Archive for the 'Taiwan' 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 Cheng Da

Sorry I’ve been a hideous blog mistress when it comes to updating.  My trusty laptop Fawkes-Buckbeak fell prey to the black screen of death and since then I’ve been hopping between shared computers, which didn’t have ready access to my archives of pictures.  Of course once I fell out of the habit of posting, it required some catching up to figure out what I’ve posted and what I haven’t from what is now over a year ago’s worth of reminisces and images.

So here are some images from National Cheng Kung University (Cheng Da or Cheng Gong Da Shuei as my personal romanization goes…), taken in the summer of 2008 (eeks, time flew!) while I was trying to study Chinese.

The view from the covered space between buildings where students could be found practicing skits, dancing, or Tai Chi in the shade.  The entrance gate is at the end of that long vista.

The pond in front of the foreign languages department with its lovely red bridge.

The bridge had very shallow steps.

Sparrows were lined up on the railings.

Rock formation on the little pond island.

A palm that lost to a typhoon and gravity.

A curious mushroom.

Another rock formation on the island– some of the white ones are worn corals, I think…

An old gate to the campus.

I don’t know why the paving stones have a semi-circular placement.

A stone sculpture on campus.


Typhoon Morakot

*Insert apologies for being a bad blog mistress here*

Although I’m not in Taiwan anymore, I have been worried upon hearing the news reports of the mudslides falling on small villages.  We just got through to talk with my aunt in Tainan tonight (the lines in Taipei haven’t been letting us through).  She told me that they are rationing water since there is not very much that is drinkable– the reservoirs have been flooded, and helicopters are dropping food and drinking water where villages in the mountains are supposed to be, but haven’t been able to confirm whether people are still alive there yet.  People are cooking noodles and dumplings instead of rice (rice needs to be rinsed in addition to the water added to cook it).  The cold drinks from 7/11 (No carton/bottle cold teas!?  Unthinkable!)  aren’t available.  Fresh fruit and vegetables on farms were washed away by Morakot, so she said food is pretty expensive right now.  Fortunately, as far as we’ve heard, our family is fine.

Apparently the cities are operating again and the roads and trains are clear and running.

Also, the Taiwanese government is bowing to public pressure to accept whatever foreign aid they can get since they need it… (Refrains from grumpy editorial about political idiocy.)  From what I’ve heard, they could really use more helicopters to try to get to those remote villages.

And if you’ve got change to spare and care to help relief efforts (good karma, anyone?), Tzu Chi is a fantastic Buddhist organization (I remember them being on practically every street corner asking for donations so they could provide assistance after the Chinese earthquake).  Apparently World Vision is also conducting relief efforts in Taiwan as well.

My heart aches for all the beautiful mountain villages we would visit on the weekends or drive past on the highways– their lights glittering on the mountains.  They seem so idyllic– there is usually a main street with a market of yummy touristy food, and depending on the village, you can meet artisans selling things from glass pens to ocarinas (clay whistles).  I miss Taiwan.  My thoughts are with everyone there.


Take me out to the ball game…

Taiwan takes baseball seriously.

My father once drove my brother and I (I think it was three hours during which we whined all the way) to the world series little league game (which mystified my brother and I, since usually, my dad railed against the waste of time sports are, and neither of us were into baseball).  It turned out that Taiwan was playing the US, and my dad knew that every TV set in Taiwan would be on the game.  He thought we might end up being little dots on a screen back in Taiwan.

My cousin, who spent his elementary school years in Taiwan and can skip rocks 7 times across a stream until they hit the other side, said that he and his friends used to play in the dirt rice fields after the rice harvest, and it was a shame Taiwan didn’t have the infrastructure for a team back then.

On my first Christmas in Taiwan, I ended up going to a Taiwanese church service with my aunt and uncle, where after prizes were given out, an old man got up and started explaining the rules of baseball (when I whispered over to my cousin about what the rules of baseball had to do with Christmas, he shrugged, said he didn’t know, but maybe it was because everyone’s been watching Wang Jie Ming, the current pitcher for the Yankees).

So, if you didn’t know– today Taiwan played China in the Olympics, under the name, Chinese Taipei.  I just got back from a lunch that I intended to eat in half an hour, which took almost two hours, because in spite of the fact that I generally find baseball a boring game (sorry baseball fans, but ball-no hit, ball-strike, ball-no hit bores me after a while), I got sucked in.

This morning, our Chinese teacher said she wanted to have class in front of the TV in the hall today, since Taiwan was playing China.  According to her, the audience dances and sings at a Taiwanese baseball game.  We had a school Chinese competition (during which I proved that I can generally remember half of a character’s radicals, but not the other half)…  and I headed out to lunch where the game was on and tied, 3-3.  I and a couple other lingering lunchers ended up groaning and shouting together as the game wore on.

I allowed myself to leave when Taiwan was up 7-3.  A stroll down the street edged with offerings for the ghosts who wander this seventh month of the lunar year proved that every television in every restaurant was on the game, and surrounded by fans.

