i finally did the thing

i finally did the thing

the thing that i have been low-key worried about for more than a decade

because driving here is dangerous and sometimes terrifying, and because when i get scared i get angry, and when i get angry i lose my temper

and when i am riding a scooter or a bicycle, my temper tantrum involves swearing and distributing “the bird”

yesterday i was riding my bike to school. i was actually feeling pretty good because i’d had a good writing session, i had a nice lunch waiting for me, and i’d gone to the bank and got some stuff done. and here i was about to be well early…

the light was green at the end of the alley so i started pumping my legs because i didn’t want to wait for the red. and i was just hitting the intersection–yeehaw!–when this fucker honked at me. the car behind honked at me and was trying to squeeze out of this narrow alley ahead of me.

i was already feeling like man i better hustle to make this light but i also better be prepared to stop in case it turns red cause i don’t want to be in the middle of the intersection when these cars start moving. so i was already on high-alert, already hustling, and this fucker honks at me. 

where was i supposed to go? all i can do is keep pedaling, and now i feel like i am pedaling for my life because a car is chasing me.

there’s no where to go. that’s driving in taiwan. there’s no bicycle or scooter lanes, or if there are, cars park in them. cars double park. caretakers push old people in wheelchairs alongside the double parked cars. grandmothers on 50cc scooters go slower than me on bicycle. pedestrians dodge, duck, dip, dive, and dodge their way down the roads because the sidewalks are blocked with parked cars and scooters. there’s no where to go when someone honks.

so i flicked her off. i held up the middle finger of my left hand and took the turn wide because this cunt was making a left, too. this dick was trying to mow me down just to make the light.

and then she turned into my school. it’s just right there. i had finally done what i had been afraid i might do: i flicked off a parent from my school.

i was still so scared and mad though that my first thought was “i am willing to get fired for this.” and “if i go down, i’m going down hard.” so i rolled into the lot right behind her and took it slow, glaring at her the whole time.

i imagined the stupid meeting the administrators would organize, where i would sit and sip tea and pretend to be ashamed of myself and recite a statement prepared for me by my boss and have to listen to them talk about me in chinese like i wasn’t there or couldn’t understand, about how foreigners have a different culture and aren’t used to the driving in taiwan and miss rae is oh so sorry and then they’d dismiss me and everyone would leave with very plastic smiles and giggles and lots of nodding like little bows.

i would literally rather be fired.

i rolled to the back of the school where i keep my bike and got my stuff without hesitating. i was going to own this, and if i had to go down, i wasn’t going to apologize for being furious that somebody else was driving dangerously.

but when i came into the courtyard, there was just a little boy was making his lone way to class. i asked him if his mom drove the gray car and he said yes…

when i got to the table where the other foreign teachers were eating lunch, my hands were still shaking.

i waited for her to come in. i waited for her to call, for my manager to call me into the office. but nothing happened.

best case scenario: she was so oblivious that she didn’t notice that i gave her the middle finger and pulled into the school behind her. this wouldn’t surprise me at all because that’s literally why driving here is so dangerous–people are oblivious.

bestest case scenario: she was so embarrassed that she almost ran over a teacher at her son’s school that she doesn’t want to show her face. she went home to think about what she had done and decided she needs to chill when she’s driving, that sitting at a red light is less of a hassle than manslaughter charges.

insofar as she was a member of my school community, of course i did not want to give her the bird. but insofar as she was a rude and dangerous driver who in that instant valued my safety less than the prospect of having to sit through a 75-second red light, fuck her.

adjusting to life in taiwan

you take off your shoes before you go in the house? now that’s just smart.

you eat food with two sticks instead of a fork and knife? lemme try that!

you put this fish tank here because it’ll attract money to your business? that’s cool. i like fish! shoot, i like money, too!

you take your tea with a little liquor? how cheeky! but i’ll give it a shot.

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you let the old people start eating first before you take any food? that’s mighty decent of you.

you give kids red envelopes of money during the lunar new year? that’s interesting. tell me more!

you want me to come over your house and grill some skewers and take pictures of each other with pomelo rinds on our heads? sign me up, ya crazy animal!

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you can’t whistle at night cause it will attract ghosts? i guess that’s like how we don’t open umbrellas in the house back home.

you wanna rent a room, get drunk, and sing avril lavigne songs at each other? did you just read my mind?!

you don’t let kids drink cold water, but you hand them bottle rockets? hey, they’re your kids.

you hire pole dancers and strippers to perform on the street for big funerals and major holidays? let me get my camera.

