Sunday, January 22, 2006


Around the City

By Strangelaowai
Your Roving Reporter
Taichung, Taiwan ROC

In this episode, you will travel to 太平市 Taiping City for a Dragon Dance practice, go out to 西區 West District to catch a band and see some ancient creatures, then head out east to the 大坑 Dakeng region for some hotpot and coffee. After that, you'll ride back into town for a drink before passing by a strange cultural sign of the times. Enjoy your trip... Around the City!

When cruising the streets of Taichung without a license, on a scooter whose registration card expired one month ago, make sure you watch out for your friendly traffic law enforcement officers. They really are friendly if you behave yourself, but to avoid the hassle of being pulled over and getting asked a few question, keep a good eye out for this kind of scooter. All the hip officers drive these bad boys, but it's really a riot to see two officers riding one scooter. I always feel sorry for the one on the back, as in:

A: "oh man, why do I ALWAYS have to ride on the back?"

B: "Hey man, those are the rules. I don't make 'em."

The following set of pictures are of my manager's husband and his troop of dragon dancers.

Dragon dancing is not easy.

The dragon's head is large and colourful. It is also reasonably heavy.

Magical Dragon.
(Can you think of a better caption for this picture?)

Dragon on Fire

My manager's husband and the beast he masterfully wields.

The manager and I.

Some skilled drummers keep the beat for the dragon dance. The video I have of them is much more descriptive of their fine art. That is to say, audio is more telling than video in this instance.

The baton-waving dude seems to have successfully put the dragon under a spell.

This dragon dance practice was held in 太平市 Taiping City, a suburb to the east of 台中市 Taichung City. 太平市 Taiping City is the location of my employment, and the public school in the background of the dragon dance pictures above is about 10 minutes from the 補習班 bushiban cram school I work at.

Now let's sweep across to 西區 West District, a swanky neighborhood within 台中市 Taichung City.

A band was playing in front of the KFC. They were playing Kiss Me by Natalie Imbruglia. They also played some Mandarin pop tunes, and the lead singer even managed to speak some Taiwanese to a granny up in the front row.

With that, I believe I have summed up upper-class Taichung youth pretty accurately. Terrible English-language and Mandarin-language pop is played in swanky neighborhoods while at the same time the performers are still able to use Taiwanese to converse with the oldsters.

Across from the KFC, this building dominates the skyline. If you look carefully, you'll notice that the building twists as it ascends. It is one of the top ten tallest buildings in Taiwan, but that doesn't mean that Taipei 101 doesn't dwarf it by comparison.

Anyone who can tell me why this building has a hole in it gets a prize.

Also in 西區 West District, the 國立自然科學博物管 National Museum of Natural Science had a dinosaur display up.

Ann and I couldn't help but play silly camera tricks.

Another dinosaur.

Another camera trick.

The only dinosaur that was worth any ooooohing and aaaaahing was not a dinosaur at all, but rather a woolly mammoth whose discovery was a woolly, I mean wholly, Taiwanese operation.

Again, what you see is just a replica of some sort. However, the fact that some Taiwanese paleontologists managed to find and dig up such a creature in Taiwanese territory is pretty impressive, given that Taiwanese territory is so small.

This map shows the unfortunate mammoth's dig site. It was found on an island in Penghu County. Given that the area receives so much erosion from wind and waves, I imagine that finding a bloody mammoth in that neck of the world is a rare and fascinating find indeed. Perhaps I ought to search for more information about the Penghu mammoth in English.

Last weekend, when I had my tonsilitis, I only managed to get out for food and coffee. No hiking. Laughs are always hardy when my friend Fob is around. After all, he is from Newfoundland. Fob, ann and I first went out for hotpot.

Tasty? Hells yes.

This picture just about sums it up. Warm January sunshine, sitting outside on the deck of a coffee shop overlooking a quiet valley, what could be better?

This is ann, as cheerful as ever.

After coffee, ann suggested we go for a drink, or at least she suggested that we had time for a drink. When I told her that this was a great idea, she promptly claimed that she was too tired and said she'd rather go home. I told her I'd have just one beer with Fob. Off we went to one of the Frog bars.

ann and I on the Duke. She ended up getting dropped off at home.

Fob on his badass PGO scooter, riproarin' and ready to hit the road! This is the same scooter that has caused him some trouble in the past. He purchased this scooter from the Scooter Dealer himself, who claims all his scooters are "mechanically sound." A few months after the purchase of this scooter, Fob got scraped up pretty badly after the rear brake cable snapped on the scooter you see pictured. Mechanically sound, indeed. I won't even mention the time the belt snapped, but hey, I just did!

Fob went for the vodka and redbull.

I went for the Foster's draught beer that size of my head! At least I could still say I kept my one-beer promise!

