Wednesday, January 12, 2011

Beautiful Crafts from Taiwan

These are some of the beautiful handicrafts that can be found in Taiwan (click the photo for a larger view). The figurines are made of ceramic, called Koji pottery, cochin ceramics, or 跤趾陶. The bead work is handcrafted by the Paiwan tribe, one of Taiwan's aboriginal peoples. If you'd like to buy some of them, please visit
my eBay store and do some shopping. I'd appreciate any support! I also sell aqua titanium-germanium sports necklaces and bracelets, titanium + germanium bracelets and necklaces, and fine German 316L stainless steel jewelry.

Wednesday, April 08, 2009

Alive, but not exactly well

Hello gang,

I have no time to blog. School pressure is mounting, free time basically doesn't exist. One bright spot in my dreary life is The Fug Girls and this year's Fug Madness tournament. I'll share it with you so you have something to laugh at, too.

In other news, I have a flight booked back to the US at the end of June for a two-week visit, at the amazingly low price of $750, tax included. Wow.

Gotta go, gonna be late for my 8:00 a.m. class. Enjoy the video.

Wednesday, February 04, 2009

A modern ritual: waiting for the garbage truck

A community rite, and indicator of civic pride, collection time is a brief window for bonding
By Joseph Yeh
Taiwan News, Staff Reporter
Page 4
2009-02-04 12:47 AM

Beethoven's "Fur Elise" is probably one of the best-known pieces of classical music in the world. Its beautiful flowing melody has been practiced by millions of piano learners, and nowadays is even used by some as their mobile phone ring tone.

Likewise, "A Maiden's Prayer," a melody by Polish composer Tekla Badarzewska-Baranowska, is familiar and well-loved by many people. It is a tune that has been passed from generation to generation.

To Taiwanese, these two classic tones share another very interesting common point - both have been used as signals by garbage trucks to remind people to take out the trash. In the United States and in most European countries, people just put their trash and household waste into garbage cans and recycling receptacles for sanitary engineers to collect them. But in Taiwan, people have to carry out their rubbish and dump it right into the garbage truck themselves.

Several decades ago, waste collection in Taiwan was like those in other countries, where people put their household waste into public garbage cans for trash collectors to pick up. However, since this island nation - in its subtropical location - is relatively small and heavily populated, the public garbage collection spots were usually extremely smelly, attracting mice, flies, and insects - a horrible sight that largely affected the hygiene and image of a modern society.

The central government, therefore, decided to change the waste collection system and asked everyone to bring their household garbage and personally dump it into garbage trucks. To make sure that everyone knew that the garbage truck was coming, the Environmental Protection Administration added the melodic come-on to signal the arrival of the yellow trucks.

Taking Taipei city as an example, every night except Wednesdays and Sundays, city residents gather at the mouth of a street alley, one hand carrying blue plastic bags, the other carrying recyclable waste, waiting for the rear-loading garbage trucks to appear around the corner.

Whenever they hear the melody "Fur Elise" or "A Maiden's Prayer," city dwellers emerge from their apartment buildings, head to the gathering point and wait for the slow-moving truck.

Who chose it?

Rumor on the Internet has it that the decision to use "Fur Elise" was made by the late Hsu Tse-chiu (1920-1988), former director of the Department of Health. Sometime in the early eighties, he was looking for music for the trash trucks. One day, his daughter, a piano learner, was practicing Beethoven's famed composition and he decided that it was one of the most recognizable classical pieces around the world. He the chose it as the "garbage music."

The EPA that is now responsible for the waste collection could not confirm the rumor, saying that more than 20 years had passed since the seminal decision was taken.

But no one has complained that the notes of this beautiful music ring repeatedly when the time comes to take out the trash.

But in other parts of this island, people do not just hear "Fur Elise" or "A Maiden's Prayer." At Christmas time, the trucks play Christmas songs, and during Chinese New Year, some traditional Chinese music.

Six years ago in Taiwan's southern city of Tainan, residents heard a very foreign-sounding voice speaking sentences of basic English conversation. Instead of Beethoven, the speakers on the garbage trucks played "How are you?" and "I'm fine, thank you."

The innovative idea came up during a private conversation between Tainan City Mayor, Hsu Tain-tsair and his wife. "We got together with teachers and members of the city government's education bureau and came up with a series of conversational dialogues that we felt were simple yet important," said Hsu in an interview with a local newspaper in September 2002, not long after the project was launched in the city.

But the project was short-lived. Earlier this year, the city government suspended its "English conversation lessons through garbage trucks" and started broadcasting city policies in both Vietnamese and Thai, for the benefit of foreign spouses who do not understand Chinese. Both the English teaching program and government policy promotion show that garbage collection time in Taiwan is so much more than just taking out the trash.

A lesson from Taiwan

It is a rare opportunity for a brief time of bonding among neighbors. It is the only time some meet rarely seen neighbors and have a little chat with them. In this cold, largely indifferent modern society, this 5-days-a-week ritual helps to bring people closer to each other, if only for five to ten minutes.

Very often, Indonesian and Filipino household helpers and nannies can be seen gathered around in a small circle, using their mother tongues to chat while waiting for the garbage truck. For them, this small nightly gathering is a widely anticipated event.

Julia Ross, a freelance writer and former U.S. Fulbright scholar in Taiwan, observes that waiting for the garbage truck in Taiwan is "one of Taiwan's liveliest communal rites."

In an article entitled "What I Picked Up about Trash in Taipei" which was published by Washington Post on Dec. 2, 2007, Ross, who spent a year on the island studying Chinese before returning to the U.S., was deeply impressed by Taiwan's garbage collection system.

