“Funny. The older you get, the smarter I get.”

Mom sent me that message this afternoon. Somehow, a thirty-year head start on this whole life thing made her a little more brilliant than I, her 28-year-old daughter.

There are a few things you can’t find in Hsinchu – at least, you can’t find them without scouring the entire city. Then there are a few things, which I like to refer to as necessities, that you can’t find at all in Taiwan. For instance, it wasn’t until a chance encounter at our neighborhood KFC that I was reunited with my dear friend and CrossFit foe, Mountain Dew. I didn’t think Taiwan carried Pepsi products at all, but it turns out I just had to look harder.

Something I won’t find no matter where I look on the island is a flat sheet. Fitted sheets? Yes. Pillow cases? Found ’em. Ugly-as-sin comforters and blankets? All over the place. One lonely, 100% cotton, comfortable flat sheet? I may as well ask for a talking fish. It’s apparently a ridiculous request, which I only found out after spending an hour (spread out over two trips) in the sheet/pillowcases aisle at RT Mart. I even tried comparing Pinyin characters (the traditional Chinese writing) on different packages to see if I could figureout what character meant “fitted sheet”, which one meant “pillow case”, and which one was the glorious “flat sheet”.

Part of the sheet aisle at RT Mart

I was proud of myself at one point when I thought I’d figured it out. When I returned to the apartment after my second trip to RT Mart, a package with “Bedding Sheet” in English in big letters on the front firmly in hand, Gretchen let me know that I was wrong. Since I’m a mature, level-headed woman, I threw the package on the living room floor and glared at it.

Thankfully, my parents agreed to send me a sheet. It’s not even that I really need it at this point. I just want to give Taiwan the proverbial bird by having a flat sheet on my bed.

Another necessity that Gretchen had to travel to Taipei to find? A shower curtain liner. A simple, clear, gets-moldy-quickly-in-this-humidity shower curtain liner. I lamented to my parents that the amount of mold on our liner was enough to make WHO declare our shower an international incident, and Mom told me to clean it. “Noooo, I caaaan’t,” I maturely replied, telling her matter-of-factly that since the washing machine only has lights, Pinyin characters and plays little ringtones when you press different buttons, I couldn’t wash the liner.

This afternoon I showered. Upon stepping out of the tub, I realized that I could fill the bathtub with hot water, add bleach, and swirl the liner around in it. Ta freaking da. I Googled it to make sure I could use bleach on the plastic liner, and then set to work. Not 20 minutes later, it was clear and clean. I let my mom know: “I bleached the shower curtain like you said to. Funny how well it worked.” That’s when she sent her response.

It makes for funny moments when you move to another country because everything, even the simplest task, is different. Want to go grocery shopping? How do you know if you just bought boneless chicken breasts or turkey thighs? You head out to get a smoothie, but you can’t tell them what you want in it; you point and grunt at the menu. Doing laundry is a matter of pushing buttons and praying your clothes come out normally. It’s been a fun transition, and absolutely not a good move for people who are impatient or can’t laugh at themselves. Because when you go to a bar and order a simple mixed drink and receive a milk with some random liquor in it, all you can do is laugh and choke it down. It was only $3 USD, after all.

I’ve been asked a few questions about my trip, and I figured I’d respond here since others might be curious about the same stuff.

Working out/jogging in Hsinchu: I don’t get looked at strangely for jogging around, I get looks because I’m a white Westerner. It’s not uncommon to see people working out, especially at 18 Peaks, though most of them prefer walking. Some of the women walk around in heels when they go for an evening stroll, which I’ll never be able to understand. I’ve gone jogging three times now, and each time I’ve seen a fellow jogger or two.

The weather here is generally around 90 degrees with humidity that rivals Texas. It’s really not that bad. Coming from 105+ degree temps, this feels like fall… kinda. Often it’s cloudy and windy. Right now we’re expecting a typhoon to make landfall in 12 hours or so, but it’s not going to hit us directly; we’ll just get soggy and windblown.

There are several different versions of Chinese spoken here: Taiwanese, Mandarin, and some dialects specific to different regions. The majority of the people here speak Mandarin, though there are a few Taiwanese words thrown in here and there. I knew nothing when I got here – not even how to say no, yes or please. In fact, I still don’t know those words. I can count 1-4 and 100-400, say “not okay”, “I want”, “I don’t want” and other simple phrases. The good news is that when people see me, they see an obvious foreigner, so they attempt English or use hand signs. They’re very accommodating.

Now I’m off to take a nap. Thank goodness it’s Friday – for me, at least.