Wednesday, September 28, 2005


Cell Number

My cell number in Taiwan is 0919-009-064. That means from North America, the number you dial should be 011-886-919-009-064. Ooooooh, you gots to dial fifteen digits, fiiiiiiiiiiiifteeeeeeeeeen diiiiiiiiiiiigiiiiiiiiiiiiiits.

Anecdote: my fellow teacher pointed out that if you split up my number like this: [09-1900-9064], then it looks like I've got a 1-900 number! Learn about your amazing future from Psychic Kai. Only he knows how to unlock the secrets of the stars for you!

Saturday, September 24, 2005


What to do on a Saturday

Today was a Saturday, and what with my poor girlfriend at the hospital for the weekend providing support for her sick mother, I had access to a scooter and my schedule was wide open. Thus, I headed out on Chunggang Road, me and my little blue helmet, perched atop a purple-and-white scooter, towards Taichunggang, otherwise known as Taichung Harbour. I drove and I drove, up up up towards the town of Shalu, then down down down towards the ocean.

Chunggang Road is evil incarnate, the evilest road I've ever seen. It has dedicated scooter lanes that are separated from the faster, inner lanes by bushes that obscure everybody's view of peripheral lanes, making intersections a nightmare.

Anyways, cruising down Chunggang Road on a scooter is made even more dangerous by the fact that taxi drivers tend to use the scooter lanes because those lanes make it much easier for them to swerve right to pick up passengers. A taxi's rightward swerve can send scooter drivers plummeting headlong into the front glass of the nearest convenience store, and that ain't pretty. So driving on Chunggang Road is hectic to say the least, but it's the only reasonable way to get to the Harbour.

At the Harbour there is a fish market, where I managed to fill up on fresh salmon sashimi, deep-fried squid, fish miso soup, and then I went home for some Sapporo. Ah, yes, life is good. Taichung on a scooter. There is no other way to do it.

Next weekend I'm planning on taking a boat tour around Taichung Harbour with a bunch of friends. The private company that runs the tour has been doing the same tour for ten years, so I guess that's a pretty good sign that the boat won't sink.

Thursday, September 22, 2005


Li Ao has got something to say.

The title link is merely to the website of a newspaper that I read that had a recent article about Li Ao. Li Ao is a Taiwanese political commentator who advocates closer ties with China and more internationalization within Taiwan.

These two points of view, combined with his relative neutrality between the KMT and DPP, his previous incarnation as a lover of fine women, and his impeccable sense of style make him extremely popular here in Taiwan. Too bad he's not running for president. You can think of him as a sort of Bertrand Russell or Vaughn Palmer.

He's also extremely quotable. If my translation's worth anything, he was at Beijing University on September 21st, giving a speech, and during this speech he apparently said, "All governments of this time are bastards. (任何的這時政府都是王八蛋.)" This, of course, has been plastered all over the Taiwanese newspapers, and an article in the United Daily News that I read yesterday seems to insinuate that certains parts of Li Ao's speech at Beijing University may alarm the Chinese Communist Party.

On the 22nd, he's supposed to speak at Qinghua University, also on the mainland. Who can know what he will say?

What I can't figure out is, what the hell is he doing on the mainland in the first place?!? It's amazing how friendly the People's Republic is to any Taiwanese person who is not of the independence persuasion. People like Li Ao can even get away with mentioning dangerous words like freedom (自由) in public, on the mainland. Why is that? Could it be because he's not an independence activist? Could it be because he quotes Mao Zedong and Zhou Enlai when he speaks of freedom?

I don't have any answers, only questions. All I know is that when Li Ao's got something to say, people listen.

Wednesday, September 21, 2005


Taichung and Taipei: Mad Crazy Rivals

Okay, I've lived here for a short time, I've listened to what Taichungers have to say about their own city, and at this point I think it's reasonable to make some observations about the nature of this city and it's people. I want to compare Taichung to Taipei because Taichungers make sure to do this at least once per conversation.

