Thursday, April 30, 2009

Dancing Queen, Reprise

Tonight I was waiting for my order at one of the tea stands near my apartment building when a young woman approached me:

"I know you! Do you remember me? We met on New Year's at City Music! You are dancing queen! I have your picture!"

I promised her I'd stop by the bar tomorrow night so I can see my dancing queen picture and listen to some live music.

Oh man, living in Nankan is awesome.

Wednesday, April 29, 2009

Rock Out Diabetes Walk

And now for another video of my amazing brothers "singing funny things" at a fundraiser.
Whenever I watch these, I feel like coming home. Also - two weeks ago I ate a "barbecue" sandwich at T.G.I.'s and thought it was delicious. If that's not proof I've been away from America too long, nothing is.

The boy band (ouch, I bet they don't want me to call it that) is playing at Siuslaw Middle School Friday. And Billy is singing "Amazing Grace" during the church service Sunday. I really wish I could be home for that. But I would probably cry and everyone would be embarrassed.

As for here in Taiwan: On Saturday I got to see Invitation Only (Taiwan's first slasher-horror)with a director Q&A for free because James' uncle's friend's daughter is the leading actress. Gotta love that guanxi. A L.A.M.P. post will follow shortly.


Monday, April 27, 2009

Pig Popular Coat...

...that's the literal translation for what they're calling that scary swine flu over here, zhu liu gan.

Sunday, April 26, 2009

Results Are In

This evening I went back to the studio and sorted through more than 100 photos to find the baker's dozen I'd take home.

Many were easy to delete: a handful highlighted my lazy eye; plenty were awkward or out of focus; some were a little too sexy for my prim sensibilities; in a few the light hit my skin so I looked like Crater Face from Grease; and in a whole heap I looked really nervous. I made myself nervous again just looking at them. So long nascent modeling career.

Still, it took an hour and a half to find the photos I wanted (poor, poor James). And I wound up paying an extra $390NT for a 13th (only 12 were included in the package).

My package included a novel-sized photo book. The sales lady tried to trick me into upgrading to a coffee- table-sized book, like the kind they sell at museum stores.

She acted so surprised when I declined her "special offer." Oh, she was good. She could tell I was mighty tempted to supersize myself.

Saleslady: "Ni bu yao? Zhende ma?!" (You dont want it? Really?!)
Me: "Wo de qian bu gou!" ("I don't have enough money," much more fun to say in Chinese).

My practicality, and sense of shame, won the day. I really don't need to haul a coffee table book across the Pacific. Also, the fact I already dropped more money than I meant to ($390 extra picture, $500NT stupid face cream) helped steel me against her beguiling smile and uniform skirt suit.

Besides, I thought, if I got a coffee table book I wouldn't be able to carry it everywhere I go. Or I'd at least have to buy a bigger purse (joke).

I'm pleased with the photos I picked. They're pretty zany. I have a page of proofs and when I look at them I think they look like photos taken in Asia. I like that.

In two weeks I'll go back to pick up my small book of photos and the CD.

Who needs a coffee table book when there's the internet?

Friday, April 24, 2009

Eat Happy Wine

Chinese Anecdote of the Day:

Today we learned "chi xi jiu," or, "eat happy wine" is a Chinese idiom for wedding. So you say, "I'm going to go eat happy wine." And everyone knows you're going to a wedding.

Speaking of weddings, my classmate from South Africa got married Tuesday. And my Australian classmate leaves Monday for her wedding/honeymoon in Bali. The life of an ex-pat is sooooo roooomantic.

And yesterday, during a break from Chinese class, we all peered out the third-story window to watch men in dress shirts strapping a bamboo tree to the top of a sedan, another Chinese wedding tradition.

My teacher explained the symbolic significance of tying a bamboo tree to the roof of one's car, but I forgot it. I think it had to do with eternity.

Thursday, April 23, 2009

Stupid Rich Man

At the end of my adult class last night, my students quizzed me on my Chinese. Some of them are very coy about speaking in class, so I like to show that I'm not afraid to test my Chinese on them. They started calling out words in English for me to translate:









They burst out laughing and wagged their fingers at me.

"No! Kaizi is stupid rich man!"

