Monday, January 20, 2014


Sunset in Prague

 Just a quick thought, nothing terribly brilliant or world-changing, but I felt like blogging it.

A lot has been written about the benefits of travel - and there are certainly many obvious ones. Travel is not a material object so it won't bog down your life (but it's not especially environmentally friendly); money spent traveling can help local communities if done right; travel never goes out of style or gets 'worn out' the way objects do; it can be a learning experience - learning new languages, about new cultures, or just what foreign food in its original setting tastes like; you can make new friends; you can expand your worldview; you can prod yourself to become a better and more educated, worldly person; it helps people overcome fears, pickiness/snobbiness and prejudices.

Bus stop near Cafe Mondegar in Mumbai

Mountain views in Sri Lanka

That's all great and I agree with it all (although it doesn't work on everyone).

But one benefit of travel that nobody seems to have written about is how much higher quality your daydreams are when you have a mental store of 'awesome places' you can check out to! Whenever the world is getting you down, or you're stuck waiting somewhere, or "mindfulness" is just not working out for you at that moment, you have so many more daydream scenarios available than the average person.

King Boat Festival in Taiwan

Maybe I'm waiting for my number to be called at the doctor's office. Then I'm riding an overcrowded bus to downtown Madurai from the post office, crossing the dried-up riverbed dotted with grazing cattle and the ruins of a temple. Or on a bus on a stretch of road with nothing to see out the window - maybe in one of the more drab, industrial parts of Zhonghe. Then I'm taking a walk up the road and over a small hill from the small Sumatran town of Kersik Tua and seeing the volcano in the distance framed by a group of schoolgirls in long white skirts and white hijab. Maybe I'm walking down a particularly uninteresting section of road - around Wanlong on Roosevelt Road perhaps - and then I'm standing on Galata Bridge with the great mosques on one side and Galata Tower on the other, eating stuffed mussels with Brendan as the sun sets on Istanbul. Maybe I'm waiting a little too long at the supermarket checkout - except I'm not, I'm trying to throw stones into a creek near Lake Karakul so we can cross over the freezing water.

Stuffed mussels in Turkey

The Paris Opera

It's even better when you have old scenarios and situations in your head, things that went down in other places years ago that can offer some fresh new insights or ideas if picked up and examimed - like little multi-facted, light-catching crystal tchotchkes - when you have a bit of free time. What are the implications of my friend and former coworker in China being fired for being "too close to the foreigners"? Why did Amma (my host 'mother' in India) say that it's 'normal for a man to sometimes hit his wife, you just have to accept it' and what experiences in her seemingly comfortable life led her to believe that that's true? What was up with that guy in Sanliurfa who seemed so friendly until we complained that the teahouse had tried to cheat us, and in that moment turned on us?

Karakul Lake in Xinjiang

The lights in Hong Kong (probably Kowloon, not Wan Chai, but...)

Of course everyone has these moments in their pasts that they escape to occasionally when daydreaming, it's just that travel gives you more of them, and quite likely a more diverse array of memories to boot! If I hadn't been to, say, Bangladesh, I couldn't add to my store of potential daydream-meditations the memory of the Bengali government officials I had to register with on my way to Tetulia in the far north, who decided (without my ever implying as much) that I was a "journalist", not a tourist, because what tourist wants to go to Tetulia? And how I got a free "government tour" out of the whole fiasco which was actually pretty cool and fun. Or maybe they knew I wasn't really a journalist (I never said I was, because I wasn't!) but just felt it was their job to courteously show me around their prefecture? Who knows, but without that experience, I'd probably just be daydreaming about, I dunno, eating at some restaurant I usually eat at or how I'd like a coffee or that I should e-mail my mom.

Hiking in Cappadocia

Day trip to Kamakura in Japan

I don't even think this takes away from "mindfulness" (quotation marks = I'm cynical about the whole idea). The point of mindfulness is to stop thinking about the "next thing". There's nothing contradictory in taking time to meditate on past experiences - especially when you want to escape a temporarily boring situation by mentally checking out - as long as you don't get bogged down in overthinking inconsequential problems.

