Wednesday, 28 October 2009

October 2009

Baishawan Beach

The view from our apartment by day and by night.

Taipei 101

Valentine's bridge, Fisherman's Wharf

I just don't think it's that heartfelt

By the Danshui River

Pedantic is one way of describing the faceless populace of Taipei - I can't think of anyone in particular that would be worthy of such derogation but you'd get the picture if you had to teach a class full of children wearing masks because the parents are scared of swine flu. Fortunately, when the boss came back from the West she decided that teachers needn't bother, so at least the kids can hear me talking now even if I'll never understand the quieter ones as they mumble through a muffler. And I'm really not sure these masks are such a good idea - I've seen people sneezing into them, which seems a bit gross to me if you're going to go on wearing it for the rest of the day.

This entry is being typed with the machine on a stool on a desk so that it can reach the window where we can just about get a wireless signal from the metro station opposite our apartment. The reason we don't have a normal internet connection is that, for whatever reason, the ISPs won't set you up unless you have a work permit, which is taking a while because the photo booth at Carrefour's banjaxed.

When we found out that we would have to wait, I got myself down to 7-eleven to get set up on the city-wide wi-fi network: WIFLY. It sounds brilliant, and I suppose it is - it costs a tenner a month and the signal is sent from all metro stations, major roads, 7-elevens, Starbucks and other places - but it didn't half take some getting on to. Suffice it to say that it was a farce because the English service they claim to provide leaves a lot to be desired. It always makes me cringe when people complain about language barriers when they go to foreign-speaking countries because you should either learn the language or put up with it, but it was a bit frustrating to get through to the English service and be greeted with a bloke who put me on hold for ten minutes because he didn't know what to say.
For some reason they simply will not tell you that they don't understand. When Sally asks for runner beans instead of chips at IKEA, using full on body-language to make sure they get the point, they nod their heads and give her chips. They always pretend they've understood even if they don't have a clue. I just want to tell them that there's no shame in not understanding - we're in your country, we should speak your language - but they just nod their heads and make a pig's ear. It's like the woman that rang into the anglophone radio station to win tickets to see the latest big-screen tripe-peddler's delight, the question was: 'Which Friends actress stars in this movie?', so as the DJ's making small talk with her before they get to the crunch he asks her, "So, who are you going to go and see this movie with?" To which she replies "Jennifer Aniston."

In spite of all that, the people here are some of the kindest people you could ever come across. It's the first country I've ever been in where I can honestly say that I have not seen even one instance of anti-social behaviour. Everyone seems to look out for one another and with the exception of some of the elderly, who think that old age has earned them carte blanche to push people out of their way on public transport, you'd find it difficult to find a more quietly dignified people (which I assume is part of the Eastern mentality rather than Taipei in isolation).

The jump from teaching in Carr Manor, an inner-city comprehensive in Leeds, to teaching at Dalton, a cram school for elementary-aged children in Shipai, could be compared to swapping a swamp full of crocodiles for a litter of puppies. They still make you cross sometimes, but keeping them in line is usually effortless. The best thing is that it doesn't make them boring. Wesley thinks his name is Wesley Toilet Underwear Gorilla and he wears his shoes on the wrong feet. Grade 3 caught me out with the spelling of 'diarrhoea' and the next time I see C1-A I'm going to have to try to explain what antidisestablishmentarianism is in a way that they can understand. It's also the first place I've ever worked where they give you free lunch: real Chinese food made in the canteen by a small, eccentric lady who shouts "I love you!" across the kitchen when you arrive.

On Friday night we visited New York New York, an American themed shopping centre next to Taipei 101, and got some nosh from the food court. On Saturday night we spent the evening putting liquid in the John. Third time this year for me that I've got food poisoning; second time for us since we left England; it wasn't even a grotty place. So I missed the big Hallowe'en party at school today which blows a bit but it's not all bad - they were going to have me dress up as a clown.

The beach was a little strange we went because the only person in the sea was this mega white guy from Romania, wading around all on his own. There were some windsurfers further out, but even the surfers weren't going further in than a few metres. There were strong currents in some areas, but I think they just don't really see the appeal of swimming in the sea.

There are some great night markets here and you can get plenty of stuff on the cheap. One night we were walking down the alley, browsing at a stall when the merchant cried "Sorry!" and dragged his stall away. Thirty seconds later the alley was empty of stalls, and a policeman strolled past. Of course, the stalls were back soon after once the all clear was given, and this little sequence of events repeated itself another couple of times while we were there.

We got the bus to go to Carrefour one Saturday night, but as soon as we got on the bus turned around and went in the other direction. Sally thought we should just stay on and see where we ended up which turned out to be Fisherman's Wharf, a beautiful riverside resort with fancy restaurants, an iconic bridge and a few tacky restaurant-boats, some of which had "I love you" in neon lights, others of which blasted out the old favourite "Let's get retarded".

Opposite our apartment, just beyond the metro station there is a cycle path that runs from the northern tip of Taiwan to Southern Taipei and beyond. We plan on renting some bikes and going camping sometime, but for now we've just been on walks and runs alongside the river at night. It takes some beating, and it's an adequate substitute for the canal in Leeds.

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