Monday, December 26, 2005

Happy holidays all!

Even though Christmas has come and gone in a haze, I did manage to attend two holiday parties and a wedding. So, two nights of indulging in sweet and savory treats...not to mention the week before, with co-workers bringing in all manner of cookies and pastries to tempt the palate and widen the waistline. I've still not managed to be organized enough to send out Christmas cards, but there's still a few days until New Year's...

Thursday, December 15, 2005

Merry Christmas?

Hmm, lots of thoughts but no time to sit down and write them out. Lately I've been wierded out going about town: Christmas carols play on radio stations and shopping malls, and bus drivers have been seen donning Santa hats and suits. All this in a Taoist-Buddhist society. Smacks strongly of commercialism. Yet, because Christmas isn't really part of the culture, there's none of that holiday stress that one lately reads about in the American press: no multitude of holiday office parties and festivities for one to worry about weight gain, and none of the pressure of gifts for one to worry about the wallet. I told Neil that there was no need to give gifts for Christmas this year as we already gave to each other while in the U.S. during Thanksgiving. Recently I've just been in a very socially-concious, anti-consumerist mood.

In other news, happy birthday to my dearest brother Galen! He is most certainly the one I miss most about not living in the U.S.

Saturday, November 26, 2005


I've been back in the States for a week now, visiting family and friends. Some notes:

1. I've had really bad jet lag this time, perhaps owing to the cold I had before I left. Usually I'm fine by the second day, but this time, I keep waking up at 7:30a.m. I thought I had it beat yesterday when I went to sleep before 10p.m. and woke up at 10a.m., but alas, I was up again around 7 today. Maybe it's also that when I do wake up, I think of all the things I ought to do in my limited time here and can't sleep anymore.
2. My family seems to like Neil, and what's not to like? He's personable and well-mannered, while in my family, I'm affectionately known as (and as my brother Galen has called me), "Miss Cranky-Pants."
3. Portion sizes are HUGE. Last Sunday Neil and I shared a sandwich order and dessert at Applebee's for a late lunch with his family and friends. That managed to tide me over through dinner, and irritated my digestion. Too rich, I suppose. What we share and lasts two meals for us is sold as one person's portion here. Ai-yai-yai.
4. Trader Joe's is such a good value. If they sell the supplements, don't get it at GNC or anywhere else.
5. Neil and I made a lovely two-day trip to Santa Barbara and the Santa Ynez Valley wine country. Very relaxing and scenic. The California coast is so different from Taiwan's eastern coast. Here, the hills gently roll and mellow into the ocean, while in Taiwan, the mountains dramatically drop off into the sea.

Monday, October 31, 2005

no tricks, all treat

So Neil and I decided to skip out on all the Halloween parties and take the advice of our massage therapist to spend some quality time on resting and rejuvenation. A quiet weekend at the beach house doing laundry, surfing (well, paddling and getting tossed about in the waves for me), watching movies, sleeping, and yoga. Good stuff. So nice to start the week well-rested, and with clear skin and bright eyes.

On movie I did see was Yi Yi, one of my favorites. I last saw it before I moved to Taiwan four years ago. At that time, I had to read the subtitles to understand the dialogue. Besides playing name-that-place (the movie is filmed in Taipei), I realized this time that I could follow along with mostly everything, even occasionally suggest better translations for the subtitles. Cool beans.

Tuesday, October 25, 2005

peanut butter and adzuki beans

This morning, still sleepy, standing at the kitchen counter munching on toast, I realized that peanut butter just isn't that big here. You don't see it in desserts at cafes, peanut butter-chcolate confections, plays on Reese's peanut butter cups. You do see adzuki (red) beans, green tea, mango, mochi.

On the other hand, how surprized was I to find that sweet and sour fish (榶醋魚) is a real Chinese dish, not a Chinese-American creation. Of course here the sweet and sour fish is much better than the one-dimensional sugary mess there. My favorite seafood restaurant (right next to the ocean against the rocks) makes a delightful version: unctuous, tangy, and sweet without being overly so, made with your choice of the day's catch.

