Thursday, December 22, 2005

Home on the Range

I've been back at my parents house here in Coaldale Alberta for a couple days now, and the initial culture shock is wearing off a bit. That being said, I am looking at the drab little town where I grew up in with different eyes.

Inane observations from Canada and the west central plains of Alberta follow:

- Canada is quite cold. Really. It was -15 degrees Celsius when I landed in Calgary, and my rain coat didn't quite cut it. Here in southern Alberta though the Chinook has arrived, and temperature is a balmy 8 degrees. But, though I think that my body has largely acclimatized to the sub-tropical climate of Taiwan, it has not been too uncomfortable here.

- The streets of Canada are HUGE and empty. What's everyone doing, working?

- Canadians really look Canadian. Though I'm mostly referring to fashion, I've also noticed that a lot of people have really round Canadian heads. Ha. Hockey guys belong to a well defined and unique Canadian subculture that, though they would be loath to admit, widely identifies itself through style of dress, and the way they walk and hold themselves. As well, the subculture that I might belong to is most easily identified by the beard, and also by wearing flannel in the winter. I think the first thing that I said to Tom and Kev when they picked me up at Calgary International was "Wow, you guys really look Canadian."

- Although they might deny it, Canadians really do have a Canadian accent. You know when Americans say that Canadians say "a boat" instead of "about"? That one really pisses off some Canadians. But I've got some bad news... Canadians really do say something that sounds like "a boat". Other head snappers for me include every time someone says "there", which comes out as a subtle "der", and "for", which is clearly pronounced "fer" (even in Vancouver). Previously, I remember thinking that the accent was a Maritime thing. The accent is heavier in the Maritimes, but it is defiantly spoken to different degrees in the west as well.

Don't misunderstand me, I'm not dim enough to claim that I don't have an accent, or to claim that an accent is anything but a subtle (though salient) difference in pronounciation observed by two people with different backgrounds. I'm saying that after listening to people from all over the world speak English with all their various accents for years now, two things have occurred. One is that subtleties in annunciation have become very pronounced to my ear. Speaking slow and deliberate English for countless hours in my classes has also contributed to my own accent becoming Internationalized or Americanized to an extent.

- Canadians are really really friendly, but still quite socially aggressive (especially compared to the Taiwanese).

After I landed at Vancouver International I had to go through immigration. There were two lineups, one labeled "Canadian Residents" and one labeled "Visitors". I lined up and eventually handed my passport over to a particularly Canadian looking immigration officer (with a very round head and really short gelled hair spiked up in the front). He asked a couple of questions about the value of the gifts I was bringing into Canada, and as he handed me back my passport, he asked,

"Are you living overseas sir?"

I told him that yes, I was living in Taiwan, to which he told me that I should have lined up in the visitors line.

I said "Really?" because I was honestly surprised and amused.

"Yeah, you should know that by now - you've been home like what, three times now?"


"Actually this is the first time I've been home."

"The first time in three years?"

"Actually the first time in two years and three months..."

Wow, that must have really been bothering him that I lined up in the wrong line.

Later when I finally boarded my flight to Calgary, I put all four of my carry on bags in the overhead compartment and went to sit down in my window seat. Two people had to stand up and let me through, as I was one of the last people to board the jet. To my embarrassment I soon realized I had left my camera in the overhead. Having planned to take some pictures over the Rocky Mountains, I said to the woman beside me in the most polite tone possible, "I'm really sorry, I left something in the overhead that I need to get." She didn't like that, and she felt that she needed to make that clear to me through a series of vocalizations and deliberate movements which would be categorized as "very annoyed". In Taiwan, the reaction to such a request would be something like "no problem, no problem, no problem", peppered with a lot of smiles and an apology to me for my apologizing.

That all being said, I am of course having a great time. I've already met many of my good friends, and I'm excited to meet the rest and hang out. Next week brings Christmas, winter camping, and the wedding. Nice.

