Wednesday, September 30, 2009

Battle of the Ages

Three people joined my Chinese class last month. The new, less-advanced students decided they disliked my favorite teacher, the one I find most challenging. So, without telling the other half of the class, they requested a change. My favorite no longer teaches our class.

I would've raised more hell about this, but next week is my last and these new people are continuing another two months. But I think a telling issue with this incident is there's a 25-year gap between the new, less-advanced students and we three original classmates.

I guessed they thought when they wanted to go shake their jowls, there was no need to consult us young folks - we couldn't possibly have worthwhile opinions.

Then I talked to my favorite teacher after class today. The administrator told her when these older students went to harp on her, they also had some interesting things to say about us three:

They don't pay attention. They're always playing with computers, messing around, etc. during class.

"Playing with computers." That would be my friend's electric Chinese-English dictionary, which is pretty handy when trying to learn to read and write.

I think the old people were just so lost they figured we must not be paying attention - like we're just sitting there to pass time, because that's what kids do. But the thing is we weren't. My one friend already knows Cantonese. And the other is fluent in Mongolian, Russian and English. They are serious language learners.

Sometimes my friends pull out their iPods during breaks, while the old people continue to "practice" Chinese in stilted conversations with eachother. Personally, I think the iPod thing is antisocial, but people in college did it too. Further, Chinese class is intense - I can see wanting to zone out during the breaks.

Conclusion: Old people are so ageist! It reminds me of interning at newspapers when I'd show up and the source would ask, "Sooo, you're writing the story? By yourself?" I hope when I'm old I remember to withhold my judgement until it's validated.

Monday, September 28, 2009

Coming to America!

My plane lands in San Francisco December 1st! I didn't want to post the full story until I gave notice - not that my employers read my blog. And actually - I walked in today and saw my boss had written "furit" for the children instead of "fruit," so the jury is still out whether they read English anyways.

We have just 16 days left in Taiwan. Then we're going to Bejing. Then we're taking the train to Mongolia. Then we're taking the train back to Beijing. Then we're backpacking around China for a month passing through (hopefully) Xian, Chongqing, Three Gorges and ending in Shanghai. Or at least that's the half-baked plan. People who know better have told me it's doable.

My parents say my long johns and my ski coat are in the mail. It's hard to imagine next month I'll have use for them. James put a clean shirt on yesterday morning and by 6 p.m. it smelled like mildew. So I'm ready for a break from the subtropics. But I'm going to miss Taiwan. It grows on you: You move some place, don't know anyone, and 12 months later you realize you're part of a community - and you're leaving it. Sigh.

I'll be home for the holidays, which is totally exciting. Last year I worked on Christmas Day (and Eve) and somehow wound up eating KFC with my employers for Christmas dinner. This year I plan on compensating. It's gonna be double the Christmas. Carols 24-7. My family will be yearning for Dec. 26.
China. Mongolia. China. Home. Christmas. Not 100% on what's next. But probably adventures.

Friday, September 25, 2009

Use It or Lose It

Today on the subway I think there was a woman speaking Spanish on her cell. And that is a sad, sad statement after all the years I off-and-on studied Spanish. I'll give myself the benefit of the doubt, maybe it was some related dialect ... because the only words I could pick out were "si" and I think maybe bastante, though I couldn't remember what the latter meant.

But how lame is it I wasn't even sure it was Spanish?! Because whatever it was, it sounded about as foreign as Chinese did 12 months ago.

I'm going to continue my Chinese class through our last full week in Taiwan. And as soon as I'm home, my priority will be formulating a study plan so that wherever I end up next, I'll continue to learn. Also, I've found a blog that posts nothing but links to Chinese talk shows on YouTube, and the author seems to post several links a day. So I'm going to make a habit out of that - despite the miserable and gratuitous sound effects (BOINK!/WAH~WAH/BLINGBLING!) all Chinese talk shows seem to use. Small annoyance for a lifetime investment, me thinks.

Wednesday, September 23, 2009

Peacing Out of the Buxiban

I'm giving notice at work tomorrow. I expect it'll be pretty straight forward and wonderful, because I'm ready to be done with the people I work for. But recently James and I have been fantasizing about what it would sound like if instead I spelled out my resignation in hip hop lyrics. This is what we (mostly James) came up with:

Boss: Hi Le-Suh-Lee!

Me: What up, home slice?

Boss: How are you?

Me: I gotta pocket fulla stinkies, my bucket's low and my swagger's right.

Boss: What?

Me: Bitch, I'm trill.

Boss: Are you quitting? (The only natural response to such an onslaught)

Me: I gotta stay fly 'til I die.

Boss: But what will you do without us?

Me: All I want to do is ride around shining while I can afford it. Plenty of ice on my neck so I don't get nauseous. Float around in the greatest of Porsches.

Boss: Why are you quitting?

Me: Cash Rules Everything Around Me. C.R.E.A.M.! Get the money, dollah, dollah bills y'all.

Boss: Okay, this is inconvenience to us that you are quitting.

Me: If you can't respect that your whole perspective is whack. Maybe you'll love me when I fade to black.

