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|Monday, September 10th, 2007|
|Taipei - across the finish line
The last week of my internship was probably the most frantic. Although I had gathered all the candy consumption data, most of the conclusions about the project would be based on data gathered from the surveys distributed to patients in the morning and afternoon clinics, and also to new patients registering at the clinic. The survey distribution to the morning clinic was hectic – more people come in the morning (91 morning patients filled out the survey), and many of them have jobs or family to go to right after their clinic appointment, so the time to fill out the survey was somewhat less and many patients didn’t even see the questions on the back. This was recorded as “missing data” but didn’t really affect awareness or recall rates because most morning clinic patients said they never saw candy with stickers. My data showed only 3% of the morning patients could remember part of the slogan on the stickers, but 100% of morning clinic patients who didn’t find out about the candy until they got the survey thought I was a jerk for giving candy to the afternoon clinic and not to them. In fact, I did give the morning clinic sticker-less candy on weekends to prevent angry patients from writing random answers on the survey, but some patients travel on weekends so they were unaware of this. The afternoon clinic was a little slower (55 afternoon patients filled out the survey) but the awareness and recall rates were higher, which pleased me greatly. The new patient survey was given to new patients who came to register at the clinic but was only distributed for four days because of delays in development, so only 7 patients filled out the survey. However, their answers were still useful for my final presentation.
Although I didn’t have time to do a complete statistical analysis on the data, the preliminary results were satisfactory. I focused on awareness (defined as having seen or heard of any type of candy from the Methadone clinic), recall (defined as the ability to remember at least 1 character from either of the two slogans on the stickers), and consumption (defined as any candy not left in the jar when it was collected at the end of the day). I also looked at patient responses to a survey question on whether the patient could draw the picture that had appeared next to the slogan, which should have been a heart or a four-leaf clover. One patient drew a clover-like object and two drew hearts. However, because the rest of the responses included stick figures, happy faces and Hello Kitty, I concluded that despite their creative responses, the patients did not remember the pictures. The results were as follows:
Current patient awareness percentage:
Objective: at least 50% of clinic patients having seen or heard of candy from the clinic.
Actual: 90.9% of afternoon patients aware of clinic candy, 72.5% of morning patients aware of clinic candy (with or without stickers).
New patient awareness percentage:
Objective: at least 10% of new patients having seen or heard of candy from the clinic.
Actual: 56.14% of new patients aware of clinic candy (with or without stickers).
Current patient recall percentage:
Objective: at least 20% of afternoon patients can recall at least 1 character from either candy slogan.
Actual: 29.09% of afternoon patients and 3% of morning patients could recall at least 1 character.
Candy consumption rate:
Objective: at least 50 pieces of candy consumed per day by afternoon clinic.
Actual: 62.4 pieces per day consumed by afternoon clinic.
My final presentation was on Friday. I was the last remaining intern so unfortunately none of my intern friends could attend, but most of the AIDS prevention staff was there, as well as Dr. Yen the hospital administrator. My presentation was in Chinese although the Powerpoint was in English, but I had translated a few key words into Chinese and also provided a paper outline of the project. Presentations in Taiwan differ from those in the U.S. mainly in that professors (or hospital management, in this case) can jump in with their questions at any time during the presentation, and can ask the presenter to skip ahead or go back to revisit whichever topic the professor/manager wants to address. This can be unnerving for presenters who are accustomed to waiting until the end of the presentation to answer questions, but I had already experienced this as a student at NCKU and had seen it at the hospital during other interns’ presentations, so I felt prepared. The only questions Dr. Yen posed during the presentation were about why I had decided to use candy instead of chocolate (which would have melted either in the clinic or in patients’ pockets). There was also a weakness in the study design (no pre-project data) and in the new patient survey (a question on having seen/heard about candy did not ask if the new patient had seen other ads about the clinic, so the results proved that new patients had seen the candy but couldn’t prove that was the only ad they saw). However, Dr. Yen concluded that he was impressed with the results and would consider adding candy advertisements to the needle-cleaning kits given to IDUs. He also wanted all future interns to run their projects as experiments based on behavioral science theories. Finally, he wanted to research cell phone-based public health interventions, which he felt would be both inexpensive and effective because Taipei intravenous drug users, like most Taiwanese, are never without their cell phones. Although this particular week was exhausting, it was a relief to know that my project would be continued in some form after I returned to California, and that it would give heroin addicts in Taipei a chance to lead healthier lives.
Photos from the final presentation and patient surveys: http://s15.photobucket.com/albums/a356/chinaadventure/Taiwan/Taipei%20Internship/Candy%20project%20photos/
|Wednesday, September 5th, 2007|
|Taipei/Tainan - modern diseases and traditional values
Last week I took a three-day break from my candy project to visit Dr. Hu at He-ping Hospital in Taipei. Dr. Hu is an infectious diseases specialist who works mostly with AIDS and TB patients, so it was a good chance for me to get a look at how those diseases affect the body as they progress. I also was able to discuss some of the rarer but quite virulent infections found in Taiwan, such as KP. I spent most of my time there looking through X-rays and photographs of patients’ infections; needless to say, I didn’t eat much last week.
My candy project ended last week, so I spent most of my time writing and rewriting the current patient survey, which will provide me with most of the data I need to determine if my project was a success. The survey took nearly the whole week to develop, because in addition to the translation issues I also had to reformat it to fit on one page (because the patients won’t turn the survey over to look at the other side), add check boxes (Taiwanese don’t circle answers, they check them), change the question about the patient’s birth year (it had to be in Taiwanese years, which start at 1911 so this is Year 96), and add unprompted and prompted recall questions about the candy messages. I eventually went through eight or nine drafts, but hopefully the final version will provide me with the information I need.
After work, I went to Tainan for the weekend to join my former classmates on a bike ride. I felt a visit to Taiwan wouldn’t be complete without joining one of Tommy’s semiannual efforts to kill his classmates. Just as I expected, we were told by our fearless leader that the ride would only last three hours (it was six), we would stay on the roads (we went through a lot of open fields with no bike paths), and we wouldn’t need a repair kit because it was a short ride (I got a flat tire - twice). However, I did enjoy going to the Tainan Cetacean Museum to see the remains of a sperm whale whose body spontaneously exploded in the Tainan streets as it was being transported to the university. We also visited a temple where Taiwanese could pray to Matsu the sea goddess, Guanyin the bodhisattva or the Old Moon Man, a Taiwanese version of Cupid. I was curious about a small shrine at the side of the temple where Taiwanese couples could pray to a god of childbirth. As I read over the many wooden placards in front of the shrine where couples had written their requests, I realized how strong the pulse of tradition is under Taiwan’s modern surface: “A boy child...a boy child...we really want a boy child...”
Photos from the bike ride: http://s15.photobucket.com/albums/a356/chinaadventure/Taiwan/Taipei%20Internship/Tainan%20bike%20ride/
|Thursday, August 30th, 2007|
|Taipei/Kaohsiung - "Addiction is not a crime."
