Tuesday, August 26, 2008

Final Thoughts from Isle Formosa.

This is it, my final blog from Taiwan. First of all, I would just like to take the time to thank everyone who has been reading, and posting, and sharing this once in a lifetime opportunity with me. It has kept me going, and kept me writing. Just looking back on my previous blog posts, and my over 1000 pictures that I have taken while in Taiwan has made me realize just how much I have experienced. I was hoping to actually write my final Taiwan blog in Chinese and then translate into English, but after writing for 6 hours with still no end in sight I told myself 慢慢來 man4man4lai2 (don’t rush this, just take your time) and decided to just wrap things up in my mother tongue. I hope to take advantage of my six-hour layover in San Francisco and finish up the Chinese version there.

This chapter of my life has changed who I am in a huge way. Apart from learning, thinking, and dreaming in a different language, I have grown the most as a human being. I have altered my views, and expanded my opinions on the world. I have met travelers and friends from all parts of the globe and not only listened to the stories they have shared, but shared a few tales of my own. I have finally experienced living independently for the first time in my 23 years on this third rock from the sun, and think I have done all right. Sure, I didn’t ever actually cook a meal, and I may be a thinner than when I came to Taiwan, but I kept my clothes clean, my house in order, and got my self up and off to school everyday without a hitch. I learned how to manage a relatively small monthly budget, and make it last. All in all, I am claming success.

I have enjoyed everyday that I have spent here, and the past 10 months have been like a dream. I have learned so much, and I know that I won’t possible remember it all. But, I am sure that I will carry this momentum home with me and just keep trudging on; learning new knowledge, and reinforcing the old. Counting down my final hours here seems surreal. I know that tomorrow night I will be back in Milwaukee, but I couldn’t think of anything that was a “must do” during my last afternoon. I am, however, saying to hell with the summer heat and going out for a hot pot dinner tonight, one of my favorite meals here in Taiwan, but other than that my day has been spent just relaxing and taking in the rolling tides of noise generated by scooters, buses, and cars that fill the streets.

Although today has been rather uneventful, I cannot say the same about the past week here in Taiwan. It has been jam packed with new adventures. Monday wrapped up my final test of the quarter, and after that it was smooth sailing. I spent the rest of the week working on things that really interested me about Chinese, mainly poetry, idioms, and traditional stories. I really learned a ton in the past week about the history and culture of the Chinese language, something that really made my one on one class worth every cent. Wednesday night it was out for my final night at Roxy 99 with my fellow classmates and friends from Taiwan. We had a blast and I ended up getting home very late. Thursday was the big day, our GuZheng class had our end of the quarter performance, and my classmate Rou Wen and I performed a section of 梁祝 Liang2 Zhu4 a song based on the Classical tragic romance between two lovers Liang Shanbo and Zhu Yingtai. This story is often known as the Chinese equivalent of Romeo and Juliet. The performance was a lot of fun, but I was incredibly nervous. Everyone did a great job and our teacher took some awesome video of the whole thing, but I haven’t had a chance to upload it to Youtube yet so guess you all with have to wait till I get home to check it out.

Friday was my final day of class but I wouldn’t call it a class at all, my teacher and me spent our two hours looking over a bit of my writing and then just having a chat about anything that came to mind, politics, travel, my future studies in Chinese so on and so fourth. It was a wonderful end to my three quarters here, there was no test, no TingXie, no nothing, just pure conversation, it was grand. On Saturday a very special friend of mine Vivi, a wonderful Taiwanese girl that I have been spending time with, decided to spend the day in Wulai, a small town about an hour south of Taipei. Wulai is known for Natural River hot springs and it’s over abundance of aboriginal Taiwanese culture. While we were there took a mini train to the waterfall in the area and avoid the rain by eating a wonderful aboriginal lunch, the highlight being rice wrapped with taro and cook in a bamboo stalk, it was mouth watering. Sunday we took a walk from my place over to the Jade/ Flower market near Daan Forest Park. It was nice to see, but nothing spectacular, but the hour walk to the market was certainly very enjoyable. That night it was off to Little Indonesia with the hostel gang for some wonderfully spicy Indonesia food, that place has become our recent Sunday tradition.

Monday was a lot of fun. Me and Vivi originally wanted to head over to Mao Kong Gondola for a nice hike in the mountains of Taipei, but during our MRT switch from the MRT Blue Line to the Brown Line I discovered that the Gondola is not in service on Mondays. Although I really wanted to check out the Gondola before I left, I wasn’t going to let it get me down. We headed over to Elephant Mountain for a nice hike in the blazing heat. The hike left me covered head to toe in sweat, but the view during the day was worth every drip. I realized just how small Taipei was, and just how many people live in this city. They couldn’t build out, so they just built up and it makes for a miraculous view. I felt like I was king of the world, although Taipei 101 still loomed above me standing tall and proud. Taipei 101 is a true marvel of human engineering. After descending from the Mountain it was over to Sun Yat-Sen Memorial hall, after studying some Chinese history I really took a great interest in this man. It took 10 tries to over though the last Chinese dynasty, but he never gave up. It was awesome to see the changing of the guard and to just walk around the Memorial Hall that was built in his honor.

After S.Y.S. Memorial it was back home to relax and start getting my items in order. My busy final week in Taipei had come to and end. Now it was time to get some last minute things packed and decided one and for all what clothing, books, and other assorted items I was and wasn’t going to take home with me. At this point only my laptop remains out side of my bags. And looking at the time I think it’s time to even pack this away. I have had a remarkable journey, an adventure that I will never forget. I am looking forward to coming home and sharing my experiences with you in the flesh. Well… until next time Taiwan,and there will be a next time, I bid you farewell.

Jacob Gill

Friday, August 15, 2008

Install your language packs.

