Archive for the 'Nerdiness' Category


Learning Chinese

So the summer long ago that I spent studying Chinese at Cheng Da, I indulged my nerdiness by enjoying the benefits of my library card.  (The library had a lovely sculpture of a swooping flutist in front of it at the time, too, which I’m kicking myself for not photographing).  With strong A/C, the library was a lovely modern space with some neat spaces to lounge about in the company of books.  I also had my first exciting experience with sliding stacks, which were quite cool.

Anyway, in addition to reading up on film criticism and helping my cousin with his research on Psycho and Gaslight (neither of which, I’m sorry to say, I was brave enough to watch on my own in the typhoon storminess of that summer…  What can I say, I’m a film-wuss, and too highly impressionable for my own good…  Where was I?  Oh, yes, in addition…), I looked up all the how-to-learn Chinese books there.  I already had a bit of a collection that I was studying on my own before going to Cheng Da and studying from the Shida book that is standard university Chinese fare in Taiwan (in spite of being kind of ancient).  However, being a bit of a research nerd, I came across this book:

It is probably out of print, and its phonetics are not hanyu pin-yin.  However, being a bo-po-mo-fo learner myself (which I think tends to make pronunciation better, though it has its confusing bits too), this wasn’t an impediment for me.  This is more of a character-writing book, with nice charts of radicals and their meanings as endpapers.  Also, I was delighted to discover that the author had a sense of humor, as evidenced by the entry for the character of “ghost,” which as evidenced by the blue dot, I was not the first reader to note:

Seriously speaking, I’m a fan of studying character etymology, and I don’t think it’s just because I’m an etymology language nerd.  I think the contextualization of why/how characters came to be is helpful in remembering them.  At Cheng-Da, there was a class with pretty pictures that showed the evolution of characters.  Back in the US, on a few rare occasions, my mom used to teach me calligraphy, though all I really remembered was fairly basic.  I practiced my characters with calligraphy in Taiwan too, just to make it a bit more fun and involve more gross-motor movement to try to remember them better.  Haven’t touched my calligraphy set for a while, and am not very confident that I remember all my characters that well.  Spent many an afternoon at my grandfather’s house that summer, practicing characters, which unfortunately tended to make me nod off a bit with all the repetition.  My piano teacher could probably vouch that I’m not so good with repetition.

However, I did have a fun experience at Cheng-Da in Tainan that summer, and was a huge fan of my teacher and our class.  It was a friendly department, and I would recommend it for other prospective students.


Around Tai Da

National Taiwan University, or Tai Da, is regarded as the best university in Taiwan.  It’s kind of a mellow place to hang out when one isn’t sweating over taking the GRE test with a bunch of stressed out Taiwanese students poring over their English cram school booklets.  According to my father, it was a bastion of studying students who had no time for fun in his day (though he shoots some incredibly mean pool, so I suspect he learned SOMETHING outside of the library!).

Note the yellow-green spike on the palm tree?  It’s turning over a new leaf.

The main avenue of palms that proudly lead up to the library.

Note: Not a squirrel.  This photo credit may actually go to my colleague B.  I handed over the camera at some point and he crept up to this twitchy lizard.

White flowers in Taiwan always seem to be sweetly fragrant.


There were all these tadpoles bobbling through the pool along with a couple of floating pomelos that looked as if they were some kind of offering that had yet to be received.

The resting remains of one of the first presidents of Tai Da.  It’s interesting that it has Western classical architecture.

Double-decker bike parking!

It’s not all fun and games!


Alishan Tree Textures

The stumps and the shapes of the trees here remind me of driftwood at times without the wearing smoothness of the sea.

The sheer variety of mosses and things growing on the trees amazed me.

This tree was probably recently unwrapped from its protective sleeve, considering the horizontal striations–

which many of the trees have to protect them from zealous tourists taking bark shreds for souvenirs I think…

Otherwise they’d look more like this:

With vines…

Or this… The little spidery plants growing in the bark look like those aero plants that were a fad back in the US– people were supposed to put them in a glass bowl and leave them in the bathroom I believe.

More feathery moss!



So, I should be posting up a bajillion thingies that I’ve been meaning to, but for various slacker-y (and not-so-slacker-y) reasons haven’t.

Things sit or roll or glower at me for a while in my head while I whistle and go through the motions of avoiding them or gritting my teeth and facing down the heaviest and most immediately menacing ones.

