Taiwanese Camp Update, Week 4

I sincerely meant to post this update sooner than I have – however, I wanted to get back to a regular schedule and that meant that I really only post Chinese related stuff on Fridays. And I had two posts lined up for Fridays already so I figured, hey! We can wait for the Taiwan camp and Chinese update posts.

Now that we’ve been home for a month, it’s been interesting to hear my kids’ responses when people ask them how they liked their Taiwan school/camp experience.

Of course, it will be no surprise to any of you following along from home.

Cookie Monster had a lot of fun and liked his activities. Gamera hated it all (despite still remembering some songs and dances and chants). Glow Worm couldn’t tell you because he still doesn’t really talk that much (albeit, more than before) and can’t really express that complex a thought (although he may think it!).

So, without further delay, here then is the update on the last week of camp and school for my kids.

Author’s Note: As I have mentioned before, please do not ask me (whether in comments or private message) where my kids are attending school and camps. I am a big believer in internet safety and having been stalked before (an unpleasant and stressful experience to be sure), I am not keen on sharing where my kids go to school. If that is a problem for you, I don’t really care. If you ask, I will ignore you and if you repeatedly ask, I will block you.

Incidentally, I have already had to block at least one person because despite them reading all these notes and posts, they still presumed that they could ask me since “Camp is over.”

Dear readers. I have three (going on four) children. Please stop and consider that if I actually like a camp, that quite possibly, I would sign up for it again. With one or more of my current children. So, NO. I WILL NOT TELL YOU WHERE MY KIDS GO TO CAMP.

I'll admit. I was really annoyed that Cookie Monster came home with two small shrimp as pets. I mean, great - if I lived in Taiwan. Booooo because I hate taking care of animals and I had to break it to Cookie Monster that these shrimp were NOT coming home with us.

I’ll admit. I was really annoyed that Cookie Monster came home with two small shrimp as pets. I mean, great – if I lived in Taiwan. Booooo because I hate taking care of animals and I had to break it to Cookie Monster that these shrimp were NOT coming home with us.

Local Camp Experience, Week 4

This week, Cookie Monster (6.5) went back to the outdoor day camp where they take a shuttle to a bunch of different cities and places for quick day trips. I was much happier this week since this time, instead of half the camp being US kids, there was only Cookie Monster as the lone overseas kid.

In fact, looks like Cookie Monster passed as a local kid until Hapa Papa showed up and outed him. One of the kids asked a teacher if Cookie Monster was a foreigner and the teacher responded, “Yes” but had no idea from what country. Whooo!

Anyhow, just like the previous camp, they visited several counties/cities (Yi Lan, Tao Yuan, New Taipei City, and Miao Li), to again, check out a bunch of museums, factories, and farms.

The crafts and souvenirs Cookie Monster collected and made this week.

The crafts and souvenirs Cookie Monster collected and made this week.

This time, they went to a shrimp/clam farm and they tried to catch shrimp and clams and were in rafts; a sunflower farm where they painted ceramic sunflowers and picked sunflowers; saw waterfalls and panoramic views; visited aboriginal homes and sites; and went to a fruit farm to pick fruit and cook.

From the pictures on their site, (which again, I would include but they all have watermarks and I really don’t want to reveal where my kid went to camp – nor do I want to strip the camp of their watermarks) it looks like Cookie Monster had a fantastic time.

Sticky rice in bamboo. I can't believe Cookie Monster cooked and made this!

Sticky rice in bamboo. I can’t believe Cookie Monster cooked and made this!

I swear. I chose these camps for myself.

Again, they played games on the bus and Cookie Monster made some friends (especially a boy who used to live in the US and thus spoke to Cookie Monster nonstop in English – SIGH) and he seemed to like what they made and did.

International School, Week 4

You’ll think this is a result of me being a terrible parent, but truly, until the very last day of school, I had no real idea what my kids had been doing at their school.

Display tables with everything Gamera and Glow Worm made during their four weeks of school.

Display tables with everything Gamera and Glow Worm made during their four weeks of school.

I mean, I knew what the teachers posted in the kids’ communication books. But let’s be real. It’s in Chinese (and though I could read it), it was pretty repetitive. I never saw any pics or evidence of what they did at school since they didn’t bring anything home.

Well, it turns out they saved everything for the last day of school to hand out in one HUGE display table and they give you a bag to put everything in.

It’s quite impressive.

So, for this week’s summary, I will just mostly explain what happened on the last day of school and show off pics of what they sent us home with.

After showing up for the school end performance, the first thing we see are the rows and rows of their creations. I didn’t know they did so many fun things! And then, we went to sit down for the performance.

The kids lined up on the side of the room (which was handy because that’s where Hapa Papa and I were sitting so we got to hug and kiss Gamera and Glow Worm when they were lining up).

They performed. It is about what you’d expect from preschoolers. Gamera was surprisingly into it. Glow Worm was not. He just stood there. He was the smallest in his class! Ah, my baby boy. So sweet.

Then after they performed, we took lots of pictures and the kids went back to class and had a party in the afternoon. We were forced to stick around and listen to the teachers and fellow parents talk about their experiences with the school. Glow Worm’s teacher asked me to talk so I spoke really briefly. I didn’t want to, but she was SO GOOD to Glow Worm all summer that I felt rude refusing.

After that, we went to Gamera’s classroom where they had a mini-awards ceremony. Every kid got an award and Gamera’s was something along the lines of being helpful or something. I wasn’t really paying attention because I’m an awful parent. Oh, and it was ALL IN CHINESE so some of the vocabulary went over my head.

Hey. I took pics, ok? That should be enough.

Also, it looks like the kids did a decent amount of character learning and recognition as the workbooks suggest. Gamera already knew everything they taught her, but I think she still enjoyed being smart, so I guess there’s that.

I was surprised at how much Glow Worm seemed to accomplish – but I guess it’s because I still consider him a baby. He’s three now, so I guess he’s a big boy. sob

Anyhow, below is a slideshow of their pics for this last week and a few videos. The videos basically go through each of the kids’ portfolios so you can get an idea of what they taught over the summer.

I hope that helps! I will definitely sign up Cookie Monster for his camps again, and as for Gamera? I’ll be putting her in Cookie Monster’s camps. (I asked and they all said it should be fine as long as she’s in first grade.) And too bad, Glow Worm, you’re going back next year, too.

Alright, this concludes our updates for camps and schools until next summer. Whew!

 

 

Guest Post: A Road Map to Early Chinese Literacy During Early Childhood


Today, we have another guest post by Alex Pang! He is a valued contributor to the Raising Bilingual Kids in Chinese & English Facebook group and has made several helpful posts in the past on MandarinMama on Sagebooks and Greenfield.

This time, he wanted to address some questions he sees oft repeated on the Facebook group and thought it would be helpful to others for him to detail HIS road map and what worked for him.

Despite Alex’s modesty in stating that he doubts people will be interested, I completely disagree. As much as I feel as if I’m brilliant and a genius (I mean, come on, you know it’s true), I concede that I am not for everyone and that my way is not the only way.

And like all fields, we benefit as a community to read diverse methods and strategies and tactics. Plus, you never know what awesome ideas you will pick up from other people.

Keep in mind, both Alex and his wife are full time doctors so they definitely present a different POV than mine as a SAHM. Our philosophies might overlap a bit, but the application and the time carving is a totally different beast.

So, without further ado, I present to you Alex’s post. I hope you enjoy it and find it as helpful as I do.


Author’s Note: Much of what I say below echoes and summarizes what has already been stated by many others.

This little guide serves the busy working parent who is floundering with limited amounts of time and energy to teach Chinese, and therefore desires an efficient framework to lay a reading foundation. I have written down what I consider the minimum amount of work necessary for developing an adequate reading ability in Chinese at the early elementary (primary 1 and 2) level.

The prerequisites for this endeavor include:

1) at least one highly motivated parent who is also a fluent speaker and reader at 3rd grade level and above (if this already proves a roadblock, at least substitute with as much hired tutoring as possible); and

2) access to age-appropriate books.

I will presume your child has speaking and listening fluency at a near-native level (which basically means that your commitment to speaking Chinese started at birth).

