Writer's Block

The USA is the place I was born. Canada is the place I was raised. Taiwan is the place in my heart.

Tuesday, November 30, 2004

The things we do for love...

I just got back from a weekend in Ottawa. Yep, I spent 40+ hours (round trip)- flying from Kaohsiung, Taiwan to Ottawa, Canada- and just about the same amount of time on the ground just to attend my cousin E's wedding.

Unfortunately, as a teacher, I can't just take days off in the middle of the semester. So I've had to arrange for "makeup" teaching hours for the days I would be away.

My usual route is Kaohsiung-Taipei-Seattle-Newark-Toronto-Ottawa. So close, yet so far... I spent less than 5 hours, just barely enough to catch some shut eye at a hotel in Newark, NJ on Thanksgiving night, before flying out bright and early to Ottawa on Friday morning. It would have been great to take at least a week off, so that I could have squeezed in more visits with friends and family. Had I done that- it would have been a double whammy- not only would I have had to makeup the teaching hours, but it would have been a nonstop, exhausting week that I would have had to recover from. It's not getting over jet lag that concerned me, because I actually travel relatively well. I usually get decent sleep on planes and I don't experience major jet lag- not even when traveling between these completely opposite time zones! So taking 4+ days seemed to be the most efficient, less exhausting thing, for me, all things considered- to do.

E has always been more than a big brother to me and on Saturday, November 27, 2004, he finally got married! To my sister and I, and our maternal cousins- especially those who spent the majority of their formative years in Ottawa- E has always been like a brother. To our parents he was like a son, especially when most of us moved away after university and E remained in Ottawa as our parents did. He was the one stop authority on- home repairs, technology, a chauffeur, choreboy and messenger. At one time, our (then technologically inept) parents had E relaying email messages to their shamefully, unresponsive children gone "MIA." Fortunately our parents have now discovered the power of the internet and that email is free.

How do I even begin to describe E? A big kid with a playful sense of humor, avid downhill skier and golfer, super organized, a sci-fi computer geek, someone who always takes care of others and to whom friends are family and family are friends.

There are so many shared memories- of E as our stand-in babysitter, my first, less than graceful attempts at downhill skiing and ski trips with E... Canada Day celebrations and nights out on the town or at the movies sometimes with E and other cousins, or his younger brother B and their friends- they always made me feel welcome and like a peer- though they were about 3-5 years my senior- which certainly seems like a helluva lot older when you're only 17.

I'm so happy for E. He's found a lovely, sensitive, generous, family-oriented, strong woman to share his life with.

Most of us at the wedding had some sort of shared personal history, which made the occasion all the more joyous, enjoyable and celebratory. Surrounded by such love- there was a level of warmth and togetherness unparalled by many weddings I've attended.

The older I get the more I realize how important it is to be there for these special moments- if I can be. I wish that I could say that distance need not be an obstacle, that if I can be there I will move mountains to be there. Since moving to Taiwan, I've already missed a few weddings, births and countless other meaningful events.

Although I might not be able to make it to the east coast of the U.S. until next summer, a possible trip to South and or Central America is in the works during my upcoming winter vacation... so now I'm contemplating the possibility of making a side trip over to the west coast.

Tuesday, November 16, 2004

Motivating the students in my introductory writing class is definitely a challenge.

For the students in my class it's the first writing class that they've taken since entering the college. Although they have learned about English grammar and sentence structure since high school or junior high, many of them still have difficulty writing correct, complete sentences!

Writing classes are often loathed by students, and teachers- as I have suspected, and now confirmed. *Some* teachers- especially those teaching English in Taiwan- feel as though they regularly endure self-flagellation each time they have to grade a simple writing assignment- times 45. One student's writing assignment gets magnified into a time consuming test of patience. It's quite a conundrum-there's only one of you and 45 of them. And with language it's all about practice, practice, practice. With writing, it's write, write, write- drafts, edits, rewrites and revisions.

Sometimes I wonder if my students have ever taken an English grammar class. Based on their writing compositions I wouldn't have guessed that many of them are currently taking separate grammar classes or have been learning English grammar since elementary school, go figure- somehow, it (the rules of grammar and spelling) all goes out the window, or in one ear and out the other- when it comes to writing class.

