Friday, October 30, 2009

Mischief Eve

Never ever in my life have I walked the streets on Mischief Eve without cautious steps. For 28 years, this has always been the night of my keenest awareness to the shadows that dart between parked cars and into alleys. I always walk on the well lit streets and with the crowds on this night. I have been hit by many an egg in my days. They leave a bruise on your skin and a nasty mess on your clothes. I adopted this attitude of vigilence as I left work tonight. Then i reallized, Halloween only exists in the English Bushibans in Taiwan and even there it is not really understood. I never took much care in dressing up. I never had much delight in the little ones begging for candy. Apprehension and anxiety are more lasting impressions than the sweets I got in own youthful trick or treating experiences. But all that said, being here makes me realize that it is my favorite holliday.
Teacher April asked me what adults do on Halloween. I told her that people host parties at their homes. People dress up and go party to party saving the best one for last. That children stop going door to door around the age of 12 or 13. Children have parties of their own. I told her about bobbing for apples. "But that's so dangerous!"
I said "you are Taiwanese! you put your children, babies sometimes on the back of a scooter with no saftey harness, sometimes with no seat, then you swerve in and out of traffic, in the same lane as on coming traffic, between trucks and busses, heedless of traffic lights, lanes or speedlimits, and you think bobbing for apples is dangerous?!?"

Wednesday, October 28, 2009

Sunday again.


I asked the woman who runs the hostel, “How do you say “refrigerator”?” bingxiang. Then I checked out.

I moved into my place. Ashley came to sanxia with me to help me lug my bags. I have two bags. We dropped the bags off and went to do some sightseeing. While we were in the belltower of the temple (which deserves a page devoted to it entirely) Teacher Fantasy called to see how I was getting on. I told her “wo yao ge bing xiang, mei you ge bingxiang” She didn’t understand me. I told her there was no fridge and no internet cable. She hung up. She called me back 5 minutes later and told me to rush to the apt. I left Ashley on “Old Minsheng st” to look at the shops. As I got to the apartment there were two small women, one of them my landlord, moving a refrigerator into my room. I “told” (lots of pointing, at the computer, at the socket in the wall, at heaven that gave us the internet…) that I needed a wire. They pilfered one from and empty neighboring apartment. I thanked them.

The room is small but has potential. I get lots of sun light in the morning through my window. If I stand on tiptoes I can see out of my window. I climbed the stairwell till it stopped ascending and found myself at the door of the roof. I went out. 8 stories high is sufficient for a fantastic view of the mountains and the town surrounding me.

Yonghe (in Taipei) , Ashley works in this neighborhood and had noticed a night market there. We have learned that no two nightmarkets are alike. Yonghe is very working class. Not many tourists around. The streets were wide. The people were friendly rather than frenzied. Like patient fishermen the street merchants wait till their bait is nibbled before they start reeling. I prefer this strategy to the herding and shouting of Shillin nightmarket. I don’t like feeling like a cow.

The food was good here too. Got some roti, a dosa and it sort of actually tasted Indian. (I had a masala in the train station food court. they gave chopsticks and noodles) There were many Vietnamese, Thai, Korean and Indonesian vendors here. This must be a neighborhood where all the foreign workers live. I was further convinced of this by the store I found attatched to the market. A glorified dollarstore. They sold everything. Electronics (speakers for $6US, food, stationary, clothes, bedding, dvd, music, cleaning supplies, hairdye, sextoys, liquor, deodorant, cookies, a hair care product that said ‘for hornie care’ (maybe it should have been in another aisle).

At this shop I bought two buckets, a broom, some hangers, chopsticks, Lysol, Mr. Muscle bathroom cleanser, handsoap with the Virgin Mary on it, rags and hand towels-total-$15US. I couldn’t get all I wanted, like a mug, a bowl, a spoon etc… because I’m budgeting until payday.

Ashley’s work is closer to where I live and easier to get to from here than it is from the hostel. She has Ingrid looking for a place for her right now. She has left the hostel and will stay with me until she finds a place of her own. My room is small but it will do.

We take turns using the desk.

We have one set of keys and one cellphone. I have not put any money on the cell phone card. I’ve been meaning to call Megan since Sunday. I don’t call in the day time because I am not sure if she is working in the field and away from Ms.Lin or not. I work until 9 at night and then I convince myself it is too late to call. Tomorrow I will call after work. I hope that is not too late. Do tea farmers go to bed early?

I want to know when she is coming back from the farm. I will miss her when she goes and her departure from the island is fast approaching.

Ashley told Ingrid that she enjoys hiking. Ingrid's daughter is Ashley's age and an avid hiker. They are hiking this Saturday at dawn. Ashley will spend the night at Ingrid's on Friday since neither the metro nor the


Saturday, October 24, 2009

cleaned the hallway

This is weird. I am checking out of the hostel now. Today someone cleaned the hallway and the roach carcase is gone.

Friday, October 23, 2009


Megan's post made me green tea with envy. hahaha. I am so funny.
Before tonight's posting I must issue this disclaimer:
None of the events, people or places in this blog are real. This is entirely a work of fiction. If you are law enforcement reading this, please note, the author is a fat man in Iowa.
Understand? Good.
English teaching so shady! We evacuated the children today, took all of their pictures off the wall, rolled the files (the filing cabinet is on heavy rubber wheels, like a Jeep) through the bathroom, out a window and into the alley. We aren't supposed to have children in this building until December. I told my friend this. He said that one time at his school, the took the kids onto the neighboring building's roof and conducted class. The police inspectors came up to the roof but since they didn't have a permit to search the other building they couldn't do anything about it, even though they could see the class. At least my school pays the police for the courtesy of a warning call.
Oh, and working before you have a work permit it a strict "no, no".
Good thing I'm here as a student and not as an illegal worker. At least that is what Fantasy told my new landlady when she asked.
Yesterday, I saddled up on the back of Fantasy's scooter. We drove to the realestate office. I sat at a table with two middle aged women (real estate agent and landlord). An office girl served us yellow tea. No one else drank theirs so I didn't either. Fantasy sat with me. She talked a lot. I don't really know what was said. I answered them in Chinese when they asked my name, age and country of origin (that's all I know; well i can also order coffee and bubble tea and beef noodles). Soon everyone pulled out little wooden stamps. Rectangular pieces of wood, 1cm x 1cm x 4 cm. They put their stamps on a green colored document. Since I didn't have a stamp I had to dip my thumb in the red ink and press it on the paper next to my signature.
Now I have an apartment. It is 1cm x 1cm x 4cm. Well, actually it is 10 ping. A ping is just smaller in size than a twin bed. This includes the bathroom. So really my apt. is 8 ping.There is a bed, a desk, a tv and a refridgerator.
I am in the heart of Sanxia which is good. My apt number is 9, which is a very lucky chinese number.
My new address is
Taipei County
Sanshia Township
#264 Wenhua Road (actually, I don't know how to spell it because there is no English on the roadsign.)
6floor, Room 9
I asked what the postal code was but no one understood me. I will find out soon.
I move in on Sunday.
After signing the papers all 4 of us went outside, me, Fantasy, Ms.Lin the realtor, and Ms. Jayne the landlady. Fantasy handed me her spare pink helmet. Ms. Lin got on her scooter. Ms. J got on the back of Ms. Lin's scooter. Fantasy got on her scooter. I got on the back. Off we went to the new apartment so I could learn how to use the keys etc...
Then I went to work.
I told my kids they shouldn't start a sentence with the word "Because".
They said "Why not?"
I said, "Because I said so."