Here is the fine print—first and foremost, prepare to persist and commit for the really long haul, as it is the parent who is the primary determinant of reading success in these early childhood years.

Second, the child must reside within as much of a Chinese language environment as possible. For example, we employ a Chinese-speaking nanny, play Chinese-subbed cartoons, and listen to Chinese pop in the car…all in the name of the cause (FYI my kids attend English-language preschool/preK/K). Expensive trips abroad to Taiwan and China will definitely help but are not critical at this juncture.

Third, I do not claim that our method is necessarily the simplest, fastest, or the best, and there are clearly many other children who have achieved early Chinese literacy without going through the same process my child did. This road map merely reflects our ongoing experience.

The following presents some of the books and tips we found most helpful in establishing the reading base over the last two years, assisting our child in making the large jump from Sagebooks 500 and Greenfield readers to “real” books (more like crossing a chasm, actually!). The ages listed are approximate ranges for the respective book levels.

So what is the secret ingredient that encourages early childhood literacy? The answer is…there is no better ingredient than daily reading.

We read for at least 20-30 minutes, EVERY day without fail, even while on vacation.

Despite being relentless about my endeavor, it was incredibly difficult to fit time in to read every day for the past two years (I once read with my kid while she was on the can!) But I knew that each day that passes by without reading in Chinese is a day lost to English.

The reading exercise cannot simply comprise of reading characters or words for the sake of reading characters and words. Similar to learning any language, reading this early in Chinese relies on continuous interaction between parent and child, whereby the fluent parent will explain and expound on words/vocabulary, phrases, and context.

Ages 4-5: This is a pre-reading stage. At this age, establish a solid five hundred character base with the entire Sagebooks 500 (including the treasure box sets), learning at least one new character a day with quick review of previously learned characters. Making character flash cards yourself or buying them from Guavarama as these will help with review.

Establish reading fluency by repeating a sentence until reading speed is adequate for the child to actually understand what she is reading. If there are lengthy pauses between characters, then the child is just reading random words/characters aloud without the ability to interpret and process what she is reading.

I suggest additional supplementation with leveled readers like Greenfield’s I Can Read (我自己會讀) and Magic Box (魔術盒), or Sesame Publishing’s Ding Ding Dong Dong readers (丁丁當當) for practicing and building confidence at this stage.

Ages 5-6: Teach zhuyin, no matter how long it takes! Use short readers to assist with this.

Why learn zhuyin? My child could read most children’s literature after tearing through 500 characters from Sagebooks, right?

Sadly, anything worth reading requires knowledge of at least another 1000 or so characters. Zhuyin, then, allows for incremental development of reading skills and enables the child to read interesting books while still learning to recognize new characters. Some very good practice for zhuyin include those ubiquitous 3-minute bedtime storybooks (三分鐘故事).

After learning zhuyin, power up to Level 0 with easy zhuyin books in the following order:

1) Little Bear set (小熊看世界);

2) Frog and Toad set (青蛙與蟾蜍);

3) Little Fox set (小狐狸系列) from the Storybook Ferris Wheel collection (故事摩天輪);

4) any other Level 0 books on Guavarama’s list, and then move on to Level 1. See the photo of my bookshelf for suggestions.

At this point, additional supplementation with ANY book that interests the child is good. The goal is to develop reading speed/fluency.

It is paramount that the book is appropriate to comprehension level. Starting Magic Treehouse at this age may not help very much other than verify that the child knows zhuyin. For other good book sets at Level 0 and Level 1, please refer to Guavarama’s post on building a Chinese library.

Ages 6-9: Now you are well along on your journey together. You will perceive the improvements in vocabulary and idiom knowledge gained simply through extensive reading.

It probably happens like this—the child uses a word or idiom you know you never taught. Then you ask your spouse, or the tutor, or the grandparents, but each denies it. Then you ask your child if she learned the word from a book. And she will simply shrug her shoulders and look at you with a blank expression. But you know it had to be the books!

At this point allow yourself a pat on the back for a job well done, but do not rest on the laurels. Continue reading daily!

Other book sets appropriate for this age range include the remainder of the Storybook Ferris Wheel collection (故事摩天輪); the Reading 123 set (閱讀123); and the Magic Treehouse set (神奇樹屋).

The photo represents ~30% of my Chinese book collection and nearly all of the books I have used so far after the pre-reading stage. Top shelf: Sagebooks 500, Greenfield I Can Read, and Greenfield Magic Box. Middle shelf: Level 0 and some Level 1 books. Bottom shelf: picture books.

The photo represents ~30% of my Chinese book collection and nearly all of the books I have used so far after the pre-reading stage. Top shelf: Sagebooks 500, Greenfield I Can Read, and Greenfield Magic Box. Middle shelf: Level 0 and some Level 1 books. Bottom shelf: picture books.


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Alex Pang asked me to include the updated version of his bookshelf which added some books and rearranged books in reading level.

Final Money Tally for Taiwan Trip 2016


Ok. I am super reluctant to write this post because it reveals something about me that though I joke about with my closest friends, I don’t mention too often because I personally think it makes me look bad. After all, no one likes a braggart or someone who is seemingly thoughtless with money.

And honestly, I can be pretty thoughtless with money.

Not in the sense that I don’t think about money – but in the sense that I know our general threshold and that as long as an expenditure is below that threshold, I don’t even blink.

We are very comfortable and live a very privileged life. I know it.

You see, I have a thing that Hapa Papa likes to call Rich Girl Syndrome (RGS) in the sense that I think all things can be solved if you throw enough money at it. (Irish Twins’s husband, MBE calls it the Wallet Save.)

As a result, I don’t really think about budgets or how much something costs unless it is exorbitant or something I personally find outrageous. Also, my mother gave me a very generous sum of money for the summer so that I wouldn’t have to worry about taking taxis and books and food. She wanted to make sure I wouldn’t be stingy – and that I would make sure not to get over-tired and take things easy.

So.

Obviously, my budget will likely not be yours in the sense that I thought very little about the costs except in terms of how it cut into the amount I was willing to spend. But in general, I did not count pennies or dollars or NT. I just did what I wanted when I wanted.

I suppose it helps that I’m not exactly a luxury shopper and all I really spent my money on was food and books. But still, the money went fast and Hapa Papa is mad I didn’t save more money from the trip. (Although I did save a bunch of money two years ago from the generous sum my mother gave me then. But I suppose that doesn’t count for this year.)

So.

Now you know.

My budget likely will not be your budget.

However, at least you will know a bit more about pricing.

I realize that I am a very privileged person in terms of finances and that me blithely saying, “Just go to Taiwan for six weeks! Easy! Just say goodbye to $12-13,000!” is somewhat implausible for many of you.

Also, keep in mind that we choose not to spend money on many other things during the year that likely other people choose to spend their money on (eg: trips, sports, etc.) because I know we’re going to be spending a lot of money on a trip to Taiwan.

So. Please consider my breakdown not in terms of what you HAVE to do, but more in terms of what I spent as best as I can remember it. (Which, honestly, has huge gaping holes in it because um, RGS.)

Obviously, YMMV in terms of costs depending on how often you eat out, how often you take taxis vs buses vs MRTs, how much you shop, where you buy groceries, what extracurricular things you do, what programs you choose for your children, and where you choose to live (and if you choose to rent or live with family).

Author’s Note: Any comments insulting me or the people who spend similar amounts on this type of trip will be deleted. 

I’m sure if any of us were to examine how you spend your money, we could come up with plenty of ways you are a wasteful asshole.

So since you do not know anything about our family income, monthly expenses, or financial situation other than what I choose to share on this blog for the purposes of you having an idea of how much a trip such as this can cost, any judgmental bullshit about how I am such a horrible snob or how it sucks to be poor (which, we can all readily agree that given the choice between having more money or less money, most of us would prefer the more financially secure position), or how it must be nice to be rich can just go suck on an exhaust pipe. 

So, without further ado, here are the costs for my Taiwan Trip 2016. All costs are in USD unless otherwise noted.

