Thursday, October 28, 2010

Happy Hallo-whattheheckkindofholidayisthis?

Out of respect for my children, their parents, and ultimate human privacy, you will not be able to see pictures of my P1 children dressed as dinosaurs, Super Mario, a lion, Belle, a fairy, a creepy shiny costumed man, a penguin and a pumpkin.

Instead, I will describe to you how to throw your very own Taiwanese Halloween.

1: Ignore it. Most Taiwanese families do, anyway, and it's only propagated for two reasons: Taiwanese parents send their kids to English schools, and Taiwanese people love to buy shit. Any excuse to have a thing of some holiday related novelty is enough reason to have a family outing to Carrefour to pick out a costume.

2. If you can't ignore it, go over the top for no particular reason. As did the Taiwanese staff at our school, you too can spend hours making Halloween decorations out of paper, plastic, yarn and paint! My class made ghosts out of Kleenex, spiders out of handprints, and pumpkins out of paper shapes. Then, stick them everywhere. Hang black plastic over doorways, please, because everyone loves bags in the face.

3. Play as much Halloween music as you can, as long as it isn't scary. This leaves you with about three suitable songs, one of them being "Trick or Treat" - a song version of the chant set to the tune of "It's Raining, It's Pouring." If I never, ever have to hear that song again, I will be at peace. They played it on repeat for three hours this morning over the loudspeaker.

4. Go trick-or-treating, but only at school, and while at school, only go to one classroom, thus making the actual treating time more efficient. Less candy, less fun, but also less time wasted.

5. Waste lots of time having every single student in the multipurpose room - let's say - 100! - tell the other students what they are for Halloween. In Chinese. While the Trick-or-Treat song is playing so loudly you can't actually hear the 4 year olds tell everyone ta shi shei.

Okay, okay. I wrote that blast pre-afternoon nap. This portion of the blog is post-homemade bean and rice burrito dinner. I'm a bit more retrospective and little less critical now. A few more quick points:

Halloween is simply not a holiday. It is a photo opportunity. Parents hung around for hours today just to see their kid take 10 seconds to walk across the stage in their costume, most of which were store bought (and many of which were the same, bought at the same store.) Some of them were homemade brilliance. One little girl showed up in a vest and skirt entirely made of bubble wrap and paper flowers (guessing mama doesn't have a day job) and there were some very decadent pumpkins, or nan gua, as I heard announced so many times. The kids stick their fingers up in a peace sign (the Asian pose we all make fun of at home, oh yeah, so real!) - snapshot! - done. The kids don't do anything. 

But field trips are like this, too. Let's go to a museum. Let's take a billion photos at the museum. Back on the bus. Let's go to the supermarket. Take a billion photos with the fruit. Back on the bus. There's this odd "The photo is more important than the experience." thing going on. Why do you want a picture of something you didn't actually do?

Tomorrow is my "anniversary" of three months in Taiwan. Time flies when you're buying consumer goods, writing obscene amounts of report cards, and taking your umpteenth photo.

But I still love my scooter.

Friday, October 22, 2010

"Teacher, Are You Sick?" and other random tidbits

Why yes, Taiwanese people, the doctor's mask over my face and the tissues falling out of my pockets indicate that in fact, I am sick.

I tend to get pity stares like, Oh dear, the foreign teacher went and took a bath in viral germs, so I have to justify the origin of my illness. "It's P1." I say. "The babies don't know how to cover their mouths and cough in my face."

It's true. They are disgusting little germ monkeys. The poor things shouldn't be in school, they should be in isolation. A week ago, I developed this lovely flem-y hacking cough a-la-students and went to see a doctor: Bronchitis, he said.

Now, I don't know what they learn in Taiwanese medical school, and I don't mean to discredit anyone with a P.H.D., but they tend to think they everything is very bad and curable with several types of medication. I'm pretty sure I don't/didn't have bronchitis. I'm pretty sure, because I am a doctor, that I have the flu. Nevertheless, Dr. Best gave me several types of medication, and I am still sick.

Speaking of medication, I ran out of oral contraceptives this past week and thought it would be easy as pie to buy some more. Remember what your teachers tell you about ass-uming?

It just so happens that oral contraceptives are one of the few types of medications that are not covered by the national health plan. This means that I can get a walk-in appointment and medication for tonsilitis for 50NT ($1.50) but a box of birth control costs me a whopping $500NT (about $15) - non-negotiable. For a country that manufactures much of the world's pills, I find this utterly ridiculous. And expensive. I speculate that the Taiwanese government wants women to have more Taiwanese babies (birthrate is below replacement), and therefore they don't want to encourage women to be smart. I am smart, but I'm paying out the rear for it.

