Thursday, 28 June 2012

5 Things to Get Used To



1.       Drinking warm water, ALL THE TIME

2.       Cold Showers ( very refreshing)

3.       Wearing slippers everywhere inside

4.       Really, really humid nights

5.       Washing Laundry by hand (but that might just be me…) 

Happy

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!! 

Big in Japan







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 (). 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?
It's best to stick with what we know. 






Wednesday, 27 June 2012

Being a Foreigner


           
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 been feeling.

  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 seclusion. 

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 Mitch Albom.

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 person.

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.  


Monday, 25 June 2012

Supper Time


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.

He's not as serious as he looks. 

It's looking right at you!

Delicious
yi, er, san :)
      

Artificial Environment


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 bread!! Yum. 

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.   








  

Saturday, 23 June 2012

Spiders



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?”




     

Friday, 22 June 2012

Registration Day



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:

: Hello, I’m Mr. Wang!

: Mr. Wang, Hello! How are you?

: I’m good how are you Mrs. Zheng?

: I’m very yellow (oops*) I mean hungry. How are you?

: I’m very angry (wrong*) I mean busy right now. How about we eat lunch together after I finish work?

: Sounds good!

: Okay, goodbye! 
   
: 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 getting lost.






Wednesday, 20 June 2012

Time Games



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 black).

Great.

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.  

Tuesday, 19 June 2012

1st Day



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.

Grinning I replied “I’m from Jianada!” (加拿大)


Sunday, 17 June 2012

Express Yourself

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!