Monday, February 2, 2009

The New Year (Part The Second)

In Which Eastern Holidays Are Experienced, And More Visitors Come To Town

People ask me, with relative frequency, "How's Taiwan?"  I never know what to say to this.  When people ask "How was your day?" or "How is the food?" acceptable answers include "Fine," "Good," "Delicious," "Started out great, but it's raining a lot now," or possibly "Lovely, but I wish it weren't so pink."  I don't know how to encapsulate Taiwan in a single phrase or sentence, and I know better than to believe that anyone asking so flippantly wants a full blown dissertation of an explanation.  I suppose I could direct any and all inquiries here, but that seems a bit arrogant and presumptuous.

Taiwan - Taipei, really - is a city in which I'm living, like any other city I've inhabited.  It is a place, to me, not a tourist destination, and certainly not something I can break apart and offer to people who want it in convenient chunks.  I can only approximate my experience of this city in carefully thought-out and nevertheless longwinded and untidy parcels.  I cannot make them stand alone, because they are part of something much larger that even I don't have a handle on.

Katy's parents came for the week of Chinese New Year, which is the major holiday here.  It's a bit like Christmas and Thanksgiving all rolled into one, and while the actual celebration is an Eve and a Day, the vacation time lasts all week.  The Roads (Hi, guys) arrived on the Friday before the holiday, late in the evening, so Katy went to collect them while I conducted my last A10 class. (I will miss them, but they're being combined with another class for A11 and transferred to another teacher.  The class next door to the A10 never got along with their teacher, so I have rescued them from one another.)  

I got home on Friday in time to welcome the Roads family back from the airport (sans Paul, who is still in Spain), but I had to get up for my Saturday morning class, so I went to bed.  I think they crashed shortly thereafter.  I didn't see a lot of them over the week, since Katy took them south to see the rest of Taiwan - or some of it, anyway - and to have some family time, but it helped solidify the difficulty we (or I, anyway) face when asked to be an interface between representatives from the home we came from and the home we share now.  I didn't feel nearly adequately prepared to show the city off, because to me it is just where I live.  I remember my grandmother saying similar things about Chicago (Hi, Grandma), and about being eternally startled when she saw tourists there.  Since I'm not here for tourism, I can't see the city in that light.  

Apart from feeling woefully unprepared, the week went well.  It was good to see Katy's family, and very nice to have a week off.  Although, I confess that I missed my students.  I spent Chinese New Year's Eve at the home of one of my co-teachers.  Her family was very nice, and there was a lot of food.  After dinner, she and I and another of our co-teachers went to a night market, bought fire crackers, and lit them off in an empty lot until someone told us to stop.  I discovered I don't much like fire crackers, although I'll admit to being a total girl and enjoying the sparklers.  (What? They were pretty!)

While Katy and her parents were in the South, I slept a lot, and went to Sebastian's house one evening for a very enjoyable bit of conversation and friendly banter with his friend Michael and himself.  Sebastian was one of the people in China via the program I used, and it's nice to see him on occasion.  I also went to the National Palace Museum again with Yu-Cheng.  I think I could spend a long time there for several days (or perhaps weeks, or months) in a row without knowing everything it could teach me.  When the Family Roads returned to Taipei, I joined them at Taipei 101.  We went up to the very top and wandered about, looking at the ridiculous golden sculptures of ants and butterflies, and peering out the windows at the city below, which drifted in and out of fog as the light faded.  We had dinner in a restaurant with a similar view, a floor or two below (although we had to go all the way down to the bottom again and take a different elevator to get back up to the restaurant).  The food was quite good, and we returned home well-fed and sleepy.

They spent the rest of their time in Taipei seeing the sights, and I spent my last day of freedom trying to get in as much rest as possible before the next morning.  The winter classes are ending tomorrow, and it will be nice to have the ability to wake up at 7:30 without an alarm, instead of at 8 with one.  I don't pretend to understand the way my subconscious rules my sleep schedule.

I am now back into the swing of teaching, and it's going pretty well.  There have been no spectacular successes (or failures, fortunately), but I am beginning to feel more confident at the front of the classroom.  The A7 class that I just took over seems quite nice, although hopelessly adolescent.  Adolescence is something I can commiserate with, however, having fallen prey to the disease myself not so long ago, and they seem willing to cooperate.  This week I taught them about "What a day!" and "Such an idiot!" and "So much money that he could buy the Earth."  They are to write an adventure story for me by next week.  I look forward to reading the submissions.  One of the ideas submitted was "turned tiny and climbed into the principal's underpants."  I'll keep you posted.

Katy and I are reading the Lord of the Rings.  We've gotten about 1/4 of the way through the first book.  It is a delight to see her reactions to things I have always considered established parts of my personal history.  It's a little like reading it for the first time again myself.  This is why I love reading to people, why I love teaching.

And speaking of teaching, I'll be starting to volunteer at an orphanage on Sundays for the next couple of months.  I know, I know, just when I've managed to get Sundays off, I take up a volunteer position.  But this is by my own choice, not because I've been half-tricked into it.  It is for one hour every week, tutoring an 11 year old boy who has been adopted by an English speaking family so that he'll be able to communicate at least a little when he reaches his destination.  Reading this over, I realize I sound nauseatingly ... well, nice, but it is something I genuinely find myself looking forward to.  I am not doing it because it would be the right thing to do, but because it appeals to me.  I like the kids I work with, and I am downright delighted to have this opportunity.  Don't hold it against me.

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