16 November 2005


I guess it's time for some more members of Team Taiwan to get sick again. I was thinking of this while I was teaching today...

So we're learning "In" and "Out" in the kindergarten class this week. The kids love the lesson because I make a bunch of them get inside a cardboard box. I also have a big board that says "In" and "Out" on it. I make the kids come up and touch the appropriate word. Lemme lay out the scene:

Me: Is Jay in or out of the box? Who can help?
Entire class: I CAN HELP!
Me: Sandy, come help. In our out? Touch the word.
Sandy: Sneezes into hand, slaps word "in" using sneezed-into hand
Me: Well, this lesson is over. Everyone clap for Sandy! Yay!

14 November 2005

Things I Meant to Write About, Part 4: YiWen and Brother

Allow me to more formally introduce my friend YiWen, my Chinese teacher, tour guide, mother hen and opportunity organizer. And if my faith would let me say it, oracle. I met her at church but I think she just came the one Sunday in order to meet and greet the new foreign teachers. She's a member, but might be better described as a silent partner, for reasons I won't go into just now. Or proabably ever.

Since then, she's been responsible for kicking many of our butts into more mainstream Taiwanese experience. (Living on the campus without a scooter can become something of a fishbowl.) Previously, she has taken me to visit her elder brother on weekends because she aches for him to know the Jesus loves him and believes that he will listen to me. Every Monday night she prepares dinner in her home for some of my teammates and me. Afterward she and her husband teach us Chinese.

Last Saturday she called me up while I was still tangled in sheets, her predictable m.o. (though it was kind of hard to avoid on this particular Satuday because I slept quite late), to ask if I wanted to go to an art exhibit. She said the gallery was somewhere near her folks' house, where her elder brother would most likely be. Convenient. We organized a time. I went back to rolling around on my mattress in attempt to avoid the reality of sunlight.

Soon enough I found myself at the gallery with her, asking where she'd heard about the exhibition. "My mom told me about it. She knows I like to go out and do things". Inside, a large panel outlining the lives of the artists greeted us when we entered. She pointed them out and matched up each artist with their work. As she lingered, I surveyed the room but we met up by the work of the only artist in the exhibition I really appreciated. Each had an inscription beneath, adding proverb to the didactic mindscapes. Sometimes she translated one for me. As we left, commenting on this artist's work, she looked to see when the artists were present at the exhibition, suggesting that I could meet him. I didn't know what I'd do meeting such a man, so I did little more than smile acquiescently, hoping she wouldn't put too much effort into the endeavour.

We got into the car and headed off in the direction of her parents' house. The conversation dwelled on the life of the artist. "All of those in the exhibition live in this county. Many are very poor, even though well known." I nodded, and she continued by speaking my own thoughts. "But they're rich by what they have inside."

"Have you heard of any of those artists we saw today?"

"A few I know very well." I had had no idea. In actuality I had all but given up hope on the presence of art in Taiwan. These are people who take every other weekend off because it's a requirement. "Too bad we missed them at the exhibition. It's all right, there will be another opportunity." A lot of time when I'm with YiWen, I just keep my mouth shut because I'm not sure what's happening. Instead I looked out the window, wondering how such an artless environment could have produced such vibrant and imaginative artists. I really don't understand Taiwan yet and I would be well-served to reserve judgment, just like I keep my mouth shut around YiWen, but I guess that's why I have a blog. Blogs and reserving judgment seem mutually exclusive.

Pretty soon we pulled up at her parents' house in the country, as expected, but I had to re-confirm my bearings when YiWen sighed, perhaps, I thought, transitioning to audible internal monologue, "So maybe we won't meet the artist today." I looked around. She looked at me and deadpans: "The artist is my younger brother. Let's move." This is what she says when she means "Let's go." She has no idea how colloquial it sounds. I even think she was surprised to see me double over in laughter at her ruse. I guess we both have to get used to one another.

13 November 2005

Things I Meant to Write About Part 3

So one of my adventures here has been in teaching Bible to the sixth graders, which is a beautiful thing because they've reached an age in which questions are starting to occupy a greater portion of their minds. Plus their English ability also presents a harvest of teachable moments. I think. Anyhow, this allows me to posit some questions that younger, unquestioning learners would never trouble over.

On top of that, their bible lessons thus far have often and unfortunately taken the shape of an old testament story or something about Jesus' miracles, or simply an endeavor to instill a biblical moral teaching without first laying the essential ground work that the gospel is essential to our hearts. I don't know when it became okay to teach kids--or anybody--straight morals, leaving out the detail that they are incalculably loved by an all-powerful God, hence the death and resurrection of Christ Jesus--and call it bible study.

