Saturday, 19 November 2011

How We're Getting On

In my last few blogs I've been telling you about various aspects of life in Taiwan and the things we've been doing, so I thought this time I'd give an update on our lives here in general.

Our main focus over the last few weeks has been Conrad's school life. As I've already mentioned, we decided to enrol him in a local school so that he could learn to speak Mandarin and also experience the local culture, as it's very easy in our circumstances to live lives isolated from the people around us. One of our main reasons for coming to live here is to learn about another culture so enrolling Conrad at an international school would have defeated our purpose.

Of course, this has been a challenging experience for Conrad and somewhat of a guilt trip for me. After all, he was perfectly content back in England. He had good friends, a school life and extra-curricular activities that he was happily participating in. We've uprooted him from all that for an experience he didn't request and had no real interest in, with the idea that in the long run he would benefit and perhaps even appreciate the time he has here.

Conrad's school experience here has been a mixed bag so far. He's now been attending his school for about 12 weeks. Three weeks ago I went into a meeting to discuss his progress so far and the news wasn't good. He'd got into the habit of leaving lessons he wasn't interested in and disappearing off to the library. He was also reading Harry Potter during the lessons that he was present for. Clearly, he was not going to pick up a lot of Mandarin this way, so we came to a decision that I would stay at the school all the time that he was there to make sure he attended his classes and didn't shut himself off from what was going on around him.

This is what I've been doing and it has worked in the sense that now Conrad participates a lot more in the general class activity and has even, as far as I can tell, found some of the classes he was bunking quite enjoyable. However, just last week I requested that Conrad change classes to a lower grade and they have agreed. The benefits to Conrad are that the Chinese is easier and the children's age ranges are closer to his own, as his birthday is late August. There are some other reasons for this request that unfortunately I cannot state publicly.

Tomorrow I'm going to also ask that I be allowed to stay with Conrad in his class for the first few weeks in order to help him understand what's happening and know which book he should be using for which part of the timetable. Part of his problem, and one of the reasons that he was missing lessons, is that he didn't really have much of a clue what was happening. There are multiple books for each subject and they're all in Chinese, so it is confusing even to me. Amongst other things I'll be labelling his books in English for this next class.

Despite the problems, Conrad is still making headway. His Maths is very good and in some areas he's further on than his grade 3 class. The BBC Bitesize website is fantastic, as is a site we subscribe to, Mathletics. With the aid of these and other resource websites I've been keeping Conrad up to pace with the UK National Curriculum, in Maths, Science and English at least. In Chinese he can count and say and understand some simple words and phrases. It's hard to tell how much he understands because of course he isn't that conscious of it himself. He's started some private tuition in Chinese outside of school now and I'm hopeful this will be very useful for him. His teacher seems very good.

Conrad's also started Taikwando classes, which he really loves. The teachers are very patient with him and he's learning to copy what everyone else does if he isn't sure what to do (when he isn't distracted by his reflection in the mirror, that is!). His piano lessons continue too, though I've had to change teachers as I wasn't really happy with the first one we found. And finally I also take him to soccer practice at his school when I can persuade him to go. He isn't really interested in soccer so he often doesn't want to do it but I find he usually enjoys some part of it once I get him there. Generally speaking, he is settled in here and enjoying many aspects of his life, although he does sometimes miss his life in England and the people he left behind.

Last weekend I bought a secondhand bike. There are some great bike paths running alongside the riverways in Taipei and on a dry day I plan to take Conrad on a cycling trip to explore some new areas of the city we haven't yet visited. It's been more than fifteen years since I last regularly cycled, so I'm a bit wobbly! But with no traffic to fall into I only risk my dignity. I discovered that we can access bike paths quite close to our apartment and that they will literally take us to any part of the city that has a river running through it.

Generally our lives here are very good, concerns over Conrad's schooling aside. Andy's of course working very hard as always but making the most of his placement in Taipei. Last week he was asked to give a presentation on behalf of his company at a conference here, so in many ways he's much better-situated work-wise than he was when we were living in the East Midlands. My working life has necessarily been put completely on hold until we feel Conrad is settled and happy at school. I'd planned on not working for the first few months and that's how it's panned out.

I like apartment living very much. I have far less work to do than was entailed in looking after a four bedroom house with a huge garden in the UK. There is so little noise from our neighbours you'd think their flats were unoccupied (of course the recycling yard makes up for that somewhat). And eating out is much cheaper here, so I have to cook less, and also Andy cooks more too. Yesterday he bought an small oven and plans to bake bread. The nearest Western-style bread vendor is Carrefour, which is three MRT stops and two ten-minute walks away.

The Taiwanese people are incredibly friendly and polite. There's an emphasis on decency and civility that makes day to day living in a large and crowded city very bearable. While we do get stares, we haven't yet had a negative encounter. The only occasional intrusions on going about our daily business come from people who call out 'Hello!' and 'How are you!' to demonstrate their grasp of English. When I fumble through what must be nearly incomprehensible Chinese, people are always patient and polite (though it has to be said they nearly always change to English straightaway!)

So that's it. Our life in Taiwan so far. There so much more to explore of this country. I'm hoping to visit Taroko Gorge in the next few weeks, and also head down to Maolin county to see millions of overwintering purple butterflies in January. But in the meantime our goal is to settle down still further and normalise Conrad's school life. We miss friends and family very much of course, but I console myself with plans to visit the UK and Spain during the long summer break next year, when I will also be reacquainting myself with Green and Blacks' organic dark chocolate, bacon sandwiches and roast dinners too!

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