Taiwan in Review: Day In, Day Out

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November 7th 2011
Published: November 7th 2011
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Hello again, in an effort to get caught up on these, I’m going to try to make a push this week to get these done. Last time, I talked about my arrival in Taibei, my dorm, and my surrounding location. Now, we will conversate (yes, I know it’s converse, I just want to mess with Dad) about the daily life of Robby Hanckel, boss extraordinaire.

From Sept 4th to Nov 7th:
So I guess I’ll just do a weekly schedule so y’all get the idea of my daily life. Before I start, it’s interesting to note that classes here (except for languages) are only once a week, but it’s a 3 hour super block. It’s an interesting format, and generally speaking, I like it. Though if I was still doing pre-med and had to do a 3 hour chem super block, I’d want to kill myself.
Starting on Monday, I have Chinese from 8:20 to 10:20, and then Introduction to Classical Chinese Philosophy (ICCP) from 10:30 to 1:20. Admittedly, I do not like philosophy; it’s a bunch of people arguing about the most abstract academic topic to ever exist. That being said, learning about Chinese Philosophy is a lot more interesting than any western philosophy. “Oh, there’s a shadow, but you can’t see it who’s making it, cause you’re in a cave, and you’re not mentally capable of turning around.” Stop. At least Chinese Philosophy is set in something – do this, so society becomes better. That’s why Confucianism and what not gets confused with religions. Sadly, the class is still the driest of all the classes. It’s nothing but a student presentation followed by a 2 hour lecture. And the professor’s English is not fantastic. But in all fairness, he told us the first day of class that every department has to have one class taught in English, and he was the only professor that knew any English in the Philosophy department, so he had to teach despite his English limitations – though he’s Japanese so his Japanese is fantastic. But I’m still learning a bit, and the homework is pretty easy – well until we have to write that 6 page essay in a few weeks. But after that I’m free for the day, where I normally die in my bed for 4 hours, and then I wake up and crunch out some homework for a while, grab dinner, and go back to sleep. Before I actually was apart of the Team Handball team (as opposed to the handball that’s like racquetball … with your hand) but practices were twice a week for FOUR hours, and that was too much time out of two days, and I’d be so tired after classes, I just didn’t have the energy for handball and homework. It’s a shame cause handball was fun, but I just couldn’t pull off the time for it. Also the way it was formatted kind of felt like a waste of time. Monday was fine because it was all drills, but Wednesday was scrimmages, but there is only 1 court and at least 7 teams worth of people for the males and 2 for the women, and we’d alternate between men and women’s matches. Each game was 20 minutes (running) so I’d be waiting 2 hours before I could actually play. However, after I stopped handball I did start to put on a bit of a belly, so I’ve started working out again, which has been nice (and only takes 30 min a day).
Ok, so on to Tuesday: Chinese from 8:20 to 10:20, a break, and then computational linguistics from 1:30 to 4:20. Computational Linguistics might be the easiest class I’m taking. Well, not that it’s easy, but it I’m defiantly doing the best in that class more than any other class. Programming is just hitting the right key with me; I get to be analytical, it’s basically like learning a new language, which is fairly easy because linguistics uses Python coding, and the professor, Shu-Kai, is amazing. Also the TA, Taco (no, seriously, that’s her English name, which I think comes from a Romanization of her Japanese name) is amazing as well, and makes going to extra help a lot more enjoyable than any extra help experience I’ve had at Chapel Thrill. And so far I’ve gotten nothing but A+’s on the homework, though I’ve got a midterm tomorrow. Lame.
So on Tuesdays and Fridays I was meeting with and engaged couple as language partners for lunch for about an hour. (It’s past tense because starting this week I’m meeting them just on Tuesdays, but for dinner at a 2-3 hour block). Early in the semester on the National Taiwan University’s (NTU) facebook page for the exchange students, a girl posted something about meeting a couple who wanted to have a language partner, and that she didn’t feel comfortable doing it because she was Austrian and didn’t speak English fluently (though I did meet her, and her English is quite good). So I posted a reply as fast as I could and after a few emails between the girl and then the couple, Jason and Silvia (btw, Silvia is an awesome English name more people need to start naming their children that), I started meeting with them for lunch. Initially Jason’s English was a lot better than Silvia’s, but Jason got busy for a while so I’d just meet with Silvia, and once she was put on the spot and got some practice (something I encouraged) her speaking abilities have greatly improved. It was also nice because for one lunch session it would be in all English, and then the other one in the week it would all be in Chinese – so we both got to practice in a full emersion setting, which was really helpful, and has kept me on top of some of my language skills. Furthermore, when Jason was finally free, it was cool to see that Silvia had caught up to him a lot in language ability (though I’d say that Jason is still better, but the gap is small at this point.)