"Many evenings I watched food vendors from the night markets, buckets of eggshells in hand, chat up convenience store clerks alongside Filipino nannies, who traded kitchen appliances as if they were at a Sunday morning swap meet. Freelance recyclers keen to make a few dollars showed up to collect cardboard and newspapers, which they would sell back to the city. An alderman with a whistle kept traffic at bay," she wrote in the article.

More than just a lively community ritual, the garbage collection system in Taiwan also earned credit from Ross who lauded Taipei's waste-disposal network, which is "made up of municipal employees and regular citizens all doing their part to keep the system humming.

"Watching the city's disparate trash tribes at work shamed me into compliance after years as a half-hearted recycler back home," she said.

"Even more impressive, they fueled a sense of civic responsibility in a place where democracy is still taking root. Just as the Taiwanese invest in their young representative government, they invest in a clean environment."

At the end, she gives highest credit to the garbage lessons she learned in Taipei by saying that "living in a place where I was expected to use what I bought and recycle every last yogurt cup and juice box left me with a new appreciation for what clean streets mean in a civil society, and the realization that I'm responsible for everything I consume. That's as good a Chinese lesson as any."

The article was later translated into Chinese and made into pamphlets by the Taipei City government to give away to its citizens reminding them that Taipei and Taiwan as a whole has a system to feel proud of. Indeed, Taiwanese should be proud that garbage collection time has become a unique cultural experience that can serve as a great lesson for people around the world.

End of article

What's written above is all well and good, but I for one am thankful I now live in an apartment building with central trash collection in the basement and don't have to chase the trash truck anymore! :)

Tuesday, January 20, 2009

My Final Grades

I've gotten all my grades now, and the only reason they're as good as they are is because the teachers are being nice to me. I think it's the "give you an A for effort" approach to grading. I'm not complaining, because this means I can apply for a scholarship for the upcoming semester, because my average is 84.6, and foreign students only need 65 to be eligible (kind of a joke, huh?).

Here's the rundown:
Chinese Paleography 文字學 65
Introduction to Literature 文學概論 76
Selected Readings in Chinese Poetry 詩選及習作 77
Labor for Education aka Raking Leaves 勞作教育課程 82
Physical Education 女生體育 99
Taiwan History 台灣歷史采風與踏查 90
Introduction to Chinese Classics 國學導讀 84
Introduction to Computers 資訊概論 81
English 英文 96
Typing 中英文電腦輸入法 96

I got to choose my own phys ed class for next semester, and since most of the classes offered were those that would require me to actually be able to run or jump, I decided to go for Billiards. :) Course selection is all done online, and we only have a certain window of time in which to choose our classes, so the system is always jammed with people trying to get in. I was afraid I'd be too slow, but I got it! Maybe since it's at 8:00 a.m. no one else was interested. I'll miss having a little sleep-in on Wednesday mornings, but it's worth it to have a class that's fun (although I play pool a lot better when I'm drunk than sober!).

In a couple of days I'll be taking off for Thailand, can't wait. I'm more looking forward to seeing Cheryl and Terry than I am seeing Thailand. I miss those guys, even though I spent quite a bit of time in Hong Kong last year and got to see them. Hopefully I'll have the energy to write about the trip when I get back.

Now it's off to the bank for another withdrawal. It's really a pain to have to go every day, but the maximum my US bank allows me to take out per day is $500. I have to pay my tuition, and that's $1500. I thought I could use my credit card, but turns out they'll only take Taiwan cards, so cash it is. Sheesh. Oh well, it gets me out of the house and walking!

Although yesterday I walked so much that my knee was talking to me last night. Feels better today, and after the Thailand trip, it's to the doctor for the MRI, since I finally have the Taiwan insurance card and can afford it. I don't know if there's anything they can do, and I really don't relish the thought of an operation, but I'm pretty darned tired of not being able to do anything without being in pain. Stairs are sheer misery, and there are a lot of stairs I have to climb at the university.

My weight keeps going up because of the lack of exercise, and of course that makes the knee worse - it's just a vicious circle. Dieting alone doesn't seem to work very well for me, my body needs aerobic exercise before it agrees to let go of the flab. My friends keep trying to talk me into doing the Herbalife diet, since they've had such success with it, but I've done liquid diets in the past and all it did was screw up my metabolism so that now it's even more difficult to lose weight. So, I'm not trying that yet. Man, I do miss the convenience of the frozen diet meals that I had in the US, didn't have to think about what to eat, just pop a Weight Watchers or Lean Cuisine frozen entree into the microwave and that was it. I only recently discovered that there's one of those buffet style restaurants close to campus where I can buy tons of already prepared vegetables. Next semester I'm going to make a point of going there almost every day and getting those and a piece of chicken, as that's what I did when I lived in Zhuwei and it helped with the weight loss. I'll have to soak the oil off of them before I eat (wish they wouldn't drown everything in salad oil here), but that's no big deal.

Anyway, like I said, I have to go to the bank. Happy Chinese New Year, everyone!

Monday, January 12, 2009

Five Weeks of Freedom!

My first semester of university is thankfully over, and I have a five-week winter break. I had no idea it would be this difficult, and the thought of having to live through it for another three and a half years is making my stomach hurt. I can only hope it gets better as I become accustomed to the Taiwan "stuff the duck" style of education. What is that? you ask. Well, their method is to overload students with a minimum of ten different classes per week, as well as the so-called "practical" sessions for a few of those classes, expecting that the students (in lieu of actually learning anything in these classes) will simply utilize their incredible memorization skills to "stuff" all this information into their brains in order to pass a test. After which they can cheerfully forget it all and prepare the brain for the next round.

