2014年10月21日 星期二

Blood Donation in Taiwan

Blood donation is one of the easiest ways to give back to the society. The process is fast, requires little to no financial contribution and can be done by any healthy person. Did I mention it saves lives too?

In Taiwan, blood donation takes place in donation centres and specially designed buses as shown above. The buses provide mobility and great advertisement, appearing in schools and country fairs. Some buses are parked semi-permanently in popular tourism spots, e.g. Ximen and Taipei Main Station, to draw from the shopping crowd and nearby activity goers.

Amongst all the signs on the bus, the big A and O are the most prominent and they represent the blood types that are running low in the blood bank.

Sometimes organisations will sponsor gifts for the blood centre to give to donors. In this particular instance, the Taipei Blood Center collaborated with Taipei Hot Springs Association and Rotary Club to give donors coupons for hot springs in Beitou 北投. (I found it to be a bit unpractical since you are advised not to go to hot springs within 24 hour of your donation!)

When I approached the bus I was lucky to be the only one in the waiting line. After showing my ID to prove I'm a citizen I quickly got to filling out the required form/questionnaire, which I had to sign at the bottom. The form serves to prove that I do not have HIV or any conditions unsuitable to donate blood. The most common reasons for not being able to donate blood include not getting enough sleep the night before, having a cold, have taken medicine in the recent week, or being underweight. HIV is specifically mentioned because there had been cases where people used the blood donating process to test for HIV (shame on them!!!).

After completing the form, I was led into a small room in the back of the bus. A healthcare professional went through every single item on the form with me to make sure I didn't lie or misunderstand any questions. Then, she took my blood pressure and body temperature. Since I have lower than average blood pressure and barely made the mark, there were several attempts to drive it up. Finally,  for the hemoglobin level test, she pricked my finger with a needle and extracted a drop of blood, then dropped it into a bottle of blue liquid. My blood drop sank to the bottom, meaning I was good to go. The test looked like a lava lamp and was very fascinating!

When all that is done, I was finally led to my chair. Sanitised and prepared, the needle went in. I was given a blanket, a conscience callback notice, a juice box and a toothpaste and toothbrush set. The blanket was to keep me warm during the 30 minutes I'll be sitting there, and the rest I could take home.

From where I lay, not much of a view, but I found the promo video to be interesting, detailing the history of blood donation in Taiwan.

A piece of gauze was placed over the needle, perhaps to keep me from freaking out from the sight of the ginormous needle? 
Taiwan_blooddonation_vew3As my blood goes into the bag, it is rocked ever so gently to distribute it evenly. I think they also put some of the blood into the test tubes on the side so they could run tests without tempering with the whole bag. (4 colours for 4 blood types, right?)
I was not aware of the time I spent in the chair, but the Taipei Blood Center says it take about 30 minutes for the entire donation process, not including lineups. After the nurse removed the needle and wrapped up my arm, she told me not to lift heavy things, exercise or take hot baths in the next 24 hours. I was also advised to rest for 10 minutes but I was feeling okay so I just upped and left. If you feel dizzy, you can ask for more juice boxes and cookies.
Fortunately I wasn't planning on visiting the famous hot springs nearby or I would have been reeeeeeellly annoyed. Instead, I went to feast on a buffet right after, the waiter saw my bounded arm and he told me to eat more :)

Here is the conscience call back notice I mentioned earlier. If there is any information that might jeopardise the safety of the blood that the donor did not disclose or happened after the donation, they can call the centre who will then destroy the blood. I blacked out the number because it can be used to pull pranks against me should it fall into the wrong hands (eyes?)
A tube of toothpaste as a small token of appreciation for the donor, something practical, but not so expensive that it turns blood donation into a non-gratuitous act.

Overall, I feel like the blood donation process was pleasant and the blood centres are doing wonderful jobs at promoting and maintaining the practice. This was my fourth time donating blood, and I certainly need to do it more often!

When is the last time you donated blood? If you've never done it, would you consider it?

2014年10月1日 星期三

Graduating University

September marks the beginning of a new academic semester in Taiwan, what better way to celebrate it than to look back and reminisce about my graduation?

I graduated from university in June. The graduation season had filled my social calendar with more events than I have ever had in a entire year, even though I'm usually not one for such events, I still managed to participate as much as I could, since it could very well be the last time I'll get to see my classmates again.