Boating in Palawan, the Philippines

Aswan in Egypt

I imagine all of these travel memories compiled together like a big old notebook scrawled in my own handwriting, with the pages peppered down the sides with a confetti of multicolored stick-tabs. The coding system would be completely foreign to everybody else, but is immediately familiar to me. You know, like an old notebook would be! That yellow tab there is me sitting in Cafe Mondegar in dowtown Bombay crying over a plate of masala scrambled eggs because I was flying out the next day and I didn't want to be (even though I was going to England!). That blue one is the twilight hour in downtown Prague when all of the statues become silhouettes. The hot pink one is first touching down in Hong Kong and wandering, jetlagged, through an unfamiliar Wan Chai looking for my hotel. The orange one is breakfast at Cafe Coca Cola in Panama City. The dun-colored one is wandering the ruins near Aswan, in southern Egypt, in the late afternoon and then drinking karkadei (hibiscus juice) by the Nile. That shiny black one is the shiny black onyx Buddha, the only one in a line of identical gold Buddhas, in Vientiane. That bright green one is Ella in the mountains of Sri Lanka, and the aqua blue one is riding a little motorboat to snorkeling stops on karst islands in El Nido, on the northern tip of Palawan Island in the Philippines. The purple one is hiking the Jinshanling section of the Great Wall of China with Brendan. The sky blue one is every ride I've taken up the terrifying road over Hehuan Mountain, and the black and white striped one is the face of a ba jia jiang on the beach in Donggang.

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Cafe Coca Cola in Panama City

Tetulia in Bangladesh

When I'm bored I run my brain-fingers down the side of this mental notebook until I land on a tab I like, flip open the page, and boom! I'm gone.

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Isla Ometepe in Nicaragua

Kersik Tua, Sumatra, Indonesia

Doesn't matter where I am - I could be on Ometepe, or hiking in Cappadocia, or wandering the Paris Opera with my parents.

View from Hehuan Mountain in Taiwan

What's important is that I'm gone.

View from a bus window in Madurai, India

Sunday, January 19, 2014

Reaction: "Downsides of Living in Taiwan"

Taiwan Explorer (formerly My Kafkaesque Life) has an interesting and more-thoughtful-than-most post on the downsides of living in Taiwan.

My reaction to it is long enough that I think it deserves its own post here, but definitely go read his thoughts first!

1.) You will always be a 'waiguoren'

Yes and no. Yes, in that the vast, vast, vast majority of people you meet will always think of you as "NOT US", or someone different, and there's nothing you can do about that. Taiwan Explorer covered that part well.

But there are inroads you can make. While most local friends you make here will think of you as their "foreign friend" or otherwise think of you as "other" (to the point where they might exclude you from gatherings that there is no reason to exclude you from, or just forget), it is possible to make friends and connections who just treat you like a person and local vs. foreign doesn't come into it. It is definitely possible.

And you will meet people who - if you speak the language(s) and are well-integrated (or are trying to be), will say "eh, you're Taiwanese!" or "you really should have the right to be a citizen and vote here, it's not right, you're as Taiwanese as me". While some are joking or giving empty compliments, I do think some of them mean it.

Frankly, most countries have cultures were outsiders will always be outsiders - I joked once while visiting Brendan in Maine that if we were in a horrible accident the headline would read "Long-time Maine Resident and His Non-Maine Wife in Accident: Real Mainers on the Scene Recount the Tale"! So it's nothing new or surprising.

2.) You will have to live with stereotypes.

Yep. But you can also make friends who see past them. And stereotypes aren't anything new either - certainly I've heard my fair share of them growing up, even in the People's Republic of New York.

Also, I find that inward "island mentality" is only true of some people (and honestly, in the US I often encounter the opposite - being cocooned within a large country makes some people inward and ethnocentric - they're so far away from any other country or group that they start to turn in on themselves. I blame the whole hackneyed bullshit notion of "American exceptionalism" on just this phenomenon). For others I feel that the fact that Taiwan is a small island surrounded by other countries and deeply affected by them has made some people aggressively outward-looking. I've met many extraordinarily worldly people in Taipei, including many of my students. Most people are normal - somewhere in the middle. Like we all are.

Not much to say about #3 - although most people I know do know something about Taiwan - they just know the wrong things - "well I read that Chiang Kai-shek was a good man who saved Chinese culture by bringing it to Taiwan and then did great things for Taiwan like developing it" said one relative. Yeaaaaaahhhhhhhhhh noooooooooo. Same for #4 (yep) and #5 (yep - although it is possible to become highly fluent). I do have something to say about #6 but will post it below.

