Friday, January 8, 2010

聖誕節與新年快樂! - Merry Christmas and a Happy New Year!

(Happy 2010 from Taipei!)

Wow, I can't believe it's been almost a month since my last post!  I've been going a mile a minute for the past few weeks, and even though I have to get up for my next day of teaching in T-minus 7 hours, I'm not going to put this off any longer.  

(This was pretty much my Christmas... A tree in the front office.)

First, to fill you in on the holiday hoopla.  As I'd mentioned in my last big post, we teachers were required to add "teaching Christmas carols" to out daily class curriculum.  The kids were also given the chance to write letters to Santa, which made for a nice opportunity to be a little bit of a grinch and play the role of Santa's informant.  If they were bad in class, I could just say, "oh, I think I'm going to add a little note on your card to Santa telling him you're being naughty, not nice."  Gotta love small children.  :)  

As it turned out, one of my classes won second prize in the Christmas carol competition.  I've included a video, which unfortunately has no sound since my camera seems to have been made before that was an option...  Still, you get to see them dance (even if it is mostly just them swaying back and forth, haha).  Now I'm just kind of missing the few weeks when I could just fill any free time at the end of class by saying, "let's practice the Jingle Bell Rock," instead of doing another word game or reader activity.  

Ironically enough the day that was filled with the LEAST Christmas cheer was December 25th, haha.  The Taiwanese government has officially declared that Christmas is in fact not a national holiday, so that meant everyone had to work.  UNhappy face.  But on the bright side I received a care package from my parents full of goodies from the States, and I made time to watch all of the South Park Christmas specials on my computer.  :)

New Year's Eve was also pretty low key for me.  The director at my school said that I just HAD to go see the fireworks display at the Taipei 101 building (see the last big post), and since I had nothing else going on I figured I'd check it out.  Apparently all of Taipei had the same idea because the subway was insane!  There were crowds of people and officials with badges glowing sticks directing the flow of bodies through the bottleneck to get in.  They would let a certain amount of people into the station then wait for the trains to clear them out before letting more in.  This was the story at one of the more minor stations.  At Taipei Main Station it was ridiculous with waits up to several hours I heard.  

(the view of Taipei 101 from behind Sun Yat-sen Memorial Hall a few minutes before midnight)

I made it out of the packed subway only to find myself in the biggest mass of people I've ever seen in my life.  I don't do well with crowds, so I tried to hang near the back, which meant I kept on getting pushed farther and farther away as more people streamed into the square surrounding Sun Yat-sen Memorial Hall.  This ended up more or less working in my favor since I eventually got pushed back far enough that I could see the Taipei 101 building over the massive memorial hall, and more importantly since I was in a position to actually get the heck out of there after the fireworks were over.  

The show itself only lasted about 2 minutes or so, but the fireworks were pretty incredible.  I got a video of them so you folks back home can enjoy a genuine Taiwanese new year sans the crowd.  Happy 2010!  After I high-tailed it home, I spent the rest of the evening talking with friends and family who were still back in 2009, haha.  

A few highlights to end on before this gets to be another novel of a blog post:

1)  I had the last day of one of my adult classes before we continue to the next level.  That meant party day!  My students all pooled their money together and brought a ton of Thai food to class for quite the feast.  They found out that I love Thai food, and they even snuck in some beer past the front desk so we could enjoy ourselves a little more for the holidays.  Needless to say, they are pretty much the best class ever.  

2)  I've found a really neat tea/coffee/snacks establishment a block away from my school where I've been spending my breaks between classes reading and drinking tea.  The staff there have taken to chit-chatting with me when they get the chance, and recently have started offering me the extra treats they have on display under the glass counter up front.  They're really friendly and welcoming and as a result my diet has expanded to include chocolate, cake, custard, and their take on Italian alfredo noodles.  

