Thursday, May 28, 2009

Happy Dragon Boat Festival!

Chinese holidays are so much more badass than American holidays: We have turkey, a paunchy guy in a red suit, and a bunny. Chinese holidays all seem to involve lions, dragons and firecrackers.

James and I have today off, so we decided to take a few more days off and do some traveling. We're headed to Tainan, and then on to Penghu Island.

We wont be back until Tuesday, so no posts until then.

Wednesday, May 27, 2009

I Can Speak Chinese

This week, I met my two new language exchange partners. One is a 21-year-old business student. She says her Cantonese is better than her English just because she watched so many Hong Kong movies as a kid. And her English is pretty good!

The other is a teacher in his mid-thirties. And, bless his heart, he brought both his wife and another female friend to our first meeting just so I wouldn't mistake him for a creep. His dream is to one day do doctoral studies in the U.S.

With both partners we spent about half the time talking in Chinese and half the time talking in English. It's really encouraging just to know I can spend that much time talking in Chinese. I think these exchanges are going to be really helpful.

My partners are proof you don't have to go abroad to learn a language: They're both basically fluent in English, and neither has ever left Taiwan.

But what going abroad does do is - out of necessity - make you realize you don't have to be fluent in order to speak a language.

I'm nowhere near fluent: I can't understand the news, and I'm not watching movies in Chinese (although I did rewatch Tropic Thunder and caught a Chinese joke I couldn't have before).

Am I conversant? Mmmm... only if the conversation stays broad and simple. Say for instance, you are my cab driver and you tell me how rude and miserable people are on the mainland. I'll get that. But probably because Taiwanese people - on both sides of the political spectrum - are quite proud of their superior warmth and courtesy.

Fluent, conversant - maybe not. But I can speak Chinese. I can make my way around and I can get to where I want in a taxi. And if I'm talking to someone (like my LE partners) and I use enough words and take enough time, they'll probably understand what I'm getting at. Likewise, if they say it slow enough and repeat it a couple times - I'll probably figure it out.

And that's already way more than I could ever say for my Spanish.

So if you're learning a language, or thinking about learning a language, for your own sake FIND SOMEONE TO SPEAK IT TO! And speak often! That's the single most important thing to do.

I Have a New Name!

When I started Chinese class James and I decided my Chinese names would be "Huasheng," which means peanut, and is not in fact a real Chinese name.

This was fine before I started considering myself a serious Chinese student and began speaking to people in Chinese. Because now people expect me to have a Chinese name, especially when my English name is Leslie, "less" or "lez" is a sound that plain doesn't exist in Chinese, so it's very difficult for folks to say. And Huasheng/peanut is just stupid.
My new language exchange partner, Kevin, remedied this problem and redubbed me "lay-su-lee." So that's my name in chop/stamp form at the top of the post. He says it means "beautiful lace." Personally, I prefer the Gaelic meaning "grey fortress," but I like my chop!

Monday, May 25, 2009


Is that a feeder bunny I see on the right?

On Lily's last night we went out to Taipei's most touristy night market, Snake Alley, where people go to admire and/or eat snakes.

Just like my Uncle Indiana, I'm not a big fan of the snake. But I managed to cowboy up and ingest some.

Snakes are about as delicious as they are cute.

Lily one-upped me and had two bites.
The meat was icky. Very chewy. Not flavorful. One bite was enough. Our meal also came with a shot of snake blood, snake bile and snake poison.

From Snake-a-Snake-a-Snake!

The "poison" and the "bile" just tasted like booze, so I suspect there was just a tiny bit, if any, of the actual snake stuff in it.

The rest of the table passed on "bile."


The blood was disgusting, and by far my least favorite part of the meal. It had some sort of herbs in it.

Dinner on Display!
It was a quirky way to top off a great weekend with Lily. She's somewhere over the Pacific now, bound for Los Angeles. I was sad to see her go.

Videos of all the snake-eating tomfoolery are posted on my YouTube.

Saturday, May 23, 2009

Taiwan-Style Nachos, Duck Tongue, Shredded Sea Slugs

Just like it sounds:

The menu said tortilla chips with cheese and jalapeno dip. What we got? Doritos with a side of cold cheese and barbecue sauce. So, so wrong.
From Lily visits
We ate some fried duck tongues. But we didn't finish them. Too much cartilage, not enough delicious.
Today we went to a great Peking Duck restaurant. But it looked like they could've used a little translation help, the English menu was a little too honest. Shredded slugs? Fungus and chicken? Hair-like seaweed? C'mon.

Thursday, May 21, 2009

Meanwhile Back on the Farm

My kid brother had a killer weekend last week at a North Bend baseball tournament:

He hit three home runs and three triples and batted in most the runs his teams scored.

