Sunday, July 31, 2005

I am selling out!

Sorry about the lack of posts. This week has been exceptionally busy, which has increased the stuff I have to write about to the point where I don't know what to write, and vastly decreased my energy and enthusiasim to do so.

I am going to begin writing my law school essays this week and next. I want advice, I think I will incorporate stuff from this site, so if there is a line that you like, please tell me. I want to have my open and close be especially pithy (thanks Mom).

And as the title says, I am totally going to try to sell out. I don't know if that is the right term, as I never really bought in, however, I am going to put ads on the site. That sounds silly, but I want to use it as a way to track my traffic, plus its hilarious. Also I really like Google, and feel like I should be paying for their services in some way, so there you go.

Lots of weird experiences this week, new student, got the scooter, new class, incredible drama with my Chinese teacher and my school, a crazy club experience, and all sorts of other things. I am working on a new entry. 10 percent chance it is out tonight, 20 percent chance tomorrow morning, 30 percent chance tomorrow evening, 10 percent chance that it is out Tuesday, then the remainder goes out from there.

Saturday, July 23, 2005

Random photos around Anping

Here are random photos of Anping.

Wednesday, July 20, 2005

The rain after the typhoon

After the typhoon, the rain comes, nearly nonstop, for as long as week. It breaks occasionally, but I hear I should not expect the sun for some time.
I have a lot to write, and not the will, time, or skill to get it all down. However, the grey skies, gentle drizzle, and beaten attitude of the city should be a much better inspiration than an Oreo frappe. Perhaps I can write something melancholy, or, if I stretch, gloomy.
Though life has been too good for melancholy. I am the first person to lodge a complaint about someone blessed with everything and pouting about nothing. As hypocritical as I am, that would be too much of a stretch.
I have an apartment that continually amazes me. Every time I come home, I can’t help but enjoy the place. My living room is the best part. I have really gotten to make it my own. Night and day, it maintains the impression that it is just as big as it should be. It rides the edge of excessive so cleanly, that it becomes just right. I like to dance in my living room, knowing that much of the neighboring apartments can see me through my wall of windows.
I enjoy watching the middle-aged woman learn to play the violin across the street. The crazy white dance should leave an impression on the neighbors.
Tomorrow will be the end of a long battle. My vanity fought my desire to be dry, and I think the desire to be dry finally won out. This makes evolutionary sense. In the wild, vanity might help one find a fertile mate, however, being dry could save a life. Thus, in conflict, it should be expected that my ancestors would be willing to wear a neon blue, yellow, and green rain suit. Although a uniform hideous enough for the NFL, I am going to be joining the legions of the 80s rain suit army. As it is the only rain suit available this side of the color pink.
Next week, I will have a scooter that amazes me. The scooter is waiting to move when the current owner leaves. I actually agreed to a different scooter and had to pull out at the last minute. I was going to take an ugly, fast scooter that ran well. Instead, I am getting a beautiful, faster scooter that runs well. Inspired by a friend, the scooter is now named 魔鬼 (mo2 gui3), or, the Devil. Perhaps that is getting off on the wrong foot with the new guy, but I think he will like it.
The wettest I have ever been was in Guadalajara Mexico. I was three miles away from my new home, and the rain started. It did not have the suddenness of Bangkok, or the burn of Hong Kong, but it was bad. Feeling uninvited from the city’s inner-dry-sanctuaries, I just got wet until I found a Burger King. That is why I never got into Mexico; I thought they wanted me to be wet.
Today was the second wettest I have been. It sounds impressive, four-foot geysers flying from my hydroplaning scooter while dodging cars that decide to be in my lane for no reason. The problem is, I am used to it. I am in a city that is sliding on oil slick streets, always on the verge of an accident, and that seems okay. I even practice my Chinese during my rides.
My life is not so neat and orderly, divided up by my lavish possessions and slippery drives. However, my ultimate failing as a writer is that I cannot write about something occurring, when things are so up in the air. Its one of the reasons I cannot be a writer. I cannot capture that mystery, that suspense of what will happen.
I did not write about the typhoon, because I was not really sure what it was. I should be able to take a reader up to the edge, letting their imagination circle like the clouds bearing down on the island. I was imagining flying buildings and toppled buildings. Yet I did not know how to express that. My pride and arrogance did not want me to express thoughts that would turn out to be wrong or foolish. When I know everything about the situation, I can make piffy comments, but I can’t make people care. The people who care are those who know me, and they care anyway.
Before the typhoon hit, it was full of potential. I had never been in a typhoon, let alone a “Super” Typhoon. In fact, my experience with natural disasters was limited to blizzards. I am not sure if a blizzard is really a natural disaster, being in a blizzard is a fairly benign experience. One sits there and watches snow, occasionally looking outside and thinking, “yes, that is a lot of snow.”
Being in a typhoon was pretty similar experience. Wind and rain whipped around, but it was not like my place was going to fall over. Occasionally my bathroom rattled a lot. Mostly however, I hung out with friends, occasionally going to a window and saying “yes, that is a lot of wind and rain.”
At what seemed to be the climax of the storm, my friend Stu and I decided to go to 7-11. We did this under the pretense of getting food. As we were leaving the garage I asked him, “We are doing this just to say we did it right?” We both agreed.
It would be different if we lived in one of the poor apartments like other foreigners. I have heard of a handful of stories of people bailing their house out, or getting a swimming pool in their living room. I was just disappointed when neither Stu nor I got airborne.
My personal life is currently in the rain after a typhoon, and I don’t have the piffy comments to describe it.