This is going to be a very, very long post. I hope you're all curious enough to bear with me and read to the end. I'm going to take my week day by day, class by class, and try to give you a feel for what my life has been like since September. And then maybe you'll understand why I wasn't able to find time to write regular updates or answer e-mail! Next semester will be much the same, although I'm losing a couple classes and gaining two others.

At least I get to sleep in for a little while on Mondays. My first class at 10:10 (til noon) is Introduction to Literature. My teacher, Wang Li Hua, is a woman who appears to be in her 50s or early 60s, difficult for me to tell. She's quite nice and at least has had the experience of having a foreign student in the past, the Russian girl that I hear so much about but have never seen.

Ms. Wang's method of teaching is a slide show to accompany her lecture. The first few weeks I barely understood anything she said and had to rely on trying to read the Chinese slide show, which didn't really contain a lot of information. We don't have a textbook for this class, the teacher just gives us copies of short stories (in Chinese) to read. Some of the copies are very poor, and it's hard for me to make out the characters because they're so small. Hence, it takes me forever to try to read the stories. If I'm lucky enough to find the text somewhere online, it's a big help, because my Chinese word processor has a built-in dictionary, and that's way quicker than trying to look up a word I don't know in a regular dictionary. You see, first you have to figure out what radical the character would be listed under, then how many strokes the character is formed with, and then you can find the word. Sometimes I can guess at the pronunciation and look it up that way, but generally not. So for me to read a few short pages takes hours and hours. The Taiwan kids get through it in a snap.

The most annoying thing in this class is the behavior of my classmates. While the teacher lectures, most of the students are chatting with each other, and not quietly, either. I couldn't believe that the teacher never told them to shut up! They were so loud that I couldn't hear the teacher, even though she was using a microphone. It's very difficult for me to understand Chinese when I hear it in a noisy environment, because I just can't separate one voice from another. After suffering through this for weeks, I finally one day asked the teacher if she could please ask them to keep it down so I could understand what she was saying. She ended up giving them a scolding, told them I was more diligent than them, they should be ashamed, blah blah
blah. That kept them quiet for about 20 minutes, then we had our break, and when we came back from that, they were just as loud as before. The teacher started her lecture, and I turned around in my seat (I sit in the front row) and gave them all a loud "SSSHHHHH!!!" Only then did the teacher admonish them again. Even though it's currently better than it had been, they still talk, but they're starting to fear me. More on that later, too.

We watched some interesting movies in this class. The first was a Swedish film called 「Mother of Mine」: "During World War II, more than 70,000 Finnish children were evacuated to neutral Sweden to avoid the conflict. "Mother of Mine," the latest from the award-winning Klaus Haro ("Elina"), tackles that painful patch of history in a tale of 9-year-old Eero, a child who increasingly feels abandoned by his biological Finnish mother and yet not attached to his Swedish surrogate mom. When he is returned to Finland, his confusion intensifies." A wonderful film, this, and one I recommend. The film was in Swedish and Finnish, with both English and Chinese subtitles. Next we watched the German film, 「Run Lola Run」, in German with only Chinese subs, so I had to try to read those to understand: "Lola receives a phone call from her boyfriend Manny. He lost 100,000 DM in a subway train that belongs to a very bad guy. Lola has 20 min to raise this amount and meet Manny. Otherwise, he will rob a store to get the money. Three different alternatives may happen depending on some minor event along Lola's run." An awesome movie, if you haven't seen it, get it! These two movies we watched before mid terms, and part of the mid term exam was writing about them. The second half of the semester we saw a Japanese film called 「The Last Dance」(no English subs) and 「Immortal Beloved」, in English, yay! These were featured on the final exam.

The exams were difficult for me, because I write slowly in Chinese. On the mid term I did not have time to answer one question, and I also didn't really understand it. We were supposed to talk about the writing style in one of stories the teacher gave us, but we hadn't ever discussed it in class. I'd read most of it, but I didn't really pick up on the fact that it was a satire, because I didn't understand all of it. The teacher gave me 60% on my mid term. I just checked my final grade for the class and it's 76, yay! One great thing about her tests is that she allows us to bring all of our notes with us, so this time I used the notes I'd taken (which were better than during the first half), but once again I didn't have time to finish. I think some of the other students had the same problem, though.

When Literature ends at noon, I go back home and start to type up my notes from class, look up information on the Internet (gotta figure out which authors she talks about, because she uses the Chinese transliteration of their names, and I have to find out the English, because we don't just discuss Chinese literature, but Western as well). I have my lunch and take care of any eBay stuff, and I try to relax a little bit. At 3:30 I head back out for a fifty-minute class that begins at 4:10.

I hate this class more than I can say. I hate the subject (Introduction to Computers, Practical Session), and I hate the smarmy Teaching Assistant who runs it. Here's how the class goes: the kids file in, sit down, fire up the computers, and start surfing the Internet. The TA starts his slide show and talks a mile a minute, flipping slides faster than I can read. The other students completely ignore him while I try to follow along. I got completely lost when he was giving the lesson on using the university's BBS system (talk about outdated, who the hell uses BBS these days?), and the kids on either side of me were doing their own thing, so I asked the TA for help. That supercilious little prick told me to ask my classmates. I finally gave up toward the end of the hour and started surfing like the others, and that asshole came over to ME, completely ignoring the 75 other kids who were playing, and told me I should pay attention. Yeah, right,
fat lot of good it does to pay attention when I don't understand and you're not willing to take time to help me.

