Tag Archives: Taiwanese


4 Mar

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.


The Secret to Happiness

13 Jan
fun friends
flowy pants
tropical climate
I found these in Thailand. Let’s start with the last one: When you fall down, get up and try again, and as long as you don’t die, you may find that you are happier… or maybe not, but at least you’re not a quitter.
It starts with my friend Freddie. I won’t go into how I know him. But let’s just say he’s the most gregarious and craziest of my friends. Some other people come close, but they just can’t quite beat Freddie. I doubt they ever will because Freddie’s been at it longer and will stay at it the longest. Just pray that you end up in the same nursing home as him because that’s your only chance at not being bored there. Anyway, we just happened to have plans to be in the same city at the same time, so we planned to meet up. The timing was perfect. I had just met Duncan at the airport, and as we drove up to my hostel, there was Freddie taking off  his helmet.  We made plans to visit a famous mountain near Chiang Mai. Before we set off, though, he needed to drop off his scooter in a village 45 minutes away.
“Huh? You rented a scooter that far out?”
“No, I borrowed it from a Thai lady.”
“A random Thai let you borrow her scooter without some kind of collateral!?”  But I really wasn’t that surprised because I know Freddie just enough to know these kinds of things happen to him all the time. But that wasn’t all. He also needed to pick up his rooster feathers. The previous day he had attended the Buffalo Market with his boss, and purchased twenty roosters so that he could take the feathers back to Texas for his girlfriend to use in people’s hair. It’s hugely popular in the Austin area. First it was my coworkers, then my students, and now apparently every other Texas girl (and Freddie) has thin purple, red, and blue feathers semi-permanently imbedded in their hair.  Any other states experiencing this hair enhancement fad? Anyway, he said it took a long time to explain to the chicken owners that he didn’t want the meat. He needed someone to skin them and dry the carcasses. “They were really angry at me because they thought I wasn’t taking their roosters seriously”, Freddie explained to us. In his photos you can see at least ten locals in a circle around him as he makes wild hand gestures in his attempt to act out which part of the bird he needs.  Finally a lady who spoke English came to his aid.
Anyway, before he could go up the mountain with us, he needed to run these errands, and wouldn’t it be really convenient if both Duncan and I rented a scooter and went with him so that he can have a ride back instead of trying to find a taxi out in rural Thailand? That sounds great except for the part about how I’ve never ridden a scooter before, and they drive on the left side of the road in Thailand, and I’d be getting up to highway speeds, and neither of them were actually going to teach me, just sorta encourage me…
I agreed of course.
On my scooter
Freddie took off to find gas, and Duncan and I rode around the block. Some ladies who were going about their daily business started screaming at me because I guess it was obvious that I lacked control as I made the 90 degree turns in their tiny alley ways. Then, it happened. I don’t really know why I fell.  I was making a right turn (crossing the opposing lane) onto a medium sized street, and when I realized I was swinging too wide, I turned the bike so that I didn’t hit the parked cars. Either because I turned it too sharply or because I was going to slow or because I didn’t know what I was doing, the scooter and I made a dive. It skidded along the road, and people hanging out in nearby shops and homes yelled out sounds like, “Woahaaahhhh!!” My first thought was, “This is really happening?”, and my second thought was, “Did my sunglasses break?” and my third thought was, “This is going to be a waste of money”. I had just finished telling the guy who rented the scooter to me that, “Yes, I’ve driven a one before”.  After I paid, he just stood there to watch me ride off on it, but I didn’t even know how to start it, so I just pretended to have lots of things to do, like open and close the seat compartment, and rearrange my backpack until he finally got bored and walked back to his store.
“Woe is me,” I thought as I picked the scooter up and wheeled it over to the side of the street. Duncan was next to me by this time, and his grimace just as difficult to stomach as was my damaged scooter. “I don’t think this was a good idea” I lamented. Looking at my knees, I expecting to see big holes in my thin, black jeans, but they looked the same even though I could feel my skin burning underneath them. My bottom lip burned slightly, and my palms had scrapes. Nothing was very visible though. It was mostly my confidence that was shaken. Well, and the scooter. It had a huge scrape on the side and on the handle bar, and a piece of plastic was broken off of a part towards the back, making an obvious hole in what looked like an important area. But Duncan said it’s just a covering for the actual goods inside of it. After five minutes I had a fair amount of pain when I bent over. My lower back had been jolted when I landed on my knees. I started to worry that I damaged my body and bank account just for chicken feathers.
Duncan wisely said we should just chill here for a bit so my nerves could return to their usual amounts of worry and agitation. I was torn as to what I should do with the scooter because I didn’t want to ride it, nor did I want to take it back to the place twenty minutes after renting it, which is the same as saying, “I’m a huge moron who owes you money”.
Luckily (I guess) Freddie showed up and coaxed me into trying again. Repeatedly ignoring their requests that I should increase my speed and stay close behind Freddie, I rode at a comfortable pace and began to get the hang of it. It’s really quite easy. The rush of the wind and overcoming my fear was amazing. It was surprisingly easy to get the hang of driving on the other side of the road and alongside many other scooters, passing the slow ones by going to their right, yet staying to the left of the cars. The hardest part was making turns because it took me a long time to think about what lane I am aiming for, which lane is the turning lane, and where the heck we even are.  Luckily, I didn’t have to make too many turns. Towards the end of our journey I was even keeping up with Freddie except when he wanted to pass huge garbage truck type vehicles by driving on the weird brick shoulder with only inches between his scooter and about a million potential death objects. For my first time on a scooter, I was going plenty fast enough, 60 mph, and weaving around plenty of things, like that girl who darted out on foot in front of me.
Following Freddie. Don’t worry, Mom, this was on the way back when Duncan was driving me. But it gives you an idea of what the roads look like.

