oh, taiwan


The heat pummeled me as I stepped into the garage.

What is this? The Sahara? . . .

. . . I might actually have to get a gym membership if this keeps up.

I was headed out on my bike. It was 10:30 p.m. The current temperature was 90° F (32° C). I was miserable.


Northern California has been in the midst of a terrible heat wave for the past several days. With temperatures soaring well above 100 during the day, it hasn’t been cooling off at night, either. On Monday, a local fire and high clouds caused the heat to “stay put” in a fashion highly unusual for California: I’m used to chilly summer evenings—at home, anyway.

As I was riding my bike, at the top of a hill, sweat dripping into my eyes, suddenly, it hit me: I hated this. But . . . why? It’s not as though I haven’t experienced—and been okay with—hot summer nights before.

In Taiwan, where the humidity is a blanket year-round, I never had air-conditioning. During the summer, I looked forward to cold showers, and exercising outdoors was truly a chore. The same was true for Hong Kong, except that I did have air-conditioning, which, although it didn’t keep the paint from peeling off of the walls or mold from growing on the ceiling, definitely did make sleeping easier.

So, why then all this fuss?

And then I remembered . . .


5 a.m. view from my bedroom window in Sanjhih

4:15 a.m. Sanjhih, Taiwan, July 2011

The sky was getting light; the cicadas were an army of chimpanzees shrieking outside my window.

What the?

“Ughhh…” I buried my head beneath my pillow. “Shut up!”

I wanted to kill something.

If angels sing in heaven, cicadas sing in hell . . .

Ha! I had my next facebook status update.

. . .

“Crap.” I was wide awake, and there was no going back to sleep now. I might as well get up.

As I was putting on my running shoes, suddenly, from the road that ran up the hill past my apartment I heard:

Drums. And strange Chinese music—wailing and discordant, like nails on a chalkboard to the Western ear. Peering through my window, I could just see a little blue truck laden with flowers and golden statues through a patch in the trees.

The gods were going for a drive again.

And, suddenly, I couldn’t help but laugh. I shook my head.

Oh, Taiwan.


My room in Taiwan. The air-conditioning unit above my bed never worked. Notice the peeling paint on the wall.



A Taiwanese blue truck and driver/passenger


Inside the little “house” is a god. The man at the rear bangs the gong as they drive along.


Sunset over the Pacific from my front porch.

Images: Google and mine

39 thoughts

    • Thank you, Lianne! I hope it passes, too! I think it’s supposed to start cooling down *a little* soon… At least I hope so! Also, glad you can relate to the image in Taiwan! It’s funny, now, looking back: I thought I’d moved to hell when I first arrived in Taiwan. Little did I expect I’d end up falling in love with the place. :)

  1. Your longing for Taiwan resonates for me, too, Jessica. Next summer the 2014 World Cup is being played in Brazil—my soul’s country and my heart’s sport. As a boy, as high schooler, as a collegiate, and finally as a pro and semi-pro soccer player, Rio de Janiero and Brazil are a futeboller’s heaven. The dancing, cheering, singing (and of course the extremely skimpy women’s bikinis!), Carnival, unmatched landscapes, beaches, and where the game is most gorgeous…causes me to long for “Bra-zeal…eu te amo!” :)

    I empathize with you, Jess.

    • And now I need to go to Brazil! It’s good to know others know the feeling. Funny because some things about my life are certainly nicer in the U.S… But there’s this missing sense of adventure, and the feeling that I’m learning something new every day… Living abroad stretched me (and will continue to stretch me—when I go back!) in ways that life at home never could.

      I remember the excitement in Geneva about the World Cup when I was there in the summer of 2006. Ah, “futball.”

      Also, Happy 4th of July!

      • Jessica, you are so right on about home and abroad; they both serve us equally well!

        Careful woman! Don’t get me started on futebol around the world — the universal language of unity! You’ll never get me to shut up! ;)

  2. “the cicadas were an army of chimpanzees shrieking outside my window….”

    Oh how true is that!!! :) Brilliant turn of words. Straight to the Hall of Fame for that line!

    • Thanks, John! I actually had to think a while on that one. At first it was “trumpeting elephants,” but, in the end, chimpanzees was a much better fit.

      Happy 4th to you! Thanks so much for continuing to follow along. :)

      • Oops, John! Sorry! I knew that… I’m actually one of the least patriotic Americans you’ll probably ever meet—would’ve far rather been in Australia than here on the 4th—but thanks, anyway!

    • Thank you! Taiwan’s beauty and culture is certainly easy on the photographic eye and fabulous inspiration for a writer!

