So, the Taichung settling process continues apace; must be five weeks here now and already it feels like home, albeit a home I’m not entirely comfortable in yet. The past week has seen my commence my full teaching schedule and it’s as intense as expected – 26.5 hours of class time with my Monday commencing at 13:40 and not finishing until 21:40. Fair enough, that’s only eight hours you might say, but that’s two 4-hour classes and two 1.5-hour classes, the last three only having 10-minute breaks between them, the upshot being that I’m forced to get to school a couple of hours before I start to prep for the day ahead.
Not that I’m complaining though. The hours can be fairly punishing but there are upsides in that the pre-structured lesson plans, required by Shane English School of all teachers, are far less demanding than creating your own from scratch and can indeed be pretty formulaic. This has the advantage of reducing prep time by a good margin, although formulaic plans can lead to formulaic lessons if you’re not careful. Kids are not tolerant of boredom and repetition to put it mildly.
Apparently the lessons will pick up yet further during the summer as exasperated parents dump their hyperactive offspring at our doors for summer break. My workday currently begins at 13:40 at the earliest but there are morning classes on the horizon. Not ideal for an early morning gym monkey like myself but it’s all extra money and I’m sure going to need all I can get to finance my trip home for my brother’s wedding this August.
So what else is going on? Well first off I’ve finally managed to really get moving on the bicycle front. Every day it’s a 6km ride to and from school to get the blood pumping and reduce the fledgling spare tyre I picked up in the UK and US over winter. The route is pretty straightforward although the traffic-choked nature of Taichung and the non-existence of anything resembling rules of the road makes it a fraught experience at times. The motorists’ favourite maneuver is, it would appear, to overtake cyclists just yards before the right turning they need to make (they drive on the wrong side of the road here) and then cut said cyclist off with inches to spare, all while blasting the horn as if it’s our fault. Foolishly I had also presumed that the red, amber and green lights at every intersection indicated some kind of traffic priority system rather than simply being decoration – it took almost being wiped out by a speeding bus barreling through a red light mere centimetres from my front wheel to make me realise that they’re just decoration for the most part.
There is another downside to my self-propelled adventures; the weather. Taiwan is significantly cooler than much of Thailand for the majority of the year but in comparison to Scotland it’s still pretty balmy and that turns me into a sodden sweat-monster by the end of my journey, at least on the way to work. Setting off at midday during summer can only end one way and it’s only going to get hotter for the next few months. The fact that the last 2km to school are uphill further compounds the problem. Silver linings are everywhere though – the return journey, during the cool of night when the streets are far less crowded, is mostly downhill and with a prevailing wind at my back. Cue the ‘Street Hawk’ theme running through my head as I race the stop lights down Taichung Port Road 🙂
Of course all this extra physical activity has led to a vastly increased appetite, my body constantly harassing me to replenish its newly depleted energy sources and keep it from keeling over. Fair enough, going my from the three months of sedentary stagnation over winter to suddenly hitting the gym every morning, cycling to work and teaching again must have come as something of a shock so I’ve been only too happy to accede to my stomach’s endless entreaties for sustenance.
This has required significant reserves of willpower however. In stark contrast to Surat Thani, Taichung is a wonderland of world cuisine no different from any other thriving metropolis. Within a block of my apartment I can gorge myself on Greek, tempt myself with tapas or munch on some Mexican. My part of the city isn’t called Little Europe for nothing – it’s a Western expat’s paradise bustling with Italian eateries, German delicatessen’s and the ubiquitous American-style diners which pepper the city. Foods are imported in healthy quantities so no home comfort is impossible to find, with the welcome consequence that high-quality beef is everywhere – steaks, burgers, chili, sausages, you name it.
All this culinary wonder comes at a price though, to both the wallet and the waistline. Over a year and a half my physiology and finances adapted perfectly to the Thai way of perfectly stomach-sized meals almost entirely free of fat and so cheap that to cook for yourself rather than enjoy the fruits of someone else’s labour seemed like an unaffordable luxury. The western diet – typically various combinations of potatoes, meat, bread, cheese and pasta – is much less forgiving to the body and costs anywhere from two to five times the price of local fare (I’ll post about that soon, still sampling).
With that in mind the home-grown treats have become a weekend reward in return for behaving myself throughout the week, and behaving myself has meant a long-overdue return to cooking. My current abode has a well-equipped kitchen and I’ve taken back to cooking with a vengeance. My adventures haven’t been too extreme so far, I’m still sourcing ingredients and my quest to regain fitness has meant meals revolving around a combination of fish/chicken with wholewheat pasta/brown rice and various vegetables (the flavour and variety of mushrooms on offer here is simply phenomenal, fungi lovers take note). Once I’m fully settled and have added the necessary equipment, herbs and spices to the kitchen then expect the scope to expand significantly, especially when I have the opportunity to show off to Em…
That’s all for now. My weekend plans have been sabotaged by my borrowed scooter deciding to die on me and by the sudden and by no means unpleasant appearance of some rain showers. Instead of exploring the further reaches of Taichung county and scoping Em’s new school with my camera I’m sequestered indoors with the internet and several movie channels to keep me company. Never mind, pay-day slowly approaches and with it the promise of a tripod for my camera, allowing me to capture Taichung’s sparkling, neon-soaked presence during the odd hours which I’m forced to keep. More news to come soon…