Job Search and Lesson Demos

hireme

For most of the last week my routine has been the same: wake up, check my email for replies to job queries, scroll through a few expat forums for new job postings, take off for an interview, return home, check the forums again. It’s a painfully mind numbing  yet necessary process. I’m here to teach, but first I must find a job.

From what I can tell the job search process is broken up into three parts: resume submission, interview and lesson demonstration. Depending on where you apply, all of these could happen on the same day or across several. There’s really nothing to the interviews as most schools just want to verify the info on your resume and make sure that you’re A: relatively sane and look presentable, and B: able to commit to a one- year contract–pretty standard stuff.

The tricky part (for me, at least) is the lesson demo. This is where they hand you lesson (or a blank sheet of paper), give you some prep time (anywhere from five minutes to several days) and push you into a classroom. The idea is to see how you interact with the students and to get a feel for your teaching style, with the possible added benefit of seeing you freak out and collapse under pressure.

Luckily I was able to line-up two demos this week. The first is at a small Buxiban (private school) catering to elementary schoolers, and the other at a large chain school with several branches across the city.

I show up at the first school and am greeted by the foreign director of the school; a tall middle-aged American whose hair reminds me of a less red, slightly silver version of Conan O’Brien’s. The small lobby contains a few tables with kids doing homework and teachers are milling about sorting through folders and talking with the kids at the tables.  The entire school is no bigger than most of the Mom & Pop stores around Kaohsiung and I almost clothes-line a passing student as I extend my arm to shake hands with the director.

After a solid interview I’m handed a lesson book and told that I’ll need to demo a review lesson for 15 about minutes. I look over the curriculum and jot down a simple lesson plan before walking into a tiny classroom of  smiling third graders. They all let out a collective “whoooa” when I walk in and I take a few minuts to tell them my name and show them on the map where I’m from. My lesson plan is to hit them with review drills in which they can gain points for correct answers, make a few self-deprecating jokes and knock out a quick song from the lesson book; simple, direct and proven.

The plan goes over well.

I’m able to get all the kids to participate, they chuckle at my jokes and no one notices that I lip-sang more than half of the song at the end of the lesson. I like the vibe I get from the staff and the laid back approach to the curriculum. The director tells me he’ll let me know by Monday and I leave feeling good about my chances of getting the job. Moreover I’m feeling like my next demo across town will be equally successful.

When I arrive, I’m shown into an office where several teacher’s are hastily preparing for the evening’s lessons. Packets of books are being tossed into boxes, copies are being made, student rosters are being discussed.  Someone comes in to announce that dinner and tea orders need to be placed with the secretary immediately. The wall behind is lined with staff lockers and several shelves containing an array of folders and giant flash cards sorted under ‘Transportation’, ‘Foods’ and many other phonics categories. I’m introduced to a handful of teachers who barely look up from what they’re doing.

The manager of the school (also the person who interviewed me a couple days ago) hands me a book and tells me that I’ll be teaching Lesson 19 for my demo. “Let me know if you need to use the copy machine,” he says.

Copy machine? What do I need to copy?

I flip open the book and give the material a quick once over. The details about my demo are (purposely) vague so I begin sketching a lesson plan relying once again on old strategies I learned teaching in Korea. I don’t know what age group I’ll be working with, but judging from the material I assume they’re slightly older than the third graders I had earlier. Like the last demo. I’ll need to include some review of previous material, but this time I’ll be teaching for an hour instead of 15 minutes.

Along with the review I plan a couple of listen-and-repeat activities and two simple games for added excitement. Before heading into the classroom I’m asked if there are any other materials that I’d like to bring in with me. I quickly grab a toy hammer and declare myself ready.

I stagger through the first part of the lesson and play the wrong CD track during the listening exercise, but still manage to retain my confidence. The students (mostly fifth graders) are receptive to my lesson but don’t show any signs of excitement until the word recognition game towards the end, which my observer fails to observe because he leaves to go administer a test. So the best part of my demo goes largely unnoticed.

The hour goes by fast and I return to the teacher’s office to talk about how the lesson went. An hour goes by before the manager shows up and he looks surprised to see me still there. He thanks me for waiting but tells me that he unfortunately has to go administer another test and that it will be another hour before he’s finished if I want to wait for feedback. I get an email from him later that night telling me that due to a busy upcoming weekend, he won’t have time to discuss my demo until sometime Monday evening.

