Saturday, 26 January 2008

Nanjing Dong Lu (Nanjing East Road)

I have a (hopefully) interesting story to tell about this road. Long before I heard of the famous "Nanjing Dong Lu" 南京東路 in Shanghai I knew of the Nanjing Dong Lu in Taipei because my grandparents lived near there. They haven't always lived there but have lived there for just over 20 years now. They bought the place when it was brand new (and my aunt (and uncle) bought the place one floor above so that she could help take care of my grandmother). It is right in the heart of the city in a very convenient location and due to its location their humble little apartment would cost a lot more to rent than our place in either Sydney or Shanghai.

When I first went to Shanghai 3 years ago (on the same trip where I also visited Taiwan) I started to learn of this famous road and thought to myself "OMG it's the same road as the one in Taipei!"

Nanjing Road is obviously named after the city of Nanjing (or Nanking as it used to be known) in China and while I've been here I've noticed that Shanghai and Taipei have SO many road names in common. It is kind of like dejavu and kind of freaky like I don't even know where I am anymore...

Another weird (but good) thing I've noticed is that I can read so much more of the signage than before. I don't know how this happened other than I seem to have a pretty good memory and when I see the same character over and over again I just remember it (even if I wouldn't have a clue how to write it). I used to be able to read less than half the characters on signs in Taiwan but now I can read almost everything. I can read bus stop signs and menus with ease. Even going back to 'traditional characters' doesn't faze me.


I'm quite impressed with myself! :)

My Grandparents Part II

In contrast to my maternal grandparens my poor paternal grandparents have been riddled with health problems. My grandfather is generally OK (despite having diabetes and asthma and being quite underweight) and can get about and do things, but my grandmother is pretty much house-bound and has been for a very long time. From the last time I saw her (3 years ago) till now she seems roughly the same but now she has a walking frame, which she didn't before. She apparently fell over and hurt her foot or ankle so can't walk that well without it. It really pains me to see her in such pain. It also really sux why my family (on both sides) have been riddled with SO many health problems (many of which I've inherited). It really is sad... my poor grandmother (to list but a few.. I don't think I know everything) is partially deaf, has no natural teeth and refuses to wear dentures (can't talk well and everything she eats has to be mushy), extremely thin and underweight, thinning hair, constant stomach pain, feels the cold really easily, had a hysterectomy and heart operation, needs a catheter to go to the toilet, and the list goes on.. it's so so sad and depressing. She can't leave the house unless somebody accompanies her but there is not much point for her to go out anyway. At home she can't be alone either in case something happens or she needs help doing something. She is also no various different medications which she needs to keep track of. She is still sweet and lovely though. She offers me food and drink even though I tell her I am fine. I mean I don't need her hobbling around in her walking frame to get stuff for me! Sheez! But she tries so hard to be a good host/grandmother. It just pains me to see her in such pain. :(

Random thoughts

I'm at my paternal grandparents' apartment now. Using wireless I am 'stealing' from a neighbour (tee hee hee - don't tell!). After not having internet access when I was staying at my cousin's place in 'woop woop' I feel like I've struck the jackpot.

I was staying with my 40+ year old spinster (bachelorette?!) cousin and am now staying with my 80 year old grandparents. I don't know which is worse or which is better but I won't get into that.. it's a bit too personal and likely to bore you.

I am constantly checking up on weather reports whenever I am online and can't believe it is snowing in Shanghai AGAIN! Man! I'm going to freeze when I get back. (ETA: I just saw the snow on the news on TV. Waaah... as much as I hate cold weather there is that magical fairytale quality about snow. The snow in Shanghai is very light, does not stay on the ground and melts quickly.. it is kind of like white, solid rain. Apparently it is snowing all over northern China right now).

The weather in Taipei is... I won't lie... shite. It is what my husband would call "England weather." Cold, grey, dreary and drizzling. Constantly drizzly. It never rains like this in Sydney. It's either dry or it's raining, really raining. But in England and now here in Taipei it's just sprinkling which is kind of frustrating as you sort of need an umbrella and sort of don't. It is about 12-16 degrees here.

