Negotiation

For American tourists, negotiation in China is a blood sport.  Almost all native Chinese believe Americans are impossibly, spectacularly wealthy.  Almost all American tourists believe native Chinese businessmen are impossibly, spectacularly cunning.  A potent mixture of preconception.

My friend Matt and I had spent two weeks in China before we reached the Great Wall.  We had come to the Jinshanling section of the Wall to walk the four hour hike to Simatai.  Unlike the more popular parts, the walk to Simatai would take us over plenty of unrestored sections of the Wall.  Authentic experience, kind of.

Matt and I set off with two Swiss tourists we met along our travels.  Matt, a triathlete, set the pace.  I neglected it. ‘Walking’ is a misleading term for what you do on the Great Wall at Jinshanling.  Much of the unrestored Wall is a series of steep, crumbling slopes.  You use your hands almost as much as your feet. 

Each section of the wall is punctuated by a watchtower.  Genghis Khan once claimed that the strength of any wall equals only the strength of the willpower of the men defending it.  Today the Wall tests the strength of the willpower of the men and women climbing it.

Our willpower held out for an hour and a half.  The heat was grueling.  After a particularly arduous ascent, we reached the halfway point of our trek.  Matt plopped on the ground and rested his head against the thousand year old beige rock.  I complained about the heat.

An elderly woman approached us, bottles of water in hand. 

“Water? Ten yuan! Water?”

I sighed.  Travelers in China quickly grow weary of the ubiquitous hawkers, especially when they’re selling water at a massive mark-up.  Two yuan is a comfortable profit for a bottle of water in China.  Ten yuan is highway, or at least watchtower, robbery.

“You know,” Matt said “I’m not thirsty but why not try some negotiating?”

Negotiating is a necessary when buying almost anything in China.  After two weeks in China, Matt and I were familiar with the tourist blood sport of price bargaining.  We had to come enjoy it.

I called the woman back, speaking in English.  “Two yuan for four waters.” 

She shook her head.  “Eight yuan, one water.”

Snickering a bit, Matt tapped me on my shoulder and we started to walk away.  Walking away is the most potent weapon in a tourist’s arsenal.

“Okay! Okay! Five yuan each! Five yuan!”                                  

I turned.  “Tai guile!” I exclaimed, this time in Chinese.  Too expensive.  We walked to our sunny corner of the tower and sat down.

The women approached us again.  I groaned.  However, instead of continuing to pester us, the woman asked me if I spoke Chinese. I had just left Taiwan after a year on a Fulbright Scholarship.  My Chinese was passable.  I nodded. 

She felt me out with some simple, slowly spoken Chinese.  “Where are you from?  I’m from Mongolia.”

Taken aback by the women’s interest in something other than our bank notes, I answered politely: “We’re from America.  My name’s John.  Why do you work here?”

We struck up a conversation. I told her about my year in Taiwan, how much I enjoy traveling her complicated, beautiful country.  She told me about her family in Mongolia and how she walks four hours to work every morning along the Wall to sell water, beer and fans.  She gets home every night at 10 PM, watches over her grandchildren, goes to bed and wakes up at 2 AM to walk to work. 

The woman’s story took us all aback.  No longer feeling like savvy bargainers, we decided to buy a few drinks from her before we continued on our way.

She walked back to her cooler to pick out the beers.  I had translated as best I could while I talked to her, so my three companions knew her story and her schedule.  Matt collected forty yuan—ten yuan each– and handed them to her after she gave us the beers.

She shook her head and frowned slightly.  “No, no.  We said five yuan each.”

“Why won’t she take our money?” Matt asked.

“She says she’ll only twenty yuan like we agreed before.”

We tried once more to renegotiate, but she refused.  We had to accept the deal we had won for ourselves fifteen minutes earlier.  The woman took twenty yuan, walked back to her bag and put away the money.  She took out a fan, approached again and began fanning the Swiss girl in our group as we drank our beers, taking a motherly interest in the girl’s sunburned, exhausted face.

