Sunday, November 22, 2009

MRT musings

On my way to work this afternoon I was packed into the already crowded MRT, face pressed against the door, old lady pressed against a delicate part of my lower body, trying not to scream and yell at the high schoolers jabbing me in the back; when I heard an odd sound: it was the sound of English...
Naturally any time I hear English in the subway I perk up and listen...you learn to block out all the Chinese jibberish and English always penetrates my most crowded subway rides. Normally hearing English wouldn't be a big deal, maybe some foreign tourists, or a fellow ex-pat....but I listened more intently:
"It is A air conditioner"
"No It is AN air conditioner"
It is AN air conditioner"
"Again"
It is AN air conditioner
Again
It is AN air conditioner....
Good, now it is A duck.
"It is A duck....

I strained my neck and lo-and behold....directly under me, grasping onto the pole among dozens of adults was a little Taiwanese kid, not more than 5 years old.... holding a fistful of flashcards. His mother was bearing over him (or overbearing) making sure he knew the difference between "A" and "AN". As I was looking over, his mother caught my eye, smiled nodded at her son, then continued the lesson.
This would be amazing enough except on my way back from work, waiting in line for the subway back home....ANOTHER youngster was also practicing English (with the help of his equally overbearing mother, and astute, older brother). He was practicing spelling. "INTERESTING" I-N-T-E-R-E-S-T-I-N-G....
Also had a fistful of flash cards.

There's something admirable about the value placed on education here. Clearly education is important, beyond important....I can't really describe the emphasis on English learning, except that people will pay someone like me big bucks to teach them English. But I mean its Sunday at 1 pm....let your 5 year old just stand in a crowded train and daydream about dinosaurs or whatever...

I was talking to some of my adult students and I also found out that in Universities here, English is a General Education requirement....regardless of major. At Binghamton University we also had a language requirement...but we could choose let's say Italian, or Spanish. God help my GPA if I was forced to study Chinese for one year when I was at University. But here, there's no choice. But what about Japanese as a GenEd? I asked; "Nope you must study English, it's Island wide. If you go to university in Taiwan, English is a GenEd"

These kids will have a great advantage no doubt, but again at what cost?
Maybe a few years from now, speaking Chinese will be seen as an asset...

You might be sitting on the F train, packed in against the door, listening to a parent from Brooklyn correcting her 8 year-old's Mandarin tonal pronunciation.
"BU YAO! Not BU YAO... Fourth tone Fourth Tone....try it again."

-B

Saturday, November 21, 2009

Chinese New YEar 2010

I just found out I will be off from ..........February 12th -February 21st (my birthday) 2010 for Chinese New Year.

This is the one vacation I get (and most Taiwanese workers get). I'm working a ton of hours now and actually will start working at a second adult school next month. With all my test prep teaching, I can honestly say that I'm pretty comfortable here money wise...I'm able to save and send back to NY A LOT of money each month and live on relatively little here...

Point being I'm planning a trip to China for this New Years...it'll realistically be my only chance to visit the "mainland" especially now that direct flights are pretty common between Taipei and China.

My tentative plan is to fly to Hong Kong...then take a train to Shanghai, then train to Beijing....see the sights then fly back to the good old R.O.C.

Who wants to join me?
-b

Monday, November 9, 2009

untitled

The thing about living abroad, or specifically living here in Taiwan, is that there is always a strange division. What I mean is there's Taiwan and your "Home". The vasy majority of the foreigners I've met here don't consider Taiwan their home but rather see it as some kind of extended vacation; even though people stay here for 1, 2 or even three years. The other or real Home is like a safety net, we all know that at some point we will return to wherever it is we came from, and be "home " once again. It is this mentality that keeps us from learning the language, learning the culture and really immersing ourselves in this place. Also, it is probably why I hang out with so many ex-pats. It's refreshing at times to compare Taiwan to "home" and knowing we're all only here temporarily it enables a certain detachment from the world and place we ACTUALLY are living. It's an excuse not to learn the language "why bother?.... I'm going home soon anyway" or "I'm not sure how long I'll be here." Lately I've found myself stuck in this mindset and it's been a bit depressing.

Taiwan is my home. I love it here, afterall I chose to come here, chose to stay for more than a year. It is my home and since I returned from New York I've been even more aloof about Taiwan....comparing it to New York, I've become more critical of the cultural differences, and have been looking at Taiwan with more of an outsider's perspective than before my trip.
But acting that way is not fair to this country or the people. I mean it's going to be pretty pathetic when I leave here knowing very little Chinese or very little about the culture I've been immersed in for so long.

Taiwan is my home, I've been here a year and half......and as such I need to stop acting like I'm on some extended vacation and start acting like a responsible human being, immersing myself in the language, culture and just accepting the fact that the Taiwanese way as different...at times confounding, but unique and fascinating; and hopefully adapt, rather than resisting....

-b

Monday, November 2, 2009

Happy Halloween!


Happy Halloween from TAIWAN!

Tuesday, October 27, 2009

Teaching Machine

I'm a TOEFL, adult conversation, Advanced reading teaching machine...

Just got home from teaching 1pm to 10pm...it included 3 hours of TOEFL speaking and listening; 3 hours of conversation classes; and 2 hours of advanced reading...

...I'm in work mode now...trying to save up for my next adventure
Work for a purpose....I got big things in the works...

-B

Monday, October 26, 2009

Ny NY

I've put up some pictures from my time in New York. It was a quick 2 weeks...but it was amazing seeing all my family and friends who I haven't seen in a long time.

Check em out here: http://www.picasaweb.com/brian.viani


Speaking of New York...YANKEES BABY! Going to the world series for the first time since 2003. Even though Girardi is a terrible manager, the old combo of Pettite and Rivera came through. I'm impressed with Arod's post season play so far...but I remain skeptical about how he'll do in the World Series. We'll see if he chokes again.
But anyway Lets Go Yankees!!! Let's get that 27th Championship!!!

-B

Cram School Nation

It's been a while since my last post...been busy. Currently I have stopped teaching kids and only teach at an adult school. I only mention this because I came across this article in the Taipei Times...
It's a report from the child welfare board saying that children in Taiwan are being overworked. The report mentions that 74% of kids go to cram schools after their regular schools...among those; 58% go to cram schools everyday. Think about those numbers for a second. 3/4 of the children here go to extra school after they finish! As someone who taught for a year and a half to that 58% I can tell you that these kids have it rough. Everyday those kids were miserable and clearly stressed.

We had a rule at my school...no Chinese work in class. One day a girl raised her hand and said: "teacher can I please please please do my Chinese homework?" I said yes and the poor girl (11 years old) spent the ten minute break frantically writing her homework. At my former school the kids would arrive at 450....we would work until 530 and then they would get a 10 minute break. We would continue to work until 620. After that many of the students would go to other cram schools (math, Chinese etc.) others still would go to swimming practice, taekwondoe etc.

It's hard to watch as a roomful of 11 year-olds, a group you would think would be full of energy, are so exhausted that they literally pass out, and fall asleep at 530 during their allotted ten-minute break....a time when they should be alert watching cartoons, playing baseball, relaxing at home. ....whatever.

This is a main reason why I stopped teaching kids. I just felt horribly guilty that I was part of these poor kids' stress and pressure. I couldn't take being a part of this system that adds so much pressure on them. Don't get me wrong I love kids...and I really enjoyed teaching them, but I couldn't face myself knowing I was making their lives that much more miserable.

The article continues with a quote that really vividly and frighteningly describes the system and pressure on some of these poor kids :

While regular school classes for third and fourth graders begin at about 8am, the survey showed that 65 percent of the students stay at cram schools until 8pm and 11 percent stay until after 9pm before they can go home.

If that wasn't bad enough:
Last week, instructors at a Tainan cram school — which was actually registered as a business consulting firm — were accused of asking students to eat fire and glass to train them to overcome fear.


Cram school nation....where education, getting ahead and reputation are far more important than actual education. I'm glad I'm no longer part of a system that puts so much needless pressure on kids...
-B

Tuesday, September 29, 2009

home in New York

I'm home, back in NYC. All it took was an 8 hour flight from Taipei to Anchorage, a 2 hour layover in Alaska then a 8 hour flight from Alaska to JFK. As an aside the airport in Alaska was small, rustic (complete with bison/wolf skins in display cases) and the scenery around the airport was amazing...as we flew out all we saw were snow covered mountains. Definitely a place to visit soon. However as we (mostly Taiwanese people ) arrived in Alaska we were immediately greeted by rude and gruff US Customs agents. One berated a poor elderly Taiwanese lady for not declaring the cookies she brought for her grand children as being 'food'

Ahhh good to be back in the US of A

What I've noticed so far, people here , even in New York City are a bit larger....bums are prominent and more cracked out then your average Taiwanese bum; hipsters have taken over the L line, more so then when I left; when I'm in the subway no one looks /stares at me at all; the air is so much cleaner, even in a congested city like New York; and the Italian food is amazing compared to the ketchup flavored sauce passed off as marinara in Taiwan. And also, the tap water is damn good ! All in all it's been great so far and can only get better.

