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. Continue reading
Somewhere along the way, I must have made the right decision. In light of how things have turned out for me over the past few years, I really can’t help but believe that I’ve played my cards well. When I was a kid, I would often wish I lived or was from somewhere else, anywhere else. Well, not quite anywhere—a place where things happened would have been nice. Unless people have lived under the soul-crushingly oppressive boredom that looms over backwater hinterlands like southeast Oklahoma, they can never truly understand it. Seriously, I wouldn’t be surprised if “Hillbilly Deluxe” by Brooks and Dunn, which glorifies this drudgery, was written about my hometown. In fact, the only way to survive in such a place is to somehow inoculate oneself against boredom, or learn to partake in the the things which people in these areas do to occupy their time—things like shooting animals, satellite television, and driving back and forth up and down Main Street on Saturday nights. Obviously, I never quite succeeded. Continue reading
Coming to the end of an adventure, no matter how short, always seems to provoke a period of introspection in me. The length of the period of self-reflection seems to increase in duration corresponding to the length of the journey. Basically my entire final semester of college consisted of pre-dawn mornings spent drinking coffee in my dorm room staring out the window and wondering what in God’s name I was going to do next. I spent the last two months of my time in Korea after returning from celebrating Christmas with my family in America counting the “lasts:” the selling of my possessions, the last times I would visit my favorite hang-outs, the last time I would say goodbye to kids at the English village. Just two weeks ago, the curtains closed on my most recent adventure, in rural Yunlin County, Taiwan. It was only about four months long, but it felt far longer. Continue reading
Behind me, many leagues down a long and forlorn road lay the ruins of a city. Years have passed since a raucous mob burst through gates once thought impenetrable and pulled down walls once thought insurmountable. In the interceding years, rains have washed the fire-blackened soot from the streets. Ravens and swallows have built nests in the partially exposed timbers of burned-out houses. Rabbits have built warrens beneath the stones of the empty square and squirrels scamper along upper ledges, gracefully bounding across the void when they encounter a collapsed facade. No people reside here anymore: they all died in a futile attempt to defend the doomed polis as torches set it ablaze, fled in terror at the destruction, or else departed in its wake to seek greener pastures elsewhere. With that description, it would certainly be easy to look upon this scene in sadness and remorse, but not so for me. Were I to travel back along that rutted road to the place I left long ago, I would not see the remains of a place once happy and vibrant, but one that was full of oppression, confusion, and heartache. I would feel neither regret nor loss, but something akin to a soaring contentment, perhaps not unlike to the sort of feeling a freeman might experience were he able to look from a place of safety upon the decrepit estate of his deposed former master. This city is not a real place, as you may have guessed by now. It is instead a metaphor for something that once existed within and held great power over me but does no longer. That thing would be my faith. Continue reading
It’s been two months since I’ve arrived in Taiwan, and now the rainy season has begun. And, when I say “rainy,” I mean rainy. I mean buckets-full of big, fat raindrops almost whistling as they fall like carpet bombs for hours on end. I mean walking outside with an umbrella and still preparing to be soaked from the neck up after five minutes. But, let’s back up a bit… two months?! I’ve already been here over two months? Cheese and rice.
It’s almost impossible to believe but I’ve pinched myself and dumped a bucket of ice water over my head and nothing’s changed so I guess it must be true. Just a hair over sixty days ago, I hopped on a plane and started a new life in a new country. Again. Now that new life is starting not to feel so new, but is approaching something approximating predictability and routine. The ironic thing is that this leg of the journey is almost over. Go figure. Continue reading