Some of the things I really like about Taiwan so far: The variety and cheapness of food, the amazing food courts, the shopping malls and shops in general (where I am free to browse at my own leisure and don't have to bargain unlike in Shanghai!), the politeness and helpfulness of the local people. The non-smoking-ness is unbelievable. It's not just the non-smoking law but the fact that it seems people rarely smoke full stop! It is even better than Sydney where my lungs are accosted by stupid smokers whenever I walk along a busy city footpath. I also love the Japanese-ness of so many things from the shop layouts to the products that they sell to the quirky behaviour (like the elevator ladies who wear hats).. it's all pretty cool.

Some things I don't like at all: The masses of stairs everywhere. (Counted 75 steps from one MRT station exit to the street level). The stupid footpaths that step up and down and are narrow enough as it is but also littered with scooters, motorcycles, stands selling random things, it makes me feel so ugh and so claustrophobic. Not to mention if you have luggage with wheels, a pram, a wheelchair, am elderly with a walking stick/frame, heavily pregnant, or have a broken foot/ankle/leg you are stuffed. You have to go onto the road which is downright dangerous. Or just stay at home and become a hermit. And then when it's raining everything is slippery and disgusting. Also the steps on the bus. The first step is huge. When I came back from Kaohsiung my legs actually buckled underneath me while I was trying to get onto/into the bus! I had a heavy backpack on and a bag in each hand so no hands to hold the rail and gosh it was embarrassing. This man kinda pushed my bag up the stairs for me. and luckily the door didn't trap me I was taking so long to get up those damn steps!

It sounds pretty weird but the stupid up-and-down narrow, crowded footpaths are actually one of the things I remember the most about Taiwan.

I keep thinking I want to move here instead as so many things are better than in Shanghai but I think I still prefer Shanghai more because if I lived here we'd probably live in a tiny place and lots of things would go mouldy and mildew due to the year-round high humidity, we wouldn't be able to afford an ayi or take taxis very often, plus the crowded claustrophobic feeling I just don't like. Kaohsiung is nicer and more spacious (not to mention has warmer weather which is good in winter time) but the air pollution is really bad there, probably even worse than Taipei due to the industrial zone and shipping harbour there. I probably sound like a spoiled brat but after lugging my heavy bags back and forth I really miss the convenience of taking a taxi when I really need to. Besides, I am not 'allowed' to anyway due to my paranoid family. But that's another story.

PS Another great thing about Taiwan is that there is no TGF (the great firewall)!

Friday, 25 January 2008

Heath Ledger dead / Insomnia hell

A search for art supply shops lead me to the Shida (Taiwan National Normal University) area and I also found myself in a desperate need to use a toilet in an area where they were very hard to find. So I just went into a cafe that I wanted to eat at (luckily it was lunch time anyway) and then did my business and ordered and ate my lunch (lasagne). Just before I left I decided to take a look at the Taipei Times newspaper. I was shocked to read on the front cover that Heath Ledger had died.

Here is the exact article I read. Sure the news was 2-3 days late but anyway, I'm out of touch with the news anyway being on vacation...

I was shocked and stunned to read this talented 28-year-old had had his life taken away. accidently or intentionally they are still trying to find the cause from the toxicology tests.

"Last week I probably slept an average of two hours a night," Ledger told the New York Times. "I couldn't stop thinking. My body was exhausted, and my mind was still going."

Having had chronic insomnia myself I know that the way to describe it is like 'hell on earth' and i can understand he would be desperate if he was taking that many Ambien/Stilnox tablets... A few months ago I was going through a bout of insomnia where I slept about 2-3 hours a night. It'd take at least two hours to fall asleep then every little thing would wake me up and I'd be awake for the rest of the night till morning. It has a compounding effect whereby every day gets harder and harder to get through. You still do the things you have to get up like eat, go out, shop, walk... but really, you are running on empty and it becomes near impossible to function. Yet at the same time if you close your eyes you don't just magically fall asleep. On the contrary. Your mind still keeps you awake. And it's something that noone can possibly understand unless they have been there. Comments like "Just stop thinking so much", "take a warm bath before bed," "have a glass of milk," "do more exercise" (I like to see how much exercise you can do when walking just 100m feels like pain)... I got so damn sick of the 'helpful' advice which wasn't helpful at all.

