Taiwan just celebrated the Moon Festival. The holiday is all about eating and giving moon cakes (which I haven't tried, but hear they can be delicious-sweet and savory!), eating pomelo's and making the rinds into hats and barbequing! The story of the Moon Festival comes from a king who wanted to kill 9 of the 10 suns because it was too hot and plants and people were suffering. So his archer killed the suns and as a reward, the king offered him a pill that would make him live forever. The archer's wife took the pill and floated up to the moon where she lives and on a full moon, it's said that you can see her in the moon. It's also a national holiday, so I got the day off. Yay!
The holiday fell on a Friday and then we would work the next Monday and have the next day off for Taiwan's National Day. The Taiwanese government decided to change the holiday schedule a bit and give everyone a 5 day weekend, but that meant that instead of working on Monday, you would work on Saturday of the next weekend. Hello? I don't work on weekends, but had to because of the change in holiday dates. What is even more interesting is that the government made this announcement about 5 days before the long weekend. So, if you wanted to get out of town or the country, most everything was booked. The Taiwanese are thorough and good planners, so many people booked holidays way in advance. My co-worker asked what would happen if the US government tried to change holidays and make people work on the weekend. Hmmm... Maybe rioting in the streets? Lawsuits for the rest of eternity?
On the bright side, I enjoyed a wonderful 5 day weekend holiday with Simon and friends. For the Moon Festival, Si's friend John took us to Yuen Lin, where we met his family and bbq'd with them for hours. There must have been 8 bbq's going and it was deeelicious. I actually didn't know you could bbq so many parts of an animal. The chicken hearts were particularly nummy. Who knew? The bbq took place at his Grandmother's home and she has the biggest house, I have ever seen. It was 4 floors with 6-7 bedrooms on each floor. She owns an orange plantation and they also grow bamboo. Have you ever had fresh bamboo shoots hot off the bbq? I hadn't and before this delicious discovery had only seen bamboo shoots from cans. Oy! I couldn't get enough. His grandmother also made fresh mochi, which is sweet rice cake. (The Chinese pronounce it "moachi") They served it in little balls rolled in peanut powder. Oh my heavenly... My grandmother and family has made mochi through out my life, so this little delicacy was such a treat for me. During this trip, I realized that so much of my own Japanese cultural upbringing was originally influenced by the Chinese. (Yes, I knew about the history of China and Japan, but for some reason not all history lessons equate to a larger knowledge about your own family rituals...) We ate fish, shrimp, several different kinds of meat, corn, rice balls, soup, mushrooms, clams and I'm sure there are many other things I'm forgetting. At any rate, I ate so much yummy food, but after 2 hours started to worry because as soon as you had empty hands, someone would give you more food. The Taiwanese are so thoughtful! So, I started carrying around an empty(ish) bowl of soup, just so my hands and mouth (sort of) looked busy. I thought I was going to burst!
Here are some other interesting things I've learned about the Taiwanese culture:
The children in my classes have English and Chinese names. Many of the names are often common names we have in English, but some are more unique and possibly selected by the children. Here are the fun ones: Apple (she was named before Gwyneth Paltrow had her baby, btw)and her sister, Cherry, Shine, Mountain, Lion, Egg, Smile (who I've never seen smile) and one of my personal favorites, Spiderman. Spiderman is a pretty large size kid, who is about 5 or 6. I can actually imagine what he'll look like as an older man, just because of his somewhat mature-looking face and hair. He's not particularly the best student in the class and has a short attention span. I'm constantly hear myself saying "Spiderman, sit down! Spiderman, pay attention! Spiderman, hello?" He is so funny. Some friends of mine have students named Bruce Lee and Handsome Boy. Apparently, Handsome Boy isn't that handsome either.
Also, children don't understand names that can be abbreviated. For example, I have a set of fraternal twins in my class and their names are Sam and Samuel. When I accidentally say "Sam" when I mean "Samuel". I hear "Sam" saying "Teecha, Sam is me!" Sometimes I ask "Sammy" to do something, just for fun. They don't get the joke... at all.
Being the second most populated place on earth, per density, Taiwan at over 23 million people, have oodles of kids. I'm not saying each family has lots of children, but with so many people, even if they have one or two children, well... there are tons of them. They all start going to school at a fairly early age and most children attend school during the day and school in the evenings and at night. Simon teaches at a buxiban or cram school, so his students are older 9-18 and come to his school after 4pm and stay until 8 or 9pm. They also attend school on the weekends. Some children only get Sundays off and many parents want their children to be so successful that they make their kids study on their day off. It's so different from my own childhood, it sometimes still shocks and surprises me at times.
