Thursday, June 30, 2005

At a bar

I am being super rude, but I just discovered that my bar has wireless. So I just wanted to put up all those blogs. There are many new ones fron this week, and a new one for my first day (which is terrible). I will add photos soon.

Maybe a different apartment, two story penthouse, will explain later.

Talk to you later! Matt

Wednesday, June 29, 2005

Things are better

I know that it has only been two hours, but thinks are much better.

Chinese medicine is very good.

I have an apartment! Five minutes from my work (walking!). One block from a basketball court. Very small, but very nice (everything in it is new). Has internet. First person to guess near the pre negotiated price gets a smily face.

Normally this would be my time to watch Chinese television (I am obsessed with their MTV, it is the greatest thing!) However, now I must pass out.

To quickly explain the last comment. MTV here is hilarious. Jake, if you like J-Pop, check out T-Pop. They want to be either Japanese or American SO bad. They have an Usher wannabie (Rain, "Oh, its raining"), and rappers galore. Its a mix between back street boys and wanabie hip hop.

I think I will buy white on white K Swiss and hit up the club here. They love to dance it seems, its on. I need to figure out how to get it onto my iPod and I will learn Chinese, in rhyme, very fast.

Bad bad day

No time for full blog, I have five on my computer, but no internet. Very sick. Very tired. Some bad students, some great students. Trying to find place.

Things are okay, just, well, not right now. Tomorrow good, now, not so good. Must sleep, be online and try to call soon.

Tuesday, June 28, 2005

Getting lost with little kids

I have about eight things to write, and not enough time to write any of them. Today I woke up about an hour earlier than I needed. Arguably even earlier than that if you define need tightly. i think its just that I have set my mind up to just keep moving. i have so many things to do, I just keep doing things. I will never keep up, but I keep working or whatever.
That is not to say I am stressed. My acne is basically gone, which means that I am just not stressed. I believe the meter. Though the second half of my school day was more what I pictured, hectic, problematic, and I was constantly lost. The curriculum is so hit or miss. So many of the activities are simply way too easy for them. Some are terribly explained, and the kids gravitate to the problems in the questions like a high price law firm. For instance, say there was a map connecting A to B, one that goes from B to C, one that goes from C to D. However, along the square, there are connectors in the middle from A to C and B to D. The connecters in the middle would connect. Well kids would turn on these corners. Which they shoulod be able to do unless there is ano obvious reason why not (it is even more clear with the specific maps). Without blinking, the kids all would pick some problem like this. I would say "Well, you can't do that, because 0 does that and 5 does that." And one would respond "Well, we could do this!" and indicated down three, half way across 5, turning up 0, and then down 2.
What do you say when a kindergarten kid schools you?
Then with their grammar books, I gave them an assignment, and some had finished it in literally one minute (Sam had something to prove I think), whereas others took their time. The last half of the class was impossible to put into little time structures.
However, I found out why I cannot be a professional poker player. I am not sure how to punish a kid, the problem, I don't believe my own bull shit. Jonathan will look me right in the eye and defiance breathes out of his eyes. So what am I going to do? Send him to the corner? What if he says "Hell no bitch!" Which although would be shocking, I have an intimidating imagination. So I say, "okay, go to the bathroom" and he says, "bring it on, what are you going to do, force me? You can't hurt me?" So I will say "Okay, I will tell the principal," which is already where my imagination begins realizing I may be in over my head, I don't think I could ever do that, it just seems a bit much.
The entire system of non-corporal punishment is based on such a profound amount of social construction. If a kid just will not drink the Kool-aid, they can just keep pushing it. If a kid, we will call him Henry David, was truly defiant to the end, they can be grounded, locked up, without any privileges, but without corporal punishment, they can just keep pushing it. Ultimately, non-corporal punishment is a great way to get people to mesh into society.
I did not just drink the Kool-aid, I chugged it. My parents could tell me, "Go to your room until you are ready to come out." The beauty, and weirdness, of that punishment did not strike me for years. Even as a kid, I realized I could just walk into the door and out and say, "I am ready to come out, BLEH." But I never would.
I did not look behind the structures, I knew I was not "ready to come out," so I didn't. Being honest to myself, I could probably say that to Jonathan and it would work. However, I need to believe my own bullshit. If I threaten something looking into his eyes, and I don't believe it, he won't. I am just so terrified he will call my bluff.
In poker, I can just not believe my own bullshit. I will bluff, but only semi bluff. Only online can I play a truly over the top bluff. So if I can punish Jonathan with competence, perhaps I can join the World Poker Tour.

