Shake It Down South, Baby

Last night, while vegging in front of the TV, I experienced a few shake-ups, and then a few more. TV news reported a few earthquakes in the southern Taiwan province of PinDong, and we were feeling the rumbles of that. In total, 7 last night (and wee hours of the morning), and 3 more this morning (which I completely missed).

Living on the Pacific Ring of Fire is great fun.


Like many people, I'm allergic to wool. That is, when my skin comes in contact with wool, it itches like mad. No hives or anything, just crazy itching and general unmerriment. One particular statement came out of a discussion with my brother about this.

People who are allergic to wool ... can't do sheep.

Yeah, go think on that while enjoying your Boxing Day.

Gift Exchange

Merry Christmas to you all!

So, another Christmas comes and I hold my second Christmas party in Taiwan, with a good turnout of close friends. And, again for the second time, we have a little gift exchange.

I think everyone pretty much follows the white elephant gift exchange rules, but somehow, everyone has little variances. I set the price limit to $200NT ($6US), and everyone had to wrap it in plain white paper -- like the backside of office paper, or whatever -- to avoid clues based on wrapping paper patterns.

I remember back in Vancouver, we'd have a gift exchange and over the years, it grew to some 20+ people. Tons of fun! The price limit was something like $10/$15CAD, plus tax. But the first 15 minutes was always arguing about the rules of the game:

How many times can a gift be stolen in a round? In total?
When do you open the gifts: as you choose it, or all at the end?

And there was always one or two people who would want to add another exciting dimension to the game, hoping to liven it up a bit, by introducing some kind of rule that pretty much required everyone present to have a masters degree in mathematics.

So you. What rules do you generally follow when you do a gift exchange? Or do you just do a Secret Santa kind of thing?

Pee and Poo

Merry Christmas! Three questions we should all have immediate answers to.

1. If you just started showering, and suddenly had to pee, what do you do?
a. Just pee. (Specify any particular techniques or methods.)
b. Hold it.
c. Stand in the shower, but aim for the toilet.

2. If you're on the toilet, and all done your doodies, which way do you wipe?
a. Hand outside around the back ("wallet from your backpocket" route).
b. Hand down between legs to the back (a la "Marilyn Monroe in the gust of wind").
c. I don't wipe; that's the job of my thong underwear.

3. If you're in a public toilet stall spitting logs, and someone comes in just as you're about to drop another deuce, do you ...
a. Pause, and hold it mid-drop.
b. Drop it anyway; who cares, it's a bathroom.
c. Drop it, but let out a loud cough to mask the splash sound.

What, I'm just asking how you do it; not asking for a demonstration! So thank you for your time and candidness in answering, after you get over the initial disgust.

PS: I've filled in a bunch of entries between 12/10 and 12/15, in case you missed those.

Seeking More Friends

Yeah, I'm pretty hooked on Heroes, but it's pretty dark as a show. And though I've always been into Las Vegas, Monk, and Mythbusters, I'm now into Psych and Weeds.

But, there's still a genre of show missing: sitcoms.

Now that Friends and Frasier and Will&Grace are done, I'm looking for my next fix! I downloaded a few episodes of The Class (same writers as Friends), but it's pretty weak in the first few.

What sitcoms are popular now? What are you hooked on?

Sounds of Silence

Okay, here's something I've noticed since I was a little kid: when I'm in a dead silent room -- and I mean absolute plain silence -- I can still hear some kind of frequency in my head.

It's like ringing in my ears, but at a crazy-low level, sort of like sometimes when you can hear the TV whine in the right conditions. More importantly, the environment has to be completely silent to hear it; my room in Vancouver in the dead of night, for example.

I always thought it was kind of the "frequency" of nature, or the world just going along its quiet things. Kind of like how there's all that infrared (heat) energy that's basically everywhere. Or maybe it's just the frequency/sound of all the electric stuff that we use in today's society. I dunno.

Am I the only one who gets this??

Move Out the Way, B!tch

In Taipei, things happen, and some of them are bad so an ambulance comes down the street, sirens blaring. But here, the traffic is just not as considerate as other places I've lived; some people just don't seem to care about the emergencies of others.

They don't move out of the way, they don't even really slow down much. Heck, some even take the opportunity to drive faster as other vehicles clear the streets. And they try to make a run of it in front of the ambulance! WTF? Why would they want to hinder the rescue vehicle's path to potentially save an injured life??

Those people.

I hope one day they have to take a ride in an ambulance -- some crazy emergency -- and someone else blocks their way.

Holiday Weight

Bali is, for most tourists seeking tropical climates, all about spoiling the body.

Everyday has been buffet breakfasts, long car rides, sightseeing (which, let's face it, isn't really strenuous and doesn't burn much calories), more eating meals until we're stuffed, still interwoven with more riding in cars. This happens all the way until 9pm, after which we reward ourselves for such a testing day by soaking in the pool or jacuzzi and retiring early to bed.