Well everyone, the days are counting down till I am back in the States. The end of the quarter has been keeping me busy. I have been spending most of my time hitting the books, doing more Chinese reading, writing, and speaking. Don't really have much to report since the last blog. But I did want to share something with you guys. The story below is not of my own creation, but I did write it in Chinese. I present my version of Snow White to the blogger verse. You don't have to read Chinese to know how the story goes, but if you do read Chinese, I encourage thoughts and criticisms. Just remember in the end, Snow White and her Prince, lived happily ever after. I will see you all soon enough when my own fairy tale here in Taipei comes to an end. But keep an eye out for one more post before I get home. Just a final recap while still on the beautiful Island Formosa.


王后也很漂亮,頭髮黑黑的,眼睛也很美。她覺得自己是世界上最美的女人,於是每天對著魔鏡問:『魔鏡,魔鏡,世界上最美的女人是誰?』 『是您,我的王后』 魔鏡每次都這樣回答。但是說也奇怪,有一天魔鏡說:『最美的女人是白雪。』 王后聽了以後,氣得要命,就叫了一個獵人把白雪帶到森林裡殺掉。不過那個獵人很同情白雪,於是對白雪說:『王后要殺你!我求你趕快逃到森林裡去吧。』

白雪就跑進森林裡去,跑了很久跑得累極了。這時候,她看到森林裡有一間小房子,裡面有七張小小的床,她心想:『我累得不得了,我就在這裡休息一下』她一閉上眼睛,就睡著了。她睡覺的時候,住在這裡的七個小矮人回家發現白雪在他們家裡。他們覺得該讓這個美女睡覺,不要打擾她。白雪起床以後告訴他們她的情況,七個小矮人聽了以後說:『你可以住在這裡,只要幫我們洗衣服,做飯就好了。』白雪聽了就說:『一言為定』。可是第二天那邪惡的王后又問魔鏡:『魔鏡,魔鏡,世界上最美的女人是誰?』,魔鏡還是回答『 最美的女人是白雪』魔鏡的回答讓王后非常生氣,所以她決定化裝成一個老婆婆到小矮人的房子去給白雪一個又紅又大的毒蘋果吃。

有一天小矮人都要出去工作,出門以前對白雪說:『我們到山上去挖金子,你在這裡等我們回來,千萬別讓人進來。』 不久以後,白雪聽到有人在敲門,她從窗戶偷看是誰,發現在外面站著一個老婆婆,雖然小矮人說別讓人進來,可是她心想:『這是一個看起來很誠實的老婆婆,再說她拿著一個又紅又大的蘋果看起來很好吃,請她進來吧』。白雪走過去把門打開來,原來站著一個有鷹勾鼻,駝背的老女人。老婆婆目不轉睛的盯著白雪說:『美女你好嗎,請吃吃看這個又紅又大的蘋果吧!』 可是白雪吃了一口以後,就一直昏睡。

當天七個小矮人回家以後,發現白雪昏迷不醒 。七個小矮人都覺得她已經死了,於是做了一個玻璃棺材把白雪放在裡面。轉眼過了一個月,有一天那個愛著白雪的王子騎馬走進森林,走近一看嚇了一大跳,躺在棺材裡的女孩就是他心愛的白雪。他心想:『不管她是不是死了,我都要親她。』 所以王子抱起白雪親吻了她,結果白雪慢慢地張開了眼睛對王子說:『我在做夢嗎?原來是我的王子,謝謝你救了我,我愛你。』 從此他們就過著幸福快樂的日子。 結束

Sunday, July 27, 2008

Fung-wong is here.

It has been exactly a month since my last post on this blog, and the pace of school and everyday living in Taiwan hasn't slowed up one bit. I finally feel like I can really take some time and recount some recent events in Taiwan. Today I am like a giddy school boy because the Taiwan government has closed offices and schools due to Typhoon Fung-Wong. Everyone has been watching the Typhoon make it's way toward Taiwan for the past few days just waiting for it to hit, and hit it did. Hua Lien, and more southern regions of Taiwan are dealing with flooding up the waist and winds blowing at 160 KM/H. Here in Taipei it doesn't feel nearly as bad, but the rain is certainly coming down. Lucky for me my local breakfast shop doesn't seem to mind the weather, I still had a nice breakfast to start my day off right.

Well life here is going as usual. Lots of homework and lots of studying. In the beginning of July I started studying Gu Zheng, a Chinese musical 21 stringed instrument similar to the Zither, through Shida's culture classes. Every week I have one two hour lesson. Needless to say that is not enough time to really practice what we learn, but we are playing some simple songs and I have to say the Gu Zheng is a very beautiful instrument.
The Gu Zheng strings when naturally plucked make the sounds Do Ra Me So La, but the stings can be manipulated with your left hand to create a full scale.You play the instrument by sitting on the far right hand side of and using your right hands thumb, pointer finger, middle finger and ring finger to pluck the strings. Your left hand is used to bend the notes pitch. Even though there are only 5 main notes of varying pitch the instrument is very similar to a harp in the need for coordination and accuracy We will have a performance at the end of the quarter were we perform one or two songs we have been working on. I will be sure to have a friend video tape it for you all to see. Other than Gu Zheng Class and my normal one on one class I have just been busy trying new foods, and hanging out in new places.

I have been hanging out with a lot of friends on the weekends, seeing movies and walking around Ximen Ding, a kind of youth hangout shopping center, which is filled with all sorts of activities. Last weekend I went to my first MTV. It is basically a movie theater where you rent out a room and a few movies to hang out for the day. You get food, and drinks included in the cost of the room rental. A pretty cool idea, and a great way to spend a rainy day. It still astounds me at how much is going on in this city on any given day. Makes it fun to see something new every time you step outside. Last week Saturday I got to see a live break dance competition taking place on the streets. The kids, they must have still been in high school, weren't the greatest dancers, but there enthusiasm and attitude really got the the crowd into it. After checking out some break-dancing my friend and I headed over to an Arcade for some Air Hockey, and racing games. Other than hanging out in Ximen Ding I have also started walking home from school when ever I feel my feet can take it, and the weather isn't hot to the point of being dangerous. The walk takes me about 45 minutes, and although it isn't filled with anything too exciting, I still am seeing a part of the city I can't observe riding the MRT. That in itself is worth coming home covered head to toe in sweat. I am not sure what I will do with my last month here in Taipei, I think most of my routine will stay pretty normal, but there are still a few places I would like to check out before I leave. Well right now the Typhoon seems to really calmed down, it is just drizzling outside, looks like this is even better than a Wisconsin snow day. I can go outside and I don't even have to shovel!

