About Me

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Yilan, Taiwan
I'm an ESL teacher from Colorado. I worked in Taipei in 2000 for over a year, paid off my undergrad loans, traveled, saved $ to travel some more. So when I got pregnant in grad school I thought I could return to Taiwan, be economically self sufficient while my daughter masters Mandarin.We came to Tainan when she was 2. Taiwan is an excellent base to explore Asia, while living in relative (gun free) safety and benefiting from a cheap and efficient national health care system. The people are amazing too. I have friendships that are 14 years old and I'm always making new ones.

Sunday, May 29, 2016

Next Semester: Teaching Jobs in Yuanshan, Yilan

1.English Teaching Job at Hu Shan Elementary School. It is a government job.
Teaching Certificate Required
Salary (based on degree) 62,720 - 73,025 per month
Housing Stipend 5,000 - 10,000 per month (w/ spouse)
Sick or personal days up to 14 per year
One month bonus on completion of contract
Airfare stipend up to 80,000 (can include spouse)
Teach grades 1-6 (20 classes per week)
Help Coordinate English Events (up to 4 classes per week)
English Events may include English Club or Speech Contests
Help create an Bilingual Environment
Teachers will also be required to help with Website Management, Festival and Event Planning
Hu Shan is a small school with less than 100 students. It is located in Yuanshan, near the mountains but still close to Yilan City (10 minutes away)
The staff is very friendly and the students are all very eager. They have a new principal starting in September and he is very active and has a lot of great plans.
Please email r_l_chew@hotmail.com (include Hu Shan in the subject so he can spot it among all the spam)Thanks in advance.

2. Teaching Positions at Huey Deng High School, Yilan Taiwan (where I work)
About the School:
The vision of Huey Deng High School is to incorporate international educators to teach several content areas in English. Additionally, Huey Deng is increasing its ability to prepare its students to attend university in English-speaking countries abroad. This vision is based on facilitating teacher and student exchange opportunities between Taiwan and foreign countries.Huey Deng is located one hour from Taipei at the hillside of Yuanshan Township, next to Jiao-Xi River, surrounded by natural environment. The school enrolls approximately 2,400 students from grades 7 to 12. Up to 90% of the school’s students are accommodated at the school’s three residential dormitories, with the goal to cultivate the student’s independence and leadership abilities. As a boarding school, Huey Deng makes every effort to ensure campus safety and provide quality residential life on campus.
Huey Deng High School is seeking qualified candidates to fill teaching positions in English Writing, Reading Comprehension, Environmental Education/Biology and Math, beginning September 1, 2016

Job duties:
1) 20-25 in-class teaching hours per week (overtime pay after 20 hours); 
2) 15-20 office hours (lesson planning and student advising); 
3) administering tests, grading papers and participating in faculty meetings and school events.
Other responsibilities include working effectively with Taiwanese teachers, developing curriculum relevant to all grade levels. Working together, foreign and Taiwanese teachers will identify, adapt, and develop appropriate materials to support and assess student learning.
Grade level: 8-11
Class size: approximately 25 students / per class
Monthly salary: starting TWD $67,000-$ 72,000, commensurate with experience.

1) Reimbursed round-trip airfare, up to USD $1,500.
2) Sponsored Taiwan work visa.
3) Housing assistance. 
4) Teachers are required to enroll in the National Health Insurance Policy and the Labor Insurance Program, and are obligated to pay, in accordance with the laws, at his/her own expense, a portion of the insurance premium in the amount equal to 35% of the total premium charged to him/her under the National Health Insurance Policy.
5) Contract may be renewed contingent on successful teaching performance.
1) Native English Speaking Teachers with a valid teaching (or substitute teaching) certificate in the subject area or related area. 
2) Native English Speaking Teachers with a valid APRC or JFRV
2) Prior teaching experience. Experience working with youth in other contexts will be considered.
3) Teaching experience with English Language Learners.
Application Procedure:
Send the following to the Center for International Studies at Huey Deng High School at cfis264@gmail.com:
1) a letter of interest describing your teaching philosophy, your vision and conception of being a teacher in a foreign context, and your abilities to be an effective teacher to those learning English; 
2) your current resume;
3) three references.
Applications will be reviewed on a rolling basis until the position is filled.
(**Please note that only qualified candidates will be contacted)