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you hired a cleaning service to clean this place before we moved in, and they didn’t sweep the cat hair out from under the sofa because you can’t see under the sofa? you paid money for someone to half-clean this house?! did you just pay them half?!

you just park wherever? but this is double-parking and you’re blocking traffic behind- omg watch out for that guy doing a u-turn in the middle of- jesus h. christ!

would it not be simpler if every driver on the damn island starting turning BEHIND the people in the right lane instead of speeding up and cutting them off?! maybe there needs to be like a government campaign or something…

if.you.needed.to.turn.left.why.were.you.on.the.far.right.why.why.answer.me.why.

WHAT KIND OF MONSTER CUTS IN LINE?! I DON’T CARE HOW OLD YOU ARE OR HOW BUSY YOU THINK YOU ARE RELATIVE TO THE OTHER PEOPLE WHO WERE HERE FIRST! YOU GO RIGHT TO HELL!

this is why i can’t find anything to watch

we might have cable–i don’t know–and we have netflix, but i can never find anything to watch between monday nights when i watch game of thrones and insecure. i poke around netflix like looking in a fridge full of condiments for something to eat but i can’t find anything to watch because these stupid blurbs are the only thing i have to go on. tell me if you would watch these shows based on these descriptions:

“Great friends, hot new dining spots, spontaneous adventures. He’s living his best life, but he’s ready to level up.”
this sounds like the status update of a dude who just broke up with his cheating partner and also inexplicably talks about himself in the third person.

“He moved from Idaho to New York and looks like a 1950s ice cream man. But there’s a lot going on behind that happy face.”
i don’t do horror flicks and this definitely sounds like the tagline for a movie about a serial killer and not a stand-up comedy special

“Sam’s on the spectrum. He’s ready to start dating. But growing up means growing pains for his family.”
this should be great because normally when children hit adolescence it barely registers with their family members.
get the popcorn, honey!

“Rob’s madly in love and about to married. Unfortunately he’s also naked, stuck in an elevator, and caught in a time loop.”
you silly goose where is your pants

“They’re young, they’re attractive, they’re in love. They’re also renting living space in a derelict hospital.”
this sounds like netflix is spoofing itself. wtf wants to watch a show based on this description?

“What’s a Midwest girl to do after she’s spent the last fifteen years trapped underground? Moved to New York of course.”
OMG DOES SHE MEET ALL KINDS OF WACKY BIG-CITY TYPES??!!
hijinks ensue

“These guys are different, but one thing they do have in common is that they’re totally hopeless in dating and life.”
this sounds like something you’d put on while you’re babysitting, and if your charges are too young to appreciate jokes about pedophiles, cocks, hitler, cancer, and so on, then you’re fine.

“Her staff is stoned, her patients are baked, and she’s definitely flying high. Welcome to Ruth’s Alternative Caring.”
those drug jokes are so edgy.
did your mom write a blurb for a netflix show about medical marijuana?

“Some people can accept rejection and move on with their lives. This teenage girl isn’t one of them.”
that is not something that anyone thinks teenage girls do. if i wanted to get invested in a story about a teenage girl who doesn’t accept rejection like a financially-independent divorcée, i would ask you what high school was like for you

“Their search for The One takes some seriously awkward detours. But in the meantime, they’ve got each other.”
based on this blurb i refused to watch lovesick for a while but then i read that it was a show about a guy who found out he had chlamydia and had to go back to all the women he’d slept with and tell them he had an std and meanwhile his best friend is in love with him and then i watched both seasons in one weekend

it’s a pasta and ramen kind of day

i am sitting here slurping on a bowl of creamy tom yum instant noodles that i made with too much water. i don’t normally eat instant noodles or food from 7-11, but tonight i did both because today sucked and i want it to choke it dead with carbohydrates.

i woke up early and went for a walk and that seemed like a promising beginning, but while i was walking i got stuck behind an old man slowly pedaling down the walking/bike path ahead of me. every few feet, he would hork a loogie to the right and then let sail a snot rocket to the left. one or two expectorations from an old dude in the morning is still fucking gross but within the realm of shit that happens, but this dude was a bicycling biohazard. i kept back and tried to avoid seeing whatever the fuck he was leaving in a trail behind him. he stopped his bicycle at the intersection and took a long drag of his cigarette and i realized he was killing himself and mindlessly spreading contagions like he’d decided the rest of us have nothing to live for. thanks, old dude.

