October 23, 2010: OPERATION 11:59 IS A SUCCESS!
What the hell is "Operation 11:59?"

Well, a long time ago, I had made it my goal to finish my bachelor's degree at the age of 23. And during the weekend, I realized that I would not be able to pass the UExcel Physics test, so I gave up on accomplishing that goal...

Until Monday, that was, when I came up with the secret mission, Operation 11:59...

On Monday, I decided to make a last-ditch effort to finish my bachelor's degree at the age of 23, and at the age of 23 and 364 days (tomorrow is my birthday), I completed the 120th credit hour!

My bachelor's degree is FINISHED!!!

I called it "Operation 11:59" because if the age of 23 were a clock, today would be 11:59 PM on that clock.

So how on earth did I pull it off? Six credit hours from scratch in only six days?

The answer is the Department of Homeland Security's Federal Emergency Management Agency's very easy 1-credit-hour online courses! Six of them!

Yep, that's right, in the last six days of my bachelor's degree program, I used distance learning through the FEMA EMI to learn about how Light Water (nuclear) Reactors (LWR) work, how to survive a nuclear weapon detonation, how to build partnerships with Native American tribes, how to deal with HazMat, etc. And getting these things transcripted onto a Frederick Community College transcript so they can transfer to Excelsior College and allow me to graduate with a BSL (Bachelor of Science in Liberal Studies) cost a pretty penny — $456. However, it's worth it for a bachelor's degree.

I'm done. DONE. What does the future hold? I don't know. I'm going to spend the rest of this month deciding, at a leisurely pace, what to do with my life next.

October 11, 2010: An Early Birthday Present to Myself: The HP Pavilion dv6000

This morning, I saw an ad for an HP Pavilion dv6000. It was advertised for only NT$7,750, which is about $250 in American currency. I checked eBay and saw the same model selling for over $300 used, and my local computer store is selling netbooks with puny Intel Atom processors for about 300 American dollars, so I figured "this is a really good deal and I've been needing a computer for a long time, so I'll buy this one" and went and collected it from the fellow who was selling it, Barry. So far, I have not been disappointed! The processor is an Intel Core 2 Duo 2.0 GHz (a major upgrade from my Pentium III-class Celeron 1.2 GHz in my old laptop). It has FOUR GIGABYTES of RAM, Windows Vista (ugh), a built-in 1.3 MP webcam, Altec Lansing speakers, and Intel GMA 950 graphics (not sure if this is a good thing, I'm downloading Star Trek Online right now to see if it'll work).

Why did I get a new PC? Well, my old PC had a major dilemma — it had a broken CD-ROM drive and Windows had gotten so horribly slow, I'd estimate I was spending at least 20 or 30 minutes per day just sitting there waiting for applications to load. It also wasn't nearly up-to-date enough to play modern games, and the battery had permanently died.

With this PC, the optical drive still works, and there is an HP recovery partition so I can reinstall Windows whenever it gets slow. The PC is very, very fast (courtesy of the massive four gigabytes of RAM, meaning it never has to access the page file on the hard drive). It has a legit copy of Windows Vista, so I can use the Microsoft help sites for things like Visual C++ 2008 Express Edition. I estimate its battery lasts about two hours on a full charge. Basically, I can take this thing with me on buses and write programs, and it'll be a programming golden age, kind of like when I used to lug my TI-83 around with me and program that.

I have decided I'm going to keep all the important files in the directory C:\1_Charles\ to make backing up a snap. That way, I can re-install Windows Vista every three months to keep the speed nice and fast.

I think I got a great deal on a laptop that, although not cutting edge, is still perfectly respectable. Hopefully I can use this laptop as I pursue an associate's degree in Information Technology through Northern Virginia Community College, as I write programs (like mobile apps for Google Android), for gaming, etc. We'll see. It seems like a high-quality piece of equipment.



The Stages of Carving a Dongsheng Nangua
(click to enlarge)
October 9, 2010: Making a Jack-o'-Lantern out of a Dongsheng Nangua
My boss has tasked me with preparing decorations, a poster, etc. for the Halloween party. She even gave me a rare compliment and called my typed list of Halloween party ideas "[e]xcellent ideas." So, inspired, I went to the Carrefour supermarket and looked around for a pumpkin. I pulled out a pen and one of the fake units of currency I use to motivate my students, and drew on the back of it the image of a pumpkin. The girl at the free sample stand said it's "nangua" in Chinese and showed me where to find one.

The trouble is, the variety of squash/pumpkin is a dongsheng nangua, which really only meets the minimum definition of a pumpkin. It's about the size of grapefruit. I guess that unlike Korea, they don't sell large pumpkins here. Oh well. For simple designs, the dongsheng nangua suffices; for larger designs, it would be simply too small. In fact, when trying to carve the teeth, I broke off the upper left tooth and completely cut off the lower right tooth.

Really, there is fairly little about which to comment. It was basically like carving a regular pumpkin, albeit a very small one. The cost was only 64 Taiwan dollars (roughly two American dollars). Then I bought a pack of votive candles in many colors for 10 NTD (about $0.30) from the 10 yuan store (like a dollar store, and also, like a dollar store, an annoyingly large amount of items aren't 10 yuan).

I carved it with a box cutter and put it in my closet, turned out the lights, and took a picture. I think it'll be good enough for the Halloween party at our cram school on 9/29. Except that by then, it'll have gone to the maggots and I'll need to carve another one, but big deal, it'll only cost 2 USD more, and my boss will foot the bill.

One of the major challenges (okay, there are no major challenges, but a minor challenge) is that a person can't stick his hand into the pumpkin because it is too small, so it can be difficult to light the candle. I found that the solution is to ignite some small piece of tinder and lower it in using chopsticks, then light the candle that way. For tinder, I used a small piece of bamboo broken from a chopstick.


My Score Report
September 24, 2010: 114 Credit Hours Down, 6 More to Go
Yep, I got yet another 'A' on ECE Literacy Instruction in the Elementary School. This gave me six upper-level credits — in other words, I have satisfied ALL of the upper-level requirement for the degree now. My bachelor's degree program requires 30 credits at the upper level, and I now have 31.

I am also now 95% of the way to my degree. Do the math. What is 114 divided by 120? 0.95.

I probably spent less than 70 hours specifically preparing for this exam. Unfair, right, that I got so many credits for so little effort? WRONG. You see, I had 80 hours of training in educating young children at Hess, and 120 hours of educating adults through CELTA. Therefore, I had already had 200 hours of education instruction prior to starting my study regimen for this exam, none of which had been granted credit. So this was a long time coming. :-)

From here on out (basically until October 10, when my UExcel Physics exam is scheduled), it's just going to be physics, physics, physics. There are no other subjects to study — pass physics, and I get my bachelor's degree, simple as that.

In fact, this most recent A has brought my GPA back over 3.75. Therefore, if I somehow manage to pull off an A on that physics exam in 2 ~ 3 weeks, I will graduate with HIGH HONORS. If I get a B or a C, I'll just have regular honors, but hey, that isn't that bad, either.

I celebrated with a couple of deluxe beers (Heineken and Tsingtao) on the way home. Before returning from Taipei, I also had a deluxe 130 NTD chicken/beef/kimchi/black tea set from Yoshinoya.

September 19, 2010: I Ate a Cobra and Drank Its Blood

The Guy who Cooked Me Up My Cobra Meal
I wrote a photo essay about the experience and the various bits of knowledge I have gleaned about cobras in Taiwan via multiple sources. Click here to read.

September 18, 2010: Luis Sanchez!
You!

Yes, you!

Mwa ha ha ha ha!

I am going to jump out of your computer screen and attack you!

Hahaha, actually no, I don't possess the ability (nor the desire) to do that. The reason I'm writing this blog post is because a Frenchman (in France) by the name of Anthony Doumenc contacted me and asked me to put up an article on my blog and get you to contact him or give him some contact info.

I'm not sure if I'm supposed to put his contact info up here, but if you e-mail me, I can give it to you. That is all.

September 14, 2010: Paocaizhuroufan
This is the meal I just ordered and am currently eating, paocaizhuroufan.

This Internet cafe is an incredible deal. You buy this meal (with a kimchi-like fermented vegetable, pork, and a tea egg) for about US$2 and then you get three hours free. Not only that, but the computer is very modern and you even get your own cubicle! I suspect this is a teaser to get more people to come, and then they'll jack up the prices, but I'm going to enjoy this while it lasts.

I am nearly done with my BS. I predict 27 more days. If I study about six hours a day, I should finish with a very solid GPA.

August 28, 2010: I won't be coming into work on Monday...

Scroll down...

More details are below...

Go down a bit more...

...because my schedule changed! Hahaha, had you there for a second, didn't I.

My new schedule has me working Saturdays, but not on Mondays. Now, although this would make the average English teacher groan and become severely irritated, I'm actually happy about it.

As for interesting anecdotes, apparently I have been making a Chinese blunder for quite a while now. I had heard my boss often exclaim "Xia ke jie, hui jia!" over the loudspeaker. Well, I knew that "hui jia" means "go home." I knew that "xia ke" means "get out of class." I knew that "jie" means "period (in school)." So I figured that "Xia ke jie, hui jia!" meant "It is the period for getting out of class, go home!" So I adopted her phrase and started using it at the ends of my classes...

However, I realized on Thursday that "Xia ke jie" does not actually mean "period for getting out of class" like I had thought — it is the name of one of my students, Kevin! So every time I told my students to go home, I was actually saying "Kevin, go home!" Oh well. More embarrassing mistakes have been made in the history of mankind.

And as for reasons why I'm pleased about the new schedule change:

  • I have already scheduled two exams for Mondays and this way, I won't have to rush back from Taipei for these exams that I've already scheduled.
  • The amount of "weekend time" has increased to over 72 hours — previously it was less than 72 hours.
  • I get a full weekday every week to do miscellaneous middle-of-the-week activities like going to the bank, going to the immigration office, etc.
    So actually, the new schedule is probably for the better.

    I will be taking ECE Social Psychology on Monday. If successful, I should have 108 credit hours. Basically, here is my projected schedule:

  • Saturday: wake up in the afternoon and do 12 hours of study. This will be my hardest day.
  • Sunday: do seven hours of study prior to leaving for Taipei. Sleep on the bus.
  • When I wake up and arrive in Taipei, do another seven hours of study. Then go in and take the test.

    August 19, 2010: I finished Final Fantasy II. And who the heck is Nasir Gebelli?

    The left screen is from my Sanyo TV — the last floor of the final dungeon before the one with the final boss. The right screen is of the THE END screen, and the Japanese text is asking me whether I'd like to save a game completion file.

    I have been playing Final Fantasy games since at least 1998. I downloaded Final Fantasy II from PlayStation Network for 147 NT dollars (about $5 US) a while ago.

    Honestly, it is one of my least favorite Final Fantasy games. It has an unoriginal story, undead that do way too much damage (particularly the Death Rider enemies in the final dungeon — try winning against a pack of four of those), and it is nearly impossible to run from battle, which can be highly frustrating. However, I finished it, and have added it as #54 on the list of games I've beaten in this lifetime.

    I saw the name "Nasir Gebelli" in the credits. I have seen him in Final Fantasy credits before as simply "NASIR," and assumed it wasn't a person's name, but perhaps an acronym for a programming group or something. However, I did more research, and this is what I found.

    Nasir Gebelli is an Iranian-American programmer who did the programming for Final Fantasy, Final Fantasy II, and Final Fantasy III. He initially started his own software company, but this went under in the video game crash of 1983. However, on a friend's advice, he went to Japan and interviewed with Nintendo and Square. Nintendo was uninterested, but Square knew a good thing when they saw it — they hired him on and he ended up coding for the Final Fantasy games, 3-D Worldrunner, and Secret of Mana. In fact, he was so important to their team, when his Japanese working visa expired, Square flew the Final Fantasy team out to Sacramento, California to finish the game with him! Nasir Gebelli retired soon after that, making massive royalties from his work (keep in mind, he retired in his early 30s, not bad). So no, NASIR is not an acronym, but a real person. And a gaijin, at that!

    August 16, 2010: Two Major Changes
    Today is the first day in the second half of August. If I were shooting for an October 15 graduation, the second half of August would be the time in which I'd need to finish my coursework. However, in light of a few new factors, I have decided to (slightly) postpone my last 15 credit hours and my graduation. Allow me to explain the two big changes and why I'm making them:

    1. Instead of completing my bachelor's degree on August 23 and graduating on October 15, I have decided to complete my bachelor's degree by early October and graduate in December. In other words, I will be 23 when I complete the degree (complete with an entry in my Excelsior College file and a notation on my transcript certifying this, as well as a letter of qualification), BUT I won't *technically* be a graduate until I'm 24.

      Why on earth am I making this seemingly insane decision, especially when I have already paid for all the exams? Keep in mind that the money has not gone to waste — I am merely rescheduling them. If I took the exams this week and next week, I could pass, but I'm worried that if I do this, I will half-ass physics and never learn it properly. I am also worried that if I half-ass physics, it will drag my GPA down, and I'm also worried about the impact of a 1:00 PM exam on Monday in Taipei on my job — I'm worried about being late for work that day.

      So you're probably saying "Okay, those things make sense, but DON'T YOU NEED THAT DEGREE IMMEDIATELY?"

      The answer is probably "no."

      My contract with my school goes until March 28, 2011. Even if I get fired before that, I am fairly certain I will not teach English again. Therefore, trying to squeeze out a premature degree would not even really help me. This brings me to Major Change #2:

    2. I am now strongly considering moving back to Korea rather than moving to Japan, in light of two major visa system changes that have occurred there over the past year or so which would make it a much easier country in which to live. Previously, the only way for a true foreigner to get permanent residency in Korea was to either marry a Korean, invest 500,000,000 won (about $400,000) and wait three years, or invest around $4,000,000 (American dollars). Obviously none of these was even remotely possible for me, so I abandoned Korea. However, two things have occurred since the start of 2009 that radically change my perception of my future in Korea. The first and most important is that the F-2 visa regulations have been changed — it is now possible to get an F-2 residency visa by scoring 80 points on a 120-point "points system," even without a Korean spouse! Not only that, but a foreigner who scores 80 points only needs to spend ONE YEAR in Korea on an E-series work visa first. What this means is that if I complete a master's degree and make a couple of other quick fixes, I should be able to easily get 80 points and have an F-2 visa by the time I'm 26. This is much better than waiting until I'm 29 or 30 to get the same kind of visa in Japan, where the new points system there (to be implemented starting next year) requires a five-year wait before applying for permanent residency.

