Thursday, December 23, 2010

Back from the Dark Side of...Not Blogging


Sorry for not writing in so long.  Between Thanksgiving, the end of classes, final projects, saying goodbye (many times) to the semester CIEE students, starting a new semester, going out, running errands, and a sprinkling of medical issues have made for a very interesting--and busy--two and a half weeks.  My friends are traveling in Southeast Asia, and I have a new schedule which allows me to attend classes in the afternoon, providing me the much-needed time and space to slow down and really take things in.

I have been using the free time for reflecting and feeling.  For those of you who have had a conversation with me that has lasted longer than thirty seconds, you may have noticed I'm a bit...cerebral.  Emotions and I haven't always been on the best of terms.  I would even go so far as to say I don't like them.  At all.  They are messy and have a will of their own.  Crying?  What the hell?  I don't have time for something as banal as crying.  Don't my feelings know I am studying A Very Hard Language to become a Person who is Going Places and Making Her Way in the World?

Apparently not.

About two weeks ago I stormed into Christie's office (the director of CIEE--Taipei division) with a list of demands.  I needed help with housing.  Four people in one tiny living space was getting too much to handle, the bathrooms had long since been out of hand, and now there were rats.  Not to mention there was some kind of bureaucratic miscommunication with my winter tuition bill, and I had paid the wrong person.    Add Mandarin Chinese to this mixture.  Get a very pissed off twenty-one year old.

I had told Christie about my history of depression, but, as with most things about me that are close to the vest, I dressed it up with an anecdote and presented it with an ironic twist.  I have become quite good at this kind of disingenuous charm.  I didn't want people to think I was this vessel of melancholy petulance who spent her nights crying because she felt unloved.

Which, of course, I was.  For a long time.

The conversation quickly veered away from what I thought was going to be a "business" meeting to some of the more tender feelings that lay underneath my frustration and brusqueness (i. e. homesickness).   The next thing I knew, I was blubbering like a little girl.  In the CIEE office, of all places.

That conversation helped me pin down a specific fear: I am afraid of asking for help because I dread appearing to be incompetent to others.  She encouraged me to try to expose the emotions I was feeling to the light, because repressed feelings fester "like worms digging into the dirt", she explained.  I know this to be true from years of therapy and consulting with mental health professionals, but there is a difference between knowing something intellectually and actually being prepared to deal with it.

In my case especially, this difference is about a hemisphere wide.

Christie advised me to notice where an emotion is in my body when I feel it.  I've been taking her advice, which has forced me to slow down and pay attention to myself.  The book she loaned me--essentially a manual for feeling things--takes these guidelines further.  Does the feeling have a texture inside of you?  A color?  A shape?  One thing I have noticed is that I'm shaking a lot less, because I'm no longer forcing my feelings into a deep dark corner in my chest.  I've just been letting what rises rise, without judging anything.

Allowing my emotions to come up naturally has also opened up a Pandora's box of memories that I had stuffed away into an attic of I'm Not Going to Deal With This Ever.  But, as I've learned, pain does not kill you.  It waxes and wanes, and it's an indicator of a malady that needs attention, as with physical pain.  Good memories of myself have surfaced as well.  Memories when the world was a good place, and I was secure and happy.  One particular memory that I enjoyed was when I was about four and I was grocery shopping with my mother.  I had a pair of what I called "fireman" boots, which were black and yellow rubber boots that exactly matched the jackets of the firemen in our neighborhood.  I often saw the firemen grocery shopping, and I always made it a point to tell them that I had boots just like theirs.  And, wasn't it cool that I was grocery shopping just like them?  The fact that my mother was paying for all the food and pushing me in the grocery cart was but an insignificant detail.  I was food shopping.

And I always got M&Ms at the checkout counter.  Life was sweet (no pun intended).

This is why I've been a little out of touch.  Feeling things has been inconvenient and strange, but necessary.  My friends have also been dragging me on shopping trips and clubbing marathons to keep me from being mired in my own reveries and reflections.  And a tiny little hiccup called Advanced Chinese classes has been beckoning my attention.

