May 31, 2012 § 1 Comment
I am approaching the third month mark of being here in Taiwan, and I’ve gathered a few thoughts. My last post had me in a hotel in Taichung, I had just gotten a job, and I was about to move to Shetou. Well, I ended up moving into an apartment in Yuanlin, Changhua County. My workplace is in Shetou, but it’s only a seven minute train ride from my town.
Shortly after the move in, I decided to cut my hair, and the decision to actually do it didn’t come until after work one night as I was walking home. I dipped into a hair salon occupied by a large woman watching TV with her ankle-biter dog. She sat me down and made me choose a hairstyle from a magazine of Taiwanese haircuts. At the time my hair could be pulled back into a ponytail. So I found one that was close to what I was imagining, but it looked awful when she was finished, so I motioned for her to take a little more off. When she finished with that, it looked even worse, so I had her buzz a little more off. By this time, it was around 10:30pm, so I decided that I would pay the woman, and then go home to work with what she had given me. When I got home, it looked like a mix between Ninja Assassin and Ellen Degeneres, and I ended up pulling a frantic Edward Scissorhands.
Actually, this picture was taken after I went to another hair salon the next morning and had them buzz the rest of it off. That salon was expensive, and they gave me a head, neck, and shoulder massage for thirty minutes even though I just wanted a buzzed head.
The first couple of days at work, some of the more talkative boys asked me constantly if I was a boy or girl. I didn’t get any more of that after the head buzz. But my main reason for the change was to mark a new season and to symbolically let go of an accumulated past.
Yuanlin has more foreigners than a lot of towns around here. When I say foreigners, I mean any person that isn’t from here. You can spot them from a mile away. But when you’re looking for a foreigner, you can’t always rely on the color of their skin or the way that they dress. There have been many times that I said “how’s it going?” to a Taiwanese person who appeared to be a foreigner. You are looking for the size of their nose and the shape of their eyes.
Before arriving here, I thought that I’d be looked down upon by the locals, but I quickly found out that foreigners are held in high regards here, especially Americans. They like our lifestyles, they assume we have lots of money, and I think we are kind of like bizarre aliens that appear to be human. I have often gone to a coffee shop or a restaurant or a fruit stand for the first time and have received extra food or the same amount for less money. I have also gone into a bar that required an entrance fee but didn’t have to pay. Foreigners are good for business. From what I’ve gathered, if people see a foreigner eating, drinking, or buying a specific product, they are typically more interested in that product.
My friend Zach said it like this: When you go to a Chinese restaurant or a Mexican restaurant or any other foreign restaurant in the States, you are looking for the authentic experience. A sign of the authenticity is whether or not foreigners belonging to that particular culture are eating at the restaurant.
At work, I am one out of sixteen “teachers.” I am the only foreigner, so that makes me the English language expert. Shetou is like some tiny town you would find in the middle of Kansas except dirtier and smellier. I have been walking 15 minutes to the train station from my place, taking the train for 7-10 minutes to Shetou, and then walking 15 minutes to work everyday. On the way home, I have to repeat the cycle in reverse, except oftentimes, I get off just after a train has left, and I end up sitting outside the station for 30-45 minutes trying to ward off mosquitoes.
I have gone through the gauntlet with this job. They had me observing classes first, which was overwhelming. Then, they had me watching videos and taking notes for training, which was overwhelming. Then, they had me teaching for part of each class, which was overwhelming. Then, they had me go down to Taichung for training with the school headquarters, which was overwhelming. Finally, they placed me into a full schedule that has me working Monday through Saturday, three hours a day are unpaid lesson planning and preparation, and three to five hours are paid teaching hours.
The Taiwanese teachers are quite rude to me, and I am very aware of their micro-aggressions toward me. Other foreigners have said that it has to do with my pay; I do get paid more than they do even though they are responsible for more tasks. I have had teachers yell at me in anger while in class, in front of the students. I have taught five classes in one day and then sat and listened to each teacher tell me what I did wrong in passive aggressive ways. I have decided that I really hate passive aggression. It goes like this: “Do you think the kids understood what you taught?” “Um, yea, they seemed to answer my questions pretty well at the end.” “Really? (intelligence insulting stare) I think you need to get better. This, this right here, why would you do that?”
So I am trying to leave this job. It won’t be easy, but I have gone to an interview, have done a teaching demo, and have sent my information to a much better school in Jhunan, where my favorite girl lives, where the ocean is, and where there is a nicer apartment for the same amount of money.
Tune in next time.