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Linkou

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I usually only publish pictures I take when they are relevant for what I plan to write anyway, but that means that I collect quite a number of photos which haven’t merited posts of their own, but still, gathered together, deserves publication. So, like I did for the spring of 2009, I’ll now publish some more or less miscellaneous pictures taken during my time in Linkou (all pictures aren’t mine, so credit where credit is due). I will also take the opportunity to talk a little bit about the pictures and what they signify. This is part 2 of 2 (go to the first part).


Ready for action! It’s time for 滑罐. I like the James Bond pose. This method involves applying low pressure to various parts of the skin and then moving the cup producing this pressure around. It’s supposed to increase circulation and all kinds of stuff, but I’m not really an expert. Since I played lots of badminton and my back was sort of wrecked, I thought I’d give this a try.


Good someone is happy, at least! To be honest, this didn’t hurt at all…


…although it looks horrible.


Having completed the 滑罐, he went on to do some normal massage, which was really nice. Thanks for everything!


This is what it looked like later that evening. I was quite shocked myself, actually, because even though people had told me what it looked like, this was really the first time I saw it with my own eyes (so to speak).


My classmates (and teacher), whom I’ll miss sorely.


Class out in the sunshine! It would be a crime to waste sunlight when it rains so much.


On the way to Taipei after our last class on Friday.


Spreading the disease!


Meisui after washing her hands. It’s either this or zombie style, but I like both.


From the dinner with Peicen’s coworkers (she couldn’t go, she was in Thailand).


Very shy, but also very cute.


大哥 and I. And about the shirt, it’s Ian’s and the theme for the evening involved flowers.


The dinner was quite nice in general, but I had way too much to eat. The company was a lot better than the food!


Everybody, I think.


From another dinner, with Peicen and coworkers.


Christmas! Yeah, I know the chronolgy isn’t the best.


Playing with my phone, lots of mist and street lights at midnight.


Peicen in the fog.

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I usually only publish pictures I take when they are relevant for what I plan to write anyway, but that means that I collect quite a number of photos which haven’t merited posts of their own, but still, gathered together, deserves publication. So, like I did for the spring of 2009, I’ll now publish some more or less miscellaneous pictures taken during my time in Linkou (all pictures aren’t mine, so credit where credit is due). I will also take the opportunity to talk a little bit about the pictures and what they signify. This is part 1 of 2 (go to the first part).


There are trees in Linkou, but they can be quite hard to find (assuming that you don’t leave the built up area, because then everything turns either to trees or fields). This is a particularly nice one.


The pond on the campus is nice, as I’ve said before; I found it extra beautiful in this light.


Walking around in Linkou one winter day when for once it didn’t rain, I stumbled upon this place, which lies secluded behind buildings I’d seen almost every day, but never cared to look closer at.


Same place as above, and in the background you can see the buildings walling the place in.


Not the same place, but it’s still nice what random wanderings can reveal.


The pond at the campus again, this time in mist. The mist (or humidity) is generally speaking really annoying, but it can also be very beautiful.


Another example of the fascinating combination of mist and water.


The pond again. I wish the weather was as comfortable as it is beautiful.


This is an example of what goes for efficiency here. The exam in question consists of letting a single student score as many points in basketball as possible in thirty seconds. This might be stupid in itself, but having all the other student watch (and thus waste an entire class just doing that) goes beyond me; I simply can’t understand this.


This must be the most depressing place I’ve ever seen when it comes to classrooms. Of course, it’s not a real classroom, but rather turned into one for the purpose of holding final exams. Still, it makes me depressed now, even though I didn’t have to take any exams even close to this place.


I started calling this place The Dungeon, although it’s supposed to be a gym.


I trusted only things with no movable parts here, most equipment was stained with rust and wearing gloves was a must. I heard rumours of bars that had snapped, so I only took refuge here when I really couldn’t do my workout outside.

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Recently, I’ve made two important decisions and I now feel ready to share them with you. The reason I haven’t said anything publicly before is that I wanted to be sure myself and I wanted to be able to explain myself, which is what I intend to do here. Neither decision was easy, but I hope you can understand my thinking.

用英文寫完之下,我也提供中文版,所以如果你對中文比較熟,也可以按這個連結來看中文版。內容不是一模一樣,但是大概意思是相同的。如果兩個語言都行,請看英文的,因為內容跟我心裡想說的比較接近。

The really short version

These are the two decision: first, I’m not going to complete my university studies in Taiwan, instead I’m going back to Sweden to complete my degree this autumn. Second, I’m moving back to Gaoxiong to study at Wenzao next semester.

The short version

For various reasons, I’ve decided that I don’t have either the time or the money to stay in Taiwan for a bachelor’s degree. As a result of this, after weighing the different alternatives carefully, I think that going back to Wenzao is a better alternative than staying in Linkou for what might be my last semester in Taiwan. Linkou has many things I like: my classmates, whom I will miss sorely; good teachers and high-standard education. However, staying in Linkou also comes with some problems, such as the remoteness and isolation of the place itself, the generally depressing state of the campus and the fact that studying for a bachelor’s degree in a Taiwanese university suit neither my personality nor my learning style.