So.  If you are reading this, thanks for your patience and understanding.  I told you all this wouldn't be a blog of Look At Me Eat A Piece of Exotic Food and Attempt to Speak a Foreign Language.  I'm not saying this to judge all the other travel blogs, guides, and memoirs that have this content.  I just believe in truth in advertising.

Know that I am happy and safe.  To my family back home, much love.  To my new friends in Taiwan, I look forward to spending more time together in our new home.  To my classmates who have already returned home or are returning soon, I wish you a safe trip and a restful vacation with your families.  Keep in touch.

Peace and Joy.  And a very Merry Christmas and a glorious New Year to you all.

Wednesday, December 8, 2010

Letter to My Mother

PREFACE: I wrote this letter to my mom while procrastinating working on my final project.  My friend, who, like me, is a smart, beautiful capable person fed up with male mediocrity, insisted I share this letter to the whole world.  I told her that I'd publish it on my blog later but she was having none of it.  She told me to post it now.  So, what the heck?  No time like the present.  Life is too short.

Elizabeth Edwards died two days ago.  And I feel horrible that such an accomplished woman died overshadowed by scandal.

She believed in her husband, championed his cause, raised his children.  And how did her husband pay her back?  He had an a tawdry affair, fathered a child, and denied it.  While his wife had cancer.

Imagine if the roles were switched.  What would people say about Elizabeth if she had an affair and ran for president while her husband had cancer?

Will she be remembered for her intelligence, her career, her eloquence, or her passion for her causes?  Nope.  She will be remembered as the wife of a failed presidential candidate.  As the caricature "Saint Elizabeth".  As a monster who screeched at her aides and at her unfaithful husband.

Her life, one full of potential, has been reduced to a Page Six blurb.  All because of her stupid husband.

I'm realizing how unbelievably unfair our society is.  A few weeks ago I went shopping with Marta.  She needed to buy a camera and I provided company and interpretation services.  We were in a department store looking at creams and makeup and diamond rings.  The entire floor was devoted to women's beauty products, and they were quite expensive.  Most floors in department stores are filled with products for women.  And yet, women make 77 cents for every dollar men make in the U. S.  How is that?

If I have to spend the rest of my life alone, I'm prepared to do it.  Days like today I don't know why I'm working so hard to acquire a skill set and understand myself, but I know that it will be worth it one day.  If I have to work three times as hard as a man to get any recognition, then so be it.  If no man meets my standards right now because I'm too busy busting my a** to make something of myself, then so be it.  Let them call me a b***.  Let them call me heartless.  But I will not die under the burden of someone else's failures.

Saturday, November 6, 2010

Culture Shocked. Be right back.

Hey everyone,

If I haven't posted in a while or not gotten back to your emails, it's because my brain has been completely fried--well done--from culture shock.  I don't want to fill this blog with negativity and long rants, because it's not Taiwan's fault that I'm going through this very normal phase of adjusting to a very different culture.  I have a drawerful of postcards and letters that I've promised to send.  I will send them.  I haven't forgotten you.  If you read this blog, if you talk to me online, if you pray for me, thank you.  My brain will one day unstick itself and become more functional.  There really is nothing I can do but wait for my Humpty-Dumpty brain to put itself back together again.

In the meantime, I turn this blog over to you, dear readers.  YOU will be the ones determining the subject of the next post.  You have three anecdotes to choose from:

1. A party that I recently attended that was broken up by the cops.
2. An incident involving an oversized sanitary napkin
3. Political maneuvering in a Taiwanese dorm.

Simply comment at the bottom with the following: 1, 2, or 3.  Whichever you think will be funniest or most interesting or what you'd like to read the most.  Whichever topic gets the most votes I'll write about.  I know there are some of you out there that are okay with whatever I write about, but please pick a topic.  My brain is culture shocked.  Be right back.

See you all next week,

Sunday, October 24, 2010

It Gets Better. Please share this post.

