On the leaving

August 28, 2011

So, after 7 years, I’m leaving Taiwan.  So this is the last blog entry from Taiwan.  Not that I’ve actually published anything in several years, but what the hell, closure is good. Will I start a new blog in Israel? Probably not.  My track record with this one has been abysmal.  My facebook status will just have to do.

Farewell, Taiwan.  It’s been a heck of a ride.

Advertisements

Money inspires the muse; recent events; Wikipedia

January 14, 2009

Forget Daoism, Buddhism, Confucianism, and any other religion you may think is practiced in Taiwan.  The primary religion here is money.  Now, of course, in the West (yes, a non-politically-correct holdover term from colonial times, but still useful to describe the difference in culture; East or West, first-world or third-world, (no second world anymore, bye-bye USSR. Darn it, now I’ve got parentheses within parantheses! Someone call the grammar police.) Ok, now we’re back out of those parentheses, we can get back to the main point, even though you’ve already forgotten how this sentence started.) money is quite important, and it is what makes the world go round.  But here, it’s practically institutionalized.  I mean, in the States we have several gift-giving occasions, too: birthdays, holidays, weddings, etc, but we generally give gifts consisting of objects that we think the person would like: for a wedding, houseware, for a birthday or holiday some other useful gift, or even just a card.  Money is given (at least in my family), but is generally not as common among friends.  But here, presents are definitely secondary to money, usually in a red envelope (in Chinese:紅包, pronounced hongbao).

Chinese New Year? Red envelope.

Wedding? Red envelope.

Year-end bonus? Red envelope.

Funeral? White envelope (white is the color of death here.  There’s still money inside, though.  This brings me to a totally tangential point on the weirdness of Taiwanese society: traditionally, white is the color of death, but Taiwanese brides have gone wholesale for the Western white bridal gown.  Too many American movies, methinks.)

Anyway, money is definitely the primary object of worship here.  Which actually inspires some ingenious ways of enforcing the law.  First example: in a third-world country where stores giving receipts for purchases is not generally done, how do you force them to report all sales to the tax bureau?  The Taiwanese solution: every receipt has a lottery number printed on it, so every time you make a purchase, you are getting a free lottery ticket.  There’s a drawing every two months, and you can win up to 200 million Taiwan dollars. (About six million US dollars.)  Thus, customers demand receipts, so stores have to record their sales, so the tax authorities can now audit their books accurately. (I’ve only won about US$45 over the last four years, but I’m still hoping.)

Second example: last Sunday, the “Smoke-Free Taiwan” law went into effect.  In the whole country, smoking is banned in establishments designed to serve three or more people.  Stores which sell cigarettes are not allowed to advertise this fact, even with signs.  All they’re allowed to do is display the cigarettes themselves.  Smoking is also banned at bus stops and certain other outside places where people tend to gather.  Smoking is still ok at the zoo, with the key exception of the new panda exhibit (the pandas were a recent goodwill gift from China, so it would be politically not good if they were to keel over from second-hand smoke).  Now, where does the money come into this? Well, just like in America, they enforce this with fines.  But you can’t have enough health inspectors to crack down all at once.  The answer: if you take a picture of someone smoking where they shouldn’t, then you get NT$500 (about US$15).  And when everyone’s got a camera in their phone, and every time you light up someone’s whipping out their phone and pointing it at you, you darn well don’t smoke, especially in a country where saving face is so crucial.

And now for something completely different: why am I blogging all of a sudden, when I’ve been silent for so long?  Well, for one thing, I got very involved with my girlfriend (see the earlier post about jealousy), and so didn’t have much time for much else. For another thing, I stopped taking my meds for a few months.  I’ve now broken up with the girlfriend and started taking my meds, so hopefully I’ll get back to normal.

Now, I say normal: that doesn’t mean I’m going to be blogging every day, every week, or on any other regular schedule.  I only write when the muse strikes, so a “normal” schedule for me translates to “whenever I feel like it”, i.e. completely randomly.  I hope all of you are well.