Sunday, July 17, 2005

How I roll

This is how I roll next week. I just bought it. Custom built in January, all new but with a 5 year old 150 CC engine. It looks brand new, half modern, half old school. Half off-road, half street. I am so excited I don't know what to do. It is the perfect bike for me. It looks even better in person.

Thursday, July 14, 2005

Two kids in a big class

Note: This replaced the last entry about Eason and Kevin, which was massively unpopular for valid reasons. I cut a lot of material. If you read the earlier version and like something, tell me, I will add it to a later entry.

Right now, I teach two kids, Eason and Kevin. This sounds like a small class, but in its own way, its huge. The two kids are so vastly different that they should be in different classes. They are both behind the other elementary school kids in terms of English, but whereas Kevin is beginning sentences, Eason is fairly far behind.
They are both sweet kids. They both love me, and I care for them both. They both like to be picked up. Being able to lift them above my shoulders provides me a touching justification for working out. It makes my vanity seem like a labor of love.
Teaching them can be very difficult though. Kevin is beginning increasingly complex sentences, and he is learning spelling. Eason has done nothing but basic phonics his whole life.
Eason has only really heard English as basic phonics. Thus, he randomly, and often inappropriately, launches into the alphabet for no reason. Occasionally he catches up, but most of the time he is working on learning a few words in the sentences Kevin is learning.
The most telling class was the day Kevin was not there. That was especially hard, because I had to really see where Eason really stood. The worst part is that he still needs phonics and alphabet work; yet that is his greatest enemy. He has trouble thinking of words as individual concepts that have to be spelled and written certain ways and in a certain order.
The hardest part is that I see myself in his ‘I’s, and his ‘e’s. We do writing lessons, and his handwriting is terrible. We have to carefully go over strokes, and it gives me terrible flashbacks. I spent hours doing basic writing lessons; I had to write each letter with a certain stroke order. I hated it; I hated it more than any other part of my young education. It made me feel stupid. So I was not coordinated, did that make me dumb?
The schools seemed to feel that it did. I was tested to find out if I was entirely together. Looking back on those days, really cynical thoughts jump to mind. These are either the conscious thoughts of a secretly jaded kid, or like a good wine, a cynicism produced from bitter fruit aged over a decade.
I remember that my writing teacher had a dog with an electric collar that shocked him when he left their yard. I vividly remember sympathizing with the dog when I wrote e after e, carefully lifting my pencil before the line.
I actually had to correct Eason’s lower case ‘e’s. That was the worst part. I was entirely unwilling, or incapable, of doing it like I got it, so I tried to make it fun. Bombs with long fuses were involved. Creating tension over perfect writing, I layered constructed game over constructed game. Timed spelling, life or death writing, it really worked. I was having a good time, and Eason loved it.
But games won’t solve all of his problems. Eason’s biggest problem is the same that I had when I tried to learn French. He does not really understand language. He does not really understand that people can communicate exclusively in English, and in parts of the world, that is all they do, all day long.
For me, being in Mexico fixed that.
That is what is valuable at Jumpstart. Kids are exposed to a barrage of English as the only language. It stops being some kind of cumbersome code, but becomes the only acceptable way to communicate.
My favorite part about Eason is his dad. Eason is kind of pudgy, especially in this land of the toothpick people. His father is a scaled up version of him. They even had identical haircuts. They look like the Eason section of the toy store, where you could get a large Eason or a small Eason.
If I talk about Kevin, I just glow. It might get a little overly extensive if I really describe him. However, simply, Kevin’s work is incredible. His handwriting is better than mine. His cartoons are great, and star yours truly doing such fun activities as riding centipedes, driving buses, or pondering deep thoughts. The latter was to depict the emotion “worried.”

Tuesday, July 12, 2005

More photos

Photos from around town and school.

