7 with a Squiggle

26 06 2011

Just finished my second week of Chinese lessons. It has been a challenge to say the least. Of the eight people who started we are down to four regulars and there’s a person who shows up a couple of days a week. The 3 other regulars besides myself are all Japanese. So seeing as they know the characters already, on Tuesday my teacher basically dropped Pinyin (the English alphabet pronunciation). Wake up call for me. I’ve been struggling all week to catch up and stay afloat. It seems like every other day I contemplate quitting, but I’d like to get my Chinese good enough to at least get around town, so for now I’m sticking with it. All in all, I have learned over a hundred characters in two weeks. Basically I can introduce myself and tell someone where I am from; oh and count, haha. Not bad.

Wednesday evening after class, I met up with a fellow teacher named Ralph to cycle the long way home. He showed me a bunch of side roads and alternate routes from a few of the schools I’ll be teaching at. Nothing too long, probably about a 15 mile evening, but awesome none the less. It was then I realized I was going to enjoy cycling here; even at night when you can’t see anything.

It’s been an adjustment getting used to being back in school as well as on the bike. I’ve been gone from both for too long, but it’s great to be back. Hopefully in another few weeks, I’ll be back in the swing of things and not be so tired from trying to juggle them both.

Today I went on a ride with Ralph into the mountains past Daxi. Started at 6am and headed east towards Longtan, where I teach on Fridays and Saturdays. We took a mixture of awesome back-roads adding a few extra miles. They were well worth it to avoid the traffic. The weather was perfect; the typhoon (basically a tropical breeze) finished up yesterday afternoon. Cooler temperatures and a slight breeze followed us into the mountains.

We cut through Shihmen Reservoir park and took a little break at the top of some stairs to admire the view. Afterwards, we weaved throughout the back of the park into the mountains and onto Hwy No. 7, or otherwise known as the northern cross-island highway. It’s a sweet road, and I hear I haven’t seen anything yet because it only gets better. After a couple of kilometers we turned off onto 7 with a squiggle (Ralph’s name, and appropriate). We climbed this road up throughout the mountains and then proceeded to have an awesome 12km downhill. The mountains are so accessible from home it’s insane; I will be getting my climbing legs soon!

Shihmen Reservoir

View of the Valley back towards Longtan and Chungli

Once back in the valley we cut through some rice and leek farms on tiny farm roads. So cool, except almost being killed going around some of the turns. Too small for cars. We followed these farm paths for close to 10km before entering Longtan again and heading back to Ping Zhen (home).


Sweet bridge that led us to the farm path

End of the farm path and back to crowded roads...

Of course my first trip in Taiwan on a bicycle wouldn’t be complete unless I almost got hit by a scooter (seriously they need to look to the right before they pull out) and got a flat about 5 km from home. The good news is that it happened near a 7-11, which I found out is incredibly nice to cyclists and keeps a floor pump and mini tool kit inside for free. Sweet! 7-11s just went up a notch on the cool scale when I found this out. The ride finally came to an end and I can’t wait to get back out on the road!


Freedom to roam

19 06 2011

Watch out mountains - here I come!

Today marks the beginning of actually seeing Taiwan in my eyes. I was able to snag this used bike used for a couple hundred dollars from a guy in Taipei. It’s less than a year old, no serious issues and will do just fine getting me to and from work as well as letting me see the area.

It was quite the task taking a bicycle on a train in Taiwan. Supposedly, you can only do so at certain train stations (Taipei Main Station wasn’t one of them) and at specific times. I was lucky to find a woman who rallied all of her coworkers to basically stop what they were doing and help me make the train in less than 15 minutes. It was either that, or I would have been waiting 8 hours. It worked out thankfully and I’m happy to say that I made it back with the bike unblemished.

I’ve started mapping out routes and it looks like I can reach the mountains in under 10 miles – awesome! From what I hear the roads get exponentially better and cars vanish altogether.

Now I just have to get my hands on a helmet, lock, clip-less pedals, and some sweet cycling tights and I’ll be on my way again. I have started planning a trip in the fall to circumnavigate the island. From what I can tell it’s fairly easy to accomplish in 10 days averaging 100km per day. Cake.

I’ll keep you posted on when that actually happens. I am trying to coordinate it with the weather; last thing I want is to be enjoying the east side of the island and be blindsided by a typhoon. Thinking August or September, we’ll see.  Too soon to tell and too little research done; speaking of which, I’m going to go do some more now. Peace.

Immigration and Chinese Lessons

16 06 2011

I walked into the immigration office terrified that one of my many forms would have some random error on it causing chaos and confusion between me and the employee. I was pleasantly surprised when the man looked at my passport and asked, “Georgia, that’s where Stone Mountain is right?”

I couldn’t believe it. What are the odds that the man who is determining whether or not I can stay in Taiwan has been to a park about twenty miles outside of Atlanta and around seven miles from where I grew up? From that moment I knew the rest of the process would be a breeze.

He began telling me of his trip to Atlanta and how much he loved it. He gave me advice on where to go wind surfing on the western shores of the island. The minor glitches that did occur went smoothly, and he even held my spot while I ran down the street to get new passport photos made (mine were too small). Good thing too, the line was atrocious and I wasn’t looking forward to waiting another hour for six people to go again. I now have a resident visa and in two weeks I will have my ARC and all official paperwork will be done. Yay!

Oh, and I got assigned my Chinese name (sorry I am unable to put it on the blog – no clue how to find or put the characters on here). Not a clue what it means, but it will be official in a week or so.

