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He got help with my name, and it’s still absurd.

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The Darnedest Things: Exhibit A

Here is the script of a recent interaction between me and a five-year-old.

Ray: Miss Eliza, do you want to see my hands? *eyebrow waggle*
Me: *starting to laugh* Yeah, I guess I do, Ray.
*Ray shows hands. They’re a bit scratched up*
Me: What happened?
Ray: *mischievous, satisfied smile* I don’t know.
Me: *laughter builds*
Other (less cool) child: Miss Eliza, you are shouting!
Ray (shouting): She is not shouting; she is happy!

I Feel The Earth Shakin’ Like A Polaroid Picture Under My Feet

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If anyone is interested in checking out all the crazy earthquakes we have in these here Taiwanese parts, use this website: http://www.cwb.gov.tw/V7e/earthquake/

I only just found it this Saturday, after I felt a 4.7 while trying to fall asleep around 3 AM.

But we’ve had several since then – and it’s been less than two days!

High(ish)-Speed Car Races in Banqiao

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Well, folks, I’ve seen crazy driving in Taiwan, but tonight was the best so far. Taiwan – the Taipei area in particular – is full of scooters. Full. It’s full to bursting. It’s reached capacity. I frequently have to turn around and retrace my steps when I’m trying to walk somewhere because I’ve reached a dead end – not a dead end in the sense of a road or sidewalk actually ending, but in the sense of, “Oh, there are so many scooters parked on this bit of sidewalk that I actually cannot squeeze my body in between any of them in order to pass.” Taiwan is less populated than China, but it’s overpopulated: by scooters.  There may be more scooters than people, the way there’s something like a 4:1 ratio of sheep to people in New Zealand.

So I thought I’d seen crazy scooter antics already. Not so. I’d barely scratched the surface – for tonight, here in the streets of 板橋, I witnessed a police car chasing a guy on a scooter. Squad cars can go anywhere, right? Sirens on, lights flashing: people get out of the way. Maybe so, but scooters don’t even need people to get out of the way. (Which, sure, means you, as a pedestrian, sometimes get clipped by a rear-view mirror or two….)

I’ve never seen a car travel so quickly down my street – but I’ve never seen anyone drive quite so evasively and zig-zaggily as this boy on a scooter.

These cops don’t stand a chance.

But this settles it: driving in Taiwan is too stressful for me. I’ll stick to the horrible 657 Jiangzicui – Tucheng bus. No scooter-purchasing for me.

How To Tell If A Kindergarten Class Has A Substitute Teacher Today

1. Can you hear their classroom from any other room on the floor?

Yes?

They have a substitute teacher today.

2. Are any of them ready to participate in English class when you arrive?

No? They’re scattered around the classroom in various states of dress instead?

They have a substitute teacher today.

3. Do the kids appear in areas of the school they’re not allowed to be in? At weird times in the day?

Yes? (“Miss Eliza, look: I’m in the office!”)

They have a substitute teacher today.

4. Are the children’s bodies more colorful than usual? Stamps? Stickers? Ink? Paint?

Most definitely?

Substitute.

It’s good fun.

Taiwan vs. South Korea

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At this time last year, I was hoping to be teaching English in South Korea at this point.

I’m not. I’m in Taiwan.

Before coming here, I spent a month visiting South Korea. Because I’ve been even more in love with Taiwan than usual lately, I’ve been thinking about how lucky it is I ended up here instead.

Here are some things I used to think made South Korea preferable to Taiwan.

1. They pay English teachers a lot.

Like, a lot. I read online once that the average English teacher in South Korea can expect to save around $1,000 USD a month. That’s a lot of extra money just floating around for virtually unqualified (like me!), just-out-of-college English teachers. I was in love with that idea. Lemme tell you.

2. Korean cities have quite the active nightlife scene. (And you’ve heard of soju – right?)

It’s a common stereotype that Asian culture doesn’t encourage drinking as much as Western culture does. Not so in South Korea. First of all, everyone stays up all night. All the time. Saturday nights, even Korean families are out and about, hitting the town with their 3-year-olds at midnight. And the folks WITHOUT three-year-olds are seemingly always down for another bottle of dirt-cheap, poison-strong soju and a trip to a KTV for some drunken tunes.

They’re just doing their part, contributing to their country’s impressive rate of stomach cancer – the highest in the world.

3. All the Koreans I have ever met are incredibly fun, nice, and friendly. (And beautiful.)

Seriously. They’re beautiful. And yet? They call you beautiful all the time. And drink with you. And stay up late on the beach with you.

