Friday, July 17, 2009

short one, because it's gorgeous outside

And by gorgeous I mean sunny and not too humid, because 95-degree heat + Ethan = <3.

Past week's highlights:
1. Earthquakes and Typhoons
If I understood my teacher correctly, the Taiwan area lies at the intersection of three plates. (Or fault lines... or are those the same? I wish I remembered more from 8th grade Earth Science; I'll Wikipedia it soon to compensate.) Hence why earthquakes are so common here. Apparently Tuesday morning's (about 2:30 AM) was a particularly big one - it registered 6.3 where it struck off the coast, and 3.0 in Taipei city...

...And I slept through it. My first earthquake, and I slept through it.

Ohhhh well. Next time.

In other sad news for someone who wants to (safely) experience some of nature's fury, both recent typhoons - a big one on Tuesday and a small one today - have veered off after early forecasts that they would hit Taipei. According to an old saying, if an earthquake strikes, the typhoon won't come, which turned out to be very true this time around.

2. Chinese, again

I still have mixed feelings about my Chinese skills, but I'm starting to feel a lot better about it, and I think that if I can refrain from comparing myself to mainland returnees when I get back to Yale, I just may end up being very, very happy with my progress and my summer as a whole.

One really cool moment came yesterday when the air conditioning just wasn't changing the temperature in the room. (While I sleep at 28 C - or 82.4 F - it's just not a comfortable temperature to do homework in.) So I tried to fix that. As I was wielding the remote the way I always do - my M.O. involves pushing buttons until the unit does what I want it to - I realized, all of a sudden, that I could actually understand most of it. Whereas when I arrived, the landlord had to explain everything to me because I just couldn't even begin to process the jumble of characters, last night I went through the options: "start, stop, fan, dehumidifier, self-regulating [I think], timer (morning, evening)." Such a simple thing, but it felt great.

Also, today the slightly crazy teacher who leads my largest (4-person) class wanted to focus on pronunciation, and the word "bread" came up, as random simple words are wont to do. While he was writing it on the board for us, he told me that my pronunciation was good enough that people I meet will be surprised when I can't say common words like "bread." He was kind of laughing at me, but at the same time, coming from the Pronunciation Nazi and leader of the twice-a-week "pronunciation clinic," that meant a lot. And maybe it does explain why people on the street slow down less and less often when they talk to me now?

The bad news: More often than not, I still DO need them to slow down :-p While I often can, given time, get my point across in grammatically deplorable Chinese, there are of course many different ways of saying the same thing - and I don't know most of them. For that reason - i.e., because average people are drawing on an incomparably larger array of vocabulary and sentence patterns than I am - keeping up, and sometimes even pointing out the portions that I don't understand ("all of it!"), is still very difficult. I'm really coming to appreciate Jun Xiang's (my language exchange partner's) considerable knack for simplifying his speech when he talks to me. I'm also finding that, in general, adults are better at that - or at least more willing to slow down and simplify things - than young people.

3. Everything's winding down so quickly! Midterms are this coming week, which I find unbelievable. Things I really want to do before I go:
  • Go to the hot springs. I can't believe I forgot about this! It'll probably end up being Beitou, though I think I'd rather go somewhere less accessible and touristy.
  • Eat more of Taiwan's famous food, including xiaolongbao, dim sum, and 臭豆腐 (chou doufu), or "stinky tofu."
  • Go for a day-long bike ride, along the river though southern Taipei and out into the mountains. I recently failed spectacularly at getting up early enough to buy an incredibly cheap used bike ($400 NT, i.e., $13 USD!): I went to bed at 9:30PM so that I could rest well and wake up at 5 AM, but I guess it was just too early because I tossed and turned until after midnight. But there is yet hope, because a (Taiwanese) friend of a friend recently offered to let me borrow hers.
  • Explore more. I'm busy, but if I try I can definitely find time to go seek out new things. Just yesterday I went walking with a Taiwanese friend and discovered some restaurants and cafes near my house that I never knew existed, including this amazing coffee shop that looks more like the hostel than anything else: you take your shoes off at the door, and for 150 NT ($5 US), they'll seat you at a couch; give you a drink; allow you to bring food, study, and stay as long as you want; and order pizza for you (you have to pay for that last one, of course).
  • (totally unrelated): See Harry Potter. I don't know why I thought that ordering tickets two days in advance of when I planned to watch it on IMAX would be fine. Taiwan has exactly one commercial IMAX - in northern Taipei - and the Taipei metro area is home to over 10,000,000 people. The pretty steep price (400NT, or $13 USD) keeps a lot of people away, but it's still tough to get seats for a group. I'm going to order tickets for 5 of us next Saturday as soon as they come out, though, and hopefully they'll accept my debit card and we'll be all set. Pretty psyched.
Well, with that, I want to seize the day a bit, so I'm off. To satisfy some Light Fellowship reporting requirements, the following photographs are brought to you by yours truly:

1. The gang at Danshui.

People in the photo, and their relation to Raphael/Jun Xiang:
Front, from left: Li Wei (older sister), Dai Ling (oldest sister), grandma Zhang, mama Zhang, papa Zhang.
Middle-ish, from left: Lin Lin Lin (sisters' friend), Zhi Qing (younger brother).
Back, from left: Xiao Qi (Dai Ling's friend), Yu Zhong (friend), Wan Wei (friend), me (looking fearsome).

2. Making dumplings in the Sogo department store food court.

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