Hong Kong

•March 1, 2010 • 1 Comment

Hello again everyone,

A consistent problem for foreigners in Taiwan is the visa.  As an American, I am afforded 30 days on a landing visa, but a maximum of 180 with a fully renewed student visa.  Of course, you can apply for the ARC, or Alien Resident Card, which will allow you to stay in Taiwan for the length of the card.  Unfortunately, my student visa’s validity was only marginally shorter than the six month period of time that I was allowed to stay here… by around 10 days.  Needless to say, I had to get this problem fixed.  An ARC was not out of the question, but rather excessive, as an Alien Resident Card needed for 10 days is practically unheard of.  Instead, I decided to travel out of the country for a single day and return.  The best option available to me was a trip to Hong Kong.

The trip was scheduled by a Rotary contact here in Taipei, Auntie Liz.  I would leave Taiwan at 7 in the morning, and return at 9 in the evening.  Through Aunt Liz, I was introduced to PDG Anthony, a member of one of the Rotary Clubs in Hong Kong.  When I arrived, he quickly made me aware of a Rotary Club that was having a meeting that afternoon.  Despite being horrendously underdressed, I agreed to come by and enjoy the meeting of the North Kowloon Club of Hong Kong.  I was asked to do a short presentation and exchanged flags.  As an extra bonus, I met several members of one of the local Rotaract Clubs.  They had gone on a trip to India to do several service projects.  After our respective presentations, we had several lovely conversations.  Angel, Mini, and Claudia provided terrific company after the end of the meeting.  Mini and Angel assisted me in finding the local history museum (which I did not have sufficient time to explore, sadly).

I made it back in time for the flight and, after a delay in the flight, found my way back to Taipei.  With no following visa problems, I was allowed back into the country and have since finished my classes and am preparing to return home.

Even the short period of time I spent in Hong Kong gave me a lot of insight into another part of Asia.  Hong Kong and Taipei are similarly advanced, but the cultural undertones were very different.  The Western influence in Hong Kong is easily identifiable.  My English was more useful than my Mandarin considering Hong Kong residents speak Cantonese for the most part, which made it an interesting experience getting around.  Regardless, it was terrific and I promised the Rotarians I would make an effort to return sometime shortly.

Well, there is so much to do and so little time, so I must sign off for tonight,

Please do take care,

Alex

Also, I offered to assist the Hong Kong Rotaractors get in touch with the Taipei Rotaractors.  As far as they have involved me in their conversations, I believe that they are at least talking.  Hopefully the local Rotaract clubs would like to get in touch with Taipei and Hong Kong in the future, as the clubs here seem to relish in meeting new people.

Hualien

•February 12, 2010 • 1 Comment

Hello again everyone,

As I write this particular notation, I am riding the long and winding train back home from Hualien.  At the bequest of a dear friend that I have met since my study term first began here last August, Yider, I visited what can be considered a home town of hers, and one of the widely reputed “Most Beautiful Places in Taiwan”, Hualien City, and the mountainous region that lies nearby, Taroko Gorge.  Hualien is located between two features that the local Pittsburgh region is lacking: a vast Ocean front, and many jutting peaks of newly formed mountains.  All due respect to Appalachia, but they are the old kids on the block.  Even in the States, the Rockies are the younger, hipper range.  Comparatively, the mountains of Taroko, located in the seismically active region of Taiwan, are the even younger and steeper.  In video game lingo, the Appalachian Mountain Range is the Atari, the Rockies are roughly the equivalent of, lets say, the Playstation 1, and the Taroko Peaks are the X-Box 360 of this group.

Upon first observation of the landscape, there lies a terrific comparison; the steep mountains to the West and the endless blue expanse of the East.  Even driving along the roads in the city, you are often treated to a very scenic panorama of mountains, the tips of which are obfuscated by wispy clouds.  This appreciation for natural beauty only increased as Yider and I traveled to the Taroko Gorge.  Yider, a former worker at the Taroko National Park, was a terrific guide in showing me the highlights and impressive features of the Gorge.  The Trail of 9 Turns, the Eternal Spring Shrine, Swallow Gorge, and other amazing features really reignited my passion for the wilderness that was once so long ago set by a trip to Yellowstone National Park.  Due to the flawed nature of memory, I will save both the reputation of Yellowstone and my own by not forcing a comparison between the two places.

