This current sojourn of mine is not the first time I have dwelt in East Asia. I have lived in Taiwan, and I have toured China, and this time around, my current plan is to live here in Beijing for the next ten or fifteen years, if I should live so long. I initially went to Taiwan, because I didn’t want to go anywhere where I was unfamiliar with the language, and because I had heard that it would be easy for me to support myself over the length of a summer. The idea of teaching English appealed to me; and indeed, after returning from my first summer in Taiwan, I took a part time position as a writing tutor with Rutgers’ ESOL program. My job then was to assist foreign students hone their skills to pass the essay section of the TOEFL exams.
The first thing I noticed when debarking at CKS Airport in Taoyuan was the pervasive aroma of mildewed concrete. The second thing I noticed was the large sign posted over the jetway as I entered the terminal proclaiming the DEATH penalty for anyone possessing or transporting drugs.
Driving into town for the fist time, the next thing I noticed was that most of the buildings were covered in ceramic tile. This held true for every district and town in which I lived- Taipei, Zhongli, Pan Ch’iao, Tu Ch’eng, Yong He, and Zhong He. When I remarked upon it, I was told that the idea was that in such a smoggy subtropical climate, tiled exteriors would allow the rain to “wash” the buildings of grime more efficiently than brick or stonework. It sounded like a good idea, but it did give certain parts of the city the ambience of a public toilet, especially considering the semi-open sewers that ran along many of the streets. They should have gone with glass-and-steel.
I have been privileged to be in Taiwan to witness several historic events. I was there to witness the lifting of martial law. I was there to witness the first free elections. I was there to witness the first direct presidential elections. From Taiwan, I saw the crushing of the Tiananmen Square protests. And I also saw the election of the first native Taiwanese president, Lee Tung-Hui, and eventually the displacement of the old Guomindang (KMT) by the native Taiwanese Democratic Progressive Party (DPP). And I lived through the great earthquake of September twenty-first, 1999.
After a rocky first year, which included working for a buxiban chain that both under-employed as well as underpaid me, I happened to meet a gentleman whom I helped to establish a private kindergarten/ pre-k day care center. I eventually became the lead teacher and liaison between foreign and domestic staff, and oversaw an expansion of our student body from a single class of half a dozen to half a dozen classes with a total of over a hundred students. I also acted as interpreter between our parents and the English-speaking staff. I became very interested in early childhood education at that time, and began distance courses with universities back west, reading educational psychology. I subscribed to the National Association for the Education of Young Children’s magazine, and studied the articles for lessons, teaching techniques, and further research in child development.
Eventually, I had a falling out with the owner, and returned to America where I obtained a position with the School District of Philadelphia while studying for my M.Ed. at a local university. Unfortunately, I was unprepared for the realities of working in an American public school, and for personal reasons, was unable to complete my master’s degree; but that’s another story.