that was fine.

i had trouble getting focused but i nailed out the last couple paragraphs of a short story that i started working on like two weeks ago and at least i have a rough draft now. i thought that would be enough joy to get me through the day, knowing i’ve finished yet another story, but no:

i went to this smoothie place at like i swear to god 12:15, it was not that late. maybe 12:20. there are a couple of tables, but just one couple at one table and that’s it. i walk in an order a smoothie and a wrap. to be clear, this is food that has to be assembled, not made, and this is basically the only food available at this place: coffee, smoothies, and three kinds of sandwiches.

i step back and look at my watch. as long as i am out of here by 12:40, i will definitely have time to bike to work. but i am certain that i will be out of there before 12:40 because that would be ridiculous. these people put lunch meat and slices of lettuce on bread for a living, they are professionals. at 12:35, the chick walks out from behind the counter and i jump up, ready to grab my stuff, and OMG SHE IS JUST BRINGING TWO FUCKING SMOOTHIES TO THESE OTHER PEOPLE. like i watched this chick cut up some strawberries, wash them all, rehome them in some tupperware, wash the plastic box they came in…and none of that was for me. i have been there twenty minutes, these people even longer. and the manager was over there interviewing a prospective employee at 12:30 AS YOU DO IN A RESTAURANT…i took a deep breath because obviously now that these smoothies are out of the way, these ridiculous fucking smoothies with fruit arranged on top like a goddamn carmen-miranda headpiece, this chick will be able to roll up some lunch meat in a tortilla and send me on my way. so i wait til 12:40 and i can’t really wait any longer, it’s gonna take me 15 minutes to get to work, and i peek over the counter AND THIS BITCH IS MAKING WAFFLES AND GRILLING CHICKEN.

i did not order waffles or chicken.

i told her i had to go, but like right now, sorry and thanks, tee-hee, and she shuffles the shuffle of the overworked and underpaid and pulls out a tupperware container with some meat in it and starts to put the beef on the grill like i have twenty more minutes to waste on her making bad life choices. finally the manager was done and also tuned in to what was happening and she saw a solution, how about i just take the chicken if i’m in such a rush?

if i had fucking wanted chicken…but fine, it’s actually too late for me to get food anywhere else at this point anyway. so there’s like US$7 which is actually pretty pricey for lunch in zhongli and like a solid 40 minutes of my life wasted getting somebody else’s overpriced lunch.

and then on the way to work, literally just riding my bicycle down the side of the road, a car passed me. i noticed she had her right turn signal on pretty much right when she turned. i slammed both my brakes, and when you do that on a bicycle, you stop dead, unless you slide for a second on your not-moving wheels, which is what i did. i was furious–i hadn’t been going slow at all and it wouldn’t have taken but a second for her to turn behind me instead of cut me off. i almost fell over the handlebars, and then the person behind me honked their horn. i was apoplectic and residually afraid for me life, so i screamed at that guy and waved my arms, “don’t fucking honk at me! it was that car!” and then that car was still there so i did what any professional elementary school teacher would do in public when she’s lost her fucking mind and i tore off down that road with the intention of i don’t know, ringing my bicycle bell at her a bunch of times and flipping her the bird.

lo and fucking behold, she’d stopped like just right there because some other jackass was doing a surprise u-turn. so she’d almost caused an accident because she had to make that right turn so fucking fast, and here she is waiting because it’s zhongli and nobody can drive and everyone double parks and the roads suck SO WHAT IS THE POINT. i got alongside her, i waved my right arm around and shouted, “you’re a real dick, you know that?” because that was what was in my heart of hearts at that moment. and then because the other car was still not pointed in the right direction i drifted past them both and then had to stop to make a left to get back on the road i was actually supposed to be on so i could go to work, since i was running late. she had to pass behind me, and when she did, i gave her the stinkiest of stink eyes, and willed the stench to stay with her the rest of the day.

of course by the time i got to school i felt bad for losing my cool–what if that had been a parent driving the car? awkward. but i also felt a teensy bit justified since she’d made me almost shit my pants.

i am afraid of ending up on youtube. i actually feel sorry for people some people who lose their shit and end up on youtube because sometimes unless they are racist or transphobic or what, i feel like i get it. there but for the grace go i…

and then i had to teach, within like an hour of me wanting to see some lady bounce her own head off her steering wheel. but that’s fine, i’m fine with the students. we made little posters and read a story about a pig named slim and it was fine. the “poo-poo” all over the floor of the boys’ bathroom was actually mud and the “blood” was actually blood, but it was just a nosebleed. all in all it was fine.

then i spent thirty minutes of my prep time looking for the shitfucking projector i was meant to use, and then thirty minutes of a forty-minute class looking for damn files on the usb because i knew that as soon as class was over, any other teacher there was going to show me where the files were and say something passive-aggressive about my being an idiot. only nobody could find the files after class and then we found the last person who had used the usb labelled “reading adventures” and found out that satan had compelled her to remove the “reading adventures” files from that usb and put whatever the hell she wanted on it.

