Saturday, January 26, 2008

you be feel good, just we can . . .

I teach kindergarten now. These little people are high energy and darn cute. I teach gym class. We do push-ups together and then we see how many push-ups Mr. Joseph can do with all the kids piled up on his back. What--I love wrestling. You can see in the third picture how Steve benefits from the way I run my class. He teaches kitchen. They still think it's wrestling practice. "But Mr. Joseph lets us...." Steve loves me for it. The fourth picture is our first rain since I arrived one month ago. And you know I have to celebrate long awaited rain by forgoing the umbrella. I'm from Washington. Next: we found a donut venue in a shopping center. No-yeast, no-sugar was not my best friend right then. Last: I donned my florescent rain jacket to venture through the rooftop escape hatch. It was raining and I had the perfect suit for bright-florescent- color-loving Taiwan. Oh, and the first picture: "you be feel good, just we can..." is the reason we're here in Taiwan teaching English. Does anyone think whoever wrote that phrase and approved the construction of a food stand with those words on it really knows English well enough to be using it? Chinglish, they call it. It's everywhere.

Tuesday, January 22, 2008

Somewhere in Hong Kong

I spent the last four days in Hong Kong. Below are two journal entries from the trip. The first is long and a big sarcastic. The second is shorter, but happier. If you only like reading for that warm tingly sensation you get during the consumption of a Crispy Cream donut, skip to the second. If you think complaining is fun and a necessary medium for good literature, read the first.

Friday, January 18.
Wednesday afternoon Laura and I were informed we'd be going to Hong Kong the next day. Coincidentally, that bit of timely information was followed up only moments later with this bit of timely information: we're changing all our classes starting next week. All teaching schemes and lesson plans have to reboot, not the nicest slice of crust to bite into right after exhausting all energies for the past two weeks establishing a teaching routine meant to last six months. But that wasn't the worst of it. Laura and I were to leave for Hong Kong and not get back until our new classes had started Monday A.M.. No time to plan. Great. Or not so. And especially not so great when once we were in Hong Kong and sitting behind a glass booth in the immigration tower trying to get our visas for which we came, the officers told us we could not get our visas until Monday evening . . . after our scheduled return flight to Taipei. Double great. And after we were both supposed to have taught six to seven hours of brand-new kindergarten. Double great, one fantastic. Also, I got sick--another timely thing. So we spent the next several hours in Hong Kong trying to call Frances, our boss in Taiwan, and finally got one minute of conversation time out of $17 H.K. in a subway pay phone booth to tell the secretary to tell Frances to change our return flight and teach 5 billion little Chinese kids English on her own until Tuesday. Suddenly, the pay phone catches on fire and I have to stop, drop, and roll right there in the middle of 30 million Chinese on-lookers. These people are Chinese, they never leave home without a camera. 30 million flashes blind me and I can't see for the next half hour. So the phone didn't really catch on fire, ok. But it should have with all the coins we were feeding it every five seconds. Anyway, we only hoped Frances had got the message and moved on the sight-seeing. But it quickly became too dark to see much except the water front, so we strode down to what turned out to be "Lover's Lane for Asian Flames." Why does every culture feel in necessary to do some major PDA-ing on boardwalks and water fronts? About the time Laura and I had seen enough, the "Most Fantastic Light Show Ever!" started, and buildings on both sides of the canal began flashing lights to the rhythm of some really tacky synthesized . . . noise. It was, in my humble opinion, pretty much the "Most Fantastic . . . " waste of money ever. Except, of course, for the O. J. Simpson trials. And MJ's nose job. So Laura and I traveled home to our humble little hostel where we will be the next three nights waiting for a visa so we can return to our other home in Taiwan.

ps. I found some Triscuits today in a local food mart. No sugar or yeast. Did I mention I'm on a no-sugar, no-yeast diet and nothing, it appears, nothing is accessible to the hungry public that doesn't have at least one of these ingredients? Double great, two fantastics.

Sunday, 20 January.
I love Hong Kong. It is soooooooo great. I saw many really neat things. Chinese people rock. You rock. Pat yourself on the back for rocking. Here, have a fuzzy. Hong Kong is the best ever!! I like Chinese food. Noodles and rice. mmmmmmmmm!! Yeah! Exclamation!! Exclamation!! Exclamation!!

Sunday, January 13, 2008

I like kids, ok?

Photo 1: Fish, anyone? It's free, and drying on the sidewalk.
Photo 2: I just fought ten Chinese Ninjas bare-nuckle and I'm soaking my hands. Or, I'm getting a manicure . . . you decide.
Photo 3: Go-carts in a Feng Yuan night market. Awesome fun.
Video: The long awaited proof that I like kids and kids like me.

Friday, January 11, 2008

for the children?

