Kaohsiung Misadventures

Trip Start Sep 17, 2011
Trip End Jul 19, 2013

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Saturday, September 24, 2011

Karaoke On the Road

My first weekend was spent in quasi-work mode as the whole school, kids and parents both, went road-tripping to Kaohsiung.  Though it'd only been a few days I was already growing a little restless with Jhunan's teensy size and was excited to experience big city life here for the first time.  Kaohsiung sits near the southern tip of the country and is home to a major port and about 3 million people.  It's also a bastion of the main opposition party in government who are hardcore pro-Taiwan independence.

Early Saturday morning we all met at the school and boarded a big tour bus Boss Beth had chartered for the trip.  All my fellow teachers were there, as well as two high school exchange students from Alaska and I think Denmark who were being hosted by the parents of apparently infamously-naughty twins in nearby Hsinchu.  I wound up next to one of the HS students and behind most of the buxiban kids. 

The bus got underway.  I tried to fall back asleep - 7am is rough on a Saturday after all - but I failed and the activation of the bus's karaoke machine sealed my sleeplessness.  Sitting right in front of a dozen elementary kids singing along to Mandarin pop for 3 hours had its kicks.  One song that stuck out:

Party Boy
"[Chinesechinesechinese lyrics, then:]"
Randomly English chorus:
"Hey Party Boy.  Oh Party Boy.  You're my Party Boy.  Oh, oh Party Boy.

Luckily they didn't try too hard to hand me the mic. 

The landscape got old after the first hour or two.  The rolling green hills of inner Taiwan gradually flattened away as we went further south, leaving only the grim concrete of apartment blocks and factories for scenery punctuated by some rice fields.  The Alaskan girl and I chatted on and off to pass the time.  She'd recently arrived here as well and if I remember right had never left North America until now.  Jhunan was already one of the bigger culture shocks I'd experienced so I couldn't imagine what was going through her mind.  Toward the end of the drive I finally dozed off and when I woke up we were cruising through the city.

Americano Authentico

We passed blocks upon blocks of grey buildings and faded billboards before arriving at our lunch stop, Teresa's Spanish & Latin American Cuisine.  After four days I still hadn't eaten a really good sit-down Chinese meal, having only stopped at street carts, the dumpling house or FamilyMart for food to save money, but... okay, the local touristy rendition of Mexican food would work too.  The picture menu on the outside was certainly interesting, who knew "Espaghettis in Meat Sauce" was a Latino dish?  The families sat at one table while we all sat down around another, both covered in wildly general North & South American decor. Most of the school staff were shy and couldn't speak much English so I spent most of the meal chatting with Josh, Ros, Ned & Carrie.  One by one the dishes came out: "Spanish dumplings" (empanadas,) cabbage beef rolls, fried chicken & sausage, spaghetti & meat balls, pico de gallo for dipping and a surprisingly decent quesadilla.  It was all tasty if just a bit off and mismatched.  

After the feast everyone donned sombreros and crowded around a photo area for the obligatory group picture.  I did what all the cool kids were doing and threw up a V-sign.  7,000 miles to go from Hispanic-majority LA to another people's whack interpretation of the same; all I wanted now was a burrito from El Chato at Olympic & La Brea.  That said, I'm sure a 台灣人 would be pretty horrified by visit to say, Panda Express, as we all should be.

The rest of day included some interesting sights.  We saw the Lotus Pond area in Zuoying, a large inner city lake ringed by pagodas of varying shape and size.  I also got my first taste of a major Taiwanese night market at Rueifong in a packed park by a sports arena.  We didn't really walk through this market as much as we were moved along by the absolutely ridiculous crowding inside.  I bought some tasty onion chicken bun but that was about it, my mob-fighting skills weren't sharp enough yet to muster anything else.

Going Rogue

Hungry for a more spacious sit-down meal, I left the group briefly to check out one of the little eateries just outside the market park.  At this point I knew about five Mandarin words for meats and foods, surely they'd sell at least one of them.  I also didn't yet know Kaohsiung generally speaks the mutually-unintelligible Taiwanese, NOT Mandarin, but my tones weren't good enough for it to matter anyway. 

Walking into the restaurant I was immediately confused.  It was a small greasy spoon with rows of tables and families chowing down and a small serving window in the wall for kitchen access, but unless I was blind there were no menus anywhere.  There was a small cabinet of ready made side dishes next to the window but that was it.  Surely those weren't the entres?  I waited a couple dozen seconds to be seated, wasn't, got a few puzzled stares from the other patrons and just sat down wherever.  Now the serving staff noticed me.  They shot me an extremely perplexed look bordering on dirty and did a double-take or two at each other.  I wasn't sure what was causing them confusion, but I guess maybe I wasn't supposed to sit down?  Or they didn't know why I sat before ordering anything?  I wasn't sure. 

None of the ladies approached me, they just stared.  I took what I thought was the hint and got up to approach the window.  It didn't really clear things up but:

"Jiro Tang?" ("Chicken soup?"), I meekly asked.


One of the waitresses nearby must've understood though and came to the rescue.  About a minute later, a very spartan takeaway bowl of broth, about two mushrooms and maybe four floating boney chicken parts appeared.  I took what I could get.  'Shoulda stocked up on night market snacks, lesson learned.


By day Kaohsiung was a grim colorless set piece from 1984.  After the sun went down it completely transformed.  Epileptic blue lights trimmed every street landscaping, faded store
billboards now gleamed with color, even the inside of our tour bus took on a psychedelic LED edge.  Our final stop took us to the Love River promenade which I'd mistaken for a sewer storm drain when we crossed it during daylight.  Never judge a Taiwanese city by what it looks like before dinner. 

During our walk along the river I felt a creepy tap on my shoulder.  A tall young man with huge teeth and glasses, either a teenager or a very young looking TA or family relative was tailgating me.  I'd later find out that this was Peter, one of my future students, and he probably wasn't older than 14/15.  He skipped all the usual icebreakers and got right to the point:

"If the zombies took all your food would you eat your friends or the zombies?  Okay well now what if your friend becomes a zombie?"

For the next I don't know how long he grilled me for zombie apocalypse survival skills.  It was like a verbal D&D match.  I'd give him one solution and he'd reply with increasingly silly hypotheticals.  Back on Foreigner Night, Phil the teacher from another school commented re: Mr. Drunken Guy that "it's sad but this is the most I've ever talked to a Taiwanese male."  Apparently they were a reclusive bunch, but Peter was very outgoing and his English was amazing for his age.  Eventually though his relentless zombie quiz reached a point of absurdity and one of the eavesdropping TA's intervened and told him what I guess was "stop bothering the foreigner."  Shame.  Peter hopped over to another victim and resumed planning for battle.

Peter would keep asking me about zombies on the way in and out of every class I had with him til the end of the year.

Google Mandarin Lesson of the Day:
高 "Gao/Kaoh"= High
雄 "Siung/Xiong" = Male 
高雄 "Kaohsiung" = High Male??

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