Friday, May 20, 2016

All Hail The Chinese Speaking World's Most Powerful Woman

Today will be in the history books. I watched the first hour of  Tsai-Yingwen's inauguration with my 9th graders and caught her speech with my 8th graders. By all media accounts she has quite the monumental task at hand: keeping her constituents happy and not provoking Beijing. Unlike most other female leaders in Asia, she doesn't belong to some family dynasty. In fact the BBC said Taiwan is the best place to be a woman in politics, its so normalized now. As for Ma he released a comical, self-deprecating video, which won him a lot of praise, but was hardly original. He just copied Obama.

What was impressive about the ceremony wasn't what the new president was wearing (despite what Taiwanese news may say), but that the ceremony was bilingual. It felt more global. There was a whopping amount of repetition on how Taiwan values its democracy. My students were impressed by the air-force command's blue and red streams of smoke flying over the crowd, cameras were attached to the fighter jets. The ceremony was inclusive of aboriginals throughout the entire production. At one point they all sang a song,"Ilha Formosa" that was banned in 1979 during the White Terror years and some of the older generation in the crowd were crying, waving green flags, presumably victims or having family victims that disappeared or died during that dark time of martial law and suppression.

I was curious why was the person with the wild afro on stage holding the, "GET OUT" sign. Get out who? Ma? My extreme sports friend Erin explained, "I know the woman with the crazy Afro. Her name is Banai. She'said a singer/ activist who works on stopping nuclear waste from being dumped/stored at Lanyu, the traditional homeland of Tao Moot tribe. She's holding the "get out" towel for that cause. The guy beside her is a HaKa singer song writer called 林生祥. He sings in HaKa dialogue and promotes the love of land in his songs." 

My 9th graders

 Although I couldn't really understand her speech,  the English translation was made available immediately afterwards (My boss wasn't too impressed with the quality of the translation). I am impressed with her footnote on transforming the education system but I was hoping she would of gone further in her social safety nets section beyond just pensions. She brought up the recent slaying of young children but didn't say anything about the decapitated victim's mother's grievances of the gov't helping working parents. Overall, her speech was painstakingly comprehensive in its overview of what kind of policies she hopes to implement. I can;t help but feel hopeful for Taiwan.

The elephant in the room is China. What will they do now?  Beijing had already begun  their backlash even before she officially assumed office: they warned her to steer clear of peaceful independence (or else), less mainland tourists has already put a dent in the local market (some say), the whole Kenya drama where Taiwanese citizens were extradited to China, stealing diplomatic relations with Gambia, and increased coastal invasion simulations opposite Taiwan (read Tensions in the Taiwan Strait). Another risk is the same young voters who voted her in could also as easily vote her out (read Taiwan's Kids Are Not Alright).  What Beijing can't seem to understand is that Taiwan is a democracy and Ing-wen is a servant of the people. Just juxtapose the young, "Yellow" idealists, bent on change and national sovereignty with shady characters like the "White Wolf" who is pro-China, and already criticism from feminists that her cabinet is too male (I agree). She has quite the juggling act.Ultimately, everyone in Taiwan is crossing their fingers she can perform some kind of miracle with the market and stimulating growth.

As for the US, American "neutrality" is about preventing unification (Chinese superpower a done deal) and war (regional instability and US troops for sure). Sooner rather than later America will have to chose which side they are on. I have been all for normalizing Taiwanese sovereignty since my first stint here in 2001. Surprisingly, many of my Taiwanese friends- who voted for Tsai Yingwen feel less hopeful than myself. They are pretty grounded with their expectations. They believe she wont make Taiwan the worse for her leadership, and that's about it. I certainly hope she exceeds their expectation. Their apprehensions are partially based on the global community's lack of formal recognition.

Thursday, May 19, 2016

Ballet Homecomings and Second Chances

Tainan 2012 at my daughter's first and only recital
A breakthrough, answered prayer hit me this evening. After my ballet class (I recently started again after 25 years) Z says to me she really wants to take ballet!

 I forced her for a few years during preschool and kindy (Read Biker Ballerina) I started when I was 3 and it was the best thing my parents ever did for me. Of course I wanted her to feel that magic. 

