Finding the Rabbit
Tuesday, November 29, 2005
Here are pictures that Clara sent me from Jiufen. You can see how dismal the lighting was that day.
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The view from the observation deck: Keelung and Hepingdao to the upper left, and the island way off in the distance. We're at about 1000 feet above sea level.
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Lots of people still live in the village. Their front doors are like this - down tiny little alleys off the streets, which aren't very wide either. You can't get a car back here.
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Lanterns on the street
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Sunday, November 27, 2005
Hello friends –

I hope you’re all doing well, and to those of you in the United States, Happy Thanksgiving.

Winter is finally settling in! It’s taking its time, nosing around under all the bushes and stopping to chase its own tail now and then, but very gradually it’s getting here. Winter in Taiwan means cool weather and lots of rain. Last week was the coolest we’ve had yet – it actually got down below 70 degrees (F), I think! I brought out my sweaters for the first time, and even still I only stuff them in my backpack "in case," but have rarely worn them yet. I see a lot more people on the street in coats and jackets now, long pants and sweaters, though sandals are still widely worn, mostly by older people, and I think they wouldn’t take them off if it snowed. Last week two of Dennis’ adult students came into school with scarves around their necks. I know by now that what the Taiwanese think is cold is only comfortable and room-temperature for me, but the sight of those scarves startled me, and I think I laughed at them, which I regretted an instant later. I asked them if it was cold outside (duh) and they said yes. I asked them if it was raining, which it had been for much of the week, and they said no. So there. I left the school an hour later and was perfectly happy in T-shirt and my rain jacket.

This week was Thanksgiving, which has no bearing on Taiwanese life, except that a surprising number of people are aware of what it is. I don’t know if that’s because they can run laps around Americans when it comes to average education levels (and I don’t mean what grades you slept through and got to graduate by default because our government thinks “No Child Left Behind” is a good thing, I mean what knowledge you actually retained and can claim to understand), or because of America’s gluttony for attention and power on this planet, so everyone naturally knows lots of things about America anyway. Nicole (my TA) knew it was Thanksgiving, and did a little happy dance in honor of the holiday, and Jennifer wished me Happy Thanksgiving. I didn’t do a single thing for it, mostly because I was teaching, but also because Thanksgiving paraphernalia is hard to come by – turkey, cranberry sauce, pumpkin pie. I did get to talk to my family on Friday morning (Thursday evening in the States), which was nice. On a side note, Jennifer and I were laughing because she told me that she has experienced Thanksgiving (she went to grad school in the States), and she thought it was good, all except for the cranberry sauce. She thought that was very weird!

As all things are, my family here, which consists of foreigners and Taiwanese people both, is constantly changing. My fellow teacher, Dennis, will be returning home to Oregon on December 6th, for a variety of reasons, the sum of which is that he hasn’t had a good experience here and seems to be having allergic reactions to the insects. He’s been a good co-worker to have, a kind and patient person to learn from, and we all wish him the best at home. We’ve planned a surprise farewell party for him next Saturday, which will probably consist of a party platter from Napoli’s Pizza, which we discovered last night (the platter, not the restaurant), and which comes with cheesecake!! I copied two of my MP3 CD’s for Jennifer, and she’s been playing them on her computer at school (we’ve been listening to a LOT of ABBA, John Denver and Billy Joel lately, because she likes them so much), so after my junior high class ends at five o’clock this coming Saturday, we’ll bring the table out of the teacher’s room in back and have ourselves a party. Nicole will also be leaving Shane in December, with much sadness on my part and mixed feelings on hers, but that won’t be for another week. She’s in junior college, plus several business and English cram schools right now, and just doesn’t have the time to work. Luckily, she’s well-supported by a good family, so she can make that choice.

