Monday, December 31, 2007

Holiday Fun With My Students

One of the advantages of having classes with just 5 or 6 kids is it allows me to work with them on fun things outside of the curriculum. I usually have 10 or 15 minutes of class each day to have silly fun. I have used that time recently making fun holiday art. The kids love the Christmas season even though it's not an official holiday here.

Hope, the newly appointed school director, is awesome. She has done a terrific job of decorating the office and making it a warmer, more friendly atmosphere. She was happy to hear that I was getting my kids to help decorate. She came up with the idea of making a Christmas case with all of the kids creations. She is great. Her efforts are inspiring to everyone in the office, I really enjoy working for her.

I had a few of my classes color a variety of Christmas-related pictures and make some personalized reindeer. The reindeer were particularly fun because they had to trace their feet and hands to make the shapes.

This is the case. It's located in the main hall for everyone to see. The kids are proud of their work.

A close-up of some of the excellent work. It's fun to let them create stuff like this. The life of a student here in Taiwan is for too rigid. It leaves very little room for creativity. The reindeer head is a cut-out of their shoe, and the ears are the tracing of their hands...I think they are cute. Notice the picture on the left, "Merry Christamas"

My kindergarten class pointing out their artwork. Little Monica in the front is adorable. The two boys are brothers who recently returned from living in the U.S. for a few years. Their English is excellent. Not sure why they are in this class but I enjoy teaching them.

Some of the kids from my conversation-based class. These kids work really hard. I challenge them every class and they have done really well. Sophia, in the front, is pointing to her Thanksgiving picture. I decided to include the turkey pages because not all of them had completed the Christmas artwork.

The office tree. It's not extravagant, but Hope does really well with limited stuff to work with.

Wednesday, December 26, 2007

Christmas Dinner

Carrie and John's apartment was the scene for Christmas dinner last Saturday night. The dinner was awesome, we ate like kings. It was fun to hang with Carrie, John, Scott and a handful of other good friends. A big thank you to John and Carrie for hosting the shindig.

For more details on the evening, check out Jo's site at Joanna Rees Photography and Carrie's site at My Several Worlds.

Monday, December 24, 2007

Rootin' Tootin' Facelifts

A salon that offers cosmetic help and perhaps a shot of whiskey while you wait?

What exactly does "preventine" mean? "Saloon"...this one makes me

Sunday, December 23, 2007

Sogo Christmas Decorations

I snapped a few shots of the main entrance of a Sogo department store on my way home from work the other day. Sogo is the biggest chain of department stores in Taiwan. The merchandise is way over-priced. It's difficult to justify buying stuff there when you can go down the street to a night market and buy a perfectly acceptable rip-off of the same stuff.

This is one of a few stores I have seen go all-out with their Christmas decorations. They chose a Disney Christmas theme.

Friday, December 21, 2007

Melbourne Velodrome Crash...Ouch!

This is tough to watch. Wear your helmet boys and girls!

Thursday, December 20, 2007

Taiwan's Impotent Workforce (part 2)

Exhibit B:
Camaraderie is defined as goodwill or fellowship between friends, brotherhood, if you will.

Perhaps this word should be injected into the lexicon of Taiwanese workplaces. I know I know, it's an English word and this is a Chinese-speaking culture...I couldn't find the Chinese equivalent, just bear with me.

An essential part of a healthy workplace is open discourse amongst those who you work closest to. To be able to speak your mind to your coworkers and get their feedback without fear of recourse from the boss. Those closest to you are probably experiencing many of the same things and it's often a chance to allow someone to commiserate and/or help you solve a problem. Often times it's petty stuff and one just wants to vent a little, harmless crap.

I have always held that the issues you discuss with your coworkers are tacitly considered to be privy to you and your compatriots, not your superiors.

This is sadly not the case in my experiences here in Taiwan. Anything that is said amongst you and those that surround you will be mysteriously relayed to your boss. The prevailing justification I have heard for this is company loyalty. Folks here think it's more important to rat out a disgruntled employee than to foster a sense of brotherhood in the workplace. Rather than examine the situation, they score brownie points with the boss.

This amounts to an atmosphere is distrust and division.

Perhaps this is an American-centric view of what it means to be an employee in a work environment? I have always felt that the employees of a company are sort of a team. Your workmates are there to support you and act as a buffer between you and management. The bosses are not your enemy per se, but they certainly are not your friends when it comes down to the bottom line. Your coworkers are supposed to be the folks backing you up, an extension of each individual.

As I am sure you can tell by the above blathering, I have been victimized more than once by a teammate. It's horribly deflating when it does occur. Thriving in an atmosphere when I have to worry about those closest to me stabbing me in the back is disheartening, to say the least.

The great Mother Jones once said, "We must be together; our masters are joined together and we must do the same thing."

Saturday, December 15, 2007

A Shining Example

On Saturday mornings, I teach a class of 7 kids. (It's not fun teaching on Saturday mornings after teaching all week in the afternoon/evening, but that's a can of worms I am not anxious to open right now.) The kids are about 9 years old and wonderfully receptive considering it's frighteningly early on a Saturday morning to be learning. I always have fun with this group.