Last week the Methadone clinic had yet another appearance in the media – on Monday, the hospital administrator Dr. Yen held a press conference with such disparate agenda items as “How the Methadone clinic operates” and “How to cure a sore throat acquired from staying up all night singing karaoke with friends.” The Methadone issue was particularly difficult, as neither the press nor the general public looks favorably on drug addiction. Which is understandable, but nevertheless makes press conferences quite complicated. One of the reporters asked how long patients could remain on Methadone therapy; this is a difficult question to answer because to say patients can conceivably remain on Methadone therapy for years implies that the hospital legally offers opiates to drug addicts for as long as they want, but to say that (due to the absence of other support services and the highly addictive nature of heroin) most patients fall out of the program after a few months implies that Methadone therapy is a failure. Dr. Yen chose to answer by emphasizing that the clinic treats addiction, and “addiction is not a crime.” Selling or using drugs is a criminal issue, but being addicted to them is a medical one. The press seemed satisfied with this.
The television media were unusually aggressive last week. One rainy afternoon, I was sitting at the back of the Methadone clinic so I could converse with patients without disturbing their usual behavior patterns. From my vantage point I caught a glimpse of a patient talking with an unknown young woman outside the clinic; after a few seconds, I noticed she was carrying a microphone, and there was a man behind her with a professional video camera. My understanding of medical laws in Taiwan is limited but I assumed they did not include getting recovering drug addicts on film as they were leaving a treatment center. I pointed the woman out to the clinic nurses (they couldn’t see out the window from behind the front counter), and one of them ran outside to talk with her. The woman and the cameraman disappeared after a few minutes; I found out later she claimed to have had the hospital’s permission to interview patients unaccompanied by a staff member, but fled when the nurse called an administrator on her cell phone. The nurses were unable to get a hold of the film, but they said that if it airs the TV station will pixellate the patients’ faces to prevent recognition; however, I have seen cases on the Taiwanese television where only the person’s pupils were pixellated. This doesn’t seem to offer much protection - I assume viewers could guess what color the eyes were.
Over the weekend I went to Kaohsiung to visit my friends Janice and Jack, and also to buy some personal protection. Due to several recent incidents, I decided it would be best to have either mace or an alarm in my purse at all times, just in case. The first shop I visited was a weapons store that sold mostly replicas, since guns are illegal in Taiwan. The owner offered to sell me a very effective alarm that was activated by pulling out the key, but unfortunately it was attached to a Taser, and I could just imagine trying to get that through U.S. Customs. The second shop had mace, which I purchased because it would be much easier to travel with. The shop owner said both mace and personal alarms were generally poor sellers, but she knew the mace at least was very effective – a customer’s boyfriend had found it in the store once and pushed the button, thinking it was perfume. Because of the hot weather, the shop owner had had both the fan and the air conditioner on, and as a result they had had to evacuate the store. “But,” she told me, “at least now we know it works!”
Photos of Janice and Jack: http://s15.photobucket.com/albums/a356/chinaadventure/Taiwan/Taipei%20Internship/Janice%20wedding%20photos/
|Wednesday, August 22nd, 2007|
|Taipei - the door to the spirit world is opened
The candy project is now reaching its final weeks. I have gotten positive feedback from both the patients and the nurses in the clinic, so it remains only to see if the candy will have its desired effects. This week, I started designing the post-intervention surveys to measure how much of the candy is consumed by the patients themselves and how much is reaching the IDU community, as well as patient impressions of the whole project. I’m using two separate surveys: one for current patients and one for incoming patients. This will determine whether similar methods could be used in the future as clinic advertising or as a way to reinforce positive health messages for current patients.
Unfortunately, I was unable to use a pre-test to acquire baseline data, because at the time I arrived, the patients didn’t know who I was or how much Chinese I could understand. I also hadn’t provided them with any deliverables at that point, so it’s likely that if I had handed out a pre-test I would have had a low return rate. In addition, it took me three weeks to develop the messages that are placed on the candy. Designing, editing, translating, back-translating, submitting and collecting a pre-test would likely have taken an additional week, at which point the time remaining for the intervention might have been too short to show results. Finally, I know I can get basic background information on the patients from the intake surveys collected by the clinic. So my study design is relatively weak (post-test only), but it does allow me to manage the project almost entirely by myself (interns here are expected to run their own projects largely unassisted), and increases the possibility of seeing some results.
Aside from my project, I’ve had the opportunity to observe some major cultural events. Last week an announcement appeared on the Taiwanese news channel that “the door to the spirit world has opened!” August is the “ghost month” on the Chinese lunar calendar, the period when deceased ancestors can visit the world of the living. During this month, Taiwanese people set up altars in their homes and doorways with offerings to their ancestral spirits – usually food, beverages and paper money. They pray over the offerings with joss sticks and burn the money in fireproof outdoor bins. After the ancestors have had a chance to eat and drink their fill, the offerings are taken down and shared among the living.
Although I didn’t participate in praying over the offerings, I did join my coworkers’ conversations about their experiences with ghosts or ancestral spirits. Most of my coworkers say they have seen or heard a ghost at some point, usually in their college dormitory. This isn’t surprising, as dormitories in Taiwan are generally quite old and therefore have long histories of both corporal and spiritual habitation. I haven’t seen any ghosts myself yet, but I did find out that the fastest way to end these conversations is to mention I’m living alone in a dormitory. Personally, I don’t expect to see many ghosts; my dorm room may look like it was built during the Ming dynasty, but it doesn’t have the air I would expect of haunted buildings (although the attic upstairs looks like a good place to hide bodies). Should any ghosts appear, I hope to avoid doing anything that would incur their displeasure, and to wish them a speedy journey back to the spirit world at the end of the month.
|Friday, August 17th, 2007|
|Taipei - from Marxism to Methadone
My second trip to Taiwan is proving to be quite a change of pace. As a grad student at the UCLA School of Public Health, I am spending my summer internship working in the Taipei Health Department’s Methadone Clinic. Methadone is used both here and in the United States as a replacement therapy for heroin users because its effects are similar but it is much less addictive. The Methadone clinic gives injectible drug users (IDUs) an opportunity to get treatment for their addiction, and also reduces the infection rates for diseases transmitted through shared needles, such as AIDS and hepatitis. In practice, running a Methadone clinic for heroin users is as difficult practically as it is politically. Heroin is a highly addictive substance; I’ve been told that the relapse rate for Taipei heroin users is close to 90% on the first attempt. Methadone also carries the risk of overdose if patients continue using heroin while on Methadone treatment. Finally, resources for recovering addicts are generally slim outside of the United States; in Taipei, there are two organizations similar to AA that offer behavioral therapy for addicts, but neither is heavily used, which means drug users often receive medical treatments (such as Methadone) for their addictions but may not get treatment for the behavioral or environmental issues that led to their drug use in the first place. Because my internship is only ten weeks, I won’t have the time to address some of the larger barriers to successful AIDS prevention and addiction treatment, such as the tendency for policemen to gather near needle exchange locations and arrest IDUs as they exit with clean needles (in Taiwan, carrying a syringe is considered probable cause, so anyone caught with a syringe can be taken to the nearest police station and required to take a drug test).
