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Dear Taiwan….

Dear Taiwan,

Well, old friend, it looks as though we’re about to part our ways. Again.

This time, I leave your shores not to explore utterly new territory, but to return to my family. Home, it seems, will once again be where the heart is.

And while the move promises stress and sacrifice, sweat and strain… I find myself counting down the days with a smile.

I first came to the Ilha Formosa in 2002. It’s 2011, and it seems that what was intended to be a one-year-two-at-the-most trip became something much more than that. My entire adult life, the bit that counts, has been here in Taiwan. All the things that people do when they leave home? I’ve done all of those things in Taiwan. Normally with an exchange of broken English and shattered Chinese. Housing agreements, employment contracts, surgery, job interviews, import interviews and somewhat drunken taxi rides. All here. My friends and family will probably agree that the last thing I need is more self-confidence, but that is exactly what Taiwan and my life here has given me. If I can/could do it in Kaohsiung, then I can/will do it in London. The world is my 牡蠣, and I intend on success.

And if I am taking something away from Taiwan, then it is only fair that I leave something behind for you.

This then is the Yeti’s advice for Taiwan, and the people that stay.

Cherish your children. Let them think. 

Taiwan has amazing children. They are polite, respectful and for the most part, are easily motivated students. They are happy to learn, demand answers and satisfaction from their teachers, and respond well to interesting lessons. They do not wear hoodies and terrorize old people. They do not kick one another to death on YouTube, and as a rule can be trusted not to steal. These are good kids. They work hard, and can be relied upon to complete work that is set them. They normally come from small families, and enjoy a level of education unlike any other country I have seen. They are outstanding.

And yet, any creativity that they may have had is stamped out by an education system based on Confucian ideals and rote learning. Repetition and regurgitation are the desired results of Taiwanese schools, creative thought and lateral thought are not. Before they start their elementary school career, most children are happy to venture an opinion, take a guess or create something original. Within a year or two, these impulses and abilities are stifled, often never to return. For all their eagerness to please, older school children are afraid to guess, afraid to venture an opinion and often have no opinion other than the teacher’s stated position. This speaks of a failure of the most disgusting magnitude of Taiwanese schools. It is only laziness on the part of teachers that refuses to recognise original thought, only gross ineptitude that would insist on every child in a class having the same thoughts and answers.

These children are intended to be your future, Taiwan. They will one day be the face that the world sees. Would you have them accepted as innovators, or would you be relegated to a nation of emulators… nothing more than a country of institutionalised plagiarism?

You are a first world country. Step up.

Every country has its foibles, and every country has its failures.  For the most part, Taiwan is a first world success story.

The Taiwanese postal system is phenomenal. It is easily on a par with any Western country, and in my opinion, is probably better than most. The Taiwanese medical system is open to vast abuse, but still provides world-class care to the end-user. I have heard tons of horror stories from the people around me, and yet… whenever it has come to me and mine, the doctors and dentists of this country have proven to be compassionate, efficient, and English speaking. Public transport is cheap and abundant, reliable and efficient. The new subway system in Kaohsiung is great, far cleaner and better than the British Underground. (Cheaper too.)

Government departments seem genuinely intent on helping their customers, and whilst I know that griping about the police and the tax department is de rigueur for all residents of Taiwan, they have both been only too eager to help me when I have asked. Police have come to our aid within minutes when required, animal services within a half-hour. The Kaohsiung Tax Bureau is fast, friendly and so efficient I always leave with a smile. (Filing taxes as a FOREIGN NATIONAL has never taken more than ten minutes, INCLUDING queuing and all the calculations.)

But Taiwan is a failure in three regards.

Your animal treatment is pathetic. Animals are better treated in shanty towns in Tanzania than they are in the gleaming skyscrapers of Kaohsiung. Taiwan is a disappointment, an abject failure and deserves only the harshest censure for their apparent apathy with regards animal rights. Every single government “initiative” and legislation has been as a result of campaigning and lobbying by animal rights groups. There is no governmental accountability when it comes to animal care, and laws are enforced with a minimum of effort. Animal abuse is widespread and endemic, tolerated by Taiwanese citizens with a casualness that is shocking. For every person that cares about animals in Taiwan, there are fifty that believe animals are property to be caged or disposed of when unwanted. The western concept of an animal being part of the family simply doesn’t exist here. It is a slap in the face for Taiwanese generosity of spirit.