4. Their language is pretty cool and has an alphabet.

trust languages with alphabets. It’s working for us, isn’t it? English? Germanic languages? Romance language? All of the languages with which I am even slightly familiar? No characters to deal with. No tones.

5. Did I mention how much they PAY?

6. The food is incredible.

Kimchi for days – I’ll take it. Weird, crunchy, ice-cream filled tubes. Something amazing called a “potato tornado.” Fried chicken – somehow, weirdly, very different and way better than your average fried chicken at home.

And now, here are some things that I think make Taiwan preferable to Korea. This list is admittedly unfair because I’ve spent more time in Taiwan than in South Korea.

1. They don’t pay as much, but they let me work here. 

South Korea has incredibly strict rules about criminal records. I have a driving-related offense on my criminal record (from a very mild incident in which no one was hurt and no major property damage was caused) from a couple years ago, so realistically? South Korea was never an option. At this point, I hear even arrests – sans charges – will preclude you from getting a visa. Coming to Taiwan, this wasn’t a problem. Getting an FBI check was unnecessary altogether, which also meant that I saved money, time and stress dealing with the paperwork mess I’m sure that would’ve been.

Plus, I still make enough money to save a few hundred USD per month. And I live comfortably.

2. Taiwanese temples are better. Hikes are better. Landscapes are better.

South Korea was gorgeous, but I paid for nearly everything I saw – even things like waterfalls and temples. Taiwanese temples are so much a part of everyday life here, I think people would find it quite absurd to charge entry fees. And as for getting outside? Some national parks charge entry, but I’ve found less of that – as well as fewer stairs and beaten paths. I feel like here I can really hike in a way I couldn’t in South Korea.

3. Taiwanese food is awesome.

Korean food is, too, but NO ONE COOKS FOR THEMSELVES IN TAIWAN. As a single person living alone, it would be bizarre for me to have meals in. I love that, because it means I get to eat out every day.

4. It makes more sense to learn some Chinese than some Korean.

Just. You know. Objectively. More people in the world speak it. Taiwan is also the only place you can really immerse yourself in traditional Mandarin at this point, since mainland China has switched to simplified Chinese.

5. Taiwanese people are also great, friendly, aaaand… less beautiful.

Plastic surgery is less commonplace in Taiwan. If I need to explain why that’s a good thing, get outta here. We have nothing in common. My life is greatly improved by the fact that I don’t have to hear my teenage female students talking about upcoming surgeries their parents are getting them for their birthdays or whatever.

I also feel less like an ogre living here than I would in South Korea. Everything is relative, right? If you’re larger than you’d like, don’t stand next to Gisele Bundchen. If you’re shorter than you’d like, don’t stand next to Michael Jordan. If you’ve ever known insecurity, don’t stand next to a Korean. Ya know?

6. Better travel spot.

I’m a closer plane ride to a lot of cool places. Na-na-na-na-na-na. Catch me in the Philippines or Vietnam or Bali OR MYANMAR OR CHINA OR ANY NUMBER OF PLACES

…if you can.

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Taiwan! See? No tickets to see waterfalls here. JUST PUT YOUR BODY IN IT

新年快樂

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Happy New Year, everyone! 2015 (and the 104th year of the Republic of China).

Holy shit.

We live in the future.

What would Zenon-Girl-of-the-21st-Century have to say about this? She could have kids already, for all I know. She could be dead. Or it’s possible she’s not born yet; I’m unclear on the exact date “21st Century” indicates in this case.

Anyway. It’s a new year. I am twenty-three years old, which feels way older than can be possible, seeing as I still get that automatic, “They’re all so adult and cool!” when I walk into a room full of people my own age. (Even worse is when one of the cool, adult people turns out to be twenty or something – not twenty-something – twenty OR something. Something like NINETEEN. It has happened. I very recently mistook myself for younger-than-that-nineteen-year-old.) I’d say I’m in my last year (well, ten months, really – until my next birthday) of my “early twenties.” Twenty-four must be “mid-twenties,” right? Unless 25 is all by its lonesome?

As time has passed, I’ve… ended up in fucking Taiwan, for one thing. If you’d told me a year ago I’d be living here now, teaching, studying Chinese (a bit), and enjoying it, I would’ve befriended you in an instant because I would’ve thought you were the funniest jokester in the world.

Considering that, I suppose I have changed a bit in the past year – and the past few years, really. My taste in music hasn’t changed at all, but that’s because no one’s recorded any songs as good as The Real Slim Shady or Don’t Speak – which are my go-to songs for karaoke, still a hallowed and sacred activity because some things never change.