Thursday, December 15, 2005

Takraw is really cool

I just got an old roll of film developed, and found these shots from about a year ago.

I saw these guys playing in Taipei on "Foreign Workers Day", some government sponered event where South East Asian workers got together for music and food and games.

Takraw originated in Malaysia hundreds of years ago, but the modern form was developed more recently. Played on a badminton like court, the rules are similar to volleyball, except you can't use your hands. Players can hit the ball up to three times, the final hit often being a spectacular spike for which the player does a crazy flying flip thing. The above picture is actually this guy's serve. He was good.

It's kind of like hacky sack, only for really light, athletic, and flexible people.

Sunday, December 11, 2005

Dou Jiang

Oh boy. I have quite a bit of stuff that I need to pack up and bring home. The most inconvenient thing is my sitar, which is again proving itself to be a white elephant. I've got a lot of other stuff as well, and I can only check two pieces of luggage of course. I think I need to find a big box to pack the sitar case and my appliances in.

Appliances you say? Yup. As many of you now know, I have recently become the proud owner of a Dou Jiang Ji. Every morning now I pour beans and water in and press the button. Twenty minutes later I sit sippin' on a big mug of sweet piping hot natural Dou Jiang. I never liked the soy milk sold in Canada much, because they try too hard to make it like milk. It's not milk; it's milk-like bean juice. You can buy dou jiang from any breakfast shop in Taiwan for about 35 cents a cup. Choose hot, warm, or cold, but it's always sweet. I got hooked, and look what happened. Aiyo.

So, this baby will make a liter and a half of soy milk from about a cup of soy beans (soaked over night). You can also use the machine to make rice milk or almond milk. Tomorrow I'm going to try adding a few almonds to the usual. From the soy milk you can of course make dou fu and dou hua. I think they market dou hua as "dessert tofu" in the supermarkets in Canada. In Taiwan though the dou hua itself is not sweet at all, but is instead served with a sweep soup made of red sugar and ginger. Iced in the summer and hot in the winter.

Well, that's my story for today.

Busy Busy

Nothing much to write about recently. I guess I'm just preparing for the trip. Actually, right now I'm relaxing with some OoLong tea on Sunday afternoon, but I should be preparing.

Winter has finally come to Ilan. Last Sunday the temperature actually dropped to 10 C. It was freakin' cold (there is no central heating in these parts). That day I went bicycling with two Slovenian friends down the coast highway to NanAo, about 50 Km south of here. The wind was pretty fierce and as I cycled I reminisced about the wind back in Lethbridge. Boy, it really is windy there... Yup. Anyway we went to NanAo because I have never cycled the coast highway, and also because I spotted some hot springs in the mountains behind NanAo on the topo maps. The springs turned out to be a little disappointing (there are better natural springs nearby), but the ride was really nice.

The highway is cut into the 800 meter mountains that drop straight into the Pacific. Check out the two pictures above for a view from the highway looking down into DongAo, and a view from NanAo looking back at the highway. You can see the road there cut into the mountain about two thirds of the way up. (Please note that those two pictures were taken on a hot clear fall day in September, and last weekend was cold, windy, and grey)

You can see from this pic that the springs were "over developed". This is to say that some well meaning Taiwanese folks decided that they could improve these springs by building concrete pools, or pits, as I would call them. Though located in a beautiful unpopulated valley, you could only see the sky while sitting in the pits.

The springs were in this little valley, which was covered in these monsterous metamorphic boulders. Very uncharacteristic the valleys here.

Finally, here is a... flower. I would say it is a type of orchid, but I really have no idea.

Fortunately those first few days of cold last week were dry, but now the omnipresent winter drizzle has begun. Thankfully though the temperature came back up to 15. I figure this weather is good, because it will help me acclimatize to the Alberta winter. It's not that much colder there, right?

Wednesday, December 07, 2005

Beautiful Ilan County

This picture typifies Ilan county for me... rice paddies, canals and mountains.

Monday, December 05, 2005

My Christmas List

Here it is. My list of Christmas wishes, at least one of which I hope comes true.

