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Archive for May, 2006

One thing I’ve noticed about the more successful bŭxíbān owners I’ve worked with is a certainty that kids need their schools or else they’ll be ruined for life. I can understand how the idea that people who don’t learn English will never be anything more than garbage truck drivers would motivate a school owner to put more effort both into improving the education they offer and into marketing, but enough is enough. Learning English well does not guarantee financial success or happiness, nor is it the only way. The two Taiwanese people I’ve met who had the best English skills of all those I’ve met were both over-worked and paid less than what an engineering major would would make one year out of college in Taiwan. This situation isn’t constrained to Taiwan, either. Just look at Chén Tiān Qiáo (陳天橋), the founder of a computer gaming company called Shanda (盛大). He’s a 32 year-old self made billionaire, and he didn’t make it through his English skills. Driving garbage trucks, indeed.

I’ve thought about this issue for years, but what really brings it to a head is a boy who’s recently dropped down into my newest class. He’s been at the school for over a year and a half, but he just keeps failing. His former classmates are reading 45 page stories about Pocahontas and Aladdin. He’s practicing sentences like, “Can you swim?” and, “Yes, he is. He’s a boy.” I never imagined a kid could go for so long without making any real progress, and I feel his pain every time I have to grade one of his quizzes. He doesn’t really put any effort into his homework, and, as far as I can tell, he doesn’t want to be at my school.

Today, as my boss was going on about how it was irresponsible of this kid’s parents to let his older brother leave after failing a similar number of times and saying that he could just keep doubling the kid’s homework and flunking him down until he was a 19 year-old in a class of 3rd and 4th graders, I just felt sick. The idea that you have to break kids down until you “fix” them just doesn’t fit with my worldview. I don’t think letting the older brother quit or switch schools was case of bad parenting at all. Not every kid is going to respond the same way to the same school system. What works very well for most kids, doesn’t work at all for others. It wasn’t worth getting into a half hour debate consisting of little more than uhm-hums on my side, though, so I didn’t really disagree very vocally. Still, I hope the poor kid’s parents do let him quit. An unpleasant and unproductive year and a half can’t be redeemed by forcing him to continue along the same path for another two. The way I see it, he’s just getting used to failure, and few things are harder to watch a kid do.

Tomorrow, I turn 28. That means that one more year of my life is gone, and that I can’t have it back, ever. All my decisions, conscious and unconscious, have taken what was once an infinite tree of years that could have been, and ruthlessly pruned them down to a single year that was. Some things were good- I made some great friends that I will likely know for many more years to come, I managed to save about a thousand $US a month, and I found a great way to express myself and organize my thoughts in blogging. Other things weren’t so good- I’ve gotten even more out of shape, I haven’t learned too much Chinese, and I haven’t made so much progress in terms of career development. As such, I need to choose goals for my next year, now.

Before I turn 29, I’ll…

  • Improve my Chinese: I’ll learn how to read and write 500 more Chinese characters, and I’ll also read at least five kid’s books in Chinese.
  • Lose 50 pounds: I know I don’t look it, but I’m 225 pounds. I know I’ll be losing a fair bit of muscle as I drop down to 175; I’m aware of the trade-offs, and I accept them.
  • Be a good friend to at least two more people than I am now.
  • Give more: instead of just giving a tenth of my income to charity, I’ll also give some of my time to help those less fortunate than I am. It’s a small start, but I’ll do at least 20 hours of volunteer work.
  • Enjoy the good things: I’ll think less about what I’m unhappy with, and more about what I have to be grateful for.

Well, my scooter broke down. It seems like it’s pretty serious, too. I was going to buy some groceries when I noticed it was stalling when I stopped at lights. It didn’t seem like anything too bad, though; I figured the idle was just set too low. But after I bought my groceries, my scooter started stalling while I was driving it. At that point, I realized there was a serious problem, but there wasn’t enough time to do anything about it. Before I even made it home, a 5 minute trip in total, it died completely. I tried to start it for a few minutes and then pushed it the rest of the way home. I just bought the scooter recently, so I can probably just call the shop I bought it from and see if they can fix it.

scooterVrooom no MoreHosted on Zooomr

On the good side, I finally heard back from the one bike shop I’ve been able to find in Línkŏu. It’s a Giant shop, so all it sells are Giant bikes, kind of ironic since they didn’t carry any bikes big enough for me. They had to special order one, and it finally came in today. It only costed about $2500NT, but I can’t say I’m too impressed with it. The Giant I bought in Jiāyì for $2300 two years ago had a much bigger range of speeds and some decent front shocks, too. This one seems to be about the absolute minimum hardware they could reasonably offer- no shocks, a narrow range of speeds, and a fragile looking frame. Giant has really gone down hill quickly in terms of their lower-end bikes. That’s okay, though. I had a one-speed dirt bike when I was a kid and I remember enjoying it pretty well.

