Sunday, June 14, 2009

the subway, apartment, and jiufen

The subway is always enjoyable in Taipei. Most often I just try to keep my balance and decipher what people are saying, but sometimes more exciting things happen. Last night on our way to karaoke, a group of high school girls just couldn't stop themselves from giggling explosively and talking about us. Upon being asked, they told Alex (a guy from the hostel who speaks fluent Chinese) that they thought he was super handsome, and took pictures of him and me together. It's interesting because Taiwan is a place where foreigners are relatively common - compared to, say, mainland China, where I hear this sort of thing happens a lot - but at the same time still rare enough (or in-group-y, non-Chinese-speaking, and imposing enough) that this still happens. And this morning a Taiwanese woman couldn't find any other place in the restaurant to sit but across from me: she spent several minutes fiddling with things in her purse, the real reason for doing so painfully obvious. Once I introduced myself, though, she opened up very quickly and was a lot of fun to talk to. Although we're so similar, the fear of the unknown often maintains a thin veil between the Taiwanese and the foreigner, which one must be brave enough to break using the other's own language.

In more concrete news, I now have an apartment, and a cheap one: 5000NT per month, plus 350NT for electricity and probably more for air conditioning. I'm hoping for it to work out to about 6000NT total, or about $200 US. It's a bit bare, not 100% clean- or new-looking, not very pretty, and not in as nice a neighborhood as the other one I was looking at - but the parents of the landlord of the latter apparently told him they didn't want him renting the last room out to a guy, because guys shouldn't share a bathroom with girls. And that was that; while my hand was pretty much forced, the savings will be significant; I'll also be closer to the university, and it seems like a decent place.

Today Raphael's and my mystery trip turned out to be to Jiufen, a "traditional"-looking town on a mountain on the north coast of the island. The stalls and shops were very touristy - aimed at foreign tourists as well as Taiwanese, of which there were hordes. Although I did try a guava smoothie and buy something nice (and cheap!) that I think I'm going to give to mom, I had a lot more fun walking up and down the narrow, winding, deserted staircases of the town, away from the market. We also saw another temple (Buddhist this time, though upon reflection, the one I saw Morgan may have been as well), and I was once again amazed at the person-hours that must have been required to produce the intricate carvings and ceramics that cover the temple.

Nothing else exciting to report. ICLP orientation events start tomorrow, though - better get to bed. Zaijian!


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