Learning Mandarin

Learning Mandarin Chinese is hard. I’ve read it. I’ve heard it. I’ve experienced it.

Learning another language is always difficult, but Mandarin takes it to a whole new level. For one thing, the characters look different. They sound different. Then throw in tones, and it’s on, baby. The same word can have different meanings depending on how you pronounce it – and some of the sounds are nothing like the sounds we use in English!

Needless to say, I’ve lived in Taiwan for two years where the primary language is Mandarin Chinese, and I’ve barely gotten past a few words and phrases. The only thing I consistently order in Chinese is coffee. The rest I point and motion to explain what I need.

I’ve been lucky living here in Taiwan because enough people speak English or, at least, have enough English skills to help me that I haven’t had to learn Mandarin. I’ve tried. I’ve half-heartedly tried. When it started making me feel stupid, I quit. Then I would try again a few months later and so on.

I haven’t made much progress.

However, I got a job in China.

Yes! I got a job!

And it’s in Shenzhen, China.

From what I’ve read about China, English is not as readily spoken. So I’ve started trying to learn Mandarin. Again.

It’s still hard. But this time I’m more motivated because I have a feeling I’m going to need it. I feel like I’m picking it up faster than before because of my past sporadic studying. It’s somewhat familiar. I’m trying to study at least once a day.

After my lesson today, I was feeling really good about it.

Until I went to a restaurant I go to a lot and tried to order my usual salad in a different way. *sigh* I had no idea how to explain it in Chinese and resorted to lots of pointing and hand gestures until the owner figured it out. I immediately felt like a failure.

But this is what learning something new is like. The progress is slow. And you may feel stupid at times. But you can’t quit. If you quit, you definitely won’t learn it, but, if you keep trying, you will eventually get better.

I mean, how else will you spend your time? If the choice is between watching television and learning something new, pick the learning something new option. Ask yourself: at the end of the day, which one is going to be more memorable, not to mention more useful and, quite frankly, more interesting?

So what skill have you been putting off learning?

Maybe now is a good time to start.

Taiwan Dragon Boat Festival

This weekend was the Dragon Boat Festival in Taiwan. This is a Chinese holiday that is attached to three different legends, all of which involve a dead body in a river and of which dragon boat racing came from.

The most popular legend surrounds the suicide of a famous poet in China, Qu Yuan. When people found out about his death, they got in boats to search the river for his body, feeding rice to the fish to keep them from feeding on his body. Now we have dragon boat racing and zhonzi (sticky rice dumplings) to commemorate the day.

I didn’t go last year so I made sure to visit Dajia Riverside Park today for the last day of races to see what it’s all about.

I walked there from my house which took almost an hour and wound up being more of an adventure than I anticipated as I was propositioned on the way by a man. This is the first time in the almost two years that I’ve lived here that I was treated this way by a man so I was rather shocked. I guess it happens everywhere. *sigh*

Anyway, I moved quickly away from him once I realized what he wanted, made it to the park, and got absorbed into the festivities and festive atmosphere.

The park had rides for the children, food and drink vendors, games for adults, music, and, of course, the main attraction with the races on the river. The teams wore matching shirts and many of them were warming up in the fields and open concrete spaces to get ready to row. As the teams would walk in front of the spectators, they would cheer them on.

The boats all look the same, but each team carries a flag with their team name and logo. They have a person in front with the flag, a drummer who drums the timing of the strokes, and a person at the back who uses an oar to directionally steer. When the gun would go off to start a race, the beat of the drums and the chants accompanied the rowers’ efforts. They were drowned out a bit by the music and announcements going on, but I could imagine what they were like when they first began.

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It was a hot, hot, hot day. The races were short and fast. I couldn’t imagine preparing for the race only to have it over so quickly, but it still looked fun!

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Today, all of the races were local teams, a few races with high school teams, but, on Sunday, there were expat races where everyone entered had to have a foreign passport. The races ran all day from 8:30 am to 5:00 pm on Sunday, Monday, and Tuesday. Someone told me that the later the day and the later the time, the better the racers. I’m not sure if that’s true or not, but the racers I saw Sunday morning looked pretty good!

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While I took pictures, this guy drew the races and looked so absorbed in his work. It was a pleasure watching him.

I can’t wait to compare the races here to the ones in China. From what I’ve read, the dragon boats vary greatly in appearance from region to region and country to country in addition to the way they celebrate. I look forward to seeing the races in another place next year.

Taiwan: Fulong Beach

Since Taiwan is an island, I thought I’d be going to the beach a lot when I moved here. Um…no…because Taipei isn’t that close to any of the beaches and the trip to any of the beaches can be challenging with crowds. I’ve only been to a beach here three or four times now. Fulong Beach this past weekend was the best one I’ve been to so far because of the 2017 Taiwan Sand Sculpting Competition.

