Sunday, December 26, 2010

Harmony Home on Christmas

A few months ago, Charlene and I went to an outdoor Fire Festival in Taipei. There were many dancers and performers doing fire dances, but there was also a group soliciting donations called Harmony Home. It is kind of an orphanage for children born with HIV, and has been around in Taiwan for over 20 years. We donated some money but I really felt like I "wanted to do something". It's one thing to screw up your life, but to be born into this world without doing anything wrong and have a strike against you is pretty fucked up. Up until this previous week I was too busy with classes to find time to volunteer, so finally this week we were able to go visit Harmony Home.

I had sent them an application and my resume, and they invited us to their Christmas Party, and also mentioned about me bringing my guitar. Charlene went to buy some presents and I prepared some Christmas songs to sing and play. When we arrived, it was an amazing sight, many, many, many people showed up to the party. Actually quite a few Santa Clauses showed up as well bringing gifts. All of the children were extremely friendly and happy, there are roughly 40 children that live at this branch of the Harmony Home shelters. Eventually there was a small lull in time between opening presents, dancing and food, so I got my guitar out and sang some classic Christmas songs in English. They might not know all of the words, but certainly know the melodies. It was a really great time and I'm looking forward to going back to help out next week. I'll be bringing my guitar again. It is funny, the kids have more fun strumming and banging on the guitar than listening to or singing songs.

Some amazing news that we found out was that over 99% of the babies that are born HIV positive actually "defeat the disease" after two to three years. Something about the antibodies from the mother helps prepare the baby to fight off the illness once they are born. I'm not 100% on the particulars, but it is something like that. Whatever it is, it's really great news.

Merry Christmas and Happy New Year!


Friday, December 24, 2010

Animals Taiwan

Yesterday I had an awesome experience helping out at the animal shelter Animals Taiwan: I was warned to expect some tough sights, but if anything I felt the total opposite when I saw many of the animals. There are around 70 rescued dogs and 40 or so cats.

When I first walked into the office, I saw 6 to 8 dogs crawling around in the front area, looking almost like baby seals. These were mostly animals that had been hit by cars and could not use their back legs at all. Normally I would be shocked and quite saddened, but there was something about seeing them all together, and all of them so damn happy, that it actually made me laugh. There was not an ounce of sadness in the room because all of the dogs were just really happy, safe and being taken care of (and considering what they had been through, and their other options if not rescued, I completely understand).

My first job after was to walk a three legged dog named Elvis (they all have REALLY great names: Elvis, Phoenix, Button, Petey, etc). I was being tested for how I would deal with dogs to see what other dogs I could manage. I've always had dogs, and been a dog person, so I don't have any problem reading dogs and acting accordingly. So Elvis and I went on a 30 minute walk across the street at a park. He was a great dog, aside from a missing front leg, there was nothing different about him compared to any other dog I've been around. Here's a picture of Elvis:

After returning with Elvis, I was shown two small dogs, a small chihuahua "Button" and another small Pekingese dog. The Pekingese dog was so, so tiny, like half of the size of the chihuahua, and she missing her left eye; but man she was a happy dog. She never stopped eating and asking for more treats. Button, the chihuahua, was shaking and nervous and didn't take any treats. After a few minutes he calmed down a little, but still never ended up eating anything. Here's Button:

A few minutes later, they brought in a new dog that had never been walked before. I wasn't exactly sure if they had tried to walk her before or not, but she was very timid and they wanted to see what I could do with this new dog. I had a bag of treats left over from the smaller dogs so I put the new dog on the leash, used some treats and got her walking slowly up towards the park. She wasn't comfortable with loud noises, trucks, hand movements, people, or even really used to a leash, but after about 10 minutes, she kind of figured it out. After about 30 minutes in the park, we went to go back, but she wouldn't leave the park entrance area towards the street. She basically just sat on the ground and wouldn't budge. So I picked her up and carried her out to the road and she walked a little on the street and we finally made it back. Not too bad for the first time she's ever been on a walk I think.

I then walked a rather energetic guy, no real problems, just needed to keep control of the leash. Up next was Petey, an older blind boxer mix. Aside from banging his head a few times on some things (understandably), he was perfectly fine on the walk. My last dog was a young Labrador that was in perfect shape. Of all of the dogs, I would have expected him to be running all over, but he was cool, calm and collected.

It was already dark by now, so I said thanks and was on my way. I'm going back on Monday to help out some more. The only bummer is it is a little bit far; a 30 minute subway ride, and then a 30 minute walk. It gets me some more exercise and some time to study my Chinese I guess. I'm trying to speak as much Chinese as I can, even to the dogs! 過來, 過來 (guo lai, guo lai - come here, come here).

