10 Things to Do in Zhongli, Taiwan

I first moved to Zhongli in 2004, and it would have been very cool of me to come up with this list when I arrived. Instead I waited so long that my beloved Zhongli (Chungli/Jungli/Jhongli) stopped being a city in Taoyuan County and was absorbed into the sprawl of Taoyuan City as a district.

At least now we mostly agree on the name.

Here are just a very few of my favorite things to see or do in our fair town:

  1. The River: If you’re so new to town that you don’t know about The River, then you should definitely go there first. You’ll meet the friends you need to help you complete your quest.
  2. Paris Bar: Met somebody special at The River? Invite them to a more private, romantic bar where you can impress them by buying NT$300 cocktails.
  3. Bowling: Every Wednesday at the lanes on Zhongmei Road, not too far from The River.
  4. Kickball: The first Sunday of every month on one of the fields at Yuan Ze University in Neili. (Be sure to connect with someone from the group before you go so you know where everyone will be.)
  5. The Yilan Beer Place: Tasty Taiwan brews on tap, including my favorite green spirulina beer. There’s also an extensive menu of pan-Asian bar food. Great place for a small party.
  6. Roasted Duck: If you’re trying to get this duck for a dinner party, make sure that three or four other people aren’t already doing the same thing.
  7. Daxi Old Street: Nifty little neighborhood just a short scooter drive away from downtown Zhongli. Famous for it’s delicious and cheap tofu.
  8. Xinming Night Market: Your one-stop shopping destination for your dinner, your clothes, your sex toys, your pet hamsters, your milk tea, your incense, your cellphone accessories, etc.
  9. Shrimp Fishing: One of the more unfamiliar things a Westerner can experience in Taiwan is fishing for super-sized shrimp in a big concrete pool in a building the size of an airplane hangar. Some people love it.
  10. Sanmin Bat Cave and Tuba Church: A lovely day trip into the mountains of Fuxing. Check out an old, tiny church in a nearby aboriginal village and quiet, beautiful “cave” and waterfall a little further down the way.

Kickball in Zhongli

amateur vagrant things to do in zhongi taiwan play kickball

On the first Sunday of every month, a group of people from Zhongli/Neili/Taoyuan get together to play kickball at Yuan Ze University in Neili.

The core group is made up of local foreign teachers, but many different people come every time. Anyone who wants to play kickball or just meet new friends is welcome.

You can get in touch with the group members via their Facebook page. They use the page to confirm the date, time, and which field they’re playing at every month.

I’m not super athletic, but I have fun when I go. And it’s nice to see everyone outside of the bar now and then. (And by “outside the bar”, I mean further away than the River patio.)

Amateur Vagrant Weekly Link Roundup Sep 30, 2016

I’ve started a bullet journal! While I loved the excuse, any excuse, to buy a new notebook and some colorful pens, I am not sure how this is different from any other notebook. But I’ll give it a sincere try through the end of the year, and continue in 2017 if it’s helping me be more productive.

I found this bullet-journaling blog called Tiny Ray of Sunshine, and it quickly became a new time suck for me.

This week, I read Beloved by Toni Morrison and This Side of Paradise by F. Scott Fitzgerald. The two books couldn’t be more different, and reading them back to back like that is an excellent way to make obvious the stark difference between the lives of poor, black people and rich, white people in late-nineteenth/early-twentieth century America. I intentionally started This Side of Paradise after I finished Beloved because I needed a chance to recover emotionally. But black people in the United States don’t get to recover before the next murder by cop, do they?

We had two days off this week for Typhoon Megi. Last week, we had a four-day weekend for Moon Festival that was mostly rained out because of two other typhoons, Meranti and Malakas.  We usually don’t get hit very hard when there’s a typhoon, but high winds can still make it dangerous to go outside.

The thing is, for most of us, most of the time, typhoons are just really bad weather that might result in us getting a day off. So we make jokes about stocking up with ramen and vodka, and we laugh at this determined lady eating her pork bun even as she’s losing her umbrella to the wind. But some people die in nearly every typhoon, so we can’t joke too much.

