It’s Supposed To Be Fun! and Lingo Interactive

A friend of mine today was telling me about his summer learning project.  He was in Guatemala, learning Kaqchikelone of the dozens of indigenous languages spoken by the Maya.  He’s been at it for a couple of years, and he said this summer he felt a breakthrough.  Of course, ever since he started, he’s been fighting off some pretty unimaginative people who say “Kaqchikel, WHAT are you going to do with THAT?!”  

The answer to that question is always, “I’m gonna talk to some people in that language, dummy.”  I think some people think that there has to be some kind of million dollar business opportunity at the end of it, otherwise it’s not worth the effort.  

Anyway, my friend went on to say that he told himself that it was about the journey, and that he made a decision to enjoy it. So he enjoyed Guatemala, he enjoyed his teachers, He enjoyed the process.  

This is the Way of the Language Learning Jedi.  The satisfaction and gratification don’t come at the end of some long road of suffering and toil  If it’s not fun along the way, you’re doing it wrong. It’s supposed to be fun.  

I’ve been doing language learning for 25 years now, and I hope people don’t think it’s because I have some kind of special talent, or I have some kind of amazing memory, or I somehow enjoy suffering.  None of those things are true.  I’m a serial language learner because I find the process rewarding.  I’m a serial language learner because it’s fun to do. I get to travel and meet people, try new foods and do new things.  Sure, crappy people can be a drag sometimes, but that happens if whether you learn language or not… why not just learn language.  

Sometimes it’s little fun.  Sometimes that “fun” is that tiny spark of self-satisfaction when you remember a vocab word in the wild, or when you meet cool native speakers who are happy to talk to you, and treat you like a person.  Sometimes that “fun” means soaring above the mountain canopy in a sky lift to a tea house, where you drink tea and over eat for hours.  Some times that “fun” means drinking a little bit of beer and then nominating your friends to kiss at a loud, screamingly funny Japanese-themed restaurant so that your table can get free pork.  Sometimes it’s big fun. 

Anyway, I’m glad for my friend, and I love to hear success stories from people that get it.  


Speaking of loving to hear success stories from people that get it, my friend Frank’s kickstarter campaign for Lingo Interactive dropped earlier today, and I hope he gets funded!  I met Frank seven years ago in Shanghai, and we’ve been good friends ever since.  For as long as I’ve known him, Frank has been passionate about language learning media, and wanting to get it right.  He’s got a few demos made over at the website Lingo Interactive, and they are sharp.  I’m excited to see this project take off, so please support the fundraising effort to get it off the ground!  

#IceBucketChallenge: Behind the Shivers

So the famous ALS #IceBucketChallenge has been a mid-August fad this summer. The fad came and crested, and I was quite relieved that it seemed to be fading away, without my having participated.

And then Senyo tagged me, on the second to the last day of summer break. Guh!

I’ve challenged podcaster and educator Mark Pentleton of Radio Lingua, storm chasing photographer James Reynolds of Earth Uncut TV, and author Markus Zusak.  

I’ll admit I felt a little bold challenging these guys, and if they’re anything like me they’re cursing their challenger right now. Also, a few weeks ago I was pretty convinced that the #IceBucketChallenge was some slacktivism,  Plus, it’s been getting some bad press lately:

But then there’s the good press; a NYT article today said that they’ve raised $41 million; that’s nothing to sneeze at… That’s gotta be the opposite of slacktivism.  

For more info and to donate, please link below….

So why did it take two takes?  I set up my phone to record the video, I did it… and then when I went to press “stop record” it told me I didn’t have sufficient memory.  Heartbreak.  So I changed my shirt and did it again.  Advice to anyone who’s doing it:  take the water straight to your forehead.  I used a lot of ice and did it twice, but it wasn’t that bad.  

UPDATE:  btw, this video represents a personal achievement, as it is my first time working with iMovie for iPad.  Wasn’t that bad!  

What’s In My Carry-On? 2014

“What’s in your carry-on, JP,” asked absolutely nobody.

Well, let me tell you.

Starting at the top left: kindle, because it’s easy on the eyes and has good battery life. US Passport. iPad mini. Sunka (weekly pill organizer… mine broke in my first week in Taipei, so I bought that rainbow number at Daiso. Empty water bottle, which I fill up later at the soda fountain after security. Yellow plastic folding iPad stand.

Bottom left: toothbrush, crumb brush, headphones, iPad charger, floss picks, and Dr. King cigarette holder (which is full of business cards).

