Monday, March 29, 2010

How do you do that backwards?

Backwards week just started and I'm already a little tired of it.

In some aspects it's a lot of fun, but it can also be really annoying/frustrating/confusing.

"Take out your books" means "Put away your books."

"Yes" means "No."

"Hungry" means "Thirsty."

It's really hard to keep track of everything in your head.

I played Teacher Says (a game that I kind of already suck at given that I'm the teacher) and I kept getting confused. If I told them to look left that meant look right. If I said to do the gesture for near they did the gesture for far. I love to get them to do things like jump on one foot or pat their heads and rub their tummies, but how do you do that backwards?

It was fun for the most part, but I foresee it getting really obnoxious by the end of the week. 

Two awesome things happened today.

Tess walked into the apartment this afternoon, looked at me and in a very happy voice told me "I have something for you!"

She proceeded to force me to close my eyes and hold out my hands. I was a little wary but decided, "Meh, it can't possibly be anything bad."

I was right because it was this!


If you knew me you would know that I love Dr. Pepper and I pretty much had withdrawals when I got here (which will most likely be replaced with tea withdrawals when I leave Taiwan). 

When I went home for Christmas I drank nothing but Dr. Pepper and booze. I love Dr. Pepper so much. There was actually a point in my life at which I thought I had an addiction and had to give myself a very stern limit each day. 

It's like sugary bliss in my mouth.

Now that Dr. Pepper can be a regular part of my life again I'll probably have to put some stipulations on when and how often we can be together. No late nights. Maybe only a few times a week. I would hate for us to get carried away.

The second awesome thing is that I got a present from my students' grandfather.

 It's a Pepsi Peacock!

You can't really tell from the picture but it was very meticulously put together. He said it takes about two hours to make. I imagine if I tried to do something like this I would cut myself on the pieces about a million times. 

(By the way, I'm totally on the roll with presents today!)

It's really fun getting random little things like this. It's this kind of stuff that totally makes my day.

Thursday, March 25, 2010

Why don't you speak Chinese more often?

Every day is just back and forth, back and forth.

The weather is crazy. My energy levels are crazy. My level of motivation is also crazy.

Oh well.

I did, however, manage to make myself get out of the house and I got a haircut! It's cute and super short and basically exactly like it was last time I got it cut.

I don't think I have ever had the same haircut twice.

Yesterday I went to lunch with Allen, a friend I met through Megan while she was still here. I probably haven't seen Allen since Megan left. We talk now and then online and have planned to hang out a few times but things seem to fall through often, for whatever reason.

But our Wednesday lunch worked out just fine. We spoke entirely in English although I probably should have been speaking Chinese to him so I can practice. I know it's dumb of me not to take advantage of it, but since I only spoke Chinese to him when I met him because I was only barely learning, it felt a little weird.

Either way, when we were leaving he asked me to say something in Chinese so I spouted off a couple of the typical sentences:

Wo jiao Jimmie. (I'm called Jimmie.)
Wo shr Meiguoren. (I am American.)
Wo shr laoshr. (I'm a teacher.)
Wo jiao Yingwen. (I teach English.)

Allen got this look of shock on his face and exclaimed that my Chinese is better than Megan's. The thing is, it's not. At least Megan was confident enough to actually use her Chinese.
I'll work up the courage now and then and have a decent experience with it, but every now and then I get flustered, tongue tied, confused and, subsequently, embarrassed.

Tuesday, March 23, 2010

Catching Up: What makes someone a real teacher?

OK now that we've gotten health care out of the way, I can talk more about Taiwan. 

Sunday we had a girls' day. A bunch of us got on the bus to Taipei around 11 a.m. and eventually made it to Pinglin by 1:30 p.m. 

There was an incredible amount of traffic.

Pinglin is a sleepy little town in the mountains that is supremely proud of its tea. They have a tea museum and all over the place there are decorative teapots: teapot lamp posts, teapots on railings, teapot carvings. It was adorable.

It's also gorgeous. We hiked around a terraced tea field and there were some great views. I also walked around in the ecological park (think fancy name for garden). 

Unfortunately my camera is still out of commission (pending receipt of a package currently in route from my mother) and no one else has posted pictures for me to steal — I mean borrow with credit — just yet.