Wednesday, October 12, 2005

Medical Practices, Culture, and Options

An interesting article in today’s Washington Post about one reporter’s ongoing misadventure with Western medicine. My takeaway lessons are: 1) always be wary of surgery, 2) don’t be afraid to question your medical providers, and 3) seek other options, including alternative medicine.

When reading the article, I was struck by how I would’ve reacted differently. After living in Taiwan, I would have also looked into acupuncture, and tuina and baguan (btw, my bruises healed just fine, and I think it was actually speeded along last Friday when I went to get lomi lomi massage, a Polynesian deep muscle massage that I think of as gentle chiropractic treatment). Living here, it's just accepted that one can turn to both Western and Traditional Chinese Medicine for treatment.

Anyways, the article also reminded me of two articles I read in the New York Times yesterday. One article was on this year’s Nobel Prize winners in medicine, the other was about the growing number of parents in the U.S. have a diaper-free baby by training themselves to recognize their baby’s signs that she’s about to go, and then bringing the baby to a sink, toilet, or other appropriate spot.

The common thread I found in both articles is that with the two Australian doctors, they suggested a cause and treatment for ulceritis that was vastly different than accepted medical wisdom at the time. Part of the reason that the medical establishment refused to accept their theories at the start was because most of the conventional wisdom had be funded by pharmaceutical companies, which benefitted from the then status quo (recurring prescriptions for their product that relieved the symptoms, but did not actually solve the problem).These companies had a vested interest in making sure other treatment methods were not accepted, since that would hurt sales.

With the diapers, because of our current media and advertising culture, parents think the only options for their babies are cloth or disposable. There’s not even a question of whether their might be alternatives…even though most of the world’s babies go diaperless. It’s just interesting how culture and business interests makes some practices seem completely implausible.

Thursday, October 06, 2005

you mean like a hickey?

Eric's response to my explanation of ba guan, "oh, so you mean like a giant hickey?"

...well, if it helps to think of it that way...another guy's experience with ba guan.

Tuesday, October 04, 2005

TCM Turnaround

I remember the first time I saw the effect of ba guan (拔罐), cupping, I was horrified. Dark red circular bruises on a person's skin. I've since learned that ba guan, literally "pulling cups", are part of traditional Chinese medicine. A form of acupuncture, the idea is encourage blood flow. Cups are applied to the affected points in the body, and a partial vacuum is created to draw up underlying tissue and thus, the "bad blood" to the surface. There, the body then naturally disperses this bad blood. It's a kind of deep tissue massage that relieves blockages in the body.

Anyways, I've been feeling tightness around my shoulder blades for the past few weeks. Due to poor ergonomics at work, and not enough exercise, is my guess. Sunday Neil and I went to get traditional Chinese massage. Even after intense massage, I could still feel the knot deep in my shoulders. The masseuse asked if she had my permission to try cupping. Ow, ow, ow!

Afterwards, I had deep purple splotches all over my back. The masseuse pronounced my condition to be very serious. Apparently, the greater the blockage in one's body, the darker the bruise. Neil called me his yakuza girl. The color is supposed to fade in a few days. I'll see then whether I think it is effective or not.

I told Bonnie today I almost feel like an abused woman, keeping my hair down to cover my neck and shoulders. She pointed out that no one would find the circular marks unusual here, since many people go for cupping treatment. So I hope to make it to the pool tonight, to get the circulation going in my shoulders.

Monday, September 05, 2005

Hurricanes, typhoons, and America at her worst

I spent much of my typhoon day last Thursday glued to various Internet news sites, reading about Hurricane Katrina and her aftermath. While Taiwan overall safely weathered its latest typhoon, with many that trudged back to work on Friday stepping among downed trees, I was struck by the difference in situations back in Louisiana, Mississippi, and Alabama.

The tragedy arouses many emotions in me: shame, from the government's glaring incompetence, particurlarly in light of its promotion of the American model abroad; horror at the looting, shooting, and overal ugliness of human nature; and urgency, as I myself don't really stock up for typhoons. Mostly, though, it makes an uncomfortable gumbo of questions and thoughts: about why, as an American, I choose to live abroad. Of disgust with a government I did not vote for. Of believing in the system of democracy, but also wondering why I seem to think so differently from the majority of the American population. Is the U.S. becoming a place I would not want my own children to grow up in, with values that I myself do not hold?