7.) Food

I agree about Taiwanese food. But as for good Western food, I actually think the selection is okay. Not amazing, but okay. I can get good bread (there's a place near us with great baguettes), cheese, I get goat milk delivered, and Taipei is dotted with great coffeeshops. I'm actually quite alright with the Western food situation. Whatever I can't buy I can cook myself, too.

Nothing to say about #8 and #9 - yep.

10.) Population density 

Yeah, but I see it as a positive. I like living this way, near other people, near lots of things. I like that everything is so close together, which is only possible with high population densities. I'd probably feel right at home living long-term in New York City.

I also don't think it's hard to find an affordable, spacious apartment in a quiet neighborhood. We have 30 pings - 3 bedrooms, a generous living room and a Japanese tatami tea room (albeit a very narrow back room and galley kitchen). We have a dryer, a bathtub and "wood" (high quality restaurant-grade plasti-wood) floors! Outside most of our windows is a courtyard/playground/public space. We're on a busy lane but we can't hear much, if any, traffic. Sometimes we hear our neighbors but nothing too annoying. We're right in the middle of downtown Taipei, in Da'an district, and we find our rent to be quite reasonable (maybe NT25,000/month isn't reasonable to some, but for a couple, in Da'an, near the MRT, three bedrooms, we think it's great. Everyone always asks me my rent anyway, it's not a personal question in Taiwan so I may as well spill).

And it's quiet, affordable (for us - I know not everyone considers our rent 'affordable') and central. So, hey, it is possible to do just fine with apartments. I will stay here as long as possible. You will pull me out of real estate heaven only after rigor mortis sets in, and not before.

Adding some of my own: 

11.) Taiwan seems to have multiple personalities vis-a-vis sexism and gender relations

I just don't know what to think. On one hand, a woman was nearly elected president here without much problem at all, or even commentary, regarding her gender. Truly, nobody seemed to care. The most beloved mayor in Taiwan is a woman, and while some people make fun of her hair, nobody disparages her gender the way Americans do Hillary Clinton (or Elizabeth Warren for that matter). In all of Asia, this is probably the best place for women.

It's easier for women in Taiwan to hold good jobs, have great careers and have positions of power. The whole "men don't want a female managing them" doesn't seem to be much of a problem here judging from the number of female directors, CFOs, COOs, partners, senior physicians and department heads I've met. Taiwanese women basically run finance and accounting. An average Taiwanese woman is almost certainly better off in terms of opportunities than an average woman of any other nationality in Asia.

Men in Taiwan seem to be catching up to this whole womens-equality thing faster than their counterparts in China, Japan, Korea or the rest of Asia, and this is one country where I can go wherever I want, whenever I want without fearing sexual assault. I can't say that for America.

On the other hand, there are so many ridiculous notions that I come across regarding women: that we're "more interested in fashion than politics", that we are "less adventurous" (I was really offended when someone I knew gave that as a reason why there were fewer female expats in Asia), that we always, across the board, like pink, that we do most of the housework and child-rearing because we're "good at it", or other sexist practices allowed to continue because it's "culture" (NO, IT'S JUST SEXISM).

Jump-you-in-the-street rape may be unheard of but marital rape is frighteningly common and unreported.

I've definitely come across a lot of lookist-sexism (the idea that a woman's most important feature is her looks, not anything else she might have to offer, and that pretty women are automatically worth more than any other women) and momma-sexism (the idea that of course every woman wants to have a baby, that of course they will be better at raising it because women just are, that it's unnatural to not want to have children) and marriage-sexism (the idea that all women want to get married, that all women act a certain way especially in relationships, and that they are fundamentally different from men in how they act). Also acting-sexism (men can drink and swear, women are ladies who don't drink a lot, or at all, and never swear because that's not ladylike).

There is still an entrenched 'mistress' and 'hostess bar' (and prostitute) culture, which does have tendrils in the business world, making it hard for women to rise to positions of power in some fields. I've met otherwise progressive guys refer to attractive female employees at their company by their employee numbers, like they're livestock (NOT COOL), and there are a lot of sexist beliefs among the older generation.

Add to that the current government's total lack of interest in progressing the cause of gender egalitarianism, the lack of readily available and affordable oral contraceptives to poor women, and the lack of no-fault divorce or solid legal precedent for handling child custody or domestic abuse cases fairly (or divorce petitions for that matter), and things are not entirely rosy.

So I just don't know what to think. America's pretty fucked up too in this way - most places are. And Taiwan's better than most, but still not good enough.

