Camping Truths in Taiwan

Featured

Free camping in Dulan.

Free camping in Dulan.

For some the lure of camping is non-existent and for good reason. You drive (or hike) into the middle of nowhere with very few comforts from back home, set up your shelter, forage for firewood, battle mosquitos, rodents and other pesky creatures, often eat bland food and on the tail end of things you end up smelling like shit.

I hear the complaints and I can sympathize, but I also enjoy escaping the city and its traffic noise, annoying neighbors, blaring stereos, barking dogs and that damn garbage truck song, in exchange for some fresh air and natural scenery.

I never took the chance  to camp while living in Korea, but on a scooter trip during our last vacation we camped out for seven of nine nights at different locations scattered about Taiwan’s east coast and central mountains.  The trip went as planned but I now realize that there are several truths about camping in Taiwan that may or may not hold true elsewhere.

I tend to better enjoy camping when there’s no more than a few people along for the trip (The less smelly bodies in and around my tent the better). Nonetheless I was baffled by how many large groups I saw during our trip. It seems that for many Taiwanese, the more people you can cram onto one campsite, the better.

At a campground in Kenting we saw a group that, by outward appearance, looked like a small family reunion. They erected a mansion of  tent that made our small 3-person look like a plastic dog house. Right next to it they set up an equally impressive screened in gazebo with a fold-up table and a few chairs underneath.  By the time they rolled out their buffet style dinner spread I almost forgot that we were at a seaside campground and halfway expected to see them cart out a portable karaoke machine.

The view from the campsite in Kenting.

The view from the campsite in Kenting.

Honestly I can’t blame them for wanting to enjoy the scenery as a family. The campsite is run by a friendly Taiwanese gentleman who rents out space on his land situated just above a coral beach, there’s no swimming, but you’re close enough to the water to hear the waves from inside your tent.  That being said, 15 people nestled onto one campsite is a tad excessive by my standards.

In  Dulan I would learn a second truth about Taiwan camping: despite popular belief, you can’t just pitch a tent anywhere you deem appropriate.

Our original plan was to utilize the free campground at the Dulan police station (yes, the police station), but because all the sites were claimed we end up with having to find another place to put our tent.  We ask around at the nearby sugar can factory turned art studio, and are told by an elderly fella to just set up our tent in a grassy area next to one of the factory buildings. We do as such, but are eventually told (rather harshly) by a young girl outside of the Dulan Cafe that if we wanted to camp there we would have to pay a fee to the owner of the property. We decide to take down our tent and set it up across the street in area where a  few other tents are already set up. This time we take no chances and ask permission at a nearby house before unpacking. The other tents just so happen to belong to some friends from Kaohsiung and we lay waste to a few beers 7-11 before taking in some live music at the Dulan cafe.

The "campsite" we got booted out of.

The “campsite” we were booted out of.

Further north in Shihtiping I began to understand that when camping in Taiwan, it’s better to do with than to do without.

In the states  it’s perfectly acceptable–encouraged even–when camping, to go a few days without bathing properly, or having decent facilities to use the bathroom. You haven’t lived until you’ve had to drop a deuce in a 2-foot hole  that you dug yourself. Still, it appears that most Taiwanese campers don’t share this sentiment and many insist on having as many comforts as possible when enjoying the outdoors.

Despite its ill sounding name, Shihtiping was the nicest campsite we stayed at during the entire trip. Each individual site has a raised wooden tent platform with shelter and and an accompanying picnic table. Bathrooms and showers are just a stroll down a footpath lined with night lamps. Theres also electrical sockets just in case you decide to bring along a blender for beachside margaritas. The entire campground faces the ocean and some pretty funky rock formations. There’s a small pebble beached cove near the center of the main row of campsites–perfect for a sunset swim after everyone retreats to their campsites for dinner.

DSC_1318

Shihtiping campsite at sunrise.

The place is stacked with more than enough amenities, but you also come out of your pocket for it. At $NT 1,000 a night ($NT 800 on weekdays) it is just as cheap or cheaper to crash at a hotel. I wouldn’t mind giving up the use of electricity and the sheltered platform in exchange for a few hundred NT off the bill. Still, given the gorgeous setting, we couldn’t pass up a chance to camp here regardless of the price tag. Shihitiping also has the advantage of a nearby fishing harbor with a few seafood restaurants worth checking out.

After getting gouged in Shihitipeng, Taroko National Park ushered in the truth that camping in a nice location doesn’t have to break the bank. Being the biggest tourist draw in Taiwan, you’d think camping here would cost a fortune. Instead NT$200/night gets you onsite bathrooms with showers and wooden platforms (unsheltered), and it’s in the middle of the gorge. Taroko was also the only place where we were able to build a campfire. There’s a fire pit and barbecue grate at every site. Because we were so close, we were able to explore most of the gorge early in the day, before it got overran with tourist buses. It was easy enough to find a site midweek but, I’ve heard that you need to get there early on the weekends to stake out a spot.

Sun Moon Bay campsite at Sun Moon Lake was the last campground we stayed at before heading into Tainan and it’s a perfect example of a place that should probably give up and close shop. It’s right on the lake, but you can barely see the water because of the boardwalk leading to the gondola that crosses right in front of the campground. During the day it can get a tad noisy with all the people strolling past and there’s little to no privacy. There’s bathrooms and showers, but no wooden platforms. Instead they’ve cleared an area at each campsite and covered it with jagged rocks so you know where to put your tent. If you’re lucky enough to have thick sleeping pads (we were’t) you might not feel the rocks stabbing you in your gut as you sleep. We were the only ones at the campground, but it didn’t look like the place had been used in while. That being said, the bathrooms were still clean and the showers (mostly) bug free.

Campsite info

Kenting $NT 100/person/night

Look for this sign on the right side of the road.

Look for this sign on the right.

Besides Dulan (where the camping was free) this was the cheapest campsite on the trip. To get here follow the main strip in Kenting south past the parked van bars. Look for a sight that has with a picture of a cow on an ATV and turn right toward the water. If you’re on a scooter it’s about a  3-5 minute drive past the van bars. There’s showers and electricity on site.

Dulan Free
Again, the police station in town provides free camping so if you’re not planning anything crazy, this should be your first option. If not Head to the field across the street from the sugar cane factory and Dulan cafe. turn right out of the parking lot of the factory then take your first left. The field will be on your left and it has a ring of wooden benches around a fire pit, I believe. Watchout for snakes. I’ve heard there is another paid campsite in the area but we never found it.

Shihtiping $NT 1,000/night 
2 km north of Fengbin in Hualien county, The campsite is a part of the Shihtiping recreation area, but the camping itself if ran by a private company. Book your site at the building just above campsite 25. I’d suggest walking around the campsite and choosing a site to your liking before going to book. There’s a store across from the park entrance for munchies and as I mentioned above, trying the seafood at the nearby fishing harbor is a must. The place we went to had no English menus so pointing at dishes that look good on other tables might be the preferred strategy.

