Archive for June, 2008

earplug night

Friday, June 27th, 2008

Well, Ted’s gone back to the Netherlands. I’ve got another week here. We didn’t do anything too glamorous this time, just a visit to some local castles our first weekend, and then to watch a regatta on the Olympic course outside Amstedam last week. Nice course — apparently it was dug by hand during the 1930s as a works project. I’d be envious, but it seems churlish when we got all those nice roads, walls, dams, and national park structures in the US for our works projects.

This weekend, I’ll row tomorrow, do some shopping because ifor things I can get here (an iPod cable, some craft wire), it’s easier to just walk around the Centrum then to go to all the separate shopping areas in Taipei. Might look for some summer dresses just for the novelty of having everything be too big instead of too small.

Normally the only good thing about Ted’s leaving is that I sleep better with a room to myself. Tonight will be an earplug night, though: they’re having a “Fiesta del Sol” in the Centrum (i.e. just across the street) which turns out to mean vaguely Jamaican or Indian crafts for sale and several bands, whom I can hear through the closed window. At least I can sleep late tomorrow if necessary.

Sunday I have a race – just a small internal club regatta run sort of like a golf scramble – they pair people randomly, but we only row for 350 meters in doubles. Then they combine the doubles into quads and have us race again. It’s all part of a fifteenth anniversary celebration. Should be fun. Then there’s an auction of nice old wooden boats, but since they won’t fit in my uitcase I gues I’m out of luck there.

Dragon Boat Festival

Tuesday, June 10th, 2008

Since there are so many photos, I’ll upload them as a gallery – click on any image to see it bigger. Ted was trying out his new (enormous) lens, so there are lots of photos. They came out pretty good, so I’ll start with them.

This past weekend, Taiwan celebrated the Dragon Boat Festival. It’s one of the three major holidays of the Chinese year – the other two are the Lunar New Year and the Moon Festival. I’m a little confused about the origin; one manager here who is said to be good at history told me that it celebrates a rebellion against the Mongol Han dynasty, but another coworker (and Wikipedia and every other online source I found) say that it commemorates the death of the poet Qu Yuan, who jumped into a river and drowned himself to protest his political exile from court. The people who revered him went out in boats and threw rice into the water to keep fish and demons from consuming his body. Later, Qu appeared to a peasant in a dream and told him a dragon was eating all the rice, so people began wrapping the rice in leaves to protect it from the dragon.

There are some other origin stories here. The holiday is a couple thousand years old, so some of the stories behind it are dreamlike and a bit fuzzy, like some of the oldest stories in the Bible.

The holiday is celebrated today with dragon boat races and by eating bundles of beef and sticky rice, which are wrapped in bamboo leaves (zongzi). The cafeteria served zongzi on Friday, which …. was about of the quality of a US corporate cafeteria’s Thanksgiving meal. Work also handed out gift certificates to a major store; it’s traditional to give bonuses at the big holidays.

The river near our house was the site of the dragonboat races, so of course we went to watch and take pictures. It was warm but especially as we walked over the bridge there was a nice breeze to make the heat tolerable. It was hot down by the docks, though! I hope it was cooler out on the river for the racers. There were quite a few teams racing; we saw men, women’s and mixed boats as well as some smaller 8 person boats mixed in with the more common 16-person boats. The crews paddle the way you do in a canoe. Each boat had one person steering by means of a paddle in back and someone beating cadence on a drum in the bow. (I want one of those next time I cox!)

A few of our Dutch colleagues participated in a Dutch boat; they didn’t win but came in 2nd in a couple of their races. There were other foreigners competing in boats from the various schools and associations – maybe we’ll sign up to paddle next year.

There were food tents and to our surprise, one of them held a man who is apparently the Taiwan distributor for Power Bars. Their Protein bars are expensive once they’re brought all the way over here – but Ted was glad to be able to get a few.

not quite Taiwanren yet

Tuesday, June 10th, 2008

I’m working on an entry about the Dragon Boat Festival – I just need to upload the pictures. But meanwhile I needed to brag that I’ve just conducted my first transaction all in Chinese, with neither English nor (much) sign language.

Well, it’s not as impressive as that sounds. I walked into a locksmith, held up a key and said, “Two pieces”> (Liang ge, and the latter is probably not the right quantity for keys but it’s general enough to be intelligible. And anyway, every noun has its designated quantity word, and there are a lot of them; this is the sort of thing, like which variant of “the” to use in Dutch, that I don’t expect ever to get right.) She made two keys, and said “Liang bai.” ($200, about $6 US.) So I repeated it, she nodded, I handed her the money and we both said thank you.

And then on the way home when a very little girl pointed at me and said something to her dad (probably something about “funny looking”, I’d guess) I smiled at her and said “I’m an American” (Wo shi Meiguoren) just for good measure.

And I spoke to a Chinese person on the phone today (one actually in China, I mean) and gave her my phone number, in Chinese. Given that she repeated it back in English, I got it right. Of course it also means it probably wasn’t necessary, but I think she understood it that way better than when I’d started in English.

On Sunday I leave for the Netherlands so all the Dutch words will push the Chinese ones from my brain.

Wan an, nimen – goede nacht, jullie – ‘night, y’all.


Sunday, June 1st, 2008

It woke us up at 12:59 this morning. 5.2 on the Richter scale and centered about 40km away from Taipei and 96 km down into the Earth’s crust, it was about a magnitude 3 where we live, according to the morning news. I note that USA Today is calling it magnitude 6.0 – not surprising, as I’ve seen the big China earthquake reported aywhere from 7.5 to 8.0. For the record, magnitude 3 apparently translates to “strong enough to be sure instantly that it’s a quake, but small enough to be interesting rather than scary”.