is a fool’s game here. All cooling properties of sweating are lost in this god-awful humidity, because there’s so much moisture in the air that your sweat can’t properly evaporate. What a paradox we find ourselves in. In the constant rain I moan and groan for sunshine and clear skies, and when it comes, I whine about the smothering heat and humidity. I’m sorry, Taiwan. It would appear I am as fickle as your weather.
So I know that I said I would post more often from Taiwan, and have in fact been doing the exact opposite, but I think I have ascertained why this is.
In Prague, everything was new and shiny and wonderful and exciting. I had never been to Europe before, and every part of the experience was so foreign to me in every way, that I took pictures of everything (at least in the beginning) and wanted to talk about every new little experience…and I still managed to update only like twice a month.
Here, though, I’m living a much more…student-y lifestyle. I have a set schedule with class everyday, and I’m on an actual campus, which makes a big difference. And…I don’t know, even though I love my life here and being in Taipei, it feels much more like home, and home is a lot less compelling to write about. Although, really these are all just excuses for my laziness. I do have a lot of random ideas jotted down that I’ve just never really gotten around to posting about. Here’s one though!
So I never realized how apparent my “ABC” (nifty little acronym for American-born-Chinese) accent is until I came here…to a place where Chinese is the first language and I’m able to hear how it’s supposed to be spoken everywhere around me. I still don’t understand how this accent came about, because it’s not like I learned my Chinese from other ABCs…the majority of my Chinese I’ve gleaned from conversations with my parents, whereas the rest of it is from vocab I learned in the various Chinese classes I’ve taken throughout my life, all of which have been taught by actual Chinese people with proper accents…so why do I have such a strong accent?
When hanging out with the ever-patient CIEE ambassadors, I’ve taken to repeating random sentences they say, trying to do so with the proper intonations and tones. Though they probably do not appreciate being followed around by their own personal parrot, through this I’ve realized how dang hard tweaking an accent is. Tones in the sense of 1st, 2nd, 3rd, and 4th aren’t the issue for me so much as the register of the tone. And there are just so many facets to pronunciation that literally never occurred to me before. Now I notice everything from the pitch of my third tone (Taiwanese people pitch it lower whereas ABCs tend to swing upwards at the end of their sentences), to a marginal difference in how wide you open your mouth when saying the “ang” sound or even just minute differences in the nasal quality of a word.
Languages really are amazingly complex, and Chinese is no exception. If anything it defines the rule. But basically, moral of the story, my Chinese sucks a lot more than I realized haha. I can actually hear myself sounding foreign when I speak, and this is something that I really never thought about back in the states. It’s not that I thought I was some master Chinese-speaker back home, but I never realized the extent to which my ABC accent manifests itself in literally every single word I say. It took a good ten minutes of me repeating “dui bu qi”, which means ‘sorry’, to be able to produce a passable imitation of a native speaker. It was all in lowering my ‘qi’ and dipping down in pitch at the end of the phrase apparently.
I tried to learn the phrase “I’m not a foreigner” next, but my cold made my nasal sounds all off, so I was kindly told by Afore to try again when I was better. And dammit I will! I know it’s impossible to shake my accent completely, but I want to at least be able to say some phrases without sounding like a total ABC.
I have no good conclusion except for this picture which I stole off Facebook:
I spent my spring break in Southern Taiwan modeling towels by the beach. Jealous? You should be.
Some purchases I’ve made recently that I could not be more proud of:
Random animals juxtaposed with random things seems to be the theme for stationary here. Gloves seal. Kangaroo & caterpillar. What gems. But my favorite one is the one in the middle. Here’s a close-up:
“Don’t Kill me..” “NO!”
And just for good measure, here’s a purchase I’m not so proud of.
Wouldn’t be Taiwan without some nonsensical English. My “mattress”. Quotations aptly used due to the fact that it provides little to no support for my back and is merely a glorified maxi pad separating my body from the hardwood.
Okay. Homework time.
Tumblr’s being a little dingbat and not letting me resize that. So that’s a poorly taken picture of my room that I just took thirty seconds ago on my phone. I live in a quadruple, which took some getting used to since that’s pretty much unheard of in the states. The green laundry bag in the bottom left corner of the picture is my closet, then you can see my roommate’s towel hanging in hers, then there are two more on the far side of the room. Next to my closet are two desks, one of which I’m currently sitting at, and then there are two more on the opposite side of the room. Width-wise our room is probably only around 15-20 feet, although take that with an ocean’s worth of salt since I’m not known for having reliable distance-judging skills.
