Tuesday, September 27, 2005

My name is Michael Chan.I'm legal now. I have my residency card and my work visa. I had to take a Chinese name to get a signature stamp here. You can pick any name you want, because you don't really have to be called by the name. But in order to sign contracts or buy things like scooters and cars, a stamp is necessary. People don't sign their names. This is a self portrait taken in a parking garage mirror. I call it "portrait of the artist as a middle-aged man." Posted by Picasa

Sunday, September 25, 2005

This is where they get the expression "getting all your ducks in a row." Of course, it's easier when they're all dead. You can pretty much line them up any way you want. The food on display here takes a little getting used to. In markets, meat is all over the place, on tables, blocks, in coolers. I've seen the locals grilling and they seem to prefer well done meat. This is probably more for health than taste. There are grocery stores that have meat wrapped up, but they're a lot more expensive than the markets. I prefer to buy vegetables and eat less meat. I think that is why I've lost close to ten pounds since I've been here. Posted by Picasa

Tuesday, September 20, 2005

my presence is entertaining

It's funny to me when locals stare. It is very common here, whether I'm biking or running or shopping or whatever. Any westerner gets it when here. We're not unique, but fairly uncommon, so that a local person may only see one or two of us in a day. I had a good realization the other day though. I was biking downtown and came upon a stoplight. Just in front of me was a dwarf- Taiwanese. He was on a scooter. In the next lane, there were some children on the back of a scooter. They gave me a cursory glance, then shifted their attention to the dwarf. He was quite interesting to look at. I definitely took my turn. After the kids checked him out, making sure he didn't do any tricks or anything, their attention was then focused back at me. I smiled at them and made a funny face. They laughed, then the light turned green, and they waved at me as their mom pulled away. So my realization was this. In Taiwan, westerners rate just below dwarves on the attention scale. I found comfort in this.

Monday, September 19, 2005

leisure time

The teaching week is only about 30 hours long here. That allows for a lot of down-time activities. I still get up pretty early. Most of the time, it's before 8 am. That doesn't sound very early at first, but my workday doesn't start until 3 pm. Many teachers fall into the habit of going out after work and sleeping late. Then, they grab some lunch, watch some television or play around on the internet before heading to work. While this is fine and relaxing, I do not want that kind of lifestyle. I may go out after work a couple of times a week, but even then I don't stay out very late. I'm older and I feel the need to justify my off-hours, at least some of them.

When I wake up, I hit the road for a little run. I'm slowly adjusting to running in 90% humidity and maybe 88 degrees fahrenheit, even at 7:30 in the morning. Right now, I'm running 5k. That is along a hilly course, so I know that I could run at least 5 miles on relatively flat terrain. I also combine that with some strength exercises. This park that I run in has pullup bars and a lot of good stretching devices. I haven't mastered them all yet, but I watch the locals and learn from that. I have probably lost 10 pounds since I came here. I've leaned up a much-needed fair amount.

After the exercise, I come back to my place for a little caffeine, either tea or coffee. Then, I write for an hour. I can then eat something and head out to one of the many markets in town. I got a bike a few weeks ago, so I can pedal around places fairly quickly. Plus, it's more exercise. I also just bought an acoustic bass when I was in Taipei for the day this past weekend. One of the restaurants I go to is owned by an Australian expat named Jack. He used to be a professional musician in Australia, travelled here a few times, decided he liked the country and settled here. So anyway, he is a really awesome guitar/banjo player and he likes bluegrass. I told him I used to play bass, and he talked me into buying one and playing with him and some friends. I've picked it up fairly okay, but I have time to noodle around every day and practice. I'm basically in a bluegrass band. In Taiwan. I know.

So, everything is pretty good here. In a few weeks, I may own a scooter, but I still need my work permit to be able to buy one and register it. I'm told it should arrive this week. Then, weekends will be open for exploring the mountains. This tiny island has mountains that are almost 4000 meters tall. I'm all about hiking and camping, and I know some people who are down with that. Not bad for five weeks in the country.

Saturday, September 17, 2005

Ahh, ain't it cute? Mickey is a bit of a whore around here. He's everywhere. Posted by Picasa

I grew some balls and took some pictures inside some temples. This speaks for itself, I think. Posted by Picasa

Monday, September 12, 2005

Making new friends

I'm remembering what it's like to be overseas, although the last time I did it was in Europe 12 years ago. Unless you go somewhere without any foreigners (like you or who speak your common language), you will in short order find yourself meeting fellow travelers. Here, it's mostly teachers, but we're still travelers. Travelers get pretty good at giving up their life stories over a beer or a short walk. It's amazing the details people will divulge to relative strangers. I'm guilty of this.

It reminds me of kindergarten. How did you manage to make friends in kindergarten? You just met other kids. Hi pretty much did it. Then it was off to the swingset or monkey bars.

