Monday, September 29, 2008

Time for Everything

and still I blissfully did nothing on my typhoon day.

-woke up at 9
-skyped a friend
-watched 10 Things I Hate About You
-watched Miracle Dogs, Too
-made adventurous purchases at the convenience store downstairs
-wore pajamas all day
-ate candy

Coming soon: Gettin' Hitched: Taiwan Style, The Kindness of Strangers

Sunday, September 28, 2008


A typhoon roars through Kaohsiung as I type. No power-out (yet), no flooding (yet), and NO SCHOOL TOMORROW!

I haven't been this excited about a natural disaster vacation since I was 12 and wearing my pajamas inside-out in hopes of a snow day.

I'm off to build a fort out of some kitchen chairs and a bedsheet!

later, gators!

Saturday, September 27, 2008

Buying Love

What does it mean when Taiwanese stores have a wide variety of couple t-shirts?

Wednesday, September 24, 2008

The Correct Answer Was Two Fingertips But I like Yours Too

During yesterday's third grade class:

Shuting: Does anyone know what letter this is?
3rd grade class: B!
Shuting: Say that again?
3rd grade class: B!

[repeat. Shuting then tests them by pointing to A, then B and asking them to shout which letter it is]

Shuting: And if you look at the shape of B, what does it look like?
3rd Grade Boy: A big butt!

And who said humor was culture specific?

Tuesday, September 23, 2008

Highs and Lows

Confession: I'm not cut out to be a teacher in the long term.

I've suspected it for a long time. I like kids and I think education is important, but in the end, it's not enough to keep me in a classroom for the bulk of my working life.

One of my students doesn't know how to look at her book. This doesn't mean that she's illiterate--I think she knows how to read--but she literally refuses to look at her book. I tried to talk to a teacher about it who said that if a kid has already given up on herself, then it's her problem, not yours. Maybe this is how people stay in the game for the long haul.

I've been thinking about this article in the Oxford American about one man's first year teaching in New Orleans. It's worth reading--Sasha Frere Jones, music critic for the New Yorker, calls it a "gorgeous piece of writing." Somehow, I keep coming to this passage:

Right before you become a teacher, you are told by all manner of folks that it will be, 1) the hardest thing you’ve ever done, and 2) the best thing you’ve ever done. That seems like a recipe for recruiting wannabe martyrs. In any case, high stakes can blind you to the best moments. One day, I was stressing over what I imagined was my one-man quest to keep Darius in school and out of jail, and missed that a heated dispute between two fifth graders was escalating. Finally, I asked them what was wrong.

“Mr. Ramsey,” one of the boys pleaded, “will you please tell him that if you go into space for a year and come back to Earth that all your family will be dead because time moves slower in space?”

And today, when I was feeling grumpy about the aforementioned student, I was also able to regain my fortitude. I'm teaching an after school class on "English Conversation" to a group of bright, outgoing, and outright silly students. I think this pretty much sums them up:

Monday, September 22, 2008

Imitating the Sound of the Universe


They say that OM is the sound the universe makes when spaceships, rocketships, and other aerial vessels reach the atmosphere. Maybe it's just the sound an engine makes when nothing else is around. But when you say it correctly--a nice, slow, rich OM--you feel the air make an egg shape in your mouth and a slight buzz in your brain.


Our QiGong instructor (forever more referred to as Teacher) drove us (Jane, the Dan(i)s and me) to the Yu Mountain this weekend to cultivate our qi. The trip started at 5:30 am and should have taken 4 hours, but for the stops at aboriginal village tourism information centers where we could see displays like this:

It took 6 hours instead.


Teacher took us to Ya Kou (some part of the mountain peak) to practice QiGong as the sun rose (all of my orientalist fantasies came true at 5am on Saturday morning!) The lesson goes a little something like this: assume an uncomfortable position chosen by teacher like standing with both feet flat on the floor, raising your arms, and leaning back into pure air. Slowly inhale, hold briefly, slowly exhale while saying "OM mani peme HOM one/two/etc." to yourself before suppressing the urge to gasp as you take in the next sip of air. For each position, you should take either 3, 6,12, 18, 24, or 36 breaths, depending on your ability. Forget the pain, focus on the breath. This is how you cultivate your qi.