It’s two pm and as of the taking of that picture, there were two people sleeping in those beds. Ten minutes ago, I was also sleeping. 8 AM classes means waking up at 7, going to class till 11, then getting back in bed for another couple of hours. I tried sleeping early last night (as in 12:30), but ended up just laying in bed for an hour before I actually started to drift off. My body is punishing me :(
Oh yeah, classes! I’ll talk about those. So our regular Chinese classes started last week, in addition to the elective classes that had started a week prior. My elective class is Media Chinese, and the Chinese class that I placed into? …Media Chinese. Luckily one class is using level one of the textbook, and the other is using level two. And it works out, because that was actually one of the main areas I wanted to improve my Chinese in.
Previously my Chinese had always been pretty much sufficient for basic general usage, but I was always frustrated at how watching a news broadcast in Chinese or picking up a Chinese newspaper pretty much made me feel illiterate, because the Chinese used in the media is so different from colloquially spoken Chinese. Well, now I’m learning why, cause there’s a lot of 書面語, or words only used in writing, that I’ve never had to learn before. It’s actually incredibly irritating because the most basic phrases like “because” or “should” get turned into completely foreign entities when used for a newspaper article. And it’s cool because my brain has been in standby mode for so long, that to actually get to use it again is a nice feeling haha. It’s a pretty satisfying feeling to listen to a news article and understand about 5% of it, then after discussing the lesson, be able to understand it all. It literally feels like you’ve unlocked the secret to the article as previously foreign phrases suddenly makes sense. Until you get to the next lesson haha.
This weekend was pretty low-key. Oh! But I discovered that all-you-can-eat BBQ, or 烤肉, makes me break out in hives. Apparently I am allergic to eating immense quantities of meat. Or something. Cause I had it on Tuesday with my mom’s high school friend and her family, and then when I got back to my dorm, face broke out in itchy, nasty red hives. Then had it again on Saturday, and again with the hives! After we finished eating, I could feel my face getting hot and burn-y, and within a half hour I had full-fledged hives all along my jawline and neck and chest. Curious, indeed. So I’m thinkin the meatfest that occurred prior to the hive attack has got to be the cause somehow. Just going to steer clear of that from now on. It’s okay cause I definitely ate enough meat for a lifetime in those two nights alone. Currently on day two of a meat cleanse to make up for those days of excess.
Last thing: Taiwanese people, for all the rain they encounter, which ohmylord is a lot, are surprisingly weaksauce when it comes to rain. You’d think, or I don’t know, maybe only I’d think, that they would be so used to rain, since it happens so damn frequently, that if it’s only a small drizzle they’d just be whatever about it and go on about their business. But no! I walked out this morning, having forgotten my umbrella as usual, and as usual, saw an ocean of umbrella tops greeting me. But upon stepping out from under the overhang, I was so confused because it wasn’t raining at all. At most it was misting. From the walk from my dorm to the shuttle bus, like a 4 minute walk, I felt maybe six drops of precipitation on my face. It befuddles me.
Although to be fair, Taipei does have acid rain, so we’ll see who’s ridiculing who when my face melts off in four months from lack of umbrella protection.
is how many new mosquito bites i’ve acquired in the past couple of days. Along with one spider bite for good measure. This includes one on the tip of my nose and one on my butt. Along with numerous other ones aaall over my body. So you’re welcome, fellow students of NCCU, because I have clearly been designated the human sacrifice who is single-handedly feeding all the mosquitoes on campus.
In other news, I have a 500 word Chinese essay to write due tomorrow at 3:20 that I haven’t started…which wouldn’t be too bad except I now have class at 8:10 am everyday as well. This is, as we would say in Praha, both typicky and nedobre.
In my room. Meaning in my bed. On my phone. On a towel by the door (if anyone gets this reference we should be life-long friends). But no, this is real exciting guys. I am no longer tethered by my ethernet cord and am free to wander the length of my 50 square foot room unfettered by cables and restrictions! Oh the wonder and glory of it all! You may think I’m overexaggerating, but consider this following story, which I’ve already shared with some people, so sorry.