All in all, an awesome experience and glad I could help out a really great group. For more information on them and donations, check out their website:

Monday, December 20, 2010

Finished with Chinese Class

On Friday we took our Final Exam in our Chinese class and it was worth 25% of our final class grade. To pass the class and move onto Chinese 3, you need an average of 70% or higher (these classes are not graded on a curve - sink or swim). Going into the Final Exam I had an average of 85%, anything higher than a 24% score on the the final, and I would pass the class.

The Final Exam was quite a bit more difficult than the Midterm Exam (which was extremely hard to begin with). To keep the story short, we got the test back today and I scored a Final Exam grade of 70%, which brought my final grade for the course to a 77 average. It's nothing I'm proud of, but two out of the ten people in our class did not score high enough, failed the course and can't move on to Chinese 3. I did the best I could, and with Chinese 2, a 77% was the best I could achieve. I don't think there was anyone in our class who scored a final grade higher than 90%, but that's just a rough guess, not everyone shared their grades.

After taking the Final Exam, I got a phone call from the school later that day and they told me that the Chinese speaking class that I had signed up for, and was going to start on Tuesday, had been cancelled. There were originally 4 of us who signed up, and one person decided to drop the class, so with only 3 people, the school cancelled the class. I was hoping to use that class as some kind of guide to get me speaking more Chinese, but now I've got to figure something else out over the next 6 weeks before we leave for Paris.

I trying to volunteer at some places in Taipei, but with only 6 weeks time, it's not the easiest thing to work out. I've also got an interesting idea on an art project that I want to work on and hopefully complete in the next 6 weeks. I've got a day or two to figure out a plan, but not much more time than that. We'll see what I can come up with.

Wednesday, December 15, 2010

Over the Top

My Final Exam for my Chinese class is this Friday. Things have gone so quickly and we've covered so many things that I feel like I've been in a tornado the past few weeks. My ability of reading Chinese and listening to Chinese has improved a bit, but my spoken Chinese (hence "communication") has gotten much worse. Needless to say, I'm pretty pissed off considering I've been spending at least 6 hours a day working on Chinese and I'm actually getting worse with my speaking abilities.

I'm not one to give up on anything I've set my mind to until I've given it 100% of my effort. So today I signed up for a new Chinese class that starts next week that is only a Chinese speaking class. It meets twice a week for two hours each day (unlike my current 5 days a week, 3 hours a day class). It is an 8 week course, but because we are moving to Paris in February, I'll only be able to attend for 6 weeks. I want to give it all I've got because I've worked extremely hard on learning this language and at the very least, I'll be able to say, "I gave it all I had". In addition to this new class, I'm also going to be doing some volunteer work in Taipei over the next 6 weeks so that should give me every opportunity available to really "do" this Chinese thing.

Oh yeah, why the Over the Top picture? Well if you watch this video, it should answer all of your questions: Over the Top

Friday, December 10, 2010

New favorite TV show

I've been traveling to China for many years for my past job, so I saw this cartoon many years ago and liked it right away. If anyone has traveled to China, Taiwan or Hong Kong you will have seen these pictures on backpacks, notebooks, name it; it's on there if it's a kid's product. It is the #1 cartoon in China and is extremely popular in other Chinese speaking countries. I don't think it has been translated into any other languages, but it should be.

WTF am I talking about? 喜羊羊与灰太狼 or roughly translated into English: Pleasant Goat and Big Big Wolf (or more accurately Happy Sheep and Grey Wolf). Why is the show so awesome? Like a great pop song by the Beatles or Elton John, creating something simple and great is very difficult, but I think they do it so well in this cartoon series (there are over 500 episodes). Great simple writing, music, voices, animation, directing, humor...pretty much everything is there. I can only understand maybe 25% of what they are saying on a good day, but I never miss a chance to watch this show. Luckily they show it on the MoMo children's channel at least three times a day. This is what I watch every morning at 7:00am while I do my exercises, and usually again at 5:00pm when I'm doing my Chinese homework.

If liking Pleasant Goat and Big Big Wolf  is wrong (especially for a 40 year old man), then I don't want to be right.

Saturday, December 4, 2010

No news is good news...I guess

Nothing new or earth-shattering to report. As the old saying goes, "no news is good news."

My Final Exam for my Chinese class is in two weeks and it's about time because I'm seriously going crazy studying so much. It wouldn't be so bad if I saw progress (like I see when I play guitar or piano) but I feel like my spoken Chinese has gotten much worse, while my listening and reading has improved. I do have a pretty good idea of how I'm going to go out and speak Chinese, but I'll wait to give details on that after things are finalized in a few weeks. If I can feel good about my spoken Chinese after spending a month "out there" I'll feel like I've at least accomplished something these past few months.