Saturday, June 28, 2008

The magic numbers 325, 35, and 5.

The magic numbers 325, 35, and 5. These numbers might not mean anything to you, but those numbers explain to me where the last month of my life has been; buried in my chinese book. So allow me to break down those numbers for you guys.

325: The number of new vocabulary I have learned this month. Each new vocabulary word usually consists of 2 or 3 characters.
35: The number of new grammar structures introduced.
5: The number of chapters I have finished in the past 3 weeks.

These numbers seem a little bit crazy, but it is only when I sat down and started to add up the numbers that I realized the demanding regime of these past 3 weeks. My class is amazing, I can feel my Chinese improving every single day by leaps and bounds. I have started to study poetry, and am learning how to express my Western thoughts in an Eastern way; not a simple task. One of the wonderful things about my class is the having to opportunity to just talk with my teacher about anything that comes to mind. Most of the time we are working on class materials, but every now and again we just talk. The other day for example we started talking about the future and the possibility of Robot Rights, that lead to a discussion about the book and movie i-Robot and of course the three laws of robotics.

It amazes me that in less than two years of Chinese study, I am able to talk about these kinds of subjects, and I know that it wouldn't have been possible without the help of my great teachers here and back home in the states. While I love having crazy discussions in class about my interests, I really enjoy when my teacher talks about the more cultural aspects of the Chinese language. Every day I seem to learn something new and interesting about China's past, and how it has molded todays culture and language. This new class has really opened my eyes to one of my favorite tidbits of this beautiful language; idioms. Chinese is filled with idioms, they are often a four, six, or eight character saying that expresses a much larger idea. One I have learned recently is 情人眼裡出西施 (qíng rén yǎn lǐ chū xī shī). This is similar to the English saying Beauty is in the eye of the beholder, but with a little history built in. The characters 情人(qíng rén) mean a person in love, 眼裡 (yǎn lǐ) means in your eyes, 出西施 (chū xī shī) means seeing Xi Shi one of the ancient beauties of Chinese History. Wiki says:

Xi Shi's beauty was said to be so extreme that while leaning over a balcony to look at the fish in the pond, the fish would be so dazzled that they forgot to swim and gradually sunk away from the surface, birds would forget to fly and fall from the sky, the moon would fade, and flowers would close their petals in shame in comparison to her. (Thus the idiom 沉魚落雁, 閉月羞花 (chén yú luò yàn, bì yuè xiū huā ) which is used to compliment someone's beauty.)

This type of information I consider priceless, and I don't think I would be able to take the time to learning something like this in a normal class with five, six, or seven other students. I would love to write some more about the poetry I am learning, but that will have to wait. Perhaps I can put on a little performance of a selection of classical poetry when I get home. The characters themselves don't do a poem justice. A poet must always remember 詩中有畫,畫中有詩 (shī zhōng yǒu huà, huà zhōng yǒu shī) A poet must speak a poem like he is painting a picture, a painter must paint a picture like he is telling a poem. I will be sure to share the rest of my adventures as much as I can before I make my way back home in two months time.

Saturday, June 7, 2008

A wonderful end to a perfect vacation.

The past few days, although not filled with parties and clubs, have still lived up to the very essence of being on vacation. Tuesday I finally managed to visit the 國立故宮博物院Gúolì Gùgōng Bówùyùan (National Palace Museum) and it was just as wonderful as everyone says. I realized while walking through countless rooms filled with Jade, Curio cases, scrolls and other timeless art pieces that Chinese history is wonderfully preserved. You can see the subtle changes in religious icons, and jade carving styles as you walk through the past toward the present. It was an amazing place, and half a day there was only enough time to 走馬看花 zou3ma3kan4hua1 (get a brief view of the sights). Sorry, you are not allowed to take pictures in the National Palace museum so a few pics from the outside will have to do.

On Wednesday I had the prefect "semi-date" with Ayaka, a Japanese girl who just arrive in Taipei who is also studying Chinese. I picked her up from orientation and we grabbed a bite to eat near school. Afterwards it was off to 中正紀念堂 zhong1zheng4ji4nian4tang2 (Chiang Kai-Shek Memorial Hall) a very peaceful and beautiful memorial in the heart of the city. We enjoyed the lovely grounds and then headed up 85 stairs to visit the memorial of Chiang Kai-Shek. After reading about the history of China, I am not really sure where I stand when it comes to this man, but he did do some wonderful things for Taiwan, and this memorial is well deserved. From C.K.S. it was off to see the new Indiana Jones movie down at Taipei 101's Vieshow theater. Have to say, I was a little disappointed. Had I not been sitting next to a cute girl I might have asked for my money back. To make up for the lackluster movie we headed off to Shilin night market (biggest in Taipei) and had some Bubble Milk tea and a few drinks to end the night.

I got home around midnight and spent some time preparing for the start of my final quarter. I woke up on Thursday feeling good, and ready to get back into the student swing. I prepared the first half of the lesson in advance so the first day we opened the book running. I have already had two quizzes and am getting ready for my first test on Monday. Forty five new characters and 7 grammar patterns down in two days! Yikes, the speed is fast, but I actually like it, it forces me work even harder than before, and thats never a bad thing.

