Water what?

My Chinese teacher and I were having an in-depth discussion about Taiwan fruit. By “in-depth” I mean I can say things like, “Taiwan fruit is sweet. I like Taiwan fruit.  Sometimes it is cheap but sometimes it is expensive.”  They are very proud of their fruit here and I haven’t really gotten anything that blows my mind (except this dragon fruit).  So, she gave me a fruit that blew my mind.         It’s called:                        Characters:                                                                                   Pīn​yīn:                                                               Língjiǎo  (pronunciation)     It’s a water caltrop.  Whatever that is.  It’s affectionately called a Jesuit nut, Ram Horn Nut, or a horned water chestnut. Some people buy them raw and cook them at home.  This one is pre-cooked and opened by the shopkeeper. It tastes like a water chestnut but nuttier and less crunchy so there isn’t a ton of flavor.   I’ve heard that some people use them to make soup, which I imagine that tastes a lot like hot water. It’s clear that, like lobster, a very brave person or a very hungry person first decided to eat one of these things. Regardless of taste the water caltrop certainly makes a great mustache.     You can learn more about this fruit on this helpful...

Olfactory Explanations

In huge cities like Taipei there are a plethora of … odors… shall we say?  In general there is a sweet smell to Taipei.  Almost all of the local  food is cooked with sweet spices and flavors.  However, once in a while there is a not so sweet smell that stops you dead in your tracks and makes you think, or in my case say aloud, “Oh dear lord!  What the hell is that smell?” The grocery store in particular has a very distinct smell.  For a while I thought there was produce rotting too close to the entrance of the store.  As it turns out, this is the culprit:   Durian.  I heard some people like it.  I find it smells like rotting onions if those rotting onions happen to be buried in a hot garbage pile. I was going to post an image of the inside but frankly it was just too gross looking. Nothing, and I mean NOTHING is quite as offensive as stinky tofu. At first smell I thought something died, but growing up in the woods I’ve smelled a rotting animal before.  This was so much worse.  This is worse than the smell of Philadelphia streets in 95 degree heat, and the pungent rotting oysters (or were they clams?) that my sister and I cleaned out of a cooler.   Please consider the following a warning. Characters: Pīn​yīn: Chòudòufu Pronounce it: Chòu dòu fu​ This is pretty easy to pronounce.  It’s easiest if you listen here. Meaning: “stinky tofu” So, if you see one of these stands around Taiwan, it is probably in your best interests to stay as far away as possible.   So frequently the foods that help to characterize a culture are just so gross.  French snails?  Chinese century eggs?  English breakfast? Taiwan’s stinky tofu? I’ll stick with my Philly cheese steak, American apple pie, and New England clam chowder....

YouBike!

Tex and I have discovered the YouBike!  It’s a bike rental program with stations located throughout Taipei.  Several cities (including Washington D.C.) have similar programs. We enjoy riding around the city so much that we considered purchasing bikes but they are putting a YouBike station right outside our apartment building! Last weekend we took a little bike ride to the riverside.   Tex gives me an ‘action’ shot.  We took a little lunch break by this tree to watch the river. Lots of nice views along the river. The ride was great.  However, the sunburn is still causing...

Child’s Play

The first few months as an EFM are incredibly exciting.  I thought non-stop about the places Tex and I might go, the challenges we might face, and even the possibility of raising a family abroad.  We started sending each other links to FS blogs almost daily.  We bought books on embassy life and security clearances.  We even read them and compared perspectives. I felt prepared when we got to Falls Church for our short tour.  I knew that I would meet a lot of new friends (which I did), that I probably wouldn’t find a job (which I didn’t), and that I’d probably start learning a new language (which I did).  I took a lot of FLO (Family Liaison Office) classes about finding jobs, moving our stuff, and finding our stuff after our movers lose it. The one thing we knew we would struggle with is my employment.  I heard the following suggestions mostly from strangers because they envied that I ‘didn’t have to work.’ –          “You should start a new hobby.” I ruled this out because collecting is expensive and I’m not what you might call “crafty.” –          “You should learn a new language.” (duh) –          “You should buy a camera and just start taking pictures.” What does that even mean? –          “You should get telework.” Yup, please point me in the direction of the international telework for previous event planners with advanced degrees in American history. I’m ready. –          “You should teach English” ok. –          “You should have kids.”  I’m not kidding.  More than one person told me I should procreate after meeting me for the first time. This was my favorite suggestion. I’m not satisfied with hobbies and sitting at home.  Some cities (not Taipei, but let’s say Khartoum) you aren’t allowed to stroll around taking photos.  We don’t have kids and we’re certainly not going to have them because mommy is bored.  So, I want a job.  I want to work.  I’m not a super career-minded person.  I don’t want a high stress position and therefore I know that it won’t be a high-paying position.  However, I want to work. Due to the recent Congressional sequester, among other problems, EFM work is difficult to find to say the least.  In the short time I’ve been here I’ve had three full interviews.  The first two were at AIT (American Institute in Taiwan).  I didn’t get the first and am still waiting to hear back on the second.  The third was on the market.* *Many posts don’t have a relationship with the local government that allows for Americans to work on the local market.  In Taiwan I’m lucky enough to try to find work outside of AIT.   ********** After submitting several applications to local Taiwan schools I got an interview for a full time position to teach 4-5 year old students English. Part of the interview was a demo teach for 30 minutes.  This is the story of how I ruined the day of 15 young children and how they ruined mine. The first part of the interview went well.  We talked about the age groups I like, my serious lack of experience, and how the school operates.  There was also a conversation about legality, work permits, etc.  Heavy stuff.  I spent some time explaining that I’ve never stood in front of a group of children and tried to get them to do what I say.  I explained that several times in fact.  I asked for clear advice on how to keep the students’ attention.  They still insisted that I “demo teach” or “herd cats.” The children spoke MUCH better English than I expected.  “Hello Teacher, nice to meet you!” “My name is…”  Most of them shouted.  Being obnoxious is a cross-cultural trait as it turns out.  One girl perpetually had her finger so deep in her nose I worried what she was going to bring out of it. My plan was to play “picnic at the park” and we would look at fruits and snacks and explain what they are.  This quickly turned into “dump the bucket and hope for the best” which quickly degraded into absolute f’ing pandemonium.  They just grabbed and crawled all over each other to get a piece of fruit.  I desperately looked at the people judging my stellar “teaching” skills while I attempted to keep fingers out of my eyes and plastic durian fruit from hitting my face. I frantically asked my interviewer “what do I do now?” He responded “you need to get their attention.” I got their attention…for 4 seconds.  I explained to my interviewer that I don’t think a game would be...

