March 2004 Archives

Last Night in Taipei

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I'm safely back in Bangkok today after a wonderful weekend in Taipei. Yesterday I was on my own to visit Danshui, a small neighborhood that is near the mouth of the river. They have a fisherman's wharf area which I had a great time just walking around and looking at all of the exotic (to me) food for sale. My new favorite snack is red cherry tomatoes stuffed with prunes. It sounds a bit wierd, but it certainly was tasty!

I met Ike and Jonah again for dinner at the Shih Lin Night Market. Then we headed back to the mountain for another visit to a different hot spring spa. This one was completely outdoors (luckily, it was not raining for a change) and had a steam room, jacuzzi, and 4 tubs ranging from the cold tub at 18 degrees Celcius to the hottest tub at 45 degrees Celcius (64 - 113 Fahrenheit).

So my observations of Taipei? Well, in general, I really liked it. It is a big city of several million people, but it is very laid back and relaxed. It is definitely a very different atmosphere from other Westernized Chinese cities like Singapore and Hong Kong.

But now I am back at work, back in crazy Bangkok, back in my office where I can start planning my next trip...

Not only did I meet Ike for diner last night, be he brought two friends along: Jonah and Chris. (I find it interesting that all of the Chinese people I have met in Singapore, Hong Kong, and now Taiwan go by English names.)

I'm embarrased to admit it, but my first meal in Taiwan was at McDonald's. (I was tired, it was raining, yadda yadda...) But my first Chinese meal was Hong Kong style dim sum with Ike, Jonah, and Chris. It was good, but now that I'm used to spicy Thai food, it was a bit bland for me. We then went to Taipei's biggest bookstore, a 24-hour operation that was still packed when we arrived at 11 PM.

But the highlight of the night was driving up one of the nearby mountains to visit a Hot Spring Spa. The fact that it was still cold and rainy outside and my legs still ached from walking around all day, made the hot water jacuzzis even better.

The spas are open 24 hours as well, and when we left around 2:30 AM there were still people coming in. I started to realize that Taipei is an up-all-night town.

Lang Shan Temple and Taipei 101

After a great night of sleep (it's amazing what a good hot soak will do for your body) I woke up for another day of sightseeing. Ike was busy today, so Jonah offered to show me around. Our first stop was the Lang Shan temple. I have visited a few Chinese temples around Asia, but this was the first time that I was with someone who could explain what it all meant.

Once entering the temple, worshipers are given seven incense sticks. After lighting the sticks, they walk around to the shrines of the seven gods of the temple to pray to each. When the prayer at each stop was completed, they put one of the smoking sticks into a large container full of incense ash.

Jonah told me the name and background of each god. For example, one god is prayed to before taking exams. Another is prayed to for good luck in love. As you might expect, the former was surrounded by hopeful students, while the latter was very popular with young Chinese girls of the marrying age.

After walking around and admiring the intricate carvings and decorations, we left the temple, being careful not to leave through the same door we entered. After all, our bad spirits were stopped at the temple gate on the way in, and we certainly didn't want to pick them back up on the way out!

Our next stop was the Taipei 101 tower, which is currently the world's tallest building. The inside is not quite finished, but the six story mall at the base was open for business. The tower is a bit odd, I think. It actually doesn't seem all that tall, but I think that is because there aren't any tall buildings around it to compare it to. Imagine a 101-story building completely surrounded by 20-story buildings.

We are meeting Ike for dinner tonight and then sampling a bit of Taipei nightlife. (The nightlife outside of the 24 hour bookstores and hot spring spas, that is.)

It was raining when then airport bus dropped me off near the Taipei train station. According to the person I talked to on the phone, my YMCA Hotel was "right across the street". But I saw that the train station was huge; walking around it could take an hour. Not fun with three bags in the rain.

So I flagged down a taxi and took it to the hotel instead. It ended up being an easy two blocks away. Oh well, next time I will know better.

