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Archive for March, 2013

A Landmark – 18 March 2013

This time, I thought I’d blog about a landmark dream I had last night.

A few days ago we had a ton of new people move into I-House, so naturally it stood to reason that we’d throw them a welcome party. And naturally it stood to reason that we’d have a few alcoholic beverages to go around. It was a good time, really.

But then it was time to go to sleep.

It began with me standing on a street corner, next to a supertall Japanese guy who was trying to speak to me in Japanese. It was all in gibberish; i.e., I heard a string of syllables coming at me, but I couldn’t discern them into any words I was able to recognize. I’ve been studying  the language for a couple of years now, and I have a grasp of elementary Japanese, so it stands to reason that I would have understood something.

(This was, however, the first time I can recall having dreamed in anything close to Japanese, and this is what makes it landmark.)

I guess he gave up on trying to get through to me, because there were two other guys who seemed to get whatever it was he was trying to lay down. I watched their exchange for a while but when I tried to leave the supertall Japanese guy grabbed my arm and arrested my flight, but he refused to speak directly to me again. When I tried to leave again, he stuck his hands into my empty pockets.

It was really, really weird.

Then I remember walking along some train tracks, with someone trudging along behind me. There was nothing around, just some tall buildings in the distance. Then a train crawled past. It was silver and dilapidated, rusty and wrecked. The roof of the frontmost car had caved in, and the conductor (again Japanese) had his arm in a sling, and waved as he slipped by. Of course, me being a gentleman even while unconscious, waved back. Each car had the word “player” graffitoed on it, in exactly the same way.

That was pretty strange, too.

Then I was in a dorm of some kind, talking to some other friends (in English) when some guy from across the room begins arguing with me. We send a few words back and forth, and eventually he leaves with a group to go out drinking. I’m still pissed, and I decide to head out for a walk. When I decide to head home I find a subway station, and it’s completely dark inside except for neon strips along the floor and brightly-lit ads and signs along the walls. I get to the turnstiles but don’t have a ticket, so I have to hoof it home.

I come out onto a busy street and notice there are two bridges at either end of the street. I walk toward the one on the left but don’t recognize any of the landmarks. I head toward the other one, and suddenly I’m back on the corner where I met the supertall Japanese guy with the gropey hands and the abandonment issues.

And then I woke up.

I suppose that this means that my brain is trying to reason out the Japanese that I’ve been stuffing into it for the last six months. Could it be a by-product of my environment? Of course it could. Could it have something to do with the alcohol I drank before I went to bed? I can’t count it out. But certainly it’s progress, of one kind or another. And I’m lovin’ it. I feel like I can keep going even when I look foolish stumbling through a conversation, or feel discouraged in class.

This dream will definitely get me through this upcoming semester. And maybe the next landmark will be real Japanese.

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Taipei – Final Day: Wub-Finding on Overdrive – 1 March 2013

Well, this is it. Taipei – final day.

Comparatively speaking, today was pretty light on the sightseeing front. I left the hostel around ten this morning, and headed straight for the subway.

(If anything, after this trip I can say that I’ve successfully mastered the Taipei MRT. And that makes me more of a man than I already am.)

You became my bitch on this trip.

You became my bitch on this trip.

I headed for the Taipei Zoo, way out on the eastern edge of the city. This place is one of the best zoos on the planet  – not to mention the largest in all of Asia – and speaking as one who has only been to one other zoo in his life, this was high up on the list of places I wanted to visit.

And this place did not disappoint.

The front gate of Taipei Zoo.

The front gate of Taipei Zoo.

For a paltry NT$60 (about two bucks) I was able to wander the entire grounds for as long as I wished. And that’s just what I did.

The entire park is full of art. Topiaries were everywhere, and statues and sculptures of the animals contained within were all over, too. All the exhibits were arranged according to their inhabitants’ natural habitats – Formosan Animal Area, African Animal Area, Desert Animal Area, and the like – and it was really easy to traverse. The first thing I saw when I walked in was the flamingo exhibit, right at the end of the huge plaza spanning the entrance of the zoo. I snapped a picture, and moved on.

