13K Run, Dogs, and a Party

Lucie, a Swiss volunteer, and also a new good friend of mine is a little crazy. She decided it would be a good idea to run to San Augustine from Long Beach (where we are staying). She asked if I wanted to go. And I don’t really know what I was thinking, but somehow and at some point the word “yes” came out of my mouth. We weren’t really sure how far it was going to be, but we figured around 16-18K. Lucky us, it was shorter than that - 13K. I must say we ran it very well considering that we had to leave at 8:30 instead of 7am to avoid the tricycles taking students to school along the dirt road. Leaving at 8:30 meant that we were going to run in the heat - and holy crap was it hot. Probably the hottest day since we’ve been here, and there wasn’t much shade. But we made it, and I’m not even sore today! Woot!

The adventure didn’t end there though, because the 5 dogs that seem to now be our pets (Collie, Baxer, Ikit, Shandy and Daisy), decided to run with us. We let them come along, which was very cute, and a sight to see (2 white women running with 5 dogs in the middle of the heat - everyone either gawked or laughed at us as we went by). But we didn’t really think about what would happen to the dogs. Baxer and Collie were smart and turned around and went home about 4K into the run. Ikit, Shandy and Daisy (the most cheerful white puppy ever) decided to continue. I kept an eye on them and had to watch out for Daisy so she wouldn’t make me trip over her (she’s a bit clueless sometimes) as they continued to run with us. Ikit and Shandy finally stopped at about 10K in, and Daisy, the smallest one of all, stopped just short of the finish. Lucie and I continued on though, and when we got to San Augustine, we got on a trike and drove back to Long Beach. I looked out for the dogs as we drove along, and only Ikit was there. He was too tired to keep going, so I hauled him into the tricycle in a very awkward postition for a dog, which totally freaked him out, but we managed to get him home. When we got home, of course, there was no Shandy or Daisy to be found.

When I first got here, I was really annoyed with dogs. They are everywhere, they bark like crazy at you, and keep you up at night, and they follow me into the classrooms where I teach, and basically I can’t seem to get them to leave me alone. One day I was so frustrated, I screamed, “I hate dogs!” only to get some stares and raised eyebrows from the Filipinos around. So you would think that I wouldn’t give a shit about these two missing dogs. But NOOO… apparently I have fallen in love with all 5 of them. I was so worried sick about the two missing ones that I spent 3 hours looking for them with Delfin, a good Filipino friend and tricycle driver. We managed to find them both, and we were so happy to see each other and I held onto them so tight on the tricycle ride home. And I tell you did I ever stink like dog after that 45 minute ride. But I can’t believe what a sucker I am… gag me.

Last night we had another party at my house. Not for me this time, but for Bing Bing’s 6th Birthday (she is a part of Lucie’s Filipino family) and for Lucie’s farewell. We had a huge feast, Lucie baked chocolate cake again, and I even got the courage up to sing for everyone (as per Lucie’s request - she’s so demanding sometimes). Lucie, Alexis (a new volunteer) and I also demonstrated some excellent dancing skills. All the Filipinos are too shy to dance - as much as we try to get them up, most of them will not do it. So, everytime there is music to dance to, it’s just us foreigners up there looking like silly fools. The Filipinos really seem to be entertained by us though.

I’m in Romblon now with Alexis and Lucie. Lucie will be off in about an hour or so, so we will have to say our goodbyes. I will miss her very much, she was such good fun, and became a good friend during these last few weeks. I’m sure we’ll meet again though. Tomorrow I’m going to go diving again - there’s some nice coral around at a marine reserve near here. I’m getting excited.

Next week is my last week doing volunteer work - I’m sure it will be a good one. Talk to you soon!

Crafting, Dancing, and Birthday-ing

Well these last 2 weeks have been a lot better. I’ve had a lot of fun.

