The Powerful Powerless

Superhero-Kid

There’s a thin veil of power and control when teaching those who don’t share your same native language. Sudents might respectfully listen to what you have to say and maybe they can get the gist it, but inevitably there are times when the inability to articulate instructions in an understood manner results in mutiny: the students can’t understand you so they do what they want or nothing at all. This thin veneer of pedagogical influence is even more frail when dealing with toddlers and preschoolers– those cute uncalibrated snot buckets that I liken to miniature uncalibrated robots.

When hiring for teachers of young learners, many buxibans in Taiwan will ask about classroom management skills. This, I feel, is pointless. It’s easy enough to offer up some bullshit about a foul-proof method you’ve contrived to control thirty or so Taiwanese 5-year-olds whose English proficiency stretches little beyond  “Hello how are you? I’m fine, thank you,” but a more honest response might involve explaining how you plan to make an example of the first student who cuts up, no matter how minute the infraction. Answer a question without first raising your hand? Minus 100 stickers. You might send a kid home in tears (it took him all semester to earn those stickers), but the message–this teacher is not to be fucked with– will resonate with the rest of the class, and if you’re lucky, the entire student body.

Regardless of any class management method you employ, at a certain point the kids are so young and the language gap is so wide, that asking a non-Chinese speaking foreigner to brave such a classroom alone is about as useful for teaching English as plopping a group of students down in front of a stereo and cranking up The Very Best of 2 Live Crew.

I teach a very young group of students –we’ll call them the Tangerine class–and luckily I have a Taiwanese co-teacher to help heard them around and fill the lingual gaps during my 2-hour lessons. Eighty percent of the reason I’m able to teach anything is because of her. Among the twelve or so students that I see daily she is both a source for love and trepidation. They turn to her when they’re hurt and cower in front of her when they’ve done something wrong.  Her pet peeves are like draconian laws for preschoolers. Run a foul with her and you run the risk of being taken into the bathroom for “readjustment.” Every kid that enters returns teary eyed.

While my co-teacher is in the room the kids are as responsive and well behaved as you’d hope any preschool class of ESl learners would be. There’s always a few laggards, but my instructions are more or less followed and when I need to bring the class back to attention I can usually do so without strain. That’s when she’s in the room.

Believe me when I tell you that if my co-teacher is absent I’m vulnerable to student rebellion.

Eyes watching.
Ears listening.
Mouth quiet.
Hands nicely.

These are the classroom commands that are most effective on a good day. Beyond that, I got nothing. I know it. The students know it. After five minutes solo they begin testing the limits of my patience: the defiant nose picking, sprawling out on the floor, eating pocket lint. At twenty minutes I’m left shouting the same commands that ceased being useful ten minutes ago.  Eyes watching, ears listening…

Not all is lost, however. They comprehend and execute “put your book away” with lightning efficiency.

Some teachers employ “the look,” that stern face of dissatisfaction meant to scare students into compliance. With the Tangerines, there’s not a shred of logic behind this tactic. They only understand maybe thirty percent of what I say anyways. Instead of the “look” being synonymous with “Teacher Jeremy is serious,” they interpret it as “please keep screaming at the top of your lungs and continue playing with your saliva.” Maybe it’s a cultural thing.

As young as they are, the students are keen enough to understand that the control I wield over them is easily circumvented due to my lack of Chinese and their lack of English.  They agree that as a teacher I have at least a morsel of authoritative power, but beyond that I’m just the facilitator of  English games who is to be repeatedly contested or ignored in the absence of their more fearful lao sieuh.  The Tomatoes’ perception of me is similar to my perception of any substitute teacher I encountered in the seventh grade: You’re not my REAL teacher hence any interest I show in what you’re doing or saying is provided as a courtesy at best. Unless, of course, I start shilling out candy and Sponge Bob stickers.