One aspect of this class that always warms my heart is the parents that sit in the back of the room and, essentially, get free English lessons.

My school's policy is parents are welcome to sit in on their child's class free of charge. Virtually all of them use the time to shore up their English skills and I am happy to oblige. I always make extra copies of my handouts to give to the parents. I have found that parents that come to class usually spend more time with their kids ensuring they succeed in their English lessons, good stuff.

It's not the participating in class that impresses me with this particular group, it's the fact that they are there! It's Saturday morning and these folks are actively taking part in their child's education. 7 kids in the class and never less than 5 parents in attendance. They work hard all week and, admirably, drag themselves out of bed early on Saturday morning to set an example for their kids. This just would NOT happen in the U.S. Sadly, American culture has abandoned education. I can honestly say I am not sure that I could do what these folks are doing. It's a remarkable show of dedication to education...wake up and smell the cat food America!

Friday, December 14, 2007

Taiwan's Impotent Workforce (part 1)

Fear. Over the past few years, I have had a chance to witness what life in the American workplace must have been like prior to the birth of organized labor.

Employees in Taiwan, in my humble opinion, are far too often motivated by fear. Fear of being ostracized. Fear of standing out from the pack. These collective fears have allowed employers to play the role of the fear monger. The frightened worker and control-freak bosses create a passive-aggressive atmosphere. Not exactly an inspirational ambiance.

As you can see, I am a bit perturbed right now. I am prepared to state some anecdotal evidence to support my above claims. I will not use specific names and places in order to protect the innocent.

This is the first in a series of posts examining the dysfunctional relationship that permeates office-spaces here on the island.

Exhibit A:
When an employer calls for a company meeting, one would assume that this is an opportunity for an exchange of ideas and concerns. A chance for the leadership to introduce new policies or upcoming changes in existing policies. An opportunity for the employees to air concerns and deal with them as a team. A place where the group can discuss the success or failure of current practices within the organization. An exchange of ideas from both sides.

If this meeting takes place in Taiwan, only half of these things are appropriate. The employee is expected to sit quietly and digest all the directives from above with a smile of their face. It's imperative that the minion suppress even so much as a burp. Raising one's hand is akin to blowing your nose at the dinner table, shockingly rude. God forbid one questions the logic of a particular move being made by leadership in this setting. By doing so, you are attempting to humiliate your boss according to the prevailing beliefs of this culture. The accepted practice here is to quietly address your question one-on-one with your superior.

That is just not kosher from my point of view. I have always believed and will continue to believe that the group setting is unquestionably the best time to examine and hash-out issues. The one-on-one theory is nice, but not realistic. All too often the employer uses his or her status to intimidate the plaintiff and render their concern hopeless. The everyone else seems OK with the policy, it's just your silly problem approach is commonplace here. If one is able to sound off in the presence of others that may share in their concern, they are much more likely to see results. Strength through numbers is a very real thing. One voice can be silenced with little effort. Ten voices are a bit more problematic.

I have a difficult time laying blame for the above problem. I think leadership knowingly exploits the worker. At the same time, the employees allow this system to go unchecked.

Where is the Cesar Chavez of Taiwan? It's high time that the balance of power shift a little more to the side of the working stiffs.

Look for "Exhibit B" soon.

Monday, December 10, 2007

Sok Ry's Progress

A few months back, I opened an account on My first loan went to a 50 year old woman selling medicines in Cambodia. The beneficiary, Sok Ry, has recently made her first scheduled payment on the loan. She will make 18 payments of $67.00 in order to repay the $1200.00 loan.
It's exciting to see the system working. I hope that the $1200.00 will open up more ways for Sok Ry and her family to flourish.

I am currently searching for another entrepreneur to lend to.

This is good stuff people. It's a wonderful way for individuals to team up and make a difference in the lives of people trying to better their world. Do yourself a favor and check it out at

Friday, December 07, 2007

Donut Hysteria

This photo was taken while standing on the sidewalk in front of my apartment. It's opening day for the latest franchise of Mister Donut here in Taipei. Taiwanese people are donut crazy! Mister Donut is a Japanese company that is making a killing in Taiwan. The donuts are good, not Krispy Kreme good, but tasty nonetheless.

Check out the line to buy the sugar-coated bundles of fat. The line went on well beyond my cameras angle. How am I supposed to resist eating the little nasties when they are frying them up across the street???

Once again, defying every law of food consumption known to man, Taiwanese folks generally don't consider donuts a breakfast food...huh? The shops don't open until 9am making it impossible to for nine-to-fivers to pick up a baker's dozen before heading to work. Most locals I have spoken with about this think of a donut as a snack or dessert, not something that compliments a cup of coffee in the morning, go figure.

Taipei Main Christmas Tree

Last weekend, Catherine & I made a return trip to Yingge. We wanted to pick up the pottery that we made a few weeks back, and do a little shopping while we were there. It's a nice little town with fun shops. I will take some photos of our pottery creations and will post them soon, I promise.
We took the train to Yingge. Near the ticketing area in Taipei Main Station they put up a lovely tree for the holidays. I think they did a reasonably good job of decorating it, save the advertising placards. The square white pieces on the tree are ads for various local businesses.