Chinese chinese coffee, chinese

Chinese, chinese, chinese, point at random, chinese chinese, repeat an option, chinese, coffee. My ordering procedure for tea, coffee, or just about anything, could use a little work. I have never in my life had so poor of an idea what is happening.
This is profoundly true, eerily true. I don't know what is going on with teaching. Some people have mastered it, I am learning. I have no idea what is going on with traffic, ditto. Ditto with Chinese. Ditto with everything. If it is something in my life right now, I have no idea what is going on.
This has had some very peculiar results. For one thing, I am not afraid of anything. I have not felt nervous once this entire time. I don't have the luxury of being nervous. I don't ride a scooter, I don't get around. If I don't teach, I get fired. My buying apprehension is gone, as most things i have bought, I have to buy, either for necessity or for my sanity.
I have always considered sanity a certain amount of self-consciousness. By that standard, which I will have to rewrite, I think i may be crazy. The simple reason is that things are just on play. I love that feeling. Perhaps I should not, perhaps I should hate it. But that feeling like I am on roller coaster tracks is one of my favorites.
Things tend to go well, because I am working out the small things. If you are constantly doing the small things, the be big things fall int o place. I will get into a good law school, not because I made a few important large decisions, but I made thousands, maybe millions, of little decisions. Study tonight, study tomorrow, get an AQ, move towards law school. That is riding on the tracks in a different way. Now it seems like there are less profound decisions. I simply had to stop and get a coffee today, otherwise, I might have gone crazy.
i could have struggled through the Chinese involved, but i knew I did not have that sort of time. So I pointed at random, as I have done with other purchases, and things worked out. I got, actually, the exact thing I would have ordered if I had been able to say it, a sweet but strong ice coffee. The odds of that, literally, were one in 26. That said, I would have been okay with whatever I got, thats living on the tracks.
What decisions I do have I attach an inordinate amount of importance to. I make them quickly, but I stick to them. Today I got a helmet for the scooters, which I am not riding, though not driving, regularly. There was a specific helmet I wanted, and got, there was none other that had any other real sway. This is making up my life. Taking the decisions I can make, such as avoiding at all costs wearing the horrible rain coats popular here, as very serious decisions.
When I overplay a video-game, I start thinking in terms of that game. Say I play a game where you are limited to a range of motion to the four basic directions. I will think in terms of "I am going forward, backwards, left or right." If I do something, I feel my mind press the corresponding button. This used to happen to me when I was young, now I simply have not played a game quiet that much. However, when I do, take Resident Evil 4, the same thing happens (I realize this is of no literary merit, but again, some is staying, most is going).
Anyway, teaching has had a similar effect. I am finally laying down the law. Today, the first half was boring, but good. I had them doing what I wanted them to do, people were good, and it was shockingly boring at points. The second half of the class was actually much better. I had a great second half.
For the first time a kid called all my bluffs, and he got it, he got it good. I did not honestly think it would happen, and I was not sure what I would do. Luckily, it was the right kid for the job. It was not Jonathan, who I respect the most (don't read like the most, respect the most), it was Sam.
Sam is the big kid. He is a crier, he cries. I am just now realizing how badly he does so. He almost remains in a constant state of pout. He will just sit there, and be verge of tears for no apparent reason. Though I do think I know the reason. Parents. It seemed like too easy of an answer to me to say that parents have the biggest responsibility for how a child turns out. Although I considered that true, I do think society should do something. I still think that is true, but in a different way. Society should do something, but really, it is only covering for the damage done tby bad parents.
There are exceptions, huge exceptions. I can think of plenty of great parents with bad kids. Blame it on a bad dice roll of emotions I guess. That said, it seems like it is normally the parents. Andy, the bi polar child, comes from an abusive home. At least that is what I more often here, and it is hard to believe otherwise. His brother has very similar problems.
Sam's problem is pressure. The problem is that I don't know if it is an inordinate sort of pressure. That said, he came to my class today with a load of homework for other classes. In some cases I let him work on it, other times I did not. However, it was clear he was very worried about getting it done. I guess after my class, he must go to another school. I don't know how unusual that is. I know that one of my favorites (yeah I said it, what?), Winnie, goes to an evening math class, though I don't believe every day. Sam had all kinds of homework, from English, to math, to Chinese.
That said, it is not my job to cater to that. I simply can't, and I won't. Again, I am not sure exactly how bad it is, but it seems that sam cries about everything. Today, he was behind a girl in a tussle of sorts (she was playing with a friend). He basically snuck up behind her (not maliciously, but he wanted to play). The girl stood up at the wrong time and conked him on the chin. However, the impact did not even deserve the word conk. It was more of a nudge, maybe not even that. I could use all sorts of understatement to get at how light this was, but needless to say, a flea's breath would be a close rival.
Yet Sam started to pout, and was clearly trying his best to cry. He wanted to cry very very badly. So he did as much as he could muster. Yesterday I coddled him. He is such a big dude, I would say "you are a strong guy" and try to level with him. I thought if I came off that he was being cool in my eyes by not being a sissy it would be okay. This time, I really drew the line. I forgot what I said, but it had the sympathetic tone of "deal" (though somewhat more nicely put).
So anyway, Sam was pouting as Sam does, and would not come into the group of kids that were lined up. He was intent on being far from the group and whine his heart-out. Earlier, I had nearly murdered every boy in my class. I got the shaft when it comes to the boys in the class. The class was infamous for the boys, and today they were at their worst. During the singing portion of the class, Sophia (my assistant teacher, more on her later), was used extensively. Before she was involved, I tried everything to calm them down. However, based on the structure of the play they were studying for, it is not that easy.
So Sam simply refused to go forward, and I did not know why he was pouty this time (I did not care either). So I did "Sam, come join the circle." He did not, so I did my serious "Sam, join the circle." He said no and shook his head. Then I did my wrath of Teacher Matthew voice, which had not failed me at that point. I am surprised by it myself, but I can muster some kind of true sharpness when needed. Leave it to be said, I would do what I said. I think it is constructed by using every negative moment of forensics combined with all the yelling of forensics. Plus, my add had a wrath of Dad voice that could knock me on my ass (very deservedly).
Anyway, to my surprise, he still refused. So I did the punishment I had been warming up to do for some time. Take him to teacher Sally's class (which Andy had done earlier in the day, but that is because Andy is crazy and I needed help, it was not a threat so much as Sally saving me). So I told him to go to Sally's class, and he refused to do that. Apparently, don't fuck with me.
I ended up grabbing by the leg, and dragging his Cartman sized butt to the other classroom (that sentence will definitely be rephrased for any sort of serious literature of course). He was screaming and crying the whole way (I had been told by a fellow teacher to not worry about this, and was prepared for that). I pulled him, literally, into Sally's class, which had to have been absolutely mortifying for him.
That said, he really needed it. Sally spoke to him saying that he was not even crying, which was true, and that he was a big kid. Coming from another teacher, in front of strange kids, really changes the tone of the message. I left him in that class for ten or fifteen minutes before I got him back, and he was good for the rest of the day. We bonded over reading time (which was probably the best "period" I have had at the school)) and he was okay. After that, the boys listened and cared. Not in a terrified manner, but they knew that when push came to shove, I was not affraid.
Perhaps I will look back on the whole incident as the worst moment in my teaching career, but I doubt that. The fact was that it probably changed the whole dynamic of the class, if not my own mind. I know great teachers who have done the same. Perhaps the true greats never have to stoop to that level, but damn it, I am a novice, go to learn, and try.
Part of the reason my thoughts on the class are so desperate is that I really got the shaft as far as the class. That, or I got the best possible class possible. There is a good chance that this may be the hardest class I will ever have at this school. Those seem like words to regret, but I think they may prove true.
For once, I am picking up mid stream for another teacher. Teacher Gina is a great teacher, but that is part of the problem. These kids are going from ten years of experience to zero, and they can smell blood. The boys are nightmares together. Andy is this constant negative influence, and he riles up people. Jonathan is the boys. I like Jonathan, I really do, but he owns the boys (and the girls in many ways). If Jonathan is chilled out, the class is chilled out. That is the rule more than any other.
Jonathan is strangely charismatic, its very easy to picture these kids as high school students. He is the popular kid. The girls love him, the boys respect him. The problem, is he is not that smart at English. Perhaps he is amazing in other subjects, but I think social skills are his main tool box. The problem is that when he is crazy, he gets all the boys going. Once the boys are going, I can either focus on the boys, or the class. If I cut the rest of the class loose, anarchy ensues, which amplifies the problem with the boys, despite my attention. Thus, my only real choice is to stay focused on the class and draw for straws controlling the boys.
That is where teacher Sophia is great. She will gladly kick their lilly asses. If she was in the classroom the whole time, the class would be like wondrous clock work. The Chinese teacher in all other classes is there all the time. Unfortunately, SOphia is the accountant. It is a very unhappy coincidence that I ended up with the one class that had the most experienced teacher, the hardest to control dynamic, an a rarely present assistant teacher. Thus, it has been made clear to me that I don't have to do great things, just keep the class there, and I am doing that. However, it is a hell of an introduction. Sophia is great when she is there, but 9 times out of 10, its just me, (well, in a way, me and Sally considering I run to her every two periods or so, all the teachers are great).
My reading period, as I mentioned, was great, I listened to some of the students that need the most attention. I had Sam read to me. And more importantly, I had Jonathan read a very long thing to me. If you remove all of the people away from Jonathan, he is forced to be a sweet little boy. I tried to level with him, and told him that I would like him to be more clam for me and everything. I emphasize that I think he is a sweet guy, but he just needs to be good. He said he would be tomorrow, but I am not delusional enough to think that he really will be. However, he revealed his weakness. He wants stickers next to his name. He wants them bad. He pointed to a sticker chart at the end and said that when he was good, teacher Gina gave him a sticker. He said it with such wistfulness in his voice that it blew me away. Here I hyped up this kid's rationality and charisma to an alarming degree, and he just wanted a sticker.
I didn't realize, or think of this, because it is stilly hitting me how profoundly effected kids are by the most abstract and silly social constructs. A sticker? I mean honestly. When I was a kid, I used to think such stuff was crap. Sure, I drank the kool-aid, but I did it so cynically. I vaguely remember promising myself to never do the counting thing, "you have ten seconds to..." I always though that was so silly. I would do it, but I would have done it anyway, right?
When I started this job, I planned on avoiding counting. I saw teachers do it, and thought "how could they do that more than once.?" When they get to zero and the kids have not done anything, it will never work again. So when it was time to move on, I would just say "okay, get your books." No one would move. So I sad "get your books now." No one would move. Some would move, but enough would stay behind that the others were pressured to do nothing. "Okay, you have ten seconds to get your book and sit down, 10, 9" and the little SOBs were flying around the room getting their books and getting ready.
I still try to avoid the counting method, but its a hell of a lot better than making a fool of myself. I know that soon I will be counting virtually constantly. I wonder, if someone yelled at me, "You have 31,536,000 seconds to learn Chinese, master a scooter, get a girlfriend, learn martial arts, write two books, get into law school, and enjoy every second; 31,535,999, 31,535,998, 31,535,997..."

