Some people would have you think that Taiwan is like a cross between a National Geographic special and an issue of FHM.  On the other hand, there’s the films of Tsai Ming-Liang (speaking of).  I’ve seen both ends.  Most of the time it’s somewhere in the middle (speaking from a purely Taipei-perspective).  Every place has a spectrum.  Out of America has come Disney, and Eraserhead.  Ultimately, you can’t separate them completely.  Corporations and governments are in the business of marketing themselves as belonging to one end, while concealing darknesses from the other.  To quote Kevin McGeary, “They’re humans, of course they’re banal.”

It’s hard starting over again.  Not so much because of cultural elements–besides, I’m in Taipei, not Dangyang, Hubei, or rural Cambodia–but because of starting from scratch in the human department.  I think this probably bothered me less in the past, simply because..I’m still young, and there’s a limit to how deep your roots and relationships can be before a certain age.  Not that they can’t be deep; just that it takes time to cultivate them.  Having many older friends, I am constantly reminded of this whenever I talk to people who reference events and friendships that pre-date my birth.  (Will your facebook friends still be around in 27 years?)

Three days until three weeks.  I’ve settled into some semblance of routines and familiarity, yet don’t really have a life yet.  I should be working by next week, and hopefully, will also have found an apartment by then.  I’ve looked at a few places so far, and have been surprised at the huge variability in surrounding environments (in addition to quality of the actual places, of course).

In Taipei, you can live in a high-rise next to a freeway.  Or you can live next to (or on) a mountain.  Or next to a creperie.  Or next to a university.  In a quiet alleyway with some weird themed cafe (roaming cats, and Hello Kitty are two that come to mind), or right next to some terrible giant boulevard with 8 billion scooters per second.  Or in some cramped alleyway selling parts for 8 billion scooters.  New money, semblances of old culture, dingy and cramped–it all depends.  Sometimes all of the above.

Food has been a challenge.  If you know where to go, you can have some good meals (thanks, Huang!) but if you don’t, prepare for a lot of similar meals that are heavy on the oil, unless you want to pay 2-3x more for somewhere nicer.  Looking forward to having a kitchen again.  Also, eating out as an individual is not in your favor in cultures where people typically eat in groups.  Makes one remember what a special place the Bay Area is, in so many ways!

I went to an open mic–sort of event on Saturday night, called Red Room, which is hosted once a month on the second floor of an Aveda store’s “learning space” (again, things are not so separated here).  Everyone was free to share anything–a dance, a song, a poem, an inspiration, etc.  The crowd ranged from 18-year old Chinese hipster wannabes, to 60-something expats, and readings were in both Mandarin and English.  It was cool.  I played some guitar, which was well received, and talked to a few people.  Some of those 18-year olds wanted their picture with me, which made me think I was back in China.  That sort of follows the, “If you don’t know me, don’t look at me, but if we have just the smallest connection, then I’ll help you,” trend.  There was a poet from Keelung, who brought his 16-year old daughter.  She sang a song and told everyone in nearly accent-less English how nervous she was, and that she wanted to make friends with everyone.  Gotta love that innocent Asian naive-sincerity.  She seemed years younger than my 16-year old Richmond-students.

I’ve already been up to Yangminshan twice–it’s a national park which has mountains around 3500 feet up.  It’s literally a subtropical jungle, with insects (and arachnids) of proportionate size.  From the top, you can sometimes get a pretty good view of the city, and the surrounding hills, which start quite suddenly once you escape the concrete–something very easy to do, thankfully–just hop on a bus for 30 or 40 minutes, and you’re there.  I’ll post some pictures later.  It’s already one of my  favorite places.

There’s a lot of tea and tea culture here–way more than I ever experienced in China.  It’s great.  There are so many tea shops, I usually just keep on walking, because it’s hard to tell them apart.  I have managed to go to a couple beautiful tea houses: Wisteria and  回流.  Of the two, I think I prefer Wisteria, but I know I’ve barely scratched the surface.  I bought some DaYuLing from them (a very high quality Oolong tea from the upper reaches of Lishan/Pear Mountain), which is excellent (although a long-term Italian expat told me prosaically that the crop of the past few years hasn’t been that great. Interestingly enough, I haven’t seen any Fushoushan).

The other week I went to a pretty decent jazz-bar, Sappho de Base, which, like many other interesting places, was lying low in the basement (or 2nd floor, etc.) of a nondescript building and street.  I listened to the first set and was leaving to catch the last subway (fairly widespread coverage, but still doesn’t go past midnight), when the owner cum waitress ran out after me and asked me if I was leaving.

“Why don’t you stay for the next set?  You already paid the cover, come back in, come on!”

So I did, and she gave me a free drink, “to thank you for staying.”

I caught a taxi ride back home around 1:30 AM, to find many people at the hostel still up, all smoking out on the balcony, as usual.  Somehow Huang convinced me to hop on the back of his scooter somewhere around 3 to get some food from a couple of stalls near Shuanglian, although I didn’t partake.  It was exciting, although I’d be satisfied if I never rode one again.

It is sometimes perfectly clear, but often hazy in the middle of the day.  It is hot at night, and hotter in the day.  Right now the heat index is about 87 F (at 2:15 AM).  Strange, almost a whole week without a thunderstorm.  That should change soon.