Saturday, July 3, 2010

Jomba Kenya!

After a 4 hour flight to Bangkok, an 11 hour layover followed by a 9 hour flight to Nairobi, I've made it to Kenya! I've been here about 8 days so far and have been super busy getting aquainted with my new home for the next month. Last weekend we drove about 4 hours to Lewa for the 2010 Safaricom Marathon. We camped out under the stars and the next day I tried my best to run a full marathon through a game reserve. It was intense. Much more difficult than I had originally thought and although the surroundings were inspiring and breathtaking, I couldn't pull off the full marathon and had to settle with finishing the half. I blame the jet leg coupled with my lack of training during my last few weeks in Taiwan. After an amazing weekend camping we were back in Nairobi.

I relaxed for a few days and on Wednesday I met up with some of my fellow volunteers and was taken to stay in a local Kenyan house for the night. My host, George was fantastic, really friendly and funny. It was great to finally be staying in an actual home after living 2 years pretty much entirely on my own.
We had orientation for the program Thursday and Friday and met the other volunteers. They're all really friendly and there is such a wide range of people from so many backgrounds, that everyone had an interesting story or two to tell. After orientation we were brought to our host family. Everything has been great so far....I start teaching on Monday but I'm a little nervous. I've heard from other volunteers that the conditions in the school are really tough to deal with....i.e. 40 kids in a class with only 7 books. We'll see how it goes. I'll be teaching there with another volunteer and the mother and daughter (who have already been here for 2 weeks) will continue to teach at the school for another two weeks. So it'll be good to talk with them and get their advice about what to expect in the classroom and in Kenya in general. There's no internet at my homestay and the accomadations are basic but comfortable. It's a big difference from the modern megapolis of Taipei. I don't know when I'll be able to blog again, but hopefully I can post bits when I get access to a computer, which might be a week from now or a few weeks.

We're planning on going to Mombossa next weekend and I've been thinking about climbing mount Kenya before I leave. But for now it's time to focus on teaching. I'm really nervous but I hope I can remember all the tricks and tactics I used with my class in taiwan to really make sure these kids enjoy learning.

I'm safe and sound in Kenya, I miss Taiwan a lot though. Monday is my first day teaching here in Kenya and I hope it goes well.


Monday, June 14, 2010


Liang Nian,

On June 13, 2008 I boarded a plane for Taipei. It was probably the most nerve-wrecking 18 hour flight I've ever had. That seems like a long time ago, and it was. I came here almost on a whim for many of the same reasons that other people who teach abroad cite: I wanted some adventure, wanted a challenge, a new experience, was fed up with living where I was living and most importantly wanted to prove to myself I could handle something as crazy and ridiculous as moving to a new country on my own. And yet, its hard to put the last two years and this whole experience into words.....

Two years ago I had no idea what to expect. At all. I vividly remember getting off of of the plane and walking out into the airport, the heat the humidity, the congestion of Taipei.... all on my own and thinking "What the hell have I just done? What the fuck is wrong with me?" I came to Taiwan all on my own, no job prospects, a pathetic amount of Chinese ability, no apartment lined up,a phone number of someone whom I barely knew who lived in Taipei, no experience teaching, and worst of all chopstick abilities that were pathetic at best.

Two years later, I have no regrets about my decision. It was the best chance and risk I've ever taken. Two years later, I have so many amazing friends, have a job that I absolutely love and that really helps people improve their lives, I feel completely confident teaching all levels, my Chinese has improved from pathetic to adequate (A night market vendor was recently blown away by my impeccable ability to order some tea), and, most importantly, my chopstick skills are out of control.

Taipei is a wonderful, safe, albeit a little too rainy; but nonetheless an awesome place to live. After two years here however it's time to move on. It really pains me to leave Taiwan....this small little island that has some of the friendliest people I've ever met, and has ..."touched my heart" as its tourist slogan suggests. It's hard to summarize the last 2 years of my life here in Taiwan....all I can say it's been incredible. The people I've met, places I've been and things I've learned have all been inspiring. As cliched as it sounds it has been a life changing experience.
When I came here I figured I would stay for a few months, get tired of it and head back to NY. But after two years here I still love the place and honestly can't imagine living anywhere else.