Monday, June 27, 2005

Nap time

It is nap time, for the kids, and for about 80% of my brain. Sorry if my writing is somewhat incoherent, I have to save the brunt of my intellectual capabilities for the small children.
In some ways, I think I have gone crazy. This is just all too overwhelming. I think I am sweating serotonin I am so deliriously happy. I have found that I am constantly yelling, even more so than normal. I think the reason that I do that, having done that throughout my life, is I just lose track of myself. So much is going right, that I forget that I am in the middle of life, which, often, has things go wrong.
In some ways, it might be better as a writer for things to be going worse. That or we are developing a great plot arch. Maybe this is the happy before the storm or something equally brutal and sudden, that or I will have a delightful new plot arch where the story starts happy and ends very very happy. Perhaps that would be an even better story, at least from this perspective.
I have at least one "serious" posting, sadly, I consider that first posting serious in that I was trying to say something more than the story. For now, I don't think it will be posted any time soon. Right now I am on the front lines.
Basically, things have gone extremely well in the class minus two things. First of all, the two most messed up kids in the class got into a fight, and second of all, I lost arguably the most important piece of paper that I own, minus my passport.
First, the kids. When I was a child, I always thought it was a little shallow and childish for a teacher to have "favorites." I reassured myself that a real teacher would never do that, they were adults, and thus, infallible. Its ironic because now I realize that children are the ones that are infallible. If a child makes a poor decision, odds are it was the circumstances that raised them. An adult should have a bit more self consciousness. Although its hard to make a legal argument why an adult who got the shaft as far as conditions for 32 years should be that much more culpable than a child who got the shaft for 12, few would say that we should treat the two the same, both in moral outlook or punishment.
In simpler terms, I play favorites. The first, maybe five, minutes of my class, I tried my best to not have favorites. Minute six, I was playing favorites. Minute seven, I had realized I was doing so. Minute eight I tried not playing favorites. Minute nine I came to terms with playing favorites, and basically stuck with that strategy. By the end of an hour, I had them all labeled, like trite characters in a bad young-adult novel. In fact, its somewhat eerie how well I could construct a novel about this specific group of kids, they have all of the roles.
Winnie is the smart and ambitious one, Frances (a girl, I did not name her) is the quite-quiet sweet one, Ronaldo is the artistic one (and least troublesome of the boys, but still very troublesome), Julie is the loud talkative one (thus earning a soft spot in my heart), Amy is the moody but always sweet one, Ivy/Vivian are attached at the hip and have "crushes" on me (which is great because they can help me round up all the other kids), Jonathan is my favorite boy (he is very, very rebellious at times, but he means well and he has potential, the girls love him), Sam is the fat kid with serious emotional problems (he is a crier, he cries), Andy is the bi-polar (I think he really is - he will go from very very depressed to very happy) problem starter (he is a hitter, he hits), Jenny is the sweet little one, who tries to not like me but loves me, Joanne is the well dressed quiet one that has sudden bursts of incredible energy (she is a fun challenge to balance between crazy and introverted).
Anyway, thats who these kids are to me. That is a really messed up concept at its heart. Even if I balance things out, I am simply putting a band-aid over something that is really there. If I ask Andy the hardest question, I am not doing it because of some neutral educational stye, rather, I am asking the problem kid, rather than the smart kid, the hard question. I am always teaching with or against my labels, I am never teaching without my labels, and I am not sure how to avoid that. This is how kids get fit into niches. I already know that Winnie will become the "smart kid." Andy will be, and really already is, a jerk. Sam will be the emotional wrecked big kid. And its because of teachers like me, that this happens. Really though, teachers are teachers like me, I am not some weird exception, I am just the rule. At least it feels like that.

From the penthouse

I feel like I am 21 floors in the air, mostly because I am. I am staying at Teacher Gram's place, which I have been told, and confidently believe, is the nicest apartment building in Tainan. It is directly connected with what is unquestionably the nicest hotel in Tainan.
Gram lives at the third floor from the top. Actually, he lives on the third, and the fourth floors from the top. Floor 21 is the bottom floor of his 2 floor apartment. Apparently teaching is doing well for him. It seems teaching is doing well for everyone here in a way. Gram probably makes about 60-70K TND at our school a month. Converted, that is a touch over 2k US a month. To be fair, apartment prices can be ghastly cheap here. Gram pays about 16k TND a month here, so about $600 including utilities. Truly a phenomenal deal by that standard. Nevertheless, Gram does this in addition to leading, what I imagine to be, a decent night life (which most of the teachers seem to have). For that, private students are where bread is won.
Private students fall into the branch of what I consider bureaucratic ambivalence. Rather than just letting foreigners get away with something, the government bans it, and then just spot checks the "problem." Teachers do not tell their school they have privates, but the school knows that they do, and the teachers know that they know. The school bans privates, but they don't do anything about it. No one asks, and no one tells. The teachers are happy because they are making their money, schools don't have to pay as much money to be attractive. Even the government is more happy, more English teachers means better English, more power. So this is a lie that benefits everyone, but why must it be a lie at all?
Because thats the way the government works. On face value, teachers coming here and taking whatever job they want looks bad. So they must do something, so they "ban" it. As long as they just "ban" it, and not ban it, then the problem is curbed, but everyone benefits.
The same holds true with scooters. Scooters, as I have mentioned, are everywhere here. Every Westerner I have met owns a scooter. None have a license. The only estimate of the numbers of westerners living in the city full time I have heard is 200 (which has to be low, but maybe of western teachers). As such, I have met about 4% of the city's sample size.
There are constant rumors that the cops are "finally cracking down." People said that two years ago, five years ago, and they say it now. However, I have never heard of someone who said that they were actually busted. If they were, most plan on pretending they don't speak Chinese, at least it would not be an act for me.
The whole country has this sort of arrangement over certain issues it seems. The most obvious is the traffic. Earlier today I will out with Lily, one of the stuff members at my school. She is helping me find an apartment. On the way there, she infracted traffic rules right and left, but it was clear that she was a "good" driver. She was less aggressive than most, but she would cut across lanes or run lights like anyone else.

Sunday, June 26, 2005

They even make peace signs!

There are the three I first ran into last night. The one not smiling is actually the mostly smiley of the bunch.

The second image here is because I think the other one with me and the bunch came out too well. This is attempt at yin yang to return the world to equalibrium.

The critical word energy

These were the girls from last night. Also, Mary can now see my hair! The boy to my right is a friend of theirs. I originally met with three of them, and when they got the fourth, she was shopping with him. He was a nice kid, very shy with English, but he got better with it.

