Sunday, June 28, 2015

Exploring Taipei!

大家好! Hello! My name is Betsy Janus and I am a graduate student in Asian Studies. I’m here in Taipei, Taiwan on a Sigur Center grant for Language Study. I'm so thankful to for the Sigur Center for this opportunity! I will be studying at the Mandarin Training Center at the National Taiwan Normal University. I arrived last week and will stay here through August. Some initial thought on my first days here are that Taiwan is great, but extremely hot! Taiwan is very clean and orderly. I would also say that it is more orderly than my visit to Rome! There was a line to get onto the escalator in the metro- and for those of us who ride the Washington Metro this will be a big deal- all of those that were standing stood to the right! If only we could have that order in the DC metro! The people are very helpful, assisting when asked and even when I have not asked but look confused. It does set an example to maybe have a little more patience with the tourists in DC. A little kindness definitely went a long way towards making me feel welcome in Taipei.

I have had a few days before my classes started so I used that time to visit some of the sights in Taipei. I visited the Chiang Kai-shek memorial. It reminded me a little of the Lincoln memorial with the large statue in the middle of a marble hall.

Me in front of the bronze statue of Chiang Kai-shek
Every hour they have a changing of the guards ceremony. The precision stepping and drill work were impressive to see, especially in the intense heat of the day.

Drill work!
There was also a museum below the hall, telling the story of Chiang Kai-shek’s life. It included various artifacts, including a number of his books and pieces of clothing. It was interesting to see both his bullet proof car and the chairs that he used to be carried around when he was on his estate. Chiang Kai-shek lived a time of great change and the juxtaposition of these two objects showed this time of transition. The museum of course was a very positive outlook on Chiang Kai-Shek’s life, but that would be expected from a memorial commemorating his life.
Chiang's bullet proof car
The chairs used to carry him around 

I also visited the National Palace Museum. The museum moved to its current location and building in 1965 and consists of over 600,000 artifacts, many of them coming from the Qing court. The breadth of the Chinese civilization was on display and the artifacts included were magnificent. China’s history  It was a very impressive collection and was almost exhausting to visit! The four main artifacts that people see to visit are an ancient cauldron and bell and a carved jade cabbage and a piece of jasper carved to look like a piece of pork. They were impressive to see but I must admit that I found the exhibit on pottery and porcelains to be much more impressive. This exhibit included pieces from the nomadic times up to the 20th century, which showed the range and evolution of pottery in China. I found the delicate nature of the porcelains to showcase amazing human artistry.  There were stunning colors and artistry exhibited throughout the museum, but especially in that exhibit. The delicate painting and intense colors were beautiful. Another exhibit that I enjoyed was on scrolls and calligraphy. There were a special collection showing embroidered work. The color was vibrant and the needlework delicate and exact. These were very splendid works of art.

Palace Museum in the distance- set back in a wooded hill

From my perspective as a volunteer at the Freer/Sackler, which are the Asian Art galleries of the Smithsonian Institution, this was a truly amazing collection to see and from which to learn. Many of the labels were in English, which was immensely helpful; this also gave me a perspective on the hardships that foreign visitors can experience when visiting museums in the US. While the pieces’ beauty spoke for themselves, learning about the background of the objects and meanings of the symbols made the visit even more meaningful. I was thankful for the background provided.  

Finally, I also visited the tower of Taipei 101. With an observatory on the 89th floor, Taipei 101 gave broad, sweeping views of the city. It was a little misty on the day I visited so many of the mountains surrounding the city were shrouded. It also has one of the fastest elevators in the world, traveling from the 5th floor to the 89th in about 26 seconds. It was very good that the elevator moved that fast as it was packed!

Some views from Taipei 101

These sites were a great introduction to Taipei before classes start. I’m looking forward to starting classes and to exploring more of the city!