On the other hand, going back to Gaoxiong and Wenzao offers some serious benefits, apart from escaping the problems mentioned above. It would allow me a freer learning environment where I can control what I do to a much higher extent. The class I will be attending will have very few students (three, at the moment), which means more direct interaction with the teacher. I think the level of the courses might be equal at both institutions. Moving to Gaoxiong will also mean that I’ll live with Taiwanese friends, which is a bit of a wild card, but which I hope will turn out to be very good. On the negative side, it’s more expensive than staying in Taipei and it also mean additional trouble to move yet again. These, however, are practical matters that I can handle.

Comparing these two alternatives and trying to find as much pertinent information as possible, I’ve come the conclusion that moving to Gaoxiong is better than staying in Linkou. I’m terribly sad to leave my class mates (you’re all awesome, and some of you write really beautiful characters, too), but I know you will continue to be awesome without me.

The not so short version

This decision is in reality two, one about the role of Chinese in my future career and one about how to best learn the language here in Taiwan. The first question is by far the most important one, and the second can in a sense be said to be a result of the first. Career choices are long-term and stretch far into an unforeseeable future, but before I take you there, let me start by talking a little bit about the past.

The iceberg

Since I was about eighteen or so, I’ve known that teaching is a career that would suit my personality and ability fairly well. I first started studying psychology at university, but then changed programmes and began studying to become a language teacher instead. Down this road I’ve walked ever since, because not even a three-year foray into the realm of Chinese should be regarded as a different path altogether, just a more indirect way of reaching the same goal. But is it really that easy? What if this road turned out to be so interesting and important that it became a goal in itself? What if “Chinese” turned out to be more important than “teach” in the phrase “I want to teach Chinese”?

That’s the question I’ve been pondering for a couple of weeks now. What do I really want? Has this Chinese detour become the real road? Am I prepared to stay here for three and a half years and earn my degree, and only then contemplate returning to Sweden to try to make a living on my then hopefully adequate language skills? In short, have I, perhaps unconsciously, changed course in my life, away from teaching and towards pure language?

The answer to that question is “no”. It’s not an obvious or self-evident “no” by any means; behind that single word lies a long and sometimes angst-ridden thought process. However, the answer is a certain as it’s ever likely to become (it might grow less certain in the future, but let’s worry about the present for now). I want to be a teacher and to be that in Sweden, I need to graduate from the teachers’ programme.

In practical terms, this means that I will go home to Sweden this summer, and I will stay there for the foreseeable future. After graduating, if I feel that Taiwan is pulling me back, well, then I might have to change course again (for instance, I might consider studying for a master’s degree here), but that’s not the issue right now. If I’m truly so interested in Chinese that I’m willing to base my career on it, I’m sure I’ll know that after having been back to Sweden for a couple of years. I’m still young, the sky is the limit, as they say. In any case, I’m not prepared to sacrifice the relative certainty that being a teacher offers, for something which might well be more interesting, but also a lot less secure.

What I’ve just described is the true conundrum here, the question I couldn’t get my head around until very recently. The reason for this was that the larger question was mostly under the surface, and the tip of the iceberg was actually something altogether different: The question whether I wanted to move back south to Gaoxiong or stay in Linkou. This smaller question hid something much bigger that needed to be taken care of first. Since I’ve done that now, let’s look at the tip of the iceberg, which simply is an extension of the above argument.

The tip of the iceberg

Since the link between these two questions wasn’t obvious for me, I think I’d better explain it to make clear what took some serious thinking for me to figure out for myself.

If I stay in Linkou, it means (disregarding everything but the big picture) that I have the possibility to continue studying in Taiwan and earn my university degree here. However, staying in Linkou doesn’t necessarily entail that I will stay in Taiwan longer than one year, but it does include the option of doing so if I want to. By contrast, moving back to Gaoxiong and studying at Wenzao for another semester, precludes the option of graduating from a Taiwanese university. I cannot stay in this country forever, hopping between different cities and language centres. If I stay here for an extended period of time, I need some real proof of all the effort I’ve invested in learning Chinese. A degree is the only unambiguous and useful proof of that.

So, having decided that I’m not staying in Taiwan longer than this semester, the second choice (the tip of the iceberg) becomes easier to understand: either I spend another semester in Linkou, or I study at Wenzao next semester and then go back home. Even though it’s smaller, this choice was a lot harder to make, and I would be lying if I said that I’m one hundred percent sure I’m doing the right thing. Rationally speaking, I know moving is a good idea, but since I’m human and not a machine, it’s a lot more complicated than that. Let’s examine the two options and what they have to offer.

About staying in Linkou

The most important reason to stay in Linkou is, without any doubt whatsoever, my classmates and other friends here. I know that whatever happens next semester, I’d have a great time while in class, and I will learn a lot at the same time. In addition to this, the education offered in Linkou is fairly predictable (even though we will change teachers, I still no roughly what to expect). I know that the education is of high quality. Furthermore, staying in the north is a lot cheaper, recognising the fact that I have a scholarship there and the tuition fee is lower.

