Tuesday, March 3, 2009

Under pressure...

Since my 25th bday I've been feeling a bit homesick. Nothing too bad but the work load (Kid's classes, adults and Chinese classes) have been wearing me out. And Taipei itself has been too much lately. I'm used to the hustle and bustle, hectic pace of New York, in fact if I'm in a place where I can't hear cars honking or driving all through the night, I feel strange. Those are the soothing sound which help me fall blissfully asleep. BUT that being said there's something about Taipei that's just TOO hectic.
There is a constant rush; a kind of competitiveness, crowds infused with capitalism, shopping malls infused with fast food. People infused with this ingrained mentality of always be the best. Its like consumerism on Roids. Its too competitive, too consumerist, too cutthroat. TOO MUCH PRESSURE. Especially to learn English. No matter what age, 5, 11, 25, 45...if you don't know or speak English here you're viewed as someone less intelligent, or rather less respectable socially. And it's disgusting.
You see it with the kids the most and that's where it's really heartbreaking. No playing outside no reading for fun, just hours and hours and hours in English cram schools. Pressure constantly (if one of my students doesn't get a 95 on every test he has to only do hw, no computer games until he gets over 95).
And lately I've found myself getting sucked into it. I hate that I'm the bearer of these kids' misery and add more pressure to them. It's not fair.
It's just assumed that you should work and compete as hard as Taiwanese people. It's not healthy (especially for the kids). All the stress, pressure, competitiveness..... eventually it's going to have to be released somewhere. It's really palpable the pressure here, even for foreigners. I find myself getting angry more easily, and feel more stressed here than I did in the NYC subway.
Many of my students are constantly stressed and get frustrated so easily when they can't pronounce simple words.
According to this article, some of this pressure is finding a release through the rise in teen suicides:
Taiwan's suicide rate in 2007 was 19.0 deaths per 100,000 people. Which is very close to Japan, which ranks second behind Russia among industrialized nations' suicide rates. Korea, Japan and Hong Kong also rank in the top 15, but many of the countries above them are not industrialized nations.
This article from the BBC is a bit more disturbing:

It mentions a new form of suicide taking place within families in Taiwan where due to any number of factors, the parents will kill themselves and their children. And although still relatively low, these events have been increasing, especially amidst the economic crisis.


Taiwan has recently dropped into a recession after the major trading partners (basically the US) have decreased demand for Taiwanese products. Since Taiwan is a particularly export heavy economy, and since exports account for a really high percentage of overall GDP for Taiwan....the demand for exports has significantly dropped; the most in several years. http://online.wsj.com/article/SB123547101880358143.html
In January exports dropped 40% from 2008 and there's no telling how much further they'll drop..... The economic crisis, the intense pressure, can only compound the current suicide problem in Taiwan.

Clearly some combination of cultural norms, pressure to conform, high expectations from parents and bosses, hyper capitalism and the fact that 23 million people are crammed on a very tiny island.....with a population density of about 20,000 people per square mile (in Taipei) and the world's second highest population density with 623 people packed into each square mile(2nd only to Bangladesh):http://www.monstersandcritics.com/news/asiapacific/news/article_1286284.php

something's got to give.

the result is a noticeably stressful, chaotic and hectic environment. Couple that with the high suicide rate, economic downturn, the cultural aversion to seeking help (as it is a sign of weakness) and the pressure on children to learn English at any cost; and you have a pretty difficult place to raise your children.

The result is....well I just feel terrible being a part of this pressurized system to learn English (more so for my kid students) and would rather enrich their knowledge about world events, funny stories or inspire them to learn in another way...however the system which I'm placed does not have a lot of wiggle room for individuality and emphasizes conformity. It's a tough place to be a middle class 11 year old, especially if you struggle with English. English .......and more accurately some combination of English and Capitalism, is seen as the Holy Grail, the key to a better economic life, the key to a higher social status, but as we've seen from the Wall Street collapse in NY and the financial crisis in London, speaking English is by no means a prerequisite for understanding markets, improving economically or even lifting yourself out of this vicious cycle of pressure and competitiveness. English isn't the golden ring or the be all and end all.....but somehow here it is the key to improving your social status, to move you from middle manager to manager....but the cost is clearly damaging. It's a shame.

Granted learning English can .....maybe help open doors to study at international universities, or pursue more advanced degrees, but at what cost is this achieved? Pressure on children from age 3 until 21 and onwards until adulthood, is consistently so intense that the suicide rate is one of the highest in the world..........this hardly seems to be worth the supposed advantages you would get.


1 comment:

Daniel said...

well thought out entry.. there must be "hippy" schools you could work at in Taiwan.. some kind of Americanized, non-judgement, free-zone for children like the ones here. a place where you can teach and they can learn more calmly. i think it might be very good for you to try and move to a different post..