On the subway ride home I consider which of the two schools I’d  rather work at: the smaller operation with miniature classrooms, or the bustling chain school that wants me to wait several days for lesson feedback.

Meanwhile, the search continues.

Jay

Advertisements

Formosa First Impressions: Kaohsiung

Kaohsiung

There are plenty of cities on this planet that suck and make you vow never to see them again after the first date. There are plenty of cities that suck less once you get to know them a bit and allow them to soothe you into a bittersweet commitment (I’m talking to you, Ko Pha- Ngan). Yeah you might date for a while, but you don’t tell your friends about it. Then there are cities that you plunge into head first and are quickly wooed into a long-term love affair after only a few days together. Suddenly that other hot city you promised never to cheat on is long forgotten and you find yourself making direct comparisons between the two in order to justify the money you’re about to spend going exclusive. Yeah that other place had sexy beaches, but the food this city churns out makes my mouth water from the smell alone. You feel the burn of guilt for a little while, but only until your work visa arrives.

For me Kaohsiung is one of those “love affair” cities. Hanging out on the southwest coast of Taiwan and facing the Taiwan straight, it’s home to about 3 million and receives less rainfall than most other cities in Taiwan–and ideal location to set up shop. Insert me.

It had been 4 days and we’d had about as much rain as we could take in Taipei (not to mention the steep hostel rates) so we decide hop a bus south hoping to find sunshine in Kaohsiung. Luckily we secure a host on Couchsurfing willing to put us up short-term while we search for either more hosts or paid accommodation. We moan about the possibility of paying week-to-week hostel prices, but are prepared to shoulder the costs if need be. After 5 hours we arrive a begin the task of finding our host’s apartment. We make it to within one block of the place, but still manage to spend 45 minutes stranded in confusion, looking for an “orangey looking” building with a semi-circle driveway. It took a troop of Taiwanees women on their way to dinner and a friendly security guard to help us find a building that was not more than 60 yards away from where we stood.

This is where the love affair with Kaohsiung begins to take hold; not from her sunshine or wide boulevards or quirky coffee shops, but from the wealth of generosity her residents (expat and otherwise) bestow upon us newbies.

Our host–we’ll call him Catlard–couldn’t have been a better person to meet just arriving in the city. He offers us a place to crash, shows us around the neighborhood, takes us us out to breakfast, gives us a quick Chinese numbers lesson and sets us up with a pre-paid phone(this is in addition to teaching me poker, something I’m still horrible at). He also introduces us to a few of his friends who are equally helpful in answering questions about the teaching market and providing possible avenues for finding work. You’re the man, Catlard! I try to return the favor(s) by teaching him how to Moonwalk, but somehow I don’t think it compares: He lets us sleep on his living room floor. I teach him the signature dance move of a deceased, loony, mega pop-star. You be the judge.  After 4 nights, Kay and I find a cheap room to rent in central Kaohsiung (from another awesome expat) set about making it the base of operations for finding teaching gigs.

We’re not there 2 nights before meeting yet another friend who tips us off on an teaching position opening up nearby. Within a day Kay is able to secure an interview, and as I type, she’s probably finishing up a lesson demo. Time will tell if it all works out. Meanwhile I’m still in the hunt.

After canvasing some well known teaching websites I head out and get lost while searching for a school I heard is hiring. I pass a mega-department store boasting every designer brand from Gucci to Ferragamo (after walking 3 blocks in the wrong direction) and enjoy the feeling of not really being noticed. I’m sure I stick out in every way possible, yet  no one seems to care. I stroll past small shops and restaurants, a dental clinic and an European looking round-a-bout and no one bats an eye at my presence or tries to fondle my odd looking hair (which happend all the time in Korea). I find the school I’m looking for and am greeted with a look of confusion as I tell the receptionist that I would like to drop off my resume.

“May I ask what country you are from?”

The question doesn’t come as a surprise. Unfortunately there just aren’t enough black Americans/Canadians/South Africans traveling about Taiwan to justify her assuming I’m from an English speaking country. Fair enough. I tell her I’m from the U.S. and she nods in approval and accepts my resume, promising to submit it to the director of the school. Being that this is my first morsel of a job opportunity, I leave feeling like I’ve already got the job.

On the way back I cut past Kaohsiung’s central park. It’s rush hour. People are walking their dogs, middle schoolers frolic and flirt at a busstop an old man rests on a bench sipping a liquor bottle filled with a mysterious green tonic. It’s getting dark and the city begins to put on her make-up of neon lights and flashing billboards. You’re a fly gal and your friends are pretty nice, Kaohsiung. We should hang out for a while.

