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Archive for August, 2008

Fascinating Experience…

Well, it’s my third Saturday in China, and the third evening I’ve wondered around town, looking for something to do. I continue to have a very bad cold, and I spent most of today in the achy and hot malaise of a summer cold. I hope that it will be done by the time I work again on Monday!

But I could not stay in all day, even with all the neat things to discover in Wujifa. So I walk accross the old bridge, turned boldly down some strange road and continued walking. I stepped into a 7-11 for a box of tea… after the lady at the register said thank you and goodbye I said what must have sounded like a very surly, “yea.”

Then I continued forward, and chose to turn down a strange alley. I followed the lights to another alley and noticed everyone looking at me like I shouldn’t be there. I kept walking. After my social affront at the 7-11, I had the most remarkable feeling of detachment from the culture I am immersed in that must be the occasional purview of all foreigners who live in every country everywhere. I felt the sense that, outside of punishable offenses, I had neither care nor sense for the social norms. It turns out the feeling of Anomie is a freeing and pleasant one to this Sociologist.

With all that boldness I turned through alleyway after alleyway, passing strange sights after another. The stray dogs were the only thing I once felt threatened by, when a mangey one barked at me and moved threateningy close. I had the rather unpleasant thought that I might have to kick him utterly to death, or strangle him. Then I rounded another corner and passed some guys talking and smoking, one of them sitting spread eagled and totally nude on an oil drum. What a strange sight. They hardly took notice of me.

Yet my ultimate quest, for one of the three fabled dive bars of San Hsia continues to be a bust. Nor have I yet located any sort of Karaoke establishment or even a place where people hang out other than this internet cafe’. Eventually I wondered back to where the old men throw their spinning tops at targets on a stand. One of them was sending his top down a sixty foot piece of string and trying to bounce it at the last minute onto a plate. Onlookers clapped when he was successful. He missed more often than not.

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Protected: Wow, those wonderful arms…

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Well, I’ve discovered that my job is damnably easy. I’ve got TAs to do much of the hard work of grading and playing bad cop to keep the kids in line. I’ve got this british school’s well-organized lesson system to tell me what to teach each day. I’ve got a suggested order (that the students are used to) that I follow. I just show up, teach the material, play games, drill the students and adminiter oral exams…

So after work tonight I went out, seven american bucks worth of Taiwan cash in my pocket, itching for some fun. My head swelled with American pride. One of my coworkers had drawn me a kender’s map of how to get to one of the local bars. I thought I knew where he was directing me, since I’d seen a building clearly marked “lounge / bar” from the bus window as I rode back and forth to Taipei.

I went to the tiki-torch lit building and opened the door. I walked into a restaurant. Granted, the restaurant has some equipment set up for what will apparently be a rock and roll band. But they had no “bar”… and nothing I would have really called a “lounge” either. Maybe a “restaurant” with “atmosphere” but that was about it. No joy… No “Gumbai” (that’s the proper toast here)…

So I walked back towards the school to a little Sushi bar. Now here was a happening place. I thought, “liquor and raw fish, FUCK YEA! And maybe I’ll make some buddies to smoke these cigars I brought..” Well, no one there spoke English, and I ended up on the phone with a waitress’s girlfriend telling her I wanted Tuna and Salmon Sashimi. At least I could joke with the waitress about the statue of a Tanooki they had.. we both knew that word. At least I got some good sushi and only spent half of my cash.

By the way, that sushi was absolutely the freshest I’ve ever had. It blew away Sushi Ave in Decatur, Edo, Kinyobi’s… it was miles ahead of them. The tuna practically fell apart, and was the shiniest, brightest, healthiest color I’ve ever seen on a Tuna. The Salmon was cut from a different part of the fish than I’m used to and instead of the plan old pink striped affair was a more textured and nuanced experience. Now, if I can just figure out a way to make my orders…

This weekend I’m meeting someone for some language exchange. And the people at the little fruit juice stand accross the road from me give me a Chinese lesson every evening. And I’ve got fellow teachers who want to hang out… in fact there’s that other new American in town yesterday… I better email her right now…

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walk after work..

