Thursday, June 29, 2006

Comments Are Appreciated!

Please feel free to leave me a comment or two if you're reading this stuff. It helps knowing that there are folks out there checking out the blog. You don't have to have say anything in particular, just a howdy would suffice.

This blog is a very therapeutic thing for me, helps me vent. It's also a way for folks back home to have a laugh or two, I hope.

Summer vacation is coming up. Stay tuned for my

Wednesday, June 28, 2006

G-Men & Schedule Changes

Recently, the government has been fiddling around with the foreign teachers rules/laws. As of last month, they are no longer going to allow any foreign teachers to work more than 32 hours per week. This means that my boss is gonna have to reconfigure our schedules to meet with the new law. We currently work somewhere between 30-35 hours per week, when you figure in our office time. Looks like we may have to cut down on our desk time which is cool because it's really not necessary for us to be there so much. I typically teach about 15-18 hours per week. We spend about half of the "office/desk" time messing around and doing absolutely nothing. I find I spend a lot of money during work hours because we venture out often to the local shops. Perhaps a stream-lined schedule will save me

Changes like this one will surely have an impact on my upcoming contract negotiations, but that's a whole 'nother post for a whole 'nother day...

Yet Another Boost Of My Ego

I went into work today and started to prepare for my classes, nothing special. Sandy, the Chinese teacher that I share a high-level class with, was at the copier. Let me preface this by saying Brent used to teach this class with Sandy. Brent was a foreign teacher at the school for eight years! I wanted Sandy to know how the class went this past Saturday. We were talking about the class and she happened to mentioned that Sarah's mom, who attends every class and is essentially a student, told her that I am a better teacher than Brent was. WOW! That is an incredible compliment. Brent was considered the alpha-teacher, he could do no wrong. People here generally don't express such thoughts to others, they are very hard to please. This makes this compliment all the more amazing. Brent taught the class for about 18 months prior to leaving Taiwan, so he had plenty of time to iron out the kinks. I guess I accomplished, in 3 months, what he couldn't in a year-and-a-half...hooray for me!

No Air-Conditioning???

I was talking with one of my students the other day and she mentioned how hot it's been lately. I agreed, whole-heartedly. She told me that her junior high school doesn't have A/C...I just about hit the floor! The temp has reached 95 every day for the past 3 weeks. This amounts to torture on these kids. They cram 50 kids in a classroom with just a handful of fans...that's criminal.

Saturday, June 24, 2006

Cops With Cameras

I saw something interesting the other day. I was walking to work when I noticed a police officer on the side of the road taking pictures of an illegally parked car. When I got to work, I asked one of the Chinese teachers what the deal was with the digital camera wielding cops. She said the police here, rather than putting a ticket on your window, take a picture of the offending vehicle and mail the owner the ticket in the mail with a nice shot of the car. What a remarkably clean and efficient way to deal with traffic tickets. She also told me that many of the lights in the busy intersections have cameras mounted on them. The cameras pick off red-light runners and the police send them a thank-you

Thursday, June 22, 2006

Jose Gonzalez & The Superball Dream

I just stumbled upon an amazing video and artist. The video is for the song "Heartbeats", it's a live performance in London interspersed with the most incredible images. I have watched it about 20 times and it mesmerizes me every time.

This is amazing stuff. The imagery is mind-blowing. It's such a beautiful song accompanied by someone's creative vision. No Star-Wars-like special effects, just a cool idea.

Jose is a classical guitarist with tons of talent.

please check it out:

After the page has loaded, go down to the area on the right that says "The Music Video" and click on the quicktime link "high"(H. 264). Please make sure you have the speakers on your computer turned on and the volume up, the music jives wonderfully with the images. Be prepared to watch it a few times...

Wednesday, June 21, 2006

Objects In The Mirror Are Larger Than They Appear

Isn't that what it says on the side mirrors of most cars? It's also a principle that is far too ignored in this country. People here generally have a hard time getting past things that aren't THAT big of a deal. For example, a few weeks ago I had an awful class. It was my Saturday, 2-hour gig. Sandy co-teaches the class with me and she is pretty intense. Anyhow, I changed my game-plan at the last minute for this particular class and it didn't work. I ended up running out of time and didn't get to all the material I should have. Since that class, every time I discuss the class with Sandy, she reminds me not to fall behind again...ugh. It happened one freaking time! I have kicked butt in this class and she seems to be obsessing on that one little bump in the road.

Sandy isn't the only person guilty of this. My boss, Carol, is famous for her harping on the most miniscule problems. I know that is the job of a boss, but come on, get over it. Yet another cultural conundrum.