Then he hit a double when they were trying to walk him by throwing over his head. According to my parents, he jumped up, swung over his head, and hit it.

His big sister never scored a goal in her one summer of kiddie soccer.

This will be my first summer since he was in T-ball that I wont see a single game - the true cost of living abroad. Sigh.

Wednesday, May 20, 2009

Quick Update

It's been great having my fabulous friend and freshman-year roommate Lily in town, and also very busy. But I thought I'd post a quick one before I walk down to Nankan's finest western restaurant to teach my evening adult class (tonight's theme is western dining etiquette). Ah, how I love to get paid and eat lasagna at the same time.

On Monday, Lily's first full day, we took the train to Yilan. We didn't have much of a plan, but after some tromping around and train-hopping we wound up in Jiaosi, which my Taiwan Rough Guide calls "a workingman's hotspring resort town." Whatever that means.

We walked into a hotspring hotel near the train station, and the front desk lady gave us the key to a rent-by-the-hour hotel room with a bathtub. Uhhh.... Once in the room, much cackling and awkward noise-making ensued. Thankfully, the clerk was cool about giving us our money back. And we pressed on to a much cheaper resort with an open bathing space and an assortment of bathing pools, water massage sprayers, and one huge water slide!

Lily's parents are from Taiwan, so she can speak Chinese. "But my vocabulary is really small," she says. At first I thought she was just being modest. But then I knew the words for "beer" and "hotspring" and she didn't. nyah, nyah, nyah, nyah, nyah, nyahhhhh... She's been helping me with my tones. And boy, do I need a lot of work...

It's interesting to tour about with a fresh pair of eyes (Lily was last here ten years ago). It illustrates to me how much I've grown accustomed to.

The two of us have to start remembering to take some pictures. Hopefully I'll get some up before too long.

Sunday, May 17, 2009

A Bit Much?

I took this picture in the elevator of my apartment building. It's a poster with a list of precautions to prevent H1N1 infection, never mind there isn't any H1N1 in Taiwan yet.

Last week I was coming off a cold. James and I walked across the street to the local Noble Family Steakhouse where I ate the worst ribeye I've ever had. It was completely over seasoned - I couldn't even taste beef - and slathered in some gooey brown Asian gravy.

I coughed a few times during the meal. When we went to pay our waiter looked at me with a stricken face and spoke in a scolding voice, which James had to translate.

"He said you're sick and you should go see a doctor."

I paid for the meal. The waiter half-apologetically put my change on a tray to avoid touching me.

I was flabbergasted. People here are more conscientious about spreading disease than we are back home, but still - this guy looked really scared.

Ah-ha. The light went on when we got outside: This is someone who has never seen me before, and for all he knows, I just stepped off the plane yesterday - making me a prime H1N1 suspect.

Poor guy.

But he's not the only one showing extra precaution: Last week my boss ordered me to stick out my hands and she sprayed mine and the kids' with antibacterial. Every time I coughed in class Gregory asked, "H1N1?"

"No Gregory, Taiwan doesn't have H1N1."

"But if you go home. You go to Meiguo you will H1N1 you will ACK ACK UGGGHH Eeeeehhhh..." He then acted out a dramatic coughing spasm and death.

Speaking of North- American-born plagues: My first house guest arrives in an hour! Her flight is out of LAX, so I hope she doesn't get held up too long at customs.

She'll be here for the next week. Posting will be intermittent/nonexistent.

Thursday, May 14, 2009

In All My Glory

And now the moment I and at least three other people that I can think of have been waiting for:
If you know where I can buy this kind of hat, please advise.
If thumbnail-size Leslie isn't enough, you can click to make me big.
From Glamorous
Flower. Me like.
From Glamorous

Wednesday, May 13, 2009

More Brother Action

Billy told me after the set he signed a few t-shirts as well as one girl's forehead. Should I be worried?

Monday, May 11, 2009

Where did you learn that word?

Ah, now for another post wherein I talk about my students learning the WRONG English.

Every week my reading group learns a new phonics word family. At the start of class today we were reviewing the "ore" family (more, store, etc.)

Me: Ok, class what are some "ore" family words?

Gregory: WAR WAR WAR!

I write w-o-r-e on the board.

Gregory: NO! WAR!

Me: How do you spell it?

Gregory (with supreme confidence): w-h-o-r-e

I wrote the letters on the board as he said them, and there I was with whore written on my English class whiteboard. It was like we were suddenly transported out of the cram school and into an American public bathroom stall.

Me: Where did you see this word?

I tried to ask innocuously, but clearly the "THIS IS A WORD YOU SHOULD NOT KNOW" vibes shone through, because Gregory just smiled with his lips closed and looked shifty eyed. Oh yeah, Gregory is 9.

