Wednesday, May 23, 2012

a rant and a rave

Today I had a freaking breakdown in my A6 class which is one of the higher levels in the Erchong campus and is comprised of 3 girls, 2 in middle school and one in elementary. It started well enough with me being all chirpy and crap. Then I wrote a journal prompt on the board for them to do. All three of them were bitching about not wanting to do it. This is the class where we do nothing but TALK! We don't read the grammar book or the novel or even have homework or any tests. Then on Monday they were lack luster and barely talked - it was just me talking for an hour and a half! Now they didn't even want to write one small little page of journaling. I started ranting about how they were pushing it and taking advantage of me. This went on and on and then my ranting got me super angry and frustrated, as I was talking I was realizing that what I was saying was actually the truth. I hate realizing or having to confront someone about them taking advantage of me. Unfortunately since I'm pretty easy-going most people tend to toe the line more and more until its super WTF status. I told my studies this in an metaphor of a fellow classmate eating some of their food and seeing no objections finally eats more and more until they've eaten the whole thing. Anyways they pretty much knew where I was coming from so we moved on and had a convo except for one of the girls who still didn't talk which just frustrated me to no end. UGH! Midway through my breakdown/ranting session I asked myself why am I getting so emotional about this, MUST be my time of the month. Haha. This also occurred when I almost cried over my shitty haircut a couple months back. Figures the PMS will only hit me when I'm in a foreign country.

Even though they can be super frustrating I really like this class because it gives me a break from teaching all these little small kids. Beforehand I thought teaching older kids would be a drag because they wouldn't listen to me (which is true) and they would have huge douchy attitude problems (remember how we were in middle school?) but I actually prefer older kids now because it's one of the ways I can learn more about the culture and lifestyle here in Taiwan. I only regret that they weren't older so I could discuss more worldly issues with them. One of the topics I've gained more insight into is how schooling in Taiwan works or more specifically how middle school (or junior high as it's called here) in Erchong/Hsinchu operates. I'm pretty sure its general knowledge that schools in Asian countries have a strong emphasis on memorization and test taking - Taiwan is no exception. Two or three times a year all grades starting from 3rd grade start taking these so called "big tests" and then they are ranked in their grade and in their school based on the scores. Not really sure what else the tests do besides letting everyone know whose the best. Students have to take a separate test to get into high school and university so either the school ranking goes on their application or the big tests are like our standardized testing, just for information sakes. Anyways I asked my three students to show me how their school schedules look like and this is what I got...
Their schedules are pretty crazy. They have school 8-10 hours a day depending on what day it is. Not only do they have long class times, students are also responsible for keeping the school clean which means students most go to school even earlier to perform their school cleaning duties. So completely different from schedule in America. If I recall correctly since it has been such a long time since I've attended middle school we had the same classes everyday (math, social studies, science, english, gym, and art/music). Not really sure how long each class was but I know we never stayed at school for 10 hours. Lunch is served in the classroom where students are allowed 30 minutes to eat and mingle with friends before having a 30 minute nap for the rest of break - such a necessary nap in order for them to get through the long day. I always wonder why schools were so quiet around the afternoon. No recess or playing ball in the yard for them. However they do get 10 minute breaks between classes as teachers are the ones who move between classes unlike that in America. What I wouldn't give to have my teachers running around instead of me when it was raining or when the classes were at the opposite end of the campus.

Not only do they attend different classes everyday, including Saturday, but they have a huge range of classes from the normal like science and math to things like home ec. and health ed. Because of the huge number of classes their schedule varies day to day with some classes like chinese and math taking precedence with classes almost everyday and others like gym twice a week. So weird how their schedule is like that of a college student except they don't get to pick their classes. Not sure if this applies to the whole of Taiwan but since there is no such thing as an honors program or the Gate program students are distinguished by testing into a certain area. Now my 2 junior high students attend Erchong Junior High which is known for their music program which one must test into by playing an instrument. Hence the need for all the students to take lessons outside of school to learn how to play the violin or piano because I believe music class in elementary just teaches you how to play the recorder. My elementary school student who is entering into junior high played the violin for her test and got accepted into the music program. The strange thing was upon acceptance into the music program she was assigned to play the trombone. Erchong's music program only plays wind instruments, my student says because its easier to learn, but the students aren't allowed to choose which instrument they can play! They are assigned according to the shape of their mouth and their physical attributes. It seems so unfathomable to me that the students have no choice in the manner but they have to play what they are assigned if they want to be in the music program. The importance of being in the music program is that those students get assigned the best teachers in the school. If students can't keep up their good grades they will be dropped from the program. So essentially the music program works like the honors/Gate program in my middle school. So I asked my students what happens if you're a smart student but sucked at music and therefore couldn't get into the music program? The answer is you find a junior high school that had their own special programs either in math, english, etc and test into them.