It is two months before we travel to Paris where I'll try to be a musician full time. My hands are holding up pretty well, and I'm able to play piano and guitar a few hours every day. It's a slow process, but they are healing up, if ever so slowly. I'm also finally starting to feel like I'm getting my guitar chops back. I don't know what the current "state of guitar" is in Paris, but that's where Django Reinhardt played, so if that's the standard, then I've still got some serious catching up to do.

Thursday, November 25, 2010

Happy Thanksgiving!

Well it's not the "traditional" Thanksgiving dinner, but at least it was American food...

Thanksgiving dinner two years ago in Taiwan was somewhat expensive and rather disappointing. So due to busy schedules and classes (today Charlene started taking evening French classes; I'm teaching myself French from my Fluenz French DVD's) we decided to save our time and money and just get a turkey sandwich from Subway for Thanksgiving dinner. The McDonalds' fries were a nice surprise, but my stomach is feeling kind of strange as I type this, so it probably wasn't the best combo. I guess there is a reason why it is turkey and mashed potatoes and not turkey and french fries.

It would certainly be nice to be back in the USA with family and friends and celebrate Thanksgiving and enjoy a "real" Thanksgiving dinner, but I guess you can't have everything when you choose to move to the other side of the world and do your own thing. It sounds like a cliche, but when you're away from family and friends on a holiday, you realize that it is just that, family and friends that make the holiday and not the other way around. So if you're reading this, please eat a large helping of turkey and mashed potatoes for me, thanks!

As far as my Midterm Exam, I did much better than I expected. I got a total grade of 77%. On the spoken/reading portion of the exam (25% of the final grade) I did pretty well with a score of 88%. On the listening/grammar portion of the test I ended up getting a 73% (75% of the final grade). So combining those two scores gave me a final grade of 77%.

My Final Exam is in three weeks. I'm learning about 30 new Chinese characters a week, as well as new grammar lessons, but I feel like my spoken Chinese has gotten much worse from lack of practice. After this class is completed, I'm going to find some interesting way to go out there and actually force myself to speak Chinese a few hours every day. I haven't decided exactly how I'm going to do that, but I have a few ideas. That will give me about a month to practice speaking Chinese before moving to Paris...and then I'll start the whole process over again with French.

Friday, November 19, 2010

Midterm Exam

I took the Midterm Exam for my Chinese class today. I've taken some tough tests in some difficult classes before in college: Differential Equations, Calculus, Thermodynamics...hell I even took a course in Astrophysics (mistakenly thinking it was Astronomy) and today's Chinese Midterm Test definitely ranks up there with being just as difficult as those other classes.

Listening, speaking, reading and writing all in Chinese; no English. I finished it, but felt like I got run over by a bus in the process. I knew it was going to be tough, but I don't think anything could have prepared me for how difficult it was. For me, I'm thinking a grade of somewhere between 50-70 will be extremely good, and this exam is 20% of our final grade in the class!

After the two hour test, I packed up my things to leave, but was surprised to learn that we had to stay for the final third hour of class and "study". So our reward for completing the Midterm Exam, was sitting around the classroom talking with the teacher about "how long you would wait for a friend, if they don't show up to meet you". After 50 excruciating minutes, we were able to leave and go home. In the end, I think it was actually better to talk after the test in Chinese, instead of just going straight home after the demoralizing exam. It somehow difussed the volatile test taking experience, and made the weekend a little easier to slide into.

The biggest thing I learned from today's test, is how much I DON'T know about the Chinese language. What's the saying, "The more you learn, the more you realize how little you know"?  Well for me, today is that day in learning Chinese.

Friday, November 12, 2010

Hooters in Taiwan

About a month ago, I was walking from the subway exit and someone on a bicycle called me over and gave me a business card. He said (in half-English and half-Chinese) "this is my restaurant" and showed me on the back of the card, a map. I knew exactly where it was, because it was right behind a major hotel in Taipei that is a block from Charlene's parent's home. I said, "Ok, thanks." Later I looked at the card and it was called Big Bucks and served American style hamburgers and beer. And I kid you not, the bottom of this professionally produced business card said "Fuck fear, drink beer!"...classy!!!

So after class today, I finished my test and did probably average. Today is actually the halfway point of the semester, I just got over some mild cold that is going around, and I decided to go try out Big Bucks because I had a craving for an American hamburger. After walking awhile, I got there and saw that the prices were a little too expensive and really it wasn't what I was expecting, so I left.

I pass Taipei's Hooters everyday after I get off of the subway coming home from classes, so I thought I could at least get a good lunch deal there and eat an "American" hamburger.

