Saturday, March 31, 2007

Spring Break

I'm on break from school, don't have to go back until April 9. April 5 is a holiday here, commonly called Tomb Sweeping Day in the West. This is the day that families go to take care of the graves of their ancestors, sweeping up, pulling weeds, putting everything in order. Originally, the school was only going to be closed on that day, but apparently someone in the government decided he or she would like the full week off, and suddenly the schools were all closing for the full week. I wouldn't mind, except that I'm getting cheated out of one week of classes, and I paid money for those! Now I'm only getting 10 weeks of instruction instead of 11. Truly unfair!

In other unfairness news, I have learned a valuable lesson about one of the big differences between Western culture and Chinese culture, and that is called "guan xi" - 關係. I already knew that 關係 played a huge part in the business world, where it's not so much what you know but who you know that will get you a good job. Relationships between people are very important here, so it's a good idea to makes friends with as many people as possible, as one never knows who in the future may play a part in helping one with something. However, I didn't realize that 關係 extended to scholarships, which I have always assumed to be awarded based on merit. They posted the names of those awarded scholarships, and I wasn't on the list. My teacher said it was not because I'm not a good student, because I am. She said the American guy who got the scholarship has been at the school for a long time, and although he's not a very good student and I'm much better (her words!), he got rewarded for time served. She encouraged me to apply again in June, since by that time I'll have six months in and have a better chance. So, no money for me this time around. I did decide on one more year of Chinese classes before starting at the university, because if I want a scholarship for that, I need to maintain a good grade, so I'd best be good at Chinese!

I've started teaching Xiao Niu and her co-workers on Wednesday evenings, and that's fun. They're a good group, and they seem serious about learning. Right now they don't understand a lot of what I say in English, so I'm using more Chinese to explain. I was hoping to do total immersion, like I get in my Chinese classes, but they just aren't ready for it. They chose a very good book, TV English, which contains "real" conversational English, like that between friends. They also chose a much more difficult one for business English, and I'm guessing those classes, which will alternate every other week, will not be as much fun. I also need to teach them some basic grammar. This will be a long road to travel, and I hope they stick with it. The downside is getting home at 10:30 p.m. on Wednesday nights, but I can live with that once a week.

Last Friday evening ABS had a performance at Riverside Pub, so of course we attended. We had a large group this time: Twiggy and Joel from Hong Kong, Elsa (I can never figure out if she's from Hong Kong or Taiwan!), Charlene, Caroline, Xiao Niu, Kennie (who brought a co-worker with her, a guy who looked a lot like Nic Tse), my former teacher Shannon, and the birthday girl, Natari. Nat's birthday was actually on Sunday, but we celebrated that evening, getting Dino to sing "Happy Birthday" to her and providing a ridiculously expensive cake. Charlene, I know you're reading this, and I'm never going to stop saying that that cake was so overpriced it was laughable! Folks, for a 12" cake, we ended up paying around US$54! If you want to see what it looked like, view the Ripoff Cake here. If the flavor had put us into spasms of ecstasy, maybe that would have been OK, but it was your normal, not-sweet-enough, weird-stiff-pudding-in-the-middle sort of cake, i.e., Japanese lack-of-flavor style. But, boy it sure was pretty, and I think Nat liked it, so I suppose that's the most important thing, right? But damn it, next time give ME the money and I'll make two killer cheesecakes that will make everyone swoon and still have money left over for profit.

