Sunday, November 30, 2008
"Hey how are you?"
"Whatcha up to?"
"What are you learning?"
"Did you do anything fun this weekend?"
"What are you doing right now?"
"Watching the game."
"Do you want me to let you go?"
"Okay. Bye. Miss you. Love you. Bye."
Total elapsed time, 2 minutes, 17 seconds.
A recent phone conversation with my 6th-grade brother.
"Hey, how are you?"
"P dumped me."
"Well I dumped her first, but then she cried at school. So then we went back out again and then she dumped me."
"When did you dump her?"
"Like around lunch time, a couple weeks ago."
"Brother, always, ALWAYS dump them at the end of the day on Friday."
"So then they can go home! And not cry at school!"
"Oh, okay. Hey, I have a new girlfriend."
"Why did P dump you?"
"Because J is her best friend and he dumped H, and P was just copying J. And now C is going out with this guy, R, and I don't really like him, he's kinda ... well he always gets in trouble and stuff. Oh, and now H is going out with B."
"What about D? Is he still going out with L?"
"No he dumped her."
"He said he wasn't ready."
"Not ready for what?"
"I don't know."
"Why don't you know! He's your best friend!"
"So! That doesn't mean he told me everything about what he's not ready for."
"Oh. Ok. What else is going on?"
"I had a sleepover at B's yesterday. G, D, J and M were there. Oh! And there was a dance Friday and I slow danced with a BUNCH of girls. H, N, C -- and some eighth graders!"
"Hey I wrote a new song."'
"Can I hear it?"
-he runs to get his guitar-
"That was really good. Hey how's school?"
"What are you learning?"
"Okay, I better go."
"Talk to you soon, miss you."
"Miss you too, bye."
Total elapsed time 23 minutes, 36 seconds
Saturday, November 29, 2008
|From i-Lan Field Trip|
The kids couldn't understand why I was only whispering to them. Some of them whispered back, some of them just ran away. There parents were probably thinking, "Great, they've hired a mute to teach my son English." On the bus back to Taipei, I fell asleep and awoke with drool dribbling down my chin. So much for sophisticated foreign English teacher. We'll probably have 30% withdrawal on Monday.
I thought we'd be sightseeing, but it was more of a field day. The kids got to do some crafts and run around in a big grass patch - something they don't get to do often enough in ultra-dense Taipei.
It was good having some time with my little charges where I wasn't supposed to be beating them over the head with knowledge.
Friday, November 28, 2008
I feel like an evil mucous demon has taken up residence in my head and chest. And after a full day of teaching, I've completely lost my voice. My Canadian co-worker told me I can expect to feel approximately the same for the rest of the year since I have no immunities to Taiwanese bugs as of yet.
Despite my Turkey Day humbugging, I would like to ring in the most wonderful time of the year: shopping season.
And I will do so with the following which I found while hunting for kiddie carols. I dare you to find a YouTube Christmas video that matches its greatness.
I have watched this several times a week since I found it. I hope you will come to love and cherish it as I have.
Thursday, November 27, 2008
Seen below, Asian Nazi enters 7-11 and reads a magazine, rubbing elbows with the normal human beings. I used my zoom lens to take this one from the bus stop.
If I keep seeing him around, I will need to buy a felt hat and a bull whip. Everyone knows Indiana Jones is a Nazi's worst fear.
Wednesday, November 26, 2008
"My God, I should buy ten of them!" I thought.
Doing so would've compromised my ability to buy next week's bus tickets. To avoid imminent folly I turned my head, intent on staring at the opposing wall until the scarves were safely behind me.
When I turned something else caught my eye - a Chinese guy, about my age, asleep against the wall. He had regrettable dyed-orange hair. I noticed an insignia patch on his sleeve - the SS Bolt. He was wearing big lace-up boots, and his shirt was military-style, black and double-breasted, like a Nazi.
I did several double takes as I walked toward my bus. I wanted to take a picture (after all, he was asleep), but I didn't have my camera on me. Argh! From now on I will bring it everywhere!
I puzzled all the way home. Who was this guy? And ... why?
I figured it was probably an ignorant, tasteless attempt at looking cool. The things that get lost in translation here are amazing - but that's a whole other blog entry. Anyway, when I got home I Googled "Nazism Taiwan," not really expecting to find anything. But lo and behold!
The AP wrote about Neo-Nazism in Taiwan in 2007, and prominent Taiwan blogger Michael Turton wrote about it here and here.
Like the majority of stupid radical ideas the world over, Nazism here is a student movement. The Taiwanese Nazis say it's not about anti-Semitism. They say it's about nationalism, preservation of Chinese values, and imposing limits on the number of foreign workers in Taiwan.
"Hitler did a lot of bad things which I don't condone, but he also turned Germany from a weak and divided nation into a world power. I admire that because unity and strength is what Taiwan needs." said one anonymous proponent, according to Turton's blog archives.
That's like saying, "Gee, you fed me a steamy heap of turds for dinner, but I really like the bowl it came in."
The director of the Simon Wiesenthal Center wrote about Taiwanese Nazism in the Jerusalem Post. He noted Israel has focused most its Holocaust education in places where it seemed necessary; Asia has been pretty much ignored.
The AP said this about local views of Hitler, Nazis and World War Two:
While high school and university courses do cover the European experience during World War II, relatively few Taiwanese understand the revulsion — and the reasons for it — that Nazism conjures up in the West.
Hitler images and iconography have sometimes been used to promote commercial products in Taiwan — including a now-closed Nazi-themed restaurant — on the grounds that the German leader symbolized strength.
There is no indigenous Jewish community on the island, and most Taiwanese seem confused by distinctions among European populations and religions.
My grandparents served in World War Two, a lot of my friend's grandparents served, and for several friends the Holocaust isn't a textbook lesson, it's family history. It makes sense Nazism carries greater weight in my culture than the local one.
