Friday, September 29, 2006
UPDATE: Gloria Fung (an English teacher in Penghu) has emailed me and given me information about the performers in the images you see here. She believes these are "cosplay" (costume play, a Japanese term for costume play) as people dress up in costume portraying the characters from anime. Thank you Gloria!
Tuesday, September 26, 2006
Now, on to the sculptor shop a few doors down. What a delight it was to watch the clay work being done here. The man who graciously smiled for the camera worked steadily beside a little girl who was no more than 4 years old. Ordinarily I have no problem photographing children and even though the man here had already given me permission to photograph them, something inside would not allow me to photograph her directly. Perhaps it was because I considered her to be an artist even at that young age and it didn't feel as if her father's permission was quite enough. The sculptures in this show were truly incredible as the tradition was carried down so beautifully. In looking at these sculptures, many were able to transport me back to my perception of ancient days and ancient lives and I was lost in the stories that inspired the creation. Well, either that or my imagination was in high gear that day. ;-) A few of those images are here for you to see. I do not know the stories behind the sculptures as no one was near who could translate them to me.
Next I will show you some puppets from the traditional arts and then I will try to skip to my school and students and let you know my perception of education in Taiwan. After having taught in the United States for around 17 years, Taiwan is a very different look at education.
Monday, September 25, 2006
Ever since I was a teen, I have been fascinated with wood and tried carving a walking stick once when camping at Mohican State Park in Ohio. The wood carving you see here is part of the ceiling in a building at the center. I do remember hearing the guide say that the building reflected both Chinese and Taiwanese architecture and that was due to rebuilding. It's a good thing they didn't give us a test after the tour as I would have been one they would have frowned and shook their heads at in disappointment. Next we visited a temple on the property. Although I wasn't hugely impressed with this temple, it did have some interesting artifacts such as this drum and a beautiful old bell which somehow I managed to overlook in photography, even though I got a couple close up shots of sections of it.
There was also a museum there, which had many artifacts and even some "simulations" of what life might have been like there at that time. Although I took many photographs, there isn't room here to show you all of them. Since the exhibits were all interesting in the museum, the photographs simply document what I saw. Here are a few of the ancient (or at least "quite old") relics on display. I have learned that the Taiwanese considered calligraphy to be one of the highest forms of art at one time. What you see here is likely a log or journal of some sort and not meant to be an art form in itself, but the skill of the calligrapher was always something in which great pride was taken. It looks as if this blog about the Traditional Arts Center will need to be continued another day. As it turns out, I need a break and have an appointment to go out on the town tonight to have something made for my granddaughter Taryn's upcoming birthday. Stay tuned though as you will likely enjoy some of the fascinating things I saw that day in Ilan. There are some incredible puppets coming up and some sculptor's at work as well as craftsmen making calligraphy brushes by hand.
Sunday, September 24, 2006
One of the truly fascinating experiences I had during the first 2 weeks in Taiwan was when the foreign teachers were taken on a trip to Ilan County on the east coast area of the island. That trip was one delight after another. I began to wish my assignment had been to the east coast. My first impressions were of the beauty I saw as we made our way through the mountains. By the time we headed back to Sansia though, were were along the ocean coast and it was even more astounding than the mountains. Many of these photos were taken from a speeding bus, so keep that in mind as you view them. We had to stop several times as a few of the teachers got violently stricken with car sickness. One of those stops just happened to be beside a huge gold statue in the mountains. There were no towns near by.... just this gold statue standing there in the dense forest of the mountain. Before too long we stopped at a rest area where veteran Taiwanese foreign teachers (ones who had been here for a few years) went and purchased some Chinese herbal remedy for travel sickness as by this time many of the teachers had fallen ill. I was too stimulated by the scenery to think about the single lane curves inches away from steep cliffs. This was all too exciting to me. At that moment, the possibility of our bus rolling over the side of the mountain seemed remote. I didn't travel half way around the world to have my adventure end during the first two weeks. I would have just floated away with a grin on my face and my camera in my hands. It wasn't long before we arrived in Ilan where our destination was the Traditional Arts Cultural Center. As we drove through Ilan, there was no question that we were in an environment very different from Sansia. Here was where I first noticed that many of the buildings are faced with tile. Much more frequently it could be seen that the houses were further apart and some isolated. A lot of the roadside area was used to make shallow pools where some type of fishery might have been conducted. There were flat rafts which constantly kept the water moving in the pools. It was definitely a curiosity for a foreigner. We spent a few hours there but I imagine it would take a few days to see even half of the sights or get a true feel for the lives of the people who worked there and how they came to learn these ancient crafts.