Taichung: Fact or Fiction

Here's what Taichungers say when comparing Taichung to Taipei. BTW, many Taichungers tend to do this quite frequently.

  1. The weather is better in Taichung than in Taipei.

  2. Fact, IF and ONLY IF you define "better" as "sunnier". So while it is sunnier in Taichung than in Taipei, it is also typically hotter. Taichung is currently having what we call an "Indian Summer" in English, so biking to work in the middle of the day, as I do, isn't exactly the most comfortable activity in the world.

  3. The air is fresher in Taichung than in Taipei.

  4. Fiction. I don't know where this fallacy comes from. A lot of Taiwan's heavy manufacturing has up and gone to mainland, so Taipei's air quality has never been better. Also, Taipei's MRT takes a lot of traffic off the road, thus making commuting by scooter much more enjoyable in Taipei than in Taichung. Conversely, Taichung has NO rapid transit and an ineffective bus system to boot, leaving its poor citizens to languish in a scooter-induced haze.

    Fresh air my butt.

  5. The food is cheaper and better in Taichung than in Taipei.

  6. Yes and yes. The food in Taichung is about 2/3's the price of Taipei, and it's more delicious, assuming you like large, flat pieces of chicken, "cakes" (餅) of all kinds, fruit juice, tea, and fruit juice mixed with tea. I definitely must agree that the food is special here in Taichung, and that it's special in a good way.

  7. The people are more friendly in Taichung than in Taipei.

  8. Fiction in the literal sense. When Taiwanese say more friendly, they just mean more genteel, to put it lightly. This can mean more coarse, but it can also mean more relaxed.

    The jury is still out on this one. There are both positive and negative things about the general character of Taichungers. They aren't really more friendly in the way I would envision more friendly to be. They are just more in your face, if that can be considered friendly.

To be fair, although Taichungers could be considered a little more provincial than their Taipei counterparts, they are, on average, a little more independent and creative than their Taipei friends. They have to be or else they risk becoming nothing more than "Taipei #2", and I think that is the Taichungers biggest fear of all. It would certainly explain a lot of the things I've seen and heard around here.

Saturday, September 17, 2005


The Battle of the Music

Hahahaha... I've got my terrible, terrible CITR electronic music cranked out TO THE XTREME in order to have a loudness battle with the foolish guy behind me at the internet cafe who obviously has no respect for other people's ears.

Anyways, Moon Festival was kind of quiet for me this year. Nothing but instant beef noodles this year, maybe a couple of mooncakes, but no sidewalk BBQ with various Taiwanese friends of my Taiwanese friends.

Monday is first day of class. I don't know if I'm cut out for the private language school market here in Taiwan, but I am very happy that there are career opportunities for me here that I would never be able to find in Canada. I can actually use my university education here, compared to Canada where I might as well be saying "would you like fries with that", "the auto parts section is over there", or "here's your no-fat macchiato latte" all day for months or even years on end.

It's all a question of when the baby boomers are gonna retire or die off. I think it'll be quite some time before that starts to happen in a big way... sigh... Vancouver, Canada: the shittiest job market for educated youth on the planet. Doesn't it make you proud? BC: the Best Place in the World to Live, if you're a rich old guy.

If you're wondering why I'm so crass at the moment, let's just say it's been a stressful week.

Friday, September 16, 2005


Training Over

The training is finally over. I've made some great friends as a result of it. Now we've all got to get out there to our island-wide branches and teach some ESL!

Tomorrow noonish I'll be back in Taichung, and if all goes according to plan, I'll teach my first class on Monday or Tuesday! My how time flies...

Wednesday, September 14, 2005



Training in Taipei

So far, I have learned the following items from the company training at the Shane headquarters in Taipei:

Thankfully, the first item was not as a result of my own actions, but rather the result of another. One new teacher, let's call him John, seemed to be at a certain point in the culture shock process where he was clearly confrontational about everything merely for the sake of asserting his ideas of stark, bold, unabridged, Western individualism.