Every time I see ABS perform, I'm blown away by the talent. Dino's energy on the drums combined with his fine voice, Da Mao's magical keyboarding (sometimes you can almost see flames spouting out of him when he gets into it), Xiao Zhu's heart-thumping bass underscoring it all, and then the fantastic technical skill of guitar players Xiao Yang and Lao Liu. It's no wonder these two guys are both referred to as Stevie Ray, because that's how good they are. When the band is covering Stevie Ray Vaughn tunes, if you closed your eyes, you'd swear it was the man himself come back to life. As much as I adore Wu Bai, I have to be honest and say that Dino can outsing him anyday, and Xiao Yang and Lao Liu play guitar far, far better. No, Wu Bai's pull comes from somewhere other than just skill, it's his music combined with his passion, some weird charisma that sucks you in and makes you overlook it when his voice cracks as he sings. Somehow that just doesn't matter at the time. And if Wu Bai weren't backed up by three excellent musicians like Dino, Da Mao, and Xiao Zhu, would the magic be there? I think maybe not. I think that spell requires four key ingredients, and if you leave any out, the result just isn't the same.

We didn't ever really have "winter" this year, more like a cool spring, and now instead of real spring it seems we're getting a slightly cooler summer already. It's hot and sticky, and I'm afraid when we hit June and July it will be unbearable. Damned global warming. Eh, maybe I'll sweat off some of the excess poundage. Probably not, but we all need dreams, hm?

Daily life is much the same as always, nothing new or exciting. I'm truly enjoying having the afternoon class, able to sleep later in the mornings, given that the brats upstairs still drive me nuts with their noise in the evenings. Now it stays quiet until around 9:00 or so and then the noise starts, usually up until 11:30 p.m. I find that if I'm playing on the computer it doesn't bug me as much, but if I'm just trying to read or study in the living room, I get totally fried. Sometimes now I just put on a CD of instrumental music to drown them out, and that helps. When I signed the lease for this year, I told my landlady I'd seriously considered moving, and she said she'd understand if I still wanted to. Having experienced living under this family herself, she knows how intolerable it is at times. I like her, and I like my apartment, so I'm going to stick it out.

Last night when I turned on the laptop, it wouldn't. Instead I was greeting with "disk read error, press Ctrl +Alt +Del to restart." So, I did, but got the same error. Oh no! Major tragedy! I tried three or four more times with the same result, even turned it off and back on, no go. I called Charlene to ask if one of her friends could help, and she suggested I contact Rudy. So, I sent him an SMS, and when I turned back to the computer, it had started. Whew! Funny thing is that I already have plans to go with Xuan Yi on Monday to buy a new computer, a PC. I thought the laptop was acting a bit sluggish, and the color when it first starts is now red which slowly changes to blue, so I was afraid the video card was on the way out. It's four years old and it gets a lot of use, so I figured it was time for a new one before I lost everything. I made backups last night, since last time I did it was a couple months ago, and I'm always saving new stuff. I hate to spend more of my ever-dwindling money, but I gotta have a computer for school and teaching and staying in touch. Gotta. The laptop started right up this morning with no problems, not sure what was wrong yesterday. Charlene said it was protesting the heat of the day, and that could be true. :)

And DZ.....she's gotten herself banished from my bedroom at night (she's been banished during the day when I'm not home for a long, long time). Normally she comes in late and sleeps on the bed with me until I get up, but night before last she jumped up on the dresser and attacked yet another Wu Bai poster, so she's being punished. I might let her back in after a week. What is it with that cat and my posters, my WU BAI posters, not the kung fu movie ones? And no, I'm not getting her a playmate, because that would just be destruction times two!

I'm meeting a potential student today, one of Funck's friends, named Claire. I hope she ends up being one who will actually come to class so I can make a little money. She wants Saturdays, and since Xiao Zhu says his son is too busy, I'll take Claire for twice the fee, no problems. If Vincent ever gets "unbusy" I'll try to work him in. I'm still meeting Ye Ying once a week for language exchange, and Shannon and I started yesterday meeting for that, too. It's great to have two Chinese teachers to help out with my questions, as well as enjoying their friendship. I haven't been able to meet with Ye Ying's boyfriend, Xuan Yi, for our language exchange for a long time, because he's been so busy writing his thesis. Now that he's done, maybe we'll be able to find some time.