Winnie could be better

A sick child is sitting next to me. Slumped over, with her head in her hands, she has not said one word to me. Winnie is someone I have empathized with from the start.
She has reminded me of me as a child. She is smart, but kind of awkward. She wants friends, but does not have the looks or the interests of a popular girl. Okay, that later is a bit different from me, but you know what I mean. She wears pink, but she does not live pink. She does not obsess over which princess to draw. She is the only kid in my kindergarten class who could read entirely internally, that has to say something.
She was also the worst of my kids at getting in a straight line. She would always stagger to the left or the right, not really paying attention. The other kids would eventually bite, and by the end, I could get a near perfect line, with Winnite wandering around. She could see through my games. She did not want constant hugs. In fact, she recoiled from potential hugs and only seemed to care about class when she needed to think. She enjoys math, and is never sure what to do during playtime.
She always had a lot of energy, so it is especially hard to see her now, slumped over as pathetic as she can manage to muster.
Right now I am only teaching two boys, Eason and Kevin. Kevin is very bright and learning English fast. Eason is not. Eason refuses to learn the most basic things, explained, yelled, spelled for him. Kevin has truly random roadblocks. He can do something complex, something simple, back and forth until some random task will throw him. Kevin eventually overcomes them, but Eason sticks with his roadblocks.
At least they both can say “I see a centipede!” When they see a centipede, and sometimes when they don’t. Now that is progress. That tidbit was from last week’s chapter, “I See a Bug!” This week we are delving into the thick content of “The Pet She Wants.”
I really, really, desperately wanted to do, “I’m not a Dinosaur,” but the chapter was just too weird. As much as I loved the idea of kids adamantly proclaiming that they were not prehistoric creatures, the chapter was too mixed in skill level. The book had a connect the dots with “A,B,C…” sandwiched between pages expertly detailing every single English contraction, “I would’ve been a dinosaur...” The sheets were something I could give fluent speakers, but seemed a bit much for a class where only half the students know how to answer “So how are you today?”
Not to ruin the end, but that question’s answer is “Fine.” What if the answer is not fine? What if I want to say “I am shitty today, how are you?” It bothers me that “How are you today?” has become a throw away question. That is a very personal question, a very intimate question. However, in the name of making chitchat, it has been reduced to being an inane thing to say when the conversation lags or is about to begin.
So now we pass it on to our children. I am learning “Ne hao ma?” which asks the same question. The response is “Hen hao,” I am very good. I consider myself lucky when a native even replies with that, let alone “I just misplaced my prosthetic limb.” For me, I don’t even know how to say, “My world is collapsing into the darkest reaches of a great abyss” or “If I had the option, I would like to have my appendix out right now.” On the other side, I don’t know how to say, “This land is of milk and honey, I now live in a constant ecstacy.”
It bothers me that when I ask “Ne hao ma?” to speakers, I am lucky to get a smile and a knod. I really want to know damn it. I don’t care if they answer in Chinese, and I don’t care if I don’t understand, seriously, “how the fuck are you?”
I know people who have protested the question itself. A somewhat crazy co-worker of mine insisted on not using it, and would sometimes reply with a “do you really care?” Yes, I really did care. Well, maybe not about him, but normally I care.
If all we have is the present. If the past is never going to change, and we can never know the future, then shouldn’t a question asking us to detail our present be a big deal? Hell, that should be the deal, the only deal. That question should be followed with careful diatribes, or perhaps improvised poems.
But that’s wrong, the answer is “Fine, thank you, how are you?”
I am okay. Winnie though, she could be better.

Sunday, July 10, 2005

Spotting white people

I have an hour before my movie and I thought I should write. Perhaps it is because I am in a sterile, corporate environment, which apparently, is my writer’s sanctuary. Where better to make cliché comments about a society I don’t really understand, than in a clichéd environment that I don’t really understand.
Just now, a father walked by with his child. The kid was wandering aimlessly, being tethered by the occasional tap on the head. The man looked at me with sheer fascination. The kid then looked at me rather blandly like “whatever.” The father then looked at the son as if to say “What you want more than that? I think he is the craziest thing I have seen in ages.”
My sore throat is back and its all this country’s fault. My throat apparently doesn’t like to be bathed in smoke. I tried a mask and it is better than dieing of smoke, its more of a dieing from lack of oxygen. Trust me, they are similar but different. In my mask, I feel similar and it’s a bitch to breath, but at least it is not smoke. Now I compromise with it on, then off, and back on. With it on, the lack of oxygen makes the whole driving experience even more of a trip, something it really does not need.
Yesterday I went to the Tainan Mitsukoshi, which was easily the most expensive and fanciest place I have ever been, and this includes a number of Japanese Mitsukoshi. I saw stores that are only available in a handful of city’s in the US.
My question, how much merchandise could a Zegna branch in Tainan really push in a day? A polo, on a bargin basement sale costs $150 US. This place is not exactly poor, but where does that kind of money come from? I met a dentist who was shopping at Bang and Olofson. Their stereos are about as expensive as they come, but I could not picture him, or anyone in Tainan, going to Zegna, Armani, and Burberry, and picking up some duds.
Much like I get a kick out of the idea of foreign gangsters, I guess I have a funny image of foreign rich people. I can’t really picture some hard core Taiwanese mofo here who doesn’t give a shit about anybody, similarly, I can’t picture some aggressively rich playboy out on a spending spree in town.
In this mall, the $39 store sells boxes, jars, and all sorts of other carrying devices, with big British and American flags on them. There are aisles with nothing but boxes decorated as American flags. I can picture something like that selling in only two places in the world, Kentucky and Asia.
I run into foreigners here and they clearly don’t give a shit that you are foreign. Mind you, they are rare, I have only seen about two or three. However, each time, its clear they don’t want to talk to you just because you are foreign.
I figure we are having similar experiences, plus I get to actually communicate. However, they are consistently visibly put off. I figure they get so put off by the fact that they stand out, they are pissed off that a fellow foreigner would not understand. I can understand not wanting to be the center of attention constantly, it is weird, but why so cynical about it?
I do find it a tad off putting to be constantly stared at, to be surrounded by shoulder taps amongst groups, and tiny whispers. That said, I have to sympathize. Hell, when I see a white person, I stop dead in my tracks.
I would obviously not change it, I think it is clear that I like it. That said, it does get weird. Sometimes you wonder if the constant stares are your imagination, or if all of them are thinking nasty things. Its one of the reasons I smile so much.
As I said earlier, I think a lot of the people here react so well to my smiles because they feel more cosmopolitan, it’s an approval from the world. However, I start feeling bad if I don’t smile immediately. In the US, I smile at almost everyone, assuming they make the least bit of a look in my direction. But in the US, the portion of the population that looks nowhere near me is pretty high. Here it is pretty rare for someone to not look vaguely in my direction, if for not other reason to make sure they saw what they thought they saw.
Seriously though, white people look messed up.

