Taiwanese Mandarin and Hokkien

Traveling to a country different than the one you were born in can often involve dealing with a language barrier.

cute-languages

In my case, I’ve found this to be too true. Although a large amount of people in Taipei can speak a decent amount of English, it is common for people outside the city to know less, and in both situations there is still not much room for lengthy communication.

I stand by the statement made by Rita Mae Brown when she said that, “Language is the road map of a culture.  It tells you where its people come from and where they are going.”

Not understanding a certain language can leave you feeling all of the above, but I really believe that you cannot completely understand another culture, or really get to know the people you meet from it it, until you speak their language.

Sure I can have basic conversations with Taiwanese people but even not being able to ask a sales person more than “How much for this?” in Mandarin bothers me.

And just when I thought I was starting to be able to detect the sound of Mandarin. I was walking down my street one day past a place where an elderly man owns a small fruit market.

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He was sitting close to the street talking to what looked like his close friend, only it didn’t sound like Mandarin. After consulting with one of my Taiwanese friends they suggested it was likely Hokkien, which instantly made me wonder, what is Hokkien?

Hokkien is a dialect that descended from old mainstream Chinese. And after some research I realized there’s several variants of the Hokkien language, Taiwanese Hokkien just happens to be one of them! But Medan Hokkien and Singaporean Hokkien also exist as spoken languages in parts of Indonesia today!

The majority of the people who continue this language are elderly Chinese men and women, as Mandarin has become the more commonly used standard. Despite this, author Kuan Eng has created, “My First Book of Hokkien Words” to help continue and teach Singaporean youth the language. hokkien

If you think Mandarin sounds difficult to learn consider the fact that Hokkien has 8 tones, instead of 4 tones like Mandarin. These tones come with strict rules of pronunciation that I think native speakers would agree are no piece of cake to learn.

Mandarin and Hokkien represent just one case of language differences. However there’s even differences between the Mandarin spoken in mainland China and Taiwan!

Often the same words are used but mean completely different things, or the words are simply completely different! Take for example the word “pineapple.” In China it is called bo luo but in Taiwan it is referred to as feng li.

For more on those differences, check out this video.

With so many languages in South Asia that were previously unbeknownst to me, it’s been an interesting struggle to try and learn some basic phrases and comprehend the differences between each.

(Don’t even get me started on the differences between Cantonese and Mandarin)

However this difficult learning experience made me realize that had I never taken this amazing opportunity to travel and work abroad I would likely still have no knowledge of these languages or their existence.

In North America the popular mindset is that English can get you anywhere, and through any circumstance, but I’m here to tell you that simply knowing English will not provide you with a truly deep experience while you travel, so if you have the time and the means, the best advice I can give would be: learn another language. 

For more info about Hokkien:

https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Taiwanese_Hokkien

https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Singaporean_Hokkien

A Drive for Democracy

Recognize the monument pictured above?

Its the entrance to Liberty Square in Taipei’s Zhongzheng District, and it acts as a reminder of the development of democracy in Taiwan. In fact, the country recently elected a female President, Tsai Ing-wen of the Democratic Progressive Party, to be its leader.

Let’s face it, no democracy is perfect. However, what I think a lot of  North American people don’t realize (my former self included) is that Taiwan is in fact a democratic country, separate from its communist neighbour China.

Recently, I visited Hong Kong, a state that in 1997 was released by the UK back to China. I absolutely adored my time on the skyscraper island as I was able to experience the perfect balance of city and nature type adventures.

hong-kong

(Stay tuned for an article on my favourite excursion)

During my time in Hong Kong I noticed some differences between it and Taipei, Taiwan:

  • The Subway system in Hong Kong is referred to as MTR (Mass Transit Railway opened 1979), but Taipei took a hipster approach, and named their’s MRT (short for Taipei Rapid Metro opened in 1997).
  • Both have separate versions of delicious tea, HK’s being Lai Cha Tea and Taiwan’s being Pearl Milk Tea.
  • Hong Kong drives on the left side of the street and Taiwan the right.
  • In Hong Kong the majority speak Cantonese, while in Taiwan the majority speak Mandarin.

Yet similar to Taipei, the mainland of Hong Kong is beaming with extremely impressive infrastructure, amazing shopping, and delicious restaurants. Taiwan and Hong Kong are both accented by beautiful mountains and smaller islands.

