During Chinese New Year, the whole city shuts down. “Taipei will be a ghost town, just wait,” they say. Tabitha described it as “horrible” and the time of year she dreads the most. Someone else tried to lift my spirits by reminding me that someone may still invite me to join his/her family’s festivities. But, no one did, and it’s been glorious. I’m loving every minute. It is two days into the new year according to the lunar calendar, and most of the stores are still closed. It’s rainy and cold and I’m running out of instant noodles, but I’m happy. Carrie and Shaun were on a little mini-vacation in Taroko Gorge, a beautiful mountainous area a little south of Taipei, so I had the place all to myself. I had so many grand plans like use the kitchen, download new music, watch 40 episodes of Ugly Betty, decide my future, write a novel, learn Chinese. So far I haven’t made any progress on those last two, but all in good time.
On my first day of vacation, I went running. That was the last day of sunshine, so I’m glad I took advantage. It was getting chilly, though, so I needed running pants of which I have only one pair. I wore them earlier that week when I went to the gym during my lunch break. So I did what any reasonable person who needs to shed four pineapple cakes worth of guilt would do; I pulled them out of the dirty laundry and put them on. I was about five blocks from my apartment when I felt it. The awkward bump near my right leg. It was sliding downward, and without looking, I knew. The underwear I had on last time I wore these pants was caught inside. Dirty underwear was about to slide out of my right pant leg onto the sidewalk. Chinese New Year was still two days away, so I couldn’t hope that only ghosts would be around to catch me crusty handed. People were all around doing their last minute errands before traveling to their grandparents’ house (or something, I’m no expert) for a big meal the next day. Hoping no one would notice was out of the question. People were staring at me more than usual for the entire five blocks because I was jogging in the streets (it’s not common) and because I wasn’t wearing four layers of clothes. I could just hear their thoughts, “She’s going to get sick,” and, “She’ll never find a husband because those bare arms are bad feng shui.”
I was wearing those ankle socks that barely come up above the top of the shoe, but determined as I was, I stuffed the underwear into my sock. Then I went back to listening to Cut Copy. For Christmas this year my dad gave me a tiny MP3 player that clips nicely to my clothes while I run… or while I hide dirty underwear.
Ice skating is wonderful! I remember enjoying it in junior high, but I also enjoyed trying to get people to spell my name with two “ee”s instead of a y at the end. “Doesn’t ‘Emilee’ just look so much better?” I’d encourage, but they were always incredulous… or just annoyed. I had researched it though. I walked around with a chart, tallying up which spelling people liked the most, second most, and which one they definitely didn’t like out of Emilie, Emili, Emelie, etc. Wow, that’s embarrassing to admit, but it’s very true.
Anyway, I wasn’t sure what to expect from this ice skating party, but I was optimistic since I usually like sports, especially when combined with music and beer. Which this was. DJs all night and a bar ON the ice. In other words a recipe for fun in Carrie and Emily’s book. This “book” really does exist by the way. Carrie has a notebook now, a new one. The very tiny ones still come in handy for taking notes, but we realized she needs a larger, but still ultra portable, one for writing down things she observes, especially since she doesn’t have a camera. I take enough pictures for the both of us in a sense, but she does a lot of people watching on her two hour lunch break in a very interesting part of town. She’d like to have our first year here documented through her eyes more. She’s writing and drawing pictures in the book now. So we’ve started saying, “Put it in the book!” when we see something funny. To contrast her two hour break with mine, I sit in the basement of my school and read a literature textbook and then fall asleep. Not exactly worthy for “the book”.
Okay, so back to the ice skating last night. Turns out I’m still a decent skater. The only time I even touched the ice was when I was holding hands with this guy from New York, helping him skate. He hadn’t been skating much (this was later in the night when he was fully aware of his propensity to fall I guess), but the rest of us wanted to get back out there. Not wanting to leave him alone and wanting to help him, off we went. I held him steady, but he’s not a small guy, so I couldn’t really prevent a fall. When it happened, I had to put my hand on the ice. It was cold. End of story. Oh, and by the way it seemed like most of the people there couldn’t really skate: white people, Massachusetts people, Michigan people, but especially French people and Taiwanese girlfriend people. I’m not sure why Carrie, Gretchen, and I were relatively good at it. We’re all from Austin. Met another guy who went to college in Austin, grew up in Dallas, and he skated well too. Do Texans do more ice skating? Is it our deprivation of sledding that sends us rink bound? This would make a good PhD thesis, Danea.
The best part was when these really good skaters started chains. You know like when that one song about a bunny or something comes on at a reception, and everyone gets in a dancing line? It was AMAZING. An exhilarating work out. Sometimes my arms felt like they were getting ripped apart when the front of the line started to speed up all of a sudden and the back of the line wasn’t ready yet, but it was well worth it. The leaders skated fast, made tight turns, and in the corners of the ring, they’d stop and make a bridge with their arms, having the rest of the line skate under them. Then someone would fall and the line would have to break up and reconvene at a later date, after the casualty got another beer.
Then when those kind of shenanigans were dying down, Carrie and I made up a little synchronized routine to do when we skated side by side.