I walk into Hooters and notice they are showing an EPL soccer match between Manchester United and Manchester City...ok, I'm sold. It doesn't matter what happens, I'm eating here. So I get the menu and ask about the "hamburger special" I saw posted outside. Apparently they were sold out (FFS I just want a god damn hamburger, is that too much to ask for?).

Here is the dialogue:

Jim: 我要一個漢堡薯條跟可樂
Hooters Waitress:  對不起今天沒有漢堡
Jim: 什麼?
Hooters Waitress: 今天沒有漢堡, 太多人想要了
Jim: You don't have any hamburgers???
Hooters Waitress: No.
Hooters Waitress: 你說的中文很好!
Jim: 謝謝.
Hooters Waitress: (pointing to the menu) 這個很好吃.

Basic Translation: I wanted a hamburger, they were out, she said my Chinese was good, she suggested a pork sandwich instead, I said OK.

Much like a Playboy subscription, I only go to Hooters for the articles and blog reports err...I mean the food. The food was average, but wasn't expensive for a lunch meal: soda, soup, pork sandwich, fries and a dessert (something like ice cream) for $8 US. I got to watch the entire second half or the Man U vs Man City soccer game with my own private HDTV, so I was happy.

Friendly service, nice ambiance, good prices...what's not to like?

As for my Chinese class, my Midterm Exam is in 7 days....and I'm so screwed, it is not going to be easy. A different teacher from the school will give us the Midterm Exam. There are 4 parts: writing answers to questions in Chinese, reading Chinese orally, answering questions orally in Chinese, and describing pictures orally in Chinese.

I have a hell of a lot of catching up to do.

Saturday, November 6, 2010

Vienna Boys' Choir

There are a number of great musical groups that come to the Taiwan National Concert Hall to perform each year. I was hoping we could see Lang Lang in concert recently, but he is so popular, that tickets were sold out before we could even think of getting them. After going through the calendar schedule, I saw that the Vienna Boys' Choir was performing. I had heard of them (how many other choirs can you actually "name" besides them?) so I thought it would be great to check out. We ended up getting tickets and saw them perform this week.

This is a group that isn't 100 years old, isn't 200 years old, no...keep going...they have been around for over 500 years. Mozart used them in concerts and Schubert was actually a member of the Vienna Boys' Choir. It was quite amazing to realize that these boys range in age from 10 to 14 and can sing in any singing style you can imagine, and then some. In the concert they performed songs from: China, India, Lebanon, Uzbekistan, Vienna and Africa. They also performed traditional classical as well as popular music: Schubert, Strauss Jr., Gershwin, music from the Broadway show "Hair" and even an amazing arrangement of Billy Joel's "The Longest Time."

It was an awesome concert and a lot of fun. From the kids running out clapping throughout the audience, to watching them sneeze and cough onstage trying not to laugh at it; it was great to see "traditional music" in an environment that was very relaxed, fun and honest. It showed that music really is the universal language, and that it should be enjoyed and not be taken too seriously.

As far as Chinese, my Power Point Presentation on my daily schedule went well and I got a 90% on my latest test. My Midterm in coming up on November 19th and that is 20% of my final grade so that's the next big thing coming up for me.

After not playing guitar for almost half a year, I started playing guitar again this week without any "real" pain, and that's the best news I had in a while. It's been 6 months since I first injured my tendon, and it is still not 100% healed...crazy! One common theme you can gather from this blog is GETTING OLD SUCKS!!!

Sunday, October 31, 2010

Halloween 2010

Well it's not only Halloween, but also our 12th wedding anniversary (yes we got married in Las Vegas on Halloween).

We decided to get some outfits and I ended up being a pirate and Charlene dressed up as a Taiwanese policewoman. I'm used to getting stared at in Taiwan and China because I'm a 外國人 (foreigner) but it was interesting riding the subway and walking around dressed as a pirate. Little children actually waved to me and said "hello" and "bye bye" and quite a few young girls were happy to come up to me ask to take pictures. Maybe I should just start wearing a pirate's outfit everyday at this rate?

We had dinner at a nice restaurant and drank and ate way too much. Surviving 12 years of marriage these days is quite an accomplishment, so I think it's ok that we indulged a little too much. It's not exaggeration, I really do think Halloween is the best holiday out there...and I thought this before it was ever my wedding anniversary. Like my dad, I'm a kid at heart, and I that's something that I never want to lose in life. Young at heart is great, I just wish my body would follow suit.

On a crappier note, I have my 4th test tomorrow in Chinese. In addition to the test, I also need to give a Power Point presentation on my daily schedule, describing what  I do every day (seriously, this isn't a joke). I got an 89 on my last test, so that's a good step above the 65 I got on the previous test, but I somehow think I'll be closer 65 on my test tomorrow.