Tuesday, June 20, 2006


$300 billion. That is the cost thus far for the "war" in Iraq. What a tragedy. This got me thinking about what our country could've and should've spent that money on. Here are some things that I found after searching on the 'net:

*we could've paid for 38 million kids enrollment in the Head Start program.

*we could've fully funded global anti-hunger efforts for 12 years.

*we could've hired an additional 5 million public school teachers for a year.

*we could've fully funded world-wide AIDS programs for 28 years!

*we could've ensured that every child in the world was given basic immunizations for 96 years.

*we could've provided 14 million students four-year scholarships at public universities.

Instead of using the money towards worthwhile things like those I've mentioned, we are wasting it on the "war on terrorism".

What do we have for our $300 billion?

-2,500 dead kids.
-no control over the region
-no end in sight
-loss of respect and/or credibility on the world stage
-a nation no safer than it was prior to 9/11

What a waste.

Sunday, June 18, 2006

Shopper's Paradise

Last week I was on my way to work when the backpack I bought a few months ago decided to fall apart. I guess that's what happens when you pay about $6 American for what should cost a lot more. I was just walking along the subway tunnel when the strap tore off, it was tragic, I liked that bag.

Due to the above tragedy, I was forced to embark on yet another shopping excursion. What better place to go than Shilin Night Market, the biggest and craziest market in the country. The problem with Shilin is it's difficult to get in there and just buy what you need, and not the things that you want. It's a giant maze of enticements. I did OK. I managed to get out of there with just one impulse purchase, and a cheap one at that! Every time I go there the same shop pulls me in. This place is full of silly knock-off stuff, very good imitations of stuff at seriously low prices. I decided to try the new Lacoste cologne for a whopping NT$200 (about $6 American, the same price I paid for the original book bag). It smells great and the price was right. Oh ya, I also found another bag. This one is quite nice. Not a big brand-name bag, but it seems to be well-made. It's got one of those cool straps that goes across your chest to help brace it to your body when it's heavy...pretty neat. This time I paid NT$500 (about $16 American), which is pretty high by local standards. I hope I get my money's worth.

Friday, June 16, 2006

From Cairo to Capetown

One of my good buddies here, Graeme, has decided to take a break from teaching and span the continent of Africa with one of his friends. He left a week or two ago and is trekking through the dark continent...I'm seriously jealous! He said it should take them about a month to reach Capetown, Graeme's hometown. I wish him lots of luck and hope he stays safe.

I have been thinking about a trip to Africa recently. I think I have to visit Egypt before I make it back to the states. It would be silly not to considering I am already on the other side of the planet. I have always wanted to check out that part of the planet, this just might be my chance. I may have to take up a collection amongst family and friends in order to afford

Thursday, June 15, 2006

If It's Yellow, Let It Mellow

Time to vent. (bad pun, see below for details)

Taiwan is an advanced country in most areas of life, not bathroom etiquette. They take the adage "If it's yellow, let it mellow. If it's brown, flush it down" way too seriously. My desk is about 20 yards or so from the bathroom at the office. At times, the smell emanating from the toilet is overwhelming. Do the parents in this country teach their kids not to flush the toilet after they pee?? They don't turn on the AC in the office until about 2:30 in the afternoon (the teachers arrive at 3:00), and it's usually pretty hot in the office because there is always about 50 kids running around producing lots of hot air. It's hot here. High temperatures and bowls full of urine don't mix well.

Why Did It Take Me 15 Years To Figure This Out?

I've spent the past 15 years twisting in the wind. I was never sure what I wanted to do so I bounced from job-to-job and city-to-city without ever really finding my niche. It started in college. I had a hard time deciding on what I wanted to study. I finally settled on what I truly love, political science. I loved studying poli-sci, but I always knew it would be very difficult to bring home the bacon with a liberal arts degree. I was right. I am yet to utilize my blinding knowledge of politics in way that is profitable. In the back of my mind, I always thought teaching was a possibility. Once I finished college the thought of going back to school to become a teacher was unappealing. Instead, I set upon a long road of meaningless, mind-numbing jobs. That is until about 2 years ago. Peace Corps was my chance to dabble a bit in teaching. Working with the folks in my village in Honduras was great. The crazy little English class that I had in Santa Lucia del Real, Honduras changed my life.

Teaching is what I should've been doing all along, I kick butt!

Wednesday, June 14, 2006

The Past Perfect Continuous Tense...huh?

