Monday, 12 November 2007

Halloween and Seminars.

I finally received an Alien Residency Card (ARC - like an ID card). This compliments the residency visa (a piece of paper in my passport). I'm now a bona fide Taiwangeezer! This process took ten weeks. Not bad eh? For a bit of paper and an ID card.

Visas and geezers! It's currently half time at The Stadium of Shite with the scores at a precarious 0-0 in this crucial derby. I'm watching it on the BBC website live score facility. Not great, but the best I've got. Haway the lads!

I visited Ximen night market - a huge outdoor food court in Taipei.

Halloween

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The Halloween party was embarrassing. I had to demonstrate apple bobbing to 150 kids and parents. I was dressed as a pumpkin (like 'Jerry the Berry' off Phoenix Nights). Armed with a microphone, a whistle and a timer I tried to compere the party along with Mandy the boss. I think she's pleased to show off a Western English teacher. It's a Kudos thing - could generate more business. 

She also had me dishing out fliers but I found this unbearable. I dislike being offered fliers so I didn't relish having to hand them out. As a blondy I generate a lot of curiousity here in Shulin but standing in a busy market distributing leaflets was like standing naked with my pubic hair on fire. I'm quite a confident person in most things but I found this excruciating. How pathetic.

The kids are canny cute eh? Like garlic bread, they are the future. One day one of them could be running Taiwan! Note also the two finger salutes. This is of paramount importance when being photographed in Asia. It is the Asian equivalent of saying Cheeeeese.

I got paid again yesterday. I need to stop getting used to having money and living in comfort if I'm to go on the road again.

Letter

An miracle happened this morning. I received a letter! My Mother successfully sent a birthday card. I arrived home and saw an airmail letter sitting on the communal stairway. I never notice these things but the envelope was blue so it caught my eye. I picked it up and nearly fell over when I realised it was for me! I haven't had any written correspondence for 520 days! I haven't seen an envelope with English writing since I arrived in Taiwan. It's funny how the small things in life can affect your well being - I was delighted - thanks Mam!

Mafia

A couple of weeks ago I met the richest bloke of the trip so far. I was in a Taipei bar with Tigran my Armenian mate when we get talking to Ivo from Slovenia. He was amazed that I'd been to Ljubjana! He entertained us with tails of doing business around the globe. His best stories were about dealing with the Russian mafia.

He sells beds and mattresses employing 150 people in Slovenia. He was in Taiwan sourcing products. He started from nothing when he was 16 since his family disowned him. He was a fascinating guy. He kept buying Tigran and I pricey beers but wouldn't let us buy any back. Very wealthy, very interesting, very generous top bloke.

Modern world

Taiwan is a modern, developed country. This is good but it means I'm living in an environment I was trying to escape from in England. People working their arses off to what end? People love fancy cars here - big status symbol in their 'face is important' culture. I'm starting to miss the developing World. I'm pining for a laid back beach and a cool beer in a place where time stands still.

It's all rush rush rush here - madness! I can't believe I am missing bargaining for things a little. Risking your life to cross a road. Laughing at the flies swarming around fish and meat in the markets. Total lack of transport comfort or punctuality. Intermittent electricity etc. etc. Most of all I miss the people and their smiles. Like England, Taiwan seems to be on a headlong rush for 30 year mortgages, stress and heart attacks. Give me a bamboo hut in an impoverished Malapascua villages any day.

With this on my mind recently, I've being thinking of a Kinks song:

I'm an apeman, I'm an ape ape man, oh I'm an ape man.

I don't want to live in this World no more.

I don't want to die in a nuclear war. 

I wanna swim away to a distant shore and live like an apeman.

Seminar

I've just spent an entire weekend listening to some bizzare presentations. The venue was spectacular for this '16th International Symposium on English Teaching'. Right next to Taipei's amazing Grand Hotel.

