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12. NTU

The Moon festival or Mid-autumn festival was my first experience of a Chinese feast in Taiwan, having arrived at this beautiful country just few weeks before the festival. Few days before the feast which falls on the 22nd September this year, everyone in town were busy talking about the significance of this great festival. Even our professors in class took time to explain the immense important of the feast and how symbolic it is to the Chinese people. Since we were not familiar with Chinese culture, I was eager to find out what this feast was all about. I was really touched by the manner in which everyone had something positive to say about this great Chinese tradition.  
 
The gift of a moon cake during this festival is a symbolic gesture and tradition. On the eve of the moon festival, we received gift of moon cakes from our ICDF project manager Rita.  She gave all students on ICDF scholarship four (4) pieces of delicious moon cakes. On that same day during our Agricultural Marketing class with Professor Cheng-Wei Chen, he also shared different recipes of moon cakes to the class. Dr Chen explained to us the importance of each of the cakes and their nutritional value. My school volunteer also gave me some appetizing moon cakes in observance on the festival.

I didn’t know what the Moon Festival was until I came to Taiwan. Everyone in school was asking me and other foreigners what we were supposed to do for the festival.
 
By those days, there were sets at the supermarkets with different kind of stuff for grilling; the meatballs, the sausages, pork, chicken, dressings; they even had oven and grill. Eat the moon cakes is also part of the tradition and it represents the round shape of the full moon. Most Chinese consume moon cakes given to them by relatives, friend, employers, or public relations people
Anyway, we didn’t really understand that Moon Festival or Mid–Autumn Festival is a celebration where Taiwanese families gather up. In fact, most of Chinese Festivals are still mostly about family.

When I first heard about Moon festival from my Agricultural Marketing Professor, it remained me about my childhood days in my village, where we used to stay up at night anytime when the moon out on the sky. I vividly recalled when our elder brothers told us that there is a beautiful woman in the moon and if you like her she will follow you any where you go. It seems it was the same woman our Professor was talking about, when he narrated to us the story behind the Moon festival.
I taught my classmates many things about Ramadan (Muslim period of fasting) and Islamic religion since the Moon festival happened at the time of Ramadan. They could not understand why I was no eating during the day. So I figure now it’s my turn to learn something about Moon festival, which according to my classmates is a Chinese holiday (or festival, as they call it).  It is celebrated on the 15th day of the 8th month in Chinese lunar calendar, when the moon is at its fullest and brightest period. The festival is to honor the moon, harvest and family. To celebrate, people will get together with family, gaze up at the moon, and eat moon cakes. While in my village people see a woman in the moon, Chinese people say that there is a woman and a rabbit in the moon.

It has been almost a year so far, and it really feels nice to be able to communicate in a country where the language is not the same as mine. The very first experience of learning Mandarin was during the orientation course, the first week in Taiwan. Since I was a kid, I have seen Mandarin language like something unreachable, but when we got here we saw the reality when we met a lot of foreigners speaking fluent Chinese or others trying very hard to learn it.

Challenging…

These are kind of things that really motivated me to learn it and pay too much attention even after you see a lot of little sticks making words.
I think that my personal experience has been like many other cases, even if I’m still a beginner in mandarin, I can honestly say that now is easier for me to leave in Taiwan, since I already know some.

I’m sure most of the people have ever heard about Taiwan as one of the most prosperous countries in Southeast Asia and also about its high density population in urban areas; well, this general knowledge about this island was not wide enough for me to imagine the multiple transportation options that residents of Taiwan could have.

During my first day going around Taipei everything seemed to be as I expected, like others international cities in the world, full of commerce, government and culture. But my big surprise happened while waiting at the red light when I noticed just how many scooters were on the road, actually not only on the road but also thousands of them that were parked along the sidewalks.

By that time I was not aware of the fact that there are around 10 millions scooters throughout Taiwan. But even though traffic jam could get heavy during rush hours, everyone basically knows what’s going on, and so long as people remain predictable in their motions and even in their speed, traffic actually flows pretty well.

