map, taipei

I've got the working man blues

I took the job I have now 6 months ago. I picked the company I work for because the preparation time was minimal and they don't have papers to grade, etc. That's the benefit of teaching conversational English: you read an article and discuss. For that reason I was willing to get paid less than the average salary in Taiwan. I wanted to be able to have time to study Chinese and make enough money to live off.

Fast forward six months.

My schedule is set, but it is rather weird. Monday 7-9 at Branch A; Tuesday 2:30-5:30 and 6:30-9:45 at Branch B; Wednesday 3:30-5 at Branch C and 7-9 at Branch A; Thursday a repeat of Tuesday; Friday 2:30-4 and 7-9 at Branch A. I also get paid a significant less than the average. I was ok with this but based on this I have no social life (Q:"Hey Peter, want to go out later on?" A:"No thanks, I have to work tonight") and while my salary is adequate for my needs, it does not lend itself to having much extra money. Plus I have a Taiwanese friend who speaks English as a Second Language and works at another Company, and HE makes MORE than me.

So I asked my boss almost 2 weeks ago for a raise. I indicated I had been working for 6 months and thought it would be appropriate. She said she would talk to her boss and see what the branches I teach at thought (they would ask some students to evaluate me). I said that was fine and I have been patient. Monday marks 2 weeks since I asked and on that day I would call my boss for an update. If the result was unsatisfactory (as in "No raise" or "Here is a $1 an hour raise") I would give notice and look for another job that pays more and has better hours.

Tonight towards the end of one of my classes a student asked if I was happy with what I got paid and (I don't recall exactly what he said) if I had ever asked for a raise. Obviously having students evaluate me means telling them I have asked for one and asking "Does he deserve a raise"?

I will be patient and wait til Monday to see what the deal is. I am almost certain if it is a "Yes" the dollar amount will be a pittance.
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danshui, april 2008

Parting gifts

A student in my Tuesday, Thursday Advanced English class is leaving Taipei to go to school in southern Taiwan. His name is Frank and he will be studying to be an Architect. While our interactions in class have just been simple, I find myself thinking of him as one of my best students. He is attentive, always participates and is just a genuine nice guy.

Today as class was done and I was wishing him well in college (he has never been away from home and I can tell he is nervous about it) he gave me a little gift. It is a key chain that has a miniature set of shells inside a clear box. It is hard to describe, but if you go to a temple in Taiwan people use larger ones of these to tell God's will for them. I'll post a picture and a more detailed explanation later (once I find out what they are called and can look up more info).

I was touched by his kind gesture. It was very thoughtful and shows one of the reasons I think of him as one of my best students.

"I've come to rely on the kindness of strangers"

Adjusting to living in a new country has been quite the experience for me but I have found the people of Taiwan to be quite kind and giving.

A few examples have come from the students I teach English to.

I had been teaching for a few weeks and mentioned that I had been to the National Palace Museum and had enjoyed it. I wanted to go back because they have 3 permanent exhibitions, and 3-5 rotating ones. And while I was there most of the rotating ones were under construction. The next week one of my students brought me 2 free tickets. She goes quite often, has a membership and as such gets some free tickets very once in a while.

Just this past week 2 events happened only 2 days apart. The first: Another student gave me a little lazer pointer. I am often walking to the map and pointing to places in America whether they be places that the article talks about, or in telling a story. He thought it would make it easier because the map is against a wall and students desks are in front of them. It was very nice.

The most recent event happened yesterday. Our class discussion also revolved around the National Palace Museum. Newsweek recently did a "top 3 things" to see in Taipei and the Museum was one of them. We talked about our favorite piece of art that was displayed. Mine is a famous scroll called "Along the River During Qingming Festival." [ Wikipedia * NPMI] I mentioned that there were reproduction scrolls and I had wanted to buy one but it was too expensive and they did not have postcards of it.

A student says, "I have a copy of it I have had for years. I will give it to you."

"No," I said, protesting, "That is too generous I cannot accept it. It is kind, but too expensive a gift."

I left it at that.

Later that night that student brought to my other class the scroll. Still in the box. Obvious that is has been on a shelf unused, unappreciated for a long time.

Needless to say, while it goes against my nature to accept gifts of an expensive nature, especially from people who I don't know very well. However, it was offered without any prodding on my part. I am quite grateful and appreciative but those words don't seem to express adequately how I feel.
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Don't block my Qi, but please, block the sun.

In traditional Chinese medicine and philosophy the concept of "Qi" is very important. Much like the "force" of "Star Wars" fame, Qi is an energy that allows people to function. If ones Qi is blocked, then one cannot do as well as one wants. Blocked Qi can be a cause for illness and other things. Allowing for the proper movement of Qi is paramount in the idea of Feng Shui.

