Finding the Rabbit
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!



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