I started Friday by heading over to 大佳公園 da4jia1gong1yuan2 (Da Jia Park) to watch the start of the 2008 International Dragon boat races. Here is the history of the event straight from Wiki:
The use of dragon boats for racing and dragons are believed by modern scholars, sinologists and anthropologists to have originated in southern central China more than 2,500 years ago, along the banks of such iconic rivers as the Chang Jiang, also known as Yangtze (that is, during the same era when the games of ancient Greece were being established at Olympia). Dragon boat racing as the basis for annual water rituals and festival celebrations, and for the traditional veneration of the Asian dragon water deity, has been practiced continuously since this period. The celebration is an important part of ancient agricultural Chinese society, celebrating the summer harvest. They first used a "dragon boat" to save a local scholar from drowning in the river and went to save his life. They now honour this feat on (or around) the 5/5 every year (Lunar Calendar).

Shida had two teams competing in the event, a mens team and a mixed team. I am proud to say that I was one of the only Shida students there screaming 加油 jia1you2 (Add Oil or Go Team!) at the top of my lungs. Our teams took first place in the first and second rounds of the event, but ended up taking 3rd on Saturday. That just wasn't enough to keep us in the races, but everyone did a great job. After watching our team win the first round I headed off to school for 4 hours of Library time before class. I came into class ready and prepared and eager to end my adventures here with a strong finish. I am not sure what is in store for me in these final months, but I intend to make the most out of everyday.

Sunday, June 1, 2008

Warning: An excess of fun!

Friday, May 23rd 4:10 p.m:

The school bells chimed, and it was time to kick off a wonderful 12 day summer break. With my second quarter under raps I figured it was time to go out and hit the town, no matter how early, and that is just what I did. My classmate and I went over to a local pub and had a few drinks, chatting the night away and making plans for the real vacation, 3 days in Kending, the Southern most tip of Taiwan. After the plans were set, it was time to really start the evening so we headed over to Room 18, a club in Taipei's 101 district for a night on the town. The cover charge was steep, and the drinks were pricey, but the club was a ton of fun. Me and some friends danced the night away and I ended up getting home just in time for breakfast. Gotta love Taipei, the nights end late and the days start early.

If I thought I was going to get a lot of R&R before my big trip, then I was way, way off. Saturday night I was back out on the town. Me and some friends headed over to a great Japanese restaurant to have a little going away party for a good friend of mine, and fellow class mate Xiao Ling, who was heading back to Thailand. Being a vegetarian and heading to a Japanese restaurant is not something I would normally even dare to do, but I am not one to be picky and choosy, I was hoping they at least had a Salad that didn't have some kind of seafood mixed into it. And I was not disappointed. The restaurant ended up having a great Tofu Salad that was absolutely sensational. As if the tofu salad wasn't enough to hold me over then the appetizers and white rice, did the trick. The night, however, did not stop at dinner. Afterwards it was over to Hips, my friends favorite Night Club, for a little P-A-R-T-Y, the club may not be the best in town, but it does boast a fairly inexpensive entrance fee and the best perk of them all... 喝到飽 he2 dao4 bao3 ("drink till full"). The rest of the night was filled with great music with great friends. And don't worry, even if it is all you can drink, I was sober enough to enjoy a nice 5:30 a.m. sunrise to cap off the evening, and have a nice conversation with a cab driver who was working the graveyard shift.

Fortunately for me, I did take a break on Sunday and Monday. I did some reading, watched some Chinese TV shows and started to teach myself Bopomofoㄅㄆㄇㄈ, otherwise know as 注音符號 zhu4 yi1 fu2 hao4, one of the seemingly millions of pronunciation systems for Chinese characters. This system, unlike the Roman Pinyin system that is used in Mainland China and most of the rest of the world is a much more exact pronunciation system, consisting of 37 letters and 4 tone marks, it is a comprehensive system that can transcribe all the possible sounds in Mandarin. All one has to do is put the parts together and presto, you are speaking perfect chinese. Generally speaking Bopomofo is harder to learn for westerners because it uses its own type of character system, but that just means DRILL, DRILL, DRILL! I am sure that learning Bopomofo will be a bit of a struggle, but it should help me out in the long run, plus once I learn how to use it I can start typing in Chinese on my cellphone!

Tuesday was the big day, our three day trip to Kending. Our train left at 7 a.m. and arrived in GaoShong around 11:30. After that we took an hour and a half taxi ride and we were there. Kending is a coastal city that is surrounded by Taiwan's very first National Park. The scenery is amazing, the beaches are incredible, and the lifestyle... well lets just say it they run on beach time down there. I went down to Kending with six other friends, Masa and Naoki from Japan, Jason and Eric from the United States, Juan from Costa Rica, and Jean the one and only girl straight from Taipei. Masa, Naoki, Jason, Jean, and I all spent the full three days in Kending, and Juan and Eric met us in the evening on the second day. While Kending isn't large by any means it still would be rather impractical to walk everywhere, so we decide to rent scooters for our three day stay, at the outrageous price of 9.50 USD per person. We put ourselves up in a very nice hotel that boasted a nice view just across the street from the beach, and had a nice patio. Perfect for a late night snacks, chats, and of course a few 啤酒 pijiu's.

Our day time activities in Kending included hanging out on the beach, taking a nice scenic cruise to a beach 18KM away and doing a little surfing. I didn't try the surfing, the waves were not all that great on the last day, and I was already sunburned. The water in Kending was awesome, like that classic third cup of porridge, jjjjuuuussstttt right! By the time the sun had set we were all a little drained, but that didn't stop us from heading out for a few drinks and some nice meals. The first night we had a nice surf-and-turf style dinner, night two we stopped in at Amy's Cucina for some good Taiwanese style pizza. The food always hit the spot. After dinner we walked the strip like the rest of the folks and then headed back to the hotel for some R&R. The by far coolest thing about evenings in Kending are the stars. The sky was filled with hundreds upon hundreds of stars, a sight for sore eyes after spending 7 months in Taipei where on a good night you can only see a planet or two.