3)  Today I got to sub for a class of 5 and 6 year olds who were not only really cute, but surprisingly good at English too.  I had some really good conversations over crayons and Dr. Seuss before their nap time today.  I had the TA take a picture for the blog so I could share some of my working experience with you all too.  :)  

Thursday, December 17, 2009

郵件地址 - Mailing Address

So for everyone who's been asking about sending mail to Taiwan, here's my address:  

Devin Trezise
No. 9, Lane 90
Sung Chiang Road
Taipei, Taiwan 104

This is the address of the school where I usually teach and any letters or packages go straight to the secretaries' desks where I can pick them up.  Hope that helps!

那就是個很高的樓 - Now THAT'S a Tall Building

(standing at the bottom of one of the tallest buildings on Earth)

It's almost Christmas!  I'm everyone back home is getting ready for some quality time with friends and family, and for all you folks abroad like me, I hope you have an equally happy holiday season.  It's kind of odd here.  There are Christmas decorations up, and there are songs playing in all the stores, but it's still feels like late summer, although the nights have been falling into the upper 50s.  I have to admit, I do get a kick out of all the people here busting out their winter coats and from hearing everyone say, "It's so cold!" in Chinese to their friends as they walk outside.  Clearly they have never experienced anything even close to a Wisconsin winter.  :)  

It's actually been a pretty chill these past two weeks.  Some of my classes are wrapping up, so that means review days and finals for them.  Not a lot of work for me in class, but a ton of grading for me at home.  This has led me to set up a station on my desk in my apartment.  Grading things is actually kind of nice now.  I've got my laptop in front of me, so I can watch movies or listen to music, and today I went back to the tea company I talked about in my last entry to stock up on some more delicious tea and invest in a teapot, so now I've got a steady flow of hot Taiwanese tea ready at my side whenever I need to work through 20 or so papers, tests, or workbooks.  

Unfortunately, I'll be working on Christmas day for nearly 13 hours, but I guess it's extra money, and as a special treat, one of my adult classes surprised me with an invitation to a Karaoke bar this weekend as their Christmas gift to me.  Should be fun to relax a bit and sing a few Christmas songs with my students.  So far, both of my adult classes have been very fun and generous too, bringing me local snacks, chilled tea, and even some small presents (so far I've
 gotten a calendar and a fan).  The kids are pretty good too (for the most part, haha), and I can tell they're getting excited to perform their Christmas carols next week.  I'm going to try my best to bum a video off of another teacher with a better camera since mine doesn't record sound, but no promises.  
(above: a selection of teapots and cups at Lin Hua Tai Tea Co.)

(the statue of Sun Yat-sen inside the memorial building; please salute!)

Now to fill you guys in on my Adventure Thursdays.  Today's was pretty chill, just a visit to the post office to send my first mail home (fingers crossed it arrives safely), a trip to the tea store, and a meeting later on.  I did get a chance to try out a great restaurant and had a big plate of vegetarian curry, the perfect pick-me-up for a rainy day.  However, last week's Adventure Thursday was a different story.  

Last week, I visited the Sun Yat-sen Memorial Hall, which is basically a huge traditional building housing an equally impressive statue of Sun Yat-sen.  Another brief history lesson, Sun Yat-sen was instrumental in the overthrow of the Qing dynasty in 1911, the last remnant of imperial rule in China.  Afterward, he acted as the provisional president of the new republic, and is considered by many Taiwanese to be the "father of the nation."  Anyway, the memorial hall complex is a very nice place to go and relax, even if you're required to do a salute to the statue of Sun Yat-sen upon arrival.  :)  There are several gardens and a large pond surrounding the building itself, and from these, you can see the Taipei 101 building, one of the tallest structures in the world. 