For reasons unclear, a group at another table started to get out some pretty lethal camera equipment and started snapping pictures of a girl who was clearly a model.

Another shot of the model. Altogether, it's a pretty weird scene for a Sunday night, eh? I mean, how often do you see professional photographers whip out their gear in a bar on a Sunday night to take pictures of a model they brought along? And why this bar?

A closer view.

A prop for the impromptu photoshoot. I couldn't get a good shot away of the girl with the heroic prop.

Back in 北屯 Beitun North Village, the area of 台中市 Taichung City that I call home, I spotted an interesting modern decoration upon the ancient bricks.

Our Cartoon Avenger

The Chinese characters on the missile read, 陳媽媽 Mama Chen, referring to the name of the mighty kindergarten that lies behind the Great Wall of Pikachu. As I completely do not understand this cultural artifact, I'll leave it to you to figure out the symbolism.

This marks the end of this episode of Around the City from Taichung, Taiwan ROC. Hope you enjoyed the trip as much as I did!

Sunday, January 15, 2006


Tonsillitis... apparently what I have been suffering from for the last week or so. It started with the chills, malaise, and fatigue last Monday. By Wednesday it had progressed into a severely painful sore throat that made swallowing both difficult and painful. Speaking also became somewhat difficult.

Today I went to the university hospital where the resident doctor put me on a 1-week course of amoxicillin. Although I have mixed feelings about antibiotics in general, at least I can be optimistic about a less painful swallowing and speaking experience in the near future.

The title link is in lieu of having the Taiwan Rover take a magical journey down my throat. Even your brave image-capturing device has its limits.

Tuesday, January 03, 2006


A Weekend to Remember

Taiwan Rover, Friday January 30th, 2005.

Begin transmission.

Strangelaowai says: Last weekend was certainly one to remember. I got it all down in pictures too! Let me just say that this weird and wonderous tale starts and ends with food, either wanting it or having it. Indeed, that's the whole reason I ended up with the sushi crew last Friday:

They all work at a sushi restaurant, the location where Taiwan Rover managed to get that shot. I went there for some sushi of course, but they had already closed up and were starting in on the alcoholic beverages. Since I teach for 6 hours on Friday with very small breaks and don't get off until 9:30 PM, you can see that I still have my work clothes on.

Anyways, I must say that the main non-human culprit for the night's festivities was this. Sake, bottles and bottles of it. I had maybe two of vasefuls, but the fact that I was also drinking beer and hadn't really eaten anything for about 8 hours prior really contributed to me getting hammered pretty quickly.

Well anyways, let's introduce the crew, shall we?

Above is R. He's a 外省人 waishengren and drinks like one too. 外省人 waishengren simply represents a person whose ancestors immigrated to Taiwan after World War II. R is the father figure of the sushi crew. He shall have the final say in any matter deemed worthy of his consideration.

Above is J. He is the same age as me so he defers to R. Mostly J seems like he's just along for the ride. He drinks a little less than the rest of us and speaks very little. I think this is because he defers to R. After all, what if R's English ability were to come into question? I think J is secretly good at English even though he's never uttered a single word of the crazy tongue.

Second from the right in the first picture is Y. He's got good Japanese ability. I guess you have to if you're gonna be a sushi chef. Even though he knows I speak Mandarin, he would rather try to speak to me in a jumble of Taiwanese, Japanese and English. An aficionado of sake, Y is the one who tells many jokes.

Above is my good buddy Ken. He's 20 years old and drinks like one too. He's the guy who keeps me coming back to the same sushi place again and again. Sadly though, the restaurant's Taichung branch may be closing soon owing to slow business. :( Well, you'll learn more about Ken soon enough. He enjoys learning a few new English phrases and letting me sample fine Japanese-style dishes, often on the house. What can I say, it's a pretty good deal!

Before long, Ken was on the phone trying to come up with a plan for the night. It ended up being quite a simple one, really: go to 99. 99 is a reasonably trendy bar that caters to a foreigner-friendly Taiwanese crowd, and thus attracts a few foreigners on the side too.

Ken tells me that it's something about the atmosphere that attracts him to 99. Perhaps it's also because 99 (pronounced "nine-nine") sounds remarkably similar to 奶奶 ("nainai"), Mandarin slang for breasts. Or maybe it's because the Mandarin pronunciation of "nine-nine", (九九="jiujiu"), is a soundalike for 酒酒 ("jiujiu"), meaning alcohol. This means you can make funny sentences like, "Do you want to go to breasts? Alcohol?" Or perhaps, "hey Strangelaowai, do you want to go to breasts? You know, alcohol!" What, even after I explained the subtle suitability of 99 as a bar name, it's still not funny?? Ok, fair enough. But at least now you might have some insight as to why there are so many bars called 99 in Taiwan.