      In other words, if I move to Korea, with only one year on an E-series visa, I can apply for F-2 residency and never have to teach English for a living again!

      To make this even friendlier, Korea and the US now have a 1.5-year Working Holiday agreement. This means that I can apply, receive it, and go there and do ALMOST ANY JOB I WANT for 1.5 years. Neither of these two slick new options are available in Japan (at least not to an American), and therefore have shifted my interests back to Korea.

    So there you go — deciding to postpone graduation by two months, and tentatively deciding on Korea instead of Japan, at least for the near future. Now, please note that this is merely "tentative," because I may change my mind back to Japan if it turns out none of the foreigners applying for this F-2 are actually receiving it (a phenomenon known to happen quite frequently with other types of visas in Korea).

    July 18, 2010: FEMA Course (Multi-Hazard Emergency Management in Schools) Complete

    I just completed an online, for-credit, one-credit-hour FEMA course, offered by the US government. It was on emergency management in schools. The course itself is free, but unfortunately, I'll need to get it transcripted onto a Frederick Community College transcript (for a whopping price of $74) before getting it sent to Excelsior College.

    The course was extremely easy, but I did learn a few things. The truth is, no matter how easy a course is, you can always learn something. Honestly, though, the course material wasn't particularly relevant to my situation. I mean, first of all, here's a priceless quote on how to avoid mail bombs: "PRECAUTIONS: 1. Never accept mail, especially packages, while in a foreign country." Ummm... I guess I'm guilty of that one. ;-) Additionally, they stated that under the Incident Commander (who at my English cram school would probably be my boss, since the principal is usually the "Incident Commander") there should be 5 - 7 subordinates who take care of various things like the PIO (public information officer), the safety officer, the administrative/financial officer, etc. Trouble is, our school only has four adult employees besides my boss, so that would not be possible. ;-)

    However, I did learn some cool trivia facts, among which:

  • After a nuclear blast, it might be a good idea to monitor government radio and TV broadcasts to see if we need to take potassium iodide. This can stave off the effects of radioactive iodine, in some cases, and protect our thyroids.
  • Nerve gas is deadly in very small quantities; just a few grams can kill many people. However, blistering agents often require several 55-gallon drums for large-scale attacks.
  • In a rural American setting, the local Emergency Manager is often the local police chief or fire chief.
  • Did you know that after devastating tornadoes swept through the state, Kansas started a "mitigation" phase and constructed 50 tornado shelters at its schools in 2002?
  • A semi-trailer being used by terrorists as a bomb can contain 10,000 pounds of TNT, and the minimum safe outdoor distance to which to evacuate people is 7,000 feet, or an indoor distance of 1,570 feet.

    Overall, the course was quite easy. The only assignment besides the readings and mini-quizzes was a 25-question final exam, for which I had to plug in my Social Security Number. I got my certificate, certifying that I've completed it.

    Theoretically, I can get seven more usable credits from FEMA. However, this would be very expensive since the transcripting fee is $74 per credit hour. Therefore, I think I will only take one more, unless I am extremely worried about the UExcel Physics exam. What should my other FEMA course be? Protecting against radiological disasters? Protecting livestock?

    If I complete enough of these courses, I will apparently get (for free) a certificate from the US government with a gold seal on it and the FEMA director's signature. That might be kind of cool.


    The Ice Cream Game
    July 17, 2010: What is my job like?
    Since I've been working at my new school for 4.5 months now, I figured I might as well put up a photo of our week's game and a scan of a lesson plan. Probably not of interest to many people, but hey, why not?

    To the left was our game this week. It's called the "Ice Cream Game." If a student answers a question, he or she can draw a disgusting scoop of ice cream on the whiteboard. Whoever has the most scoops of ice cream at the end of the game wins! Unfortunately, the fun of this game is severely hampered when people draw dumb things like dots or smiley faces on their ice cream cones!

    July 15, 2010: Today in One 640x480 JPEG
    Guide to the pictures:

    1. A picture of the fish bowl at Dan1 Dan1 Han4 Bao3 (a fast food chain in Kaohsiung similar to KFC)
    2. A snail in the aquatic pot outside of Dan1 Dan1 Han4 Bao3
    3. My seven- or eight-year-old student, Queenie, drew this map of Taiwan and Japan after hearing about how there is large-scale flooding in Japan today. Taiwan is the gigantic landmass in the middle; Japan is the tiny cluster of relatively insignificant islands off to the right side. :-)
    4. Some fish and aquatic plants in the aquatic bowl out front of Dan1 Dan1 Han4 Bao3

    July 12, 2010: I Got Yet Another A, This Time on ECE Cultural Diversity
    Yep. My day has been quite profound. I set out for Taipei at 11:00 PM last night. Shortly after that, a man boarded the bus and made an announcement that "this bus is not going to Taipei" in Chinese. It turned out they'd discovered via the torn ticket stubs that one of the passengers had boarded the bus (actually bound for Taichung, not Taipei), and guess who had made that mistake... Yep, me. Fortunately, they put me on the right bus. Seriously, I don't know why I made that mistake. I can read the characters just fine, I guess I just wasn't paying enough attention.

    Well, as I sat on the ACTUAL Taipei-bound bus, I looked out the window, and lo and behold, there was an automobile decked out in COMMUNIST PARTY banners! Whoa! Don't see that everyday! So I asked the guy next to me if it was indeed a Communist Party car, and he said that yes, indeed it was, and he had no idea why a Communist Party car was driving down the street decked out with banners. By the way, the guy's name was Kiwi Tsai (nice guy, good English, for some reason his first name sounds slightly fruity, though). He is a columnist who writes articles on bicycling. When we got to Taipei, it was around 4:00 AM, and I hitched a ride on the back of his motorcycle to the nearby wangka (Internet cafe) and studied up. Then I took the MRT in the morning to the test center.

    After the test, as I rode the MRT, I saw a man reading a Korean book. So I struck up a conversation with him in Korean. Turns out he was a missionary with the Jehovah's Witnesses. I joked "well, at least you aren't a missionary from the Tong-il-gyo [Unification Church]!" and he actually thought that was really funny and asked me how I had heard of the Tong-il-gyo, at which point I explained I had been a small child in Korea during a "large scale Tong-il-gyo wedding" (they had a mass wedding in which hundreds or maybe thousands of people were married at the same time). And then he showed me how to get to the cheap bus back to Taipei. I cracked open a Taiwan beer and slept the rest of the way home. When I woke up, we had arrived in Kaohsiung, and I got off the bus, went to work, prepared the "Ice Cream Cone" game (students have "ice cream cones" and each time they answer a question, they get to draw an additional scoop with something really disgusting on it like a turd or an eyeball). I taught them eight adjectives. Then I came home.

    So in one day, I taught English, passed a three-credit-hour upper-level exam, and basically crossed the nation of Taiwan twice in one calendar day, having various adventures along the way.

    Just another day in the life of Charles Wetzel, the Lightning Rod for Adventure!

    July 9, 2010: Oops, I just changed the worldview of two Taiwanese seven-year-olds by accident!
    I teach these two kids named Kevin and Robert. They're both very young (I'd estimate around seven years old). For some reason, Kevin has been going up to the whiteboard and drawing flags of various countries lately. And that's cool. So we started to look at a map, and he was asking me (in Chinese) "Where is America?" "Where is Italy?" etc.

    Then he asked me "Where is Taiwan?"

    I pointed to a tiny yellow speck in the Pacific Ocean. He was shocked.

    Both Kevin and Robert had apparently been completely unaware that their country is like, the size of a thimble. I guess in their little seven-year-old minds, they'd imagined their home country as big and mighty. They were very shocked, perhaps even depressed, to learn that their country was barely visible on a world map.

    I attempted to console them, telling them "Taiwan has a very good military" ("Taiwan you hen hao jun dui") and "Yaoshi Taiwan you wenti, Meiguo gei Taiwan bangmang" ("if Taiwan has a problem, America will help Taiwan"). I think they did feel a little bit better.

    July 5, 2010: This Week's Classroom Game Is Super Mario Bros.
    Nintendo, sue me!

    Here is a Mario-type game that I designed and used with my class today. Depending on their decisions in the game, they could either maximize their own personal fake paper money (which they use to buy prizes from me), their team's money, or get chocolate.

    The rules are pretty loose. Basically, each team (in our class, the green "Luigi" magnet was the girls, the red "Mario" magnet was the boys) moves around the board, making sure to clearly enunciate "up," "down," "left," or "right" in English. Here are some guidelines on the various objects in the game:

  • ? Box = $1 for the student whose turn it was.
  • Green Pipe = nothing for the first one, but $3 for the team for the second one
  • Goomba = move the goomba into a circle on the white board, and if the kids can get the circle with the sticky ball, the student who throws successfully gets $1; otherwise, the team loses a point.
  • Mushroom = everyone gets chocolate.
  • Castle = instant win; everyone on the team gets $1.

    The kids seemed to enjoy the game. It motivated them to perfect the pattern "He is my ____." and "She is my ____." as well as the contractions for he is, she is, and who is.

    June 19, 2010: Seven New Photos
    This week has been very significant. Yesterday, I passed ECE Ethics: Theory & Practice with a grade of 'A' — the top 11%. My cousin is visiting from the US. The Dragon Boat Festival was the day before yesterday. Oh, and today is the fourth anniversary of me moving out of my parents' house and moving back to Asia! It's a big week, and I think I'll take today off before having another powerhouse week. Here are some photos.

    My Score Report from the Pearson VUE testing center, as well as my Taiwan High Speed Rail ticket back to Kaohsiung (I had to get back quickly in time to teach Friday evening).

    Dragon Boats Under a Bridge on the Love River (Ai4 He2)

    Close-Up of a Dragon Boat

    Photo from Far Out of the Boats Prior to the Big 2:00 PM Race (which I unfortunately missed due to being extremely tired and going home and sleeping)

    Nesting Birds in Someone's Roof

    Zongzi, as the Taipei Times Romanizes it (a rice cake with a filling wrapped in long leaves)

    A Close-Up of the Zongzi I Bought from 7-Eleven

    Now, in regard to my degree program, the good news is that I have 91 credit hours now, making me a "senior." My "senior year" should last for only seven weeks if things go according to plan with the testing out business. I need 29 more credit hours, which will be in the form of seven exams spread over the course of seven weeks (roughly one exam per week). I should pay as soon as possible because starting July 1, there is (yet another) large tuition/testing fee rate hike, and I'll save several hundred dollars if I register now. Here are the exams I plan to take to finish my BSc on time:

  • ECE: Abnormal Psychology
  • ECE: American Dream
  • ECE: Cultural Diversity
  • ECE: Literacy Instruction in the Elementary School
  • ECE: World Conflicts Since 1900
  • Game Institute C++ Programming for Game Developers - Module II
  • UExcel: Physics

    June 18, 2010: I Take ECE Ethics in Less than an Hour
    I take the ECE Ethics exam for three upper-level college credits in less than an hour. I'm in Taipei right now. After finishing the test, I plan to take the bullet train across the country of Taiwan just in time for work (or if I finish early, the more economical UBus). I have prepared hard:

  • I took both official practice exams and the practice quiz in the content guide. The two practice exams both indicate I will make an A.
  • I read Beauchamp's textbook on ethics and took copious notes.
  • I read Vaknin's textbook on ethics (available from Project Gutenberg) and also took copious notes.
  • I read Social Ethics.
  • I made a study guide based on the majority of the first practice exam.
  • I read the rationales to the right answers for the things I got wrong on Practice Exam #2.
  • I have re-read all my notes within the past 72 hours.

    I predict that I am 45% likely to get an A (I got an A-level score on both practice exams, but am worried how they will correlate with the real test), 45% likely to get a B, and 5% likely to have something happen like not being able to get to the testing center that prevents a passing score. The chances that I will get a C seem to be extremely low — I am overwhelming sure I'll get either an A or a B.

    Well, I'd better go and get something to eat. Then I'll get into a taxi and set out for Keelung Road.

    June 16, 2010: Today is the Dragon Boat Festival
    In other words, today is the long chuan jie! Long, long, ago, a poet was ostracized for expressing his beliefs about an official, and he threw himself into a river somewhere in China. The people loved him so much, they threw rice cakes into the water so the fish wouldn't nibble on his body, but on the rice cakes instead.

    I'm definitely going to go to the Love River (Ai He) and watch the races, if at all possible. There will be dragon boat (long chuan) races around 8:00 or 9:00 AM.

    I enticed my advanced students to tell me interesting details of the Dragon Boat Festival by offering NT$10 to the best story. Eva wrote the best one, by far — she informed me that if you are able to make an egg stand straight up at noon on the Dragon Boat Festival, it is good luck. Her father once succeeded in doing this.

    One of my other students, Eric Tang, wrote about the rice cakes wrapped in long reeds and filled with various things like seafood and pork. I'll have to photograph/try one of those.

    Expect some pictures soon. As for other news, I took the Ethics: Theory and Practice ECE official practice exam and scored 76%. That thing was HARD AS TITS. However, 63% is the cutoff score for an A (a grade that only 11% of examinees achieve), so my 76% doesn't look so bad, after all! I take that exam in Taipei the day after tomorrow.

    Between the Dragon Boat Festival, preparing for ECE Ethics, and trying to whip my Chinese into better shape before my one-year anniversary in Taiwan, I'll be very busy over the next few days! Stay tuned for Dragon Boat Festival photos.

