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.