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Up until this weekend, I had only seen sand castles built on the beach by families. This was so far beyond that. This was art.

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I had the privilege of watching two men work on Spiderman, but I wish more people had been working. It was great. Sand sculpting is the right term, for sure. They treat sand like stone and sculpt it into shapes and figures and buildings.

They use water to make sure the sand if firm and stays in place then use a flat knife, a brush, and assorted other tools. The detail is amazing.

 

Like the eyes on this figure –

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And this angel’s wings and hair –

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Fulong, though, is more than just a sand sculpting competition. It is a beautiful beach with kayaks, sailboats, canoes, hiking trails, biking trails, fishing, surfing, paddle boarding, temples (this is Asia, after all!), people-watching, and a few restaurants. We got rained out so didn’t get to do much outside, but it is worth the hour or hour and a half trip from Taipei even to spend a few hours there. It’s also very inexpensive so it won’t break you to spend a weekend at a lovely and relaxing beach.

Check it out if you get a chance. It’s very quiet so don’t go there expecting a party! Go if you are looking for a quiet weekend surrounded by friendly people, the ocean, and the mountains.

Oh – and don’t forget the sunsets.

Job Hunting and Dating

Job hunting is like dating – and I hate both. I haven’t written in what feels like forever because I’ve been busy looking for a job for the coming up school year. I’ve interviewed with five schools, trying to find the right fit and what I discovered is that I feel like I’m dating.

There’s the search for a good fit. You want to be open-minded, though, because it may be different once you speak to someone about everything you see so you decide it’s worth a shot.

You send them an email to let them know you’re interested and attach your resume to give them a chance to review your qualifications and decide if they want to give you a chance as well.

You wait by the phone and check your email every five minutes hoping for a response.

Then they contact you! You get excited then nervous and wonder if you really want it badly enough. But now you’re stuck so you get ready for the interview.

You get dressed up, butterflies in the stomach, hoping it’s a good match.

You arrive early for the interview, not too early because you don’t want to look desperate, but you feel a little desperate because you want it so badly or you think you do or you at least want them to like you and want you on their team.

Then the interview. You’re nervous at first then you relax as you start talking and get a sense of the interviewer and the job.

Then it’s over and, once again, you’re waiting by the phone and checking email to see if you get another chance to impress.

They reach out and you have to decide: Is this the one? Do I continue or move on to the next one? Is it fair to go for a second interview if I’m not sure I want it? Is it fair when I know I have a second interview with a job I’d rather have?

It’s exhausting.

For now, I hope the job hunt is over and I’ve found The One (for the next two years anyway).  I’m waiting on a contract…still constantly checking email.

Unfortunately, I still have to put myself out there on the dating scene. But I actually think I learned a few things about dating from this interview process!

  1. It’s important to be yourself because, otherwise, it’s not the right job. You both have to be honest to make a good fit.
  2. It’s okay to say “no” if it’s not the right one for you and no one will get hurt. The sooner you say “no,” the better so they can move to the next one.
  3. You will absolutely feel it in your gut when it’s the right one.

Fingers crossed that the contract arrives soon so I can stop checking my email.

Morning Pages

Morning pages was introduced to me by my friend and fellow blogger Dana Holt but the original idea came from Julia Cameron. Dana loves it! Here’s how it works.

  1. Wake up (or, rather, open your eyes).
  2. Grab a pad of paper strategically placed by your bed.
  3. Pick up the pen also placed for convenience.
  4. Start writing.
  5. Write three pages of stream of consciousness before you do anything else (including waking up all the way).

I decided to try this and see what happens. It’s supposed to unlock your creativity, get all your negativity out on paper first thing in the morning, clear your mind and work out issues you may not even know existed. It’s not about writing well. It’s simply about clearing your head.

The first morning I didn’t wake up and really start writing until I got to the end of the third page. And then it was over. And I wanted to keep writing, but I had to get in the shower to go to work.

The next day, I woke up a little more quickly, but, again, don’t feel like I really got going until the third page. Regardless, it felt good. It’s always nice to write.

I skipped a few days. Okay, I skipped four days. Then finally got myself up and did it again this morning. This time it was the top of the third page when I felt like I got going, and it felt really good because the first two pages were actually painful to write.

I need to make this a habit because it does make me feel more alert and ready for the day. The problem is, I am soooo bad at getting up in the morning.

Speaking of getting up, the explanation I read of morning pages was that it would take 15 minutes. Not for me. Maybe I’m a slow writer, but it takes me about 25 minutes to write three pages.

My time did improve so maybe it’s like running, and I’ll get faster. It took me 30 minutes on the first day. I know, not much of an improvement but I’ll take it.