Ashley was late coming home tonight. It was after midnight. Ingrid wanted to have a talk with her about the business. "stay in control of this kids. teach them. bla bla bla."
The kids in my class say "bra bra bra" in lieu of "bla bla bla". I have even heard the foreign teachers use "bra bra bra". It sounds strange to me.
I have work in the early morn.
It is time for bed.

a little place called deep mountain

in lue of a wooden cart pulled by two sturdy white oxen, i was picked up at Ershuei station in a sexy black toyota jeep by two of the friendliest faces, both beaming adorably with their dimples and shining black eyes. Uting was at the wheel. a sassy little minx with layered hair and a small build, english impecable (as she says she likes the whities), and quick with the punch. Lin, sitting in the back with two little girls (ueew who we call dinosaur because she eats everything and maeko who's smile can make you melt), warmed my heart with her light humor and side grin, her friendly energy has a sarcasm that matches my own, where teasing is endless and friends and family are mutual. they took me first for my first taiwanese hot pot for dinner... made me eat pigs blood (snickering to each other)... my tongue is still healing. we drove to their house, shared by their grandma, mother chang, father chang, brother Lon Lon, brother's wife Ping Ping, and Lin (Uting lives and works about an hour away and only comes home on the weekends). the family was hesitant and i was tired, so our visit was brief as we would leave for deep mountain early the next morning.

Uting prepared me for a very long mountain trek. she said we would be walking for hours and that i would not return until late night. i would be very very tired, and would work very very hard. ... i was picked up in the jeep and the ride only took around 20 min. it was beautiful, breath taking really, wheeling our way up and around the mountain, with green haze in the distance and tea fields teiring up all around. their factory is called deep mountain and it is nestled in a small valley with the most dreamlike scene surrounding... clean rows of tea funneling up, whispy trees shooting out here and there, moutain fog slowly drifting. in front of the factory warehouse, four tarps were laid out with tea leaves scattered evenly about. our work, for most of the day, was to take a corner of the tarp, one person on each end, and roll the tea leaves to the center. then we would proceed to scatter the leaves evenly on the tarp again. Lin told me that this was the first step, after picking, as it softens the leaves and breaks down enzymes. we would do this about two times per tarp... there were two additional loads of tea leaves that came that day from two different farmers. then we would take the tarps inside and scatter them out on massive machine trays. repeat the same process on these trays about every 30 minutes or so. there was a sturdy woman, whom i am told to call auntie, who was quite the pro and hardcore taiwanese who scattered the leaves like a robot. there were also three factory workers... one whom Lin calls fatty who is head hancho... who chew beattle nut all day and are in charge of rolling, frying, and baking the tea. i will learn more about this process tomorrow. most of the day was spent scattering leaves intermittantly with snacking on boiled peanuts, chocolate, baked goods, and lunch involved goose, porks, bamboo soup, fish... you name it... it was delicious. Lin also took me to visit the neighbors bee farm. by this point the fog had settled dense and all i could make out were two headlights under a netted tarp, and the sound of bzzzz all around. auntie (i'm supposed to call all the women auntie) and her husband (whose name means handsome in english) taught me about something called royal jelly as they picked baby bee embryos from honey comb with a small ivory toothpick. Lin walked me through a lane lined with white boxes and the humm of bees could be heard everywhich way. it was the dreamiest scene i have ever been in. we left around 8pm. it was dark... the mountain deep.

i am staying at their 'aunties' house. it is huge with several empty bedrooms, a couple of flat screen tv's, house slippers, and a two headed shower... yep... two!! this week has been amazing and i am beyond thankful to the kindness that they have shown me. the food is amazing and always resembling a small feast. the work is mostly weeding in Lon Lon's two year old tea farm right behind the house i am staying, with my new boyfriend Yan Yan (black and white and smells... well of goat) neighing in the distance. Lin taught me caligraphy, as well as to ride on her scooter. i learned that taiwanese start counting their age from conception and that fortune tellers set the date of engagements and weddings. Lin is getting married soon, and i got to meet her to-be husband (whose name in english is sausage... and that's what we call him) as well as their 'match-maker.' Lon Lon is an amazing artist but has chosen to be a farmer. today Ping Ping taught me to make soap! tea tea tea, snacks, and bicycling. it is all a hazy crazy wonderful whirlwind right now... and it all started with a little place called deep mountain.

Wednesday, October 21, 2009

35 days

Megan in the Deep Mountain:
Today is Wednesday for two more minutes. On Sunday I will call the phone number of the farmer's sister that Megan wrote on a scrap of paper.
She left on Sunday morning for Nantou. Nantou is a rural mountainous agricultural area in the center of Taiwan. All she knew was that she had to meet Farmer Chang at the train station at 5pm. I'm picturing a wooden cart drawn by two white oxen. She didn't know how long she'd be staying. Or exactly where. Or what she'd be doing when she got there. I told her if I didn't get word from her in a week I would call. If I don't touch base with her in a week and a day, then I'm calling in the Airforce. I'm sure she is doing fine.

Ashley and Ingrid, A Love Story:
Ashley went into Ingrid's school, Harmony School, on Monday and broke the news. "I was offered full time work, 27 hours, in Hsinfong". Ingrid turned white. "please stay. I will give you 27 hours". "How?" "I will fire the other white guy teacher." "OK" "Here is a contract...and my heart". That is not actually what happened but it was something like that. Ingrid fired the other teacher. Ashley is staying with her.
Besides the young kids that Ashley teaches at Harmony, she has also picked up an adult class on Monday nights. Ashley brings in a copy of the China Post (an English language publication) and they pick an article to read and discuss. Oh, look! There's a China Post on the coffee table. Let's see what the issues are of concern to the English speaking expat population in Taiwan.
Oh, here's a good one: "PepsiCo has apologized for a free iPhone application crafted to help men seduce women and keep records of conquests but the program remained available on Tuesday".
This class is small. There are only three adult students. One of them is Ingrid.

Teaching as Improv:
I don't have much time to prepare classes. Sometimes only ten minutes. Today I had to go from one school to another in 40 minutes. I got on the wrong bus. I had to get off the bus. I got on another bus. Turns out the first bus I was on was the right bus. I got back on that bus. I had to run along the river dodging in and out of food stalls, jumping over stools, knocking into tables, and I made it to class with 6 minutes to spare. Class was a disaster but the kids never knew it. I made them play a game on the board while I figured out the lesson plan. Neither my previous teaching experience nor my education prepared me for this job as much as my training as an actor. I keep having flashbacks to Improv exercises I did with the acting troupe I was in as a kid. Most of my job is just cold script reading. The books and materials that the school supplies are mostly patterns the children have to memorize. "I am smart. I am not smart. The fat rabbits are on the desk. I like the fat rabbits". I'm a pretty inefficient teacher. Kids look at me cockeyed a lot. They freak out when I speak Chinese (which I only do under my breath, outside of class time), but I like to speak to them because they seem to understand me more than adults do.