Yelp, it exists. I have to teach my class what the past perfect continuous tense is and how to use it. God knows it's gonna be the blind leading the blind. See, in the US, kids aren't so much taught why they use grammar as much as they are just taught how to use it. Here, kids are much more analytical. They expect me to explain why it exists and how it ties in with everything else they've learned, no small feat. I'll be spending the next few weeks brushing up on my bizarre

This teaching gig has taught me a lot, it requires me to use parts of my brain that have been dormant for far too long. What a great challenge.

Saturday, June 10, 2006

My Neurosis or Painful Pants?

Ok. I am about to relate to you all a VERY traumatic experience from my past, and its aftermath...this is NOT easy!

It was Independence Day weekend, Lake Yahoa, Honduras. I was spending a long weekend with my Peace Corps co-workers. Let me preface this by saying the area around the lake is very jungle-like, lots of scary critters. We stayed in some sub-standard motel-like shacks that were just feet from the water. I took an overnight bag and made the mistake of leaving it unzipped on the floor throughout the night. Much to my chagrin, one of the above-mentioned scary guys crawled into my bag.

The weekend was a blast, we partied in classic Peace Corps style. I got home Tuesday night. Exhausted by the 9 hour bus ride, I didn't bother to unpack my bag, just went straight to bed. I woke up the following morning and decided to wear my blue dockers-style pants that I had taken to the lake with me, but didn't wear. Grabbed 'em out of my bag, slipped them on, and trotted over to my office. Unbeknownst to me, the bad guy, a FREAKING SCORPION, had set up camp inside one of the legs of the pants that I was wearing!!!

After about 15 minutes of pleasantries with my co-workers, I felt something biting my right knee. (Remember, I was living on the edge of a rainforest, mosquitoes are Honduras' national bird.) I thought that a mosquito was biting my leg, so I swatted my leg a few times and that was that...NOT! About 2 seconds later, the stinging feeling in my knee got really intense...I started to freak out a bit. Before I knew it, I was dancing around the office trying to figure out what was eating my knee! All of the sudden, a black multi-legged thing dropped out of my pant leg, it's a good thing it did because I was about 5 seconds from ripping my pants off in front of about 10 As soon as it hit the floor, one of the guys in the office yelled out "alacran, alacran!" (scorpion, scorpion!). One of the secretaries quickly ran over to my side and smashed it with her shoe while I was whimpering like a big baby.

The evil beast (I'm guessing it was about 3 inches long) had stung me 4 times! I guess they don't like to be swatted? Anyhow, the pain was incredible and word of the incident spread fast throughout the town...I was the dancing gringo with scorpions in his pants! To add to the madness, there must have been a second monster in my bag because the next day I found one in my bathroom...what a nightmare.

The point of this story is that, since the incident, everytime I wear that same pair of blue pants, my right leg itches! Scary, eh? It just happened again yesterday, that's why I am relating this to you now. I'm hoping that this post will somehow stop this madness, perhaps appease the scorpion spirits...I need help people!

Friday, June 09, 2006

Schedule Craziness & Pizza Heaven

My work load has changed dramatically in the past week or so. One of the Chinese teachers quit, so I have to pick up some of the pieces she left behind. This past week has been intense. My new schedule includes a two-hour class on Tuesdays and Wednesdays, and 2 two-hour classes on Saturdays. I know it doesn't sound like much, but it's tough when you have to handle about 8 one-hour classes and a few tests on top of the two-hour spots each week. The problem isn't the class-time, it's the amount of preparation that goes into each class, you can't go cold into any class, you have to have a plan. I can handle it, I just need some time to adjust.

Called my good buddy Scott the other day and invited him to join me on a trip to Alleycat's. He accepted, of course. You'd have to be on your death bed to miss a trip to Taiwan's best pizza joint. We're heading over there Saturday night. I plan on eating pizza until I keel over!

I just found out that I have 3 days of vacation time coming to me and I have to use them before August. Can't decide if I should take one day at a time and just chill out here, or take all three at once and head to somewhere cool like Bangkok...gotta decide soon.

Thursday, June 08, 2006

Road Pizza

As I've stated here before, this is the land of the scooter/motorcycle. According to government statistics, nearly half of the population of this country has a motorbike. Despite having so many crazy two-wheelers on the streets, there is a very low accident rate, people here know how to navigate these streets REALLY well.

One aspect of the motorcycle culture that just freaks me out is folks will pile 3 or 4 people on one motorcycle! This happens because it's often the only form of transportation a family has. When they all pile on, the little kids are usually in the front and NOT WEARING A HELMET!!!! The parents always wear helmets...not the kiddies. 9 out of 10 times I see the kids with their noses just above the handle bars and their hair blowing in the wind, how freaking crazy is that??? Do the adults think it's ok for them to safeguard themselves against brain injuries, but not their kids? Regardless of how good the drivers may be, the reality is, accidents happen and they need to be a bit more concerned about the little ones...ugh.

