12 July 2008

A Week of Culture (Jiu Fen, Chinese cooking class, and our Closing Ceremony)

大家好!(Dà jiā hǎo!) That means, "Hello everyone."

So, Tuesday (I realize that is a long time ago; I apologize for the delay.) the group went to Chiufen (九份,Jiǔ fèn, or Nine Measures), a traditional village gone slightly-off-the-beaten-path tourist attraction. The village still has an old style street complete with cramped passage and cozy shops.

The old style street

These streets are filled with all sorts of people. Your typical American college students studying Chinese, your miscellaneous Asian tourist, popping over to Taiwan, and quite a few friendly, if slightly over the top, vendors.

A sassy vender in 九份

Waking around 九份 with the amigos, I found some more interesting entrances to buildings. My classmates and Taiwanese friend grace the pixels of the following. Here, we're on our way to taste some shaved ice with different sweet bean sauces over the top. Not many of us Americans thought this was the delicacy that the Taiwanese people did, all of whom slurped greedily.

A televangelist and an Asian supermodel

I really enjoyed 九份, because it offered a chance to see a tiny little town, an evident contrast to the 6 lane bustle of Taipei. The souvenir opportunities abound here, too. I think that a lot of my American classmates relished this as their chances to buy gifts for their loved ones are getting fewer by the hour. Another reason to love it is that it's on the side of a mountain that overlooks the Pacific. I really love places where the ocean and mountains are so tightly packed. 

A door on a hill

I've been noticing a lot of color in Taiwan. I really like taking pictures of places where a wall becomes a passage. Especially when they're advertised with such pigmented adornments...

Windows next to the door on the hill

The architecture of 九份 doesn't end there, though. Just up the mountain from the town were what looked like tiny summer cottages, all colorful and well lit. My professor informed us to the contrary, though. Rather than homes for the living, these quaint bungalows are dwellings for the dead. Not cheap, either. The cost about the same as house (one that people live in). They certainly are pretty, though.

Afterlife bungalows

Wednesday, we had cooking class. It was hard to catch a picture of our teacher, as she was a busy bee, flitting back and forth to each of the 11 dishes that we would eventually enjoy for dinner.

Chinese chef extraordinaire at work, with assistants

Cooking in a wok is much different that otherwise. Apparently, you're supposed to heat the wok first, then add the oil. When that's hot, ad the seasonings, and meat/tofu to brown. Then, in go the vegetables and salt at the end. The food lastly goes on a big plate/bowl from which people are served onto their small bowl of rice. This way, everyone gets to try everything they want, and get plenty of carbs to balance their meat/veggie/lipid combo from the wok.

The bounty

Thursday we had a delicious meal at a fancy restaurant as part of our Grand Valley program. And what a meal! Peking duck. I've never had this before, and I started out high up, apparently. This restaurant has it's own duck farm and everything. Talk about local.

Finally, on Friday, the Grand Valley Group's graduation of sorts was held. We all got our pots that we threw at Yingge., along with a certificate recognizing our participation and completion of the program.

The ceremony was quite fun, with performers from Shi Da and our (Grand Valley Students) own skits. The names of these instruments are the Erhu (follow the links to read about the instruments, see more pictures, and audio/video samples at the bottom of the page), a two stringed violin-esque instrument with a bamboo bow and a snakeskin covered body:

The sorrowful sounding Erhu

The really amazing thing about these instruments is that they allow for notes to be bent. The Erhu has no frets, so a note isn't fixed like on a guitar. And the Pipa's frets have enough space underneath the string to allow for a half or sometimes whole step of action. That means that one fret can produce two notes, depending on how hard the player pushes down the string. This note bending is a classic element in eastern music, and distinguishes these instruments from the western similars.

Pipa student working her musical magic

I really can't say enough praise for the people of the Mandarin Training Center for being such wonderful hosts! They've facilitated the housing, entertainment and intense education of 15 students from GVSU, and hundreds more from all over the world. If you know anyone interested in studying Mandarin, especially if they're interested traditional characters, the MTC comes highly recommended.

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