Kicking off the graduation season was the Teacher Appreciation Banquet (謝師宴). The original function of these events was for students to show appreciation for their teachers by treating them to a nice meal, but over the years it had evolved into something not unlike proms in western culture, where students get the rare opportunity to dress up and wine and dine in fine hotels. Guys who live in t-shirts and shorts their entire college life showed up in spanking new suits, and girls who never wore makeup were all dolled up with fluttery lashes and pouty lips. Some girls will go all out by showing off various body parts, which I'm glad I didn't see because how is it ever appropriate to show your underboobs to your professors? (Though one may argue it's a way of showing appreciation?)
Clearly I'm not the outrageous type.
Men in suits. Who are they?!
 The Teacher Appreciation Banquet was certainly not the only photo opportunity. In my school, we were able to borrow the academic dresses free of charge for a period of time, and  keep them longer for a small fee. I'm not the most creative when it comes to photos since I rarely take photos, but I did snap a few with friends and teachers.

It's just impossible to look good in something with a non-existent waistline...but look there is a fancy backdrop that the school spent tons of money on!

Besides the more formal banquet, another high light of grad season was the graduation party, Held at a nightclub, the party had me really stressed out because I didn't want to overdress, but didn't want to overdress either. I ended up with the look below and was quite satisfied! Special thanks go to my friend Shaoyu for braiding my unruly hair! As it turned out, people's dressing styles were all over the place, ranging from "Imma kill this night" to "I have no idea what I'm doing" to "I don't give a fuck, only here to drink."
Me and my bae <3 (I feel so on trend using "bae")
I now understand the importance of piling on heaps of makeup for clubbing upon seeing this brow-less photo. My legs look awesome though!  
I somehow ended up on stage for the party girl contest. I clearly stood no chance, cleavage always wins. 
How I looked for three consecutive days. I spent most of my five college years looking like bottom left.
All the exciting activities built up to  the most important part of graduation season, the Graduation Ceremony. Participation was not mandatory and while most graduating students showed up, I did have classmates who weren't able to make it or simply did not want to come.
The people in the back are family members, here to witness the most important moment of their kids life. It's all downhills from here folks! (Joking, heh heh.)
Like all ceremonies, this one began with lots of long speeches by government and school officials. Most of them were bureaucratic and cliche, I even heard some boos from the audience, but I maintained polite and awake like I always do during speeches. If I looked any bit discontent, that's just my resting bitch face.
I wasn't sure if it was impolite to keep my hat on, but decided not to take it off since I meticulously pinned it to my hair and wasn't specifically instructed to take it off anyway.
Running errands for my class paid off and I was chosen as representative for the Turning of the Tassel (撥穗儀式), a rite of passage where the school president changes the position of the tassel on the mortarboard cap from one side to another.
I was also awarded the Excellence in Services (服務優良) certificate for my work in student clubs and public services.
Besides certificates for the selected few, my school made sure that everyone went home with a gift bag to bid us farewell and good luck. My favourite item from the bag was the rice, which was practical and helped support Taiwan's agriculture scene.
Clockwise from top: a small pack of rice, a crystal stamp, a postcard with a maple leaf from campus, nougat, biscuit with school's motto, and a cute bag to hold it all.

All in all, I enjoyed my last days at school and thought the Graduation Student Committee did an excellent job planning all the events. Big thumbs up to you! Graduating from college certainly was a big moment in my life, and I was overcame by post-graduation anxiety, which was a part of the reasons why this post came on so late. I think I have my life somewhat figured out though, and I am planning on posting more, so stay tuned! 

2014年5月6日 星期二

[Travel Taiwan] How to Pack for Taiwan

Hello world! This is Lenny, reporting from Taiwan :)

Packing is an activity that requires a lot of common sense and a bit of background knowledge. How long is your trip? Is your destination an tropical island or in the mountains? Does the ways of living there differ drastically from what you are used to? All these questions, and about a thousand more, can help you determine what to bring and what not to bring when packing for a trip. In this post, I'll talk about some things you should keep in mind when packing for a trip to Taiwan, also offer a few suggestions on what to throw into your bag.

First, 3 Important Things to Keep in Mind...
Taiwan is a well developed country. Taiwan has all the basic modern infrastructure like flushing toilets and tap water.

