I'm starting to get a little bit frustrated with the whole nine-to-five routine that I have let myself fall into over the last couple of months. I've been living in Taiwan for over eighteen months now and think I can safely say that I'm ready for a change. It's not that I dislike living here or have an aversion to the people or the culture... I just need a change. The school I work for are fine and everyone does their bit, it just feels sometimes like working is the only reason that I'm still here with debts at home that need paying off and most of my family and friends living in other countries combined with the building hunger inside to see and experience things anew. I'm ready to move on and will not be renewing my contract in March.
I am writing this post to consolidate some of my thoughts, feelings and emotions about living in Taiwan since March 2011. I have not really been – for the want of a better word – 'feeling' Taiwan since I returned from a trip to Hualien in May. That was a great trip and I had a really good time seeing the natural splendor there. However I am at odds with the endless churn of the teaching model that is the Taiwanese buxiban machine. A buxiban – the style of school in which I teach – is also referred to as a 'cram school' this is in a sense an 'after-school' school. Kids turn up anytime after midday and partake in lessons or day care homework classes until the late evening, some as late as 10pm, and just study to their heart's content. This is strange to me – it is a cultural thing, I guess – but how much information can a young brain absorb until it's tired?... Children here are in these schools about 48 weeks a year and it's not just English buxibans that exist. Buxibans are everywhere here and range from English schools like the one I work in and extend through other subjects from Chinese to Music... in fact it is probably safe to assume that most children here are busier than me in terms of their scheduling and even after all those classes they still have a mountain of homework from each 'school' to contend with. Poor things!... It's ironic that my conscience is bothering me about the very industry that has provided me with an income over the last few years.
The prevailing study method in Taiwan is essentially rote memorisation. Kids basically memorise lists of vocabulary and take written tests while moving through material at such a fast pace as to not actually have enough time to process the information. They learn a grammar structure, loosely gain an ability to write a sentence using it – possibly without understanding the significance of the verb conjugation – and then forget it as soon as they have passed their tests. They have a set list of questions that they memorise answers to and then the school assigns local teaching assistants to call them, whereby they regurgitate their spoon-fed answers. They memorise hundreds of spellings each term, often with little more than a Chinese translation and then struggle to remember whether 'six' or 'sex' is the number after five and before seven. Actually, I made that last faux pas up inspired by a low level student that has a penchant for shouting numbers out during spelling tests and mispronouncing them, but the point still stands: without a map between stimulus and meaning, kids will forget the meaning of most vocabulary items, lexical sets or grammar structures that they 'memorise', almost instantly without a reason for remembering it. For example, if you ask for fruit at a stall in a market and you don't know the name, say a banana, and just merely point at a bunch of bananas you want and then the fruit monger happens to make a joke comparing the banana to his manhood while saying the word in the foreign language you may well remember the word through the joke, the joke being the stimulus. I'm going to stop talking about stimulating bananas and get back to my point, simply being that memorisation as an educational tool may well have it's place in the ether, but it is certainly not worth the gravitas that is bestowed upon it by the Taiwanese education system.
I guess the weather is also a hindrance to my happiness here in Taiwan. It always seems to rain when I'm not working and really doesn't aid me in my quest to hike on some of the nicer trails here before I leave! Hiking is a nice escape from the chaos of living in Nankan. I've previously mentioned that Nankan is the town where I live and feels very much a part of the greater Taipei area. Technically it isn't but it lies between Taipei and the international airport and is on the edge of Taoyuan County – a major contributory area to the industrial output of this fair nation. Without getting further down on Taiwan there is little natural beauty in the Taoyuan area and the weather hardly does anything to lift the spirits of this portly, hairy excuse for an English teacher.