Anyway, I came across someone who had some spare prescription sleeping tablets (Stilnox) and he offered them to me. Desperate, I took them home but then never ended up taking them. I did a little bit of reading online (as I am very very cautious about any kind of prescription drug) and asked my GP friend about them too. Apparently some of the side effects (if you get any) can be pretty horrific.. So I ended up putting up with the torture that is insomnia hell.

I'm so glad I didn't take them though, and I really hope that Heath's apparent overdose was accidental. But it doesn't matter if it was or not, the point is he is gone. Now I wasn't a huge fan of his or anything but 28 is just way too young to die. So sad... :( As for me - I hate to admit this, but I actually had to kick my husband out of our bed and it was only then that I gradually got more and more sleep and 2 hours to fall asleep became 1 and then became 1/2 hour... etc... Sleeping problems suck big time. I've had them ever since I was a kid. Although I don't claim to know anything about Heath's circumstances I can really understand his thinking if he is in that frame of mind where he is thinking too much, has too much anxiety (anxiety drugs were also found in his apartment) and getting only 2 hours sleep a night how he could have easily taken way too many sleeping pills to take the pain of insomnia (and other things) away...

RIP Heath Ledger. :( April 4, 1979 - January 23, 2008

PS I am now going to make sure I watch "Brokeback Mountain" as soon as I get back home. I am a bit disappointed with myself now that we've had the DVD for ages and never watched it! Given that Ang Lee is one of my favourite directors, and now with the unfortunate passing of Heath I'm definitely gonna have to watch it now.

Monday, 21 January 2008

Restaurants non-smoking in Taiwan, Toilets in Shanghai

SMOKE-FREE DINING: The health department called on the public to persuade restaurants to go non-smoking, and is offering prizes to people who are successful

By Mo Yan-chih
Wednesday, Jun 22, 2005, Page 2

Hoping to increase the number of non-smoking restaurants across the country to 10,000 this year, the Department of Health (DOH) yesterday invited the public to ask restaurants owners to establish a smoke-free environment.

"Since the non-smoking restaurant program was introduced in 2003, over 5,000 restaurant have registered with the DOH as smoke-free," said DOH Deputy Director Wang Hsiu-hung (王秀紅) yesterday. "This year, we invited the public to join the campaign and exercise their rights to say `no' to second-hand smoke when they eat out."

The non-smoking restaurant program's director, Han Bor-cheng (韓柏檉), said that the concept of smoke-free restaurants is a global trend, and more restaurants in Taiwan have joined the movement.

"In Ireland and Norway, legislation prohibiting smoking in restaurants has already been passed. In other Western countries, such as the US and Canada, are making similar efforts," said Han, who is also a public health professor at Taipei Medical University.

"In Taiwan, 88 percent of restaurant owners do not believe that a smoke-free environment will drive consumers away," Han said. "We are seeing progress through this program, so I think it will eventually lead to legislation banning smoking in restaurants."

While local restaurants across the country are not required to prohibit smoking, restaurants of at least 200m2 in size are required to establish non-smoking areas. Violators can face fines of up to NT$30,000 in accordance with the Tobacco Hazards Act (菸害防制法).

Wu Chi-hsiung (吳志雄), president of Taipei Medical University, said that people who eat at restaurants with designated non-smoking areas are still harmed by second-hand smoke. Only by establishing smoke-free environment can customers enjoy avoid being harmed while dining, he said.

According to DOH statistics, 93 percent of people support for a law banning smoking in restaurants. Over 75 percent would support the government if it legislated against smoking in restaurants -- and about 80 percent supported the idea of waiters asking smoking patrons not to smoke.

