You’ll all be sad to know, I didn’t make the field trip. Either my alarm didn’t go off or I was just so tired I slept through. I awoke naturally from the sunlight and within about 3 seconds realised the lack of alarm and jumped out of bed. It was 9.45. I was meant to be at school an hour ago. My heart sunk and was then subjected to the quickest shower, outfit change and sprint to work of my life.
Through the gates, the school was dead quiet. I knew my scary-ass boss would still be there so I made my way to the office. She appeared over the top of her piled-high files with glasses on the end of her nose. For a woman of only 5-foot, she really pulls off the ‘I don’t F around’ look. I apologised relentlessly, she told me ‘no problem but you get new phone.’ I agreed. The mobile phone I had swapped for my shiny Blackberry with my sister for was an artefact from the 1990’s with a missing back and now missing alarm facility. Cheers. As there were no children around, I showed I could use my initiative and suggested I begin clearing/sorting out my classroom. She nodded. I left the office and stuck my bottom lip out. As much as I enjoyed my extended sleep, I was genuinely looking forward to going to the zoo.
A couple of hours, 2 bags of ‘garbage’ and a pint of water later I heard the chatter of 200 Chinese kids. I was actually looking forward to seeing my class. I cannot stress enough how adorable they are and I felt so bad for missing the field trip. I stepped outside the classroom, put my shoes back on (its custom to take off your shoes before you enter any classroom or place you’ll be spending a few hours) and waved to K2A who were sat in a line waiting for the next instruction. My superviser stepped off the bus, I knew she would be mad. “Miss Sawfie! Are you ok? Your telephone is nothing.” (she meant broken) I explained what happened and put my hand to my chest to emphasise how disappointed I was feeling. “You missed lovely Hakka food!” – she was trying to make me feel bad – “but dont warry I bring some for you, look!” – maybe not. Only the Chinese would bring presents back for an employee who’s just started and was an hour late on her second day. Hakka is a group of people that are a sub-group from the rest of the Chinese. They have their own language, customs and traditions. I read all about them in my Taiwan guide book/Bible and knew the types of food she would be talking about. I thanked her and she told me to have lunch with the children and then prepare for my medical examination at the hospital in the afternoon.
The English could learn a little something from the Taiwanese health care system. After climbing into the minibus with Uncle, stopping at the traffic lights and seeing the ’37’ degrees on the screen over head, I braced myself for a long, boring wait in a hospital where I knew no one would speak a word of English and without a clue of what to do or where to go (plus, I had a sore throat and headache after I think I had the air con set way too low in my apartment). Well, let me tell you… it was quite the opposite. Uncle pulled up outside and we walked through the automatic glass doors to be greeted by amazing air con and a bow from the women making sure we knew where to go. Uncle spoke to them in Chinese, I nodded and smiled and we made our way to the correct department. After filling in numerous forms (printed in English) I was subjected to the following: temperature check (via my earhole – thank the Lord), prodding and poking of my back, stomach and head, eye test, weighing, measuring (height, bust you know name it), HIV test and chest X-ray. At the last station I met a Candaian couple who were also with an Uncle from Stanford. We introduced ourselves and the guy told me he was working at the same school as me. He was teaching a range of ages (I’m a homeroom teacher, so have my own class. Others arent so lucky) and had just arrived. He told m he tried knocking on my hotel door a few days ago as he was told there was a Brit living upstairs and that we should all go for dinner. I thanked him, told him dinner would be lovely and that I’d see him around (friends, yay!).
You’ll be pleased to hear I passed all the examinations (1 step closer to my obtaining my Resident Alien Card baby!) and most amazingly I was in and out of there within an HOUR! Try doing all those things in London… you’ll be there all day! I was very impressed. The whole system was so organised. We were given a map and told where to go after each test. There was no waiting time at any of the departments and people were polite, efficient and informative. I left the hospital, in spite of the sore throat, headache and a loss of $1410 (about £30), feeling good.
By the time I got home the good feeling had worn off and I was feeling seriously under the weather. I went straight to sleep and woke up 6 hours later, making it 9pm. I had some Belvita breakfast bars for dinner, somehow fashioned a 3-in-1 Nescafe coffee sachet from warm drinking water downstairs in the lobby and attempted to finish planning my first Science lesson. (Try teaching 4 year olds the different parts of the brain and their functions.. then add in their lack of English and you can imagine my despair.)
This morning was a very different story. I woke up on time. Got to school on time. And had no assistant so was left alone with my class until lunchtime. We had a blast. We had ‘Sensory Integration’… Basically P.E and I tired the children out so nap time wouldn’t be a battle like it was the day before. Then we had art and the children learned about Matisse. I basically showed them a picture of his, and then gave them some coloured paper, scissors and glue and they knew what to do, sweet. They were all calm, engaged and making cute conversation with me. “Miss Sawfie. I need red paper please”, or “Miss Sawfie, I’m finished, look!”. The best bit came when nobody would tidy up. I asked everyone to collect all the cuttings from the floor and put then in the bin. Except I used words like ‘garbage’ and ‘trash can’ as ‘rubbish’ and ‘bin’ were going in one ear and out the other. Nobody moved. So, I cunningly picked some up, put it in the bin and gave myself one of my Toy Story stickers I bought at the dollar store. I made a huge deal out of how beautiful it was and they were stunned. One girl tried her luck, she picked up some cuttings, came to show me and put them in the bin. I literally made a song and a dance out of it and let her choose a sticker. BAM. I then had every single child rushing round the floor to pick up the garbage and put it in the trash can. Viola, a tidy classroom and 14 very proud stickered children.
It won’t surprise you that that afternoon, I took a 45 minute walk in37 degree heat to the stores (in search of an Ethernet cable) and decided to stock up on these magic Toy Story stickers. I also bought a lamp, a stash of amazing 7/11 Iced Cafe Lattes and dinner for later.At first, I was gob-smacked to see people in jeans and cardigans in such stifling humidity. Then I worked out that the paler you are in Taiwan, the more status you have. I.e. you’re rich enough not to work in the fields all day and can afford an air conned car etc. Not like back home where the moment you get a tan (naturally of course) people are genuinely impressed and pleased; these women would rather walk around completely covered up than comprise their high-level status. I even saw a group of girls with umbrellas to block out the sun rays. There I was in my Accessorize clots, spaghetti string top and curly hair sticking out like a sore thumb! But dya know what? I kinda liked it. Taiwan is a friendly place, and in spite of the stares in stupidly high temperatures, I’m really starting to feel at home.