Tonight I'll be hitting up the Yankee game and tomorrow after I take the GRE, I'll be going to yet another Yankee game. Overkill? I think not. Thursday I'm hightailing it down to DC, the capital of this fair country, followed by return to New york Friday morning and a bash/party/ shindig at a bar on the lower east side....then Saturday is a wedding (the reason I'm here) which promises to be epic as well....
This video comes to mind...

Time to go for a run...this fresh New York City air beckons....
-B

Thursday, September 17, 2009

Miss New York

I miss new york. It's the greatest city in the world for a reason. It's my home, where I was raised, where I feel most at ease....

I'll be back September 25th and I can't wait.

-B

Wednesday, September 16, 2009

Rave reviews

The tough thing about teaching English in Taiwan is that the market is saturated with teachers. There are lots of shitty teachers here. The reason for this is that, as bad as it sounds, if you're a native speaker, particularly a white male between the ages of 24 and 30, it doesn't matter how qualified or how much experience you have. Someone will hire you. As an example I recently went on a job interview, well what I thought was a job intreview, but turned out the boss wanted me to sub a class. SO without even a hello I was thrown into a classroom of 9 year olds, given a book, told what pages to teach and left to my own devices. I was able to handle it, but the point is it really doesn't matter how qualified, or how good of a teacher I am.....I'm a native speaker and that's all that (at most schools) seems to matter.

It's in this context that it's often hard to figure out where I stand, what kind of a teacher I am, if I'm actually helping anyone...As stupid as it sounds I do want to enjoy being recognized for my abilities. Not just fr being a native speaker. At my new adult school...they have a system where students can write comments about the teachers, how they are doing, what the teachers need to improve, what are their strong points etc....
One of my adult students wrote this:
"
他讓我不害怕上托福口說,真的很棒的老師!我很高興今天上到他的課!!awesome!!!!!"
ta? wobu ? ? shang ? kuoshou zhende hen ? delaoshi
He? menot? ? ? ? speaking very very ? of teacher


Google translator told that said something about giving confidence, and understanding.

The last bit I can translate though, without the aid of Google:
我很高興今天上到他的課!!awesome!!!!!" MEANS:
wo hen gou xing jin tian shang dao ta de ke
Today I am very happy attending his class. Awesome!

I do like the awesome part at the end though. So although I still have a lot of ways I can improve my teaching and am still learning more about it everyday; it's reassuring to know that I'm not just another native English speaker, not just another white face.... and actually a teacher who occasional has an impact on my students.

PS: One year in Taiwan and I can translate a short sentence....awesome!

B

Saturday, September 12, 2009

Ex-Pres in Jail

I'll avoid another 9/11 post, I've posted last year and in the 8 years since it's happened I've thought a lot about it. There's not much to say that I haven't already said.
However yesterday some big news happened in Taiwan. The ex-president of Taiwan was sentenced to life in prison. A monumental and politically ground-breaking event. One wonders how many other former presidents (from Democratically elected nations) are currently in jail. One can't help but to imagine what it'd be like had Richard Nixon not been pardoned, or Dick Cheney prosecuted and convicted for his stance on torture. I'm sure there would be a lot of people happy had both of those crooks been sentenced to long prison terms, (I can only speak about my feelings about Cheney, but I hope if I was around in the mid-seventies I'd be calling for Nixon's conviction). Personally I would be happy to see Cheney convicted for his stance and sanctioning of torture...but I realize American Courts would never allow that to happen; even though one could argue that Cheney's crimes are far worse than former President Chen's....

But nonetheless, convicting the former president has tremendous ramifications for a place with such a tenuous international standing as Taiwan. Not only did they convict him but gave him life in prison. The blowback from this may be pretty serious, causing a serious splintering of the already divided electorate....or it may open the way for China to continue to exert influence over Taiwan. Also there are claims of unfair treatment and even of human rights violations while the former president was in jail. Either way sentencing a former president to life in jail for embezzlement seems a bit harsh. What message does this send to Taiwan's few remaining supporters? Does it bolster China's standing? Will it ultimately lead to an archaic one-party KMT rule in Taiwan? Like the one that was in place for the last 50 years here?

time will tell...This article in the Economist presents a good summary and insight into the problems of convicting a former head of state...

-B

Sunday, September 6, 2009

A-B-C

Previously I wrote that that teaching 11 year olds in the middle of summer was very difficult. Well I found something that is more difficult than that. My kid's school asked me to substitute for a week but they didn't tell me the level of the class I would be teaching. So Friday I showed up thinking I'd be teaching the E5 level class (11 year olds with really good English level)
Instead I had to sub the P class. The P class is a class of 6 7 year olds. Who have the most basic English Level. Like they don't even know their ABCs. It is the most basic, most elementary level of English imaginable. So I had to teach 2 hours of English class to a group of 6 7 year old students who have no English ability. I will tell you something.....I enjoy a good challenge; I've run marathons, moved to a completely foreign country, got a job without any experience.........but all of those adventures pail in comparison to stepping into a room of Taiwanese kids....who know very very little English. It was by far the most challenging thing I've faced here. How do you entertain, and teach a group of students who barely know their ABCs, without a Chinese teacher in the classroom for two hours?

The Answer.....act like a complete and utter clown. Seriously you just have to release all of your inhibitions, and just have fun. That is one of the key things I've learned here.....in order to be an effective teacher, you have to be passionate, disciplined and above all...relaxed. So I spent 2 hours playing stupid games, acting like a clown, throwing a ball around the classroom, all so that they would not hate learning English.....did it work? maybe...maybe not. They didn't leave the classroom crying, but they didn't leave singing my praises. Am I still completely and utterly terrified of facing them on Monday?...you bet your ass I am. Will I pull out all the stops, act like a clown, have as much fun as I can....in order for them to feel comfortable, relaxed and confident about English? You bet you ass I will!
.....because I believe in the transforming power of education....

-B

Wednesday, September 2, 2009

Vacation

People are always complaining about teachers getting summers off. How its not fair that they only get to work 9 months out of the year, or that its a sign of laziness to only work such a short time...well as someone who has been teaching English to kids for a year solid with only a few short breaks here and there, I can understand how necessary a few months out of the classroom can be. Teaching year round is draining physically and mentally. Especially teaching in the summer time. The kids are miserable and just want to go home. But in Taiwan's cram school culture, they have to study English for at least 2 hours a day, some up to five days a week....and therefore we English teachers must work an equally grueling schedule. I can easily see how so many teacher burn out after a year or two of this grind. I've met many bitter teachers who have had to work long summer hours, with little time to recover or spend outside the classroom to actually act like an adult again. But I digress....

The point is I will finally be taking a solid two week vacation at the end of September. I'll be heading back to NYC for a wedding....
I'm going to be super busy but I hope I can see all my friends and family...
Here's the itinerary

9/25/09: Arrive JFK at 10 PM
9/26 Recover from my 17 hour flight and serious jet leg
9/27 -9/29 Chill in Queens
9/30 Take the GRE...then off to the Yankee's final home game of the season! And my first look at the new stadium...
10/1 Hop on the AM bus to Wash. DC
10/2 Back to NYC, party it up at a bar in New York TBD
10/3 Cousin Jackie's wedding in L.I.
10/4-10/6 Relax; eat knishes, Italian food, bagels, etc...enjoy New York
10/7 Back to Taipei, after a loooong layover in San Fran

Needless to say after not being home, or in a country where English is the native language for over a year, it will be amazing to be back....to not have to use chopsticks at every meal...to have some REAL Italian food....ah it'll be great!
I can't wait....

-B

Saturday, August 29, 2009

Little Leaguers

Taiwan advances to the LLWS final!!!


Sorry Mexico....Sorry US, I'm pulling for Taiwan (also known in international sport competitions as Chinese Taipei)... in this year's Little League World Series!! jiao yo jiao yo Taiwan!!

-B

Friday, August 28, 2009

hot

Jin tian tai re! Wo bu xi huan!

-B

Dalai Lama in Taiwan ?

http://www.nytimes.com/2009/08/28/world/asia/28taiwan.html?hp

But this article offers a little more insight

Saw this article...the Dalai Lama is planning on coming to Southern Taiwan next week to comfort the victims of Typhoon Marokot. Aside from the historical aspect of it...it has obvious political ramifications. China immediately denounced and opposed the visit (which they do in almost every circumstance where he visits another country) But this issue is particularly difficult here. Of particular interest is his Visa status. His first visit here in 1997When the Dalai Lama first visited Taiwan in 1997, "the then-Chinese Nationalist Party (KMT) government considered him “an overseas Republic of China national without a household registration” and granted him an “entry permit” (入國?? issued by the Bureau of Immigration."


