Boats, Classes, and Music History





Hello! It’s my third week in Taiwan, and I’m still in La La Land. This week I discovered an area lined with souvenir shops! I had the urge to buy everything for my friends back home, but I restrained since I was going to be in Taiwan for 2 more months. Classes started this week, and I’ve been slowly adjusting to the courses and the amount of homework. Regardless, as long as I’m not getting lost all the time, I think I’m doing okay.

6/18: Dragon Boat Festival

In the former part of the week, I attended the Dragon Boat Festival, a traditional holiday commemorating fealty and filial piety in Asian culture. As far as my knowledge goes, the Taiwanese people celebrate the Dragon Boat Festival in two traditions: snacking on zongzi and dragon boat racing. Zongzi is a traditional food made of glutinous rice and wrapped in bamboo leaves. Sometimes people spice it up by stuffing it with different fillings of various vegetables and meats, and they’re cooked by steaming or boiling. The choices of filling vary depending on the regions, the zongzi I ate that day was very savory. The zongzi are considered as a symbol of luck, as the pronunciation of zong is very similar to the pronunciation of zhong (中). The character has a positive connotation, and one such example is 中将 (winning a prize). The dragon boat racing was exciting as it was my first time witnessing such an intense competition. Drums, shouts, synchronized rowing, that was all new to me. I enjoyed the festival, and I’m sure all my fellow ICLPer’s did as well.

(Picture of the Dragon Boat Races at Dajia River Park in Taipei, courtesy picture from my friend Alejandro)

(A picture of a Zongzi, 粽子,packed inside is rice)

6/19 – 6/22: First Week of Classes

Classes started this week and I believe with two more weeks, I’ll be used to it. I have 3 classes everyday: “Talks On Chinese Culture” that emphasizes on new grammar and vocabulary, “Learning Chinese With Newspaper II” emphasizes on reading, and a one on one class strictly to train my reading comprehension, in my opinion, it’s a mixture of grammar, vocabulary, and reading. My courses are more intensive than I thought, because most of the coursework is in Traditional Chinese, and personally, I have always read and wrote in Simplified characters, so it’s quite difficult. To explain the difference:

Simplified and Traditional Chinese refer to Chinese characters which are used in reading and writing. In the past, people thought that it was necessary to simplified the characters to help people learn them. Especially when most of the people in Chinese were analphabetic. From 1949 to 1964, the government of the People’s Republic of China started a series of character reforms to simplify the complicated strokes of Traditional characters. Compared to Traditional Chinese, the simplified characters have less strokes and are easier to write. Mainland China adopted the standard characters, while Taiwan continued to use traditional characters. There’s no difference in speaking, but there is a significant difference in reading and writing.

(Simplified on the top, and traditional characters on the bottom, notice the difference in how it’s written)

My homework consists of reading, listening to recordings, reading, rinse and repeat. Not to mention writing essay, completing workbook chapters, and reviewing newly learned material. I have classes from 10 AM (I’m fortunate, as the earliest time is 8 AM) to 5 PM. I have a few hours of break in between my classes, and I use that time for eating, reviewing, and chatting with friends old and new. All in all? I’m liking it.

6/22: Taiwanese Music and the World

Every Friday, on the fourth floor of ICLP we have a guest speaker come in to present on a unique topic. This week’s topic is “A Very Short Introduction to the Music in Taiwan”, presented by Dr. Chen Zhiwei (陳峙維) Dr. Chen is an assistant professor of the Graduate Institute of Musicology, NTU.

His goal is to explore the uniqueness of Taiwanese music and how it connects to the world. He began by describing that the past traditional Taiwanese started with Indigenous people. To them, music is their way of life and apart of their core identity. They sing all the time, and as Dr. Chen explained, the lyrics and vocables don’t carry significance, but it’s the art of singing, that’s the most important part. Their songs are all improvised, they just sing whatever they want, however they want. I think that’s beautiful, there’s beauty in communicating through music, even if it’s just emotion, that speaks volume to me and I fell in love with their culture right away. I listened to this sing and I fell in LOVE:

I digress, famous songs like “Elders Drinking Song”, is a concoction of sounds, not words. Songs such as these are passed down from generation to generation. With time, people slowly translates these pieces into mandarin, and people can learn how to sing them that way. I learned about the different musics from each region, such as Northern and Southern China, I learned about the traditional instruments used such as Moon-Lute, Yue-Qing, Erhu, Pipa, and Guzheng. The lecture was only for a hour, but I wished it was longer because the music is fascinating, and very pleasant to the ears. In conclusion, I had an eventful week and I’m glad that I have the wonderful opportunity to learn about Taiwan’s culture and language.

(Dr. Szu-Wei Chan presenting “A Very Short Introduction to the Music in Taiwan”)