So I need everyone’s help for something. After graduation, I will be returning to Taiwan for a year (or maybe longer!!) to work with the Christian & Missionary Alliance’s Envision program as an intern. I’m soo excited to be returning to Taiwan, and to be able to return to serve as a missionary is even more awesome.
I have the opportunity to help out with the ministry through a variety of ways, including by not limited to singing on the worship team, helping lead small group Bible studies, feeding the homeless in the area, leading English-Chinese language exchanges, working at the coffee shop, etc. etc.. The possibilities are (almost) endless.
This is where you step in. While a part of the missions team in Taiwan I will support myself by working part time as a teacher. However, it will be a little while before I start getting paid, possibly a few months. In order to be a part of the team as an intern I need to raise about $8000. This includes the plane ticket, moving costs, administrative fees, and the cost of living until I start getting paid. I would really appreciate your help and support in two ways in particular, through prayer and giving. Please consider donating to my time in Taiwan, and please keep the rest of the team and I lifted up in prayer.
If you are interested in donating please follow the instructions below:
If you would like to pay by check, make the check payable to The Christian and Missionary Alliance/Envision Office and designate my name (Tiffany Barron) either on the check or on a note enclosed with the check. You can send the check to:
The C&MA/Envision Office
Attn: Becky Gorton
The Christian and Missionary Alliance
PO Box 35000
Colorado Springs CO 80935-3500
If you would like to give online, go to The Christian and Missionary Alliance’s GIVE page: https://secure.cmalliance.org/give/
Then in the section labeled Give to International Workers and Special Projects, type: “ENV – Tiffany Barron” and then add amount etc.
You will receive a tax receipt for donated funds.
Thanks everyone! And thank you to everyone who has already donated and helped to make this move possible.
Greetings anyone who still reads this blog!
First things first, I have a new blog: anhonestencounter.wordpress.com
It’s obviously been a LONG time since I’ve posted here, and a lot has happened since then. As a basic rundown of the rest of my time in Taiwan until I went back to the U.S. in the middle of June:
- I became incredibly busy. I was a full time student of course, but my social life really took off as well. I became involved with a church/coffee shop in Ximen called The Aroma. Whether you’re looking for good coffee, smoothies, MUFFINS, sandwiches, cold pasta, or just good people this is the place to visit. It’s run by an amazing group of missionaries from both Taiwan and America who were kind enough to let me get involved there as a volunteer at the coffee shop during the weekend. If you’re in Taipei you should definitely visit for food and coffee, of course, but also for small groups, Friday night English activities, homeless outreach, and Sunday night service.
- As I said, my social life took off. I had friends at school, friends from Chinese Corner, friends from The Aroma, friends from another church I frequented, and some random friends from random places (including friends of friends from the U.S.). In short, I was enjoying life too much to take the time to write about it.
- I continued to visit places! I went to Pingxi on the last night of Chinese New Year to view the lanterns (and took some amazing pictures), went to Jiufen, the zoo, the beach, etc. etc.
- Remember that band Transitions from my post on Chinese? I went to their farewell concert with some Chinese Corner friends and got to take pictures with some of the band.
I essentially fell in love with Taiwan, the people, the culture, and my life there. Upon returning to the states this translated to me taking the opportunity to advocate for U.S.-Taiwan relations on Capitol Hill for a couple of weeks.
Which brings us to the present. There are many posts that I started last year that I never got around to finishing or posting. So over the next few months I may try to finish those blog posts, in addition to some new China/Taiwan related posts. Or I may not. We shall see what ends up happening.
Keep a look out on this blog and my Honest Encounters blog for new updates!
Wow, so I am really behind on blog posts, I’m still writing about my time in Kaohsiung! I tried to write this post very quickly, since I haven’t posted in a while and I’m very busy right now and only seem to be getting busier. I’ve even started working at a coffee shop, so I’m kind of behind on some less important things (such as this blog). Unfortunately this isn’t the most well written post, but I hope people enjoy it anyway!