Originally we were supposed to go mountain biking but we got there a little later than planned and couldn't find the biking place so we just went with hiking.

Afterward, the girls and I hung out in Taipei. We met up with some people that we met on St. Paddy's Day at the same pub we had been at that night.

It's funny how great our group is at making friends. We make friends everywhere we go.

That said, I almost strangled a woman who boasted about her teaching credentials from the United States and how she teaches in public school in Taoyuan. She had the audacity to say I'm not a real teacher because I teach at a buxiban. 

I admit that sometimes I feel like an over-glorified babysitter, but those kids learn whether they realize they're doing it or not and they respect me just as much as their teachers in regular school. Well, most of them do anyway.

It was just incredibly rude of her to say. Simply put: I hope I don't see her around Taoyuan.

Since we had such a full day on Sunday I ended up sleeping all day Monday and didn't think Monday night at school was going to be very good, but somehow I ended up with all this energy and I was dancing and singing around the classroom. 

The kids like it when I do that because they think I'm crazy.

Then today was a super busy day. I didn't think I was going to get everything done.

I had my outside class at the junior high and they were hilarious. We were learning about shopping for clothes today and so I had them do a role play at the end of class where one student was a sales assistant and the others were buying from them. 

Several students chose to go with more risque purchases than I would have expected. 

Here was my favorite:

Pendy: Hello! May I help you?
Jimmy: Yes, I would like to buy something very sexy.
Pendy: Oh yes, well what would you like? We have a sexy nurse costume, a rabbit girl costume or a devil costume.
Jimmy: Oh I'm not sure. Tonight... Well... Tonight is going to be my first time so I want it to be very special. 
Pendy: Oh yes! Well then I recommend the rabbit girl costume. Your girlfriend will like it very much. 
Jimmy: OK, how much is it?
Pendy: It is 20 percent off, so that makes it 20,000NTD.
Jimmy: OK, I'll take it.

I'll take this opportunity to remind you that 20,000NTD is about $600USD. That's one very expensive first time.

Anyway, teaching 14-and-15-year-olds can be pretty hilarious. 

Then I had my demo with my wonderful babies class. They did so well and I was so proud of them. That said, I can't decide if it was actually that great of a demo. 

There's more energy on a regular class day than there was during the demo. I wonder if maybe they were nervous or afraid they would get into trouble if they seemed energetic. Or maybe I just wasn't energetic enough for them.

Finally, I started to burn out about half-way through my last class and went over the edge around the time one of my students asked me if I'm pregnant. 

I have not put on that much weight. Maybe five pounds, if that. 

That said, the dress I was wearing today is baggy and kind of bowls out just above my belly. The idea is that it hides your rolls, but I can see how it would just make you look fat. Either way, that made me feel a bit self conscious.

Damn kids and their honesty.

Catching Up: How do you feel about your health care system?

Saturday night I stayed in.

It was good after a week of craziness and being sick on and off. I haven't had it nearly as bad as other people, but I was seriously not happy about having a cold/allergies/whatever.

I think mine was more a reaction to the totally bi-polar weather more than anything else. I feel bad for others though because I know a few of my friends had actual fevers and ended up having to make that dreaded trip to the doctor.

I'm glad they're better (or at least getting there).

And since we're talking about being sick and doctors, I will take this opportunity to make a very modest comment about the health care bill and the much anticipated nationalized health care system.

I don't really know a whole lot about it.

To be honest, it's been really difficult to keep up with what has and hasn't been proposed and what's been shot down or played up. I know this bill has seen a lot of opposition and it has been a long and difficult process. Although the bill has passed, the proposed system has a rough time ahead of it.

I don't know exactly how the government plans to carry this out — I'm still doing my research — but I know it will take a long time to get it all done. It's going to be a rough few years (some say as many as 10).

I'm most worried that people are going to get so angry or fed up in the transition years and not give it a chance, basically setting up the system for failure. I say that knowing many people have already made up their minds about it.

I know that there will be problems and with a system so large it's going to take time to work out the kinks.

Personally, I like how things are done in Taiwan. There are problems, but none that I have seen directly so it's certainly not a disaster. I know there are other nationalized health care systems (also typically in small countries) that work quite well. They all have their problems but overall they promote quality and accessibility of care.