Her paternal grandmother danced with the most  prestigious Academy in Paris. It's in her blood. Even on a physiological level, she's built for it more so than I am with her long legs, creating these long lines. (At puberty I stopped growing tall at 14 and just grew wider). 

 This  studio around the corner from my home requires the girls to take 2 hour classes twice a week. And its not cheap. It will make a serious dent in monthly finances. She already takes flute 2x a week  (her choice).

 But I'm not worried, my Dad was the best example of Providence and juggling bills in action.  With 5 kids, 1 whom is disabled and constantly under the knife; somehow my Dad paid for 13 years of dance classes (ballet, tap and jazz) 4 nights a week. I was a better tap dancer than ballerina but I could still do endless pirouettes and I loved to jump. What joy!

My first tap recital

When I turned 16 my folks said I had to choose between a car (and thus a part time job) or dancing. Obviously I chose the car (and worked at Subway). Its a decision my mother now regrets (they never asked my brother to give up basketball). So at this age I was pretty much was smoking weed and partying with my friends. Looking back I was probably filling the massive void of not dancing with ganja and hiking. I made "growing up" synonymous with quitting ballet, and I didn't exactly "grow up" particularly trouble free . I wasn't going to be professional after all.

Ever since, ballet was like this sensitive, painful area I ignored for years. I dreamed about it all the time, dreamed about pointe shoes. Of course I never quite dancing entirely, When I was 18  I started to take Nigerian dance with this little old man from Nigeria (who happened to be my father's coworker) and this amazing drum circle, as well as Flamenco and Mexican folk.  When I moved to Tainan my gyms had some amazing teachers for Latin and Striptease (there's nothing worse than a terrible yoga or dance teacher). But they moved on and I never did.

I pretty much gave up hope that my daughter would want to take classes again. I cant say I inspired her in anyway either. But last night an older jiejie (sister) was practicing in the lobby where Z does her homework, and she got bit by the bug. Its never too late. There's some University students in my class that are complete beginners and they keep coming back for the same reasons I do.

Tutu time, 5th grade

The teacher speaks in Mandarin with occasional English, but it isn't necessary, all the ballet terminology (in French) is the same. Dance teachers are all the same, they demonstrate visually and we visualize what our bodies must do until muscle memory takes over. 

As for me, I still remember all the steps, but the little muscles that TRX or yoga can't get to are having to work after many years of neglect and I'm dripping in sweat, sore the next day. If only it was twice or three times a week, and some tap classes, my body would change dramatically. That alright, my spirit is being fed. Now that I'm dancing again, I am connecting with the most jubilant part of my childhood. For that 90 minutes I'm in this intimate sanctuary, like people must feel at church. I can't believe it took me so long to restore what was once so meaningful.

Closing, "Yee-haw" to our country inspired tap dance

Now that my daughter is impassioned to start (which is nothing short of divine intervention, a miracle) she will try her first class Monday night. I just hope she gives it a chance. I am going to stand back and not live vicariously through her. I am already back in ballet slippers myself, I got my own thing going on.  I just hope after Z playing her recorder for 4 years and graduating to the flute she has the maturity to realize anything worth doing well, takes intention, time and loyalty.

Friday, May 6, 2016

Music Teacher Changed Her Tune

Since meeting with the principal, Z's music teacher, homeroom teacher and English teacher (translator), I have to exhale a massive sigh of relief that all is well. Progress and resolution happened. It required tears and not anger. My daughter has had 2 music classes since and music teacher has been cordial, talking to her with a "normal" tone, so I am grateful she did have the EQ capacity to reflect and change. Thats more than most adults can do, or her previous homeroom teacher at Kai Shuan Elementary. It just renewed my gratefulness at this school in the mountains.

My coworker advised me, "have no expectations" which was sound wisdom. During the meeting itself, Music teacher was full of excuses, how her comments were directed at another (imaginary) kid and not Z, it was more of saving face for her and thats ok. Whatever, everyone in the room knew, she knew we knew. I didn't get an apology, and actually that's ok too. 

The important point was that a kid who LOVES music and music class now hates it and is scared; so from a teaching standpoint she blundered somewhere along the way --she was willing to accept that she failed in this regard.

