Sunday, 28 September 2014

Today I saw a big pig sleeping at the side of the road

Moving on...

Whenever I thought of Chinese students I always pictured them working their arses off.

And usually not by their own doing.

I always imagined their teachers (or masters) to be super strict, standing at the front of the class with a bamboo cane, punishing below average students by making them do the horse-stance over an incense stick for an hour; with cups of hot tea resting on their head, shoulders, knees and toes.

Or maybe it was all the martial arts films I had watched having a bigger influence on me than I thought.

As my Taiwanese girlfriend bluntly said, 'It's not like that... and what's a horse-stance?'

So now I find myself being a student in Taiwan and I can say from experience that my teacher doesn't have a bamboo cane (at least, I don't think she does...) and so far I've been obedient enough not to have an incense stick blowing smoke up where the sun doesn't shine. But having said that, I can honestly say that the expectations the teachers have of their students are far greater than in the west.

For instance, I've just finished my fourth week at Uni. In total, my class have been given over 100 Chinese traditional characters to learn (that includes reading and writing them). We also have to learn the pinyin and the tones to go with the pinyin (whilst knowing which letters the tones go above).

I don't know, maybe it's just me being a weak westerner, but to my mind that's a lot of stuff to remember!

I got talking to a local the other day whilst waiting for the bin collection. As the sound of the bin truck got louder and louder (it sounds like an ice-cream man's rendition of a Beethoven's piece) the old man said something to me in Chinese, to which I replied (in Chinese) 'I'm sorry, I don't understand.'

He smiled and said, 'Oh, sorry, are you enjoying Taiwan?'

Now, this hardly ever happens! I was so shocked that I laughed.

'You speak really good English,' I said.

He smiled and said that he had studied in Edinburgh many years ago.

We got talking about this and that when I added that I was studying at Shida.

'Ah yes, a great university,' said my new friend. 'Chinese is hard to write, don't you think?'

Damn right! The fact that it was a local saying this comforted me somewhat because, let me tell you, Chinese characters are beautiful, yes, but incredibly intricate. And there's an order to the strokes too, something that you have to stick to because Taiwanese people know when you've done it the wrong way (or at least my girlfriend does...).

The other night it took me 2.5 hours to complete a set of questions on a single side of A4. And this wasn't just me... a few of my classmates said the same.

So let's get back to the workload:

- Daily class
- Up to 20 hours a month of additional study
- Homework
- Revision for 3 tests a week.

It's like having a full-time job that you take home with you.

Having grumbled all of that, I want to say that the eastern approach might be tough, but I think it could be having the desired affect.     

Yesterday, my girlfriend introduced me to a new cafe for us to study in. As we approached the cafe she pointed to the sign and asked me to read it. I felt daunted at the simple task until she said, 'You've gone through these words in class'. When I looked closer at the sign, I realised that I had indeed studied the characters, it's just that they were in a funky font. 

I felt a wave of pride come up through my chest as I read out loud 喝個咖啡吧!

And she, like a proud parent, nodded and smiled.

Bearing in mind that I was on the verge of carrying out a self-fulfilling prophecy, that I was indeed useless at languages, I have now been given a bit of faith, not only in myself but in the human race and our ability to learn.

If I can begin to read, write and speak Chinese in several weeks (very little, I might add, but little is still some) then this tells me that our ability to learn is virtually unlimited. All that's needed is an incentive to learn; that then provides the motivation and that then provides the results (mix in there time and patience and you're golden).

It could be boiled down to this: If you want to learn, you will.

If you want your mind to absorb new information, it will.

A tea drinking, bamboo wielding master isn't necessary.

Right, back to my studying... test tomorrow.


Monday, 1 September 2014

A Safety-net Underfoot

A safety-net is a wonderful thing.

It brings comfort and stability to that part of ourselves that fears putting one foot into the unknown. 

But if we look closer we see that a safety-net is actually woven with threads of fear.

Not only that, but because the net is full of huge gaping holes, it's incredibly hard to move forward. 

When we can't move forward, we hinder our growth.

And when we hinder our growth life can become insipid.

For me, that's the ultimate sin.

The reason I'm nattering on about safety nets is because many people have said that my recent move to Taiwan was courageous and I'm always genuinely amazed by the remark.

With not being a traveler, my comfort zone has been stretched more than it ever has been in 31 years, but bravery didn't enter the equation for one specific reason.

And that reason was Love.

Yes, yes, I know I've plunged into the ocean of sentimental cheesy-ness, but hear me out;

The only reason I moved to Taiwan was because I was - and am - in love with a beautiful girl. It was because of her that I didn't feel I was being brave when I decided to move, for the simple fact that I just decided to move.

That's the important bit:

I just decided to move.

I just moved.

I just did it.

I made the decision and stuck to it.

My safety-net was my previous job with it's stable income, but with that now gone I'm left to find a new balance in a new land. And this didn't bother me because I was motivated by Love.

With a sense of Love, everything seems possible.

With a sense of Love, when you step forward on your net of comfort and stability, the gaping holes are filled with an invisible force that holds you upright.

I don't mean for the word Love to be limited between two people. For me, self-love comes first and then only with that Love of yourself are you able to Love another and see how carrying Love within you can change your world. 

If you're driven by some artistic intent and every cell in your body is bursting with the desire to create, and then all of a sudden life presents you with an opportunity that will undoubtedly drag your safety-net from under your feet, you will go for it. (You would be foolish not to!) When you go for it you won't think you're being brave. You'll just do it because you're driven by Love.

A Love to create. 

A Love to follow your desire. 

Your dream. 

Your gut instinct.

Your calling.

Yes, you might feel nervous, but that's just the vibrations of your safety net being stretched.

It's normal.

Nerves tell us that were're having an experience that we sense is a threat to our being, but more often than not it's no threat whatsoever - it's just growth.

Love is the ultimate safety-net.

Step forward and see what happens - in my case, Taiwan happened.