snacks and treats. The most famous is an old dried fruit and candy shop that has been selling their dried fruits since the Qing Dynasty. I arrived at this no-nonsense, no frill shop (I think it looks the same now as it did when it first opened, and probably contains some of the original dried fruit) and was surprised to see the hords of people lined up to make their sweet purchases.

The shop is split into two components. The front has shelves with large glass jars in it where you can order your dried fruits by the kilogram- a wholesale option. It's a lovely, oldfashioned way to enter the shop. In the back is where the business takes place. The individual fruits are partitioned out in small bags and you can buy a bag of fruits for NT$50. I purchased some dried Kiwi, Strawberry and Pineapple. As I was checking out, I asked the shopkeep if he had any recommendations. He had an open bag of dried sweet plum and gave me a free sample. I plopped one into my mouth and the sensation overjoyed me. Essentially, you place the sweet and sour dried fruit, no larger than a gumball, into your mouth and you suck on it. Eventually, nothing is left except the pit in the middle which you throw away. It was so good, I bought three more bags right away!

After the dried fruit shop, I returned back to my hotel and washed up for the night. I then went to a very famous restaurant called "Slack Season Noodle Shop". This noodle shop was open before the turn of the century and is famous for serving up cheap and delicious bowls of Danzi Noodles. The food is prepared at the entrance to the restaurant with all the ingredients laid out in plain view.

The tables are small and close to the floor to you have to sit on the small wooden stools reminiscent of tree stumps. The noodles are delicious and have a combination of the freshest ingredients. It is topped off with a single prawn, which I discarded as I prefer not to eat seafood!
After dinner, I hit the pubs and bars for some late night fun before going back to bed. The next day I caught the bus back to Taipei and was home in time for a fun Saturday night out with friends! From the magical history tour bus to Tainan, Michael!

Sunday, August 8, 2010


About a month ago, my friend Jeff invited me to go paint- balling with him. At the time, I figured it was a good idea. I would be able to get outdoors, after all, and shoot him all day long. No one was kind enough to inform me that paintballing is extremely painful and will leave you covered with bruises all over your body.

The day started early (as do all my adventures with Jeff like river tracing and surfing) with a nice Dan Bing breakfast. I prefer the zhwa bing variety, but I am in the minority amongst foreigners on that one. With a full belly, we rode our bikes up to the paintballing location and geared up.

In our full army uniforms and our guns in hand, we marched out into the bush. Being my first time paintballing, it was reminiscent of hiking out in the bush in Vietnam as it was a hot and steamy day in the jungle! When we arrived at the battlefield, we decided to play a game of capture the flag. As mentioned already, I would rather shoot Jeff all day than capture a flag so I was delighted to learn that I was not on his team and I could set my sights honestly! All's fair in friendship and paintballing.

We were given time to survey the surrounding area and plan our attack. We clearly had the defensive advantage with more areas to protect our flag, but would make the offensive aspect of our strategy somewhat more challenging. Nevertheless, we took our positions and the General blew his whistle.

With that, the paintballs started flying. You could hear them wizz past you like angry bees looking for the kill. One hit my head leaving a strealk of pink paint, like blood, across my hair. At least I hope it was paint!

The attack was full on now, but with seconds remaining we were able to maintain our position and hold the deep. The whistle was blown and the first war game ended in a stalemate. We took a break as another battle waged on before we returned to the field and played again. We took the tougher side and, sadly, this game did not go so well. I was shot again and had to retire to the "land of the dead" as I watched the opposing team advance on our fort and capture our flag. A victory for them, perhaps, but I got to shoot Jeff all day, which was a victory for me.

After the second game, we returned to the HQ and had a big BBQ celebration before the afternoon games started. Unfortunately, I had to meet some people in the afternoon, so I was honorably discharged and went home.

On my way back, I imagined how fun it would be to ride my motorcycle with a paintball gun and shoot all the pedestrians as they walked by. From your 5 Star General of the Paint, Michael.

Tuesday, August 3, 2010

Signs of the Times Part 3

This is the third and final installment of Signs of the Times. Over the last three years, I have brought you humorous signs found around Taiwan in all their grammatically incoherent humor. I hope that this installment doesn't disappoint.

And no paini either! What the picture doesn't show is that the bridge is only about 15 feet high!

Just when you thought it was safe to back in the water.

Tourists come from far and wide to see the magnificent Shed of Taiwan!

Did you know that Starbucks sued his company for logo infringement. Starbucks lost.

Tree Frogs sure are a pain in the taipeianus!

Even the hiking posts are mocking you, fool!

Saturday, July 31, 2010


After visiting the Martyr's Shrine, in occured to me that I haven't written up a proper entry on the monuments in Taipei. At the risk of absolutely boring you to death with this, I'll keep it short and brief.

This is the Chiang Kai Shek Memorial Hall. It was recently changed to freedom hall and Chiang Kai Shek was covered up by kites. This was done because many Taiwanese still consider him to be a brutal dictator responsible for the murders of thousands of Taiwanese.

This is the Dr. Sun Yat Sen Memorial Hall. Basically, this guy created Modern China (but not communist China).

That's about it. Sorry to bother you. Mike.