My work in the clinic consists of interviewing patients to find out how their Methadone treatment is progressing, as well as finding ways to strengthen the Health Department’s outreach to IDUs. I’m piloting a Chinese-language peer-to-peer advertising campaign to determine if it’s an effective way to reach IDUs and get them to come to the clinic. I created two slogans in Chinese based on data gathered from interviewing IDUs: “Put down the pen and raise a cup!” and “Throw out Number 4, it’s better to come and drink!” “Pen” is a Chinese slang term for “syringe” among IDUs, and “Number 4” is a slang term for heroin that refers to the substance’s purity compared to other drugs. The slogans were edited to follow the three-character or four-character pattern of classical Chinese literature, which all Taiwanese are exposed to from grade school so the slogans would be easier for IDUs to memorize, then tested for comprehension in a small group of clinic patients. Finally, the slogans were printed on stickers that are attached to candy, which patients are given daily after they drink Methadone to take away Methadone’s bitter medicinal taste. The patients each take a few pieces of candy every day, which increases their exposure to the message and also the possibility that they will share it with other IDUs. After a few weeks, I will give the patients a short quiz to see if they remember the slogans or the pictures on the stickers, and will also ask all incoming patients if they have seen or heard of this candy from any of their friends. I want to determine if the candy is an effective way to advertise the clinic, or if it would be more effective to focus on attitude change among patients by continually exposing them to the same message.
Three weeks in, the project is already showing small signs of success. The patients like the candy because it’s free, it takes away the taste of Methadone, and they can pick through the bin to choose their favorite pieces. After a few more weeks, I hope to show enough of an effect from my data to persuade the clinic directors to continue the program after I return to UCLA. That would be the sweet taste of success.
|Monday, May 21st, 2007|
|The "China Adventure" starts again!
After a nine-month hiatus (due to my graduate studies at UCLA), the "China Adventure" emails will be starting again! Once again I'm headed for Taiwan, but with a slightly different twist - I will be working full-time instead of studying. I have secured a summer internship with the Taipei Health Department evaluating their HIV prevention program for intravenous drug users. I'm sure you could come up with much better ideas for a summer vacation, but I'm excited about this because it's a great opportunity for me to fulfill the internship requirement for my Master's degree by working in a region where I have had so many great experiences and met so many wonderful people. In addition, thanks to generous support from UCLA's Bixby Program for Population and Reproductive Health, and the Drabkin Fund for international health, I will not have to moonlight as an English teacher in order to pay for my internship. I look forward to sharing more "China Adventures" (and photos too!) with you over the next few months as I work with the Health Department to keep Taiwan healthy.
The start of the next adventure is only six weeks away!
|Sunday, August 6th, 2006|
|Lalashan, Taipei County - the "Long March"
In an effort to catch a break from the aforementioned rounds of "You a poo-poo head!", I joined my classmates Dominic and Tommy on a backpacking trip in Taipei County last weekend. I knew we would also be accompanied by Tommy's girlfriend Mingzhen, and six other individuals from Taipei whom I hadn't met yet. None of my other classmates wanted to go with us; they were a little intimidated by Tommy's reputation as a serious hiker. Tommy himself had previously said that his favorite hikes involved "opening the road" - that is, heading straight up the side of a mountain with a backpack and a pole for clearing the way. The hike that he led during the class trip to Nantou in January is still a sensitive topic. I wasn't able to attend the trip but I did learn that only half the class was willing to go with him on that "easy" hike, and the survivors are still traumatized. Hanning recently complained, "It went on forever! He just kept saying, 'We're almost there, we're almost there,' but it lasted for hours!"
With this in mind, the four of us boarded the bus for Taipei on Friday. When we arrived in Taipei, I got my first indication as to what kind of hike this was going to be: the six other athletic individuals were all Tommy's hiking buddies from college. I noticed when we got to Lalashan ("Lala" is the local aboriginal word for "beautiful") at 2AM Saturday morning that they had provided only one bottle of water for each person, but they had brought plenty of beer. And a watermelon. We were unable to drive to the park gate on the first night because the guard would not allow the van to pass, so we camped (very noisily) outside the guard station.
On Saturday morning we gathered our packs, each weighing between 15 and 22 kilograms, and hiked up the road to the park gate. There was a minor dispute over the watermelon, as everyone wanted to eat it but no one wanted to carry it for 17 kilometers, so Tommy resolved this by carrying the melon himself. After half an hour we reached the park gate and started the real hike. The weather was cool and the thick vegetation provided some pleasant shade. The time passed quickly as Tommy's friends sang traditional Chinese songs or swapped stories about the daring rescues they had performed on girlfriends who fell injured during a hike. At 2PM we stopped for a lunch of noodles and took the chance to drop the packs, stretch out and relax. After an hour we shouldered the bags again and started the descent.
It was here that the fun started. In Tainan we had found while packing for the trip that Dominic lacked hiking boots but, encouraged by Tommy's statement that this was "an easy hike," we had all agreed there would be no problem with hiking in sneakers. I had done it myself on a previous occasion. However, once on the mountain, the combination of the heavy pack and a lack of adequate footwear meant that Dominic started having knee pain, which by midafternoon was unbearable. Since there was no choice but to continue on, the group decided to separate: six people went on ahead carrying Dominic's, Xiangchun's and Yuming's packs, and the remaining three of us (myself, Xiangchun and Yuming) stayed behind to assist Dominic with the descent. Despite the pain in his knee (we later learned it was tendonitis), he was quite stoic and offered no complaint. We patiently worked our way through the remaining 7 or 8 kilometers, which occasionally involved navigating across rockslides and small waterfalls. There were several places where the trail was less than half a meter wide and the drop-off was precipitous. Xiangchun and Yuming distracted us with stories of how during their military service, they had run the full length of this trail in the dark while carrying rocks. As the afternoon stretched into evening and the shadows deepened, with the trail end nowhere in sight and fatigue setting in, I began to think running the trail in the dark might actually be preferable. Yuming called out several times but there was no response; by sunset we assumed the lead group had already reached the aboriginal elementary school where we would camp for the night. According to the signposts on the trail, we still had several kilometers to go. When it was too dark to see clearly, Xiangchun and Dominic switched on their headlamps. I glanced briefly at the smattering of stars through the treetops overhead. Several times during the hike Xiangchun pointed out an unusual insect native to Taiwan, similar to a centipede but with an illuminated posterior like a firefly. We continued on in the dark, and it was after 8PM by the time we crossed the last bridge and saw the car that would take us to the school. We had hiked for nearly twelve hours, and even though my pack had been passed among the three of us for the last half of the hike, I was still completely exhausted.
There was plenty of hotpot, beer and watermelon waiting at the campsite, so we went to sleep that night tired but very satisfied. The following morning, we packed our bags and hiked down to a small waterfall for breakfast and a swim. The water was refreshingly cold and raised everyone's spirits, so that after breakfast the boys opted to climb the waterfall to check out the view from the top. I stayed below with Mingzhen, who watched Tommy with his friends and sighed, "There he goes again. He always has to be the first one up the waterfall..." One of the boys, Jinzi, thoughtfully carried a digital camera up the falls so that we, too, could see what it was like at the top.
After we finished swimming, we boarded the van for the return to Taipei. At the bus station Dominic and I bid farewell to our new friends and headed back to Tainan; Tommy and Mingzhen decided to stay an extra day in Taipei. In Tainan on Monday, I regaled our classmates in the graduate room with the story of our experiences on the mountain. One of my classmates, Lanceral, shook his head when I finished. "I don't believe it," he said. "I don't think that not having hiking boots would cause such an injury." He added, however, that it sounded like fun and he would like to try it.
It was suddenly clear to me who was going to be the next notch in Tommy's hiking boots, but I only smiled and said, "Next time you can go hiking with Tommy. He'll probably take you on an easy hike."