Richard Haass, writes in Slate, "In the end, American power is a reflection of the strength of the American economy and the cohesion of American society."

What does Hurricane Katrina reveal about American society?

Friday, August 26, 2005

When I am boss, I will never...

A piece of advice I read in a recent issue of Real Simple magazine was to record workplace frustrations in a journal. Not only would this provide relief, but presumably some day when I am boss, it will remind me of employee perspecties.

So. In that vein, when I am boss, I will remember that my employees don't always make arbitrary deadlines because they are too busy playing catch up and putting out fires in the normal course of business to actually have time to develop a long-term vision. That might me than as boss, I should think of new ways of organization and labor division so that my employees can work more efficiently. Or, of all the tasks I throw out at them, prioritize.

What will you never do when you become the boss?

Tuesday, August 23, 2005

Unbelievable! This is not butter!

...actually, if you've ever had marigold margarine in Taiwan, it's completely believable.

Just another example of how the Taiwanese copy a good idea, but don't get it quite right.

Sunday, August 21, 2005

to Turtle Island and back

The waters around Daxi have been flat, flat, flat this weekend. So yesterday Neil decided it was perfect weather to take the jet ski out to show me Turtle Island. Turtle Island is a few miles off the coast of I-lan County that is off-limits to regular folk as there is a military installation there. The cool thing about Turtle Island, besides just getting to see it up close instead of from afar, is that it was formed by sulfurous vents in the ocean. So many of the rocks are mustard yellow, and part of the ocean that surrounds it is a Peptol-Bismol aquamarine. Apparently there are large sea snakes that live below, but we just went around and back.

Sunday, August 14, 2005

Cheesy Chinese Pop that's a title that might appeal to over-sugared kids. Sweet soda pop? Salty and cheesy snacks? Unclear but intriguing...alas nothing so interesting. I'm actually listing to the cheesy Chinese pop music that is on my iTunes, deleting stuff I will never willingly listen to again so I can free up space on my hard drive. Now that I've joined the many who are proud iPod owners, the possibilities seem endless. I can listen to salsa! pop hits of the '80s! rock! classical concertos! books on tape! How wonderful it would be to have recordings of dialogues and vocabulary words from my Chinese lessons...although I then realize aeven better would be to be out there, in the midst of real-life dialogues.

Monday, August 08, 2005

another typhoon swept by

Alas another typhoon has come and gone since my last post. Became dreadfully sick after the last typhoon—the worst sore throat ever—but all was not lost as I had the latest Harry Potter to see me through the weekend. And a good installment, too. I was a bit worried that Harry's teenage diatribes would continue in Book Six, but thankfully he's matured and there were no more tirades. The trademark Rowling humor was out, but the series has definitely matured and has bits of sadness, like the last season of Sex and the City, when you realize that these four crazy women have grown and are no longer as silly and carefree as they once were.

The following weekend was family weekend at the beach house, with plenty of cute kids, and mommies and nannies to look after them, too. Lots of yummy grilled food. Too much, but oh so good!

Then this typhoon came upon us rather suddenly. I had not expected a typhoon day last Friday, and it definitely realized how much I've let work take over my life. I couldn't properly enjoy the surprise holiday until I had checked our daily revenus in the morning. I definitely need to put work far, far away after I've left. All in all, a good, quiet, restorative weekend.

Oh, and another delicious-as-always dinner at Din Tai Fung, thanks to Matt and Tina's visit. 'twas a good reason to get a few people out last Thursday to show our foreign guests the best of Taiwan's dining scene, which they (like almost all visitors to Taiwan), get plenty of exposure to while here!

Monday, July 18, 2005

Typhoon Day!

Yay, another blessed typhoon day, the first of this year. Typhoon Haitang has completed enveloped all of Taiwan, so no school, I mean, work, today. Saturday at the beach was beautiful—the sky was blue and clear, the weather warm and breezy, the waves kicking. A sea warning had already been issued, so right before Eve, Amanda, and I entered the water, the Coast Guard came by to warn us (meanwhile videotaping for their records) that we should not go in. I wanted to point out that they didn't seem to be very persuasive, as there were at least 50 others out in the water, but refrained. Of course we only played for a couple of hours, and were back in Taipei long before the big rains hit.

