Monday, December 31, 2007

Xīn Nián Kuài Lè (2008)

Well... 2007 is over, and 2008 has begun. New Years here was a little different from my typical Milwaukee welcoming of the changing times. There are about 2 million more people in Taipei and the Taipei 101 holds an incredible firework show. The fireworks were wonderful, and the rumor is that this is the last year the fireworks will be held at the 101. Aside from the fireworks the most incredible thing about Taipei during New Years is the number of people that gather. Normally during the 6 p.m. rush the MRT stations are jam packed with people to the point of slight discomfort but last night was insane. The lines for the MRT were taking up almost all of the main station (the central hub of MRT's) and trains were coming at a rate of about every minute. The guards at the MRT station who normally have the task of keeping people in line, had a new job last night. They because pushers and pullers. There job consisted of cramming as many people as they could into the MRT's to the point of not being able to move at all. If you had to get out before the main stop, Taipei City Hall, then the guards would have to help you pull through the crowds. It is not something that I would want to deal with on a normal basis, so I am glad I don't like in Tokyo. Other than the new years craziness at 101 there were just tons of people out everywhere. Personal fireworks were going off all night and food stands were staying open far later than usual. I was even able to get a snack around 3 a.m. from a place other than a 7-11.

Now that 2008 has started it is time again to reflect back on the year past and look forward onto things to come. While I could speak volumes on what I am thankful for and happy about in my life, I will refrain and instead focus on the things that I would like to change about myself. I am trying to become less reliant of "stuff." I want to work ever more on seeing the good in people rather than the bad. I want to keep a positive attitude whenever possible, and take the struggles and hardships of life with the knowledge that somewhere out there someone has got it worse. I want to help others, and try and do everything in my life to the best of my abilities. I know that failure can and does happen, but as long as we give it our all then at least we know that we tried.

I wish everyone in my life a Happy New Year from the bottom of my heart. I wish you all a brighter tomorrow. I remind us all to remember the things we have, and not dwell on the things we want. I hope we all use our ability to forgive, even if we do not forget. Let us share our love and joy with everyone around. Xīn Nián Kuài Lè (Happy New Year) to all.

Tuesday, December 25, 2007

Sorry Kids, Santa isn't Real.

Last year as many of you know I started to give up on the idea of christmas altogether. I had grown sick and tired of the Christmas spirit and just didn't want to celebrate anymore. Now the word spirit in this instance represents qualities regarded as forming the definitive or typical elements in the character of a person, nation or group. I know that in the hearts and minds of most people, this spirit is the closeness to family, the need to do good, and the joy of sharing that we seem to feel around the holiday season. When Christmas is put this way it sounds pretty wonderful, but let us not forget the commercial juggernaut that chugs along behind this clouded vale. It is this monster the rides so many families into credit card debit, and reinforces the idea that love for someone else can be expressed in an item wrapped tight with a bow, or a Holiday card(let us not forget to be P.C. either) flush with cash. I couldn't stand reading anymore about Black Friday, and hearing Christmas music on the radio before Thanksgiving. But most importantly I hate, nay, loath Santa and the cultural phenomena he has created... I am done with Christmas, it stops here and now. Please let me explain.

Santa to me represents the worst of the worst of the holiday spirit. His helpers are in shopping mall centers and his likeness sits on Walmart shelves. Our praise for him each year grows larger and larger on suburban lawns, wasting more and more of our precious energy so that someone can ultimately clam once again "mine is bigger than yours." His visits our houses and seems to always leave the best of the best of our cookie stock gone with the wind, and has the nerve to call people ho ho ho's. The fat man runs his regime with and iron fist, he has elf slave labor that even third world countries don't agree with, and holds the gavel of judgment on who is naughty and nice, leaving the losers with a big old sock of coal. And the worst thing is... he isn't real.

When I was younger, Santa was the main man, the guy who gave me the coolest stuff (by the way thank you Mom and Dad) and the guy who somehow made me go to sleep early on Christmas eve, even though I was hoped up on sugar and hot coco. However once we grow up and realize that Santa isn't really, shouldn't we scratch our heads and ask why the ruse? What is the game here, and why are we playing. In my mind Santa is the apathy of many, and the daemon of even more. Not being a parent myself I cannot fully understand the logic behind telling kids that Santa is real, but I wonder if it helps justify the over spending and frenzy that many feel during Christmas time, its not me giving my kid everything he wants, its Santa.

Okay I know this is all a little bizarre and I have no idea how this blog is going to read but bear with me for one more thought and it should be made clear. I said that Santa represents the apathy of many and here is my justification. We have a man, a myth, a legend of a dude who lives at the North Pole and has flying reindeer. He is able to make all the toys, that we can buy, and in one night deliver them to all the children of the world without being seen. He doesn't have to spend money, cause he has his elves, so it is all out of the goodness of his heart; and of course he is only giving the gifts to the good boys and girls who deserve the presents. Isn't this wish of being able to effect everyone, well only kids in this instance, what makes Santa so appealing.

I would suggest that we all could, and can have a similar effect on all people, not just kids this time, but we choose not to for one reason or another. What if every present you ever got was not given to you, but instead spent on a child or family that was truly in need. The smallest amount of money these days can provide food and medicine for hundreds of people a larger amount of money can help someone start a company and create there own income. Your own time and energy can help educate and inform people of dangers of all types and also help to inspire people to change. What if people didn't go into debt on gifts for people they already love and instead they spent within their means to help people for the first time. would the gratification be less in some way? This does not only apply to gifts but also the other things, like the global energy crisis, why do we need to see others change before we ourselves do the right step. I am talking not only about individuals here but governments. Why not be the first to say we are going to do everything in our power to make the world a better place, let us put of differences aside and embrace the fact that we are all human, and there is only one place for us to live. We turn a blind eye to the ailments of the world because it is easier that way. Many think they don't need to change because it wont effect them. But we must look past ourselves to the future of our race. Let us not create and endorse an idea founded on denial and ignorance. There is no reaction with action, let us all make the first push.

With all my love to everyone, not just those close to me.

