Sunday, September 25, 2011

Péng Bó Tè (彭博特)

I can’t say that we’ve done anything terribly exciting the last week or so. I’ve actually been struggling with a cold which is now finally passing. Last weekend I was feeling particularly bad and was also scheduled to teach a “Club” lesson on Saturday titled “Words in Songs”. The lesson required introducing students to some western pop music and incorporating activities that would allow them to practice their English speaking, listening, reading and writing skills. It was unfortunate timing that I was as ill as I was. Shortly after arriving at my branch I was provided with a surgical style mask that is often worn in Taiwan when individuals are sick.  

The lesson went pretty well. As this was my first foray with the “Club curriculum” I planned the lesson straight from the guide and the students listened to some ABBA (Dancing Queen), Phil Collins (You’ll Be In My Heart), Old Macdonald, The Beatles (Yesterday), Michael Jackson (Thriller). Next time I get to teach the same lesson I will probably venture a little off script and perhaps incorporate some songs of my own choosing. 

I don’t know if the last week has been particularly bad, or if because I’m sick I am more susceptible, but I have noticed the air pollution much more than at any point since we’ve been in Taiwan. Perhaps walking to and from work every day along a fairly busy main road has not been the best for my health either. We have been told by colleagues that have been here longer than we have that as the weather cools down the air pollution becomes less noticeable. The weather has already begun to cool a little, which is a pleasure, but I would certainly be happy to see it drop another 5 degrees or so. 

Amanda and I are now six weeks into teaching and it is amazing how quickly the lessons have become easier (and quicker) to plan for. Amanda and I are by no means great teachers just yet and we do still take lesson planning seriously. The biggest difference that we’ve noticed is that any anxiety and stress related to lesson planning has now dissipated.  

In less than two weeks my parents will be visiting Amanda and I and staying with us for 4 days. Before then, we will be doing some serious cleaning, day-trip planning and most ambitious of all... trying to find a fitted bed sheet that actually fits the bed. Leaving our apartment to search for a fitted bed sheet, I’m sure we will share many of the same feelings of apprehension and helplessness felt by Frodo when first he left the Shire on his quest to Mordor to destroy the One Ring. Just as in the third LOTR installment, we watched as Frodo cried onscreen for the better part of three hours, I suspect that our quest for fitted bedsheets too will be fraught with tears and feelings of betrayal, but then ultimately with success. We must succeed. There is no choice but for us to succeed. The number of times Amanda and I have bought bed linen in Taiwan, only to find that it is the wrong size or something entirely different from what we needed, I cannot recall. Even when accompanied by a local Taiwanese colleague we were unsuccessful in finding something the correct size. One more failure in this regard will very likely trigger a schizoid embolism from which I will not recover. 

In preparation for my parents’ visit, yesterday Amanda and I had lunch at a restaurant close to our apartment called Tea-Work (人水私房). Upon entering the restaurant we were greeted by a host that spoke excellent English. We were seated at a table and provided with an English menu as well as a second menu that had pictures of of some of the main dishes. Amanda ordered grapefruit green tea and grilled tilapia with fresh salsa while I ordered a mango-coconut shake and a grilled chicken entree. Both our meals were accompanied by a tasty salad with what tasted like passion fruit as well as a delicious cream of corn puff pastry soup that contained vegetables, shrimp and crab. Shortly after my shake arrived, the host returned to our table to let us know that we had been served a mango shake instead of a mango-coconut shake and so we were served the correct shake and told the other was on the house! We really enjoyed our meals and will definitely take my parents there when they visit. 

Tea-Work, Taichung (人水私房)

View Larger Map

I’ll finish off this blog post with the news that now both Amanda and I have received our Alien Resident Cards (ARCs). Our ARCs are our official identity cards while we are living in Taiwan and they are required to obtain a scooter license, open a bank account, as well as a host of other things. 

Our ARCs also list our Chinese names which were chosen by our branches when they completing the paperwork required to obtain the ARCs. 