Here’s another thing that’s not funny at all: restrictive abortion laws that make it practically impossible to get an abortion. Imagine working retail, feeling lucky to even have that job, then having to request three days off from your manager (and having to lie about it, because you don’t need to tell everyone you’re trying to have an abortion), having to figure out a way to get across state (even gas is expensive), finding someone else to take care of your kids while you’re gone, finding the money for a hotel for two nights since you have to wait 72 hours from the time of your first exam until you can actually have an abortion–and imagine these “small” hurdles being so impossible that you end up having another kid. That’s fucked up, man. Well, Lady Parts Justice League came up with this spoof of Beyonce’s  Formation to spread information about the bullshit that is Louisiana’s abortion laws and regulations. Please note the stodgy, white, rich, old, male lawmakers making laws that have nothing to do with them (but I bet if they knocked up a mistress, they’d find a way past their own laws real fast). Ew.

Prep yourself to handle the next troglodyte that wants you to answer for “black-on-black” crime every time they hear about an innocent black person being executed without a jury during a routine traffic stop with this informative post. It’s mostly tweets, so yes, you do have time to read it.

This has been a problem since Emancipation — a broad interest in policing black communities sitting next to an entrenched indifference in actually protecting them. “Poor black neighborhoods see too little of the kinds of policing that do the most good, and too much of the kinds that do the most harm,” Eric Monkkonen, the late UCLA professor, once wrote.

And look, here’s a whole syllabus for a Black Lives Matter course. Let’s get informed, one book, one story, one article, one video, one movie, one day at a time. I love a good syllabus.

At the moment, I am finishing up a Yale series on Hemingway, Fitzgerald, and Faulkner. If you’re as ignorant as I was  a year ago, read the books, listen to the lectures, and watch Midnight in Paris. Or don’t, because I’ve been heartsick in love with the Roaring Twenties and the Lost Generation and the Jazz Age since then, like I was in love with NKOTB when I was in fourth grade.

And oh yeah, of course, there were some debates or something this week. The brilliant Alexandra Petri called them The Mainsplaining Olympics and I’m with her. Honestly, Clinton couldn’t have made Trump look any dumber: the man got up there and bragged about not paying any taxes. But nothing he says will deter his supporters from voting for him, and there’s just too many of them. I don’t want him to win, but maybe if he does, we’ll all have to recognize America for what it is: backwards, racist, misogynistic, pharisaical, prude, and hypocritical. I’m a teacher and if I had to write comments on the report card, they would be “America is not living up to her potential.”

But between global warming (it’s worse now than scientists realized or predicted) and Plato’s observation like 2500 years ago that democracies give birth to tyrannies, does any of this even matter?

Ah, but being so cynical is naive, too.

Winner of the “No shit!” Award is this little piece from The Washington Post on the effect class size has on student learning. Apparently some people, probably not teachers, think that class size doesn’t matter.  IT MATTERS. Especially as a language teacher–the more kids in the class, the less opportunity I have to interact with your kid. Give me eighteen students, one or two with legit behavioral problems, and my goal goes down to each kid speaking once per hour class.

Fun stuff:

  • Taiwan was voted the friendliest country for newcomers* (apparently they didn’t take the terrifying driving conditions into account here)
  • Did you know that Taiwan is the Butterfly Kingdom? I love butterflies! I now have like ten more places on my must-visit list
  • Bad Bitches in the Canon: What if Anaïs Nin and Flannery O’Connor had been friends?

    O’Connor had something Nin did not, besides success as a fiction writer. What Nin needed more than any night of boning Henry Miller was to hang out with a person who could laugh at her and with her, who wasn’t trying to sleep with her, who wasn’t using her for her husband’s money, who read her writing for what it was instead of what it wasn’t. What her writing is, for the record, is fucking brilliant.

*does not apply to people from Southeast Asia hired as laborers or domestic help here in Taiwan

The best reasons to live in Zhongli

View from our old apartment.
View from our old apartment.

Zhongli is not a very beautiful or famous city, though it’s certainly nicer now than it was when I got here in 2004. Now there are more parks, some nice walkways for morning walks, lots more restaurants, and two cultural centers.

None of that draws the big crowds, though.