Arcades and high-schoolers

Writing like this makes it difficult to keep up. I have pages and pages in my notebook to type up, but there are constantly incidents where I have trouble keeping them in my notebook (such as this entry). Because of that, things might become very anti-chronomatic, that or I might fake the date of entries and mention in the later entries to go back.
Anyway, last night I declared war on Chinese. Directly after my entry at the mall, I realized I had not really talked to a single Chinese person. Everything I believe in involves me being willing to take on situations. If I can't do that, then I am not the person I want to be. So directly after my conversation, I went over to two girls who were studying, not entirely to ruin their concentration, but partially because of it.
It was the sort of challenge that makes traveling fun, calluses developed on the fingers from flipping my phrase book so fast. Unfortunately, my guide book is clearly meant for the very young and confused. Whereas I am both, I am not quiet that young, nor that confused. For instance, I wanted to say someone had a lot of energy, but my book does not have the word energy. But if I wanted to say I like to take ecstasy, they had me covered (wor o-ar chir mee-hwun-jee).
I have now talked to a few people, and the conversations follow a certain model, determined by the "meeting people" in the conversation section of my guide book. "I am studying Chinese, what are you Studying?" *nod to response*, "Do you like music" *nod to response*, "What type of music do you like?" *nod to response*..."I am from Colorado. Where are you from?" *nod to the answer of "Tainan"*. Then I have to get somewhat desperate with the guide, I actually ended up asking a group of high-school girls, "What do you think we should do about pollution? Recycle?" *mmmmmm*.
This has not stopped me from making friends however. The two girls that were studying were studying Chinese calculus. That gave me so much joy that I did not even know what to think. Chinese calculus has existed in my mind as the best concept for some time, so seeing it being done gave me a real kick. I decided that by the end of next summer, I want to be able to do at least some basic Chinese calculus. I need to learn calculus, I need to learn Chinese, it is only natural. That or I can figure out how to spell quiet versus quite. That will be a big step forward.
So after my short, and very limited conversation with the calculus girls, I explored the mall more. I got absolutely trashed at a video game that I thought I was good at. It was not being beaten by the guy who clearly played the game all day that hurt me, it was being beaten by his girlfriend that got me. Especially while he was routing for me during the match (mind you he had beaten me four or five times in a row). In Japan I would expect that sort of thing, but here I thought I could at least beat one of them once.
The mall did not have that much more than I originally described. Across the street was a large arcade. I changed in three dollars worth of money and got back just a mind boggling number of tokens. I realized that this was their equivalent of a penny arcade later. I did not want to spend the rest of my evening at this kind of weird arcade, and I saw some kid wandering around watching other people play things. I ended up playing a gun game where you shot zombies (he was already watching it, I am not his parents!) and a game where you drum to Aqua's "I am a Barbie Girl" with him. Then I just gave him the rest of my tokens.
After leaving, I ran into a group of girls I met the night before. It was funny, my mom told me that she pictured me meeting all of Tainan with my smiles and such. Basically she called it, to my surprise. These girls were actually critical to my first story, however their assistance was cut because of time constraints (the same reason the story basically abruptly ends).
After I found the McDonald's, I remained lost, I just knew I was in the right area. I kept passing it, sort of like a tether, or as if I had one of those collars that zaps dogs when they go too far away. In other words, I was making a tight circle. Eventually I saw a group of young girls, which as a habit of mine, I find to be a source of great...conversation. So I showed them a little tiny map on the back of my hotel and asked which direction was my needed street.
They could not tell me, however, they were able to point out where the McDonald's was on my tiny tiny map on the back of the hotel's business card. I liked that they did this because I did not point out that I knew where the McDonald's was, they just assumed I did, like a US consulate.
The girls were sweet and animated. They were also very confusing at times. One had a tendency to drift into a flood of Chinese. Because she was using it with her friends, she would forget, well, the point. She would turn to me, and blast me with a river of Chinese. Even here friends would give her confused looks. Then she would realize what she did, blush, and laugh. She did this at least three times.
So yesterday, I was leaving the arcade and not really looking anywhere when I am stopped by incredible laughter. The girls stopped me and were very happy to see me. To be honest, I was very happy to see them. I had somewhat of a lonely day. Although I felt great and happy, I had just got a taste of incredible embarrassment trying to speak mandarin, it was time for a real bite.
So, armed with my phrase book, I simply dove into the language, and it was ugly. However it worked. One of them was actually very good at English, just not practiced. Slowly we developed into a fun Engrish conversation. This is where I got to ask my politically charged pollution question. Multiple times I thought about saying "You all are using me for sex," just assuming they would not understand me the first time I would say it. I decided it was not worth the risk.
Anyway, the girls eventually decided that the best decision for them to make was to ditch school and take me to get a photo with them. They were giving me one of those little photos that Asian girls carry like business cards, but they decided that they needed to add me to the mix. So essentially I was then kidnapped, but the handcuffs were replaced by adorable Chinese girls.
It was fun, hectic, and often loud. Normally when someone is way too loud for the situation, I get very embarrassed (I know I know, hypocritical and ironic). However, when you have no idea what they are saying, it is hard to get quite so mortified. They would scream with glee at odd things and kept things...exciting. I eventually learned the world is huoli, but this is where I realized that my guide book lacked the very critical word "energy."
We spent a number of hours together and I have to send them some of my photos. It was crazy and fun, a good start to mandarin and will be good motivation for the future. Also, I think that this is very quickly going to become the bachelor. Albeit they are high-school kids, but they are graduating? They each individually took me aside and talked to me, it was very fun and I continually felt flattered. I realize it is all shallow, but it is great for the ego.
To close with something silly rather than pretentious: they tried to guess my age at one point. The two main guesses were 25 and 30.

Saturday, June 25, 2005

Smiles, malls, me, Asia. Asia and I?