Kaohsiung (in Hanyu pinyin Gāoxióng) is a beautiful city. I took the high speed rail to get there, it was only around a two hour ride. This was only the second time I’ve taken high speed rail, my first time being the opening day ride last summer of China’s new Beijing to Shanghai line. I have to say, high speed rail continues to be my favorite mode of transportation. I bought the cheapest tickets and it was much more spacious and comfortable than my international flight to Taipei. And each time I’ve taken high speed rail I am impressed by how timely it is. My ticket said the train would leave at 10:54 and arrive at 12:30, and the train in fact left at 10:54 on the dot and pulled into Kaohsiung just as the clock struck 12:30.
As I mentioned before, Kaohsiung is a beautiful city. Although it is the second largest city in Taiwan it has a completely different atmosphere from Taipei. Roads are wide and comparatively empty, and the overall feeling is much more relaxed. Actually, even though it is a big city Kaohsiung in many ways felt like a small town on the seashore, perhaps because Kaohsiung is along the beach.
One of the advantages to living in Kaohsiung is the weather, especially in the winter. Although Taiwan is considered a sub-tropical climate, Taipei’s weather in the winter is actually not that comfortable. It is often in the 50s (fahrenheit!!), and is cloudy and rainy almost every day. In addition, most buildings have no central heating systems, so Taipei in the winter often feels much colder than it actually is. Kaohsiung’s weather is much nicer, it was in the upper 70s and sunny during most of my stay.
I think my time in Kaohsiung was characterized by quite a few firsts. One of my favorite aspects of being there was riding a scooter. Motor scooters are ubiquitous to Taiwan, and especially in Kaohsiung they are the main form of transportation, meaning during my stay with my host family this is how we got around. Now, I haven’t rode on a scooter of any form since I was maybe 13, and those were small scooters designed as child/teenager playthings, not to be driven on roads. Hence, the first time I rode on the back of my host brother’s scooter I was nervous. As it turns out, there was no need to be. I guess as someone who enjoys riding horses, especially cantering and jumping, I should not have been surprised that I enjoyed scooter riding so much. I think when I get back to the U.S. I need to invest in one of these; better yet, I need to find a motorcycle riding friend to give me rides on the back of their motorcycle.
The second day in Kaohsiung we took a ride out to the beach and the old British consulate. Afterwards, we decided to take a sightseeing ride around the area; I’m so glad we did. We sped down a winding road on our scooters with the mountains on one side and the ocean on the other, packs of wild dogs watching us on the side of the road. It was such a thrill, and the ocean and scenery really were beautiful. Speaking of those wild dogs, they were everywhere in Kaohsiung. Unfortunately we witnessed some of those dogs attack a pet dog while visiting some ruins in a mountain near the city (for the life of me I can’t understand why the dog’s owners let it get so close to the wild dogs).
Kaohsiung has lots of great seafood, or at least that’s what I’m told. Now, I can be kind of picky with my seafood. If I like it, I love it. If I don’t like it, I hate it. And really, there’s a limited selection of seafood I would say I like. So, I can’t say I was thrilled by all the seafood I had throughout the week. However, I did have some moments of being pleasantly surprised. For instance, roasted squid from a street vendor. Previously, if asked I would say that I hated squid, do to a bad calamari incident. But I took a chance on this squid and it was delicious. It goes to show that you can’t be afraid to try new things, or even “old” things that you think you dislike.
After the first couple of days in Kaohsiung we left for Meinong to stay with the grandparents for the next few days. Meinong is a Hakka village district in Kaohsiung county, famous for its oil paper umbrellas. My host family’s grandparents owned a farm in a small rural town there. The home was beautiful, and the lawn was covered in pretty purple and red flowers. Unfortunately I don’t remember what type of flower they were (I asked someone, but since I’m not a person interested in plants I forgot).
Chinese New Year can be characterized by two things: food and firecrackers. All of the time. I don’t know if I’ve ever eaten so much food over such a long stretch of time before, four days straight of lunch and dinner feasts. My stomach is just not made to consume so much food, so after a few minutes into the meal I started reaching into the center of the table for food more and more infrequently. Well, I was told by an uncle that I was eating too slow and needed to get more food more often. And of course everyone was watching the foreigner every meal to make sure I was eating enough and liked the meal (by the way, no one knew I was coming until I showed up). The other inescapable fact of Chinese New Year are the fireworks and firecrackers. For over a week they were an incessant noise in the background all day and all night. After a while I stopped taking notice of them, unless they were going off right next to me.
