Part Three: The Purpose
Being a language exchange, we of course have Chinese language classes at National Cheng Kung University (NCKU), Chinese Language Center (成功大學華語中心). I was originally placed in H class based on a test done prior when I was still in NZ, but after discussing with the teacher, I decided to move down into G class. One of the main reasons was my apprehension around traditional Chinese characters, which I have very little experience with. While traditional Chinese characters are interesting, I have only ever learnt and used simplified Chinese. This makes reading the textbook and completing portions of the homework rather difficult. While this is still a challenge in G class, this class has slightly less writing (not my strong point) and seemed more manageable. Another reason I wanted to move to G class was because I was very interested in the topics we would be covering and discussing, the first topic being the debate around the freedom of speech, particularly online. Having topics with two sides to the argument allows me to practice using Chinese to express arguments and convince others. While I am enjoying classes, I was immediately hit with the amount of homework. Day 2 of class, and already there is a test based on 50(!) new vocab, all in traditional. Got to get back into studying mode!
Another challenge I faced in the first week was actually getting to class. As we stayed in a hotel for the first week, the potential 40min walk along busy roads with little pedestrian footpaths, the unreliableness of public transport, and early 8am class meant that a few of us caught taxis. Thus, we discovered that transportation in Tainan is not that easy or convenient, which helps to answer why scooters (scooter bikes) are pretty much the most common mode of transportation. They are literally everywhere, zooming around and parked all along the streets. While they are parked rather orderly (at least most of the time), scooters on the move are a completely different chaotic picture. Often, I find myself hurrying to the side of narrow alleyways to let someone race by, and despite zebra pedestrian crossings, when crossing roads, I am always looking left and right. If I don’t, I might just be hit by a turning scooter, or even a car! However, I like to think I’ve gotten the hang of navigating Tainan streets, and so far there have been no incidents (knock on wood!).
My favourite part so far of this programme is being assigned a language partner. These are NCKU students who we get to meet with twice each week. It is nice having someone who understands the city to show you around, especially as this allows us to get a deeper understanding of Tainan from a local’s perspective. It was also interesting to compare how NZ is different from Taiwan, including the differences in schooling, universities, homework, and even what foods we normally eat for breakfast. I normally skip breakfast in NZ, but here there are many more options for breakfast that are sorely tempting me. Plus, my language partner provides insight into the good food and less touristy places, and because of her, I had one of the best brown sugar pearl milk teas I have ever had!