Monday, May 28, 2007


Before I came to Taiwan, I studied Korean-style Chinese characters for a couple of months. It helped me with my grasp of more advanced Korean vocabulary, and was a good way fo rme to get acclimated to Chinese characters before coming here.

Chinese and Korean aren't related the way English and German are, and the basic grammar and vocabulary are quite dissimilar. But thousands of Chinese words have entered the Korean language in much the same way that English has adopted thousands of Latin words over the centuries.

I'm intrigued by the fact that you can usually see the phonetic similary, but not always. 生 is sheng in Mandarin and seng in Korean; 好 is hao in Mandarin and ho in Korean; 人 is ren in Mandarin and in in Korean; 光 is gwang in both Mandarin and Korean; 漢 is han in both Mandarin and Korean. But 學 is xue in Mandarin and hak in Korean, for some reason. Interesting.

Elementary Mandarin

So I've been in Taipei for 3 months, and although I'm not learning Chinese as quickly as I'd like (I still lack the confidence to verbally tell a taxi driver my destination or order in a restaurant by myself, 2 things I did all the time in Korea) I feel like I've passed the first steep part of the learning curve and I'm learning more quickly now. Owning an mp3 player is a big help.

One slightly annoying thing is that practically all of the Mandarin-for-foreigners learning material out there teaches us to speak Mandarin with a strong Beijing accent. Which would be fine if I were in Beijing, but I'm several thousand miles to the south and I've been assured by both Jenna and the locals that people don't talk like Beijingers here in Taipei. There are no huge linguistic differences, but a lot of words that end with arr when pronounced by Beijingers don't sound the same down here. That includes one of the few bits of Mandarin I knew three months ago: ...zai nar? ("Where is...?") Instead of nar I should say nali, and instead of war (to play) I should say wan, and instead of idyar (a little) I should say idien. For some reason my main textbook, Practical Audio-Visual Chinese I (which seems to be the most popular Mandarin for Foreigners book around, judging by the fact that I've seen several people carrying it around the city in the past few months), teaches me to talk like a Beijinger but write like a Taiwanese (or a Hong Konger; they use the same traditional writing system).

Another little criticism of Audio-Visual Chinese I is that it teaches grammar a bit oddly. I still hadn't learned to say "If ______, then ________" or "I have to ________" when the book went into these subtle variations on expressing past time in Chinese that even Jenna was totally unfamilliar with. Jenna may not talk like a native but she speaks perfectly decent conversational Mandarin; if she doesn't know a particular grammatical construction then presumably I don't need to worry about it yet. So I've decided I'm going to plow ahead through A/V Chinese, only glancing at the grammatical explanations but using it to practice listening (I bought the 5 CDs sold as accessories, and I'm glad I did) and to learn vocabulary and characters.

Thursday, May 24, 2007


I wandered around my neighborhood of Zhonghe today. A couple of pictures that will show what a busy and crowded suburb of Taipei this is:

Motorcycles parked outside Nanshijiao subway station.

A Korean restaurant.
Nanshijiao Station.
Some interesting graffiti.

This is in the local night market - I took this picture in the late afternoon, but they do most of their business between sundown and early morning.

The entrance to my apartment building - I live on the 6th floor.

Tuesday, May 15, 2007

Hiking near Hualien

On Monday we went hiking near a lakeside town.

The lakeside was full of the sound of frogs. You could also rent paddle boats and motorboats.

It was humid and there was a cool breeze once we climbed to a high altitude.
The view from the top.

Taroko Gorge

Jenna had no early Monday class, and I had nothing scheduled on Monday, so we went down to Hualien for the weekend. We decided to stay all day Monday too when Jenna found out she had no class that evening.

Hualien itself is not a very exciting city, but there is great natural beauty nearby. Taroko Gorge represents Taiwan's single biggest natural tourist attraction.
The gorge was carved out of marble cliffs.
Exposed marble.

There is a Buddhist temple in the gorge, open to tourists.

Thursday, May 03, 2007

Mr. Brown

Mr. Brown
Originally uploaded by afader.
I first encountered Mr. Brown on a poster on the GWU campus advertising "hometown snack foods" to homesick Asian students. It was an early lesson that more brand names exist beyond what's known to typical American suburbia.

I found Mr. Brown's coffee again when exploring the Asian grocery stores of northern Virginia. Each can of Mr. Brown contained the following helpful information: "EXPIRY DATE: TWO YEARS." There was no other date or year information on the can. I found this quite droll.

Now I'm in Mr. Brown's homeland. Not only is his coffee available in every convenience store, but he has a chain of coffee shops. Starbucks is extremely common in Taipei (and considerably cheaper than in Korea) but local coffee shop brands like Mr. Brown, Dante Coffee and Ikari Coffee are all more than just Starbucks clones. They all offer a selection of hot Western or fusion-style meals, which sometimes seem to have just been warmed in a microwave oven but are still surprisingly good. There's a Mr. Brown coffee shop directly across the street from the office where I teach twice a week, which is nice and convenient.

No, the coffee there doesn't taste like it came out of a can.

Back to Korea?

Even though I generally like Korea, like Korean food and want to return there to get my knowledge of the Korean language to something approaching acceptable, I am quite certain I am not working for a language school there again.

The recent troubles of the guy behind the Zenkimchi blog make me think that working for a typical language school in Korea at this point is a big gamble. (ZenKimchi's site doesn't seem to have much on the specifics now, but read Metropolitician's take on it.) I never had any problems working in Korea, and all the horror stories I heard involved people I didn't know, but I think it was a matter of luck that I ended up working for a decent place. Twice.

So I'm thinking that if/when I return to Korea it will be as a student.