Friday, October 31, 2008
The cram school kids were out of control last night. Who can blame them? I probably would've called social services and would've asked to be taken away had my parents made me go to EXTRA SCHOOL on Halloween night.
Between classes the school owner asked James and I what Halloween was like for us when we were kids. Did you go out and trick-or-treat every year? Oh yes, of course. Did you always dress up? Yep. Sure did.
Then he told us when he was a boy, back when Taiwan was still under martial law, no one was allowed to celebrate Halloween. Chiang Kai-shek was born on October 31. And the Generalissimo didn't want kiddies dressing up like monsters on his birthday.
If I ever come into command of a police state, I will make everyone dress up in my likeness on my birthday.
I blame it on the cool factor: Tweens are genetically wired to seek out and destroy anyone who isn't cool. I am not very cool.
Here's how I think it works: No one is cool for the first ten years of their life. During that time, most of us are primarily concerned with playing, watching cartoons and trying not to piss our pants. Then you get into the double-digits and a light goes on: You realize being cool is your destiny. Further, you realize you spent the whole of your life up until this point being not cool. The humiliation! Therefore, you spend the next four to six years trying to compensate for all that prior uncoolness.
I remember this stage keenly. I dreaded my parents hugging me in public. I spent hours, days, weeks maybe! considering how to acquire an Abercrombie and Fitch t-shirt when there was no Abercrombie store in Alaska (there is now). I disavowed my status as jedi-class Star Wars freak. I stayed up nights worrying over what the boys whispered about in the back of the class. And when the other seventh-grade girls got gell pens/toe socks/doc martens/hello kitty stationery/smiley face t-shirts/cranberry lip balm - I'd be damned if I didn't get it too.
Eventually most of us get used to ourselves again and get over it. But at the volatile juncture of tweendom it's be cool or be verbally cannibalized by your peers. When you are a cool tween, the other cool people are your allies. They build you up, make you cooler. Anyone who is not cool must be sought out and destroyed. Failure to annihilate the uncool lessens your own cool-factor.
I am not cool. My little kids are oblivious. My teenagers are over it. But my tweens are on red-alert. The boys affect non-ironic, exaggerated swaggers when they drop into class. The girls spend the hour attempting to chat the boys up, and then act distressed when I pair them with boys for activities. And through it all they do their best to tell me - even though their English is pretty crappy - that I am totally, completely, undeniably lame.
When I was in junior high, my eighth-grade social studies teacher had somewhat of a meltdown. He went around the class one day and told each of us what he hated about us as individuals. At the time I thought he was a bad teacher. Still do. But I also kind of get it now.
Wednesday, October 29, 2008
In the spirit of the season, I thought I'd share the following. Who doesn't love kids singing hiphop in prep jackets and ties! Gosh, but the original song is so dirty.
I like the one white kid in back. He looks like he's having a good time. I also like that he appears to be holding his own. I never managed to stay on beat for a single elementary school dance recital. Of course, I didn't know it at the time. My mom waited to tell me how un-jazzy I looked in jazz class until she knew I was mature enough to not be crushed by the sad facts of life. Way to go, little guy.
Tuesday, October 28, 2008
James: They asked me if I was ABC.
James: Because I talked about having family here. I told him I was half, and then he asked me if I look white.
Me: What did you say?
James: I said I looked mixed.
Me: Well, that's a lie.
James: No it's not. I have too much body hair to look completely Asian.
Unfortunately, the interviewer probably wont inspect James' hairy toes to determine his inner Caucasian.
By now we should be used to the racism thing, but it still confuses and amuses me. First off, there are plenty of locals teaching English in this country, whites don't monopolize the English-teaching industry. And James speaks better English than all the local teachers I've met to date. So what gives?
The interviewers always give some line like, "Oh the parents like white teachers ... so we have to pay you less," which basically sounds like an unsophisticated ruse to trick ABC (American-born Chinese) guys into working for less money. Parents don't have any say in teacher pay. Or do they come in after work and go, "That one, he looks Asian. I hope my cram school fees are being spent in greater proportion on the white people you employ around here."
The strangest part today was the person who James spoke with on the phone was an ABC (or so he told James). "It's very difficult for us. We have to work harder, we get paid less..." Sure guy. Can we say Uncle Tom? Then ABC guy made James write him a cover letter to prove his English ability. I applied with ABC guy and didn't have to write any such letter.
The whole thing is either absurd or incredibly, coldly pragmatic: There's huge turnover in foreign teachers. Work visas cost schools money. And, most foreign teachers come with the barest qualifications: a college degree in any subject, native English speaking skills and, hopefully, a passing ability to deal with children. So if teachers are pretty much considered interchangeable (and they are), I guess, as a school owner, you may as well hook one that looks foreign too.
As I mentioned in this post, marketing and appearances are most important to the average cram school.
Sunday, October 26, 2008
Really, the whole thing was my fault. But it was embarrassing nonetheless.
We went to Nini's for lunch. We walked through the exterior door, a hulking metal gate thing, which leads to a small outdoor foyer before going into the apartment. I was leaning against the wall to take my shoes off when I felt a tremendous pinch on my forearm. I instantly imagined a tropical demon-bug sinking its fangs into my arm. I made a little yelp and ripped my arm away.
Turns out it was Nini trying to close the exterior door, but my forearm happened to be wedged in the hinge. When I looked at my arm, I had a 2-inch purple bruise and the first layer of skin had been pulled off. While not life-threatening, this was fairly painful.
All of a sudden everyone was trying to look at my arm. Tears pooled in my eyes. I barely managed to say hello to Yeye, I couldn't look at Amina. Instead I stared at the ceiling, trying to calm down. It's bad enough having to rely on James to play interpreter for dinner conversation. Crying in front of a room full of people whose language I don't speak is more vulnerability than I cared to show.
