Since I am in the process of moving blog houses, I will include these old posts in order to attempt continuity. The old version can be found at www.taiwantiger.blogspot.com, and over the course of the next month, I will be posting at both sites, eventually moving to this new home.
what i didn't say...
regarding the end of last post, i won't even go into the whole Arnold S. thing, except to quote for you the headline from The Onion: "Schwarzenegger Elected First Horseman Of The Apocalypse." I couldn't have said it better.
// posted by jv @ 12:39 下午 Comments (0)
how's this for not engaging with your world entirely? Last night (Friday) I stayed home and cooked instant noodles for dinner (the most pathetic of foods--despite the fact that they are much better here), watched a bootleg VCD of "Event Horizon" on the computer, and chatted with a friend on ICQ for 3 hours. Really, there's no reason to leave my room if I don't want to.... For a span of about 15 hours, the only words I actually spoke were v-e-r-y s-l-o-w English ones to 7 year olds. Bob can jog. The van cannot hop. Tim's mitt is on a hill. Sigh. We're hoping for better today.
It is getting a little cooler here. I almost turned the fan off last night. The oppressiveness is gone from the heat of the day. Still hot, but it doesn't assault you like in the summer. And in the evenings, it is conceivable to bring some sort of light jacket or shirt. Not that you would actually need it yet.
Interesting fact from last week I forgot to mention. Some dead guy was pulled from the water right at the gate to the university. I think it is equally probable that 1. the guy drowned while swimming or fishing, 2. was dumped there after getting his come-uppance, 3. or his boat didn't make it from China. I haven't heard anything about it in the news, so I am going to assume it was a drowning. There are some pretty dangerous undertows near Chijin Beach (quite close) and he probably got sucked out. But I have seen enough here to know that I can't rule out the other 2.
On the other side of the pond, American politics is providing the few Americans I know here with lots of discussion fodder. How do you justify an war that has no justification (if Iraq were a clear and present danger, we would have found many WMDs by now), a war that proves you are idiot (hey, you can order a new dish off the menu without knowing all the igredients, but you don't destablize the middle east and occupy a country without knowing the facts!)? How do you justify handing out huge no-bid contracts to the VP's former company, and then expect the US taxpayer to foot the bill for this sh*t? I mean, COME ON! This is ridiculous. How do you justify it? a la Rumsfeld. You deny refuse to discuss it, you dismiss accusations. It is past time to start answering some questions, and these guys change the subject and dismiss criticism. It is amusing, because this argumentative strategy wouldn't pass my freshman comp course. Really. To refute an argument by saying "it's just nonsense" would earn you a big fat F. I can't help but think that had I had an opportunity to teach these arrogant bastards, I would have made the world a better place by failing them. Sometimes I don't know if I want to go back to a country that is digging itself a hole like it is now. Interestingly, I haven't met an American over here that feels different from me about this. Okay, rant finished.
// posted by jv @ 12:36 下午 Comments (0)
This last week was draining. I worked a lot, and the idea of communication seemed like too much work, so I ignored things. Sorry. Did you know that they have Mango Ice Cream Cheetos here? They are yum. So many cracker like foods, so little time. This week I sampled "Grilled Chicken and Venetian Basil" potato chips as well as "Buffalo Wing" flavor chips. Though both were tasty, they didn't quite live up to their names. Maybe it was the lack of superlatives on the packaging. On my wasabi cookie package (they do this on the tomato flavor, too) is the claim "Each wasabi cookies is a stylish masterpiece. It is for people who want excitement in their cookies. Enjoy nice time by specially fine tastes." Hey, maybe it isn't the packaging--maybe it's me! I don't recall demanding excitement in my cookies. Next time, I will be sure to do that. I suppose it was balanced by the Fresca-remiscent "It's Allright" soda I washed them down with. My cookies? Stylish masterpieces. My soda? Oh, it's allright.
Mid-week we had a midterm, then went on a class field trip to the traditional market near my house. I tried sugarcane for the first time, which is kind of like sucking on a sponge dipped in honeywater. It's pretty good, but a little too sweet for my tastes. I think the thing which most made my day was when we spotted a basketball jersey for sale. The rather awkward spelling of Chicago's well-known basketball team was printed on the front, the "Chicago Balls." :) I had a really hard time not cracking up right there! If it would have been a T-shirt, I would certainly have bought it--if I could have found my size, which is a whole different struggle.
running some tests
After numerous long hours in the jet propulsion laboratory, the blog has new features. You'll notice a "comments" link beneath each post now, so all sorts of feedback or conversation on individual posts are possible and are, in fact, are warmly encouraged. Also, I added a tag or message board for more general comments, though I am not sure I need both and may therefore drop one should it prove unpopular.
Also, something tells me that content may start to drift. Maybe this place will start to include weird links and things, too. I really don't know.