trucks piled even higher than this are common
Riding in between cars/lanes like this is pretty common in Thailand and Taiwan. I do it on my bicycle in Taipei pretty frequently actually, mostly at red lights.
We returned the scooter Freddie borrowed from the very trusting lady and then went to a different house where his feathers were drying on a clothes line. I felt lucky to be able to see a normal house in Thailand. I’ve heard that on some treks (hiking tours to waterfalls and such), the guide will sometimes do things like pay a local woman to go to the river wearing traditional Thai clothing and pretend to wash her clothes in the river so tourists feel like they’ve seen a civilization truly different than their own.  I was seeing the real deal though: bunnies hopping around, tons of frogs swimming in vats of dark water, and roosters scurrying about. A grinning man made it a point to show me around the property while the other people smiled at us. None of us could communicate except to the girl that Freddie had originally happened upon at the Buffalo Market

One of the houses
Free roaming chickens and rabbits
My tour guide
The frogs
A lady was kind enough to hand her adorable son over to Duncan.
Freddie inspects his feathers
Duncan and Freddie
As you can see, the rooster feathers were nice and ready. Freddie haggled with the guy who wanted 500 Baht (about 16 USD). Figuring he just gave the guy free meat to feed the entire village for a day or two, he got him down to 300 (10 USD) for his services.
This part of my trip was priceless. Next story, the elephant camp, where I learned that Toy’s name means “backwards”. Toy is the owner of the Thai Kitchen restaurants in Austin.  We used this word to command the elephants.
Oh, and I almost forgot. I had my fingers crossed all day that they’d somehow overlook the scooter damage and return my passport to me as if my little accident was all a dream. And that’s exactly what happened. To everyone who gets Tierney to put feathers in your hair, I almost died for you. You’re welcome.

Mountain Number Nine, Jiufen

26 Nov

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.

Buying the train tickets. They were very cheap... maybe five dollars or less, but we had to stand up for 30 minutes. Look how they are dressed and compare it to my plain clothes in an upcoming photo.