I slipped into the bathroom to wash my arm and pull myself together. James poked his head around the door, looking concerned.
"GO AWAY." I warned. Tears come quicker when there's someone offering comfort. When James didn't skedaddle immediately I put on my war face and made a "shoo" gesture. So then he left.
Complete boo-hoo meltdown averted. When I stepped out of the bathroom Nini dabbed iodine on my arm while saying "Sorry, sorry" in English to which I responded "Mayo guan xi, mayo guan xi" "It's not a problem, It's not a problem."
I had the sniffles through lunch. And in retrospect, I guess it was obvious to all I was on the verge of tears. I deserve points for being a champ.
Saturday, October 25, 2008
|China Sucks, Taiwan is not For Sale, Keep Taiwan FREE|
|Note the big red star commie boot crushing Taiwan's government behind the flag|
|Everyone wave at the white lady with a camera.|
It was a poignant thing to watch, especially when it occurred to me that if Taiwan were part of China today this march would never have been allowed.
|Police observing the demonstration|
Today we were headed into the bookstore when we stopped to watch this band. They sounded like Coldplay or early U2 without words. Pretty inoffensive, right? There was a modest crowd of polite listeners and then there was this cranky lady:
|This shit is for pussys! Where is the Slayer?!|
And boy was she mad. Every time they hit the distortion - about once a song - she started yelling.
|One Finger Salute|
Then she flipped them off. This was all good entertainment, but it was also instructive for a foreigner like me. The band and the crowd's reaction to this woman's antics were the opposite of what I'd expect back home.
When she began shouting no one said a thing. Barely anyone glanced. When she continued to yell people giggled some and exchanged sideways glances. The band leader ignored her. Between songs he asked people to clap if they liked the music. The clapping was marginally more enthusiastic than it might have been otherwise, but there were no roars of approval, no hollering praise in defense of the jam session outside the bookstore.
This would've gone down two possible ways in America: Either the crowd would've agreed with the heckler and joined in, "You guys suck! Play Freebird!." Or they would've shouted her down, "Get lost bitch!"
Americans love a fight. I love a fight. I didn't even like the band much, but I might have said something for the sake of a stimulating confrontation. Unfortunately (fortunately?) my Chinese skills aren't that progressed, so I just watched and took mad pictures.
James surmised afterward that she'd probably been expecting Cannibal Corpse. That would explain why she was so upset at a Coldplay knock-off.
Today we ate dinner at Rock and Roll McDonalds. I began affectionally referring to the Golden Arches as Rock and Roll McDonalds when I was introduced to this lovely Wesley Willis song.
James and I are pretty good: We make congee for lunch at home, we eat dried squid snacks when we watch tv, and we buy Asian beer.
But we're still red-blooded Americans, and we require hamburgers at least weekly. And all that Chinese food just makes a Big Mac all the more savory.
Friday, October 24, 2008
I'm the only white person working at one school where I teach. And I comprise two-thirds of the white people at the other school (James is half white, he works there too, so there's your other third). James is wonderful and all, but it would be nice to meet other people whose first language is English.
Unfortunately, when we see them I can't think of anything to say that doesn't sound awkward. I've thought about turning to James and loudly remarking, "Hey, look! White people!" or marching over and proffering, "What's up, crackers?" But that attempt might be wrongly interpreted, or not interpreted at all if said white people aren't from America.
Plus there's just something lame about approaching a stranger just because you share an increased risk of melanoma. Kinda like, "Well look a that! You're white, and so am I! We should be fast friends."
That happened rather often when I commuted by bus in Los Angeles, where very few white folks inflict themselves with America's crappiest big-city public transit system.
I'd be minding my own, and then some other white person (usually a guy) would get on the bus and plop down beside me, ugh, even though there were plenty of open seats. I'd be forced to mingle when I really just wanted to listen to music and keep a look out for drive-bys. Without fail, said white guy always mentioned how he actually did have a car he just couldn't drive it today. Actually, any guy who chatted me up on the bus did this. In America buses are emasculating, apparently.
I was complaining about white people seeking solidarity on the bus it to a black friend once. She shrugged. If there's another black person working at the same office, it's standard to make a point of introducing yourself, she said. Okay, that makes sense, I thought, to seek support in a historically hostile career-oriented environment. But I was just on the 333 Metro Line from Venice to Santa Monica. Commiseration not required.
Now I'm in Taiwan and I'm the weird white person who wants to talk to all the other white people. I don't really care about the occasional family of tourists I spot, it's the unattached, pale-faced 20-somethings I'm interested in, especially the ones I see near my apartment. They could be a wealth of information - they may know schools close by that are hiring, where not to bother looking for work, a decent bar within walking distance ... But alas, my tongue is tied. And I will go on admiring whitey from afar until I vanquish my awkwardness.
Thursday, October 23, 2008
If that were a point of contention in America, our national legislative sessions might be more akin to the parliamentary smackdowns Taiwan has. Taiwan has two mainstream political parties: the Democratic Progressive Party which is pro independence, and the Kuomintang which seeks eventual reunification with the mainland. Beijing considers Taiwan a renegade province of the People's Republic of China.
At the FCC meeting I attended, a reporter leaving Taiwan for a job in Beijing told a story about riding in cabs in Taipei. She talked about chatting up cab drivers and how they would say, "Oh your Chinese is so good, how long have you lived in China?" And she would always reply, "I've never lived in China, I've only lived in Taiwan."
"How long did it take to get thrown out of the cab?" someone else quipped.
