Tuesday, April 05, 2005

Week 3 update

Hello everyone!
Well, I'm into my third week of living in Taiwan. Today is a holiday here (it's Tuesday the 5th in Taiwan), the day families go to the cemeteries to clean the graves of the ancestors. So, no class today.

First let me say that class is quite interesting. This is my second week, and the other students have all been studying for some time. I began with lesson 20 in the book, since I already knew most of the words and grammar that had previously been covered. However.....the teacher doesn't speak English. The entire class is given in Chinese, and although I can read quite a bit and form sentences, I'm not at all used to LISTENING to Chinese and translating it, so I'm missing some things. I'm amazed at how much I do understand, though. Even when the teacher is using words I don't know, I can usually figure it out from the context that I do know. She speaks enough English to understand and answer some of my questions, though. I'm very grateful that there is a student from France, Nicolas, who speaks fine English and is able to help me when I'm totally lost.

The class seems very informal. Students arrive when they feel like it (I'm always the first one there) and don't think anything of walking out during the class to answer their cell phones. I think I was the only one who was there every day last week. We have a Korean woman, Yun; a pregnant Japanese gal, Keiko; another Japanese girl, Natsuko; a Japanese guy who only started last Friday, Ri Shan; my good buddy Nicolas from France; and one day there was a girl named Katy from Canada, but I haven't seen her since. I do think the teacher is pretty good at getting her point across, using a lot of drawing on the board and gesturing. I'm struggling a little with her Taiwan accent, because it's not what I'm most used to hearing. Taiwan Mandarin and mainland Mandarin are quite different, so I need to get accustomed to hearing it. Funny, we're supposed to be learning the standard Beijing Mandarin, which employs what is called the retroflex "R" sound at the end of many words, but our teacher isn't able to make that sound! Thankfully, I had a marvelous teacher in Weiwei, and she taught me how to do that (thanks Weiwei!). Although I may be far behind in terms of listening and speaking, I have to say my pronunciation is the best out of all the students, and again I have to thank Weiwei for that.
So, what have I been doing for the past two weeks? Shopping, mostly, it seems. I needed so much for the apartment that I've been cruising around Ikea and Carrefour on almost a daily basis. Last week it rained quite a bit, and it was rather cold, so a few days I just went to class and then home to putter around here. But no matter how cold (or hot) it is outside (and it gets down into the 40s this time of year, colder during December and January), my apartment stays around 66-69 degrees, which is great. It never feels damp in here, either. I hope this is a good sign for summer, since I don't have an air conditioner.

Sunday March 27 was a gorgeous day, so a little before 9:00 a.m. I took the MRT to Danshui (two stops up the line) and walked from the station to Danshui Fisherman's Wharf. It was about a 40 minute walk, and it was very crowded that day, because there was some sort of event going on. The walk back was better, no people! That afternoon my friend Natari and I went to the flower market so I could get a few plants. I got three gorgeous orchids for around $3.00 US each, plus two green plants, a lucky bamboo, and a cute little potted plant, along with a very nice wooden plant stand. Photos of the new members of the family are posted, along with other new pix, at http://www.pbase.com/500fan/xinfangzi. Just ignore the big pile of cardboard on the living room balcony - although I finally figured out where the garbage truck stops, I haven't gotten all the boxes from everything I've been buying thrown away yet! If I'm not home at 9:00 p.m., I miss the truck. Or if it's pouring rain at 9:00 p.m., I miss the truck. Or, if I'm too lazy to take out the trash....you get the idea.

I still haven't explored my neighborhood, other than the walk to the MRT each day. Again, there was so much rain that I didn't want to be outside, but now that the sun is out, I'm more inclined to just walk around looking at things. I've discovered some great places to eat for cheap! Almost every day on my way to school, I stop to get two shui jian bao for breakfast. It costs me about 44 cents. These are about the size and shape of hockey pucks, dough that's like potsticker dough, filled with vegetables and glass noodles. Very tasty with some soy sauce and chili (yes, for breakfast). Another street vendor on the way to my place serves up some yummy ge li tang (clam soup with ginger), chao fan (fried rice), chao mian (chow mein), and kong xin cai (a tasty green vegetable). Again, the price is very cheap. When Natari and I ate there the other night, we were stuffed to the max, and it cost us $3.30 US each.