(left: Sun Yat-sen Memorial Hall; below right: the Taipei 101 building can be seen from most places in the city)

I headed in the Taipei 101 building's general direction, not too hard to do since it towers over the rest of the city and you can see it from practically anywhere. As I got
 closer, I continued to be amazed by just how tall it actually is.  The tower is 101 stories tall and was designed to resemble a stalk of bamboo growing up out of the city.  It houses a large, very high-end mall on the bottom six floors with stores like Armani, Chanel, Dior, Gucci, and a ton of other brands I've never even heard of.  Needless to say, I did no shopping on my teacher's salary, haha.  Once you get past the stores, you can buy a ticket to ride the express elevator to the observatory decks on the top floors.  It's kind of a tourist trap, and there were a lot of gooney foreigners (probably myself included) who were willing to pay the $12 dollars to make the ascent, but I figured, when in Taipei...  :)  

(approaching the Taipei 101 buliding; it's... so... tall!)

Apparently the elevator is the fastest in the world, and I did experience some g-force factors making the rise and had to try to un-pop my ears a few times.  However, it only took about 20 seconds or so to climb nearly 100 stories.  Better than the stairs right?  Once I got to the top, I walked around the entire area, indoors and out.  The outdoor viewing area actually reminded me a lot of the walk around the top of the state capitol building in Madison, just add a few thousand feet, haha.  One down side of being that high up is that you can really see the smog that shrouds the city.  They say on a clear day you can see all the way to the ocean, but unfortunately I could barely see the mountains around the edge of the city.

  Overall, I'd say it was a cool experience being up that high, but I'd much rather have my feet safely on the ground.  I can imagine it must be one of the weirdest feelings to be on top during one of Taiwan's frequent small earthquakes, yikes!  

(the view from the indoor observation deck at the top of the Taipei 101 buliding)

Alright, that's all for this week.  I'm going to leave you all with a picture of a typical street in Taipei.  This one is right outside of the second school I teach at.  You can see there's not a lot of emphasis put on enforcing building and street airspace codes since the advertizements seem to try and top one another for jutting out above the road.  Happy holidays to everyone back home and overseas!  

Tuesday, December 8, 2009

趕上一下 - A Little Catch Up

So again, it's been a while.  I won't make any promises to keep on top of my blog better, because most likely I will not, but be sure to keep checking back once in a while for updates.  
(some of the smaller metal barrels of high mountain oolong tea at the Lin Hua Tai Tea Company)

1)  Lin Hua Tai Tea Company - This was a particularly fun
 excursion for me since I am pretty much a tea addict.  Turns out that one of my friends from high school cross country has been studying here for the last semester, but unfortunately he is leaving today.  However, we did manage to meet up one last time to obtain some high quality Taiwanese tea for him to bring back home with him.  There is certainly no lack of tea stores around here, but a lot of them have become very commercialized with high prices and fancy displays.  This is all fine and good if you're looking for a pretty picture, but I'm all about quality, so I asked some of the native Taipei residents at my school where the best place to buy tea was.  After a few mins on google maps, my friend and I were off to Lin Hua Tai Tea Company.  Essentially, it was the bare basics.  Huge metal barrels filled to the brim with different grades and different kinds of tea.  One thing that was notable was the smell of the place.  Never have I been to nor do I expect to visit again a factory so fragrant.  The people who worked there were very friendly and helpful, and we ended up buying a decent amount of tea leaves.  I'm definitely planning a return visit sometime in the near future.  

2)  National Palace Museum - If you all remember, I left my last Adventure Thursday up to a vote on the facebook between Longshan Temple and the National Palace Museum.  Well, luckily enough, I ended up going to both, just on different days.  I met up with a friend and headed to this famed museum in Taipei.  There's actually kind of an interesting controversy surrounding the treasures inside it's walls.  Quick East Asian History 101 course for those of you who aren't familiar.  :)  China's last emperor was dethroned at the beginning of the 1900s, 
after which the new republican government took over.  This regime persisted through the war with Japan several decades later but was finally driven out by the communist forces toward the middle of the century, at which point in time they fled to the island of Taiwan (Formosa).  However, the republican nationalist forces managed to round up many of China's finest cultural artifacts and bring them along to their new home.  Then, during the 60s, mainland China experienced what is called the Cultural Revolution, in which nearly everything old was wiped out in an effort to rid the country of any decadent influences and help it embrace the new communist utopia.  This meant that the majority of the treasures that had remained in China were destroyed.  Anyway, the big issue now is that China wants everything back from Taiwan, 
claiming that it belongs to the motherland.  This is true, but many people say that the objects were saved from the Cultural Revolution and wouldn't even exist if they hadn't been taken to Taiwan.  Regardless, it was amazing to see that many priceless things in one place.  The two most famous items on display are actually the smallest.  There is a cabbage made out of jade and a small rock that looks like a piece of meat.  These are treated like the Mona Lisa in the Louvre with people crowded around taking pictures and talking in amazement.  They were ok I guess...  :)

