Thursday, October 11, 2012

Teaching Taiwanese Tots

My indolence as a blogger is shameful; however, adjusting to life in another hemisphere is rather time consuming and often exhausting (in a good way), so I won’t be too hard on myself. Hopefully, merciful reader, you’ll pardon my (almost three month!) silence as well? Much obliged!
            There are so many aspects of Taiwanese life that I want to describe, but I’m finding it difficult to start in a manner that’s bearable to read. My initial planning of this post comprised of generalized categories like, Teaching!, Food!, Day Trips!, Chinese Is So Hard! MRT!, and Culture Shock!. So I suppose I’ll just start with the main reason why I came to Taiwan: to teach! Or, rather, to permanently damage the youth of Taiwan and its English acquisition due to my complete incompetence and lack of experience as a teacher? he laughs nervously, eyes flitting left to right in search of some reassurance that clearly isn’t there. Just kiddin’ yall, I know I’m not that bad!

            But, seriously. Teaching. I’ve always respected teachers and known their job is super hard (a huge understatement). But what I’ve gleaned from my experience so far is the appreciation and affection I now harbor for those students who just try. They don’t necessarily have to be good, but if they’re at least semi-conscious and not depositing boogers on their desk or licking their house-sandals in the corner (things I’ve witnessed and wished I never did), then chances are, some English is getting through and nestling into their new, little brains. Their willingness to listen to and make sense of the strange, garbled monotony that we call English is a brilliant gift they give us teachers, especially because by the time they reach our classrooms, they’ve already slogged through a complete day of regular school. Their stamina is impressive and mystifying; I don’t know where they get that extra mental focus! Then again, I did hear some six year olds were selling Adderall for NT$200 a pop up in Neihu.. For realz, though, what horrifies me about this mini-revelation is looking back on all the hours of class time I spent doodling in the margins, avoiding eye-contact with the teacher because I didn’t read, or desperately willing the clock to speed up so I could go eat lunch like the shameless glutton that I am. I could have made their job much easier if I was a more present student during those bouts of educational laziness and apathy. Granted, they weren’t that frequent, but they definitely cropped up from time to time. So I extend a thank you to all my students that put forth some effort (and to kids who shriek and jump and run on tables and say “Teacher Noah, you are bad!”, well.. I’ll curtail my profanity here…).

           When I first started teaching, I felt like the kids where constantly looking at me thinking, “Really? This is the best they can give us…” I’d drop stuff, fumble through papers awkwardly, run out of marker ink, and maybe even forget to teach pronouns, all under the reproachful eye of my manager from the back of the class. Suffice it to say, I was riddled with nerves and thought I was doomed as a teacher. As the weeks went by, though, I slowly settled into a routine, picked up a few tricks, and now I feel like I have a relatively steady rhythm. But I still have a ton to learn!

Some of my classes are hilarious fun. The kindergarten kids are so cute and they love and laugh unconditionally. One slightly higher beginner group seems to find endless entertainment in my weirdness, which in turn, prompts them to talk. But the older they get, the quieter they become, unless you find a gem class that knows how to simultaneously have fun and pay attention. I do have a few students that sit like monolithic glaciers of boredom, where no amount of dancing or craziness thaws their steely, mirthless gazes. For nine years old, they can be pretty intimidating… But you just have to plug along and take the little victories when you can.
            Oh, and to end, I’m actually pretty proud of myself. As a germaphobe, I thought being in constant contact with children was going to send me into paroxysms of gagging and crippling revulsion. I mean, a lot of them are still disgusting hosts of influenza and pink eye (like the other day, I accidently inhaled the sneeze of a kindergartener and contemplated a way of safely saturating my lungs in Purell), but nowadays, their grubby little hands and running noses barely make me cringe! It really helps that my schools have sanitizing spray stations. ‘Cause you know I nurse those suckers alllll day long.

More to come soon!

Saturday, August 4, 2012

Taiwan One


So I’ve been in Taiwan for a week and it’s definitely time for my first update.

Geographically speaking, the city of Taipei is situated in a basin surrounded by mountains, which is pretty conducive to steamy weather. Coupled with intense sunlight, my new environment’s climate is similar to that of Florida’s, but definitely amplified. The sweating is constant. Sometimes I just want to watch the Daily Show without….  However, air conditioning is readily available in most shops, restaurants, and other buildings, so cooling off isn’t too difficult.