What surprise me in Taiwan? I already answer to this question as soon as I arrived to Taoyuan airport eight month ago. It happened when I was looking for a trash can and it was kind of hard to find one.

Nevertheless, there was no trash anywhere, so I was thinking if it was because there are a lot of people cleaning.

Now, after some months here, I know that there are a few trash cans not only in the airport, but everywhere; however, the cities always look clean.

I also comment on this to my friends back home since the first few days after my arrival to Formosa, but there’s also more about this, like the recycling system.

It is amazing to see how clean the streets look without “enough” trashcans and how locals are really used to this.

Me and other foreigners I know still complain sometimes when we are eating something from a bag and we cannot find a place to litter, because it is uncomfortable to carry with something you are not using anymore like the bags from the fried chicken in night markets, the plastic cups from the milk tea shops, or the little sticks from the sausages.

 The year 2010 marked my second Chinese New Year experience, but this time around I was well prepared. After being traumatized the year before, when there was total evacuation of the city and Taipei was transformed into a ghost town, I decided that I would not spend this Chinese New Year in Taipei. So like a tigress I took out to conquer new territories.

My journey began in Keelung where I spent a traditional Chinese new year with my Professor at his house. We picked our own vegetables from his garden and had a lavish hot pot dinner served with red wine. After dinner the Professor staying true to the Chinese tradition of the red envelope (hong bao) presented us with our sealed red envelopes, and told us that we should not open it until after the New Year. After dinner the professor taught us how to play mahjhong (with money). I was instantly hooked on the game and we played until 4am in morning, now I am officially an addict. I was so caught up with the game, I almost forgot about my hong bao, but when I got to my room I couldn’t resist the temptation to open it. And so going against my Professor’s advice, I broke the tradition and opened my red envelope.  I retired with an extra broad smile on my face, compliments my hong bao.

Xīn nián kuàilè to all readers

February 14, 2010 marks the start of the Year of the Tiger on the Chinese Lunar Calendar this year. Chinese New Year, I have been informed is a holiday that celebrates the beginning of a new year according to the lunar calendar. It is considered to be one of the most important holidays for Chinese families.
 
The holiday is celebrated according to my source with big family gatherings, gift giving, the eating of symbolic & delicious foods and display of festive decorations--all focused on bringing good luck for the New Year and celebrating the coming of spring.

 I always pictured Chinese New Year as a celebration that involves multiples parades full of dragon dances and people carrying colorful flags, banners, lanterns, drums and firecrackers, but in fact I have found out that this holiday is traditionally celebrated as a family affair and is considered the favorite holiday for most Taiwanese citizens.

My personal experience during this holiday was definitely amazing and unforgettable. Everything started when I got a notice from the office of international affairs of my university inviting me to register for a host family during Chinese New Year to which I immediately reply letting them know that I was interested; few days later I got the name and information of my selected volunteer, her English name was Rhonda.
Honestly, I didn’t have big expectations about this celebration, but suddenly things became more interesting when she asked me to go to her grandparent’s house in Changhua County located in western Taiwan. At first I planned to spend three days with them but by reason of the bus and train tickets were sold out I had to leave one day earlier and come back two days later than planned which made a total of six days staying.

My imagine of Chinese new year when I was back home was dragon customs, fireworks, red and yellow everywhere, nevertheless, Chinese new year is something full of tradition and family union.

We had the opportunity to apply for a program in which, foreigners from my university could go to a Taiwanese family to experience the Chinese New Year here in Taiwan. I didn’t apply because at the beginning I wanted to have my own space to experience this in the streets, but it was not what I thought.
 
In Taipei everything was closed since two or three days before the mere day, Taipei Main Station was crazy, without tickets to everywhere in Taiwan. At the end I was regretting for not having apply to the Taiwanese Family, it was difficult to find places to eat.