Sunday, December 23, 2007

Trip to Yilan falls short

Saturday morning 6:30 am I was awaken from my peaceful slumber by the buzz of my phone alarm. After showering and collecting a few things in my shubao (backpack) I popped down to a local breakfast shop for some Congdanbing (scallion and egg flat cake), a truly tasty treat. After enjoying my meal I headed to the MRT station to meet up with the others who were taking the trip to Yilan. Our trip to Yilan, which is located on Taiwan's North East coast about 2.5 hours from Taipei, was just a day trip with a 9:00 A.M. departure time and a 6:00 P.M. return.

The trip was put on by NTU (National Taiwan University) for the Japanese exchange group who was in Taipei for 7 days to take some Chinese language and culture classes. Most of them could not really speak chinese all that well so English was the mode of communication between the Riben ren (Japanese people) and the Zhongguo ren (chinese people); and of course me. It is really strange to think that two countries with so much culture and history both together and separate speak English when they want to communicate, that will always boggle my mind.

When we arrived in Yilan I was excited to experience a new part of Taiwan. I couldn't wait to see a more traditional side of this beautiful country. I was hoping that no-one could speak English, and that the town would be small and not crowded with mopeds and taxies. My thoughts could not have been more wrong. We arrived at the National Center for Traditional Arts, the area was filled with cars and tour buses. This was not a traditional arts center, this was a tourist trap. This area reminded of my two trips to mexico when on the way to our final destinations (one was the Mayan ruins, the other was snorkeling in the reefs) we made stops at a Jewelry Store/ Gift shop to, take a break and look around.

As we walked around in Yilan, I didn't really see anything that caught my fancy, the shops were over priced and the "traditional items" were frankly not practical in the smallest sense. When I think of my anthropology classes that I took, we spent the most time studying how the simplest tools could be used effectively, how fires were built, how animals were skinned, how houses were built, and how art was expressed. I didn't really feel like any of these things were covered at this center. Granted there were some arts, but without an explanation of how and why these were more "traditional" than the shop's same art down the road I had a hard time really falling in line mental on this trip.

We walked around for about 3 hours and saw just about every shop there was and then made our way back to the buses. Our next destination was Luodong Sport-Park, about a half hour away from Yilan. It was a pretty cool place and would have been great if we could have spent more than a half hour there in the rain. I think that next time I will take the trip planning into my own hands. I know that a lot of people really enjoyed themselves on this trip, but it just wasn't for me. Next time I want to get away from the west and a bigger city I should do so with much less people, and certainly not a 3 giant buses filled with travelers.

Wednesday, December 19, 2007

Flowering Man Way

The days seem to be going faster and faster as I find my groove with the city. I can't believe its already Wednesday. This week has been class, class, and more class. Our teacher combined lessons 18 and 19 tests and moved the test to Friday, so we are taking on a huge grammar and vocabulary load. Other than working on my studies I have started HwaRangDo a Korean martial art. HwaRangDo is Korean for "The way of the Flowering Manhood." The name sounds a bit silly in english but when you delve into the meaning it becomes much more clear.

From Wikipedia: The common English translations are 'The Way of the Flowering Manhood' or 'The Way of the Flowering Knights.' The 'Man' idea in this title refers to an ideal man: one of honor, strength, responsibility, and virtue. The reason for the word 'Flower' is to state that just as a flower grows and then blooms, so should a man grow and then bloom into something beautiful. Also, just as a flower is beautiful just by being, so too should a man be honorable, loyal, strong, and virtuous by simply existing, without having to try to be any of these things. Obviously, since it is in the name of the Art, this idea is central to all aspects of Hwarangdo: one should be without needing to try to be. By this concept a practitioner is taught to be humble, strong, and honorable.

My teacher is very nice and is holding the lessons at CKS Memorial Hall twice a week for two hours; free of charge. Today the other two students were not able to make the lesson, so we had a one on one and I got the feel of the art form. We started with the white sash techniques, learning the 4 basic forms, and also the 6 defensive blocks. After that we went on the the long hand technique, all very cool stuff. After I do a bit more practicing I will post up a video so you can all take a look see.

Other that HwaRangDo and School I have just been doing my homework and hanging out. This weekend I will be going to Taibei de nanbu (Southern Taiwan). I am taking a 3 hour bus ride to some town where we are going to visit a museum and some of the more traditional markets and craft-makers. It should be a lot of fun and I will be sure to post more on that event after I return home. Sorry no pictures today, I will leave you all with a great bit of English that I found in the bathroom, sorry its the only picture I took in the past few days.

Friday, December 14, 2007

Keeping busy in Taipei

This week has to have been, by far, the most busy since I arrived in Taipei. Monday I was busying hitting the books because I had my first test on Tuesday and I wanted to do well. I normally actually spend most of my time in the mornings studying before I go to class but I couldn't on Tuesday because I had a "business lunch" with Greg Wong, a friend of a family friend, who works at the American Institute in Taiwan as Commercial Section Chief. The AIT is located in the International Trade Building, which is located kiddy corner to the Taipei 101. The lunch was fabulous, fresh squeezed apple juice, mushroom soup, and the best salad bar I have ever seen or tasted. Greg was wonderful to meet, it was nice to hear a business mans perspective of Taiwan. I felt like we really had a lot of common interests and goals in life and we bonded quite well. While eating lunch I also got to meet and share some gossip (a Chinese past time) with Du Yen Hao, the Executive Advisor for the General Chamber of Commerce in Taiwan. After lunch I only had a brief moment to admire the Taipei 101, and snap a few pics before it was time to rush to school for my first big test.

I arrived to school with plenty of time to quick review my Chinese characters and grammar points, and I walked into class confident in my abilities. When I walked into class however, my classmates and I were told that our class was being disbanded because we didn't have enough students to keep our current class going. We were promptly moved to another class, only to find out that our new classmates had just taken the chapter 16 test the day before! Guess we lucked out, cause we didn't even have to take the test at all. My current class now has 8 students, and a much better teacher. I didn't mind the teacher I had before but my new teacher is fun, exciting and much more in depth about the finer points of the Chinese language; I must say, she reminds me a lot of my teachers back home.