Your traffic is your second failure. There is nothing wrong with your road system. Your roads are well surfaced, drain well and are big enough to handle the load. But your drivers, coupled with an apathetic and protected police force, have resulted in a completely chaotic traffic system. I challenge anyone to stand at any given intersection with traffic lights anywhere in Taiwan. I guarantee that within ten minutes at least one person will have run the red light. If you pick a busy intersection, it is three or four violations a minute. Where are your police? What are they doing? Why do you always see three or four of them in a police car, but never one ticketing people that run lights? Why is double and triple parking condoned? Why are scooters allowed to ride on pavements? Does nobody in this country care enough to get anything done? How many accidents must be tolerated before someone says “Enough”?

Your level of English is atrocious. I understand that countries like Bali and Tanzania are more focused on tourism, but why is that EVERY taxi driver in Bali spoke English to me, while I always land up speaking Chinese to taxi drivers in Taiwan? Some of them do speak English, granted, but the VAST majority do not. And I always wonder (as I direct my driver in my pidgin Mandarin) how a tourist is expected to get from the airport to his hotel. I have YET to get an English speaking driver at the international airport. How is it possible that Third World Bali has better English as a second language than First World Taiwan?

You are an independent nation. Be proud of who you are. 

Something that almost all of my Taiwanese friends have asked me at one point or another is… “Do you think Taiwan should be part of China?”

My answer is, was and always will be, NO. Taiwan is an independent, sovereign nation. That you have the misfortune of having China looming over you is terrible. Nonetheless, your heritage is Chinese, and there is no escaping that. It is your history and your culture. But where China has stagnated culturally, where China persecutes and prosecutes anything different or deemed a threat, Taiwan allows personal freedoms difficult to find in Southern Asia. Taiwan is a beacon of hope, a demonstration of what Chinese based culture COULD be.

That said, you are in danger of becoming a pseudo-American sycophant. Your national sports are basketball and baseball. You worship the Americans. You follow their news more closely than your own. And I understand… really, I do… Big Yankee Brother is all that protects you from the nasty Chinese. But you can be allies, and you can enjoy their protection WITHOUT assimilating their culture. The Taiwanese culture is a proud tradition of over 5000 years. Why on earth would you want to emulate an overfed country that was literally rubbing sticks together for fire when you were making fireworks and paper lanterns? Be proud of what you have, Taiwan, lest you lose it forever.

I’m sure that what I have had to say will spark debate and criticism. As long as you’re thinking about these things, I am happy.

I leave Taiwan with a heavy heart, knowing well that I will miss the friends that I have made here, knowing also that I will return one day. (To teach or to visit remains to be seen.)

Yours,

The Yeti.


Taiwan 002 – Visas, Jobs and Agents…

So you’ve made the decision to abandon everything you hold dear, to throw caution into the nearest dumpster and to head off to the mystic East. In the words of Billy Connolly, you’re about to become “wind-swept and interesting”. As aspirations for life go, this is not a bad one.

This post will deal with Travel Visa’s, Jobs and Agents…

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Firstly, Travel Visas.

I am working on the assumption that you are a qualified (Bachelor’s Degree, not necessarily a teaching qualification) individual, with a passport from an English speaking country. Sadly, this excludes Germans, Swedes and Spaniards etc… your countries are not deemed “English” and will not be granted a Taiwanese work permit for English teaching.  The UK, Ireland, the US, Canada, South Africa, Australia, New Zealand… you’re fine.

