Tuesday, April 25, 2006

Dreams of a Hong Kong street fighter

A quick look over the start of this blog and its current state shows a dramatic difference. Those differences largely compose where my life has gone and what has happened here. When time passes, opportunities either become realities or they become missed. Throughout this process, my enthusiasm and optimism has faded, and thus my writing has stuffed.
Now I can look over the grand majority of my time in Taiwan in the light of what really happened. I did not become a writer. This will likely not become a book. That said, I did pretty well on my goal’s list, and I had a fairly substantial year. Now its time to make the most of the ten weeks I have left, so that I can someday read these blog entries with pride rather than regret.
Last night Allison, John, and I went to the best nearby Chinese restaurant. That sounds odd, but my house is surrounded by Taiwanese food. There is only one restaurant that is truly Chinese, offering a striking variety of foods, most of which are “true” Chinese dishes (at least Sichuan 四川, the West’s favorite province of China).
Afterwards, we went to a small store across the street I had never noticed. It was a store of ancient Chinese and Japanese stuff, mostly swords. The store’s collection was really impressive; from calligraphy to ancient swords it was a really beautiful place. The storeowner asked me where I lived. When I told him I lived in Southern Country (南國), which was the next building over, he got really excited and invited us to sit and drink tea.
We drank for a long time and chatted. It was nice because they had only thin Taiwanese accents, so their Mandarin was far easier to understand than I have become accustom.
It turns out that the storeowner taught martial arts. This got me immediately excited, as martial arts was near the top of my list on things I wanted to learn in Taiwan. So tomorrow I am going to go there and start learning. Hopefully it will be affordable and fun.
This is not really a dramatic or funny entry, though I would like to return to that style. What is dramatic for me is that I am glad to be starting something. These last ten weeks have just seemed like finishing things up, so it’s nice to start something new. I like the idea of rather than everything going away or generally putting away, that there is one thing I met yet pick up.
During our time chilling, he showed up his num chuck skills (chipping a banister above his head in a flurry of drama in the process). Showed me real meditation balls (he could take three sizable 4.4 pound metal balls and spin them in his hand like nothing). And taught me to flip a stick similar to a policeman’s baton.
I may never be a Hong Kong street fighter, but a student in Taiwan? I can do that.

Wednesday, April 19, 2006

A Stasis Update

When I am writing something, somewhere along the line... it gets deleted. Usually there is a moment of weakness or anger about how trivial my writing invariably becomes. So, nothing gets posted. This makes me feel bad because there are some people checking the site with regularity. So I will do a status update on a few things so that I can comfortably delete the long pretentious stories that I can't bear to inflict on the internet viewing public.

Taiwan - I am getting very homesick. I miss normal cars that don't run every red light. I miss not being stared at because of the color of my skin. There are a lot of things I like about Taiwan. I am trying new approaches to teaching. I am learning new things in class and in new ways. I have started traveling (I finally visited Kaohsiung, the big city to my South) and I hope to keep traveling. Yet I need to go back home. The fact is that I "got" the Taiwan thing for now. It's time for a break.

Chinese - My Chinese is doing okay. WIth a running start, I am comfortably conversational. I am getting better at explaining complex concepts. My reading is still my best asset. I just hope I can keep studying in the US. I have discovered I can read and hear Spanish without any issues, but I can barely say or write a word. I hope to achieve a level of fluency with Chinese where I don't have to worry about completely forgetting the language.

Law school - I am getting nervous. Columbia is pretty much out for me. I don't think I can still hear from them early enough to change my mind. "Ivy League" is nice, but I don't think it will change my mind away from NYU. I am still waiting for Harvard, but perhaps it is getting silly. I simply applied too late, and I will probably be wait-listed (if not out-and-out rejected). I think I should hear in four days, but I am not sure. I have to decide about NYU before May 5th.

Teaching - Teaching is fine, yet getting mundane. I am trying to do new approaches, but it is still somewhat boring. The problem is that I have discovered what I like with English teaching, and what I am doing is only half "it." If I were here for a year longer, I could reformat my schedule around what I like, advanced students and one-on-one classes. Yet I need to finish my current semester. So I am still dealing with the little ones, which is good since I have taught them for ten months but bad because I have taught them for ten months.

My one-on-one and advanced classes are very enjoyable. The advanced class talks about serious stuff. The one-on-one classes are fun and I get to really focus on an individual student's unique problems. The smaller kids are fun too, I just don't like all of the classroom management. I am decent at classroom management, but that does not mean I like it.

Anyway, for a fun close:

To rip off my friend Joooony. Here are some of the search words that get to my blog:

cam ron columbus ohio
is kanye s mother fluent in chinese ( a personal favorite of mine, I am the top hit for that!)
my most frightening experience
taiwan second stasis magic (jigga what?)
boys punished in beauty salons (definitely a good one)
feel like crying guys (wow, an unfortunate addition)
meji chocolate japan (which bothers me because I misspelled Meji)

And my personal favorite: "What does to be trite mean?" The answer... my blog I guess.