After Chinese class I was off with some friends to grab a quick bite to eat before trying out a kickboxing class that everyone has been raving about it Taipei. We ate our meal and then hitched a bus over to Freedom Square (formerly know as Chiang Kai-shek Memorial Hall). Kickboxing is put on every Tuesday and Thursday by a group in Taipei called Cheap Hippie Kickboxing, and runs from 8pm-10pm on both those nights. Being a Gill my feet of course took a beating, but that wasn't the only thing hurting by the end of the second hour. I believe Hippie Kickboxing is a euphemism for @$$kicking two hour workout that has nothing to do with kickboxing. We did a lot of running, stretching, pushups, sit-ups and other enduring testing exercises that really just try and bust you into shape rather than learning any self defense. I can't say that it is not an effective way to work out (I am still feeling the burn after 3 days) but it certainly isn't my cup of tea. The only redeeming factor, other than burning off the past 4 days meals was the amazing view of CKS Memorial Hall.

Wednesday after waking up sore in places I didn't think possible I was off to my Wednesday routine of school followed by dinner with one of my friends/language partners from Taiwan. We had agreed on Monday, since I didn't know how much kickboxing would take out of me, to grab a bite to eat and then go for a nice 30 minute hike on the outskirts of Taipei City. We ended up eating at a nice veggie buffet and then catching a bus that took us near Taipei 101 again where we walked toward the hills to begin our hike. Let me take a moment to clarify a "taiwan" style hike (if you are in the city). Basically you walk up a ton of stairs that just go up a giant hill until you get to the top. There were no paths that you could walk on, just more and more stairs that got steeper and steeper the higher you went. I am not going to lie, it was not the most pleasant experience after kickboxing, I really felt the burn in my calf muscles. However, once we made it to the top of the peak I totally forgot about the stairs or the burn and just took in the view. We were able to see all of Taipei city, and it was, despite being a little hazy, absolutely beautiful. We enjoying the view and the tranquility of our destination for about an two hours before descending back into the busy city life, where I had to worry again about homework, and my actual first Chinese exam.

Thursday came and went like a flash, I spent my morning buried in my books and had my first exam. After class I arrived home to find my friends from Thanksgiving had come back to Taipei for a few more days and were going out for some dinner and drinks at Jurassic Bar, a restaurant filled with dinosaurs, tacky music, and expensive food. The place turned out to be a totally blast, we got a 7000cc keg of beer, and chatted the night away; making new friends and having a great old time like us Americans/ Australians always seem to do.

I woke up this morning feeling just fine and dandy, did some homework and headed off to school. I have found my groove and like the fast pace life here in Taiwan. Everyday holds a new adventure for me, and when I start my days I always know that something new and exciting will happen before the end. Tonight as I write this I am planning on going out for some hot-pot with my friends, who leave tomorrow, for a final dinner sendoff. After that who knows... oh also, I did quite well on my first exam, so know one needs to to worry that I am having too much fun. Here are some final pics of my weeks adventures. The first pic is the view from my hike, and the second is Dana, my friend from America with our 7000cc's of beer!

Saturday, December 8, 2007

Jake Gill goes Flickr, and goes to Danshui.

It is almost like when Bob Dylan went electric... almost. While typing almost, I wear a grin on my face implying that I fully understand my gross overstatement. BUT, anyway I am on flickr now, an online photo website which allows me to post a slideshow (please see the upper left of my blog) of my pictures from Taipei. If you see a picture you like in the slideshow, or would like to view all the pictures on my flickr page you can just click the picture and check everything out. I will still be adding pictures into my blogs to highlight certain aspects of my adventures. Anyways just thought everyone would enjoy more than just the few pictures I have been putting up. Now on to my recent events.

As I said yesterday, I was planning on going out with some friends from Shida for Mike's going away party. Plans promptly changed when I received a phone call alerting me to the fact that everyone was starting the festivities around midnight. I just didn't have that kind of energy in me last night so I decided to pass on the events. Being a Saturday night however, I was not going to sit in my room so me and two friends decided to head to Danshui for the evening to walk around and grab a bite to eat.

Danshui is a smaller city to the north of taipei as was the center for shipping an commerce in Northern Taiwan in the 19th century. Today it is a popular place to go for seafood, shopping, and just walk around with tons of people. It is the farthest stop on the MRT red line, and is about 30 minutes travel, to the tune of 40 NT (about a $1.15 US). Danshui Old Street and waterfront is where all the action happens. Just walking around you can find tons of things to eat and buy. The most popular was squid, and sausages, along with various other types of seafood, making it a bit difficult to for me to find something to eat. After walking around for a while a terrible smell over-ran my senses and I knew just what it was... stinky tofu. The item has been aptly named, the aroma ommited by this dish can best be described as raw sewage. I knew the second that the smell hit my nose that I had to try it, you only live once, and it is not often that an American finds themselves in Taiwan with the ability to eat such a dish. Once I was able to get past the smell, which was much easier once I walked away from the stinky tofu stand, it actually tasted pretty good, it was a hint of chili, and fried been curd with a kind of moldy past (hence the stink). I am not sure if I would eat this stuff everyday, but I will certainly have it again before I leave.

After eating my stinky tofu me and my friends did some more walking around talking in all that Danshui had to offer. We stuffed our faces for a little over an hour and finished the night off with an ice cream cone that was about as tall as our heads. The ice cream didn't taste as good as the stuff at home, but it still hit the spot. It turned out to be a really nice night. The weather was perfect and the wharfs actually weren't all that busy. It would be nice to go back sometime soon to catch a sunset before grabbing food and walking around. I would add this place to the list of things to see if you are in Taipei for more than a day or two, just remember to come hungry.

And finally a few more pics from the night. The first is Chris and Denise (hostel pals) really enjoying their Agei (basically tofu stuffed with fish and broiled). And the second pic is just a nice shot of the busy wharfs.

