Wednesday, November 18, 2015

Tuesday, January 6, 2015

New Years Resolutions's been a while. Looking at around 3 months since I've posted last, and I'm going to attribute it to being busy around work, getting a bit too much into a routine, and most of all--laziness.

But, alas! What better time to jump back into things than after new years and making a cliche resolution to write more!? (If you can't tell, I'm a bit of a cynic when it comes to New Years). Anyways, I'm going to give this blogging thing another go. Got the creativity juice (whiskey sour) on my desk and the music turned up. Let's do it.

With this first post after my hiatus, I'm going to keep it short and sweet. In a future post, I'll update you all on what I've been doing for fun and share some more pictures from around Taiwan. In this one, I'm going to focus on what happens in the classroom and around the school. A sort of "Funny school stories" or "Shit Taiwanese kids say", if you will.

First off, I've found that some familiar racial and gender stereotypes are not lost on this side of the Pacific. I'll preface this by saying I don't condone stereotypes or gender roles, but couldn't help but chuckle when I saw these. Here are a couple examples:
     -In one class, we were learning about adverbs and their uses, and a vocab phrase was "jump high". Lo and behold, the picture on our flashcard was a black kid dunking a basketball. It seems that even in Taiwan, everyone knows that white men can't jump (at least not high).
     -To follow up with a gender stereotype, we had a vocab word in another class that was "sweep the floor". Sure enough, we had a picture of a girl sweeping the floor. When practicing in our workbook, we also had the question "Who can sweep the floor?" and the correct answer was "Alice can sweep the floor." Damn right, she can. And after, she can make me a sandwich. (Hope the sarcasm wasn't lost through text there).

Let's stick on the theme of funny vocab phrases. In my 1st grade class, I was teaching some basic adjectives, one of which was "mad". In order to use it in context, we would practice with the phrase "Are you (adj)?" Every time "mad" came up, it took every ounce of restraint not to say "you mad, bro?".

And finally, one last thing from our workbooks that I found funny. The picture is supposed to represent "The happy baby is sick", but I couldn't help but think of the Van Halen album cover of the smoking baby. Here's a side by side. You decide.


Let's move on to a totally random story. In one of my youngest classes, I called a kid out for not paying attention. As I walked over to see what he was up to, I find that on his paper he had drawn a handful of swastikas. No idea how to make heads or tails of this one...

I also have some belated Thanksgiving ideas from one of my students if you're struggling to find things you're thankful for this new year. Let's call the student "Ed" for privacy's sake. When I asked Ed what he's thankful for, his response was "my eraser" and "my shorts". It's the simple things in life, folks. Don't ever forget that. I must admit, he did have some sweet camo shorts the day of our Thanksgiving party (not to mention an awesome Batman shirt).

I've also acquired a few nicknames in my 5 months of teaching here. My appropriate title is "Teacher Brett", but certain students have taken to calling me "Teacher Super Brett" (the 1st grade boys that are obsessed with superheroes at the moment), "Teacher TNT" (This stems from me laughing at a kid for using TNT explosives in a sentence correctly), "Teacher Baby" (not sure how that started), and "Teacher (insert female co-worker's name)" (The kindergarten kids think it's absolutely hilarious to call me by a girl's name).

Now that we're mid-post, I think it's a good time to share some advice. Forewarning for any future English teachers: it's just about impossible for any students that are about 12 years old and up to say the words "beach" or "sheet" without bursting into laughter. You'd be surprised how well middle school, Taiwanese kids know their English curse words. While we're on the subject, I think it's extremely funny to hear my middle school students swear in English or talk about the things that middle school students tend to talk about. In a creative writing assignment, I even had a student say he would "kick the monster's ass" if he saw it. I pretend to put on my "angry teacher" face, but deep down, I'm laughing uncontrollably. Hey, at least they're using English.