// posted by jv @ 10:03 下午 Comments (1)
a new look
for both the blog and for me. First, the blog now has a little message board where you can tell me how wonderful I am or how my feet are too big or whatever. :)
Now, me. i got a haircut. It wasn't too bad, but I was terrified. It is quite a process here in Taiwan. I walked into the barber shop/salon which is marked with one of those spinning barber poles. Since I could see inside, I assumed it was a legitimate hair cutting salon. This is important because sometimes "massage" parlors advertise in the same manner, but they usually don't have windows in the front offering a view of the desired service. So when I walked in and the person behind the desk told me to go upstairs, I had to hesitate a moment. Still, up I went to find...whew! more stylists and more people getting their hairs cut. After a period of waiting, someone came by and asked if I wanted some tea or coffee, and whether I wanted a shampoo. Having heard that this was part of the process, I ordered tea and agreed to a shampoo. He nodded and left. A little while later, the assistant returned and the shampoo began. Rather than bring me over to the sink, he just squirted out the shampoo on my head and began what was the longest shampoo I have ever had. Essentially, a scalp massage and shampoo all in one. 10 minutes later, we went over to the sink to rinse off. Then, returning to the chair, the back massage begins. More of a violent back slapping affair, though there was some kneading involved. It is a bit strange to walk into a barber shop to the sounds of WHACK WHACK WHACK. After the massage came the misunderstanding. The stylist came over and I pointed out from a magazine what I generally wanted, though since all the models were Japanese, there were limits to the accuracy with which we were working. Essentially, I asked the sylist to make me look like Ichiro. Using numerous gestures, she asked me if I wanted stuff in my hair. Or maybe it was do I normally put stuff in my hair? I thought it was the last, so I said "correct." So she put some styling stuff in my hair...before the haircut? Well, I did hear that sometimes the cut comes before the wash, so maybe it was okay to do it in this order. So then she looked at me, and I looked at her, and I realized that she didn't know I wanted a cut! Evidently, maybe the "do you want a shampoo?" question was do you ONLY want a shampoo? After a short laugh, we went to rewash my already squeaky clean head. The cut was pretty good, I'm happy.
This process, however, took a bit longer than I had planned, so I was running a bit late for a party I had been invited to at the Korean School where I teach. Since it was a holiday, the school's owners had one of their little BBQs for their Korean friends in the Kaohsiung community. It was lots of fun. More people spoke English than in most other situations I am in, so I got a chance to actually participate in the conversation, which whirled around in mostly Korean and Chinese, and a little English. So here's the setup: We are out in the yard of the school where they have a BBQ going (Bulgoki, Chinese pork, sausages, yams all on the grill) and lots of Korean food on the table. The 12-15 men all sat around the table, while the 10 women all sat in a circle on blankets on the grass a little distance away. If you know anything about Korean or Taiwanese culture, you know that alcohol would usually be present at this time. So the men drank Taiwan beer and whiskey while the women had champagne. So for a while we sat and ate and drank and talked. Then the singing began! Out came the Korean songbooks and everyone had a turn at entertaining, while there were also a number of group songs. A word of warning to you if you are going to asia--be prepared! You will be asked many time to sing! Last night, if you refused to sing, they gave you the option of dancing instead! So of course I sang--let's see ...You are my sunshine, country roads, and i think another. I was going to give Ring of Fire a shot, but I couldn't remember how the third verse goes. It was surprisingly easy to sing in Korean when you have the book in front of you and you can read notes. I just sang vague sounding vowel sounds on tune for my part. After the singing, we went out on the lawn for...a dancing lesson. I don't know what we learned--I think some latin dance, maybe the samba. We lined up in 2 lines and danced to the enthusiastic and comical instructions of one of the men (I didn't get any of the names...). It was really a load of fun! I thought the party was breaking up at about 12 when we started cleaning up plates and things. But then we all sat back down at the table, where Taiwanese Kaio .... Wine was poured and we were served sort of a rice congee with spinach and kimchee. Evidently it is supposed to settle your stomach after drinking. I think we all packed it in at about 1:30. It was just fantastic! The school at night is very peaceful, with lots of big palm trees hanging over the yard. And I don't think I have laughed so hard while I have been in Taiwan--an excellent time!
// posted by jv @ 5:14 下午 Comments (0)
someone else's travel photos
OK, so this is kind of pathetic, but since i don't have a digital camera, I'll point you to someone else's decent travel photos. I hope the links work.
The big temple near my house:
Buildiing in Kaohsiung known as "85 Floors" for obvious reasons:
The area where I live. The orange roofed building in a fish market. My house is in that mess behind it:
// posted by jv @ 4:01 下午 Comments (0)
I am badly in need of a haircut. Normally, when I get my hair cut at a new place, I am nervous. Because they always take my glasses off, I really never know what it is going to look like until it is over. But now I have to try to tell them what to do in Chinese. Oh geez. There are lots of little local barber shops, but my experience in the US with this type of shop is that you generally get a very conservatively styled cut, which I don't want. So I begin my quest for a hip haircut.