Recently in the American media there has been an upsurge of coverage of gay suicides due to school bullying.  Like many Americans, I was horrified and saddened that these young people felt that taking their own lives was the only solution to their problems.  Some American organizations and people are making this a LGBT issue, and  it is.  Intolerance and cruelty to others due to different lifestyle choices, religion, ethnicity, gender, and political views is still by and large culturally acceptable.  But not all suicides are LGBT related.  Bullying is rampant in our schools, and suicide is becoming a more common way for young people to express their anger, shame, grief, and despair.  They feel they have no one to turn to.  They feel they have nowhere to belong.  And they are tired of holding it in.

The response to this issue has been impressive.  A single dad living in Salt Lake City took up the issue of bullying on his otherwise humorous blog, and it struck a chord with many people.  You can read his post here.

People all around the country are making "It Gets Better" videos to encourage these young people to hang in there, and to remind them that things really do get better.  (Click here to see President Obama's video)  Since I am better at writing, this post will be a letter addressed to any young person suffering from bullying, depression, or shame because of who they are.  Please read this and share it with everyone you know: friends, co-workers, children, family, neighbors.  Bullying and suicide among young people is a crisis in American schools right now.  You never know who will read this letter, so please, do your part to end the cycle of violence.  Thank you.

Dear [Your Name],

You're probably feeling as though life is a big pile of crap.  That every single day you go through the motions of living and that you wish you could just end it all.  Maybe you've been bullied every day for as long as you can remember.  Maybe you feel that you can't let anyone know a secret that you have, and every day that secret is slowly consuming you.  Maybe you feel that you will never find anyone to accept and love you as you are.  And you're this close to giving up.

Becoming an adult is painful, and not enough people tell you how painful it is because they don't want to remember the excruciating humiliation they went through.  But I will come clean with you now: even though there are many days that have been terrible, and there might be rough days ahead, it will not always be like this.  There is a life beyond middle school, high school, and college.  I know right now you may feel as though you cannot remember a time when you did not hate yourself and everyone else.  But even though we may never meet, even though I many never know anything about you, know this: you are loved.  You have a future.  You have a purpose.

Together, we can help end bullying.  Together, we can help end the unnecessary suicides of our peers.  But we need you here to see it happen.  I need you here.  Please have faith and stick around.  Tell someone how much you are hurting.  Even if you feel you have no one, there is at least one person out there who cares about you.  Tell him or her.  And believe.  Believe things will get better.  Make a commitment to yourself to live.  And one day, sooner than you expect, you just might find yourself living a life that exceeds your expectations.  You can do it.  I'm doing it, and there are many of us who have felt the way you do, and we're doing it.  Join us.  I promise you that it gets better.

I love you,


Wednesday, October 20, 2010

Happy Early Anniversary To Me...

Wow, this week is going by fast.  It was totally Sunday a few hours ago...right guys?

Anyway, I've seen from a few Facebook updates that there has been some unusual weather in New York.  And like the true New Yorkers y'all are, you are all complaining about it with the appropriate amount of hyperbole.  One of my Facebook friends compared this week's weather to the film "The Day After Tomorrow" (oh, God, did I just say film?).  But like the true New Yorker I am was pretend to be, I can do better than that.  Maybe not in terms of comparisons to doomsday films, but definitely in terms of weather.

It's been raining nonstop since Sunday night.  It is now Wednesday night Taiwan time.  I am sitting in wet jeans after just getting back from dinner as I write this.  I was actually having a conversation with my hallmates who think the rain started around Friday or Saturday.  For the sake of making a dramatic point, I'm inclined to agree with them, but I remembered I had brunch with Lee* on Sunday afternoon and the weather was fine.  So I'm sticking to my original point. Since Sunday night. Consistent rain.  Days and nights.  Kind of like the scenario that allowed that Noah person from the Bible to build that big ark.  Except here in Taipei everyone just uses their umbrellas and deals with it.  During my calligraphy class today I watched the rain fall for a few minutes through an open door, and was mesmerized by the unhurried way the droplets drizzled over the trees and plants.  The scene felt prolonged, even eternal, and I realized then that the rain would finish when it was done, and not a moment sooner.  No one accepts any kind of weather back in New York, and even the rain runs fifteen minutes late.