When I first arrived in Taiwan and was subbing at JumpStart, I worked with a girl named Vikki. We taught Blue Class; those kids are now my students in Purple Class. I remember how clueless and eager I was then. I asked her plenty of questions and was immensely thankful for her presence. For example, on the first day I asked, “Vikki,… um, how am I supposed to sing the Goodbye Song at the end of the day? How does the tune go?” She laughed and looked a bit uncomfortable because it’s not her song; she neither made it up nor has she ever sung it. I felt like I could hear her thinking, “Oh geez, now I have to sing in front of this random girl, damn Teacher Valerie and her stupid goodbye song”. Now I know Vikki wouldn’t think that at all, but I’m sure she was a little caught off guard. The Taiwanese teachers at my school don’t ever sing along with the our Wiggles or Christmas songs. They have their own songs in Chinese that they sing with the kids during the Chinese school weeks. Can you imagine if someone was asking you to sing in Chinese? Can you even imagine singing a Wiggles song without being coerced?
Anyway, Teacher Vikki sang the little song for me. But for the entire four weeks of this job, at the end of the day when I was supposed to sing, “We have had a happy day, happy day, happy day. We have had a happy day, see you tomorrow!”, I would start off singing the wrong tune. Then I would stop and look desperately at teacher Vikki until she chimed in with the correct tune. Eventually it got to the point where I was so embarrassed I wasn’t embarrassed anymore. Apparently there’s a cap on that sort of thing at least when it comes to singing jingles to three year olds.
Another thing I was clueless about was the schedule. I understood the main parts: when to teach the alphabet, when to read a book, and when to have them watch me do their art projects for them, but what I didn’t understand is when to drink water (now I know it’s all day). So, we’d come back in the room and I’d say, “Okay Blue Class, I want you to sit on your name spots and I’ll tell you about a a little girl who gets REALLY scared when she goes to visit her Grandma! Who is sitting nicely, nicely, nicely? Who is sitting nicely, nicely, who? Very good! Okay, it’s called Little Red Riding Hood.”
Then I would hear, “Um, Teacher Emily… I think they need to drink their water first”.
“Oh, right… didn’t we just do that?… Oh, because we played downstairs again?… so like every time we enter the room then huh…”
“It’s okay,” Vikki says as she sets out all their water bottles and the kids sit down for a marathon session of beverage avoidance.
Looking back I find it amusing that I overlooked this part of the day. It’s ingrained in me now.
Anyway, Vikki is about the best combination of sweet and cool that you can imagine. When I was subbing, she said she and Teacher Shelly want to take me to Jiufen, a mountain village with amazing views and a famous shopping area. Jiufen is actually “spelled” like this: 九份 and means “nine”. I could never remember the name (pronounced “joe fin” by the way), so I just told Carrie, “They want to take us to a mountain.”
The trip to the mountain finally happened a couple weeks ago, and we were extremely lucky to have chosen a day with excellent weather. The view was fantastic, which is somewhat rare since it rains even more often in these surrounding mountains than it does in Taipei. Carrie didn’t come because that weekend she was with a friend doing some much needed clothes shopping. You should see her new clothes, bright colors and adorable little details that I can’t describe in words without making you throw up in your mouth a little. I’ll try to remember to take some photos because I know that description makes them sound bad, but they’re not.
Before I start posting the amazing photos I took while at Jiufen, I have to say that I had a wonderful time. Shelly (my current co-teacher) is really good at making someone feel comfortable. She does it everyday with the students at our school, especially the newcomers. When we went to Jiufen, I didn’t have to worry about anything. Shelly and her cute smile met me at the MRT station that is between our two houses, and I followed her around for the rest of they day, trying to take pictures of everything, even the commute so I’d be able to remember how to make the trek on my own one day. Fail. In my defense, it was a little confusing (MRT train, regular train, taxi, and then on the way home: bus, train, and MRT), and well, I’m just really glad I was with Shelly.
My camera battery died while at the temple. I don’t remember what the fifth stop was, another view I think. See, this is why wasting time taking photos and not “living in the precious moment” is important. My friend Megan said her mom encourages her to “take a picture with your mind”(a phrase I’ve since adopted), but my mind is just not strong enough to hold all those scenes. And how deprived would I be if I forgot the beauty of this temple, allowing it to waste away in the recesses of my mind where I stuffed my experiences at that one babysitter’s house when all the other kids had left and I sat on the couch made of cat smells, trying not to look over the edge where the amount of hair makes you cherish your mom’s spring cleaning days even if you are the only kid who dreads Spring Break. I know, I’m exaggerating, practically likening my lack of memory to the guy’s in Flowers for Algernon, but I really don’t remember when your birthday is, trust me.
Then we went to the famous shopping area that overlooks all these sights I’ve just shown you. I took a lot of photos (with my mind) of the interesting food and sights in the shopping area, so I’ll post those later.
Disclaimer: Since my phone is now an extension of my mind, I meant that I took them with my camera phone.
I ventured around Jungle Hill for over two hours this past Sunday. The weather was so nice I named it The Best Day in Taipei. I only had my camera phone with me, so please excuse the quality and deception due to all the shadows created by the plentiful foliage. Don’t worry, they come fully captioned, so sit back and relax while I share with you my Jungle Hill experience. Then in Part II I’ll show the street sights on my route from Jungle Hill to Good Morning restaurant to our apartment.