Taroko $NT 200/night
There are actually two campsites in Taroko, Heliu and Lushui (free). Heliu is across from the Lushui-Heliu eastern trail head and is the better of the two (fire ring, showers, etc). Showers are cold water only. Luishe is 600 meters or so down the road near the Lushui service station. Each site has a fire ring, but there are no tent platforms. There are no showers but you could easily use the showers at Heliu. The campsites are inside the park, 20 mins buy scooter from the main entrance.

It’s important to mention that it’s worth it to stock up on food before getting into the park. There are a couple food stalls and a small store in Tianxiang, but the selection is paltry.

Sun Moon Bay (Sun Moon Lake) $NT 200 for the site and and additional $NT 200/person/night
Should you actually want to camp here you needn’t only find the Sun Moon lake gondola. If your’e facing the gondola entrance there is driveway to the left that leads down to the water. Head down it and inquire about camping at the coffee shop. We didn’t encounter any English speaking staff so be prepared to point and mime if your Chinese skills are shitty.

Culinary Cravings

20130808-215901.jpg

I’m a big fan of expat living. The challenge of navigating through daily life with little knowledge of the local language combined with the opportunity to see something new everyday is an addiction that, for me at least, is not easily kicked. It’s the reason I came to Taiwan despite having announced at the end of my last stint abroad that I would not be returning to Asia anytime soon. I’m constantly reminding myself to observe as much as I can and be aware of the small, seemingly minute details of what makes living in a foreign country so interesting: The security guard who teaches 15 second Chinese lessons as we pass through the lobby; an elderly Taiwanese exercise group that meets in a small promenade across from our building (Kay came home one evening to them practicing the Macarena); the many brightly dressed couples that congregate at the beach around sunset with a platoon of photographers to take the perfect couple/wedding photos. I take it all in and try not to take it in stride.

Of course, not everything involved with expat living is quirky and enthralling. There’s plenty of things that make it atop my “most–annoying-shit-ever” list and times when I wish for just a modicum of western comforts–most notably, western culinary comforts.

Before I took off to live in Korea several years back the most interesting parting gift I received was a jar of Skippy peanut butter. I didn’t and still don’t eat enough peanut butter to warrant adding the extra luggage weight, but it did remind me that there would be food items that are next to impossible to come by in Asia. Receiving care packages was a common topic amongst my expat friends on Facebook where they’d brag about having gotten vegemite (the brits),  proper gravy for poutine (Canadians) and beef jerky (yours truly).

Some would say that when in a different country one should enjoy the local cuisine as much as possible and while I agree, I also know that there are times when you just want a sandwich with mayo on it and a decent bag of chips, or a steak with legit barbecue sauce or some friggin granola. Damn the arguments abut skipping out on the local food. Sometimes you just want a taste of back home.

Unfortunately there are odd habits that can develop from these cravings if left unchecked…

A recent craving had me pacing up and down the aisles of a high-end grocery store comparing different crackers, cookies, and biscuits searching for the closest thing possible to graham crackers. I found more than enough digestifs and butter cookies, different flavors of wafers–even lady fingers and stroopwaffles, but not a single box of graham crackers. After 20 minutes of searching–just before frustration morphs into rage–I managed to find a bag of what looked like the closest thing to graham crackers. The shape was all wrong and they looked slightly more dense than what I’m used to, but everything else fit the bill. Like an idiot, I tried to gather the scent of the oddly shaped crackers through their plastic wrapping and got a nostril full of dust and cellophane.

I was equally troubled  when I came across a bag of my beloved Flammin’ Hot Cheetos priced at nearly three times the amount of what they go for back home. I passed on buying them that day confident that the Cheetos well would be plentiful. When I returned a week later they were gone. I search in the same spot every time I visit that store and have yet to find them. It’s become somewhat of a ritual: I search for my Cheetos fix,  go find Kay (she’s usually in the sauces aisle searching for Siriacha) and she asks “Did you find them?”

Once when browsing through the foreign foods section of Carrefour Kay let out a gasp like she was choking on something. I turned around to find her cradling a bottle of ranch dressing with a look of joy on her face normally reserved for child births and weddings. Nevermind that it was double the price of what it cost back home. We had to have it.

Recently a friend told me that she managed to find Frank’s brand hot sauce at her local supermarket. An hour later I was still seething in jealousy. Why should SHE be able to enjoy proper hot sauce when I’m stuck mixing random asian brands of chili sauce trying to find the texture and flavor of what I love back home. It took a few beers before I could get over it.

True, Taiwan offers a lot more variety in western comfort foods than other countries, but finding them can be frustrating. Mega-chain Costco holds its own when it comes to many hard to find items (one of the best places to find a decent variety of REAL cheese), but you need to buy items in bulk and some expats are put off by the membership charge.  Jason’s (where I had my graham cracker struggles) is another good option for foreign needs (squid ink pasta, imported wine, maple syrup) but you’ll pay a hefty premium for some of the items they have in stock. I found a small tub of sour cream (for taco night) going for nearly $7 USD. Increasingly there are more grocery stores around the island that are setting up “foreign food” aisles that contain popular fare from North America and Europe as well as food items from countries in Asia and (sometimes) Latin America. Again, finding these gastro-oases can sometimes be difficult, but are well worth seeking out.

It’s also important to realize when your cravings are simply out of reach. There’s nothing wrong with an addiction to organic canned sardines in olive oil, or Coleman’s mustard powder, or southern Quick Grits, but you might be better off having someone back home send  you a hearty supply rather than criss-crossing the country looking for them or constantly badgering members of expat forums for advice on how to track it down. You could also get creative. You may not be able to find tahini, but maybe you can score some sesame seeds and olive oil and throw it together yourself. Can’t find the salsa you want? Look up a simple recipe online then head to the produce market for ingredients. A fellow expat in Kaohsiung enjoys hemp smoothies and was able to track down organic berries (albeit frozen) and even wheatgrass to sort himself out.

Whatever the cravings, try not to let them completely take over your eating habits while living abroad. You might miss out on some tasty local grub.

Stinky tofu, anyone?

Taiwan’s Selfie Latte’s

letscafelatteprinter

Taiwan just stepped it’s coffee game up.

Coffe company Let’s Cafe has made it possible to print your portrait onto a latte, taking foam art to a whole new level. The Company operates it’s coffee kiosks out of Taiwan’s Family Mart convenient stores and are striving to give customers something they can’t get at the more established coffe joints.

How does it work?

Order a latte, upload a selfie from your smartphone and the machine sprinkles the image into the foam using cocoa powder. Boom. You don’t even have to drink it. Just stare at yourself in all your frothy goodness. Of course the point is not just to stare and marvel. You’d be missing out on the moment if you didn’t whip out your phone and take a photo your foam portrait.

Kudos should be given to Let’s Cafe. They’ve found a clever way to capitalize on both Taiwanese photo glut and a ridiculous “selfie” phenomenon gone global (thanks, Instagram). Now, instead of having cell phone photo shoots in your bathroom in fornt of a dirty mirror, you can have them at a local convenient store in front of random customers. As you pay for your latte  you can seek the admiration of the store clerk for haven taken a picture that transferred to milk froth so well.

