Scribbles in the Sand

All About My Life in Taiwan


How to Extend your Visitor/Student Visa in Taiwan.

Study Chinese in Taiwan?
Need to extend your visa after 60-90 days?
Read on for a walk through and tips of attaining your extension…

If you are studying Chinese in Taiwan, you will at some point need to extend the visa that you used to get into the county. Continue reading


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Circadian Rhythms and How to Sleep Better

At university I studied neuroscience for 4 years and in my honours year did several courses pertaining to the science of sleep in a module called mammalian chronobiology.  I am also very interested in sleep science and trying out things to help improve sleep quality.

This article shall try to give an introduction to the science of chronobiolgy, some common forms of sleep disturbance, and possible remedies and tips to hopefully give you a better nights sleep.

To view my essay on “The Health Consequences of Shift-Work, click here.    Continue reading


How to Successfully Live in the Cloud


I’ve always loved “The Cloud” for it allows me to view pictures, listen to music, open files and save bookmarks no matter where I am in the world or what device I’m on.

There are therefore a few requirements I have for good cloud living. Cross platform (iOS/Android/Web), and ease of uploading and downloading from your chosen cloud service.

I’m not one for picking sides, or choosing one service over another. I like to explore all the options and check back on new released from previously poor services.

Here is my current cloud set-up and something you can emulate to have peace of mind and a device with plenty of space. I never buy a gadget with lots of storage because it’s a waste of money, and I can access what I need on the go and save offline for when I have no WiFi/network. Continue reading


Travels in Taipei

Apologies for the extremely long, and mistake riddled blog, but I wanted to get my travels about Taipei onto paper before I forget.  Now i’m off to Kaohsiung for Chinese New Year.

We set off from Devon almost two weeks ago after an amazing christmas where I managed to catch up with lots of my friends in London for New Years and see my family at home.  We left it too late to book a decent train up to London so ended up getting on a £12 Megabus to Victoria which took about 4 hours, but wasn’t too bad really.  We stayed at our brother’s house in Crouch End, having taken “Simon Pegg’s” bus from Finsbury park to his door.  He lives in a nice leafy area of London just on the corner of Alexandra palace.  We had a relaxing few days there in order to sort our resident visas at the Taiwanese embassy. 

View from Ali Pali

Knowing that it was the last time we would be eating western food, our diet consisted of fish and chips, battered sausages, giant italian pizzas, lebanese cuisine (delicious) and bacon sandwiches.  The application for residency went smoothly enough despite the frosty attitude of the people working there.  We paid our £44 and a day later collected them without any mishaps.  We met up with John Saxby after this, and did a day trip around London, visiting the Science museum and dinning out at the aforementioned lebanese restaurant. 

Our flight to Hong Kong was at 845pm, so we set off in good time, leaving the house at 445pm, and taking the Victoria line all the way south which was easy enough despite having to lug our giant suitcases up and down flights of stairs.  I actually enjoy long haul flights quite a lot as it’s a chance to watch lots of movies and not feel guilty about it, and there is a constant supply of food and drink from the nice asian ladies of Cathay Pacific.  I highly recommend the noodles that they serve throughout the night.  I managed to watch Drive with Ryan Gosling, which I though was good but not as special as what i’ve been told and read about.  I can’t remember the other movies which either means i’ve got dementia, they were not very good, or the free red wine and reduced oxygen level impinged my memory.  We landed in Hong kong which was a first for me, having only been with Cathay this once.  It was very muggy and overcast, but you could see plenty of mountains enshrouding the airport.  Here out connecting flight to Taipei was delayed by 1h30 which would mean it was be a push to get to our hostel on time before closing.  Luckily the flight was only as long as the delay, and we were soon on a kuo kuang bus (國光) from Taoyuan airport to the city centre which takes around 50 minutes.  Here we hailed a cab and made our way to  which was the top hit on google and seemed nice enough. It’s located centrally, on a back alley and just a few meters walk from Shandao Temple station.  We couldn’t find the actual hostel at first, poking our heads into long empty corridors deserted but for a cockroach, but I gave reception a call, and she said they were on the top floor of the building. We put down a 500NT (£10) deposit  and paid for our two night stay up front, which worked out at 1300NT for the two of us (£26).  Our room was located on the very top of the building, which had a nice roof garden and decked area with washing lines and plants all around.  The actually room was pretty grotty compared to the pictures on the website.  There was a double bed wedged into one half of the room, adorned with a yellowed duvet.  Laurie assured me he had stayed in far worse places in Morocco, so we laid out his throw, and got a good nights sleep.  A warm shower the next day made me feel a lot better, and we headed out into Taipei.

