Wednesday, January 20, 2010

Year of the Foreigner.

Megan who? I've been in Taiwan 4 months. For the past three months, I've been living in SanSia, eating in Sansia and sleeping in Sansia. I've been soaked in this new life so thoroughly and so consumed by the tasks at hand that I've had no time for reflection or fear. Then last night before falling asleep I was in a memory walking down a sticky, soot covered lane with Megan. We were hungry , lost probably, scared and uncertain and anxious. In my memory my head was spinning with plans and hopes and trepidation. It seems like so long ago.
I tried to think of a way to calm down. My kindergarten students like to pet my arm hair. It soothes them. I tried petting my arms but I really don't have that much hair on them. They also like to pull at the hairs and I knew this wouldn't be calming to me so I put my thoughts to my schedule.Thursday, kindy, -must make up a color by numbers project for them-then go teach at the Sansia branch-then go back to Bei Da for a parent teacher event.
The trash is piling up in the apartement. The trash truck only comes at 5:30pm and I won't be home for it until next week. Maybe I can sneak some into the dumpsters of the college campus tonight.
When Julia was here she wanted to try to take the trash out. We made sure to be home. At 5 pm we were in the apartment drinking tea. The air was thick with anticipation (or old banana peel). at 5:30 the music from the truck came into my windows. I said "Go! go! go!"and she went down 6 floors, out the door and around the corner chasing the slow moving truck so she could toss the bags into its great metal belly. I was so proud of her. The first time I tried to do it, my trash was taken from me by a bunch of my neighbors in an alley. I felt cheated. When Megan tried it, she missed the truck at first but an old woman materialized and snatched the bottles from her.
Friday I will teach all day, 8AM til 9PM. Saturday I have work from 7:30am until 12. Then I have to find my way to Taoyuan to celibrate the birthday of someone I hardly know but whose expatriot status binds us.
Sunday is usually my day off but I have to attend the annual company end of year dinner. The dinner is being held for all of the employees in the Taipei area. Thousands of people. It is in Taipei and my branch is renting a bus. I am not allowed to decline the bus ride. I am not allowed to decline the invitation. We leave Sanshia at 1:30. We will arrive at the convention center around 2:30. Check in starts at three. Then there are a series of spirit building events. Branch cheer competition, motivational speeches. Karaoke which you have to sign up for in advance. More speeches about morale and team building. A group song. Apparently we will all be singing "Learning to Fly". No one thought to give me the lyrics or tell me our branch cheer, so I will just pretend. Then dinner is served at 7pm. The banquet ends at 9pm. So by this schedule it seems I have been robbed of my day off. I asked the people at my branch "Do i have to go back on the bus with you?" I really upset people by asking them that.
Teacher Fantasy said "and we have to wear a dress".
Oh, "ok," I said, "I'll dress up". Now I need to find a nice red and gold tie.

Last Sunday Ashley came into Sansia. We went on an amazing hike through the nearby mountains. We saw dozens of waterfalls,amazing and big. We saw orange orchards tucked away in the hills. We climbed slippery paths with the aid of ropes fastened to trees. We walked along rope bridges that I'm sure Indiana Jones would approve of. We skirted along narrow paths that hugged the mountain. One wrong step and you are looking at a very steep and uncomfortable fall through the redwood and bamboo forest. The trek was especially dangerous when other hikers wanted to pass. and then their friend wanted to pass. then the man with the baby on his head. then the octogenarian grandmother. Jeeze! Grandma was skipping along the trail like nobody's business. Taiwanese are really fit.And they travel in packs. At the most spectacular of the waterfalls we met a man who was there with his family. He lives in Yinko, a town near by but has a villa in the mountains here. He told us to recruit 6 friends so we would be 8 people and come for a Saturday night as his honored guests. He would give us SanBeiJi (three cup chicken) and drug free vegetables (organic?).
He wanted to kidnap us then and there and take us to "lunch". Ashley was willing but I put my foot down because I still had lesson planning and was a bit tuckered out and I know that in Taiwan a Sunday "lunch" lasts well into dinner. Instead we returned to Sansia and in the street market we found a woman selling second hand clothes for 2US$ (80NT) a pop. Ashley and I went nuts buying.
Then we found a stall full of new clothes that were very nice but obviously seconds. I bought a black jacket for the banquet. it will go nicely with my gold oxfords.