There are some arguments for not staying in Linkou as well. Generally speaking, I’m not too happy with studying for a bachelor’s degree at a Taiwanese university, because it feels very much like being back in junior high (attitude, courses, environment, teaching style; here is one example). I realise that this is what it’s like here, but I’m afraid that doesn’t make it any better. Furthermore, I think the campus itself is depressing in many ways (dirty, dilapidated, distant) and Linkou itself feels a bit like the end of the world (and we live at the very end of Linkou!). Last, but not least, the schedule is quite tightly packed, meaning lots of class time and much homework. I feel like I haven’t got time to study Chinese, which sounds self-contradictory, but is nonetheless true. I learn better if I have more control over what I’m studying, but as it is now, there is hardly any time for that. Also note that going anywhere else than Linkou takes at least an hour, which naturally makes it even more difficult to expand my horizons, either geographically or socially speaking.

About going back to Wenzao

There are some arguments in favour of moving back south. Firstly, it would mean returning to an institution I have very fond memories of; I didn’t leave Gaoxiong last time because I was unhappy with my life there. I know the college can provide me with courses more suitable to my personality and learning style. Secondly, if I move back south, it would mean living with two Taiwanese students (one of my friends from last year and her current room mate). It’s of course difficult to say how important this is and what kind of impact it will have on my studies and my life, but I would be surprised if it didn’t trump living alone in Linkou.

Added to that, I’m a social person, I need people around be to be happy. The only reason I live alone now is that I don’t want to live in the dormitory, (see the comments about the campus above). Living with my friends in Gaoxiong might make me happier at the same time as enabling me to understand Taiwan and the Chinese language on a deeper level. Furthermore, I do of course already have other friends in the south, and they do also play a big part in all this. I would not move into social terra incognita, like I’ve done my previous three moves in Taiwan.

I’m aware that my girlfriend hasn’t been mentioned here, and that’s no accident. Our relationship hasn’t been working very well since I came back to Taiwan last year, and it didn’t work at all towards the end of last year. Moving might or might not improve this, but I want to make it very clear that she is not the reason why I’m moving.

Naturally, there are also drawbacks with moving again, otherwise I wouldn’t need to write such a long post about what I’m going to do. Please read the first part of that sentence again, the keywords are “moving again”. I have moved six times in two years, do I really want to make it seven times in two and a half? Sure, in the ancient past, I said that I wanted to be more like a snail with its house on its back, but I feel more like I have no home at all rather than always carrying it with me. Leaving Linkou would mean more uncertainty, even though it would be significantly less unknown than any of my previous moves in Taiwan. I know roughly what I will get if I move.

Another negative factor is money: going back south costs more money than staying in Linkou; my rough calculations tell me about NT$40.000, which is a bit less than 10,000 Swedish crowns. That’s not an astronomical sum, especially not when compared with living in Sweden, but it is still a factor. On the other hand, my decision to stay in Taiwan one semester and not more, means that I’m prepared to spend some extra money to optimise the time I have left here. In addition, I won’t go home this winter vacation, and will thus save approximately NT$30.000. I’m not a rich man, but I think I know when to spend money and when to be thrifty.

Final decision

Rationally speaking, I think there are some factors above that cancel each other out, and the social aspect might be one of them. I’m sure I’d be very happy staying in Linkou with my current classmates and friends (I feel a sting of sadness just by thinking about leaving you!), but on the other hand, I know that I can be happy in Gaoxiong as well. It doesn’t feel like that now, because Linkou is where I live now and thus very close, but I really think that both choices should be equally good, socially speaking.

So, what it eventually boils down to is paying more money to get a better learning environment. I’m convinced that I would learn more Chinese and be more satisfied with my studying if I went back to Gaoxiong; this is beyond any doubt. On the other hand, as explained above, it would also be more expensive. Is it worth paying that sum of money to get these extra benefits? Yes, of course it is.

Oh, if only humans were fully rational! Then I wouldn’t have had to spend weeks making up my mind. Alas, I cannot base something like this simply on cold logic, so I thought that if I went to Wenzao to talk to them about this, perhaps I would be able to feel what would be the right thing to do. More importantly, I needed to go to my friend’s place to see if the apartment looked okay, that it was a place I felt comfortable living and that the location wasn’t too off (hard to beat Linkou in that regard, though). I hoped that after doing these things, I would feel what was the right thing to do.

And I do. I feel that moving south again is the right choice. There are too many advantages with moving back. Perhaps moving in with Taiwanese friends is reason enough, because it would be something new, something I haven’t done before, but apart from this, I think the overall study situation will improve. I also know that there are many things in the north I fundamentally dislike, although I’ve grown used to them and come to accept them; moving would alleviate these problems, if not remove them entirely, and allow me to focus on what I like most here, studying Chinese.

I’m truly, honestly sad about leaving my classmates and my other friends in Linkou, but that’s a sacrifice I have to live with. They will no doubt move on without me and even though I think my cube puzzles will be missed in A班, I think my leaving won’t really hurt the wonderful atmosphere in that group. I’m very fond of you all and I hope I’m welcome to visit you whenever there is time.

Personally, I’m on the road yet again, and I need to find again that warm feeling I’ve had recently in class, I need to settle down in a new environment and I need to move on. I hope that those involved can understand my decision and I hope I can keep in touch with those who matter most to me in the north. Thanks for everything and see you soon?

