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For those of you who don't know yet, I am in Taiwan. I have just begun an 11 month commitment to the Fulbright Foundation for Scholarly Exchange (FSE) during which I will teach English to Elementary children in Yilan County (North Eastern Taiwan). There are 11 other English Teaching Assistants (ETAs) who received the same grant from the US. We will be living together in small groups in Yilan and Luodong and teaching at different elementary schools. We will also be responsible for designing course materials, creating teaching aids, and assisting with curriculums that emphasize local cultures. Look for a later post that outlines the details (after I receive them myself).
The people here are all extremely friendly. The stares of a few (curious or irritated?) senior citizens aside, I have not felt like the obtrusive tourist I do in other countries (even while toting a not-so-small camera and trendy caribener clipped water bottle). Everyone associated with the FSE has been more than welcoming, from the young welcoming committee at the gate to the senior administrators in the office. Taiwanese on the whole are cheerful and quick with a smile, and in fact, some of the funniest (either they are particularly quick-witted or their humor gels well with mine) people I have ever met.
The care has been both extensive and intensive so far. We were picked up at the airport by a wonderful welcoming staff, taken to the Jade Hotel, where everyone was given a large room (mine with a glass-walled, black tiled bathroom with a Jacuzzi style tub) to recuperate. The FSE building is a gem of creative architecture and design, with white walls and floors accented by multi-colored criss-crossed lines that resemble subway maps across a city, tons of natural lighting, computer resources, conference rooms, und so weiter. Well fed throughout the day we were given an introduction to the plan for the next week and for the temporary housing for the next month, as well as a healthy “settling-in allowance” in NTD. All physical needs are being met, and the good company and excitement of the positive work well be doing in the year continually nourish the spirit.
A little bit About the Island:
It is a subtropical island, with winter weather dipping into the 45s at night and summer weather jumping above 100. The humidity is so thick it seems to weigh down on you, like the pressure of an interior planet whenever you're outside. Okay, it's not that intense at all. I actually really enjoy the high humidity. Walking through the palpable air kind of sparks the senses and snaps your mind into awareness of the immediate environment. I feel very much alive in such a place.
Much more to come on About the Island (food, languages, outdoor recreation, natural beauty, religious/spiritual culture) – look for near-future posts on what I am looking forward to in Taiwan.
We are in Taipei (the capital, population 2.7 million) at the moment, where the FSE building is located. The streets are punctuated with large palm trees, lined with scooters (in seemingly random parking spaces).
The buildings are littered with advertisements (I'm curious about regulation or lack thereof), such as this one, which I call camera alley (the Nikon store on the corner caught my eye – fingers-crossed for cheaper lenses):
The streets are busy with construction, pedestrians (walk forward, don't look left or right - "Just go gonzo" says Dr. Collins), scooters, and cars.
Bubble milk tea costs a dollar (trendy-city residents will note they can run 5 or 6USD in the states), so go tapioca balls!
There are a few minor things you are not allowed to do in Taiwan, which has led to some fun already. You may not chew gum on the subways, as one sign warns (below a picture of Chinese chess pieces on opposite signs of a yellow line similar to that you cross entering the subway area) “it doesn't matter whether you are a king or a pawn, once you cross the yellow line it is against the law to chew gum in the paid subway area." Interestingly enough, I very obtrusively offered gum to all of the other ETAs and our guides as soon as we sat down in the subway the first time. Actually waving the packet in the air between handing out pieces, it took four of us violating this rule before an FSE assistant told me “you know, you actually can’t do that. I would put that away and just don't chew the whole time.” Taking stock of my surroundings I saw a middle-aged woman wearing a stern but amused look and taut, motherly lips (when she knows you're goofing off like you shouldn't be), who pointed to a sign that indicated a potential 15,000 NTD (New Taiwan Dollar – about 300USD), fine for food or gum. It was on the walk out that I saw the large chess sign.
There are also heavy regulations about separating trash (recyclables must be in specific containers – even during private trash collection). Look for a future post on the details of the trash system and what the US could learn from Taiwan.
Here's a shot of a trash can at the Taipei Botanical Garden (note the red for plastics and babies and the yellow for aluminum, etc.):
Also, most public places are equipped with large “no-no” signs. At the gate to the botanical gardens a large board full of park rules is coupled with a set of pictures (like various no-smoking signs) that clearly indicate you shouldn’t touch the turtles, step on the plants, swim in the lotus pond, etc.
There are also strict regulations about what ID photos must look like (such as for our Alien Resident Cards): no teeth in the smiles, hair pulled behind ears, body centered correctly.
Regulations such as these are really minor details that essentially ensure a uniform level of formality in citizens and in fact enhance a sense of civic-duty. There are many more positive no-no’s, most of which I am sure I am unaware, as the absence of violations have not brought them to my attention. One example is no ashing cigarettes or leaving butts in the streets. While littering is against the law in major US cities, you could swim in the curbside cigarette butts making their way to the drains. I've yet to see a cigarette butt on the ground in Taipei.