Wednesday, June 27, 2012

Dragon Boat Festival and Library Day

These days I am so busy, it's hard to find time for sleep. Not busy in a bad way, of course, quite the reverse. The days are full of interesting learning and experiences.

Saturday was Duanwu jie 端午節, the Dragon Boat Festival. Despite being really pretty tired from the whole week of classes, I joined our school's fieldtrip to a nearby river park to watch the boat races. There were all kinds of different teams, and each had its own special preparation. My eye was particularly caught by the team of our sister school, Shifan daxue's Mandarin Training Center. Our school doesn't field a team, for whatever reason, but theirs does. I think they look quite fierce!

I also noticed what I think was a Philippines team, wheeling around doing exercises and stretches.

There was also a large and lively team that sported bright red t-shirts. Here I think they were cheering for some of their teammates (there were several different categories of races).
Meanwhile, our school provided an audience team. Well, every contest needs an audience, right? Ha ha. These are some of my classmates, photo taken by me so obviously I'm not in it.

The races were reasonably exciting. Here is a picture of the staging area where everyone got into their boats. The starting line is in the distance.

Here is the Mandarin Training Center team starting off. They went on to win their heat:

They were really fast.

Here's another team on its way back from the race. You can see the drummer who keeps time. The person even further forward in the boat is the flag grabber. Their job is to grab the flag at the finish line. If they miss the flag, the victory doesn't count! Sadly, I failed to get a picture of the flags. I'm not sure what I was thinking.

There was also a big food court area with many snacks. Amongst them, this very interesting spiral snack. I have no idea what it was. Maybe a potato? Maybe a type of cookie?

You might wonder why I didn't buy one, and I have no idea. It just didn't really occur to me? They look more interesting in the picture than they seemed on a meltingly hot afternoon? I don't know.

One thing I did try was stinky tofu. It tasted fine. When it's in your mouth you can't even really smell it. (Of course when you walk by it on the street, it smells like dogshit soup.) As I was eating it, though, my stomach did keep telling me I was eating something sketchy. It tasted fine, but I lost my appetite. I ate it all anyway, just to be macho, and felt no particular ill-effects beyond feeling mildly unsettled. On the other hand, there was also nothing particularly exciting about the stinky tofu either.

Here is the overall view of the big bridge under which they start the races:

I couldn't really make it through all the races. It was just too darned hot. I went home in early afternoon.

Sunday I spent most of the day in the library. I read some stuff in Chinese and some stuff in French, and worked on my manuscript. I know that's not a very interesting story. However, I did see this GIGANTIC spider along the way:

It's well camouflaged, but it is (scarily) close to my left foot.

At lunchtime, I discovered a great thing: a cafeteria/buffet (pay by weight) right across from the library. So many choices! so many vegetables! The food pictured here cost less than $2!

Later, just as I was on my way home, there was a sudden downpour. And me stupidly without my umbrella. I took refuge under the front of one of the buildings and waited it out.

(Sorry, it's hard taking a picture of oneself with an iphone camera.)

Not much else to tell. Here are a few more sights from along my walk home. First, a kind of pond in a little schoolyard park. Lushness of greenery...

Finally, I saw a lot of these branches on different buildings. I am betting it had something to do with the Dragon Boat Festival, but I'm not sure.

Have to run now--more soon I hope.

Saturday, June 23, 2012

First Week of Classes

9:08, 31 C
The first week of classes has been hectic and I have not had time to write. There's also not all that much TO write, since I haven't had time for much in the way of adventures. The weather has been either extremely hot or extremely rainy. To the right is a picture from Monday morning, on the extremely hot side.

My classes go from 10 AM-12 PM and then again from 2-3 PM. I am studying radio plays (to help with spoken language) and Talks on Chinese Culture. The latter appear to be a series of rather outdated lectures, with a dialogue between a Westerner and a Taiwan person on either side of each lecture. The radio plays are fun and not especially easy. Lots of new vocabulary and idiomatic expressions. The Talks textbook is on the easy side, and over the course of the week I discussed with the placement people whether I might not switch to something harder. But in the end, it seems not. It's not actually that the Talks themselves are too easy--it is the kind of formal and elegant Chinese I ought to be practicing. It's just that the class moves a bit too slowly.

