Ruby Ramblings

Zhishan Cultural Park – Taipei
April 30, 2010, 3:07 am
Filed under: Taiwan, Travel

If I lived in Taipei, this is a place I would spend a lot of time. It is a hill in the north part of the city that is like a haven from the noise and urban scenery. You are transported into a natural area with wooden-plank paths, benches, and protected wildlife.

One part of the park is a temple, and the path to the temple is lined in statues that I’ve read tell the story of a Chinese classic called Romance of the Three Kingdoms.

I really thought this guy looked like he was giving himself a little nip-rub, but I think he’s just showing off the enlightened being residing on his chest. Overall, I thought this statue park and walking around the mountain (erm, hill really) were the nicest things I did in the city.

The temple at the top

Taipei is a really low city because of the likelihood of earthquakes. The exception is the Taipei 101 building. I could see it from the top of this hill, but it didn’t really come out in the picture because of the haze. It’s on the left side near the mountain and the crane. I’ll post more about that building soon.

The morning after I left there was a 6.9 earthquake recorded, and although the buildings swayed, there was no real damage, and from what I’ve read no casualties.

Confucius Temple – Yuanshan, Taipei
April 28, 2010, 2:34 am
Filed under: Taiwan, Travel

Longshan Temple – Taipei Day One Cont’d
April 27, 2010, 2:47 am
Filed under: Taiwan, Travel | Tags: , ,

After going to the World Religion Museum, it seemed fitting to head over to one of the major temples in the city. Taipei has temples tucked into corners between apartment buildings and store fronts everywhere, and it was really exciting to stumble on a vibrant, colorful space in the midst of all the chaos. The Longshan Temple though is a very famous destination for tourists and locals both. Famous enough to have a subway stopped named after it, which made it exceedingly simple to find. Surrounding the area are winding alleys of street vendors, and I slurped down an amazing papaya milkshake before heading into the temple grounds.

The details on the Taiwanese temples are more ornate and specific than any I’ve seen in the world.

I wandered down the alleys a bit, and came across another really beautiful little temple. There were some boys eying me suspiciously, but while I may have only been there to sightsee, I got the distinct impression they were only after the public restroom. One thing that Korea does brilliantly is having sufficient and CLEAN public restrooms almost everywhere. I rarely have a hard time finding a bathroom when needed. In Taipei, there was a little more desperation involved. It appears the only places that consistently have restrooms (sometimes not even restaurants) are the temples and the subway stations. But since the restrooms in the subway are mostly INSIDE the gates, you either have to waste a fare, or wait until you are actually getting on the subway to go somewhere. Even then the lines were really long, and for some reason there seemed to be an issue with people not flushing. Ah-hem.

Taipei – part one
April 26, 2010, 3:55 am
Filed under: Taiwan, Travel | Tags:

Since we get so little vacation time with my current contract, one extra day off, I thought, warranted a quick trip out of the country. Part of my goal of living in Asia again is to see as many places as I can while I’m over here. Passport stamps and subway cards to different cities are like little treasures to me.

Although Taipei’s economic success has a longer running history than Korea’s, one of the most striking things about the city is that it still has all the rabbit warrens of snaking alleys, side streets, and numbered lanes that run off the main streets. It’s a city with a huge amount of character, and good maps (and even a couple folks spotted in alleys with GPSs) are a necessity for getting around without losing too much time. The first day was a little rough getting around, but by Sat., I felt like I already knew the basic layout. It has a great subway system, and even more useful, extremely helpful and talkative people.

Taipei shows a lot more wear and tear than I feel like Seoul would allow.

I stayed at the Eight Elephantshostel, which although a little college dorm like, had some great people staying at it. There are some folks that live there all the time, and some local folks from other Taiwan cities that use it for a weekend launching pad. It was eclectic and the staff was extremely helpful, and like everything else, down a maze of numbered lanes (off of Jinjang street).

I took a wrong turn at first at stumbled on something that turned out to be really common in the city: little temples tucked in between concrete walls. Much like the Hindu street temples in Nepal, they seemed to be in constant use, with folks dropping in for a few minutes to light incense and pay respects. The scent of incense mingles throughout the city with the scent of rotting stinky tofu. Actually, I thought Taipei in general smelled a lot like Beijing, although it is infinitely cleaner.

It was pretty hazy, so these pics didn’t come out that great, but you can see the detail of the largely Confucius temples here surpasses most places for the detail of their artwork.

Since it was so rainy on Friday, I decided instead of heading to the park I wanted to see, to use the back-up plan of hitting one or two of the museums in town. My interest in religious architecture, and role religion plays in both comforting and controlling the masses brought me to choice number one: The Museum of World Religions. This museum was designed by the same folks who made the incredibly powerful Holocaust museum in Washington, DC. I’d say they are both well worth the visit if you happen to be in their respective parts of the world.

