Friday, October 31, 2008

The Monster Mash

For the first time in eight years, I did not wear my Pokemon costume for Halloween. I thought about bringing it as I was packing for the summer. It was all folded up at the bottom of my suitcase, but since I only had 2 suitcases for the upcoming year, it just didn't make the cut. Considering everything that has changed for me in the past 6 months, it seems strange that leaving Jigglypuff behind would feel like the worst part about growing up.

The way to get over sadness is, of course, to impose American culture on a country that doesn't celebrate Halloween! Shuting and I planned Halloween activities for the entire week--that's around 20 hours of mummy-wrapping, donut-eating, costume-making and mask parading in 5 days! And that doesn't include the throngs of children banging down our door to beg for candy between classes.

And here's photographic proof:

Favorite costumes include: the pork-jerky monster (aka the girl with wads of newspaper taped to her face) and the transformer (made of a box). More than anything, I'm proud to have such creative students--we didn't let them buy the materials for the costumes and I think they turned out quite nicely!

Basically, my week went a lot like this:

Happy Halloween everyone!

Thursday, October 30, 2008

Not all candy is created equal. Dum-dums, for example, are not as good as Snickers bars. Don't try to convince me otherwise.

The Taiwanese have taken candy inequality to a whole new level. Here's a sampling of the stuff we've been giving our kids:

Center: Cola flavor
Bottom center, white color: Milk flavor
Green candy: Creamy Sour Apple
Blue candy: Mystery blue flavor
Pink and yellow wrapper: Yogurt flavor
Top, green and yellow wrapper: Creamy lime
Gold wrapper: Honey Flavor

and my all-time favorite

Right side, orange-red wrapper: Wax Gourd Flavor

Maybe I should hand out toothbrushes. Happy Halloween, everyone!

Wednesday, October 29, 2008

The US Treasury Department Tries to Have Fun

I just spent my last half hour before bedtime hanging out at the Bad Credit Hotel, a 3D, interactive computer game aimed at teaching 18-20-something youngsters like myself about building and maintaining credit, keeping a budget, etc etc etc.

Looks like the US Treasury Department, with the help of the Ad Council, has taken on my teaching style--that is, tricking students into learning boring stuff like personal finances (or you know, the alphabet) by making it a game!

The Bad Credit Hotel has a 1930's feel to it, and a Morgan Freeman-esque "worldly gentleman" leads you around the hotel as you try to unlock the secrets to getting into Room 850, the only room in the hotel that isn't cockroach-infested and dim.

It's tacky, but thoroughly enjoyable. It's like a grown-up version of Midnight Rescue or Math Mountain. I'm a little bitter that I spent an entire 30 minutes on the site and still only found 8/10 secrets, but that's the nerdy part of me that also loves National Treasure shining through.

Or if you want the Cliffnotes version of the game, you could check out this video from SNL posted on my roommate Katie's blog.

Tuesday, October 28, 2008

Word of the Day

Main Entry:
New Latin, from Greek myōpia, from myōp-, myōps
circa 1752
1 : a condition in which the visual images come to a focus in front of the retina of the eye resulting especially in defective vision of distant objects
2 : a lack of foresight or discernment : a narrow view of something
my·o·pic \-ˈō-pik, -ˈä-\ adjective
my·o·pi·cal·ly \-pi-k(ə-)lē\ adverb

I had to look it up when I was reading this article in the NYTimes, but it seems like a fitting word for those of us well entrenched in our quarter-life crises.

Monday, October 27, 2008


Mosquitoes beware:
I know you're out there and I won't go down without a fight.

Sunday, October 26, 2008

Japanese Cowboy

I haven't enjoyed a movie like this in a long time. And, I've never seen a movie quite like Sukiyaki Western Django. If I could, I would give a review of the movie, but I've never seen a spaghetti western, my knowledge of cult films and Japanese films is minimal--therefore I am unqualified. I leave it to

