Sunday, 28 February 2010

#59: Argh! It Burns!

One of the greatest things I love about Asia is that for all its zaniness, there is the sense of application of common sense in all the appropriate places. In Britain and America, they'll tell you the coffee you just bought is hot because they don't want to be sued when you burn your tongue drinking it. In Asia, they'll tell you the coffee you just bought is hot because the coffee you just bought is hot.

I just spent most of tonight surrounded by an obscene amount of barely-controlled pyrotechnics while they were purposely being fired into our direction. I wasn't alone though, I was with thousands of other like-minded-crazy-people, it was an incredible experience, the Yenshui Beehive Fireworks Festival really is something unique! Of course amongst the pops, there were sounds of ambulances throughout the night, yet I could say with 90% certainty that no talk of lawsuits would ever occur.

When I decided to take part in this event I (kinda) had an idea of what I was getting into, I didn't have to sign any forms, I was aware of the risks, as was everyone else. They're shooting freakin' rockets into the crowds, you just don't get to do this with a whole town in the UK!

Saturday, 27 February 2010

#58: Savvy?

There are so many ideas on this side of Asia well worth bringing over to Blighty - in Japan you have your izzykayas, the in-city onsens, the platform noodle houses. In Taiwan there are the soya-milk breakfast stores, all the different food stands, the concept of the ice-cream-meat-wrap.

And of course, there are the KTV booths. Oz made a good go of it, but I still haven't seen one done quite as grand as China, quite as up-to-date as Japan, quite as friendly as Korea, or quite as amazingly clean as Taiwan.

All I need is someone with a lot of business sense, a lot of a money, a lot of trust and we can get some balls rolling!

Figuratively, that is.

Friday, 26 February 2010

#57: It Finally Comes To This.

It had to happen, I'm actually surprised that it took over 50 posts to get here. On the 57th day of attempting to write at least one line a day on my blog. I actually have nothing to write about for today.

Apart from that I have nothing to write about... wait, thats something to write about isn't it? we're getting meta...

I'm sure there will be more days in future like this. This would be the first one.

Thursday, 25 February 2010

#56: Location Location Location

I'm an intermittent gym-goer, when I do find myself in there - I'll be doing a 90minute workout minimum each time, even when I only intend to go for 30minutes it doesn't feel right if I leave straight after that initial run.

I just need to actually get myself in the gym first.

Wednesday, 24 February 2010

#55: ToDo Lists

How is it that, for someone who once procrastinated an entire year away - I now find myself coming outta my ears with things that I wanna do?

Even weirder is that I know I'm gonna achieve everything that I say I'm gonna do - impossible has vacated the lexicon people, it's all just a matter of time. Get outta my way! I have places to be goddammit.

Tuesday, 23 February 2010

#54: Single-Handedly Keeping Me Alive For Over 4yrs.

In both Japan and Taiwan, everybody I work with always comments on the fact that I only seem to eat the 7-11 riceballs for lunch everyday. It's not healthy they say, I need to eat something more balanced, more fresh - like congee, wonton noodles, lunchbox places, fried tofu stalls, soup stands etc.

In the end though, while I do goto those other places, it comes down to a matter of time and convenience. These riceball/triangle things I love so much, they have rice, they have some veggy, they have fish, they have meat and they can be bought and eaten in under 5minutes, which is all the time I have free when I'm working.

Out of work, I'll eat everything, lordy knows I'll eat it all! But these riceballs? They're a damn sight healthier and more filling than any kinda snacky foods I ever had when I was in England. (^^)

Monday, 22 February 2010

#53: No Wonder Its So Minimalist, They Can't Afford Anything Else.

In what is becoming an almost mandatory custom everytime Ken Gor and I get together in a different country, we went to KTV on his last night.

The man expressed something thats been bugging me since the very first time I saw music videos:
How the hell do these kids afford these incredibly stylish places in the middle of nowhere?!

...more importantly - how do they keep everything so clean and white?!

Sunday, 21 February 2010

#52: Steamrolling.