But as for the Nazi students, or the people who would construct Nazi-themed restaurants - I don't understand how you get to the part about Hitler as symbol of strength, or the part about nationalism in Hitler's Germany and completely bypass the deaths of six million Jews.
It's probably not worth thinking about too hard. I like to think Nazism gets more media attention than it deserves simply because wherever it crops up it's so shocking.
Granted, I don't know if the guy I saw was a card-carrying member of the local outfit, or just some guy taking a post- costume party nap dressed in deplorable regalia à la Prince Harry.
Suffice it to say, I was shocked.
Tuesday, November 25, 2008
Yes, everything is a really big deal when you're a little kid, but I'm sure the fact these boys all get to be the little prince at home has something to do with their outbursts. Getting to be first in line is huge, even if we're just going to the bathroom to wash hands. I threw a tantrum or two in my time, but not ever over getting first crack at the soap.
The non-crier is Ivan. He is also the non-smiler. I'm told he had a meltdown. Once. A year ago. It happened when the teacher tried to dress him up as a mouse for the Christmas play. He wasn't having it. Can you blame him? He wore his regular clothes for the performance.
I don't know who picked Ivan as his "English" name. To me, "Ivan" calls to mind a burly, Russian sailor, but the name suits him. He isn't a bully. But he has a stoic confidence about him that makes me think I'd want him in my corner of the sandbox.
Ivan's primary interests are ghosts and monsters. He reminds me of this at least twice a day.
Me: Okay students, can you say-
Ivan: What's this?
He points to my scarf, obviously disinterested in whatever I'm going to teach for the day.
Me: That's my scarf.
Ivan: Why scarf?
Me: Because it is cooooold (making the *brrr* motion).
Ivan: Oh. I like cold AND ghosts.
Or on another occasion....
Me: Today we are going to review office!
(Please, remember I neither wrote nor endorsed this textbook)
Ivan: Office have so many ghosts.
Me: Is that so? How many?
Ivan: One hundred ghosts.
Or a week earlier....
Me: Students, what animal do you like?
Ivan: I like monster!
Me: That's not an animal.
Ivan: Have monster at home.
Ivan: In bedroom.
Me: Ooooooh! Did it BITE you?
Ivan: No, No ... I .... PSH, PSH, PSH, RRAAAAAAAH!
He pantomimes beating the tar out of a monster. Personally, I think he's telling the truth.
Monday, November 24, 2008
This billboard is at Zhongxiao Fuxing Station. I give it a little thumbs up when I change trains. The guy standing next to the flat screen is James' mom's best friend's brother. He is Taiwan's most famous stylist and he's a judge on Taiwan's version of American Idol. He is the reason I had the opportunity to salivate within arm's length of women swishing by in Dior and Cartier. I don't know him, but I like him.
However, guanxi has worked against me too. Take for instance this morning at school: There was a woman, maybe in her 60s, occupying the school office computer. I've seen her around. She never interacts with the kids, but she spends loads of time in front of the computer. Maye she's an administrator? I thought.
Today, after my class, I needed that computer to edit the test my students take Friday. I finished my rice bowl, drank some soup, but this woman was firmly planted in front of the computer. I didn't know what she was doing, but I could tell from the screen it wasn't work.
"Umm, excuse me," I said with my biggest, most wonderful smile. "Could I please use the computer for just two minutes? I need to type something for my students."
I knew she might not speak English, so I said this while motioning to my hand written notes and pointing to the computer.
There were several Chinese teachers in the room as well as the teacher from Vancouver. The old lady, looking incredulous, spouted off some Chinese to one of the teachers. Everyone - Chinese teachers, old lady, and the Canadian - looked at me like I just crapped a turtle.
Vancouver yanked me out to the library and explained my grave error.
The woman, she said, is the school owner's sister. She doesn't speak English. She comes in as she pleases to use the school computer for online gambling, and no one has the cojones to boot her off.
"I've waited days to type something up because of her." Vancouver said.
"Yeah. I know."
"I'm not doing that."
I don't get paid for preparation time, and the test is saved on the office computer, so it wasn't something I could do at home. The old broad left as Vancouver and I finished our pow wow, so I got to edit my test and skedaddle.
Guanxi or no, I'll find a new job before I waste my afternoon waiting on anyone to wrap up Black Jack so I can prepare for class.
Sunday, November 23, 2008
At the FCC Halloween party a very nice couple invited me to their church. I begged off a couple weeks, once because we were out of town, once because I was dog tired.
The thing about church invites is if you accept but put it off too long, the inviters will start praying for you. I didn't want it to come to that. So this week I finally went.
Grace Baptist Church is in the Taipei university district. It looks like a gigantic, brick Pizza Hut - quite a contrast from the cozy church on 2nd street my family attends back home.
James wasn't going to come. He was afraid someone would accidentally spill Holy water on him and his skin would melt off. But he had an interview in the area shortly before the service. To allay his fears, I told him even though it was a Baptist church, I was reasonably sure there wouldn't be any baptisms tonight. And I was right, the sanctuary was Holy water free.
"Where are P and Q?" James asked when we arrived. P and Q were the people who invited us.
"P told me he couldn't come this week because he has to study for a test." I said. "And Q is part of the worship team so we should see her after the service starts."
"What's the worship team?" James asked, fear in his voice.
I assured him the worship team wasn't a brute squad that came around to prod people who didn't have their hands in the air for "Shout to the Lord."
"They're just the people who lead the songs."
I enjoyed the service. I'll probably go back next Sunday. James will most likely stay home and light a candle for the audial gods who gave the world the KORG DS-10, a synthesizer program for Nintendo DS. Now James can pretend he's Timbaland wherever he goes. Or at least he can until I give it to one of my students. I will do so on the conditions that said student only play English games on it and that I never ever have to see it again.
Saturday, November 22, 2008
Shopping here is something else. The malls are filled with Japanese boutiques that I try to avoid on pay day (ankle boots and waist jackets should not take precedence over groceries). And the streets are filled with markets where there are racks and racks of cute things that are dirt cheap.
