Thursday, February 28, 2008

A Little Fun...Just a Bit ;)

The last couple of weeks have been a bit rough on me, as you can tell by my last post. Things have not been going my way with work or with my health. I've been frustrated.

Fortunately I've got a good group of friends that can help me forget my worries and relax. I'm feeling mostly better now, so I can share some of the good stuff that's happened in the past couple of weeks.

Right after I got back from Thailand, Luke and Ariel and I met with Luke's friend Tony and his wife Crystal.

Tony, Crystal, and I

We ended up going to a restaurant with a big pool in the middle. You are handed rods and you can fish for your own prawns. Actually, 'restaurant' is not quite the right word, as there was just a grill in the back and a picnic table in the front, no service, no drinks other than a cooler of beer and tea in the front. Very DIY. Much like a camping trip, only in the middle of the city.

Ariel trying to catch her dinner.

Tony and Luke fishing.

So relaxing. I feel like I'm out in a fan boat on the Everglades.

Showing off the catch.

We didn't catch many shrimp, but the guy spared us a few more, and we had a nice snack of grilled creepies before heading off for a real dinner.


Last weekend, we went to a combination going away party for our friend Jerry and birthday party for our friend Melanie.

Luke and Mel

Me, Ariel, and Luke at Citizen Kane restaurant

Luke and Jerry

Me looking very zen in front of a fake Japanese garden in a department store

Ariel preparing tea, the traditional way, at a teahouse

If I didn't have friends, or these little excursions, I don't know what I'd do to keep my sanity. I'm grateful.

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Tuesday, February 19, 2008

Anti-Taiwan Rant in 3...2...1...

I'm having one of those weeks that the Hess training staff would call "culture shock." I don't know if I even like that term, but I'm having a hell of a time trying to be content with my life right now.

I'm ill with something. Maybe the flu, maybe an upper respiratory infection, maybe something else. I don't know. All I know is that I haven't had any energy or appetite in three days and I've had all kinds of aches and pains. I went to see a doctor yesterday, my first time since I've been in Taiwan. I was initially hesitant to go to the hospital, because everyone has told me that it's such an ordeal. Boy, were they right. After waiting to check in, finding my way to the elusive section 3D, and waiting to get my blood pressure taken, I then waited another couple of hours to see the doctor. Imagine a room full of red faced, runny nosed people, some of whom have the worst hacking-death-rattle of a cough you've ever heard. They are all waiting for their number to show up on the sign next to their assigned doctor's door. My number was 49, and I waited from the number 20. When I finally saw the doctor, he barely checked me out, didn't take my temperature, and didn't even really listen to what I was telling him, but instead suggested symptoms I was having and proclaimed it a viral infection. This whole examination took approximately seven minutes. Ten minutes maximum.

Prescription for God-knows-what in hand, I headed down to the pharmacy to collect my meds, and was again greeted by a long line of sick people. I haven't seen Michael Moore's new movie yet, but it will have to be pretty damning of the American health care system to make me think socialized health care is at all effective after yesterday's ordeal.

So I got home from the hospital and was immediately called in to work. Sure, someone with a viral infection or... whatever can teach a group of kindergarteners, no problem. I also got the news that three of my weekly classes were inexplicably dropped from my schedule, reducing by 24 my monthly hours. Great. After lots of prodding and pleading, I finally got an explanation. I guess I'm not doing as well in my classes as I should be. The only explicit criticism I've gotten yet: I've been teaching too long on my last class of the week (something I was sure I corrected months ago.)

So let's recap. For doing too much, or upsetting a delicate timetable by 10 minutes a week, I received a schedule reduction of roughly 25%, with no explanation given upfront, and no way to argue my case. I'm not only pissed about the reduced number of hours, but also with the total lack of any communication, which I am told is part of Chinese culture. No one will ever tell me that they have a problem with my work or anything. They may mention something in a nice, suggestive way to one of the other teachers that may eventually make its way back around to me, but when I try to ask anyone about these things, I'm always met with this attitude like it's the first time they've ever heard of any problem, and I'm uniformly given the response that they will talk to someone about it.

