Archive for June, 2010

My Wednesdays used to be predictable: the first class would be bright and involved, the second class would be quiet and withdrawn.  Now everything has changed, and the junior high class is relatively talkative, while the other class is getting quieter.  There is one exception, and that’s Daniel.  He’s 13 and the epitome of teenaged mood swings.  He’s always lazy, but some days he’s talking, other days he’s sulking; however, he has such a strong and vocal personality that it always affects the class, especially now that there are fewer high level students in general and fewer girls in particular.

And I think that’s my point: the make-up of the class is vital.  I can’t imagine teaching a class of all boys (oh, wait), especially if they were teenagers or upper elementary school age.  Girls really help balance a class, but a class of all girls could easily go far too mellow.  A good mix is not only good for the students in terms of variety of social interactions and development, but it’s necessary for the teacher.   I know I can always call on Winston or Veronica in my early Wednesday class if some people don’t understand my explanation or the book’s examples, just like I know not to expect wonders from Jerry in the same class.  If all the information comes from the teacher, it’s very easy to lecture dully.  If you have quick students (boys or girls), you can use them to deliver examples and understand problem areas for everyone else.

This is probably Teaching 101, huh, Katie?!

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She’s everywhere


I haven't seen the car since I took this picture, and I feel a strange sense of loss.

I took this picture about two months ago, sort of near my house.  This is no joke!  Look a little closer and you’ll see that’s Hello Kitty on that car.  On that fuchsia car.  On that hideous P.T. Cruiser/normal car filthy love-child car.  Hello Kitty is definitely popular here, but I think the kids are a little more into SpongeBob these days.  I actually read an article in the New York Times recently about how she’s dying and just how much effort goes into creating a brand like her.

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This week started poorly and has not been improved by the ever-warming weather.  Today continued the pattern: I was tired in Chinese class, one of my kindergarteners came back from a mini-holiday only to be sulky and uncooperative, the very thought of  my evening classes filled me with a mild but insidious frustration, and budget calculations show that I’m not going to have any fun until at least September (and only if I’m lucky and get a lot of hours).

Even though I wasn’t looking forward to teaching, I knew I could count on the early class today to pick me up–and was then sorely disappointed by apathetic, mostly out-for-summer 6th graders.  Not only that, the problem kid in this class, who is usually not too big a concern, actually caused some big distractions today.  I got back at him by withholding bathroom privileges for 10 or 15 minutes which felt far better than it should have.

I’ve been trying to figure out why I’m in such a mood lately, and I’ve boiled it down to job satisfaction: I don’t have much.  I see kids 50% of the time they come to class (the Chinese teachers see them every time) so there is a lack of consistency.  The school policy of 100% English is an impossibility that serves to create a gap between me and the kids that only the Chinese teacher can bridge.  In addition to the gap, there’s the added frustration of resolving questions and managing homework and classroom activities in limited language that the majority of the class can fully comprehend.

And to top it all off, I have discovered I can’t stand teens and pre-teens, who make up about half of my classes.  I believe I said earlier that I like mid- to higher elementary school students best, but I was wrong.  It’s lower elementary I like because they still have enthusiasm.

Fortunately or unfortunately, I couldn’t stay angry and frustrated because my junior high class actually cheered me up.  They were mildly responsive, and then my CT (Chinese teacher/co-teacher) suggested and implemented a seat change so we sat in a rectangle rather like a small college class.  She also brought out her stash of fake money so we could start a system like I had in high school Spanish: responses get money, students hold the money to buy test points or candy and class parties.  I have been wanting to do this for a while, but I haven’t had the money to buy… money, so I was glad when the CT brought up classroom ideas and volunteered her money for my idea.  I only wish she had brought it up before class, instead of just before break.  I won’t argue the results, though!  I’d be hard-pressed to say the class was on fire after break, but they were more involved due to proximity, and the CT sat in the desk-square and we had a real co-teaching relationship going on.

Another good thing: I know with certainty that I may be a good explainer, and even a decent teacher, but I am not and should never (again) be a foreign language teacher.  And it’s always nice to check something off the possibility list and narrow options down.

So now I’m happier.  Rebecca, this is how I do it: be angry and huffy in my head until something good happens.  When the good happens, let it outweigh the bad.

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I had to buy new toothpaste the other day, and I knew immediately which one I wanted to buy: the racist one.

Totally not a minstrel.

Is it because I hate black people?  No.  Is it because I want to make fun of Taiwan’s marketing and bizarre sense of what’s acceptable?  Pretty much!  Probably the funniest part is that the toothpaste used to be called Darkie until it was deemed insensitive and they whited up the minstrel and changed one letter.  Problem solved!

Also, I had to get this one because I wanted to try lemon mint.  Not bad, really.

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Dragon Boat Festival

I'm assuming this man made these models...

Today was Dragon Boat Festival (or, more accurately, 端午, which has nothing to do with dragons or boats, but rather the lunar calendar).  It’s a holiday for everyone, which is nice in that I get a holiday, especially from my junior high class, but a bummer since I don’t get paid for today.  The holiday is celebrated with dragon boat races and eating tamales (no, really, an official website called them glutinous rice Chinese tamales), but since that all happened over the weekend, today was mild in terms of noise and commotion on the streets.  Since I subbed on Monday and Tuesday, I had absolutely no down time for two days, and I decided there was nothing wrong with a day of minor errands and hard-drive-TV time.

