Speak softly and carry a big serve

  • Editor’s note: This post was just about ready to go live when I found out that all schools in Taiwan are closing for two weeks and I was blessed with the rare distinction of getting to prepare for distance learning in back-to-back years in two different countries!! What a thrill this is about to be. More on this later in a post probably called “How the turntables…” For now, back to your regularly scheduled rambling.

My high school tennis coach once told me during a match, “Every once in a while, hit your serve as hard as you can, just to let ’em know you got it.” He continued, “It doesn’t even matter if it goes in or not. Just knowing in the back of their mind that you could blast one at them at any moment will make them take a step back. The fear of the big one will make all your other serves more effective.”

Thank you, Coach Kreutz. I have carried this advice with me to this day, both on and off the court. I recently shared it with some of the boys I coached. And when I play, I still try to crank a couple of serves early on in a match, just to let my opponent know what I’m capable of. After I spin a couple in, if I notice them starting to creep up and take advantage of the slower, more consistent serves, I’ll flatten one out as a reminder, just so they don’t get too comfortable.

But more importantly than tennis, I believe this is good advice to live by. Made famous by Teddy Roosevelt, of course, to “speak softly and carry a big stick” was how he characterized his approach to foreign diplomacy. Lead with kindness and justness, attempt to negotiate peacefully, but be prepared with a strong military should things ever go south. Unfortunately, the world today would benefit greatly if more people practiced the first two components of this philosophy. It seems everyone from world leaders down to insecure influencers does a lot of barking these days, which, without intervention from a more rational party (the existence of which seems to be rapidly deteriorating), inevitably leads to biting. I guess big stick energy is quite the opposite of the current rampant spread of the aforementioned little dick energy.

I’m the first to admit that my attempts to be a good person, friend, and teacher fall short of perfection, but I do try to live by this ideology as much as I can. When I was younger, I used to be a more arrogant and obnoxious competitor, assuming that everyone would benefit from verbal reminders of how great I was. Now, when playing sports or games, I try to mostly keep quiet, win and lose graciously, and let my play do the talking. A goal, a spike, or a victory is always more powerful than talking trash, whining to teammates, or complaining about the refs.

In my relationships with both women and friends, I can count on one hand the number of times I’ve raised my voice or acted irrationally in a moment of anger. In a similar but different vein, when I was younger, I used to know no boundaries when it came to getting a girl’s attention or impressing a fellow dude-bro. Now, I realize that such peacocking is a product of insecurity and a need for validation. These days, I am much more content to just say, this is who I am, this is what I want, this is what I can offer – take it or leave it, I’m good either way.

Getting to the primary inspiration for this post, the most prominent area of my life in which my #bigstickenergy is deployed is in my teaching. Far and away the most frequent comment I receive from people who have been in my classroom is how calm I am and how peaceful the room is in general. This is not luck. I work hard to achieve this. I’ve learned over the years (11 in the classroom, wow!) that yelling almost never achieves positive results. And while every class surely has a couple of big personalities, a calm environment is one that works well for all students, both academically and developmentally. I have worked with children with all kinds of disabilities, trauma, and difficult behaviors. I’ve never met one that didn’t benefit from a calm, respectful relationship with a teacher who is steady, trustworthy, and predictable. In fact, I’ve had friends visit my class and ask if I was okay, perceiving my low energy to be a sign that something was off. Outside the classroom I guess I’m a bit more energetic and bubbly. My teaching persona, however, has a much more focused and deliberate nature, which I now understand can be a bit shocking for a first-timer to experience.

There are many different types of effective teachers and I have great respect for all of them. Many teachers dance and roll and play around all day in attempt to engage their students in the learning. That’s wonderful. That is not me. I wonder if that type of teaching is sustainable over a long career. For me, avoiding burnout is a big factor in how I conduct myself day to day and year to year, and conserving energy is an important part of that gameplan. Please don’t take this to mean that my class is boring or that my kids sit in rows and work silently all day. That is far from the case. We play games, sing songs, watch funny videos, and do arts and crafts all the time. My kids know that I love them and we have a good time. But I believe that my primary job is to create structures within which the kids can have their own fun. I’ve always kept in mind a line by Ron Clark that reads something to the effect of “A lot of young teachers think they need to be the students’ friend. I tell my students ‘I’m not here to be your friend. I’ve got enough friends. I’m here to be your teacher.'”

Which brings me to the second tenet of my teaching persona. I’ve covered the “speak softly” part. But what about the “big stick”? Well. Eeeeeevery once in awhile. I mean like, maybe 3-6 times per year, I bring out the big serve. If someone is doing something really foolish after repeated reminders, if someone isn’t showing improvements in behaviors after lots of practice, or, most especially of all, if someone is bullying, I give them a taste of something to be scared of. Sometimes, I will put on my best glare and tell them that they’ve made me angry, or that what they’re doing is not acceptable. Other times, it can be as simple as shouting “HEY” super loudly and then continuing in a normal voice. Whatever the situation, it’s letting them know they’ve crossed a line. I will usually even say directly, “I don’t get angry very often, and I don’t like to yell, but this is not okay.” I then make sure to get everyone else back on track. Later, I’ll check in with that kid, praise them if they’ve fixed what they needed to, and make sure they know I love them. I don’t believe much in punishments, as they are rarely related to the behavior. A stern conversation about boundaries and feelings is usually far more impactful. I believe that experiencing those moments of anger just once or twice teaches my students where I draw the line and makes them think twice about their choices moving forward. The best part is, even the students not on the receiving end have witnessed what’s possible and will hopefully keep this in mind when making decisions and developing habits. Kids don’t like to disappoint adults. With these boundaries in place, we can all settle in to our calm, peaceful rhythm.

At this point, I’m wondering if I should even post this on the internet. Why did I feel the need to write about it? Nobody asked me to write about my approach to classroom management, and even if they did, I’m certainly no expert (although I am well over my 10,000 hours) :). I don’t know. But here we are anyway. I guess I feel like lately I’ve been inundated with people, both in my immediate circle and in the world, who do a lot talking, grandstanding, and parading about with very little to back it up. At the root of it, as always, is insecurity. And possibly sometimes incompetence. And while I have plenty of insecurities and imperfections of my own, I’m trying hard to be better than that. Not better than others, just better than I was yesterday. Do my big mouth and lack of filter still get me into trouble sometimes? Yes. At least once a day I say something that makes Lindsay want to murder me. But we’re all working on ourselves. We’re all trying our best.

To know that you are powerful, but to not feel the need to display that power unless absolutely necessary…
To know that you are impressive, but to not give in to the desire to brag about your accomplishments…
To know that you’ve got things under control, but to not attempt to be controlling….
These, in my opinion, are the ultimate displays of strength, humility, wisdom, and inner peace.

