Kingdom of Wonder

Cambodia: Kingdom of Wonder I wondered a lot of things on our recent trip to Siem Reap.  Most notably, I wondered how people survive on the food.  Also, I wondered if it could possibly get any hotter. It could. During the day we walked around at various temples sweating and taking in the sight of meandering elephants.  Our nightlife consisted of wandering through markets and restaurants on Pub Street. The entire town is set up as a tourist trap which sounds disappointing. Instead, it made everything super easy. Need a driver? Tour guide? Beer? Massage? Book it all through the hotel for cheap.  The downside of convenience was the fact that I couldn’t understand a word our tour guide said. “If you’ll look over here…blah, blah, elephant…blah, blah empire.”  Tex seemed to speak his language. He did follow us around and take a lot of photos though.  That was handy. In one of those ‘it’s-so-bad-it’s-good’ situations, we attended an ‘authentic’ Cambodian dance show.  It came with a buffet dinner of hot, wet Chinese food.  Of the HUNDREDS of Mainland Chinese tourists attending the dinner and show – there were 5 non-mainlanders – including Tex and me.  So, it was not geared towards us. Our tour guide was also obviously getting kickbacks from the local restaurants and businesses; including a scarf salesmen who tried to charge us $80 for a scarf we paid $4 for on Pub Street. I wonder who is buying the $80 version…   Angkor Wat Tex Big head…thing. Nightlife Temple Hidden statue Angkor Wat     The Pros: Amazing sights – temples, twisty trees, wealthy backpackers. Cheap massages, transportation, food and drink. Fast, easy, affordable tour guides and drivers. U.S. dollars used throughout Siem Reap. Decent tacos and fun nightlife. Elephants. The Cons: Hot as Hades. Mostly gross local cuisine. Tourist traps around every corner. Hot. Did I mention it was...

Ain’t missin’ you at all…

I’ve written a lot over the last eighteen months about how things in Taipei are so different from the U.S., how I miss certain things, how other cultures are great and all – but it ain’t no America.  However, as much as I love my country and can’t wait to go back for a hearty visit, there are some things that I DON’T miss about the good ol’ U.S. Body Image – As a woman who grew up in the United States, I’ve been bombarded with ads about how women ‘should’ look since I was born. They don’t do that here, or in a lot of other places.  When there is a car commercial, beer ad, or toothpaste poster in the subway it’s not of a scantily dressed ‘perfect’ woman selling the product.   Instead, it’s a picture of toothpaste – because they want you to buy toothpaste.  Body image problems are not completely non-existent here, but its a lot easier to wake up, put on a slightly tight pair of pants and say, ‘oops, time to cut back on the popcorn, Vegas.’ (It’s always worth it for popcorn.) U.S. political ads –  Holy cow.  I cannot tell you how relieving it is to go through an election season without hearing nonsense from every corner of the U.S. “Jane Doe once shoplifted from a candy store at the age of 8 – do you want THIS person to be your governor?”  Any of my Northeast friends will remember the horrendous Christine O’Donnell dramatic commercial starting with, “I am not a witch…”  I am VERY relieved to not have Jeopardy! interrupted with redundant political ads anymore. Tipping – Tipping culture in the United States is pretty ridiculous.  Instead of paying Denny’s servers a living wage and charging $1 more for a Moons over my Hammy platter,  it’s my responsibility as the customer to pay for my food and service separately.  If I don’t tip, I’m screwing my server out of a living wage.  Uh, what?  How did that one slip through the cracks? We don’t have to tip in Taiwan.  It’s great.  We tip on exceptional service or when the 10% service charge isn’t included in the bill. U.S. Sport Fans – I’ve never been a huge fan of sports, but I’m even less a fan of sports fans.  I recall several Philly sports fans being violent about “their” team.  I don’t miss those stories.  Also, Rugby is awesome – who knew? U.S. News – We have several international news channels in Taiwan, and they don’t feel the need to create a theme song and use dramatic language for every single news story that crosses their desk.  It’s informative and helpful.  Also, there aren’t a lot of ‘talking heads’ on international news screaming at each other and getting emotionally involved in every single idea. Daylight Savings Time –  Ugh, just give it up already.   Other things I don’t miss: digging my car out of the snow having to go to separate stores for beer (in PA) allergy...