But that's not what this post is about.

This post is about bible lessons in my class. The casual theme of our bible lessons is "Who is Jesus?" I think I made this up at the end of our first bible lesson together, a few seconds before telling them as much. We talk about, you guessed it, who he is, and what he does. They have little books of blank paper where they draw pictures of who Jesus is. So far we've learned--and drawn--that Jesus is a friend, Jesus forgives, and Jesus is the Good Shepherd. Judging from the industry invested in these books, this is one of their favorite activities. In fact Bible is one of their favorite times of the week in general. Which is why it surprised me when I found blatant evidence of cheating on two students' bible work a few weeks ago.

It's not hard to spot counterfeit work in the ESL classroom. It's either the exact same inane mistake on two or more students' work or a struggling grammarian has suddenly blossomed into a flawless liguistic acrobat. Today we deal with the former.

This all arose of a Bible lesson that provided some interesting feedback from the students. After we learned that Jesus came that we might have life, and have it to the full, I asked, "What did Jesus mean by a full life: goods, family, happiness, etc.?...or is there more to a ful life?" Surprisingly, many of the students ended up writing that there was more to life. One even included the idea of suffering as a part of a full life. And then, at the bottom of the stack, two papers:

I think love, forgive, and the time.
I don't know what this means. I could stretch my assumptions of these kids' existential understandings, and I will say, yes, perhaps the original author had ahold of an idea of merit. Regardless: zero points for delivery. I can just imagine these two scrambling at the opening of class (you have to imagine the Chinese yourself):
Taiwanese kid #1: You got Bible done?
Taiwanese kid #2: Yeah
#1: Lemme see the answer to number four
#2: Uh, just write "I think love, forgive, and the time."
#1: You sure?
#2: Man, it's solid. Plus it's Bible. Who cares?
The weird thing is, I know which of the two wrote it and which plagiarized. The impostor was the better student. Needless to say, neither of them knew how to explain "love, forgive and the time". Zero points for Bible.

01 November 2005

Things I Meant to Write about Part 2: The Recreation Habits of the Host Culture

This is the type of stuff I see every day

Several weekends ago, some of the national teachers (read: Taiwanese) and the CELA teachers celebrated Ten-Ten holiday (Tenth of October) by camping at Sun Moon Lake, ambling through the made-for-tourists paradise of the Bamboo Culture Park, and joining the rest of Taiwan's 23 million citizens on the island's limited thoroughfares.

First stop: bamboo culture park. The most thematic theme park I've ever been to. No rides. Tons of varieties of bamboo. The man in the picture gave us a complete tour including every piece of information you'd ever want to know about bamboo.

Unfortunately it was all in Chinese and translations were spotty at best.

After singing about bamboo, dancing with bamboo, drinking water purified through bamboo, sitting in houses of bamboo on bamboo furniture, eating bamboo, internally repeating the word "bamboo" until no longer able to distinguish meaning from syllables, pledging unfailing devotion to bamboo, making a kitschy bamboo craft, and peacefully reflecting upon the meaning of bamboo, the whole company loaded back into vehicles and braved the mighty hairpin turns leading us to one of Taiwan three wonders (or so I've been told): Sun Moon Lake.

The camping here is said to be outstanding. I don't know exactly what I was expecting, but it certainly had very little to do with broken down boats, about a dozen stray-and-barking dogs, a Catholic Priest from Minnesota as proprieter and owner of said stray-and-barking dogs, tents of complete strangers' pitched almost on top of mine, and a surprise fireworks display from the opposite shore. Amidst these revelations, I grew suddenly aware of the fact that I was pretty grumpy, understandibly due to traipsing around in close quarters with the same set of folks for nigh on twenty-four hours now. When I went on a walk I found tadpoles! Hundreds of them! Squirming right there in the water by the handfuls! In fact, it was a little strange to pick them up. They felt like a bunch of squirming little beans.
Even though there was no campfire that night, we busted out the guitar and sang some songs. This activity quickly attracted the attention of every child in the campsite. They came to stand and watch. It was clear from the expressions on their faces that they didn't know what they had come for; only that in their purest of curiosity the music had drawn them and they had not denied its pull. We grown-up Americans, not satisfied with this, taught them all the kiddie songs and motions their little heads could hold and sent them back to their families' tents reciting incomprehensible jumbles of consonants paired with catchy tunes.