It was the day of the presidential elections, so we saw cues of people placing their ballots as we made our way to the underground.  The MRT is an amazing tube system compared to London, but this is understandable given it is much newer.  Each station is immaculately clean, and it’s easy to navigate around the city.  Each train is on time to the second, and the best thing is that it is amazingly cheap to use.  We got an Easy card (like an oyster) and topped up by 200 NT (£4) and managed to get almost 2 solid days of transport out of it.  Laurie had downloaded a Taipei city guide on his Android, so we used this to visit some of the sights, including the fine art gallery,  the modern art gallery, (both highly recommended, 50NT ticket price), 

part of Chiang Kai shek's Memorial.

Taipei 101

Chiang kai-shek memorial hall, and then headed to Ximen district which is packed fully of cinemas, clothes shops and young people.  In the evening we go the tube to Shilin night market (Jiantan stop) which is famous for its outdoor food stools.  There were thousands of people lining the streets cueing up for giant chicken steaks and other tasty treats.  After walking around the night market for an hour, jet lag set in and we headed back to our hostel to watch Trailer park boys and sleep.   

The next morning we checked out of the hostel and put our bags into lockers at the airport, freeing us up for the day which was a relief.   We headed back to Ximen district tobuy some clothes for our role as teachers.  Laurie managed to get a couple of pairs of decent chinos for a great price, but sadly they didn’t quite have my size, and it would have taken a day for them to customise. 

Ai WeiWei's Bicycles.

Before our flight home we got on the tube intending on visiting the national museum which is out of town, but being short of time, we got off a few stops early (Yuanshan station) and walked across the beautiful park to the fine art museum.  The first exhibition was my kind of stuff.  It contained all of the best tech to have come out of Taiwan, so we had top of the range Giant racing bikes, amazing PC’s, flat screens, USB’s and hard drives mounted in persepex boxes.  We then went into the proper gallery and saw artwork by Ai Weiwei including his giant bicycle statue which was impressive and smelt just like a bike shop.  We treated ourselves to a meal in the Gallery cafe which came to £10 a head, me having a gorgonzola pasta and he an italian seafood dish, with cheesecake and coffee to follow. 

We rushed back to the airport in the evening to check in for our flight to Penghu.  However, when we got there the departure board was slowing filling up with red

boxes as flights got cancelled due to bad weather.  This was surprising considering the weather in Taipei was lovely.  Our flight was the last to be cancelled, so we asked the desk if they could book us into a hotel for the night.  They had a big book with all the hotels and prices, and we opted for a medium range one which looked fairly classy. We decided to treat ourselves after two nights in a dingy hostel, so opted for the VIP suite which was only a few more hundred $’s more expensive.  A short taxi ride later and we were in the lobby of a swanky hostel and soon in our luxury room (it had a kettle and everything).  I had two showers it was that good, then sunk into my ultra comfy bed to watch the Taiwaneseelection results.  Fiona was extremely nervous, phoning me up telling me to watch the results live.  Luckily her party won and president Ma gave a speech in the pouring rain, which we really should have gone to, but for the nice warm beds which were too good to leave.  The next morning we went downstairs to have our first hotel breakfast in Taiwan, which is a weird mix of rice, vegetables, and meats, that is in no way different to what they eat for lunch or dinner.  We checked out at noon, maximising time spent in hotel, and dropped our bags off once again at the airport.  