Peace,

Jay

Formosa First Impressions: Breakfast

DSC_0986

A solid night of sleep does wonders for the senses. When I arrived in Taiwan it was dark, raining and mostly unappealing. The next day however (after realizing that I was in fact, in Taiwan) I wake up amped at the thought of kickstarting my day in a new country.

After paying for the first couple of nights at the hostel we set out for breakfast. The kind lady at the front desk assures us that there is a great place for a traditional Chinese breakfast just around the corner and scribbles out a map on small piece of paper along with our order written in Mandarin to make sure we get the right food. After taking a look at her map I’m skeptical about our chances of  finding the place. It takes us a while (after walking in the complete opposite direction) but eventually we end up in a large 2nd-floor cafeteria lined with food stalls. In front of one stall there’s a long line of diners extending from the cash register to the stairwell at the back of the cafeteria. The whole place is packed with people eating, conversing and taking pictures of their food with smartphones and large DSLR cameras. If this isn’t the place, who the hell cares. One thing I’ve learned about seeking out good food in foreign countries is that if the locals are lining up, follow suit.

We hop in line and I begin scanning the room to see if anyone has noticed the brown gentleman with mop hair and his short female companion who have just entered their popular food haven. No one seems to care. I can’t help but compare the situation to Korea, where it was an everyday occurrence that someone would gasp or sigh or point whenever I’d walk into a local restaurant or market. I played it off as best I could, but it got old pretty quick.

As we approach the counter I notice  a room off to the side with glass walls where food is being prepared by a small platoon of women . Dough is being stretched, cut, sprinkled with sesame seeds, rolled into long buns and tossed into a circular kiln looking device where it sticks to the the outer walls and and begins to cook. My mouth starts to water. I have my Nikon on me, but I decide to simply snap a couple photos with my iphone as I didn’t want to tinker with camera settings and loose my spot in line.

Making  Shao Bing at Fu Hang Dou.

Making Shao Bing at Fu Hang Dou.

Just about everyone is ordering the same thing: A bowl of hot milk-like liquid, the aforementioned  hoagie roll split open and stuffed with what looks like an omelette and a churro, and a some type of tortilla folded together with egg and drizzled with…cheese?

Behind the counter is another platoon of women (I think I saw one male stocking to-go containers in the back) working with assembly line precision taking and preparing orders. We hand our little paper over and make a sign that we would like two of everything.
“Hot or cold,” she asks.
“Uh….hot.”
“Okay. Wait.”

Within moments we have two bowls of the same frothy milk-like substance that everyone else has, but nothing more.
“Is that it?” Kay looks at me as if I know what’s written on our small order slip. We move along to the register with our bowls and proceed to pay. “One six-ta-hee!,” says one woman.
“One fifty?”
“No, no, no. One six-ta-heee!” A second woman joins her and they it together: “One six-ta-ta-ta-heee!”  They both let out a loud chuckle while patting each other on the back. I chuckle as well and hand over $160 Taiwanese dollars.

“That can’t be all we ordered.” Kay is now convinced that, despite having no idea what the lady at the hostel wrote on our little slip , that more food is coming.

IMG_0859

I insist that we have all that we ordered and we find seats along a along a counter in the cafeteria. I take a few sips of the hot liquid. It’s semi sweet, and taste similar to the the Cream-of-Wheat my grandmother used to make. Seconds later the “one six-ta-hee” lady appears and hands us the rest of our order: two hoagie-like breakfast sandwiches. Kay was right. We should’ve waited.

I would later discover (thanks to my homie Google) that our breakfast consisted of  “shao bing” stuffed with a Chinese style doughnut and green omelette. The steamy white liquid turned out to be soy milk.

We gobble down our food and head out down the back stairwell. By now the line has quadrupled in length and its almost noon. I’m stuffed and hoping that Kay won’t mind coming back to the same place tomorrow.

Peace,

Jay

*Author’s Note: If you’re in Taipei and looking to enjoy the same breakfast head to:
Fu Hang Dou Jiang (阜杭豆漿) inside the Hua Shan Market building, 2nd floor.
Take the Blue line MRT to Shandao Temple Exit 5. The Hua Shan building will be on your right.
Breakfast runs from 5:30-1230. Expect to wait in line.