A new friend has entered my circle in the past few weeks. Her name is Clara, her family is Japanese but she was born and raised in Seattle, and she teaches English at Kojen, the same school Rodger teaches at, right across the street from us on Ai San Road. I met her because she’s friends with Rodger, and has been coming over to hang out at our house about once a week. Now the friendship has gone beyond Rodger and my house. Last Sunday she took Dennis and me up to a little tourist village called Jiufen (which I think means ninth path, if I get my Chinese right). It’s on a mountainside above Keelung and overlooking the ocean. You can see both Keelung and the seaside park, Hepingdao, from Jiufen. That day was dismal and rainy, and actually a good day to go tramping about the countryside. Jiufen is usually very crowded, and it’s very old, so the streets are very narrow, much like they can be in Europe. The bus ride up the mountain took about an hour, and right at the point we got off there was an accident in the road, so the bus had to sit and wait anyway. The first thing we did was go to an observation deck, which overlooks Hepingdao and the sea, but being so rainy the view wasn’t very good. I could see how striking it would be on a clear day, and Nicole and I do have plans to go back up there in the spring (she was jealous to hear that Clara got to take me there first!). Unfortunately, I discovered there that my camera wasn’t working, so I have no pictures from Jiufen to show you. While we were on the observation deck, it started to rain, and rained fairly heavily and constantly for the rest of the time. We sloshed up and down the bricked-over streets, which have grooves in them for traction, because they’re not flat and they do go up and down. Rows and rows of tiny shops barely big enough to hold all the people trying to squeeze into them. Most of what they sell is touristy stuff, though not too expensively priced, and lots of food, with sample trays near the entrance. In my quest for dragons in the Orient, I found lots of miniatures and statues of dragons that I considered, though didn’t buy because I didn’t have enough money on me.

I crossed a hurdle that day, too – I finally tried stinky tofu. Stinky tofu, as named by the Taiwanese themselves, is tofu cooked in some kind of mold, so that it smells absolutely nauseating when you walk by the steaming vats of it, which are usually (for me) found in the night market. But everyone, including Clara and Rodger, who do not have Taiwanese taste buds, says that it tastes pretty good. We were hungry, and Clara saw a dish at a little restaurant that she wanted, and they sold stinky tofu there, so I figured I might as well try it. Clara was very happy, Dennis was skeptical, and I was resolute. I figured I should try it at least once. They served it to me with a kind of salad on top, mostly cabbage, and chopsticks. It did turn out to be okay, and surprisingly filling. It did have a hint of the moldy smell in it, but not very strong, and with a little soy sauce and the cabbage it was actually pretty good. I would eat it again, though I have to wait until I’m with a Chinese speaker to do so.

December will bring a lot of changes for me, mostly because of Dennis and Nicole leaving the school. When Dennis leaves, I will take on his classes, all except the ones which cause a schedule conflict. Jennifer does plan to hire another teacher, but she doesn’t think she can get one right before Christmas. January is more likely, and February more likely still. So for several weeks I’ll be having about 25 teaching hours (per week), compared to the 18 I have now. Not a huge jump, but it will take some adjusting. In addition, this past Friday I gained another class of my own, a private lesson with two women whose English speaking skills are very advanced, to work on writing. For the next month or two I will be very busy over all, but earning a nice chunk of cash. I’m actually more worried about the lack of a TA than having too many classes. Some of my kids’ classes need three teachers instead of just one, and that’s not even considering who will correct the homework during class!

Chinese New Year’s is coming up in the end of January/first week of February, and is the largest holiday of the Asian calendar. Shane will be closed for one week, so if any of you are feeling moved to experience Taiwan, please come visit me. I’d love to show you around, and I’m sure it wouldn’t take much to entice Nicole into it, so you can have a local guide too.

Write back when you can. I’d love to hear from you.

Monday, November 14, 2005

Reading "Peter's Chair" by Ezra Jack Keats at the Eslite Bookstore on Saturday. We had a smaller crowd, but a few more of my students showed up: Mick, in my kindergarten class (in the yellow shirt in front), and Jamie, in my CE01 class (in the plaid dress). Photo by Jennifer. Posted by Picasa
L-R: Joy & Jamie's mother, Miffy (age 12ish, in Dennis' junior high class), Joy (age 12, in my junior high class), Jamie (age 8), Dennis. Photo by Nicole. Posted by Picasa
And Jennifer and me. Photo by Nicole.
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Jamie and me
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Jennifer, Joy & Jamie's mom (Alice), Nicole
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Is this not the cutest child on the planet?
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Barcelona, where Dennis used to live, at the edge of Keelung
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Two statues in front of the temple at Jhong-Jheng Park.
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A long walk
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This is what I look like in the shower.
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A dragon on a Buddhist incense bowl
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Wednesday, November 02, 2005
Hello all –

