After that, I met my new language exchange partner(!); his name is Raphael, and he's awesome. (Everyone here who's learning English or interacting regularly with English speakers likes to have an English name. His real name: Zhang Jun Suang - I had to look that up, though.) He's an 18-year-old recent high school grad who's studying for the national university entrance exams. We'll be meeting about three times a week for two hours each time - one English, one Chinese. At his suggestion, we're also taking a trip on Sunday, though I have no idea where we're going. He's quite nice, reasonably patient, and very enthusiastic, and I discovered the joys of both beef noodles (牛肉麵／niurou mian; the "mein" of lo mein/etc is a corruption of mian) and some useful menu vocab during the Chinese portion of our meeting today. Tomorrow I'll be meeting with the nurse who wants to talk about the international news... I guess that means I need to get back on top of all those podcasts I stopped listening to two days ago.
After that I headed back to the hostel, took a long walk around to check out an apartment, walked up through part of a huge, beautiful park with a great view of that part of city (撫[?]州山公元) and a few sets of wooden stairs that made my quads remember the White Mountains. The fact that it's just a minute's walk away is a huge plus for the apartment I visited, and I'm definitely going back to the park for a full exploration before classes start. I also got my first good view of Taipei 101, which I really need to visit before I leave if I can fit it into the budget: a trip to the outer deck of the top of the tallest building in the world is something I probably shouldn't pass up while I'm in the neighborhood.
Foods today: another "traditional" (still not sure about this) egg sandwich- type of thing for breakfast, followed by fried bread sticks from a street vendor; beef noodles (mentioned above. absolutely delicious.); and a fiesta of one of my favorite fruits: a pineapple smoothie and a large bag of sliced pineapple, each for the equivalent of about $1.50.
A word about apartments. I could take the one I looked at today: it's nice-looking, a 25-minute walk from TaiDa, and has everything I need - i.e., a bed, a table/desk, high-speed wireless, and air conditioning - but I'm holding out for something cheaper and a little closer to Taipei. If that turns out to be an unrealistic hope, I may be in trouble. But I'm lured on by the excellent 4000NT/mo that someone else at the hostel just found (short-term, too!), which is just slightly over half the price I'd be paying at the place I looked at. With Raphael's help, hopefully I'll find something good...
A longer word about the language. I'm getting better at understanding people, but some aspects of the accent still surprise me and the speed/lack of vocabulary is still a huge problem. About an hour ago I had my most satisfying conversation in Mandarin: a phone inquiry (always harder; no body language to rely on!) about a sign for rental space, which turned out to be intended for a business. Besides that, though, I've been relying on a lot of English, just because it's available. A lot of larger stores have signs in English as well, and the eye (or my eye, at least) is naturally drawn there and away from characters; some folks speak English, like the people at the government youth travelers office, and (somewhat) that prospective landlord; and I've been leaning heavily on the folks at the hostel when I reach an impasse myself - like when I came across those characters that I had this vague intuition might have something to do with apartments for rent (they did!), or when I couldn't understand a landlord on the phone. While I'm a big fan with the speed at which we've learned Chinese at Yale, my inability to read characters in particular is confirming this growing feeling I've had during second semester: we really should learn the radicals and a set of common phonetics in a systematic way. (Also, fun fact: by the end of the first year, they're learning 35 characters a day at Middlebury.) I don't want it to be much more back-breaking than it already is, but is it possible that Yale's program - of which, again, I'm a big fan - could be more efficient? Anyway, that aside, I'm trying to speak as much Chinese as I can, but I just can't bring myself to avoid English help when I feel like it's in my interest - e.g., finding an apartment, or even a translation for a word that I might otherwise not pick up. But is it ultimately against my interest because I'm not truly immersing myself in the language? Feel very free to comment with your thoughts; I'm pretty torn about this, and while I can't always control the situation, I could definitely try harder at the whole solely-Chinese thing.
Now it's time for some Haagen-Dazs (if they're still open), and then shower & bed!