I am so happy right now. I just got back from signing the lease on my new place and it's perfect. I thought that since I would be living with other foreigners I wouldn't have a chance to practice my Chinese but they all speak Mandarin! They speak much better than I can which means I can practiced with them.
Basically I will be living in a basement suite that has a shared common area ( kitchen, living room) with three other roommates. It has unlimited A/C and utilities are all included in the rent. The best part is my rent is 4000 NT cheaper then I thought it would be. Because I am signing over another girl's lease the Landlord decided to lower my rent which includes the damage deposit. Yeah!
This leaves me with more money to work with during the month and it's not all tied up in the damage deposit which I will get back when I leave in August. I'm very excited to move in and feel like a big weight has been lifted off me. Tomorrow is orientation day and I'm proud to say that I even have plans for the weekend. (How is that for moving fast?). Everything is falling together and I'm no longer dreading the next few days. Hooray!!
I met a really interesting girl today! Her name is Marie,
and she works on the set designs for soap operas and a famous Japanese boy band,
called Arashi (嵐).
The literal translation is “storm” and I hear they are a big deal.
She showed me some pictures of her with the cast and crew and kept pointing at all people saying how famous they were. I nodded my head in agreement even though I didn’t have the faintest clue. What endeared me to her the most was that soon after I met her she went to look out the window and accidently pushed the screen out of place. I did the exact same thing when I first arrived so I was able to help her out. We went walking around and compared famous singers and actors. She knew who Eric Clapton was! Turns out he is quite popular there and her father is a big fan of his. Also she really likes the Backstreet Boys but now Justin Beiber has replaced them as her favorite. I really wanted to ask if she had heard of Martin Solveig's song “ Big in Japan” but I chickened out. What if it she hasn't, and it turns out there not?
I had some free time today so I went to explore my new university.
I’m studying at the Mandarin Training Centre (MTC) which is part of National
Taiwan Normal University (NTNU). The NTNU campus is very large and I made the
mistake of getting lost in it. My campus it turns out is on the other side of
the road. It has a huge archway that you walk under and directly to your left
is the library building. To tell the truth I didn’t get much farther than that.
The library has a vast collection of Chinese and English books. I tried in vain
to read some the literary works in Chinese but I could only make out a small
part of it. What was really interesting though was a book I found in English, Interpersonal Behaviour: The Psychology of
Social Interaction by Joseph P. Forgas. A reason I was drawn to that book
is how I have been feeling of late.
When I’m with English speakers I enjoy
myself but feel as if I am missing out on the ‘real experience' of Taiwan, yet
when I’m with Taiwanese or Chinese friends I feel bewildered and overloaded
with words I don’t understand. In both situations I can feel isolated from
those around me and I wonder what my true goal in coming here was. What I liked
about the book I started reading was how it helped put into perspective what I’ve
It starts out by saying
how for most of human history people have existed in small family units,
surrounded by kin and friendly acquaintances. There were never any strangers or
new faces to see because people lived and died in this small familiar group.
Now, in the 21st Century, everything is different! Due to many
factors, like urbanization, and industrialization we are constantly surrounded
by those we don’t know. Meeting someone on the street we recognize is more a
novelty then the norm. This sudden change in society takes adapting too. We
suddenly have to interact with others on a more regular bases and it becomes
more complex since we deal with people from different, races, and religion.
This can lead to I believe in either enhanced social skills or the opposite, a decline
in human interaction. People can become so nervous and unconfident it leads to
The author borrowed a definition from Phillip Zimbardo which I quite like. Zimbardo defines shyness as the” code word for all the forces within each of us, as well
as those pressures from society, that combine to isolate us from one another”. I find this amusing because it’s so true. Sometimes there is a lot of pressure,
real or imagined, to stop me from interacting with others. I’m always aware of
how I may be perceived by others or what assumptions they might make from
looking at me. If I think about it too much the opportunity passes and then they
just become another unfamiliar person. This is why my all time favorite quote
is “strangers are just people you haven’t met yet” from the novel The Five People You Meet in Heaven by
It may be true that we live in a society that is fast paced
and seemingly impersonal, yet I think the coldness we observe in others can be
due to our own making. If we look hard enough we will find the faults and
shortcomings we strain to see, and this justification of our preconceived notions doesn't do us any good . An important, but uncomfortable,
part of traveling is the continually laying bare of biases I wasn’t even aware
I had. It makes for some inner wrestling matches which can be just as exhausting
as physical exercise. At the end of the day though, I hope it makes me a better
I know there are thousands of self-help books or
instructions on How to Win Friends and
Influence People ( Dale Carnegie) ,but
it can’t make up for the actual doing part. It’s stepping out of your comfort
zone and talking with others that will do the trick. So as much as I like my
little hide-away on the top bunk of a 6 person dorm, I am going to leave its
comfort. I’m going to go stretch my legs by walking in the night air. I will pass
under neon lights and listen to the hum of the city that vibrates from the
sidewalk shops. I may not speak to anyone, but if the occasion arises to buy
some treats from a vendor on the road, I'll grab it. You never know who you may meet on the streets of Taipei.
