Sunday morning here. Time for some reminiscing: Friday we had our first interview with a language school. We took the MRT and walked (in the rain with no umbrella or raincoat… smart) to find the company’s central office. They have about 6 schools in Taipei and a couple in a southern town. We both interviewed via Skype before departing, so we felt pretty comfortable talking with Eric. He is very amiable and not intimidating. The position we might be offered once we tell him we choose his school would be the lead teacher of three-sixteen young children who are not yet attending the Taiwanese public school system. This means we would teach them during the day M-F, 8:50-12 and 1:50 -5pm. We would each be assigned either ages 2-3, 3-4, or 5-6 depending on what they have open. Each school also has what they call Chinese teachers. Eric explained that these teachers do not appreciate being called assistant teachers, so this is the most appropriate name. Anyway, these Chinese teachers would help out as needed in the classroom, especially in the younger classrooms, but they also do various duties around the school.
After speaking with us both about our trip and other small-talk topics, he asked us who would like to go first for the individual interviews. We both sat there staring at each other. Eventually Carrie saved us and said she’ll go first. Later she thanked me for letting her go first, and I thanked her for talking loudly enough during the interview for me to get some clues as to what he was probably asking. Besides eavesdropping, I turned my 5 Chinese word vocabulary into 7 words.
He asked us each what we considered our biggest strength and then our biggest weakness, how long we plan to stay in Taiwan, how we would handle it if we decided we had a better way to do something. He also asked us what we would do if he only offered one of us a job with his company. How dare they! We said we’d hope the other person could find a job with another school so that we can still live together, but that nothing, even us living together, is set in stone as of yet.
Then he took us to two of the schools. He showed us the tiny classrooms. “The children are tiny too,” he explained. It wasn’t that alarming to me though. I’ve begun to quite like the smallness of Taiwan. For once, my feet (heels and toes) always touch the floor without me sitting on the edge of my seat. And the surface of the tables are way below me, so I can hold my arms and shoulders in a normal position when eating or working. Carrie and I were also pleased to notice that we are required to take off our shoes and wear house slippers around the school. So, the days of making sure we have shoes that are both comfortable and stylish (all girls recognize this as an oxymoron) would be a thing of the past. We suspect this is similar with many of the schools since it is the same at our hostel. I’ve encountered this custom in the U.S. too. It is not just a keep the carpets clean thing; it’s something deeper. My Japanese friend explained it to me once, but I’ll botch it all up if I try to repeat it. Ask your favorite Asian friend if you require further explanation. Disclaimer: not all Asians have this preference.
When we went downstairs, we saw the whole school (about twenty-five 2-6 year olds) practicing for a performance. About eight kids at a time were singing and dancing to an American song from the 80’s. The kids who were waiting were very patient and well behaved. About a fourth of them were wearing masks, like the surgical masks worn by doctors. We first encountered this on the plane rides, thinking that maybe some people want to avoid germs when traveling in tight quarters. Then, we saw many people wearing them around Taipei, so we speculated that they are worried about the pollution. But when I saw the four year olds wearing them in their own school, I decided some people are just a little paranoid. This was confirmed by our friend Chouchen who is part owner of this hostel where we are staying. Carrie bought masks for us for fun. I could barely wear it for 2 minutes. If you would like to experience this phenomenon, put a T-shirt over your mouth, and position a rubber band around your head to hold it in place. Then walk around doing your normal daily routines.
We were introduced to the school director, Rosalynn, and the teachers. Everyone seemed very happy and enthusiastic. Then we went to the second school which was a bit different: more spacious, larger student population, and more hectic because it was 5:00, when the teachers go home and the kids run wild until their parents come and make them go home for violin practice. Just kidding! Maybe. By running around wild I mean not sitting quietly in rows.
This school director, Erica, was also very sweet. She pulled us into a room for short individual interviews too. We were a little caught off guard by this, but answered well enough I hope. Teaching philosophy, discipline procedures etc. Then, Eric gave us a cab ride back to our hostel and told us to keep in touch, letting him know what we decide. We haven’t really been formally offered a job, but that will come once we tell him if we are even planning to live in this city, I guess.
Overall we were both very impressed with the school organization (they have curriculum too!!!), the low turn-over of teachers, and the adorableness of the students.