One of my favorite interactions with a student was with a kid (probably about 5 or 6 years old) in a class that I substitute taught for about 1 month. Like my first graders that are obsessed with superheroes, the boys in this class love their dinosaurs, and are actually quite knowledgeable on the subject. Every class, this one student would ask me a hypothetical about "Who is win?" between two different dinosaurs or animals. These hypotheticals ranged from "lion or tiger", "Velociraptor or T-rex", to my personal favorite "T-rex or Spinosaurus" (I went with Spinosaurus, obviously).

To wrap things up, I'll quick touch on an event we had a couple weekends ago at school. We called it our "ACP Fair" (ACP = American Curriculum program). Every ACP class at our school set up a booth and we would put on a performance for parents. Our topics ranged from science, to math, theather, spelling, singing, and phonics. Preparing for this fair definitely kept me busy for a couple months, but it was great to see the kids put on a good show for their parents. Here are a few pictures form the booth I was in charge of that day.

These pictures seem like a good note to end on for now. There's a good chance I'll have more pictures from the ACP fair in the near future. Like I said, I'll be making a new post in the next week or two about my social life and things going on outside of school in the last three months. 

Here's to keeping new year's resolutions and getting back on the blogging train. Cheers, folks!

Saturday, October 4, 2014

Blog Carnival: Meeting People Abroad

 Today’s post is written for the Reach To Teach Teach Abroad Blog Carnival, a monthly series that focuses on providing helpful tips and advice to ESL teachers around the globe. The host for this month is Reach to Teach, where you can find other, similar posts. I’ll be posting a new ESL related article to my blog on the 5th of every month. Check back for more articles, and if you’d like to contribute to next month’s Blog Carnival, please get in touch with Dean at, and he’ll let you know how you can start participating!

Hey, all. This is my first time participating in the blog carnival. Hope you'll enjoy! For this month's discussion, I was asked to write about my top tips for meeting people abroad. 

Currently I'm living and teaching English in Taipei, and this is my second time living outside the US. I have been here in Taipei for a little over two months now. Previously, I lived in Singapore for about 5 months while I was doing an exchange program for my University. While in Singapore, I had a great group of friends that were other exchange students. After those 5 months, I can say that I have friends in just about every corner of Europe and North America. I feel like this topic is especially relevant for me right now, as I'm still a newbie to Taipei and working on expanding my social network. 

I'm going to keep this post relatively short and sweet, and offer up my top 3 tips for meeting new people abroad.

1. Get comfortable with being uncomfortable.
You know those awkward conversations that you have when first meeting someone? The ones where you ask each other the same questions (i.e. "Where are you from?", "What do you do?", "How do you like it here in (insert place)?", "What do you like to do in your free time?" etc.). The ones where a 5 second silence in the conversation seems like an eternity. We've all had them at some point or another.

Let's be honest here...most people don't truly enjoy the first couple minutes of a conversation with a stranger. It's awkward and at times can be intimidating. It's easier just to keep your head down, and stay in your comfortable little bubble and only hang out with the people that you already know. Problem is, this doesn't work so well when you're living in a new city where you literally know nobody.

So, that brings me to my first tip. Get comfortable with talking to new people. Dive in headfirst to your encounters with new people in your travels. Once you get past the awkward "get to know you" phase, chances are you'll meet a lot of really great people. This is doubly true if you're invited to go along to a group gathering where you know only the person that invited you. I'm not saying you should steal the show and dominate the conversation, but jump in and just be yourself. Again, once those few minutes of awkwardness pass, you'll forget that you just met these people.

2. Be a "Yes Man" (or woman)

You've had a long day at work or school. You only slept 5 hours last night. You think that you may feel a touch of the sniffles coming on. Then, someone invites you to go out for drinks later that night. You could do the responsible thing and catch some z's, but that doesn't exactly help with making friends in a new city. My advice: take a shower, grab a red bull, and get your ass out of the house. 

Not saying that you need to say yes to every single invite that comes your way, but the only way to meet people is to put yourself out there. Even if that means running on caffeine or pushing your comfort zone.

Maybe going to a botanical garden, or an art show, or a sporting event, or a club, (insert other activity here) isn't your thing, but the people you may get to know are more important than the destination. You'll never know what great experiences you could have or what great people you could meet unless you say "yes".

