Thursday, September 28, 2006

A wedding

On Saturday I went to the wedding of a co-worker in Taipei. It was really beautiful, and an interesting mixture between Chinese and Western traditions. The bride wore a white dress instead of the traditional red "qipao." And there was a ceremony in the church before the huge dinner/reception which is very Taiwanese (I didn't attend the reception though). Usually there isn't much of a ceremony, if any, in a church, since most Taiwanese people aren't Christian - less than 3%. This couple is though, and we even sang a couple of hymns during the ceremony, including "How great thou art" in Taiwanese, Mandarin, and English (sung by the foreigner section of the audience). There were also 3 singing groups that performed, and speeches from a lot of pastors. After which came vows and exchange of rings (supplied by the pastor); there was a bridal party but it didn't stay up at the front with the couple during the almost 2-hour ceremony. They just walked in at the beginning. My favorite part was the speeches by the bride and groom, and a powerpoint with their story on it. In a few months my friends Ariel and Richard are getting married, and I'm excited to attend their wedding! I expect it will be a little more traditional.

It was a quick trip, but it was nice to attend, and to connect with all my Taipei co-workers who I rarely see. Since then, I've been having a regular, non-rainy week. Stay tuned for pictures from my little mid-week slumber party!

Friday, September 22, 2006

I'm feeling a little cranky after riding all around town in the pouring rain and teaching 6 hours of class (4 in the morning and 2 in the evening) in damp clothes. I just can't help but thinking that people weren't meant to live in such conditions, coming from the rather dry central-western Canada. How do people in England and other perpetually rainy places survive? I seriously need some tips!
I'm still working on it, but I must confess, as I pedal and feel rain dripping down my neck, into my shoes, and getting the bottoms of my pants wetter and wetter, i can't prevent a longing for the plains of Saskatchewan or Alberta, and a small desire rises in my heart to leave Taiwan for good. Perhaps this is my current manifestation of culture shock.
Before my well-deserved and long-dreamt of bubble bath, here's a bit about my apartment complex.

I live in a 7 floor building, with a lot of neighbours I don't often see. I haven't shared an elevator more than 5 times in the last 2 months. When you enter the building you see a square courtyard which houses the bikes of the various residents. Mine is by far the most colourful save for the small red one with training wheels. There is a "security" lady who basically just sits in the couryard all day, takes care of the mail and sweeps the hallways. My hallway often smells of corn soup, a staple food here in Taiwan. I've met a friendly lady on the first floor while taking out the garbage, and had conversations that felt strangely like the dialogues out of my Chinese text book. Amazingly enough, she hasn't asked me to tutor her kids yet, maybe in the next conversation. Well, so far I'm still enjoying my space here (that's an understatement!) and even enjoy cleaning more than I used to. I feel so "homemakerish" when I prepare meals for later in the week and freeze them, wash my floor, buy dishes, or do other household stuff (though it's not immaculate by any stretch of the imagination).

Tuesday, September 19, 2006

Chop Chop Chop

I seem to have gotten a cold this week, which hopefully i can keep at bay while i get through a whole bunch of classes in the next 3 days, including a teaching day in hualian where i just found out (2 days before) about two more classes there. Life is full of suprises: like when my class turns out to be 53 students instead of 35 students in a classroom meant for 40, at least i had a microphone in that room!

Anyways, I felt like writing an informative post today, in case you were tired of my regular chatter, so here is what I know about the chop, or name stamp widely used in Taiwan in place of a signature. When Amanda was here, we got chops made at a little roadside stand that did it in 5 minutes. Usually a chop is Chinese characters containing your name, and is needed for all kinds of transactions, including opening a bank account. Actually, it seems more convenient than a signature to me! Most people carry around a small one with a little red ink pad. You can also get very fancy ones made out of wood, plastic, or stone. They can also do English words (though nothing too long since the stamp surface is usually a small square). They make a fun gift too, though I don't know how often you could use it. Perhaps on your Christmas cards? We don't reall have a practical use for them in North America.