That said, the U.S. is going to have to be careful about what it picks and chooses from its predecessors in universal health care considering the shear size of the country will likely be its most difficult obstacle.

Honestly, I want this system of health care to work because I do feel like if it's done well it will be good for the U.S. and everyone else. America tends to be a leader of change (though not always in the most positive ways). But if a country as large as America can manage to pull off providing reasonably priced health care for everyone then that means more countries around the world can work toward something more affordable for their own citizens.

Or maybe that's just the liberal hippie in me talking.

I will acknowledge that I certainly do not have all the answers. I just hope that we can come up with something better than the crappy quality and inaccessibility of care we have been working with for so long.

Thursday, March 18, 2010

Are you wearing green?

I ended up spending the entire day Wednesday in bed so that I could sleep off the headache and the remains of my sickness. The idea was that I would be nice and rested up for the St. Paddy's Day celebration.

I can't miss St. Paddy's Day. I love being around all the people. Everyone is just so darn happy for this holiday.

I told my roommate to tell me that I had to go and I didn't have a choice.

Then I adorned myself in a green shirt, a green scarf and some green eye shadow and we took to the streets of Taipei.

Well, my roommates and I made it to the bus and got on without everyone else thinking it was the last bus. They somehow managed to catch up with us (probably that bathroom break and the 7-11 stop).

We were waiting for the metro when Tess goes "I hear loud people. That must be our friends!" and it absolutely was.

That was the most fun I've ever had on a metro especially considering we got off at literally the next stop. People looked at us like we were insane, probably because two of my friends were wearing what can only be described as green togas.

We went to The Brass Monkey, a pub in Taipei that is in an area of town that I got the impression has a lot of foreigners.

I've never seen so many foreigners in one place in Taiwan. It was kind of like being in a pub back home.

We chatted up people from all over the world, mostly businessmen.

We met a few Irishmen, a couple of men from Manchester and two guys who play baseball for the Taiwanese minor league team Brother Elephants (one from Iowa and one from Puerto Rico).

Did I mention the pub was mostly full of men? There weren't a whole lot of women out last night.

All in all it was a very interesting night. No big mishaps at all so I would say that it was a very successful St. Paddy's Day.

Tuesday, March 16, 2010

How's the weather today?

Mother nature has been super bi-polar lately making a simple question about the weather super complicated.

This week we've experience weather typical of every season of the year at least once, some multiple times.

There has been torrential rain and superbly sunny hours, but it seems that each day has started one way and ended in another.

When I woke up today it was a little chilly out, now it's not even four in the afternoon and it's already significantly colder (and continuing to drop) and the wind seems like it might be bringing in even more rain.

As a result of all this change, my body hates me.

I'm tired and cranky and I can't breath through my nose. Heck, yesterday I was having trouble breathing through my mouth.

This is unfortunate for many reasons, primarily the fact that tomorrow is St. Paddy's Day and I was kind of looking forward to a night decked out in green from head-to-toe drinking Guinness at a nice little Irish pub in Taipei.

I'm thinking that might not be the best of ideas when I'm feeling like this.

Maybe I will magically feel better tomorrow. I'll cross my fingers.

Saturday, March 13, 2010

What's in the mail?

Taiwanese people are easily the most honest people I ever met.

Sometimes that can be brutal — like when your students tell you you're fat even though you're pretty comfortable with your weight — and sometimes that can be the best gift ever.

I got to my second school today only to find out that there was a package for me.

Remember that wallet I lost last weekend?

Yup. Some incredibly honest and nice citizen found my wallet and mailed it back to me. They found my ARC inside which, of course, has the address of our main school (where I was living when I first arrived in Taiwan). 

Granted there was no cash inside and I'm pretty sure there was supposed to be about $3000NTD, but hey, that's a small price to pay for getting back my ID and health card and (now unusable) credit card and debit card and the paperwork to my scooter that I'm supposed to take with me everywhere.

That seriously made my day.

And let me tell you my day needed making.

I gave a test in my first class and I was pleasantly surprised to find out that the kids actually did a pretty good job with the conversational practice part. Most of it was less a conversation and more a memorized speech about a topic I gave them, but they're making progress none the less. 

