Friday, February 27, 2009


On Friday my boss and I discussed an upcoming demo for a pre-school art class I might teach. I love my boss, she's really funny and spastic, but her English is such that we frequently end up at cross purposes such as:

Me: "So, we'll do introductions and then make monkey masks. Do you think that's enough for a twenty-minute demo? Or should I plan something else also?"

Boss: "Yes, the parents will be seated in the back."


Then I asked her whether or not all the little kids would have English names already. Every student I've taught in Taiwan has an English name. I don't even know their Chinese names. But I'm not clear on at what point they receive these names. Sometimes their parents give them to them. Sometimes it's somebody else.

Boss: They are so little. Maybe they wont have English names. Maybe the parent will ask you to give them English name.

Me: Oh no! I wouldn't know what to call them.

Boss: Maybe you can say, 'Ok. You! Beyonce, Ok. You! McDonalds.'

Me: (laughing) How about Kentucky?

Boss: No, no. Chinese people will know this one.

(KFC is really popular here.)

The demo was today. Turns out the kids all had English names - Willy, Austin, Daniel, Melissa, Sabrina. Maybe some other time I'll be able to give the world another Beyonce.

Thursday, February 26, 2009

Budding Rockstars Debut

Last weekend my brothers' band debuted at a local benefit concert. They got 'em dancing in the front! You can't see Ricky too well, but I think he has a hat on backwards. I was never allowed to wear hats backwards when I was his age. Ah, how things change. Wearing a hat sideways, however, is still a grave offense in the Jones household.

This is the third time in two months I've posted my brothers playing. That might seem excessive to some, but the really great thing about a blog is there's no one three cubicles away to say, "Leslie, no one cares about this. Hack six inches off the bottom."

True, other writing ventures have paid an hourly wage, whereas my blog has earned 46 cents to date (thanks, Google Ads!). But my blog never greets me in the morning with "Plane Crash. Two dead. Already dealt with the FAA, we just need you to get the families," or "So you're doing dead soldier, right? The dead soldier obit?"

Can't put a price on that.

Tomorrow I have orientation at NTU, I'm back in class, baby!

Wednesday, February 25, 2009

Living on an Open Question

On Monday I went to register at National Taiwan University for spring quarter Chinese classes. Here is an excerpt from my student handbook:

"The office will follow the instruction of the Central Personnel Administration to decide whether the class should be cancelled when there is a typhoon, an earthquake or other events that cannot be controlled, such as natural disaster or an air raid. There will be no make-up class in this case."

Sooo, if the People's Liberation Army Air Force comes barreling over the Strait no mid-term, right?

Tuesday, February 24, 2009

In it to Win it

Awhile ago my dad sent me a link to this contest: Tourism Queensland is vetting a "caretaker" for the Great Barrier Reef Islands. The winner gets $150,000 AUD and six months in a luxury oceanfront home on Hamilton Island, the largest of the inhabited Whitsundays.

Catch? Said caretaker must blog about the gig. So I'm qualified, right?

Entries had to be under a minute long. Videos were supposed to demonstrate why the applicant thinks she is best for the job and what she knows about the islands.

Taking the time and effort to enter elevated my interest in Australia. I'm considering a work-holiday visa and maybe heading down under this Fall (unless of course I win, in which case I'll be there in July).

Besides sparking my curiousity, this contest also illuminated how miserably not-unique I am: When I watched my video on YouTube, two other young, North American Leslies with communication backgrounds also hoping to be island caretaker popped up in the related searched column (you can see them here and here).

If you've never done it, it's sort of eerie to watch multiple people say "Hi, my name is Leslie" on YouTube (of course, you would cross out Leslie and insert your own name).

To my credit, the other Leslies didn't do somersaults or give CPR to fish in their videos. I think I have it made.

Also! Here's a link to James' entry.