Actual Conversation at a Cafe in Seattle

What can I get you?

I’ll have a short iced americano, please.  Also some whole beans.  (turning over several bags of whole beans to check roast dates…)  Whoa!  July 3rd?!

Whoa!  That can’t be right…

(handing the bag to the BARISTA) Maybe the sticker’s wrong?

Maybe.  Do you want to just take it?  You can have it for free (holds out bag to offer it to ME).

(looking at BARISTA) …

(looking at ME) 

(looking at BARISTA) …  No thank you.

End scene.  

It’s Not Writer’s Block

So I haven’t done a journal blog in a week, and I haven’t done a language learning blog in weeks and weeks.

Now that I’m back in Seattle the journal blogs are going to happen less, but I do have a bunch of language learning posts in the pipeline. I have a few that I started writing a few weeks ago, but I didn’t like the direction they were going. Too negative. It was a turn off. So those posts are on hold until I can find a positive voice.

As for my exciting daily adventures… let’s face it; staycation adventures are a bore. I don’t have anything to report except for online shopping and irregular sleep patterns. My goal when I woke up this morning was to buy a milder shampoo, that didn’t dry out my skin.

(I spent all of July in Taipei, where sweat my face off several times a day, used a random shampoo that I bought at the drugstore there, and took up to four showers a day just to cope with the heat. Now I’m back in Seattle, not sweating, down to one shower a day, and my scalp and face are all dry and I blame America).

So what have I been up to in the week that I’ve been back in Seattle? Well, I’ve been reading from my growing collection of Chinese short stories on PDF, trying to get all my quizzes for next year written, drinking oolong tea from my new yixing teapot…

Probably the most interesting thing that I’ve been doing, the thing that’s most affecting my social life, is my current plan to readjust to Pacific Standard Time. I’m currently following a program that’s called “Take Two Weeks Off,” also known as COMPLETE UNCONDITIONAL SURRENDER TO THE CRUEL WHIMSEY OF JETLAG. I know it’s bad but it feels so, so right.

I wake up around 7 am every day, feeling bright and refreshed. I eat a big breakfast, go out for coffee, and then a late lunch, usually something light. By 6 pm I’m exhausted and I’m sawing logs by 7 pm. Then, in the middle of the night, I wake up and make myself dinner. At first, I was waking up at 12 am, but last night I didn’t get up until 3:30 am, so that’s progress. At about 5pm, I shut off my computer and go back to bed, and then wake up at 7 am again the next day, feeling bright and refreshed.

The one area of jetlag resistance that I’m maintaining is sunshine: a) I walk in the sunshine every day, and b) I don’t close the drapes to darken my room when I go to bed way before sundown. Please congratulate me.

I report back to work in seven days from tomorrow. Hopefully tomorrow I’ll write a language learning post that’s not filled with hatred and bitterness. Light and life, people; that’s what we’re after… light and life.

Taipei 2014: Post-game Wrap Up

So I’m back in Seattle now and enjoying the crazy roller-coaster of jetlag.  I’ve got a couple of weeks until I have to be in to work, but plenty of planning and stuff to do before that starts up again.  I’ve had a couple of days to think about my time in Taipei; here are my thoughts.

I had a good experience with Taipei Mandarin Institute (TMI). I got a super convenient room with a private shower, and the kind of lessons I wanted for the price of USD $400 per week.

When I showed up, I made it clear that I didn’t want to be spending any time reading any boring ass insulting useless bullshit dialogs and readings that I’m accustomed to. So my classes were mostly conversation: me talking my face off for hours at a time.  My teachers didn’t expose me to any new grammar, instead they gave me room to practice the grammar I had already been “shown.”

Here’s the deal; a lot of programs show you a bunch of stuff; they say “Look, here’s 了, here’s 才,here’s 把 and 被”… and then they brush the dust off their hands, pat themselves on the back and say that they have taught it to you. They conflate showing with teaching, and when the student doesn’t master it by the Friday quiz, everybody blames the student.  It’s like showing someone how to drive but then not letting them get behind the wheel; or showing someone how to dribble a basketball without letting them actually dribble a basketball.

In my one-on-one conversation classes, they put me behind the wheel; they handed me the ball and let me dribble it.  The teachers and the curriculum were not pushing me into new territory.  I had plenty to say, and the need to communicate made me stumble onto important new grammatical territory myself. My biggest area of growth was in my ability to discuss movies, which is something I did both during and outside of class.