    May 17, 2010: UPDATE 2: I was mentioned in Excelsior College's magazine, I got an 'A' on UExcel Psychology, and my students made "money art!"
    There was a small blurb about me, but it's still something to be proud of, since not every Excelsior College graduate makes it into Live & Learn magazine. Every six months, the college devotes two pages of their magazine to graduates who are doing cool things (this time, they had 26 people, and I was one of them). Here was my blurb:

    Now, technically I'm teaching English mainly as a THIRD language (since the kids already speak both Chinese and Taiwanese), and technically I am not enrolled yet (I plan to do this in a month or so), but I still appreciate their "Hat's Off," and at least they didn't get "Taiwan" confused with "Thailand." :-)

    Here is the page I was on:

    It's nice to know that what I'm doing is cool enough to get me into the "Hat's Off" section. It gives me a warm, fuzzy feeling deep down inside. :-)

    Okay, and now, here is my score report from UExcel Psychology that I took today:

    And here is the "currency" that my class, CE9, is using in its token economy (the currency is on the left). The rightmost two photos are "money art" that the kids have drawn on the backs of their cash of their own volition. They bought some prizes from me, so the "money art" has fallen into my hands. :-)
    I designed the bill on the left. So far, the token economy has been successful. The kids really do work harder to get more money, which can be redeemed for prizes. The one in the center is by Karen who I'd estimate is a second grader, and it says "Karen is cute." The rightmost one is a student's depiction of her mother. How flattering. ;-)

    May 17, 2010: Gearing Up to Take the UExcel Psychology Exam This Afternoon
    I have done EXTENSIVE preparation:

  • I read Psychology, a textbook from the 80s that is 582 pages long.
  • I listened to 20 Yale lectures (the complete series) by Michael Bloom.
  • I read "Behavioral Perspective on Cultural Differences."
  • I WROTE A BOOK on psychology. I'm not kidding, through all these resources, I took 27,929 words of notes in full sentences, which is approximately 112 pages of notes in my own words. That's a book. I have titled my book Charles Wetzel's Take on Psychology.
  • I have taken both practice exams available online.

    All I have to do is show up at the testing center and take the exam. I would like to thoroughly read the content guide once before entering the testing center, but feel very prepared.

    My last practice exam score was 82%. The cutoff of Form A for an A grade is 82%. On Form B, it's 83%. Therefore, I'm going to estimate the following:

  • There is a 45% chance that I'll get an A.
  • There is a 50% chance that I'll get a B.
  • There is a 5% chance I'll get less than a B if the exam either comes from the depths of hell, or if I fail to make it to the test center.

    I'll set both alarm clocks, get a good night's sleep of about seven hours, and hope for the best. Great Master IT Training Center, see you this afternoon!

    May 12, 2010: I Take Psychology 101's UExcel at the Grand Master IT Training Center in Five Days
    I have been hard at work studying psychology for a for-credit, American Council of Education (ACE) accredited exam. I have listened to 20 approximately one-hour lectures by the Yale Lecturer Paul Bloom. I have read over 255 pages of Psychology, a great textbook from the 80s. I have written over 100 kilobytes of notes.

    Since I am closing in on having a decent knowledge of introductory psychology, I have decided to go ahead and schedule the exam. I will get three credits for this. The exam is only $85!

    Basically, my plan of action is to finish reading the textbook (a little bit more than 500 pages of main text). Before this (maybe at the 300-page mark) I'll take the psychology practice test. Then I can read one more short source on psychology. After I have finished sucking the marrow from three psychology sources and spending dozens of hours studying, I think I'll be ready to take it. That'll bring me up to 88 credit hours, only 32 short of my goal of 120 (necessary for graduation).

    I am nearing my graduation with a bachelor's of science. I think I can finish at the age of 23 (before turning 24, that is) if I really keep up the hard work — I'll need to take a new exam about every week or two, but that shouldn't be too hard since I'm already prepared for some, and others overlap with what I've already learned (such as ECE American Dream).

    As long as I don't receive a huge monkey wrench in my plans (like being fired and having to change countries, or having a medical emergency) I should graduate at 23, a time when one is still not considered "late."

    May 9, 2010: Puffer Fish

    I discovered it on the beach. I know that puffer fish are poisonous, so I made sure not to handle it directly (I managed to get the whole thing into someone's discarded ice tea cup). I took it home, washed it off on my bathroom floor, and took some pictures.

    Then I promptly dumped the body in the harbor — as I always do.

    On an unrelated note, tomorrow is payday at my new school. I'm expecting the equivalent of about US$1,000. Hooray!

    Sometimes I wonder if I should start a special photo essay strictly about Taiwan's wildlife, since there's so much. Here are some things I've photographed (after finding in the wild) since moving here, and I think my readers would agree, this is a list worthy of National Geographic:

  • Formosan rock macaques
  • A moray eel
  • A puffer fish
  • A brittle star, likely from the deep sea (unfortunately I didn't upload these)
  • A jellyfish
  • A seahorse
  • Gekkos
  • A rusty millipede
  • A mottled tortoise beetle
  • A giant East African snail
  • Multiple types of crabs


    Tarzan-Like Structure in the Jungle, from which Monkeys Can Be Viewed
    May 1, 2010: Chaishan Monkey Safari
    While you were recovering from your hangover, I was trudging through the jungles of Southeast Asia in search of lower primates. And I found them. And I wrote this photo essay.

    April 26, 2010: My UExcel Political Science Exam at the Great Master IT Training Center a Moderate Success
    I took the exam and got a B. That was my target, and I reached it. Sure, an A would have been nicer, but a B is fine. If I make straight B's for the rest of my bachelor's of science, I'll be okay — I'll still graduate with honors.

    This exam was a success because:

    1. It was the first UExcel exam I've taken, and I did all right. UExcel is an exam-by-credit system. The exam fee is heinously low — a mere US$85!
    2. I learned political science to a B level in just 12 days with intensive study. I read William Crotty's Political Science Volume 2 cover-to-cover, did both practice exams, listened to all the available UC Berkeley Political Science 179 lectures, and also read about African political science and Kwame Nkrumah. I also read the content guide, did the practice quiz, and wrote study guides for all the mentioned resources (except African political history) amounting to several thousand words. I also had some prior knowledge of political science obtained through living life in multiple political systems that varied by country. And the result of all this: 3 credit hours in just 12 days!
    Essentially, this is part of my new campaign, which I call "credit farming" — gathering up huge amounts of college credit through exams in short periods of time, using intensive, focused study methods, specific subjects that I'm good at, etc. The goal is to graduate (legitimately) as quickly as possible, hopefully while I'm still 23 years old and not an "oldie."

    April 19, 2010: UPDATE 2: I found a big (possibly eel-type) fish on the beach!

    The Man-yu and My ID Card for Size Reference


    The Head of the Man-yu


    A vagina?

    Man, I've got to say, between the geckos, the monkeys, the puffer fish, the jellyfish, the mammoth spiders, and now this, Taiwan has plenty of interesting wildlife. At the moment that I'm writing this, I have no idea what it is. All I know is that it's around three feet long, weighs maybe ten pounds or so, has sharp teeth, and I found it in Cijin Seaside Park. Well, I shouldn't say that I don't know what it is — an old woman near the beach told me it is a "man-yu." However, what "man-yu" means in English, I have no idea. I know that yú () means fish. Update — I looked in the dictionary and man-yu literally just means "eel" — but what kind of eel? There are over 800 species of eel!

    It's about three feet long and I found it washed up on the beach very early this morning. I decided to take it back to the dock near my apartment so I could run upstairs, get my camera, and get some pictures.

    From talking to the locals in my limited but improving Chinese, I have ascertained the following:

  • It is reasonably plentiful around the seaside.
  • It is called a "man-yu."
  • You can sell it, so it's presumably edible if you catch it with a fishing line instead of finding its corpse washed up on the beach. A middle-aged woman actually asked me "Nǐ yào mài ma?" which means "Do you want to sell it?"

    If the library were open, I would go there and look at their book of Taiwanese marine life. Unfortunately, they are closed on Mondays. However, when I know exactly what it is, I'll update.

  • Another View of the Head of the Man-yu:

    April 19, 2010: I Have an Appointment at an Establishment Called "Great Master IT Training Center"
    Gotta love the name. Yep, that's right, I have an appointment to take the UExcel Political Science exam there on 4/26. That's only one week away!

    I have strategically scheduled the exam at 2:00 on that day. That way, I can stay up until 6:00 AM studying if the need arises, and then still get a full night of seven hours of sleep.

    Why am I taking this exam? Simple answer: 3 credit hours. If I pass this exam, I will have 85 credit hours (35 more needed for graduation).

    If I pass it, I will probably also take the UExcel Psychology exam, and probably one other exam as well. Other offerings that don't overlap with what I already have are Calculus, Physics, and Statistics. I am not yet sure which of those I'll want to take. It's a difficult choice. None of those are easy credit. Statistics would probably be the easiest, but it is only four credit hours, and I need five, or I'll end up with a one-credit deficit.

    In any case, here is my study plan for the next seven days:

  • Watch the remaining nine one-hour Columbia University political science lectures.
  • Finish reading my God-forsaken political science textbook which my friend checked out from Kaohsiung National Marine University.
  • Take at least one practice exam, maybe two depending on how I do, and write up (a) study guide(s).
  • Study one short, alternative source to political science.

    If I do all this, I will feel ready to take the exam. On the plus side, internationally-oriented political science is heavily emphasized, so maybe this study will be fun.

    April 2, 2010: Work Permit Application a Success
    I just received my work permit yesterday. Awesome!

    I think it would be wise to be a little more tight-lipped in regard to what I put on my site about where I'm working, the situation, etc. from now on. There are people out there who might want to use that information against me. From now on, I will be more secretive about the specifics of my job.

    I'm in the clear. I am good to stay in Taiwan for another year, no problem.

    March 21, 2010: Baptism on Cijin
    Today (Sunday) I was swimming at the beach, and these people showed up in white robes (like the one the boy in the picture is wearing) and did a Baptism right in the water. Coincidentally, the Chinese god of money (presumably unrelated to the church group singing "Glory, Glory, Hallelujah") was also present. Apparently if you give him money, you will receive more than that amount sometime this year. Now I know which god my former boss worships!

    March 9, 2010: I failed.

    March 4, 2010: 6.4 MAGNITUDE EARTHQUAKE HITS KAOHSIUNG!
    WHOA!!! Man, that was something.

    I woke up with a start at 8:20 AM. I was like "HOLY SHIT, THIS ISN'T JUST A TREMOR, THIS IS THE REAL THING!!!"

    I scrambled underneath my bed and lay there, stomach-down for a couple of minutes (I waited a bit after the quake was finished to make sure there wasn't an aftershock).

    Man, that was a big quake. The room was shaking like you wouldn't believe. It seriously felt like I was on a rollercoaster.

    I went outside soon afterward, and everyone was unfazed. Seriously, people just continued to go about their work. A few people were talking about it (I can tell because the Chinese word for "earthquake" is similar to the Korean "jijin") but people were basically going about their everyday lives.

    In the harbor, there were some sirens, but apparently, there were no immediate reports of injury (according to the CNN article which appeared at the top of CNN's site this morning).

    Whew. I lived through a 6.4-magnitude earthquake. That may well be the most powerful earthquake I ever experience...

    February 28, 2010: Good Deal
    After some negotiation with Cindy, we have worked out a deal.

    It turns out that the Junior High class (the one I enjoyed teaching, not the one I formerly did on Friday) really likes me and doesn't want me to go. So I'll keep that half an hour a week in my schedule (teaching it from 8:30 - 9:00 on Mondays, which fits my Monday schedule at the new school of 6:00 - 8:00), and also keep my private student (Henry) during the weekend. This way, I'll have 3.5 hours extra per week in addition to my new school (15 hours), meaning that I'll get one big stream of income, one small stream, and best of all, I'll have two full-time work permits, meaning I will be extra secure in Taiwan.

    Assuming no cancellations, this means my starting monthly salary will go up to 44,633 Taiwan dollars per month! Nice! That's just under $1,500 a month!

    Cindy is apparently satisfied with this idea (that I teach Junior High and Henry only), and I'm satisfied too because I get to keep the class I like and ditch G-ban (which I don't), I can do it with my new job, I can have two work permits, and my income will be about $17,000 (American) per year.

    As for other news, I tutored Henry today, and he once again bought some mung beans and wanted to plant them in a pot. I think he's obsessed with doing this because he loves the game Happy Farmer, and when I don't allow him to use the PC, he resorts to the real thing. Once again, he didn't want the mung beans after the initial planting, so he handed them off to me. That makes the second sack of mung beans from Henry... My girlfriend was amused that I always end up with a used sack of mung beans.

    And what else? Well, I'd better check November - December's receipt lottery numbers, because today is the last day I can do so.

    February 25, 2010: YES!!! I FOUND ANOTHER JOB!
    Awesome news. I found another job! YES!!!

    Here are the conditions (I will let the school remain nameless for the time being):

  • 600 NTD per hour for the first three months, with a raise to 650 NTD per hour after three months (600 NTD is already above average for Kaohsiung)
  • 15 hours per week
  • Just a bus ride away from my apartment on Cijin. I take the bus for 12 NTD as I have been doing, and then complete the rest of the journey up Wujia Road (either on foot or by bike)
  • The hours are all in the evening and I have no morning or Saturday classes (and no illegal kindy)

    This actually looks like a completely decent job! Yes!!!

    With my post-tax salary of roughly 30,000 NTD per month, I plan to do the following:

  • Buy a small fridge so I can do more home cooking and put it in the fridge (save money in the long term).
  • Use 10,000 NTD per month for living expenses (rent: 4,000, food: 4,500, miscellany: 1,500).
  • Use 10,000 NTD per month to pay for credit cards, student loan payments, etc.
  • Use 10,000 NTD per month to pay for courses.

    I'm going to be there for a one-year contract. I fully intend to do the most kickass job I can. I have decided that I must do the following things before Monday, to ensure that I am the best teacher I can be:

  • Buy two more DARK dress shirts (i.e. ones that won't get permanent sweat stains after five days of use)
  • Read an entire book on English teaching, for some ideas (particularly on those elusive, difficult reading-based courses for upper elementary and middle school students)
  • Procure some rewards — I'm thinking the very cool, but free seashells from Cijin and maybe some sea glass
  • Design a March-themed game. I think a Saint Patrick's Day game will be good.
  • Make sure that from now on, I always put in between 50 minutes and an hour for every two hours of teaching time, to make sure my lessons are top-quality. And I'm going to start a notebook with all the feedback and policies of the school.

    I am fully aware that in Taiwan, you must be on your best game at all times, or you get fired/your professional life becomes miserable. I hope that by implementing these five steps, my job can be a happy experience...


    Cihou Fort
    February 17, 2010: Cihou Fort Photo Essay
    Unfortunately, I don't know anyone who is interested in 19th century military history, British fortifications, or that sort of thing. However, supposing I did, I'm sure that person would enjoy this photo essay.

    February 11, 2010: Last Official Day of Amigo, and the Future
    Since Amigo is soon going to be on its Chinese New Year break, and since I handed in my notice for February 19 about two months ago, yesterday was my de facto last day there. I suppose Cindy might call me up and have me come in for one last hurrah, but unless that happens, yesterday was my last day. She actually offered to do something very, very nice (I won't say what it was), so I feel a little sorry about the way things went, but still, it's time to start the next phase in my life.