If you're willing to pay, Taiwan has great shopping. If you're not willing to pay, you can still buy a ton of clothes.
I've done a bit of both. And herein will illustrate how to stretch $30 (U.S.) in the world of Taipei apparel.
For $30 you can buy....
One adorable vintage-style hat from Muji. That's quite a bit for one hat, but I've been looking for one for a couple months now. I almost dropped $50 on one from a Banana Republic. So I'm pleased with this find.
I can't wear it often because it's too warm. But it will be put to good use when I move back to windy old Florence, Oregon to live out the rest of my days in my parents' garage. They just started reading my blog, and now is as good a time as any to drop that bomb on them (hi Mom, hi Dad!).
Or...For $30 you can buy all of the following.
You don't get to try stuff on ahead of time, but the price can't be beat even if you do take home a couple unbecoming rags. Here is - in order of least to most adorable - everything I bought for $30, total, at Wufen Pu, a large market in Taipei where many night market vendors buy clothes wholesale. It's probably the best bargain in the city.
Pollution-colored maternity shirt. This shirt is really ugly, but it's good enough for the 4-year-olds.
white shirt with some leaves and buttons on it. More classroom couture.
A beige shirt dress.
|Show me sexy|
A green shirt dress. I had to resew all the buttons on this when I got home.
A plaid shirt dress. Can you guess what sort of phase I'm going through?
My goal is to replace the weight in books I brought to Taiwan with clothes. I brought about a dozen books, including several large hard covers. But I'm well on my way to achieving this dream.
Friday, November 21, 2008
Thursday, November 20, 2008
While there are few people I meet in Taipei who've ever heard "Leslie," there's no shortage of people who've heard of America's favorite collie.
Job interview, after job interview, I walked in and said, "Hi, I'm Leslie."
And the response I got was, "OH LIKE THE DOG!"
"Umm, no not quite, that's Lassie, I'm 'Lessssss' Lieeeeeeeeeee.'"
"Oh. I would think that sound like the dog, you know? the one? the dog I talk about?"
"Yes. I know, but my name is a little different."
I started pronouncing it Leh-suh-Lee to stanch this line of confusion. And I contemplated just using my middle name, Anne, to make things easier on everyone. But that's a decision I should have made before I came. Now I don't want to be Leslie to some, and Anne to others- that would over-complicate my life.
I recognize this look easily because it was only a few months ago when the positions were reversed.
USC has a huge international student community. I was part of USC's salsa club which attracted quite a few Trojans from overseas.
A lot, if not most, the Chinese students had English names they used on campus -- Eddie, Elaine, Richard, etc. Not so with the Indians. I made quite a few Indian friends through dance outings and my typical introduction was something like:
"Oh nice to meet you...(indistinguishable muttering)...My name is Leslie."
Then in the back of my mind I was thinking, "C'mon there's got to be a way you could shorten, abbreviate, demystify that name. My lips, teeth and tongue will never be able to properly form those syllables."
I don't think I correctly pronounced my friend Sumanth's name until he came and visited me and my family in Oregon for a weekend. Sumanth isn't even that hard, as far as Indian names go.
Ah,what's that saying about someone else's shoes?
Wednesday, November 19, 2008
Sure, there have been plenty of pretty good inventions: the yo yo, the electric spaghetti twirler, the polio vaccine, etc. But all those pale in comparison to the two greatest gifts ever given to the world:
The first was the Gutenberg printing press. The second was the tampon. One was the springboard for modern democracy. The other made every day of the month worth living for half the world's population. I'm not going to say which was more important. Okay, I am: the tampon.
There are some super old printing tiles at the National Palace Museum, but I have no idea where Taiwan is hiding all the tampons. They cannot be found.
In most all grocery stores there's an aisle full of pads, all shapes and sizes, all variety of pastel packaging (cue: shudder). Then, hidden in some dark corner, maybe there's one sample-size box of o.b.
I emailed my mom and asked her to send me my matchstick jeans and Basic Economics: A Citizen's guide to the Economy. My dad bought the book for me three years ago. Now that the world economy is going to hell in a hand basket, I need to actually read it. If I'm going to spend the first decade of my working life in a bread line, I should know why.
I suggested to Mom maybe she could substitute packaging peanuts with tampons. I let her know if she couldn't find my book and jeans, just sending a box full of tampons would also be acceptable. Because, for serious, there are none here.
Mom sent all three items, bless her heart. Now I can get educated, I can wear my fancy pants, and I'm not confined to the couch for an interval of the month lamenting woman's lot in the world.
Plus, since Ma sent the tampons in the original boxes, I have a delightful centerpiece for the dining table. Every night I look up from my rice bowl and this big blue pyramid reminds me of all the wonderful things America has to offer.
Tuesday, November 18, 2008
I'm looking for other direction-lacking, twenty-somethings like myself. I thought I would find plenty of these teaching, but I teach at small schools without many foreign teachers. I'm sure there are oodles of nice, well-adjusted people teaching English all over Taiwan - but I haven't found them.
What I have found are a handful of other foreigners who I don't want to be friends with, but who I will gladly make fun of. They are, in no particular order, as follows:
The Overly-Loud American
A short guy with a lip stud that reminded me of Blink 182. He was eating lunch today at the same pizza joint as I was. And he was chatting with a tall blonde with a German accent.
"What did they make you do for a health check?" he asked her.
I couldn't hear her response, probably because she is a conscientious person who understands what a reasonable voice level is for a tiny restaurant.
"When I came I had to have the full deal, had to go see a doctor, he rubbed my back, and felt all up on my nuts. I had to take a TB test, they took blood, and they even wanted a stool sample. So I had to shit in a bowl."
To me, pizza is sacred. For years I ate it several times a week. My mom regularly worked 10- and 11-hour days when I was in high school. We had pizza Wednesdays, and we always ordered enough so I could eat it for breakfast through Friday, plus have a couple slices for afternoon snacks. Now I only get to eat it about once a month. When I'm having my pizza time, the last thing I want is to hear about is someone pinching a loaf into a piece of Tupperware . Thanks, asshole.