Sunday, July 10, 2005

I've been so caught up in work this past week that if not for my roommate Angela's notice, I've been completely unaware of world affairs, including the terrible bombing in London this week. Anyways, what was supposed to be a relaxed birthday week instead turned to be a mad dash to straighten things up in the office.

I did have a good birthday; went to see Chicago on Thursday night with Neil courtesy of Jen. I hadn't realized it was opening night until I arrived at the theater and saw the press, cameras in hand, waiting for Taiwan's minor celebrities. Minor since I have no idea who they might be, but there were what I'd describe as two divas dressed as characters from the movie Chicago, and also the hip hop guy and his posse. Friday night was dinner at Giorgio's, my favorite Italian restaurant, and then off to the beach house for lots of sleep, the beach, and nothing else in particular—a good way to forget the stresses of the workweek, I say.

Friday, June 24, 2005


Looking back at my posts, it's ironic to see me rant and rave about portion sizes and nutrition in America, and then have my next post be on cupcakes. Anyways, tying up some loose ends here.

In Honolulu, I stayed at the Waikiki Sand Villa hotel. Definitely a good value. For less than US$100 a night, my brother and I got comfortable beds, a nice view of the Ala Wai canal and golf course, air conditioning, good water pressure in the shower, and most importantly, free high speed internet access. While deciding which hotel to book in Honolulu, I was overwhelmed by the choices and distance from the beach. Well, Honolulu is not that big. Eminently walkable. So for the record, the hotel is about three blocks from the beach. The U.S. is a big price shock if you're used to traveling in Southeast Asia, but I thoroughly enjoyed my visit.

Tuesday, June 14, 2005

Around the Pacific and back

These past three weeks have been busy, indeed. After L.A. my brother and I went to Hawai'i to attend my friends' wedding. The day we arrived, we went surfing on the North Shore and then admired the Hawai'ian Green turtles lolling about near shore. The following three days, my brother got his PADI SCUBA Open Water certification while I went for my advanced certification. The diving is amazing: I was thrilled to see more sea turtles with nearly every dive, a few eagle rays, and a pillow starfish. Saturday morning, Galen and I got up at 5:30 for a swim with dolphins—out in the wild.

Later that afternoon, we went to the wedding at the Mandarin Oriental. The wedding was beautiful, of course, the warmth of the bride and groom extending to the guests.

Galen came back with me to Taiwan, where we had a whirlwind week catching up with relatives. In the midst of this was Bonnie, Ray, and baby Michael's farewell dinner. Sunday morning I was finally able to treat my brother to a traditional Taiwanese breakfast, complete with fan tuan (rice ball).

This past weekend a few of us celebrated Abi's birthday with another dive at Longdong (??). Diving in Taiwan is definitely not as pampering, but I did get to see some electric blue fish. Sunday started a major cleaning and organization day, which continues...

Sunday, May 22, 2005


Yesterday I took a cooking class on cupcakes and mini bundt cakes. We made chocolate "peanut butter cup" cupcakes, sunflower decorated cupcakes, vanilla bean cakes with vanilla rum glaze, and banana caramel mini cakes. The teacher said I was a natural with a pastry bag!

Unfortunately, I've lost my sense of L.A. magnitude and when signing up for the class, I didn't realize that the drive from my home to the cooking school in Westlake Village would be such a trek!

Friday, May 20, 2005

back in the U.S.

I've been in the U.S. for nearly a week now. So far my trip has been pretty mellow. I'm trying to avoid my usual pattern of weight gain on this trip. Although I have indulged a bit (an In-N-Out burger for lunch today, for example), I've also been going to the gym. Last Sunday, my brother and I went to Souplantation for lunch, whose salads and muffins I actually like a lot. Other customers had plates with small mountains of salad. No wonder Americans are fat.