My life as a movie, Japanese with Chinese subtitles

Ironically, now that I am barreling down the city, the city has seemed to slow down. Perhaps the theory of relativity is to blame. I no long feel like I am on some roller coaster ride going too fast for me to really think. I think often. The ride stops. For me, the ride seems to stop at nice cafés. I go to an inordinate number of nice cafes. These costs all cost far more than anything in Taiwan, but less than anything in the US.
Maybe I am going to these cafés to patch into my inner writer. They seem like the sort of place someone pretentious would go, and outside of pretentiousness and remedial spelling, what does a writer really need? Lets be honest though, pretentious I have already got. Besides, its hard to picture Poe drinking a frappe, let alone an Oreo frappe. Having even typed that I think I have to quit all of these ideas of writing.
Besides, I am not a tortured soul. I am usually happy, and I am not willing to be unhappy in order to make good writing. Maybe if I was a sadist this would all come easy. I would just move to Bangladesh, burn my passport, sell my things, burn the money, and you know, see how that goes. That seems like a novel idea, but I won't do it, even if I could keep the movie rights. I came to Tainan partially to leave my comfort level, but its not like I am walking barren streets here, stepping over dead bodies.
That said, the scooter is an adventure, every time. My scooter has given me a feeling of freedom, yet how much actual freedom I have patched into is debatable. It is not like I am going wherever I want whenever I want. Rather, I am just going to where is convenient. I was on the way to a movie across town when I decided to stop and write this. That was the most freedom I have felt on a scooter, where I felt like I should stop somewhere just because I wanted to, which I do when I am walking often.
This café is called “e-power,” but does not have wireless, in my world, that sort of thing ends in a gang war, that or the terrible music. One of Frank Sinatra’s darker moments, Strangers in the Night, was followed by a singer with half of his talent, twice his melodrama, and three times his “Do be dobe dos.”
Driving here for more than a few moments has made me as bad as the locals. That said, some of my western instincts still get me. Cars will dive in front of me when they see me break for just a moment, why did I break for just a moment? Because I was afraid they would dive in front of me.
My Word grammar check has a casual setting, I enjoy that. I like the idea of Word giving my document a “quick skim.”
I am only teaching an hour and a half a day. My contract guarantees 18 hours a week. Why do I stand for this? Well, it’s complicated. For one thing, my pay checks are for a month. As such, they can argue, perhaps justly, that my pay needs to only average 18 over a month long period. Because I worked so many hours last week and the week before, I will have averaged 18 by the end of the month. So basically my schedule is tons of hours, and then virtually none. In a way, that is not so bad.
I have avoided talking about this, because I know people from the school will read it, well, they might read it. As such, I am going to keep this pretty shallow of a discussion. However, this school breathes tension. The staff can't deal with the foreigners, and the foreigners can't deal with the staff. Both are nice, but no one does anything to lessen it.
My friend Stu seemed very "in the face" with the staff about some random things. I thought this was pretty unfair at first. Now I see exactly why he does it. They don't care if you have been compromising on previous things, they want to get students and do just enough to keep you there. The only way to really get something is to make it seem like this is the one strand that is keeping you here.
In this way, some teachers are in a constant state of half-way-out-the-door. One teacher threatens to leave weekly and has "quit" multiple times. It is a sad state of affairs, but I don’t know how it can be fixed. It has become the nature of the game, and it does not seem like it will change.
I am about to go see a Japanese movie with Chinese subtitles. I will not understand much, but what else is new?

Thursday, July 07, 2005


For much of the time I have been here, I have been riding on a scooter. Basically, I am an above average passenger now. Riding is fun. I am with foreigners who are so confident in their driving that they exude it. It is easy to forget that there are no physicists behind the scenes of the roller coaster. Unlike Disneyland, everything is not built to be just that close.
As such, Stu or Graeme would ride around and I would sit blissful on the back and think "wow, that was close." People do really stupid things here, and driving is mostly dodging idiots at high speeds. Typically, I just sat in the back and looked around, fearlessly. Sometimes, we would drive around and I would picture myself in ourselves in horrific car wrecks. Stu would swerve in the rain and hit some pot hole and the bike would go sideways, I would go flying into moving traffic, clearing a good eighty-feet. The images were so grizzly they became comical.
The odd part about this was that I would just sit there thinking about it. I would not be nervous or anything, simply acknowledge that there was this possibility of a firey devastating wreck. It was not likely, it was specifically unlikely, but I would just sit there and play it out in my head. Afterwards, I would just think "Hump, that would be, unfortunate."
I avoided doing this because I was pretty confident it was sending the wrong sort of vibes to my drivers, whom I had already attached a great deal of mysticism.
So yesterday I rode a scooter for the first time. A little bike that had already had a long life. The first time I got on it, I was starting at a corner, with the bike facing a near by wall. Driving, well, sort of driving, I started going forward, fast, really fast.
I tried to steer by turning the head of the scooter, which, as anyone who knows, know, does not work, at all. Not even vaguely will that work at any real speed, and this was pretty real speed. At virtually the last moment I remembered which lever the brake was, and I stopped about three feet from the wall.
After that, I drove around like an old man, with both of my feet all the way out. It looks silly, but it makes balancings much easier. I practiced by going around the block, which occasionaly had me putting my foot on the ground, clearly a scooter no no.
The experience of losing my scooter virginity hurt a little, it was confusing, it was over very fast, it seemed like it would be better next time, and I was very glad that there was no blood.
Today I finally got a bike. It is being borrowed from a friend, it has a lot of character, poor character. Its as temperamental as they come. Occaisonaly it zips along, typically it does not. I usually have to remain full throttle the whole time. That said, the feeling of independence, of finally having a way to drive myself somewhere, was really great. Now I need to buy my own scooter, but at least I have a way of getting around
However, one problem that I realized just recently. I parked my scooter at the bottom of a garage with a very steep hill. My bike has only 50 CCs of power. Getting up that ramp will be near impossible. I think my will power might be the only thing that will save me. The little scooter that could.