It's a wonder how I remain sane- with verbs out of tense, endless unpunctuated sentences with "words to no where", misappropriated words from a bygone era, incomprehensible strings of words that defy all grammatical rules of order, and ambiguity is elevated to new heights: going somewhere, anywhere, everywhere, doing something, everything, anything etc. with everyone, someone, anyone.

Sometimes you just have to find the humor in it all and laugh at the convoluted concoctions that result from sheer laziness or overzealous effort.

At my college's writing classes, direct teacher student interaction is inhibited by large class size- with over forty students per class on average. I really dread the weekly grading of assignments, but it is truly rewarding to finally see students’ progress and enthusiasm over time. The proof is there in black and white, in thoughtful responses and compositions that have grown in length.

In the beginning, I certainly found it frustrating. In general, I prefer teaching higher level students, especially when it comes to English conversation. They are generally much more motivated and that's when conversations become more stimulating and interesting- when we can discuss and debate opinions on anything from current events to celebrity gossip. At the most basic, beginner conversation level, I feel overwhelmed and exhausted; it takes a lot of energy to motivate and encourage them to speak and I often don’t know where to start in on correcting them.

Now, I’ve actually come to appreciate teaching introductory writing classes. Here the goal is simple, just make them write, write, write. There’s no need for analysis, research, arguments, or thesis statements- at least not just yet. I’ve come to appreciate working with students at this more basic level.

I think that teaching students how to write essays would be even more frustrating. I think that at this college, students are prematurely expected to write papers and essays. Graduating students are required to complete a group project/paper. A typical project group has 4-5 students. At that point in time, they've only had a few college level writing classes (including one focused on essay writing and thesis statements) so they are not fully equipped for this. It can take years to develop essay writing skills. I began that love/hate relationship -I mean *learning* process in high school and continued it in college. It's challenging enough to write an individual essay; working with 3 or 4 others to collectively write essay certainly doesn't make the process any easier, it just introduces a whole new set of complications into the equation.

So I can most definitelly appreciate the simplicity and necessity of working on the basics, building a foundation first, working sentence by sentence and then on paragraph structure.

Back on the topic of motivation... that is the key to getting my introductory writing students to write. So what better way to motivate them than by getting them to write about themselves or what interests them. I see no point in making them write about preassigned topics which have no relevance to them- that's a challenge that upper level writing or reading class teachers will have to worry about.

The writing theme for this semester as in past ones is "writing my autobiography." Every week there's a different writing assignment which contributes to their autobiography project. In the past I've asked them to write about "The day I was born", "My most memorable experience", "What I would do if I won the lottery." I've tried to expand into writing about their personal interests, such as writing about "Something new I'd like to learn how to do."

I have to remind myself just how young my students are. Some of them are a young as seventeen and seem much more like high school students than college students in their mentality and attitude. Many of my students ask me to be excused to go to the washroom during class. In Taiwan, young people tend to live at home longer (i.e while they are in college and even afterwards when they start working). Adulthood is considered to start at twenty or twenty-one, not eighteen. Sometimes I think that my students are still quite child-like, so it should come a no surprise that this semester's midterm writing assignment- to write about "A day in the life of your favorite fictional character"- was a huge hit.

The response was amazing. I've never seen such enthusiasm for a midterm writing assignment. It definitely shows in the effort and length of their compositions, some of which turned into works or art which included cute graphics of my students' favorite cartoon characters. Grading these assignments was actually quite a learning experience. I feel like the doors of anime pop culture have been opened to me.

Here's a snopsis of my findings:

Most popular cartoon character written about:

Chibi Maruko-Chan- a 9-year-old girl who gets into all sorts of mischief at school and at home, with her parents and older sister

Other popular picks:

Doraemon- a cat-like robot from the future (22nd century)

Badtz Maru- a mischievous little penguin

The cutest cartoon characters:

Hamtaro- a cute, adventurous, curious, cuddly hamster, owned by a fifth grade girl named Laura

Purin- a roly-poly golden retriever named "Purin" because he looks like pudding flan

The strangest cartoon characters:

Spongebob Squarepants- who lives in a pineapple with his pet snail Gary in the Pacific Ocean, in the city of Bikini Bottom

Anpanman- a living bread superhero, who saves and nourishes the weak by offering a piece of himself (i.e. jam bread) to eat

Anpanman is by far the strangest cartoon that I've learned about. He seems to have quite a cult following. To learn more about him, check out this link .

