07 June 2006

The Past

Well, I think I've waited long enough since the last post to throw off any would-be readers. So it's time to have a little fun. A scad of mini-posts! What could be cuter?

Now The Past is a pretty broad topic, so, like we learned in school, we have to pare it down a little bit. I'm going to reflect specifically on how my understanding of Taiwanese life has shifted.

When I first came to Taiwan, I thought I'd never learn to identify with the people here at all. That hasn't been the case. To begin with, I have learned some, not a lot, of Mandarin Chinese. I would have liked to pick up some more, not only because I happen to be kind of proud about the "linguistic ability" I assume I have. Language holds indefinite keys to unlocking culture. I consider this depth relatively unplumbed.

However, I have become acquainted with idiom of a student in Taiwan. It's very different here. I've written a little about it before, but I myself was never fully aware that being a student absorbs every part of a young person's life.

Just imagine meeting someone who doesn't have interests or hobbies outside of school. This is a difficult person to teach for the sake of finding common ground. The Taiwanese middle or high school student is a person who most likely does not have a lot of chores around the house because Mom and Dad think it's more important that homework gets completed. They are entirely content to complete almost any exercise in silence, save for one that requires classroom interaction or mental engagement in the higher levels (such as analysis, synthesis and evaluation. This, however, is merely a reflection of the type of rote education they've been absorbing). In all this, one can all but forget about existential rumination.

To me, this was abominable. I never knew how someone could lead a life so devoid of curiosity, yet so focused and determined. Slowly, however, I learned what it was like for a classroom to absorb me. Over the past few weeks, I've spent most of my waking hours in the office or the classroom (this of my own volition). Last night I had an hour to kill and I didn't want to do anything except go to bed so I could get up the next day and go to work. It was easier not to think about the tough stuff. I think I understand Taiwanese students a little better now.

One last morsel for now. I started watching old Mickey, Donald and Goofy cartoons on some evenings and would you believe that the Chinese voice for Donald Duck sounds exactly as incomprehensible as his English voice? So I figure I'm not missing out on much there.

Pictures next time.