Since the DOH initiated the campaign two years ago, instances where non-smokers had to put up with second-hand smoke in restaurants dropped from 66 percent to 41 percent, according to statistics from the DOH's Bureau of Health Promotion.

Calling on the public to join the campaign, the bureau is sponsoring a raffle in which anyone who successfully persuades restaurant owners to make their establishments smoke-free may win up to NT$100,000.

People who are interested in participating in the program should sign up for the program, persuade restaurant owners to post non-smoking signs in the restaurant, have owners sign a pledge to make their restaurant smoke-free and fax or e-mail the pledge to program officials. They will then be eligible for prizes including refrigerators, DVD players and NT$100,000.

The campaign runs through July 31. For more information, visit the Web site or call 02-2377-7152.

In addition, people can also participate in the "Help My Favorite Restaurant Quit Smoking" promotion, by casting a ballot for restaurants they think should become smoke-free. People wishing to participate in the online vote can do so at the above Web site. Voters will be eligible for NT$500 gift certificates to smoke-free restaurants. The event runs through July 20.

One thing I've noticed so far is all the restaurants and food courts (well all the ones I've been to!) are non-smoking. This is a true joy and pleasure for me. I feel like I'm back home in Australia again rather than some 'poor' little backward Asian country.

One of the things I hate the MOST about China is the incessant smoking. Outside, inside, everywhere. I hate it because I'm an asthmatic with crappy lungs and sensitive airways, but even if I wasn't I'd still hate it. Not only do I hate the effect on my health I just hate the smell permeating throughout my hair, clothes, everything. It stinks and it's gross.

I've long thought if China cleaned up its air pollution, enforced the non-smoking indoors policy (sticking up stickers doesn't do jack), cleaned up the disgusting toilets.. it'd be a much nicer place to live. I wouldn't even complain about all the other stuff foreigners complain about such as traffic, crowds, rudeness, etc.

Not only are restaurants smoke-free in Taiwan, it is rare to see a person smoking full stop! I can't believe it. In Shanghai you can't walk anywhere outside or inside without seeing someone puffing away. And don't get me started on the atrocities inside Grand Gateway. The mall that sells big name brands - the stuff I would never be able to afford - which is supposedly non-smoking but I've seen men hiding out puffing away and then a cleaner lady comes along and picks up the cigaratte and keeps it like it's a $100 dollar bill - ew ew ew!!! And for such an upmarket mall the toilets are in an atrocious state too. Oh and I haven't even mentioned the queue cutters who just walk straight in, ignore the queue of women waiting and then go to the first available toilet!

I was very pleasantly surprised how far Taiwan has come in the world of toilets. There are far fewer squat toilets and more Western style toilets and they are spotlessly clean and they even have a shelf for your belongings, and (OMG!) provide you with toilet paper too. There is nothing worse than having nowhere to put your bags of shopping (no hooks, no shelf, nothing) while you are also hiking up your pants to go to a squat toilet, hoping to God your pant hems don't touch the disgusting, wet, dirty floor! Ew!

I will write more in detail but I am loving Taiwan (except the mosquitos who have eaten me alive). It is more like Japan rather than China. It is like a congested, smaller, messier, cheaper version of Japan - haha. :)

PS I am leaving Kaohsiung now. This is the last time I'm going to have internet access in my bedroom. My huge room with a queen size bed, own bathroom, lovely 4 storey house and grandma that does everything for me (she doesn't let me do anything!) and I never have to worry about food/meals/eating, the place that allowed me to finally be rid of my insomnia and start to get better over my sinusitis and bronchitis! Not to mention it is 17-27 deg C here vs 14-17 in Taipei. I will be very sad to be leaving this nice place and my grandparents but alas I will always have the good memories :) Now I now have to go to Taipei to visit my other grandparents.

