Other than “Where are you from?”, this is the question I’ve been asked most frequently in Taiwan. I’ve met dozens of people in both Taichung and Taipei this summer, and invariably within a few minutes of meeting me, they either say, “Oh, wow, you speak Chinese really well,” or “How come you speak Chinese so fluently?” Here is the long version.
I was born in Beijing, and grew up speaking and reading Mandarin Chinese as my first language. My parents, both academics, had many books around the house, and I was a voracious reader from the start. A very memorable photo shows me at age five poring over a dictionary of Greek mythology while holding a dripping chocolate ice cream cone. I went to kindergarten in Beijing, and afterwards, took the exam to go to elementary school. And yes, there was an exam for elementary school, and I remember clearly that one portion was to add together two-digit numbers mentally (for example, 18 and 35) and tell the proctor the answer. Continue reading “Why do you speak Chinese so well?”→
Written on the 473
From Taipei to Taichung
Sunday, June 21, 8:17 pm
It’s Sunday, and I’m just two short hours away from being back in Taichung and seeing Steve again! A two-week separation has been difficult, but I’ve had a lot of fun in Taipei, and Steve has learned a lot of Chinese. The long weekend for the Dragon Boat Festival (端午节) means the trains are packed with people going home and coming back to work. Since I have some time, I’ll write a bit more about my internship, especially since it’s more than half over already!
When I started talking to the Taiwan Fund for Children and Families back in January about an internship, I knew three things: I wanted to do something quantitative with either economics or statistics; I wanted to learn more professional Chinese, since all my public policy training is in English; I wanted to experience the work environment in Asia, since we’re interested in moving to this continent (and very likely, this island!). By mid-March, we had hammered out two projects for the internship. Continue reading Statistics, social programs, and why do an evaluation.→
A few weeks ago, I became much more excited about going to Taipei for two weeks during my internship and being separated from Steve during that whole time, mostly thanks to the fact that I had read a Lonely Planet article about all the cat cafés in Taipei. It’s actually pretty awesome how many cat cafés I’ve been to in Asia now: the first two we visited were in Tokyo and Bangkok, respectively, both during our original circumnavacation. I’ve now added three more to the list, all in Taipei, and a more detailed report is due! Friends and family will know that I adore dogs, and our corgi-mix Stella is pretty much the thing I love most in the world. But I was first and foremost a cat person, pretty much from the cradle. My family had cats when we were in China, and had more after we came to the States. It’s thus fitting to get crazy about cats again when I come back to Asia!
Cat cafés are a relatively recent phenomenon. The very first cat café, called Cat Garden, opened in Taipei in 1998 and has since been renamed Cats and Café 1998. Thus, cat cafés are actually a Taiwanese invention! However, they’re most popular today in Japan, which people theorize is because there’s very limited space and it’s hard to have pets. Oh, and also that the Japanese are crazy about cats. Hello? Other than having cats, these venues also differ from regular cafés in that they often have an entry requirement or a minimum spending requirement. In Japan, the cat cafés we visited stipulated that you had to spend a certain amount of money (like 500 yen) for a cover charge to stay for a certain amount of time, but it did usually come with a beverage. In Taiwan and the cat café we visited in Bangkok, there is usually a minimum spending requirement, ranging from 120 to 200 NT. That’s usually the price of a drink, which is astronomical compared to what they can usually cost – 20-30 NT! It’s to deter people from coming in just to gawk and take pictures of cats, without spending a penny. I used the Lonely Planet article and another article from City543 to plan for a list of cat cafés…
When we came up to Taipei, I asked my dad for a little bit of advice on what he thought was worth seeing. After all, my parents did visit Taiwan this March after the Lunar New Year, in part to see what in the world I had been raving about! When asked for the one touristy spot we should see if we had time, he confirmed that we should visit the National Palace Museum. To explain what the National Palace Museum is necessitates a detour into Chinese and Taiwanese history…
Behind Tiananmen Gate in Beijing is the entrance to the Forbidden City, where the Palace Museum of China is to be found. Housed in the old palace of the Ming and Qing dynasties, the Palace Museum holds all sorts of precious artifacts, textiles, porcelains, and works of art and history from China’s thousands of years of history. Except that is, some of the best examples. In 1948, when the Nationalists under Chiang Kai-shek were about to lose to the Communists and Mao Zedong, they retreated to Taiwan and took the best selection of artifacts from the Palace Museum with them. Most of those artifacts remain in Taiwan today, housed in the National Palace Museum in Taipei. Some say this was a good thing, because during the Cultural Revolution (1966-1976), many of China’s artifacts were destroyed by Chinese people themselves. The Palace Museum in Beijing barely escaped the same sort of destruction, thanks to guards specifically deployed to protect it.
Written on the 506 train
Saturday, June 6, 10:03 am
For the next two and a half hours, Steve and I are going on a scenic, slow tour of the landscape between Taichung and Taipei, thanks to Taiwan Rail (台鐵). We are taking a not-so-express train that goes through many smaller towns, though still not the local train, which doesn’t even have seat reservations. So far, we have seen some lovely fields, rivers that are running fuller than they used to be because of the recent rains (but still not at full capacity), and some mountains and hills in the distance. It is not the kind of scenery we would expect to see in the US, because these aren’t a part of long-running ranges like the Rockies and the Appalachians. The mountains here are steeper, younger, and you come up on them very suddenly.
For the rest of the train ride, I think I will take the time to record my impressions and thoughts about my internship so far. There are two sorts of different experiences I’m going through simultaneously, which I will write about separately. The first is the fact that working (and living) overseas in Asia is a very different experience from the US, and I’m growing to understand more about the non-profit sector here. The second is that I am putting into practice what I’ve learned in my first year of public policy grad school about policy analysis, program evaluation, and statistics in order to run this program evaluation of their youth capacity building program.
The few days before I started at my internship, Steve and I were running around Taichung trying to set up our household. Even though we were crazy tired and busy, I still found time to worry about starting this internship. Plunging into full-time work, even just for ten weeks, is a considerable mental strain. What if my boss was hard to deal with? What if I couldn’t actually understand what they were telling me, since I knew nearly no professional Chinese? Even though I had talked on Skype to my prospective supervisor and found her very kind and the project for the summer quite promising, I was still on the verge of telling Steve that we had made a bad mistake, and couldn’t we just chill in Taiwan for ten weeks instead? Continue reading The 9-to-5 in Taiwan.→
This is the laziest post I will be writing in this blog. Rather than actually sit down to recount what we’ve been up to, I’m just going to repost some tweets I’ve been making on Twitter about Taichung, and add a little bit more detail. It’s kind of like a social media sausage! Enjoy.
This was set up next to the park near our house recently. I don’t really understand why they have people playing the trombones, and it looks more like a Christmas exhibit, but it’s pretty cool anyway. After I took this picture, I saw a 50-something year-old man kneeling to take a picture of this sign from a lower angle. People love their photo ops here, which is why they put this here, I guess! Continue reading Tweeting about Taiwan.→