Later that day, I went on a tour of L.A. Harbor with my family. Practically everyone at the San Pedro Ports O' Call was overweight. Lots of women with big hair, heavy eyeliner, and stuffed into tube tops and low-rise capris like plump sausages. They were all noshing on huge platters of shrimp, fish, and buttered bread the size of a halved 2 liter bottle of soda.

"The level of material comfort in this country is numbing," said Paul Bellew, executive director for market and industry analysis at General Motors, in a fascinating series of New York Times articles on class in America. That was incredibly obvious in the trip to L.A. Harbor.

As I make my way around L.A. this week, I am continually reminded of the wealth that people enjoy here. Sections of town I remember as shabby and empty growing up are now filled with strip malls and new housing developments. Streets are paved and tree-lined. Yards are, for the most part, well manicured. Circulars in the Sunday paper advertise outdoor patio furniture sets and decked out gas grills with a 24-burger capacity. There are Starbucks gamut, and fresh gourmet produce and foods readily available.

I guess when you no longer have to worry about food, survival—making sure your kids are fed, clothed, educated, perhaps even just surviving war—you can worry about germs at the gym, and good carbs versus bad carbs.

Tuesday, May 10, 2005

Birds may be behind exploding toads

Bizarre. Last week I saw a bird turn over and over on itself—it looked to be having a seizure, before finally dying upside-down on its head. Gruesomely fascinating. As city dwellers, we're so often removed from nature. Is this how birds usually die? I don't have a clue.

Saturday, May 07, 2005

Super orange juice

It's been awhile as I've been busy. Came back from a short vacation to Hong Kong and Shanghai to start at my new job on Monday. Unfortunately, the air conditioning was a bit too high, and I caught a bit of a cold. So this morning I am drinking my super "orange" juice smoothie, the recipe which I got from Mate's cookbook while in Shanghai:

Blend together:
1 orange, peeled, seeded, and chopped
1/2 mango, peeled and cut from pit
1/2 small papaya, peeled, seeded, and chopped
1/4 pineapple, chopped

It's supposedly good for days after a time of over-indulgence. Plus, it's full of vitamin C and good enzymes. The enzymes in pineapple are also supposedly aid the body to heal bruises. The best thing is, this smoothie is super-yummy!

Tuesday, April 19, 2005

V-day, Green Island, errand girl

Oh my. I may be taking a break, but my days are filled with running errands. More notable events: Taiwan's first ever production of the Vagina Monologues and a trip to Green Island for more scuba diving. I'm off to Hong Kong and Shanghai for a little weekend fun.

Sunday, March 20, 2005

Southern Taiwan, Norah, cooking, and more

A re-cap of the past two or so weeks: saw Taiwan's southernmost point, near Kending.

On Monday, I saw Norah Jones in concert. She seemed to be a real sweet gal, and told a clean joke that I enjoyed, even though others thought it was cheesy. Too wholesome for them, perhaps. I'd forgotten my regular camera, thank goodness for camera cell phones.

Thursday night I made Eating Well's arugula and strawberry salad, soft polenta, and pan-seared steak from Everyday Food. Yummy!

Yesterday I hiked about 8 kilometers of the Tsaoling Historic Trail in Ilan County. Great cardio workout, sweat pouring down my face, and pretty stepped fields and a gurgling stream.

Friday, March 18, 2005

Transitioning to Mac

I'm in the midst of transitioning to my PowerBook. I love using it - really so simple and easy, but darn, Microsoft makes doing everything super-hard. A note to myself to work on later: reformatting Outlook Mail messages in

Wednesday, March 02, 2005

dive baby

I was in Kending this weekend, SCUBA diving again. No underwater photos, but I finally got one from Bali. Enjoy.

Thursday, February 17, 2005

Bali beautiful

Bali is a very spiritual place. The temple architecture reminded me of those at Cambodia's Angkor, except that Bali feels like a living spirituality, rather than a historical relic. Everyday, people place small offerings all over the place - on the street, at shrines, in various nooks and crannies. Pre-made offerings can be bought at the market:

In Ubud, I took a Balinese cooking class at the Casa Luna Cooking School.

The cooking school was conveniently run by the same people who ran my lodgings, the Honeymoon Guesthouse. I adored my room my second night there, which overlooked the beautiful, Mediterrannean-style pool. I leisurely enjoyed my breakfast that was delivered to my balcony.