After reading this I'm sure you'll wish you never asked.

Here now in order of.... wanting.

A Hennessy Hammock - The Explorer Deluxe Asym

Oh so sweet. The answer to my Southeast Asian and South American traveling dreams.

Sooo convenient. Sooo light. Sooo small. Sooo comfortable (I hope). Sooo sweet.

It's available in MEC and other outdoor stores, running something like 130 to 180 CDN. I need this model (Explorer Deluxe Asym) because I am over 6 foot.

Hennesy Hammocks


I'm heading into Asia proper soon, and I'm not taking any shoes. Shoes are too heavy, and Asia is too hot for them anyway. I traveled in India for 5 months and never put on shoes once (alright there was a few times where I used them for hiking in the mountains). I wore a pair of sandals everyday for five months in India and Malaysia that I bought for 3 ringgit (about one dollar CDN) in Kuala Lumpur, but you really can't hike in those. I want a nice pair of sandals. Hiking sandals? You know, rugged and comfortable and most likely expensive. Toe protection would be good to. Check out models from Keen (
Newport or Hood River, or the Chaco Z2 Colorado.


I really need bicycle panniers, but I won' tell you why. Used is ok!

A Backpack

I've got this one black MEC bookbag that I used in India but then I put it on this gas container in the front of a bus and some thick black gunk got on it and then the gunk ate through the nylon on the bag and then it ate through the cotton of the shirt on my bag. Shoot. It's looks kind of ratty, and besides it's likely headed for a catastrophic structural failure.

I want the MEC Vento Daypack (Long, not standard size). It's made in Vietnam! I want sage and blue. Gimme Gimme Gimme. Thanks.

MEC Vento DayPack

A Water Purifier

The worst thing about backpacking is drinking bottled water. Well the water is pretty good, but the hundreds of plastic bottles are not cool (3 big bottles a day).

The MSR MIOX Purifier is the perfect answer. It uses rock salt, an anode, and two AA batteries to create chlorine which you can use to purify your water. It's 99 grams. Nice.

MSR MIOX Purifier


I lost my sunglasses. I promise I won't lose them again if you buy me a new pair.


Artist: Ustad Shujaat Khan. Title: Lajo Lajo. Year: 1995.

This is a beautiful CD. You'll definitely have to order it online. Look and listen here:

Ustad Shujaat Khan - Music India OnLine


I have two books here that I am saving to travel with. I will use them to trade for new books, so I won't carry any more. Don't buy me any books. Well, if you are dying to buy me this one book that you really really think I need to read, go for it.


They cost a quarter the price here in Taiwan as they do in Canada, and it only gets cheaper across the way. Don't bother. Oh, except those cool pants that turn into shorts. Those are cool, and I wore mine out. My waist size is 32".

Ok there it is. Thanks. Have fun.

買買買。 Buy buy buy.

Or, check out these folks.

Buy Nothing Christmas

Gotta love those Mennonites...

Saturday, December 03, 2005

Stereo Photo

You may have seen Tom's stereo photos on his blog... and this photo will probably only benefit him. An early wedding present. Ha. If you don't know how to do it, check his blog for instructions...

These two pictures are not the same. I took one and then moved half a meter to the right for the other. Your brain will combine the images, and the difference in perspective will create the illusion of 3D.

I can say it involves going cross eyed, or wall eyed (focusing on a point in front of or behind the picture) and then focusing on the middle image (one of the three you will see) without changing where your eyes are pointed. You need to uncouple the focusing muscles and the muscles that direct your eyes.

In the end you will see three images, the middle image being a combination of the two. If you've got it, it will be in 3D! It's the same effect as those little Disney 3D photo viewers.

Maybe practice on the small version above (you won't have to "pull" so hard on your eyes). If you can do it, click on the image and try the full size.

These two photos are arranged for the cross eyed approach. If one does protest, I can post the wall eyed version (or you can use photoshop and switch them yourself).