Monday, August 28, 2006
Taipei 101 (Literally Speaking)
Taipei 101, the current tallest building in the world, at a height of roughly a billion kajillion feet. To be honest, in person it looks a little stubby for the title it holds. Then again, I of all people should know better than to automatically pass judgement on stubby things, seeing as how I'm not so tall or graceful myself...
I'm slowly starting to get settled in to life in Taiwan, and the initial shock of being here is wearing off a little. Ned went home to Taichung yesterday afternoon, leaving me with a large apartment and a lot of free time to myself, so a friend suggested that I ride the metro to a bookstore downtown.
I am no longer homesick.
This place was amazing. It was story after story of every kind of book you can think of in any language you could care to read. When I first walked in I had to stand in the lobby and let the shock wear off before I could even move. Suddenly a year in Taipei doesn't seem like long enough. Seattle? What is that? Never heard of it! Huge dictionaries, Tang poetry in the original and English translation, a whole wall of martial arts novels, and a New York Times Bestseller wall for the foreigners who are either less than inclined to be courteous guests and actually learn the language or who are courteous guests and simply need a break from going cross-eyed staring at Chinese characters. (I, by the way, belong to the second category.) This bookstore had everything. I probably could have slept in there, with a bilingual edition of Ding Ling as a pillow.
I spent the morning trying to get registered for classes, which proved to be quite a chore considering that (a) the school will only take tuition payment in cash and (b)no one working at a bank in the Guting district seems to have heard of a traveler's cheque before. ("Wait a second, I have to ask...Hey! Xiao Wang! Can we exchange traveler's cheques?"..."What? Who is traveler's cheque?" was how the general exchange went).
Usable funds finally secured, I had to go wait in line behind some fruitcakes from Nicaragua who had somehow arrived at the conclusion that it would be okay for the four of them to share the same scholarship certification letter, which incidentally belonged to a girl who wasn't even there. My patience was wearing a little thin by the time I finally made it into my placement test, which in itself was rather asinine. I suspect that even someone with only slightly higher than average intelligence who spoke no Chinese at all could have passed it:
"Mr. Zhang gave the book to you. Answer this question: who did Mr. Zhang give the book to?"
The experience was still better than the one I had at Fudan, though, in which the entire placement test consisted of a two-minute interview with a less than enthusiastic teacher who had been randomly chosen to teach over the summer.
And in keeping with this line of thought, I will hereby present a list of things that, at least so far, I like better about Taiwan than I do about the Mainland:
1. stinky tofu and the funny man who sells it on the corner who talks to me about everything under the sun every time I eat there
2. sit-down toilets
3. the bookstore
4. the bookstore
5. the bookstore
6. I can see, post on, and generally maintain my blog without difficulty, and do so without being labeled a selfish anti-communist foreigner
7. I have yet to be poked, prodded, elbowed, pushed, shoved, cut in front of in line, stared at like I have a foot-long beard, or be the victim of any other kind of physical, emotional, or mental abuse.
I like the last one best.