It was a joke, but that's how deep it runs. Some here object to the National Palace Museum on grounds it's too Chinese-centric, that Taiwan should be concerned with its own culture. And plenty of people here wish to be called "Taiwanese" not "Chinese."
That brings me to my moment of in-classroom political idiocy: I was talking to my students about national origins (e.g. "He is from America. He is American." "He is from Thailand. He is Thai) when I got to Taiwan.
"And you, my students, you are from Taiwan. So you are uhh... Taiwanese, right?" The moment I said it, I wished I hadn't. My 11-year-olds tilted their heads to the side, looking confused. No one corrected me, but no one readily agreed either.
Politics aside, it wasn't accurate. Here Taiwanese refers to aboriginal groups and Chinese native to the island prior to the end of World War 2, when 2 million mainlanders fled to Taiwan. Those people are Chinese, not Taiwanese. It's an ethnic distinction.
I am from America. I'm American. My students are from Taiwan. They are ... going to have to figure out the rest on their own. And if they're lucky, their teacher wont inflict them with more of her ignorance, or at least no more than they're used to from her.
Wednesday, October 22, 2008
The thing that's impressed me most thus far is the way people stretch a dollar.
As a product of America where the average credit card owner owes Visa something like $6,000, I am in awe of Chinese thrift. If you make $10, save $3. That's the wisdom, sayeth James' mom. In America, saving is for chumps: If you make $10 spend it because maybe you'll be rich someday. Unfortunately, this culture extends to our system of government, and it's no wonder China owns half America's debt.
Examples of thrift are everywhere. No one wastes much on external building appearances unless it's in downtown Taipei. I'm always picking my away around rows of motorcycles parked on the sidewalk to get into shops in Nankan.
Funny English is so ubiquitous that it lost its funniness. I can't blame my grocer for selling "self handmade sausages" when I'm one of just a few native English speakers who will shop there in a week. But it's odd that Taipei 101, a monument built as testament to Taiwan's international prominence, would have ungrammatical reader boards like "The World Fastest Elevator." Taipei is lousy with native English speakers. Shouldn't someone have shelled out for a copy editor with full mastery of English mechanics?
The most amazing thing though has been the penny pinching that goes on at both schools I teach at. They both use textbooks that are flimsy paperback things that look like they should cost about $7. Neither school ever has any extras though, or enough teacher guides to accompany each book.
At one school if the owner can't find the teacher's guide I need, he just throws teacher guides for different books at me. At the other school the owner simply doesn't have a teacher's guide for the unit I'm teaching. Nor can I have my own copy of the accompanying workbook the students use. That means every classtime I have to snag a kid's workbook so I can copy the day's homework for myself.
Yesterday I was hovering over the printer about to make a couple copies. That's two pages. The owner trotted over to save me from myself:
"See you can do double sided," he said. He proceeded to tap the screen, which is all in Chinese so it's not like I'm going to remember what he's doing, and voilà, he handed me a lovely double-sided piece of paper. Thank you kindly cram school owner, God forbid I use two pieces of copy paper.
James and I bought our own whiteboard markers, because the school's hardly work. And though they hardly work, people are assigned whiteboard markers at this school - a wonderful solution to the marker embezzlement problem, I'm sure.
All my college internships were at newspapers, one of America's most embattled industries. My first internship paid me only in beer. My last newspaper shaved two weeks off the initial 12 they offered due to budget. Two newsrooms I worked at did away with the communal coffeepot. Times are tight. Despite all this, every office had a well-stocked supply closet. Duh, right? There's always enough pens, pencils, sticky notes, paper to get the job done.
Not so in the cram school classroom. No paper, no pens, no markers, no crayons, no rulers, no kiddie scissors. Them kids best be learning with whatever they brought from home.
When I wanted to take a copy of the textbook home, I had to sign it out. I asked to take home the cd that goes with the book. The reaction I got from the owner was what I'd expect had I asked to take home a piece of the school's furniture.
The owner's assistant pressed her fingers around the jewel case and gave me a look like, "We hired you because we thought you could divine the course material. This is going to be a problem."
Eventually she gave me the cd, but I had to sign for it too. Alas, all my plans to sell English textbooks for 9-year-olds on the black market must be postponed. Nor will I be able to accumulate a library of "English is Fun!" picture books for personal enjoyment. Pretty much, if you're thinking about teaching English in Taiwan, don't do it for the sweet kickbacks.
Tuesday, October 21, 2008
Me: Dude, I've been meaning to ask you ... Why are there no tampons here?
Friend: Because my people don't use them. I think they think it's really taboo to, you know, insert. Ha ha.
Me: That's so crazy.
Friend: How's the culture shock?
Me: Mostly people are really polite, except they talk about weight and money more than Americans.
Friend: OMG, tactless - I know. How do people dress?
Me: Mmm, Japanese. Layers.
Friend: You see, I have no idea about Taiwanese culture because my parents are ancient and they immigrated when Taiwan was all conservative. My parents were strict about dating growing up because Taiwan was conservative when they were young.
Me: I wasn't allowed to date until I was 16.
Friend: I wasn't allowed to date until I was done with college. But like, my dad was really serious about it.
Me: Out of college?! Your dad didn't really want you to be that socially maladjusted.
Friend: I dated of course, I just never introduced my parents to anyone.
Me: Weird. Yeah, I don't really know what the norm here is now.
Friend: The next time someone asks you what you weigh you should ask them when they lost their virginity.
