My New Groove (“A” Side)
I’m in a new country! My salad days in Japan are over. (No really, that’s what I always had for dinner there.) My forty days of summer were blissful. Now I’m here, and here is Taipei, and now is until next August.
If Japan was Teach-Swim-Study-Party-Travel, Taiwan is Study-Write-Study-Bike-Other. I’ll introduce my life from the most basic things onward. I already wrote about my church here (https://jsmyth.wordpress.com/2010/10/03/tales-from-a-taiwanese-church/).
Breathing: Locals insist the air in Taipei is bad. It’s not perfect, but it’s very reasonable and far superior to the air quality in certain other Chinese-speaking cities. The factories churning out Made in Taiwan products are outside the capital proper.
Taipei is 400 miles west of the capital of Okinawa and 500 miles east of Hong Kong. They’re all on about the same latitude. That surprised me, since stereotypically Okinawa is an island chain with a mellifluous name where everyone’s chilling out and playing banjos while Taipei and Hong Kong are frantic, steamy industrial cities with simple assonant names. But yes indeed, southerners are industrious, too, and we have palm trees and the second-tallest building in the world in the same place. September was don’t-forget-to-bring-a-towel hot. I always keep an umbrella in my bag because rain can just drop in on you when you’re least expecting it, like Steve Urkel. One Sunday I ran through a typhoon to get to church, but the breeze is refreshing. Fall and winter will still be comfortable! So the weather is great. If you like summer, you would like it here.
I’ve noticed grasses and plants on the balconies and roofs around the city, and I’ll need that more than I thought. Now that I’m living in a city, I understand how much my brain relaxes when I see nature. Fortunately, my campus is clean and green, and we have a couple Saturday field trips to the outskirts to replenish ourselves after days of staring at books and buildings.
Sleeping: I live on The Thirteenth Floor of a one-year-old dormitory. I have twice as much space as I did in my freshman single at college. It’s clean and modern. I have a single room with its own bathroom and shower, and there’s a sink and stove at the end of the hall. My mattress is one inch thick, on top of a raised wooden platform, but my body’s gotten used to that spartan thing. The Internet connection could be stronger – it feels like Zeus cuts off my Skype calls every five minutes – but on the whole I’m very happy with the place. It’s so good that I’ve heard stories of graduates renting IDs from students so they can continue to live here.
My rent is around $230 a month, which is the standard economical apartment price in the city. I’m friends with the staff downstairs, and one of them, a high school student, edits my Chinese papers! A lot of foreigners live here; the most numerous are the Americans and the Germans. My ignorance of Germany has come back to haunt me when I least expected it:
“Where in Germany are you from?”
“Oh, that’s close to Prussia, right?”
“No, it’s not.”
What I’ll remember most about the place is my view. I’m facing toward the city, and I’m 5 stories above the roofs of most buildings. I can see the Taipei 101 tower. It’s at least three times taller than anything else in the city. From the roof a few floors above me, I can see most of the skyline. I leave my screen window open, which is safe unless Spiderman needs to borrow my laptop, and I can hear lots of cars but no honking. There is one annoyance: the garbage collection truck plays the first 20 seconds of Fur Elise on loop from 7-10 PM as it rounds the city, and I haven’t mentally blocked it out yet. Hopefully I won’t have to wash the windows again soon, since getting on my balcony to do so was a life experience.
The most memorable thing about my view isn’t even the tower, though. It’s the ten-story Lutheran church and office that’s a mile away from me. It has a curved roof like all their churches and an adjoining glass tower. From 6 to 11 P.M. a giant red neon cross lights up on three sides of the tower. It’s brighter and more distinct than anything else on the skyline. It looks like it’s floating. Everyone in the area must see it. When I remember this year, I’ll remember being alone in my apartment at night and gazing at that cross.
Eating: Also great. My room came with a refrigerator, but I haven’t even plugged it in. I did a fair amount of simple cooking in Japan, but here it’s not time-efficient or cost-efficient because I can eat out and eat well on $8 a day. It’s not as healthy as Japan, but that was the only country where words like “sweet” and “spicy” meant “TOO sweet” or “TOO spicy; needs less seasoning.” As long as I exercise and control my quantities, I’ll stay healthy and happy. The tap water isn’t completely clean, albeit I didn’t have any trouble with it last year, but there are filtered hot and cold water stations in all major buildings, including on my dorm floor, so I’m happily toting my one-liter Nalgene bottle and drinking several pints of H2O a day, as always. Taiwanese vending machines have astonishing variety. Almond milk should catch on in the United States. The “national drink” is milk tea, and those stands sport long queues through the evening.
There are plenty of good restaurants charging $2-3 for complete meals. American fast food restaurants charge a shade less than their U.S. prices here, and that makes them -more expensive- than local fare! They’ve caught on because they’re clean, spacious, and airy. Not only Starbucks but also KFC and McDonald’s are classy establishments here. By the way, McDonald’s does delivery here. There are no drive-thrus.
I am quietly hardcore about the food pyramid, and Taiwan is full of food stands and cafeterias, and so I shop on the street, I can decide exactly what and how much I’d like to eat. The buffet in the student center has twenty kinds of vegetables, and you pay by the weight of your tray, but it’s too popular for me to frequent during my lunch hour. The best way to get fruits is inside milk, blended right in front of you, and the best way to get vegetables is…inside Subway sandwiches. I will definitely have more to say about food this year.
So I can sleep, breathe, and eat here. More shocking revelations are coming soon!