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Archive for June, 2011

I went to see a movie with a friend from work today, and it was the most unique movie-going experience I’ve ever had.  Jenny found a budget theater called the Dynasty, and it was amazingly close to my house.  We met up after work and found a little place to have dinner that I’m definitely going back to, and showed up a few minutes late to the show.

Sucker Punch was the first movie, and let me tell you, that movie is not improved by missing the first few minutes.  Honestly, it’s probably only improved by not watching, but we had paid our 100元 and were set on having a good time.  I’m not sure how dark the palette of the film was in its original release, but it was probably not as dark and muffled as the print we saw.  However, something about the utter sleaziness of the movie and the squalor of the theater combined to make a perfect experience for my first legal double feature.

Because this theater doesn’t “clean out” between screenings (Jenny and I couldn’t think of the best way to translate this because neither of us has enough experience with sketchy second-run theaters), we finished Sucker Punch, horrified and in dire need of cheering up and just scooted into better seats to await the next movie.  It turned out to be an animated animal movie that put me in mind of Shark Tale: a lot of names and not a lot else.  It was formulaic but still funny, and much needed after the bizarre yet intriguing mess that was the first movie.

I want to try this theater again: it’s so convenient and atmospheric!  Perhaps too atmospheric, though: now I feel all itchy.  I hope it’s just the heat…

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Voyage of re-discovery

I went walking tonight to buy sundries, and I re-discovered how close I am to a really cute area near the Confucius and Bao-an Temples.  Less than 15 minutes walking put me in the midst of a mini-night market with a decent selection of street food!  I’ll have to go back with an empty stomach sometime.

I also discovered how much I need black clothes here, because I wore a navy blue shirt out and it was black when I got home.  I can’t put antiperspirant everywhere, so I’m thinking black is the only good choice.  Good thing I look nice in it!

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The forest park

I’ve missed the park since the weather changed.  When I first started classes at the end of April, I only knew one route to school and it required me to walk across the biggest park in Taipei: Da’an Forest Park.  It’s a wonderful oblong close to the center of the city, and passing through it made my commute just that much better.  There were many paths to choose through the trees and fields, and people were always doing something.

Of course there were the standard stretchers and muscle-pounders and tai-chi-ers, but the most amusing was an old man in a wheelchair.  His carer must have stepped away for a moment because he was sitting alone facing a bench.  However, slightly atypically for a wheelchair-bound person, his feet were propped up on the bench, and atypically for anyone, his pants were down around his ankles.  He was wearing boxers, 謝天謝地, but his spindly old legs were just basking in the breeze for all and sundry to gawk at.

Most of the sights are much more refreshing and pastoral: birds and squirrels, shaded and root-riddled spaces under groves of slender but wide-spreading trees.  There is a man-made hill that really adds to the texture of the park and some spreading grass that’s lovely to see.  There’s also a pond up in the north corner, but I don’t usually get over there unless I have a lot of time.  It’s fenced, and that takes away from the magic.  Anyway, my own little Lanzhou Park has a great pond with the loudest frogs I have ever encountered.

In addition to the weather, I discovered a bus stop right in front of school that saves me walking in the sun and humidity, but I’ll give up the convenience as soon as fall comes again just for the pleasure of spending time in the park.

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Heat

It’s so oppressive.  I itch all the time.  I went to toast some bread and cheese in the kitchen, and in the room with the tallest ceilings in the house, I could still feel sweat dripping everywhere.  I have taken to wearing the decorative sarong I bought in college as real clothing.  It’s probably time to resort to the air conditioner… that or spend all my time in public buildings.

I’m so happy I don’t live in Gaoxiong!

 

Update: I think Taipei is hotter?!

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Very superstitious

The other evening, I had an intermediate conversation class with a few students and I chose to focus on superstitions.  This topic is always full of fascinating new items and I love boggling the students’ minds with things like the angel on the shoulder and salt in the devil’s eyes.  It’s pretty selfish, though; I get more out of it!

For example:

We recently celebrated Dragon Boat Festival, which actually has nothing (spiritually) to do with dragons and boats.  One tradition or superstition Oscar told me about is bathing between 11am and 1pm on the day, which washes away bad luck.  Additionally, if you save the water, it won’t get mildewy and gross.  She said she’s been testing it for a few years now, but she couldn’t tell me if the water had a purpose.

A brand new student told me that a friend told her that cutting your fingernails at night is asking for trouble, rather like stepping on a crack, I think.  She also said she had heard that seeing a 2-headed snake means death is coming, which makes since, since you’re probably overdosing.

The guy in the class told us about hanging dead cats in trees.  As far as I can tell, it’s a way to get the cat leveled up for its next life (since they have nine).  He said doesn’t happen as much any more, since people take them to shrines to be dealt with now, along with dogs that would have previously been thrown in the river.  I have never seen that kind of shrine, though, so I’m wondering if he chose the wrong word…

Oscar gave us one final one: on Chinese New Year’s Day, you mustn’t call everyone down to breakfast, but rather let them come down as they will.  This preserves prosperity and fortune, I think.