Thank yew.

Life has peaks and valleys, but you’re never any closer to, or further from, the sky.

Sunshine people

Over 34 years, living in 10+ cities, and traveling a bit, I’ve met a fair amount of people. I think people, in general, are fascinating. I like observing and analyzing people, and I can usually find the good in them, or at the very least, figure out what they are trying to do. Most people are fine, some of them are great, some of them are weird. And then there are a few that stand out. You know the people I’m talking about – the ones with that glow, that energy, that… special something. I am calling these people sunshine people.

Sunshine people are not just nice, or funny, or generous. Lots of people are those things. Sunshine people are rare. I’ve known only a handful of them over the course of my life. I was with one last weekend, which is what inspired me to write this post. It’s not an exclusive list, but careful reflection on the criteria below has my count at 13. There are undoubtedly more I could squeeze in, and perhaps others who I have forgotten over the years, but this isn’t the Dean’s list, where anyone who puts in some effort gets in. This is an elite club, reserved for only the best of the best, so for now, let’s go with 13. I’m not going to name them, but I will share some of the general demographics. Of the 13 sunshine people I know, there are 8 women and 5 men. Many, but not all, I have considered one of my best friends at some point in life. Most are around my age, but they range from 24-65. Ten of them I have known for years, and three of them for mere months. I provide these stats to illustrate that this isn’t just a list of my best friends. It is a collection of people I’ve come across on my journey who are just… the best people. If you’re lucky, you get to have a few sunshine people in your life for a long time. But it’s possible that you might just share a single moment with one of them. If that’s the case, it’s likely that you will remember that moment for a long time.

In thinking about my 13, I’ve come up with a list of attributes that I believe all sunshine people share. This is not an exhaustive list, nor was it developed through thorough research. It’s simply a brief rundown of the salient characteristics that come to mind when I think of these people. I’m hoping that these descriptors will make it easy for you to identify the sunshine people you know and, perhaps, maybe even take some steps to become a little brighter yourself.

Above all, sunshine people are natural leaders. They can take charge of a moment, influence a group, and captivate an audience of any size. They need not be in any formal position of leadership. In fact, most of the time spent with these people is social, so there are no “roles,” but their natural leadership tendencies almost always shine through. They have a good sense of the people and the world around them and they make confident decisions. These people often put together social clubs, sports teams, or game nights. They might be the people who take the lead on picking a restaurant or planning a trip. Whether at work or out with friends, informal leadership always emerges. If a sunshine person is around, more often than not, they will be the ones stepping into that role.

Sunshine people are connectors. They are usually the hub of a group (probably many). They know lots of people and they love bringing people together. All of the people on my list have introduced me to someone from a different part of their life. They don’t just throw a party and invite people haphazardly. They understand social dynamics and are intentional about creating meaningful experiences and cultivating friendships between others. This of course comes in addition to their own personal connections. They seemingly always have time and energy for at least one more new friend. If it weren’t for my sunshine people, I wouldn’t have met half of the people or gone on half of the adventures I have in my life. I am thinking of the myriad opportunities that were opened up to me in Madison, Denver, Minneapolis, and Taiwan because of my sunshine people and I am very grateful to them.

Sunshine people make crazy good eye contact. This one is oddly specific, and I couldn’t decide if it deserved its own paragraph or not, but I think it’s important enough. It’s not just like, socially polite eye contact. When you are talking, sunshine people look at you in a way that makes you believe that what you are saying is the only thing in the world they care about at that moment. Without fail, their eyes, smile, and body language all have a natural beauty and grace. They say that the eyes are the windows to the soul but for sunshine people, they are open doors, inviting you to walk right in. They are good listeners and consistently show genuine empathy and true understanding. Aided by a look, a smile, a touch on the arm, a laugh, or a nod, they make you feel comfortable opening up to them. They make you feel really good about yourself and build you up rather than bring you down (a sadly uncommon characteristic).

Sunshine people share a hatred of dull moments. When you meet one of these people for the first time, they will ask you about your life. They will work to find a connection between the two of you. With that connection, they will ensure the conversation is engaging for both sides. If you are sitting in a room with nothing to do, a sunshine person will ask the group a question to get everyone involved, suggest playing a game, or offer to get everyone a drink. As mentioned, they are the ones likely to plan an adventure, a park day, a weekend getaway, or some other random reason to get together. They will be sure to invite the right people and host a well-executed event. It’s a great fortune to have one or more of these people in your life. Because of them, you will do more, see more, and have more fun than you would if all of the social planning was left in your hands.

Closing out the list for now is that sunshine people walk their talk. They don’t take a break from an unhealthy lifestyle to post inspirational quotes on social media. They don’t smile to your face and talk shit behind your back. The sun does not have an “off” switch. These people truly are who they are. They are as nice to the server as they are to their date. In a group, they will engage just as much with a newcomer as they will with an old friend. A former boss once told me “character is who you are when no one is watching.” I will venture to say that sunshine people don’t take many shortcuts at work or do anything sneaky to try to take advantage of others. They are legitimately just good. That’s not to say they’re perfect, of course. They can be crabby, tired, sad, and angry just like anyone else. But when they are, they are unlikely to take it out on others or let their own issues get in the way of treating others with respect.

Who are the people who have come to mind while reading through these traits? Do you agree with my list? Have I missed anything? My hopes for this post are two-fold. One is to acknowledge, thank, and honor my people. The other is to encourage you to identify your own sunshine people. First of all, tell them. Thank them. Remind them how wonderful and powerful they are. Secondly, reflect. How can you be more like them? What’s a small thing you could do to shine a little brighter each day?

To my sunshine people, I need you to know how powerful you are. You have the ability to influence many, many people over the course of your life and indeed you do, every single day. Thank you for letting me be a part of your world. Thank you for inspiring me to be more like you. Thank you for connecting me to others. Thank you for giving me opportunities, taking me on adventures, and creating lasting memories. Thank you for living a life that is continually making the world a better place. Don’t underestimate the influence you have over others. Don’t underestimate the impact that you’ve had on me.

Here’s how I feel when I’m around a sunshine person: on top of the world
And here’s a picture of Green Island for no reason other than that it’s pretty

A portrait of the Taiwanese

If you ever move to Taiwan I guarantee the thing you’ll hear the most before you come is how nice everyone is. In all of my interviews and with everyone I talked to who had been here, it was all they kept saying. “Everyone here is sooooo nice!” At some point it honestly started to get old. I believed them, but I also thought it was partly a sales tactic. Turns out, people here are really fucking nice. Like, culturally, across the board just kind-hearted, good-souled people everywhere you turn. It’s not just that people smile and make you feel welcome. People here will consistently go out of their way to help someone else or take time out of their day to make sure another person gets what they need. And it’s not just because we are white, either. It’s true that we experience some privilege and excitement because we are somewhat of a novelty and a lot of people here wanna be friends with Americans to practice their English (A country that isn’t xenophobic? Imagine that!) But even though I can’t understand them, I often see little interactions in stores or on the street of local people helping each other out. In the past couple of weeks in particular, there has been a string of several moments that typify what people are really like here. I want to share those with you here.

