My Mandarin classes started at Zhongshan University last week. Zhongshan University is a Taiwanese University that is located on a beautiful mountain side overlooking the Pacific Ocean here in Kaohsiung. The mountain is home to monkeys and wild dogs. People aren’t that worried about the wild dogs but the monkeys are smart, aggressive and out to eat anything they can get their hands on.
My classes haven’t been quite what I expected. Instead of diving into learning words, characters and vocabulary we started with learning the Zhuyin alphabet for 5 hours each day. The Zhuyin alphabet is the phonetic alphabet that Chinese people learn as children. It’s rarely used after a person has learned enough characters, but it’s valuable for learning Mandarin because once you’ve learned it you know exactly how each word is pronounced. Since Mandarin has sounds that don’t exist in English and also tones, trying to speak without this foundation pretty much doesn’t work. You just won’t be understood without proper pronunciation.
It’s fun to be back in school. I am enjoying the challenge of trying to figure out this language and I feel very focused. Every morning I wake up, work out, go to school until noon or two and then head over to one of the hacker / co-working spaces to work on software projects with Taiwanese people I’ve met. I’m learning so much every day.
Although I haven’t really experienced home-sickness yet, I do miss my friends and family in the U.S. Google Hangouts has been great. It’s nice to speak English, hear about cool weather and snow (it’s been blazing hot here). I do hope that some of you decide to visit. This place is BEAUTIFUL and exciting. The food is delicious and the people here are wonderful. You would definitely have a good time.