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 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)


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)

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?

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...

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.


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.

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.
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

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 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.

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.