I really like the way some of these places have been put together. It reminds of the mice who lived in Rodney Peppe's shoe.
If you want to fit in on public transport you drop your head. Cynics might think that they do it so that if the elderly or pregnant get on then they won't see and won't feel obliged to stand up for them. I think they just like resting their eyes. I saw one bloke that was standing up drop his head as if he was asleep but he couldn't have been because he'd only just walked onto the train. One woman I saw was pummelling her face around the eyes and cheeks with the tips of her fingers, but I didn't ask her why.
This was on the way back from a hike I almost didn't get to go on. I would have been most upset. We had a Saturday activity planned at work but it was cancelled because the kids had something going on at their real school. (I teach at the school where they go when they've finished school and some of them are still there while eight and beyond - my working hours change when they go on holiday from real school to 8.30-6; sometimes 8.30 to 7.30).
We met some friends on a beautiful Saturday morning in a place on the east coast called Dali. Sally doesn't like the rain but I made her come anyway. She cheered up on the way downhill and I'll admit that I would have preferred a clear day to the drenching we got.
It was a trail through the hills and it incorporated some history about someone important who was stuck up in the mountains and he drew the ancient Chinese character for a tiger on a rock to protect himself.
This was on the way down... after she'd cheered up.
We crossed a tonne of people on the trail. The rain didn't seem to bother them either. Everyone had these plastic bags on, but some had umbrellas. They like to walk into you with their umbrellas. In the end you just start pushing the umbrellas out of your way. They don't mind.
These two were just stationed along the trail promoting something. Maresa and Camille beat them at the game they were playing with people so they won some hats.
They leave brooms in the corners of these shrines, so I made use. It's definitely not as funny as I thought it was at the time though.
Most of these people are the people we went on the walk with, but I'm not sure why the lady in the centre-right is waving. It might be because we were about to share a bus-ride. They are very friendly.
I won't go into detail about our trip because Sally already did. One particular morning, Sally and I went to visit the temple grounds and distribution centre. We found out that the latter is about 5 miles away from the former, but as we approached the temple I heard a distress call from this little kitten. We spent a couple of years deciding what to do with it but since it was right next to a busy road and there was a woman being dragged along by her dog at the other side of the hedge we popped the kitten in Sally's bag and took it with us.
The missionaries gave it some milk and told us that stray cats are no big deal in Hong Kong. We wanted to take it home. Sally always wants kittens. I really liked this one.
For my birthday we went out with some friends to Chili's, an American restaurant in an ex-pat area of Taipei, and bowling.
Christmas was brilliant. I got the day off. It made it a three-day weekend, we got invited round for dinner and we opened all our presents on Christmas Eve.
We met up with Brant on Boxing Day and went to the National Museum of History. They had a load of Van Gogh's earlier work in there, it was really good. Unlucky for us everyone else thought so too. They seemed to prefer being in a place with lots of other people than looking at the art. They're very social. You couldn't even move, let alone see anything...
It was less crowded about an hour before closing and worth the money it hadn't been before. After you get annoyed that you can't do anything on your days off because everything's rammed, you start to understand that this is how these people live their lives.
Their only paid holidays are national holidays that the government always moves to the weekend, and when they don't everyone has to have a make-up day on another Saturday. Apart from a week off at Chinese New Year, that's it. No one takes unpaid holiday because it means they have to catch up at work afterwards.
We'd planned on getting away for two weeks at Chinese New Year since one of those weeks was paid, but by the time they got back to me to let me know it was okay to take the time the flight prices had gone up so much that it wasn't nearly worth it. And that was only when I managed to find flights that weren't already full. They have a mass exodus every February.
So on those rare days when they don't have to go to work, neither does anybody else, so the museums, the hot springs, the restaurants, the cinemas, the hiking trails, everything gets full and becomes rubbish because its so crowded.
On our way to the cinema
These are the flowers I bought for Sally on Christmas day. They look beautiful, but we're getting used to the idea that no matter how good something looks, it will inevitably disappoint sooner or later. They turned brown within a few days.
We went to see Avatar and either the glasses we had made everything too dark to see the screen properly or we were sat in a bad spot in the cinema, because we didn't seem to be getting the same effect that people are raving about.
The cakes here also look incredible. Then you eat them and you wish you had some 99p gateau from Morisson's instead.
Like this one...
But then we had a nice experience with a French restaurant. The Chinese chef was brilliant. Brant took us out to a full on dinner at a posh restaurant because he was leaving to go home (via Japan) the next day. We were really lucky to be able to spend December in the company of Benji and Brant. Otherwise it would have sucked.
I even got to go rock climbing (indoors) because Brant's Swedish friend from Chinese school does it a lot. Benji's dream is to be a famous underwear model. He's done a load of stuff for various adverts and he eventually convinced me to sign up too (with my clothes on). Modelling's a bit different here - if you're white you're in. I've been in a couple of adverts, the first of which was a Chinese tug-of-war team losing to a team of Westerners until they smell the noodles being advertised and proceed to pull us all over.