August 19, 2009: Good News, the Labor Bureau Approved My Degree
It was looking dangerous there for a little while. They wouldn't take the application for a work permit because they were doubting that my degree was a two-year degree since the dates on the transcript showed I was enrolled for less than one year. However, the woman responsible for these things at Hess explained to them that I transferred quite a bit of credit, and they have now accepted the application and begun processing. I am allowed to stay in Taiwan and work (well, the latter is more in the gray area) while it is processing. This is good news. I was really having trouble sleeping this morning because I didn't know whether I'd have to pack up and leave for HONG KONG today (today is the last day of my tourist visa). However, at just before noon, I got a call from Desmond, who said "You can take a big breath now, see you at 4:00!" Good news, good news! No last-minute visa run to Hong Kong with only 12 hours notice, yahoo!

The last week has been quite a week. I experienced an earthquake yesterday at around 8:00 AM (only 2 on the Richter scale and I wasn't even sure it was an earthquake until I asked Desmond later about it).

I also tried some new consumables — I ate coagulated pig's blood at the Hess Initial Teacher Training graduation dinner, and I tried betel nuts just after that. I don't recommend either. The pig's blood didn't taste so great, and the betel nuts tasted just downright weird, and didn't cause any great effects beyond making my throat and chest feel a little tighter. Big whoop.

Here are some photos from HITT graduation, which took place almost a week ago. From the next post onwards, since I am legit to live in Taiwan now, I will start the next page of my blog — life as an English teacher.
My HITT Class on the First Day

Imitating a Snake for an Exercise Activity at HITT (we were practicing the exercise portion of a kindergarten day)

The Skyline of Taipei from the Hess Penthouse (note the Taipei 101)

My Contract (click to enlarge)

The Party at which I Ate Coagulated Pig's Blood

August 16, 2009: I Just Got Hired at Kaohsiung Korean School
Don't I already have a job at Hess? Well, yes, I do, but it's only 20 hours a week (part-time). However, according to the Hess training, the company will allow us to teach outside of Hess as long as we don't use Hess materials. So I'm going to milk that freedom for everything it's worth! I will work evenings at Hess and early afternoons at Kaohsiung Korean School (Go-ung-Han-guk-Hak-gyo or Gaoxiong Hanguo Xuexiao depending on with whom you're talking).

The interivew was a pleasure. Went in there, was interviewed for over 30 minutes in Korean by the principal and his wife (who both seem very nice, at least so far), and they hired me on the spot. Apparently another schmoe applied as well, but I heard them saying during the interview "I think this teacher would be a little bit better than that other one" or something to that effect. They were amazed by my Korean. The principal noticed Yonsei University on my resume and said he's been there and seen it a few times.

I'll only be teaching there part-time (five hours a week), but I'm still really glad I got the position. I mean, I teach kids and get 600 NTD an hour, it's close to home (just a boat ride and a short walk away), I get to keep up my Korean, and I get experience teaching at an international school (possibly useful if I decide to work at an international school for Koreans later on in Japan). This definitely kills several birds with one stone.

They mostly want me to just do songs and games, so that's what I plan to do. The kids go to regular Taiwanese elementary schools in the morning and then in the afternoon come to Kaohsiung Korean School for other subjects and Korean. It is a BIG asset that I know Korean (probably the main reason I was able to beat out that other guy). Interestingly enough, many of the kids will actually be Taiwanese (possibly the majority) whose parents think they should learn Korean.

I hope it will be an interesting, rewarding experience. And may I add, the campus is BEAUTIFUL (in the mountains surrounded by palm trees with geese waddling around to keep out the snakes). Maybe I'll upload a picture sometime.


Once clean enough to be deemed suitable for swimming, the beach is no longer even REMOTELY safe to swim — unless you want to bash your skull 50 million times on logs floating in the water!

This ship has run ashore and appears to be stranded. And there's a ton of crap around it that wasn't there before.

I can see I won't be swimming on Cijin anytime in the near future. The typhoon brought in a quantity of drift wood that no force of man could clean up in any short amount of time. The driftwood has created a barrier between the shore and the ocean. Even if one were stupid enough to try to clear the driftwood and succeeded, they could be killed, because there are large logs floating among the waves just waiting to render a swimmer unconscious (and dead three minutes later).

However, my apartment is okay. When I got back, I noticed that someone had gone into my room and removed the pillowcase from the pillow (presumably the windows were open and the pillow got drenched). The pillow is now rotting and I will definitely throw it away. However, nothing else was damaged. I'm assuming the landlady must have gone in and closed the windows, or maybe the building next door shielded the rest of my room. My Nintendo DS is okay, as is my high school diploma, my books, etc. Thank goodness the typhoon didn't render my apartment useless, too.

