Monday, March 30, 2009

A Whole New Ballgame

Some of you may or may not be aware that I have taken on a new role here at GCA. Being a small school, we are obliged to take on tasks for which we may or may not be qualified. My new responsibility falls into the latter category.

Chris and I often joke about our many differences: morning person vs. night person, introvert vs. extrovert, rap music vs. country music, caring about Auburn football vs. not caring about Auburn football, etc. However, none of these differences is as pronounced as the disparity in our athletic abilities. Though I am tall and look like I should be good at sports such as basketball or volleyball, I am not. Actually, to say that I am “not good” at athletic activities is a gross understatement. The truth is, as soon as I see any sort of ball, all brain activity ceases and my sole concern becomes how I can avoid coming into contact with said ball. This actually made me a successful dodge ball player in elementary school, until I was the only one left on my team and everyone was depending on me to get other players out or catch a ball to get another team member back in the game. Then I wasn't so hot. My equipment aversion did not prove helpful in any other sporting event.

I give you all of this background information to help you fully appreciate the news that I am about to divulge to you. I have been asked to coach a sport. Yes, my friends, I am not simply on a sports team, I am in charge of teaching and training for it. For so many reasons, I never thought that this day would come, but here I am. Before you worry too much about the health and safety of the kids on the team, rest assured that I will not be handling any bats, balls, clubs or rackets. I am the new cross country coach of GCA. I am teaching kids how to run until their legs fall off. Fun, eh? I am actually pretty excited to try my hand at this because, though I know how to run myself, teaching high schoolers how to run is a whole different ballgame. This is true especially because this is the first time our school has had a cross country team. My first order of business was to train the kids to look forward to our “meet” instead of our “game”. I also had to convince the girls interested in the team (and their mothers) that their legs would not become fat from running. Go figure.

So far, coaching has gone well. The paramedics have not yet been called nor have I made anyone cry… yet. In my book, an ambulance-free practice is a successful one. Here’s hopin’ for four more weeks of successful practices!

Sunday, March 15, 2009

Just a Walk in the Park

I’ve had a bit of writer’s block lately and I think that the reason for this is twofold. First of all, many of the things that have struck us as blog-worthy over the past several months we have already recorded in our online journal. Secondly, so many things that we might have written about in August don’t even strike us as out of the ordinary anymore. Things that so captivated us when we first arrived don’t even cause us to do a double-take now. I was reflecting on this jadedness this morning during our daily walk to school. “What is something that we haven’t written about Taiwanese culture that is amusing?” Like a bolt of lightning, it hit me. Perhaps it was the uniformed exercise group to my right or the backwards-walking gentleman to my left. All at once I remembered that walking through Nan Gang Park in the morning is better than a three-ring circus.

As a general rule, most Taiwanese are interested in general fitness and therefore like getting out and exercising. However, their methods can differ quite substantially from our own. First of all, and this may or may not have factual basis, the Taiwanese are convinced that beating a certain part of their body will result in that part becoming stronger and more toned. I can kind of understand their reasoning when it comes to “toughening up”. However, all rationale was thrown out the window the first time I saw a man who I am pretty sure sits as a model for the Buddha statues ambling through the park with his grimy t-shirt tucked above his gut slapping his big belly with a bamboo pole. Does he really think that is going to accomplish something other than giving himself a hernia? My confusion about this practice only intensified when I noticed numerous people slapping places that no one has ever tried to strengthen nor should they ever try to strengthen, such as faces or the tops of their heads. Many stroll through the park loudly clapping their hands together Paula Abdul-style to some rhythm that only they can hear.

The idiosyncrasies of Taiwanese fitness don’t stop at body beating. On various occasions, I have speculated whether I have wondered into a Monty Python sketch full of people perfecting their skills to get their gait approved for government backing by the Ministry of Silly Walks. Someone walking backwards all through the park is as about as normal as it comes. Many people walk with their arms stretched high above their heads or spread out like they are preparing to swan dive. The one who we look forward to the most is a gentleman that Chris and I lovingly refer to as “Mary Poppins” because he looks as if he is trying out to be an extra in the chimney sweeper dance on the rooftops. Outfitted in tiny running shorts, he lifts his left knee as high as he can, crosses his leg across his body and drops it quickly in front of his right foot. His right leg acts as if it were in competition with the left as it attempts to lift itself higher and cross more quickly than the left one did. All the while, Mary Poppins has his arms stretched out wide as if to say, “I am here, and I am marvelous!”