Set from the pro game II

More photos from the pro game. Sorry they are out of order. I have videos if you want to see the chanting, I can send it to you over AIM.

Photos from the pro baseball game, set I

This is the first set of photos from the pro game

Baseball at the Jr High.

Here are photos from the Jr. High kids.

Wednesday, July 06, 2005

Missiles in Love

I picture missiles in love. I realize that is a rather silly thing to say, but I do it often. China and Taiwan are full of missiles. I have heard various counts, but needless to say, it is a lot. I have no doubt that many, if not most, are pointed at civilian targets. That said, some have got to be pointed at military targets.
It is likely that a base in China has many of its missiles pointed at a specific base in Taiwan for geographic-strategic reasons. It is similarly logical that the Taiwanese base has the Chinese base as its primary target.
From these bases I picture two missiles, one in Taiwan, and one in China, that are set on the perfect trajectory to hit each other in mid-air. If World War III began at full force, millions would die. Missiles would burn the population and the buildings to the ground; but those two would collide over the strait and just drop into the ocean.
Perhaps this is a near impossibility. However, I can't help but picture it and I think of the concept often.
These are soul mates. Even if I don;'t believe humans have soul mates, maybe a missile has a soul mate. Scut interception is not like this. It is like a thousand one night stands happening over and over. Random commands are actually programed into scud interception to avoid programming grid lock. By their very nature they are dictated by chance. But pre-programmed missiles, the really big ones, could sit ready to go for some time.
These missiles may spend their entire lives in a constant state of ready, preying for the launch of World War so they may fulfill their only purpose. Of course, their collision would be a small poof compared to the chaos that would reign over the world. Their thousands of pounds of power would be harmless sparklers in a massive fireworks display. Its very zen, in line with a tree falling in the woods.
Somehow it calms me a little, about everything from doing homework to buying groceries that somewhere two missiles are in live, suspended in companionship. When everyone dies, they live, if only for a moment. While we ready our selves to die, they wait. And, ultimately, either way they are happy.

Take me out to the crowd

Note: I wrote this on July Third, but I did not finalize it until today.