As for reading, I didn’t do a lot of it.  However, my teacher sent me the link to a bunch of stories and fables on PDF, which I’m now reading voraciously.  The link is a little 複雜 hard to navigate, so I’ll post them here as I download them.  The thing about reading them on PDF is that I can zoom in on the characters and see them… my eyes are getting old.

As for my speaking, my Chinese is a lot tighter now.  I think I’m now capable of being interesting to hang out with in Chinese.  I can be charming in Chinese and not have to rely on my good looks or money to keep people’s interest.  I think.  My tones are tighter, my sentences are tighter, and I’m using a lot more vocabulary.

Finally I have to say something about Taiwan.  That country is safe, clean, modern, convenient, friendly, and inexpensive. The food is good, it’s easy to make friends, there’s plenty to do, and plenty to talk about.  I saw a lot of Mandarin learners making some counterproductive learning choices (like over-studying, or defaulting to English), but Taiwan is still a really good place to be.  On “Conducive to Language Learning,” Taiwan scores a 9/10, right below Italy.

If you have questions about my stay in Taiwan, just ask.  Remind me to blog about:  Immersion by Relationship, Overstudying, Default to Target.

Taipei 2014 Day 29: Last Day

Last night I went to dinner alone, since a lot of my friends have already skipped town. I felt lazy so I stayed in the area, and went to the 蛋包飯 joint around the corner. It was easily the worst meal I’ve had in Taipei. All it was was a plan omelet over rice, and then covered it ketchup gravy, accompanied by a shake & bake pork chop. I have to say, that was worse than Joe’s Time

This morning I got up and called Eva Air to see if I was still on the “Waiting List” for a mileage upgrade to Elite Class. I’m on the waiting list because they’re still waiting to see if someone will pay money for that seat. If not, they’ll let me have it. So it could go down to the last second. I hope I get it!

I had plans to meet Taiwan A 🐟 at 1pm, so at 9:30 I went and had breakfast. All the breakfast counters were closed; the owner guy warned me yesterday 《明天休息!》so I said goodbye and thanked him for all the breakfasts. This morning I ended up at Benny’s, ordered the weird brunch, and said goodbye to Shy Kid, who told me to come back soon and find him. I didn’t say goodbye to any of the rest of the gang there, but I still may go back later.

Then I came home and packed my bags. Everything fits.

After that I met Taiwan A 🐟 for dim sum, and we ate our faces off. I gifted her my receipts (there’s a national drawing at the end of the month) and some coupons and loyalty cards I had started, and a bag of Oberto’s Natural Style Beef Jerky, which I had brought for the plane ride over.

When lunch was over, I took the train to Guting and walked the rest of the way. I have a couple hours to kill before dinner, and then there’s still plenty of time to get to the bus station, then to the airport, and then get on my flight. It’s about seven and a half hours until I’m wheels up.

This is probably my last post from Taiwan. I think I had an even better time this time around than last time, and I’m grateful for all the new friends I’ve made and for all the old friends I was able to reconnect with. I didn’t get around to seeing everyone, which is a little disappointing, but I’ll catch them the next time around.

Next summer? Maybe come back, live in a different city. Or maybe go to the Philippines or Brazil. I could stand a summer in France or Italy for a refresher. I’ve still never been to South America. We shall see… Until then, thank you Taiwan!

Taipei 2014 Day 28


Talked my face off in class for four hours.

Went to lunch with Pashan T to the ESL-themed restaurant called “Joe’s Time.” Which was weird. I had red Thai curry chicken and rice; Pashan T had Police Tempura (fried dough) and fried cheesy tater-tot wedges. And tall iced teas.

My one sweet for the day was the 全家 Family Mart 霜淇淋 soft-serve flavor of the month: 水蜜桃!THE HONEY PEACH!

I chilled out for most of the afternoon, and then went to dinner with Pashan T, who wanted to check out places across 和平路 Heping Road… a domain I haven’t explored this time, but somehow I have vague memories of going there two years ago…

Long story short: I stumbled upon the 2nd floor restaurant that Skritter Jake had taken me to in 2012, the time when I 請’ed him so hard he saw stars. We shared a table with an older couple, who ignored us except to stop me from confusing the soy sauce from the vinegar. We got cold cucumbers, tofu disguised as tripe sausage, kangkong, and two baskets of 湯包 soup dumplings. Each basket came with a screaming hot bowl of broth, which I was trying avoid but what are you gonna do.

