Archive for May, 2010


Things finally clicked with my Thursday and Friday co-teacher when I asked her for help figuring out a character while we sat around waiting for our class to finish their test.  The classroom has a border of phrases and proverbs in English and Chinese, and since I had no homework to grade or anything to prep, I decided to get a head start on character practice.  The font was really weird though, so I asked Ariel to help me out, and after she cleared up my question, she asked if I was studying Chinese.  I told her I’d be starting Tuesday at Fu Da, and she was immediately more animated (not hard for this woman; she’s a bit laconic).  As it turns out, she did her undergrad there, and now we’ve got a bond of sorts.  School-tribalism for the win!

We’ll never be like sisters, nor do I think that’s a good idea, but it’s nice to have a rapport with my immediate coworkers, and Ariel was the last hold-out.  This phrasing makes it sound more intentional and exclusionary on her part, but the fact of the matter is there are many barriers in the workplace that neither group (English teachers and Chinese teachers and staff) throw up out of spite.  The first is language, because even though they teach English or at least have the beginnings of a foundation in the secretaries’ case, there are at best two people I would consider fluent.  On the other hand, the English teachers don’t generally make impressive or even token efforts with Chinese either.

There’s also an economic and labor divide: I haven’t personally seen the numbers at my branch or at my company, but the Chinese teachers are paid about half the NSTs’ rate and often have the job of breaking in new NSTs in addition to their actual teaching duties.  The last barrier is age, which isn’t often the work relationship killer, but does work to compound the other barriers.

The first big steps were about a month ago, when I went to Costco with one of the secretaries at my branch.  She’s the same age as me, which I believe makes us the babies of the branch (except for, obviously, the actual babies) and means we have a fair bit in common in terms of just entering the work force and uncertainty about further higher education.  She invited me, which at that point was very welcome, and I didn’t think saying no was a good idea.  It turned out to be very pleasant, and after we got the goods, we went back to her parents’ house because she had ice cream in the trunk and she didn’t want it to melt while she helped me find a kettle and a few other things.  I met her dad and saw the shop her family runs (underthings and such, which could come in handy!), and we waited for her mom to get back and direct us to a good place for a kettle.

As it turned out, we didn’t need to go anywhere, since when her mom got home, she pulled out a kettle, a coffee mug, some bowls, and a few spoons, which was generous and just so welcoming.  She was a really funny woman, too, making me drink cocoa and talking to me like such a mother!  She spoke very clearly because Mandarin is not her first language either, and I hope to be able to practice Taiwanese with her eventually.

I haven’t hung out with Belle since the Costco run, but I hope that as my Chinese gets better, we can do more outside of work and both really benefit from language exchange and friendship.  It would be nice to have a friend in my immediate area, especially someone who really knows the place!

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All mine

In just a week, I’ll have a tiny kindergarten class all to myself.  There will be four students whose parents want extra prep for their kids (or need the little boogers in daycare sooner than August), and since I have a Chinese-speaking homeroom teacher, we’ll have a teacher-student ratio of 1:2.  That is pretty awesome, I must say.

I am quite excited, and I hope I get to name them.  I had some input on renaming one of my younger students who was going by Feifei (pronounced Fifi), but that was initiated by the Chinese teacher, not me.  She’s now Sophia, by the way, which is far more dignified, suitable, and appealing.  Go team me, CT, and Sophia’s mom!

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Pure mayonnaise

I forgot to mention the truly awful pastries I had yesterday.  Bakeries here are usually marvelous, but I thought I’d give a different one a try yesterday, and I wound up regretting it.  I stopped in before getting on the MRT for practice, so I got both a breakfast for before and a lunch for later.  The breakfast bread was round with an egg and a slice of bacon on top, and the lunch one was a large rectangle with some serious volume and garlic, ham, and maybe some parmesan cheese.  How could these two marvels of pastry go wrong?

I’ll tell you: mayonnaise.  Around the rim of the bacon and egg was something I thought might be bubbled cheese, but turned out to be oily and thick; just the thing you don’t want first thing in the morning.  It looked like yellow mayonnaise, and probably tasted similar.  I almost threw up on the steps of the station, but I was hungry, so I peeled off the egg and bacon and threw the rest away.

On the way to Taipei 101, I pulled out the lunch bread, but the first bite was also a crushing disappointment as this one seemed to be full of white mayonnaise.  I nibbled around the bready edges a little, but I was too disheartened to continue.  Fortunately, a girl came up to protect the crazy girl with no umbrella from the drizzle, so I had some distraction.

Her name was Pipi, 小菜 (or little vegetable) to her friends, and she dashed up behind me and sheltered me from the rain.  We shared some slow and halting bilingual conversation, and wound up exchanging phone numbers, since she lives somewhat close to me.  I think I’ll follow up in a few weeks, when my Chinese is a little better.

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June gloom

June gloom arrives early in Taipei, and is remarkably inconsistent.  May is the drab month here, but we’ve had some remarkably bright (and hot) days– just never on the weekend!  I lie; yesterday was quite nice, but I procrastinated going out to a nearby national park to go hiking and just enjoy nature because I thought it would be easier to do it today after dragon boat practice.