Last week there were government periodical tests and apparently I wasn’t needed to teach classes (the teachers needed to “prep” or train the kids what the answers on the tests are this week), so I focused on making teaching aids with Lucie. Our idea to make visual aids for the teachers is turning out well. We are getting feedback from the teachers - they are telling us what they need, which is exactly what we want to know! We gave out forms to all the teachers to fill out to let us know what kind of posters or flashcards they need for their classrooms, and with the return of these forms, we have found ourselves with lots of work to be done! We’ve been making and drawing everything by hand - it really makes you appreciate computers, printers, and laminators. The work is pretty enjoyable. I get to draw and colour and cut and paste for a few hours every day. Lucie and I work in the library making these aids, we get to chat, and the kids during break and lunch always come to watch and help.

Grade 6 boys who are too cute for their own good

Last Friday there was a teachers’ conference held at my school, and Sally, the lady I’m living with who also happens to be a teacher at the school, asked me to train some of her grade 6 students how to dance to a song called “Chocolate”, so that they could perform for the teachers that day. I also taught some grade 4 and 5’s how to sing a song called, “Peanut Butter and Jelly” to perform too. When it came to the day to perform, Lucie and I were asked to dance with the kids for the “Chocolate” song, which at first I tried to oppose, but we had to in the end. I knew the attention would be turned on us instead of the kids, which I didn’t want because the kids worked so hard all week, but what can you do when you know if you refuse you will hurt feelings? Of course when we danced the teachers watching pulled out their cellphones (everyone is poor, but everyone seems to have a cellphone - that and a TV) to take pictures of Lucie and I. Pretty funny.

So work wise, things have become a bit more rewarding because Lucie and I figured out a situation that needed to be helped at the school and took initiative to work on it. Next week is going to be busier though now that tests are over. Along with making visual aids, I’m going to teach regular classes, start tutorials, and coach volleyball! I’m looking forward to doing more work though, because that is after all what I came for.

Me with Birthday cake and buko (young coconut) salad

On the 14th it was my 24th Birthday. About 20-25 people (half of which I knew) came to Sally and Rey’s house (the family I’m staying with) to celebrate my birthday. Everyone in the barangay (village) knew it was my birthday somehow and were wishing me happy birthday all day long. For the party, Lucie somehow managed to make a delicious chocolate cake and I made a massive amount of spaghetti a la Jen-style for the 20 people. It was delicious. We had a ton of fun dancing around and being crazy. I did not expect to have such an eventful birthday, but it turned out very very special. My family and Lucie’s family even gave me gifts which was completely unexpected - I got a beautiful sarong and a cute pink t-shirt. They really shouldn’t have, but it made me feel pretty special, I must say. My family and Lucie’s family have really made us feel like we have known them forever. They truly are wonderful people I won’t forget.

Right now I’m in Boracay with Lucie, we’ve been here for a few days now. Had to extend my visa and we decided to stay a few extra days to relax. A little disappointed I didn’t get to go diving because of a head cold I managed to get. I must say it really is strange being here, we actually have showers and proper toilets and toilet paper, and we can eat anything we want. It’s nice and we are really enjoying being here, but it really puts things into perspective.

Anyway, time to go and more to come!

Click here to see my Swiss friend Lucie’s blog.


Click here to check out my photo album!

Lucie, an other volunteer from Switzerland and I decided to meet with CERV-Philippines this week to discuss our ideas about our projects. Both of us weren’t feeling challenged enough, and felt a little strange in some of the classes we were teaching.

A boy colouring for the first time

An example: I show up to teach, and there is the regular Filipino teacher there. I’ve arranged to teach for an hour an a half, so I begin teaching, but then the Filipino teacher interrupts me after 10 minutes and says, “Ma’am Jen, it’s okay. You can sit down now.” A little taken aback with nothing to say, I sit down, and watch the class continue with the teacher teaching for 45 minutes. She then lets me teach the kids a few songs for 20 minutes, and then my time is up. The days continue like this, and I ask the teacher if there is anything wrong with my teaching, how I can improve, etc. But she simply says, no, everything is fine, I want the children to be exposed to something different. When I finally brought it up a little more straightforwardly, “I’d like to teach a little longer than 30 minutes,” she says, “Ma’am Jen, I am the teacher and I am ashamed to have you teach the whole time.”