THAT’S OKAY TEEHEE TEEHEE

i went to the dentist after work to try and find my health insurance card and the receptionist asked me about a dozen questions and told me to wait a minute and i kept explaining to her that i only wanted to know if i’d forgotten my health card and she kept saying it would take a minute to find out…then she finally came from the back with a file with my name on it and said you just want to know to know if we have your health card? and i said yes, and she said of course we don’t, if we did, we would call you. and since that wasn’t the dumbest thing that happened today i just accepted it.

and then the vietnamese place was closed and i could have gone to the night market but people, and i thought about going to madotz for hot pot but people, so i got pasta carbonara at 7-11 and the lady said “nihao” to me and didn’t grab anything out of my hands so that was pretty much the best part of my day so far, except for actually finishing the first draft of that story.

but i don’t have my health card so i can’t go to the doctor (without paying US$15 instead of US$3 for a doctor’s visit) so this cold is just gonna hang out here. unlike the old man, i will not force anything out of my body, i will just sit here with leaks sprouting in my eyes and nose.

at least i am not in texas. nor do i have children. and there’s still one more episode of game of thrones and a new episode of insecure.

and loads more ramen.

new year’s resolution check-in

when i posted this i was already kinda like maybe not? but here we are.

read 110 books
this is not going to happen because i was taking chinese class for 2-3 hours every morning up until last week and with that and watching a lot of tv to procrastinate on doing my chinese homework, i did not have the time to read. i lowered the goal to 90 books because being realistic feels like settling. i did read 100 last year and that was what catapulted me into feeling like a slightly less useless piece of shit and that’s where we are right now.

complete the yale lecture series on the novel from 1945-now (read the books and listen to the lectures)
i have read like half the books and listened to none of the lectures, but i feel like there’s still time. anyway shit got weird in the 50s and 60s and for my money i’d rather read hemingway than any of the beat writers. they are so fucking pompous.

complete the list of 100 things to do in zhongli and all the blog posts
you know what’s more fun than doing things in zhongli? not doing anything in zhongli. we have a lovely apartment and netflix and besides i have like 40 more books to read in the next three and a half months.

plank for two minutes every day (even if it’s not continuous)
you’d think that doing anything for two minutes a day, in 30-second or 1-minute intervals, would be completely doable, but i kept forgetting about it until it was time to go to bed and then it was like i could get on the floor and tax my core or i could get into bed with a negligible amount of self-loathing and read my books and that has won every single night except for like three.

stick with yoga 2-3x a week, or if class with Neil ends, join a yoga gym
okay but actually the thing is the yoga was killing my back, like since november, and i have only stopped feeling like your arthritic grandma within the past few weeks. that’s like nine months of back pain, nine months where i had to take a deep breath and assume a weird yoga-like pose just to wipe my own ass. and then also chinese class started and i didn’t have time for yoga in the mornings, especially if i wanted to write…

keep hula hooping, even if it’s just five minutes a day
see: yoga broke my back and hula hooping wasn’t going to make it better.

pay off all our student loan debt
see what had happened was j needed a new scooter and then he had hernia surgery and then he had a family emergency and had to go back to the u.s. when we weren’t planning for that at all and we haven’t had to go into more debt because of that but we don’t have a lot less debt either.

resume studying chinese
I DID DO THIS from the end of december 2016 until like a week ago and it was not super easy for me to go back to school with homework and tests and all, but then i realized that i didn’t like need to pass, this was all optional, so i stopped doing the homework and showing up for the tests. but anyway i learned some more chinese and made some friends with some cool kids from vietnam and indonesia and korea and a nice lady from japan. and now i don’t know what i am going to do, but i didn’t want to stick around for Teacher Zhang telling us to write multiple essays and shit. i just want to consistently understand what’s going on around me but maybe that bar is too high because i don’t consistently know what people are talking about even in english.

