Friday, December 19, 2008

Great Clips, Eat Your Heart Out

There were a couple of reasons why I had been putting off getting a haircut while Chris and I have been here. First of all, choosing a salon and figuring out how to make an appointment was a little intimidating. Secondly, I wasn’t quite sure what I would do once I made it into the beautician's chair and attempted to communicate just what I needed done. Yesterday, the first half of the battle was conquered when my friend Rachel made the offer of taking me to her “regular” place and making our appointments. So, I decided to buck up and take on the second half of the battle.

We arrived at the salon at the pre-designated 3:00. While Rachel’s Mandarin is infinitely better than mine, we weren’t sure if we had two appointments at 3:00 or if we had two appointments with the same girl starting at 3:00, one after the other. So, I came armed with a book and my ipod just in case. When we climbed the two flights of stairs, we were received by a receptionist who wasn’t quite sure who to expect either. However, without skipping a beat, we both were whisked away by two assistant stylists into our separate chairs and our things were taken with a respectful bow and placed into a locker to which we were given the key. I knew that I was in for a special experience when the assistant then brought out two piping hot cups of oolong tea. It was at this point that the assistants and the receptionist got together and were trying to figure out why, exactly, we both were there. One of them finally got up enough courage and came to us both and asked nervously, “Cut?” We smiled and said that yes, we were indeed both there to get a hair cut.

As I settled into my chair, sipped my tea and flipped through a magazine that I had been given to select a hairstyle, the assistant came up behind me equipped with a warm towel and a slightly fragrant lotion. She then proceeded to rub, knead, push, press and squeeze my shoulders, back and scalp through a 20 minute massage. After this, I was led to the sinks where a different hair-washing assistant awaited. Placing my head on a small head rest in the sink (why don’t hair washing sinks have head rests in the States?), she delicately pressed a paper covering on my forehead as to avoid any unpleasant splashing on my face. After about 15 minutes of hair washing / scalp massaging, I hazily made it back to the styling chair.

It was at this point that I finally met our stylist. She slipped on my smock and I noticed that it actually had arm holes! I’m not sure if everyone has these now, but it was new to me and I was excited. Unsurely, I used my arm holes to charade my way through telling her what I wanted, half-way knowing that it wasn’t going to go exactly the way I planned but too relaxed to care. She snipped and combed and chatted with the other women in the shop as she toiled away with my hair. Just when I thought she was finished, I was taken back to the sinks for one more washing to ensure no snipped stragglers were waiting in my hair to cause back-itchiness later.

A few last minute trims and I was ready to be styled and sent on my way. I was given my bill, and I have to say, it was a little pricey at $520. Sorry, I meant NT$520 which actually works out to be about $18 U.S. Two hours after we arrived, we left the salon in a euphoric daze as I pondered the poor Taiwanese immigrant who is rudely welcomed into American culture by a sorely unsatisfactory trip to Great Clips. So, when it comes to the treatment of hair, I must say, “Well done, Taiwan. Well done.”

Saturday, December 13, 2008

A Trip to the Grocery Store

I have to admit, I don't actually make it to the grocery store very often here in Taipei. This is for a couple of reasons. First of all, it is actually cheaper to go out than to go to the store and buy your own ingredients to make dinner. Living in an apartment neither equipped with an oven nor a dishwasher, I tend to lean toward this more economical option. Secondly, I often find myself wondering not only how to prepare the food I've purchased, but also what, exactly, the food is. However, I needed a few things today so I thought I would document my journey so that you can see what the aisles of an Asian grocery store are like through the eyes of an American.

A great big stack of rice

The soy sauce selection
Seaweed wrapped crackers, there are lots of variants of this one.

Good cereal can be hard to find, but I always think that Loopy Crunch goes best with kiwi.

Almonds and guppies, just like peas and carrots.

Yes, that is asparagus juice.

Bamboo shoots... these are found in lots of dishes and are actually quite tasty.

Dragon Fruit

Sorry, I have no idea on this one.

This is what I see when I try to read directions on how to make a pre-prepared food...

Squid anyone?

Fish head

Dried fish of some kind, I think. Really, your guess is as good as mine.

Which laundry detergent would you choose?

Have the seaweed sushi flavored Lay's caught on in the States yet?

Bet you didn't expect to see sarsaparilla over here.

One thing you can always count on...

Sunday, December 7, 2008

Rules of the Road

Over the last five months, we have learned a thing or two about survival on the streets of Taipei. Here are a few tips to help you be a bit more street-savvy should you find yourself visiting loved ones in Asia (hint, hint…)

1) Our first tip is a common one in crowded cities. When you bump into someone, as you inevitably will, have no reaction. People will actually look at you funny if you say, “Excuse me”… or maybe that is just my bad Chinese accent. In return, don’t expect any semblance of an apology if you are bumped into, side-swiped, toe-crunched or slide tackled.

2) Traffic lights are merely suggestions. Green means, “Go straight through, you can even close your eyes if you want!” Yellow means, “Go straight through… just faster.” Red means, “You can still make it! Ten points for the man on the bike and fifteen for the old lady with the umbrella!”

3) Scooters are kings of the road… and the sidewalk. Do not get in their way, no matter what. Apparently, no traffic law applies to anyone riding on a scooter. They are allowed to run lights, ride on sidewalks, ride between cars on the roads, and even go the wrong way down one-ways. Don’t forget that there is at least a three-person minimum for riding the scooter as well. It is preferable to have your three-month-old snuggled safely between dad driving and the family beagle balancing on the seat behind him.

4) Use crosswalks at your own risk (see points 1 - 3). A green man walking on the sign by no means gives pedestrians any promise of a secure passage across an intersection. My recommendation? Take tips from Frogger. Also, don’t be above hollering, whistling, or even banging a hood or two to suggest to motorists that they should stay away from you (ask Chris for more details on this one).

5) Watch your step. Though most dog owners pick up after their t-shirt-wearing canines when nature calls, there are still plenty of strays who do not share this pooper-scooping luxury. It is advisable to have a friend trail blaze ahead of you and call back with the fecal report for the morning as to avoid any “tricky” messes.

6) Take advantage of your ignorant foreigner status. If you see someone trying to get people to take a survey or tell you about the specials at their restaurant, make eye contact and smile. There is no way they are going to approach you about your opinion on their costumer service when all they have are Chinese evaluations. Plus, you may be the only person to smile at them all day.

7) Finally, a tip about what to do when you see a white person on the street. If you are Taiwanese, stare in shock and amazement at the size of the foreign person’s nose. How can they even fit anything else on their face? If you are white yourself and you see another white person, wave. Chances are you probably know them.