Monday, September 21, 2009

If you laugh long enough, it's not an argument.

Recently, my boss has been observing my class. She never did this - not once - the first six months I worked there. I guess she had a change of heart about her supervisory role, which is unfortunate because she likes to translate what I say into Chinese before the kids have a chance to digest the English. Did I mention I'm supposed to teach English?

The following conversation took place yesterday after class. I had one student who failed to answer a question, despite much coaxing and hints. Everyone else answered. I know she understood. She was just gripped with a bout of "I'm so embarrassed I'm going to pretend I don't understand anything you say even if you say it in my native language" - a common affliction among Taiwanese children.

Boss: Maybe next time you just tell her what to say then she can repeat it.

Me: She needs to think for herself.

Boss: But this is how we teach here, even if she doesn't understand, she needs to repeat something.

Me: That's why so many students speak such poor English after studying a long time, they've just been taught to parrot, they can't actually talk.

Boss: This is Taiwan's way.

Me: Well it's a bad way to learn a language.

Boss: Ha ha ha ha ha ha.

Me: ha ha ha ha.

Boss: ha ha ha. ha.

Me: ha. ha.

And that was this week's dose of passive aggressive behavior. Stay tuned kids, there's still a few weeks left!

Happy One Year!

I have been living abroad one year, today.

I'm so glad I came, I'm so glad I stayed. I learned a lot. In hindsight, there are some things I would do differently now: I would've started learning Chinese right away; and I would've given myself longer to look for a better work situation.

I've learned so much this year. Some things I would've learned anyways - it being my first year not being a student. But I don't think living aboard is a learning experience that can be replicated at home.

I think that perhaps the most important thing I've learned is that I can live abroad. The idea of living far away from home - in or outside the U.S. - doesn't daunt me as much anymore. And I think if opportunities present themselves in the future, I'll be more ready to jump than I would otherwise.

Saturday, September 19, 2009

Foreigner Hate

Considering I've been in Taiwan almost exactly a full year, I haven't met that many other waiguoren. But based on the small group of Canadians/Americans/South Africans/Australians I do know - I think we get an undeserved bad rap.

"Oh Leslie, we're so lucky to have you. You're not like other foreigners - they just drink, party, aren't reliable." It's a backhanded compliment: I'm good because I'm not like the other white folks. I used to repeat the common wisdom in passing, "yeah, a lot of people are just here to drink, make a little bit of money," until I realized I had no substantiating evidence. So I stopped.

The truth is white people like to drink more than locals. The truth is we tend to be louder and more obnoxious whether or not we're drinking. And the truth is there are some unreliable fly-by-night characters here, just like everywhere else. But it doesn't match the hype.

And it's a convenient stereotype to believe in if you're a school owner who wants to not feel bad about treating a foreign employee like crap. James and I love Taiwan, but we've both dealt with some pretty crummy work situations.

Unfortunately, I think we foreigners perpetuate our nasty reputation: The foreigners I know are all responsible and gainfully employed. But they all, have at one time or other, mentioned/agreed with the idea that we're all just here to "drink and party" and do bad work.

James has a friend who has been in Taiwan almost a decade. His theory is foreigners like to hate on other foreigners because everyone wants to feel like the "real" expat. - Everybody else is just visiting. Ppptttbbbb.

We're almost out of here. I'm really going to miss Taiwan. I wont miss the racial stereotype.

Wednesday, September 16, 2009

Sorry, Sorry, Sorry...

If you've been wondering recently what's in right now with the Chinese grade school set - look no further! This is it!

Everywhere I teach - kids keep coming into my class mumble-singing "sorry, sorry, sorry, sorry..." At first I thought it was a joke or a game, but then I got cool and realized it was SUPER JUNIOR! Only the most gigantor Korean boy band ever - if not the whole world!! Seriously, they're like 20 strong. Too many to count.

I posted this video to Facebook and a friend in Taichung replied that on several occasions she's seen groups of kids doing all the choreography in the street.

The Soulja Boy of Taiwan?

Monday, September 14, 2009

Hsinchu for a Day

My wonderful Taoyuan language exchange partners treated James and I to a day trip in Hsinchu County, the Silicon Valley of Taiwan. Hsinchu is part massive industrial complexes and part beautiful mountainy splendor.

The gang in Neiwan
My friends introduced me to these tiny fragrant zhongzi - special to the area. They're wrapped with flower leaves (I think....regular zhongzi have big banana leaf wrappings). And on the inside there's rice cooked up with bits of meat, mushroom and nuts.
From B-day, Hsinchu
We spent the first half of the day at Neiwan Station, a touristy old town with an old movie theater converted to a restaurant and lots of little stands with people peddling Hakka wares.
Outside the old Theater
Lots of other tourists
Old Neiwan Station, still in service
oink oink
Then we drove up into the mountains to the "Lavender Cottage" a beautiful restaurant with great views of the valley. Everything was lavender themed. I couldn't help but feel bad for the poor employees who have to wear purple every. single. day.
View from the Lavender Cottage
Somebody's Bunny Photoshoot
Everything was very cute - not the kind of place grown men would venture to on their own accord.
The "cottage"
Working mailboxes, one for mailing family, one for mailing exes. Go figure.
Then for dinner we went to Zhubei, a wealthy city where lots of the tech people live. I was surprised by the clean storefronts and wide sidewalks - it reminded me more of streets I'd see in the U.S. than anywhere else in Taiwan.