Back to the lunch/food thing real quick – Taiwanese food is amazing! It’s basically a melting pot of Chinese and Japanese food with some Taiwanese flair mixed in. I can’t count the number of times Jason and Silvia have introduced me to new and delicious food. I keep feeling like a fool when I eat with them, cause I get so giddy after the first bite and it’s another dish that just blows my mind. Some stuff includes (but isn’t limited to): a dish that is like risotto, but in a milky soup form (taste a lot better than it sounds), shaved ice with this sweet glaze and red beans (red beans are a personal favorite, especially red bean paste), these unique jiaozi (dumplings) that aren’t in a classical jiaozi shape but are these long, fairly thing tubes (about a cm in diameter) that are fried, beef noodles (imagine creating noodles with beef, but instead of boiling them in water, they are boiled in a seasoned beef broth – it’s a Taiwanese specialty) and this place that boils whatever you want in a similar beef broth (when I ordered I had noodles, lettuce, baby bok-choi, golden mushrooms , other mushrooms, fish balls, sausage, spinach, bean sprouts, and this weird brick thing that’s rice and duck blood – taste was fine but the texture was rather strange – like it couldn’t decide if it wanted to be chewy or sticky. Note how many veggies I listed mom!). I can’t thank them enough for introducing me to all of this. Furthermore, drinks are huge here. Think of coffee culture in America, ignoring the whole morning rush thing. It’s a thing to go grab a cup of coffee with someone in America and go chill. Taiwan has made that look like child’s play. In addition to coffee shops, there are stores that sell: coffee tea, tea, iced tea, milk tea, bubble tea (tapioca balls at the bottom – taste better than it sounds), juice, mixed juices, bubble juices, mixed bubble juices, milk flavored with fruit, and milk. There is a whole market just for drinks that one would get as an afternoon snack, or would be bought instead of dessert. Taiwan just has an amazing food culture, and I have Jason and Silvia to thank for exposing me to a lot of it I might not have found otherwise.
So as for more information on Jason and Silvia: They told me they met at NTU while they were still in grad school, and that Jason took a class specifically to be in a class with Silvia (adorable) and basically it worked, and now they are engaged! It’s actually been really interesting learning about the wedding process here in Taiwan, because it’s become an awesome fusion of Classical Taiwanese and western style wedding (well, at least how they have chosen how to do it). So in classical Taiwanese wedding, after the initial question has been asked, there are a bunch of ceremonies that happen before the actual wedding that the US wouldn’t dream of. Like an official ceremony to ask the family’s permission, an official ceremony to decide the date, etc. None of these have happened for Jason and Silvia btw, but Silvia has told me a fair amount of them. Also for all the bridezilla’s out there, have a drool bucket ready. In the US (or at least what little I know about western weddings by attending my cousin’s wedding) there is only one real photo-shoot for the man and the woman all dressed up in the white gown and the tux, and generally that happens between the actual wedding ceremony and the reception, and normally the wedding dress doesn’t change between the two. In Taiwan, they have 5 photo-shoots way in advance with FIVE different dresses and then the woman gets to choose which one she wants at her wedding/reception. That blew my mind, and I know a few people that would die to do a photo-shoot in 5 different dresses before choosing which one they would like.
But of course planning your own wedding isn’t an occupation. Jason is currently working on his PhD (in what I’m totally blanking on right now, I’ll throw it in another blog when I remember), and Silvia is doing research for architectural planning (city and countryside). However, Silvia won a competition to go study abroad for her PhD if she can get into a program over there. Of course part of that is passing the TOEFL (English exam) which is the main reason they were looking for a language partner. That being said, they’ve been unbelievably nice to me, unbelievably helpful (see: food), and I don’t think I could have met a nicer couple.