Synopsis: SUKIYAKI WESTERN DJANGO is prolific Japanese cult director Takashi Miike's samurai tribute to the Spaghetti Western genre. With an irreverent style and an obvious knowledge of the oater canon, Miike sets out to celebrate the factory line artistry of films such as Sergio Leone's A FISTFUL OF DOLLARS and Sergio Carbucci's DJANGO, while fully embracing the dazzling, post-modern aesthetic of movies such as KILL BILL and DESPERADO. And while homage and cinematic genre mash-ups can both be high on genuine artistic vision, it's clear from the supremely stylized opening prologue--with its transparent set pieces, outrageous kill shots, and cameo from that anointer of cult films himself, Quentin Tarantino--that Miike is out to have fun above all. The story follows a Man With No Name gunfighter brought to a small village in Nevada to protect the townspeople from two rival gangs at war over a treasure hidden in the nearby hills. Themes of honor, tradition, loyalty, and family give the film some dramatic weight, but SUKIYAKI WESTERN DJANGO primarily works as a high-octane action flick, albeit one made by a director with style and smarts. The samurai sword lust, kung-fu bar brawls, and John Woo-style operatic gun play remain completely gripping regardless of plot. Yet though the basic story has been told by everyone from Dashiell Hammett to the Coen Brothers to Akira Kurosawa, it's one that has clearly worked its way into the pantheon of contemporary myth and makes for solid dramatic ground on which an entertaining spectacle can unfurl.
Next stop at the Kaohsiung Film Festival: some movie about a Michael Jackson impersonator meeting a Marilyn Monroe impersonator, moving to an impersonation colony with her and throwing a ball? I hope you're as pumped as I am.

Saturday, October 25, 2008

A Favorite Article, A Sad Story

I'd write about my sweet, sweet Saturday, but discussing the Kaohsiung National Games Opening Ceremony properly requires me to get some multimedia from my roommates. You can look forward to that in the next few days.

I was going through some papers earlier this week and I stumbled upon a photocopy of this article about being on the last plane out of Burma before Cyclone Nargis hit from the August edition of Outdoor magazine by Patrick Symmes. I'm keeping it because I like his writing style and the way he ends the piece (no spoilers here). It also reminds me of the most important lesson I learned while working at NPR this summer: no one will run a story on Burma (aka Myanmar) unless something changes. Since change seems unlikely at this time, the only news we'll see comes when someone from the western media manages to get inside.

If there is no change, there will be no news. If there is no news, will we forget?

**The answer is yes. In June when all the Zimbabwe stuff was fresh, Peter Maas of Slate Magazine wrote an article on why we don't hear more about Equatorial Guinea. He writes:
The reality of the regime's brutishness nearly hit me over the head as I was being expelled from the country while researching a book on oil in 2004. I had already been chilled by the docility of the people—unlike other countries in the Third World, no one approached me as I walked the streets. (The only place where I had felt a similar pattern of fear was North Korea.)

Friday, October 24, 2008

Too Gross for Photos

Cockroaches invaded the streets of Kaohsiung today. That's right--hundreds of large, shiny, mahogany-colored cockroaches. I spent most of my morning staring down at my feet trying to avoid the world's most disgusting creatures as local shopkeepers attempted to sweep them off the sidewalks and into the street. Every once in a while, however, I would look up from my feet and see the terrifying litter of insect corpses ahead. It was like looking at a minefield.

Taiwan generally has a lot of cockroaches, but today was truly an infestation. The whole situation left my roommates and me wondering: Are they simultaneously hatching? Is there a storm coming? Has the apocalypse arrived?

It ends up that the powers that be in the local government put some sort of toxin into the sewer system to kill the cockroaches. Once the they came into contact with the poison, they emerged from the sewers in droves. On the street, they convulsed until they flipped onto their backs while desperately trying to right themselves by wiggling their spindly appendages in the air. Eventually, the poison got the best of them--their struggle for survival slowly came to an end as their legs shriveled tightly across their abdomens. By 2pm, all of them were dead.

And tonight, millions of ants will feed greedily upon the bodies of the fallen. I've seen it with my own eyes--little black dotted lines converging into a solid mass around each cockroach shell. Should I be grossed out or relieved?

Wednesday, October 22, 2008

All the Small Things

The little things that make me smile can be categorized in two ways:

I. Hand-held:

4th Grade Boy: "Teacher Vicky, I made this for you!"

I nearly stepped on you! You are rare indeed!

My host mom: "Vicky! This seashell looks like a button! You must keep it!"


