Conrad's adaptation to living in Taiwan is a popular subject with readers, so I thought I'd give an update on how he's getting on.
The first time I discussed this was in the early days of our time here, and Conrad was quite enjoying being told how cute he was, as well as receiving lots of general attention as we went about our lives here in Taipei. Now, his feelings are more complex. After a while, even an eight year old's egocentrism can be overwhelmed by excessive attention and at times this has been the case for him. Perhaps paradoxically, the people he takes most exception to staring at him are other children. If he's approached and spoken to, he's fine, but out and out staring provokes a negative response. The result is that he has honed his own staring skills to such an extent that he's now able to out-stare any other child. (It's a little unnerving to watch, to be honest.)
With other strangers, his reaction depends a lot on how he's feeling. Most of the time he still gets a little ego-boost whenever some adults (or, more usually, a group of adolescent girls) bears down on him, coo-ing. When he's tired or grumpy however, he'll either scowl or turn his head into me so he can't be seen. I think that in terms of how his self-image has been affected by living here, he feels as though he is worthy of all this attention, but that it's a little wearing at times.
Luckily, because he's quite an old child, no one attempts to grab him or carry him off somewhere, which I've heard is often the case with younger white children. Similarly, no one pinches his cheek or plants a kiss on it. The only place he is touched, and that's rarely, is his hair. I think this is supposed to be for luck because he's blond (i.e. golden).
At school, everyone's now used to him, and those who believe in that kind of thing have already had their share of luck from his hair, so as far as is possible he's treated like the other children. It must be borne in mind that now that I'm not on site for most of the day I have less knowledge of his school life than formerly, so all of my impressions are gleaned as hearsay from other parents, teachers and Conrad himself, but he seems very happy now. His disgruntlement about going to school is at normal, occasional levels. He has a good understanding of what's happening and what's expected of him (though that isn't to say he always delivers!). As far as he can, he completes exactly the same work and does the same things as the other children. His new teacher has been instrumental in this.
Now that he's settled at school, Conrad's Chinese acquisition seems to be moving on apace. My first indication of this was when he wanted to play Rock, Paper, Scissors with me, and proceeded to chant the Chinese version. He's also occasionally inadvertently responds 'dui' instead of 'yes', particularly if we're looking at his homework, when I suppose he has his 'Chinese head' on. It's interesting to hear the difference in pronunciation between the language that he's picking up at school and that which he's learning through being taught characters in extra classes. With the former, his pronunciation is perfect in the sense that he effortlessly produces the correct tones, with the latter it's more like mine, i.e. very hit and miss!
It's clear that he's learning mostly through playing with other children. As well as Rock, Paper, Scissors, he also knows the words to 'Mu Tou Ren' which is a version of 'What's the Time Mr. Wolf?'. And, as we were sitting in our apartment one time he remarked that our neighbour's little girl was being told to hurry up because we could hear her mother saying 'kuai dian' to her.
In short, he's going through the normal stages of any child going to live in any new country. He's gradually finding himself feeling more and more at home here, learning the language and adapting to the different culture and customs. He's also learning a lot about diligence and respect at school, I think, as well as Chinese. I must give him due credit by saying that he's working extremely hard.
This isn't to say we don't have fun too. This weekend just gone we road our bikes beside the river again and on Sunday we went to the Discovery Centre near Taipei 101. With Chinese New Year imminent we also have a couple of longer trips planned, but I'll tell you all about those in another post.