On top of all these crazy hours at school, most students also attend a onchiban, cram school, and buxiban, english cram school, like the one I teach at. Most of my second graders attend both and they are picked up from school and sent straight to the onchiban where some stay until 9:30pm at night. I just can't imagine learning for almost 12 hours straight makes sense that the kids are exhausted and sick of going to class. No wonder it feels like we are babysitting most of the time.

I wished I had older students because I would love to ask how high school works here since they don't have AP courses. From what little they know it doesn't look as if students can pick their own classes in high school either. Grade levels are done differently here too with elementary school comprised of grades 1-6, junior high 7-9, and senior high 10-12.

Asian Fail is evident here too: One of my students told me she did bad on one of her big tests and I was thinking oh probably an 80 or some such thing but she told me she got a 96. Yup Asian Fail.

Saturday, May 19, 2012

culture shock and classroom tangents

Was I expecting to experience some culture shock upon landing in Taiwan? Not really. Did I experience any? Nope. Of course I thought that might be due to the fact that I'm Chinese and am pretty Asiany so I couldn't really be impartial. I asked other foreigners, who are more foreign than I am to Asian culture, if they experienced any culture shock and they all said that Taiwan really isn't that different to them besides the food and the language barrier. So no culture shock - besides the food maybe? Even then the food isn't really weird for me or have I ever been in a situation where I went OMG WTF I JUST ATE WHAT?!?  I don't act any differently in Taiwan than I do in America. Unlike Japan where I felt I had to be super polite and courteous, bowing my head everywhere, in Taiwan I just go around swaggering and talking up a storm. Did I have misconceptions about Taiwan and have I learned a lot more of their culture since being here? Definitely. Biggest thing I learned is that Taiwanese people are not like Chinese people AT ALL. For one thing Taiwanese people are way nicer and don't make you feel like shit cause you're a foreigner. Yah I can say that cause I'm Chinese and I've met a whole bunch of these non-friendly Mainlanders. Does it apply to everyone? Of course not. Do they bug the shit out of me when they crowd up all the tourist places in Taiwan? Heck yah!

