Circles of space

Bits about me

Upon first arriving, I was taking three cold showers a day. That’s simply too much time spent in the shower, so it quickly went down to two. Recently, I’ve been able to take just one shower a day, and sometimes it’s not cold, but lukewarm. I’m not sure whether I’m getting used to the heat or the sweat.

There are two elevators at school, and one goes only to the even-numbered floors and the other goes only to the odd, and they’re both slow, so they have been given up on in favor of the reliable stairs, which take you to any floor you wish. The elevator at home is nonexistent, so during the week I climb up and down at least ten flights of stairs. Minimum. That’s not taking into account trips to the bathroom at school (because the ladies’ rooms are on odd-numbered floors, and our class is unfortunately on the fourth floor) or trips downstairs to meet the garbage truck or trips up to the roof. Such trips nearly double my stair-count. Yes, you can call me the Stair Master.

Bits about the apartment

Our bathroom can double as a sauna.

I gave up fighting our ants, and now see them as a sort of truce with the bug gods: I won’t encourage Colin to spray the ants if you don’t let any more cockroaches into our apartment. Please?

There are little green things in the strawberry planter. I would call them strawberries with more certainty if it weren’t for the fact that the soil we bought seems to have come with some green things (grass? weeds?) already in it. But Colin thinks they’re strawberries.

We bargained for printed scrolls at the flea market yesterday during our seven-hour marathon of shopping, so now our walls won’t be so barren. (What else did we get in seven hours and four shopping venues? A lamp, two yoga mats, a tent—you know, the bare necessities.)

Bits about our neighborhood

Chewing betel nut, considered a backwards practice by many snootier Southeast Asian countries, is a popular alternative to chewing tobacco in our little neighborhood. Betel nut gives its chewer a mild high and a red-stained mouth, and the red splatters and frayed husks on the road betray our neighbors’ fondness for the habit.

Fireworks go off on random nights, and normally not as part of an organized show, but just because. We haven’t figured it out, and we miss most of them because by the time we pull away from the glow of the computer screen, the last blazing bits have faded away. Tonight we watched a bunch going off on the other side of the river—this one looked like an organized production.

It could have been related to Ghost Month, which I believe is now wrapping up. Ghost Month is when the gates of the afterworld open and the ghosts of your ancestors come to collect. All over the city there have been tables large and small burdened with food (from whole fishes to chocolate Frosted Flakes), burning incense, and “money.” Wary of unconsciously disrespecting someone by getting too close, I can say only that the money looks like smaller versions of the actual bills glued onto pulp paper. They burn this too, in bins about two-and-a-half-feet tall and a foot across, and from six flights up, I watched a neighbor doing this a few nights ago. He put in stacks so large they nearly smothered the flames. Stack after stack went in, and he stood back in between and lifted his face, watching the smoke curl up to his ancestors or looking away from the heat. As his final stack of bills quickly turned from flame to embers, he clasped his hands, sending a few prayers up with the money.

There is a preschool not three doors down, and we can hear the kids out playing mid-morning. The teachers lead them in song sometimes, and it’s adorable. We’re surrounded by a few elementary schools too, and there are two police stations very nearby. The scooter mechanics have to outnumber everything, though—there are dozens!

Bits about Taipei

Many of the women wear skirts—they’re not big on dress slacks—and they’ve got pantyhose on underneath. I suppose if they’re wearing a professional skirt they’re working in an air-conditioned office, but that strikes me as unbearable for walking around the city.

The streets are clean; there are very few public trashcans or street people. Walking on the sidewalk is little safer than crossing the streets, as scooters scoot through any spaces they can. It makes me really resentful of them; probably more so than I should be.

When I walk along the streets, I often get that stitch in my side that usually is a result of exercising too hard too soon. I’m going to go ahead and blame that on the scooters, tiny polluters that they are.

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