So in the first semester this completely unnecessary class has brought us lessons in how to use Internet search engines like Google and Yahoo, the bare bones of how to use Word and Powerpoint, how to set up Outlook Mail, and other basics that any 10-year-old child these days already knows. I've often not gone to class, sending the TA an e-mail telling him I'm too busy focusing on more important studies. Half the time his projector stops working 5 minutes into class, and it takes him a good 10 minutes to get it going again. If I get 30 minutes of actual instruction out of this I'm lucky. For that I should leave my comfy home and make the trip back to school? Uh uh.

The TA's section on the mid-term exam was laughable, 15 multiple choice questions, such as "What's Tamkang University's website address?" "Which of these websites can be used to search?" "Which of these e-mail addresses is for the university?" Of course these are things EVERYONE knows, how ridiculous is this? The final exam was more difficult, because there were quite a few questions about Word and Presentations, but since all I have is the English version of these, I don't recognize the terms in Chinese, and I couldn't understand many of the questions. It's not like he actually TAUGHT us anything during his sessions, either, because he himself didn't seem to know it. More gripes about computer class to come.

No sleeping in, it's up at 6:00 a.m. for the first class at 8:10 - English. My teacher is Wang Wei Ying aka Wanda. She's either in her late 20s or early 30s, a tiny little thing with a mass of permed hair that she wears in two bushy pigtails with a head scarf, making her look like a refugee from the 60s. She's kinda laid back, which is a bad thing, because these kids really need some stern measures. When we first started, she only used English, but she soon realized that the kids didn't understand anything she was saying, so now she uses English and then repeats it all in Chinese. I'm not surprised the kids don't understand, as the Taiwan method of teaching
English is stupid. The kids almost never get a chance to talk in class, so they never use any of the words or grammar they're "learning." The teacher's English is not great, either. Oh, she's not horrible, but she often leaves the "s" off plurals and her pronunciation is odd, as well as the rhythm of her sentences. It's a very boring class for me, but since the alternative would be trying to learn Japanese, I'll gladly sit through this. When the kids have dictation tests, I get to read the sentences, and they love that. One day I didn't go when they had a test, and they all complained to me after, saying they can't understand the teacher.

This is another class where their behavior annoys the piss out of me. We had to do group assignments, reading dumbed-down versions of classic books and then giving a group report. Every single time a group was at the front giving their report, the rest of the class was chatting and laughing and totally ignoring the group on stage. Wanda rarely tells the kids to shut up, and although their noise didn't affect my ability to understand, it just made me angrier each time. Many times I'd turn around and to the "SSHHH!" at them (and remember, I have a lot of classes with the same kids and have been through this more than once).

I didn't have trouble with the tests, of course, although I didn't get 100%. There were sections where I had to fill in the blank, given the first and last letter of the word. I just couldn't think of any words that fit sometimes!I'm sure if I'd memorized the lessons, like the other kids, it would have come to me, but I honestly didn't spend much time reading the boring textbook. I also think I'm slowly forgetting English!

So, my last day of this semester in English class, the final two groups gave their reports, and I had to keep turning around and shushing the students. Before we dismissed, I asked Wanda if I could say a few words to the kids. She gave me the microphone, and I blasted them. I told them they were incredibly rude, they had no respect for teachers or classmates, and that if I were their teacher, they'd have been kicked out of my class and given a big fat zero. I told them they were adults, not children, and that they should start acting like it, especially if any of them wanted to go abroad to continue studying, because this sort of behavior wouldn't be tolerated
in Western universities. I scolded them in English and then in Chinese to make sure they understood. They all looked pretty sheepish, but I'm betting it doesn't make a bit of difference. They may be 18 years old, but they're more like 13- or 14-year-old American kids.

After English class is Phys Ed. We spent a few weeks in the weight training room, which I enjoyed, then a couple sessions of volleyball, which I couldn't do as I can't run (but I helped serve the ball a few times), then I had to go buy a bathing suit for our swimming portion. We ended up in the water exactly once. Then we moved on to badminton, which was sort of fun for about 5 minutes and then was a huge bore.

I totally love the teacher, Sunny Qin. She was a pretty huge basketball star in her youth, and she's got a great sense of humor. She also doesn't tolerate any nonsense or impolite behavior from her girls, which I really appreciated. I'm quite sad that I can't have her next semester, but she'll only be teaching basketball, and I sure as hell can't do that. I have to choose my Phys Ed class this time, and so far I don't know what to take. There's not much I can do with this knee, but since it's a required course, I need to pick something. It ain't gonna be swimming, because that's co-ed, and damned if I'm putting this fat on display.

Tuesday noon it's back home for a much-needed shower, lunch, and then working on any assignments I have (which is usually a lot), plus the eBay.

Once again I have to leave home at 3:30 for the much-hated 4:10 - 6:00 Introduction to Computers class. I tried, I really did. I did my best to pay attention, although the volume of the other students' chatter effectively kept me from understanding the teacher. No one is interested in this class, and they either spend the time sleeping, studying other subjects, or talking loudly. The teacher is a nice enough guy, Xu Zhi Peng, and he's even sorta cute, but the stuff he teaches is way over our heads and completely unrelated to the normal person's needs. He's teaching us as if we were majoring in computers, for crying out loud! The first part of the semester I did manage to learn some things, like the Chinese names for computer system parts, and the test was relatively easy (I got an 87% on it), although I couldn't manage to memorize some of the meaningless data. The second half of the semester was ridiculous, with him teaching totally technical stuff that I'll never, ever need to use and certainly don't understand (and wouldn't
in English, either). I asked him when he was reviewing some complicated number chart for the final, "Can you please tell me when I will use this information and of what practical use it is?" His reply, "No use, just for the sake of taking a test, that's all." WTF? I'm quite certain I failed the final, because most of the questions I couldn't understand. I kept writing, "I don't understand the Chinese." next to the questions.

