February 25th 2000
(Written during a restless night - three o'clock this morningto be precise)
So here I lay in bed, no longer on the eve - yet, more precisely, early in the morning of my birthday - and something niggles. I can't sleep.
So happy birthday to me!
Not just any birthday, THE birthday. You know, the one that bothers more North Americans ever since that show came out - what was it called? Thirty - thirty ... oh, thirty something? I don't remember. Anyway that's the one. The big 3-0. Yes, I know it sounds like a football score.
Apparently, according to Christie (well she should know - she's from the States) this is the birthday where most North Americans go on a real downer after having reflected on their first three decades on the planet and figure out that they haven't yet done much - or at least not as much as they'd hoped to or think they should. So even though though there certainly are things that I haven't yet accomplished I'm pretty content (at times smug even) with what I have done in the last three decades. No, strike that from the record. Let's say the last fourteen years or so. That's when life really becomes your own. Before that everything was fairly limited to school, winning the Donkey Derby at Butlin's, my own artistic fervour, flunking my Biology O level (Yay!)
No acheivements in music, athletics (save for the donkey-riding), gymnastics and the like. No, although I was pinpointed as a 'gifted child' it was pushed way back by my school's efforts to push me a year ahead. Only after school did I take any serious note to my own education.
So only since leaving school has my life started to 'happen'
But that's not why I can't sleep. It's something else. Something far more serious.Something that rips at my very core, something that sits on a high place and laughs at my 'non-achievement'. It knows and it won't let me sleep - It knows I have to be up early tomorrow 'damnit!'
Today's my thirtieth birthday and tomorrow I'm going to have my first party! Isn't there something wrong with this picture. Shouldn't I be able to say I've thrown parties by the dozen. Sure, I've been to plenty and embarrassed myself at many, passed out, even, at a couple. But this will be MY party! My first party in about twentyfive years that doesn't involve jelly and ice-cream. Okay there were my 18th and 21st which were at the Pier in Cleethorpes and the Cartergate rooms and went really great but were all well organised and outside of the 'home environment' - but this is going to be at our flat. It's a whole different ball game. People are going to be expecting more than a crate of beer and a couple of CD's or sitting down and watching the Telly! Will there be enough crisps? Enough beer? Music to everyone's taste? Alcohol the same way? Enough room? Enough people? Too many people? I'm going to have to be the perfect host. Make sure everyone's happy. Ai-ya! Too much stress.
And that's why I can't sleep! Exactly! I'm stressing out about something I should be able to relax and chew gum about. I'm a virgin party thrower, about to be de-cherried and I can't wait until I'm there and it's happening. As they say in all the best John Wayne war movies,'it's the waiting that gets you. As with all other things in life - it'll be alright on the night.
Wish me luck! I wish you could all come. I'll drink a toast to ye all!
Ah, there you are, or rather - I am, again! Did you think I'd gotten lost or something?
I guess it must be nearly two months since I've uploaded any kind of info about what's up in my life. So here it is at long last.
First I have to wish you all a very Merry Christmas, wherever you may be and a very Happy New Millennium!
Although it's getting colder here, (not as cold as Korea but still cold enough) things are getting much, much better than in my in my previous reports.
I've been so busy recently for many reasons. Firstly I
moved out of the Happy Family at the end of November and moved into the
10th floor apartment of a block of flats in Shui Yuan Lu, Taipei. I'm sharing
with two great girls from Eire, Rebecca and Naomi, who've also been teaching
here in Taipei since June. They, like myself, are pretty busy so we only
really see each other late at night after work or occasionally at the weekend.
A big public thanks to Andrew, Jake, Kevin and Andreas who all helped me
move in and shift my stuff from the HFII. I was surprised we managed it
in two taxis.
As you can see in the photo we are right next to the river which I'm assured doesn't smell too badly - probably not as much as the dog's veterinarian's lab just down the road does.
Because of my heavy schedule I was living out of cardboard boxes for the first couple of weeks but things are getting much more back to normal. As I've already mentioned it's getting colder and after a hiatus of rain that lasted a month or more it's back and rain here in the summer is bearable because it's still warm at least. Now it's a different matter. But at least the rain clears the air a little and despite the acid rain the dust is less of a problem. So anyway, one thing I have to get is decent bedding and curtains. There's no real heating in the place and although most of the year is warm we definitely need something to warm the place up. So last week with the aid of Kimberly, a good friend whose Chinese is way more advanced than mine, I went out to one of the local linen markets to buy material to make a bed sheet (You wouldn't believe how expensive it is just to buy the basics.) That's done and now my sheet actually covers the mattress which incidentally is no longer 'just on the floor'. I found a single bed base and a board big enough to support my double mattress and with the aid of some sponge tiles I now have a temporary bedstead which keeps me off the floor and any bugs which might be around. (You can see where my priorities lie.) Next I'll start on the curtains in an attempt to keep as much heat in as possible - what little of it there is. When the weather dries up I can attempt to seal the damp in the ceiling - that's surely not good for my health!
