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We teachers had to work Saturday because of the ‘add on’ day during the Moon Festival when we had Monday and Tuesday off.  28 September is also Confucious’ birthday and is celebrating in R.O.C. as well as mainland China as Teacher’s Day, a day to celebrate teachers.  Those American teachers participating in my program reported receiving gifts (LOTS of gifts!), being invited to special meals, attending special ceremonies and having special events throughout the school day.  I was interviewed on Friday by a reporter for a national paper and the article appeared on Saturday.  It’s fairly popular paper because by time I went to buy a copy, it was the only paper that was sold out.  I did manage to find one copy. .  .  . at . .  .7/11.  I need a copy to send my mom!!

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I’ve uploaded photos of the apartment, but not really described it!  We live about 8 minutes walking distance from the school (5 minutes for most walkers).  We’re in a residential area with many single family homes in the area.  Yes, I need to get some photos of them!  They appear to be very nice homes.  They have huge 2 car garages which protrude from the front of the building with the home sitting back from the street.  They are all two story homes, and brick because of the climate.

We live in one of the few apt. buidings on the street on the 6th floor of a 10 floor building.  There is an elevator, stairs, security guard and locked security gate.  Our place has a living room/dining room area, kitchen (stove top, no oven) which leads to a washroom, porch area, two bedrooms, a japanese tea room, a balcony off the living room and two bathrooms, one with a tub/shower and the other with a shower.  There are air conditioning units in two of the bedrooms and a ceiling fan in the living room.  The place stays amazingly cool!  It came furnished.

Other than that, I can say that it’s Saturday and I’m at work.  The students are outside for assembly because we’re following the monday schedule.  There is a lot more talking and applauding than usual, I wonder what I’m missing?  I also keep hearing bagpipes!

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I’ve uploaded photos of our apartment on Flickr.  You can access them by clicking the Flickr box on this blog.  The above photo is a view from our front balcony.  Don’t get too excited:  seeing the mountains was a rare treat.  I had been here over a week before I saw them!

 We went walking last night and found a restaurant that we’ll be going back to this evening for chicken rolls.  Dinner was getting to be quite a challenge!  We actually found this restaurant on Tuesday when we wondered in and had a hot pot.  I couldn’t even tell you what we had yesterday, other than the fact that it was delicious.  One of the ladies who works there speaks English quite well.  Unfortunately, she wasn’t there either time we were trying to muddle through the menu.  The first time we went, we actually called our friend Leah on the phone to translate for us.  We were desparate!  Everything was in Mandarin and there were no photos!  The phone’s battery died in the middle of the conversation and we did the best we could do with the hot pot.  Kris enjoyed the meal so much that she thinks we should go back and just randomly point our way through the entire menu!

After dinner, we walked further down the street (a street we quite often visit) and found several other restaurants with promise.  We also found a total of three wonderful bakeries on the street.  You walk in these places and just smell the butter! We probably gained back every pound we had lost from walking, but the pastries were a nice treat.  From now on bakery visits will be limited to one day on the weekend.  Maybe Saturday this week since I’ll have to work on that day.

When I planned to come here, many folks automatically assumed I was coming to China.  Close, this country’s official name is The Republic of China.  Some also thought they heard me say Thailand.  Same contitnent, but, not close. 

Taiwan is an island country about the size of Indiana located in the Pacific Ocean east of China.  I wish I could tell you how large the population is!  I’ve mentioned that this little town that I’m in is barely on the map and it is larger than Indianapolis. 

A lot is in the news here about Taiwan trying to get into the United Nations. The Republic of China was a founding member, but lost its seat to China.  The country wants to be officially known as Taiwan.  It became associated with China, I believe in 1949 ,when the Chang Kei Shek fled here to get away from the Communists. He claimed this place as the Republic of China and began massacreing Taiwanese  folks to get his way.  China claims this island as part of their country and most places, such as the US, don’t recognize Taiwan as a country.  During the 2008 election, the country’s political status is very much in debate.  One party wants to stay independent while another wants to join China.  The debates become quite vocal and heated because this young democracy values the vote, the election process and free speech.  I hear the elections will be interesting to watch.  Maybe even more so than what the press feeds us in the US.

