How I saved $10,000USD teaching English in Taiwan

I saved $10,000USD in my year in Taiwan, but it wasn’t all easy. Here’s the real lowdown on what you can expect to save an earn by teaching English in Taiwan. Please note this is excluding flights to and from Taiwan.

The first thing you need to realise before you come to Taiwan is it’s not that cheap it is far more expensive than Thailand, Vietnam and the rest of S.E Asia.

Here’s a breakdown (100twd: 3USD: 2GBP)

Produce:

Rice and grains are very cheap, fresh produce is where you’re going to be in trouble. Shop at local markets and shop food that’s in season, or you’ll be paying for than in the West for vegetables. If it’s in season, it’s cheap, if not, you’re looking at Western prices. Fruit and veg are surprisingly expensive and will push your food budget up. 60twd for a head of broccoli?! 80twd for a large mango?!

Eating out:

A meal at a local place will set you back 50-150twd depending on the area of Taipei. However, there’s a good chance the cheaper you go the oilier and more unhealthy it will be.

To eat at a Western place, you’re looking at average 200-400twd for just a main course.

Alcohol:

A cocktail in most places or a nice beer/glass of wine will cost you around 300twd (9USD!) so not much difference to the west there. Taiwan beer, the cheapest beer, will sometimes be as little as 100twd on tap.

As with anywhere, if you want to save money limit your nights out and drinking or don’t drink at all. Which leads me to…

Nights out:

Cover of your standard places is usually 300twd with a drink token. Fancier clubs like Myst and Omni are 600-700twd with 2 tokens. Taxis cost about 200-300twd if you don’t live miles away.

Tea and coffee:

Are ludicrously expensive in Taiwan unless you buy them from the convenience stores or a hole in the wall place. If you want to go to a nice coffee shop, you’re looking at, wait for it, about 160-200TWD for a coffee or tea. To put that into perspective a Venti Starbucks latte in Taiwan is 140TWD. Coffee places in Taiwan are more expensive than Starbucks, and around the price of a mid-range meal.

Ludicrous. Pro tip: get a flask and make it at home, but if you’re a coffee shop dweller like me this will be a hit to your past times. A confession is I spent far too much at Starbucks in my year in Taiwan, I think on average I was buying 3 or 4 coffees there a week. It was the only place to chill at on my lunch break that did soy and wasn’t my school. Could I have saved more without them? Probably. Would I have been as sane? Probably not.

Rent and bills:

Here’s where you’ll save compared to other countries, although if you’ve researched Korea you’ll know that you’re given an apartment. If you live outside Taipei you’re going to save a lot more, but in Taipei you can get a bit of a run down place for 6000-8000twd, a nice place for 9000-11000, and a studio apartment for 11000-16000 if you want to live alone (very variable on size and location). Living in New Taipei will save you money, but if you live around the brown line/Guting/Taipower/Fuxing (basically the areas you want to live to be near things) you’re going to be paying the above amount. I was paying 11000twd for a good sized room in a flat with 3 people in an excellent location in the heart of downtown (Zhongxiao Fuxing) the flat was in excellent condition and had a kitchen. Halfway through I moved to the smaller room in the same flat and my rent changed to 9000twd. Score!

Bills come to between 1000twd and 2000twd a month. We had a maid split between us for 300twd each a week, and she did everything. It was wonderful and a huge bonus of having flatmates!

Transport:

Expensive, don’t be fooled! Well, it’s not Western Europe prices and if you just toddle round Taipei and stay on the slow trains you’re not going to spend too much. The high speed rail will set you back a lot more, as a one way from Taipei to Kaohsiung with a reserved ticket is 1,630TWD. The MRT in Taipei costs 16twd-54twd a trip, for most journeys you pay 20-24twd. I spent 1000TWD a month on transport.