3. Find some roomies

Maybe living with others isn't a great idea for everyone, but for me, finding some random roommates has led to some of my funnest nights so far in Taipei. In most big cities, there will be Facebook groups, or classified ads with other expats that are looking to lease or sub-lease a room. I found a flat with Mexican and Brazilian girls, and Argentinian and Italian guys. Rooming with people that have lived in the country for a bit longer than you have is a great way to learn more about the city, and to meet more people through their friends. For me, this has been one of the best things I've done to help my social life here in Taipei.

That's all I've got for today. Stay tuned for my next post in the coming weeks, and the next blog carnival entry coming on the 5th of next month.

Cheers, all!

Thursday, September 11, 2014

Fun in the Taiwan Sun

Hey, family and friends, and welcome back! As promised, with this post I'm going to talk about what I've been up to for fun this past month in Taiwan.

I have to admit that the during the first couple weeks here, the culture shock definitely hit me. It really is a humbling experience to be dropped into a country where you know nobody, and somehow have to forge new friendships and a social life out of nothing. 

My first week here, I was living in a "hostel" that was really more of a big apartment in which the landlord rented out the other rooms. It was difficult to meet people and my fun consisted of exploring the nearby neighborhoods by myself (not that it was all's actually quite a bit of fun just wandering and taking in the sights, smells, and sounds). 

Moving into an apartment with a few other ex-pat roommates was my way of meeting some new people and hopefully getting a bit more of a social life. Fortunately, it couldn't have worked out better, and I've had a few good adventures because of it. 

Let's jump right into it.

Taipei Nightlife

Judging from the handful of nights out that I've had in the past month, I'd say that Taipei has just about any type of establishment to satisfy one's desires. I've been to one of the biggest clubs, a couple bars/pubs, and places that are somewhere in between. 

The clubbing scene here seems pretty solid, albeit expensive. Only been to one true "club" so far, so it's probably a bit early to pass too much judgement. Definitely was a lot of fun, but for me, most nights out at the club are a bit predictable. Loud music, beautiful women, lots of dancing, and a cab ride home circa 4am (not that there's anything wrong with any of that!). Chances are, clubbing will be an every now and again treat rather than a weekly occurrence for me.

As much fun as a night at the club can be, I'll always be one that prefers to belly-up to a bar with a pint of beer, and some good conversation. Unfortunately there really aren't any areas around the city with a high concentration of bars that would work well for a bar hopping night. There's a decent bar called "Revolver" that's about a 15 min walk away from our flat. Been there with the roomies a few times. The place has an interesting mix of modern art on the walls, plays what I'd call underground rock music, and has pretty reasonable prices. Wouldn't say the place is outstanding, but it's always been fun. 

The crown jewel of the bar scene so far has been a place called "On Tap". To me, it feels like a pub that would fit right in if it were located in Chicago, New York, London, or any other western city. The lighting is dark, the interior is brick and dark wood, and there are TVs playing sports (at the time I was there it was the English Premier League). After a month in Asia, it was great to get a taste of home. To top it off, the bleu cheese burger and fries that I had was outstanding. Coming from Wisconsin, I'd say that I know a thing or two about a great burger, and I'd put this one up against any other that I've had in the past (granted, I was eating it after a day of drinking at a pool party. Perhaps my judgment was a bit clouded. May have to go and give it a second try just to be sure. What a damn shame...). 

One other place I'll mention is 1001 Nights. The overall theme of the place is like an Arabic Shisha lounge, but there's a great liquor selection at the bar, and a dance floor with a DJ blasting out latin vibes. Can't even explain how eclectic the mix of everything is, but it's been fun the couple times I've been there. 

Wai'ao Beach

A few weekends back, I had my first day at the beach here in Taiwan. The whole thing was kind of a spur of the moment decision and I ended up going with a couple of my roommates and one of my roommate's friends. After a little over an hour of travel on a bus and a then a train, we made it to a beach called Wai'ao on the east coast. For me, nothing is more relaxing than a day on the beach. Can't say it's the most beautiful or most exciting beach I've ever been to, but it beats the hell out of chilling in the city on a weekend. A picture speaks a thousand words, right?