I've stopped taking Chinese lessons for a couple of months. You may ask then why my schedule is so heavy if I'm no longer studying which did take up ten hours a week. Well, I've also taken on an afternoon job at a kindergarten not too far from my main job which gives me an extra four and a half hours a week and a temporary job tutoring Spanish for four hours a week. It all adds up. On top of that I've been given some web design work for a local businessman who provides teaching posts here out in Taipei. You can check out how I'm doing with it click here. As can only be expected from me it's taking time to do it. As for my Chinese I'd like to say that I'm studying at home but that would be a total lie. In fact I haven't had real time to study since I moved as I leave the house most mornings really quite early and get back around 10:00pm or later - by which time I really don't feel like doing much. This will be remedied in January as I've already given notice to my afternoon kindergarten job and will use the afternoon slot to study at Wenhwa University which luckily for me is slap bang next door to my main teaching job at Hess.
Talking of my main job, all my paperwork is now final and that means I'm here for the minimum of a year. It's not only because I want to keep my contract but also because I don't need any gaps in my C.V. (that's resume to any non Brits.) Work's going well and I've enjoyed a couple of bonuses from classes which've returned to do a further level at the school. It's comforting to know that I'm not driving my students away. The photo at the beginning of this report was taken a couple of months ago and in it you'll see one guy with a beard. That's Garth who after being in Taiwan for seven years has returned to Canada recently for family reasons. All the best from everyone at Hess to you.
Now I'm working more, consequently I'm earning more and have the opportunity to go out more - and I do take that opportunity but not to excess. This really does help my being here. For the first couple of months I couldn't afford this luxury and consequently I wasn't having the best of times- all that's changed now. I guess also the more people you know the better the chances of meeting up with positive people who actually know how to enjoy themselves. That's definitely the case recently.
About a month and a half ago there were certain people at the HFII who were just that kind of people. To mention names there are the aforementioned Jake, Andrew Louie, Kevin Pozniak and Andreas. We had a really good couple of weekends here in Taipei and one of those was a total all-nighter for Andreas and I. We'd been out until about 7a.m. and figured that as I'd already made arrangements with the other guys to show them how to get to a particular market there was no real point in going to bed. After spending a good couple of hours at the market we took a good couple of hours looking for somewhere to have lunch and when we did get back to the hostel we were approached by a recruiter for (don't laugh) a local modelling agent and went out to shoot some sample photos. Kevin and I landed minor roles in a T.V. ad because of it. Six hours of travelling up and down an escalator looking like a cross between high powered, suited businessmen and the Blues Brothers. The following week was also a total blast topped by a free showing of 'American Pie' at the Taipei film festival. These two weeks were a real turning point in my attitude towards being here in Taiwan so I publicly thank you guys and want to let you know that for those of you already moved on it's a real shame we couldn't have more time to do more of the same. To these fine young men you can add Andy and Phil & Fahima (I hope you two have a good time in Thailand!) as others with whom I've had a good time recently. For some reason Jake decided that Taiwan wasn't the place for him so he went back to Minneapolis, Andreas was only passing was only in Taiwan passing through on his way to Australia, and at time of writing Andrew would be enjoying his freedom in Thailand. My flatmates Rebecca and Naomi will be out there too. They leave for one of the Islands on Friday, and I'll be there briefly on Sunday the 27th.
One of the main reasons for taking on all this extra work is that I've planned for a long time to spend New Years out in Sydney, and it's paid off. I have enough in my savings from Taiwan to pay for a ticket to Oz and back (just). So today (20th Dec. I took a detour from one job to another to visit the Australian trade office and on Thursday I'll be picking my visa up. I'm really excited although the trip is only for ten days and the flight will take a night's stopover in Bangkok (eight hours) and the leg BKK-SYD will be twelve hours. I can't wait to be sitting on a nice beach and not have to think about how much grading I would have to do that night. I'm really getting keyed up about going. I guess I'm really looking forward to the warmer weather, coupled with food that's a little less oily... and definitely catching up with Paul, whom I know from London and haven't seen for two years and Mike whom I met in Korea and although we met up in Taiwan this year it was only really briefly.