I couldn’t pass by the tea place’s beautiful little lcd screen turned to the street where the entire staff and a few other passersby who got caught by the game were watching.  As people would walk by, their steps would slow down to note the score, if they didn’t stop all together.  When it was Taiwan 7, China 5, with a batter up, and two on base*, the batter hit the ball…

And our signal cut out into a black screen, which we greeted with shouts of dismay.  I guess it couldn’t bear to actually show the Chinese team making the three runs that would win them the game, 8-7.  When the little mini antenna was finally adjusted so we got a picture, we saw the jubilant Chinese team, and gave a united sigh of despair.

I came to interview in NYC during the subway series where customers were asking for the score in the grocery store, and I worked one subway stop up from Yankee Stadium with a class full of Yankee fans.  My friends once dragged** me to a Mets game where T-shirts were shot into the stands, and fans shivered in the rain.  I still never really understood the fanaticism associated with baseball.

However, today…  Ah, my heart is broken.***


*thanks to specific Olympic baseball rules that I didn’t understand when the tea shop owner tried to explain it to me in a mix of Chinese and English.

**correction: kindly invited me, and really, it was an interesting anthropological study and actually fun seeing T-shirts shot into the stands and sitting in a big stadium…  I just wasn’t into the game that much, though the celebratory music was nice, and the company cosy.

***exaggeration– I did feel a certain groaning mourning (one reason I don’t really get into competitive sport and games– people lose, it’s sad), but I didn’t end up crying in the park and crocheting a forever unfinished circle or blubbering to a friend or losing my faith in higher powers that allowed a certain Republican to retain presidential office.  It kind of feels wrong to say “my heart is broken” when, um, this guy’s heart did give out…

PS– this is the last year for Olympic Baseball, a better blogging of the game, and I’m going to close up my tabs and take a break from exercising my googlefu (If googling and internet marathons were an Olympic sport, I’m afraid I’d be a medal contender) and do my Chinese homework: what I would buy if I had lots of money– right now, I’m considering islands, conserving rainforest, starting schools, libraries, and art programs, several domiciles that include villas, cottages, and my own earthship in varying places in the world and a research lab to create a little solar glider I can zip from one to the other in…  Unfortunately my vocabulary doesn’t extend this far, so I will probably buy a green tea instead…


Ways the Taiwanese government gets citizens to do what they’re supposed to…

Give Prizes!!!

For taxpayers residing in Taipei County, you have a chance to win a motorbike in a prize draw if you pay the second term commercial vehicle license tax on time by October, and the land value tax, to be launched in November!

From the Taipei Revenue Office website

This is not unlike the receipt lottery (fa piao lottery) used to try to get businesses to issue receipts (and thus pay their taxes).  Every receipt has a lottery number on it, so every purchase one makes is an opportunity to win money…  Being a packrat, I’ve collected lots, checked a few, but have yet to get lucky.

Now if the IRS in the US gave prizes for on-time filings, maybe I’d stop getting my automatic extension…  Oh wait, that deadline’s next Friday.   Excuse me…


Oh, but if you’re a foreigner in Taiwan needing to figure out taxes–the Tax Guide for Foreigners and Foreigner’s Income Tax Q&A links may be helpful for you.

Good luck getting your refunds!


Lucky Dog

My mom and I were having a conversation the other night when I interrupted her to say something a bit like this…

“Mom, I met someone last Friday night!”

“Ooh?!” (My mother has a very eloquent “Ooh?!”)

“Yes, he came right up to me and he was sooo cute!”

“Where were you?”

“The everything store. I just couldn’t resist him. He had these dark eyes and we just sort of connected like kindred spirits. He came right up to me and started kissing me. I almost decided to take him home with me, in spite of the fact that my room is total mess…”

“So it was a bunny?” (My mother knows me all too well.)

“No, a dog. A really really cute puppy!”

He’d just dashed into the store as if he owned it, and began lavishing tons of affection on me. The guys in the store ended up chasing him a bit when he ventured to explore the back, and told me that he wasn’t their dog, so if I wanted him, I could take him. I realized he was indeed a stray when my hand turned black from petting him. Poor doggie. They said he was a puppy, but probably wouldn’t grow too much bigger.

I had visions of being motivated to go out for walks and wake up in the mornings… Then practicalities started to intrude– I rent out a (currently extremely messy) room, and don’t really know the landlady’s policy on dogs. I’m also afraid that I might be allergic (I’ve given up on ever being able to own a cat). Also, I had a total of 70NT (around two US dollars) on me, since I was a dork and forgot to pay a visit to the magical money machine. So I didn’t really have enough to buy dinner, a leash, and dog shampoo… It was also too late to take him to a vet for a check-up and he probably had fleas (dogs who reach over and nibble their sides are probably nibbling for fleas, right?)

I was contemplating on the logistics of getting him up to my apartment with me, and not freaking him out by shutting him up in a room then leaving the poor puppy while I ran off for money and the above necessities. Then, lo and behold, the smart dog went to venture out to the sidewalk again and met another girl, who after inquiring as to whether he belonged to anyone, slung him over the scooter seat sandwiched between her and her boy and took him home.