    I have a teaching demo at another buxiban today. I have so far had nine interviews in a row with no luck (two of them are still undecided, seven were rejections). Anyone who says getting a teaching job in Taiwan requires only a pulse and a degree ought to check his facts!

    This teaching demo is interesting, because:

    1. It is paid at a rate of 500 NTD an hour — normally teaching demos are unpaid.
    2. Instead of a standard EFL class, they want me to do an ESL-style class in which I teach a normal subject in English and have the kids learn English through that subject. This is an interesting approach. I wonder how it'll pan out in practice. They told me they want me to prepare one 50-minute art lesson, and one 50-minute science lesson (with an experiment).
    Now, due to being busy yesterday with both a job interview, teaching, and my studies, I haven't prepared yet, so I have about three or four hours to prepare. This should actually be enough as long as I can find the supplies.

    I'm tempted to do the egg and the bottle experiment because most Taiwanese people have apparently never seen that experiment. It involves taking a hard-boiled egg, lighting a candle, putting the candle in the bottle, and placing the egg on top of the bottle. The vacuum created by the candle causes the egg to be sucked into the bottle! Apparently very few Taiwanese people have ever seen this, so it could wow a class, but on the other hand, it isn't as hands-on as some experiments, and it requires a lighter (and since this is a Christian school in which I have already been asked "Do you smoke?" carrying a lighter into the classroom could be construed as indicating that I'm a smoker). Therefore, I'm going to peruse some other experiments first. However, another advantage of the hard-boiled egg and the bottle experiment is that 7-Eleven sells tea eggs (hard-boiled eggs soaked in tea leaves) that are perfect for the experiment.

    I'm less clear on what I'll do for the art class, but that's okay — I still have time, and hopefully the kids will take a while to finish their steps, so I won't need to prepare as much.

    It'll be an interesting set of demos today, and whether I get the job or not (my guess is no, since I've been rejected so many times in a row), I'll at least have earned 1,000 Taiwan dollars (US$31.17). I wish all teaching demos were paid! That would sure encourage me to apply at more places!

    I guess this is my sequence of events:

  • Spend 1:00 - 2:00 researching a science experiment and an arts and crafts activity and write up lesson plans on the computer.
  • Actually go and get the stuff from 2:00 - 4:00.
  • Commute to Yilin Meiyu Xueyuan (the name of the school) by 5:00.
  • Set things up, get things in order, and get ready to teach at 5:30 PM.


    Title Screen with a 128x64 Bitmap


    Battle with a Hand-Drawn Peasant Boss


    Load Screen with Three Save Slots

    February 4, 2010: Title Screen, Load Screen, and Many Other Things for Dungeon! Complete
    I know they don't look terribly impressive, but it's a stepping stone. I have completed many, many things since the last update on Dungeon!. I completed the title screen complete with 128x64 bitmap (although the middle portion is actually the same bitmap redrawn twice, as you might notice). I have created enemy graphics, like the hand-drawn one you see for the peasant. I have created a slotted loading system with three slots that works just fine. I've tuned various things up and the battle system is, for all intents and purposes, finished.

    The thing that really bothers me, though, is the speed. Though perfectly playable on a modern computer of 1 GHz or higher, this game would have been far too slow to play on an old 486. Since it's written in FirstBasic for DOS, it ought to be able to run on a 486, or even a 386 or below, acceptably. The primary speed problem is the bitmap loader. If it weren't for the slow bitmap loader, this whole thing could be playable on a 286. Here are some ideas to increase the speed:

  • Tweak the efficiency of the bitmap loader, although I doubt this will work, since it's already fairly efficient.
  • Write some code that converts the bitmaps into a compressed format when the game loads. Then change the bitmap loader into a loader of compressed graphics. That way, rather than rendering an entire 32-pixel line of PSETs, it'll load all of them at once as a single LINE statement. The game can maintain its .BMP compatibility, it'll just load up the .BMP files once at the beginning instead of in every scene.
  • Create a tile checker for the map screen that checks to see if a tile has already been drawn in a scene beforehand (for example, if a wall tile existed at A1 in the previous scene, and one is needed for this scene, don't bother re-drawing it). This would greatly increase speed on a 486 or higher, but using this trick alone, the game would probably still be agonizingly slow on a 386 or 286.
  • Learn to address the video memory at &HA000 directly, rather than using PSET and LINE. The trouble is, in EGA, video memory is mapped to four different &HA000 bit planes (EGA video memory is not mapped to contiguous memory). Therefore, it would probably be horrendously complicated to implement this.

    I'd say my two most realistic strategies are the tile checker (a quick fix and extremely fast for tiles that have already been drawn) and the beginning-of-the-game graphics compression (speeds up tiles that have not yet been drawn, possibly by a factor of 10 or more, since many of the game graphics are long lines of pixels that are the same color).

    If I can succeed in doing all these things, I'll have a game that might have been marketable 20 years ago, which is a huge improvement over my previous games, which wouldn't have been marketable less than 30 years ago. The game looks awful, I know, but it's a step up from what I've been doing.

  • January 29, 2010: KICKASS!
    I got an A on the World Population exam at the Pearson VUE Center in Taipei:

    ONLY 4% OF THE EXAMINEES GET AN A. That means I had a really good handle on the material. I was very proud. 96% of the people who take the exam score worse than I did.

    Other things I did today:

  • Traveled by bus across the nation of Taiwan twice in a single day.
  • Got a relatively humble gift for a special someone.
  • Read 45 pages in Cold War Cold Peace in preparation for another credit exam (DSST Rise and Fall of the Soviet Union).

    Yeah, it was a productive day, and I'm proud of my score. I think that I should take ECE Ethics sometime in February. No matter what I do, that'll be required for a bachelor's from Excelsior, regardless of major.

    As it stands, I have 75 lower-level (LL) credits and 7 upper-level (UL) credits. I need 90 and 30, respectively. UL credits are much more expensive and harder to get.

    January 28, 2010: Gearing Up to Go to Taipei
    I feel VERY ready for the World Population Excelsior College Exam I am about to take in Taipei. My practice test score on Form B has risen to 79 (which would be an A if it were the real thing and if it were Form E). I studied hard and prepared over 4,100 words of notes this week and studied them (over 16 typed pages just this week), and now I believe there's a 40% chance I'll get an A on the real thing, a 40% chance I'll get a B, a 15% chance that I'll get a C (which is still good enough for credit), and only a 5% chance that I'll fail or somehow be impeded from getting to the testing center. Since I've done more than well enough to pass on both practice exams and the exam content guide's sample questions, I am 95% sure that I'll pass it. The hardest part will be getting to Taipei and finding the testing center. :-)

    I have truly done EVERYTHING I can do to study for this exam. EVERYTHING. I read three textbooks (or textbook equivalents) related to World Population:

  • World Population, Resources, Environment (1970)
  • The scripts for a two-part PBS documentary on world population
  • Michael Crichton's factual novel Five Patients, which is relevant to world population because it is about health care and the strains that are placed on it by population growth (okay, kind of a weak way to justify fun reading, but hey, what the hell)

    In addition to that, I have taken copious notes on my Palm OS PDA, and then this week alone I have taken over 16 typed pages of notes from the practice exams that I bought from Excelsior College. The first 3,400+ words were what I studied directly prior to taking Form B, and my score rose an incredible 18%. Then I studied Form B and made even more notes! I think I will do just fine, as long as I can find the testing center all right.

    And then that'll be 3 credit hours of upper-level credit, another incremental step towards having a bachelor's degree.

    January 27, 2010: Preparing for the ECE World Population Examination
    This post lets me organize my thoughts. It's as useful for me as it is for my readers. In fact, it's probably not very useful for my readers.

    First of all, in light of the fact that I have lined up two job interviews in Kaohsiung on Friday (I don't know yet what the status of yesterday's interview is), I have decided to shorten my originally-planned three-day working vacation to just one day (the test day). Here is the sequence of events for Taipei:

    1. Today, I need to do the following things to study for the exam:
      • Finish writing my study guide from the first practice exam.
      • Take the second practice exam. Read the correct answers and try to remember them as well as possible.
      • Pack a small day trip bag for Taipei, including my Palm OS Visor computer with all my notes for World Population.
    2. Tomorrow morning, I need to wake up around 5:45 AM and catch the boat to Kaohsiung, take the MRT, and get to the UBus station. I estimate I'll be at the UBus station around 7:00 AM.
    3. On the UBus, I'm going to spend about an hour re-reading all my notes. I'll sleep for about four hours.
    4. Then I'll get off the UBus slightly before noon and spend two hours finding my way to the test center, studying my notes again along the way.
    5. Then, at 2:00 PM, I take the ECE World Populations exam. Failing means a wasted $240 for the exam. Passing means 3 more upper-level credit hours towards my bachelor's degree. Obviously passing is desirable.

    I predict that by far the hardest, busiest part will be between 6:30 PM (when I get off of Amigo School) and 2:45 AM (when I hit the sack). Once I wake up in the morning, it'll just be a simple matter of going from Point A to Point B. However, assembling that study guide could take another five hours, taking the subsequent practice exam could take two hours, and reading the results could take another hour.

    January 26, 2010: Stupid Questions Get Stupid Answers
    Ah, good old Yahoo! Answers, the place where stupid dipshits ask stupid questions, which other stupid dipshits answer as inanely as humanly possible. Today I saw one such question:

    And then I posted my answer:

    Man, we live in a world saturated by protegies, that's for sure.

    On a different note, I had a job interview in Nanzih today. I don't know if I got the job or not, but I'm leaning on "no, probably not."

    January 23, 2010: My Three-Day Working Vacation to Taipei
    I didn't even know until just a few minutes ago that I'd be taking a three-day working vacation to Taipei, or even that I'd go to Taipei at all. I was scheduling my Excelsior College Examination (worth three upper-level credits toward my BS), and I noticed that they had a January 28th exam date in Taipei, and the Kaohsiung center hasn't been set up yet. And then I suddenly had this wonderful idea, and on impulse, I booked the January 28th date. Here's my itinerary:

  • Sunday to Wednesday: apply for a whole bunch of jobs in the Taipei area
  • Thursday: take the earliest bus to Taipei, study on the bus, and take the exam at 2:00 PM.
  • Friday and Saturday: go to job interviews and see Taipei, then come home on the UBus!

    Essentially, three objectives — apply for jobs in job-rich Taipei. Accept the first job offering more than 30,000 NTD a month. Finish 1/10th of the UL requirement on my BS degree. See Taipei without having to worry about Hess fucking things up!

    Yes, this will be a very interesting little three-day working vacation. Guess I'd better book a youth hostel.

    January 22, 2010: Spongebob Mod for Dungeon!
    Just to test out the capabilities of the bitmap loader on the Dungeon! port I'm writing, I created an alternate tileset for the walking engine — Spongebob Squarepants! It was surprisingly easy and the result is some fresh new Dungeon! graphics.


    Actual Screenshot of Dungeon! (right below a treasure chest)


    Actual Screenshot of a Graphical Battle with a Hand-Drawn Rat (scanned on my digital camera)


    Actual Screenshot of Our Player Near the Inn

    January 21, 2010: Dungeon! DOS Edition Partially Operational
    As anyone who truly knows me knows very well, my goal is to become a programmer and get out of English teaching as soon as my programming takes off. This month has been another milestone in the journey to becoming a self-employed programmer (albeit a very small milestone). To the left are some screenshots of what I'm talking about — a remake of a game I wrote many years ago called Dungeon!, this time in color and written for the PC.

    Here is why this game that I'm writing is a milestone:

  • It's the first substantial game I've written in color.
  • It's the first substantial game I've written that uses Bitmap (.BMP) graphics, and I wrote the Bitmap loader myself. Believe me, it is so much easier to do graphics when you can just edit them in a normal Windows-based graphics editor as opposed to drawing them with LINE and PSET statements in BASIC...

    I know it doesn't look very impressive, and I know I can't really sell it for anything, but it's yet another milestone in the long journey to becoming a freelance programmer. And after maybe 100 of these milestones, maybe I can start making some decent money!

    This particular game is written in FirstBasic (a version of BASIC very similar to QBASIC, but freeware with a freeware x86-compatible compiler rather than just an interpreter). You might ask why I'd want to write something in FirstBasic when I'm trying to hone my C++ skills. The answer is that I wanted to focus project creation skills and finishing a larger-scale project than previously, not specifically programming skills.

    Since I have so few hours these days due to the bad economy, I figured I might as well work on my programming. I have oodles of free time for that.

  • January 18, 2010: Fucking Bullshit
    Well, first of all, I got turned down for the job for which I interviewed on Saturday. That makes the fourth interview in a row that I've had in which I've been rejected. Before that, there were two illegal kindergarten job interviews, and before that, it was a job interview at a buxiban in which they liked my demo, but some guy who'd been in Taiwan on and off since '82 beat me.

    Jesus Christ, it's fucking amazing when eight foreigners show up to interview for an ILLEGAL kindergarten job. Or foreigners with teaching experience and TEFL certifications go head to head to land a $1,100 a month McBuxiban job.

    Fuck this fucking shit economy. Just two fucking years ago, anyone with a degree and a pulse could come to Taiwan and find a decent job. Now people are knocking themselves out for $1,100 a month, or an ILLEGAL position.

    Since this is the fourth time in a row I've been rejected from a job interview, I am seriously doubting I'll ever find a decent job in Taiwan. And my definition of "decent" is pretty damn low — anything over $1,000 a month is "decent" in my mind.

    It's such fucking bullshit that I worked hard for years to get my degree, then graduate and find that EVERYBODY had the same idea — go to Taiwan and fight each other to the death for jobs that pay less than Domino's Pizza in the US.

    And to make matters worse, I called the Hong Kong Examination and Assessment Authority today, and found out that DSST exams there (necessary for my BS) cost a whopping $190 (American) to take. That's versus the going rate of $100 or less per exam if taken in the US. Fucking bullshit.

    God damn it, I hate this fucking economy and the fucking piece of shit housing speculators who generated this fucking shit economy. How the fuck am I supposed to make any money? Even if I get on a plane and return to the US right now, with close to 20% of the US population unemployed, seriously underemployed, or simply having given up, how the fuck am I supposed to find a job?

    Jesus Christ.

    January 17, 2010: Job Interview in Tainan
    I had a job interview and 30-minute teaching demo in Tainan, which is good, since Cindy is turning back into her verbally abusive old self after the holiday season. Won't say where I had the interview, but yeah, I had one.