The next thing I have to save for is another computer. My laptop let me down again about a month ago. It died yet again just slightly a year less than it did last time in Pusan. I'd just spent a weekend working on something for the web site. Damnit why didn't I back it up? This is one of the reasons for not having done so much since last I wrote. Luckily the money I'll receive for doing the website for Michael will go towards a new second hand laptop. At the moment I have to work from my school and although my laptop is working again I've only installed Windows 3.1 to help it cope with having such a small hard disc. Talking of money I must confess that although I reported that I'd won a nice little sum on the lottery last time, I erred in that I thought I'd won on the first line. In fact that line is a winner only if all the numbers match. So my winnings were only NT$1,200. This time around it was even less but NT$600 is still worth having (especially when it's free!) and it all goes towards my trip down under. Thanks to all the extra tickets people at the HFII have given me (mainly Jake, but also Jason, and others.) I'm hoping to have a good chance of some winnings on the next draw (Jan 25th.) Rest assured it won't be that long again before I write again.
I hope you have as great a time as I hope and intend to!
As mentioned there are still effects felt around the republic today including the 10,000 aftershocks already felt in the two weeks since the initial quake. Not least is the lack of electricity caused by damage to a power station creating a huge gap in the power supplies to major cities. Less lighting and unoperated escalators are one sign, work interupted due to power rationing is another. Every once in a while come eleven o'clock the power in the hostel goes off for a few hours. Only the other night it happened while I was taking a shower. Also the area where I work has been badly affected by the power cuts. In the week after the quake the hours I worked went down from twenty a week to four, and last week I missed out on at least five hous. Today's pay day and although I'm ready for it I'm not looking forward to seeing how much I'm not getting.
For those of you who've been corresponding with me on a personal basis you may know that my first three months here have been pretty bad. Basically I've not been having anything like a good time for a while and I was even considering moving on elsewhere. I guess I just had too much of a good time in Korea and as yet it just doesn't even compare. Different aspects of life just appeared such a pain that I really felt like up and leaving.
One classic example is Mike Harb's visit from Sydney. Mike had planned to come over from Oz to do some karate training in Kaohsiung in the south so on the 11th September I arranged to meet haim at the airport and we'd do some partying in Taipei until he was to catch a train at around 7 Sunday morning. First his flight via Hong Kong was cancelled so he, Scottie and Pete arrived at around 2:00am Sunday morning. At this time there are no public buses going to Taipei so the only option seemed like a GBP30 taxi ride back. However we were approached by someone touting an unlicensed taxi - a guy with a space cruiser - and we arranged a ride for around GBP16 -(NT$ 800.)
This made us happy enough to get into a second guys van and we set off. Mike and I had met (the first and last time) in Korea in 1997 so we had a bit of catching up to do. We chatted for what seemed like ages - in fact it seemed too long like ages so I asked the driver where he thought he was going. You can imagine the disbelief on our faces when he told us that the guy from the airport had instructed him to take us to Kaohsiung. Well, to cut a long story short I shouted for about ten minutes angrily in Chinese informing him that we we didn't want to go to Kaohshiung and we were not about to pay the NT$ 8000 (GBP 160) that he expected. What ensued was a telephone call to one of his 'colleagues' in my broken Chinese (although I think I did okay for an on the spot situation.) Iin the end I resorted to showing him the business card of one of the many people I'd met here in Taipei -namely a lieutenant colonel in the police force and firmly telling the driver, "Zhe shi wo de peng-you! Wo shi ta de Yingwen de loashi." (This is my friend. I'm his English teacher!) That more or less did the trick and brought the fare down from 3500 to 1500 (what we would have originally paid in Taipei for a regular taxi.) We got off in Taichung and by the time we'd arrived at the train station it was already 5:00 am. So much for a night out on the town. We had a 7-eleven snack breakfast and the guys took the train while I took a bus back to Taipei and to bed.
The following Friday I went out to a club with friends from the hostel and as I'd come straight from work I had to find something to eat. As I ate the noodles purchased from a guy with a stall only a little down from the club they tasted okay but I paid way over the odds from the abdominal agony the following morning.and most of the following week. The day after I was due to meet Mike and the guys and take them back over to the airport. There was no way I could get out of bed. It was eight days before I could eat a proper meal again.
