Typhoon Time

28 05 2011

As I grow more comfortable living in Chungli, the quest to immerse myself into the cycling industry and culture grows. Taichung City, the industry hub, is located in the middle of the island. I’ve been researching companies and organizing contact information for the major players in hopes to hitting up some key manufacturers when I have some time off.

In the mean time, I’m scoping out local shops and trying to get a gig working or volunteering within them. This is proving to be particularly difficult, since most speak little English. Around two weeks from now I will begin Chinese lessons with some fellow teachers and hopefully in a month or so I will actually understand some of the things that are happening around me.

We are currently hanging out in the dorms waiting to see what Typhoon Songda has in store for the weekend. It looks like the mountains to the east will break up the any of the remaining bad weather, so overall nothing too insane will be happening on our side of the island. Unfortunately, enough rain and wind will get  through the mountains to ruin our hiking plans for the weekend:(

Looks like an excursion to Taipei is in the works for tomorrow instead. I have found a few shops online that sell second-hand bicycles, however finding the shops in real life might prove to be much more of a challenge. Either way, it will be fun to explore the city a little more and hopefully meet a few more of the contacts that we have within the country.

Life seems to be fairly easy once you get settled in to the job. Most people I have met are planning or have already signed up for another year at the school. It seems like it is hard for people to actually find a school in Asia where they want to stay for more than a year, so I feel fortunate to actually have stumbled onto this school. We will see, next week I start teaching more frequently.

Hope to have some fun pictures and updates up later today or tomorrow.





Helmets required

20 05 2011

Wear your helmet. It was, and still is good advice, but now I wonder when I should take it off. Part of me feels safer with it on, even while walking down the street. Traffic laws are more like suggestions here. Left at a light – illegal. Instead, an illegal u-turn will suffice; that is of course after swerving through oncoming traffic.

In the land where scooters rule, where do pedestrians fit in the mix. It’s confusing to know, not to mention who actually has the right of way. I’ve heard life will be easy once you understand the organized chaos. Right now, its a mix of sheer terror and baffled amusement.

Entire families pile onto 50cc scooters and barrel down the streets. The parents have their helmets, but not the children. Often, you find the kids sitting in the lap of a parent or in a high chair strapped to the back. The puzzled look I give these people are promptly returned back at me.

Random people come and speak with me throughout the days, I guess to practice their English. It’s pretty obvious that I don’t fit the mold. I’m enjoying speaking to those eager enough to talk and hoping that when I attempt Chinese they will be as patient with me in return.

Food is still a challenge as I am refusing to settle into the Big Mac, deep dish pizza and KFC chicken bucket diet. As appealing as it is knowing what I’ll be eating, that’s part of being here. I recently discovered a vegetarian restaurant around the corner which is good.

It’s good to know that there is always the night market, where you can find some of the weirdest food I’ve ever seen. Stinky (fermented) tofu, tea eggs, an insane assortment of kabobs (some I don’t think I’ll ever find myself attempting), squid on a stick, Taiwanese crepes (could be fun), shaved ice with all sorts of goodies (beans, fruit, fish, etc.), and live snakes, just to make sure they’re fresh. We might be splitting a snake next time at the market. Oh, and they have normal corn, which is sweet!

I’ll keep you posted on the transition. I can’t wait to actually get into the groove of living in this place. It seems like a blast, I’m just trying to figure it out right now.





Taiwan

17 05 2011

Around 1AM Sunday morning, I landed in Taipei; my new home for a little while. Jet lag is definitely catching up with me; I’m hoping that it will wear off within a day or so.

Flying from Turkey to Dubai and then to Hong Kong before arriving took its toll on my internal clock. I slept in pretty late and then spent the rest of the day meeting a few of the 17 people who I’ll be living with.

Dinner consisted of walking into a random shop and pointing to whatever the guy next to me was eating; a soup of some sort – perhaps fish (Is it bad that I don’t know?). It was good, and seems to be relatively cheap.

I am quickly realizing that ignorance is bliss. Don’t ask what your eating, especially if you actually like it; you could easily be surprised. We noticed a man eating something looking eerily like chicken feet. As I joked about spitting out the nails before consuming the rest of the digits, the man proceeded to do just that. Fantastic. Guess that next weeks course 😉

I went for my first run in the city today. I must say that it will be a headphones out environment while running, as traffic and pedestrians are not the best mix in the busy streets. The plan is to have secured a bicycle within a few weeks and explore the surrounding area. Until then, trying to figure out where I am currently seems to a daunting task as is.

All in all, I am really enjoying the experience. It will definitely be an adjustment. I am looking forward to actually knowing what I will receive before I order the food, but I guess that’s a part of the fun. Photos to come soon.

