Once again it is time for a long-winded and overdue update. I hope you have the patience to read through it…
We just had a very strong, albeit brief, thunderstorm. I stayed dry in the computer lab, but it really poured for about 30 minutes. It really reminded me of the summer storms we have in Missouri, so it was nice to have a bit of home right here in Taiwan.
Last Thursday my “Cross-Straits Relations and Asia-Pacific Security” class officially began. The room was packed with international students, many more than they were apparently expecting. We gave brief introductions, and though this is a pretty diverse group, about half of the students are French students majoring in management. Many of them seem to be taking the class because it sounds interesting, but I don’t think they will be returning this week. We still have another week before we have to finalize our schedules for the semester, so a lot of these students still have time to choose another class. I think many of them had a hard time understanding the professor because it was a large classroom and he has a bit of an accent. I feel very lucky to be a native English speaker with a lot of experience dealing with accented English, because I understood pretty much everything we talked about.
Our professor, Dr. Lin, is the Vice President of the Taiwan Foundation for Democracy, a think tank based in Taipei. He got his Ph.D. in the U.S. and seems to be really well-connected. I got to talk with him one-on-one outside of class later that day. He filled me in on some interesting aspects of Taiwan’s foreign policy decision-making process, something I found quite interesting. I am thinking of writing my research paper in his class about Taiwan-Japan relations. Dr. Lin offered to help me set up interviews with current and former Taiwanese government officials to interview as part of my research. This is another great opportunity to build my network of contacts that really got off to a good start this summer in Japan.
On Friday I had to get up early to ride the bus to a “resort” out by Cheng-ching Lake on the outskirts of Kaohsiung. We had a two-day event sponsored by the Political Science Department to welcome new graduate students. We spent most of our time in an over-air conditioned room (yes, too cold even for me) playing children’s games. It was pretty bizarre, and being the only foreigner there, I didn’t have much of a grasp of what was going on most of the time. Some of the students translated for me every once in a while, but I kind of lost interest during many of the games. The most frustrating times were the ones when everyone laughed. Of course I wanted to know what was so funny, but the punch line was always lost on me. Humor is probably the most difficult thing to translate, and the Chinese (like the Japanese) seem to use a lot of puns and other word-play type jokes that cannot be accurately translated. It doesn’t matter how funny a joke is, if someone has to explain it to you, you will not think it is very funny.
On the upside, we had a barbeque on Friday night and I got to play paintball on Saturday. I also met some really cool students, including a few police officers who are apparently taking classes here. Two of them are Taiwanese SWAT team officers who work as mounted police on the weekends. They were really friendly and one of them gave me his card, telling me if I ever had any trouble in Taiwan I should call him and he will help me out. Now I am not planning on doing anything that would get me in trouble with the law while I am here, but you never know when the Taiwanese might get the idea in their head that I look like a terrorist. Hey, it happened in Japan, why not here?
The barbecue was really good. We had all kinds of pork, chicken, beef, and fish on the grill. I ate a little too much (big surprise, right?), but slept like a log. We stayed in a big room with about 20 mats to sleep on. It was really nice, and I was going to get a picture of the room in the morning, but I was rushed out the door to breakfast, so in my haste I forgot. I managed to find the one English station on the TV (CNN) and watched reports on Hurricane Rita as it approached the Texas/Louisiana coast. Thank God it wound up losing strength so quickly; it really seemed ominous on the approach.
Paintball was fun, but I think I was a little too gung-ho. We only had 30 bullets and I ran out about halfway through the second game. I didn’t get shot, but since I was hiding behind and oil drum and peeping out to shoot at about 10 different people, I am not sure if I got anyone or not. I think I got at least one guy, but it was kind of hard to tell.
It was nice to get back home and shower and sit in the AC for a while. We had pretty mild weather on Friday, but Saturday was as hot as any day we have had so far. I went to the beach for a little while in the afternoon, but we couldn’t swim, so I went home shortly afterwards. We went out for pizza on Saturday night, which was really good. It’s been so long since I had a good pizza, and I was starting to get a little tired of Chinese food all the time. Some of the food here is amazing, but some of it is not very good at all. Trying something new is always a crap shoot, and after a few days of having some really good and some not-so-good dinners, I was ready for a safe bet. It’s hard to go wrong with a really good pizza…
In other news, about 10 of us (8 international students and 2 Taiwanese) are taking a road trip to Kenting National Park this weekend. It should be a blast!!! Check out their website with this link and see for yourself. We are going to rent a couple of cars and drive there because there is no public transportation once you enter the park and it is supposed to be pretty large. There are beaches, waterfalls, mountains, hot and cold springs, and many other features that we are all dying to see. Hopefully the weather will agree with our travel plans. I will be sure to load plenty of pictures on flickr!
I also got a package from Maiko today. She got me a 240-page guide to the Simpsons. What can I say? Does this girl know me or what? Thanks babe!
My mom has also managed to swing us three free nights at a four and a half/five star hotel in Rome on her hotel points! Wow!!! I can’t use enough exclamation points for this one!!! Thanks mom!!!
That’s all for now. Since I’ll be gone this weekend, it’s just going to be study, study, study until Friday. Well, mostly studying…