    I think I did well, and my agent says there is a 90% chance that I'll get the job. There's at least one other teacher competing, but he says he doesn't think the other teacher stands a chance.

    I won't give the exact salary, but I will say that if I am very frugal, I can save $600 a month. It is in Tainan, which is a 69 NTD (about $2 USD) train ride away. Therefore, I can try it out for a while and if it's an acceptable job, I can move to Tainan. However, it's cheap enough to commute there where I can try it out for a while.

    I will get the final word on Monday.

    January 5, 2010: My Surfboard

    Me and My Luke Budd 6' Shortboard


    The Fins and Tether on My New (Used) Surfboard

    I bought a surfboard from another foreigner that was being advertised on Kaohsiung Living. It was 1,500 Taiwan dollars (about $46 US). Now keep in mind that this is a Luke Budd surfboard, and surfboards like this go for hundreds of British pounds new. So scoring one used for this price was pretty good, and I have no doubt that I can have a summer of fun with it and resell it higher than the price I paid for it. It's like buying a used Cadillac.

    December 31, 2009: Happy New Year, Happy New Year!
    "It's the end of the decade, in another ten years' time, who can say what we'll find, what lies waiting down the line, at the end of '89?" Who sang, that? I know, I'm just testing you, the reader.

    Yes, it's the end of the decade. Ten years ago, I was lying in the "daily room" of a US government apartment in Hong Kong, SAR, waiting for the new year to come, and playing Final Fantasy Legend on my Game Boy. And now I'm back in Asia, I just faced off against the final boss of Mario & Luigi Superstar Saga on Game Boy Advance this morning (and lost), and it seems as if not much has changed. Except for becoming independent, having a job, and being in a new country, and having a two-year college degree.

    Actually, quite a few amazing things happened this decade. I don't have time to cover them all, since it's just five minutes to midnight.

    Here are my resolutions, and tomorrow (next year, next decade) I will go over my '09 resolutions and how they panned out. Here are my '10 resolutions:

    1. Finish my Bachelor's of Science before October 24, 2010.
    2. Finish a year of teaching in Taiwan, basically as a resume builder for a multitude of possible future jobs.
    3. Increase my understanding of Chinese and Japanese languages and cultures by passing JLPT N4 in July, N3 in December of '10, and HSK Basic in April.
    4. Get healthier. Start drinking only once a week, an endeavor that hasn't panned out very well so far...
    5. Get into my new job before 10/24/2010. Not sure what this is, yet. Could be working on a cargo ship. Could be teaching in Saudi Arabia. Could be going straight to Japan. I just don't know yet.

    December 19, 2009: Happy 1,000! Happy 3.5-Year Anniversary!
    Today is important for two reasons:

  • It is my 3.5-year anniversary of moving back to Asia and becoming independent from my parents economically. My "moving out" experience, if you will. Except that instead of "moving out" by renting a room with my buddies from college, or instead of getting an apartment a couple neighborhoods away, I got on a plane and "moved out" to South Korea. Man, I was a dynamic 19-year-old.
  • As of today, I have mastered 1,000 Chinese characters, according to Mabeop Cheonjamun DS. For literally a decade, I hovered around 500 or so. I would learn some more, then forget some. I just stayed at 500 for about 10 years. Mabeop Cheonjamun DS changed all that. In about six months, I doubled my Chinese character proficiency. Learning 1,000 Chinese characters is the first step in my two-prong strategy to speak both Chinese and Japanese well. You see, now that I know the characters, I can just concentrate on spoken Chinese and spoken Japanese, and learn them at an incredible rate of speed. While other learners of Chinese and Japanese are impeded by seemingly endless characters as they learn, and slowed down because of it, characters are no longer an obstacle for me, because I learned 1,000 beforehand! From tomorrow onward, I will concentrate not on characters, but on building vocabulary and grammar, and I fully expect to be completely conversational in Chinese in less than three months. I'm already becoming conversational in Japanese, but I expect my Japanese ability to surge, as well. I mean, think about it this way — 1,000 characters permits a person to read about 90% of written Chinese and 90% of Japanese kanji. So If I have a list of ten standard two-syllable words in Chinese, I will only have to learn a new character for one or two words. Other students would have to learn new characters for ALL these words. See how this will seriously turbo-charge things?

    This is also a proud time because I brought my Chinese characters up to 500 without a class, whereas my first 500 required Chinese classes and hanja classes at Yonsei. This is a triumph because I've created a personal learning system that is effective and free, using edutainment.

    December 17, 2009: I Gave My Two Months' Notice at Amigo and Final Fantasy XIII Comes Out Today, and I Bought a PS3
    Yeah, pretty interesting last 24 hours, that's for sure! I gave Cindy my two months' notice because I'm quite frankly sick of her managerial practices. And you know what the funny thing is? It turns out Vera (one of the other teachers), Ruby (the secretary), and one of the receptionists at Nanzih have all left in the past three months! And I talked to three other employees who will remain nameless who are also planning to do the same! Nobody can stand working for her, not even the Taiwanese! Therefore, I can confidently say "she doesn't discriminate with regard to race or nationality — she is a pain equally to all!"

    Although I gave two months' notice, I can expect to be fired sooner because she'll find a new teacher (doesn't matter how crappily she runs the place, there's ALWAYS another sucker to fill the gap). So I really should go about finding another job. I used to be really nervous about this, but our contract says she needs to give me a month's notice if she does that or pay me 10,000 NTD, so I probably have some time to find another job. That, and I've worked at three different jobs in Kaohsiung, so I know a job in Kaohsiung IS attainable. Even so, I'm still thinking of maybe moving to a more desperate part of Taiwan (not Kaohsiung, in other words), because just because I can land a job here doesn't mean it'll be any good (because the glut of foreign teachers here means they can treat us however they want and get away with it because we're happy just to have a job). I'd like to get something with more hours — maybe 20 - 25. The reason for this is that I've measured my productivity over the course of 2+ weeks and noticed that working does not have a noticeable effect on whether I do my university coursework or not. In fact, the preliminary week shows that my homework is jump-started by working early in the day. Therefore, one can argue that the work is HELPFUL to my studies, and that alone justifies it, not to mention it'd be nice to be saving some extra $$ right now. I mean, I still have eight months left in Taiwan at this point (okay, almost eight), and if I were saving $1,000 a month, I could amass enough to buy a small plot of land in rural Hokkaido outright (30 tsubo is only $3,500 or so)...

    I should start scanning Tealit and get ready to move to another part of Taiwan. I'm looking for a post-tax salary of 45,000 NTD or higher. No more of this 11-hour-a-week Amigo school 18,250 NTD a month bullshit. I'm still coming out to school four times a week, and spending plenty of time trying to appease Cindy (sending her lesson plans, preparing for our play [I wrote the script myself], making fancy games to play with the class, etc), so I'd argue that I'm doing almost as much actual work as I'd be doing at a "normal" school. Supposing I can make a small side income with that potential 45,000 NTD a month, I could save $1,000 a month (in US dollars). Enough of this 11-paid-hours-a-week bullshit.

    As for other news, I bought a PS3 last night — the most expensive video game system I have ever acquired. Apparently having been out for three years hasn't changed its price tag much. It was about $400 (US) on release and now it's about $300. Fucking over-priced system. I am irritated at Sony. However, since Final Fantasy XIII comes out today in both Japan and Taiwan (but of course not the US, which gets everything late), I have no real alternative. Oh well, if I need more money, I can always sell my PS3 when I'm done with it. I'd hate to do that, though. I really customized it — the PS3 login screen has my photo on it and everything.

    The truck with FF13 on it arrives today at the PLAYSTATION 3 store on Jianguo Road. You can bet I'll be there soon after!

    So yeah, in conclusion, the last 24 hours have been significant because I let Cindy know that I don't want to be employed by her until next August, I got a PS3, and FF13 comes out. Whew, what a 24 hours!

    December 13, 2009: UPDATE 2: Taiwan's Alternative to Library Fines
    I just went to the library to check on a fine for an ethics textbook that I unfortunately cannot return yet due to not being done with it. It turns out that Taiwanese libraries don't fine you! Cool!

    This is what they do instead. However many days late you return the book, that's how many days after returning the book you have to wait before you can check out a book again. For example, had I returned the book today (three days overdue), I could start checking books out again on December 16. If I wait until Tuesday (five days overdue), I'll have to wait five days. So I asked the librarian the hypothetical question "what if I wait one year to return it?" She said I'd have to wait one year before I could check out another book.

    So I asked her if I could keep it until December 25 and then return it, because I really need it to study. She said that although not officially encouraged, I can do that if I want to, and the only penalty will be that I won't be able to check out books again until around January 10.

    In my opinion, this system is way cooler than the American system of library fines. I have so little cash due to my limited teaching hours, but I have all the time in the world. I think this is a novel solution to library fines, so that's why I'm making this post.


    Cijin Slots, My First Windows Game
    December 13, 2009: A HUGE Programming Breakthrough
    I've been reading up on Win32 programming (or rather, re-reading) for a couple weeks now and I decided to cement my knowledge, so today, while I watched "Blue Lagoon" (a creative movie with a sad ending), I wrote the code to a game I call "Cijin Slots." The game is very simple. You just click on the button that says "pull" and the three wheels on the slot machine are determined. If all three are the same, you get a jackpot notification. In terms of complexity, it is extremely simple and hardly anything to be proud of, BUT the reason I'm proud is because of the following things:
  • This is my first substantial Windows (Win32) program that runs in its own window.
  • It is my first creative, substantial Windows program to use GDI (a Windows rendering system).
  • It is my first substantial program to draw a bitmap on the screen (the bitmap is a photograph I took of Kaohsiung City from Cijin).
  • It is my first substantial, creative program to rely on the mouse. Before this, my programs were for the console or the TI-83 and only used the keyboard or keypad, but this is a breakthrough because you MUST use the mouse to operate it, and I even programmed (graphically and in terms of a WM_LBUTTONDOWN message) a graphical button that has to be clicked.

    Now, if you aren't rolling your eyes yet, consider this:

  • I have greatly cemented my programming knowledge through this exercise and will waive my obligation to do textbook reading today. This was just as useful.
  • With the techniques used in this program, I am getting MUCH closer to being able to write commercial-quality programs. Nobody wants to buy DOS/Win32 console crap. However, this is a Windows GUI application, and knowing how to program those means you can sell your products for real money.

    I guess I still need to test my program on Windows 7, though. It works on XP, but not sure about Windows 7.

    As for other news, I reached 950 Chinese characters. Just 50 more to go to my goal of 1,000...

  • November 29, 2009: A Blah Week
    Nothing much happened this week. I've had oodles of free time. Four free days out of seven. I'm not very good at managing vast tracts of free time. I watched the tail end of some Cleopatra Jones movie on HBO.

    Here are some anecdotes from the week:

  • I ran into Jin Pil-bun, the most senior teacher at Kaohsiung Korean School. Though I no longer work there, I left on very good terms, so it was cool to run into Jin Pil-bun. She actually was the one who called out to me — were were both near Formosa Boulevard at the time. And her husband was there too (he's Taiwanese and works on southern Cijin), and you'll never guess what his job is...
  • And a few days ago, I accidentally caused a rooster to escape from a pickup truck. I mean, I didn't mean to, but the rooster was already on a loose tether and I frightened it, and it got free, and then started running around in circles in the middle of the road like, well, a...
    Fortunately later on someone ch— caught the chicken and tied it back up to the pickup truck with a red ribbon. I think it's someone's pet rooster because otherwise it'd be in the cramped metal cage near my apartment where they keep all the culinary chickens.

    November 23, 2009: Kickass Taiwanese Boxers

    The message on these boxers literally translates to "Private Bighead." How deliciously appropriate for a western guy in Taiwan who just happens to know how to read some Chinese!

    As for other news, today was really productive. In just 24 hours, I have finished Michael Crichton's Five Patients, a book that is superficially about five patients, but is actually mostly commentary on the state of the US hospital system. I also read two chapters of World Conflicts reading in a book I got from the Houyi Branch Library, written by Peter Jennings. I also sent my lesson plans to Cindy, bought the above underwear and some new shampoo because my landlady threw out my bottle that still had a good two weeks' worth left in it, and did some other stuff, too. It was a fruitful day. I have come up with a list of five major time wasters, and I think that knowing about them and regulating them is half the battle to being a super-efficient individual.


    A Mummified Seahorse I Found at the Docks Near My Apartment
    November 13, 2009: Last Day at Kaohsiung Korean School, Library Information, and THE SEAHORSE
    Today has been an eventful day so far, even though I've been awake for less than 5.5 hours. The following notable things happened:
  • I did my last day at Kaohsiung Korean School. Actually I have known that I'd have to stop teaching there for about a month, but they kept asking me to teach because they couldn't find a new teacher. Now they've found one. She's a licensed teacher of Taiwanese citizenship who lived in Minnesota and speaks pretty good English. Kaohsiung Korean School said they'd like to continue with me, but unfortunately the Labor Bureau shot me down. Foreigners need a home country teacher's license to teach at elementary schools in Taiwan, which is why I was rejected. I can only teach at buxiban (private cram schools). Kind of irritating, but oh well, at least I still have my buxiban job. I'm only working three days a week now. The separation with Kaohsiung Korean School was very amicable, and the vice principal said that I should come to "hang out" sometime. The only reason we had to separate as employer and employee was that we couldn't get a work permit, and the Taiwanese government DOES come and check, so yes, it matters. Two of my younger Korean homeroom teachers were pricks, but the principal, the vice principal, and Jin Pil-bun, the senior homeroom teacher, were all very nice and didn't let Korean nationalism get in the way of their dealings with me.
  • I found a desiccated seahorse on the dock about one minute from my apartment. Must have ended up in a fisherman's net. Since I've never seen these available outside of gift shops, it was pretty novel to actually find one on my own.
  • I learned that it's possible to renew books in the Kaohsiung library system for up to 28 days after the initial month, so I renewed my library books for ethics and world population. This buys me more study time with them.

    What new adventures will I have today? I don't know. My income has been significantly cut with these Kaohsiung Korean School classes being cut, but that's not necessarily the end of the world. Even teaching just 10 hours a week, I can still save $300 a month. That's enough to finish my bachelor's of science and pay off a tiny amount of debt, in theory. I can always add on more classes later. I think I might just focus on my studies and Amigo school until May, though.


  • Congee that My Friend Baozhu Made
    November 6, 2009: My Dilemma with Getting More Hours
    I have this annoying dilemma. I only get 10 teaching hours a week through my main job. My main job makes me work on Wednesdays and Fridays.