Friday, December 7, 2007

Interesting happenings at Chiang Kai-shek Memorial Hall

Thought I would share a bit of Taipeis politics for anyone who is interested in the goings on.

Other than that news not much else is new and exciting. I have fell into the groove of study and really enjoy my three hour classes. This weekend I am taking it pretty easy, and will be going to a going away party for Michael Toy, the student from Wisconsin who was stabbed, he has decided to leave Taiwan so we are going to see him off. I guess I will also take the time to answer a few of the comments questions that I have gotten in the past few weeks.

Still haven't heard about any stinky tofu. That Andrew guy on cable says it is the national food of Taiwan. Have you had any?
I have not tried the stinky tofu yet. It is on my list of things to do, but I need to find a good market where I can buy the item.

"Do you feel that this kind of experience is opening you up to further acceptance or do you find that it emphasizes your own shortcomings or a little of both?"

I feel that I am pretty accepting of many things in this world. I am more and more coming to terms with the idea of cultural differences that make this world what it is. I of course have my own shortcomings but I feel that spending this trip on my own is helping over come at least some of them.

Why don't people drink? Are they just smarter than we are??
I think there is just a certain stigma with drinking here. Most young people just have either never tried drinking at all, or don't really enjoy doing so. That being said, it is not like all the younger generation does not like to drink. I just think that much more people choose not to drink.

"How many numbers are in your cell phone, is the text in Chinese characters? "
My phone number here is 091.754.1430. It is possible to text in Chinese characters, in fact I get some all the time in Chinese but you have to learn a different writing system to be able to use it. 

and of course, I can't write a blog without at least one picture.

Tuesday, December 4, 2007

Time to hit the books. Part 2

So Sunday was my last day before I started class and I decided to do a bit more walking around in Taibei Shi (Taipei City). My friend and I ended up just walking around near the Taibei Che Zhan (Taiwan Main Station). We walked around just taking in more the city and saw a few cool buildings, some dutch colonial, and some with much more an asian flare. After walking around for a little over an hour we came across the old North Gate that was entrance to the city. Built it 1884, the North Gate alone retains the original appearances. It is a two-story closed blockhouse of solid construction with traditional Chinese wooden roof truss. It even has the old gates build into the blockhouse even though they do not close anymore.

After walking around and exploring the city for a little while it was time to head in a get a good nights rest for the start of term. My classes started Monday at 2:10pm-5:00pm and run five days a week at that time. When I arrived in my class, my first impression was just like the Christmas Story... OHHHHH F-U-D-G-E. For about the first hour of class I just felt lost. Our teacher does not speak any English to us at all, okay maybe 5 words were said in English over the entire 3 hours. My class had 8 people in it on the first day, and our first assignment together was to translate our class objective and guildlines into Chinese. If this seems like an easy task let me assure you otherwise. Item number 4 on Intensive Course Guidelines: Generally, one chapter will be covered every three days, but the teachers will do the necessary adjustments based on the absorption of students and the contents of that chapter. A test will be given upon completion of each chapter... now try speaking about that in another language, not fun. Once these items were done we were off to the races, asking questions of all of our classmates in a general review of lessons 1-15 in the textbook. That took us to the end of the first day.

Right at the end of our first day our teacher announced that we would have a quiz on Tuesday covering review vocabulary from lessons 11-15. When I got home i started to get a little freaked out. Over 80 characters worth of material, and a lot of it new to me because I used a different text book back home. So I spent about 5 hours working on homework Monday night and another 3 hours during the day. The result... I only knew about half the words that she spoke and I still felt lost. I started to get a little bit worried but I talked with my Professor and she told me to stick it out. At the end of our second 3 hour lesson we were giving the same task of reviewing lesson 11-15 for our quiz on Wednesday. I again hit the books for about 5 hours at night and 4 hours during the day. I didn't think things would stick since I was cramming so much in my brain, but it seemed to work. I got very very few errors on my second quiz and felt a lot more confident in todays class. Oh also today our class was reduced to only 4 people rather than the 8 we had in the beginning. A few thought it was to hard and a few thought it was to easy. So in theory I get 1 hour of one on one time with my professor every single day... not to bad, not to bad at all.

That is all for now, I am going to be hitting the books a lot while the semester is in full swing but I will be sure to keep you all informed of any new developments in Taipei.

Friday, November 30, 2007

Time to hit the books.

After my trip to Longshan Temple I was going to spend the next day at Taipei 101. Ultimately though I decided against it because it just didn't seem like the proper follow up after going to the temple. Instead I decided to spend my Thursday exploring Daan park. What a wonderful place. It is right smack dab in the middle of everything and it is a rather large place. Filled with walking paths and beautiful trees, most of which I have never seen before in my life. I walked around for a nice long while and then spent the rest of the afternoon basking in the beautiful weather and reading more of the Dalia Lama's wisdom. It was wonderful to see so many people, young and old, getting their walking fix and just taking in the parks natural beauty.

After the park it was on to another birthday party, seems like everyone I know around here was born in November. We went for some India food and I had some wonderful Veggie Curry, what a treat. I didn't get to speak much english during the evening which was nice, everyone could speak at least a little english but they really wanted me to work at speak Chinese. Needless to say I did more "practice" on my listening skills than on my speaking, but it was still nice to use my second language rather than my first. After the Indian food it was off to the KTV. A KTV for those who don't know is a Karaoke bar where you get your own room and rent by the hour. Rather than being in front of a ton of strangers you only have to make a fool out of yourself with your friends. It was a great way to celebrate my friends birthday. We all had a blast.

On Friday I spent the morning at school for my Orientation and class registration. The orientation was pretty interesting. Found out that Shida has about 30,000 alumni all over the world and that over 68% of the current students are from South East Asia. Even though English speakers were in a minority the Orientation was put on in Chinese and English and the powerpoint they had in the back ground was all in English. In the end I didn't learn much that I didn't already know about the school, but I can tell that I am at a good University. The staff seems very helpful and willing to do what it takes to make sure our time spent at Shida is enjoyable. At the end of the Orientation (for us English speakers) they launched in to Japanese and told us that if we didn't speak Japanese we could leave. What a relief because I had no clue what was being said.