(top: the park nearest to my school; bottom: the entrance to Kojen English School 2 where I teach)

3)  Life at school - Some of you have been asking for updates about my classes.  For the most part, they're great!  We're entering the Christmas season here in Taipei, and the next few weeks will be devoted not only to teaching the normal English curriculum, but also to Christmas songs.  Most of the kids really have fun with this, and I'm currently teaching them Brenda Lee's "Jingle Bell Rock" and Bobby Helms' "I Saw Mommy Kissing Santa Claus."  I'm gonna try to have the TAs take some pictures of me with my classes so you all can see them.  I'm also starting to settle into life at Kojen, and I no longer have to spend as much time preparing for classes, which has left me with time to try out different places to eat in the area.  There's a killer vegetarian buffet just two blocks away that I'd never noticed before, so my diet has improved a lot.  I usually have tofu, squash, lima beans, steamed greens, peppers, dumplings, and curried potatoes all served on top of brown or white rice.  It even comes with a free side of soup, and all for about three or four
dollars.  Delicious!  I also spend a lot of my free time between classes walking around the parks in the area.  I've included two pictures of the parks by my school.  It's really relaxing, and I'm definitely enjoying the 70 degree weather (sorry to all you folks back home in snow-bound Wisconsin.)  

(Another park where I walk between classes)

(The Red House Theater at night, about a 10 minute walk from my place)

4)  Life at home - In addition to getting accustomed to my job and my students, I'm also starting to get used to my neighborhood.  While my place isn't perfect (all I'm gonna say is a story involving a rat rooting around in my trash at 2:30 am), it's the place where I call home, and will be for the next 10 months.  The area around it is pretty lively, with weekly religious parades and fireworks.  It's also located close to a place called the Red Theater, a building built by the Japanese in 1908 as a marketplace, and later converted into a theater for the arts.  Now, it plays host to Taipei's teenage crowd and the city's gay and lesbian population.  The area around it is studded with movie theaters, restaurants, bars, and trendy stores.  Basically, Ximending (the name of the area) is a place to come to have a good time, which is convenient since that's what I plan on doing here.  :)

Thursday, November 19, 2009

龍山寺和火鍋 - Dragon Mountain Temple and Hot Pot

Well, another Thursday, another adventure!  This week, I let you, the readers, decide what my next destination would be via my facebook status.  You voted, and I went to Longshan "Dragon Mountain" Temple.  Let me clear up one minor misleading point about the name:  there is no mountain in sight of the temple;  it's just a name.  However, it was still really cool.  I walked there from my place after a much needed morning of sleeping in.  The temple is surrounded by streets filled with shops selling jade pendants, red braided good luck charms, wooden animal carvings, and other traditional trinkets.  Opposite the main gate is a large plaza filled with snack vendors, the most popular of which, I'm sorry to say, were sellers of stinky tofu (this is actually what they call it, I'm not making it up).  This Taiwanese food is said to be delicious, but so far I've been too intimidated by the disgusting smell.  It's kind of like a combination of really smelly feet, rancid oil, and dog poop.  Why it smells so awful, I haven't a clue.  I have made it one of my goals to try it before I leave though, so rest assured, you will be getting the critique from me sometime in the near (or maybe not too near) future...