Taiwanese Breakfast

Our flight wasn’t until the evening, so we looked on laurie’s app once again and headed for the mountains.  We got the tube to the end of the line, which took us through some amazing scenery south of city, arriving at Taipei zoo stop.  We had a choice between the zoo and the cable cars into the Maokong valley and decided on the later.  Again, this was extremely cheap and was the same price as the standard tube ride, using our Easy cards to swipe in.  The cable car took 30 mins each way and went up and down over several high mountains .  It was pretty scary, especially when it went past the pylons that hold up the wire because it suddenly shudders and swings, and when you look down it’s a long way.  

Maokong Gondola

We could see giant bee hives in the canopy below, and equally giant bee’s flying past our cabin. Taipei 101 stood majestically in the distance and the zoo could been seen from below.  Once at the top there was the chance to go on and trek the mountains or visit the famous Maokong tea house, but we were pressed for time and got the next cart back with some Japanese tourists.

I’m glad I got to see taipei again, and this time I felt much more at home, knowing my way around a bit better.  Last time I came in July which meant the weather was pretty uncomfortable and sticky, but this time it was perfect.  It was also good to show Laurie around before returned to Penghu.  I was sad to leave.

Today I leave for Kaoshung to visit Fiona’s extended family at their family home somewhere in the mountains.  It lies just below the tropic of cancer so we’re expecting a different climate which should be much warmer and “equatorial”.

Fine Art Gallery







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4 Days Left in Taiwan


Four days left in the country and only an over-riding sense of guilt inspires me to write this blog. There has been a change in the weather and a bitterly cold northerly wind taunts the tin roofs, screaming as it escapes the nooks unseen.

The streets are deserted but for a lone moped weaving unsteadily, braving the torrents.  The hum of the air conditioning is now replaced by the lonely tic-toc of the clock and a longing for the sunshine I cursed on arrival.

I dream of Roquefort, Roblechon, Romao… the crackle and hiss of a log fire and the deep scent of rosemary and garlic roasting under a leg of lamb. I miss little else other than the warmth of a group of friends or the presence of my loving family.

The choice I made took me away from a stable job and relationship and thrust me into unemployment and mild solitude. For the most part, I live alone, dine alone and sleep alone. Am I happy? For now, yes. I am following a dream. I am not ready to settle and I hope to achieve something other than mediocrity in my life.  From time to time, Facebook reminds me that my peers are starting families and from time to time I am envious.

In England I was heading for premature hypertension and a life of servitude, frittering my money on alcohol and material desires. Here, I have lost 5 kilo’s in weight without trying, my blood pressure is at 130/65, and the crushing sense of stress and anxiety has alleviated. I eat healthily – an average day includes a bowl of porridge with soya milk for breakfast, pork/ chicken, rice and veg for lunch and dinner. In the New Year I aim to lose a further 6 kg to get to my ideal weight of 90kg, continue Taichi training and join the windsurfing club/gym.  My abstention from alcohol is mainly cultural and it saddens me to see that the only people drinking in the street are other foreigners. We are a minority out here and we act as ambassadors.

We return to Taiwan on January the 11th. We return to work permits, residency and an empty school. Our opening date is set for the 6th of February and our opening strategy has more or less been set. It includes launching our weekly English language column in the local newspaper, launching the full website, three waves of flyering and with luck appearing on local radio (tbc).

Meanwhile we are to be baking and making marmalade in preparation for our open days – meet the teachers, short presentations and enrolment into the following weeks taster sessions etc. We have to germinate thousands of seeds for the school ‘garden’ including lavender, rosemary, coriander, chilli and tomato. We hope to create a school that does not just teach English but gives the learners a sense of community and pride.

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Grab the Balls

So like many of your reading this, you probably associate Tai Chi with old people in parks and new age hippies, and to some extent you’re right. However, I now have a new found respect for it. I think we’re particularly lucky to have an awesome shīfu (teacher) who inspires me to get good.