There are lots of imported goods available, most prices are reasonable. (A can of Coke is about $1 USD )

Most times of the the year, it's hot and humid, which also translates to scorching sun and heavy rain. We do have winters and cold currents though. See my post on weather in Taiwan.

It's best to pack light breathable clothing, T-shirts and shorts are typical for locals, skirts and tank tops are acceptable too.  In the summer when it's hottest, I strongly advise against wearing skinny jeans or any crotch-hugging garment, or your private parts will suffer. There are always maxi dresses and skirts if you don't want to bare your legs! Always bring along a light jacket or shawl in case the air-conditioning gets too intense. If you are in Taiwan during the winter, bring items you can layer and maybe one warm coat. There is NO central heating systems indoors.
Contrary to European customs, it's commonly acceptable to bare your legs (not your butt cheeks), but any sign of a cleavage or boobs will make people stare. Going bra-less is not okay! 
There are no religious taboos regarding the way you dress, at least to my knowledge, no need to cover up when going in most temples.
Sometimes showing too much skin might not be suitable, e.g. dining with elders, work setting, churches......
Flip flops and sandals are increasing in popularity and worn everywhere, but some places still see them as inappropriate and will not allow anyone wearing them inside, e.g. The Presidential Office, expensive restaurants, libraries......make sure to avoid flip flops if you are going on a governmental tour.
Most people in Taiwan dress casually on a daily basis and dress up in special occasions. 
Leave at home:
Heavy coats
Tight, thick clothing 
High heels
Bring your own:
Tank tops
Light jacket/cardigan/Scarf (perfect for avoiding sun exposure or keeping warm in air-conditioned places)
Handkerchief/Small towel (if you sweat heavily)
Purposeful outfits (fancy restaurant/clubbing/business meeting)
Buy upon arrival:
Sunglasses (sunglasses can be found in night markets and they cost around USD$10)
More tank tops and shorts (night markets offer lots of options. Do note that most items are free size a.k.a. tiny Asian size, so they may not be for those who are taller or wider.)

In Taiwan your face will probably sweat a lot and become oilier than usual, so I recommend choosing a base that won't slip around or using a powder/spray to set your makeup. Another common woe in this weather is smudged eye makeup. It's best to use something that is less prone to smudging. 
If you are comfortable being barefaced and does not have plans to go to fancy restaurants or official meetings, you can definitely leave all your makeup at home, since it's completely normal for Taiwanese girls to not wear makeup. Plus, you can use the spare space in your luggage to buy makeup gems that are made in Taiwan!
Leave at home:
non-smudge-proof eyeliners
bright lip colour (if you don't want to get too much attention)
Bring your own:
setting powder/spray
blotting powder/paper
Buy upon arrival:
Eyeliners (lots of Taiwanese brands offer smudge-proof eyeliners in a variety of colours)
Blotting paper (cheap and available in drugstores)
More makeup! Even if you have no interest in Taiwanese brands, there are lots of Japanese and Korean brands available in Taiwan.

Unless you have extremely dry skin like me, you shouldn't worry too much about moisturizing. It's best to keep things light on the face to avoid that uncomfortable tacky feeling. Wipe off sweat diligently and wash face daily to prevent sweat-induced blemishes.
Always wear loads of sunscreen and/or carry an umbrella. Since I don't like sunscreen, I always have an small umbrella with me because it's perfect for shielding sun and rain, both of which we got plenty. There are lots of sunscreen brands at drugstores, but their prices might not be as cheap as your home country.
Leave at home:
Heavy-duty moisturizer
Bring your own:
Face wash
Dry shampoo
Deodorant (Deodorants are sold at drugstores but brands are limited.) 
Buy upon arrival:
More MIT skincare products!

