March 1st. The time finally arrived for me to move into my newly rented apartment. Having lived in a hotel for almost two weeks, I had gotten used to the easy life, and the friendly faces greeting me in the reception. Also to the fact that my basic needs where provided for.
I arrived at the apartment at 5pm, getting my keys from the landlady. The first thing I noticed was that the cleaning left something to be desired; but that’s ok for me: one less thing to worry about when “checking out” in three months… Then the fact that the furnitured apartment was totally lacking in glasses, plates, chopsticks etc (as well as food and drink, of course). So a trip to the local “super” market becomes the next point on the agenda.
The last surprise of the evening is when I attempt to go to sleep. The bed (covered in a hideous sheet with actual pink flamingos), is like lying on a wooden board, but with steel springs popping up at random locations. This crosses the border from inconvenient to unusable, and the first night established the fact that my back would not last three months sleeping on this bed.
Fortunately, one of my colleagues at work tipped me about IKEA having a store in Taipei. They used to go there all the time when they needed something for the home. I can imagine IKEA being seen as somewhat exotic here, although to me it was just like going back home to Norway. To make a long story short, after several trips to IKEA, I managed to put the apartment in proper working order, with both an extra matress for the bed and some less hippiey sheets, as well as some subtle decorations to humanize the place. And, no, I did not eat the kjöttbullar for dinner, but I did buy some knäckebröd for breakfast…
This week also marked a radical shift in the weather. While February had been unusually hot (Hong Kong measuring the highest mean temperature in recorded history with 20.3℃), March saw temperature drop to the low teens, and rain and wind completing the unpleasantness. This, combined with my apartment fixing project and school starting, put a damper on my tourist activities. I will get back with more of this later :).
The apartment is just a 7 minutes walk from the office, and a further 15 minutes to the school. School started the 5th of March, with an orientation meeting the day before. Each class was 8-10 students. The first few days there were some leaving and joining classes, but our class settled down at nine people, hailing from Japan, France, Ireland, USA, Brazil, Belarus and Norway. Writing this post, I have just completed the first two full weeks of class.
We started by learning pronunciation. I (covertly) managed to convince the class that we should be focusing on learning Bopomofo (ㄅㄆㄇㄈ) for this, as I find the romanization of Pinyin to just be confusing and inconsistent. Bopomofo has a strong position in Taiwan, but not much outside. It is mainly a teaching aid, while pinyin in fact is being used to publish normal texts in mainland China. Using bopomofo, we where able to learn the subtle differences between some of the sounds in the language, as well as gaining a rudimentary starting vocabulary without having to learn the actual Chinese characters for those words. Parallell to this first week, there was, conveniently, a pronunciation class in the big auditorium as well. Here the focus was more on repeating, in unison, what the teacher said. It worked well as additional practice, though, and also provided more hours each day to get into the proper “mind set”.
The next week started by attacking lesson 1 in the textbook. Introducing yourself, asking the other persons name and nationality, etc. Here we started using proper characters, and started learning to write. And again, parallell to this, there was an introduction to writing class in the big auditorium.
Class is going great, the people in my class are fun and eager to learn, and the teacher is enthusiastic and attentive to each individual’s needs. I have firmly established myself as a “good student” by doing my homework, acing all the tests so far, and being focused and helpful in class. My biggest challenge is proper pronunciation, as I don’t have continuous opportunity to speak chinese. I find, though, that sounds and tones are not very difficult for Norwegians, compared to some of the other nationalities gathered in my class.
I did spend a few afternoons walking around the city. One of my trips were to a big 24h bookstore called Eslite. The flagship store on 敦化南路/Dunhua South Road is big, and has gradually developed into a kind of mall; the focus is still on books, though. And being open around the clock provides a unique service to it’s patrons. All around the store, people were sitting down or standing up, reading books and taking a good time about it. Reading a book seemed not frowned upon, as is normal in my country, but rather encouraged, with even a special reading table set up for extended browsing. The amount of books on offer was impressive, although for me the Chinese language books are still somewhat outside my competence level. When I was there, the shop was full of people, but there was no real lines forming at the counter. I don’t really know how they stay in business, providing what looked to me more like a library than a bookstore focused on peddling books. But I guess filling the store with people is a good way to turn a profit on the percentage that actually buys some of the goods on offer.
After this post, I will turn my attention to specific events and topics, rather than trying to do a general diary of weeks. I imagine my time will be much focused on going to class, and studying the subject, and less time will be spent exploring the surroundings. For Spring Break though (April 2-3), I have signed up for a trip to Green Island, of the south east coast of Taiwan; I’m looking forward to that.