Sunday, February 22, 2009

Jiantan Hike

Today I went on a hike. This is what I saw.
From Jiantan Hike

Swastikas are a Buddhist religious symbol. This no longer throws me off as it did when I first got here, but I thought these near a mountainside temple were especially interesting.
The hotel Chiang Kai-Shek built.

Friday, February 20, 2009

Zoo Part 2: Zoo Poo

After Modern Toilet and Doggy Poo the movie, I started to think Asians have very different ideas about the social acceptability of talking about certain bodily functions.

Then I went to the zoo, where every single bathroom doubled as an interpretive exhibit on poop.
Do they? Find out while you go!
Um, eew.
Okay, not a bathroom, but I like the sign

Taipei Zoo

To stave off the underemployment blues, I took a solo fieldtrip into the city.
I felt a little lame by myself at the ticketing kiosk amidst a throng of families and grandmas pushing strollers. But I forgot my lameness as quick as I got inside: Taipei Zoo was by far the best zoo I've ever been to.

For more than four hours I took pictures of animals, some I didn't even know existed before today. Here are the highlights:
How do they stand like that?
From Taipei Zoo

I don't know if that's Yuan Yuan or Tuan Tuan, but my grandchildren will probably never have occasion to take a picture of a panda - so I was sure to snap it. Frankly, I don't understand how any species that routinely smothers its newborns made it this far.

Pandas were the biggest exhibit. They're new, a gift from China. The former president rejected them in 2005, but President Ma said yes. "Tuan" means round. I don't know what "Yuan" means. But when you put the two words together they mean "reunion." The People's Republic is crafty like that. This spurred some clever pro-independence panda photoshops, captions like: "I gave up my national sovereignty and all I got were these lousy pandas."

From Taipei Zoo

This immediately came to mind when I passed this guy.
Malayan Tapir
A bongo!
From Taipei Zoo
giraffe-necked weevil
A friend from home!

Thursday, February 19, 2009

So Many Ways to Have a Good Time

Today James and I went to the Thai restaurant/mini-mart down the block for dinner. It was our third time going. The other two times there were several half-tanked Thai workingmen using the karaoke machine in the dining area. Tonight proved no exception.

We sat down with our papaya salads and pad thai. The karaoke contingent passed us the book of songs with shy smiles and bowing heads. A few minutes later they set down two plastic cups with shots of something brown that burned.

They shared their booze, I figured we owed them a song. I picked the only one of the six English songs in the book I knew well enough to sing, The Y.M.C.A.

I even did the hand motions. Our new Thai friends danced along. It felt like a party.

They refilled our little cups - cut with soda, thankfully - sang some more, and then rose to go, raising their glasses to us before they left.

That's one thing I really love about Asian culture, people are so much more open about singing and dancing. It's okay if you don't have Mariah Carey's pipes, here singing is a social activity.

America - shake those Puritan roots!

Wednesday, February 18, 2009

Today in the News

Before James went to work we went to the little cafe downstairs for breakfast. I found a seat where I could watch the morning news while I drank my latte and ate my egg pie.

First there was a story about abandoned babies, then something with a bunch of pictures of bruised legs - some of them children's legs - then there was a shot inside a slaughter house with a bunch of gutted pigs on hooks, followed by a man shoving a pig carcass into a furnace.

And as I polished off my latte, I watched something about a car crash.

Apparently the Taiwanese media establishment doesn't want the citizenry to forget how brutal the world is, even in its waking hours.

Tuesday, February 17, 2009

Would You Trust It?

That's our souvenir from Cijin Island you're looking at.

In theory, I thought it would be cool to have a blowfish suspended from the ceiling in our apartment. But then James tied it precariously above the dining area. I'm pretty sure he's trying to blind me. I take some comfort in the fact Hootie hangs over his place at the table.

Monday, February 16, 2009


I like Tom Cruise so much better when he only has three fingers and a glass eye (as opposed to when he's trashing other celebrities for their postpartum depression). It would be a lot easier for me to consistently dislike him if he weren't such a good actor.

