Welcome dinner

The people investing in the school welcomed us with dinner at a famous restaurant downtown. The menu listed “God steamed” and “Srnorked goose,” though we didn’t try them. Most of what we ate we couldn’t recognize, but it was really good. Lots of fresh seafood, too, including jellyfish served in enough wasabi to knock you off your chair. It was really good… in small bites.

Pretty much every meal we eat things we’ve never seen before, so we’ll just post about the most exotic.

I’m (Joel) on the lookout for duck feet and chicken feet. I (Jessica) am on the lookout for them as well, but not with quite as much fervor as Joel. There’s also this (in)famous dish called “stinky dofu” that is stinkier than whatever you’re imagining. Our Canadian boss calls it “the south end of a pig going north.” I have to try it, but it really is repulsive. The first time I smelled it I literally started looking around to see where the open sewer was.

We’ve had lots of wonderful things to eat as well. We’ve tried bubble tea (tea with tapioca bubbles that are about the size of a small bubble), duck, and several local specialties that I think will become favorites. Maybe we’ll have to post pictures, since they are somewhat difficult to describe. One is called a “fan tuan” which is some kind of crunchy spicy/sweet meat surrounded by sticky rice. And we also had this great stuffed pancake thing yesterday…it had a crispy dough skin that surrounded a mixture of yummy vegetables. And, there is a plethora of Thai food as well…we found a great place the other night right next to the stinky dofu stand.

First Impressions

We left the airport in Taipei around 7am. It was a foggy/smoggy morning. One of the first things we noticed was the population density. One of our sources describes Taiwan as the 2nd most densely populated country on earth. The streets and sidewalks are packed with cars, trucks, and motor-scooters, while every city block is packed to capacity with various businesses. Virtually impenetrable rows of parked scooters line the sidewalks – parking space is precious. The smallest buildings are 5 stories, and most are much higher. It seems every block shoves as much neon and otherwise lighted advertising Mingdaw (“ming-dao”) calls all this the “suburbs.” We have yet to see an actual house. The undeveloped hills outside the city were thick, solid green, like a jungle.

For those of you who have seen the 1980’s movie Gung-ho, about the Japanese company that takes over a Michigan auto plant and tries to make the Americans work like Japanese… that company dedication stuff is for real. One of the first things we saw driving away from the airport during the start of the business day was a Japanese car dealership with all their employees lined up facing the street behind the big display windows, bowing repeatedly in unison to the public. No yelling and screaming or ribbons of shame though.

We arrived on one of the days in the lunar calendar when people — especially merchants — offer meals, incense, and spirit-money to their ancestors. Little stands of nicely set meals with a handful of burning incense sticks dotted the sidewalks everywhere, along with special buckets for burning piles of spirit money.

Traffic here has been likened to river water flowing around rocks and trees. For every car or truck there must be 20 motor-scooters; all the road-space not used by cars is filled in with scooters. At red lights all the scooters weave up to the front and surround the first few cars before they take off in a pack race-like on the green light. A lot of people wear surgical-type masks if they are driving scooters or working outside (like in the SARS pictures). It’s also apparently a courtesy to wear one if you’re sick when out in public. They come in lots of different styles, too (including designer knockoffs from Burberry, Yves St. Laurent and others) – kind of like a clothing accessory.

Like the ice-cream trucks in North America, certain trucks here drive around with that kind of music, too, (Beethoven’s Fur Elise today) only they carry garbage, not ice cream. Also, the garbage truck music is quite a bit louder than the ice cream truck music – it’s to let people in their apartments know that it is time to bring down the trash.

Two competing schools down the street are called “Chocolate America Style School” and “Brown Sugar.” Our Taiwanese boss wanted to know if their elementary school was trying to make a reference to the Rolling Stones.

We’ve already frightened some little kids and made them cry. Three mothers and their children play in the downstairs reading room in our apartment building every morning, and we have to walk through to get to the street. We walked up and introduced ourselves the first day, and one of the little girls started wailing and wouldn’t stop ’til we left. The mothers got some good laughs out of our mangled Mandarin greeting attempt, though.

We’re here and online!

Hello friends and family! Sorry we’ve taken so long to post – we were waiting for our computers to arrive.

It’s been busy so far. We began working the day we got off the plane, getting the school ready for the first students, and haven’t had much time to go exploring yet – but there sure is a lot to explore! Last night we did an open house presentation for the parents of prospective students. The school contains a downstairs reception area and two upstairs classrooms, right across the street from a big park where people do everything from ballroom dancing lessongs to karaoke to tai-chi. It seems like the ballroom dancing lessons go on all day long, as we’ve seen people dancing at 9 am, noon, and 9 pm. Perhaps we’ll try to join them sometime and see if we can learn to dance… our permanent apartment (which we should move into sometime in the next few weeks) is two minutes away from both the school and the park – very, very convenient. We’ve also seen people taking a mid-afternoon nap on the cement benches in the park.

