Show Me a Sign!

Everyone has seen poorly worded signage. Although, living in a Chinese speaking country you are surrounded by poorly translated, strangely co-opted and awkwardly phrased signs, ads, and warnings.

I have seen so many that I haven’t taken pictures of for one reason or another but here are a few of my favorites.

ImageI don’t think I really need to tell you why this is funny.Image“WooHooo!!! Lets have some FUNG!!!”Image“Some one already used KFC…What about KLG?”ImageAll I can think is how awesome that flying baby is.ImageI don’t know, maybe it’s a PSA, like “look out for that shit!”ImageWhat a wholesome toy!ImageThe shamrock really ties this one together.ImageNothing like smelling of spam all day.

If you look online there are so many more hilarious signage mistakes and odd translations, but it really makes me think how bad our signs must be in the states or in Europe for that matter, that have been translated into Chinese, Korean, Japanese or really any other language other than our own native tongue.

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Breaking Veg

I have to admit, I was terrified before moving to Taiwan. Not especially because I would be away from family and friends, or because I was starting a completely new life and career, or even really because I wouldn’t be able to communicate as easily. I was mostly terrified that I would be consistently presented with plates of steaming intestines and god knows what other animal products, swimming in questionable broths and sauces with no escape route.

Before leaving the US, I had been a vegetarian for over 6 years. I made this choice for a couple of reasons. It was not because of any PETA-related hysteria, but because I had never really enjoyed eating meat. Pair that disinterest with an understanding of meat production in the United States, you will likely end up with a vegetarian. However, I wasn’t really sure what Taiwan’s food culture had in store for me, and I never wanted to be the snooty American, snubbing a generously offered meal cooked by a tiny, adorable Taiwanese grandmother (yes, this is the image I had in my head) because it had meat in it. I wanted to be able to be gracious and accepting of whatever was put in front of me, to be fully immersed in my new home and culture. I felt that the only way to do this was to give up vegetarianism.

About two or three months before leaving, I began toying with the idea of crossing back over into the world of meat eating. It made me want to crawl under the covers. Finally I decided I was ready. We went to the food co-op in town and bought free-range, Oregon raised chicken. Tim marinated it with care and love. We had a barbeque. It was all so perfect, but when I really started to think about it, I couldn’t do it. I had spent 6 years abstaining from meat. I just did NOT eat meat. Was this really the right choice? Did I really want to eat that chicken? I contemplated over a few beers and then…went for it. It was not so bad! I thought, maybe I can actually do this.

I was going to have to come to terms with the fact that I wasn’t going to be able to go to the co-op and choose a nicely packaged chicken breast with a label from the farm two towns over, but at least I was on my way to being accustomed to eating meat and I probably wouldn’t get horribly sick from eating some noodles with a few chunks meat mixed in.

I think that my decision to start eating meat again has definitely given me the opportunity to experience a huge part of Taiwanese culture that I would have missed out on otherwise. Had I continued to be a vegetarian, I wouldn’t have been able to partake in the odd but favored Taiwanese pastime of eating pork. I never would have tried Taiwan’s national dish, beef noodles. Despite all of this I still cook almost exclusively vegetarian at home, and have found that it is actually really easy to find vegetarian restaurants all over Taiwan.

Because of the large Buddhist population, you wont turn any heads if you decline to eat meat. You may, however, need to keep an open mind. The Taiwanese are really into crafting realistic artificial meat; they make fake bones. Also, expect that if you don’t speak Chinese, you might attempt to order veg fried rice and end up with a greasy mess of gristly pork, mushy peas, and white rice. A phrase that might help you avoid any such mishaps is “Bùyào ròu” (不要肉), meaning “don’t want meat.” That being said, the best way to be sure your meal will be free of animal products is to look for the backwards swastika, the Buddhist symbol, on the front of restaurants.

In any case, whether you are a carnivore through and through, or you can’t even stand the idea of scrambled eggs, you will not go hungry in this food-loving country.

22 hours of recycled air

“Be safe…don’t do any drugs…I promised I wouldn’t cry *sniffle*”

“Yeah Ma, I know. I love ya; we gotta go. I’ll get ahold of you when we get there.”

“Alright Boy, we’ll miss ya”

“Miss you too Dad, bye.”

Off we went. Mallory and I walked through the giant revolving doors at PDX, out of the misty rain and into the strangely, consistently air-conditioned corridors of the airport. As soon as we were there it started to sink in that we wouldn’t see our friends or family for the next year. The feeling didn’t last long though. The rigmarole of the airport is overwhelming and swept us up like the typhoon that had delayed our departure already.

Like pretty much any international flight, ours did not leave as planned. First it was delayed… then delayed again… then cancelled, but we got it figured out and ended up with a three-leg, 22-hour flight.  The first two flights were relatively painless and uneventful. It was the third flight that made this journey into a story worth telling. We were flying on ChinaAir from San Francisco to Taoyuan in Taiwan, and as you can imagine the flight staff and other passengers were mostly Chinese speakers from Taiwan. We sat next to Joe, a boisterous Taiwanese man in his 50s.

 Joe was very friendly and spoke pretty good English; far superior to my Chinese. He was also quite generous. Only a few minutes after we sat down did he whip out his duty-free bottle of Johnny Walker Black to refill the small airline coffee cup he had already begun to drink from. He looked at me. “Do you like whiskey?” he asked. Being a gracious person and a lover of spirits, I promptly told him, “Why yes, as a matter of fact I do.”

Joe requested 2 more cups to be brought over and they were promptly delivered. He filled our cups, and began toasting, “FIRST CLASS! Now it’s first class!” We were also given our first Chinese lesson; he threw around the phrase “gan-bei,” (乾杯), basically meaning “bottoms up,” like he meant to finish the bottle before we were even cleared for take-off. This drew the attention of the flight attendant, who rushed over for a very cordial conversation, all in Chinese. After she walked away, he informed us that she had asked him to put his whiskey away. Then he poured another round of drinks. “First class!” he continued to exclaim, even after one or two repeat visits from the friendly flight staff.

 After the long day of travel, Mallory drifted off, but I stayed up to keep Joe company and to try to learn a bit more about my new home. We talked about why we were going to Taiwan, about his family, music, and anything else strangers on planes talk about.

The magical unending bottle of scotch was helping pass the hours very nicely, while admittedly reducing our ability to communicate. I continued to milk the whiskey-water I had, and slur congratulations to Joe every time he “tricked” the flight staff. At some point however, we all fell into a restless slumber and passed the remaining hours half-watching bad movies on a tiny screen.

I have to respect and envy Joe for his courage and flamboyance. He really did help to while away the hours. In the end though, I can safely advise avoiding mass quantities of scotch while on an international flight. The combination of alcohol and recycled air makes for a wicked bad hang over, not to mention compounding jet lag. As far as practical advice for feeling good after a long flight to a different time zone, learn from our mistake and listen to the guidebooks: drink lots of water, take some immune boosters, eat at regular times, avoid alcohol and when you arrive, and try to get back to sleeping at normal hours even if it means fighting through the first day to make it till 9pm.