Friday, June 29, 2007

V.I.P. Birthdays Coming

In the next week or so, three very important women in my life will celebrate their birthdays. My mom, my sister Shelley, and Catherine have their big days coming up.

My mom is celebrating her 29th birthday for about the 40th I am bummed that I can't be there for the fun. I am sure that all the fam back home will see to making her day special. I recently sent her a package full of pictures and stuff from my time here. She always tells me not to buy her anything, so I think the pics will make her happy. I have ranted before about grateful I am for her support and love, no need to rehash that stuff...thanks mom.

Shelley, my crazy North Carolinian sister, has her big day the day after my mom. Shelley is the kind of sister everyone should have. She has always been a stabilizing force in our family. She is a fine example of how to live...the polar opposite of me! I hope your birthday is a special one Shell.

Finally, Catherine's day comes just a few days after the above. I have been dating her for about 4 months now and she has brought so much happiness and love into my life. It's kinda crazy to think that two people from such incredibly different cultures/backgrounds have come together. I think we are a good fit. She has a remarkably calming effect on me. I love her...she is my sunshine.

Happy Birthday Ladies!!

Wednesday, June 27, 2007

The National Anthem

What a great display of the-edge-of-sanity music making. Radiohead stretches the boundaries of music and does it remarkably well. This is a performance from Saturday Night Live a few years back. I have rarely seen a more intense, awe-inspiring performance. Check out the guy on the right with the electronic gizmos and the horn section, they are interesting. If you like this, you should check out their OK Computer album. I think it just might be the best album of the last 10 years. The song is called The National Anthem and appears on their Kid A album...enjoy!

Oops, here is another great performance from the band. This is Karma Police live on The Lettermen Show. It's off of the aforementioned Ok Computer LP. It's a little less frantic, but no less intense.

Saturday, June 23, 2007

The Daily Grind

I haven't been doing anything of note lately. Trying to get adjusted to my new workplace environment and spending time with Catherine.

The new school has been a challenge. The class sizes and ages of the students have forced me to change my approach. At the Shulin school, I taught classes from 20 to 30 students aged 7 to 13. At the Dunhua school, the classes are rarely over 10 students and many of my teaching hours are spent teaching adults on a one-on-one basis. Also, I have been given a kindergarten class with 4 adorable little ones, they are a handful.

I am not terribly crazy about teaching adults, let alone just one at a time. Adult students are tough because of the wide range of abilities. Sometimes they just want English conversation in order to strengthen existing skills, others are newbies. The folks looking for conversation are generally pretty easy gigs. The newbies are really difficult because learning a language as an adult is insanely difficult. It's tough to get them to drop all of the rules they use in their native language and start over again.

These past few weeks have shown me that I am most comfortable with a big group. I am at my best in front of 25 kids. I think I like the bigger groups because activities are a lot easier to pull off with a bigger group. Also, I don't have to make a big lesson plan for a large group because it's important that all the kids in each class speak at least one time every session. Getting every kid in a class of 25 to speak eats up a lot of class time. When teaching 5 or 6, you have to come up with several activities because nothing lasts very long. My teaching style is very unorthodox, I rarely write out a lesson plan for my classes. I have always been able to walk into a classroom and work from memory. I have an uncanny ability to lead a class on the fly, without a written out plan. Lately this has become problematic because the small classes require a lot more content. I have found myself coming up short in some of my classes because I just don't have enough material to cover 2 hours when activities only last a few minutes.

I am working hard at modifying my approach. It's been frustrating, but I will pull through.

Catherine and I have been having a great time. We continue to enjoy our time together. She is an incredible woman...I am lucky to have her in my life.

Here are a few pics of Neil, a wonderfully silly boy who is a student in my kindergarten class.

Tuesday, June 19, 2007

Dragon Boat Festival

Today is a holiday here in Taiwan. It's the Dragon Boat Festival. According to the legend, the festival is to commemorate a man named Qu Yuan. He lived about 2500 years ago in China. He was a very wise man who served the emperor and was shrewd at stamping out corruption. His dedication to rooting out the wrong-doing antagonized many of the other leading officials. The influence that these not-so-happy officials had was enough to convince the emperor to exile Qu Yuan. During his exile he traveled far and taught others his ideas. Many years later he got word that the leadership of China that he supported was soundly defeated by another clan. Upon hearing the news, he took his own life by jumping into a river. Many Chinese loved and respected this man. When news spread of his death thousands of people jumped in their boats and sped to find the spot where he jumped so they could recover his body. His body was never found. People found relief by tossing Zongzi (a kind of dumpling) and eggs into the river.

Today the holiday is celebrated by dragon boat races and dining on Zongzi.

Tuesday, June 12, 2007

Simply the Greatest

Bob Dylan is quite simply the greatest artist to ever pen his thoughts and put them to music. His lyrics are so penetrating. Take a look and listen to this song. It will transport you to the tormented world of Hollis Brown. Every time I listen to this song I get's incredible.

your grass is turning black, there's no water in your well
you spent your last lone dollar on seven shotgun shells

A Night Out With Chris & Yana

Catherine & I went out to dinner with my buddy Chris and his girlfriend Yana Saturday night. We were hankering for some western-style vittles so we headed over to The Outback Steakhouse. I think the food is overpriced but tasty. Big honking steaks are not typical fare here, so the meal was a nice break from the soup and fish diet that's prevalent in Taiwan. We have not had many chances to spend time with other couples, so it was fun to chat with Chris and Yana. I think Catherine liked being able to freely speak Chinese with Chris. His Chinese is remarkably good considering he is a California-born white boy. I currently have a handle on about 6 words in

After dinner, we decided to head over to Jingme, a neighborhood in the city. The night market is a good one according to Chris. We never made it to the night market. Instead, Chris led us to a little mountain set in this part of the city. He convinced us to hike up about a million steps in order to take in a great view of the city. It was nearing midnight at this point and the humidity was pretty bad, so I was less-than-thrilled with the idea of a late-night climb. After moaning and groaning a bit we made our way to the top. The trek proved to be worth it. Atop the mountain was a lovely Buddhist temple and a killer view of Taipei at night. It was really peaceful up there and gave me an opportunity to take some nice pictures.