I have to suffer one more semester of this required garbage. I'm gonna die. I loathe it, simply loathe it, and now I use the time to study my other subjects, because I don't need this information, I don't want this information, and I don't understand this information. I'll be goddamned if I'll waste my time memorizing completely useless stuff just because Taiwan'
s Ministry of Education has decided that all students need this crap.

Another early day, but I eventually began skipping the first class at 8:10, because I already know how to type, both in Chinese and English. I've become friends with my teacher, whose name is Way, and I'd at least go in early enough to chat a bit with him before my 10:00 class. He's a sweetie, gave me 100% on my tests. I'm losing this class next semester, but Way and I will still find time to hang out. Instead of this class, I have to take some stupid Science and Technology Revolution class (it's on Friday afternoon,not Wednesday a.m., I can sleep in, but now my Friday is totally screwed.), and I know I'm going to suck at that. I checked out the syllabus, and it's stuff about DNA, genes, air pollution, global warming, the development of
technology - I'm supposed to be able to understand this in Chinese? Yeah....right.

My Readings in Chinese Poetry class if also extremely hard for me. The first few weeks I mostly didn't understand anything the teacher was saying in class and found it difficult to even know where in the book we were. The teacher, Ma Ming Hao, is an awesome dude, though. He's funny, tells entertaining stories (even when I don't understand I can tell they're funny!), and is very patient with me. He and I agree that it's stupid to expect a foreign student to be able to understand poetry during the first year, and this class should be deferred until year 3 or 4, but since that's not possible, he's found a lovely PhD student named Sammi to work with me once
a week to help me learn. He was also totally nice for both exams, allowing me (and the three Korean exchange students whose Chinese is much worse than mine) to work on the answers at home instead of having to do it during the test. He gave me 60% on the mid-term, and I'm hoping I did a bit better on the final.

So one day, after he'd found Sammi to help me but we hadn't started yet, he says he'll be having lunch with her that day, so I asked if I could go along so we could talk about how to help me. Well, it turned out that five of us went to lunch at a nearby Japanese restaurant, and instead of discussing teaching me, we all got rip-roaring drunk. :) Mr. Ma treated us (he has lunch with those three PhD students every Wednesday, too), and the beer just kept coming. I had a blast and missed my 3:00 class, and that evening I didn't manage to get anything done because I had a hangover. But damn, it was fun!

I'm trying to make a head start in poetry for next semester, with a goal of reading at least five of the 300 Tang Dynasties Poems every day and trying to analyze their structure (old Chinese poetry has some strict rules which must be followed when writing). Sammi has given me some very helpful info, and I'm looking forward to our weekly sessions.

Here's how great Mr. Ma is - he gave me an overall grade of 77 for the semester! So far Literature and Poetry are the only two classes for which the grade has been posted, keeping fingers crossed for the rest.

On Wednesdays I usually meet my friend Maria for lunch, but sometimes she's busy, and I end up eating lunch alone. I like my classmates, but they're all so immature that I really don't want to spend much time with them, I can't handle that much giggling. I'd been eating in the cafeteria when Maria couldn't join me, but now I go to a nice, quiet place called Black Tea House. It's a little more expensive, like US$5 as apposed to US$1.50, but worth it for the peace.

At 1:10 on Wednesday I had my very favorite class, Taiwan History, and I can't tell you how sad I am that I don't get to continue this next semester.

I love my History teacher, Wu Ming Yong. This guy knows how to make a subject interesting. And it's the only class in which I had so much laughter and a good time. Plus, the guy is a hunk! Well, to me he is. I find him very attractive, but I'm quite sure he's married (I think he's in his late 40s), although he doesn't wear a ring and says he's always in his office until midnight or later working on his thesis, which doesn't sound like a married guy. I mean, wouldn't a married guy go home and work? I flirt with him outrageously and ply him with baked goods, too. If there's a wife, I'll find out sooner or later. But anyway, I did love the class, although I had to read a lot on my own in English because the textbook was too hard for me. You see, one problem I have is not being able to differentiate Chinese names (of people or places) from other Chinese words. It's not
like English, where is you see the word "David" you know it's a person's name. Chinese name words are also regular vocabulary words, and that makes it really hard to make sense out of what I'm reading sometimes. So, most of what I read about Taiwan's history was in English, and I had to use a lot of English to answer the questions on the final, but I don't think Mr. Wu's English is very good. :( I was able to use Chinese on the mid-term, though, and I got an 80%. Now, I don't really think I did that well, I think Mr. Wu just was being nice to me, because he knows how hard I try (and because I give him Kahlua cake, cheesecake, and tiramisu, hahaha). I also helped translate some Chinese to English for him, although I had to enlist help from Aaron and Claire to do so.

Anyway, I'm thinking about auditing one of his classes next semester, right before the stupid science class. I figure if I can have a fun class with a gorgeous guy first, then it won't be so awful. I'm not willing to give up a class with the first guy I've been attracted to (well, other than Wu
Bai) since I got here! Funny thing, he's from the same part of Taiwan as Wu Bai, has the same last name, and similar facial features. Hm, I guess that's just what I like. I'd better hope he never stumbles across this blog, huh?