In other news, over the past year I’ve been spending a lot of time on Wikipedia, which, even though we’re at 2.5 million articles, could always use more.  Even if you’re not a prolific writer (I haven’t written any articles longer than 3 sentences yet) you can still contribute a lot.  I’ve probably edited thousands of articles, but I can’t point to any of them and say “That’s my work” because my contributions have been in little bits and pieces: a comma here, one sentence reworded there, some bullshit removed here.  Sometimes my contributions haven’t even been to articles.  Recently I became an administrator, which means (for me) that I spend most of my time as a sort of judge, reading a discussion between editors and figuring out what the consensus among editors is, and then carrying out that  consensus decision.  You won’t see any of that in an article, but it helps oil the gears and make things run smoothly.  Many administrators take more of a role in discipline, reverting vandalism and blocking the vandals, although I don’t do that nearly as much.

Anyway, that’s all for now.  Watch this space.  It will be updated without warning at some undetermined point in the future…eventually.

On publication

September 3, 2008

So, in the last couple weeks several of my friends have proposed that I try to get my writings published.  I am sort of reluctant, since I’m not sure my fragile ego is quite ready to face the possibility of such rejection.  So, I’m asking you: to publish, or not to publish?  Leave a comment below!

Ben

Jealousy

August 22, 2008

Anger, clenching fists, stomach sick, mind racing, adrenaline response.

Picture her with him, symptoms worse.

Picture her in bed with him, with anybody else, mind explodes, cannot process, protection fault at memory address 0x00shelovesme, do you wish to send an error report to Microsoft to report this problem?

No, I’m an adult, I can handle this, I can deal, I can take a deep breath and continue with life.

No.

Pick up homework book, look at it, put it down, stare at table, blue screen of death, this operating system is no longer functioning would you like to reboot?

Rebooting…pick up book. Grade.  Put with finished books…all zero of them. Stand up. Pace. Snap back to reality. Grade one more book. Put with other one.  Only 100 to go, give or take.  Stare into space.  Stand up. Pace. Snap back to reality.  What am I doing? I don’t remember standing up.  How do I deal with this?

Medicine, protein shake, maybe mood stabilizer will help.  Nap will probably help more, but don’t have time, too much to do, too much to do, too much nervous energy, must tire self out.

Typing.  Typing.  Typing.  Feelings printed in 1s and 0s, uploaded for all to read.  Will the venting be enough?  No.  But it might help.

Crucifixion, feel the nails through palms and feet, no crown of thorns for I am not suffering for the sins of the world but only for my own and hers and his.

Sweating still from running, must go for another one before I go to work, must be calm at work, must not yell at kids, must not lose temper, must be calm calm calm calm calm calm this may not work it’s not going to be a good day I can feel it I don’t even process what my fingers are writing right now I’m just letting the words flow out through my fingers like my cousin suggested, but I still can’t stop myself from going back and fixing the spelling mistakes because I can’t stand posting things for others to read that are not good so I don’t write much because it takes me eons to finish just one piece because I have to polish it until it’s finished so the best things I right are muse-inspired whole thoughts springing to mind whole in one piece that need no polishing to make look right although this piece is an exception because I don’t want to polish it because this stream of conciousness is helping take my mind off of what I don’t want to think about because it’s taking a lot of effort to remove myself and my worries and cares from interfering with the flow between my souls and my fingers and my fingers are starting to hurt because I’m typing too fast and I don’t know how I can keep going like this without and punctuation but thoughts don’t have punctuation so I don’t think there needs to be any here.

Except for that one.  And that one there.  Oh, and there’s another one! Two, in fact.  Stream of consciousness now becoming river can’t stop the flow the hard rock playing on my computer gives me the energy to keep pushing and pushing and pushing and pushing until worries and cares are pushed away, eyelids feeling heavy, nervous energy dispersed, maybe I’ll take that nap now after all.

Hibernating….You may now shut off your computer.

It’s not paranoia if they really are out to get you

August 13, 2008

Do you see him?

Yes, that one, there.

He’s trying to kill me.

I know he doesn’t look like a killer, this small old man with the missing teeth, battered helmet, and 2 chickens in a cage attached to his scooter…

but he is.

They all are.

The pretty young thing with the bright lipstick and short, short skirt, chatting away on her cell in a mix of Taiwanese and Chinese as she waits for the light to change?

She’s just lying in wait.

