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Since the first interview with Chris Parker went well, I did second video interview for Lingsprout. This time I interviewed Jeremy Ginsburg AKA “the Vietnomad”, whose incredible story was on Benny Lewis’s blog.


jeremy-ginsburg640x360

Unlike the previous interview I did, this one was more of a “how to” than a story. I dug in and pushed pretty hard on one topic—What can you do in terms of social interactions to learn a foreign language in a country as a beginner?

Check it out here: How to befriend locals and learn their language with Jeremy Ginsburg

I did a video interview of Chris Parker of Fluent in Mandarin on Lingsprout. It requires a login to view, but everything on the site is free:

An interview with Chris Parker

It was about 15 minutes and covered his background as a monolingual kid in the UK, his transition to being a foreign guest on Chinese TV what his friends back home thought when they saw it. Check it out here: Becoming fluent in Mandarin with Chris Parker

Over the years, I’ve offered an extra bed or at least a couch to a number of online friends who have stopped by Taipei or wherever I happened to be living. I’m not sure my grandmother would approve, but I think the conventional wisdom about is wrong on this topic. The risks are mostly over-stated and the benefits are often overlooked. People are mostly good and on the whole and as far as I can tell, helping travelers out is a net gain for both the traveler and the host.

The online friends I’ve invited over fit into three groups. Some, such as Brian, keep mostly to themselves, spend a lot of time on their laptops blogging or doing whatever it is they do and don’t really impact my routine one way or the other. Without exception, they’re always good for an interesting conversation or two. Hosting them is definitely a net positive. The second group are people like Darin. They make plans to come and I offer them a place to stay, but then they end up canceling the trip. Nothing is lost and nothing is gained… except maybe an increased chance of them offering me a place to stay when I visit the country where they live. The third group is those like my friend Wayne who end up becoming great friends and hanging out with me regularly for months or even years. That’s not only worth it, but it’s enough to upset the risk of a really bad guest (which I haven’t experienced yet).

One other thing that has been absolutely wonderful is that an unusually large number of people have let me crash at their places. John, when I visited Shanghai, PR when moving in Taipei, Matt before I left Colorado and now Ben in Kunming. I can’t really draw any connection between me having other guests at my place and them inviting me to stay at theirs, but if I did believe in earthly karma this experience would certainly reinforce that belief.

It was already midnight when I got to the Kunming train station. Unlike other train stations I’d seen in major Chinese cities at that hour, it was mostly dark and deserted. Fortunately, my friendly cabin-mate from the ride in was kind enough to call my friend Ben and let him know I was in the city and on my way to his apartment. Thanks to a recent party, the apartment was a disaster, messier than any place I’d set foot in in years. I didn’t care one bit. My friend from Taiwan was there, the wifi worked and there was an actual bed to sleep in.

When I moved out of my my apartment in Taipei, I gave away all my things I couldn’t fit into either my suitcase or backpack. Several of my friends, even the beneficiaries, asked why I’d do such a thing. I could have sold them on an online classifieds board and maybe made a couple of hundred dollars.

Here’s why I didn’t:

  1. It worked out terribly for a good friend of mine who did exactly that. It was frustrating and more of a hassle than it was worth.
  2. A lot of my stuff wouldn’t bring in anything near what I paid for it– people are generally hesitant to buy certain things (such as rice cookers, or bread makers) second hand.
  3. The value to my friends of the various things I was getting rid of was more than the value I’d get from selling them.
  4. I really wanted to get rid of everything. By setting up a free give away, adding certain game mechanics to determine who got what and establishing a ground rule that people take what they ask for, I was able to get rid of far, far more stuff than I could have by putting up an add on a classified board. That would have just gotten rid of a few choice items.

In the end, I got rid of my stuff, my friends benefited and it was a fun party. What more could I ask for?

My friend David has recently shown me some of what he’s been working on with his site for learning Chinese, Popup Chinese. Popup Chinese has always had a great technical backbone, amazing talent in its instructors, and lots and lots of free MP3 lessons. That said, this last batch of upgrades is still pretty impressive.

learn chinese

The Writing Pad

This a cool writing application that has teaches how to write Chinese characters. The only thing I’ve ever seen like it is Skritter, also a neat tool. The writing pad enforces correct proportions in characters as you write them and also enforces stroke order. The strictness of the stroke order is a little bit frustrating for me, since stroke order isn’t entirely uniform amongst all writers and the stroke order conventions my teachers taught are slightly different than those in the Writing Pad. This issue would be irrelevant to any beginning students who aren’t already accustomed to writing a certain way, though. The app will teach you how to write correctly as well as any app I know of at this point.
The Writing Pad