(the waterfall just inside the Longshan temple gates)

Anyway, I got to the temple, and was greeted with the smell of incense and the sound of falling water.  One of the coolest things about the temple was the waterfall to the right of it as you enter.  It's beautiful and it covers any observers in a fine mist which is cool and a relief if you've been walking for a while.  I continued into the
main part of the complex, and spent the next hour or so wandering around.  

(coy swimming in the pools underneath the waterfall)

It's not a big building by any means, but the intricate carvings, gold leaf, offerings of food and flowers, and beautiful calligraphy carved right into the stone held my attention for a long time.  Throughout my visit,hundreds of worshipers passed me carrying burning sticks of incense on their way around the central building.  It's set up so that there are seven distinct stops.  At each stop, 
there lies a huge urn carved with dragons where people can deposit a stick of incense.  The collective smoke from each of these vessels rises above the temple and provides a
 spiritual air about the entire area.  In front of each urn there is a statue of a traditional Chinese god.  If I'm right, Longshan temple's main focus of prayer is Kuanyin, the goddess of mercy, but there are six other gods that reside within the temple walls.  I was very tempted to buy some incense and make the rounds myself, but it seemed like there was a different protocol for each station, and in the interest of not being an offensive tourist, I offered up my silent well wishes to everyone back home instead.  

(left: the interior of Longshan temple; above right: the view of the temple from the street outside)

After leaving the temple, I spent some time browsing in the stores in the surrounding area.  Interesting stuff, but I'll probably have to wait until I have a little more money.  I didn't hang around too long though because I had a meeting with some of my adult class students.  What?  Work on an Adventure Thursday you say?!  Nope, my students were nice enough to invite me to a Taiwanese "hot pot" meal.  Basically, this involves a table with a heating element in the middle on which a large pot is placed, divided down the middle.  One side is spicy soup, the other mild.  The waitstaff bring a menu of different raw dishes you can order, then wheel them over on a cart.  You put the uncooked meats, veggies, and other goodies into one of the two sides of the pot and let them cook.  In a few minutes, you take them out, dip them in a delicious sauce, and you've got hot pot!  I've got to say, it was one of the most delicious meals I've had here so far, and the company was great too.  I really enjoyed getting to know my students outside of class, and they were all so friendly.  They even treated me, I didn't have to pay a cent!  Of course, I promised that if any of them had the chance to come over to America, I'd treat them to a killer dinner there too.  :)  

All in all, it was a pretty fun day, but now I've gotta hit the hay and get ready for two more days of back to back classes.  I'm subbing for one of my co-teachers next week, so unfortunately, this is going to be the last Adventure Thursday update for a while, but this weekend is showing promise, so keep your eyes open for that.  Keep the e-mails, facebook messages, and instant messages coming too!  I miss everyone and I promise to answer once I get the chance.  

(enjoying some genuine Taiwanese hot pot with some of my adult class students)

Monday, November 16, 2009

一些好笑的事 - Some Funny Things

So I just woke up around 11:30 here, and I've got about an hour-and-a-half before I make my trip into the immigration office to pick up some official documents for my stay, so I figured I'd write a more informal blog entry.  The beginning of the week is pretty low key for me and most of my classes are in the evening, so my sleep schedule gets kinda messed up.  If you're teaching until 10 PM and you don't get home until 10:45, you're gonna want to sleep late, guaranteed.  Unfortunately, this also contributes to the misery that is Friday and Saturday mornings when I have to change my sleep habits to wake up at 6:30 AM.  But enough about that.  On to the meat of this post!  

Amid the classes I'm teaching, the adventures I'm having, and generally my figuring out life in Taiwan, I've run across quite a few funny things that I wish I had someone else around to appreciate with me.  It's kind of embarrassing to randomly crack up on the crowded subway or while waiting at the intersection and have people look at you like, "what is this foreigner doing?"  

Most of these amusing thing have to do with the English translations for places and products.  They're usually great direct translations, not at all like the ones on mainland China which were incomprehensible, but they still could've used a native English speaker to go over them.  Some of the phrases are just plain hilarious.  Some of the things below are kind of, er, inappropriate, but that's why I got a kick out of them.  Can't say I didn't warn you!