Sanshia is Bensonhurst:
The pedestrian bridge which crosses the river is wide. It is not only for traffic but also for lingering. Loitering is encouraged. there are gazebo/pagoda structures fastened to either side ofthe bridge. It is well lit and lovely.
The other night as I walked across the pedestrian bridge, I saw lovers cooing in a corner, I saw teens smoking in a group off to oneside and I saw old men playing a game in the middle of the bridge. At first I thought it was Baci ball because of the underhand tossing motion and the men facing eachother at a distance of about 20 feet. As I got closer I realized that it was not a ball in their hands but a spinning top. In between them was a little wooden stand with small saucer shaped trays on top. Each man took a turn tossing his top onto the saucer. with in the sacucer was a smaller mark that they aimed for. It looked as if two men at a time play while others look on, chit chat and spit betelnut juice. Spinning tops are not for children in opposite land.
My first archaeological field work was in Bensonhurst Brooklyn. 20 of us college kids would make the trek to 86th Street and dig in the old Dutch church yard as the summer sun nuked us. At noon, our shackles were loosened for an hour. We were free to wander and find food. The people of Bensonhurst were friendly, but warry. I remember one time I went to use a payphone and a smiling man came up to me from out of nowhere to let me know that maybe I should not try to make a call. He was very nice about it though. As we were digging I had a feeling were being watched all the time. Like people were sweating lest we disinter something that should not have been disturbed. Like a body. And of course everyone in Bensonhurst is in the Mafia. I think Sanshia is full of gangsters. I don't have any proof yet bu it feels just like that remote part of Brooklyn. When Ashley and I were kidnapped by the Taiwanese brother and sister last week, we found that they did not want to talk about their jobs. I will have plenty of time to find out more about the character of the town. I picked out an apartment tonight. It is a bathroom, and a room with a bed and a desk. Tomorrow I sign stuff. Sunday I move in if all goes well.

Monday, October 19, 2009

"Green Johnny", "Escape Plan" and Other Tales

Green Johnny
Once there was a man who was born in Nigeria. He fell in love with a woman from Ghana and moved with her to that country. There they had sons. Their sons grew strong, swimming in the river, eating fresh delicious fruits, and wonderful meals of boiled fish and vegetables. One day, the youngest son, Johnny, took leave of his family. "I'm going to Taiwan," he said, "to teach English."
Johnny got on a plane. He came to Taiwan. He started looking for work at the English schools. The people in the schools would always tell him that he was not what they wanted. People who met Johnny on the street or in a cafe would always ask him "why are you here?...are you working? you drive a cab? you sell knockoff shoes?... Are you a laborer?" but no one ever guessed that he was there to teach.
One day, a school that Johnny sent his resume to called him up. The man on the phone said "are you black or white?" "I am green" said Johnny. "You are green!?!" "Yes, I am green. A group of us green people came over here together. There are three of us in Taipei now and two went to the south. We have green skin." "OK, you come in tomorrow for the interview." "I will be there at 1 o'clock." At 1 o'clock, Johnny showed up to the school. As he walked up to the glass doors he could see all of the secretaries looking over the tops of their cubicles to see the green man. He could hear them whispering "is that him?" Johnny opened the door and said, "I am Green". The manager ushered him into his office, looked at him and said "you are not green". Johnny said "that is because you can not see me. With my eyes, I look at my skin and it is green, my hands are green. my arms are green. my legs are green. You are wearing glasses so you can not see me with your natural eyes. Take of your glasses off and you will see that I am green". "If I take off my glasses then I cannot see you at all", said the manager. "That then is your problem. If you fix your eyes then you will see".
Johnny got the job teaching. He has been in Taiwan for over 10 years. He works sporadically for that first school that hired him and where they still call him "Green Johnny". Johnny now also has a fairly lucrative scooter parts export business. Johnny procures scooter parts from all over the island and ships them to his brother in Africa where they are then put into custom scooters and sold.

Escape Plan
Derek is a Canadian who showed up at the hostel with his boyfriend a few days ago. He is working for Hess the same company that I work for. His branch is in Taipei City and is exclusively kindergarten. Derek didn't know that it is illegal for foreigners to teach kindergarten in Taiwan. Yesterday he was given a tour of the school. There are three class rooms. In each one he was told where the emergency exit was and given an elaborate escape route up to the roof, then over to the roof of the neighboring building, then down that building's elevator and onto to street. If at any point when he is in the building "the song about the purple monkeys swinging free" is played on the loudspeaker, then he is immediately to grab his belongings and escape.
Today I went into work. My locker was gone. All of the lockers were gone. "Curious", I thought. I needed to find my locker because in it were my lesson plans.
I asked one of the girls who answers the phone where they were and she said they were moved into the classrooms. "OK". I turned to go through the door to the classrooms but there was no longer a door there. Where the door used to be was now a wall. We got inspected today. I guess my school has fake walls. No one every told me about any escape plans or purple monkey songs. Maybe they have a trap door in front of the chalkboard that will shoot me out to safety.

A week ago I went to RenAi hospital to have my health check done. A health check is required for all foreign workers. I went in and took a number and filled out a form. They called it and sent me to window 11. That is the cashier for foreigners. I confused the woman at the window who was entering my data into the computer by putting down my name as Helen C.M. Jackson. I didn't know what the trouble was. Middle names. As it is, my name was too long anyway. In Taiwan I am now Helen Jackso. I then was sent into a room and where there was a long counter with swivel chairs at regular intervals like an old Woolworth's dining counter. In front of each chair was a number1 2 3 ...There was a different woman stationed opposite each station. First I was weighed and my height taken. I'm 177 cm. 54kg. At station two my blood pressure was taken. switching seats my eyes examined. Then i was sent upstairs and sat in front of a similar set up with the phlebotomists. first chair-handed the woman my file. she gave me three empty vials to take to the next chair where a woman filled them up with my blood. Then into the x-ray. "take off your necklace" the man indicated. I could not. I am wearing a Joan of Arc medal tied around my neck with thread. He put it in my mouth. had me wrap my arms around a big metal box. snapped a picture of my chest and in thirty seconds I was on my way home.
The entire process took under an hour.
Friday I had to go back and pick up my papers. I was sure I'd have a clean bill of health. I was wrong. I needed a measles/rubella vaccination.
Now, if any of the Plagges are reading this, Angela, I swear there was a Taiwanese candystriper who was an Asian version of your mother. I almost said xiexie Mrs. George to her at one point. She guided me from counter to counter paying, picking up the vaccine and and showing me to the door where they would stick me with it. She was very good.
After picking up the paperwork I took it to the Hess office. There I signed "the government" contract. It struck me as odd that the Hess name appeared no where on the paper.
Tomorrow or Wednesday I will sign "the Hess contract" in Sanshia.
I'm contracted till August 15. It is a little shorter than a year but that is because I'm filling the space which was vacated by some English guy who took off in the night.

Teaching is going to be strange. I have 11 classes now and by December I will have 13. I will be in or around the offices from 9 til 9. I was grading papers last week. I was doing it wrong. I am not permitted to give a grade lower than 85.
I'm teaching many different ages and abilities. One class I was teaching verb tenses to kids that don't know what a verb is.
How do you explain a noun to someone who hasn't had "person, place, or thing" as a vocabulary word yet?
Teacher Rebecca was sick last night so I covered her honors class. The subject was places of worship.
That's a funny story. Maybe I'll tell it later.

Thursday, October 15, 2009

to the deep mountain

back. it is nice to relax with a cold 'taiwan beer' with friends and swap stories of our gaining footing, for some claiming ground. i am staying with a friend in the city and despite constant night battles with mosquitoes it beats the hostel's bedbugs and inconsiderate produce snacking rats that the girls are apparently dealing with. after only three days though of battling taipei zebra crossings, choking down mrt subway fees and scooter smog, feeling like a gutterpup next to shishi fake eyelashes and louis vuitton face-masks and i am ready to head back out.

this past week was a breath of fresh air gifted from each of taiwan's four corners-having literally circled the whole of taiwan by train. first stop koahsiung, tainan... and while plans for the second half of my trip were conciously redirected, mostly due to the torrential rain i encounted as i headedup the east coast, it was inspiring nonetheless. i had considered my stop after kaohsiung to be in taitung, where i would camp on some mystery beach with crazy geological rock formations. i arrived at the train station in kaohsiung and stopped at the english information center. the tellers stared at me with wideeyed perplexion and proceded to push a young thirteenish boy in my direction to stumble through proper explanations and directions. he was sweating as he stuttered out that part of the railway had been damaged by the typhoon, and that i would either have to take a two day bus ride, or take a bus to bumfuck taiwan and catch a train that may or may not have left yet. i decided bumfuck in lue of sore posterior. so the boy led me to the bus station and helped me buy a ticket. i was a bit unsure of the bus i was supposed to take, where it was going, and when i was supposed to get off. yet, after about a half hour wait i was shoved onto a bus without warning, and as the english signs became nonexistent i surmised that once traintacks came into view it would be a good bet that my stop was next. ... ah... powers of deduction. the train station was across from the stop and i was given a full five minutes to make it to my seat. all was well.