Monday, October 20, 2008
Please send my boyfriend $3,269. For the last month we've been living in Taiwan. Whenever I meet an American and they find out I'm from Alaska they raise their hands as if holding a rifle and ask me about my moose hunting escapades with you, dear governor. I always smile demurely and refrain from explaining that while I have never been a hunter, I have often wanted to shoot the moose in midtown that loiter in the intersections. Maybe you can nudge along some special inner-city hunting regulations during the next legislative session.
But what I really want to talk to you about is the $3,269 you gave every Alaskan man, woman and child this year. Or at least almost every man, woman and child - you see, James hasn't received his check yet and when he looks at his application online it simply says that some caseworker is verifying his residency status. James filled out all the proper paperwork, and though he was in college out-of-state I guarantee he's an Alaskan in both letter and spirit of the law.
Governor Palin, we were counting on that money to see us through months of inactivity overseas. On the off chance we did find gainful employment, we were hoping to squeeze in a weekend or two in Hong Kong, Shanghai or Beijing. As it is, we cannot buy a mattress pillow for our tortuous, stiff Asian bed. We are too tight to afford a small heater. And winter is coming.
I promise we'll get jobs eventually. But could you please really just send us $3,269 already?
Eight Stars of Gold on a Field of Blue,
Saturday, October 18, 2008
I had some time before my class started so I went to chill in the teacher office that's connected to the preschool my cram school also runs. While I waited, a woman came in and handed me an 18-month-old. I bounced him on my hip and said "cute" in Chinese. She agreed. Then she threw a pair of clean pants over the kid's head and made the international sign for "change him."
Okay. I'm overpaid anyway, I figured, I can add baby changing to my repertoire.
Class started at 4:30. At 4:31 I found out I read the wrong teacher's guide, thanks to some vigorous head shaking on the part of my students.
All my students have English names they go by in class. This is great because there isn't any way I'm going to memorize a dozen Chinese names. I still have trouble distinguishing between "bus stop" and "shower," between "soup" and "pain." Don't ask me to do names.
Most of them have names suited for Midwest farm kids - Susan, Richard, Hank. A few got stuck with stumpers like "Racky," "Cavey" and, the kicker, "Lawn."
After I ran out of impromptu lesson material, which took about five minutes, I resorted to playing twenty questions with my darling pupils. For every new round one girl consistently asked, "Is it a black man?" Unfortunately for her "it" was Harry Potter, Mario and the Taiwan girl rock band "She," but it never was a black man. Maybe next time.
Then I asked them to each say why they are learning English. Some mentioned business. A couple said parents.
"What about school? Would anyone like to go to school, to a university, in America?" I ask. Me thinking: Aren't all Asian kids genetically programmed to send an application to Ivies when they hit 17?
"English text books easy." one girl replied. What I think she was saying is she's becoming fluent in English - an incredibly hard language to learn well - so she can go to easier school. For a split second I felt defensive. Like, hey, I didn't think school was so easy. Then I remembered I was never a 12-year-old girl stuck in class at 8 p.m. on a Friday night mastering the past perfect verb tense in a foreign language. What the hell do I know about school?
After some hangman, a bit of reading and a partner activity - it was time to go home.
Not sure how I'm going to keep this teacher ruse up for months on end.
Friday, October 17, 2008
A couple days ago James went to the doctor like the folks at quarantine ordered. The doc' told James not to drink any cold liquids. He prescribed a bag of pills that looked pretty much like the ones the Chinese woman gave him in Cambodia.
James took the first set of antibiotics that night and quickly developed a pinching headache behind his right eye. The next morning he awoke at 10 and took another pack of pills which triggered the same headache behind his eye. So he took an Advil and laid down.
We planned on going to the fun and touristy Danshui for the day. But 45 minutes after he lay down, James didn't feel any better. He just slept. Three hours passed. Then four. Five. Six. All he did was sleep while I worried about the blood vessels no doubt bursting in his cranium.
James was going to die. I knew it. He would leave me all alone in Taiwan - me whose Chinese is only good enough to order steamed pork buns. But then at 5 he miraculously awoke, and just in time for happy hour.
"I'm done taking pills," he told me.
Today, James is alive and mostly well. As for our health care: I learned how to make a tourniquet in a sixth-grade babysitting class. If the ailment doesn't require a defibrillator or a catheter, I think we can take care of it at home. We'll be fine, right?
Thursday, October 16, 2008
Safari vests aside, I have to admit I was surprised by how very similar the Taipei FCC contingent was to journalists back home: overworked and meagerly paid, though I suspect dollars here go a little farther than back stateside, or wherever - there were a couple Germans, a Swede, at least two Aussies, a guy from Turkey, and several Americans at the mixer. An Aussie working 12-hour days for Bloomberg, who has written cover articles for Time, gave me the typical "well, I didn't get into for the money..."
Someone told me it probably wouldn't be so hard to get a copy editing gig with a local English-language daily (that might include some writing). Sounds like a grind.
I think a better plan for the next 12 months is to teach a little English, read a stack of books, send some query letters into the ether, and write a brutal, beautiful ballad about Joe the Plumber. It'll be an American tale.
p.s. WHY doesn't that guy have a Wikipedia page yet?
Wednesday, October 15, 2008
So today James and I went to the megaplex in downtown Taipei and saw Eagle Eye. Before the movie we ordered Burger King.
Feminism or control freakishness, I don't like men ordering my food for me. If I'm hungry, I can tell you about it myself. But since we're here and I can't talk real good ... that's pretty much what James has to do, every day.
But today I pushed ahead of him at the Burger King counter figuring I could manage "We want two number ones."
The lady behind the cash register waited for me to quit speaking and pointing. Then she turned to James and pressed forward with the transaction.