Before leaning to ask permission to use the bathroom some of my students would get up in the middle of class and stare me down as they trudged slowly to the toilet, ignoring my every protest which helplessly morph from demands (“Kate,  you need to sit down.”), to denial (“Kate, you can’t just get up in the middle of class…”), before finally, acceptance (“Yes, Kate. You may go to the bathroom.”).

With each act of defiance the class grows bolder; my grip on the throne–looser.

This is often accelerated by attention spans that pitter out after about seven seconds. A microscopic dust mite crawling across the floor has the ability to derail a lesson at not even a moment’s notice. Again when my co-teacher is around I have no struggles in getting them refocused. If she’s gone however, and a few students decide to take a mental break (perhaps to admire the wrinkles on their knuckles), it might take ten minutes to get them back on course.

By then it’s snack time and they’ll have successfully orchestrated a thirty minute break from the strange looking teacher whom they can barely understand.

Alas, the struggle continues tomorrow and I’m nearly out of candy and stickers.

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Ricky Doesn’t Comb His Hair

I’ve written about some of the issues Taiwan has related to race and ESL eduction and I try to carry the flag in bringing awareness to this problem here in Kaohsiung, but alas there is still work to be done.

I recently came across this in one of the textbooks I teach out of:

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In this particular book the characters are visiting New York and apparently saw fit to visit the Bronx where you can see black kids with afros and cornrows break dancing in the street, every afternoon.

What was probably a guileless attempt by the school (one of the larger chain schools in Taiwan that publishes it’s own curriculum) at introducing students to different English speaking cultures (in this case, black American culture?), comes off as uneducated and offensive. I’m surprised that a company so obsessed with providing a well rounded learning experience could be so off base. This is a wholesale buy-in of the shitty American stereotypes that have made their way across the ocean and found new homes within the Taiwanese global psyche.

I stare at the pages in disbelief before thinking about how I can skip over this part of the dialogue, but the dialogue is an extension of the grammar pattern to be taught in the next section and will need to be memorized and recited. The kids will learn it whether I teach it or not.

I decide to have a quick conversation about what’s on the page. This is a class of eight to ten year-olds so I try to make it as simple as possible. I explain to them that despite what their book says, “Ricky” needs to comb his hair every morning just like they do. This is difficult for them to understand because they know Teacher Jay doesn’t comb his hair and as far as they’re concerned Teacher Jay is the same as Ricky: black and with hair different from their own. For my students there’s nothing separating blacks from other blacks (regardless of where their respective countries); just blacks from Taiwanese. So not combing ones hair becomes a defining feature of all black foreigners. This mistruth is then used to stress the grammar pattern being taught in the textbook:

Does Ricky comb his hair every morning?
No, he doesn’t
Does he dance every afternoon?
Yes, he does.

I see this and immediately think of the experiences I had on arrival while searching for a teaching job. Wrestling with the widely accepted view that blackness is this weird otherness that cannot survive outside of only being “the other.” There’s little difference between this and my difficulties finding teaching work the first few months on the island. In both situations, blanket stereotypes left unchecked have become the common truths from which to hang opinions. The end result is that people are only able to relate with those perceived as “other” through differences instead of through similarities, and in Taiwan, difference is sometimes met with adversity. Inserting these stereotypes into an ESL textbook is dangerous in that they become perpetual, further strengthening faux  truths for Taiwanese students about people who are different from them.

In arguments  conversations with other expats on forums and in person, I’ve fielded the opinion (multiple times) that nothing can be done about this; that there’s no use in trying to change local opinion; that foreigners have it good in Taiwan and I shouldn’t complain. That because most schools are only concerned with maintaining a revolving crop of eager English learners (i.e. maintaing a steady cash flow) they’re reluctant to change anything and reasonable complaints unnecessarily stir the pot.

Fuck that. When I open up a textbook and see something like this,

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I’m more inclined to curse someone out than reluctantly dismiss it as acceptable. I find it hard to believe I’m the only foreign teacher who’s seen this and thought it inappropriate, but it’d be easy to assume that few (if any) teachers actually voiced opinions about it.