I was very happy that I am enrolled in the intensive chinese program at Shida. I will have chinese class for 3 hours a day Monday through Friday and I am starting in the first book on chapter 16, which is about right where I left off back in Milwaukee. I have already started to look at my books and I can tell that the ones back home are a little better, but there is nothing I can do about it. My class only has 8 people in it, so I will get a lot of talk time with both my teacher and the other students. Well, tonight I am going out with some people from the Hostel, it should as always be a good time.

Tuesday, November 27, 2007

Longshan Temple

Amidst the flow of commerce found in downtown Taipei lies the serene beauty that is Longshan Temple. When you walk into the temple you forget about the cars, mopeds and people that fill the streets. You lose track of the watch, cell phone, car, or clothes that you really wish you owned and bask in the peaceful tranquility. The joss sticks (incense) overload your olfaction, and one cannot help but marvel in the timeless beauty that this place holds. You will not be alone in these feeling of peace and calm, the temple is filled with people there to honor their loved and lost. The ancestors long gone, and future generations that this world still hopes to raise and nurture. It was nice to see the incongruous problems of todays world left at the gate so to speak.

The temple was built in 1738 and the stones in its entrance were originally ballast on ships that ferried immigrants from Fujian province across the Taiwan Straits. The temple is multidenominational, like many in Taiwan. Its main deity is Guanyin but the temple enshrines 165 other deities. I find it fascinating that so many can gather and worship many gods under one roof in a place like this with out fear or retribution. Perhaps we in the west can take a page or two out of the book of these gods who so willingly allow all to visit their temple and practice their own type of prayer and honorary celebration.

After my temple experience I just enjoyed the various markets in the near area. I got a small snack and found a quite place to enjoy my book The Art of Happiness, talk about a prefect book to suit the day. I am again and again reminded that we must all be thankful for what we have in life. Let us not dwell on what we lust after. In the end pleasure gained from items or status do not make us truly happy. True happiness is born of mind and body, it is a connectedness with ourselves and others... both at home and abroad. We may be all from different places on the planet, but we are all of one human race, and that in itself makes us all family.

Raindrops keep falling on my head.

The weather here the past two days has been pretty miserable. Rain, rain, and more rain is in the forecast. I am glad I packed an umbrella because not having one would be unthinkable. I made a trip back to the Post Office and picked up my ATM card, this second trip was a lot easier than my first, and also went to the immigration office and filled out my VISA paper work. I was hoping to spend this week seeing the temples, hot springs and other wonderful things that Taipei has to offer but I am putting them on hold till the weather clears. Today after getting back from the post office and changing shoes/socks, they were SOAKED, I made my way through the underground Mall located very near the Taibei Che Zhan (Taipei Main Station). It is a pretty incredible place. Shops upon shops upon shops for at least a mile. One side of the mall was just book stores, all in Chinese, with everything you could want. The other side was all clothes and accessories mostly geared toward women and business men. One interesting thing I saw while I was exploring the underground mall was the massive amount of high school kids that just hang out after school. They find mirrors and plop down cd players and work on there choreographed dance and break-dancing skills. The ones who don't want to participate either watch, cheering their peers on, or crowd around each other with Nintendo DS's and Laptops playing the latest video games. The most interesting thing about all of this is that no one seems to mind hundreds of kids just loitering in the malls. Of course they are not causing any trouble, so I guess why not.

I am still adjusting here. Trying to find my niche in this busy and bustling place. I actually am really looking forward to the start of term next week. My vocabulary is so limited, I feel like a 2 year old in the big city. I can at least say that I am not sitting at home and watching the TV; something I remember doing far to much of in Florida and other places when the weather turned bad. Not much else to write about right now, my experiences have been rather limited this week. I am sure that things will be much more exciting once the weather clears up.

Sunday, November 25, 2007

Random Events/ Birthday party

So yesterday was a lot of fun. I was walking around near my apartment and found a great place to eat some shui jiao (dumplings) and a good mian (noodle) shop. After stuffing my self to the brim I decided to explore the streets some more. As I was walking a heard some music playing and it sounded relatively close so I started to head towards the noise. It turns out that there was a Taiwan band festival going on all day. Entrance to the festival was free so I headed on in to take a listen. It was so much fun. We had a great view of the Taipei 101 (tallest building in the world) in the back groud and the music was bucuo (pretty good). I got there right as a Chinese punk band was finishing up there set and really liked their music. It was a change of pace from the normal chinese pop music on the radio, which consists of mostly love songs. At the end of their set the band members explained that they were poor musicians but they were having a great time playing music, the crowd seemed to take sympathy with them because tons of people starting throwing 10 yuan coins onto the stage. It was so darn funny to see the band dodging money while trying to play there last song. I was going to take some pictures of the event and the Taipei 101 when I realized that I had left my camera battery charging at home.

On my way back to my apartment I got a phone call from my friend inviting me to a birthday lunch on Sunday (today) and I decided to join. So today I took the MRT to meet all of them for lunch. First of all the food was absolutely wonderful. The restaurant was a mix of Chinese and Italian cuisine so there were a lot of rice/noodle dishes filled with chicken, shrimp, and other various meats and vegetables. It was interesting to be an outsider at this kind of nice meal because everyone was taking pictures, like every 10 seconds. My friend explained to me that when the go out for a nice meal they like to take pictures of every single dish they order, that way they can remember what they all had and share pictures with others of the whole experience. Not only were a lot of pictures taken people where playing video games at the meal??? I guess I just don't get it yet. I thought the picture taking was a little silly, but then I ended up getting carried away with it as well. It was interesting to see a more chinese style birthday party, normally my friends and I will eat somewhere and then have a few drinks together either at a bar or a house party. But here in Taiwan people that drink are in the minority. So they go and have a nice meal, and afterwards everyone just goes home.