1)  Racist Toothpaste:  This has more to do with the actual Chinese characters written on this particular brand of toothpaste.  There are two different kinds the company puts out, one reading "white people toothpaste" and one reading "black people toothpaste".  Not even kidding.  The "black people toothpaste" has a picture of one of those old timey minstrels with a blacked out face and a top hat.  The English translation of the stuff is now "Darlie" but I've been told that not too long ago it was called "Darkie" toothpaste until people (rightly) got pissed off and made the company change it.  Just wow...

2)  D-cup Café:  I very quaint corner cafe on my way home from work, complete with scones, croissants, and tea cups and saucers.  Had they only known what D-cup really means in English.

3)  Cock soup:  This is an instant chicken soup product.  You buy the bowl, add boiling water, and voila, you have chicken soup with noodles!  This is another case however where a quick proofing with a native speaker would've avoided this unfortunate product name.  

4)  Semen spa and massages:  In this case, the owners bypassed the English translation of the name in the first part in favor of the sound transliteration of the Chinese characters: "se" and "men".  This was no doubt in an effort to avoid any potential English puns.  Alas, how wrong they were...

Hopefully I'll run across a few more inappropriate/humorous signs, places, and products.  To be fair to the Taiwanese though, I have an equally funny/inappropriate story of my own.  I was talking to one of my adult classes and we were discussing what we like to eat.  I told them that I was a vegetarian and that Taiwan has a lot of great vegetable dishes.  "I like to eat tofu," I told the class, which proceeded to burst out laughing.  Apparently "eating tofu" in Chinese has the slang meaning of "performing oral sex on women".  So in the end, I end up looking just as silly when the language barrier is involved.  Fortunately enough, I wasn't in charge of a company mass producing a million products with the quote "I like to eat tofu" written in Chinese characters.  :)

Thursday, November 12, 2009

在台灣下雨的一天 - A Rainy Day In Taiwan

(a view of Taipei at dusk from Maokong in the surrounding mountains)

Hello everyone back home!  It's been a while since my last entry, and I've got a lot to fill you all in on.  

First and foremost, now that my schedule is getting more concrete and I've got regular classes I'm teaching (not just subbing for), I find that I have a free day in the middle of the week, so I'm introducing "Adventure Thursdays" to the blog.  The basic concept is that every Thursday, I'm going to try to do one excursion to a must see site in Taipei or the surrounding area.  I've already had two Adventure Thursdays, so I'll start from last week's.  

If any of you know me well, you won't be surprised at my first choice: the teahouses of Maokong.  Maokong is a mountain town overlooking Taipei City (the view is the first picture at the top of the blog).  Two of the area's specialties are their "high mountain" oolong tea (高山烏龍) and their love of cooking tea right into any food.  I took the bus up the mountain, through bamboo groves and past tea plantations, and got off about half way up at the Maokong stop.  I guess I had been expecting an actual town, but it's more just a bunch of buldings (mainly teahouses and restaurants) scattered around the sides of the mountains.  I started hiking down the road to a promising looking teahouse built with no walls, just a roof over two stories open to the air and red wooden pillars propping up the structure on the steep slope.  It looked a little rustic, but it'd been a long trip and I was in the mood for some hardcore relaxation.  The folks there promptly seated me at a table overlooking the valley and Taipei City and handed me a menu of tea and tea dishes.  Each table came with it's own gas burner in the middle and a sturdy kettle filled with water.  Basically, you order which tea you want and any accompanying food, they turn on the burner, and bring out a bunch of tea supplies (teapot, cups, utensils, a tray to catch any spilled water).  I ordered the high mountain oolong and tea fried rice with potatoes.  I took a picture of the setup and it's posted here at the side.  

