Sunday, 27 December 2009

A Very Taiwanese Christmas

So Christmas just came and went and it was strange being without family for the first time but I had some new firsts:

  1. I worked on Christmas Eve and Christmas Day
  2. I dressed up as and pretended to be Santa Claus multiple times over the past week (which I never thought I would do in my entire life, I mean...look at me) for the students (I did the best manly "Ho Ho Ho, Merry Christmas!" I could but when I gave my students candy they still replied, "Thank you teacher," to which I insisted I was not their teacher, I was Santa Claus! My best impression still wasn't quite convincing enough but it was good to see how things might be should I decide to go into the sober Santa look-alike profession at the local mall one day)
  3. I wore a face/breathing mask (under my Santa beard because that beard has been used way too many times for me to want it to touch my face)
  4. I played a youtube video of Nat King Cole singing "The Christmas Song" to which my students pointed and yelled, "Obama!"
  5. I had my Christmas dinner with my friends at....TGIFridays!! This might not sound exciting but this food is like gold to me now.
  6. I received Christmas cards from some of my students which made my Christmas - check out a few of them:
Ok so maybe their English isn't perfect but I've only been teaching them for a short period of time. Next year's cards will be flawless....right.

Oh and here is the creepy poster for the Christmas party at the university I am going to...

As appealing as crackhead Santa makes the party look, I decided not to go with my fellow naughty Taiwanese boys and girls for the rager that took place between 6:00 and 9:30pm.

Saturday, 26 December 2009


That's right, I'm living in Taiwan and teaching English to adorable Taiwanese children. I have been here for over a month now and I'm definitely happy about my decision to do this. You might be wondering why I wanted to teach Taiwan. Well, I noticed that the thought of me following the "real world" path evokes similar emotions to the ones that I feel when I see trailers for the new apocalyptic film, 2012 - horror and agony for the world's end. Ok, so having a full time job may not be the end of the world but before I find out for sure, I want to have an adventure and do the seemingly "unconventional" thing for a while. I want to put myself in new and difficult situations, see as many new places as possible, learn about different cultures and ways of life, try to learn an increasingly important language (Mandarin), and just have an adventure!

I chose to come to Taiwan specifically because I want to travel around SE Asia, the official language is Mandarin, English teachers get paid pretty well (and I want to save money to travel), education is highly revered here (my students are amazingly well behaved), I can quickly get to a large city if I want to because Taiwan is so small, the cost of living is much lower than a lot of places (you can get your own room in a nice apartment and pay only $150/month!!), and the people are known to be very friendly.

Now that you know why/how I came to be here, here's a quick blurb about my new life: I'm living in Taoyuan City, Taiwan (30 minutes SW of Taipei) and I'm working for Gloria English School. I found the job online, did a phone interview, and jumped on a plane hoping for the best...and phew, everything has gone well so far. I live in a dorm with about 15 other English teachers (12 guys and 3 girls...soon to be even fewer girls - ahhhh! As you can imagine our kitchen is not suitable for the faint of heart). We live on the top floor of one of the Gloria schools for almost no rent which is awesome.

The other teachers (American, Canadian, and British) have been teaching English in Taiwan and in other countries from anywhere between 1 week to 18 years! There are many Gloria schools around Taoyuan County and I drive my scooter (much more on this later!) to a number of the different locations throughout the week to teach. Gloria is a pretty well-known buxiban in Taoyuan and I feel pretty lucky to have found this job especially when I hear some of the horror stories from teachers at other schools and in other countries. "Buxibans" are also known as "cram schools" and these are schools that students (kindergarten through high school) attend after their regular schooling during the day. I usually teach a few 2-hour classes between 4-9pm Monday-Friday and anywhere in between 9am-9pm on Saturdays. Yes, these poor kids go to school on Saturdays too! I can definitely see why Asian parents are known to push their kids pretty hard now. I thought I worked pretty hard growing up but I don't have anything on these Taiwanese kids - academically. Athletically, now that's another story. Any game that I have my students play in class that involves throwing balls is a pretty sore sight but I keep it going for my own amusement.

Lastly, it is definitely possible to get around Taiwan knowing minimal Mandarin (young people know the English that people like me teach them and there is the occasional menu with English on it) but I think I will have a more fulfilling experience if I actually try to learn the language well. Don't get me wrong, I've had quite the fun time this past month and a half miming/drawing/pointing in order to communicate but I know that if I want to try to learn Mandarin (and maybe be able to use it in the future) I have to get a bit more serious about it. Soooo, I enrolled at Ming Chuan University's Mandarin Studies & Culture Center for 15 hours of morning classes per week for 12 weeks. It is a 15-20 minute scooter ride from where I live and I'm enjoying my 5-person beginner class with other beginners from Gambia, Indonesia and Vietnam. Walking around campus is pretty funny as I'm pretty sure I'm the only Westerner at the school. I should be used to this homogeneous population after attending UCLA for four years but for some reason my different appearance is still quite apparent to me. Maybe it is because Taiwanese university students take pictures of me while I walk to class...yea, maybe that's it. Going to bars is also quite funny as Taiwanese girls and guys (that I don't know) will randomly put their arm around me while whipping out their camera phones so they can snap a quick picture of themselves with a Westerner! Turns out that becoming a celebrity is as easy as hopping on a plane to Asia. I'm pretty much Julia Roberts now, no big deal. Ha, only kidding.

So that's a little intro. Now that the basics are established I can start posting more interesting/funny/ridiculous things that happen while I'm living/teaching/traveling out here.

Oh and I actually have refused to watch 2012. Maybe I will when I decide it is time for me to face the "real world"...however, if the Mayans are correct with their prediction, I might not get that chance to watch it. I might still be globetrotting...