You could spend a day talking to young progressives who have wonderful, egalitarian, mutually respectful relationships and family units and who aren't threatened by women and think things are great. Then you could have to listen to your sexist-as-fuck boss (scratch that - former boss!) blab on about "a man's mind is an ocean and a woman's is a river" or some bullshit and think things are terrible - it's enough to give you whiplash!

Either way, if you're a woman living long-term in Taiwan, you definitely have to face this. It's not so much that it's different from the West (which is far from perfect), it's just that it's expressed along such different parameters. In the USA there were legal protections against a sexist boss, but you had to watch your back on the street. Here, you can walk freely, but your boss is just as free to be a misogynist dick.

12.) You have to get used to people being overly direct in unfamilar ways.

I actually don't agree that Taiwanese culture is generally an "indirect" one (Taiwan Explorer's #6). Communication can be indirect in ways that may be unfamiliar to Westerners - such as showing anger, disagreeing or confronting mistakes (in some ways the cultural difference here might come off as passive-aggressive to some Westerners, and yes, I still struggle with this. I actually have the same problem with West Coast Americans). But in other ways it's actually too direct! "What's wrong with your face?" if you're breaking out, "Why don't you want to have kids? You should have kids!" after you've answered a question honestly (OK, my family does that too and I hate it), "You've gained weight!", "Well even though you don't have a beautiful face you are pretty smart, maybe someone will like you" and so on.

Yeah. You just get used to it.

Sunday, January 12, 2014

Restaurant Review: Ikki Robatayaki (一氣爐端燒)

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Ikki Robatayaki/一氣爐端燒
Civic Blvd. Section 4 #101 (near Dunhua S. Road)

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Time to intersperse all the doom and gloom of my previous two posts - after a long hiatus so I could wrap up Delta Module One and then get over the PTSD it inflicted (OK, not really, I hope nobody with actual PTSD gets super offended by that) - with a restaurant review.

I have to start by admitting that I am ashamed of myself. I believed myself to be someone who knew were all, or at least most of, the good restaurants in Taipei were. I really thought I had this city's culinary landscape in full view.

I was wrong.

Turns out that Civic Boulevard, especially between the northern terminus of Da'an Road (and possibly all the way over to Fuxing S. Road) and the Civic-Yanji Street intersection, is a veritable gold mine of good food...and I had no idea. What is wrong with me?! I'd always written off that part of town, and Civic Blvd with its bad feng-shui (and I don't believe in feng-shui) and ugly surrounds, as not worth spending a lot of time in. Crossing the city in taxis for work, I'd often end up passing that strip during the day, when it was all closed down and boring. It never occurred to me to venture up there at night and see whether there was good eatin'.

But there is.

Not only do you have San Jing Mitsui in the basement of the Fubon Life building, but a lot of the old standbys in Shi-da that moved when those racist, classist reactionary jerks had it all taken down have moved here (I'm not so sure I'd go so far as to call Shi-da "the heart of Taiwan", but it was pretty good). Across from Da'an Road you'll find 1885 Burger, which either has or had a branch on Pucheng Street back when Shi-da was good. Down the road a bit past the Dunhua Intersection you'll find Chicken in Bok and Beer, a Korean fried chicken place that has exploded in popularity since its move (we couldn't get a seat there on Friday night - by the way, get the chicken cooked in Korean red sauce, not the regular fried chicken). It, too, is of Shi-da vintage, now uprooted.

Beyond that, you'll find a popular tofu pudding (豆花) place, a branch of Tanuki Koji (my favorite creative Japanese izakaya), Urban 45 tapas parlor (which has terrible music on their website; I've never eaten there but will), Hutong (never eaten there either) and a string of Japanese restaurants that all look pretty good.

How did I not know this? Why did I avoid Civic Boulevard, viewing it as a food and entertainment desert, for all these years? Well, it's never too late to start exploring. We live near the southern terminus of Da'an Road, so we walked the entire length of it, past Xinyi, Ren'ai and Zhongxiao to get there. Da'an Road is an interesting strip - near us it's pretty local, with a school, some bakeries, a few small places to eat. It goes past some luxury apartments and a mini-night-market clutch of stalls. A bunch of small, non-pretentious shops (think cheap "everything" general stores) give way to medical shops as it passes Ren'ai Hospital (I recommend Florida Bakery on Ren'ai to the right). Then it turns into all-out Rich People Road, with an Aveda, Michal Negrin, several upscale boutiques and cafes and a fancy but generic hotel. North of Zhongxiao it turns into a Gongguan-like night market (think glittery hair accessories, weird hairy, drapey sweaters for young fashionistas and Korean socks rather than food), but probably more expensive. Then it ends in that great strip of restaurants. A fantastic walk through the many layers of commercial Taipei for a Friday night dinner (something we rarely get to do - our Fridays are usually booked out with work).