Monday, November 15, 2004

Just came back from seeing the movie Quill - a touching Japanese movie about a guide dog's life. It certainly doesn't take much to jerk those tears out of me. I came out all teary-eyed and red faced, as did a large majority of the audience- it couldn't have been a coincidence running into all of the teary, red-eyed women queuing in the washroom after the film.

But the funny thing is, that I didn't think that the movie was really all that touching at all, but I think that with these "meant to be tear jerkers", what happens is what I'd like to call conformed crying or collective crying. Once one person starts crying it sets off a domino effect, the person beside him/her starts crying and so on and so on- pretty soon the majority of the audience is crying and they don't even know why.

It's kind of like laughing at a stupid joke just because the joke teller is in hysterics over telling it or because others are laughing so hard over it, but you really don't get what's so funny about the joke or what the punchline is.

Crying or laughing can sometimes, quite simply be so contagious.

Sunday, November 14, 2004

Just what is the point of this website: www.sorryeverybody.com ? What purpose does it serve? What are these people trying to accomplish? While I’m definitely not a conservative in my views and understand why some people may have qualms about the reelection of Bush, I can’t help but think that this website is a joke- what’s up with all of these Americans apologizing to the world for Bush’s reelection?

Are these people really so in need of approval of the global community, to be loved by everybody? Wake up, this is the real world, America is a superpower and there’s no way to please everyone. You can’t be everyone’s best friend.

They are even accepting donations at this site- which are going to be used to maintain the site or given to “charity.” To what “charity” I ask and for what purpose or use?

How about a site that stimulates some constructive discussion on real issues that Americans need to deal with?

I do realize that as the one superpower in the world today, the 2004 US Presidential elections have been closely watched by the citizens of the world and has been said to be an election that will affect the entire world. The citizens of the world are heaping a great deal of responsibility on the American people for the election outcome. And it does seem like the overwhelming response (by people around the world) to Bush’s reelection has been negative.

The vast majority of American people are just average people who have cast their votes for their own reasons which may or may not have been due to a globally driven perspective- this is something that we will never really know for sure. What drives a person’s decision to vote? It all depends on a person’s perspective, big picture, and priorities.

Some may have felt that the incumbent has been doing a good job protecting America and the world from terrorists- cynics will ask are they just reacting to scare tactics? Or perhaps they simply believe that the current global state of affairs requires a firm, decisive action, superceding domestic issues. Then there are those more domestically focused, who truly feel that the declining morals and values of American society have to be reformed. To many, Kerry just didn’t seem to stand firmly enough on any issues. It wasn’t enough to vote for Kerry just to oust Bush.

Some wonder how America’s responsibility as a superpower should be best managed and are concerned by growing anti-Americanism. Domestically, the conservative forces seem to be of concern since Roe vs. Wade and the issue of gay marriage are now under attack.

Questions about vote counting procedures and touch screen voting machines are looming. And some are disturbed by the Bush administration’s declaration that the election results constitute a "mandate" for Bush's second term.

Then there’s the current state of America’s economy.

This is of course, by no means an exhaustive analysis of all the issues in the US Presidential election, but just some food for thought….

Saturday, November 13, 2004

In the Taipei Times today: regarding Colin Powell's comments that "Taiwan does not enjoy sovereignty as a nation."

US holds nation's sovereignty

By Richard Hartzell

Saturday, Nov 13, 2004,Page 8
Regarding the dispute over Taiwan's sovereignty which has recently made headlines, I offer the following analysis.

Let's first consider the Cairo Declaration, Potsdam Proclamation and Japanese surrender documents. Do these have the force of an internationally binding treaty arrangement to formally transfer the sovereignty of "Formosa and the Pescadores" to the Republic of China (ROC)?

No, they are only statements of "intent." Hence, we can analyze the Taiwan sovereignty question in three steps.

Step 1: From international law it is easily seen that Oct. 25, 1945 marks the beginning of the military occupation of "Formosa and the Pescadores" by the ROC. Military occupation does not transfer sovereignty.