Hong Kong is an overall more international city, that actually just had an important political election.

Politics. Its the topic that isolates family members, ruins friendships, and divides nations. It’s a complicated subject to say the least, and one that I do not pretend to know much about, especially in regards to a country that I just began living in.

politics

But what I do know is that there are some important differences between Taiwan’s and Hong Kong’s current political structures and policies.

Currently, Taiwan enjoys a separate identity and constitution from the Republic of China. They use a first past the post electoral system, and as proven in the past election, the majority of citizens do not wish to unite with mainland China.

Although Hong Kong exercises autonomy, their situation is a little more complicated with a policy of “one country, two systems” in accordance with mainland China.

Since 2014, where young Hong Konger’s held mass street protests demanding universal suffrage (the right for all citizens to vote), the path to political independence from China is starting to become more clear, as in its most recent semi-democratic election (to determine Hong Kong’s Legislative Council) one elected political party’s leader is 23 years old.

However in response the Chinese government has announced that Hong Kong must accept Beijing’s control and oversight, their basic message being that ultimately they hold power and jurisdiction over Hong Kong.

Yet with voter turn out rising 5% in this past election and younger citizens with democratic ideals becoming involved in the countries politics, there is definitely hope that one day, despite the constraint of “one country, two systems”  Hong Kong will be able to establish a true independent democracy, similar to that of Taiwan’s.

Demonstrators hold signs and umbrellas in support of Hong Kong's pro-democracy marches, at Times Square in New York

Things are about to get interesting: the millennials have spoken, attitudes are changing, and just like the citizens of Taiwan, Hong Konger’s have demanded their rights.

Okay people now here get information:

(^to the tune of Beyoncé’s formation, obviously)

http://edition.cnn.com/2016/08/31/asia/hong-kong-legislative-council-explainer/

http://english.metro.taipei/ct.asp?xItem=1315948&ctNode=70209&mp=122036

http://www.reuters.com/article/us-taiwan-election-timeline-idUSTRE7BC0E320111213

http://time.com/4478978/hong-kong-legislative-council-election-legco/

https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/MTR

https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Liberty_Square_(Taipei)

https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Republic_of_China_general_election,_2016

https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Taiwan#Democratization

 

 

 

Yunoyado Onsen Hotel Puts You First

Recently, I have had the pleasure of working at Yunoyado Onsen Hotel located in the town of Jiaoxi, Taiwan.

I wanted to express my gratitude towards the hotel staff and also express how fortunate I feel to have been able to work in such a positive and welcoming environment.

The moment I walked into Yunoyado Onsen for my first day of work, I felt at home. Most of the staff can speak English and even those who don’t consistently go out of their way to make me feel comfortable in this new work environment.

I have been a witness to the kindness they extend not only towards employees but also towards guests. They treat each and every visitor to the hotel with the ultimate level of respect, as they greet people at the door and help them carry in their luggage. They exceed service expectations of a typical hotel, providing guests with local secrets on how to see the best attractions, bottles of water, towels if its raining, and much more.

One of my favourite aspects of the job has been working in such a beautiful building! The hotel was built one year ago and features modern Japanese style decor and design. There is a pond outside the main entrance to the hotel that features large koi fish and fresh plants.

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The lobby is sleek and exudes a natural vibe, the exterior of the front desk resembles a log and the wood is actually from Myanmar. The seating area looks as though it was freshly carved from a tree!

The rooms in the hotel are quite nice. Personally, the most appealing aspect are the spacious showers and modern style bathtubs found in the different styles of rooms the hotel offers.

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For me , Yunoyado Onsen hotel has provided a sanctuary; it serves as my retreat from the hustle and bustle of the big city of Taipei.

One of the best parts of working at this particular hotel is being able to indulge in the complimentary tea and homemade treats, which all guests are of course invited to do as well. Between the various cookies, pastries and the different types of tea, (Nepalese black tea pictured here), it’s safe to say my taste bud’s have been quite the happy bunch since I started my internship.

One of the greatest features of the hotel, in my opinion, is the rooftop patio. This space provides a great view of the surrounding Jiaoxi mountains. Each day I make sure to take advantage as during my break I often enjoy relaxing up there. After looking at screens all day long, it’s nice to just look out into the town and see the nature behind it.