After that I said goodbye to Pashan T (he’s over the Pacific now, on his way back to the states). Then I did a quick wardrobe change and met the gang at Revolver. Here’s who was there: Polish P, Swiss German S, French E, Polish D, Irish D, Taiwan T, Swiss French T, and everybody’s favorite, German G. Taipei A showed up later, and it started getting loud, so me and Taipei A bugged out and went to Something Ales for a quiet beer and a long and involved conversation about Mexico.

Today is my last full day in Taipei. I’ve got one more sleep and then tomorrow I’m wheels up. A lot of my friends have left and moved on; and a new crew has come to replace us at the Taiwan Mandarin Institute. I’ve achieved a lot of my Taiwan goals, but there were some things I didn’t get to… some people I wasn’t able to reconnect with… and some mandates of Aussie L’s that I didn’t get around to violating. I’ll have to find my way back somehow.

At this point it’s final goodbyes, last minute shopping, and sentimental meals. Like that grilled mackerel that I just ate just now, dang…

UPDATE: OK, so my plan this morning was to buy some tea to take back with me, as if I were going to integrate the Taiwanese tea ceremony into my life in Seattle; guh. Taiwan Amy 🐟 sent me to the train station, where there are many tea shops in the underground mall.

Here’s the deal; when they dug into the street to build the Taipei Metro, they also built “metro malls,” which are like shopping malls the length of the entire boulevard. I mean, you might as well build the underground mall, since you’re digging anyway.

When I got to the train station, I realized there wasn’t a single metro mall attached to the train station, but four. Four gigantic malls. The ones under the boulevards turned out to be luggage and underwear malls; but the QMall turned out to be exactly the shopping hell I was looking for. I looked around for gifts (wind-up toys? crazy socks?) and after a while I decided to bolt so I could go home and cry.

I pulled myself together enough to get that mackerel I was talking about, and then on the walk back, I wandered into the tea shop that I had not dared to enter. The Taiwanese tea ceremony is pretty complicated. Today, I entered.

I told the lady I wanted to buy a teapot and pourer thingy for four; I could buy the rest of the kit in America. She picked out some pots to show me, and I picked a purplish brown number. Then she asked me about tea, and I couldn’t tell her what I wanted, except for that I wanted oolong (because Taiwan Amy 🐟 told me I did). She showed me a photo of four shades of tea, and when I said “number 2″ she said I was picking out all the educated choices for a dude that just wandered in off the street.

So there are a lot of steps I have to take to get this clay teapot humming; I have to soak the whole thing in water over night with a pinch of tea inside, throw it out, do it again; wipe the outside; clean but never wash the inside. Over all, only use oolong tea in the pot. There are a lot of rules.

Taipei 2014 Day 27

Yesterday? Seems like a long time ago.

I have been waiting for, like, 50 years for Guardians of the Galaxy to come out, 我很期待看那一部電影。 So excited. So finally yesterday arrived, and I was all LET’S GO LET’S GO LET’S GO! Other people were like “wait whut? wait, who else is going? wait, can we go at night?” When all that drama was finally sorted out and we were fully committed, the questions became, “wait, whut is this movie even about? wait, who’s in it? wait, is this movie even good?”

Of course, that quickly became “If this movie is bad, we are holding you personally responsible, JP.” And I was like “wait, who are these people, why are they here, when did I become responsible for their entertainment?”

Anyway, I was so excited about the movie that I literally wet my pants literally a hundred times, and my eyeballs literally exploded out my face until I died to death.

Fast forward.

After the movie was over, my three friends were fully squee-ing with delight; squee all over themselves and on the walls and floor. They turned to ask me how I liked it and I was like, yah, 還OK吧. It was alright. Just alright.

For me, seeing Zoe Saldana is enough to make a movie worth seeing, despite her alien skin color. I was excited about seeing Chris Pratt, since he was a chubby, funny guy who got all ripped and became a movie star; I told my teachers that was the American Dream. But I don’t think the movie gave his character enough room to be charming and likeable. The best scene in the movie was when the fox was pushed too far.

Anyway, after that we met up with Pashan T and his friend 謝 and went to get yakitori, which is definitely called 日式燒烤 here, and not “yakitori.”

There were several strange things about this yakitori restaurant.

First of all, on the menu they listed family-style orders priced for four people, five people, four people, and seven people. What were we supposed to do, since there were six of us? The waiter came, and we were like now what?

Of course, the Taiwanese people didn’t know what we were talking about. As far as they were concerned, there were family-style orders for four, five, six, and seven people. But when we English speakers looked again, we failed to see where it said “six.”

