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Hong Kong

December 19, 2007

I’m in Hong Kong! I got in last night and on Friday I will leave for Beijing where I’ll meet my mom.

So far, mostly what I’ve done is get lost. I’m sure no one who knows me is shocked. I did finally figure out how to get around though, so I hope to fit in a few more sights tomorrow.

Today I went to Avenue of the Stars, which is like the Hollywood Walk of Fame for the Hong Kong film industry. I learned important things, such as the fact that my hands are considerably larger than Jet Li’s but about the same as Jackie Chan’s.

I also went to the Hong Kong Museum of History, which is about the best history museum I’ve been to. I would definitely put it on a must-see list for anyone spending time in Hong Kong. It was very interesting to me how Taiwan and Hong Kong, although they are very similar and could both be considered to have a Chinese culture, have very different histories. On the one hand, Hong Kong had a closer relationship to China for most of its history. Taiwan’s original inhabitants are Austronesian, not Chinese, and for centuries the Chinese people who came to Taiwan were criminals or ethnic minorities or people displaced from their homes for other reasons. No Chinese government was established in Taiwan until the 17th century. Hong Kong, it seems, was under Chinese jurisdiction beginning in the Qin dynasty, which was in the 3rd century BC. On the other hand, Hong Kong has obviously had more western influence, having been a British colony from the Opium Wars until 1997. Taiwan was colonized by both the Spanish and the Dutch, but you might say that neither colonization really took. The Spanish were there for 17 years and the Dutch for 38. Both Hong Kong and Taiwan were also occupied by Japan for a while, but in Hong Kong the occupation only lasted 4 years and in Taiwan it lasted 50.

OK, I am going to quit now before I give away how rudimentary my grasp on East Asian History really is.

I will let you wait in eager suspense to find out what I do tomorrow, but here is a small taste of what’s to come: I plan to ride… (drumroll….) the world’s longest outdoor covered escalator. Oh, what an amazing cross-cultural experience that will be!

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A Gorge-ous Marathon

November 7, 2007

This weekend, along with my friend Gretchen and about four thousand other individuals, I ran the half marathon of the Taroko International Marathon. As you may recall, Taroko Gorge is the beautiful National Park where Dad, Quinn, and I spent last Christmas. It made for a wonderfully scenic, albeit hilly, marathon.

We spent three days in Hualien, so we spent plenty of time speculating about what it would be like to live there rather than Taipei. Quieter, cleaner, prettier. Soberer, or whatever word one uses to describe a sorely lacking bar scene.

I was pretty nervous for the actual half marathon, since it was my first distance racing experience and I didn’t feel adequately prepared at all. The marathon and the half marathon started together, so the crowd at the beginning was huge. I was actually still on my way to the starting line when the gun fired, but five minutes later when I passed through the gate I was far from the last person to start.

The first 5 km (2.5 km out from the gate and 2.5 back) was flat and easy but boring. We got to run by a cement factory, woohoo! Then we started the long uphill climb into Taroko. We were actually running over many of the same places we hiked over Christmas. I was glad I had been there before or I would have wished I could skip the running to just sit around and enjoy the view. But I kept plugging along.

The 10 km marker came up surprisingly soon. I looked at my watch and realized to my shock that I wasn’t inching along at the pace of a geriatric snail. More like a young athletic snail on caffeine. After that I took several walk breaks. The uphill kept getting steeper and I tried to conserve some energy for running back down.

I was still a few kilometers from the finish line when the Kenyan winner of the full marathon flew by me. He ran 42 km 12 minutes faster than I ran my 21 km race. The elite runners really are quite a sight to see.

Anyway, I was pretty happy with my time, given that it was my first race and I hadn’t been preparing for it long. I was inspired to run more, and although I will be leaving Taiwan before next year’s Taroko Marathon, I’d like to come back and run it again some year.