Shelly on left, Vikki on right

I thought the taxi driver would just dump us off at the special mountain place and we'd hike around, but apparently there are cheap taxi tour deals (my share was $12 USD for two hours) The next several photos are of the first of about five stops on the tour.

This is what a plaque (that had English on it also!) said about these rocks: The layers formed by the sequential deposition of sediment provide a unique and visual record of sea-level change. The exposures are known as "cross" or "false bedding."

Our taxi driver tour guide. As is probably obvious, he was really nice. Even though I couldn't understand anything that he said, his demeanor told me enough.

Next stop, gold mining factory and gold water (pollution from the factory floating around in the water). Here are some tourists taking pictures with the "gold" water; you can see the factory in the background on the left. Speaking of tourists, Shelly said a lot of Japanese tourists visit Jiufen, and we saw a large group of them while shopping.

Third stop - A waterfall

Fourth stop, a temple! Check out the awesome details in the next several photos.


This circular opening is how you get into the bathroom. So, I was taking photos in the bathroom. Technically.


It's weathered, but still incredible

More roof of the temple

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.

Photos of My Students and Classroom

2 Oct

My students are amazing! I’ve said this many times and will probably continue all year. Here are some examples of what it’s like teaching them: I sing, “Who is sitting nicely, nicely, nicely. Who is sitting nicely, nicely, who?” and they all scramble to their name spots on the floor, cross their legs, face the board, and put their hands in their laps. Their cute little faces make me so happy. If during the lesson something distracts them, and I need their attention again, I say, “One, two, three, all eyes on me” and the students say, “One, two, eyes on you.” They take pride in this little chant and it’s really working so far. I, too, feel very fortunate that we can be so productive with our time despite their young age.

Every morning we go over what day of the week it is, what the weather is like, what season it is, and what the date is, repeating the answers chorally in complete sentences. When I first introduced the concept of seasons last week, about half of the students really needed to know why it is fall time. Telling them that the leaves fall off the trees and it is getting colder is not enough. They needed to know why it gets colder. “Well, so uh, we are getting a little farther away from the sun, ” I tried. They all looked out the window, and tried to see if what I am saying appears to be true. “It’s still shining, but it’s not as close, so it’s not as hot.” This is all very difficult for me to explain, especially to the students whose English is not very good and are barely three years old. So, I begin to make facial expressions and hand gestures to explain that when the sun is very close, we are hot; I wipe my hand across my face and talk about how the sweat drips down our faces, and our shirts get sticky. Then I say that the sun is very close in the summer, pointing to the picture of the summer season. “Then, it starts to get colder, burrrrr,” I hold myself and shake a little. “This is because the sun is a little farther away, and it turns to fall and then winter.”

One of my students, Yi-chen, is especially interested in conversations like this. He’ll repeat it at any given chance. If we are eating snack and someone mentions that it is raining (which happens about every day… knifers or not, taxi drivers in Taipei make a lot of money), Yi-chen will say, “The sun is farther away?” He says it as if it’s a question because he wants me to confirm that he’s correct, but he also wants me to add to this concept; I can tell he’s not quite satisfied with simple answers. I find this absolutely adorable. Here is Yi-chen:

I took this on my phone, using the rear facing camera, so Yi-chen was looking at himself as this was taken.


I took so many of Yi-chen because this day he was hanging around me for a long time which is a little uncharacteristic of him actually.

"Teacher Emily, look at me!"

In the photo below Miussia is acting out “hot” the way she’s seen me do in class. Miussia is a very happy, excited girl especially when it comes to kinesthetic activities. She excels at remembering dance moves and song lyrics.


Daniel is very eager to participate and learn. He’s also a natural leader. The students love copying him and following him around. He also loves explaining what isn’t correct or isn’t allowed. For example, if I say we are going to all practice saying, “This is my grandmother,” Daniel will shout out, “Teacher Emily! No ‘sister'” He wants me to say, “Yes, that’s correct, we are not going to say, ‘This is my sister.'”  It’s gotten a little out of control, the “No  ____” game. When I tutored one of my students after school the other day, we were going over each letter and its sound, and he repeated the sound and then insisted on thinking of a random noise that the letter doesn’t make. I figured it doesn’t hurt and at least he’s paying attention.