For dinner we went to an amazing Hakka restaurant (Hakka is a Chinese ethnicity. There are lots of Hakka in Taiwan and in Southern China). Swordfish, squid, salty-soft tofu, kung pao chicken - everything was great. But my favorite were the sweet potatoes!
Candied sweet potatoes
My picture isn't very good, but the owner brought warm sweet potatoes to our table covered in a syrupy substance. We were told to eat them immediately. We picked them up and dipped them in icy water. The effect was the outside hardened into a candy coating while the inside was still warm and delicious. Something I really want to try at home!

Thursday, September 10, 2009

Reasonably Enlightened?!

Thomas Friedman's column Our One-Party Democracy in yesterday's paper is crrrrrrrazy! Friedman argues China's autocracy is preferrable to our current slow-moving democracy.

Duh, autocrats can enact policies faster. But I can't think of any such state - past or present - I'd like to live in. Checks and balances, yo!

What bothered me most was Friedman's assertion China is a "reasonably enlightened" country. I don't know what that means, but it sounds ign'ant: Imprisoned bloggers, state-controlled churches, negligible property rights and comprehensive media censorship are not the traits of an enlightened society.

I know I've been influenced by living closer to it - and, this is anecdotal - but, whenever people come back from the mainland (read: traveling outside Beijing and Shanghai) they never fail to say, "It was really, really dirty." Reading Friedman makes me wonder how my perception of China has changed from being here, or how mine differs from the average American's. There's a whole lot more to it than the flagship cities.

I have a friend who works in Beijing, she only comes back to Taiwan once a month or so. She likes Beijing, but says when she stays too long she starts to feel trapped. The international news censorship is such that she finds she has to resolve just not to care about what is going on or deal with constant frustration of struggling to circumvent the censorship to find information.

I'm not even anti-China! I just think we ought to call it like it is.

Enlightened? Friedman, you crazy.

Tuesday, September 8, 2009

Birthday Song

I got up this morning and found a link to this waiting in my inbox. This guy ... I sure miss him. But how lucky am I to have a brother who is ten years younger than me, whom I haven't seen much of in the last year, that writes, "the older you get the more I miss you."

I love it.

Link to my 22-year-old b-day song. Look to see how much he grew!

Friday, September 4, 2009

Happy Burfday to ... Meeeeeeeeeeeeee

Today I am 23. One of my good friends from high school is in town for the weekend from Japan where she's currently studying. And I'm planning a get-together tonight starting at an expat bar. I have six hours of English classes to teach, starting at 2 and ending at 9, but besides that it should be an awesome day.

It's been almost a year (just 17 days shy) that I've been living in Taiwan. I've been so many places and learned so much. This time last year I never would've believed that I would become conversant in Chinese.

Turns out all those things people say about living abroad broadening one's perspective, teaching how to handle challenging situations, etc. are true. Those things are also all platitudes, so I wont go further. I'm just happy to be at a point in my life where I can still say I know so much more than I did a year ago.

Thursday, September 3, 2009

The Good Brothers

By the lunar calendar, today is the middle of Ghost Month (the month where ghosts get to take a break from hell, stretch their legs, eat something, and what not). During Ghost Month you aren't supposed to say "ghost," instead people say "Hao Shong Di," or "good brothers."

Lots of storefronts have little altars piled with food - instant noodles, litre sodas, fruit, crackers - and incense burning, all for the ghosts to eat. Some people don't eat the food after it has been on the altar because they believe the ghosts having eaten it takes away all the flavor. Praying and making an offering today is supposed to bring your household peace for the year.

Last night people were setting off fireworks all over Nankan and there was a big "Hua Che" (literally "flower car," means parade float) procession through town, replete with traditional horn music that always sounds exactly the same and consistently awful to my ears.

I don't have a problem with feeding ghosts. But it's really windy today. And people are burning gobs of ghost money in small altars on busy sidewalks ... seems like a recipe for disaster.

Tuesday, September 1, 2009

Reviewed: Jodie's Kitchen

Jodie and me

My mom and I spent Friday afternoon in a cooking class. I recommend Jodie's Kitchen to anyone looking to add a few Chinese flavors to their repertoire.

Everything was simple and delicious. Jodie showed us sour-and-spicy soup, how to prepare homemade soy milk (which is delicious!), as well as a sesame paste, spicy Sichuan flower pepper oil, and a simple Taiwanese dressing - all of which are easily added to veggies, noodles or meat.

Jodie does a good job of giving a basic explanation of vital ingredients, and then showing how they can be mixed together to create the various flavors.

Hopefully I wont forget everything before I'm back in a living situation where I actually cook regularly...