Travel: $4,400

– Round trip airfare for 1 adult and 3 children: (We used airline points for Hapa Papa’s tickets) $4400

Accommodations: $3,975

– Airbnb newly renovated 1br 1 bt apartment in a trendy/popular/convenient neighborhood for 40 nights: $3800 (includes about $200 in Airbnb fees)

– Hotel in Kaohsiung 1 night including breakfast: (bought as part of a business package deal including 1 night hotel and breakfast and with a Taiwanese discount so prices are approximate) $175

Education: $2,609

– International School Tuition, 4 weeks: $1,121/child (Total: $2,240)

– Local Camp A, 2 weeks: $306

– Local Camp B, 2 weeks: $339

Transportation: $990

– Taxi from TPE to apt: $40/$1300NT (7 passenger car with 2 rented car seats at $9 per car seat)

– Taxi from apt to TPE: $30/$1000NT (7 passenger car, 0 car seats, private car)

– Taxis in general: $600 (estimate)

– MRT for 1 adult, 1 child, and 1 adult for 2 weeks: $150 (estimate)

– Bus: N/A

– High Speed Rail ticket for 1 adult, 2 kids reserved seating: (bought as part of a business package deal including 1 night hotel and breakfast and with a Taiwanese discount so prices are approximate) $150

Airport Parking: $20 (Keep in mind, we saved a bunch here because we asked friends to drop off our minivan at the long term parking lot the night before we arrived home. Otherwise, if we parked in long term parking for the entire time Hapa Papa was in Taiwan like we did in 2014, the cost for airport parking would be closer to $250-300.)

Food: $1,594

– Groceries/Toiletries/Misc: $382 (estimate)

Eating Out: $1212 (estimate)

Incidentally, I likely would have spent far less if I didn’t have to provide my boys with food for lunch. I only did so because I worry about their food allergies. Otherwise, I would not have to worry about those “extra” meals as they were included in our school tuition.

However, I suppose since I got treated out a lot by family and family friends (and at way more expensive places than I would have personally chosen), it more than evens out in my favor. So, um, nevermind.

Miscellaneous: $1,525

– Kid Playspaces and Activities: $274 (Incidentally, I was an idiot and forgot a pair of tickets I had already bought so I ended up having to buy an extra two tickets. So, I guess I have two tickets for next year. Sob.)

– Kid Crafts: $90

– Cel Phone: $60

– Books/DVDs/CDs: $720

– Family Gifts/Reimbursements: $400

– Misc: $50

TOTAL: $15,093

Good Lord. Now I really feel like an asshole.

However.

One of my other friends is ALSO in Taiwan and in the same city and they were NOT as thoughtless as I am and STILL, they spent a similar amount. Why? Because some fixed costs you just can’t get rid of like round trip tickets and lodging.

Here are some of her basic numbers:

– Travel: (roundtrip tickets for 2 adults and 2 children) $5,400

– Housing: (4 br, 2 bt, washer/dryer in a less popular neighborhood for 7 weeks) $4,900

– Local camps, 5 weeks: $800

– Adult Language camp, 7 weeks: $500

– Books/DVDs/CDs: $625

– Food/MRT/HSR/Misc: (didn’t really take taxis due to safety concerns) $1642

Total: $13,867

Keep in mind, her housing costs are so high because she had other family members crashing at her place during various points. But she really didn’t eat out at fancy places (mostly the food stands and corner restaurants) and they definitely paid attention to their bottom line.

So, if you are a typical family of four and have no means to get free plane tickets and do not have access to free housing in Taiwan, the bulk of your costs are fixed at approximately $8-9,000. That’s BEFORE you do ANYTHING else.

So, are you just screwed with the costs?

Not necessarily.

While the fixed costs likely will not move much, you can do some small things that might change the hugeness of the number to slightly less huge. (I do concede housing is a place you can fiddle with – but it really depends on what amount of discomfort you are willing to endure for 4-6 weeks.)

So, here is a way to redeem myself.

Therefore, another list: Where you can save money on your trip to Taiwan.

1) Keep all your receipts and get a tax refund.

If you bring your foreign passport to the malls or save all your receipts, you can receive a tax refund on your purchases at the mall or at the airport. But that would require you to keep ALL your receipts.

2) Eat street food and shop at local groceries.

If you didn’t eat out at the more expensive restaurants and ate mostly food court food or street food, you will save a lot of money. I ate a LOT of shaved ice. Some were cheap. Some were not.

I also ate at places that were close to $40USD/1500NT for lunch or dinner. That’s a lot of money in a place where you can get a decent and filling meal for $6USD/200NT or less.

3) Enroll in local schools and camps.

The reason camps were so expensive for Gamera and Glow Worm were because they were in an international school. I got many comments from locals that the school they attended is one of the most expensive schools in the city.

I would have preferred to send them to a local school, but they wouldn’t take Glow Worm due to his food allergies. According to family friends of friends, a month of a local 幼兒 (you4 er2/preschool 3-6yo) or 大班 (da4 ban/kindergarten 6yo+) for $300USD a month.

4) Live in less popular neighborhoods.

I chose to live in a very expensive neighborhood because I wanted to be close to the MRT, to a lot of convenient restaurants I like to frequent, have a renovated space, and I like clean streets that don’t smell. I also don’t like being too far away from my children’s schools and activities.

You do NOT have to choose this for yourself. There are plenty of decent places to live that are larger and cheaper than what I got for my money. If you do not mind living further out on less popular MRT lines, or doing more research in terms of local schools vs. the big popular names, or even choosing less popular cities, you will save a lot of money.

I don’t think your experience will suffer for it.

5) Take the bus or MRT instead of cabs.

Trust me. There were many times I would have preferred to take the MRT or bus – but as things shook out (and with the number of children and them being uncooperative or the weather being sopping wet), I took cabs more often than I technically needed to.

In general, though, I took the MRT as much as possible. I didn’t go for buses at all this time, but I loved buses my last trip to Taiwan. I think it depends on your location and your destinations and what ends up being most convenient.

That said, my average taxi ride was about $5-6/150-200NT. However, an MRT ride is $0.50/16NT regardless of distance and the bus is approximately $0.31/10NT. (Keep in mind that kids are free unless they are 6 or above a certain height. Their fares are even lower.)

I’m certain there are plenty more ways to save money. (Such as not buy so many books or CDs or DVDs – but since you would spend more to have the items shipped since shipping to the US is approximately $75-100/22kg box and takes at least 2-3 months, personally, I think it costs more money not to.) But being as I am likely the last person on Earth to be useful in this arena, I am all tapped out for suggestions.

If you have any to share, please do so in the comments! (But keep in mind: not every one has access to mileage points or relatives in Taiwan. That, in itself, is a privilege of sorts.)

Alright, I’m done for today. Have a great day!

Tips for Your Taiwan Trip (With Kids)

Taiwan with KidsAlright. Now that we only have 5 eating days left in Taiwan, I’ve been thinking about what I wish I had known (or remembered) prior to coming. (Seriously, I count down eating days because I do not care about touristy or sight-seeing things. I just want to shove as much yummy Taiwanese food in my fat belly as possible without squeezing the baby out.)

So, here are some of my tips for traveling to Taiwan with kids (and some even pertain to the actual camp/schooling process or bilingual support). Here they are in no discernible order:

1) Pack an extra huge, empty suitcase. 

If you’re like me and buy a lot of heavy books/dvds/stuff, you will need an extra suitcase. Or you will be comfortable in packing huge boxes and carrying those to the airport as luggage. It helps that I have so many people in my family that I can have 10 free checked in luggage.

Otherwise, you can always buy a cheapo suitcase at a local market.

2) Bring cereal. Or snacks you know your kids will eat.

American cereal is around $10 a box. I shit you not. I laughed at Guavarama when she suggested it to me in the States. Why would I do that when I can buy cereal or do without it?

Ah, karma. Always biting me in the ass.

I wish my kids weren’t culture shocked and food assholes, but they are and they were. So, I ended up buying $10/box fruity Cheerios because that’s what they wanted to eat.

3) The supermarkets in the fancy department stores are expensive.