A friend of mine, who works for one of the Shane schools down in Taichung, a city in the middle of the island, recently sent a link to his blog page, where he posted journal notes from his trip to Japan. Though several people have suggested it to me in the past, I hadn’t seriously considered using a blog page rather than emailing out my installments to you. I checked out Kai’s blog, and really liked the format. So I decided to try doing that myself. The benefits are that I can post the installment rather than email it to you, and post my pictures on the same page, and you can post your own reactions and comments on the page, where everyone can read them. So this is a test. Please let me know by posting your comments what you think of this format as a way to get the installments and see pictures. Thanks.

Here’s a joke: I teach euthanasia (youth in Asia). Ha ha ha ha ha!

An explanation of my blog’s title: there is (theoretically) one bridge across the canal in downtown Keelung for each of the twelve Chinese zodiac signs: rat, ox, tiger, rabbit, dragon, snake, horse, sheep, monkey, rooster, dog, and pig. I was born in 1975, the year of the rabbit. But I haven’t seen a rabbit bridge anywhere, so I asked Jennifer about it. She said yes, it’s there, and it should be between the dragon and the tiger bridges. Rodger and I have walked the entire length of the canal, even looking for the rabbit, but haven’t found it, or the ox, anywhere. There is no bridge between the dragon and the tiger; they're sequential. So I’ve generalized the rabbit to represent me, finding myself in Keelung, in Taiwan, and in Asia, and that’s the journey I’m on.

The past couple of weeks, like anything else, have had a few ups and downs. My fellow teacher, Dennis, got a urinary tract infection, which put him out of commission for the better part of a week. In addition, right before that, all of us caught some form of a cold or sore throat, including half of our kids. The weather is finally cooling down (we’ve been having low sixties), and it’s been raining more often; winter’s on its way. But the seasonal bug has been going around, and it got me too. I was still sick the day I came into school and Stephanie informed me that Dennis was in the hospital and “no pee two days.” So for the rest of the week I covered his classes. Luckily I didn’t get sicker, and by the weekend I was well again. I really enjoyed his classes, and was happy to have the chance to officially meet some of the people I see in the school on occasion but haven’t really talked to. He has two adult classes, which was a nice challenge to teach, since I don’t have any; one junior high class, which was an easier version of my own class, and CE10, which is beyond comparison. CE10 (which, in Shane-speak, means a fairly upper-level children’s class) is a force to be reckoned with, twelve very vocal kids aged 9-12. I thoroughly enjoyed teaching that class, and now have about six new friends. One of the boys popped up at my elbow a few days later and wanted to help me make photocopies. Anyway, since my own kids’ classes have 3 students each, I can’t really do much in the way of team competition, which is a core component of the Shane philosophy. It’s a fun way to drill the new language into their heads, and it goes a long way toward keeping behavior good. So I finally got to put to use some of the activities I’d been wanting to try out, since the CE10 class is big enough.

In my own classes, we had mid-term exams this week. Those went well too. There are two parts to the exams, a written and an oral component, to test all four language skills (reading, writing, listening and speaking). I didn’t bother telling my younger kids about it, since they didn’t know the word for “exam” anyway. We just reviewed, then they took the test, and we played games afterward. They thought it was great fun. My junior high class, however, stressed out about it, so we reviewed for an hour and a half beforehand, they took the test, and we had just enough time to play Go Fish at the end, much to the delight of my TA, Nicole, who has taken a great liking to that game. In Taiwan, and probably most of Asia, academic superiority is expected the way that fashion or being thin is expected in the West – and those are expected here too. It’s the Asian version of “keeping up with the Joneses.” Most Taiwanese children attend probably six different “cram schools,” which are private schools that specialize in any given school subject on the planet, including English. So in addition to their regular school day, kids in Taiwan attend cram school every afternoon and evening, and success is demanded to the degree that physical and verbal abuse are not uncommon ways to punish your kids for scoring less than perfect. So my junior high kids were more than a little nervous about this exam, and for the most part they did fine.