Friday, September 15, 2006

More teaching adventures

Since I've just been busy getting my act together and starting all my classes, I don't have much to write about besides my students. I like my job, most days, and while there were plenty of similar 'incidents' like in the previous post (one class not showing up at all, people painfully inept at using their school's technology...), I'm optimistic about my students this semester. My first day at what became my 'problem' school last year went wonderfully. I went back to Chinese class after almost a month, and the girls were so happy to see me. The 3 year old pretty much cuddled by my side the whole time! I remember when I first started going, all but the oldest were a little shy of me.

I had my first class in the church tonight, which was kind of an adventure. We had to use the tiny sunday school classroom because the church kids were using my normal, big classroom. After this adjustment had been made, I was informed (yesterday) that 20 students from one of the high schools had signed up for the class together. It was really difficult to cram so many people into that room, and they just kept coming! Then some of my old students (who were in addition to the 31 that had registered) came out of the elevator! One unfortunate latecomer (a 16 year-old boy) ended up sitting in the front center aisle, only to have the girls behind him complaining that his head was too big!

Before I left Canada, Adam and Erin gave me this beautiful figurine from 10,000 villages of a teacher sitting on a rock and some students on the ground around her. Actually I have taught class outside before (once last year in Yuli when they hadn't informed us in advance that our regular location, the libarary would be closed). If nothing else, I'm learning flexibility, though NOT in the Yoga sense of the word.
This blog update brought to you in part by typhoon rains.

Sunday, September 10, 2006

Personal Goal

As signs of fall are multiplying along with rainy days in my corner of the world, I've decided that this year I must change my attitude toward rain.
I'm not talking about the Korean pop star, though I think he's a little young for my tastes, my high school girls will go crazy even at the mention of his name (honestly, i had a chorus of screams go up once during an activity where I'd used his name along with some other celebrities).
When I moved here exactly one year ago, I was warned that Yilan "hen hui xia yu" - it can really rain here. In fact 60% of the year, and though not the rainiest place in Taiwan (I believe the northeast port of Keelung or Jilong deserves that honor), it can get rather dreary. I've noticed a definite streak of grouchiness come out when I find myself with no other choice but to venture out into a deluge, and the prospect of teaching/sitting on the train/attending church/etc. in cold, wet clothes. It's almost impossible to stay dry when you're riding a bicycle in the rain, umbrella, raincoat or no. Now that I'll be riding my bike to two schools and frequently to the train station and other side of town, I really need to just come to terms with the fact that I'll be spending a lot of this winter feeling damp, and as my friends from Briercrest might put it, to suck it up! So these next few months I'll be working on my coping mechanisms, and having a joyful attitude, no matter how wet my shoes are!

Tuesday, September 05, 2006

Start - all programs - accessories

The first day of class, according to many, the most important day of the semester. The day when everything and nothing can be assessed. The day where if anything CAN go wrong, it will. Once, someday, I would like to have a first day of class that went perfectly. A teacher's wish perhaps? Maybe such things only happen on paper. But it can be frustrating when things beyond your control conspire to throw a wrench into your plans.

Flashback to Brazil: my first class in the practicum. I nervously walk to class, going over my lesson plan in my head, and arrive at the church to see a number of students standing outside waiting. Waiting for me to open their classroom. The classroom I had no key to. Within minutes a downpour began; a daily-occurring 15-minute monsoon which I was recently learning about. When it rains like that in Brazil, no one goes anywhere until it stops. Including the man with the key to our classroom door. Picture me and 20 Brazilian teenagers huddled together under a thin awning....

Flashback to Yuli: as Hope and I are preparing to go to San Min Junior High for the first time, the unthinkable happens (well, for the optically challenged) - Hope's glasses break! Being severly nearsighted, she is certain she'll be unable to teach without her glasses. I offered to lend her mine (about half the strength), and we both started the semester partially blind and eagerly awaiting the next week when we could actually see what our students looked like!