Moving away from teaching for a moment, I've come to realise that I don't really feel like a fully accepted functioning part of society here – perhaps merely just a necessary foreigner to provide a skill that their society desires or deems necessary. I also don't feel prejudiced against in any tangible way either. Scared shitless when I cross the road perhaps as a guy turning into crossing pedestrians on a clearly marked crossing the other day thought it more poignant to scream a noise vaguely resembling 'hello' – in a voice skirting the middle ground between Sloth from The Goonies and Chewbacca – than to actually drive his speeding truck in a manner appropriate for the concern of the safety of fellow pedestrians. Instances like this happen on a daily basis however and after living here for so long I really should have come to terms with the driving etiquette that is employed here. Although it's not just drivers that are oblivious to courtesy with beings foreign to them in Taiwanese society. We were recently drinking outside a convenience store and were in very high spirits but not really bothering anybody. There was nobody around to bother and yet the police deemed it necessary to move us on regardless... twice. We were not being overly loud, we were not drunk, we were not harassing anyone – especially the second occasion where we had moved to a location away from residences to a pagoda by a river. Yet the police found it necessary to move us on once again. There was no hostility on their part as such but a clear message that having fun is not tolerable if we are in a funny mood yet it seems fine to barbecue with your family on the street all day and into the early hours of the morning – this weekend was Moon Festival – without any bother from Old Bill, if you're local. I realise that at this point I sound like I'm clutching at straws but I was rather inspired by this article - (http://www.taipeitimes.com/News/editorials/archives/2012/09/25/2003543589 ) - discussing the xenophobia that exists in Taiwan and is perhaps not 'racism' towards any particular group of people but does highlight the issue that foreign people are perhaps not always welcome in this relatively homogenous society. I also realise that a single article and the ramblings of a Mcdonald's fiend are from enough evidence to condemn a national population standing 23 million people strong. However, how far can the request of one thousand 'Taiwanese' people in a single neighbourhood, on a petition to the local authorities that 'brown people' – in this case a group of 30 or so Filipino factory workers – not reside in their area due to fear of the foreign individual not be constituted as racist, or in the very least as a significant act of xenophobia?...
On that note I'm going to stop whining and move on to a lighter theme to finish the post. I haven't posted about teaching or the antics of my students here for quite a while. So here goes:
I'm starting to get a bit worn out with my classes at the moment I've been teaching some of the students almost incessantly for the best part of the last two years. Most of them are wonderful kids and probably the most human interaction I get with the local people is with my students. Most of them being between the ages of 6 and 12 making them rather colourful in the behaviour department. Some of them get a little excited and I'm starting to learn the value of respect towards the teacher. I don't really feel respected as a teacher but more as a foreign person they are allowed to 'play games with' at certain intervals during their hectic weekly schedules. I have one student who flobs occasionally and sees no wrong in it and I'm at odds to shout at him because he doesn't see the wrong in it and can always play the 'teacher me no understand what you say' card. That card works as a trump card to misbehave in the poker game that is attempting to impart some level of knowledge and sustain the disapproval of their parents for scalding their kids for their misdemeanours. On return from my recent trip to Boracay in The Philippines I returned to the unthinkable scenario that I hinted a little girl may be impartial to a bit of poo poo in front of other children. I didn't – what actually happened was that I said the girl didn't like poo poo and surprisingly she didn't understand that I was rebuking the joke for her and just cried to her parents and so they complained... so I was fucked regardless. I'm a heartless bastard sometimes and I really need to mend the error of my ways... Read on!
Luckily for me there are plenty of students to brighten my day and I'm constantly reminded of their adulation for me and sometimes I'm not but whatever any press is good press and if the kids think enough of me to call me a pig or a 'golirra' – I'll leave that one to your imagination – then I guess I'm doing something at least semi-correct, either that or I'm a blithering idiot and it's funny to watch my 'teaching skills' live in performance. One kid – possibly my youngest, and definitely my smallest student – decided to show his appreciation for me while waiting in line to have his work marked by motioning his book between his legs in the manner one might floss with a towel after a shower... That was disturbing... but what the fuck, right?... This kid is cool too though, he has a mild obsession with crayfish and once told me he'd like to 'ride a nurse' but I think he meant horse so I politely reminded him that nurses are way cooler because that's what my dad says. Sometimes controlling the kids can be a problem especially when they stumble across behaviour that gets a reaction. For example I can deal with kids that flip the bird at me and then hide it behind their hand. That's easy, I just ask them if they want me to tell their mum but when they start chanting: “We will, we will fuck you...” it's not so easy to deal with. In fact there are two kids in one class I teach and one of the girls figured it would be funny to teach the other members of the class how to do a “Hitler salute”... I didn't want to deal with that angrily because it would probably encourage them and since they don't really have an awareness of sensitivity towards foreign cultures and due to the fact that they are nine they will probably just think it's funny because Hitler had a shit mustache... I managed to dissuade them by wobbling and attempting the Gangnam Style dance with a finger tash.
So to end the post on a rather random note... I also have a student whose name is Bill. But the kids call him 'B.O.' due to the fact that they can't pronounce his name properly. I always laugh when he gingerly responds: “I no B.O. I no even smelly!”...