If you are lazy, or an expat, or just like clean, bright and shiny supermarkets like they have in the US, you are welcome to go to your local Jason’s or City Super or whatever. But just know that you will pay $50USD for like four things.

I think that’s where half my money went. Buying at expensive supers because it was extra convenient and bright and shiny and I can see things I’m familiar with and not guess as much about ingredients.

But there is a price for all that shiny.

Go to local supers like Carrefour or Wellcome market. Even better, go to the super local markets off Alley 216 (Zhong Xiao Dun Hua MRT) or similar side alley markets that look sketchy but are way cheaper.

4) In fact, go to Costco the first week you’re there.

Obviously, this won’t work as well if you don’t have a Costco membership, but if you do, then know that your membership also works in Taiwan.

Irish Twins went to all FOUR Costcos within the Taipei area (Zhonghe, Neihu, Xizhi, and Beitou) and she says the Beitou one has the most books and DVD sets available.

Costco is a great option to buy a ton of book sets (just like in the US) for a reasonably cheap price (not the cheapest, but not shabby, either) as well as stock up on essentials your family might go through super fast.

For example: apples. For some reason (like importing), apples in Taiwan are mealy and yucky and if you want to pay about $360NT for TWO Fuji apples at the fancy expat supermarket, you should go to the Costco because for that SAME price, you can get 8 apples. I might not be a math genius but 8 >> 2.

In general, you’ll find that prices match US prices. So, if it cost $12USD to buy a product, it will cost $12USD in Taiwan. It’s not that great a deal in a Taiwanese sense, but it is a price that I’m willing to pay because it’s usually for stuff that would cost double elsewhere due to the product being imported.

Bulgogi bake

Bulgogi bake

The best part of Costco in Taiwan is that they have a Bulgogi Bake. It is delicious. I don’t know why they don’t have it in the US. It is YUM. They also have mango/lime smoothies (I think) and they are light and delicious. Also, they have mango shaved ice.

And, if you’re feeling a wee bit homesick, they have a hotdog for a smidge more than $1.50USD.

In fact, walking into Costco during our 3rd or 4th week here felt like walking into the US. A bit of home.

So comforting.

Oh, what was my point? Yes. Stock up on staples because otherwise, you will overspend on things at the local markets.

Of course, it will be a pricey trip because even if you took the bus or MRT to the Costco, you’ll likely need to cab back from the Costco.

5) If you want to buy books, don’t go to Eslite.

Well, GO to Eslite to riffle through all their books. (For some reason, all the bookstores – not just Eslite – like to shrink wrap individual books. I find it environmentally horrible. But they are good sports about opening the packaging for you. If you’re at Costco, just do it yourself.)

But don’t buy there. Eslite is hugely marked up. If you aren’t in a hurry or leaving right away, you can buy books from Kingstone or books.com.tw. If you don’t want to pay an exchange rate or they won’t take your US credit card, you can always have them deliver to your local 7-11 or Family Mart and pay COD. You’ll get a text message when your packages arrive and have about a week to pick up and pay.

Of course, they can also deliver straight to your home, but I don’t think they offer the COD option then.

6) There are also local bookstores from which you can buy.

You can go to Mollie for used books (they also have a location for used DVDs and CDs) and once again, you run into the problem of books being individually shrink wrapped. They will even deliver the books to your address the next day for $70NT (~$2USD).

Here’s my problem with going to any bookstore or CD/DVD store in Taipei: everything is in Chinese.

I mean, no fucking shit. Of course, everything is in Chinese. We’re fucking in Taiwan.

But as a functionally illiterate person in Taiwan, my brain just blanks and hits the overwhelmed button and all I see is that ALL CHINESE BOOKS LOOK THE SAME.

I think I wandered shell-shocked in the Mollie for about 2 hours while frantically texting Guavarama as she was on her two week camping/road trip adventure with Fleur and their combined 5 kids eight years old and under.

She told me to just sit down and look through all the titles and books and see what I liked. I was not about to open up hundreds of hermetically sealed books just to see if they looked interesting.

I felt ill.

I felt FOMO and fear of Buyer’s Remorse and all sorts of shit. Until finally, I gave up and just sat on the floor looking dejected.

(Incidentally, I have a few posts on Taiwanese bookstores so you can either look them up on Google for the addresses and hours – which obviously, they are more accurate – or you can search by my book categories or tags. Here’s the post where I mention a few of the bookstores I mention in this post.)

Eventually, I sacked up and looked at a few more books and ended up buying a set that came with audio CDs. I felt marginally better (that I didn’t end up wasting the whole trip), but it ultimately was very unsatisfying.

Obviously, YMMV. I’m a wuss and hate uncertainty. That’s why I make Guavarama buy everything for me. I just throw money at her. Everyone needs a Guavarama.

We also went to some local bookstores that Tiger Woo’s MIL and another of my friends recommended. They ended up at about 26% from retail price – which according to Guavarama is a really good deal since bookstores barely make a profit at that price point. (I think they break even around 60-70% retail.)

南門書局 (nan2 men2 shu ju2/Southern Gate Bookstore)
Physical Location: 台北市中正區羅斯福路一段南門書局

釆繪星球 (bian4 hui4 xing qiu2/Bookstar)
Physical Location: 
臺北市南昌路一段59巷7號1樓

Again, same problem of OMG IT HURTS US EVERYTHING IS IN FUCKING CHINESE BLERGH and my brain just shuts off.

But at least in these smaller bookstores, most of the stuff isn’t shrink wrapped, it’s super small businessy, and the staff are very friendly and can recommend a bunch of books.

Also, at Bookstar, they had lots of games for kids (and I bought a ton).

But FOMO and Buyer’s Remorse and lack of Guavarama on speed-text are still anxiety producing factors.

Perhaps that is just me.

7) Next year, I’m shortening our trip.

I think I forgot to take into account just how lazy I am in general. I hate doing touristy stuff – why would I think that being in a foreign country where navigating train websites, site websites, and everything being in CHINESE FFS – in addition to being 28 weeks pregnant and towing along three assholish children would change that at all?

I had lofty plans for this last week.

I was going to take the kids to see the crayon factory. Or to Tamsui. Or JiuFen. Or just take them to all sorts of play spaces.

I did not factor in the fact that Cookie Monster (and to a lesser extent, Glow Worm and Gamera) only wanted to get the fuck out of Dodge and would rather veg out in front of the iPad all day instead of leave the apartment.

We have gone to a few silly places for them to eat or do crafts, but for the most part, Hapa Papa has stayed in with the kids (because they are also REALLY FUCKING DONE WITH THE SUN) and I go out to meet Irish Twins and her 2 year old (while ditching my children – because other people’s children are always preferable to dealing with one’s own because you don’t have to keep them and there is a limited duration of suffering) to eat or shop or just be out of the house.

Wow. That sentence is nigh-incomprehensible.

I have no plans to fix it.

Anyhow, my point being, that you really should take an honest stock of who you are as a person before you pay for an extra week of Airbnb housing prices in Taipei.

Next year, (especially since I will have an 8 month old baby strapped to my sweaty chest and belly), I will likely still come about a week early for the kids to get used to the time change as well as play a little.

However, after school/camp ends, I will let them relax the weekend and do some last minute shopping, and then we will likely leave on Monday or Tuesday and go back home.

My kids will likely be just like me and not give a fuck about touristy shit and just go home. If ONLY they enjoyed food to a greater degree. Sigh.

8) I should have anticipated the kids getting a lot of stuff to take back.

I really don’t know why I didn’t expect the kids to bring back a ton of shit from school and camps. After all, two years ago, they brought back a lot of paper crafts and I took a few pics, kept a few items and then tossed the rest.

Call me an unsentimental bitch. Whatever.

This year, the stuff that they’re coming back with are actually interesting. Like fired and glazed pottery thingies or cool robots they made out of Kinex like thingies (I’m really killing the technical terms today) and honestly, they’re kinda keep-worthy.

Also, I paid for a lot of shitty and expensive crafts and I should really take those home, too.

9) Craft activities at the fancy department stores are really expensive.

The majority of these crafts seem awesome. Make super cool playdoh sculptures or shiny glittery boxes and jewelry boxes. They all seem awesome until you realize they’re like $50. EACH.