Daniel is always wearing awesome clothes.

Marcus is only at school in the mornings, but he’s very smart. In the background of this photo, a little girl is lifting up her dress, but I don’t think that’s a JumpStart student, neither is the kid on the rocking horse.


Below are Ethan and Miranda, two of the sweetest kids I’ve ever known. Both are very careful and detail oriented. Though shy, they are beginning to participate much more. Miranda can follow directions to the T, like the student who gets not just an A but a 100% on every paper (we don’t give grades btw).  Everyday it seems she is becoming more beautiful, too.  Ethan and I have a special bond that I cannot explain, except to say that we trust each other a great deal.

Ethan and Miranda

Ryan is one of the youngest, but he is very smart. Despite turning three only a week ago, he pays attention to things he creates like art or creations with manipulative blocks. He squeals with delight when he hears a song or rhyme that he thinks is funny.

Miussia and Ryan hug.

Below is Kai. His nickname is “Happy” for a reason- his smile will last for twenty minutes at a time. He learned all the numbers (better than my other students) as well as colors and animal names from television his parents said. He has begun to feel more and more comfortable speaking in English, and even repeats English words without me prompting him. I predict that because of his great memory, he’ll catch up to the other students’ English level at super speed.



Below is the most talkative and helpful girl at JumpStart. She’s the most talkative both because she likes to talk and because she knows English so well, better than she knows Chinese. The students are not allowed to speak Chinese at school, so sometimes they are quiet when they would otherwise be chatting away, not Lizzy though. She grew up in America though her parents are both Taiwanese. Her positive, energetic attitude is contagious.


Teacher Shelly is the Taiwanese teacher of Purple Class. She is amazing. The parents always want their kids in her class because she's so great with kids and with communicating to parents.

The Taiwanese don't eat cereal with milk, so I introduced it to them for our cooking class last week.

Purple Class Masterpieces and Artwork are hung up on the wall shown below. The assignment at top taught animal vocabulary as well as categorizing animals into one column and what they eat into another. I didn’t attempt to do a food chain idea, figuring they can figure that whole mind blowing mess out in third grade or something. At the bottom are handwriting pages and frog stick puppets with holes in the mouths for their fingers to act as the tongue and catch the attached fly. I’m not that into cutesy artwork, but we have to do something “Ahhhh” worthy to please the parents. This is the best I could do (because we all know all the kids did was color the dang frogs green).

The board is ready for my speel on Open House night

sticker charts are purple, behavior star chart yellow, vowel sounds chart pink

My desk. I can't even fit my legs under it when I'm sitting in that chair.

Students' cubies. The pink boxes hold their MPM Math manipulatives that go along with the several math books.

This is a felt letter wall I made for the students to begin to sort letters and form words.

Staring at Foreigners & Boyfriend Behavior

30 Aug

I just reread my last post and feel that a certain part needs further explanation. When I said Johnathan went to 711 in his pajamas, I mean small boxers that are clearly not to be worn in public. And, when I say the people in 711 probably thought we were weird, I mean that they DEFINITELY thought we were weird. I know this because they giggled a lot and pointed. When dealing with foreigners, certain people will giggle a lot; this happened more than ever that night we were buying more eggs.

I’m not sure how thoroughly I covered the topic of the Taiwanese people’s reactions to foreigners, so I will now:

They do not stare in the true sense of the word. I have come across some staring types in Taiwan, and they fall into these categories: young children below the age of seven, people who don’t realize that you can see them looking at you, that one bus driver who turned around four times to stare at my shoes for long intervals at the red lights, and old people above the age of wrinkles. It takes Asians a long time to get wrinkles, but I’m not confident in guessing the age at which it happens. It’s deceiving because you expect people of that age to be more dependent, but here they can ride the public transit and get around on their own for a long time, plus health care is and has been affordable, so they are healthy.