Cell phone:

I got a prepaid sim and topped up in 7/11s every month. The great thing with this is that you can top up data and calls separately, so I would top up data every month for 300twd (2.2GB) and then calls and texts every 5 or 6 months for 600twd. This was great because it meant my phone was a very minor expense, and it’s definitely what I recommend. 2.2GB would last me 20 days to a month with streaming music, hotspotting, and pretty constant internet use.

Chinese lessons:

Are between 300 and 700twd an hour for private tutoring. I recommend learning enough to help you get by and not feel completely isolated from the city. Towards the end I was doing 1.5 hours 3x a week, which was the perfect amount for me but was costing me around 6000twd a month.

And what are you earning?

Okay, so all of this isn’t that expensive by Western European or North American standards, or at least most of this isn’t (I still haven’t got past the coffee prices, eeeeesh, and they make you order too!). But what you’re earning wouldn’t last you one week in a Western city. In one year, I earned roughly 18,000-20,000USD. There is simply no way I could have lived as well as I did in any Western city on that much, or saved as much as I did. Now lets look at the salary breakdown, the schools who you might get employed by, and how much you’ll need to work.

Hess

Hess is the biggest chain school in Taiwan, and they also have branches in China. They recruit you independently and put you in a huge month long training course where you’ll meet a lot of other excited newbies and can make some friends. You’ll also get your TEFL through them and be taught a lot of rousing songs. You won’t be paid as much as if you get employed with other schools (570twd an hour starting salary) but you’ll probably be able to rack up a lot, and I mean a LOT of hours.
As for experience, some people love it, some hate it. It’s so dependant on the schools. You get 10 days of leave a year, and I think you also get a contract completion bonus.

Pros: a lot of hours, you can make friends on the course and bond with other newbies.
Cons: possibly a hellish school, you can be sent anywhere in Taiwan, small wage, unpaid training for a month.

Shane

Shane schools also recruit independently and put you on a training course. I don’t know much about them but I know a few people who worked for them and got out fast after the first year.

Reach to Teach

Aren’t a school, they’re a recruiter. The schools they recruit for pay 600TWD an hour and up. I went through them and although I can’t say the school was the school was the best (split shifts and incredibly inefficient working hours, and some questionable working conditions) my experience was generally positive. I didn’t manage to get them to sort out my school underpaying me for 2 months (breaching the contract), but turns out I needed to make more of a fuss and go to Carrie, head of Reach to Teach who just sorted out the same situation for my replacement. Overall, I recommend using a recruiter if you want a decent (but probably not amazing) job sorted before you come to the country.

Other schools

Will pay a starting salary of 600-650twd. If you have experience you can get 700 or maybe even a little more if you’re lucky and can negotiate. The important thing to remember, though, is that the job market in Taiwan isn’t as good as it used to be. In the past 5 years or so, cost of living in the city has dramatically risen in the city but salaries for English teachers haven’t risen at all.

The majority of my friends were on around 20 hours a week which is around 50,000twd dollars a month before taxes, which are 18% for your first 6 months (most of which you get back, eventually). Living well but not extravagantly will set you back about 25,000 – 30,000twd a month. This is with a nice meal out once of twice a week, Chinese lessons, and the occasional night out. I was on 25.5 hours a week and it came to 55,000twd a month after taxes but I only earned that for about 9 months of my 13 in Taiwan. As you might expect, this was a problem and was not something I was warned about.

So how do you save?

Set yourself a goal every month from your salary. Mine was to save 25,000 every month (that I earned a full paycheck). Most months I hit this, some months I saved a little less, some a little more, but I could see my balance every month increasing by 25,000.

If you arrive before the 1st of July you’ll get your taxes back from this year. This is very important, if you arrive after you’ll be losing out on up to 50,000twd. You can then get your taxes express taxed if you leave 1 year later. You can only do this once every 5 years – otherwise you have to wait until summer the following year and then go back to Taiwan and collect a cheque.

