I have a recurring problem in my life, one that often rears its ugly head when I’m least able to combat it. It involves offering individual assistance to students and the tip of my nose—more specifically, the sweat beads that often form on the tip of my nose and periodically drip away like salty bomblets. You see, it’s hot here in Taiwan. The heat is hotter here than any I have experience enduring. The public school where I work, like most (if not all) public schools in Taiwan, does not have air-conditioning in the classrooms. Yes, you read that correctly: no air-conditioned classrooms. Only copious electric fans and the hope of decent crossflow. Taiwan is a wealthy country, but the government sees little need to install such an expensive luxury into buildings that sit mostly unused during the hottest part of the year. I guess I can see their point, but, still, the first week of classes was a delicate balance of teaching and monitoring every drop of moisture that formed on my face and attempting to avoid the unfortunate development of one of them sailing off and landing on a student’s book. The good news is that it’s only insufferably hot here for a few months from mid-June until about mid-September. The rest of the year is quite mild. On Sunday night at the end of my first week of teaching, a weather system moved through that cleared the air of humidity and lowered the temperature about 12 degrees Fahrenheit. The whole next week, I was blissfully sweat free. Victory, sweat victory.
I’m nearing the end of my second month in Taipei and I’ve just recently passed the six-month mark of my new life in Taiwan and I can hardly believe it. Time is whizzing past, partially because I’m having such a good time. Truly. I didn’t know it was possible for a person to enjoy life as much as I am right now. My employer has realistic expectations of me and goes above and beyond to provide the support I need to do my job. My students are a true delight. The vast majority of them are bright, eager, and engaged learners (quite surprisingly so, considering my experience with Korean junior high students) and make it easy for me to coach them on their speaking. I have ample free time and lots of nice little random days off due to holidays and festivals and such. This weekend is a case in point: Monday is a national holiday for the Moon Festival (Chuseok in Korea) and I have Tuesday off due to testing at the school where I work.
In light of all this, people might be surprised to learn that I’ve actually been feeling a bit conflicted lately. You see, I’m well aware of the fact that I have done quite little to earn or deserve the leisurely life I live. I was fortunate enough to be born a citizen of the reigning world superpower and a member of a white, middle class family that was fairly stable and quite supportive of me throughout my childhood. Just those things by themselves already gave me a massive advantage. Add into the mixture that I’m tall and many consider me good-looking (just repeating what I’ve been told without personal comment). Studies have shown (as if we didn’t know already) that tall, handsome white men are likely to have far higher incomes and more opportunities for career advancement than their shorter, less physically-attractive, or female counterparts. I did nothing to deserve or earn any of these things, which gives rise to the dilemma I face at present as to how I’m supposed to feel about that. Should I feel gratitude? If so, toward whom? I don’t believe in God and I find it highly crass for people who experience good things in life to thank God for them, especially while so many people around the world are starving, living in poverty, and/or dying of infectious diseases. It’s like a person who’s interviewed on the nighty news after a storm and thanks God that his house didn’t get hit by the tornado while his neighbor across the street is picking through the splinters of her home. The implication is, of course, that God intentionally spared his house while deliberately destroying hers. If there actually were a God, I’d hope he’d be the sort to not let one of his children suffer while another lives off the fat of the land. And, if that were the case, that God would deserve a lot of things, but among them would not be gratitude. So, if not thankfulness, should I by contrast feel guilt? If so, why? In the same way that I’ve done relatively little to earn or deserve the things I have, it’s also not my fault. I certainly disapprove of but don’t blame myself for Western imperialism, white privilege, and so on and I feel like I do my best not to overtly advance any of those things. So, in short, I’m not sure how I should feel beyond simply enjoying life now that I’ve fallen into a good place. With time, maybe I’ll have a better idea of how I should approach all of this good fortune.
In any case, another great thing about my new job is that it doesn’t exhaust me as much as my job in Korea did. Teaching isn’t especially hard work, but the act of teaching does drain a person’s energy. So, imagine the difference between teaching up to 35 classes a week with different students every week and teaching no more than 18 per week with students who know you and who you know. All this extra energy I have has made me excited to do something I never really did while in Korea because I was always so tired on my time off. Yes, I’m finally going to start exploring other parts of Asia. I’ll be in Korea for a few days next month to reconnect with old friends and then I’ll be off to Tokyo for a long weekend in early December. I’ll also probably head to Hong Kong for a weekend or two between now and the end of the semester since it’s so close and so cheap to get there.
Anyway, I’m currently looking forward to relaxing and enjoying this long weekend. Also, I’ll finally get to hang out with Bae again now that he’s back from three weeks in New York. To hear him describe how much he hated the dirtiness of the city and the rudeness of the people and how anxious he was to get back to Taiwan, I’m sure he probably kissed the ground after getting off the airplane in Taoyuan a few days ago. There’s also a typhoon coming on Monday but, after surviving Soudelor in August, I’m pretty sure I can withstand whatever the weather sends my way. And, trust me, I’ll take a typhoon over sweaty humid days any day. Keep it real, friends.