Tuesday, June 25, 2002

I do want to recap last Wednesday evening, which I didn't get to in my enthusiasm of setting up this site. Wednesday night I met TC for dinner. I was eager to meet his friend Kirk, renowned for his ability to take the piss out of people in Chinese, and TC obliged. I now know what to say the next time I encounter bad service. It's all about the tone and expression-a healthy dose of sarcasm.

We ate dinner at a little restaurant serving Yunnan-style food. The restaurant was quite quaint, with actual vinyl records supplying the music. The sound came out of really old speakers, that visibly vibrated to the music. We listened to what sounded like old salsa music in Chinese and classic Chinese folk drinking songs. Besides teaching me cheng yu and other choice phrases in Chinese, TC and Kirk wrote down the name of the album for me. One of these days, I'll have to search for the album and hope the recording is available in a more modern format.

Saturday morning I got up early to participate in a focus group sponsored by a Ministry of Education task force on how to improve undergraduate education in Taiwan. Also participating were David, Annie (both here on Fulbrights), Jane, Gordon (here visiting his girlfriend, Annie), Susan, and Jean. Grace Huang, who is here doing field research for her dissertation and one of the first people I met here in Taiwan, recruited us. UC Berkeley, UC Davis, USC, Brown, Barnard, MIT, and Harvard were represented on our panel.

We had been told to prepare a ten to fifteen minute presentation. However, we suggested that we all first introduce ourselves before beginning our presentations, and soon, that idea was thrown out the window as we engaged in a free-flowing discussion.

Among the topics discussed were how our physical surroundings affect our behavior, and even though the task force wanted to revamp Taiwan's educational system, their traditional assumptions on learning had crept into the focus group. I arrived, expecting to be seated in chairs arranged in a circle, balancing our materials on our laps, but instead we found ourselves at a large conference table, the task force on one side, and the panelists on the other side. This was a classic case of the teacher on one side, and the student on the other.

I think it was a learning experience for all. I was surprised to find that the average Taiwanese student takes ten classes per semester. However, unlike the more in depth U.S. system, each of those classes meets for only two hours a week, and there are no assigned readings. The instruction is entirely lecture-based. Naturally, the learning suffers if the teacher is poor.

The other surprising bit of information was learning that Taiwanese students don't write papers until they get to graduate school. In the U.S., we start writing papers at a very young age, from book reports in the third grade to term papers in high school to senior theses in college.

I had always assumed that the poor quality of writing that I have edited was due to the differences between the Chinese and English languages. By poor quality, I mean unfocused writing, with no clear arguments, missing topic sentences, weak supporting evidence, and abundant redundancies. However, I now realize that part of the problem is that people don't get much practice. Further, Annie mentioned from her experience researching at the Academia Sinica, academics in her field are under intense pressure to produce four to six papers a year, even though in the U.S., the time expected to produce a quality paper is six months. So, the poor writing is a combination of quantity over quality, minimal training, and language differences.

Later, I met up with Vicky, Steven, Judy, and two of their friends for dinner. Vicky has been busy helping her family move to Taoyuan, and Steven was in Taiwan for less than a week, so I was so glad to be able to see the cute couple twice this past weekend. We took a photo of the three of us, and as soon as I finish the roll, I'll have it developed. It will be fun to compare this latest photo with the one I have of the three of us, when the two were on their third date. I've enjoyed watching the romance blossom between one of my closest girlfriends and a classy gentleman.

I was in such a good mood Sunday night. I am truly enjoying this yoga class at my gym. Although my Chinese has improved immensely, I appreciate how the instructor also calls out the poses in English. I'm familiar with the names, so I can just flow straight into the next pose without having to stop and look around first. So much of daily body movement lateral-just forwards and backwards, that just moving gently in all sorts of directions feel so good. Afterwards, I always feel so strong, yet loose and relaxed. I can't help but exude beneficence towards the world as I float home.

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