Wednesday, May 30, 2012

New Life in Taiwan-derful, Taiwan.

I think I'll be writing two blog posts tonight ( get ready Facebook - two updates coming). I don't have to be in to work until around 3pm tomorrow ... so I've got all night to stay up here.

soooo... FIRST UPDATE: I am in Taiwan! Living in TAIPEI (the capital city) now! I've been trying to get here for the past two years... and here I am.  The requirements to teach in Taiwan are a little more rigorous/structured than say South Korea or China ( you pretty much, 9 out of 10 times,  have to have your TEFL certificate or to be enrolled in a TEFL program to teach here). I am in the process of completing a 120 hour online TEFL course and I'm looking forward to that certificate. Last year I was in China, in a small city called Foshan, about one hour outside of the biggest city in southern China, Guangzhou.

I did not really know what to expect, coming into this "second year in Asia". I thought it would be overall much easier .... and in reality it HAS been. However, there were some unexpected frustrations and fears coming in, despite having "been through this" before.

I think "a new year, is a new year". If you move to another city, ( another country), even if the language is one that you have heard before ( they speak Mandarin in Taiwan, just like in China), .... there will still be an "adjustment period". A second year in Foshan would have been easier than a transition, but ... I wanted a transition, so I got it.

I've felt this - a mixture of homesickness, frustration, confusion, etc... transitioning from New York to China last year... but I think this time around it was quicker. I got over it faster and almost two weeks here now, I feel like I'm getting into a groove.

I went home for a month in between ( left China on April 1st 2012 - went home to New York until May 13th, 2012). I was not expecting to come back to Asia so quickly ...I thought I would be home until late June. Going home was WONDERFUL ... but it made coming back here SO MUCH harder. ( even though I'm doing good here now).

In regards to "Taipei Life" I'm GLAD to be "settled" now. To have my apartment and cable and internet setup and to know how to walk home to my apartment from the Dingxi subway stop without needing a cab to take me there.  The first few days I felt like a ZOMBIE. Literally .... caught up between getting over jet lag, going to the medical clinic to get my health check, searching for apartments, attending two out of 5 days of teacher training at my new school ( because I arrived on the third day and I had so many other things to do) ... feeling a like I was starting back at one .... despite having some Mandarin speaking skills under my belt.

Taipei is .... a REALLY CUTE, quirky, wonderful city. I feel like it's an amazing melting ( hot) pot of "Asian Fusion"... not necessarily completely "Chinese" ... but also with a lot of Japanese culture as well ( being that Japan occupied Taiwan for a bit, this is fitting). I have not been ALL over the city yet- but I can definitely tell where the "university/college neighborhoods" are, where the "downtown/city hall" area is... etc.

However, it is VERY ASIAN. Outside of my school, I have not ( yet) seen a lot of "foreigners" here. I feel like I have to speak more Chinese here than I did in Foshan. But the good thing about Taipei is that it is a big city and some Taiwanese people DO speak English-- I will be taking Chinese lessons here soon ( tutoring sessions - about 90 minutes- twice per week).


1. I know how the subways stay so CLEAN here- You cannot eat or drink on the MRT/in the MRT station ( the subway/subway station). If you do, you'll possibly get fined a $7,500 NT fine ( about $250 USD). Mayor Bloomberg should try this in NYC .... he'd bring more money into the city and then could maybe back off on some of the crazy taxes -- let the people keep more of their money!

2. You can pretty much get anything here ( in regards to food). I'm sure it's similar in Beijing or Shanghai .... but in Foshan it was definitely hard to come by things like "Pretzel Chips" and "Special K Red Berries Cereal".... not to mention a variety of cheeses. Here? Not hard at all. Although I haven't seen "Marshmallow Fluff" yet. Hmmmmm ....

3. Everyday I see at least one special needs child/adult in the subway or in a restaurant, etc. here, usually accompanied by a family member.  This should not be a .... "big thing".  I used to work with the developmentally disabled population and in NYC I really didn't notice people despite working in the field, because it seemed so natural. But last year in China, with the exception of the one-legged beggars who would sit on "the bridge" asking for money....  in Foshan, day to day, working at a school located in a shopping mall, I did not see ANY disabled children with their parents, etc... and now, that makes me wonder. Where ARE those children in China? ... Do they exist? ... I don't think there are an overabundance of disabled people in Taiwan, but compared to China? ... there's definitely a noticeable difference. Is it the result of the "One Child Policy" in China? ... it makes me a little sad to think about it. Especially because I've worked in this field and because, in a very short time. I've seen how well special needs people are cared for by their families here.