the ride was quite breathtaking. the southeast is a expanse of farms- bananas, tea, rice. green spectrum from lime to forest is colorcoating the landscape. the towns became quite rural and distant, while feral dogs wandered the wet fields. as the train began traveling north to taitung mountains began to loom over the train like a friend looking over your shoulder. the train, and i inside, seemed lego size in comparison to the surrounding jungle cliffs. as i arrived in taitung the rain had become uncomprimising. i decided instead to forge on to the small beach town of hualien, where i could wait out the rain and make new plans. i was disppointed with the infrequent stewardesses and their lack of lunchboxes, but was thankful for the delightful cabbage filled wontons i had saved from breakfast. when i arrived in haulien, after about four- five hours, i was quite exhausted, yet still i stubbornly refused the taxi cab drivers who would not only save me from getting lost (again...) but also soaked. i arrived at the hostle after dark and looking like a drowned rat... was given free beer and whiskey by a visiting group of english teachers, homemade bread, as well as convinced to go whitewater rafting with them the next day. unfortunately the water would be too high to raft due to the rain, but nice people nonetheless.

hualien is known to be the gateway to taroko gorge- taiwan's main scenic tourist attraction. yet, hualien the town is lovely in itself. it has a laidback beach town feel, with a chill vibe that is neither clean nor dirty, shishi nor rural, all business nor all pleasure. it also has amazing seafood, especially the oyster omlettes. the girl running the hostel and i became good friends. her name is yuchen. she is a traveling surfer (mostly to south america) on her off time, as well as boycrazy and music savvy. we went out for thai food, girl talked over coffee (the real stuff), and she introduced me to her bestfriend ling. we went to ling's house my last night in hualien. she is a dedicated buddhist as well as a studying doctor. her house was calming, despite the cieling leaking into buckets and pots on theground, with its makeshift buddhist shrine (coveting statues and incense), japenese tatami matts, and green tea. her small dog cookie was giddily running around us as we talked about budhism, travel, and spirits. apparently there was a doctor who performed illegal abortions in this same house back in the day. ling maintained that the spirits of those children still existed when she moved in. she couldn't sleep, dreams were heavy, and thus she constructed her shrine. she has slept soundly ever since.

i did trek into taroko gorge on my travels. the rain was slight, the gorge itself misty and dreamy. it was a scene right out of lord of the rings with rock faces towering into the sky and blistering small waterfall, after grand waterfall, slight waterfall after twin waterfall! it was awing. i walked along the mainroad with a fellow hostel dweller, as the trails were closed due to 'typhoon raids....' the gorge itself is massive, with water colored grey like that of an old elephant- wise and experienced. we walked about 16km hitched a ride from a german couple through the pitch black tunnels, got dropped off, walked another 15 min. before they came back to tell us the road up ahead was ...collapsed. it was such a great hike, beautifully cathartic. it inspired me to stop at a hotspring on my way back to taipei to soak my sore muscles. unfortunately i did not feel like getting totally naked (as was policy) and opted instead to soak my legs in the public footbath. shaped in an 8ft-8ft squre, cut into fours- square one lukewarm water, square two hot, squre three really freaking hot, and squre four boiling straight from the source. i almost went straight into square four... wherein my feet would now be blistered, but the little old ladies shouted "no!! too hot!! you sit here with us." aparently, cultural edicate requires cold to hot. my feet felt heavenly after.

so, i am heading to the tea farm this weekend. i talked with mr. chang. mr. chang does not speak much english so he handed me to his sister ling. ling said that if i show up on sunday i can come with them on monday to the 'deep mountain.' i do not know what this means but it sounds awesome.

Tuesday, October 13, 2009

Tawan is Japan's Thailand

I had my demo today. It was me and Neo in an empty classroom for three and a half hours. Me pretending to teach two different classes.
It was alright. Tomorrow I start for real. 6 hours of teaching. Tomorrow is Ashley's birthday but I won't be back in Taipei until late. Megan has come back into Taipei today. She is going to hangout with Ashley tomorrow. Megan is staying at Zach the Aussie's apartment. It is cheaper, no rats or bugs of any note. A rat ate a hunk out of the apple I was saving for breakfast.
That roach corpse is still in the stairwell but only about a quarter of its original size. Maybe when it is completely gone I will have found a place to live.

Ashley got the job in Hsinfong in Hsinchu County! She is very happy. The place sounds like a pit but it pays well. Tomorrow she is going to break it to Ingrid.
I hope Ingrid doesn't throw a shoe at her.
The job is good news, a nice cosmic birthday present. She's been battling an ear infection and deserves a respite from some worries. Today we went to the local pharmacy, not a chain store, to get her something for her ear. The old pharmacist spoke english. She told him her problem and asked for some ibuprofen and his advice in making a garlic oil to put in her ear. He looked at her like she was crazy. She whipped up a batch anyway and used a drinking straw as a dropper. She sleeps in the bunk above me. I wonder if I will dream of pizza tonight.

Megan just came back from travelling around the entire island. She had stories of surfers and Buddhists and gorges and train rides, and buses and delicious food and beautiful rivers. I hope I can tease more details out of her before she goes off to Mr. Chan's tea farm.

Megan and Zach came by the hostel tonight and we went out in search of supper. We walked north on Linsen because we know there are many options up there. It is a busy area sometimes none as "the Combat Zone" or "the Zone". There are many Japanese noodle shops, steakhouses, and fast food places and street sausage vendors. It was called "the Combat Zone" because there is an American military installation of some sort in the area and in 50s, 60s and 70s that is where the red light district sprung up. Message parlors and KTV rooms that not only include music and food, but also 'girls' line the street. Now-a-days, most of the patrons are Japanese businessmen rather than American servicemen. We walked down an alley that ran perpendicular to Linsen road that was lined with bars with vaguely Japanese names. We were walking with an American named Kevin who came to find food with us. He lived in Japan for many years and told us that the Japanese come to Taiwan for two main reasons; cheap electronics and this neighborhood. Those words had not left his lips when we were caught up in a group of red faced, black-suited Japanese men leaving a place. In fact all of the environmental noise on the street changed. Instead of the musical sound of mandarin we were hearing the rhythmic beats of Japanese coming from every doorway.

At the end of the alley we came to a smaller street and this had lots of little vendors. It looked like the street where the locals went instead of the main thoroughfare and the prices reflected this. Girls that probablly worked down the street were in their civies munching on dinner of beef noodles before a shift. I spotted one of those stands where you put things in a basket and have the cook grill it up. Zach grabed some bacon wrapped scallions and I pointed at a fish. A whole fish, kind of looked like a herring, maybe a foot long from nose to tail and a couple of inches wide. They grilled this up for us. We found some benches in an ajoining alley. It was well lit and good for people watching. We ate the bacon. We ate the fish drizzled with a little lime, salt and pepper. We finished the meal with some passion fruit Zach got on the street (one dozen for 80NTD=$2.50us). Total cost of the meal was under $4.oo US. Delicious.

I have work to do now.
But I will probably sleep instead.