But restlessness is my biggest drawback....and I've got the itch to get up and go again...SOoooo on June 24th I'll leave Taiwan and fly to Bangkok. I'll have a 12 hour layover and then I will fly to Nairobi, Kenya. To a new continent, new country, new city, new experience, new adventure, new culture. I will be volunteering teaching English in a junior high school there for the summer.....However, this time I have a volunteer job lined up, have a cousin living there and have a place to stay. Piece of cake.

2 years in Taiwan but want to stay for many more...

Wednesday, February 3, 2010

Wordy warning

Found this in the MRT on the doors blocking the entrance to the subway car:

"In instances when parental negligence leads to children behaving in ways that affect the safe operation of the metro system or disturb other passengers, parents will be held accountable"

That's a mouthful....Unfortunately this has not been dutifully enforced as little "buggers" are constantly disturbing me.


Monday, February 1, 2010

Arms deal

In convert with my previous post...
This article in the NY Times came out...

When I first got here a arms deal with Taiwan would not be big news, but now, 2 years since I got here it's important news. But maybe I shouldn't write anymore...the walls have ears.


Thursday, January 28, 2010

Cats and Dogs

So I'm going to be going to China for Chinese New Year's (fitting isn't it?). A friend from NYC is meeting me in Hong Kong on 2/11 and then we're going to fly up to Beijing from February 13th until the 20th ...then back to Hong Kong and returning to Taiwan on the 20th. I'm interested to see the differences between China and see how 'the other side lives' so to speak. It's impossible to live in Taiwan without constantly hearing about China. The last few weeks the news has been particularly China-focused.

There are two issues about Taiwan and China relations that have been pushed to the forefront recently: Economic agreements, and military ones.
On the economic front, China and Taiwan are currently engaged in negotiations regarding a trade agreement similar to the one China has signed with Korea. If signed, it will mean closer ties between Taiwan and China, but also closer dependency. Some people see this deal as inevitable given China's size and market growth. Others see it as a means for China to further strengthen their influence over Taiwan. It's not my place to say which side is, I'll leave that to the Greens and the Blues to figure out.

The other aspect is U.S. Arms sales to Taiwan. The U.S. has recently announced plans to sell arms to Taiwan, which has understandably caused some tension with China. It'll be interesting to see how the Taiwan issue moves to the forefront as China's economy and military might continue to grow. Obviously it's been big news here.
This editorial demonstrates the complexities involved in the arms deal.

It should be an interesting trip to China given these current happenings. However I read this aarticle about eating cats and dogs in China. It makes me a little worried about what I'll encounter over in the PRC. The most telling indication of China's rise to power for me, is that 10 or 15 years ago, China was doing the same things it is now (eating cats and dogs, threatening Taiwan, violating human rights and privacy)...but these things rarely made headlines (at least in the U.S. anyway). Now that China is a "rising power" all of these issues are international news. It seems to me that eventually things will have to come to a head. Maybe Google's decision to leave China is the starting point.

I'm glad I live in Taiwan where, as far as I know, no one eats cats and dogs. Thankfully the nastiest thing available to eat here is fermented or "Stinky" tofu. It's tofu that has been fermented and then cooked in a soup. It tastes and smells like a dirty gym bag. If I had to choose between cat soup and stinky tofu, I'd have to chose a big heaping bowl of stinky tofu...despite it's obvious flaws, it still beats cat soup......hands down.


Wednesday, January 27, 2010


I read this article in the NY Times and it really hit home for me. Although discussing China, this article could easliy describe Taiwan, and from other people I've spoken to, Japan Korea and many other Asian countries as well. A few weeks ago I read Fareed Zakaria's book THe Post-American World. In it, Zakaria argues about the rise of the likes of China and India or "the rest" as he dubs them. In a chapter on China, and citing his own experiences growing up under the educational system of India... he presented a fascinating quote, with a similar message as the article above:

"Other educational systems teach you to take tests; the American system teaches you to think. It is surely this quality that goes into explaining why America produces so many entrepreneurs, inventors, and risk takers. In America people are allowed to be bold challenge authority, fail and pick themselves up. It is America, not Japan that produces dozens of Nobel Prize winners."