Oh and answer the poll below if you have a chance – Greatly appreciated!





Cappadocia

14 05 2011

An awesome trip into central Turkey rounded off my travels in Europe, and I guess more appropriately, began the one in Asia. Sacrificing two nights of sleep in a hostel across the alley from a Turkish dance club, for a bumpy ride in a stuffy bus, seemed to pay off after visiting this remarkable place.

We arrived around 8:30AM and roamed the city for an hour or so before our tour began. Following a solid description of the area’s rich history, we went to explore the regions largest underground city – supposedly able to house up to 20,000 people for a couple of years at a time.

Ihlara Valley was our next stop. We hiked down to the bottom and followed the river for about 5km before veering off to view frescos inside rock-carved churches. The valley led to a small village, where we stopped to have lunch before heading back to learn more of the history surrounding the region.

Rock formations caused from volcanic explosions and extreme temperature fluctuations

Part of the underground city

View from outside

Part of the hike

We grabbed some Gözleme (think Turkish quesadillas) and baklava in an awesome family cafe before braving our ridiculous 12-hour journey back to civilization. The rest of the day was spent playing chess at a hookah bar down the alley from our hostel and going to the airport. First flight went well and I am currently chilling in Dubai for 9 hours – Sweet!





Istanbul = Sweet

11 05 2011

I woke up yesterday in the heart of Istanbul, right off İstiklal Avenue in the Beyoğlu district. We had a small breakfast at the hostel and then went to explore. Our first stop was the Spice Bazaar – the olfactory experience was nothing short of incredible. Everything from fresh meats and fish to olives, cheese, teas, countless unknowns and of course spices filled the huts.

İstiklal Avenue at night

After managing to make our way through the crowded streets, we continued to roam south until we hit the Grand Bazaar. Once inside, we stopped for a cup of turkish coffee. It was the caffeine kick I think we both needed to get the day moving. We spent probably the better part of an hour browsing the bazaar, looking at fancy stained-glass lamps, rugs, scarves, bowls, t-shirts, watches and other forms of jewelry, narghiles, and any other random items you could wear or put in your home. When we finally managed to escape the labyrinth, we grabbed some roasted chestnuts from a street vendor and walked towards the Blue Mosque.

Me leaving the Blue Mosque

We arrived just in time for no outside visitation, due to prayer. The loud-speaker on the outside of the Mosque blared the Call to Prayer, a cool thing to have happen outside this monumental structure. We chilled on a bench talking for about thirty minutes until we were allowed inside. It was quite impressive. Basically next door to it is the incredible Hagia Sofia.

Just before entering I went to use the bathroom and almost bumped into a giant. I took a double glance and realized who it was – none other than Kareem Abdul-Jabbar. That’s right, one of the best basketball players of all time there at the Hagia Sofia. It wasn’t long before the masses gathered.

One of the greatest basketball players of all time in Instanbul

Spectacular!

Scott and I spend the better part of two hours roaming through the massive building, brushing up on our history and being amazed by the sheer magnitude of everything inside. This was one of those moments that I wished I had paid more attention in my history classes.

We strolled back to the Ave while eating way too many olives and decided to stop and try a traditional narghile, or water pipe. Apple was the flavor of choice, which we coupled with some turkish tea to end the afternoon. Then, realizing that we needed to figure out what to do with our next few days, we made plans with the hostel to talk with some of their friends about day trips.

The day ended at an upscale Turkish restaurant without English menus or waiters (great experience), a few beers and a noisy hostel room.

The next morning we visited the Basilica Cistern, the largest one under Istanbul. It was built under the rule of the Emperor Justinian I in the 6th century AD. Two Medusa heads were found at the base of a few columns, and it is still uncertain to why they are upside down and sideways, but probably just for accurate support. The tour itself wasn’t too spectacular, but the site itself was still impressive.

Cool view from inside

Sideways Medusa head...

We strolled along the Bosphorus Straight until arriving back near the Beyoğlu area and stopped in a local restaurant for some Manti (recommended by our friends at the hostel). Manti is a type of dumpling or ravioli filled with spiced meats, such as beef or lamb, and topped with garlic and yogurt – delicious!

Looks like we will be heading into central Turkey for a day. Supposedly a lot of history and beautiful views. We are taking a ten-hour night bus to get there, spending all day absorbing as much as possible, then doing the same to get back to Istanbul. Wish me luck!





Floating Monasteries, Mopeds, and Obnoxiously Fruity Cocktails

9 05 2011

The phone rings around 8:45AM. Calvin, a fellow traveler, is on the other side informing me it’s time to wake up. Today we tackle the epic “floating monasteries” in Meteora, Greece. After slowly consuming the complimentary breakfast at the hotel, we pack our bags and leave for the hills.