Upon some research, I think he was a Taiwan dog mix, (this website’s description claims they have psychic powers of communication), though he was sandy-haired. Half a week later, I decided I would have named him “Lucky” (to quote the guys in the store after the girl took him home).

As my mom mentioned, our family seems to be attractive to stray dogs. On one of our walks with my grandfather to the park in Tainan, my two cousins ended up getting followed by three friendly strays. As the house already had three or four dogs (two or three of which had been rescued from the streets I think), they were forbidden to have more. So the three dogs followed us down the slides, sidewalks, and finally my cousins went to my aunt’s house leaving them around the front door while they slipped out the back and came back to my grandfather’s house. The only dog owned by that side of the family here now is the ultra-cute Shao Hei (which means “little black” when the dog is snowy white, but it’s something of a joke.)

Then there was the dog that led us through Guandu Nature park who was just a friendly tour guide for us this fall. He seemed quite at home and content there.

Though I have seen a few stray dogs in the park, there are certainly less stray animals than I remember when I was visiting Taiwan ten years ago. There seem to be more active animal protection policies in place–from what I hear there is a spaying and neutering program. When I arrived back in Taiwan this fall, I spent a while in the airport waiting for my ride and saw a little promotional video kiosk by the Taiwan government which was essentially a PR piece on the great new conditions of shelters for stray animals in Taiwan. At the time, I found it rather random, but apparently there has been cause for outcry in the abuse of strays by animal control here in the past.

According to this article, some stray dogs are being eaten. When I was in Korea, one of my fellow ex-pat colleagues was taken out for dog soup and learned that there dogs are bred specifically for food and are drugged up and killed in a way that is extremely stressful for the dog, since the hormones or chemicals released by a stressed dog were… um… supposed to be an enhancement for… uhh… “stamina.” My roommates also told me that they’ve heard about restaurants that have dog meat on the menu. I think it’s supposed to be marketed as “fragrant meat” (shiang rou) or something like that.

My mother also cautioned me that if I had taken the dog, I wouldn’t have been able to return to the US with it. However, after some research, taking a dog back to the US turns out to be a decently painless process.

Here is an article about a group doing research into where stray dogs in Taiwan can be found.

If you’d like to adopt an animal or learn how to care for your animals, AnimalsTaiwan has a lot of information.

Dogs in Taiwan seems to have information for the Taiwanese dog owner, like vet links and dog playgrounds, though I think the Bow Wow Cafeteria closed. (I used to walk by it and find it vaguely amusing to see the dogs gamboling in the windows.)

Oh, and regarding the bunny my mother mentioned? I am acquainted with a rescued rabbit that’s available to a good home. Drop me a comment or an e-mail if you’re longing for a friendly rabbit.

And Lucky– I hope you’re happy and spoiled in a real family who treats you like a prince amongst dogs, since it couldn’t work out between us… sniff. I suppose I’ll just dog-watch in the park, maybe we’ll run into each other again some day.



Back in the US, the presidential primaries are upon us. I’m looking forward to being back home for the 2008 election, since casting my ballot from Korea in the crowded US consulate was fun, but left me with no one to sympathize with my despair post-election day. I missed being a New Yorker and hearing a collective sigh or shout for joy the way I would when it was baseball season and my neighbor across the courtyard was having a party.

Any other American expats looking to vote in the primaries should check out The Overseas Vote Foundation, which allows you to register and print out and mail your registration for the absentee ballot back to your local election bureau. This article by the Associated Press offers a few more resources for overseas voters.

Here in Taiwan, the election trucks have taken a break and I can get through class without generating general hilarity by innocently inquiring if the martial music wheeling by outside with an energetic voice calling out “by toh, by toh….” was an advertisement for Lin’s Tofu. Apparently, a local politician’s name is not really “tofu” though it sounded that way to me.

Right before the election which saw the blue party (the KMT) which is very popular around here (I am, after all in Taipei), sweep the legislature, there were trucks going around every fifteen minutes it seemed. When I was in the Bronx, the noise pollution during class involved the ice cream truck (ten minutes before school let out, it was parked on the curb and ready), and the local boom-boxed car that would make the street vibrate with salsa or hip hop (try teaching with a straight face while your kids are shimmy-shaking to the beat outside…)

My students here are certainly more politically involved than the ones I taught in the Bronx, having opinions about the green party (Chen Shuei Bian’s embattled Democratic Progressive Party) and the blue party (the Kuomintang or Nationalist Party brought to the island with Chiang Kai Shek). Many of them joined their parents in the rallies that filled Taipei streets with a sea of red shirts and thumbs down, asking for Chen Shui Bian’s resignation after the scandal last year. One of my colleagues told me she overheard her first-grade students arguing over who got to play Ma Ying Jeou (the KMT presidential candidate and former mayor of Taipei), and Frank Hsieh (the DPP presidential candidate) on the playground. Continue reading ‘Democracy…’

Free Rice

September 2019
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