The next morning, still, none of our hosts bat an eye at the uneven balance between activity and leisure, so we broke camp and packed all equipment up the tropical jungle path in one big sweat and settled back into the cars for a sleep until our final stop at the paper factory. Our centripitally-pitched sleep was interrupted, however, about an hour and a half in, by a screech. Both cars pulled onto a narrow shoulder. Everyone's frantic search through every piece of luggage slowly reached through the haze of sleep: one of our company had lost his wallet.

The initial search brought us no closer to credit cards or identification so the two vehicles made for a safer roadside harbor. Noticing a house sitting at the end of the driveway, I wondered aloud whether they might let me use their bathroom. No sooner had the words escaped my lips than I found myself being led by the wrist to the front door of a stranger's house in a foreign land and presented to its inhabitants. Who can deny the feebly grinning redhead with the full bladder on the doorstep? And so while my little wish was granted, the Lord granted a bigger wish at the bottom of a bag, credit cards, identification and cash all intact, and we climbed back into the cars again

We arrived at the paper factory about a half an hour before it was set to close which, meant no lingering by the Mulberry Papyrus tree for that photo-op. According to sources, we were about to witness the highest quality of paper production on the island. I think that's kind of a big thing in a culture with a historical claim to the invention of paper.

It comes from the bark of the finest groves of trees, (don't ask me which species anymore, I only know Mulberry Papyrus) which is cut, boiled, and then blended. We saw and even got to touch a big vat of this blend after the water had drained out of it. It looked like a big white pulpcake. Mom, next birthday, keep it in mind: Pulpcake! Mmmmmm!

Mixed with water again, a man pours exactly the right amount over his big, flat bamboo sieve (and you thought bamboo was good for nothing) and let the water drain out. If the man touches the wet paper, it will be ruined. So he carefully attaches a sticky piece of string to the paper, lifts the flexible sieve and deposits the wet sheet on his growing stack of hundreds of wet sheets of paper.

From here, the stack is pressed and heated for awhile, maybe a couple days but don't take my word for it. If you make paper based on this recipe, I'm not resposible for what kind of muck you turn out with. I can, however, give you a solid set of instructions for pulpcake.

Finally, a lady takes one sheet from the stack at a time and puts it on her hot steel counter to brush it out with a little water. As soon as all the water cooks away, the paper is done and ready to be packaged and sent to all the foremost calligraphers in the nation and probably all over the occidental world.

So if this weren't enough, if we hadn't had enough of one another yet, we load back into the vehicles to join just about everyone in Taiwan--again--on the roads in search of an obscure little food stand we just had to visit. Of course by this time I had completely lost my bearings (okay let's be real. I didn't know where the heck we were the entire time) but my efforts to find out whether this joint was out of the way or not were onconclusive, mostly because, conveniently, no one answered me. It was about 2 and a half hours and several wrong turns before we finally decided, or discovered, that our little destination was closed (and why not? Everything is closed in Sunday night so why should this be an exception) and we'd have to opt for a little hot pot which just happened to be serving. After consuming a meal mostly in silence, we finally reloaded the cars for the last time and on the other side of stop-and-go-sleep ended up at the Practice Hotel.

All in all a satisfying, if enraging and exhausting, weekend. New entry in my internal dictionary of things that, even when translated, have different meanings in Chinese and English: vacation.

Things I Meant to Write About, Part 1

If you've ever had a fruit tree in your yard you know what it's like, come harvest time, when the fruit ripens, falls off of the tree and rots before anyone has a chance to get around to eating it. Just so with so many experiences in Taiwan. By the time I get around to writing it down, the fruit isn't quite as tasty as fresh-plucked.

First up, (and I think I should clarify from the get-go that I don't consider this topic like a piece of rotten fruit,) a little recap to put closure on that last post of so so long ago. Ryan and I have become more and more aware of people praying for us, sometimes people neither of us even know. This completely knocks me off my chair every time I think about it. Definitely a first as far as my own romantic endeavours are concerned. All the time I used to spend thinking "God wants me to" keep my head clear of that worthless mushy stuff so that I could focus on him, only to find out that:

  1. The Lord uses our meaningful relationships as a profound method of teaching us about himself, and
  2. He even provides support--via the prayers of the church--for said relationship to grow strong!
So if it were not apparent, the time we had together was delightful. Travel eventful enough to be called adventurous but not dangerous, and safe. Everyone, thank you for your love and prayers. I wish we could all hang out some time.