There is much animosity between China and ROC.  (remember the posting about Kinmen Island?) There was an article in the paper last week saying disposable chopsticks should be banned because China taints them with chemicals.  Although there is no direct trade, much does end up here from mainland China.  Taiwan has an army and is well prepared for an attack (I’ve been told nothing will probably happen before the Olympics begin.  What will eventually happen?  How peacefully will it happen?  Only the future knows!

I guess this is on my mind today because it was one of the few mornings I’ve been able to read the Taipei Times.  This is a great little English newspaper that provides a lot of information from around the globe.  I’d say it gives as much covering to Taiwanese news as it does US news.  Today, I read about Che Geuverra, Venzuela, workers in Bangladesh striking for better pay, the Dalia Lama in Germany and many other stories.  Stories I know I wouldn’t get in the Star!

The sky was so clear today I could see the gorges in the mountains that surround the city.  I did get photos and hope to post them tomorrow.

Happy Moon Festival!

Two more uses on the oasis in the night:

1.  The 7-11 is the basis for any directions given to english speakers.  because we cannot read the street signs, directions often begin from the nearest 7-11.

2. It is a quasi-financial institution. It seems the currency exchange desk at LAX  gave us outdated $NT1000.  We have to exchange them at the 7-11 by 1 October.

A while back, my friend Susan asked if I was liking the desserts here.  I though she was referring to the wonderful desserts we had in Saudi and just kinda asking if I was still eating them.  Well, after the third or fifth bean dessert, I got what she was asking!  There was the wondeful little shaved ice place we went to in Taipei that put 4 varieties of sweet beans on ice for dessert.  This was followed by a gelatenous rice dough cookie that was filled with bean paste.  We’ve had moon cookies with beans (that are quite good!) and other such treats.  Desserts here are not as sweet as at home, they’re not eating as often and they are often bean filled. 

 I can’t believe it’s only Sunday because we’ve been so busy!  Friday evening, we heading out on foot to find dinner.  We walked a little further than usual and found some very interested Taiwanese restaurants that at least had pictures of food.  We passed the night market which is where you will find the most.  .  .   interesting  .  .  . delicacies.  There were fruit stands with fresh pomelo, bananas, dragon eyes, HUGE grapes and apples.  We decided to walk to the corner, see what else we could see, then turn around and find a place to eat.  The blocks here are long!  We saw that we were near Carrefour and went we looked up, saw we were near McDonalds!  We ended up in Carrafour ( a huge discount grocery/department store from Europe) and spent hours looking at electronics, housewares, music, school supplies and food!  We ended up walking about 3 hours that night. 

We returned home to find Mr Chay AND HIS ENTIRE FAMILY waiting for us!!  He had tried to call us on our cell phone, but couldn’t reach us.  He began to worry.  We feel so blessed to have a family here!  Mr Chay wanted to let us know that he had made our cab arrangements to get to and from the train station for our trip to Kaoishoung on Saturday.  Mrs. Chay had typed out a list of statements in English and Mandarin so that we could buy tickets, get to the station or catch a cap in Kaoishoung.  They also gave us a Moon Festival present to use when looking at the moon over the holiday weekend:  mooncakes and chocolates!  What a great evening!

Saturday, we took the train to Kaoishoung and met Rose, a teacher from Michigan. We spent the day at the Dream Mall.  This is a HUGE 9 story mall with something for everyone!  We closed the day by eating at TGIFridays and riding the train home. Rose is actually only two train stops away from us in a city I can’t name at this time and we were able to ride the same train home. 