The woman and I chatted a bit more.  She complimented my Chinese and gave me some advice on how to tackle the rest of the wall.  Before we left, she patted me on the back and wished us all good luck.

She had won the negotiation.

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Little Taiwan

If you came here looking for the blog post entitled “Negotiation,” I apologize.  You’re not crazy; I posted a new entry a few minutes ago and then deleted it.  The entry was the eight hundred word, present tense account of my negotiation session with a woman atop a Great Wall watchtower.  It’s the same account I submitted for publication to the New York Times.  The Times told me to wait three weeks before I should assume they’re not publishing the piece.  Thanks to a little calendar dyslexia, I thought three weeks passed while in fact I’m still five days short.  Slim chance they’ll contact me with good news between now and Wednesday, but it’s worth a shot.

It seems wrong to bring you here on false pretenses and not share a bit of my good ole’ story-tellin’. Otherwise you will have squandered a good ten seconds of your life, which is an eon in broadband internet time.  So, dear reader, allow me to tell you about my recent trip to Little Taiwan. 

Like my torturous sophomore year Latin class always did, let’s begin with a quiz.

(Q) What is Little Taiwan?

1. A section of Disney’s Epcot Amusement Park dedicated to Taiwan

2. A little African-American boy

3. My bathroom

4. An ethnic enclave of Taiwanese expats in Queens, New York

If you guessed number two, you’re wrong but you at least guessed the same answer as a friend of mine who once responded to “Oh, I’m spending time in Taiwan” with—I fool you not—“Oh, is that your son?”

If you guessed number four, you’re right.  Smushed (Microsoft Word just shattered my world by revealing that “smushed” is not a word.  My mother has been misleading me all this time!) between Little China and Little Korea, Little Taiwan is a grimy paradise of all things Taiwanese.  Shaved ice, bubble tea (or, for the Taiwanese amongst us, pearl milk tea), dumplings, beef noodles, Super Junior, Wonder Girls.  The only drawback is the grime.  It’s dirtier than Kaohsiung.

Wo Ai Little Taiwan? Not really.

2008-2009 Kaohsiung ETA Maya Bery invited me to Little Taiwan for a visit.  Maya and I kept in touch throughout my tenure in Kaohsiung.  She’s living temporarily in Little Taiwan before beginning a master’s program in library science at Simmons University.  Not content with merely patrolling the corridors of knowledge, Maya also wishes to stick needles in you.  Her dream is to also be a practicing acupuncturist.

Actual quote. Me: "I haven't seen this many Asians on one street in.... Oh, a month. Nevermind."

We sat down for plates of dumplings and some story swapping about Taiwan and life after.  Listening to Maya relay her and her 2008-2009 coworkers’ experiences confirmed for me my belief that so much of the ETA-LET relationship depends on personalities.  Some LETs work excellently one year and struggle the next.  A lot of that probably has to do with personality conflict (or the lack thereof). 

The Little Taiwan dumpling shop, site of the great post-Fulbright summit.

It was also interesting to hear from Maya how diverse her co-2009’ers are in terms of their graduate school and professional interests.  The same is true of my year.  Here’s the list of just my group of eleven Kaohsiung coworkers’ aspired careers: a pediatrician, a Christian missionary, three Foreign Service Officers, an English teacher, a women’s rights lawyer, an engineer, an education policy aide (not me), a college professor of literature and a family law attorney.  Fulbright Taiwan succeeds in its goal of selecting participants with a broad range of interests.

Is the goal a good one?  One may argue that a teaching fellowship shouldn’t seek to create a roster of folks with very different professional aspirations.  Instead, the fellows should all, or at least mostly, be aspiring teachers.  Even a few of my fellow Fulbrighters wondered aloud thus.

I imagine the Fulbright Foundation would reply that the primary purpose of the Fulbright program in all of its incarnations (teaching English, teaching at a college, research) is to connect smart Americans with foreign peoples in an effort to build trust and understanding.  The quality of the actual English teaching is of secondary importance.  Top shelf U.S. college graduates, no matter their career goals, make better salesmen for America than mediocre college graduates who are interested in teaching.

Some folks I spoke with in Taiwan have a response to this assumed Fulbright position.  Even if there’s little to be gained by seeking out aspiring teachers, there’s a lot that could be gained from seeking out ETA candidates with some education training and experience.  Experienced teachers perform better.  Taiwanese students learn more from relatively battle-tested American Fulbright ETAs.  If Joe Smith is an aspiring clown with a ton of teaching experience, no problem.

This opinion is sensible to a certain extent.  I noticed during my year that the ETAs with some experience in education, whether through coursework, tutoring or, in one case, two years experience with Teach for America had an easier time succeeding in the classroom.  Numerous studies support that experience matters in teaching.

Yet I wouldn’t go so far as to prioritize education majors over all others.  The best teacher in our group was a college journalism major.  Coming into her Fulbright term, she had some experience with extracurricular tutoring with young children.  It was more than enough of a foundation on which she could build a superb instructional environment for her students. 

What I agree with wholeheartedly is that international teaching fellowships shouldn’t go to applicants with zero instructional experience directed towards the student group or level of the fellowship.  The least successful ETAs I’ve heard about all came to their classrooms with no experience teaching elementary schoolers.  Not only does their ignorance of teaching practices hold them back, their dearth of teaching experience may suggest that they don’t really enjoy teaching little kids.  No knowledge and no enthusiasm?  Bad combination. 

Teaching fellowships like the Fulbright ETA program need to be especially careful.  Lots of folks will apply for an ETA position in order to win the award, regardless of whether they want to do a good job in the classroom.  The US and foreign governments don’t fund the Fulbright program to revolutionize English language education abroad, but they’re certainly entitled to some hard work in return for their money.

I say we banish all the lay-a-bouts to Little Taiwan.  It’s not nearly as nice as the real thing.

Heaven Lake

While I was reorganizing the family bookshelves last week, I found a novel entitled Heaven Lake by John Dalton.  Unfamiliar with the title, I was just about to throw it into the donation bin before the cover image of a Chinese woman leaning out a train window, the wind rustling her hair, caught my eye.  The plot summary on the back cover piqued my interest further.  In my hands, from some unknown source (I’m usually very aware of all the books that enter the home; my mother must’ve bought the book while I was away), was a book about a twenty-three year old American male in Taiwan.

There was really no choice at this point; I had to read the book.  My policy with novels is to screen my selections ahead of time.  In general I’m risk averse about reading bad books that won’t please or teach me as much as another book I could spend my time reading (if you want to develop the same lovely, stressful quirk, read The Fly Swatter by Nicholas Dawidoff).  This tendency is especially pronounced with novels.  Reading Heaven Lake was a big breach of protocol.  I hoped the book would offer me a chance to reassess my views of American-Taiwanese culture clash, as well as serve up a few nuggets of insight that I had never managed to notice or express. 

Overall, the book touched on the major cultural discontinuities without satisfying my curiosity for social differences that I had never noticed.  At its best moments the author captured Taiwanese or Chinese idiosyncracies that I had noticed but never put into words.  For example, the Chinese/Taiwanese woman’s love and mastery of the personal photoshoot.  The following is from a scene in which the main character, Vincent Saunders of Red Bud, Illinois is in a park with a female Chinese friend:

He eased forward and snapped a photo.  She held herself still, the same pose, which he puzzled over a while until she said “more” and he squeezed the shutter twice again.  He thought it a rather conspicuous activity, the taking of photographs so seemingly worshipful and private here in a public park.  He worried that to passersby he would appear a tactless voyeur.  Yet when they moved to other locations, a terraced cove of the lake, an ivy-backed archway, he saw camera-toting admirers trailing other young women.  Several were extravagant in their posturing, versed in an array of preening flourishes. . .

Credit to John Dalton: This is spot-on.  Whenever I walked through a scenic part of Taiwan or China, I saw at least three or four women, either with their boyfriends or girlfriends, posing like fashion models in front of attractive background scenery.  I would often wonder how these young women learned so many poses.  They had to study magazines, TV shows or newspapers.  There’s no way one woman intuits so many poses.

The poses ranged from goofy to sultry.  Even little girls as old as five or six had a repertoire of funny or cute facial expressions.  Elderly women never whipped out an unnatural pose, either because they thought their appearance unworthy or they can’t understand the vain, preening process.  Some men get in on the action too.

Not all women participate—as much as Taiwanese Katherine loves pictures, she has only three or four basic, versatile poses.  I have a few theories but no solid understanding of when or why the habit developed in East Asia.  Rather than bore you with them, here’s another very accurate, very funny passage from Heaven Lake.  Here, Vincent is traveling by train through rural China as he is served a plate of green beans with gravy.  Dalton highlights the perils and confusions of eating in backwater China:

He chewed slowly, mechanically, a dozen or more beans, until he noticed that mixed within the gravy were coarse brown specks, like small rice or wheat husks.  He raised the plate to his chin and realized, with an almost total lack of alarm, that these specks were actually medium-sized brown ants, Chinese ants, desert ants, perhaps, dead or motionless beneath the quagmire of gravy.

From the kitchen came a sudden boom of laughter.  Pots collided and rang out.  He stopped scrutinizing the ants and tried wrapping his mind around several different notions at once.  One: the ants had come aboard clinging to the beans and had been served to him accidentally.  Two: the waiter and cooks, bigots or pranksters, had salted his beans with insects and were now huddled in the kitchen rejoicing in their stunt.  Three: the ants were part of a peculiar regional recipe.  Try as he might, he could not decide which was accurate. . . . It seemed a dilemma he could scrutinize again and again over the course of a lifetime without ever arriving at one, irreducible answer.

Indeed.

Kaohsiung Pride

My friend and former Fulbright colleague Kelley posted this to her Facebook account this morning: http://focustaiwan.tw/ShowNews/WebNews_Detail.aspx?ID=201008070005&Type=aSPT.  A girls high school soccer team from RueXiang High School in Kaohsiung City (the same city where I lived and worked during my Fulbright) won a major international tournament in Norway.  I’m so filled with Kaohsiung pride I can’t resist highlighting it here, on my Facebook and on my newly minted chest tattoo.

As happy as I am, I’m also a little surprised.  One topic of an earlier post on this blog was how obsessed Taiwanese are with their international celebrity athletes.  Scarcity breeds value.  Chien Ming Wang (or, as they’d say it in Taiwan, Wang Chien Ming)—a M.L.B. starting pitcher—is widely popular because his skills are so rare in Taiwan.  When Taiwanese produce a global athlete, they’re thrilled.

Fact is, Taiwan doesn’t produce many world caliber athletes.  People keep off the pounds by eating healthily and eating less (hear that, my fellow Americans?).  They don’t exercise much.  Some folks jog but almost no one weight trains.  Even dedicated athletes in Taiwan are, on the whole, smaller than their global counterparts.  Badminton eats up a lot of time kids could spend playing basketball.

Times are achangin’, though.  Taiwan is now a fully developed country that provides very adequate nutrition to its children.  My generation of Taiwanese are the first group to know a protein-rich life on the level of the US and Western Europe.  In time, Taiwanese won’t be much if at all shorter than Americans.  Interest in high profile competitive sports like basketball and baseball is growing.

Small victories like the RueXiang soccer team will spur greater confidence and interest amongst the Taiwanese for international sports.  Better nutrition will breed more athletic competitors.  With twenty-three million people jammed into their small, beautiful island, Taiwan’s population isn’t a big handicap; countries like Australia, the Netherlands, Chile and Portugal all succeed internationally with fewer total citizens.

Year to Year

I was very disappointed my Chinese food was delicious.  The dumplings were tasty, the chicken with broccoli authentic, the rice only a bit different.  After months of cynic anticipation, I was excited to lambast, eviscerate and expose the cheap imitation Chinese food served mostly by Koreans in New York City.  My Fulbright friends talked it over countless times over bowls of straight-from-old-Taiwanese-woman noodles.  Demonstrated worldliness in one easy critical step.

Unfortunately, my first Chinese meal at home was very good and pretty authentic.  What happened?  Who warned them?  Who’s the rat?  How else am I to make friends if not by being the guy who scoffs, “Oh, Chinese food!” when someone proposes ordering Chinese?  I felt satisfied.  And betrayed.

Not all was lost, thankfully.  Somewhere in the middle of my fourth American-Chinese food dumpling, I remembered I haven’t blogged in a few days.  I saw that Nikka, an Yilan ETA, started to update her Taiwan blog about her goings-on in Detroit.  That was enough for me.  Welcome back, readers.

::Deafening silence::

Did I mention how much writing helps me clarify my thoughts!  Who needs readers, anyway?

I wrote one piece about my trip to China.  I haven’t posted it yet because my mother convinced me to take a shot and send it to the New York Times Magazine “Lives” section.  It’s a long shot.  But hey—I took a long shot in November and it worked out.  I appreciate the long shot.  Anyway, if my long shot is dumped in e-mail purgatory by unimpressed editors (i.e. if I don’t hear back in a week) I’ll post it here where it is loved and cared for (by my mother).

In the meantime, I hope to wring out of my creative muse a few posts about China.  I’ll probably pick the highlights and write little in-the-moment pieces.  Things fit for the “Lives” section.  You get the idea.  If any of you know of another place I could pimp my writerly wares, please include a comment to this post or e-mail me at floatyourboat23@gmail.com

My mother’s a persuasive lady, but my motivations for pursuing “Lives” fame extend beyond her inviolable logic.  I have a lot of time on my hands and no job, for starters.  Why not use time productively?

Raw productivity isn’t the best term for describing the preceding fortnight.  At the moment my life consists of a lot of reading, eating, sleeping, and hanging around with friends.  Productivity aside, I’ve really enjoyed the reading time.  I’m reading an average of one book every two days alongside countless newspapers, magazines and blogs.  My favorite book I’ve read since I returned is The Big Short by Michael Lewis, an account of three men who bet against the subprime mortgage industry before it turned sour.  Highly recommended: it’s an easy, informative read.

Another book that’s kept with me is The Life and Death of the Great American School System by Diane Ravitch.  I bring this up with future Fulbrighters in mind, many of whom (ETAs especially) probably have more than a passing interest in education.  In the book Ravitch pushes against the prevailing consensus that math and reading tests should determine government treatment of schools and teachers (a policy goal not only of the US federal government, but the Taiwanese federal government).  It’s hard for me to say whether this book will make the same impression on someone not preparing for graduate study in education policy (or someone who works/has worked in education more generally), but I wholeheartedly recommend it to anyone with an interest in how the government regulates education in the U.S.  My opinions changed in response to Ravitch’s clear, compelling arguments.  Accountability systems should be test data-informed, not test data-driven.

One of the most interesting findings Ravitch highlights in her book concerns test data sorting of high performing teachers from low performing teachers. From year [x] to year [x+1] to [x+2] (say, for example, 2007 to 2008 to 2009), only a minority of teachers designated high performing in 2007 maintain their standing the following year.  Likewise, the majority of teachers who earn high marks didn’t earn those marks the preceding year.  Overall, there’s a lot of fluctuation for most teachers from year to year.

At least in the one city from which Ravitch pulled the data (I’m sorry I can’t find the precise numbers; my Kindle charger somehow disintegrated in my bag—caveat emptor), the clear upshot is that there are, if judged by test data, very few consistently good teachers.  Rather, teachers are like the majority of professional athletes: they have good years and bad years.  If Ravitch’s data apply broadly, it’s hard to argue that hiring, firing and promotion decisions in schools should be based solely on test scores, especially when there are performance tiers based on specific scores. 

Should we trust the data?  Assuming most teachers teach the same grade and curriculum each year, how to explain wide variations in individual teacher performance from year to year?  The most obvious explanation would be the effects of different students.  Teachers get along well with some groups, not so well with others.  Could a longstanding teacher be so influenced by the young faces in front of him?  I wonder.  I don’t have the experience to know.

My money is on there being something wrong with Ravitch’s data.  Maybe the trend she highlights is confined to the one city she discusses.  Maybe that city reformed the curriculum midway through the sample period, maybe there was an unusual amount of hiring and firing, maybe the city likes to give teachers different teaching assignments year to year.  To me at least, the notion that one teacher’s performance, as measured by testing, can vary so much year to year is so counterintuitive I want to see very solid data before I change my mind.  Nevertheless, the chance she’s right (along with other arguments to the same point) is enough to convince me that testing data isn’t reliable enough to by itself determine major personnel decisions at schools.

Taiwanese education officials, like their American counterparts, worry about the lack of accountability in their schools.  However, Taiwan has the luxury of a very successful school system already in place.  Reform is more urgent in America.  Diane Ravitch’s central recommendation, i.e. producing a tough, clear set of nationwide curriculum standards for core subjects like reading, math, history and science, gain credence from acknowledging that such policies already exist in Taiwan and contribute to Taiwan’s superb track record of K-12 success.  It is also no coincidence that states with high standards for core curricula (e.g. Massachusetts, Virginia) outperform states with lower standards. 

The vague intention behind the specific analysis above is to emphasize the value of international experience.  Getting a hold of another country’s culture, government or set of institutions is a good way to make sense of your own.  I learned this lesson very well while in Taiwan.  I’m reminded of it every time I sit down and think carefully about education.

Like teacher performance, ETA classes change year to year.  A few days ago the 2010-2011 crop of Fulbrighters arrived in Taiwan, sleepy-eyed and leg cramped.  Right now they’re probably sitting in an air conditioned conference room, watching the video my coworkers and I created about co-teaching.  Thinking about their arrival, and remembering my arrival (vividly, to this day), made me feel nostalgic.  I wish them all the best.  I warn them not to eat hamburgers in Cambodia.  I insist they drink Presotea strawberry milk tea.

Shockingly Shockless

Seven planes, thousands of dollars, countless bowls of beef noodles, two anti-diarrhea tablets and one Great Wall later, I made it back to the US Sunday night after my three week journey through China (and three days of saying my goodbyes in Taiwan).  My mom picked me up from the airport and returned me home.  Waiting for me, courtesy of my sister, was a grilled chicken sandwich with fries. 

The last week has been a nonstop binge of all the foods I missed so much while abroad: pizza, bagels, waffles, Arizona iced green tea (not kidding), cold cut sandwiches, unsweetened bread.  Some meals, like a Greek omelet with home fries and an orange juice, I hadn’t realized I missed.  Only when I looked around at my companion’s plates did I recognize how greedily I had finished my diner brunch.

Between delirious bouts of ingestion, I’ve spent time catching up with friends and family members.  Most notably, my sister convinced me to go to two very strange events: the U.S. Air Guitar championships and “Walking with Dinosaurs.”  Not a bad way to readjust to the absurdity, grandiosity and enormousness of American-style entertainment.

There’s no way to adjust to the spectacle of an air guitar tournament, but adjusting to life stateside hasn’t proved difficult.  The biggest shock to me upon returning has been how infrequently I’ve felt shocked.  For example, unlike most of my peers, I haven’t been struck by how big everyone is (although how much food we eat in one sitting did catch my eye).  Perhaps this is because I returned home for two weeks in November.  Perhaps it’s because I’m pretty big myself (it was shocking a little over an hour ago when I walked into a restaurant and a little American boy assessed my height and gasped much like little Taiwanese kids would).

What has stood out? First, how much we Americans waste.  Taiwan, as my loyal readership knows, enforces strict recycling laws.  Not only do most American cities and states not penalize households for poor waste management, most American fast food restaurants don’t even provide a recycling bin. 

A correlate to this is how much food restaurants and consumers waste.  As consumers, we certainly eat more than Taiwanese.  But restaurants now provide us with impossibly large portions.  I see a lot more food going to waste than I did in Taiwan.

Second, the size of the coins.  American money is in general smaller than Taiwanese money.  Coins are no exception.  On top of the confusion of dealing with smaller coins, a year in Taiwan eliminated my ability to feel in my pockets for the right coin.  New Yorkers aren’t known for their patience, and they haven’t enjoyed waiting behind me on line as I take all the coins out of my pocket to select correct change.

Third, how safe the roads are.  Without consulting statistics, it’s surely fair to say that scooters make roads more dangerous for pedestrians.  For the first time in my life, I returned to New York City and felt relatively safe crossing the street. 

Fourth, the wealth.  Taiwan is a developed place.  If you count it as separate from China, it’s one of the thirty most affluent ‘countries’ on Earth.  Yet the yearly income is less than half of America’s.  This is reflected in the clothing and food quality the citizenry experiences every day.  There’s not a massive, stupendous difference, but the disparity is noticeable.  This is not to say that life in Taiwan is a struggle or there’s no good reason to prefer life in Taiwan over life in the US.

Some of the differences listed above caught me offguard, or at least I hadn’t fully wrapped my head around them even if I expected them.  Others, like walking around Barnes & Noble, were pleasant without being at all surprising.  Now that I can get along stress free, the temptation to forgo studying Chinese will be strong.  I must resist!

In the coming days I will chronicle my three week China trip.  There are many fun stories to share.  If nothing else, writing them down will let me relive the experience years hence.  Any enjoyment you, my dear reader, take from them is gravy. 

This blog (in its Taiwan-focused form) will come to an end after I finish writing about China.  I gave myself a week’s rest after arriving home, promising to write again today.  During my self-granted vacation, I realized that I don’t feel compelled to add much to what I’ve already written about my year in Taiwan.  Chalk it up to a combination of feeling as though I’ve said much of what I have to say and simple tiredness.  If any young, intrepid future Fulbrighters or Kaohsiung expats read this, please feel free to send me any questions at floatyourboat23@gmail.com.

Before we get all teary-eyed, don’t forget more blog posts are forthcoming soon.  Please stop by again to read about my time in China.  There were some interesting parallels between China and Taiwan, as well as some even more interesting disconnects.  T.S. Eliot was right when he wrote that schpiel about returning to a place and knowing it for the first time. 

China is a fascinating subject all by itself, comparisons be damned.  I’ll do my best to relay to you what it’s like to walk the streets throughout different parts of the world’s fastest growing country.

The Last Drops

Three sunburns, five airplanes, twenty five subway rides and one Great Wall later, I’m back in Kaohsiung.  My three week jaunt through China was a success.  My buddy Matt and I soaked up what Beijing, Xian and Shanghai have to offer, and my college friend Shirley guided me deftly through the streets of Hong Kong and Macau.  I look forward to writing about my trip.  There’s plenty to share.

China chronicling will have to wait until I’m back in the U.S.  Until my departure on July 18, I’ll be busy packing my bags and saying goodbyes.  Keeping my bags under the twenty three kilogram limit will take much ingenuity, and goodbyes are always a bit draining.  Entries about my China trip will be much better if I write them in a few days rather than now.

For those few future ETAs who will read this post, you should interpret this post to mean that you have a lot to look forward to.  While I’m excited to return home to the land of pizza, bagels and deli sandwiches, I already know I’ll miss Taiwan deeply.  By itself, such recognition is solid evidence that a Fulbright year in Taiwan is a special experience. 

Now, time to drink the last drops.