Across the street from the restaurant. This is near the entrance to the Taipei sports arena. The arena is playing host to the 2009 Deaf Olympics and this is the add promoting the event.

On the way up the mountain we saw many small shrines.

Catherine posing for a pic at the top. She is as cute as a button!

In the temple. Chris and Catherine trying to decipher some of the writing on the walls.

Chris doing some snooping around. The detail in the artwork is remarkable. Notice the sweat stain on his was REALLY humid that night.

Catherine was showing us the proper protocol when worshiping in the temple.

I love the use of color. When you walk into one of the temples it's almost dizzying. It's hard to see everything.

A view of Taipei from above. Not terribly clear. I need to figure out how to take better photos at night. I'm going to sit down with the instruction manual and see what the deal is.

Sunday, June 10, 2007

What Do You Make?

This is great. High school teacher and slam poet Taylor Mali with the best answer I have heard to this awful question.

A six-figure income does not make you worth more in this world. You can't put a dollar figure on the sensation you get when you inspire a child.

What an excellent performance...

Friday, June 08, 2007

10 Clueless Old White Men

Is this a snapshot of America? 10 old white guys espousing tired religious dogma and timid bigotry...

God help us all if any of these idiots make it to the White House. But then again, it couldn't get much worse than it is now.

It's all about fear people! If they can keep you afraid of the "other guy", they can continue to make rash decisions and bad policies.

Ya gotta love CNN's grasp on the obvious.

Tuesday, June 05, 2007

Phonetics & Ibuprofen

Yesterday I gave some Ibuprofen to one of the Chinese teachers in the office. After explaining that it's a great drug and telling her it's name, Chris, my buddy and co-worker, snickered when I pronounced it as "I-byoo-pro-fen". He said that it's "I-boo-pro-fen". We are always having debates on the pronunciation of words, it's a good distraction from the usual crap we deal with on a daily basis. While I like to think that my phonetic skills are first-rate, he made me question my stance in this argument. After a quick search on Google, I was vindicated. It is indeed "I-byoo-pro-fen"!!

Looks like I have the bragging rights for the time being...

Sunday, June 03, 2007

Goodbye Shulin (Tons o' Pictures)

The following are pictures taken during my last few days of teaching at the Shulin branch. These kids are the greatest. It was an emotional few days for me, I will never forget them. These are the kids that have helped me become a much better teacher. They inspire me every day.

It was a privilege to teach these kids.

My desk. Gabbing with kids and being silly as they stopped by was my favorite work-time exercise.

"They may forget what you said, but they will never forget how you made them feel." -Unknown

1093. The group that started it all. I would take any of these kids as my own. I love each and every one of them.

What a group. They stuck with me even though I pushed them really hard. All of them lead lives that many western adults wouldn't be able to handle...their work-load is daunting.

"It is not so much what is poured into the student, but what is planted that really counts." -Unknown

Of course Tiger (in the green shirt) was being silly. He is considerably younger than the rest of the kids but nonetheless did well. He is a very happy little boy who loved to tease Teacher David.

Sherry. She showed off her dancing skills as part of the entertainment during my going away party. She's got some serious moves.

Olivia was supposed to accompany Sherry in the dance routine but I think she got cold feet. Her and Olivia struggled through most of the past year, but I think they are going to be just fine.

Silly Chris getting ready to wow the crowd with his magic. He can handle the cards very well.

He has one of those smiles that's infectious. Everyone in the class was impressed with his trickery.

Milton. What a kid. A very serious student but I was able to occasionally get him to giggle. A real pleasure to teach.

1106. This group is far wackier than 1093. They are quite a bit younger than 1093, too. Every day was challenge with this group.

The standing on their chairs thing was a spur of the moment decision. I thought it would make for some fun pics. They follow so many rules every day, it was time to break one!

Everything was all well and fine until one of the boys in the back bumped the clock on the wall and it fell and shattered into a million

This is Alice, Ariel, and Tammy. They pretty much set the pace for the class. These three were always near the top of the grades chart, along with Evan. They were always a good source of silliness when the lessons got intense. These girls are going to conquer the world.

Evan chowing down during our pizza party. I treated 1106 to a pizza party on my last day because they reached a really tough goal I set for them. They amassed 300 perfect quizzes in about 3 months...not an easy thing to do.

Little Doris. She is going to be a teacher some day, I think. A fun little girl who works hard. Her and her sister are students at the school, cute as can be.

"The mediocre teacher tells. The good teacher explains. The superior teachers demonstrates. The great teacher inspires." -William Ward

David. A quiet boy with a smile that doesn't quit. He really liked the pizza.

Eddy. Not one of the top students in the class when it comes to grades, but he always works hard and has an excellent attitude.

These two, Maggie & Anna, came into the class late. They have only been my students for a couple of months. Both of them are exceptional.

"A hundred years from now it will not matter how much was in my bank account, the sort of house I lived in, or the kind of car I drove...but the world may be different because I was important in the life of a child." -Kathy Davis