Though I am usually not stared at outright, it is clear that people around me are often preoccupied with casting furtive glances my way. Sometimes it’s disconcerting because I might not be feeling my best that day, and I’ll start to wonder if they are staring at my greasy hair or mismatched outfit. But, I really think they are just thinking something along these lines, “A white person, cool! I wonder how old she is. Wow, her noise is so pointy, I think I’m lighter skinned than she is. Yippee! Oh, her hair is so interesting. I wish I knew English (or I hope she talks to me so I can speak in English).” Knowing English is something held in very high esteem. As I explained before, almost everyone was taught English when attending public school, but it is very difficult and few people master it especially the ability to speak it. When people see David speaking to me in English, they look at him with awe. We both pretend not to notice, but it really does change things when you feel a bit like you’re on stage everywhere you go.

Couples here definitely hold hands, and once in a while you’ll see them hugging in a very sweet way, but I’ve only noticed kissing one time and it was a young high school pair on an escalator. Guys here are extremely attentive to their girlfriends. It’s been described to me that the Taiwanese males are very standoffish and unhelpful except to their girlfriends. I see it as them not thinking it’s their place to help a girl who is not “theirs”, but once given the in, he notices when she needs help even before she does. This fits with my experiences with strangers. It is usually a lady who will help or an older male. A young or middle aged male will never approach Carrie or I even if it looks like we need help.

Let me give you some examples of boyfriend behavior. He’ll hold a girls purse at the slightest hint that his girlfriend needs help, even if the purse is pink with lace. A boyfriend will always make sure to walk on the street side, and if some vehicle or person is a potential threat, he makes her stop. He will feed her bites of food, notice that she needs something like a napkin, change his plans for her and not complain, remember that she needs to run an errand or something even if it has nothing to do with him. He will never yell at her or raise his voice, and in fact you never see couples quarrel. You sometimes notice intimate conversations on the sides of the sidewalks late at night. They will stand very close together and speak in serious tones, though I can, obviously, not tell what they are saying or if they are even arguing.

Do you think you would like or dislike your boyfriend to treat you this way? I think it’s very sweet, and causes me to try to be more thoughtful of others in return. In Texas, nice things are done for others all the time, but there is less focus on the small things. Maybe that is the difference.

Differences b/w American and Taiwanese Students

5 Aug

By popular request, one, I’ll attempt to pin point some cultural differences between the U.S. and Taiwanese school climates. I will also send rain to the United Sates, priority on Texas, and mail one Taiwanese student to you, Aunt Carrie. You’d better cross your fingers that it’s not Peter.

P.S. Peter is actually really cute now that he’s stopped crying all day. He still only says “Mamma?” because he’s not even 2 years old. But, he points to things constantly, and I believe he’ll fit in just fine once he stops asking all his classmates if they are his mother.

P.P.S. I cannot feed anyone else while Peter is eating. As SOON as you help him take a bite, he is ready for the next one. Peter is a honey badger (look it up on YouTube), so he doesn’t even give a shit, he skips the chew and goes right for the swallow. Fortunately, this causes little chaos in the world of feeding 11 two and three year olds simultaneously because honey badgers also finish their food in 82 seconds. And, over half of my students can manipulate a spoon through rice, cabbage, carrots, bok choy, tofu, red bell peppers, chicken chunks, and soup very skillfully. Only three wear bibs. And, there are on average two teachers feeding this group which includes harassing them. Because in Taiwan, you do NOT waste food. I have been so brainwashed (improved?) by this mentality that after my student Ray threw up his food, and I saw him being fed white bread instead. I went to the school manager and explained that it seemed that he was spitting out the food because he doesn’t want to eat it, and that he didn’t really “throw up”. In other words, I was thinking, “Don’t let him get away with NOT eating!” She very sweetly explained that he had a stomach virus recently and his stomach is sensitive. Ooops.