Dear Taiwan,
In spite of all the problems we've had, your love of uniformity can be (at times) quite adorable. Especially when it entails wearing matching caps screen-printed with koala bears.

Shenqiao is in 5th grade. He insists on waving both hands vigorously when he says hello to me in the hallways. He is also at least a head shorter than everyone else in his class, which just makes him absurdly cute. It's really unbearable.
Justify Full
I hope he never hits puberty

Monday, October 20, 2008

Taiwan's Favorite Pastime

Comparative Cheering: The Kaohsiung La New Bears had cheerleaders and a large band. The Taipei Brother Elephants had an overweight man donning a plastic bag twisted into Princess Leia buns on his head (pictured above, center).

I've never been much of a baseball fan. My family isn't a sports family, and having grown up in a town without a professional baseball team, I've never bothered to "get it." I've done my best to understand football--Columbus is buckeye country, and though I'll never be a true 'Bucks fan, it's hard not to sympathize when the whole town is hungover the day after a big loss.

Here in Taiwan, they're nuts about baseball. When Chinese Taipei played China in the Olympics, the taxi driver who took me home (much to my horror) kept his eyes glued to his mini TV as he drove. I often find New York Yankees paraphernalia at the local street stands; the Taiwanese go nuts over the Yankees because they have a Taiwanese player.

So when in Taiwan, do as the Taiwanese do.

Left to right: Dani, Kate, Shiela, and I in front of the baseball stadium

The basketball coach from Huashan Elementary School invited us to watch the Kaohsiung vs. Taipei pro baseball game with him. The game was a big deal. There's a huge rivalry between the two urban areas--they're the two biggest cities in Taiwan and Kaohsiung is like Cleveland to Taipei's glittering New York. It's post-industrial, mostly blue-collar, recovering from pretty serious pollution issues, and most of all, kind of fed up with Taipei's disdain for the philistines down South.

Despite the fact that I've never been able to focus for more than 2 innings of a baseball game, I saw it as an opportunity to both assimilate and stick it to the big shots up north!

We all assumed that Coach Pao would root for Kaohsiung--after all, we live in Kaohsiung. So imagine our surprise when we, all dressed in green for the Kaohsiung La New Bears, saw Coach Pao get out of his car wearing yellow for the Taipei Brother Elephants. He was a fan of both teams, he said, but he could get better seats for the Taipei side of the stadium. So he wore his yellow shirt and we sat in front of these people:

Well, if you can't beat 'em, join 'em (plus yellow is my favorite color).

And that's how I became a Taipei Brother Elephants fan.

*The only things I understand about baseball: food and retail opportunities.

Sunday, October 19, 2008

Dudes for Sarah

I was about to write an entry about my sweet weekend--watching the Taipei vs. Kaohsiung baseball game and going to Kending, a beach resort at the southernmost tip of Taiwan--when my friend Jing sent me this article from the New York Times:

Among Fans of Palin, Dudes Rule

Published: October 18, 2008


1. The part where NYT has to explain what Carhartts are:

“I feel like I’m at home,” Ms. Palin said, looking out at a boisterous crowd of about 6,000. “I see the Carhartts and the steel-toed boots,” she said, the first reference being to a clothing brand favored by construction workers and the burly types who make up much of the “Sarah Dude” population.

2. The parts where the crowds objectify Palin:
Mr. McLain wore a “Proud to be voting for a hot chick” button and was joined by his wife, Shannan (“Read my lipstick” button on lapel), and his 6-week-old son, Jaxon (“Nobama” button on beanie).

The dudes tend to make themselves noticed. “You tell ’em baby,” a man yelled out at a rally Wednesday night on a high school football field in Salem, N.H.

“I came here to look at her,” [a man wearing a John Deere T-shirt in Weirs Beach] said, and his admiration for Ms. Palin’s appearance became more and more animated.

3. The part where the NYT calls someone a dude:

“Marry me, Sarah,” a man implored in Weirs Beach, N.H., while Ms. Palin held up a tow-headed toddler and patted his little chest. She ignored, or didn’t hear, the proposal, but signed the dude’s ratty baseball cap.

From far away, this election feels more like a comedy routine than a pivotal moment that will determine (at least) the next four years of global, well, everything. And as much as I enjoy watching these Tina Fey as Sarah Palin skits on SNL, for the love of god, please don't forget to vote.