      “Always be a poet, even in prose.” — Charles Baudelaire

  3. I always miss Hawaii but for a place like Brazil; it is more like what you said. I love it because maybe it is a break from the norm. I am not working and just playing and surfing. As the time goes by, I find things more difficult to ignore. The strikes get to me. Not being able to speak to anyone in English. And I just want a pizza without someone trying to smear mayonnaise on it! When I hit the airport…I am dancing!

    So now that I am stuck in the U.S., of course I am going crazy wishing I was on some trip.

    Oh yeah, your weather situation sounds terrible. I am doing my own training for Brazil or abroad and that is because my air conditioner is having some minor issues that due to the design have become a major problem! It’s wonderful!

    • YES! I know exactly what you mean. The things that make life interesting while living abroad can also get old after a while, and yet, once we get home and get stuck in a routine here, we long for the things we got tired of when abroad!

      Mayo on pizza? That’s just disgusting. In Taiwan they were always trying to peas and corn on pizza, which didn’t work for me, but mayo is even worse!

      Any extreme can get old after a while. That’s why I have felt lucky to grow up in Northern California where, generally, we have four distinct seasons. That’s also why our pathetic winter and almost non-existent spring this year have made this already extremely hot summer seem so unbearable… Sorry to hear about your AC! I hope it gets fixed soon…unless you’re headed to Brazil right away?

  4. it was 112 the day before, 111 yesterday around noon and right now it is 109 where I live here in Northern Cal. I am done with this heat. I am going outside to do my October dance. Happy 4th

    • I’ll do an October dance with you! I’m so over this heat, too. Looks like it might be cooling down a little at least in the evenings over the next few days, so I’m glad for that! Hope you had a great 4th!

  5. What a great time Taiwan must have been for you, beautiful views from your flat…and even though a little noisy (love the sentence: “If angels sing in heaven, cicadas sing in hell . . .”). Experiencing similar things in Hangzhou, I think the song of the cicadas and scorching heat go well together. Enjoy the 4th!

    • Thank you so much, Randall. As you saw in “alone in an igloo,” I didn’t start out loving Taiwan. It definitely took some getting used to, and obviously I never took a great liking to the cicadas!

      Interestingly… Looking back, Taiwan made a much bigger impact on me than Hong Kong. In Taiwan I lived in a little tiny country town outside of the city. The culture shock was far greater than moving to an international city like Hong Kong… And now I can’t help but wonder what the shock would be like if I moved to China!

      • I think you would be surprised by China…Wuxi would be much more modern and lively than I imagine your environment in Taiwan. It would also be more polluted, which I think would be the ‘shock’ to your system. It is amazing how quick large cities in China have ‘modernized.’

        I’d prefer the small country town, but also would recommend the China experience in a larger city…it is a sight to see and explore.

      • Yes, I’ve heard China is more polluted and that people’s manners are often a bit shocking. Funny to think that at one point I didn’t know about Hong Kongers dislike of Mainlanders… If I taught in Wuxi, I’d actually be a ways out of the city, which I, too, would prefer. That way I can easily visit the city but get away from it, too… It’s always been like that for me, actually. In Hong Kong I lived out in Clear Water Bay.

  6. Once again you’ve given a great juxtaposition of the senses. I look forward to your blog/column every day.

    • Glad you liked them! Yes, I’m not one for a lot of decorations. Clean, modern, and simple is what I like. (Crate&Barrell is one of my favorite stores!) And black. I’ve never been a big fan of pink or girly things.

  7. Hehehe, I am suffering the humidity here now since Feb. In Sg, the humidity sometimes goes to 100%. I can feel and smell the bacteria festering, lol…

  8. I love the way you wrote this. Noticed you incorporated italics for your thoughts. I like using italics in this way too. However, I had a lecturer at university who didn’t like it and tsk-ed tsk-ed when we used them in our assignments.

    I like how neat your room in Taiwan was, or at least that corner of it. So uncluttered, leaves so much space for only you and your thoughts. I am trying to make my room look like that but with brighter colours as I like bright colours :)

    • Yeah, italics seem to work well for thoughts. I don’t know of a better way to set them off, unless you want to say “…, I thought,” which is tedious for the reader. The more direct the better. And I don’t care what university professors say! (Actually, I’ve sometimes wondered what my favorite college English professor would think of my blog if he read it. I’ve been meaning to contact him to say hi…)

      Yeah, I’m a clean and neat freak. I like things simple, and I like bright colors as accents rather than as focal points. I also didn’t want to spend a lot of money on decorations while in Taiwan, so I just stuck with the basics. I’d like to see a pic of your room!

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