"For the Dalai Lama's second visit in 2001, he was recognized by the then-Democratic Progressive Party (DPP) government as a “foreign national” and was allowed to use his Identity Certificate — a travel document that the Indian government issues to Tibetans living in exile in the country — to obtain a visa to enter Taiwan.



Dawa Tsering, the representative of the Tibetan government-in-exile in Taiwan, said the Dalai Lama had filed his visa application for Taiwan yesterday using his Identity Card.

It will be an interesting week for sure. I hope he makes it up to Taipei I would be a once in a lifetime opportunity to see him.
-B

Thursday, August 27, 2009

I'll miss these crazy kids

Today was a good day. The students were all in an awesome happy and energetic, well-behaved mood. Two things stuck out today that made me realize how fun teaching kids is...
1. During the break time two of the girls in the back spent the entire ten minutes drawing "poopoo" family. Basically they drew poo-poo then drew glasses, a cane, and wham grandma poo poo. Drew lipstick and a purse and its Mom poopoo....They had a whole family of them and were cracking up the whole time....it was really funny.

2. "Teacher teacher I have a good joke for you (said by the craziest girl in class)...Yea what is is?
"What did the boy octopus say to the girl octopus he liked?"
What?
"Can I hold your hand, hand, hand, hand, hand, hand, hand, hand."

A good joke but the best part was the girl proceeded to explode with laughter after she said it. And honestly I found it pretty funny, along with the poo poo family. Guess my sense of humor is on the same level as 11 year olds....go figure.

-B

Zai Jian E5 class

Another lesson I learned from teaching yesterday:

Teaching 5 11-year old Taiwanese kids the difference between the future simple and future continuous, in August, at 530 in the afternoon, for 2 hours, on a sunny day, when it is 95 degrees outside and the Air Conditioner is broken....is not fun.
Lesson Learned

Tomorrow will be my last day at my kids' school. As much as I disliked teaching kids I think the positive aspects of it far outweighed the negative ones. It was actually a lot of fun. My class this term is so full of energy and life and lots of fun. I really enjoyed teaching this bunch. I realize I got pretty lucky in terms of my kids' school. The director is a great woman who really cares about the kids well-being and education. And as a result she's able to recruit like minded teachers. It's not a chain or English making factory like so many other schools here and the teachers aren't just hired because they have a white face. She takes time to observe to give feedback to help with lesson planning and consult with parents about the teachers. She has been incredibly generous and kind giving me this job and I will miss everyone there a lot. .......by far the best job I've ever had, even though at times it was a serious challenge (see above) Still I've had lots of jobs and this is by far the most challenging most rewarding job I've had; and teaching these kids for the last year or so has been one of the most challenging and rewarding things I've done in my life !!!
(I'm gonna take some pictures tomorrow and try and post them)

-B

Thursday, August 20, 2009

Free beer? Ok

So this bar here in Taipei was having their 6.5 year anniversary party. An odd time to celebrate but a party nonetheless. Now I'm a guy who likes beer. I can't help it. I don't know why but I like it. I also enjoy things that are very cheap. I enjoy saving money. I don't know why it's just how I am. So I'm always looking out for good drink deals. Well I've been around a few bars and have seen some good drink deals. Most of them in Binghamton. The deals there included: 10 cent beer night....50 cent mug night....two beers for the price of one on Tuesdays....and a free buffet with the purchase of a 2 dollar drink. But nothing can compare to the drink deal I found last week...

For their 6.5 anniversary party, for whatever reason, this bar had an amazing drink deal....I'll give you time to sit down...Ready?
The deal was this: OPEN BAR from 7-10......... including Tequila, Stella, Guinness, mixed drinks, you name it. Plus a free buffet including pizza, hamburgers, sandwiches etc. The catch? Well you can only get all this if you wear a pink shirt. I know it seems strange, but this was the deal.
I actually had a pink shirt that I bought for my brother as a gag gift but was too lazy to send to him....so....I was in luck. Everyone (girls and guys) were wearing pink and it was three hours of FREE beeer!! I couldn't believe it. I just kept thinking about what this would be like back in NYC...I pictured lots of homeless dudes wearing a pink rag trying to get in to the bar to get some whiskey. I imagine any free beer night back in NY would included 1. a serious riot, 2. several injuries, 3. dozens of lawsuits 4. a chair through a window 5. dozens of arrests and 6. the bar goign out of business...

But here in Taipei, that's just how it is....Free BEER! The weirdest part was that the bar wasn't even that crowded...I was baffled. It was the first time I went to a bar and ended up leaving without spending a cent.....

hooray beer! Hooray free beer!!!

B

Saturday, August 15, 2009

Improv at the Cram School

I've taught hundreds of hours of lessons since I got here. Most of them just blur together but there are a few that stick out in my mind, usually ones that were particularly awful or particularly great. Today's lesson had a little of both.

Today was my first day at a new adult cram school. THe school is located right in the heart of Taipei's cram school district by the Main Station. Seriously there is a CRAM SCHOOL DISTRICT here. Anyway the class was substituting for another teacher and was a business English class. I only got the book yesterday so I wasn't familiar with it at all.... Unlike my last cram school, the classes here are two hours, not an hour and a half. I was a little worried that I wouldn't be able to stretch the material for that length of time. Seeing as how it was my first class and I wanted to make a good impression, I spent like and hour and a half preparing. I made a handout, complete with key words, new vocabulary, grammar exercises pertinent questions etc.

There were only five students in the class. I began by introducing myself and then explained today we'll be doing chapter 4. I began giving out my handout and noticed a lot of confused Taiwanese faces.

"We're up to chapter four right" I asked sheepishly,
"No we did that already we're up to chapter 7 today" was the reply.

Fuuuuuuuuuuck
I had no idea what chapter 7 was about; nor had ANY material lined up at all....I was visibly flustered. 2 hours in an adult English class with NO lesson plan, not even an idea about the topic, nor any previous rapport with the students to help me out. And worst of all no windows to jump out of...this should be fun
A quick glance at the topic, "How to Delegate"... Ok... I thought, ......lets do this and have some fun

I explained the definition of the word, gave some synonyms and asked what kinds of things do people delegate? What was the last thing you delegated? etc....
My students could tell I was flustered but in true Taiwanese fashion didn't call me out on it. Anyway with no lesson plan, no prep work.... I proceeded to teach what I would say by my standards was a pretty decent, even good lesson. I've had some lessons before that I had a clear plan for but bombed badly.

However two hours of basically bullshitting paid off. And by the end the students were comfortable, relaxed and learnin' some good English...
It was so good that after it one of the students asked if I was teaching any other conversation classes because she thought I was a good teacher....
And actually, improvising that whole lesson was pretty fun; got a little rush out of it! Lesson plans are overrated anyway.

B

Friday, August 14, 2009

More Typhoon problems

This article in today's Taipei times is truly heartbreaking.
Apparently up to 10,000 people have been trapped for days. One township had "395 houses of which only 2 remain"

" The government said its operations had been hampered because many areas of the country were cut off when roads and bridges collapsed." well yes that's what happens in natural disasters, but governments should find a way to solve that problem.

The government is now accepting aide from other countries after initially rejecting the funds....

It's a terrible situation...made even worse if the above story is true about the number of people stranded there.
=B

Thursday, August 13, 2009

Typhoon Morakot

Thanks for all the concern about the Typhoon. The typhoon was most damaging in the South of the island and on the West coast near Taichung. But Taipei was relatively unscathed. Last weekend Taiwan had it's worst typhoon in 50 years. There was a huge landslide ; a river that was normally 10m wide had spread to 800 meters across...it was also responsible for the collapse of this hotel. 20 or so bridges were destroyed, several villages were also destroyed and thousands are homeless or missing. It was a serious tragedy. Relief efforts are still underway. Luckily all of my friends who have relatives or live in the Taichung area are ok. It really puts things in perspective and helps us realize how lucky we are....things like this just solidify my view that we have a responsibility to help those in need, whatever the cause or however great the need...... I've already donated some of my hard earned NT to help and if you'd like to help the victims, the Taiwanese government has set up a relief fund for people outside of Taiwan to help out. If you want to donate to help the victims this would be the best option.