Wednesday, June 07, 2006

I Survived the PTA

The PTA went pretty darn well tonight. The plan was to teach my lesson for about 30 minutes while the parents watched from the back. Then, I would have each student come to the front of the class and read their favorite composition (approximately 30 minutes). Finally, I would spend the second hour speaking with the parents about what we have done in class thus far, and what we are going to do for the next 4 months, or so. The kids go to another room for the 2nd hour. Well, it didn't quite work out that way. I got pretty wrapped up in my lesson and it ran about 45 minutes. Also, the readings took a bit longer than I thought because my boss wanted them, after they read them in English, to quickly translate and read their papers in Chinese for the benefit of the was goofy. After all of this concluded, I realized that I only had about 30 minutes to talk to the parents. This turned out to be a blessing because I really didn't have a whole lot to say. I essentially reassured them that I am working hard developing this class and their kids are gonna be learning a lot in the near future. It was a quickie progress report as far as the class agenda is concerned. It's very difficult to speak when your every sentence has to be translated for you. I think it went pretty well. We'll see what the boss says tomorrow, she watched the whole thing...yikes!

Sunday, June 04, 2006


This is one of my classes. They are class #1060 and I teach them every Saturday for 2 hours, great kids. The boys in the front and the girls on the left are exceptional. It can be difficult teaching this many kids at once, especially when they get to the advanced-level stuff. The woman sitting in the back, left is a mom to one of the students. She comes to every class and I treat her like one of the students. She does all of the homework and takes all the tests and loves it. The school allows parents to sit-in on their kids classes for free, so most of them treat it like free English lessons, not a bad deal.
My mini-class. A very unique class, only 5 students. They are taking a difficult test and I am annoying them because I keep snapping pics of This was my last time teaching them, what a bummer. The boss has decided I should take over a bigger, more difficult class that just lost it's teacher. I hate leaving these kids, they are very bright and tons of fun.

Damien is Back!

I just saw a commercial for the remake of the movie The Omen. Excellent! I loved the original film with Gregory Peck. I hope this one is even half as good. I remember watching the original with my sister, Shelley, I couldn't have been more than about 10 or 12 years old. It scared the crap out of me! This movie is one of the big reasons I have been a movie freak for the past 25 or so years. There aren't too many things more fun or silly than watching a great horror movie. I have to thank Shelley for allowing me to watch it with her knowing that I was an annoying little brat of a kid. Shelley also knows her comedy, she used to play the "A Wild & Crazy Guy" LP by Steve Martin all the time, what a classic. Thanks Shell, you've had more of an impact on my life than you'll ever know.

Friday, June 02, 2006

The Egg Woman Returns!!

Phew! All is well with the food-stand drama that was unraveling at my apartment building. Eggs are once again part of my life. She was out of town for a few days visiting relatives, at least that's what I think she told me. I really thought I pulled another bone-head foreigner move.

Thursday, June 01, 2006

The Mystery of the Missing Egg Woman

Taiwan is fraught with food carts. Americans generally only buy the occasional hot dog from sidewalk vendors. Here they sell pretty much anything you can find on a restaurant menu. At the base of my apartment building there are always a few folks cooking up something. One particular vendor has been invaluable to me. The woman sells an egg thingy that's wrapped up in a doughy tortilla-type thing. I don't really like the doughy thing, so a few months ago I asked her if she would just fry me up some eggs (she knows/understands enough English to get what I was saying). She cooked 'em up and they were perfect. Ever since then, I have been having her make me 3 eggs at a time about 3 or 4 times a week, it's heavenly. The thing that always got me was she only charged me NT$15 for three eggs (that's about 45 cents American). I always felt guilty because she was working hard and I thought she should charge more...she wouldn't take more money. I tried to pay her more several times and she refused every time.

Last Sunday, I was on my way home from my weekly bakery run and she was out front with her cart. Earlier in the day I had decided to get her something to show my appreciation. She always has a pleasant smile and a wave for me when I come home from work. She seems like a really kind person. Anyhow, I approached her cart and gave her a little chocolate cake that I always buy from the bakery. It's about the size of a twinkie and extremely tasty. She didn't want to take it but I insisted. I waved goodbye to her, went up to my apartment, and I haven't seen her since!

Folks here have very different ways of doing things. Perhaps I offended her in some way? I don't know. I feel lousy about the whole situation. I hope I haven't caused a problem. Maybe she has a freaky husband who thinks I am trying to make a move on his wife? Heck, I was just happy to have such yummy eggs!!