Monday, April 30, 2007

Chinese Progress - Beginner Level

One of my top priorities ought to be to get a regular Mandarin tutor, or at least a language exchange partner. I'm up to Lesson 9 in my textbook (the most popular beginner's Mandarin textbook here in Taiwan, judging from the number of other people I've seen carrying it) and I am seriously considering paying for a Chinesepod membership, but I really need a native speaker to listen to my speech and correct it. These days I don't feel enough self-confidence to say much of anything to a local in Chinese, and that needs to change.

Here is one observation - I overhear a lot of obviously non-Asian people here speaking pretty good Chinese (especially in the part of Taipei around Gonguan and Taipower Building MRT stations - that seems to be a local hub of foreigner activity). It happens much more than I ever heard foreigners speaking good Korean in Korea. It's encouraging.

More Downtown Taipei Pictures

Here are some more pictures I took around downtown Taipei. I have finally learned to decrease my pictures' file size before uploading them, which means you can't enlarge them hugely any more, but also means I don't have to spend ten minutes waiting for the pictures to load.

Taken from a pedestrian overpass, this is looking south towards Taipei Main Station.

The old North Gate. There are 3 old gates around the city that I know about; as in Seoul, you can see how much ground the old walled city covered and how much the city has grown since hen. Zhongshan North Road.Local traffic. Actually, this picture makes the traffic look far more orderly than it generally is. Also, you can't tell that fully half of the traffic is motorbikes.

Sunday, April 29, 2007

Downtown Taipei

I wandered around downtown Taipei yesterday. Some pictures of Taipei urban architecture follow:
This is near the MRT station in Zhonghe where I live. Living outside of Taipei city limits means I am under no legal obligation to sort my garbage into recyclable and non-recyclable; it also means for certain services (like getting my Alien Registration Certificate) I need to go to a suburban office instead of the convenient place in downtown Taipei.

These signs are pretty common at MRT station entrances. That says, "To prevent bird flu virus from spreading, do not carry poultry and birds into the station." Taipei is as modern a city as I have ever lived in; somehow I can't imagine that the subways would be full of squawking chickens if there weren't a ban.

That's a sign for a Garfield Restaurant. As big as Garfield stuff is in the States, I don't think that particular bit of merchandising ever caught on.

Preparation for an outdoor concert in Ximending.

Taipei has a lot of motorbikes. A lot of motorbikes.

Saturday, April 21, 2007

The Future of the MRT

I found an English-language map of what the Taipei MRT (mass rail transit system) is going to look like in a few years.

Since the current MRT is clearly a work in progress (the work being done on the new XinYi subway line is obvious to everyone who visits that part of Taipei), I'm not surprised to see all of the new lines and stations. That said, they seem to be getting ready for a major re-alignment of the downtown lines.

In the current configuration, I can get on the subway in Nanshijiao and take it directly to Taipei Main Station, or go on to Shilin (Jenna works in Shilin and besides it's a neat neighborhood, so that's convenient for me). In the future, judging by that map, it looks like trains from Nanshijiao are going to end up on a new Orange Line, which will go under downtown Taipei and then turn west, and if I want to go to Shilin I'll have to transfer trains. Of course, I'm not going to live near Nanshijiao long-term. Nothing's going to happen before 2008, and the major new lines won't begin opening until 2009-2011.

I shouldn't complain, as the MRT expansion is providing service to places where rail service was conspicuously absent before (Tianmu, Neihu, and most of suburban Taipei, for starters).

Sunday, April 15, 2007

Museum of Contemporary Art

Went to the Museum of Contemporary Art today. The museum is housed in a building downtown that used to be Taipei City Hall, before City Hall moved to the newish district in the eastern part of the city that's home to Taipei 101 and all sorts of modern civic buildings. The museum building has obviously undergone considerable renovation and remodeling, but it's an interesting mix.

The exhibit itself - the museum doesn't seem to have any permanent exhibits - is called 'Second Skin' (or 2ECOND SKIN as the museum spells it) and is dedicated to all sorts of variations on the theme of skin, clothing, and coverings for humans and furniture. Large swathes of the exhibit made me feel I was walking through a home furnishings catalog, as I saw various artists' take on, say, light bulbs or chairs.

Still, it was worth the $50NT each. And all of the signage and explanations were in perfect English that was just as comprehensive as the Chinese, something of a rarity in museums in this part of the world.


I went to Jiufen yesterday with Jenna.
Jiufen is a very touristy place - it's an old town that was apparently "rediscovered" by the Taiwanese public after a hit movie was set here recently, and now it draws large crowds from Taipei every weekend.
There's no direct train service - you have to take a train to Rueifang and then catch a bus or taxi to Jiufen. As soon as we hailed a cab outside Rueifang train station, the driver asked us, "Jiufen?"
Jiufen is full of old teahouses. What was the first place we saw when the taxi let us off? A Starbucks. (A Starbucks that apparently gets lots of foreign tourists - it's the first Starbucks I ever went to with Jenna where the staff seemed actually impressed with her spoken Chinese - which is pretty good, I'll admit.)
This is a long covered road full of snack stalls and shops selling little touristy trinkets. Lots of bracelets and statuettes for sale - there was one store devoted to ocarinas too.
Jiufen snack food.
That same covered street has calligraphers and painters as well.
This is a street where most of the teahouses are located - it's built into a hill so it's almost one long staircase.
The Pacific Ocean, as seen from the teahouse where we settled down in late afternoon.