    The trouble is, in order to add more hours, I'd need another job. All the other jobs also want me to work Wednesdays and Fridays.

    "So why don't you work in the mornings?" you ask.

    Because the only jobs that are available in the mornings are kindergarten and elementary/middle/high schools. Kindergartens are illegal for foreigners. Elementary/middle/high school positions require a teacher's license in one's home country.

    Despite the illegality of kindy, I had a job interview today. I found out that seven people (including myself) were being interviewed for this job opening. SEVEN PEOPLE. That means that for any given kindy job, there is only a 14% chance of getting it AFTER being selected for interview. So in the end, we could well be talking about 20 different people competing for one job.

    I should keep going to interviews, but my last two interviews, despite being all right overall, are not likely to yield jobs. It's REALLY hard to add on more hours.

    Apparently I need to get more creative about how I add on hours. Maybe I should start some informal English conversation classes. Maybe I could start "English on the Beach" where the fee is really low, and we have a barbecue on the beach and speak English. And it's like half the price per person of the average conversation school. Hmm, that might be appealing to some people, and my location is perfect for it.

    Maybe I could revisit telemarketing over the Internet.

    I don't know. There are a few options outside the steady, but ridiculously-competed-for English teaching jobs available here in Kaohsiung, but none of them are easy.

    I need to start treating the money I earn as the gold that it indeed is. I need to cut my food budget and stop eating out so much. Even though I eat on about $6 right now and that might sound reasonable, I could be saving almost $100 a month if I cut it to $3 a day. I need to stop using the Internet cafes so much, too. Theoretically, even if I get cut down to 10 hours a week and have no additional hours, I can save $300 a month if I treat my money like the extremely scarce resource that it is.

    November 5, 2009: RICHTER 7 EARTHQUAKE HITS TAIWAN
    A 7.0 earthquake just hit Nantou County. We felt it here in Kaohsiung too, but it was just a 2.0 here in Kaohsiung. I fully expect that there will be deaths in Nantou County, because 7.0 is quite a severe hit.

    I also beat the China Post, CNN, and numerous other news sources to covering this development. Should I should open an Internet newspaper?

    I also want to comment on this. A couple of months ago, former South Korean president and the "Nelson Mandela" of Asia, Kim Dae-jung, died. Everybody knows this. However, what is most interesting is that he died at Yonsei University Severance Hospital, the same place where I had a routine checkup, a hearing test, and an earwax removal. I just realized that as I was reading about him on Wikipedia.

    November 3, 2009: My New Domain Name: charles-wetzel.com
    I was informed this afternoon that my GeoCities page has been deleted! Not kidding, Yahoo! didn't even have the common courtesy to move it from their GeoCities service to their Yahoo! Web Hosting service. Good thing I made a backup!

    Unfortunately, the backup is slightly out-of-date. A few of my posts are missing. I hope my backup has all the essential files. If you click on a link and it comes up broken, please let me know so I can see if it's fixable.

    Recent News:

  • I continue to work at Amigo School, having successfully held the job down for 1.5 months. I do not believe I'm in imminent danger of being fired, which is a huge relief. I should still work hard to ensure I'm not canned, though.
  • The weather is getting cooler. My three-month stretch of blanketless tropical sleeping is over. I need a blanket now.
  • I'm 23 now, and have decided to cut down on my drinking. I'm at that age when people either finish college and stop partying so much, or realize "I'm 23 and still in college, better stop partying." In other words, it was excusable to drink a great deal when I was 22, but my goal is to keep it down to twice a week until November 24, and once per week after that. So far I've had no problem adhering to this plan.
  • I have completed a ten-day survey on my own personal happiness which I may or may not upload at a later time.

    Aside from that, nothing much to report. Now my site is easier to access — just type charles-wetzel.com into the address bar on your browser. Easy, eh? I'm afraid that the top-level domain and easy accessibility will attract bad people to my site, though. We'll have to see how that goes.

    October 16, 2009: The Houyi Library and an Update on My Bachelor's of Science Degree
    I need to get my bachelor's degree. Just because my associate's degree affords me a tiny island of stability (no pun intended) doesn't mean that island of stability won't completely crumble beneath me. For example, my friend who works at a public school in Korea was just informed that they no longer have money in the budget for associate's degree holders. Just like that. Out of the blue. Could Taiwan do the same thing? I shouldn't get too comfortable — until I have a bachelor's degree, I could get caught in a bad situation as countries tighten up their immigration regulations like Korea just did. After all, desperate western college grads are now FLOODING overseas in never-before-seen numbers, and it might soon be possible for every remotely acceptable EFL job to be filled with a BA/BS holder.

    However, there's good news: I JUST DISCOVERED THAT I CAN TAKE DSST (DANTES) EXAMS IN HONG KONG! YES!!!

    What this means is that I can finish my degree for a vastly lower price, and faster too.

    My new goal is to finish all my university-level courses by the end of May, 2010. That means I'll be finishing an upper-level course about once per month!

    Actually, if you think about it, an average college student does courses at a rate of 10 per 12 months, so nothing I'm talking about is impossible.

    I needed textbooks, but the Cijin library's English selection was extremely limited, so I went and checked out the Houyi Library (the library that specializes in English books). BINGO! I got two authoritative-looking ethics textbooks and another textbook on world population (to help me prepare for the ECE World Population exam).

    The Houyi library's English section is actually pretty small, but very densely populated with college textbooks and some other well-chosen books. So even though the part of the 3rd floor devoted to English books is only a tiny fraction of the size of even a little neighborhood American library, it's okay, because they have textbooks, and that's what I need. Everything from calculus to physics to ethics to psychology.

    I'm going to hit these books hard as hell and finish my degree requirements by May, then graduate in July with a generic, no-major BS (or maybe a major in history since I seem to be pretty close to it). That's the plan. In other words, get my BS before I get another visa or work permit.

    October 6, 2009: Some National Geographic-Quality Photos of Wildlife in the Shoushan (Mountain) Area, Here
    On a break from Kaohsiung Korean School, I went over to check out the golden stupa thing nearby in the jungle of Shoushan. Here is only one of a dozen types of wildlife that I photographed that was worth posting in this photo essay. Click here to read the photo essay.

    October 5, 2009: You know what fucking pisses me off?
    When I fall down and bump my head in public, and some moron starts laughing.

    Today it's raining because of the typhoon, and I slipped and fell and my wrist really hurt. I yelled "SHIT!" because my wrist hurt so bad. And some old guy started laughing. Motherfucker. I should have decked him. Give the crowd something to laugh about — his bloody nose.

    DON'T. FUCKING. LAUGH. AT. ME. WHEN. I. HURT. MYSELF.

    Another instance I can remember is when I hit my head on a metal overhang a few kilometers away from here, and some people doing karaoke started laughing. Oh, that's so funny, isn't it? Well, let's add to the fun — I can smash YOUR head into that metal overhang, and then we can all have a good laugh!


    The Moon on October 3, 2009
    October 4, 2009: A Synopsis of the Moon Festival
    I celebrated the Moon Festival with Cindy (my boss) and her family yesterday. Click here to read the account.

    October 3, 2009: This Morning Is Full of Hope, and It's the Moon Festival Today
    Today is the Moon Festival. And two typhoons are going to converge over Taiwan and run into each other, which should be interesting, and make for some less-than-spectacular moon viewing. That's okay, though, it's more about the experience than the moon viewing, in my book.

    Cindy, my boss, has invited me over to her place to celebrate the Moon Festival with her family. That's kind of cool. I've actually never celebrated the Chinese Moon Festival with Chinese people. The timing is the exact same as Chuseok in Korea, but Koreans do things a bit differently.

    I'll be sure to bring a camera and maybe I'll write a photo essay.

    In regard to jobs, I'm finally on my own two figurative feet again, because the work permit for Amigo School cleared. THANK GOD.

    It looks like Kaohsiung Korean School won't be able to get me a work permit because they aren't registered properly in Taiwan to do that. However, it doesn't really bother me, and let me explain why:

  • It's my goal, to protect myself, to have two full-time (14-hour-a-week or more) employers.
  • Taiwan only permits foreign teachers to do 32 hours a week.
  • Amigo School is 14 hours a week, and Kaohsiung Korean School is 6 hours a week — 20 hours a week. No more room for another 14+ hour employer.

    So you see, if I don't work at Kaohsiung Korean School, it's okay, because I'll have enough free time in my official Taiwanese Bureau of Labor schedule to add another full-time job. This means that if, heaven forbid, something were to happen and I were no longer able to work at Amigo School, I could continue with no hassles at the other school. I'd just like to add another full-time job as an insurance policy in case Amigo School goes bankrupt tomorrow, I get fired, that kind of thing.

    Since Kaohsiung Korean School's six hours would have caused me to go over the 32-hour maximum had I tried to register another full-time school, it's better, perhaps, that I probably won't be able to work there.

    October 2, 2009: My Work Permit Is Complete
    I just got some great news. My work permit is complete for Amigo Language School!

    However, I just had the most annoying argument ever. The students in my class were INSISTING that noon is 12:00 AM. I was INSISTING that it was 12:00 PM. They were insisting that I was wrong, but they wouldn't believe me. I figured that maybe in Taiwan, they teach them differently, but my co-teachers agreed with me. Vera has agreed to explain to the kids that noon is indeed PM. :-)

    September 27, 2009: Slowly Getting My Life Back Together
    The last approximately one month has been utter shite, and I'll explain why:

  • I got fired from Hess.
  • An inspector from the Labor Bureau came to Kaohsiung Korean School and caught me teaching without a work permit. He let me off with a warning, but it means a two-week time during which I can't teach there while I'm waiting for a work permit for that school.
  • I had a financially costly motorcycle accident in late August.

    The last month has been filled with unexpected and financially difficult shit, and it's a wonder I've survived all of it relatively unscathed. Here's how I've survived it.

    I managed to find a new school to sponsor my ARC within 72 hours of being fired at Hess. We filed the work permit paperwork the Monday I was officially terminated on paper at Hess.

    I just had a meeting today with Kaohsiung Korean School. We are going to try to apply for a part-time work permit tomorrow and have me teaching again by the following week. They were even gracious enough as to re-organize my schedule to work with the new school's schedule.

    As for the financial difficulty of the motorcycle crash, I am trying to be very fiscally conservative this month to make up for it. So basically, it appears I've landed on my feet (mostly), except that my reduced hours mean I'll only be able to save about half what I'd originally wanted per month. If I'm lucky, with these hours, I can save maybe 400 American dollars per month after rent, food, and other living expenses. $400 ain't much. I'll need to find other part-time work.

    Man, how many people have to put up with a traffic accident, a lay-off, and another job being halted by a government inspector all within a 30-day period? It just seems unfair. I'm bouncing back each time, but I sure hope things stabilize soon. Progress is a slow process.

    September 20, 2009: I Got a Library Card
    I got a library card for Kaohsiung's libraries. I figured I might as well do it while I have my ARC (my ARC might get cancelled if things get screwed up). Even if my ARC is cancelled, my library card will probably still be valid. So I walked about five minutes from my apartment to the Cijin Branch Library. Registering for the card was pretty easy. The librarian was really nice.

    However, the English section(s) left something to be desired. The whole English book section is an eight-compartment cubby, not even a bookshelf. The top four compartments are mostly extremely popular/classic novels like Harry Potter, Lord of the Rings, and Robinson Crusoe. The bottom four compartments are books about Taiwan written for westerners. And that's it. Definitely nowhere near comparable to Yonsei's library. I could probably check out all their English books on one library card. :-)

    There was another English section with a few additional books (like a Chinese<->English dictionary, some Shakespearean plays with Chinese translations off to the side, etc. but nothing to write home about.

    I guess I'd been hoping for a larger English section with some textbooks, like Yonsei's library. It looks like I'll have to hang out in a university library to find that stuff. Oh well. At least I have a library card that allows me to check out the three or so books that might make decent light reading while waiting at the bank.

    September 19, 2009: Saturday Update: Hess, My New School, the Nipple Fruit, etc.

    This is a packet of seeds at my local supermarket for the nipple fruit. It is an important religious offering in Taiwan. It belongs to the nightshade family and is poisonous.

    In terms of job-related news, I signed a contract today. It's much better than the Hess contract. According to the contract, the new school has to give me 30 days of notice unless I have committed an offense that "jeopardizes the physical safety" of people or property. In other words, if they don't like my teaching, they have to give me 30 days notice. The only way I could be terminated in less than 30 days (without them paying me 10,000 Taiwan dollars in severance pay) would be if I hit someone or destroyed something. Which means this contract completely kicks the ass of the Hess contract I signed saying they could terminate me with seven days' notice in the probational month.

    Of course the new contract says I have to give two months' notice if I want to quit, but since the hours per week are so limited, I doubt this could turn into a particularly unbearable situation. My new boss is totally okay with me working elsewhere, as well, so I can make up the shortage in hours at another school or schools and she has no problem with that. I can get two, maybe even three other work permits, if necessary.

    As for Hess, I signed the Cancel Contract Agreement today and got my 21,000+ Taiwan dollars in pay for the amount I worked this month. Combined with the 10,000+ Taiwan dollars I made last month, that's almost $1,000 (American) that I made from Hess. Which may not sound so bad, except that for actual hours spent working/training/etc. for them, it probably figures out to like $4 an hour. Do I feel I'm owed more than that for the trouble I went through? Of course. Will I pursue it? No, I'm not picking any fights. I won't pursue it or file a complaint at the Labor Bureau unless Hess continues to fuck with me after today.

    The bottom line is, I'm still in Taiwan, I will rush all my paperwork into the proper offices on Monday, and this will be just a minor setback. Due to the reduced hours, my income will be cut roughly in half, but if I'm careful I should still be able to save a little bit of money (and then I can add on some extra work permits for other jobs and start saving bucketloads). For the first time in seemingly forever, I think I have a higher net worth than I did at this time the previous month. I hope this continues.

    September 17, 2009: I Need to Make a Trip to the Immigration Office Tomorrow
    Hess has been really difficult to deal with lately and have informed me that they will only give me the Letter of Release (required to switch my ARC to a new employer) on Saturday. Oh, and I "should leave Taiwan" on Monday. Gee, thanks shitheads, that's so much of time. You guys are so generous and honorable, firing me, refusing to give me a reason, and then trying to get me out of the country within 48 hours of ceasing work completely at your corrupt school chain.

