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.