Another cool experience I had in MeiNong was trying 擂茶 (léichá), which literally means pounded tea. It is a traditional Hakka beverage, made from pounded tea and herbs. We went to a tea house and spent a good 15-20 minutes pounding things together before we actually got to add hot water and drink it. It turns out it was worth the wait, as the tea was delicious. It came out a greenish color and was a bit thicker than most liquids. It also tasted nothing like tea, rather more like herbs and grain. I absolutely loved it and wanted more when it was done.
While our chosen method of transportation around Kaohsiung was scooter, in MeiNong it was bicycle. I can truthfully say that I have not ridden a bike for longer than five minutes at a time since I was 13 years old. As I quickly discovered, a relaxing ride for a few minutes around the neighborhood is completely different than using a bicycle as transportation. We would ride around all day to try to see as many sights as possible, for stretches of close to an hour at a time. We also bought groceries a few times, adding to the weight on the bikes. I think my legs and behind were in a constant state of pain throughout the week, but I am proud that I managed not to die. Seriously glad. Weaving through traffic is a scary thing when you are an inexperienced biker, especially without a helmet.
Taiwan is generally considered to be very safe. People regularly leave doors open at night or things sitting out without thought of anything getting stolen. So, when something does occur to upset that feeling of safety it is very unsettling. One night while in MeiNong my host brother, sister and I were up late playing board games. Around midnight we heard a girl outside screaming. Since it was New Years and children were up at all hours of the night we assumed it was just some children playing some kind of game. Just to be on the safe side we briefly glanced out the window (we were on the second floor) but couldn’t see anything, and resumed playing. About five minutes later their mother climbed upstairs with news. In front of the house a girl had been screaming because she was being chased by some men in a car. A guy jumped out of the car, grabbed her, threw her in and the car sped off. Their mother thought they were some gangsters and it was somehow gang related, but warned us to be careful if we go outside at night. Scary.
I think that about wraps up my experiences in Kaohsiung/MeiNong. For those of you who are friends with me on facebook I’ll finally be posting Kaohsiung pictures tomorrow, so be on the lookout!
Sorry it’s been so long since I’ve updated! I have been both sick and busy, so it took longer than I expected to submit this post.
I spent a week (Chinese New Year) in Kaohsiung, and I finally returned to Taipei the last Thursday in January. Kaohsiung is a beautiful city in southern Taiwan, right on the beach. I’ll write a post about my full experience later; right now I want to focus on one aspect of Kaohsiung, its art scene. My friend Tweety (and her father) at Young Hip & Chic asked me to do a post on visual art, so this is for them.
First stop, Formosa Boulevard Station, considered by some to be one of the top 15 most beautiful subway stations in the world: http://www.bootsnall.com/articles/11-11/15-of-the-coolest-subway-stops-in-the-world.html
One of my first stops in the city was Pier 2, a pier turned art museum of sorts. Kaohsiung is not traditionally know as being an art center, Pier 2 and some other modern art displays are more recent developments. Many in Kaohsiung consider such artistic growth the “death of art.” I have a different opinion. It is without a doubt modern and perhaps not easily understandable, but the art in Pier 2 is unique, often deep in its message, and full of amazing talent.
Pier 2 is home to only one traditional gallery, which, as it turns out, is not so traditional: it displays trick art. The trick art basically came in two varieties, the first kind interactive paintings where you search for certain objects in the painting, or where you flip or turn a certain part of it to create a different painting. The second kind allowed people to pose so that it looks as if you are in the painting itself.
The trick art was really fun, but the highlight of Pier 2 is undoubtedly its outdoor exhibitions. This is where the really creative pieces of artwork are displayed, often featuring some kind of social commentary or political message. The method of display of the artwork is great. It strikes me as odd that our general method of showing art is in a sterile museum setting; it’s unnatural, whereas art is vivid and life giving. I understand that it is done so that the focus can be on the paintings and not the surroundings, but I think Pier 2 has found a successful way of incorporating its art into its environment, and vice versa. Wandering around the area the placement of the art does not seem contrived at all; it simultaneously blends into and complements the area it is in. The murals and graffiti are a part of every building, while the self-storage units containing the complicated exhibits both stand out in the environment, yet at the same time seem as if they belong. The many colorful statues enhance and brighten the area. And the fact that it is outside lends a certain peace as you walk around. In short, this is how a certain kind of artwork is meant to be displayed, in ways that enhance the meaning and appearance of the work, while adding to the atmosphere it exists in.
