Tag Archives: learning Chinese

From the Ministry of Silly Chinglish Shirts

I dearly wanted to ask this kid whether his choice of t-shirt was intentional or not; and also, whether his parents understood it!

Well, now that I’m finally back in good old New York and my last silly t-shirt gift has been posted to its recipient, it’s time to collate my best photos– of the best silly t-shirts with broken English (or, Chinglish) spotted in Taiwan.

Given to a friend and former roommate, we puzzled about what the intended meaning might have been. Perhaps, "Every setback is a hidden opportunity?" What do you think??

So although these shirts are not brought to you BY the Ministry of Silly Walks, they were photographed in the same gently-poking fun spirit. Other amazingly silly captions spotted over the year (but lacking in pics) are listed below, in order of remembered hilarity: Continue reading

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Pippi Longstocking in Taipei

Friends + Cast after the show. Pippi is the one with the orange braids, of course!

Do you remember Pippi Longstocking, the beloved Swedish books (and movies) from your youth? Well, apparently Pippi has gone from the “south seas” all the way to Taipei, and our friend Bryan told us about a wonderful Swedish director’s version at a Taipei theater on Guling Street.

So we trooped down, for a live show in Chinese with Pippi, wiping the floors with towels strapped to her feet, dancing and singing with her friends, the white horse and the monkey Mr. Nilsson…. as well as a few human children too.

And it was surprisingly good! Great, even. Continue reading

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What I’ve Been Eating Lately

Sushi Express, you complete me.

So I’ve been packing and shipping boxes home the last week or two, as I enter my last month in Taiwan. Which leaves me very little extra energy to write every day, work on the book, make coffee, sleep, say good bye to  friends, follow up on research— let alone blog. (Also maybe I was being haunted in the fantasy treehouse–possibly).

But I still had time to eat!

So this is an unabashed excuses-making post, documenting some recent photos of food in Taipei. Aka: what I’ve been eating lately.

Continue reading

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I Ain’t Afraid of No Ghost!

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

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Pop Goes My Heart: Taiwanese Songs for Every Occasion

Click here to check out more of Crowd Lu (盧廣仲, Lu Guang-Zhong)'s songs!

So everyone I know is, has, is about to, or is starting to think about leaving Taiwan. WHY is expat life sometimes like living in a freaking train station?!?!  Okay, rant over. It’s just I’ve been doing a lot of saying goodbye to lovely people who I adore, for say, the last few weeks (and also, 2-6 months), and sometimes, words are just not enough.

Sometimes, you need a good pop song.* Continue reading

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Notes From Underground

Greetings from Tainan, city of 1000 temples! This one is Confucius Temple, photographed at dusk.

I’ve spent the last two weeks…

… traveling during my break from classes– going to Chiayi, Siluo, and Tainan, getting a wretched stomach flu, recovering, and diving into a week of using Chinese intensively in my research and new private 1-on-1 Chinese class.  With my tutor, I hope to eventually start READING the historical sources I’ve found which use Mandarin.  Last night, I gave a 20-minute talk to Zheng Da undergraduates about doing research in college: in Chinese. (Broken Chinese, but Chinese nonetheless.)

Phew. Continue reading

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Trying to Stay Sane: Watching Movies in Chinese

Click here to see Hakuna Matata in Chinese: it's awesome!!

Greetings, dear GMF readers!  My recent absence has been due to a recent flailing attempt at immersion in Chinese language, a perhaps ill-advised challenge I recently posed here.  It has been one week, and somewhere between losing myself in Chinese grammar, abandoning the experiment all together, and losing my mind, I have come to some conclusions about language pledges:

1. Above all, do no harm. (Like the medical oath this means to myself, to others, to the poor electrodes in my brain. Really, it’s just not worth it!)

2. It’s easier to speak Chinese (or your chosen foreign language) to strangers, classmates, or those who cannot or will not speak English to you.  It is IMMENSELY tricky to speak it to good friends who do speak English, or in any situation where you really need something specific and important.

3. It is also very difficult to speak solely in a foreign language if you lack certain vocabulary, especially such relevant and vitally important words as “need,” “shoes,” “whiskey,” “valium,” and/or “return flight home.” (Just kidding!  And I actually know that last one: 直飛到紐約, I think!)  Looking up several unknown words at a time in a dictionary, in public while people are waiting expectantly, can get frustrating real quick! Continue reading

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I Want to Dream in Chinese!

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

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Ting Xie: Or, how I stopped worrying and learned to love Chinese characters

Ting Xie, Ting Xie, where for art thou Ting Xie?  Deny thy stroke order and refuse thy shape; or if thou wilt not, but be sworn my pinyin and I’ll no longer be a Chinese student.

Clearly, studying has gone to my head and loosened some screws. It has also tightened others– namely, the ones that help me remember the way to write Chinese characters, the same way every time, so that I can produce them on command when I hear them. And that is the essence of “Ting Xie” (聽寫), or in English, dictation (The literal translation is “listen, write”).

I have done a little dictation before in French, but this is a completely different ball game.  In my Chinese class, we write pinyin (romanized spelling of the pronunciation), tones (1 of 4, or none), and draw the characters.  I prepare by looking up every character’s stroke order, and then practicing each character 5-15 times, as well as writing and reading all of the possible sentences and phrases we might be tested on.

It is a fairly tedious way to study– however, inexplicably, it works.   Continue reading

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Weeks in Review in Photos: The Sacred and the Profane


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

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