Really, I knew that car was, 'che' or 'chezi.' However, you 'kai' (drive) a car, and I think that's where I got mixed up.

Chinese is funny: Last week a student complained to me that her friend called her "ben dan." Stupid egg. I knew what she meant before she translated it. 'Stupid egg' was too silly-sounding for me to take seriously. Although, it can be used as a serious insult (like calling someone an idiot).

Last weekend, for the first time, I was able to chat a bit with James' grandma. We talked about how much James eats. And I asked her about when she was married (in 1951, after moving to Taiwan). I asked if she wore four dresses (the local tradition). She said no. Times were very hard back then.

And yesterday I was standing outside my school when a parent walked up. In Chinese, I told her I lived across the street, and that I was waiting to go to Taoyuan to teach my night class.

It's so gratifying to learn a language in a place where everyone is a potential teacher - little kids, teenagers, people in the elevator, my boss, James' grandma, the bus driver, even the curmudgeonly tea man who lets me know he has no idea what "moo lee hua cha" is. Oops.

I really like learning Chinese. And now that I've been teaching a foreign language for six months, I have a much better idea about how to be a good student.

While learning Spanish, I somehow convinced myself it wasn't necessary to talk in class - I figured it was enough I understood the other people talking. This, I now realize, is a terrible way to learn a foreign language. You must must must talk to do it right.

The flip side to this Chinese immersion environment is I catch myself speaking pidgin English for the sake of expediency. It's unconscious. But I feel bad when I catch myself doing it with students. I only hope upon my return to the English-speaking realm I wont feel inclined to say things like, "This afternoon we go to other school. Have give students a test."

Wednesday, April 22, 2009

Appreciating Pale

Today one of my adult students picked me up before class. I was wearing a knee-length skirt. The first thing she said was, "Today you look so beautiful!"

Me: "Oh thank you."

Her: "Your legs, your skin is so so so..."

Me: "White?"

Her: "Yes! So white! I hope my skin can ... be like you!"

Brother, I don't hear that often. In fact, I have A. been sunburned in late afternoon in spring in Alaska, B. endured laughter and derision several times for wearing shorts, and C. more than once, been likened to a vampire.

My high school choir (which I played piano for) took a senior trip to Hawaii. I thought I looked pretty cool in my red two-piece, strutting down the beach, until I got within shouting distance of my friends (who were, duh, laughing). "We spotted you from way over there! You're the whitest person here!"

Really, I like to be outdoors. But you would never tell from looking at me. After many, many summers of calculation and attempt - I've concluded that I just don't tan. I burn.

So what a change it was to hear someone say she wanted to look like me. My student went on to detail the pricey whitening cream she tried the previous night (to no affect).

That skin whitening stuff is everywhere here. There's a three-story drugstore near my apartment. I went looking for Theraflu once. There were whitening creams on every floor, but no Theraflu.

Sunday, April 19, 2009

Trip to the Glamour Studio

Yesterday I had my four-hour vanity extravaganza. Four costumes, four shoots, hot lights, and a heap of fake hair.

First they gave me a book of examples so I could pick my styles. They asked if I had a preferred side (I don't), if I had prepared poses (I didn't), and how sexy I wanted to be ("yidiandian" - a little).
The didn't allow photos inside, but here's the outside of the studio.

Next we were escorted to the enormous costume closet. On the way, we passed a bunch of boyfriends, husbands and sons watching TV. They all had that tortured-bored look. Poor James was even less fortunate, he was stuck following me around translating. I was able to communicate some, but he was pretty crucial.

My first shoot was "Chinese style." I was too bootylicious for the first qipao I tried on, so the makeup girl hauled out another. Then she sat me down, clipped a mess of fake hair to my scalp, and told me - didn't ask me, told me - she was going to put cream on my face and it would cost an extra $500NT.

Maybe if we knew the same language, maybe if I wasn't wearing a qipao, and maybe if I hadn't been in a glamour studio in Taoyuan, Taiwan - I would've protested. Instead I shrugged and said okay. It's kind of like when $13 strawberry daiquiris in novelty beakers suddenly seem like a good idea at the Bellagio. Or $16 mouse ears in Disneyland. Or maybe I'm just a sucker.