Friday, October 22, 2010

Rain, rain go away...

You may have seen on the news that there was a huge typhoon that went through the Philippines. It did quite a bit of damage there and is also causing some flooding and damage to the Southern parts of Taiwan (Taipei is in Northern Taiwan and we just have a lot of rain). Because of this typhoon, it has been raining literally non-stop for the past week, and the extended 10 day forecast says it will continue to rain for another week and maybe stop around Halloween.

In Los Angeles, if there is rain for more than a few hours, it is "Storm Watch 2010" on the local TV news: video footage of cars skidding off the freeway, accidents, mudslides, streets flooding, etc. Here in Taiwan, one week of solid rain doesn't even ruffle the feathers, it just comes with the territory of living in a tropical environment. It is so hot here, that it is actually nice to have some rain because the temperature drops at least 10 degrees Fahrenheit.

As far as my Chinese class, I got my second test back and wow did it suck; I got a 65%. I would have scored in the 80's but I didn't have enough time to go back and convert the pinyin words I wrote down that the teacher recited us, and convert them to Chinese characters. Pinyin uses English letters to represent Chinese sounds: like "zhong guo" = 中 國 = China. Without this part of the test, I would have gotten a 90% score.

Oh well, as the French say, "c'est la vie". As you can see, my 30 minutes a day of French studies are really paying revior!

Sunday, October 17, 2010

Our neighbors and their interesting pets

One of the things I like best about our apartment is that I can pick any direction, walk for a while and discover something interesting. So far I've found a Philly Cheese Steak restaurant, $199 all you can drink beer house, British Pub that shows the UFC for free, Chicago restaurant/bar, a Muslim Middle Eastern restaurant, a French restaurant, and many other interesting places.

Another cool thing is that I also run into some interesting people and their pets. Beagles were very popular about 5 years ago, so I still see quite a few of them being walked. Chihuahuas are actually becoming very popular now, but only the ones with a white body and light brown spots. Poodles and Shih Ztus are still by far the most popular dogs though.

The police department up the street have a pet iguana that is over 3 feet long. Apparently someone abandoned it, the police rescued it and it is now the police mascot. During the day he sits outside (like in this picture) in the grass sunning himself, while during the night he sits inside the police station on a large leather chair sleeping.

One of the neighbors in our apartment complex owns a pig. Not a small miniature pot belly pig, but a LARGE full grown, five year old pig. He is very friendly but he can get your hands and clothes very dirty with his snout (he sniffs around the ground for food so it isn't so clean). The coolest thing is his name: 熱狗 (re gou)...or in English..."Hot Dog" (in Chinese re = hot & gou = dog).

I completed my first test last week and didn't feel very good about it. I was second to last to finish the test, and didn't think I did too well. On Friday we got the tests back and I got an 82. Not bad, not great, but considering the highest score in the class was an 85, I guess I did ok.

Tuesday, October 12, 2010

First week of class & Gusto St. Hot Dog

After the first day, I wasn't quite sure what to expect in my Chinese 2 class. My previous Chinese teacher was excellent and spent a lot of time explaining things on the board as well as distributing printed handouts. My new teacher's top priority is having every student in the class speaking and listening as much as possible.

At first I wasn't sure about this approach, but after one week, I agree that this is a very good way to teach the class. We do go over grammar and other lessons during the class, but it always involves speaking and using examples that we create on our own. I've taught myself guitar, am teaching myself piano, but to learn a language you actually need other people to have a conversation with to learn, so it's good to be forced into this situation.

Each week we have two tests (1 written test, 1 online computer test) as well as two written homeworks (1 Chinese characters, 1 grammar/vocabulary workout). In addition to this, we also have a Midterm and a Final. So there is plenty of reading and writing involved to balance out all of the speaking and listening.

After class today I went to "Gusto St. Hot Dog" for lunch. It is basically a New York/Chicago style "Western" hot dog joint. They had a sign that said they had chili cheese hot dogs, so being from LA, I could not resist. The restaurant was pretty small, but had a cool vibe and was a great place to grab a quick lunch. I got a chili cheese dog with fries and a Coke for $135 NTD ($4 US).

It wasn't bad, but for some reason in Taiwan and China the bread/buns always have a slight sweet taste that just bothers me. I love candy and sweet things, but somehow sweetness in bread just kills it for me. With a non-sweet hot dog bun, I'd say it was very good, but with the sweet bun, I'd say it was ok. Much like the Philly Cheese Steak place up the street from us, I'm not going to complain about imperfect Western food literally halfway across the world...especially at the price of $4 US.

