Archive for January, 2011

Easy people

Some people are just easy to talk to.  The lady down the street at the glasses shop is one of them, and even though we only talk about glasses, it’s such a pleasure!  I don’t feel pressured to switch to English even though I know she has some proficiency, and it seems like my Chinese flows all the easier for it.  I’m sure it helps that she remembered me from a few months ago when I helped my mom get glasses.  The experience of effortless communication and and friendly helpfulness has been the same every time I go in.  I hope I’m the same way when people practice English on me!

Mrs. Glasses, I salute you.

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Cold hash

I believe I first discovered the Hash House Harriers in college when I was looking up additional lyrics to band songs.  It seemed  like a fun, interesting, funny, and rude hobby, but I never actually got out into LA to do it.  Every hash seemed dead and I didn’t want to drive to find out the truth.  Then I moved to New Mexico and had a lot more time, but the closest option was El Paso which just felt so far because it was across the state line.

This Sunday, I finally kicked myself out of my computer chair and joined up with the China Hash for a run from Xinbeitou.  I was thrilled because it has been crazy cold recently (well, below 60ºF) and I planned to hit the hot springs afterward.  Even though I was late, the group hadn’t set off, so I met a few people and we got a taxi, following flour on the road and thoroughly confusing the driver.  Once we arrived, there was more chatting where I met a nice Dutch tourist who I mistakenly called German later (it’s okay, we bonded over how adorable Afrikaans is), followed by a brief orientation and then an immediate and abrupt start.

The course began by a small park with a creek on the edges of Beitou, and proceeded immediately into the brush of Yangmingshan.  It would be hard to describe the enjoyment I took in running through mud beside tiny vegetable fields, worming through bamboo groves, and slipping down a cliff, so I won’t.  The rain only made it better, even though I couldn’t see well.  By the end, I was muddy and wet, but at least I wasn’t cold!  I hadn’t brought enough clothes to change into, because, even though I knew it was in Yangmingshan, I had gotten to used to the Taiwanese idea that hiking requires pavement.  The upshot of all this is I was really looking forward to the Beitou hot springs by the end of the Down Down, but I was sorely disappointed.  I really need to tattoo their hours on my arm or something, because I never seem to get it right.

It was a lot of fun, and next week will be some place I’ve never been, and my roommate is interested, so I’m looking forward to it!  The week after, my birthday, is in Yingge, so that will be both convenient and a nice occasion.  On on!

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For the last few weeks, nearly every time I walk into my Tree House classroom, I want to maim and mangle the little monsters I teach.  Sometimes I worry that it’s my lack of technique and proper strategy, but I usually comfort myself with the fact that most teachers who have a class in this curriculum hate their children as much as I do.

The true problem is that I like the kids individually and even mostly as a class (save Ian Wang, that wicked little blight on humanity and Jay the budding sociopath or politician).  It’s only when they have to be dealt with as a mass of children that the slow boiling rage starts to simmer and I use the teacher’s-desk-and-chair-as-cage on kid after kid in close succession.

Yesterday was terrible with this class and after I wiped the board clean of points and sent them home with no stamps, I went to my desk out in the main office space and put my head down to curse slowly and methodically and more creatively than is my wont.  Today, I sat them down and made them write two lessons’ worth of worksheets, and the situation was a little better.  The best thing was that Ian Wang was a little cowed by being sent to the first grade classroom yesterday and thoroughly and sickeningly-sweetly tongue-lashed by my supervisor.  What made me feel bad about myself, though, was that when he came back and apologized at break time, I could only see his sullenness and think “I want you broken, kid, not falsely contrite and seething.”

Teaching is not for everyone.

Or teaching certain levels is not for everyone, because my favorite class that used to be on Tuesday is now on Friday, and today was a wonderful end-of-level games day.  I made a crossword puzzle and photocopied the word search in the teacher’s guide, and also thought up a decent hitting-the-whiteboard game which upper elementary and lower junior high kids still enjoyed.  Surprisingly, the puzzles were the real hit, and there was utter silence for minutes on end as they deciphered the bastardized IPA that they’re taught here and found the resulting spelling words.  I had some nice conversation with my Chinese teacher as we shared standardized testing experiences, and enjoyed watching my students puzzle out the crossword clues.  At one point, though it was unrelated to the work, I had to explain to Ernie that bullshit was in fact a bad word, and he should say BS or crap.