Not only did I find the mall, but I seem to have found all the young people. To be honest, I was beginning to worry. Outside of the train station, which had a lot of young people, but possibly because it was next to the university, I had not seen many. They were at the mall.
This place is covered in young people. The beautiful ones at that. It is like an asian Saved by the Bell. The food court even kind of looks like an updated The Max. It is cool, air conditioned, neoned, loud. It reminds me of a Japanese mall more than anything. Its got the frantic pace of such a mall, however with even more rampant youth. The adults here are few and far between. Most of them seem to work behind the counter.
I am apparently a sight here. I am getting stared at even more than normal, but to be fair, the same goes both ways. I tend to dive into eye contact, both in the US and here. Eye contact is a big deal for me. In the US, it is mostly misses. I look so goofy and awkward at times that my smile juts off of my face. The sheer absurdity of it forces many cold Americans to return it in course.
Much like I do in the US, I tend to stare right at someone, as close to eye contact as my crossed eyes will allow, and smile so broadly, that it looks like a car bumper. In the US, this is a very hit or miss enterprise. Sometimes a person will look away, sometimes they will smile, often they will do nothing. In Asia, its a near guaranteed reaction.
I, probably unfairly, tend to judge cultures based on how they react to my smiles. This culture is definitely doing very well for itself. Most people smile back. Those who do, I tend to give a quick bow too. Or those who are searching in my eyes for how they expect me to respond. Many elderly do this. They hesitate, waiting for my reaction to them responding with eye contact. I typically bow to this, and they usually smile back and bow as well.
One of my favorite responses was an old man, who was so taken by my smile and bow, that he bowed very deeply about four times; he entered into a near catatonic quadruple nod, all the while smiling. This really took me, it was clear he was very surprised and taken by me smiling. It was sort of a karmatic reward for all my smiles across town.
Some Asian cultures are not as appreciative. Japan is generally really hit, or really miss. People will either smile broadly and bow deeply and enthusiastically or they will look at me like I am neon with flaming eyes. In mainland China, it is mostly hit. Either people will bow ever so slightly with no smile, or they will bow slightly and smile slightly. Bangkok was the most difficult for me. The people there tended to respond based on what area I was exploring. If I was in a tourist area, they would often frown, somewhat disapprovingly. If I was in a non-tourist area, they would smile or bow, mostly out of surprise.
Here at the mall though, I seem like more of a star. To be honest, that is how I feel throughout much of Tokyo. Their culture has so many American rooted trends, that I am automatically "cool." I have to be wearing the coolest clothes, because I am wearing the clothes that an American would wear.
In Taiwan, older people tend to react better to me than younger people. Although I have a disproportionately larger sample size of the elderly, they seem more taken by my smiles. Young people, more often than not, have responded rather stoically, often shockingly stoically.
Here at the mall though, lots of smiles, giggling, and blushing. To be fair, I really do stand out. Every now and then I pass a mirror, and even I am taken a back. First of all, my hair stands out a mile a way, maybe even more so than my skin. Many people seem to desperately want curly hair. There seems to be a disproportionally large amount of classy beauty salons around here. I am always surprised to see very fancy looking salons catering to very elderly women, who seem to just want to curl their hair. My hair is naturally curly, and thanks to the hard water here, in a nice way.
Second of all, I am huge in comparison. I have always thought of myself as a small guy, but compared to he average person here, I feel enormous. Not just height, though I am tall in comparison; but I am very broad here, strikingly so. When I see myself in mirrors while walking around the city, I am often mystified and surprised, I look different than I have ever seen myself.
Here at the mall, I get really stared down. When I first sat down to type this, a group of six looked at me, laughing and smiling, like I was an exotic zoo creature. I don't mean that in a derogatory way, but they did some overly shocked. A little kid in a beaming red shirt came directly up to me and just stared right at me. I looked back at him and smiled, waiting for him to say something or do something. He just stood there, wide eyed and somewhat gaping. I waved at him, and he meekly waved back. I would expect this out of a child around 3 or 4, but he was at around 8 or 9. He left for a while, running around with friends, and then came back and did the same thing. This time I pulled out my camera to take a photo of him, and he just ran off.
I forgot why I wanted to find a mall, I know because my dad mentioned it, but there was another reason that I cannot remember. Maybe it was to find the young people. Speaking of which, I am going to go talk to some young people, or at least try.

Thousands of bugs

A thousand bugs screaming as best as they can. Flies, insects, butterflies, each making nearly inaudible sounds making an orchestra of noise. Together, they produce a consistent, pitch, with wavering highs and lows. One section will disappear to be replaced by another. They seem to move in waves across the park. Each screaming their own scream, but together, harmonizing their own way.
Tainan park is a jungle compared to the city. Although no central park, it is large, and more to the point, extremely vibrant. This whole city is life sitting next to death. Directly next to the tire store will be temple, on the other side, a cell phone dealership. This park has two highways, the train station, and the vibrant commercial headquarters that composes Tainan all around it. The dragonflies, wasps, and flies don't notice, opr at least they don't care.
There are temples and shrines, statues, but this is a monument to life itself. A vibrant green spot in the middle of a brown and grey city. The primary colors of cities signs are hidden by the infinite gradations of green and brown in the bushs and palm trees. The black streets are replaced by white sidewalks in between light grey statues.
I have been here only two days, but this is an oasis. Not because it is some sort of climatic relief, I do not tire so easily. But I know I will. I love cities more than the next guy, but it is good to know that are large swatches of vegetation for escape.
It looks like it won't rain today, that is good for walking around, but bad for the heat. I am sweating just sitting, and cliched analogies to a sauna are all I can come up with. Perhaps I can come up with better, but dripping hot sweat for no apparent reason seems to saunalike to think outside the box.
I finally bought a basic book on Mandarin, by basic I am very serious. That said, it says how to directly ask for a SIM card, I will have mastered that sentence in no time. I bought it exclusively because it has the phrase, "You're just using me for sex" (née jir...), I figure any book that has that, has got to have anything I would want to use. Plus, if I can figure out how to switch the subject and the direct object, I will have two sentences that can be used for virtually any social circumstance.
My poor computer is going to look terrible by the time I get back. It is still relatively pristine white, not quiet the paths in this park, but way better than any white in the city. However, as I sweat, very literally, over the keyboard, I know that its color will simply not last. However, it does make me feel like a modern day writer. I may scrawl out little notes on my notebook, armed with an amazing pen or my lucky pencil, but my computer is my real weapon. Hemingway had his Coronas, if I can figure out if I have something to say, I will have my iBooks.
But I will save that kind of arrogance for a while. I am waiting for my LSAT score, which I should receive in the next forty-eight hours. Iit feels like I am waiting a big spring to put into my elaborate ejection seat. Can't string a sentence worth reading together? Then launch myself into a career that avoids the use of adverbs. Essentially, I am waiting to find out how big of a coil I can get. I get the wrong score, and I better figure this out or learn to love teaching.
The latter will be easy, the former will be really, really hard.

Black coffee, white me

The English is simply terrible here. That is a horrible thing to say, to negate a culture for not knowing a language that is not their own. If America was judged by its Chinese, that would be bad. But it does amaze me.
I am at a café sitting next to a woman who is studying English. But she seems exceptionally anti-English. She clearly has a test in it, and absolutely despises the whole thing.
Because it is monsoon season, everyone who scooters around, in other words, everyone, owns jumpsuits for the rain. But they are these horrible blue things, that would have been ugly even in the eighties. The problem is that apparently those are the only ones for sale. All the teachers have matching blue jumpsuits, and I have yet to see a jumpsuit that does not have that same exact style. Its like a uniform for the dry.
One thing I must give them, the coffee is so strong. I ordered the girliest drink I saw, the ice cream coffee. It came out as basically a large cup of espresso with ice cubes and ice cream. It was good, but so much. I was going to say that the place was a constant assault on the senses, but that is not quiet true.
It is true that my taste buds are doing their work. Constant pickled, spiced, salty, sweet, powerful things. Some are bad, some are good, but everything makes a lasting impression. Breakfast for me is typically light, because most of the dishes are a real hammer to the taste buds. There is also a great deal of variety. My dish last night included everything from the aforementioned chicken skin, to a split up hot dog. Which, to my surprise, tasted like a split open hot dog (it looked like a little octopus).
There are also a lot of smells. However, it is no Bangkok. Heck, it is not even Guadalajara. The smells are powerful, but not overwhelming. Occasionally you want to jump off the nearest bridge, but its very rare to have an extended period where you just can't take it.
Sight is pretty active. Not a Hong Kong, but definitely on its way. This was part of the reason I got so lost. There is so much stimuli on every street, that it is hard to separate the big streets from the little streets.
However, the biggest curiosity is sound. It is still a city, but it definitely does not have the flare of most Asian cities. Typically, cars don't honk unless someone really deserves it (stuff that would get American honks is a common affair here, its the absolutely nutty stuff that gets treatment. My favorite part about the sounds, no one yells. That, probably more than even the nose assaults of some cities really bothers me. You pass constant stores, but not a single person has yelled a single thing at me. No demands to go into their store. No propels to buy anything. In fact, the only beggar I have run into did it in sign language. In fact, I can't think of a city so free of yelling. Whether it be Jesuits praising on Pearl Street, or Shanghai merchants screaming, it is comparatively eerily silent here.
My dad pointed out that Tainan is supposed to be filled with malls. But to my surprise, I have not found one. I finally found a whole well of young people, and only stopped to have a coffee and write this out. Today I will try to find my first mall. That said, in a way, it seems like this whole place is a mall. Perhaps I am just in the commercial district, but stores are at least every two lots. The problem is that they are all the same stores. About 20% cell phones (yet none of them have SIM cards for silent foreigners), 25% 7-11 and 7-11 like stores, 10% pharmacies, 10% clothing, 15% scooters, and the majority of the remainder goes to food shops, which are probably even larger than that.
I like a day where your major goal is to find a mall.