There's a very definite fundamental difference in those who're always working and wishing for more, and those who actually get and have more. It's nothing new, in fact its an age-old observation, but since this is my blog, it's for me. So nyah.

When faced with any kinda ambition/objective/goal/problem/task/idea/concept, in fact, anything at all - there are those who will note the limitations, figure out whats achievable, what not, and keep to that scope. Nothing wrong with that, its how 95% of the world operates, see what you can do, do what you can.

Then there are those who see the world in a different way - the ones who don't actually see boundaries, just another obstacle to negotiate in order to achieve the target. For these people there literally are no limits. I think we call them pioneers.

Adapt yourself to the world around you, or change your world. Which way would you wanna live?

Saturday, 20 February 2010

#51: The Click.

I have this concept that I only ever drive as fast as I can see - the further down the road I can see, the faster I can drive. So when the only thing you can see are the 5metres of road that your headlights illuminate, you don't go very quickly at all. Probably a good idea with all the landslides that had occured all along Route 7, there were a lot.

And the rain came down even heavier.

The click came at the point where I came up behind this convoy of 4x4's, they weren't exactly moving like snails, but slow enough for me to start noticing just how heavy the raindrops were. Using their headlights to see ahead, I overtook each of them, gaining confidence with each pass. When I reached the first car I slowed down again, since I couldn't see. Then in the distance I saw some brake lights. By following the directions of the lights in the distance I was able to tell the layout of the road ahead.

I never get tired of listening to third and fourth gears on The Grandpa now.

By the time I got to Yilan, everything was soaked. It was 9pm. I was 89km from Taipei. Traffic was nuts from CNY. The rain was heavier than ever, you could swim in the streets.

The queue to get onto Route 9 into Taipei was crazy, but then again, I was on a bike. Spotting a Scooby up ahead with some nice, bright xenons I pulled up behind to get in on his illuminating action. And then the bastard started speeding up.

It was here that I found the road that my mechanic friend had tuned The Grandpa for. Not wanting to lose my newfound deluxe torch - I kept up pace with the Scooby, and found that I could keep up pace with a Scooby, on a mountain road, in a downpour, at night. Well kinda, his xenons were pretty damn bright.

That last 80km was the most intense rush I've had in a long time. Maybe even better than bungee jumping in Macau, definitely much longer lasting.

I was back in Taipei by 10:30pm. My trip meter read 957km. I'd been riding for 15hours.

Friday, 19 February 2010

#50: A No Brainer.

Those who know me well enough, know that I tend to think in very straight lines - I could either keep going forward and end up in Taichung, I could turn back and ride 4hours back to Hualien. Both choices would get me back to civilisation by dinnertime and I could easily get a room for the night and ride back to Taipei in the morning.

Those who know me well enough, also know that I absolutely hate giving up on a plan worth doing. If you're gonna do anything worth doing, then you gotta do it right. Right?

By the time I reached Route 7 - the water that had seeped into my gloves from riding in the mist of the clouds had reached an equilibrium with my hands. Not quite as cold as the outside temperature, but not quite as warm as my body ought to be. Still, the rain had eased up, and I realised that I was turning corners quite a bit faster than I had been a few hours earlier. I'd been riding continuously for so long I'd reached that point were I knew my bike absolutely without knowing it.

I knew the balance, I knew the engine pitches, I knew the torque at different gradients and most importantly, I knew the grip limits, on these new tires, in this rain, with this semi-tuned engine.

The light was getting dark, and there are no street lights in the mountain roads.

The rain was getting heavier again.

What else could I do?

I picked up the pace.

Thursday, 18 February 2010

#49: In Valley Of The Clouds.

If you've ever seen those classical Chinese paintings of mountain ranges high up amongst clouds that drape themselves around them like milky scarves in a stone forest, then you have a good idea of what Taroko Gorge looks like. I'm not talking about the beginning few km's with all the temples and coaches, keep going further in where the coaches can't tread and you'll enter a whole different timescape. I kept expecting to see swordsmen in flowing robes flying through the trees.

