Here it is:
I have officially crossed over into the land of flying butterflies and hippies and rainbows and laughing sun babies; I have entered "Imagine" territory, "All Blues" territory. I came to this realization today as I was riding a bus back from a Rotary organized cultural event (though I am not exactly sure what is cultural about making paper clay macaroons and doughnuts - though the people were very nice). I was sitting in my seat next to a group of other exchange students when a strange, building sensation of contentedness came over me, and I wanted to tell everybody that this whole life thing is pretty swell. My mind just started to buzz on a weird happy, smiley frequency and it hasn't stopped since. Of late, many of my fellow Northfield outbounds have been musing in their blogs about reaching the five month point, and their reflections have prompted me to take some time, look at my refection in a puddle, and ask "who am I?" Or more precisely, "who am I now compared to who I was before?"
It's kind of convoluted, but this is where the whole Hare Krishna thing comes into play. What did I gain from wrenching myself out of my hermitage in Minnesota and throwing myself into the big pile of crazy that is exchange in Taipei? I think I gained a sense of inner peace. Like the hippy that I always wanted to adopt in my formative years, I have grown to accept and flow with change in a way that my mother, who has been witness to my ugly rigidity, would be shocked by. In fact, this type of change excites me and fills me with the feeling that I am actually alive. I have gone from the child who, in order to feel comfortable sleeping, would every night obsessively turn the handle of his door three times, roll the door stop with his foot, check outside his blinds, and reorganize the three coins on his desk; to the dude who just goes to bed (I have no idea how to organize this sentence grammatically so I apologize to you grammer-obsessed people - college is going to be interesting). The Latinos have taught me how to hug properly, pulling people in close and squeezing them tight. I no longer fear other human beings, and it is no longer work for me to be in their company. I feel like a person.
Even with my reacquaintance with mr. belly, an old friend,
The reason I chose Hare Krishna for the title of this post is not because I feel any particular closeness to the Hare Krishna movement, but because the 1971 Radha Krishna Temple recording of the Hare Krishna Mantra is how I feel. It starts out with a weird psychadelic riff and then the chanting starts, slow and joyous. As the song goes on, the chanting becomes faster, happier, and more enthusiastic. listening to it just makes you feel good. And that is how I feel.
I am sitting here, in Taipei, in my room; mountains to the left and a gigantic city to the right. I am trying to think about how best to describe my thoughts on the first five months of my journey in this strange land. It is a disgustingly overused cliche that seemingly all rotary students talk about, but as it turns out, it is also disgustingly true: I have changed quite a bit on my exchange; I have indeed discovered myself anew in a foreign land. I don't think these changes have been severely dramatic, but they are certainly present and affecting. Being away from my home has allowed me to prune away some of theunnecessary "stuff" that I didn't like, and figure out which things I did like.
Before, I felt old, but in the crippled, angry Scrooge type of way. Now I feel more like the giggly Dalhai Llama, joyfully throwing snowballs at the reporters following him around. Life is a many splendored thing, and there certainly is a whole load of tasty food.
Wait, I have a blog? That is rather strange.
Wait, if I have a blog, then who has been updating it?
Oh, that's right. "Not I" says the lazy Connor.
Much has happened since I last posted about my life here in Taiwan, actually too much for me to describe in depth. Instead of the meaningful, well thought out writing you might find on any of my friend's blogs, I will just rant a little, in a kind of free verse (apologies if it doesn't make sense), about some of the stuff I have done. These are some of my collected ravings over the last little bit:
I watched Taipei 101 be blown up by fireworks on New Year's Eve.
I found two really good 包子／饅頭 (steamed rice buns with stuff in it/just the buns without anything) shops. I am in love with the 芝麻 (black sesame) 包子. It is sweet and rich and awesome. I may have to open up a store in the US that sells them.
I found two really good places that sell車輪餅 (imagine the crispy outside of a waffle in the shape of a hockey puck, filled with delicious custard). I am in love with this stuff. I may have to open up a store in the US that sells them. Also, I found a place that sells 車輪餅 with 芝麻 and 奶油 (custard). I have yet to try it, but I am sure it will be delicious. There is a Japanese website that sells the strange griddle things necessary for the making of 車輪餅, they are selling it for around 3000 US dollars. I could do that. I feel like it would be the perfect food for the state fair.
I watched these three shirtless dudes with towels around there waists have firecrackers thrown at them for a festival. The meaning of this was very hard to ascertain, as in no Taiwanese people I asked really knew what it was about. Regardless, it was extremely crazy and definitely not something one easily forgets. A side note: it was really weird for me to witness people intentionally hurting other people with little balls of exploding powder.
There are two of the best beef noodle places in Taipei about ten minutes from my current home. There is one that is super duper good.
I have recently mentally catologued the various things I have eaten while here: three types of beef stomach, pork intestines, pig ears, fish eyes, snake, three types of snake juices (I will leave those up to your imagination), frog legs, abalone (which isn't really strange, but it sounds exotic), duck tongue, duck eyes, duck bottom, pretty much every part of the duck, chicken heart, beef heart, chicken bottom (or the pope's nose), pig liver, congealed pork blood, congealed duck blood, chicken feet (though I have eaten those before), the male reproductive organ of a cow (although I don't think I will be eating that again, it wasn't all that bad - very similar to beef tendon), beef tendon, shark, uni. Some other stuff, as well.