The third class period is a full hour of one-on-one conversation. This of course is far more challenging. Typically this class would also be devoted to Talks, but by the end of the week it was decided that starting from next week we'll talk about other materials. That will add a bit more difficulty to the schedule. The class size is only four, except my individual class which is of course just me!

RL at La Boheme
On Tuesday it was very rainy. My new pal RL is a cafe expert and found a really nice one, La Boheme. Here she is at a table there, looking pretty smug, no? I went and joined her after my classes were over. We drank coffee and studied vocabulary words in a somewhat desultory manner. Her classes are on the easy side for her too. But we agreed that overall this is not a bad thing since we both have to finish our books this summer as well. If we really spent six hours a day doing homework (as the school suggests) it's hard to see that we'd really manage to do much work on our manuscripts.

CD House
La Boheme is on Wenzhou Street, where there are quite a number of cafes. Further along, as I walked home, I saw a very singular sort of building. I'm not quite sure if it's a music store, an art gallery, a cafe, or a private residence. It almost seemed like the last, but then... such singular decorations. I'll have to check it out again on another day.

From there it turned out to be a very short walk to where I'm staying. I think I may have finally found the shortest, most efficient route!

On Wednesday at lunchtime there was a meeting for the school's electronic newsletter. It is very cute and very serious, sort of like doing the school newspaper but no need to deal with advertising or anything. I originally wasn't going to participate, but I decided it would be good for my writing skills. Plus I never did stuff like that back when I was actually in high school (or college). I was too timid and antisocial. It's fun to see in some way what it would have been like.

After school I dashed over to Academia Sinica to go hear a lecture. There is a big conference going on and I can make it to almost none of it. I still find Chinese-style conferences kind of alienating though, still too low in the hierarchy I guess. It was linguistically interesting, reminding me that even though I'm doing well in comparison to my classmates, I still have a long way to go before I can really talk--or even understand!--Chinese at a professional level.

Thursday after school I ran into RL and ended up going to her place. That was *really* like being a little kid again. We sat at her dining room table and did our homework together. Her place is very much nicer than mine, but of course she is staying with family friends so they have a real home.

Fruit and Flowers
Thursday was also the fourth anniversary of the day Pocket of Bolts and I got married. Pocket of Bolts said that it was fruit and flowers anniversary. We each bought fruit and flowers and had a skype date. It was rather sad to be apart on that day, but it was actually a very nice "date." We hadn't actually been talking every day, so we had lots of catch up on, and we also discussed different fruits.

In this picture, the red one is a Fire Dragon fruit. In Beijing these were always white inside, but here there seem also to be red ones. They are as intense a red as beets are but taste better. They seem sweeter than the Beijing ones. For a picture, see my old post on that subject here.

Thursday night I stayed up very late writing an essay, and then doing the workbook exercises. Friday morning I overslept just a bit and, I guess because I was a bit flustered, I also forgot my homework! I was halfway to school when I remembered. Fortunately, I have cultivated the habit of trying to arrive at school 20-30 minutes early. That left me just barely enough time to go back to my room, get my homework, and jump in a taxi. It was such an adolescent moment. But neither showing up without my homework, nor being late, seemed like a live option; I have a reputation to maintain. In my classes, they don't call me by my name, but call me boshi 博士, which means PhD. It's sort of like if they called me "doc." It is really funny. My classmates are all undergrads.

During the Friday Talks class, we had to read our essays out loud. It's fun being a grown up, and learning to find all kinds of things interesting. After each essay, we had to ask questions, but I did not have to work at all hard to think up questions. It was fun and challenging to try to frame them in nice sounding Chinese. One essay was about the power structure of a university, one was about Western attitudes toward child-rearing, and one was about Mormon attitudes toward marriage and children. These were all very amusing things to discuss in Chinese. Mine was about how making big generalizations about 2000 years of Chinese history is not very productive--basically a critique of the first chapter in our text book from a sinological point of view. I was apprehensive about reading it to the class because I was worried about boring them, but happily we ran out of time so mine got put off til Monday. Saved by the bell!

Sunday, June 17, 2012

Weekend Work and Laundry

It's been a good weekend for everything but laundry.