What I'd forgotten about the on the map was that at a glance, the road through the Gorge was just a windy mountain road into the centerline of Taiwan. The reality is that its actually a really REALLY REALLY windy mountain road into the centerline of Taiwan, and it just goes up, and up, and up, and up.

At around 1600m above sea-level I finally dug out my trusty gps and checked out exactly where I was on my phone. I was exactly halfway through the Gorge, it was approaching 4pm, and the rain was getting heavier.

I was a good 2hours from Route 7, the road that would take me back up northwards. Then I looked again, Route 7 doesn't actually go back up to Taipei. Between the other other end of the Gorge and Taipei, there are some more mountains, Route 7 goes out towards Yilan, where I would've been 2hours ago if I had stayed on Route 9 from Hualien.

And the rain was getting heavier.

Wednesday, 17 February 2010

#48: East to North.

Route 11 is an amazing road, it runs along the south-east coast of Taiwan and has enough sweeps and turns to entertain the drivers, and plenty of scenic spots for err, everyone else. The sun lasted just long enough for me to get some pics in before the first few drops started painting the roads and my weakness of riding in the rain slowed me down to a crawl.

I'd reached Hualien by 11am, the rain was really bawling down and so I decided to wait it out in a cafe, give my waterproofs a chance to reconsider their intended purpose in this life.

By 12:30pm, I'd regained the feeling in my left bumcheek and the sun was teasing just enough to chance setting off again. The original plan was to just take Route 9 back into Taipei through Yilan and be home by 6pm, no problem.

Then I saw the sign to Taroko Gorge.

From a map I'd briefly glanced at, I vaguely remembered a road that headed back north from the middle of the Gorge. Memories of waking up a little disappointed from sleeping through an earlier trip into the Gorge fresh in my mind I decided it shouldn't be too much of a detour to have a short blast into that big hole and then back out again. After all, I wasn't in any kind of rush.

So I stopped at the last petrol station for over 100km, brimmed it, and headed down Route 8.


Tuesday, 16 February 2010

#47: North to East.

We set off on Sunday night at around 10pm from Taipei and did a night ride down to Su-ao where we camped just behind a military gate, there were many territorial stray dogs around so we were well protected. We woke around 5am and hammered it down Route 9 pass Hualien through the middle of Taiwan and stopped in the town of ChiShang just before sun down and set up camp again in front of a pretty nice lake.

Before we'd started the journey, I zero'd my trip counter. At the lake, the end of the first full day of riding, it was reading 357km.

It was another early start the next morning where we again woke at 5am and knocked out the last 50km into Taidong. My friends caught the 7:30am ferry to Green Island, and I woulda loved to have gone with them, but it wouldn't have been right to go without someone there.

At 7:30am, with my trip counter reading just over 400km, I turned The Grandpa around and set off northbound along Route 11. It was sunny.

Monday, 15 February 2010

#46: Gripping Limits

When riding the mountain roads of Taiwan, there are now two constant thoughts that interplay in my mind:

(i) I wonder if this would be more or less fun than if I was in a car...
(ii) Let's find out just how fast I dare take this next corner...

Then I realise, it's horses for courses. In the rain, in the hairpins, in the mid-speed turns, in the forest routes I'd take the car. In the sweeps, in the sun, in traffic, in the cliff-side passes I'd take the bike.

Soup or salad? Both! Always order both!

Sunday, 14 February 2010

#45: This Is For... Err... You. No Really.

I'm not a very good present giver, or at least I'm not a good present giver if the person expects to get something that they'll actually want. My mind tends to go through two questions when I'm considering what kinda gift to get a person..: "What do they like to do?" and then: "What's the last thing they would expect to get?"

In the case of loved ones who I'll see more frequently, there's also the third consideration: "What would be fun for them, but actually will also be fun for me as well?".

After all, didn't some wise bloke once say, "If you give love away, it will come right back at you?". Nothing wrong with encouraging that karmic wave. (^^)

Saturday, 13 February 2010

#44: The City Is Mine

Walking around Taipei during Chinese New Year is like walking around Taipei at 4am, only with daylight.

What is it about seeing a major city almost completely vacated that makes it so haunting/calming/eery/peaceful/effecting?

