One of the lanterns at the Keelung Hungry Ghost Festival.
This month in Taiwan is Ghost Month. Like an extended Halloween or Dia de los Muertos (Day of the Dead), Ghost Month is the 7th month of the lunar calendar. Apparently during this time, the gates of the underworld fly open and the ghosts are unleashed into the land of the living.
Sound morbid or spooky? Luckily in Taiwan, Ghost Month is quite raucous, loud, full of bonfires, parties in front of temples, festivals, and sacrificial offerings of food, paper money, and treats for one’s ancestors– who are just on an extended visit. Like a summer holiday with the in-laws, if you will. Continue reading
We now interrupt your regularly scheduled programming for this world map by Christoph Niemann (not drawn to scale), who writes Abstract City of the New York Times:
Oh you did, did you?
Throughout my travels, through Southeast Asia and in Singapore in particular, I kept seeing signs that made me laugh. I thought this was particularly ironic in a place where English is the official language, but you figure it has to be translated into so many other languages, maybe there’s less care taken. OR, and I prefer this possibility, Singaporean signmakers have a fantastic sense of humor.
I think there are a few from Taiwan and Vietnam as well– at the Reunification Palace in Ho Chi Minh City, Eva and I had some, ahem, trouble, following their commands.
Have you seen any terrific (or terrifically bad) signs lately? Please share! Continue reading
So before the New Year’s revelry and subsequent non-resolutions (see previous post), I went traveling for my American holiday of Christmas! These travels took me to Singapore and Vietnam, which I will introduce through my photos, and primarily, through the totally amazing food that can be found in each.
There are other cool things in Singapore besides food, but don’t ask a Singaporean resident! They’ll just shrug and say, “Eh, the food, the shopping, that’s about it.” But don’t believe it! Singapore is a city-state teeming with an incredibly rich array of diverse cultures, which mix and meld together in fascinating ways. The food may one way into seeing the different cultural angles of Singapore, but it certainly doesn’t end there.
Check out neighborhoods like Chinatown, Little India (and its Muslim Middle-Eastern section with the beautiful Sultan Mosque and the amazing Café El Caire), Joo Chiat, and places like the Peranaken Museum, Hawker Centres for local street food (I went to the Newton Centre and one by City Hall but the Esplanade Centre looks like an amazing night spot), and Orchard Street– famous for its shopping– for a taste of the many different characteristics of such a small place.
And don’t forget to take a walk around the Marina Bay and Esplanade, for beautiful views of the city skyline. I was amazed at the night view as well from the freeway at night! I haven’t seen such a gorgeous– as well as varied and whimsical– skyline since Las Vegas. Say what you like about the nature of the Strip in LV, but the lights are amazing. Same with Singapore at night– it’s really quite breathtaking.
The funny thing is that I am critical of all photos of Singapore at night, because LITERALLY the best view of the skyline is as you drive through it on the highway, past the "flyer" (ferris wheel) and almost up to the Marina Bay Sands hotel and casino (the boat thing). This photo gets the wow factor I think! Photo by coolinsights, courtesy of Flickr Creative Commons license.
Image published in the New York Times with book review of "Dreaming in Chinese." Click here to read the review!
So I think I’m hitting a wall with my Chinese: I practice and practice and practice, and yet still, when given the option to speak English, I take it. And I think that if I keep this up, in time, I will merely be speaking English-with-a-little-Chinese, and not a-lot-of-Chinese-with-some-English-every-now-and-then to keep me sane.
So then this NY Times book review came along (thanks, Kim!), of a book called “Dreaming in Chinese,” by Deborah Fallows. When I read this book review over the weekend, I was struck by the cultural connotations and expectations implicit in each language. Also, I definitely want to read the book! And as I did my grammar homework last night, I began to realize that I was reaching the cliff of literal translation– at a certain point, trying to get a direct translation of this phrase, pattern, or grammatical structure is going to obscure and inhibit the sense that I was trying to make by learning the language at all. Today, we went over the grammar structures, and they began to feel more natural and smooth in conveying a universal meaning, even if we would choose much different English phrases to say equivalent things.
So I think I’m going to take the language plunge and jump off the cliff: go for immersion and speak only Mandarin for 2 weeks! Continue reading
In the last two weeks I have seen many parts of Taipei– the trappings of daily life and the beautiful natural resources and cultural offerings, such as Yangming Shan and Longshan Temple.
At both places, I was overwhelmed with the sense of being part of something much larger than me– the hundreds of years of spiritual history at Longshan Temple permeated the air as powerfully as the incense, and the vistas at Yangming Shan reminded me that Taiwan is also a country of diverse landscapes and breathtaking beauty, not just the backdrop for Taipei’s bustling cosmopolitan center. Continue reading
“What causes culture shock? It is basically an accumulation of stress caused by a lack of the familiar…. Culture shock can hit the young, the old, the experienced, the naive. It might be a fleeting moment of melancholy, or a brief loneliness, but it can also be a profound and deep depression.” — Culture Shock! Taiwan
So the honeymoon is over. Over. It’s been a fantastic introduction to Taiwan, but as I bid good bye to my heady first few weeks here, I realize with a shock that I am living in Taiwan, not visiting, vacationing, or galavanting. So if I haven’t been in touch, don’t worry, I’m just culture shocked. Continue reading
Photo by eSonic, courtesy of Flickr Creative Commons
To continue in the thread of learning languages– this time without eating– I read this interesting claim in the New York Times Magazine this week: While your native language, or langue maternelle, does not inhibit one’s understanding of the world, it may, shape it in subtle ways. As Guy Deutscher, author of the article “Does Your Language Shape How You Think?”, argues, “If different languages influence our minds in different ways, this is not because of what our language allows us to think but rather because of what it habitually obliges us to think about.”
Is that so? Continue reading
Photo by ctsnow courtesy of Flickr Creative Commons
Blog readers, meet Eva. She is my Taiwanese college roommate from Stanford, one of my best friends, and kind of a sister to me. She and her family have been my cultural translators for Taipei and Taiwan (although she currently lives in Boston), and I will be referring to their help and guidance throughout my adventure.
She has also been a great language buddy with whom I’ve been practicing my burgeoning (and bumbling) Mandarin. And at the risk of turning this into a food blog, one of the most effective ways to learn Chinese vocabulary I’ve found is through discussing food!
So before I left, I asked Eva what her top 5 favorite Taiwanese foods are, that I must try when I arrived in Taiwan. Her answers provided a great lesson in Chinese language and the fascinating etymologies of meaning that lie embedded in each combination of characters. Eva’s list of Taiwanese highlights was as follows:
1. Beef noodle soup- 牛肉麵 (niu rou mian)
2. Stir fried vegetables, in particular, watercress- 炒空心菜 (chao kong xin cai)
3. Potstickers- 鍋貼 (guo tie)
4. Grilled Sausage with Basil- 烤香腸和九層塔 (kao xiang chang he/han jiu ceng ta)
5. Stinky Tofu- 臭豆腐 (chou do fu) Continue reading