That being said, I still believe the best attempt at  combatting these hiccups in intercultural understanding is through added exposure to the cultural facets of foreigners in Taiwan–instead of only the language (that the two are often separated is odd to me). Most of this shit comes from western cultural texts so I feel we shoulder some of the responsibility to help sift through the bullshit. Talk with students and coworkers about why it’s not acceptable to snicker or make snide comments about different types of foreigners, but also take the time to highlight cultural similarities when opportunities present themselves. If there’s an opinion or idea expressed that is based on a cultural untruth, set it straight instead of waiting until later to bring it up when you’re safely entrenched among other expats.

A little cultural respect goes a long way. We can start by speaking out and having more of it for ourselves.

Southern Rap Marathon

lil_jon

The English cram school I work at likes to be thorough in their education methods. Everyday before classes start, while the students are arriving and milling about the front lobby and hallways, they pipe in all English radio via Sky FM. Doing so helps maintain the facade of an all English atmosphere.

It’s a sincere effort that comes up short. The students and the Taiwanese staff dismiss it as background noise. The songs being played overhead won’t be on this week’s homework and it doesn’t appear on a test therefore it’s largely ignored. It’s a shame because there’s regularly times when the music selection is quite good. I suspect that one of the assistants clicks a different station at random when the school opens.

What this means is that I’m able to jam out to the likes of Boys II Men and Mariah Carey on Monday, followed by Cee-Lo Green  and The Roots on Wednesday. It’s long since become a normal occurrence to catch Teacher Jeremy in full sing-a-long mode while lesson planning in the teachers’ office. The playlists are that damn good.

Even with the varied and noteworthy music selection, I’m shocked when I hear Lil Jon and the Eastside Boys’ “Bia Bia” blasting through the speakers as I’m prepping my lessons the other day. The song is halfway finished before I realize  it’s the uncensored version. Naturally I figure someone downstairs will eventually hear the “fucks” and “shits” coming from overhead and change the station, but two songs later when Crime Mob’s “Knuck if You Buck” came on, I decide it wise to mention something to the Taiwanese staff.

“Are you listening to the music?” I asked one of my co-teachers. She seemed confused by the question.

“No. Why?”

I let her know that the music being played contained a heavy dose of naughty words, to which she tells me that it’s fine because the students just tune it out. In other words: disregard the extremely profane language on the loudspeakers even though you’re at an English cram school full of children.

I return to my desk to finish prepping lessons but I can’t help thinking about the possible unseen consequences of an afternoon-long southern rap-a-thon. The students may not be affected, but what about me? I listen to rap music regularly and just about every song being played is also in my iTunes library. Who’s to say I don’t accidentally let one of those explicit lyrics loose in the classroom? I’d hate to be known as the foreign teacher who told a kid to “fuck dat shit!” because he fudged a verb conjugation.

Alternatively, Who’s to say one of the older students (who relish opportunities to learn and incorporate slang and swear words) isn’t able to pick out a few choice words that he’s heard before on TV or the internet? Now I’m forced to explain to my advanced class what  “let the sweat drop down my balls” is referring to.

Normally I might embrace such an opportunity in the classroom to discuss counter-cultural aspects of the English language, but in this case it’s probably more trouble than its worth. Some of my mid-level students sill have problems recognizing present progressive. I’d be skeptical about them being able to wrap their heads around “twerking” or say, “pussy poppin.”

“…but teacher why she standing on her head?”

I also wouldn’t want to deal with the fallout that could come from students incorporating heard rap lyrics into their writing exercises, particularly because I wouldn’t want to sift through the barrage of grammatical errors they’d undoubtedly contain. “Ima throw dis money while you do it wit no hands”  Isn’t exactly proper usage of future tense. It’d take me hours to correct the assignments and I’d be left with the feeling that I’m ultimately tutoring a group of rambunctious Hip Hop artist instead of my normal crop of Taiwanese high schoolers. I didn’t sign up for that.

