By Marcus Denton
Warning– I have been in Taiwan less than one year. I understand I don’t know shit yet. That is why taking the contents of this article seriously may cause serious brain defects.
1. Don’t Take The Job Before You Get to Taiwan– I learned my lesson on this one the HARD way. You have to remember if an employer can’t find a teacher in the country, it is normally a HUGE red flag.
Their co-teachers and managers probably have shitty English at best if they can’t even talk to somebody walking through the door looking for a job.
Demand at least 2-3 solid references from current foreign teachers if you even consider doing this.
Hold your ground on this also. The reason to hold strong, is that the school will probably give what sounds like a valid excuse why they don’t have a reference for you. WARNING!!
2. Being a great Uncle doesn’t make you a great teacher– So, your brother calls on you for an emergency babysitting role with the niece and nephew? You rise promptly to the challenge. And ,you let them eat every candy they aren’t allowed to, play hide and seek 357 times, and even take an accidental roundhouse to the gonads without ever doing anything besides smiling.
Amazingly enough (sarcastic voice), the kids absolutely ADORED you!
On the ride home from your brother’s house, you are still awe-struck about how much the kids love their magnificent Uncle. And if you are like me, and like to do things irrationally, you start thinking that you are missing your calling as a teacher.
I hate to inform you of something. Spoiling your family and controlling 20 rowdy Taiwanese kids in their second language are two totally different skill sets.
Anything to get “Uncle of The Year” mug!
3. Kids Aren’t ALL The Same– This came as one of the biggest shocks to me. I remember thinking before I came that I don’t know Taiwan, but I am certain that the kids would still fall for the old favorites like “I got your nose, ” or the “pretend cry.”
The pretend cry and a few other tricks seem to work ok. Don’t be surprised however if some of your more reliable tricks to make a kid smile are greeted with a blank stare.
“I got your nose” doesn’t always work!
4. Don’t DAT (Drink & Teach)
It’s Friday night. And, you had 13 kids try to rip out your arm hairs today, sang the old classic with a dunce cap on your head, “A Sailor Went to See See See” 14 times, and if you have to take another one of the classroom toys called a “sticky ball” off the head, just to get the head just to get the kids’ attention, you are probably going to have a nervous break down.
Let’s not also forget that you are pretty damn tired of the 4.5 minute chant you are forced to say every time you want a kid to repeat something, ” I say ENNNGLISSHH,” you say ENNGLISHH, and CHIIIIIi neeez.”Ohhh kayyyyy???”
Be sure to make the “Ok sign” with your right hand also!
And after your 4.5 minute chant of what seemed like absolute hell is over, it gets greeted with DEAD silence.
Not to worry, your 120 hour online course instructor told you to glance over the room when this happens.
So, you can’t wait to assess the situation.
You look down to see one of your prize 5 year old pupils, “Little Leo” has just commited one of the 7 most deadly sins of ESL Kindergarten “No Fingers On The Word.”
To the non-teachers, this means that as you are all reading together, he rebelled against the one constant demand any teacher makes on their ESL student “Fingers On The Word.”
I literally hear it in my sleep at this point.
You are thinking to yourself “How could HE of all people, not have his fingers on the word?”
That is when you notice one of the most horrifying sights you can see in a classroom. Poor Leo has got a case of the “itchy nuts.”
He’s just scratching away. And, you just pray to God nobody tells on him for this.
Oh yeah,a further glance shows your other class favorite “Smiley Emily,” staring at the ceiling like she is looking at a picture De Vinci just drew on the wall.
You keep browsing the room to spot your class trouble maker.
You finally find 9 year old Sam, who was placed in the class with 5 year olds, is sleeping in the corner.
Let’s not forget how funny he looks. He has been forced to sit in a desk so small that his legs are coming over the table.
Sound fun and rewarding yet? Not really, huh?
You probably want a drink by then, right?
Let me just warn you. Friday night drunken debauchery makes for a LONG 8 hour Saturday work day.
The shit we do as teachers…
5. Expect to Be Ignored– Many Taiwanese people I have met have been extremely warm and friendly. Living in Taiwan has been an absolutely wonderful experience.