Saturday, September 23, 2006
A few weeks ago I walked to the Chiayi Cultural Arts Center to purchase a ticket to an upcoming performance of the Taipei Ballet. On the way, I came across a long row of "tents" selling plants. Some of these were things I had never seen before. Having my camera along, I took some photos. One thing I learned was never to pull out my camera in any place where I intended to make a purchase. It's just a Sony 717 but it looks far more impressive (and expensive) than it is. With camera in hand, I asked the price of a little plant and was given the total f 1,400NT, which is about 50 US dollars. The plant is worth about 200NT dollars, and that's what I ended up paying for it at a greenhouse across the street from my apartment complex. Lesson learned. Lucky for me I learned it before being ripped off. And don't get me wrong.... many of the locals here are honest and would not change the price by the preceived ability of the customer to pay. Oddly enough though, some of the foreigners don't mind paying more. For instance, my apartment complex is a rather large high rise which was high dollar housing at one time. It isn't high dollar these days, but some of the foreigners here have their housing subsidized by companies back home and pay extra just because the money is available. In exchange, they expect (and receive) the royal treatment.
My apartment complex is the large high rise you see off in the distance. My building is the tallest one toward the right. The place is definitely "cool," having a swimming pool, exercise room, library (all Chinese), pool and ping pong tables, computer lab, television room, barbeque area, conference areas, 24 hour trash collection and many more amenities. There are guards at each gate and the elevators require a keychain to operate. My apartment costs roughly $400 US dollars a month, and about 45% of that is subsidized by the Ministry of Education in Taiwan. As you can see, housing in Taiwan is much less expensive than in the US. My apartment has 3 small bedrooms, a bath and a half, a living room and a kitchen. There are 3 balconies, one off my bedroom, on off the living room and a dark, secluded one off the kitchen where there is a washing machine. The place is furnished, although the furniture (except for the beds) I could easily do without.... would not have been my choice. Even the apartment is not one I would have chosen on my own. I would have likely gone for one with different "character"or one where I could have some sort of garden with cool plants and flowers like the ones I saw on the way to the cultural arts center.... maybe some ferns...
These photos were taken in late afternoon after a storm. Ordinarily it is much brighter in the apartment.
And the last photograph is from the balcony, looking down. Yes, it is out of focus. It was taken my first day here and I had my eyes closed. Did I ever tell you I have a fear of heights? I'm getting over that, just as I am my fear of elevators. Although I must admit, sometimes at about the 8th floor of the elevator ride, I wonder where I will be when I experience my first real earthquake (Taiwan has many). It is a relief to see the LED flash 14 and hear the doors start to open.
Friday, September 22, 2006
Already I have probably taken 250 photographs trying to document this adventure. The ones above are from my bedroom balcony. It seems the photographs can't really capture the experience. They capture "an" experience but somehow something is missing. The sounds, for instance. I don't even know where to begin to describe those sounds that are so closely interwoven with the images I experience. Here I am living in a "small" city of 220,000 plus, and I awake as the sun shines through the door to the balcony in my bedroom. A rooster is crowing each morning as I wake. There is a noise I can't identify that surrounds the city from time to time. My closest guess is that it is some sort of huge generator unlike anything I have ever heard before.
Sometimes on weekends there will be fireworks and music off in the distance....celebrations of one sort or another. Once, to the east a storm raged in with lightening and thunder that would make the average storms in Ohio hide in shame. To the west, the fireworks and celebrations continued... a fascinating panorama.
Construction is rampant in this city and the sounds of that construction are heard 7 days a week from early morning until an hour or so before dark (which comes early here, compared to September in Ohio).