These are a few designs from a model design competition on display at Pier 2. My favorite is the last one, called “Floating Night Market”.
A lot of the art was politically motivated. The hands reaching out of the dirt in this piece were actually protests against the government and businessmen by Taiwanese aborigines over the destruction of their homes and environment by cutting down trees to build buildings.
This “graffiti-mural” featured the names of different groups of aborigines:
Across the murals the word 反, meaning oppose, is painted:
This model plane featured is a Japanese plane that bore “Made in Kaohsiung” on its tail. It turns out that it is from a movie about aborigine fighting against the Japanese occupation of Taiwan. The man pictured in the mural behind the plane is an indigenous Taiwanese war hero, and the subject of the film.
There were a lot of graffiti and murals, the most I’ve seen in one place in Taiwan:
This was probably my favorite exhibit, titled “Home Is Everyone’s Primeval Little Universe”. One side was dedicated to men, and the other to women. Unfortunately I only have pictures of the female side:
Here are some other shots of Pier 2:
My last day in Kaohsiung I visited a village that in recent years has attracted a lot of artistic talent. The village used to be for soldiers’ wives and children. The government a few years back wanted to tear it down, so people began painting on the walls so that it would become a tourist attraction, to keep the government from destroying it. People also leave personal messages (such as birthday wishes) on the walls. Here’s a sample of the many pictures in the village.
One of my favorite paintings here:
I have to say that in all this village was an odd collection of different sorts of artwork, but at least the government won’t be destroying it any time soon.
I took a lot more pictures of artwork while in Kaohsiung, these are just some of the better ones. Hope you enjoyed this post! I’ll try to make another Kaohsiung post within a week.
As I would assume most people reading this blog already know, Taiwan’s presidential election was held on Saturday. It has been impossible not to notice election fervor in the air, perhaps because of the cars and motorcycles driving around at all hours of the day blasting campaign messages, the posters everywhere, and people handing me campaign fliers (kudos to them for still considering me, despite the fact that I obviously would not be voting). But it’s undeniable that this was an important election for Taiwan, though the lack of attention in American media might lead you to think otherwise. Perhaps the aspect of the election that most immediately smacks you in the face is that President Ma’s opposition, Tsai Ing-wen, was a woman. As interesting and spectacular as that is, her gender was not the focus of the election. Rather, the importance of the election had everything to do with Taiwan’s relationship to China (and to a lesser extent the economic future of Taiwan–whether it should go in the direction of a welfare state, or continue with more traditional economics). There has been much speculation that the U.S. government wanted President Ma to win this election, although the official stance is that the U.S. supports whoever the Taiwanese people want to lead them. And it was no secret that China supported Ma’s candidacy (http://abcnews.go.com/International/wireStory/china-trade-influence-taiwan-election-15319141#.TwxN92OonR1).
I won’t go into the details of the election here, as there is plenty of better information to be found online. I would, however, like to suggest a blog. Frozen Garlic is, in my opinion, the most comprehensive and best online source for information on Taiwanese elections. If you really want to learn about not just the 2012 presidential election, but Taiwan’s electoral system in general, visit the blog at http://frozengarlic.wordpress.com/.
Being around for the presidential election has certainly taught me a bit about Taiwan politics, which I knew (and still know) almost nothing about. Here are a few random tidbits I picked up:
- Unlike the U.S. there are no absentee ballots. You must return to your home city in order to vote. This means that college students like my roommate had to travel back to their hometowns in order to vote this past weekend. It also means that thousands of Taiwanese living abroad, many of whom have been living in other countries for decades, returned to Taiwan this weekend in order to vote.
- There weren’t just Taiwanese ex-pats coming to Taiwan this weekend. Tourists from mainland China and Hong Kong flocked to Taiwan to watch the elections. Tourists with cameras observed the proceedings at election sites around the country, particularly in Taipei. Why the interest? Because neither mainland Chinese nor citizens of Hong Kong can elect the leaders of their nations.