I was a tiny bit late today so I missed my attendance bonus for this month. All because it was raining. And because the ladies who made my dan bing were busier than usual today so it took them longer to make my breakfast. 

Oh well, I'm just happy to find out I have my wallet back and I don't have to deal with all the paperwork of getting a new ARC and all that other stuff again. 

And since I have my ARC back I can go pick up my tax return! Huzzah!

E.T. is on HBO so I think I might crawl into my Snuggie and watch that and then spend the rest of the night reading. 

Lauren and me in our Snuggies at Christmas.

Friday, March 12, 2010

What do you do when you feel tired?

Thankfully it's quite a bit warmer out now. No more of that 6º Celsius crap.

At least I hope not. 

I've pretty much lost all track of the difference between night and day so I'm just subject to my body's whims. 

My sleeping patterns are absolutely insane and I come up with this incredible amount of energy about halfway through my first class. Which then leads to yet another sleepless night. 

I know I should just be taking that melatonin but I always forget about it.

This weekend will hopefully be a chill one. I'm planning on a movie tomorrow night and hopefully a trip to Xiao Wulai on Sunday. 

If not the waterfall then maybe just a day trip to Jiou fen. We will see.

Either way, I still have one more horrendously long day left of this week, though I will attempt to make the best of it as usual.

Tuesday, March 9, 2010

Why is it so cold?

Well, it looked like we were working our way into summer and what would eventually be amazing waterfall/beach weather.

Apparently not though.

It is the coldest it has been since I've been in Taiwan. When I was driving to work earlier it was raining and 9ºC.

It's supposed to get down to 6ºC tonight and be like that in the morning and the maybe get up to about 13ºC. And it's supposed to keep raining.

Have I ever mentioned how much I hate cold and rainy at the same time.

I can handle cold. I can handle rainy. But cold and rainy is just asking to get sick — especially when you drive a scooter.

I wore a sweater, a heavy pea coat and my rain jacket and rain pants today and I was still cold.

I really like my outside class at the junior high school. My students are 14 or 15 so they're old enough to have meaningful conversations with and their English is actually pretty good.

We were talking about teen pregnancy, abortions and shotgun weddings today (among other things).

Their views were interesting. There is definitely a cultural difference especially considering I'm from the Bible belt.

When I asked the kids what they would do if they got pregnant now, all of them said they would get an abortion. And when I asked if them if their parents would force them into a shotgun wedding if they decided to keep the baby that also said no.

Of course most of them also said that if they had opted to keep the child they'd be kicked out of their parents' house in a heartbeat.

I guess in some families in America these things are true, but I definitely feel like the fact that the kids unanimously said they wouldn't want to carry the baby to term was a little surprising.

Either way, it was an illuminating conversation with some smart kids. I'm glad that I'm able to have challenging conversation with them.

Monday, March 8, 2010

Have you ever lost anything important?

This weekend was rather eventful, maybe a little too much even.

Saturday night we went out in Taipei for Jacob's 25th birthday. We started out the night with a reserved table at a super classy nightclub called Barcode. 

Our reservation was supposed to include cover to get into another club, but we were refused entry because of the reputation of some of our group from a previous night (at which I was not present). 

So, we went over to another nightclub to dance the night away. 

We had a lot of good fun. It was a pretty great night. 

Well, except for this part: 

I got a locker to put my jacket and wallet in and still ended up losing my wallet somehow.

I'm fairly certain it fell out of my pocket somewhere, I just wish I knew where.

Despite the fact that there were a lot of valuable and necessary items in that wallet, I'm not freaking out.

I'm actually really zen about the whole thing. I've already got the bank sending me new cards and I'm going Wednesday to get my ID replaced.

Granted I won't be getting my cash or my wallet back, but lesson learned.

I'm going to buy a small purse that has a strap that will allow me to wear it shoulder to wait around my body so I won't be losing anything else. 

Megan says that because this totally alarming thing happened and I'm not freaking out, I am officially an international woman. 

I'm just going to roll with the punches.

Saturday, March 6, 2010

Why won't my scooter work?

I woke up super early this morning, rushed to get ready so that I would have time to get breakfast only to get on my scooter and have it not start. 

I tried EVERYTHING but nothing responded. 