Friday, October 17, 2008

Damn, it feels good to be a Fulbright

Once upon a time (as in, last year), I was invited to a "fahn-cy" party--except my phone kept cutting out when I was invited and all I could hear was my friend Vanessa describing the 80's prom dress she was going to wear. Naturally, I assumed it was a costume party and dressed like this:

but everyone else was in formal attire. Shit.

This year, we were invited to the Taiwan Ministry of Foreign Affair's Double 10 Festival, which celebrates the founding of the Republic of China. The party is a big deal--the equivalent would be watching the 4th of July at the White House. Even President Ma Ying-Jeou was there!
Thankfully, I got the dresscode right this time. And look, they even rolled out a red carpet for us!
As a show of their opulence, the Taiwanese government had ice sculptures everywhere they could fit:
They even served all the food that wouldn't get soggy off of ice sculptures:
Yup... that's a lot of shrimp spread out on an ice sculpture.

The event took place at the Taiwan Guest House, where I guess foreign dignitaries stay when they visit Taiwan. The garden was beautifully lit, though this photo doesn't do it justice:

I'm pretty sure I'll never be invited to a party like this ever again. I love being a "VIP."

Thursday, October 16, 2008

Tyranny of the Majority

I am what happens when a not-informed-enough-person tries to vote.

My absentee ballot came the other day, and I wanted to mail it off tomorrow. I've cast my ballots for the state constitutional amendments that I could look up (yes to the environment, no to making explicit private property owner's rights to groundwater).

I'm voting Obama (surprise surprise) and am abstaining from most other local elections and issues on the grounds that I'm not living in Ohio ever again and am too far removed from the issues. Other reasons to abstain: I think voting along party lines will destroy our country, is down, and I want to get this ballot sent off in time.

The one exception to my abstention: I am voting AGAINST Pat Tiberi for Representative to Congress. Why? Because when I was in 8th grade we got into an argument over flag burning at a school assembly. He said it was un-American, I said it was a legitimate form of protest. Then he told me "I used to think like you, but I think you'll understand when you're older."

and... I still think he's an asshole.

For everyone and anyone out there reading this, don't forget to vote! It's important, it's sexy, and it's American.

Thursday, October 9, 2008

Love and Basketball

They play trailers for this show on my ride home.

Can anybody tell me: why is basketball so popular in Taiwan when most of its people are at a physical disadvantage?

that's the last you'll hear from me, at least for the weekend.

Wednesday, October 8, 2008

Everything is Fine, Nothing is Ruined

Last night:

My right arm spontaneously began to ache around 11:30 pm. The pain was dull, yet deep and potent. It felt like my bones were trying to burrow their way out of my arm. The pain kept me from sleeping twice--once when I was trying to fall asleep, and once when I woke up (it was excruciating!) at 4 am. I blame it for making me late to work today, not that anyone noticed.


I got acupuncture. To tell the truth, I'd been waiting for an ailment to crop up so I could finally use my National Health Insurance for some unapproved-by-the-scientific-community cure of the Eastern medicine variety. For only 100 NTD, no less!

The doctor who treated me wore converse sneakers, jeans, and a Chinese-style button down shirt. No white labcoat. The nurses wore dresses that looked like a cross between a nurse's uniform and a qipao. Did I mention that the dresses were pink?

My check-in conversation went like this:

Doctor: What's wrong
Me: My arm hurts. The whole thing
Doctor: Are you afraid of acupuncture?

The nurse inserted 8 finger-length needles halfway into my arm so that about 2 inches remained exposed. It didn't hurt--the needles were thin and until someone told me they were halfway in, I had assumed that they barely penetrated the surface of my skin. Which explains why I expected them to fall out when she fastened a bunch of alligator clips to the needles and wired them to a switchboard.

Then she turned on the electricity.

If you've ever sent a series of electric pulses through your body, you'd probably agree that it produces a strange sensation. I could feel the muscles twitching violently, yet watching my bicep visibly convulse without any effort on my part made it seem like it wasn't really my arm, just some science experiment.

After my 15 minutes of playing Frankenstein were up, he pointed a steamer at my arm, cracked my back, and plastered some Chinese herbal medicine to my neck and tailbone so that the only position I can assume is "upright."