I saw Valkyrie last night, it just came out here this weekend. I liked it. All throughout I kept hoping for a little revisionist history, "C'mon Tom Cruise, kill Hitler! Do it!"

And now that I've had my February fix, I'm so ready for Quentin Tarantino's Inglorious Basterds, coming out this Fall.

Because Nazi killin' never ever ever gets old.

Big Mistake

All my students - even the young ones - come equipped with white out, whiteout tape, chunky erasers, and all matter of blot-out contraptions. This irritates me because the kids have a way of toying with them and/or wasting time meticuously correcting the tiniest errors. Nonetheless, they all have them. And today I found out why come:

It's the first week back to regular curriculum after the Chinese New Year holiday. I decided to have a practice quiz for my 7-year-olds to gauge what they remembered from three weeks ago.

"Quiz time, students! Get out a piece of paper and a pencil or pen."

"But Miss Leslie IS BROKEN!"

Jane raises her whiteout dispenser to my face.

"It's okay. You don't need it."

"No! I need! I go downstairs and get new -

"No. You don't need it. It's ok. Sit down."

Jane looks distressed.

"Jane, look - just cross something out if you make a mistake and start over." I demonstrate this on her paper.

Gregory, Jane's classmate, is spurred to action.

"I give you!" He heroically thrusts his whiteout contraption in her direction.

"No, Gregory put that down. It's okay. We don't need to use that today. Jane can just cross out her mistakes and so can you."

Tears are brimming in Jane's eyes.

"Miss Leslie, if I ... (she makes a cross-out motion on her paper) ... my mom hit me."

For clarity, she demonstrates slapping her own back.

"Hey, hey, it's okay. This is just practice."

"You say is quiz!"

"It's a practice quiz!"

"But my mom..."

"We won't tell your mom! It's okay! Don't worry!"

She wiped her eyes. Telling Jane that this practice quiz was going to stay between the two of us, and not involve mom, finally calmed her down.

If I had to pick a theme song for the school-aged children of Taiwan, it would be Under Pressure by Queen.

Jane will probably have gray hairs before she hits puberty.

Sunday, February 15, 2009

Tizzy Bac

Finally! I found a Taiwanese rock band I would actually listen to at the gym (not that I've been looking very hard).

James and I wanted to see Valkyrie on Saturday, but of course, being Valentine's Day, the ticket line at our favorite theater was way past the counter and wrapped around the foyer.

We were wandering around wondering what to do before our dinner reservation when we stumbled upon Tizzy Bac playing outside a shopping mall. They were so catchy we stayed and listened to the whole set.

I plan on getting their CD. And I would totally jump on my bed and sing along. But I don't speak Chinese. And my bed is too hard for any worthwhile jumping. (Song starts 51 seconds into it).

Saturday, February 14, 2009

The Meaning of Valentine's Day

I had three cram school classes Friday, for ages 8, 12, and 15. In each class we talked about the meaning of Valentine's Day. Students' ideas were as follows:

Age 8:

Me: "Why do we have Valentine's Day? What is Valentine's Day for?"

Roomful of 8-year-olds makes kissy noises. This is so amusing to them, I doubt they absorbed much else of the lesson.

Age 12:

(after some discussion about what "romantic" means and the traditional meaning of Valentine's Day)

Me: ...Okay so Valentine's Day is for boyfriend-girlfriend, yes. But who else?

Cavey: Teacher!

Me: What?

Cavey: Boyfriend-boyfriend?

Me: Sure. But who else?

I was trying to steer the lesson toward celebrating friendship and family on Valentine's Day. But my admission that V-Day could be for boyfriend-boyfriend sent all 12-year-olds present into gales of shrieky laughter. Clearly, there is no Queer Eye or Perez Hilton of Taiwan. Ambiguously gay Anderson Cooper? Forget it.