The last time it rained like this, I complained about it about every twenty minutes.  About how my clothes were wet.  About how I was wandering aimlessly in the middle of nowhere (I was in a fake aboriginal village in Taichung at the time).  But strangely, this time I'm having a hard time finding anything to gripe about.  My clothes are wet?  There's a dryer right down the hall.  And I did more than my fair share of wandering aimlessly on Monday, but it was one of the best times I had with anyone ever.  I got lost on the Metro with my new British friend Sam (not to be confused with my British friend Scott) and we laughed hysterically about it for hours.  It turns out Sam has a worse sense of direction than I do, but I was up for an adventure.  We took four hours to have coffee, go to an electronics store, and have dinner because we kept getting on the wrong train.  When we finally got on the right train, Sam and I were hypothesizing how funny it would be if we were going in the wrong direction.  Considering how long it had taken us to drink coffee and run one errand, this scenario was becoming more and more plausible as we rode the MRT.  Our laughter attracted the interest of an impeccably dressed elderly man.  At first, he had no idea why we were laughing, so when Sam and I looked up and checked our reflection in the window of two foreigners struggling to keep our laughter under some kind of control, we were surprised to see an old man laughing with us.

"What is funny?" he asked, in English.
"My friend gets lost easily," I replied in Chinese.  "I also get lost easily, and we have no idea where we're going."
The man nodded.  "You speak good Chinese," he said.
I smiled and complimented his English, then turned back to Sam, who was checking his iPhone, which has a map of the Taipei MRT.  "If we're going the wrong way, I'm going to cry," Sam said.  A moment later, his body was convulsing with uncontrollable laughter.  He laughed so hard tears sprang into his eyes, and I leaned against him, overwhelmed by our exponential ineptitude to arrive at any of our intended destinations.  We were unable to look at each other with a neutral expression for the rest of the afternoon evening.

Weirdly, the rain has brought some kind of consistency into my life.  I go to class, take my meals and tea with Sam, Scott and Lee, and manage my life through the computer (email, organizing bill and tuition payments, blogging).  I'll be glad to get back to my outdoor activities of running and hiking when the rain stops, but I won't not miss it when it's gone.

You guys, I was totally this cynical New Yorker two months ago (This Sunday makes two months of expatitude).  Now I'm forgetting about Halloween (!) and saying semi-poetic things about rain (!!).  SOMEONE PLEASE SHAKE ME.  I AM NOT MYSELF.

*Not her real name, but she has requested I use discretion when I refer to her in my blog, as she is in Taipei with a Distinguished American Program.

Monday, October 11, 2010

Sometimes I actually do my homework.

     Last Thursday, our group went on a field trip to the Mainland Affairs Council. We sat at connecting tables equipped with microphones and pots of hot water for tea. After a few minutes of getting settled, an  official walked in the room, briefly introduced the current relationship between China and Taiwan, and opened the floor to questions. His request was met with a long, awkward silence.

     Looking back, I probably should have done a little of my own research about cross-straight relations   before coming to the Mainland Affairs Council, instead of taking my usual afternoon siesta. But there was nothing I could have done at that point. I had been hoping that our guest speaker would elaborate a little more about the history between China and Taiwan. He did later on, mentioning statistics such as “80 percent of Taiwanese citizens prefer the status quo” and that China and Taiwan “had been through good times and bad times”, but as an American citizen whose historical background is focused mainly on China, these phrases drifted in one ear and out the other. Over the last few weeks, I had seen the relatively high standards of living
and education many Taiwanese enjoy. I spent the past two weekends interviewing Taiwanese students to go work and travel in the United States, and I share a dorm room with three Taiwanese girls. It seemed to me that the average young Taiwanese person knows a significant amount about Western countries, while China, the economic behemoth directly to the north, remains somewhere in the back of his or her mind. I felt myself being roped in with the eighty percent of Taiwanese citizens: the situation between China and Taiwan had reached a tenuous cordiality. Why change anything?