Betsy Janus, M. A. Asian Studies 2016
Sigur Center 2015 Chinese Language Fellow
National Taiwan Normal University, Taiwan

Dragon Boat Racing in Taipei

Hey everybody! So a whole month has gone by since I first got to Taipei. There are so many things to catch you all up on. First a large thank you to the Sigur Center for allowing me to have this life-changing experience!  I’ve been studying at the Taiwan Mandarin Institute in Da’an District and I live near Guting MRT, in an off-campus studio but in a neighborhood that has a lot of scooter repair shops and dogs. My two favorites are below:
大头 on the left and new friend on the right!
So a few weekends ago was 端午节 (Duan Wu Jie), or the Dragon Boat Festival and it was a huge deal in Taipei.  Honestly, the first time I heard about it was my second day at TMI when the front-desk people asked me if I wanted to be a part of a Dragon Boat Race.  I agreed, really not knowing anything but eager to make new friends. That day I went home and did some research.

So 端午节 is a summer solstice festival that commemorates the death of the ancient poet Qu Yuan. The poet lived during the Warring States Period and drowned himself in a river to prove his loyalty to his country. Once citizens heard of his death, they searched the river for his body and beat drums and paddles in the water to ward off evil spirits. Many people believe dragon boating began as a blend of reenacting the search for Qu Yuan, and a way to ward off evil spirits during the Solstice. Another important part of 端午节 is eating zongci, or rice wrapped in leaves. It is believed that during the search for his body, common people threw bits of food in the river in order to keep Qu Yuan alive. They wrapped this food in brightly colored cloth or leaves to deter hungry spirits.

 端午节 is mostly celebrated in East and Southeast Asia but dragon boat racing happens all across the world. There was even a dragon boat race on the Potomac River this past May! After learning about the history, I then set out to learn about the actual sport. After signing up, I would learn just what I had gotten myself into by watching intimidating videos about dragon boat racing and reading how-to instructions online. These resources were provided mostly from emails from our team-captain, a very strong looking, non-nonsense Australian man named Juan.  Like any good team, we had practices. Two of these were at 6am(!). There were just 3 girls on the team including myself, and the rest were pretty buff looking guys. At first I was worried that I would be a liability to the team. I can barely do a push-up and here I am racing with guys who could do 20 maybe 40! But after being reassured that absolutely nobody else knew what they were doing, I felt okay.

Juan giving a paddling demonstration in the top left! I'm right in the middle.

That being said, practices were a bit messy.  Our team had 22 people, most of which had never been in or had even seen a dragon boat before. Compared to the well-seasoned teams around us, we looked like fools. The men officiating the event groaned whenever they saw us approaching the boats, a team full of 外国人 (foreigners) with giddy smiles.  Our first practice was definitely the worst. It took us 10 minutes to figure out how to steer and maneuver the boat away from the dock and out onto the river. The race officials yelled at us so much, but few on the team had enough workable, nautical mandarin to fully understand what it was they were yelling. I just shrugged and smiled and yelled 对不起 (sorry!) as much as I could.  After 5 minutes of fumbling, a large crowd had gathered on the shore, all yelling 加油 (add oil or keep going!) and shouting equally confusing instructions. I think they were mostly laughing at us. It was hilarious juxtaposing the race officials fear stricken faces and their happy cheers. I really thought were gonna have to pay some damage fees for all the other boats we hit but thankfully no boats or bodies were hurt in the process and after we finally got on the river, we commenced practice. 
Angry officials to the right!
Our fearless leader Juan took us through the basics of Dragon Boating. He taught us many things about racing and life in general but most importantly that DBR was about timing not power. Some of us had an easier time than others, and our practices were mostly slowly chugging down the river with little bursts of speed.  But by the end of 4 practices (all of which I attended), I knew the difference between a "power up" and a "race start," so I felt a bit more prepared to race.  

I didn’t think I would be that invested in our team but the week leading up to the race it was all I could talk or think about. Friday came, and we all donned our uniforms and got ready to swim.  But before we could enter a boat, we were given name ID tags with our pictures on them. We lined up next to three other teams on the dock as race officials came around and checked everybody’s ID badge. Then a huge commotion. Apparently, every one on the team next to us had the same guys picture on their nametag and they were automatically disqualified.  It was a Dragon Boat Festival miracle. Suddenly, we were only facing two other teams!