Okay so this leads me to my first cultural difference:

In Taiwan the teachers (and it seems parents have founded or joined this crusade) create specific expectations for the students, and enforce them more consistently and effectively than in the U.S. Let me name some of these expectations. In these generalizations, I am thinking of my two and three year old students, excluding the newbies- the students who came in the last few weeks as a trial for next semester; they are all young and/or in shock.

1.) They can go to the bathroom completely by themselves. Unless they poop, in which case, because Taiwanese are DEATHLY afraid of any student under the age of eight wiping their own bum, they are instructed to announce that they need to poop, and upon receiving permission, go do it and then wait for a teacher to help. The white teachers are discouraged from doing this duty. Here is an update from my previous blogging on this topic when I said I had never actually seen a kid poop in the four weeks I was there. Towards the end, I sought out this duty in diaper form, and the Chinese teacher’s face was one of horror mixed with shock. Then she said that next time I should tell her. I couldn’t tell if she felt obligated to say that or if she was thinking, “There is NO way you, with your American genes, wiped him properly”. Sorry if you are uncomfortable reading about poop. Okay, so the point is the students all pull their own pants down and up. Sure their shirt is always halfway stuck in their shorts, but this is a secret way to tell if they actually used the restroom or not. Even though you can just ask; they seem incapable of lying.  So, imagine this…NO students have buttons on their shorts. I taught three year olds back home for over a year, and each day at least one of these newly potty trained kids had pants he or she could not unfasten/fasten without assistance.

2.) The students finish all their food almost every time. The slow or picky eater is encouraged to eat and then spoken fairly harshly to if they are too slow. Then, when lunch time is over, they are calmly herded to an area where the food WILL be finished. No ifs, and, or buts about it. Few students need to be herded, usually it is just 1 or 2 students in my class.

3.) The students take off and put on their own shoes. Practice makes perfect? The shoes are almost always velcro.

4.) The students do not hit or push each other. They come REALLY close to it; this is how I know they are real kids. My current class is actually an exception to this because of 2 or 3 students. They are grabbers. And, the grabbing and subsequent hitting of the grabber often happen during clean up time. This  type of student will get REALLY bent out of shape if another student grabs a toy that he was going to put away! WaaaaaAmbulance!

5.) The students will sit and listen to a lesson about … anything, especially if you point to a picture or draw one. Even the students who seem a bit ADHD can sit still when the lesson is actually happening. When you are trying to get a new kid to understand that he needs to sit down, then the ADHD kid starts to crawl under the table, but if you are teaching him how to read the word caterpillar, he is sitting nicely and listening. I kind of remember the three year olds in the states being able to do this also, but the lessons seemed much shorter there and less ambitious. That was not an expensive language school, though. It was an infant – sixth grade private school/daycare. But, that’s the point. There are many of these English schools here, not in the states. And, the Chinese public and private schools, I believe have similar standards and expectations even though the curriculum is less English heavy. The schools in the U.S. have access to a broader range of materials though; here, the public school curriculum is missing the bells and whistles due to fewer funds perhaps? Overall, this culture has less waste, so materials are used wisely.

If you can’t tell, I am speculating when making many of these generalizations. I will let you know if I change my mind as I see and hear more information.

In the next paragraph are some questions my three year olds can answer in English when I give them the end of year assessment (this is a 10 minute oral test that is recorded on MP3 player for the parents mostly). Five students answered in the A range, one with a perfect score. And the other six students have attended this school for only a month or less.

The test includes questions like: What is your name? How are you today? What day is it? Are you a boy or a girl? Can you fly? What color is this..? What shape is this…? Count to 10, Say a rhyme (like One, Two Buckle My Shoe), Sing Twinkle Twinkle Little Star, What letter is this?, What sound does it make?, What word starts with that letter?, etc. Are these common questions for three year olds in the States or elsewhere? It changes too when you take into account that they are answering these in their second language. Someone who’s familiar with this age, please comment.