My health check for my Taiwan work visa only entailed a blood sample and a chest x-ray. There was no securing of the feces required.
The Smarmy Salesman
I have nothing against most salesmen, just this Australian one we met shortly after arriving. He was a few years older than us. He was in Taipei selling advertising for an insert in the Japan Times. The problem was he was telling people he was a journalist from the Japan Times, which was a lie. He was an ad salesman.
We met him a couple times because he wanted James to do translation on the phones for him. But he only wanted to pay in peanuts, and when James realized how duplicitous the whole deal was he told the guy no thanks.
We nixed him from our potential friend list. However, we did get significant mileage out of him as entertainment. On the bus, in the subway, at the dinner table, when there was nothing else to talk about we would have whole dialogues ribbing his deceitful pitch in our best Australian-accent impressions. This went on for several weeks:
Me: "This is DYE-no, I'm co-ling from th jaPAN Times. I wahnt to know if the chancellah received my fax."
James: "Yes. I'm a jah-nah-list from the jaPAN Times, may I please speak with his secretary? It's about an important intahview."
Me: "PLEASE put me threw to his secretary!"
I realize this isn't a credit to mine of James' sense of humor. It merely indicates how desperately we need to meet new people.
The Self-Righteous Gap-Yearist
A couple weeks ago we met another American guy, our age, who has been in Taiwan for a year and plans to spend one more year in-country. James and I chatted with him for 15 minutes, an interval of time in which Self-Righteous Gap-Yearist told us how he was right about everything.
On the subject of spending a whole year away from home:
Me: "I figure all my friends will be doing pretty much the same as they are now when I get back, only they'll be making a little bit more money than me."
S-R G-Y (accusingly): "Why would they make more money than you?"
Me: "Um, you know - because they'll have been working a whole more year."
S-R G-Y: So what you NEED to do is go home and parlay your time abroad into a higher pay-grade.
On the LSAT:
Me: "Yeah I took it but I canceled my score."
S-R G-Y (again, accusingly): "WHY would you do that?"
Me: "I didn't think I did very well. And everything I've read says schools only like to see one score."
S-R G-Y (with much triumph): "But they can see you canceled your score too."
I muttered a non-committal response to this. See, S-R G-Y was about to take the LSAT again (only he hadn't canceled his first score), so I can see where this was a point of sensitivity. However, everything I've ever read about law school says if you don't feel super-duper on test day, cancel your score (in which case you don't get to see it).
I'm not sure I'll ever retake it. More and more I'm thinking my crummy test day was God's special way of telling me I will never fill the shoes of Judge Mathis.
Then I asked S-R G-Y what he wanted to do once he gets back home. Ideally, he said, he wants to be secretary of state. At least he aims high. Hillary Clinton, stand back.
However, the Asianphile I met was a Canadian lady. I met her in between interviews. The supervisor was making copies so we chatted for a couple minutes. It was mostly what you'd expect - how long have you been here, where do you live, etc.
But in two minutes' of mingling she made a point of letting me know:
Her: "I live with two Taiwanese."
Me: "Oh, Yeah."
Her: "Yeah. I don't really hang out with..."
White people. She didn't say it but what she meant was white people. I promptly crossed her off my potential friend list, because - uhh, you know - I'm white.
How am I supposed to respond to that? Offer congratulations? Right now I only hang out with Asians too, because I only know James' family - not because I've forsaken whitey.
Her: "Yeah a lot of the other people here ... they're in the bar until 4 a.m. All they do is drink..."
The golden takeaway from this not-very-interesting conversation was all my potential friends are waiting for me in the bar. At least I know where they are now.
Monday, November 17, 2008
|Digestive wheat. Or as I like to call it, wheat package that makes me think about poop.|
|Pudding dog! A dog full of bite-size pudding packets.|
|Crying girl ramen. She's so sad. And her face is messed up. Buy these instant noodles|
Isn't that charming?
The context makes it less appalling: We were standing in the elevator and I asked him if my glasses made me look like a sexy librarian. Whenever I make a sexy face, I try to hyper extend my jaw. Hasn't anyone else ever noticed that high couture models never have their mouths closed? I figure the more molars you can see, the sexier. Not so, says James. Jerk.
Sunday, November 16, 2008
Jojo was asked to give a keynote speech at an ecotourism conference at Yushan National Park. He and Joma invited James and me along. When the four of us stepped off the train we were greeted by a man with park-service green pants and betel-nut brown teeth. He drove us to the Yushan National Park building, about an hour from the train station.
We abandoned Jojo for his speech-making, and the park service dude drove Joma, James and me to ChuCheng, a small town once supported by logging, now supported by tourism.
Once supported by logging, now supported by tourism ... that's an apt description for Florence, Oregon - my "permanent" address.
Like good tourists, we went to the logging museum. I took pictures of pictures in the logging museum because they reminded me of photos I've seen of the olden-days Flo'.
The museum also had a piece of meat-shaped wood and a cabbage-shaped wood, akin to the meat-shaped rock and jade cabbage at the National Palace Museum.
Outside the museum there were several pairs of stilts. I had the opportunity to demonstrate the fruits of 11 years spent as an only child.
|See how happy I am?|
|It's because I'm totally owning James at stilts.|
Before I had to wipe poo off Billy and Ricky's asses, I spent many a summer day by myself. I walked up and down my driveway on my plastic stilts. Up and down. All alone. It was a long driveway. And here I am today with all the
This was another fun toy outside the museum, the trick was to walk in unison.
At the risk of infuriating any Taiwan Touch Your Heart tourism officials who may stumble upon my blog, I was underwhelmed. I spent the summer before last in my hometown Anchorage, Alaska. Every other weekend I hiked into some new, beautiful, frigid mountainy valley with an alpine lake. The weekends I wasn't backpacking, I was driving from Anchorage to Seward to crew sail races. That drive is replete with gorgeous views of mountains and water. I've been making that drive since I was 9 months old. I'm a hard sell for lake views.