- Generally speaking, southern Taiwan is more Green (DDP) and northern Taiwan, including Taipei, is more Blue (KMT). I don’t know the real reason why this is, but I suspect this at least in small part has to do with the comparatively more economic development in the north. Also, voting choice is often made along family lines, rather than individual consideration.
Before the elections, I asked around to see who people were going to vote for. Surprisingly, I got very candid responses from the middle aged crowd, but mostly apathetic and vague responses from those around my own age. Not surprising, the ICLP teachers I questioned all supported Ma. I say not surprising because most of them in class stress being Chinese more so than Taiwanese. This is interesting, as the younger crowd tends to call themselves Taiwanese.
I must say that while I had no personal preference in who won the election, as a person interested in politics I was hoping Tsai Ying-wen would come out on top, as that would have been a much more interesting term than Ma Ying-Jeou’s. Still, these next several years will play a key role in defining the role of Taiwan in relation to China and the U.S. for years to come, so I’ll be keeping an eye out for any interesting developments once Ma Ying-Jeou’s new term begins.
Standing at an intersection today I caught sight of something shocking: at three of the four corners of the intersection there was a black person (at one corner there were even two). There’s only one explanation for this phenomenon: I must be in Harlem😉
In case you didn’t know, there are not many black people in Taipei, or Taiwan in general. I could easily go several days without seeing another black person (with the exception of the two in my program). In other parts of Taipei less populated with foreigners, one could go a few weeks without seeing someone black. And in other parts of Taiwan there are people who have never seen or met a black person in real life.
So how is it there came to be four black people standing at that intersection today? My personal theory is that the 75 degrees partially sunny day brought us all outside. It’s certainly a nice break from the rainy 60 degree weather we’ve had the past few weeks.
Stay tuned for an upcoming post on the election…
*Update* This day gets stranger and stranger. Tonight I saw two more black girls, and one said hi to me.
I almost can’t believe it, but I’ve in been in Taipei three weeks tomorrow. It’s definitely been a long three weeks, but in a good way. I feel so comfortable here, and when I think of home sometimes it feels like another world from so long ago. And yet, I still have those sporadic moments where it will suddenly hit me that I’m in Taipei and that it’s a big deal. Some nights when I’m laying in bed I almost can’t believe that I am actually living in this city. Taipei is a fun city and I have even managed to find my way onto the news here:
I make a couple of appearances in the video. Someone from the church I have been attending invited me, along with the other Chinese Corner participants (I’ll explain Chinese Corner later) to go jogging with a group at Taida that was trying to run 2012 laps in honor of the new year. This was after I had been in Taiwan a little over a week, about two days or so before the New Year. I agreed, showing up at the university Thursday morning at 7 am. If you know me you probably know I am not an early riser; fact, I could easily sleep until noon every day. As if it wasn’t bad enough that I had to get up so early while on break, I’d had less than four hours of sleep the night before, because I just couldn’t fall asleep. I ended up sitting up watching episodes of Misfits until 3 am. Nevertheless, I made myself go because I was still in the stage where I knew almost no one in the city and I recognized the importance of being social. Between the lack of sleep and my general lack of fitness I only managed to do 9 laps in the 40 minutes we had to run. Sigh. But at least we all got these cool T-shirts and bracelets to keep. And the tv cameras. It seemed there were a few channels covering the event, which I was not expecting. A few hours later the news aired a segment about us, and by that night the above video was already on youtube. Yuck.
Another cool thing I did was go to Taipei 101 New Year’s Eve. The concert was too crowded by the time we got there around 9 pm, so we just chilled in front of Taipei 101 for a few hours, playing games and talking while we waited for the fireworks to start. By we, I again mean some people who go to Chinese Corner. Here’s a video one of my friends from Chinese Corner took of the fireworks:
Anyway, the main focus of this post is not how I have been entertaining myself these past weeks but Chinese, specifically my experiences with the language.