Clinton gets around

Now that is a popular dude! I looked pretty funny taking that photo.


This was my very cheap and very good pot of various foods.

Expensive Fish

This fish was either a very expensive pet or a very very very expensive meal. He was simply gorgeous.


These fish were simply amazing. Although I am not sure if they were food or pets, they would make great pets.

School view

This is the view from my school. It is very big, and arguably nicer than many of my old schools.


Absolutely, under no conditions, are you allowed to have puppies at my hotel. Don't even think about bringing in their fluffy
tails, nor their adorable noses. With no exceptions, No Puppies Allowed

A light jaunt in traffic

"Green?" Pointing down the street, he said "Umm...Green?"
"Ah, uh, yeah, yeah," ending the conversation was the priority. There were at least seven green signs. His finger pointed abstractly, to say the least. However, this, like the previous six conversations, needed a conclusion.
Perhaps I am neurotic, but I can't stand making some poor individual trying to overcome my language barrier because he was willing to help. Thus, these random samples of Engrish conversations were multiplying fast.
I was trying to buy a cellphone card in Taiwan, armed with only the phrase "thank you" and a somewhat shaky "how are you?" Neither were especially useful, however, I used both at even the most inopportune times.
This may not sound like much of an adventure, but that attitude does not give Tainan enough credit. One day made it clear, Tainan is always an adventure. The sidewalk often became the street, which was in a constant state of bedlam. The only traffic laws of any consequences were the laws of physics. Assuming a hole in traffic is equal size x, and the car/bike is size y, as long as x>y, go for it! In fact, sometimes when y>x, still go for it - just do it really fast.
If I am not on the street's constant near-accident state, then I am on the sidewalk. I quickly developed a habit of talking a careful and large step every ten or so. The sidewalk has a nasty tendency to drop for a foot or two for no apparent reason. Thus, I always have to pay attention, rather than walking while scribbling notes into a notebook. Instead of stopping note and photo taking, which would have been a better idea, I simply created a rhythm with the sidewalk. Ten steps, big jump. Ten steps, big drop. Twelve steps, walk around a car directly into the street because I have no other option, put book away and prey to a newly found savior.
Everything I do is a little harder because it is so hot and damp that my paper has started melting. I throw receipts into my pocket and they quickly become one receipt, or a puddle of receipt. If I put the notebook into my armpit, it imprints my shirt's texture into the page.
I have found that I may be overdressed for my job. That said, I can't picture an outfit entirely suitable for my work that is not sold at an army surplus store. No, that is exaggeration and I know that, though maybe a Navy surplus store.
My new school is quite charming. The people are smart. The staff people are smart. The kids are kids. For the most part, its clear that my work is a bastion of efficiency. That said, some things really get jammed up. Daniel, the senior instructor, told me to go to a specific staff member to get an apartment. She of course asked if Daniel and I had started looking.
Ultimately, that and about three other jobs are for me to figure out. I have realized quickly that they will help me, but they won't hand hold me, and that is probably how I would want it. One job is to buy an English/Chinese map. However, I am starting to think I might give up on this. At first, my brilliance said "But you are in China, all the signs are in Chinese, and the Romanji is really hit or miss, shouldn't you get a Chinese map?"
And the answer that I discovered very soon, was, "No." Trying to scan a full sized city map in Chinese, looking for a specific thing, is not easy. The map on the back of my hotel's business card still throws me. One other job is to buy a bowl, and another is to find an apartment. However, right now I want a map and a SIM card for my phone.
The problem with the SIM cards is that each place forwarded me to another place. However, I don't understand what they are saying when they tell me where to go. Thus, their responses have two properties, one, I usually don't know exactly where they are directing me, and two, I don't know why they are directing me somewhere else.
Though charades and confusion, I believe that I have a special type of SIM card for my phone. I keep staring at the really cool phones and can't help but think "F it" and go with that. That said, this is supposed to be a jaunt away from materialism, not directly at it.
Following the green signs was somewhat embarrassing, after stopping at a pet store, a restaurant, and a convenience store, I was confident I was not sure where he meant. To add insult, I am not exactly sure which was the pet store, and which was the restaurant. The line seems blurred here. Often times a place is clearly an exotic pet shop. The fish are at prices that make them clearly for sale, and are so obviously rare I can't picture someone eating them. Yet there are suspicious tables around and what seems to be menus. They also have very large Plincos in there, I wonder if one can eat them?
I was searching for hours before I realized that I was emphatically lost. In many ways, that is good. I do this when I come to a new city, I dive into downtown until I have no idea where I am. I then walk around for hours, slowly figuring it out. Eventually, inevitably, I find my way home. Typically I learn landmarks on the way.
This might be a good time to clarify something, Tainan is a city. It was supposed to be smaller than Denver based on population statistics, bluntly, my ass. I have seen more people today than live in Denver. In Denver, if I walked around as much as I already had, I would come to a clearing of some sort. Some place that was not quite city. I did not encounter this. It was non stop city. Everything was cramped on everything. There were big buildings, and small buildings. It was not Hong Kong, but it did have as many neon signs as possible.
One phone store told me to go to what I took to be, according to the address he wrote down "Gibberish gibberish 559 gibberish." Although I was glad to discover they had a sensical address system, unlike Japan for instance, I was not sure how far me at "Gibberish gibberish 316 gibberish" was from GG 559 G.
That said, it did not stop me, as it was clear he wanted me to go a certain direction. About thirty minutes later, I can attest, the numbers go up very, very slowly. After a solid thirty minute walk, the numbers went from GG 3xx G all the way to GG 499 G. And then of course to GG 1xx G.
At that point I realized that the 500s were on the other side of the street, and I had passed them some ways back. Eventually getting to the store, they actually pulled out a SIM card. But then said so much confusion it was not even worth zoning out. I believe they were trying to express that I had a really weird type of phone, or something.
I always thought it silly that people naturally yell and over articulate points to someone who does not speak their language. Ultimately believing that if the two of them really try, they can get this across. Other people will say nothing, or bad English, and then suddenly launch into a Chinese diatribe. This is no Japan, or Thailand for that matter. This is no Taipei, they just don't know English. In other areas, I can trust that most know some, some know much, and a few just know English. Here, the most fluent are the least fluent elsewhere, and it can get real ugly. At this point, I had not run into a single white person in some two or three hours.
Which definitely makes me stand out. People often double-take. I am in such a near drunk state that I have a very warm smile. Each time I see someone I end up smiling and doing a little bow. Even the most cold looking people end up cracking and doing the same. Girls do double takes. Children stare. Men try to size up. All of the looks have a certain amount of respect, which is nice, but they almost always look. Those who do not, try to do it with a certain amount of defiance. Some people will walk by, looking directly to their left for no apparent reason, having realized that I might pass on the right.
It is starting to weird me out that I am used to sprinting for my life after only a few hours. There are no little walking guys or firm red hands. You have to play it by ear with the lights, it is not a pedestrian town. Sadly, I think a scooter, which seems like a terrifying proposition, is the best way to go. At least with a scooter you are supposed to be in the street. Furthermore, I am getting sick of old women zipping by me and young women foreigners noting "Oh yeah, it can be scary at first, but its a breeze." The Hemingway in me is starting to make fun of me, something must be done.
The biggest problem is that I am not sure what I am pursuing. I was supposed to be able to get a SIM card at 7-11, now I am browbeaten from missed turns. I walked so far after that address that I have no idea where I have gone.
The biggest problem as far as getting back, everything is the same. I look down a street, a thousand little neon signs of varying colors, but that could be any street. All streets seem to have a similar configuration. I am starting to note the shapes of 7-11s to tell them apart from other 7-11s.
There are big buildings in the background that I am trying to use spatially. This was actually my primary navigation system in Bangkok. I tried putting the big buildings into the spot they were when I left. In doing so, I would find a path that helped me. After some time trying to do this in Tainan, I realized that even the big buildings looked remarkably a like. Furthermore, I was so lost, I very well could have walked to the other side of the buildings and was now trying to place myself on the inverted version of my location, reflected by the building.
As night fell, I found myself sprinting across traffic more hastily. It seemed like I should get home before the night fell. Not a fear of the dark, I think I have just watched too many movies and it seemed like an appropriate thing to do. I realized that I naturally used park cars as barricades from the river of machine-armed life that menaced cross walks. I have realized that cars, although ultimately free to do anything physically possible, obey at least some traffic rules, scooters will often cruise through red lights, or make blind turns. I think if I ever did that, my mother, no matter where she was, would drop dead instantly.
After night fell, my urgency dropped, since my one time based goal no longer mattered. I stopped at a restaurant that lavished different types of meat on you. It was less than $3 for a plate of boiled everything, I believe that the best part was chicken skin. Not as an opinion on what I believe was the best, but believing that it was, in fact, the skin of a chicken.
I basically tried to follow my instincts: "Ah, the trapezoidal 7-11, that was on my left hand side at one point, so lets put it on the right hand side." I am confident that at one point I was just walking in a spiral around my building. Eventually I started extensively using my hotel's business card and asking anyone who might even vaguely know English.
Through pointing, I eventually saw the only sign I both recognized, and knew that I had only seen once that day - McDonald's. As a beacon from heaven. I followed the golden arches. I knew that my hotel was a block away from it, but I was not sure in what direction. In summery, that took another hour.
I walked between 15 and 20 miles. Now I have the weekend to prepare for my first class. On Monday, I go straight to the front lines. I have met all of the wonderful teachers. I got lots of instruction from the teacher I am going to substitute. I met the kids. Now lets just hope they don't kill me. They may not be armed with machines, but if the traffic here any indication, I have reason to be scarred.