By eight o’clock someone has switched the station to Top 40 and no one but me notices. No one but me cares. My last class of the night is about to start and no one but me realizes the ESL clusterfuck that was just avoided.

Since that day I’ve become more emboldened by the music at my school. The rap music has toned down a lot, but when its playing I sing along and try to keep a clear conscience.

TADIT Fights for Diversity and Fairness in Taiwan

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The Taipei Times recently published a story about a group of foreign English teachers who have  launched an effort to combat discrimination in Taiwan’s ESL market. The group–Teachers Against Discrimination in Taiwan(TADIT)–was started by Annie Chen, a Taiwanese American with dual citizenship who had trouble finding work as an English teacher in Taipei because of her Asian appearance and last name. Her experience echoes that of many other non-white English teachers who have come to Taiwan eager to teach.

I remember sifting through hundreds of threads on Forumosa and Tealit before I left the states that mentioned the discriminatory (and in some cases, racist) attitudes of English cram school operators and Taiwanese citizens. When I arrived almost all the expats I spoke with told me that I would have a harder time finding work due to my skin color. It’s not that I took it in stride per se, but I wasn’t going to let it deter me from from trying. I’d survived living and working in Korea–perhaps one of the most xenophobic nations in Asia–so I didn’t think Taiwan would present me with anything I couldn’t handle. Or so I thought.

For me, reading about TADIT could not have come at a better time.

Last Monday I was called into a school that I had sent a cold email to the previous week. They were in need of a part-time teacher and I was invited to come in for a demo and interview. I arrive to the same surprised expression I’ve been getting when walking into schools; the “oh shit, he’s black” look. No problem. I smile and inform them I’m there for a scheduled lesson demo and interview. I expected to do the demo in front of an actual class, but instead had to do it for one of the managers and a Taiwanese teacher. It doesn’t bother me at all and I feeling like I nailed it. A quick vocabulary activity, some simple sentence structure and I’m done. As I’m leaving the manager tells me that when I come back she’ll show me how to use the special interactive white board. Her choice of the word “when” has me feeling like I got the job.

The next day that same manager gives me a call and explains that there is a “small problem.” I need to come back for another demo–this time for the director of the school and a different manager– because they’ve never had a teacher who was black. The explanation leaves me offended and a conflicted about rather to return for the demo. I contemplate going in and giving a lesson on the importance of diversity in leaning environment instead of anything from the textbooks. During my second demo I’m made to feel as if they were now looking for reasons to not  hire me. The director leaves after only a few minutes and I keep being interrupted with requests to demonstrate how I would teach some minute detail of a lesson I had all but five minutes to prepare. This time when I leave I’m told they will all me if they need anything else. The “if” left no question as to rather I’d be hired or not.

I didn’t plan on sharing this story via Dreadlock Travels, but after reading about Chen and others efforts to fight this type of behavior I felt I needed to share it. Everyone seems to be aware that this is happening, yet until now no one has taken the effort to do anything about it, possibly because of the assumption that nothing can be done.

According to Taiwan law it’s illegal to for schools to discriminate on the basis of race class, religion, etc–something I didn’t know until this morning.

The face of the English speaking world is a muti-ethnic one and I applaud TADIT for understanding that this is not just an employment issue to be fought in schools and courtrooms. There’s also lot to be done in changing a social psyche that perpetuates the myth that a proper English education can only be attained from someone who is caucasian. Schools become reluctant to hire people of color because they’re afraid parents will pull their kids out. No students, no profit.

TADIT has set up a blog and Facebook group urging teachers who have been discriminated against in Taiwan to share their stories. They also have projects in the works that include lobbying politicians and media outlets, as well as hosting a Diversity Day event to show the many cultures of English speaking foreigners.