Photos from the hike: http://s15.photobucket.com/albums/a356/chinaadventure/Taiwan/Hiking%20in%20Taipei%20-%20Jinzi%20Pics/
|Monday, July 31st, 2006|
|Tainan - a trip north and a change of plans
After finals ended in June, some friends and I decided to take a trip to Hualien, Yilan and Taipei for a few days to visit classmates. In Hualien we were able to stay with my classmate Hanning Xu and her family, who treated us to an excellent home-cooked meal including breadfruit soup. On our first day in Hualien, Hanning and her younger sister Weining took us to Carp Lake, where we were able to ride a paddleboat out into the middle of the lake for a stunning view. However, they advised us not to try swimming in the lake, as the water is stagnant. Our attempt to get a better lakeside view by climbing an aboriginal watchtower was foiled by some construction workers who told us to get down, it was closed for renovation. We consoled ourselves with freshly made ice cream cones at the sugar factory before heading home for dinner.
On the second day, we woke up early and drove out to Taroko Gorge. Views of the steep forested walls of the gorge and the surging rapids at its base make Taroko Gorge a major tourist attraction in Taiwan. We stopped at several sites while driving through the gorge, including a shrine to honor the laborers who died building the road and a small grotto for swallows overlooking the rapids on the valley floor. Further up the road, we walked through at a tourist center and five-star hotel, where I enjoyed a lunch of sweet rice steamed in bamboo cooked by a Taroko aboriginal woman outside the hotel doorway. Hanning told us that the situation for native Taiwanese in this part of Taiwan has improved greatly over the last several years; twenty years ago, it was not unknown for impoverished native families to sell their daughters into prostitution.
The following day, we headed north by train to Yilan, where we visited the tourist center for the recently opened Taipei-Yilan expressway, which includes the longest tunnel in the world. My classmate Steven Lin said the new expressway shortens travel time between the two cities from over two hours to forty-five minutes. Our journey by car through the main tunnel alone took over twenty minutes. In Taipei we also hiked on Yangming Mountain, which is an active volcano famous for its hot springs. Steven mentioned it was possible to hike all the way up to the peak, but Taipei people prefer to "hike" by driving to the top, so that's what we did, though once at the top we did manage a short hike to see a waterfall. By the time we arrived at the bus station for the trip back to Tainan, I was tired but pleased to have seen a little more of Taiwan.
Back in Tainan, I thought over how much I enjoyed touring the country and how much of it I hadn't seen yet. I decided that July 10, my original departure date, was too soon and it would be much better to teach English in Taiwan for the summer. I was fortunate to find plenty of demand for this service. I now teach a variety of students from five to twenty-eight years old, including four teenagers. This has required me to adapt to the English level of my students; some days I will discuss advanced grammar and essay-writing with my classmates and two hours later teach a pair of five-year-olds, where a typical conversation begins, "It my turn!" "No, it not your turn! You a poo-poo head!" Despite the occasional frustrations of teaching, I am enjoying my last few weeks in Taiwan and will be sad to leave so soon.
Photos from Hualien and Taipei: http://s15.photobucket.com/albums/a356/chinaadventure/Taiwan/Hualien%20and%20Taipei/
|Sunday, June 4th, 2006|
|Tainan - Dragon Boat Festival and Alishan
Last Wednesday we had a day off from classes in honor of the Dragon Boat Festival, which has two main traditional elements: the dragon boat races and making zongzi (rice dumplings). On the day of the festival I went with two classmates to the river to cheer on my friend Gona, who was a member of the Chinese Language Center's dragon boat racing team. The team, entirely comprised of foreigners, finished third in the races, which prompted one of my classmates to remark, "Wow, Gona's arm is really powerful!"
I, on the other hand, had much less success at making zongzi. The day before the festival, I went to a zongzi-wrapping activity at the language center, where there were a lot of students in attendance and, it turned out, several reporters and photographers as well. Assuming they were from the school newspaper, I readily answered some questions about where I was from, how long I had studied Chinese, and how long it took me to wrap one zongzi. I guessed ten minutes, since I periodically had to rewrap my zongzi (an experienced Taiwanese cook can wrap one in less than thirty seconds). I left the activity and didn't think about it again until the following afternoon when my friend Shawn announced that he saw my picture in the United Daily. I asked if that was the name of the student paper; he said, "Oh no, I think everyone in Tainan reads this paper!" I quickly bought a copy for myself and, sure enough, there was my name and picture under the enormous headline "Wrapping Zongzi: Foreigners are so Confused! It takes some people ten minutes just to wrap one!"
In need of a change of scenery after the zongzi-making, I spent Friday and Saturday with a classmate hiking in Alishan, which is perhaps Taiwan's most famous hiking area. One highlight of a trip to Alishan is a ride on the alpine train, one of very few in the world, which climbs slowly from the flatlands to an altitude of over 2000 meters at the top of the mountain. During the three-hour journey, passengers can watch the scenery change from the tropical zone of the flatlands to the subtropical and finally temperate zone as the train nears the peak. The high point of the trip is the last section of track, where the train is alternately pushed and pulled up the side of the mountain on a series of switchbacks called a "Z-shaped track."
Another of Alishan's highlights is the view of the sunrise from the top of the mountain, which unfortunately we missed because of heavy rain. Still, the abundance of hiking trails more than made up for it. During our stay, my classmate and I were able to visit the site of a 3000-year-old "sacred tree," the magnolia garden, and the Two Sisters Ponds, supposedly named for two sisters from the Tsou aboriginal tribe who dove into the ponds after falling in love with the same man. We also toured the charming town of Fenqihu about an hour's drive down the mountain from Alishan. I left Alishan worn out from hiking but grateful for the opportunity to see another of Taiwan's famous sites.
Photos from the Dragon Boat Festival: http://s15.photobucket.com/albums/a356/chinaadventure/Taiwan/
Photos from Alishan: http://s15.photobucket.com/albums/a356/chinaadventure/Taiwan/Alishan/
|Saturday, April 29th, 2006|
|Tainan - Not all Taiwanese are "Taiwanese"
While at a Rotaract meeting last week I joked to a Taiwanese friend of mine that I loved coming to the meetings but I had no idea what was going on, since all the meetings are held in Taiwanese (Hoklo) instead of Mandarin. It has been said that the two languages are as much alike as English and German, so while it is possible to understand a few words it is very difficult to follow conversations unless one speaks the language fluently. I was taken aback, however, when my friend admitted he also did not speak Taiwanese. He explained, "I'm waisheng (lit., 'Mainlander'). My family is from Shandong Province so we can't speak Taiwanese."
