Chinese Characters That Look Like Space Invaders


That is all.

(And if you don’t know what Space Invaders are, you weren’t there for the birth of video games.)

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I Paid Her To Touch Me, And Then THIS Happened!

Awhile back I had the most outrageous massage experience in Taipei ever. It definitely tops my personal list of crazy “is this really happening?” moments.

One afternoon I went to my neighborhood massage place to get a 90 minute full body massage. Chinese massage is not know to be the most relaxing of the massages out there. Usually it involves pressure and pain. But nonetheless, in a culture that doesn’t encourage much physical contact between friends, I have resorted to paying people to touch me.

I settled into the massage table and the gal I hired went to work on me. After only about 10 or 15 minutes into it, she farted really loud. A big, robust fart. Since my face was buried in the massage table, I didn’t say anything. But what was there to say? She didn’t giggle or say “whoops!” or “excuse me.” She carried on, business as usual.

A bit later she farted again. And again. I just laid there in disbelief as she prodded and poked along my spine, dislodging my meat from the bones. I started to wonder if farting is considered more socially acceptable in Taiwan than in the United States. Nose picking sure seems to be. Perhaps this is no different.

My singular saving grace was that they were fragrance free farts, because the room was stuffy and warm.

About 45 minutes into the massage she began to check her phone. She had the volume on and someone was texting her. She set the phone on the massage table next to my head and feebly rubbed my shoulder as she texted back and forth with her pal, text tones chiming directly into my ear at full volume.

Now I was starting to get indignant. Maybe she couldn’t help the farting. But she could wait to check her phone and text her friends until after she finished the massage. Heck, when I’m working with a student I turn my phone’s volume off and I never casually send texts when someone is paying me for my time. Because I’m professional like that. Humph!

When I was finally about to lift my head out of the face cradle and chuck her phone across the room, she picked it up. I thought, “Oh good, she’s done.” WRONG. Her next move was to plop the phone on my BUTT and continue to meekly stroke my back as she texted some hot gossip or whatever to her friends. Or maybe she was texting some hot guy she met at KTV the weekend before. Who knows, but clearly it was urgent and far more important than the massage she was supposed to be doing.

Suddenly I began to find the whole situation amusing. I had a woman texting on my butt. I didn’t even care that I was paying for a massage I was essentially not getting. Story telling rights of that time I got the farting / texting masseuse in Taiwan was worth its weight in gold. It’s the kind of thing you can’t plan or hope for, like when I ordered a vegetarian pizza in Mexico and it came with a veggie medley of corn, carrots and peas, like the plastic bags of frozen veggies you find in the grocery store. The pizza was disgusting but the story is a legend.

Far from a happy ending, but seriously hilarious (an oxymoron?) I still go back to that massage shop but I haven’t seen that masseuse since. I never said a word to her manager, so if she got fired it wasn’t because of anything I said. Come to think of it, maybe those texts were about some fantastic new job opportunity, and she’s moved on to greener pastures. Who knows, but thank you gassy gal for a great story that will make me laugh for years to come!

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Surprise Discovery About Learning Chinese Characters

securedownload (1)Awhile back I wrote about this trick I use to learn Chinese characters. I tend to cycle through different language learning methods, to mix it up and keep things from getting too boring. Recently I began using this trick again and I’ve noticed an increase in the number of characters I can now recognize. But this is not a “formal” learning method. It’s just one that I created out of my own instinctual seeking.

At first blush this may seem unrelated but, on another note, I have also been teaching a six year old Taiwanese girl reading and spelling in English and as a result, I have made an unexpected discovery about the way children learn to read English. While browsing the internet for downloadable English reading and spelling worksheets (that are meant for native speakers) something interesting emerged.

English words are often not phonetic, and are called “sight words.” Their spellings must be memorized. For example, words like “have,” “like,” and “because” are sight words. To teach children these words, the worksheets focus the students on identifying patterns in writing. For example, circling all the lower case p’s in a sentence, finding words that rhyme, finding words that begin or end in a certain letter, word search puzzles, unscrambling letters to make words, etc.