In addition to the trips to reveal the natural beauty that Taiwan holds, Yider also informed me of much of our mutual passion: history.  It seems that this area in particular has a wealth of indigenous history from the tribes that originally populated these lands before Chiang Kai Shek traveled here after his war with Mao and even before the Japanese occupied the land during the 19th century.  Yider, also a historian, made a terrific travel companion for this particular excursion.  As one may guess, I “owe her something huge” for her services.

In any case, Hualien also afforded me the opportunity to travel southward into a large valley.  Below Hualien lies another mountain range that comes up from the sea, giving the traveler a different experience but an hour or two South.  We hit several other areas, with Yider showing me an old logging city established during the Japanese occupation that worked to harvest rare, pungent wood,  a modern sugar factory, which sported, among other things, a wonderfully well-stocked coi pond full of not-to-surprisingly well-fed fish, and a small Japanese Shrine, where I was able to speak some with one of the volunteer, whom involved me in a talk about Buddhist values to some school-children.  It was enjoyable and provided me with one of the things that I require most: something to think about.

Over the three days that I spent in Hualien, I traveled to deep valleys and high cliffs, walked tribal trails and forest compounds, and got to experience much on both philosophical, intellectual, and emotional levels that have left me feeling content and fulfilled for the time being, not to mention a bit tired.  I fear I must bring this writing to close now, as I am beginning to notice another, more immediate feeling creeping into me: motion sickness.  So I bid you farewell for now and hope that the pictures that I will attach will provide you with a small idea of the natural beauty of the region.

Thanks as always,

Alex

TLI’s Calligraphy Session

•February 8, 2010 • 1 Comment

Alright ladies and gentlemen, lets do one more post for today, alright?

The past Friday was going along like any normal day at school, with me enjoying my three hours with my teachers practicing my Chinese, up until Tan Laoshi, my second hour teacher, informed me that the school was having a calligraphy lesson free of charge to all students and teachers who so desired them.  Of course, I managed to convince my third hour teacher, Ge Laoshi, to assist me in my practicing.

The reason for the calligraphy is due to the upcoming Chinese New Year, the year of the Tiger, which is coming at the end of this week.  By painting calligraphy onto square pieces of paper, you express what you desire.  You then hang them upside down to attract them to you and your household.  The color of the squares, red, is also significant, as it is designed to scare away a monster that devours humans.  Additionally, the use of fireworks also frightens him, the reason why the Chinese New Year is rung in by many firecrackers.

As I do not wish to be eaten by this cannibalistic monstrosity, I took it upon myself to paint some calligraphy of my own, for how else could I repell him?  As one might expect, there is a bit of a learning curve when it comes to learning the PROPER way to paint calligraphy.  I was fortunate enough to have had some training before from a very good Taiwanese friend, but even with those lessons, my painting was atrocious.  Despite having a hard job ahead of her, Ge Laoshi took the time to help me practice my writing and I achieved a level of “Well, you are getting better.”  Something I consider to be a major success.

The TLI staff was kind enough to enlist the help of some professional painters to show the ropes to the students.  Something I am grateful for, because I will now be returning home not just with my scribbles, but also with proper, professionally drawn characters to hang up and bring those I love prosperity.  Even if it is a little late to save them from the man-eater.  Thankfully he is probably on the TSA do not fly list.

In any case, it was a lot of fun and showed me that I really ought to buy a set of my own with which to practice once I return state-side.

Well, that is all for today,

Thanks for reading and have a terrific week,

Alex

The Taipei Elite Club Auction

•February 8, 2010 • Leave a Comment

Hey everybody, welcome to post number 3 of the postathon 2010.  I figure I should give my diehard readers (hi mom) something to read while they wait for the snow to melt enough to leave the house.