Unable to eat at Chicken in Bok and Beer - our original plan - we ended up at Ikki Robatayaki. It was really, really good - a mix of Japanese beer-on-tap dive bar, local izakaya and gourmet food. I like this kind of food more than Brendan (I'm pretty passionate about Japanese food and have been ever since I realized it was way more than noodles and sushi - hey, I grew up in a small town, forgive me. But I like noodles and sushi, too) but he was game.

I started with warm sake for a chilly night, but realized later that the food goes better with a nice tall glass of draft beer. I recommend starting and finishing (and going the middle) with Asahi.

Some of our food:

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Anyplace that not only has a dish that is just a grilled onion - really, grilled onion, nothing more, some salt on the side - but puts a picture of it on their menu, too, must make one mean grilled onion. So we got it. Great with beer. It takes awhile to grill through but once done, is delicious. And oniony. Would have been overkill without the beer. Definitely split this one with another person.

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We also ordered the gingko nuts, as I've never had them before. Loved the meaty, chewy texture and unique flavor, but was not so pleased with the bitter undercurrent and aftertaste. That's just how gingko nuts usually are, though - although I am generally averse and very sensitive to bitter flavors, this was okay. It added a complexity to the flavor, and worked well with the salt they were served in as well as the beer.

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Spicy bamboo shoots were a free appetizer, and entirely delicious.

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Tender bamboo shoots with a wasabi dip were also delicious.

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The wasabi taste in this raw "wasabi octopus" mini-dish was mild and subtle, but overall I enjoyed it. Not for those who can't take raw seafood or don't like the cold, slightly slimy sauce of many Japanese salad preparations.

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The Japanese fried chicken, served with an aioli or mayonnaise, was delicious (but needed salt - I recommend the spicy red salt preparation - it has a Japanese name that I don't know - provided on the counter).

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We got two sets of sticks - green onion chicken (above) and steak sticks (not pictured). Both were delicious and cooked on the grill to perfection. Both are served with a spicy mustard.

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We also got two salmon flake rice triangles (not pictured) and I got this scallop roll with sea urchin - delicious! Again, not for those who can't take raw seafood as neither the scallop nor the sea urchin is cooked. Add a tiny bit of soy sauce or tamari, roll up and eat. The final taste is a whizbang of hot wasabi that finishes off this delicious, fresh roll.

All in all I really liked this place and would definitely go back.

Wednesday, January 8, 2014

Delta Module One: The Grand Finale

Well, our Delta Module One course finished last month, and I figured I really should say a bit more about it for those out there who might take it someday, or who are just curious.

Before I get into how the test itself was, I want to note a few things.

