amateur vagrant

i'm leaving and you should come with me

Is it Chinglish or is it just you?

I think Chinglish is funny as the next chick. Check out my new shirt.

I also think that it’s funny when people who don’t read Chinese make mistakes, like translating “Chicken and mushroom tarts” as “Timid and rapidly grown prostitute(s)” in Chinese.

(Here’s another example that requires more context than I feel like giving.)

Is that reverse Chinglish? Englese?

It’s easy to find lots of examples of Chinglish, Ingrish, or other versions of funny, bad translations in English.

But sometimes, native English speakers think they’ve found some funny Chinglish just because they’re in Asia and they didn’t understand something written in plain English.

“Traceability” here is a strange word, though it’s a common bad translation in Taiwan for “heirloom”, as in “like heirloom tomatoes.” We’re supposed to laugh at “Jew’s Ear,” but actually that’s the English name for a kind of mushrooms. (Though I think most of us prefer to call it “wood ear”, which is actually what it’s called in Chinese, too.)

traceability jew's ear

I found this one today. “Baymax the personal healthcare companion lol…oh, wait? What? There’s an American movie about Baymax the personal healthcare companion? Oh, I had no idea since I haven’t seen that movie.”

But I can’t be cheeky. When I got to Taiwan in 2004 and saw people wearing “Suicidal Tendencies” caps, I laughed because that is a ridiculous phrase and funny without any context at all. Until I learned that Suicidal Tendencies was the name of a band and I just wasn’t that cool. (To be fair, we’ve both been around since 1981 and I don’t think that they’ve heard of me, either.)

Here is a picture from tumblr. It’s still funny because a middle-aged woman is wearing and presumably she doesn’t know what it says because presumably she wouldn’t listen to Suicidal Tendencies even if she did know who they were.

Oh, middle-aged ladies. Always good for a laugh.

taiwanese woman wearing suicidal tendencies hat

And this one is funny cause POO HAHAHAHAHA but “poo” just means “crab” in Thai, a little vocabulary lesson a buddy of mine wants to teach the world. (He gets really mad about this.)

poo pad curry

Then there was this picture that my husband took and shared with the Taiwan Chinglish Facebook group. We got into a messaging-brawl with our good friend who said “urinal bowl” is perfectly acceptable English and therefore not Chinglish.

I insisted it is Chinglish because “urinal bowls” has a specific meaning as a piece of hardware for the bathroom and it’s not what we call a men’s publish bathroom, let alone a urinal.  Google it. AND I WAS RIGHT, DUDE, DROP IT!!!! YOU WANNA LOSE A FRIEND OVER A “URINAL BOWL”?!

urinal bowl

Check out these accounts for more good times:

Taiwan Chinglish on Facebook

chinglish.taiwan on instagram

Accidental Chinese Hipsters on tumblr

February 15, 2016 Chinglish, life in Taiwan , , ,

Eating kelp noodles

So yesterday I posted about finding almost-zero-calorie, no-carb, high-fiber noodles at the grocery stores here. I had wanted to tell you how we have been eating them at home, but I felt like the post was getting too long.

Here is how we eat them chez moi as a noodle soup.

1. Steam you some vegetables.
2. Get you some of this Japanese soup base in a bottle. Or make your own with this recipe from Just One Cookbook.
japanese soup base in a bottle
3. Boil some water in the kettle.

4. Rinse you off a bag of these noodles. Soak them in a bowl of hot, but not currently, boiling water for like a minute or so. You can toss that water out or use it to dilute your soup base.

korean and japanese kelp noodles

4. Pour some of the soup base over the noodles and add some more hot water as necessary. Add the soup base to taste. We make it a little strong, I think, but then we don’t drink it, we just eat the noodles.

5. Add the steam vegetables on top and anything else like spring onions or fresh cilantro if you like.

kelp noodle soup with steam vegetables

In case you noticed, yes, this is like a slightly more adult version of instant ramen. I’ve also used broth/bouillon powder and tom yum paste for the soup base and it’s never not been awesome. Also, you can toss in a little tofu or a hardboiled egg to make an even more substantial meal.

