Scribbles in the Sand

All About My Life in Taiwan

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Regarding the weather and my body


The weather has been perpetually grey and windy here for longer than I can remember.  The memory of Kaohsiung during Chinese new year was one of clear blue skies, hot weather, and even one day of sunburn.  Being ever so slightly north makes this archipelago much less like the Dordogne and more like Hastings on a cold March day.

When the sun does poke its head out, it gets warm extremely quickly, and you can go from riding on a scooter wrapped in a puffer-jacket and scarf, to driving along in just a t-shirt.  Then there are the strange humidity days after a night of rain followed by a warm overcast day.  Arriving at the school, we are met with puddles of water in the stairwell, and damp-feeling paper in the office.  A lack of a dehumidifier or Air-con means we have no way of reducing the moisture levels, and our lovingly made displays start to peel and bubble up.  When the sun does eventually hit, and stays about, i’m sure i’ll be wishing for colder climes, but currently it’s not particularly nice.  The city doesn’t look charming in the rain unlike say, Edinburgh, and has none of the nice pubs or coffee houses that you could snuggle up in and take shelter when it does rain.

GYM: 健身房

We’ve now being going to our spit and sawdust gym for a week, working out 4 out of 7 days.  Each day is a different body part, which means that the following day leaves us stiff and sore from the DOMS.  Classes at TalkEasy finish at 9pm, so we mostly go then, although it’s better to go at 3pm so we can go to a canteen type eatery and have the perfect muscle building food for about £1.20. Despite the human body not achieving hypertrophy (muscle growth) for at least 4 weeks of training, I feel more toned (body dysmorphia). My strength is slowly returning, and I’m hoping my weight will slowly increase.  Being the slightly OCD person that I am, I kept a track of my weight for about 2 years while at university.  I had reached an all time low weight a few weeks back, just prior to finding a gym, and am going to chart my progress back up to my goal weight of 80kg by July.  I’m currently at 73kg, so have a lot of weight to add, but i’m looking forward to fitting my trousers once again.   Today we took delivery of boxing pads, so between sets we’ll box for a minute to increase our cardiovascular fitness, and reduce our cholesterol that has probably built up from eating too much egg fried rice and McDonald’s.



The Truth About Exercise-Horizon

Two nights ago I watched Horizon on iPlayer, which talked about new scientific research into health and exercise, and was presented by the affable Dr.Michael Mosley.  Having just started on a new health regimen, it was interesting to see what this programme had to say about exercise.  I have summarised the main points from the programme below but I urge you to watch it first rather than read this summary.  “Spoilers ahead” as they say.

First, he went to a cafe in Glasgow to have a Scottish breakfast (something I miss dearly) and ate the equivalent of a normal persons daily fat intake in one sitting. He then headed to the lab to have a sample of his blood centrifuged 4 hours later to separate out the blood. You could quite clearly see that a thick layer of fat had aggregated at the top of the sample, some three times more than prior to the meal.  The fat present in the blood stream would have a much greater chance of interacting with vessel walls, creating blockages, and increasing the risk of stoke etc.  He was then advised to go on a brisk walk that evening and the next day repeat the experiment.  What they found was that despite eating the same meal, because of the light exercise he has done the night before, the circulating fat was much lower post-breakfast due to an increased production of lipoprotein lipase brought about by the exercise.  This acted to break down the excess fat, and send it to the muscles where is could be burnt off rather than going around the digestive system and blood stream to cause athesclerotic plaques.

Next he headed to Nottingham to find out about H.I.I.T, high intensity interval training.  I’ve known about this for a while, but not quite as extreme as what they were suggesting.  Rather than go for an 1 hour jog, 3 times a week, like the government guidelines, you can receive many of the same health benefits from just 1 minute of maximum effort training 3 times a week. They got him on an exercise bike and asked him to do 20 seconds of all-out sprinting, followed by a rest, and then repeated 2 more times.  He was to do this for 4 weeks to see what would happen.

They also showed research about new gene tests available which could point out if people were “exercise super responders” or unresponsive. Apparently, a few genes handed down by your parents determine if you’re likely to be responsive to aerobic training.  Apparently 22% of the population are non-responders that see no aerobic fitness increase from an exercise program, while 15% of people, (who might not even know it) can improve their fitness quite markedly.  They were measuring two aspects of Michael’s fitness.  His insulin sensitivity, and VO2 max.  The first determines how rapidly his body can process a sugary drink and produce enough insulin to reduce the levels back to a basal level.  If this does not happen effectively, you are classified insulin resistant.  Insulin Resistance in fat cells results in higher levels of circulating lipids which are free to float around the blood steam rather than being mobilised as energy by muscle cells.  This leads to Type II diabetes and the metabolic syndrome.  VO2 max determines your aerobic fitness.

