About Me

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Yilan, Taiwan
I'm a Social Studies teacher and single mom from Colorado and have lived here for 9 years. Taiwan is an excellent base for us explore Asia, while living in relative (gun free) safety, while 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.

Friday, December 19, 2014

Sweet Talker: Enter the World of Taiwanese Speech Competitions

Early the other Saturday morning, I had to get my daughter ready for her first (and last?) speech competition. We both didn't realize we had entered into this hornet's nest world of school and parent competitiveness.  The whole process started out innocently enough, from her class competition over a section of their reading book to a full on process of elimination,class by class,then school by school. Her class competition had to to be video recorded because last year parents accused the staff of favoritism (" How dare my little genius lose!")

Z with me and her teachers (my coworkers) after her speech

Since she is not a Taiwanese citizen she was grouped into an entirely different category from her classmate, into a larger pool, with older kids. On the contrary had it been a Mandarin speech competition, she would still be with her age group.

I was asked to write her speech (and her classmate's) which was basically her take on the meaning of Christmas using two poems, one about a pine tree and an acrostic poem. Her judges were a panel of 4 foreigners. I think being a foreigner for any period of time here, you either are teaching and preparing a student for one of these or asked to judge one of these. Much rarer it to parent a kid for one of these, yet I saw a whole bunch of western men married to Taiwanese women, with their kid in my daughter's group. It was my first time seeing any of them, but Yilan County is massive.

The parent room for her group

She had to use her precious lunch breaks (which she uses to finish homework) to drill her speech, over and over again. My coworkers also used their precious time to coach her. Memorizing her lines is not problem, she gets that down in 5 minuets whatever the language. She was nervous speaking  in front of judges. Its a new and unknown experience.

A photo from the screen in the parent room.

The competition itself was definitely a downer. We were  not all together  in some gymnasium or stage with an audience. I was ferried into a classroom with a  screen and ghetto sound system that had sound delay and echo and if I hadn't written her speech myself, would not understand or hear what she was saying. She was incomprehensible to anyone else other than the judges. The reason for this was last year, some parents complained that the microphone on the stage was too far away and affected their kid's performance (basically their kid lost). We all had assumed it would be like a conventional set up. She was so looking forward to finding my face in the crowd. I was bummed that the experience of feeding off the energy of the crowd, of being on stage was denied her .

I could tell she was nervous, she did not flash her heart melting smile even once. Later she told me when she arrived, they took her alone to a classroom where she remained for sometime, waiting. She cried. I think it cruel, like unnecessary solitary confinement-- at least have the competitors together, make it communal. She told me her knees were shaking, and I could tell by her eyes which radiated fear from the screen.

Afterwards when she finally found me  (her teachers and I were not allowed to see her until it was over), she cried. It was definitely not how we had expected it.The whole process seemed devoid of human interaction, relating. Parents weren't required to be respectful listeners in the audience, we were on our phones, eating breakfast drinking coffee walking in and out of a sterile classroom. Her saving grace was believing that even if she lost, she could teach people that Christmas was more than a consumerist or hedonist holiday.

In the end she didn't win, she didn't make the top 3, but she did get some sort of special recognition, that the other kids didn't get- probably cutest kid or biggest effort.

On that Sunday night I asked her what was the favorite part of her weekend, and it wast playing at the rad park across our street or our leisurely bike ride along the Yilan coast (see "Easy Riders"), but unbelievably it was her speech competition. She even said she wants to try for the Mandarin one next semester! " Are you sure?"I kept asking. We will see.

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