After the lake we drove to an experimental tea factory. I was hoping it would be staffed with midgets wearing feathers and body paint doing interpretive dance. Unfortunately, the only experimentation going on was with the tea itself. This particular factory was cultivating red tea to sell to Russians who will pay top-dollar for it. On our way out of the factory, the tea people gave each of us several boxes of different teas and one box each of their top tea. Jojo looked extremely uncomfortable, which makes me think that one box of tea was pretty expensive.
We spent the night in a Japanese-style lodge built in the 1920s (when Taiwan was a Japanese colony). There wasn't any heating, there were no bathroom towels, and no pillowcase covers. The bed, like a lot of Asian beds, was very hard. But there was a boss karaoke system in the common area. Priorities, right?
James is usually exceptionally healthy. When he gets a cold, I get pneumonia. Once we went out with friends at 'SC to our favorite burrito stand and all ordered chili fries. The rest of us dashed home clutching our stomachs and squeezing our sphincters. James strolled back hunting for more food he could maybe eat off the ground since he wasn't quite full. For having such a strong constitution, he's been a sick old goat since we got here.
I went to bed feeling awesome about how much healthier I am than he. Then I got up in the middle of the night, and when I came back to bed I hit the headboard and gave myself a small black eye. I guess that makes us even.
Saturday we hiked around Lulin Mountain.
|From Taichung Weekend|
Saturday night we moved down the mountain to a different Japanese-style lodge with even more uncomfortable
beds tatami mats. The Japanese got sleep all wrong. In the morning my back hurt so much I tucked my knees under my chest and attempted to get another twenty minutes' shut eye in the earthquake-drill position.
|I think I'm turning Japanese, I think I'm turning Japanese...|
But before we went to sleepy-sleep, the college profs and we busted out the boss karaoke system that this Japanese lodge had as well. Taiwanese culture is very musical. I challenge you to find four random middle-aged professionals in the U.S. who can carry a tune together when handed a mic. And do so willingly.
There was a limited English selection. James and I sang "Unchatined Melody"
We got back to Nankan late this afternoon, and not before we received an open invitation to visit some of the profs in Hualien!
Check out more pictures from the weekend here.
Friday, November 14, 2008
However, we are headed to Jade Mountain for the weekend. Jade Mountain is the tallest mountain in Southeast Asia, if you count Taiwan as part of Southeast Asia, I'm told.
I'm up and it's not even light out because we have to catch the train at 7 a.m.
We'll be back Sunday, so I'll only miss one day. Although, it seems like kind of cop out to have one of my blog posts for NaBloPoMo be about how I'm going to fall short of NaBloPoMo perfection.
Oh well. I need to go find a hat.
Thursday, November 13, 2008
My parents were adamant: I had a whole lot of school ahead of me, there was no need to get started while I still needed naps.
I went to an amazing day care. The day care provider, never call her a babysitter, had turned her downstairs living space into a 4-year-old's Shangri-La. There was a Tyco kitchen set stocked with fake food, a little nook with big bean bags and walls of picture books. And the toys. There were so many toys.
In the winter we put on our snowsuits and rode tricycles in circles on her second-story deck. In the summer we packed into the minivan and sampled all the playgrounds she could find in the Anchorage area.
When my mom pulled into the driveway each morning, I would run, leap, skip, bound inside - because day care was super-duper fun.
Now I spend my mornings with little kids. But they don't play much. They learn.
I try to make it fun. We have games, we role play, we sing songs. But we still have to learn. We have to learn because every four weeks they get tested. And if they don't test well, I'm in it deep. And while I would really like them to have a fantastic time in my class, I would rather get paid.
The number of words and sentences they have to memorize each week is such that I simply must sit them down and teach for part of the class. We can't just play. I have to tell them to be still, quit wiggling - okay, what is the picture on this flashcard?
Sometimes I have to be stern with them. Why? Because they're doing what 4-year-olds do: They're twisting in their seats and muttering to themselves about choo choo trains, and ghosts, and other things much more interesting than Teacher Leslie.
This week I was given a new story book for them to learn. They'll be learning it until February, the supervisor said. Great, then I wont get started on it too early, I figured. That's a looooooong time to read "My New Pet is the Greatest."
This week at the teacher meeting she told me she was concerned about how little reading my class was doing.
So today I saved the last 15 minutes of class to read the book. When I was halfway through the story, the supervisor burst in.
"Teacher, teacher, if you read that much they can't memorize."
"And they have to memorize."
"If they don't memorize their parents will call."
In stead of finishing the story, we spent the remaining time memorizing the first few pages.
My kids are rid of me in the afternoon, but I know what they do then too: science. They're happy kids (mostly), but they aren't having near the fun that I did when I was their age. I wish I could write letters to their future selves: "Sorry I made you sit still and be good so much of the time. I was just doing a job."
My aunt sent me four, shiny-new Dr. Seuss books this week. I'm going to have to be creative, and maybe a little sneaky, in figuring out when I'll read them to my boys.
I always knew Asian and American education philosophy was vastly different. But it's been bewildering seeing that contrast illustrated before my eyes.
Needless to say, developed Asian countries are way, way ahead of the U.S. educationally in some ways. It's shameful how much money the U.S. has funneled into education, and yet American kids still score in the bottom rung of developed nations in math and science.
The only answer I've ever heard to this criticism is "but Americans value creativity and independent thought. Maybe we don't know multiplication, but we come up with fancy ideas!" And everyone knows fancy ideas are the building blocks of a robust economy.
I always knew this was somewhat true. But it seemed like a flimsy answer. Can't we be independent thinkers and learn math? Besides, there are creative people all over the world. Bring on the algebra!