Step 2: When the government of the ROC fled to Taiwan in late 1949, it became a "government-in-exile." The ROC continued to exercise "effective territorial control" over this area which it was holding under military occupation.

Step 3: In the post-war San Francisco Peace Treaty and Sino-Japanese Peace Treaty, the sovereignty of Taiwan was not awarded to the ROC.

Hence, Secretary of State Powell is correct, Taiwan does not enjoy sovereignty as a nation.

So where is the sovereignty of Taiwan?

Again, we may obtain the answer in three steps.

Step 1: All attacks on Japanese fortifications and installations in Taiwan during WWII were carried out by US military forces.

According to the "customary laws of warfare in the post Napoleonic period," the US will be the principal occupying power.

Step 2: General MacArthur, head of the US military government, delegated matters regarding the Japanese surrender ceremonies and occupation of Taiwan to Chiang Kai-shek (???).

This is simply a "principal" to "agent" relationship.

Step 3: In the post-war peace treaties, the sovereignty of Taiwan was not awarded to the ROC, hence Taiwan remains under the administrative authority of the US military government, and this is an interim status condition. In the San Francisco Peace Treaty, Article 4b clearly states that the US military government has final disposition rights over "Formosa and the Pescadores."

In addition, Article 23 reconfirms the US as the principal occupying power.

In effect, the US is holding the sovereignty of Taiwan "in trust," and in the Shanghai Communique the US president is making arrangements for the future handover of this sovereignty to the People's Rebpublic of China, which is recognized as the sole legitimate government of China! However, at the present time, Taiwan is still under US administrative authority, and should be enjoying "fundamental rights" under the US Constitution, as in all other US overseas territories.

Based on the insular cases of the Supreme Court, (and especially Gonzales v. Williams, 1904) in regard to Puerto Rico, after the treaty cession, when Puerto Rico was under a US military government (before the promulgation of the Foraker Act, May 1, 1900) the local people were "island citizens of the Puerto Rico cession."

Hence, in Cuba, after the coming into effect of the treaty, when Cuba was under US military government (before independence on May 20, 1902) the local people were "island citizens of the Cuba cession."

In Taiwan, after the coming into effect of the San Francisco Peace Treaty, with Taiwan under the administrative authority of the US military government, the local people are "island citizens of the Taiwan cession."

Of course, the US flag should be flying. Taiwan is foreign territory under the dominion of the US, or more technically a "quasi-trusteeship of insular status under the US military government." The passport issued to Taiwanese citizens would be similar to a "trusteeship" one, and would fall under the category of "US national, non-citizen."

This is a jus soli nationality based on the US Supreme Court's insular cases, and not based on the 14th Amendment to the US Constitution.

Taiwan's citizens do not (will not) have voting rights in US federal elections.

Richard Hartzell

Friday, November 12, 2004

In the Taipei Times today- more on the debate over revising high school history textbooks:

Editorial: Nation's youth need the whole story

Friday, Nov 12, 2004,Page 8

The Ministry of Education's plan to revise high school history textbooks is a pragmatic and long overdue move. While no historical account can be free of some level of subjective interpretation, there is also no denying that the version of so-called "history" that has been taught in Taiwan's textbooks for decades is so notorious for its deviation from a common-sense view of the world that it cannot be explained by subjectivity alone. Therefore, opponents who oppose the ministry's plan are simply exposing their own ideologically-driven narrow-mindedness.

A long-standing problem with Taiwan's textbooks is their departure from the truth. Examples include portraying Chiang Kai-shek (???) as a type of saint when he is generally perceived as an authoritarian dictator and warlord by world historians, and the inclusion of Mongolia as part of the Republic of China's (ROC) territory when the rest of the world has long recognized it as an independent country. Countless other examples exist that highlight the severity of the problem.

Even more troublesome is that the history of Taiwan is typically addressed by a few short paragraphs in these textbooks, while almost all of so-called "national history" is dedicated to chapters of Chinese history. These range from childhood stories about people such as Chiang and Sun Yat-sen (???) that are no more real than fairy tales, to the magnificence of the Great Wall. Leaving aside whether there is any point at all in being familiar with some of these events -- whether as national history or as foreign or Chinese history -- such textbooks clearly do not help people identify with the land and society in which they live.