I was going to write about the Hess Initial Teacher Training graduation, but to be honest, this is far more interesting, and I'm sick of hearing people talk about Hess like it's some kind of benevolent god 24/7, before they've even taught any children or met their branch managers. I'm going to forget about Hess until tomorrow morning, at least.

Anyways, I am back safely in Cijin and had a nice ride on the Taiwanese bullet train, which covered about 400 kilometers in just two hours. It feels good to be home.

Oh, and there were weird white worms living in my toilet that must have popped up in the nearly two weeks since I left. I flushed and they appear to be gone. I wonder if they're insect larva from a bug that flew in my window and assumed my stagnant toilet was a mud puddle. I sure hope so.

August 10, 2009: I'm Doing Well, but I Wonder What Shape My Apartment's in
As you guys are probably aware from the international news, a huge typhoon has hit Taiwan and caused up to seven feet of flooding, entire buildings to just collapse, and dozens of people to die. It hit Kaohsiung the hardest (where my apartment is). Fortunately I'm not in Kaohsiung. I was in Taipei when the typhoon unleashed "the apocalypse," so I'm okay, but I wonder in what shape my apartment is. I think I left the windows open. Fortunately the windows have cages on them to prevent debris from entering, and fortunately most of my windows face the side of another building, so maybe I got lucky and not too much water entered. Maybe.

As for flooding, no need to worry. My apartment is on the third floor, so even if there was seven feet of standing water on Cijin, my apartment should be safe from that. It'll be very interesting to see what my apartment looks like when I get back. VERY interesting. I guess most of my extreme valuables are here in Taipei — my original degree and CELTA certificate, my passport, my computer, etc. There are a few valuable things in my apartment (my Nintendo DS, my Yonsei University Korean Language Institute graduation certificate, etc) but I *think* they were away from the open windows.

As for other news, I had a very good teacher evaluation today. Lots of 3's, 4's and 5's. It had more 5's than last time. Many people didn't get any 5's at all. I hit all my sections, and there was only one part out of a couple of dozen items in which I got a below-average score (a 2 / 5 in one area). Not the end of the world. The assessor (a guy from South Africa) was very pleased. I'm glad because technically if I screw up in training, Hess doesn't HAVE to give me a position. However, since I did well on the evaluation, I'm sure they will, and now all I need to do is be there for the last two Taipei training sessions and pass a final exam (which is composed of quiz questions we've already had).

After that, I go to Kaohsiung again for my "branch training." My branch is the Ruilong branch in Kaohsiung, and our head NST (Desmond, who seems to be from a country that uses "Received Pronunciation" [maybe British or South African]). There will be further training for a few days. My first contract day (for which I'm paid) is on August 15. The first month, I'll only get 16 teaching hours a week instead of 20 while getting adjusted, but after the first month, 20 hours are guaranteed. Here is my schedule: weekdays from 5 PM to 9 PM and Saturdays 10 AM - 12 PM. This means I'll be teaching about 22 hours a week on average.

I think that once I've been there for about a month and figured out the system, I can probably whip together a four-hour lesson with reasonable quality in less than two hours. Combined with things like parents' night and open houses, I bet that'll amount to maybe 35 hours a week in the workplace. Still plenty of free time to study Mandarin and other college subjects.

Man, things feel good now. I have finished all my Kaohsiung teaching demos and got decent evaluation scores on both (even if the evaluation scores for the first one didn't reflect the comments), I will soon have a good test score if I just study, and this means I'll have a job. My visa is in processing and the immigration office has accepted my application, which basically means it just needs some guy to rubber stamp it. I'll probably teach about 22 hours a week for a grand total of over $1,500 American dollars per month after taxes, of which I can save over $800 a month if I'm very conscientious. In the end, I wouldn't say it's unrealistic to save $10,000 over the next year (well, pay off some of my debts with $3,000, get the rest of my BA with $4,000, and bank $3,000). Things are indeed going well. Fortune has smiled upon me!

Oh, another FASCINATING fact — IT SNOWS IN TAIWAN. Not kidding. Not only that, but IT SNOWS IN THE TROPICAL PART. Where, you ask? Apparently on Jade Mountain, which is the highest peak in Taiwan (higher than any peak in North America), it gets cold enough in the winter that there is snow. Jade Mountain goes right over the borderline with the tropical zone. Jade Mountain is nearly 2.5 miles above sea level — it's a HUGE mountain. Snow in the tropics? Incredible! Furthermore, Mount Hohuan and some others get snow, too. I hope to see some tropical snow this winter!

August 6, 2009: Possibly the Last Day of the First Week
There's probably going to be a typhoon tomorrow, so it's the end of the first week. I had a demo today. I don't know, it didn't go too great. My numerical scores were fine (mostly 3's and 4's, three 5's, and only one 2 [my only below-average score]). HOWEVER, I accidentally skipped a big part of the lesson, which did not go unnoticed, and one of the trainers pulled me out of class to talk about how I had covered the vocabulary too much and supposedly gone into grammar with a kindergarten lesson (which I disagree with, I didn't cover any grammar in my opinion and think the assessor wasn't paying attention). So it's a mixed bag. I got a good numerical score for a trainee, I guess, but the feedback I got wasn't very positive. Really weird. Anyways, I'll work on my skills and maybe next time I'll be better. It's weird that my numerical scores were well above average, yet they had so many negative comments.