I really find this stuff very filling, like if I have this for lunch I don’t need to eat until dinner time, and even then I can eat sensibly. So, yay!

My fitness plan right now is basically lots of kelp noodles + hula hooping + red wine + green tea.

February 14, 2016 healthy eating, life in Taiwan

Super low-cal noodle substitutes

So the other day I was in the store and I found these

I had to have a conversation with my buddy who speaks and reads Chinese waaaaay better than I do to find out that these noodles were made with agar agar, which comes from seaweed. They have nearly 0 calories in a serving, no carbs, and tons of fiber.


So of course they are a bit crispy/rubbery/chewy in texture. But no so bad once you stop wishing they were egg noodles. There are some total benefits, though:

  1. They make a great noodle salad. Mix up your favorite peanut sauce or salad dressing, however you like it, and that’s it. Add whatever chopping veggies you like and you’re done, so great.
  2. They basically never get soggy. It’s been really cold here lately (not the past two days, but all the days before that all the way back to Christmas) and I’ve been like making a bowl of noodle soup, then leaving it out, then eating it the next day (no animal products) and the noodles exactly as chewy as they were the day before. Yay no waste!
  3. You don’t have to cook them. You rinse them when you take them out of the bag, and you can soak them in hot water for literally one minute to take the chill off, but that’s it.

A Taiwanese friend of mine said she went on a diet using these noodles to replace all her rice and conventional noodles, and she lost weight. Obviously, I’m down with that, though for me it might not be quite so easy since we are American and we still get a lot of carbs from bread, cereal, etc.

korean and japanese kelp noodles

I found some Japanese varieties at Carrefour, but it’s all basically the same, made with seaweed and magic. I also bought some of the same stuff in block form because I’ve heard that can be prepared and served as “vegan” sashimi. Why not? Cheap sashimi is basically a vehicle for getting salty soy sauce and nostril-cavity-cleansing wasabi into me, anyway, so why not just eat kelp jelly instead of meat?

In my researchings online, I learned that this is the same stuff that’s used as a base for those tasty fruit jellies the kids always have, especially this time of year.

fruit jelly cups

However I also learned the sad news that because this stuff doesn’t dissolve in water (that’s why my noodles don’t get soggy overnight), it was responsible for a few kids choking to death. Please be careful with the little ones eating these noodles or the jellies!

For folks in Taiwan, you can buy the Korean seaweed noodles at the QuanLian (全聯福利中心) grocery stores. I saw the thinner version of the Japanese noodles at my local RT-Mart and the wider version (our favorite) at Carrefour. In the States, you can probably find them at some Asian grocery stores. If not, Amazon has a many varieties of kelp noodles.

quanlian store

Check out this post from Just Hungry for more information and suggestions about eating Japanese kelp noodles.

February 13, 2016 healthy eating, life in Taiwan , , ,

dirt don’t hurt

This started as a Facebook rant, but then I started trying to qualify my point and I realized dammit, I’m blogging, so here is my blog on why I sweep like once a week. (Also keep in mind that we don’t have kids in case you are either feeling jealous or think it’s super gross in here.)

I have been trying out this male superpower of walking into a room and not giving a fuck if it’s clean and not even noticing if it’s dirty. Cause why should I stress about dishes in the sink or socks on the floor or dust under the entertainment center if nobody else cares? And I mean that with love and grace: Why should I care if you don’t care? I would rather be reading or writing. I would rather be drinking wine and watching Golden Girls. I feel like I’ve been groomed to be a domestic helper and you know what? It’s just not that important.

no dishes no problems

no dishes no problems

And those of you who know I’m married, don’t let this reflect badly on my husband. The reality is that I was getting really stressed out about the house for the first two or three years we were together. Then I kind of realized that I wasn’t even cleaning that much; I was just constantly stressing out cause it wasn’t clean and stressing him out cause I was stressed out. He didn’t even notice it was dirty until it was like really, really dirty. So I’ve been trying to improve my tolerance and turn a blind eye to any mess that isn’t actually organic material. I feel like we are arguing about it a lot less and he seems to be helping a lot more. The house isn’t guest-ready most of the time, but we lean in when we know people are coming over. The rest of the time, I prioritize writing, reading, and cuddling. It’s easier to cuddle when you aren’t trying to keep points on who did the dishes more times this week. And I’d rather wash the bathroom piece by piece when I feel like it than fight with him to do it on a schedule that doesn’t align with his ideas about when it needs to get done.