Speaking of Nicole, tonight she gave official notice that she’s leaving Shane in December, at the end of the term, much to my dismay. She’s been an immense help in the classroom, and a good friend and bright light in my life besides. She’s taken me to the night market several times and we’ve had beef soup or rice noodles or bubble tea. For being only eighteen, she’s surprisingly mature, ambitious and confident, which has helped me out a lot, but I also had an inkling she’d be moving on from Shane before too long because of it. She, like our employer Jennifer, has a good business head on her shoulders, and is taking several aggressive business and English courses in college, which is why she’s leaving her job. Too much homework and not enough time to do it. Even though she still has five weeks left with us, I feel like she’s leaving tomorrow, and the news significantly dampened my day. She told me that she’d find an even better TA for me, but I told her I don’t think that sort of creature exists. Ah well, even though I’m very sad for myself, I’m happy for her.

On Saturday, we all closed up the school after classes and walked over to the Eslite Bookstore, which is the only store in Keelung that carries English-language books, where I read a book about Halloween to kids. We got there at 5:15, and though I wasn’t supposed to start until 5:30, there were already a lot of kids there. Nicole had sent flyers home with all of the kids at Shane, and five of them showed up on Saturday night. We had a good time. The store manager, whom Jennifer and I had met with about a week earlier, had set me up in a corner in the kids’ section of the store, and we had a nice total of 16 kids. They were rapt through the whole thing, which lasted about 25 minutes, and didn’t mind learning the Halloween vocabulary I taught them. I’ve included pictures from the reading at the bookstore on this blog, so check those out too.

Jennifer told me that "Eslite" is a French word, "elite," but I told her "elite" doesn't have an "s" in it. It's funny to witness incorrect translations from the other perspective. There's a popular store here called Very Song. I saw a little boy whose shirt read "Soonpy" and it had a white beagle on it. Sometimes they're cheap replicas of popular brands or characters - Disney, Winnie the Pooh, Hello Kitty, and the Peanuts are very popular here - and sometimes it's the result of lazy translation. A clothes store near my house called Big Train has a poster advertising their "fall and winer line." I assume then that Eslite is the same way - mostly French, but not quite.

Dennis has decided to move back into the apartment with me and Rodger, which I’m glad of. He’s been pretty depressed lately, not only because of his infection but also because his apartment is way out at the edge of town, so he’s isolated from all of us because of that, plus he can’t go out with us to eat after class because he has to catch the bus, and on top of that, he’s had endless problems with his cell phone, which Jennifer gave him, and so hasn’t been able to connect with anyone that way either. I’m glad that my introduction to living abroad wasn’t so bumpy.

Rodger and I have started swimming at the city pool twice a week, which has made me happier. It’s an Olympic-sized pool with surprisingly few people in it during the day. It’s a bit of a walk, which makes for some tricky time management, but since I left California I haven’t worked out regularly, and my body has gone to mush. Swimming won’t make it as toned as it was earlier this year, but it will help. Today Jennifer gave us some free vouchers to swim at the pool at the Evergreen Hotel, which is down on the harbor and is quite luxurious. That pool, while half the size, was very nice, and had a lot of amenities in the locker room which I could have used but didn’t.

Take care, and please post your comments. Thank you!



Outside the bookstore, with the sign announcing me. Jennifer met the man who made the sign, and it looks very nice. We'll have to work on the spelling of "Halloween," but otherwise he seems to have done a good job. Posted by Picasa

Me, Dennis and Nicole Posted by Picasa

Jennifer introducing me and Dennis, and Shane School.
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Learning Halloween words. Posted by Picasa
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The little boy in the front row wearing gray is Thomas, one of my kindergarten students.

The boy in the blue Pooh jacket (standing up behind me) is Eric, in my CE02 class, who kept getting in the way here. Notice Nicole there, ready to grab him again... Posted by Picasa

The little girl wearing gray in the back row is Grace, in my CE01 class. She's every bit the angel she looks. Also, the girl in pink in the front row told me she's from Canada. She had this book memorized. Posted by Picasa

The kids had to say "trick or treat" and they got a piece of candy. Posted by Picasa
There are no foreign lands. It is the traveler only who is foreign. - Robert Louis Stevenson

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Location: Keelung, United States
November 2005 / December 2005 / January 2006 / February 2006 / March 2006 / May 2006 / June 2006 / July 2006 / August 2006 / September 2006 / November 2006 / December 2006 / January 2007 / February 2007 / March 2007 /

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