This exciting typhoon season is what got me thinking about the really good reasons to live in Taiwan. My friends and family in the U.S. started messaging me frantically ahead of the recent super typhoon, Meranti. It was such a big storm that it was making headlines back home.

But any time a typhoon comes to Taiwan, Zhongli doesn’t get the worst of it. If you’re worried about typhoons, you’ll be much safer in Zhongli than you would be in the east or the south. The east and the south are more beautiful, though. Zhongli is in the northwest, which means it’s closer to the narrow China Strait than the wide-open Pacific Ocean, so we don’t get full-strength storms coming at us. And on the other side, Taiwan’s formidable mountains take a beating protecting us from the high-speed winds and torrential rains.

That’s not to say we never feel the impact of typhoons in Zhongli: We have lost running water before, and we could lose electricity.

Another big concern for people living in Taiwan, especially new foreigners, is the earthquakes. Taiwan has had terrible earthquakes. The worst one in recent memory was just last year during Chinese New Year. Hundreds of people in Tainan had to worry about where they and their kids were going to sleep on a day meant to be spent with family, celebrating hopes for a new beginning. Eighteen people lost their lives.

And in 1999, a massive 7.6 earthquake killed thousands of people in central Taiwan, in Nantou and Taichung.

We certainly feel earthquakes in Zhongli, but we don’t usually expect any serious damage. (I am furiously knocking on wood.)

Actually, now that I’ve looked at the fault-line maps, I might not want to get too cocky about the earthquakes. But trust me on the typhoons.

In addition to being a wee bit safer during typhoons and earthquakes, it’s also fairly easy to find jobs teaching English here. I know people in prettier places like Taipei, Taidong, Taichung, Tainan, Yilan, or Hualien have said it’s harder, anyway. My guess is that plenty of foreigners want to live in those lovely places, giving schools the upper hand when it comes to picking and paying teachers.

But not so many foreigners want to live in Zhongli. Zhongli doesn’t have the nightlife, the beautiful beaches and mountains, or the arts scene of any of those other places. It does have a good public transportation system, including easy access to the HSR, to get you to those other places, though.

Also there are lots of people here with more cosmopolitan (i.e. “in Taipei) ambitions who want to learn English or want their kids to learn English, and are making enough money to pay for it. That’s apparently not the case in Taidong (based on what some surfers/teachers told us).

So in Zhongli, you have a better situation for employment: fewer foreign teachers competing for jobs, and more students with more money to pay for English classes. That does give foreign teachers a better situation for negotiating salaries, etc., and if you’re reliable and professional, you might be able to get yourself a pretty good situation.

These are my three most practical reasons to live and teach in Zhongli: Weaker typhoons, probably weaker earthquakes, and better employment opportunities.


The Broke Novelist

I haven’t been able to stop thinking about Merritt Tierce’s article in Marie Clair about going broke after publishing a critically-acclaimed novel. It popped up on my Facebook feed shortly after it was published on September 16, and I keep revisiting it.

On the one hand, Tierce’s dilemma speaks to the increasing costs of living in America. I can’t wrap my head around a US$786 utility bill. She says she kept her house at a cozy 85 degrees and this was literally the hottest summer in the world. But even with the air conditioners running all the time to keep the temperature just under unbearable, I’m shocked that a utility bill can be so high.

The cost of living in the United States is one of the reasons my husband and I moved to Taiwan in 2013. To date, our biggest electricity bill has been NT$8000, which is about US$255 for two months. Ironically, it wasn’t even our bill: we inherited from a stereotypically irresponsible trio of English teachers when we took over their lease. We can only assume that the three of them air-conditioned their bedrooms and the living room all summer.

In contrast, our combined take-home pay is generous. Not by American standards. Not enough to pay US$800 utility bills. Combined, we aren’t even earning the US$40,000 a year that Tierce is fantasizing about. But we work and we still have time and money to save, to spend, and to travel.

Come to Taiwan, Merritt Tierce! I don’t want you to have to dip into your son’s college fund to pay the rent!


Which brings me to my second line of thought: Shouldn’t Tierce be able to pay her bills if she wrote a very good book? Shouldn’t she be able to live off the earnings from that book, and her husband’s income, long enough to write another one?