I woke up bright and (over an hour) early this morning to a power outage and the jackhammering of generators.  Since I couldn’t go back to sleep, I decided to stay up to take a cold shower to mitigate the 5am humidity and pack my purse for the day (hiking and work out clothes in the bag, dress for city wandering on me, tape to protect my hands– forgotten, washcloth to dry off with after practice– forgotten).  Somehow, I still wound up arriving at the MRT station a little to late to walk to practice, so I grabbed a cab and wasted 115元.  On the bright side, I didn’t sidetrack through a construction zone or shimmy under a fence today, which is more than I can say about last Sunday.

Practice went well despite increasingly heavy rain from 9am on, and afterward, I walked barefoot through the pouring rain with some teammates to the closest MRT.  It was excellent!  After talking with Rebecca, I decided to kill some time at Taipei 101 where there’s an excellent bookstore with a wide selection of English books.  I hadn’t been there before, but I got directions and set off.  Unfortunately, I set off in the wrong direction and had to hop out and retrace my steps back along the blue line.  It was a little irritating, but it cost me nothing but time.

Let me tell you: Page One is awesome.  I spent over 1500元 and I only regret it a tiny bit.  Their only flaw is that they don’t have enough cushy chairs.  The food court at Taipei 101 is also awesome, and I had a lunch I couldn’t finish for about $3.  The soup was an intriguing mix of guts and starchy vegetables topped with cilantro (I love how popular it is here!), and the rice with meat sauce and vegetables with meat sauce were delicious.

I met up with Rebecca and Steve and we went to Miramar to see Shrek 4.  I wasn’t too keen on the choice, but it was the lesser of 8 or 9 evils, and turned out to have a few good laughs.  It was also really nice to see my friends again, and it topped off a good day perfectly.

Parentheses overuse!  I do apologize.

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Leave me comments or send me emails and I’ll do what I can.

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A class above

Yesterday, I took a class for a friend that’s different in every way from the ones I usually teach.  It’s got a spacious classroom, the English teacher teaches every class, and the classes are three or four times a week instead of being only twice.  The difference in English level is remarkable, but I think the main thing about the particular kids I had yesterday was how well-behaved and sweet they were, as well as how smart.

We reviewed for a quiz, and once they had finished, I graded them and let the kids read from the bookshelf.  Everyone sat around the walls and read silently or quietly with a friend and seemed truly engrossed.  I was thrilled, since I love seeing kids enjoy reading!  Everyone got 100 on the quiz, so instead of making them hang around the classroom quietly, I took them out to the indoors play area and they ran around and played ghost tag and then freeze tag for about 10 minutes.  They chose me for It after I proposed freeze tag (I didn’t want them getting bored!), and let me tell you, running in socks is hard!  I didn’t have any success until I took them off and also roped some of my students from one of my favorite classes into helping me.

Then I gave them their real break time to sit and read and drink water, after which they did a crossword and then the homework.  It was the easiest $30 of my life, aside from birthday money.

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Today has been just so normal: I woke up and did a little yoga like I promised myself, got a breakfast hamburger, walked to the bank and had a nice little conversation, paid my security fee, had the rental agent in to take a look at the busted screens, and rearranged my one piece of furniture.

Now it’s noon and I’m taking a break to write and relax.

My bank is reasonably big, and so I have three branches in my city to choose from.  The one I was introduced to is a little far without a scooter, but the walk is a lot more interesting because it’s non-stop city streets.  However, on the bus the other day, I noticed another branch that was much easier to get to and probably a little closer, and since I needed to get some money and I didn’t want to pay ATM fees, I decided to check it out.

Now, there are definitely cars here (no grass shacks in Taipei, Irma!), but it’s not a car culture like Southern California, it’s a scooter or walking culture and because I don’t have a scooter, I’ve been doing a lot of walking.  Even though there’s a lot to look at, it can get boring because of the distances, so I listen to podcasts or music.  I recently discovered this series of documentaries from the BBC and the first one I listened to was pretty interesting, if a little heart-breaking.  Check ’em out if you’ve got any kind of commute.  I also listen to SModcast, but don’t check it out if you don’t like cursing and such (parents, grandparents… just don’t).

It took about an hour to take care of the bank business, and that included breakfast, walking, fumbling in English and Chinese, and walking back.  The fumbling was very fun, actually, because I got both good information out of the exchange (no fees for a low balance!), and also a little English-Chinese exchange going on with the nice cashier, whose friend was sitting to the side giggling all over the place.  The cashier complimented me on my Chinese as people here are wont to do if you can say more than 你好, but he was very polite and I think I truly am getting better, or at least more confident with my tones in a somewhat constrained set of conversational topics.

I took a slightly more scenic route past the empty fields and two of three schools in my immediate vicinity and had a pleasant walk home.  Lest “empty fields” give you too pastoral an idea of my city, let me say that they’re more like very large vacant lots that are pleasantly covered with green.  I think the city is turning them into parks, but they’ve got a long way to go.  Hopefully I’ll see some results before I move, but I imagine that depends on whether I stay in Taipei/Xinzhuang for the two years, or whether I go to Taichung or the east coast for my second year.

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