Overall, I’d say our house is probably cleaner than his bachelor place was, but dirtier than mine was.

Also, I get tired of having the same damn conversation with my girlfriends. On the hand, it just really sucks that I know so many women who are married to or living with men who just haven’t figured out that if you blow chunks of shit all over the back of the toilet bowl, you should probably clean that shit up IMMEDIATELY. Why wait? On the other hand, I am so fucking bored with it. Not only am I supposed to “waste” my time cleaning the house and worrying about keeping the house clean, but now when I take a night off to drink wine with some sexy ladies, I gotta spend that time talking about dirty toilets and unvacuumed floors?!

give no fucks

February 9, 2016 getting shit done , ,

this plant right here

This plant won’t die.

A photo posted by Keili Rae Gunden (@amateur_vagrant) on

This plant right here was in our old apartment when we moved in a year and a half ago. The girl who was moving out said, “This plant was here when we got here, so, yeah…”

It was growing out of a hole in a rock that was rubber-cemented to a little ceramic saucer. It was kind of cool, insofar as you were like, “Whoa, how does that plant grow out of that hole in the rock?”

We cat-sat for a friend for like a month, and this cat had a thing about eating houseplants. We tried to keep her away from them, but every now and then she’d get on my desk unobserved and start nomming on my plants. She ate the leaves right off this one, so I knew it was gonna die cause a plant can’t survive without leaves.

But it didn’t die. The leaves grew back. At first, there was just a tiny green bud, and it took a couple of weeks, but then the little leaves came back.

I watered it every now and then, but I knew it was gonna die cause it was stuck in that tiny hole in a rock.

We moved to the new place and I brought it with me. I noticed the rubber cement was loose now and I pulled the rock right off the tray. Then I saw that the hole was perfectly round, probably drilled in the rock, but not much bigger than my finger. There was some dirt in there, but it was the same dirt that had been there since whenever this plant was stuck in the rock.

I could only get the plant out of the rock by pulling it out roots first. I was careless and some of the leaves fell off again, or maybe they would have fallen off anyway. But I knew they would grow back. I planted it in a bigger pot with some fresh soil, gave it some water and stuck it in the window where it would get at least a little sunlight.

Now the leaves are back, as big as ever, and a second stem is growing out the top.

I love this plant. It hardly needs dirt or water or sunlight, just a little of the basics and it’ll slowly keep doing what it’s supposed to do: grow.

Anyone know what kind of plant this is, besides badass?

February 8, 2016 inspiration , ,

New digs

A couple of weeks ago we vacated our primo downtown pad on the 12th floor of a fancy high rise and moved into a fifth-floor walk-up on a side street near the night market. I thought it might be interesting for for folks living in Taiwan to consider the differences.

Getting upstairs

The old place had an elevator from the garage to our apartment, obviously, since it was like a 15-story building.

The new place has only stairs.

Winner: I still like the new place. Living on the fifth floor only requires us to walk up four flights of stairs and after the first couple days it didn’t seem like such a chore. It’s also a little bit more exercise than we were getting a few weeks ago. But the biggest bonus is not ever being stuck in the elevator with a petulant high-school girl and her unhappy mother.


In the downtown spot, there was a room in the garage where we could drop off our trash and our recycling whenever it was convenient for us.

In the new place, we have to take the trash out when the trash truck comes between 6:00 and 6:15 every day. That is how we get the trash out of our house.

Winner: Man, you aren’t going to believe me, but although it’s not so obviously convenient to have to run downstairs and meet the trash truck, I’m liking it better because we take the trash out more often. There’s only two or three days a week that either of us is free at 6:00, so we can’t afford to a miss a trash day.


The old place had garage parking with assigned spots. That was really nice when it was cold and rainy because you could get your rain gear on without actually being in the rain.

The new place has street parking only.