get back on the wahl’s protocol diet
for a few months last year i forgot that i liked cheese and beer and i lost some weight right before our holiday when i started drinking beer and eating cheese again and i have never stopped. we do however eat a metric fuckton more vietnamese food lately, so we have that going for us.

play the receipt lottery
i looked up the receipt lottery info online in january but it was too early for the receipts i’d just received, so i put them in a pile on the shelf under my coffee table. then i just started piling all my receipts there until it eventually looked like a mouse’s nest. i just threw them all out like two weeks ago.

give charitably every month
why am i such a piece of shit? i did donate $50 to my brother who is a teacher in a little developing country called the united states of america where schools are underfunded and teachers are often expected to buy supplies themselves.

re: writing–measure activity, not results
i mean i guess? this sounds like i was copping out before i even started. so i have been writing more, and i have all but given up on the big book i wanted to write about my first five years in taiwan because i finally realized i was like trying to build a house when i can’t even put up a tent by myself (and when given the opportunity, i wait until it’s dark and i’m drunk so don’t trust me). i have focused on much shorter pieces, also trying to accommodate my very brief attention span, and i’ve actually finished some stuff lately WHAT. that was not happening for a very long time. so maybe ten years from now i will submit something somewhere, and maybe something i wrote will even get published somewhere that i’m excited to be in, whatever is the opposite of the literary equivalent of strip malls.

write for myself every day
i am pretty good during the week but i make bad decisions every single fucking weekend mostly. there’s no barrier at all to me getting up and going to a coffee shop early in the morning on saturdays except that i am like fuck it i’ll make some vietnamese coffee at home…and throw in a load of laundry, take a shower, do the dishes, watch six hours of a show i just found out existed…then it’s time to get shitfaced, probably, and sunday is spent in bed not really sleeping because whenever i start to drift off i have a panic attack about how my life is going nowhere and i am going to live in a box for ten years before i die.

make writing a priority, first thing every morning
like i said, i write most every morning, anywhere from 20 minutes to two hours depending on how the coked-up ferret in my brain is feeling about sitting down and writing on a device that can also access facebook, twitter, the news, netflix, youtube, and amazon.

say yes more often
no

but i did do random awesome shit not on the list either because i am amazing or blame it on my adhd. i am adding this stuff to the list retroactively.

i now bike to work
random, right? this has been a low-key goal of mine since i started reading mr. money mustache all the way back when i lived in virginia.

i can kinda play guitar? 
in the middle of january i saw a video of channing tatum fucking up a song on the piano and i was like he has absolutely got to be busier than me sitting in starbucks watching videos of channing tatum, so i left and bought a guitar. i practice most days and now i can kinda play john legend’s all of me and old crow medicine show’s wagon wheel, which use the same four chords.

people should be seen and not heard and not seen much

my ideal coffee shop has single-person booths, like cubicles, and the baristas bring you your drink and no one is allowed to talk to each other or on their cellphones or listen to music without headphones and no children are allowed and no conversation of any kind

my ideal coffee shop is a library with a really strict librarian but also you are allowed to drink coffee

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things I hate at the coffee shop:

    • people sitting in my direct line of vision even though I sit in the corner away from the window
    • people who take my seat at the starbucks I usually go to (My seat is the one in the corner by the door because there’s only once chance for someone to sit next to me and nobody likes the lounge chairs directly in front of me so usually there isn’t anyone sitting between me and the window and when the door opens, there’s a warm breeze mixed in with the AC.)
    • when there are more than two or three people in line because the baristas here are slow and odds are one of those people is going to order six different drinks and get confused halfway through ordering them so that one of the other baristas who could be making drinks has to come over and do an interpretive dance explaining the difference between iced and hot drinks
    • people who sit next to me when there are other seats available not next to me

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    • people who peer into the windows like they are looking for someone but actually they are just looking at their reflection
    • people who stand near me when I am sitting because I can only think about their dirty buttholes or smelly crotches being near my food
    • people who fuck with their hair more seems necessary this is a coffee shop you are not beyonce this is not a music video this is my life
    • people who squirm in my peripheral vision or in front of me and even across the way because it disturbs my whole aura
    • people who sit down in the bench seat like they are trying to catch something fast-moving with their butt because it makes me bounce on the cushion
    • skinny people who think they are skinnier than they are and try to squeeze into places where they don’t fit you are skinny not elastic
    • single customers who take up two tables when there are people looking for tables
    • people who sit four or five to a two-top table (and the two-top is really a one-top)
    • people who talk on their cellphones or watch or listen to anything without headphones on
    • students who look like they are meant to be studying but keeping replying to messages on their phone and giggling and making breathing noises