So, here’s how it works. Depending on the type of craft you want to make, the cost varies. The more complicated, obviously, the more expensive.

Each finished craft is displayed on a shelf and either has a sticker telling you how many 點 (dian3/points) it costs or it’s on a shelf with a sign telling you how many it costs. Then there is a chart that tells you how much each “point” costs.

The majority of places will cost around $500NT per point. (That’s ~$15USD.) Of course, the more you buy, the more you “save” and it’s tempting until you realize that somehow, you’re paying $50USD for a craft you could buy and do yourself at Michael’s for $5 in the US.

Of course, since the classes are taught in Chinese, and the kids were bored and I really wanted to make the kids happy, I told them they could choose only the crafts that cost 1 point.

They were happy enough. So in the end, over a period of a few days, I spent $3000NT (~$90USD) on six stupid crafts. But all my kids seemed happy about it so I guess it’s a win.

Here is a slideshow of the various crafts my kids did:

10) If you are used to living in a space larger than where you are renting in Taiwan, you WILL get on each other’s nerves.

I mean, it could be just that I’m an asshole and have bred asshole-ish children. But quite frankly, we are at the point where my kids are cooped up all day because they refuse to leave the house and I want to murder them all by dinner time.

I know. It’s not that different than when we are in the States.

But the problem is that there are just far fewer things for them to do in our Taiwan apartment – and SO MANY PEOPLE who can hear me yell at my shitty kids and cussing them out.

For instance, just now, I coldly told Cookie Monster to stop being an asshole. And in case he didn’t understand what that is since he is only 6.5 years old, I explained that an asshole is a butthole. And I really would like him to stop being something poo poo comes out of.

Win.

11) Essential oils are great but NOT FOR INSECT REPELLENT.

Hey. I love essential oils. In fact, they came in very handy for much of the barfing and coughing and heat rashes and heat strokes and mosquito bites. But what they were TERRIBLE at were actually PREVENTING bug bites.

Maybe they work great in the US.

But these Taiwanese mosquitoes are NOT fucking around.

I was eaten alive.

Use the insect repellent with as much DEET as possible without giving you or your children or your unborn fetus birth defects.

Hapa Papa's shoulder looking like raw meat after I gua sha'd. That's what happens when you walk over 50,000 steps in two days during the hottest parts of the day.

Hapa Papa’s shoulder looking like raw meat after I gua sha’d. That’s what happens when you walk over 50,000 steps in two days during the hottest parts of the day.

12) I will need to 刮痧 (gua sha) my kids almost every day or every other day next time.

I am very susceptible to heat stroke and heat rash. Apparently, so are my children.

In fact, almost Glow Worm’s entire body is covered in heat rash. It’s so sad. He also had an unexplained fever that would disappear and reappear for a period of 4-5 days. As soon as I used gua sha, his fever stopped.

So, I tried it on my other kids, and sure enough, the telltale signs of prickly heat showed up and I regret not using it earlier. Also, all my kids like it and find it comfy.

But definitely bring stuff for heat rash. Pretty much every single member of my household has some form of heat rash (with Glow Worm being the most serious).

This does not contribute to my kids enjoying Taiwan.

13) However much Benadryl I think I need, I should double it.

Due to everything being in Chinese and the fact that in Taiwan, people are not as familiar with food allergies and “forget” ingredients in food all the time, pretty much every child of mine, (even the kid with no known allergies whatsoever) has broken out in hives at least once.

But again, poor Glow Worm has suffered the most. He has pretty much needed to take Benadryl at least once or twice a week. First for food allergy reactions and then for the unbearable itchiness of heat rash.

14) I really need to pay attention to my limits.

I know I am stubborn. I know I am a ridiculous planner and want all these lofty things. But I really need to know my limits and pay attention to how I’m doing.

It’s tempting to think I’m invincible or to stick through something just to prove my mom or other people wrong or whatever.

But really, there is no prize for stupidity and or stubbornness. (Or at least, I don’t think there is.)

So, there really is no award for never taking a taxi (even if it would be physically better for me) or for forcing the kids on death marches (even if it kills me).

There is no prize for purposely choosing a more difficult path.

15) Eat only foods that make me happy.

Corollary: Do NOT waste a meal (or calories) in Taiwan.

So: kids didn’t finish their McDonald’s chicken nuggets? Fuck the nuggets. Go eat something you want like more shaved ice.

Leftover udon from a food court restaurant that you feel guilty leaving because hey it was not cheap? Fuck it. Your kids are not going to eat it again and it just takes up space in the fridge and then you have to figure out how to dispose of its rotting remains in a place that does not have garbage disposals.

Rotting food in the garbage smells about as appetizing as it sounds.

Already have shaved ice today? WHO CARES? Have it again.

Like something a lot? EAT MORE. Preferably soon.

If you don’t want a real meal and only want to eat dessert? DO IT. For instance: instead of having lunch today at Modern Toilet with the kids, I watched them eat mediocre fries and nuggets and then I had almond tofu shaved ice at Yu’s Almond Tofu and fried mochi (one dipped in black sesame sauce and one dipped in chocolate) at Okinawa Japanese Grilled Mochi.

Tonight, instead of having dinner, I am likely going to go buy these fried sesame balls with salty gooey egg yolk in the center from Kitchen Pucci and then have another shaved ice.

Why? Because I now have only FOUR eating days left in Taiwan and my kids are utter shits and I want them to go home ahead of me and if Cookie Monster pisses me (or Hapa Papa) off one more time today I swear he is not going to make it back home in one entire piece.

16) If you need to go to the bathroom in a public space, the cleanest bathrooms are in the MRT station.

I mean, sure you could use a restaurant bathroom or a mall bathroom. They’re not always horrible. But they are not always great, either (even if it’s a fancy place).

So, when in doubt and you can make it to the MRT station? USE THAT ONE.

This holds especially true at the Taipei Main Station. Are you in the HSR/train/bus station? Those bathrooms are disgusting. They’re not dirty or in disarray, but they FEEL gross. If you’re heading to the MRT station anyway, HOLD IT. Wait. Your entire body will thank you.

17) If you use a taxi to frequent a particular route, PAY ATTENTION if a driver happens to be WAY faster than other drivers.

Then ask him how he did it. Memorize it. Then from then on, TELL the other taxi drivers how to do it.

It will save you a lot of time and money.

18) Explore the smaller alleys and streets. 

Now, I’m totally not the type of person to wander small alleys and streets. I am definitely the person who sticks to major thoroughfares (the better to find my way back) as well as go to either places I have been before or a place that has been recommended and is locatable on Google Maps.

I HATE wandering aimlessly on side alleys. Especially with kids and in the heat.

But, if you can manage to set aside some time to do so at the beginning, you will find a lot of small hole in the wall places that likely, you’d enjoy very much.

Alright. This post turned out much longer than I anticipated. Whoops. But I hope I find it helpful next year when I’m remembering how to do this travel in Taiwan thing with the kids and a baby in an ergo.

Have a great day!

Chinese Progress, Update 2

img_9083

Only ten days left in Taiwan! I can’t believe we have passed the halfway point in our trip here and are closing in on leaving. It makes me sad, but my kids are ecstatic. They keep begging to go back to America because Taiwan is “boring.” (What they don’t realize is that they are complaining to me in Chinese so I don’t care if they think it’s boring. They’re complaining to me IN CHINESE.)

Besides, Cookie Monster only thinks Taiwan is boring because he can’t play Halo or Minecraft all day. And to be fair, all they do most week days is wake up, watch a little iPad as I cram food in their faces, sunblock and bug spray them down, force them on the MRT and the death march to school, go to school, repeat death march home, eat while iPadding, bathe, and go to sleep by 8pm only to start the whole thing all over again the next day.

On weekends, we might do some fun things or visit family, but it is all too short and they are back to forcing their brains full of Chinese again.

I get it.

It is boring.

But I’m having a fantastic time (despite both Gamera and Glow Worm barfing a lot all over me, the Airbnb bed, the hotel bed, the floor, the sink, and themselves – at least they took turns getting sick) so that’s all that really matters.