Amanda’s Chinese name is Lín Màn Lì (林曼俐). Lìn is the Chinese family name and Màn Lì would be Amanda’s first name. In Chinese culture it is customary for your full name to start with your family name instead of end with it as is the case in the west. Màn Lì were selected for Amanda because Màn is contained in Amanda and Lì is taken from Amanda’s middle name. In Mandarin, the literal translation of Lì is clever. 

My name is Péng Bó Tè (彭博特). Bó Tè were selected because the Chinese sound approximates how it was thought my English surname would be pronounced - Boje. Bó and Tè have a number of meanings in Mandarin as listed below: 

Bó    extensive / ample / rich / obtain / aim / to win / to get / plentiful / to gamble
Tè    special / unique / distinguished / especially / unusual / very  

Now that we have our ARCs, the next order of business is getting a license and scooter. You can be sure we’ll post on the blog as soon as there’s any news to report on that front!

Péng   Bó     Tè                   
彭    博   特 

Lín     Màn     Lì
林   曼    俐

WenXin Road at Night
Oh hi there!
Puff-pastry soup
Amanda's entree, grilled tilapia and salsa
Mango shake and mango-coconut shake

Tuesday, September 20, 2011

Thanks for the heads up!

This morning I was woken up by a very loud, shrill ringing that sounded like an alarm clock. My preference is to be gently woken by the soft tinkling of a musical alarm on B's phone, so my early morning irritability factor immediately shot through the roof. I tried going back to sleep, despite my ruffled feathers, and was startled again two minutes later by the same ringing!

B was unperturbed by the whole thing, and after checking his phone to see our alarm wasn't meant to go off for another 5 minutes, decided to roll back over as he mumbled "It's probably just someone trapped in the elevator..." I ran to the living room, looked out the peep hole into the hallway, and saw that the emergency fire light was engaged. After a few more of these "alarms", Boje and I got dressed, checked the the elevator was working (and that no people were trapped or dying inside), grabbed our wallets, and went downstairs hoping that the English-speaking girl was at the desk. She wasn't, but we were greeted with a smile and told "Emergency test. It is safe!"

Over two hours later, the fire alarm is still ringing and it's driving us pretty crazy. We suspect that this is an example of some reactionary legislation made by the Taiwanese government. What probably happened is that once upon a time, an apartment building caught fire and the alarm cut out after twenty minutes, so now it is law that an alarm must be able to run for three consecutive hours. Or it's just a case of our building manager being the Safety Fuhrer. If anyone knows where this is really coming from, please feel free to fill me in!

This whole situation is by no means a worst case scenario, but just highlights one of the challenges of being an English speaker in Taiwan. There were probably signs posted about this in the lobby and elevators all week... it's just too bad I can't read Mandarin.

Monday, September 12, 2011

Happy Moon Festival!

Yesterday was the Mid-Autumn Festival, commonly known as the Moon Festival! In Taiwan, this is manifested in BBQs, fireworks, moon-gazing, well wishes, and the eating of delicious pastries called moon cakes. For Boje and myself, it also means an awesome long weekend of eating delicious Taiwanese snacks, napping, and waddling around Taichung checking out some of the sights near our apartment.

The history of the Moon Festival is confusing because there are lots of different versions, but it involves a Jade Emperor, a foolish woman (typical patriarchal lore!) and a mythical rabbit. And, of course, the moon! Everyone in Taiwan gets together with family and friends, throws some skewered foods on a grill (usually a grate over some charcoal) and munches on BBQ, moon cakes, and pomelo under the full moon. Boje and I don’t have a grill, but we are lucky enough to have Taiwanese employers and coworkers who supplied us with pomelo as well as moon cakes filled with various fillings like candied pineapple, sweetened egg yolk, and whipped cream with red bean paste. (The cream and red bean is my favourite!) I was also stopped by the girls who work the front desk in our apartment building on Friday - “Moon cakes for you. And for your... is he boyfriend? Please give to him!” So cute.

Actually, the girls downstairs gave us more moon cakes yesterday as we were on our way out the door for our Mid-Autumn Festival mid-afternoon walk. One of them speaks excellent English, and the other is very friendly as well.

C: Ni hao! We have moon cakes for you!
Brett: Wow, thanks!
Amanda: Thanks so much, but you gave us some yesterday, remember?
C: Here, have more! You are so cute!