    • people who come to cafes for meetings, especially sales pitches–i have watched people open up a giant bag and start pouring liquids into various vials and expound upon the cleaning power of their products in the middle of an otherwise quiet coffee shop
    • anyone who comes into a quiet coffee shop making any kind of noise
    • families with children that do an elaborate but bad job of both trying to get their kids seated and arranged and stand in line at the same time
    • people who want a private consultation before they commit to ordering bread and coffee
    • people who come to Starbucks to buy gifts, not coffee, and want to confer with the barista like they need the details on an important investment
    • people who cut in line and the stupid surprised face they make when someone points it out to them like they thought three other people were just hanging out near the cash register because the wifi is better there, or something
    • people who eat their sandwiches with a fork and a knife
    • people who slurp their coffee
    • people who grab for their coffee too frequently (counts as squirming)
    • people who sit next to me instead of the other person when there are two empty seats between us
    • slow baristas
    • the person who shows up just as the rush is over so you had to wait ten minutes for an americano but she gets her frappucino in like 3 seconds and breezes out like no big deal
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    • the starbucks manager who always acts like my ordering a drink is a hurdle to her getting her work done
    • when one barista is making the drinks and two baristas are slapping each other with towels while five customers are waiting for their coffee
    • the delivery guy who comes and flirts really loudly with the baristas and makes them shriek and squeal really loudly
    • the people who let the door slam at the Starbucks by the train station
    • the stupid tiny fucking tables at the cama coffee behind sogo
    • the fact that my favorite Louisa never opened until 9:30 a.m. and now it’s perma-closed
    • whatever the fuck this traditional italian folk music remixed with a techno beat is what
    • the entourage accompanying the one person who is actually ordering a drink, and the fact that all six of them will notice that the one guy is blocking the exit except the guy who is actually blocking the exit
    • people who take pictures of their starbucks order
    • people who take multiple selfies at starbucks
    • people who think starbucks is fancy (overpriced, yes, but its not expensive enough to keep broke college students and people with kids out)

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  • when the barista tries to fix a drink she messed up instead of remaking it because I paid US$5 for this vanilla iced cold-brew coffee and i struggle not to feel stupid about that decision but when you fuck it up and just put some more sugary syrup in it and remind me to stir it myself it’s like a bad-idea one-night stand that doesn’t even redeem itself with decent sex
  • people who bring in their US$2 breakfast to enjoy the air-conditioned Starbucks atmosphere that I paid like US$8 to be able to sit in why didn’t the rest of us think of that you’re so smart ya dickhead
  • people who can’t fucking slide a chair or table over without making a big production like they are remodeling their living space and having an enraptured audience gives them inspiration to go on
  • people who line up too close to me i will make it awkward by flipping my hair or feigning a tic that looks like the electric slide
  • strangers who want to talk about anything besides what i want to drink

things I love

  • watching people try to squeeze through the closing gap in the electric doors because they didn’t know you have to press the button
  • watching people who try to cut in line like they are princess frappuccino get told to line behind those of us who are obviously waiting
  • watching the shitty Starbucks manager tell people who rocked up with breakfast shop sandwiches that cost like US$1 that they have to order a US$5 coffee or leave and watching them leave
  • the hot guys who used to run my favorite louisa’s and sometimes were still buttoning their collared shirts when i came in as they were opening

Maybe next time I will stand up for myself by myself

So let’s flashback to when I was fresh out of college, a new teacher in Taiwan. I had just turned 23. My co-workers and I, we didn’t have an office: we all shared a giant table with cupboards underneath, so there was plenty of opportunities for everyone to interact. I worked with a woman who became my best friend, a couple of other people, and this older guy named — who was married and had a kid, male pattern baldness, and literal war stories.

This is what -- looked like when I met him in 2004. He looks older now.
This is what — looked like when I met him in 2004. He looks older now.

Here’s what I remember about –:

  • He asked me to do a recording session for an English test with him. I did it. In the car on the way home, the man driving asked him how long he’d been in Taiwan. He said, “Taiwan very good.” The man stopped talking to us. I’d been in Taiwan less than six months at that point and knew he didn’t have a clue what was being said.
  • He used to talk about being in the military and fighting in the Gulf War. But he always said that driving in Taiwan was more dangerous than being in the infantry.
  • When we all had an hour break between evening classes on Wednesdays for a spell, he invited us into an empty classroom each week to watch Northern Exposure. But then he started making us watch videos about government conspiracies, so we stopped going, which sucked, because Northern Exposure was good TV.