But let’s talk about the weekend.  All the weeks of practicing and waking up distressingly early on Sunday ran up to this, and it was not a disappointment.  It was gray all weekend, but still pleasant, even when the rain was coming down.  The races were held under the same bridge where we had practiced for the last 4 weeks, but instead of empty concrete and locked up huts, there were crowds of people and rows of vendors.  Along the river, teams lounged under awnings and waited for their turn in the races.

As the flagcatcher, I knelt up in the front, back to back with the drummer.

At our last practice the Sunday before, I had been chosen to be the flag catcher, a position unique to Taiwan’s dragon boat races.  Since I was nervous about it and there were 2 hours to kill before our race time, I watched a race to gauge how high the flags were and when I should jump up on the nose.  I relaxed once I saw that I wouldn’t be risking falling into the Keelung River, holding onto the boat with one toe and reaching desperately down at a dangerous angle.  There’s actually a video on facebook, and I’m tagged in it so it shouldn’t be too hard to find (I think it’s the only video I’m in!).

In our first race, we took second place with 2:32 (500 meters in that time, everybody!), which was good enough to qualify us for Saturday’s heats.  Saturday’s call time was similar to Friday’s, late enough that I could sleep in a bit, but early enough that everything would happen in daylight, and the weather was similarly gray but not bucketing down.

Two teams from earlier in the day make their way back to the dock.

On Friday after the race, I asked to paddle for the second race–after all, I had not practiced for 2 months to just lay on the dragon’s snout and grab a flag: I wanted to get involved like I’d practiced!  I got my wish, but it was a little bit of a letdown since we placed last even though our time was 6 seconds faster!  Our start was very weak, and that’s really where the race is decided.  Nonetheless, it was really fun, and after the race since we had three hours until the opening ceremonies, I wandered the mini-bazaar with some teammates.

Of course, there were 粽子, and since this is Taiwan, there was also stinky tofu and fried meats of all sorts, but I also found some new delicacies like fried huge white mushroom.  Okay, it has a name, but that’s really the best way to think of it.  In English, it’s called king trumpet mushroom, and in Chinese it’s almond abalone mushroom, or 杏鮑菇.  Whatever you call it, it’s amazing.

The opening ceremonies were underwhelming, mostly because I couldn’t see much, although there was a dragon dance that seemed cool from what I saw.  When I was starting to get really bored, someone tagged me to help them get our complimentary Cokes, zòngzi, and …cakes.  By that time, teams were slinking away, and our started to as well.  At that point, however, the Philippine National Team did a performance which culminated with dudes whipping off their shirts, and some of us felt compelled to stay a little longer.  The performance after that was a guy dancer with a strobe light style, who was then joined by some girls who did more standard hip-hop kind of dance, like you might see in a high school or college dance troupe.  We bailed after that, and took the MRT over to dinner, which was very enjoyable.

I’ll cover Saturday night and Sunday later, since this is getting long and your eyes and I both want to take a break!

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3-day weekend!

This weekend was quite eventful, and I really enjoyed it. Friday was essentially a day off from work, although I still went to class and then taught kindergarten, but Saturday and Sunday were as vacation-y as it’s possible to be when there are obligations like race start times and opening ceremonies. I look forward to perfect freedom next weekend, but this weekend was great for socializing and getting me out of Xinzhuang.

Even the non-stop rain was not terrible, although I am worried about my shoes now.  I don’t want them to mildew; they’re the only good pair I’ve got!

To tide you over until the next posts, wherein I will really talk about the weekend, please enjoy some crazy fast food toys I took pictures of a while ago in a weird sushi-burrito place with Rebecca and Steve.  Please note that these are not available from the restaurant, but are probably the owner’s private collection.

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Next week

…had better be an improvement on this one.  Somehow, I got sick (I’m blaming the kindergarten monsters), and I’ve been really busy with the start of school, a new kindergarten class, and my normal workload.  At least I had payday at the beginning of the week!

And today… today, 2 out of 3 children got hurt in my kindergarten class, which is a frustrating and worrying occurrence.  I reassured myself that the injuries were way below minor and that the class is all boys, but I still wish they’d behave better.  On the bright side, the cook at Rong Fu is a wonderful woman who set aside a lunch box for me and will continue to do so until I don’t work there anymore.  See, on Thursdays I have two sessions of Chinese, and this means I miss my free lunch, and if you know me at all, you know I am all about free.  At least I got one thing at Rong Fu running smoothly.

Tomorrow is our first dragon boat race, and that at least will be very fun.  The forecast shows rain, but we’ll already be soaked in the filthy Keelung River, so the rain will actually be an improvement.  Unless I can wrangle my way out of being the flagcatcher in the first race, there’ll be a lot of pressure in that race, but if we make it to the next level, I’m absolutely pawning the task off onto one of the slackers who didn’t come to 2 or 3 practices.  Do they really want my eyes, depth perception, and hand-eye coordination to be the determining factor in our success?  Talk about building your house on a shaky foundation!

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