All the LOL’s in the world could not express how much I love this video.
“What sound does the letter M make? mmmmm”
Figures that the first time I ever fly out of the country, I do so alone, on a 16-hour redeye to the island of Taiwan. And figures that the first time I ever go to Taiwan, my parent’s homeland, I do so without them - and prepare to stay for 5 weeks. Really? I asked myself. Couldn’t just take things slowly, could I? I asked myself other questions, too, in the days leading up to my trip. Why didn’t I start packing earlier? Why am I hopelessly illiterate in Chinese? Will I be able to make conversation and order food without stumbling over my seldom-used Mandarin? (The answer to that, I quickly discovered, would be “no”.) Despite feeling unprepared, I went to Taiwan this past July to teach English with a volunteer program run by an organization called AID (Assisting Individuals with Disadvantages) Summer. The program, which this year brought 300 Chinese-speaking teenagers from America to Taiwan, is part of a national effort to improve the English proficiency of Taiwanese children.
The first thing I noticed about Taiwan, besides the large number of mopeds weaving in and out of traffic, was the heat. Walking the streets of Taipei later that day, I discovered that Taiwan isn’t just hot, it’s so oppressively humid that within seconds of stepping outside, you feel the need to take a shower. I felt like a bug trapped under a magnifying glass. In a greenhouse. By the end of the month, of course, I had grown accustomed to the unforgiving heat.
Luckily the first week was mostly spent training at an air-conditioned activity center (Chien Tan) in Taipei. The other AID volunteers and I took classes all day, learning how to teach. “Teaching English”, which had sounded simple enough, proved to be much more complicated than I had thought. The two weeks after our training turned out to be two of the most exhausting weeks of my life. Seven other volunteers and I were sent to teach at Tai-Hsing Elementary School in Beigang, a small fishing village on the western coast. My partner, Clifford, and I taught Class D (the class with the lowest proficiency in English.) Every night, we scrambled to put together our teaching plan for the next day. A day consisted of 6 periods, and each period was 40 minutes long. Finding ways to fill the time proved challenging. A typical conversation between Clifford and me went something like this: “We need to review consonant sounds 1st period tomorrow, they kept forgetting them today. And what about 3rd period? We only have one activity. Should we play a game to review the vocabulary? I could make flashcards…Oh, what was that song we learned at Chien Tan about body parts? Put that down. Wait, are we just going to sing all period? We need something else…” And on and on.
Planning, of course, was only half of it. The actual teaching was even more stressful. Kids under 10 get bored easily, and obtaining their attention was like trying to catch a cloud of gnats with a hairnet. We had to make learning English enjoyable, while still keeping order and asserting our authority. After teaching new vocabulary and sentence patterns on the board, we jam-packed the students with as many crafts, games, songs, and worksheets as possible to reinforce what we had taught them. Since our class didn’t understand any English, we could only speak Chinese to them. At first I struggled with this, but with practice I eventually became familiar with the language necessary to make myself clear to the kids.
Most of my students tried to participate during class, but there were a few who continually misbehaved. Trying to discipline the troublemakers, as well as keep the rest of the class in order, tried my patience to the last thread. And although every morning I had to force myself to get up and go teach for another day, collapsing with the other teachers in the air-conditioned principal’s office when 3 o’clock finally rolled around, somehow I felt an undeniable satisfaction in what I was doing. Hearing the kids say “Hello, Teacher” at the beginning of class each day, discussing with them which foods they did and didn’t like at lunchtime, jumping rope with them during recess, showing them how to make a fortune teller… they might have complained and fidgeted during class, but the kids adored us. Sam, the teacher’s pet, Tiny Tim, the disarmingly cute one, Balli, the clingy one, Ken, the know-it-all, Dan, the apathetic one, Leo, the one who perfected the granny shot in basketball… all of them learned at their own pace and had their own quirks. And even though they were exasperating at times, I realized on the last day of teaching, as the kids were lining up in front of us for the last time, that I would truly miss them. They had made all of our sweat and hard work worth it.