For most of the last century, the greatest sociopolitical divide in Taiwan has been between the bensheng (Taiwanese) and the waisheng (Mainlanders). Though both groups are ethnically Chinese, the Taiwanese are those whose ancestors came to Taiwan before the Japanese occupation in 1895. Their ancestors are largely from Fujian Province in China, and in fact the Taiwanese language is closely related to the Fujian dialect. The Mainlanders are the descendents of the Kuomintang (Nationalists) and their supporters who came to Taiwan after the end of World War II, when Taiwan was formally returned to China. The Mainlanders have their roots in various parts of China and thus speak Mandarin as a common tongue; they have little or no knowledge of Taiwanese. Aside from language, there are also socioeconomic gaps between the two groups. When the Mainlanders took control of the administration of Taiwan, the most preferential political and commercial opportunities were given to other Mainlanders due to their better social connections and superior Mandarin. The Taiwanese were largely closed off from political or social advancement. The Mainlanders also initially exploited Taiwan's natural and industrial resources to support the Nationalist government in Beijing, earning them the reputation of "barbarians" that, in milder form, still carries over to today. During the White Terror and the decades of martial law under the KMT government that followed, the Taiwanese were frequently viewed with suspicion as "subversives" and imprisoned by the Mainlander-dominated administration. Though relations have improved immensely in recent years, there are still many issues that are not discussed in public, and more than one Taiwanese friend has told me that their families don't mention "Mainlanders" at home because parents find it very upsetting. Another Taiwanese friend told me, "We suffered a lot under them during the White Terror. Some things are very hard to get over."
Fortunately, it seems social relations have improved in recent years. My friends here say only that it's not mentioned; if it's clear that someone is "Mainlander," it's socially acceptable, but in general Taiwanese do not ask each other if they speak Taiwanese. As my friends have said, some issues are better not discussed.
Photos of Rotary Events: http://s15.photobucket.com/albums/a356/chinaadventure/Taiwan/Rotary%20Events/
|Tainan - modelling, take two!
At the beginning of April, I had another opportunity to be a hairstyle model, only this time the show was in Tainan so there was no four-hour drive to Taipei. Though grateful for the shorter the travel time, I soon found that there was an additional twist: since my Austrian friend Gona would also be modelling but spoke only basic Chinese, I would be translating for her during the show. This raised the stakes somewhat, since if I made a mistake during the show it was one thing, but if Gona made a mistake because I gave her the wrong translation, it's another thing entirely. Also, I found out upon arriving at the site the day of the show that I was the only one of the four models who had done this before, so as my friend and former modelling buddy pointed out, "You have to be the leader because you are lao niao (the old bird) in the show."
With that in mind, I felt extremely lucky that the show ran as smoothly as it did. Since by now I had learned that "liang ge ba pai" means "two eight-counts," as well as the Chinese words for "turn," "smile," don't touch your makeup," and "say hello to the audience," I felt much more comfortable this time around. I could even manage the final catwalk knowing three other pairs of eyes were watching to see when I stepped forward. I returned to my dorm that evening with a set of pants that will never again see daylight, a shockingly red hairdo, and the knowledge that I can multitask (model and translate Chinese) without too much difficulty.
Photos from modelling: http://s15.photobucket.com/albums/a356/chinaadventure/Taiwan/Modelling/
|Friday, March 31st, 2006|
|Tainan - "supernova Chinese" and speaking English
My Taiwanese friend recently told me that most foreigners' spoken Chinese is called "huoxingwen," which translates roughly as "firestar language" or "supernova Chinese." When pressed for an explanation, he said "Supernova Chinese is where the Chinese words are all right but the grammar is not. So when you hear it, it's like listening to an explosion of words. When we begin to study English, our English is the same way, so we know how you feel." Even though after two and a half years of study I have mostly passed the supernova threshhold, my Chinese is far from perfect. I was told recently by my classmates that my Chinese is very clear and straightforward - in as many words, that I speak Chinese like a man. In Taiwan, this is not exactly a compliment. I have since been working with a friend to improve my vocabulary and make my speech a little more "xiuqi"; refined and elegant. I have made some progress but I believe it's a lost cause. I am not even able to speak "xiuqi English," let alone Chinese.
This study of "xiuqi Chinese" has also led to discussions on gender differences in Taiwan. One of these pertains to women and sports. Most of my male classmates are fairly athletic, on par with their counterparts in the United States. However, most women in Taiwan do not play sports at all, primarily because they stay indoors during the day in order to avoid tanning. Another reason is a cultural preference for women who are "soft and pale," so most activities that enhance muscle mass are discouraged for women. One of my classmates said that out of every ten Taiwanese women on average, seven will do no exercise whatsoever and perhaps three will enjoy sports. In our graduate class, he believes the ratio is even lower. Out of the fifteen or so women in the class, I asked who he thought these three women might be; he said "Hanning Hsu. And you. In Taiwan, you are both exceptions."
Over the last few weeks I have been able to learn more about my classmates through teaching than through studying. At the beginning of the semester my classmate Liwen asked me to help her teach conversational English to our classmates and, as a native speaker, I could hardly refuse. We have had several weekly sessions so far and the class size has fluctuated between four and eight students, depending on who feels like getting up early on Friday morning to speak English. The class originally centered on reading an English newspaper and discussing the articles, but lately this has been supplanted by some handouts with English slang words gleaned from Hollywood tabloids, and in the last couple of classes we have barely discussed the news at all. I started making the handouts to keep up the interest level in the class, and the payoff has been listening to our classmates use phrases like, "Wow, you are really a tough cookie!" "Did you have to shell out for a new computer?" and "Did you know Jessie's sister works in Tinseltown?" Liwen and I are both hoping to attract more students to the class, in order to raise everyone's English ability, so in the future we plan to use the handouts as well as speech exercises and English songs to keep our classmates from getting bored or frustrated. Initially I was ambivalent about teaching English to my classmates since I had no teaching experience, but the Friday morning sessions have become enjoyable, and our classmates have started calling us "xiao laoshi" - the little teachers.
|Tuesday, February 28th, 2006|
|Siem Reap, Cambodia
Although we were a little tired after our whirlwind tour of Vietnam, we still had one more stop before heading back to Taiwan. We arrived in Siem Reap, Cambodia where we were greeted by our guide, Thai, and had our first taste of some very un-February-like weather. In Tainan I seldom saw 25 degree Celsius days during the winter, but apparently they are not uncommon in Cambodia.
Our main reason for visiting Siem Reap was to see Angkor Wat, and as with almost everything else on this trip, it did not disappoint. We spent an entire day touring the temples of Angkor Thom and Angkor Wat and, as our guide also works on the temple restoration project, we were able to learn more about them than we would ever want to know. The temples were actually built by the Khmer people (pronounced Kh-mai) to honor the god-king and were not expected to last as long as they did. As it is, the restoration project takes considerable work because the ground underneath the temple is waterlogged, so there is a great risk of the walls separating and cracking over time. Still, many of the original carvings are preserved, depicting both mythological events and elements from Khmer daily life. Some of the carvings reveal the multiracial nature of Khmer society; there were panels where it was fairly easy to distinguish between Khmer and Chinese soldiers. Other panels had carvings of mythological creatures such as the naga (a multi-headed serpent) and the garuda (a creature with the body of a man and the head of a bird). In one area of the temple, there was a bridge with long rows of stone gods and demons each holding a naga, the gods on one side and the demons on the other.
The high point (literally) of our tour of the temples was a visit to the tower at Angkor Wat, where we had the opportunity to climb the stairs and enjoy the view from the top. This was no mean feat, as the stairs are similar to those seen at Mayan temples so it required a bit more mountaineering than walking. However, the view from the top was worth the climb, and the sight of the towers touched gold by the sunset was stunning.
