July 5, 2012 § 2 Comments
I pushed the restart button (to the extent that that’s possible in real life). New job, new apartment, new town, new mindset. I’ve now made my way to Jhunan Township in Miaoli County. The ocean does a fine job of hiding itself from my part of town, but it’s there, and the more often I visit it, the more aware I am of its presence.
The retraction from my previous position was a gum-on-shoe experience. This bushiban (cram school) made it difficult to break clean, and God knows I didn’t have the callouses to ride out the duration of my contract there. Although my contract said that NT $25,000 could be seized from my outstanding paycheck if I terminated my employment prematurely, I told the folks at the old school that I was returning to the States, and they took about half of that from me, which was fortunate.
Most cram schools are franchises that follow a prototypical mold from headquarters, but each branch has its own personality, so you very well may end up at a bad branch in a good company or vice versa.
It’s my fourth month here, and I’ve finally learned what to look for in a position. There aren’t very many options for a foreigner in Taiwan as far as employment goes. I’ve met people who shouldn’t be teaching at all and people who want to make a career out of it, but either way, most of us are teaching.
In summary, your job can make or break your experience living abroad in Taiwan. Although life is still a struggle, my new job is a 1000% improvement from my last, and not feeling like I’m going to throw-up every time it’s time to go to work has improved my quality of life directly. I love my teaching assistants, my boss, and my students. Apple (cute as a button, married, hardworking, trustworthy) does an incredible amount of work managing the place including calling parents, tutoring students, helping me in class, making schedules, etc. Noel (strong, witty, chill) is a lovely godsend and good company. She speaks English quite well and tag teams with me in class. Juice and Mina are also wonderful company; they are in charge of the Taiwanese after-school programs. Mina has started lending me her scooter, which is better than Christmas, especially after the 300 or more miles I’ve walked since I arrived here.
I’ve heard from many foreigners that a scooter “changes the game.” I believe them wholeheartedly.
My classes are hilarious. Most of the kids are between the ages of 6 and 12. I’ve got a few older students as well, including a lady in her forties trying to improve her English for her job as a human resources personnel in an accounting firm. There is a lot of superman-flying and fake warfare that happens between classes and at break time.
Sometimes kids bring insects into the classroom. Actually, it was my first or second class at the new school, and the old foreign teacher, my dear friend Zach, was sitting in on the class. I turned toward the board for one second, and when I looked back, my friend had sprung out of his chair, knocking it over and had sprung his flip-flop across the room. His face was red with anger and subsiding fear. One of the rather mischievous students, Jeffery, had captured a spider in a clear pencil-lead container and had placed it on Zach’s chest, knowing that he was plainly opposed to the creatures.
One time at my old school and one at my new, I asked the kids where they thought I was from. Some listed English-speaking countries, some shrugged their shoulders, and on two occasions, someone said, “From the Sun.”
I’ve also been called “ghost.”
How foreigners are perceived by locals is still a mystery to me. It seems that a foreigner outside your shop or inside your restaurant is good for business. I’ve been treated well for no apparent reason on a few occasions (free food, cheaper prices, out-of-the-way assistance, etc.). I also constantly get stares that say, “What the hell are you doing here?”
I’ve never taught formally before coming to Taiwan, but I can say with confidence that I enjoy it. I enjoy breaking things down. In this situation: imagine you are in an Asian country, you are unable to speak the language, and you have no one to speak your own language with. What do you do? Two options: learn their language or teach your language. This is the bridge.
The bridge doesn’t happen often, but when it does, I can almost hear the word audibly: bridge. I still believe that people like to be good at communication, and when they aren’t or someone else isn’t, there’s discomfort. Sometimes, if my mind isn’t turned on, I’ll say “Excuse me” instead of “Thank you” to a street vendor and get a funny look. Sometimes I’ll order pork instead of chicken because the words are similar in Chinese. Sometimes I’ll answer a question in English when I know the answer in Chinese (not that I understand the question but certainly the context). Each of these little slip ups has its own impact. They pile up. They pile up, and irritation sets in. Inversely, each bridge is large success, a confidence booster, and possibly an illusion that I’ve got it together.
While I’m here, I’m examining the bridge and the great miscommunication. Both are incredibly important. There a lots of foreigners running around with distinct and interesting stories. The bridge is when you enter into someone’s story and take the time to understand the context of that person, where they’ve come from, where they are now. The great miscommunication seems to be causing a great depression worldwide. The bridge is the cure.
Jhunan beach is a short scooter ride, a long walk, through town down to the fields of rice patties. The sand is soft and dark like brown sugar. At the right of the beach is a pier where they have fish markets and food stands, soft served ice cream, Heineken beer, etc. Further on, there is a large bridge that is followed by an army of giant windmills. There is quite a bit of trash where the nighttime tide stops carrying it. In front of the trash line, toward the water, the sand is clean, flat, and sturdy (good for running on). There are lots of crabs that burrow tirelessly, rolling out little spheres of sand through the tops and to the surrounding areas of their holes, which create dozens of snowflake-like patterns. From a distance, the thousands of sand balls create shaded patches on the shore. On a busy day, all you have to do is walk for two minutes away from the pier, and you’re all alone. On a weekday, no one is there except the wind surfers, and they’re few and far between.
Recently, H and I made it down to Tainan on the train. Train travel can be magical, mysterious, thought-provoking. Here’s some shots of what we saw. It’s known as the oldest city in Taiwan. There are many forts that changed hands a couple times throughout the years. We saw a “treehouse,” which was literally a building that had been largely infested by the roots and shoots of a couple of boisterous trees. In some place, the entire infrastructure had been replaced by live, adventurous tree bones. The beach boardwalk was also a eye-easer.
The title of this post is “Maybe” because it’s been a very real theme in my life this past couple of months. Even in the classroom, teaching this word has been interesting. Right hand is yes, left hand is no, in the middle is a wobbly maybe. I’m in to do this until next June. Right now, I’m completely grateful for the job that I have. I’m living across the hall from the woman I came here for, and things are going. They’re going. But all of it’s just sooo maybe.