Monday, October 12, 2009

teaching and all

Why bother constructing the world's tallest building where the clouds always come down so low? I wonder what the view is like from the top half of 101? They probably don't know whether it is day or night in those offices. The secret to their productivity.

Tomorrow I demo two classes in front of the CTs (Chinese Teachers). Today I observed for the last time and it was the first time I got to observe one of the CTs running the class. This was Fantasy's class. I learned something very important about the English language; if you shout, it doesn't really matter what you say. Some excerpts from today's lesson "W-W-W wa wa wa Wolf! Do you know what a Wolf is?" (A boy howls) "Yes, a kind of cat."
and then
"Jackie, take out your Panics book" (replace with Phonics book).

But really, these CTs know English pretty well. I'm starting to despair of ever learning Chinese with any degree of proficiency but I will take it from these guys and try, and maybe if I try really hard I can get half as good at Chinese as they are at English.

I have 9 different classes assigned to me for now. Come early November that number will be 10 and in January, 11 or 12. By then I'll be working a little more than 40 paid hours a week plus unpaid prep and grading time. This is a pretty sweet deal. The only difficulty is that there are so many different groups of students I'll have to get to know and so much material I'll have to become familiar with. Well, that and some of the sentences I'll have to teach will either be through gritted teeth or neglected entirely. Watching Francois the South African, teach his class yesterday I learned these sentence patterns that were repeated over and over "'Who's that cool beautiful girl?' She's my sister.' 'Wow, she's so thin!' 'Yeah!'" and "'Who's that big strong man?' 'He's my dad.' 'Wow, He's so tired!' 'Yeah.'" and " Who's that excited crazy woman?' 'She's my mom.' 'Wow, she's so happy!' 'Yeah!'"
I think I took too many Gender Studies courses.

My situation compared to Ashley's: Her students throw shoes at her. They cheer when she threatens to increase homework (they have no intention of doing it anyway) and they only sit down and be quiet when the owner of the school walks into the room. This woman, Ingrid, Ashley's boss won't show Ashley any books or her give her any ideas for structuring the class but when Ashley makes a lesson plan and tries to implement it, Ingrid steps in and tells her that is not how it is done. Today I laughed aloud when Ashley told me Ingrid's request to teach the children phonics. She said she wants the children to sound out the word starting with the middle vowel. Flower. ow ow er . low-er. F-lower. Flower! Ashley said "What do we do when we get to a word like Aerobics!?"

I'm going to work on my lesson plans for tomorrow. I have a lot of reading to do. My natural inclination towards procrastination is tempered by thoughts of the bed bugs that are waiting to get me back in my bunk. If I keep my fan on (I finally got one that works) and stay away from the wall, and move around a lot, and get out of bed three or four times in the night, then they don't bother me too much.

Saturday, October 10, 2009

"Welcome to Sanshia" or "Never Stop for Banh Mi in a Strange Land"

Woke up early this morning, in Taipei. Walked to the HuaShan (Blossom-Mountain) supermarket down the street to buy some fruit for breakfast. I tried to procure some oranges. Last time I thought I was getting some plump oranges I had actually picked up some orange-skinned grapefruits. I was informed that here in Taiwan most oranges have green skin. So this morning I grabbed a bag of green-skinned citrus, but they were tangerines.

Yesterday was Saturday. Normally I will have to work on Saturday mornings at my new job but yesterday was a holiday, Double Ten Day. It is the anniversary of the Chinese Nationalists setting up the exiled government in Taiwan; Taiwanese 4th of July. I heard they were planning on shooting fireworks of the top of Taipei 101 (the world's tallest building) but it was such grey day, and the clouds came down low enough to obscure the top half of the building, that I don't know whether they bothered or not. I was not in town to find out.

I had made plans with Ashley to go hiking, but I slept in till about noon and the weather was threatening anyway, so we scrapped that idea and I suggested we go to Sanshia so she could see where I will be living and working. I was excited to be able to leisurely enjoy the charms of the city that I had only briefly seen. I remembered walking across the pedestrian bridge to the bus the night before and seeing tents set up with signs on them that said Taipei Farmers' Market. I hoped the market would be going on.

Ashley and I got off the bus in Sanshia. It was about 2pm and we were famished. I suggest we try the Bahn mi sandwiches at the Vietnamese place along the river since it was on the way. We stood outside the restaurant and looked at the faded picture menu on the window. Inside, a couple flimsy tables had been pushed together and a group of people were sitting there enjoying themselves, having a good time, bottles of Taiwan beer, a liquor bottle with some clear spirit, plates of half eaten food, spicy beef/chili pepper stir fry, green papaya salad with squid and a plate of plantain and taro chips. One of the women in the group, there were only two spotted us looking in and she beckoned us enter. The others all smiled and waved.

We stepped inside and the Thai proprietor asked us what we wanted (in Chinese) and we pointed to the picture of the Bahn mi. He didn't look too happy. He called over a woman who also worked there, his wife, and she pointed at other things that she thought we should have. This should have been a clue but we were obtuse and softly charmingly insistent.
I went to the drink cooler and grabbed a Taiwan beer (it being a holiday and all) and sat down. We were attracting attention from the group at the big table. Maybe it was my stylish straw hat or Ashley's mint green "Amy's Organic" t-shirt and blue eyes. Maybe it was our fool smiles that are always planted on our faces that say "I don't know what you are saying but I'm sure it is nice and I like you." Somehow we ended up at their table.
The two women were sisters and they were sitting next to a very tall man who was their oldest brother. The sisters didn't look like each other at all. One was short and stout with long curly hair and wide sun browned face with a slight blush over her wide cheeks. The other sister who was younger (between 35 and 40) was, tall slender and had fairer skin. She had a fashionable bob worn casually and was neatly dressed in a silvery rayon shirt and black capri pants embroidered with flowers. This woman, I call her Meimei (littlesister) cause I can't pronounce her name,it sort of sounded like Fen, introduced her older brother (age 48). We exchanged pleasantries. At that lunch which we began around 3 o'clock we discussed the Yankees, Taiwanese-Chinese politics, my nose, the many husbands of the stout sister, the lack of husbands of the pretty sister, the eldest brother's height of 185cm, my very big nose, the temples around Sanshia, food, the weather, Taiwan pride and the beauty of the island, the da bezi (big nose) on my face ....and then a man from mainland China shoved a spoonful of chicken fetus into my mouth. ok. It was very salty and tasted like boiled egg yolk, intensified by ten. Ashley had a bite too, her eyes shut tight and her mouth wide open.
One of the stout sister's ex-husband joined us at the table and he had a little girl of about 6 years old hanging around his neck. I played 'paper-rocks-scissors' with her till my hand cramped. Stout sister stormed out in a huff.

Oh, by the way, no one spoke English. There were ten words of English among the group of seven at table. My Chinese is like the grunting of a Neanderthal but combined with Ashley's knowledge we have about 60-75 words of Chinese. All this does is fool people into thinking that you understand them when they are speaking to you.

This morning I asked Ashley how she liked Sanshia. "I didn't see any of it but a Thai restaurant, and a karaoke bar!" Around 5pm we were ushered into a gypsy cab. I wasn't sure where we were going but we didn't drive too far and I was pretty sure I knew my way back to the bus. In the karaoke bar when Meimei said "Dance!" we danced and every time an English song came on we were required to sing it. They kept picking songs I'd never heard of but I could read the words that were displayed on the screen which was backed by images of eels feeding, little alligators swimming around and green fish. We were offered snacks. Pumpkin seeds that tasted of coconut milk; pistachios that also tasted like coconut; some deep fried crunchy fava beans (peel first) they were salty and delicious like oily crackers; and slices of dried candied apricot. We met more people and talked about my enormously big nose.