I'll for sure be heading back to this beach again. Hopefully sooner rather than later!

Havana Pool Party

One of the many reasons I chose to go through my recruiter, Reach to Teach, to line up a job here in Taiwan is the fact that they put on monthly socials for teachers to get to know each other. This month, the social happened to be a Havana Pool Party here in Taipei at the Taipei Water Park. The pool parties are a weekly occurrence throughout the summer in Taipei, complete with a DJ, bar, and plenty of good looking people.

Wish I had a good picture to post of the place, but I wasn't thinking about it at the time.  Google "Havana pool party Taipei" if you want a taste. I'm sure you'll get the idea.

Only weird thing was that one side of the water park (nearest the DJ) was a bunch of 20-somethings that were drinking, dancing, and generally "actin'-a-fool", while the other side of the pool was families that were trying to have a normal day at the water-park. Seemed like everyone on both sides was having a good time, though... I know I was! 

First Holiday! -- Camping at Sun Moon Lake

After just a month of teaching, I got to experience my first long weekend thanks to the Moon Festival, aka the Mid-Autumn Festival (took place on Monday the 8th). In short, the festival celebrates the moon at it's fullest and brightest stage of the year, and is similar to "harvest festivals" that western countries may have. It all goes back to a legend from about 600 AD in China. I'm not going to go through the intricacies of the holiday in my blog. If you want more info, there's always Google. Anyhow, the holiday gave me an extra day off to leave the city and do a bit of traveling, and I ended up going on a camping excursion to Sun Moon Lake.

The idea to check out Sun Moon Lake was originally from my roommate, Mayra. As the day came closer, our group of travelers grew to 10, and we were able to reserve a campsite for all of us. Ended up being 5 guys and 5 girls. It took us about 1 hour on the high speed railway and another 2 hours by bus to reach the lake. Here's what the place looked like.

Wasn't anything luxurious, but it was more than adequate.

Before I start spewing a bunch of pictures of the lake, I'll just say that it's one of the prime tourist locations around Taiwan...and with good reason. Even tourists from mainland China frequently make the trip to Sun Moon Lake. 

When we arrived, we decided to rent some bikes for the day. Here are a few photos I snapped while cruising around.

Also had some awesome food around the lake. For dinner, I had some stir-fried deer. Apparently, deer is a pretty common food among the local aboriginal tribes. Couldn't tell you if what I ate was actually venison, but it sure as hell tasted great. For a snack in the afternoon, I had a bacon, egg, and cheese sandwich with peanuts, fried vegetables, and cilantro. Too Good. Check it:

I should also show a picture of one of the beers I found in the local Family Mart.

BUSCH! Tastes just as shitty in Asia as it does in the US! (Could be a new marketing slogan right there....sign me up, Anheuser Busch!)

By the end of the night, most of us were sitting on the nearest pier drinking cheap Chinese vodka, shooting the shit, and contemplating everything from philosophy, to politics, to the most trivial things imaginable. Couldn't have scripted a better way to spend a night. 

The following day, a few people went home early, but a few of us stuck around for the day. The 5 of us that decided to stay later went on a boat cruise around the lake. I snapped a few more pictures.

We left the lake by mid-afternoon, and soon enough it was back to reality in Taipei.

To be honest with you, it seems like just a couple days ago that I was leaving my comfortable life back in the states to begin this adventure in Taiwan. Writing this post has given me a chance to do a bit of introspection and realize just how lucky I am to be here having all the experiences that I am. Plenty more adventures to come. 

Hope you enjoyed, and I'll talk to you soon.