Yesterday morning it was overcast but not very threatening, so I optimistically did laundry and hung it out on the covered mini-balcony outside my window. Just after I left the house, it suddenly started raining, HARD, with thunder and lightning. It didn't really seem worth going back though...

I walked to school and almost ended up suffering food malaise and being a hungry ghost. But then I just ended up walking into a big dumpling place. I like it when they have the kind of menu you can write on... it feels like you can think more about what you are going to order... I ended up with a delicious light mushroom soup and these dumplings. Also a dish of pickled cucumber and turnip, not pictured, because I had already eaten them up by the time the rest of the food came and I thought of taking a picture. It was a great light meal on a rainy day!

I could kick the coffee habit, now that my attempts to make coffee in my room have failed so sadly. But actually, it's fun finding a different place to have coffee every day. Ikari, in one of the student buildings on campus, was very cute. Not a lot of character or anything--I'm assuming it's a Japanese chain--but it actually had a pretty good space. Also, I got this piece of black cherry cake and it seems like the girl specially picked out the one with the "8" on it to give to me. Eight is a good luck number in Chinese, but honestly, not all the slices had eight on them. I also saw a 9 and a 3. So it gave me a good feeling that she gave me the 8. ^_^

I was soaking wet by the time I ate this, by the way. It was the kind of pounding rain against which an umbrella is but a feeble defense. I was not especially unhappy about this though. My timbuktu backpack is not as waterproof as it used to be, but it mostly kept the wet off my stuff...

After coffee I went to check out the library. It was nice! I spent time looking up some books, which turned out to be NOT easy. But it was productive. It's a good library, and I browsed the shelf of recent secondary stuff relating to me research, finding some very interesting things that I hadn't been aware of. I figured out how to make photocopies. I even checked out a book! I know these pleasures seem pretty nerdy, but I am who I am. I managed to work on my manuscript a little too, though the library was really crowded and there were no free desks. Memories of Beida... It wasn't as crowded as that, though. There were some couch seats not yet occupied by slumbering students...

I got a little lost on the way home and ended up walking through the university farm. Charming little waterwheel!

This one seemed a little too eerily reminiscent of those X-Files episodes where the bees infect you with black oil. Maybe it was just the time of day or the desertedness of the area or something...

I felt good about having such a productive work day, but also a little lonely at dinner time. I went down to the night market, not feeling very hungry or interested in food or anything. But someone had sent me a list of 40 Taiwan snacks and I decided I am going to try to try them all. It helps to have a to do list!

So as I was wandering around, I happened to see a place selling cōng zhuā bǐng 蔥抓餅 (flaky scallion pancake, #14) so I decided to give it a try! It was awesome, like a cross between nan bread with croissant, plus scallions folded into it. I had mine with pork and egg. Chewy (QQ) and delicious. This is not a very good picture, but here is the lady who was making them...

After that I had two little waffle-like "mahjong cakes" filled with cream. There was a guy on the very edge of the market making these cakes. It was a lonely spot, but there were 3-4 people standing there, then I stood there, then two more people came and stood there. You decide to go somewhere because others do--it's a really funny, unstable sort of system. I like to feel like I contributed to a good few minutes for the underdog mahjong cake maker. They were called mahjong cakes because they were shaped like mahjong tiles I guess.

I finished with a cup of guava juice, which was thick and fresh and not very sweet. Yum. Total: NT95, a three dollar dinner.

When I got home, the thicker items of my laundry were damp and nasty, of course, and with that sour bacterial smell. I threw those on the floor...

This morning I woke up late and had an e-mail from my pal summoning me to a work date at 11. So I jumped up and got going. We went to a place called Cafe Bastille near NTU. It was nice! Bustling on a Sunday, but good free wifi and places to plug in. Good coffee too: they had proper brewed coffee, not as over-roasted as Starbucks, and served it in a little pot. ...Of course, it cost the equivalent of FIVE DOLLARS, but they are obviously 賣環境 (selling the atmosphere).

I got some good editing done because, you know, when you have a pal sitting next to you, you feel too embarrassed to procrastinate. Specially if it isn't someone you know too well.

Here's another shot. I'm not sure which of the two was better.

