Wow. Two weeks in, or out (of quarantine) rather. It’s flown by and, at the same time, it feels like I’ve been here forever. Writing this post gets more daunting with every day that passes, like a stack of papers that need to be graded that just keeps getting higher. So instead of my typical self-indulgent, narrative slash poetic ramblings, I’m just going to try to bang out a few succinct updates. Okay, I can’t reread that sentence and take it seriously. We all know succinct is not my thing. But I see writing as an imitation of life and like my current journey, I’m just gonna wander around and see where the road takes me, so here we go.
At school every Friday the teachers share their “roses and thorns” from the week. It’s a little cheesy, but I’ve always liked cheesy team-buildy things, so I’m about it. Here are some of my major roses and thorns from my first two weeks in Taichung.
- My apartment. Having lived in a house on my own for the last two years, I was a little nervous about moving into a high-rise apartment with roommates, 23 year-old girls, no less. But so far it’s been great. Morgy and The Flash are legit and the apartment is nice! It’s a two-story, 4 bedroom place on the 19th/20th floor. I can see an outline of the mountains through the smog, and the most recent purchase of a couple of rugs has really brought the place together.
- My school. Cornel is a happy place, man. It’s painted bright colors, the kids are always smiling and laughing, and the teachers are treated well. If this describes your school, then you probably don’t work in the United States. My work week is 20 hours of teaching and 10 hours of planning, which is still mind-boggling to me. The kids go to their Chinese school in the mornings and then come to Cornel for English in the afternoons. I teach 1st grade four days a week and 5th grade three days a week. The kids are very cute and sweet, but above all, they are focused. They sit and listen intently, they all do their homework every day, they write silently when you ask them to, and they can all pretty much read at or above grade level. These are all new phenomena for me. The fifth graders are in school from 7am ’til 7pm some days, which is probably too much, but it shows up in the quality of their academics. The teachers all share a big office so we can plan and chat, and everyone seems to get along quite well. Ages range from 23 to mid-40’s (I was worried I was going to be the weird old black sheep). The returning teachers have all been very welcoming, kind, and helpful. I didn’t get out of quarantine until a couple of weeks into the school year, so it’s been a challenge to catch up and figure everything out, but I’ve just been taking it one day, one task at a time. Some of the lesson planning and figuring out curriculum and grades has been overwhelming, but when I’m in the room with the kids, I feel at home. It also helps that I have seven first graders and 12 fifth graders. It’s amazing what you can do with such a small group. Coming from an average class size of about 27 for the past 10 years, it feels like cheating. It’s going to be really hard to ever teach in the US again.
- The food. There are about 100 little shops and stands on the walk between home and school. There is so much variety to choose from and it’s been fun to try a bunch of new stuff. It’s not always easy to order, but the Google Translate camera usually gets the job done. Some favorites so far include teppanyaki, dumplings, dim sum, fried rice and noodles, and a super fun conveyor belt sushi place! And the quality for the cost cannot be beat, which brings me to my next rose…
- The prices. Everything here is so cheap! You can get a really good dinner for $2 USD. Beers are about $1, and pretty much every place is BYOB. I got a hot, fresh donut today for about 30 cents, and the mountain of sushi, a few beers, and ice cream for dessert was less than $10. It’s nuts. I also get free lunch at school every day, which is alway a delicious buffet of rice, veggies meat, and occasionally some other unknown things.
- The comfort. I did not expect moving to the other side of the world during a pandemic to a place where I didn’t speak the language and had very little knowledge or understanding of the culture to be easy. But I have been pleasantly surprised with how much easier it has been than I thought it would be. I can’t read any signs or understand what anyone is saying, but it’s been weirdly easy to navigate. Most locals are super helpful and patient on top of people at school helping us get settled and find our way around. Technology is another big piece of this. We can Uber everywhere, we can translate signs and menus with our phones, Chrome can translate websites, and we can stay connected with people back home. I am sure that 30 years ago a trip like this would have come with more challenges, but I am grateful for this little rectangle in my pocket that we typically take for granted. (Yes, I did just watch The Social Dilemma, and yes, it was extremely upsetting and unsettling, but that doesn’t take away from the fact that technology and globalization have made many things, places, and experience much easier to access and for that I am appreciative.)
- The lifestyle. I can’t quite put my finger on it, but there is just some good energy here. People are just genuinely good. People leave their helmets on their scooters and their shoes in the hall without worrying anyone will steal them. Old people exercise in parks every morning. Restaurant workers smile and wave as we walk by and remember us if we eat there. The culture at school is very much one of trust, respect, and appreciation, whereas the lack of those three things are the most prevalent traits of most of the buildings I’ve worked in. Everybody here loves hiking and has a great appreciation for nature. I’ve already been on a couple of really beautiful hikes and yesterday visited the botanical gardens, which were fabulous. The night markets are also super fun. It’s like a carnival is in town every night of the week. I even found a corndog! It’s hot as fuck, but it’s better than being cold. It’s smoggy, but I’ll survive. You can also walk around on the street with a beer, bring your own beer to restaurants, and drink in Ubers. When I found these things out, I knew I was home.
- I didn’t get a sign.
*Editor’s note: Regarding the title, “shì shì” is how you say “thank you” in Chinese, but pronounced with the down tone, so it’s pronounced more like “shay shay.” The first time I said it to the person who gave me tea, my friend informed me that by pronouncing it “shee shee” I had just said “pee pee.” I feel fairly confident that the tea lady could have inferred that I was probably more likely to be saying thank you than pee pee, given the context, but I guess it’s best to not take any chances.
Thanks for reading! Feel free to leave a comment to let me know what you think or if you have any questions!