The issue was, it was printed in huge Chinese characters, and then below it were bold English translations. The people who are used to reading English–all of us–completely disregarded the Chinese characters; our eyes when straight to the English, where it said “four.” The Taiwanese people, including the staff that works there, completely disregarded the English and looked only at the Chinese characters, which said 六 “six.” They tried another menu, but they all were copies with the same mistake. Who knows how long they had been using those confusing menus.

The point of the story is: if you put an English translation anywhere near the character it corresponds to, the character will be COMPLETELY DISREGARDED. Our eyes don’t even go there. And same with the Taiwanese people; they totally disregarded the English. This is just a fun trivia fact for everyone… unless you’re trying to learn Chinese, then it’s a daily disaster. Latin alphabet annotations (whether English or pinyin) are BAD BAD BAD; get them away from the characters if you want people to have a chance at becoming literate.

The second weird thing about that restaurant was their 8點乾杯; if your glass is empty at 8pm, they will replace your drink for free. So we all ordered drinks and then 8 o’clock rolled around and we all lifted our glasses to finish them… but then the staff came around and said no no no. It turns out they first have to do arena-style introductions of each table, one by one, explaining what birthday or special occasion they were all celebrating. Then they got to our table they announced we were all TMI students, except for German G, who is at 台大 the most prestigious university. The MC with the mic was going on and on and on, and finally 20 minutes later we could raise our glasses for the 8點乾杯.

The next event was a kissing event. If two people from your table could lock lips for a total of 10 seconds, the house would gift us a free plate of pork. So I nominated Taiwan A and German G, who were ALL OVER IT. Free pork, baby! But apparently it was only a one-time thing; there was no free meat for any subsequent kissing.

At 9pm they announced that beers were buy 3, get one free; and that whiskey drinks were BOGO. Whatever.

Around 9:30 they came around with paper and told us to address envelopes to ourselves and write letters to our future selves; they would mail the letters to us in December. I didn’t see any other table having to do this, but when it got to us we all started writing on each other’s letters and it turned into yearbook signing. Also there was a whole mess of languages going on; I wrote in Chinese and Spanish.

Did I mention that we were grilling our own meat the whole time?

Finally the time came to part ways, and Pashan T and I shared a cab back to the neighborhood. We stopped at Something Ales for a drink before calling it a night.

Taipei 2014 Day 26

I talked my face off in class today, which is nothing new. We talked about some of the previous day’s vocab words, as well as tipping customs and a little bit about minimum wage.

I mentioned the pinyin dilemma (how my brain totally disregards a Chinese character if there is pinyin or English anywhere near it). I somehow got onto the subject in typing in 主音 (a.k.a. ㄅㄆㄇㄈ Bopomofo) and I mentioned that the last thing I’m hung up on is typing; I’m not yet familiar with the tuvw keyboard. At that point my teacher started googling for tuvw typing tutors; and I noticed she was pretty into it. At first she wanted to make me play; then she wanted to try herself… and pretty soon she was trying all the games. When break time came around, she wanted to stay in and play the typing tutor game. I took my customary walk around the block.

After class Pashan T and I met Taipei Amy at 天台食堂, a theme restaurant near the 14 exit of the East Metro Mall connected to the B_ Zhongxiao Fuxing station. The afternoon tea included soup dumplings, some fancy ڽ| turnip cakes, some tofu custard which we dressed with sweet peanuts. Dessert was the black sesame mochi ball.

喬丹 showed up once we had finished, so we ordered up another couple baskets of soup dumplings. After that, we tried to go to the 溫古 Wengu Cafe which I remembered from 2012, but it was packed. So instead we wandered into the Carousel Cafe, which looked empty and humorless despite a life-sized horse lamp, giant teddy bear, and a display case full of baumkuchen. We got desserts.

Afterward, we wandered aimlessly, and then rented a booth at MyFun, which is a 14th floor lounge where you can just hang out. It’s basically an airport lounge without the airport. Your rental fee covers beverages and you can use a computer or check out a comic book from their collection. Some people take naps in their booths; others take business meetings. We were in a booth in a giant bay window, and we all just 低頭族 smartphoned until 喬丹 was ready to claw our eyes out, he was so hungry.

Polish P joined us and we all went to a hotpot and hotpotted for a couple of hours. I helped Polish P with her chopstick grip, and she pretended to enjoy W ampalaya (bitter melon).