Sunday, August 29, 2010

I Am A Teacher/I Am A Birthday Party Entertainer

My best known Chinese word is “niao niao.” I say it constantly. “Niao niao?” “Do you have to go niao niao?” My students are two and three year old little pants-pee-ers, and we go niao niao a lot.

There’s hardly a better way to wake up in the morning (that is, of course, after a humid and sunny 30 minute saunter to work) than to put on your best un-scary face and entertain 11 babies. And they are babies, and I am a less-experienced teacher piloting the first ever Yo-Yo (tiny baby) class at Taoyuan Kindy. The best part: no one knows if I stink at my job. I’m literally making it up as I go, and there’s no rubric, guidelines, prescedent, nothing. Just me and my babies, learning about English, Chinese, and toilet usage.

Have you ever noticed how slowly toddlers eat? I get to watch them eat every morning. They love sweet buns and sweet soy milk, but they hate oatmeal and anything green. Sometimes I get my hands dirty and grab the spoon, doing the airplane and the choo-choo train, trying to force it down, but I usually let Teacher Lily and Teacher Pace do it. These are their babies too, (they are the Chinese Teachers), and they are amazing. And they have this fantastically frightening way of making the kids do just about anything…except eat quickly. So we spend a good part of the morning sitting around, watching snack digest into bathroom time.

The cast of characters: Alto, Oscar, Sannie, Angela, Wesley, Thomas, Chester, Yuka, Champ, Hans and Andy. Can you imagine how confusing it must be to a three year old to have two completely different names? Lucky me, I get to call them by the names they absolutely don’t recognize, so we also spend a lot of time running around the room waving apple-shaped name tags shouting “This is my name!” My favorite answer to the question “Sannie, what is your name?” is “Sanniewhatisyourname!” repeated nearly verbatim by the little pigtailed kid in question. She’s fabulous, but also very naughty. And so it goes.

The babies love to sing, or at least watch me sing and wave my arms around, so we sing a lot. Sort of. They also love to watch me blow up balloons and make the balloons make farting noises, so we do that a lot. But I swear they are learning. Alphabets and colors and how to stand in a line. Sort of. It turns out that this job is a lot like being a birthday party entertainer, so long as the jist of the activity is English centered. And everyone likes a good birthday, so as far as I can see, it’s mostly just fun. How lucky is that?

We go to the bathroom at least three times during English class. This is where I get to use my hard earning Chinese word – niao niao. I figured, there’s no need to punish the poor kids, who hardly even know Chinese, if they can’t recognize the word “pee pee” or “bathroom.” And since we have at least one wet set of pants a day, it’s necessary to stick to the driest approach. Oscar pooped on the floor last week, then stared at it for a good five minutes before we realized what was going on. The Chinese teachers and me, we’re bonding, one misguided bowel movement at a time.

My afternoons aren’t quite as hairy: I teach a curriculum to ages 7-11 very similar to a regular class at home. They love to use “pee” and “poo” in sentence substitutions, we just fly with it. They’ve come a long way from the tiny Yo-Yo urinals, so I figure they’ve earned it.

My week is full, but it is happy. Niao niao then, aren’t you impressed?

Sunday, August 22, 2010

Caitlin Versus the Love Motel

Some people say, “Home is where the heart is.” But I like to think, “Home is right across the street from the OhYa Love Motel.” (Which, according to is completely booked tonight...for love.) See photo: my very own love motel. Kidding, Mommy!

Now before someone starts wondering what bed of sin I have made my nest in, “Hourly Rate” motels are apparently very common in Taiwan, a country where many married couples share a bedroom wall with their in-laws. It’s all very sensible when you consider that this is also a country where women protect their skin from the sun with umbrellas and recycling is not simply sorted as “Recycling” and “Garbage,” but into paper, plastic, metal, and garbage. Absolutely sensible.

What’s sensible about my new home in Taoyuan? (Thanks, Wikipedia!)

(Location, location.)
Within a thirty minute walk to school, I can wave hello and give a goofy sounding “Tsao” to about 50 shop owners (dumpling shops, crap stuff shops, mobile phone shops, 7-11s, noodle shops, rice shops, pharmacies.) This country loves to buy stuff, and so there are so many people to say good morning to. Within 30 minutes of bus travel, we can be smack dab in the center of Taipei.
We are >1 minute to the nearest Family Mart/7-11 (though that’s hardly a bragging right. They are literally on every corner.) Two minutes from school is Taoyuan’s most awesome outdoor market, complete with dozens of fish, meat, and veggie vendors (and everything in between) – I will give a full account of the market scene later, but its simply too awesome to fit into this vignette.
We are five minutes walk to the nearest dan bing vendor – Chinese style crepe filled with egg and whatever else you want/they have – I order veggie, which always has canned corn, and the other day had sprouts, iceberg lettuce and cucumber…and hot sauce.

Our rent is less than $350 per month – split between two.
The apartment is on the 6th floor of a nearly new building, with several fabulous security guards, a small pool, a gym, a movie viewing room and a well decorated reading room. At night, the kitchen window is filled with the purplepinkblue lights of the OhYa sign. I love it. It makes me feel like I’m in New York City.
Except way cheaper.
Ohya, and I really like the Japanese sliding door to the bedroom and weird extra room that may become a dining room. And I really like the built in giant desk thing next to the kitchen that I also use to store food and dishes. Ohya, and the enormous closet, and the shoe closet by the door (no shoes in the house, suckah, this is Asia), and the laundry dry rack that lowers down like a chandelier.