From the Taipei Times article:

“We think this fear of non-white English teachers comes from a lack of exposure. If we can expose people, especially families, to greater diversity, we can help change things,“ added Hales, who is organizing a soccer tournament, face-painting, live music, yoga classes and an Aboriginal dance performance to feature in the event.

TADIT is also seeking to garner close ties with schools by creating a brochure to encourage them to become equal opportunity employers and there is talk of working with schools to give presentations on diversity awareness to students. All of these projects require help from volunteers. The group is based in Taipei, but the problem is island wide. I encourage anyone who teaching in Taiwan who wants to help to join the Facebook group and help spread awareness. I’m of the mind that this common practice can be stamped out. Chen and her TADIT organization have already taken the first step.

Big shout-out to Byran Harris and the Taipei Times for the feature article on TADIT.

Peace.

The Search Continues

The last few weeks have brought about a lot of change. Kay and I were able to move out of our temporary housing into a spacious two-bedroom apartment that we both enjoy, we were able to set up internet service (though it wasn’t installed until after Chinese New Year) and we survived copious amounts of time spent at Ikea Carrefore, and the ever helpful Daiso (Japan’s take on the dollar store).

Life in Kaohsiung is slowly creeping toward normalcy except for–despite my sincerest efforts–I haven’t been able to find a teaching gig.

I was more than happy to suspend my job hunt during Chinese New Year. All  schools closed up so that employees could enjoy the holiday and join the hoards of Taiwanese traveling around the island and crowding every shopping mall, movie theater and any other public space to celebrate the year of the snake. Besides taking a break from canvasing the city for job leads, I took advantage of the CNY sales. A family pack of toilet paper was going for less than two bucks.

But now that the holiday is over I’ve returned to my daily routine of searching expat forums and cold-emailing potential schools hoping to find one that is in need of a teacher. I’m kicking myself (a little) because a school that I previously did a lesson demo for called me back; not to offer me a job, but to allow me to provide a second hour-long demo. I turned the “opportunity” down mainly because the atmosphere seemed frantic, with teachers scrambling to prepare for their lessons in between sips of tea. Also there’s a good chance that most of my hours would have fell on a Saturday with the rest being scattered throughout the week. I’m not against working on Saturdays, but a six-day work week isn’t for me.

Other potential job leads include a single conversation before the holiday with a recruiter from one of the bigger chain schools. She sounded confident that she could help me out after Chinese New Year and told me she would email some info regarding the position, but I have yet to hear back from her and all my efforts to contact her have been unsuccessful. I’m beginning to think I’m annoying her somehow. I’ve also walked into schools and handed them my resume with a smile. Maybe there’s a postion about that’s about to open up; if so I’d like to be considered for it. Today I called a school that I recently left a resume at and the manager couldn’t remember if she took a look at it or not. She took my number and promised to get back to me.

Some teachers I’ve talked to have claimed my lack of success with landing a job is because I’m black (one woman all but told me to give up) and employers are nervous about hiring people of color because they don’t want to agitate parents who would rather see their kids taught but someone with less melanin. I did some research on this before I came to Taiwan and found that while it may be true that some cram schools are partial to non-whites, there are still plenty of blacks from all over the English speaking world teaching in Taiwan and enjoying it. I’d be taking the defeatist approach if I were let this deter me from seeking employment at any school, rather it be a small mom-&-pop Buxiban or one of the bigger chain schools.

With frustration mounting, I’m curious as to how others–either here in Kaohsiung or elsewhere in Taiwan–have gone about finding gigs. Subbing is fine to gain some quick cash, but it doesn’t provide an ARC and making visa runs every few months is not a habit I’m looking to get into. I understand the time of  year matters a lot and that lately there are more teachers than jobs available, but I’d still like to hear how those currently employed went about finding their teaching job, particularly when they first arrived. The tips could prove helpful to other newbies like myself.

Peace

Job Search and Lesson Demos

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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

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