It’s a quirky idea and I’m sure it’ll be a big hit, but it’s not winning any awards for practicality and there are still a few questions to be answered:

How long will it take to get your latte?

The reason Let’s Cafe has launched its new latte machine is so that it can better compete with larger coffee chains like Starbucks And Taiwan’s own Donutes Cafe. But they’ll do little to knock off  the competition if it takes twice as long to get your order because of hyper stylized foam decorations–which begs another question to be asked: what exactly is an appropriate time value for detailed latte art? A nifty Starbucks barista can drizzle a maple leaf into your morning Cappucino and it only takes a few seconds. Let that same barista take an extra 5 minutes crafting your leaf and there would be a line of  pissed off customers who couldn’t give two shits about the barista’s artistic pursuits.

Of course Let’s Cafe’s foam art is derived from a digital image so you would think it shouldn’t take too long, but I would hate to be stuck waiting for my drink behind a group of Taiwanese middle school girls trying to decide on just the right photo to upload. Inevitably it would happen on your way to work or some other important engagement, but you would be in the wrong let your frustations get the best of you. If all you want is a quick latte you can go somewhere else. Those girls are there for the ultimate experience in Taiwanese coffee consumption; what Let’s Cafe is calling “ridiculously unique and fun.” Never mind that it took half an hour to get it.

Will a photo latte be more expensive than a non-photo latte?

After watching the promotional video it’s clear Let’s Cafe feels their latte photo machine is already a big hit in Taiwan, though I have yet to see one anywhere in Kaohsiung. They mention how their customized latte art became “the talk of the town” and “won over the hearts” of customers. What the video fails to reveal is how much it will cost, but I noticed something that makes me think it’ll cost a lot more that your average convenience store latte .

At one point a guy in the video get’s his customized latte and decides to share it with his lovely female companion. He carefully hands it to her with a subtle but stern glance that says: “if you fuck up and drop this, you’re buying me a new one.”

It seems odd to charge more for something that will most likely disintegrate as soon as you put a lid on the cup which, unless you plan on enjoying your drink inside Family Mart, you will have to do, but not before taking a photo of it to share with others. This of course could create a vicious cycle: take a picture of yourself, have it put on your latte, take a picture of yourself with the latte containing your portrait, then have that put on another latte….I’m probably thinking about this too much.

Are we allowed to put ANY photo on a latte?

If so, we shouldn’t overlook the fun to be had from this in the form of well executed social experiments.

Imagine, for example, how interesting it would be to put a random stranger’s photo on your latte. You’d want to catch someone unexpectedly–either right when they’re entering the store or while waiting in line to check-out:

“Excuse me, sir. Would you like to have your face on my morning latte?”

Better yet, instead of asking permission, just whip out your smart phone and snap a photo of an unsuspecting stranger (happens to me all the time) then head straight for the latte machine. If you’re lucky, you’ll end up next to that same person in the check-out line. They’ll glance down and see their mug shot sprinkled on your drink and you’ll have made a new friend. After posting the photo on Facebook the stranger would arouse the curiosity of your closest friends:

“Say Gary, who’s that person on your latte?”

You can boastfully, “Some guy I met in Family Mart. We’re meeting for drinks and sashimi later tonight.”

Better still, how fun would it be to have a dirty photo dusted atop your latte? Perhaps a set of tightened buttocks or a voluptuous pair of double D’s? Of course doing such a thing would mean putting the store attendant in a rather precarious situation: does he ring up your latte like normal and pretend not to see the pair of protruding orbs afloat in your cup? Does he refuse to sell it to you? On what grounds? Indecent espresso? Does Family Mart have a contingency plan in place if such a thing happens? They should.

Again, maybe I’ve gone too far, but mobile photo glut has the tendency to bring out the worst in people.

I have no information on when these machines will hit Family Mart stores in southern Taiwan (if they haven’t already), but if anyone in Taipei or elsewhere has tried it, I’d love to see the results. Drop a link in the comments or find me on Instagram @jaywoodson.

As for me, I tend to get my coffee from 7-11, but I won’t pass up an opportunity to try it at least once.

*Update: As fellow Taiwan blogger, Taiwanvore so nicely pointed out, Let’s Cafe will not be rolling out it’s photo latte machine in Taiwan after all. The video was shot by a marketing company hired by the makers of the machine itself. Looks like we won’t be able to plaster our faces (or body parts) on our lattes after all.

Licensed to Scoot: How to Get a Scooter License in Kaohsiung

IMG_1114

A few months back I bought a scooter and have been ziping around Kaohsiung ever since. I was initially nervous about making the purchase because of two low-speed, minimal-impact crashes I was I in; one in Indonesia (not my fault) and one in Vietnam (very much my fault).

Many expats told me not to worry about getting a scooter license because in the unlikely event that you get pulled over the cops will almost for sure let you off the hook once they notice you’re a foreigner. I can’t say whether that’s true or not, but I had all but written off getting a license until I was denied a rental scooter on Green Island on the basis that I didn’t have one.

In some ways I find it odd that Taiwan even requires drivers to have a licenses for operating scooters considering what passes for acceptable driving here: blasting through intersections well after the light has turned red; coming to a near complete stop in the middle of the street to ponder the design of a new tea shop; speeding down a busy sidewalk to avoid congestion at a traffic light. All of these are damn-near everyday occurrences and seem to be completely acceptable as normal driving practice.

Still, if a scooter license is needed for foreigners to rent a set of wheels around Taiwan, then getting one makes perfect sense.

To be honest, I tend to handle situations like this as half-assedly as possible. When I took Driver’s Ed. in high school, I completed the whole course then skipped class on the day of the written test to avoid paying for the mandatory behind-the-wheel driving practice. Months later–after turning 18–I strolled into the local DMV, knocked out the written test, had the 6-month permit period cut in half and took the driving test with little to no practice. Yes, I had to wait longer than most of my peers, but I saved more than a hundred bucks doing so. Genius.

I probably would’ve never gotten around to getting a scooter license in Taiwan if the school my girlfriend works for didn’t let me tag a long when they organized it for her and a few other teachers.

Essentially it’s a 3-step process: physical examination, written test and driving test.

Physical Examination:

Before taking to the road Taiwan needs to see that you can physically operate a scooter. On the morning of our physical the obvious assumption is that it will take place at a small pristine health clinic where blood will be drawn, reflexes will be tested, and eyesight will be checked.

Instead we pull up to a dingy run-down building on a sketchy looking narrow street. By outward appearance it seemes as if the place was really a front for some other less-than-legal enterprise.

The room is dimly lit with dusty grey wall and a lone table with a few chairs serve as a waiting area. The only medical looking devices in the room include a weight scale and an optical contraption that is positioned in such a way that allows patients to look into it while seated in front of the table. I begin thinking it’s the type of place where–with a special code word–one can score more than just a physical exam.

