Tuesday, February 2, 2010


February already.
Got an email from Megan about Maymont and illicit sledding and I miss home. I don't even really know where that is but it ain't here. Don't get me wrong. This place is great. I'm gonna stick it out till my contract is over.
Some kids are on the roof of the building just under my window shooting off bottle rockets. I can smell them. I want to get some of my own and go down to the river. I've never shot a bottle rocket. It is February 2nd. In the states it is my second favorite holiday. Groundhog's day. But that's just my Pennsylvanian chauvinism I guess. They eat groundhogs in China. That's how birdflu spread. glad I'm not in China.
Dog is illegal here. Eating it I mean. However it was only outlawed in the last 15 years or so. It was Chang Kai Shek's favorite food as well as his son and successor's favorite. They say if you are walking along a rural road and on the breeze you catch a scent that is for your nose like a siren's call, if you smell something that makes your stomach ache with desire and makes your mouth wet with expectation, then you are near an illegal dog stand. The way they cook it supposedly smells amazing.

Teaching is getting easier. I've got the hang of the material. I've got the method down along with the necessary cynicism. It helps that I genuinely like other humans. The kids like me even though sometimes I scare them. A lot of my kids are between the ages of 8 and 12. Last Saturday Judy brought a stuffed animal to class, a little golden retriever. She propped it on her desk. I was drilling the students and asking them questions. At one point Judy refused to answer the question. I asked it again. "Was Dad in the department store at 6:00?" Still she was silent. I grabbed the puppy and hoovered it it over my foot. "Answer the question or I'm gonna KICK THE PUPPY!" The class went into hysterics, both those of fear and excited happiness.
I know everyone by their English names. Howard, Winnie, Kyle, Joe, Ryan, Willy, Sandy, Vicky, Apple, Toyota, Bingo. Some kids like to change their names every other week. I knew a Howard that became a Ryan and last I heard he was Cherry or something. I know the Chinese name of only one of my students. A girl named Nicole in my kindy class. Gao Feng Long.

Teaching is alright but then at the end of each level (a level lasts maybe 3 months, sometimes 6 depending on the curriculum) there is a "Performance Day". These are, like everything else in Taiwan, taken sort of very seriously. Swine flu? No problem. Put handwash at the entrance to every building. Take people's temperatures constantly. Wear face masks. Take soap out of bathrooms when kids play with it. Don't wash hands when preparing meals. Cough and spit where ever you damn well please. Ignore personal space. China? forgeddaboudit. Bitch and moan. Buy a lot of guns and bombs from the US that you cant use. Continue to be seen as independent by Burkina Faso, Dominican Republic, St. Kitts, Nicauragua, Swaziland and Vatican City. Publish Chinese artists forbidden in China. then go to China's tourist convention and advertise as "the Taiwan Region". and then everything the new government is doing to open the floodgates. Laws? Easy. Laws are vigilantly enforced here, when they feel like it. So these "Performance Days"are very Taiwanese. So much hard work goes into them. It is a day towards the end of a level when the parents come. The children show off their new English skills and then the parents are convinced the lessons are working so they shell out more money for the next level.
People work like crazy for these. We teachers, the foreigners and the Chinese teachers alike practice with the kids singing songs, writing speeches "My name is Peter. I am a boy. I like dogs. I do not like girls. bra bra bra...
One time I was on performance day when I first started. The Chinese teacher had taken control and she planned everything. First a group of boys would sing a song. Then some students would do a conversation and then one boy would dance. It was so weird. The boy, he must have been 13, began writhing around like Britney Spears to some Korean pop music. All the parents sat stone faced. The Taiwanese are always stone faced unless confronted with a silly foreigner. We're like can openers to their Campbell Soup personae. We really make 'em laugh.
This week I had four performance days. Different levels. One was an SA16 Level. that is the highest before the honors levels. So they were "graduating" from Hess. Cap n Gowns and everything. Of course it was conducted in the same basement where we hold all the events, class rooms, giant cockroaches (twice I've had to stop kids from playing with the giant cockroaches).
I didn't do much to prepare for this performance. I took over these girls at the beginning of level 16 but from level 11 to 15 they had a teacher from another school, a New Zealander. He really liked these girls and choreographed and entire show complete with a soundtrack from "highschool musical 2" and original dances. Kiwis are really sweet but really strange. Much like the fruit. Anyway as their current teacher, it was my honor to give them their "diplomas".
At the end they each were given a chance to speak. Three of them did. They thanked me. With tears in their eyes. I didn't even think they liked me.
Well they have all signed up for the Honor's level. I'll see them in May when the Honors level starts up.
At the performance day Teacher Fantasy asked me: "so Teacher Helen, will you help us plan the Christmas performance?"
"Christmas?" says I, "That's in December. My contract is over in August."
"Whaaaah? You don't stay????"
"Uhhh. It's January. I don't even know how to teach yet."
"You don't happy? You like it here? What is problem?"
"Errr. I don't know. Maybe. I don't know. It is January."
Ten minutes later.
"Teacher Helen. You know. I tell you no Honors class until May. Actually it starts next week."
Ok. So I will see these girls next week.

Chinese New Year begins on February 13. I have a whole week off at which time I have to adapt Shakespeare's "A Midsummer's Night Dream" for my new batch of SA 16s for their performance. I've always wanted to direct. I would've preferred "As You Like It" but beggars can't be choosers.

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