Anyway, I started working elsewhere after two years and did not keep in touch with –.

Jump ahead to just a few weeks ago when we end up at dinner with friends of friends and — is there. Quelle surprise! He’s looking a little more worn, a little more tired, but whatevs, it’s been like a DECADE. So I introduce him to my hubs and that’s it.

Now, I didn’t miss –, and the rest of the people at the table I either don’t know or don’t like, but we’re at like my favorite restaurant that we never go to because J doesn’t like it. Fine. I resolve to love the shit out of my bamboo pork. These people are not gonna take that away from me.

I overhear — telling somebody about being in the military and I think, man, those stories were already old when you were dropping them in 2004, but, bamboo pork. I don’t care.

Then comes the part where someone mentions that a foreigner they know is a “know-it-all”. This strikes me as funny because basically every person at that table falls into that category. (Note to self: do some soul-searching, cause you probably do this shit, too.)

So I say something: “Dude, every foreigner who’s been here like a year is a know-it-all.”

“Do you mean foreigners in general, or specifically people at this table?” queries –. I instantly regret making him think I want to talk to him, but J is on the job.

“No, not necessarily people at this table, but like anybody who’s been here for a while thinks they know all about Taiwan and Chinese culture and whatever,” says J.

“Well, really, that’s funny, because I seem to remember Rae talking a whole lot when I knew her before. It was like, jeez, you couldn’t get a word in edgewise. Isn’t that right, Rae?”

So all at once I’m feeling hot and embarrassed, and I can feel some anger in there somewhere, but it’s not gonna beat the apology out of my mouth, and I am already doubly pissed for apologizing to this guy…

“No,” says J in his nice, big boom.

“What?” says –.

“No. Whatever you just said, no.”

Granted, the rhetoric could be polished up a bit, but that’s how it went down. And — got the point, because now he turns back to me to say, “C’mon, Rae, don’t you remember? I know you’ve changed a lot…”

But something snapped in me when J interrupted him. It wasn’t only that J defended me, because that was cool, but when he did that, I realized I was defendable. That I wasn’t automatically wrong, that I didn’t have to apologize, that I could talk back to this guy. That my apology-reflex is on steroids, but I have other muscles to flex.

“I don’t know about that, but I seem to remember someone not letting us watch Northern Exposure until he proselytized us with government conspiracy theories,” I said.

Again, you know, with time, I could have scripted a wittier exchange, but this is how it went down.

The gall! Even if I did or do talk too much, coming from him, that’s a textbook example of the pot calling the kettle black. And then to observe me during a dinner where I was flanked and outnumbered by my enemies and had resigned myself to just enjoying my meal, and to deduce that I had “changed” in any way…and then to ask me to publicly disagree with my husband while he’s standing up for me was just so stupid.

We all were leaving anyway, so we left, and — shot us a few awkward, possibly conciliatory glances as he left, but we did not acknowledge him. But I got a taste of what it could be like if I don’t automatically cringe and say sorry every time someone drops a complaint at my door. And yeah, shriveled-up, bullshit, ten-year-old complaints are not being received here. Take that shit right to the trash.

Bye, –.

The Bay City Rollers

From the very excellent essay The Magic Merge by Tracy Rose Keaton in Frequencies, Volume 1 Fall 2012 p.56-59:

The Scottish foursome The Bay City Rollers were the little neon-pink tulips that rose from AM radio’s utopian soil, and every girl wanted more than a whiff. […]

The boys ascended from their black car, so pale and slender, their shoulders narrow, and their hair ornately chopped-up in beautiful plumage. They wore plaid pants in gleaming red and green, with their little hipbones jutting out…These men were like girls, bird-like and frail. They looked like me, except with weenies. Where was their daddy, I thought. […]

The birdmen bobbed up and down, perpetually smiling. Suddenly girls were appearing on the stage, wrapping their bodies around the young men. Big dudes ran out of the wings, unwrapping the young girls from the birdmen’s bodies and carrying them off the stage. There was one girl after another, and sometimes we would be only a couple feet away from them as they were dragged offstage.

I will never forget the girl who required four men to carry her off. She was spasming, her pink baby-tee pulled up around her chest to reveal soft white rolls of fat, her sad little face knit in anger and disappointment. “I JUST WANT TO TOUCH THEM! I JUST WANT TO TOUCH THEM!” she wailed over and over.