  1. It's important to separate Cambridge ESOL (which runs the Delta Modules) with The Distance Delta (who offers the online course through International House and British Council). The Distance Delta did a great job preparing us, especially considering the fact that it was entirely online. The course was well-structured, well-planned and well-run with solid tutors giving great feedback. I occasionally disagreed with the feedback (for example, I didn't get a point because I called some text 'engaging' - I was supposed to say 'creative, for the purposes of engaging the reader' - wouldn't that text then also be engaging? Dunno, I don't understand at all why not), but my overall impression was very positive. Occasionally I disagreed with feedback, but not because I disagreed with the tutor, but because I disagreed with the guideline answers for the exam - that's Cambridge's issue, not The Distance Delta's. I would recommend Distance Delta Module One in a heartbeat to anyone interested in doing the modular Delta.
  2. The test is too damn short, at least the first paper is. More on that below. Paper 1, in order to be a true, fair exam (if done in an outdated way), really needs to be more like 2 hours. As a result I feel the test - especially Paper 1 - lacks some construct validity. It's constructed so that getting too focused or "in the zone" or being the sort of person who needs to write out their bad ideas before they come to good ones (and can then go back and edit the bad ideas out), or the sort of person who knows a lot and wants to show all of it are all things that can be punished by not having enough time, and therefore not getting all the points they're capable of. It tests your ability to speed-write and have a specific kind of test-taking personality, not your knowledge of the concepts ostensibly tested. If that's not lacking construct validity, I don't know what is. And because I was a taker of that test and I have my doubts, it also lacks face validity! I don't think the score I will get is an accurate reflection of my ability...not at all. 
  3. I, however, understand why there are time limits: otherwise people would write whole theses in an attempt to get perfect scores, and the markers would have to go through all that, and discard probably quite a bit of faff. I just feel the time limits on Paper 1 are too short, to the point that they ruin the validity of the test.
  4. In the end I learned a lot, as well as having prepared for the exam, so I'd recommend this module to anyone who wants to deepen their understanding of past ideas, concepts and research as well as current theories, trends and debates in ELT. That's part of why I'm disappointed that we probably won't be able to do Module Two this year.
  5. The test is not as scary as you may think when you begin to prepare - in the beginning it seems like those evil folks at Cambridge could test you on anything, and there's just no way to know what will pop up or how difficult it will be. In reality, they don't expect you to know everything, and there are limits on how difficult they will make each task. There are limits on how deep they expect you to go, or how deeply the tasks given will let you go. If they give you a task, there must be relevant things there to find and write about. Think of it this way: if you're playing Legend of Zelda, and Link is running all over the level board, looking behind trees or rocks or in rivers, the game creators are going to put things in that landscape for him to find. There will be coins and swords and clues and doorways and whatnot. They won't stick you in a little game-forest with nothing to find, and let you wander around looking behind bushes when there's nothing there. Like that, the exam creators left things for you to "find" as you do these specific tasks. Your job is not to fret that there's nothing to say, nor is it to re-invent the wheel (to use an old cliche), but it's to be Link and to find the things they want you to talk about, and why. If you look at it that way, it's really not that hard at all.
As for the test itself, it goes something like this:

Paper 1:

Part 1 - name five ELT terms from definitions provided

Part 2 - define four out of six given ELT terms
Part 3 - look at a class activity and list five things the students will need to know before they do it (taking their level into account)
Part 4 - some discourse analysis (relevant features of the text) followed by "grammar salad" - lots and lots of language analysis (too much, in my opinion)
Part 5 - authentic student-produced text (written or spoken) - write 3 key strengths and weaknesses of the student from the text and choose one to focus on, giving three reasons why (considering the student's level etc)

The test was not that hard, but the first part was rough. Not because it was difficult, though! I raced through the first and second part (where you have to list or define terminology), skipped part 3 because I wanted to take a good hard look at part 4 (BIG MISTAKE), and got so into part 4 - with so much to say about it even as I cut down my word count to bullet points and sentence fragments - that I lost track of time.

I looked up at the clock one moment and thought "crap, I have ten minutes, then I have to move on". I was in the zone. I had flow. I was killing it. Thoughts were coming to me like beautifully cut diamonds, and I raced to get them on the page. I was zoomed in like I'd chugged Provigil (I hadn't).

I put my head back down and kept chugging through Part 4, looked up again after "ten minutes" only to find that 30 minutes had passed! SHIT. I didn't have enough time to finish, so I did what I could (which was terrible work, because now I was nervous and freaked out, too) and didn't finish. Parts 1, 2 and 4 were grand, beautiful things. Part 5 was a mess; I may get a few points. Part 3 didn't even get looked at (it's worth fairly little, but still).

I blame myself for this - I'm the one who didn't manage time well. It doesn't matter that I didn't manage time well because I was too focused, all that matters is that it happened.

But I also have to add that this test is meant to examine your knowledge of relevant ELT practices and concepts and your depth of understanding, it's not meant to test how quickly you can speed-write or how quickly perfectly-formed thoughts can appear in your head and be jotted down on paper in neatly-packaged summaries. Or at least, it shouldn't test that, because what does that accomplish?

I've been saying this since before we took the test - an hour and a half is not enough time for everything they ask you to do in Part 1. It's just not. It's ridiculous. And I felt that way before I screwed up.

So what ends up happening is that people who really know the concepts tested who have either tendencies to get verbiose (*ahem*), or who benefit from time to edit and re-consider, or who just get really focused and think 10 minutes have passed when it's actually been 30 get punished not because they don't know the material (in fact, they often really, really do!) but because they were in the zone.

Why would you punish someone for getting a little too focused or having too good flow, and reward someone who muddled along and kept looking at the clock because the material was hard to grapple with? If I'd found the material harder I would have looked at the clock too!