Thursday, June 23, 2005

Just landed

Note: This is an especially messy entry. I made it without the light on my computer. Many of the entries vary in random franticness, this is the worst at such. Most of it is stuff I would never use, but I thought readers might want this stuff.

I am riding in the back of a psedo limo on the way to a real bus station, oh how the mighty will fall. The radio is unusually peculiar. We are listening to an "English" station, which means that it plays a random (really random - Pink followed by Life is a Highway) smattering of English tunes. Most of the DJ stuff is in Chinese, however, not always. Sometimes they come on and say "Highway, gridlock, Johnny Cocraine," and similar things. I swear, that is what I have heard every time.
I keep saying things to my driver, and her clearly has no idea what I am saying. But he does smile and nod, which will lead to more interaction.
I think I figured out how to order Chicken, now I just need to do it.
"And the moral of the story is, *indesernable* drive real fast! Avoid the gridlock." Now I am all for creative license, but I could not make that up if I tried. I think they have some kind of highway gibberish theme. He said something intelligible about the Alanis Morriset song that he just introduced (which, I don't think I honestly could do).
The plane was fine, it was long, but I zoned out pretty well. I worked on my overly large Sudoku for a while, and then I watched crappy movies and kind of blanked out.
To be honest, I am working some sort of dorky optimism right now. I think being picked up by leather seats and leg room might have something to do with it, even if it is only until we get to the bus station..
Their highway police cars apparently look like red and white zebras, one was stalking some sort of toll road.
They just had an English ad that careened into Chinese. It turned out that it was an ad to learn English in conversation classes. Many of these ads are in Engrish. Which is sort of sad, because it seems like people use this station to learn English.
Now they are playing Nitorious B.I.G.!! It was everything I could do not to go "Yo, turn it up playa!" But somehow I think that would communicate poorly.
The cities we are passing (the airport is about half an hour away from Taipei), are pretty. Not mind boggling, but nice. I am just sad that I can't stop by the Taipei 101 on the way to the station. The leather seats make me want to demand it. That said, it might be best to not rock the boat. Keep up the facade as long as I can.
I am going to keep this journal as a series of notes that I hope ot turn into a book, so if you have any advice, send me something (if you are actually diligitent enough to read much). What do you want to hear about? Don't worry about terrible English and spelling, those corrections will occur when I refine this all.
This DJ is terrible! Immorally wrong in how hard he is to understand at times. And he just FREAKED at the first time someone refereed to a bottom as a "booty." That was weird enough, but he then laughed at his joke for a solid thirty minutes. All the while he was screaming, I emphasize again, screaming, "BRILLIANT!" Its kind of what I imagine those crazy florescent Japanese television shows would sound like in English.
Now we are listening to Snoop Dogg. Stuck at a light I really want to tell the driver to "smoke the taxi driving biatch on the light. Come on pimp, drop the hammer!" I should try and get that DJ job...
Now we are in a real city. Its sort of like China town in the US, but without the occasional English. Not the most fun description, but so far it is pretty standard.
Woaw, I guess I found scooter row. Scooter shops.
What the hell, the DJ really does scramble words together occasionally into nonsence. He will say something like "We are all ampeedl;aldsfjl;and the pimp is in the crib! Onladsf;jjklly Snoop Dogg could get away with that!'
Now the city look great.We almost just ran over three motorcycles. Which are, in fact, everywhere. And they just weave through traffic. That did not look safe at all...
The DJ sounds like he is chocking to death when he laughs. And seems to be obsessed with Eminem's Just Lose It.
Having gotten on the bus, I spoke too soon about saying that i was falling from might. This bus is extremely plush. With little TV screens and big seats. Its actually very nice. Unfortuantly I foolishly did not check luggage (Lydia recommended as such), however now I dont have the room to spread out and really enjoy this. Its not bad, just not as good as it coudl be. Which, after the plane, would be like first class.
Also cool, it is a double decker bus, which, I have always wanted to ride (seriously, the concept is just so cool(). So now I am towering over the scooters that recklessly pass Rigbht by your side.
It really is a pretty city. It seems liked a spread out version of Hong Kong. It has many fancy buildilngs, obviously similiar writing. However, it is not as condensed. It does not feel like too much, just, a lot. And I like a lot. Its too much that has me worried.
I am supposed to be met at the train station by the head of my local school. So that is going to be a real test, since I should arrive there at three in the morning or so. However, Lydia was at the bus station as promised. And the driver was at the airport as promised, so we will see. So many scooters!
They are sold every three stores.
This city has that similiarly run down feeling of Bangkok or Mexico, which surprises me. Corigated roofs. Cheap building materials. Poor architecture. This is not to say I don't like it (that would be a bit premature). However, it always has that neo science fiction feel to it, sort of a William Gibson Lite. I did not expect Tokyo. But, perhaps after LA, I pictured even the biggest cities in the fondest of terms.
I hope that no one sits in front of me. If they do, they will be unable to recline fully, which is kind of the point.
I realize that this is boring stream of consciousness, but iif you want something more excitting, wait until the book ;). Until then, this is what you get.
Lots of neon in areas, which i am a huge fan of. I like the super futuristic gritty feeling.
Alright, Chinese is being yelled at me, and it is clearly instructions or something. But I have no idea what they are saying.
I think they are telling me to relax and sleep, or something like that.
One very good sign, it is nearly midnight and the streets have tons of people. Now, the fear is that this will very much not be the case in Tainan, but its a good start. That was one thing that always ticked me off about Guadalajara, they didd not even have twenty four hour conviencne stores! Let alone an active night life. Wow, we just passed what I bleieve to be a scooter club of some fourty people.
Its hard not to wonder how the hell I got here. I have been watching Hotel Rwanda (a real mood lifter), as I have been going along the country side. Well, not really country side. There are always lights, and factories, and buildings. I don't think they do country side along this specific road. I think we are almost there because we passed what I believe to be Kaochung (a larger city than most). It looked fun, though not as fun as Taipei. I expect Tainian to be fun, though not as fun as this place.
That would seem to be a good segway into why I choose Tainan and not Taipei. First of all was the timeing. You can't really be impulsive if you plan four or five months ahead, I guess I prefer to plan two. That being said, I have a good lot of future mapped out as I would like it to go, its just, with sudden and emphatic travel, this seems like the best idea.