While in Siem Reap, we also had some opportunities to observe the daily life of the Khmer people. We enjoyed lunch with a local family in their wooden house, which was elevated to keep it from being flooded during the spring rains. We also took an ox-cart ride for a tour of a Siem Reap neighborhood, where we were greeted by barefoot children yelling "Hello!" and watched families drying fermented fish called "prahok," which is eaten with rice as a staple food in Cambodia. Like Taiwan's famous "stinky tofu," we were told that the worse it smells, the better it tastes. Finally, we took a boat ride through the floating village on Tonle Sap, where we visited a floating elementary school and toured a neighborhood of Khmer and Vietnamese houseboats. In a scene indicative of the state of Southeast Asian international relations, the Khmer houseboats were on one side of the channel, the Vietnamese ones on the other.
Our visit to Cambodia concluded with a tour of Siem Reap's Killing Fields memorial, which is now a Buddhist monastery. Though not as large as the memorial in Phnom Penh, it is nonetheless a powerful display. The location is marked by a collection of skulls gathered from the fields after the Khmer Rouge left power. The Khmer Rouge, whose political ideology resembled that of the Maoist rebels currently operating in Nepal, brutally slaughtered one-third of Cambodia's population during Pol Pot's regime in 1975-1979. Their targets were the "new people" from the cities, in particular the intellectuals, many of whom were executed in the fields by blows to the back of the head in order to save bullets. Some of the skulls in the display also had cracked facial bones, which according to a retired physician on the tour are very difficult to break and would require a blow of considerable force. During the regime, it was a habit of the Khmer Rouge to tell the people, "To keep you is no benefit, to kill you is no loss." In their effort to exterminate the "new people," they targeted anyone wearing eyeglasses, as this was seen as a sign of being an intellectual. This stigma still carries over to today; during our four days in Cambodia, we did not see a single Khmer person wearing glasses. After such a traumatic past, it is hoped that Cambodia as a nation can look forward to a brighter future.
Photos of Cambodia: http://s15.photobucket.com/albums/a356/chinaadventure/Cambodia/
|Saturday, February 18th, 2006|
|Hoi An to Ho Chi Minh/Saigon, Vietnam - Happy New Year!
On the road from Hue to Hoi An, we made a couple of brief stops at a marble factory and China Beach. The beach was cold and windy, but our guide promised much better weather in the summer. We took a tour of Hoi An when we arrived, including a trip to a Fukkienese temple constructed by Chinese immigrants to Vietnam after the fall of the Ming Dynasty. Because immigrants from the same Chinese province also make up a large percentage of Taiwan's population, the temple closely resembled the Matsu temple in Tainan. It was, in fact, dedicated to the same sea goddess Matsu who has protected generations of Taiwanese.
We took a day trip from Hoi An to the My Son Holy Land, where we could tour the ruins of a holy city of the Cham people. The Cham people once formed an independent kingdom before their land was joined with Vietnam, but many Cham preserve their traditional beliefs and lifestyles. Because in some ways Cham culture is closer to Thai than to Vietnamese culture, the architecture was very different from what we had previously seen in Vietnam. The figures carved into the stone showed a much stronger Indian/Hindu influence, as opposed to the Chinese influence more prevalent in Vietnam. Preservation of My Son is an on-going process; we passed a few archaeological sites during our tour. Some of the statues at these sites were missing heads, but as you can see in the Photobucket pictures, we were able to find a solution to that problem.
After a few days in Hoi An we flew to Ho Chi Minh City/Saigon for the last leg of our Vietnam tour. We arrived in the city in time for Tet, the Lunar New Year also celebrated in China and Taiwan. On Lunar New Year's Eve, the streets were swarming with people and motorbikes, most headed in the direction of the river to watch the fireworks display. Outside some of the major hotels we could see lion and dragon dances with Vietnamese acrobats. We celebrated New Year's at a cocktail party in our hotel, then went outside at midnight to watch the fireworks. When the fireworks started at midnight, everyone in the streets began cheering and yelling "Chuc Mung Nam Moi!" (Happy New Year!)
In Saigon we had more opportunities to see another view of the war. We toured the War Museum, which featured pictures from photojournalists of what were once described as "American war crimes." These included pictures of suspected Viet Cong agents being loaded into helicopters, interrogated and in some cases executed. There were also photos of civilians fleeing bombing and napalm raids. Some of the more difficult photos featured Agent Orange victims, in some cases children, and the lasting effect the war had on their lives. As expected, there was limited documentation of the defensive actions taken by the Viet Cong during the war, but we were able to see some of this later in the Cu Chi tunnels.
The Cu Chi tunnels were located just north of Saigon and were a network of underground tunnels the Viet Cong used to stage operations. The region where they were located was so heavily forested that even on a clear day, the entrances were difficult to find. Part of this was due to the tunnel entrances being so small that they could only be entered by raising the hands above the head. The tunnels themselves were traversed by running at a crouch, and were so dark that without additional lighting it was impossible to tell if there was someone right in front of you. Currently the tunnels are clean except for a few small bats, but during the war they could be booby-trapped with snakes and spiders for American "tunnel rats." Outside of the tunnels we could see a disturbing display of additional traps once used for catching animals but modified for American soldiers. Though only simple contraptions of barbed wire and bamboo, we could see that they were devastatingly effective.
After too short a time, our trip to Vietnam concluded with a night cruise on the river. The following morning, we packed our bags and headed for the next stage of our journey - Cambodia!
Photos from Vietnam: http://s15.photobucket.com/albums/a356/chinaadventure/Vietnam/
|Thursday, February 16th, 2006|
|Hanoi to Hue, Vietnam - oh choi oy!
After finals ended in January, I took a much-needed vacation and traveled with my mother to Vietnam and Cambodia for winter break. After meeting with the ten other people in our tour group, our adventures began in Hanoi with a tour of the city, which has some of the worst traffic I have ever seen (and this includes Taiwan, Bangkok and Los Angeles). We spent some time the first few days learning to cross the street without being flattened. We also learned some phrases in Vietnamese, including "Oh choi oy!" (Oh my God!) In Hanoi we were also able to see the Ho Chi Minh mausoleum, which was impressive and quite well-guarded. Our tour guide Quang told us there that the mausoleum was contrary to Ho Chi Minh's last wishes - he wanted to be cremated and to have his ashes scattered in the rice paddies in both the North and the South. We also visited the Hanoi Hilton, where we could see John McCain's flight suit on display, as well as photographs of American pilots and descriptions of their experiences as prisoners of war. Although there were plenty of descriptions and photographs, stories of the prison with which Americans are more familiar were noticeably absent.
While in Hanoi we also took a day trip to an isolated rural village called Tho Ha. Rice paper production is the major industry in this village, so everywhere we went we could see sheets of rice paper drying on bamboo racks. We were invited into a home and served homemade rice wine while a former North Vietnamese Army soldier entertained us on his musical instruments. Although I couldn't match his skill, I was able to try playing a bamboo flute, probably one of few opportunities I will have to play music with an NVA veteran.
After a few days in Hanoi, we spent one day touring Halong Bay and visiting the caves. The stalactites were stunning and the views of the bay from the boat were very impressive. We then hopped a plane to Hue, home of a famous Buddhist pagoda called Thien Mu. We also visited the Care Orphan institute and spoke English with some of the children there. They were very friendly and had many questions for us, mostly about where we were from and what each of us did for a profession. These are the first phrases that many people learn when they study English so we heard them a lot while we were in Vietnam. We visited the Citadel in Hue, which was where a great deal of fighting occurred during the Tet offensive. The Chinese-style architecture and beautiful carvings were elegant, but the impression was marred by the bullet-holes in the walls.