“Yes, I’m here for the driving physical and…’bubble tea.'”

The first lady I come to calmly studies my ARC and checks that I have all the correct paper work and the required number of passport photos before taking my weight and sending me to the second nurse. This lady checks my eyesight by first asking what color she’s pointing at on small flashcard and then directing me to look into the aforementioned optical device and spout off the position of a gap in a series of different sized circles. It takes a moment to understand what i’m supposed to do so the nurse holds up a notecard with English instructions printed on it. She does this two more times before I’m able to get it right. eyetest

The next part of the exam involves an elderly Taiwanese gentleman sitting at a desk in the back of the room reading a newspaper. He motions for me to first hold out my hands palms up,  then close them and open them again. We then hold hands for a second and he examines the backs of my hands. I’m not sure what he is looking for, but I’m somehow nervous about what he might find. Can he see that I’ve previously been in a scooter accident? Is he looking for signs of excessive beer consumption? Is he judging me for not having applied enough hand lotion? Does he notice that I bite my fingernails? Does it matter that I bite my fingernails? Am I being scouted to participate in an underground martial arts tournament?

Before letting my hands go he looks into my eyes (into my soul?) and gently asks me where I’m from. The tone of his voice prompts me to answer slowly in a complete sentence.

“I am from the United States of America.”

He smiles, nods approvingly and sends me on my way. I linger for a moment, wondering if I’ve somehow missed a meaningful revelation, then head out.

Written Test

After a visit with the scooter shaman, you’ll need to then pass a written test to demonstrate that you know all the Taiwanese traffic laws that are hardly obeyed and rarely enforced.

The test is made up of 40 questions–half multiple choice and half tue or false. Besides traffic laws and road signs, the test also covers driving ethics. A passing score is 85% or higher.  Fail it and you’ll need to wait a week before you can take it again.

Taiwan has been kind enough to create an English version of the test and even provide study materials and a mock test for practice, but the translation leaves something to be desired. Take this true or fase question, for example:

Screen Shot 2013-06-19 at 3.13.38 PM

The correct answer is True (or “O” on the actual test), leading one to believe that–if nowhere else in the world–at least Taiwan has a safe place for zebras to cross the street.

Still, even with the translation errors, some questions leave no doubt as to the correct answer…

Screen Shot 2013-06-19 at 3.02.18 PM

while others are undoubtedly confusing:

Screen Shot 2013-06-19 at 3.16.33 PM

I have yet to see any slick roads covered with branches, but I’m constantly on the lookout.

Taking the test will set you back $125 NT.

After paying the fee our group is led into a bright room with 3o or so computer terminals. Once again my ARC is checked closely and I’m shown to the terminal where I will take my test. I’m feeling confident about my chances of passing despite having hastily studied the night before over dinner and a few beers. I took the practice test as many times as it took to pass (twice) and was satisfied with my preparation.

The test takes about 15 minutes to complete and I just barely pass with 87%.  On the way out I’m handed a slip of paper that will allow me to take the driving test.

Driving Test

I have no problem fully admitting that taking the driving test was the most difficult part of getting my Taiwanese scooter license. Even with plenty of practice and a clear understanding of the manuevers I needed to execute I still had doubts about my odds of passing.  The test course is nothing special, mind you; a simple U-shaped obstacle course under a sheet metal roof that, if done properly, should take  no more than 45 seconds to complete.

IMG_1108

We arrive before the 10:30 AM test time and are allowed to practice. Most of the course is simple. There’s two places where you need to signal your turns, two places that require making complete stops and a stop light thrown in for good measure. All of these elements need to be properly executed within the confines of a three foot wide track with sensors on either sides. Veer off the track and a loud siren will sound (with lights) signaling your failure.

IMG_1109

The 7-Second Balance Strip

By far the most challenging part of the road test, however, is a 50 foot narrow strip at the beginning of the course. The object is to drive the length of it in no less than seven seconds (there’s a timer right in front of you). Touch the sensors on either side of the strip or touch your feet to the ground and it’s an automatic fail.

I nail the entire course time after time while practicing. At this point our small group are the only people there, but by the time the test is about to start a crowd of test takers and on-lookers has formed and a few people have taken a keen interest in how the foreigners will do.

Before the start of the test an administrator walks us through the course explaining all the elements and possible point deductions in Chinese. I can’t understand what he’s saying, but I stroll with the others anyway, nodding my head every so often to show that I’m paying attention. I don’t notice that there’s English instructions printed on a large board near the beginning of the course until he’s finished.

As the test begins I position myself in the middle of the pack so I can see how the first few people do on the narrow strip portion. Some are wobbly in their method, but most everyone gets through it without any problems. Some people ease their way through it gently twisting the throttle to give the scooter as little thrust as possible while focusing on maintaining balance. Others hit the gas right away and then let off, relying on their break at the end so they don’t finish under seven seconds.

As I approach the start I notice that several people have gathered along the side rail near the 7-second balance strip. I give myself a small peptalk: “Don’t f**k this up, Jay. All of Taiwan is watching.”

I decide to gas it at the beginning and coast the rest of the way. By the time I make it to the end the timer is only at four seconds so I gently squeeze the brake to buy more time. This slows me down too much and my scooter begins to lean to the left. I clip the left corner of the sensor and the sirens wail. The administrator waves me back to the beginning of the course to start over. I have one more chance to pass it then I’ll have to wait a week before I can try again.

On the second attempt I try to ease my way through the strip, twisting the trottle as little as possible, only this time I don’t have enough power and I’m forced to put my feet down to keep from tipping over. I’m once again waived over and given my test sheet with a big red stamp on it.

Out of our small group of foreigners that took the test I’m the only one who fails the driving test, but Im not alone. After everyone is finished,and at the insisting of the test administrator,  I take turns practicing on the course with a with a teenage Taiwanese girl who also didn’t pass. It’s feels like a victory lap for losers.

The next week I return by myself, pay the $125 NT fee to take the test again. When I finally pass the annoying seven-second narrow strip (I fail once more before getting it right) I almost forget that I have to finish the rest of the course. I halfway expect someone to be clapping for me when I approach the booth to get my licence: a small piece of paper laminated on one side with my name and the same shitty pasport photo I used for my diving certificate.

For $200 NT, victory never looked this good.

IMG_1153

Links:
Study guide for written test
Practice test
Extra info from Tealit.com

Weekend Wanderings: Green Island

DSC_1082

Photo by author

Taiwan does a good job of providing an abundance of places for quick weekend excursions and with the heat and humidity beginning to set in on Kaohsiung, we recently jumped at the opportunity to join some friends on a trip to Taiwan’s Green Island.

The small speck of an island, located about 19 miles east of Taitung in southern Taiwan, is a popular diving and resort destination for those within the country, but is rarely mentioned as a “must visit” among other travelers in the region. It would be a rare sight, for example, to see a hoard of Aussie backpackers slamming beers on the ferry deck in route to Green Island’s Nanliao harbor.