At the risk of proving my ignorance or naivete here, has it ever been possible for most writers to live on writing alone? I think writers have about as much chance of getting paid like Stephen King and JK Rowling as kids who want to be astronauts have of stepping foot on the moon. In 2016, real artists have day jobs, don’t they? Tierce doesn’t even want to invest all the time and effort it takes into being a full-time freelancer, which, honey, I understand. There is so much to do besides write when you take that road, that it makes my little ADD-addled head spin.

But has any writer, especially any contemporary writer, made enough money to live by just writing critically-acclaimed novel after critically-acclaimed novel?

To be able to afford a room of one’s own–the space and time to create–most everyone has to sell their present time to the most accommodating bidder or mortgage their future with loans, or second-book deals. Not so many of us can count on an inheritance or even sufficient financial support from a spouse.

Maybe the folks who are self-publishing romance and adventure e-books have the right idea. But the ones I know are still teaching English, too.

I feel like somebody needs to tell Tierce to “write like a motherfucker.” Not me. I only wish I was published. But Cheryl Strayed could.

I bought Tierce’s book. A blurb from Roxane Gay is a good enough endorsement for me. And I’d like to encourage her to keep going. She might never make the list of the country’s best-paid authors, but she definitely won’t if she stops now. The odds are high, the work is hard, and I don’t want to have to wait tables, deliver mail, teach English, or hustle for one-off writing gigs any more than she does, and I’m not even on a path that leads to the Iowa Writer’s Workshop.

Nolite te bastardes carborundorum!

Taiwan lunchboxes

amateur vagrant zhongli taiwan taoyuan lunchbox bento box chinese takeout what to eat

Taiwanese lunchboxes are the offspring of Japanese bento boxes, which provide a full meal on one tray or in one box: rice, a protein, some sides, and usually some soup. Most also have a little bit of some kind of pickle lurking in the corner.

The shallow rectangular white box of the lunchboxes is ubiquitous here, as iconic as the oyster-pail used for Chinese food back home. Ironically, an American new to Taiwan might find that the contents of a lunchbox feel almost familiar.  A “standard” lunchbox (the kind that your boss might order for you without having the tedious conversation about what you want before you understand what’s available), is often a piece of fried chicken or a fried pork chop laid on a slab of rice, with three vegetables on the side. Just like mamma used to make for Sunday dinner!

Here are some of my favorite, or at least my regular, lunchbox meals in Zhongli.

amateur vagrant zhongli taoyuan taiwan lunchboxes bade grilled chicken

This is by far my favorite lunchbox, a grilled chicken meal from a place in Bade called Qiao Wei Lunchbox (巧味便當). I used to have it every Friday when I was teaching out there. Unfortunately, Bade is not in my neighborhood and I am lazy, so I don’t get to eat this much anymore. This chicken was grilled to perfection, every time, and this place was always crowded at lunch time.

amateur vagrant zhongli taoyuan taiwan lunchboxes zhenzhong ribs meal grilled chicken leg rice lunchbox

This is a grilled chicken lunch box from  a “famous” local place in Zhongli called Zhengzhong Ribs Meal (正忠排骨飯). It’s very good, and also, you can choose your three sides. Here I got some greens, some eggplant, and some curry-potatoes. But I still love the chicken from Qiao Wei the best.

amateur vagrant zhongli taoyuan taiwan lunchboxes railway lunchbox

This is a railway lunchbox from place in Pingzhen. This particular lunchbox place is not special, it was just next to the school I taught at last semester. It smelled of stale oil and they used the microwave a lot…

But, this railway meal is pretty cool. According to Cathy Erway in her awesome book, The Food of Taiwan, the first lunchboxes in Taiwan were the lunchboxes served on the trains and at the train stations. And in the beginning, that was the only place they were served. Now lunchboxes are so popular and such a part of the Taiwanese diet that school children typically eat lunchboxes for lunch every day, if not also for dinner in between cram-school classes. But now a lot of lunchbox places have gotten nostalgic, offering these “railway meals” in the old-school, round, bamboo boxes. There’s no little compartments, and there’s usually a bit of Taiwanese sausage as well as a pork chop included.