The traffic far below is different from what you might expect. There are whistles being blown... the guards to the apartment complex direct morning traffic to allow tenants to drive into the streets from the parking garages below the complex. Occasionally a horn will beep. Yes, that's right, "beep." Unlike in the states, cars are generally smaller here and "beep" instead of "honk" --- sort of a low key "get the hell out of my way or I'll run you down.
And speaking of traffic..... probably everything you have heard about the highways in China and Taiwan are true. The traffic laws here are simply a formality... nothing to take seriously. Drive on whichever side of the road suits your fancy, or take from the middle. The bigger your vehicle, the more liberties you can take. And that includes making a right hand turn when you are in the far left hand lane, screeching through red lights, and even parking in the street if no parking space is available. Hey, I have driven in New York City, Atlanta, Houston and Columbus. But this is a whole new concept for me in driving skills.
That said, I am buying a scooter as soon as next pay day rolls around. I haven't a clue how I will be able to locate it in the parking lots among the other 80,000 scooters. I'm after that 2 wheeled, 50cc independence, even if it means painting the bike day-glo yellow and attaching South Park bumper sticker to the matching helmet.
It is now September 23rd and I have learned much about "expectations" and quite a bit about myself. Although only a short 6 weeks have passed since I left my country, it seems light years away from my old Victorian house on the hill in Mansfield, Ohio and my job as a teacher at Treca Digital Academy.
The first 10 days were spent at the National Academy of Educational Research in Sansia, Taiwan. There were 4 teachers sent there by the Ohio Department of Education, myself included. Altogether there were about 50 foreign teachers who arrived during the 10 days of orientation. These teachers came from the United States, Canada, the UK and Australia. We formed fast friendships and have remained in contact since being sent on our separate assignments to various locations in Taiwan, including the islands of Penghu, Mazu, and Jinmen. My assignment is to Chiayi City in the western central area.
While in orientation, the Ministry of Education made sure the new foreign teachers experienced a bit of the culture of Taiwan. One of those cultural forays was a temple within walking distance of the research center where we were staying. It is the Sansia Zushih Temple, an elaborate example of high standards of Taiwanese temple art. Although temples compete with 7-11 convenience stores in abundance in Taiwan, this particular temple is one I am fortunate to have seen. Although it isn't my first temple to experience, as I entered one in Shanghai earlier this year when I visited my daughter in mainland China, it is quite different from what I saw there. Both will help me gain a better understanding of Asian culture as well as an understanding of what I left behind in the United States.
On a particularly hot and humid evening earlier in the month, I met another foreigner in the computer lab of my apartment building. Even I, was surprised at my delight in hearing a native English speaker as I cornered her to chat if only for a few moments. It reminded me of the excited rush I had the time I discovered a convenience store nearby stocked familiar little bags of M&M's. I didn't have to speak slowly or evaluate vocabulary before talking. I didn't have to watch closely for signs of comprehension or listen carefully to make sure I could translate spoken Chin-glish in a way that made sense. The woman is a Christian missionary from Canada, a very decent and friendly sort of person. She's lived here in Taiwan for 9 years. Nine years! With the temperatures soaring that evening and the humidity especially high, "9 years" seemed like a very long time for an adventure in what felt very much like a sauna where people dressed warmly. So I asked her why she had stayed here so long. She explained that there are still a lot of people here in Taiwan who are not yet Christians and it was her mission to try to change that. I didn't know what to say in response. My mind was stuck in a time warp and I thought I heard her say, "There are still Asians here and it is my mission to change that." My image of god must have been a blue eyed, white skin, thin man with a beard and medium brown curly hair. But, at that moment it was very difficult to visualize ripping down the temples in Taiwan and erecting Baptist churches along with the collection plates and shifty eyed preachers with diamond rings on their fingers. Don't get me wrong... I've believed in God all my life and have a strong sense of spirituality...was baptized in my teens and have read the Bible about 3 times. Still, this life has given me enough opportunity to recognize good in people and to evaluate what values make a person an asset to the world. So there I stood, in the presence of an English speaker for a change, and I had nothing to say that could be put into words.