// posted by jv @ 3:34 下午 Comments (0)
This week I started teaching at the Korean School here in Kaohsiung. My friends A-long and Cho-long hooked me up with their school, where they teach Korean. They--like many schools in Taiwan--were in need of an English teacher. In fact, after class, I am tutoring the former English teacher, who was struggling mightily. I may also start teaching at the Foreign Language Center at my university. While this would be a conversation class for adults, the Korean school job is teaching 6-7 year olds. Wow. It's a bit different than teaching at University of Washington. They are really cute and nice, but bundles of energy and mischief. It is going to be a little bit difficult for me to control the classroom, since my Chinese is not yet that good. On the plus side, I will soon be teaching myself some very authoritarian phrases. Sit down! Stop running! Give that to me! But seriously, it is not too bad, as there are only 7 kids to reign in for 3 hours a week. I feel a little jealous of my students. They are all Taiwanese, but are learning Chinese, English and Korean. So, assuming that they speak some amount of Taiwanese at home (as most Taiwanese do), that means that they are learning 4 languages before the age of 10. When I look at my own elementary and secondary education, i think one of the things I regret is not being able to study a wide range of languages. I think my high school offered only Latin, French, Spanish, and German. In order to learn anything else considerably more practical, I would have had to had ditch the college prep courses for a half day at a central high school, where I could have learned Japanese or Chinese or Russian, etc. Sometimes the choice needs to be made between languages and more subject-based learning, and I think--if I had it to do over again--I would have picked up more languages. One thing I have noticed being here is the power of konwing--and not knowing--many languages. Of course, i think the US is a little myopic on it's language training. Yes, English is extremely important, which is why almost all Taiwanese want to learn it, but c'mon--Chinese? Who wouldn't want to learn a language that over a BILLION people speak (in some form)? A BILLION! China is the fastest growing economy in the world--why doesn't the US have more elementary or junior high Chinese language study? Well, maybe it does--it has been a while since I was in junior high. Ahem.
So last evening, I went to Shuli's uncle's house. They make and sell steamed meat and meat/veggie buns out of their house. [aside: many, many Taiwanese businesses are run from the ground floor of the house. Some are more active, such as an importer or real estate person, and some are really excuses to make a little money while watching TV--like having a little stand with drinks and smokes. Since the ground floor doors usually slide all the way open, you can sit on your couch and watch the tube, and if anyone comes up, you can get up and serve them. For that reason, most of these types of businesses are open until at least 8 p.m. or so.] So back to the story...I tried making the buns once, but I wasn't very good. Essentially, you put about a 1/4 cup of meat/veggies on a round dough patty. Then, while pinching the dough with one hand, you turn the dough with the other, and use that thumb to keep the filling inside. Mine wasn't bad, but I felt bad for wasting dough while I learned. Maybe I will give it another shot. The first time I went over was on my first day in Taiwan, and I didn't understand ANYTHING going on around me. This time, I went to the grocery store...wait a second. That needs more explanation.
It isn't the same thing that you are thinking. So, by that I mean I got on my scooter and drove in car/scooter traffic for 15 minutes, where I pull up to the cramped entrance to the store, drive up on the sidewalk and try to find a spot among about 200 scooters in which to wedge my own. After locking my helmet under my seat, I go into the store, which is pretty similar to US stores. After picking out a few things, you go to the cash register line. Now in Taiwan, your goods are not automatically double bagged. If you want a bag, you buy it at the stand. It is cheap--maybe 1 kuai--3 cents, but if you don't know the first time, you are a little stumped like me. I think it works out well, as most people bring their own bags. The Taiwanese are great at recycling, and this is a good example. In the US, every store gives you essentially a handful of garbage with your purchase until you tell them you brought your own bag (you DID that today, right?). It is nice to see less use of goods period. There is a reason why the US uses the most energy per capita than any other country in the world. Ok, now that you've purchased your goods, and your bag, you have to figure out how to get it home--you on are a scooter that requires both hands to drive. Your scooter may have a vegetable basket on the front like mine, and you can put your stuff in there, but there isn't that much room. If you buy something bigger, you either tie it on to the back behind you, or (preferred) put it on the scooter foot area beneath your legs. Then you drive and keep the goods stable with your feet. This is a VERY popular way of transport. The scooter base is pretty close to the ground, so fairly stable. This means that you can put lots of things there--TVs, bundles of food or goods to sell, 10-foot poles, your dog, your children, etc. Seriously, people drive around the city, and there dogs just sit there and don't jump off! And it is common to pack at least 3 kids on the scooter. One in front off (in between your outstreched arms) you while you drive, and two clinging to your back.
