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.
There are no foreign lands. It is the traveler only who is foreign.
- Robert Louis Stevenson