One thing I didn't think about ahead of time was the awkward factor: Wearing cheesy costumes and being asked to attempt cheesy poses in a foreign language amounts to a mildly uncomfortable situation for all involved. I don't think they see many white girls. I asked the photographer's assistant. She said they only see foreigners who marry in Taiwan and get wedding photos. Plus, I was a good eight inches taller than my photographer. He seemed intimidated. He had to stand on a stool to take my picture.

For the first two shoots (the Chinese dress, then a giant red prom dress) my photographer didn't want me to have a big smile. But I don't have a small mysterious smile. I have a full-teeth, wide-eyed grin, and then I have a smirk, and that's it.

He kept telling me not to look nervous. I kept looking nervous.

My third change was a white tube dress with a tutu skirt. My makeup lady pinned a giant white faux fur hat to my head. This was exponentially more ridiculous than my first two outfits, but I was allowed to smile, so I felt a lot more comfortable.

For the final shoot I put on this lacy pink and black dress, plus gothic wristlets and a choker. The makeup artist teased my hair into a giant mane. My photographer mimed for me to pout. He told James to tell me this was my "sad doll" shoot. I thought it was sort of Madonna circa 1985. Of course, I could've picked more natural-looking photos, but dressing up is half the fun.

I'll go back next Sunday to look at the pictures and decide which they'll put in a book for me. They'll also give me a cd, so I'll post pictures here when I receive them.

Saturday, April 18, 2009

Jackie Chan, Freedom Hater

I love Jackie Chan movies, especially the old Hong Kong ones. Then he had to go and run his mouth to a bunch of Chinese businessmen in Hainan:

"I'm not sure if it's good to have freedom or not," Chan said. "I'm really confused now. If you're too free, you're like the way Hong Kong is now. It's very chaotic. Taiwan is also chaotic."

Taiwan is chaotic? What does that mean? I suppose it means Taiwan doesn't put bloggers in jail. Or was he referring to the fact the Taiwanese government doesn't have carte blanche to bulldoze businesses and homes?

The irony is Jackie's most recent movie, Shinjuku Incident, isn't being screened on the mainland because it was deemed too violent. I wonder if he figured a little brown nosing would build goodwill with the CCP for the next time he wants a movie released in China.

Friday, April 17, 2009

Dispatches from the Cram School

Hitler or Jesus? (From My Youngest):

Today we were working on "Where is he from? "Where are you from?"

The list of famous people that a group of Chinese 10-year-olds and I can both identify is pretty short (Obama, Chairman Mao, and S.H.E., the preeminent Taiwanese girl band). Really, we know a lot more of the same people, it's just that they only know the Chinese names, and I only know the English ones. (Lots of famous people, like Michael Phelps, are known by Chinese names. His is "Fei Yu," flying fish.)

So I thought I'd try drawing Hitler, because I knew they learned how to say "Germany" in English.

I started with the haircut, then the moustache. And then shoulder boards with swastikas.

They didn't get it.

So I finished his military coat and planted a giant swastika on it.

Oh! Teacher, Yesu?


He is Yesu?

You mean Jesus? I mimed praying to make sure we understood each other.


No no no no no. He is from Germany. He killed a lot of people. His name is Hitler.

The kids seemed to get it after that. Though again, they only knew his Chinese name.

I'm pretty good at sketching. So I think it's the swastikas that did me in: Back home, sometimes the cross is used as a generic symbol for religion, here it's the Buddhist swastika. I think my kids thought I was trying to emphasize that he was religious. Oopsies.

One Track Minds (The Middle Children):

Just in case the world needed more proof 12-year-olds think about one thing only, here are the sentences mine came up with when working on sensory verbs:

Vivian hears Sam's heart beating.
Leslie watches boys dancing.
Ted felt he loved Bella.
Angela saw Bob washing his body.

Potty Mouth (The Eldest):

I was explaining when to use the word "terms" instead of "words." I asked the students to make sentences using "terms." The most notable came from Judy:

"He uses lots of bad terms, like fuck and shit."

Uproarious giggles ensued.

"Judy, you can't say that."


"The f-word is a really really bad word."


"So please, you can't say that. Don't say that in front of foreigners, because they will think bad things about you."

"Okay, okay."