Here is the Taiwan USA representatives office
http://www.roc-taiwan.org/ct.asp?xItem=103003&ctNode=2300&mp=12


-B

Wednesday, August 12, 2009

Job hunting

Saw this article in the Times....it doesn't focus on Taiwan but does show some of the reasoning behind moving abroad and speaking Chiense
http://www.nytimes.com/2009/08/11/business/economy/11expats.html?em

-B

Tuesday, August 11, 2009

Wisdom Tooth part duex

Some of my more avid readers (all 7 of you) will remember that I had to get my wisdom tooth pulled when I first got here.....well the last few weeks another one has been driving me nuts. I think the first dentist missed this one and lately it's been pretty painful. I'll have to get the next one pulled but he asked me if it was ok to take it out. "Sure if it's hurting take it out.", he said that most Taiwanese people are afraid of needles (I assured him I was too, but it wasn't that bad)
He also said that gas for dentists, that wonderful, magical, drug that makes you feel on top of the world (Don't do drugs, kids); isn't allowed to be used in local dental clinics here in Taiwan...only in hospitals. I thanked my good fortune that I broke my jaw in the U.S.; where they hand out Nitris gas like nobody's business; and not here in Taiwan.

Total cost for my dental check-up today......100 NT Dollars, a little less than 3 US bucks. Crazy right?
If only there were some plan.....some big government plan....or some law.... to ....let's say "overhaul" or "reform" healthcare in the US...
....wouldn't that be novel and amazing??
Where the 50 million people without healthcare, who can't afford a trip to the dentist, could pay 3 dollars to go....

...NO, NO...what am I saying?? Brian you idiot...you're just being naive... Glenn Beck is right, such a ridiculous plan would lead to a socialist, dystopian, nightmare; where pencil pushers get in the way of me and MY doctor!
Pencil-Pushers!! in the way of MY Doctor!! ARGHHH I'm so riled up...where's the next town hall meeting in favor of health care reform I can disrupt?? Quick! Before my rage subsides...

B

Sunday, August 9, 2009

"Glendale? Where's that?"










It's no secret that I take pride in where I come from, maybe too much pride. But in my defense, NYC is great so I'm not ashamed about my hometown. When people ask me I always say "New York". The follow up question is always "New York City?". If pushed farther I say Queens which people still understand. But then things get complicated.

"oh where in Queens are you from?"
Glendale...
Oh where's that is that near Long Island?
No...it's...near Brooklyn.
Oh I never heard of it...

No one ever knows about this neighborhood and it is frustrating. But I'm always excited when I meet people from New York City. So last night I went to an all you can eat and all you can drink outdoor BBQ place in Taipei County with a bunch of fellow students at Shida. It was amazing food and only cost 12 US dollars (sorry just wanted to show off a little there). I met a couple (Japanese girl and Taiwanese guy) who studied at SUNY New Paltz. It turns out that they were actually living in Queens for a year as well. Of course I was elated and after all you can drink beers, more than happy to talk with them about it. An even bigger coincidence was that they lived in Woodhaven during that time! Woodhaven is the neighborhood next to mine, basically a few blocks away. They lived maybe ten blocks from where I grew up....and they had no CLUE where Glendale was. None at all. haha it was ridiculous. They have never heard of the place after living a few blocks away for over a year... I mean it's not like I'm from some little town in the sticks..

Ok fine...Glendale may contain more dead people (cemeteries everywhere) than living and it may only have an elevation of 89 feet....but it has its charm. Check out this blog. Maybe it will get some recognition one of these days...

-B

Thursday, August 6, 2009

Squatters

The following is a word-for-word excerpt from my Kenya volunteer program guide:

" Toileting may be quite a new experience for you if you have never had the opportunity to use a 'squat' toilet. A squat toilet is used by squatting rather than sitting over a hole in the ground. In rural Kenya squat toilets are common place. Toilet paper is sold in Kenya but public toilets tend not to supply this so it is worth carrying a personal supply with you. When using toilet paper it is a good idea to check first to make sure it will not cause a blockage in pipes."


Thanks for the info.....but thanks to my time in Taiwan I am ALL too familiar with the joys of squat toilets or "Squatties" as I've affectionately been calling them. My experiences with said toilets have included an emergency stop during the Taroko Gorge marathon, and several other experiences I'd rather not get into here....
Kenya: you best be warned... I am ready for your squatters! Taiwan has prepared me well..I will say this though; when I first got to Taiwan, I'll admit, my biggest fear was the squat toilet. I'm dead serious. I heard all these horror stories about them. I wasn't worried about the language, the food, the culture, finding a job, finding an apartment......but I was petrified of squat toilets. My assumption was that there were no regular toilets on the entire island. My goal was to find an apartment without a squater ....I was willing to pay top dollar for it too......
....
As a precaution I packed in my suitcase two rolls of Scotts Toilet paper. And for the first week, I carried some with me because I heard public toilets didn't have toilet paper......What a naive man I was.

I'll be ready for you Kenya...bring on your Squatters!
-Bri

Wednesday, August 5, 2009

Chinese and I are not good friends

I've been taking Chinese classes for about 9 months now and today I have a big test to see if I can move up to the next level. I'm hopeful I can move up because being stuck at the beginner level is really frustrating...
...Despite 2 hours of classes a day I still can't get a hold on it. I'm not sure if it's me or just not putting enough time into it, or what but I'm just not able to get a hold of it.

I've decided not to take classes next semester...I am going to be really busy getting my life in order, with Grad School apps, GRE crap, trip back to NYC, planning and paying for this Kenya trip and teaching at two new adult schools. It will be a busy few months for sure....

....people always think that its just non-stop parties here but as much as I hate to admit it, Taiwan is my home. I've been here for a long time and its time to grow up, and get my life/ career/ future all settled out. I hate being inactive and stagnant. And it's time to focus and get my shit together...
But it's not all serious....here's a moderately funny clip
-B

Tuesday, August 4, 2009

new class

What a difference a new class makes....my old class, had 4 boys, one girl. The ages were 12-13 and it was miserable for the most part. I constantly had to discipline them. There was nothing but craziness. Funny though that when the girl was absent it seemed much calmer.

Anyway my new class has 3 girls and 2 boys and they are all 10-11. It is a calm, well-behaved even quiet class. With no discipline problems at all really.

Either it's the girl to boy ratio, age difference or some other factor, either way I'm not complaining. Don't know how anyone can teach 12-13 year olds....tough gig.

-B

Sunday, August 2, 2009

Don't mess with Mr. Softee

Saw this gem in the Queens Chronicle....Apparently Glendale is a tough place for ice cream truck drivers. I always knew Mr. Softee was strong-arming the competition.
As a side note, instead of being serenaded every night in the summer by the Mr. Softee theme song, here in Taiwan I am serenaded to sleep by a guy driving a cart selling "Stinky Tofu" There is a megaphone on the cart that repeats Chinese gibberish well into the night....

Given the choice of what random food vendor I'd rather hear at 10 pm every night...I'd choose Mr. Softee, strong-arm tactics and all.

-B

Saturday, August 1, 2009

I'm Going to KENYA!!!!

It may seem that my decisions are often rash and impulsive. This may be so, I mean coming here was certainly impulsive. Quitting my job a few months ago was also impulsive. It may also seem that I do some crazy things often without a second thought before hand (skydiving, marathons, spontaneous trips).... But this is only half of how I function. Yes I do make some impulsive decisions, BUT I usually think hard about some of the more important ones, those few decisions that have the power to alter the course of my life, ideally but not always for the better. For example coming to Taiwan....obviously it was a huge decision that no doubt changed the course of my life. But I researched the hell out of this before I got here. Spent hours talking to people, looking up the best schools, spent hours in a course on how to teach. And once all of that had been processed, I told everyone about my decision.

My problem is that once I tell myself I am going to do something I need to do it, to the best of my ability. Even if the idea is only stirring somewhere in my head, once if bubbles up to the surface I need to make it happen. Especially an idea that is life changing, like coming to Taiwan....

SO (and thanks for staying with me up until this point) it is in this vain that I decided I'M GOING TO KENYA!

My cousin and her husband are living there now and recently I started researching teaching English there. I found a volunteer program where I would be teaching English in Kenya. I decided to do the six week program. I signed up, put down a deposit all last week.
I don't have all the details but I will be staying with a host family there and teaching 9-5 five days a week. The volunteer program starts June 15, 2010 and runs for 6 weeks. I'm planning on flying there from Bangkok sometime in late May, early June....