My way home gave me my first taste of MRT madness. I had be warned that it is not wise to travel on the Mass Rail Transit system between the hours of 4-6 and I found out why. There were people everywhere. The tram cars were packed to the brim. I seriously could not even move an inch in the train. Even while being a bit uncomfortable during my tram ride I still marveled at the efficiency of such a system. The MRT must move thousands upon thousands of people per day in a fast efficient and cheap way. Why oh why doesn't Milwaukee have such a device.

Tomorrow I get to go back to the Post Office and get my ATM card, they don't have debit cards here. That should be a lot of fun, at least this time I know how to say ATM card, and I don't need to do something as daunting as opening the savings account. Thats all for now. Enjoy some pictures of the fine cuisine, and of course a picture of taking pictures of food.:

Friday, November 23, 2007

American makes the local news

So yesterday we had a bit of a scare. I got a phone call from a friend studying here in Taiwan. He informed me that a fellow student from Milwaukee, Mike Toy, was stabbed in the arm and was being taking for the hospital for surgery. I didn't have much more information on the matter, other than that he would be alright, until today when I was out to lunch and saw something on the news. It turns out that some fung dian de ren (an insane person) just came at him with a knife. Talk about insane. Anyway, Mike, is safe and was in surgery for a while. I don't have many more details because I can't read Chinese but it was really weird to see news coverage about an American from Milwaukee getting hurt here.

It was strange watching the local news. I haven't gotten a chance to really plop in front of the tube much yet but as the news was going on I realized something about Chinese TV; it is almost impossible to watch. The TV channels find a way of putting so much information on the screen that, characters are everywhere. You wont just find them on the bottom of the screen like a CNN new scroll, but in the middle of the screen and all over the top. I makes me wonder if Asians are statistically better at multitasking. They have to deal with so much information all the time. Things are much more fast paced here. The cabs speed, the moped drivers are insane, people stand on the MRT without holding on the anything and manage to still play there PSP. Yet somehow everything seems to flow together. I guess it is because I am Weiguo (foreign) that it all seems so chaotic.

So I was just thinking as I was writing this that I kind of feel like Malcom Renoylds from Firefly here in Taiwan. For those of you who have no idea who Mal is then please stand up from the computer head to the local video store at rent Firefly. I speak my English with a dash of Chinese, and somehow it feels totally normal. Maybe someday we will all speak like that.

Oh, I also heard a great joke last night. What do you call someone who speaks three languages... Trilingual. What do you call someone who speaks two languages... bilingual. What do you call someone who speaks one language... American.

Thats all for now. Here a few pics that I took from my apartment. Busy, Busy.

Wednesday, November 21, 2007

Turkey Day in Taipei

Well today is turkey day here in Taiwan. Its strange... back home today would have been filled with wine, family, friends and of course a huge turkey dinner. Here in Taiwan it is just another Thursday. It is strange to think that I will be missing almost every major holiday while I am in Taiwan. It is even more strange to be walking the streets of Taiwan and see store after store filled to the brim with christmas goodies. Clearly they don't follow the black friday rule here. So last night I was on my fill my stomach mission again and was looking for some good street food near home. I walked around to a few places asking if they had su shi (veggie dishes) with no luck and then I spotted a local joint that had the characters for tofu on there menu. Those characters were the only thing that i understood out of the tofu dish but I thought what the heck I am going to order it anyway, it was late and I was hungry so I took the plunge. I pointed at the dish and said I want that dofu dish, the shop owner said okay and I waited... and the picture you see to the right was what I got. I had no idea what it was (i mean the green thing, not the tofu) but I was going to eat it. The dish turned out to be very good, I had figured out that the green thing was a pickled egg of some kind. When I got home I looked up the characters in my dictionary and got a little nervous. The pidan dofu (1,000 year egg w/ tofu) was a dish that I was reading about. It is a duck egg that is stored underground for 6 months where it pickles. The yoke becomes a brown/green and the white swells up into a jelly. Now that doesn't sound to bad right? But, traditionally the egg is soaked in bull's urine before it is stored. I liked the dish, really liked it, so I don't think I am going to ponder whether or not I had the "traditional" styled dish or not.

So last night at the hostel I met a three girls who are traveling around the world right now (Madeline, Dana, and Dai) and we decided that we were going to spend turkey day at an American restaurant, not because we could get turkey there, but because it was going to be wonderfully hilarious. We ended up settling on T.G.I. Fridays because the girls had walked past there on Thanksgiving morning and said it looked like fun. We had a few drinks at the hostel during the mid afternoon and off we went. T.G.I. Friday's was to the point of being so bad its good. The wait staff all spoke english and wore winter hats (even though it is 70 degrees out) the music was all straight off of MTV and the food was over priced and Nan Chi (literally means difficult to eat, but implies that it taste really bad).

After our meal it was off to wondering the streets and buying a few beers at a 7-11. While we were walking we found a Karaoke Bar and went in the check the place out. The place was a diamond in the rough. For 300NT (per person) we got all the songs we could want to sing and 3 beers. The American song selection was all older tunes from the 50's and 60's. The people at the Karaoke Bar were wonderful and really made us feel at home. We danced, drank, and sang the night away stopping after every song and yelling GAN BEI (cheers) at the top of our lungs. I tell you the older Taiwanese generation really knows how to party. After that we stopped at McDonalds, which is open 24 hours here, and ate some french fries. All in all it was a wonderful Turkey Day. Today my new found friends are off to the south of Taiwan. Guess its time to meet some more expats.

A Place to Call Home

As I said last post the hunt was on for a place to live. Not only because I need a place to get my ARC but also because I was getting kicked out of my hotel today (Wednesday the 21st). Fear not because I did some wandering around near Taipei Main Station (Taibei Che Zhan) and found a hostel that could accommodate me. The hostel is super awesome, I couldn't really ask for much more. My rent is $242 a month, which is super cheap compared to other places around my school; that includes everything i need washer, wifi, cable,  and electric/water. Another added bonus to the whole hostel thing is that I get to meet people from all over the world on a daily basis. My room (or as we say in Chinese fang jian) is Japanese style and is just fun to be in. I have a place to put all my things and even a bed, okay of course I have a bed.