    I have a hunch they're just talking out their asses. I think Taiwanese law actually allows me seven (if not 14) days after the firing has been reported to stay and switch my ARC. I'm going to the immigration office tomorrow to clear this up.

    If necessary, I may file a complaint with the Bureau of Labor if that's the only way I can get more time. Apparently I'm allowed to stay in Taiwan when there's a pending complaint at the Bureau of Labor. Cindy at Amigo School claims that Hess not only owes me a longer period of time to switch, but also may be legally required to give me severance pay. I don't care about severance pay — I just want more time to do the switching process. If everything goes off without a hitch, we can switch the ARC on Monday, but it's very, very dangerous to do this on the last day. Of course Hess would love to get me completely out of the country, but Hess can go screw themselves with retractable batons. They made their decision — they don't want me. They can't cling to me like some kind of psycho girlfriend who screams "IF I CAN'T HAVE YOU, NOBODY CAN!" If they're going to fire me in cold blood, fuck 'em. I'll go work for someone else who appreciates me.

    I'll go to the immigration office early tomorrow morning. That way, should I need to file a complaint with the Bureau of Labor, I can do so and still make it to my God-damned Hess shift in the afternoon.

    Fuck Hess.

    That said, Hess does not equal Taiwan, and once I am beyond Hess' reach, I'll look forward to a more positive Taiwan experience. Let's not forget that at least in Taiwan, I can switch jobs in country — something that is absolutely impossible for an E-2 teacher in South Korea. Taiwan isn't at fault here, but Hess is.


    September 14, 2009: JOB FOUND
    Less than 72 hours after being told I was fired, I've found a job.

    It's with Amigo School near Shihjia station. Pay is 500 NTD after taxes, which is higher than my pitiful Hess pay rate of 448 NTD an hour. And I don't have to grade homework.

    I went in there, met with Cindy, and did a teaching demo. She even asked "Do you have a TESOL certification?" and I said "Yes, if you look here (points to resume), you can see that I have CELTA." Then she was like "Good! I think it's good for teachers to have a TESOL certification." This marks basically the first time any employer has ever given a rat's ass about my TESOL certification. She said I'm hired, and she'll work on switching my ARC to her school.

    I won't be able to breath easy until the ARC has actually been switched, but this is a VERY good sign.

    Meanwhile, in Ohio, unemployment is at 20% and very few people who get fired can find a job in three days. Guess I bet on the right horse, coming to Taiwan and all.

    September 13, 2009: DESPERATE JOB HUNT DAY TWO
    Good news! I just called Cindy (a manager at a buxiban), a I have a job interview tomorrow at 2:00!

    In case that doesn't pan out, here are five steps I took yesterday to ensure I find a job before the ten days are up:

    1. I joined Kaohsiung Living and posted a profile.
    2. I replied to two job ads on Kaohsiung Living — one for a cram school in Fongshan, and one for a school in Da-she, Kaohsiung County (but that's near the city).
    3. I contacted a school that had previously made me an offer and asked if they still need a teacher.
    4. I contacted Mark from On the Mark and asked some questions.
    Today, I joined Forumosa (a gigantic forum for Taiwan where I can presumably get some tips). And I called Cindy, who, according to one of my cooler co-workers at Hess, has a buxiban that is looking for teachers.

    I hope so much that I get the job at Cindy's place (Amigo School). Pluses of Cindy's Amigo School branch:

  • It's near Hess Ruilong branch, so I already know the fastest and most direct way to get there (the 35 Bus). I also know the cheap restaurants in the area.
  • They also have a Japanese program, so perhaps I can make friends with some of the Japanese teachers, which would help my Japanese.

    Man, I really hope this works out. If I interview there and get the job, I can switch over from Hess to Amigo School seamlessly, without losing a cent of income (in fact, since Hess' pay is on the low end of the scale, so I might actually make slightly more money at Amigo School).

    On a related an even more hopeful note, I just got a response from Bryan Wu, a recruiter working with the Da-she school, who requested an extra "smiley" photo (this is because schools often consider a bright, youthful teacher a very important asset, and I'm not surprised at all that he made this request). So I have a job interview tomorrow and a recruiter who has reviewed my documents and getting ready to try to sell me to another school. I must say, considering I've been job hunting for less than 36 hours and this is Sunday, this is going VERY well.

    And might I mention that looking around on Forumosa, I have found a Japanese tutor who only charges 400 NTD an hour and lives in Kaohsiung, who supposedly has nine years of experience! If I find a new job and can stay in Kaohsiung, it'd be hard to miss a deal like that. Of course, I'm asking him a few questions first. I want to make sure he's actually a legit teacher at a school and that he's had some kind of training in teaching Japanese. At that low a price, he may not. Keep in mind, if I want Japanese instruction from an untrained tutor, I can just do language exchanges, and those are free. However, if he has some credentials the way I do, I think $12.26 per 90-minute lesson from a Japanese teacher ain't a bad deal.

    September 12, 2009: DESPERATE JOB HUNT DAY ONE
    T-minus ten days. If I don't have another job consisting of at least 14 hours by Monday, September 21, I will have to leave Taiwan. I doubt I can find a job in that short a time, but Desmond assures me that he is absolutely sure I can, and so do my other Native Speaker Teacher co-workers.

    I will try my best to find a job in the next week. It's the easiest way to avoid hassles.

    I woke up very early this morning and joined the Yahoo group Kaohsiung Living. I have applied to one job today (in Da-she Township). I think it'll be easier to find a job this time since I know the ropes a little better and already have an ARC (which I am marketing as an advantage — those are a pain for employers to get).

    I teach at Hess this morning, but after that, I will contact some more cram schools, kindergartens, etc. and try to plant some more seeds.

    September 11, 2009: I Got Fired from Hess
    They canned me. And then Colleen, the obese old crone in charge of doing it tried to make me sign a document saying that I'd pay Hess 20,000 Taiwan dollars if I worked for another employer in Taiwan! What the fuck! I refused to sign that part. We sat in the room in silence for like an hour, and finally she caved and, after a talk with Christine, said "In light of the current economic situation and the involuntary nature of the separation, we have decided not to make you pay a 20,000 NTD fee if you work with another school." Gee, thanks a lot.

    I have seven more calendar days as a Hess employee, and then they report my firing, and then I have until September 21 to find a new job.

    I asked for a reason why I was fired and Colleen, the old crone, said she didn't need to give one because I was on probation. What the fuck? So they terminate me without giving me a reason (even though I'd shown up every single lesson, planned my lessons, and done all the steps)?

    That said, I am not mad at Desmond. I don't think he was behind this. I think it was Monica and Colleen. I won't say why, but I have some evidence that Desmond didn't mind me nearly as much as they did.

    My #1 priority is finding a new job before my ARC expires in 10 days. If I succeed, it will just be as if I took a week-long unpaid vacation. If I fail, things are going to get bad (visa run to Hong Kong and who knows what other bullshit).

    In the meantime, I can theoretically live on slightly less than what Kaohsiung Korean School is paying me, so the big issue right now is finding a way to stay in Taiwan, not money.

    September 10, 2009: Driving Myself Crazy by Interpreting Signs
    I'm driving myself interpreting signs as to whether I'll be fired or hired at the end of my probational month.

    Hess has not told me yet (despite saying Thursday was the day) whether I've been hired or fired. I'll find out tomorrow.

    Some signs indicate that I will be fired. For instance, Chandra has been asked to teach Story Time class "just this Saturday." Well, that was planned to be my class after I finished probation, so why is she teaching it "just this Saturday?" On the other hand, this might mean that they don't want me to go over 16 hours during probation, which may be a company policy. I'm not sure whether this is a sign or not.

    Another possible "sign" in my favor is that at 5:00 PM today, Colleen sent out reminders to all NSTs about follow-up training, and my name is on the list. Colleen herself saw my last evaluation and likely cast the deciding vote in whether I stay or go, so why would she leave my name on the NST list if I was fired? On the other hand, maybe it's Hess policy not to remove names from the list so the other NSTs don't all know who's been fired and who hasn't.

    So in other words, I have no idea yet whether I've been fired or hired. The meeting is 2:30 tomorrow afternoon. You can bet I'll be there, then.

    If I'm hired, things should be great because I will have STEADY employment (as in there's a really complicated corporate maze someone has to navigate through to get me fired after that point). I can make long-term plans around Taiwan.

    If I'm fired, then things will get complicated, messy, and possibly really shitty. If I'm fired, I'll have to mount an immediate and desperate job hunt to get another job to sponsor my ARC before my ARC expires. If my ARC does expire, I'm not sure how I'll handle it. Probably the first thing I'd try to do would be go to Hong Kong and try to get a two-month visitor's visa. That'd buy me two more months in Taiwan to work at Kaohsiung Korean School, save up a tiny amount of money, and search for another full-time gig to maintain my ARC.

    The main "fork in the road" is if my visitor's visa is denied (assuming I failed to find another job in Kaohsiung for my current ARC). Then my only option to work in Taiwan would be to leave and come back once a month. Extremely expensive and risky. If that ends up being the case, I'll probably have no option but to go to mainland China or return to Korea.

    However, it's pointless to speculate too far into the future. I'll just have to play it by ear.

    September 6, 2009: Some Sunday Updates
    I don't know whether Hess will fire me or not (probably that meeting on Friday was just to scare me to prevent me from having a repeat of Tuesday), but even if they do, there are probably several other job options. I don't want to focus on that right now. I know my readers don't want to, either, so here are some pictures I took of Kaohsiung Korean School:

    Kaohsiung Korean School — almost all the classes are in this building (it's like a one-room schoolhouse with several smaller rooms instead of one big one).


    Geese to Prevent Snakes from Coming on Campus


    They have a garden on campus with a couple of greenhouses.

    September 4, 2009: Hess is threatening to fire me if I don't "clean up."
    I can't believe it. Yes, I did screw up once this week, but geez, try to be a bit lenient. On Tuesday, I thought I was working at 7:00 when I was actually working at 5:00 that day. I STILL CAME IN IN TIME TO DO THE LESSON, AND IT WENT REASONABLY WELL, but the fact that I had had only limited time to prepare it immediately pricked up the ears of the powers that be. My second lesson was an oral exam and went just fine.

    Then Monica, the Branch Manager, observed my lesson yesterday. "SHE WAS NOT HAPPY. THE TIMING WAS A MESS AND YOU DIDN'T HAVE THE CHILDREN WRITE THE GRAMMAR POINTS." Jesus Christ. My Phonics was off by FIVE FUCKING MINUTES. Out of a two-hour lesson. And I didn't know we HAD to make the kids write down grammar points for a Step Ahead 2 class — there's no way on earth they could possibly understand them at their level even if they did.

    And because of Monica's less-than-positive feedback on yesterday's lesson and my screw-up on Tuesday, they're threatening to prevent me from becoming a non-probational employee (fire me at the end of one month).

    Now, I understand that it's very important to plan for lessons, and Tuesday's screw-up (an honest mistake) is a bad thing. I understand that. The lesson still went all right though. And it's not like I was late for the lesson, because I wasn't. I already said a million times "IT WON'T HAPPEN AGAIN."

    But five minutes off on my Phonics timing, and not making beginner-level students write down complex grammar points? Jesus, it's like they're trying to find a reason to can me.

    Because I have serious doubts about the legitimacy of their criticism (it seems EXTREMELY finicky), I am worried that next week will go great, and then mysteriously "We decided not to have you continue." I mean, they could have some other ulterior motive for all I know.

    Man, I can't believe they are threatening me like this. I mean, so many English teachers teach when drunk or stoned, call in sick without a moment's notice, or don't even show up at all. Many teachers simply never prepare. Many teachers just put on a CD or give the students worksheets and then sit down and read.

    I have done NONE of these things. I screwed up ONCE and didn't plan (an honest accident), and my timing is five minutes off. Big fucking deal. Some teachers hit their students, and they don't get fired.

    I don't know what the deal is at Hess, but I have to prepare for the fact that no matter how well next week goes, I might get fired. If this happens, I'll have seven days to find a new employer and switch my ARC (it would be 14 days if I'd been in Taiwan longer, but it's only seven since I haven't been here very long).

    I should start my search for a new job NOW. Because seven days isn't enough to mount a job hunt AND find a job. I estimate I have about one or two weeks until they make their final decision, or until my ARC is processed. If I'm fired at that point, I'll have seven days to switch the ARC. So basically, I have about 15 days to find a new just-in-case job.

    It's also possible that Kaohsiung Korean School (my employer in the morning) might sponsor me, but their hours fall well below the Taiwanese visa requirement of 14 per week (they only give me six). They may be willing to lie on my behalf to keep me in Taiwan, but I don't want to put them in that awkward position, especially this early on.

    I am so pissed off at Hess right now, I can't express my rage other than to write this article. I don't get it how so many crap teachers get to continue teaching, but I get threatened with the shaft for things that, while they need addressing, are comparatively trivial. MAN, this is a different English teaching market from Korea!

    September 1, 2009: UPDATE 2: Bike not an Option
    I just checked with the girl at the Information office. Using a bike to get to Rui Long Branch will not be an option. This is because A) the undersea tunnel is off-limits to bicycles, which is enforced at least sometimes (like last night), and B) because the ferry that goes from Zhongzhou to Kaohsiung City CAN TAKE UP TO AN HOUR TO DEPART. Even if the rest of the bike journey takes only 30 minutes, this method still takes longer than the Sizihwan Ferry/MRT/walking.

    I need to find a better option than the one I'm currently using, so here are two ideas:

    1. Use the Sizihwan Ferry/MRT/walking method, except get a folding bicycle so all the walking parts can be converted into biking, drastically reducing my commute time from 1.5 hours to one hour.
    2. Wait for the 35 bus (which comes irregularly, usually at 30-minute intervals. This sounds bad in theory, but while I'm waiting, I can use the Internet in the Information Center. Therefore, I won't be wasting any time waiting — I'll just get my Internet business done while waiting for the bus, which is work I'd do anyway. The bus takes 40 minutes to reach Kaisyuan. With a bicycle, it would only take ten minutes from Kaisyuan to Rui Long (total: a 50-minute commute with almost all of that constructive sitting time). The major drawback with this method is the extreme variability of when the bus will come (sometimes it comes right away, sometimes it takes 40 minutes to come). However, it's cheap (20 NTD per ride versus 45 NTD for the other method) and if I situate all my Internet time around bus rides, it's a relatively fast commute. All the time spent on the bus is sitting time that I can use for studying, preparing for Hess, etc.
    I prefer Option #2. I am waiting for the bus right now to test #2.