I had to take a cab to work and just barely made it in time to not jeopardize my attendance bonus. I didn't get a good breakfast though. I had some coffee and a ham and cheese bagel from 7-11.

The coffee was fine but the bagel tasted like the plastic wrapper it came in. Gross.

After the coffee though, it occurred to me that it was probably the battery that wasn't working. 

So during my two-hour lunch break I rolled my scooter over to my regular mechanic and he fixed it up in no time. 

Apparently one of the wires just came loose and then something else that I couldn't understand. 

Either way, less than 30 minutes and $200NTD later I was on my way back to work, also just barely in time. 

I love that I can go to get my vehicle fixed and I don't have to stress out that it might cost me hundreds and hundreds of dollars (of the American variety). 

I'm totally down with paying $6USD to get my scooter fixed. I don't even think that would cover 12 minutes of labor in the States. 

Well, we're off to Taipei tonight for Jacob's birthday. Hopefully things don't get too crazy as they tend to do when we go out as a big group.

Happy birthday, Jacob!

Wednesday, March 3, 2010

What's going on?

By the way, I'm tooling around with the look of the blog. Trying to go for something a bit cleaner.

Let me know what you think.

What's your favorite day of the week?

So yesterday was a super eventful day and every Tuesday from now until the end of May will follow in its footsteps.

I started an outside class at a local junior high school today. Just me and 28 teenagers ages 14-to-15 years old. It was probably the best class I've ever taught.

The class is held in a big room in the library and the material I have is just sufficient enough to take up the class as long as I add in a couple of activities. And the material isn't totally lame so we can actually strike up a couple of thoughtful conversations.

I started off the class getting the kids to tell me about themselves and then I told them about myself and Texas. Next class, if they can remember three things about me or my beloved home state then they get extra participation points.

I need to get organized for this class though because it's definitely going to be more work than the average Gloria class, though not by a whole lot.

I got a lot of good laughs from them and they surprised me by having awesome English and a higher-level vocabulary than I expected for their age.

Even the kids who have only been learning English for four years or so were doing really well. And no one spoke Chinese during class!

It's nice to feel like a real teacher and it will be a good test of my abilities. My job is essentially to encourage them to talk more and give them the occasional writing prompt. I decided to give them a small writing assignment for homework the first day just so I can get a better assessment of their abilities.

With such a large class, I don't have time to do any individual work which is usually how I test them and find out where they are. It's all about groups and pairs with the class.

The addition of this class makes my Tuesdays pretty exciting though.

The Gloria classes I have are already two of my smartest classes (including my babies who are growing up so fast!). So now I just spend the day with a bunch of super intelligent kids only to finish out the day struggling with my Chinese.

Actually, Linda told me last night that my Chinese is noticeably better just since the new year holiday.

Hooray for something to look forward to so early in the week!

Tuesday, March 2, 2010

How can you make your hopes and dreams come true?

So I know I promised I would post the whole story on Lantern Festival yesterday but I was still recovering from the longest day of my life.

I have to say that despite the nightmare it was to travel there, it was totally a worthwhile experience, but I'm getting ahead of myself.

So earlier in the week Joslyn asked if I wanted to go to Pingxi for the Lantern Festival. Lantern festival marks the end of the Chinese New Year coming on the 15th day of the new lunar year.

Now, lanterns aren't all the same and there are two different major festivals in Taiwan (not to mention all the others that go on in each town.

In Chiayi, they have an incredible number of huge lanterns shaped like everything you can imagine (here in Taoyuan there was one shaped like a panda bear).

Pingxi, though, is a little unique in that they are known for their Sky Lantern Festival. Pingxi is a small town in a mostly rural area in the mountains. This, unfortunately, left them vulnerable to raids by robbers and other bad people years and years ago. During that time, the people of the township used would release sky lanterns so that people in nearby towns would know that they are alright.

Of course, people have also added some element of mythology to the sky lanterns. It is said that if you write your wishes on a sky lantern and release it, the gods will be able to read your wishes high in the sky and then they'll come true.

Now, for our adventure.

We decided to meet at the Taoyuan Train Station at about 1 p.m. We ended up leaving Taoyuan about 1:45 p.m. taking a train to Taipei. Then we hopped on another (very crowded) train to Rueifeng (heading north near Keelung). Then we proceeded to wait in a very long line and then on an extremely crowded platform for more than an hour before getting on (yet another!) train to Shifen a little town on the Pingxi Rail Line where the festival is actually held every year.