Winner: Garages are great. The old place certainly wins this round, especially on rainy nights when I come home and someone has moved all the scooters to park a blue truck and there aren’t any spots left for me near my door.


The old place had two full baths with fancy shower systems. You could adjust the way the water came out of the showerheads, and if you wanted to (we never did), you could fill up the tub and turn on the jets and have a little jacuzzi experience.

The new place has a full bathroom about the size of a bedroom. Why is it so big? We don’t know. There’s just a ton of empty space. There’s a bathtub, which is a little bit of a luxury, but it’s old and the liner is pretty worn. There’s a showerhead, but it’s kind of at an awkward angle. There is no shower curtain rod, so there is no shower curtain.

Winner: Our old place was a little too high-tech for my tastes, but I do love me a good shower and not having to do backbends when I want to wash my hair. Although, I feel like I am getting tougher showering in a bathroom so big, drafty, and cold. I guess if I had to choose, the old bathroom was more comfortable…but I love how spacious the new one is, and the funky tiles. Let’s call it a tie!

Check out our toiletree. #Taiwan

A photo posted by Keili Rae Gunden (@amateur_vagrant) on

Hot water

The old place obviously had hot running water in both bathrooms and the kitchen because that is normal and civilized. Most of us would even say it’s necessary.

The new place has a big, electric hot water heater on the back porch. I didn’t get that excited when the real estate agent pointed it out because obviously you need a hot water heater. But there is only hot water for shower–not for the bathroom sink, not for the washing machine, not for the kitchen sink. Also, you have to turn on the water heater about 30 minutes before you want to shower and turn it off again when you’re finished so as not to waste electricity.

Winner: The transition to having no hot water in the kitchen hasn’t been as difficult as I thought it would be: We just use lots of extra soap to wash the dishes. But if I had a choice, I’d obviously want to have hot running water wherever we were using water.


The old place had gas piped right into the stove and we just paid the bill every month, no big deal.

The new place has a giant canister of gas right next to the stove. We have to turn the gas on and off. When the canister is empty, we call a guy who dashes over on his scooter faster than you can imagine and runs another giant canister of gas up five flights of stairs.

Winner: Definitely more convenient to have a stove connected to the gas line, but it’s not that big of a deal to use the canister, either. As long as you or someone who likes you can speak enough Chinese to get a fresh canister of gas, you’ll be fine.

Drinking water

This has nothing to do with which apartment we are living in, but we finally got ourselves a water cooler. Instead of taking jugs to the water dispensing machine and lugging them back to our place, we call and someone delivers five water cooler bottles for NT$300. I don’t know why we waited so long to sort this out because it’s so much better like this.

Winner: Us.


We were paying NT$16,000 plus a guard fee every month for the privilege of living downtown. We made the mistake we often make of telling ourselves, “Man, that is so much cheaper than it would be in the States!” In fact, for Taiwan, for Zhongli, that’s pretty expensive.

Our new place is actually a lot bigger–we have four “bedrooms” and two storeys. The kitchen and bathroom are much, much bigger even though there’s only one bathroom. We also have the whole roof (with a motherfucking koi pond!) all to ourselves. For this palace, we are only paying NT$11,000 a month. According to our frugal Chinese friends, we should have talked down the price some more, but we’re satisfied with what we’re getting for the money and the landlord has been very responsive with all our issues so far.

Winner: The new place is much cheaper; there’s no comparison.

I imagine that if you grew up in a place like this, you’d really look forward to moving into a more modern building with an elevator, an automatic water heater, a gas line, etc. But for us, this place is novel. We say it has a lot of personality. What it lacks in convenience, it makes up for in quirks and sheer spaciousness. I only wish we hadn’t wasted more than a year paying too much in rent. You live, and if you’re lucky, you learn!

February 6, 2016 life in Taiwan

These ideas are mine

My new shirt is killing me. 😂 😂 😂 😂 😂 😂😂

February 5, 2016 Chinglish, life in Taiwan , ,

the worst people in the world

I see this almost every day when I am driving to work at the intersection of Zhongfeng Road and the Ring Road. Some inattentive person closes the gap between the scooters and the cars and the dozens of scooters coming up behind have to line up between the cars or block the right-turn lane trying to get out of the way. There’s a big ol’ scooter box and it’s mostly empty. Everyone just sits there in between buses and garbage trucks, breathing in fumes and trying not to get when the right lane starts moving.