When four kids had finished (and greedily claimed their prizes of a single Werther’s), I needed to occupy them and so told Brian Chen that if he was so set on speaking Chinese in class, he could write it on the board for my benefit.  Unfortunately, I could only think of the lines I had just made him write to claim his prize (“I will speak English in English class”), and I already know how to say it.  Overall, we had some fun writing various sentences in various languages on the board, although I had to police a little when it came to Sam, the oldest kid in class.

It was a really nice end to the week, and was only improved by home calls to my junior high class and cartwheels with a few Tuesday students.  I’m looking forward to the weekend, but without any sense of oppression from the week behind, and it’s a really great feeling.

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Perhaps I expect gentler treatment in the US because I’ve never had an oozing inflamed spider bite at home, but they don’t coddle you over here. Over the course of my treatment, I went to the doctor six times, and each time after the doctor looked at my hand (and sometimes my arm because of the inflammation) over his sterile mask and typed my new prescription up, the nurse (who I think doubles as reception) sat me down in sight of everyone in the waiting room and swabbed the hell out of me.

The first time, I almost cried because she was so merciless, and I walked home weak-kneed and with a catch in my throat.  Two days later, I was scheduled to go back, but I didn’t want to.  I found, however, that the next two times were easier even though my hand was getting redder and more swollen.  Then came the visit I had been dreading without admitting it to myself: the visit with a needle and two doctors.  My doctor spoke English precisely but limitedly, and when I told him that the swelling wasn’t going down and asked if we were going to do something else, he seemed very reluctant to tell me the next step.  He allowed that we might have to use a needle, which I assumed would entail poking straight down into the bump and sucking out pus with a syringe, which I thought might actually be kind of cool.

Once I sat down outside the exam room in the bandaging corner of the waiting room, the nurse and my doctor were joined by a second doctor who took a needle (no syringe!) and poked around in the hole to clear some kind of blockage or break down some wall while the nurse held a bright light on my hand.  The nurse squeezed a bit, and then the doctor prodded some to see if my hand felt hard again as it should.  He was not satisfied and took up his needle again, and this time used an immense cotton swab to roll along my hand and press out the most awe-inspiring amount of pus I have ever seen.  When he finished and the nurse was cleaning and bandaging me up, I realized my body was entirely rigid and my shirt was patchy with sweat.  How do people in books and movies do it, I wondered as I shook.  As I walked next door to the pharmacy to get my pills and creams, I comforted myself with the fact that most of them were products of fiction or artistic license, and I felt slightly less weak and pitiful.

Then I went home and wrapped my hand in plastic breakfast shop bags to take a shower and just felt silly.

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It’s now 2011 and I had a good time ringing it in.  I don’t think I did anything remarkable for 2010, but I know that from my freshman year of college to my senior year, I had decidedly limited New Year’s Eves due to the Rose Parade.  Since 2011 marks the 100th year of the Republic of China, I set my mind to seeing a spectacle, and in spite of all the warnings, I went into the city with my roommates.

They had an idea to take the bus to a key MRT intersection and find a club or bar, but I was going to see the fireworks at 101, no question about it.  They decided that it wasn’t a bad idea, and we rode the bus, going slower and slower as we approached the road closures around Taipei 101 and the city hall.

While on the bus, we noticed the masses of people streaming past us, often faster than the traffic, so we knew that it would be as crowded as people said, but once off the bus, the feeling of an oppressive and too-dense crowd never really kicked in.  Not until the fireworks were over was it even crowded in a bad way, and even then it was still pretty orderly.

Favorite moments:

  • seeing the night sky as starry dark blue with sparse clouds instead of as an orange haze as it’s recently seemed in Xinzhuang
  • using a squat porta-john (most pleasantly fragrant portable toilet I’ve ever encountered)
  • walking right down the middle of Zhongxiao E. Road, a main thoroughfare
  • cramped and undoubtedly freezing belly dancers on the smallest stage in the world
  • crowd control in a 7-11 and my resulting grapey-vodka drink (I forgot how much I liked grape juice!)
  • waiting around and seeing the various ways people were occupying themselves
  • counting down the New Year in Chinese, which was disappointingly difficult and made me sympathize with the kindergarten kids I have made do this in the past
  • the excellent fireworks all around the 101 area and up and down the building itself
  • guarding my alley-peeing roommates and almost slipping off the curb playing with a sparkle-stick I had found on the way to said alley
  • witnessing an engagement or even extremely casual wedding go down on the median
  • walking 5 MRT stops but getting good seats and then taking an affordable and comfortable taxi home,  frequently recognizing what I thought would be an unfamiliar area

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