Archive for October, 2006

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Just Another Taipei Day

October 28, 2006

My plan for today was to go to the “Roots and Shoots Animal Parade” in Taipei with Amy, an English teacher from Iowa who I met at a party last weekend, and her boyfriend.  The parade was to raise awareness about protecting Taiwan’s animals, and Jane Goodall was there.  Unfortunately, we didn’t quite make it to the parade but we did get to see most of Dr. Goodall’s speech.  It wasn’t anything new or spectacular, but there are some people that make you feel special just for having stood within a few inches of them.  Afterwards we speculated about where she was flying off to next and what it would be like to live a life like hers when you’re in your 70’s.

As I waited for the bus back to Luzhou I found myself, as usual, surrounded by chanting people in red shirts.  If you’re not in Taiwan you probably don’t know about the current events here, but for over a month now people have been protesting daily in front of the train station in an effort to force the president, Chen Shui-bian, to resign.  Chen has survived two recall votes in parliament.  At first the protests were 24/7, but for the last week or so they’ve only been at night.  They chant “A-bian xia tai!”, step down A-bian! (president’s nickname).  Anyway, the whole point of this explanation was just to say that tonight they were chanting “xia tai xia tai” in rhythm to “O Fortuna” from Carmina Burana and it amused me greatly.

On the way home I fought off claustrophobic panic by counting people on the 24-seat bus.  61.

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Things That Make Me Happy

October 17, 2006

I’ve been in a brighter mood lately, so I felt a little optimism was in order.  Here are some things that make me happy here, in whatever random order they pop into my mind:

1. Not being (very) sick. For the first time in a long time, I am more or less healthy.  As it turns out, not constantly feeling miserable does wonders for one’s mood. 

2. Paying my bills.  Really.  The bills themselves are no fun, but paying them is terribly convenient.  I just scamper on down to the 7/11 right next door and they ring it up at the register like any other purchase.

3. Speaking Chinese. If I was ranking these in any particular order, this would be one of the most significant.  Unfortunately, it’s usually more a matter of being unhappy because I don’t speak Chinese, but tonight I’m flying high because I just had an actual legitimate conversation with a cab driver.  He complimented my Chinese and asked me where I’d learned it, where I’m from, how long I’ve been here, whether I’m a teacher or a student, etc., and I managed to come up with coherent answers most of the time.  Made my day.

4. Greasy night market food.  Good for the soul, if not the physique.  mmmm 鍋貼。

5. Carrefour.  My extraordinary discovery of the day.  I knew it existed, of course, but I hadn’t been there and I didn’t realize I cared until I took my kindergartners there on a field trip this morning.  Carrefour is a french chain of “hypermarkets”, basically filling the same niche as Wal-mart.   I feel somewhat guilty about being so happy about it.  I want to say that I have no interest in Carrefour, I’d rather just do all my shopping at local mom and pop stores or night/morning markets.  But when I first stepped into Carrefour…. I almost cried. (OK, not really, but I liked it a lot.)

6. Some kids, sometimes.   I’m not going to go so far as to say that my students always bring me joy.  In fact, a lot of them make me fairly miserable.  But I’ve got to admit, some of those little brats are alright.

Well, 6 things to be happy about isn’t a bad start.  I’m sure there would be more if I was in a thinking mood.  Suffice it to say, the sun is shining here in Luzhou.  (Not literally, of course. )

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Earthquake!

October 13, 2006

There was an earthquake in Taiwan last night.  Apparently it measured 5.9 on the Richter scale in parts of Taiwan, but was only about a 2 in Taipei.  Just a gentle swaying here in my 3rd floor apartment.  Still, it was definitely a new experience for me! 

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How I Learned My Lesson

October 10, 2006

In Taiwan it is the custom to never wear shoes in the house.  Most people leave their shoes outside their door and have slippers that they wear inside.   I usually remove my shoes when I go into my apartment as well, after all things  stay cleaner and it’s more comfortable that way, but it’s not that important to me so now and then, for example if I’m just home to grab a quick bite to eat between classes, I don’t bother.

Such was the case on Saturday afternoon.  I had just sat down for lunch when I heard my doorbell ring.  It was the first time I had ever heard my doorbell, actually, so it was a bit startling.  I opened the front door to see a tiny little old Taiwanese woman shuffling towards me.  “um… Ni Hao…” I said uncertainly to the stranger.  She launched into a angry sounding tirade in Chinese, gesturing wildly and incomprehensibly.  I gave her my best helplessly confused foreigner look. “Wo ting bu dong,” I insisted “I don’t understand.”  She stopped for a second and stared at me, then started the scolding again. 

A younger woman, maybe her daughter, came tentatively up the stairs.  “I don’t understand,” I told her, hoping she spoke English.  Apparently not, because she just stood there looking embarrassed while the old lady tried to push her way past me to my apartment. “uh.. excuse me…” I said, stepping in front of her.  Who was this person?

I noticed that she seemed to be pointing to my feet frequently.  “Xiezi”, I heard her say a couple times.  OK, I know that one, she’s talking about shoes.  Maybe she wants me to take off mine?  But why should she care?  She pointed at my neighbors line of shoes outside their door and nodded vigorously.

