Sunday, February 15, 2009

Our Hearts We Cannot Steel

In Which An Orphanage Is Visited

My new student's English name is Kevin.  I don't know his Chinese name, but that's pretty standard.  He's an athletic kid, a little stocky, energetic, desperate to be special.  He knows more English than he lets on, but he's embarrassed by how little that really is.  It's less shameful to pretend that he knows nothing, and start from scratch.  

The orphanage is in the southern part of Taipei, right up against a mountain (possibly a little taller than Yuan Shan).  The city around it feels a little different than the rest of Taipei, a little cleaner, a little fresher, a little less oily with consumerism.  The stores are similar, but they seem less looming.  Perhaps it's just that they don't have overhangs.  

There are birds in a cage outside the door - parakeets and finches, hopping around and making enough racket for a small family of howler monkeys.  Sandy, the woman who met me at the MRT station today, took me in and introduced me to Christina, one of the secretaries, before leading me up to the 3rd floor classroom where I'd be teaching.  Classroom is deeply misleading.  It's a room with three empty bunk-bed-desk combinations in it.  It's spacious and bright and airy.  It has wood floors.  Kevin came in and we sat on the floor and played with alphabet tiles and conversation.  I taught him basic pronouns and am/is/are, and how to say "I am a boy," and "I live in Xindian."  I gave him flashcards and vocabulary to memorize.  Next time I'll bring chocolate for prizes and a CD with which he can practice his listening skills.

The Joy Orphanage itself was first put together in 1951, in the wake of Japan's retreat from Taiwan.  The granddaughter of General Governor Liu Mingchuan (builder of railroads, among other things), drew on her familial connections and lands to provide a place for the children left without families after the war.  At its opening, there were some 400 kids living there.  Now they have two facilities, and 70 kids total - 25 or so in the emergency facilities for temporary and immediate placement, and 45 or so in the permanent facilities while they wait for adoption.  A family from the United States is interested in adopting Kevin, but there are still many legalities to go through, so "nothing is certain," said Sandy.

I am not at all sad that I went, and I hope it's something with which I can continue to be involved, whether the tutoring keeps going or not.

1 comment:

Katy Williams said...


I like the idea of the place (especially the not-so-oily or overhanging bit.)