I can't really blame her for not knowing the weight of the word. I've heard obscene unfiltered American rap lyrics in clothing stores here. Context gets lost in translation. All I can do is tell her not to say it.

Thursday, April 16, 2009

Two Days Out

Okay: I just answered the phone. Usually I only get wrong numbers and James, but I was able to discern the caller was trying to confirm my glamour shots appointment. It was clunky, but I was able to convey "My Chinese is bad. 4 o'clock Saturday. I can come. I will come. Sorry my Chinese is bad."

I think at first I said "4 o'clock Saturday morning," which caused momentary confusion and distress, but eventually I got it right (Saturday afternoon).

It's so gratifying to learn a language and be able to put it to practical use.

I don't expect the photographer will speak a lot of English. I've even heard it's more common for photographers to speak Japanese, since plenty of Japanese people come to Taiwan for pictures.

If nothing else, it should be interesting.

Everyone says it's important to practice making faces in front of the mirror ahead of time. I haven't really done that. But sometimes James will coach me when we're out at dinner or waiting for our order at the tea stand: "Pretend you're in a Sofia Coppola movie. I want to see intelligent, but lost." "Now I want to see getting a tooth pulled, without Novocaine." "Okay, make a face like you're at a funeral but you really have to fart."

Tuesday, April 14, 2009

Getting Nervous

I'm getting my glamour shots on Saturday. I fear in glamour shots, like most things in life, I'll get what I paid for. Maybe I should have thrown down another Benjamin for a reputable studio in Taipei.
Either way, I expect results will be ridiculous. But I'd prefer ridiculous-cute pictures to ridiculous-sad ones.

Here are samples my studio has up on its website (photos previously posted were from all different studios). These keep me up at night. I didn't drop $2,888NT to dress up like somebody's babushka.


Monday, April 13, 2009


Yesterday I was on the phone with my mom praising the simplicity of Chinese. No complicated prepositional phrases! No verb tenses! The word for "accent" is "kou-yin," which translates literally as "mouth sound." Isn't that beautiful?

Then in today's vocabulary we were introduced to "tiao."

"Tiao" is the measure word for long-narrow objects, such as fish, roads, boats, snakes and trousers, my book says.


In Chinese when counting things you have to use a measure word. You cannot just say "three pens" ("san bi"). You must say "three writing-instrument-measure-word pens" ("san zhi bi").

The measure words we've learned so far have been easy, and the simple "ge" suffices for lots of things - fruit, people, schools, ideas...

Now they tell us we have to use "tiao" for fish, roads, boats, snakes and trousers.

Chinese makes less sense than it did yesterday.

Saturday, April 11, 2009

Get on Your Bikes and Ride!

Me, Danshui River, Taipei 101 in the background

James and I rented bikes and went for a ride along the Danshui River today. It was the first sunny Saturday we've had in awhile, so we wanted to take advantage of it. And after I got over my initial terror that people here would bike the same way they drive (mmm, which they kind of did), I had a lovely time.

From Bike Ride
We saw people flying kites.
From Bike Ride
Then we saw a croquet tournament.
And a lizard.
From Bike Ride
And we saw some guys gearing up for a softball game. I was able to muster enough Chinese to say, "Please tell me when you will start playing," but I had to have James translate the response ("soon"). Right now I can only understand precise times, not colloquial approximations.
From Bike Ride
On the return leg of our ride we stopped and watched half an inning.
From Bike Ride

What I really want to see though is some Taiwanese Little League. Taiwan has won 17 Little League World Series, second only to the U.S. (which has won 31). The U.S. has 300 million people, Taiwan has 23 million. Even if you don't care about baseball, this should impress you. Although, I still don't know how kids here find time to play sports after all the school work. But I intend to find out where they play.

We turned our bikes in just before 5 p.m., they only cost $100NT ($3 U.S.) for two hours. So we had a nice, cheap Saturday enjoying Taipei's green space!

Friday, April 10, 2009

Ordering Chinese in Chinese

My first "Chinese" food came from the takeout counter at a grocery store in south Anchorage. The local chain grocer sold two varieties of Asian fare: slimy meat and slimy vegetables. Whenever my parents ordered it, they had to reason with me: "Leslie, we can't eat pizza every night we don't cook." Chinese food night was a bummer in those days.