I don’t know if these moon cakes were given to us because we’re cute or if we’re cute because we were so naive as to think we’d only receive one package, but I like the way those girls think.

After our awesome exchange with the girls, we headed out on our walk. The previous day, Saturday, was when Brett had met me at my branch. This time we decided to walk in the opposite direction towards Brett’s branch so I could see what he passes every day on his way to work. Our first stop - the kittens! B often calls me while we’re walking home from our respective branches to chat about our days and kill time on the commute. Some days he stops mid-sentence to shriek “KITTENS!” and now I know why! Two adorable little strays hang out in the same spot on his route almost every day, and they are so so so sweet! I wanted to take them home and protect them and love them and cuddle them, but was reminded that they are feral. Apparently a local shopkeeper leaves out dishes of food for them as well, so I felt a bit better.

After the kittens, we reached Brett’s branch. That was exciting for about two seconds, so we crossed a pedestrian bridge over to a park nearby. While on the bridge, Boje spotted (and photographed) an amazing sight... a skewered whole pig laying spread-eagle in the back of a truck! I love Taiwan.

The park was pretty neat, and some workers were setting up for a big outdoor concert. I was more interested in what lay on the other side of the park - the HuiWen Flower Market. It seemed to be a pretty chill day, but there were still plenty of potted plants, cut flowers, and fruit available as well as several stalls selling artwork and antiques! We didn’t buy anything as I want to research what will thrive best in the harsh, air-conditioned climate of my apartment. I’m already excited to go back!

We really enjoyed the Moon Festival, and we were able to use our extra time off today to completely plan all our lessons for the week. We also used this weekend to organize some storage space and to catch up on Skype with lots of lovely people. Happy Moon Festival!

This little piggy went to... a bbq
We never would have known the contents of the truck were we not on the foot bridge at the time.
Cream and red bean filling moon cake

Sunday, September 11, 2011

Let’s Talk About... Your Family!!!!

How many people are there in your family?
I have, one mom, one dad, no sisters and one brother.
There are four people in my family!!!!!!!! 

We’ve now completed our fourth week of teaching and on September 7th it was our first pay day! A double celebration this past week. We receive our pay from our respective branches in the form of an envelope filled with cash. :D  We only worked for half the month in August so we only received half a regular pay “envelope”, but it was still really nice to have a little cash coming in instead of going out for a change.  

By the time the next pay day comes around we should have received our Alien Resident Cards and will be in a position to get our licenses and buy a scooter. I’m really looking forward to getting a scooter. At the moment I feel a bit like I’m attached to a ball-and-chain, and I’m not just talking about my significant other! 

On Saturday, I walked to meet Amanda at her branch after her Saturday class and we enjoyed a Taiwanese-Italian pasta lunch in a park, accompanied by some delicious freshly made pineapple juice. 

There are a lot a little family-owned businesses that surround the area where Amanda works and so there is always something cheap and delicious to eat nearby. My branch by contrast is in a very modern and clean area of the city but I haven’t had any luck tracking down any places to grab a quick and cheap bite to eat... I will continue searching! 

After lunch we took a leisurely walk back in the direction of our apartment, stopping along the way to pick up some school supplies and groceries, as well as to take a gander through the jade market that is not 10 minutes from our apartment. 

The jade market is incredible. My parents will be visiting us in one month’s time and I have no doubt that my mom be overwhelmed by what is there and that my dad will be overwhelmed worrying about how overwhelmed my mom is and about how on earth they’ll get any of it back to Canada. 

Let’s talk about your family.
How many people are there in your family?
I have, one mom, one dad, no sisters and one brother.
There are four people in my family! 

In case you are uncertain, the above jingle is an ESL song that has been haunting my mind for the last couple weeks. After having stayed in Taiwan for one year I think we will find that there are a lot of ESL songs that are forever inextricably infused into our minds. I certainly have no shortage of tunes to hum in the shower in the mornings.

