Thursday, August 30, 2007

Goodbye, Sweeite

Mary "Sweetie" Walsh, my maternal grandmother, died today in Cleveland. After years of living with Alzheimer's Disease, she passed away in hospice care surrounded by her children. Ever since the death of her husband, my Grandpa Bill, Sweetie had been fading farther and farther from the woman I knew as Grandma as a kid.

The Sweetie Walsh that I knew as a kid was a truly jolly woman. I remember the smells and the feelings associated with being at her house. There were always cooking smells. She was always cooking something, more often than not in the oven, so it was always a surprise to see what she'd pull out after the timer dinged. I remember the smell of old things. She had a basement, a second floor, and closets full of old things. Things from her children's childhoods. Things from the '50s and '60s. Things that my brothers and I used to pull out, try on, play with, and occasionally make a mess of. I suppose she treasured these things, or maybe growing up in the post depression era taught her not to throw anything out, lest it be needed later.

I remember the feel of her velveteen sofa. One of my favorite pastimes when visiting grandma was napping. My Grandpa Bill taught me how to nap. Before that, I thought that napping had to be done in bed, but Grandpa showed me that naps could be taken on the sofa, or even sitting in a chair in front of the TV.

Grandma would always spoil us too. I remember her ice cream sundaes as some of the best I've ever had. We had ice cream at home occasionally, sure. But at Grandma's house you could always count on ice cream with chocolate syrup, sprinkles, melted peanut butter, and very often there were some Spanish peanuts thrown into the mix. Ole! And she would make a damn fine root beer float, too.

One of the things I remember best about my grandma is her sense of humor. She always knew how to make me laugh. I'm sure when I was a baby she gave me raspberries on my tummy and played peek-a-boo, but even as I grew older, I recognized the savvy about her that, when combined with her sweetness, made it hard for anyone to resist her charm by not smiling or laughing.

All the Christmases where she got me the perfect gift and beamed as I opened it, all the baptisms and weddings where she wore her best dress and was the warm center of the family that everyone gathered around. All of the nights where she gave me a bath and then sang to me as I tried my best to go to sleep in the old scary back room of her house, and all of the little looks of fondness and love that she gave so freely every day. These are the things I will forever remember of my Grandma.

I love you, Grandma Sweetie, and I will miss you.


Wednesday, August 29, 2007

TV break

I got the second half of the day off work today, so I thought I'd at least be productive and film myself watching TV. Here's what's on in Taiwan.

A few nights ago, I saw our former next door neighbor, Judge Lyn Toler, on Larry King Live. It was kind of neat seeing someone I know on a channel I could understand all the way over here.

Also, I changed the template of this page. Bluer, huh?


Mini Me

Last week, I got a new student in my Kindergarten class. He of course can't speak any English, and he's the only kid in the class without a Western name. Yilun (I know this is how it's spelled because I was charged with the task of transliterating his name-- like I'm supposed to know) is a head taller than all of the other kids and is happy to sit there and chatter off in Chinese because he doesn't know what the rest of us are talking about. He cried for about five minutes on the first day, mostly due to the fact that he was starting school in a strange place, with strange kids (some of them are very strange) and a big hairy scary Westerner teaching him. He got over it remarkably quickly, though and is now very content in class.

The thing about Yilun is that he's actually a pretty bright kid. He speaks almost no English, but the phrases he knows ("thank you", "no", "may I go to the bathroom?") he uses willingly, in a loud voice, and with surprisingly fluent pronunciation. He sometimes gets lost in class procedure and protocol, but to his credit, it is a bit complicated and not at all standardized.

At first I thought of him as just kind of an odd amusement. The one that stands out. I've realized recently, after comparing his English skills with my Chinese, that his experience in Hess Kindergarten is actually a microcosm of my experience in Taiwan.

I speak only a few key phrases of Mandarin (almost the same ones as Yilun, plus "one beer please") and like Yilun, I'm about a head taller than almost everyone else. I was a little unhappy at first too. It's a big adjustment, and it's not always easy being in a new place with strangers. Yilun is encouraged to speak English while I am teaching, but he gets to speak Chinese the rest of the day. In that sense we differ. I get to speak English with only a handful of people every day. Those I work with, those I talk to on the phone, and the few English speaking people I've met here.