該是時候往前走

最近,我作出兩個特別重要的決定,現在想要與大家分享這決定與緣由。等到今天才宣佈的原因是我之前不太清楚自己到底想要做什麼,也為了讓想知道原因的人有機會理解我的想法,再者我也需要時間好好地考慮。這兩個決定格外困難,但我希望大家會了解我的想法。

原本我用英文寫這一篇文章,所以如果你對英文比較熟,也可以按這個連結來看原文。內容不是一模一樣,但是大概意思是相同的,可是英文版比較詳細,並且有圖片及連結。

非常短的版本

這是以上提出的兩個決定:第一、我不會因想得到臺灣的大學的學位而留在這裡四年,反正下個學期之候,就回去瑞典完成我那邊的課程。第二、因為我留在臺灣只剩一個學期,我認為在師範大學繼續念書不如回去高雄讀文藻外語學院,所以我下個學期要再搬家。

很短的版本

因為缺乏時間及金錢,因此我覺得我無法完成臺灣大學的學業。因此經過深思熟慮之後,我決定回去高雄,用我可能是最後一個在臺灣的學期在文藻繼續念中文。在林口有許多開心及不捨的回憶:同學(你們真的太好了),其它臺灣朋友(讓我喜歡臺灣及臺灣人)和老師(能夠耐心得使我瞭解語言與文化)。不過,留在林口也有一些不太喜歡的事情,例如:學校地點偏僻,讓我感到憂鬱的校院(雖然表面上很漂亮,但仍有很多不好的部分)。最重要的原因是我發現我的個性與學語言的方式不適合在臺灣念大學課程,有那種回到國中的感覺。

另一方面,除了逃避以上的留在林口的壞處之外,回去高雄在文藻念書有許多的好處。在國語中心學中文比較自由,讓我自己會掌握學習的過程。由於學生比較少(我要參加的班現在只有三個學生),因此老師能夠專心地幫助學生解決他們的問題。文藻與師大的課程程度差不多,但是文藻的好像比較實用的。搬家到高雄之候,我要跟兩個臺灣人一起住,雖然現在不得而知會如何,但我覺得比在這裡一個人住好多了。當然去高雄也有壞處,像再搬一次家很麻煩,而且花費比留在林口多(在文藻沒有獎學金,並且學費貴得多)。

基於上述的種種原因並經過考量之後,我才做出要搬回高雄的決定,這當中我也猶豫了很久也為此輾轉難眠好幾夜。由於我下個學期不會跟現在的同學一起上課,因此我感到格外難過(你們都很棒,其中還有同學能寫出非常漂亮的漢字),雖然我要離開但我相信你們依然能夠繼續保持下去。

不太短的版本

乍看之下,似乎僅需作一個選擇(下個學期要做什麼),後面其實有另外一個更困擾的難題:我將來生涯的重點到底是什麼?是否要搬家到高雄是個既重大又迫切的決定,但是生涯的規劃是個更長遠的決定。為了讓你們瞭解我未來要做什麼,我需先用過去的日子來闡釋現在的情況。

冰山

從十八歲左右開始,我知道當老師可能比較適合我的個性和能力。雖然我先念了一年的心理學,但是一年之後,我還是對教育學比較有興趣,因此我轉系了。從那時起我依著當老師的計劃走,來臺灣讀書並不是個意外。雖然這不是我原來想到的做法,但卻是殊途同歸。不過真的是那麼簡單嗎?假設我在臺灣發現了這過程因為非常有趣而成為重點,假設「我想要教中文」的「中文」比其中的「教」還重要,那怎麼辦?

最近我花許多時間考慮這個問題,也跟別人討論。我到底想要做什麼呢?念中文的路途轉道是否成為幹線?為了得到臺灣大學的文憑,而留在臺灣多三年半值得嗎?總而言之,我有沒有將原來當老師的目標變成用中文來謀生?

答案是「不是」、「沒有」不過這個答案一點也不明顯;那兩個字的後面隱藏了許久的猶豫不決。雖然答案是很難得到的,不過還是很必然的(回去瑞典的時候,有可能這一方面會該變)。我想要在瑞典當老師,所以我需要回去完成那邊的大學課程(在這裡得到文憑不夠),才會再考慮中文與臺灣這一部分。

實際上,我因為這個夏天要回去瑞典而且會一直待到畢業為止。畢業之後,若是感到臺灣的吸引力很強,那我才考慮要不要為了得到碩士而回來這裡。回瑞典之後,我會更加確定是否真的對中文有興趣。我仍然年輕,畢業之後會有機會改變想法。無論如何,我不打算為得到臺灣的文憑而犧牲在瑞典的學業。

冰山一角

原則上,決定要回去瑞典對下個學期要做什麼的想法很重要。意思是,我一點都不重視文憑,因此我會專心學得中文。一個住在高雄的朋友尋找室友使我開使考慮到回去那邊否則對我的學習的情況有幫助。雖然這因素比以上的小得多,不過還是很困難決定。