So, after going to the store, I stopped by Shuli's uncle's house with some little presents--some cookies, a half watermelon, and some coconut jelly snacks (these peel back, pop-out yummies). Fruit and cookies are among the considerate things to bring as a guest. So they gave me some steamed buns (delicious! I wish it were a little closer to my house) and then we talked and drank a few beers sitting on the street. It was really fun to be able to actually have a conversation with people that knew me when I couldn't! While we were talking, a woman was passing by, and stopped and starting asking questions I didn't understand. It turns out that she had lived in Boston for a long time, and didn't have many English speaking friends here in Kaohsiung, and wanted to talk a little. Apparently, my being a whitie is a good clue that I speak English. So after talking for a while, she took down my cell phone number so that we could maybe meet again. I mention this because it is not atypical so far. SO many people want to just speak English a bit that I have had complete strangers come up and want to talk. Imagine this in a monolingual environment, and it just seems weird. It is so satisfying to spend all day in a constant conversation about language and its uses--both Chinese and English. I have also realized the great power of a question. If you don't know some word in Chinese, asking someone here almost makes their eyes light up. Wait, you are a wai guo ren (foreigner) and you are interested in learning this very difficult language? Sure, I would love to help. I ALWAYS have a pen with me. Similarly, people want to know the English for something, and if they know that you speak a bit of Chinese, you are always the first person asked. Of course, all day long my brain works very hard, and I am very tired at times. Today in class was the first day when I just couldn't manage to concentrate due to brain fatigue. Good thing tomorrow is a vacation. 10/10 is a national holiday, so no class.
So all this is to say that I am learning and teaching, and man am I tired!
ALSO, thanks for all the positive feedback so far. I am really glad that these thoughts are finding an audience of people I love.... If you need clarification about anything, or have some ideas (i know, photos would be great, but i don't have a digital camera), email me and let me know.
// posted by jv @ 8:19 下午 Comments (0)
Fo Guan San Temple and more fireworks
Friday after class I went to the big temple near Kaohsiung called Fo Guan San. It is probably 30 minutes outside of Kaohsiung by car. Fortunatley, one of the few people I know who owns a car also happens to be a Buddhist monk, so it worked out well that he wanted to show us the temple. The grounds are impressive. Many many steps lead up to a terrace where the big temple room is--3 large Buddhas are situated in the center, and thousands of small Buddhas line the walls. It was very beautiful--quite stunning. There is also a large monastic community there--maybe next time we will be invited to each with them. I've heard that happens, and I would wager the odds are better if you accompany a fellow monk. I wish I had a digital camera to add some photos to this blog, but they are not at all cheaper here in Taiwan, despite the fact that they are made here.
There seems to be no let up of action in the part of the city where I live--much more things happen publicly here than in the US. As I write, there is some sort of street performance--the songs are echoing up the streets. I haven't investigated yet to see what it is. Yesterday as well, there was some sort of big feast on a street close by. Often, a street will be blocked off and tents and tables set up for a big feast. These are no small affairs, either--maybe 40 tables, each seating 6-8 people. I walked by one that I think was a wedding banquet. I made this assumption because they had also set up a 40 foot high stage backdrop blazing hundreds of bright white lights around a "double happiness" character that is frequently used for weddings. Of course, parading around on the stage were several mini-skirted women grooving their scantily clad selves to club music. One would assume that this wasn't part of the wedding ceremony itself, but was entertainment for the guests. So yesterday, as part of another banquet scene, they shot off fireworks. They must have dropped a lot of money, as the display was a good 10 minutes long. Maybe it was a signal as well, as suddenly from 2 other sides of my porch, other people started firing off more fireworks. And not the little one-at-a-time things, either. You know those 2 foot square blocks of 60 BIG rockets. Well, I think we had about five of those simulatneously, in addition to the big show. As my little porch was being lit to almost daylight proportions by all the rocketry, I thought "man these guys really like their fireworks." Of course, the cultural significance is that they are used to scare away "hungry ghosts" so maybe the second round of fireworks was intended to divert the ghosts fleeing from the first display. I really don't know.
Later I jumped on my scooter and headed out to meet a few friends for dinner. We ended up with a cosmopolitan crowd--one Englishman teacher, one Phillipino student, one Spanish priest, one American (me), 2 Korean students, and 2 Taiwanese--one a student, the other I don't know. Since not everyone spoke Chinese well enough (I am including me in that group), conversation swirled multilingually. The restaurant was typical of Taiwanese seafood restaurants. A big open air room filled with about 40 big tables (10 people) and lit with hundreds of flourescent tubes. At the front is the seafood, all on ice. You go and pick out your food and argue about its freshness and flavor until you reach an agreement. We ended up ordering 7 dishes--green peppers, frog's legs, a fried fish, a salad dish, fried rice, squid, watercress, squid balls, and more I can't remember. Each dish was about US$4--about NT$100-150. They also sell big quart bottles of Taiwan beer for about US$1 per. So the basic idea here is that you get a bunch of friends together, order your food, pop open a couple three bottles of beer (the bottle openers are tied to the table), and pour with ice into tiny 5 oz. glasses. Then the food arrives and you eat and talk and eat and drink and talk and eat, etc. We met at 8:30 pm. and finally ended up leaving at about 3:30 a.m.--and there were still probably 10 other tables still there.
