Well it’s taken a while but after a coupe of false starts and misunderstandings Em has got a job in Taichung! In mid-June a new Shane English School franchise opens in Fengyuan District, a mere 10km north of my current luxurious lodgings, and she’ll be one of the first teachers in the door. After almost a year on different continents we’ll finally be back in the same location at the same time, a situation which makes for a most joyous Cannonball indeed. Of course it’s not all perfect, nothing ever is; the location of the school is just far enough in this congested sprawl to make it awkward, especially given out antisocial hours plus the fact that it’s a new school means a possible dearth of available hours, the opposite of what we need. These are mere details next to the fact that we’re actually going to be able to see each other without relying on the good graces of Skype and Taiwan’s ISPs.
So what else is new? Well my residency status in this apartment is still up in the air due to the fact that Nike, my flatmate’s employers and managers of the lease, regard me and any other potential tenant as an unacceptable liability. Seriously, this halfway-to-70, property-owning photography enthusiast is causing them sleepless nights? So this week’s mission for Kristina and I is to convince them that my rental income would be a Good Thing for them, that I’m not about to burn the place down in a Satanic orgy and that it might be a sensible idea to allow their employees to have some company for the sake of their sanity. Fingers crossed.
After two weeks of hacking, coughing and sneezing I’m almost over the longest lasting cold/throat infection of my life, meaning that I’ve finally been able to test the cheap-ass bike I picked up a fortnight back. One of my very few gripes about Thailand was that it was just too damn hot to be able to comfortably cycle with any regularity – heat kills me as far as exercise goes, halving the distance I can run or cycle without collapsing or drowning in my own sweat. The variable weather over here is far more amenable to outdoor pursuits so I’ve been donning my cycling shorts (not skin-tight, don’t worry) and exploring the further reaches of my new stomping ground.
Over the past year and a half I’d forgotten the overwhelming sense of freedom which comes with urban biking, the mobility which allows my to cut between lanes, hop the kerb when necessary and generally make any journey half as long as it would otherwise be. First big challenge is today though, the journey to my school which lies six ill-repaired and fume-choked kilometres north-west and which will require a return journey through Taiwan’s insane driving population after dark. Fingers once more crossed.
Another former passion which I’ve rekindled is cooking. During my time in Thailand the food from the street vendors was too cheap, convenient and mouthwateringly delicious for me to bother about home cooking, despite the fact that I had previously lovingly crafted every single meal I ate in Scotland. They offered up combinations of herbs and spices with which I could never hope to compete so I succumbed to temptation and laziness, with the result that my total number of cooking expeditions probably never breached double figures.
Taiwan is a different story. Not that the food here isn’t interesting, on the contrary Taichung is a culinary mecca with dishes from every corner of the globe available within ten minutes of my front door. However such delicacies come with a price and I’m here to save money – this time the economics actually support making an effort in the kitchen. There’s also the fact that the local dishes, while tasty and cheap, tend to be laden with oil which is not what I need when trying to get back into shape (which is coming along swimmingly by the way). Cue a couple of trips to Costco and A-Mart and I now have a rather large batch of particularly feisty Thai red chicken curry in the fridge. I’d be lying if I said I wasn’t mighty proud. Kristina has a small library of cookbooks (I woke up to find a present of a freshly made banana muffin waiting for me on the kitchen worktop) so if I stay here the curry will just be the tip of the iceberg.
Last but not least for this post is my new obsession, photography. Okay, so I was taking snaps by the bucketload while in Suratthani and the endless surrounding tropical idylls, but those were with a simple compact which took a fair beating over its lifespan and is now retired. On my return to Scotland I retrieved my DSLR from its guardian, Lindsay, and set to work on finally figuring out how to do real photography. I’m a real read-the-manual guy – if there’s a manual on how to read manuals I’d read it – and I needed to get to grips with the nuts and bolts first so I devoured the manufacturer’s guide, scoured the net for articles on the inner workings of cameras and followed it up with as many blogs. forums and whatnot regarding the creative process as I could.
Brain suitably overloaded I set to work and started actually taking photos, armed with my EOS 350D (old now, I know), the kit 18-55mm lens, a new 75-300mm telephoto and a week-old 50mm f1.8 which is now my pride and joy. It’s early days yet and I’m still getting to grips with the finer points of metering, exposures and suchlike but despite my own vicious self-criticism I think I’m getting better. I’m uploading my snaps to Facebook more to show my friends where I’m living now but I just put my favourites on my Flickr account here. Please go have a look and leave a comment if you see anything you like.
And that, pretty much it for now. In 2.5 hours I commence my first and only class for today, with my full schedule kicking in on Monday when Eric, the Canadian teacher I’m replacing and a fellow sci-fi/fantasy geek who will therefore be sorely missed, departs to join his Taiwanese girlfriend in Mongolia. The full schedule is a gut-busting 26.5 hours per week of teaching hours anywhere from 13:40 through till 21:40 depending on the day so I may be too exhausted to partake in many fun activities for a while, at least till my brain adjusts to it. Wish me luck