My class! Clifford and I went through a lot with these little guys. =)
Of course, the other volunteer teachers and I grew very close during our month together. All of 8 of us had our own quirks and level of Asian-ness, which were fun to discover over the weeks.
Steven, the slacker who can eat like no one’s business
Wendy, the innocent one
Ryan, the sleeping FOB
Stephanie, the anime character
Stella, the one screaming through Skype at her family
Andy, the dancer and hair-straightener
Clifford, the Big Red Dog who can contact aliens
and the others dubbed me The Cat Lady (not entirely inaccurate) :)
After teaching, we went on a week-long tour together of southern Taiwan as well as Taipei. We experienced plenty of ups-and-down together: sheer boredom during lectures at Chien-Tan, learning dances to perform for the kids, exhausting days of teaching in the blazing heat, fighting and catching numerous creatures (including cockroaches, bats, and geckos!), long hours on the tour bus, numerous night markets, rock-climbing and zip-lining in the rain, and so, so many more.
We loved those horrible pink polos.
the Honey Museum!
Stuffing face at an all-you-can-eat hot pot restaurant
Standing in front of Taipei 101
ferris wheel ride!
having fun at the Juming Art Museum
enjoying a meal at Modern Toilet restaurant with Clifford and Wendy
Mr. Umile: "Yes, [Michael Jackson] had a disease that turned his skin white..."
Me: "Yeah, that's why he had to bleach it, because otherwise it would've been blotchy."
Samarth: "Why didn't he just bleach it black, then?"
A Musical Treat:
Last Saturday, I attended our piano studio’s Senior Recital, which featured Bill Townsend (who is planning to major in vocal performance at Oberlin), Shirley Yu (majoring in Business at NYU) and Wes Schaal (who is majoring in percussion performance at Temple). It was a great recital, and although all 3 of them played well, my favorite performance of the night was definitely Wes playing marimba. I’ve never really heard someone classically trained in percussion play the marimba, so it was fascinating for me. I was impressed by how technically sound Wes’ performance was, as well as the musicality he expressed. The video above is of Wes playing a piece called “Frogs” by Keiko Abe. (Unfortunately, my camera died before I could get a video of Bill or Shirley.)
I’ll write another post later about my interest in music/piano. For now, enjoy the video!
P.S. I just added a comment system, so please feel free to share your thoughts.
There’s a lot of pointless material on the Internet, and on Youtube in particular. I’ll admit that I spend way too much time watching videos of cute kittens and collegiate a cappella groups on the website, but once in a while I stumble upon a gem.
Meet Rhett McLaughlin and Link Neal, who comprise a musically talented comedy duo based in North Carolina. These two young men, who have declared themselves “Internetainers”, regularly produce hilarious videos that are more than worth your while to watch. Rhett and Link have a wonderful dynamic (probably a result of their nearly life-long friendship), so they don’t even have to try hard to produce their comedy - they just interact with each other and, often, complete strangers.
Some of my favorite R&L videos feature their original songs, such as: The Facebook Song, The American Idol Song, The Fast Food Folk Song, The Guacamole Song, The BBQ Song, The Food Cart Song, and so many, many others. But they don’t just produce music videos, although their musicianship and songwriting talents alone could give them a solid career. About a year ago, they went on a road trip, documenting their experiences in a series of videos (see “Eating Strangers’ Food”). They also travel around making commercials for local businesses and products (my favorite is “Men Who Can’t Pee: A Failed Commercial”. If you only watch one R&L video, please watch that one).
Rhett&Link’s fame has been steadily rising over the past few years, so jump on the online bandwagon and check out their Youtube channel or their website. They even made my dad laugh, which is an indication of their irresistible appeal.
Aparna: Dash, can I borrow a piece of paper?
Dash: *sullen glare* What do I look like.......a tree?
Me: *laughing uncontrollably*