Scribbles in the Sand

All About My Life in Taiwan


How Time Works

It’s interesting how engrained time is within the language you speak, and how we take for granted our concept of time. When referring to past events, we often point behind us.  Likewise, if asked to lay cards out with temporal events on them, it is likely they would go from left to right, with the future being rightmost.  When teaching english, it is common to draw horizontal timelines on the board to teach tenses, marking the present as somewhere in the middle and the past to the left.  Learning a new language opens your eyes to how other people think, and how stupid your own language can be.  Today I learnt that the Chinese concept of time is vertical rather than horizontal.  What I mean by this is that If you were to give the same set of event cards to a speaker of Chinese, it is likely they would put the oldest even at the top, furthest away from them, and the newest event at the bottom, close to their chest. I have also read that Hebrew speakers would order the cards from right to left.  This all stems from how the language is written. Chinese is commonly written from top to bottom, therefore, past events are closest to the top.  Likewise, Hebrew is written from right to left, so old events are to the right.  There are even some tribes that have no concept of time at all, or regard it very differently to all of us.  The same experiment on a certain tribes-person found that placing cards from oldest to newest depended on where they sat relative to the sun, always going from east to west, no matter what direction they faced, and consequently changed the position of the cards to respect this. This shows that no only do they have a more circular approach to time, with the rising and setting of the sun, but also a very impressive internal compass.

We might say, “good times are ahead”, or “the bad times are behind us”.  However, Chinese is ordered vertically, so they say “The month above” 上個月 for last month, and the month below 下個月  for next month.  This is very confusing until you realise the vertically arrangement of time.  Another confusing aspect is this.  The word for “in front of” is 前面 (qian mian) and “behind” is 後面 (hou mian).  The root terms qian and hou are also used as time particles, so “the future” is yi hou  (behind) and the past is yi qian  (in front).  Thus, when referring to the future, you would normally point behind you.  I managed to get my head round this by imagining i’m standing on the vertical time line looking to the past.  The past has already happened so you can see what you’ve done, therefore it is “in front of you”.  The future is unknown, so I imagine walking backwards (down the line) and and thus can imagine it as “behind” me.

On an unrelated but interesting note, when Western people refer to themselves they point towards their heart, whereas the majority of people here would point to the nose.  Strange.

P.s. this picture has nothing to do with the post but might get people to click my blog more.



The opening of TalkEasy

We have now finished the two-week long taster sessions and are halfway through our first official week of teaching.  Each night was open for the different age groups, (adult, senior high, junior high, and primary) with two time slots open for each age group at either 6pm or 730pm.

It all came to a head so quickly after months of preparation. It seems like a lifetime ago that we were jetting around on a scooter in the blistering heat, looking for red posters stuck to the front of houses denoting a rental property.   Once we secured a place, we then spent several weeks turning it into a school, scarping horrible green paint from every surface and re-painting them blue.  The next hurdle was getting our building passed by the education and fire departments which required a large downpayment for the installation of a winch and all the safety equipment.

We were then inspected by the various different departments, and were granted permission to open as a school with less hassle than expected.

Then came the applications for foreign work visas for myself and Laurence.  This took some time, and endless letters back and forth between government offices here and in Taipei.  We manager to successfully get permission to work just days before returning home to the UK for Christmas.  Once in London, we were able to apply for visas which were thankfully granted despite the embassy’s not too friendly reception.  Once back in the country we applied for Alien resident cards (ARC’s) locally, which was easy enough, and a few weeks back managed to get onto the national health insurance scheme.

The timetable was only drawn up a few days before taster week begun, and with only one day before taster week, we had 2000 flyers printed.  Initially we were going to make them ourselves but realised that we had no time, and so took them to the people that designed our sign.  He managed to whip something up that didn’t look too bad, although we look more like a theatre troop than teachers.  The first day of flyering made us feel very awkward, shoving them in peoples faces whilst they did their morning shop at the market.  Later, Laurence had the idea of putting them in letter boxes, so we spent a morning driving round all the large apartment blocks, stuffing leaflets into every nook and cranny we could find.  This was a much more enjoyable experience despite it being one of the windiest days yet.