Cool elephant topiary.

Cool elephant topiary.

A cool messgae board detailing why poop is so important to Taipei Zoo, and the rest of the world at large.

A cool message board detailing why poop is so important to Taipei Zoo, and the rest of the world at large.

Two butterflies mating.

Two butterflies mating.

I spent about three hours in the park. The zoo is absolutely huge; from the gate to the Penguin House (the final exhibit in the very back of the zoo) It spans an area of about a kilometer and a half – not to mention the other side paths and the like. I must have walked four or five kilometers today, and every minute was interesting and fun. Probably the coolest exhibit in the entire place was the Insectarium, which included a huge butterfly house. The best part of it was, because Taipei is tropical year-round, the butterflies spread themselves all throughout the park. They were everywhere, and a few species were huge. Spectacular.

Then there were the gibbons, swinging through their enclosure. Awesome.

The gibbons at play.

The gibbons at play.

The Reptile House was great too, but… they’re just reptiles being reptiles. Fascinating nonetheless.

And the Penguin House. Penguins kick ass anyway. ‘Nough said.

The height of cool.

The height of cool.

There was a special panda exhibit going on at the zoo, and there was a single panda In the exhibit sitting in a huge pile of bamboo generally making a pig out of itself. And it was insufferably cute.

I wish my camera were better without the flash.

I wish my camera were better without the flash.

Afterward I left, and headed back to the subway station. My feet were killing me, so I rode all the way to the other end of the line, not really going anywhere but mainly to rest my feet after walking the entire length of the zoo. I thought of what else I hadn’t done yet, and all through the ride I kept seeing Taipei 101 off in the distance, so large and so far away it was blued out due to the haze in the city. I decided to head that way. The only caveat was that the subway line that stops underneath the building is still under construction, and, because I hadn’t planned to go to the observation deck (I just couldn’t justify standing in line for ninety minutes to spend forty-five at the top, because my feet were still killing me), I decided to go to the Sun Yat-sen Memorial Hall to take a few pictures. Lo and behold, the magnificent Taipei 101 towered in the background, allowing for a fantastic photo-op.

The Sun Yat-sen Memorial Hall.

The Sun Yat-sen Memorial Hall.

Taipei 101. FINALLY. The building is so fascinating to look at, is so huge, and it's so, so green, even from five or six blocks away.

Taipei 101. FINALLY. The building is so fascinating to look at, is so huge, and it’s so, so green, even from five or six blocks away.

I finally got back to the hostel, had dinner, and went up to the roof for one final smoke.

One final snapshot of the city below the hostel.

One final snapshot of the city below the hostel.

I’m typing this around three in the morning, and I’ve just come back from a stroll through the nearly-empty streets near the hostel. The entire time I thought of what this trip has really meant. I’ve met some interesting people here, explored one of the most dynamic cities on the planet on my own, seen things I’ve only read about or seen on television. And that’s just it – so many of us don’t actually experience the interesting things we see or read about. There’s a myriad of excuses we make. Just to scratch the surface:

… I don’t have the time, I don’t have the money, nobody speaks my language there, I don’t know anybody there, nobody wants to go with me

Though some of these reasons may be valid at some point, they will never be valid at all possible points and that’s something we should never forget. This was a trip I took only because the opportunity presented itself, and I’m a better man for having taken the risk to come here. Taipei has and is everything anybody could ever think they would ever want to see, touch, listen to, taste, smell – experience, period. All it takes is a bit of planning beforehand, a lot of budgeting, a complete suspension of all preconceptions one has about the place they wish to go, and the flexibility to deal with hiccups in the plan as they come; and if all of these conditions are met an awesome travelling experience will always result.

And it all came complete with wub-finding, on overdrive (if this statement confuses you, I direct you to the first post of my blog).

Taipei, it has truly been a hell of a time. Walking through your alleys, slipping through your tunnels, marveling at everything that makes you special to so many – you have a new devotee in yours truly. Now, freezing my ass off for the rest of the winter in Nisshin won’t be so unbearable.

Peace out, Taipei.