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Warm yesterday, hot today! I think the mild days of spring are gone and hot, hot summer is about to settle in. I’m in the middle of one of my few, rare weekends at home. A three day weekend is even rarer, so much so that I spent most of Friday convincing myself that it wasn’t Saturday! I had gone down to Kaohshiung to help my friends Michael and Suzy celebrate their wedding. This wedding was different from the one I previously attended as it didn’t follow traditional practices. With Michael being a westerner and both the bride and groom having been married before, everything was certainly different from what is typically Taiwanese! The saying of the vows was preceded by a signing of marriage contracts in English and Mandarin. The bridal party then moved upstairs to a room attractively decorated with overflowing floral arrangements for the actual event. The ceremony was followed by a charming reception at the Outback on the Love River. In addition to Suzie’s family and Michael’s friends and co-workers were some of the graduate students from Neipu. While most were from Taiwan, there were others from New Zealand, Mozambique and the Czech Republic. It was nice!!!

I’ve been gone so much that I haven’t had much of a chance to clean this place. Yesterday, I cleaned and cleaned and everything was so clean and fresh! It smells so wonderful! I turn on the light in another room only to find some insects that are coming in from around the air-conditioning unit. O, I fixed the holes AND the critters, but the entire event really took the buzz off my clean! The little winged buggies seem to be a right of spring. I saw them all over the place when I went out for dinner last night. I just don’t want them inside my domicile, ya know!

That brings me to today. I don’t know what that is on the TV but I’m in the middle of the first year of Las Vegas, considering a marathon so I can find out why James Caan left but the daggone videos play about ¾ of the way through and kick back to the beginning. I don’t have the patience to keep dealing with that! I went to Orange Kitchen, my favorite breakfast spot in Pingtung and had cheese dom bing and the best cup of coffee you can imagine. I enjoy the place not only for the food, but for the wonderful lady who works and is about the best English speaker in this county. She tries to make me learn Chinese. (So does the guy at Hi Life, but I hate to tell them I’m out of here in 101 more days and that just ain’t gonna happen!) I got my fruit and yogurt and am set for breakfast and lunch for most of the week.

I will miss walking when I return home and I’ll miss being able to linger in streetside restaurants with a nice book until I’m good and ready to leave. I’ll miss knowing what people are saying without understanding a single word of what they have said. And I’ll miss bell fruit!

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I cannot believe it is already the third week of February. I am amazed that my journey here is about half over. When I think of how much I have (finally) learned, the opportunities here for teachers (but not librarians), the easiness of being here, I really think about giving it one more year. But, when I think about my mom, my Kris, Evan and Rod, libraries!!, students with whom I can communicate, the possibility of dating and so many of the little things to which I’ve grown accustom, there is no way I can stay here two consecutive years.

This year has been a whirlwind and winter break has been no exception. I, like many of the foreign teachers spent parts of the break at English camp. This gave us the opportunity to teach students English in a more relaxed atmosphere. I was able to continue traveling during my time off as well as to gather items to decorate my rather bare classroom.

And the other teachers? Rose (Michigan) in Fongshan went to Taichung and Haulien with families from her school; Gene was able to visit Carolyn (Arkansas) in Putzih, spending time with members of her school and traveling the country; Betty (Canada) and Marilyn (Arkansas) had an incredible trip to Cebu in the Philippines and Mama Leah was in Malaysia. Sandy just sent me photos of her incredible trip to Bali.  We keep in contact with each other, like touch stones filling the void. Sean (IN) and the Grandersons (Arkansas) came to visit Pingtung and Kaouhsoing. As big and as busy as Kaouhsoing is, many people never make it there to visit. They are convinced that the only happenings are in Taipei, so they miss out!

The true highlight of winter break is Chinese New Year. This holiday, stuffed with tradition, is quite unlike the New Year in America. Rather than revelers taking to the street to count down the minutes to the new year, those in Taiwan, Hong Kong and China go home to celebrate with family over a 5 day period. The calendar in Taiwan changed to the year ‘97’ in January, but this new year while mark the beginning of the year of the rat on the lunar calendar.

While huge dinners have traditionally been prepared in homes, more families are taking to reserving banquet facilities for the huge meals which take days to prepare. Traditional foods are prepared to insure prosperity in the upcoming year. The more food, the greater the anticipated prosperity. There is majjohng, and red envelopes—the giving of cash to children still living at home, or to parents of grown children. There are special offerings in the temple, fireworks to scare away evil spirits and special spring couplets put on the doors for much the same reason.

Everyone is home with family for 4-5 days. Stores and restaurants close and the trash man does not cometh. Those of us (ME!) who have never cooked stock up on food supplies from Carrefour and begin a new year tradition of one’s own (cooking!). The holiday also includes the Lantern Festival which is held on the first full moon of the new year in about 15 days.

I know there is a big celebration in Kaouhsoing, but I don’t know what happens in Pingtung, or if it is even a day off work.

It’s also still winter and the temps have dropped. The 50s and 60s are nothing to sneeze and when homes don’t have insulation (it would hold too much moisture), floors are made of tile and there is not enough reason to invest in central heating.

Monday is still a day off from the holiday and Tuesday it’s back to school. I get to see my students again!!

The first semester has just ended. The school year is half over. Any progress? Well, I know I’ve learned a lot professionally and personally. Have my students? I hope so. I don’t give assessments in my classes so I have no real way of measuring progress. I hope they’ve learned that English is a way to communicate with the world. Duh?? You say??

A couple of months ago, one student needed a tissue. He asked Teacher Rose for a tissue in Mandarin and she insisted that he ask me in English. He asked me and, of course was given a tissue. A second student who witnessed this expressed his amazement “It works!!” (OK, he actually said this in Mandarin to Teacher Rose.)

I remember back in high school having the opportunity to speak French to someone to communicate with them and I was just fascinated that this was a real language, a real way of talking to people. Have you had this experience? Do you get what I mean?

Hopefully, by me being there, students and seeing English as something real.

Providing real learning opportunities for students is such a trendy thing to do in education that we don’t realize how much what we teach can sometimes disconnect from anything meaningful for our students. This is more and more the case if we’re sticking to using textbooks, pens and paper. technology is one way to enter the new world of student’s reality. If we don’t keep learning, if we don’t keep remembering what it’s like to learn we’re not being the best teacher we can be.

I do hope my students have learned half as much as I have.

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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