The first day:
It isn't over yet, but I figure I'll want to crash as soon as I come back from the night market later tonight, so here are the Cliff's Notes:
- Bus ride to Taipei; brief cab ride to TaiDa (National Taiwan University). I discover that the accent of common folk is even more different - and hard to understand - than I expected. Far too many consonants just sound like "S"s, and when people are speaking quickly, especially the less educated, forget it. This is definitely going to take some adjustment.
- ICLP is closed. Because it's Sunday, Ethan. Way to go. I speak in Chinese with an assistant professor anyway, and am not too thrilled with my performance.
- Wandering: I walk around with all my stuff for about four hours, looking to check out four hostels but only finding one open. Not impressed, but it'll do, until...
- I find the perfect hostel: After finding a restaurant in my price range (about $2.5) and asking the person at the next table to choose something good for me, a fellow waiguoren (foreigner), Loslo, stops by and comments on the hostel map on the table next to me. Turns out he's a really nice guy, and one of the workers at a hostel I had been unable to check out. After talking to him some more and seeing the hostel (8 Elephants) for myself, I'd recommend it to anyone: great price ($16/night for a bunkbed in a dorm room, $7 for a spot on the couch), all the facilities I could possibly need (though the washing machine is coin-operated), close enough to TaiDa by metro or long walk, fantastic atmosphere, fantastic people. I've tentatively booked an alternating room/couch combo for a week here while I look for an apartment, and I'm sure I won't regret it. I'm glad I'm limiting myself to a week, though: however great the people are here, it's still a community of foreigners, and as such we all speak English to each other. Still, when we're both around I'm going to try to speak Chinese (and some French!) with one of the girls who works here - Yizhi, a super-nice university student with a definite gift for languages.
- More wandering: I accidently find a full-fledged, two-alleyway market. And one family was speaking Spanish! Definitely going back when I have a better idea of how much things should cost here.
- Throughout: Near death. Roads range in width from several lanes to aptly-named "alleys," and if a vehicle fits, someone will drive it through. Traffic direction is either not indicated or ignored; a "walk" signal on a crosswalk doesn't mean that traffic won't make turns across it (both directions); and if you stop or move to one side suddenly you're liable to be mown down by a bike or scooter.
- Masks: worn by about 1 in 10 Asians on the plane, and by all airport officials at Taoyuan. Also popular (1 in 15 or 1 in 20, I'd say) in Taipei - but Laslo, who's lived here for about 2.5 years now, says that a good portion of these people wore masks before for air quality reasons. That fits with my observation that masks are much more prevalent among scooter riders.
- In other news: The legendary kindness of the Taiwanese manifests itself. A taxi cab driver tells me just to pay him NT100 for an NT105 ride (one doesn't tip here, either). A man sees that I'm looking at a map and tries to give me directions using a mix of English and Chinese. A girl on a scooter sees me doing more map-reading and actually takes my map, looks for the place, asks some locals, and leads me right to the door.
- Still needed: 1. A hat! I'll know tomorrow whether/how much I'm sunburned 2. A camera! Parts of Taiwan can look like, say, New York, but nothing less than photos will do the back alleys justice. 3. A SIM card for my phone! The latter is proving ridiculously elusive: at one store I needed my passport AND a Taiwan ID, and at another I showed two American IDs and was then denied because I'm not yet 20. Loslo said he'd get me one; hopefully that happens soon, because a phone is proving to be the key to meeting up with language exchange partners and looking at apartments.
I also need to blog less. I'll try to get on that. Big day, though.