I went to this sushi restaurant (supposedly one of the best outside of Japan) with my Danish friend. There were only thirteen seats around the sushi bar. It was religious. Get it? Like the last supper. But actuallly. I don't know anything about The Last Supper, besides the rediculous portrayal of the painting in "The Davinci Code", so I don't know what the comparison actually implies, but I do know It was one of the greatest meals of my life. The meal started with three pieces of fish in a kind of consumé with fish eggs. Unfortunately, as my Chinese speaking abilities do not extend to exotic fish, I didn't actually know what I was eating; regardless, spectacular. Then came three pieces of thinly sliced fish (maybe flounder?) with ponzu sauce. I CAN'T EVEN DESCRIBE. Then came some lightly browned tuna that had me slobbering all over the place. It was creamy. Then a giant prawn that had me reconsidering what things from the sea could taste like. It was like no prawn I had ever had before: it was fatty, but in a delightfully buttery, silky kind of way. My mouth is watering just writing about it. Some type of sashimi followed. At this point, I was so elated by the quality of the food that my attention began to falter and I just submitted to the awesomeness of the meal. Then came some stewed abalone, which I can safely say was, as I recall loudly blurting out to a quiet room of Taiwanese diners, "off the hook!!!!" Then came - a hush comes over my soul at the meer thought of this dish - a disk of eggplant with some browned cheese and fish eggs on top. They gave you this tiny spoon and you just scooped out the custardy goodness and enetered what can only be described as a fugue state. My mind shut off and time seemed to expand before me like some crazy rubber band of cheese and eggplant. It changed the way I thought about vegetables, it changed the way I think about life. I could not tell you how long it took me to eat that dreamy dish, but what happened next was a fish head. I know not what fish head appeared before me, but regardless of it's make, it was superb. I must have looked pretty rediculous making out with that fish head, but I was not capable of recognizing that I was in a room with other people. As far as I was concerned, am concerned, the world at that moment had a population of two: me and my fish head. A weird little spongey sweet egg thing came after that (which was pretty darn tasty, though my mind was still in a state of shock after the glory it had just experienced), followed by a soothing soup. For dessert they gave us a red bean soup, which was a wonderful way to end a stupendous night of gluttony.
Quick side note: That meal cost me about 2,700 NTD, which is about 80 US dollars. WORTH EVERY SINGLE PENNY. I want to do it again. I will do it again. I only need one kidney, right?
There is also this super duper sushi chain restaurant here called sushi express, which actually has legitimately delicous sushi/sashimi. It's kind of crazy awesome. As I am wont to do, as soon as a realized the reasonably priced glory of this holy temple of tastiness (you can eat around 20 freshly made pieces of sushi for less than ten dollars US - oh how I will miss it), I started to go as often and eat as much as I could. I have now consumed close to the entirety of their sushi menu and have come to the conclusion that talapia belly is the greatest thing in the world, and that I want it rubbed all over my body.
I ate this weird rice bread, which is kind of like corn bread but with steamed rice, it was great.
Recently I had tried to finagle a way to stay with my current host family for the rest of the year, but it didn't work out. And I am kind of glad. I am excited for the new, I don't really know how to start this post, considering that loads has happened since I last posted, and that loads is still to happen, but I think this is the right place to start. I was watching the George Harrison documentary "Living in the Material World" (a delightful three-hour, Martin Scorsese directed journey through the life and times of GH),
I went to this hot pot restaurant (hot pot = a pot is placed in the middle of the table with a broth in it, it is warmed untill hot, and then you cook raw stuff in that soup) where you payed 490 NTD (about $15 US) and could eat as much as your heart desired, for two hours. There was an endless supply of delicious fruit and meat and haagen daz ice cream as well. Super duper.
A while ago, I felt my throat begin to feel weird and told my host mother about it. She immediately became extremely concerened and whisked me away to the doctor. I, being so used to the rediculously insane medical system in the US, was quick to assure my host mother that a visit to the doctors would be unnecessary, that I would get better soon enough. She explained to me that this was nonsense because in Taiwan, the government actually cares about the wellbeing of its people, and was willing to help make it affordable for them. I know, crazy. Anyway, I arrived and had to wait thirty minutes (which seems like kind of a drag, but wait). What happened when it was my turn blew my mind. They called my name, walked me to the doctor's office, he looked at me and asked me "what's wrong?", I told him my throat hurts, he put his fingers on the sides of my neck and pressed, he asked if this hurt, I said "yes", he said "okay, I know what's wrong". That was it. In less than five minutes he had assessed my health and then proceeded to write me a prescription for the medication I needed. I then walked to the front of the clinic where I gave them my prescription and they gave me my medication. Do you want to know how much the entire visit, including medication, cost me? It cost 500 NTD. That's lest than 20 dollars US. If I had been a citizen, it would have been more like 10 dollars US. IT IS LEGITMITALY INSANE. I got better right quick.
Side note: The medication I got was this big string of packets containing like six pills. I was ordered to take one packet of pills after every meal. I don't know what all of those drugs were, but they worked mighty fine.
One of my fellow exchangers recently spake of the emotional rollercoaster of a rotary exchange year, I like to think of it as a rollercoaster of emoticons.
Here is my rollercoaster of emoticons: