We survived Christmas in Kuala Lumpur (I spent most of the Christmas Eve fighting a massive headache, forced myself to the dinner we’d paid for, and had to sport through it while surrounded by screaming kids and people wearing funny hats), saw the new Star Wars movie (really good), visited the KL Forest Eco Park, and did laundry at the LaundryBar near Hilton Petaling Jaya (actually the enginerd did most of it, while I took off to buy body lotion and play PokemonGo…).
After all this, it was finally time to head to our destination, Taiwan.
It’s now our third day here in Taipei. So far we’ve managed to get EasyCards, SIM cards, take a taxi and the subway and get drunk (just a bit…). We also took a long ass walk around the part of the city we live at, and scared some neighbors.
We had agreed with our landlord we’d pick up the keys from him on the day we arrived. After our flight landed, we loaded our huge bags on a trolley, and headed to the bus ticket counter. I had been practicing the last hour how to pronounce the name of the central station in Chinese, and to my happy surprise the lady behind the counter got my request correct immediately. We got on the bus (no. 1961) with our stuff, and drove to the city. Once we arrived, the driver dropped everyone off near the station. I understood him saying where we were at, and was the first one to get off my seat and go got our bags. Somehow, the rest of the people on the bus seemed to have even crappier Chinese than I 😀
Lesson learned: The Taiwanese accent is very different from erhua, the pirate language spoken in Beijing. It’s somehow cleaner, more prompt, and very very difficult to understand especially in the beginning, if all you can speak is Pirate. It takes practicing to pronounce things the way they do here.
We got a taxi, and of course although I had very very carefully practiced how to say the address we’d be picking the keys up at, I managed to mix the words for “road” and “street” in Chinese, causing some confusion with our driver. But hey, he got my idea, he corrected me, and I shall not make the same mistake anymore (and only performed a mental facepalm like ten times). We met with the landlord, got the keys, took the subway to our new place, and um… were surprised.
Lesson learned: Taxi drivers are still the best Chinese teachers.
The apartment is in a small back alley in what turned out to be maybe the shadiest area in Taipei. We circled around the place carrying our belongings on us, shoulders and legs aching and hunger biting into our stomachs, wandering if we’d ever make it, the evening getting darker and rain falling on us. Finally, once we thought we had to be very very close, I stopped an old lady passing us, and asked her if she knew where number 20 was. After a moment’s confusion (she obviously didn’t first register I was speaking Chinese to her) she dragged us to her friend’s place and after a long and careful conversation of which I understood like one tenth, they came into conclusion we had to go back to where we had ran into this old lady. And that’s where our new place with a dangerous stairway and a ghost attic was. Naturally, we first tried to enter our neighbor’s flat, and after some pointing at the next door by an old man living where we were trying to break into(guess we’re not the first ones to have done that) we saw our own door.
Lesson learned: The old Chinese lady stereotype is well and alive here, too. Running shoes, a quilted jacket with floral printing, a cap, shortish hair and always being suspicious about anything or anyone new are the most significant signs.
Cold, dark, difficult. These were the first feelings we had in our new place. After a long day of traveling, we’d had preferred something else instead of cold floors, old furniture and stuff everywhere, terrifying kitchen facilities and ankle breaking stairs. However, we got hot water (after finding the gas tanks and figuring out how to operate them), we got food (thank you, next door 7/11) and we got some sleep (never mind the scary AF attic we’ve got upstairs, no door, no lights, just Japanese horror movie style darkness and creepy sounds). The next day, things started looking much brighter.
Long story short(er), we managed to get the SIM cards, EasyCards, and got some proper grocery shopping done at Carrefour. Somehow all this success and meeting a fellow Finn later in the evening was an obvious call for some beers. At the 333 bar we also invested in some fancy selection of drinks, and I got excited and got something called “Taiwanese Girl”. It was good, like orange soda and vodka, but I think I’ll have to go back there at some point soon to remind myself what they actually put in it. (Yes, I know, it’s just an excuse to get some more.)
Lessons learned: Persistence, Chinglish, a willing customer server and Google translator will get you far. Looking up words before you think you might need certain vocabulary helps. Also, once you’ve ordered a Greek salad without black olives a thousand times in your past, you never forget how to do it, no matter how difficult the language is.
We took a long walk around our neighborhood before doing all this (seeing 3C written everywhere and having no clue what it stands for), and somehow managed to get an idea that the city itself is not very big. Two and half hours of walking around, we could cover a nice junk of it. Or that’s what we thought. Today, we walked over a bridge across the Tamsui River, and realized the city is actually huge. Not the biggest one there is, but once you get on the bridge and see all the tall towers in the horizon, you learn your view from the second floor apartment in a small back alley is so limited…
Lessons learned: It’ll take us forever to get a hold on this city. Also, the 3C stands for Computers, Communication, Consumer electronics. It’s all over the place and generally just seems to mean all sorts of crap the enginerd finds cool. For this reason, I forced him to buy a pink USB charger.
Last night, after the infamous Taiwanese Girl and some Taiwan Beers (taste is equal to Tsingdao, described as a bit bitter by the waitress), we were wandering home and testing how good canned Taiwan Beer tastes in the middle of the night (really good, TBH). All of a sudden we realized we have a frickin veggie food stall 100 meters from our place!! It was closed at that hour, but today we went back to check it out. Now we are full, and my face is on fire. Something got lost in translation, and after asking for semi spicy food, I ended up having such a hot sweet potato, broccoli and tofu dish, that I was convinced my face woul drop off. The enginerd was supposed have the same amount of the face melting spice mix, but his dish was tolerable. That is not to say that I didn’t finish the food.
Lesson learned: Not all veggie joints are listed on Happy Cow. I’ll take you to our veggie lady if you want.
Our latest adventure was taking the trash out. The garbage trucks (really, three of them..) come twice a day, and people gather together to drop off their trash and recyclables. It’s like this race about to start, there’s a schedule that’s strict and the truck is there the exact minute it’s scheduled to, everyone waiting, looking a bit nervous and bit excited, either about getting rid of their garbage or having a couple of minutes away from their spouse and kids. Today we figured out what the first two trucks are for (general junk and bio), next time we’ll be brave and sneak up to the third truck to see if that’s the place for things such as cardboard and plastic. We’ll keep you updated.
PS: I got a confirmation letter of starting at the Mandarin Training Center in March. Hopefully I’ll get a couple levels up from my “cat, dog, one, two, three, hello” Mandarin before that.
PPS: You can get EasyCards at 7/11, and SIM cards at any phone company. We got ours at Taiwanmobile.