Saturday, 26 January 2008

A new job and girlfriend in Southern Taiwan. Don't point at the moon.

This is Chen Zi Ting. We recently had the 'Are we actually girlfriend and boyfriend now?' converstaion. I reluctantly conceded my singledom. Zi Ting is 27, from Cigu, Tainan County, Taiwan. She's 155cm, 46kg. She works at Salt Mountain near Jhongliao Village and also does a turn at the local night markets. She supplements her income by occasionally doing brides' hair and makeup for their weddings. All in all, she is what Geordies would call a 'reet canny lass'. Very sweet. We have an additional reciprocal arrangement whereby I'm her English teacher and she's my Chinese teacher. For me it's cheaper than Cheng Kung University in Tainan and for her it's cheaper than the English school she used to go to - it's a win-win situation - ha!

As 2008 appears to be a time for new things, I thought: 'Why not try and get a new job too?' So that's what I did. I have found employment in a Jiali school. I turned up and asked if they needed a native English speaking teacher. They asked me to do a one hour lesson as an interview. They said I did very well which was encouraging (so three months in Shulin was not a complete waste). They asked me to start immediately but I explained about my visa situation and we agreed that I start 19th February.

Now that I'm wiser to the 'Teaching in Taiwan' system I explained how I only want part-time work (so I can have free time to study), older kids (the young ones......well, not for me) and evenings only (this is when wor lass works so it makes sense). I negotiated a decent hourly salary of 600ntd/hour (just under £10) and a schedule of only 8hrs/week.

They'll also help me obtain a Taiwanese residency visa again. Also, because this is the 'sticks' and there aren't too many foreigners around here, they didn't once mention that I speak with an English English accent. This is a big issue in Taipei. I can't believe I'm doing all this again but women and love can turn your head to shit!

On Thursday I'll be in Manila contemplating how I left the secure, cosy environment of England 600 days ago. Quite sobering to think I've being 'arsing' (can't think of a better verb) around Asia for 20 months now. My current 30 day visa expires on Wednesday so I've booked a return flight to Philippines (third time) where I'll spend three weeks applying for visas, drinking and chilling on beaches before returning to Taiwan for work, study and a bit of companionship which was really lacking in Taipei.

For this three week trip to the Philippines I've loosely planned: Manila (stay there until I get Taiwan visa sorted) - Sabang again - Roxas for ferry to Boracay - Palawan - Cebu - Bohol - Manila for return flight. Whether or not this happens is another matter. I'm not very good at sticking to plans lately.

Other news: I've acquired a new watch. I think this is a hang-up from my days on submarines - I feel naked without a watch.

This time last year I was kayaking around Pangkor Island in Malaysia, cooking freshly caught squid, fighting monkeys and trying to recover from copious amounts of leech bites. It was gorgeous!

I've managed to configure this Taiwanese piece of junk computer to type Chinese pinyin style. However, so far, I've only managed to achieve this by typing simplified characters so not quite out of the woods yet on that one.

再见 - Zaijian.

你先起床 - Ni xian qi chuang - You get out of bed first.

我爱你-  I love you.

你疯了吗 - Are you crazy?

工手- Handmade

Three of these symbols are simplified Chinese characters. £5 to the first person to spot them.


We'd just devoured a steak followed by ice cream when we decided to walk the 4km home. We were enjoying the intense tranquility as I pointed at the moon above. It was giving off a tremendous amount of light, illuminating the dark route. It was romantic. I said, in Chinese "Can you see the moon? It's a full moon". Then, ominously, I was warned not to point at it.

"Eh? Why like?"

"Coz you'll make the ghosts come"

"Whaddya taalking aboot?"

Some Asians can be what us Westerners might regard as 'extremely superstitious'. Buildings have not been built in China because some old guru bloke reckons a dragon lives underneath the ground at the proposed site! In Taiwan, it's bad form to use your finger to point at anything!

This reminds me of some other cultural faux pas I've made. In Thailand you shouldn't point at anybody with your feet. Yours truly did it a couple of times only to be politely reminded not to do this by Thai friends. It's quite embarrassing and you feel foolish. The reason is that feet are regarded as the lowest, dirtiest part of the body and it's insulting to use them to point at something/someone.

Conversely, the head is regarded as the cleanest, purest, highest part of the body and you shouldn't ruffle a young lad's hair by rubbing his head when you first meet him. Yep, I did this too. Only once though. I felt stupid as I had read these warnings before and I still made an arse of it. However, the Thai people are very forgiving and generally understand that you are a foreigner who has no real understanding of such things.

We had a long conversation about superstitions. Zi Ting asked me if England has any. I had to think hard and came up with these: Walking under a ladder, putting shoes on a table, opening an umbrella indoors, black cats and magpies (these last two sound like a North East football derby). We then went on to discuss our views on superstitions. I'm cynical and she isn't.

Last night I cycled to the coast and watched the sunset over the East China Sea. I got talking to a local photographer from Chiayi. He visited England nine years ago. This is the closest I've come to a Westerner in the last three weeks! I then went to Salt Mt to help her clear up her stall. Today I made 120 chinese dumplings. I had to chop loads of spring onions and cabbage before mixing it with minced pork, then stuffing it all into little pastry parcels. You then boil them and eat - delicious.

Simple everyday things can be very traumatic here. Today, wor lasses Fatha left me in charge of his normally dead little shop for 10 minutes. Nee bother right? No chance. The 'never happened before' rush hour ensued! I didn't know the price of anything. I didn't really know what anything was. Most of the customers are old and don't speak Mandarin but Taiwanese. What a nightmare 10 mins. They were all obviously wondering who the f*ck I was????? I did OK given the circumstances and the Fatha said he couldn't believe that it happened like that - haha.

MP san - MP three

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