I hope both Yilun and I can learn to cope with learning a new language and being forced to speak it as a matter of conformity. It will probably be easier for him, with that sponge-like brain that most kids have. Mine is already full of useless knowledge like how many ounces are in a pound, and the theme song to Gilligan's Island, but I hope to be able to pick up at least enough Chinese so that I don't look like a kindergartener on his first day of class.


Monday, August 27, 2007

Be Shan Yuan Mountain hike

On Saturday, Luke and I , along with our friends Lisa and Ryan, went on a hike down Bi Shan Yuan Mountain. Our cab driver suggested that we hike down instead of up, and being as we were still kind of hung over from a Friday night on the town, we agreed. Here are some photos I took along the way. Excuse the quality of some of them, as I forgot my digital camera at home and had to use my cell phone.

Be sure to read the captions (I fixed the pictures)

Taipei - Be Shan Yuan Mountain

Tuesday, August 21, 2007

Life in Linko

We have been living in Linko (or Linkou, or Lin'Ko or other transliterations) now for a few weeks. We got an apartment, and are working almost every day. We have yet to really get a good lay of the land, as transportation is difficult without scooters. I have uploaded some photos of our neighborhood, our place, and our workplace. Be sure to read the captions.


Tuesday, August 14, 2007

Teacher Cho and Teacher Lu

That's what our names sounded like from the kids at first. Ha!

I bet you thought I was abducted by red agents. No, actually I've just been busy. Luke and I graduated training (yay!) and were tossed out of the proverbial frying pan (or wok, whichever) and into the fire.

Last Wednesday, our branch's head English teacher, Christina, picked us up in Taipei and droove us to our branch here in Linkou, Taipei County. I wouldn't call the city beautiful, exactly. It's a developing satellite town about 30 minutes into the mountains South of Taipei. Being that it's still developing, there are apartment buildings going up all over and constant construction noises. Of the city's seven numbered Streets (Wen Hua 1st, 2nd, 3rd...) only two or three have anything of interest yet. The rest are still being built up. Also, there are a lot of stray dogs, which makes me a bit nervous, but it's not so bad.

Upon arriving here, Christina showed us around our branch school. Luke and I are two of the five NSTs (Native Speaking Teachers) at the Linko branch of Hess. The school is three floors of classrooms, with an open floor space in the middle of each floor. Kindergarten is on the bottom floor, and Luke and I both teach kindy every morning for two hours, with another two two-hour classes in the afternoons on Monday, Tuesday, Thursday, and Friday.

I didn't know we would be in for such a rough start. I love my kids, but we have been working very hard the past few days to try to keep up with our lesson planning and homework grading. We have been putting in twelve hour days today and yesterday, and we're looking forward to the weekend (and our first payday next month.)

Also on Wednesday we shopped for, signed a lease for, and moved into our apartment. Real estate works fast like that in Taiwan. We have a two bedroom flat on the ninth floor of a building that looks way too nice for the likes of us. Secrity guards, marble lobby, underground garage, billiards, karaoke, and workout rooms, and a view of Taipei 101, all for a fraction of what we were paying for a dirty ranch style house in Oxford with a view of the feed store.

Pictures will come soon, as we don't yet have the internet installed in our apartment (because we can't speak Chinese. 'Internetto' is apparently not Chinese for the Internet.) I'm typing this from work, and I'm pretty busy, so I gotta go.

If anyone wants to write us or send us a care package (check postage first though, please) Our address is:

Luke McClung/ Joe Wyszynski
9th floor, No. 29, Gong Yuan Road, Lin Ko County, Taipei County, TAIWAN

Tuesday, August 7, 2007

Almost a Teacher

We are on our last day of TEFL training, and Luke and I will be heading out to Linko to meet our coworkers at our branch. Training has been interesting, sometimes boring, but often fun, as we've met a lot of cool people from other English speaking countries. Still, I find myself feeling like I don't really know anything about Taiwan or its people. We've been a kind of social bubble of sorts the past week and a half, as we have been staying in a hotel, living and working, and going out with other English speakers. Even though we may be from opposite corners of the world (North America, UK, South Africa, Oceania) we have a lot in common with our language, traditions, and culture.

It will be a total immersion experience after tomorrow. Luke and I will be living on our own, in an apartment building with hundreds of locals. We will be 2/5 of the English speaking staff at our branch. We will ave to learn how o eat, converse, get transportation, and live our daily lives without the crutch of easy communication. I think I'm up to it, and I look forward to seeing more of this island, which will be my home for the next year or more.