Taiwan: Settling In

First Impressions: As my plane landed at TPE airport in Taoyuan, I was excited at the possibilities that awaited me here in Taiwan. I was greeted outside the arrivals by a pre-arranged pickup, and to my surprise he drove a black Saloon; a current model Camry if I recall correctly. I was a little surprised as I didn’t expect bigger cars to be as popular, and most of the cars at the pickup section were in the same class. The drive from the airport to my hostel was almost an hour and at this point I was quite happy that I had a lift rather than have to figure out public transport right away. However, this couldn’t be further from reality. I was not able to communicate to the driver, who spoke only Chinese, that I had actually changed my reservations to The Cats Pajamas (cool name isn’t it?) for the first few nights as my original hostel, Taiwanmex, was full. Fortunately, I had picked both locations due to their proximity to MRT stations and I was able to navigate to my destination relatively easily given the circumstances***.

The Cats Pyjamas was located in a hip district next to a night market. I quite liked the place which has helpful attendant, lcd Tv, kick ass showers and a common kitchen. The next place i went to was Taiwanmex, which i discovered was because the owner was a Mexican man who had moved here about a decade ago and opened up shop with his Taiwanese wife. The location of this hostel was ideal because it was right hear ZhongShang MRT and the busy streets around it.


cks memorialIn my first few weeks in Taiwan I was able to see the National Palace Museum. It is regarded as the best museum of Chinese history in the world, since it was the old Chinese Nationalist Party (the KMT) led by Mr. Chiang Kai-shek had the greatest treasure exported to the Republic of China (Taiwan) when the communist party was gaining steam in the mainland. I also went to a couple of night markets, had lots of local food, including my fair share of the typical Taiwanese lunch boxes that usually contain 3 portions of veges and 1 meat. Saw the iconic Taipei 101 and started my training with Hess.bullet proof cadi

Hess is the language cram school that i signed a contract with to teach English for 1 year in Taiwan. I secured the job online and they are one of the only companies in Taiwan that will guarantee a contract before you even land. The initial training I had with the company was in Taipei and only a 15 minute walk from my hostel. Hess paid for the hotel during training so i checked out of Taiwanmex and moved into the First Hotel located on Nanjing Rd. It was a mid level hotel but still a step up from a lot of the hostels i had been staying at for the past 2 months, and it was complimentary so there was no way i was turning that down. Initial training (HITT) lasted for about 2 weeks during which i learned a lot about the Hess way of teaching, their curriculum and met a dozen other teachers that would be doing that same thing as me for the next year. The training days were really long but that’s about all i care to mention about training. After the HITT, we all moved to our respective branches, in my case this was the Sun Min branch in Taichung.

mango shaved ice - taipei

Taichung is a city located in central Taiwan, about 200 Km south of Taipei. Although i took the bus to Taichung, there is a high speed rail connecting all parts of Taiwan and the ride from Taipei to Taichung my HSR is only 45 mins going at about 300 km an hour. I intend on using it next time to go to Kaohsiung all the way in the south (also 45 mins) or back to Taipei. The hotel they put us up at (There was three of us, Heather, Miles and myself) was Huang He or something. It was quite a nice hotel and i had my own large room with TV, fridge, large bathroom, queen size bed, writing table and not to mention and awesome view from the large windows. The branch manager Frances took one another new teacher Micheal and I for dinner with two other people from the branch our first day at Little Italy, which is restaurant here and not a district. Its was a nice place with all the Italian stereotypes you can imagine come to life. After the meal she took me around to look at accommodation the next day and I settled for a place that the old teacher (Wesley) I was replacing was going to move out of. I’ll be sharing the 3 bedroom apartment with him for this month and one other teacher at my branch who already expressed interest will move in as soon as Wesley moves out. Its quite a nice place, lots of windows, air conditioning in all rooms, large bathroom and kitchen. Although there is no TV, cable or internet which really sucks (and is the reason why i’m in an internet cafe right now. On the bright side its located between a day market and a night market which means there’s always an awesome selection of food located just a short walk away and the internet cafes in Taiwan are really really cheap at about 15 NT an hour (50c/hour) when you pay for a 3-5 hour block.

adam gilian & grantThe people I’ve met at the branch are nice so far and I’ve gone out with them a few times to places that i don’t really recall specifically other than Ala (live band), the elementary school bar (a karaoke bar with towers) and Freedom (a popular foreigner bar/club that plays a selection of pop and hip hop music.)