However, today, for some reason, I decided to take a peek at my blog and felt truly ashamed at how I left it.

After all, wittering on about something I admit I don’t really know much about which is ancient (in terms of blogosphere time) news anyway has got to be a rather bad first impression. And contrary to my assumption that my readership would be left to just my mother, well, apparently this blog-o-mine has been popping up unhelpfully in various searches.

So, it happens it’s a month since the aforementioned wittering, and I feel I should contribute something pretty, or shiny, or worthy of the screen space.

I’m kind of stuck though, because honestly, I’ve been obsessing about American elections lately and realizing afresh how homesick they make me. No, I’m not homesick for the nasty ads that pop up on every commercial break with the “I’m blah blah, and I approved this message” or the calls and so forth, but I miss walking into the school down the street into the little curtained booth and pulling the lever. An absentee ballot (which I’m still waiting for) just isn’t quite the same. I guess I miss that sense of community where we all shoot our mouths off about how to make our country a better place and who can really achieve that. In Korea, when the current presidential foliage stayed planted in office for a second term, I felt terribly alone without being able to really share the depression properly with the kind, but uninvolved Koreans around me.

Here in Taiwan, I have been able to chat with a few Taiwanese people about the elections and so far, they’re mostly quite impressed with Obama. However, they’re excited about their own upcoming presidential election, which has been sending more trucks around the neighborhood singing the praises of the two major candidates.

I’m in limbo about whether to go or stay. In some ways I feel that there is still so much for me to learn by being here. However, I do want to be back in the booth in November, and so far my expensive lottery tickets for the next couple of years haven’t been paying off just yet– I’m still in suspense….

Whenever I do go back, I know I will miss Taiwan though.

Okay, I’m saving this and finishing at least 3 of the secret project. Then I’ll post, hopefully later today with pretty shiny things.

Editor’s note:  This was written March 11th, and obviously I was not virtuous with the secret project or good with pretty shiny things…  Oh well, here goes…


An Aside…

At times, being a teacher has been extremely rough for me (the day one class went into revolt and progressed from eraser- throwing to penny-throwing being one….) And while I’ve always believed in the power of education, teaching can be draining (spent my Friday night after class cleaning vomit– one unlucky student had food that did not agree with her. While the cleaning lady got the floor, there were still the table, the wall, and the chairs and figuring out what to do with one slightly unlucky book.)

However, sometimes you get to introduce ideas or books or present things in such a way that they bring joy to your students. It’s an incredible high to excite kids about learning, to watch them make connections and think in new ways.

On Friday, I usually have my students play games after some work and quizzes. They tend to make a beeline for the computers. After I discovered the games mostly involved shooting little bouncing blobs, I banned them. One persistent student, who avoids board games for some reason, asked for permission. I agreed on the condition that I pick the game. She quailed. After a few minutes of boredom though, she gave it a shot, and I introduced her to free rice which combines donating rice to the hungry with figuring out vocabulary words. It happens to be one of my procrastination vehicles of choice (collecting intriguing words being one of my quirks). Surreptitiously watching her and her friend, I noted that they did indeed remember some of the words I’d taught them, and were getting into the game. They asked me to e-mail them the link, and were really excited that they were donating rice in the process of playing. It’s warm and fuzzy-inducing. Hopefully figuring out words will last longer than their knitting attempts.

I’m putting the banner on my sidebar. It may eventually migrate South… I do quibble with some of the definitions sometimes, not that they’re technically wrong, but at times they’re the definition that I don’t think is as commonly used. The game is challenging partially because the words can come from anywhere– science, music, archaic uses, etc. I find my French and Latin helpful in random guessing. It would be helpful if there were sample sentences, not just definitions upon getting the correct answer–context and connotations being very helpful in learning words. Anyway, the words go from very basic to rarefied and multi-syllabic.

Go play.

Now if there were only a version for learning Chinese…

(Edited to add:  My student told me that she donated 3,000 grains of rice this weekend.  Whoo hoo!)



After the lighthouse, we went to check out the public display of the nuclear power plant in Kenting.  The water of the beach is used to cool down the reactor.  My fondest memory of it was its strong air conditioning.  While my dad was getting the tour and everyone else was playing with the displays, I flopped on a padded bench, cooled down, and had popsicles.

As it’s an alternative energy site– it has this swooping solar panel thing outside.