Hapa Papa joined us for the last week of school (I totally thought he was coming a week later and was pleasantly surprised). That helped a lot (although it was hard to get used to another adult human being again)!

Anyhow, here are a few more of my unscientific observations on the Chinese status and progress of my kids now that school and camps have finished.

1) Cookie Monster really is starting to sound more 台 (tai2/Taiwanese). I made this observation two years ago when he added 啊 (a/ah) and 超級 (chao ji2/super) to everything.

He’s back at it – but instead of just 啊, it’s random phrases like 好險喔 (hao3 xian3 oh/That was close!) or just speaking in more of the lazy Taiwanese drawl. (That doesn’t please me as much, but hey. At least he’s speaking locally.)

2) All the kids are sprinkling more Chinese phrases into their daily speaking – phrases and terms I never realized that they knew. To be fair, they often don’t know what the terms mean. They just hear people using them in context and use it correctly – just without true understanding of the meaning. I suppose that is what kids do in the US with English, too.

Eg: 好帥 (hao3 shuai4/so good looking) or 聊天 (liao2 tian/have a conversation)

3) The kids are speaking more and more Chinese. It seems to be their default language of choice (especially for Gamera) but now that Hapa Papa has returned, I see that is slipping again. (Except for Gamera.)

4) They don’t complain about watching shows or movies in Chinese. It’s just normal. I put on The Force Awakens in Chinese yesterday night and Cookie Monster asked if it was going to be in English or Chinese and even when I said Chinese and he’d seen parts of it in English on the plane, he didn’t complain. Just sat and watched it.

In fact, I think they understood most of what was going on even with the dialog all in Chinese. Not that they would have understood it on a deep level in English, anyway. I just mean, they understood about as much as they would have in English.

Granted, this is an action movie and they just really care about light sabers and good guys and bad guys and fighting and space ships and BB-8 and R2D2. So, it’s not like there was a comprehension quiz at the end.

But you know when your kids understand something enough to continue to watch vs. when they watch the news and are like, FUCK THIS and leave.

Honestly, it is hard for me to watch movies in Chinese – especially when I put up Chinese subtitles. It takes way too much concentration to only half understand what the heck is going on. Thank goodness I had already seen the movie in English so I could explain or reassure the kids as to the finer plot points.

5) Turns out, Gamera hates watching Chinese cartoons but LOVES watching Taiwanese variety shows.

She will complain bitterly about the stupid cartoons (which you’d think she’d like) but be completely engrossed in the singing contests, stupid game shows, interviews, etc. with real people.

I can barely understand what’s going on (again, the active listening to terms I don’t hear as often requires a lot more effort and concentration I am willing to give to something I think should be as passive as TV). I personally far prefer the cartoons because that is more my speed. *weepsquietlyinacorner*

6) I didn’t realize it at the time, but apparently sending Glow Worm to learn more Chinese not only increased his speaking in both Chinese and English, I also inadvertently increased his ability to say, “No” in Chinese.

Not only does he say, 不要 (bu2 yao4/no want) and 沒有 (mei2 you3/no have), he has incorporated 不行 (bu4 xing2/no), 不是 (bu2 shi4/no), as well as a few other ways that I can’t recall off the top of my head.

Incidentally, when Glow Worm says 不是 (bu2 shi4/no), it sounds awfully close to, “Bullshit.” It cracks me up inside every time.

7) Another way that Glow Worm is trying to incorporate Chinese into his speaking that I find amusing, he has totally upped his Chinglish! Instead of saying, “幫我 (bang wo3/help me),” he says “幫 (bang/help) me).

It sounds like “banh mi” and for awhile, I kept thinking of the Vietnamese sandwich.

8) Also, Glow Worm says, “救命啊 (jiu4 ming4 ah4/save or rescue me)!” in place of “幫我 (bang wo3/help me).”

It makes sense why, but it’s wrong. Still hilarious.

9) Glow Worm has also started to speak Chinese more often (his English has exploded, too, so I think it is more of a developmental stage than just being in Taiwan) and this pleases me greatly. He can even count to twenty in Chinese (which is more than he can in English)!

10) During the last week of Cookie Monster’s camp, it was back at the place that originally had half the kids from the US. This week, Cookie Monster was the only US kid in the group and I guess he was blending in well with them because all the kids thought he was like them.

Then, when they saw Hapa Papa, they asked the teacher if Cookie Monster was a 外國人 (wai4 guo2 ren2/foreigner). The teacher responded in the affirmative but didn’t know from where.

Hapa Papa outed Cookie Monster! But that’s okay because it means Cookie Monster must have been speaking enough Chinese (and more importantly – good enough Chinese) for the kids not to notice.

Granted, I later found out one of the boys who befriended Cookie Monster was a US expat who kept speaking happily to him in English so I was a bit annoyed about that but pleased Cookie Monster had made a friend. (This sentence is tortured but I am too lazy to fix it.)

11) Cookie Monster and Gamera are playing together more in Chinese. Even though English is still the dominant language, they do switch back and forth between the languages, and if they are speaking Chinese, they stick to it for longer periods.

They even fight in Chinese. That’s progress for sure.

12) I don’t notice Gamera’s Chinese progress as much since she seemed to be the best out of all three kids. However, my cousins and aunties all claim she has improved a lot and that her Chinese is very good. So, hey. That’s something!

The main thing is that her vocabulary has expanded and that’s likely the only thing I noticed.

Alright. I’m sure now that school and camp have ended and Hapa Papa has arrived on the scene, their Chinese will likely start the long, slow backslide that I expect to happen when we return to the States. But for now, I’m pleased that their language skills have gotten a nice boost.

Will keep you posted on their progress after a few weeks home. Have a great day!

Taiwanese Camp Update, Week 3

Taiwanese Camp 3

Sorry I have been slow with the updates. Between dealing with multiple barfy kids, tantrumming Glow Worm, and eating and napping, I have been sorely remiss.

Anyhow, better late than never, right?

Even though we are all finished with camp this summer, I hope I can still remember what happened last week. (This might not be the case but I suppose memory is a fuzzy thing and who exactly is going to contradict me?)

Author’s Note: As I have mentioned before, please do not ask me (whether in comments or private message) where my kids are attending school and camps. I am a big believer in internet safety and having been stalked before (an unpleasant and stressful experience to be sure), I am not keen on sharing where my kids go to school. If that is a problem for you, I don’t really care. If you ask, I will ignore you and if you repeatedly ask, I will block you.

Alright. Here we go! (Oh, and FYI, this is a very photo heavy post.)

Local Camp Experience #3

Photo courtesy of Camp.

Photo courtesy of Camp.

This week, Cookie Monster (6.5) returned to the camp he attended the first week and took a 創意魔術(chuang4 yi4 mo2 shu4/Magic Trick) class.

He said it was boring.

I’m a little disappointed but I think we encountered the same problem as last week’s tours. There is just a lot of talking and presenting by the teachers.

From what I gathered from their posted pictures, the teacher stands at the front of the class and teaches the trick, writes a lot on the board, and shows them the trick twice. Then they practice and try to show each other.

Let’s just say that Cookie Monster is NOT very good. But he tries! Here’s a video of one of the card tricks he learned.

So, I don’t know if he was actually bored or just is going through a phase where Taiwan is super boring because he can’t play Halo or Minecraft. Meh. I get it.

img_9650

Photo courtesy of Camp.

Despite his complaints, I think he had a reasonably good time, although the first class was his favorite. It seemed much more up his alley in terms of talking/listening/doing stuff ratio, as well as seemed more aligned with his interests.

Funny fact: when I first told Cookie Monster I signed him up for a magic class, my super logical little boy (I swear I have killed all the magic in him by telling him Santa and the Tooth Fairy, etc. are not real) sighed, looked at me sadly and said, “It’s not real, Mama. Magic isn’t real.”

Also, even though it’s his second week there and the teachers remember him, I guess the first class didn’t require as much reading and writing as this class. The teachers thought Cookie Monster didn’t understand what they were saying or couldn’t read or write Chinese/zhuyin because whenever they asked him, he just shrugged and smiled awkwardly.