Although the Tet offensive is long past, for me Hue became a source of new misfortune. While in the city, I learned via email that my classmate Haoyu Wang was killed in a car accident in Tainan on January 17. Although I only knew him a short time, he will be remembered as a lively and sociable student, and he will surely be missed by his many friends.
Photos from Vietnam: http://s15.photobucket.com/albums/a356/chinaadventure/Vietnam/
|Wednesday, December 28th, 2005|
|Taipei - I'm gonna be a supermodel...
Having decided that five minutes sitting for a camera dressed in jeans and a T-shirt was enough of a portfolio to go professional, I agreed to be a model in a show in Taipei. A few weeks ago my friend Sharon told me that the hair salon she worked for was preparing for a one-day show in Taipei County to demonstrate their special hairstyling technique, and they were looking for volunteers to be models. My hair was dyed a few days in advance to "deepen" the color (it's now reddish-brown) and orange highlights were added for "character." Since I had never dyed my hair before, I was grateful to have a few days to get used to it before having to pose in front of an audience.
On Monday morning my friend Jasmine and I boarded the bus at 6:30 along with the instructors, the crew and three other Taiwanese models-for-a-day. We promptly went back to sleep for the four-hour ride to Taipei County. When we arrived at the Four Points Sheraton, everyone helped unload the bus and carry the equipment upstairs to the convention room. Although the instructors had said that this was not a large show, there was a stage already constructed in the front and seats set out for about a hundred people. We changed quickly into the black dresses and boots provided for us and rotated between the makeup and hair preparation stations. The makeup was heavier than almost anything I've ever worn; it took almost two days to remove it all. In addition, the combination of lots of dark blue mascara and fake eyelashes meant it was a few minutes before I could stare into the stage lights without my eyes watering. Once the hair and makeup were finished we were arranged by the side of the stage and given a routine for the final presentation. It was difficult enough to remember "First stand facing the audience, turn and put one hand on hip, walk forward, put one foot on the lower step and your wrist on the male model's shoulder, stand a little closer to him and by the way don't forget to smile..." without trying to figure out if "liang ge ba pai" means two counts of four or eight. However, after a few minutes of rehearsal we got it (mostly) right and were told to go backstage and wait for the show to start.
During the show, the five of us were led out one at a time and seated for a haircut in front of approximately fifty people. We had been paired in advance with an instructor who was familiar with our hair type and already had a design in mind, although we had no idea what it was. When my turn came I was seated on stage and told to smile while one instructor styled my hair and another provided commentary on "the foreign model with the curly hair who also speaks Mandarin!" There were no mirrors on stage so I could only watch out of the corner of my eye as big pieces of my hair drifted to the ground. When the instructor had finished I was taken to the side to have my hair blown dry and styled while the next model was led onto the stage. I then had to strut to the end of the stage, smile and pose with my new haircut for a few seconds in blinding stage lights, then turn and exit. When all five of us had been styled, we lined up for the final procession still trying to remember who was supposed to go forward on which eight-count. Despite a couple of hiccups we got through it and went out into the lobby while the instructors talked to the audience.
In the lobby we held a photo shoot, which was much easier than the procession since we didn't have to time any movements. We were each photographed from different angles and then shot some "funny pictures" together before heading to the bathroom to change and start washing off the makeup. By five in the afternoon the conference room was empty so we disassembled the equipment and loaded up the bus for the ride home. As the bus pulled away from the hotel Jasmine leaned back in her seat and announced, "I don't get it. I'm so tired right now, and we hardly did anything today!"
Photos from modelling: http://s15.photobucket.com/albums/a356/chinaadventure/Taiwan/Modelling/?start=20
|Thursday, December 15th, 2005|
|Shuimen - natives and my nascent modelling career
A couple of weeks ago I took a day trip to Pingtung County to see the Aboriginal Culture Park in Shuimen Village. It was my first train ride in Tainan, and fortunately I bought a ticket the night before so I had a seat reserved. Passengers can also ride the train standing if there are no seats available, but as it was an hour on the train to Pingtung and another hour by bus to Shuimen Village I considered myself lucky to be seated. After catching the bus in Pingtung I got off at Shuimen and had to ask one of my fellow passengers, a Shuimen resident, where the park was. Not only did she show me the direction, she also took me to the park gate on her motorbike and pointed out the stairway down the hill so I wouldn't have to walk down the road when I left the park. This woman also refused any compensation for her effort. It's people like her that make traveling such a pleasure.
The park is set in the mountains away from most vestiges of civilization, which gives one the impression of life in Taiwanese villages sometime before the modern era. It was designed to display living quarters and ceremonial houses from each of Taiwan's major native tribes all in one place. Once inside the park I decided to eschew the tour bus in favor of hiking the main road. The road crossed two bridges, both of which offered scenic views of the surrounding hillsides and the Ailiao River. The path then divided into the three areas of the park, each featuring native dwellings from some of Taiwan's twelve registered tribes. While many native Taiwanese have assimilated with the immigrant Han coming from Mainland China, there are a few areas where their traditional way of life is preserved. The culture park offers visitors a chance to learn about Taiwan's native peoples without traveling all over the island.
While in the park I was able to see a performance of songs and dances from some of the twelve major tribes. Despite the awkwardness of sitting in a performance hall with three hundred people and realizing you are the only non-Taiwanese person there, the performance was enjoyable and even featured English supertext translations of Taiwanese songs. The dances were lively and the costumes brilliant. Photographs were prohibited in the performance hall but on the Photobucket website I do have some photos of Taiwanese costumes that I took elsewhere.
I also had a chance to talk to some of the native employees in the park. Despite the apparent success of the culture park, some of the employees seemed to struggle with health problems - one gentleman smiled at me with his only tooth. It was difficult to tell whether these problems were specific to natives or indicative of the region; Shuimen area isn't very highly developed, and as in the United States the history between the government and native peoples is somewhat checkered, so it could really be either. Nonetheless, the people I spoke with did not seem overly affected by their situation. They were proud of their culture and proud to be native Taiwanese.
I also spoke to a model who identified herself as Paiwan and said her name was Miss Tu. A photographer had seated her when he noticed me on the road and called me over. I came over thinking he needed help with something, but it turned out he wanted me to sit for the camera. Not having had any experience in posing, I was nervous, but he assured me it was fine. He and the camera would do most of the work. He took several pictures of the two of us next to a stone pillar that Miss Tu said was a sacred symbol for the Paiwan tribe, an emblem of the hundred-pacer snake. She also told me another sacred symbol among native Taiwanese is the flying fish, which is a source of food for coastal peoples. When the photographer finished with his shots he took a few with my camera so I would have some for my own album; they are also posted on the Photobucket website.
Visiting the park was a wonderful day trip and a great opportunity to learn about Taiwan's native peoples. Although it was a long distance to travel, the journey was well worth it and I look forward to a chance to visit some real native Taiwanese villages sometime in the near future.