It was getting late, around 8 I attempted making my excuses to my hosts and plotting with Ashley our escape. The last bus for Taipei was leaving soon. Then Meimei told us all to get up, settled the tab, got us into another gypsy cab, Ashley, Me, Gege (olderbrother) and MeiMei. We weren't sure where we were going now; maybe back to the Thai restaurant? bus stop? no passed them, kept driving, driving. Neither of us new how to ask where we were going. At every red light I said to Ashley "open the door and run" but we didn't do that because it started to seem like we were heading in the direction of Taipei. "Disco!" said Meimei as we pulled up on a very Taipei looking street. (Ashley was in her hiking boots). We walked into another karaoke bar. At table in the back all of our new friends from Sanshia were sitting. Tea was poured for us, grilled fish drizzled with lemon, papaya, mellon, hard-spicey tofu and squid, sauteed greens and a big bowl of soup with meatballs in it. it seemed like the soup was just their to catch the "Taiwan whiskey" that people spilled as they reached across the table, over the soup, to toast one another. This drink was the clear spirit that I saw them drinking at lunch. It is very strong, kind of like grappa. They mix it in pitchers filled with ice and water to take the kick out of it.
The woman who ran this place wore a pink chanel suit knockoff and had a buffont hairdo. There were other girls who filled the drinks and the tea and the food. The songs at this place were projected in front of images of Versailles and carriages rolling around other palatial gardins. The room was filled with smoke from people smoking cigarettes. This was not like KTV where everyone was in a private room. There was only one room, everyone sits at rounded booths. On the wall above each booth is a no smoking sign.

We finally made it out. I think our hosts tired of trying to communicate with us. Around 11:30 we got into a cab, a yellow one, and went to Shandao were we stay. It was expensive, almost 300 NTD which means we were pretty far away, the outskirds of town, but we made it. I didn't mind paying for the cab since I didn't spend a dime that day. Our friend Meimei paid for everything and we tried many times to pay but she refused to accept any money. It was a fun night, like hanging out with a crazy aunt and uncles.

Friday, October 9, 2009


waiting at the trainstation, platform 3, southbound to kaohsiung, my heart felt light. the whole trip took about seven hours (consciously choosing the slow train in lue of the fast or high speed train- price adjusts accordingly), where with each passing hour the sun shone brighter, the scenery greener, and the number of 7-11s gradually decreasing. at first it just seemed like town after town of scooter parking lots and overcast city hum drum, but soon i was flanked on the left by by foothills wrinkled lush-green and shape-shifting in the wind, and to my right the shoreline. there were farmers gobbled up by long grass in the distance, as well as powermills and random temples pock-marked here and there. the train conductor wore a face mask. there were several carts with munchies that rolled by every hour, with the famous lunchboxes for sale. we stopped about 30 times.

i arrived in kaohsiung around 7pm and felt as i had been warped into the MGM wizard of oz attraction. big plastic windmill flowers were arranged in a field that surrounded the escalator ramp. the subway here is easier than taipei's... yep... cleaner and not half as crowded. unfortanetly my easypass card from taipei's mrt does not work here. walking through central park (backpack heavy and sleepy from sitting too long) i crossed kaohsiung's central park with it's dainty chinese bridges arched over delicate streams... and yes babbling brooks, willows surrounding lovely ponds, fountains shooting jets. the streets are filled with art-light-deco, neon blinking and warping into tasteful kaleidescopes. my hostel is located near the love river. it cuts through kaohsiung and is bound on either side by tranquil footpaths and benches filled with snogging couples, young and old alike. after settling into my hostel, which has a cozy morrocan feel with its orange walls and warm wood, (tp in the toilet!! woot), and fridge with water and beer for sale, i walked along the river. it is lit beautifully at night, with little ferry boats covered in neon cords shaped like hearts and spelling out 'love', small tea stands, an auntie ann's pretzel shop, projectors showing taiwanese films, and a woman singing at a podium ('sex bomb' and 'color of the wind'). ahh... amour.

koahsiung has an air of gentle calm that i was in desperate need of. i have seen two 7-11s my whole time here and the number of bicycles are one and one with that of scooters!! everything is very well manicured, night markets are not crammed into some alley way but have breathing room throughout a whole street, and crowds are minimum.

i have learned though that i have absolutely no sense of direction. yesterday, after walking back and forth until my shirt clung sopping to my skin, i stopped and asked directions to the famous lotus pond. after a woman asked another woman asked another woman, turning my map 180 with cocked heads and babbling back n' forth saint Erin said that it would be much too far to walk... (that's what all the taiwanse say) and insisted that she drive me. if i wasn't about to drop on the spot i would have refused but she hustled me into her shop and gave me a juice box. i asked what her business was... air conditioning. thank you traveling gods!! she dropped me off at the dragon tiger pagoda (located at the north of lotus pond... not a pond at all but a huge lake). legend goes that you are supposed to enter the dragons mouth (actually walk into a dragon yes... inside are elaborate paintings of buddhists and goddesses, clouds and mythical creatures, some jutting out) and your supposed to exit the tigers- this will bring good fortune and banish bad luck. after all the temples and pagodas yesterday, and traveling for a day trip to tinan (taiwan's oldest city... but is just as shopaholic and hustle bustle as taipei) today with all its confucious temples and pagodas, all painted red and gold, all smelling of burnt sandlewood and eucalyptus... i must have banished any and all bad juju.

soo... don't worry ladies... ahem helen. i am quite a savvy traveler despite my lack of direction (which could be a good or bad thing). tomorrow i am heading to taitung to camp... somewhere aha... then to hulien, taroko gorge, and back to taipei. ... thank god i'm carrying my house with me.

Thursday, October 8, 2009


I called the hostel in Kaoshiung where Megan said she intended to stay. It is called 202. The manager said that she had checked in. That is good.

Ashley may have found work in Hsinchu. It is an industrial town about 1 1/2 hours on the train south of Taipei. They are emailing her the contract today to see if it suits her.

And Megan

She said she would call or email us when she got to Kaoshiung. No word yet.

Fantasy Fan

Yesterday I got a phone call from my new boss, "My name is Fantasy". She gave me directions to meet her in Sanshia to meet her. My phone is not the best quality, neither is her English, and my Chinese might as well be Greek, so I wasn't so confident in the directions that were given me. Something about 'take the Subway to Jingan stop, get out walk for 2 minutes, get on the 921 bus and take it to Dayi Lu and meet her on the BeiDa bridge at noon'.

Well, the 921 never came and I had to take a cab. I was nervous because I had no idea how far Sanshia was and did not know what the cab would cost me. When I asked the cabbie if he would take me there, he didn't seem too perturbed. I know what perturbed cabbies are like. Hail a taxi in Manhattan and tell the driver you are going to Queens. You'll know perturbed.

Pulled up at the address. Gave him 500 NTdollars (this was the hardest part of my day- the bus would have been 30NTD). Realized I was meeting her at the BeiDa "branch", not the BeiDa "bridge". I was 1/2 an hour late. She was very friendly, "I am Fantasy" and then indicating the other guy next to her in the same uniform "this is Neo". Neo is my other boss. I was given my schedule of classes. I'll be observing for the remainder of this week and begin teaching my own class on Tuesday. Fantasy and Neo, the CTs (Chinese Teachers) were both very keen on getting me set up in an apartment right away. They were ready take me around looking at places that day. They were really insisting and I thanked them and told them I would be glad of their help but first I wold like to see Sanshia before deciding if I would live there or somewhere else nearby. There was nothing for me to do until 4:30. That is when I would watch the other NS teacher (native speaker of English) conduct two classes and I could make my way back to Taipei at 9pm or so.

