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HOME - an amazingly beautiful wake up wall to what our planet is facing

HOME - an amazingly beautiful wake up wall to what our planet is facing

Saturday, November 8, 2008

Taiwan - first impressions

My general feeling is that we've happily stumbled on a wee gem of a country that's taking us under its wing. People are lovely, you can get by with mere English and having a friend here from Toronto has been an immense help dialing into the action and getting various tips for orienting ourselves. Under Bob's kind watch we've joined a tai chi school under a bonafide master, met all kinds of good people and have been to several parties and an outdoor camping music festival!

In our first week here I was able to craft a dictionary definition through first-hand experience:
typhoon [tai - ' fün]: Asian weather phenomenon characterized by
horizontally-travelling rain alternating with sweeping sheets of water,
wind gusts destroying umbrellas and knocking down their owners,
businesses and schools closed.

It was more fun for us than anything, but that's because we are protected by the big city and are well away from the coast. On a later visit to a beach in Macau, we saw the stone boardwalk demolished by previous lashing winds and waves. Very humbling, Mother Nature! It's now early November and I think the winter rains have arrived. Honestly, it's a bit of a welcome change from absurdly humid heat that means I'm sweating buckets going about my day.

The friendliness factor here is set on high. We've been stopped by people eager to practise their English conversation, people offering us directions when we're simply studying a map, and it's common for someone to go out of their way simply to offer a hand. This friendliness lulled us into getting "kidnapped" by an unmarked-cab-driving big-grin-sporting enthusiastically-gesturing lady with zero English skills who we mistook for a driver a school sent for us and soon enough found ourselves at the top of a mountain at a huge temple complex with an unsolicited cab fare and some tricky explaining for why were late for the interview.

Speaking of interviews, I went through four teaching demos at various schools before being offered a job at my favourite of the bunch. I am now a proud employee of Eagle American School with great hours (2-7pm Monday-Friday), good pay and three rowdy classes of 7 to 13 years-old Taiwanese kids who aren't entirely convinced they want to learn English but it's still my job to keep them on track. Here is a picture of us on Halloween. My costume earned me the name of "Teacher Grape" for the entire day, even from kids I haven't met. : )

Teaching English means loads of preparation time to keep the kids occupied with activites that make the curriculum fun. I'm also brushing up on my Grammar for the higher level and generally feeling a bit like I'm on stage. Four weeks in, I'm mostly enjoying it! ; )

We've settled in Taiwan's busy modern capital city, Taipei. There is a wide system of public transport consisting of buses and the MRT - Mass Rapid Transit, whose trains run both above and underground and it's been voted the most reliable metro system for four years running. Street traffic is also heavy with cars and an outrageous amount of scooters. All of this leads to considerable pollution and many people wear a doctor-like mask over their mouth and nose when travelling through the city, to filter the air. Our cozy apartment is above a busy thoroughfare and we notice grime settling on the windowsills... Good thing we are keeping healthy by cultivating our chi, hiking in mountains and soaking in hot springs!

It took a bit of research and learning a few Chinese phrases, and I can now reliably find good vegetarian food. Besides restaurants and cafés, there are countless food stalls as well as infamous night markets which are places to eat, shop and see and be seen. Also on nearly every corner are bakeries, and one of the convenience store chains: 7-11, OK Mart, Hi-Life and Family Mart. 7-11 is the one-stop-shop king and not only sells drinks, snacks, beer, newspapers and phone cards, but there you can also pay your bills, fax documents and probably get a diversified mutual funds investment portfolio...

So we are happily settling into our Taiwanese life and wishing a more peaceful resolution to the current China-Taiwan trading negotiations which have sparked flurries of rioting.

PS. Hurray Obama and Canadian Opposition Leaders!!!