The park is also filled with people choosing a more stationary approach to exercise. There are myriad groups of people practicing tai chi, which is actually pretty cool. However, it seems that most tai chi groups have one or two rogue members who prefer to do their own thing. One man leaves his class every morning to hone his tree climbing skills as he nimbly ascends one of the park’s many trees to get a bird’s eye view of his exercising classmates. Another man steps off to the side and bounces his body attempting to touch his toes. Now, it wouldn’t be funny (or Taiwanese) if the stretching stopped there, but it doesn’t. With every bounce, he propels a mighty amount of air through tightly closed lips resulting in a sound that none would deny precisely recreates the sound of flatulence. That’s right. A man, bouncing trying to touch his toes, making his own farting noises. I wish I was creative enough to make this stuff up.

As I haven’t gotten up the courage to lose all couth and photograph these strange sights, you’ll just have to picture them in your heads. And trust me, they are just as funny as you are imagining them. So, as you go through your morning routines, do a couple of Mary Poppins steps in honor of us.

Tuesday, March 3, 2009

The Bug

This time of year, it seems that no matter where you are, people are talking about it. Hoarse voices from San Francisco to Moscow bemoan sleepless nights and aching joints. Waiting rooms in doctor’s offices from Nairobi to Buenos Aires swell with sniffling noses and scratchy throats. Just like your cities, Taipei was not able to escape it. It is… the crud. In some demented way, it is slightly comforting to know that we are all in the same boat suffering in the same way across the ocean. Chris’ tuberculosis-style hacking this morning confirmed that we are well on our way through round two of this nasty affliction. You see, working in a small school that houses children ages five to eighteen with their snotty noses and unwashed hands for eight hours in a day turns our work environment into some sort of ill-fated science experiment.

For round one, we were able to watch as kids and teachers fell victim to this illness and waited in quiet apprehension for our turn to come, and it did. It started with the coughing and then came the fever and chills. Having easy access to healthcare, I decided to drop in to the doctor’s office to see what he could tell me. All of the teachers go to the same doctor because he is a parent of one of our students. From the teddy bears and coloring books around the waiting room, I was able to deduce that he is, in fact, a pediatrician. So, feeling a bit like Gulliver in Lilliput, I waited my turn to see the good doctor. After a short time of poking, prodding, and measuring, it was proclaimed that I had an “injected and inframed throat” that were symptoms of the flu and tonsillitis. I went to check out when the person whom I had previously thought was the receptionist handed me an entire pharmacy worth of pills. I literally had six pills that I had to take three times a day. What were the pills that they gave me, you ask? I have no idea. They put them into handy little daily packets thus removing them from the original packaging and rendering them utterly unrecognizable to the untrained eye. Don’t worry, though, I was given an instruction sheet about my medication, but it was entirely in Chinese. I had an emergency pack of pills that I can only assume were horse tranquilizers that I was instructed to take if the first slough of drugs didn’t quite do the trick. And, here’s the kicker. Everything from start to finish including all the pharmaceuticals set us back all of three dollars. Not too shabby, I must say.

Having been healed from the first attack of sickness, we watched in fearful resignation as the horrible virus mutated into a form that was unrecognizable to our antibodies and the wave started again. So, here we find ourselves once again, though Chris is the one debating a visit to the doctor this time. To their credit, the Taiwanese do everything that they can to keep disease from spreading in the crowded city of Taipei. Doctor’s offices being numerous and inexpensive make it easy to get the medication you need, when you need it, keeping people like me from coming into work while hideously contagious. It is accepted practice to wear a medical mask when you are sick to help keep from breathing germ-infected air onto innocent bystanders. In fact, if you are on a bus, elevator, or subway and you cough without wearing such a mask, be prepared to get several stink-eyes shot at you from around the area. In addition to all of my drugs, the doctor instructed me to go to the local 7-eleven to purchase a medical mask as to not infect my co-workers and students. I can officially report, however, that Americans are not ready for the medical mask (though it makes a lot of sense) for when I followed doctor’s orders, I was teased relentlessly by my fellow teachers. To such taunts, I responded with a simple cough in their lunch and went on my way.

In conclusion, if I come home and wear a medical mask, be nice to me or else I might contaminate you with my injected and inframed throat.