It dawned on me that I’m doing something similar with Chinese characters. My “trick” is to scan or “read” a text for patterns, second tone characters for example, or characters with certain shapes or radicals, and color code them with highlighters. After all, Chinese characters are like English sight words; they are not written phonetically and must be memorized along with the pronunciation. Identifying characters (by tone, or by other criteria) in a text is sort of like a word search puzzle.

I wonder if my early childhood experience of learning to read and write as a native English speaker led me, in part, to creating this method. In some ways it closely resembles what native English speaking kindergartners and first graders are doing to learn reading and spelling, but with adult material like books and magazines.

I feel this study method has incredible value for my learning, giving characters context as well as repetition of frequently used characters. To realize it’s not very different from how I learned reading and spelling in my native English is quite amusing and shocking!

I’m curious if you or anyone you know uses this trick, and where  you / they got the idea for it?

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Tagalog In Taiwan

10275984_504666069679843_4914453046523361642_nSo a couple of months or so ago I found myself becoming increasingly interested in learning Tagalog. As you know, Chinese is my primary target language, and I moved to Taiwan for language immersion. My secondary target language is Italian. Learning two distinct languages at the same time seems reasonable, but what about a third? Can I manage three languages at once?

I honestly don’t know, and I’m reluctant to proclaim Tagalog is my tertiary target language, because that just seems a little crazy. But I have been listening to the Pimsleur audio lessons, which you can still download for FREE! And I bought some books on Tagalog grammar. And I’ve been exploring Tagalog learning resources on the internet. So the evidence seems to suggest that I am, in fact, pursing Tagalog.

Well, several weeks ago a serendipitous Tagalog moment presented itself as I was enjoying some afternoon tea in a local cafe. Two women at a nearby table were speaking Tagalog! And, what was thrilling to me, was that I clearly recognized the language as Tagalog. While I couldn’t understand more than a few pronouns and yes / no, I could identify the speech as unequivocally Tagalog.

I approached the women and said good afternoon in Tagalog, and immediately asked in English if they were speaking Tagalog, just to confirm. We chatted for a bit, agreed it would be fun to meet up again, and exchanged contact information. I’m so excited to have two new native Tagalog speaking friends in Taiwan!

But despite my enthusiasm and excitement, the relationship between Taiwan and the Philippines is complicated and not always amicable.

I’ve heard many Taiwanese people make negative, racist or hostile remarks toward the Philippines, which they justify with the May 2013 incident where a Philippine Coast Guard opened fired on a boat in waters between Taiwan and the Philippines, unapologetically killing a Taiwanese fisherman. When I visited the Philippines briefly last December, quite a few Taiwanese acquaintances asked why I would want to go there in a tone of disdain.

In some ways this unfavorable attitude is paradoxical because Taiwan relies on cheap Filipino immigrate labor to work in factories, construction, fishing or domestic work like caregiving for the elderly. Quite often, these workers are college educated and have professional careers back home in the Philippines, yet choose to work in Taiwan because they can earn more money here. They are almost always fluent in English. In fact, one of the Filipino women I met in Taipei speaks fluent English, Chinese, Arabic, and Tagalog. Wow!

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Lonely Americans In Taiwan: Why Making Friends Is Harder Than We Thought

Before I came to Taiwan, I imagined living here would be a lot of fun and I would make new local friends quickly and easily. This had always been the case wherever I’ve gone, and I assumed Taiwan would be no exception. However, after arriving to Taipei I soon realized I was wrong. I wrote about this in a post called How To Make Friends In Taiwan. Fortunately for me I am a quick learner, and I began to meet Taiwanese people and get acquainted.

However, after more than a year later, I felt like nearly all of my acquaintances had still not converted to deeper friendship, and continued to lack meaningful connection and closeness. I attributed this to “cultural differences” which I explored in a post called Taiwanese People Are Superficial and Fake? A Western Perspective.

I’m still searching to unravel the mysteries of closeness and connection in Taiwanese culture. Obviously people here form strong bonds, despite my inability to. In my search to understand, I shared my feelings and experience with my Chinese tutor. He is also American, like me. But unlike me, he speaks very fluent Chinese. In the video above he shares his perspective (in Chinese! with English subtitles) about the challenges of making friends in Taiwan.

If you have any personal stories, insights, or advice for me on this topic, please share in the comments. Thank you!

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