However, in the work place, don’t be surprised if your cheerful Monday afternoon “Hello, how was your weekend?” to your Taiwanese coworker doesn’t exactly get the same 45 minute answer you are accustomed to getting from the cute chick in your accounting department when you worked back home.
This is a cultural difference that can be very difficult for many foreigners to understand when they first get here.
I still don’t get it. And, I would be lying if I said the deadened conversations don’t exactly inspire me to sing songs to 4 year olds.
Do they look like they want to answer “How was your weekend?”
6. Never Say “What?”- One of the things you better learn quickly about teaching in Taiwan is you need to get really good at guessing. If you don’t hear the kid, you really have to just try and guess what they said in my opinion.
It is true that maybe you didn’t hear a kid because 7 others were screaming at the same time. However, saying “what” is like slashing the air out of their brand new bicycle tires. It just deflates their confidence!
I would even say a “what?” is almost guaranteed to be met with 100 % silence.
It is really frustrating sometimes because you legitimately did not hear them, and you really need to know what they said.
Try to survive a “What!”
7. Nobody Can Help You, But You–
I will preface this with saying I have had some legitimate help from coworkers. But, there have also been many times where I was in a jam, and nobody really could help me. It really is due to my own fault, and shitty preparation.
So, the story goes like this.
You are in the teaching lounge desperately plotting today’s task of making the grammar of “the present perfect” come alive.
Let me tell you. It is no easy task.
Suddenly, you think it is your lucky day.
Last year’s “Teacher of The Year,” comes stumbling in.
With 13 years of experience from this teacher, you are certain he is going to bail you right out of this jam.
It has been my experience that your conversation is going to be far from helpful, and will include the following 3 lines:
“Dude, this is the easiest job I ever had.”
“Just play a game man!”
Or, even better ” Do you want to see pictures of my snorkeling trip this weekend?”
And, if you are REALLY lucky, he might rip off his entire arsenal of games all packed with his own lingo of how to explain them within 30 seconds max.
Guess what? There’s not a chance in hell you are going to understand a single word he just said.
Moral of the story is you have to keep looking towards yourself if you ever want to get any better.
8. NEVER GIVE A BAD GRADE!
Giving legitimate grades was something I learned through experience. This was after I had the noble intention of giving my class full of 14 year old assholes the 70 percent grades that they deserved on their final.
I legitimately thought this would help inspire them to study when they started the next class. How dumb was I?!?!
I was warned of doing this previously. But, my co-teacher was riding my every move at that point, and I was also certain it would be fight #323 in 4 days if she looked at the tests and found I let them all pass.
Apparently, there is a reason not to give bad grades.
Taiwan is all about competition. This intense competition can lead to Nirvana like symptoms of depression when kids get to be as young as 9 years old.
The rage and sadness is because students are given a number or a ranking in their class. To a 9 year old, it may feel like their entire self-worth revolves around this statistic..
In my humble opinion, after reading $213 dollars worth of self-help books, in my mid 30’s, this is the stupidest shit I ever heard of.
Learning that this system is not for me to judge or determine its worth is one of the hardest things that I have had to learn while being in Taiwan.
I try to dream up lesson plans where kids are learning English for practical use. I have even ran mini-debates in the one class I had that wasn’t monitored by a supervisor.
This is all noble and grand for a first year teacher. Practical use seems to be a bit irrelevant. They want to learn how to pass the test!
A wise friend of mine once told me “You may think you know what you are doing after teaching for 6 months. Just remember. Your school may have been doing this for 20-30 years.”
Soccer field or English class, PASS ’em ALL!!
After 8 months of teaching in Taiwan, I feel like a beaten and broken down minor league baseball player just trying to survive. I will still stick it out for the same reason that the minor leaguer goes for it.
The minor leaguer wants to hit that game-winning home run one more time. For me, I still want to hit the home run once in a while also.
Teaching home runs don’t come very often. However, moments like when 8 year old Irene’s father flagged me down in the hallway a while back keep me going.
I was carrying a basket full of toys, shirt untucked and unwashed, hair frizzed, papers flying everywhere, a stack full of unorganized books, all while I was nervously chewing on a blue and green marker on each side of my mouth respectively.