Fu Hang Dao

Fu Hang Dao

Are We There yet?

titans

Remember the Titans is a good movie. It’s a film showing how, with hard work and perseverance, we can overcome adverse situations to achieve a desired outcome. A fitting movie to watch during a delayed 4-hour flight from Tokyo to Taipei. I liken myself to the film’s main character, Coach Boone (Denzel Washington) after sitting for 45 minutes on the tarmac waiting to be cleared for departure  No, I’m not coaching a racially torn football team to a state championship, but I am hungry, suffering from severe gas and sitting in the middle seat of the center row of a packed, hot airplane. As far I’m was concerned our fate’s are linked. Boone needs to find a way to bypass a town’s racial prejudices and pull his team together in preparation for the upcoming season, and I need to survive this last 4 hours without having a panic attack and realeasing a foul stench from the depth of my bowels–both are challenges of great magnitude.

Luckily this is the last leg of a long journey that will drop me back in Asia, on the island nation of Taiwan. I just about cheer when the Japanese flight attendant announces that we have begun our final descent, not unlike the fist pump I wanted to throw in the air after Rev Harris executes a perfect reverse to score the winning touchdown towards the end of the movie. It’s magnificently epic.

We file off the plane and shuffle through customs faster than I anticipated and quickly find our way to the bus station. There’s several companies offering a ride into the city center and as Kay and I stare dreary eyed at the different booths, two men approach us asking where we’re headed. They both appear a bit ragged and I immediately assume they’re taxi drivers looking to make a quick buck on unsuspecting foreigners. I turn around prepared to ignore them, but Kay enlists their help and we’re suddenly standing in line waiting for the bus to arrive. The two would-be taxi drivers are from Taiwan and have just returned from a trip in the states. They not only help us find the right gate to stand at for the bus, but also write down the directions to our hostel in Mandarin for us to give to a taxi driver upon arrival in Taipei. And I, feel like a supreme asshole. I remind myself that Taiwan is a different country with different people than the lot that I sometimes dealt with while bouncing around SE Asia. We haven’t been in country for more than an hour and I’m already thinking people are trying to get over on us. Lesson learned.

It’s after midnight and raining when we finally arrive in. I have just enough energy to lug my pack and other belongings from the taxi and into the tiny elevator, up to the 6th floor Taipei hostel. We have no plans for the next day, except to maybe do some exploring and contact a few Couchsurfing hosts. I’m wet, cold and tired, but I’ve made it. I don’t have a football to hold above my head signaling victory over my opponent, but I am grinning as pull the blanket to my chin in our tiny closet of a hotel room. Denzel would be proud.

Peace,

Jay

En Route to Taiwan: Freebies

free

Like most other people I enjoy getting stuff for free. Grocery store samples, a refreshing mint at the end of a meal, making it on the guest list at a concert; if its free of charge I almost always want it. I like to think that some people excel at getting free stuff and I count myself among them.

That being said, when I heard the announcement that United Airlines was looking for volunteers to be bumped from the 10-hour flight from Seattle to Tokyo in exchange for a $700 voucher, free hotel room for the night and several vouchers for meals, I thought nothing of it. I’ve taken many flights and have almost always needed to be where I was going at a specified time. It didn’t occur to me that because I would be arriving in Taiwan with no job and no planned accommodation that it really didn’t matter when I showed up. Thus the announcement was made several times before my thoughtful girlfriend finally took it upon herself to see if the two of us could still make it to Taiwan the next day if we took the offer. Turns out we could.

To be honest it seems odd to me that an airline would purposely over-book a flight knowing they would have to later dole out freebies for those willing to give up their seat. Especially in an age where it seems like airlines are charging for everything short of the privilege to use the restroom. Nonetheless we took the bait and a couple hours later were on our way to the Doubletree to check into our (free) room. Voila!

It was decided that we should make the best of our time in Seattle (I’ve only ever passed through) and since the BCS national championship game was to be played that night we opted to take the train downtown and find a place to watch it. After having a shitty dinner (even for being free) in the hotel restaurant, we set off in search of some good beer and a television. No lie, I was amped to check out the famous Pike PLace Fish Market even though I figured it would be just about closed down by the time we got there, which it was. I had just enough time to snap a few iphone photos before heading to the bar.

Notre Dame got stomped by Alabama and while it was not the outcome I wanted, I felt content that I at least got to see the game and hang out in Seattle, all made possible by United Airlines. I almost forgot we were still on our way to Taiwan. Shout-out to free shit.

Peace,

Jay