Sunday, 20 January 2008

Eye test charts

On the evening of 12th January, my sister, her bf, my grandparents and I (five of us) went to a glasses store. My sis and her bf (S) wanted to get new glasses. They spent ages choosing the right frames. In the end she got a nice pair of half frame Byblos ones and S got a frameless one. I decided to get an eye test done as it had been a while since I had done one, even though I knew nothing was wrong.

Now, I hope it doesn't sound like I'm bragging but I have very good vision. Actually maybe I am bragging but I don't care. I am very proud because it is one of the few things on my body that work really well, so well, probably better than 90% of the population. When my sister first got glasses around the start of high school the optometrist also tested and told me back then (when I was probably 15 or so) that my eyes would only deteriorate due to old age, around the age of 40, exactly the same as my mother who also had perfect vision until she hit her 40s and became long-sighted.

Anyway, at this little optical shop in Kaohsiung the guy who tested me told me that if I was a teenage boy in Taiwan they'd take me to become a professional sniper shooter! hahaha. Unfortunately I lack the 'hand' part of 'hand-eye coordination' LOL. I did a test where there were 4 lines of text which got increasingly smaller. The first line was marked 0.9, then 1.0, 1.2 and 1.5. Apparently 1.0 is normal or average, 0.9 is you have slight problems, and 1.2 and 1.5 your eyes are above average. I had no problems reading the 4 numbers on the 1.2 line and could read 3 of the 4 letters on the 1.5 line and actually got the 4th number correct too although I was tossing up wither it was an '8' or a '9'. I went online to find out what this chart was called but I couldn't really find any information on it. It is like a cut down version of the "Snellen chart.".

The guy also told me that my eyes would begin deteriorating around the age of 38-39. I was like WTF?! That's only a few years away! Geez. He said something about it being 'fair'.. how those who have worn glasses since they were young peter off around the 20's and don't really get worse, whereas those of us with perfect vision hit a point in our life and then progressively get worse. Great! Which is worse? Hmm...

I remember telling people years ago that I had better than 20-20 vision and that I have no problems seeing things up close OR far away in the distance. Some people scoffed and told me this is impossible. Actually 20-20 is not perfect vision, it is just average vision. It is explained here.

In the Snellen fraction 20/20, the first number represents the test distance, 20 feet. The second number represents the distance that the average eye can see the letters on a certain line of the eye chart. So, 20/20 means that the eye being tested can read the small size letter that the average person can see from 20 feet away. If a person sees 20/40, at 20 feet from the chart that person can read letters that an average person could read from 40 feet away.

As you can see, 20/20 vision is not perfect vision; it is average vision. Examples of better than average vision would include 20/15 and 20/10."

Here is a better, longer explanation

So according to that I probably have 20/10 vision. Well there is nothing I can do to prevent my eyesight getting worse (other than stopping time) so I guess I'll enjoy it while it lasts and when I finally need glasses I think I already know what type I'm going to get (as I tried on a few pairs myself in that shop for fun!) :)

Shanghai's 5-star hotels most expensive in Asia?">

Don't know the original date and where the information but according to the above site...

Chinanews, Shanghai, March 19 –

With its rapid economic development, as well as the drawing near of 2008 Beijing Olympic Games and Shanghai World Expo 2010, the average price of star-rated hotels in Shanghai has been rising very fast. In 2006, the average price of 5-star hotels there was 1,406.6 yuan per day, a new high, and also the highest in Asia.

Though the price was extremely expensive, 70% of the rooms in 5-star hotels in Shanghai were occupied in 2006.

The booming high-end hotel industry in Shanghai has attracted a large number of top international brands, including Accor, Starwood, Hilton and Hyatt. It is said that all of them have set new goals of making the number of their hotels in China grow by 50% to even 200% in 2007.

However, the price-hike of star-rated hotels in Shanghai also makes the cost of hosting business meetings rise sharply, no wonder fewer and fewer people choose to host their meetings in Shanghai. Statistics show that the number of international business meetings in Shanghai dropped by 18 in 2006, some 37%, especially the meetings of transnational companies.