amateur vagrant zhongli taoyuan taiwan lunchboxes fried chicken lunchboxThis is a fried chicken lunchbox from that same place in Pingzhen. I ate this so often last year that I got sick of it. It’s a pretty dense meal.

amateur vagrant zhongli taoyuan taiwan lunchboxes macau five-meat lunchbox

This is a pretty unique lunchbox. I found it at a place that makes Macau- (澳门) and Hong-Kong style food called Macau Xin Hao Ji Char Siu Shop (澳門新濠記燒臘店) Because it was my first time here, I went for broke and got the “five-meat” rice box. It was tasty, but too much meat for me. I had the duck meat over rice the next time, and that was good. Duck meat lunchboxes are usually more expensive, around NT$100 each.

amateur vagrant zhongli taoyuan taiwan sushi for lunch

Not technically what people mean when they say “lunchbox,” but this is often my dinner. Each piece of “sushi” is NT$10. Obviously, this is really Taiwanese with the mayo-corn mixture and the pork floss in the sushi rolls. But it’s good, it’s cheap, and it tastes fresh. You can also get salmon, tuna, etc. I love the steamed egg, too. I got this set from a little street vendor called Black 5 Sushi (黑武藏10元壽司). These vendors are everywhere.

My only complaint is that if they give you condiments, it’s not enough, so I usually roll with my own bottle of soy sauce and my own tube of wasabi when I’m planning on having street sushi for dinner. Also, they don’t give you chopsticks. Sushi is actually finger food, but if eating with your fingers puts you off, you better pack your own pair of chopsticks.

amateur vagrant zhongli taiwan taoyuan 7-11 lunch kimchi cold noodles

Also not a lunchbox, but this is a fairly low-calorie option from 7-11. I avoid carbs as far as possible, but every once in a while, I’m stuck between classes, the nearest 7 is out of apples, the melon chunks have seen better days, and I don’t want to eat another tea egg, so I’ll throw in the towel and have some kimchi noodles.

If you’re eating a lot of convenience-store lunchboxes, I don’t judge, but you’d do yourself a favor to check out the calories on some of those boxes. It might come as a shock that even the innocuous-looking fried rice has 600-800 calories. I am not opposed to 700-calorie meals, but if I am gonna go out like that, I’d rather have something that wasn’t microwaved at a convenience store.

I’ll leave you with my lunchbox pro-tips:

  1. Order the “famous” lunchbox at any lunchbox place, particularly if it’s your first time. This is what the owners are putting all their effort into. It will be fresher and your meal will come faster.
  2. Along the same lines, avoid “interesting” offerings like Thai-style chicken or Three Cup Chicken lunchboxes. It’s usually something they’re gonna have to remember how to prepare and then microwave, and it’s never as good as what you’d get in a sit-down restaurant. In my experience. There are exceptions to every rule.
  3. I avoid simple carbs and grains (when I’m on the wagon), so I’ll often get a roasted sweet potato with to have with my lunchbox, and then skip the rice. Most convenience stores offer roasted sweet potatoes. A piece of fruit would also do the trick. I find that eating the rice guarantees I’ll want to succumb to a food coma. Ever notice how Taiwanese offices shut down for a little shuteye after lunch? Mmmhmmm…
  4. Cheaper is not better. If you’re counting dollars, you’ll appreciate the savings, but there’s a reason some lunchboxes are NT$50 and some lunchboxes are NT$80.
  5. If you can’t speak Chinese and there’s no English menu, have a friend help you find a self-serve buffet where you fill up your box and pay by the weight or the item. (Beware of Mama’s Lunchbox, though. One of my favorites, but you might get a surprise at the cash register!)

What’s in your favorite lunchbox? I’d also love to get suggestions for excellent local places!

Getting cupped


I woke up yesterday morning with a stiff neck that had escalated to a region of sharp pain by lunch. I took some painkillers and got through my evening classes, but the pain woke me in the middle of the night and I could barely move. As soon as I got up this morning, and carefully put on some clothes, I walked down to the local Chinese medicine clinic.

