A Year In The Life…

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Thursday, 25 December, 2014

Taipei, Taiwan

I have spent near enough the entirety of 2014 in Taiwan, so this could potentially become some sort of soppy end of year reflection blog – most probably filled with clichés and unachievable future resolutions.

I was originally going to title this one, ‘The Year I Owned The Chinese Language, Transformed Dumb Three Year Olds Into University Level Students & Brought The Dragon Phenomena To Taiwan’. However, I soon concluded that that may be a bit too wordy.

As it is fresh in the mind, let’s start with the big one – I’m of course referring to the day that became Jesus’ birthday many years after he died.

‘Tis the season to be jolly, fa la la la la, la la la la – unless you live in Taiwan, that is.

If I was an envious person, I would probably type about how I hope you all choked on your turkey. Perhaps I would even go on to let it slip that Santa is not real to all my six-year-old readers.

Fortunately, I don’t really have the time for bitterness, this is a busy week for me – I need to smoke my last ever fag, bite my nails for the last ever time, and sign up to the gym forever, all before January 1st.

Christmas this year was a complete write off; in fact, so much so that I was required to teach on the day itself. Due to the special occasion the staff all ordered KFC for their dinner between classes. As it stands, I can’t really shed light on how the two correlate – maybe because the Colonel looks a bit like Santa?

To conclude, this is my third Christmas on Asian soil and while I’ve become accustomed to only seeing a bit of tinsel in a shop window here and there, the month of December is always a pretty disappointed reality while abroad.

A minor silver lining is that all the bus drivers are hilariously made to get kitted out from head to toe in a full Santa outfit – although, I believe the beard is optional. I have only seen one driver rocking the face fur. That very guy also kicked an old drunk off his bus – revealing a slightly darker side of Father Christmas to the world.

Celebrations in Taiwan are saved for alternative occasions, most notably Chinese New Year.

2015 is The Year of the Sheep – therefore, I will have to look at big, inflatable sheep everywhere I turn come February. Apparently, flights from Wales to Taiwan are already fully booked up for the first quarter of 2015 – that’s probably just a coincidence though.

They also have an event in September called The Moon Festival – this is a holiday that is based around the story of Hou Yi. Once upon a time, we had ten suns blaring over earth, and with everybody sick and tired of wearing Factor 450 sun cream, a brave soul pulled out his bow and arrow and shot down nine of them.

I guess it is no more far-fetched than a fat man travelling to billions of houses and squeezing his big, fat arse down each of their tiny chimneys. I’m cynical, but not complaining – I’d be happy to celebrate ‘Oompa Loompa Day’ if it means getting a day off work. We had a cracking barbecue outside a bar that day if memory serves me correctly, too.

I’ve also learned a little bit about a culture I was rather unfamiliar with at the start of the year. For instance, I have discovered how highly regarded respect and honour is here in Taiwan.

The MRT (underground) has rules that everybody follows like a religion. Such as priority chairs; which are usually empty even when the vehicle is packed. I’ve seen pregnant women standing up looking at these blue seats with a thought bubble above their head that reads, “I’m only seven months pregnant, is that enough to justify sitting down?” – I suppose there is a chance she may have just been fat, but even then, a lady that big could probably take up the seat on disability grounds.

The only difference between these chairs and others is that they are a different colour and slightly closer to the door – yet, people won’t go near them due to courtesy.

It is very important to create a positive reputation here, or as they say ‘build face’ – generosity being the simplest way to do so (other than avoiding an old biddies chair on public transport). As a result, I am always getting free snacks and treats, which to be frank, I am fine with – though I am potentially losing a lot of face in the process, I’m not completely sure of the rules.

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The Taiwanese are a very superstitious bunch, as well, and this goes beyond knocking on wood to bring good luck or choosing not to walk under ladders. The country is flooded with spirits (one month a year) and locals need to be very particular about how they counter the unwanted angry pests.

August in Taiwan is labelled ‘ghost month’, a period in which the people of the past are hungry and on the hunt to haunt. It is a pretty rocky month for all of us here – thirty-one days of brown pants certainly makes Halloween a doddle though.

So, how would one go about self-immunity during such a torturous month? There are many ways actually; popular methods include leaving food out for them or buying ghost money before burning it – wait, you didn’t even know ghost money is a thing, what is wrong with you? I just wish I was the one smart enough to come up with it.

“Boss, I’ve got some crappy old joss paper here – I’m whacking it on the pile with the dirty mags and last week’s TV guide.”
“You will do nothing of the sort; it is ghost month in a few days. What do ghosts need the most? Ghost money, right? That pile of joss paper is our golden ticket.”

I didn’t use food or ghost money to my advantage, so probably got haunted no end back in August; sadly, I can neither confirm nor deny if that was the case.

Another weird one, they crap themselves at the sight of a red pen or marker – ok, that isn’t exactly true, but God forbid you write a person’s name in red. A kid gave a smart answer in one of my classes, but both my black and blue markers were at the other side of the room.

I pulled out my red and started to write his name in the corner of the board – he almost had a panic attack. Apparently, this means that I want him dead? I assured him I didn’t, but nobody seemed convinced. They now have a police surveillance camera watching my every move as I teaching. The red marker will one day be the start of World War III, mark my words.

The things you learn in a year. Merry Christmas and a Happy New Year to everybody!

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