Travel Visas are going to be dependent on your home country. By and large, most Western countries get a 30 to 90 day visa on landing. South Africans, this does not apply to you. (As is usual SA gets screwed on landing visas.) This site gives an excellent breakdown of the various countries . You should be able to apply for a visa at your local consulate or embassy, and the process will take anywhere between 2 weeks and 2 months, depending on your country, and your situation. You are going to need to furnish a return ticket or proof of onward journey for the visa to be accepted, or for the landing visa to be granted.
Tip: Pay the extra and make sure that your return flight can be changed, and postponed to almost a year later. The standard Taiwanese teaching contract and Residence Permit is valid for a year. If you are sick of the place and want to go home, the ticket can then be used. If you are loving the place and intend returning, well…the ticket can still be used.

Secondly, Jobs and Agents.

Getting employment in Taiwan is perhaps not as easy as it was ten years ago, but it is still pretty basic. If you take nothing else away from this guide, let it be this. YOU DO NOT NEED AN AGENT.

I used an agent when I first came to Taiwan. I not only had to pay for the privilege in my home country, my pay was docked for the first three months in Taiwan. (This was explained as a “probationary” salary, not a deduction. It was only by chance that I discovered that the difference was being paid to my agent.) They promised support and aid, and nothing ever came of it. They basically found me a job….REALLY easy, then took advantage of my inexperience to make plenty of money. I landed up in a horrible little farming town, with a school manager that clearly had no love lost with foreign teachers. It was terrible.

You will find plenty of work available on the various forums devoted to expatriate life in Taiwan. The best one is Forumosa . That site is devoted primarily to Taipei living. If Kaohsiung is more your style, there is a Yahoo group called “Kaohsiung_living”. Check it out.

If you want to work legally, you will need to have a Bachelor’s Degree from a recognised University. It is not required that you have a TEFL qualification, although that might sweeten the pot a little. It is not required that you have a teaching qualification, although that too will make things easier for you. Resist the temptation to use a fake degree. The Taiwanese have begun clamping down on that, and deportation is never cool.

You will need to have a medical test done at a recognised hospital. The names vary according to your city. The best bet is to either enquire at the hospital, or to ask your prospective school. The medical test is blood and a minor physical including x-rays. They will screen for drugs, and they will refuse you your clearance if they find any. If you intend using drugs, and coming to Taiwan, detox before the test. (And think carefully about doing drugs here… it is a capital offense to smuggle drugs and they are really serious about sentencing users.) AIDS and pregnancy will also land you in hot water.

Tip: If you can do it, do the test ASAP. It takes about ten working days to process, and is valid for 3 months, which is basically as long as your visitors visa. You cannot get the paperwork started for your work visa until you have the hospital papers in hand. Getting it done early saves time. (It should cost around NT$ 1200.)

Your school will ask you to sign a contract, and will then apply for your ARC. The ARC is your “green card”… your Alien Residence Certificate. It allows you to exit and enter Taiwan, and is used for identity basically everywhere. It is valid for one year, as is your contract. (Usually.) Your ARC is gold to you. Keep it, don’t lose it. Once you have a school, you are good to go.

Tip: Although the practice is dying out, it was common for Taiwanese employers to include “security deposits” in your contract. Basically, they take a chunk of cash every month, and the money is only paid over to you when you complete the contract… security on you finishing your contract. This is illegal. They know it. You should know it too. If they insist on the clause, or try and take it out of your pay… WALK AWAY. If they get pushy, phone the Foreign Affairs police and report them. The fine is more than they would make off of you.

Once you have your ARC, you will have access to Health Insurance. (More on this later.)Your life here can start.

If you are working in a big city, you should be asking for roughly NT$600 per hour. Any less than NT$550 is a waste of time and money. Do not sign up for anything less than 14 hours per week. Resist the temptation to sign up for more than 30 hours a week… at least until you know you can handle it. When you are signing on, make sure that your working hour commitment is agreed on. There are many schools that demand and expect huge amounts of “office hours” to go with the teaching hours. Use your discretion. Or ask the other foreign teachers what they think.Actually, that’s a pretty good idea for any job.

Bear in mind that it is currently illegal for foreign teachers to teach kindergarten students. That said, there are thousands of foreign kindergarten teachers in Taiwan. Just be warned.

If you have any questions on any of the above, or if you are feeling lost… drop a comment in the box, and I will do what I can.

(Next week: Accommodation.)