     At last, one of my classmates asked a question in Mandarin, and the official responded in English. I was inspired by her effort to incorporate Chinese in real life setting, so I did the same.  I turned on the microphone in front of me.

     “Hello,” I said in Chinese.

     “Hello,” the official responded, also in Chinese. He then switched to English. “I hope that’s not all you can say in Chinese.”

     I suddenly felt as though I was alone in the room with this condescending official. He didn’t even wait for me to blunder through a question before assuming I couldn’t ask a coherent question in Mandarin.

     I don’t remember the first question I asked, but as I far as I could tell the exchange between us went relatively smoothly. My second question, which I also asked in Mandarin, proved to be a disaster.

     “How did you develop an interest in the relationship between China and Taiwan?”

     This question is a little awkwardly phrased in English, and even more so in Chinese, but I didn’t know how to say cross-straight relations, so I figured I would work around it. This strategy was not the wisest one: there was cultural ambassador sitting right in front of me. I could have written down my question and asked a native speaker for her help. But I didn’t. And now I was in a situation where I wasn’t understood, and the result was not getting plain dumplings instead of the spicy ones I wanted. I was proving this jerk right—maybe my language skills weren’t up to snuff.

     Everyone else seemed to understand my question, and a few of the other cultural ambassadors repeated what I said, hoping to clarify the situation, to no avail. He took the last two characters of my question, (兴趣, the word for “interest”)and changed them into a word I didn’t recognize. He asked me if his new word was what I meant, and I nodded eagerly, hoping he would answer my question and be done with it. He gave a slightly more detailed history of cross-straight relations, which was informative, but didn’t answer my question. I left the question and answer session miffed and deflated.

     On the way back, I talked to Angel, one of the graduate students I have bilingual sessions with once a week. As a native New Yorker who talks quickly in English, I find comfort in his “machine gun Mandarin”, as he jokingly calls it. The Taiwanese linger over their vowels, and insert extra vowels when there isn’t necessarily a grammatical need for one. Angel, a native Malaysian, does not do this when he speaks. He plows through one word after another, never bothering to spend more time on one syllable that absolutely necessary. The result is that the syllables merge together, forcing the listener to pick out the important words, thereby gauging his overall meaning. Because Angels is not Taiwanese, I felt a little more comfortable telling Angel exactly what I thought of the official. Angel eagerly validated my complaints, but also gave me some important cultural insights. No one had bothered asking the official anything because they already knew that he would not offer any of his own personal opinions. His speech would be just information that could be accessed by newspapers. I realized then that the official had deliberately sidestepped my question under the guise of a language barrier, because I had bothered to ask about his own personal life outside of his credentials. Angel told me not to worry about not being understood, because he and the other cultural ambassadors were happy to see me try I still felt snubbed, but I was glad I had someone like Angel to help me learn from my cultural faux pas and to encourage me to keep speaking Chinese in spite of my mistakes.

     I have a midterm this week. I am going to study hard, because I want to remember the proper grammar patterns and correct ways of phrasing questions in order to be ready for my next close encounter of the Taiwanese kind.

Friday, October 1, 2010

A lot has happened in three weeks.

Hey, everyone!  Sorry it's been so long since my last post.  Suffice it to say that I've been spending the last few weeks trying to establish a routine in the midst of adjusting to Taiwan.  That's my fancy way of saying that getting up for class at eight in the morning has been a challenge, and I've only been going to bed at a more or less regular time since Sunday.

I've also been emotionally processing a lot of things.  Since I last blogged, I've heard news of two natural deaths and a suicide from back home.  I would like to extend my condolences to the Everdells, the Laguerres, and the Millers.  Nora Miller, a current junior at my home university, burned herself alive near the track field two weeks ago.  I met her father, who works for my university, when my room was accidentally cleaned out last semester.  He was very kind and helpful.  I cannot imagine the amount of pain Nora must have been in to cause her to do such a thing, nor can I understand the anguish her family is experiencing.  I pray that Nora has finally found peace, and that her family can one day conclude that their daughter's death was not in vain.