On this day, he decided to stop me before I started my next class, and say the magical words that any teacher with a heart or a soul want to hear, “Thank you for teaching my daughter. I know you don’t have to.”
The eminent danger of hell breaking loose as seven nine year olds were waiting for me to teach my next class as I was already 45 seconds late no longer seemed to matter. I really did not care at that moment if I walked into a 9 year old “Battle Royal!”
On that day, I got my home run. And, that was really all that mattered to me.
Here’s me! Swinging for one more home run!
I gave the waitress what I felt like a pretty was a very well-spoken statement in Chinese of “I would like the chicken please, and not very spicy.”
This 70 year old bag/waitress proceeded to act like I was speaking fucking Swahili after I gave my order.
After my 4th attempt to repeat myself, I decided to go to the hand gestures.
I gave what I thought were two very easy to understand signals, one for chicken, and one for not spicy.
I even bocked like a chicken when I put my hands under my arms and pretended to flap my imaginary wings.
So, what did the old bag do?
She promptly returned to my table with a plate FULL of some of the SPICIEST, and shittiest BEEF (not chicken) I ever had.
Hats off, Old Lady!
You got me on that one! ha!
Sometimes, it is harder than others to have a sense of humor here. But, you really need it to stay out of trouble sometimes.
Ask.com gleefully tells me that the average adult has over 5 million hairs across their entire body.
With that visual picture, it is time to imagine the 8 year old of your choice enacting on a plan to single-handedly rip out all 5 million hairs, INDIVIDUALLY!
To make matters worse, this sly and deviant child has the ability to slide away every time you are just about to catch him.
Do you have the kid pictured yet? I know I do.
This sort of torture is on that bizarre pain threshold where for some reason I like to pretend like “It is not that bad ” or “I can get used to it.” Those two phrases for me are huge smoke signals that I am totally deceiving myself about something.
This “not that bad” kind of tale I would tell myself was exactly what the wintertime felt like in my current city of Chungli, Taiwan. It did not matter the hour of the day, or the day of the week.
It was always raining just enough outside to make you furious, and it was also JUST cold enough that you would freeze your a#* off in a sweatshirt. Matters were normally complicated further by the fact that a jacked just seemed like too much for some reason. SO ANNOYING!!
Going on a Trip
The good news is that I made it out of the winter alive, and without killing anybody.
My life, and the weather, also recently took a drastic change for the better. The feeling of the child poking at you has been replaced with abundant sunshine and hot summer days.
There is another reason besides the weather things started going so much better.
I finally blasted from my head the voice and visual memory of my mother looking me in the eye after my Uncle Bill died in a horrendous motorcycle crash in 1987.
I can still see the tears streaming down her face like a gentle waterfall, and she was shaking like she was about to go into some sort of horrible convulsions.
She had a copy of the local newspaper, The Express Times, in her hands with the complete visual close up of Uncle Bill’s demolished motorcycle. That was when she put her right hand on my little cheek, and said “Promise me one thing. “
Now, I was 8 years old. What was I supposed to say? “Can I get back to you?” Of course, I said “What is it?”
She replied with, “PLEASE, PLEASE, PLEASE, tell me you will NEVER get on a motorcycle as long as you live.”
I shook my head yes since I just didn’t want to see my mother hurting like that anymore.This was one of those obligatory promises that you make as an 8 year old that you never think you are going to hold yourself to.
I didn’t have quite such good luck with this one exiting my conciousness. It somehow stayed with me for 26 magical years. This meant anytime I got within 300 feet of anybody I knew with a motorcycle that I would tense and prepare for an onslaught of excuses and lies to tell if I was asked to ride on it.
Unfortunately, promises sometimes just have to be broken.
I had been on the island of Taiwan since November 1, 2012 without using my own transportation.
This was destroying me on the inside. Sunday afternoons and all other free time left me with little to no choice for adventure unless you consider walking around the city’s circle for what seemed like the 557th time an “adventure.”
Promises Can Be Broken
After breaking this 26 year promise, I finally started driving the blue and gray Yamaha 2003 scooter I bought about 4 months previously. The scooter and the utter chaos of Taiwan traffic somehow went from absolutely terrifying to extremely fun in less than two weeks of making gradually extended commutes.