I highly recommend this kind of itinerary if you want to put on 1.5 pounds of jiggly fat within 5 days. My body is so spoiled, it's practically rotten.

Spa ... uh ... for Men

5 days in Bali. 3 spas. 2 of them with body scrubs and rose petal baths. A total of 290 minutes of spoiling the body.

I suppose I could be metro.

But for the benefit of those of you who may not have had a spa before -- mostly guys, I'm guessing -- I'll give a rundown on these spa experiences. Actually, I'll recount them as a combination of all three together. And hopefully, it will save you the whatever-it-would-normally-cost-for-such-services.
- You walk in to a dimly lit, serene area. They serve you a quick refreshment: water, ginger tea, mixed fruit drink, something. Then you get something to change into: disposable underwear or some kind of loose spa-wear.
- You're asked to sit, and then you get some kind of scented foot soak while the masseuse scrubs your feet.
- I think in most places, you get to choose the oils / scents you like for later.
- Depending on your spa / massage package, you might get some kind of jacuzzi / steam room / sauna time.
- Then you lie face-down on the massage table, and they do a foot / shoulder / back massage. Usually, there's some kind of massage oil or lotion involved (or else you'd get chafed pretty fast.)
- After the massage (which is better if it's deep-tissue), you might get a scrub / exfoliation -- I got one that was lulur (Indonesian specialty), and one of avocado (ground avocado pits with coconut bits). Front and back.
- Then you shower all that stuff off.
- And you then get to soak in a rose petal bath for 20 minutes or so, and rinse.

So then you come out. Your muscles are loose. You feel relaxed. Your skin is really soft and smooth. You smell great. You're in a dreamy state, floating through the air.

And you know what you've become? A mosquito delicacy.

Deep in the Heart of the Amazon ...

Another long day.

Early wake-up, waited for the driver to pick us up at 8am.

First off, whitewater rafting in a completely different kind of expensive. That is ...
... in a boat that's been patched up more times than Jackie Chan's body,
... with lifejackets and helmets that don't fit quite properly,
... in a river that has the kind of turbulence of a large washing machine,
... and about as wide as the boat (meaning the raft rubs really often).

After that was lunch and then the obligatory waste-of-time trips through "artist galleries" which are nothing more than the tour's attempt to get kickbacks from tourist shopping purchases.

Finally, a two-hour Lulur spa in Kuta with lulur scrub and bath and all that stuff.

For now, I'm tired. Bye.

Ultimate Island

Tropical climate -- 30C+ in the dead of December. Beautiful beaches of smooth sands lending themselves to gorgeous sunrises and sunsets. Active volcanoes and fertile soils. Lush forests populating the rolling hills and rivers. They say Bali is the "ultimate island", and it really is.

My first trip ever south of the equator, and I have to say that it's a lovely little paradise, and cost of living isn't too high (for locals).

But much as Bali is a fantastic vacation destination, it's seriously lacking something: its own sustaining economy. This Indonesian island relies almost competely upon tourism -- selling admissions, trinkets and arts & crafts, hotel services, and related driver services and touristy needs. To me, it's a real shame, because I can see that over the next few decades, Bali's rich Hindu traditions and culture will probably be preserved only to the extent that money can be made from it (via tourists).

I think it's terrible for a locale to not have an ability to maintain its own lifestyle without an external influx of money to keep it going. They will always be subject to the "culture" and whims of vacationing tourists, and must in most ways cater to it. How can they keep their identity and traditions strong without letting it steep in the stench of holiday dollars?

Eat, Sleep, Tour

A long day. Woke up at 6:30am, breakfast buffet (with fresh waffles and everything), and our driver for the day picked us up at 8am. Itinerary and highlights/lowlights:

- Monkey Sanctuary (near Ubud). A park with free-roaming monkeys, where I was nearly raped by several monkeys for my bunch of bananas ... within two minutes of walking in.
- Goa Gajah, Elephant Cave. A site where Hindus and Buddhists both set up temples for meditation.
- Gunung Kawi, Royal Tomb. Rock carvings in the side of a mountain, and you have to sprinkle "holy water" (stagnant water in an open pot) before entering.
- Tirta Empul, Holy Spring Water Temple.
- Tegalalang. Gorgeous cascading rice terraces on the sides of mountains and valleys. Basically: stop the car, walk out, look around, snap photos, back in the car.
- Lunch at Ibu Oka, famed restaurant for their Babi Guling (spit-roasted pork). Now that's BBQing, baby! And at 15,000 rupiah ($2US) for the dish, totally awesome value.
- Tanah Lot, sea temple. The is the most photographed sea temple in Bali, and mainly because the sun sets directly behind most of the vantage points for some amazing photos.
- Dinner at Jimbaran Bay. Fresh seafood packed in ice: you pick it, they cook it. Dinner on the beach, though this was well after the sun had set.
- Jacuzzi at the Ritz. It closes at 11pm, but we have never seen anyone ever use it, so it's pretty much our private jacuzzi.