Today was really fun! I made friends with another person at
the hostel and we spent the whole day together sightseeing and eating. Her name
is Vivian and she lives on a small island from Taipei called Kinmen. She speaks
fluent Chinese and hardly any English. This made it fun for us to try and communicate
and we did pretty well!
A little secret of mine is I haven't been able to eat very much Taiwanese food while I've been here. The problem being all the signs are in characters and most of the shop owners speak limited English. It's hard to overcome the language barrier especially when you are hungry. I do the best I can but for the most part I either don't know what I am ordering or go to a place that understands English. Unfortunately the latter option includes higher prices and I'm only on a student budget. Thankfully I met Vivian!
In the Morning we woke-up at 6:30am just to be first in
line for some Baozi a type of steamed
filled bun. After breakfast we went our separate ways but met up for lunch
eating some take out. I had no idea what was going on so she had to do all of
the ordering for me. It ended up being delicious and lasted me most of the day.
To end off the night we went out to eat with one of her good friends who works
and lives here. He spoke absolutely no English but was impressed with my
limited Chinese speaking skills. Dinner was really good and I mostly just
listened to them chatting away in Mandarin while I devoured my food. Whenever I didn't know how to eat something the guy would mimic eating it for me. Vivian
also, in an attempt to be helpful, started feeding me as well because the tofu is
so slippery to pick up! I finally got the hang of it but by that time it was all gone.
Yesterday I was introduced to a lot of new people and most
of them were Americans. One family was very kind and invited me over for
dinner; they were going to have spaghetti. Of course I jumped at the chance, I love free food and they even have a daughter my age. They
live in a huge condo type building a few minutes by car from Taipei. This was
big news to me since I hadn't ridden in a car, excluding a taxi, since I
arrived in Taiwan. Mostly though, I just hadn't met anyone who owned a vehicle
until then. I hangout with a rough crowd you see.
So since I’m used to taking the MRT everywhere, and standing for long
periods of time, sitting in the car was a luxury and I quite enjoyed it. We parked
underground and took the elevator up to their place. The elevator was freezing
cold in an attempt, I assume, to compensate for the heat outside. Here I thought Canadians
were the crazy ones about their A/C! It must just be my brother Dan.
While I stepped inside the place I was struck by how North American
it was. There was a granite island counter top in the middle of the kitchen, and they had a
spacious living room area. All the cupboards were annoyingly high, and of
course we can’t forget the plasma TV. The only hint of being in a different country
was the view of Taipei 101 from the sprawling windows. Once accustomed to the new
setting I reverted back to my Canadian etiquette. I took my shoes off at the
door and helped set the table. I remembered where the knives and forks go and even folded the napkins by each plate. The meal was very good and they gave me garlic
Afterwards, we chatted at the table and played cards games. We used a deck of cards I had stowed away in my backpack from home, I knew they were going to come in handy someday! For extra measure they even have maple leaves on them in case anyone is
confused about their origin. After a while it was time to say my goodbyes and I walked to the Metro station. It wasn't until I was riding the escalator down to
the platform that I took a deep breath in, exhaled, and felt like I had found Taiwan again.
Anyone who knows me knows, I am not a big fan of the creepy
crawlers. It’s ironic since I’m the traveling type who likes to go to countries
that don’t have the same type of standards we’re used to in North America or
just no standards at all. Supposedly my brother tried to cure me of this
irrational fear when I was child by putting small spiders in my hair, and much
good that did me.
Anyways, I had to switch hostels because my stay was up in
the one I've been living at for the last few days. Sad to say the new hostel
can’t compare at all. It’s in this gigantic building in the middle of nowhere.
I couldn't find the bus stop so I had to take a taxi there and even the taxi
driver got lost. He didn’t charge me extra thankfully, but I could tell he was glad to get
out of there. Arriving by taxi is pretty stylish, eh? I thought so and was sure I was
going to make some sort of big dramatic entrance! But there was no one there…. It
was like a ghost hotel and the only people alive were at the front desk and
they were about to go too.
So I checked in and gloomily made my way to the elevator, the
thoughts of fame and grandeur slowly slipping from my mind. My room was on the
eighth floor, and perhaps to save electricity, all the hall lights were off.
