-Familiar but unfamiliar: being too-rusty in language skills, feeling a stranger in a friendly city
What did I find?
Aah, that southern Chinese accent! Familiar, just …familiar.I walked off the plane to find the Taiwan scents and accents floating around only familiar. It’s this kind of lush, humid smell with a subtle industrious undercurrent. Not as plastic as Hong Kong, with a strong hint of tropics. Delightfully homey.
Sometimes when I hear another language, it sounds like something on the edge of my hearing, where I can’t quite understand but if I listen a little more in a different way, it’ll make sense. It’s like a whisper of misty rain, sifting by and gone before you know it. It also didn’t feel like I was drowning in a foreign language.
In Taiwan, like a tranquil pool, I was happy to sit in it and let the words float by in a sea of general comprehension. Some waters were in other unknown dialects, like Hakka and Taiwanese, but those friendly waters floated by harmlessly. Continue Reading
I learned to bike when I was eighteen. I had gone on the University of Minnesota’s excellent study abroad program to Tianjin, China. It’s two hours south of Beijing by train.
The first week Charles Sanft, our Program Director took us to buy bikes for $20 apiece and told us that’d be our main transportation for three months.
My roommate Diana and I got up early every day to try and ride our bikes in circles in the pavement in front of the luxe dorm*, and circle after circle, we got it. For three months, this $20 piece of clever machinery carried me through the foreign streets of sweltering Tianjin, to shop in the markets for red, white, and pink shirts (I never seemed able to find other colors in women’s sizes), to the clubs with hydraulic dance floors and Qingdao beer cheaper than water. I’d pay a coin to the kid watching the bike parking lot, hop off and stroll into the internet cafes to write home and also to squint at the AOL news ticker bar at the top of the instant messenger to read the non-censored world news. I’d learn that it would be wiser to walk my bike home from the bar rather than bother riding recklessly late at night. ,It would take me back to the dorms and class* to gain（briefly）full literacy. Thus began my love of biking, and now I use it for commuting, watch for bike options when traveling, and gleefully burn the calories of delicious food I so savor via two wheels.
This story commemorates the close of May
Bike Month in the U.S.
What’s your bike story?
Share in the comments below or via social media.
*In one Chinese language class, my professor had us read a story of a man riding a horse, who gets off his horse to ask for directions. This was meant to illustrate how to be polite if you stop your bike and need to talk to some one, and I still think of it to this day.
SIM Card Rental & Local Pay Options $ < Global Data Plan $$$
Did you know: you can rent a SIM card or cell phone when you arrive at the airport in Taiwan?
I found this out once I was there, after already having purchased my $10-a-day global data plan with AT&T. AT&T would charge for each day the plan was used and meant if you stayed 8 days, you’d be charged $80 to use the same options as your regular plan back home. Turns out instead, you can rent a SIM card for your cell phone from the airport at a much cheaper rate, and then use your phone as usual. E.g. as of the writing of this post, if you get a 7-day pass with 240hrs of data at NT500 that’s about $16.61 USD. You could also rent a cell phone if you wanted, which is still pretty useful for bike rental downtown, which requires a local Taiwan phone number for registration. There’s even an option to reserve ahead of time to pick up if you do not arrive at a time when the store is in full operation. Check out the details below.
The general lesson for international travel here is: research a few options on phones, and it can save you a bundle -a bundle you could put toward more food on the trip, or a fun side excursion. When I was in Manila last Fall, my spouse’s super-helpful cousins helped set us up with SIM cards from the local company Globe, and that was a fraction of a price of our (slightly different, more complicated) AT&T global data plan at the time. When it comes to cell phone company competition, the U.S. is not the leader and you can leverage this circumstance when you travel. I often end up using more data while traveling, to figure out transit logistics, hunt for food via Foursquare, or load a zillion pictures that clog up the blog pipeline, so these options are really worth it if you are on the go but need to stay connected. No judgment of those who don’t, that is a fun route too.
Singapore is famous for its food culture, and although there are certainly high-end top-dollar restaurants with 10-course menus that would charm the foodiest ex-pat executive, the heart of that food culture lives in the local hawker centres.