The part of the test I finished? I killed. I put a gun to its head and made me give it all its money. I twisted its arm, gave it a wet willy and made it cry for mama. I sucker-punched it like a guy in a cheap dragon costume on the original Star Trek. I was the Incredible Hulk and the test was Loki (I don't know how to embed gifs here). HULK SMASH.

And yet, while I will probably still pass, I probably won't get a distinction or a merit. I do feel, based on the work I was able to finish, that I would have deserved one. Oh well. Life is more than the grade you get - I was just disappointed is all, because I know this stuff and I don't like that I'm being punished for knowing it so well that I stopped thinking about time.

That's why I think the exam lacks construct validity - I don't feel my score will reflect my knowledge of the concepts tested, but rather the fact that I was a little too focused for 20 minutes of my life.

Then there's Paper 2:

Part 1 - you're given a test with background information on what students it is given to and why, and you talk about strengths and weaknesses of the text, using relevant testing terminology as needed
Part 2 - you're given an excerpt from a textbook and you first write about the different indicated activities and their purpose/the intentions of their creators, considering your knowledge of ELT concepts. Then you list at least 6 key assumptions about language learning the textbook authors made in creating those activities.
Part 3 - you take more excerpts from the same text and talk about how they fit together with the previous ones
Part 4 - you're given an extract of some research, article, syllabus, comments, or theory from an educator and you are asked to unpack it using your knowledge of ELT history and other relevant concepts (usually things like giving feedback, the purpose for focusing on certain skills, giving instructions, historical and current theories and practices for language learning, dealing with errors, learning styles/multiple intelligences, that sort of thing).

This is the paper everyone thinks is so hard, and frankly, I disagree. Paper 1 is easier theoretically, but there's simply too much there to do a good job on any of it. Paper 2 has less to do, so if you're rock hard on your theory, then it's really not bad at all. You have time to actually think about what's being asked. I thought Paper 2 was great, and I'm pretty sure I killed it. It's rare, or may even be impossible, to get a perfect score on these papers, but I can't think of anything I wrote that I'd change now. I will get the highest score I am capable of on that paper. It is at least possible I'll get full marks, though unlikely.

I don't have much more to say about that one, because I wrote it out, did a golden job, had 5 minutes to look it over and everything before turning it in. 15 more minutes would have been great to perfect my answers, but I'm happy with the work I did.

In the end, I will probably pass. Brendan and I felt quite differently about the test - he got through every part and gave competent-but-not-brilliant answers (his words, not mine), and will certainly pass. I gave what I think are brilliant answers to what I finished, but didn't finish. Our scores will likely be quite similar. From one perspective, that's fair, as we're of similar intelligence despite our very different personalities. From another, that sucks, because dammit, I gave brilliant answers (or at least I think I did). Why should I get a score similar to others (not just Brendan - I actually have no idea what he wrote so whatever I say about it are his words) who muddled through and did each part well enough?

Oh well. One more month and we get our scores. We'll see then.

Such Great Heights, or Laments of a Serious English Teacher

Remember that old gem from The Postal Service?

They will see us waving from such great heights
"Come down now," they'll say
But everything looks perfect from far away...

Imagine that song played on a million tiny violins, because I don't expect sympathy. I just want to be straight about how things that seem so feasible can be so not feasible, and how hard it is to claw your way to good professional development in this field.

I have another post in the wings on my final thoughts on Distance Delta Module One, but that's not what I feel like writing about after my long hiatus (sorry - there was the exam, then the holidays, now getting ready to travel for Chinese New Year. Although our planned trip to Myanmar is not expensive, it is time-consuming to plan as it's not as 'easy' a destination).

Until about five minutes ago, we'd been planning to return to Istanbul - the Other City of My Heart - in June for the six-week Delta Module Two, plus a seventh week to visit the city (you don't get any time off for sightseeing on the course) and see our dear friend Emily, who was planning to make it so she'd be in town.

Then I did the budget for our trip and realized - this is probably not going to work. We made our nine-week trip to Turkey and the USA work two years ago and I'm not sure by what magic or sorcery that happened (and it almost didn't seeing as Paypal decided to hold our savings hostage for two weeks right in the middle of it - I was sending it from my account to Brendan's as my ATM card stopped working and they kept freezing the transaction because activity in Turkey is automatically "suspicious" - and I'll never forgive them for that. We only got to eat food and take the subway for those weeks because we have a great, supportive family).

