Wrong Bus

December 2nd, 2005

Looks like I’ve found the limits to showing people the Chinese characters and having ’em show me the right bus.

Today, I was off to Kwan Lin Shan (or Guang … or … etc. spelling is sure flexible). No sweat. Seemed like a piece of cake. Bus hit the freeway south of where I was going, so it looked like it would come up to the mountain from the south. It did. … Except it pulled in to a parking lot about 5 miles south of the hill. I showed the driver the characters and tried my words. He’s all agreeablable and points around a building to the southeast. Ok, maybe there is another bus to take.

But the building is a bathroom. Around it further there is a big, Buddist shrine. And a nice little creek with walkways and such.

OK. If you don’t go where you expect, enjoy where you are. So I watch a couple guys playing a chess-checkers-like game. Then see the shrine. Then a women selling thingees in the parking lot points me to the bus to Taipai.

At the stop, waiting, there is a 6 year old girl, her mother, and her grandmother. The mother speaks a couple words of English. We establish that the fare is 51 NT. I have 47. They make up the difference and say it’s from the Buddha. And give me a flower, a tootsie roll pop-ish candy, and a bottle of good-health-water from the shrine. Cool. The mother’s English gets better fast. Her folks live in NY, apparently. On the bus back, the little girl worked on her English numbers and helped me with Chinese numbers.

So, it was a good little side trip.

Cultural things someone observed:

Contrast Chinese and, say, nordic cultures. Notable thing here (and in China) is lack of maintainance. Buildings, for instance, look old really fast. I noticed it in the town across from Kowloon (Hong Kong) on the last trip there. That town (I forget the name) is about single-digit years old. Was a tiny village. Now has 7 million people. “Now” was ’98? Anyway, I saw old looking apartment buildings. How could there be old buildings in a town that was just built? Connie Chen noticed me noticing. “People here don’t take care of their buildings.”

Same sort of thing here. Apparently, the thing is: Build it (perhaps nicely). Use it. Replace it.

‘Nother thing that’s kinda interesting: Taiwan feels like the US in the ’70’s. How? Prices, for one thing. More cluttered than the US is now. Small shop around the corner that has a guy hand-crafting an ink stamp. His main job, it appears, is duping keys. And fixing clocks. And fixing other things.

The Meaning of the Word Formosa

December 1st, 2005

Flash of insight: What does “Formosa” really mean?


This became clear out on the coast north of Keelung. Any place there is a hill, there are stairs.

Starting to feel a bit of wanderlust. It’s fun here, but no question I’m not putting the kind of work in I should be on Chinese. Yes, some odd words are seeping in to the mind. But, it’s vaguely possible to blunder around without knowing anything useful. Heck, numbers can always be handled with writing.

Anyway, we’re looking in to renting a car to have a look at the northest coast of the island. Might not be what happens, though. Car rental doesn’t seem to have a lot of backers of people I’ve talked with. Eveyone talks of crazy Taiwan drivers. They don’t seem so crazy to me. But, car rental is a long way from LA prices. And – killer – there may be a milage limit. A low milage limit. Anyway, it may be that buses, etc, are, in fact, a better way to go.

Not only that, but for the first time, I’m aware of when this trip ends. Ouch.

YangMingShan – Mountain of a Thousand Steps

November 30th, 2005

Well, that’s not its name. Don’t know what YMSh means. But do know that the way up is a short 2 clicks. First half is 5 foot wide stone stairway. The rest is rougher stone, 3 feet wide. Both are steep with something like 50 feet of levelish ground in the whole way. If I had counted the steps in Chinese, I’d ‘a had to take camping gear.

The top was socked in so there was nothing to see. Windy and kinda cold. Nice walk, though. The mountain is either really close to or inside the city. Took a city bus to the hike.

Learning Chinese. Heck, learning anything:

It’s been a long time since I’ve learned anything that’s not filling in existing knowledge. So, it’s interesting to experience. One thing that I’d either never learned or had forgotten years ago is how it could be nice to have someone to smooth out the emotional part of learning. Encouragement.

After riding on a bus for 40 minutes and hearing only unintelligable chatter, I’m walking down the sidewalk hear someone behind me saying two words of one of the half dozen “phrases” I should be learning. Score! Better feeling: I can hear in my head the phrase I should learn spoken by a fluent person. So I street-wisper it and, hey, it sounds pretty good.

But other times, when I can’t seem to say a half word without mangling it – depths of despair.

Yep, encouragement is probably good. Or, perhaps, at least someone to remind you that it’s not going *that* badly.

Best part about learning to speak is the (surprised) light in a fluent persons eyes when you say something right. That’s the object of the game. But, dang, it’s hard to get.

Loving Mother and Dutiful Son

November 29th, 2005

In the US, these two with another nearby would be called “Middle Knob”, “Little Knob”, and “West Knob”. Or something like that.

They are tiny peaks standing below some other sharp hills. They have stairs cut in to them for climbing. “Loving Mother” has 276 stairs, each of which I very, very slowly counted in bad Chinese on the way up. Made for an easy climb.

Found them after some blundering around in the village of P’ing Hsi, which is a narrowing of the road through some stores and such.

The blundering led out of town. Coming back in, I thought I found the right path and went up it. The path led to a couple of houses, one with a barking dog and a women who was either coming or leaving. I showed her the book with the Chinese characters for what I was looking for. She said something that started with what sounded like 200. I presumed “meters” and she was pointing to where I should go. Thanked her, went down the hill, down the road, found the right path and a big sign showing all the sights. Read it for a bit, started up the path, heard honking and saw the woman in her car waving to me to get in. OK. So, I’m male and she’s female, so I guess she’s not up to no good. I get in, she drives me a little ways down the road to where another little road leads up and indicates that this is where I need to go.