Still when our group of five showed up there were plenty of Taiwanese tour groups moving about in scooter herds and crowding the souvenir shops.

For us, the trip brought welcomed respite from the Kaohsiung smog and an opportunity to see some more of Taiwan’s fabled coastline. The island itself–a stunning mixture of lush vegetation, crushed coral beaches and jagged volcanic mountains–seems much to0 pristine of a setting to have ever been home to a brutal political prison.

We planned to grab a few scooters as our transport for the weekend, but a recent fatal crash involving two foreigners on the island prompted scooter rental companies to change their policy, renting only to those with Taiwanese drivers licences–frustrating, but understandable.

Instead we settled on the option of bicycles. Sadly I was quite disappointed with the quality of the rides we were given. Had they been bicycles properly suited for the terrain, circumnavigating the island–and all her seaside cliffs–would’ve been a welcomed challenge. Instead I found myself dreading the trips we made from our campsite into town and back again, pretty much ensuring that an attempt at cycling around the island would not be made (big shout-out to Nomad Notions author Jenna Longoria and her boyfriend Dominic for accepting the challenge and succeeding).

We were able to set up camp on the southern tip of the island, on a bluff just above the island’s famous hot springs, about 100 yards from a scenic lookout post. I’m not entirely sure if camping here is even permissible, but the official camping grounds were closed due to renovation and the small herd of goats grazing nearby weren’t noticeably bothered so we claimed it as our own for the night, taking taking note of the goat shit scattered around the site.

Among all the things to do in Green Island, I was probably most interested in visiting the Zhahori salt water hot springs–one of only three in the world.

There’s five or six pools that range from chilled to steamy and you can grab a basket to put your belongings in while you take a dip. We changed in our tents, but there’s locker rooms with showers on the premises as well.

As is the norm we attracted a few stares but many others couldn’t have cared less about about our presence. Before we could take the plunge, however, we were quickly informed that we would need to wear swimming caps if we wanted to enter the main pools. Should we not want to wear  swimming caps, we would only be able to sit in the pools closer to the beach. The only noticeable difference besides the location was that the two pools near the beach were essentially dead coral tide pools ringed with cement barriers that have the warm spring water piped-in. Fair enough.

None of us were in the mood to purchase a swimming cap so we headed towards the beach and joined two Taiwanese guys already there. The water wasn’t as hot as I wanted but still relaxing and whereas were were told we couldn’t have beverages at the pools requiring swimming caps; here we’re able to knock down a couple of beers in peace–at least until one of the attendants began glaring at us and grabbed his walkie-talkie. I have no idea what he said to the person on the other end, but we clearly heard him mention “weiguoren” (foreigner). The jig was up.

We returned to the the other pools and wrapped our heads with towels and sarongs, satisfying the swimming cap rule. The sight–I’m sure–did little to combat the “crazy foreigner” stereotype (Kay looked like the Chiquita Banana lady) but none of us cared as we were finally allowed to enter the other pools. I went for hottest available and followed the example set buy an elderly Taiwanese woman–lapping water onto my neck and shoulders. I somehow felt this was the more therapeutic way to enjoy the hot spring. I added to the strategy by sipping wine out of a paper cup every so often. I would go on to try out all but the coldest of the springs before rain sent us scurrying back to the tents.

It should be mentioned that there’s nowhere near the hot springs where one can easily take a swim in the ocean. Nearby Dabaisha beach is one of main spots for snorkeling and diving, but is also ill suited to take a dip due to dead coral. From the road I could see a few people swimming off a small strip of beach just south of Nanliao village, but never went down to explore further. I’ve also read that the eastern side of the island has beaches where one can easily access the water.

In terms of eating, there seemed to be plenty of places in Nanliao village, near the harbor, but on our visit there were a lot of people who were contently eating at 7-11. We took the recommendation of another visitor and ate at a restaurant on the main strip. Among other things on the menu they offered rice and noodle dishes with venison (deer meat). So far as I know there’s not many many places to try venison in Taiwan so we decided to give it a go. A plate of the venison with noodles, some sashimi and a bit of sautéed cabbage did us well and was cheap enough that I could’ve ordered another dish and not felt guilty.

On a return trip to Green Island I think I’d prefer to have a scooter to throughly explore the whole of it, but I still enjoyed taking in the views and soaking in the hot springs. Our small second-hand tent did well to combat the light rain, but suffered two broken tent poles from battling the wind. Rain on the last day left us soggy on the ferry ride back to Taitung, but the weather more or less cooperated other than that. I won’t count it as a complete success being that we were limited in what we were able to do, but it held it’s own in terms of a quick weekend getaway.

Enough said.

*You can get to Green Island via Taitung. From Kaohsiung it takes about 3 hours by train, after which you will need to make your way to Fukang Harbor (easiest by taxi NT 150-200) and hop the 50 min ferry to the island (between NT 800-900 round-trip).

*Update: a taxi ride from Taitung station will be closer to NT 300-350. I previously posted the price at NT 150-200.

If you decide to camp at the designated campground it will run you NT 400 a person.

Entrance to the hot springs is NT 200 plus the cost of a swimming cap, should you decide to buy one. Avoid the crowds by going during the early morning or doing the day.

Rental scooters can be had for NT 300-400 per day, but you’ll need a Taiwanese scooter license. Should you choose to rent bicycles (not recommended) they’ll set you back NT 150 per day.

Angeles City on a Visa Run

20130420-182730.jpg

ESL teachers know the visa run quite well: you leave the country for a short period of time (sometimes just a few hours) to reset the amount of time your’re allowed to stay on a certain visa. Expats in Korea make a quick sojourn to Japan, folks in Laos head to Thailand and those of us in Taiwan usually head to Hong Kong.

In most cases you can simply leave and come right back, but sometimes you might also need to visit an office, fill out forms, submit passport photos, wait in line and do a secret handshake with a certain official who is only available from 1 pm to 3 pmand pay an expensive fee before they let you back in.

My run wouldn’t involve jumping through said hoops, but I would still need to leave the country and return to allow enough time for my work permit and Alien Registration Card to be processed without overstaying my original 90-day landing visa. Confusing? Yes. Convenient? Not in the slightest.

Before coming to Taiwan I anticipated the possibility of having to make a visa run in the event that I couldn’t find a job within the first couple of months so I bought a ticket ahead of time hoping I’d never have to use it. Most expats in Taiwan head to nearby Hong Kong, but tickets to the Philippines were significantly cheaper for the dates I needed. I figured I might have a chance to sneak off to the beach before my flight back to Taiwan.

I figured wrong.

I half-assedly look up where I’ll be landing and discover that I’ll be nowhere near a beach. The Air Asia flight from Taipei drops me just outside of Angeles City, the sex entertainment capital of the Philippines. When Clark Air Force Base was still up and running (a few miles west) Angeles City was where U.S. pilots would go for wholesome R&R.

I arrive by bus from the airport and the first image I see is an elderly caucasian fellow with a fanny pack being led down the street by a much shorter, much younger filippino girl. On the walk to my guesthouse I see different versions of the same “couple” several more times.

