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?”→
Sit down, pour yourself some cold sangria, and put on some Counting Crows. I’ll tell you about what we’ve been doing in the seaside city of Barcelona. When I started writing this entry this afternoon, Steve and I were sitting in our Airbnb apartment watching the sun set on the city. Our large window opens up onto a giant city-block sized courtyard space dotted with countless balconies, terraces, and laundry racks. Beyond that, the city of Barcelona slowly fades north into green hills and mountains. The air is a little dry but it has attained the perfect balance of being a warm and comfortable breeze.
Barcelona is at once what I’ve expected from all those movies (I loved L’Auberge Espagnole but rather hated VCB) but also not quite. The subway felt warmer and stickier, at once more gritty and real of a place, but more earthy than grungy. The Eixample district we are staying in is fairly upscale, the neatly gridded streets meeting at diamond-shaped intersections that allow for parking in each corner. Spanish is not everywhere — this is the capital of Catalonia, and feels like a natural continuation from our time in Perpignan. Catalan is the language of choice and the language of state, from subway signs to top billing on restaurant menus. Thankfully, between the Catalan term for something, its Spanish (or Castellano) translation, and the French equivalent, we can almost always make out what items are on the menu. Continue reading Holiday in Spain.→
On Monday, we took a train just an hour and a half south for a day trip to Aix-en-Provence, in the Provence-Alpes-Côte-d’Azur region of France. One of my favorite things about visiting Europe is that I get to see many of things I learned about in my six years of studying Latin in high school. I first learned about Aix, as it is nicknamed, as the Roman city of Aquae Sextiae, founded in 123 BC after a heated battle by the Romans against the Teutones and Cimbri, two prominent Germanic tribes. The city is geographically positioned practically on the Mediterranean coast, a stone’s throw from Marseille, and about 300 kilometers directly south of Lyon. We’ve been in Lyon for nearly a month now, so it was about time we got to see another part of France!
We boarded a TGV train at Lyon Perrache that left the city at the hazy grey hour of 6 am. We couldn’t really sleep very well, as the morning sun only got brighter on our journey down to Aix. Fortunately, I had given up on sleep and was raptly gazing out the window when we went past the Roquefavour aqueduct, which looks absolutely amazing, and managed to grab a non-blurry photo! It’s neat, though not quite as impressive as the Pont du Gard aqueduct, but we may get to see that! Next, we took a bus from the Aix-en-Provence TGV station into town, and set off on a long rambling walk around the city.
We’ve been in Tokyo for about 28 hours, give or take a few, and have had a number of exciting adventures and trials already. However, I’m really barely functioning given the amount of sleep I’ve had and the amount of jetlag that I’m dealing with.
Let’s try to detail some of what has happened so far. Lessons learned: Do fly Malaysian Airlines. They offer free wine and beer, which makes any flight, especially trans-pacific ones, go faster. Customs is much more casual here, as compared to China. Or even compared to our border crossing in Vancouver, Canada. Nevertheless, it took us an unexpectedly long time to reach our Couchsurfing host, Ken, by JR Railroad and Tokyo Metro, which are two of the rail networks here. We crashed last night, and this morning, got up with the sun, feeling remarkably fresh after 5 and 1/2 hours of sleep. We set off to Shibuya this morning, where we enjoyed breakfast at McDonald’s and internet at Starbucks, took some pictures of the famous Shibuya Scramble, and then set off on the road to investigate Tokyo.