Me: "Teacher, why do we take 36 breaths?"
"If you do less than 36, it will not be deep enough."
"Why not 37 or 38?"
"Your Qi is like boiling an egg. You can't cook it too long or it won't taste good. 36--no more, no less"

And after all was said and done, we broke out a bottle of millet wine and shivered it down. Like everything else here, it tasted strangely asian.


I love you Jane. I love the way you giggle and say "it is very deeleecious" when you feed us new foods.

I love that you are small enough to stand on top of the car without making me worry that the roof will cave in (though I still vacated the backseat). I love that you won't let us take pictures of you, especially while stealing guavas from a national park (pictured below).

I love the way dogs delight you, especially this one--the world's most obedient dog--whom you trained years ago. I also love that your bathrobe is silk and printed with teddy bears.


The air on top of the moutain was clean and cold. It made me miss the following things:

a. leaves changing colors
b. my friends
c. furiously searching for a used book in passable condition
d. picking apples
e. long sleeves

Sunday, September 21, 2008

The Liquid Rule of Taiwan

Ok, Taiwan, why are you always putting my liquids in a bag? I mean, it's cute how you put the stray through the hole at the top, but I just don't believe that a twist-tie can adequately prevent this from becoming a boba tea geyser.

And don't think that you're off the hook for putting my soup in a bag either.

Wednesday, September 17, 2008

National Treasure Taiwan: The Secret of Laundry

According to her facebook profile, my old roommate Chloe's favorite quotation is:

"I'm in New York, and to say that it is simply hot and muggy here is to mock Mother Nature's ability to make us feel sticky during the summertime."
- the genius, but anonymous, author of the Discovery blog

Now, I've never lived in "the city," but if saying "it is hot and muggy" in NYC mocks Mother Nature's ability to make us feel sticky in the summertime, describing Taiwan as such must be like repeating that joke that your weird uncle tells at every Thanksgiving, even though you stopped laughing once you stopped wearing Underroos. That is to say, it's fucking hot here and it's getting old.

Of course, I have conquered the heat in small ways--today I figured out how to take the (air-conditioned!) bus from my apartment (or close enough) to my school instead of the bus to the subway to the last stop on the line where I leave my bicycle and ride for 2 miles in the oppressive heat. The ride should have been so easy; the road is flat, but it is tree-less and until yesterday, I had no basket in which to leave my backpack which felt like I was wearing a down comforter under the Taiwanese sun. Now, I no longer have to explain to my students why teacher Vicky is always dripping with sweat during first period. Victory is mine!

But that is, of course, a small victory in the grand scheme of things. In this land of perpetual sweat-stains and NO DRYING MACHINES OR LAUNDROMATS IN SIGHT, I can't even wash my clothes correctly. My attempts to desiccate my laundry using a drying rack, a dehumidifier, and an air-conditioning unit have left me with a wardrobe that reeks of mildew. Which smells slightly like urine. Gross.

Anyone who can unlock the secrets of laundry will gain great esteem in my eyes. Perhaps this hero will even be ranked alongside the great Benjamin Gates (played by Nicolas Cage) of National Treasure. Seriously, think about it.

Monday, September 15, 2008

This American Life: The Giant Pool Of Money

You are now being redirected.

Given all the financial madness that's going down (look! I don't even have to link an actual article, just the nytimes homepage!), I swear that this This American Life piece is well worth your time.

Sunday, September 14, 2008

Sarah and Hilary on SNL

You've probably all seen this, but I just can't help myself...

Saturday, September 13, 2008

Guess Where I Went Today?

What is this? Where did I find it? Answers to come when I'm not so exhausted...

Friday, September 12, 2008

Meet Your Moon Festival

This post would have been about the upcoming Autumn Moon Festival, which takes place this Sunday, and the mountain of moon cakes (pictured above) we've received for the occasion, but a typhoon has hit Northeast Taiwan. According to my Aunt (who is neurotic), it is ripping large store signs and concrete off of buildings.

Luckily for me, I'm in Southwest Taiwan and it's not projected to hit my area too hard. Even so, the clouds move quickly out here. Here's a quick video of the skies I took on my digital camera:

I'm feeling pretty safe at the moment, though if the storm turns or does something else that's unexpected, I may be locked in my house for a while. That being said, I'm pretty sure I have enough ramen and moon cakes to last me a month. I won't eat well, but I certainly won't starve. And hopefully when this all passes, it will be time for an update about the moon festival!