It makes me crazy mad.  the worst drivers in taiwan zhongli

January 7, 2016 life in Taiwan , , ,

Halloween in ‘Wan, 2015

This was the first year in many, many years that I remember being really pumped about Halloween. I cycled through a lot of ideas like “sexy gumball machine” (wut) and “50 Shades of Grey” (can you just dress up as a whole movie?) before the best idea I’ve ever had came to me. This year, I was a T-cup.


Get it? Actually, I was really surprised at how many people got it right away and how many more thought it was really funny. I wa surprised/shocked at how many friends of mine, really mild-mannered married types, thought it was definitely okay to start tugging at my teacups. Not that I didn’t expect some lewd comments-I did it for the dirty jokes!-but buddies getting handsy was a bit too far.
One female dummy ripped off my lefy cup about ten minutes into the evening. Thankfully, it was nothing that couldn’t be fixed with a stapler, but what the hell?
Also, a dude bought me a beer. He basically looked at my teacups and paid for the beer I was ordering. That rarely happened when I was younger and cuter, and that hasn’t happened in years at this point. Also, I drunkenly messed up someone’s pool shot and was apologizing as profusely as possible when he said, “I think we can give you a pass”, wink wink. Really, the only other time I have gotten that much attention was when I was about 40 pounds thinner and like ten years younger, and that lasted like all of one summer.
We celebrated J’s birthday on Saturday, too, but lost a crowd of people after the restaurant, then a crowd after the first bar…then got a new crowd of hardcore partiers at our last stop.
At some point late in the evening, I made the very drunk decision to pee whilst squatting above the trough in the men’s room. I almost fell in before I got my aim right, but the guy next to me wqs cheering me on. He was really encouraging. Definitely Canadian. I had to tell J about it, and he just shook his head. No one else could be married to me, I’m sure.
We pulled an Irish exit around 2:30 and got some street snacks, went home and watched some more Golden Girls.
I’ll post some directions about the T-cup costume later, if anyone is interested. I tried to take some photos while it was under construction, but really I was making it up as I went along.

November 2, 2015 life in Taiwan

Job hunting in Taiwan vs job hunting in the US

Here's a picture my students drew during a Halloween activity.

Here’s a picture my students drew during a Halloween activity.

Having just finished a rigorous week [update: that week was about three months ago] of deciding which English teaching job I would take here in Zhongli, I thought it might be interesting for to detail the differences between finding a job in the US and finding a teaching gig here.

For context, the last job I sincerely applied for and got back in the US was my content writing position at Rosetta Stone. It was four months from the day I sent my application until the day I started. I went through two rounds of telephone interviews and a rigorous day-long set of interviews with every person on the writing team. When I finally got the offer, the starting date was a month away.

I should also note that not everyone will have the same experience looking for teaching jobs here in Taiwan. I’m white, female, straight, 34, and American. Every single one of these factors privileges me over other candidates who are not white, not female (and feminine, with long hair and cute outfits), too young or too old, and not American. At 5’4″ and 158 pounds, I am too fat to be attractive by conventional Taiwanese standards, but you can’t win them all. Most people here “know” that Americans are fat because we love pizza and hamburgers, so to the people hiring me, I’m a typical American.

That being said, I’d also like to humbly point out that on the occasions when I’ve had the opportunity to stand up for male teachers, black or Asian teachers, or gay teachers, I’ve done so. I do know that it’s a lot easier for me for a lot of reasons that have nothing to do with any qualifications I’ve earned (I have a BA in philosophy…), so I run my big American mouth when I can to defend other teachers against harmful stereotypes.

I know we don’t typically talk about discrimination against white dudes in almost any field, but I’ve had multiple teachers and managers tell me that it’s much better to have female teachers. They say women are more maternal; I suspect we also put up with more bullshit; I know female teachers here who put up with at least the same bullshit for less pay. Anyway, I am certainly not more nurturing than a guy who is nurturing. I am not a particularly nurturing person, but I try to keep my students safe, clean, and dry, even if I have to do some of the cleaning and drying for them.