The other NS, Rebecca from Nova Scotia, was there when I arrived. She offered to walk me around a bit. I will be working at two different branches of the Hess school. They are maybe 2 miles apart, I don't think more than that. Probably less than that. I asked Rebecca to show me how to walk to the other branch and she obliged. Sanshia is not some backwater town.
Obviously it has seen a massive amount of recent construction. There were scores of posh highrise apartment buildings (though none higher than 25 stories). Most of them looked empty. The school is three floors tucked into a storefront of one of these buildings. This area was all very new and resembled Virginia Beach in winter with a spit shine and some gold leaf trim. The mountains are very close here. I'm sure I could walk to them. Looking north to on mountain side I could clearly make out the massive orange tiers of a temple. I don't know which it is but I would love to hike up to it.

Rebecca walked me across the town. She told me the population is about 50,000 people. She said about a mile from our work in the opposite direction is the BeiDa Campus of Taiwan University so there are a lot of students in that area. As we walked the city began to take on a different feel. We walked along the main street, MinQuan, and it was now lined with pragmatic shops, scooter shops, joe lunch-pail eateries, 7-11, OkMart, FamilyMart, and places that I couldn't determine the use of by their signs i.e. no pictures. The Sanshia river runs right through the down and to get to the other Hess branch we had to cross it. I saw three bridges, two specifically for traffic and one strictly for pedestrians. Some vendors had parked carts on the bridge and were selling red clay oolong tea pots as souveniers. Another vendor was selling a croissant shaped soft pretzel type thing topped with icecream. I liked the river. As I walked along it I passed a tasty looking thai Bahn mih shop. I'm going to get one tomorrow.

I have many good things to say about this town. I walked down "Old Street" which is a street that has been restored to its look of 1922. Neo-Baroque brick facades of buildings reminiscent of the Japanese occupation of what was a very important Tea and Indigo trading hub. The shops that serve the Taiwanese bourgeoisie day-trippers and give relief to the independently wealthy bicycle enthusiasts who spent their morning spinning up and down the mountain emitted some of the best smells. I walked slowly, smelled sandlewood, soap, incense, leather, warm sugar/butter, tea leaves, something delicately garlic, clothes (the unique way boutique clothes smell). And the sounds were soothing. No electronic ditties (like the nursery school mozart that the trash trucks play (i thought it was ice cream but it is not, the trucks play music!) or facsimile hip hop which is so prevalent in Taipei, but silence. And if not silence than something else good. A sweet simple jazzy chinese balad. A real tune being played by a real instrument, without canned accompaniment, drifting on the breeze.
Haven't mentioned the great people of the town or anything about my work yet. but.
Must go to bed now. A Taiwanese boy is in the common room here listening to music and singing at the top of his lungs (525600 minutes, Seasons of Love). It is all the lullabye I'm going to get.

Tuesday, October 6, 2009

into darkest taiwan

"you'd be depressed out of your mind in the grey months of winter" "don't live there" "It's like the back woods of arkansas. no it's like alaska"

"You know i wazza lihk you. but i wazza western mercenarie, I zdid a johb like a dhat and i cracked ahfther thsree month. You will go nutz. all by youself"

"San Xia! Hahaha. you stay here then take MRT to last stop on blue. then take bus."

Quotes from ted runcie, a random french guy, and the taiwanese woman that run the hostel respectively.
They were talking about my new job. I have accepted the job. Part of my eagerness might be due to the welts on my body, remnants of the feasting of the bedbugs last night.
I'm taking some paper work to the main office now. Ashley is at her interview in Hsinchu by the beach. I hope it goes well. I may have to leave for my new job tomorrow or Friday.

off off and away~

and then there were two... yet!.. the third not lost, just gone down south to koahsiung for the next week. on a whim, spontaneity my guide, and feathers plumed for new ventures, independence, and breathing easy. i have decided to pursue new avenues and by avenues i do not mean winding down the streets-sections-lanes-alleyways of taipei, but the beautiful island orient that is the rest of taiwan. and while yes that means that i will be leaving in november, i no longer have the dead weight that hangs in my chest every time i stare at the job forum board or trying to conjure some halfhearted desire to be the white round face teacher with the clear American accent.

so, tomorrow i'm off. i will travel down the east coast and make good use of the rest of my time. i will go by train to koahsiung which is near the south of the island and it should take around 5 1/2 hours which will give me enough time to plan my next move. my hostel is close to the train station, as well as 'overlooking' the love river. we'll see if this harbor view is like the 'rooftop garden' tapei hostel promised... but we do have plants so i'll give them that.