"Two not six," he said afterward. Turns out I'd said something like "We want six ones." That might've actually been more cheeseburgers than I could eat. But had I been given the chance, I would've considered it my patriotic duty to finish them. As it was, just one Burger King cheeseburger had that familiar overdone flavor and entirely too much mayonnaise.
During the movie some dude behind me kept readjusting his feet on my chair. If we were in America, I would've done a 180 and given him the stink eye. But we're not in America, and I don't know if stink eye is the appropriate means to defend against movie theater feet in Taiwan. Maybe I'm not supposed to ward them off at all?
Back home I wouldn't think twice about busting out my "could you please take your feet off my chair" in my voice that says "if you don't, we may have to throw down outside." But, groan, like it or not, I am representing America over here. And I don't speak Chinese. So I try to keep myself in mild-manners mode. We'll see how long that lasts.
USA - home where I don't mind being a bitch - I miss you.
Monday, October 13, 2008
We've been back three days. Taiwan has only been my home for about three weeks, but I had that rush of relief when we arrived back in "familiar territory." Okay, not that familiar - every street name still sounds like "zongsan" to me, but I'm learning.
I love Cambodia. But being on a tour with a bunch of people who speak a foreign language in a country that speaks a different foreign language gave me the spins. Trying to figure prices between NT dollars, U.S. dollars and riels almost made my head explode. And I never knew where we were going until we got there. James could've told me, but he was usually too busy listening to Cannibal Ox to pay attention to the guide.
It was a little weird to be on a tour period. On my family's last visits our priority stops were the orphanage, the embassy, and the French clinic to get my brother AIDS tested. For sightseeing we visited The Killing Fields and Toul Sleng. This time I went to a tourist amusement park in Siem Reap with electric carts so tourists don't have to walk in the heat. There was this goofy haunted house in the park themed on Buddhist ideas of hell.
Cheese-factor aside, it was great to see so many people visiting - Japanese, Australian, British, German, French, Spanish, American and Chinese were the languages/accents I counted. The year Billy was adopted, 1997, it was dangerous to travel outside Phnom Penh. Traveling to Angkor Wat was a real feat. Guides carried guns. Things are better now, and hopefully will continue to improve.
Our first night we went to a massage parlor where I received my first massage ever for the agreeable price of $10 an hour. But before the massage began I had to get down to my panties in the same room as James, his mother and his grandma. We all took off our clothes together and put on the parlor clothes. Undressing with two generations of San women made me stutter, which in turn reminded me how prudish we Americans are about nudity.
We got full body massages, and I came perilously close to cackling when I peeked to my right and spotted a Cambodian dude kneading James' upper thigh. The parlor was called Angkor Spicy Hands, the worst name for a legitimate massage parlor I can think of. Or at least it seemed above board. No one offered Nini a happy ending.
The next four days were a whirlwind of tourist stops.
|Groan, I know.|
When our group walked into The Red Piano (Angie's "favorite") all the white people stared. And white people were pretty much the only people in the bar, except for the servers. Nothing kills the I'm-in-a-cool-expat-bar vibe like a gaggle of Chinese tourists laden with camera bags. Boo hoo. Then I realized they were staring at me because I was amidst the gaggle of Chinese tourists. Eh, let them wonder.
As we walked back to the bus I heard the chorus to "Take me Home Country Roads" coming from another tourist bar. It made me want to cry a little bit. I mean, I've never been to West Virginia and I don't want to go there. Pretty much, I'm a crier. And a John Denver fan. No shame in that.
The highlight, of course, was Angkor Wat. I can't think of any inspiring words to capture how amazing it was, so instead you can look at my pictures.
|Can't climb these stairs anymore, someone died doing so|
It was nice having time to get to know James' grandma better. She doesn't speak English but we managed "Good morning," "Isn't that pretty?" and "How's the food?"
All considered a fun trip, but I plan on taking James back so we can experience Cambodia on our own terms. And if my wanderlust holds up maybe I'll make it an extended visit.
"So, you like arts."
"Umm...yeah. I guess so. Sure, I like arts. But that's not what that means."
"Bachelor of Arts, that's just, well, in the United States you can get a Bachelor of Arts or a Bachelor of Science, it just means I studied things like literature, history..."
"But so you like the arts? Because we used to have class where we teach the student paints or how to draw and English same time. But it's hard to find teacher can teach the arts and the English."
"Yes. I would love to do that."
"Good. Okay. I hope you like Taiwan and will stay."
Sunday, October 12, 2008
Little Girl: "Sister, sister, you like spider?"
Little Girl: "They're lucky!"
Me: "They're horrible."
The spidey on this girl's shirt looked like a close relative of the fried spideys being sold at the roadside fruitstand in Cambodia where the girl worked.
Last night I reneged on my no bug eating policy and munched on these bad boys:
They're bamboo worms. They had the consistency of greasy, crunchy french fries, and they only tasted like the oil and spices they were cooked in. I thought of them as greasy, crunchy, Chinese french fries. Not sure they would've gone down had I been thinking "bamboo worms."
Friday, October 10, 2008
Los Angeles, Cambodia, or Florence, Oregon - the Mormons all look the same. I call that terrific branding. Props to the Church of Latter-day Saints for fabulous brand recognition.
Seeing these two young Mormons at Angkor Wat reminded me of a time I was at a friend's house as a kid. She came from a family of devout protestants. Lots of protestants aren't partial to Mormons. They think Mormons aren't the real Christian McCoys. Her family was the type of protestant that thinks Mormons are blond-haired, blue-eyed devils. I'm the type of protestant who thinks any religion that maintains such high numbers of attractive men among its ranks can't be bad. James better watch it. Maybe I'll convert.