The middle-aged man with a daughter in front and a son behind, both dressed in their school uniforms, laughing as the wind streams past their ears?

Protective camouflage. He’s trying to kill me, too.

The businessman on the 250cc scooter, looking eminently more comfortable than I do on my mere 125cc?

Murder one.  No question.

The little old lady with the basket of vegetables? Serial killer.

The young guy on the shiny new motorcycle? Steer well clear of him…

He’s trying to kill me.

They all are.

Or maybe they’re not.

But, if I’m not going to die…that’s how I have to think about them.

Because that’s the secret to safe driving in Taipei, and, I think, probably the number-one rule of driving anywhere:

Everyone, and everything, is trying to kill you.

Don’t let them.

A testament to my stubborness

December 9, 2007

So, a couple of weeks ago, I went cycling up Yang Ming Mountain in northern Taipei with my friends Eric and Harry.  Now, Harry actually does serious bicycle races, and Eric is an extremely enthusiastic amateur.  So, yeah, I’m completely outclassed in the fitness department.  However, I more than make up for it in sheer stubbornness.  I did have to walk for large portions, but I made it up.  You can see Eric’s photo of me at the top, looking extremely pudgy but also extremely proud of myself: 

http://www.flickr.com/photos/ericdiep/2061079243/in/set-72157600106691045/

The downside: once I’d gotten to the top, I started riding to where Eric and Harry were waiting for me.  Once I’d gotten there, I started to ride past the coffee shop where they were sitting, at which point Eric ran after me and shouted “Ben!”, at which point I turned around and promptly fell off my bike, in the process of which I put my left hand to stop me, landing on the outer edge, putting 200 lbs of pressure on a volume of about 2 cubic inches.  My hand immediately swelled up, but didn’t really start hurting until the next day.  I went to the doctor, and found out that I’d strained the ligaments and tendons in my left hand.  So even though that was 2 weeks ago, now even lifting a light bag with my left hand hurts excruciatingly.  I saw the doctor and she put me on some anti-inflammatories, but the hand still hurts if I pressure it the wrong way.

Such is life.  I will get over the injury, and will go back to cycling soon.  What I’m really disappointed that I won’t be able to do yoga for a while.  I’ve started doing all sorts of exercise, such as step and aerobics, and I’d started doing some yoga as well. (Which, by the way, is WAY HARDER than I expected. I thought yoga was just a complicated way of getting flexible, stretching out your muscles, tendons, ligaments, etc., but it also requires a lot of strength as well, which makes me a little bit intimidated when I see these tiny girls supporting themselves on one hand and foot while the the rest of their body is extended at curious angles.  I try to go into these positions, get about halfway, and then collapse in a heap.  And that was BEFORE I injured my hand.  It also took a while to realize that not only is there a lot to say about yoga, but I could probably go on about all day, which is probably not a good idea when I haven’t even left the parentheses yet.) I can still do the step and aerobics classes, but those mostly work out your legs.  I mean, you’re supposed to be moving your arms, too, but I have a hard enough time following the foot movements involved without trying to coordinate my arms in there as well.  I am slowly getting better about it, but it’s hard for someone as clumsy as I am.  But, as the Chinese say, 慢慢來, (“slow-slow-come”, although a more accurate translation would probably be “one step at a time”).  Also I will probably have a jogging partner soon.  So I’ve become a sort of exercise junkie.

This is good.  I also have no excuse to avoid going to the gym now, since it’s a 5-minute walk from my new place, and a 2-minute walk from my job.  So, on Friday mornings, I go to aerobics at 10am, back home at 11am, clean my apartment or take care of other stuff for a while, then go to a step class at 2:45pm, finish and take a shower at the gym, change into my work clothes, and I’m at work just after 4pm, with an hour to prepare for class.

Rock.

The Zen of Golf

December 6, 2007

 Ball on tee…check.

 Left foot…check.

Right foot…check.

Correct grip…check.