Later, we had lunch sets. At NT250 ($8+), they felt hideously expensive in contrast to my lovely string of $3 meals, but they were tasty. They came with soup, entry, drink, and dessert. My friend had short ribs and I had lemongrass fish. Mine was delicious (I didn't taste hers) but took an inordinately long time--they brought it out about half an hour after hers. This led us to have an entertaining conversation about conflict aversion (mine), and my lack of inclination to complain. She actually complained a bit on my behalf. (I of course said she should go ahead and eat without me.) But she had the slightly reproachful unemotional Asian complaint style down perfect. I can't complain without scaring people. So I am happy to just accept whatever comes to me. It's my one skill. Anyway, I'm not sure what to recommend regarding Cafe Bastille. I guess just don't get the lemongrass fish, even though it is delicious? Apparently they have to go catch the fish first? Later a third person joined us and she ordered curry. That came really quickly, as had the short ribs. So who knows. It was a fluke.

It was a quirky sort of place. Had this Trainspotting-related sign on the wall. It rang a bell--that must have been a monologue from the movie maybe?--but I didn't remember it in detail at all. The poster has several typos, but I was amused anyway. Oh the 90s. Definitely my generation, but what was going through our heads!?

Also, it was funny to see this sign in a coffeeshop which had a startling proportion of little kids in it. But maybe they can't read bad words in English yet at that age? Oh yeah, and the coffeeshop also served imported beer, but like imported beer everywhere here, terribly expensive.

I came home in the late afternoon because it was such a sunny hot day, thought I might manage to do my laundry. Put the coins in the machine, pressed start, and thought nothing more of it. Went out half an hour later and it was flashing some sort of error message. So 40 more NT had to go in, and half an hour more passed. By this time it was getting on toward dusk. Still pretty hot out, though. I'm just not sure about the humidity. Not having driers really sucks. No rain forecast for tonight or tomorrow, though, so fingers crossed...

Friday, June 15, 2012

Flora and Listening Comprehension

Yesterday morning I did boring things like: get an identity number, open a postal account, pay my tuition. It was a nice rainy day, and I managed to keep hold of my umbrella. But aside from that, there isn't so much to say. I thought I'd post a few pictures of interesting flora therefore. I am going to make an effort to learn the names of some trees and plants while I'm here. Many have labels and many others are recognizable on google. I haven't learned the names of these so far, but here are some photos.
Soft Young Leaf, Maokong
Mystery Fruit, Still Green, Maokong
Tree "Beans"
Inside, Oily and Black
Starry Pink Flowers, Knocked Down by the Storm
The Tree They Grew On
Large Yellow Fruit (Double Fist Size)

So far I don't know what any of these are. The big yellow fruit was kind of stinky, making me think that maybe it's not edible? If it were Beida, the fact that no one was out harvesting them would be a good indicator that it's not edible. Here, though, who knows.

In the afternoon, I went to a lecture by Professor Shang Wei on visual representations of Hong Lou Meng's Prospect Garden (Da Guan Yuan). It was very interesting and edifying, though all in Chinese. I could mostly follow his points (the pictures and his occasional code-switching helped). But after a rather long lecture, there were some very long and involved questions during which my brain switched off. I didn't feel comfortable getting up and leaving, but I spent the time composing an account, in Chinese, of what he had said. No reason to do that, it's just good practice.

After Blood Lake Talk, Academia Sinica
In the morning, I made my want to Academia Sinica (for the first time) to hear my Princeton classmate give a talk on Buddhist/Daoist hells involving lakes of blood. That was more fun than you would think. It was also all in Chinese, but very well organized and with a generous distribution of written materials.

Although it was very far from my field of specialization, it was a good model for me of how to give a talk in Chinese. She started with a provocative question, went on to discuss previous scholarship on the topic, gave a careful but lively discussion of the two main texts she was looking at, and then used that discussion to answer the question from the beginning. I was really impressed. There was also a long and involved question session at the end, showing that her real actual audience was also very engaged.

In the afternoon, I went to school and got the results of the placement test. I was a little surprised at the level they placed me into, having thought it might be a bit higher. But I'm sure they know what they're about, and goodness knows spending a bit more time on my own work and a bit less on class prep would not be at all a bad thing. Also naturally my reading ability outstrips my speaking and writing, which they probably realize.

