This time 4 weeks ago I landed in Taipei. I had no apartment, no friends, no phone and ultimately no idea what the next year of my life would be like. It’s an interesting little process moving yourself to the other side world, most people could probably guess how you feel after the first day, but I wonder if anybody can guess how you feel after the first month.
The answer to this depends on the type of person you are I suppose, but even this concept itself will come under scrutiny and at times I have learned things about myself that I never thought I would.
First off, I actually have friends. There is a seriously nice group of foreign teachers which I have easily slotted into (thank God) and feel like I’ve been here for so much longer than a month. Luckily there are 2 other newbies so there is even a mini-group within the main group. We have rooftop bbq’s, go to yoga (my muscles have been destroyed from the advanced class we accidentally spent too long in), complain about disobedient Chinese children over dinner, (they are far more common than you think) visit each other in hospital (2/7 so far), collect each other from the bus station at 2am (thank you Ms. Erin) and make plans to visit the amazing beaches at the weekends.
Secondly, after my second visit to the capital I am wandering around feeling like I’m at home. Taipei is an incredible city and after being shown around by my sisters good old friend Megan I can safely say I am in love with the capital. Rich and poor live side by side, night markets next door to designer (hello Chanel and Longchamp). Serene places of worship and history are just seconds away from buildings developing the worlds next technologies. In one day I visited a memorial hall, a landmark of history and achievement (Chang Kai Shek is the founder of Taiwan and my Dad’s favourite topic of conversation on Skype) as well as Taipei 101, a building designed to look like bamboo and houses every the likes of Marc Jacobs and Long Champ.
Whilst in Taipei I met up for a coffee with a girl called Grace. She is 27, speaks good English and I met her on the internet. Why are you meeting a stranger from online in Taipei I hear you ask! Don’t panic. The website is a forum for foreigners living in Taiwan and she is my language exchange. She is looking (just as I am) to learn another language in exchange for teaching somebody her own. So we spent 3 wonderful hours getting to know each other (she came far more prepared than I did with worksheets and homework!) and speaking English and Chinese. I learned an amazing amount in a short space of time and I am now hoping to go back to the Capital every 2 weeks (as I love it so much) to meet with Grace and make an actual attempt to become bilingual.
Thirdly, my apartment is a mess. When I first arrived I didn’t have enough stuff for it to be a mess. But as I look around, there are 3 bottles of half drunk Jasmine Tea on the side, an opened box of Oreos which should have been put back on its shelf but is scruffily laying sideways on my desk. Nail varnish remover and nail varnish on the floor where I sat in a hurry yesterday morning and paperwork and planning everywhere as I continue to put 110% into my lesson planning and often stay up into the early hours of the morning (although in my defence this is also to catch you folk on Skype 7 hours behind me). My apartment now feels like home and I look forward to coming back (sometimes during lunch) just to chill in my own place. There are photos everywhere, reminder post-its on the wall and a giant tube map I received in one of my packages!
Forth – I now use the lingo around here. As well as my ever-improving basic Chinese, I don’t call the local convenience store 7/11 anymore. I call it 7’s (yep I’m THAT cool), I say garbage can and cell phone, vacation and gas (for petrol). You may be scrunching up that little face of yours in disgust, but if I use the British terms for these items, no one understands what I mean and I waste my time correcting myself and explaining we use these words in the UK. Its quicker and easier to use these words, which are scarily becoming so comfortable.
Fifth – K2A are really becoming my own. We have a test every Friday, all the foreign teachers will leave their classrooms and go to another. They will test the class individually on that weeks unit and score each child out of 20 for their vocab, phonics and pronunciation skills. I am very proud to announce that 8 of my children scored perfectly (meaning they remembered everything and pronounced them perfectly), 7 scored 19 and 5 scored 18 (there is 1 boy who scored 0 because he just does not speak, ever.) But I was very very very happy with the results and I feel like I actually have a purpose while I’m here.
That day I took them for a treat to play for 20 minutes, we made animal masks and the idea was that the would stay in character through the whole playtime (this was my way to justify 20 mins play during lesson time). However 5 minutes in, there was a bolt of lightning, thunder and then the heaviest rain shower I’ve ever seen. It came out of nowhere and all the children were caught – in the middle of the playground – bang smack in the middle of a typhoon. I panicked and worried they would all freak out and cry hysterically. But my panic was in vain. Within 10 seconds all the children were laughing uncontrollably and running around in circles. I couldn’t help but laugh with them. It was a funny old sight to see 20 laughing chinese children in animal masks in the middle of a storm.
I had another one of my ‘I can’t believe this is my life’ moments and started singing ‘if you’re happy and you know it clap your hands’ at the top of my lungs. The kids just about heard me over the deafening sound of the rain and joined in. There we were, drenched, singing and stamping our feet and patting our heads. I realised I didn’t mind the rain. Back home I was convinved it was the Devil in disguise, out to make people miserable and ruin their plans. I admit I was a weather snob ok! But here it gave me and my class some bonding time we never would have had and as put my arms out (in pain from yoga class) and spun around with my eyes shut I actually had a slight change in personality. I appreciated the coolness, the breeze, the break from the 36 degree humidity and was grateful for the huge rain drops now hitting my cheeks and chin. No longer do I hate the rain.
My first month has been a manic journey on which I haven’t always been able to predict my own reactions, i.e. wanting to backhand a 12 year old in the head but managing to refrain, navigating my way home on a Saturday night in Taipei by making friends with an strangely tall Chinese guy who taught me Chinese at 2 and translated the Bus Station announcements, and having unlimited patience with the naughtiest boy in the class (E is doing well and although he has his bad days – e.g. drawing all over another girls clothes and skin with felt tip – is still learning English well and learning when he is angry enough to go into the ‘Feelings Corner’). I have surprised myself with how quickly I have adapted to a new way of life and new routine. It doesn’t take long to remove yourself from everything you have known your whole life and start again. And as I sit here typing this (in bed because my muscles have given up on me) I realise it is a bold reminder that life is short. That if you want to do something you just should and that advanced yoga class is not your friend.