I got off work early tonight, so I rode my bike all over Línkŏu. It’s sure not as bike friendly here as it was in Jiāyì, but I enjoyed it. It’s really nice to ride around town, and for some reason I enjoy it way more when I do it on my own power instead of with the aid of some gas-guzzling motorized thing. I guess that’s because I lived in Boulder, Colorado for so much of my life. It’s kind of hard to come out of that place and not be some sort of eco-nut.

My old boss, William, is currently looking for an English teacher at his Tomcat school. I can say from personal experience that William is a good boss and a great guy. His school doesn’t have huge student numbers, so it doesn’t pay as much as some of the other HFRBs, but outside of class prep work and stress levels are also much lower. I worked at Tomcat two years ago, and both of my co-workers from that time are still there. I think it’s pretty much an ideal job for somebody learning Chinese. My old co-worker Blake studied at Shida at the same time and made it all the way up through their level 7 classes and beyond. Now he’s going to work at a magazine, and William’s helping him make the transition. If you’re interested in this job, you’d be taking Blake’s classes. Here are the details from the ad:

  • About $700/hr starting
  • Great teaching environment
  • ARC and health card.
  • A very short walk from Shuanglian MRT in Taipei
  • 16 hours to start and more as we open new classes


  • Native English speaker (preferable North American accent)
  • 1 year of teaching experience
  • Planning to stay at least 1 year
  • At least some Chinese speaking ability and an interest in learning Chinese
  • Easy-going and a good sense of responsibility
  • Willing to teach on Saturdays

This is a great opportunity for someone planning to learn or continue learning Chinese in Taiwan. We’re a small, friendly school and have very little teacher rotation: our current teachers have worked with us for at least three years. We’ve been in business for a decade, if you meet the above requirements please e-mail a resume include your phone number to William Chiu at or call 0958-255-838.

Ugh… trash is always a hassle for me. Today, I ended up having to carry my trash bags with me to work and throw them away there. I know it sounds strange, but there’s a reasonable explanation. In Taiwan, the people driving garbage trucks don’t get out and collect trash bags left at the side of the street. Instead they play music loudly, always the “ice cream truck song” or Fur Elise. When people hear them coming, they have to gather up their bags of trash and recyclables and go out to meet the truck. Since the trucks generally come in the early evenings, but not on Sundays, that means that I’m at work every time they come. It’s also remarkably hard to find dumpsters here. My apartment building doesn’t have one, and those that do have building employees that guard them like hawks.

Tonight, I stumbled across another podcast for learning Chinese. It’s doesn’t have that much content up and it’s not worth a whole review, but it does some things pretty well. The blog is in English, so it’s easy to tell what kind of podcast you’ll be getting, but once the pod starts, it’s almost completely Chinese. The podcasts are all recorded by a Chinese woman who’s accent sounds pretty clear to me. Other than the odd foreign student or two she interviews on occasion, there aren’t any weird accents, either. I think it’s pretty good for intermediate students like myself, but there is one huge problem. All the pods don’t seem to be organized by level of difficulty. In other words, if your Chinese isn’t good enough to understand some of the pods, you’ll have to hunt around quite a bit to find the easy ones.

April’s Learning Mandarin Podcast

Note: She’s with the Mandarin Second Language Learning Center

The first time I ever heard anything about lucid dreaming was when I was a teenager. My best friend, Jason, lent me a blue paperback called Exploring the World of Lucid Dreaming. The premise of the book was simple- people can be lucid, i.e. aware, even while they are dreaming. In other words, rather than thinking your dreams are real, or having only a vague idea that you’re dreaming, you can be fully and totally aware you’re dreaming and take control of your dreams actively or explore them and use them as a vehicle for understanding your subconscious.
continue reading…

Have you ever been web browsing and wished you could just click on Chinese characters and get pop-up translations? If so, then this post is for you. Adsotrans is the same technology used to create the News in Chinese site. It analyzes Chinese text, guesses which characters should be grouped together as words, and then displays pinyin and translation pop-ups for each word. Before going much further, I should say that Adsotrans is still fairly weak when dealing with traditional characters[1], but if you follow the steps I lay out below, it will be so convenient to use that you’ll find it a great help even when dealing with traditional characters[2]. For simplified characters, Adsotrans is excellent.

1. First, you need Firefox version 1.5 or newer. Opera and Safari users, just trust me on this. If you want to read Chinese online, it’s worth it to use Firefox just for this plug-in. IE users, it’s time to switch. IE is buggy, has poor support for web standards, is integrated with Windows and thus allows minor security problems to threaten your entire system, and lacks many, many features found in modern browsers.

2. Next, you need to install a Firefox plug-in called Greasemonkey. Click on the link I provided, and you’ll see a window at the top of your Firefox window saying that my site was prevented from installing software on your computer. This is for security reasons. If you want to install from my site, click on the edit options button on the left and add me to your list of trusted sites. Or, if you prefer, go to and download it from them. After you install greasemonkey, quit and restart Firefox. Now, you shoud see a smiling monkey at the right side of the status bar at the bottom of the browser window.