He literally suggested that we ought to teach the Taiwanese sproglets how to build fires for the purpose of helping them understand what it means to be self-sufficient. The only problem with this burning suggestion was that John continued to insist on being dead serious about it even after one of the directors cracked a smirk at the thought of teaching kids how to start fires.

As for me, I have this fantastic image in my head of a bunch of little Taiwanese kiddies using kindling, paper, matches, and good ol' gasoline to burn down their language schools, just like those leprechauns in their heads told them to!

Anyways, I want to tell you more about this training. In the daytime, from 9:30 AM until around 3PM, all 14 new teachers sit in a smallish room in Shane's Taipei head office and listen to various Shane directors teach us different modules, like the "general" module, and the "reading" module, and the "phonics" module. Since John is the harsh one of the group, I get to be the linguistics geek without seeming too opinionated. It's great! In fact I've never felt more competent or positive in my life!

Then, for 3 evenings this week, they have been send us off on our own to hunt down various Shane branches according to a pre-set schedule. This is for the purpose of observing an experienced Shane teacher's 90-minute class. Today (the 14th), I observed two 90-minute classes taught by the same teacher at the "Donghu" branch. New teacher Jane and I had to be at that branch before 4:30 PM, which means we had to leave the head office before the 3PM ending. Since Donghu is one of the more distant Taipei branches, the "commute" to our observation class took about 1 hour by rapid transit and taxi.

The observation classes have been great as a way to see the difference between what's prescribed at the Shane headquarters versus what's actually going on in real Shane classes. The differences have been quite amusing!

Anyways, I had to dress in a shirt and tie in the hot, hot Taipei heat from 9:30 AM this morning until 8:10 PM at night, when the last 90-minute class ended. Of course I'm not counting the commute back to the new teacher's love hotel in Central Taipei (near Kuting Station). The love hotel has an exclusive contract with Shane such that Shane pays half of our accommodation costs directly to the hotel and we foot the rest of the bill individually.

Basically, most or all of my fellow new teachers have been extremely sociable and the directors very friendly. One teacher dude, T, is from Newfoundland and will also be teaching in Taichung. According to his manager, it's my sworn duty to help out T, especially on this Taipei trip, as it's his first time in Taiwan and he doesn't speak a word of Mandarin except ni hao.

Newfies are funny, and I'm quite amused by his quirky Newfie satirical bent. It's great to talk about the nuts and bolts of Canadian politics with a fellow hoser. The other teachers are American, British and Australian.

In case you're wondering, the new American teachers are of the laid-back, chilled-out variety, having grown up in Oregon, LA, and Michigan. Upon observing their personal interactions with others, I can safely say that they do great service to the international image of their nation/empire. In this day and age, it's hard for Canadian NOT to pay special attention to the behaviours and interactions of our southerly brothers and sisters. It's like a reflex or something.

Anyways, all the other teachers in training are here in Taiwan with fresh eyes, so I feel like an "old hand.". I know where to find the Stella Artois, the good internet cafes, the good food, etc. We each have something unique to say about our new experiences, so it's really great to hear what other new teachers have to say about the training we're receiving and also what they have to say about Taiwan and teaching ESL in Taiwan. I'm in good hands. More later.

Monday, September 12, 2005


From Last Week


This post was written around September 8th but September 12th is the time of posting it here on the blog. It was written on my laptop and saved on my USB flash memory stick. Since I couldn't find any internet cafes in Taichung that had computers that could support my memory stick, I couldn't post this blog message until I arrived in Taipei for training at the head office. I will write more about the head training in a later post.

