Why am I not translating this into Chinese? Because a) It's too long and b) because I would like to write something in English without worrying about how to write it in Chinese later. My apologies to those who are reading this blog in Chinese. I will translate the next (and last) entry this semester into Mandarin. 我想跟這裡只讀中文的讀者說一聲道歉. 我會把這學期最後一次的文章翻譯中文.
(Careful! There's a test at the end!)
My Year in Review
(Alternate Titles: 15 Years a Slave, Being and Nothingness, 15 Going On 40, Master and Commander: The Far Side of the Pacific)
So let me start by addressing the elephant in the room: I turned 40 this year. Turning 40 is a big deal for anyone, and anyone who tells you otherwise is lying. How big an impact 40 has on someone's psyche will of course vary, but 40 gives one pause just the same.
Even so, I think I handled 40 pretty well. I didn't go on a bender (as I did when I turned 30), I didn't take up a new sport/girlfriend/hobby/car in an attempt to feel "young," and I didn't grow unusually depressed. Sure, I've done some thinking about my age and where I am in my life, but I think I'm doing alright. Of course subsequent events could always prove me wrong, but I'm relatively at peace with my age, my circumstances, and whatever else I have going on.
With 40 out of the way, I thought it might be fun to go back and review some of the things that happened to me this year. This isn't just the year I turned 40, after all, but also my 15th year in Taiwan, and my fifth (or sixth) year writing this blog. Time flies, doesn't it?
During that same month I visited north Taiwan. I went to Taipei's City Art Museum, and rode the Maokong Gondola for the first time. I do NOT recommend the City Art Museum, but the Maokong Gondola is kind of fun in a windstorm.
I could see myself living in Taipei. Of course Taipei has its drawbacks, but life there is never boring. I'm sure I'd get tired of the crowds, the weather, and the expense, but there is a lot to do in north Taiwan. Then again, if I lived there I'd be broke most of the time.
Nothing interesting happened during this month, or at least nothing I'm prepared to discuss here. I took pictures of the "Beauty of Taitung" triathlon, and as I look at these pictures I'm wondering if I joined this event, or if I was just there taking pictures. It's strange that I can't remember. We drove around Hualien for a couple days, and tried camping at Shr Ti Ping. It was too hot to sleep, and we were very tired on the second day of our trip. This attempt at camping is the only reason we haven't been camping since.
I was very happy during this month. We went to many hot springs, there were many new restaurants to visit, and a good time was had by all.
This was when the city and county elections took place. There were billboards everywhere, fireworks, and many men riding in trucks with loudspeakers. I made a concerted effort to understand the issues involved, and in the end decided that even the candidates weren't sure what these issues really were. I joined a half-marathon in Tainan and had a miserable time. We hadn't really counted on how far Tainan is, how far from Tainan City the race was, and how disorganized some race events can be. The race itself also wasn't interesting. It was a long, hot run through several KM of nothing much at all, and by the end of it I was sorry I'd gone to all that trouble. Our school went on a field trip to the East Coast National Scenic Area Visitor's Center, and I had a good time that day. The weather was very good, and the kids had a great time.
Even with all the driving I did that month, I was still struck by how bad the traffic in downtown Tainan is. It must be the old roads. They're narrow, they're rarely straight, and people there drive aggressively. Just about any place outside the city is fine, but the area around the Shin Kong Mitsukoshi department stores is frightening on a Saturday night.
The big news that month was how many seats the KMT lost in city and county elections. Ma Ying-jeou's popularity is still at a low point, and I can't even remember the last time I saw him on television. The Hong Kong protests ended about the same time, with a whimper rather than a bang. Went on another field trip with the sixth graders to Far Glory Amusement Park in Hualien. That field trip was not very fun. I've had a hard time liking most (not all) of the sixth graders this year. Can't say why this is.
During that month I often mused upon my ability to repeat the same mistake over and over. We all have blind spots in our personalities, and I am no different.
Went to Beigang in Yunlin County (finally). I've been reading about that place for years, and it was good to finally see it with my own eyes. Taiwan doesn't have a long history, but in this short history Beigang is an important place. Like much of Yunlin, it's nothing to write home about, but there is some good food to be found there.
In Taiwan, you could be standing in front of a temple hundreds of years old and not notice it. You could be eating foods that families have made for generations, and not think about the traditions behind them. Beigang is like that, too. You could drive right through it, and not know that it had a history stretching back to the Ching Dynasty.
Pause for Chinese New Year. [Insert sound of fireworks]
That "Sad About the Lake" entry was/is the most read thing I've ever written. Over 6000 hits in 3 days, and a newspaper even did a story on it. Even now I can't say why that entry resonated with people the way it did, but I found the attention gratifying.
April is a good month in Taiwan. It's not hot enough to make you sweat, but it's warm enough to make swimming pleasant.
I grew obsessed with birds for a few weeks, and saw two movies in the theater. I thought "Avengers: Age of Ultron" was exceedingly average, and "Mad Max: Fury Road" was quite good. I'd really like to see Fury Road again.
There were a couple times in May when I found myself standing or sitting around with a group of other white guys in their 30s and 40s. At some point during both convocations I realized that there were many of us (myself included), trying very hard to look cool.
And what is sillier than guys my age, living where we do, trying to look cool? Who were we trying to impress? Each other? The two or three girls in the bar? I don't know, but when I think about how I was acting at the time I still feel silly. Life is too short to be 40 years old and trying to look cool.
Eventually I came to the realization that I shouldn't be offering people a diluted version of myself. I shouldn't be trying so hard to fit in and/or impress people. "Vanity of vanities" sayeth the Preacher, and I have been more vain than many.