My students are so excited about my preposterous statement, they begin chattering in Chinese.

Betty: In America... In America! I see...

Me: See what?

Students pow wow, trying to figure out how to tell me what has them so riled.

Teresa: Teacher this one.

Teresa holds a little electric Chinese-English dictionary up to my face. On occasion it has proved very useful when we reach conversational roadblocks, but not today: The word on the screen is "denaturation."

Me: Honestly, I don't know what that word means. I have no idea.

Teresa: Oh.

Betty: Teacher! In America ... On news ... I see a man he (she makes a snip-snip gesture with her fingers), and then he have a baby!

Everyone is giggling.

Me: Yes. That happened. But that is not what Valentine's Day is for.

Betty: Oh okay.

Age 15:

We got through the Valentine's spiel, no boyfriend-boyfriend complications.

Me: Does anyone have a girlfriend or a boyfriend? Or someone you like?

(Heads shake all around).

Emily: All we do is study. No time.

Me: How old do you have to be for your parents to let you date?

Two students say they don't know. Everyone else tells me 18 or 20. And they aren't embarrassed to say so. Sheesh, and I thought my parents were strict. Although, Taipei is such a safe city, kids have the run of it, I see groups of guys and girls out together often enough. So I doubt the average Taiwanese kid's teen years are a complete romantic wasteland.

And tonight James did the only thing he could to prove his affections: He took me to Yuma Southwestern Grill. And let tell me you - there was more cheese on our nachos than we've seen on any plate of food since we stepped off the plane. We split a half order of baby back ribs, and a sampler plate of fried calamari, buffalo wings and french fries, plus margaritas.

I'm full.

Wednesday, February 11, 2009

Already Gone

There's not much else to say, my brothers are just really, really cool.

Tuesday, February 10, 2009

Lost in Translation: Marijuana Culture

With surprising frequency in Taipei I see pretty, clean cut girls - who look like they bathe regularly - wearing pastel t-shirts with pot leaves on them, or tote bags with the leaf design. This is weird to me, because back home I'm pretty sure there's a rule that says you can't wear a pot leaf if you shower more than fortnightly, nor may you have a serious job or engaging hobbies. Wearing a pot leaf isn't about the occasional Saturday night, it's about a manifest commitment to underachievement. Or at least in America it is.

I started wondering if there was much smoking going on in Taiwan. Not really, according to Pot isn't popular among the Taiwanese, what's available isn't very good, and pot possession is punishable with up to 3 years in prison. Drug trafficking is punishable by death.

All those pot leaves aren't political or lifestyle statements. They're just a strange refraction of pot subculture done Taiwan-style.

What would Marley think?

Sunday, February 8, 2009

Pixar, move over. It's DOGGY POO!

James and I spotted this 30-minute Korean Claymation masterpiece at the mall awhile ago. I couldn't pass up the opportunity to own a movie best described as a turd biopic.

We were expecting weird and zany. And it was definitely weird, but not very zany. More religious, actually: The movie begins with a dog taking a dump in the middle of a road (predictable, right?). Then the next 25 minutes are consumed by Doggy Poo crying and moaning, "Why did God make me? I am just a Doggy Poo, what am I good for?"

Finally, Doggy Poo finds a dandelion sprout to fertilize and he turns into a beautiful flower. That's the happy ending.

I'm thinking about making a movie. I think I'll call it Leslie Poo. It will dramatize the events that transpired 24 hours after the time I accidentally chewed and swallowed an entire Thai chili. But it will be more horror/shocker than uplifting spiritual.

Friday, February 6, 2009

Lantern Festival

Today my boss and her husband took James and me out to a spicy hot pot dinner. Boss and Boss' Husband are stoked on me being a Christian because they're Christians too. They asked me to say grace at dinner.

It's cool we pray to the same God, but Boss is always hassling me to go to church. I've told her I sometimes go to church in Taipei, which is true: I went to church twice in December. But today she hounded me into promising I'd go to church with her sometime.