I’ve been studying Chinese since coming to college, so for almost two and a half years now. It seems like I’ve been studying it for awhile, but I feel like after this past summer’s time in China I’ve hit a roadblock in learning. I honestly don’t feel like my Chinese improved at all this past semester, which isn’t good because my Chinese wasn’t good to begin with. I think my lack of improvement is do to many factors, but the main culprits are 1) a textbook that was way above my level, and did not contain as much useful vocabulary as I would have liked 2) a class that was half filled with native speakers 3) not enough class time and too many vocab words 4) lack of in class conversational practice and 5) not enough time on my part to adequately study Chinese. Thus, I came to Taiwan a bit shaky in my Chinese skills.
Surprisingly, communicating with people has not been as bad as I thought it would be. I’ve definitely had some rough spots, but everything has been manageable. The first week I had Ling Jen and Jin Long around, which definitely helped ease the transition, as they could translate things for me that I did not understand. The next week, I was on my own. The biggest difficulty in living on my own has been eating out. I do not have a meal plan, and since I do not like to cook I have been eating out at various restaurants. Understanding menus in Chinese is HARD. I know the characters for the essential words (rice, noodles, tofu, 青菜, pork, beef, chicken, fish, dumplings, and soup) but nothing else. Perhaps people who don’t know anything about Chinese restaurants would not see this as a big deal; after all, it seems as if I know enough words to order food. Well, I do and don’t. I say I don’t because often times in Chinese restaurants they have very “colorful” names for dishes that even the locals have to ask for explanations for. The problem is, I can ask for a description of a dish, only to understand one or two features. Thus, I have mostly been eating very simple dishes, wish does get a bit boring. That is one reason why I’ve been enjoying the meals I’ve had when I go out with Taiwanese people. This allows for more diversity in my diet. In general, though, people have been really patient with me (especially all the restaurant workers) when I can’t understand what they’re saying, and vice versa.
Now, on to Chinese Corner. The church I’ve been attending since the first week I came here hosts something called Chinese Corner, a chance for non-native speakers to practice Chinese. We chat for about 45 minutes, and then have a “lesson” from the teachers for another hour or so, on whatever topic they choose. It’s really casual and chill and a good chance to meet people, so I really enjoy it. Last week we went out to the night market after Chinese Corner, and people we’ve done things like go to the movies etc. throughout the week.
Chinese Corner is my “fun” class. But of course, I have real classes during the day, that are perhaps less fun. More accurately, I enjoy class and really like my teachers, but I dislike doing homework with a passion. Class started last Monday, so I have officially been in school one week. I want to cry every morning, when I get up no later than 6:50. This is because my first class starts at 8:10 am, and I have a 35-45 minute walk (depending on if I stop for something to eat) to get to the ICLP building.
I’ve been told that all across Taipei the Chinese language schools all use the same set of textbooks; I’m not sure of the validity of this statement, but I do know that Taida and Shida, the universities with the most prestigious programs, use the same books, created by ICLP teachers (with some assistance from Shida teachers). I’m on book 3 of this system, which is considered intermediate level. I also have two other classes with two other textbooks, as well as an individual class using the main textbook. At first glance, much of each of these books seem to be review to me, and without a doubt if I was only taking one Chinese course the textbooks would be too easy. Since I’m in three courses, though, I’m finding myself working 7-8 hours each day on studying and homework. One thing these textbooks do well is in depth analysis of Chinese grammar. It’s been a little disheartening to discover that grammar patterns I thought I understood have been completely wrong, even some simple structures I learned my first year studying Chinese. On the other hand, I do feel a lot better about my sentence comprehension skills in just one week. Chinese sentence structure can be very different from English, and I never had a firm grasp of what sentences mean when they begin to deviate from structures we use in English. Some of my confusion has definitely been cleared up in class this week.
Also, I love my teachers! They are really all great, really helpful and sweet. And my individual tutorial teacher is actually a Christian, so we’ve really bonded on that level. She actually works for a Taiwan Christian translating company, translating English Sunday school books and the like into Chinese. She brought in some of the books she has translated to show me, but alas I cannot understand the Chinese. I do understand her name on the front cover though! Taiwan also has a Christian television network, and she does the Chinese subtitles for the sermons of people like Joyce Meyers.