(from top to bottom:  a temple on the walk to the teahouse;  my meal and tea;  the teahouse at night with glowing lanterns and a view of the city lights)

After the water boiled and I had a cup of hot tea in one hand and chopsticks in the other, I sat back and took in the mountain atmosphere.  I'm not really a city boy, and any time in the 
outdoors when you're surrounded by trees and a fresh cool breeze is a treat when those things are usually substituted for scooter exhaust and concrete.  I spent a few hours up there just thinking and drinking tea, then took the bus back down the mountain. As I descended, I noticed a network of lantern lit trails crisscrossing the mountain and valley.  Apparently the area is also famous for it's scenic hiking trails and relaxing pavilions, so I'll have to take a trip there again so experience that side of Maokong.  

The week since has been filled with the daily grind of classes, including a particularly tiring one from 7:00-9:50 PM every Friday.  Most of the class is in high school, and they've been up since probably 6:00 AM and at school all day, so I can understand why they don't want to be in an English review course late at night right before their weekend.  For the most part, they're unmotivated and only talkative with each other in Chinese.  Like I said, I can sympathize with them, especially since a lot of them are only there because their parents think it's a good idea, but Fridays are pretty much the same story for me with 13 hours of work and early classes to teach the next day, and my patience is wearing thin, especially when they don't bother to do their homework.  It's kind of disappointing, but I'm hoping that I can work up the energy a little bit in the next few weeks seeing as I just got this class from another teacher.  

On a more positive note though, my younger classes are going well, and I'm getting more settled into the routine of their course books and trying to balance them with games and activities of my own.  A new development in my schedule is that I now have two adult classes three times a week.  I've found them to be a ton of fun because a) the adults are there because they want to be, not because someone is making them, b) they're really curious about western culture, and c) I don't have to spend half of the class trying to get them to behave (a lot of my time with the kids' classes goes out the window trying to make them stay in their seats during a quiz, not hit each other, and use their inside voices when it's not break, haha).  

(The entrance to the Taipei Botanical Gardens.  I've always wanted to live somewhere with palm trees!)

Well, enough about work for now.  Today was my second Adventure Thursday, and I chose to explore the Taipei Botanical Gardens and the neighboring museum of art history.  Again, the gardens were a nice break from the city life.  They're pretty big, and since Taiwan is on the border between the tropical and sub-tropical climate zones, they're filled with all sorts of cool trees, grasses, and flowers.  My favorites were the avenue of towering palm trees at the gate, the bamboo garden, and the lotus pond (even though they're starting to die now that it's almost winter here).  Best of all, it's only a 15 minute trip from my place so I can go there whenever I need to chill out for a while.  

(from top to bottom:  part of the botanical gardens; a kingfisher (maybe?) hunting for some lunch in the lotus pond;  the art history museum overlooking the now fading lotus pond)

The art history museum borders the botanical gardens, and unfortunately three of the four floors were closed for renovations, but on the bright side, they said I could use my ticket again next time once the renovations are done for no extra charge.  :)  The third floor was the only part that was open, and it would've been the one I would've headed to right off the bat anyway.
They had a huge collection of Chinese artifacts, some dating back to 9,000 years ago.  I got tosee ancient oracle bones, Tibetan paintings, classical calligraphy, jade carvings, huge bronze ceremonial castings, and ceramics and pottery in every shape, color, and form.  It was a fascinating visit and they had English translations of all the Chinese notes and explanations so I was able to follow along very easily.  

(another beautiful bird fishing in front of the museum)
Now I'm back home listening to the rain on my balcony and admiring the sheets I finally found for my bed (never have I been so excited to have a sheet over my mattress, haha).  If I'm in the mood, I might extend my adventures tonight and go see "Julie and Julia" at a movie theater around the corner.  :)  This was a big entry just because so much happened.  I had to gloss over a lot of the details of my work, but I'm going to try to keep on top of my entries better from now on so I can actually fill you guys in on the little stories that happen.  Hope to hear from everyone back home!  Every e-mail and facebook message I get makes me really happy.  Miss you all!