I might never have noticed the clinic just around the corner from my house if someone hadn’t taken me there once already when my knee was sore. It’s got a wooden sign and a glass front obscured by a lush garden of potted plants. Today, the whole front of it was hidden behind a formidable black SUV, parked nose-to-nose with a white SUV.

There’s a high wooden counter in the entrance, facing the big window looking out at the SUV. The wall behind the counter is stacked with packs of Korean ginseng and other boxes and jars that look like they might be the ingredients for a witches’ potions.

The doctor wasn’t right there, so I took a seat on the bench in front of a sign suggesting that I call ahead to make an appointment. I could hear him talking to a patient in the examination room. I could hear her protests and shrill gasps of pain. I felt like I was eavesdropping, even though there wasn’t a door. I considered taking a card and going home or just outside to call for an appointment. But it seemed silly, since I was already there, and the shock of pain I felt every time I moved my head or left shoulder convinced me to just wait and see.

From the bench, I was looking into what could have been any traditional Taiwanese living room. The furniture was all made of heavy wood. There was a full tea set on the low table. The big flat screen TV was on: I watched the news about the impending typhoon with shots of all the damage done in the last big storm, and interviews with people who are getting ready for this one. There was a shrine against the far wall and a big, green, glassy Buddha.

A middle-aged woman walked in carrying what must have been gift sets of mooncakes this time of year, and a small bag of green beans. She noticed me, but didn’t say anything to me and didn’t slow her quick march to the seat facing the TV. She shouted a greeting at the doctor; he shouted back. He came out and saw me.

“My neck really hurts. I can’t move,” I told him in Chinese.

“Where? Here?” he asked in English. He probed at my neck with firm fingers. “Ah, here.”

“Ow! Yes! I want to cry!” I felt my eyes tearing up.

Say what you want about Chinese medicine, but it always impresses me how immediately Chinese traditional medicine doctors can locate the exact source of your pain.

He walked back into the waiting room. I thought I could quickly take a picture of the very intimate scene of his living room. He came back out just as I was focusing my cellphone camera. I dropped it guiltily. He smiled at me.

“Come here,” he said. I followed him into the exam room. A woman was straddling the low bed, bent over with her forehead on the surface of it. Three suction cups were pulling up big bubbles of the skin of her neck. The doctor sat me in a chair and immediately started rubbing my neck and shoulder.

“Right here,” he said, pushing a finger into my neck, “and right here.” He pushed a finger into a spot between my shoulder blade and spine and I saw the world flooded by the blindingly clear light of terrible pain.

“Mmmm,” I whimpered. He wiped some Vaseline on me and stuck a suction cup on, pressing whatever it is that forms the vacuum seal and pulls your skin up in an ugly bulge.

“Oooh, very bad,” he said. He clicked his tongue against his teeth. “Very black.” He dragged the suction cup around my neck and shoulder and it pulled at my skin. I know what it would look like: a big, ugly hickey. All I could do was bite my index finger and concentrate on not embarrassing myself and all other foreigners by shouting or crying.

Imagine the good air goes in, and the pain goes out…

I thought about that from yoga class and the visualized all the little blood vessels in my neck and back bursting open so that the pain would not be trapped inside but could be released and flushed away.

The other patient sat up and continued chatting with the doctor. I didn’t try to understand what they were saying. She was very pretty. Probably older than me, but with short hair, a shock of purple in the front. That’s so trendy right now. I want a purple streak in my hair. I bet she drove the big, black SUV out front. A rich lady coming for relief of the sore neck that comes with having lots of things to worry about. I was in my pajamas, wearing crocs. I felt self-conscious.

“Don’t play with your phone too much,” said the rich lady.

“Oh, no,” I said in agreement. I wasn’t sure if that had anything to do with it. Had she and the doctor agreed that was her problem? Had the doctor told her that was my problem when I wasn’t listening? But I would agree to anything now to stop this pain.

The doctor put four suction cups on my neck.

“Do you want ___?” he asked the woman. I didn’t know what he said.

“Do I need to?” she asked.

“You should,” he said. The doctor sat in a chair at the end of the bed. He laid a pink hand towel on the bed behind her, and told her to lay down. The towel was under her neck, and grabbing either end, he pulled her toward his lap, until her head was hanging off the table. He took off his shoes in one smooth lift and put his feet, in clean white socks, against her shoulders and pushed with his feet and pulled her head with the towel.