The museum is a little hard to get to. The closest subway station is Dingxi, but the museum (and the Pacific Department store next to it, which is the most useful landmark) are quite a few blocks away. I couldn’t find the free shuttle bus to the Dept. store, and was pretty hungry, so I wandered into a market are to find some noodles. The guy at the noodle shop that had pictures I could point at turned out to not only be super friendly, but super fluent in English as well. Something that turned out to be much more common than in Korea. Loads of people not only spoke English, but were willing, and even seemingly happy to use it. When I asked if he could help me with directions, he hadn’t heard of the museum, but called them for me, and wrote down the address in Chinese and said if I got lost again, just to ask anyone on the street. I’m telling you, Taipei is a weekend ramblers dream.

The museum is gorgeous, with relics from every major religion, and a few smaller ones in a stunning main hall. It also has models of some of the world’s most amazing religious structures. I snuck a picture of this one, which is going to be next top of my list of things to visit. The Borobudur Buddhist shrine on Java in Indonesia. You can also see models of the Dome of the Rock and Notre Dame in the background.

Street Duck

Saturday Rambles and a Fajita
April 17, 2010, 9:04 pm
Filed under: Korea, Travel | Tags: , , , ,

In light of my quick, out of the country trip next weekend, I forced myself out of bed and onto the subway yesterday for a little exploring. I usually end up staying around my neighborhood, or going into Seoul, which after all this time is a shame since there are so many subway stops between here and there.

Sometimes with my pictures of temples, parks, and such, I think I may be sending home a vision that is not really Korea. The vast majority of the country actually looks like this:

and this

(That castle in the background, I thought might have been a gaudy love-motel, may actually be an over-the-top wedding hall for folks going for the prince and princess theme.)

…and this

To the left of that Toona building, is what I came to Songnea searching for. Rumors of a taqueria. TacoRia is to the left of that building down a little street. This is the best Mexican style food I’ve had in Korea. I’m a fan of Taco Chili Chili in Noksapyeong, but this was even better. Rather than a pre-assembled fajita, the well-spiced chicken, rice, really good salsa, and vegetables come separate so you can make your own on – gasp – corn tortillas! Actually two flour and one corn, but next time I’m sure if I ask for just corn, the owner Dong Kyu Kim would oblige. It also came with a side of the ever illusive condiment in Korea, real sour cream.

For a few minutes I lost myself and thought I was back at a taqueria on Gallatin Road. (Hey Carol, what kind of ridiculousness is the Eastwood church posting lately?)

Besides being really friendly, Dong Kyu is a great cook.

From Sognea, I went on to Bucheon where I was hoping to have better luck with their underground and market for some random clothes items, but not so much. It was a nice day walking around, and in both Songnea and Bucheon I caught some fun things to share.

Flipping the bird is a popular gesture here. Even my youngest boys seem aware of this insult, although I’m pretty positive they have no idea what it means. This was the entrance to a bar, not a very friendly one by the looks of it. 🙂

I would like to go to the dentist soon, but this place looks more like the set for Saw.

Random English on clothing. Buns of steel?

Key Cut While You Watch

I don’t know, I’ve been subjected to a couple of kimchi boongs on the subway. I don’t think they are very sweet.

And just something pretty.

April 11, 2010, 10:47 am
Filed under: Books | Tags:

There is so much going on in Kabul Beauty School that I want to write a bigger post about it later. There are so many parallels to things I’ve done in my own life, and things that I want to do more of. For now, I’ve been distracted by some music, some stronger daydreams, and dinner plans.

Final Tally:
Pages in current book: 134
Total pages read on a lazy Sunday afternoon: 275
Charity: Child Upliftment Center Nepal

And onto book 2…
April 11, 2010, 9:05 am
Filed under: Books | Tags:

I wanted to pick something that look relatively short that I could possibly finish in a few hours. This lead me to cruise my small but well-rounded bookshelf, and pick:

Kabul Beauty School: An American Woman Goes Behind the Veil

To be perfectly honest, I’ve kind of had it with all the silly puns about “going behind the veil.” The western world has turned the veil into a kind of demonized symbol of Muslim oppression. When I worked at a tutoring center for refugee students in Maine (most of whom were Muslims from the Sudan and Somalia), the veil was a gorgeous piece of culture that at least these girls felt was a choice for them. Somedays they wore it, somedays not, but it was an expression of their identity and cultural history. Now this gets more complicated when you get into the burqa and the Taliban, which is really much more about control, violence, and the power of zealots then it is about keeping your hair covered.

So far, this book is fantastic. It moves quickly, and Rodriguez gives a vision of Afghani culture without clouding the writing with judgements and assessments.