Two days in a row I have had delicious sushi from the Gongguan subway station. There is a tiny little store that sells it by the piece, so cheap! (Fifty cents per piece or less.) And amazing sushi, just meltingly good. Also interestingly various. Today I had two pieces of salmon, one of shrimp, one of egg, one with seaweed salad on top, and one mochi. It was an incredible unbelievable mochi, practically a different species from the ones you get in Asian grocery stores. It was a party in my mouth. I am tempted to get lunch from there every day. I'll put a picture soon.

Wednesday, June 13, 2012


I discovered a fine new food option at the Shida night market last night. You choose from a grand variety of foods and put your choices in a basket. Then they cook it up for you. I had two different kinds of tofu, mushrooms, "empty-heart vegetable," and some fish cake. I could not get a very good picture of the place because it was dark and raining, but here is my blurry picture plus the delicious result. You pay by the piece; this was NT100 work (=approx. $3)! It was great. I felt really happy and satisfied about it all.

Today there was more orientation at school. I am zeroing in on an efficient walking route, but it still took me over twenty minutes. I was mistaken about the time (see title of previous post), but again in the happy direction--I ended up 50 minutes early.

Instead of sitting in the classroom, I decided to go explore the library. They had an exhibition on the ground floor that was really excellent to look at. It was called "Extravagance," and involved things that were a strange size or generally weird in some way. Here are some photos...

Atlas Moth, Etc.
Double-Headed Tortoise
This bean was as long as my torso...
Beautiful Rooster and Shell Painting

I just snapped these with my iphone camera. There was another guy there who was taking photos very seriously. I could see why. Truly, it was a fascinating display.

I did take time to peek into the stacks too. It's hard to get my head around a place where the books I want are actually checked out. By other people. But this actually happened to me in this case. It's a strange world.

Day two of the orientation went a bit slow because the presentation was given in both English and Chinese. But the things the presenter said were kind of interesting. She talked about beginning Chinese language use as being like plain water, intermediate Chinese language use as being like grape juice, and sophisticated Chinese language use as being like wine. Under my breath I wondered if that makes my Chinese language use like vinegar...? But I was actually pretty charmed by her presentation.

I had lunch with my friend again. This time we had hundun (wonton), some greens, and some noodle soup. I again really enjoyed just the simple fact of having made a new friend, in addition to her being so fun to talk to.

Later we went on a school tour to the Taipei Discovery Center. It was not entirely successful--too large a group, and a bit too rowdy for the all-Chinese guided tour that we were treated to. I felt a little bad. I'm not big on guided tours, but the docent seemed polite and gentle and dismayed at our lack of manners. After a while I stopped milling around and started industriously listening. My future classmates who were not quite up to that level of listening comprehension chattered loudly. It was very understandable since everyone is getting to know everyone else. But it was too bad.

There was a rotating theater progandizing the city and its various improvements in 360 degree light and sound. I was actually amused and endeared, slightly dizzy, and very nearly soothed down into sleep.

Sun Yat-sen Memorial
Later we went to the "Father of the Nation Memorial"--that is, a monument for Sun Yat-sen. Close copy of the Lincoln Memorial, but with Buckingham Palace-like guards.

I spent a lot of time staring at the inscription. I got as far as tianxia wei gong 天下為公 (the realm is for everyone), but I guess I'd need to be sitting down to decipher the rest. The written language of that period is really hard for me.

There were a large number of tourists at the monument, snapping pictures. There were also some great kites. The whole thing was not quite my cup of tea, but I did enjoy this funny picture of three boys in my program sporting their umbrellas as parasols. I find it kind of fun to duplicate other people's pictures sometimes. I know people who know me would rather see pictures of me, but I somehow just didn't have the energy to get someone to take one.

Classmates with Parasols

Tuesday, June 12, 2012

No Sense of Direction, No Sense of Time

The hapless way I wander through the world, it's amazing I've managed as much as I have. Yesterday morning I got up early to go to school orientation (at 9:10), but somehow got distracted and didn't leave until after 8:45. That ought to be enough time, but I was not at all confident in which way to talk to get to my school. So I decided to take the MRT. Once I got off the MRT, I managed to get lost on the campus even though I had thoughtfully grabbed the campus map! I arrived flustered and bathed in sweat ten minutes late... or rather, 23 hours and 50 minutes early, since the orientation turned out to be the next day.