I was fortunate enough to have been invited to attend another meeting of my host Rotary Club here in Taipei, the Taipei Elite Club.  I felt that perhaps my previous experiences with the club had not left much of an impression on them, so I decided to bring along several bags of Pittsburgh presents, featuring several elements of the Steel City.  We will get to that a little later though.

The meeting was conducted much like any other Rotary meeting, with the recital 4 Way Test and by bringing the club to order.  The club song was something new to me, as my previous experiences with this particular club were held not in a hotel conference room, but rather in a restaurant owned by one of the Rotarians.  Once the meeting was started, the standard procedure followed.  Recognition of guests, discussion of upcoming events and arrangements, and the introduction of the guest speaker, an engineer that I believe teaches at a local university.

After the speech had concluded, I presented my gifts to the club: four bags of genuine Pittsburgh paraphernalia.  A Steelers reusable shopping bag, the year’s game schedule, Sam McCool’s Pittsburghese Dictionary, several postcards showing off the city’s high points, and their very own Terrible Towel.  I am well aware that there is more to the area than the Stillers, but as far as recognizable merchandise is concerned, the Steeler’s stuff is a good gift.

They auctioned off the items, with the money spent to be given to a charity to be determined later.  I was honored to be the one to show off the material in each gift bag, allowing me to practice my Chinese as well.  Several of the Rotarians informed me afterwards that the amount of progress I have made is impressive.  Nothing quite like a little ego boost to brighten someone’s day, right?

In any case, it was a lot of fun and, with luck on my side, I will be able to attend one more meeting before I leave to head home in March.

I think I can do one more post before I call it a night, so lets try.

Alex

Also please forgive the quality of the pictures, my camera seems to be giving up the ghost, so I need to wait on the club to send me the new pictures.

Jiu Fen

•February 8, 2010 • Leave a Comment

Hey guys,

Glorya, Josh (a friend we met from TLI) and I all took a day to travel to the North East of Taipei to reach a place called Jiu Fen.  It is an old mining town that was built on the side of one of Taiwan’s many mountains.   Since mining is not as big of an industry as it once was, it is now often visited by tourists and locals who find the scenery and shops to be top-notch.  We decided to take a bus for an hour to reach our destination.  Fortunately, through luck and clever management, we all got a seat for the ride.

Once we arrived I was, once again, taken back by the beauty of the scenery.  Being built on the side of a mountain affords the area with a terrific view of the mountain side and what I presume to be a body of water that funnels into the ocean.  After taking in the natural sights, we turned out gaze to the man-made ones, quickly darting between allies and stores to see what was being sold, and even on a rare occasion, buying a gift or two.

Great fun was had all around as we walked for the afternoon.  Quickly, it became apparent that even if we did wish to stay in Jiu Fen past night fall, we would not be able to experience any of the views we saw when we had first arrived.  A thick fog was creeping up the mountain.  It was truly entertaining as, due to the winding structure of the town, we would be out of view of the water for a while and once we returned to an adequate vantage point, we saw that the fog had creeped closer.

I found the food to be pretty decent and the view to be worth the time in the bus.  I may have to make a second trip there yet this year.

Rotaract Activities

•February 8, 2010 • Leave a Comment

Over the past couple of months I was fortunate enough to spend some time with the Taipei City Rotaract Club and got to experience some of what they do.

The Rotaract Club held its 12th Anniversary back in late December, an event that was overshadowed by my Christmas Coverage here on the blog, and it was an entertaining experience.  I had to opportunity to meet some individuals integral in the development of the Rotaract Club here in Taipei, as well as key members in some of the Rotary Clubs as well.  Through touching videos about their work and those that sponsor them, the Rotaract Anniversary was quite a big deal.  Of course, the standards of all Rotaract meetings took place: The recital of the goals and purpose of Rotaract, the commencement of the meeting, all relevant discussion points regarding future endeavors and activities, and of course the the singing of the club song “It’s a Small World.”  While this song is still engraved in my nightmares from my time in Disneyland (I still wake up in a cold sweat every so often), I did find it to be appropriate for the club and its goals.