*** Two days before I left Thailand, my own alcohol and adrenaline induced bad judgement led me to participate in the fire show on the beaches of Koh Phangnan. My nemesis: the suspended fire rings. Its difficult to judge the biggest reason for my failure, whether it be my blunted reflexes or the lack of stability of ring, which was being suspended by two Thais on elevated platforms. The first jump was successful for what its worth, which inspired the second less stellar performance highlighted by my right leg wrapping around the rope for what must have been about 4-5 seconds. That was just enough for the flames to leave black charred marks on along the back of my knee, calves and ankle as well as just above my right elbow. Although it didn’t hurt that much in the moment, this led to much pain and discomfort in the coming weeks.

1st: The first remedy for this burn was to jump into the ocean and “disinfect” it … Well it helped with the burning anyway. About an hour after the incident the pain started to get unbearable, so i had to leave the party and head back to the guesthouse. On the way back I stopped at a pharmacy and picked up some Povidone Iodine 1% in this little orange bottle and some paracetamol. I disinfected the wound with the iodine and called it a night, the amount of alcohol I had in my system allowed me to sleep through the night. The next day I tried to rough it and walk it off, however this turned out to be easier said than done.

2nd: Later that evening I went to a clinic and got the advise of one of the nurses and simply tied a cotton wrap around the wound and tried to keep it dry. As a side note she advised that i just tie the wrap at the end rather than use tape or a clip and I rather liked this tid bit of ingenuity. I did a little more research on burn wounds and my own diagnosis was that it was a second degree burn as it affected the skin tissue, muscle tendons and ligaments, caused discoloration but did not make it through to bone or deep into the muscle. There was no standard protocol to treat this type of burn or the expected healing time from the material I could comprehend online, however, i was able to find a general guideline that stated anywhere from 4 weeks to 2 years… this was not the reassurance I was looking for.

3rd: When I got back to Bangkok the next day I went to the pharmacy (at the 7-11 🙂 ) to buy some more cotton wraps and the attended advised that I use the Iodine cream instead of the liquid and clean the wound out with an alcohol disinfectant first, i took his advise for the cream but not the alcohol as i had read an article advising against it the other day.

4th: The Watsons at BKK airport suggested that i apply low adherent, highly absorbent swabs to the wound before applying the wrap and i gladly accepted the advise, as i felt the skin was tearing off as i removed the wraps daily.

5th: When i went to restock bandages I’m in Taipei now at Cosmed and the clerk suggests an antibiotic cream in addition to the iodine i was already using, although I was hesitant about using antibiotics on it at first, i really didn’t want to run the chance of getting the wound infected so i gave in started applying that on my next dressing. After using the cream for two days and popping in far too many paracetamols (which were now almost 10X the price i used to pay for them in Thailand; 120NT vs 15Baht per strip) I decided to see a doctor the next day.

6th: I went to the NTU hospital since it was the most convenient one, with its own MRT station. Medical service is extremely cheap in Taiwan as i discovered. The consultation and prescription of 2 tubes of Silver sulfadiazine only cost about 660NT or about $25. The doctor also advised against the antibiotic cream mentioned in the 5th remedy. He didn’t give me any pain killers though. That was the last remedy I really needed. I kept it up for about 2 more weeks and by than almost all the wounds had healed to the point where my body had either made a natural cover or the skin was starting to heal.