So yes, time moves very quickly here. I awaken on Monday and I go to bed on Friday not knowing what happened to Tuesday, Wednesday or Thursday. In reality it hasn't been so very long and with that in mind I'm adjusting quite well. There are occassional moments where I feel displaced. When I was with my kindy kids at the zoo last week, people we passed were taking pictures of me, pointing at me. I saw one kid tug his mothers sleeve and say "big nose foreigner". True, we were near the elephants and elephants are not native to Taiwan but i don't think elephants are called foreigner.
I might have miss interepreted but....One time I was at City Hall waiting for my dad to finish talking to his Judge and I sat in the chairs that face the judge's bench. There were other people there waiting for their case to be heard before lunch recess. There was a boy near me and he turned to his mother and said "big nosed honkey".

Today I was leaving work for lunch. The secretary asked how I was. I thought I'd be clever and use one of my new phrases "wo mi lu le" (I am lost). She looked surprised and i felt that my chinese was impressive. She said "You are reindeer?" putting her fingers on her head like antlers.

Wednesday, January 6, 2010

the twelve days of christmas

Are Christmas trees still up in shops and restaurants in the US?
They are here. People here have a penchant for Christmas lights and tinsel. I wonder how long they will stay up. The bus drivers have taken off the Santa suits and I'm glad. It was a little unnerving being shouted at by an angry Mandarin Santa Clause. (I don't know when to swipe my card because each bus is different. I get shouted at a lot.)

Today is January 7. My mother always drilled into us how the 12 days of Christmas don't begin until the 25th of December. Yesterday was the Epiphany. In the states there aren't many remnants of Christmas at this time except half priced Christmas candies in the drugstore. Here the music that gets piped into stores has returned to the general "elevator" genre, but the garland and lights are all still there. It kind of reminds me of home. Not America home, because in most of America trees and decorations come promptly down by New Years, but my mom's house home because we often didn't dispose of the tree until Easter. This morning a girl in my kindy class gave me a candy cane.
The candy canes here piss me off. Red and White. ok cool. Tell me why it tastes like strawberry!
Red white and green. ooh delicious peppermint in my mouth. NO. fruity sweet.
Pink with red stripes. Cinnamon. well, if i have to eat the Cinnamon....Cherry! Why is it cherry.
I was in an elevator and I swore I smelled a yankee candy cane. It was just me and an old man in the car. I inched closer to him and inhaled deeply. He got off at the next floor with a frightened look on his face.

My sister has returned to the US. Everywhere we went, cabs, restaurants, bars, on the top of a mountain cliff at the northern tip of Taiwan, in the seedy bushiban basement of my school, on the subways and busses, walking down the street: All Julia heard was "beautiful" "You are beautiful" Ni shi fey chang piaoliang. "You are very beautiful".
Its like one of those 1930s movies when some western starlit ends up on a tropical island inhabited by italians in grass skirts smothered in grease paint. They are so taken with her beauty that they carry her around for a month and then feed her to a volcano.
She was flattered at first. Then she started to get annoyed. Then she thought it was a cosmic joke. Of course, it is true. She is very beautiful, but the reactions of the Taiwanese to her exotic beauty bordered on ridiculous. It was also funny that not once but twice when people asked where she was from and I told them "Ta shi Meiguo ren" (USA is called Meiguo-Beautiful country) they then pointed at me and "Ni shi Eetali ren" (you are italian person). Twice!
On Sunday, Julia and I went to Keelun to a geopark along the coast of northern Taiwan. There is an area of sandstone that has been erroded by wind and water and the Dali-esque landscape is a popular tourist destination. It is like Monument Valley in miniature and some of the stones (if looked at from the proper angle) resemble things in life. There is "Mushroom rock" "queen's head" "Faerie's shoe" "Tofu"...
And next to the park is a small hike on a well maintained path that winds up a cliff to overlook the Pacific. As we walked and wound our way up the path we stopped to take pictures at and overlook. I family was up there and the were staring and smiling at Julia. Later when we were leaving the park we met the same family.
They spoke no english but he asked if he could take his wife's picture next to Julia. Then out of politeness they took another picture with me in it.
Then he began talking to us so I translated for Julia.
He says you are very beautiful.
He says he is an open parkinglot. No, he wants to know how we got here?
He wants to know where we are going.
I told him "We are going to Taipei"
More translation for Julia:
He says he is a bus driver no he says we shouldn't take the bus. no, he says he has a car and he will drive us.
I said to Julia (Let's take the bus we came on. ) she agreed that would be best. I had to work in the morning and didn't want to get kidnapped. again.