Air, Water, Fire, Earth…..

In Taiwan, it is hot and muggy. Right now, it’s summer. I have spent considerable time and resources gathering intel on the coming winter months and how to prepare. It looks like….probably a T-shirt and shorts, which is exactly what I’m wearing now. It’s hot now, and it will only get cool in the winter. It’s muggy as well. Along with the different currency I also have to get used to thinking in kilograms, kilometers, and Celsius. In my room with no air conditioning, it’s usually around 31 degrees Celsius, or about 88 degrees Fahrenheit. I like to keep it at a nice 25-26 degrees (75-79 Fahrenheit) which feels normal to me. Usually at work I like to keep it as low as 22 (71.6 Fahrenheit).

I now appreciate elevators much more than before. Need to go up one flight? Elevator. Need to walk up the steps because there is no elevator? Slowly slowly, I’ll get up the steps and feel the sweat roll down my face. Going outside, regardless of attire, means my clothes will likely be soaked in sweat no matter what time of day it is. Air conditioning is vital, and thankfully it’s everywhere (almost as omnipresent as the wireless internet). Exercise is naturally a pain because I have to drink more water than what I’m used to. While the primary danger in this country is the traffic (everything from driving too fast to trying to squeeze into impossible spaces to not slowing down for pedestrians to following a car through a red light into an intersection and blocking the adjacent cars to paying more attention to the little TV screen by the dashboard more than the traffic lights…) the second highest danger as a foreigner is dehydration, I would guess. Cold showers are my friend.

The first few times when I walked out of the shower and some of the water on my feet ended up on the floor, I was puzzled as to why some of those spots were black. Eventually another foreigner explained to me that the highest polluting coal power plant in the world is not too far from here, so the invisible residue from the plant floats through the air and covers everything. Apparently the air in the distance clears after rain (it hasn’t rained in the past three weeks I’ve been here) and hazes back up within a day. I’m looking forward to typhoon season. Winter may not be coming, but hurricanes are!

In addition to cultural fears of illness that began with the spread of SARS, the reason many people wear surgeon-type masks here is because when they’re driving their scooters they want to protect themselves from all the tiny black particles, as they burn gasoline all the way. I’ll be doing so before long. It’s the only way to get around in this city. Despite this I ought to mention the taxis, only because the two times I’ve ridden in taxis so far, they have been on time, nice and clean, and operated by friendly patient drivers. Ordering a taxi can be easily done from the machine at 7Eleven of course, and then it’s just a matter of the language barrier.

So when people park their scooters, they need to find a convenient place to put them: the sidewalk. As someone who usually walks places (although I’ve now ridden on scooters (with conscientious drivers!) several times now) this can get irritating. One inevitably has to walk in the street because the sidewalk is blocked. You have to watch your step (I know I’ve said the same thing about France but this time I mean it) since the pathways are so uneven. During the day you want to walk close to the buildings anyway to avoid excess exposure to sunlight, and columns usually align the edge of the sidewalk so that your shielded from the sun until you get to the street. But it’s a constant weaving pattern when you’re walking, up the step, onto the sidewalk, down the step, around the scooters, around the plants, up the step, and on and on, through the flesh-searing heat, the city air, sweat permeating your clothes, the flat marble roads, and the smells of Chinese food.



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