// posted by jv @ 8:10 下午 Comments (0)
On Monday after class, I went with a group of about 40 people to Kenting (ken TING), the big national park on the southern tip of Taiwan. This was the staff party for the Pig and Whistle Pub, which I have been to several times. I don't really know why they invited me, but something inside me said that I should go--especially considering the total cost for an overnight trip, 2 meals, and insurance was a whopping NT$1000--about US $30. Of course, it turns out that I was the only non-Taiwanese on the trip, which made for some interesting moments. Kenting has a number of very nice beaches, backed by lush green mountains that rise up behind the beaches. It is also a substantial tourist destination, so the midweek trip meant that we missed the weekend crowds. There is the town of Kenting, which is a little touristy, but--in comparison to other "touristy" beach towns--not really that bad. It is about a 3 hour trip from Kaohsiung by bus.
So the bus trip was pretty cushy--we watched the new Jackie Chan movie (in Chinese). We stopped part way for a pee break at one of the number of bus stopovers on the way, where I could have enjoyed a tasty snack of sausages or pigeon--splayed, skewered, and grilled. They looked pretty tasty, actually, but I wasn't really hungry so I passed. After we arrived in Kenting, we unloaded into the Beach House--a dormitory style lodging house--and got ready for the beach. We caught another bus--this one was one of the special Taiwan buses with only one HUGE chair on each side of the aisle--to a snorkeling store to pick out some gear. After a brief stop to go out on jetskis, we went snorkeling.
Now, snorkeling in Taiwan is noted for being a little different. Perhaps an explanation is in order. Despite being on an island, Taiwanese are generally not strong swimmers. A number of people on the trip didn't know how to swim, in fact, and were happy to learn that I did, joking that I could save them in the event of an emergency. So how do you take non-swimmers snorkeling? Well, first, everyone gets wetsuits--exceedingly strange considering the water is heavenly warm. Next come the lifevests. But no fins. After we were instructed on proper method, we queued up into two long lines and held on to the person in front of us. The dive guides (the ones with fins) then dragged us over the top of the reef while we looked down. After a little while, I figured it was okay to let go and swim on my own as a number of others had done (I certainly missed that option when it was given in Chinese). The water was a little dark and the sea a little rough, so I didn't see much, but it was fun anyway!
After we returned to the Beach House, people set up for the BBQ. Being the staff party for a restaurant, this was bound to be good! The menu included grilled marinated beef slices, pork (kind of like Kalbi), chicken, mushrooms, loads of big 6 inch shrimp, and these really good bamboo shoots (about 12 inches long). Also lots of beer. Generally, Taiwan--like Japan and Korea--is known as a pretty heavy drinking country. Work hard, then play hard. So we ate and ate and sat and talked (uh, I mostly listened). A bit later, one of the people that had invited me told me that we were going up to a little place not far away. So Pei-hua, Bo Wei, Steve (don't know his Chinese name) and me loaded into a van and trekked 15 minutes away to a place on what is known as MiaoBiTou (tip of the cat's nose)--the southernmost mountain in Taiwan. So I think Steve is local to Kenting because he knew exactly where this place was--I really don't know if I could ever find it again without help! In this little town up in the mountains, he has a friend that has a guest house--the name of which I don't know. So we piled out of the van to this amazing sight. There is a big yard with a couple of hammocks, some tables, and an old bed frame with big pillows on it. The palm trees were adorned with little sparkling lights, and the music was playing--French ultra-romantic cafe music! Two friendly dogs greeted us, and we settled in for the entertainment--looking at the stars. It was just amazing to find this dreamlike world up on the mountain. I really didn't want to leave, especially once the owner started playing the Afro-Cuban All Stars. Next time I go to Kenting, I am definitely--if I can find it--staying there! And it is a reasonable US$30 per night for as many people as you want to put in a room.
