On Beijing Opera, Birds, and Nice People

First of all, I must say, I’m amazed that the semester at Madison is ending within the week. Congratulations to all those graduating! We still have about a month and a half of classes left at NTU. Anyone ever wanting to exchange here should know that the semester does not begin until mid-February, and runs through mid-June.

On Sunday night I went to the NTU Beijing Opera club’s production of 花田錯 (I have no idea how to translate this. Flower field folly, maybe? That has a nice alliterative ring to it) After struggling a bit to find the building in which the opera was located, I finally able to find a seat and enjoy the *free* show. The surprising thing was…

I liked it.

Chinese opera is not the most accessible form of entertainment in the world (let’s face it, neither is Western opera). But the students did a great job of keeping my attention throughout the show, which is an incredible feat in and of itself. The whole experience brought back a flood of memories of my high school stint in theater club, when a show was one of the biggest events of the year for my friends and I. The NTU students had dedicated the show to their director who had passed away, and their passion for the art was sketched all across their faces. Because of this, combined with the fact that everyone could hit notes I would never even get close to reaching unless you scared the wits out of me, I give them an A.


I have major difficulties with distinguishing characters in movies and plays. If the main characters switch clothing and haircuts, I am completely lost. I went through all of Les Mis not understanding that the Jean Valjean at the beginning of the movie, and the Jean Valjean throughout the rest of the movie were the same man, thus ruining the entire plot of the movie. Therefore, I was a bit confused when it seemed the main characters were changing throughout the play. However, at the end, we discovered there were about 10 different girls playing the 2 parts! All the girls had extremely heavy stylized makeup, so it seemed the makeup made the role more than the actress herself. It was an interesting means to incorporate more students, and it made me feel a lot better about not being able to distinguish which actress was which.

On top of this, the language in the opera, while not completely incomprehensible (they might have tried to modernize it a bit? I’m not sure), is a bit antiquated, much like if an English speaker was to watch a Shakespeare play. Because of this, the club ran subtitles along the side of the stage throughout the play. With the subtitles, I actually knew (mostly) what was going on! I walked away feeling on top of the world, as far as Chinese listening ability. However, the next day, I was thwarted by the Chinese of a six-year –old (a very clever six-year-old, in my defense). Oh well, you win some, you lose some.


Besides the opera, this week was also amusing, because our environment professor took our class out to the school’s ecological pond to go bird-watching. What does this mean? We have *finally* established the identity of the mystery school bird.

It’s a MALAYSIAN NIGHT HERON! (now you know). However, I have to say I like the common name for the bird more, 大笨鳥, which translates directly as “big stupid bird”. I can’t help feeling as though the species must have pretty low self-esteem, as far as birds are concerned, with a name like that.

Taiwan is a haven for birds, and NTU alone has over 105 species of birds throughout the year. Including… the night heron, intermediate egret, mallard, domestic duck, brown-headed thrush, long tailed shirk, white grey and yellow wagtail, barn swallow, crested serpent-eagle, collards scops owl, little egret, common moorhen, white-breasted waterhen, common kingfisher, red turtle dove, spotted neck dove, white-billed green pigeon, barbet, magpie, black drongo, black bulbul, and Eurasian tree sparrow. Taiwan’s bird population is diverse because it is located on the border of a tropical
and subtropical division line, it is located between the Palaeartic and Oriental zoogeograpcial regions, it has a diverse landscape in terms of elevation, and it is a convenient spot for stopovers of migratory birds.

Besides being a haven for bird species, Taiwan is also a haven for… really really nice people. The other day our Chinese class discussed this topic, and all of my classmates, from a variety of countries across North America, Europe, East Asia, and Southeast Asia all agreed: Taiwanese people are just… nice. This is not to say that every single person you meet on this island will be kind and considerate, but it seems that even a *ahem* “not-so-friendly individual” here is nowhere as horrible as a “not-so-friendly individual” back home.

Case in point: Yesterday I went to 7/11 at about 12:30 in the morning (which is normal here, the place was still packed) to print out train tickets. The girl in front of me was also a foreign exchange student, and was having trouble reading the information and understanding which route she needed to take. On top of that, the printer jammed momentarily. Seeing her struggling, a complete stranger came out of nowhere to help her use the machine, going as far as to call the company to confirm her ticket. On top of that, once he helped her, he checked in with me as well, to make sure everything was ok. He was really kind (not in an overbearing creepy way though), and was willing to work with us for about 15 minutes, early in the morning, just because he felt it was the right thing to do. And what’s more, this kind of attitude isn’t uncommon at all at NTU, or in Taipei in general. Students from southern Taiwan complain that those from Taipei are unfriendly and unhelpful, but if those from Taipei are considered unfriendly and unhelpful, I am terrified to know what they think of the rest of the world. Even coming from the American Midwest, one of the friendliest places in the country, I’m still impressed with the attitude of Taiwanese.