It can be very inexpensive to eat in Taiwan. Last night I went with some friends to a place known as a Chi Dao Bao - literally "eat until full" which is what they call buffets here. This is not your ordinary buffet. It's a Japanese style place with each table having a griddle for frying and a pot of boiling water to cook in. You order all kinds of things from a checklist, and the waiters bring them to you. Then the cooking begins! Here's just a sample of what we ordered last night: sliced beef, sliced lamb, sliced chicken, squid, prawns, clams, a few varieties of fish, a few varieties of mushrooms, tempura, mochi (a kind of dough ball the Japanese use as noodles), cheese balls (mochi filled with cheese), tiny sausages, intestines (no, I don't eat those, but my Taiwan friends like it), fish balls, tofu, potatoes, miniature yams, and some stuff that I don't even know what it was - and we didn't even get half the stuff that was on the menu. There were four of us, and I was done eating about 45 minutes before the other three! I don't understand how these tiny little Asians can eat so much and stay thin. And after the main course, there was Haagen Daas ice cream, all we wanted, and that stuff ain't cheap in Taiwan. The price for all of this was $399 per person - that's $12.63 US. Doesn't matter how much you order, same price. I'm afraid if we bring Betty there, the place will go broke ;) I was kinda hoping I'd lose some weight here, but not if I keep going to those places!

One thing I find very odd here is the willingness of these folks to queue in line for hours for new food fads. There's a donut shop, Mr. Donut, where people will stand in line for up to three hours to buy donuts! What the heck? And last Friday some friends from the south part of Taiwan came into town on some business, and the two of them queued for an hour and half at this new place that makes sandwiches with fried pork pieces. It's a Japanese fast food shop that's all the rage right now. We got to share the five Sharrie bought for us (she took five back home with her for her hubby & kids), and it was just a sandwich.....a bun with some tomatoes, onions, lettuce, and a nice piece of battered pork. It was good, but it sure wasn't worth standing in line for! I'll probably never get to taste those donuts unless some other crazy friends stand in line for them.
My neighbors.... I have a family upstairs, right above me, who at times seem to have 20 children. In reality they probably only have two or three, but these kids never go to bed. They are up until sometimes 3:00 a.m., running back and forth (and not barefoot, either), bouncing lord knows what on the floors, dropping heavy objects - and I'm trying to sleep! I finally got a long pole off the balcony and started banging on the ceiling yelling, "Wei! Wo bu neng shui jiao!" which is "Hey, I can't sleep!" but it hasn't stopped them from doing it again. I haven't decided if I should confront them in person or simply leave a nice note on their door (which Weiwei so kindly wrote for me). Other than those people, it's actually fairly quiet here at night. I'm not near a main road, so not that much traffic, and the other neighbors hardly make any noise at all.
I'll be heading to Hong Kong May 5 for a Wu Bai concert (yay!) and staying there for a couple of days to visit with my friend Terry. When I come back, I'll apply for the university class that my school offers so I can get a residency visa and won't have to keep applying for monthly extensions. The cost is a little more, $408 per semester as opposed to the $313 I'm paying now, but I won't have to leave the country as often, and that will save me money. The whole visa ordeal seems very complicated, but I'm hoping it's not as bad as I think. The school will help me when I apply for my extension, which is great.

Paying bills here is also different from the US. You can actually just transfer money from your checking account to another person's account by using your ATM card or just by going to the bank. So, when I pay my rent I just go to the landlady's bank and deposit the money into the account. The water bill I'll be paying at the 7-11, not sure about the phone and electric bills. I've opted not to get cable yet, but I might in the future. And I'll need to figure out how to get another tank of gas. Will probably have my friend order it for me until my Chinese is a little more fluent. I've also discovered that in addition to the monthly rent, there's a charge for "maintenance" of the building, so my total rent output will be around $490 per month. Still a darned good deal for a place this size!

I made my second trip to Costco, on Sunday. Bad idea. If you think Costco in the US is insane on weekends, try shopping here! My goodness. But, I'm happy I went, because the coffee is way cheaper there - and that's where I can buy a clothes dryer! Although I have to say that it wasn't too awful drying the clothes outside. They weren't as wrinkled as I thought they'd be (but the socks are like cardboard, must get some fabric softener), so perhaps I can live with a dryer, but they're only around $200 if I decide it's a necessity. Too bad Costco is in an area where there is no MRT and no buses. I won't be able to get there unless my friend drives, and she's not all that fond of the place.

That's about all for now. I hope some of you will eventually be visiting me one of these days and experiencing all this for yourselves!

Zai jian, bai bai, catch ya later,
Ma La

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