Saturday, December 26, 2009

Yoga Competition...?

Yoga and competition are not two words that I usually find in the same sentence. Somehow I've found myself standing at the corner of this exact intersection, anxiously awaiting for each to collide come January 15.

Let me explain.

Yesterday my favorite yoga instructor informed me, with much enthusiasm, about an upcoming public demonstration and performance.  A number of the teachers are assembling "teams" of students to compete for about $20,000 NT. He has one spot left on his team and needs me to join, so I can top their pyramid.

I'm a former cheerleader (don't make fun...I'm from Texas), have experience (however limited) in "acroyoga," and am under five feet I'm actually a pretty good candidate for the position of yoga pyramid topper.

However, the idea of competing in yoga goes completely against why I love it so much. My new studio is quite commercial. There are mirrors everywhere. Fit Taiwanese ladies in matchy matchy workout clothes. Shiny, posh lounges for sipping tea. Sales consultants. Two-year contracts. But I personally practice yoga for pretty crunchy, hippie reasons, as it:

1. Helps me meditate and feel centered daily.
2. Brought me the faith in possibility necessary for the life I created this past year.
3. Let's me refocus as when things aren't feeling right-side up, it helps to see things from upside down for a bit.
4. Reminds me to be always grateful for everything, everyone and everyday.

Apparently I'm a very quick sellout though as I agreed to join the team and start "training" next week.

Friday, December 25, 2009

Big World. Little Me. Bigger Universe.

The longer I stay away from home the more I realize there is so much world to see for such a little tourist. My dear friend Mike recently sent me this video below where the American Museum of Natural History maps out all of the known universe.

When put in this perspective, the world actually seems quite small. So maybe it's not such a lofty goal to see all of it in one lifetime. In comparison to a quasar, India, Madagascar and Vietnam seem like entirely possible destinations, right?

PS: Merry Christmas.

Thursday, December 24, 2009

Employment & Bondage

So I have a job now! It barely really counts as a "job," but it'll be a pleasant change to have money going into rather than out of my bank account. I'm tutoring a very sweet, Taiwanese girl in English once a week for two hours.

Our first meeting was much like that scene from a League of Their Own when Mae (Madonna) is teaching Shirley (Ann Cusack) how to read using an erotic novel. But imagine two twenty-something Asian girls at a crowded, yet quiet, outdoor coffee shop in Taiwan instead of two professional female baseball players on the back of a bus.

I brought her the only magazines I have here (Marie Claire and National Geographic) to practice reading. The article she chose was about Gossip Girl's (one of her favorite TV shows) lead actress Blake Lively and went something like this:

"She is wearing a pair of black tuxedo shorts, a white blouse opened just enough to hint at a delicate black bra, a pair of 5-inch Christian Louboutin heels...they look like bondage Mary Janes...her blonde mane is disheveled, her skin smooth and golden."

"ummm...what is bondage?"

I wasn't sure how to answer that, but next time I will definitely be choosing our reading materials much more carefully.

In case you have no idea what I'm talking about with the A League of Their Own reference, I just found the clip! It's about 30 seconds into this:

Monday, December 14, 2009


A Twitter handle, a blog and now this! I am so with it these days.

As insisted upon by my dear friend Lauren, I finally purchased a Flickr account. So far I only have a random mix of photos from Greece and Taiwan up. More to come soon.

In case you're interested:

Saturday, December 12, 2009

Other People's Stories

I've met a lot of fantastic expats during my stay here, so I've come across some great stories too. I've recorded a few here as told to me (with a few stylistic changes on my part) this past week. I think they illustrate life in Asia well.

1. Skinny Jeans. Fat Cockroach.
My friend was wearing skinny jeans out clubbing in Taipei once. A big cockroach crawled up one of his pant legs, but he couldn't shake it out and was instead freaking out. He ran to the bathroom to take his pants off, but they were too tight.

He ended up with mashed roach on the side of his leg. Not cute.

2. Hope This Doesn't Happen To Me. Maybe a Benefit of Living the Dream in Your 20somethings.
There was this 60something year old Japanese woman in my Chinese class who was super energetic and fun. She was living her dream of finally studying abroad. Growing up she always wanted to leave the country to study Mandarin, but her family didn't have the money. She ended up becoming a lawyer and making good money and being able to retire.

Then one day in class she just keeled over and died...right in the middle of class. But she was living the dream.

*Please note that this one came from a guy I met last night who has a professional certificate in circus performance. In addition to getting a BA in history and an MA in communication studies, he went to a circus school and was a juggler for a number of years. How cool is that? The second circus man I've met on this trip!