According to the ministry's plan, two separate volumes of high school textbooks will be dedicated to the histories of Taiwan and China. As for the history of the Republic of China, it will be cut into two parts, with its early years covered by the volume on Chinese history and the later years covered in the volume of Taiwan's history. This of course makes sense, because when the Qing Dynasty was overturned and the Republic of China founded in China, Taiwan was under Japanese colonial rule. The ROC government did not exercise effective rule over Taiwan until after World War II.

The ministry will also include for the first time in these textbooks the debates over Taiwan's status. In the past, the country's textbooks have cited the Cairo Declaration of 1943 -- which is merely a press communique without any legal force -- as the legal basis for the claim that Taiwan's sovereignty was handed over to the ROC government. At the same time, the textbooks completely and deliberately ignore the existence of the San Francisco Peace Treaty of 1951 and the Sino-Japan Peace Treaty, which shows the contrary. Leaving aside the issue of which view is correct, at the very least, shouldn't the existence of these treaties and the relevant debates be addressed in the textbooks?

After all, the biggest issue that continues to rip apart Taiwan's society is the nation's sovereignty. That's not even to mention the impact this issue has on cross-strait relations -- which poses a real danger to the continuation of Taiwan's way of life -- as well as the country's national identity. Shouldn't our youngsters at least have the benefit of knowing the entire story?

The fundamental problem with the nation's education is that it teaches our youngsters to unconditionally and blindly accept dogmatic views. Under those circumstances, it's no wonder that, according to a survey conducted by a well-known local tabloid newspaper, close to 60 percent of those polled believed that the pre-World War II history of the ROC should be covered as the history of Taiwan. This poll shows exactly where the problem lies.

Thursday, November 11, 2004

HISTORY in the making

Pardon the pun, but this is what really excites me about Taiwan... when I see such developments and progress- that I know will right the wrongs of the past and promote more understanding of Taiwan's unique status. It's monumental.

The major news around here in Taiwan lately is that high school history textbooks will be revised so that the 2006 edition will include the history of Taiwan, China and the rest of the world- each presented in equal portions.

Believe it or not, currently students are not specifically taught the history of Taiwan; so called "national" history is included under Chinese history. Most students could probably rattle off facts about China's history or geographical features, but don't even know that Jade Mountain, Northeast Asia's tallest peak is located in central Taiwan.
Some sad, shocking news today. Although her novel was both praised and criticized, it was sad to hear that Iris Chang, an Asian American female writer's life ended in such a tragic manner. As reported by the Associated Press:

Acclaimed author, 36, apparent suicide
Iris Chang wrote bestselling 'Rape of Nanking'
Thursday, November 11, 2004 Posted: 9:35 AM EST (1435 GMT)

LOS GATOS, California (AP) -- Iris Chang, a best-selling author who chronicled the Japanese occupation of China and the history of Chinese immigrants in the United States, was found dead in her car of a self-inflicted gunshot, authorities said Wednesday. She was 36.

Chang, who won critical acclaim for her books "The Rape of Nanking" and "The Chinese in America," was found along Highway 17 just south of Los Gatos, Santa Clara County authorities said. On Tuesday morning, a motorist noticed her car parked on a side road, checked the vehicle and called police.

The official cause of death has not been released, but investigators concluded that Chang, who was hospitalized recently for a breakdown, shot herself in the head. She lived in San Jose with her husband and 2-year-old son.

Born in Princeton, New Jersey, in 1968 and raised in Champaign-Urbana, Illinois, Chang earned a bachelor's degree in journalism at the University of Illinois and a master's in science writing at Johns Hopkins University in Baltimore.

Chang worked briefly as a reporter for The Associated Press and the Chicago Tribune before leaving daily journalism to pursue her own writing. At age 25, she published her first book, "Thread of the Silkworm," which tells the story of Tsien Hsue-shen, the Chinese-born physicist who pioneered China's missile program after being driven from the United States during the Cold War.