I watched, trying not to stare, trying not to move too much. Then he used the towel to pull her back up to a sitting position, slipped on his shoes, and bounced back over to me to remove the cups.

“Do you know why you have this pain?” he asked me.

“I don’t know. I just woke up yesterday…”

“You don’t sleep well,” he said. Before I could agree, he added, “You eat too much cold things.”

More likely from playing with my phone too much, hunched over in bed or in the sofa in weird positions, I thought. Or maybe it’s the result of my recent exercise binge, or the new dumbbell dancing I came up with, where I dance around with dumbbells to Uptown Funk before I go to work.

But I did have ice cream the past two nights. I’d skip it if it meant never feeling like this again.

The doctor told me to relax and cracked my neck on the left, on the right, and my back between my shoulder blades.

“Can you move your head?”

I could. It was still sore, but a shrug wouldn’t make me shriek.

The doctor slapped on two medicinal patches, the ones that feel cold against your skin and smell the way Chinese lozenges taste. He told me I was done and I walked out with him behind me. He walked behind the counter and I went in front of it.

“Two-hundred dollars,” he said.

I gave him the money and we smiled at each other and gave little nods of our heads, like bows.

I forgot to ask how long I have to keep these patches on. It still hurts, but it’s closer to being terribly uncomfortable than intolerably painful. Despite all the strange herbs and roots in jars, Chinese medicine isn’t magic. I can’t expect to feel great immediately, bippity-boppity-boop. I do have this bottle of ibuprofen, and as long as I don’t take it with cold water, I think I’ll be fine to teach tonight.

Hair care products in Taiwan

I have really thick, dry, kinda curly-wavy hair. I don’t do much with it: it’s usually just pulled back with a scrunchy. When I got (back) to Taiwan in 2013, I started experimenting with different shampoos and conditioners. Within a year, I had to cut six inches off my hair because it was so damaged. That was a big bummer for me, so I’ve grown a lot more conscientious about choosing hair care products.

I had a lot of trouble finding English reviews of products I was considering buying, usually from Watsons, so I wanted to put this info out there for anyone else who might be trapped in the shampoo aisle, eyes glazing over from trying to decipher Chinese labels and the gibberish lists of ingredients.

I learned a lot. Many products that claimed to be “natural” still contained sulfates, silicones, parabens, or other ingredients that I want to avoid. Not everyone is or has to be so picky, so don’t stress out about hair care products more than you have to. This is just a post to remind you that labels can be deceiving, especially if labels are all you have to go on.


Sea Venus Ka’fen Green Tea Benefits Treatment

I grabbed this one off the shelf at random, just because the label kind of gives the impression that this would be a product with natural and healthy ingredients: Green Tea! Benefits! Green Leaves! But then I got to googling and discovered this conditioner has a couple of questionable chemicals in it. Behentrimonium chloride can cause damage to the mucous membranes of your eyes in anything but the smallest quantities. Dimenthicone is a silicone that will coat your hair, making it silky soft and smooth the first few times, but with regular use, no water can get to your hair and it ends up drier and more damaged than ever. Propylparaben is a paraben and by now we have all been told to not use products with parabens because they cause cancer.

This is why I did all this homework!

be careful
be careful

Diane Botanical Moist Treatment

This conditioner didn’t look half bad, ingredient-wise, but it contains dimethicone. It already destroyed my hair once and I won’t let it happen again!


Watsons Naturals Argan Oil Conditioner

This argan oil conditioner looks okay, except that argan oil is the ninth ingredient. Generally, the first five ingredients are the active ingredients, so it’s misleading to call this “argan oil” conditioner. Oh and it contains methylisothiazolinone. I don’t want to cry wolf, but some tests done on rats (sorry, rats) have indicated the exposure to this compound for too long or in too high quantities can cause nerve damage. Companies insist that it’s very diluted and you rinse it all off down the drain. So maybe it’s fine…or maybe you can just pick a different conditioner. Seems to be a lot of products that don’t contain this preservative, least of all with a label that says “Naturals”.


