You know that feeling when you’re watching the weather forecast and as the guy scans over London your heart sinks because he tells you there’s a typhoon coming? No? Because London doesn’t get typhoons? Oh, so people from London won’t know what the hell to do or wear should they ever be caught up in one? Fancy that.
Picture this. It’s 3 in the afternoon, you’re still at work and are getting ready to leave for a half day, though judging by the piled high planning you’ve got to do it doesn’t feel that way and your supervisor turns to you and says “Miss Sawfie. You go now? Typhoon is coming. Do you have big umbrella?” You assure her you’ll be gone in 10 and that yes, you have an umbrella in your bag. “No no, zat is too small for typhoon. You need big big one. Come, we have one for you.” You follow and she gives you the Umbrella Almighty. A huge, metre high yellow brolly that looks like it’s been to hell and back. You thank her, pack up your planning and clock out. Outside the building it is literally pouring down. Like something out a cheesy waterfall movie scene. You almost wanna go and do your best Peter Andre impression but decide against it and put all your trust in the Umbrella Almighty not to get struck by lightning or blown away in the gale force winds. You make it home, miraculously dry though you’re wearing shorts and start planning. The wind shakes the windows and is howling like an actual animal – even the curtains through thick glass are swaying. That night, you can’t sleep (even with Beyoncé’s ‘I Am’ album on quietly). You realise you are in the middle of a tropical thunderstorm.
The past few days have been so blissfully cool. The signs above the highway have read ‘30’ instead of ‘38’ and the beautiful wind has given the humidity the kick up the ass it needed. The constant rain takes a bit of getting used to (though I’m still wearing shorts) and most importantly my building is still here. On Monday, I got into school nice and early only to be told the kids weren’t coming in because they are so tiny they could blow away in the wind (that’s not what they said but they blatantly could). I said I’d stay till lunchtime as the classroom still needed signs and tidying up and then I’d leave. A few minutes later, a lady came to introduce herself. She told me her name was Erin, that she was from California, that this was her 4th year in Taiwan and that she lives in my apartment block, just upstairs. Well, that was that. I had a new buddy. She has a scooter and thankfully isn’t a maniac driver. So she took me downtown (where I hadn’t been yet) and showed me the amazing sites of Hsinchu City. By amazing sites I mean Taiwans answer to Topshop only with Primark prices, frozen yoghurt stores that literally offer every single flavour and topping they can think of (shredded Haribo or liquidized kidney beans anyone?) and the all-important post office. Downtown is actually pretty incredible. It sells everything I could possibly need (yes, there’s a tamagotchi repair shop don’t worry!) and is only 15 minutes away. On the way back Erin and I bought some McDonalds for dinner (judge me if you will, I was actually so relieved NOT to have Chinese food) and had a little chat about our home lives. We’re quite similar really, same career choices, fashion and taste in men (haha). It was so nice to meet someone who I could converse properly with but also who knew this city inside out.
Yesterday was my first full day, and boy did I feel it. My planning for K2A ran out before the school day had ended and so I was left to my own devices to entertain them. I decided to explain the rules of “what’s the time Mr Wolf” but call it ‘The Freeze Game’ (these children are 4 years old and just about understand me when I ask them if they need the bathroom, there was no point in attempting to explain what ‘time’ means or who Mr Wolf was’). So I stood at the front, counted to 3 and turned my back on the line of children stood at the back of the classroom. They edged forward. I turned around. They froze (well the majority did, the other’s I sent back to the starting line) and the game continued until someone reached me at the front and got the ultimate prize… a Toy Story sticker! I was on to a winner. The game kept them entertained for over half an hour (including little E who found it hilarious when I imitated them explaining you don’t run forwards screaming with your hands in the air, you tiptoe forwards in silence). By the end I was handing out pretzel treats to the winners in a bid to preserve my precious supply of Disney Pixar stickers.
Once K2A had gone home, it was time to teach the 5th graders. They come to Stanford after school (on the bright yellow bus of course) for 2 hours everyday after their long day in and out of intense lessons to practise their English. I have the grand job of teaching P5A. 7 very tired, fed up and overworked 12 year olds, when I myself am very tired, fed up and overworked. My first lesson did not go well. I was under planned (2 hours = a sh*t load of planning which I just didn’t have) and the kids just weren’t feeling it. I explained my golden rules (which included no Chinese for the whole lesson and no teasing or swearing) and although the majority did co-operate for most of it, there is one boy who just shines through as a total utter idiot. He lied about his name so I thought they had given me an extra student, which I then had to leave the classroom to verify; only to look like a right twat when my supervisor went in to the class, spoke a whole load of angry Chinese and revealed the truth. Of course the other children found this absolutely hilarious and I was left to pick up the pieces of a class who thought they could manipulate me. Not falling for that one again.
Today, the lesson went much much MUCH better. I planned my ass off last night and went in their armed with Bingo cards, wordsearches, crosswords, lies and truths about myself, fill the blank activities and most importantly a ball and a trash can. This was my leverage. Each correct answer gives you one free shot with the ball. You get the ball in, you get a point. Each point = 1 minute in tree house. (Yes even 12 year olds can be bought with balls and wooden houses in trees). It worked a treat. I had the kids laughing, speaking English, competing with each other (but not teasing of course) and the 2 hours flew by. Even the idiot (although had to be told to get out of the K2A bunkbeds during their 10 minute break) behaved 10 times better than yesterday. Now my job is to continue this amazing planning and actually make progress. It’s going to be a long semester.
This weekend I was meant to go to Taipei to have a little mooch around the capital. Unfortunately it looks like my life will be dominated by K2A and P5A for a while and I have postponed the trip until next weekend. However, Erin and another foreign teacher called Heidi (from South Africa) have discovered a new club downtown and have invited me to go ‘check it out’ on Friday night. My life may be snowed under by a whole load of planning, but I’m trying to keep things in perspective. You’re living on the other side of the world, don’t you wanna know if Tequila tastes the same?