Allowing for the free flow of Qi is of utmost importance. One of the things that can block Qi is cutting a single hair. Not on your head, but the hair that grow from moles and other skin markings. While in America we consider these hairs to be unsightly and trim or even have them removed, Chinese Medicine seems to dictate that the allowance of this hair to grow can allow for better flow of Qi. It is quite common to see older Taiwanese men sitting on the bus with a 7-8 inch hair sprouting from a mole on their neck or chin.

In stark contrast to that is the horror of having dark skin. Aside form aboriginal people who are naturally darker, Taiwanese women seem to be deathly afraid of becoming darker. Dr. Wu's skin treatment is sold promising whiter skin. Women walk around with umbrellas to block the sun (some even ride their bike one handed in order to allow for the holding of an umbrella). Ihave even seen women walking down the street with a book held over their head to achieve (they hope) the same purpose.

Perhaps the most strange to me is the use of "fake sleeves." Women will buy sleeves (fabric sown to act like a sleeve with elastic bands at each end) which they wear on their arms while wearing a short sleeve shirt. Often this fabric has a print on it which might be childish or floral or some other pattern, design or color that clashes with the rest of their ensemble. Fashion goes out the window in hopes of maintaining a whiter skin color.
map, taipei

"Man who catch fly with chopstick accomplish anything"

Mr. Miyagi says that to Daniel in the "Karate Kid" [see the YouTube clip]. I didn't catch a fly, but something interesting did happen the other day.

Sitting outside of school I was putting some lead in my mechanical pencil and my eraser fell off the table and under the metal umbrella stand underneath. I could see the eraser but neither me nor my friend could get it with our grubby fingers.

Another friend was sitting next to us and said, "Would a pair of Chopsticks work?"

He handed them to me, and I deftly used my mad-phat skills and yes, I captured the eraser and retrieved it in one fell swoop.

Props to me. My Chinese may suck, but damn I am good with those chopsticks.
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map, taipei

Difficulty in Translation (from the China Post)

The Ministry of Foreign Affairs is one government agency that loves to make translation extremely difficult, if not impossible, for translators.

Let's cite an example. When the International Olympic Committee (IOC) wanted to seat China to the exclusion of Taiwan, a genius in the Waichiaopu came up with a very honorable-sounding name, Chinese Taipei. Ours was named the Chinese Taipei Olympic Committee, which remains an IOC member. That name has gained popularity: Taiwan is represented as Chinese Taipei in the Asian Development Bank, the World Trade Organization, and the Asia-Pacific Economic Cooperation forum; and so will it be in the World Health Organization, if President Ma Ying-jeou has his way.

That honorable name, mutually agreed upon by Taipei and Beijing, is a small nightmare for the people responsible for translating it into Chinese. Finally, the title was translated as "Zhong-hua Taipei (中華台北)" in Taipei and "Zhong-guo Taipei (中國台北)" in Beijing. Zhong-hua and Zhong-guo both mean China or Chinese in English, the only difference being "hua" stressing "flower" against the "country" for "guo." Participants in the Olympics from Taiwan call themselves representatives of Zhong-hua Taipei, but are addressed by the Chinese as those from Zhong-guo Taipei. Confusing? Well, it's just politically correct gobbledygook.

Our diplomats in Taipei have concocted more politically correct mumbo-jumbo. All missions abroad were told in a circular that they should describe all foreign VIP visits to Taiwan as "fang Hua (訪華)" instead of "fang Tai" (訪台) in their official correspondence with Taipei. The two terms in Chinese are causing unofficial translators more than enough trouble in rendering them into English (no official English translation is available). "Fang" causes no trouble, of course. It means a visit. "Hua" which is the same as the "hua" in Zhong-hua, well, means China or Chinese in an abbreviated form. Can an unfortunate unofficial translator translate the first term as "visits to China" or "Chinese visits?" That makes no sense whatsoever. A compromise, a breach in the golden rule of faithfulness in translation, is to describe it as "visits to the Republic of China." And if he wishes not to confuse readers, the translator must add "in or on Taiwan" to "the Republic of China." "Tai" defies translation. It may be the abbreviation of Taiwan or Taipei. The politically correct foreign service personnel mean the former, while free translators may think the latter is the right term to be used. Then another problem arises. What's wrong with foreign VIP visits to Taipei? Nothing.

What the diplomats did may be part of an unannounced de-Taiwanization campaign, a sort of counterattack against the de-Sinicization of the previous Democratic Progressive Party administration. Names mean little in real life, however. Officials had better call a spade a spade.


map, taipei

Pop my balloon

The last 2 chapters for this semester have been hard. I have not understood the grammar and barely remember the vocabulary. Last week I got a low score on my dictation and 20% on my test. This week my grade on my dictation was a Question Mark. Yes, in place of a grade there is a bog, fat red "?".