Fast forward 15 years: I live in Taiwan. I like Chinese food, and I can speak enough Chinese to buy it myself.

Last night I ordered noodles and fish ball soup at a shop up the block from my apartment. James and I eat there often, they make Fuzhou (Southern China) cuisine. Their noodles are only garnished with green onions and a little bit of spicy sauce, but they're delicious. They make them some special way, so they have this meaty delicious flavor - not plain at all. The fish balls are also fabulous - hearty and not fishy.

I'm really pleased with how my Chinese is progressing: I was able to order my food; say thank you when the cashier complimented my Chinese; affirm that I was an American; and say "He's at work" when she asked where my boyfriend was.

Wednesday, April 8, 2009

Getting Them Done

Friday was pay day. Saturday I went to the mall and two salesladies in matching skirt suits talked me into making a deposit for a glamour photo shoot. It's hard to turn down women dressed like twins saying things like, "You eyes is so beautiful!" and "We are so happy, you are our first foreigner friend!" But really, I've been thinking about glamour shots for awhile.

Taipei and Hong Kong are the places to get them done. Taipei is preferred because it's cheaper. Some people (engaged couples) even make special trips to get them. Here are just a few of the many, many entertaining examples I found online:

I don't think I'll have any turtleneck guys unzipping my dress, and I don't plan on wearing disco pants - but I think you get the point.

For $2,888 (about $100 U.S.) I get four costume, hair and makeup changes. That's comparable to what my college graduation prints cost, and you don't get any costume changes with those. In fact, one of my four proofs was unusable: When the photographer told me to tilt my head and "gaze into the future," my lazy eye wandered astray. Glamour shots should be much more fun.

I hope the studio has four American-sized outfits. I'm bringing my own shoes.

I'm very, very, very excited.

Tuesday, April 7, 2009

L.A.M.P.: Shinjuku Incident

Hong Kong movie wherein Jackie Chan plays an illegal immigrant ensnared in a web of grifting and Japanese gang violence.

It wont be screened in mainland China. The People's Republic deemed it too violent. In truth, I had to cover my eyes when gangsters cut off Jackie's friend's hand outside the guy's chestnut stand. Eeeeeeh.

My biggest problem was the movie starts with Jackie as a poor farmer in Northern China. He is engaged to a young country lass, who looks much, much younger. The girl moves to Japan. Jackie immigrates to track her down. I spent half the movie tsk, tsking 55-year-old Jackie for chasing jailbait.

During the second half of the movie, I realized there was a big time lapse between the China scenes and Jackie's arrival in Japan. The lovers are supposed to be near in age. But Jackie just looked old throughout. Lighting and makeup, folks...

Other than that, it was really fun. Japanese is a great language for gangsters. And the muscle carried machetes instead of guns. That is cool.

At the end a swarm of gangsters attacks Jackie Chan's headquarters. One of them prefaces the fight with, "Now we will use the Bushido Way." Turns out the Bushido Way is hurling sizable rocks at second-story windows. That is also cool.

Again, could not find a U.S. release date, but here's the trailer.

Sunday, April 5, 2009


Root, Root, Root, Root for Taipei...

Actually, we wound up sitting in the Tainan section because it was so close to game time when we arrived at the stadium, and the line for Tainan-side tickets was much shorter. Taipei won, 6 to 3.

Fans on both sides were enthusiastic. Tainan had a small brass band and a big drum that aided fan chants. People(me included)clapped noisemakers through every inning.
At one point I saw fans on the opposing (Taipei) side holding an American flag. Not sure why.
And Tainan's cheerleaders had a giant foursquare of American flags they waved from time to time. Tainan's team does have one American veteran minor leaguer, Rico Washington, on its team.
After the game both teams bowed to each other and to both fan sections. It was a good time, I want to go again.

Saturday, April 4, 2009

Things Like This Should Happen More Often

Oh Thank God, It's Friday's

Usually it's something I pass on: Applebee's, Cheesecake Factory, Chili's, T.G.I.F's - mleehh... I shouldn't have to pay for chain-store "atmosphere" to eat a plate of buffalo wings.

But I've been in Taiwan long enough that the prospect of visiting a restaurant that sells barbecue riblets and fajitas and fried macaroni bites excites me.