Monday marked the beginning of Chinese lessons. I’m officially excited to learn Mandarin. The class itself is two hours everyday, in the middle of the morning. Happy to say now I have something to do during the day before work. Note: I think I’m tone-deaf – making the class quite challenging.

I’ve been researching the cycling industry – scouring the internet, visiting local bike shops and reaching out to anyone I know who could be a help. The opportunity to work for this particular OEM in the cycling industry is huge. Unfortunately, I have absolutely no idea what I’m doing or how to go about it. So for now, I am just trying to make it work.

Here is one of the temples I go by on the way to work in Longtan. When going to work the other day we saw two kids practicing their performance on the beams for the Dragon Boat Festival – cool stuff.

Temple at Longtan

Foot in the door… I’m struggling to get on the property

9 06 2011

To say that I have my foot in the door of the cycling industry would be a lie. I do have the smallest tip of my big toe in said metaphorical door, but not without some struggles. Today I met with the CEO of Velo Saddles in Dajia. It was an epic trip for a 45 minute meeting, but well worth it… I think. Awake at 4:30AM, I got ready and walked 30 minutes to the train station. Thankfully I wrote down the Chinese character for the village that I was heading to, it was, i think the only reason I actually arrived at the right place. A little over 2 hours on the train I land in Dajia and began walking in the direction of the office (another 25 minutes).

Upon arriving I had an awesome experience trying to convince a security guard to let me inside his gated property. I seriously wish this interaction was recorded. It was hilarious; lots of pointing by me and head shaking by the guard. That’s a hard one to sell; especially when you have a good reason to be going inside (a meeting with the owner) and no clue how to elicit that. Eventually, he decided to call the office. Thankfully, the right person picked up and after a quick word with me, the guard pointed me to the office.

I was under the impression that I was going to be meeting Ms. Yu to discuss the cycling industry. I believe that she assumed I was applying for a job. Uncomfortable and unexpected conversations ensued followed by awkward responses by yours truly. Eventually, she called in her assistant to help translate. It is quite stressful when three Chinese women are rattling off Mandarin for a few minutes and then one looks at you and says five words in English. I know more had to be said than that, but we’ll never know.

In the end, I think it went well. She seems to want to give me some sort of shot. I was asked to do some research on the bicycle industry, target consumers and the current market situation for manufacturers and send it back to her. Where do you find this stuff by the way?

Basically, I’m incredibly lucky to stumble onto this opportunity. Now, I need to not screw it up!


**Please, please, please be careful while driving. Cyclists deserve safe roads at all times. My thoughts and prayers go out to the SC2SC11 riders and the family and friends of Christina.**


I was able to get ahold of a few pictures from Taipei a week or so ago. Sorry for the delay. I’m off to teach tonight and then to begin researching!

Look at all that nature in Taipei!

Taipei 101 - Too much fog to see the top


Last resort… take green pouch!

2 06 2011

Yay for new experiences abroad!

The trip to Taipei on Saturday was a ton of fun. Scott and I met up with a friend of his from college named Missy. She showed us the city little by little and ended the evening underneath the massive Taipei 101 building. I forgot my camera, I know, I know I need to take more pictures. I will see it again, soon hopefully, and get some pictures up – promise.

The next day we took a 40 minute scooter ride to the nearest beach. It wasn’t anything spectacular, but knowing that we can go for a dip in the ocean in a little over half an hour is good stuff.

Get your towels ready...

That evening, some awesome strain of bacteria, or a virus, decided to wage war on my intestines. After being confined to my room for the better part of four days, I managed to get to a local clinic. Terrified that I wouldn’t be able to afford (or worse, be straight up rejected from) the clinic, I slowly made my way inside. Turns out not having an ARC is alright; all you need is a passport and 350 NT(cheap – about $13).

The doctor then proceeded to repeatedly beat on my stomach for a minute or so (or eternity – depends on who’s counting), and I simultaneously promised to vomit in his face if he did it again, until he finally let me go (there might have been a language barrier here that made this process much more difficult than it needed to be).

Once the torture session was over, I waited outside for a few minutes until another man told me to take each package of pills 3 times a day. After reiterating my allergy of penicillin a few times, the doctor reluctantly removed one of the capsules. Then he said, “Last resort… take green pouch!” I asked what it was and he smiled and said have a good day.

Chinese Medicine Routine

A side note for those who have never felt the love in hospitals or other healthcare institutions:

I spent much of my college career working in a hospital and grew very tolerant to the feelings of discomfort within said institutions. That being said, having to visit a healthcare professional in a setting that is about a foreign as one can get, especially when you are ill, can bring forth uncertainty in just about anyone. In any case, I’ve found that the key, for me at least, in dealing with the discomfort, is completely accepting the fact that these people sincerely want to help you… I think. (Isn’t that a make or break part of the entrance requirements for med school?)

Supposedly the cure-all pill....

So here’s to Chinese medicine! I hope to be alive and ready for the festivities this weekend. The Dragon Boat Festival is the only 3-day weekend that we have for the better part of 4 months. I’m hoping not to spend it restricted to being next to a trash can or bathroom.

On the bright side of things, I spoke with a CEO of a major bicycle saddle manufacturer in Taiwan today. I e-mailed her company a little over a week ago asking some general questions about her business and the cycling industry. She wants to meet with me next week sometime – SWEET!

View of downtown Chungli from the roof of our building!