留在林口

在國華系的同學及其它住在台北的朋友絕對是讓我想留在林口最大的因素。假設下學期繼續在師大念書,那我就知道這一方面會是很棒的;我非常喜歡你們,再者可以跟你們一起學到更多中文。另外,我想秋天的教育品質應該算是不錯的,所以有可能下學期會一樣好(但是不一定,因為要換老師)。最後留在林口的好處就是因為有學校的獎學金,而不用花那麼多錢。

留在林口當然也有些壞處(否則我不需要考慮是否回高雄的這個難題)。一般來說,我發現我不太喜歡在臺灣的學校念這樣的課程,因為感覺是我回去了瑞典的國中(環境,態度,課程,教法都令我想到好幾年之前念的國中)。我當然明白臺灣與瑞典的制度不一樣,但是我好像無法習慣這樣的教學方式。另外,林口的校園是一個令人憂鬱的地方(偏僻、肮脏、破爛的)。如果校園位於林口醫院那邊附近,那就可能沒有任何問題, 但是校園却是在林口最沒有人煙、最不便利的地方。最後,我有一種沒有時間真的學中文的感覺,因為有那麼多課程、作業,而且如果想要去別的地方,也需要花很多時間在坐公車(結果學習時間更少)。如果我只能再留在臺灣一個學期,我不要只加強閱讀與聽力,我想要有時間自己選擇要加強學習的方向。

回去高雄

回去南部也有一些好處。第一、我已經對文藻熟悉,知道那裡的課程適合我。去年選擇離開高雄並不是因為我不喜歡讀於文藻,是為了申請大學而北上。第二、若是回去高雄,我也會跟兩名臺灣人一起住(一個我去年認識的朋友跟她的室友);我無法確定跟她們一起住會怎樣,不過絕對是比現在一個人住好多了。其實,我現在會一個人住是因為我不喜歡住在宿舍裡,而且很討厭坐公車(排除住在台北)。第三、我也有些我很想念住在高雄的朋友,所以雖然離開這裡的人令我難過,但我也會找回之前失去的好朋友。

看到這裡,應該有人想問我想要搬家跟女朋友有沒有關係(她住高雄)?我故意在前面沒有提出這個問題,因為這原因不重要。我去年回來臺灣之後,我們的關係好像沒有之前的那麼好;並且最近越來越不好。我不知道搬家對我們倆人會有什麼樣子的影響,但是我確定知道這不是我想要回高雄的理由。

回去有什麼壞處呢?最重要的是,我之前搬家太多次了,那為什麼要再一次離開我習慣的地方?這樣飛來飛去使我很累,好像從來沒有真的「這是我家」的感覺。不過,這一次不是去新的城市,所以希望沒有那麼辛苦。另外,回去高雄比較貴,我估計需要多花四萬元(包括那邊沒有獎學金)。若是這是我在臺灣最後一個學期,我應該選擇對我最好的方法,既使貴一點。

最後決定

在冷靜的思考後有些正負因素會相抵,尤其是社交這一方面。假設留在林口的話,我知道朋友與同學會讓我很開心(這是讓我留在林口最重要一點喔!),不過雖然現在沒有這種感覺,我也知道搬家之後會再找回之前的朋友,並且會遇到新的。由此可見兩個選擇的結果大概是差不多的。所以,為了得到好一點的學習環境而付多一點的錢值得嗎?答案很清楚:當然是值得!

可惜人類不是十分理性的!那麼,我不需要經過幾個禮拜的考慮才決定。這樣大的選擇,我不能只用冷冷的邏輯來決定,因而,我想到了,如果去文藻跟他們討論,然後去看看我的朋友,看看房子情況如何,那可能會感到我想要做什麼。去高雄之前,我希望心裡的感覺是跟頭腦想的是相同的。去高雄之後,就是這樣,我很清楚地知道搬家是最好的選擇。

我的中文能力不夠好,所以我無法表示離開在林口及台北的朋友讓我有多難過,可是仍然有兩個補救的辦法:一、其實,臺灣很小,高雄離台北不會很遠;二、我知道雖然可能有人上課時會想念我的魔術方塊這類的玩具,但是我絕對知道我離開的事不會壞了上課的那種好氣氛。其它的朋友:我一定會回來台北看你們,而且如果有機會,歡迎你們來高雄看我吧!我希望大家能瞭解我的想法及決定,但是如果有問題或意見,請留言。謝謝你們的耐心看完我冗長的文章!

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Writing this, I’m sitting in the magic coffee shop I’ve discovered close to where I live. I suspect that in ancient times, there might have been a shrine in the vicinity where people sacrificed beautiful shells or precious pearls to the gods of plenty and productivity. Then, as the sprawl of the modern city of Taipei expanded and building in the suburbs increased, this long-forgotten holy site was buried under resident buildings, roads and supermarkets. And a coffee shop. Although the secret of this shrine is lost in the mists of time, its ability to enchant and inspire still lingers, enabling me to be more productive than anywhere else in the world. Welcome to the magic coffee shop!