Wednesday, October 6, 2010

Class is in session...again

So after spending three weeks doing contract work for my old job in China, then decompressing and being a bum for the past 4 weeks (well I actually studied and reviewed Chinese everyday for many hours..but that also included drinking a lot of beer and watching Battlestar Galactica episodes at the same time), I finally started my Chinese 2 class today. It is a 12 week class, five days a week, three hours a day, course that is at the same University I attended two years ago: Chinese Cultural University (文話大學) in their Mandarin Learning Center department.

I arrived at class and found out it was the same original teacher I had for Chinese 1 two years ago, but that was only for one day. I switched to an earlier class with a different teacher the rest of the semester two years ago, so I'm not sure how this new (old) teacher will be.

It's only been one 3 hour class, so I'll keep my observations short:
  • There is a LOT of talking in this class. I'd say 90% of the class is some student talking, so that is VERY good. I don't push myself to go out and speak Chinese unless I have to, so this is a good way to force me to listen and speak Chinese every day.
  • I'm old. I'm twice the age of some of the people in the class. It is a small class of 11 students, there are a few older people, but 8 out of the 11 people are in their early 20's.
  • Everyone in the class can speak some Chinese. This is great because there is no excuse for me to not be speaking at the level of the other people. Some people are better, some are worse, but it's great to be inspired by the others to keep practicing and stay on my toes.
There are daily tests and homework, as well as a Midterm and Final, but I think if I keep up with things and study I should improve quite a bit with my level of Chinese. If after the course is completed, I can actually feel "comfortable" speaking Chinese with others, then it will be Mission Accomplished.

We shall see.

Saturday, October 2, 2010

Hell has officially frozen over

Well get out your sweaters, hats and gloves because hell has officially frozen over...I own and am using a cell phone.

Well actually Charlene bought a used iPhone from her friend at a good price, and I just ended up buying her 2 week old LG GW620 Android phone from her. I have a pay as you go SIM card, so I'm not stuck in any plan, and the phone is unlocked so I can use it in Taiwan, France and the USA with any SIM card. I also created a California phone number from SKYPE that will forward any call to that California number to this cell phone, so that's useful.

I don't really think of it as a cell phone, I'm thinking of it really more as an MP4 player that has a camera, internet browser, email, video games and oh yeah, can send and receive telephone calls and text messages. One thing I'll say, it is nice to carry just one item, instead of carrying three separate items in my pockets: a cell phone, a camera and MP4 player.

About 10 years ago, I said if they could put "everything" into a cell phone, and I wouldn't be locked into a 2 year calling plan, I would consider buying one. Well here we are in 2010, and I can do all of that and more. For the past 15 years I've been fighting it, but begrudgingly I must admit, that owning and using a cell phone is pretty cool.

Monday, September 27, 2010

310 Mini Chinese Flash Cards

Two years ago when I first started experimenting with making my own Chinese flash cards, I realized that the only way I was going to quickly re-learn the 300 or so characters I learned from my last class was to make some more flash cards (I left my old flash cards from my previous class back in the USA). After going through the entire Practical Audio-Visual Chinese #1 book again and creating the new flash cards, I was surprised that it was only 310 unique characters. I guess the reason they say there are about 500 characters to learn is that many characters used are combined to give a brand new unique word.


小 = small (xiao - 3rd tone)
心 = heart (xin - 1st tone)

小心 = warning, be careful

small + heart = be careful...makes perfect sense to me, and who said Chinese wasn't easy?

I only put one character on each card. On the front, the Chinese character; on the back, the Pinyin Chinese pronunciation on top, and the English translation on the bottom.

Before I had used 3"x5" cards, but this time I ended up using some smaller flash cards with a hole inside that Charlene got me. They are more difficult to write on because they are smaller (1.5"x3.5") but I was able to melt three of their plastic ring binders together with a lighter (each plastic loop is only designed hold 100 cards) and made one giant loop that snaps and closes together to hold them all. It ain't pretty, but it works, and that's what I'm all about.

Thursday, September 23, 2010

Mid Autumn Moon Festival - 中秋節

I have been to Taiwan and China, many, many times over the years just prior to the Mid Autumn Moon Festival, but never had a chance to actually see the celebration day. To quote from Wikipedia:

The Mid-Autumn Festival is held on the 15th day of the eighth month in the Chinese calendar, which is in September or early October in the Gregorian calendar. It is a date that parallels the autumnal equinox of the solar calendar, when the moon is supposedly at its fullest and roundest. The traditional food of this festival is the mooncake, of which there are many different varieties.

In other words it was yesterday, September 22, 2010.