Ashamed? This is the last thing I want for the teacher to feel. I have come to help out and share my ideas for these kids. But when I think about it, I understand. I imagine it can be difficult and very weird to have a foreigner come and teach your class for free. Am I intimidating? Maybe. But I hope not. I think the teacher feels like a “visitor” should not be working. So she is trying to show kindness by giving me a break, and I end up feeling under-appreciated. Of course I can’t express my feelings to her because she’ll feel even worse. Frustrating, this cultural difference.

The teachers here are tired because their classes are huge and there’s 1 old textbook to every 3-5 students, which makes the teachers have to reproduce everything in the textbook onto the blackboard. After years and years of this, the teachers seem to have gotten a bit stuck in their ways of teaching. A lot of it involves memorizing and reciting, reciting, reciting. And a bit of spoon-feeding. I’m a bit of a different teacher. I walk all over the room, ask the kids tons of questions, I’m a little loud, and often silly. I make a fool of myself to keep these kids’ attention. I’m trying to get them to speak out. But what I’m finding, is most of these kids don’t really understand what is going on because of the way all their classes run by memorizing and reciting, reciting, reciting. Change is good. But sometimes it is difficult to initiate change when things have always been done a certain way.

So, I’ve talked with CERV to find a way to change some things. We’ve come up with some new ideas. First, I’m cutting out a bit on teaching other teacher’s classes, because really, it’s not much help. Now, I’m going to start tutorials so I can get back to the basics with the kids who really have no idea what’s going on in class. I’ll be in complete charge of the class. Second, Lucie and I have gotten the idea to make visual aids for the classrooms, like posters, charts, flashcards, teaching tools, etc. It’s a good idea because the teachers will be able to use them, and hopefully they can help the kids learn, and be more interested in the topic, when there’s a picture or diagram or poster to look at. Third, I’m going to put together a song book of English kids songs. I have a CD with me with tons of kids songs, so I’m going to make it very easy for the school to teach these kids the songs after I’m gone. Music is important for every human being.

Hopefully this helps in a more meaningful way. We’ll see.

Other than this, this week has been a little boring. I’ve been sick with a strange gassy, stomach flu and have had to be in bed for a few days. Plus its been raining. But as of yesterday, the weather seems to have miraculously cleared up, and now I’m better, so I’m hanging in Romblon town and spending WAY too much time on the internet! I’ve managed to post photos and put together a photo album on flickr: http://www.flickr.com/photos/7798680@N05/ Check it out!

So things are on the upswing, hopefully they’ll continue that way!

Well, This Is Different

Jen in Romblon

It’s going to be hard to explain how things have been in the last two weeks of my volunteering, but I’m going to try my best to give you an idea of what life is like here by giving you a breakdown of one of my days last week:

6:15am: wake up to 50 roosters cock-a-doodling, eat rice, fish and fried vegetable for breakfast, plan for classes

7:30am: walk to school along the only road in town with my 3 new dogs that I seem to have acquired the instant I arrived, and have many kids follow me and people look at me and ask where I’m going the whole way (not really sure the reason for this question, as there really is only one way that I appear to be going - I think it’s just something for the people to say to me, like how we always say “How’s it going?”, nevertheless, it’s weird for me everytime, and I always blurt out an answer like, “Uh… this way” or “To school” or “To eat lunch” or “Home”)

Kid chaos at Long Beach Elementary in Romblon

8:00am - 9:30am: teach kindergarten (35 kids)

9:45am-10:45am: teach grade 4 (80 kids)

11:00am: walk back home for lunch, get offered a ride on the back of a motorcycle, run over a dog and kill it, be traumatized by the whole thing, but seem to be the only person actually feeling sorry for the dog

11:45am: eat rice, fish and fried vegetables for lunch

12:00pm: take a nap and plan for classes

12:30pm: WALK to school swearing I’ll never ride a motorbike again

1:15pm - 2:35pm: teach kindergarten (35 kids)

3:00-4:00pm: teach the crazy grade 2’s (50 kids)