As a teacher, especially a teacher who works solely with adults, this quote and article were dead on in terms of my experience.

As an example, in one of my classes not too long ago, I presented some words to my students. Now these were all words that appear frequently of test such as TOEFL, or IELTS and included words like important, necessary, vital and so on. I asked them to simply make a sentence with some of those words and say it to the class. My reasoning was that understanding how to speak using those words will help them know how to listen for them better...and vice-versa.
However, I was met with nothing but silence and nervous stares. All of my students are incredibly smart and have above average English abilities, but something prevented them from actively and creatively thinking up sentences like that. I stressed how important it was to create the sentences on their own but still struggled to get them to say anything. Seeing as how such tests have a speaking section that tests fluency and creativity, one would think they would want to practice these skills. Being a teacher gives me a unique perspective about how drastically the two educational systems really are. For instance, if I want an answer to a question, and ask if anyone has an answer, even though all of my students got the right answer, no one will say a word. Their heads are down and they don't even look up. When I call on someone's name everyone else in the room seems completely relieved. This would be understandable if I was teaching in a Jr. High or high school, but teaching adults, adults who want to learn English to get a better job or degree, I'd assume they would be more proactive.

Being here I've definitely come to appreciate the American educational system, at least in terms of encouraging creativity. I've generally been allowed to make my own decisions and own mistakes; allowed to try everything I was interested in without worry or fear of being ostracized and as a result, I've been able to discover my own strengths and weaknesses. Obviously it's impossible and downright ignorant to try and claim which way of thinking is "Better"; but I can say that personally, I'm glad I was given freedom to think, explore, and discover my passion on my own. I'm also glad that I'm not afraid to be different, to fail or try something new and creative.
Obviously the American educational system has some big flaws, but inspiring creativity and ingenuity, in my opinion, isn't one of them.

Thursday, January 21, 2010

No Excuses

It's been a long time since a substantial post...I have no excuses for that. Just shear and utter Brian Viani laziness.

Some highlights of the past few months here:
Finished my grad school Apps (MA in International Relations here I come!)...

Celebrated New Year's in a similar fashion as last year

Got a new roommate...for those keeping track at home, I am now living with 2 girls. One from Cali, one from Vancouver.

Planned and booked a trip to China for Chinese New Year's

Learned some new words in Chinese

My old friend Peter, a fellow NYer and the most Italian Asian kid I know... came for a visit

Decided to go to Kenya in June

My English ability has continued its perpetual decline....seriously my vocabulary is that of a 5th grader's now.

and that's about it. All of these were good times. Having an old friend here was especially awesome because there were so many things I've grown accustomed to here that I was able to look at with a fresh, New York City perspective; for instance...for some reason people here think it's lucky to let the hair on their mole grow long. We all know those hairs. If you have moles ...chances are there is some odd hair growing out of it. But most decent people simply shave it off, especially when said mole is located around the chin or cheek region. But here that mole hair is supposed to be good luck. So there are all these old Taiwanese guys walking around with a clean-shaven face.... save one or two or three INSANE and LONG hairs coming out of their mole on the chin. Imagine not shaving your one hair for your entire life...and then feeling so proud about it you want to take it with you on the subway, and stand inches from my face...

I'm not saying I got completely accustomed to this hair; I'm in no way planning on growing out my own, but let's just say seeing Peter's reaction to such things helped me put things in perspective.

But for now I'll leave you loyal readers with two interesting articles:
1. This article about several elementary schools in China named after Tobacco Corporations

and 2. This gem about the movie Avatar actually killing some poor Taiwanese dude. I didn't realize being long, a little predictable and too preachy could kill...

More substantial posts coming soon, promise


Happy Birthday Dad!

Your present is on the way!