Pages read in current book: 56
Pages total: 197
Charity: Child Upliftment Center Nepal

To Nowhere and Back
April 11, 2010, 7:48 am
Filed under: Books | Tags:

To Nowhere and Back

One book down. I have to admit to some hesitancy about this book after all these years. I was afraid of missing out on the magic that I felt so many times as a kid reading it. But it didn’t let me down, it really is a fantastic little story. The author, Margaret Anderson, is a biologist who got the idea to write this book in 1972 while staying at a cottage in England called “Random.” Random plays an important role in this book as the starting point to the main character’s, Elizabeth, ability to travel back in time and become one with a little girl her same age.

There is so much more to this book than I recognized when I was elementary school. One of the main themes of the book is Elizabeth’s realization that her life is actually quite wonderful and privileged after spending time as Ann and being denied the right to go to school. She also works at ten years old as a kitchen maid in her uncle’s inn.

There is a point where she has a change of heart about her life, and really starts to understands Ann’s time and troubles.

“But there was a drudgery and the poverty and the cold and the hunger. And there was ignorance. Ignorance went beyond not knowing how to read and write. It meant knowing nothing outside your own life. It meant not having the doctor come when you were sick. It caused fear – an evil kind of fear.”

An idea that never seems to become irrelevant no matter how advanced the world becomes.

The copy I have now is stamped as being added to the library collection in 1978, the year before I was born. It’s the same edition I used to read as a kid – the kind where the cover photo is printed right on the hardcover instead of having a jacket. I think that used to be common for library editions of books. Anyway, it was a pleasure old friend.

Pages read: 141
Charity: Child Upliftment Center

A little late in the game. Joining the readathon in hour 18.
April 11, 2010, 5:59 am
Filed under: Books | Tags: ,

If this were a party, I’m sure I would dis-invited. As my book-blogging turned real life friend Bybee has pointed out, I am of an age, and hence decided to spend last night with some engaging, intelligent, beautiful, and handsome friends rather than do another read-a-thon. But as it is 2pm on a Sunday, and there is a little bit more time to go. I’m going to join in and read a little to at least add to the overall page count.

I’m going to start with a copy of a book that I had been wanting to get my hands on for years. It was my favorite book when I was in elementary school. The school library copy has the succession of my hand-writing from first to sixth grade, as back then you still signed the little paper card that got stamped with the due date. The copy I have now is a withdrawn library copy from Centennial elementary school in Winnipeg.

I recently found an affordable copy (as I’ve seen this book listed for as high as $120), and had it delivered to Korea, where it has hence sat on my bookshelf. Considering my early obsession with the book, and that the fact that I had been wanting to re-read it for a decade, I’m not sure where my ambivalence to this copy came from when it arrived. Today is as good a day as any to reconnect with the YA classic.

To Nowhere and Back by Margaret Anderson

I love books with maps at the beginning. Even if they are fake.

March Reads
April 1, 2010, 3:08 pm
Filed under: Books

I feel this month is a little deflated, since I couldn’t help starting too many things and am currently half way through four different books. I guess that means that April will be a more substantial month.

Lake From Heaven Lake: Travels Through Sinkiang and Tibet Besides just being an awesome read, the cool thing about this book was that it has been passed around between over a half dozen teachers that have come and gone at my school. It is a well-worn, taped-up copy of one of the best travel narratives I’ve ever read. Seth is attending college in China when he, on a whim, decides to hitchhike across the country and go home through Nepal instead of flying. With really clear writing, a great sense of humor, and more than a touch of the unknown, you get to travel with him on foot, and without the proper papers.

The Mapmaker’s Opera Gorgeous cover. Not a whole lot going on in between.

Jantsen’s Gift: A True Story of Grief, Rescue, and Grace
Kindle Version
I loved this book. A woman falls into a serious depression after her son dies of an undiagnosed heart disease. She pulls herself up and goes with a friend on a mission trip to Vietnam. While there, she and her husband decide to adopt a boy that no one else will take care of, against everyone else’s better judgement.. That starts a chain reaction where they start a non-profit to rescue orphans and children sold into slavery. Just read it. It’s good.

Say You’re One of Them
Kindle Version
We read this for bookleaves Seoul bookclub this month. The part that makes it so hard to read is that you are brought along with the children’s innocence. You see through their eyes what the things about to happen to them look like, and yet everyone is powerless to stop the motion, most of all the kids. It is a really sad collection of short stories.

Take It Personally: How to Make Conscious Choices to Change the World This was really, really interesting. Anita Roddick, the founder of the Body Shop, edited a great set of essays from people all over the world talking about globalization and the homogenization of the planet. It lays out some examples of places where globalization is really hurting people more than helping, and some practical places to to take action.

Musicophilia: Tales of Music and the Brain
Kindle Version
Yet another fine collection of case studies from Oliver Sacks.

Only six books. That’s pathetic. I must remedy this next month. I thought maybe I would hit two hundred this year, but not like this.