 I got emotional at the end, at least my eyes filled with tears and was handed tissue. My coworkers and I joked that I had to muster up the Emmy winning performance of a single mom in a foreign country and win over her sympathy. I told them my acting skills are non existent, but in the end, end of the week fatigue, frustration, hormones helped. I sincerely cried, and didn't have to pretend anything at all. Finally getting my period had some benefits.

 Z is super sensitive to rejection anyway, given her history (her father AWOL as a newborn +and living in alone with just me) she really needs to be loved. You can't argue with a mothers tears. I told her I believe she could redeem the situation and Z can love (her) music class again. The principal was amazing. My translator could relate to my situation because they lived in Brazil for many years and her son also had similar issues and had to move back to Taiwan (to be nearer family.) No balls were necessarily busted, but I feel like it was a productive meeting.

Maybe I changed my tune a little too, winning the war and not the battle, burning no bridges, all by showing my vulnerability.

Monday, April 25, 2016

Tiger Mom and Out Come the Claws

Singapore 2014, Boat Quay
Maybe because its Monday and I didn't sleep enough last night, but I am with little patience regarding this music teacher and the school's response. In the school's defense they did have a meeting with the teacher, but that only seemed to intensify her verbal abuse of my kid the following weeks. Its just utter frustration.

Last Thursday this teacher said to the class, "What do we do with little liars who tell their mom lies?" The class responded "Beat them up." And the teacher suggested, "I'm going to cut out her tongue!" The week before that, this teacher again incited the kids, "Class we have  a little tattle-tell who tattled to her Mom and the principal" and then she threatened to, "Take this kid to court and sue" all because my daughter is telling me whats really going on. I asked my child, "Doesn't the kids know she's talking about you?" She answered, "They're too scared of her mom!"

 Most Taiwanese students just put up with it, in fact the staff and other parents have told me, "That's her personality" or  "She has a reputation" and even, " She used to be worse, she's actually better now." None of that is stopping her from picking on my kid for telling me, which is what most abusers of children do, "If you tell your mom I'm going to..."

This week is week 4 and if the school isn't doing anything about it, then it looks like I will have to. I told my kid's homeroom teacher this morning that be prepared, I am showing up during that music class. If they can't schedule a meeting, then I'll just have to do something. Unfortunately I am upset and emotional at this point, which isn't going to help, but I think waiting 4 weeks to meet with the principal (who is busy running for some educational office at the moment) or even meet with this teacher is far too long. I think I have been up to this point quite long-suffering, and of course my child more so.

Its even more tragic when the details of what transpired 4 weeks ago come to the light. I'll have to save my energy for retelling that for the next post. My powerlessness just makes me want to cry, but if I do I'll never stop so its just easier to yield it to my inner puissant jungle pussy. Its going to get freaky.

Tuesday, April 19, 2016

Teacher-Parent Conflict Resolution and Cultural Differences

The honeymoon is over.

Z's new school and new homeroom teacher continue to overwhelm us with their positivity. Z's recent midterm grades, especially her math and science were higher than her Chinese for the first time. In fact now my daughter loves math all because her brilliant teacher loves math and he loves teaching more. We love this school!

Unfortunately we live in a world with imperfect humans and once again we are having another experience with an abusive (music) teacher. I say once again because in her previous school, her homeroom teacher aka Evil Lyn, was just not able to be impartial, played favorites and was grossly over critical with my child. She took away Z's outdoor recess, gave her more homework, didn't really teach and subsequently my kid hated math. I tried meetings with Evil Lynn (lovingly nicknamed from one of He Man's many enemies) for almost 3 semesters, several times she got reprimanded by the principal, with little improvement.  Let it be known, all of our meetings were civil, I never "lost it" with her, although she "lost it" on my kid several times. But thats history, that was Kai Shuan Elementary near our older apartment. Good riddance.

Other than that, Z's teachers have been phenomenal. Her kindergarten teachers and 1st grade homeroom teachers in Tainan were outstanding. (There was an incident with a Taiwanese language teacher filming Z in a commercial without my knowledge, but the school and teacher apologized, it blew over.)

