A Day in the Life

So I got several replies to the strawberry message wondering why exactly I was talking about strawberries (which you can find most anywhere) and not my life in Taipei (which is in Taiwan, not Thailand).  So here it is.

On an average day, my alarm clock wakes me up at 7am.  I climb down the ladder (I have a loft bed for space conservation reasons) and turn off the alarm.  Sometimes I climb back up the ladder for five more minutes of snoozing, sometimes I don't.  After I've gotten out of bed on a permanent basis, I get dressed, grab my backpack, take my vitamins and head out the door to put on my shoes.  Our (I have two roommates, one Canadian and one Taiwanese) only real concession to living in Asia is that our shoes are kept outside our front door. Other than that, the inside of our apartment could be anywhere in North America.

I take the elevator down from my 8th-floor apartment and walk to Chinese class, stopping along the way to grab a couple of tuna breakfast sandwiches from one of the many breakfast cafes along the way.  My Chinese class goes from 7:30-8:20.  If it's Monday, Tuesday, or Thursday, I then jump on the MRT (Taipei's subway system) and, after taking two trains and a bus, arrive at Nobel Kindergarten in Xinzhuang City (just outside Taipei), where I teach an assortment of the cutest kids ever.   I usually get there at 9am or so, so I can sit and think about what I will teach them for 20 minutes, until they get out of their first class of the morning for 10 minutes of playtime, at which time they swarm over me like a school of piranhas, except that piranhas don't want hugs, tickles and high-fives.  (Or low-fives, really, since most of them only come up to about mid-thigh).

I teach a class of 13 3-and-4-year-olds for 40 minutes (not counting the 10-minute break midway through) and then a class of six 5-year-olds for the same length of time.  It's really quite easy, since the kids are so sweet and easy to please that I don't have to work too hard to make it fun for them. It's a really small school, run by a really nice husband-and-wife team, with an older Taiwanese woman who does the cooking and a younger Taiwanese woman who seems to be sort of general teaching assistant.  I'm the only English teacher, and they pay me in cash on a daily basis, which is GREAT, let me tell you.

On Wednesdays and Fridays I don't go to the kindergarten.  On Wednesday mornings I play tennis with an American friend of mine, and on Friday mornings I generally go the gym.

After the kindergarten, I generally go work out at the gym of which I am a member (California Fitness).  I got a pretty good deal on it (about US$25/month), although they did try to pressure me into buying a whole chunk of personal training sessions, which are really overpriced (about US$70/hour).  I just took three sessions, two of which came free with the membership.  Luckily I got one of the more experienced trainers, who, while Taiwanese, got his degree in Kinesiology from Toronto, so I didn't have to work out my Chinese, too.  This is good, since while my Chinese is at an intermediate level, and I can communicate pretty much anything I need to say, I definitely don't understand everything that THEY say.  So if he's saying something like, "Don't do it this way or else you'll pull a muscle," it's sort of important for me to understand.

After the gym, I usually try to study Chinese for an hour of so, then go to work.  My afternoon and evening job is at a cram school called Jordan's Language School (whose computer I am using to write this).  A cram school is a school that Taiwanese kids go to when they get out of school, because the parents here are really paranoid that their kids will fall behind.  So Jordan's not only teaches English, but they also have math, science, and Chinese teachers as well.  I am the only foreign English teacher at this school, too.  Basically every English class is two 2-hour sessions a week, for a total of 4 hours, only one of which I teach.  A Taiwanese teacher teaches the other 3 hours, and is in charge of planning what I will do with the kids.  Basically all I do with each class is walk in, ask the Chinese teacher what to teach, look at the material, think about what games and activities to do with the material, teach for 50 minutes, then go on to the next class.  It's a really nice place, and I really enjoy not being stressed out all the time, as I was at my previous English-teaching job, where I had to do a lot more work, like grading, planning, writing tests, etc.  The Taiwanese teachers take care of all that for me at Jordan's, so all I have to do is the actually teaching.  Heaven.  (They pay more than my last job, too.)

I usually finish at Jordan's by 8:30pm, at which point I check my e-mail, read the news on-line, and then clock out and go get dinner.  I eat dinner pretty frequently at one restaurant not too far away.  It doesn't have a name, but the family that owns it are amazingly nice.  I help their kids out with their English homework now and again, as well as teaching the older boy guitar, so I always eat there for free.  It's REALLY good food, too.  They've even invited me to their hometown in the south of Taiwan for Chinese New Year, so I'll get to see what a traditional New Year's celebration looks like in Taiwan.  And I'll be staying there for four days, as well, so I'll have lots of chances to practice my Chinese.  Also my Taiwanese, which is apparently the only language that the grandparents of the family speak.  I expect to double my repertoire of Taiwanese when I'm there.  This isn't hard, since I only know 9 phrases in Taiwanese: thank you, hello, you're welcome, excuse me, eat dinner, I'm full, how are you, I want to learn Taiwanese, and dead.  I was taught how to say "dead" by one of my preschool students who was telling me about her pet rabbit (yes, it had died).  This was my first Taiwanese word, which would be ominous if I believed in omens.

I usually go home from the restaurant about 10:30pm, chat with my roommates for a bit, and then go home.

And that's my life.  I also have a few "language exchanges" with friends here in Taipei, where I help them with their English in return for their help with my Chinese.  I also have a one-one paying student on Saturdays.  I used to have more private students, but they all cancelled for one reason or another.  And frankly I am much happier with the free time than I was with the money.  Once I discovered that, I raised my prices for private students, so now I've priced myself at the very top of the market, which in Taiwan is about US$33/hour.  I'm a pretty good teacher (not modest, but true), but the vast majority of people are not willing (or able, unfortunately) to pay that much, which means I get to keep my free time.  I've had several people tell me that it is WAY too expensive, but I value my free time.  Also, in DC people paid more than twice that for an hour of my time, so I don't feel too guilty about it.

Ok, I think that's enough self-justification for one e-mail.

Happy New Year!

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