Yonghang 2rd St. by Amanda's branch
There are 3 big kindergartens on the corner of the above intersection. Apple Kindergarten,...
... Sesame Street Kindergarten,...
... and Today Kindergarten.
I bet this faithful employee saves the company a lot of money!
Can you see the concentration in his face?
Wave that flag!
I actually think it is a pretty reasonable way to save on labor costs. Is it really always necessary to have a real human being standing around holding the flag? Probably not.

Saturday, September 10, 2011

Care package!

A highly anticipated care package arrived this week from Canada. In it were some not-available-in-Taiwan toiletries from my mom, really good Canadian tweezers from my sister, and a huge can of Canadian maple syrup from my dad. All this came with two hand written recipe cards for my dad’s pancakes and perogies. I am happy as a clam!

Next time Boje and I don’t post for a week, please know that we are probably just too lethargic after having gorged on carbs and cheese.

National Museum of Natural Science (國立自然科學博物館), night markets, and new friends

Sorry we’re lagging so far behind on the updates - I promise we’ll do better? It’s been a crazy week for both of us with some more training and making up classes missed on the typhoon day. Last weekend we took a bit of time for sight seeing and after I came home from my Saturday class we went for a little walk (read: hour-long march in the hot sun with no water) to the National Museum of Natural Science (國立自然科學博物館). 

We stopped on the way at a restaurant famous among the Taichung expat community for its delicious Western food and exorbitant prices. Finga’s Base Camp is not far from our apartment, and offers a huge selection of burgers, sandwiches, pastas, and hot entrees. Its menu features many items I’ve never seen elsewhere in Taiwan, like roast beef and lamb with Yorkshire pudding, Roquefort cheese, and chili dogs! When we had dinner with some American and Canadian friends later that night, one of the guys at the table described Finga’s as having all of Taichung’s foreigners “by the balls”. I get where he’s coming from. We had smoothies and tasty grilled chicken burgers with bacon and avocado. It was our first taste of avocado since a memorable batch of avo and chicken sandwiches shared in Brett’s parents’ kitchen the day we left Calgary. Go into any convenience store in Taiwan and you’ll find avocado milk, (blurgh?) but I’ve yet to actually see a real avocado in a grocery store.

After lunch, we slogged the rest of the way to the Science Museum. The facility is huge. Huge. We stumbled to the ticket counter, still digesting the huge chicken sandwiches, and were immediately comforted to see clear price listings for the museum overhead. The whole reason we’d gone was to check out the special exhibit I mentioned in my last post, the Silk Road! The lady behind the counter took one look at us and asked in English, “Special Exhibit?” We nodded. I gave a thumbs up. Boje let out a confident “Dui!” So far so good. She billed us and handed us the tickets, but they seemed to be a good $300 cheaper than what we’d planned. Maybe it was a special family day? She pointed us in the direction of a building across the courtyard and we headed off.

When we got our tickets stamped at the new building, things immediately seemed wrong. We were clearly in a space/energy exhibit. We approached the people at the door and asked them “Special Exhibit? Silk Road?” They got out an English map and pointed at the room for special exhibits back in the building we’d just bought our ticket in. Ohh! We walked back, but by this point I was already starting to get that familiar feeling of being shuffled around by staff who simply didn’t want to deal with the stupid people who couldn’t even speak Chinese. At the next building, we were let in without a problem and walked into what was apparently some sort of televised conference that had attracted a large crowd. We walked around the area trying to figure out what was going on until we saw a sign for the Silk Road! Yay! We walked up to the exhibit, handed our tickets to the girl at the door with a sigh of relief, and were told “No. You must buy another ticket.” WHAT?! The tickets we had were general admission for entry to every part of the museum except for the Silk Road. Guh. We decided to make the best of it and check out some of the other stuff at the museum. I started out pretty grumpy, but by the time we’d been in the “Stages of Life” room for about five minutes I had already perked right up. The Natural Science museum had stuff on evolution, dinosaurs, (including a scary, camo-clad dinosaur that turned and yelled at us in Chinese when Boje took a photo of it), tons of stuff about aboriginal Taiwanese peoples, Chinese spiritual beliefs (including a collection of paintings of hell), Chinese and Taiwanese agricultural history, prehistoric man and his ancestors, space, etc. My favourite was a section on human life and death. There was an Egyptian mummy and information about death and burial rituals from lots of different cultures. Apparently in the old days, important Chinese people were buried in suits made of jade beads and they had all of their 9 “openings” sealed with pieces of carved jade. Ears, eyes, nostrils, mouth, anus and genitals! I realize I sound like a preteen here, but my eyebrows nearly hit the ceiling when I read the caption next to that little jade cylinder!