I did the only reasonable thing, which was attempt to discover the most efficient walking route back to my room. Not easy without a proper map, but I had the campus map, a tourist map, and a vague recollection of what I had seen on googlemaps. I am sorely hopeless without my iphone map function. Anyway, I did a considerable amount of rambling around, but did finally get home.

Peacock Pansy Butterfly
There is not much to tell about the day. I was weary and sore from all the strenuous hiking, and it was extremely hot out, so I mostly just stayed in. I had to go out for food of course. When I did, I saw this butterfly. It is a pretty butterfly in itself, but here's the really cool thing: I immediately recognized it as Junonia almana, the peacock pansy butterfly. Not because I'd ever seen one before, but because I had picked it out from internet photos and painted one! Painting something certainly makes you know its details in a thorough and persistent way. I was really tickled to see this creature in person and recognize it so instantly and strongly. I had to make myself stop painting butterflies because it was not a good use of my time. But I guess something good (or at least, interesting) came out of it.

For lunch I had some sort of donburi. I had been seeing this character in various places (including my comic book): 丼. So when I saw it on the menu of the little restaurant I went into, I decided to order it. It's egg, onion, and meat over rice. I had 豬丼, which is pork. When I got home I looked up how to pronounce the character (I think in this context it is dan). Learn something new every day,

Upstairs Cafe
I worked on my manuscript for some part of the afternoon. In the evening, I made another attempt to find a pleasant cafe. You have to admit that this one looks at least sort of promising? But it had uncomfortable chairs, and offered dreadfully expensive lackluster Western food. I had small portion of spicy fried chicken and a cold imported beer for almost $13, which by local standards is absurd.

Well, cross that one off the list of places to try, I guess.

All afternoon, the weather had been unsettled. Still hot, but with sudden strong gusts of wind. In the evening, the storm finally broke and went on all night: huge claps of thunder, heavy rains. I was pretty happy about it and tried to turn off the AC and open my windows. However, it did not actually cool off very much and given the slight gap between the screen and the glass I was worried about mosquitoes getting in.

Today was the actual school orientation. I woke up reasonably early... but somehow got distracted and didn't leave until 8:30. This should have been plenty of time, but again I failed to quite find the most efficient route. Gotta work on that! Tomorrow for sure! I did get there exactly on time, and many other people were later than me.

The orientation made me feel old. Like I had been around this block so many times, maybe even like this is one too many. But it's really the last time I'll ever do something like this I'm sure. And it is an impressive setup. Three hours of class per day, two of the hours with a maximum of four students per class, one hour of one-on-one. A language pledge when on school grounds, and draconian rules about missing class or being late. (Must must must work on my route to school...!) I am interested to learn who my classmates will be. One is assigned to classes rather than choosing them, which is novel and kind of fun!

Due to the severity of the storm, the campus tour was cancelled; the university was shut down, as well as all government offices.

I went to lunch with a girl I had met on placement testing day. She is a recent PhD graduate, doing a post-doc, and is at roughly the same stage of manuscript revision as I am. We had jiaozi 餃子, which she says is her favorite food. Why do I always forget about jiaozi? They are delicious! We each ate ten (compare: the total bill came to about $4, including a small appetizer that we split), and chattered away. I am not so good at making friends, but I really made efforts in this case. She works on something completely different from what I work on, but still we had fun talking about stuff. She had lived for a year in Singapore and had interesting thoughts about it. She had also spent time in Australia. We are definitely going to be writing buddies and try to meet and force each other to work a few times a week.

I showed her the campus branch of Eslite, where I also bought volume 2 of my comic book. Yep, I actually finished volume 1. It may be the first Chinese book I have read cover-to-cover purely for pleasure. Though of course a comic book may not really count as a book... Now I am home resting, having bought some fruit, chocolate, and black tea along the way.

Last, I am pleased to report that I acquired a battery for the hideous clock. As I suspected, the scallop shell pendulum swings back and forth frenetically, making a dull thud of a ticking sound. So far it does seem to keep time. The eerie light also adds to the overall effect.

