Our first day was just an introduction day. We met our trainers who helped us navigate the area around the hotel, explained the MRT (subway) system in Taipei, and walked us to our first work location so we would remember it in the morning. Before going in to the school, we stopped by a famous Taoist temple in Taipei called Lungshan temple. I was amazed by the ornate, colorful designs that adorned every inch of the temple. It was a strong contrast to the understated, earthy temples I had seen in Japan. It was crowded, with lots of people offering food for their ancestors and burning incense. The food was laid out on big tables, including everything from fresh oranges to individually wrapped rice cakes to Snickers bars. Looking back, I think there might have been a holiday. I ventured to take an incense stick from an attendant handing them out. A kind Taiwanese man showed me how to pray and bow and to put the stick into a large communal urn decorated with a dragon when I was done. It was my first cultural experience in Taiwan.
Afterwards the training group took a photo together outside the temple, which the trainers printed out for us at the end of training. I didn’t know it then, but many of those people, through our hours of sink-or-swim immersion into the job, would become some of my greatest friends.
The breakfast was pretty consistent, except soon after our first night a large number of pushy tourists arrived. They cut in lines, stole food that you were in the process of taking, crowded around you, refused to step aside if you needed to get by, and were generally terrible. I was informed by some Taiwanese that they were mainland Chinese tourists, whom many Taiwanese dislike for their rude behavior. I don’t like to generalize, but this was only the first of many times mainlanders seemed concerned only about themselves in their visits to Taiwan. (Of course, Americans are not always known as polite abroad, and many Chinese people have only recently gotten the opportunity to travel, and may not be as culturally sensitive yet.) We solved the problem by waiting until only twenty minutes before we had to leave, instead of forty. It was so much quieter that we ended up leaving at the same time anyway.
The walk to work was a nice time to observe and take in the everyday sights. The first thing I noticed was the sheer number of scooters in Taiwan. They far outnumbered the cars, weaving through traffic without a care. The traffic was crazy and chaotic. At every stoplight they huddled at the front, scattering ahead like a flock of birds when the light changed. You could see entire families, including the dog, packed onto one scooter, most of them without helmets. They parked in great lines along every single sidewalk, often blocking entrances into buildings.
Despite being an eyesore, the buildings in Taiwan have a sort of raw charm that really made me feel far from home (a feeling I adore). During my stay, I would alternate between hating and loving those buildings. Many of the buildings had interesting, unexpected architectural elements, such as boxy edges jutting out from odd places. Although there were much newer, nicer buildings in the richer parts of cities, the epitome of a Taiwanese urban landscape can only be seen in rows of moldy patios, each with laundry drying in the smoggy air, filled with plants that peek through the bars over a crowd bustling from one food stall to the next.
The most stressful part of the training was when we had to do a demo lesson using all the techniques we had learned over the week. We all stayed up really late the night before, practicing our deliveries with each other. As difficult as they were, each of us only had to do one small section of the full lessons we were expected to teach every day! I can’t tell you much about the lesson I taught (I could tell you, but then I’d have to kill you), but I will say I taught a reading section. We stood up at the front of the room, pretended our teammates were our students, and conducted class in front of an evaluator. It was terrifying, but somehow we all made it through with only a few critical remarks. (“All of you have terrible handwriting.”)
At the end of training, still feeling unsure of our teaching ability, we were all assigned our schools. For Justin and me, it was a bittersweet assignment. We got the city we requested, Taichung, which we wanted for its comparatively mild climate and near-by tourist spots. However, during training we had gotten close with many of the other teachers, and most of them were assigned in or around Taipei. Suddenly, we wished we had requested Taipei.
So, with promises to visit via public transportation soon, we all went our separate ways and ventured off to our new schools.
Of course, that’s not all we did in Taipei during our first week! We also did lots of fun things. Check out the next blog post for those adventures.