Motivated like never before, we efficiently got into the boat and paddled out to the starting line. Some guy in the back of the boat started whispering the lines from Cool Runnings and then I knew we had a chance. "Feel the rhythm! Feel the rhyme! Get on up, its Dragon Boat time! Cool Runnings!" Suddenly, the buzzer sounded and we were off, 500 yards from the finish. To say I was invested in this team was an understatement, and I didn’t realize that fully until we were paddling down that river. At first we were losing to one team by at least a boat’s length. But we pushed the rhythm AND the rhyme and suddenly we were in the lead…all the way to the finish! We won and I honestly couldn’t believe it. I almost got teary eyed in the boat. Thankfully, the river water masked any real tears. However, like a true underdog team, after winning the race it took us an extra 10 minutes to figure out how to dock the boat. But once ashore we celebrated with some warm sandwiches and merry cheer. The once angry race officials even high fived us! It was a true rags to riches, novice to master story. 

Seconds after we crossed the finish line. Tears or river water??

I have no idea why I was so invested in that dragon Boating Team, but I have to say it has been my favorite experience in Taipei so far. Nothing bonds a group of people like confusion and dragon boating. We could’ve gone farther too! But nobody thought we’d win so we all had plans during the next race on Saturday and couldn’t make it.  Honestly, I preferred it that way— in my mind we won the whole thing.


Tuesday, June 23, 2015

Max’s 1st Update: Adventures with Jack, Dragon Boat Races, and Starting Classes

大家好,Hello everyone, I am Max, a rising Junior at the Elliott School currently studying Chinese in Taipei thanks to the help of the Sigur Center’s Grant for Chinese Language Study in Taiwan. Before I begin, I want thank the Sigur Center. I will cherish this experience forever, and am excited to share it with all of the Asia on E-Street readers over the next two months.
I’ve been in Asia for just over three weeks now. Before I arrived at the National Taiwan University (NTU), where I will study this summer, I had an unforgettable ten days with my closest friend and older brother Jack. Together, we traveled through Tokyo and Taipei - two cities with diverse neighborhoods, historical sites, and cuisines.

In Tokyo, Jack and I enjoyed wondering through mellow districts, like Taito where we stayed, and boisterous places bloated with people, like Shibuya. 

In Taipei, our experience was a bit different. As far as we could tell, the city is lively both day and night. Admittedly we preferred nights because of the night markets (夜市 - yeshi). For anyone visiting Taipei, or Taiwan for that matter, these winding streets filled with food, shops, and lots of locals are a must. Our favorites were Raohe, Tonghua, and Keelung (a 40 minute train ride from the city).

Jack at Raohe Night Market
Jack at Keelung Night Market

One wonderful thing about Taipei is that the city is surrounded by mountains! Whether it was at Yingmanshan National Park, Xiangshan trail (or elephant mountain), and Maokong, Jack and I always seemed to snap a great shot of the city, or the back of each other's heads... 
View from Yangmingshan (陽明山)
View from Xiangshan (象山)
Jack's head on the Gondola to Maokong (貓空)
 My head on the Gondola to Maokong (貓空)

Nonetheless, visiting two capitals of two countries rich with history, we found no shortage of memorizing museums and timeless shrines & temples to fit into our itinerary. In Tokyo we made sure to see the Shinjuku Temple and Meiji Shrine. 
Shinjuku Temple
The Meiji Shrine from afar
Additionally, while in Taipei, we marveled at the National Palace Museum’s collection of ceramics and scrolls, the Mengjia Longshan Temple, and the Chiang Kai-Shek Memorial Hall.
The National Palace Museum
Mengjia Longshan Temple (艋舺龍山寺)
Chiang Kai-shek Memorial Hall

Lastly, food in both cities brought copious amounts of joy to our taste buds. In Tokyo, friend and fellow GW colonial Morgan introduced us to Okonomiyaki, commonly described as a Japanese pancake, as well as something very new to the Jack and I, conveyor-belt sushi. 
Morgan making Okonomiyaki
Conveyor Belt Sushi (image courtesy of