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Although I have not yet gotten to take advantage of this, there are also hot spring tubs that guests can enjoy and soak their feet in after a long day of travelling. In comparison to North American hotels, this amenity is very unique. Even more interesting is that the water found in the hot springs of Jiaoxi is actually very rare because it is extremely rich in minerals such as sodium, magnesium, calcium and potassium. Naturally, the hot springs in Jiaoxi provide many health benefits for users.

SO, if you’re ever in Taiwan, I implore you to visit the province of Yilan and in particular Yunoyado Onsen Hotel in Jiaoxi Township; the hotel is quite convenient to access as it is close to the city’s bus and train stations. Just like mine have, your expectations will not only be met, but exceeded. You’ll enjoy a relaxing atmosphere enhanced by friendly staff members, modern design, and a high standard of quality and overall service.

I am so grateful for the kind and hospitable treatment I have received and I guarantee after staying here you will feel the same. For an English version of their website visit: https://www.agoda.com/yunoyado-onsen-hotel/hotel/yilan-tw.html?

 

Jiaoxi Hot Springs 

http://www.jiaoxi-tourism.tw/Portal/Content.aspx?lang=2&p=201020001

http://enwww.e-land.gov.tw/cp.aspx?n=471BF3A523D05BB2&s=4C874B0C0A621518

Night Life Near The Red House

The Red House (or Honglou in Chinese) is an historical site located in the Ximen area of Taipei. Originally built in 1908 by the Japanese, this octagonal building is now home to a number of interesting people, shops, bars, restaurants and events!

This location is beaming with life, music, and a strong mixture of tourists and locals! If you’re moving to Taipei I would strongly recommend this area for these exact reasons!

To find it, take the Blue or Green MRT line to Ximen Station, choose Exit 1 and before you know it you’ll be steps away from this exciting area! If you feel like browsing some shops beforehand, take Exit 6 for the Pedestrian Area across the street from the Red House.

red house bars
(I am not the owner of this image)

There is a section of the Red House that often hosts concerts and just behind the building there is a multitude of outdoor restaurants and bars.

In fact, The Red House is the hub of Taipei’s gay bar scene. Having been to a few myself I can tell you they are a great time, and obviously all are welcome.

It’s safe to say night time is when this area really comes alive, with glowing lights, music, and the delicious aromas of various foods.

A restaurant called Yunnan Thai Style Southern Food served up the best Pad Thai I’ve ever had for a mere $150 NTD or $6 Canadian. It’s decor may not look like much but what it may lack in aesthetics it makes up for in delicious true thai taste!!

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On weekends vendors line the trendy area next to the Red House. You can find beautiful handmade items here! Ranging from jewellery, to leather coin holders, to stylish hand designed t-shirts to homemade soaps; the artistry will truly blow you away!

C’mon we all know a cat or dog who could use a neck tie am I right?? HOW CUTE!

The set up next to the Red House is reminiscent of a smaller and much more reasonably priced version of Toronto, Ontario’s Kensington Market, also an area belonging to part of a neighbourhood and considered an historical site.

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One vendor sells uniquely shaped records

Tents owned by different vendors are like treasure chests waiting to be explored; unique and handcrafted items lie around each corner. The vendors are nothing but proud of their work and happy to talk with you as much as they can. During my visit I did not encounter any owner that was pushy or put pressure on me to buy, rather the interactions I had were extremely pleasant and by the end of it I couldn’t leave without asking for a business card!

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For the care and craftsmanship behind each design I found the prices to be quite reasonable, but you will have to visit for yourself and tell me what you think!

 

Where did this information come from? See for yourself! 

The Red House (Honglou)

http://www.redhouse.org.tw/index_en.aspx

The Red House (Honglou) Market 

https://www.tripadvisor.ca/ShowUserReviews-g293913-d1024907-r238542684-Ximen_Red_House_Ximending-Taipei.html

MRT Instructions 

https://guidetotaipei.com/visit/the-red-house-honglou-%E8%A5%BF%E9%96%80%E7%B4%85%E6%A8%93

Yunnan Thai Style Southern Food

https://www.tripadvisor.com/Restaurant_Review-g293913-d6135304-Reviews-Yunnan_Thai_Style_Southern_Food-Taipei.html

http://www.lonelyplanet.com/taiwan/taipei/restaurants/thai/thai-food

Kensington Market

https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Kensington_Market

Taipei Gay Bars