Should be a real challenge and a big difference from Taiwan....but I'm up for it. And it promises to be one of those decisions....that 10 years from now I can look back and say, "I'm better off for making that choice"
-B

Friday, July 31, 2009

Touching Writing assignment

Today was Friday so that meant it was Creative Writing lesson. Today's lesson was writing a paragraph. I asked my students to write a paragraph about what they thought was the best or worst thing about school and to give reasons. Most kids wrote that computer class was the best part because "you could talk to your friends on MSN or Yahoo; it was easy; and you don't have to sit properly"
All pretty good reasons.
One kid though (the best student in the class) wrote the following:
" The best part of this school is teacher Brian. He loves to teach and always answers our questions. He gives us a lot of work but if we are good he gives us less homework. And he always plays games with us and makes English more fun. He is the coolest teacher in the school and that's why I think it is the best part"

Stark contrast with another student who wrote
"I think the worst part of school is all of it and everything! The End"

-B

Monday, July 20, 2009

RIP Frank McCourt

This does not have much to do with Taiwan, but does have to do with teaching...Frank McCourt one of my favorite authors and a dynamic, inspiring NYC public school teacher passed away at the age of 78. Despite his poverty stricken and chaotic childhood, he was still able to reach, inspire, influence and most importantly TEACH a diverse and notoriously demanding group of NYC public High School students. His writing style is fluid, self-decapitating, wonderfully descriptive and most importantly genuine. As a writer and teacher he helped many around the world. Anyone who is considering teaching, should read "Teacher Man". To see the positive affect this man had on so many check this out.
NYC public schools, and schools around the world need more creative dynamic and genuine teachers like him. And the literary world needs more talented writers like him as well.

B

Freckles

As I wrote previously, my freckles have been a fascination here, an oddity that causes great confusion and wonderment, like a bearded lady or some kind of seal boy you'd see at Coney Island. Even grown-ups have asked me about them. At first all the interest was flattering but not so much anymore....I did have to following conversation with my new class on Friday though...to give you all a glimpse as to some of the responses my freckles elicit.
Student: "Teacher why do you have so many dots on your arms?"
me: What these? They are called FRECKLES. Let's say it together F-R-E-C-K-L-E-S. Good" (I always use times like this to teach new vocabulary which I find they will more easily remember if it is in the context of something new or interesting)
Student: "Why can't you wash them off? Are they Permanent?" (a vocabulary word we just learned)
Me: "Good use of the vocabulary word. Yes they are PERMANENT. Not TEMPORARY (another vocab word). Who remembers what temporary means?"
Student: "lasting for a short time, not forever"
Me: "very good!" Yes these are not temporary and they come from sitting in the sun too much."
Student: "Why don't you put on lotion?"
Me: "They still come up. Even if I put on lotion"
Student: "Nei ge chi guia!" (Chinese for very strange)
Me: " No Chinese!" It's not strange in my country a lot of people have freckles"
Student: It looks like not healthy. Do they hurt?"
Me: "No not at all"
Student: "well I don't want them they look too strange"
Me: " Well in America we say that the more freckles you have the more money you'll get when you are older. Every freckle you are supposed to get one US dollar!"
Student: "Really? Is that true? Wow...I do see one here on my arm"
Another Student: " Me too I have two by my foot!"
(The rest of the students than looked around themselves to see if they had any)
Student: "Wow teacher you must be rich! I want freckles now!!!"

-b

Wednesday, July 15, 2009

One more year ! One more year!

Just picked up my new ARC (alien resident card). The ARC is the key to unlocking all the mysteries of Taiwan...ARC ARC is to teachers what the Golden Ticket is to Charlie OR what LSD is to the Merry Pranksters....you get the idea.. With it I can work, rent an apartment, pay taxes, get National Health Insurance, buy a car, rent a car, buy a house (if I'm so inclined), get into R rated movies, maybe adopt a dog (I haven't looked into that one), rent movies from blockbuster....etc. The ARC will be valid until July 28, 2010. I just got a new job as well teaching exclusively adults at a VERY popular cram school here. Popular equals expensive here. I'll start there full time around September. It's amazing that a little over a year ago I just basically showed up....no real plan, no job and to be honest I was pretty sure I'd be back in NY...tail between my legs sometime in August of last year. But one year later....I've extended this crazy adventure another year.

Usually I get restless if I spend more than a year doing one thing or living in one place...so Taiwan must be doing something right to keep me here. Even though I do feel the restlessness simmering....I'll see what happens....jiao yo jiao yo!!!

B

Oh yea I updated my pictures on picasaweb from my trip to Korea last week. Some got deleted but I managed to salvage some of them. ENJOY!

Tuesday, July 14, 2009

EARTHQUAKE

I haven't yet and don't think I can get used to the weather here in Taiwan. 34 degrees Celsius (that's right I'm metric now) everyday, torrential rain, and although not technically categorized as "weather" the stifling pollution. As if that's not bad enough Taiwan also has seasonal typhoons (starting about nowish and continuing until November), several dormant volcanoes (Taipei's most popular day trip spot is one such volcano- Yangminshan), and earthquakes. Until last night I haven't had the privilege of experiencing the latter....be it in Taiwan, or the States or anywhere else. We don't really have many earthqaukes in New York. But Taiwan has them. A lot of them. The last and most serious one occurred on September 21, 1999 the epicenter was close to Taichung on the West coast and measured 7.3 on the Richter scale.

Obviously and thankfully this earthquake wasn't as serious (no reports of injuries as of late) or as severe. The epicenter was located way off shore a few miles of the East coast. Still it was my first experience with an earthquake and it was a freaky feeling. Waking up feeling like someone is violently shaking you awake...and not knowing why is a little disorienting. Thankfully after a few intense minutes it was over. No harm or serious damage (so far reported).

Eh I'll just add that to the long list of things I've never experienced before I came to Taiwan. I think I'll file it under "things that scared the Sh** out of me"; right up there with Typhoons, Taipei taxi drivers, reckless scooter/truck drivers, and the bar Carnegie's; the last of which, some would argue, can be considered much more traumatizing than any Earthquake.

brian

Thursday, July 9, 2009

long time no post

So my fans have been clamoring (maybe that's an unfair word...let's say requesting politely) that I update my blog and in truth it has been a long time. Probably the longest I've gone without updating. But it's too hot in Taipei and typing burns precious calories. It's been an eventful month and half and I've done and experienced some great things. The highlights include but are not limited to the following:

Hiking and camping on a 3,400 Meter mountain top

riding a scooter 5 hours through the rain to get to said mountain top

A trip to Taichung, by far my favorite city in Taiwan so far,

Quiting work at my adult school,

celebrating my year anniversary of being in Taiwan (wow still hard to believe)

brimming with pride as my students graduated from the school and one actually told me "Thank you"

Starting a new Chinese class

Starting a new class with a great bunch of fun, smart and happy students

Finding out that due to lack of students my kids' school will have to let me go and therefore as of September I'll be jobless once again...

And most recently a spontaneous and amazing trip to Seoul, South Korea (I just got back on Sunday)

Each of these deserves a serious post and I promise that in the coming days I will expand and discuss all of these adventures including pictures. So stay tuned...updates galore will happen soon :)

Brian

Tuesday, May 19, 2009

top ten list

So my last post was a while back and was a bit of a downer. not much has been going on lately , studying Chinese and teaching, thats about it. But I have decided to stay here at least until January of 2010 maybe longer. And I will be making a return to good ol' NYC in September for about ten days. If you're in the city between September 24th until October 7th, let me know and we can meet up...

But I figured since I've been here about a year so far, I have a good perspective about this little island of Taiwan. So in the vain of David Letterman (the least funny late night comedian with the exception of Carson Daly is his awful show is still on the air) and my good friend Sportscenter whom I miss more and more everyday, I want to do a top ten list....I'll keep it simple top ten things I like about Taiwan, top ten dislikes...I'll start with the likes because I'm a positive person...

Top 10 things I like about Taiwan:
(in no particular order)

1. No Open Container Laws
It may seem like an insignificant detail but having no open container laws is a fantastic aspect of Taiwan. No brown bags, no fear of useless tickets from cops...in fact the other day I was drinking a beer on the street in front of a cop (granted he was riding a scooter so I'm sure how official he really was). We can drink in the parks, on our way to the bars, waiting for the bus you name it. And despite what people may think there is not rampant drinking here (if you don't count foreigners). People seem to control themselves when drinking outside and it's definitely tamer than say Penn Station on St. Patty's day.

2. Night Markets
This is defiintely my favorite thing about Taiwan (but I had to lead with booze to catch your attention....that's what we in the biz call a hook). They are incredible cacophonies of sound, food and random things. It's like the San Generio festival with an Asian twist. You can get tons of great, cheap street food, bootleg t-shirts, bubble tea, dog collars, you name it. They are everywhere and each one has a unique food or specialty so you can always experience something new, even in a small town.

3. Cheap train travel.
The trains here are super cheap. One ticket to go from Taipei to Taichung, (A city about 2 hours away) is only 6 US dollars each way. You can get easily take a day trip to the beach outside of Taipei for about 1 US dollar each way....its like the Metro North but a hell of a lot cheaper and with no open container laws. The trains are efficient, clean and English speaker friendly (well sort of). It's great to just take a trip out of Taipei and not spend a lot on tickets.

