Scribbles in the Sand

All About My Life in Taiwan


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).



T’ai chi ch’uan 太極拳

In recent weeks we have taken up Tai Chi as a way to get closer to the culture, chill out, and try something new and different.  It literally translates as “supreme ultimate fist” and seems to all be about harnessing your qì/chi (life force), which seems to be located in your groin, just above the pubic bone.

We were first encouraged to go by our local policeman friend, Morgan, who mentioned that a new weekend course was beginning in October through December.  Our first session was a baptism of fire.  We were already 10 mins late waiting for Morgan, and when we got to the university courtyard, there were around 70 uni students waiting to go on a school trip. Thrust into the centre of the class, we quickly had to pick up the moves, whilst the uni students took pictures and mimicked us.  Not a pleasant experience. Being a southpaw, I found it particularly difficult to coordinate which hand was doing what, because my natural tendency is to do the opposite of what the rest of the class do.

3 weekends on and I feel a lot cooler doing tai chi, especially now we have special black kung-fu pants which instantly makes me feel like Bruce Lee. Having taken a short recording on my iPhone of the first few steps and slowing it down to half speed, I have mastered them, although I struggle to remember to keep my knees bent, and on which foot my weight should be.  A central concept of tai chi is the constant shifting of your qì/chi from side to side and then letting your arms follow in a natural smooth motion. This is particularly difficult.

Although it is primarily a soft and slow martial art, being categorised under the Wudang grouping, compared to the hard, external, Shoalin martial arts,  it  has a strong grounding in using it as a defensive technique by displacing your opponents weight and using their power again them, similar to jiu jitsu.  Many of the moves our shīfu (master) does look relatively harmless, but then he demonstrates some of them on members of the class, and takes them down in seconds, without using any energy.  It’s pretty cool.

The next two sessions are on Sat and Sun morning at 8am-930 which is an effort to get up for, but is a good way to start the day, feeling relaxed and more flexible by the end of the session.  There is splinter cell of students that practice on weekday evenings, and it seems the leader of this is slightly more militant, teaching the defensive, powerful aspect a bit more. I’ve yet to go to one of these, although Laurie is still in pain from his practice on Thursday night.