Taiwan Blog Awards Winners - A Taiwanderful interview with Mandarin Scholarship Taiwan

"Mandarin Scholarship Taiwan" is the winner of the Best Taiwan Blog Awards for 2008 in the "Best Taiwan Education Blog 2008" category. Mandarin Scholarship Taiwan blogger - Kang Wei - shared some of his thoughts about the blog, blogging, education in Taiwan, the Taiwan blogosphere, and Taiwan in general.

Background details

Mandarin Scholarship Taiwan

Blogger - 康威 (Kāng Wēi)

About the blogger (from personal blog) - Writer, photographer and culture vulture.

Blog - Mandarin Scholarship Taiwan

Years in Taiwan - 3-4 years

Years blogging - 1 year

Blogging platform - Wordpress.COM

Country of Origin - Born in england. Raised in australia

Age - 31-35

The interview

Q: What was your main motivating force for beginning your own blog?

In 2007 I was awarded a Ministry of Education Huayu (Mandarin) Enrichment Scholarship. I began blogging for three main reasons. First, as a way to say thank you to the Taiwanese government for offering me the opportunity; Second, to share my study experiences with present and future Mandarin students and lastly to help promote this fascinating island nation, Taiwan.

The government tries very hard to promote the Taiwan scholarship program but its efforts are often sporadic, inconsistent and often not followed through. For example, I often come across scholarship application material that is years out of date, email addresses that don’t work and websites that disappear or aren’t updated. With Taiwan competing with China for students, in an effort to counter its international isolation, it can not afford to have such an inconsistent media strategy.

I chose the domain MandarinScholarship.com as part of a SEO strategy to keep Taiwan at the top of Google’s search results. If the Taiwanese government really wanted to harness the power of the internet to promote the Scholarship program it should implement a comprehensive new media strategy immediately.

Further, the support from universities and language centers for newly arrived students is often minimal. Support staff are often overstretched and unable to provide adequate orientation. My own orientation lasted 10 minutes. I was given two pieces of paper, an application form for a tutor and a map. MandarinScholarship.com aims to provide useful information to assist newcomers.

Q: What is your blog mainly about? Please tell us a little bit about the general topics you usually discuss in your blog.

As the name suggests my blog is about Taiwan's Mandarin Scholarship programme, application process, choosing a uni/uni reviews, living in Taiwan/ visas/travel/culture/museums/music/film.

The bulk of the data is currently about learning mandarin: books, software, pinyin, BoPoMoFo and the mandatory Test Of Proficiency-Huayu (TOP).

I am considering doing a comprehensive review of universities because almost everyone who contacts me through the site wants to know which school is "best".

I enjoy writing about learning Chinese with new software/web applications. Chinese is tough. I find new approaches to learning keep me motivated.

Q: What does blogging mean to you? What importance or contribution does your blog have, if any, to yourself or the community?

You can see some of my reply to question 1 for contribution to the community/Taiwan.

As an individual I want to share my experiences. Helping others keeps me motivated and positive.

Through the blog I have been contacted by scores of people from 10-15 different countries. The site has received more than 12,000 visits in a year, it won a blog competition, received 66 comments, one of the stories I wrote will be published in a German magazine and after I added my blog experience to my CV I was offered a new media position with an organisation in Singapore.

Q: Did you experience any special or out of the ordinary events or interactions as a result of writing a blog?

I was also contacted by a Masters student in Taiwan about some images on my blog. She wanted some for her thesis on The Wind Lions of Kinmen. I ended up editing her 50 page thesis and helped her get it submitted on time. I did this to help her and to get more information about Taiwan out.I've never met her!

Q: How did your blogging help promote you personally? (either professionally, by reputation, additional direct/indirect income or similar)

See previous answers. I have not earned any money through blogging. It would be great if I could have a small income stream and become semi-pro. Some people roll their eyes when I say I am a blogger. But most are curious.

With initiatives like the https://www.theprintedblog.com/, the use of blogs by major news companies and CEOs and politicians blogging to get their messages across, I think having blog experience on your CV will be pretty much standard in a few years. So I encourage everyone to give blogging a try.

Q: How much freedom do you feel you have to discuss what you care about in your blog? Are some topics more sensitive than others? Do you include personal details and stories in your blog? Why?

I am very careful about privacy and my online identity. My blog is not about me it is about my experiences, which are condensed into a format that allows visitors to obtain the info they want in an efficient way.

Visitors to MandarinScholarship.com, I believe, do not want to spend time reading about, for example, finding a dead cockroach, a visit to the supermarket or the humidity. They want targeted information fast.  Budget conscious scholarship students may want to know what the cheapest supermarket chain in Taiwan is, or the link to Taiwan's bureau of meteorology so they can plan trips. Once personal information is online it is almost impossible to get it back. It is out their forever. So I don't provide any personal details.

Q: How would you generally describe the Taiwanese blogosphere?

The English language Taiwanese blogosphere is diverse and a great source of information about Taiwan and living in Taiwan.

Q: In your opinion, what contribution or role does the Taiwan blogosphere have?

I see the contribution of the English language Taiwanese blogsphere in two ways:

  • Internal: it offers English speaking communities opportunities to connect and share information. The governments efforts at disseminating information often do not meet the communities needs. Viewed in this way contributing to the blogosphere is a community service.
  • External: In today's link and search environment, where people use search engines to find targeted information, the blogosphere automatically becomes the first point of reference for a huge amount of information about Taiwan.

The government spends a huge amount of resources promoting Taiwan but has yet to embrace a cost effective new media strategy leveraging the full potential of the internet and the vibrant English language blogosphere.

Taiwan’s culture portal, culture.tw, is a case in point.

"Culture.tw is a Web portal and content Web site that aims to promote the arts and culture of Taiwan. Culture.tw aims to be Taiwan culture's main window on the Web -- a reference point for all English speakers around the world who wish to discover the diversity of Taiwan's culture and its lively environment, creativity and cultural life. Culture.tw aims to provide free, high quality, regularly updated authoritative content and information.”

Culture.tw is a government project run by a traditional media org, Taiwan News. This combination does not lend itself easily to embracing Web 2.0 (user generated content). To be fair, the site has incorporated some web 2.0 elements, comments, video upload etc but it is still essentially a web 1.0 website without a community. It is, in short, an anti-social Web 2.0 looking portal. In two years only eight blog articles have been posted on the site! What are they afraid of!

Q: Do you have any favorite blogs about Taiwan you would like to recommend?

I have the deepest gratitude for bloggers that aim at promoting Taiwan in a niche that still needs alot of work and is - promotionally - very undeveloped. Thank you for the interview and keep on with the great work.