Category Archives: Uncategorized

Chat

Marines, we are leaving!

Okay, I give up. With the best intentions I am utterly failing to keep this thing up to date. I need a push to remind me and the daily grind just doesn’t provide it. Unless I regain my mojo this personal blog is shutting up shop. It may return, who knows? For now a leave of absence is required. Adieu.

However, there will still be writing – this is merely the wrong location. My rate of book consumption has rocketed again since acquiring a Kobo 18 months ago. In this neck of the woods there are precious few with whom to share my latest finds. Those who understand don’t give a damn for my tastes and those who give a damn don’t understand. Detailed synopses are beyond my current Mandarin skills. Hence a new blog where I will spew out my thoughts on all things literary. Please direct your attention to The Taichung Bookworm.

By the way, the new blog was inspired by my old friend Sya who invited me to review books for her rather wonderful Mountains Of Instead blog. I’ll be continuing to post there on a regular basis as long as she’ll have me. My blog is merely a means to increase my output. Hope you find something at both place to tickle your tastebuds.

For now, consider The Life And Times on hiatus.

Books, forts and help for a friend

Wow, it’s dusty in here. Been a while – again. Anyway I have returned on a mission, well at least to help a friend with a mission. For some time now I have been writing the odd book review for my friend’s blog back in Scotland. It’s called Mountains Of Instead and is predominantly concerned with Young Adult fiction, although my reviews are mostly far from that mould.

Anyway, Splendibird, as she’s calling herself these days, is pursuing a rather tasty sideline as Mira Ink‘s in-house blogger and as such has been tasked with reaching as many potential readers as possible. Now this is hardly Boing-Boing. I look around and see many a tumbleweed but nary a single comment. However I will do what I can and at least give her debut vlogging attempt a shout-out. It has books! A fort of books! So please go have a look and spend some time on her blog as well – you may well find some choice Christmas gifts for the bibliophile in your life…

Rain Day

You know what I miss about being a kid in Scotland? Snow days. Back in the 80’s before the climate started going all apeshit thanks to the shortsightedness of our parents’ generation, every winter would guarantee at least five to ten days where roads became impassible, cars wouldn’t start anyway and school boilers started to cry. I remember walking down my street in Kinross with the snow piled so high around me it towered over my head, creating an unbounded white playground for us all to explore.

Fast forward to now and my current life in Taiwan. Most people here have never seen snow, although generally they’re aware of its existence from watching Ice Age. Generally I’m laughed out of class when I try to introduce my students to the concept of curling. Sledging? Forget about it. So, no snow days here. What do we have to break up the monotony afflicting a vastly and indeed terrifyingly overworked population?

Typhoon Day!

That’s right, as we speak Typhoon Talim is blazing a trail through the narrow strait separating Taiwan from China. Normally typhoons approach from the east and are broken up by the spine of mountains running down the island’s north-south axis and dissipate long before they reach west-coast Taichung. Not Talim, he’s an audacious bugger, blazing in from the south-west and attacking our exposed flank. First rains hit around 10am and picked up over the past few hours. We’re in a lull right now but I’m sure it’ll pick up again soon – eye of the storm or something like that.

The government is all too aware of the disruptive power and physical danger of tropical storms so have a sophisticated early warning system in place (something British Rail could use if memory serves). By yesterday that had already called the order; no schools or government offices would open today. The collective joyous shout could be heard on every street in the city. Or at least in my head.

But wait, I forgot that my boss is an insufferable fuckhole! Would we be granted today’s leave of absence? Every other school in Taichung announced their closure at least 12 hours ahead of classes. Mine waited until 1 hour before I was due to leave. If I’d been forced to drive in through the fist-sized raindrops and scooter-punching winds I was already contemplating my resignation. *sigh of relief*

So what to do with my newfound (albeit temporary) freedom? Well they don’t call me Party Animal for nothing. Or at all. No, I set in motion Operation Do Fuck All. This has so far consisted of

  1. Watching a few episodes of Buffy Season 3 (Faith has just gone evil, it’s getting good)
  2. Playing some bass and guitar
  3. Eating pasta and coffee
  4. Reading “The Drunkard’s Walk”, a study of randomness and its effects on our lives
  5. Studying a bit of Chinese

Believe me, I’m just getting started. It’ll soon be beer o’clock, there’s a little cooking to be done and maybe more reading. I like typhoon days. Bye for now, going to do a little more Fuck All.

Changes afoot…

Okay, seems every few months I’m making the same “Sorry I haven’t written anything for fucking ages” post. It’s as irritating to read as it is to write. The fact is that I’m just to busy to dedicate much time to coming up with anything interesting to say here. Don’t get me wrong, my life is still full of plenty chuckles and thrills (for me at least) but it doesn’t leave me much time. I have a job with unsociable hours, a dedication to learning Chinese, occasional gigs, a rediscovered thirst for reading and, rather excitingly, an invitation to write some book reviews for my pal’s blog, Mountains Of Instead. As well as that, the primary reason for keeping this going was to keep folks back home abreast of what’s going on in this part of the world but as much as it pains me to say it, Facebook does a halfway decent job of that. It may be soundbites rather than information but it’s much easier for me.