I turned 21 last week, a milestone to be sure, but what kind of milestone remains to be seen.  I celebrated the occasion by riding cable cars up the mountains near my current university (see my Facebook photos), drinking tea, eating pizza, and dancing with other CIEE students at a rock and roll club.  I am deeply enjoying branching out and meeting new people.  Classes are not too hard, which allows me a lot of free time to take walks, try new food, and gaze at the glittering Taipei skyline that stretches below my university.  Every day I take another step outside of my comfort zone, and every day my past life in America seems farther and farther away from me.  Some of my classmates from CIEE speak longingly of their lives back home.  I can tell they ache for the familiar, to be surrounded by things and people they recognize.  I try to listen, but I can't say I understand.  I have never quite been able to find my own niche in America, so the chance for a clean break is something that feels long overdue.

The novelty of being in a different country is slowly beginning to wear off, but I've strategically postponed some adventures in order not to lose my sense of wonder.  Most of the CIEE students are leaving in December.  I'm not, so I don't share their sense of urgency to go clubbing three times a week or try a new restaurant across town every other night. I've deliberately not visited Taipei 101 or gone to the Shida night market.  I want to avoid the exhausted indifference of a jaded expat.  This week I've been feeling a little run down (I'm actually doing my homework during the week) and during class I've made myself take note of the majestic scenery outside my window.  Gauzy clouds, delicate as lace curtains, drape themselves over lush green mountains.  As the morning progresses, the sky shifts its color from a pastel grey to a blushing azure.  Taipei 101 rises alone above the winding freeways while cars whizz by with the air of industrious bees.  This is my daily view of the world.  I dare not take it for granted.

Some of my new expat comrades have felt the screeching halt of the honeymoon period.  I haven't yet; I'm letting the notion that Taipei is my new home creep up slowly on me.  Occasionally I miss certain things from home (weekend brunch foods, humidity below 85%, books in English), but Facebook, Skype, GChat and AIM keep me up to date on all of you, so I am not very homesick.  What's more, every night I share my bed with Sam, by pink stuffed rabbit from childhood, and my copy of the Bible discreetly titled "The Scriptures".  When you're away from home, it's interesting to find what things provide comfort.  I hope that you are all happy to know that Sam and the Scriptures (stupid band name?) do an excellent job.

Monday, September 6, 2010

First Day of Classes!

Alas, I am sorry to disappoint some of you.  My camera does not have the necessary USB cable to connect with the computer, and my camera's memory card is not compatible with my laptop.  So you all will have to make do with my descriptive powers until I can upload pictures.  Sorry!

As the title of this post suggests, today was the first day of classes at the Chinese Language Center at National Chengchi University.  One of the main reasons I studied abroad was to learn in a classroom with people who were completely different from me, and my wish was certainly granted.  I was the only American, and the youngest person in the class.  My classmates include: a middle-aged Canadian woman currently living in Taiwan with her husband and two children; a recent university graduate from London; a half Taiwanese, half Italian model; a Korean woman; and two Japanese women.  Both of the Japanese girls are graduates from vocational school and have worked for several years.  One of the girls is learning Chinese in hopes of communicating with future clientèle at a clothing store she wishes to open one day; the other is learning for the heck of it.  In her words, "why not?"

My professor, Teacher Zhang, is lovely.  She is extremely attractive, with eyelashes that curl as delicately as butterfly antennae over a pair of mahogany eyes.  She told us she always wanted to be a teacher, though she added parenthetically she had not anticipated teaching foreigners Chinese.  She had married at twenty-eight and had had two children, a daughter of six and a son of two and a half.  The daughter has just enrolled at the elementary school next to my dormitory. Teacher Zhang is thirty-five years old this year.  I was shocked when she told us her age.  Her smooth, well-defined cheekbones, easy smile and youthful style would have suggested her to be in her mid- to late twenties.

Even more surprising to me was the general relaxed nature of the class.  I anticipated drills on characters I was supposed to have known but long forgotten; reading aloud a soporific text followed by an equally mind-numbing question-and-answer session; and a pile of homework that would have taken me two and half hours to complete when I got home.  None of these things happened.  Instead, Teacher Zhang prepared questions we had to answer on dry-erase boards in Chinese.  Some of the questions were a little bland, like "My friend has good grades but no money for college, what should he do?" but everyone came up with creative answers and a lively discussion ensued.