On a Thursday night, my friend Ashley (aka Teacher Ashley With The Shiny Hair, aka Trashley, aka The Young Phenom) and I were going to rent city bikes to go to dinner. The YouBike system here is really slick. Just tap your card, take the bike, and go. There are stations all over the place and they are free under 30 minutes, and like a dollar per hour after that! I had a card, but Ashley did not, so we went and bought one at the Family Mart. But when we went back to the bikes, it was saying we had to register the card. We were trying on the app, but it was all in Chinese so it was proving difficult. After a few minutes of struggling, a woman just about to take a bike of her own says “Do you guys need help?” Clearly we did.

Abigail (as we would later find out) took Ashley’s phone and helped her register on the app. Despite her effort, it was still not working for some reason, so she went with us back into the Family Mart to ask the clerk. They had a bit of a conversation in Chinese until she figured out what the problem was. (We were on the wrong app or typed something in wrong or it needed time to process… I never actually learned what the issue was.) Eventually, we got it squared away and went back out to the bikes. She waited with us to make sure it worked, and we thanked her profusely for taking the time to help us.

The whole process took about 10 minutes, during which she apologized several times for how long it was taking. I kept saying, “Are you kidding? We’re sorry that you got dragged into this saga!” At one point around minute 8 I asked, “What are you up to tonight?” and she responded, “I am late for English class.” Ashley erupted, “We’re making you late?! Oh my god, I’m so sorry!” To which Abigail stated plainly, “Oh it’s okay, this is pretty much the same thing.” We got to talking a bit more and it turns out that she lives in my building… on my floor… directly across the hall! I haven’t seen her since, but I’m hopeful for the potential friendship.

Inaugural bike crawl with our new easy cards!

The following Sunday, the other Ashley (aka Brown-Haired Teacher Ashley, aka Flash) and I went on a beautiful hike up a rocky river bed to some natural hot springs. For some non-skillful foreshadowing, let me say that this entire two-hour hike is on top of small, medium, and large rocks, you cross the river a dozen or so times, and it is very important to have good footwear, or at the very least, footwear. The hot springs come up through several little pools along the side of the river, so when we arrived, we found our own little spot and got in to relax. The sun was shining, the sky was clear, the air and water temperatures were both perfect, and I was feeling good! The only thing missing was a beer.

A few minutes later, I asked Ashley, “Is that your sandal floating down the river?” She jumped up and ran down a few feet to grab it. Close call. Unfortunately, when she got back, she realized that her other sandal had already floated away unnoticed. Crap. She looked among the rocks, hoping it got caught on one, but no such luck. She walked down the river a ways past all the other hot springs pools looking for the sandal and asking everyone if they had seen it. Still no luck. I was staying very calm, but I knew was going to be a problem and was kind of freaking out a bit inside. We sat there for a few minutes discussing how to engineer a makeshift shoe out of a chip bag and an extra t-shirt, but before we had any prototypes in the works, a man came out of nowhere with the missing sandal! She said he wasn’t one of the people that she had asked earlier, so I’m guessing he found it, asked around, and people pointed him in our direction. We were saved from a long, painful, dangerous hobble back to our scooters.

While we were riding high from our relief and gratitude towards this stranger, another man came over from another pool and offered me a beer! Totally random act of kindness. It was the best luke-warm, shaken-up-from-being-in-a-backpack-for-three-hours Heineken I’ve ever had. A wonderful day narrowly saved from the jaws of peril by the selfless efforts of a stranger.

Would have been difficult with one shoe.
Hope to someday find a woman to gaze at this lovingly… but for now, it’s just me and my beer.

The last story for now is about the service industry. On a Friday night, John and Lindsay and both Ashleys(!) and I went out for some drinks and were given a round of free shots at two different places! It’s not like we were spending a ton of money or getting the party started or having a long conversation with the bartender or anything. We were just sitting there quietly and given them as basically gifts of appreciation. The very next day, John and Scott and Sarah and Lu– I mean Rainbow Panties, Taupe on a Rope, Fiesty Forest Pig, Size Queen and I (This Long) were out at another bar after the Hash run (Hash appreciation blog coming soon) and we were given another free round of shots and a basket of truffle fries! Particularly at the more upscale types of cocktail bars, I feel like this level of generosity would be pretty rare in the US.

Lastly, on Wednesday we were out at the one good brewery in town for St. Patrick’s Day – a holiday celebrated in Taiwan by approximately 10 of us teachers and maybe like 5 other people. (Sidenote: I’m realizing that in addition to illustrating the kindness of the Taiwanese, these stories are also painting a pretty colorful picture of me just drinking a bunch. I’m fine, I swear.) I bought a hat because I really like their branding… and their beer. When I got home, I put it on and realized that it didn’t fit quite right and wasn’t really my style. I knew that they had another option, so when John and I were there again on Saturday (boy, you’re really not buying that I’m not an alcoholic, are you?) I brought it back to try to exchange it for the other style of hat. Instead of accepting my exchange, the server just gave me the second hat for free and insisted that I keep the first one as well. I couldn’t believe it. An extra bit of free advertising sure, but essentially another act of pure generosity.

Post-hash bonding with shots on the house!
I have so much fun with this crew. (peep my new hat)

So my interviewers were right: people really are nice here. It’s more than just general good-heartedness; it’s a cultural pillar. It’s a collective-minded society. People look out for each other. There is very little crime here. People don’t lock their bikes or scooter helmets. I accidentally leave my keys in my scooter at least once a month, but I never worry about anybody taking it. In fact, sometimes people will even take them out of the ignition and put them in the little compartment on the front so they are more hidden. We don’t lock our door. The girls I work with say they don’t worry about walking places alone at night. Some of this, of course, could be aided by the fact that there are cameras at every single intersection and on most buildings and the government is watching you at all times. So, you know, some pros and some cons. But people here are willing to sacrifice a bit of privacy for the benefit of a society that works. People here generally trust those in power. In exchange, they receive access to things like jobs, healthcare, and safety. What a concept! It’s societal Karma. Wonder if the west will ever adopt these ideals.