"Boss, I won't understand anything."

"Maybe you will!"

Dress up in tarty Santa suits, pretend I work at KFC, go to Chinese Church - the things I do for this woman. Good thing I find her so endearing.

Boss also made sure to point out the congealed duck blood in the soup.

"That's blood. We are Christians, so don't eat that."

"Christians don't eat blood? I didn't know that."

"Really? No Christians in Taiwan eat blood."

"Oh. Well, in America nobody eats blood."

I've had blood before at Dim Sum, it's not my favorite, but I figured I better lay off if all the other believers at the table were. To satisfy my conscience, I went home and Googled "Can Christians eat blood?" The English-speaking Christian blogosphere appears to have no beef with blood eating.

After dinner we walked to the Taoyuan Lantern Festival. There were lanterns that looked like dragons, radishes, tigers, Buddhas, SpongeBob SquarePants, Nemo, and lots and lots of oxen.

People were lighting incense at several altars on the grounds. Boss and Boss' Husband looked uncomfortable as we lingered past the Buddhas. Their 7-year-old daughter, Jane, tugged on my arm and pulled me along.

"You are a Jesus! You cannot see!" she told me.

James and I said bye to Boss and her family. But we stayed at the festival to watch a rock concert. I could sing along with more than half the songs. The ubiquity of Rock 'n Roll still amazes me: Here we were at a traditional festival, not another foreigner in sight, and the set list included "Crazy Little Thing Called Love," "It's so easy to fall in Love," "Can't Take My Eyes Off of You," and "Light My Fire."

There were also some contemporary numbers, including a Black Eyed Peas song. Nothing pulls at my patriotic heartstrings like a Taiwanese bass player rapping, "Here in the U.S.A. we got the Bloods and the Crips and the KKK."

When the concert ended, a giant bull on a pedestal lit up and started smoking. It's eyes blinked, the pedestal rotated. There were laser lights and blaring Chinese music. I could feel the drums vibrating in my chest.

Chinese New Year is such a bangin' holiday.

Thursday, February 5, 2009

Speak English in the Colonel's House

Today my boss and I took the cram school brats to KFC. The mission was half experiential English lesson, half local advertising. Boss thought it would be good for business if the neighborhood saw me out on the town with the kiddies.

For dramatic effect, she made me stand behind the counter with the KFC manager while the students whispered their orders to the two of us. I even got to handle the money. It was almost like I was really working at KFC, kind of like a premonition - because that's probably what I will be doing eight months from now, or whenever I return Stateside.

On the upside, taking the kids to the Colonel's house gave me perhaps the one good excuse available outside the continental U.S. to bark "This is Kentucky Fried Chicken! Speak English!"

While I scraped mayo off my chicken burger, Boss discussed our upcoming joint teaching demonstration. The two of us are looking to pick up hours at another cram school, but first we must host a demo for prospective students and parents.

Thankfully for me, I realized awhile ago that whenever a cram school boss uses the phrase "demonstration" what they really mean is "dog and pony show." I would probably go farther in this business if I had a pyrotechnics certificate than a masters in education.

Boss: "Maybe we can bring some costumes."

Me: "Hmm... Maybe. I'll think about it."

Boss: "Or maybe I can come dressed as a clown."

I concentrate on my mayonnaise-drenched chickenwich.

Boss: "You know, with the nose? I can be the clown and then you can teach them some sentences. You think that is good idea?"

Me: "Maybe. Let me think about it."

I can't decide if I should let her keep holding the reins on this one because this is her country and she knows what the people want, or if I should try and dissuade her from the circus act out of my own sense of shame.

It's a toughie.

Tuesday, February 3, 2009


James went camping with the school he works at, so I am home alone for the rest of the week with only the cram school students to entertain me at brief interludes. I'll probably start talking to myself shortly.