Didn’t I come here to work?
Ohya, I guess I did come here to work. After surviving nearly two weeks of 9-6 days sitting in an igloo of a training room, apparently I have enough knowledge to be trusted with dozens of children. What kind of children? Tiny ones, no older than 3 years old. But if their poopy diapers are as cute as their tiny faces and hands and feet, there should be no problem. Plus, how cool will it be to be the one person who will ultimately begin to mold them into bilingual beings? So cool.
I also get to teach older kids, I think in the 6-10 range. The curriculum/teaching methods are chant/song/game crazy, so it will be great to get some sillies out. Plenty of room for creative expansion, plenty of hours in the day to learn and teach. And, no weekend work. Singing songs and playing games with the world’s smartest and prettiest children, paying peanuts for rent and eating dan bing and taro steamed buns (they are purple!) all day long.
It just goes to show that everything happens for a reason. I already feel at home here, for better or for worse.


PS. I am buying a scooter, end of discussion.

Sunday, August 1, 2010

Arrival in Taiwan: Caitlin Looks Like Lady GaGa

It's been four days in Taiwan and I have already eaten something I wanted to spit out into my lap (oyster omelette), used a rain umbrella as a sunshield (when in Rome...), spoken unintelligible Mandarin ("bathroom" is a hard word to pronounce!) and been called "Lady GaGa" by a woman in the Taipei hospital. This is going to be an eventful year.

I hate to be a busy adult woman, but these first two weeks are quite jammed pack, and I will only really be able to dip my toes in the blogging pond during teacher training. Therefore, I would like to simply create an outline of my first impressions today, using my interpretation of the CIA World Factbook as a design guide:


Taipei is a giant modern city with a gagillion motor scooters, half a gagillion traditional Chinese/Taiwanese food carts, 14 million grinning inhabitants, a metro system that runs like a bazillion bucks, and the safest vibe in just about, well, a tragillion years. It's pretty damn fascinating, bustling, and Taiwan strikes me immediately as the friend I never had, and the friend I will not tired of getting close to.


Taipei is big, but my world exists within my current living neighborhood, Zhongshang, and the tourist destinations reachable via the MRT (rapid transit system.) The buildings are tall, the buildings are sleek, they are covered in bright and rainbow colored billboards, and the streets are very flat. What I love so much? The city is surrounded by mountains on all sides, and you can even see the mountains through the hazy smoggy heat during some points in the day.

Taipei is a sauna right now. We might as well all just be walking around in towels, because terry cloth might make a bit of absorption difference. It is always hot. The Taiwanese jog after 9:00 PM because a) they are smart and b) only idiots run in 35 degree weather.


They may wear doctors' masks in public, but do not fear: underneath that mask is a giant grin that you just can't quite figure out. It's as if everyone's saying "I know it's freaking hot, Caitlin, I know you might be in for a bit of a shock here, but we are going to help you every step of the way." And they do: they love to help, they love to speak English if they can, and they love to play charades if they can't. Sure, there's a bit of a sidewalk-bumping culture (You'd better push and not apologize!), but have you ever been to a country where people actually line up for the subway? Simply breathtaking.


So far as I can tell, my favorite part of the Taiwanese government is the way they handle healthcare. On Saturday we had to go the national hospital for physicals, as is required for all foreign workers, and it was the most amazing process I have ever been through. Sure it took 3 hours (but there were 30 of us, and they kept alternating Taiwanese-foreigner-Taiwanese-foreigner in their number calling): but once you got the ball rolling, they were medical machines. "Number 127: how are you? I will now take your pulse. Very good, now go to the desk. Step on the scale. Sit down. I will now take your blood pressure. While I do that, I will take your temperature. Scoot over one seat, we check your eyes. Excellent, now pay the front desk and get your blood taken. *Slurp* goes the blood needle, great! Now get your chest x-rayed - put on this soft cloth gown in our changing closet! Done." The best doctors' visit ever.


I love everything about Taiwanese money. I like talking about how much I have.

"I guess I don't need to go to the ATM for a while, I've got, like, 2,000 dollars in my wallet."

"How much for those shoes? $190NT? That is so cheap!"

The Taiwan dollar trades at about 31 to 1 USD right now, which makes this one of the best economic deal I have ever made. Price of a street cart steamed pork bun (around the corner): 9NT = 25 cents. Price of cute black flats Caitlin might have bought: $190NT = less than $6.

It's like living in the 20's, but with internet...


I don't speak Mandarin. Many, many/most things are written in Mandarin...or Japanese...or any other language I don't understand. But "xie xie" has turned out to be my most useful phrase, because everyone says it so often (of course - it's smiling helpful island!)

I am hopeful for my linguistic future. Stay turned.


I have never been more afraid to cross the street in any country, except Taiwan. The lights take about 90 seconds to change, and even if you have the animated WALK sign, cars may still just see it fit to run right on through the intersection.

Then there are the scooters, the elegant, numerous scooters. They scare me too, as a pedestrian, but they are so cool in transit. Everyone seems to know what to do, even though there are so many. I saw a crash the other day, and the rear-enders immediately jump off their bike, pull up the guy they hit, dust him off, and everyone was happy and moved on their way. Just like a bike accident in Davis, I should say, only with a bit more plastic and petrol involved.

I realize I haven't touched on, well, practically anything. But I have oh so much to say, so please, stay tuned. As soon as I become insta-teacher, I will plenty of time to continue my diatribe...and it might as well be exclusively about food. Coming soon!