Meeting the Manager

Simon, the franchised owner of the Taiping branch of Shane English, picked me up at the airport. We headed back to his place on the side of a mountain in Taiping City, but not before stopping off for some food at Style Coffee Shop. After some snacks, that's when I rediscovered another quirk of living in Taiwan: the squat toilets that are the norm anywhere outside of private residences. Many people say that squat toilets are more sanitary because you don't actually have to touch anything, but I say that's true only if you have enough lower body strength to squat without any support while doing your business at the same time.

Anyways, as soon as we got back to Simon's place I quickly enough I fell into a deep slumber. The next day, Simon and I rode scooters down to his tomato greenhouse where he had designed and constructed an automated, computerized watering system from scratch. His days as a computer engineer have served him well in his reincarnation as a farmer. He is also a hardcore Go addict.

Opening a School

He and his wife Jennifer opened the Taiping branch three months ago. They have two children, Matthew (age 8) and John (age 5). The reason why Simon and Jennifer started the private language school in Taiping is because of their kids. It used ued to be the case that one of them would have to drive their kids for an hour to get to an English language school for one hour of English lessons, and then drive them back for an hour. That's a total of three hours for only one hour of lessons.

Figuring out that this wasn't the most efficient way to do things, they figured they ought to start up and manage their own school. Thus, their main motive for opening a school is out of a genuine concern for children's education. This is comforting. I really do feel that I've had great luck with the Taiwanese bosses I've worked for and will imminently begin to work for.

Location, Location, Location

The problem with Taichung is that physically it's rather big, there's no rapid transit, and the busses that are available are fairly unreliable.Thus, of English schools, housing and real estate in general, the three most important factors are location, location, and location.

Truly, the way to get around is the humble scooter. There are hundreds of thousands of them in Taichung. There may even be literally millions of them. After all, the scooter population of Taiwan is more than 10 million, almost one for every two people.

The scooters zip around like a swarm of honeybees, pausing only to pick up groceries, pets, children, girlfriends, etc. In Taichung, there is no transportation option more efficient, more convenient, or more ubiquitous than the lowly scooter. I walked from the Northern District (北屯, Beitun) all the way to Central Taichung (中區, Zhongqu) and believe me, that didn't do anything nice to my feet. Guess I should have had a scooter!

I will have a bicycle soon, but that's only after I get my treads from Simon's place and go out to buy a seat. However, I don't yet have a set of keys to the place I've moved into, which reminds me...

Moving in with the Gf

Yes, yes, the rumours are true. Two days ago, I moved in to my gf's new place. She picked it out knowing that I would move in with her. The place is really nice. It's a two-bedroom apartment with aircon in every room and glossy hardwood floors in the living room and my room. My room's also got Japanese-style wood-and-paper sliding doors, and there are simple black leather couches in the living room along with stylish glass tables.

I don't have a set of keys to the place because one key is so ornate that the materials necessary to make a copy of it need to be imported! Also, no cable or internet yet, but that's on the way, I think.

Monday, September 05, 2005


In Taichung

The Vancouver-Tokyo flight was a good 9.5 hours. In fact, it was probably the best trans-Pacific flight I've ever had, thanks in part to the new planes that Japan Airlines is using. The Boeing 747-400 I was on had all the latest goodies, including a remote control that detaches from the arm of the seat. This remote control (called MAGIC II, oooh) allows you to control your personal TV screen to do a number of enjoyable things, like:

listen to music (jazz, pop)

watch movies (Godfather in English as well as several Japanese and Korean titles)

play video games (virtual bowling, card games like solitaire, ripoffs of Tetris, Space Invaders, and also "Gobble Snake", a ridiculously addictive child's game)

watch the navigation screen that tells you how far across the Pacific we are

look through a camera that shows the view out of the bottom of the plane

Gone are the days when everybody had to sit through the same shitty movie!

Narita was extermely busy, but thankfully my two huge boxes and heavy bag were already moved onto the next flight without me having to worry about them one bit.

Comparing the first flight (Vancouver-Tokyo) to the second (Tokyo-Taipei), here's how you can tell you're getting closer to Asia:

1. There is more carry on baggage, as evidenced by the two Kaoshiung hairstylists beside me who were just returning from a madcap two-week Tokyo shopping spree.