Bear in mind I am coming from a culture where  job performance is constantly getting assessed and workers constantly get feedback from each other, management and customers. Its much easier to get fired in the US for incompetency than Taiwan, so I think American workers are more apt to respond to glitches and evaluations more positively than in Taiwan, where here they often are in the form of a personal attack. I  know this intimately having worked for Amy/Rebecca a sadist manager in Tainan. Of course she eventually did one big sweeping sincere, umbrella apology for all the times she, yada yada, so I had to forgive her, but her style of management is legendary, unforgettable. Its the reason we all suspect she changed her name.

Another cultural anomaly is the role of a teacher and discipline. Taiwan is a Confucian society and teachers have have a kind of status that parents respect. Thus teachers have significantly more power to discipline students (harshly) here. Taiwanese parents have a kind of social contract with teachers that they can chastise students more so than American teachers. More often the American teacher will call the students' parents for them to do the severer punishment. This has been quite challenging for me as a teacher, but usually my Taiwanese co-teacher plas the "bad cop". I don't think its ever ok to yell in a child's face in front of the class or have students physically fear you, its just not anything close to a learning environment.

When a kid loves music and now she hates music class, someone failed as a teacher
Since I find myself going around this same mountain again, I am not insane enough (or am I) to make the same mistakes. Face to face meetings, talking civilly, stating the facts as I see them, or how my kid perceived them have been in my experience, unhelpful. So this time I asked a coworker, a Taiwanese computer teacher- with kids- what he would do. After I told him the incident (next blog post), he said, "That's ridiculous! This would make it on Taiwanese TV news." He said if it were him, he would go to the Dean of our school to talk with the principal of her school. I immediately dismissed that as underhanded, sneaky, also I didn't want to involve more people who probably had better things to do.

Nevertheless, because the thought had never occurred to me, perhaps his suggestion was right after all. I talked it over with more Taiwanese friends and they concurred this was the best method of conflict resolution for Taiwanese: using someone more powerful, using connections and influence. This felt so wrong, so alien to me.

This friendly computer teacher told the dean and the dean said to first leave it to Z's homeroom teacher and if he cant handle it then he'll get involved. (Her homeroom teacher's reputation proceeds him, teacher Jack is a superstar in these parts). Unfortunately  a talk with Z's Vice Principal did nothing to deter this music teacher. The next class, she was just as mentally abusive and emotional as before.

So back to my method unless something else presents itself. She is only at their school twice a week and I hope to arrange a meeting this Thursday.

Monday, April 18, 2016

Cordial Interrogations: Most Common Questions Being A Foreigner

North of Tamsui a few days after we first moved to Taiwan

My daughter and I have been in Taiwan for almost 8 years (in July) and we still are asked the accustomed inquiries when we first meet Taiwanese. She and I  moved here when she was 2 1/2 years old. She was still in diapers and I was still nursing.

After a year of living in Taiwan,  Aquarium in Kenting
Most Taiwanese are too polite to ask too personal of questions straight away, perhaps the 3rd encounter or so. There are some businesses in Yilan City that my kid and I will straight up not frequent, despite the good service/food, because we get a full on interrogation every time from the whole staff of a very private line of questions.

Taiwanese are curious of course of foreigners here, its a homogeneous society. Especially in Yilan we are a novelty, compared to a more cosmopolitan place like Tainan. It generally gets old, but I try to answer as graciously as possible. My kid who is less self censored by societal norms will half the time flagrantly ignore their examination.

The most common questions in order of frequency:

1. Is your husband Taiwanese?

Keep in mind they ask this in regards to my kid. I know the natural assumption is I'm married because I have a child.  But they are looking at her green eyes and light hair and are marveled that a Taiwanese person can have such a white kid. I still find it incredulous, because I look more "Taiwanese" than she does. I answer first that I'm not married, which always produces a physical reaction akin to, "Oops." And sometimes depending on the situation I'll offer that her father is American and lives in America, again because they are curious to the biological equation.

2. Why did you come to Taiwan?

I usually say,  "Work" when the answer is infinitely more complicated.  Initially it was about being financially independent, she was old enough to go to preschool at the kindergarten I worked at, and I missed living abroad. If I stayed in Colorado sure I could find a better paying job then Taiwan, but I would never see my kid. Now staying in Taiwan is about my kid's Mandarin and all the social benefits of living here. But if I didn't have her I would of left Taiwan years ago.