4:00pm: walk home with a huge procession of kids following me in “The Ants Go Marching” song (they will go along with anything that is remotely entertaining), get given pineapples and avocados from people who I don’t really know

5:00pm: go for a swim and have a cold bucket shower

6:30pm: eat dinner (rice, fish, and fried vegetables)

7:00pm: clean up, do laundry

8:00pm: read, prepare for classes, twiddle my thumbs

9:00pm: go to bed

As you can see, life is pretty simple here. It’s been very interesting so far. At the present time, I’m finding it a challenge to figure out a way to help in a meaningful way. I’m currently replacing Filipino teachers in all of my classes, which does not seem to me to be helping, aside from the fact that my teaching style is different and the kids could be benefiting from something different and the teachers might learn a thing or two from me. Anyway, in the time I have spent at the school I have noticed some problems in the school, so I’m going to see if I can have them addressed. I’d like to leave here knowing that I’ve contributed something that will be remembered, or will last, and will have a positive effect on the people here. It’s hard to explain, but it’s difficult to have yourself understood or heard properly here - and this makes it hard to follow through with your ideas.

Anyway, it’s all been interesting, thought-provoking, and very different.

The end of the Philippines, a return to Thailand, and A Comment On The Evils of Karaoke

Last sunset in Coron

Jen and I have now gone in our separate directions, and while Jen has filled you in on what she has been up to, I so far haven’t told my side of the story. So here goes…

Our last stop together in the Philippines was a town called Coron, located on the island of Busuanga, off the northern tip of the island of Palawan. Coron was the sight of a famous battle in World War Two. With an entire fleet of Japanese warships moored in the harbour, the Americans launched a surprise attack, sinking the entire fleet and setting the stage for the future invasion of Coron by budget dive operators anxious to take you on underwater tours of the wrecks. With only one free day together before Jen had to return to Manila, we had planned a day of diving together. But unfortunately it was not to be - I awoke the morning of our tour sick as a dog and spent the rest of the day in bed with a high fever. That makes twice since passing our dive course that we’ve booked a dive trip, only to have one of us wake up sick. I guess we’re just not meant to dive!

I was feeling marginally better the next day, and so Jen and I at least got to spend some time together before I saw her off that afternoon. Evan meanwhile had started his PADI Open Water course, which gave me three days to recover and relax. Our hotel was situated on a pier, with a great patio and hammocks overlooking the bay, in which I spent most of my hours. And while doing so, I discovered that Philippine karaoke is Cruel and Sadistic.

The Taiwanese love their Karaoke. And Jen and I loved Taiwanese karaoke as well - it was a huge amount of fun. You head out to one of the Karaoke centres - usually a building about 10 stories tall, filled with hundreds of private karaoke rooms (they REALLY love their karaoke!) You rent your own private room with a pile of friends and then proceed to make fools of yourselves all night singing these ridiculous songs. It’s a blast.

Philippine karaoke is entirely different. A Philippine karaoke parlour is just one room, just a bar, and anyone who wants to sing does so in front of whoever happens to be in the room at the time - friends, family, complete strangers. While Taiwanese karaoke is done in complete, sound-proof privacy, Philippine karaoke is a very public exercise. And they also love their karaoke there - they REALLY love it.

The unfortunate result was that over my three days of recovery at that hotel in Coron, the karaoke bar on the neighbouring pier engaged in a systematic and ruthless assault on my sanity by continually and mercilessly subjecting me to some of the most horrid singing ever to be broadcast over high-powered speakers, beginning daily at 10 in the morning and not ceasing until the middle of the night. Unless I was lucky and got a short reprieve when we were struck by one of the town’s frequent brownouts (”Damn those guys at the power plant!”, swore the proprietor of the local internet cafe, watching his rows of computer screens go black. “They just turn off the power so people have to use their diesel generators. Those assholes that work the power plant are the guys that sell the diesel!”). At the end of all of this I had turned into such a quivering ball of jelly that I decided to hop the next plane out to Thailand with Evan, where I am currently relaxing on the island of Koh Pha Ngan trying to regain my senses.