Now onto Saturday: Around noon we headed out into the city with the purpose of exploring and hopefully making it to the city park. Eric said Da’an park is like Central Park for Taipei. We could have taken the MRT, but we wanted to see all the shops, and smell all the smells, so we walked. Carrie and I both bought umbrellas because it began to rain again. I had on my rain coat and though it’s not very thick, any kind of extra clothes here are not ideal. It is SO humid that 84 degrees means shorts and tank top ONLY. Many of the locals wear pants, but we’re not sure why or how. Maybe they do not like exposing their skin to the UV rays because they prefer light skin and/or are being safe. By the way, some girls our age wear very short shorts, so ours are definitely appropriate since they aren’t even that short.
We stopped at a store that was a mix between the sovuneir shops in New York and the bunch- of- crap stores in beach towns. We wandered around a bit: Carrie picked out a few pieces of candy from the huge selection, and I inspected each umbrella carefully. Then I noticed some stairs and people using them, so I followed. There was a whole floor of school/office supplies, bathroom stuff, and kitchen stuff. It is not very common to see these types of stores around. These items, it seemed to us, had to be purchased at convenience stores which obviously were limited in what they had. I wish I had taken a picture because this stuff was SO tightly packed in. If someone was in the aisle you could barely squeeze by. I found this section of teeny tiny notebooks. I spent a long time choosing the best two. The smallest one is about .5 inch by 1.5 inch. This is perfect to fit into a small pocket on the strap of my backpack where I also have a pen and a spot for my future house key on a zip line cord. So, when the shopkeepers quote us a price of some fruit, for example, we can ask them to write it down (the verbalization of the numbers is in Chinese and as of yet unrecognizable to us). Also, when we meet someone cool we can quickly ask them to write down their contact info or something. Anyway, it’s better than me carrying around my journal everywhere and having to take off my backpack to dig it out. Since we plan to walk, and later bike, around a lot, reducing the weight on our backs is critical. So, you thought that was all, that tiny notebooks was enough of a reason to write about this store, but alas, I also needed a hand-held hole punch. After a little bit of searching, I knew I needed help; the store has soooo much so tightly packed that a hole punch would not stand out even if I were looking in the right aisle. How would I communicate this to an employee? I looked up “ hole” in my English to Mandarin dictionary while Carrie laughed at me incredulously. Then I walked up to a guy stocking the shelves. I was about to point to the dictionary entry and hope that he somehow knew what kind of “hole” I was looking for (ya right), when I saw that almost every item hanging on the shelves has a hole punched in it. I picked up a pack of something, tiny notebook probably, and pointed to the hole that enables it to hang on the metal rod. I made a punching motion and said “hole punch”. He knew exactly what I was talking about and brought me to an aisle, picked one up and handed it to me. He probably spoke English, but I like to think my creative skills were what saved me from being hole-puncher–less. This hole punch was no ordinary metal, hurts your hand one. It uses a technology that makes sense. I will not attempt to describe it to you, but it does not hurt my hand even when I punch holes in several index cards at once, and it does not look ugly either. But I am still not finished. I noticed there was another set of stairs, so we went up there. It was a hardware store! Everything your heart could desire was in this tiny store! Carrie got a package of origami papers, two poster size origami sheets, anti- germ/pollution paranoid masks, candy, and a tiny notebook all for about 4 USD. I got two tiny notebooks, a pretty cloth zipper bag, a hole punch, a father’s day card, an umbrella, and toilet paper for the hostel for about $10 USD (325 Taiwanese Dollars). THEN, we went to the park. The park was amazing!!! The grass was a vivid green and there were all kinds of trees I’m not used to seeing in real life. We followed several little pathways and strayed off several pathways, taking photographs (soon to come to a blog near you). Carrie is great at making interesting poses. My pose looks like I’m taking my senior pictures, or in the case of when I pretended to climb some vines, the opposite of that. Then I asked Carrie to lie down on the wet ground so I could try to be artsy with my picture taking. People started staring at us. One guy that stared as he walked past caught my interest, and I began to photograph him. I caught him reaching into a tree that was surrounded by bamboo (or something) and pull out a plastic bag. He was hiding his belongings in the foliage. Thirty minutes later, we ended up talking to him while watching a Chinese Kung-Fu class take place in the grass. He spoke a smidgin of English and was not shy to try it out on us. He was a very cute older man. I almost offered him my half eaten sausage. The meat looks fairly delicious here, but as I have found out on two different occasions, it is not the same (at all) to the meat back home. It has a sweet flavor and the meat itself is a strange texture. I haven’t quite figured out what they do differently. Maybe you could tell me. Anyway, we’ve mostly been to vegetarian restaurants so far because Carrie is one, and I am perfectly fine with sticking with those places now. They are very tasty and cheap.