So, seeing as we made it work two years ago, I figured we could make it work this time around too. Everything looks perfect from far away...

Between rent here (yes, we've considered subletting or getting a temporary roommate in the guest room, but we can't bank on that working out for us), rent in Istanbul, bills here (at least they'd be lower if we weren't around), student loans, course tuition, a 'cushion' fund for when we get back that does not impact my emergency fund (with a major family illness, I need to always have the cash on hand to fly home literally at a moment's notice), etc. etc. it comes to - and I kid you not - about $15,000 US total, about $7500 each. It's just too much to come up with between February (when we'll be able to start a fund for this trip) and June (when the course starts). I don't even feel bad admitting that it ain't gonna happen - I don't know anyone our age, anywhere, who can come up with $7500 that they didn't have before - because I won't dip into other funds, that's not safe - in four months.

Who knew CPD (continuing professional development) could cost so damn much?

There are ways to cut down the cost a little - we could rent out that guest room for awhile. We could couchsurf or cut our accommodation budget (but what if that doesn't work out?). We could ask someone to watch our cat for free as a favor (we usually pay). We could hack our spending budget for Istanbul to the bone and eat a lot of cheap bread, olives and ayvalik tost. If I cut the budget to "just enough to scrape by and there better not be any problems" I can get it down to about $6500 per person...still more than we or anyone we know who is our age can sock away in four months. We could spend very little over the next few months - no cafes, no nice beer, no fancy cooking, (I was really getting into the fancy cooking, but I can give that up for awhile) no dye jobs - everyone can just see the gray hairs, it's cool - and still not be able to put that away.

Anyway. I am sure a lot of tiny violins are playing for me now. Poor baby can't afford six weeks in Istanbul and to have her really nice three-bedroom apartment and she's going to Myanmar in three weeks, boo hoo. Of course we're quite lucky and privileged to have what we have. Of course I take none of it for granted. Of course I need to put on my big girl pants and be realistic about what we can and can't afford. And in the grand scheme of things, not being able to do this course in Istanbul this year is hardly something that will send Oxfam running to help.

I realize all of these things, but it is disappointing to know that a simple teaching diploma - not really all that much to ask - is something that may have to wait yet another year because we're on our own as far as CPD is concerned. We can always do Module Three in the meantime, if we're accepted on the course without having done Module Two, but it's disappointing to not be able to see Emily and return to a city I love so much, as we'd been planning for months (but not saving for months, because I took a part-time schedule to get Module One done. Sensible academically, nonsense financially). So far we've been the ones to make it work. To have enough cash, to get the nice apartment, to take the cool trips, to just make it work (They will see us waving from such great heights...). It's disappointing to know that this time, it's probably not going to work, and over something that's actually important like CPD. ("Come down now", they'll say...)

My only hope is that I can jiggle the numbers around to make it work, or maybe Brendan could sell his sperm (his genes have got to be more desirable than mine, and it's easier to beat off in a cup than harvest eggs...imagine cute little dorky kids with big green eyes reading books and wearing glasses all over Taipei), or I could take up pole dancing or something (people would pay me not to do it! WIN-WIN), or we could get accepted onto Module Three in Istanbul (if they run a face-to-face course there) and go for just two weeks. Or we could just put it off for a year, do Module Three online in Taiwan, go see Emily in Istanbul for a week (what is it about that city?) and then visit the USA. We have it's not like I expect people to be Kickstarting me or anything like that.

I'll end with this - all the after-school-special morality plays on not insisting on what you can't afford, on living within your means (which means budgeting within your means), on not chasing shiny baubles that will plunge you into financial disarray - hey, maybe those previous trips worked because we were willing to risk a little financial disarray, but now we're not! - they always seemed to have at their core something materialistic or even shallow. A new car, the latest video game system, an iPad for everyone including the cat, some expensive jewelry, a house that the protagonist couldn't quite afford. The sort of things my values have already taught me to not want (OK, we have an iPad. But just one). Nobody in one of those "how to be a grown-ass adult" specials ever had to face the idea that what they couldn't afford was education! Education - another thing my values have taught me to cherish!

Oh well. I'm going to go mope in bed now - it's 1:30am after all - and come up with a solution tomorrow. There's always a solution.

They will see us waving from such great heights
"Come down now," they'll say
But everything looks perfect from far away
"Come down now," but we'll stay.