In 1997, Chang published the international bestseller "The Rape of Nanking," which described the rape, torture and killing of hundreds of thousands of Chinese civilians by Japanese soldiers in the former Chinese capital during the late 1930s. "The Chinese in America," published last year, is a history of Chinese immigrants and their descendants in the United States.

The late historian Stephen Ambrose described Chang as "maybe the best young historian we've got, because she understands that to communicate history, you've got to tell the story in an interesting way."

Chang suffered a breakdown and was hospitalized during a recent trip researching her fourth book about U.S. soldiers who fought the Japanese in the Philippines during World War II, according to her former editor and agent Susan Rabiner.

Chang continued to suffer from depression after she was released from the hospital. In a note to her family, she asked to be remembered as the person she was before she became ill -- "engaged with life, committed to her causes, her writing and her family," Rabiner said.
An Uncommon Scent in Kaohsiung Sends Me Back

As I walked by a nearby park today, my nose was at first perplexed and then comforted by the old familiar scent of freshly cut and watered grass, a scent that is actually quite uncommon here.

The scent

of freshly cut grass from the lawn mower- lingered in my olfactory senses, grass reemerging from the sleep of winter, announcing the arrival of spring, backyard swings and barbecues in a suburban community.

Sprinklers march on and on, house by house quenching thirsty lawns of grass.

Monday, November 08, 2004

I'm in the midst of midterms now- Thursday will be the end of it all for me finally! One thing for sure is that it doesn't get any easier being on the other end of it as a teacher. It can all be so time consuming- conducting oral exams, preparing and grading written exams. And things become even more weighty, especially when deciding on those borderline students. But without firm standards, my grading system is meaningless, so I have to draw the line.

I have already dismissed a few students from taking their midterm exams due to poor attendance in class- these are English conversation classes- in which there are very few assignments, so besides assessment in class I have nothing else to go on in evaluating them. Besides, if they aren't motivated enough to make it to even half of the classes during the first half of the semester, I figure they should just quit now and save both of us the frustration. I state my policy early on in the semester, but invariably there are students who think that they can beg and plea when it comes time. It does get to me when this happens, but I stand firm- some of these students have to learn more discipline in life in general and with language, it requires continuous practice- of which they are not even getting enough of from the 2-3 hours I teach them per week.

Just trying to balance all of my priorities with grading midterms, etc. So I'll get back to my blogging in a few days time- hopefully by the end of the week.

Friday, November 05, 2004

I was so riveted by the coverage and long awaited results of this year's US Presidential elections, that I almost forgot about this late breaking news on Taiwan's Presidential elections earlier this year.

From the BBC NEWS:

Taiwan poll challenge rejected
Taiwan's High Court has rejected an opposition challenge that President Chen Shui-bian won March's presidential election unfairly.

The court threw out opposition claims the poll was marred by irregularities and the election-eve shooting of Mr Chen, who won by just 30,000 votes.

The opposition claimed the shooting was staged to win Mr Chen votes, a claim the president has strongly denied.

The Kuomintang (KMT)-led opposition has 20 days to appeal against the ruling.

KMT lawyer Jaclyn Tsai said the High Court was biased towards the president.

"This case was directed at the most powerful person in Taiwan who abuses power and jeopardizes the fairness of elections," Ms Tsai said, of President Chen.

But the president's lawyer, Wellington Koo, urged the KMT to accept the court's decision.

"Everybody must believe the judiciary is independent and that in this era there is no black hand interfering in the judiciary," he told the Associated Press.

Close election

Thursday's hearing took place amid heavy security, with riot police guarding the court building from opposition supporters outside.

After seven months of hearings, ballot recounts and investigations, Wu Ching-yuan, the High Court's presiding judge, announced that "the petition to nullify the election result is rejected".

The March election was won by a razor-thin margin, and soon after the result was announced, losing candidate Lien Chan complained of alleged irregularities.

The resulting lawsuit was directed at President Chen himself.

It also accused him of staging his own shooting on the eve of election day, to win sympathy votes, and of taking advantage of the attack by putting the security forces on alert - claims Mr Chen's supporters strongly denied.

A second lawsuit, which is still being heard, alleges the election itself was illegal, because a referendum on security issues was held on the same day.
Story from BBC NEWS:

Published: 2004/11/04 10:19:12 GMT