Folks think living overseas takes a lot of bravery and indepence.  It is not for the faint of heart!  Life in other countries is so different from being at home, you really have to be able to adjust to things and realize they are different, not right or wrong.  The Taiwanese lifestyle isn’t backward, or in any way LESS than what ours is.  The first major lesson you learn is that you can’t do it by yourself.  I have found myself relying on other people, asking for help and reaching out more than I ever have before.  I rely on Kris for companionship, for assistance with so many details throughout the day and for insights into my classes that I miss.  We rely on my English speaking colleagues to let us know where to shop or to eat or how to buy a train ticket.  We couldn’t even survive in our own home without them!  They’ve had to tell us NOT to flush toilet paper; to meet the trash truck at 8 pm and the turn off the gas when it is not being used.  We won’t know if there is a typhoon or holiday unless they tell us!  It seems that I stay because I have so much to learn!

Kris is blogging as well.  Her blog is From Chicken Noodle to Rice and Egg Noodle. If you read hers, or read mine, take the time to make a comment!  It would be much easier than following up with an email and it might get a good discussion going!

We’ve been getting around the city on foot, slowing adding new blocks to our repetoire. Every evening, we go for a walk and look for dinner. Can you imagine going to a restaurant to order where the menu is in Chinese, there are no pictures, noone speaks English and you’re really hungry? That is often our dilemma. There is not too much food in our apartment right now, so dining out is about the only option. It is very inexpensive, just a bit tricky!

So, last night after some discussion we decided to ask a very kind teacher who lives nearby to order a pizza to be delivered to us. He couldn’t believe we only wanted cheese on it! Selections here vary from octopus japanese style to seafood with peas to vegetarian to hawaiian toppings on a pizza. He thought if we saw the selections we would find a good topping. So, he loaded up his entire family and took us across town for a pizza. We had great fun with his two young children who are learning english and his wife who speaks no english but I swear she understood everything we said. We saw many more shops, fruit stands and grocery stores that are very near us. We went to the pizza hut downtown where they also could not believe we only wanted cheese. They did however, manage to make a pizza that was much better than any Pizza Hut I’ve tasted in the states!

We had been told this was a small city. A village. You can imagine what we expected. There is only one person on Flickr who has photos of Pingtung and I believe they are the only ones on the ‘net. Only two or three folks on Myspace are here and fewer on Facebook. We didn’t expect much at all.

Do you know that the population of Indy is just over 600,000?

The population in this ‘burg is 800,00+. The downtown is HUGE!! There is a 6 story mall, a Carrefour and too much else to mention. Because it is seen as a small town, there is no movie theater with foreign movies and not much of a bus service (just like Indy!). The intersections are the widest I have ever seen, and I’ve seen intersections all over the world.

We were amazed at what we saw and began feeling somewhat better knowing what resources are so close to us. We just have to find a way to access them. The streets here are kinda dangerous because of all the scooters and because driving laws and signs are merely seen as a suggestion. Left turns are usually made on red lights. It is not uncommon for the person in the right line to drive in front of the person in the left lane to make a u-turn. Traffic lights are used just to indicate that you are approaching a large intersection.

Yeah, so we’re looking for a way to get downtown on a fairly frequent basis.

This weekend is Moon Festival. No school Monday and Tuesday, but we will have school on Saturday. Tomorrow we’re going to Kaoishoung (the second largest city and largest seaport. It’s on the southern tip of the island and 40 minutes away by train). We’ll meet a teacher from Michigan and spend the day at the Dream Mall.

Hope you have a great weekend!

No school tomorrow: typhoon break! That’s why it has been so cloudy all day! Wish us well!!

I still prefer a snow day!

That familiar mechanical melody is playing and ALL of your neighbors are headed outside.  You notice they’re carrying bags. It’s the trash truck!  The truck comes to our neighborhood every evening about 8 pm to collect paper trash from the community.  Here, recycling is the norm and plastic, paper and metals all have there own destination.  All paper products (ALL household paper products) are picked up day to the tune of what we think is the ice cream man!