The class that's replacing the History class on Wednesday's next semester is one dealing with ancient Chinese novels, which I'm a bit anxious about, because one of my classmates told me that the ancient language is super hard to understand, even for native speakers. However, I read the students' critiques of the teacher, and she sounds pretty cool, so I'll give it my best shot.

Best thing about this day is getting to sleep in, because the first class isn't until 1:10. It kinda goes downhill from there, though.

Well, not entirely. I truly do like Chinese Paleography, because I love studying the origins of the Chinese language. My teacher, Gao Wan Yu, is in her early 30s and really easy to understand. Also, we have a fairly easy textbook, with Chinese that's not very complicated, and she pretty
much follows the book in class. The problem is the amount of information we're covering. It's a lot for me to absorb, because I have to read the text more than once, and that takes a long time. I also read as much as I can in English, as well, because that helps me remember more.

I had my first breakdown of the semester in this class. I'd already been feeling totally overwhelmed and wasn't understanding much in any of my classes, and we had a "small" test, for which I'd prepared the best I could. Well, I got a zero (first time in my life I ever failed a test!), because I couldn't even answer one question. I started crying in class, and I kept crying through the rest of the afternoon. It was so frustrating, because I was understanding what I was reading, but none of it was staying in my head. I went to the Office of Foreign Exchange that
afternoon and just sobbed my heart out, trying to get them to understand how hard it was and telling them I felt cheated by the department chair. When I'd gone to see him before I applied, I asked him if he thought a foreigner studying in the Chinese Department would have difficulty (since ALL my Taiwan friends told me it would be too hard, they thought it was too hard for them!), and he assured me that I'd have absolutely no trouble at all. Liar!

Anyway, he must have realized I was in distress during his class after the Paleography class (the tears probably gave it away), and I ran into him on campus as I was heading home. He told me he'd talk to Ms. Gao and see if they could come up with an alternate method for me.

After that is when I discovered that Wikipedia had a lot of info that was taken from the English translation of our textbook and started studying that. I wanted to buy the book, but the only one I found online was US$200, and that's just too much. So, I studied harder, and the next "small" test we had, I got 57! That time I used English to answer a lot of the questions, and the teacher has no problem reading and understanding. I felt so good about my improvement, and Ms. Gao told me that for the mid-term I could also write a report about Oracle Bone Script to add points. I learn so much more when I do research on a subject, and research I did. I knew all the ins and outs of Oracle Bone Script by the time I was done with that report. I studied very hard for the mid-term, and I got a 56 on it. Best of all, mine was NOT the lowest score in class - I did better than some of the Taiwan kids, yeah!

I probably spend more time on this class than any other, because I actually do understand this one, and I feel that I'm really learning something. I'm crap at taking tests, though. For Christmas, Ms. Gao gave me a gift - another "small" test. Yeah, we don't get Christmas off here in Taiwan, I had a test that day instead. And once again I did a miserable job, despite the hours of preparation. I only got 4 points on that one. Sheesh. And I got an assignment to add points - another report, this time on the script used during the Warring States Period.

The final wasn't quite as bad as I was expecting, and I managed to do an OK job (but I still couldn't remember a lot). I know I passed, because I went by to talk to Ms. Gao on Friday, and she said I did a good job and that my report was very good. I'm sure I'll have an OK time next semester, as she wants me to help her with her English, and she knows how much I like her class, so at least I don't have to stress about possible failure for this one. The two of us are going to go to the National Palace Museum together during my break, because I want to go and really LOOK at all bronzes that I wasn't impressed with before, because I never realized how very old they were and that they contained some of the earliest writing found. I have a new appreciation for bronzes now, Carol!

So, after Paleography is the "sweep up the already immaculate road" class. I have no problem with doing some productive community service work, but my group got assigned to hunt down and rake up leaves in one of the cleanest areas of the campus. And talk about a bunch of lazy-assed kids, I had to keep grabbing the rake away from one of the guys and doing it myself because he doesn't know the concept of "put your back into it." It's annoying, but we're usually done within a half hour, so what the hell. It's no fun in the heat of summer, and it's no fun when it's cold, either. Maybe we'll get assigned to a dirty area next semester so I'll get some some of feeling of accomplishment.

Thursday is the day I dread the most because of the last class of the day, Introduction to Chinese Classics, taught by Mr. Cui, the head of the department (you know, the guy who promised me I'd have no trouble?). I'd leave this class confuzzled every time, because I understood NOTHING, and I'd have a headache from the way he would scream into the mike. I think my friend Maria must have said something to him about that (lord knows I complained
to her enough about it), because over the last few weeks he's not been so loud. I would often begin to cry in this class, because it seemed so hopeless and futile. I couldn't make heads or tails out of the handouts he gave us, because they're all in very formal Chinese, which is nothing like what I learned in language class. I couldn't understand anything he was talking about. I couldn't read what he wrote on the board because he uses calligraphy, which while very beautiful is not easy for me to interpret. After ever class I'd tell him, "Teacher, I don't understand ANYTHING AT ALL." He'd just reply by telling me not to worry, take it slowly, you'll get there, just come to class - "Trust me!"