After checking in and taking a much needed shower, I left the hotel for a little walk. One block later, I had the same amazing earth-shattering revelation as I did in Hong Kong: "This looks just like China Town!"


I spent the rest of the day exploring the area around my hotel on foot. The first stop was the 228 Memorial Park. As I walked through the park admiring the modern sculptures and the traditional Chinese pagodas, I heard someone over a loudspeaker and what sounded like a large crowd chanting in unison. Curiosity got the best of me, so I walked towareds a partk exit in the general direction of the noise. A policeman stoppped me from leaving the park, however, and that is when I noticed the barbed wire and police in riot gear.

Eventually I made it to the chanting crowd. Everyone was wearing yellow parkas (it was still raining) and waiving Taiwanese flags. Studying my map again, and reading the few English signs such as, "Democracy is Dead" and "We want Truth. We want Justice" I realized that I was witnessing the historical election protests in front of the Presidential Building.

I made my way through the crowd, taking pictures here and there. For the rest of the afternoon, I walked around town, visiting the Chiang Kai Shek Memorial (reminiscent of DC's Lincoln Memorial), the Museum of History (actually more like the Musueum of Art History), and the Botanical Garden.

Tonight, I am meeting my friend Ike for dinner and maybe a little more sightseeing. But for now, it's time to rest my weary legs after my all-day city hike.

Rainy Taipei

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I've arrived safely in a very wet Taipei, Taiwan today. I checked into my hotel early and will spend the rest of the day walking around town and checking things out.

The flight across the ocean wasn't bad. I splurged on EVA's "Deluxe" class and, as people have told me, it made the flight much better. Both the seats and the aisles are large, everyone gets a personal video display, and the service was very efficient. It cost me an extra US$150, so if you look at it as an upgrade from economy, it's a bit expensive. (If I had done it round trip, it would have added $300 on a $700 ticket.) But if you look at it as a discounted First Class, which is basically what it is, it's a good deal.

So now it's time to explore a new city. Luckily I am not too tired. Or else I am just excited about seeing some new sights.

The Way to Taipei

This trip is zooming by. In the last few days I have been enjoying the sights in Seattle and in Vancouver. (Although I haven't been enjoying the cold and rainy weather!) Now, in a matter of hours, I'll be on my way to Taipei.

I haven't had any time to write, but I guess that is a good sign that I have been enjoying myself. Either that or I have just been to tired to type out my thoughts. Perhaps I will have time to write when I arrive in Taipei. In any case, I am very excited about adding a new country to my list!

11 Hours of Sleep

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It's amazing what 11 hours of sleep will do for you. I'm feeling pretty good today, but just moving very slowly. It took me a full two hours to get out of the hotel room this morning, once I convinced myself that getting out of bed was a good idea.

The plan for today is to be in meetings and to have dinner with my friend Stephen tonight. Then tomorrow a little sightseeing around this beautiful city of Seattle.

Super Burrito

"There is no way I can eat that whole thing!" I thought to myself when the super burrito full of beef and cheese and beans and who knows what else was brought to my table. I crave these monsters back in Bangkok, so now that I am in the US, appropriately my first meal is at a taqueria.

Despite my pessimism, however, twenty minutes later, helped by a Negro Modelo beer, the only thing in front of me was a red plastic tray and an empty aluminum foil wrapper. Delicious! I wonder how much weight I am going to gain this week. More than a pound or two, if I keep eating like this!

I didn't sleep much on the plane on the way over, so I am pretty beat now. I was able to stay awake all afternoon, but as soon as I roll my stuffed body down the hill to my rental car and drive back to my hotel, I will be in bed for what I hope is a long, long sleep.

Boring Life?

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By the looks of my website today, one might think that nothing happened to me this week. But on the contrary, it has been a very full week. Piyawat kept things interesting with ghost stories from the funeral, my friend Rudy was in town from San Francisco, and I was back in front of the classroom for the first time in a month. The only thing I haven't had time for is updating my website.