On a more serious note, I’ve recently explored the well-known productivity trick to simply change environment when productivity is running low. Although this is not entirely new, I haven’t fully realised the potential of different environments before (if you are in any way interested in increasing productive output, I would be very surprised if this post contains anything new, its simply a personal account of a fortunate discovery). Leaving home for a coffee shop seems to enable me to keep on going with whatever I want to do (working, studying, creative writing) for at least as long as my battery lasts, which is at least four hours. Four hours of close to 100% productivity constitutes a significant impetus to any project.

Why is this true, then? Ignoring explanations involving shrines and magic, my pseudo-psychological explanation is that we tend to associate different behavioural patterns and habits with certain places, which would mean that if you usually do something in a certain environment, you would be prone to do that again later in the same environment. Following this line of reasoning, home is a very bad place to be productive, because at least I do all sorts of different things at home (surfing, playing games, chatting), whereas the coffee shop was a tabula rasa the first time I went there. Since then, I’ve only inscribed the patterns of studying and working on that blank slate, meaning that when i go there now, it’s not that difficult to continue doing what I’ve always done there.

However, it might be tempting to focus too much on this explanation, although I’m sure it has some merits. For instance, it’s also true that usually have no internet access when I’m at the magic coffee shop, which makes it easier to focus. On the other hand, this cannot be the main explanation, because the few times I’ve been able to connect to someone else’s wireless network, productivity has still been close to 100%. Another contributing factor might be that it feels more serious to go somewhere else. Even if I don’t think other people really care what I’m doing, i still feel a bit more exposed in public and it heightens my motivation, although perhaps not by very much.

In the future, I will try to explore, expand and exploit this phenomenon, try to see how far I can push this and if I might learn more about environment’s effect on productivity. For instance, would it be possible to create specific places for specific tasks like studying or creative writing? Would it be advantageous to keep different productive activities apart? Would it be possible to create a miniature version of this phenomenon at home, without leaving the apartment? If I find anything interesting, I’ll be back later to tell you about it. In the meantime, I’d be interested in hearing what other people think about this. What are your experiences? What questions would you like to have answered?

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Those of you who already know me fairly well can pretty much guess what I’ll do as soon as any vacation starts.Those of you who aren’t very familiar with me yet, well, this is a chance to get to know me better. In my life, I try to match what I want to do and what I have to do for some reason, a goal which has been almost fully accomplished since I started studying Chinese. This means that I’m not studying because of tests, homework or anything, I’m studying because that’s what I want to do. The same goes for most things I do.

Then it naturally follows that just because there is a vacation (such as the winter vacation that started a couple of days ago), it doesn’t mean that my situation becomes radically different. Sure, it does mean that the pressure decreases and I gain more control of what I’m doing (something which has been sadly lacking lately), but remember, I’m already doing what I want to do! Why change? Instead of sleeping ten hours a day, eating and drinking nothing but cookies and pearl tea, and spending the rest of the time idling online, I have some things I really want to do (this post only covers productive and study related topics, so don’t thin that I’ll be staying at home for five weeks):

– Finish Magneter och mirakel
Novel and/or short fiction writing
– Finish going through the Far Eastern 3000 Character Dictionary
– Read up on study efficiency (Study Hacks and Scott H. Young would be a good start)
– Fight down my Chinese character revision queue to zero again
– Read and write more extensively in Chinese
– Complete the first eight-week cycle of my exercise program and plan the next step

As you can see, at least some of these are no clear-cut goals that can be ticked off, but that’s okay, because this isn’t a to-do list; I simply want to make clear what I’m doing at the moment. Some of these projects have been abandoned for too long, others deserve completion for other reasons. A five-week winter vacation is not a time to start hibernating, it’s the time to, in a wakeful state, continue pursuing my dreams.

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Yes, yes, i know, it’s been over two weeks since I wrote something here and the time since I wrote something is actually even longer, because I did have some articles queued. I wish I could say that it was mostly because of a higher level of immersion in Taiwanese society, but even though that’s partly true, laziness is by far a more accurate description of why nothing has been published here fore a while. Not wanting to lag behind too much with the proficiency reports (the last one was written about 50 days ago, see my Studying Chinese page for earlier texts and much more).

So, what’s happened since the end of September? I’ve spent a lot more time speaking Chinese, especially recently (see my post about leaving the surface). I’ve also spent more time working out, which is really nice. This includes badminton, a sport I played a lot when I was younger, but stopped practicing completely for various forgotten reasons. I’ve also gradually tried to improve my reading ability by continuing my study of the 3000 most common characters in Chinese. Going through the dictionary is a huge task and I will probably take a couple of months more to complete it. There are a surprising number of characters I’ve never even seen! Anyway, enough of that and over to the reporting.

Speaking: Regarding pronunciation and speaking, I feel like I’ve made great progress since the beginning of this semester, but it’s been an unexpected kind of development. I’ve found out a lot of problems I weren’t aware of before and done my best to correct them. I seem to have reached a new stage where at least I’m aware of the problems I’m having and try to do my best to remove them. This is very hard and taxes the mind enormously, even when chatting. Still, I think I learn a lot, mostly because I have such nice people in my life that are patient and willing to help me out. Thanks! The road ahead is still arduous and far from straight, but I’m moving in the right direction now at least.

