It’s time for some updates on our lives. I’ve left you so in the dark about recent developments that you probably don’t even know what questions you should have. I’ll help you out: Is there still mold growing on our things? Did Carrie’s boyfriend have a nice visit? What has Tabitha been up to all this time? Did she really exist in the first place?
Yes and No. As you may remember her name is not really Tabitha, but she really did sit across from me and eat a quesadilla today for lunch. Now, you’re wondering about Mexican food and where we scored some in Taiwan. Chili’s. So not really Mexican food per se, now don’t you feel silly. There is a Mexican restaurant three minutes from my apartment, owned by a guy who grew up in California and told me about how he smuggled in the chilies for his sauce. I’m glad he’s willing to be a criminal in his efforts to add more flavor to the Taiwanese cuisine, but the enchiladas I ordered were not spicy, not even a tiny, tiny bit. To make matters worse, I kept picking out weird ligaments from my chicken. And if I’d gotten this meal at a cheap price I wouldn’t be such a snob, but it was about 12 USD, and for that price, I could’ve gotten the same dearth of Mexican spice at Chili’s. I’m trying to observe how popular this “Mexican” restaurant is with the Taiwanese, though, because marketing to the tastes of a girl from Texas isn’t really smart business anyhow.
I am reminded of when my friend described nachos he ordered at a bar in Taipei: cheesy Doritos covered in artificial melted cheese.
Oh, right. You were wondering about Tabitha. Well, her parents recently came to Taipei to see her after two and a half years of being apart.
In her effort to show them every interesting thing about Taiwan, I think she was really wearing them out, but I bet they’ve returned to New Hampshire better informed about this city than I am. Her parents are really nice, warm people, and I’m glad they were able to see Tabitha in her element. Okay, I can’t stand it anymore. Her name is Tiffany. Anyway, Tiffany really knows her way around this town. For example, when we visited a temple, she asked David (Taiwanese) to explain the customs, but she was the one who reminded him of all those customs. “Can you tell them about the prayer sticks?”
“Yeah, people use those sticks over there to pray.”
“But you forgot to say how it works. You ask a question, and then you pull a stick out of the bucket and take it to the people at that table. Using the number on your stick, they look up the answer in a book.”
I wish the temple hadn’t been so busy because I would’ve really liked to try this out. I think I would’ve asked, “Why does my bike make an aggravating clicking noise?” If I received an answer like, “Do try to do good but not to be great, otherwise you will be in danger”, then I’d know to stop hating on my bike for being less than great.
Incidentally, when I showed David a tiny little magic 8 ball that I brought from the States, he said he’d never seen one before.
Incidentally again, my friend Jason told me that there are different types of temples, so if you go to a relationship temple, the answers you will receive from the fortune sticks will be geared toward helping you dissect or predict your love life. I’m not sure how these temples differ from the regular fortune tellers. But, some people take the fortunes pretty seriously. I’ve heard about people saying stuff like, “Well, I knew we would break up in November already anyway”. Also there are temples near retail shops to help business owners have faith in their financial decisions.
Tiffany and David also told us about another way a temple goer can receive an answer to a question. You throw two little crescent shaped stones on the ground. If the flat sides of both stones face down, then the answer to your question is “No”. If both flat sides are facing up, they are laughing at you, so you have to try again. I don’t know who “they” are exactly. I guess that’s probably the first question I should have asked. And, if the stones face different ways, your answer is “Yes”.
About Carrie’s boyfriend, she doesn’t have one anymore. Shaun is now her fiancé! He proposed to her on the beach in Thailand. If you’re thinking Awwww!, you’re not alone. I didn’t spend much time with them when he was visiting, but I can tell you a few insider details: he’s an excellent cook, he’s extremely amiable, they got along really well, and they plan to live abroad at least another year either here or in Thailand.
I, on the other hand, will not be revealing my future plans, yet. I know what they are, roughly, but I’m not really in the mood to discuss future prospects, and would like to continue to rehash the past.
Remember that one post about Jade in which I included a photo quiz. No one, except Jade, attempted to guess which item was bought in Taiwan. But, in the event that one person out there has been wondering, I’ll go ahead and tell you that it was the orange container of lotion, picture number 1, that was bought in Taiwan. Jade bought the other items in America and sent them to me.
As you can see in the picture of that lotion, some products here have English labels. Actually a lot of products need a Chinese label stuck on, often covering the English words and thoroughly aggravating me. I mean I understand why and all, but I really want to know what the other vitamins in my Gummi bears are. If I’m not getting Riboflavin, I’d like to know.
As for the mold in our apartment, I had joked about that in a previous blog, but perhaps I subconsciously knew I was breathing it in at that very moment because a few days later I realized it was definitely growing in the corner of my closet. I scrubbed that particular colony of mold off, but there’s something suspect about the air in here and my perpetual bad health is proof.