So last Friday I was feeling a bit, shall we say, under the weather, and I wanted nothing else in this world than to be able to wallow in bed and watch my tv. But after trying, and failing, to make the NCCU wi-fi reach to my bed, I ended up watching a documentary on why tort reform is ruining America instead. It was the only thing I had on my computer, and was actually really good, but still - not ideal under-the-weather-fare. But since I’m on the topic, it was called Hot Coffee and was very interesting. You know that story about the lady who sued McDonald’s because she spilled coffee on herself? She’s like the classic punchline for why America’s legal/justice system is screwed up, when in reality it’s not such a joke. This poor old lady was like 80-something years old, and she was in the passenger seat of the car parked in a parking lot, and she received like 3rd degree burns and needed multiple skin grafts. They showed pictures and they were gruesome. So yeah, think twice next time you use that as an example of why Americans are stupid. Cause they can be, but not this poor old lady!
Anyways, that is all irrelevant to what I wanted to post about. I just came back from another 3-day, 2-night trip down to Southern Taiwan! My wonderfully kind and hospitable uncle and aunt took me and a friend down to Kaohsiung and Kenting for the weekend, and we stopped at a lot of random but fun places along the way.
Let us recap!
We leave at pretty much 10 AM on the dot, and it is raining and there are boatloads of cars also migrating out of Taipei for the long weekend. Becca and I promptly fall asleep - this is to be a trend for the rest of the trip. I wake up and we’re literally straddling the divider of the highway making a highly questionable turn across the island to get to a cute little cafe called Monet Cafe. It’s set up like a little tropical oasis, with palm trees and a cute fountain, but due to the unceasing rain it looks more like a tropical resort caught in a storm.
Next stop is the Hsinchu (新竹) fish market!
There were stalls upon stalls of vendors selling the freshest seafood imaginable. We have a delicious lunch of like seven courses, and then brave the insane winds back to our car.
For dinner, we stop in Gangshan (剛山), at a place owned by one of my uncle’s classmates. They are incredibly nice, and not only is dinner on the house, but it was only due to our repeated insistence that we are absolutely full that the owner’s wife doesn’t whip us up a fresh batch of dumplings when our meal is over.
We make it to Qiao Tou (橋頭), where I get to see my 1st Uncle and aunt in the house that my mom grew up in. We drop our bags off and head off to the Liu He (六合) nightmarket. Unfortunately Becca and I are way too full to eat any of the delicious looking things at the nightmarket, but it was a good sight to see anyways since apparently it’s one of the busiest ones in Kaohsiung. And maybe the first one in Taiwan? I could be completely making that up, don’t take my word for it.
Look at all them people. 人山人海. Mountains of people and oceans of people? Translating Chinese idioms is not a specialty of mine but that’s the gist.
After the nightmarket, we head to Love River, which is pretty much as romantic as it sounds, especially at night with all the lights.
Field of wildflowers!
There’s a lot of agriculture in Kaohsiung, but when it’s not the right season for planting crops, they’ll just plant fields of flowers for people’s enjoyment. Isn’t that nice??
Afterwards we head to the Sugar Museum, where apparently my grandfather used to work. More fields of flowers, this time of my favorite flowers!!
Hai. I like sunflowers.
Back on the road, we stop by Wan Dan 萬丹, which is famous for its red beans.
Deelicious. Ignore my chipped blue nail polish. The place we got this from had like five different workers tending to dozens of the little cake iron things, and the line went into the street. Famous for a reason though, because the red beans were so good, and the ratio of red bean to cake was just right. I split one with Becca because at this point we’re doing everything possible to not die from overconsumption, which granted would not be a bad way to go, but still.
Then we get 抓雞 for lunch, which basically means chicken you tear with your hands. Unfortunately the place we went to gave us our chicken pre-teared, but the whole chicken was definitely still all there. Witness the before and after:
Next stop is this adorable beach-side cafe called 三個傻瓜, which means The Three Fools. It’s located right on the shore, and I get to see the beach in Taiwan for my first time ever! I’ve been to this island five times now, and have never seen the beach. But it’s wonderful - reminds me of home :) Oh and I try these nut things that I’ve never had before called 菱角. The English translation is water nut? They’re pretty good - almost like peanuts with a taro-like consistency and flavor.