Practice swing…hmm…not quite right…what am I doing wrong?  Ah, I’m twisting it as I swing the club…gotta work on that.  Concentrate.  Let all worries and cares drop from your mind.  Relax.  Concentrate on the ball, the club, your body position, and the connections between those three.  If you are not fully comfortable and concentrated, go back to the beginning and start again.  Take as many tries as you like.  You’ve got all day.  There’s no hurry.  It’s a beautiful day.  Look at the ball.  Look at the club.  Concentrate on the ball, the club, your body position, and the connections between all three.

Practice swing…feels good.

Move up to the ball.  Go through the above again. Wait until the only thing you are thinking about is the ball, the club, and the connections between all three.

Swing…good.

Watch ball…on the green in one.

Two putt…par three.

My cousin Goldberg (http://goldberg.wordbress.com), who is a practicing Zen adherent, has told me about the form of meditation called “samu”, which “refers simply to working, cleaning house, walking down the street–to any activity off the cushion–with a singlemindedness, alertness and relaxation.”

Golf does it for me.  What does it for you?

I’m not dead…I promise

November 18, 2007

So, this morning I got a call from my friends Ro, Regina and Jenn, who were sort of wondering what was going with yours truly, since they hadn’t heard from me since my latest blog posting four months ago.  An hour later I got a call from my parents, wondering how I was, since they hadn’t heard from in couple weeks.  It was around this time that I realized, hmm, maybe I should keep in touch with people back home, which is what this blog/e-mail list is all about, anyway.  I could come up with several reasons for not keeping in touch (working very hard, moving three times in 6 months, bipolar depression, no internet at my new place, serious introspection on navel topography) but the main reason is that I’m a horrible person and extraordinarily lazy and I am deeply ashamed of myself and you should really never, ever talk to me again because I am a really, really, super, 非常low scumbag who doesn’t deserve to be your friend. (非常=really)

If you’re still reading, the previous sentence was obviously incorrect.  Let’s get on with it, shall we?

So, my new place.  I just moved, for the third time this year (since April, in fact).  The first two times, I was moving away from situations that were kind of uncomfortable.  This time, instead of moving away, I moved toTo a brightly lit penthouse studio with windows around three-and-a-half sides.  To a humongous rooftop balcony.  To a fully furnished 900-sq-ft apartment with kitchen, bathroom, dining table, sofas, desk, and a video projection screen just waiting for me to buy a video projector and have my own home theater.

In the words of my generation: Sweet,  dude!  Dude,  sweet!

I just got my internet hooked up the other day, too, so now I have full-time broadband access to the internet, which was only US$300 for a full year at the highest bandwidth (8M).  That’s part of the reason I’ve been out of contact for the last month, since I could only check my e-mail at work, and usually by the time I got around to doing that, I was so tired that I only responded to stuff that looked like bills.  If you wrote me an e-mail, and I didn’t respond, that’s why.  I have about 100 e-mails piled up in my e-mail box right now, and I should get around to responding to them real soon now. (This also applies to Skype, Facebook, MySpace, AIM, MSN, Google talk, Yahoo!, or any other form of communication you may have used in trying to get in touch with me.)

So, what’s my day like now?  Well, I usually wake up anywhere between 8am-10am, depending on when I went to sleep the night before.  I’m writing this at 1:30am, so it’ll probably be about 11am-1pm before I wake up tomorrow.  Once I wake up and roll out of bed (slowly…) I throw on some clothes and go down to the breakfast shop around the corner, where I usually get a 起司蛋餅, a cup of 冰豆漿, and maybe a 署餅 or two.  起司蛋餅 (cheese-egg-biscuit) is made from a very thin piece of dough, fried under a beaten egg, and then rolled up with some cheese.  I like to have it with cheese, but you can get it without, or with other flavorings.  (Note: I’ve actually stopped eating eggs since I wrote this, because of cholesterol worries.  This stinks, because this restaurant has the best 蛋餅 on the island. I’m pretty much going for toasted tuna sandwiches instead.)  冰豆漿 (ice-bean-paste) is cold soy milk (also served warm or hot), and 署餅 (potato-biscuit) is a hash brown, plain and simple.  While I’m there I practice my extremely limited Taiwanese with the waitstaff.  (I can say “How much money?”  I can also count up to 99, and I know the word for dollars.  I can also say “I don’t understand Taiwanese.”  So I’m pretty much set.  I can ask them how much, they tell me, and if it’s more than a hundred, I tell them I don’t get it and we revert back to Chinese.)