The results were impressive for the insulin test. After a total of 12 minutes exercise in a month, his ability to reduce the amount of glucose in his blood improved greatly, and reduced his already high risk of developing type II diabetes. On the other hand, his VO2 Max hardly changed at all despite finding it easier to ride for longer.  They then showed the results from his gene test which confirmed that he was indeed in the bottom percentile of the aerobic non-responders, although it is known for aerobic fitness to improve at a much slower rate.  My mum has just emailed me to say she’s going to try the 12 minute HIT program but expects that she too is in the non responsive group.  Fiona kept pointing out that the people talking about HIT were fat, but I made the point that not all Michelin stared chefs cook themselves haute cuisine when they get home.

Finally, we learnt about NEAT which is essentially exercise without breaking a sweat.  A very eccentric professor who had the amazing ability to guess someones walking speed told us about the principles of NEAT.  Basically, it’s all about moving around as much as possible.  “The chair is a killer’ and we spend as much as 12 hours a day in one, not moving.  He pointed out that just by walking a bit faster, or texting while walking, we could up our metabolic rate and increase the amount of calories burned over the course of a day.  Michael was asked to wear a pair of “fidget pants” to measure his activity levels before and after trying out NEAT. It turns out he has a very sedentary lifestyle which involves many periods of inactivity.  After being shocked by this, he made an effort to fidget more.  Getting out of his chair, walking around while on the phone, not taking the elevator, cycling to work, standing on the train, etc.  It tuned out he burned an extra 500 calories a day without doing any planned exercise.  Pretty impressive.  I knew waggling my leg was a good thing.

I’ve just ordered some boxing pads so that my brother and I can “spar” in the gym between workouts.  Boxing is the ultimate HIIT activity because it involves high intensity followed by rest.  I’m also going to dust off my skipping rope/jump rope.


Finding a Gym: The Return of Captain America

About one month ago I had to make a new hole in my belt because my waistline had shrunk. I don’t know how this had happened because I don’t watch what I eat particularly, and eat more McDonalds than I would care to mention. My descent from hulking Adonis to frail wimp has been a slow and gradual one, rather like watching Captain America on slow-rewind. Having a multimillion pound gym so close to us in Edinburgh was something I had grown accustomed to, and something I definitely took for granted. When I came to Penghu there were only 3 possible gyms. The first is owned by the windsurfing club and only opens up to new members once a year. The second was a guys private gym which would mean paying him to personally train me each time. The final one was found just before coming back for Christmas, located at the University, but for some ridiculous reason, only opens between 7-9pm each night!

I reached the point two days ago where I had to put a second hole into my belt. My current jeans are already slightly too big, and so I now constantly have to pull them up else I end up walking like a youth out of the Wire. All of this is about to change because two day ago whilst FIona was talking to one of her fellow teachers, found out that there was indeed a gym that I could use, and almost no one knows about it. Even the lady palying ping pong in the gym complex didn’t know of its existence. The best part. It’s free!

It is very basic and looks like a prison gym. One medium/large room with some rusting benches, squat racks, dumbbells, weight plates, and an expensive looking Precor multi-gym thing in the centre which has a bench station/leg press station/and lat pull down machine as well as some other cables. In short, it’s got everything you would need to become the next Arnnie. I have lost all of my strength after almost a year of sloth and am In a lot of pain after only one workout. I’m convinced that I’ll regain this strength pretty quickly because of the muscle memory that I spent years building, (increasing the number of neural connections to each muscle fibre), and am looking forward to a 12 week transformation with my brother. I’ll soon be the hulking Adonis that I once was. I have also downloaded a nifty little app to record each and every aspect of my progress, (JeFit)


All About Food….And Stinky Tofu

I’ll be the first to admit that i’m no foodie. My idea of a sandwich is to get a slice of bread, slap some spread somewhere within the perimeter of the crust, and then proceed to fill it with a wet substance (mayo/coleslaw/chutney) an animal product (cheese/meat) and then some texture to top it off,(iceberg lettuce/crisps). I then mash the bread in half and consume.  Food is not something I go to bed thinking about, and is rarely the first thing I think of upon waking, (unless there is Crunchy Nut and/or Coco Pops in the cupboard).