At least he never walked

It’s been a minute. Been busy. No time or need for apologies or explanations, let’s just get to it. We’re on Chinese New Year break! The Taiwanese work hard and get very little time off. There are far fewer government holidays here than in the states, and as a private school, even when the public schools get a day off, it may or may not mean that we do too. We got one day for Christmas, one day for New Years, and other than that, I have worked about 4 straight months with no other breaks. All of this is to say that I’ve been slowly running out of battery and am more than ready for a week to recharge.

CNY is a bit of a strange holiday. According to Lindsay, it’s more like Christmas or Thanksgiving than calendar New Year. Everyone hangs with their families and lots of businesses are closed. A lot of people, especially foreigners, travel during this time. For me, however, plans were being booked in the middle of the slog at school, so I decided that some down time would serve me better than travel. But if you know me at all, you can probably guess that down time does not mean doing nothing.

The title of this post comes from the book What I Talk About When I Talk About Running by Haruki Murakami. In this memoir capturing his thoughts and experiences as a runner, he tells of an ultramarathon during which there were plenty of times he would stop, rest, stretch, eat, and change clothes, but no matter how tired his legs were, or how much his body would want to slow down, he refused to walk, saying “I came here to run.” At the end of the book, he leaves us with a wish that his headstone might someday read “Haruki Murakami: At least he never walked.”

I have been thinking about this philosophy a lot lately, and I think I am going to borrow it for myself. I am always telling people “I can’t sit still,” as if it’s a bad thing. I consistently fill my weeks with sports, hikes, dinners, game nights, dates, runs, and adventures. I hate ambiguous free time. I hate feeling like I’m wasting time. This reminds me of another quote from Annie Dillard that reads “How we spend our days is, of course, how we spend our lives.” For me, this is a great reminder that life doesn’t happen in the future, it’s happening right now. And so I constantly ask myself, “Do I want to spend my life walking or running? Do I want to look back and have watched all of the seasons of Love Island, or should I go out and actually try to find love on this island?” (Boom.)

We were playing a game the other night and I got asked the question “What is one thing that makes you so happy you don’t think you could live without?” I thought for a bit and responded, “adventure.” Above all, I think my biggest fear is dying having lived a boring life. I have very little respect for boring people. In my weaker moments, I still worry that I ended up in Taiwan at 34 because I did something wrong. But in my stronger moments, I remind myself that maybe there is no “right,” and that for better or for worse, this is the path that I’m on so I might as well run. To rest is okay and, of course, vital if one hopes to remain strong for the entirety of the race. That’s what I’m attempting to do with this week off. But to be lazy, complacent, and boring? Those are not traits with which I ever want to be associated. So yes to that race, yes to hiking, yes to soccer, yes to climbing, yes to a Tinder date, yes to another beer, yes to sprinting up this hill with someone much younger and faster than me to the point that I almost throw up because I refuse to walk.

Oh, and yes to another year in Taiwan.

yes to beer checks in the ocean
yes to running cult initiations; no to shirts
yes to narrow rope bridges
yes to rainforests
yes to half-marathons
yes to airsoft, I guess
yes to playing games and yes to unicorns (maybe to USA)
yes to tag
yes to whatever is happening here
yes to me!

New Year Vlog (on a Mountain)!

This video talks about how I am purposely not making new year’s resolutions in effort to be more present, spontaneous, and less addicted to productivity… but then on my way down from this hike I decided to also add “do 30 hikes” to my list of resolutions that definitely doesn’t exist. Old habits die hard.

Hope your 2021 is of to a whizzbang of a start and that whoever you kissed at midnight kept their mask on for it.


I hope you all had a smart and safe Thanksgiving and plan to do the same for Christmas and New Year’s. When I think about what it’s like back home, it still blows my mind and makes me incredibly sad. And while I of course want everyone to stay home, wear a mask, and social distance, it’s also hard to blame people for wanting to get out and see people. I don’t know how you’ve done this for almost a year now, but don’t give up hope yet. Though there is some promising news on the vaccine that may appear to be a light at the end of the tunnel, it’s still a really long tunnel so let’t not get overly excited just yet. We’ve still got a long way to go, but keep the faith and keep doing the smart thing. Plus, you know, the whole having an actual set of mentally stable humans in the White House should hopefully also help.

Meanwhile, I still can’t believe how lucky I am to have landed where I did. I’ve said this before, but it bears repeating; getting a job on this tiny island about which I previously knew nothing, and the fact that they handled a pandemic that has devastated the rest of the world and that I get to spend half of the worst year ever in the best place on Earth – the odds are incomprehensibly small. I get to live in a place that has had perhaps the only Pride parade and music festivals in the world this year, and I’m running a half-marathon with 10,000 other people next weekend in Taipei! And all I had to do was mess up all my relationships for a decade and decide to teach abroad 10 years later than most people do! (Joke’s on you, suckas!)

This post, however, is not going to be braggy. This post is meant to provide some balance. To assure both you and myself that I am not posting a curated life on social media. While of course Instagram and this blog are mainly going to capture the highlights, I do try hard to be real with what I post and I assure you that this is not a case of showcasing the highs and concealing the lows. It really is quite incredible here and it’s true that my cup has felt more full lately than it has in a long time. Alas, nothing is perfect and I thought you might appreciate learning about some of the less-than-ideal parts of life in Taiwan, at least from this entitled gringo’s point of view.

Things I don’t love about Taiwan:

Paper products. Absolute shit. Basically everything is a tissue that is half the size and thickness of a standard Kleenex. You need some paper towels to clean up a spill? Here’s a tissue. Hands covered in grease after eating out at a fried chicken restaurant? 450 tissues. A roll of toilet paper? I don’t even know what that is. You’ll have to make it work with some tissues. When you’re done, don’t forget to wash your hands. Oh, you want to dry them? here is a plastic envelope filled with tissues that you have to dig around in to get just one but you’ll probably grab 10 on accident and the bag is all wet from other people also failing at the finger crane game, so your hands aren’t exactly clean anymore. If you’re feeling a little cooped up these days and that travel bug is itching, here is what you can do to create a cultural experience. Go to a nice restaurant with your partner and another couple (or better yet, get it delivered, please). Take a single 2-ply generic “facial tissue” with you. Peel the two layers away from one another. Now, cut each square in half and pass one-fourth of the original tissue to each member of the dinner party. Congratulations! You have just created a Taiwanese napkin. Eat carefully.