With all that in mind I’ve reached a decision. This blog is more or less going to say cheerio. If anyone out there has bothered to hit the RSS button there will still be flurries of activity now and again. I’ll try to post the odd gem from my students, some photos and other odd bits and pieces like last Hallowe’en’s immensely enjoyable musicfest. Aside from that it’s going to get a lot quieter though so don’t be surprised if you don’t see anything new for a couple of months.

But… I have lately been getting involved in some scrapes online, mostly involving fighting the good fight against religion, conspiracy theorists and other anti-rationalists and anti-intellectuals of all stripes. This has spurred me to start writing more along these lines and to that end I’ve got another blog on the go. Actually it’s one I started to voice gripes about life here in Taiwan but I’ve decided to expand it to include more varied content. Only one post so far (and that was a good few months back) but I want to try to add at least one per week. Due to the insular nature of this town I’m trying to keep it at least slightly anonymous so I’m not going to post the address here, but if you want to know where it is just send me a message 🙂

So long, and thanks for all the fish.

Shit my boss says (2)

This here’s an older one but it perfectly encapsulates the frustration of working at a cram school in Taiwan. On applying for this job I was told that the school had wireless internet access and a computer available for teachers for work and limited private use. Fantastic, I wouldn’t accept a job with long hours if there wasn’t some connection to the outside world. In the 21st century that just doesn’t make sense, and the internet is a vital resource for teachers today. But…

The computer is located in the cramped TA’s area downstairs, with kids milling around all day and is also used by the Chinese school teachers who are constantly printing worksheet after worksheet. No problem, there was a weak but existent signal in our own office on the second floor, I could keep my Eee PC there to take advantage of it. Until one day when my little netbook refused to connect to the network, repeatedly asking me for a password.

“Eric, has the password for the wifi changed?”
“No, we haven’t done anything.”
“It’s still eric8?”
“Yes, yes, still eric8.”

No dice. After repeated attempts I gave up and tried to jump onto the communal laptop between the other teachers. A quick look at Facebook, a hurried scan for some suitable quick worksheets for the next class and then back upstairs to our isolated island of internet inactivity. This wore thin after a while so I tried again with my new laptop. Same problem. Hmm, I knew the Eee sometimes had network problems but this was a kickass new piece of kit. Maybe the signal had just somehow become blocked – after all it was weak to begin with. But then I brought in my new wifi-capable Kobo Touch and tried from the source downstairs. Nothing.

(Now, at this point I should remind you that lying is an inherent part of the culture here. People are obsessed with the concept of ‘face’ and the saving thereof and will spin lie after lie in order to maintain face in any exchange. This is very odd to me as lying is one of the most despicable forms of behaviour and one would therefore automatically lose face by lying. Ho-hum. Such is life in Taiwan, people will spout the most ridiculous barefaced lies to your face and smile while doing it, expecting you to say nothing.)

“Eric, are you sure the password hasn’t changed?”
“Erm, yes.”
“But I’ve tried on three different machines and it doesn’t work.”
“No, it’s still the same.”
“Well can we try just changing it to something else and see if that works? Just to be sure?”
(Eric takes out his hanky and starts mopping his brow, this being his hilarious ‘tell’. It’s an object of great amusement among us teachers and the reason I desperately want to pay a high stakes poker game with him.)
“No, we can’t do that.”
“Why not? It’s really easy, only takes a minute.”
“But you see the network was set up by my friend so I need him to come and make changes.”
“Well, anyone should be able to do it. But can you get him to come in?”
(Brow-mopping intensity increases.)
“No, he’s in China.”
“Uh-huh… And when is he coming back?”
“I, er, I don’t know, I can’t get in touch with him.”
“So if anything goes wrong with the network it’s broken forever?”
“Haha, erm… I… you can use the internet at home, right?”
“Yes but I need it for work. And because your contract says I’m only paid for the hours I teach then you can’t expect me to work at home.”
“Hahaha, but, you really should do it at home and then you don’t have to do it here.”
“Will you pay me if I log the hours at home?”
“Haha, no, because you only get paid for teaching hours.”
“So you can’t provide the facilities your job posting mentioned, you want me to work extra hours at home in my free time and you won’t pay me for it?”
(Hankie threatens to disintegrate from mopping speed. It’s now a blur.)
“Well, yes, because this is how we work in Taiwan.”
“Oh, sorry, I didn’t realise. Well I can’t do work I’m not getting paid for because I think that’s exploitation and encourages further bad behaviour from employers. So I’ll just stop using materials from the internet, which is a shame because the kids usually love it.”
“But…”
“Or you could tell us the real password for the wifi.”
“But… but the password hasn’t changed. I didn’t change it.”
“Okay Eric. It just doesn’t work on my three devices or Teacher Eric’s phone. It’s fine with the computer we can’t use but nothing else. That’s the strangest problem I’ve ever heard. It defies all common sense and all my knowledge of networking and basic physics. But that’s okay. I won’t do work for free at home, okay?”
“But…”
“Cool, glad that’s alright. Time for my next class, I have to get back upstairs.”
“But…”