Listening: Although I have recently started to listen to radio a lot, I can’t say I feel any difference yet. I still think it’s super hard to understand Chinese out o f context, but fairly easy once I’m in the conversation or familiar with the speaker. I need to listen a lot more though, but I don’t expect it to pay off until much, much later. Hopefully I’ll be able to say something more positive after a thousand hours listening or so.

Writing: Nothing new here. I think I’m able to write gradually more complicated texts and still get my meaning across, but I feel no big difference, probably because I’ve only written a few thousand characters since the previous report. I keep trying, though, but speaking and listening takes precedence for now.

Reading: It’s difficult to feel reading improve, because I spend so much time doing it. At the same time, course material comes in a wide variety of difficulty levels, which further complicates things. Of course, I’m still improving and probably at a higher tempo than last time I wrote about this. I’ve spent lots of time with characters and learn much more than required by my courses and teachers. Still, I keep being astonished by the sheer number of characters I encounter that I’ve never seen before (usually, new words contain characters I know or have seen, but in new combinations).

In numbers, I have 7600 words in my database now, compared with 6400 last time I reported. That’s 1200 new words in 50 days (or roughly 24/day), which isn’t bad, but still below what I know can handle. Trough studying the dictionary and Practical Audio-Visual Chinese 5 on the side, I expect this figure to increase at a similar rate in the near future. I suppose it has to level off at some point, but not before I can handle basic Chinese.

That’s all for this time, I’ll probably get back to you at the end of this semester, which would be in a month or so!

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Even though I live in Taiwan, I’ve had the feeling for a while now that I’m just cruising on the surface, rather than truly immersing myself in the language. I use all kinds of floaties to avoid submerging (such as using English to write this post or read books, or using Swedish to chat with friends). I realise that I spend a fair amount of time using Chinese in class and speaking with friends, but since my overall learning strategy is dependent on covering huge amounts of material, I need more.

I haven’t properly explained my overall learning strategy here yet, but this is not the place to do it. In short, though, I try to learn as much as possible (pure quantity) as fast as possible, and then care about usage and grammar later. In other words, I spend almost all my time studying learning new words and grammar patterns, without spending time learning how to use them. As soon as I have studied a word or pattern, the idea is that I can then pick it up in conversations, books and so on, gradually building up a feeling for how a particular part of the language works. I’ve found that I really need to see words in Chinese before I can truly learn them, simply listening to someone explaining what a word means doesn’t work very well.

Needless to say, this strategy requires that I listen to and reads a vast amount of Chinese, because otherwise large chunks of the words and patterns will be left in some sort of limbo where I can probably understand them, but have no way of using them on my own. This is very similar to how native speakers learn in the first place, and it it’s identical to the way I’ve learnt English (just check the Literature page and you’ll know).Quality is important, but quantity is essential. A native speaker needs many, many years to learn the language properly, I’d like to speed it up a bit.

In my attempt to emulate a native speaker’s learning environment, I’m not going to cut all connections to the surface and the berathable atmosphere of English and Swedish, but I’m gooing to imerse much more than before. For instance, I’ll stop reading and listening to English (except for the Economist) for a while, focusing only on Chinese, which means there will be a lot fewer reviews here for a while. I’ll continue writing about other topics here in English, of course, and I’ll also continue with some writing projects in Swedish, but from now on, I intend to spend a lot more time reading and listening to Chinese. Close the hatch, prepare to imerse!

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At around six o’clock in the evening, the first tunes can be heard in the distance. The noise is still far away though, softened into melody by the distance, prowling nearby streets and alleys. Gradually I relax, gradually my subconscious settles into a state of false security; there will be no desecration today. But then, almost an hour later, the sound returns with a vengeance. It feels like the driver has turned off the engine and the loudspeakers, just coasting outside in silence, waiting for the best moment to inflict damage on even the less musically tuned ear. Then, he turns the corner of my street, turns on the engine and the loudspeakers, blasting the memory of Beethoven’s beautiful music into oblivion. To show reverence, people emerge from their homes, offering garbage of all kinds to the memory of old Ludwig van; the desecration has begun.

This is horrible, I like Beethoven and I like Für Elise, but who had the brilliant idea of using a stripped down midi-version for the garbage truck? Hearing it everyday guarantees that I will always associate that song with trash. Couldn’t they have chosen another tune (they used something else both in Xinzhu and Gaoxiong)? And if they had to use Für Elise, couldn’t they have used a version of it that didn’t merely take what is necessary to recognise the tune and then ignore everything pleasant about it? I have recorded this piece of “music”, but I hesitated a long time before attaching the recording to this post, because I do think it could be labelled aiding and abetting a crime against humanity. If you really want to, you can listen to it here (mp3, 607K). I, on the other hand, will never need the recording, because this tune will be inscribed in my mind forever, superimposed and probably overwriting the original piece. When I’m old, I’ll remember lots of things about Taiwan, most of them good, but the desecration of Beethoven is simply something for which I won’t forgive Taiwan.

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Online Highlights 7

It’s time for another round of Online Highlights. Since all things on the internet are found out through links or references by others (like I do in this post), thanks to those who, passively and actively, helped me out this time.