In the spirit of growing and thinking increasingly about things like weird freckles I didn’t used to have and strange-looking leg veins, I’d like to take a few minutes to reflect, evaluate, and yeah, make a list of resolutions. I don’t always think New Year’s resolutions are the way to improve yourself (and maybe we should stress less about self-improvement!), but it feels like the thing to do right now.

In the past, I might’ve shared something like this publicly in the hopes that it would guilt me into actually working on my resolutions, since other people had seen them forGodsake. More recently, I would never have shared something like this publicly. “Who do I even think I AM?!” – I’d think – “No one gives a shit about how I feel about myself and my life and the fact that the date has changed, which happens all the time.”

But now, it’s mostly about practicality. My blog is the only part of my life that feels truly organized – if I wrote this on a piece of paper, I would never see it again. It would somehow cease to exist in the physical world. Similarly, if I typed it and saved it privately on my computer, I would forget it existed and never see it again.

On that note, I’ll begin:

1. Get more organized. (Hah.) But, okay – let’s be realistic. It’s not gonna happen universally, so focus on where it really counts – your job.

2. Pay off credit cards. (Manageable. From school-related expenses. You can do it. It’ll feel good.)

3. Go to China! (Don’t let that visa you got because you were going to teach in China before you changed your mind at the last minute go to waste!)

4. Read more. (You get lazy sometimes, but when you don’t, you remember that reading is your FAVORITE and learning about the world – its people, its cultures, its histories and stories – is the single most important thing to you.)

5. Learn about Buddhism. (Because you’re curious and you really should know a little bit about it. It’s a big thing here.)

6. Go to some events where you’ll definitely have the opportunity to meet new people. (You frequently hate that. It stresses you out. So maybe just a couple a month or something.)

7. Start up with the ukulele again. (Anyone can learn it. It’s like Spanish.)

8. Don’t lose the little Spanish you know. (Come on. It’s the ukulele of the language world.)

9. Converse with people in Chinese. Reach that level. (You’re paying enough for your tutoring lessons, crazy lady.)

10. Think about the future. (People warn against that, but it works for you. It makes you excited. Remember being seventeen and dreaming about getting out of Vermont? It’s like that.)

Keep singing, everyone!

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Real-Life English Practice

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Today, I was in the bathroom at school when two young girls came in and entered the two stalls.

They’re students here; they’re Taiwanese, and, as such, their native language is (traditional) Chinese.

But.

Get this.

After a moment, I hear one say, “Rebecca, there have tissue?”

I hear Rebecca say, “Here have. There have tissue?”

“Here don’t have.”

It was a beautiful moment. Sure, not flawless in terms of grammar – but no one was making them speak English to each other at that moment, and they weren’t speaking for the benefit of any English speakers (unless, of course, the fact that I was in the room greatly influenced them, which is also a possibility – but a possibility that is just as adorable as them simply wanting to speak in English). No, they were using their second language practically – simply as a way to communicate and solve a problem!

And their mistakes make perfect sense! Chinese verbs (at least so far, in my still-rudimentary study of Chinese) don’t change depending on their subjects the way English verbs do. Have/has, for example, is always just “有,” (“yǒu”).

It reminded me of how my friend Sam and I will sometimes speak terrible, probably horrendous-sounding Chinese riddled with mistakes. Maybe we seem cute when Chinese speakers hear us.

Though we’re at a disadvantage, with our age and size….

Christmas Abroad

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…is weirdish.

I knew that already, from spending one Christmas a couple years ago in the midst of a balmy New Zealand summer.

But this was the first year I’ve ever had to work on Christmas Eve and Christmas.

It wasn’t all bad. I taught the kids about Christmas. They were excited. The school was decorated for the holidays. We played fun Christmas games, and I wore a Winnie-the-Pooh Santa Claus hat.

Truthfully, I probably got more Christmas at school than I would’ve anywhere else in Taipei, had I taken my boss up on her very generous offer to take the day off.

A couple friends and I had a gorgeous Christmas Eve feast at the Grand Hyatt. It was amazing. I ate until I had physically debilitated myself and could barely walk back to the MRT. I had turkey out the wazoo; I ate my weight in cheesecake and pumpkin pie and chocolate chip cookies. I drank the Kahlua hot chocolate I’d snuck in and laughed at the hilarious things the wonderful friends I’m very lucky to have found here said and did. I even argued with another American about the US military, a conversation sweetly reminiscent of the conversations I have with extended family members every year.

Everything was good. It was just very different. Work was good, but I was still at work; the dinner was good, but I was still at a restaurant.

Merry belated Christmas, everyone.