All in all, I think my Chinese skills will improve over time while here. For now, though, I find myself often feeling like the guys in this song:
The past week has truly been a whirlwind. My mom and I landed in Taipei Tuesday night at 10:45 after traveling for almost 20 hours. Ling Jen and Jin Long, the sister and brother-in-law of a friend of mine who lives in Philly, met my mother and I at the airport to take us to our hotel. The hotel room was rather small but nice and had free wifi and a buffet breakfast, all for a decent price. Despite our exhaustion both of us were up around another two hours, sending emails, talking to people, and in her case trying to finish something for work. Maybe it was jet lag that wouldn’t let me sleep? Or maybe the fact that I slept through both flights?
The next day was a busy one. My mom and I spent part of the morning trying to find a cell phone, with no luck. At 1:30 I had my placement exam for ICLP, my study abroad program. It was BRUTAL. It was 2 hours long, but I actually didn’t finish the test. The test had gotten impossibly hard, to the point where I couldn’t understand any of the sentences and I was randomly filling in bubbles. I figured there was no point in prolonging the test (and my headache) so I just left the last two sections blank. After the test my mom and I successfully found our way on the MRT to not only buy a phone, but to visit two apartments as well. Without a doubt, the most important task of the week was finding an apartment. With only a few days until my mom left (her flight back to the U.S. was Saturday morning) we had no time to lose. We actually only visited four apartments before I made my choice. It’s a cute room that’s only one metro stop and a little walk away from the school (I’m studying at National Taiwan University). I’m still in the midst of moving in, but I like it. The only problem is trying to find space for everything, since the room is small and I’m not a light packer.
The past few days after my mom left have been kind of hard, as I lack many things to do until school starts on January 2 (unless you count the paper based off my summer research due in May, which I do not feel like working on). If I had friends here it wouldn’t be a problem, but as I know so few people I’ve found myself bored a lot. It was also weird not being at home for Christmas. Christmas in Taiwan is pretty much like any other day, it’s just business as usual for most people here. I have a “do-it-yourself” Christmas tree that you assemble and add water to and it “grows”. It was supposed to take 6 hours to grow, but actually it ended up taking closer to a day. Other than the 10 minutes it took to set that up I really didn’t do much else Christmas related, that is until the evening. An international church about 5 minutes from where I live was having a service and Christmas party from 5:30-10:30 that night, which was perfect for me. I felt right at home during the service, as it was reminiscent of church services I’ve attended since coming to college. People were really friendly, I got a lot of free food, and overall had a great night. We ended the night watching Elf with Chinese subtitles (the translations for some things were hilarious, Buddy became 巴第).
Thoughts about Taipei:
I’m actually very surprised by the city. As odd as it sounds, I’ve never taken the time to look at pictures of Taipei, except for Taipei 101. I was expecting it to be a city similar to the likes of Tokyo or Shanghai, but it most certainly is not. As far as I can tell, there are only two real skyscrapers, Taipei 101 and XinGuang SanYue Building. The buildings in general are much older than I expected. It’s strange, how much Taiwan is and isn’t like China. I suppose it’s like a “milder” version of China, culturally speaking. People are culturally Chinese, but they are definitely more westernized than those from the mainland.
Something else that sticks out in my mind is the amount of construction in Taipei, like many other major Chinese cities. But it seems that unlike major Chinese cities less construction is focused on shiny new skyscrapers. A lot of the construction is going towards underground tunnels and things of that nature. In fact, in many ways Taipei city is very unassuming. With the exception of Taipei 101 the city itself does not stand out in my mind the same way Washington D.C., or New York, or Shanghai does. As my mother said, with a few minor details this city could be anywhere. What does stand out to me is the level of friendliness here. I’ve heard much about Taiwanese people’s kindness in the U.S. and I have to admit it has proven true. People I barely know have gone out of their way to help me or give me things, for which I can’t be grateful enough.
Earlier today, I spent a few hours at and around Taipei 101. The area around Taipei 101 is dominated by business and government buildings, as well as upscale malls. It sort of reminds me of the Wall Street area of New York, there’s even an Occupy Taipei on the bridge connecting the Taipei 101 mall with a mall across the street. Pictures of this tower are deceptive, it is absolutely massive when you are standing in front of it. I’m not sure what was more amazing, looking at the building or looking down from it. The only part of the experience I did not like was the elevator. Yes, it’s impressive, it rises almost 90 floors in 30 seconds, but it almost gave me a headache. Going down was actually worse than going up, the pressure build up in my head was uncomfortable to the point of almost being painful. I don’t know how the woman who’s job it is to operate the elevator can handle being there all day, 30 seconds was more than enough for me.