All in all, a relaxing trip in a very lush place.

Wednesday, February 16, 2005

Happy Year of the Chicken!

Back from a much-needed Lunar New Year vacation to Bali. I haven't yet uploaded photos to my computer, so I will post a more detailed entry later. To tide you over until then, here's a photo from my veggie wedding.

Yes, it looks like there's shrimp tempura, but its all soy.

Thursday, February 03, 2005

Taiwanese weddings

I went to my second cousin's wedding on Sunday. I'd never seen him before, but went as my mom's representative. The most interesting fact about the wedding is that since my great-uncle manages a temple, all of the food served was vegetarian. Vegetarianism is quite common in this Bhuddist-influenced culture, and its amazing what can be done with soybeans, including vegetrian "sashimi" and "shrimp tempura." Like most weddings in Taiwan, this was a multi-course affair, that ended with little paper cups of durian ice cream that I dared not touch.

This was also a more traditional Taiwanese wedding, held on the road near the groom's home. A tent was set up, but not the white, billowy kind that one imagines in the States. These have are the red-and-blue striped plastic awning ubiquitous throughout Asia, with over 50 tables were crowded underneath, complete with red plastic stools for seating. As usual, a good portion of the guests did not bother to dress up for the wedding: sweats, sneakers, and windbreakers.

As a foreigner, I often feel that Taiwanese weddings are impersonal. But at the same time, this wedding was very personal, as my aunt took me around and introduced me as my mother's daughter. My distant relatives scrutiny of my face, followed by exclamations of "she looks just like her mother!" provided a brief tunnel through time to my mother's past.

Thursday, January 27, 2005

Bad shirt yuanfen

Clearly I was not meant to wear the shirt I put on today. First, I noticed once I got into the office that there was a BIG, embarassing splotch on my shirt. I finally got it out during lunch when I went to the gym, and figured I could deal with wearing a slightly damp shirt for the rest of the afternoon. Of course, as soon as I open my lunch box, sauce splatters all over my front...

Thursday, January 20, 2005

Paging the mom

On my flight to Tokyo last night, I had the distinct pleasure of sitting next to a mother and her two young kids. The problem was, this mother didn't do any parenting at all, and her kids - high on sugar and fat (a couple of sodas, and the little boy ate the butter packet during dinner) - were just out of control. These were two very cute kids that need some proper parenting before they outgrow their cuteness. This mother was so out of it that as we were about to decend, I quickly put my documents aside to catch him before he swan dived from the seat. I was the one that caught his cup when he was about to knock it over, and the one who helped him put on his socks and re-fasten his seatbelt. The flight attendants all assumed he was my kid...oy. Earth to mom, care to give your kids the structure and discipline they're craving?

Friday, January 07, 2005

All by myself

Was feeling unwell yesterday and so took the morning off to see the doctors. I was so proud of myself for finally successfully negotiating Taiwan's medical system without having my hand held by one of the receptionists.

In Taiwan, if you want to see a doctor at a hospital, you must first go stand in line to register (10-15mins). After getting a number, you then go to another area ringed by smaller examination rooms and wait for your number to be called (10-15mins). After the examination (usu. <5mins), you then have to go back to the registration area to pay fees, including any presecriptions. Then, you get another number for the pharmacy, and go the that area to pick up any presecriptions (5-10mins). All in all, a rather complex process that can be confusing if you 1) don't read much Chinese, and 2) have a limited vocabulary. But I am learning, learning...

Thursday, January 06, 2005

Land of Penny Pinchers

A New York Times op-ed by columnist Nicholas Kristof calls the U.S. the land of penny pinchers. I did not know that Americans give 15 cents per day per person in official development assistance to poor countries, and spends four times that on soft drinks daily.

After reading it, I'm now thinking of giving to other causes in addition to those providing relief to the tsunami victims. Kudos to Jen for pointing out the article!

Tuesday, January 04, 2005

Treehugger: Stapless Stapler

This is one of those products that I see all the time in catalogues, but when I was actually going back to the States for a visit and wanted to buy one, I couldn't find a stapless stapler