His signature act was standing on his head and juggling atop a bed of broken glass.

3. Weird Shit Asian People Do
When you're traveling in Asia, you never stop being shocked by the crazy shit Asian people do. Everyone I've met on my travels -- no matter how long they've lived abroad-- agree that you never get used to the bizarre things you see on the street...and everyone has their own favorite story.

Mine was walking down the road in China one day and I look up to see a man sawing off the top of a street lamp. The lamp was still on. I just kept walking.

The best one I heard was from a girl who was also walking down the road in China, and she sees two men bent over with the upper halves of their bodies in a barrel and digging for something. They emerge with what appears to be success on their faces and something moving in a bag. She'd never seen such pride so had to know what their elusive prize could be.

A cat. They were going home to eat it.

Friday, December 11, 2009

Nice to Meet You Too

A friend of mine made a comment to me recently about my rapidly growing circle of expat and local friends here...and about the absurd level of random activity in my daily life. Making friends is a funny thing though. I'm at the same time very outgoing and completely socially awkward.

I remember at university there was always a steady flow of ice breaker games to be played...always new opportunities to meet people in the admissions office, your dorm, classrooms, every student group, etc.
Of course, as an active over achiever, I joined every organization who would take me, so I had to sit through a lot of three truths and a lie and writing "fun facts" about myself on notecards.

Sadly, I really wasn't that interesting of a person. I'd always use the same stories over and over again. The go-to one consistently being: "I got in a fight with Jerry Springer once." (true story)

I hate answering questions about my favorite films, music and books. I always freeze up, and it's like I've never seen a film, heard a song or read a book in my life. My Facebook profile page is empty for this reason. I also don't like the idea of people judging me based on such random preferences. Charlie and the Chocolate Factory (the book and movie version with Gene Wilder) for some reason always pops into my head first, but then I don't want to sound too childish and gluttonous.

In Chinese class, my teacher asked me this question recently while we were practicing our basic Mandarin vocab, and I went through this same mental exercise but blurted out my next thought: "umm...wo xihuan kan (I like to watch)...Kungfu Panda."

Perhaps I should just accept the fact that I AM childish and gluttonous.

The backpacker documentary I watched last weekend had a section about the five questions all backpackers ask each other when they first meet. I've gotten quite accustomed to my personal top five -- my expat version of the ice breaker game.

1. Where are you from? (Please note that this conversation usually takes place in my crappy Mandarin.)

2. Oh, not Japan? You look Japanese. But...where are you your family?

3. What are you doing here?

4. So why don't you speak Chinese already? Your parents didn't teach you?

5. How long have you been here and how long are you staying?

The other day I met a fellow and, after a bit of back and forth, the conversation launched into a sixth question:

6. Soo...other than eating and cooking, yoga, rock climbing, learning the ukulele and studying Chinese, what do you like to do? Long pause. Expectant stare. Blank stare. Boredom.

Seriously!? I couldn't think of anything else. All that is still not enough? I just added the last three to the list pretty recently too. What does it take these days to be an interesting person? I thought surely I had it by now.

Maybe I should have told him that I got in a fight with Jerry Springer once.

Saturday, December 5, 2009

Independence Day (or Happy One Year Anniversary)

Today marked my one year anniversary as a single lady. Is it completely narcissistic that I'm celebrating a year of being with myself?

If so, I don't care. After seven years of back-to-back long-term relationships, it feels good knowing that I can stand (pretty much) on my own and be happy. Anyway, I am nowhere near where I thought I'd be one year and a day ago...emotionally, professionally, physically or geographically.

Back then I probably would have guessed that today would have been spent:

1. Literally freezing in Boston.
2. Working as an account supervisor at the top PR agency in the world -- in a sense, my dream job.
3. Having brunch with the girls and reminiscing over our college days.
4. Practically married, playing with my dog, baking rugelach and planning Chanukkah festivities.
5. In bed by 11 p.m. and looking forward to sleeping in on Sunday and watching Meet the Press with my man.

Instead, I spent today:

1. Enjoying a sunshiny 70 degrees in Taipei.
2. Not studying for my Mandarin quiz on Monday because I figure my time is better spent chatting with locals than staring at a textbook. Also, practicing yoga at my new studio like it's my job...more time well-spent as most classes are taught entirely in Chinese. In addition to my continued obsession with yoga, I have now also taken on indoor rock climbing.
3. Watching an awesome documentary about the life of backpackers in a room full of strangers or people who were strangers to me just a week ago. Followed by dinner at Japanese ramen spot.
4. Brainstorming what to bring to the public potluck/music circle event I'm attending tomorrow at the park down the street from my apartment.
5. In bed by 5 a.m. after an exhausting/joyful evening of karaoke and then dancing with my closest acquaintances on this continent: a group of amazing women from Taiwan, Thailand and France.