You did this for the kids, Rachel? For the kids? You've got to be kidding me. What madness overcomes an individual to exhaust his or her energies in the most underpaid, under appreciated, and under successful profession known to human societies? Considering my current endeavor, I can not say the idea of teaching is at all repulsive in its philosophical embryonic state. Nay, it is in fact attractive--which thing is clear by the fact that thirteen young-adult philanthropists beat the halls of the Berhan Language Institute in Taiwan, contracted to teach every day for 6-12 months, but contracted at heart for negative that amount. Why the change of heart? Understanding--bitter cruel understanding. The reading and research turned realized reality. Actual classroom experience is nothing like the simulation room. There we learned and practiced what to teach. Here in the classroom we learn not to teach . . . at least not without a beat stick. Sometimes I find myself wondering why we didn't spend most of training going over torture techniques instead of teaching techniques. They could have just handed us a manual full of things to teach at the end of torture training and we would have been better prepared. But instead, we are driven to madness in the first two weeks of reality, confused and suddenly uncoordinated by the necessary change of focus. And madness is unpredictable. But when it is, I predict more madness. The sane and rational moments I have, I spend wondering why it is that hundreds of thousands, maybe millions of teachers already versed in the bitter cruel reality of teaching children do not stop. Why are they still teaching!? Coming back year after year to break down the natural caveman and instill in him principles of civil participation, when they will never see the fruits of their labors, except when a former student appears on television either as a wanted assassin or a ground-breaking scientist. The saints that choose such a life are awarded my awe, and my money if ever I am elected president (your money too, with my "no teacher left behind" tax). Young minds must be taught. This much is certain. But here's the weird part: they are taught. Enough teachers actually enjoy being teachers. Crazy.

Wednesday, January 9, 2008

from the roof top

This one was taken from the roof top of our school, showing the adjacent building, which looks genuinely foreign to my own back yard. This is January, mind you. The boredom of modern practicality and architecture is enjoyed only by streaks of mildew, yet is made culturally bearable by a touch of history and nature on top. Notice the traditional Chinese roof, covering laundered clothing. Then notice the tropical shrubbery draping the sides in an effort to advert your attention from the mildew. The city has these characteristics everywhere: practical modern boredom never seeming to consume the bits of history, tradition, and nature speckled throughout as if engaged in gorilla warfare for the soul of Asian culture. The art of a place never dies where the people can still be called a people.

The pictures below were taken with Steve's camera, as I have yet to purchase one of my own. The whole group has gone digital and I have the old school. Old school is real hip, except when you are not at the museum displaying your exhibit. I'm in the market for the new school, just haven't had the time to do my homework for the purchase yet. One of Steve's pictures shows one of the hallways in our school. It's important that you spot me in the picture, mostly because it proves you know me. Also of interest is the classroom off to the near right. You can now imagine me teaching in it. The tie-dye picture shows Tammy's reaction to her sudden discovery that Costco in Taichung has already closed for the evening, and it shows my reaction at failing to name that tune in our Branch night's Classical music gun-down. It was a Mendelssohn and I called him Beethoven. My team still hasn't forgiven me. I had one job and I couldn't do it. Steve won the arm wrestling contest against all the girls like he was supposed to, but I just couldn't name every classical tune like I was supposed to. Shame on me. Sorry dad--you taught me everything I needed to know except that, I guess. The last picture is outside the grocery store with all our bicycles. I love having a bike to ride all over town.

compliments of Steve's camera

Tuesday, January 8, 2008

classroom managment

This is me smiling. Smiling at the joy that is my classroom full of Taiwanese. You can't see the Taiwanese children, just like you can't see me smiling. In fact, it's not a smile, but I tell them "this is how we smile in English," and they believe me. They have to believe me, I'm American right? Turns out they don't have to, nor do they. They don't believe me when I say they have to sit down, be quiet, stop rubbing my face or stop pulling my arm-hair. They don't believe that I'm actually their teacher and not the other way around, mostly because I don't beat them with that stick by the teacher's desk--the one real teachers (Taiwanese teachers) use to scare them into submission. That's the secret to Asian success: they beat the knowledge into the young until they're smarter and harder-working than their western neighbors. Taiwanese children go from dawn to dusk shuffling between regular school and various cram-schools (our Berhan Language Institute is one of those cram-schools). They might make it back home by 9 or 10 at night to cram in their homework before hitting the covers. Kids here prepare for high school like we prepare for college. They apply to different high schools and move away from home to board at the best one they can get into. There's no time to be nurtured through love and patience. A whack on the back is much faster. So you get some easy-going, fun-loving, free-will promoting American sucker to come over and try to teach them through long-suffering love, and no one takes him seriously. Who's choice is it anyway to come to school and learn English? The kids think it's mine. I tell them it's theirs. The result is neither the students nor the American teachers have it quite figured out for the first few days of class. Hopefully, we come to an accord soon or the only smile my face will know is that one above.