My first trip to the Philippines and I end up in the red light district.

I make my way to the Villa Santol Lodging House tucked away on a quite street just off the main drag. When I pass through the yellow iron gate I’m greeted first by a group of 7 or 8 elderly casually sipping beers at a table in the open air bar. I say hello, but no one seems to pay me any attention. They’re all speaking in thick Australian accents.

A short round Filippino woman checks me into my room and gives me a couple pointers: I can help myself to beer and other beverages in the cooler so long as I write down what I take; after dark I am to lock the front gate when I leave and I need to stay alert when walking through the neighborhood. I inform her that I will only be staying for one night and request a cold beer.

I grab a seat at the counter and can’t help but listen in on the table of Aussies behind me. One of the guys is telling a story about a friend who was recently overcharged at a bar. None of the others seem to understand because they keep arguing over the details.

“So he had 6 beers but was charged for 7?”
“Was the waitress cute?”
“What kind of beer was it?”

I get the feeling they meet here regularly–an Aussie shriners club or something, only these guys have done away with the maroon felt hats and are wearing t-shirts with the names of bars and strip clubs printed on them in bright neon letters.

They finish their beers and the conversation shifts to their plans for the evening.

“Dancing girls or football tonight, boys?”
“Well you can’t fuck a football, mate!”

I imagine these fellas are the surviving remnants of Full Moon partiers that never gave up partying. The magic mushroom shakes and booze buckets have given way to watching rugby and ordering lap dances. Life must be rough.

They ask about my plans for the night and I tell them I will only be having dinner because I’m heading back to Taiwan the next day.

“Back to the band?” someone asks.
“Uh, not exactly.”
“Oh, I figured you’re in a rap band.”

I’m slightly offended, but also curious as to how he came to the conclusion that I’m a rapper from Taiwan.

They take off and I am left to figure out where to eat dinner. A quick Google search brings me to the Angeles City “Gentleman’s” travel guide (link NSFW). In addition to restaurant listings, they also offer advice on how much to tip local prostitutes. Clearly they aim to be comprehensive.

I settle on a Mexican restaurant within walking distance and am once again told to be aware of my surroundings when walking throught the neighborhood at night.

On the way there I pass places called Honkey Tonks, Shadows and Gobbles Heaven, all with their own cluster of showgirls sitting out front. I get cat-called with phrases like “We love the sexy black man” and “Sexy Bob Marley!” A boy selling cigaretts out of a large wooden box stops me and goes into a rehearsed spiel about Marlboro and other popular brands that can be had for a good price. I decline the offer, but ask where Tequila Reef Cantina is. Frustrated, he mumbles something under his breath before moving to the next passerby.

A motorized tricycle driver (the Filippino version of Tuk-Tuks) points me in the right direction of the restaurant and I deposit myself at the bar and order a margarita. The restaurant is half full with the same lot of older white guys I’ve been seeing around town, along with a few Filipino guys knocking back bottles of San Miguel. It occurs to me that I haven’t seen any young tourists or travelers in Angeles City. With discount airline Air Asia flying in and out of Clark Airport to and from tourist hotspots elsewhere in the Philippines, I halfway expected to see a bustling backpacker ghetto with family run hostels and internet cafes when I arrived. It certainly has the feel of Koh San road or even Vang Vieng but all the twenty somethings in flip flops have been replaced with fifty somethings in tube socks. Instead of cart vendors laden with t-shirts and pad thai, the vendors here hawk condoms and foreign cigaretts. When the sun goes down in Angeles City there are plenty of tourists about, but many of them appear less interested in sand pales filled with vodka and Red Bull and more interested in exotic pleasures.

Back at the restaurant I ask the bartender what’s good on the menu and she steers me away from the Mexican fare.
“I like the bistek tagalog.” I take the suggestion on the thought that during my first visit to a country, the first thing I eat should be something local–plus it’s one of the cheapest items on menu. The bartender–a slim gal named *Sophie who wears her “don’t fuck with me” face as well as any female bartender I know–replaces my empty margarita glass with a bottle of San Miguel and I ask her how she feels about Angeles City being a hot bed for cheap thrills.

“Why? Are you fishing?” I’m thrown off by the question, but quickly comprehend the meaning. I once again explain my visa situation She skeptical–but satisfied–with my response.

“I don’t like it all. I was born and raised right here in A.C. …but I wouldn’t raise kids here.” I assume this is because girls from Angeles City run the risk of ending up working at one of the red light bars, but Sophie tells me that many of the bar girls are from elsewhere in the Philippines–mainly Manilla. Instead of staying in Angeles City, Sophie plans to join her boyfriend in New York once she has saved enough money. I want to ask more, but my food arrives and Sophie gets hit with a wave of drinks.

I finish my food and decide to take the long way back to the guesthouse. Fields Avenue–the epicenter of Angeles City’s gentleman’s district–is just starting to rev up. Distorted club stereos compete with traffic nose and cat calls from the bar girls. Trike drivers offer to take me wherever I want to go, roaming sun-burned tourists stumble in and out of bars, some with drinks still in hand. Most of the shops on Real st. are closed, but a few vendors are stil selling souvenirs and trinkets to anyone willing to stop and take a look.

My flight tomorrow leaves at 12:05.

Angeles City probably won’t make my Top 10 list of day trips, but as visa runs go, I’d imagine it’s as good a place as any. The accommodation is cheap, the beer is good and–unless you’re into strippers and bar girls–you’ll be ready to leave the next day.

A few tips for those making the same visa run:

-Air Asia offers flights between Taoyuan International Airport (TPE) and Clark (CRK, just outside of Angeles City) for as little as $44 USD one-way.

-To get to Angeles City from Clark airport, hop on a Jeepney (half jeep, half bus). They wait for passengers just outside the airpot exit on the right. The cost is 50 Pesos. It won’t leave until it’s full. Get off at the first stop near Jollibee restaurant. To get back to the airport head to the Clark/Freeport Jeepney Terminal just across the street from Jollibee and ask one of the drivers to tell you which gate to wait at for Clark Airport.

-The Villa Santol Lodge is worked out well for a night’s accommodation. It’s about a 10-15 minute walk from the Jeepney terminal, on Fatima and S.Surla. If you book by phone you’ll get a small discount. I paid 490 Pesos for a simple room with a fan and shared bathroom.

-Unless you plan to do some serious partying, you shouldn’t need more that 1,500-2,000 Pesos for a single day visa run. This will be enough to secure a cheap room, grab dinner and breakfast, and get a few beers. Keep in mind that you will also be charged an exit tax at the airport when you leave. If I remember correctly it’s about 450 Pesos.

-Don’t be stupid. There’s a lot of nonsense you can get into if you’re not paying attention. When you go out, don’t bring any more money than you need.

*Author’s Note: Named changed to protect privacy.

K.I.F.F. a “Delicious Success”

DSC_1183

These last few days have been rough.

Not only did I have a severe case of F-U-Mondays, but the recovery from my food bender last weekend has taken longer than originally anticipated.