During this month I'm sitting here typing this. It's a Saturday, the weather is hot, and I'm trying to not to sweat into my keyboard. Took my younger daughter swimming today. I also managed a terrific sunburn. I'm thinking about riding my bike up the coast tomorrow, but it depends on the weather. In 10 days I leave for Seattle, where I will probably not do much at all for two months. It will be good to go back to the Emerald City, even if I'm parting with a lot of money to do so. We all pay for our nostalgia, and often, not always, the fee is monetary. If you're staying in Taiwan this summer, I hope you have plenty of chances to escape the heat. No one knows better than I do that sweating all day at work is NOT cool, and that having time to unwind is perhaps the most important thing there is. Whatever you are doing, and wherever you are doing it, I wish you a pleasant July and August. As for me, I'll be sitting in a backyard reading old science fiction novels, revisiting favorite beers, rediscovering nature, or attending the odd concert. Perhaps when I come back I'll have some pictures to share, and some stories to tell. Perhaps you will too?
(Alternate Titles: 15 Weeks a Slave, Nothingness and Being, Commander and Master: The Far Side of Friday)
Last Tuesday I attended a "culture fair" at Taitung's Athletic Center. All of the Foreign English Teachers (FETs) and the English Teaching Assistants (ETAs) working for the Fulbright program were there too. Between the 17 or so of us there were, I think, five booths where we supervised an English activity.
The culture fair ended before noon, and I was free the rest of the day. By the time it was over, I was drenched in sweat (the entire activity was outside), and I made a beeline for home and a shower. Afterward I took an epic nap, and watched movies on my computer. I was planning to go for a bike ride that day, but by the time I took the nap and watched the movies it was already much too late, and much too hot.
I can remember feeling rather alienated by the other teachers that day. They seemed very focused on other foreigners and foreigner-related things, and I was having trouble following some of their conversation. Which Mike? Mike from New Zealand, or Mike from Canada? The one who works at Hess? Or the one that works at Giraffe?
All of this energy spent on a small, impermanent group of people who probably won't even be around next year. Sometimes it's hard for me to understand.
On Wednesday evening I teach a junior high school student that I've been teaching for over four years now. Getting him to talk is like pulling teeth. When I ask him a question he'll just sit there and go "Hmm," and "Huh," and I get exceedingly tired of one-word answers. His reading is excellent, and his writing is not bad either, but as far as speaking goes he's got a long road ahead of him.
There are times when I wonder why a given student is studying English. Then again, they probably don't know either. A lot of Taiwanese kids are getting pushed in one direction or another by their parents, and if asked why they do anything they'd be hard pressed to tell you - in any language. I can only imagine such children growing very frustrated with their lives later on. They spend so many years living other people's lives, and doing what makes other people happy. Once many of them reach college, they are probably at a loss with regard to living their own life, and making themselves happy.
The computers in the classrooms at work are almost always broken, and I have had to drop many classes because of this. I get there early but it doesn't seem to help. The computer still crashes just before I'm about to start class.
Tested two of the sixth grade classes, and I'm glad to be done with them. The sixth graders and I are like animals trapped in the same cage. We know that it will be summer vacation soon, and we regard each other warily.
If I kept up my Facebook more I could probably look there and find out what I was doing last Friday. As it is I have no clue to my whereabouts during most of that particular day. I must have been at work, but I can't remember anything that happened.
I do remember that one of my friends had a birthday party at Pete's pizza. Pete's pizza is run by a guy named Pete who's lived in Taitung longer than I have. He's a nice guy, and if you know him he'll cut you a deal on whatever beer you're buying.
My friend's birthday was on the second floor, in an air-conditioned room. I believe there were five other foreigners there, one of my Taiwanese coworkers, one wife, one girlfriend, and a couple of kids.
The friend in question was turning 29. I also can't remember what I did when I turned 29.
Ah, Saturday. A great day to wake up very late.
I didn't do a whole lot on Saturday, though I did take my younger daughter swimming at Shan Yuan beach. We were only there for an hour, and upon my return I took yet another nap.
I rode 40 KM up the coast on Sunday morning. I did this with two of my coworkers, and I was back by 9 AM. I had originally hoped to take pictures of the coast while I was doing this, but it was very cloudy that morning. I've noticed that when the sky has that steel gray color taking pictures of anything is a waste of time.
After I returned home we went out for sushi, to that sushi train place within the Carrefour. After the bike ride I was starving and I ate very fast.
In the afternoon we drove up the coast and went swimming. The sun came out a few times as we did so, the water was very cool, and the green mountains rising up from the beach offered a pleasant view. It was all worth the sunburn, and I'll probably go back there again next weekend.
Monday was yesterday. On Monday morning I took to the podium for the last time this semester, and got some of the students to come up and answer some questions in English. It was astonishingly hot that morning, and the students' enthusiasm for English was understandably dimmed by the extreme heat.
You know it's hot when you wake up from an afternoon nap and feel drunk. This is exactly how I felt the following afternoon. Upon rousing myself from a deep slumber, I felt like I had slammed a six pack of Bud. And as any teacher knows, teaching small children when you feel drunk is never pleasant. Everything was moving at the wrong speed.
Tuesday is today. And what have I done with myself? How can I answer for my crimes? Through what means can I erase the infamy that disfigures my great name? Wait, let me have another coffee. There, I'm better now.
Tuesdays are usually unpleasant for me because I have the 6-2 class. Fortunately I am testing them today, so they will be less of a problem.
After work I will go running. It's still hot as f*&k, but I feel that for my personal well being a good run is in order. There are things you think about, and other things you sweat off. Today is one of those days.