We had also had many offers from local businesses saying that they would be happy to put our posters up in their shop windows and hand them out to customers which we were very grateful for, as hardly any school here get that privilege.  Even the lady that applied for our health card took a pile and promised to give them out to her friends.  Halfway though the first week of free lessons we stood outside the senior high school in the pouring rain, and a day later, outside a primary school.  We made a point of only handing them to the parents here, as it would have been unfair and slightly weird forcing our product on an unwitting child.  A few days later we targeted the vocational high school which was nerve racking at first, but they turned out to be much friendlier than the “academic” high school, and more game for a laugh.

Despite only getting the posters made a day before taster week begun, and flying schools halfway the week, not a day went by when we didn’t receive phone calls, and we even managed to fill two classes up on one of the evenings.  The best thing is that the majority of our parents are teachers who are fed up of the current schools, and have either heard about, or met Fiona from here part-time work in the local primary school, or her current junior high school job.  All the parents seem to know each other, and word soon spreads around here.  It’s also good if teachers send their kids because that gets around too.  Many of the people who come usually bring friends, and one person heard about our school from Facebook alone!  Indeed, our first student contacted us via “my” website after I gave her our business card whilst buying breakfast.  I was delighted by this as it showed that at least one person had visited my site, and that the email submission form had worked.

Each taster session was a chance to meet the parents/students, and conduct speaking,listening,reading, and writing assessments of them, filling out enrolment forms, and giving them a quick mini-lesson.  We’ve now finished putting all the students into designated timetabled slots which has been an epic challenge considering most kids have Buxiban almost every night, so finding an available slot is nigh on impossible.  We’ve managed to juggle them about and the current state of the timetable looks pretty good.  Our goal of getting enough students to pay for rent was reached by the first day, and our second goal of getting enough students to pay each of us a very basic salary was reached soon after.  The university only returned today so there is another flyering opportunity there, as well as targeting other schools, but now that the word is out, news will soon spread of ‘the new school which has all of the teachers children’. Today has been the first day of proper sunshine, and it has reminded me that Penghu can be lovely and hot place, rather than the cold windy place that has almost passed.  Things can only get better, and warmer.

(My mac autocorrects words which is a really pain as it doesn’t show spelling mistakes, but rather replaces them with a correctly spelt, wrong word. They are hard to find).

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Update on the School

Its been a long time since my last blog,(again) and this time I’m composing it on the keyboard of an iPhone so it will be even more mistake laden. So what have we been up to? Well the school was officially passed and we now have a certificate which can be mounted on the wall. The doors in the school are all painted blue after what seemed like an eternity of sanding and chipping every last bit of green paint off. After 3 days we resorted to a power sander which made our lives a lot easier. We hope to add names to each room and are wondering what to call them? Newton, Churchill or is that too pretentious. Tomorrow we take delivery of a very generous gift from a friend of the family, Mr Lee. It is an all in one water purifier,boiler, cooler which is plugged directly into the mains, so no more scooter rides to the water stations that are peppered around the place. I can’t imagine what this contraption will look like but I’m excited.

The past week or so I’ve been busy converting a WordPress blog into a website suitable for the school. Not an easy job due to the limitations of the editing platform, but it works out as a cost effective and easy way to get a website up and running. We’ve paid £17 for the year to have our own domain name and this will be up and running when we have our grand opening. We can also go ahead and print business cards now that we have a fixed line and website. Now to choose what picture to have on my card.

I hope to post more blogs about my learnings of mandarin, but for now my thumbs are tired.

Below is a picture of the cups the have attached to water coolers. They take up no space, are better for the environment and look very cute although the capacity is limited and it’s easy to spill.