Afterwards it’s a bit of a drive until we hit Kenting (墾丁). This was probably one of my favorite spots on our trip, because it was so beautiful and the weather was absolutely perfect, especially in comparison to the drizzly, grey misery of Taipei. We frolic on the beach, watch the sunset, go to the nightmarket, settle in to an amazing room at a motel called Pomelo Z, switch off between watching the Oscars and the NBA All-Stars game, and then snuggle in to a magnificent night’s sleep on a BED.
Our furry companion, Hachi, in his designated space in the trunk.
It was a great weekend, and I couldn’t be more thankful to have family in Taiwan who are so willing to give up a weekend to drive me literally from the North to Southern tip of Taiwan and play with me.
Tomorrow morning we take the placement test to determine what Chinese class we’ll be in, and then it’s off to Ying Ge to make pottery! …And learn about the city, and then write a 300 word essay on how they can improve.
Apparently this means “to poop”. So naturally I had to take a picture of it. I say apparently, because when I read it and translated it in my head, I thought it was saying “the fool moves taros”. Which it is (I think..), it’s just I didn’t know that “the fool moves taros” could also mean to poop. Love it, though, obviously.
I am here! And I am alive and well. More than well, in fact. I am quite happy. Taiwan has been, in a word, excellent.
CIEE has been packing our schedules incredibly full, so I’m pretty exhausted, but I’m determined to not fail at updating this time around. They say third time’s the charm right? I was looking at my Prague/Beijing posts, and they were pretty scant, so hopefully I can rectify that this semester. We’ll see.
So, what have I been up to the past six days?
Arrive at 6:30 in the morning, completely dazed after a thirteen hour flight. The flight was perfectly fine, nothing to write home about. Watched The Hangover and Couples Retreat, then the end of Leap Year and the non-Scarlett Johanssen parts of He’s Just Not That Into You. It was my first time watching The Hangover and it was a bit of a struggle for me to not wake everyone up on the plane with my laughter because that movie is pretty damn hilarious.
The CIEE director was waiting for me and 2 other students who flew in around the same time at the airport, along with 3 other poor CIEE ambassadors who had to get up at the crack of dawn. Sidebar: in Taipei they call them “ambassadors” instead of “buddies”. Much less condescending/patronizing, no? CIEE Prague, take note.
There’s a period of time for getting settled in, unpacking, buying dorm necessities etcetc, and then a welcome lunch and dinner. Honestly, this first day is a little hazy in my memory because by the time I went to bed that night I had been up for something like 60 straight hours, minus a couple hours of fitful sleep on the plane. So I was pretty freaking tired and out of it that first day.
Getting tired. Short version: we go to LongShan Temple and Xi Men Ding for dinner. Apparently there’s a gay section of Xi Men Ding (which is kind of like a city center type place for young people with a lot of trendy-type restaurants/shopping. Think Times Square but on a muchmuch smaller scale) that is apparently very popular with bears according to our all-knowing ambassador, so we went there to check it out, but it was still too early and alas, no bears were out for spotting. I’m really curious as to what a Taiwanese bear would look like. But we go to a cute sushi boat type restaurant for dinner, get aiyu for dessert, and then I go to visit my aunt who lives close to LongShang Temple.
At my aunt’s house I also got to see my two nieces! One was just born two months ago and is so tiny and cute, and the other I last saw three years ago when she was only like 7 months old. Now she’s three and so talkative and precocious and completely adorable. I finally know how my relatives felt when they would say that kids grow up so fast. They really do!
Shen Keng old street, which basically seemed like an old street selling a lot of stinky tofu. Seeing people’s reactions to stinky tofu for the first time was pretty amusing. For those of you who have not yet been blessed with pleasure of having tasted this fine Taiwanese delicacy and are wondering what it is about stinky tofu that is so stinky, the best way I can describe the
odor smell is this: a rancid mixture of feet, BO, sewage, and fart. Disgusted yet? It tastes better than it smells though, I promise. Actually I can’t promise that, because judging by some of the people’s reactions it tastes exactly like it smells haha. But you get used to it!
This is masochism at its finest. Stinky tofu, 麻辣-style, which means literally, “numbing spice”. This stuff set my mouth on fire, but was actually really delicious.
Here, have a picture with me in it to prove I’m not just getting these off the internet.