Although the first few weeks was spent with lots of stretching and slow-moving, we are advancing through the 84 or so steps that we hope to one day master. Even the most harmless looking movement often has damaging implementation, and he now demonstrates each move in a fighting context which makes myself and Laurence very happy. He often picks on this one small guy who then gets the next 5 minutes being beaten up, showing us how to break his arms and snap his knees.

There are two other guys there who are also very good. One we call militant tai chi guy because he’s all about the fighting, and insists of every hand movement being directed towards the balls. He also makes each move impossibly hard by bending down lots lower than normal. The other guy, (we call him Mick) is equally good, but is much more peaceful and has a unique free-flowing style that is quite different from everyone else’s. Last week toward the end of class, militant tai chi guy took over for a bit, teaching the students how to grab balls effectively, and I could see that shīfu was looking at them trying to decide what to do next, and wondering how to get the classes attention. He decided to stand at the front of the courtyard and start practicing by himself. It was one of the coolest things I’ve seen, and slowly the entire class were watching him demonstrate moves we had never seen before. He seemed to incorporate snake and crane styles into it, with lots of spin kicks and weird body popping moves (imagine the scene in kungfu panda 2), and by the end everyone was clapping.

Considering most famous martial artists like Jet Li, Donnie Yen and others trained in tai chi first, it’s clearly not just for old people, and if you don’t believe me, you can watch this nutter repeatedly beat up his friend (3:10 onwards). What’s best is that he sounds like a ghetto Theo Paphitis.

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On Building Tables and Chairs

Last week was my 24th birthday. I got over the excitement of birthdays several years ago. Once you’re old enough to buy things you want, presents on a specific day are less important. Now all I want is nice food with family and friends.

Anyway, Fiona abandoned me that weekend, having been selected for a youth training weekend with the KMT, (the political party currently in power), in Kaohsiung.  She is currently doing volunteering (with a stipend) for them every other day in the build up to the presidential elections.  She’s making lots of useful contacts and seems to be getting groomed as the face of the KMT.  I’m sure she’ll be president in no time.

Having had her flights paid for, we used this opportunity to place our order at IKEA.  We decided on 40 red and white chairs, (Herman)  and around 40 table legs,  (VIKA CURRY) .  She also got lots of miscellaneous things such as pots that we can hang off the windows for plants, and colourful cups for our brand new water boiler/cooler.  The shipment arrived 2 days later and Laurie and I spent a day and a half perfecting the art of building these chairs.  The first one took 10.41 minutes, the second, 8 minutes, and after that I went into mass production, laying out 5 at a time and doing the same step on each of them, reducing time spent on chair to just 4 minutes.  They look pretty cool and are rather comfy.

Some of the chairs. A daunting prospect.

For the tables, we made a decision to build our own.  With the 40 or so legs we got from IKEA, we knew that all we really needed was something to sit on the top.

Having no experience of table building, we just assumed a rectangle of wood would suffice.  We worked out the measurements on our brand new giant whiteboard, and heading to the wood store on the outskirts of town.

Two chained up dogs and a squashed rat greeted our arrival, as did a swarm of mosquitos which promptly bit Fiona 3 times on the face as soon as she stepped inside the building.  We picked out a giant bit of wood, and then chose the laminate that would sit on the top.  He then suggested adding braces to the edges of the table to add thickness and stability.  We quickly worked out how much of this we needed and gave him the order.  The next day the truck arrived outside TalkEasy.  That night, Fiona, Laurence and I set to work on constructing them. We had long planks for the edges which we first lined up, then stuck down with PVA and masking tape to keep them in place.  Next we drilled screws all along the underside securing the planks, then affixed the base of the IKEA leg to the corners, and sanded down the edges.  We then stuck wood tape to the edges of the table and repeated the same process 7 more times.  The finished product is pretty impressive and a lot better than we were expecting I think.  And we saved around £100 rather than buying them from IKEA and learnt some important life skills such as how to build a  table, and the best drill bit for different materials, (masonry bit, twist bit, or spur bit).