Eventually, the situation became clear to me. How, I do not know.  But as it turns out (I think…) these people live below me and do not appreciate the sound of me walking around in my shoes.  Probably the grand total of walking in shoes that day had been to go from my main room to the kitchen and back again, but whatever.  I quickly pulled my shoes off and set them neatly beside my door to demonstrate my willingness to comply. “Ok, Ok, Hao, Hao” I said agreeably.  She nodded and the women turned to leave, the younger one throwing me one last embarrassed look over her shoulder.

That will teach me to ignore local customs.

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Birthday/Work/Other Stuff

October 4, 2006

Yesterday was my birthday.  When my co-workers wished me Happy Birthday, many of them referred to it as my “first birthday in Taiwan”, leading me to ponder the likelihood that I will have more than one.

Anyway, I didn’t do much since I am once again down with a bad cold.  In fact, after Kindergarten this morning I gave up and took a sick day for my afternoon and evening classes so I could rest. 

Luckily I just have to make it through tomorrow and then I have Friday off for Moon Festival.  I don’t actually know what people do for Moon Festival besides eat moon cakes (a tradition in which I have been enthusiastically partaking), but I intend to celebrate by sleeping in, cleaning my apartment a bit, and seeing what I can manage to cook in my newly purchased toaster oven.

My other recent investment is a gym membership.  There’s a nice gym not far from where I live and several of my co-workers go there regularly.  I was a little intimidated by the prospect of figuring out how to sign up, but yesterday I decided to go for it.  I walked in and asked the lady at the front desk in Chinese if I could take a look at the gym upstairs.  She said yes, and that she’d call someone to show me around.  So I went upstairs and was met by another woman.  Then there was this terribly awkward moment when we all realized that I don’t actually speak Chinese and they went searching around for someone with decent English.  It all got sorted out in the end though.

I’ve never really explained exactly what my job is like, so here’s a brief summary:

On weekday mornings I teach kindergarten.  I have the same class every day, so I already know their personalities and abilities and all their little quirks so well.  I teach the youngest level of kindergarten, meaning my kids are three.  Until I came here, my contact with three year olds had basically ended when I turned four, and I was pretty skeptical about the whole thing.  As it turns out, I like kindy more every day.  The kids can be crazy, but they’re all sweet.  Also, I find it very rewarding when they actually learn what I’m trying to teach them because I know that this is their first experience with English.  Soon I will forget that my name isn’t “Teacha Kado!”

After Kindy I have anywhere between 1 and 7 hours of free time before I teach at the language school.  The kids in my afternoon, evening, and Saturday classes range from 8 year olds with basically no English to Junior High kids writing English essays (although I think I’m getting rid of that class soon).   I find these classes much more difficult and less rewarding than kindy.  I don’t know the kids because I only see them once a week, and most of them don’t want to be there.  I’m getting to the point where most of my classes go alright, but there are still a few I dread each week.

I could probably ramble on about the ups and downs of my job for pages and pages, but I’ll spare you.  Thanks to everyone who sent a birthday e-mail or comment my way!

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Taichung Trip and Reflections on a Month in Taiwan

October 1, 2006

I just got back from a weekend in Taichung.  Five people from my original training group live there so five of us from the Taipei area headed down for a visit.  Unfortunately I work until 6:00 on Saturdays so it was a very short weekend, but it was definitely worth the trip.

Saturday night we all went to KTV. For those of you not fortunate enough to have had a KTV experience, I’ll explain. KTV is karaoke Taiwan style.  A group can rent a private room with microphones and a big screen to play the music videos and all other things required for karaoke, like beer.  The videos were ridiculously random things like buildings in Switzerland, birds cleaning themselves, or girls roller skating.  After a few hours of that corniness we went to a club for a while.

Sunday we went to the Taichung Botanical Gardens and otherwise just hung out and immersed ourselves in our favorite pastime: complaining about work.  More on that in a minute.

I took a train to get there but on the way back we all took the Aloha bus.  What an experience.  Huge, comfortable, massage chairs, drinks and snacks, blankets, TV…  I could get used to traveling that way.

I really liked Taichung.  I felt like I could actually breathe there.  Many places in the city were attractive and there was even space to walk on the sidewalks most of the time.  None of those things are true in Luzhou. 

After a month in Taiwan (exactly; I arrived in Taipei on Sept. 1st),  I have very conflicted feelings about being here.  Going to Taichung and talking to my friends about their experiences isn’t what started me thinking about these things, but it certainly intensified it.

 I don’t know if I like it here.  I honestly don’t know, and that’s strange to me.  And if I don’t like it, I don’t know how severe the problem is.  I don’t know if what I don’t like is entirely related to my job or if it’s being here in general.  I don’t know if there’s any action I could take that would make things better. I don’t know if any of my concerns are worth worrying about or if I’m just going through mandatory one-month culture shock.

I spent the entire bus ride back going over all the possibilities in my mind and came to the only conclusion I could come to: that I just need to patiently wait and see what happens in the next few months.  Too bad I’m about as patient as my kindergarteners. In any case, I may not know a lot of things but I do know that fun plans with friends are the best use of my limited free time.  So mission accomplished this weekend.  Next up, Canadian Thanksgiving.