I'd still like to see my countrymen learn to count, but I can't poo poo that creativity thing either. When you have kids spending their formative years memorizing select story books, filling up endless workbooks, and drilling flashcards - that takes a lot of time. Time that could be spent figuring out the world the way 4-year-olds do naturally. It's time that could be spent playing.
Wednesday, November 12, 2008
On Sunday Jojo and Joma picked us up, so we didn't have to stand in the rain at the bus stop. It finally cooled down here, and it rains a lot, but I don't mind. I can finally wear scarves again. The four of us drove to Nini's for lunch, that has become our weekend custom.
Amina served stir-fried greens, marinated chicken and some sort of ultra bony fish. No creature should have as many bones as this fish had. I plopped what I wanted in my rice bowl and listened to the rain. When the food was gone, Jojo and Nini discussed the past week's commotion. Pretty much the only word I could pick out in their conversation was "China."
After lunch everyone else fell asleep. Jojo and I sat on the couch and talked a long time. Jojo is a deputy minister of economic planning and development. We talked about what China envoy Chen Yunlin's visit to Taiwan means now and for the future (it was the highest-level of talk between the two governments that there's been in decades). I'm just scratching the surface of Taiwanese politics. Sitting in a family living room and chatting about the state of the nation with a government official - that's a rare opportunity for an Alaskan-cum-Oregonian like myself. I'm lucky to be here. And I'm lucky to be here with so many people who want to show James and I what Taiwan is all about.
When the others awoke, Nini served us dessert - a warm, pasty soup made with blended rice, sugar and almond flavoring, a good after-lunch snack for a cold day spent pleasantly indoors.
I'm getting comfortable here. I'm no longer stultified when converting U.S. dollars to Taiwanese in my head. I don't need James to guide me by the wrist through Taipei anymore. I have a favorite noodle counter up the block from the apartment. I know where to find the best dumplings in the world. I like the watchman who says good morning to me. I like the bustle in Taipei. I like the quiet in Nankan. And I adore my precious, baby-faced students. Except when they bite each other. That's when I call in the Chinese teachers to handle it.
I'm not exactly ready to immigrate. But Taiwan is beginning to feel like home. I'm going to have a great year here.
Tuesday, November 11, 2008
Today I hung out at the cheese kiosk in the western specialty market downtown. I perused the other aisles too, but I kept looping back and hovering over the brie and chevre with lust in my heart and emptiness in my belly.
I try to keep my grocery-story lurking to a minimum, but I was waiting on James to finish another unsuccessful job interview. Another, "Oh so sorry, we looking for foreigner." When he arrived the interviewer made it known she felt he'd cheated her. James is so sneaky: He sounds American on the phone, and he has that German last name, Meiser, on his resume. And then he shows up at the school looking all Asian. The audacity.
Anyway, waiting for James was my excuse to stare at cheese. God, I didn't know I would miss it so. If I were to diagram my ideal food pyramid, the bottom two-thirds would be extra-sharp cheddar (and the top third would be coffee). Forget grains, I'm pretty sure cheese is the foundation of the average American diet. We love cheese. People here love red bean, stinky tofu and male heirs. Cheese, not so much. When I want it, I have to look for it, and it costs more. Thus, my cheese intake has been devastatingly reduced.
Two weeks ago my cravings were so great we went to Taipei on a mission to hunt down, Alley Cats - reputedly one of the best pizza joints in the city.
There are several Alley Cats around town, the one we went to really was in an alley. With just a few tiny tables and a very short bar, the place was like a to-go counter masquerading as a restaurant. We ordered a salad, a couple beers, and a pepperoni-veggie combo to split.
The beers came first and I was half done with mine when the pizza arrived. The cheese was gooey hot. I ate my half slowly, concentrating on each precious bite. A mouthful of melted cheese, the aroma of basil filling my head, and the subtle, pleasant effect of the first beer - it was an elevated experience. I can't remember when eating or drinking anything made me feel so good.
Why am I writing about it now? Because I still think about it. I've watched enough episodes of Intervention to know that the last high is always the best one, it's what you concentrate on until you get your fix again. I think I'm in control of my demons. My cravings aren't affecting my moods or my ability to work, yet.
Dinner and drinks at Alley Cats cost $26 U.S., not too bad by American standards. But that's pricey considering we eat for about $5 total at the little Chinese shops near home.
But I think we'll be back to Alley Cats sooner rather than later.
Monday, November 10, 2008
Christmas is important, not because there are so many Christians in Taiwan, though there are plenty. Christmas is a choice time for bushibans, mine included, to show parents all the beautiful English their children are learning. There will be a few carols, some recitation - pretty much it's a huge marketing event to attract and retain students. That's why we've already started preparing.
There's a scene in A Christmas Story. The family goes to a Chinese restaurant on Christmas Day, and the waiters sing "Deck the Halls with Boughs of Holly, fa ra ra ra raaaaaah." That's my classroom. Every day. For the next month and a half.
Today I got on YouTube looking for carols to teach one of my classes. It was surprisingly hard to find good versions kids could sing along with. Bruce Springsteen and Charlotte Church renditions wont cut it for the ten-year-old set.
I did find a version of The First Noel on YouTube with a Sims video-captured nativity sequence. Who does that?
I was searching for a version of "Do You Hear What I Hear," one of my favorites
when I found the real gem, this Christmas atrocity:
The hair! The stellar background! That green body suit! I felt a little bad about savaging this video after I read the information. Supposedly Richard Carpenter made it after his sister's death. So she wasn't around to defend herself, poor thing. But it was too amazing not to share.
Sunday, November 9, 2008
Especially now Bond women are so evolved. Up until the 90s they were pretty much floozies. Then in the 90s they were still floozies, but they had Ph.D.s. Remember Dr. Christmas from The World is Not Enough? So irritating. In the 90s there was a whole new charade: "I'm so educated don't try to pull one over on me, Mr. Bond" but then they eventually succumbed to his manly manliness anyways. Kind of like: You can dress her up and give her an advanced degree, but at the end of the day ... she's still a floozy. The Bond women now are in control of their sexuality. I appreciate that. And Olga Kurylenko is devastatingly beautiful, I couldn't tear my eyes away from her. That helps.