Race for the Galaxy AI – This AI for the card game Race for the Galaxy was released many months ago, so it’s hardly new, but it’s still good. I still prefer to play on Genie against human players, but the AI supports Rebel vs. Imperium, which Genie so far lacks.

Linkou, Taiwan – This is where I live. I don’t think I’ve mentioned it before, but my house is under the cloud in the centre of this map!

Partly Cloudy – A very nice short film from Pixar, recommended by Martin in his review.

Foreigners’ Chinese names – I’ve long been an advocate for choosing names in Chinese which are Chinese rather than transliterations of foreign names. This clip perfectly illustrates, if not the whole truth, then at least part of it. It’s also quite funny.

Coach Geoff’s YouTube Channel – An old favourite, who seems to have updated a lot recently. He has provided a lot of inspiration over the years and still do. In fact, I think I’m going to do some workout as soon as I’ve published this post.

Laowai Chinese – Albert Wolfe’s blog about learning Chinese (and lots, lots more). I’ve seen quite a number of blogs like this one, but none has been so interesting. I read almost everything he writes, even though I haven’t had time to excavate the archive yet.

Mandarin tones with Praat – Praat is a program for visually analysing sound, in this case taking a look at what the tones in mandarin Chinese actually look like. How close are they to the tone curves we’ve all been taught? Very, very interesting.

Ministry of Education Chinese-Chinese Dictionary – Another Chinese dictionary, this time a Chinese-Chinese one, probably the most comprehensive I’ve found online. Mostly useful for students in Taiwan, but still.

NCIKU Dictionary – For some reason, I have missed this dictionary. It seems to be very, very good, even though it’s mainland Chinese and thus simplified characters. It still accepts searches for traditional characters, and Ive begun to use this site a lot recently. The many examples are probably the biggest advantage.

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It’s been roughly five months since my last proficiency report (click here to go to my Studying Chinese page), mostly because nothing much happened with my Chinese during the three months I spent in Sweden (I did learn some vocabulary, but I also forgot a lot). Now, however, I’ve been back for more than six weeks, which isn’t enough to affect my language ability in a very significant manner, but still enough to write a post about it. This time I don’t have much of general interest to say, so I’ll jump straight to the evaluation.

Speaking: I keep changing which area I think is my weakest and right now I’m quite convinced it’s speaking. I don’t have as many opportunities to speak for longer periods with native speakers as I would like to, but I’ll try to increase the time as much as I possibly can during this semester. However, I do think that speaking has improved a great deal since May. I can speak in a fairly fluent manner about subjects I’m familiar with, but I still encounter fairly basic situations I find very difficult. I almost never fail to get my meaning across, though.

Also, I have spent time and energy to sort out correct Chinese pronunciation. We have a course with that name, which started with a short test to see roughly in what areas we needed to improve, and, not surprisingly, I only have some slight problems with the tones (I’m quite sure I’ve mentioned this before, but I plan to post a specific article about it soon). I have also told all my teachers to correct me as soon as I make any of these mistakes. Anyway, I now know exactly what problems I have (there are two) and I know what I should do about it. There will still be some time before I can take this theory and put it into practice, but if I’m careful and speak/read slowly, I don’t make the same mistakes I once did. My quest for perfect pronunciation has taken a big leap forward.

Listening: Last time I said that “listening is the problem”, a statement I no longer consider to be true. I spend many, many hours every week listening to Chinese and I can understand almost everything that’s being said in class, even though it’s probably harder that what I did earlier. Of course, people speaking with strong dialects is still a problem for me, but that’s true for English and Swedish as well, so I’m not that worried about not understanding random sentences said to me in the supermarket. I won’t have to focus extra on listening; I’ll hopefully get what I need through going to class and speaking with friends.

Writing: I haven’t spent much time writing Chinese, but since vocabulary increases all the time, so does writing ability. I have also read quite a lot, which should give me a better feeling about grammar and word usage. I’m still convinced that reading a lot is the right way to go for improving writing, but of course I also need to practice. Right now, though, I have too many things I want to write in other languages to let me focus on writing articles in Chinese, except for what’s required in our courses (those texts are published on my Chinese blog as usual).

Reading: I think reading is the area in which I have made the most progress over the past five months. I’ve gradually grown used to reading texts which were never meant for foreigners and I’m also learning lots of characters, which increases the likelihood that I might be able to guess the meaning of a word even though I haven’t studied it. I’m still far from my goal of being able to read the average novel or newspaper article, but I’m getting there and the goal is not as distant as it once felt. Speaking of vocabulary, I now have around 6400 word in my database, meaning 1000 new words, a lot less than normal due to the summer break. I both should and want to increase the tempo, mainly through studying Practical Audio-Visual Chinese 5 on the side.

A quick check revealed that I know slightly more than 2000 individual characters out of the 3000 most common ones, which seems roughly in line with earlier results (2000 and 1800 respectively). However, I’m amazed that there are so many characters among the 3000 most common, that I still haven’t even seen once. I think I’ve been learning lots of words, but not that many characters, perhaps. It should be mentioned that I don’t count a character if I only know how to write it and/or use it in a word, I only count it if I know what it means.

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