Anyway, I was sleeping over at my pious friend's house. "My dad," she said ominously. "He can spot a Mormon from a hundred yards away." The eight-year-old me pictured this girl's dad using his steely eyes powered by the holy spirit to pick up on their evil Mormon aura.
I have since realized it doesn't take esp to pin a Mormon at three hundred feet. There are no stealth-mode Mormons. The pants, dress shirt, name tag and wholesome countenance pretty much give it away.
First we got in an elevator that only went to the fifth floor. We found another elevator to get to the sixth. The sixth floor was actually about three floors split up and only accessible by unconnected staircases on opposite sides of the building. It lent an acute sense of "firecodes-shmirecodes" to the hotel.
We went up and down the non-adjoining staircases and found no arrows leading to the 660s. Then out of nowhere our tour guide appeared. Wait here! I'll go find it, he said. I was thinking he probably wanted us to wait without him so he could go unlock the other dimension of time and space where our room existed.
Found it! He called.
We trundled upstairs to the third part of the "sixth floor" and walked all the way to the far, unlit end of the hall, past 623, 624, 625, the numbers didn't even extend up into the 640s. And then there was room 666. There were two conclusions I could draw from this: One - that this was the room they had for when the goths blew into Phnom Penh; or two, we were going to be butchered that night by vengeful spirits. The ultimate culmination of a lifetime of horror movie watching. Boo.
Of course, our key card didn't work. So again, our guide told us to wait while he went to see about it. This guide, by the way, was clean-shaven except for a mole with four two- inch-long hairs growing out of his jawline - that's so evil, right?
He was gone long enough for the shaman in the basement to whisper an incantation and slaughter a goat. When he returned our card worked, unlocking a very nice two-room suite. Evil hotel rooms are always deceptively nice.
There was lightning so we couldn't go swimming. We decided to check out the basement karaoke bar.
"You want to do karaoke?" the woman at the front desk asked, incredulous. But she pointed the way.
We walked downstairs and through the double doors. Thirty beautiful young women in cheap cocktail dresses stared at us as we entered - me wearing a pink t-shirt that came free with the tour and the hotel's white shower flip flops. Oh no, I thought, I can't possibly sing in front of all these gorgeous Asian girls.
See, Asians love karaoke. I love karaoke too, but I can only go when I can muster enough friends to trek to Koreatown back in L.A., that only happens about twice a year. Thus, I'm not as confidant in my karaoke skillz as karaokists this side of the Pacific.
"You want to sit and watch people sing?" a server asked. He scanned the room for a table, all the pretty girls were taking up the tables near the stage.
He walked over to one table of young women and made the international gesture for "shoo." They scattered. The front desk lady's surprise suddenly made sense. We must've missed the part where they explained karaoke bar is a euphemism for whore den.
We ordered a beer. I was the only woman in the room not working. There were a couple Asian men giggling with some of the girls on a couch in back. But most of the others didn't have any business. They sat, smoked, and occasionally clacked across the dance floor in their stilettos yammering into their cellphones.
At first it seemed funny: We're in Cambodia and we've stumbled into a room full of prostitutes. How cliche. James encouraged me to sing a number. When else would I get a chance to perform for dozens of hookers?
Four more middle-aged Asian men walked in. They took a seat on a couch and one of the older women (the house mom?) sat down with them. A few minutes passed, the older woman said something and in unison the girls rose from all corners of the room and walked toward the couch. They all had numbers pinned to the straps of their dresses and belly shirts.
They lined up in front of the men whom proceeded to make their selections for the night. The spectacle immediately made me feel sick inside - seeing so many young women herded in front of men who were buying. We left before we finished our drinks.
As we headed back to room 666 I thought about how incredibly, wonderfully blessed I am to have grown up with means, and freedom, and options. I hope that I never forget to be thankful for those things.
The building facades are newer, more streets are paved than the last time I visited, but Cambodia is still a very poor country. And sex trafficking is tied to that. I don't know the circumstances of the women we saw, why they made their choices, or if they had a choice. But sexual slavery is a real, terrible thing that happens in Cambodia. You can learn all about it from Somaly Mam, a Cambodian woman who wrote a memoir about her years of enslavement. She now runs a foundation that helps bring women and girls out of the industry.
James' mom canvassed the tour group and one woman produced a series of pill packets. The packaging was all in Chinese. And there were five pills in each group, to be taken three times a day. The woman said they were antibiotics, but I couldn't help my skepticism. My antibiotics have always come in orange-brown vials with Rx labels, and never as five pills to take at once. I mean, that's a cocktail. I thought drug cocktails were for AIDS and cancer patients.
You Take! Tina ordered. Well, is it penicillin? James asked. He's allergic. Penicillin isn't antibiotic, she said. Yes it is, we said. No it isn't, she said. Yes it is, we said. Tina went to ask the woman. The woman said no that wasn't what was in the pills.
So James tossed them back. When he didn't start frothing at the mouth, we figured it was fine and went to sleep. He awoke with full-body shivers hours later. My worry was exacerbated because we were in southeast asia - a scary place for diseases - and, dammit, we should've got those Japanese encephalitis vaccines as we were told.
James made it through the night. We surmised his crazy shivers was the sickness and not the Chinese mystery medicine, but he received another painful onslaught of eastern remedies that morning.
James grabbed a plateful of fruit from the buffet line and we sat down to eat with Tina and Nini (his grandmother). Don't eat pineapple! Tina admonished. Pineapple isn't good for fevers, she said. In typical nonchalant defiance, James slapped a ring of the forbidden fruit on his tongue and noshed away.
Before we got on the bus, Tina dug up another helpful Chinese man on our tour who was versed in the powers of, uhh, rubbing. First he gave James an evil noogie behind his ears, and then he jammed his elbow into James' shoulder blades. This was supposed to have a healing effect.