And this week: it's just been a muddle of confusion as to which room I'm teaching in, which room the students have gone to, who has which key and in which part of the school they are presently located (usually across the campus), and most exciting, a freak power outage of an entire building (but NO other sections of the school), where I ended up teaching a class in the semi-dark with sweat pouring off both me and my students. You'd think it was the first time I'd been to either of these schools, but no, in fact it's the FOURTH semester I'm beginning here in Yilan (including the summer) and still the schools seem to have NO clue about what's going on.

What is one to do? Explode in anger at the poor conditions? Politely but snidely request that NEXT week these situations be taken care of? Teach outside in the blistering afternoon sun? Or, as pop psychology may suggest, just go to my happy place.....

Saturday, September 02, 2006

Tour Guide

This summer, I taught about being a tour guide in some of my class sessions, and had my students come up with solutions to some worst-case scenarios. In my recent escapades as a Taiwan travel guide (to a group of one), fortunately there weren't any worst-case scenarios to worry about. The most difficult thing in Taipei was trying to find a place to exchange Korean dollars into Taiwan dollars since the money exchange places in the airport were closed by the time Amanda arrived on her late flight.
We found our hotel with a little difficulty, and walked in the front door to some surprised faces just after midnight. I'd reserved our room by phone and talked to the guy at the desk a few times that evening as we were trying to find the hotel. I'd used my Chinese name with them, because it was just easier, but they weren't expecting a red head to come to the front desk answering to the name of "Ou Cai Lin" they told me they'd thought I was from Singapore, because Singaporeans speak a mix of English and Chinese like I had on the phone! I took it as a BIG compliment!
On Thursday we toured some of Taipei's fun places, including the Dan Shui harbor, Taipei 101 - the world's tallest building, and it's huge english bookstore, riding the Ferris Wheel and exploring the night market before returning to our hotel room to crash. The next day we headed to Jiu Fen, an old gold mining town up in the mountains, and didn't have enough time to see everything, but did some souvenir shopping and had tea in a little shop with an AMAZING view. Next time I go there, I'll definitely leave more time for it! We arrived in Yilan in time for dinner and went to my final summer class, where my students got to meet Amanda and practice their English a little with a foreigner who's not me.
Our time in Yilan was short; we left the next morning for Hualian where A-hsiang drove us to Taroko Gorge, one of Taiwan's most beautiful natural spots. We took LOTS of pictures then headed to a beach to enjoy the sunset. Later we said goodbye and took the train to Yuli to spend the night. I wasn't planning to see anyone that night since I would go there after Amanda left, we just needed a place to stay on our way to Green Island. But I was shocked to hear someone calling my name as I got off the train, and even more shocked to see who it was. It was my beloved friends the Yo's who have been in America for the past year! Perhaps you remember the trip around Taiwan I took my first Chinese New Year here, well this is the family that took me with them! They had just arrived back in Yuli, on the SAME train as us! Of all the people we'd both see first when we arrive in Yuli... thankfully I've had time to catch up with them this week (I've spent the past 3 days in Yuli).
We got up early on Sunday morning and took the train to Taitung to wait for our boat to Green Island! We stayed in the same hotel Hope and I stayed in last May, and walking in the door, I was greeted with our picture, right at the top of their bulletin board full of pictures! It made me laugh. We had just over 24 hours to experience Green Island, but we managed to fit in snorkeling, scootering, hot springs, shopping, eating bbq, getting sunburnt, and lots of pictures! That place is seriously like paradise! The greenery is so lush, the ocean so blue. Another coincidence in my weekend of coincidences was that I met the guy I had met last time snorkeling! As we were heading out to the water, he looked at me and asked "Do you live in Hualian?" (which I did last year). We were both shocked, since neither of us had been back to Green Island since last May, but now, of all the weekends, we would meet again!
The trip back to Yilan was long and uneventful, and we were pretty tired the next morning as we boarded yet another train, the one that would take Amanda back to Taipei and then on to the airport by bus. 6 days is a really quick tour, but I think we all enjoyed it. Also, I think it served as a bit of a ‘practice run’ for the trip my family is planning in the winter!