    September 1, 2009: I Got My New Hess Schedule, Update on the Bike

    This is my schedule for Hess.


    Schedule for Kaohsiung Korean School

    Good news, professionally-speaking — first of all, I got my regular Hess schedule (not the probationary 16-hour-a-week one that I had previously been on), and it looks like my job at Kaohsiung Korean School and my job at Hess dovetail perfectly, by total coincidence. On Wednesdays and Thursdays, I work until 4:00 PM at Kaohsiung Korean School, which would ordinarily be only one hour before starting work at Hess across town, but fortunately, those are the two days at Hess that I start late and teach only two hours of classes instead of four. The two jobs dovetail perfectly (provided that Kaohsiung Korean School doesn't decide to have me working on Saturdays). I've already told them Fridays would be much better, so hopefully that class they were still deciding on will come on Friday.

    All this means that I will have a net post-tax income (after living expenses of 15,000 NTD a month) that amounts to over $1,000 US a month. I can plow through my debts and finish my education.

    Another piece of good news is that Desmond says that unless I really screw up this week, I've basically made it through my probationary period. For reference, the probationary period is the time when Hess can fire me without notice for non-serious offenses. Once I get through probation, Hess can still fire me, but they have to give me a month's notice (unless the breach of contract is something really serious). So basically, I will be much more secure and my job will be much more stable in about a week or so.

    On the transportation front, I discovered last night when I tried to go through the undersea tunnel that it is illegal. I got through it yesterday morning by sheer chance — the cops weren't watching then. However, I can't rely on it for day-to-day transportation. However, there's some good news — there's a boat from that side of the island that travels to Kaohsiung City — Sinsheng Road. That's exactly where I need to go. So it may be quite possible for me to reach work everyday in 50 minutes or less, using that ferry in combination with my bike (and bikes can be carried on the ferry for free).

    Now that I know both my schedules, it's time to make a few plans around them. I will be teaching 25 hours a week. Generally one teaching hour = 1.5 real hours (not counting transportation). Therefore, this is the equivalent of 37.5 real hours. Now, transportation is 50 minutes each way (except in the case of days with Kaohsiung Korean School, in which it is broken up somewhat). This means one hour, 40 minutes spent in transit six days a week. This means 10 hours for transit each week. The end result? 47.5 hours a week that are beyond my control. This isn't that bad. This means I have over 50 hours of free time every week that can be used to study for my Bachelor's of Science.

    Today is September 1, the first day of the semester in many American schools. As soon as I get my ARC, I need to get a library card and buckle down like other American college students are doing. I will be busy with both university courses and full-time work, but hopefully by the end of this year, I will be both out of debt and have a bachelor's degree.

    August 31, 2009: My Experiment with a Bicycle
    I can't legally own or operate a motor scooter yet, and my experience on Friday scared me a bit, so I'm looking into other options at least until I get my ARC and can buy one and get licensed legally. And until I can actually learn to drive one competently, most importantly.

    The most obvious alternative to public transportation (slow and costly in the long run) is to use a bicycle. So today I rented a bicycle. There's this bicycle shop right near my tao fang that rents them for just over $3 US a day. It's a great way to try out whether cycling in Kaohsiung is feasible.

    My initial assessment, having just biked all the way from Cijin to Hess Rui Long Branch is that it is indeed feasible.

    It took about an hour and 10 minutes, but I think the following two things will each shave it down to 50 minutes total:

    1. This particular bike is very poor on flat, level surfaces and you hit the maximum speed really quickly. If I had a bicycle that allowed me to accelerate to higher speeds, I could shave off ten minutes.
    2. Once I get used to the route (I had to ask for directions once and made a wrong turn once), that'll shave off 10 minutes.
    If I can take it down to 50 minutes, that might become my main mode of transportation. A motor scooter can do it in 30 minutes, BUT it's more expensive and provides no exercise.

    Advantages of Using a Bike:

  • I already know how to use one and have spent hundreds of hours cycling in the past
  • Exercise
  • Low cost — a scooter costs 1,000 NTD a month to fill with gas and maintain (optimistic), whereas a bike doesn't need gas, and a bike is much cheaper initially

    Advantages of a Motor Scooter:

  • Save about 40 minutes a day

    So is the sacrificed time worth the health benefits and the savings? Well, right now I have a beer belly and thousands of dollars in debt, so maybe so.

    Oh, another HUGE variable here — whether or not I can continue to use the undersea tunnel. Today I rode my bike through the undersea tunnel that connects Kaohsiung and Cijin Island. I know for a fact that pedestrians can't enter that tunnel (because I tried it before and they wouldn't let me). Are bicycles technically allowed in? I got in today, but who says they just weren't looking today?

    Additionally, is the submarine tunnel safe? It's a narrow road shared with motor scooters. They go faster than I do. There is plenty of room for them to pass me, but I'm more worried about what would happen if I hit a pothole or a large rock and were thrown clear of my bike. Would they have time to stop?

    On the other hand, what if I were riding a moped through the submarine tunnel and hit a rock or a pothole? Would there be any difference in safety between being a motorcycle rider thrown from his motorcycle with oncoming motorcycles and a bicyclist being thrown from his bike with oncoming motorcycles? Seems like the same thing to me.

    I'm probably going to continue to rent a bike for another week or so before buying, just to evaluate all my options (what type of bike I should buy, whether riding a bike to work on a daily basis is feasible, etc). However, it shows promise. And biking in Kaohsiung is MUCH better than biking in Seoul.

    August 29, 2009: Oh Boy, My First Traffic Accident
    It happens to pretty much everybody. Fortunately, in my case, both me and the other driver were okay, and for less than $200 (American) I made everyone happy and am now back where I started.

    I had decided to go to Jiouru today and get a motor scooter, because these 1.5-hour commutes to Hess (each way) are just too damn long. So at the recommendation of Collin and Desmond, I went to Louis' scooter shop. Louis is known to be honest and speak English.

    I went to his scooter shop and he offered me a test drive of a 50 cc scooter. I figured "No big deal, I've been riding bikes for years, what is a scooter but a motorized bike?" Famous last words. I took him up on the test drive offer. I went down Jiouru Road and took a right, and then was suddenly unable to stop! You see, unlike a bicycle, you have to not only press the brake handles, but ALSO release the handlebars that feed gas to the engine. Although I knew all this, trying to put it into practice within ten minutes of learning it is another story. I rear-ended this middle-aged woman's car and messed up the paint on the right back fender of her car. Fortunately she was very nice and took my 5,000 NTD offer (I REALLY didn't want this to get to the police). She even offered to refund me the remainder after the paint job was fixed. I declined, figuring it would be best to settle the whole matter once and for all right there, and told her that it was all right, she could keep the remainder for her inconvenience.

    Louis only wanted 1,500 NTD for the damage to the scooter (a cracked headlight and slight damage to the fiberglass skin of the scooter. This was extremely nice of him, because I bet that's the cost of the parts alone. Louis was REALLY nice about it, come to think of it — he not only gave me a ride to the MRT station so I could take the subway to Sizihwan (and home), he also offered to teach me how to drive a scooter in the park near his garage in the future!

    So in short summary, all the people who suffered as a result of my inexperience at the handlebars of a motor scooter were really, really nice, and the fault was 100% mine. I have compensated both people, and it's a closed case.

    I am physically just fine. Fortunately, despite my stupidity in assuming I could ride a scooter just like a bike, I was going VERY slowly and cautiously. Even though I wasn't able to break and bumped into that woman's car, I couldn't have been going more than about 10 miles per hour, and I think the same damage could have easily been caused by pushing a shopping cart really fast and colliding with a car.

    In the end, the cost of this lesson was 6,500 NTD (just slightly under 200 American dollars). No one was hurt and there was no serious damage to property, only aesthetic components that can be repaired cheaply.

    I'm going to hold off on exploring the scooter option again until I can procure a scooter here on Cijin Island where I can practice with very little interference from cars. Make all the things Louis showed me second-nature. Learn to brake on a dime. Riding a motor scooter, even at bicycle speeds, is NOT like riding a bike.

    Until I learn to use a motor scooter properly, I think I'm going to explore the 35 Bus that goes to Kaisyuan Road. That could potentially get me to Rui Long Branch in an hour. And in regard to recouping the 6,500 NTD loss, I think I'll live 3,250 NTD cheaper each month for the next two months. Hooray for cutting luxuries AGAIN!

    August 26, 2009: UPDATE 2: Pictures of My Route to Hess Rui Long Branch

    First I get on a ferry. Sometimes it's this one. That gets me off Cijin Island and puts me in Kaohsiung City, on the Taiwanese mainland (technically Cijin is not under the administration of Kaohsiung City but of Kaohsiung Port Authority).


    After taking the MRT, I arrive at Kaisyuan Road. This is a rather intimidating plant on Kaisyuan Road — looks carnivorous, doesn't it?


    The Front of Hess Rui Long Branch, Where I Work

    Anyways, I just figured I might upload some cool pictures today. And you, the reader, might want to take a look at the home page — it's a picture of me out front of Rui Long branch in my Hess uniform. This site has a ton of pictures of Taiwan, but not that many with me in them (only three including the current one, I think).


    The Album They Gave Me
    August 26, 2009: I Met a Famous Korean Rock Band on the Kaohsiung Subway
    Yesterday I was on the Kaohsiung subway here in Taiwan and saw some people speaking Korean, so I went over to them and sat down right in the middle. One girl was like "Wae yeogi-e anja?" ("Why is he sitting here?") or something like that to her friend. Then this other girl is like "Geu-neun Han-gung-mal hal jul aseyo?" ("Does he know Korean?") and I was like "Ye." ("Yes."). And they were all like "WHOA!!!" in unison. But that's not the interesting part.

    They were all asking me about how I learned Korean, and I said I'd gone to Yonsei University, and this one guy was like "Nan Shinchon-euro jaju nolleo gayo!" ("I go to Shinchon to hang out often!") and gave me a high five. And then I asked (in Korean): "Are you guys university students doing study abroad?"

    And they said "We're a rock band."

    And then they gave me their album.

    And they're called Nevada #51. And they invited me to come and see their concert for free.

    Well, I figured they must be some unknown band, so I looked them up on the Internet, and it turns out they have performed with Limp Bizkit and Korn and won a "best band" award at a major MBC festival, as well as having existed since 1997 and performed at the Seoul Olympic Stadium. Wow!

    It was one of those times I was really glad to know Korean.

    August 22, 2009: Mmmmm, Wai Dai

    This is wai dai, or carry-out. It's one of those cheap living secrets of Taiwan that is going to allow me to live on very little and save a lot!

    Basically, you go to a lunch box shop and the rice is generally 10 NTD. Then you pick things to put in the compartments. Generally one compartment is 10 NTD unless it's something more expensive (like Taiwanese sausage, which is 15 NTD per sausage). In the above picture, all that food cost me 40 NTD ($1.22 in American dollars). Not bad, eh? I think that in the future, I might write a photo essay about ten meals you can eat in Taiwan for less than 50 NTD. The great thing about Taiwan is that even though the wages are several times higher than China, the cost of living is similar. I can get a full meal for just over $1, and my apartment is just over $100 a month. Yet my income is clearly that of a guy in a developed country.

    My first week went pretty well. Even the co-worker who is infamous for tearing new teachers apart "didn't come down on me extraordinarily hard," says my boss. Most of my CTs, while able to offer suggestions on how to improve, didn't seem negative about my lessons. This seems to be a good start. I'd say my lesson preparation time is down to one hour per two-hour lesson, much less than it was when I was in Hess Initial Teacher Training (at that time I'd bet most of us exceeded one hour of planning per teaching hour). I'm definitely getting the hang of the materials and the last few lessons I've prepared for basically autonomously.

    Though I don't get paid until 9/7, I got a company loan (interest-free of 30,000 NTD [over $900]).

    Pretty soon I intend to buy a 50 cc scooter and get my 50 cc scooter license as soon as my Alien Residency Card comes out. Ironically, this will be my first driver's license ever — I never had a driver's license back in the US because I was trying to save money, not spend it on a car and maintenance and gas. However, now I really need a vehicle to make the most of life. It will allow me to shave an hour or two off of my commute time and might end up being cheaper to keep maintained/gassed up than what I would otherwise pay for public transportation.

    Couple with this the fact that my preparation time will keep going down the longer I work at Hess, and hopefully pretty soon, I'll be teaching at both Hess AND Kaohsiung Korean School with about the same hours that I spent only with Hess this week. In other words, I will be no busier with work than I was this week (manageable, I generally got my eight hours of sleep), but will be saving $1,000 a month.

    My work week is six days on paper, but I've figured out a way to make it seem like a two-day weekend. I finish teaching on Saturday morning at 11:50 AM right now — so go home, take a nap, and when I wake up, I've just woken up on a Saturday! Then I have over 12 hours (a full day and a full recharge, basically) to enjoy my Saturday. Then I stay up late on Sunday and have a full Sunday. Since Monday's work doesn't start until the afternoon, it's okay if I stay up late and sleep in. This way, I can have two full, energetic days off work even though I have a six-day-a-week schedule. Clever, eh? I mean, there's no reason why it can't work since I actually have over 48 hours off between Saturday morning and Monday afternoon when I start working again.

    What am I going to do with my pseudo two-day weekend? The answer is bear down hard on the Omnimaga platform game programming contest. I have a lot of work to do. I hope the program quality doesn't suffer because I have so little time.

    Well, I'm going to listen to some music on YouTube (probably "Tonight She Comes" by the Cars, a perennial favorite), and get some Internet surfing done, and then get programming. And maybe learn some hanja. According to Mabeop Cheonjamun, I know almost 700, but my personal estimate is a bit higher.

    August 21, 2009: The McDonald's Sacrificial Ghost Altar

    The Sacrificial Altar to Ghosts Erected by McDonald's Employees Out Front of Rui Long Road McDonald's (sorry for the bad quality, it's a camera phone pic)
    Have you ever seen a McDonald's employee sacrifice a fish filet, a McChicken, some fruit, and several cups of Coke to ghosts out front of McDonald's? Didn't think so, neither had I, until today.

    It is the first day of Ghost Month (the seventh month of the lunar calendar). People are careful about not saying "ghost" lest a ghost think we're calling its name. The businesses are burning fake paper money. McDonald's had its own special altar with numerous McDonald's food items, like a McChicken impaled on a stick of burning incense!