Since we’ve been up to a hodgepodge of things, which is too hard to pigeonhole into categories, just enjoy a run-down of five things we’ve been doing recently!
1. Still photography. One of the things that I really want to do is get better at photography; I like taking a lot of pictures of different things I find beautiful, but my technique is really just point-and-shoot. The rest is the gorgeous DSLR camera my mother gave me for my birthday two years ago. Some of it has turned out nicely. Some of it looks silly enough that I don’t even want to put it up on Flickr yet. Here, have one of the more mundane samples that I like somehow!
After a week in Kaohsiung, Steve and I concluded that it was impossible to go into any store or down any street without catching glimpses of these rubber yellow ducks that were for sale seemingly everywhere. What was it all about? Was that a Taiwanese passion that no one told us about? A little rooting around online helped clarify things: it turns out that the little duck was really a HUGE duck. This 40 foot tall inflatable rubber duck is the work of Dutch artist Florentijn Hofman, and had already been the focus of intense attention in Hong Kong for two months this spring. A version of it has entertained the world since 2007. And now it was in Kaohsiung.
The amount of media attention on the rubber duck has been a little incredible. Everyone from CNN and the China Post to finance blogs and the Denver Post (not to mention every single outlet in Taiwan) have all weighed in on Kaohsiung’s newest visitor, and duck fever effectively gripped the nation. You could buy duck t-shirts, stuffed animals, backpacks, flip-flops, hats, iPhone covers, earbuds, you name it. So, naturally, we had to go see too; Steve and I caught the duck on Sunday, the last day of its scheduled appearance in Glory Harbor. We walked to the nearby Central Park MRT stop, where free shuttle buses departing every five minutes shepherded visitors to the nearby harbor.
Edit: Added photos, updated information. Many more pics of Taiwan on the Flickr here.
On Sunday, we left Hualien and headed to Kaohsiung. It was a 5-hour train ride, and we had to stand for about half of it due to the holiday weekend. Connie already had appointments set up to see potential apartments, so we started back on that hunt right away. Apartment hunting is tedious and tiring, but we finally settled on a place Monday evening and moved in that night.
In the course of apartment hunting in Taipei and now Kaohsiung, Steve and I have frequented Tealit.org, Kaohsiung Connect, and the all-powerful 591.com, which has listings in Chinese. The apartment quality has decidedly been of a mixed variety, since some are very old and shabby looking, but the location and cost go a long way to making up for it. However, aside from seeing some horrible apartments, we’ve also encountered some atrocious crimes against photography.
Great photos in an online listing can help you gloss over an apartment’s flaws or highlight its strengths. Bad photos, however, can put off prospective tenants, or worse, waste their time by making them laboriously puzzle out what the photo is actually of and where that furniture or wall is situated in relation to the other photos. It’s also exasperating because the number of faux pas seem innumerable and so easily avoidable: if you want to make your apartment look nice, photograph it during the day for maximum daylight. Stand still while taking a photo instead of dancing around. Don’t use flash directly in front of a window. Why is it so difficult to take a nice, wide-angled shot of a room? Even more landlords are preoccupied with giving you detailed photos of the bathroom sink from five different angles, what the hot water heater or laundry machine look like, and how many independent electric meters there are on the wall. All we want is to understand what an apartment looks like or would feel like to live in, and these photos have been so ridiculously unhelpful to that end that we felt the need to compile an album of the worst offenders.
This morning, Steve and I went to the beach and en route, dropped off four postcards bound for foreign shores (one to the UK and three to the USA). If you are the lucky recipient of one of these postcards, you will find out in… oh, darn it, I have no idea. International mail is actually one of those unsolved mysteries. Last February, Steve and I sent off postcards from Grand Bahama, barely a stone’s throw from Miami, to people from work and our parents. One of them took more than a month to get to my mother in Boston. We were really convinced that it was lost en route. So it’s really anyone’s guess as to how long a postcard from Hualien, Taiwan, will take to get to Chicago and other destinations! (At least they were cheap; our postcards cost 11 NTD to mail to the US and 12 for the UK, so that’s about $0.35/40 USD each.)
More postcards to come in the next week or two. If you want some postcards, just sign yerself up!
I hardly know how to express our first glimpse of Taiwan. Since touching down on Friday morning, it has been almost rainy nonstop, thanks to the end of the typhoon season. Taipei has been a whirlwind of good things to eat and, well, humidity and rain. Since we plan to stay in Taiwan for several months, Steve and I spent the last 48-72 hours madly searching for an apartment online, cold-calling Taiwanese landlords, and riding the Taipei MRT to the ends of the earth (okay, just to Xinbeitou, but it was like 45 minutes out!). Though we found quite a few interesting places, met some nice people, and considered seven different places, the overall rent seemed rather high for what we knew other people were paying in Taipei, and we spent not a few hours hotly debating the merits of various apartments, the point of staying in Taipei versus other cities in the south, and essentially, subtly questioning each other’s motives for being abroad, period. I mean, what are we really doing here?
This morning, we made a trek to see another very expensive apartment, made an appointment to sign a lease for a place, had a change of heart about the cost, cancelled it, and at noon today, found ourselves sitting in the Taipei Main MRT station with all our luggage, back at square one, wondering “what do we do next?”
Like many travelers, we have discovered the truth of packing light; there’s something about travel or when the rubber hits the road (no pun intended whatsoever) that makes you prioritize about your luggage. No matter how little you pack, you end up making it work and what’s more, there will always be something you don’t end up using. When Steve and I were contemplating our choice of travel luggage, Erin, our BFF and dogmother to Stella, was the first to advise us not to purchase a large backpack, because we would simply fill it. So I got a 46 liter Osprey Porter, and Steve got the 22″ Osprey Meridian, which have both been great!
A few days, while we were getting ready to go to Shanghai, I was worried over the issue of how to fit my birthday presents (a beautiful green windbreaker/ raincoat and two new dresses) into my bag. Steve was also packing, albeit carefully rolling his pants and shirts into small cylinders. I knew he had a theory about this sort of thing, but wasn’t too clear on it, and as I watched him pile his clothing this way on compile all of his clothing this way, I couldn’t resist asking: why does rolling your clothing save more space?