At any rate, I can definitely say that I’ve enjoyed the past week. It feels weird to think that I have only been here a week; in many ways it feels like I have been here for much longer. I suppose that means I’ve settled in and adjusted already.
I’ll try to update this blog again at the end of this weekend, before school starts next week!
I’m headed to Taipei tomorrow! And I’ll be there for six months!
This blog obviously did not go the way I planned this summer, I got really busy with research and neglected it. But, since I’m headed to Taiwan in a day, I’d like to resurrect it.
Right now I’m too busy packing/spending the last night with my family to write anything substantial, but in another week or so I’ll post a summary of my first week in Taipei.
While in Shanghai we ate at a lot of restaurants which could be termed as trendy, located in the many malls located around the city. These were restaurants that obviously catered to a young, affluent, and often foreign crowd. They often featured menus billed as “Asian fusion” or “Western”, with elaborate dessert sections. Next to each menu item there is a picture of the dish and some kind of English translation (of varying degrees of accuracy).
I expected that these restaurants would have staffs with a high English language ability, considering this is Shanghai. Interestingly enough, I found this to be an assumption that was often proved false; this made ordering food a particular problem when we were not with Zuo Laoshi, especially since one person in our group could not eat glutton. We quickly discovered that speaking Chinese does not mean that you are equipped to order food in a Chinese restaurant. This is definitely one of the more difficult language skills I’ve encountered thus far in my travels. The waiter during our first dinner without Zuo Laoshi must have thought we did a decent job though, because she asked Eugenia to translate and order for a group of a Germans who had come into the restaurant and whose Chinese was not so great (or their English for that matter).
A recurring theme in almost every restaurant we visited in Shanghai and Taiyuan were missing food items. At least one dish we attempt to order, sometimes more than one, will not actually be available, despite the fact that it is on the menu. Zuo Laoshi, who grew up in Shanghai, was as puzzled as we. She asked her mother, whose response is that the government is being harsher with food regulations and thus menu items that are not safe are disappearing. Is this true? I’ve no idea. Does it make me feel safer? Sure.
Since I’ve come to China I have developed an obsession with the most random thing: mangos. I have never been a mango person (or a fruit person for that matter) but something changed this month. The very first breakfast at our bakery I randomly decided to order a mango smoothie. This was the beginning of my newfound love. Later, we ordered a mango shaved ice dessert at one of the restaurants we ate at. Let me say, I was initially skeptical about this dessert. But that first bite was delicious, and it only got better. It was a mountain of shaved ice, at the very center of which are red beans. Poured over and around the ice are fresh mangos and a lot of mango sauce. From there started a trend in which I consume as many mango related products as possible. I am completely flabbergasted, I have never been a mango person before. I also discovered I like caramel frappuchinos from Starbucks while in Shanghai. I randomly ordered one, and it turned out to be delicious.
While at Starbucks we had an interesting incident. Abby ordered a tea drink of some sort. When she opened up the top she discovered the tea bag had burst, leaving a layer of leaves covering the top of the drink. She tried to explain this to the man who had given her the drink, but he could not understand. His manager overheard, and quickly came over, grabbed the tea from him and told Abby she would fix it. She snapped at him in Chinese, “That was simple English, you should have understood it.” I always marvel how in so many places the staff switch back and forth in English seemingly effortlessly. English speaking abilities are obviously a requirement in certain businesses. It seemed strange at first that Starbucks would have such a policy, but then it made sense. Starbucks would probably have a higher percentage of foreign guests than other coffee shops, since it is familiar in the western world (or America at least) and many of these guests probably do not speak Chinese.
In other news, I am actually back from China. I got back to the U.S. on July 3. Things were very hectic and busy most of the time, which contributed to my lack of blog posts over the last month. The experience as a whole was very interesting though, so I will definitely continue to blog about it.