Cash only. Other than booking a hotel, 100% of the transactions I have completed here have been done in cash. This was shocking to me. I’m not exactly sure of the reasoning behind it. I was expecting a very technologically advanced society, which it is in many ways, but credit cards and phone pay are not one of them. My first day here I went to a grocery store. I saw that they had a credit card machine and I handed mine to her. She looked at it like it was an alien invention that she had never seen before. She tried it a few times, but it did not work. At rare places like this, you can use a local debit card, but it seems like very few people do. I’m used to carrying cash around now, but it’s not fun. I also have a bang load of 1 dollar coins (~$0.03) from getting change everywhere, but I don’t want to take them to the bank to exchange for bills because no one there speaks English. You wouldn’t think so, but everything any of the foreign teachers have ever tried to do at that bank is always surprisingly complicated, so I’m going to wait on that for as long as possible.

Sidewalks. There are none. Your choices are to walk along the edge of the road with a thousand scooters zipping by you at irresponsible speeds or, on some streets, there is this half-promenade half-storefront space that is safer than the road, but you also have to scootch around someone who is cooking at their food stall, walk between tables at a restaurant, and squeeze through scooters parked haphazardly literally everywhere. Again, such an impressive society in so many ways… except in the early days someone forgot to add “safe space for people to walk” to the infrastructure checklist.

Aggressive dating. The Taiwanese love themselves a relationship. People like to get married and have kids. I think there is some low-key shame in being single. (It’s crazy – I moved 7,000 miles away and it’s like I’ve never left the Midwest! Ha!) Relationships here move faster than the coronavirus at a Trump rally. My first first date was lunch, and then an impromptu one-hour drive to the ocean, and then dinner at a rest stop/mall on the way home. It was fun, but a bit much. Nice girl, but no future. The second girl I met was also wonderfully thoughtful, fun, and creative. But after our second date, she was planning full-day adventures, asked me to travel to Kaohsiung to meet her family and was sending links for Airbnb’s wanting to plan a weekend away. It’s intense, and I’ve been told this is not uncommon. So I’m cooling it on that for a bit. Just going to enjoy being single, exploring the country, going on adventures, meeting people, making friends, and see where it takes me.

No one drinks anything here. Not water, not coffee, not juice, not milk, not beer, not wine. My best guess is that people have adapted to be like air plants and they just get their moisture from the air?? People seem to like tea, but that’s about it. In line with the aforementioned napkin situation, do not expect to get water with your meal when you go to a restaurant. There is typically a water station, but a) the water is likely to be on the plus side of warm (they really hate cold things here) and b) the size of the cup will be somewhere between a shot glass and a thimble. Us new teachers typically remember to bring our water bottles when we go out, but if you look around, literally no one else will be drinking water with their meals. I do not understand. It will be 108°F and everyone will be eating a steaming hot bowl of beef noodles with not a molecule of H2O in site. It’s fascinating. As for alcohol, there are a handful of bars, breweries, and clubs, primarily in one part of town, but most people do not drink much. The good news about this is that since they don’t have a problem with drunk people doing stupid shit, you can bring beer anywhere you want. Every restaurant is B.Y.O.B., you can drink in Ubers, you can drink in parks, you can drink on sidewalks… or at least you could if they existed! It’s hard to find a decent beer, but you can get a Taiwan Beer for $1 USD at any convenience store and drink it anywhere you want. I’m a simple man, and this brings me great pleasure.

So as to stick to the theme and give this post some balance, a few other things that have brought me pleasure lately include, but are not limited to:

  • On my second attempt, I passed my scooter driver’s license test! The hardest part is that you have to drive really slow and straight on this skinny line. I tipped over the first time, which is an automatic fail. But we set up a practice course at school and I redeemed myself the second time around!
  • I joined a running group called the Taichung Hash House Harriers. You follow a chalk-marked trail through different parts of the city or mountains, you get to go places where few have gone before, and they drink a ton of beer! It’s been great.
  • As I mentioned, I will be running a half-marathon in Taipei on 12/20. I will fill very good if I can complete it without my knee hurting too badly. More than that, I’m excited to be part of the race, feel the energy, and watch full-marathon finishers!
  • I am going to be Santa and co-emcee for the school Christmas concert. (More accurately, I will be playing Santa’s brother-in-law Dan.) Also, tbd on if this will be a highlight or not.

Taiwan is a wonderful place, but perhaps nowhere is perfect… although I haven’t been everywhere yet, so standby. Thanks, as always, for reading and for your comments, thoughts, and good vibes! Peace and love to you all, Happy Holidays, wear a mask, wash your hands, don’t be a dick, defund the police, dismantle the patriarchy, and fuck Donald Trump.

Quick catch up? Yeah right.

This blog has become like papers I need to grade. Important, useful, but never a priority. Then, after a few days/weeks, the stack becomes too daunting to tackle, so I just go on avoiding it. Also like, there are way too many fun things to do here to spend too much time sitting at a computer. So I’m sorry to all my 12 loyal subscribers and the lady that my mom shared this with in her checkout line, but adventure calls.

So. A few highlights from the last few weeks. Let’s see….

Beer mile! I’m going to Tarantino this and start with the end and then go back to the beginning. I got last place! I’m going to be honest, I love putting on an event. I spent the preceding days gathering prizes, laminating certificates, and collaborating with John to determine the rules. We did a helluva job. We had those clapper things for the fans, opening ceremonies with the national anthems of all participants, and a beer mug crown for the winner. There were prizes for all runners and drinking spectators. It was a good time. As for the race, in case you’ve never run a beer mile, I’ll explain. Drink a beer, run a lap. Do this 4 times for a total of 4 beers and 1 mile. I can now advise you that the key to it is about 80% drinking ability and 20% running ability. And of that 80, most of that is weighted toward the last beer. That damn last beer. I was winning pretty much the whole time. I came into the final beer with a substantial lead and then… a wall. My body just said no. Too full and I couldn’t burp. All I needed was one good burp and I could have jogged to victory. But I couldn’t get it down. I did eventually, but it was too late. Both John and Fayo finished their last beer and had a pretty close finish. I came in about a minute later with a still respectable time of 15:30. The most miraculous part is, no one puked! John did have a mysterious few moments in the bushes, the events of which will never be known to anyone, but it was a remarkably professional performance from all three “athletes.” Well done by everyone, and thanks to the supporters. Let’s do it again next year, and this time, I’m gonna burp.

Laminated certificates for the top two and a post-it note for last place. I’m so glad I won that.