4. Taiwan Beer.
Well this is pretty self explanatory. Taiwan beer (the local brew) is cheap, tasty and WIDELY available. Before I came here I've never seen it in the states but when I get back I'm going to try and find a distributor that has some...or if I'm feelign more ambitious open up a Taiwan themed bar with said beer as the main brew.

5. Little Kids on Scooters.
Here in Taiwan EVERYONE has scooters. And the normal thing to do just like using a car back in the states, is to use the scooter to pick up your kids, run errands, get to work etc. But sometimes the kids are too small to sit behind their mother of father on the scooter. So they stand between the driver and the handlebars of the scooter often resting their head on the speedometer. Its probably not the safest thing in the world....but the kids do wear helmets. The kids are so comfortable that they will even doze off resting on the speedometer while their father zips dangerously through Taipei's notoriously hectic traffic. It's really cute and you just have to put the dangerousness out of your mind.

6. 7-11s
They are literally everywhere. I mean 3 or four on a block. But the best thing about them is that you can do anything and buy anything there.
Need some wine ? 7-11
Need a tampoon? 7-11
Need to make a copy? 7-11
Need to print out pictures from your digital camera? 7-11.
Need to pay your bills? 7-11.
Need to sign for a package but have to work when the courier is due to arrive? That's fine he can drop it off at your local 7-11 and you can pick it up at your leisure.
It's convenience super sized. Plus they are open 24 hours and the best part? They'll open your beer with a bottle opener without asking for a tip.

7. No tips
No tipping in Taiwan so when you go to a bar, the price of the beer is always the same.

8. Nature, national parks, scenic areas
Taiwan does a really good job of making sure it has ample national parks and that they are properly protected. Despite it's small size Taiwan has a plentiful and diverse selection of national parks and each of them are more beautiful than the last. Most of the East coast of the Island, a good portion of the South (Kenting) and the entire middle of the island are national parks. There are lots of hiking trails almost right on Taipei's doorstep, most I have yet to explore. Taiwan really takes care of it's natural resources (probably because it's such a small place with scarce resources)

9. Clean MRT
The subway in Taipei is great, clean, efficient and cheap. Part of me misses rats and homeless guys in the subway; but the rational part of me knows it's better to have a clean reliable subway even though the quirks of the nYC subway system are definitely far more entertaining.

10. Food
The food here is delicious. There are a lot of dumplings, fried rice, noodles and the like. But the best part is that you can go to a little dumpy noodle shop in some small town pay the equivalent of 1 US dollar and have an amazing full meal of noodles or rice or soup. These little noodle shops are everywhere and the food is just as good as some pricey restaurant. Breakfast shops are plentiful too and they have a wide variety of dishes ranging from eggs to rice to soup to various kinds of sandwiches. Great stuff

* 11 I'll add Chinese to the list...now that I can understand a little it is interesting to try and pick up new words here and there

Now for the bad parts about Taiwan:
(again in no particular order)
1. Scooters
Despite my appreciation of little kids riding scooters, everything else about scooters is awful. Scooters are everywhere, street sidewalk, in houses you name it. First off there seems to be no enforcement of traffic laws (or just no laws ) about where you can ride a scooter. The sidewalks seem to belong to them and if I'm walking on the sidewalk and a scooter is waiting behind me, the driver will beep and flash his lights, as if me walking on the sidewalk is inconveniencing him. "Can't you see this is the sidewalk????? Why the hell are you walking here?" Plus going the oppossite way up a one way street seems to be perfectly legal. The sounds of the engines all day and the exhaust are other reasons why I'm not a big fan of them.

2. Pollution
In line with number one and probably caused by the first reason, pollution here is really intense. Taipei is one of the most polluted (air-wise) cities in the world. Sometimes I'll wake up get ready for school, step outside and smell the grime and fumes in the air. I was talking to a teacher who has been here for about 5 years....he said that he ran everyday. When he went home last your to England and had a physical...the doctor asked him when he started smoking. Apparently living in Taipei for 3 years made his lungs look like those of a smoker. It's terrible. Outside of Taipei is better, but not by much. I never thought I'd be nostalgic for that clean NYC air (no "clean air" buses here.)

3. Rudeness/ competitiveness and general elbow jostling
Perhaps because Taiwan (and Taipei specifically) is so over crowded, whenever I'm on the bus or MRT I've noticed how people don't wait for people to get off the subway before pushing in. The train or bus will stop, and immediately the people waiting will push froward onto the train. It's so annoying. I mean the train's not going anywhere at least let the people get off before you push through. On the bus its the same....you have to pay at the front when you get off. So as I wait for the bus to stop, people behind me push through so they can pay....when this happens I deliberately go slow when I'm getting off the bus.... I'm sure people are pissed but I mean just calm down, we'll all get off the bus.

4. Stray dogs
Well I don't dislike stray dogs, but I DO dislike the Taiwanese government for not having adequate facilities and personnel to take care of the stray dog problem...the poor dogs are everywhere, especially when you get outside of Taipei. It's heartbreaking and the Taiwanese government needs to improve the conditions in shelters to help these poor dogs.

5. The word WAIGOUREN
It means foreigner and not a day goes by that I don't hear someone whispering it as I walk around the city. At first it was funny but now it just is a bit much. Yes I am a foreigner but saying it in whispers won't turn me Taiwanese

6. Lack of diversity
I didn't think that this would bother me. But it does. I miss diversity, I miss seeing different kinds of people. I miss NY in that sense

I had more to write about the negative things but I honestly forgot. I'm sure I'll fill in more later on

-B

Monday, May 4, 2009

homesick

Been feeling a little bit homesick as of late. Not really sure what the cause of it is but lately I've just had no motivation. Maybe I'm frustrated by my lack f progress studying Chinese. It seems no matter how much time I put in I'm still behind and my Chinese ability is barely improving at all. Its definitely frustrating. The grammar is so difficult...

Its been almost a year that I've been here and I guess I need a change. This latest bout of homesickness has hit pretty hard.

Friday, April 24, 2009

A glimpse into my daily life

It's a beautiful day in Taiwan, warm, sunny cheerful. I thought I'd share my day to give an idea of what my daily routine is like. Despite what most people think it's not all booze and parties. You can definitely go that route as an English teacher we make enough money have few responsibilities that would make that life very possible. But I tend to value free time and relaxation. A big reason why I came out here was because I felt the hectic 9-5 working life (for no real purpose other than doing busy work) wasn't for me. Over the past few months however I've found myself getting sucked into the Taiwanese equivalent by working a ton of hours, at a few different schools. But recently I've dropped half my classes and now I finally have the free time I envisioned when I got on the plane back in June of 2008. Granted now I won't be making as much money, but money hasn't really ever been important to me. A friend of mine once astutely commented that all the money I make I spend right away. It's true. And the only reason I would want a lot of money is to travel...but back to the main point...my daily routine....

Today typifies my daily routine and is a good example of why I came here in the first place.
7 am wake up. Shower, run (if I'm not feeling too lazy) put on clothes and the like. Then I walk over to my Chinese classes, about a ten minute walk, where I pretend I'm a good student from 8 to 10 and continually embarrass myself with my shitty Chinese pronunciations.

After class today I went to the park, relaxed, read a book enjoyed the amazing weather while to my right, about a dozen of some of Taiwan's cutest kids played while they were on a school trip. While equally as endearing, on my left, a dozen of Taiwan's cutest old folks practiced square dancing in the shade of Daan Park to the tunes of Billy Ray Cyress' Achy Breaky Heart. (they set up a little stereo and were following the lead of the teacher, the old folks not the kids). Really was a funny sight to see....a dozen elderly Taiwanese people (men and women) line dancing in the middle of the park. This is nothing unique though because for some reason elderly Taiwanese folks love going to the park here and practicing all kinds of random dances: the Tango, waltzes, square dances, ballroom dancing etc. I once even saw the Macaraha(sp?) Their dancing really is adorable.

After the park I went to my favorite vegetarian buffet (don't worry I'm still a serious carnivore, but this place has some damn good food) near my house. I sat down among more old people (it was 11 am ) and next to two monks. As an aside, monks here are EVERYWHERE. I mean everywhere....on the bus, in my Chinese school, in the MRT stations, in the park, in 7-11....the library. They're much more of a presence than priests of minsters back home. You don't really see priests walking around all that often in NYC although if you're in the right neighborhood, rabbis can be pretty prevelant on the streets.... They all (the monks that is) wear long gray robes, have shaved heads, prayer beads on their wrists and neck, sandals, a little pouch to carry their books and most of the time glasses. I don't care how long I've been here but seeing a monk anywhere still amazes me. I think it's so cool to jsut be sitting down and eating lunch next to two bespectacled devout monks.

