Taipei week 2 – getting settled

Week 2 started out with me determined to use the lazy Sunday to go looking at a few apartments for rent. I had a slow breakfast, and decided to spend a few minutes on the couch in my hotel room reading, waiting for my first appointment. Then, suddenly, a movement behind my magazine caught my eye. A fairly big RAT just jumped out from behind the TV, looked around, and scuttled back to where it came from. It was white and gray, and it looked mostly harmless (it was too fast for me to take pictures, though…). So I got up, hurried out the door, and went down to the front desk.

“Excuse me, there is rat in my room.”, “what, don’t understand, sir”, “rat”, “huh?” (me picking up my iPhone Chinese dictionary) “老鼠/lǎoshǔ”, “oh, I tell manager; do you want to change room, sir?”, “Yes, please :)”

Executive BedExecutive Power ShowerSo, I changed rooms. To make a long story short, there was a big puddle/leak in the bathroom of my new room. Another complaint, and another room change lead to me being upgraded to the Master Executive Suite for the rest of the week.
Typical Hotel BreakfastSo I lived the happy life as an executive for a week. Bigger, softer bed; bigger, better tub; bigger, better minibar; even complementary condoms in the desk drawer (I wonder what kind of people normally inhabit these rooms…). The breakfast was the same, though. I played it safe, having a ham’n’egg sandwich, occationally tasting the chinese/japanese vegetables. No rat in there, as far as I could tell…

Taipei City HallSogo Department StoreI eventually got to walking around town. I had looked at apartments in different parts of town, because I did not want to ignore a potential great place even though it was a bit far away from work. The MRT is fairly efficient at getting people around, so I could live with a short commute every day. I took a few pictures as well walking around, of different buildings and sights. For more of these, see my flickr Taiwan 2009 set.

After having looked at a few apartments, I settled on one that looked nice, and was pretty close to the office. It was not in the best neighbourhood, and it was quite small. But I figured that it was good enough. And the decorations done to it, although mostly superficial, gave the impression of quality I needed to relax and stop thinking about rats :). I also liked the fact that having made the decision, I could just relax for the rest of the week, not having to spend every day hunting for a better place. More pictures and impression of the new apartment next week, when I’m moving in.

Tuesday I decided to go for a dinner outside the ordinary: Shark Fin Soup (魚翅湯/yú chì tāng). I asked the local “restaurant critic” about a good restaurant for such a dish. “It’s illegal… Besides, I though Western guy dont like the behavior that we kill shark…”, “We kill whales, you know…” Enough said :). So there would be soup…

Shark Fin SoupAbaloneLobsterThe meal started out with some nice little vegetables and tea, followed by a boiling hot shark fin soup. The actual shark fin is dried and stored, and watered out before used in making the soup. In itself, it is almost tasteless, but by the treatment it receives it attains a magnificient spongelike texture (in a good way) that is excellent for attracting and delivering the taste from the soup. So there are many different variations on the shark fin soup theme, with different base and additions. My version was sauted in soy sauce, and had a simple set of vegetables. Tasty, pure and filling at the same time. The meal was by no means finished with the soup, though, as it was followed by a big abalone dish (cut into pieces in the picture, I’m afraid…) The size of this seashell is impressive, and the big muscle had a beeflike quality, while still remaining uniquely different. It did not taste like what I’ve come to expect from seafood, at least. The next dish was cooked lobster. Happily, the Chinese seem to not know about “dill”, so the taste of this lobster was not tainted by that nausea-inducing herb. I had to resort to using a fork for this one, though, as the chopsticks did not give enough control to pry loose the food while still allowing it to stay in the vicinity of my plate once loosened…