Sure ‘nouf. The trail had been blocked or something by the new road.

Since it was Monday, I found myself in the low end of the age range of walkers. Few people out, though. Fun walk. Cute hills.

Caught the same bus back to the MRT (subway). Helped a kid with his English homework and got him to drill me on numbers.

Got back tired.

Spent the evening getting the other half of the hotel I’m in up with two computers on the internet. New WIFI wall/router box. Real hassle. Needed to change an XP box by guesswork (Spanish XP), then change IE to use Big5 so a guy from Singapore could read the wall’s menus. When we got it running, the Ubuntu box could work (it could not before that). And, so this is written from a CD-booted Ubuntu box.

Used this special boot to look at asuka upload. Looks like the last two things were lost. No sweat. One was probably a junk pic. The other was an audio recording that I can easily dupe.

It’s late. I’m tired. So much for computers and the productivity they give to us. 🙂

Tks, Scott. The box did the trick for these guys. Or at least I expect everything to work as soon as this PC’s XP is re-config’d.

Always question zero and ten – A Day for Numbers

November 27th, 2005

Started the day getting drilled on number words. The words for zero and ten are rising tone words. Someday, someday, I’ll even remember the word for 10. Anyway, at this writing I can say all the single digit words without too much trouble. But will forget 4 and 10 by tomorrow. Funny how certain words are so hard to remember and others are so easy. 5 and 8 are in the mind at one learning.

Actually, I went to the end of the Danshui MRT line and caught a bus to a beach. Wanted to see some water. Beach was empty and under construction. But had a good walk. Usual beach stuff. Like the NW with warm air. Felt the water. Not hot, but certainly not NorthWest Pacific cold. Probably swimmable without thinking much. Couple windsurfers way out in the bay. Real good wind.

Waylaid several people to practice my “homework” on. Went well. Again, people here are friendly and nice. A kid on the bus back practiced his English on me, before I returned the favor with my sheet of “homework”.

When I got back to Danshiu (or Tanshui – spelling is rather flexible for a lot of words), it was a thriving Sunday street fair with stores and such. Lots of people doing the usual street fair stuff with all the usual street fair stuff to do. Saw one thing I’d not seen before. You stick your hand in a couple of pans of liquid. One of them is wax or something. Eventually, a form is made around the hand. I didn’t wait to see what happens, but presume that the form is used to build a heavy plastic hand matching yours.

Anyway, back to having a real hard time with tones (and all the fricatives).

Taipai 101

November 26th, 2005

Yesterday I went to the top of Taipai 101, the world’s tallest building (or was, tallest-building-ness seems to change often).

Coming out from an older, tighter, more crowded area of Taipai to the city hall area of Taipai 101 makes quite a contrast. The T101 area is wide open, cleared out, rather people-less areas of modern, planned grandeur. Not a really good stage to be on.

Oddly enough, one of the building’s real claims to fame works against it, too. The elevator zips up to the 500 meter top in about 30 seconds. Really, really fast. Inside the elevator the ceiling has LED’d stars and comet to keep us entertained. The elevator operator has just enough time for a very quick comment in two languages before the trip is over. There is *no* feeling of movement. Just a slight nudge, maybe. So, though the thing is moving 400 meters per minute, top end, according to the speedo, it seems like nothing is happening. And then you’re there.

Overcast, so the audio players’ descriptions of the far sights were imaginary. Nearby, though, it is kinda cool to look way, way down on 20 story buildings. The top of the building is at low airplane heights and feels it.

Anyway, it’s something to do. 🙂

Have not had any luck finding pro teacher for Mandarin, but that doesn’t seem to be a problem for the moment, as I’ve found an alternate – the women who has the place I’m staying. The good side is that she enjoys this sort of thing (her husband is Mexican so she’s used to it). The down side is that as soon as I finish getting these files off the camera, I gotta do my homework – accost 10 people outside and get them to read and listen to me say a paper full of simple words/phrases.

In other words, I have the feeling that she’s a tough teacher. 🙂

Had a fun time talking philo/polictico with two people here yesterday. We covered Irish Gypsies (unRomanish “gypsies”), Swedish small business, and the usual things. Irish guy, Swedish girl. Oh, and we got some asperagus juice in the grocery store. Kinda sweat.

First post

November 24th, 2005

OK. Let’s try out this blog thing. 🙂

Found a card reader at the Nova store area near the main train station in Taipai. Unfortunately, the perl script that does uploads to asuka still has too short a timeout for a 13 meg AVI file.

Computer parts and such are pretty much the same prices and variety as at Frys, CompUSA and others. Not a surprise. What was odd was that these stores seemed to be very filled with MP3 players. Some stores had phones, too. Found one way-back store with a couple of web cams. Lots of stores with laptops. Acers, mostly, of course. Anyway, no reason to bring memory chips and so on to Taiwan. But no reason to get ’em here, either.

Weather is mostly greyish sky with some blue coming out. Warmish, but not hot. Fairly humid, but not in any way oppresively so.

Got no start yet on finding some Mandarin instructions. Learned a few word parts from people, though.

The place I’m at is really low budget. 10-15 bucks a night. Downside is the room is a closet and the bathroom’s down the hall (something I’m more sensitive too at my age as in the past). Upside is that the room actually has a computer in it. Funny how a low-budget place is better computered than biz hotels I’ve been in. And, another upside is that in most hotels the proprietor does not spend a half hour telling you about things around town and island. Very friendly place. Nice people.

It’s already dark at 5:30. Hmmm. Gotta get up early. Tomorrow I’ll see about finding some instruction. And take a look at Taipai 101, the world’s tallest building. Might be able to wander up in some nearby hills, too, given MRT (nice subway) and buses.