The big gift is the giving of "mooncakes" basically very small cakes with various fillings and toppings. It seems to parallel the Western tradition of giving of fruitcakes during Christmas time, because everyone gives them as presents, but no one really likes to eat them (at least I was the only one I saw last night that ate one).

We traveled  over to Charlene's parents for dinner and there were a number of family members and friends in attendance. The highlight of the evening wasn't the mooncakes or the food, it was the two puppies. Charlene's brother brought over their 6 month old Pekingese and our friend Ping  bought over his 3 month old Miniature Pinscher. I always seem to get along pretty well with dogs and little kids...I'm not sure what that means, but I think that's a good thing.

Another weird thing is that beagles are still very popular here in Taiwan. Not as popular as a few years ago, but they still use beagles as the customs dog at the Taipei airport (we actually saw one bust a guy smuggling in some "illegal" food in his traveling bag). It is quite strange coming from the Midwestern USA where beagles run around in backyard and in the the woods, to then come to Taiwan and see them being walked en mass on the city streets of Taipei.

My Chinese classes start 2 weeks from today, and I'm looking forward to getting some structure and order back into my life. It is great not working, staying up literally all night, waking up at noon, drinking as much as I want, but it is getting very tiring and boring. Getting back to a structured life is going to be a very good thing for me I think.

(Happy Mid Autumn Season)

Sunday, September 19, 2010

Typhoon & "slapping leg guy"

You may have heard about the 2010 September typhoon that is hitting Taiwan right now. There was a lot of talk about last year's typhoon that did ungodly damage to the landscape as well as human lives all across Taiwan, so this year there was plenty of preparation to get everyone as ready as possible to try to minimize the problems that occured in 2009.

Luckily for Taipei, there was mostly just wind, and not much rain at all. The wind was actually very strong, but there was no flooding or any real water damage to be seen. The worst damage I saw was a few large plants knocked over on the street and a very large tree branch that broke off and was blocking the street behind our apartment. I was able to pick it up and move it out of the street, so at least I felt like I did something to help out with the the typhoon.

The wind was so crazy that I went outside to film some of it in the park behind our apartment. When I got out there, I realized that the "slapping leg guy" was out there. I was going to make a unique post just about this guy, but to be able to capture the wind of the typhoon AND the "slapping leg guy" all in one shot was just too good to pass up. Basically "slapping leg guy" sits outside in the gazebo about 20 feet from our 1st floor window and slaps his leg for probably 30-45 minutes every day. Yes EVERY day. Maybe it's a zen thing, maybe he is mentally ill, I'm not sure, either way, it is "unique" so I was happy to capture a very small part of it in this video. There is not much video of "slapping leg guy" (much like Bigfoot or the Loch Ness monster) but you can hear his slapping leg sound throughout most of the video.

So now for your viewing pleasure, I present to you the wind of the 2010 Taiwan Typhoon and "slapping leg guy":

Tuesday, September 14, 2010

Philly Cheese Steak - Taiwan style

To follow up the last post, we went to the cell phone store but walked away with more questions than answers. Charlene's cell phone is actually broken, so we figured out the least expensive name brand cell phone that runs the Android OS (same as my iRobot) and she purchased the LG GW620 from an online vendor at an extremely good price. I might end up buying the same cell phone, but I'm in no big hurry.

Now onto the Philly Cheese Steak story...

Last night we took a walk and discovered a new Philly Cheese steak restaurant a few doors down from the $199 beer house. Yesterday we found it after we had eaten dinner, so I waited until tonight to grab a sandwich. How was it? On a scale of 1-10, I'd probably give it a 5. In Taiwan, getting Advil or Swedish Fish is next to impossible, so I'm certainly not going to complain about a place that is a five minute walk from our apartment, where I can get a Philly Cheese steak and french fries for the equivilant of $4 US. Although next time I think I might ask them to add lettuce and tomatoes, so I can get a "hoggie" version instead of the traditional cheese steak.

I've been taping up my wrist with some sports tape and it has held up pretty well. After one week, I've had no pain from playing the piano so that's good. I gave a guitar lesson today to our friend Quincy in exchange for some Taiwan Beer and Chinese lessons. It was the first time I had played guitar in a few weeks, but there was still some pain, so I won't be playing guitar for at least another week.  I think I'm slowly starting to accept the fact that things are only going to get worse, and not better with my body as I get older. I just need to accept it, and quit trying to fight it so hard.

I feel like I have the maturity of a 20 year old, the mind of a 40 year old, and the body of a 60 year old. That's some crazy shit.

Friday, September 10, 2010

iRobot = gateway to cell phone?