Anyway, turns out the wood coffee table I keep right beside my bed had mold growing on the underside of both shelves. My mattress sits right on the floor, so as I slept I was breathing in mold spores. Super. I’ve cleaned and removed that piece of furniture, but have since found mold growing on many different bags inside drawers and even on my jewelry that hangs on the wall. After cleaning all the known moldy areas, the air in here feels much better, and my symptoms have been improving dramatically.
While I’m at it, I’ll also tell you about the mosquitos here. In Texas I was allergic to mosquito bites, so the bite area would swell up to a very large size and itch, but then after a few hours there was little or no trace of it ever having been there. In Taiwan, the mosquitos are awake and biting at all hours of the day, and on me at least the bites are visible and extremely itchy for several days afterwards.
I have so many more pictures and stories to share, but I haven’t been good about squeezing the last bits of energy out of me at the end of a day or on the weekends. I’ve made a few new friends, too, which is taking me away from the computer and to the beach, to new food (like the Mandarin Chinese speakers’ version of Dim Sum), and to meetings with my new language exchange partner. Starting tomorrow, I’m finally going to learn Chinese at a decent pace! Wǒ shì hěn kuàilè! (I already knew those words, including the tones, though I’ll admit I had to look up how to spell “kuài lè” in pinyin. It sounds like this to me: “kwhy luh”.) This whole sentence means I am very happy! But the “very” only has to be there so that it doesn’t state a comparison, like: I am happier than person x. So, don’t get to thinking I’m extremely happy or anything. I’ll need some enchiladas verdes before I can add some “very”s up in here.
Here’s a list of things I can say in Chinese:
I am from America. (Literally, I am America country person)
I don’t want (Literally, No want)
Please, I want a cup of pearl milk tea
I want a coffee (I’ve never actually ordered this, but the word “coffee” is borrowed from the French word for this drink, café, so it’s ka fei in Chinese.
What is your name?
My name is Emily
How are you? (Literally You good question? To ask a question you add the word ma to the end of the sentence. This is also the word for “mother”, but you say it quickly and with no tone… whatever that means)
I am doing well
I am not doing well
I want to cross this street (Literally, I want cross ___ street)
If it’s not too much bother/trouble for you…
You cannot (Literally, No way)
Is/am/are (verbs do not change their tense in Chinese!!!)
Go! Keep going! (a phrase to encourage. It literally means add gas)
What is this? (Literally, This is what?)
Almost all the numbers, though I can only say the following quickly with little thought:
1,2,3,4,5,6,7,8,9,10, 100, 200, 1000
As you can see, this is a fairly limited list for having lived here for 8 months. Let’s hope my language exchange partner can help it grow. On the other hand, I’m fairly proud because at least half of this list is from self-study using an app I downloaded onto my phone. It’s called iStart Chinese! The company makes user friendly language tutorials. The best part is that the tutor (some guy with a British accent) tells you precisely how to place your tongue and how and when to push air out in order to pronounce the unfamiliar Chinese sounds. And, I can listen to a female and male Chinese speaker pronounce miàn tiáo (noodles) over and over until I have memorized the correct tones. I average about 83 listens per word.
I still love my job because my students continue to be adorable and well behaved. I have five additional students now, though, so what was once tiring is now exhausting. Many of them have just turned four or will soon, and two are closer to age three. Besides the fact that there are usually at least five students trying to tell me about what their mom said or that they found the smallest piece of lint ever on the floor and would like me to inspect it to see if they should earn some kind of reward for having saved us all, this many students proves a challenge because of the lack of space.
A 12 x 10 room with 15 three and four year olds is one crowded place. I am teaching them a kindergarten curriculum, so we have circle time spots, centers areas, a reading corner, math books, phonics books, handwriting books, and we eat lunch in there. Fortunately, the Taiwanese are great at making the most of small spaces. When I feel like all is lost and there’s no extra space for me to put something like the huge box of new curriculum that just arrived, my boss will come in and say, “Okay, what if we put this shelf on top of that shelf, scoot your desk over like this, and then I’ll get you another shelf to go here?” We do it, and viola! It does fit. Never mind that the recycling box is virtually inaccessible or that little Leo’s floor spot is now under Samantha’s chair. It works. Leo is short.
The level I and my co-worker teach has become so popular that they offered us the opportunity to switch to larger rooms. We turned it down. If you’re a teacher, I’m sure you can agree that taking everything off your walls and out of your cabinets mid-year to set it all up again somewhere new is an almost impossible and definitely scary feat to perform in one evening after school. As you might remember, we have to put up butcher paper to cover the walls because of the unfinished plaster and years of tape stuck to them. Therefore when anything is removed from the walls here, the butcher paper has to be replaced or covered up in those exact spots to hide the tears and discoloration. Remember the years of having to wallpaper? I do, I remember watching my mom do it in several rooms, and though the bathrooms looked like little perfect explosions of flowers, we were all relieved when she hired that one lady to do the kitchen.