Halloween! Man, Cornel does it big. It’s my favorite holiday and even for me, it was a little much. The kids had been “practicing” the same 3 halloween songs for the entire month of October, and I had the honor of having a halloween party for each of my classes in addition to helping at the kindergarten party as well. Oh, and throw in that a haunted house was installed in the entirety of the library, which, incidentally, is the path to the office. So yes, we had the pleasure of walking through a tunnel of dark sheets several times a day for 2 weeks. Oh, and also at Cornel, when two kindergarteners get hand-foot-mouth disease, they send the whole class home for the week and then delay the halloween party for the whole school until the following Wednesday, so add an extra week to everything above. I was over Halloween before it even arrived. But the kids, of course, made it worth it. When I said they do it big, I wasn’t just talking about the school. Most of the families go all out on these costumes. there were working transformers, full make-up and nails, an insanely accurate (and seemingly structurally sound) Taipei 101, and a 6 foot tall pen inside of which I’m pretty sure was a miserable 4 year old. I felt pretty good about my own two costumes, and spent far too many hours putting them together, but the unicorn and the bubble milk tea were big hits, and definitely worth the sweat. For those worried about a holiday let-down, never fear, the kindergarten classes started practicing their songs for the Christmas performance the very next day….

Teacher Unicorn and Teacher… something. I never get any of her references.
Bubble milk tea outside of the shop… and those fuckers didn’t even give me a free drink.
Oh yeah, I totally forgot about my T. Patty costume. So yeah, I had three. And yet another Asian pop-culture reference that I didn’t know.
Not sure exactly why, but I really enjoy this picture. I was told it’s because “it exudes happiness.” Might be accurate.

New idea, I try to write less so the blog becomes less daunting, and I stop whenever it stops feeling joyful and starts feeling like work. I’m going to lay in bed and watch a movie now. I’ll write more soon. Topics may include, but may not be limited to:

– Taipei Pride (incredible)
– More hiking, always hiking (in love)
– Volleyball, finally! (sort of)
– Breweries (homey)
– The top of Taipei 101 (amazing)
– Hot springs (heavenly)
– Acupuncture (interesting)
– A new friend (or, Evan gets out of his own way and just tries to enjoy the nice things in life for once)
– Birthday week! (feeling young, except for the fact that my neck, hip, and knee all hurt)

This bird is flying high.

All these things that I’ve done

All These Things That I’ve Done
by: The Killers

When there’s nowhere else to run
Is there room for one more son?
One more son
If you can hold on
If you can hold on, hold on

I want to stand up, I want to let go
You know, you know, no you don’t, you don’t
I want to shine on in the hearts of men
I want a meaning from the back of my broken hand

Another head aches, another heart breaks
I am so much older than I can take
And my affection, well it comes and goes
I need direction to perfection, no no no no, help me out
Yeah, you know you gotta help me out
Yeah, oh don’t you put me on the backburner
You know you gotta help me out, yeah

And when there’s nowhere else to run
Is there room for one more son
These changes ain’t changing me
The cold-hearted boy I used to be

Yeah, you know you gotta help me out
Yeah, oh don’t you put me on the backburner
You know you gotta help me out, yeah
You’re gonna bring yourself down
Yeah, you’re gonna bring yourself down
Yeah, you’re gonna bring yourself down

I got soul, but I’m not a soldier
I got soul, but I’m not a soldier
I got soul, but I’m not a soldier
I got soul, but I’m not a soldier
I got soul, but I’m not a soldier
I got soul, but I’m not a soldier
I got soul, but I’m not a soldier
I got soul, but I’m not a soldier
I got soul, but I’m not a soldier
I got soul, but I’m not a soldier

Yeah, you know you gotta help me out
Yeah, oh don’t you put me on the backburner
You know you gotta help me out
Yeah, you’re gonna bring yourself down
Yeah, you’re gonna bring yourself down
Yeah, oh don’t you put me on the backburner
You’re gonna bring yourself down
Yeah, you’re gonna bring yourself down

Over and again, last call for sin
While everyone’s lost, the battle is won
With all these things that I’ve done
All these things that I’ve done
(Time, truth, hearts)
If you can hold on
If you can hold on

I’ve always liked this song. I mean, who doesn’t? It’s also been a staple in my karaoke repertoire for some time now, but I’ve never thought much about the lyrics. Different things speak to different people at different times. Lately, it’s felt like my anthem.

“When there’s nowhere else to run… If you can hold on, hold on… I wanna stand up, I wanna let go, you know you know, no you don’t you don’t.” I spent most of the last four years feeling a bit… lost. Some of this was my own doing by way of poor decision-making and a deflated sense of self-worth. Some of it was just that Minnesota maybe just wasn’t the right fit. It wasn’t for lack of trying. I got involved with different groups. I tried different sports. I tried different jobs. I tried grad school. I made a lot of wonderful, lifelong friends, I learned a lot about myself, and I had some wonderful experiences, but it was never quite right. Many people at different points in life than me and a passive-aggressive culture that I never did and probably never will vibe* with. So I held on, and now here I am letting go and standing up.
*see paragraph 6

“I wanna shine on in the hearts of men. I want a meaning from the back of my broken hand.” We all want this, do we not? We want to leave the world a better place than when we arrived. We want our pain to be worth it. We want to leave a legacy. We want our lives to have meaning. I have felt more down than up in recent years – behind more often than ahead. I’ve watched my friends and family get promotions, make more money than me, even start their own businesses, travel more often than me, buy houses, and raise kids. And in my weaker moments, it’s hard not to think, “here I am, still just teaching. Standing still while everyone else marches onward.” But in my stronger moments I remember that I’ve done quite a bit to be proud of. I won a statewide award for my teaching. I’ve gotten to live in three different states and teach in three different countries. I just got a note from a student I had last year who wrote recently that I was his favorite person. I’ve had mothers name their children after me.* So maybe my legacy is already being formed. And that feels pretty good.
*Well, the one in Uganda is technically named “Evans,” but that was mostly just a communication error so it still counts.

“Another head aches, another heart breaks, I am so much older than I can take. And my affection, well it comes and goes.” LOL. Yeahhhhh.

“I got soul but I’m not a soldier.” More than just a great time to march around get everyone at the bar involved in the crescendo, this line speaks to me. It speaks to me being here, writing this self-indulgent blog, getting to have all of these experiences and share them via social media, while at the same time wanting to be just a guy. Sometimes I want to be Truman; sometimes I want to be one of the extras. At times I feel a certain amount of pressure with what I’m doing, but I know most of that is self-imposed. I have a hard time sitting still. I constantly want to be productive, to be exploring, or to be improving. Overall, I like this quality about myself, but there is also great peace in just like, chilling out sometimes. Just lay down and rest for a bit, dummy. I have been working on this over the past couple of years (basically ever since I lived with Clare Jacky). I’m getting better at it, but it’s still hard for me. I live in a city of millions of people and essentially 0% of them give a fuck about me. This is a good lesson for me, and it ironically brings comfort and a reminder that any pressure I feel is self-created. No one is asking me to be a soldier. I’m just a person.

