Tuesday, October 18, 2005

My drinking gang

The difference between Taiwan and China is vast, yet I have never explored it. If you went just by my blog, this is little China, and that is simply not true. So I thought I would talk about the differences somewhat. I just had the most Taiwanese experience I have had so far, so I figure tonight is a good time to explain.
First, arguably most importantly, there is the language. I don’t speak the language here. I speak Chinese. I speak it poorly, but after a month of classes and almost four months of study, I at least speak Chinese. But I speak virtually no Taiwanese, so I don’t speak the language here. This is a crucial difference between southern Taiwan and northern Taiwan.
Northern Taiwan has a lot of former Chinese or Taiwanese that embrace China. Southern Taiwan is Taiwan; it is not China. The people speak Taiwanese, and the people are Taiwanese.
I actually on realized how distant the two were until yesterday. I was in an argument over dinner, a long story in itself, with a restaurant manager that reeked of Taiwanese. His clothing fit poorly, his teeth had been replaced from too much betel nut, and his skin was dark and worn.
Normally, Rie and I have a killer question, “Do you speak English or Japanese?” This question is normally devastating to people. When the answer is no, they simply feel bad. Why? Japanese and English are THE foreign languages. It is like going up to someone in America and asking “Do you speak ANY foreign language?” Many would say no, but most would feel at least a little guilty. So I use this question whenever someone tries to be smart with me. Typically its because they are pointing out a weakness in my Chinese, and I am essentially saying “hey, you don’t speak ANY foreign languages.”
So I got in a fight at a very Japanese restaurant in a very American mall. But for some odd reason, a very Taiwanese guy managed the place. When things started to derail, I asked my Plan – B question, unknowing to just how Taiwanese he is.
This is the most Taiwanese answer to that question: “No, but I do speak Chinese.”
Obviously he said this in Chinese. What amazed me the most was that he was obviously proud that he spoke Chinese. He truly viewed it as a foreign language, and an accomplishment that he could speak it. The oddest part was that he seemed young, and basically the younger someone is, the more likely they use Chinese primarily.
The comment really sat with me. Up until then I did not really consider Chinese as foreign to the people here. However, to many, it is.
I often ask people what their political party is. However this has turned out to be an intensely personal question. I was on a date with a a girl and asked it, and it seemed like I had over stepped my bounds. Asking what political party you are is asking a very serious question as to how you think the world here is.
Tainan is green. There are two political parties, much like America, but rather than red and blue, they have green and blue. Blue is Chinese. Blue believes, at least to some degree, that Taiwan should work with China, if not join with China. This tends to be the Taipei attitude. Ironically, I should say it is very similar to the US blue attitude. It is what the young people like, what the “cultured” people believe in. Taipei is the blue headquarters by far.
Green is Taiwanese, and Tainan is green. A green party member is against unification and is usually very pro-Taiwan. Green people speak Taiwanese at home, and approach Chinese with reluctance.
Tonight I just wanted to eat. I went out to eat at ten o’clock. I had napped most of the day after a long night and had not eaten. So I want to get food and ran into some of the locals drinking tea. The pourer offered for me to stay and I said sure. Much as most Taiwanese tea session go, it quickly broke into a drinking binge.
Taiwanese was abound. Basically, the only time someone spoke Chinese was to speak me, and they approached it like they were speaking the queens English. The speaker was given time to annunciate, and they tried to speak clearly and slowly. However, it seemed that they were not doing such a performance for me, but rather, Chinese was a big deal. They all spoke Chinese, but they viewed it as a foreign language, much like the restaurant manager.
I think Taiwanese is equivalent to whatever language America’s Deep South spoke a truly different language. It is ugly, and bluntly, it sounds uneducated. I could catch words because the people were drunk and spoke slowly, but I could not understand anything.
Anping is the home of the gangsters. Its fun to make fun of the idea of Asian gangsters, but remember, from Japanese Samurai to the Chinese Triad, Asian have a history of being WAY hard core. Taiwan gangs seem somewhat benign in comparison to the Bloods; but trust me, you hear stories, they are plenty hard core.
Anping is the Western district of Tainan; it is where I live. The guys I drank with were gangsters, and not individual gangsters, but the big deal. I knew one was because of a friend who told me when I first came here. However being a gangster boss in Anping is like running a restaurant: that is cool, but not really a HUGE deal.
Yet, I realized later that the people I drank with were all pretty big deals. I kept asking one what his job was. He said he was a “boss” and I said a “boss of what” and the comment just sort of sat there, ike it was unheard. Now I think it was heard, just ignored.
All I wanted to do was eat. I went downstairs to grab food, but I saw many of the locals drinking tea and they wanted me to join. So I joined in and had a tea. They were cool, and it was fun.
We chewed betel nut, the rather disgusting but definitely energizing drug around here. We drank far too much beer, and it was fun. On Wednesday, I am going to hang out with them again. They keep saying I can “help” (a Chinse word I am glad I learned). If it turns out I am now a member of the mafia, I will make sure to tell the blog community.

