Friday, July 8, 2016

Nature, nurture, and new things at NTU

大家好! My name is Anna Du and I am an undergraduate student in the Elliott School majoring in International Affairs and Chinese, currently in Taipei, Taiwan studying Chinese with NTU’s ICLP program as a Sigur Center summer language fellow. I am forever grateful to the Sigur Center for making everything I will learn and experience during this summer possible! As of now I am at home enjoying a “typhoon day” while rain from super typhoon Nepartak beats against the door. These past two days I’d step out the door and feel a noticeable difference from the normal humidity that feels like another layer of clothing, along with clearer skies. One of my teachers at ICLP has explained “the calm before the storm” occurs because the typhoon sucks in all the bad weather as it progresses, growing bigger and nastier…. thus the more beautiful the weather before the typhoon, the worse the typhoon will be when it hits. Those of us in the northern portion of Taiwan are more fortunate than those in the South, which is bearing the brunt of the typhoon.  
A typhoon-ready bathroom. If you live in an apartment, it is advised you fill a vessel with water to flush toilets in case of a power outage.

Aside from natural phenomena, I’d like to talk about another interesting phenomenon I’ve experienced while living and getting around Taipei, . Sometimes it feels like I haven’t left America, as some days will be spent saturated in English rather than in Chinese. I could spend a day finding my way around Taipei by reading the English on the road signs or on the MRT, eat at restaurants that have menus in English and play American music, and use Facebook like I normally would.

So easy to just read the clever English entree names in lieu of the Chinese below...
People can get by in foreigner friendly Taipei without trying to learn Chinese, and it makes me realize that I still need to study very hard to improve my Chinese-- just being in a foreign country does not mean that your language skills will improve without any effort on your part-- daily study is essential and it takes up a good portion of the day. ICLP is very intensive, in that you have the same four classes a day, three classes with 3-4 students and one one-on-one, Monday-Friday. ICLP and my teachers are wonderful enough to accommodate with teaching materials in simplified in additional to traditional, however being the only student in my classes reading in simplified, I feel as if sometimes I’m at a handicap. Here at 臺大 I have the opportunity to learn a bit of Taiwanese, which is classified under the Minnan dialect, in an elective class. As one of the many Chinese dialects (方言) mutually unintelligible from Mandarin, Taiwanese is related to Mandarin just about as much as French is related to Spanish. However the writing system is the same, utilizing Chinese characters (方块字), although some different vocabulary usage has corresponding different characters. If you ever thought the four tones of Mandarin were difficult to grasp, try the seven tones of Taiwanese. You can find recordings of Taiwanese with with transcriptions including Mandarin and English here.

Language isn’t the only thing we can learn from Taiwan. What that has struck me most in Taipei while I’ve been nurturing my Chinese skills is the remarkable kindness and good-naturedness of the Taiwanese people. When I first arrived in the middle of the night and couldn’t find the house I was staying at in the confusing alleys, people asked me if I needed help and pointed me in the right direction. When bumping into someone on the road, people will politely apologize. When one of the 阿姨s, cleaning ladies, saw me scratch at my mosquito-bite ridden legs, she immediately gave me some cooling gel to get rid of the itchiness. Many days later, she asked me if my legs were all better.

In addition to the people of Taipei, I must also rave about the transportation system in Taipei. The MRT, Taipei’s metro rail system, is quick, cheap, and I daresay safer than other metro rail systems I’ve used (at most stations there’s a barrier between the platform and the track to prevent anyone from falling onto the track). The YouBike system, which I use to get to and from class every day, is relatively dependable and cheap too. You use your EasyCard to use the MRT, take the bus, and rent YouBikes. I’ve used public transportation to get to many of our 活动 excursions on Saturdays:
Dragon Boat Racing
Half-baked tea leaves at 貓空 (Maokong) and a special tea mug on the bottom right corner designed to make tea culture much easier to experience. 

A lovely Buddhist temple in Sanxia Old Town

To everyone who may be in the path of typhoon Nepartak-- stay safe.

Until next time,

Anna Du
B.A. International Affairs and Chinese, 2018
Sigur Center 2016 Chinese Language Fellow
National Taiwan University, Taiwan

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