After the old street, we went to Shi Da nightmarket for some shopping and dinner, and then to a cafe/bar called Cafe Odeon.
Another sidebar: I like the fact that I’ve gone from pivo, Czech for beer, to pijiu, Chinese for beer. It rhymes!
So on my first time drinking beer in Taiwan, I of course had to go for…Belgian beer. Because apparently that’s what that place is famous for. Stayed there for two hours then headed home, which took about 40 minutes by bus. It’s a rather long commute from NCCU to the heart of Taipei, where exciting things happen.
We left Taipei for a three-day, two-night excursion to other parts of Taiwan. We did waaay too much on this trip for me to cram into this post, so I will update on that another time. Maybe. I always say this and I never do. But it was a lot of fun, and a really great way to get to know everyone on the program better.
I’m really scared of becoming/that I am the obnoxious study-abroad girl who can’t stop referencing her time in other places. I don’t think I did this too much when I was at home for break, at least I hope I didn’t, but being in this completely non-American environment triggers so many memories from my other non-American experiences in Beijing and Prague.
Standing on a crowded bus driven by a psychotic bus driver reminds me of all those bus rides I took in Beijing on my way to work, or in Prague, on my way to IP.
Going to tourist attractions in our big CIEE group reminds me of being the “noisy Americans” in Prague, and how we would always completely take over a place whenever the 70+ of us would enter and flood the establishment.
Anytime we try to converse in broken Chinese with bemused shopkeepers reminds me of all those similar attempts in Beijing.
There’s a lot more, but I will refrain from sharing them all. But every time I’m reminded of one of these similar experiences, which is actually incredibly often, I never know if I should bask in the memory or snap back to the present.
With my atrociously awful memory, I’m constantly scared of forgetting significant parts of my time in Beijing, and now Prague. So whenever I get a flashback to something that happened in one of those places, it’s always a pleasant surprise. It’s inevitable for me to compare and reminisce about those times when I’m constantly being stimulated by new sights, people, and sounds in a way that I never am in America.
But at the same time I don’t want to keep dwelling on the past when my present is so exciting on its own. For the first time I’m in Taiwan without the safety blanket of my mother’s presence, and that already makes it such a different experience. Add on to that the fact that I’ll be here for four months, with a group of people that I’ve never met before, and I feel like I’m in pretty uncharted territory for myself, despite the fact that I’ve been here four or five times before.
I don’t really have an answer to this predicament, and let’s be real, it’s not really such a predicament anyway. How lucky am I that my past is peppered with such memories in the first place? I love that I’m able to use my past experiences in Beijing and Prague to inform how I react to the challenges that I’m facing, and have yet to face, here in Taiwan.
Although, truth be told, there haven’t really been any challenges yet. I’ve only been here a week, but I’m already in love. Taipei doesn’t have the instant wow-factor of Prague’s ridiculous straight-out-of-a-Disney-movie beauty, but what it lacks in aesthetic appeal it makes up for in spades through the kindness of its people. Everyone is so warm and friendly, and the level of comfort that I feel with this group of people is one that took me much longer to achieve in Prague. This could be largely because our group here is much smaller, at only around 14-17 (ballpark) students, but I also think it has to do with the fact that people here just genuinely want to help you. I love that.
This is getting out of control. Sorry for the unwieldy length of this post. It’s just been so crazy and hectic that I’m bubbling over with thoughts and feelings!
I’m having an amazing time though, and as cheesy as it sounds, I can’t wait to see what this coming week will bring.
I will be sitting in an SFO terminal awaiting another trans-atlantic flight of an ungodly length to take me to a foreign land for another four months.
Which means I’ve got to start getting my ish together, pronto.
And which means you’ll probably start seeing more posts on this rusty little blog of mine since I’ll actually have things to procrastinate and talk about.
Also, how badly did I fail at eloquently and profoundly wrapping up my amazing Prague study abroad experience? When I don’t know how to express my thoughts in the exact words that I feel properly convey them, my solution is simple. I don’t.
Suffice it to say, words can’t do four months in the fairy tale city of Prague justice anyway. I miss the people, I miss the city, I miss my Pod Karlovem home. At the same time, these (almost) two months of homehome have been nice in a way that only homehome can be. But I think I’m ready for my next adventure.