We walked along an old country road for the better part of two miles before turning off onto a trail recommended to us by the locals. Calvin, Scott and myself wind through the old goat path and quickly find ourselves ascending rapidly to a clearing that reveals one of the monasteries. A couple hundred meters later we arrive and the first monastery located atop one of the rock spires.

On a spire in front of one of the monasteries

This gave us our business idea

While taking a break in front of one of the monasteries, a random woman comments on my shirt – something in regards to being a Gopher fan in Greece. At the time, I was unaware that I was representing the University of Minnesota. It paid off  by earning us a ride to the next monastery. The next few hours were spent hiking from spire to spire and joking about starting a possible business. You know, like turning a monastery into a hostel, including a rooftop bar with epic views and featuring fresh brew made from chanting monks. Shows promise, investors needed.

We hiked back down and ate at a mom and pop Greek restaurant where they brought you into the kitchen to choose what you wanted to eat. Great food before our epic trip to the islands. The next 14 hours were spent traveling by train and ferry. We almost missed the ferry, due to the metro transfer point being closed. We sprinted down the port and boarded the vessel as they were raising the gate.

The next morning we arrived in Santorini; a small island known for picturesque sunsets and white buildings. We rented mopeds and toured the entire island. Battling wind and crazy tour bus drivers, we managed to survive and have a blast. We ended our day at Io (think postcard views of Greece)

Sweet local beach

Mopeds rock!

Some great laughs were had here

Scott and I sat on top of a corner of an old brick wall to grab a good view. After watching us, about thirty other people joined in and were able to secure some great views as well. After the sunset, we navigated our mopeds home and went across the street to grab some food before calling it a night.

Upon waking we found a cleaning service and dropped off our clothes before heading to the beach. We lounged for a few hours waiting on our laundry underneath straw umbrellas and sipped on some awesome tropical cocktails. A few hours later we left to grab our laundry before catching the ferry back to Athens. I don’t think I have received this intense of a sunburn since I was a kid. Sweet mercy, it’s going to be a long ferry back.

Chilling on the beach with a Bucanero

Crazy man on a moped with his horses

Tomorrow we arrive in Istanbul, Turkey!





Keep your glass on the napkin please

6 05 2011

Yesterday morning was spent planning our next few trips throughout Greece. Later in the day, after a bird decided to defecate in my lunch (Did I mention I hate birds?), we walked up to one of the highest points in the city. Athens is massive in size and seems to go as far as the eye can see.

View of Athens

That evening, the man working at the hostel sent us to a quiet restaurant away from the tourist scene. Dinner started with a spicy feta appetizer followed by some juicy lamb chops. The food was spectacular; enough to where we stopped in the next day to grab a gyro before heading to Kalampaka.

As for today, well let’s just say it was truly epic. The morning started with gloomy weather, but we were determined to catch the bus and visited Sounion, a cape overlooking the Aegean Sea.

With buses leaving once every hour and taking the better part of two hours to reach the cape, we grabbed some toast and left for the bus stop. On our way, we noticed the bus start to drive by, and yet again, we found ourselves chasing another form of transportation. About six blocks later, it stops again and we manage to board while having a good laugh. Once outside Athens, mesmerizing coastal views began to emerge, which only seemed to grow in beauty as we traveled further from the city.

Aegean Sea

Ancient temple of Poseidon

Awesomeness

Beach view

The ancient Greek temple of Poseidon is the main attraction in the cape. Of course, it could be argued that the coastal views alone, coupled with multi-million euro homes sparsely populated throughout were also worth seeing.

We arrived just about ten minutes before an enormous group of high school kids destroyed the quiet ambiance. After viewing the ruins, we hiked down to the sea. After taking in some gorgeous views, we caught the next bus back and headed to the train station for Kalampaka, about 5 hours north of Athens.

While waiting on the train, Calvin, a fellow traveller from the hostel joins us. Once on board, Calvin manages to convince Scott and I to have a beer with him at the bar. Let it be known, do not remove your glass from the napkin; huge party foul in Greek Train culture. The remaining four hours were spent talking with some awesome Greek men (one of whom may or may not have been a mobster).

Train ride

Once in Kalampaka, we checked into our hotel and immediately met two Swedish girls who wanted to grab dinner with us. The five of us wandered into a small family restaurant and spent then next five hours talking and having a great time. My new favorite Greek dish is moussaka. Layered with sautéed eggplant, ground lamb and something like mashed potatoes, the dish is truly amazing.

Dinner!!!

Dinner Crew

Tomorrow we hike up to the floating monasteries; should be insane!