The upshot is that there’s still no wifi access for us teachers. The communal laptop is now moved upstairs out of our reach from 4pm onwards every day (we teach from 1-9pm) so students can do homework from their day school. Seriously. It’s blindingly obvious that he has changed the password and doesn’t want us to know the new one, maybe because he’s paranoid that we’ll waste our time chatting on Facebook rather than actually enhancing our lessons with the reams of material available. I have no problem with this. Not as long as you just be an adult about it, be honest and tell me to my face. Lying about it, especially with such a transparent and convoluted lie which insults my intelligence (and would insult the intelligence of a particularly inbred and malnourished earthworm) is just going to bring the rage, utterly diminish any respect I had for you and will absolutely ensure that you can never have any level of ‘face’ left in any transaction we have.

Still, at least the brow-mopping continues to raise a giggle 🙂

Shit my boss says (1)

Anyone who has worked overseas at an after-school cram school will tell you that to use the word ‘school’ is something of a misnomer. Yes, we essentially try to teach the children the rudiments of the English language but the majority of us employees are under no pretences. We are glorified babysitters and the desires of parents take precedence over educational concerns in every single case in order to ensure that the enrolment cheques keep flowing.

combine such a flawed system with bosses at the schools who often have poor English skills themselves, little to no experience of teaching and zero business qualifications and you have a recipe for frustration. Every day my fellow teachers and I want to smash out heads through the walls at the latest obstacle being placed in our paths while attempting to impart some level of knowledge (and maybe even critical thinking skills) to our students. Humour is the only escape we have, laughing at our situation and keeping on playing while the ship goes down. This is a record of The Boss’s finer moments, things he has said or done which should qualify him for the dipshit Olympics.

The situation: A kindergarten class of four boys aged around 5 or 6, a very tight-knit little group which has been together for a year. Enter Ethan, two years older than them, much bigger but with much lower social and English skills. He enters the class like a runaway train, disrupting the routine the kids have settled into and acting like he’s never met another human before. The students take offence to this. Come play time Ethan is shunned and, not knowing to bring a toy with him, is left with nothing to play with it. Tears ensue. We lack the ability in each others’ languages to resolve this. Telling the students to let him join in lasts only a few seconds at a time before Ethan does his ‘bull in a china shop’ routine and is freshly ostracised. I have no TA to help deal with this so have to ignore my other students to handle Ethan and make sure he returns to the class.

The boss’s response after I tell him about this  in detail both verbally and in my course book? One sentence – “Teach them about sharing”. Really? That’s your nugget of wisdom? You honestly think that didn’t occur to me? Listen, these kids are learning English but their current level is “It is blue. It is red.” Jesus, if one of them uses ‘he’ or ‘she’ correctly I do a victory lap around the room. And you want me to ‘teach them about sharing’??? Seriously, you should consider getting a job more suited to your abilities, maybe cleaning the grills at KFC across the road.

More to follow…

No it fucking isn’t!

My faith in the entire publishing industry has collapsed, dissipated like a lonely goat’s fart on a mountaintop. I don’t know if I can ever read another book again. The lies, the deceit, the untruths, it’s all just too much for me.

You see I’ve been working my way through the second installment of Guillermo del Toro and Chuck Hogan’s Strain Trilogy, The Fall, for the past week so every time I switch on my Kobo the cover stares me in the face. The title. The authors. The tagline. The eerie photo of a religious statue. And the quote.

The fucking quote.

“A high-tech vampire epic.” – San Francisco Chronicle

Okay, let’s work our way through that. I have no problem at all with “A” seeing as it is most definitely a single item. Those who would treat the letter ‘h’ as a vowel and place ‘an’ before it deserve a special circle of hell to themselves as far as I’m concerned so the “A” remains. Now we skip to the end. “Epic”? I’d say so, covering as it does the downfall of the entire human race from a starting point in history’s distant past. Perhaps it’s only just epic and no more but we’ll allow it. And the book is about vampires (and disease and apocalypse and fallen angels and all that) so no issue there.

“High-tech”?

No. No it fucking isn’t. Fuck off. You just said that so your little soundbite could sound all hip and look good to sci-fi fans. You’re trying to ride the nerd bandwagon without realising you don’t have to cause you’re already reviewing a fucking vampire book. Let’s see. The vampires use their bodies to kill. That’s it, no tech of any sort. The heroes? Well they use such Battlestar Galactica-esque weaponry as, erm, swords. And daggers. And nail guns. And hideously 80s blacklights. Oh wait, maybe he means the transport they use! You know, the, erm, cars and planes and boats and trains. In fact the only thing even vaguely high-tech is that one of the protagonists writes a blog entry. Twice in fact. That’s it. And for all we know he typed it out on a shitty old Dell running Windows 95.

High-tech? My balls are more high-tech. Aside from that it’s a bloody good read – airport fiction to be sure but with a delightful subject matter and fast pace. I’m a sucker for apocalyptica in any form 🙂

Won’t be reading any more books after this though. Can’t risk a quote-induced heart attack at 36…

 

(Been a long day, need sleep, brain feels better for random pointless rant.)