This newfound courage gave me the idea to go on a much needed adventure. It was time to take the scooter out for a little spin.
My personal favorite kind of adventure is when I have absolutely no plans of where I am going to go That was the beauty of this trip I was about to embark on..
So, I grabbed my silver hand me down helmet and the left the friendly confines of my apartment in exchange for the open road without a care or a plan in the world.
My future afternoon plan became solidified fairly quickly into the trip. I remembered when I first got to Taiwan when a friend of mine took me with her and some of her other friends to this place called Shimen Reservoir. I had a small idea of where this place actually was.
The first trip was during the winter time and to nobody’s surprise the weather was cold and rainy, and you couldn’t really see anything.
I luckily decided to give it another shot.
“I’m here, “The Taiwan”
After 45 minutes of winding through Taiwan’s often treacherous center-city traffic, the golden moment finally arrived.
The sudden lack of traffic gave me the opportunity to ease off my Darth Vader style grip on the scooter for just a moment. That is when I even took a glance to the right on Route 3, and noticed a 10 foot high jungle looking set of rice paddies They were mildly blowing back and forth in the wind.
I realize that the vision of rice paddies waving back and forth doesn’t normally equate to people’s National Geographic’s top 5 sites.
This picture personally could not have struck a better feeling in my own body. After what seemed like an absolute eternity of winter time rain this year, I knew that it was finally an opportunity to explore some of Taiwan’s landscapes without the 7-11’s.
The reason I am here in Taiwan finally started to strike me. I realized after roughly 600 hours in the classroom trying to pretend to be interested in some kid’s shitty English that the nature and beauty of Taiwan was much more the reason why I am in “The Taiwan.”
I felt like jumping off my bike and screaming, “I’M HERE TAIWAN!”
Peace and quiet in a country that is the same size as Maryland or Indiana but has a population of 23.5 million is not to be taken for granted.
I hate to dissapoint. However, I still chose the more sane option of continuing on to my original planned destination of Shimen Reservoir. I also saw the sign that it was only 2 kilometers away.
Shimen Reservoir Take Two
I probably finished the remaining 2 kilometers at an average speed of about 10kmh. I was so stoked to just not even be able to hear the trucks, beeping horns, or any annoying noise you could think of on the road.
I was immediately surprised by the natural beauty of the Shimen Reservoir. I thought it would be nothing more than an overcrowded and polluted damn.
I spent about 3 hours within the confines of the scenic areas taking little hikes, and driving my scooter to some of the most serene scenery I have ever seen.
I sat on benches that looked like they were made of wooden bongos underneath a 1400BC style looking Chinese temple for a canopy.
Like I said before, I felt like I am finally here in the Taiwan. The previous 6 months of drunken debauchery and every pretty girl I talked to could not even compare to the peace and serenity I felt as I gazed into a view of what seemed like hundreds of miles ahead.
I could also envision the many opportunities that lie ahead for me in Taiwan.
Afternoons like that give you hope that you never have to wake up and do something you don’t want to do.
Taiwan, you have kicked the living shit out of me at times. But, I still love you. That is because every time I feel like I am not going to get what I want. You just throw it right in my face
On a side note, many thanks for reading, I am considering moving the blog to my own domain name of intothetaiwan.com.
How would you rate this name on a scale of 1-10? Please be brutally honest if you think it is lame.
By Joshua Dent
“Josh, You are going WHERE??” “TAIWAN??” “Don’t you think you should know the language?!?”
These were just a small sampling of the desperate pleas to get my attention before I left for “The Taiwan.” They came from old bosses, family, and friends alike.
I am certain I laughed them off, and shrugged my shoulders in my stoner voice with a prompt “It’s cool man. I learned Spanish quick. I am sure I will learn Chinese.”
I definitely came to Taiwan with a goal of being immersed as much as possible in the culture. This was to also include learning one of the world’s most difficult languages.
I got here with a fist full of apps on my I-phone and a box of 1990’s style listen and repeat CD’s. However, learning Chinese quickly seemed like an incredibly difficult task of where to even begin.
To understand why I thought I could learn Chinese without ANY help, we must take a trip back to my childhood.