Using the eerie glow of lights behind bedroom doors to guide me I found my
room. The room was functional and I had my own bathroom and T.V. which was
nice. After putting my things away I sat on my bed and started going through my
receipts and calculating how much I've spent so far in Taiwanese Dollars. Fun
stuff. Just as I was in the middle of these gruelling mental calculations I
looked up and saw a huge hairy spider on the wall opposite the bed. It was brown,
the size of a plate, and I could almost see its beady black eyes staring at
me. Freaking out inside, I calmly stowed
my receipts, and any breakable objects, away. Then I tried to decide what to
do next. I could go the wimpy route and go get
help, or I could use the very thin strips of toilet paper they gave me to kill
it and throw it in the garbage. Obviously I went the cowardly way. I ran to the
elevator and then waited, and waited, and waited. The doors opened I stepped in
and then waited and waited. The doors closed.
I reached the front desk and told them about my problem.
They weren’t even surprised, turns out this happens a lot. They told me not to
worry because most spiders in Taiwan are not poisonous but if I’d like they
would come get rid of it for me. Yes, please. Once we reached my room the spider was kind
enough to show its face before it disappeared behind the cabinet. Unable to
reach it, they told me to just dial 9 if it came back. WHAT! There I am 9pm at
night alone in my room with a freaky spider and I KNOW it’s there somewhere
just ready to pounce. Thankfully I didn’t have to wait too long before it came back
out, I dialed 9 and they were quick to respond as if I gave them marching
orders. While I waited I sat in the washroom the only safe place in the vicinity.
They came, they saw, they got rid of it. I was disappointed to see that within
the time frame of first seeing it, the spider somehow had shrunk to only being the
size of my hand. After knowing it was gone, and checking the room twice for more, I very carefully wrapped myself up in my blankets so I made a cocoon. I turned
on my computer and sent my Mom a very strange Skype message. The gist of it was
“Hey, Mom! …. Are spiders scared of the light?”
I survived registration day! Not only that but I did rather
well if I do say so myself J
What happens is they take you through a six-step process from
giving you a student ID number, to paying tuition fees, to taking a proficiency
test. I had the luck of being in line right behind another Canadian so we had a
good talk about how we felt about Taiwan so far. We both felt like our Chinese
wasn’t very good and were nervous for the oral test. I was number 32 and when I
asked the helper if my number was going to be called in Chinese or English he
just looked at me funny. My number thankfully was called in Chinese. The lady
interviewing me was very sweet and I think she could tell I was pretty self-conscious.
Right after I sat down I gave her sad puppy dog eyes and we both burst out
laughing. It works every time! After that I felt much less embarrassed and did
my best in reading and speaking. I was surprised at how much I actually knew. I
could understand all her questions with exception of a few words which I haven't learned yet, or only knew the old-fashioned word for. Reading is really my strength, and I
did well, but had to guess a few times at certain words. A typical conversation I can read out-loud goes like this:
“男: Hello, I’m Mr. Wang!
女: Mr. Wang, Hello! How are you?
男: I’m good how are you Mrs. Zheng?
女: I’m very yellow (oops*) I mean hungry. How are you?
男: I’m very angry (wrong*) I mean busy right now. How about we eat lunch
together after I finish work?
女: Sounds good!
男: Okay, goodbye!
As you can tell I am in a class all of my own.
The whole process went by fairly quickly and
there were a lot of volunteers to herd us around. Being a Huayu Enrichment
student I had a couple extra responsibilities as well. One was going to the
National Immigrant Agency and getting a record of ID so I can open a post office account. My one pet peeve I would have to say is how everyone thinks the directions they give me are so clear, “It’s Xiao Nan Men Station Exit 2, right in front of
you”.It is not! It was a block over and then take a left. Then walk into the wrong building and get directions
to go right, and then take an elevator up to the 3rd floor.I finally found it but really when it comes
to directions I am like a child. Please speak slowly and use exaggerated face
expressions, that way I have something to smile about while I am on my way
I keep messing up the time! Yesterday I met a friendly
person living at the same hostel I am, and we agreed to go for dinner. They
meant later in the evening and I meant immediately. I contribute it to poor
English skills on their side and over eagerness on mine. We finally figured it out
after an embarrassing stalker like scene on the sidewalk. I wasn't sure where
we were meeting so I waited by the front entrance. They came by at the same
time but for window shopping… (I tried to act like a mannequin.) In the end we
figured it out and had a really good evening at a local restaurant. The restaurant
was a bit fancy, you could tell from the dim lighting and menu prices, and I
would liken it to an Earls or Moxie’s back home. That being said it only costed me $6 Canadian.