I have also been getting ready for my next big trip. Perhaps I will have a little time over the Pacific (on the way to Seattle) to jot down some thoughts. After Seattle, Vancouver is on the schedule, with a stop in Taipei on the way back. That's three countries in ten days. Should be a fun ride!

Is Milk Good For You?


My good friend Eric just sent me some interesting links about milk. I have never been a huge fan of milk but I know that a lot of Americans are. My weakness was cheese. I love cheese. Cheese on pizza, on pasta, on veggies, in sauces, etc. And I was justified, I thought, since I had always been taught that Dairy was one of the main food groups that I needed to eat.

But now that I live in Thailand, I have almost completely removed dairy products from my diet. (Except for the occasional run to Pizza Company or Holy Pizza.) I think it's the main reason I have lost a lot of weight since I moved here.

So is it really all that crazy to give up dairy products? I am becoming more of a believer that it's the best thing to do for one's health. Take a look at the Strong Bones website for more information. There are some good links there, including Eight Great Reasons to eliminate dairy from your diet

Food for thought...

Tonight, A Visit

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This morning, out of the middle of nowhere, he told me, "It's the third day."

"Huh?" I ignorantly replied. "What do you mean?"

"The third day since she left," he explained.

Still ignorant, I said, "Oh. Is that important?

Still patient, he replied, "Today is the day that she knows that she is dead. Tonight she will visit her family one last time.

He paused, and then finally added, "I'm not scared."

Death of a Grandmother


My post yesterday mentioned that I was sad over the loss of my laptop, but that pales in comparison to my sadness today: my best friend in Thailand lost his grandmother early this morning. Being the eldest male grandchild, he was there at the hospital when she passed away this morning at 2 AM.

Losing a family member is never easy, of course, but if her life had to end, at least the illness comes quickly and it was all over in a matter of days. Also, interestingly enough, my friend mentioned to me that it was good that she passed away in the early morning. In Chinese tradition, if someone dies before meal time, that means that the dying person has left a lot (all three meals) for the surviving family.

Now, the week-long funeral ceremonies at the local temple will start with an burial in seven days. (By the way, Thai-Chinese prefer to be buried, while native Thais prefer cremation.)

My heart goes out to my friend and his family this week.

Farewell Laptop!

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I had a bit of a sad day today, as I said goodbye to the laptop that powered me through my years in San Francisco. I bought it with my first paycheck at my first real job in San Francisco in 1998 and retired it (for the most part) when I bought the newer, lighter laptop for my Asia travels last year.

It worked for me admirably for those 6 years, but for some reason it gave up and died on me. After trying to revive it at the Sony service center to no avail, I sold it at Pantip Plaza for 7000 baht. I bought it for about 100,000 baht, but I'm trying not to do the math else I'll be depressed.

Actually, I don't mind losing an old, slow computer. But I do mind losing all of my data. Yes yes yes, I know perfectly well that hard drives crash and data should always be backed up, but I never did. So I lost pictures from my first trip to Asia, and my 2000 trip to Europe with Kenley in 2000. Bummer. So, take this as a lesson and go back up your computers now! (Maybe even I will do the same.)

Oh well, it's time to move on as I get back to work after a wonderful little holiday in Isaan. I can't say I am happy to be back in the office, but at least I have a lot of good things to look forward to this month. Next weekend, my friend Rudy from San Francisco arrives. After that, I head back to the US for a week. Then, Rupert arrives to squeeze in a little R&R on his Asian business trip. Should be a fun March!

I am thoroughly enjoying my time in Chaiyaphum. Of course it is very good to spend time with Pond and to see what his new life is like. He has been a great tour guide, driving me around the countryside to see temples and waterfalls. I've also spent time walking around town, shopping at the open markets and trying to avoid the many motorcycles in the street. (It sometimes seems as if every province outside of Bangkok has at least these things: street vendors, motorcycles, countryside, waterfalls, and temples).

