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