Thursday night my friends headed back to Taipei, but I decided to add another day to my vacation by stopping in Tainan. Tainan is Taiwan's old capitol city, and is full of tons of historical sites and plenty of rich culture. While I was there I got to enjoy the 安平古堡 An1ping2 gu3bao3 (Anping Fort), the old streets of Anping and the first Taiwanese Confucian temple 孔廟 kong3 miao4. While at the Confucian temple I met a very nice older Taiwanese man who took the time to help me really understand the history of the temple. How it was founded, what it's purpose was etc. etc. We ended up talking for over an hour before I was able to escape away to find some food and a coffee shop with AC. All that time in the sun had worn me out and I was ready to go home. I am glad that I made it to Tainan for a day, but I fear it wasn't enough.

I took the last train home on Friday, leaving at 8:30 p.m. and didn't get home till well past midnight. The train ride, as on the way down, was uncomfortably cold, my pants and long sleeve shirt were not enough to keep my comfortable. Some how I managed to get a little bit of sleep on the train, but when I got home I was pretty exhausted. I got a good nights rest and then spent the day recounting my trip to friends and just hanging out. Saturday night it was back on the horse again. My friends Masa and Naoki had a huge going away party at Hips and it was a blast. We ended up staying again till around 5 or 6 a.m. and then headed over to N.Y. Bagel for some rather good breakfast. I ended up calling it a "night" around 8:30 a.m. I went home thinking that my crazy vacation parties were over. Waking up on Sunday I found out that Naoki and Masa were heading out to dinner, so I decided to tag along for one last good bye meal. We went to Amigo, a Mexican restaurant and enjoyed a huge meal, I don't think I have ever ate some much in my life. We had appetizers to split, individual appetizers, main dishes, salads, and desserts... my, oh my! After the restaurant we met up with a few more friends for one last night on the town together. We ended up heading over to a lounge bar called The Bed. The place had great house music, and we actually were hanging out on a giant bed, having a few drinks and reminiscing over the good times in Taipei. I have to say, one of the coolest things about living in Taiwan is my sense of international connectedness. Last night was all about enjoying the company of friends. Friends from different parts of the world, with different cultural backgrounds, and starting to understand the differences and embrace them. This week was crazy, it was the most fun I have had in a long time. I said goodbye, for now, to a few of my very good friends. At the same time, I made many more friends as well. Not sure what is in store for my last few days of vacation, but I don't think I will be seeing anymore sunrises for a while.

Saying goodbye for now to Naoki

Saying goodbye, for now, to Masa.
And making new friends, Ayaka, Jean, Juan, Jason and others.

Friday, May 16, 2008

Only in Taipei

Tuesday of this week I finished my second Chinese final exam. While the quarter is not quite out, only two more weeks to go, our final exam is over and done with and the stress level is somewhat less than before. Our test spanned over 7 chapters of chinese, we studied 10 total this quarter, and covered over 40 new grammar points, approximately 300 new characters and a wide range of topics, from history, politics and sports games to beauty contests and so on. I spent over a week working hard on reviewing all that material, and it paid off. I passed with flying colors.

After the test was over we really had to come up with a way to celebrate, and one of the Shida students certainly came through. Last night starting from Chiang Kai-shek Memorial Hall 中正紀念堂 and headed to Taipei 101 台北一零一,we embarked on a journey that can possible only be completed here in Taiwan, a 7-11 crawl.

Our mission, to walk from C.K.S. to 101 stopping at eleven or more 7-11's on the way and buying one alcoholic beverage on the way. There are 4.770 7-11 stores in Taiwan, they have a great selection of beverages, and drinking on the streets is legal, albeit frowned upon in Taipei. We had more than 30 people total in the group, and it was slow going, but a ton of fun. We only had the cops come once to a 7-11, I think the clerks were a little nervous when 30 plus people were standing out side sipping cold ones. The trip took a little over 3 hours to complete but we did make it to 101, although by that time the lights were out and there wasn't a single 7-11 in sight to have a celebratory drink. It is something that I don't think I will do again, but dang it was fun.

I still have two more weeks of school left but after that we get a break before my final quarter. I planning to take advantage of the days off and head down to Tainan 台南 by myself to have a bit of an adventure. Should be a lot of fun. I will be sure to write a few blogs about my trip. After the break I start my final quarter of school. Instead of having a 3 hour or 2 hour normal class I have selected a one of one class. Basically I will have 10 hours of individual lessons a week, I can select my own course material and set my own pace. It should really get me ready for 7th semester Chinese, which I am taking back at UWM in fall. I figure I should include a picture of my and my class mates in this blog as well. It's me and another American, two Japanese students, one student from Thailand, one from Indonesia, and one from the Philippines. This quarter has been a lot of fun, but I am looking forward to next quarter even more.

Saturday, April 19, 2008

The adventures continue.

As May quickly approaches, I am reminded that my time here is more than half over. While my parents were in Taiwan I told them there was a very good possibility of me extending my stay here. Since they have left I toiled for days over ways to come up with money to extend my stay, I looked into Visa extensions, scholarships for school, and even jobs to support the cost of living. However, after thinking things over again and again, I have decided that I will be coming home at the end of August as was had originally planed. My plane ticket is booked, and the date is set. But as I start to plan for my fall semester back at UWM, I also continue to discover new and wonderful things in this place.

Sitting at school waiting for class to start I looked out upon the city and realized that this place feels more and more like my home. The buildings, although concrete and stained with exhaust, add to this city's wonderful character. You can sense the amount of people, and the flow of life by gazing at the Taipei skyline. C.K.S. Memorial Hall and Big Pink (Taiwan's second tallest building) stick out at day and night.