After returning to base camp beach house, a large group of us walked across the street to the soft sand beach, where we sat and talked and swam a bit and looked at the night view. When it started to get late, we went back to the rooms, where I fell asleep happily on my bunk bed. :)
The next day, we ate a big seafood meal for lunch. Each table had about 10 people. Now this is where the action of Chinese culture can overwhelm you if you aren't ready. One person dispenses all the chopsticks and bowls and wasabi and soy sauce like a Vegas dealer, while another person grabs big bottles of iced green tea and plum tea from the coolers. But this all swirls around you pretty quickly. Clatter clatter clatter. You are often answering several questions at once. Then the food. I hope I can remember it all. Swordfish sashimi, braised eels ("good for men!" I was told), fried giant squid balls, stir-fried clams, stir-fried small green peppers, fish in sweet and sour sauce, red snapper simmering in broth, and finishing with a fish soup. I think there was something else, too, towards the beginning. About soup: most Taiwanese meals include a soup, almost always at the end of the meal. Usually it is a light broth soup with fish or chicken and a few vegetables--mushroom or some root vegetable. I was so full, though, that I couldn't even try this soup!
Then back on the bus, and home to Kaohsiung. By the way, if you ever have the chance to watch a movie called "Below"--don't! That was the movie showing on the way back, and it sucked. I watched the whole thing trying to figure out what the basic story line was, but I couldn't. And this one WAS in English!
So the only bad thing about the trip was that I couldn't understand almost everything that was said. Most of the conversations in Chinese I have are with people speaking slowly. If you imagine an enthusiastic staff party, you can figure out that the conversations were probably pretty fast. This was particularly demoralizing, as I felt I was doing well. I can speak well enough to get along, but the hardest thing by far is listening comprehension. But after talking with someone else who has been in my shoes, I feel a little rejuvenated.
// posted by jv @ 12:19 上午 Comments (0)
Filet O' Fish
So today I have a hankerin' for a MacDonald's Filet O' Fish, so I caved and went to the MacDonalds on WuFu Street and Zhong Hua Street. Just like in the states, except that I felt MUCH more sheepish about going to Mickey D's. So I am standing there in line and a girl (probably 8 years old) walked up to me and just stared right at me. For a while, I pretended to be looking at something, but that is only possible for a few seconds when someone is 3 feet in front of you. So after 10 seconds (try counting it out right now--it is a long time to stare right at someone and not look away! I'll wait.) I looked at her and smiled, and she smiled back and walked back to her parents. This is the "zoo phenomenon"--some children will just stare at you like a monkey in a cage until you smile back at them. Of course, it's just curiosity, and quite charming, but weird. I think it is much better to just smile and get it over with, because she would have stood and stared at me until I did.
So a word about product names. English translations of Chinese product names, and products just marketed with English looking names, are sometimes quite odd. One of the more interesting was the toothpaste that features a picture of a 1920s-style black face minstrel that used to be called...Darkie Toothpaste. Due to much outrage, the English name was changed a while back to "Darlie" toothpaste. The Chinese name, however, remains "bei1 ren2" (literally, Black Man) toothpaste. The toothpaste I am using now (it was a gift, otherwise I don't know if I would have naturally chosen it) is "Salty" toothpaste. It is basically a baking soda toothpaste with some natural salts thrown in. So, it is a bit salty, but really pretty good. And today I bought sunscreen called "Big Deal. Sunshine!" By far and away the most amusing English is found on the myriad of T-shirts you can buy with sometimes apparently random English words--most misspelled--on the front. Usually there are like 15 lines of it, though, so it is hard to remember all of it. I've been a little more tempted by the T-shirt that read "HUEIY CLCOTHING CCMPANY ALLHETIC" than the "I laik to Boogie" CD advertised on Thai television here. I hope to start a good collection of items, but none so far. More to follow on the interesting language uses here, as there are a number of good examples. But hey, I laik to Boogie, don't you? :)
// posted by jv @ 9:56 下午 Comments (0)
my desperate need for a latte.
So today I also had my first cafe latte since I left Seattle. Since the idea of hot coffee has been mostly repulsive, I have been drinking lots of iced green tea. There are little stands all over the place that sell teas and juices--probably 3 per block in the city. They brew the hot tea, then put it with ice and sugar syrup and shake it well. Most places also have this machine that seals the plastic tea cup as well. It is like a metal outstretched hand that grasps the cup, sucks it up, and spits it out with a fresh seal on it. They give you a straw which you pop through the seal when you want to drink it. It is handy if you want to take your iced tea on the scooter and drink it elsewhere--you don't dump half your tea on the street as you ride. Anyway, so back to the coffee. It wasn't bad, but it wasn't Seattle. But, oh I miss the espresso in the Emerald City. (Robert, you'll have to stop by both T-N-T and Vivace and have one for me.) Curiously, though, there are a number of coffee shops here that rip off the Seattle's Best Logo, calling themselves "Kaohsiung's Best"! And yes, there are some Starbucks here, but not too many--I think I have seen 2 or 3.