Pooped. Time to hit the sack for another early morning.

Livin' at the Ritz

Wow. The Ritz is nice.

We got picked up at the airport and driven to the resort, where a lady welcomed us with leis around our necks. Haha, it was so damned cliche. And yet, I thoroughly enjoyed it. (I think that deep down inside me, maybe I really want to be one of those loud-Hawaiian-shirt-wearing, huge-ass-camera-toting, red-faced-sunburned fat tourists.)

We're seated at a table with two cups of sweet nectar -- nectar of the gods, I dare say it was -- and soaked in the beauty of the resort as they processed the check-in, before leading us personally to the room.

Swim shorts.
Ocean Pool.

Their new Ocean Pool is amazing. It's a pool filled with seawater -- filtered, some salt content removed (to make it more bearable), and warmed -- overlooking the ocean. And it's one of those infinity edge pools too, so from inside the pool, it looks like you're practically swimming in the ocean. (Of course, it's halfway up the cliff face, so you can actually see down to the cabanas and the beach and the restaurant.) We spent that evening in the pool, taking photos with the sunset as our background.

That is a great way to spend an evening.

Get this: the other swimming pool is open 24 hours for those wee-hours-swimming cravings that we all get (though towels are only provided until 7pm, you can keep them for the night if you like). This resort has everything in it; you could easily stay on the resort and never leave to visit the real Bali.

And I think they almost hope you don't: a taxi ride into Kuta (the nearest city) is about 60,000 rupiah ($7US). Round trip makes it 120,000. And the Ritz knows that, because they price their meals just so that you'd spend that difference in their restaurant, but save you the time and trouble ... which is why we ended up having Thai food at the Ritz on the first night.

One last comment: service is impeccable, and heads and shoulders above just about every other place on the island. Every employee greets you as you walk by, morning noon or night. Every employee: waiters, hostesses, cleaning staff, gardeners, everyone.

Watch the Time

So I've been in the market for a new watch recently ... and I've been scouring a few different brands and styles. Mainly, I've been drawn to a round black face, steel or titanium link band, and a little bold flare to it.

But that's not the important part of today's post for you to ponder. Instead, it's this: go and search for some professional product photos of watches. And so far, I've noticed something.

Over 98% of the watches show the time as 10:08.

Go on, try it with any brand. Neat, huh? So why is that?? I suppose my first thought is that the hands of the clock make kind of a nice checkmark, which is probably a positive psychological shape and would somehow convince you that's the right watch to buy. I dunno. What do you think?

Ponder that. I'll be back in a few days to collect your papers.

One out of Three Dentists Approves

So I did my first dentist check-up in Taiwan last night. (Yes, my first one since I moved here. And yes, I have been here since May 2005. Now leave me alone to tell you what I want to tell you, so I can go to sleep already.)

I picked this particular dentist because two of my good friends here -- who have schooled in North America and therefore have some experience with North American dentists -- recommended them, and because both of the dentists have degrees from Northwestern University so at least they have some command of English in case I need to draw on that.

I had a great dentist while in California who was always courteous and patient with me, despite my less-than-stellar brushing technique and routine. I'm an old dog, and have been mostly sticking with my old habits, so it was with a little hesitation that I came this new guy.

After all, you don't want to get on the bad side of a man who's got a drill in your mouth.

Anyway, I'm in for the cleaning, and I tell him my dental history, and he takes a look-see. He tells me that I brush very well and there isn't even a lot of plaque for him to clean up. But he does say that I brush too hard and my gums are taking the brunt of it, so I should lighten up. That's interesting; my first glowing report from a DDS. And then he says that my flossing really needs work. I'm in complete agreement with him, since ... well, I barely ever floss.

Like, ever.

Anyway, I don't know whether I should be trusting this guy. I'm not sure whether he's telling me the truth, or if (in the ten years he's practiced in Taiwan) he's just gotten used to the average Taiwanese dental situation.

Under Watch

I had a strange dream last night. (Wait, just stay with me on this one.)

I was somehow framed and placed in a "maximum security prison" ... except this was a maximum security prison of a different sort: not so maximum-security.

I mean, it wasn't quite the dank concrete structure with heinous barbed wires that one might imagine. It was more like a ... large complex, almost like a resort, with alleyways and streets, and even trees and stuff. Though, it was still enclosed and guarded, so I suppose that counts for something.

Another strange thing was that we weren't so much tracked by direct monitoring, but our whole personal records were printed into this huge book -- kind of like an employee handbook -- that was about an inch thick. And they gave it to you to hold onto. Of course, they logged details into their own system (handwritten, in those old ledger books). I happened to glance at my record while in their office and noticed that I had some demerits listed: for two attempted escapes! Funny, I could only remember one, but they claimed they found my record book in one of the air ducts.

Someone was trying to frame me!

All the same, I certainly hope the Ritz-Carlton treats me better than that.