The model, Dani, and I agreed on a few points.  The best way to learn a language quickly and well is to acquire a significant other who is a native speaker of that language.  A good method to cure shallow men is to provide them with a girlfriend as beautiful as the moon but is otherwise useless.  She seemed rather worldly, too: she knew by looking at my face that I was of Latin descent, which impressed me greatly, because to most people here I am just a foreigner.  Dani is from Rome and speaks six languages, flashes a beaming smile and has a terrific sense of humor.  She's far from the high strung, self-absorbed dimwit I had made most models out to be.  Nor is she stick thin.  I'll make a point of asking her where her favorite places are to eat.

After class was a brief welcoming reception for all the international students.  I met people from Hungary, the Netherlands, Ireland, and Swaziland.  There are also quite a few students from Central and South America here as well.  It's very interesting to be in Taiwan and to hear so much Spanish spoken.

Scott, the British university graduate, accompanied me to the bookstore after the welcome party to the bookstore and walked me back to my dorm.  He is quite British, quite gay, and quite chummy.  He teased me good-naturedly  about my being the baby of the class.  He was equally surprised as I was at how friendly our teacher is, because we're both accustomed to Beijing teachers who only reveal a drop or two of personal information after months of acquaintance and all but shriek if you get one word wrong in a sentence.  Could it be that this kind of guanxi (relationship) between teacher and student is not the best way to learn a language?   Whatever the answer is, I know that I am not in China anymore.

Wednesday, September 1, 2010

Rain, Rain, Rain

First of all, I'd like to congratulate Andrea and Taharqa Patterson on the birth of their twin daughters this morning.  You guys are awesome.  My trip to Taiwan has officially been one-upped.  You can go abroad anytime, but you only procreate, on average, 2.6 times (if you're American).  I'm a little bit overwhelmed by the fact that when I get back, they'll almost be a year old.

So, my first week in Taiwan has been hot and humid, but for the last three days it has rained almost constantly because of a typhoon passing by on the southwest coast of the island.  It wouldn't be so bad if it were not for the fact that for the last two days we've been on a field trip in the center of Taiwan, so it's been a pain.  Yesterday we toured a stunningly beautiful Buddhist monastery--it would be more accurate to call it a palace.  One of the most memorable parts was on the ninth floor where there was a large marble white Buddha in a white hall made out of white ceramic tiles.  The ceramic tiles had a highly reflective surface, causing the statue to appear as if it were floating on a white pool of water.  There were two other Buddhas in the flanking halls, but I forget what they represented.  There were a lot of Buddhas:  there was a hall of ten thousand Buddhas on copper plates, there was a gold-plated "magnificent" Buddha flanked by two white marble "healing" Buddhas on the fifth floor, and lots of bodhisattvas and dharmas.  I'm glad I got a good introduction to Buddhism at Wesleyan, so I wasn't totally lost when the nun was explaining the tenents and history of Buddhism.  Even so, there were a lot of Buddhas and gods to keep track of.  I don't know how some people do it.  I have a hard enough time maintaining a relationship with One.

After the temple we toured a brand-new multi-lingual school connected with the monastery, and then went to a "paper church"--which turned out to disappoint everyone.  We all thought we were going to a church made of paper.  Instead, we found ourselves at a random glass-plated building in the middle of nowhere.  Maybe the paper was inside the glass walls?  Lame.

Today, we went do I even phrase this?  An aborignial-themed amusement park.  It was a bit like  Disneyland: you take cable cars over the mountain to get there, there are fast food restaurants all over the place, and almost all the employees are wearing aboriginal-style costumes.  I didn't really have a good time.  I didn't want to go on the roller coasters (speed+height=do not want) and it was raining the whole day, so I walked around with a couple of the students from the program and cultural ambassadors.  I wore an absurd yellow poncho that made me look like a giant soggy duck, and I still got wet.  I went to a aboriginal culture show, but I didn't understand any of the Mandarin spoken, and I don't know any of the   aboriginal history, so to me it just looked like a bunch of people dancing in brightly-colored costumes.  There were some model houses with some fake people inside to show what life was like.  At that point, I didn't really care.  I just went inside them to get out of the rain.