One of my more interesting students

3. What do you eat?

People seem surprised (always) that I cook (at all) maybe because they can't or don't and its cheap, convenient to eat out here. Since working in Yilan, I have less time for cooking, less time at home generally between my work, and TRX, ballet, weight lifting classes and my daughter's art, and flute classes, that we do eat out more. I still cook, or I should say I have my daughter cook (its the one house chore she loves) on the weekends when we have time.  We like to experiment with all the dearth of fruits and veggies when they come in season. For example, our pink guava bundt cakes turned out great. It doesn't always though, I also like to experiment with replacing wheat flour with brown rice powder or anything and sometimes the cake is more like a protein bar than dessert. When we first moved here and Z was small I made lots of pasta with whatever I have around. Now I use bean noodles and since she can do spicier, coconut curries.

I also try to cook vegetables I've never seen before. We do have our favorite Taiwanese foods. Some aren't too healthy so they are for twice a year, like sweet bubble tea for her and stinky tofu for both of us. Our go-to eating out meals are beef noodle soup, dumplings and sesame noodles. One a  month we eat at the nicer restaurants in the shopping mall, or Western Food places like Balagov's, Slow Train, Slobber's or Tavola's.

Pink guava cake with dragon fruit frosting

4. Do you go back home to visit?

Its pretty expensive, somehow or other we seem to go back every year and half. The first time was during CNY when Z was 3. Mary the then owner of Sharefun in Tainan (my boss) sponsored Z's ticket, which was a godsend. I think we have been back three times (?). The last time, summer of 2015 I was able to pay from my new job's sign on bonus, the summer before then my folks came here.

Family in New Mexico July 2015

5.Will you live in Taiwan forever?

Lately, I've been answering it depends on who is president. Obviously if its Trump (which I doubt) we would stay here. The plan has been to go back when Z is in 6th grade, so she can skip junior high here and the boring, spirit defeating unbalanced life of academics and tests.

6. Is Taiwan better than the U.S?

Both places have their advantages. Obviously its safer here. The chances of an active shooter in Taiwan is almost nil thankfully. The national health care system is fabulous, we can see the dentist or get acupuncture for a few dollars US. The social safety nets here are more civilized. Taiwan is also a fabulous springboard for travel around Asia, we have always taken advantage to bucket airlines, holiday time and neighboring destinations. On the downside my dating options are nonexistent. Men my age are married with kids and the single foreigners are young and want to play in the ocean of hot Chinese toys. Taiwanese men are too shy and honestly I don't have the time or patience to deal with what I see my Taiwanese female friends deal with, I already have a kid (no offense).

 The US is more comfortable, the food is better, at least I have access to healthy foods, gluten free, high quality  organic food and ancient grains which are rare and or expensive here. I don't have to worry about tainted oil, milk, etc back home. There's more of a variety of exercise, dance and yoga classes State side, although Taipei may a have a few here and there. Of course my oldest friends and family are back home. But for a while now Taiwan has been our homestead.


What I don't tell people

What I don't tell people, but all my good friends know is the story of  her father. I have nothing to hide, you can guess what I'll say. Her father and I dated on and off for years, even lived together for some of those. We got pregnant on purpose anticipating marriage and then it all went to crap. I was in grad school in England and he was calling me drunk, sending me scary emails about shooting, blowing things up (he likes to target shoot for fun) and was generally off his rocker, very controlling (I couldn't use email to male friends, or couldn't accept baby gifts from my parents, and he even said I couldn't have a telephone.) I made him the ultimatum to see a counselor (which has done before for years) or end the relationship. I went back to the US 22 weeks pregnant to successfully finish my master's dissertation and unsuccessfully get a restraining order on him (judge said his threats were implicit). It was a scary decision  to allow him in my home to see her, but he and his mom lost interest after she was 5 weeks old. He never paid a penny. He knows where my folks live, my email address hasn't changed; basically its effortless to contact me and not once has he asked about her. I assume he's too cheap and too afraid I'll smack him my legal right to garnish his wages.

Having said that, he's always in our prayers.