Tuesday, September 2, 2014

School Days

Alright everyone, I apologize for not getting around to posting again for a while. I've kept on putting it off, and now we're here three weeks later. With this one, lets talk about my new job as a teacher. Gonna be a lot of text in this one, as I haven't brought a camera into classes yet (Not sure what the policy is on taking pictures with students). Promise there will be more pictures in the post next week. (Sneak Preview: We'll be talking about what I've done for fun in Taiwan, including a beach, a pool party, the nightlife, and a camping trip)

Just a quick breakdown of how my classes usually work:

Most classes I'll have between 1.5 - 2 hours (depending on the skill level and the type of class). The 2 hour classes are either a bit more advanced and focus more on reading, or in some cases, I have the extra time to teach science and math as well (Not sure if my grades in high school chemistry qualify me to teach anybody science...). Also should note that my name around school isn't "Mr. Cleveland" or even "Mr. C", but rather "Teacher Brett". Found that a bit funny when I first got here. 

My Students and Classes

So far, I've taught just about every age student at my school, and dealt with quite a variance in the English skill levels between all my classes. Even within classes, there's always a few kids that English seems to come naturally to, and others who really struggle. Finding a balance to keep everyone in the class engaged is a bit of a challenge.

The youngest class I've taught so far has been 4-5 year old kids that have little to no experience with English. Like any kids their age, keeping their attention for more than a few minutes at a time is a challenge, and there are a couple trouble makers. The communication barrier makes it feel like I'm talking to a wall at times. But, the feeling I get when I see a kid having fun with learning English or when "the light-bulb goes on" for a new concept makes it all worthwhile. Classes consist of teaching letters and their sounds, numbers, reading time, play time, and even some singing and dancing. Everyone got a good picture of me singing and dancing in front of class? Ok....moving on. 

Age isn't even necessarily an indicator of a students English level. I've had a class with students that are about 8 or 9 years old and they have a better grasp than some of my classes that are years older. Best part is that these kids are getting to an age where they are quite witty when using their English. Perfect example: last week, during a creative writing assignment about a typhoon, I had one student finish his paper with "My house was fine, but Teacher Brett flew away". Definitely had a good laugh with the kid as I was reading it. This is also one of the classes where I'm teaching Science and Math, so it's fun to see how each student is more excited / more proficient during different subjects in class. 

Then there are my classes that are maybe a bit less advanced for their age. With these classes I only teach for 1.5 hours and then a Chinese teacher takes them through the rest of the class. Within these classes, I'd say that the skill gap between students is pretty tangible compared to some of my other classes. However, there are some really enjoyable students. I can really notice the ones that are trying hard to learn and improve, and the few that seem disinterested or just scared to be speaking another language. 

Finally, I have a couple middle school classes that I'd say are fairly advanced for their ages. Again with these classes, the best part is that the students are quite witty when using their English. There's an opportunity to have higher level conversations and interactions with the kids, and also to joke around a bit. 

With one of these classes, there's already a running joke with the kids about my sub-par drawing skills. Any time I get out my marker and go to the whiteboard to illustrate something, the giggles soon follow. In the same class, we did a creative writing assignment yesterday about "art". I was hoping to get the students talking about what they like about art/famous artists and art/is it important/etc., and many students did quite well with the prompt. I had two students--two boys--who insisted that basketball is an art, and wrote their paper making their case. As completely off topic as it was, I thought it was cool to see the creativity and ability to make connections. 

In the other middle school class, the kids are even a bit more advanced, and focus heavily on reading and writing. This class is held on Saturday mornings, so at times, getting the students to engage is like pulling teeth. However when we hit a topic they find interesting or break into a group activity, you can really see that they're sharp kids with a good sense of humor. On a selfish note, I find a lot of the material we cover in this class to be interesting so it's fun to teach. So far we've covered stuff like Machu Picchu and the Inca, endangered languages, and animals that inspire technology innovation. 

Other Thoughts

Truth is, being a teacher is a lot of work, and I'm not even full time. Between lesson planning and correcting homework/quizzes/tests, there is always something more that I could be working on. Managing a classroom of diverse personalities is still a skill I'm working on and trying to improve. On the flip side of that, I do see the rewards of being a teacher. It truly is a great feeling when a student grasps a new idea that you've been teaching. Like anything, you've gotta take the good with the bad. 