All in all, it took about 3 weeks for the wound to “heal” enough for it to not require any extra care on my part. Although there is still discoloration and marks on my leg and arm, no further action in required. Lets see how long it takes to fully heal.

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Singapore – The cleanest little country in Asia

My first impression of Singapore was the same as most of the other first hand accounts I’ve heard, a clean safe-haven in the middle of all the pollution frenzy that is South East Asia.

Everything in Singapore is at a convenient distance, mostly due to the size of this little “country” which extends about 41km tall by 23km wide and feels more like a suburban city. The airport is connected to the city by the metro, which links all parts of the country together, although the metro is quite convenient its a little tricky to figure out at first because a deposit is charged and refunded at the end of my trip.

Singapore metro

As soon as i got of my stop at Aljunied Station, i felt like I was in the suburbs, the entire area was surrounded my greenery, trees and grass and a large parking lot; not a very common site in Thailand.

I stayed at WOW hostel which was pretty damn awesome, it felt just like chilling at home. All rooms were air-conditioned and there was a cool manager running the place that was always watching movies in the common room on a nice large HD TV. They had a huge selection of movies on a 3TB external drive to chose from, so i’m guilty of staying in a little more then I should have while traveling.


Chinatown - singapore


Singapore food courtSingapore is not a huge city… sorry country for tourism. There isn’t that much to see, so I was happy I only booked 4 days there. They have small pockets of all the little cultures including the cleanest Chinatown I’ve ever seen (see pics), Arab town with a few mosques in the area and some sheesha bards of course, and little India which was actually quite large and had an impressive selection of cheap eats. mosque in Arab town

 

Although Singapore gets a bad rep for being quite expensive, you can still get a good selection of cheap eats (i often only paid 2-3 Singapore $ for my meals) and the portions were quite large, compared to the small serving sizes I was used to in Thailand 🙂

maid cafes in Singapore

The prettiest sites here was definitely Clark Quay with a beautifully, fully planned out river side restaurant strip, lit up bridges and walkways and colorful buildings (see pics). Clarks Quay Singapore

Clarks Quay - SG

Clarks Quay Singapore 2

Orchard street is the shopping haven in Singapore with one shopping center glitzier than the other, and the hottest one of them is Ion, a massive architectural marvel in the center of town, lined with all the designer stores you can dream off, its the place to pickup your Vertu phone and have it programmed while you color coordinate it with the Prada bag on display just across. The food court was equally awesome, and some budget choices were even sprinkled in the mix, thankfully.

heading to Resort-Town

I lied a bit when i said Singapore wasn’t touristy… ResortLand Singapore, a very direct and “creatively” named set of resorts in Mendosa Island. Its the only Universal Studios in Asia i think and has some nice man made beaches, although like a lot of Singapore was still under constant construction.

 

I had a bit of an adventure at the airport on the way back though…always get to the airport at least 1.5-2 hours early for an international flight people ! (anywhere is international from Singapore) I got there with just 40 mins to my flight, but was pleasantly surprised when I checked in without problem even though the check-in counter already closed, since i didn’t have any checked luggage. However my first experience with airlines actually enforcing hand luggage restrictions came right afterward. My bag weighed in 14kg, which was double the allowed 7kg for hand luggage @ 16 per extra kilo … about $110 total, which was more than the cost of my flight. There was no way i was going to pay that so i went out the the bathroom, put on my hoodie, jeans, cap and jacket and a little bit of sweat in the process and threw out a few unnecessary items. To my surprise, the baggage check people didn’t recognize me when i got back (maybe the cap covered enough of my face and they though i was a local?) so no trouble and i walked right pass without having to do a weigh-in. 🙂 YOupi. So off i went to my flight towards Phuket, which in Air Asia standard fare arrived 5 mins after departure time, but only took another 10 mins to take off 🙂

Till next time,

Sawadeekhap

 

Whats the Capital of Thailand – BANGKOK!

