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.