Most Taiwanese food contains meat and/or lard, and the Taiwanese have very few food allergies, so if you have a specific diet you adhere to, such as Halal, vegan, non-dairy, etc., you may have to pack some snacks in case you can't find anything to eat. There are some vegetarian choices available, but the definition of "vegetarian素食" can vary greatly, so check beforehand if you are on a strict diet.
Almost everyone I know loves night markets in Taiwan and have no problem with the food, but I do know this one person who got a bad case of food poisoning after eating at a night market, though all his companions were fine, so pack some meds if you have a sensitive digestive system.
Taiwan is called fruit kingdom for a good reason, I suggest bringing a small knife so you can buy fresh fruit and cut them yourself instead of buying overpriced cut fruit at the market. 
It's really tempting to have drinks from tea shops and cafes everyday, but it's really not the healthiest habit, so try to drink water while you are here. Tap water is not drinkable straight from the tap, but is drinkable after being boiled, most hotels have electric kettles in their rooms. There are water fountains in most public facilities, bring a water bottle to avoid spending money on bottled water.  
Leave at home:
Weapons (Taiwan is very safe and carrying a weapon might get you in trouble, pepper spray is acceptable.)
Bring your own:
Tissue paper! Crucial! (most public toilets don't provide toilet paper. Bring at least a pack and then buy more at convenience stores/drugstores.)
Snacks for specific diets (Halal, vegan, non-dairy...)
Stomach Medicine 
Water bottle
Small Knife (check in luggage!)
Cable line (some older hotels don't have wireless internet and may not provide cable line.)
Tampons (always bring your own preferred brand, tampons are sold in drugstores but selection is limited. )
Buy upon arrival:
More tissue paper
Surgical masks (disposable and reusable surgical masks sold at convenience stores and markets, useful when you have allergies or a cold)
Umbrella (cheap umbrellas with tons of designs available)

I hope you have a better idea of what to pack for your trip to Taiwan after reading this post, and whether you end up using two huge cases or a small handbag, remember to save some space for Taiwanese goodies! Even if you are not a shopping person, there are still lots and lots of things to buy and try in Taiwan.

2014年4月2日 星期三

[Photo Diary] 330 Sunflower Movement

I went to the 330 protest on 3/30, I don't have time to frame a proper article on such a serious subject, but here are some photos I took during that day. The dress code was black, and the main appeal of the protest was to protest against the government which had skipped all due process of law in the passing of the CSSTA, and which had used violent force on unarmed protesters.

The event invite and schedule of the protest on Facebook

I put on some fierce brows to fit the protest mood

All the major roads and intersections were blocked off, I didn't understand why they blocked off this road though, it was small and far from the protest site

suspicious looking pole.

That orange thing in the distance says that this bus stop is temporarily out of use.

Some distance behind this barricade is the Presidential Office.

It's very rare to see protests and so many police officers in Taiwan, so lots of people were taking photos, including me.

This is another intersection leading to the Presidential Office, hence the slew of policemen. I was wondering what the long sticks are for, but then I'm not sure if I want to find out.

The young lady in the center is handing out booklets to the older lady to the left. The young lady belongs to a religious group that pretends they are part of the protest and hands out religious booklets, I fell for it TWICE, thinking it was protest related material. How genius are they?!

The center gate was closed, forcing people to  use the smaller gates to the side, but eventually the police opened the center gate too.

I don't know why I'm always scratching in candid photos...

This guy took a picture with the policeman in the middle. A dozen more people soon followed suit. I felt so sorry for the policeman....

This sign says "welcome publishers from China to visit Taiwan", which is kind of ironic.

The trucks says "Taiwan Independence" on them.

People mountain people sea!

An estimate of 500,000 people were at the protest.

The white banners on the overpass are by anti-protest groups. The cardboard following it cleverly turns its saying into one that fits the protest.
I was standing around when the crowd suddenly started to chant slogans. If you look very closely you can see there are people across the street holding ROC flags, they are anti-protest protesters.

This was so ridiculously organized. The person with the speaker was showing the participants to their seats as if this was a fancy restaurant.

Boxes were lined up to keep the protest area neat and tidy, with sides of the road spared for emergency passing.

Volunteers were handing out sunflowers, donated by supporters. The elderly lady was asking for one, but he didn't give it to her, since she was not part of the protest.

Portable toilets were donated to fulfill people's needs.

free crackers for all!

Real protest related material!

One of the few media that has been putting out unbiased reports.

The sign says "Ketagalan Boulevard is full" Te original plan was to fill the boulevard with 100,000 people, but the protest ended up having more than 500,000. There was no room so I had to leave.

Big screens were set up for those who could not see the actual stage, meaning thousands of people.

Volunteers making temporary signs.

The signs are to redirect people to protest sites other than Ketagalan Boulevard.

My original plan was to go the Ketagalan Boulevard, all the roads were either blocked by the police or by the people, and I ended up walking around for 4 hours. I guess some of them felt tired like me.

I went home because I had a family dinner later, but as I left, people were still going to the protest.