Last month when I was in Shenzhen, China, I picked up an iRobot (aPad), an internet tablet that uses WiFi to go online. Basically it is a cheaper ($130 US) 7" version of the Apple iPad. The touchscreen is not as good as the iPad (resistive single touch vs. capacitor multi touch) but it does offer a lot of features that the iPad does not: camera, microphone, USB connection, micro SD card slot, it can multitask (play music in the background while at the same time you can chat on MSN, SKYPE, check your email, surf the internet, play games, etc). It also has all of the Google apps like Google Maps, Google Translate, Google Skymap and access to the Android Market to download hundreds of free applications. It is basically a 7" iPhone without the GPS and phone capabilities.

The iRobot (aPad) runs the Android OS v1.5. The Android interface is pretty much used on all "non-iPhone" smart phones. It is also easy to upgrade new and custom versions of the firmware so you can constantly and easily upgrade how the device works. The Android interface is very nice and easy to use, which leads me to the next topic...

Most "non-iPhone" smart phones run a version of the Android software. Even though I own some Apple stock, I still can't bring myself to buy an iPhone...I just can't drink the Apple Kool Aid. So for the first time in my life, tonight I'm going to a cell phone store to check out the different types of phones, carrier options, international calling, etc.

I'm not sure if I'll get one, but I'll at least check them out. Somehow not owning a cell phone has been a pretty strong statement in my life, so actually owning and using a cell phone is a pretty big change. I only know 4 other people that don't own and use a cell phone, we're almost like an endangered species that needs to be protected (or sent to a hospital for a mental evaluation).

So has hell frozen over? Not yet, but it's pretty damn close.

Tuesday, September 7, 2010

40th B-Day - The beginning of the end

A number of people asked me if I would be creating another blog like I did two years ago when I spent Three Months in Taiwan. At first I thought, "of course I will", then I realized that I'm not into the Facebook "hey look at me!" thing, and decided not to do another blog. I didn't want to do another blog unless I could figure out some reason why I should do it. I thought about it for a while, and decided the only thing I could think of was doing a one year documentation about turning 40 and what, if any midlife crisis changes occurred over the following 365 days. It may end up being just another mindless rambling blog, but I figure I should at least try to have some kind of method to the madness.

As crazy as it sounds, I've been looking forward to turning 40 for quite some time. I've been kidding myself for a number of years thinking I was "young". I don't look 40, and I certainly don't act 40, but it's nice to have some kind of milestone in life to actually confirm what I've been feeling recently the past number of years...I'm not young, I am old, and only getting older. The only people that will tell you 40 is not old, are people that are older than 40 (usually people in their 50-60's). "Life begins at 40"? I wonder how old the person was that came up with that phrase?

So today I turned 40 and it didn't start any differently than any other day. I woke up, exercised, took a shower and started the day. I decided to treat myself and go to "Subway" and get a steak and cheese sandwich and afterwards started reviewing my Chinese studies from 2 years ago. I signed up for the second Chinese class yesterday, but the class doesn't start until October 6th, so I have a month to get ready and review.

I bought myself a nice present that was delivered today, a Yamaha P-95B keyboard. My right hand is still messed up from tendinitis from lifting heavy amps at work, playing too much guitar and recently moving, so I can't really play guitar right now without pain. Playing the piano doesn't seem to bother my recent tendinitis, I'm just hoping a different hand injury from playing the too much piano earlier in the year doesn't come back, or I won't be doing anything music related anytime soon. In the first 26 years of playing music, I never had one music related injury. Now in the past 6 months, I've had two pretty serious hand injuries related mostly to overplaying. All I want is for my hands to hold up for the next year...after that, fine I'll give in and quit if that's what my body is telling me to do. This getting old thing seriously sucks. I can't imagine the nightmare it must be to be a professional athlete and watch your body slowly degenerate and fall apart as you watch your career slowly slip away right before your very eyes.

In the evening, my wife Charlene invited a bunch of our friends to meet us for a late dinner at my favorite restaurant in all of Taiwan, 永朋 (Always Friends) Beer House located one block from where we live. For $199 NTD ($6 US) you can drink all of the Taiwan Beer you want from a tap that faces outward, so you just go up and serve yourself. One time we left early around 10pm, and the owner told us, "If you want to come back later tonight, you can come back and drink more for free". That place would go out of business in a week in the USA. Needless to say we go there at least once a week.

So a group of our friends came out and we ate, drank, and were merry and ushered in the start of my 5th decade of life (my god that sounds 1000 times worse than turning 40). The older I get, the more I realize how important family and friends are, and how unimportant so many other things are in life.

I was in Germany touring with Steel Prophet when I turned 30, I'm in Taipei, Taiwan turning 40, if I make it to 50, I should probably find a pretty interesting place to do it. Life's short, enjoy the ride...before you know it, it's going to be over...and like it or not, there's no refund on that purchase.