In which the writer does not end up beautiful, but has a jolly good exhausting time

So, everything wants to happen on Sundays here. I had my pajama day on Saturday which entailed taking everything out of my drawers and trying to sanitize my dresser with catnip so that roaches would be properly afraid (finding a prickly brown leg mixed in with my turtlenecks, which I’d been meaning to put away, was highly distressing. It’s not my fault, really. I mean, I’m not the neatest person in the world, but there’s nothing in my turtlenecks that a roach should find enticing. My cousin tells me that we’re in a tropical climate, thus, roaches are an inevitability of life. The internet says that catnip deters the brown buggers while humanely [well, perhaps “roachely”] not killing them. So even if spreading catnip sachets into my clothes drawers causes stray cats in my path to go wild with joy [and who am I to deny stray cats their joy?] as I walk past, I am going to do my best to to avoid that particular tropical inevitability of life. The gauntlet has been tossed. The roaches have been warned.)

Unfortunately, my PJ Saturday didn’t mean finishing the process of cleaning and sanitizing EVERYTHING in one fell swoop, though the clothes were all re-washed and the wintery ones packed away. My room looks like something has exploded in it. And for ye who will smirk and mutter that it usually looks like that… well, fie upon ye.

But I was talking about Sunday, well, supposed to be talking about Sunday. I’m sorely sleep-deprived for (as usual) no really good reason, so I’m in babble mode. Forgive me.

The intelligent post on identity and its constructions will have to wait.

So Sunday… There was the scheduled make-over, then there was an invitation to see the British Museum exhibit at the National Palace Museum

(National Palace Museum view from hanging off a railing.)

from my aunt, then there was the photo gathering of friends. Saturday morning, when I was not quite sentient, I thought that I’d somehow join my relatives at 9 AM to see the show, leave them to strut in a show, and then skip off to shoot shots of pretty things (I know, the parallelism has broken, but I’m too tired to create a “show” sort of construction for this last bit that would be vaguely true. This is probably why I’m not a real writer, whatever a real writer would be– probably intelligent and wise and good at cocktail party conversation.)

So, the make-over modeling session was canceled since although it was my friend’s final class, she was called home to her unfortunately unwell parent’s house in Taichung.

So today I woke up to fall asleep on the subway and inhale paygun danbing (bacon in a kind of egg pancake with soy sauce which I’m almost certain my mother would disapprove of, but which is delicious) with my aunt and cousins. Then we plopped into a cab, which then U-turned out of the massive jam going to the National Palace Museum. We strolled through a lovely park with lots of water-lilies and lotuses (the Latin student in me feels obliged to say loti)

in the rain before seeing the umbrella parade. (Can I just say that real-life Lotus is so beautiful– I’d never seen them by daylight before or not in a painting).

Well, not really the umbrella parade.

More like umbrella queue that zig-zagged under the awning by the entrance, circled around the building, and U-turned in the parking-lot, and by the time we got to the awning by the entrance, went all the way up to U-turn on the mountain a bit too.

This was for all of us with tickets bought ahead of time. We started in the parking lot U-turn and had a 90 minute wait. (I ducked out of line and made a little very-bad-guide-to-the-umbrella-line video which proves I’m not meant to be a tour guide.)

Then we went through the exhibition, which was of course crammed with people, and by the end of it, my poor old-lady orthotic-needing feet were highly upset, as were my legs, and I was doing stretches in the corner before turning to see more art.

They directed us to go through the exhibit backwards– probably because it was simply too crowded in the front. I’ve been spoiled by the Metropolitan Museum of Art in some ways, I think, because I doubt antiquities and the sheer variety of art from all over the world make it here to Taiwan much. Though I do remember visiting a little museum in Taiwan at some point that had Italian statues and a Stradivarius violin long ago.

It was not an optimal viewing experience– sort of pressed upon all sides by people and the museum had all the tags on the exhibits at the bottom of the cases– so a full set of Native American clothes had all these people crouched in front of it looking at the tag to see where it was made, etc.

Anyway, I saw engravings and drawings by Rembrandt, Durer, Raphael, da Vinci, Goya, etc. I have to say, seeing the drawings for me was quite exciting, because so often, one sees the polished paintings, and not the foundation of the art. The Raphael and the Goya made the most impression on me. The Goya composition was really neat– a split ring with bull-fighters on both sides. The Raphael was a portrait of a woman, and the softness in her face was just very tender.