Taipei is a city of convenience. Seven Elevens pepper the streets and are open 24/7. The subway system, or the MRT, is ridiculously clean, fast, and efficient. They even have painted lines on the platforms where riders queue up before the doors open! Transportational civility at its finest. However, the MRT closes at 1 A.M. so any late night meanderings have to be performed on foot, scooter, or taxi. When it comes to eating, cheap and delicious food is ubiquitous. Whether you’re in the mood for dumplings, Thai food, vegetarian grub, Domino’s Pizza, or any other cuisine, Taipei really has it all. Compared to the prices in the states, almost everything I’ve come across is incredibly reasonable. You can get a satisfying meal for $60 NT (or two bucks). The hospitals are impressive too. Upon arriving, I had a health check, which every teacher has to take, and noticed how sensibly organized the health care system is. Everyone in Taiwan gets a national medical card and can use it to receive cheap and quality health care. Damn that socialized medicine! Also, most people in the city speak at least a titch of English, so I can usually order food without incident.

One of the most refreshing things about Taiwan is its people. They are friendliness and hospitality incarnate. The three women that run my hostel, Romona, Emilia, and Avivi, have shown me around the city, helped me secure a Taiwanese phone, guided my sorry ass on the MRT, and introduced me to many of their fellow Taiwanese friends (who are just as enthusiastically welcoming). I don’t know what I’d do without them.

The past couple of days we’ve had typhoon Saola pass over us, so we’ve all been hermits. By the end of the storm’s second day, I was feeling the beginnings of cabin fever but was relieved to walk around the following morning in a much less rainy city. Before I weathered Taiwan in all its Asian tempestuousness, I visited my first Buddhist temple, walked through Chieng Kai Shek memorial, saw ancient Chinese art at the National Palace museum, tried Taiwanese pizza (instead of tomato sauce they use BBQ sauce?) visited Taipei 101 (the world’s third largest building), mastered a few words in Mandarin (though my tones are miserable), and established a basic understanding of the city’s layout. I start observing classes Thursday, so I  still have time to adjust and explore. More details and new photos coming soon.

Tuesday, February 7, 2012

Consumerist OM NOM NOMS

We consume food and water to sustain our existence, but why do we constantly binge on material goods and entertainment with a feverish voracity that rivals the seemingly interminable hunger of the honey badger? I’m constantly exposed to such gluttons while working retail (and regretfully, I have to include myself in this demographic on occasion). I see it every day: drone-like consumers that rove the shelves, wide-eyed and salivating shamelessly at the preposterous array of different products set before their grubby paws. Itching to take what they want, shoppers fill their carts with non-essentials like “Eggies”---a plastic contraption one uses to boil eggs so to eliminate the shell-peeling process--- “Pajama Jeans”----plush fabric pants that poorly mimic the look of denim, which subsequently achieve a cartoonish aesthetic--- and finally, every conceivable flavor of deluxe cat food (both moist and dry!) that could cater to the most supercilious of feline tastes. On some level, I understand this demand. Shoppers crave the things that help sustain the most comfortable life possible (i.e. First World wants). Obviously, I’m just as guilty of consumerist complicity as the next person (especially when it comes to purchasing books, music, and movies tickets), but I do try to abstain from capricious credit card swiping. I’m seriously disenchanted by the load of shit people buy, use, and presumably discard after the novelty has been occluded by, say, the newest Apple product. So what is it inside us that desperately yearns to own the highly marketed, the almost un-tangible? We all possess some degree of this febrile urge to proclaim “MINE!” and then display our objects to the world so others can ogle and envy. I guess it comes down to our individual permissiveness, the extent to which we allow ourselves to act on such desires. And I’m pretty sure this isn’t something new…  Perhaps it’s been amplified by the industrial revolution and the effusion of capitalist free-markets across the globe (which I’m not necessarily critiquing), but it seems like humans have been attracted to temporal commodities since the beginning of time. Just look at any type of royalty throughout history that has bathed in gold, jewels, and other forms of ostentatious commodification (says he, who's currently rapt by Downton Abbey's second season).  Maybe it’s some left-over primordial instinct, buried in our minds, which compels us to collect materials that could assure our survival or even attract a desirable mate. But what really concerns me is the lack of emphasis that’s placed on minimalism. Haven’t there been numerous scientific studies that indicate happiness lies within specific experiences, friendship, and service to others----and not the things we own? I suppose these articles have been stifled by attention-seizing adverts on the margins of our computer screens…