This was back in the 80’s timeframe in a tiny town called Nazareth, PA. And, yes, Bethlehem was our neighbor. True Story!
“Boy, You’re as stubborn as a bull!”
That is the direct quote from my father about me. It didn’t matter if it was after a whiffle ball game in the backyard, or after he told me to pick up the trash. This was one of the more constant quotes I remember hearing from my father.
Back then, I am certain I replied with just as stubborn as an answer “Shut Up, Dad!”
I feel fortunate to reflect now and see his brilliance.
The point of this flashback is to illustrate just how truly stubborn I can be. I came to Taiwan without knowing one word of Chinese. I was still certain that I was going to master one of the world’s hardest languages without a glitch or ever taking a class.
I guess I felt I could do it the same way as I learned Spanish. That was drink a few beers with the locals and back then I got an AOL chat room screen name to chat it up with some ladies.
I can’t even begin to tell you how wrong and native I was.
Learning Chinese Through Song
I was about 4 months into self-studying from my fist full of apps, and my 1997 box of “Learn Chinese Easy” CD’s and realized I couldn’t really say much more than a simple hello, or yes.
That is when I thought I finally struck educational gold.
I had recently bought my guitar which I affectionately named Madgun 520.
Madgun 520 and I were spending loads of quality time together.
I had the idea to just learn some easy Chinese songs to learn and sing. I felt like it was the stuff that legends were made of. I was gong to capitalize on my passion for playing guitar and utilize it with a skill of survival on this tiny island the size of Indiana.
Is it me, or is the birth of an idea one of the most amazing gifts you can receive? I know when my ideas are born I think there is absolutely nothing that can get in my way.
我有好消息- I Have Good News
I quickly launched the search for what song I was going to learn. I found the above-mentioned song listed on youtube, and got to work.
The winter was absolutely brutal for me here in Taiwan. I came from the stifling heat of Phoenix, AZ, to what felt like one eternally long cold and wet 5 months period of misery.
I realized it was getting to me when I woke up one morning shivering under two blankets, a hooded sweatshirt, two pairs of socks, thermal underwear, and I could still see my breath.
I still wouldn’t turn the heater on. Do you believe my Dad yet about me being stubborn?
The cold weather gave me absolutely no reason to go outside, and lots of time to learn this new song.
I probably spent a solid 3 days inside my tiny apartment with my Adidas sweatshirt, and winter hat on trying to learn this 4 line song. Music just doesn’t run in my blood.
I finally felt like it was time to record it, and let some of my American peeps see what I had been up to. I was so proud that I had mastered these 4 lines that I was surprised they didn’t call the fire truck to my 11th floor apartment since my face was glowing SO red.
“Youtube Crazy American Sings Chinese Song”
The joy of this blog is that I get a chance to reflect back and see how stupid I can be sometimes.
With this beaming introduction, I give you the link to the finished project.
“Wrong Language, Oops!”
I first showed it off to one of my only 3 Taiwanese friends at the time, Skype screen name- daisylinxxx.
I couldn’t wait to hear how awesome and cute she thought it was. I felt like I was well on my way to just learning shit loads of songs and never being forced with the torture of sitting in a Chinese classroom.
She crushed that dream in all of about 5 seconds. Her immediate response was “Uh Josh, I don’t understand the song.”
It turned out that the Chinese was in simplified Chinese which is spoken on mainland China. They mostly speak Traditional Chinese here in Taiwan.
With that disaster, I realized it was time to get some help in figuring out how to learn Chinese. In the next post, I plan to take you through some of the ups and downs of sitting through a 10 hour per week Chinese class as a 35 year old grown man.
I know at times that some of these stories sound depressing and sad to some of you.
I personally feel the opposite. Each obstacle or hurdle only makes me that much stronger for future challenges.
If I wanted to steady and reliable, I would still be sitting in a cube somewhere using every ounce of muscle and power in my body to keep from bouncing my head off the desk in pain and boredom.
On November 1, 2012, I left Gilbert, AZ with a one way ticket to Taipei on a mission for adventure.
Stability bores the shit out of me. I look forward to looking back at some of these entries in the many months to come and watching how I hopefully continue to evolve as a human being.