Sunday, April 02, 2006

A rough week

I hope this week will include me blogging a lot, thinking a little, and strictly desisting from complaining. This entry is a distinct exception to the latter, as this last week I was tired, over-worked, over-stressed, sick, homesick, and disappointed.
NYU did not offer me any scholarship money. Given my financial situation and the grants they gave out last year for similar students, I had been optimistic. But based on those who did receive grants, this looks like a tough year to get money. My hope was that a scholarship would make my law school decision easier. That said, I currently have no decisions except: NYU or bust. At the end of this month I should find out if I have real choices. My current order goes Harvard, NYU, and then Columbia. So most likely, NYU is my direction.
I quickly became sick on Friday and Saturday, but I feel mostly better today. My throat is still not in working order, but Excedrin and the aid of a valuable friend made my sickness remarkably brief.
My stress came from a constant stream of tests laid upon my kids by my hands. My spelling tests are already especially hard - that is my choice; but I also had to give my advanced class the school's terrible level test and give my little kids' class Cambridge University's practice proficiency test.
The problem with the advanced kid's class is that my top kid is so much more fluent than my bottom kid that they really should not be judged by the same rubric. Because I live by strict grading guidelines, I had to fashion my grading in such a way as to collapse them much closer together.
Anything less than a 96 is considered failing here - a massive flaw in the Taiwanese education system. The end result was a breakdown of 100 (though genuinely she should have had something along the lines of 119 but I refuse to write that), 100, 96, 96, 82. That 82 is about as low as you can legitimately go as a "cram school" teacher.
I was proud of one of those 96's. She is a student that did not do as well as the other kids in previous classes. In my class she has really stepped up. I have come to really like her. Because she works slowly and meticulously, constantly checking and rechecking, she tends to have tons of Chinese homework to do. Something I enjoy is that she has started showing me her homework. In this education system, students are constantly working for a few strokes of a pen and a number that functions as basically a pass/fail system (because the only acceptable grades are above 96). Thus, careful work often goes under-appreciated. I think she likes that she has someone with whom to discuss her work.
To go back to complaining, the Cambridge Test was annoying because it was too simple for my kids. They are cocky and can generally express complex ideas in English; thus, when they are asked "What are these?" and shown a bunch of flowers, they just write "flower," and keep going. Of course, they should have written "flowers." The Cambridge Test does not test any kind of English expression capability; rather, it tests the ability to adhere to grammar rules.
Although my kids should have known better, they were arrogant and just haphazardly zipped through the test. I have been trying to wean them out of this by giving them difficult test questions where I enforce no Chinese English (I even make them use non-Chinese structures when their sentences are grammatically fine).
Sorry for the lack of coherence, but back to general complaining. This last week led to a huge crisis of motivation, ranging from questioning my reasons for being here to questioning my desire for law school. The latter was short lived - it was a knee jerk reaction. But it's hard to look down the barrel end of $180,000 in debt and not wonder if the chamber is loaded.
Now I am mostly recovered from the week, but I still wonder a little why I am here. My Chinese is far from fluent, but it's not so bad normally. I would need another year to obtain any kind of real fluency. My classes are good, but I am a lame duck teacher and on the experience end of things, my classes have become fairly consistant. I really feel like I am just finishing things up here waiting for the next stage and I don't really like that feeling.
I wonder if I made the most of my last nine months, but at the same time I am not really sure how to make the most out of these last three. I got a lot of experience, but I am not sure if I maximized my time here. Traveling Taiwan more would cause money issues and time issues. I can't start any long term projects. Perhaps I should befriend more locals, but I don't have a lot of time. If I studied more, I think I would explode; I am already yelling a Chinese Spanish English mix in my sleep. I am thinking about lowering my class time and trying to get a lot of language exchanges which would be basically culture exchanges. Although I feel like I understand Taiwanese culture, it would be nice to get to know more people a bit deeper than 線上聊天 (chatting online).
The last thing, I am going to start writing properly in this blog. I can't guarantee more entries, but I guarantee more quality in entries. I realized that I spend an inordinate amount of time correcting my Chinese and I don't with my English. My favorite Chinese blog uses very carefully written Chinese that makes reading much clearer (a clear example is carefully using 他 for men and 她 for women, something that lazier typists breeze over). I should show more respect to my native language.
So, if you catch English errors, feel free to publicly embarrass me in the comments section - that goes for you Allison and Mom. Also, if you have any good ideas on something I should do in these three months, send them over. Do you want more photos? Should I dive head first into writing a book and forget Chinese? Although I think my biggest asset is to independently plan (for instance me coming here), I would love some outside ideas. Keep in mind that my average day has four hours of studying Chinese, five hours of class, and another hour of class preparation.