Happy Chinese New Year!

Hello, everyone!

I was feeling bad that I had meant to write a New Year’s post, and missed the deadline…then I realized I could write a Chinese New Year’s post, which means…

I’m EARLY! HA!

Well, in any case, I hope all of you had a good holiday season. Our big holiday, Chinese New Year, starts in about two weeks (I think). We get a week off from work (I think). We’re either going to Hong Kong or staying here. I think.

Things are usually a least a little confusing here. Another case in point: Our landlord was supposed to come by a little over a week ago to do a repair, and I’m still not sure why he couldn’t come that day. We talk to him through one of the school staff, since that is the best way to deal with the language barrier.

We have gotten pretty settled into our routine here. We drive a scooter to work each morning–that is, Michael drives, and I ride on the back, staring at all the signs I can’t read and gazing longingly at the restaurants that will be closed by the time we get off for the evening. There is a guy who sells boiled corn on the cob at one of the stoplights for 15 NT an ear (about 50 cents). We got some once during a red light, and it was delicious.

We each have one class that meets 4 times a week from 2-4:30 pm. These are first and second graders who get out of school earlier than the older kids. We see these kids ten hours a week–that’s *a lot.* I’ve gotten pretty attached to them. They are mostly a lot of fun.

Most of the classes meet twice a week from 5-7 pm. One session per week is with a Taiwanese teacher, and one session is with the foreign teacher (me or Michael). This system was very confusing for me at first. Since each class meets without me in between each lesson I have with them, I never actually know how the previous lesson went, and it’s easy to mix up which page we’re on in the book. But over all it seems to work out well, as long as our communication with the other teacher is reasonably good. I also have two Jr. High classes that meet once a week, and Michael has one.

This past Friday we went to a birthday party for a Taiwanese friend of a friend. Actually, it was for two Taiwanese friends of friends (not one friend and her dog, which is what I thought it was until everyone was leaving to go home.) It was a little bit like being on a Chinese-language game show. (If you’ve ever watched How I Met Your Mother, think of the Japanese game that Barney plays at the casino.)

Sunday we played Life–the board game–at the local expat bar with two teacher friends. It struck me as silly that we were playing a game based on an American/Western version of “normal” adult life, while actually living in a way that many people would consider more interesting. But it was fun. Maybe because it is always good to escape from real life for an hour or two. Or maybe because it is fun to get large sums of fake money from a fake bank.

So this has been our “exciting” life for the past several months. Let us know how you’re doing, too!

 

Stereotypes and Shopping (plus ORUUC divestment)

I think the saying is true, that traveling is the best way for people to broaden their knowledge about the world and destroy their misconceptions about other countries. For me living abroad is great because I like traveling, but I also like sitting around all day looking at clothes on Ebay.

People who have heard me complain about how it’s almost impossible to find work-appropriate clothes sized for 12-year-olds (not exaggerating) have told me it would probably be easier to find clothes in Asia. Which brings me to the first stereotype: Taiwanese People Are. Not. Short.

The average height for women here is only 2 inches shorter than in the US. Also, the average height for a country doesn’t necessarily tell you that much, as anyone who studied (and still remembers) statistics in college could tell you, if they think about it. (Really, just about anyone. I got a C in statistics.) Suffice it to say, the only people shorter than me are *still* kids under 11 and women over 80. So, it’s back to the internet I go for clothes, until I find someone who can give me sewing lessons in English.

I love living and working here, so much in fact that I can’t even decide which of the many great things to tell you about right now. Keep that in mind, because I have some more bad news: Chinese kids are NOT all well-behaved.

To be fair, the kids we see have already done a full day of school when they come to English class. They probably behave better for people who actually give them grades. But Taiwanese kids still talk while the teacher is talking (a lot), pass notes, play with toys in class, “forget” their homework, and try to get out of doing things they don’t want to do. I think as the kids get used to us, and as we become more experienced teachers, they will settle down.

P.S. If you go to church at ORUUC, I hope you are involved in the fossil-fuel divestment discussion. I am mindful as I teach these kids that I am preparing them for a more difficult world than the one I grew up in. I worry that their environment will be less safe and more unpredictable, that there will be more armed conflict and fewer jobs because of a scarcity of resources. The good choices we make about climate change now will help them.

Enough serious talk. Here’s a Weird Al video with lots of famous people dancing:  

Bye for now.

Pre-breakfast thoughts on life in Chiayi City.