One last thing that I'll say about teaching. I know in recent years back in the states there's been quite a bit of debate about the merits of teachers and how easy/difficult the job is. One month on the job in no way qualifies me to say this, but anyone that thinks teaching is easy and doesn't appreciate their community's teachers is--pardon my french--full of shit. Gotta give a big shout out to my Mom and my Aunt Susan because I know both of you are great teachers, and have a lot more stressful of a job than I ever will here in Taiwan. And to any other teacher that may be out there reading this, thank you! 

That's it for this edition of Peripatetic Brett. Tune-in next week for some fun in the Taiwan sun.

Cheers, all!

Monday, August 11, 2014

The Adventure Begins

Thanks for dropping by family, friends and everyone else that stumbles across this blog. To be honest with all of you, I wasn't really sure how to get started with this blog or what I want it to focus on. I remember a professor once telling me that if you don't know how to start a paper, a quote usually works well as an intro. Let's start with that.

"The world is a book, and those who do not travel read only one page" - St. Augustine of Hippo

So here I am in Taipei to teach English, attempting to read a few more pages of this incredible book. I don't really want to drone on about my daily routines here, so I'm thinking with this first post we'll run down a few different things:
  • Who am I?
  • What the hell does peripatetic mean and why is this the name of my blog?
  • Why I decided to come to Asia to teach English
  • My initial impressions of Taipei
  • My initial impressions of the school I'll be teaching at
  • What's to come from Peripatetic Brett
Sound good?

Good. Here it goes.

Who am I?

The name's Brett, I'm 23, and I'm from the wonderful state of Wisconsin. Grew up in a small-ish city called Fond du Lac and spent 4 & 1/2 outrageous years at the University of Wisconsin in Madison. 

Likes: Trying new things, warm weather, cold beer, long walks on the beach, a nice pair of slacks
Dislikes: Rude people, Reality TV, Bill O'Reilly, and cockroaches joining me in the shower (yes, that happened here)

What the Hell is Peripatetic?

Peripatetic- adjective - traveling from place to place; in particular, working or based in various places for relatively short periods of time

Seems pretty applicable to my situation, right? 

The word peripatetic also has roots in education, going all the way back to Ancient Greece and Aristotle. Aristotle and his colleagues were known to go on walks with their students as they gave their lectures (ie: traveling from place to place), and therefore gave rise to the term peripatetic school. Ok...end of history lesson for this week.

So how do I know this word? I have to give a shout out to my former roommates at the Broom Haus in Madison. A couple years ago we started a word wall on our giant whiteboard in the living room. We'd all post obscure words we'd learn in class or in our daily routines to better the Haus' collective vernacular. Never thought I would actually get to use peripatetic in an appropriate context.

But I digress....Moving on!

 How I Ended up Teaching English in Taiwan

For those of you that don't know me that well, I don't have a degree in education or Asian studies or anything of the sort. I was a business major who upon graduation, realized I wasn't quite ready to go into the corporate business world.

I figured teaching English is a way for me to make a tangible difference in my daily work, while getting an opportunity to experience a new culture, meet new people, and hopefully save up a bit of money in the process. It probably sounds cliche, but after returning from studying abroad in Singapore a couple years back, all I could think about was planning my next travel adventure. For me, it was like opening Pandora's box, taking a bite out of the forbidden fruit, or *insert other cheesy metaphor here*.

Choosing Taiwan was a bit of a shot in the dark. I've never traveled here before, don't know the language, and didn't know anybody living here before coming. After doing some research on the English teaching industry, I settled on Taiwan for a few reasons. First off, the pay is relatively good, and the cost of living is relatively low. Gotta consider paying off those student loans! Taiwan is also a growing economy with a great business reputation, so there's potential for doing a bit of networking and finding an opportunity to use that business degree down the road. Then there's the fact that it's a sub-tropical island with awesome scenery and beaches just a short distance outside the city (What's not to love about that?!). Finally, it's an opportunity to learn to speak some Mandarin. Can't think of a more relevant language to learn in today's day and age. 

