February 24th, 2015

happy girl

Growing Up, Moving On

I'm back from a 9-day trip to Taipei. I think that I am really, finally over Taipei. It has ceased to hold the fascination and excitement that were so imbued in it when I was younger. Going around Taipei was like going through the motions, doing the same things that I've been doing for years, and feeling less and less of the nostalgia that I felt for it when I was a teenager, or even when I was in my early twenties. I noticed, with disgust, the stench of sewage that smelt like dog shit which permeated the city; I was irritated with the customary disregard for pedestrian crossings and how, as a result, it took so long to do something as simple as crossing the road; I couldn't comprehend how it was that, after so many years, the English translations in public places were still so lousy; and the shopping bored me to near-tears because the departmental stores were too expensive, and 西门町 was full of cheap-looking junk that cost way too much. I am really annoyed with myself that I spent NT600, slightly below SGD30, on a completely junky necklace from a random shop in 西门町, just because I wanted to accessorise this bright pink top which I found too plain, and because the salesgirl was super pushy. She tried to get me to buy another junky necklace for over NT1,000. Fuck you very much.

As for the food, I think it's super tasty and all, but only when I'm there for just a few days. After a few days, I began to get tired of it. I love my 凉面 and 葱抓饼, but I can't eat this every day. When it comes to food, Singapore still reigns supreme for me; it doesn't even matter that Western food, generally speaking, is overpriced and rather average in Singapore, because the local food is varied and tasty enough that I don't even care if I don't eat pasta or whatever for weeks on end. I mean, who's interested in eating sandwiches or salads? The best sandwich I've ever had is in Amsterdam anyway - and it no longer exists.

I had a couple of Chinese New Year set menus meals with the family. They both sucked. The second one in particular made me so annoyed that I was tempted to walk out to the 7-11 across the street and buy a packet of 凉面. To say that those set menus were not vegetarian-friendly would be a massive understatement; I sat through plates after plates of meat and meat and more meat, and being the only one not eating in a Chinese-styled meal is awkward, to say the least. Communal eating is such a big part of Chinese culture that people start freaking out when someone isn't eating, especially when grandparents are around. I appreciate that they cared and they were worried that I was starving, but I hate it when people start fussing. If I wasn't eating, it was for a reason; asking me if I wanted to eat a piece of chicken or unshelled prawns wasn't going to help the situation - it only made me more annoyed. I pretty much sat through the dinner in stony silence, but I was too irritated to put on a fake 'everything is dandy' face.

Having said all that, the primary purpose of the trip was to visit my grandparents, so at least something was accomplished. I do like seeing them for sure, though being around them all the time would definitely drive me crazy. They are unbelievably overbearing! I couldn’t do to 淡水 because they were worried I would get kidnapped. Um…I lived in Europe by myself for two years and I’m still in one piece, so what’s the big deal about a couple of hours in a touristy area of Taipei?! Apart from that, it was good to see them. They are remarkably healthy for their age and the rubbish that they eat (they are thrifty to the point of eating soured vegetables that have been left exposed to the elements overnight…oh my god). I wish there were some way of seeing them more frequently than once every two years, but sadly, teleportation has yet to be invented.

We did go to a new place though. We went to 金瓜石 and 九分 for a day trip and it was really fun. It was just great to get the hell out of Taipei, even if it was just for a few hours. The places were in this old mining town and we went through this tunnel that used to be a gold-mining tunnel. I’m not explaining this well because I didn’t really know what I was looking at, just that the tunnel felt crazily claustrophobic and scary. The archaeological park also had signs warning visitors about snakes, and since I am irrationally afraid of snakes (I literally cannot look at pictures of snakes), I wasn’t quite keen on staying there for longer than I had to.

We took the public bus that brought us to the main attractions, including the Yingyang Sea. It was just okay. It’s interesting because of the two contrasting colours of the shallow part of the water, which was believed to be caused by pollution from the mining, but because the yellowish colours still exist 10 years after the mining has stopped, they now attribute it to something else. This ‘something else’ is way too scientific for me to remember, so feel free to look it up on Wikipedia.

We also had an excursion around Taipei involving a coach and almost the entire extended family. I was coerced into singing two Jay Chou songs for the on-board karaoke. Yay. We went to the Confucius Temple, some old house in a remote part of Taipei, some museum about some archaeological finds, the astronomy centre, and the last part was the crappy dinner that I whined about earlier in this entry. It was fun, but tiring.

One of my cousins brought my brother and me out to dinner at 王品 (Wang Steak) on our last night. This was after a smelly tofu snack at淡水and two consecutive葱抓饼 at this amazing stall in 士林. I finished all of my five courses, but honestly, the cod fish was really tasty. I was bloated like a bloated whale after that; my tummy looked so ridiculous, as if I was pregnant, but even worse. But the point of mentioning this is to say that I think I would be quite close to this particular cousin if we lived in the same country. She’s similar to me: she’s also going to do a PhD, she worked in research in a university, and I really liked how she said that she liked the freedom of being single when I asked if she had a boyfriend. She’s a few years older than me and prioritises her career over her love life. Out of all my cousins, Singapore side included, she’s definitely the most similar to me. Too bad I only see her once every two years.

Lastly, visiting Taipei over Chinese New Year is awful. Most things are closed, which isn’t conducive for a visitor. I liked the weather though; it was temperate and chilly at times, but not so cold that I was freezing without my winter clothes. I didn’t understand why people went out in jackets and pants and multi-layers when it was 20-ish degrees. That’s summer in Europe.


On a separate note, I am starting a new job on 2 March. I am working as a research associate at the Centre for International Law. Yay!

On the PhD front, Cambridge asked for an interview. The interviewer asked if I could go to Cambridge this Friday. I emailed back last night asking if I could have a Skype interview. It’s been more than 22 hours since my email and I haven’t heard back. If I’m going to fly to Cambridge this Friday, it would be nice to let me know as soon as possible so that I can make the necessary arrangements. This is stressing me out, so much so that I haven't even begun stressing out about the actual interview. Sigh.