Whats the capital of Thailand? -BANGKOK!

Thailand has been keeping me pretty busy for the last few weeks, but here are the highlights from the land of smiles.

Suvarnabhumi Airport: Got to the airport at 12:30 at night (which is a fun time to get there since there is no more public transport) however, I have already been initiated to shady Asia and the sneaky airport taxi scams, so i skillfully avoided all airport limousines/taxis/privates and made my way to the local bus station. Once there, i found 3 other like-minded individuals and we shared a cab to Khao San Rd –> i.e backpacker central, Bangkok.
With no reservations, i set out on a adventure to find a quality, shoestring priced accommodation, and the mission led me to NJ guesthouse, checked-in, and started my adventure on the Khao San.

khao san road marketpancake stand at khao san road

Khao San Road: This is probably the image you have of Bangkok. Street signs and flashing lights and illuminated billboards blind you from every angle imaginable, street karts line the streets in no particular order creating a makeshift obstacle course of pad-thai, fresh fruit and souvenir stalls. However, to truly do Khao San justice you need to factor in the ready availability of booze; beers large and small, unique cocktails and a Thailand concoction the Redbull vodka/whisky buckets 🙂

mbk- bangkokmbk-bangkok2

Shopping in Bangkok Of all the places to shop in the world, Bangkok has to be one of the best. All the designer brands you could want are readily available in the many air conditioned malls (7 of which are directly connected by sky bridges to the BTS sky train so you never have to leave air conditioned glory (in the 40 degrees of humidity, smog and pollution of Bangkok). My favorite has to be the MBK mall. I’ve been there at least 4 times since I’ve come here and I plan on going back if the need arises. The mall has 7 floors and is organized like a large indoor market. 5 floors of shopping, amazing food court on 2 floors, cinema and arcade.

chatuchak market Bangkok chatuchak market

Other notable shopping locations are street markets in Chinatown, Khao San and of course the mother of all markets, the market that all others are benchmarked against, Chatuchak weekend market. No air conditioning here, but there is more than enough restos and cafes to make stops along the way, during and after you bleed your wallet dry with shopping therapy. Massage chairs are also lined up along the way for those that need a little pickup – trust me you need an entire day (or 2) to do this market justice.

Cinemas in Bangkok MBK mall is also where I caught the 3D version of Alice in Wonderland. I also watched the screening of a Thai movie, Nak-Prok with surprisingly good English subtitles. All blockbuster English movies are shown in English at the major cinemas, and the Thai movies have English subtitles (just watch out for the Thai dubbing of less popular English movies. The seats at Thai cinemas are significantly more comfortable than the ones we have back home, more spacious and a lot cheaper too! There is a unique practice by the Thai people to play the national anthem for the King before the movie plays, remember to stand up out of respect, all the locals do.

Street Food in Thailand: the cost of living in Thailand is lower than you can ever imagine and a big part of that can be attributed to the high quality street food at almost every street corner. Street food is also known for its good hygiene in Thailand (but still pay attention, because not all street food is created equal, and some vendors might be less dependable than others. In general, as long as there are lines at the stall (if there are a lot of locals it’s even better) than your probably good to go. Street food will generally run you 30-40 baht ($1 – 1.33) per plate and you’ve got your choice of fish, chicken, pork; spicy, tangy or sweet. Factor in a drink and some desert, and your still looking at about 3$ for a meal with Chang beer and Thai ice cream 🙂

massage land - Bangkok

Massages: Whether your looking for a foot massage, back, shoulder or head massage, the famous Thai massage, lotion massage, full body massage or a really full body massage (if you know what I mean) you can definitely find it all here in Thailand, and at extremely affordable prices. Similarly to other places in Asia where the cost of living is much lower than in the West, massages at the local massage parlors will run you anywhere from $4 to 8/hour for Thai and foot massages and $6-20/hour for oil massages. If you feel like indulging in a spa for the day though, the good ones will run you between $100-200 for the day. I recommend hitting up Massage Land for your spa needs though, they’re like a massage factory on several floors but  offer the quality western style treatments but at great value ex. $15 for a 2 hour Thai massage and $20 for a 1 hour oil massage (See pic).
So far I’ve had one Thai massages, and couple of foot massages and an oil massage. All in all they’ve been quite satisfactory, i highly recommend the Thai massage, although we warned a traditional Thai massage is known for equal parts pain and relaxation while the trained masseuse molds you like a piece of putty; an experience not to be missed though.