So I hopped on my badass scooter...

Yeah, okay, that's not my scooter. In actual fact,

it's Ken's scooter, but he actually borrowed it from his older brother. Let's see Ken on the badass scooter one more time, this time in Drunk-o-Vision.

Drunk-o-Vision is the new true-to-life effects generator that accurately mimics what the world looks like through the eyes of a drunk. I was lucky to find it on my Taiwan Rover, because the Drunk-o-Vision picture is much more like how I remember that night in my mind's eye.

So we got to 99 and boy was I flying.

Taiwan Rover: Here we have a strange foreigner who has clearly had too much to drink. The Drunk-o-Vision is for cinematic effect.

The above two pictures demonstrate that Strangelaowai was indeed very smashed on the evening of December 30th, 2005 and on into the morning of the 31st.

Strangelaowai continues: Right, so Ken was making me say hello to all these different people. I wish there was a spot on the internet where I could post short video. That would really give you an idea of what 99 is like. Ken took me over to meet

the Taiwanese Aboriginal lead singer of the 99 house band. She's quite good, and you know I have a penchant for good music.

Later, even though I was already wasted,

two Heineken girls approached me and tried to sell me their wares. I refused, citing safety concerns.

Ken then suggested that I request a song to the band. I was afraid they wouldn't know the songs I would want to them to play, so this is what I wrote down. Quite a funny pick, eh? Also quite a funny pic, too. I'm amazed I was still able to write!

Still in a social mood, Ken brought the house band's guitarist over and

soon enough I was chatting to David the Singaporean guitarist for the house band. He expressed regret that he wasn't able to sing my request because he doesn't have that kind of voice. That being said, he plays guitar like a madman.

Taiwan Rover: Another picture of Strangelaowai and David the guitarist.

Strangelaowai: Okay, now here's where it gets weird, and unfortunately this is the part of the story where Taiwan Rover ends up capturing less pictures. I said goodbye to Ken, hopped on my scooter and drove about a half hour out of town in the opposite direction of my apartment. I wanted to drive even further, but I noticed I was running out of gas. Considering that I needed to get some gas, I turned back in the approximate direction of my place only to be confronted with a sign that read 台中市 Taichung City. I had driven beyond city limits!

In the direction I was travelling, I was most likely heading into 彰化縣 Changhua County, the county where my girlfriend's family just happens to live. She was staying there during that weekend. In hindsight, she claims I was subconsciously trying to visit her, and I might just have been able to too! Only gas and alcohol were holding me back. It was too dangerous to try to find gas outside the city, late late at night, in my condition.

Back within city limits, I took a left onto 文心路 Wenshin Road, a semi-ring road that would take me back to 北屯 Beitun, my neck of the woods. At some point I found a gas station and filled up the tank, but I only know that this happened because the next day I magically had a full tank of gas!

Back in 北屯 Beitun, I decided I would make the evening right by setting out to purchase what I was searching for when I began the evening: sushi! I drove to a nearby streetside sushi vendor and tried to order my salmon sashimi, but either they were sold out or it was too late or I threw away my order shortly thereafter because I didn't find any takeout sushi boxes in my apartment the next day. How strange! What happened to the sushi?

The only evidence I have that I actually ordered or tried to order sushi are as follows:

For some reason, as I was waiting for my Godot sushi, I thought it wise to take a picture of a scooter that I thought was cool-looking. One more time through Drunk-o-Vision, for that real cinema verite.

Taiwan Rover: A not-ugly scooter, as seen through the eyes of a drunk.

Strangelaowai: The next morning, as you can imagine, was not pretty. I didn't stop puking until 7... PM! I guess that's the glamorous thing about drinking. It's pretty easy to get a picture of yourself flying, but pretty hard to get a picture of yourself puking!

Taiwan Rover: This is Strangelaowai trying the old camera-in-the-mirror trick.

Strangelaowai: This is me trying to be honest about my story.

It may not seem possible, but I feel much worse than I look in this picture.

Later that evening, after the nauseousness passed, I decided to cancel out on New Year's festivities and stayed in to rest. I only went out to get some McDonald's (good hangover food), and I should have made sure to bring Taiwan Rover along, because everybody at the McDonald's, both customers and counterpersons, was dressed up like freaks for New Year's Eve.

Although Taiwan Rover didn't get the chance to snap any pictures of freaky-looking people, it did manage to snap a few shots of...


Happy New Year 2006!

Taiwan Rover: Both shots were snapped from the roof of our 7th floor building.

Strangelaowai: Not long after the midnight fireworks subsided, I quickly fell asleep.