These quotidien activities may not give a high brow picture of Taiwan, but it’s the daily habits and nuances that bring flavor and meaning the more artistic interpretations.  The air here is still polluted. Today it’s quite overcast and rainy.  Though it is bright and sunny, the sky is rarely blue.  We walk every night for dinner and exercise and were very glad to see a walking/bike path near us.  We’ve been told that it extends about 16km (km??  I still don’t know metric!).

Naptime just ended and I have a fifth grade class about to come in for a lesson in English on the four seasons!  Here, where it is always summer!

OK, ladies and gentlemen, get you chai, your bubble tea or your milk coffee and settle in for a long read. It’s been a while and I have a lot of catching up to do! This will be poorly edited because I’m sitting in an Internet cafe which feels like a video arcade, paying for my time and trying to get as much done here as possible.

Last Wednesday, we finished our training at NAER and were picked up by our school and local officials to be escorted to various remote locations around the island. Seven US and Canadian teachers were assigned to cities in small schools to teach English to students who rarely have the opportunity to speak with native speakers. This is seen as essential in foriegn language education in Taiwan. A teacher at my school expressed her honor in being one of the schools selected to have one of us (me!). So, they go above and beyond for us! I feel so much support and care that I worry that I won’t be able to show nearly enough appreciation, no matter how well I teach or inspire the children.

We drove down Highway 3 to get here. We stopped in the first city we encountered to purchase dried tofu. Some of the best candy you’ll ever have! We drove through what felt like one continuous city probably until we reached Tainan and took a different highway and headed due east. The landscape quickly turned to some of the most rugged mountains I’ve ever seen. Though not steep, they were jagged peaks covered with vegetation. Landslides left scars that looked like something scratched away the land.

Pingtung looks like a small Taipei. It doesn’t really look like a small city at all. My school has about 14oo students in grades 1-6. The first and second graders only attend half days. Everyone only attends half days on Wednesdays because of teacher meetings. There is a lot I will never know about my school because of the language barriers. While there is not a special ed program as large as in the US, there are resource rooms to help students and there is a huge effort to identify the needs of struggle students.

My class schedule is different everyday of the week, with as few as 3 classes on some days and 6 on others. I teach a total fo 20 classes, seeing each class of 4-6th graders each week. That’s about 600 students/week. I eat lunch at school for now and it costs $NT40 per day (a little over a dollar)

This past weekend, Kristen and I went to Kaoishiung City with Mr. Chen, a Director at my school who has graciously cared for us since out arrival. He had language classes at a unversity there and we went along. We spent hours in a university library where I read journals and Kris did the Internet. Then, we went to the Dream Mall. We saw Jodie Foster’s new movie which is called “The Brave One” here and had a great day! The city reminded me of Tokyo. We had been told it was an ugly, industrial city but we loved it much more that Taipei.

Folks here are incredibly kind. They work so hard to help us and it is amazing how many speak English. They work harder to speak English than I do to speak Chinese, and it’s their country!! Actually, I tried to speack tried but my tones are so awful that no one understands me. Not even my ‘knee hows’ or ‘shi shi’s!! I have a furnished aparment right around the corner from my school. They gave both of us a bike and you wouldn’t believe the work to make sure my lease was proper and in my best interest!

Most of you reading this know me and how hard headed I am. I have a lot of lessons to learn and I guess I was given a short cut to learn them by being sent here. I am learning so much about life, about people, about caring and about me.

You cannot be a good teacher if you’re not a good learner!

Peace and much love til next time!

OH!! Expect more guest writers. Everyone from my group is going to take turns posting here so you can get an idea of what it’s like all over the island. Feel free to respond, comment or ask questions. We’d like to hear from you, too!

In August, 2007 I will be leaving Indianapolis with my daughter, Kristen, to live and work in the Republic of China (Taiwan). This will be my fiftieth year on this planet and my first year living in another country. This blog will let you join us on the adventure!
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Taipei

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