For some reason it reminds me of summers in the park next to our old house in New Malden. Ahh, blue skies and white clouds.

Friday, 12 February 2010

#43: *coughettes*

I've currently got the most annoying cough in the world. Actually, I don't even think they deserve to be called full-grown coughs. It's somewhere between a cough and a splutter, closer to a choke.

I can keep it at bay by constantly having some kinda boiled sweet in my mouth, but goddamn doesn't it come back with a vengeance when I run through the whole pack. It's like a lil gremlin living in my throat. A wimpy, little brat of a gremlin that I wouldn't even mind if I actually had some phegm to cough up and make the coughs seem like they're serving some kinda purpose. But my throat is perfectly fine and operational in the few seconds when I'm not spluttering/choking around.

Maybe I should stop walking around naked in my apartment.

Thursday, 11 February 2010

#42: The Answer.

My American Aunt Jenny (as opposed to my English Aunt Jenny, not to be confused with my HK Aunt Ginny), once showed me this thing where if you hold your hand flat and closed your fingers together - how big the gaps between the fingers were represents your capability of saving [ie. holding on to] money.

I have really bony fingers.

Wednesday, 10 February 2010

#41: Squeeze It! Squeeze It Hard!

They do this "Essence of Chicken" thing at 7-11, you can get some with added ginger too. It looks and smells like somebody just wringed the juices out of a chicken but goddamn does it work wonders for colds!

Tuesday, 9 February 2010

#40: Ahh Symantics, Perspectives, Metaphysics.

Nine times outta ten, most people would probably say that they wish they could have total freedom. But when given such freedom for real - be it winning the lottery, absolvement of responsibility, retirement etc. - nine outta ten of those people would probably find themselves at a loss as to the next step.

A student I once taught in Japan was a successfully retired businessman, 59yrs old and horny in that way only randy old men could ever get away with. He told me that pretty much most of his old buddies all died within the first few years after retirement. Probably outta boredom, there's only so much golf a soul can take.

A blank slate is just that, a whole buncha nothingness with nowhere to go. So when we say we want freedom, what we really mean is we want the freedom to define our own boundaries, and even then - most of us would require some perspective to figure out just what the limitations of those boundaries themselves are. The strong in mind are really just those who already know what they wanna do, they've already set their own path.

If you're ever lucky enough to get your own sense of "freedom" in your mailbox. Make sure you open it with a plan. Coz it might just be the death of ya...

Monday, 8 February 2010

#39: The Win/Win.

You'll love the good students coz they're hilarious to teach, they do the work, they never give you any trouble.

You'll [eventually] love the bad students coz you work that much harder at getting through to them, there's that whole process of finding the middle ground, the tangible measure of mutual respect coming from survival of battles well-fought.

It's foolproof! What could go wrong?!

Sunday, 7 February 2010

#38: The Value Of Nothingness.

My secondary school RE teacher once said something that had an unexpectedly profound effect on my life when I was younger. He also had a nack for steering any particular discussion of the week towards that of pornography, but thats neither here nor there.

Anyways, he once told us that, "Only boring people get bored."

I took that to heart, since then I've been absolutely determined to never be bored. Whether thats made me less boring to others or not is questionable at best, but the main thing is that in my own head, there's never an idle moment. The flip-side is that after years of constant self-stimu...*ahem*... self-MENTAL-stimulation is I now find it extremely hard to switch off.

Taipei does nothing to relieve this effect. I noted 6months after arriving in TP that it was amazing that every weekend - there's always something to do, people to see, somewhere to go. That is as true now, a year and a half later, as it was then. Crazy. This is Taipei, not even Tokyo matched this level of activity.

Which so leads me to my Sunday afternoons with The Marshmallow. Sometimes I'll go out hiking or go-karting, but on the days when I have nothing. We'll just hang out in the apartment, or goto the Starbucks down the road, and we'll do very little. We'll read a book, play a some DS, muck around with the laptop, watch some bewildering Chinese singing contests on TV. Yup, very little.