// posted by jv @ 1:42 上午 Comments (0)
Buddhist temples and Yummy Foodstuffs
A few days ago, I went with my friend A-Long to a very big temple on the mountain near my house. There are maybe 5 temples on the mountain--this one is at the base of the mountain and has a fantastic view of Kaohsiung. Inside are 3 huge (40 feet tall?) gold Buddhas, and another smaller one to the side. We went in for a while and sat--the silence and contemplation is thoroughly refreshing in comparison to the frenzy of the streets. It wasn't too busy at the time--maybe 3 or 4 people sitting on cushions on the floor and reading Buddhist texts. I picked up a copy of one of them that had the "bo-po-mo-fo" phonetic system printed next to the characters. That means that I can look at the character, and unlike normal life, know how the character is supposed to be pronounced. Since I have just learned bo-po-mo-fo while here in Taiwan, this was an excellent opportunity to practice my pronunciation recognition. Today I went back to the temple and sat and "read" this book. That is to say, I recited (to me) random Chinese syllables and tones. After 3 pages, I realized that I was completely exhausted mentally, and also that I had not thought of anything at all but the sounds I was making. In other words, I had just meditated in true Buddhist fashion of repeating mantras without realizing that I was doing it. Mantras are essentially just tones to help you concentrate and block other things out--some mantras have meaning, and others don't. This recitation really served the same function, much to my surprise.
In other Buddhist news, last week I went with A-Long and her sister Cho-Long and a Buddhist monk friend Nanda to a vegetarian buffet. The JowDow (I can't quite remember if that is right) Restaurant is located on the 49th floor of Kaohsiung's tallest building (85 floors). The center of the structure is open, and the restaurant is on the base of that atrium thing. It is quite something to be sitting at the bottom of an atrium that stretches up 36 floors! And the food was excellent! US$12 will get you all sorts of delicious Chinese and Japanese vegetarian delicacies, plus Haagen-Dazs. Vegetarian restuarants in Taiwan are easily identifiable by the reverse swastika symbol (originally a Buddhist symbol unfortunately adopted by the German Nazis). If you don't know this, of course, you might think that Taiwan is some sort of KKK hotbed or something, so I suppose it is worth knowing, huh?
Tomorrow, Nanda is going to take us to a famous temple somewhere near Kaohsiung that I don't know the name of. Nanda is an American, but he was born in Sri Lanka and spends time in Houston and Kaohsiung, where he has temples. He is also taking Chinese in our program, though I don't have any classes with any of these folks.
So nightlife here is quite different to Seattle. While my neighborhood gets quiet at night, the party rages elsewhere. Bars/clubs are open late...serving booze until, well I don't really know how late...maybe 4 or so. And people drink hard here at clubs. 3 or 4 friends will go out to a club, buy an entire bottle of chilled vodka, and mix with coke. I haven't really been out enough to figure out the subtlties (if there are any) of this practice, but stay tuned.
// posted by jv @ 1:15 上午 Comments (0)
The BIG update: The Neighborhood, Menus, and Moon Festival
Well, after a long delay, we are back online. I moved to an apartment a few weeks ago, but had no internet access to speak of, so the whole blog got shelved for a while. My landlord hooked me up to her DSL, so now I can work again.
So a lot has happened. First, the apartment. It is really only a room on the fifth floor of a house (no elevator, of course), but since it is the only room on that floor, it is essentially my own space. This means that I can use the little room next to the bedroom and the nice balcony is mine, as is the bathroom. It is devastating hot up here, though. No air conditioning, so I often sit out on the balcony, which is much cooler. The neighborhood is one of the oldest in Kaohsiung, very near the port. That means that things are pretty tightly packed here, even my Taiwan standards. My street is actually an alley about 20 feet wide. The neighborhood is certainly interesting, though—there is a ferry to the nearby island of Chijin (which had a beach for swimming), a fish market, and it is close to school and to the many temples in the nearby Wanshou Mountain area. I can walk to school, where I catch a university shuttle that takes me up to the liberal arts college—in order to avoid the long hot uphill walk. Or I can take the scooter if I am late.
Last week I saw something quite interesting. Sorry about the social scientist tone, but I haven’t figured out the significance of all these things yet, so reportage will be the mode for now. The people next door had…well, something happen in their lives that was good, I think. There were these round flower displays on our street that look something like archery targets. If the flowers are white, that usually means that someone has died, and is accompanied by much burning of ghost money—gold paper burned in huge barrels to appease a hungry ghost and keep it from bothering the family. Ghost money is also burned to provide recently dead with money in the afterlife. Anyway, if something good has happened, the flowers will usually be red and will be accompanied by more burning of ghost money. Additionally, various other sort of ceremonies accompany this display. One afternoon, we had something like a puppet show on a truck. A small truck pulls up, turns on its blaring loudspeaker, and the show begins. Essentially, it is a performance about the gods, but it isn’t for people (though they are welcome to watch and learn)—it is for the gods. So the act itself is the significance. So the Chinese opera like performance (with the gongs and singing) proceeded for 2 hours or so. The next day, the same thing for another 2 hours! And the next day, they strung up a big screen on the end of the street, blacked out the streetlamps with a hood, and showed movies. The first was a short film about the gods which was very similar to the puppet show. The next film was a heartwarming tale about growing up in Taiwan or something. Since I could see it from my balcony, I screened it for a while, then decided not to watch that one because the acting was bad. But the next one was a Kung Fu film, so I brought a chair down onto the street and watched. Handy English subtitles kept me informed on the plot. Now this “performance” was, again, apparently for the gods, not for the neighbors. There were a few kids watching from their balconies, but it was just a few of us sitting down on the street. The folks who had paid for the whole thing dropped by and gave us all some of the great Taiwan sasparilla. After the second feature, another short film about the gods and they pulled everything down. So, I am sure that—like almost everything else in this blog—the experience will be subject to revision as I learn more. It was quite entertaining and a thoroughly enjoyable experience. Of course, you had to get use to the scooters riding up the alley underneath the screen. Kind of like watching a movie on someone’s lawn while they are mowing it.