We finally signed our lease last Friday, and we will be moving into our new apartment this week. I’m looking forward to it partly because the sunrise is really early here, and the curtains in our current room block out maybe 5% of the light that comes in through the sliding glass door. I woke up around 6, and we don’t start work until 12:30. (Before you get jealous, I should tell you that we don’t get off work until 9 to 9:30 pm, and we often don’t get home until ten or so.)

We live in Chiayi City, pronounced ji (rhymes with “guy”) ye (as in “Hear ye, hear ye). We have heard from some other teachers that there is an expat community here, but we’ve seen like 5 other foreigners since we’ve gotten here. There are some signs in English, but they serve as entertainment as often as they tell us useful information. Never Too Old Steak restaurant comes to mind, for example. We intend to start learning some Chinese pretty soon. The city is really compact–more people than Knoxville, but much smaller in area. There are lots of trees and parks, and the area we are in town in mostly pedestrian friendly.

We can’t cook for ourselves yet–another reason having our own place will be a nice change–so, as in Thailand, we go to 7-Eleven pretty much every day. Breakfast is usually orange juice and some kind of bread or a banana from the 7-Eleven near the house we’re staying in, and lunch is often a microwaved bowl of dumplings from the 7-Eleven near the English school. I don’t know what American 7-Elevens are like, but I suspect the ones here have more tea. Black tea, black tea with lemon, black tea with apple juice, tea with milk, tea with chocolate milk, tea with strawberry milk, tea lattes, green tea, green tea with lemon, green tea with apple juice…None of these are made-up. This is not even the whole list.

Food is mostly inexpensive and really good. It deserves its own post, actually. I’m surprised by how much I like the food here and simultaneously surprised by how much I miss American food. Grilled cheese sandwiches, baked potatoes, homemade spaghetti sauce, broccoli and cheese soup, apples, guacamole, milk and cereal in the morning–I’m hoping all of these will be within reach once we have a kitchen and nearby grocery store. I don’t miss vegetables. Actually, the cabbage here is really good, which is a nice surprise, and I’ve had some green beans that taste just like my grandmother’s.

Okay, so, I intended to tell you about the city, and I’ve mostly talked about food. I think it’s time for breakfast.

Quick Update: Taiwan + My birthday!

Hi everyone, just a quick post to say hi before Michael gives up on us ever going to the mountains today. This one won’t be meticulously analyzed and obsessively edited like most (well, all) of my writing has been since grad school. We’re living in Taiwan now, and we’ve been teaching for two weeks. This was our first week teaching classes on our own. I’m psyched because this year my birthday lasts 1 1/2 days! 24 hours in my time zone and another 12 in my home time zone.

Now, if you know me well, you know that I get super excited about birthdays, both mine and other people’s. I’ve never been able to, but I have always wanted to throw people huge, elaborate birthday parties and buy them ridiculously expensive presents. At home I celebrate my birthday all month. Seriously: I have a party or family dinner pretty much every weekend.

Michael and I celebrated Rose’s Birthday Eve by playing rummy and drinking whiskey in our room. Exciting times.

Taiwan is really great so far. I promise I’ll tell you more about it soon. –Rose

//

The weekend: Bangkok Betty and the National Art Gallery

Hello everyone, sorry it’s been awhile since the last post, but as many of you know, I have problems with my wrists. I actually sprained one wrist about three weeks ago (healed now). It feels like we have been in Bangkok for a long time, so I’m glad we will be moving to Taiwan soon. (Everybody knows about that, right? from Facebook?) This past weekend we went to a party at an expat bar, Bangkok Betty (1st section below), and saw a bunch of art at the National Art Gallery (2nd section below).

Bangkok Betty

Last Saturday a friend of ours from the TEFL course, who is teaching here now, invited us to a party organized by a local expat group. Bangkok Betty is a bar that foreigners apparently like to frequent. It has a WWII theme, including little bomb-looking decoration things on the bar, hanging from the ceiling, on the tables, etc. While this is interesting,  what’s far more impressive is that they make pizza correctly. It does not taste like it has ketchup instead of tomato sauce, unlike some recent spaghetti I tried to eat. (Side note: The food and drinks here taste much sweeter than in the US. Americans eat a lot of sugar, but I bet Thailand beats the US in per capita sugar intake.)

Anyway…We spent a long time trying to find the place because Bangkok seems to have millions of tiny side streets in addition to the thousands of main roads. We probably never would have found it if it weren’t inside a Holiday Inn, but the evening we had was definitely worth the effort. There were people there from all over. We met a web designer from Ukraine who LOVES America and was supposed to fly to the US on September 11, 2001, and a racist English guy. (He was not my favorite.) After our friends arrived, we had a lovely evening, sharing drinks and speaking English. *And* when we decided it was time to go home, our bus magically appeared, as if on cue!