Walking through Shida Night market you can always tell you've found good food if there is a long line of people waiting for it. One stand in the night market always seems to have the longest line, so I decided to give it a try. The stand sells something called Lu Wei, they give you a basket and a set of tongs and you get to select what kind of food you would like to eat, they have dofu, tons of fresh veggies, meat, noodles, and tons of other stuff. You put the things you want into the basket and then the cook plunges it into the black, boiling Lu Wei(滷味) broth, made from Chinese herbal medicine. After the food is done they add chili sauce, garlic, and some other goodies. If you eat at the restaurant behind the Lu Wei stand you get your meal on a nice big plate, but if you take it to go, or as we say in chinese dai zou(帶走), chinese for carry out, all your food goes into a nice plastic bag. My basket of Lu Wei consisted of noodles, dofu, mushrooms, asparagus, green beens and fresh lettuce. The meal was incredible, and well worth the half hour wait and 140NT I paid for it; like I said before, huge lines means the food is good.

The food at the Lu Wei stand was so good that I ate it again the next night as well. Thankfully I ordered while it was still pretty early so I didn't have to wait for a half hour the second time around. Last night Matt's friend from Germany arrived in Taipei for the weekend and we decided to show him around. We started the night at the 45 our pub of choice and had a few beers. After that it was over to Longshan temple which was had a very different feel at night. Very peaceful, yet alive with energy. After Longshan temple we went over to Snake Alley and got stuffed on street food. I had some tasty chao mian (fried noodles) and watched the boys eat some awesome cuts of sashimi for the sweet price of 150NT, there never going to get deals like that back home. After Longshan temple we headed out to a club and danced the night away. All in all it was a great way to start the weekend. Not sure what will be next on my adventures in Taipei, most likely some homework. We are studying political terms and our report for this test is a mock election for ban zhang(班長), class representative. While these types of reports require a good amount of effort, its a wonderful use of new vocabulary.

Wednesday, April 2, 2008

Parents: Week two in Taipei.

Emily’s status: is HOME!!!!
Facebook confirms it. My family is home at last. Their two week journey in Island Formosa, the beautiful island, has come to a conclusion. I am sure they will have loads of stories to tell about their stay in Taiwan, so I will just pick up where my last blog left off.

Friday: We got up early had some breakfast and took a three hour train ride to Hualian where we had a hotel room waiting for us. We checked into the hotel and went out ready to explore the city for the rest of the day. As we were getting some info together at the Information center, I was approached by a taxi driver who spoke a little english. She offered to take us to Taroko Gorge for the rest of the day and give us a great tour for a very reasonable price. After a quick family meeting we decided to take the taxi tour to Taroko, and we were off. The awesome sight of Taroko Gorge is something that words have a hard time describing. Standing on the roads overlooking the ravine below you can feel the awesome power of this place in the pit of your stomach. Our trip to Taroko consisted of 5 stops total. Our first was the Eternal Spring Shrine, which was built to honor all the people who died building the the Taroko Pass. The Shrine, despite being under construction was an awesome sight, sitting all alone peacefully among waterfalls and marble laden walls it stood silent and beautiful.

After our stop at Eternal Spring Shrine we were off on a short walk called The Swallow Gratto Tunnel that lead up to the Commemoration of Chinheng, the engineer who designed the gorge pass. After an earthquake destroyed some of the roads Chinheng was killed in a rockfall when he came to inspect the damage. The walk was beautiful, but the constant signs warning us of falling rocks were a constant reminder of the people lost building the awesome pass. From there we were off to the Tunnel of Nine Turn's, another awesome display of nature and engineering working together to create a beautiful mountain pass. The walk was peaceful and breathtaking. We did a few more hiking trails and finished our stay in Taroko with a nice stair hike up to the Heaven Summit Pagoda. After our wonderful trip to Taroko Gorge we went to a Aboriginal dance in the cultural center of Hualian. Emily, the adventurous traveler, got up the nerve to even dance with the group on stage. I am sure that the cute boys wearing nothing more than a warriors mini skirt had nothing do to with her decision.

Saturday: After spending our Friday in Taroko Gorge we decided to take a hike on the Zuo Tsang Trail in Hualian. We discovered the hike in a local expat magazine, it boasted a wonderful view of Hualian and even a chance to see some Formosan rock macaque's in the distance. The magazine did not disappoint in any sense. The sights were amazing, looking like something out of Jurassic Park, so much different from the view in the gorge. After walking for about an hour, I finally got to stop saying that I was not leaving the area without seeing some monkeys. A rustle in the distance confirmed my hopes of finding them, no less that 8 macaque's were hanging out in the tree's and checking out the strange white humans who were out enjoying the day. It had to be one of the coolest things of the weekend. After checking out the monkey's for quite a while we continued our hike to the top. We made it up to a nice resting place about 1.2KM from the summit and we decided to end our trip short and head back down the mountain. After the hike we took a taxi ride back to Hualian where we found a nice little vegetarian restaurant and stuff our selves full of fried rice, noodles, and heaps of dumplings. While at the restaurant we experienced once again wonderful Taiwanese hospitality. Rather than taking another taxi back to our hotel the daughter of the restaurant we were eating at offered to give us a car ride back, and we gratefully accepted. We spent the rest of the day hanging out and playing some Password, a family favorite, where Dad and Emily got in the zone and practically swept the game leaving Mom and I in the dust.

Sunday: Our trip came to a quick end on Sunday, with our 9 A.M. train ride sending us on our different ways. I took a train ride back to Taipei, and my parents headed off to Tainan, where they spent two days exploring the old capitol city. I know they had a lot of fun there, but they will have to fill you in on all the details for that lag of the trip. Sunday back in Taipei for me meant hitting the books and getting ready for another week of school. I got a phone call that night telling me that my family had made it safe and found a hotel in Tainan.