Such a great evening had to be finished in style. But I ended up on KTV instead 🙂 KTV is like what is more commonly known as karaoke, but instead of being in a public place, listening to strangers, and having to perform to a crowded room, you are basically in a hotel in your own room. Upon entering the establishment, you book a room at the front desk, and are assigned a number with a bellhop showing you the way. You enter the room, and order drinks, teas and throat medicine… Although it feels a bit strange being in a padded room with a couch and big-screen TV, it at least removes some of the inhibitions of us neophyte pop singers.
My WayThere were “over 9000” Chinese-language songs, and a limited selection of English songs as well. I seized the opportunity to do many of the classic karaoke killer hits; “My Way”, “Total Eclipse of the Heart”, “Up Where We Belong”, “Sound of Silence”, “Tears In Heaven”; I even got to do “Never Gonna Give You Up”. I think I did fairly well, actually; I just need to work on my range for some of the higher notes…
Looking, and listening, to the Chinese songs, I made a startling discovery. Even with my limited reading ability (occasionally seeing a few characters I recognized), I was able to follow along pretty well, since each character is one syllable. And given the Chinese love for… well, love songs, the pace was pretty pedestrian. So I think KTV can actually be a good way to exercise structured speed-reading of Chinese. Given that YouTube is flush with KTV videos, I will be able to practice, so I’ve selected a song that I will try to learn; 屋頂/wūdǐng/roof.

Hopefully with 3 months studying I will have developed my reading skills, as well as my singing voice, to be able to pull this off :).

Massage GuyMy back has been killing me these last few days, threatening my training and even my being able to sit in the office chair. Not good. Back home, I have been going to a chiropractor on and off for many years, but here degrees in chiropractics are not recognized. So I opted for getting a deep body massage. Not wanting to end up in a sleezy back-alley place with a “happy ending”, I asked at the hotel. They confirmed that the local places were “不好/bù hǎo”, but recommended a place uptown, where the people even were fluent in English. For the reasonable charge of NT$1.000 (NOK 200,-) I got lavender tea, soft musicbox muzak, and 60 minutes total body massage. It started out hurting like hell, but eventually the muscles decramped, and the bones fell into place. I guess this will be part of my new relaxing regime, interleaved with visits to the hot springs :D.

PearA few tidbits from the office this week. Fruit day entailed something familiar this time; pear/梨/lí. The tast was a bit different, though. Not as juicy and mushy as the ordinary Norwegian pear, but much more crunchy and dry. Actually quite similary to last weeks jujube. I sense a theme, here…
Y! 14 YearsYahoo! Cupcake
Yahoo! also celebrated its 14th birthday, conveniently placed on the last Friday of the month when there apparently always is some kind of cake/dessert to be had. So also this time; an overly sweet and spongy Y! cupcake, fortunately coupled with some pastry more reminiscent of spring rolls.

No update on my cubicle walls yet, although I am slowly getting there. It has just not passed the threshold of utilitarian into ridiculous yet… But I want to take the opportunity to highlight the excellent chairs we are all equipped with.
Aeron Chair
The Aeron Chair is widely recognized as a comfortable and highly desirable chair, having been inducted in modern art museums. Often seen as a symbol of the dot-com era, there is no denying the inherent qualities in the shape and material of this chair. If there is one thing I would want to bring back to Norway, it might just be this one.

I continued my Taekwon-Do training this week. After the initial introduction was last week, this weeks training was more traditional. I talked to the teacher about possibly graduating to yellow belt, and he said he would be honored to have me receive the Taiwan ITF diploma to take back to Norway. One month until graduation, and as I am the only 9 gup, I will get personal feedback on my skills in the weeks to come. In fact, when practicing patterns this week, I got to show my Chon-Ji (a pattern…) to the entire class. They were obviously impressed by my prowess, but I also got some specific feedback from the black belt teacher. I fully remembered all the techniques, and the execution was mostly good, but I was lacking in flow. This has not been a focus of the training in Norway, but it became more apparent when doing the pattern alone. I will focus on this in the weeks ahead, and hopefully master it to the level required for the yellow belt.

Almond Fish snacks...So that pretty much sums up my week of getting settled. Looking forward to next week, with moving into my apartment, and starting school. I leave you with one item of food I did NOT try, even though the fish look happy: The Crunchy Almond Fish Snack. Fortunately clearly labeled in English…