Ok, on to Wednesday!!! So Wednesday, I have Chinese from 8:20 to 9:10, and then my friend Petter (more on him in another blog) and I have to duck out early to go to Languages in Taiwan from 9:30 to 12:20. The class started off being very interesting, and then very quickly got very boring as the first few weeks were learning basic linguistic concepts (that were easier than my Ling101 class back at UNC), then followed by a section on Mandarin (that I already knew. I don’t need a 3 hour lecture on measure words when I got the idea within the first 10 minutes of Chinese I back in High School) but not everyone in the class has the same background as me, Petter (a linguistics grad student), Roomie Ben (who is part of the reason I’m now a Chinese/Linguistic double major) and a few others in the class, nor is everyone a native English speaker, so I understand why the class has to move so slow. That being said, we started Southern Min last week (what’s referred to as Taiwanese) and class has become a lot more interesting. Also, the teacher got her grad/PhD from U of Hawaii, which has an amazing Linguistics program (might have to follow a certain cousin’s footsteps…). She said she would write Ben a recommendation letter if he ever applied, and I think I might be able to get her to do the same as well (I hope).
Thursday, back to the classic Chinese form 8:20 to 10:20 and then Lexicography from 10:30 to 1:20. Lexicography is basically studying the semantics of words, how it changes, how attributes can be assigned to words, and how ambiguity is the anti-Christ of the whole field of study (and yet a writers best friend.) I’d also like to note here that both the Lexicography and the Computational Linguistics courses are both grad school courses, which is part of the reason I am dying (also the fact that I’m taking 22 credit hours where 1 hour/week = 1 credit hour). However, Shu-Kai and Taco are my Teacher/TA combo for this class as well, so it’s been a lot of fun and very educational. Plus I’ve already had to do my two reading presentations, and Shu-Kai liked both of them a lot (Score! Boss status: Maintained).
And then it’s on to Friday, where I have just Chinese from – you guessed it – 8:20 to 10:20. Chinese classes here are very uninspiring. My teacher is great and funny, but the class goes at such a slow pace, I have a hard time concentrating/caring, especially after the super cram session that CET was. On average, we go over a lesson in two weeks, which incudes 40 new vocab words and 9 new grammars. In my mind, that should take half the time. I don’t know, it’s not really doing much to improve my Chinese, and next semester, I’ll probably only do 6 hours of Chinese a week (seeing as I have to pay for it next semester, and the 6 hours is cheaper, and I can probably get the same information out of it.) Also, class at 8:20 when you have other classes to worry about is really hard.
However, on Friday’s I just started doing a language exchange with a Korean girl, Dambi, I met last two weekends ago at a bar my friend works at. We sat down for coffee and talked and what not, and her English is struggling a little bit, but she’s a really smart girl, so I’m not too worried. I say she’s smart because she’s a freaking chemical engineering major – god dang it. She didn’t even know Chinese when she came to Taiwan (or very little) but over three years (she’s a junior btw) has gotten pretty good at it. And she said part of the reason she came to Taiwan is because of how friendly everyone is over here. Which is absolutely true. It’s also interesting because we talked about some cultural differences as well, including friendship. In America, you basically meet someone, and if you click, you become friends, and that’s that. In China/Taiwan (and I think Japan, but I don’t have anything to back that up with) it’s weird because people will formally ask you to become their friends (not always, but it’ll happen) which is a weird concept to westerners, especially when you can tell that the two of you wouldn’t really click well together. It throws a lot of people off (I’ve been thrown off by it to – when I met Jason and Silvia for the first time, they said something like “I hope that we can become good friends.” Again, a cultural difference that is a little foreign to me, but it is what it is.) Dambi was saying that in Korea, it’s interesting cause there it’s more western, but if they see a white person, they’re normally too nervous to start talking with them (as opposed to China/Taiwan, where they will walk up and just start practicing their English, or saying the 5 English words they know just to say they spoke English w/ a foreigner.) Tiss all very interesting cultural differences. But I’m excited to meet with her again next week (partially cause she’s really pretty =D) but also because she’s going to start teaching me Korean! Yay!!!!!!!!! (Because adding more work to my load totally makes sense!)
And then on the weekends it’s some mixture of homework/exploring/hanging out with friends/traveling/and going out for drinks at night. There really hasn’t been any consistent weekend like there was at CET, which is fine.

And that is my basic week! (with some other cultural stuff thrown in for funzies.) And some brain nutrition as the blog comes to a close:
Why am I taking 22 credit hours with 6 of those credit hours being in grad school courses? That is literally me doing a normal course load back at UNC + 2 grad courses.
Why is everything so bunched up here? 2 – four hour practices, 1 – three hour course – it’s really just a different schedule here.
Oh my god the food – Jesus H Jones it’s all amazing. No wonder I’ve gotten fat.


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