If I drop anything on the floor, I'm done for.

Tuesday, October 7, 2008

Ride On, Ride On

I had my first truly Taiwanese bus ride today--a ride worthy of my mother's stories riding to school in a tightly packed vehicle. Today the bus that brought me home from school was so crammed with people that a kid actually fell out of the car when the door folded open to let me on.

Monday, October 6, 2008

Eye Spy

On my daily commute, I see:

1. Pimple-faced teens in day-glow tracksuits congregate in every available space on the subway, frantically cramming before a long day at school.

2. The man across from me looks miserable. He probably works for China Steel and is therefore overworked and underpaid.

3. When I grow bored of looking at everyone else, I look at my backpack. It is orange but turning gray around the seams where all the dust gathers.

4. Sometimes I think that people avoid looking at me because I am also dirty all the time. This feels like proof:

Now that I take the bus in the mornings, though, things are different. The seats keep everyone looking forward so no one sees anything but the road ahead and the back of whoever sits in front of them. No chance of eye contact, no chance to feel shunned. The interior of the bus is old and, like me, coated in a fine layer of dirt. My self-esteem has skyrocketed since I made the switch.

Sunday, October 5, 2008

When Life Gives You Lemons

Apple-picking is a tradition I look forward to every fall--I love the clean air in the orchards, stressing as my friends tease me for getting lost, and of course, eating crisp apples right off the trees (while thinking about how my mom would freak out if she knew about my habit of consuming unwashed fruit). I'd say it's part of American tradition, at least in temperate parts of the country. A year ago, some friends and I went apple picking for my friend Ben's 21st birthday. His 22nd birthday just passed yesterday (thanks for the reminder, facebook!) and the memory made me a little homesick.


It's now October, but the fact has barely registered in my brain. At the current time of 10:34 pm, it's 84 degrees Fahrenheit in Kaohsiung. It was way hotter than that during the day.

Thanks to its reliably hot climate, Taiwan produces some of the best fruit in the world. A trip to the fruit market is like staring at a nutritious candy shelf. The mangos, the guavas, the pineapples, the plums (oh! I could go on and on!) are all so vibrantly hued it seems unnatural to the American eye. Yet, there is a serious paucity of good apples in this place. A truly delicious apple requires a significant drop in temperature in order to come into being. Taiwanese apples are neither tart nor crisp, just sweet. I blame the weather.

Today, one of the LETs took a group of us to the Meinong Hakka village (aka a series of gift shops in the county neighboring Kaohsiung). After lunch, we had the option of going to the Hakka Cultural Museum or going lemon picking on her farm. I pushed for lemon-picking, thinking it would ease the homesickness. Now that was wishful thinking. Plucking tree-ripened apples in the crisp Fall air is nothing like trying to rip a lemon off a branch and wishing to god I had brought an umbrella for some shade. And let's not get started on trying to eat a lemon right off the tree.


Alas, I think I complain too much. If I weren't a little homesick, this would have been fun. At the very least, there is a pile of lemons on my kitchen table just waiting to be squished into lemonade.

Wednesday, October 1, 2008

The Big Joke??

Thanks to Matt Akamatsu for sending me this blogpost from a former ESL teacher in Japan and long-term Japanese Resident. It doesn't exactly sum up my experience, but I think it gets at some of the tension we foreign teachers encounter as we attempt to teach English. Should we do our best to make our students the best English speakers possible, even if it requires us to make class no fun? Or should we try to make class fun so that they will be more interested in English in general at the expense of building a more solid linguistic foundation?

And if you think it's possible to do both at once, please let me know because I sure need the help.

Nick Ramsay on October 3rd, 2006

You’ve got two kinds of schools in Japan, the English Conversation eikaiwa schools, and juku, or cram schools. Eikaiwa are where the foreigners like myself teach, while juku are heads down, study, study, study, Japanese teacher-led classes. Although English lessons at juku focus soley on reading and writing English, I always thought that eikaiwa were equally important for learning communication. Now, though, I’m changing my mind…

After disciplining one of my elementary school students for atrocious behaviour, his mother kicked up at an enormous fuss.

“This isn’t a school!”, she said. “We don’t pay this money for you to discipline our children! They come here to have fun! If I wanted my child to learn English then I’d send him to juku!”