Another factor: I live in Zhongli. It doesn’t have the culture and nightlife of Taipei, Taichung, Tainan, or Kaohsiung. It doesn’t have the beaches of Kenting or the beaches and mountains of the east coast. There is no small town charm here. There are lots of factories,  hordes of high-rise apartment buildings ruining the view in every direction, pollution, terrible weather in both summer and winter, and stifling traffic from 8am-8pm every day. Not a lot of foreigners are rushing to live here, especially if they want to enjoy their brief teaching time here. Judging from the plaintive cries of desperation coming from teachers looking for hours in Taipei, I’d say it’s much easier finding work here than it is there.

Finding jobs in the US: Join LinkedIn, discover which job sites and networking sites are most heavily used by employers in your field, send out business-y emails to friends and family who might have connections. Go to job fairs and sign up for seminars and conferences.

Finding jobs in Taiwan: I posted my availability on Facebook groups like “Need a Sub Teacher or Want to Sub Teacher in Taiwan?” and “Taoyuan Info Exchange. Buy, Sell, trade & English Teaching matters.” [sic] I sent out a mass message on Facebook messenger to some other teachers here with the same information. Within a few hours, I connected online (as Facebook friends or on the Line app) with about half a dozen schools looking for teachers.

Cover letters and resumes in the US: Meticulously written and rewritten, tailored to every new job posting. I consult lists verbs that will make me sound like a go-getter groomed for success. I pass around rough drafts to friends and family and pore over every suggestion. I draft e-mails and force myself to wait two hours before sending so that I can look at it with fresh eyes, making sure beyond a shadow of a doubt that there is not one letter or period out of place. I pray, I fret, I regret every edit.

Cover letters and resumes in Taiwan:  hahahahahahahaha

Corresponding with potential employers in the US: You have to use the most boring e-mail address you have, and if it’s not, it had better not be Edit twice, send once, and make sure the damn files are attached.

Corresponding with potential employers in Taiwan: Teachers from schools looking for new teachers started friending me on Facebook when they sent their first message. We correspond via Facebook messenger and the Line app (similar to WeChat in the US, I think).

What to wear to a job interview in the US: I researched it online and went with a navy blue pinstripe skirt suit, feminine heels (just high enough to be cute, but not high enough to be sexy). I bought a new white button-down just for the occasion, something appropriate but not very interesting. I wore pantyhose. I never wear pantyhose.

What to wear to a job interview in Taiwan: I wore a black-and-white striped skirt from Target and a white lace polo shirt over a nude tanktop. I wore the black ballet-slipper-style Crocs that I always wear. I spoke to two schools that day, and both managers seemed surprised by my outfit. “You don’t need to dress like that! Our teachers wear very sporty clothes here!” I brought a computer bag stuffed with stickyballs and reproducibles and they were very impressed with my professionalism.

The job interview in the US: I printed out lists of interview questions and wrote out answers to them. I contemplated my strategy and how my words might be misunderstood by someone who had just met me. I rehearsed and practiced. I thought long and hard about my life goals, what I wanted out of a job, why content writing was the only job for me. I researched the company and prepared a list of questions about the work environment. I brought a notebook and took notes. I left feeling simultaneously like I had done the best I could and like I was never going to get a job and probably going to have to move back to Taiwan to teach.

The job interview in Taiwan: Two out of the three schools I visited sat me down and told me what my schedule was going to be as soon as I walked in the door.

I was originally thinking to write something funnier about my experiences, but it doesn’t seem very funny to me because a lot of people are getting passed over because they are black or brown. I have a lot of traits that privilege me when I’m looking for work here that are just accidents of birth: being white, being American. But it’s still mind-boggling to me how mechanical the process of finding a teaching gig can be. They need a foreigner, they stick a foreigner in a class with a 20 kids for an hour, done and done. I always try my best and try to keep in mind that I am dealing with young human beings, but the schools don’t ever seem concerned about that.

October 18, 2015 life in Taiwan