The other time issue happened today at 3:00 AM. The back
story is I'm a bit nervous for today because it is registration day and that means a Chinese proficiency test. I already freeze up whenever someone talks
to me in Mandarin and on top of that I have been out of Chinese classes for 2
months! I don’t remember anything, and I really hope they ask easy questions.
This weighing on my mind I set my alarm for 6am and dove, Michael Phelps style,
into my bed for a good night’s sleep. I was dead tired and went to sleep
immediately. I awoke even though my alarm didn’t go off and my clock said it
was 8:30 am! I panicked and in groggy mode decided the first thing I needed to
do was wash my face haha, I don’t know why. After that I went into my room and
checked my e-mails while simultaneously looking online for the time in Taipei.
The internet said 3:00AM and I was really confused! Deciding to trust the
internet, it’s always right anyways, I re-set my watch. (I also took a look outside and it was pitch
Now I am up at 3AM with a racing heart and nothing to do. I
guess I will start packing for registration day and on top of that I'm changing hostels
since I only booked this place for 2 nights. Well I hope the new place is ready for this
hostile takeover!! Ya… I’m a bit tired.
I was never so glad to get out of an airplane. Landing in
Taiwan was the end of a very long flight and a day that seemed to have no
ending. Sleeping and movie watching was the only thing to break up the monotony
of continuous air mode. As well, I never
noticed this before, did you know they adjust the hall lights to help you
get into the sleeping pattern of the country you’re headed to? It’s hard to
sleep in bright florescent lights. You have to choose between
covering your eyes with the blanket they give you or to cover your legs to stop them from being cold. Decision, decisions. I did watch lots of movies though and now have a complete fill of all things TV.
Once landed, I went through customs and collected my
checked luggage without any problems. The big thing was trying to find the
shuttle bus to Taipei. What I do when I’m not sure what to do in airports is follow the crowd. Luckily the bus station was clearly
marked and everyone was going their anyways. Once on the bus I had to fight falling asleep in
order to take in my surroundings. Taiwan I noticed right from the start is very
luscious. That is the best way to describe the environment and its tropical
weather. Headed into the city there was a lot of low rise buildings in
different states of repair. There is also lots of construction on these massive
bridges sprawling over the top of the road. The highway was four lanes each way
and for the most part there wasn’t a lot of honking drivers or yelling going
on. Funny enough, the first honk I heard corresponded with the first time I
heard the bus’s signal light being used. Mopeds and cars weave through construction
like needlework. I was worried I would miss my stop since the driver announced them them in Mandarin not English. I decided to then sit up front and tell
him straight out I was looking for Taipei Main Station stop. He said “Okay”
like it was his personal duty to chauffeur me there regardless of the other passengers.
Once at the stop I grabbed my luggage and was off to find the hostel. On their
website they gave detail instruction on how to get there and it actually made
sense! I wasn’t able to make it in the 10 minutes approx. timeline, because I
am a slow walker AND had luggage, but I made it nonetheless.
The Hostel I’m staying at is clean, functional, and has security like a maximum prison. It’s not quite that bad but it feels like it to me. An electronic key they give you is
required for all outside and indoor entrances. Also the doors once you past
them make this suction noise as if to say “ Welcome to the Hotel California".The place is really nice though and the staff is friendly. I had a shower ASAP and went walking around
for food and an ATM machine. I found both, and thank goodness for debit visas,
they work here! I felt strange all day though having headaches and alternating
between exhaustion and agitation. I finally realized at 2pm that I hadn’t had
water all day so I picked up a big bottle at nearby convenient store. As I was
paying for my merchandise the cashier asked me where I was from, just then Beiber’s “Boyfriend” song started playing in the background.
The inspiration for starting this blog came from a conversation with two close friends. After walking around the park on a beautiful Friday evening, we sat down on an "idyllic" bench. I never knew this before but bench sitting is an art. It has to have the right mixture of sunlight, shade, and scenery. Seeing as the best part of a walk for me is the sitting part (walking is the necessary evil to get to a perfect place to sit) this is the part I remember the most.
We were talking about how we could keep in contact over the next two years when I am in China. Twitter is out, since I have never had an account, and Facebook might be hard to get to, so no more status updates for me.We finally decided on a blog, a private journal for the whole world to read! Oh joy. I will mostly write about myself (I can be narcissistic that way) and about the country I'll be living in and the many adventures that come my way. I will post photos and if you're lucky, even videos of myself - but no singing ones.
I am glad to say that finally, today is the DAY. I leave Canada tonight and fly to Taiwan. I am excited since it has been all I have thought about for the past couple of months. I have my passport, visa's, and a really heavy suitcase. Seriously this thing weighs almost half as much as I do - but it feels a whole lot heavier. I will leave you to figure out the math on that.
First adventure update to follow - when the plane touches down in Taiwan!