On the first day of 2006, I decided that it was a good day for the Road. As you can see, the Road in Taichung features cars, scooters, 7-11s, bent lines and funny boxes painted around the intersections (bottom and bottom right). At many intersections it is illegal for scooters to take vehicular lefts, hence the boxes.

The lane on the right is actually...

a bike route. Cyclists here are smart though. They only come out just after sunrise and shortly before sunset, when the sun is not beating down so heavily.

Later on, the Road smoothens out into a boulevard and then narrows into a single lane. I passed a temple, and later on, a golf course.

At this point, you may be wondering where the Road is going. It's taking me to a cool part of 大坑 Dakeng that has a host of excellent attractions, most of which are free. At any rate, the attractions I enjoyed are definitely free or very cheap.

The 中正露營區 Zhongzheng Campground, 享叔叔野生獼猴園 Formosan Macaque Garden and the trailheads for 大坑 Dakeng's #3 and #4 hiking trails are all located within walking distance of each other. The ultimate goal is to climb to the peak of 頭嵙山 Mt. Touke, the highest point within 台中市 Taichung City.

Getting lost isn't easy. After all, there's a sign! It's only a matter of being able to read the sign.

Upon arriving at the Formosan Macaque Garden viewing area, this is what you see.

Notice that there's at least one person sitting around watching the apes, with chairs set out for the patrons. Did I mention it's free? It's free to get in on the primate-viewing-primate experience!

How many macaques can you find in the picture below?

Macaques are very social. On the left of the picture below, there are actually two monkeys, one behind the other.

What are these ones thinking about? Do they have dreams like homo sapiens?

Does a baby macaque grow up to forget the early years of its own childhood?

Here's the bad boy of the troop, the head honcho, if you will. Notice the special red face.

Is he scheming?

He is! Look at him! He's planning something.

Crazy Macaque Attack!

Thank goodness I got away when I did! You never know with those scheming Formosan macaques. One wrong step and you're baboon food.

Towards the trailhead for one arm of trail #3, I passed a footbridge that goes to trail #4, the hardest trail of all. I'll do that one when I'm in better shape.

Quickly the trail becomes a dry riverbed, but after 400 metres or so, you hike up the side of the valley up to a secondary crestline, where the main line of #3 runs almost directly to the peak.

The following three pictures show the main line of the #3 trail, quite a nice hike. Yes, I am fully aware that the can of Super Supao (a sports drink) that I'm carrying changes hands and then disappears, but hey, my props director was on vacation, so cut me some slack, eh?

Upon turning around, this is the view that presents itself, and we're only half way up the mountain.

The majority of trail #3 looks like this, all snaky like a dragon despite the fact we're heading into year of the dog.

This is the destination as seen from afar. The peak on the left is 頭嵙山 Mt. Touke, the highest point in 台中市 Taichung City. From the same vantage point, Taiwan Rover was able to get this kind of closeup shot of the peak.

In this picture, you can just see the trail that runs along the primary crest of the mountain range. Boy I sure hope I get there soon. Starting to get tired.

Eventually, along the primary crestline, I came across a famous pine tree. What it's famous for I'm not quite sure, but at any rate, there was a lady with a harmonica playing a song to the tree. I wish I knew more about movie hosting, because that's the only way to get an idea of what a bizarre sight and sound it was.

Gee, we must be getting close now!

I hope this is the last push right here!

Success! 頭嵙山 Mt. Touke, 859 metres of justice!

Admire the big sky overlooking 新社 Sinshe.

Enjoy the scenic, misty mountains.

Take comfort in the fact that you're no longer stuck in the depths of 台中市 Taichung city!

Is there any place more idyllic?

Could the sky over 新社 Sinshe be any bluer?

It seems I've made a new friend!

Food is offered and graciously received, as is customary here.

Boy, there sure are a lot of people on top of this mountain!

Silly me for thinking I was the only one who likes a good hike!

On the way down, the grassy ridges make for a serene descent from a fantastic peak destination.

I decided to stop by a place that could perhaps be called

東東芋圓 Taro Garden. Apparently 東東芋圓 Taro Garden is also quite a popular place.

The above two pictures show the food that makes Taro Garden so famous and crowded on the weekends. Anyone care to chow down?

As I said at the beginning of this epic post, the story begins and ends with food. And on Sunday night, after my drunken night at nine-nine, hefty fireworks viewed from the rooftop and a fantastic monkey-viewing and hiking adventure, I met up with ann and we found a nice little restaurant on 北平街 Beiping Road and ate to our heart's content.

Ann went with the hot and sour soup.

I myself went with the beef noodle soup.

Until next time, happy 2006 and hope you enjoyed surfing strangelaowai's epic photoblog!

Taiwan Rover: Enjoy, indeed. Strangelaowai tells you a story with reams of pictures and forgets to thank me! What's it take to get a little respect around here?

End Transmission.

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