Later on, we went to a carnival warehouse with some small roller coasters and other little rides.  I'm pretty sure it had absolutely nothing to do with Taiwanese culture, but going on the rides was fun after a long, bothersome, wet day.

I've been here for a week and a half now, and I'm realizing one thing is for certain:  I'm not in China.  When I told family and friends I was going to Taiwan, many of them replied, "Oh!  You're going to China!  How wonderful!"  Even then I knew that there was some differences,  after coming here, I can say for certain that Taiwan is NOT China.  First of all, it is CLEAN.  Even though there are squat toilets, almost all of the public bathrooms are clean and are supplied with toilet paper, sinks with running water, and soap.  The people are much friendlier and polite.  No one has stared at me, called out to me, or solicited me.  There is much greater freedom of expression and religious practice, and an atmosphere much more conducive to discussion.  And did I mention it rains a lot here?

Tomorrow we're going to look at some more stuff (train station?  Earthquake site?  Pagoda?) and then we're going back to Taipei.  I can't wait.  I don't like being in a place without a subway for more than a couple of days.  Pictures to come, promise.



Monday, August 30, 2010

Sometimes it's okay to do things against your better judgement.

I'll be honest: I don't like the idea of posting a travel blog.  I had a long conversation with a classmate from my study abroad program against the idea of travel blogging and I'm no more in favor of it than I was last night.  To a large extent, I feel it is an unoriginal  way for me to hurriedly cram anecdotes into a space on the interwebs when I can just as easily regale my friends and family with tales of my adventures upon my return.  I like to think of myself as a pretty good storyteller, but even so, my pictures speak volumes for me.  Isn't that what Facebook is for?


I was reading my current favorite blog, called "The Rejectionist".  The author is an editorial assistant at a famous New York publishing house.  Her posts are not only wacky and hilarious and insightful, they occasionally feature posts from other writers.  And these guest posts, as she called them, were good.  Really good.  And finally, I thought to myself: it doesn't matter how  many times I've tried and failed to start a blog; it doesn't matter if I don't think I'm as good of a writer as these bloggers who seem to ooze talent and new ideas from every pore of their being.  I'm going to write.  About Taiwan, about my thoughts, about books, about the world as I see it.  As much as I can.  Ideally, I would like to use this space for disciplined creativity--I keep telling people I want to write a full-length novel, but that's going to be pretty hard to do if I let my writing skills atrophy.  You don't run a marathon without training--writing's not much different.

So, don't expect too many pictures or anecdotes.  Yes, I'm in Taiwan and it's amazing, but right now I'm a bit more concerned with why I'm here, not just that I'm here.  I'm about to sign off now, so I will share a short update before going to sleep.

Today my classmates and I took a Chinese placement test, had lunch in a Yunan-style restaurant, went to the National Palace museum and the Shulin night market.  All of these things were fine except for the fact that it rained.  All.  Day.  Long.  I left the restaurant to get my umbrella back in my dorm and accidentally walked in the wrong direction, which left me soaked so I changed my clothes when I finally reached my room.  It was certainly a good day to go to a museum, which was filled with bronze and stone carvings from the respective Bronze and Neolithic Ages, but my clothes never fully dried.  Supposedly there's a typhoon coming in a couple of days, which intrigues me.  I have never witnessed any kind of extreme weather, so I'm fascinated by the idea of trees flailing helplessly in the wind while heavy rain all but flies horizontally.  Tomorrow, my group is off to the center of Taiwan for a two-day cultural immersion trip of some kind.  I wish I could provide more details, but so far my head is more or less spinning from following around my group as we move from place to place.  I'm looking forward to the beginning of classes when things will settle into more of a routine.  But, yes, Taiwan is awesome and I'm glad I'm here.

Good night,