Japan Adventure

Last month Tex and I took the short flight to Japan for a 4 day trip through Osaka and Kyoto.  We saw castles and forests, temples and waterfronts. It was all pretty amazing.  We ate entirely too much ramen and not nearly enough sushi. There was a relieving comfort to our travel in Japan.  Since we already live in an Asian city, we had pre-set expectations that were certainly met.  For example, we expected that the public transportation would be clean and well maintained.  We also expected to see wacko foods like noodles… on a sandwich.  A noodle hoagie if you will.  And, after already having the convenience of a 7-11 on every corner, we just expected to see them. The thing we did not expect from our Japan 7-11 was that the store had both a cold refrigerator and a hot box.  So, when picking up a can of nice refreshing coffee drink, you also picked up a second degree burn.  Maybe that’s an exaggeration.  It was hot though. And metal. Maybe it’s nice in winter. Bamboo Forest Fushimi Inari-taisha Typhoon Vong Fong Uhh… Typhoon snacks We squeezed a whole new city out of the deal when Typhoon VongFong struck Okinawa and we had to stay in Japan a few extra nights – Kobe. Kobe was my favorite city of the three.  It was more laid back, full of amazing meat, and I got to spend some quality time with  nocturnal birds of prey. Kobe Beef Kobe dinner They only like you when you have snacks. Petting. Owls. Tex is happy. Conveyer belt sushi. Vending machine to get time with the owls. Lots o’ cats Tex and kitty Kobe skyline....

The Wet Market

Ah, yes, the wet market.  Where else can you buy broccoli, apples, and a delicious array of meat chunks and innards? I’m all for sweetbreads, fois gras, and the occassional pork knuckle, but all those things seem a little less elegant when sold by the jin (2/3 of a kilogram – whatever a kilogram is) and flopped on a table next to a pig hoof still attached to its hindquarters. We haven’t purchased meat at the market.  Vendors are seen touching money and meat simultaneously.  I haven’t seen a rubber glove since we arrived. Why does putting meat in a plastic container, wrapping it in plastic wrap, and refridgerating it on a shelf seem so much better?  I guess few people want to see how the sausage is made. * So, why do we go? This bountiful harvest of veggies and fruits is all organic (whatever that means in Taiwan) and about half the cost of the imported stuff at the grocery store.  Also, it’s about the only place I can get enough veggies to make a decent hot pot at home.     Things you can buy at the local wet market: Beautiful flowers Pig chunks Fresh fruits Chicken feet Homemade noodles by weight Ugly shoes   Beautiful Bountiful Veggies. Blurry image of chicken chunks. Vendors aren’t too keen on people taking photos of their stands for some reason. View of the market. Bins of…stuff. Our favorite veggie stand. Tex wildly flails his arms to convey the amount of noodles he wants to purchase. A vendor helps Tex weigh out his noodles for hot pot. View of the market. Tex wields a knife. View from outside the market.   *I know someone who buys their meat at the wet market.  They are still alive at the time of this...

One Year

Things I learned from living in Taiwan for one year: Chinese is way too hard to learn.  Forget the regional differences, accents, culture, idioms, etc.  They write in pictures.  Pictures!  I can’t memorize all of that.  There were brief moments of dedication when I thought I could master it. No way. I’m happy to settle for ordering a hot coffee and getting to and from places in a taxi. I TOTALLY belong abroad – in my perfect American bubble. Without Tex, without my American friends, I think I might really hate this.  But, with Tex, with newfound friends, inside my bubble? Now, that’s living abroad.  I don’t know how backpackers and explorer types do it.  It’s too scary.  Trying stinky tofu is one thing, but I’m no hero. I/We still have the same problems we had in Pennsylvania. I’m still the same person.  I still bite my nails and eat too much popcorn.  It’s just us, in another place. Apparently, I’m a dog person. We have too much stuff. A job doesn’t bring me happiness.  I was sure that once I got full-time work, started contributing to the retirement, vacations, bills, etc. I would feel fulfilled.  Nope.  I like having a job.  I frequently feel a great sense of accomplishment and satisfaction.  However, like most other adults, I have not discovered the job that allows me to leave the house every morning feeling totally fulfilled, or feel that “I might as well not even call it a job” because “it’s not really work to me.” I can adapt… sometimes I just don’t want to.  Change is hard.  I will never be ok with someone picking their nose on the subway, but when someone puts peanut butter on your pork sandwich? You gotta laugh that off and move on. I truly value quiet, uncrowded places. We are amazingly wealthy in all senses of the word. I complain WAY too much.  It ain’t so bad. (It is really hot here...