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.