Saturday, 30 April 2011

Earthquakes and Testicles: The first six or seven weeks in Taiwan.

I'm starting to get a bit skint again as it's about a week and a half until payday and I'm yet to earn a full months salary because I've only been here for seven weeks. Roll on next Monday!... I've had enough to survive and have managed to have a little tipple here and there and see people so life has been fine. As I'm writing this I've just experienced my first noticable earthquake!... At first I thought "who the fuck is shaking MY bed?!?!?!" ... and a split second later I realised I was alone in my apartment... my next thought was: "That's a big ass lorry on the road..." because I live next to a busy road, but then I saw the wardrobe and fridge shaking and came to the realisation that I'd just sat through a minor earthquake... I lived in Indonesia for a year and through all the volcanic eruptions and tsunamis and the like that occur there it's a very vast country so unless you feel it firsthand it still doesn't feel real.

My job here in Taiwan is a bit more demanding in the classroom and paperwork department than my job in Indonesia was. I guess I like that in a way because I feel like I've done a days work when I get home and haven't just made someone pay me to talk to them because I'm a honkey. On the otherside of the coin I had been doing a lot of travelling in Indonesia up until I left and have kind of missed that aspect of the country. People in Taiwan don't really notice you the way that your average Jakartan might and they certainly don't scream "BULE!!!!" at the top of their lungs at a moments notice, so I have to say that there are a few things that I miss about the old country that isn't really the old country but that is older than this one... if that makes sense?!... ;)

A couple of weeks ago I had my first classroom observation from my Line Manager at Head Office. She seemed pretty pleased and everything seemed to go okay. My TA for that class seemed to think I'd had an off day – as she is also my direct boss in her other role at our school – however the official observer seemed to think it was fine and just had the obligatory suggestions for improvement. Sometimes I think the Taiwanese are impossible to please. A friend here has suggested that you are doing a good job if your boss doesn't talk to you about the way you are teaching... if that's the case then I guess I won't be expecting a slap on the back and will find solace in cakes or something else more instantly gratifying... ;)

I'd like to be able to say that I'm struggling with the language here but that would imply that I'd made a bean of effort to learn it. I can't count to ten yet and now that I can compare my progress in learning Indonesian to my progress in learning Mandarin I can safely say that I may be able to order a cup of tea by the end of the year. That's not to say that I can't order a cup of tea already – I just kind of point and grunt and they get the message eventually – I guess my main gripe is that I had reached a level of profiency in Indonesian by which I could at least communicate with the locals and that is yet to materialise here. Cultural differences also seem to be more apparent here despite the quality in life being comparable to England. For example a teenage girl apparently got distressed in one of my classes because I handed her some tokens in a non-obliging manner... I still don't really know what happened but it resulted in a little micro-teaching from the school manager in how to hand things nicely to Taiwanese people! That's where I think the Indonesians are tougher. If I had handed a token of reward in a similar manner to an Indonesian with my left hand – extremely rude in their culture as it is the hand they use to wipe their backsides – they wouldn't dare correct me in case they caused me offence and that is where this Asian concept of 'saving face' confuses me as the application varies in different cultures. I still prefer to go with the Indonesian application when teaching or in a public context with strangers. For example one of my private students when using adjectives to describe personality mispronounces the word egotistical resulting in a spoken utterance of "ego-TEST-ical"... imagine the loss of face and embarrasment caused when he realises that people may think he's talking about male genitalia and not their overinflated perception of themselves!... This is relatively easy to deal with actually as I can just give him a lesson from a text book that I have regarding the dangerous mispronunciation of words and how sheet can sound like shit as another example. I certainly won't be giving him a peptalk on testicles. In another situation when getting my healthcheck I was legitimately taken aback when pointing a needle at me and readying herself to insert a needle to extract some blood the nurse made a pronunciation error. She said "relax your sphincter" when she intended to say "relax your fingers"; needless to say I clicked before I said anything and all face was saved! No pep talks needed!...

In sum, I'll be happily using metalanguage – grunting and groaning in this instance – to communicate for the forseeable future. I'll use saving face as an excuse for my ignorance and hope to get a grip of some day to day vocabulary and actually get out and see some things.

I've included a few photos from the classroom below and hope to get some of Taipei and it's surrounds up soon.

Lee xxx