“When everyone’s lost, the battle is won with all these things that I’ve done.” If you’re still here after that blithering introduction, we’ve finally reached the body of this essay. The thesis is: I’m happy. And it’s not easy for me to say that. I have a hard time fully accepting and expressing joy, success, and other positive feelings when they concern me. I can express it for others, but not usually for myself. I don’t know why this is. Well, I have an inkling, but I’m working on it in therapy, so I’ll keep that one to myself for now. But seriously, if you haven’t picked up on it by now, life is good. I feel good. I feel more comfortable, more free, and more myself than I have in a long time. I assure you, this isn’t a situation of careful content curation to give the illusion of perfection whilst beneath the surface, despair reigns supreme (have you watched “The Social Dilemma” yet?). I’m actually surprised by how smooth it’s been. I was excited, but I figured there would be some speed bumps that come with moving to any new place. But it’s been genuinely… easy? I feel like I’ve hit the ground running and haven’t lost my balance. The young kids I’m with grossly overuse the word “vibe.” I think it’s a lazy excuse of a word you use when you can’t or don’t want to put actual words or feeling to a situation. But in this case, it might be apt. For reasons that I still do not and may never fully comprehend, I vibe with this place. How long it will last remains to be seen, but for now, I’m standing on top of a mountain, arms outstretched and quoting Hamilton as I sing “look around, look around, how lucky I am to be alive right now.”

More than just vibing, I am proud of what I’ve done to plug in to the community. I don’t want this to be just a “gap year” experience. I live here. I want to get involved, see things, meet people, try new things, maintain old things that I enjoy, and overall fully lean in. Here is a recap of a few things I’ve done in the past month that have been attempts to not just be here, but to live here.

I bought a scooter! In full honesty, it was a pretty strong draw to Taiwan in the first place. I’ve driven a scooter since college and I’ve always loved it. It’s bordering on becoming a personality trait at this point. All of these other newbie girls have been too scared to get on one, but I was pumped from day one. I can’t judge them too harshly. Admittedly, the traffic is a little hectic and my first time on, I was more tense than I thought I would have been. But I got used to it quickly and now it feels amazing. Driving is a bit of an obstacle course every time, and there are certainly more than a few accidents, but I got a good helmet, covered it in unicorn stickers, and feel really comfortable buzzing around everywhere. Having a scooter has opened up so much more of the city to me. I have been able to get out and see places without having to pay for an Uber everywhere. Last weekend, I took it up into the mountains and went on a hike. It’s been amazing.

Me and my new best friend, Bubu.

I’ve been hiking! Hiking is huge here. It’s honestly probably the number one method of exercise for most Taiwanese people. The cities are so close to the mountains and most of the trails are very accessible and well maintained. They are challenging! The hikes I’ve been on so far are all significantly harder than the average hike even in Colorado. The trails are steep and unrelenting. It provides a great ego check when I am standing to the side chugging water and trying to catch my breath and a 75-year-old couple with their 6-year-old grandkid in flip-flops casually trot right past me with a heart rate of 55 bpm. The vast majority of people here are extremely active and fit. I’m getting there, but still a ways to go to work off the beer that 2020 made me drink.

Crazy log bridges in Dakeng.

Speaking of getting in shape, I signed up for a half-marathon! (God I am nailing these transitions.) December 20 in Taipei. I got new running shoes and have been running at the track at the university near my house. It’s been great, although the combination of getting fat during quarantine and the heat and humidity here have made me feel much slower than I used to be. I’m still not sure if my knees will be able to make it 13.1 miles, but I’m going to try my best. I’ve signed up with one of my coworkers, John. He’s very fast and in incredible shape, which is annoying, but also motivating. Can’t let myself be embarrassed too badly, so need to keep training. Somewhat related but mostly not, he and I are hosting the first annual beer mile this Friday. And by hosting I mean that we are the only ones participating. What is a beer mile, you ask? Well, it coincidentally was on both of our bucket lists and was one of the first things over which we bonded. A beer mile is an unforgiving combination that tests both your athletic ability and your alcoholism. Drink a beer, run a lap, repeat. 4 beers. 4 laps. 1 mile. First one to cross the finish line wins. Try not to throw up. If you must, don’t do it on the track. Simple. Challenging. Douchey. It’s everything I love and excel at. John is way faster than me, butI think I’m a better drinker than him, which is an equalizer here, so I think it’s anybody’s race. There will also be a spectator drinking challenge with prizes for all participants. It’s become a full staff event. Look for an update next week.

Not directly related to the previous paragraph, but found this beautiful view on one of my runs and just needed to show it off.

What else am I doing to train? I joined a soccer team! Well, for now. I found the Taichung Savages on Facebook. They are a group of foreigners (mostly Brits, Irish, and South Africans) who get together and practice once a week and play games on the weekends. After I went to my first couple of practices, Some people at school told me emphatically that the Savages are, and I quote, “a bunch of scumbags.” At first I didn’t really mind. I just want to get out there and play. But today was our first game and, can confirm, scumbaggery ensued. A lot of adult men acting like children, whining to the ref, yelling at the other team, and trying to pick fights. I got out there for a few minutes and had fun while I was running around. Blew a good chance with a bad touch, but overall played decently. There’s only a few games left in this season, so I’ll see it through and then reevaluate. Even if they’re scumbags, it’s still nice to do something different, meet some new people, and spend time around 40 year-old has-beens who are full of machismo to counterbalance against all of my time with the 22 year-old sorority gang.

Savages win 4-0! Evan Wettengal with 0 goals, 0 assists, and most importantly, 0 major injuries!

On the topic of meeting new people, I went on a date! It was my first first date in a loooong time. I was nervous. It was pretty fun, mostly comfortable, a little awkward. I think there is a lot of cultural learning to be had here too. For example, is her relative meekness cultural or individual? Is she expecting me to be more assertive, or would that type of American gregariousness be off-putting? Need to collect more data. Or maybe I need to stop thinking of everything as research and just fucking relax. Anyway, super nice girl. We’ve since gone on a second date. Not sure if it will go the distance or anything, but at the very least, it’s nice to eat dinner with someone who can read the menu.

Dim sum date. Did not know that “bee buns” were made to look like literal bees. Incredible.

Honorable mentions:
Karaoke – if you’ve been to Asia you know that it’s way better here
Touristy stuff (Rainbow Village, Painted Animation Lane, sculpture garden, Botanical Gardens to name a few) – take a picture, say you’ve been there, move on. All really beautiful though!
Homemaking – I bought some rugs, hung some pictures in my room, installed the ring on the hook game, and fixed my busted shower and bedroom curtains. I know these are little, normal things that everyone does, but to me, they are not insignificant. They help make this feel more like my home than that I’m just staying in someone else’s. I am very grateful to my school for this nice place, great location, and great view.

