Friday, February 12, 2010


Nothing like an early morning kill to get your day going. Like a strong cup of coffee. 8:30AM walking into work. "Teacher Helen! Teacher Peggy has show you!" "OK" I hand over the giant box of cookies I grabbed from the Family Mart as a New Years offering for the staff. I go upstairs to the kindy area. There are kids sleepily playing. They take me into the kitchen area.

This is the domain of Auntie (all older women are called Auntie here). Auntie is a large woman. She usually speaks Taiwanese so I can't understand anything she says. In between meals of overcooked greens, overcooked rice and boiled fishballs that she prepares for the children, she runs a noodle stand in Yinko with her husband. I would never cross this woman. She has short pythons for arms, hair like Medusa and a bosom that could swallow several children in my class if they ever dared to get close enough. I went into the kitchen and Auntie was cowering in the corner along with several of the other teachers. A brave teacher took me to the back of the kitchen. She showed me a glue trap on which lay a twitching rat. "Are you scared?" they asked. In Chinese I told them "wo mayo pa" I have no fear. (of course I was lying but I knew the torture these women were capable of. last time they caught one it was night time and I was teaching an evening class. I could hear screams and then a teacher ran into my class and told me to stay inside. Later I asked what was going on and they told me they caught a rat and the were pouring boiling water on it. Considering the screams from the teachers lasted for a good 10 minutes I can only assume they hot waterboarded Mickey for that long.) I told them, "I got it. I need some newspaper." "We get hot water!" said Teacher Dolly. "No!" I said. "Hot water is eee eeee eee. aaahhh aaha aaah. Longtime. not good. I take. 'thwap'. easy OK?" OK. (The kindy teachers speak about as much English as I speak Chinese. I wrapped the glue trap in newspaper and a little cardboard. I put it in a bag. I took it outside and give it a good stomp.
I went back inside a hero.

Today is Chinese New Years Eve. It is the turning of the year 4707, or 4706 or 4646 or whatever. The Chinese lunar calendar year is different depending on who you ask. It doesn't matter any way since here in Taiwan everyone knows the year is 99. They started counting from the founding of the Republic in 1911.
My students sometimes date their work 99. I tell them "English is the future, it is 2010". I don't really say that. I don't wish I did either but it is still funny.

So, what do you do for Chinese New Year?
I had to teach a song to my kids and it goes like this:
"I am so happy so happy so happy
I get to eat some dumplings
I am so lucky so lucky so lucky
I get to eat some candy
We need to clean the house
I get to help decorate
And we need to make a big dinner
For Chinese New Year!"
1-dumplings: people eat dumplings 24-7 here. No big deal.
2-Lucky Candy. It is wrapped in gold. It is made to look like the gold ingots used in ancient china, like our gold candy doubloons only these look like dumplings or boats. I ate some lucky candy. It tasted like pulverized driftwood and molasses.
3-Clean the house. This is the time to clean the house. Sweep out all the bad luck, clean out all the ghosts. This is the best time for street scavengers because all the old furniture and doodads come out onto the street. I've heard the trash truck music constantly for the past three days. All businesses do a major cleaning now. My school is cleaning. It needs it.
4-Decorations. This is serious. Everything that isn't nailed down has red banner with writing hung on it. Lanterns are strung up on all the streets. Because I live in Sanshia and the Tzushi temple is here things are especially festive. This is one of the most important temples in the Chinese world. A giant arch has been erected near the street entrance to the temple. it is two stories high and made of red and gold cray paper. Sometime this week they will take the 4 fattest pigs from the mountains and slaughter them in front of the temple. They they will blow them up. Or something. I don't know exactly what will happen but I'm gonna be there to watch it. It is the last animal sacrifice ritual in Taiwan. Officially.
5-Make a big dinner. People get the week off here. Banks, government buildings, schools, even my sweatshop of an English bushiban are closed. Everyone goes back to their towns of origin to hang out with their families. If they are from the south they go south, same goes for north, east and west. When they get there they begin to eat. They eat all week. First they eat lunch, then they eat dinner. I've been invited to a couple people's houses. I hope it works out. I really want to share a Chinese New Years dinner with someone.

So since everyone is off to their family's home, many restaurants, etc...are closed. What will us foreigners do?! This is the only time I have off! I'm sure I'll find something. Tonight I accepted an invitation from the NSTs I work with, Farah and Mike, to meet them at the Eslite bookstore. Apparently there is a microbrewery there that makes the best local brew in Taiwan. I hope it is open but even if it is not, I'm determined to have a good time tonight. FREEDOM!

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