3. The final stop is to get the Adsotrans user script. Click on the link I provided, and then you’ll see a message at the top of your screen and an install button at the top left. Click the install button and you’re done!


The adsotrans plug-in is very easy to use. Go to any page with Chinese text, such as my Chinese blog, press “A” on your keyboard, and then click on some Chinese text. A window pop-up and it will have the text you just clicked on. Run your mouse cursor over the words in the pop-up window, and translations and pinyin will appear.

[1]Every time I’ve tried using Adsotrans to adsostate a paragraph of traditional Chinese, it has missed several characters. Before it had problems with chopping 買得到 down to 買, and just today, it didn’t return anything at all for the word 捲. It is getting better though. It’s free, and the author, who lives in mainland China, has chosen to focus on simplified characters.

[2]Though I’ve given up on using Adsotrans for adsostating stuff to put on my blog, with the FF plug-in it’s so convenient that it’s still a very useful tool for reading Chinese online, despite it’s weaker support of traditional characters. I use adsotrans all the time now. I think you will, too, if you install the plug-in. 😉

I love Zooomr. As I’ve said before, I think their interface is far ahead of Flickr’s, despite Flickr’s recent attempts to duplicate various features. My absolute favorite feature of Zooomr’s is geotagging, which lets you tag one of your photos with a geographical location. Instead of just adding the name of a city to a photo’s tags as Flickr users must, Zooomr will let you get much more specific. Take this photo for example; it’s geotagged to my back yard. Curious users can then view everybody’s photos taken nearby. It’s actually not a bad way for a traveller to get an idea of what a neighborhood is like before going.

Here’s a brief tutorial on how to geotag photos if your camera doesn’t have GPS. First, if you don’t have an account yet, go to Zooomr and sign-up. Then login and click on the tab at the top labelled “lightmap”.

howtogeotag1howtogeotag1Hosted on Zooomr

After that, a map of the world will pop-up. After you find the location where your photo was taken, zooooooooooom in! I usually switch my view to “satellite”, too.

howtogeotag2howtogeotag2Hosted on Zooomr

After zooming in, click on the exact spot where your photo was taken. A bubble will pop-up, asking you which photo you want to geotag with this location. The easiest way to select a photo is to type the name of one of the words you’ve already tagged the photo with. In this example, I’ll type “holiday”, which will bring up a list of all the photos I’ve categorized as holiday photos. After the list of photos appears below, clicking on one will retrieve the photo’s number and put it in the pop-up box. After that, hit enter and the photo is geotagged!

howtogeotag3howtogeotag3Hosted on Zooomr

If the photo you want to geotag doesn’t have any words tagged to it, you can also just type in the number of the photo directly. This number will be the same number that appears at the end of the photo’s URL. For example, if I type in the number 39180, it will select the photo I was originally looking at back in the first picture of this tutorial. Obviously, since that was a picture of the moon, it would be a very poor candidate for geotagging.

howtogeotag4howtogeotag4Hosted on Zooomr

As I’m often keen to point out, the average American’s net savings is negative and at it’s lowest point since the great depression. I have to admit, I’m a bit of an investment nut. When I had a great programming job in the states, I was driving a beat up Toyota pick-up truck that I’d bought used, and paid in cash. My roommates who had pretty much equivalent jobs were driving sports edition cars, Jeeps, etc… nothing under $20k$15k. Later, I put myself through school with that money and felt mighty proud of myself for doing so. While I was working at Joy, during my first year in Taiwan, I spent under $5USD per day on food. Last year, when I was at Modawei, I spent about $10USD per day on food, while my co-workers were all spending at least double and upwards to five times that on food, power drinks, and so forth. I seemed to exercise perfect discipline over my finances.

However, the sad truth is that in spite of my desire to be frugal, I’m something of a fraud. I occasionally make absurd purchases. I usually convince myself they’re “investments” of one sort or another, but it doesn’t change the facts. Today was one of those days. I’m not quite sure how it happened, but I bought a lifetime membership at California Fitness. I used to go pretty often, but since there aren’t any gyms in Guishan, I hardly ever go there anymore. Somehow, I convinced myself it was an important investment in my health. I’ve really been wanting to work out more and get back in shape, but buying a membership I can’t use doesn’t do anything. It’s just a gesture, and an expensive one at that.

When I went back into the city to pick up some clothes at the tailor’s I had no plan whatsoever of buying anything else. I’ve seen that Friends episode. I know gym membership salespeople are dangerous. And yet, somehow, here I am $1500USD poorer, with a lifetime membership to a gym that doesn’t have a branch in the city where I live. I guess even “investing” can be impulsive and costly.