So there you are. That’s what I’ve been up to. Thanks for reading and caring! And if you’re in the US, I’m sorry. If you can hold on, hold on. Hopefully in 16 days the world will get slightly less shitty. Until then, we’re not soldiers, but we soldier on.

Leave a comment to let me know what you think!

The assembly that said it all

It’s been too long, I know. But when the choices are constantly go exploring or blog, it’s hard to prioritize sitting at a computer. I plan to follow up very shortly with a second post that will include many more updates, pictures, and adventures. But for now, I want to write a small story with big ideas. I don’t think I can sufficiently express how different it is to teach here, but this anecdote is my attempt.

Two Saturdays ago, we had school. There was a holiday and then an extra day off, giving us a four day weekend. But for some reason probably having to do with hard work or integrity or something crazy, you don’t just get a free day off here. It appears that collectively, everyone in the country just agreed to make up that lost day and go to work on a Saturday. Inconceivable in the US. Inconsequential here. And though I was dreading it at first, it ended up being a really fun day filled with planting bean seeds, spelling bee practice, and a monthly assembly. As a teacher, assemblies aren’t exactly my favorite thing. Typically, the principal does something cringey, the kids get all riled up, and the disruption throws off your entire day. Those with good reading comprehension, however, will remember that I said it’s different here.

It started when I was told the assembly would be in the first floor hallway. I asked my director why not the library, to which she responded with a very confused, “Well I’m not sure, I don’t think we’ve ever even though about using the library.” I was feeling pretty good about the suggestion until another coworker chimed in saying that kids sitting in rows felt too militaristic. We’re supposed to be a family, after all. Okay, so hallway it is. I was, perhaps, smugly intrigued to see how we were going to cram 100+ kids and teachers into a skinny hallway and have it go well. Get over yourself sometimes, Evan.

When I brought my class down, the scene was one of successfully controlled chaos. Kids were chatting happily, teachers were milling about, and a walk down the hall was a minefield of tiny ankles and oblivious 4-year olds. Our fearless (and I don’t use that term flippantly) de-facto principal, Teacher Brittany, led things off by spending 5 minutes getting the kids to sit silently, going over rules and announcements, and sharing a powerpoint about school pride. FALSE. She spent the first 5 minutes running around with her microphone and saying hi to kids, playing a song, getting everyone to dance, and making it clear how genuinely happy she was, her mask failing to hide her smile. Next came a spelling song led by Teacher Colin. He bounced around chanting this catchy rhyme while one student from each class was in charge of spelling a word, followed by the whole school repeating the spelling. (Spelling bees are big here.) Teacher Evan the all-star forgot to write down what word was assigned to him but luckily, Miki the actual all-star had no problem spelling “put, P-U-T, put” (to which we all responded “goooooood job!”).

Next it was time for each teacher to announce their student of the month. A common practice at many schools yes, but here, instead of calling students up on stage to stand in a row and take a picture, each teacher ranted about their pick in the most teachery tones and cadences you could imagine. Such high-pitched energy was impossible this monotoned man-child to emulate. I was however, saved for last because my student of the month, Parker, was the one Teacher Brittany was most excited about. Apparently he’s had a lot of problems in the past and the fact that he has been doing so well in my class brought tears to her eyes. The funniest part was that his mom, another teacher at the school, was not buying it. We thought she would be thrilled to find out her son was doing so well. Instead, she responded with a scoff and “I don’t know why he got picked.” Upon further consideration, I can’t decide if this is funny or sad. As for Parker, he is the easiest “difficult” student I’ve ever had. People were warning me about him before I even got to school. I laughed at them when I met him. He’s a literal angel. Maybe he just needed a change of scenery as much as I did.

Last on the agenda was Halloween song practice where kids, teachers, and admin all danced around. I have to admit, I wasn’t super into it at first, but when I saw how much fun the kids were having, I couldn’t help but join in. It’s kind of a banger, to be honest. You know what’s crazy? They celebrate holidays here! Halloween, Christmas, Chinese New Year, Valentine’s Day, and even birthdays. (And they let the kids bring cake, not just pencils and veggie trays!) I believe it was during my third training session in quarantine when Brittany said she might make me be Santa. I told her my only disappointment was that she didn’t ask me sooner so I could have brought my own Santa suit from home.

You know what else is crazy about this place? They let kids sit on their laps. They hug kids. They say “I love you.” I’ll be honest, some of this is still a bit uncomfortable for me. As a male elementary teacher I have been conditioned to not touch kids beyond high-fives and side-hugs. Never be alone with a kid in your classroom. No special notes, cards, or gifts for individual students. Show minimal affection, just to be careful. I remember my first week in my last district receiving several strongarm attempts to join the union, “just cuz, as a guy, you never know, ya know?” I understand the issues, of course, and I’ve always been very careful to do the “right” things. But how sad is it that the right thing for a teacher to do is to keep their distance rather than showering kids with love and affection? It’s different here. On one of my student’s birthdays, Teacher Brittany walked her down the street to the Family Mart to buy a treat of her choice! Can you imagine how quickly she’d be on the five o’clock news if she had done this in the states? Like I said, being conditioned a certain way for the past 15 years (undergrad training included), some of these things are still out of my comfort zone. I can’t say I totally agree with asking kids to sit on your lap while you read and calling them “baby,” but I’m settling in to hopefully a nice balance of affection and authority.

When Cornel says “we’re a family,” it’s not an exaggeration. Some of these kids go to Chinese school at 7:30am, come to Cornel in the afternoon, and then even go to yet another school until 9:00pm! For many students, we are their family. While it’s easy for me to say that this is way too much time in school for 7-17 year-olds, it’s not my job to judge. This is just what they do. It’s my job to be the teacher, parent, coach, therapist, mentor, friend, disciplinarian, and extended family that these kids need for the time they’re with me. Every teacher in every country in the world will tell you that these are their roles on a daily basis. This always has been and always will be true for as long as schools exist. The difference is that in the US, at best, you fall short of being any of these things fully. At worst, you can get in trouble for trying to be the wrong thing for the wrong kid at the wrong time. Here, you are encouraged to be whatever you need to be for your kids. You are lauded when you succeed and supported when you fail.

Well, I’ve officially gone over 1000 words, so I hope that means that a picture has been painted. To review: hugs, holidays, happiness.

HALLoween hype
The cutest note from my little buddy on National Teacher’s Day.
My perfect 5th grade girls publishing their stories. (The boys on the other hand…)
I don’t know what this says but probably something about checking out our bean seeds, maybe.
Miki’s bucket hat is everything.
If they get all their work done, they get to read with the finger puppets. Hopefully not to slowly (turtle joke boom).