Monday, February 2, 2009

still got it

Today I found a space on the train next to a group of guys wearing prep jackets and sporting what I refer to simply as androgynous Asian rockstar hair.One was beatboxing while another did the robot. I tried not to look at them, as I got the feeling they were doing so for my benefit and I didn't want to encourage them. But they began giggling and looking at me, so I knew the approach was imminent. One came up and addressed me in Chinese.

Me: Ting bu dong. (I don't understand)

Him: Oh. You don't speak Chinese?

Me: No.

Him: Oh. Where are you from?

Me: America.

Him: Oh.

He turns back to his friends and they discuss amongst themselves.

Him: Your eyes are so beautiful.

Me: Oh. Thank you.

Him: How old are you?

Me: 22.

He laughs maniacally.

Me: What?

Him: You look so young!

Me: How old are you?

Him: 17.

Me: Oh, I'm way too old for you.

Him: I like your smile.

The conversation died shortly thereafter.

Maybe I should go back to the U.S. and troll for prom dates.

Sunday, February 1, 2009


Our seat-of-our-pants excursion went off without a hitch in Kaohsiung, because Kaohsiung isn't a nice place. Kenting is a very nice place, and it was on our way there where we ran into problems.

Guidebook said it would take 2.5 hours to get there by bus. It took 4, stop-and-go traffic the whole way. Not only was it Chinese New Year, but once there we learned there was a hip hop festival going on - mostly Chinese rappers, but the headliner was Lil Jon, best known for the time-honored classic, 'til the sweat drops down my balls. Skeet-Skeet!

I tried to be cool about it: There's no point in traveling internationally on a limited budget if you aren't willing to put up with the waiting, the miscommunications and assorted delays along the way.

But just because the journey doesn't drive you nuts, doesn't mean your travel buddy wont either. As we trudged through the back alleys and side streets of Kenting - met only by no vacancy signs and front desk clerks shaking their heads - I started verbally threatening to murder James in his sleep. To which he responded, "But where?! WHERE will we sleep? If you know, then I'll get a head start on you and go there immediately!"

Eventually we took a cab several miles south to Sail Rock, a low-key strip of hotels that turned out to be more our pace (less boozy, no MC HotDog).

The cheapest room we could find was $2,500 NT, three times what Guidebook said we'd have to pay. Still, once we got to the beach it was all worth it: perfect weather, warm sand, a setting sun.

Unfortunately, we had to share the sand with 500 other people and a four-wheeler rental outfit. Watching dozens of four-wheeler newbies (not a helmet among them) roar past was unnerving. When we got up to skip rocks, some began using our towels as a marker to pivot around - proving once and for all you can take the four-wheeler out of America, but you can't take the cracker out of the four-wheeler rider.

Thursday we went back to Kenting, at a loss for what to do: We didn't trust ourselves to rent a scooter (the mode of transportation most use to see the national park nearby). We killed time perusing surf shop trinkets, figuring we couldn't justify margaritas at the local Mexican dive before 11 a.m.

"Let's go to Frog Rock Park" James announced, seeing a sign for it leading down a tree-lined street.

"Do you think there'll be a rock that looks like a frog, or a rock that a bunch of frogs live on?" James asked as we walked.

"Well hopefully it will be both - maybe a magical frog rock that all the frogs worship and do its bidding."

The way to Frog Rock was a rocky coastal path. Frog Rock was a rock that looked like a frog, I guess. Actually, we couldn't figure out which rock it was, but as we walked farther we found a tiny hidden beach - separated by craggy boulders from the big private beach owned by a luxury hotel.

Next order of business was finding a spot hidden from view where we shimmied into our bathing suits.

From Kenting

We spent a couple hours playing at our surprise beach and then beat it back to town for Mexican food and fruity drinks before the whopping ten hours of bus rides back to Nankan.

We got home at 3:30 a.m., exactly four days after we awoke and started our journey. In case it doesn't sound like it: I had a really good time.