Yesterday was really about two things: ICLP testing and language partners.
ICLP placement testing was like a karate chop to the kidneys. I thought the oral part went well, though they were definitely tailoring their questions to my level to some extent, but the written test was absolutely humiliating. I realize that it's meant to place people into multiple levels, which range from mine (beginner/intermediate) to several levels higher. That being said, I've never left 3/4 of the answers blank on a test before. I think I could have done slightly better on the reading comprehension had I studied (there were a handful of characters that I know we learned but whose meaning I forgot), but I don't know that it would have made a significant difference.
My language partners were great, though! Raphael set me up for an apartment search for apartments on a Mandarin web site (gotta use some crazy new vocab. excellent.), and took me to eat Guabao, these hot pockets of dough stuffed with meat, some sort of vegetable, and sugar/cinnamon/all things delicious. Then I met Jerry for the first time; he's 24(?) and a grad student in industrial engineering in Taipei, and he speaks significantly faster and with a stronger accent than Raphael. Which I suppose could be good for me in the long run, but right now it's a bit frustrating.
Oh! And... drum roll please... my phone FINALLY WORKS! (I know because I got a spam text message today.) The woman at the near cell phone store has been really good-natured and patient with me, but also fairly inept: I had to come back the first time because she copied my visa instead of my passport, and the second because she finally found the company policy that says I have to be 20. So by the time I returned for the third time, I had my new friend Ma Ye with me, who is over 20 and was able to buy back the very same SIM card for me with his ID.
A bunch of us then went to the bar - Beavis (a guy who works at the hostel), Ma Ye (Beavis's friend; also, see above), Maxim (a 30-year-old freelance journalist from Montreal), Melanie (a German who's lived in Taiwan about a year, also 30). It was rather smoky but I had a great time; I think bars are much more my scene than clubs. I talked with Maxim a lot. He told me that he doesn't see any shortage of work for freelancers in the future, and that his earnings every month are actually pretty steady, and he has more freedom to cover what he wants than a salaried reporter might get. There are also drawbacks to freelancing, though: he can't cover anything higher up in the food chain than local politics (you tend to need credentials from a good paper, the right connections, and a home base in the capital, he says), and sadly he also can't do much serious investigative journalism, because it takes a long time and if it doesn't pan out then you're not earning anything at all for those weeks you've spent on it. Some more of Beavis's friends came by and we had a great time, just talking in Chinglish and all.
And that, 朋友們, was my day.