I hope I can start to be positive soon, or it will make my life here much more difficult than it needs to be.

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Saturday, February 16, 2008

My Vacation

I'm finally getting around to writing about my Chinese New Year's trip to Thailand after a busy week back.

We decided to go to Thailand because it's close, easy, and our friends were all telling us that it's beautiful and warm, and lots of fun. We were not at all disappointed.

We planned the trip a couple of months in advance. By planned, of course, I mean we picked a destination (in this case, the peninsular paradise of Railay Beach) and bought a plane ticket. We would sort out all of the details about where to stay and what to do once we got there. A risky plan, considering tourism was at its peak this month, but it all worked out.

We got there at night, our longtail boat gliding over the water, huge crags looming in the moonlight. We could make out lots of lights and commotion on the water's edge-- these were the rasta bars and restaurants that we would later come to know and love. As our driver cut the boat's engine and we floated through the mangrove trees and onto the beach, we all knew that yes, we had made the right decision and that this place would actually be as good as it looked in the brochures.

The first night, we checked into the hotel that we had booked at the airport. It was nothing fancy, but it was convenient, and fairly cheap. We went looking for a bar to chill at and we found that there were many to choose from on our end of the beach. We had a good first night out.

The next day, we decided to get a lay of the land. Railay, as I said, is a peninsula surrounded by high limestone cliffs. These cliffs make it a very popular place for rock climbers, and we constantly saw 20-somethings walking around with ropes looking to get 'belayed', haw. The cliffs also spared Railay from any serious damage in the 2004 tsunami. In fact, my tour guide told me that 0 people died in Railay. The peninsula is basically divided into East and West beaches. We stayed on the East beach, where all the inexpensive bungalows and restaurants were. The East beach was nothing to look at, though. The sand was stony and the mangrove trees blocked the view. There were several paths going over the land to the West beach, maybe a 15 minute walk. There we could sit on wide, white sand and see the cliffs rising out of the turquoise sea and the bikini girls playing volleyball. Ahh, life was good.

We spent the first few days just warming our bones on the beach and filling our bellies with exotic curries. We were in no rush to do anything that required the use of our bodies or brains. Rock climbing? No thanks. Kayaking? Sounds good, maybe later.

We did eventually get around to doing some stuff. One day we rented kayaks for a couple hours and explored the rocky coastline. Another day we took a boat to the nearby city of Ao Nang, looking for entertainment. We found it to be dirty and bland, too much like Taiwan. We opted for the more scenic views. Our last two days we spent taking tours. The first tour was an afternoon island hopping tour. We went to four islands, including one inhabited by thieving monkeys, and one called Chicken Head Island, where we donned snorkel masks and looked at the tropical fish. It was like swimming in the aquarium at my dentist's office. The water was that clear, and the fish were that colorful.

The second tour we took was an all day trek around the Krabi Provence of Thailand. We went to a hot spring, a crystal limestone pool, and to a rubber plantation (how exciting.) We also went to a temple on a mountain. Luke and Mike decided to be real men and take the 1200-something stone steps to the top of the mountain and visit the big golden Buddha. Will and I took the easier route up 300 steps to see a 1,000 year old tree. We also saw some monkeys humping.

Our last stop on this tour was an elephant trekking place, where we got on these big Pacific Pachyderms and headed out into the jungle. Actually, we just took a short 40 minute loop up a road and through some ditches, but I still felt like Indiana Jones. We also got to feed the elephants and that made me happy as hell.

We headed home the next day, and were treated to a week of rainy, cold, miserable weather. Still, looking at these photos makes me a bit warmer.

Joe's Photos:
Thailand - February 2008

Mike's Photos

Luke's Photos: 1 2 3 4 5 6 (some overlap with mine, but different captions)

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Friday, February 8, 2008

Krazy Krabi

We're having an awesome time here. Perfect weather, sandy beautiful beaches, good food, cheap massages, and so far no dengue fever (but a bit of mild food poisoning.)

I'll upload a bit of a travel narrative, plus a whole mess of photos, when I return to Taiwan on Monday. Until then:

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