Actually it was really more of a laugh than anything. Coron was a great little town overall, on just a beautiful island, and at some point Jen and I will have to return, not get sick, and put some time into exploring the above- and underwater environments on offer. But with the flu still holding a grip after three days there, I decided I really wasn’t up for any more exploring of the Philippines over the end of my trip, and I instead took off to a beach I knew, where I could end my Asian adventures with some relaxation.

But tomorrow is the start of the trip home. I head out in the morning for Koh Samui to catch a flight back to Bangkok. Sunday I fly to Hong Kong, and then on Tuesday I finally leave Asia for Vancouver. Home soon.

Volunteer Work in the Philippines

Today was my official first day of volunteering in the Philippines. For those of you interested, I signed up through the Global Volunteer Network based in New Zealand. They’ve got a lot of volunteer opportunities around the world. I’m working directly with an NGO called Center For Volunteerism (CERV) in the Philiipines.

Right now I am in Manila for two days training and orientation to help get my feet on the ground. Today we learned a lot about the history of the Philippines and why they are currently in the situation that they are in. Raymund, the director of CERV, told us about how the Philippines were first occupied by Spain and then later the USA. Filipinos were treated as very inferior during these times and many suffered a great deal or were killed. Apparently Manila used to be a gorgeous city with a lot of spectacular buildings and cathedrals made of marble and gold - the city was actually designed by the Americans to mimic Washington D.C., and if I remember correctly, it was actually designed by the same person who designed Chicago. But in World War II, the Japanese came down to the Philippines and eventually made their way into Manila. The Americans decided to attack the Japanese by bombing the hell out of Manila. The US won, but consequently Manila was completely destroyed, and the Filipino people were left alone to pick up the pieces.

Girls in the slums of Manila

Ever since then, the Philippines has never been the same. They are stuggling a lot and the government is corrupt. 40% of government money goes to pay off debt and 30% is reported to be used for various “government needs”. That only leaves 30% for everything else, which leads the country into a large crisis, especially in social programs like health care and education.

I am heading to Tablas island in the province of Romblon on Sunday, and there I will be teaching kids. I am going to be living with a Filipino family. Other than this, I don’t know what to expect! I’m nervous, but very excited about it all.

So far the staff Raymund, Pom, Eden and Vincent are great and making Lucie, the other volunteer (from Switzerland), and I feel very welcome. Everyone is very kind and seems to have a great sense of humour.

Anyway, time to go, so more on my experience later!

Woo! What An Amazing Place.

Well, the Philippines is a very interesting place to say the least. New scenery, new smells, new food, and new modes of transportation (ie. “tricycle”: a motorcycle with an attached sidecar, “jeepney”: see Jon’s previous post). The people here are all a part of the fun too - they’re easy going, full of smiles, and like to chat. We are often greeted here with “Hello Sir” or “Hello Ma’am”, which at first comes off as a little strange, but you get used to it. When passing people in the street, you are always acknowledged with a “hello” or a raise of the eyebrows or a nice smile. Despite the poor conditions some of the people live in here, everyone seems to be generally happy.

This past week and a half we have been hanging in Palawan - an extraordinarily beautiful place. It’s a bit difficult to get your way around from town to town, but Jon, Evan and I have seemed to manage okay. One highlight included an 8-hour bus ride packed with locals through the jungle along some good muddy stretches. Tires were changed a couple times. Imagine a large jeepney with all the bags on the roof with the “bag guys” who sit up on the roof the whole trip to watch them. It was actually a really enjoyable trip scenery wise. There is so much beautiful vegetation in Palawan. You go through stretches of jungle, and then here and there you pass a nipa hut with a few kids running around and waving at you. Each nipa hut had water buffalo, pigs, dogs and chickens hanging around without any concern that a big bus full of people was driving by.