HSK Stuff

You don’t hear much about the HSK here in Taiwan, but if you ever want proof of your Chinese skills so you can go to college in China or brag to a prospective employer, this is the test to take. There’s an impressive array of materials on Popup Chinese to help you get ready for it:

One-Click Access HSK Tests, HSK Flashcards and HSK Vocabulary Lists
http://popupchinese.com/hsk/flashcards
http://popupchinese.com/hsk/test
http://popupchinese.com/hsk/vocabulary

Spaced Repetition

I was pleasantly surprised to see that one of my suggestions months ago made it into the site! For anyone signed up, the site remembers which flashcards they’ve answered right and which ones they’ve missed on and calculates the ideal time to show them again for review. Even for students who are unfamiliar with spaced repetition, this is a huge plus.

Practice Speaking Lessons

I’ve heard about these types of lessons before. I guess if you’re living someplace where Chinese tutors are hard to find or expensive, this option might be worthwhile. People can get one-on-one feedback on their spoken Chinese with a premium subscription.
Practice Speaking Lessons

Pricing

The prices have come down quite a bit. For the first time it’s in the price range of something I would have bought as a student. At just under fifty bucks, the “basic plus” subscription is far, far more useful than textbook in existence at roughly the same cost. I sure wish they had this stuff around back when I was in school!

I don’t think I ever saw Joel look so pleased with Taiwan as when we took him to guānghuá shāngchǎng. Oh, the computer goodness!

Unfortunately, our guest had little appreciation for Acer, a local Taiwanese brand. Not even these energetic Acer girls’ pitch about the “super super thin laptop line” had much success in repairing the damage all the crappy desktops they made in the 90’s did to their brand.
Acer girls
Acer girls by Mark on Zooomr

There was one bad-ass touch screen on display that gave him pause though:

Joel, a first time visitor to Taiwan, was busy with his camera while he was here.

This video is filming from the MRT on the way to Jiantan station while Nate talks about what they’re seeing:

Here’s a shot that shows off some of the greenification in the Dunhua area:

My old friend and co-worker Nathan has been back in town this past week and it’s been great! It’s been nearly three years since he left Taiwan and he wanted a chance to come by before starting law school this fall. His friend Joel, who hadn’t ever been to Asia is here, too.

We’ve hiked all over the city, gone to the computer market a few times, hung out with some of my newer friends and eaten lots and lots of good food they can’t get in Michigan. One thing that’s been kind of surprising to me is that Nathan doesn’t seem to have lost much of any of his Chinese skills, where were always better than mine were back in the day. He seems just as capable as ever at getting around town, talking to guys in electronics shops about modding cellphones and video game systems, and just generally being entertaining in Chinese. In fact, when we went to a River Runners meeting last night, he ended up surrounded by about five Taiwanese women the entire evening seemed to completely entranced by his story-telling!

The Master Storyteller
The Master Storyteller by Mark on Zooomr

Then today, under the pavilion by the guāngguá shàngchǎng, somehow he picked up a guide from out of nowhere who took us around to all the tea stands and taste tested various teas from à’lǐshān, nántóu and various other places.
Tea Tasting
Tea Tasting by Mark on Zooomr

Joel, on the other hand is a complete Asia newbie. Not only, did he decline to eat any of the traditionally “scary” Chinese foods such as intestines, cow’s tongue, duck’s blood, frog meat, etc, but he was unable to handle tofu!!! Or use chopsticks! I hadn’t realized there was anyone to speak of really who couldn’t, at least in my generation. His chopstick skills have improved noticeably, but Nathan and I still weren’t able to peer-pressure him into even trying a piece of it!

I guess Muskegon, Michigan must be quite a bit different from the Denver-Boulder area in Colorado. I think my grade school cafeteria had tofu and gave us chopsticks to use on occasion. I never really went through the jarring culture shock I saw him experience. Still, we managed to show Joel a great part of Taiwan, he loved the computer markets and I think he’ll be back with a bit more culinary daring in a year or two. Hopefully my apartment will be cleaner by then and I can be a bit better of a host.

Tonight I met up with Angelica, Eli, Tetsuo, Brian and many others at The Brass Monkey to share Obama’s inauguration speech and some Hoegarden on-tap.

As usual, his speech was excellent. It was uplifting, inspirational and unifying. It was only a speech, but seeing him sworn in was a great feeling. Especially as an American who has spent most his adult life abroad, I feel optimistic about seeing a president with such an international perspective as Obama.

I’m feeling more excited about America than I have in a long time. Here’s to change!