What a faker.

Cookie Monster's Communication Book. He had to write out what they did that day and the important notes I am supposed to read and know for the next day.

Cookie Monster’s Communication Book. He had to write out what they did that day and the important notes I am supposed to read and know for the next day.

That kid will get away with murder with his awkward smile and shrug.

Anyhow, the teachers laughed when they realized he could so after that, they made him copy down what he learned from the board and write in his little communication book about what I needed to know for the next day.

Too bad they didn’t ask ME if I could read/write Chinese. Sigh.

Seriously, though. They didn’t. And if I had a hard time reading the teacher’s written Chinese, let me just say that it’s almost impossible for me to decipher Cookie Monster’s Chinese writing. I mean, he tried. And it IS legible. But he’s also 6.5 years old.

Nope. I figured if it was super important, the teachers would tell me in person.

Also, at the end of the week, the teachers were super sweet. They kept begging to take pictures with Cookie Monster and chatting with him. Asking him if he would remember them.

He just awkwardly smiled and shrugged.

They LOVED it.

I tried to explain that he can never remember their names. Ever. He has name/face blindness. (At least, that’s what I say to console myself. He will spend a year with a kid in class and never remember their name. But he will know all their likes, habits, and dislikes. Go figure.)

Anyhow, below is a slideshow of some pics from his camp as well as a few videos of his magic tricks. Cookie Monster has the tendency to tell how the trick works while he’s doing the trick (I think he also forgot some of the scripts), but it’s cute to see him try.

 

International School, Week 3

img_9635You would think after crying at drop off for two weeks straight, Gamera (4.75) would get tired of doing so. But, nope! She continued to cry – although there were two days where she didn’t and seemed happy to go to class.

The first day she didn’t cry was because Gamera has a friend at school now so she wants to copy her. The friend goes in without crying by herself and the teachers complimented her and gave a prize. So Gamera asked to go in by herself. I was like, OK!

The next day, she also happily went to class. Gamera says it’s because I packed her three snacks she liked instead of having her eat school snacks and her one friend in class can’t comment that she always brings pretzels.

I will take it as a win.

But of course, those days of happiness were short-lived and Gamera was back to crying and clinging to me at drop off.

She really doesn’t like one of her teachers which I find weird – and she says she likes Glow Worm’s teacher the most. I think it’s because although this teacher is kind and a good teacher, she doesn’t coddle Gamera and I guess she loves to be coddled and catered to.

Gamera's communication book. They list all the things and characters they learned as well as any notes we should know about.

Gamera’s communication book. They list all the things and characters they learned as well as any notes we should know about.

I would update on what they learn, but truthfully, I didn’t really find out what they did until the last day of school when they handed out their portfolios and art projects. All I knew was what I could decipher from their communication books.

Mostly, I just understood that they learned and repeated some songs, practiced a dance, and learned characters. They did these things for points, and Gamera earned a bunch of prizes which seemed to make her happy. (But not as happy as NOT going to school would have made her.)

Gamera showing me her locker where she puts her outdoor shoes and her back pack.

Gamera showing me her locker where she puts her outdoor shoes and her back pack.

Let’s see, some other random notes from the week: I knew something weird was going on with one of Gamera’s braids when we were heading home one night. Then, when I washed her hair that night, a huge clump came out. It was HUGE.

For some reason, the teacher always redoes her hair every day. I’m sure it’s because her braids got messy or whatever, but I asked them to stop. I don’t want her to lose any more clumps of hair and lice is a legit concern

Also, this week, there are two kids of Indian/Pakistani origin in Gamera’s class now. I think from Singapore? But maybe they are in a different grade. Is it wrong to hope so because they only speak English?

Gamera showing me the sweet potatoes she picked during her field trip.

Gamera showing me the sweet potatoes she picked during her field trip.

Additionally, just found out that Gamera is an idiot and hasn’t been eating the school lunch because she didn’t want to try new things. So she’s been STARVING LIKE AN IDIOT and crying about how the teacher doesn’t let her eat her snacks. She ate 6 rice crackers for the whole fucking day.

I told her I was also so sad she was hungry. And she needs to eat the food and take it even if she doesn’t like it because it makes me sad to hear she is hungry all day. So when I spoke to the teacher, it turns out that they try to encourage her to eat their food, but she doesn’t tell them she wants more snacks or that she doesn’t want to eat it and then ends up hungry.

The shuttle bus Gamera and Glow Worm were on. Well, different ones, but they looked the same.

The shuttle bus Gamera and Glow Worm were on. Well, different ones, but they looked the same.

A lot of the problems arise because Gamera doesn’t tell her teachers things (like when a boy was making fun of her and she told him to stop several times but he didn’t) but then blames the teachers for not knowing. I mean, I know teachers are supposed to be observant, but COME ON. That is completely unreasonable on Gamera’s part.

So, likely, her misunderstanding of what teachers are supposed to know and do and then the whole food fiasco contributes to her hating school.

The 地瓜 (di4 gua/sweet potatoes) Gamera and Glow Worm picked.

The 地瓜 (di4 gua/sweet potatoes) Gamera and Glow Worm picked.

Ah well. Girl’s gotta learn.

Anyhow, they also went on a field trip to pick 地瓜 (di4 gua/sweet potatoes) and she was so excited to show me her bag (as well as Glow Worm’s) and was very excited about the bus ride and told me all about sweet potato soup and demanded I make her some from her sweet potatoes.

Don’t know how to break it to her that the sweet potato soup is NOT happening in our kitchenette.

An excerpt from Glow Worm's communication booklet. He also has been learning songs, circling and recognizing characters, and listening to stories.

An excerpt from Glow Worm’s communication booklet. He also has been learning songs, circling and recognizing characters, learning a dance, and listening to stories.

As for Glow Worm (2.9), since last week Gamera was sick, it only seems right that Glow Worm caught it, too. I had hoped she had food poisoning – if only because then she shouldn’t be contagious.

Alas, I was so wrong.

Glow Worm barfed Saturday night all over our hotel bed. He may have barfed Sunday night in our apartment. And he ran a low-grade fever all weekend and throughout the week.

Of course, I still sent him to school on Monday, Tuesday, and Wednesday because besides being cranky, he seemed fine to me. I wasn’t going to let a little malingering kill my $56/day of school.

Unfortunately, it seemed as if Glow Worm had totally regressed. I think he thought if he acts like a baby, he doesn’t have to go to school.

Their schedule for a week. They don't have field trips every Friday, but they had a few.

Their schedule for a week. They don’t have field trips every Friday, but they had a few.

He refused to walk. Refused to feed himself (even at school) when he used to do everything just fine by himself.

On the way to school, we would be ground to a halt because Glow Worm refused to walk and only wanted me to carry him – which was NOT happening.

When I finally convinced him to walk because he was too tired from crying, we rounded the corner for school and as soon as that happened, Glow Worm cried, “不要 (bu2 yao4/no want)!” and I had to carry him the rest of the way.

He was super clingy on the way to school before he broke down. I had thought he was finally listening to me and not running head first into an escalator. Nope.

At any rate, every day, he was coming home in changed clothes because he was super gassy and bloated and I suspected he was having acid reflux. So I tried to change up his diet, but he was miserable at school, and his poor teachers were stuck with multiple poop accidents and barf scares.

Glow Worm milking his day home with Mommy and using me as a couch. It was not comfy.

Glow Worm milking his day home with Mommy and using me as a couch. It was not comfy.

Finally, on Wednesday after lunch, they said he had a temperature and I had to go pick him up. Glow Worm was bloated and constipated all day and was off his feed. Poor little guy.

When I went to pick him up, Glow Worm was milking it. He was carried out by his teacher because he had fallen asleep.

I carried him to the taxi. Carried him upstairs to our apartment. As soon as we got in, he was too weak to take off his shoes by himself. Or wash his hands. Then, he saw the iPad. All of  a sudden, he was perfectly fine.

A Christmas miracle.

Glow Worm throwing one of his many daily tantrums. It's hard to have sympathy for a sick kid who miraculously heals for the iPad but then is an asshole the rest of the time.