I always feel like the odd man out. In my last 3 semesters there has NEVER been another students in my class who has (a) never learned a foreign language (b) has not had some exposure to Chinese [as in one of their parents or grandparents speak it] or (c) is not Japanese or Korean [who already know how to write characters].

For the last 2 semesters I have always had to go back and repeat chapters. I have accepted this as what I have to do. It just takes longer to learn Chinese for me. People say that if I didn't work I would learn faster. Well, I have to work to make money so I can learn Chinese. What about scholarships, they say. Well, I can't apply for any of the scholarships cause my grade isn't grades are not good enough.

I am going to stick with it, but to be honest I feel pretty deflated today. I see my classmates from my first semester. They are at least 15 chapters ahead of where I am. Yet here I am plodding along in the end of my third quarter at the same spot they were at halfway through their second quarter. I know I should not compare myself to them, but its hard. I just wish it would sink in. I've already been here 8 months--what is my problem?
map, taipei

Speed Racer, Taiwan Style

In a former life I drove a 9 foot wide, 31 foot long bookmobile. So when I criticize the bus drivers in Taipei, I think I do so with some authority. I have one thing to say: SLOW DOWN.

If the stops are less than half a mile or a quarter of a mile apart, why do they insist on pulling across three lanes of traffic to the left hand lane after each stop, only to have to suddenly go back across 3 lanes of traffic to the right to pick up passengers?

I realize that there are scooterists and bicyclists in those lanes, but really, do they have to go across all 3? Just go in the middle, it would save less swerving and hassle.

Also, if they go slower, they wouldn't t have to brake so quickly. I am surprised that after 8 months of riding on the buses in Taipei, the other day was the first time I fell down when it came to a near screeching halt. I am lucky that I did not hit my head on the back of the bus (where I was sitting). The kind riders of the buses usually push the signal to to indicate they want to get off. Why must they wait til the last minute to suddenly swerve from the left hand lane, back to the right hand lane? They have had ample warning.

The buses are also often crowded. I have resigned myself to the the fate of standing most of the time. This cuts down on my flash card studying time because I must hold on for dear life it seems. They are quite crowded to the point where some mornings I literally must push people out of my way in my quest to go to exit at the front of the bus. Some times when it has been quite crowded and I am slowly making my way to the front, I have found myself being pushed from behind. I later discover (the 3 or 4 times this has happened) that it is not a young person, but an old lady. One who you would assume would be sweet and polite. But again, I should realize that these sweet, old ladies will also fight to be the first on the bus in hopes of gaining a prized seat wherein they can safely ride the bus as the driver performs slalom runs in the middle of Taipei.

I just wish I could spend the bus rides I have studying my flashcards and not terrified for my life as it flashes before my eyes.
danshui, april 2008


Summer vacation is upon us. This means lots of little children unsupervised wandering around Taipei. I encountered some the other day at a Coffee Shop, around 15 of them loitering around, playing cards and just generally being little kids. It did not bother me so much, but was interesting to observe.

Last night a mother brought her kid to work to sit in the common area and work on homework while she was in English class. Prior to her class the daughter was using an abacus (yes, a real life abacus). While she performed her calculations, the mother was FEEDING her. The child could not take a break to feed herself, but in order to continue her homework was being fed during the course of it. At first I was shocked, but then I realized it was simply indicative of the pressure that parents in Asia put upon their children to succeed.

Some parents send their children to a Buxiban (an after school school) where they learn English and other subjects. It is not to tutor them, but to be extra work so they learn more. Most students who attend school for 5 hours a day then go to a Buxiban for another 3-4, returning home at 9 or 10 at night. I think it is a lot of stress, but when you look at the scores on the Math and Science (compared to America) I think that perhaps there is something to it. One of my students was an exchange student in Boise, Idaho for a year last year. He said he always got 100% on his math because it was not challenging enough. I do not know if he had already had the class in Taiwan, but when most of our American students don't get 100%, I think that is something we should ponder on.
danshui, april 2008

Teaching "English"

One of the perks of my job is sometimes having very strange and interesting conversations with my students. Especially about me and America in general. This last week a student asked where I was from (this poses a difficult answer for me because I was born and lived in California for 8 years, lived in Michigan for over 15 years and then in the last year lived in both Oregon and Pennsylvania). I told him America (versus Canada). He then said, "Not England? You sound like you are British."

I think I stared at him for a little bit and blinked a few times. Maybe I laughed, I don't remember exactly how I responded, but I do know it included reassuring him that I indeed was American.

One of my other students then asked, "Are you Mormon?"

This further perplexed me and I asked what made her think that (I don't look different or anything).

"You talk like you are a Mormon."

So evidently Mormons talk a certain way.

She continued, "The first day of class when you started to talk you reminded me of those nice Mormon boys on their bikes. I have talked to a couple of them and they talk just like you." So whatever that means, I talk like I am a Mormon. :)