4. My apartment here is CUTE. It's smaller than my apartment in Foshan, China was ... and there's no pool here... but it's just in a great little neighborhood - with lots of little shops and restaurants and it's just got so much personality! It's a studio in the Yonghe District. It's only one subway stop away from my school ( at the school location at the "Main Office" that I work at 3 days per week. the other two days I'm at another branch and it's a little bit more of a subway-bus trip, but not too bad). This was the second apartment that I looked at online. One of the Taiwanese staff at my school recommended a local Taiwanese website for housing. The English website has apartments too.... but they're often the ones that are overpriced. Written in English and definitely meant for a "foreigners wallet". But I used Google Chrome and translated the Taiwanese website and knew when I saw this apartment that .... this was it. IT felt right. ( Just like when I found my first apartment in Brooklyn. Walking down the street... in Park Slope there... seeing "The Miracle Grill"- now closed- on 3rd st.... meeting my former  apartment-mate/current friend Masha!) Good thing too because doing this jet-lagged - was not easy. Plus my "landlord" is a young guy who is super nice and cool, he lives one floor below me here.... and he knocked $1,000 off of the initial price that he was asking online. So I'm paying $7,500 NT ( about $250 USD per month) including everything but the electric. I've got English/American channels - CNN and TLC and National Geographic and BBC NEWS and HBO on my cable here ( in addition to some funny/cute Taiwanese channels - including Taiwanese game show channel and a Taiwanese MTV channel)

5. OMG... the lesbian population. How could I forget? Yes... yes... there is definitely a lesbian population here. I see couples ( and it hurts.) out and about ... but it's so different and I'm taking my time getting into/exploring the scene. It's more like what the lesbian scene was 15 years ago in New York .... it's very "butch and femme". One partner is "the man" and one is "the woman". This is what used to make me feel so .... disconnected from myself back in the day. I used to wonder... out in situations like this- with so many people at the extreme ..."do I really love women? I don't relate to any of these people here". And then I would .... "feel" an attraction and think, almost confirming to myself over again "yeah... I love women."  You can't find love in a baseball cap or a pair of high heels. By going to the extreme and "playing man and wife" I feel like you are perpetuating the .... oppression.... the anxiety of what you "have to be" ... living someone else's expectations of you. I'm curious about what I'll find here. But I'll be doing it in capri pants and flip flops with pink nail polish and mascara/eyeliner on. I'm... "both" butch and femme.... I'm me. I want to support the community here and find out about life here for gay and lesbian people. I'm going to try to find resources/make new friends and... just "be surprised".

6. I feel like it's another "be proud of your baby steps" year. Don't let your frustrations get the better of you. Even if you've been "in China/Asia" before ... there will be new places and people and routines to get used to in a new city/country. Learning how to "get back to my apartment" and "starting to get to know my kids and to get into my new school routine" are two baby steps that I'm proud of/thankful for here. It's different this year too .... because school was already underway, classes were in session when I arrived here. I did not have time to hold "Experience classes" for "new students". It was about taking over someone else's schedule. But I'm starting to get to know my kids ( and adults - I have two adults that I tutor here too) and they are full of personality and seem eager to learn. I want to keep them interested and excited about English ... to find new games/ways of teaching to them. When it comes to kids learning, I think boredom is the biggest enemy....  and then when boredom brings in his "big brother" Apathy ... it's a lost war. Confusion can be snuffed out with encouragement and patience.... ( except maybe when it comes to math.... ahhh my 6th grade self says "math is always confusing!") but boredom is a dense devil, difficult to get through.

I think that's it for now .... I feel like Taiwan is like any country- in Europe or the US - there is political conversation and frustration regarding their two political parties ( the DPP and the KMT). I don't think people are too happy with President Ma right now. Ugh lots of corruption. On the other hand, I ALSO don't think Taiwanese people consider themselves a part of China. At ALL. No better evidence than a 6 yr old boy who I had a one-on-one tutoring session with the other day ... we were playing a game about countries.... and I mentioned "China" and he said "Stupid China" Clearly "Cross-Strait Relations" are going BEAUTIFULLY...have never been smoother! LOL. It's like "England and Ireland" .... like I've said. Same language, different culture.

OH...  one more thing.... to add to the confusion...  In Taiwan the WRITING IS DIFFERENT than in CHINA. Taiwan uses TRADITIONAL Chinese characters .... China uses SIMPLIFIED Chinese characters. I attempted to go out for coffee at the Starbucks near my school with the cab driver who drove me to my apartment the first night that I "moved in" and realized that he probably had NO IDEA what I was texting him ... because my phone app only had simplified characters..... not traditional.

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