I've got good news. The immigration office seems to have accepted my visa application and it looks like I won't have to make a costly visa run. At this point, my work visa is almost guaranteed.

August 5, 2009: I Know Where I'm Teaching and My Contract
I found out my contract today. And I found out my branch.

  • I'm going to be in Kaohsiung, yay! I'll be in Ruilong in Kaohsiung. It's maybe an hour from Cijin by conventional public transportation, but a motor scooter might shave time off of this.
  • I get Contract A. This is strictly Hess Language School in the evening, no kindergarten. This means I only take home 38,000 NTD after taxes. Cost of living reduces the amount I can put into the bank to about $600 (US) a month. However, it is possible I can pick up other work as well and increase this far beyond $600 a month, so I'm not too worried.

    August 4, 2009: I Have Arrived in Taipei and Completed My First and Second Day of HESS Training
    The following is from yesterday (I meant to upload it but was unable to due to the Internet cafe I was at not having USB-compatible computers):
    Today I woke up and had my first day of "training," although today was mostly fun, games, and a tour of Taipei. We saw the Sun Yat-sen memorial, the Chiang Kai Shek Memorial Hall, the Taipei 101 (photo of that coming soon), and the Confucius Temple.

    Chiang Kai Shek Memorial Hall (picture taken by me) is a memorial hall constructed to honor Chiang Kai Shek. Chiang Kai Shek was the former president of Taiwan, and nowadays people debate whether he was really a good man or not — however, regardless, he helped to develop the country. His wife wasn't particularly fondly-remembered, either. However, this memorial hall is quite beautiful, especially on a day like today, has a statue of the guy, and there are theaters nearby which have hosted such productions as "Phantom of the Opera" and "Cats."

    This is a statue of Sun Yat-Sen. Did you know that in Taiwan, they generally count the years by how long it's been since Sun Yat-sen founded the Republic of China? This means that this is currently the year 98 in Taiwan (2009 - 1912 + 1 for some reason). Today is August 3, 98. Not kidding, that's how the newspapers, contracts, etc. are dated.

    Here's a picture of some of the teachers-to-be at my lunch table. We had a delicious Taiwanese lunch, including a meat-like dish consisting of wheat, some delicious and flavorful tofu, etc.

    Confucius Temple

    I actually took this picture yesterday out of the window of my bus from Kaohsiung to Taipei. It's a rice paddy with palm trees in the background. Nice, eh?

    Now for the quick summary of the last couple of days:

  • I took the bus from Kaohsiung to Taipei and found the First Hotel, where the Hess trainees stay, quite easily I might add. I did some laundry in the sink and got some documents in order. My roommate's name is Patrick Dooley (Irish-American). He's a nice guy. He's going to be teaching in Taiwan because he's married to a Taiwanese woman.

    "Training" today basically consisted of a guided tour, a free lunch, and seminars on things like apartments, cost of living, culture shock, and really, really basic Mandarin. Mandarin so basic, it felt odd and weird to be "learning" it. Some folks here are real newbies. I guess I can't complain too much. Most of my contemporaries in the States who have been lucky enough to even find jobs in the first place have probably had to put up with far worse than silly beginning Mandarin seminars. Today was good overall. We played some getting-to-know-each-other games like finding people who match various attributes on a 20-attribute sheet. I didn't win, but it was fun. So was when our group leader tried to memorize all our names, majors, quirky facts, why we came to Taiwan, etc. and compete with each other to see who could memorize the most. Overall today was a pretty fun day and we didn't really do any serious work. I think this will change tomorrow.

    We had a very good seminar from J.C. (the guy who interviewed and hired me) on culture shock — very humorous. I can't help but like J.C. — not only is he humorous, but he interviewed me and I ended up hired, so I can't really complain, can I?

    The culture shock seminar was mainly stuff I already knew, but it was still well-presented. J.C. admitted that he still sometimes had culture shock, even after over six years in Taiwan. What I found interested was his approach to culture shock as a wave instead of as just phases. His opinion was that you start out really high on a wave, then go really low, then swing back to a high state (but not as high as when you first entered the country), then swing down low (but not as low as when you first got really angry at the country), and ultimately, your mood "waves" should hover around the middle of an axis (still ups and downs, but much closer to the axis). Kind of like a sine wave. Makes sense, and it's an interesting way to put it.

    I didn't learn that much in the seminars, but the tour was interesting and the lunch delicious. It'll be interesting to see how tomorrow pans out when we're required to do some actual stuff.