Sunday, October 25, 2009

Things An Alto Notices as a First-Time Traveller to Taiwan

1. Scooters are everywhere. If you are skittish and try not to get hit by them, you probably will be hit by them. If you dart in and out of them carelessly, you're doing it right.

2. Taiwan beats New York for neon signage. Good thing I'm not swayed by advertising or my per diem would be gone.

3. Garbage trucks play ice-cream-truck-like songs. I almost ran after one. I wish Canadian garbage was this melodic...

4. Some major crosswalks have no pedestrian lights. I stood at one for 5 minutes, trying to figure out the traffic flow, before deciding that since I'd already broken a wrist on one tour, it was better not to get run over on this one.

5. I have seen no less than 5 little "dogs-in-bags" a la Paris Hilton. And the dogs don't respond well to "oh, what a cute widdle puppy dog" because they don't speak English. I had better luck saying "Ni Hao Ma" (sp?).

6. English translations may not always be grammatically correct, but they have a universally joyous tone to them. It is rare to find a translation without the words "happy", "joy", "lucky", "delicious", "beautiful", "love", etc...

7. When walking Taiwanese streets, if you stick to what you think is the sidewalk, you may very well be walking right through the middle of someone's family business. Is it better to walk in the parking lane? I wasn't sure...

8. Alleyways are not just alleyways. They are winding portals to tiny businesses and crowded community markets. (Speaking of which, there seems to be a very family-oriented, community-minded approach to business. For many, your life and your work are the same thing.)

9. People keep looking at my feet when I walk. Either I have bad shoes, or they've noticed I'm pigeon-toed.

10. As a relatively introverted person, I find it much more comfortable and polite to slightly bow to someone as they're walking by, rather than blurting out a self-conscious "hello" as I normally would in Canada. The whole chance meeting seems to have a greater sense of respect. Can we adopt this in Canada?

11. You can eat seaweed for breakfast, red beans are the norm for desserts, dragonfruit and mango yogurt are heavenly, and I am still waiting to appreciate the complexities of congee! (More on food later on in this tour.)

12. People appreciate the opportunity to try out their (very fluent) English in conversation. I walked past a group of 15-year-old boys who yelled out "nice to meet you" and were overjoyed when I replied, "Nice to meet YOU!". They laughed. I laughed. It was fun.

13. Audiences have a well-developed sense of choral applause. At our first concert, as we entered, the clapping was like bullet fire - until Jon turned around to conduct, at which time it ceased immediately and left us all somewhat stunned! (And delighted!)

14. Audiences are unbelievably appreciative. And culture matters. You know when the Director of Culture (? or something along those lines) for one major city takes you on a private tour, and the Deputy Mayor of another major city attends your concert and gives you the equivalent of the keys to the city. (Hint hint, B.C. gov't?)

15. Use your "inside voice" on the bullet train or you will be told by your fellow choristers the next morning that there were signs everywhere asking you to speak softly...and evidently, you ignored them...

16. The night markets are one gigantic sensory overload experience that makes an unmaterialistic chorister rather jittery!!

17. And lastly, sitting in the hotel lobby at 8:00 am, do not be surprised when 3 or 4 people, and then half a tour bus of people, sit next to you, one at a time, so they can get a picture with you. (It was like an assembly line. I couldn't stop giggling.)

By Jenny McLaren, a wide-eyed and delighted alto


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