Tomorrow is independence day, so today, I will talk about baseball.
Last Saturday, before I began teaching, I walked around the city. My favorite activity when I am traveling is wandering without aim, general goals, and lots of time. Doing this, I found a big building with an open gate. The guard was gone, so I drifted inside. If someone had caught me I would have failed to speak Chinese and expected to be excused as a crazy, or retarded, foreigner.
It turned out to be a junior high-school. There were no classes on Saturday, but I looked around the empty halls. The school was a large square, formed around a baseball field. The entire center of the school was one large baseball field, and it was filled with practicing kids.
As I approached, as quietly as I could manage, I still got noticed. As usual, most stared and smiled; one guy propped his son in front of me to take photos of him looking mean. The kid, nine or ten years old, tried to grimace and look poised. Both he was terrible at, and in his tiny uniform, the whole picture screamed awkward.
The guys, equally passionate about exhibiting their offspring, told me to sit down and watch, and I did. I got out my pen and paper and took notes, making me even more of a sight. In the nearby diamond, two or three kids were tossing the ball back and forth with adults. Also, a man was popping fly balls out to the outfield, where kids took turns fielding them. Closer to me, two kids loosely practiced, clearly too young to play. One was out of shape and the other was very young.
The sun was shining, the grass was nice, the kids were concentrating; and all I could think about was mainland China. A perfect site, matched by hearing the clink of the bat (it was aluminum), the thunk of the catch, the yells from the field. Yet my mind wandered to words like "ballistic missile defense" and "amphibious invasion."
I thought about the levels of systems heaped upon every person there. I looked at the kid standing on the pitcher's mound. He sat on a circle, in the diamond, on a field, in the center of a school. The school was in a city, in a county, on an island. Maybe he was in a large country, maybe he was not. He was in a continent for sure, and he definitely stood on a world. It was hard not to get silly with the whole thing, pulling back into I was looking at the whole universe, a universe of universes, with an 11-year-old pitcher in the center.
Did it matter if he lived in the People's Republic rather than just the Republic?
Did it matter if he improved his pitching?
And which mattered more?
I saw a lot of beauty on that field. Some of the kids clearly hated it. The out-of-shape kid awkwardly threw the bat around. I think his father was the couch or something, now that is pressure. He wanted to play, but he did not have the skill, or the determination, to learn the sport. He tossed the ball around with the much smaller kid. The latter was six or seven. He wore a full uniform, even more professional looking than the kids practicing on the field. His uniform was too big and hung loosely. Clearly, his parents, likely his dad, had big hopes for him.
The little kid did have natural talent. His swing was terribly awkward, but it was clear that his body was just learning the steps that his mind already picked up. When the big kid swung, his mind did not know what to do. His form was terrible. Perhaps no one had told him what to do with his hips, or to shift his feet. Perhaps he just could not learn it. The smaller kid had as good of form as I could expect from such a young kid. He turned his feet, he twisted his body, he had the potential, he just did not have the mass yet. I wondered if that was natural. Had his father already beat him into his awkward but technical swing? Or had he just watched? Perhaps his father was the man hitting fly balls, he had perfect form. Maybe it was nature, maybe he was just born that way.
It seemed like I watched them for a couple of hours, really it was only about thirty minutes. One of the kids even brought me a drink. A few attempted to speak Chinese to me, which only produced shrugs from me. A few attempted to speak English to me, which produced shrugs all around.
The whole experience seemed overly weighty to me. It was the first time that I pictured words "ballistic missiles" and "aquatic invasion." What did China really want to do with these people? Make them not Taiwanese? Get a hold of their economy? Would it really make that much of a difference? I pictured napalm. I pictured scuds. I watched baseballs.
The next day I got to watch even more baseball, but in much different circumstances. I met two women from my hotel at breakfast. They were going to see a double header, and I, thinking they had said basketball, was visibly excited. Once I realized they meant baseball, I was still excited, if for no other reason than my experience the day before.
The tickets were cheap, and the stadium was hot. I was the only foreigner. I did not see one foreigner all day, and they stand out. That is part of Tainan, you are usually the only foreigner. Sometimes it feels like the entire room is pointed towards me. Sometimes it feels like the whole stadium is pointed towards me.
I think the people do this because they want to be judged. They have an entire culture that wants to be something else. They want to be Japanese. They want to be British. They want to be American. Its in their clothing, on their TVs, and at their movies.
You enter the room, suddenly there is a judge. He can look at the people and say, "you are not cosmopolitan people, you are backwards." He can say, "you are rich in culture and wealth." Tainan wants to be Taipei, it wants to be big and profitable. Tainan people don't buy their own lies, they know they are not rich and powerful, but they don't have to think about it until a foreigner shows up. He is not in on the game. A foreigner knows their secrets or buys their lies. A smile can be powerful when someone thinks of it as approval.
Pop psychology from the uninitiated.
At the baseball game, we were routing for the visitors, and we outnumbered the home team crowd. We were pulling for the Sinon Bulls to beat the Tianan Lions (why not the Tigers? Come on people, that is an easy one). And the Bulls had a huge crowed. The two girls I came with traveled with the team on weekends, apparently this was common for Bulls fans. My new friends knew many people in the crowd, all from totally different parts of the country. The two I came with had come five hours from Taipei to watch the Bulls play four times.
Some of the differences with American baseball were obvious. For one thing, thunder-sticks were not an optional annoyance, they were clearly required. Everyone in the audience had florescent green bats. During the game, they would clap, twirl, stamp, and gesture with the bats to pre-arranged songs. There had to be at least twenty songs and everyone, everyone, knew them. By the end, I knew them.
I choose not to translate to many of them, because it spoiled the mystique. When I did ask, I was always disappointed. They usually had a song for each player. Say Smith was up to bat. The song may go, "La, la, la, la, la, la, la, Smith, Smith, la, la, hit, home-run, la, la, hit, home-run, win, win win." When you don't speak any Chinese, you can take pretty good liberties with the meaning, I often assumed that they are saying some ancient fortune for good luck and, of course, sexual potency.
The other easy thing to notice, there were more women than men, far more women than men. American baseball is composed of ugly men drinking their failed hopes away with five or six overpriced beers. They pay lots of money to transpose their ambitions onto millionaires from countries like Cuba and they expect to be entertained.
Taiwan baseball, at least for the Sinon Bulls, is like going to a Backstreet Boys concert. By that, I mean any possible way you can view a Backstreet Boys concert. Each girl has their own guy that they "love," and they scream extra loud for their favorite, who they want to "marry." If anyone reading this is an old foreigner, looking for a Taiwanese wife, get to a baseball game in Taiwan. Where are the single women? At the baseball game, fantasizing like girls. They try to play off their fantasies as tongue-and-cheek, but it is clear that each one has come up with at least one elaborate scenario.
Much like boy bands, this love has nothing to do with performance or talent. Unlike the Backstreet Boys or NSYNC, the Sinon Bulls are actually good. But if they were terrible, that would not matter much. The Bulls won the first game, and the girls cheered for them and were happy. The Bulls lost the second game, and the girls cheered for them and were happy. If I did not watch the game, I would not have seen the difference.
Not that watching the game had much to do with the experience. The game, somehow, managed to be slower than American baseball. I assumed that the conservation of energy, or maybe even the theory or relativity, would prevent any game from being slower than American baseball. However, Taiwan pitchers will check runners all day long. Batters will foul tip five or six shots in a row. Batters will recompose themselves every six seconds. WIthout the crowd, the game's entertainment value would have stiff competition from the grass growing on the game's field.
However, the game is actually a thrill ride. It is non-stop-fever-pitch. Well, to be fair, it is non-stop-controlled-fever-pitch. The crowd will sit on the edge of their seat, ready to scream, for a foul tip. From the first inning, to the last inning, they treated each strike like a game winner. Runs were met with passionate chants and endless hoots. The chants were always what the crowd organizer organized, and the hoots were always to his tune. However, watching the game had incredibly little to do with the game.
Their yelling had a way of being very polite. They didn't yell negative things. They didn't boo when the opposing pitcher checked a runner eight times in a row. They don't yell at bunters. They yell when something good happens to their team, but not when something bad happens to the other team.
It was like two games were being played. In the stands, the game was competitive and enthralling. On the field, the game was pointless and dull. Together, it was a very exciting experience, and highly unusual. In the US, no one notices that baseball is boring because the crowd is composed of children, who are stupid, and drunks, who are stupid. Here, the audience was in some kind of celebratory orgy for events that barely mattered. But because everyone was so into it, no one really notices. By the end, I was chanting and screaming Chinese I did not understand. I found myself chanting little songs because of foul tips.
Another thing worth mentioning was the food. The woman I came with was on a quest to gorge me. She brought me food constantly. I would turn around and suddenly she had bought more stuff. First was a 7-11 hot-dog, which, although a little weird, and not $5, was good and normal. Afterwards, she gave me a Taiwanese, or at least Tainan, hot dog. It involved nuts embedded into the bun, and the hot-dog was clearly made of something else. It had a certain peppery mysterious quality that many foods have here. In addition, she gave me a sweet soup with globs that tasted like marshmallows but looked like onions. Lastly, she gave me a bowl of chicken and rice that was good and standard. If that is what dating a Taiwanese woman is like, I will be huge upon return.
Throughout the game, planes passed over. The airport was a little beyond the stadium, and planes were very low by the time they went over the stadium. Because of my thoughts yesterday, I kept thinking of jets and helicopters with big red stars. I have seen serious military fighters flying around Tainan twice now. Not quite buzzing buildings, but they do cruise very low. I guess that is the calvary.
To quickly discuss how the game, they do have the designated hitter. The show bunts. They let the other team show bunts without a 90 mph baseball to the face. They do not bean unless it is a complete accident. All the team names are English.
One more thing, they fake hurt. This makes sense in basketball or soccer, where a flop is for more points. In Taiwanese baseball, they do it to save face. In the two games, I saw about five clear errors. All five preceded watching the player in sheer "agony" because of some bone he broke. The first time this happened, I was very concerned. By the end of the game, I realized that is just what they do. Mess up? A player must have broken his shin.
At one point, two players collided at full speed. It was remarkably stupid and should not have happened. One actually had a stretcher come. I, to be honest, am not sure if they needed the stretcher or if they realized that what they did was just that stupid. It was easy to be cynical about it.
One more thing about play, they did not play a national anthem.