Last week recap

Last Friday the Aussie called us. Told us to drop everything and go to Xindian, or as our new friend Ravi calls it Ex-Indian. "there is music and food here!" So we went. Xindian (sheendian) is the last stop on one of the metro routes but it really didn't take long, maybe 3o minutes. Upon alighting the train I felt like I had traveled a great distance. There was none of the cement lego maze emblazoned with signs, none of the labyrinth streets folding in on themselves like intestines. There was a river and two bridges. Building spaced with room to breath. Along the river banks were cement promenades and shop stalls. An Asian Seine. There was a stage set up and what our Aussie friend had stumbled upon was the Migration Music Festival, which is a Worl Music festival. This year's theme was "South". The program included and Israeli band, who did one song in Hebrew, the other in French; Vietnamese group; a trio of Philipino girls, the lead reminded me of Ani Difranco, Ashley took offense to that. Let us just say they were a little folky. There was a man from Mali who played the guitar with the adroitness of a flamenco guitarist on the trapeze. For his first song he stepped off the stage and played among the crowd. His guitar was plugged into the speakers so it could be heard from far away but he left the microphone for sining into on the stage. This necessitated that you move in closer to him if you wanted to hear his voice. All of us who were sitting on the river bank swinging our legs got up to get near him. Ashley was front and center. He was very talented. Then came the headliners. A band called L'Occitan I think. They are French and sing in dying or extinct French dialects like the Troubadours. The only instruments these 5 men had were their voices, a tambourine and some hand held drum. The drums were of different sizes. They were shaped like tambourines, round and shallow, held in one hand and hit with the other. One was two feet in diameter, the other one foot diameter. Their Mediterranean rhythm had everyone clapping and stomping and dancing. All of the performers did two songs, but the final band had an encore. We did not stay for it, but walked back to the train along the river as the music trailed off.
We had an appointment with Wei-Wei and Cool Jeff, two new Taiwanese friends. We met Wei-wei through Adam and Cool Jeff at KTV during Wei-wei's birthday celebration. Adam is back in the states. We tried to go back to that place Chou-chan(playground). We walked up the stairs and inside were 4 empty tables. there are maybe only 7 tables in the place. The man in charge, I can't call him a maitre'd because it's a bar, but he told us all of the seats were reserved. I looked over at another booth and it was crowded with 6 foreign looking chaps so I think maybe they exceeded their Weigoren (foreigner) quota for the night, but that is not a nice thought to have. We went to another place and met a Taiwanese guy who got his English name "Jesse" from Jesse James. When he was young and visiting family in the States, his cousins could not say his Chinese name. They were watching a movie about Jessie James at the time. I liked him. He studies political science and German. There was a German with him who was studying political science as well. At one point in time Ashley was left alone at the table with the German, Jesse and Cool Jeff and did some informal ethnographic research which is very interesting about their views on western women. Anyone wishing to know the results of this informal study should contact her directly.
The rain began on our walk home.
It rained all day Saturday. It rained all day Sunday. In between the rain was a little earthquake. Saturday we met up with Irene.
She is a wonderful woman. She is so much fun and has such a beautiful spirit. We called her because we were considering going to a film that was out that day that all of us wanted to see, "Visage" or "Lien" or "Face". It is a film that was commissioned by the Louvre museum from a Taiwanese director, Ming Tsai ...and it was used to open the permanent contemporary art collections there. We called Irene, she said she was interested but she called back an hour later with a better plan. It was the moon festival. She generously offered to take us to a performance of some traditional Taiwanese puppetry and excerpts of Journey to the West performed in Peking Opera style and other celebratory manifestations of the Mid-Autumn festival. We accepted the invitation. We didn't really know what to expect. I had assumed it was a public affair and so didn't fret too much about what we were wearing. It was pretty posh. It was a very well run even. It was event that definitely catered to well offs but not only mandarin speakers, but English and Japanese speakers as well.
I learned so much about choreography watching the opera. The show of athletics, multiple twirling, back flips etc...were admirable, I couldn't do them, but what really enthralled me were the fight scenes, and the battles, and seductions. The body language and the stage placement and the symbolism of the movement was so different than any western ballet. I quite like it. I like the sound of the music and the voices too, though this show was definitely tailored to minimize the music and maximize the twirling bodies. The music was very fine I think. At the intermission we were offered cotton candy and wheel cakes (light sweet cakes filled with cream or redbean paste) and sweet milk tea with boba. After the show we were very hungry and feeling a little tweaked from the sugar. It was getting late, it was after 10. Irene suggested we go to a night market. She walked with us to one nearby. As we walked we could smell charcoal everywhere. People were pulling out their habachi and lining up their sausages and cuttlefish.
I was mad with the idea of barbecue by the time we got to the night market.
Many food carts specialize in one thing or the other, dumplings, buns, stinky tofu etc.. but there are also food carts at every night market and most streets that were a mystery to me. These have food of all sorts sitting in them. They have baskets along side. A customer is to take a basket and load it up with the par-cooked or raw items that are offered. Then the proprietor takes these and cooks them up. The ingredients are pretty much the same at each of these stalls but the method of cooking is different for each. One will dump your basket into a boiling seasoned broth to cook it,then put it in a plastic bag for you to take home. Another will dump it all into a vat of hot oil and fry it all, then put it in a bag for you. Another will grill it all up, then put it in a plastic bag for you. Irene being the great host identified a lot of the foods at the cart, Chicken intestine, duck heart, chicken heart, little sausages (like vienna sausage), white sausages stuffed with rice, glutinous fish cakes, fish balls, squid, chicken testes, duck neck, congealed blood, pork intestines, bok choi. I took a basket from the stall that grills things. In it I placed a skewer of thinly sliced beef wrapped around a bundle of enoki mushrooms. I placed a skewer of bacon wrapped around a bundle of green onions. I grabbed a bundle of green beans, A skewer of button mushrooms, a glutinous fishcake, and a long sausage that was sweet and savory. The line was long and we waited an hour before ours were prepared but it was a royal feast. To stem the hunger we ate some noodles and some fried rice. We'd gotten a box of mooncakes filled with pineapple to give to Irene. For desert we all ate one. They may not have been of the best quality but she was very polite and said they were fine.
Sunday we didn't move much but great decisions were being made. Megan has decided to go home when November comes. She is off tomorrow to explore the rest of the island.
Today the three of us went to Beitou. It is a section of Taipei not very far from where we are staying, maybe 20 minutes on the MRT. It is a place where we could access one of the many public hotsprings. It was gorgeous. It is nestled into the mountains, it was a quiet place by Taipei standards. They sky was overcast and the mountains were black and veiled in mist and a stream ran down the center of the down filled with cloudy sulfered water. We were too late to enter the hotsprings and still make our dinner appointment with Dennis so we wet our feet in the warm water of the stream and then paid a visit to the Beitou Public library. The library has earned a Diamond award for being a green building. Almost no carbon footprint. I don't know what it was made of but it smelled of cedar wood and it was shaped like a resort lodge in Maine. It was lined with tinted windows and on the second floor you could sit on the deck that wrapped around it and read your book glancing up once in a while to inspect the lilly pond underneath, or the hot springs, or the mountains. Ashley was approached by a man in the library. He asked her if she liked Beitou. She said she did very much. Then he offered her a job teaching english at a cram school in town! She's going to call him tomorrow.
Through our Aussie friend we met a Taiwanese guy named Dennis. He promised to take us to the best, cheapest beef noodles in town. We met him in Shilin(where the huge night market we went to in our first week is located). We walked for some time through the streets that wind around and in on each other and reached the place. They were very good. Large chunks of beef with gelatinous veins running through, stewed in a Chinese 5 spice broth for a very long time. We walked back to the train through the night market. In total, we were 6. Ashley and Myself, Megan, Zach the Aussi, Laura the Argentine, and Dennis. The market was bustling but not as it had been that first night. We walked two by two switching up conversation partners every so often. As we neared the mouth of the market, where the streets opened up and we could attempt standing still with out being trampled I was paired up with Dennis, he was helping me with some chinese. I looked back and I could make out Zach and Megan coming through the crowd. The four of us stood looking at the mass of people trying to make out Ashley's familiar form. Nothing. "I bet they're shopping" said Zach. "Who has the cell phone?" I asked Megan. Well, we had it, so it was no use trying to call Ashley on it. "Let's go back in". We went back in, not knowing where we lost them, or which tiny alley way to venture into to find them. Hopeless we walked back to the train and waited. Still no Ashley. Maybe she went back to the hostel.
I got back to the hostel, up the elevator, into my room to put my bag down and grab my computer and then ashley comes in. We just missed her. She must have been on the very next train.
If this taught me anything it is that I have to always look back when traveling in a group. It is no fun loosing people. Megan ain't gotta worry about that much longer. She's off to the south tomorrow. She's accepted the mantle of the tourist and will wear it well. Ashley can't go with her because it is a long trip and she has to work.
I can't go with her because I may have gotten a job.
The Hess organization sent me an email offering me a position. I sent them an email accepting it. The first volley in the badmiton game called job search has been completed successfully.

Monday, October 5, 2009

teaching esl

It is illegal, sometimes, well, sort of, but I could be deported, or not, it's possible. Teaching kindergarten. Foreigners are not allowed to teach kindergarten. But that doesn't stop them. Nor does it stop people from hiring them.
This is a brief overview of the Taiwanese education system and how the market I'm trying to tap into breaks down.
Until a few years ago, Taiwanese children went to school 6 days a week, 48 official school hours. Now there are only 40 mandatory school hours. But, that is not the end for these students. Their parents demand more. Children then go to Bushibans. These are afterschool programs which specialize in one subject, Math, science, music, French, English or whatever the child's focus is. Parents pay to send their children to a bushiban for their focus of a particular subject. English bushibans are most prominent. Children go from school directly to Bushiban until about 9 o'clock at night. People that run these programs are usually local, usually have low level of English skill and maybe one native english speaker on staff. Bigger outfits have more english speakers on staff but it is not uncommon to meet a Swede or a Frenchmen or a German on the staff who speaks a passable english with s thick accent. The students here range from first grade up until highschool. There are also Adult centered bushibans and programs that focus on Business English.
The other and very large part of the market are the kindies. Many Bushibans have programs for older children, but in the morning they have classes for pre-k and K. Often the places that you work for will require you to work for the kindergarten as well as the older kids.
They pay is great. The hours are few. The island is full of foreigners vying for these jobs. And these jobs are sometimes not legal. Bills always come up to the legislature about this topic. Sometimes it is legal. Sometimes it is not. The Taiwanese police are very courteous and always call before an inspection. I have heard from many teachers how their schools all devise escape plans for their foreign teachers. A bell rings in a particular pattern and the foreign teacher run out onto the fire escape or the like.
No one really minds the law. They do what they want and work around it.