I walked the night market in San Hsia. Sellers pulled their cars around and hawked clothing, watches, costume jewelery. Children played games similar to pinball or various carnival games. Adults played Bingo and variations on Mahjongg. I think that my little students are just biding their time until they can game away their money on Mahjongg in some night market somewhere. The best part is the food. Everything from fresh juices to sausages and fried chicken to different parts of animals. All of it smells delicious.

I used my newly acquired Chinese to order a fried chicken thigh and a lady fried one for me right then and there. I had to wait several minutes while it sat in the boiling oil. I asked about another piece she had, “Je she she ma.” “je she yeeu ma.” “bu dui, bu dui.” Not fish after all. I had to repeat the word for fish a half dozen times and make a little fish motion with my hand. Finally it clicked and she answered (in fact, she eventually answered in English). I still don’t know what that was she had, because it sure looked like fish!

I wondered back to my side of the bridges, and down the old street by the river. People sat by their doors, smoking, talking, eating. A cool air blew off the river. I like this street because there is little traffic. I stopped and stood at the retaining wall by the river and ate my chicken.

Continuing on I came to the old temple again. This time nothing was going on and the courtyard was quiet. I noticed it was very quiet, and people would drive the scooters slower as they went past, preserving the sacrosanct feeling. The red lanterns still hung around the street and accross the front of the temple, vestiges of this last months festival honoring the ghosts. I walked up close to the building. Detailed carvings surrounded the building, telling stories, some of wars, some of monks, some of peaceful people farming and fishing. The two Daoist guardians on the front door snarled at me, bearing animalian fangs. I admired the intricacy of the art, the silence.

A lingering heady aroma of incense surrounds the temple, even though the fires in huge basin out front are not lit tonight… I know this temple is more then five hundred years old… over the centuries, the oils must have permeated the wood and the stone enough to perpetuate the scent.

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My goodness, these Taiwanese children are practically angels. They’re eager to learn, well-behaved, and kind to each other. I must have praised my second class six times last night because they were honest in their games, and wanted to make sure their school brothers and sisters all had a fair chance.

Of course, I only have one class of really young ones, and it’s today.

In case it’s not yet obvious, my first classes went really well. I felt nervous in the first few minutes, until I stumbled upon a few silly drawings and some ways to act silly that got my first class laughing. My second class were more quiet types, mostly 11-12… strange age to be alive, as I recall. Though when I got them playing more strategic games, as opposed to games of athletic prowess, they all did well and seemed more engaged.

The only challenge in those two classes was that I have not been teaching them long enough to know what they can and cannot say or do. I was looking over the previous teacher’s notes and I think I was dumbing things down a little too much for them! However, I did cover the language patterns and vocab from the book.

On a totally unrelated note, I keep dreaming about my old dog Sparky. She was a pit bull who died when I was maybe 15, my favourite dog ever, to this day. I got her from a breeder who could no longer show her, because she had a bad hip. She was still a beautiful example of the breed, and came well trained (can you imagine how cool it is for a seven year old to say, “stance” and the dog stays still and lets me pose her) Sparky Fireball Pratt, I still miss you.

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Last night was a fevered blur. I woke up dozens of times, or perhaps I didn’t ever quite sleep. I poured sweat all night until my pillows were soaked. I coughed, I ached, I worried I had bird flu because some birds made a nest outside my bedroom window. Then, as the sun came up, I felt better.

Time to take a quick shower and head on to school. The clothes I ended up buying yesterday are pretty new-wave after all. I couldn’t find a clothier for standard suiting, or maybe in my feverish state I was making strange choices. The school’s dress-code only stipulates a shirt, tie, dress shoes and slacks. I’m well within company guidelines, but damn I’m going to look like a hipster today. I hope my manager has a well-maintained sense of cool.

Maybe the kiddos will like the shiny bits on my shirt.

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