Watsons Naturals Argan Oil Shampoo

C’mon, guys, we know the rules: no parabens, no silicones, no sulfates. And here the second ingredient is sodium laureth sulfate. It’s the stuff that makes your shampoo bubble and foam, but it can dry out your skin and hair, cause skin irritation or allergies in the long-term. You’re better off without it, and plenty of products no longer contain SLS. And just like with the matching conditioner above, argan oil is so far down the list that it can hardly be considered an active ingredient.

just no
just no

Herbal Essences Naked Shampoo

I was so excited when I first saw this American product at Watsons that I bought the extra-large shampoo and the extra-large conditioner. But then I got home, and, bummer: it contains SLS, which can dry out or irritate your hair and skin.

It especially annoys me because the bottle is like “no parabens, no silicones, no colorant” but then it has other problematic ingredients. Truth: I used the shampoo and conditioner as shaving lotion for my legs. I guess I’m not that opposed to sulfates, mostly just opposed to having split ends that necessitate losing inches of hair.

amateur vagrant taiwan hair care products watsons avalon organics clarifying lemon shampoo

Avalon Organics Lemon Clarifying Shampoo

Hey! We may have a winner. The ingredients all check out in terms of being safe and natural. However, my hair is dry, so I would personally avoid anything harsh enough to call itself “clarifying lemon.” Sounds like split ends to me! But at least there are some not-bullshit products available at the drugstore.

amateur vagrant hair care products taiwan watsons amma garden coffee strengthening shampoo

Amma Coffee Strengthening Shampoo

This is another contender for “possibly not going to destroy your hair.” I haven’t tried this particular product, but I’ve use some other Amma Garden shampoos and conditioners, and I felt like they were very drying. Really, my hair like an underloved horse and I have to be intentional about not doing much with it to make it stay healthy and long like I like it.

Ascience Treatment Hair Mask

I don’t even have a picture of this product, that’s how bad the breakup was. It started off so well: after months of dryness and split ends, my hair was gorgeous. And then things started to go downhill. I tried using more product in my hair; I tried using it more often. Then I did some research found out that the dimethicone was the culprit. It coats the hair shaft, makes it silky soft and smooth, but after a while, no moisture can get to the hair and it just breaks and breaks.

Maaaybe you could use this like once in a blue moon when you need your hair to look amazing for a special event. Using it more often than that will destroy your hair.

After experimenting for two years, I actually ended up losing like six inches of my hair. I was bummed! But I learned a lot and now I am happy with my no-poo routine. I have been ordering all-natural conditioners (many different types) from iherb.com (affiliate link) because I couldn’t find anything natural in the stores.

Zhongli Bowling on Wednesday nights

amateur vagrant things to do in zhongli taiwan taoyuan bowling zhongmei road

Nearly every Wednesday night in Zhongli, you can find a big group of foreigners and locals bowling together at the lanes on Zhongmei Road.

Many of them play in the official Jungli Bowling League. Anyone can join, but you have to commit to being there every Wednesday for the length of the season (there are two per year). If you miss more than two weeks…you turn into a pumpkin or something. I don’t know. No one is begging me to be on their team.

If your team wins, you get a prize.

amateur vagrant things to do in zhongli taiwan bowling league 2016 flyer

Alternatively, you can just show up on Wednesday nights and linger until someone assigns you a lane.

BYOB if you want to drink anything other than regular Taiwan Beer. But how cool is that? There’s a 7-11 just across the street, full of icy cold ones.

amateur vagrant things to do in zhongli taoyuan taiwan bowling lanes

As with all these activities organized by Zhongli foreigners, some people take it very seriously. You can usually identify them by the way they thump their chests and feel the need to explain themselves when they don’t bowl a strike.

Many others view the weekly bowling night as a different venue for drinking with the same people.

I take the extreme position that bowling actually interferes with consuming beer, so I’d rather just go to the bar. Except I don’t drink during the week (anymore).

It’s NT$240 per person per game. The shoe “rentals” are free. You literally walk behind the desk and get your shoes yourself. Wild!

Anyway, it’s a lot of fun and an excellent way to meet people.