No matter which room I have, I know I would continue to feel cramped at work. I’ve never given much thought to claustrophobia, probably because I lived in Texas. As a warning, if you consider yourself claustrophobic now, do not come to Asia unless you plan to be rich and choosy with your work environment. It’s not just when the kids are around that I feel squished; it’s during my breaks because it’s these times when some people need quiet and space the most. Let me give you the privilege of understanding lunch time in a Taiwanese kindergarten.
When the year first started, the youngest class came to my room to eat with us. A few months in, the lunch set up was changed. I began taking my students and about eight chairs to a different class to eat with those students while the big kids brought in ten chairs and a table to my room. When nap time was over, they retrieved their furniture from my room. They often left at least a few chairs behind, though. And just one small chair can block an entire passageway in this type of environment. Recently the lunch situation has changed again. A class I’ve yet to mention comes to eat with us in our room, bringing an extra table and several chairs.
After the kids eat, it’s the teachers’ turn. Luckily our company lets us eat the school lunch for free, saving us a lot of money and time. At noon at least five of us are standing up in the kitchen eating from small metal bowls. Standing and eating may not sound that strange especially to my dad, but except for Chris, who somehow manages to get in there first every time and stand in the safe spot in front of the closet, everyone else is in someone’s way approximately seven times throughout their meal. Either you’re standing in front of the sink where Auntie is trying to wash the bowls between her trips to clean rooms, or you’re standing in front of the cabinet of bowls and need to move when someone needs a dish, or you’re in front of the fridge and someone needs garlic, or you’re standing in front of the door to the kitchen, and I don’t think I need to explain why that one is inconvenient, or you’re standing in front of the food itself. When I say you have to move, I mean you have to find a new spot entirely. And the only spot you can move to is often the very middle of the kitchen where someone else is eventually going to need to be.
So just imagine the smallest kitchen ever and that’s where the Auntie prepares the meals. She doesn’t cook them; they are delivered by a man wheeling a cart. As he glides down the hallway to deliver the food in the morning, he taps on the metal containers so students and teachers get out of his way since the hallway is, as you might’ve guessed, not that wide.
After eating, most teachers leave the school because other than the basement, there is nowhere for them to go. I’m lucky in that there are no kids napping in my room, so I can get some work done in there. The hard part is that I’m in Auntie’s way yet again. She’s trying to mop and such and I’m traipsing around trying to get things done. She’s very nice about it, even when the gunk stuck to my shoes is making footprints on the floor she just moped. I haven’t accidentally worn my inside shoes outside in like five months, so I’m not sure where all that dirt comes from, but anyway, she taught me how to wipe them on the mop. When she leaves, she doesn’t close the door, which is about two feet from the office, which quite frequently houses conversations or a screaming kid. I don’t know what the screaming is about since they always yell in Chinese (plus the upset ones are always newbies who don’t know much English yet), but I know that I need peace and quiet, so I go and close it. Five minutes later Auntie comes in again and wipes the tables down. She leaves the door open again, so I go and close it. I start working again on creating some lesson or cutting, and Auntie comes back in to mop again. She mops twice because, well, school floors are dirty. And when she exits, she leaves the door open. The kid isn’t crying anymore, so I don’t notice until he comes in and starts rummaging through our toys. I ignore him, but then he approaches my desk talking to me in a forlorn voice. Once again, I don’t know what he’s saying. So I just nod and say, “It’s okay” while using my herding skills to get him out of the room. I close the door right as he starts crying again. Oftentimes comforting someone has the opposite effect. Or maybe it was because I closed the door in his face? I’m not sure, but I’ve learned not to get all compassionate because the bandage has to be ripped off at some point. I can only pretend we speak the same language for so long.
Now it’s not that I’m complaining. These breaks keep me sane, and I feel extremely lucky. Who gets two hours off in the middle of the day? Who gets to be sane these days? The breaks and holidays in this company are gold. But, sometimes I go down to the basement where it’s dark, musty, and relatively quiet and dream of the wide open spaces in my previous life. Sometimes that Dixie Chick song starts playing. “Wide open spaces, room to make her big mistakes…” Ironically, it’s a lot easier for me to let go of mistakes here in cramped spaces than it was in the wide open spaces of Texas. I think people here are so much nicer and forgiving because if you don’t learn this skill early on, you’re going to start hurting people for being in your way all the time. And I bet the prisons here are even smaller than Auntie’s kitchen.