Tonight James and I fulfilled my desires, we visited T.G.I.F.'s in the neighboring town of Cjinpu.

Of course, this wasn't downtown Taipei, so there weren't any other waiguoren. I could see the bar TV from our table. At one point I saw a Tiger Balm commercial with a fat Chinese lady wearing blackface, which would never fly back home.

But other than that T.G.I.F.'s was exactly the same as everywhere else - right down to the faux 1950's knickknacks pinned to the wall. I could've been in any state of the union. I had a mojito and a barbecue beef sandwich, and James and I split the fried macaroni bites. It was awesome.

Bad Joke

Last Wednesday Boss Man drove Boss Lady and me to Taoyuan for our afternoon classes. Boss Lady said Earnest, a bubbly, energetic and wholly adorable 9-year-old, was having a birthday. Then she told me the worst idea for a joke I'd heard in a long, long time:

"The day care teacher wants me to make Earnest cry."

"Why, did he do something bad?"

"No, she just say she can't make him cry, so she want me to make him cry."

"But it's his birthday..."

"I know. So how about I yell at him, make him cry, but then we say, 'Just kidding!' It's your birthday!' and then give him his cake."

"I don't think that's a good idea."

"Really? You don't think is funny?"

"No! Don't make him cry on his birthday!"

"But don't you think he will be so happy when he find out he not in trouble?"

"No. I think he'll be angry and embarrassed."

"Really? Really? But we give him a cake..."

"I really don't think that's a good idea."

Boss Man chimed in:

"Maybe you should not make him cry."

I have a suspicion that's as strongly-worded as Boss Man's advice to Boss Lady comes.

"Really? Are you sure it's not funny? Really? Okay."

This thankfully thwarted attempt at humor reminded me of a time the summer before I started high school: My parents used their new copier to create a doctored school district form so that it looked like I hadn't been accepted into the 9th grade honor program.

I don't think my parents were sadists. I think they momentarily forgot they were raising a very high strung kid. The ruse was up seconds after they handed it to me. You would've thought someone had died: I burst into tears. Snot poured forth from my nose. I even remember what I said, "Well, I don't know why noooooooot....."

Boss Lady? Highly probable she has a sadistic streak.

Thursday, April 2, 2009

Teach and Test and Teach and Test and Teach and...

I never understood why teachers complained about having to "teach to a test." What's wrong with having some standards and accountability?

Then I acquired firsthand knowledge of the absurdity that can ensue in light of such "standards."

Last week I had to administer oral tests to a dozen 10-year-olds. They weren' my regular students.

I looked at the units they'd recently learned, and picked my test questions accordingly.

When I asked them, "What do I have?" or "What are you doing?" or "What is the teacher doing?" They had no idea what to say. They grinned and shuffled their feet, the precocious ones offered non-sequitur and ungrammatical one and two-word answers.

So I switched. I asked "What is he doing?" Ah-ha, then they knew: "He is swimming." How did they know? Because that's the example in the book. Most of them had four or five chapters worth of examples memorized, and not a clue how to use the words in real conversation.

A mind-boggling waste of time if you ask me.

Wednesday, April 1, 2009

Hang Loose ... Or not

When I'm shopping people respond to me in a number of ways. I always start my conversations in Chinese. Some people reply in English, some use Chinese. And some employ a combination of the two.

But there's a special group of people who speak to me in neither language. These people prefer the point-and-gesture method of communication.

I've run into enough point-and-gesture people to formulate a hypothesis that they do know some English. But they're torn between feelings of obligation to speak to me in English and feelings of dire humiliation at having to use their language skills. I can relate: I never used Spanish outside the classroom, although the opportunity occasionally arose.

The problem with these mimes, with whom I am trying to do business, is that sign language is not universal.

I know Chinese numbers, no problem, now. But rather than say the price, these people will make a series of hand gestures. In America, we raise five fingers and a thumb for 6. Chinese people do this:

Hang loose? This isn't Hawaii! I just want to know what I owe you! That was my initial internal reaction. I'm starting to catch on. But I would still prefer to be spoken to, as I'm not sure about 7,8 and 9 (1 through 5 are the same as back home ... I think).