I’m curious to see what I think about it after I’ve done it longer.

I’ll let you know.

If I manage to get myself out of bed early enough and often enough to actually see benefits from it.

If you want to look this up for yourself and see what others think, simply google “morning pages.” It’s pretty popular, and people have very different things to say about it. Some love it and have seen benefits in their business and lives; others think it’s a waste of time. Here’s an article about it in Inc. online magazine.

Or you can simply try it yourself! If you do, let me know what you think.

 

Plants Eatery: A Review

Yesterday I had the chance to catch up with a friend for lunch, and we met up at Plants Eatery, a vegan restaurant near the Da’an MRT station.

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This place is adorable and all about clean, healthy eating as the name implies. We were immediately seated at a tiny wooden table, brought water, and given a menu. The wait staff did speak English and were very attentive.

Liesl and I ordered the same drink, Bunny Loves Your Eyes. It had turmeric, ginger, rosemary, carrot, pineapple, banana, lemon and activated cashew milk. The drink was served with a metal straw for environmental purposes. I loved that they lived their talk down to the smallest details! The drink was delicious, kind a sweet and tangy carrot juice. We loved it!

 

For lunch, we ordered different salads. I got the seaweed salad with heirloom lettuce, mixed seaweed, carrots, cucumbers, activated raw caramelized seeds, onions and green onions. It was served with a maple apple cider vinaigrette. Since I love seaweed, I was curious about this salad. It did not disappoint! It was tangy and sweet with a very strong seaweed flavor so only order it if you like seaweed. I would go back and order the same thing again.

Liesl ordered the quinoa salad which had quinoa, pears, cucumbers, baby salad greens, sprouts, and housemade pineapple vinaigrette. I didn’t taste it, but Liesl ate every bite so I can only assume it was good! Both were beautifully plated as you can see below.

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I love a pretty plate!

The prices were higher than eating on the street but very reasonable for the fresh ingredients and good food. They had a big letters on the wall that spelled out “Count Nutrients Not Calories.” I’d recommend it to anyone looking for a healthy meal with timely, professional service in a spotless environment. I was impressed with the food, the service, and the general atmosphere of the place.

It was a lovely lunch!

 

 

Keep Dreaming

I was talking to my friend Holly the other night about growing older and dreams and regrets. Holly and I have been friends since were 15 and are now in our mid-40s. Both of us are only just starting to figure out how to attain the things we’ve dreamed of our entire lives and, although we are pursuing it, the self-doubt and the self-hate chases behind.

Am I too old? Is it too late? Why didn’t I do this before? Why did it take me so long to figure all this out? Is it worth it at this point in my life?

Am I too old?

I’ve literally been asking myself this question about decisions for the past 10 years, and I wouldn’t be where I am today if I had ever considered the answer “yes.” The best thing my mother ever told me was this, “You are going to be xyz years old anyway. Why not be there with whatever it is you want to achieve as well?” I tell myself this all the time when I question my age.

Is it too late?

The only time it will be too late to do something is when I’m in my grave. Yes, naturally, there are things that it may be too late to do in a traditional sense – such as having a biological child for a woman. But it may not be too late to get a child some other way at any age. There are no obstacles except the ones we place on ourselves. If we are open-minded and creative about achieving our dreams, anything truly is possible. Sometimes you just have to step outside the box you may have built yourself and consider another angle.

Why has it taken me so long to figure all this out?

This is probably the most difficult question, but looking back in regret only slows you down. The one thing I know above all else is that everyone’s journey is different. Embrace your path and don’t compare your journey to anyone else’s. This isn’t easy, but it’s necessary to move forward. If you are ready now, then now is the right time for you. Go for it!

Is it worth it at this point in my life?

I don’t know. Is it? When you look back on your life, do you want to see that you went for it or is there something else you’d rather do? You have to decide how important this goal is to you. If you think it’s worth it, don’t let anyone tell you differently. Take charge of your own life, and decide if YOU are worth it.

 

If we stop focusing on that one dream that got away instead of thinking of our lives as a journey with many pit-stops and dreams and beautiful people along the way then, yeah, it’s easy to get stuck in the tar-filled pit of regret and bitterness. But the journey isn’t over until you can’t do anymore.

Keep going, keep trying, keep dreaming, and appreciate the little things along the way because, believe it or not, they are all taking you to the right place even if it seems like it’s taking a really long time.

When I feel like I should give up – a) I get a sick feeling in my stomach and b) I picture myself giving up an inch from the surface and drowning, not realizing that I was almost there.

What if you’re an inch from that dream, and you give up?

Keep going. Keep trying. Keep dreaming.

Because you might only have another inch to go.