Jet lag is going to eat me away tomorrow. I am sitting on the bus at what should be 1:22 in the morning. The entiere bus is alseep except for me, and presumebly, the driver. I know I too would be asleep if it was not about noon in LA. These chairs are so comfy, and it has been soothing. But I am simply on another scheduel. Its eird, it feels like a symbol for this wholoe thing. I am the only person who does not speek Chinese natively on this bus, and the only person who is awake. The only person doing what I personally am doing right now. Albeit that is mighty specific, but it does give you a feeling of place. There may be an infinite number of beings in the world, but that does not stop any individual being from doing what he does. This, I guess, is what I do.
I am getting progressivly more excited. Although too dark to really tell, its clear that Taiwan is beautiful. From the roads to the women. I hope that this bus is cheap, because if it is, I definitly plan on visiting Taipei in style.
Going back to the Taiinan versus Taipei subject. You may seem to notice that I am very postiive on the idea of Taipei. That is one of the reasons I came here. I came to Taiwan and not Japan, partially for the challange. The same goies for Tainan rather than Taipei. There will be no huge ex pat community for me to rely on. There is some, but nothing like Taipei. The atmosphere will be very different from how I view myself. It will generally be more of a challange, and more of an experience. Plus, its a little more original.
Perhaps it is a big fish in a small pond thing, but I don't know. I probably threw that out for a reason, that said, I don't really think that is apart of it.
This bus is amazing, I guess it goes to Tainan no stops, the ticket must cost quiet a bit.
The other reason was that Tainan sounded like a safer bet. The school sounds more laid back and independent, which both tend to equate to better schools from what I have read online.
The windows are all tinted here and there are few motorists on this stretch of highway. The lights are too dark to make anyone out on the bus and everyone is turend away from me. In a way, I feel very alone. I feel strangely independent of these surrondings. I guess we all reach a certain natural harmony.
When I go up to someone in Colorado, we probably have had similiar experiences. Even more so, if I am at CU and I speak to someone. The odds of them just not speaking English are pretty small. If it is 2:00 at night, they are probably tired. When you travel, you lose some of that harmony. You understand a new frequency, and your own that much better. Even small trips. In California, people drive different, talk different, dress diffferent, and subtly, act different. Albeit a Californian is closer to a Coloradoan than a Croation, but there is still a noticable difference.
You end up remembering more, each day stands out, because you are trying to reharmonize.
Some people live abroad their whole lives because they can not stand harmony. The word itself implies a good thing, like harmony in a song. however, I clearly do not believe that harmony is an intrinisc goal. Rather, it is simply a driving force. Both for and against harmony people are always moving.
For me, I know I am the type to be harmononic. And that might seem some what ironic to those who know me the best. Yes I wnader and I try to mix theings up, but I think that is partially due to a tendency I know that I have to settle. I will make irrational decisions in order to add consistency in my life. I think one of the reasons I want to be a freind to so many, and such a good friend, that I believe that helps me buildi consistency in my life.
I try to disrupt my harmony by traveling. I enjoy the hell out of it. I am not saying otherwise. However, Irealize part of the driving force behind it is to keep myself guessing. I am often dividied, I have crazy urges and conservative urges. The balance between them is the fun part. By coming here, the crazy side won out. By not becoming a Hong Kong street fighter, the conservative side won out.
This compromise will determine the full course of my life, and I guess I accept that, not because I have to, but because I will enjoy the process more.
This is the first day of what could be one of my most memorable years of my life.
I always think this at some point during my travels: this moment will only seem an instant away when I am returning. Usually I think about what I will be thinking as I am going back. Possibly in the same plane, or in this case bus. I think about how my life will change. I did that going to Mexico. I thought about how I will know Spanish. I thought about what I will be doing. I was not sure then, and when I left, none of those questions, minus the Spanish, were really answered. So in that sense, I was right.
How will I come back form this trip? I think I will speak surprisingly good Chinese. A thick accent, but I will be understood. I think I will have enjoyed teaching, and spent serious time thinking about pledging my life to teachingj, however, the crazy side would not allow that sort of thing, and I will be ona different path. I think I will either have a book that I really believe in or a law school admission ticket, or both. I think I will have new skill sets. Perhaps be better a t basketball, perhaps gardening, perhaps martial arts. But I will still be me. I think I won't be in love, but I will have a crush. I will have made some mistakes. I will have at least two more boxes worth of stuff, which will probably be sent home. But I will still be me.
A lot of that might read pretty arrogent. In many ways, I have thrown out the idea of arrogance or modesty. I have become increasingly more atheist, in doing so, I have decicded that it is not good for you too pledge yourself to false modesty. If someone asked what l;aw schools I think I could get into, I would list good schools. Not to impress anyone, but to understand myself and to present myself honestly. This is not to brag, that would be much easier. But showing some tact with the truth is a lot more healthy than lieing. As such, I am thinking of my LSAT scores very honestly. They could be terrible, but I don't think they will be. They might be great, and I think they might be. They probably will be good enough, and I think they probably will be.
I know you are supposed to hope for the best and plan for the worst. I guess I am planning for whatever, and hopping for the best. That said, I have become more quantum in how I view possibilities. I will look at my LSAT possibilities now for instance, and think that I have a good shot at this, a bad shot at that, and an unlikelyhood of this. And I will expect, hope, and plan around that. Its more realistic. Its taking my belief that if you have a bet that pays fifty one percent of the time, thats a good bet. If you bet two-hundered dollars, you will own $208. This ignores outside factors, specifically Geertz's "deep play." If you are betting a sizable chunk of your assets, then losing will be much worse than winning would be good. However, when I can factor the odds, I will take the bet.
So, those are my predictions. My hopes might be a little more grand than that, but I am not even sure what those are. I don't have some drifty fantasy of the perfect time here. The perfect time in Tanian, will be my time in Tainan.
I got a fortune cookie before I left LA, in the Portland airport actually, that said I was about to have a good year. I wrote the time and date on it, and I put it in my wallet. I think it will be right. But, on year from now, I will look at it and think: I need to eat more fortune cookies, or I will start penning my case against China Express.