Chinese Progress: 9 Months After Taiwan

Has it really been nine months since we got back from Taiwan? That’s a PREGNANCY, people!

Anyhow, I meant to do an update earlier and keep better track of when my children made the switch from Chinese default to English default, but that would have required me to pay far greater attention to my children than I am wont to do.

So, I want to say the kids kept up their Chinese for about five or six months before they started to backslide into English a lot. And the only reason it kept up for that long is because we homeschool in Chinese, the majority of their classes are in Chinese, and for awhile, all they did was watch Chinese YouTube.

Just to give you an idea of how quickly they can convert to English only, for our Spring Break, I had the older kids in a basketball camp as well as a cooking camp. Thus, they were surrounded by English speakers and spoke English for six hours a day for five consecutive days.

The effect was almost instantaneous.

It was all English all the time. And not only that – their English improved.

I tried to combat it with listening to Chinese stories in the car, but we really didn’t drive much so they didn’t hear much Chinese at all that week. I can only imagine how much their English would outpace their Chinese if we were not homeschooling in Chinese.

This is all just to say that the after glow of Taiwan was only sustainable for so long because we homeschool in Chinese as well as have the majority of their classes in Chinese. 

I cannot say that the Chinese effect would be as pronounced or sustainable if they went to an English speaking school surrounded by English speakers all day.

Thus, the main thing to remember is that the majority of your work is done with your kids if you just speak Chinese to them already.

Alright, without further ado, here are some of my observations that have definitely been blurred by the effects of time and life.

1) Glow Worm’s (3.5) Chinese has exploded. I mean, so has his English. (He FINALLY speaks!) But in general, his Chinese has 開竅了 (kai qiao4 le5)/for a child to begin to know things.

This is also not because of anything special about Taiwan, but more because he goes to a Chinese preschool twice a week as well as a Mandarin Mommy and Me once a week. Just the addition of two days with a Chinese tutor has upped his vocabulary a lot.

I can’t wait for how it will improve after our Taiwan Trip 2017 as well as when he adds 2-3 additional days of Chinese preschool.

2) Gamera (5), easily the child with the best Chinese, has started to resist speaking Chinese all the time. Even when I try to couch it in terms of helping Glow Worm and Sasquatch (5.5 mos) learn Chinese, she doesn’t really care.

Her default and stronger language is definitely English – and she wants to keep speaking it when playing.

However, her Chinese is still really good. I’m constantly amazed how when admonished to speak Chinese, she can switch from English to Chinese mid-sentence and finish the thought. She is truly bilingual in the sense that she doesn’t have to think about what to say in English first, then translate into Chinese. She just speaks her thoughts in Chinese.

I have noticed that the loss of three days of Chinese preschool and being home with me more has affected her Chinese ability (and not for the better). But because she still watches a lot of Chinese YouTube (especially Chinese game shows and variety shows and Chinese YouTube acts), her Chinese can often be better than mine.

3) Cookie Monster (7) definitely prefers English, but still dutifully switches to Chinese when told. He just needs more vocabulary to express his thoughts – and he would have that vocabulary if I were not so lazy about him reading consistently to me in Chinese.

Just one day of Chinese class is not enough. It’s ok in terms of preventing more attrition, but not enough in terms of gaining in Chinese. Even his teacher has mentioned to me several times that he is regressing and forgetting characters.

This is definitely my fault.

Plus, he doesn’t find the Chinese programming as interesting as Gamera does (although he is also obsessed with TF Boys like his siblings).

It definitely shows.

4) At least Cookie Monster and Gamera are good about speaking Chinese to their peers who only speak Chinese. They know that they can only speak to Guavarama and Fleur’s kids (as well as some of our other Chinese homeschool kids) in Chinese.

This, of course, only works because all the children have similar levels of Chinese fluency (albeit, better than my kids) and can express and play adequately in Chinese. If my kids’ Chinese were not up to snuff (or vice versa), the play language would default to English in a red hot second.

Thus, I am ashamed I did not capitalize more on our trip to Taiwan last year. We’ve had a good run, but we definitely will need the boost when we head to Taiwan again this summer. Unfortunately, this time we will only be back for four weeks. I’m sure the missing two weeks will equate to an even earlier Chinese language cliff.

This is especially important to note because I am not going back to Taiwan in 2018. (Yes, I plan this far ahead. No, YOU take an 18 month old with three other children to Taiwan.)

I need to remember in Summer 2018 to not go overboard with English camps/programming and to find ways they can be “immersed” in Chinese.

Anyhow, I hope this update was helpful in terms of giving you an idea of how long the Chinese boosting effects of an extended trip to Taiwan might last. Of course, YMMV.

Did you find this true for your children? Let me know in the comments.

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!

 

 

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!