They crammed us in like cattle. 
(Photo courtesy of David and Joslyn.)

Unfortunately, the Taiwanese government (or at leas the Pingxi government) didn't take into account that this rail line does not usually see 20,000 people at once. So it was a little ridiculous. Getting there are back I thought people were going to get trampled.

Toward the end of the five hours (yes, I said five hours) of traveling that it took us to get there we were all complaining about being hungry and I was actually imagining and describing all the amazing street food I was planning to buy when we got there.

Of course our hunger immediately went to the wayside when we stepped off the train and saw the lanterns everywhere.

We found out the for 100NT we could buy our own and then stand in the middle of the train tracks to set them off. (What? Everybody was doin' it!)

I, of course, represented Texas and I wrote an extremely long and heartfelt essay on Taiwan and what it means to me. 
 (Photo courtesy of David and Joslyn.)

I wrote what I felt were unselfish wishes: Good health for myself and my family; Safe travels; and the Opportunity to continue having experiences that will help me learn about myself and the world.

That's not asking too much right?

It wouldn't be Asia without fireworks to which I became completely desensitized by the end of the night. 
 (Photo courtesy of David and Joslyn.)

So after we set off all of our lanterns, we decided to walk through the town to the end of the path where they were having a concert and setting off 200 lanterns at a time every 15-20 minutes.

But wait! On our way there we were basically eating and running, but some people holding a gigantic lantern caught our eye.

When they lit it, two or three guys were actually standing inside the lantern to keep it from falling in on itself when the hot air sucked it together.

It was pretty incredible to watch them get this thing going. I thought for sure they were going to set the town on fire or at least the guys inside.
(Photo courtesy of David and Joslyn Kahan.) 

But now for the good part. So we've all already set off our own lanterns and Joslyn, David, Sharon and I finally get to the concert just in time to watch hundreds people set off yet another 200 lanterns simultaneously.

I didn't think there could possibly be anything more magical than that. It was just so beautiful to watch them float up in the air.

200 Lanterns taking flight all at the same time is just so awesome.
(Photo courtesy of David and Joslyn Kahan.)

But it did get more magical.

For the next set, a guy who was working the festival asked if we wanted to come in the cordoned off area and release one!

I dragged Joslyn and Sharon with me and we started writing frantically all over this huge white lantern surrounded by a ton of people. I thought watching the lanterns go up from the sidelines was cool but being underneath 200 lanterns as they take flight was even more incredible.

And then we got to do it again!

Except this time we did two different lanterns. David and Sharon released one and Joslyn and I released one.

Isn't the lighting just so pretty?
(Photo by me courtesy of David and Joslyn's camera.) 

So after we set off all the lanterns, we headed back to the Shifen Train Station where we found the rest of our friends and a huge line. There was some confusion about which platform we should be on — or if it even mattered — and at one point there was a serious mad rush of people running across the train tracks from one platform to the other. Then people proceeded to shove each other into the carts or out of the way.

It was already 10:30 by then and I was sure we were on our way to an all out riot when they told us the next train would come at 11:30 p.m. and it would go directly to Taipei (which is unusual because you would normally have to take a connecting train).

We somehow managed to get on this train (standing room only) with a bajillion (and I mean that) other people who were cranky and tired and ready to just be home. Of course at this point we also knew there would be no catching a train for Taipei to Taoyuan since the TRA lines stop running at 11 p.m. so we were already going to be forced to cab it back to Taoyuan.

Then the train sat there with sed-bajillion people on it for another 40 minutes before it started moving.

Obviously this was just a tad bit infuriating.

So we got in line for the train in Shifen at about 10 p.m. and I made it home at about 3:30 a.m.

Despite all that, I've decided that, of the holidays I've been in Taiwan for so far, Lantern Festival is probably my favorite. To me it's not attached to a whole lot of obscure meanings. It's simple and it's all about your hopes and dreams and wishes. I just love that there is a tradition out there that tells you that you can still have hopes and dreams and they may come true one day.

I love this picture for all the hopes, dreams and wishes it represents.
(Photo by me courtesy of David and Joslyn's camera.)