For my first few months here, my work and social life were two practically separate entities. I’d go to work for maybe six hours: plan, teach, grade, have some laughs with my Taiwanese coworkers and students, then, because I do all of my planning and grading at school, I’d head home and wouldn’t think much about work after. If I was talking about work, it was usually to share something funny or profound a student said (even with somewhat limited language ability from both parties, I learn from and laugh with these kids every day (teacher cliché? YUP).
About three months ago, while I was starting to accept that there wasn’t much consistency in my social life (http://twelveahead.tumblr.com/post/62393873693/where-my-continuity-at-yall-not-a-revelation-more-a), my life at work was solidifying and even starting to become part of said social life. Coworkers were becoming friends and I was getting in the groove of English teaching. But now, just as I was getting comfortable, that continuity’s getting thrown out the window again. (But it’s good…it’s going to be good).
Why was work feeling so solid?
I was forming great bonds with quality people. There was Deana, the teacher in charge of the daycare one floor above, who would help some of my students with their Chinese and English work. Deana’s a little shy, so it took me a few days to realize she is practically fluent in English. On the first of many walks to the MRT, she said “You don’t have to speak slowly to me.” She is considering being an interpreter one day, which I think would be perfect because she is so patient with our students. She took me to my first Taiwanese movie theater (pretty similar to American ones, just smaller and a lot cheaper…go deals). And I had a good time helping her with English idioms and answering her “wtf” inquiries about my wacky native tongue.
I took Deana to my favorite late-night breakfast joint, conveniently located between school and the MRT. I can order for myself in Chinese, but Deana had to translate something to the effect of “we see him A LOT.”
Then there was Chrisdy, the secretary of my school who worked tirelessly to make the teachers lives easier, always going far beyond her job description. Man, she’s so inherently kind. She lives near the Tuesday/Thursday frisbee fields, and after work she would take me on her scooter just so I could catch the last 20 minutes of flatball. She even started to let me drive (driving a scooter in Taiwan is outrageous fun, in my opinion). One day, when I got off work earlier than usual, she insisted I take her scooter without her so that I could play longer; she’d take a bus when she got off later. I insisted back that she was being too nice. Like other Taiwanese people I’ve encountered, she is always confused by my guilt in accepting her kindness. Many Taiwanese people don’t seem to know any other way. There’s something deeper here, and I don’t think it’s just me, I think it’s the culture I grew up in…or maybe it’s some of the white people I see here taking advantage of this kindness. Regardless, it’s an intriguing difference between Taiwanese and Americans, but I’m too tired to explore it right now.
Finally, there was Vivian, Chinese teacher extraordinaire. About six months ago, two of the three Chinese teachers I was working with quit on the same day. For some reason, to this day, no full-time Chinese teachers have been to hired to take their places, leaving almost the entire workload to Vivian. And for half of a year, Vivian has been shouldering the work of three Chinese teachers with grace. Luckily, a part-time teacher, Verona (also an awesome person), has come to help us out at night when she gets off from her full-time job. Vivian’s our rock, though, and without her, I’m not sure what will happen to our humble school.
Weeks ago, I was surrounded by three fantastic Taiwanese coworkers whom I hung out with after work way more than I did with my fellow foreign teachers. I was loving life at Xi Yuan School. On Tuesdays and Wednesdays, when I’d teach a class at a much larger, hectic, neighboring school, it always reinforced my gratitude for our school and people I worked with. It’s always been important to me that I like and spend time with the people I work with and I was joyfully experiencing this with my coworkers.
To make things even better, Hess threw us not one, but two company parties over the holidays. The first of these was a small Christmas party with the other couple of schools run by my boss. It was at a nice hotel with good (and free) food and drinks, and trivia which paid out the equivalent of $60 USD for each person at the winning table!
