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Joel, a first time visitor to Taiwan, was busy with his camera while he was here.

This video is filming from the MRT on the way to Jiantan station while Nate talks about what they’re seeing:

Here’s a shot that shows off some of the greenification in the Dunhua area:

My old friend and co-worker Nathan has been back in town this past week and it’s been great! It’s been nearly three years since he left Taiwan and he wanted a chance to come by before starting law school this fall. His friend Joel, who hadn’t ever been to Asia is here, too.

We’ve hiked all over the city, gone to the computer market a few times, hung out with some of my newer friends and eaten lots and lots of good food they can’t get in Michigan. One thing that’s been kind of surprising to me is that Nathan doesn’t seem to have lost much of any of his Chinese skills, where were always better than mine were back in the day. He seems just as capable as ever at getting around town, talking to guys in electronics shops about modding cellphones and video game systems, and just generally being entertaining in Chinese. In fact, when we went to a River Runners meeting last night, he ended up surrounded by about five Taiwanese women the entire evening seemed to completely entranced by his story-telling!

The Master Storyteller
The Master Storyteller by Mark on Zooomr

Then today, under the pavilion by the guāngguá shàngchǎng, somehow he picked up a guide from out of nowhere who took us around to all the tea stands and taste tested various teas from à’lǐshān, nántóu and various other places.
Tea Tasting
Tea Tasting by Mark on Zooomr

Joel, on the other hand is a complete Asia newbie. Not only, did he decline to eat any of the traditionally “scary” Chinese foods such as intestines, cow’s tongue, duck’s blood, frog meat, etc, but he was unable to handle tofu!!! Or use chopsticks! I hadn’t realized there was anyone to speak of really who couldn’t, at least in my generation. His chopstick skills have improved noticeably, but Nathan and I still weren’t able to peer-pressure him into even trying a piece of it!

I guess Muskegon, Michigan must be quite a bit different from the Denver-Boulder area in Colorado. I think my grade school cafeteria had tofu and gave us chopsticks to use on occasion. I never really went through the jarring culture shock I saw him experience. Still, we managed to show Joel a great part of Taiwan, he loved the computer markets and I think he’ll be back with a bit more culinary daring in a year or two. Hopefully my apartment will be cleaner by then and I can be a bit better of a host.

Things have been busier than ever at work. I had to meet a new student at 2:00 to help her with a homework assignment that she didn’t understand how to do. From then on, it I was pretty much constantly dealing with parents of students who were originally at Ding’s before the buyout. Some of them are understandably feeling uncomfortable with the school changing management. From their perspective, they paid tuition in advance and then the owners suddenly decided to sell the school. I’ve been doing what I can to make sure that their kids’ classes aren’t affected too much by that, but beyond that it just takes some face time to give them reassurance.
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I didn’t go on any trips today. I didn’t do anything special. Nothing exciting happened at work. In short, it was an ordinary day that would be easy to forget. But somehow, it was wonderful. I woke up around 11AM to my alarm clock playing a song I like. After grabbing a bite to eat, I headed into work. My students gave me about 70 books last class, but it wasn’t a problem. I’d already graded them all on Friday night, after work. With half an hour before class, all I needed to do was print up their ranking sheets and visualize how my lesson would go. I chatted a bit with Dan, and then I went into class, relaxed and unhurried. continue reading…

Last night, I met my friend Nathan at the Taoyuan train station. We decided to go the night market, so we hailed a cab and jumped in. Before I mention what happened, I should point out that I generally like cab drivers in Taiwan. They’re usually personable, chatty, and sometimes even interesting. This particular guy, on the other hand, was almost a caricature of a Chinese cab driver. The conversation below all happened in Chinese, of course.

Me: Hi. We want to go to the night market.
Driver: Oh! Can you speak Chinese!!?
Nathan: Uh…. yeah.
Driver: You guys are Americans, right? Right?
Me: Yep. We live here, though.
Driver: What do you do? Are you teachers?
Nathan: He is, and I’m a volunteer worker.
Driver: What do you mean? What do you do?
Nathan: I do work at hospitals and juvenile reform centers…
Driver: Do they pay you?
Nathan: No, it’s all volun…
Driver: They don’t PAY you? Why do you do it?
Nathan: To help people. It’s…
Driver: No salary? I wouldn’t do it!

I’m sure a lot of westerners secretly think the same way. I’ve never heard any say it so bluntly, though. Even if it’s only lip-service and they can’t really relate to volunteerism or charity, they’re at least familiar with what would motivate other people to engage in those activities.