Lost in Translation

What I was trying to order: “Watermelon juice” What I really ordered: “Western few juice.”   What they were trying to tell me: “You owe 5NT”  (NT is the currency in Taiwan) What I responded:  “No thank you, I don’t want a bag.”   What my teacher asked me: “Where do you often go to buy things?” What I answered: “I eat often.” After this last doozy my teacher taught me this useful phrase.   Characters: Pīn​yīn:                          jī​tóng​yā​jiǎng Meaning:                    This means “the chicken talks to the duck.”  In other words – I have no idea what you said because I’m not a duck and you certainly sound like a chicken.  It’s a phrase used when people can’t communicate with each other. So, I’m obviously still learning the local...

Our Stuff

WAY back in January 2013 Tex and I spent a few days sorting every single thing in our apartment into various piles in preparation for the packers/movers: 1.)    Throw away immediately (ex: dust bunnies, broken CD’s). 2.)    Save it for a week before we decide to throw it away (ex: ‘Do you know what this metal thing goes to?’). 3.)    Donate to Salvation Army (‘Uhh…no, you’re never allowed to wear that again’). 4.)    Give away to friends/family (‘You, uh, want this thing that I don’t want?’). More significantly… 5.)    UAB (Unaccompanied Air Baggage) For two people the weight is 450 lbs. These are items we selected from our mountains of stuff for living at Oakwood Falls Church in a furnished apartment for an indeterminate amount of time.  All we knew at the time was that we would be at Oakwood for longer than 3 months but less than 2 years.  We wound up living there for 6 months. We purchased a scale to make sure we were underweight.  Two things we didn’t know: the weight limit also includes the packaging they use for your items so you don’t really get a full 450lbs and we were limited to 3 large boxes.  Even though we were underweight we still had to move items out of UAB because they didn’t fit in the boxes. We packed a few decorative items in our UAB including our wedding photos and a few trinkets.  The rest included kitchen stuff, clothing, and electronics.  Oakwood provides a pretty decent kitchen package with just about everything you need to prepare basic meals. Here is a helpful post from a fellow Foreign Service blogger (http://diplolife.blogspot.com). Larger families may have some difficulty with what is provided, we were just happy to have a dishwasher and a walk-in closet. 6.)    HHE  (Household Effects) EVERYTHING else. This is the hardest one.  The weight and size limits on UAB and suitcases force you to be very discriminatory about what you are packing.  However, HHE is another story all together.  You can put anything in there, with few exceptions.* We’ve collected a lot of furniture, lamps, bedding, clothing, knick knacks, completely weirdo gifts, sentimental crap, and books to last a lifetime.  It’s all in HHE.  Unfortunately, unless you can watch 4-5 packers/movers like a hawk… We got the hookah supplies with no hookah.  We got a lamp shade with no lamp.  We got baby clothes, car wax, etc. HHE is a magical shipment that turns this:   Into this:  How HHE works: After you’ve separated your UAB and whatever you’re packing in suitcases EVERYTHING else goes in your HHE.  The movers did a fairly good job keeping an inventory but it can be a bit vague and a bit illegible.  Seemingly a million years after you’ve moved out of your home, and forgotten about everything you own, you open up that inventory and put check boxes next to the items you want.  A box might be labeled “bottles.”  If you have home brewing equipment like ourselves “bottles” is a little vague. We have a LOT of bottles. I wish that we had taken 10 minutes after everything was in boxes to look over the inventory that the movers created.   If we had taken this time perhaps we would have clarified “gold mirror” and wound up with the one we wanted instead of a beat up old yellow one. We still have one more small shipment to go. Please stay tuned for my next post, “holy crap, I’d rather move again than find a place for all of our stuff.”   *“It’s Your Move” is a helpful publication published by the State Department to explain how best to prepare for a...

Organic?

I’m sure there is a perfectly reasonable explanation for this: