January 17, 2007

Episode XIV: Let Them Grow

Education system in my home-country Poland, has changed lately, in 1999. At the moment compulsory are: six-years-long primary school and three-years-long gymnasium, which finishes with national examination that gives the right to enter chosen secondary school.
Usually pupils are spending three years in secondary school, called lyceum, or four years in technical school that already gives specific profession, such as electrician, mechanic or, for example, geologist.

After secondary school and matriculation exam, comes time to go to high school, which is university or academy. Commonly, studies last from three to five years, ended with defense of final thesis and achieving a degree in exact field.

Master’s degree in Poland, is ordinarily qualified at the age of twenty-four. That’s just to tell you few details about how does it look like to go through education path in my country. Now I would like to focus on Taiwan.

I’m not an authority to discuss Taiwanese system itself, I can only comment its effects and results, as I see and meet them here everyday. First thing that made me reflect on this issue is relation between teacher and student. According to what I was said, student is supposed to listen, more than actually asking questions, which from my point of view was a basic way to gather knowledge and communicate with my professors in Poland.

On the other hand, that teaches respect, patience and proper manners. Unfortunately it sometimes brings a withdrawal in form of being afraid to make a mistake.

Taiwanese girl that studies English once said to me: “excuse me I won’t talk to you, I would be embarrassed of my weak linguistic skills”. That was not a good sign for her future, if I may suggest anything.

Other story is the amount of pressure that parents put on their youngsters to bring the best grades from school. Education, especially at the early stages, is about discovering kid’s potential and encouragement to learn and explore. Should never bear frustration and fear.

I had an occasion to watch Taiwanese children around ten-years-old. I need to admit they are smart, bright and able to pick up knowledge very fast. Teacher’s role is to make them enjoy interaction with the others and not let them become shy.To finish this almost serious episode, I would like to mark that Taiwanese people impress me, with costly efforts they make to secure their offspring’s education, welfare and future. It’s really something that should set an example to follow.

January 13, 2007

Episode XIII: International chemistry


In the second week on January 2007 I had an extraordinary opportunity to meet, work and have fun with group of almost 20 Taiwanese people. My international friends from Italy, Japan, Russia, Germany and I, organized three-days-long series of meetings, discussions, brainstorming and sport activities for civil servants of Kaohsiung city.
Goals of our camp were: to learn about upcoming World Games and its disciplines, to meet and work with foreigners, to practice English and to have fun.

Goals fulfilled or not, I’m sure that we have produced some kind of chemistry between each other, which made us friends.

Taiwanese people are considered as those who will use the scooter to get to nearest 7-eleven, basically stay at home and watch television all the spare time and dislike physical effort.

If you have seen our bunch while we compete in three different sports, you would never say those things about Taiwanese people again. First of all it was aerobics which requires lots of energy and artistic invention. With great surprise and admiration we find out that one of the teams managed to perform acrobatic figure also known in aerobic terms as pyramid.

Later on we decided to try flying disc, so-called Frisbee. With the help of local champion we picked up some basic rules and moves. For all who have never tried this sport before I have to say: this is fun! It’s quite unbelievable how man can make this piece of flat plastic spin, fly and roll.

Third discipline we have challenged was climbing. To practice, we went to the climbing wall in the city centre where two friendly instructors showed us the secrets of this exciting sport. They also made it safe for all of us.

To reach the top is not that easy but I have to say that determination and will of our Taiwanese colleagues was outstanding. Other thing is they were not the youngest people which should meet some respect in terms of how much endurance climbing demands. It was a real lesson of maintaining the stamina.

Coming back to the sitting parts of the camp, we have found ways to express our ideas and thoughts with painting, drama, debate and speech. We tried to learn something new about other cultures and to take a look at some complex problems from different perspective.

I’m happy to say that those three days brought lots of positive experience, gave necessary feedback and showed the space for improvement for the future. It was not perfect but you have to start with something. Hopefully we will be able to continue with such activities in next six months.
At the end I would like to thank my companions Britta, Chiara, Nasima, Satoko and Rita for priceless help and support.

Big “ni-hao” goes to: Connie, David, Elaine, Fan Sin, Fanny, Frank, Jane, Jessica, Judy, King, Leon, Linda, Mary, Ron, Tom, Willy and Yuli. Take care my comrades!

Episode XII: End of period


Using ice-hockey terms, I am just finishing my first period here in Kaohsiung. There are four months behind me and eight more to go. I would never expect things are going to happen in such a tempo. Really, I have a strong impression that I have arrived to Taiwan two weeks before. Literally there is no time for boredom or lack of activities.

What did I gain in those months apart from some weight, which is absolutely natural if living in a food paradise of Kaohsiung?
Definitely I am much more familiar with the city topography now, than three months ago for example. Wufu, Jhongshan, Minzu or Sanduo roads are not a mystery to me any more. It simply makes me feel comfortable. Traveling across the city is a pleasure now, not a question mark.

Everybody in the world knows than Mandarin is a difficult language to learn but I never thought it is so complicated when comes to phonetics and pronunciation. To find the correct tone is really hard and at the end all the people are expecting you, as a foreigner, to speak English, so what I’m always trying to debate is to order the tea I want. By the way, am I the only person in Kaohsiung that prefers hot tea to ice one? Sometimes I feel like a weirdo, when I meet an odd grin on the vendor’s face after I state that warm and hot are not the same thing.
As I have promised at the beginning of my Taiwanese adventure, I’m using chopsticks all the time here, except of only few occasions I was not able to do it and forced to find my old knife and fork. I got used to it pretty fine and it brings me pleasure when people tell me I operate them well.

Number of a wonderful Taiwanese people I have met in my first four months here, is outstanding. Everywhere I go I’m treated like someone who is important and welcomed. Such hospitality is very touching matter and I often feel like having no response to it, because I cannot offer the same that I’m offered. Maybe it’s true that Taiwanese people in general are a bit shy and timid, but I can bet if you have a friend in them, they will open their hearts and share the last bowl of rice with you.

Support, help and care shown to me during my stay is positively overwhelming and tremendous. I would never expect to be given so much warmth and attention. I will always remain a foreigner but an effort of my friends to make me feel like home is priceless and means so much to me that I cannot even find proper words to express it. All I can say is: thank you. Hope one day I can pay those favors back.
As the first period ends, year ends as well, what is the best occasion to summarize past twelve months. If next year will be as cheerful and successful as 2006, I will be the happiest person in the world, because many of my dreams came true. I wish the same to all of you.

Episode XI: Silent night


Winter for real arrived to Kaohsiung in the third week of December. Now I can understand why people here wear very warm clothes, including hats, scarves and gloves. Frankly speaking, I was a bit surprised with such a harsh weather conditions. Strong winds and very cold evenings. I would never expect that on the tropic. Hopefully it will not last long because I already miss sunny mornings and kind light that touches my eyes and face every time I stare at the sky. I will welcome spring with open arms and heart.
Winter and Christmas time are inseparable things in Poland as in most of European countries I believe. It is like, Jon-chio Wuye-bin, Mid-autumn festival and moon-cakes here in Taiwan. Christmas tree occupies honorary spot in the main room of every home, where all the family gathers and celebrates those warm and happy days. It is always splendidly decorated with lights and glass balls.

Traditionally during Christmas Eve, on the 24th of December, in Polish house there should be twelve separate dishes on the table. Nowadays, not many people can afford that, but some still follow this unique custom. Common and expected dishes are mushroom soup, chicken broth or beetroot soup, fried fish, most popular is carp, also herring in cream and onions or simply in oil. Famous bigos, which is savory stew cabbage and meat. Pierogi – something that reminds dumplings.
Old beautiful Polish tradition says that there should be one extra plate on the Christmas table. It is waiting for so-called unexpected pilgrim who is supposed to knock at the door and ask for shelter. He should be greeted with all honesty. Disinterested help symbolizes Christian way of life, a sacrifice we are ready to make for the others.

In Taiwan, as a country where nine of ten people are Buddhist, Confucian or Taoist, society does not celebrate Christmas as I am used to do it. Decorations and presents are not the only things that make this time special and important. There will be no days off from work, but with my bunch of friends from all over the world, I will try to create the atmosphere which is going to make us feel like home a bit.
After the Christmas there will be only a few days left of the old year 2006. According to Chinese lunar calendar, it’s a year of the dog, which is a year of my birthday, to be honest. At the moment we are approaching a year of the pig. Hopefully 2007 is going to be very fortunate to all of you.

What can I add more? Don’t eat too much. Don’t drink too much. Be good to the others and remain passionate.