I’ve never been a shining model of self-restraint–even less so when it comes to food, but all hell breaks loose when you subject me to a smorgasbord of culinary crack like what was found at the Kaohsiung International Food Festival.

Please take a moment to back-hand yourself if you missed it. DSC_1049

I had doubts about the chosen venue, but the Dream Mall worked well, allowing attendees to move though a corridor of food booths before being deposited in front of the main stage or along the side of it pass through and exit the festival altogether.

When we arrived Sunday afternoon I quickly went about the business of snacking on all there was to offer–successfully knocking off Taco Rico’s yellow corn soft shell tacos, roasted pork knuckle and sauerkraut from Deutsche Kuche and New Zealand hard cider from Sarkii alcohol importers. I then moved on to The Bayou’s catfish tacos, and a tasty Portugese egg tart compliments of Cafe de Macau. As promised, most of the food was priced to sell so wallet guilt was nil.

Haxstrong founder Greg Haxton

Haxstrong founder Greg Haxton

The Haxtrong charity crew was also out in full force selling raffle tickets, T-shirts, brownies, banana bread and other goodies to help further their much needed cause, and judging by the constant swarm of people around their booth I’d say their efforts didn’t go unnoticed.

Kaohsiung’s reigning burger champ The Eatery was de-throned by Foster Hewitt’s Pub and Grill for Best Burger accolades and The Bayou took the Best Pizza title, but my personal congrats go to the brave folks that entered into the Burger Eating contest.

Three 2-person teams spent thirty minutes trying to consume a 6-pound burger appropriately named “The Hulk.”

Why anyone would volunteer for such a task is beyond me as I’m sure there are health risks involved in consuming that much meat in one sitting, but I rather enjoyed being a spectator and snapping photos of a scene that looked like something out of The Walking Dead.

At the 15 minute mark the contestants were looking sluggish and I became increasingly concerned about whether or not I was in range of a potential projectile vomit barrage. The foreigner squad was well ahead of the two Taiwanese teams but I still gleefully cheered on, urging them to take one more bite to honor their respective countries.

KIFF Burger Eating Competition.

KIFF Burger Eating Competition.

When it all ended the stage looked like a lamb slaughter had just taken place and the six lethargic contestants smiled at the crowd with ketchup stained lips. The winners were given a couple gift cards, a plaque commemorating their victory and a liter of Coca-Cola.

Feeling inspired, I headed back over to the food booths to see what was left to sample.

Round two included a bratwurst from Cory’s Kitchen, more hard cider and several spoonfuls of frozen yogurt from Hello Berry. I flirted with a bite size sample of panzerotti at the Lulu John booth, but gave the full sized portion a miss in hopes of saving room for St. Louis style ribs from Blue Smoque BBQ. Sadly I had to throw in the towel. Vetti Vetti Vicci.

The food gave way to music towards the end of the night and those who weren’t too stuffed hung out and did their best to provide the bands with a dance crowd. By then my stomach was too full for me to do anything more that sway and bob my head, but I stuck around to hear K-Town’s much loved Liger Attack.

Kudos to Ryan Parsons and the participating vendors for putting together an event that everyone can boast about. I was pleased to see a healthy mixture of foreigners and local Taiwanese vying for positon in the food lines. Perhaps an added benefit to events like KIFF is that they help illustrate how diverse the foreign community is while dispelling the myth that we’re all a bunch of loud drunkards looking to get laid.

When I asked Ryan about next year’s festival he rattled off his process for figuring our how to make it even better.

One suggestion: cots and pillows for the gastro-inebriated.

This slideshow requires JavaScript.

Peace.

2nd Annual Kaohsiung International Food Festival 3/23-3/24

Image courtesy of the Kaohsiung International Food Festival

I don’t usually need a reason to gorge myself on international cuisine being that I tend to sample any and everything that catches my senses, but this weekend presents a unique exception.

The 2nd annual Kaohsiung International Food Festival kicks-off this Saturday and will offer ample opportunity to stuff your face with foreign goodies from Kaohsiung’s expat chefs. Expect to see less stinky tofu and more smoked ribs and levercase.

Around 30 restaurants and food vendors from 19 different countries will be showcasing their fare throughout the weekend and several will be competing for Best Pizza and Best Burger titles. Festival goers can also flex their skills in several competitions including the Waiguoren Wok Challenge (foreigners cooking Taiwanese food for a panel of Taiwanese judges) and an air guitar competition benefiting local charity, Haxstrong.

Besides the food there will be a DJ ad several local bands on deck to help deal with “The Itis” (AKA food coma) and an MC will floating around interviewing participants and helping to move the event along smoothly.

The festival is being put on by Event Chairman and Kaohsiung veteran Ryan Parsons who was able to field a few questions about this year’s KIFF and the festival’s origins:

DT: How long have you been in Kaohsiung?

RP: On and off since 2000.  I arrived the day Chen Shui-bien got elected and the country was going crazy!  It calmed down the next day but I thought it would be that hysterical all the time. 

DT: What are a few things that you’ve seen change since you arrived?

RP: The city isn’t even close to what is was like in 2000.  The government has (since) funded city projects that have truly made Kaohsiung a city of the future.  The international community was non – existent when I arrived and now we have the largest international food festival on the island that is completely run from top to bottom by the expat community.

DT: How did the idea come about to put together a food festival in Kaohsiung?

RP: When I used to have restaurants what I loved most was sharing my culture’s food with the locals in the same way they get excited about sharing their local cuisine with us (foreigners).  As the international community increased in size so did the restaurants opening to serve them.  Its been a project of mine for 4 years and I’m blessed to have such great foreign restaurants to be able to make it a possibility. 

DT: Can we expect to see Taiwanese food vendors as well?

RP: The Taiwanese have so many unique and fantastic festivals and markets. It’s our turn to serve them and treat them to a weekend of our food, music and culture.  Thank you for making us feel at home, Taiwan!

DT: What’s included in this year’s KIFF that wasn’t a part of the festival last year?

RP: The Waiguoren Wok competition, Kaohsiung’s Best Pizza competition, Latin dancing lessons, (food) demonstration and interactive video tents, A Bourbon Street bar and stage, more food and drink and a wider array of music and activities.

DT: One thing the absolutely MUST be sampled at this year’s KIFF?

RP: With prices starting at $60 NT we’ve made it possible to sample everything, though you may have to come both days.

Ryan graciously dodged plugging any specific vendor on that last one, but I’ll personally be seeking out Deutsche Kuche’s Bavarian roasted pork knuckle, and Mama Africa’s roti.

Keep in mind that this is a green event and everyone is encouraged to bring their own plate and utensils or else borrow them from the KIFF information desk.

The festival takes place at the Kaohsiung Dream Mall (look for the dubious ferris wheel on the roof).
Sat. 3/23 12 pm-9 pm
Sun. 3/24 12 pm-7 pm

Be sure to check out the KIFF website for updates, full menu and entertainment listings and vendor & sponsor info.