2. The language used by flight attendants changes from Japanese and English to Japanese, English, Mandarin and Taiwanese, but predominantly Japanese and Mandarin.

3. Foreigners (Caucasians) suddenly look constantly perplexed.

4. Plane food changes from hybrid cuisine to just Asian.

5. It's called a typhoon, not a hurricane.

Coming into Taiwan at night I saw the Taipei 101 building from the air for the first time, and the whole of Taiwan looked magnificently small. All the roads seemed strung up like orange Christmas lights, messily crisscrossing the land in frantic celebration. The cabin lights dimmed and it suddenly set in that this was the last time in a long time that I'll be able to see such a confusing place from such lofty heights. From here on in, I would be part of it instead of just a commentator.

The Kaoshiung hairsylists beside me just kept watching out the window across from me, occasionally blinking as they looked down with curiosity at the fantastic sight of their little dark fleck on the Pacific. Those blinky little Christmas lights were the only proof I had that 中華民國 the Republic of China still exists.

A lot of strange and powerful memories were stirred up in my head as a result of touching down on the runway at Chiang Kai-Shek International Airport. The combined feeling of smallness and closeness, whatever you want to call it, that's the primal feeling I have about Taiwan. With smallness and closeness comes the realization that it could all be gone in the blink of an eye. The outside world could come crashing in and disturb the peace.

Indeed, I got a stern reminder about the power of the outside world just this morning when I felt a small 15-second tremor. These are the things that so quickly come back to me in Taiwan:





good snacks


BTW, I'm a little clearer on the work situation, and I'm positively surprised. First of all, no kindergarteners to start. The littlest kids will be in grade school, and I guess I can handle that. Second of all, the school has air conditioning, hooray! That's about all I need to make me happy!

Stay tuned for more updates.

Sunday, September 04, 2005


See You in Taiwan!

There are about 12 hours until takeoff, and everything's packed and ready to go. I am taking two huge bicycle boxes, one with my bike in it and the other with my keyboard and various stuff in it.

In addition to that, I've also got one hockey bag full of books and other stuff. My laptop will be carry-on luggage.

Altogether, I'm taking about 178 pounds worth of stuff! How can I take so much luggage with me? Well, I will be paying about $160 CAD to take so much weight with me, but since buying a bicycle or keyboard that I would be satisfied with in Taiwan would cost considerably more than $160 CAD, I'm better off paying the 160 instead.

Wish me a good flight! I've got a two-hour stopover at Narita airport (Tokyo area). The last time I went to Taiwan, I took the exact same type of flight I'm taking this time: with Japan Airlines and stopping over in Narita.

During my last flight to Taiwan, the Tokyo-Taipei section was terrible because I was beside the noisy kitchen and I was already suffering from a splitting headache from the beginning of the flight! I'm smarter this time as I'm taking aspirin with me on carry on.

You'll be hearing more from me soon, from the other side of 太平洋. Bye for now!

Saturday, September 03, 2005


Call for Pictures of the Going-away Party

For those of you who snapped pictures on Friday evening (you know who you are), I need your pictures! This blog just won't be interesting without them.

That being said, t'was a fine, fine going-away party on Friday evening. There was a fabulous cast, led by yours truly, the Strange Foreigner, with many additional roles filled by such characters as Hentai Gaijin with Lady Losalios, Drunken Fro and Tire Brother, Big Nebraska with Homeo K, Notorious Felon and the Waterford Crew, Agent ESL with T. Traderette, Tuba Brother #1 and Gurl Postie. It goes without saying that these characters have names that are suitable as band names.

And now presenting, all the way from Brantford and beyond, "Notorious Felon and the Waterford Crew!"

Anyways, It'll be easier to describe the going-away party when I get pictures.

This page is powered by Blogger. Isn't yours?