Street food is a common cultural institution throughout the world, but has a special place in Southeast Asia in particular as the dominant working-class cuisine and in Singapore’s case primary meal option. The hawker centres themselves are the result of a typically Singaporean government effort in the 1970’s to improve food safety and keep an ever-increasing army of food hawkers from blocking traffic. The government built and maintains the cavernous markets themselves, and administers licensing and health codes. Despite this standardization, the hawker centre is still a vibrant part of the local culture and a wonderfully chaotic den of unexpected delights to western palates and challenges to preconceptions about “eating out”.
The centres are organized as long lines of narrow, no-frills stalls, each operated by a different vendor, each with their own specialties and styles. Although the cuisines tend to be dominated by the ethnicity of the surrounding neighborhood, it’s still a grab-bag of curries, dumplings, soups, hot pots, noodles, satay, fruit juices, and everything else that’s taken root in this culinary crossroads. Continue Reading
Besides the amazing architecture of Al Andalus (the name of southern Spain during the times of the Islamic rule from ~700 – 1492, the area now known as Andalusia), the area is also known for tapas.
Tapas are generally served in most bars and restaurants. Some only serve tapas, and are known as a tapas bar. With each drink that you order, you get small bites of food that come with the drink. This is tapas. I described it to others as a Spanish dim sum while drinking. It’s a whole culture in Spain. And it’s fantastic.
The type of tapas that come with your drinks can vary widely. From the very basic potato chips with your beer to a small plate of calamari with your sangria.
Here’s one from my significant other’s mountaineering class. I froze my ass off camping in in Bryce Canyon so you don’t have to.
While camping, you can fill a large nalgene (or other water) bottle with hot water before bed, and put it in your sleeping bag for extra warmth all night! If you find the surface a little burn-y to your skin, you can wrap a bandana around the bottle.
Bonus warmth points if you drink all the water once you wake up. Staying hydrated, friends!
I’m trying something different this time with the writing. Let me know how it goes. Thanks!
Belonging is a funny thing. As an Asian American kid growing up in Minnesota, I just wanted to be like everyone else I knew. My mother (born in Taiwan) persistently spoke to me in Chinese despite my brother and I coming home from school and responding in English for about ..twelve years. My parents sent me to Chinese language school on Saturday mornings. Despite being a good student on weekdays, come Saturday morning, I would just put down all the words I’d crammed for the quiz Friday night, wistfully think of the cartoons on tv I was missing while in class, then get on with my day.* Perhaps this allowed me to continue pretending I would grow up to be 6 feet tall, blond-haired and blue-eyed, with Scandinavian features when I grew up (it’s Minnesota, people look like that).
This April, an opportunity came up for me to go to Taiwan. Unlike last Fall, this one worked with my schedule and current obligations and seemed a good chance to go explore places where my mother grew up. It would be my first time back in 16 years. I say “back,” but honestly, I’ve been to Taiwan three times in my life: Continue Reading
Discovery in the desert, Moab, Utah near Arches National Park:
While on the road, you can use a large Nalgene bottle (or other water bottle) as a stand-in for a foam roller to roll out your thighs and other muscles, a great plus if you, say, went for a hike while car camping and have sore muscles! For my petite frame, my size water bottle worked (see slightly awkward feature photo for this post). If you have larger thighs, try a longer water bottle. Gonna be thirsty anyway.
Me (via email): We appear to have entered some anomaly in the space time continuum. Kris’ watch says 10pm, mine says 8, and the car says 9. Who knows what time or what age we will return to after our road trip…
I look down and toe the red-brown dirt at my feet. I look up, and a vast horizon unfolds before me, the carpet of dirt for miles, dotted with the occasional tenacious yellow-green scrub bush. Far beyond, a ribbon wall of canyon cliffs lines the horizon. It is striped vermillion, pink, and a subtle purple in the dawn light. Distant rocky mountains toooed with snow peek out from beyond some unseen border. Above, the sky begins to lighten to its blue blue tint for the day, a vast and airy canopy smudged by some unseen but zealous artist with wisps of cloud.
The fresh bracing air whispers by, and carries a faint low of distant cows breaking their fast.
When I close my eyes, I can still see the desert, and it whispers in my ear with tranquil calm from eons of age.