Glow Worm throwing one of his many daily tantrums. It’s hard to have sympathy for a sick kid who miraculously heals for the iPad but then is an asshole the rest of the time.

Also, when I took him home after lunch, his teacher said Glow Worm wanted her to tell me he doesn’t want any more grapes. Apparently he used to love them, but not every day.

Now he opens it, sighs, and gets a sad disappointed look. Teacher said she would tell me and that he could also tell me. I laughed because Glow Worm can’t talk.

Incidentally, on our way back out to pick up Gamera and Cookie Monster, I accidentally discovered that Glow Worm could put on his own shoes.

I have been conned!

Glow Worm giving me a Pouty McPout face while we waited for Gamera at pick up.

Glow Worm giving me a Pouty McPout face while we waited for Gamera at pick up.

When I told his teacher about him knowing how to put on his shoes, she was like, duh. Every. Day.

She told him, “You have no more secrets!”

Glow Worm just pouted his Pouty McPout face.

This is all just to say that I still had to keep Glow Worm home on Thursday because he was so pissy and sick and feverish and babyish that I wanted to make sure he could attend the field trip on Friday.

Also, I suspected his low grade fever that kept appearing and disappearing was due to heat stroke since I’m personally very susceptible to heat stroke, so that night, I did 刮痧 (gua sha/Chinese scraping) with peppermint essential oil to help relieve the heat stroke.

Sure enough, the telltale red bruising and pinpricks showed up on baby boy. Next day, (his day home), no fever. I still had him stay home just in case. I wanted to make sure I didn’t have a repeat of having to pick him up after lunch!

Glow Worm enjoying a 豆漿 (dou4 jiang/soy milk) delivered by the awesome Irish Twins who loves me and brought me Taiwanese breakfast at home.

Glow Worm enjoying a 豆漿 (dou4 jiang/soy milk) delivered by the awesome Irish Twins who loves me and brought me Taiwanese breakfast at home.

This is all just to say that I’m sure he learned stuff, but quite honestly, this week was exhausting and a blur and I never ever ever ever want to re-do it ever again. It was horrible and hard and awful.

So, in conclusion, this week was mostly a wash for Glow Worm (I think), and hopefully, Gamera and Cookie Monster learned stuff because that’s an awful lot of money to waste if no learning whatsoever happened.

But now you know that Taiwanese schools measure kids’ temperatures at the beginning of the day, after lunch/nap, and any time they feel it is warranted. And that their teachers are amazing and kind and really helpful with informing me of the particulars of Glow Worm’s eating preferences as well as knowing him on a level I never suspected he possessed.

Chinese Progress, Update 1

We have now been in Taiwan about 11 days (give or take depending on time change and traveling into the future via plane) and surprisingly, I’ve already seen signs of improvement in the kids’ Chinese.

Here then, are several of my meandering thoughts and observations (backed by zero science or discrete measurements and is merely a collection of my inaccurate and optimistic musings).

1) Cookie Monster now speaks mostly Chinese – even to me. Yes, I realize that he’s supposed to be doing that anyway, but that hasn’t really happened in awhile. I always have to remind him. But now, I rarely have to remind him. He is so used to speaking Chinese that he doesn’t even think twice about speaking it to me.

Plus, his vocabulary and breadth is expanding. He will even explain what he was learning or doing at camp in mostly Chinese.

How I know Chinese immersion is working. Cookie Monster keeps saying, “我的媽啊!” (Wo3 de5 ma ah!/Oh my gosh!)

They also keep saying “太可怕啦!” (Tai4 ke3 pa4 la4!/That’s so scary!)

I find these random statements hilarious. The kids have incorporated these common phrases into their Chinese toolkit (even if they’re not sure exactly what it means, they know when to use it correctly).

2) Glow Worm is hard to gauge because he wasn’t really talking much in the first place but always understood everything I said in Chinese. However, he is starting to repeat more and more words in Chinese as well as use Chinese more often. Again, it is hard to say, but I think his Chinese is improving.

3) Gamera’s Chinese was always the most fluid and fluent so I don’t see much difference except in her consistency. She now speaks to me more often in Chinese and explains long complicated scenarios to me all in Chinese. I can only assume she is also increasing her vocabulary and breadth.

4) Of course, their language of play amongst themselves is still in English, but I hear more and more Chinese non sequiturs and exclamations than before.

They have been playing with my cousin’s son on the weekends, too, so that is definitely mostly all in Chinese.

5) Further evidence that nonstop Chinese TV in the background is still better than nothing. (Even when the kids are barely paying attention and are on their iPads – they still will stop iPadding if they see or hear something interesting on the TV. My kids clearly are going to have focus problems in the future. But their Chinese will be awesome!)

On the kid channels (we’re permanently stuck on either YoYo TV or Momo TV), they will play random songs or have dance numbers with major cartoon characters in them. My kids will now dance along to the ones they’ve seen before (in fact, Gamera tells me one of the dance numbers they learned at school) or sing along or all of a sudden when they’re playing.

Current fave: 捏泥巴,捏泥巴,捏捏捏捏 捏泥巴。(nie ni2 ba, nie ni2 ba. Nie nie nie nie, nie ni2 ba/Squish the mud, Squish the mud. Squish squish squish squish, Squish the mud.)

Here’s a video of Gamera and Glow Worm dancing along to the songs. If you look at the reflection in the glass, you can see what they’re trying to copy.

The other side effect that I did not expect is that apparently, the kids understand more than I give them credit for. There is a toothpaste commercial that comes on a lot that details pores/holes in our teeth and how that is bad and the toothpaste heals the tiny holes or whatever. (See, even I am not quite clear on what they are actually saying.)

Anyhow, when the commercial came on, Cookie Monster proceeded to tell me all about the tiny holes in the teeth and Gamera continued telling me how the toothpaste heals all the holes. They told me this all in Chinese.

Propaganda and commercials clearly work. Whoooo! I don’t even mind the indoctrination!

So really, I should see if I can subscribe to Chinese programming on cable or just have Chinese stories on in the background of their daily lives. The noise might kill me.

According to Nurtureshock by Po Bronson, that would only work because the kids already understand Chinese. If they didn’t, the kids would just tune the sound out because their brains process Chinese as gibberish. So if your kids aren’t already fluent, this option is unlikely to do them much good.

6) I am starting to ask Cookie Monster to read more and more signs and instructions geared to kids that include zhuyin. He is more and more willing to do so out of a desire to do things.

For example, we were at a kids’ science museum and they had computer games with Chinese and zhuyin instructions that he really wanted to play so he read.

He wasn’t happy about it, but he did it.

7) Turns out both Cookie Monster and Gamera can read and recognize more Chinese characters than my cousin’s son who is turning six in a few months. That’s not surprising because my goal is to front load their reading comprehension as much as possible before they succumb to the ease and ubiquity of English.

I obviously don’t expect this “being ahead” to last. Besides, my nephew is in English immersion school so he is learning English and is on somewhat the reverse trajectory.

Sidenote: No one has mentioned or commented or been surprised my kids can speak and/or understand Chinese. I think they think my kids are likely from America, but no one is thinking they are mixed. And before you say they’re too polite to comment, you clearly don’t know how blunt Taiwanese people are – or how overtly racist/colorist.

Anyhow, the main bonus of this is that no one is practicing their shitty English on my kids and ruining the whole point of coming back to Taiwan in the first place.

Trust me, this happens ALL the time to folks who bring their kids back from the US. The very people (aka: family) who give you shit about your kids not being fluent enough in Chinese will be speaking to your kids in super crappy broken English when it’s been made very clear that a) you brought your kids back to improve their Chinese and b) your kids UNDERSTAND and SPEAK Chinese. </rant>

Alright, I think that is it for now. I hope you found this interesting even though it has no real bearing on your own children’s progress. But perhaps it can give you an idea of what to expect or hope for should you bring your kids back to Taiwan for camp and Mandarin immersion.

Did you take (or have you taken) your kids back to Taiwan or China? Is this similar to your experience? (Obviously, a lot depends on starting fluency, but surely some things are transferable.) Let me know in the comments.

Have a great weekend!