Thursday, September 11, 2008

What's in A Name?

Photo courtesy of Paul Wozniak's Facebook Profile

Today I rechristened a child--he told me his English name was Bobo, and I suggested that he change his name to Paul because "my friend Paul has really cool glasses like you!" When he asked what was wrong with the name Bobo, I just told him it might be cute when he's young, but maybe people would think it's weird when he's a little older. I also suggested the name Ira (as in Ira Glass, host of This American Life), but he seemed to like the name Paul better, which is good because I wouldn't want people to wonder how the hell a Jewish kid ended up looking so Chinese.

The truth is, I have no idea what people are thinking when they give these kids English names. One of my students is a girl named Bass (no, that's not a misspelling. She insisted it was spelled with an "a") and I definitely have a boy named Joy. My roommate Katie has a girl named Pust, and another Fulbrighter told me one of her students is a boy named Baby. It's like some kind of cruel joke. Also, every single class I have taught has had at least one (but often 2) girls named Angel. I've also got a lot of Tinas, which is a name I don't encounter all that often in U.S.

Most kids have decided to keep their Chinese names, which makes a lot of sense. The only problem is, I have well over 300 students who have decided to keep their Chinese names and since my command of Chinese isn't so great, I'll basically have to remember a bunch of sounds that don't mean anything to me and try to match them with faces that aren't exactly as diverse as they are in the US. If I can remember all of their names by December, I'll consider my year in Taiwan a success, though it's looking pretty unlikely at this point....

Tuesday, September 9, 2008

Daily Slate: Antimetabole (aka I am such a dork)


The Hottest Rhetorical Device of Campaign '08Ask not what antimetabole can do for you—ask what you can do for antimetabole.

Sarah Palin. Click image to expand.

Politicians eager to keep up with the latest fad need more than a flag pin this election season; the hottest accessory of the 2008 campaign is the reversible raincoat. That's the nickname speechwriters have given to the rhetorical device in which words are repeated in transposed order, as with Churchill's famous line: "Let us preach what we practice—let us practice what we preach." The fancy Greek name for the trick is antimetabole, and it's been cropping up in speeches by Democrats and Republicans alike.

Check out this link to keep reading...

The Cow of Knowledge and The Messy Teacher

First day of school! First day of school!

At least it was on September 1. I've been waiting until I had photos before I put up this post.

Shu-ting and I arrived at 7:30 am on Monday morning for our first day of school. By the time we got there, there were children everywhere sweeping the sidewalks and wiping down desks in the classrooms. It felt kind of weird sitting around in a classroom watching kids clean but not chipping in, but it's part of the culture. The students help the teachers do everything--kids move all the textbooks into the classrooms, they even decorate the classrooms according to the teacher's instructions. When one of my fellow ETAs mentioned to a teacher that we worked really hard to make posters for the English Village, the teacher replied, "Why didn't you just get the kids to make them?" I've always heard that in Asian society, students really respect their teachers, but it's the little things that drive the point home.

The first graders had their orientation ceremony that morning, which of course entailed lots of balloons:

Disclaimer: The reason I'm prominently featured in the following photos is not just because I'm a total narcissist. I forgot my camera that day and had to get the photos from the Dean of Academic Affairs. He, of course, thought that I only wanted photos that included myself, and I didn't feel like explaining that I wanted all of the photos to pick and choose from since he's really busy.

If you look carefully, you'll see stalks of green onions sticking out of the balloon arches or "the Gates of Wisdom." The Chinese word for green onion is cong1 which sounds like the Chinese word for smart, cong1ming2. Now, you may be asking, "Who is what man in the middle with the big balloon hat?" That's definitely the principal. The people on either side of the photo wearing balloon hats are also head administrators at the school. Pretty cool, huh?

After the kids walked through the gate, the principal gave a long speech about working hard and gaining knowledge. I zoned out for most of it, but at one point he definitely said, "You must grow bigger and stronger so that animals won't eat you!" After he finished his speech, one of the teachers rolled something large covered in a red blanket. She gave an emphatic speech and then dramatically threw off the blanket to reveal....


They then had each child stand up and take a pack of Oreo cookies which were taped to the cow's back. I haven't gotten the full scoop on the cow of knowledge, but a friend told me that you're supposed to put a hair from the cow under your pillow on September 28, which I believe is Confucius day. If anyone wants to provide a thorough explanation of this practice, I'd be glad to post it.

