Tomorrow marks ONE MONTH that I have been living/vagabonding/generally wandering in Taiwan!!! Cheers to that!
It’s gone by quickly and it’s actually a bit crazy how much I’ve done in that one month. I had been thinking that I haven’t had much time to delve into Taiwanese culture, but now that I ponder it, I think I’ve experienced quite a lot.
Namely, my lungs have gotten real personal with the Air Pollution.
You guys know, I’m a sickly human. I usually come down with something or other every couple of months, just to keep things fresh. The air in Taipei was thick, humid, and disgusting. Within a week of being in Taipei, I had bronchitis, which I am still getting over. It probably didn’t help that the boys I was staying with, while I searched for work, all chain smoked cigarettes around me and I didn’t get much sleep on their living room couch. It was always a relief though, to come back to their apartment after a day outside and breathe that sweet air-conditioned air.
Taipei is a great city besides the air. As I mentioned, I was very lucky to have my friend from high school, Cole, be generous enough to let me stay for two weeks at his apartment in the middle of Taipei. Cole and his roommates, Jon and Eric, live close to the Xingtian Temple MRT station, which was central and a cool, little area with great Chinese restaurants. They would go to work and I would do job interviews and check out tourist spots like the 101, Eslite bookstore, Daan cafes, mall food courts, Wufenpu shopping district, and eat shaved ice. I enjoyed checking out foreigner bars like Revolver and finding a speakeasy called Ounce, where I could pretend I was in San Francisco. My favorite thing I did while in Taipei was my day trip to Danshui or Tamsui.
In the tip top of Taipei, it’s a district on the waterfront that is a relaxing area with banyan trees, street vendors that sell speciality Taiwanese food, and a long bike path that leads to Love Bridge, a big white bridge where they play Spanish music and you take pictures with your significant other, I suppose. It was a nice escape from the madness of the city and I definitely want to go back to take a bike ride and take the ferry to Bali, across the water, which I missed because I was too tired from walking around in the blazing sun to make it there. Taking the MRT back to central Taipei was sad because I instantly was missing that quiet ocean breeze. Danshui seemed like a perfect place for me to work and live because it was chill, but also the last stop on the immaculate MRT, so I would be able to get around Taipei easily. The MRT or subway in Taipei is fast, efficient, and the easiest way to get around Taipei. I think that the metro in Seoul is great, but it seems dirty and dingy compared to the MRT, with it’s fascist rules of NO eating and NO drinking (not even water!!) on the precious MRT.
The MRT also probably seems so pristine because it’s not full of drunk people, like the metro in Seoul. Sure, you can’t drink alcohol on the MRT, but the drinking culture in Taiwan is different than what I became used to in Korea. The Korean drinking culture is DRINK UNTIL YOU BLACK OUT and this goes for Koreans and foreigners. It was never overly strange to see someone passed out on a metro floor, in a cafe at 7am, or on a bench on a sidewalk. These were not homeless people, mind you. They were business people, students, and “normal folk” just having a good old drink. Here in Taiwan, I have yet to see a disorderly or noticeably drunk Taiwanese person. Even the foreigners seem to keep things much more respectful, but then again, I haven’t been to clubs like Luxy, that I’ve heard have a trashy shit show reputation so I’m sure there is some shenanigans going down. So where are people drinking if they aren’t clubbing or at an expensive, pretentious bar? Luckily, same as in Korea, 7/11 is a safe haven for those who want a cheap drink to carry around with them on the streets or to take to parks, because hey, it’s legal.
7/11 is the backbone of Taiwan. I mean really, the whole country would crumble if the corporation up and went away. It’s a lifestyle. You can make copies, print, call a taxi, buy snacks, alcohol, freshly made coffee and tea, produce, and personal amenities all in ONE place!!! It’s magical! If you buy enough stuff, they give you prizes! The other day, I got an Angry Birds bag clip and if I collect 40 stickers, I can get an Angry Birds coffee mug. I have 21 right now and god help me, I am buying milk teas obsessively just so I can have that damn mug.
I’ll definitely be filling that mug at the coffee machine before work, but the main drink of choice here in Taiwan is tea. There is oh, so many kinds of it. Oolong tea, jasmine green tea, milk tea, bubble tea, honey tea, lemon tea, hot or cold, you can have it all (at 7/11, of course haha). I always hated tea and saw it as a medicine to take when I was sick. In Sweden, an Irish friend showed me that you could put milk in it and dip chocolate in it, which made me see it differently, yet I still hardly drank it, until Korea where I became used to boiling hot cups of green tea that my co-teacher would give me. In Spain, I kept up the tradition of green tea, but I still favored coffee because it was so brilliantly delicious there. The coffee is Taiwan is hit or miss and it’s better to stick to the teas, not only because they are so popular, but the millions of flavors intrigue me to no end. It’s a bit annoying to have to figure out which ones are full of 500 grams of sugar (many are) but I’ve been enjoying trying them all. My next one to try is Green Tea Coffee. It just sounds horrible and I can’t wait.
I know you are all wondering…tea, 7/11, and drinking. That all sounds nice, but WHAT are you doing there? Well, after two weeks, I found myself a teaching job in Jhubei!! Jhubei is 30 minutes from Taipei on the High Speed Rail and it’s only about 15 minutes from Hsinchu, a smaller city across the river. It’s a small town disguised as a city suburb; there are lots of well-off families that send their students to snobby schools (like mine) and there isn’t all that much to do, except gaze at all the high rises being built, eat at one of the many restaurants, or try out that one bar/cafe, Titty Tea. There is a Sheraton and many, many fancy looking apartment buildings. Foreigners here like to moan about how there is nothing to do, but these people never lived in Geumsan (my country town in Korea). There’s a good amount of foreigners here, a fair amount of places to eat, both Chinese and Western, and we are in close proximity to Taipei, Hsinchu, the mountains and the sea. Kaohsiung, in the south, is less than two hours away by train. Basically, I am content and happy to live here. Especially because, this is a windy area, meaning the air is cleaner!!
I’m also happy to work here. My apartment is a two minute walk from my school, Korrnell Academy, a bilingual academy for grades 1st through 9th. I teach 1st and 3rd grade, as a homeroom teacher and in the subjects of reading, language arts, science, art, and oral. My students are bright, as they should be, because we follow a tough American curriculum, using the same textbooks students back in the States use. I have a hard time lesson planning sometimes, because teaching 3rd graders words like “inspired” and concepts like fantasy literature can be taxing when they are not native speakers. I also have to plan a lot for my classes, mark books and homework, and end up running around school like a chicken with its head chopped off, most of the time. I went from being a pseudo-teacher in Spain to a real one in Taiwan and the transition has been hard, but I’m trying my best and it feels good to have motivation again. There is 20 other foreign teachers, so it’s nice to have people to support me in my lesson planning and my Chinese co-teacher is a total doll. Her name is Snow and she teaches wearing a microphone. She is gorgeous and a total iron fist with the 1st graders, which I highly appreciate, as they are just too cute for me to discipline, as I should. It’s not like Korea, where she is MY co-teacher who must help me in classes. We share a classroom and she teaches Chinese and then I teach my classes in English and we support each other. She takes the kids to nap time and I take them to lunch, where I serve soup (my least favorite part of this job). I have another Chinese co-teacher named Rachel for 3rd grade and she seems to be confused by everything I do and seems fairly relieved when I am teaching and she doesn’t have to. My third graders are pretty rowdy so that is a challenge I have right now.
So, all in all, it has been a good first month. Here’s to the next twelve! (my. god.)