The National Art Gallery

Last Saturday Michael and I visited the National Art Gallery here in Bangkok. This is one of my favorite things that we have done here. Partly because of the air conditioning, but mostly because of the art. All the art is by Thai artists and spans a wide length of time, from about 1400 to things made just last year.

It was really interesting to see how Thai art has changed over the centuries. During the late 1800s, there was a strong western influence, which meant that people made paintings and sculptures in the Realist style. (I am no expert on art, so I apologize if I’m getting a bunch of things wrong.) Art before and after this period is more stylized and less like a photograph. In Thailand people love and revere the king–any guidebook will tell you NOT to criticize the king or the government. (And actually, some prominent Thai people just got sentenced to jail because of whatever they said.) So one collection was actually paintings *by* the king, which I thought were pretty good. Much better than I could do, for sure. Another exhibit was paintings of past kings and royal family members.

I found the contemporary art much more interesting, though. I actually can’t pick a favorite exhibit because I liked all of them, but certainly the most exciting part was meeting one of the artists. Trirat Sriburin was the artist, and the centerpiece of his show was a series of woodblock prints of apartment porches. They were arranged in rectangles, so they actually looked like apartment buildings that had been stuck to the wall. He also had prints of scenes from small towns, where many of the people have moved away, and the city, which is where they have resettled. He even gave us a copy of the book he had for sale, which is why I can spell his name correctly. Such a nice guy, and we loved his work, too!

,,,That’s about it for now. Hope you are all doing well.

Back in Bangkok

So Michael and I had a brief discussion quite awhile ago in which we determined that I would probably end up doing most of the writing here, which is what I like doing, and he would post most of the pictures, which is what he prefers to do. Unfortunately we are having trouble with my computer. Photos are in the queue to be posted when we get something worked out.

But anyway. Thailand seemed like a small-ish country until I had to travel through it by bus. Let’s just say it’s a long ride.We are in back in Bangkok now, staying, as you might expect, in an area populated mainly by backpackers and the locals who run the businesses that cater to tourists. Our accommodations are basic but comfortable, in a guesthouse called N. Y.B. Guesthouse. We have asked what N. Y. B. stands for, and nobody knows. Not even the staff.

Tonight at about 4 a.m. I will be missing the wedding of my dear friend Jessie and my other dear friend Eddie. I cried and cried when I had to make the choice between being there for their wedding and coming to do the TEFL class we took. I wanted to come back to the US for the wedding, but it was just not feasible, money-wise and logistically. Okay, not going to let myself think about it anymore because I actually will cry again. Congratulations, Eddie and Jessie! I truly wish I could be there wearing the bridesmaid dress I bought.

Hello friends and family!

Due to popular demand, we are starting a blog. I (Rose) hope it will be interesting, as well as letting you know that we are still alive and happy, etc. Please let us know how *you* are doing, too!

Our first week was pretty hectic–and I mean our first week *after* arriving on the island where we’re staying. We arrived at our lodging on Lamai Beach, Koh Samui, after taking just about every type of transportation there is over the course of four days or so (I think). We had an unexpected day-long “layover” in Bangkok, which was kind of nice since we didn’t think we would get to see Bangkok at all.  Once we got here, both of us quickly settled into a routine of waking up early, walking down the beach to class, and falling asleep around dinner time. I think we’re both finally adjusted now to the time difference and the increase in physical activity.

And the change in weather. Thailand is HOT. I cannot emphasize enough how hot it is. I have been drenching my clothes in cold water and then putting them back on. That’s how hot it is. I *like* the heat, though. 

There are some negatives, but overall it’s great. Our commute is a 15-minute walk on the beach with the waves lapping at our feet. There is a street market, also within walking distance, with tons of cheap, delicious Thai food, deep-fried scary-looking things on sticks, and (oddly) pizza. There are tiny geckos scampering all over the place. There are also a lot of 7/11’s, which I find hilarious–because how much sense does it make that it would be easier to find a 7/11 here than in Knoxville? (If you answered, “Well, given that we live in an interconnected global community where multi-national conglomerates have virtually unlimited power to effect cultural homogenization, it’s really not that surprising,” you are WRONG. The correct answer is “none.”) According to some things I’ve read, there is a “honeymoon” period before culture shock sets in, but so far so good.

Please, please, please, leave a “comment” letting us know what you are doing and how you are! We miss you all. (By the way, if you’re wondering if we miss the US yet, the answer is no. Our British and South African classmates know more about American culture than we do.)