This weekend we’ll take a break and run around the city, Monday we start teaching, and the week after next is Chinese New Years. That means we’ll have a ton of pictures and hopefully some video to post really soon.

4 days ’til Taiwan

Jessica’s not having a birthday this year. We leave on the 13th, fly 20 or so hours, and arrive on the 15th. The 14th gets gobbled up by the International Date Line. I’ll be 6 months older than her when we arrive in Taiwan, rather than the other way around. Apparently she sees this as a good deal.

I can see why everyone wants to live in Southern California and the land value is unbelievably high… it’s like a Vancouver summer minus the rain all the time – you can be comfortable in t-shirts and shorts all day but not sweat.

There’s a beardless short-hair picture in the hair memories gallery.

Leaving for Taiwan

We were intending to settle in Surrey, BC for the year to finish up that last year of grad school. There’s plenty of opportunity to study Chinese culture and language in greater Vancouver, and it was relatively close to the university. We planned to work part-time while we finished our studies and continued preparing for language school in Tianjin, China in February 2007. We’re still doing all that, except we’ll be in Taiwan instead of Vancouver.

When we committed to an extra year of full time graduate study we never dreamed that we’d get to complete it in Asia! We are overwhelmed with the ways in which we’ve been blessed. Taiwan may not be the Mainland, but it’s about as close as you can get.

Soon after arriving in Surrey Joel applied for a Teaching Assistant position at his old high school, Pacific Academy. P.A. came back with an offer for both of us to work as elementary school English teachers in a satellite school P.A. is opening in Taipei, Taiwan this January. We hadn’t even unpacked our bags yet from our sojourn in the Untied States, but after prayers, interviews, more prayers, and more interviews, we accepted.

The upsides are numerous. Aside from the cultural exposure, our total costs for the year will consume less than one of our two salaries; we’ll be able to save much more than we could have in Surrey. Our employers are accommodating our schooling requirements, flying us back for our June session in California and providing us with computers and high speed internet to do our distance learning in Taiwan. In the summer we’ll return to BC with some of our Taiwanese students to teach in P.A.’s international student summer program and take about three weeks of vacation with family before returning to finish out the year in Taiwan.

There are some downsides, too. Having much less time than we anticipated with family and the SBCC is the biggest – we leave January 4 and we just got here at the end of November! That, and balancing full time English-speaking jobs with 9 credits each of grad work per semester leaves little time for formal language study and running wild in the streets (two of our favourite overseas activities). We’ll be diving into the local culture less than we have in past overseas experiences.

We leave for California January 4, and Taipei, Taiwan on January 13. Our contract ends in mid-January, 2007.

Welcome to the City

This guy’s sign says, “I’m looking for a women to marry” and “Please come talk.”

His sign, the cobble stones, and his clothes and appearance compared to that of the people around him suggest that he’s a peasant from the countryside who has migrated to the city. In this picture he’s in some downtown shopping area surrounded by middle-class urbanites, looking for a wife.

Every year in China, migrant workers equivalent in number to the entire population of Canada move from the countryside to the city seeking work and escape from rural poverty. Collectively they are referred to as “China’s floating population.”

If this guy manages to marry an urban resident he’ll likely be able to legally stay in the city. Otherwise he won’t have legal residency when his work (usually unskilled labour on building projects) is done. Without legal residency, he’ll have to maintain an illegal, impoverished existence on the fringes of urban society or go back to the rural poverty from which he came.

Rapid urbanization is a global trend, and in our lifetime we’ll have – for the first time ever in human history – more people on the planet living in cities than in the country.

It’s official – we’re delayed one year

We finally made some decisions. Here they are:

– We have moved our leaving-for-China target date from February 2006 to February 2007, because we’ll need an extra year of school.

– We’ve applied to a school in Southern California. It will take us year to complete the remaining Intercultural Studies and International Development courses. We’re actually pretty excited about getting into their particular program for a lot of reasons – one being that for much of their offerings they use a “block” model of graduate education rather than the standard 3-credit lecture format. They’ve done this for 5 years and love it.

– We’re leaving Baton Rouge, Louisiana for Surrey, British Columbia, Canada on November 17. It’s about 45 hours of driving time, but we’re hoping to drop in on some conveniently-located friends in Colorado and Montana. We’ve gotta get there in time for Julia’s starring role in Fiddler on the Roof!