A typical beach in Palawan

Palawan is so beautiful, it’s hard to believe sometimes what you are seeing. There are beautiful islands and beaches and limestone karsts jutting up from the blue-green ocean. There are secret lagoons and spectacular caves to check out too. Apparently there’s some treasure to be found around the Philippines too… If you’re reading this and you’re a pirate, the Philippines is where to come. Arrgh! Throw the carrrcass overboarrrd! Anyway, this makes for lots of adventuring around, which we managed to do a lot of. We were able to hire a private boat to ourselves for 2 days to check out caves, go snorkeling and just relax on the beach when we felt like it. On the downside, there seems to be a lot of coral damage around, which we are unsure of the exact reason for it (dynamite or cyanide fishing maybe?). Nevertheless, we were able to find some pretty amazing reefs and fish to check out. And, as a bonus, we were 3 of very few foreigners around. You can’t ask for more when you’ve got a gorgeous place all to yourself!

Evan has fantastic rain attire

So things have been great all around! The trip has especially been fun with Evan hanging around - you can’t beat his sarcastic humour and fantastic rain attire. But, things are also changing very soon - Evan’s off to Thailand in a few days for some lazing around at the beach and mingling with the ladies. I’m off to Tablas Island in the province of Romblon here to do some volunteer work for 2 months. Jon’s got 2 more weeks before he heads home to sort out his life in Vancouver before he starts (gasp) law school.

So… lots of change, nervousness and excitement to come!

As for friends in Taiwan and back in Canada - we’re thinking of you a lot and miss you tons!

No more teaching, and on to paradise

Well, that’s done with.

The past two weeks have been hell. Exams, marking exams, writing student reports, and then finally teaching was over. But no relief, as the end of teaching only ushered in a frantic 4-day rush to pack up all our possessions, throw them in boxes, toss them on a ship and hope that they arrive in Canada in one piece. Finally, finally it was done, just in time to hop into a cab and make a mad rush for the airport for our flight to Manila. We made it just in time, and three hours later we found ourselves in the jeepney and exhaust-filled traffic chaos that is Manila.

What’s a jeepney? Take a WW2-era jeep, cut it in half, lengthen it by a couple metres, weld it back together, toss a couple bench seats facing sideways in the back, and you have the Philippine version of public transit. Before it hits the streets, be sure to paint it silver and adorn it with a thousand multi-coloured pieces of flare to show your jeepney-driving pride.

We just spent one night in Manila, just enough time for Jen to meet up with her volunteer organization and to deliver her ten-tonne suitcase full of donated books for Philippine schools that had been dragging down the tail of the plane and throwing my back out all the way from Taipei. We spent the night there, and the next morning, caught another two-hour cab ride back to the airport where we hopped a flight to Boracay - Boracay, pride of the Philippine tourist industry, with white-sand beaches, turqoise waters, manicured resorts and countless requests for you to part with your money. It was a great time. We met up with our friends Dave and Yumi from Taipei and had three days of relaxation. But the resort scene isn’t what we came to the Philippines looking for, so after the third day we left the island of Boracay for the neighbouring island of Panay and caught a minivan south for the city of Iloilo.

The drive there was spectacular. Inland, the island was covered in green verdant hills shrouded in mist, with rice farms worked by water buffalo-drawn ploughs on the coastal lowlands. Five hours later, much of it through driving rain, we arrived.

Judging by the stares, not many tourists come through Iloilo. In fact we didn’t see anyone else immediately recognizeable as a foreigner the whole time we were there, with the exception of the many Koreans who travelled there to attend English school. We have in fact been generally surprised about the amount of English that there is here in the Philippines. The country is a strange mix of languages reflecting its colonial past - names are almost all Spanish in origin, but street signs and advertisements are almost universally in English, with the odd few written in Tagalog, itself a blend of local languages with Spanish. The resulting creole tosses you just enough recognizable phonetically-spelled Spanish words that you can almost fool yourself into thinking you understand it. We spent a day in Iloilo travelling around the nearby island of Guimaras, famous for its mangoes, visited a mango plantation, and came home with more mango products than I knew existed. Dried mango, mango jerky, mango pickles, mango jam, and mango poisoning. I’m not sure about the mango poisoning yet, but if such a thing exists, we’re going to get it in the next couple days.