But for now I'm just an English teacher. Sigh.
Saturday, November 8, 2008
Other highlights of my day included making James stand in the utility room for ten minutes with his Chinese-English pinyin dictionary. We had to turn the water heater off because we wanted to shut all the windows to keep the rain out, but not possibly blow up our apartment. That would be an unfortunate conclusion to our grand walkabout.
"Look Leslie, I shut all the valves off."
"But does it say off?"
"I don't know. But they're all shut off."
I'm mechanically illiterate, so even though the valves looked like they were off I wasn't satisfied. I needed to know the thing said "off." James has the Chinese reading skills of a second-grader, so he cracked open his dictionary and set to work.
Awhile later he called me back.
"Alright it's all off."
"What about this green light? Why is that still on?"
"That just means it's working properly."
"Well shouldn't this red light be on instead since we turned it off?"
"No, that red light means something is on fire."
After tackling the water heater we ate steamed peanuts and watched The Life Aquatic. Then after that was over, I decided to take a gander at the Alaska Sex Offender Registry.
If only my natural curiosity was directed toward things like government wheeling and dealing, or campaign financing, then I would be a rockstar reporter. But instead I'm just a queen gossip hound. I'm primarily concerned with the people I know, the people I used to know and whether or not they've gone to prison and/or procreated.
I keep tabs on the babies my high school classmates produced thanks to MySpace.
I occasionally look up my fifth-grade crush on Alaska Courtview because he's headed to the clink for serial burglary. The 11-year-old me could really pick a man: Police think he stole more than $100,000 worth of stuff from homes on the Anchorage hillside. So I like to check the dockets to see if they've sent him away yet.
And then sometimes I pull up the sex offender registry just to see who's who that's made that exclusive list. Just kidding. I don't surf the Alaska sex offender registry. But there was a guy I had class with who was incarcerated for sexual assault my last year of high school. So sometimes I look him up. Because I can. I mean, why not?
So after seeing that Mr. High School Sex Assault is still working at the Sourdough Express moving company and kicking it in South Anchorage - on a whim I did a zip code search of my old neighborhood. And there I found yet another Dimond High School class of 2004 sex offender, another guy I had several classes with over the years.
I went to junior high out of district, so I didn't even know that many people in high school. We're only four years out of Dimond, and two of the people I did know are now members of Alaska's most infamous boys' club. Ah, how far we've come. In light of my surprise discovery I briefly contemplated name-searching all the moderate- to highly-slimy characters I could remember, but abandoned the idea to watch Star Wars instead.
Hopefully it wont be so foul out tomorrow, in which case we'll go to Taipei. Otherwise, maybe I'll pull out the old yearbook and see who else has been up to no good.
Friday, November 7, 2008
"Da-bien," Tony, the boy on my right, said.
The first thing James ever taught me to say in Chinese - upon my insistence - was "I like to eat poop." So shit is one of those rare words I immediately recognize when I hear it in my students' native tongue.
"POO POO HE SAY POO POO."
"Yes I know. But this isn't poo poo. This is an island."
Then I drew a palm tree on the island.
"OH OH I KNOW!" Boris yelled.
He couldn't come up with the words, but Boris rubbed his thumb and index finger together and then held them to his mouth and sucked in like he just rolled a fatty.
"NO! NO! Teacher!" Boris did it again. But this time with more emphasis.
"No. This is a tree. It's a palm tree. We don't smoke a palm tree."
"Ok class. This is an island. Your mom is on this island. If she stays, she will die. There is a doctor on the island too. He is the best doctor in the world, but if he stays on the island he will also die. If he leaves the island, he will cure cancer. Do you know what cancer is?"
"It's a disease that lots of people get. A lot of old people get it."
Still no signs of life.
"For example, there is skin cancer (I point to my skin), brain cancer, ovarian cancer..."
At this moment, there was only one other type of cancer I could think of:
The boys laughed and gave each other the "hahaha, she said breasts, hahaha" look.
"Oh ok. We know what is cancer."
"You have a boat. But you can only take one person. You can take the doctor or you can take your mom, but you can't take both. Who do you take?"
I asked Wilson.
"Wilson, who would you take?"
"Because I don't like doctors."
"Oh really? Fair enough."
"Actually, I wouldn't take either."
"You wouldn't take your mom or the doctor?"
"Okay. Who else?"
About half the class picked mom. The other half reluctantly picked the doctor. So I switched the question:
"What if the doctor was on the island with your boyfriend or girlfriend. Who would you pick, Emily?"
"I would pick doctor because I can get lots of new boyfriend."
"Very good. And you, Boris?"
"I would take doctor, because I ...*Boris propels his leg outward as if to jam his toe up his hypothetical girlfriend's ass*... I ...*kick, kick, kick* ... girlfriend!"
"Oh so you dump your girlfriend and leave her to die on an island?"
I draw a broken heart on the board to clarify.
Boris: "YES YES YES!"
That time around everyone picked the doctor. Mom vs. Cure for Cancer is a toughie. Boyfriend vs. Cure for Cancer, not so much.
Next we moved on to vocabulary:
"Who can tell me what 'appreciate' means?"
"I appreciate you so beautiful," muttered the same boy who called my hypothetical island a piece of shit.
They don't talk so well, yet, but they're certainly charming.
Thursday, November 6, 2008
Wednesday, November 5, 2008
But the people have spoken, and that makes it a wrap. Common wisdom dictates the Obama administration probably wont go as great as you think, but it probably wont be as bad as I fear either. And I use the pronoun "you" because studies show nine-and-a-half out of ten people who like the Internet are Democrats. So Democrats, carry on with your champagne toasting. GOP: Please get with it, online and off.