Once I’ve got some breakfast in me, I wander back up to my apartment, stare at it for a little bit, think “Man, I’ve got to clean this up,”  and then sit down and read a little bit before getting dressed for work.  (Yes, I’m a bachelor.) My job is about a 3-minute walk from my new place.  (That’s another thing I moved to.)  Work is pretty fun.  I get there any time from 2-5, depending on how much work I feel I need to get done before class.  On any given day, I am teaching for 4 hours, in two 2-hour segments, except for Wednesdays and Saturdays, since I’ve only opened one class on those days.  Each class meets twice a week for two hours.  So, I have two classes which are M-Th, two Tu-F, and one W-Sa.  I’ll be opening another W-Sa class around the middle of December.  My most advanced classes are the Tu-F ones, since I took them over from another teacher.  They’re also the rowdiest ones, since I wasn’t really the teacher they signed up for, and they don’t really treat me with the respect normally due a teacher in Chinese society.  This is also because I’m not a “real” teacher.  I teach in a cram school, not a public or private school, so I can’t really command the same respect and fear that a normal teacher would here.  However, I think I still probably get more here than I would in the States.  Also, while my salary is much less than it would be in the States, my costs are much less, as well, so I can save more.  (Of course, I also spend more on plane tickets home.  Oh, well.)  Also, the raises at my school average out to about 10% a year, so my living expenses as a portion of my salary are going to drop fairly quickly over time.

Anyway, back to the point.

Before class, I look at what I’ve planned to do for the day.  Usually, each class starts out with a short warm-up activity, then reviewing the homework, then moving on to several activities that review the previous lesson’s content, and then teaching new content towards the end.  So, before class, I have to make sure that I am familiar with the content, how to teach it, and how to explain it in English and Chinese.  For the lower levels, I mostly teach in Chinese.  As I get to the higher levels, I start using more and more English, until at the highest levels, I should be using Chinese very sparingly, if that.  Before class, I also have to make sure I have finished checking any homework or test books that have been handed in.  Also, at my school, the students tape themselves reading their homework, then hand in those tapes every class.  So I have to listen to all of those tapes before class starts, as well.  Usually I just check it to make sure that they’ve taped it, not necessarily that their pronunciation is accurate.  If I do hear a pronunciation mistake, I try to correct it in class, but I don’t really have time to listen to 30 tapes all the way through before every class.  (Each tape might be an hour long, total, if they taped 20 minutes each day over three days.)  Sometimes kids just hand in a fake tape, betting that I won’t check at all.  Sometimes they’re right.  Most of the time they’re wrong, in which case I embarrass them in class and call their parents.  (Yay for negative reinforcement!)

Most of the time do I try to be pretty positive and upbeat in my classes, but since I’m trying to be such an energetic teacher, I’m usually pretty pooped by the time I go home.  After class for each day is over, I plan for the next lesson of the classes that I just taught, since it’s fresh in my mind, and try to sketch in a plan for the next 3-4 lessons, as well.  This can be a pain, since the classes I took over from the previous teacher were behind, so I have to figure out how much I can cut out of the semester to catch up.  It also means that I can’t spend as much time on certain activities as I (or the students) would like, since we’ve got to rush, rush, rush.

Life can be so hard.

My early class starts at 5:15pm, so usually I’m in the office at least by 4pm, if not earlier, and my late class finishes at 9:45pm.  Since I’m usually planning until about 11pm, I get home, take my medicine, and try to be in bed by midnight, although that’s not always true.  Sometimes I stay up a little later to chat or play chess with my neighbor (who is also my manager), but usually I have to put him off, because I’d like to get up earlier in the morning.  He usually stays up until about 4am trading stocks.

So that’s my normal day.  On Saturdays, it’s pretty much the same, except classes start and end 4 hours earlier, which means I have to be at work by noon, but I usually get out by 7pm, which means I can be social on Saturday night, if I want to.  I do get Sundays off, but one day is really not enough to relax and unwind for the whole week.  But it’s worth it.  For instance, yesterday was Saturday.  I went in to work about noon.  I was pretty depressed (my meds haven’t totally erased my depressive episodes yet, but they’re getting there) so I was really not looking forward to teaching.  But once I got in front of 27 students, got them jumping in their chairs, excited about learning English, and waving to be the next one to answer a question, I realized I was having a great time.