Photos of Shuimen Aboriginal Park: http://s15.photobucket.com/albums/a356/chinaadventure/Taiwan/Aboriginal%20Park/
|Thursday, November 24th, 2005|
|Lugang and Tainan, Taiwan
I didn't notice until today how long it had been since I last wrote - the last few weeks have been packed with midterms, travel and Rotaract outings. Two weeks ago Carolyn and I attended a Rotaract regional meeting at Nanyuan Farm outside of Tainan. Dr. Su was kind enough to drive us there and even took us up into the mountains for an incredible view of the reservoir. We took many pictures of the lake and the local plant life before driving down the mountain to the farm.
Nanyuan Farm is actually a resort with hiking trails, a lake, cabins and even a small zoo of indigenous Taiwanese animals, including monkeys. My favorite among these was a reticent deer-like creature called a "chiang." Dr. Su told us of a Chinese phrase that shy people are like chiangs, rather like the English term "shy violet." The resort also has a meeting room where the Rotaract members gathered to listen to speeches and elect a new representative. Carolyn and I were able to observe the meeting although we did not have to give a presentation, and afterward we joined the Rotaract members at a lunch banquet where we answered many questions about life in the United States. Several students even expressed the hope that one day they might attend an American college or graduate school. The food, again, was delicious, and at our table we even watched two members successfully carve a chicken using only their chopsticks.
I also had the chance recently to join the Chengkung University language center students on a trip to Lugang, about three hours outside of Tainan, near Taichung. Lugang ("deer harbor") is a charming town whose main attractions include a museum recreating a Qing Dynasty (19th century) home and a Matsu temple. While touring the home we had a chance to see a traditional Chinese altar space for family worship as well as elaborately carved wooden furniture, most of which was made specifically for the family. The most impressive work was a wooden bed with delicately carved fantasy scenes, made for the lady of the house to ease her slumber. The house also included clothing and personal items from the Qing Dynasty, as well as carriages used for family outings. Though brightly painted, the carriage boxes seemed rather small, and since the box was carried by footmen it seems even short journeys would not be comfortable.
Last weekend I joined the Rotaract clubs from Tainan and Kaohsiung for a day of sightseeing in Anping District, Tainan's harbor district and the location of an old Dutch fort. Unfortunately, it rained so the sightseeing was kept to a minimum, although we were able to eat douhua (tofu ice cream) at a well-known restaurant and tour the outdoor market. Anping is also known for its pickled fruits (which taste much better than they sound), although since my vocabulary on fruits is relatively small most of my inquiries turned into a game of "20 questions" to figure out what type of fruit was on display. Finally, we went to dinner and a Rotaract meeting at a very upscale restaurant resembling a classical Chinese home. I was enchanted by the dark wood carvings, the low wooden seats and the huge koi pond in the courtyard. However, the charm quickly wore off when I excused myself to wash my hands and, confronted with archaic gilded Chinese characters for "men" and "women" over the restroom doors, was unable to decide which was the right one.
In the classroom my reading and comprehension has improved immensely and my reading speed has greatly increased. This is particularly important to me because I am turning my research on Taiwanese health care into a term paper for one of my classes, and to finish the research I will probably have to read some articles in Chinese. I hope that by reading Chinese articles I can get a better understanding of the system and whether it would work as well in other countries, so the faster I can read the more research I can do, and the more I will be able to help people in the future.
Photos from Lugang: http://s15.photobucket.com/albums/a356/chinaadventure/Taiwan/Lugang/
|Saturday, October 29th, 2005|
|Tainan, Taiwan - around town
With mid-term exams rapidly approaching I have to put off any travel plans outside of Tainan for another week or so, but I did have the opportunity recently to visit some of the major sites in Tainan City. My favorite place so far is the 400-year-old Matsu Temple about fifteen minutes' walk from campus. Formerly the palace of the last king of the Ming dynasty, the temple is a sprawling red and gold complex packed with wall paintings, statues, tables loaded with offerings and of course incense. The temple is known as "Da Tian Hou Gong" (Great Queen of Heaven) in Mandarin and is dedicated to the goddess of the sea, Matsu, and the Old Man Under the Moon. Matsu is the patron deity of fishermen and the Old Man Under the Moon is matchmaker god. The temple is centered around a main hall with a statue of Matsu in the back. The main hall is surrounded by smaller rooms with other deities, all featuring a table for offerings and a large iron incense burner. The temple's eclectic appearance seems indicative of Taiwanese folk religion, itself a mix of Buddhism, Daoism and folk beliefs (like the sea goddess). Many Taiwanese people are very proud of their religious beliefs; when I asked my roommate if she had any religious background, she simply said, "Yes, Taiwanese religion."
Another temple I enjoyed visiting is the Official God of War Temple across the street from Chikan Tower. Smaller than the Matsu Temple, it is nonetheless another stunning representation of Taiwanese folk religion. The God of War was a third-century Han general who was made into a god because of his model behavior. The War God is also a god of commerce so businessmen will make offerings here as well. Unfortunately, the front of the temple was under construction at the time of my visit, but I did get some clear shots of construction workers darting about on bamboo scaffolding (It's much stronger than it looks).
My days are busy with classes and homework but at night I like to go out because the campus comes alive. Many students are involved in extracurricular activities here, from volleyball and tennis to cheerleading and taichi. Most of these activities take place at night because students don't have classes then and the weather is cool enough to permit longer practices. My favorite activities to observe are the cheerleading team and the folk dance club. Surprisingly, the gender ratio for both of these clubs is about 50-50. I like to watch the cheerleading team practice their basket tosses although I am concerned for their safety because they practice outdoors on a brick sidewalk covered with a mat. Folk dance, particularly European folk dance and Latin social dance, is also very popular here. The folk dance club is currently practicing circle dances that might be Mediterranean, but I can't tell for sure. Sometimes the music sounds Italian, sometimes Greek, but since I don't understand those languages I can't say for certain. The club also performs folk dances from other parts of Europe. On my first weekend here, my Austrian friend Carolyn was surprised to see this same Taiwanese club practicing an Austrian folk dance.
Last weekend I had the opportunity to go to the night market with some of my classmates. The night we visited was opening night so in addition to being absolutely packed, the market also had a fireworks display and some live music. We had dinner at the market, where my friends warned me not to eat too much because the food wasn't "clean," but fortunately I had no difficulties. For dinner we had hezi (pronounced huh-dzuh), an egg and cornstarch omelette with seafood and ketchup mixed in. Afterward we walked around the market where much of what was for sale looked similar to what one might find at fairs in the United States - toys, stuffed animals, jewelry, combs, even clothing and underwear. One of the stalls had a game where a player could fire darts at balloons and collect points for the number of balloons popped. One of my classmates whose father had taught her to shoot was able to pop several balloons; I couldn't quite match her. We left shortly after because there were too many people, but hopefully I will be able to visit the night market again soon.
Last Monday I gave another presentation at a Tainan Rotary club. This was my formal thirty-minute presentation on my background and my future plans as well as the status of health care in California, particularly community health care. The Rotarians were able to follow along with my explanations and asked some very observant questions, some of which were difficult to answer (how to explain Medi-cal reimbursements in Chinese?). My fellow Rotary Ambassador, Carolyn from New Hampshire, also came to the meeting. She said afterward that although her Chinese is still progressing, she feels that in a month or so she would like to try her own presentation to the Rotary Club. The Rotarians have been very patient and supportive and are very interested in both of us, even though neither of us speaks Chinese fluently at this point. However, as they say here, "man man xue" (bit by bit), and we will both be fluent before we know it.
|Saturday, October 8th, 2005|