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.