OK, well, this was a long post. I'm done now, thanks for reading. :)

Sunday, March 11, 2007

Rainy Days and Sundays

After many days almost summer-like weather, we've had nothing but rain, rain, rain for a week. Cold rain. Cold days. I'm not complaining, you know. A little bit of cold in a hot country like Taiwan is a good thing!

I'm once again experiencing teacher frustration. Friday night Xiao Zhu called and said Vincent is just too busy these days to attend English class on Saturday and that he'd call me when his son has more time. Having experienced this excuse before (Rosa, Jennifer) to take the place of the more straightforward, "Sorry, changed my mind, don't want to study English.", I'm not holding out much hope of Vincent returning. We shall see. Xiao Zhu asked how to get me the paltry fee from the first class, which was supposed to be paid with the rest of this month's classes in one shot, and I told him I'd collect it from him on the 23rd when we go to see ABS.

I decided I'm going to apply for a scholarship at the language center, which would be NT$12,000 per month, or approximately US$365 (tuition is NT$16,000 every 11 weeks). I meet the requirements, so we'll see. Wish me luck.

Every time I think about trying to attend regular university beginning this year, I start thinking about how little I do know about the Chinese language, and I start to worry. I've only actually studied for a year and a half, and that barely scrapes the surface. I'd much prefer one more year of studying the language itself before attempting to attend classes taught in Chinese. So, at this point, I've decided to wait until 2008 to start my "real" studies. Ye Ying also advised that I look into a couple other universities that might be cheaper than Tamkang.

There's a test tomorrow, so today will be spent studying. Since it's no weather to be outside, staying in is certainly not a problem!

Monday, March 05, 2007

I'm Not Getting Older, I'm Getting Better - Right?

Ah yes, once again the Birthday Fairy visited me and bestowed another year of age. Considering that the alternative to growing older is death, I'll not complain. Besides, I don't mind growing older as long as I never grow old.

Caroline, Charlene, and Shannon treated me to a lovely dinner at my favorite dim sum place, City Star. I wish there could have been more of us, but PJ had just gotten back from Korea, so Nat, Xiao Niu, and Betty were meeting up with him. Since most of the dim sum comes in servings of three, I was worried there'd be some fighting over who ate what, but it all worked out quite well, as Caroline hates mushrooms and isn't overly fond of shrimp, and I don't like the turnip cake much. We all ended up well stuffed in the end.

After dinner we stood around trying to decide if it would be worth it to brave the crowds at Chiang Kai Shek Memorial to look at the lanterns, but in the end decided no friggin' way. Caroline and I walked to Page One and spent about an hour shopping around there. I came away with four books for about $30US, which is a hell of a good price in Taiwan, thanks to Caroline having their discount card and two books being on sale. I was already packing a heavy load, with two books that Caroline had given me, two magazines with Wu Bai articles that Charlene had given me, and also my Lost Season 1 which Caroline had returned. If I'd been empty-handed, I probably would have spent more money I can't afford at Page One! Thank goodness for credit cards......which all seem to be working fine now, after much wrangling with the bank. Shannon gave me the most adorable little purple kitty that she made herself out of beads. I'd never have the patience to make something like that.

Didn't get the chance to see if the new approach to teaching Vincent would work, as his dad called to cancel the class on Friday night. I'm still a bit unclear as to why, since Xiao Zhu was calling from a very noisy place, and I'm not good at understanding Chinese spoken over a cell phone. I chatted a bit with Dino on Saturday morning, and he said that although Vincent is a bit shy at first, once he gets to know a person, you can't shut him up. We'll see if he actually makes it to class next week.

One of the best birthday presents I got was the almost total silence from the upstairs neighbors last night. It was almost eerie. I'm not sure if the monsoon-like rain that was pouring down was so loud it was drowning them out or what, but it was soooo peaceful between 10:00 and midnight. Wish it would stay like that, but likely won't.

Errrr, I'm supposed to be preparing for a role-play exercise at school today. Best get going on that now.