Here are few moments from the aftermath of those free drinks. Turned around, and in the process of making a heart with their arms, are Deena and Chrisdy. To the left of them in the first picture is an enthusiastic Ryan—a Toronto native who is a Hess veteran with a positive, happy-go-lucky attitude. In the second picture is a confused Garrett.
The second party was the end-of-the-year shindig held for all Hess branches in Taipei. I should have gotten a picture of this. There are an insane amount of Hess schools in Taipei alone, and we packed a massive auditorium full. And when the host—some random, suave, Taiwanese fella—called on each branch (probably saying in Chinese something to the effect of “Banqiao schools, where you at?!”), the employees would carry out their respective tribal cheers and, in some cases, choreography. Some of the more enthusiastic leaders of these would shriek into the microphone as if they were miles away from it; you’d see the whole auditorium’s shoulders meet their ears, cringing as if we didn’t expect it the tenth time.
This party was a marathon—starting at 3 and going until almost 10—and if the foreign teachers of Chung Hwa and Xi Yuan hadn’t taken a voluntary intermission at a nearby bar, it would have felt like an eternity. I felt guilty leaving my Taiwanese coworkers as they sat through the awards section of the party, but all the other foreign teachers were doing it! We returned for a dinner made up of maybe eleven courses and then enjoyed another fun after-party.
Here’s Garrett again, a California native who, like me, works at both Chung-Hwa and Xi Yuan schools. We share a cab ride every Tuesday night as we transfer from school to school. He loves his hats, and we found this fake tommy gun (is that right?) near a trash can in the hotel, which complemented his prohibition bootlegger getup perfectly. Looking on longingly, yet regrettably like any good mob wife, is Tiffany, an Australian-Taiwanese (yes, it’s a cool accent) coworker who is essentially Chung Hwa School’s Vivian.
And here I am ruining a picture of my lovely Xi Yuan coworkers (sans Chrisdy). From the left is Deena, Teacher Banana, Vivian, and Verona. I daresay, work life was going great and I was thinking, I could totally do another year with these great people.
Around the end of 2013, Chrisdy left us. About three weeks ago, Deena followed. And, because the powers that be seem to put little to no effort toward keeping good people around, Vivian left us right before Chinese New Year. The glue that has held our school together, handling a very hefty workload without ever complaining and as solid a teacher as they come, is leaving. With all her heart, Vivian wanted to stay because, like Deena and Chrisdy and me, she genuinely cares about these kids. It’s so frustrating and uninspiring to see such good people leave because they don’t really have another choice. I won’t get into the details of their departures, but I will say they all wanted to stay.
So, now it’s time to cope with the unfortunate truth that work will have the same lack of continuity that my social life will. I have nothing to complain about; I think this is just part of the growth of an expat.
There will always be someone leaving or moving on and now that someone is David, who has just left us for a GOOD job in Boston. Dr. Wong, a fellow hiker, adventurer, teammate, is as reliable and thoughtful as they come. He’s the guy who always made sure to include everyone, the guy who wouldn’t forget your birthday. And dat muggle’s got a PhD, so he’s obviously wicked smahht; he’ll fit in great in his new adult job in Boston.
earning a Hello Kitty mug with stickers from many 7-11 purchases, always a triumphant win
Here’s to conquering Beantown, Dahveed. You’re gonna kill it. We’ll see you soon.
Work’s constancy is still up in the air and in a ridiculously quick seven months, my role at the school has changed from the new guy to the guy everyone’s relying on. But for the next three months, while work gets figured out, some consistency will once again come from my social life: Katherine, Mark, and Matt have returned from home and Charles has returned from his travels. Of course, Ivan returned a little over a month ago (and now we’re roommates in an awesome house). Joanna, Jess, and Jimmy stuck out Christmas here and aren’t going anywhere any time soon. The next closest departures are in May, which feels like forever away, but it’ll be here as quick my first seven months went by. So we’ve got four months to enjoy each other.
In the meantime, what do you say we slow down this train a little, Taiwan?