As is standard toward the end of each and every meeting, the President of the Club, currently Lorraine, walked around and requested some special guests to give a few words about their experiences with Rotaract and how they perceive the group.  They seem to enjoy showing me off, much like the Rotary Elite Club (my host club), as they always ask me to say a few words.  Thankfully, they speak English, so my limited eloquence is not further degraded in my fumbling attempts to create coherent and purposeful Chinese sentences.  Regardless, the rest of the meeting went well and culminated in the most sacred of all Rotary events here, the group photo.

The next Rotaract Event I had the pleasure of attending was one featuring a special speaker.  This event hosted a NASA communicator for the Kennedy Space Center, Mr. John Dankowski (nothing reminds me of home as much as  names like Dankowski).  This gentleman had lived in Taiwan for better than 30 years, during which time he taught English in several prominent schools.  As he is fluent in Chinese, I was fortunate that the club requested he present in English. (My Chinese is not so poor that I would be completely lost, but in a field of such interesting and technical information, I would probably get pretty confused)

Mr. Dankowski gave a historic rundown of NASA and the development of space travel from the Cold War and Sputnik to the next phases of space exploration, which will probably not be headed by the United States.  Overall, it was a wonderful experience and of course, culminated in a group photo.

Finally was the International Cook-Off held just yesterday.  I attended despite a head full of who-knows-what and a great desire to rest.  Nonetheless, I got to enjoy five different dishes made by Rotarians and one Ambassadorial Scholar (Laura Moore).  The purpose of this meeting was the enjoy foods from different parts of the world as well as to go over upcoming Rotaract business.  The menu was varied, starting us off with a Caesar Salad (made by Aunt Athena), Yarisushi (made by Uncle Story), a Shepard’s Pie (made by Uncle Eggus), a form of Malaysian boxed dinner (the name to which escapes me at the moment) (made by Auntie Liz), and Louisiana Gumbo (made by Laura Moore).  Everything was terrific.  Laura, who was approached out of the blue by the club (as she is hosted by the Rotaract club’s Rotary Club) to make something she knew.  Despite being from Florida, she still did a Gumbo rather well.  As seems to be standard, they asked me to speak again, wondering what I thought of the club since I first met them.  I, of course, told them I loved their hospitality, their good work for others, and their dedication towards betterment.  I also told them that I would be coming back sometime in the near future, and if they would have me, I would like to join up with them.  At the very least, I added, I could try my hand at making some Halupki next year around.

So I guess we shall see what the next year brings.  Who knows, I may be back in Taiwan before I initially reckoned.

In any case, I owe my thanks to the Rotaract Club for letting me join them and experience their meetings.  It was truly a wonderful experience; one I hope to take part in again.

Unfortunately, at the time of this writing, there has been no photographs uploaded for the Cook-off.  I will be sure to post more as it becomes relevant.

Thanks again and lets move on to the next post,

Alex

Sickness and Free Time

•February 8, 2010 • Leave a Comment

Hello again everybody,

It has been a while since I last posted, and I have kept fairly busy with school and exploring Taiwan.  Unfortunately, as a result of spending so much time around other people, I seem to have caught another head cold.  This is number three since I came here.  I am not sure if it is due to the uncommon weather patterns, the humidity in the air, or just the sheer number of people here, but I seem to be fairly susceptible to these little buggers here.  I am recovering quickly and, on an up side, it does give me some free time.

I thought, “What better way than to use the time between resting and studying than by updating the blog?”  And so here I am.  I will try to write several entries today, as one massive entry seems slightly cumbersome (especially with pictures, which consistently try my patience on this server.)

I hope you have free time, as I am usually quite long-winded.

Lets begin the fun,

Alex