What gets really weird is after a few times of hanging out and trying new adventures together, friends run out of things to talk about. The struggle is to figure out if they like each other because they're compatible and have similar tastes and sensibilities, or if they were a little desperate to find friends and told a few too many intimate details over a beer.

I think that travelers also tend to be a little strange, myself included, because we are going to strange lands and getting out of our comfort zones, plus we don't like to be grounded for very long.

Tuesday, September 06, 2005

A market scene. The temple from the picture below is surrounded by this huge market where anything can be purchased, from clothes to fresh seafood. Notice the person on the scooter. She just stopped before I snapped the shot. The alley is maybe five feet wide, but people ride their scooters around the market. No one minds. Taiwan has just recently started to be a prosperous country. It started around twenty years ago, and the country has changed so much that it's really a modern-day wild wild west. The police are way too busy to stop a scooter that is riding on the wrong side of the road or that runs a red light, largely because most scooters do that. These vendors probably pay little or no income tax. Organized crime has a large presence everywhere but in Taipei in the north, also the capitol city. All these things make Taiwan a very vibrant, exciting place to be. Posted by Picasa

Here is the inside of a temple. This particular one is filled with gods who punish evil-doers. It's not the best of pictures, but look at the fangs on the blue guy. If you saw him in a dark alley, you might want to run away. Posted by Picasa

Saturday, September 03, 2005

scooter crazy

I'm going to have to do it. I'm going to have to buy a scooter. That is how everyone gets around. I am going to bow to the peer pressure. I'm waiting on my work visa, then I will be able to buy one legally. I thought I could hold out longer, maybe a couple of months. I can't. I want to hang with the cool kids. I've made a couple of friends who are willing to go exploring on weekends. With a powerful enough scooter, you are able to drive on the secondary highways, and basically get anywhere on the island. It's going to cost about $500 American dollars. It's really cheap, actually, and I have the cash for it.

You'd be amazed at the number of scooters here. I will get some pictures, but they won't do it justice. Scooter drivers obey very few traffic rules. They tend to obey the rules of physics, but that's about it. Don't hit large, moving objects like cars and trucks. Pedestrians are advised to get out of the way of scooters, even in crosswalks. It's not done in a mean-spirited way, that's just the way it is (some things'll never change). Sorry about that.

One thing that I want to prepare you for is the multiple riders on scooters. In America, it's not uncommon to see two people on a scooter, when you see scooters. Here, and I am not making this up, families of four ride on one scooter. You will have to see it to believe it. Right now, my holy grail of pictures is a five person shot. Someone told me that he's seen it. I have not, but I have seen four. It sounds dangerous and crazy. It probably is. But I'm just one guy in a country that is scooter crazy. You see how this post wrapped back to the beginning? Pretty cool, huh?

Thursday, September 01, 2005

about teaching in taiwan

People seem to think otherwise, but teaching isn't easy. I guess that's what makes it worthwhile. A lot of English speakers come over to teach and they are hired more as entertainers and speech models than teachers. Or, if someone has a teaching certificate from the U.S. or other English-speaking country, then that person can teach at an elementary school. With a master's in education, someone can teach at university. My situation is a little different. The school I'm at is owned by an Englishman. English speakers at my school are expected to do more than entertain. We actually cover grammar rules and teach from textbooks. A student attends class twice a week. One day, a Chinese speaking teacher teaches, and the other day the English teacher has them. To teach two classes, I need about ninety minutes to prepare. The most I work, including prep time, is about six hours a day. Not bad. I am learning a lot from the owner of the school. I think in a month, my comfort level will be good. Right now, I'm comfortable half or two-thirds of the time in class.

In the states, I've trained and taught and tutored before, with a certain level of efficacy, but that was to an audience of English-speakers. If I ran out of material, I could move off topic or take some questions. Here, it's the material or nothing, especially with the beginning levels.

Luckily, kids in Taiwan are much better behaved than kids in the states. Students respect the teacher here, even if he is new and really doesn't know what he is doing. I shudder when I think about what we have in store for us in the states as all the baby-boomer generation's kids grow up. I'm seeing a little of it with my nieces and nephews and their friends. It ain't pretty. But I digress. What I am learning here, I think, are skills that I will be able to use to get another job here when my current contract is up. I'm viewing what I do now as an apprenticeship that pays pretty well. But, since I am learning lesson-planning and how to make text material into class activities, I will be more desireable to schools in 12 months.

One thing I may do after I feel a little more grounded is private tutoring. That will pay pretty well, and that money just goes into savings. My business background will help get me into adult tutoring. There is a big science and industry economy in Hsinchu. A lot of engineer-types want to learn business-speak. As disgusting as that sounds, there is pretty good money in it. So, I need to be patient and keep my eyes and ears open.