So, now that we've settled that, let's get to the good stuff.

Initial Impressions of Taipei

  • Damn, is it hot here! Walking through the exit of the airport felt like stepping into a sauna. For you readers back in Wisco, imagine the hottest day of the summer and then add an extra 50% humidity. It's been like that every day so far, but in the winters the temp falls to around a cool 60 degrees, albeit with a lot of rain. I'll take that over mountains of snow any day. Thankfully, most buildings around the city have Air Con and use it pretty liberally.
  • The landscape here is incredible. Taipei is nestled in between seemingly endless mountains that are covered with sub-tropical forests. My first weekend here, I decided to do a bit of exploring on my own. About 30 minutes on the MRT (subway) and a 10 minute walk through the streets got me to the base of a mountain hiking trail. The path was pretty mild, and in many places had wooden walkways and stairs. Within a half hour I made it to a look-out point with this view of the city. Not too shabby, eh?
              Can't wait to get out, venture a bit more off the beaten path and do some more hiking one of these weekends.

  • The Taiwanese people have been great. While I was sitting up on the mountain, I had a few people come up and start a conversation with me. An older gentleman tried speaking to me in Mandarin, and I used what little of the language that I know to tell him I didn't understand. Seeing our dilema, another local guy that was sitting a few feet away jumped in to translate. The three of us ended up talking for close to half an hour. Shortly thereafter, a little old Taiwanese lady came up and started talking to me in pretty fluent English. We talked about each others' travel adventures, and each others' home countries. After a while she told me that she was a Christian and invited me to come to her church. I'm not exactly the religious type and won't be taking her up on her offer, but it goes to show how quickly the people here are willing to welcome and befriend you. Like any place, there are going to be friendly people, and there are going to be rude people. So far, my encounters with the people here have been mostly good. At times, the language barrier has been an issue (especially when ordering food), but I've found that a big smile, a bewildered look in your eyes, and some creative hand gestures are enough to work most situations out. 
  • Speaking of food, I've gotta say that I've had a few pretty delicious meals here so far. 
    • Upon lofty recommendations from my sister, Aly, who spent some time in China last summer, one of the first things I had to try was Beef Noodles. Basically, it's Chinese noodles, braised beef, and green, leafy vegetables simmered together in a savory beef broth. Pretty simple when you break it down, but, man, is it good. 
    • Another favorite so far is the Scallion Pancake, or Cong You Bing. Picture this: Soft and flaky flatbread with scallions folded into the dough, then fried in oil on a griddle. Add a scrambled egg omelet on one side of the flatbread, then top with fresh basil leaves and a spicy chili sauce. (Side note: I'm thinking the scallion pancake could be a perfect hangover helper when the situation arises. I'll do some field research and get back to you in a future post.) I've also tried something similar to the scallion pancake, minus the scallions, and instead of egg it's stuffed with meat (chicken or pork), cabbage, ginger, other veggies, and then the standard chili sauce. Couldn't tell you what it's called in Chinese, but I can tell you that it tastes great. Best part about these different types of "pancakes" is that they're available from street vendors for less than $2. 
    • Finally, I have to mention the pork dumplings, aka pot stickers. I must admit that I've become a bit of a dumpling fiend in my two weeks here in Taipei, and by my estimates, have eaten them close to 50% of the days I've been here. Steamed, Grilled, or Fried, these little dough-y envelopes of tender, juicy, ground pork and crispy cabbage have stolen my heart and enlightened my taste buds. Slather those delicious morsels with some sweet soy sauce and a spicy chili sauce, and you have a perfect snack or meal. I could go on about food all night...I'm thinking some future posts may be focused solely on my culinary adventures here in Taiwan and my quest for the perfect pork dumpling. Tune-in next time.
 ^Scallion Pancake...not the best picture but you get the idea
^Fried and Steamed Dumplings.
  • The streets are wild. Six-lanes of cars. Scooters whizzing in and out of traffic, and even up onto the sidewalks. Pedestrians everywhere. Street vendors hugging the curb. Alleys and one-lane roads weaving their way in between the larger ones. Best way to describe it is an urban jungle. And yet, I haven't seen a single accident or serious problem on the streets. I've actually been on the back of a scooter once so far driving through downtown. While doing apartment hunting, the owner of my hostel took me around to see some flats that she owns and rents out. Ended up finding a room elsewhere, but I got a nice little cruise out of it!
^Main Avenue a block away from my new apartment
  • While I'm talking about apartments, I was able to find a flat downtown last week with three other ex-pat roommates. Nothing too fancy, but the location is good, it's clean, fairly spacious, and the roommates have been great so far. Currently the roommates are a Brazilian girl, a Mexican girl, and an Italian guy. Soon to be a South African guy that is subletting the next month from the Brazilian girl. Our kitchen is a bit dated and small, but with street food being so cheap I don't think I'll do all that much cooking anyway. One major difference from what I'm used to in the states is the bathroom. There's no shower stall, just a removable shower head hanging from the wall and drains on the tile floor. This is pretty commonplace in Taiwan, and I'm not really concerned. It actually reminds me of a lot of the bathrooms in hostels that I saw while traveling around SE Asia. I'll adapt.