James still had a fever. Chinese people believe that when a person has a fever the thing to do is bundle them up. Despite his protests, Nini and Tina layered him in their shawls and coats once we were on the bus bound for Phnom Penh.
Two hours later, the bus stopped for a bathroom break. Nini and Tina gasped at James' prolific sweating. James is a prolific sweater in general, but he was more drippy than usual. "You're sweating because of the fever!" Tine and Nini clucked. "No I'm sweating because of all these layers!" He retorted. "No, it's the fever," they assured him. Nini peeled James' shirt off and dabbed off his chest. When the bus started again, James slid into the window seat to avoid anymore swaddling. This however did not stop Tina from handing him something small, brown and turd-like - telling James to suck on it to alleviate his sore throat.
When we got back to Taiwan today, James set off the temperature scanners at immigration and a quarantine officer took him aside and drew blood. Then she gave him a face mask and ordered him to go to the doctor within the next few days.
James later told me he was relieved to be headed to a doctor's office, not because he feels that sick, but because a visit to a medical professional will - hopefully - prevent any further elbows being jammed into his back and other assorted folk remedies.
I will have pictures for this entry and more up tomorrow. I loved Cambodia, loved Angkor Wat - and have half a mind to move south after our year in Taiwan...
Wednesday, October 8, 2008
I almost did it because of what happened at dinner. Our tour guide brought out a bowl full of eggs. James cracked one open and gobbled up a duckling fetus - a poor, defenseless quacker with all his parts but still in the shell.
In my book, that's almost a deal-breaker. Of all the common-wisdom warning signs for unsound partners: Does he criticize how you look? Does he read your mail? Does he get angry if you don't tell him where you are? Shouldn't, "Does he eat fetuses?" be on there somewhere?
Further, I'm a right-to-life meat eater; at least give the little sucker a crack at the world before you douse him in vinegar and soy sauce.
Part taste test, part science lesson, it was possibly the most morbid meal of my life. I had James on my left poking his spoon around in the shell. The guy two seats over was pulling a piece out at a time and asking our guide for anatomy lessons. A woman across the table peeled the entire shell off and left the fetus in a bowl for all to inspect.
I've been good about squid ice cream and sea cucumber, however I'm not ready to eat the unborn. Our relationship survived, but I was standoffish for at least 45 minutes after dinner. I think we'll be okay as long as James doesn't become a routine baby eater. Goodnight.
Sunday, October 5, 2008
This time I'm the only member of the Jones clan headed south. And I wont be coming back with any rotten-toothed, scabbies-infested rugrats in tow. James, Tina and I are going on a 5-day tour to Angkor Wat. It's with a Chinese tour company (we got an amazing deal through one of Tina's travel agent friends), so maybe I can work on my Mandrin in Siem Reap.
I never though my third visit would involve a tour bus full of Chinese travelers, but I don't think it'll be my last visit either. Cambodia has a special place in my heart for several reasons. Two of those reasons are sitting in Sunday school right now in Florence, Oregon. They're so jealous of me for getting to go without them, but my parents are planning a trip for them in a year or so. And I hope when their turn comes they fall in love with their birthplace the same way I did when I was their age.
I found some tea in a pharmacy that promised to make my boobies bigger. I would've bought some, because, hey, it can't make them smaller right? Maybe I could placebo-effect my way into enlarged lady lumps. But the price tag was $900NT, that's about $30 U.S. - proof there must be as many suckers living in Taiwan as everywhere else.
|From Chang Kai-shek Memorial|
The last time we made a beer run we bought some Kirin and Taiwanese beer, and one can of this. I thought it was greentea-flavored beer. Unfortunately, it was beer-flavored green tea. Last night we were out of real beer, so I was stuck pulling on this. If you added a jigger of Natty Ice to one of those sickly sweet bottles of Lipton green tea, I imagine the result would be what you see above. America, you aren't missing anything.
I took a picture of James' uncle's picture in the newspaper. Jojo (Chinese for uncle) is an important economics guy in the Taiwanese government. The fallout in the American economy has effected the world. I think that's why Jojo's picture was in the paper. But then I don't read Chinese, so don't take my word for it.
Saturday, October 4, 2008
Back home we pay lip service to concern for the prominence of fast food and the staggering 30 hours of TV watched per week by the average American. But dehydration? That's the kiss of death. We don't sit for that. Not drinking water is bad. All other health considerations pale next to this American adage.
And I come from the zenith of water-swigging families. My dad drinks 8 bottles of water a day. Before the five of us go anywhere together, we puzzle over how many water bottles to pack in the car. If I pick my brothers up from town to take them home, a 20-minute drive, and I don't have any water - they cry child abuse.
Here no one drinks ice water. They think it's bad for you. A couple nights ago we sat down to dinner at home and I asked Tina if she wanted anything to drink. "No thanks, I have my soup," she said. I refrained from asking the relevance of her declaratory statement.
We got up late yesterday and didn't eat breakfast because we were going to James' grandparents for lunch. At lunch, no one was offered anything to drink, no one asked for anything to drink, not wanting to be the odd girl out - I ate my rice in silence.
Afterward I fell asleep on their couch. For an hour and a half. That's after a full night's sleep and only having been up about four hours.
I awoke around 2 p.m. My head hurt. My mouth was dry. My skin was sticky. I was a teeny bit dizzy, and feeling oddly removed from James' grandparents living room. I felt like I could sleep all afternoon.