Tuesday, July 05, 2005

God bless America

Yesterday was independence day, and I only remembered once. A kid asked me the date, and after a great deal of thought, I remembered that yesterday was my country's most red, white, and blue day. This was the second time I had a fourth of July abroad. The first time was two years ago in Mexico.
I am a patriotic guy, but Fourth of July just seems silly at times. Its loud, bright, and gives me a headache; although an honest holiday for America, that seems too honest. We even launch large explosives into the air for no apparent reason, now that is an American holiday.
It was a terrible Fourth of July anyway. I began the day sicker than I was on Sunday, I am not sure why that happened, I got sleep and I was progressing. Either way, I felt terrible. I had to sub for Gina's class again, which I did not mind; however, I also had to teach an elementary school class. Thus, I was there from 9:00-6:00, even spending my two hour lunch break preparing for class.
There is a feeling that I get when I hate my job. When I worked for the CU Foundation: "Hello, I know that your television describes how horrible your old school is daily, but, do you want to give it lots of money? No? How about a little money?" I really hated my job. I would come home and think, "I have a good idea, drinking alone."
It has a physical sensation, I feel tight in my chest and I move awkwardly. It has a mental sensation, math. I take my salary, and I multiply it, I divide it, I justify it. I barter it, into little pieces. I think, "what did my day buy me today...a lamp, it bought me a nice lamp. My horrible day, was worth a very nice lamp."
This can only go on for about a week. If I have that feeling longer than a week, I will jump through any hoop to get out. Perhaps a window.
Yesterday, I felt it a little. Not a lot, not overly so. It was just a little much. Much of that pain is also from being sick. By the end of the day, I felt terrible. I began the day feeling bad, and each period was worse. At the end of the day, I had to take my swollen, fatigued self, over to an elementary classroom.
There I taught my elementary kids for the first time. I only have two, and their English is far worse than the kindergartners. This was a hard thing to tackle. I expected them to be products of this school. Instead, I had to start with words like, "bee" and "ladybug." Both were illiterate. One was better at English than the other, he is actually Vivian's brother.
I got to see teacher David teach them. He is the very serious and infamously strict teacher at the school. But people say he is good for a reason. I was dragging the class into pointless boredom. In a solid five minutes he had them enthusiastic and into the course material. It was amazing. Analogies of surgeons come to mind, and honestly don't seem silly. He knew exactly what to do, it was like breathing. It inspired me, and I did my best. It was better, but it was not good.
I got home, and felt terrible. My illness was back with such a vengeance. I simply passed out, disgruntled. The night's sleep was even worse. I woke up constantly and kept thinking of weird things. I kept thinking that my kids were in my apartment, and I had to teach them.
Anyone who knows me, knows that I do insane things in my sleep. Last night, if I had a pet, I would worry for its life. My plant was still alive, so that is good. Even more important, I am still alive (I do live on the ninth and tenth floors!). I am fairly confident that I slept walked upstairs and chased imaginary children. My dream was so vivid, and so clearly here, that it makes the most sense.
Furthermore, I now dream about people seeing me in my underwear. It is like ever other person who has that dream. I go to class, and the kids laugh. Or I get spotted from the windows in my apartment. I had that reoccurring all night long.
School has invaded my sleeping thoughts, but also my waking thoughts. I see people standing and I want them to sit down. I see lines and I want to straighten them out. I hear people speaking Chinese and I want to give them Xs. My sickness makes this all the worse. It takes some of my rationality, already dangling by a thread, and confuses it. Everything bleeds together. I am on a constant quest to educated, formalize, and stiffen. No yelling, no running, just learning.
Only one more day really. Gina comes back on Wednesday, so I only have to do this hectic schedule today. After that, I drop to an hour and a half a day. Not enough to survive if I did it all month. However, with this week, and another week as a substitute, it will be fine. Furthermore, I want to take in privates, which will help. Plus, I am ready to jump into a schedule of an hour and a half a day, maybe I will get better. Finally get a scooter. Finally get a cell phone.
I mentioned it before, I bought a plant this weekend. My sun room is actually pretty poorly named, as it only gets sun for about twenty minutes. The problem is that on that side, there is an apartment across the street from mine. It blocks out the sun when it otherwise would beam in here. Those twenty minutes are pretty spectacular if you like that sort of thing; however, it is inefficient for a plant. So I have the plant sitting on my balcony's edge. It is placed as safely as I can manage, but a good gust is all it would take. I have not named the plant yet, but I am thinking, Me.