Oh yeah, I have to tell you about some unfortunate occurences that I’m not proud of having done because it made me seem very rude and maybe put a bad light on all Americans? For this I am sorry. Carrie is better than me about hanging back and just watching, making sure not to inconvenience people or do anything considered rude. I guess I am not quite as good at this, but I think I will try a bit harder now.
When we were walking around the park taking photos, we saw/heard a graduation ceremony a little ways away. We had passed by another one on our way there too. There was a crowd of people with cameras in this one corner of the park so we assumed they were there for the graduation or something. Carrie noticed that they were all looking up, though. We got closer to them to see what they saw, and noticed a bird in a tree. They were taking pictures of it, so I did the same. When my camera flashed they shouted at us in Chinese and I immediately realized what I had done. I was using the flash, and it might scare the bird away. I felt really bad and turned the flash off. Luckily the bird stayed on that branch a little while longer before going into his hole in the tree. There were so many people and they were so serious that I imagined that they had traveled for miles and miles to stand by this tree and wait for this bird to come out. Maybe it only happened once a year or less?!? I felt really bad. We walked over to these food booths and were offered samples of pineapple and such. This is the place where I was tempted by the sausage’s allure. Anyway, one of the booths was selling a massage chair, a really interesting one that looked like hands were reaching out from the cloth of the chair to massage your muscles. I noticed a lady sitting in one of the chairs enjoying a massage. Carrie said “I’m going to try it!” and sat down. I heard a man yelling from far away and watched as he began running toward us. I figured out why and turned to tell Carrie, but a lady was already in front of her urgently explaining that it is for show only. We tucked our tails and went to the playground (see pictures) where no one yelled at us.
After the park adventure, we went home, cleaned up, and around 10:30 pm went to a bar we had heard about. There is no checking of IDs here, so we just walked in. When we tried to get a drink, though, the bartender said things that did not sound positive and pointed at a card that had the number 800 on it. The numerical forms of numbers are our only common means of communication (I suppose you’ve gathered this). We didn’t know what she was saying, but we pretended to, as is becoming our new coping method, and walked off. We stood very close together, trying to be out of the way because this place was very crowded. “Let’s just stand here and look nice for 10 minutes and see if anyone rescues us,” Carrie suggested. Sounded good to me. People noticed us, but may have been thinking, “Awww, those poor pathetic girls”, and not, “Let’s see if those classy Americans want to be our friends”. Not to say that we didn’t look good; we did. But it is a bit hard to compete with the stylish Asians. Eventually, a bar-back approached us and asked if we had a ticket. “I’m not really sure how that works,” I admitted. He explained that we have to pay $800 NTD to get in and it includes two drinks. That is about 27 USD, so we headed out. That’s more than we brought for the whole night. Carrie speculated that maybe the high price has something to do with graduation night.
We couldn’t find our plan B bar, so we just went home. On the way back I became super sleepy. It was the latest we’d been up since arriving. We came home to a busier hostel. For the past few days we only roomed with a girl from Hong Kong who is mysteriously never here or else is very quiet in her bedroom between the hours of 6am and 1pm and also from 5pm to 10pm. But now, we have two Chinese roommates in the other private room similar to ours, and two Malaysian roommates who share the third room with HongKong ninja girl. Btw, In Malaysia and Brunei, they speak Chinese too.
Today we might take the MRT system to the harbor. Then for dinner we are meeting with Felicia, a recruiter for a prestigious school here. She is prepping us for our interviews on Monday.
So you’re caught up now, and can go back to your world of large notebooks and knowing where the bars are.