Speaking of rears, I had one of my P1 students (the 2-3 year olds) pee on my hand last week. Speaking of P1, not only do they cough in my face but I have to also wipe their streaming snot. My solution: the doctor's mask. Teaching with a doctor's mask makes me feel safe and smart simultaneously. Except that if the students can't see my mouth moving, sometimes they don't understand what I'm saying. At that point, I pull the mask to my chin. There's nothing sexier than a chin mask.

Have I mentioned the rain? There's a little something called Typhoon Megi swirling around over here, causing incredible amounts of damage in the Philippines and soon to be China. Taiwan is out of the main path of destruction but we are incurring a tremendous amount of annoying, wind-driven rain. This is the rain that flies sideways and gets your legs nice and wet.

Rain + scooter = abnormally wet.

The rain comes up and down and sideways. We had a fabulous 15 minute scooter ride home on Thursday involving a downpour and at least three 90 second red lights. What can you do at a red light on a scooter? Sit there and take it like a man, that's what you do. Even with a rain jacket, the water still manages to trickle down your sleeves and under the face shield of your helmet. My shoes ended up so full of water I nearly had to tip them out to drain them.

I love the rain. It's still warm enough to wear shorts.

PS. Made pizza from scratch on Sunday. It was amazing. Except that there was not an anchovy in the entire city of TaoYuan. Trust me, I looked. I went to two different stores at opposite ends of the city...with my hacking "bronchitis." In the end, we ate cheese, olive, sardine and lime pizza. It was amazing.

Monday, October 11, 2010

My Scooter, or; Things I Shouldn't Tell My Parents

It is illegal to park your scooter on the sidewalk in Taiwan.

When in Rome, do as the Romans do. (Honk your car horn.)
When in Ireland, do as the Irish do. (Drink a pint.)
When in New York, do as the New Yorkers do. (Have a slice.)

When in Taiwan, do as the Taiwanese do, and buy a scooter.

And so we did.

Our little black bundle of 50cc Yamaha joy, I call her Zippy and she spouts black smoke out her butt hole. She cost $300 and is the best piece of transportation I have ever owned. Don't tell the Subaru, but scooter driving is way too much fun.

It's a lawless road. Technically, you can only drive on the far right hand side of the road, sometimes in specially marked lanes, sometimes where there aren't parked cars. You aren't supposed to turn left, and instead you must cross the intersection and put yourself in "The Box," where you wait to go the right direction.

Did I mention that the average Taiwan traffic light counts down about 90 seconds? 90 seconds of agonizing, Why didn't I just turn back there? time.

Therefore, and I blame this on the length of the traffic lights, people drive as it is necessary. It is necessary to pass on the left, because sometimes old ladies with parasols walk in the street at -2 mph. It is necessary to thread your scooter through 3 foot gaps between cars and buses, because otherwise, you wouldn't move anywhere. And sometimes you make a left turn, just because you can't stand "The Box" and then extra several minutes it will set you back, sucking in scooter fumes at the intersection.

It's fantastic. It's stimulating. It's dangerous, and we are aware. It's like getting to be in the scene in Star Wars where Leia and Luke are racing through the Endor forest on the floating speeders. Lean right, lean left, DUCK, squeeze your knees in so you don't bang them on the car next to you. It is a bit rough going over the bumps, but hey, if a lower back massage will only set you back about $20, no harm, no foul, right?

But Caitlin, where do you put your stuff  on a scooter? It's not like you have a trunk or anything!

Good question, my friend. The beauty of Zippy is she is equipped with a plastic hook that perfectly allows grocery bags to sit at your feet while you're driving. And thank goodness Taiwan is the safest place in the world besides a petting zoo pen of bunny rabbits and marshmallows. Need to leave your shopping on the scooter while you hop off to run errands? No problem! Need to leave your helmet because you don't feel like carrying it into the restaurant? Heck, why not display it on top of your rear view mirrors! The other day, James and I scootered our new bromiliad plant home and left it on the foot pad while we made a doctor's visit.

I swear you could leave your wallet on your scooter seat and find a fresh rose and a $100NT note folded inside of it on your return.

Anyway, the scooter is amazing. James and I "splurged" on the cheapest ride, lowest power, smallest seat, but in good condition. At $3 per tank of gas, it's the cheapest way to get around. So far, we've stretched her legs to the ocean (twice) and to the mountains (hot ass hot springs) and are never disappointed. As much as I love transportation, it seems like the best places are only accessible by Taiwan's favorite transport mode.

How's she handle?

Zippy doesn't purr, she buzzes.

Learning to drive in the empty parking lot. Unrealistic good practice, but I have since progressed to the big leagues.