In Taipei, we gobbled up 小籠包 (xiaolongbao -steamed pork soup dumplings) at the very famous Din Tai Feng restaurant. 
delicious 小籠包

We also ate delectable 刈包 (guabao - steamed buns filled with pork belly, peanut shaving, and greens) at a spot that, for better of for worse, is a minute walk from my dorm!
刈包 near my dorm (photo courtesy of

After my best friend and food finding companion went back home, I moved into my new dorm. I’ve also found new buddies, place to explore, and yummy food to eat. In fact, this weekend was the Dragon Boat Festival (端午節), so a few friends and I went to the Taipei’s very own to watch some races.
Dragon Boats

As my first time seeing dragon boats, I must say that a few hundred meters of intense rowing and drum playing (to keep paddler’s stroke) seems very fun, but also very difficult. After the festival, we found a place near our dorm to try the holiday specialty, 粽子 (zongzi - glutinous rice filled with meat, bean curd, or other fillings that is steamed wrapped in bamboo leaf). The particular 粽子 I ate was of the pork variety, which made it, like all things pork related here in Taipei, super tasty.
Nonetheless, while I have spent plenty of time enjoying Taipei, I also just finished my first week of classes at NTU's International Chinese Language Program (ICLP). In the best of ways, the program is very intense. The coursework is rigorous, pace is quick, classes are at largest four students, and on the ICLP premise I must only speak Chinese. While it has only been a short time, I am quite confident that this sort of atmosphere will make for a very productive next two months!

Until the next update.

From Taipei,

Max Grossman, B.A. International Affairs and Geography 2017, 

Sigur Center 2015 Chinese Language Fellow, 

National Taiwan University, Taiwan.

Friday, June 5, 2015

Fall 2015 Internship Announcement: CECC

Congressional-Executive Commission on China
Deadline: July 1, 2015

The Congressional-Executive Commission on China ( is offering paid internships to qualified undergraduates, graduate students, or recent graduates this coming fall in Washington, D.C. Interns must be U.S. citizens. The application deadline is July 1, 2015 for the Fall 2015 internship that runs from September 1 to December 15, 2015. Fall internships are part-time; interns are expected to work from 15 to 20 hours per week. See application instructions below.

CECC internships provide significant educational and professional experience for undergraduates, graduate students, or recent graduates with a background in Chinese politics, law, and society, and strong Chinese language skills. Interns work closely with the Commission and its staff on the full array of issues concerning human rights, the rule of law, and governance in China (including criminal justice, democratic governance institutions, environmental problems, religious freedom, freedom of expression, ethnic minority rights, women's rights, etc.).

Interns perform important research support tasks (often in Chinese), attend seminars, meet Members of Congress and experts from the United States and abroad, and draft Commission analyses. Click here for CECC analysis of recent developments in the rule of law and human rights in China. Interns may also be trained to work with the Commission's Political Prisoner Database, which has been accessible by the public since its launch in November 2004 (click here to begin a search).

The CECC staff is committed to interns’ professional development, and holds regular roundtables for interns on important China-related issues.

Fall 2015 interns will be paid $10/hour. Those unable to apply for Fall 2015 internships may apply for the Spring (February-May) or Summer (June-August). Further details are available on the Commission's Web site at


Interns must be U.S. citizens.
• Interns should have completed at least some China-related coursework. It is also desirable that they have some background in one or more of the specific human rights and rule of law issues in the CECC legislative mandate.
• Interns should be able to read Chinese well enough to assist with research in newspapers, journals, and on Web sites. More advanced Chinese language capability would be a plus. The successful candidate for an internship often will have lived or studied in mainland China, Hong Kong, or Taiwan.
• Although our interns are generally undergraduates, graduate students, or recent graduates, others are also welcome to apply.

Application Instructions for Fall 2015:

Interested applicants should send a cover letter, resume, and the names and contact information for two references, to the CECC via e-mail to Judy Wright, Director of Administration at by July 1, 2015. Applications must be received by our office no later than 11:59 P.M. Eastern Time on July 1. Please discuss in your cover letter how your professional goals, interests, and background relate to the Commission's legislative mandate regarding human rights and the rule of law in China. No phone calls please.