After lunch I came back here a prepared for my kid's class. Since today is Friday we always do writing and then just play games. Gettign them to write is a chore but lately I've taken more time to prepare things for them to write about. Today for instance since we had been learning about deserts, I'm going to ask them to write about what they would do if they were stuck in the desert....then I'll play pictionary or Jeopardy with them...

After class I'll come back and just relax...
It's not a very glamorous life here, but I'm very happy, relaxed, calm, and making sure to enjoy every minute and appreciate the little things that are always happening around me. It's going to be hard adjusting to the hectic world of NYC when I head back (whenever that might be)

-b

Monday, April 20, 2009

Hong Kong and Macau - a brief but entertaining synopsis

I've been living in Asia for about ten months now and in that time I've felt crazy nostalgic for NYC on a number of occasions, but through all the holidays, sporting events, or lack of bagels I've never felt more homesick than when I was in Hong Kong. It's the first city I've been to in Asia that reminded me of Manhattan. hong Kong is situated on a few islands, but the main island, coincidentally named Hong Kong Island, is a hilly island that reminds me of Lisbon. So there's limited space on which to build. The peak at the top of HK island is really steep and so the only room to develop is along the coast where it levels out. The result is a tendency to build up....and up....and up and up. The entire ciy is full of skyscrapers and as you look out over the horizon, there's just more and more construction going on, each new building higher than the last. It's impressive and overwhelming at the same time. Unlike NY, in HK its possible to get a genuine bird's eye view of the metropolis from on top of the huge peek on HK island. It's got a space-aged feeling to it; just buildings that seem to be floating out of the river.
Once on street level, there is a hustle and bustle that is very NY esque, without the chaos and craziness of other Asian cities. It was clean, smog free (unlike Taipei), diverse and full of energy. But also a bit too capitalistic for my taste. (shopping malls everywhere and giant Ads all over the place).
But all in all I really enjoyed it, and it made me really homesick for New York. (except for the double decker buses and red taxis)

Macau-
A 30 minute ferry ride from HK and you'll end up in the "Vegas of the East". On the plane ride there we were surrounded by lots of rich Taiwanese business men and when we could see the Sands, MGM, Hard Rock Hotel and a dozen other casinos from the airport it was obvious why all those Taiwanese guys were headed there. The scenery is full of casinos, but it lacks the sleaziness one would associate with such a place. We stayed at the Westin Hotel (thanks again Caitlin for hooking up the hotel discount) for about 70 US. It's located on the second island, far from the Casinos but within a five minute cab ride of the Venetian Hotel and Casino, the biggest in the world. We decided to check it out and turns out I had some good luck. I was up from black jack and roulette, and as it was getting late me and my girlfriend decided to put 50 HK dollars on a 20-1 shot (they have the wheel at the casino that the dealer spins, like wheel of fortune, and each section is based on the odds of it hitting, 1-1, 3-1, 5-1, 20-1 etc.) We put our money on 20-1 and it HIT!
That plus some of my other winnings totaled about 3,000 HK dollars. Enough to cover the costs of most of the trip...


All in all it was a great time, but made me miss NYC even more. I'd recommend it for sure. It's perfect for someone adventurous enough to want to travel around Asia, but who doesn't want to be bothered with pesky things like 'culture shock'
It seriously felt like NYC

I'm planning the next trip....any suggestions?
-B

Sunday, April 19, 2009

HK and Maccau

Trip was cool, had a lot of fun...I'll post more about it tomorrow but here are some pics to show a little about how it was...

http://picasaweb.google.com/brian.viani/HongKongAndMacau#

Wednesday, April 15, 2009

mixed bag

Teaching in general and in particular in a cram school, can be a profession where recognition and praise is hard to come by. In my kid's school, I never talk with the parents and the kids don't want to be there and make sure I hear them loud and clear. But every once in a while there are those moments(rare as they might be) that make teaching very rewarding.
Last night was the last of my TOEFL classes with my students. Some of these students I've had in my class for the past six months. The class is generally a lot of fun and I try to infuse humor into my teaching (as I try to do with all aspects of my life). Despite that, it still was incredibly difficult to illicit the students to speak. It was a class of mostly girls and Taiwanese students are a little shy about making a mistake in front of other people. Anyway after class a student came up to me and said that I was a really good teacher, and that her English has improved. Not only that she said, but that her confidence speaking has gotten much better and she just wanted to tell me she was sorry that I was leaving and to tell me thanks.

Stuff like that makes it worth it. The old cliche that you are making a difference, albeit a small one, in some people's lives and helping them improve themselves is really what teaching should be, but unfortunately isn't always about.

As a point of contrast, yesterday I told my kids' class that I was leaving and won't be there for the next two days. They asked which teacher was going to replace me. I said, "teacher Adam" and before I could get the end of his name out they broke out in spontaneous cheers.
"Yeaaaaaaaa Teacher Adam tomorrow"
"Really? I'm so happy Teacher Adam will teach us"
"I love Teacher Adam, he's much better than you"
" He's the best teacher. Better than Teacher Brian" (I overheard this one during their playtime)

Ouch...I'm not too concerned with what an 11 year old Taiwanese kid thinks of me....but still. Damn.
They were giddy the entire rest of the class.
Seriously I've never seen them so happy.

-b

Thursday, April 9, 2009

Next Stop Hong Kong and Maccau

Well it's been a while since my last vacation (the end of January) and I'm getting a little restless. So I'm off again. This time to Hong Kong and Maccau but only for a few days. We're flying into Maccau (flight cost 3500 NT) on Wednesday, then hopping on a ferry over to Hong Kong. We'll stay there for a night, then back to Maccau to gamble and explore the city than back to Taipei late Friday. All in all its a pretty busy trip but thanks to my wonderful sister and here hotel deal hook up me and my girlfriend will be staying at the Westin in Maccau

for only 89 US dollars. and staying at Le Meridian in Hong Kong for only 69 US Dollars a night. (Caitlin you're a lifesaver and I owe you a night out on the town when I get back for hooking up this awesome hotel deal.)

I'm particularly excited for Maccau because apparently its known as the "Vegas of the East". I hope I get involved in a high stakes Pi Gou game with some one eyed opium dealer. Or barring that, not lose all my money at the blackjack table. I can't wait and just wish I was able to spend more time in each place. Will post about how it was for sure.
-b

Wednesday, April 8, 2009

Weekend Trip

I had last Saturday off of work because of "Tomb Sweeping Day". It's a day where you're supposed to return to your Grandfather's and great grandfather's tombs and clean them, pray and make sure you think about your ancestors. The point being I had a day off from work. So me and a few friends decided to take a little trip down the East coast. We had no real plan but decided to start by taking the train to Hualien. I've been there two times before but this was to be the first time I made it South of Hualien.
http://iguide.travel/Hualien
We headed out of Hualien after getting rental scooters for 400 Tawain dollars per day
And were OFF! South down the coast on Highway number 11. We saw a big buddha from the highway and stopped off at what turned out to be a monastary. We explored around and then were offered lunch in the Monastary. So there we ate with a bunch of Buddhist monks.

Next stop was Jici beach a beautiful beach with black sand a few KMs south of the Monastary. We stayed there for a few minutes then continued on our way.

We ended up at Shitipong. We found a cheap hotel and stayed the night right on the beach overlooking the majestic coral formations that were everywhere along the coast. The next day we headed out with the aim of taking highway 193 (the "scinic" route back to Hualien. First though we stopped off at the Tropic of Cancer marker.

The road back was windy and it started pouring as we were driving. Four foreigners riding rented scooters in the middle of Taiwan (and I mean the middle, just small little towns everywhere) In the pouring rain. Finally made it back to Hualien and back to the hustle and bustle of the city. But it was a great experience...just riding through the countryside seeing baby water buffaloes, villagers and incredible scenery. Obviously this is a very brief synopsis of the trip.....but here are some pictures. There are more details but I think they would be better told over a few beers at a bar. Amazing time though!!!

Pictures are as follows (the blog is being weird)
1. Tropic of Cancer marker
2. down time while scootering
3. Some local traffic
Pics 5-7 East Rift Valley Scenic Area http://www.erv-nsa.gov.tw/user/main.aspx?Lang=2&SNo=

Dinner at random fish restaurant where they just pull the meal out of the tanks in front of you
Pics 9 and 10 Jici Beach
Pics 11-12 Weird trippy place called Cow Mountain Beach, run by a local Aboriginal Family but overpriced and tacky
Last few pictures:
Giant Buddha and Buddhist monastary where we had some good lunch.

