Saturday, July 02, 2005

JS Class II

These are more photos of my sub class.

Jenny, Julia, and Amy - I like this because it is an especially charming photo of Julia. Plus it has Jiggly Puff, the stuff Pokémon that Jenny, and the rest of the girls, obsessed over. Jenny often brought in stuffed animals. She always shared, so I never had a a problem. Though, to be fair, she probably could have brought in a severed head and I would have said "okkaayyyy, but just this once."

Amy and Jenny - Just a cute photo

Sam and Ronaldo - Ronaldo was my only boy that was always sweet. One day he was a pain, but that was because he was being influence by the other boys even more than usual.

Ivy - A good photo of Ivy hiding behind me. Ivy was one of the two popular girls. They had this way of swinging the tides of popularity at their will (making either Amy or Joanne "one of them"). They had a pretty impressive power play over the class in an odd way.

Ivy and Vivian - Vivian was the other half of the team. Mind you the photo is horrible, as Vivian is very cute (and I already showed you that Ivy is cute), but you can't really tell. When they liked Joanne, Joanne was popular, when they liked Amy, Amy was popular. They never seemed to like both, maybe that is a part of how it works.

My JS class set I

This is my Jump Start class that I subbed for a week.

It was my first time teaching, and I had much less involvement from the Chinese teacher (who was SO helpful when she was there, but she has far too many demands on her).

In the end, I had to figure out how to do it very very fast. Here are the first set of photos of the kids, in order:

Jenny - A true angel. She made class worth it everyday. The best part is that you had to earn her love. But she has the most adorable voice, and she just plain means well. She had me nearly in tears twice in the week. Once when I had a terrible two periods, and for reading time, she comes up to me and says "Teacher Matthewwwww, can I read to youuuu..." "Yes, yes you can..."

The other time was when she wanted to draw something, which is normally the start of a dreadfully long process. Instead she took my first suggestion, Fruit. And we combined our heads to draw a bunch of fruit.

Frances - Very quiet. She was very sweet and always listened. I think she has a crush on the world and is too shy to talk to it.

Amy - Half Japanese, she was a sweet heart. Lots of hugs from her, and never any real trouble. Her popularity swung with the tides of the popular girls.

Sam and Andy - Sam was my crier. And was my hitter. Andy has some real problems. I thought that they were a lack of understanding, however, I really think he is messed. Sometimes I would tell him to, for example, not talk to Johnathan. I would then keep standing right there, right next to him. He would even have to look around my legs, but in a second and a half, he would start a new conversation. I would say it again, he would do it again. I would move him to somewhere else, he would cause new problems. Some days he was fine, and if you kept a hand on him, and he was reading alone or something, he was fine (I literally mean a hand on his shoulder). These two were ultimately the source of my lost voice (that and the flu).

Julia - She spent lots of time in the US (Iowa!) so her English is pretty excellent. She is very bright, but not self motivated. She needs checks, or xes, or something. If she knows that some thing is on the line, she will do anything for you.

Graeme's Apartment

These are all photos shot from Graeme's balcony. His view, from the 21st floor, left me awe struck. From there, you could make out the entire city. As I spoke of in the blog, I enjoyed sitting up there and blogging, which is one of the photos. Another was a lightening strike that I caught in a long shutter. One is Graeme's drying rack that I thought was rather photogenic in the dim light. One is the view from the fifth floor (which is the top of a fancy hotel, as well as the ground floor of the apartments), looking upward.

From Graeme's balcony, I can almost see my building, I just need another five degrees or so to the right. However, from the roof of his building, which one can access, it is possible.