(For those of you now worried that it's really hard for poor joey, stop being worried. There are tons of good kids and fun classroom moments--remember how I love my 5th graders?--it's just that feigned tragedy always makes for better writing material).

Saturday, January 5, 2008

the right man-purse

Everything here is a little more femmy than I'm used to. Bright flashing neon signs, a fringe around every shop and dashboard, every color--a pastel mixed with white. Pink is no longer reserved just for girls and neither are purses. So Steve and I have decided to become Taiwanese and we need the perfect man-purse to prove it. We haven't had to look far in order to get an eye-full of options, but we're waiting for that special purse that just calls out to us--that screams, "Hey Steve! Joe! I'm it! I'm the new you in a bag. You won't have to wait for people to discover your personalities anymore. You can wear it right on your arm!"

This picture shows one shopping trip for "the purse," but not the last. There are a lot of purses to try on.

Friday, January 4, 2008

cold enough for a hat

I brought several hats with me to Taiwan including this knitted one. And I like to think there's a purpose to everything I bring with me on trips (otherwise I feel too feminine), so the moment it was cool enough to wear a winter hat without sweating, I put it on.

teaching begins

Turns out I hate first graders.

Fifth grade rocks. First grade is pure madness. Teaching fifth grade is like obtaining that sought for goblet of fresh, cool spring water after being torched by the sun. Teaching first grade is being torched by that sun. Fifth graders are little human beings. First graders have not yet begun to develop whatever it is that sets humans apart from every other inferior life form on this planet. Fifth graders know what school is and why it is. First graders have no clue . . . and you can tell by how many times a second they ask "What?" and "Why?" And before you can answer, it's, "Hey look, a piece of floating lint!" Fifth graders know that picking your nose and wiping it on your neighbor is unnecessary. To first graders, it is necessary. Fifth graders will like you if you like them. First graders think you like them. But you don't. You want to wring their necks. But they don't have time to notice. They are busy making more lint floaters out of their neighbor's sweater.

Thursday, January 3, 2008

Midnight games

Most visitors to our fourth story pad a'top the Berhan Language Institute spend time mingling with the thirteen English teachers living here, take a peak into the spacious bedrooms, comfortable lounge, and communal kitchen area. Then they look at the quote board. Thirteen highly charged single adults living together in a country foreign to their own are bound to say some pretty awkward things and then cover for each other by unanimously declaring the awkward things humorous. Such is the cause for creating a quote board to honor and immortalize for a time the otherwise unhonorable and very mortal string of unfortunate words. Covering up the true embarrassment of a thing created always requires efforts so extreme that even were the thing something forgettable, it is no longer such. Proving its innocence has unwittingly preserved its idiocy. One quote on our board reads, "I just stood there like an idiot, slapping myself." The words are mine . . . or so the board says. Would that they were not mine, or at least that the board did not say they were mine. Had the words never been written up at all, several months in the future while we thirteen sat recalling long since abated humor, someone would have tried to remember who said that one thing that one time in that one place, and I would have kept silent, a thoroughly puzzled look clouding my features. But the thing was recorded. And oh, the power of writing a thing. I'm afraid the phrase and its owner will remain attached and remembered, though always pardoned for the sake of "good times."

But now for the context. It was New Years eve and we were in Taiwan. You might think Chinese New Year is a big deal in Taiwan. It is. Only its not on New Years. It's on Chinese New Year, which is February or March. The Chinese are still connected enough to western culture to spare a few sparklers and bottle rockets when December 31st expires, but the real show comes months later. So, westerners, contained in an unfamiliar level of New Year celebration, are caught forming a bubble in the which their own culture can be constructed and thus, provide the required sensation that the New Year actually happened. These cultural bubbles seem to breed awkward phrases, the likes of which appear on quote boards never to be brought down and destroyed, lest someone be hanged for erasing justification. We were playing a kind of charades game, only a slight variation on another game we had just finished playing and wrung dry of all necessary potency, and I was acting the part of an employee coming to work several hours late and being reamed out by my boss. While my employer sat demanding explanations, I was attempting to draw conclusion about my tardiness from the silent mimes furiously acting out my reasons behind the employers back. I spoke in first person, but looked at the mimes in third. After several failed attempts to get the excited nods I needed from the mimes, one of them started slapping himself as another mime threw her hands in his face. I didn't know the one was playing the part of a fire and the other was hitting himself to extinguish it. So when my boss asked me for the umpteenth time what the heck I did when I got out of bed that morning, I finally said, "I don't know, I just stood there like an idiot, slapping myself." It went on the board.