Friday, April 3, 2009

Stitches Taiwan Style

Well first off...I'm an idiot. Really. I've done a lot of stupid things in my time (breaking my jaw, moving to Taiwan without a job and so forth). So this following post is just another notch in the belt of my idiocy.

I decided to take a trip with my girlfriend down the coast out of Taipei because as I've mentioned Taiwan can be a little hectic. So we decided to hop on the bus (located just meters [that's right I'm metric now] from my apartment) to Ilan County
A great get away about an hour away on the North East coast.

The plan was to take the bus to Jiaoshi, then rent a scooter and make our way up the coast....
good plan eh? Well the rental went ok and I assured my girlfriend that my three times on a scooter qualified me as an expert rider. We were on our way...
Cruising through random villages on the coast, stopping off at local fishing markets along the way, and finally stumbling across Wai AO beach (a surfer's heaven with great waves and black beaches) made the trip seem like a success.
Until my idiot gene kicked in.

After relaxing on the beach I went to take the scooter out of the parking lot and continue up the coast. Unfortunately as I'm ready to pull out of the lot a sudden surge of scooter traffic on the road. The worst part was that they were all university aged Taiwanese guys ready to go surfing. I wanted to get out of the lot but maneuvering was a bit tricky. Plus my pride took over and I wanted to prove that yes I was in fact a better scooter rider than some of those other guys sitting around. I tried to get around a car but I got nervous. As I was trying to get around I realized I couldn't clear the car...so naturally, instead of braking or just flat out stopping the scooter....I decided to hit the accelerator...

and promptly accelerated straight into the wall on the side of the road...

the scooter was scratched up and my leg was cut up pretty bad. The worst was that a bunch of Taiwanese students saw me, the idiot Waigouren (waigouren means foreigner and is sometimes used with a bit of animosity) slam right into that wall. I've been hurt lots and lots of times but this time my pride took the brunt of the damage....

We quickly got on the scooter and with my bloody leg headed to the ER (20 minutes away) Along the way several concerned Taiwanese citizens gave my girlfriend advice on the quickest way to get to the hospital (I realize now that my bloody cut was a dead giveaway that something was wrong).

Turns out I needed 3 stitches in my left leg....
thankfully my girlfriend was alright. But my leg was cut up pretty bad. It was a deep cut which I was to find out later is particularly difficult to heal.

We get to the ER and 3 doctors rush to me, and 5 nurses; like I was in some serious danger. My girlfriend had said the Chinese word for EMERGENCY and (I'm still not sure why) the doctors reacted with a quickness and professionalism that would rarely be seen in the US. The doctor spoke perfect English and was able to tell me exactly what he thought was wrong.
You see Jiaoshi is a very small town with few emergencies. They cleaned my cuts and gave me a thorough examination. Within 5 minutes of arrival they had assessed my injury, and sent me upstairs to the OR to get stitches. I arrived and was greeted by a surgeon and nurse, stitched up and sent back downstairs. Total time from ER entrance to check out............about 20 minutes. I was given a bill, subsequently paid the bill and sent on my way.

Embarrassing as it was...thanks to my Taiwan insurance it only cost me the equivalent of 10 US dollars. Apparently it would've only cost me 2,200 Taiwan dollars without insurance (60 US dollars)
This was and still is baffling to me. Here I am basically an alien in Taiwan and I get better medical coverage than I would in my own country? Where I was born?
I've been to the ER before without insurance and a simple knee examination ended up costing me 1,400 US dollars.

It's disgraceful that I get better health care in a country halfway around the world than in my home country...

....what would the cost be for an ER visit without insurance in the US??? I'll let you get your calculators.
It was 60 bucks! WITHOUT INSURANCE!

I've gotten many many, many stitches in my day.....all due to former bouts of idiocy; and I've never had such prompt, thorough and reassuring service as I had in some random small town in the middle of Taiwan. I mean I've had dozens of ER visits. And in all honesty I never had such prompt, efficient service. Within 15 minutes I was cleaned stitched up and ready to go....

The moral of the story is...well...I guess the moral is that if you have a serious, life threatening, or somewhat threatening injury; it would literally be cheaper to catch the next flight to Taiwan; hop on the next train from Taipei to Jiaoshi and get treated in some random hospital in the middle of the country than to get treated back in the states without insurance.

Cost of stitches in ER: 60 US without insurance
Flight to Taiwan: 1,500 Us Dollars
Cost of getting three stitches in an ER in the US without insurance:
Well..... I bet more than 1560...

Me being an idiot is a lesson to America about how disgraceful our health care system really is....

Stitches out tomorrow.......And don't worry, I've spared no expense....My stitches are getting taken out at the most famous hospital in Taipei.
Total cost with my Taiwanese Insurance: 10 US dollars. Obama let's get moving on this universal health care.
-B

Thursday, April 2, 2009

Random thoughts about teaching

I've complained a lot about teaching and my students but the truth is, I'm in a very good situation in my current school. I have the same students five students, 5 days a week, 2 hours a day; they all get along really well together; they all have a really high level of English (today's vocabulary word is satisfactorily); my director really cares about the students and teachers for the matter(she gives birthday and holiday bonuses) and I basically have free range in terms of how to teach, what to teach etc.

Initially (also a vocabulary word for today) it was overwhelming, I mean how do I know what to teach and when? So at the start I would just follow the book which resulted in boring lessons and bored students. But lately I've been skipping around and not focusing on certain parts of the book, and seeing as how I'm the one making up the tests, grading and assigning homework; I really have the freedom to teach what I want... and cover topics I think are most interesting.

Yesterday for instance my schedule from my director called for a grammar lesson teaching Emphatic Structure and Inversion.
Don't know what either are? .......I didn't either until yesterday.
(for the record Emphatic structure is when we want to emphasis a certain part of a sentence by changing the subject and tense:
Ex. Ann put up the Christmas decorations.....IT WAS ANN WHO put up the Christmas decorations.)
Fun stuff.

Anyway I decided to teach a lesson about April Fool's Pranks instead, including playing one on my students. But my clever students beat me to the punch. They shut off all the lights in the classroom and hid in the back. I played along "Oh where is everyone?" I guess I'll just go home" They ate it up. It was pretty funny seeing as how their only 11 and there's not much room for pranks in their rigid Chinese schools. I then gave them handouts about different pranks, including ones I did when I was younger. They seemed to really enjoy it. Then I had them write a story about one of the pranks we talked about....I think it went pretty well.
The biggest problem I've been having has been discipline but I've got a system down ...

1. they each get points for answering questions, behaving properly etc. If they misbehave or speak Chinese I take away a point. If they have over a certain number of points, they get 2 extra points on their next test. In the beginning the kids said they didn't care about the points but now they all try their best to answer questions.

2. If they don't do their homework or do something really bad, the either have to do their HW during 10 minute playtime, OR they have to stand outside for 5 minutes while everyone else plays

3. If they're still misbehaving they have to go to the office for playtime (this is really bad because any trip to the office means a call home from the director)
Since I've become tougher I've found they enjoy their work more, and are more congenial knowing there are some set rules. I'm constantly impressed with their intelligence but the only problem is that they don't seem to realize how lucky they are.

For example recently I had to teach the same vocabulary words to my 11 year old students, and my 20 year old university TOEFL students. And to be honest, I think my 11 year old students' English level is higher than the TOEFL students. I do hope what I'm teaching them will help them get into good schools, get good jobs and be successful......its hard to demonstrate this to an 11 year old though. Ah well I'll try it again today. If you're interested here's the most recent test I made up for my 11 year olds.....good luck!

Change the following sentences using the EMPHATIC Structure. 2 points each.
Emphasize the word in bold. Example: Ann put up the Christmas decorations.
It was Ann who put up the Christmas decorations.
1. Are you going to wear this dress at the party?

_______________________________________________________________.

2. The band recorded the song “Happy Days”.

_______________________________________________________________.

3. Jeff looks after the children when Jessica is at work.

_________________________________________________________________.

4. John told the secret about his friend.

________________________________________________________________.

Wednesday, March 18, 2009

Das Kapital ...the MUSICAL!!


Well as soon as I posted my previous post about the rising financial power of China I saw this article in the Gaurdian.
It seems China is planning to create a stage and musical version of Marx's Das Kapital. When I had to read that book for Polisci, the first thing I thought was ....it's ok, but it really needs a chorus line.
It reminds me of the Simpson's episode where they go see the Itchy and Scratchy Musical.

Any government who approves funds to make a Das Kapital Musical can in no way be fiscally responsible. So please ignore my previous post; clearly funding a Marx musical is not a wise investment and China's monetary policy should seriously be questioned.

I can't wait to see who gets the lead as Marx...I think Kelsey Grammar would make a great Marx, but I'm not sure if he has the vocal range to carry the production.

-B