Also, because children start school at such an early age and are raised in a very controlled environment, it changes their thinking, I feel. I've worked with children from infant age to 5 years most consistently and children at this age in the US are often energetic, rambunctious, imaginative and full of life. Taiwanese children at this same age are energetic, very advanced in their reading and writing, generally quite happy, but don't seem to have the same level of imagination and creativity that I would expect. I teach 4 classes of ESL students, who are in grades 1 and 2 during the day and for "fun", I did the role call and asked each of them "how are you?" I thought I would get a variety of answers (happy, tired, crazy, etc.), but instead I heard 3 "I am happy" responses and the rest all said "I am fine, thank you and you?" (which is a canned and very typical English response that many children can say). Many of them just want to say the correct response or write the correct answer, so don't dare exploring the unchartered territories of their imagination.
In writing excercises, when I write a sentence like "The house is _______." I explain that the students should pick their own word to describe the house, but they often write a sentence exactly like I have with a line and no adjective in the blank space. When I write numerous adjective choices on the board for them to choose from, they will often write all of my choices on their paper, not selecting just one. It's an interesting teaching obstacle, definitely.
In Taiwan one of the big symbols that you see everywhere is a heart. It represents the kindness and love that Taiwanese people have... truly. People are generally very nice here. When you are lost or don't know where the nearest gas station is, most likely someone will drive you there or you can follow them on your scooter. They are also very talkative (even though I don't speak Chinese or Taiwanese) and are full of smiles.
Saving face is a huge part of the Taiwan culture and it basically boils down to being polite and maintaining a proper facade to everyone, all the time. What this means is that if you stop and ask for directions, if the person doesn't know a location, rather than say "I'm not sure", they might give you totally wrong directions. Also, what this means is that in places like the work place, for example, you might know what your co-worker really means, because they'll just agree with you to be nice. I enjoy the politeness of the Taiwanese people, but sometimes would just like a little more real honesty, especially when there is so much I don't understand about the culture... yet.
*Safety and Crime
Taiwan is super safe. I'm not saying I walk down the street with money hanging out of my pockets just to see what will happen, but for the most part, people leave your stuff alone. The Chinese aren't into second-hand clothing, as they think garments worn by someone will have their spirits on them and shouldn't be worn by others. So, the helmet of my scooter just sits on top of the handlebars at night because no one wants it. At home, that helmet would be stolen fairly quickly if sitting on my bike on the side of the road, I'm fairly certain. On more than one occassion, I've left the keys of my scooter in the seat lock, just dangling there. When I return in a panic, my keys are still there, no one has touched my scooter or the contents in my seat and of course, the bike hasn't been stolen. Amazing!
Also, the crime rates are fairly low. In a recent census study on prisoners, Taiwan has about 250 people incarcerated for every 100,000 people. In the US there are 650 people incarcerated for every 100,000 people. For the tons of people that live here, all in fairly small and tight homes and communities, the crime is quite low, I think. The Taiwanese are quite harmonious in their living.
And, let's just end this post with another plug about the food. Oh my yummy! The food is fast, convenient and so cheap. It's actually about the same price to buy groceries and cook at home vs. eating out. Here are some of my favorites:
**Deepfried treats- Stalls on the side of the road have a little buffet of veggies, tofu, meats and other delicacies like rice packed in pig's blood. I have not tried the pig's blood yet. I just pick what I want cooked up and a few minutes later have a hot snack in a bag. I cannot get enough of the mushrooms.
**Rice bombs- The Chinese name for them is Mm bow wan and they are basically these rice balls with yummy meats and veggies inside. I have no idea what miracle sauce is drizzled on top of the rice balls, but I eat these weekly.
**Hot pot restaurants-for the low price of $5, you can have your own hot pot and select from a huge variety of meats, veggies, fish cakes, rice balls, eggs and more to make your own soup. Plus, they have beverages, a fresh salad bar, desserts, popcorn, bread, etc. I could spend all day in these restaurants.
Phew! That's it for now, but I just got back from my first Taiwanese engagement party and it was like the reception for a wedding in the US, but different. More soon! Hugs!