After figuring out my living situation is was time for another fun adventure. Going to the post office to open a savings account so I can receive my scholarship money. I knew where the Post Office was so that was not a problem but once I got there I ran into a real dilly of a pickle. To open a bank account at the Post Office you have to be able to read a ton of Chinese. I took one look at the application and wanted to cry. So I just sat there searching for a character that I could recognize, anything that could shed some light on what I was looking at... the result, I didn't understand anything. I tried in broken Chinese to make so sense of the matter, but I had no luck... what was I to do? Lucky for me a fellow student at Shi Da, a Graduate Student native to Taiwan but a student none-the-less, could see my problem and offered to lend me a hand. She did more than that, in the end she filled out all my paper work and opened my bank account while I stood next to her speaking about 10 words during the entire process. After I deposited my 100NT, a little less than 3 American Dollars, I decide to offer my savior a bite to eat, my treat. Of course she didn't know my ploy, I needed to find some good veggie dumplings. We walked a few blocks from the post office and found a dumpling shop that served veggie dumplings and I was in heaven. I ended up ordering a dozen dumplings along with some Veggie Suan La Tang (hot and sour soup). The meal was wonderful.

That pretty much sums up the last 24 hours of my life here in Taiwan. I just about got all the bureaucratic paperwork out of the way. I am looking forward to a crazy fun weekend where I don't have to walk around filling out forms that I don't understand.

Monday, November 19, 2007

Curse of the FEET!

Well, it turns out that even in a foreign land where I call myself Gao Jian, I still am a Gill at heart. I know this cause my feet hurt like the dickens. Since I have to still walk everywhere I will just have to stick it out with the help of Tylenol extra strength. I spent yesterday afternoon at Shida market (right near school) getting some food and just hanging out. After wandering the market for a while I met a friend at 西門 (Ximen) which is a huge outdoor mall of sorts. It is hard to describe the sights but all i can say is just think of giant big screen tv's, movie posters, 10 story stores, and tons upon tons of people and you will get the picture. We ate hotpot (a bunch of items all boiled together) and it was wonderful.

When I got home I feel asleep fast than I thought possible. I got a good nights rest and woke up today ready for registration. So today, Tuesday November 20th, I went to school for my oral and written exam. I did very well on my oral exam but the written exam was super tough. After my exam I was off to take care of my bureaucratic paper work. That meant going to the foreign affairs office to apply for my ARC and finding out that I don't have everything I need; aka I don't have a place to call home. So now the hunt is on.

Sunday, November 18, 2007

Day One

Well I slept about 4 hours last night. I am not sure if that is because of jet lag or because i slept the whole time on the plane, but i wasn't going to let lack of sleep get me down. My room, as you can see in the pictures, is rather small and limited to a desk and a bed. The shower is just a drain in the floor, despite is looking so out of place it was piping hot and that made me happy.

Once sunlight started to hit my room and the sound of a bustling city rung in my ears I decided it was time to wander. So, at 6:30 am with my dictionary, travel book and iPod in hand I went to explore the city. My goals were simple. Find a place to get something to drink, find a place to eat, and most importantly... not get lost. To add to it, I was going to use only Chinese. I put on the new Radiohead album and just started walking. Taking in that all taipei has to offer (minus the sounds i guess). You would be surprised how alive Taipei is at 6:30 am. A lot of breakfast shops start opening up for business and there are more mopeds on the road that I thought possible.

I found a 24 hour store that had some drinks and I bought some green tea to the tune of 20 yuan (about .90 cents). After that I walked the streets watching the city really come to life before my eyes. I found a small street vendor that had some spicy noodles for sale and ordered them with the best of my ability. I must have said something right because I got my order just as I had asked for it and began to slurp them down. It hit the spot! After that i wandered around a little bit and then made my way back to school.

Now I am going to try and find a bank and change my money, so that I can pay for tuition. After that I have no idea where the wind will blow me.

Safe and Sound

Well I made it safe and sound. My flights were all on time and I landed in Taiwan at 7:35 p.m. The plane rides went really smooth and very fast (I slept through most of it). From the airport I took a 50 minute bus ride to Taipei City (taibei shi) but it was dark and raining so I didn't really get to see much. The bus took me right to the MRT (Mass Rail Transit). I took the MRT right to Guting stop, where my school is. I was able to find a room at my School for the first two nights. Rent was a little over 30 dollars for a night, which is expensive. However, I am at school so I can't get too lost in the next few days. Tomorrow is going to be a busy day. I have to find a bank, and work on finding a place to live. I wish I had more to report, but getting settled in was top priority. I will post more soon.

Gao Jian

Thursday, November 8, 2007

Extramural Chinese Studies

I do not claim to be any expert in any way, shape, or form when it comes to the Chinese language. I do however know of a few useful websites and tips that I can give to others if they wish to go beyond the classroom and learn Chinese on their own. Please feel free to share thoughts and recommendations about this list, and I will update in the future.

Tip 1: In order to learn anything new, you must be willing to put in the time. What that means is, make time every single day to focus on what you would like to learn or study; even if its just 15 minutes a day, it will be much better than spending an hour one day and then taking the next few days off from study. I cannot stress the importance of this enough. Spending time in this manner allows the brain to understand and reinforce the knowledge that we take in. The more the brain sees the topic you are trying to learn, the more focus it will put on retaining this information.

Tip 2: If you are the type of person who really likes to get down and study your heart out, please do so with caution! Over studying can have a similar effect as not working on something at all; most of what you study will be lost very quickly. Work on something for an hour and then take a break. After you have had time to let the information sink in, go back and review. The more times in a day you see the same information the more your brain will try to understand and keep the information.

Okay, now that I have gone over two basic tips for learning anything lets get down to the nitty gritty. I will break down a couple of sites that you can visit to learn Chinese on your own. Each site will have its pros and cons. Find what works best for you by exploring them all.