Everything I need to know, I learned teaching kindergarten

This old thing was drafted during the years I wasn’t teaching. I’ve dusted it off and posted it so you can appreciate everything I knew circa 2012. Every. thing.

Break tasks into the smallest possible steps.
The first time I ever got observed as a kindy teacher, I tried to wow the head office with a very involved arts-and-crafts project. I brought all the ingredients for kids to make paper pizzas: paper plates, colored paper, tissue paper, glitter, stickers, gold and silver paint pens, markers, crayons, pom-poms, you name it. I explained every step to my kids: take a plate, glue on some red origami paper, okay, well, tear the paper first, then put on some stickers, and if you can be careful, dab some glue here and there and sprinkle the glitter on it, wait, but, put the stickers on first…

I made a pile of materials on each table and the class went into meltdown. They glued the paper in clumps, stuck the stickers on the back of the plates, spilled the glitter, and drew on everything with that damn silver pen. My observer explained to me that I should have given them just one item at a time and showed them one step at a time. In fact, I could have taken two days to finish the project. I felt bad because in my inexperience I had set them up for failure, but I learned something that day: Kids can’t make pizza. 

Provide an example
It’s no use to explain to twenty five-year-olds how to fold a piece of paper into an origami frog from scratch. They aren’t going to visualize a frog while you’re talking. You need to have an already-made example to show them what they’re making. Next time it’s your turn to show your colleagues how to make origami frogs, make a few examples ahead of time to compensate for their inability to conceptualize frogs.

Do a little something every day.
I taught kindy  at a school that provided us with a vague schedule and some teaching materials without expecting us to follow strict lesson plans. This gave experienced teachers a lot of latitude when it came to deciding what to do each day. But there’s no way twenty kindergartners can all cram a semester’s worth of English phonics in the last week of classes before their assessments like a bunch of undergrads strung out on Ritalin. Baby steps. That goes for you in your 40s trying to learn how to hula hoop or play the guitar.

You have to learn how to learn.
Kids literally know nothing when they are little. Most adults don’t know much. Why? Because they don’t know how to learn. In kindy, this means memorizing lots of information about the way we categorize the world and also learning to look for and identify patterns–colors, numbers, correlated events, phonics patterns, etc. Show me a kid who never picks up a book on their own because they don’t know how to read it until it’s been taught in class, and twenty years later I’ll show you the people who need to be walked through the Starbucks menu like it’s a whole new world every time they go. Every.single.time. Nobody likes those people.

Do it right AND fast
In Taiwan, even my kindy kids had to prep for an entrance exam into the next level of the program. The test was difficult, but it was also timed. Other teachers were generous with their students, requiring the whole class to move no faster than the slowest kid and letting them finish their practice tests at their own pace. In my class, once I was confident my students knew how to finish it, I put pressure on them to finish it quickly. Time limits and prizes for the fastest kids had them working at high speeds. In the end, more of my kids passed the test than anyone else’s. WHAT’S GOOD, DEBBIE WITH THE SHORT HAIR?!

Fake it til you make it
The parents of the students at my school expected their kids to be reading age-appropriate English books within weeks of studying English. It was kind of nuts. BUT their spongy little minds could memorize books in just a few days. The kids didn’t know they weren’t reading, but neither did the parents. Mom and Dad were happy, the kids were happy, and so the teachers were happy. And by the end of the three-year kindergarten program, the kids were actually literate. Like once I started reading about the wine I was drinking, I got tasked with ordering the wine all the time. The extent of my knowledge was “Merlots are generally fruity and accessible”. I ordered a Merlot, everyone loved it. I was a superstar because none of them had seen Sideways. You got this!

His cucumber video

 

A badass Egyptian woman gives an aggressive cat-caller a dose of his own medicine in this awesome video. The filmmaker Sharine Arif tells the story of Nora Labib, a woman who refuses to be a victim of cat-calling.

This could only have been better if a bunch of women then beat him up with the heels of their shoes. Goddamn. I really thought this was a beautiful thing.

It’s scary, though, to think how this reaction could have gone wrong. Perhaps in a less crowded place, this guy would have gotten violent. Why? Because men who behave like this are predators, inspired by a sense of entitlement, and any questioning of that entitlement is a personal attack that left unanswered becomes a diminishment of their masculinity and themselves.

But I hope every woman who can, every victim of a bully, gets to enjoy this feeling of being able to stand up for themself.