The problem with my data-gathering: it was really hard to differentiate between traditions and superstitions.  This class was only intermediate, and some were lower intermediate at that.  However, it’s always a good time, especially when you finish off talking about the differences between ghosts and demons!

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A strange education

On Tuesdays, I am scheduled to teach a 2-hour advanced class with 7 registered students. However, every week I have fewer and fewer people, and I had only one woman to teach tonight. Fortunately, she was fine to just chat for most of the session and based on the material we covered in the book, I was able to get answers to some questions that have plagued me since I arrived.

In a recent post, I asked my sister for some answers about Buddhist ceremonies and services, but she didn’t have much information.  I asked Gan and she wasn’t entirely sure how to explain what I witnessed at the gym.  Her first guess was a funeral, but I saw no portraits.  Her second suggestion was a birthday celebration for the Buddha, or some specific incarnation’s celebration, but when I told her about the banner, she downgraded the likeliness.

These questions led to her describing the scheduled observances of traditional Taiwanese religion.  Now, coming from a Western religion that has a history of weekly, daily, and hourly observances in public groups, I am deeply confused by other religions that don’t have these kinds of frequent and formulaic ceremonies.  The only thing I’d seen in my time in Taiwan was tables of offerings and the burning of ritual money on seemingly random days (and the occasional parade, which is easier to understand).  After nearly a year and a half, I now know that these take place on the first and fifteenth of each lunar month!  The gods worshipped on these days can be any or all of the wide selection of gods, ancestors, and deities, including Buddha.  However, the following days (the 2nd and 16th) are for businesses to honor the god of fortune, 財神爺. I am so happy to have answers.

As for the title of the post, among our topics of discussion were American geography and the (un-)importance of state capitals, Taiwanese politics and history, two-party systems, and Taipei’s progress in the last ten years.  We also touched on language and language education, especially in Taiwan.  Gan called languages other than Mandarin 鄉土語, which is something I’d like to address later.  A strange education indeed!

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The man from Qi

I wrote this essay for my Chinese class.  We were assigned a story and told to write 300 – 500 characters about our feelings on the subject.  Those of you who know me know I don’t have that many feelings, so I spent a lot of time re-telling the story.

As it turns out, I got a story that that explains an idiom that’s related to paranoia.  My essay without corrections is below, and my translation is under that.  The translation is faithful to my word choice in Chinese, but it’s very possible I’ve been too generous in my grammatical clarity.  Consider it more of an intended meaning!

中文有一條成語對學生認為麻煩死了。很多成語不清楚,但是「杞人憂天」特別難懂。弄意思清楚,這就要從一個故事說起了。

在中國很久很久以前有一個小小的國家,那裡有一位先生又膽小又緊張。他可憐得沒話說:不惦記現實的事項,他憂慮天空會塌下來砸死他。他熱心的朋友為了安慰他說「地球不是這樣佈置的!天是氣體的;你看,怎麼會掉下來?」

「怎麼說,」先生回答了「天上掛的項會塌下來:太陽啊,月亮啊,星星啊,火星啊!!我們將被壓死了!」

聽這句胡謅的時候,朋友放棄了。

第 一位杞人把腦子的力量 用光了擔心不重要的事。我們可能笑他的膽小,說誰叫他想這麼笨的想法,可是有很多人像他這樣神經過敏。這個故事和這條成語告訴我們生活不該像這位一樣!對 我來說,各有各的隱憂可是我們由自己來想:這個事情重不重要?怎麼決定呢?先問聰明人的看法,等自己想一下以後,再決定要不要憂慮。這樣可以好好兒地集注 活的精華。

“The man from Qi is afraid of the sky”: Explaining an idiom

In Chinese, there is an idiom that drives students crazy.  Many chengyu are not clear, but “The man from Qi fears the sky” is especially hard to understand.  To make the meaning clear, it is necessary to begin with a story.

A long time ago in China there was a small country.  In this country there was a man who was both cowardly and nervous.  He was pitiable beyond words: he didn’t think about realistic issues; he worried that the sky would collapse and smash him to death!  His kindly friend, in order to comfort him, said “The world isn’t ordered this way!  The sky is made of gas; tell me, how could it fall down?”

“If it’s as you say,” responded the man, “The objects suspended in the sky might fall: the sun, the moon, the stars, even Mars!! We will be crushed to death!”

Hearing this wild babble, his friend gave up.

The man from Qi used all of his mental power to worry about unimportant things.  We might laugh at his cowardice, saying “Who told him to think about such stupid things?!”, but many people are nervous like he was.  This story and this idiom tell us that in living life, we must not be like this man!  In my opinion, everyone has their own concerns, but it is up to us to decide if a matter is important or not.  How can we decide this?  First, we can ask the opinion of intelligent people, wait and think on it a while, and then decide whether or not to worry.  In this way, we can better focus on the important things in life.

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