Site One:

ChinesePod is a great website for beginners and advanced Chinese students alike. It has a very nice interface both online and via iTunes that allows you to receive a new lesson in Chinese every single day of the week. Let me say that again incase it didn't sink in; you get a new lesson in Chinese EVERY SINGLE DAY. The website/ podcast is free for basic users and also offers a membership package that is reasonable in cost. The lesson's they offer are split into Newbie, Elementary, Intermediate, Upper Intermediate, and Advanced.

Pros: First off, ChinesePod has about 700 lessons available online, and they are all free! The lessons often run about 15 minutes in length and are perfect for a daily commute to work or school. ChinesePod has many things going for it. They use modern slang that is found all over the mainland and do a fair job of explaining how words work together to form ideas and sentence patterns. The lessons are all spoken to you by native speakers, and that makes for good accent and pronunciation practice. The fact that they offer many different lesson levels also makes it great for all users. It gives you a chance to go back and cover the basics, and also gives much room to grow for more experienced Chinese students.

Cons: ChinesePod for the most part focused on spoken Chinese. The dialogues are viewable but you must be a member or ChinesePod (which means spending money) to actually get the characters and pinyin. The other downside is that not all lesson are geared for your learning level which means some days you will not really be able to do the lesson, but like I said before they have plenty of old lessons that you can always go over. The biggest con is that in order to really use ChinesePod to the fullest, you have got to pay money, but all in all this website rocks even for non paying members.

Site Two:
website: is a great online dictionary that anyone can use. It is totally free and has thousands upon thousands of Chinese words at your fingertips. It is a must have for online Chinese learning.

Pros: It is a free dictionary, need I say more? Okay, I will anyways just becasue I want to outline a few of the nice features. When you get online to this website you have the option or searching for words in English, Chinese (both simplified and traditional) and also pinyin. So you can take a Chinese character and plug it into the website and understand the meaning within moments. After searching for a word the website allows you to see a few things
1) How the character is written (this is done by clicking on the magnifying glass near the character)
2) It will show you multiple meanings of the word if they are available, as well as slang terms the word may be used for.
3) By clicking on the pinyin of the word a javabox will appear and give you the pronunciation of the word, a very cool feature for new words and characters.

Cons: Sometimes you will search for a word and get tons of examples or translations of the word, which can be rather frustrating for a beginner. General rule of thumb in this instance is to choose the Chinese words that are near the top of the search results. The other con of this website is that it is online. If you don't have the Internet in front of you then you can't access it. My final complaint is that there translation program they have listed on the site is horrible. Use with caution and don't rely on the English translation of anything they give.

Site 3:
Rutgers Multimedia Chinese Teaching System

This is the Rutgers Chinese teaching system that they use in school, and it is available online for all to see and use. If you want to learn Chinese in a way that is similar to being in a classroom then this is the site for you. They have four different levels starting with the most basic and going to the most advanced.

Pros: This is a full course in Chinese; it goes over grammar points, vocab, pinyin and characters. It has everything and is structured like a classroom lecture system. It rocks check it out!

Cons: It is structured like a classroom lecture. While this is a pro, it is also a con. If you need help understand a grammar point or anything else they are covering in the lesson you have nowhere to turn. I would recommend this site after you have done at least a little bit of Chinese study at another site.

Site 4:

YouTube has everything, try searching for Chinese anything and it will come up. Great for testing your new Chinese that you have learned. Watch TV shows, Commercials, Lectures, and other Chinese students as they speak this wonderful language. YouTube makes learning Chinese fun because while it is entertaining it is also very helpful for solidifying your listening skills. Seriously everything is on YouTube, it makes learning fun!

As I have said before this is not by any means a comprehenssive list. But it does point out some websites that I an other use on a regular basis to solidify what we learn in the classroom.

Good Luck in Your Language Studies,
Gao Jian

Monday, September 3, 2007

Tall hopes for the Overseas committee.

I am hoping to be doing some work for the Overseas Committee while in taiwan so I wrote alittle blog about my thoughts and expectations of the trip. Enjoy!

One year ago, if you had told me that I would be spending nine months in Taipei Taiwan, I would have most certainly replied; “sounds like it would be a lot of fun but you're nuts”. This year however, that crazy idea is becoming a reality. I have always been drawn to the idea of traveling the world, but after taking one year of Chinese at UWM I really wanted to set the gears into motion so that I could achieve that goal. During the coarse of the year I realized just how hard learning Chinese was. The first of many language difficulties is the tones, and not just one or two but four, each changing the meaning of the word you are using. The second difficulty is the characters; every word is now not a word but a picture, and on top of knowing what the character means one must learn how to write it! As I encountered these problems I realized how much it would help to truly immerse myself in the culture. And thankfully I now have been given that opportunity.

As the days count down to my November departure I find my anticipation growing by the second. I have already started to research my travel destination. Here are five quick and interesting facts that I have already learned:

1) Taiwan is not recognized by China as an actual country.
2) Taiwan is home to the tallest building in the world the, Taipei 101, which stands at 1,670 feet.
3) There is at least one festival during every month of the year, and two festivals for bringing in the New Year (which takes place in February).
4) The Island was given the name “Formosa” (beautiful) by the Portuguese in the 1700’s when they first saw it.
5) Taipei (where I will be staying) has an average of 25,129 persons living in each square mile. To put that into perspective that is 40 homes per football field.

The more I learn about this country, the more excited I get. I have already started looking into my living arrangements, local eateries, and of course, popular entertainments. And because I am going there to study Chinese, I can also say that I have not given up on my Chinese homework over the summer, I am spending an average of an hour a day working on keeping those characters and tones fresh in my mind.

Since I am so excited to go on this trip, I will tell you right now I have a lot of high expectations. I hope that my education will be up to the standard that I am receiving at UWM, one major concern is my ability to understand my teachers. I hope to come home with a much better grasp of Chinese in both my reading and speaking comprehensions. And for me the largest expectation is the culture shock that I am looking forward to receiving. I do not want to live in a mini America; I want change, and diversity. I don’t want to speak English all day and recognize every shop that I see. I am ready to greet with arms wide open: the busy streets, the market bargains, real authentic Chinese food, cram packed subways, and the wonders of being on my own halfway around the world.