My boss thought it would be a good idea for me to attend as I would receive some much needed training and guidance. I agreed. The first 1hr presentation was 'Four learning skills for kids'. This presentation was delivered by a smartly dressed Shanghai woman whose English was crap. She kept bragging about having a maid. She kept inferring how we (the audience) were losers for sitting listening to her whereas she'd 'made it'. Very annoying.

Next was an interesting hour on 'English Teaching in Asia - trends and challenges' by some self-taught Chinese PhD bloke. This was a good lecture but unfortunately no use in improving my teaching ability.

Then I watched the surreal 'How to make your teaching magical'. This involved a Chinese guy dressed as a wizard doing magic tricks and jokes in Mandarin. Truly astonishing- I swear I never had a teacher like this when I was at school. Again, not really much use to me. I don't have a wand and big sleeves.

The next day, during 'Phonemic Awareness' an irritating woman would get 80% through a sentence and then finish it with a question. For example, she would say something like "When i get home after work I like to--------what?". This was driving me nuts. She did this for an hour and I kept thinking "How the hell do we know. Just tell me how to teach better you stupid cow".

'A look at Learner Strategy Instruction' was my favourite presentation. The presenter was an American linguist who had, interestingly, lived with Bolivian Indians in the 70's. It was a hugely enjoyable experience for me. Not for any educational reason but for the absurd use of buzzwords. I'm never disappointed at the ridiculous jargon. People love to use big complicated words when shorter simpler ones would be better suited. Here are some of the notes I took from this and other presentations this weekend:

Lexical Overlaps, Complex Syntactic Structures, L1 learning domains, scaffolding, strategy chains and finally my favourite: strategy clusters.

These words look very complex at first but they aren't really. For example, 'L1 learning domain' simply means: An Englishman is studying something in England in English. I heard scaffolding hundreds of times, I was starting to think I was at a building convention. It's meant to mean support i.e. when a student leaves school the teaching support (or scaffolding) is removed. This particular buzzword was bugging me because 'scaffolding' does not support a building - it's a tool for building - not supporting! Surely foundations support, yes?

Maybe I missed the point a bit but do we really have to complicate these things so much? Is it intellectual snobbery? What's the point of communication? To be clearly understood by as many people as possible? Then why do these academics insist on speaking in unnecessary codified bullshit? To exclude all laymen?

Camp?

I work exclusively with Chinese women and they all say "dway aaaahhhh" a lot. It means something like "Really?". I got into the habit of imitating them and I've recently discovered that it's not usual for a man to use this term, so I've been walking around sounding like Julian Clarey for a week!

Boss

After the convention on Sunday, Mandy (my boss) took me to Yangmengshan Mountain followed by a delicious fillet steak in a posh restaurant. I was happy to eat Western food after ten weeks. She was telling me how she previously employed a very handsome 24yo South African bloke as a teacher. One of her young female workers turned up at his flat late at night because her shower was broken. She lived miles from him so he thought it was a little strange. She takes a shower and then claims she's lost her flat keys - can she stay at his place for the night? Lucky lad.

Mandy told me about when we first met. I was very presentable wearing the shoes, trousers and shirt I'd just bought. However, the next time we met in Taipei I was wearing a 'Red Bull' vest showing tattoos, some Khaki shorts and flip-flops. She was embarrassed to be walking around Taipei Central Business District with a tramp!

I explained that's all I'd worn for 15 months. It's been a one month transition period to assimilate back into normality. I'm not sure I like normality - it is not all it is cracked up to be.

Foreign Observation:

One of the girls at the school is named 'Psyche'. The locals have no idea it's a strange name!

For some reason almost every window in Taiwan has bars on it. It's like every house is a prison.

People walk very slowly when they do actually get their fat arses off their scooters.

xiangjiao - banana

xiangchang - sausage

pingguo - apple

開 guan - close

男/女 - nanren/nuren - Men/Women (toilets)

天 - tien - day

中文 - chongwen - chinese

門 - men - door

bizui - shutup

bi - pen

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