Stealing the secrets of Chinese knowledge. Apparently it has something to do with high fructose corn syrup

They also asked me to introduce myself in front of the student body. I gave a short introduction in English and asked my co-teacher to translate for me since my Chinese isn't great. I tried to keep it short: "Hi, my name is Vicky. I am here from America and I will be teaching English for 1 year with Teacher Shuting. I'm really excited to be here!" Shuting decided that I needed a more thorough introduction, so in addition to translating my words, she noted that I'm trying to learn the words to Jay Chou's Cowboy on the Run so I can sing it at karaoke. She also told the kids: "Just like you are trying to learn English, Teacher Vicky is trying to learn Taiwanese. Right now she only knows one Taiwanese word: Musasa (translation: messy), so you should try to practice with her if you can!"

Now when I walk down the hallway, I hear kids yelling musasa! at me. I think it's going to be a great year!

Monday, September 8, 2008

Cultural Center Madness!

Everyday is full of surprises. Look what appeared in the Kaohsiung Cultural Center (a park by my apartment) earlier this week:

10 brownie points to anyone who can explain why exactly these things are here.

Sunday, September 7, 2008

Love, Love, Love

If any of you are actually regular readers, I apologize for the lack of updates over the past week. I'd like to believe it's because I haven't had much time between starting school, developing the English Village, and going to Taipei for the Fulbright Orientation, but in reality, I've been M.I.A because I've been addicted to a Taiwanese soap opera called Meteor Garden. It's about an ordinary girl who becomes the love interest of the leader of a wealthy, handsome gang called F4 who is, incidentally, the wealthiest and most handsome of the lot.

Before I started watching this soap opera, the Taiwanese attitude towards love more or less totally freaked me out. It was like being stuck in a Disney movie--people are obsessed with romance and dating here, it seems. A teacher once told me (totally unprompted) that Lotus Lake, a local Kaohsiung attraction--is a good place to hold hands and walk together. Another teacher seems obsessed with setting up the female ETAs with the various "handsome, single men" who work at her school. Dr. Wu, the Taiwanese Fulbright director, can't stop pointing out how many Fulbrighters stay because they meet someone they love, and emphasizing his excellent matchmaking skills. The main tourist attraction of Kaohsiung is called the Love River, where you can take a boat tour on a pontoon boat decorated in light-up-hearts. The River is decorated with Christmas lights, so that you can take walks and enjoy the scenery, especially when holding hands with your sweetie while wearing matching couple t-shirts and sneakers. I've seen lots and lots (and lots and lots) of matching couple outfits. To make a long story short, the whole thing used to make me borderline nauseous until I started watching Meteor Garden. No joke.

And, on the topic of love, I'd like to point out that the Fulbright Foundation put us in a love hotel for this weekend's conference in Taipei. What is a love hotel, you might ask? Well, in many Asian countries, young people live with their parents even after they've graduated from school and started their first jobs. I've even heard that people live with their parents after they've been married because real estate is so hard to come by and expensive. At any rate, young couples who live with their parents will go to love hotels (which are cheaper than normal hotels) when they need to *ahem* do their business.

I'd heard bizarre things about love hotels--apparently in Korea, some love hotels have sex toy vending machines--and so I've always been curious but too bashful to see one for myself. Little did I know that the Fulbright Foundation would provide this opportunity for me!

This is the condom that I found on my bed when I walked in, all wrapped up and ready for me to use!

This is the giant (and I mean GIANT) mirror at the end of my bed! If you look carefully, you can kind of make out the stage behind the bed!

I also tried to take photos of the giant bathroom with glass walls, but it didn't really turn out on my camera. The point is, I was pretty amused by the whole thing, and my room was pretty tame compared to other people's rooms. Katie definite had a jacuzzi with jets in her room. Another Fulbrighter had a heart-shaped bathtub. All-in-all, the Foundation for Scholarly Exchange (Fulbright Taiwan) deserves a two-thumbs up, five-heart rating from me for making my life that much more amusing.

And if you get bored, I suggest typing F4 into youtube. Apparently the soap opera stars were so popular that they were able to also become a popular singing group. The videos send me into a fit of laughter--I wish the same for you!