This morning we caught a flight out to Puerto Princesa, on the island of Palawan. Palawan is to the Philippines what Borneo is to Indonesia and Malaysia - a remote paradise renowned for its natural beauty and biodiversity, covered in lush tropical jungle and ringed with pristine waters, white beaches and coral reefs. We’ll be spending the rest of our time together on this island, working our way north, and when Jen has to leave on the 19th, I just may spend my last ten days here as well.

Tomorrow my good old friend Evan Thomas, who many of you may know, is joining us, and we’ll be travelling together for the next week and a half. He’s on a vacation between getting called to the bar and starting his job with the big law firm. Which reminds me that I haven’t written anything about my plans after our holiday here. While Jen heads off to the island of Romblon to volunteer for two months, I’ll be spending another week in the Philippines and a couple days in Hong Kong before flying back to Vancouver on July 31st, this time to stay. This September I’ll be starting law school at UBC. So big changes in store, but I’m looking foward to it. And most of all, I’m looking forward to coming home.

Busy Summer Fun

Jon and our two friends Mac and Tom at Peace Music Festival

It’s hot and sticky and the cockroaches are out. Summer has definitely hit. Jon and I have been trying to get away from stinky Taipei every weekend (pollution + 30 degree heat = really gross). We’ve been going to the beach, hanging with friends, and checking out markets and music shows.

Jen's student Nancy at Sports Day
Jen's student Milo on Sunglasses Day

Along with the summer heat, I’ve been sweatin’! Things have been pretty crazy busy and tiring for me at school lately. It’s exam and student report time, and I have graduation for my kindergarten to plan for. Yes, you heard me right. Graduation for kindergarten. Apparently people take it pretty seriously here, especially at my school, where I teach some of the wealthier kids in Taipei. Each class has to perform a song and dance, except for the two graduating classes (5-6 year olds). They put on a 20 minute play. A PLAY! And they’re only 5! And it’s all in English! It’s amazing what you can get these kids to do. Fortunately, I don’t have those two classes, I get to teach two classes a song and dance. One is the 50’s “Lollipop” by the Chordettes and the other is some Spanishy sounding, get-in-your-head-all-day-pop song that is called “Chocolate” by Soul Control, whoever that is. Both are fun for the kids, so that’s all that really matters. I’ve been able to sway the Chinese teachers I’m working with to teaching the kids their dances in a more “western” way, not in the drill-seargant, abusive way I have unfortunately been a witness to in the past. Consequently, everyone is having a lot more fun! (I think one of my goals in life now is to be a spreader of fun-ness.) Anyway, it still baffles me how seriously this is all taken over here, parents and teachers expect so much. These kids are expected to be superstars. What ever happened to laughing at how cute kids look on stage just because they are up there? Regardless, my dances are going well, and my kids are super cute. I love them all. I just hope I can suck it up until the end of June.

Which brings me to my next topic - Jon and I seem to be following the change of season with a change of our own - we’re leaving Taiwan. Very soon. It’s hard to believe for us, but we’ve only got a month left here in Taipei. In some ways it feels like we’ve only been here a short time, but when I think back to when we first arrived here, it feels like that was very, very long ago. I’m different now, not sure exactly how, but I know I feel it. I’ve done so many different things here, and I have been pushed over boundaries that I didn’t think I’d go across. But I have, and I’ve grown, and I love the adventure this has been. In April and May I was having a very hard time for various reasons deciding what my plan should be; stay a little longer or go? What it finally came down to is that I feel I need a change, so it’s time to go. The plan for me is to head to the Philippines by myself to volunteer for 2 months or so. I’ve been wanting to help people suffering from poverty for a long time, and now that I know how to teach, I feel I can contribute something worthwhile to others. So that is the plan for now, and it’s getting me pretty excited.

Yay for a new adventure!

Tainan Photos

Jen outside a temple in Tainan

I just uploaded some more photos, this time of Tainan, a city in the south of Taiwan. Jen and I passed through some time ago and visited some of the sights, including a couple old temples where most of the shots were taken. Check ‘em out in the Tainan gallery.

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