Thailand: Land of smiles

Thailand: Land of smiles; cheap food and crazy tuk-tuks

New Joe Guesthouse Thailand happy taxis Koh San RoadAfter my excited time in Tokyo, and about 51/2 hour flight I was now at the very sweet looking Suvarnabhumi Airport and its about midnight. After dodging the sketchy taxi services and ‘limousines’ offering their services (these are everywhere in Thailand btw, so if you’re there for the first time make sure to never get into a cab that isn’t a Metered Taxi, you’ll recognize them by the big signs on top) I opted instead for my first adventure, using the public buses in Thailand to get to Khao San Road (oh and what makes it even more fun is that i decided not the book a room for the first night, so its all free style 🙂

So I ask around and find a shuttle from the airport the the central bus station, luckily since most of the lines already stopped running. I had my handy Lonely Planet Bangkok (thanks guys) and knew i had to the take bus 551 to get close to where i needed. Unfortunetly when i got the the terminal the bus was only coming in 2 hours 😦 😦 so no public bus after all. On the bright side i met with 3 other like minded travelers who were heading in the same direction and we split a cab (the total bill was a whopping 400 Bhat ~$13 split 4 ways haha) then i wondered around and settled for the NJ Guesthouse, good rates and looked nice; put my bags away and started my first night on Khao San Road (its the main backpacker/hipster area) by this time it was about 2 am.

There was craziness everywhere, just look at the pic, its the normal everyday setting here with the street karts selling everything from fake id’s to $1 Padthai (I’ve had my fair share at this point!@)

Akihabara: Welcome home master

My favorite part of Tokyo has to Akihabara, its a destination not to be missed by anyone thats wants to experience modern day Japan in all its glory.

Akiba mall - cellphone charms

Look - Sham Wow!

The trip starts right at the Akihabara station, where you come out to Akiba City; a glorious monstrosity on 6 floors with everything electronic you can think of and a whole lot more. Almost two floors just devoted to coolest and most advanced cellphone and cellphone accessories (i’ll upload a pic of some of the crazy cell phone dongles soon) I could literally spend days there but i pulled myself out and in just a few hours and ventured further.

maid outfits - Akihabara

Next stop, another skyscrapper style mall to check out some of the other awesome Japanse offering and my visit to a Tokyo original invention the “main cafe”** after 4 floors or cool Japanese nicknacks and thing-a-madooes i’m in line for “At Home Maid Cafe”, where i’m offered the choice between counter or living room; I just counter so that i could really enjoy and relish in the envrionment. The girls were all very bubly, constantly gigling, dressed up to the T’s and tried to accomodate me as best they could given their limited English language skills. I ordered a cafe latte, cheese cake shapped like a cats face, my total with the seating charge (and my very own international bronze membership card(no i didn’t pay extra for this) was about $17 bucks, so a bit on the expensive side but the ambiance was well worth it, highly recommended!