The African carvings and sculptures were pretty cool. I haven’t seen that much African art, and I found myself wondering what the original context of the plaques were. The modern wooden sculpture from New Zealand had these lovely swirlies all over it. The Indian sculptures of goddesses had a smooth grace and a certain lushness of form. (Forget the wishes to be an octopus so I could hold all of the things I haul around, I want to be one of those goddesses with graceful hands arched all around them like a halo extending power.)

The art from Northern Iraq– especially the pen holder of silver and gold embedded in intricate designs with smooth curves– made me mourn for the work destroyed and looted during the invasion of Iraq. It’s such a loss. People devote huge chunks of their lives to make something beautiful and meaningful for others, and in the blinding stupidity of war, which is after all the destructive impulse counter to the creative one, wipe it out in a matter of minutes.

Of course, I think that, and then remember the carefully worked bronze shield, the glorious helmet engraved, and remember that perhaps there is an art in war also. But still…


Anyway, we passed by the mummies (and as beautiful as mummies are– they always inspire me to want to be an Egyptian, well, I suppose a dead Egyptian– it always strikes me as slightly spooky that the dead are on display for us), the ornamental eyes, and the golden Japanese screens.

I maintain that Eos (Cupid) had a rather large feminine derriere. My first glimpse of him from behind all the other people was from the waist down, and I thought he was a girl. Sorry, my art criticism does get better than this and wondering how long the Chinese terracotta warriors took to do their hair and their horses’ hair in the mornings.

Dionysius was magnificent, though a bit serious for a god of wine.

The Brits really did go forth and appropriate marvels from all over the world. There is the thing with museums– they expose tons of people to amazing art they would never otherwise see, but so often at a cost to whomever it belonged to first. I mean, I highly doubt there was an especially fair compensation granted to everyone whose wall is now missing a plaque of goddesses, or whose statue is now missing a Buddha’s head.

Anyway, by the end of the exhibition, which while it was wonderful and worth it, was definitely an endurance test of being on my legs for about six hours straight, I was ready to find a chair and live in it for quite a while, which we did at the cafe.

The National Palace Museum has pretty much all the major Chinese classical art, because the Communists destroyed most everything else during the Cultural Revolution. However, the cafe serves expensive western food. “Cindrella Beef “was delicious, but I’d have thought we’d get something a bit more, well… Chinese — you know, preferably served in a colorfully glazed bowl.

After I flung my corn on the cob on the floor (corn on the cob perched on a fork is difficult!) by accident, we polished our plates and headed to the main museum.

I really wish I’d had time and a sketchbook with me. I saw the pearl finnial of a king’s crown, the justly famous jade cabbage— one piece of jade encompasses all the colors, and the ornate stationery sets of kings, complete with carved brush holders (this one too), ink stones, etc.. There were also the tiny tiny miniatures, like this olive pit and the engraved ivory boxes complete with tea sets that are about the size of grape seeds.

We didn’t see all of the museum, but it is a wonderful collection, and if you go to Taipei without seeing it, you have to come back.

Of course, my legs were teetery tottery blobs of painful lead by the time we strolled to supper at a wedding banquet restaurant, which was mostly empty, though the chairs wore their silken covers proudly, the fabric still festooned the ceiling, and the pool sipped up the raindrops. We managed not to get stung by a hornet interested in our meal, and I managed to squirt shrimp brains all over my shirt.

By this point, I had to give up on meeting up with my fellow photographers, which was quite sad as next month promises to be frantically busy too.

However, hanging out with my relatives was relaxing and fun as usual. They have really gone out of their way to include me in their fun excursions, and I appreciate it so much.

Okay, I’m really going to sleep at a quasi-decent hour, and I’ve wittered on much too much. Forgive me. I meant to post about the dangers of excess echo in KTV, finding a place to be, and something about waiting in line and quirkiness…. That will have to wait, along with the explosion of drawers which is covering all horizontal surfaces of my room at the moment. I’ll just have to sleep thinking that the catnip will protect us (me and my explosion of stuff) from the roaches. I do believe in catnip… I do believe in catnip… I do, I do, I do, I do believe in catnip…

(Note: I’ve linked liberally to the National Palace Museum website here– there’s still more of course, that I’ve left out. If I’ve messed up any links due to my sleep-deprived wonkiness, sorry–just let me know.)

Free Rice

June 2019
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