Saturday, January 14, 2006

New Year's Evaluations

A church designed by I. M. Pei on the Tung Hai campus

This adventure is most of the things I wanted it to be, and so a good success. However, Peter had some surgery in mid November, from which he is recovering well, but I was chagrined not to be able to take care of him personally. In an enormous gesture of love and generosity, two of his very close buddies came, one from LA and the other from Guthrie (twin metropoli of urbanity), and took care of him very well. (I had visions of Three Stooges meet Jim Carrey but apparently our house is still standing and relatively undamaged. Of course I haven’t seen it yet . . . or smelled it.)

The pianist and some of her admirers

Bessie and the Texan (!) missionary founder of the music program at Tung Hai

Our charming hosts at the concert, Shortza and her father, Mr. Ran. Shortza is a pupil of the pianist.

This also means Peter can’t come see me during the winter holidays. Fortunately my dear friend-from–the-sixth-grade Teresa is coming in February, so that will be quite wonderful indeed. After she had called me with her confirmed reservations I learned that the whole country closes down for Chinese New Year, which unlike our single, just the one day celebration, lasts about two weeks, and during which I am told by Reliable Sources many stores are closed, few buses and cabs run, and all the citizenry plays Ma Jong or video games, eats, watches tv, and visits their family, which of course means the workers are not at work. Anywhere. I have a hot plate, a small refrigerator, a toaster, and a hot water maker in my room, clearly exceeding the per capita limit for sane ownership of Personal Appliances, and down the hall a little way is a large refrigerator, a washer and a dryer, and, until 2 days, ago a microwave. I sincerely hope that appliance will be replaced before Chinese New Year or we may have to move to a hotel in town. I can think of worse fates, actually. Better still, we might even have to go out of town, because a hotel is a hotel and one might as well get a change of scenery . . .

Some of about a Brazillion dishes at the banquet.

One of my colleagues here, Bessie Chang, will stay in town for most of the holidays; she has a car and very kindly takes me many places. I would no more drive a car, let alone a scooter, in Taiwan than I would take up lion-taming as a profession, which would be safer, I’m sure. People here drive with great abandon and flair, and consider obeying traffic signals “discretionary.” Citizens I had heretofore considered sane told me this with a straight face. Discretionary. I have developed a strategy for turning across several lanes of traffic safely. I think throwing a bunch of coins or chocolate candy in the opposite direction one wishes to travel and then stomping on the gas pedal and driving at top speed in the desired direction is a very workable plan. But I suggested it to Bessie and she so far has not adopted it, so maybe it is too direct for Asians.

Bessie and Vicki at the neverending wedding/newyear's banquet

My hairdresser, Ms. Li, a very kind, talented and important woman!

Learning Chinese, I have come to understand, practically paralyzes one’s English capabilities (giving me a much more profound understanding of my Asian students' efforts to go the opposite direction, needless to say). As I mentioned before, one of my colleagues responded to some students who asked if she minded if they did something (no telling what form the question took) and she responded ‘No, I don’t have a mind.” It’s a statement I can usefully take over into life more and more, I find. And I have to bite my tongue a lot no matter what I am doing, from teaching to grocery shopping to eating in restaurants (you should see some of the menus that have been “translated” into English; they’re histarical.) See what I mean? Sometimes Bessie and I mark up a menu and give it to the cashier when we leave as a small gesture towards improving communication with tourists and thus their cash flow. We only do this in places that have good food but English menus apparently translated by Google.

My Chinese teacher, a kind woman who deserves a better student . . .

Oh, and I have another neologism that goes right up there with turning in papers lately. A person recently told me that if he couldn't come to a certain event he would notice me. It works perfectly, makes sense, and I like it. We'll soon have a "new slang" to rival that of Eliza Doolittle; we can use it to impress our friends.

The graduate student dinner begins!

I said that when I came to Taiwan I would lose weight, exercise, and stay calm and pieceful. (Oaky, now do you see?) That was before I got here and instead of teaching 6 hours, two courses, taught six courses for 17 hours each week. To sort of quote Bobbie Burns, “the best intentions of mice and men gang aft astray." That would be me as the mouse in that scenario, volunteering to teach other courses after 3 full time people did not show up for work at the beginning of the semester and the chair was going to teach all of them himself. Semesters here are slightly shorter than six months, but not much. I am just now working on grades, our exams having been last week. Education in the East, or at least in Taiwan, is very different to what one finds in the West, in more ways than I can catalog with only a million gigabytes of memory on this poor Mac. I am going to try, however, as I think its worth doing because (a) the topic is so fascinating and (b) it might promote Understanding and (dare I articulate it?) Peace In Our Time.

Recent adventures, documented here and there above, include a banquet celebrating the end of the year and a wedding, which was everything Ang Li would have wanted; a visit to Jane and Tim’s show and dinner afterwards; a brilliant piano recital at Tung (pronounced Dong; don’t ask) Hai University, down the road from us a way; and dinner with my graduate students last night. These last young people are truly bright and charming, and as you can see for yourself, also quite beautiful.

A roundup of all the usual suspects . . .

See you on down the road . . .