Next Stop: Shinjuku

PachinkoThis is the typical image you get of Tokyo traffic jams and endless crowds of people and metro trains where people get packed in like sardines during rushhour. I ended up finding a really cool mall mall that had Pachinko*** on the ground floor and an arcade on the 2nd (also a bathing area underground)

I’ve visited a few arcades now in Tokyo and i have to say these are not to be missed. I spent most of my time on SF4 only because that was the only game I was familiar with, tried a few others, but defenitely not the craziest ones there… wait for it… trading card based arcade gaming… wow. Huge HD screens where people buy decks of trading cards (all the basic rules of trading cards, including rare ones but now you actually play them face up on a responsive screen, move them about like you would an arcade stick and follow the action on the screen. It has to be seen to be believed …

As a completely unrelated side note, Virgin invaded Montreal radio with the introduction of Virgin radio, but… then stole Mix 96 and brought it back to the UK ?? check it out http://www.mix96.co.uk/

** For the uninitiated maid cafes are spread out all over Akihabara and the theme varies from one to another but the general principle remains, you are greeted by bubly japanese girls in costumes relating the the cafes particular theme, who greet you warmly with a “welcome home master” so you can relax after a long day Tokyo. The menus are usually a bit limited but the themes are limited only by japanese imigination …

*** Pachinko is a crazy and seemingly highly addictive Japanese gambling invention which is hybrid slot machine/marbles/playing cards

Day 2: Shibuya , Harajuku , Omatesandu

Up early in the morning ( well not much sleep anyway since I ‘m eager to start the next day and I may have had some green tea early in the evening )

Gold's Gym shibuyaMy first stop along the way was Gold’s Gym in Shibuya, an impressive installation on 3 floors (see photos attached) It had all the amenities you expect from a gym , world-class gym including sauna and jacuzzi which felt good after the long travel. Their weights are not as new as those at home .. but right now I’m being picky .
After that, it was off to the land of cosplay Harajuku . It turns out that the Goths sleep in and I was there at 9 which was about two hours at the before any of the action, so I ended up taking a walk through the streets and check the punk / hippie cool shops and great crepes; they looked absolutely delicious and I considered eating the demos for a while but later thankfully decided against it. Take a look and say you do not feel the same .
Omatesandu next stop , where all major shops names. Not much to see here, think 5th Avenue , I ‘m not much for its designer boutiques to this was the shortest part of my trip .
Finally I went to where I was staying in Asakusa Smile Hostel . It is a picturesque place , I stayed in their schedule that was a few blocks from the main inn , but it was much more recent and facilities were spotless 🙂 🙂

Adrift in Tokyo (Edo)

The first post in my Blog will be about the First night in Tokyo – without a doubt one that wont soon be forgotten.

Tokyo subway map

Now this must be a first, but the flight really arrived 30 minutes  earlier than scheduled ! I knew the Japanese were efficient, and as they say if your early, you are on time and if you are on time then you are late. Or maybe everything is just reversed in Japan, like how the whole world goes through inflation but the Japanese economy (and prices) exhibit deflation.  Or perhaps its that one needs the additional 30 minutes just to figure the Tokyo transportation map and how one should head to where  needed. So after getting acquainted to the map, I made my way to the City from Narita Airport. Glance over at the map on the right hand side and you’ll understand.

However in the wake of getting into Tokyo and to my first picked area Shibuya which is plainly where all the adolescents hang out. I was expecting to see all the Japanese youth dressed up as their manga characters, but apparently that is more of a Sundays thing, so i’ll return then 🙂

Tokyo Internet Cafe cubicle

The one great thing that did come of this is that I did uncover a 24 hour internet and Karaoke establishment that offered extremely sensible rates for an overnight stay, it was really just what I needed/expected: private cubicle and your own PC (Quad-core processor and kick ass specs… unfortunately the OS was in Japanese :S but what do you expect? ) with extremely rapid web access. I’ll post an improved quality pic up when I get the chance, but here’s a pic that I took with my phone for now.

On that note, i’m really wiped right now so I’m going to catch some Asian Zzzzz’s however I’ll  leave you with a couple of additional pics that I took while walking around.

Shibuya is like Time Square on crack, it extends a hella’ far and offer some great views.

Pic on right :Am i simply seeing things, or is that a Fido sign, but backwards and  advertising a real-estate agent?

Backwards Fido Sign Shibuya Intersection