Life’s not perfect.  But life is good.

Typhoon Day

August 18, 2007

So, I’ve got the day off today.  Typhoon Sapet is currently blowing through here, so everything’s shut down.  Looking out of my window, there are a few brave souls out on the street, but most people are inside, doing safe things like reading the back archives of Schlock Mercenary (at least, those of us who like humorous science fiction comics with large helpings of BLAM).

I hadn’t expected to get the day off, since the typhoon maps I usually check showed this typhoon plowing through the south end of the island, or at most the central part, rather than the north end, where Taipei sits.  (Taipei, or in Hanyu Pinyin Taibei, is a short way of saying Taiwan Bei Shi, which means “Taiwan North City”. That’s the same Bei that’s in Beijing, which means “North Capital”.  The word “Nan” means “south”, so those of you with some linguistic talent can probably now tell me what Nanjing actually means, and can probably also get a good grasp of how a language without a proper alphabet creates something approximating an acronym.  Unfortunately, this doesn’t have anything at all to do with typhoons, which means we should probably get the heck out these parentheses and back to the matter at hand.)

Ahem.

Anyway, the reason why Taipei is shut down is not that the typhoon switched direction but that it is EFFING HUMONGOUS.  Gigantic, even.  Or even ginormous.  It is bigger than the entire island of Taiwan, which, according to the CIA World Factbook, is a little smaller than Maryland and Delaware combined.  However, if you check out this map at Weather.com, you will see that the Sapet is probably big enough to cover the entire area of New England (and level the heck out of it, to boot).  I mean, according to the weather report, we’re looking at winds of up to 90mph in Taipei, on the outskirts of the typhoon, which means that if you’re close enough to the eye of the typhoon, you’ll be fighting gusts of well over 100mph.

Yes, that’s right kids: no playing outside today.  Sorry.

For anyone who has never sat through a tropical cyclone (i.e. a typhoon or hurricane) before, it is kind of odd.  Before I moved here, I had sort of expected that it would be a continuous sort of thing.  That is, the wind and rain would build up to a maximum point, and then start to gradually fall off.  It’s not like that at all.  You’ll get steady rainfall at some points, and then it will slacken unexpectedly, just to come back in torrents a few minutes later.  A few minutes ago there was a lull, which lured a few daring souls out of their houses.  I watched as one woman sprinted back down the street to escape the torrential downpour which had completely drenched her.  (Sorry boys, no picture.  She wasn’t a candidate for a wet T-shirt contest, anyway.  Trust me on this one.)

Hopefully the typhoon will clear out by early tomorrow morning, although it doesn’t show much sign of moving at the moment.  I’m hoping to go bicycling with some friends tomorrow morning.  Usually pre- and post-typhoon weather is quite spectacular, with bright blue skies.

Here’s to weather…good, bad and ugly.

Bye-bye marathon

July 31, 2007

So, it looks like I’m going to have to give up on my marathon goal for this year.  What with one thing and another, I just haven’t been able to get out and run like I hoped.  Maybe next year I’ll be able to find a group, or get a group together to go out and run with me.  However, now that I’ve given up on that, I think I’ll actually be able lead a more active lifestyle.  Instead of trying to set aside time for running that I’m not actually going to do, (despite my hopes of the last three months) I can now use that time to go out and ride my bike with friends, play tennis or golf, or (maybe) go work out at the gym.  I went out and rode my bike for the first time in months last Sunday.  My friends Patrick, Eric and Eric (yes, that’s two Erics) got me out real early (I left my house at 6:30am!) and we rode along the river from Guting to Fisherman’s Wharf in Danshui (about 35 km).  For those of you not familiar with Taipei, Guting is at the southwest corner of Taipei City, and Danshui is well to the northwest.  It was a pretty good ride.  My legs are still sore!  My camera was out of batteries, but I will post the pictures my friends took so you guys can see what a beautiful place Taiwan is.

Hmm…it’s 12:30am.  Time to go home!