Tuesday: Tuesday night my parents arrived back in Taipei and we met up after my class. We headed over to a great Vegetarian Buffet for our evening meal and stuffed our faces full of Tofu, noodles, dumplings, and anything else that caught our fancy. Over the two weeks that my family spent in Taipei we must have ate at no less that 5 vegetarian buffets, every time was a true delight. As we all professed more that once, "who needs meat when the favors are this good!" After our dinner we headed over to Shilin night market, the largest in all of Taipei, where I had ordered a very nice traditional Chinese dress shirt, and Emily had here eye on a purse that was going to be "the talk of the town when she got home." You can't spend a night in a night market without also tasting some of the great treats offered there. Mom and I couldn't resist ordering our favorite snack, a bag of fresh pineapple, and my Dad, having already tried fried squid and other treats had to order the stinky tofu.

Wednesday & Thursday: Wednesday night we went to a more traditional Beijing style restaurant. The dinner was wonderful and the flavors were very different from what we had been eating all week. After our dinner we went to Cafe Bastille, our local hangout where Dad and I enjoyed a few Belgium beers that boasted a more than modest 10.5% alcohol by volume label. Thursday morning we were up bright and early and we headed over to Xin Bei Tou for a trip to the natural hot springs. The water was super hot, but very enjoyable, we started out in the coolest of four pools offered at the public bath house. We never made it into the two hottest one's they were just to hot for our untrained skin. After the hot springs my parents headed off the Dan Shui and I once again rode the MRT solo back to Taipei for school. Thursday night John, my landlord, took my family and a long time friend of his Mark, also staying at the hostel, out for a great dinner filled with fresh chicken, fish, veggie's, pork and more. After dinner Dad and I spent some time up on the fifth floor balcony of Happy Family Hostel enjoying a few beers and some nice cuban cigars.

Friday: Friday morning came and went, we enjoyed a great breakfast at one of our hotspots and I was once again off to school for the afternoon. After school it was time to head over and up to the top of the 101 to enjoy the nighttime view of Taipei. The coolest part of the whole experience may actually have been the elevator... holy cow did it move fast! We covered 84 floors in 30 seconds and could even feel our ears pop on the way. Once we got to the top the view was breathtaking. Car's looked like ant's and buildings looked like little models in a diorama. Of course, I realized once we made it to the top that my camera's battery was officially dead so you will have to check out my parents photo's from the top.

Saturday: The last full day in Taipei for my family turned out to be quite and adventure. We headed over near Ximending a bustling hotspot in Taipei for our family's last vegetarian buffet. After enjoying another lovely meal we took a 45 minute bus ride up to Yangming Shan, Taipei counties national park. After reaching Yangming Shan we took another bus ride that was standing room only. We were jostled and knocked around for a little while till we had enough and decided to get off at the next stop. When we got out, we enjoyed the less than miraculous view, due to the humidity and the smog in the city and then we decided to trek back down the mountain on foot on the side of the road, watching out for buses, scooters and cars along the way. It was a little dangerous, but actually quite fun. Afterwards we caught a bus down the rest of the mountain and stopped at The Spot, the old American embassy in Taipei that has been turned into an Art House movie theater/ cafe. After enjoying some drinks we headed out for a wonderful Hot Pot dinner near my school. We ate a wonderful meal and then enjoyed a nice walk around the area before heading back to the hotel for the night.

Sunday: My family's trip was nearing a close, but not before having one last early morning breakfast before rushing off to the airport. After seeing my family off I headed back home only to receive a phone call a few hours later to tell me that their flight had be delayed 8 hours in Taipei and that they were also going to have to spend the night in San Francisco. I know the trip home wasn't pleasant, but knowing my family I am sure they made the best of it. I hear that Emily learned how to play Cribbage and they played into the early hours of the morning. Like the first lines of this blog stated my parents are home at last.

I would like to take the time to thank my family for making the trip out to Taiwan. It has been the first family vacation in a long time and it was more incredible than I ever would have imagined. It is a trip that I will remember for the rest of my life. My studies here would not have been possible without the encouragement of my family and friends.

Thursday, March 20, 2008

My Parents are in Taipei!

My parents have arrived in Taipei and it has made the past 5 days a truly wonderful experience. Their flight arrived at 9:30 and the bus ride took around 45 minutes from the airport to Taipei. Even though my family was excited to be in Taipei we spent the night just getting them to their hotel and getting them oriented with their surroundings but jet lag was taking its toll so we called it an early night.

Sunday: My parents and I got up early and we headed outside of Taipei city with intentions of taking a gondola up to Maokong for a tea ceremony. The line was just to long and none of us wanted to wait an hour to do something on their first day in Taipei so we ended up checking out the Taipei Zoo. It turned out to be a really nice place, the zoo was huge, we spent about 3 hours walking around taking in the animals, and the people and still didn't get to see everything that the zoo had to offer. After spending most of the afternoon in the zoo we headed back toward the heart of Taipei and had a great Korea Barbecue lunch. The food was full of plenty of foreign flavors, and their was so much of it that we all left the restaurant full as could be. On the way back to the MRT we took part, completely accidentally, in a DPP (1 of the two political parties running for president this coming weekend) political rally. Hundreds of people were walking the street shouting 加油第一個 jia you di yi ge (Go number one) One of the members of the march handed my Mom a flag and she started waving it. After she had a flag in her hand people were flocking over to us to give us high fives and we really got swept up in the moment. While it isn't the best thing to take part in foreign political rallies, it sure was a lot of fun. After supporting the DPP for a few minutes we shot over to Shida area, where I go to school, and hung out in the night market for a while and then found a nice place to have some refreshments and relax. 

Monday: I went out with my parents for breakfast but then had to run off to school because I had to study for a test I had that day. They went to the National Palace museum and saw some of china's oldest preserved pottery, paintings, sculptures etc. After class I took my parents to one of the many vegetarian buffets near school so they could get a feel for the types of food that I eat on a regular basis. I do recall my Dad if not everyone saying "who needs meat when the food is this good," my thoughts exactly.