So, friends, if you ever find yourself in a less than desirable life situation, just wait a year! Who knows. You could end up on the other side of the world making friends out of strangers everyday, eating things you hated as a child and forgetting how to speak proper English.

Wednesday, December 2, 2009

Some Very Belated Travel Notes: The Rest of Morocco

I kind of forgot about this blog until a few people recently asked me what happened to it. So, here I am again! I'm settled in Taiwan now, but I guess I still qualify as a "little tourist" here. When do you stop becoming a tourist and become an actual local? Does that ever happen?

So there's lots I don't want to forget about the rest of my trip to Morocco, so here it is for the record:

Essaouira, Essaouira, Essaouira!
Whenever we were in bus stations, we'd always hear the drivers yelling "Essaouira, Essaouira, Essaouira!" We figured it was a popular tourist destination, so, as two tourists, we thought it would be appropriate to check it out with the two extra days we had left before my flight out of Casablanca.

Some things of note about our stay here:
1. Arrived super late without any idea where to stay. Stalked by hoards of hotel salesmen. So glad that part of my life is over now. I have a home! Anyway, we settled in a hostel that I swear was haunted. There was some questionable substance on the ground that the manager assured us was not blood. One of the beds was falling a part. Very irritable dog next door yapping all night...probably at the ghosts looming around our room.

2. I almost bought "happy cookies" from a man on the street. They sounded cute! I'm so naive. I don't know how you guys let me out of the house. Luckily, Dan stopped me and explained that they were laced with hash. Ha. Oops.

3. Essaouira is a really lovely beach town. Reminded me of Mykonos with the narrow winding streets crammed with shops and tourists.

Part of the medina wall separated the town from the Atlantic ocean, so we climbed on it to get a view of our friends in NYC/Boston. I said hi, but I don't think any of you heard me.

A nice port too. I like looking at boats.

4. They have a market full of freshly caught sea animals. You pick a mix of seafood from a stall, and they grill it fresh right there!

5. Another lovely sunset. Must be so bad for my eyes staring at all these sunsets.

6. We were on a mission the entire trip to find Pastilla de Hamem (pigeon), and we finally found some! Most of the places we searched either hadn't heard of it (weird, as Wikipedia seems to think it's the national dish of Morocco), or they only served chicken (so boring, right?).

Anyway, it was worth the wait. It's a sweet and savory pie with a flaky pastry. The pigeon is shredded and served with a mix of spices, including a lot of cinnamon and some ground almonds. Topped with a drizzle of honey. The fish tagine with preserved lemons we had in the same meal was not nearly as memorable.

7. Caught an overnight bus to Casablanca.


I only spent one night in the city before I had to catch a flight. I just recall a lot of sleeping in the hostel, since we were stuck on a bus all night...and watching laundry dry (oh, the life of a cheap traveler).

I guess we also found time to:

1. Go to my last medina to buy a tagine. It's beautiful. I bought a new batch of ras al hanout that I'm fairly certain is actually quality stuff this time. I'm starting an international cooking club with some folks in Taiwan now, so I'm excited to try out my new goods on them! Will keep you posted on how that goes.

2. Get really lost one last time together. Thank goodness for nice Moroccan women who always seem to bail us out when we're wandering the streets confused.

3. Discover that "Star" brand Sauce Piquante is a.) amazing and b.) tastes just like the Taco Bell hot sauce packets at home.

4. Also discover that steeping tea in hot milk is a delicious idea.

5. OH! BEST PART! Went to a hammam, a traditional Moroccan public bath. It was incredible! Also, a bit awkward to say the least. It's always a little uncomfortable trying to communicate with someone who doesn't speak your language...but imagine being naked the whole time too!

I was taken into a steam room, and I think told to sit down on a stool and poor buckets of hot water on myself. Then you lie on a marble slab and have them scrub you down with this special exfoliating mitten. We hadn't had a shower in a while, since we opted for a bus ride over a hostel the night before.

There was a lot of dead skin cells to dispose of. I looked around the table, and it looked like I was in the Sahara again. Yuck. I suppose you're always carrying around a bunch of dead skin that you don't really need though.

Then the lady soaps you down. You're taken to another room to shower yourself off. Then there's yet another table and a massage and more soap! The whole time everyone was gossiping around me in French, so that was fun too. It was nice to be among all women for a change as you don't have much interaction with many local women while you're on the road.

6. Flight to Dubai then Seoul then 30 or so hours later...finally Taipei!