Peace.

 

 

Insta-Blurb: 5 Tips for Scooter Parking in Taiwan

20130312-000711.jpg

Of all the vehicles on the road in Taiwan none is more ubiquitous than the scooter. They’re everywhere, zipping up and down streets and sidewalks alike, sometimes carrying whole families, several puppies, groceries–all at the same time.

It’s estimated there are more than 15 million scooters in Taiwan (Google it) and one needs only to walk down the street  to realize that finding parking for them can be damn near impossible.

A friend of ours recently offered to loan us a scooter (to help me out with my recent job search and because he had nowhere to put it) and we happily accepted, promising not to destroy it. The first night it was in our possession it was towed from in front of our apartment building. We figured it would be fine parked next to a row of other scooters, but were mistaken and shelled out NT $800  (about $27) for a lesson learned.

Hoping to avoid being towed in the future, I decided to enlist the help of my iPhone to compile a short list of tips for choosing a place to stash the ride.

#1. White lines are your friend

As a general rule, when you see parking slots painted white, you’re in the clear to park. In busier areas you might have to pay a small fee for these spots, usually via a small ticket that a meter maid attaches to your ride. Pop into the nearest 711 to pay it.

20130311-133827.jpg

Keep in mind that actually finding an open white slot can be easier said than done.

20130311-144014.jpg

#2. Sidewalks are for walking, except when they’re for parking.

This is a parking grey area. Technically it’s not legal to park on the sidewalk, but if it’s directly outside outside a business (in this case, a casino) whose patrons have claimed the sidewalk for parking, give it a go, but try to get a spot in the middle of the pack to give you a buffer in case the tow fellas show up. Parking on the sidewalk during the day for short period of time is generally acceptable, but leave it over night and there’s a good chance it’ll end up at the impound lot.

20130311-145340.jpg

#3. Be mindful of the yellow “X.”

The yellow “X” is a certified no parking zone. You usually see them in the lone space where one can access the sidewalk to enter a building. This one has the advantage of side-rails for added parking deterrence.

20130311-230736.jpg

But every rule has an exceptional asshole who is above it.

20130311-231652.jpg

#4. A little wiggle room is helpful.

Don’t be afraid to move the scooters around you for added space. I assure you no one will think twice about moving yours. I’ve come downstairs many times to find that some prick has taken my scooter off the prop-stand a put it on the leaning kickstand so they could squeeze their ride in, scratching my muffler to hell in the process.

20130311-233041.jpg

Teamwork is sometimes required to achieve the perfect fit.

20130311-234111.jpg

#5. When all else fails, stand guard and wait for something to open up.

Why make loops around the block when you can wait and enjoy the finer things in life?

20130311-234940.jpg

Have parking tips of your own? Drop them in the comments section. Find me on Instagram @jaywoodson.

TADIT Fights for Diversity and Fairness in Taiwan

Screen Shot 2013-03-05 at 1.22.52 AM

The Taipei Times recently published a story about a group of foreign English teachers who have  launched an effort to combat discrimination in Taiwan’s ESL market. The group–Teachers Against Discrimination in Taiwan(TADIT)–was started by Annie Chen, a Taiwanese American with dual citizenship who had trouble finding work as an English teacher in Taipei because of her Asian appearance and last name. Her experience echoes that of many other non-white English teachers who have come to Taiwan eager to teach.

I remember sifting through hundreds of threads on Forumosa and Tealit before I left the states that mentioned the discriminatory (and in some cases, racist) attitudes of English cram school operators and Taiwanese citizens. When I arrived almost all the expats I spoke with told me that I would have a harder time finding work due to my skin color. It’s not that I took it in stride per se, but I wasn’t going to let it deter me from from trying. I’d survived living and working in Korea–perhaps one of the most xenophobic nations in Asia–so I didn’t think Taiwan would present me with anything I couldn’t handle. Or so I thought.

For me, reading about TADIT could not have come at a better time.

Last Monday I was called into a school that I had sent a cold email to the previous week. They were in need of a part-time teacher and I was invited to come in for a demo and interview. I arrive to the same surprised expression I’ve been getting when walking into schools; the “oh shit, he’s black” look. No problem. I smile and inform them I’m there for a scheduled lesson demo and interview. I expected to do the demo in front of an actual class, but instead had to do it for one of the managers and a Taiwanese teacher. It doesn’t bother me at all and I feeling like I nailed it. A quick vocabulary activity, some simple sentence structure and I’m done. As I’m leaving the manager tells me that when I come back she’ll show me how to use the special interactive white board. Her choice of the word “when” has me feeling like I got the job.

The next day that same manager gives me a call and explains that there is a “small problem.” I need to come back for another demo–this time for the director of the school and a different manager– because they’ve never had a teacher who was black. The explanation leaves me offended and a conflicted about rather to return for the demo. I contemplate going in and giving a lesson on the importance of diversity in leaning environment instead of anything from the textbooks. During my second demo I’m made to feel as if they were now looking for reasons to not  hire me. The director leaves after only a few minutes and I keep being interrupted with requests to demonstrate how I would teach some minute detail of a lesson I had all but five minutes to prepare. This time when I leave I’m told they will all me if they need anything else. The “if” left no question as to rather I’d be hired or not.

I didn’t plan on sharing this story via Dreadlock Travels, but after reading about Chen and others efforts to fight this type of behavior I felt I needed to share it. Everyone seems to be aware that this is happening, yet until now no one has taken the effort to do anything about it, possibly because of the assumption that nothing can be done.

According to Taiwan law it’s illegal to for schools to discriminate on the basis of race class, religion, etc–something I didn’t know until this morning.

The face of the English speaking world is a muti-ethnic one and I applaud TADIT for understanding that this is not just an employment issue to be fought in schools and courtrooms. There’s also lot to be done in changing a social psyche that perpetuates the myth that a proper English education can only be attained from someone who is caucasian. Schools become reluctant to hire people of color because they’re afraid parents will pull their kids out. No students, no profit.

TADIT has set up a blog and Facebook group urging teachers who have been discriminated against in Taiwan to share their stories. They also have projects in the works that include lobbying politicians and media outlets, as well as hosting a Diversity Day event to show the many cultures of English speaking foreigners.

From the Taipei Times article:

“We think this fear of non-white English teachers comes from a lack of exposure. If we can expose people, especially families, to greater diversity, we can help change things,“ added Hales, who is organizing a soccer tournament, face-painting, live music, yoga classes and an Aboriginal dance performance to feature in the event.

TADIT is also seeking to garner close ties with schools by creating a brochure to encourage them to become equal opportunity employers and there is talk of working with schools to give presentations on diversity awareness to students. All of these projects require help from volunteers. The group is based in Taipei, but the problem is island wide. I encourage anyone who teaching in Taiwan who wants to help to join the Facebook group and help spread awareness. I’m of the mind that this common practice can be stamped out. Chen and her TADIT organization have already taken the first step.

Big shout-out to Byran Harris and the Taipei Times for the feature article on TADIT.

Peace.