I had no clue how to prepare for the mid-term. I didn't even know what the teacher's objective was! I got my test paper, looked it over and couldn't understand a bit of it, and spent the whole test time writing a big long letter (in English) to him, telling him how I felt, not just about his class but all of it, and then waited for him to talk to me. It took almost 3 weeks for the test score to be posted, and I damned near fainted from shock when I saw he gave me 80%. Again, WTF? I didn't answer even one question! While I appreciate his kindness, this is totally unfair to the Taiwan students who spent so much time studying.

The day he handed the test papers back, he took me outside the classroom and told me he wanted to find a Master's student to help me. I asked for Amy, the girl from Malaysia I'd done English camp with. She set up an appointment with me, and I went to see her, hoping she'd be able to shed some light on this subject. It was a joke. She said, "Mr. Cui just wants you to know
you don't have to worry, just go to class every time, take it slowly, you'll get there....blah, blah, blah." So, basically, I could do nothing except bring my body to class and I'd pass. OK, that's fine, but I'm actually trying to LEARN something here!

Nowadays I set next to Momo during class, and she helps me to make sure I've written down anything Mr. Cui says is for the exam. She helps me decipher his handwriting, too. Momo is a sweetie, and she loves the Chinese Department. She's helped me quite a bit this semester. But you know what? I thought I'd be much more prepared for the final, as I had what I thought was all the info I needed. I studied it, copied it over and over, tried to remember it (which is damned hard when you don't understand what you're trying to remember!), but when the final came, it was loaded with stuff I didn't even remember seeing. Crap on a rope. Oh well, I'm not worried, because I was able to answer at least some things this time, so he should give me 100% for that!

Last semester Friday was the best, because there was only one class at 9:10 a.m., and that only for 50 minutes. However, because they've added that stupid Science class in the afternoon at 3:00, that effectively ruins the whole friggin' day, which is why I'm willing to audit Mr. Wu's 1:00-3:00 class. I mean, what the hell, it's not like I can do anything else.

This class is the "practical" session for my hated Intro to Chinese Classics. The first few weeks, I sat in the back next to a guy who is very helpful, but again, because of the noisy conversations going on, I couldn't understand anything the young TA was saying. She had a mike, but it didn't help. I finally moved to the front row, and after suffering through the same rotten behavior (talking during class, talking during group presentations), I turned on them one day and told them to shut the fuck up, that I couldn't hear anything, and that I was already under enough pressure. I was so pissed off that I was crying, which I hate. So, they shouldn't have been too surprised when I lambasted them after English class, because they'd already gotten it once.

I don't feel that I got anything at all out of this class, but at least I got to watch a great movie, 「Rouge 」with Leslie Cheung and Anita Mui. The TA let me write a report on the movie instead of doing a book report like the others, because she knew it would take me forever to finish reading a book. I hope next semester I will understand a bit more of what's going on.

So, that's been my life since September. I'm mostly miserable, with a couple of bright spots such as two fabulous pub concerts (although queuing in line all day sucked) which got me up close and personal with my adored Wu Bai and China Blue, an autograph session where I stood in front of my adored Wu Bai and told him it was all his fault that my life sucked now, because if I'd never discovered him then I'd never have moved here. He laughed at me, the stinker. Another very fun thing is that Dino, the drummer for China Blue, and Xiao Zhu the bass player have opened a fabulous Italian restaurant not far from where I live, and I've gone there a couple of times for food and fun and will go again on Saturday.

I had no Christmas. I had no New Year's Eve (we were off school Thursday and Friday, but since finals were on the following Monday, my time was spent preparing for those). I considered the December 20 pub show to be my Christmas present, and the party at Dino's place on January 3 was my New Year celebration.

There are two more bright spots coming: I'm going to Thailand January 23 through February 1 for Terry and Cheryl's wedding, and I'm really looking forward to that. I miss my friends, damn it! I have no social life to speak of here, and I'm sick to death of being around immature kids, I need adult conversation. And then on February 28 there's another pub show, so I get to see my favorite guys once again (but queuing all day will suck, ha).

Next semester I have nine different classes, all of which are required, so please don't ask me if I can't take it a bit easier. I would if I could, believe me. I need 139 credits to graduate. My first year I'll only make 31 of those. I need to average 34.75 credits per year to make that 139, so there'd best be some classes in the future that give more than 2 credits per, because I don't think I can handle any more classes per week!

I'm all typed out now, and about to faint from lack of food (it's 1:56 p.m., haven't had a thing to eat today). Thank you, my friends, for understanding my lack of communication and still remaining my friends. You can just figure that the next few months will be pretty much the same as what's written above. I'll do what I can to stay in touch, but don't expect a whole lot
out of me, K?

Love you all, miss you much.....

Friday, December 12, 2008

Everybody Dance with Matt

Hi all,

School is killing me. The semester ends after the first week of January, and then I'll give a full report of these last agonizing months.

For now, something that one of my teachers passed along, something that made me smile a whole lot. Make sure you watch it in the HD mode, and make sure you watch all the other videos he has.

Friday, September 19, 2008

Week Two Slightly Better

I've made through the 2nd week of university without killing myself, but it was touch and go there for a bit.  Last week was really, really tough, and I was near tears many times, as I couldn't understand a lot of what was going on, and I was having serious misgivings about the wisdom of deciding to attend college at my age when classes are taught in a language I'm not fluent in. When I went to talk to the Chair, he assured me that in three months I'll be fine.  Three months!  Aiyo....but the mid-term exams are in November, what about those?  How am I ever going to pass any tests?  The Chair also said that the teachers will grade me based on my ability.  I can only hope this is so.

