As the long year comes to a close and the Christmas hype dies down, I felt it only necessary to float spontaneously into a reflective reverie about what a strange and unbelievable 12 months I have had. Aside from the obvious fact that I am now living on a continent 5,000 miles where my family first originated hundreds of years ago and I branched out on my own with no friends (yada yada yada) there is actually more to learn from this blog then meets the eye. For throughout my time here, I have sat upon a white fluffy cloud and carefully observed the culture and traditions below.
10. For example, did you know that burping and farting are completely acceptable over here? No polite excuse required. Just simply let loose and go about your business like it never happened. Even if you’re 50 years old, dressed in a suit and burp with a volume that could shake the earth or are 5 years old, in the presence of your foreign teacher and have a mouthful of food, go for it. Leave your ‘pardon me’s’, ‘excuse mes’ and apologise in Europe my friends, out here…no shame or blame. Still not sure how I feel about this concept. I feel very offended every time a 5-year-old burps in my face or my assistant frees t her wind in with no acknowledgment. In my head the Chinese would be the most apologetic for this spotlight behaviour. They hate drawing attention to themselves. But, like in many other ways, Taiwan has surprised/shocked me.
9. When I say umbrella, you probably think rain, wind perhaps the odd storm. A normal and expected association that people in the UK and western world make. Think again. Here in Asia, not quite how it works. If it rains, grab your head to toe raincoat, complete with sexy zip and poppers, hood, over the shoe covers and visor for your helmet. If its 38 degrees and sunny, grab your umbrella. God forbid the wonderful sunrays should touch your face and discolor that artificially whitened skin of yours. If you don’t have an umbrella, its ok. You can use a book, your bag or if you’re bag/bookless there’s always your good old hand and sleeve, just whatever you do, do not make contact with vitamin D. Not in Taiwan anyway.
8. In the West we’re fed images of Chinese people obeying strict and difficult rules that their government impose on them. You probably picture little shack villages where people don’t have human rights, can’t vote and most tragically, can’t even use facebook. From this, most of us (definitely me anyway) have made huge assumptions about sex and sexuality and that it’s an unspoken and repressed subject. WRONG. Here it is the total opposite. Sexy girls dressed in wonderfully tacky costumes (think Britney Spears video) stand in shop windows, children in school are far more aware of sex and sexuality than 10 year olds back home and on the whole I feel like it’s just a far more open and acceptable topic than it is in England. I was shocked to see X-rated video shops freely advertised, girls in bikini’s in clubs and a huge gay population both in Taipei and in Hsinchu. Sex Appeal and is alive and kicking and in big business here in Taiwan.
7. Another image we all have of Asia is the buddhist guy, sitting pensively on a rock somewhere with his legs crossed and humming to himself. Now, although buddhism is still the main religion of China and is practiced devoutly across the Strait, here in Taiwan, I am shocked at the amount of churches and neon red crosses sticking out of buildings there are. Christianity is just as common (if not more so in Hsinchu) than Buddhism, there are more Christians in Taiwan and China than there are in Italy and although there are Buddhist temples scattered about the city, Taiwan and China combined are on track to becoming the largest centre of Christians in the world. Crazy huh?
6. When I say pasta, I could bet you probably everything I own (minus my Beyonce collection, Starbucks thermos flask and scooter) that you think of Italy. Wrong again. The Chinese have been eating noodles for over 4000 years and are the official inventors of pasta. They didn’t call it pasta obviously, Lord knows what they called it, pasta is an italian word, but pasta itself, is a Chinese dish. Marco Polo (traveller and king of Venice) loved it so much he brought it back to his wonderful country and here in lies the history of the noodle.
5. And the same can be said for smoothies. And ice cream. And Ketchup. And fireworks. And the kite. And the parachute. In fact, there are so many things that everybody in the West uses that China first thought of. I mean, where we be without our Ben and Jerrys? Or our innocent smoothies? Or our 5th November ritual? Let’s not get into it, too upsetting. Better to just be grateful for the clever clogs in the 14th century who first came up with these crazy-ass ideas.
4. So its 15 years ago, my Mum and I are traipsing around different secondary schools in 90’ oufits trying to decide which would be best/least distressing for spending 5 years in and we both agree that smaller schools would probably be better. I mean isn’t it a given that the less children in a class the better they do? As it turns out I went to a gigantic secondary school in the end and came out ok (I think), but the saying definitely goes, the less kids, the better they do. For surely, this means more one on one time with the teacher and thus better grades? Not in Taiwan. No no. That would be far too predictable. Here, it’s more like our restaurant browsing policy. The more kids the better. For, obviously this means the teacher is well trusted. So, much to my delight, whilst other classes have 11 or 12 students, mine has 22. My supervisor tries to spin this as “it means you very good and trusted” as she attempts to place one more in K2A. I’ve drawn the line. And you’ll be pleased to know, the small child was rejected and placed in K2B, her parents weren’t the happiest. I mean there are only 13 children in K2B. This can’t be a good thing at all.…. I will never understand this backwards concept in this country.
3. Friday the 13th. Unlucky right? In the West yes. In the East? No siree. Try the 4th. Or just number 4 in general. Apparently the word of death sounds or looks just like the number 4. So anything related to 4 naturally must be related to death. That’s why very often a building won’t have a 4th floor or models of phones or computers will skip the 4th generation.
2. Chinese kids are crazy! Everybody who comes here to teach expects them to be the most obedient, well-behaved children on Earth. And every single person has this expectation shattered to pieces within the first few hours of their first day. These children will happily say ‘no’ to your face, and when I say happily I mean it. A kid last week said no with a huge smile on his face. That is until I sent him to Baby class and he spent the entire lesson with children 10 years his younger. They won’t sit still, they speak Chinese to your face and are so clearly calling you an ugly bitch or some insult of the sort. It has taken me 4 months to tame both my classes, using a trial and error method I have eliminated strategy after strategy and eventually found ways to gain both their respect and obedience. Nobody has ever anticipated just how much of a handful a 12-year-old Chinese boy can be, but let me tell you, as soon as they learn the word ‘gay’ or ‘shit’, you’re in for a challenge.
1. The biggest shocker of all is how friendly the Taiwanese are. In general the Chinese have a stereotype for keeping themselves to themselves, needing nobody and befriending only their kind. But, I have experienced only the latter. The locals here will go out of their way to help you. To me, this has made such a difference to my time here and having my iPod returned to me after 4 weeks of frantic searching, being let off the last 20 dollars from a cab ride and being given water at 5 in the morning from the taxi man have all shown me just how amazing this country and it’s little people can be.
As 2011 becomes 2012 and my fourth month here turns into my fifth, I have accepted the disgusting burps and farts. I have gotten used to the crazy 8 lane freeway twice a day. I have learned the hard way that my big class means I am a good teacher. My little cloud is slowly disintegrating and I am falling into the culture I so closely watched and examined. I now wear 3 layers when it’s 22 degrees because I understand the weather and the crazy-ass wind. I now drink hot water instead of cold because I understand it’s better for your throat and nose and can prevent colds. I actually shout at children that need to be shouted at (this is not such a good thing back home) because I realise they must learn how to form their letters and numbers correctly before elementary school (again, never normally such a big deal, kids in England have crap handwriting). There are probably a million more things I don’t know about the Chinese, after all they’ve been around about 5000 years longer than us, but I’ll take the above 10 as good footing as I head into my second semester.
Happy new year to those in this continent and that which I miss so much. 2012 is the year of the Dragon. My year. If that doesn’t sum it up, I don’t know what will.