On the 16th December 2013, I cycled to work wearing a Santa hat. It was a Monday afternoon, in just under a month; the temperature had dropped drastically in Hemei Township or 和美鎮 (Héměi Zhèn). As I travelled down the Dàozhōu Road, an icy wind whipped across my face causing my nose to run and my eyes to water. I taught a private class of one student followed by a pleasant, clever class of several. By the end of the day, the rain was coming down heavily; I was caught in a torrential downpour, by the time I got home I looked as though I had been swimming. Cycling home through an unexpected thunderstorm wearing a coat is akin to riding Valhalla at Blackpool Pleasure Beach without one.
On the 17th December 2013, I was sure my first lesson started at 13:50PM, it actually started at 16:20PM. I was pleased as it gave me some more time to prepare for my first presentation. However, the day took rather a strange turn for the worst as the presentation was with an inattentive group of teenagers. I spent the entire morning finalising beautifully hand written report cards, which the students decided to destroy, bend and chew on as soon as they were handed them. The presentation was filmed (although I was later told that it was not), the parents were sparse, I cried several times throughout the day and I felt like giving up. Introducing myself to the parents via my manager as translator and experiencing a difficult one on one conversation with an upset parent of two students late into the night was too much.
I can’t single handily solve the frustrations and psychological effects of the strawberry generation. The so called “Little Emperor Effect”, Taiwan’s low birth rate and the agonizing amount of pressure these students are under leads to a very stressful environment, particularly with regards to the teenage students. I left school very late that night, just before midnight I think, my manager was kind enough to buy me something to eat and drink before I left but I was still in a state of confusion as to whether or not I had made the right decision coming here.
By 1:00AM on the 18th December 2013, I realised that in the grand scheme of things, getting even marginally upset over several students intent on showing you how little they want to be in your classroom is probably not a good idea. It’s important to remember the things that make you feel confident when you feel uncertain. I decided to interpret the idea that ‘a journey of a thousand miles begins with a single step or 千里之行﹐始于足下 (qiānlǐ zhī xíng, shǐ yú zú xià)’ to find the strength I was lacking at the time. I don’t find seeking personal help through words to be a trivial way to pass the time, despite other people’s opinions of such an avocation.
The 19th December 2013, I was bought lunch by my manager, she referred to the meal as ‘jelly bean’ so I was expecting a polystyrene cup full of sweets, jelly beans, candy, something along those lines. Instead, I was given a sweet, gingery, watery soup like substance with silken tofu, various beans, grains and tapioca pearls at the bottom. On the 20th December 2013, I gave my first Christmas themed lesson. On the 21st December 2013, I drank my first cup of “British” tea since arriving after a fruitful trip to the supermarket. The 22nd December 2013 was the Winter Solstice Festival or 冬至 (Dōngzhì). I visited a stationary store to buy supplies for another Christmas themed lesson I had coming up and a larger supermarket to buy a new purse. I got on my bike and began to cycle home. A car hit my bike. My foot was trapped underneath the pedal. I heard the sound of crunching. The weight of my body and the weight of my bicycle fell on top of my right ankle. I was lucky; my helmetless head never touched the ground. I stood at the side of the road as the traffic sped past, my bike between my legs and an absolutely unbearable pain pulsating through my body, I felt as though I was going to be sick.
The cars kept going, as though nothing had happened. My eyes were tired and I decided to push through the pain, I got on my bike and cycled home, getting off my bike was more difficult that riding it. I fell in front of my apartment as I got off, the pain now worse than before. Once I had managed to get inside, prop my bicycle against the wall and remove my shoes, I decided to distract myself with social media, using Instagram, updating my Facebook status etc.
On the 23rd December 2013, I filled peoples News Feed with this: “I’m currently bandaging my grade two ankle sprain with fragrant Chinese herbs after a trip (pun intended) to the doctor followed by some controversial physiotherapy involving electric shock suction cups and ice… which I will endure yet again tomorrow (Christmas Eve) and the day after (Christmas Day). Merry Christmas! Here’s a partially torn ligament and a permanently unstable ankle joint!” On the 24th December 2013 or Christmas Eve, my ankle felt a lot better, I managed to put a little more pressure on it than I could yesterday (23rd December 2013) and the day before (22nd December 2013). It looked like someone else’s foot though which was quite strange. I think the herbs I had on there for about ten or so hours worked surprisingly well (placebo effect perhaps), they smelled similar to tiger balm but looked like (and had the consistency of) Nutella. I think the electric shock suction cups and ice must do something to the fluid in the foot. The doctor’s office was tiny, about the size of a box room. It was situated in the back of a small shop front.
The physiotherapy room was attached to the doctor’s office; it was a very public space, one which resembled a laundrette with the machines removed, as though they had been replaced by massage beds and electronic devices. There were a lot of people in the same room as me, all getting physiotherapy at the same time. I was sat on a wooden bench next to several people, we were all hooked up to the same machine, or at least I think we were.
Christmas Day, the 25th December 2013, Merry Christmas or 聖誕快樂 (Shèng Dàn Kuài Lè)! I was picked up at around 2:30PM and driven back to the doctors for more physiotherapy. I also helped a TA take down the Christmas decorations, tree and window displays etc. I managed to prepare a final exam for Friday (27th December 2013). I even managed to speak to all of my family members and I got to watch them open their presents via video Skype. I was eating my dinner (a whole chicken with its head and feet attached) whilst they were eating their breakfast. My ankle felt slightly better, a little less painful to walk on but I was still unable to put too much pressure on it. It generally seemed to be healing.
I’ve had a lazy day so far, streaming old episodes of Sherlock, eating chicken and tomato sandwiches, marking exams and generally trying to rest my ankle after working on it for a week. My school doesn’t have a lift and has a number of floors with steep stairs, teachers are not allowed to sit down during lesson time so I think that has probably extended the time it’ll take for my ankle to heal.