First Impressions of My School

While I haven't started actually teaching yet, I've been going into my school just about every day for observation and training. The name of the school is Hess American School, and there are close to 200 branches scattered throughout the island. Like most other cram schools, or buxibans, my classes will run from around 4 til 9pm. I'll also be teaching a couple classes on Saturday morning/afternoons. All total, I'll be in front of a class for about 20-25 hours per week. At this point it's just a waiting game for my work visa to go through so I can begin teaching legally. I'll hopefully be getting in front of a class early next week. Here are my first impressions of my new workplace:
  • Kids here are just like the kids back home. In every class I've observed, it's been easy to see that the same archetypes that we all grew up with in school are just as present in the classes here. There are the shy students, the trouble makers, the smart ones, the lazy ones, the ones that are eager to please, and the ones that look like they would rather be anywhere else on earth than the classroom.
  • Class sizes are small. It looks like all of my classes will be about 10-15 students. This should give me a great opportunity to get to know the students and hopefully provide better, more individualized education for them.
  • The curriculum is pretty rigid. Working for a big chain school like Hess has its perks and obstacles. The upside is that it seems like most of the curriculum will be already organized and provided for me, which hopefully will limit the amount of time I have to spend on lesson planning. The flip side of that is I won't have a whole lot of room for creativity and run the risk of giving monotonous lessons and boring the students. Gonna do my best to find a balance between meeting the school's expectations and trying to add a bit of energy to the lessons.
  • My co-workers seem to be good so far. Haven't gotten many opportunities to get to know them outside of the school yet, but everyone has been welcoming and willing to answer my questions. There are quite a few Taiwanese teachers and other employees at the school, and then 3 native English speakers including myself. The two other English teachers are from Scotland and Philly. (Side note: the school's driver who picked me up at the airport is named Sam. It's common to refer to your elders in Chinese culture as "Auntie" or "Uncle", and with Sam, this is no different. So, yes, one of my co-workers is Uncle Sam.)

^My new workplace. This picture was taken on a Sunday so the place looks a bit shut-up. I'll have better pictures of the classrooms in future posts.

What's to come in this blog?

First off, I promise not to be as long-winded in future posts. Had a lot of stuff to cover in this one. Like I said earlier, though, I'd rather not make this a "dear diary" style blog about me and my day-to-day routines. That's going to get boring for you to read, and quite frankly, boring for me to write.

I'm thinking from here on out, each post will cover a specific topic, and be relatively short. These could range from my (mis)adventures in front of the classroom, a specific aspect or attraction of Taipei/Taiwan, my culinary exploration of the city (possibly including my quest for the perfect pork dumpling), to random thoughts and observations from my time here. I'd love to hear your feedback and any suggestions about what you guys and gals want to hear more about in the future.

Until next time!