Am I hungover? I thought. I'd had a beer the night before. One beer. Sixteen hours ago. The idiocy of this consideration made me realize how dehydrated I was. So although everyone was antsy to get going to the Chang Kai-shek Memorial, I insisted on popping across the street to a convenience where I bought a liter-sized bottle of water.
I cradled it in my arms all afternoon like a baby. James' mom made fun of me for carrying around such a big bottle. "When in Rome" be damned. I don't have whatever magical power for water retention everyone else here does.
That night we went to dinner with a bunch of Tina's friends. At the restaurant, Tina's friend asked for ice water for the table. The server came back with a bucket of ice. No, no, he said, ice water. Five minutes later she came back with one glass, that was about the size of a triple shot glass, with two measly ice cubes and not enough liquid to water a cactus.
I must be living in a country full of camels.
Friday, October 3, 2008
Actually the kids, for the most part, were sweet and studious. And I have to give them extra credit for the fact they'd already been to a day full of school, they were probably hungry, and they were forced to spend two hours with someone who didn't speak their language. And some of them were as young as 8. That's tough.
The main problem was the school owner didn't give me a teacher's guide until 20 minutes before class started. Suddenly I understand why on forumosa.com I'm always reading about teachers spending their own money on classroom materials: In Taiwan owning a private English cram school can be a lucrative business. Marketing and appearances are vital. That means money goes to gaudy classroom paint jobs and adorable plastic book carriers. It also means my classroom had no extra pencils, pens or paper, and the whiteboard markers were almost all useless. Oh, and there were no towels in the bathroom, only toilet paper.
But I survived, and I now know what I have to prepare for in the future. I deserve a beer or several.
Thursday, October 2, 2008
We interviewed in the AMERICA, Fuck Yeah! wing of the school. There were no less than three giant Statue of Liberties. A Mount Rushmore mural took up a wall. The common areas were strung with rows of American flags. The seats were plastic red-white-and-blue atrocities.
There was a big panel in a hallway all about America. Under "dress" there was a picture of a cowboy and under "food" was pictures of steak, a hamburger and fries. Nothing like meat, potatoes and ten-gallon hats to fill my heart with patriotic fervor. Under places they had photos of the Guggenheim, Grand Canyon, Yellowstone, and - since this is a map of America for Asian kids - Harvard.
Neither of us were asked about our ability to teach. But we were told we'd need to do after-hours marketing for the school, and we'd have to be there on Christmas for a special program. The interviewer spent five minutes explaining how we'd be waterboarded, electrocuted, then ritualistically slaughtered if we broke the school's contract. "We'll sue you, put you on the blacklist, and make sure you can't come back to Taiwan," I believe is what she said.
Our interview was interrupted when an Aussie dude with gnarly Buddha forearm tats came up demanding to know where the interviewer put his books.
"I didn't take them anywhere!"
"I will crucify you," he muttered storming away.
After the first grouchy Australian I'd ever seen in real life disappeared, then came the kicker:
The interviewer, who was Taiwanese, made some hemming and hawing noises. She looked at James and said, "I'm very sorry, it's not because you wouldn't be a good teacher, but you have to know you will make less than her because of the parents want their kids to learn from people that aren't from here."
She was clearly in need of some no-bullshit clarification assistance:
"So what you're saying is you pay your Asian-looking teachers less than your white-looking teachers?"
She asked us if we wanted to be separated to hear what the school was offering each of us for salary. Both of us knowing I would lord my higher earning potential over James at home anyways, we declined.
She then offered to pay me peanuts and pay James peanut shells. We peaced out of that mess shortly thereafter.
Ironically, despite his Asiany Asianness, James had a better grasp of the English language than me until about, mmm, three years ago. I went to an alternative elementary school where my teachers employed the not-teaching-grammar alternative. No one bothered to fill me in on who/whom and noun-verb agreement until I was 19 and in journalism school.
No matter, all signs point to us finding better, higher-paying jobs in non-racist environs.
It's strange job hunting in a country where an employer doesn't have to sweat a lawsuit when she says "we're looking for whites." Looks matter here, and I'm going to benefit being a young, caucasian lady with a full set of teeth. There are plenty of white teachers in Taipei, but the minority are women. And I've heard "we're only looking for women" plenty this week.
I had a second interview tonight. Afterward I met James and his mom in a Japanese restaurant where Tina was once again employing the Tina-Meiser style job finding approach: She was chatting up the restaurant owner who told her where the English schools are near our apartment. He scoffed at the school James and I had our lame encounter at before Tina even told him the story. He looked to me (the non-Chinese speaker) and made the international sign for motorcycle: raised fists and motorboat mouth, indicating the racist school was too far from Nankan anyway. He took down our names, cellphone number and email address - just in case he came across something.
Aside from the bizarre white lady hunters I've dealt with this week, the people of Taiwan have been incredibly friendly and helpful to James and me.
Wednesday, October 1, 2008
I emailed back and forth this week with a woman from a school in Taoyuan (the county we live in), and she asked me to call. After talking for a couple minutes it became clear she didn't have a job I was interested in: The school is more than an hour busride from Nankan, and there was only a 10-hour opening, which means they couldn't give me a work visa, which means it would be illegal. Deportation would be embarrassing and inconvenient, so I told her I'd pass.
Her: "Well, have you ever taught little kid before, like age 3 to 7?"
Her: (nervous laughter) "Oh it's not too hard, I don't know if you want to come try?"
Me: "Sorry, I can't. I really need a working visa."
Her: "Oh but I saw your picture and we really want female teacher."
Me: "It's not going to work out."
Her: "So you're not going to come try?"
Me: "No, sorry about that."
Her: "Well if you have any friend in Taipei, we really need female teacher. It's emergency."
Whatever parents are paying to have their children learn English at this school, it's too much.