After the race (and after some lost wandering around Hualien trying to find our hotel) Gretchen and I thought it would be a brilliant idea to get massages. These two blind ladies came to our hotel room to massage us for 40 minutes. Sounds nice and relaxing, right? Wrong! I had no idea a massage could be so painful! I just kept telling myself “I got though a half marathon, somehow I can get through this massage…” I must admit I did feel much better afterwards. Except for the sore spots on my head which lasted a few days after she “massaged” my temples.

Anyway, here’s a picture (from someone else) of the starting line, and one of me after the marathon:

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Happy Birthday Confucius

September 28, 2007

To all my fellow teachers out there, have a wonderful Teacher’s Day!

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Americans Support Taiwan (but can’t find it on a map)

September 24, 2007

Yesterday there was an article on the front page of the Taipei Times, announcing that the majority of Americans support Taiwan’s bid for UN membership. Apparently, according to a recent Zogby telephone poll, American liberals and conservatives are both inclined to oppose China’s stance on the issue and approve Taiwan entering the UN. Well, that’s cool, right?

Except that I could have sworn that most Americans don’t know the difference between Taiwan and Thailand. And it turns out, I’m right. According to the article, out of the Americans being polled, only 39% said that they were “familiar with Taiwan”. 14% believe Taiwan is not a democracy and 42% don’t know if it is or not. Almost 1/3 of respondents were unsure how developed Taiwan is.

Now, consider that “none of the questions made reference to Taiwan’s international status or the background to the Taiwanese government’s bid to join the UN.” So, a large percentage of the people being polled didn’t really know why it’s even an issue. They were just guessing, maybe?

To be fair, it seems that 72% of Americans think that, in regards to UN membership, “all countries should be treated equally and without discrimination.” 81% say the U.S. “should respect every country’s right to UN membership based on the principles of democracy and self-determination.” So maybe they weren’t just giving random answers after all.

Still, I have to wonder if the results were a bit skewed by the fact that the respondents didn’t know what the hell they were talking about.

Here are a couple articles: link and link

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The ups and downs of Yangmingshan

September 23, 2007

A few weeks ago I went on a hike in Yangmingshan National Park. It’s a beautiful place and at points we were literally walking in the clouds. Here’s a basic summary of the hike:

We went up…

And down…

And up…

And down….

Up!!!

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Happy Anniversary to Me

September 1, 2007

As of today I’ve been in Taiwan for one year. I’m not at all sure if the time has flown by or if I feel like I’ve been here forever and ever and ever.

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They’re Everywhere!

August 30, 2007

Yesterday one of my students told me that her mom sees me at the gym everyday. I’ve never met her mom, but it was a reminder of how often I’m being observed without my knowledge.

Over and over I discover that people I see all the time are my students’ parents. I’ve never had a parent tell me themselves. They don’t speak English or aren’t confident about English or just don’t want to talk to foreigners, or something. But gradually, from students or third parties, I learn: The beef noodle vendor is Lucy’s mom, the owners of the pasta place are Alice’s parents, one of my older students (still not sure which one) is my neighbor’s friend’s son. I must have around 200 students, all of whom live right in this area. That’s a lot of parents. They are everywhere, and they are watching. I’ve never met most of them but you can bet they know who I am. The really tall white girl, I doubt further description is needed. In general, people here are overly curious about everything I do, and to some extent I always feel like I’m under the microscope, but it’s just that much more disconcerting when I think they might be parents.

I had a discussion with a coworker about this yesterday and she pointed out how often parents see us at our worst and we don’t even know it. Make a stupid language mistake at the 7/11…a parent is watching, nearly crash the scooter… a parent is watching, walk home drunk at 4 AM… a parent is watching, get impatient and glare at the person who is giggling and pointing at the foreigner… well that person probably IS a parent. As if I wasn’t paranoid enough what with the staring and pointing and talking about me in Chinese while I’m standing right there, I also have to worry about parents! They are everywhere…. watching us…