Davy Jones' Clock

Monday, June 11, 2012

Maokong Hiking

For a person of my age, it requires some courage to engage in an activity described as "a 2.5 hour strenuous hike," especially when it is organized 20-somethings. However, I did it.

First, we rode up the mountain in a gondola..

Maokong Gondola
...getting some great views of Taipei!

View of the City from Gondola
The gondola went amazingly fast. It almost had the feeling of a carnival ride, it was that exciting. We were also really high up! Some of the gondolas have glass floors, but I didn't go in one of those. We didn't go to the top, but got off at the second to last stop.

Formosan Magpie
Next, we hiked until I thought my legs would fall off. The fearless leader of the hike then said, "We have not even gotten to the actual trailhead yet!" I distracted myself from the pain by taking pictures of this exceedingly fine bird. Wow, taking pictures of birds is not easy. They move around a lot. They are really high up. They like to hide behind leaves. And I obviously don't have the right kind of camera. All that said, I think you can at least get a sense of what the bird looked like from these photos, even if they're a long way from being National Geographic quality. This is a Formosan magpie, which is the national bird of Taiwan. Its picture is even featured on my visa, so until this passport expires I'll be carrying around a little picture of one of this guy's cousins everywhere I go.

Climbing with Ropes
We reached the trailhead proper and started up. This is one of the steep sections, to give you an idea. There were some sections that were steeper, but I couldn't really keep my camera out for those. It was great though--everyone was fearless and strong, no one fell or got left behind. It was actually really fun scrambling up with the aid of the knotted ropes. Using arms and shoulders took some of the strain off the poor ol' tired legs.

There were massive butterflies fluttering around everywhere, but it was really hard to get pictures of them. They didn't really stay still. Some other great things included giant fern trees, elegant mushrooms, and a tremendous variety of beetles. Most of the beetles we saw were dead, because the living ones were better at hiding. I also got to go first for a while and so saw two different kinds of lizards and one toad. Unfortunately, the lizards were too fast for me to get my hands on. I caught the toad, but the picture ended up on someone else's camera. The eight other people I was with probably thought I was a freak. They all seemed like relatively normal college students and recent graduates. Even though they were so young, it was fun chatting with them.

Once we got to what seemed like the top, I asked a Chinese guy to take a picture of all of us. I think he did a good job! Taipei 101 is visible in the background.

Group Shot at/near the Top
One of the most picturesque parts of the hike was when the trail led us through a little farming area. Kind of literally through some farms, like, we were walking not only across people's fields but through their backyards.
Trailside Farm

I guess they don't mind too much, or something would be different about the whole set-up. It did feel funny and was thought-provoking. The kind of lifestyle these folks have, living up here on the mountain, pulling weeds by hand, presumably selling their produce in Taipei... and saying "hi" to troops of foreigners like ours--maybe not infrequently, even. As lines of convergence go, it's just kind of an interesting one.

Another farm-type thing we saw was a beautiful little rice field. Rice as it is growing is so gorgeous. I'm sure that actually growing it is terribly back-breaking work, and I wouldn't want to do it for sure. But the intermediate results are so pleasing to the eye.

Rice and Maybe Taro?
Appreciating the Rice Fields
Rice plants close up
Trooping through the Field

There were these four yellow butterflies flitting about like crazy. I was ruefully and hopelessly pointing my camera at them, when all of a sudden they all four settled down into one straight line and I clicked the button. It may not look like much, but it was an amazing lucky coincidence. The instant after, they were all flying around again.

Four Butterflies
By the time we got back to the gondola, we were dead tired. It was more like a four hour hike than a 2.5 hour one. But it was kind of nice in a way to be that tired.

Southeast Asian Dinner Set
I got home and showered (I'm a bit ashamed to say I've been showering twice a day. It's just what the climate demands), then lay around totally inert for a few hours. I knew I had to go out and get dinner but I had a hard time with it, wandering around like a hungry ghost for more than an hour. Then finally I made myself walk into a restaurant. It said Thai food, but what I got I associate more with Indonesian? In any case, it was beef curry with a fried flatbread and a fried egg on rice. Plus some yummy vegetables: broccoli, unidentifiable melon, and some very distant relative of kimchee. Yum!