Me: What does this word mean?

Gregory drew a picture of a glass of wine on the board. Okay, fair enough. We recently learned the "ine" family too, and I taught them "wine" and "whine." So maybe all these things got jumbled in his mind. But boy, did he look mischievous.

This reminds me of when my brother was in fourth grade, and I would tease him by calling his current love interest a strumpet. Not a very nice thing for me to call a little girl, I'll admit. But hey, I'm his older sister, and to me they're all floozies.

After much badgering, he finally asked what a strumpet was. I told him to look it up, which he did, making the same phonetic mistake my Chinese student made:

My Little Brother with the dictionary open: A WAR?

Saturday, May 9, 2009

Lost in Translation: Little Bird

This one is from a Chinese class friend. He's an English teacher too, and, like me, often practices his Chinese on his English students.

He was joking with kids between classes last week and used the idiom, "A little bird told me." But he said it in Chinese. But in Chinese little bird (xiao niao) is a euphemism for penis.

He said they didn't even laugh. They just stared at him.

Wednesday, May 6, 2009

Movin' On Up

Question: What do you call a pair of English teachers, two Mongolians, a Japanese architect, one missionary, and a South African jazz musician clambering up a staircase at 10 a.m. this morning?

My Chinese class on its way to buy the next textbook!

I haven't posted in a few days because we had our big book-number-one Chinese test. I don't know if I actually studied more by not blogging. But I felt I couldn't justify doing anything productive besides studying. In reality, well, I watched a whole lot of Britain's Got Talent on YouTube. Man, that's quality reality.

Our class is on the third floor, after we finished the test our teacher immediately sent us to the 4th-floor office ("Kwaidian, kwaidian!" Quickly, Quickly!) to purchase the next book and we plunged right in.

So now I'm on my second Chinese textbook. I'm feeling pretty big in my britches, like I'm running with the big dogs now. Of course, this feeling will rapidly subside the next time one of my students tells me I talk Chinese funny, or worse just gives me a blank stare.

Saturday, May 2, 2009

Friday Night: Nankan

I went back last night to checkout my dancing queen pictures (which Cleo, the bartender who stopped me at the tea stand said she'd email) and I'm so glad I did.

There was a band that did a great version of "Stand By Me." I was even able to request my favorite Dolly song, "IIIIIIIeeeeeeeIIIIIIII will always love..."

We sat down at the bar and James asked Cleo for a Corona. Instantly, a girl in a pleather tube top and mini skirt popped up at his shoulder asking if he'd get a Blue Girl instead. Taiwan's wateringholes are rife with promotional girls.

James looked confused.

"You can get whatever you want," I growled.

I don't know. There's just something about girls in pleather talking to my boyfriend that stirs my inner psycho bitch. I think pleather could see she had rousted the beast, because she laughed nervously and tottered away to the other end of the bar.

I asked Cleo where the deaf chihuahua was from last time.

"Oh he's at home. He lives with Kiki," she said motioning to a waitress. "Do you want to pet a kitty?"

Moments later a 2-month-old cat was placed in my hands by Cleo's boyfriend, Bruce.
Bar or undersized pet menagerie? I don't know.

James and I sat by Bruce most the night. He proved just as friendly as Cleo. Bruce told us he's completing his required military service down in Miaoli (Central Taiwan) and counting the days until he can return to Cleo. He gave the impression being away was fairly torturous.

Miaoli is 96 kilometers from Nankan, or roughly the distance from Los Angeles to Riverside. That hardly counts as a long-distance relationship by my American standards, especially when you have Taiwan-style mass transit. But hey, Bruce is in love.

So do you want to marry her? I asked in Chinese.

Yes of course. He replied in English.

Awhile later pleather girl risked another appearance and asked James to sign up for a drinking game to see who could down a beer the fastest with a straw. James was no match for Nankan's finest.

From City Music
There was a runoff between the two fastest drinkers, this time they also had to finish a slice of watermelon.
Game face. In it to win it.

Then people started to dance. When the owner beckoned me to join "C'mon Dancing Queen!" I did for awhile.Later a couple guys, with just a little prompting, got down to their skivvies on top of the bar.

At the end of the song they jumped off.

"Him." Bruce motioned to one. "Next time, I think maybe him no clothes."

From City Music
Sure enough, hence my last entry, the one got butt nekkid. And as far as I could tell, with my insufficient Chinese, no one asked him to do this.

We meant to only have a drink and see Cleo's pictures. But we didn't get home until 3 a.m.

So worth it.

Friday, May 1, 2009

Hero for One Night Only (NSFW)

Have I told you I love living in Nankan?

Gan bei and goodnight.