I heard the news this afternoon in the presence of two twenty-something Canadians. We were eating lunch in the back office of the school, and I was not-so-gently hounding the guy from Ottawa to pull up a news site on the computer that wasn't in Chinese.
"Who do you think she voted for?" Ottawa asked Canadian no. 2, a tall gal from Vancouver.
"I don't know, she looks like a McCain fan to me." Vancouver said.
"Really?!" I asked, pleasantly surprised. Did I have that "Country First" glow? Did I look like the type of girl who thinks the government pretty much sucks at everything so we shouldn't vote for the one who is more likely to expand it?
"God, I was joking" Vancouver gasped in horror.
Mistake, Leslie, big mistake.
Vancouver and Ottawa continued to muse on the election results. I decided to try and change the subject before I was probed to say something more damning. Vancouver has been working at this school for two years. I've been there three days. I need her on my side, I'm undoubtedly going to require her help.
"So you two are both from Canada: I feel like I've met way more Canadians than Americans here."
That's true, Vancouver and Ottawa agreed.
"You want to know why?" Ottawa asked. Ottawa still wanted to talk politics. And from the sound of it, he will probably vote with me once we make Canada the 51st state.
"It's because Canada is so socialist it's even harder for us to get jobs back home than you guys." Ottawa said.
"What!" Vancouver was indignant.
"I hate going home, all the taxes are so high everywhere." Ottawa said, further pissing off Vancouver, "I don't want to get into it with you, Vancouver, but I think Obama will be to America what Trudeau was to Canada."
(He didn't really call her Vancouver, names withheld to protect the Canadian)
Pierre Trudeau, Ottawa explained, had a huge youth following, his wife liked to kick it with the Rolling Stones, he met with John Lennon and Yoko, he preached unity, etc. Then he stipulated all Canadians learn French and enacted economic policies that plague Canada today, Ottawa said.
"I think Obama is America's Trudeau, so get ready," Ottawa told me.
"I think Trudeau was great for Canada!" Vancouver countered without further explanation.
I'm completely ign'ant when it comes to Canadian politics, so I have no opinion on the matter. But that's how my election day went down: In a tiny school on the outskirts of Taipei with two Canadians debating the prognosis.
James and I justified a McDonalds run for dinner by checking my blog and noting it had been a full 11 days without hamburgers. Plus, it's election day: If we can't be with our people, we may as well eat like them.
Tuesday, November 4, 2008
I'm mildly distraught that I have to go to sleep tonight and will miss a precious 8 hours of the news cycle. When I awake tomorrow it will be 6 p.m. on the East Coast. Then I have to go to work - the unfairness of it all - and when I get home it will be about 1 a.m. EST.
SO MUCH CAN HAPPEN IN THAT AMOUNT OF TIME! I can envision all the potential swing-state drama now. And rather than watch it unfold, I'll be drilling animal flashcards and cooing "Now show me your tiger face! Show me what an Eagle does!" to a room full of antsy little boys.
"Okay boys, Teacher Leslie is going to go sneak into the office to look at the computer for the last 45 minutes of class. Talk amongst yourselves ... in English!"
Monday, November 3, 2008
I visited lots of schools when we got here. None of them, zero, zip, were completely above board. Everyone is doing something illegal. The severity and risk of the illegal shenanigans varied, but no one was squeaky clean. I don't really have a problem with that, because the laws concerned with teaching English in Taiwan seem heavy-handed. Then, I suppose 99% of foreign workers around the world probably say the same of their visa-providing country.
When I was looking for a job several times interviewers made a point of telling me, "We do everything legally here."
I always gave a nod and smile: I'm not going to correct anyone on the laws of their own country. But really, do I look dumb? Or is there supposed to be an unspoken understanding where I know, and they know, and they know I know that no, not everything will transpire to the letter of the law, but that there will be a work visa for me.
Because I've done my homework. And it's not legal for foreigners to teach kindergarten or pre-school, it's not legal to provide a work visa for someone working less than 14 hours a week, and it's not legal to begin working before the work visa is issued. But all of these things fell under the umbrella of "legal" according to my interviewers.
The candor of these conversations was inversely related to the English-speaking ability of the interviewer; the fluent English speakers were very slick. But my favorite was the school owner who basically said: "Well. We can get you work visa. But since we don't have enough hours for you to work, it will be ... not right or ... not real. Sometimes police will come check to see if you working when the visa say you are. If you are not here, maybe we tell them you sick or something. Ok?"
Comedians work incredibly hard. So I can't begrudge a comedian who puts in his time on stage a few mediocre movies. I love Chris Rock stand up, so I tolerated I think I love My Wife. Steve Martin earned Cheaper by the Dozen with this - and countless other pieces of comedic genius. Dane Cook's stand up is (was?) alright, but not nearly excellent enough to earn my forgiveness for the filmic travesties he has participated in the last few years.
Sunday, November 2, 2008
Though I was stuck teaching on Halloween night, I did make it to a Nov. 1 Halloween party at the home of an American journalist working in Taipei - someone I met at the FCC happy hour. James and I found a quickstop by the subway station. We bought my dinosaur hat (seen above), a fake beard for James and the cheapest bottle of wine we could find. Then we made our way to my new friend's house.
There was a pretty good turnout, mostly western men and their local wives/girlfriends. Everyone was older than us. But I didn't get invites to any Halloween parties for twenty-something westerners in Taipei. And people were very friendly anyways.
Pretty much no one was dressed up. That's ok, I'm always going to dress up for Halloween. James had to toss his fake beard because it was shedding everywhere. We camped out on the couch and chatted up another couple. The man was from South Africa, though he's been in Taiwan for a decade now. His wife is local. We talked about where to visit in China, the can't-miss destinations within Taiwan, and a little bit of global politics - all the while I had to keep pushing my dinosaur back up my forehead because its feet kept covering my eyes.
Then it was time to catch the bus back to Nankan. James did a good job of not acting annoyed when I wore my dino all the way home.
Saturday, November 1, 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.