At least my schedule got a little better, now down to only 12 classes per week:

10:10 - 12:00 Introduction to Literature (Difficult to understand a lot of what the professor says, but she's really nice and I think she'll be patient with me.)
12:00 - 4:10- a four-hour break, during which I can come home and relax a bit
4:10 - 5:00 Introduction to Computers - Practical Exercises (I cut this class this week, seemed pointless, as we hadn't actually had the real Intro to Computers class and had nothing to practice)

8:10 - 10:00 English (I love this class, hahaha, but I feel sorry for the teacher, as she can't seem to get any response out of the students at all.)
10:10 - 12:00 Phys Ed (First item on the agenda was jog around the track five times.  Well, I can't jog, so I walked as briskly as I could, in the 100 degree heat, playing Wu Bai songs on my cell phone for encouragement.  Since the others were half jogging, half walking, I was able to keep up, because their walking pace is extremely slow.  Then we did some stretches in the weight training room, and that was about it.  Next week we're supposed to learn how to use all the equipment, after the jog around the track.  I like the teacher, she's funny but no-nonsense, and she understands about my bad knees.  However, she told me I need to lose weight.  No, gee, really?  Gosh darn, if you hadn't told me, I just wouldn't have known, thanks ever so much for the enlightenment.)
12:00 - 4:10 - a four-hour break where I can go home and shower after sweating like a pig during the phys ed class.  I dropped the Grammar and Rhetoric class that I had at 1:00, because it's a 3rd year class, and I didn't understand anything at all.
4:10 - 6:00 Introduction to Computers (Incredibly annoying class, because while the teacher talks, the other students chat loudly or sleep, and I can't hear anything.  The teacher never once told them to shut up, just kept talking, and they got louder and louder......I mean, sheesh, I wouldn't understand an explanation of binary code in English, let alone Chinese!  Why on earth this is a required class for the Chinese Department, I'll never know.)

8:10 - 10:00 Computer Word Processing - the other students practice typing English, I'm trying to learn how to input Chinese with the keyboard instead of with software, it's kinda fun
10:10 - 12:00  Readings in Chinese Poetry (I like this teacher very much, he's cool, but I don't understand much, yet.  Too many references to things the Taiwanese kids studied throughout grade school and high school, and I have extremely limited knowledge in that area.)
12:00 - 1:00 LUNCH!  (I have a standing date with my friend Maria for Wednesday lunch in the cafeteria, where I can get a huge plate of rice with four veggie selections for only US$1.50, and it's tasty, too.)
1:10 - 3:00  Taiwan History (Another cool dude for a teacher, totally adore him.  I understand most of what he says, but sometimes he loses me.  In this class we'll also be doing some field trips, which I'm looking forward to.)
3:00 - Go home!  I dropped the Selected Readings of English Sinology Writings because 1) I discovered I didn't need the credits and the course is an elective, and 2) the teacher was pretty boring.  This class is taught in English, but his English is not very good at all, and he was nervous about having me in the class.  

Sleep-in-late day!
Originally, I had the practice class for English in the morning, but the Teaching Assistant said it would be silly for me to attend and listen to the English CDs with the others.  I just have to write a short paper for him, and that's it.
1:10 - 3:00 Chinese Paleography (Otherwise known as the study and scholarly interpretation of earlier, especially ancient, writing and forms of writing.  Not an easy class to understand, and requires one extremely huge, heavy book along with a smaller one, no fun lugging those to class. It's a subject I find very interesting, and I hope I'll be able to puzzle it all out.)
3:10 - 4:00 Labor for Education - Groups of students clean up the campus and sometimes go out into the community to clean up there, too.  I think it's a great idea, and American students should also be required to do this.  However, spending an hour in the hot sun in the summer in Taiwan is not much fun.  Still, I guess it's better than having to clean the stinky restrooms.
4:10 - 6:00  Introduction to Chinese Classics (OMG, so hard to understand the professors, who is also the Chair of the Chinese department, because he uses a lot of words I just don't know.  And his voice through the mike is SO LOUD.  Yesterday the itty bitty girl next to me was concentrating on taking a note, and the professor suddenly shouted to make a point, and she shrieked and jumped out of her seat in fear.  I had a bad headache by the end of class.) 

9:10 - 10:00  Introduction to Chinese Classics Practical Exercises (Sigh....yet another class where I'm clueless as to what's going on.  The teaching assistant has lousy handwriting, so I can't understand what she writes on the board.  Well, come to think of it, I can't understand most of the other teachers' writing, either.  It's like I've only studied printing, and they're using handwriting - big difference!  Anyway, in this class we're separated into groups to work on reports, and at least the guy who sits next to me speaks a tiny bit of English and can help explain stuff to me.
10:00 - go home!  Originally I had, of all things, a "nursing" class in the afternoon, but the school decided that foreign students didn't need to take that, hooray!  Now I have a day that I can go into Taipei to meet my friends for lunch once in awhile.

My classmates are very nice, but they're all 18 years old, and I don't really have much in common with them.  Some of the girls are just too giggly for me, and there are way too many of them who seem to want to make friends just so they can learn more English.  I'm going to be a little standoffish for awhile, I think, and I'm not going to be attending many of their group activities.  So far I haven't run into any crazy-as-I-am Wu Bai fans, but I'm still hoping I will.

When the typhoon left us on Tuesday, it took Autumn along with it.  It's been back to stinking hot for the rest of the week.  I do hope it starts to cool down soon.

Busy weekend ahead, got some reading to do and will meet with Aaron, who has finally come back from England.  I know Monday will be coming along far too soon. :(