Monday, October 17, 2005

Teaching and learning

I just now realized that teaching is truly a part of me now.

Not really the idea of expressing an idea for someone else to learn, I think that was always there. In that sense, teaching is easy. I can typically express an idea fairly well and be understood.

What is harder is the herding of cats. Getting all the kids focused on what you are doing, or not breaking rules, or whatever.

Just now I heard kids speaking Chinese outside, and I felt a desire, a true pull, towards the window. My head had outlined a plan somewhere in my subconscious to yell "HEY, SPEAK ENGLISH!" Luckily I am not, well, crazy. However the sound of a little Taiwanese kid speaking Chinese grinds against me. Conversly, the sound of an adult Taiwanese speaking English grinds against me.

Both teaching and learning are slowly creeping, nesting in the back of my brain.

I still like it, my classes rock, however I wish I could be studying more Chinese. I just wish I could be a full time student.

That said, the pay here just gets silly. I teach three hours a week at a private school outside of my main school. Those three hours pay for my weekly expenses alone, and that includes going to nice dinners at least three times a week. I want to focus just on Chinese, but that is just super nice.

Saturday, October 15, 2005

I should have posted this a long time ago

This is a quick story that my dad's blog (http://oldmath.blogspot.com/) reminded me to tell this story, even though it happened about a month ago. It was actually somewhat important in getting me into learning Chinese more aggressively.

A long time ago I got a friend to tell me the worst thing you could call a foreigner. The goal was for me and my friend to call each other that word. There are some good words like Yangguizi, but that is more popular in China (it means foreign devil). However, we found one that sounds like See Ah Dough Ah. Ah Dough Ah means foreigner, and See means dead.

The term is great, you say it around a Taiwanese person and there is blushing and freaking out all around. I quickly came to have the same social inhabitions about it that I would about any similar word in English, if for no other reason than the word's effect.

Well I was playing basketball, and me and a guy got in the way of each other. At the time I spoke even less Chinese, so the kid figured he could say something in Taiwanese (most cursing is done in Taiwanese here) and I would not understand. So we get in the way of each other for a rebound. When he comes down he said "See Ah Dough Ah" nice and clearly.

The whole court froze a little bit, I am not sure if they would give him props if I did not understand or if they would have said that was not cool. But I made it, real, real clear that I understand. I got up in his face, and wishing I spoke Chinese, I said in English, "What? What did you say?" It scared the shit out of him that I understood. I basically cursed at him in English, told him to watch his mouth and lets finish the game. I finished the game at 1000x speed (I made a move at one point that I have tried to recreate ever since, I damn near accidently dunked it).

Eventually the older guy made sure he apologized (okay, the kid wanted to apologize, Crazy father just made sure I did not kill the kid I think). I am cool with them all now, and they at least speak some Chinese to me, now that I can say something. However, I now play at a more serious court, so I don't see them as much.

I wish he had done that now though, because now I can say all the things I wanted to say in Chinese. Now that is progress! :)

Saturday, October 08, 2005

PTA and feeling good

Since the last blog entry was clearly so interestingly recieved, I might keep these things snappy and bloggy. I liked all the comments on the last one, maybe I should do more messed up things just for the reaction?

Anyway, I had PTA the other day and I am flying high. I was super nervous and it turned into a Loving My Class fest. The parents with the most questions were all about me. Apperently the kids rave about me, and the parents love how I am approaching the class. It was all very cool and felt really nice. I enjoy the class more now too, its like I have a mandate.

It was really nice because I have developed specific goals and my own style, which I will often question and re question. This is mostly because I am learning a language, so I am always wondering "hey, would this teach me?" So they totally were into it and it felt great.

So with that things are good. The only problem is there are a lot of people I want to see this weekend, but it is hard to manage.

Tuesday, October 04, 2005

For you vegetarians

If you are a vegetarian, do not read on:

If I am depressed, I guess I eat a big mac. If I am happy, I eat sushi.

I am happy, I ate sushi.

I ate sashimi from a STILL LIVING FISH. It came out with Sashimi on the fish, I thought "Oh that is messed, we get to see where it came from." They put it down, and the fish starts BREATHING. It lived throughout the entire meal. Occasionally freaking out a little and looking at us. It was totally messed up and very very cool. Albeit wrong, very very wrong. When you are done, they make it into Miso soup which they serve you later.

Saturday, October 01, 2005

Some people

When they are depressed, some people do some desperate things. I ate a Big Mac, true culinary desperation.

The best part about eating a big Mac is the digestion process, where you body asks a lot of questions like "What is this?" "What am I supposed to do with this?" and "Are you sure this is food?" It is a confusing process, but at least I will have enough refined sugar to last me for a couple of weeks.

A new blog

So I have now been running another blog that will clearly grow and keep going,

http://cmphotoduel.blogspot.com/