That damn RE teacher made it so that I always felt like I had to find something to do, something to think about. The Marshmallow reminds me to chill out, that its ok to slow down.

For that, I'm grateful.

Saturday, 6 February 2010

#37: In A World... Where One Man... Will Make A Difference...

Managed to keep this "At Least A Sentence A Day" thing going on just over a month now... and just browsing over previous entries, it looks like all those years in the video shop looking over the covers of 80's and 90's movie titles had quite a lasting effect.

They just don't name movies the way they used to.

Friday, 5 February 2010

#36: Mmmm... Smokey.

I was so tired after work today that I was halfway home before I realised I'd been riding while eating an apple at the same time. Evidently I don't need to use my rear brakes as much as I thought I did.

I remember wondering that this particular apple felt a bit more moist than normal...

Thursday, 4 February 2010

#35: Observations From Scootering Around Taipei.

Before Taipei, I had never ridden a motorbike before. In the past two years since I started riding around, I've come to learn a few things...

  • Yes, that gap is absolutely wide enough.

  • Rain, is an absolute bastard.

  • When riding in said-rain plus freezing conditions, the exhaust fumes of the bus/truck in front are a precious source of heat and warmth. Plus a great exercise in lung capacity.

  • Don't be fooled by that car who just indicated right, he's not going anywhere.

  • Don't be fooled by that car who's not indicating anything, he's either turning left, right, or just stopping in the middle of the damn road.

  • The average 125cc scooter, with its ability to simultaneously carry a family of five, the weekly groceries and the family dog, has just as much capacity as any standard full size people carrier, and with more headroom too.

  • There are no speed limits, only speed suggestions.

  • The baseball cap is only considered adequate head protection when used in conjunction with a plastic hard hat. Using either one by themselves is just plain dangerous.

  • When riding behind a local, watch out for flying cigarette butts.

  • When riding behind a coach, watch out for flying wing mirrors.

Wednesday, 3 February 2010

#34: Bleary Eyed And Belly Rubbing.

Time to pack away that winter insulation! In preparation for the next intended mountain climb... I'll be heading back to the gym... tomorrow... maybe.

Two resolutions down, the third one is gonna take a lil longer.

Tuesday, 2 February 2010

#33: You Make It What It Is.

The pump attendant at the petrol station missed the mark today, twice. I'd never seen that before, this dude with the bad orange/red dye job had just one job to do - and he failed, twice. I used to play a little game with myself back when I still had a car - I used to keep my hand on the pump and try to release the lever right on the £20:00 mark, if I'd miss I'd go for the next 10p, and then the next, and then the next...

Anything to not have to deal with loose pennies in the pocket.

Either way, the perfectionist in me hates half-arsing jobs. If you're gonna do anything worth doing - then do it right. A job that makes you money is always something worth doing, even if it is the most mundane job. At Starbucks I tried to make sure every coffee I made look good, to the point where customers would come back and specifically request me to make their cappuccinos. I took great pride in that.

Lazy to the point of total apathy, yet fastidiousness to the point of utter myopia. You see how my train of thought works?

Monday, 1 February 2010

#32: If It Was Easy, Everybody Would Be Doing It.

Riding the coach back from FancyWorld theme park (*snigger*) to Taipei, I was watching Burn Notice on my netbook when I noticed the movie they were playing on the coach itself looked pretty interesting. Since it was a Japanese movie with Chinese subtitles - my understanding of what was happening only went so far.

So I paused my video, bluetoothed the netbook to the phone in my bag under my legs and used the gprs on the phone to google the movie synopsis through the netbook. When I finished reading, I replied a sms, disconnected the phone and continued watching Burn Notice without ever touching the phone itself.

I realise that nowadays, the average hipster could do all that with just their newfangled iPhones... but the nerd in me relishes that I did it at 80mph in the middle of a motorway surrounded by a bunch of sleeping/carsick Taiwanese people, and I did it with my Dad's old k810i. I also knew exactly how fast the coach was speeding at coz I had my even-ancienter TomTom gps going on at the same time as well.

Actually... technically speaking, I coulda done all that with the k810i alone too.
But that'd just be showing off.