You may think that a dodgey taxi ride and dodgier noodles aren't enough to drive someone out of a country and I'd agree, but these are only a couple of things in the catalogue that has become my first three months in Taiwan such as having to have surgery on my right big toe because of a bumpy bus and an overweight Chinese passenger, finding (stuck out here) that some **** from Dundee I met in Greece this year, has created a fake web-page and put my e-mail adress on it (in nice big letters) for all and sundry to view, having a slightly inconvenient work schedule (acceptable), and being faced with the possibility that I'll not have enough time over the millenium to travel to somewhere... where I'd rather be, being followed by the most obvious tail ever (suspected immigration police) are among the things that make me wonder.
But those who know me know that I don't quit too easily so I've resolved to see it out here at least until December.
Ironically since the quake things have improved substantially so I'm feeling a lot better. My Chinese is improving noticeably and I've acheived one of my first goals in arriving here, which was to be 'street conversational' within three months. (I think Mike can vouch for that.) Also I found myself worrying less about money (It's damn expensive here) and I 've been going out with friends that I'm meeting here in the hostel, expense notwithstanding. Maybe a little too often but I'm now of the frame of mind that says 'what good is sitting alone in your room.' I think it's worth a little more just to get myself out and enjoy being here. My main reason for being here is to study Chinese rather than make bucketfulls of cash - although I want to avoid spending over any budgets. I paid out over US$ 1,000 in the first month or so (without flights) just to get myself that little bit settled. So damn it, I'll go out once or twice a week and I will enjoy myself! It works.
For example one guy I met here at the hostel , although we didn't know each other too well, Aaron from Canada invited me out to a party because he wasn't too keen to go on his own. The party was at the house of his 'prospective' boss. i.e. he was only considering taking the job when the boss invited him.
So we went along to the party and were welcomed into the house and sat in the living room chatting for about 20 minutes. One thing I didn't know was that I hadn't yet met the hostess of the party until she walked in from the kitchen. I couldn't believe my eyes when I recognised Jolene from Texas who I used to chat with in the night clubs and bars around Itaewon, Seoul. I haven't seen her for well over a year and now to run into her in her own house in Taipei is so incredible. In the past couple of weeks since first meeting her here I've run into her in a bar in the middle of Taipei on a Thursday night and and also at another party from other people ('Do you know everyone in this town?')
Even though my hours have gone down I've had a small windfall from a couple of unexpected sources. Firstly I won NT$ 2,200 (about GBP 44) on the national lottery with three winning tickets. I should explain that I don't buy lottery tickets much, and luckily for me in Taiwan I don't have to. On every till receipt from main stores, departments stores and convenience stores (every shop that's totally legal) there's an eight digit number. On the 25th of every second month six winning eight digit numbers are released by the government in a national lottery. Here's how it works. You have to work from the last number towards the front. If the last three digits of any of your tickets are the same as the last three numbers of any of the winning numbers you win NT$ 200. If the last four digits match then it goes up to NT$ 2000 and so on. Luckily I had two tickets with four digits and one with three. That's about nine hour's wages replaced. Also (since the beginning of this report) I received my wages and although not as much as it would normally be it's still 'liveable'. Especially so because two of my classes have moved up levels and the number of students progressing from one level to the next have earned me a bonus. In one class I had a 100% renewal and in the other class 94.1% renewed (I don't know who the 4.1% covers but looking at some of the homeworks I have to grade I can well imagine. This earnt me a nice NT$ 1,800 just for being a happy teacher! Great!
So the conclusion of this, the most up to date and concise up-date since I got here is this- Things are getting gooder!
Bye for now - Rob!
---Previous report - 23rd August ---
---My previous report---
I got here last Thursday after a few days in London and in Hong Kong, thanks to Jerome and Tracey for putting me up and taking care of me in the City, and crashed at a freind's, Coral's place for a couple of days before heading South to check out schools near Taichung. As soon as I arrived in Taipei I was asked by Coral's boss Ginger (she isn't - she's Chinese) to teach two mornings a week to businessmen at the Toyota offices in the north of the city. So I spent three days near Taichung and then came back to Taipei. I'm now staying at the Happy Family Hostel near the railway station but am looking for other accomodation.
So far I've seen about six or seven schools and have been impressed by so many of them that I find it really difficult to make my mind up. I have to do it soon as I'll be running low on money soon - due to my extended trip to Europe.
I think I know pretty much which one I'm going to choose but I still have a couple more places to see.
As for choosing a school to study Chinese at, well that's almost as difficult as the search for a job.
So before I get into too much boring detail life's going well and I'm doing okay. I'll write to you all individually when I get the chance to next but for now ...
Best to all,