Tuesday, September 13, 2011

Southern Periphery

Lately, I’ve been thinking a lot about the state of Florida. More specifically, I’ve tried to grasp how I feel about its national ties. As a native Floridian, I was born, grown, and educated on this sultry peninsula. I’m confident in my vague familiarity with its geography (sorry Gulf-side, I can never remember which cities are really on the west coast), politics, and crazy-ass weather patterns (that last descriptor applies to our politics too). But when I consider Florida as one of our fifty states, I falter as I try to form a comprehensive Floridian identity in my mind. I guess when I think “America,” I have an easier time first picturing the throbbing vein of urbanity in the Northeast, or the seemingly endless panorama of agricultural landscape that unfurls over the Midwest, or even the desert “frontier” of the Southwestern states. But because Florida doesn’t really strike any cord of unified identity, it gives me pause when attempting to place us within (my own perception of?) our national consciousness. This is not to say, however, that I consider Florida to be “un-American.” I just think that since Floridians don’t really share a common statewide culture, it becomes difficult to represent ourselves to the nation as a whole. Many people astutely joke that northern Florida is really an extension of lower Georgia and southern Florida is comprised of geriatric Northern snow-birds.  This state bisection becomes even more complex with the thriving diversity of Miami, which itself is ten million miles away (culturally speaking) from the gentle hills and horse farms of central Florida. Geographically, Florida seems to be this eclectic strip of extra land that awkwardly juts out of our nation’s vast contiguousness into southern periphery (I can only imagine how Hawaiians and Alaskans feel…).  And when we consider non-Floridian-Americans’ perceptions of us, our identity transforms even further. I think it’s safe to say that most people think beaches, sunshine, and Disney when describing our state. In short, we’re a place to vaycay. Since being on holiday is not “real-life”, and our cultural representation to other Americans is fully imbued with an idealized image of fun, sun, and relaxation, I beg the questions: how do other states take us seriously? More generally, can vacation destinations offer more cultural capital (even when they possess other industries besides tourism) than just, say, mouse ears? My impression of this view troubles me further when recalling our nauseating roles in national news. From the hanging chads that greeted us at the new millennium to the horrifying trial involving Casey Anthony just this year, Florida seems to create some really embarrassing stories that supply our nation with loads of gawk-fodder. Obviously, solely basing one’s idea of Florida off these heinous headlines is really reductive and unfair (I hope?). So I guess what I need to tell myself (and other states, for that matter) is that Florida’s identity lies within its very random, starkly fragmented diversity. And when you think about it, its intrinsic heterogeneity seems to reflect that of our very own country’s sprawling variety. So is Florida a microcosmic USA? No. No, most definitely not. But it’s comforting to feel connected to the nation through similiar, multi-faceted identities.

Friday, September 9, 2011

Feliz Cumpleanos to me....

Last Saturday, I turned 23 and was told to clean up human shit. Or rather, I sort of got pressured into volunteering myself to do the deed while working in the lowest echelons of the well-established beacon of suburban consumerism: Bullseye! (I don’t want to use its real name due to an irrational fear of a lawsuit?—so just think red concentric circles…) I guess my Virgoan nature kicked itself into overdrive that day; not only did I sort of play the martyr and earn myself a sympathy (birthday) card , but I begrudgingly acquiesced to my people-pleaser proclivity (with a fast, fun, and friendly attitude, no less! (Bullseye lingo)). Fret not, concerned reader! I was recompensed with $3.48 worth of Starbucks….. So an old man had gone all incontinent and dropped some brown on the bathroom floor (which in hindsight is super depressing—you know, underscoring our cyclical human nature as we regress to trouser-shitting baby-status even though we’re well past the age of 70.) With half an hour left in my shift (notice the ‘shit’ in ‘shift’?), I was told to perform a bathroom check-up to make sure everything was A.O.K. When I entered the bathroom, I immediately stepped in the putrid. Naturally, I swore loudly, ignoring those nagging scruples that would normally berate me to censure my voiced rage for fear of offending guests within earshot. Whatever. So with a shitted right foot, I hobbled back to guest services to obtain a plastic bag with which to act as a momentary barrier, all the while receiving many o’ perplexed stares. Upon returning, a geezer puttered out of the bathroom, who probably was the origin of all the dross. After cleaning up the mess, I checked the stalls to see if there was any more incriminating evidence only to behold a heavily soiled pair of old-man-granny-panties marinating contentedly in the toilet bowl. With a hard roll of the eyes and a quick, self-pitying “What the HELL did I do to piss off Karma??”, I lifted the (not-so-tighty and certainly not-so-whitey)  tighty-whities from their wicked broth and dumped the awful in a trashbag. After disposing of it all in the backroom, I returned only to see that another trashbag I had carried to the back (unsoiled, THANKYOUJESUS) had dripped the length of the floor. There was definitely some teeth grinding and rage induced eye-twitching. So I got some paper towels and drug them through the mess allllll the way down the lane of the store (with the help of another, danke shoen). Soooo how was my 23rd you may ask? Pritty shitty.