That night we went out for dinner at a nice little restaurant with a girl from my branch, her boyfriend, and another Canadian couple. Afterwards we went to my colleague’s building where Boje got a chance to try driving a couple different scooters to get a feel for it. I was encouraged to try as well, but was way too chicken. I think when I see Boje getting the hang of it in the future it will be easier to wrap my head around the idea, but for now I’m just not ready!

After that, our friends showed us around a night market near their house. I am keen to go back. They had lots of English signage which was a nice change! B and I agreed it had been way too long since we’d done a night market - the smell of stinky tofu was so jarring! The smell was just so much more a part of our routine in Kaohsiung, I guess!

Since this is a long weekend, our goal is to post three more entries before we return to work on Tuesday! Stay tuned!

Random Alley
We suspect this shop is undergoing renovations
Amanda and the T-Rex
The museum had a number of half bird half dinosaur creatures. I'm guessing that these are supposed to be depictions of some of the evolutionary stages between dinosaurs and modern birds. Whatever the case may be, the person that got to make these must have had a lot of fun.
"Angry Birds" suddenly has a new meaning
Beetle versus Elephant. Which will win!?!?
Hanging out
Some funny ideas about what to do with the deceased.
A depiction of hell
This is Ludao the platypus, a national hero. Ludao is credited with saving more than 100,000 lives when, in 1993, he managed to find his way into the storage pool of spent nuclear waste at a nuclear power plant. Ludao's presence was noticed via monitoring equipment and, after an investigation as to how he he gotten there, it was revealed that there were severe cracks in the storage pool containment walls as well as main reactor casing. It was determined that if Ludao had not prompted the investigation, a meltdown very likely would have occurred within weeks, potentially killing more than 100,000 people that lived in close proximity to the nuclear power plant.

By the way. That thing I (Brett) wrote about Ludao isn't entirely true... as in it is completely untrue. I actually have no idea why there was a taxidermied platypus lying on a satin green bed in a display case. I like to think of him/her as "Ludao the platypus" and I like to think that they did something heroic to deserve such a fancy mausoleum.


Thursday, September 1, 2011

Lost in Translation

Every day when I walk home from school, I go over the day in my head and wonder how I survived the psychological beating my students gave me in class. Yesterday was no exception. One of my students, who I’ll call “Zach”, volunteered a lot of answers. Every time I said “Yes, Zach?” or “Zach, what’s the answer?” the whole class would dissolve into laughter, jeering, and outright taunting over my apparent mispronunciation of his name. I’d say “Zach?”, they’d screech “ZACH!” I mulled over it in my head for four hours and still can’t make heads or tails of it. Their “Zach” sounded exactly the same to me as my “Zach”. I know this class’ last teacher was from New Zealand. Maybe if I try sounding like a Kiwi I’ll get it right?

95% of the time, I’m not being mocked by the students and they’re actually very sweet. When they do laugh at some gaffe I’ve made, I often catch myself thinking, “If only these kids knew what I know now. They’d be so much easier on their teachers!” Then I remember that the only thing I can do is laugh at my own mistakes and at the cultural differences between us. As soon as you start taking yourself too seriously, you lose any chance of being taken seriously by your students.

This weekend we’ve made some social plans and I’m REALLY hoping we can go to the National Museum of Natural Science in Taichung for the Silk Road exhibit on Saturday. We’ll keep you posted!

Also PS - The typhoon day was a total anticlimax. It drizzled a little in the afternoon but it was otherwise a lovely day off. I had lunch with a girlfriend and went shopping for stuff for the apartment, and Boje spent the afternoon catching up on correspondence and doing lesson planning. We did a little laundry, we went out for beef noodles. No biggie. The rest of the week, however, has been so rainy! I’ve even been forced to take a cab to work to keep my books from being soaked during the walk!