On the way back from Chaiyaphom earlier tonight, I sat in the front seat of the bus. This gave me a clear view of highway traffic from the perspective of a big bus. In some ways, I wish I didn't see what I saw. My bus came inches from ramming the backs of various cars and trucks and other buses. I'm sure all busses do the same, but usually I am shielded from the truth of the road when I am sitting in the back. "Ignorance is bliss" as they say.

When we left Chaiyaphom for what was supposed to be a five hour ride to Bangkok, the bus was mostly full. But that didn't stop us from making numerous pickups along the way. In one town, an additional 20 people got on the bus. They were given plastic stools to sit on in the aisle. I was lucky to have a real seat, even though the view wasn't very kind to my nerves.

We finally made it back to Bangkok, arriving after six and a half hours on the road. As I walked from my house to MBK for dinner, I didn't even mind the noise and the traffic and the crowds. As I continue to live in Thailand for the foreseeable future, I will have to remember that a weekend trip to the countryside greatly aids my peace of mind in Bangkok's polluted concrete jungle.

Time for Isaan

I hate to admit it, but Bangkok is getting on my nerves. Everywhere I look there are advertisements trying to sell me something. Many times, these advertisements are flashing or are extrememly loud. (One new soft drink ad in the Skytrain stations literally screams at you as you walk by).

The traffic and the noise and the people and the pollution... Ugh. I have been in this city for too long. So... what's a guy to do? Get out! So tonight I am getting on a bus to head out of town for a bit. The main stop is Chaiyaphom province, to meet an old friend of mine named Pond. I met Pond a few years ago in San Francisco where we both lived, but now he has moved back to his hometown. I am looking forward to seeing him and seeing how he is adjusting to his new life in Isaan. (And I thought Bangkok was a long way from San Francisco!)

Crocodile Farm in Samut Prakan

I was planning on working all day today, but after spending most of the first week of my holiday doing work, I jumped at the opportunity to do something different. That "different something" was to take the bus to the next-door province of Samut Prakan with my friend Yan to see the infamous Crocodile Farm. I had mentioned to various friends that I had no desire to ever visit here and so far I had resisted. But today I just had enough of work and next thing I know I was on the bus to Samut Prakan.

The crocodile farm turned out to be pretty much what I expected. We watched the crocodile wrestling show, which I thought was verging on animal abuse. I am sure that the crocs didn't really enjoy being thrown around like that. But at the same time, they didn't really fight back, so perhaps they didn't mind. In any case, it was not really my idea of good entertainment.

We also watched an elephant show and walked around the zoo looking at many different types of animals sulking in small, dirty cages. I enjoyed seeing the animals, to be sure, but I didn't really enjoy seeing how they were treated.

Perhaps the most interesting part was the swamp area where hundreds (thousands?) of crocs were lounging around. The park has built a covered walkway above the crocs, and it was fun to walk around and watch them do their thing (which, admittedly, isn't much).

Oh well, at least I enjoyed spending time with my friend and at least I can say that I've marked off one more Thai tourist spot. Check!

Lottery Numbers


It is often interesting to see how people locate my website and what they hope to find here. A while back I posted some of the top search keywords like "chinese temple" and "willie mays".

I just checked and there are a few new popular keywords like "msn backgrounds" and "thailand lottery".

This last one has me especially perplexed. Apparently people all over Asia are looking for lucky lottery numbers on the Internet. For some reason, this search brings me to the page where I was talking about the new "legal" lottery. When they don't find any on my page, they leave a comment asking me to send them some numbers.

Just in case any one was wondering, I do not have any secrets to share about the Thai lottery. Believe me, if I did, I would be spending my winnings far, far away...

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This page is an archive of entries from March 2004 listed from newest to oldest.

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