Having been a gym monkey since my gap year (although not this past year), food was just fuel to me, grouping my meals into carbs and protein.  I remember buying my first protein shake in 2007 at Soccer Sports, Exeter. I felt like a criminal procuring steroids, trying my best to hide my purchases like “someone” buying x.small condoms.  Now they are omnipresent and can be bought in every supermarket and are quaffed by anyone serious about working out.  Protein shakes further debased my values of food, and everything since has been compared to a 500ml serving, (one tin of tuna, one pint of milk, a chicken breast etc).

I’ve always known that diet and nutrition were the key factors for achieving your goals in the gym, but the idea of preparing healthy filling meals was never very appealing, especially on a student budget.  This is the main difference between movie stars who get huge for a film, and regular Joe’s who go to the gym each day.  If the nutrition isn’t there, then you can only realistically achieve ~20% of your goals. Clearly no sane person should eat 8-10 small meals a day, starting at 4am like Hugh Jackman did for Wolverine, but this is the way they do it.

 Anyway, I have taken a giant discourse from the initial idea of this post, and that was to talk about Asian food and how concepts are very different over here.

I’ve been told that there is no such word for calorie in asian culture, (This is surely not true considering it is noted on all food in 7-eleven).  The idea of calorie counting is certainly not obvious, although I look around and see very few fatties,(<5%) and women tend to be ectomorphically thin and easily confused for children, (that last sentence sounds a bit weird).  So what are they doing that we rotund westerners are not?


First off, rice is very much their staple carb, much like pasta is to a student and chips are to a fat kid. However, in the home, it is rarely fried like we see in the UK, and is often eaten plain. In restaurants, it is scarcely eaten, making room for other sumptuous delights instead. Also, the bowls used are about half the size of cereal bowels, so you are limited to how much you can have.

Second, vegetables are not tacked on to a meal to satisfy your guilt, but rather central to the meal.  Steamed cabbage, spinach, and other dark greens are present at each sitting, and fruit is always within easy reach for afterwards.


This is where I miss the UK. Dessert, milk and cheese.  Three things that probably account for my ever diminishing BMI. I dream of mince pies, chocolate gateau’s, cheese toasties, milk moustaches,spraying whipped cream directly into my mouth and spooning brandy butter straight from the pot. Here, desert is either fruit, or recently, hong dou tang (red bean soup).  Imagine pouring the contents of a kidney bean tin into a saucepan, heating, and adding sugar to taste.  Surprisingly nice and warming, but somehow negates to fill the metal requirement for some form of chocolatey stimulus.  A trip to the bakery will result in buns that hint of a chocolate centre, only to be deceived by this very same filling of red bean curd. The kids eat this stuff without any resistance and obviously don’t know what they’re missing (Fruit n’Nut Cadbury chocolate and Toblerones).


And now for drink. There are no rows of Dr Pepper, Coke, Sprite, 7-Up, or VK and WKD for the kiddies.  Although you can purchase Coke and Sprite, these are confined to two lonely fridge spaces, and the majority of shelving is given over to every cold tea under the sun.  Green,black,red, oolong, with every flavour combination for each.  Next to them are the soy milks (my new favourite drink), and finally some form of pro biotic containing bifidus digestivum and L.cassie immunitas. I drink at least one Yakult a day which in the UK would result in bankruptcy pretty soon.

Stinky Tofu

Lastly, they have this substance known as chou doufu (stinky tofu) which anyone who has travelled to the East will surely have encountered, and probably put them off visiting again.  It’s sold on many street corners, and is infamous amongst foreigners who detest the smell.  The locals don’t seem to care, but it would be the first thing I would ban if I were in power.  Imagine concentrating the combined smell of 5 day old Camembert with a pungent Stilton.  Heat this smell in your brain to volitise it, and you are someway to how repulsive it is.  However, I am ashamed to say that I haven’t tried it yet, (much like line dancing) but I hear that it’s not that bad,(much like line dancing).

So it is clear how they are all so thin and have legs like supermodels.  Small portions of rice, copious supplies of fruit and vegetables, and fresh fish eaten regularly.  As long  as you limit your trips to street vendors, you could easily live to one hundred (and look 40) if you can successfully dodge the scooters.