It's funny but now that I think about it, of all the countries I've visited I think Taiwan has the most positive view of America. I don't know about anyone else but while  traveling I've heard a lot of stories about people going "Oh Americans!" in this kind of a exasperated or negatively amused tone. I can't say I've experienced it myself since most people don't believe I'm an America and insist on finding out my ancestry and where my family originated from as a way to prove that they were right and that I'm not an America. Good for you people - you've discovered that a black hair, small eyed, Asian looking girl's family did originally come from China and not America like she is claiming to be a citizen of. This leads me to one of my classes insisting that I must be Taiwanese because of my black hair and brown eyes. It probably doesn't help that this is the class I review my Chinese with beforehand since its on the same day as my Chinese classes. I try to contradict the fact that I can't be Taiwanese by asking them if I speak Chinese well and expecting them to say no. In fact they said I spoke Chinese well (this might be due to the fact that I have trained them to kiss up to me :P) and how come I could understand them when they speak Chinese if I wasn't Taiwanese. Lol I tried to say its because I can speak Cantonese and that is similar to Chinese but they weren't having any of that. Then I was like I can't read or write Chinese, as a Taiwanese person that is ok that I can't do either? Which they replied with a yes because that totally makes sense that I wouldn't have taken any Chinese classes as a citizen of Taiwan and yet managed to excel in English. At my wit's end and because I was laughing so hard trying to prove them wrong I turned the tables on them. I pointed at a student and said that the student must be from China because she had black hair and black eyes and everyone from China has black hair and black eyes. I just started pointing to all of them and saying China China China which they were all adamantly against being. I had hoped that by showing them their "proof" wasn't really proof at all would convince them that I wasn't Taiwanese. I finally just pulled my T.A. into the class to tell them in Chinese that I wasn't Taiwanese. After saying how a lot of people in Asian countries have black hair and brown eyes and that doesn't make them Taiwanese, my students started asking questions like how come I'm in Taiwan, why am I teaching at the school and how come I'm not teaching at another school. My T.A. tells them that once I finish teaching at the school then I could work for another school and all my kids went NO! At this point I had no idea what they were saying but its nice to know that my class actually likes me and wouldn't want me to leave. Then the instigator of it all went I wanted a blue eyed foreigner for a teacher. In response I told her there were two other foreign teachers, that looked foreign, that she could have as teachers. To this she replied they didn't have class levels low enough for her which we said wasn't true. Then I go so do you want to go to the other teacher and she puts her head down and goes NO! Haha shes one of the students who hecka clings to me so I knew she wouldn't want to go anywhere. It's nice to hear students actually wanting to be in my class compared to others who always say how the other English teachers are better and want to be in their class. Of course they base this on the fact that the other teachers are so nice in the hallway. Right cause that's a good judge of character.

I've found myself being fascinated by the relationship between China and Taiwan. I know that back home in America, everyone is talking about elections and what candidates are doing what. Well I assume that is what everyone is talking about because we are all "adults" now but what's probably happening is that people are discussing the latest Grey's Anatomy episode or something - which left on some crazy cliffhanger! It's funny to explore a topic I never thought about to something that actually affect the lives of people I know and how that affects my life in Taiwan. If anyone has paid attention to their world history class.....zzzzzzzzzzz..... probably not then people should know that the Republic of China (ROC) led by the Kuomintang retreated to Taiwan when the Communists in China were winning and established the People's Republic of China (PRC). There is a whole bunch of crazy history between Taiwan and China but I won't bore you with it. The nitty gritty is that China claims Taiwan as part of the PRC while Taiwan sees itself as independent. However because of China's power and its claim on Taiwan, Taiwan isn't officially recognized as a independent country. Hence why there is no official American Embassy in Taiwan because the PRC will not maintain diplomatic relations with any nation that recognizes the ROC. Despite all that America is still one of Taiwan's biggest allies and maybe that is why a positive reception. Any who what does this have to do with me? Well nothing really it's just interesting to me and I just like talking about random stuff. However cause of this strained relationship, mainland China visitors must visit Taiwan in tour groups. Now all those big annoying groups of Chinese tourists make sense, they got no other choice. It's only been a couple of years where Taiwan has allowed individual visitors from China to explore the country on their own, and these visitors have to come from sanctioned cities. Pretty crazy discovering what kind of restrictions people have visiting other countries. I've asked my older students about the whole China situation and they basically say they hate China because of what China did to the Taiwanese mentioned in this post here. I asked how they felt about being technically Chinese and hating their motherland and all of them replied that they were Taiwanese. So that solves that problem there isn't any identity crisis or split loyalties for them. I went on to describe how that experience for myself as an Asian American is so different where I can't just say I'm American and be taken at face value. There is such a big fuss in the country about what kind of American everyone is from Asian to African while in Taiwan there really isn't any word that says I'm a Chinese Taiwanese person. In Chinese trying to say I'm an Asian American isn't really done, there is no classification, you just are American or you're not. If only the systems in America didn't place such an emphasis on classifying what type of American I am.

Alright I'm finished rambling. If anyone has had the honor to look through my scrapbooks and  actually take the time to read through them, which I strongly discourage cause of all the secrets and embarrassing stories contained within, most of my journaling is like the above blog post full of random stories and deviations that have nothing to do with the topic at hand. But as most of my friends say that by reading my blog it's like listening to me talk - super fast and totally random. Hope you enjoyed it :P