Revisions: I am feeling much more strongly about the too much sun theory of skin whitening. The many people who wear jackets while motorcycling during the day all seem to take them off at night when there is no danger of tanning.
Also, the “Zhong Shan” of my university “Zhong Shan Da Xue” while translated literally is indeed Central Mountain University, Zhong Shan is a nickname for Dr. Sun Yatsen, so National Sun Yatsen University is reflected in its nickname.
This last weekend, some friends and I went out to dinner. This may not seem all that significant, except for the fact that they are both Korean (they are 2 sisters who teach at the Korean school nearby) and don’t really speak much English. So, we conversed all night in Chinese. Sometimes hesitantly on my part, but at least it could be done with a fair amount of both accuracy and humor. Of course, I really couldn’t read the menu in much detail. I knew this was pork and this was beef, and this was noodles and this rice, etc. So today I worked on interpreting the menu from the café—this will give you an idea about some of the language difficulties I am facing now. So one of the dishes my friend had was described with a four character explanation. My dictionary works with groupings of characters, but from what I could decipher, what she had was the delicious “pattern ocean precious.” Yum! So what is this actually? Seafood casserole. Precious ocean things in a form. Ok, get the idea? And then there are those pesky alternate meanings that finally pay off. I could have a sandwich with something pronounced “pay gen”—which had two meanings, the first of which was Francis and the second was just plain…bacon. Pay gen…bacon. Aha! Maybe it will have some “ice sand” with that! (granulated iced drinks) So just because you have a dictionary doesn’t mean that you can easily figure out what these things actually are. Of course, I left out the both frustrating and interesting part of finding the character through counting the strokes used to make the character, or by figuring out the radical (root) that the character is based on. Interesting in its geneology, frustrating in its time consumption. My next attempt at the menu will be to order “iced tea beef” (bing1 cha2 niu2 rou4) and see what that means.
Last week was the mid-autumn Moon Festival. This means that everyone barbeques—often right on the street—and lights fireworks, drinks beer, etc. Sounds a bit like the 4th of July, except that you go contemplate the moon rather than your country. I joined Shuli’s family, where we grilled shrimp, kebabs, fish cakes, corn, and lots of other delicious things. Her uncle brought out his guitar and we sang some English songs and a few Taiwanese songs, though since I only know part of one, I was kinda humming along that part. All in all, it was quite fun. The fireworks that blanket the city were still going off at 1 a.m. And they don’t seem to have stopped. I don’t know if people just overstocked and needed to blow off some extra bottle rockets, but not a day has gone by without several volleys of fireworks blowing up overhead. I just think they really like fireworks here!
So I have some good days and some bad ones. Recently I decided to save some money by eating instant noodles. Since they have a wide variety of often pretty good noodles that don’t in the least resemble Instant Ramen, I went to store and picked up some. My apartment came with a hotpot type thing that boils water, so in with the water and open with the noodles and in with the sauce and…the water didn’t seem to be heating up too quickly. After an hour of heating, I gave up and poured my warm water over the noodles and ate. Of course, after I finished, I dropped the remainder of the noodles on the floor. The whole thing made me feel pathetic.
Oh, another thing. The gaze. People stare, really stare, at me often. It is starting to get at me a bit. I started going to a waiguo (foreigner) place to get away from that constant stare and it helps. The Pig and Whistle is a British pub, and is frequented by a number of English, Canadians, and Taiwanese. One English teacher I know suggested going there to collect some contacts in the event I want to teach here, so I went one day, and discovered the lack of “gaze” there. There is also a pretty big dance floor upstairs. The staff has taken to helping me with my Chinese, and I help a little with their English, though most speak English pretty well anyway, since this is bar that caters to expatriates. They are organizing a trip to the big national park in southern Taiwan called Kenting, and I have signed up to go at the end of the month.
// posted by jv @ 2:52 上午 Comments (0)