Tuesday: After seeing some impressive items at the National Palace Museum my parents wanted to check out some other museums that Taipei had to offer, so we spent the morning in the Taipei Miniatures Museum which boasted in the Lonely Planet of having a 40 bulb chandelier the size of a grain of rice. Something got lost in the translation because the Miniatures Museum while impressive was a bunch of Doll House like items, and one of the chandelier's individual bulbs was maybe the size of a grain of rice, but it did not live up to the hype. After the museum I had to run to class again, and then had a meeting after class with some junior members of congress (United States Congress), and staffers who were visiting Shida. It seems that the United States is taking more and more of an interest in the Chinese language. I got to express my ideas about learning Chinese in a foreign county and watch government officials learn some basic Chinese phrases. After the meeting my family and I went to the Shilin night market, the biggest and the best market in Taipei. We had a great hibachi dinner and then spent a few hours checking out the hundreds of shops in the area. My sister was in heaven buying a few pairs of shoes and a shirt on the cheap.

Wednesday: After spending the night at a night market and having our fill of shopping and eating tasty treats we decided to do something a little more traditional in Taipei so we headed over to the Confucius temple to take in the more reserved side of Taiwan. We arrived only to find the temple under construction, however as the saying goes in Taipei, where there is one temple there is many, so we walked across the street to the Bao An temple to find tranquility. After checking out the temple we made our way back to the MRT station, along the way my sister and I became Taiwanese for a few moments and took some overly cute pictures by a statue; much to the amusement of the locals. By Wednesday night my families feet needed a break so we headed to the Taipei 101, had a heaping pile of noodles for dinner and then caught the movie Cassandra's Dream.

Thursday: I meet up with my parents again bright and early for another wonderful traditional breakfast this morning, but had to call it quits after eating. We are taking the train down south to Hualien tomorrow and I wanted to make sure to get as much homework done as possible before I left. We are staying there for the weekend and going to spend Saturday at Taroko Gorge, a 19 km long canyon, which is supposed to be one of the coolest places to go in Taipei. I will be sure to tell you more about our travels. And of course my parents will fill you all in when they arrive back home. Finally I leave you with my favorite shot that I have taken in Taipei a pillar in Bao-An temple that just gave me the creeps.

Sunday, March 2, 2008

Quarter Break re-cap.

This past week was the wrap up of my first three month stint in Taipei. It was quite an experience, and much different from my freshman year in college. We had a total of 16 tests, around 90 quizzes and daily homework assignments. Our class covered more ground in 3 months that I ever would have expected and I can feel my Chinese growing stronger and stronger everyday. I spent my break relaxing, reading some wonderful literature and also making my way out of Taipei for some wonderful day trips that have added to my love and appreciation of this Country and its culture. While on break I got an opportunity to read Su Tong's Raise the Red Lanterns, three novellas about 1930's China. The book, although translated, had a very Chinese feel shedding light on a past filled with concubines, opium farms and repressed women, children and peasants of a more traditionally rural China. It is a book that, although is at times hard to stomach, I have to recommend.

After getting a feel for an older more repressed side of Chinese history I took a trip with some classmates to 九份 Jioufen/ Jiufen. This quiet town located in the North of Taiwan was once a booming gold mining town that during its hay-day was called Little Hong Kong. Today it's main attractions are the winding alleyways filled with shops for food, trinkets and teashops from all over Taipei. The view up north in the mountains was wonderful, despite the foggy weather that was constantly threatening rain. Jiufen was a very warm and inviting to us, and during our stay we enjoyed some more traditional style Taiwanese dishes along with a Traditional tea ceremony. The day was a lot of fun, and a great quick escape from the bustling city life.

After my day in Jiufen the next thing on my agenda for the break was to get my first haircut in a foreign country. Sure, this doesn't sound like that daunting of a task, but I have heard my share of horror stories from Westerners who came away from the barbers with a new "style" of haircut that they were not ready for. My haircut experience was not like that in the least, I did some word research before I started my quest and knew what I wanted, a short haircut that didn't make me look bald. I found a small barber shop near my house and got a normal haircut that was on par if not better than my haircuts I usually get in the States. I guess keeping my hair short and simple, was the best way to go.

With my haircut experience complete, I spent my night hanging out with some new blood at the Hostel and ended up getting into a wonderful discussion with a Literature teacher from the states, a teacher from Australia, and a student from Hong Kong. The topics for the evening ranged from movies, politics, books, and travel stories all the way to life extension; it was right up my alley and I came away feeling very young and naive in most topics of conversation, life experience clearly has no comparison. That night I also started reading Joseph Heller's Catch-22 a book that I have always heard so much about, and am already throughly enjoying.

I woke up the next morning to sunny skies and a warm breeze, a well needed change from the chilly raining weather that infested Taipei this past month. I decided to take the warm weather and make the best of it by escaping off to mountains again, but this time I went to 陽明山花季 Yangming Shan hua ji to see the Spring Flower Festival. The trip was nice, and the scenery was different from anything I have ever witnessed before. It was beautifully foreign and at times it was like I was looking into the past. The flowers were very nice to look at, and just walking around in the fresh air was a great way to end my 6 days without school.

Today I went down to campus to get my schedule for next quarter and found out that somehow I have not been placed in the intensive classes. I am irritated by the scheduling error because I know that I specified more than once my desire be continue with my intensive courses. As of right now the intensive courses are full and the only way that I can get into one is if another student drops out. I hope that this happens, if it doesn't that I will be taking a cultural course to  try and make up for the loss of 5 hours of Chinese class studies per week. Either way things will be what they will be and I will make the best of it.

Note: I have posted a few pictures of my break here on the blog, but for the rest be sure to check out my flickr page.