Quite simply, the way to save is private students which will earn you anything from 700twd to 1500twd an hour. Try and negotiate being paid for 10 classes upfront by offering a discount – this will give you more reliability. Also try to make the classes 90 minutes minimum as you will usually have to go to them and you don’t want to be spending more time travelling than teaching. Again, offer discounts for 2 hour classes. It will pay off in the long run. Set a cancellation policy – I learned this after having a student who would cancel on me as I was on the way to a class, and another who would halve the time we were having together when I was already there. Make sure they pay you for your time. I consistently got frustrated by the lack of respect from my students that this was how I earned my living. Having said that, though, private tutoring was one of the most fun and rewarding things I did, as it allowed me to teach adults which is what I’m actually trained for.

I earned between 9,500 and 20,000twd extra every month from private students by listing myself on tutoring websites. I think one month I hit 30,000twd from privates, but I was exhausted and drained and it stopped being worth it. I tried to limit myself to two private classes a week, one on Saturdays and one in the evening after work. I could have done more, but leaving my apartment at 9am and getting home at 10.30pm after an entire day of teaching isn’t sustainable for more than one or two days a week, for me at least. If you can do that, great. And of course, the more hours you’re earning, the less you’re spending. Because I tutored at the weekend, the number of weekend trips I went on was limited.

Remember, 25-30 hours of teaching a week might not sound much to someone who’s used to a 9-5 40 hour work week, but you’re on your feet and talking constantly. You’re also expected to do unpaid preparation time and marking in pretty much every job, about 10 hours a week average if you have a 30 hour work week.

Final tips:

Keep a budget app. I loved Monefy, because the interface was extremely nice to use.

Meal plan I saved the most when I still had a kitchen (before my stove broke 6 months before I left) and I would do all my cooking on a Monday evening, then take it to school for lunch and a mid afternoon meal. My school had a microwave (which then also broke…) so I would heat things up there. Bulk buying and cooking and using a lot of dried beans bought cheaply saved me a lot of money, and I was eating well for around 100twd a day. Plus an extra 60twd or so for my breakfast smoothie and a light meal at the end of the day.

Do a mixture of day job and privates, or kindy and buxiban I know I’ve said this already, but this really is where you’ll make bank in a way that you simply won’t with just buxiban (afternoon cram school). If you can get an all day kindergarten job (usually 9-3/4) then find an evening cram school job or tutoring, that’s the best.

Avoid a Western lifestyle if you go out every weekend, if you drink, if you hang around in coffee shops, and if you hunt down the Western food you will burn through your earnings very, very fast. Eat noodles, rice, local market produce, and from local places and you’ll find it easy to put away money.

And most importantly, enjoy! I could have saved a lot more, but I’ve very happy with what I did save and I had fun, learned Chinese, took yoga classes, went out about once a month, and travelled around a little. I lived a single lifestyle where I was rarely home, and I at times spent more than I maybe should have. I struggled from time to time, but when I left Taiwan it was with a lot of positive feelings.

You can save a lot in Taiwan, or nothing at all. It’s completely up to you how hard you want to work and how hard you want to play. Just don’t think that it’s cheap just because it’s Asia. Good luck!

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My job was illegal – and everyone’s doing it (read before teaching in Taiwan)

Here is the blog post I waited to post until I left, because it’s something that needs to be out there for people coming to teach in Taiwan. It’s something that I looked for more information about before I came here, but I couldn’t find any details beyond the blog post title. What I am about to reveal is the comedy of errors that this country has going. It’s a pantomime of many parts, try to keep up.

Legally, foreigners aren’t allowed to teach Kindergarten level kids, we’re only allowed to teach from grade 1 up. A quick scour of most of the blogs about Taiwan, though, including my own, will quickly reveal that his is most definitely not a law that’s adhered to.

To get your ARC (resident working visa) you have to have a sponsor. Legally, this requires a minimum of 14 hours a week of work at that school. You are not only registered to that school, but you are registered to a particular part of the building. This ensures, in theory, that one school doesn’t hoard foreign teachers for illegal teaching, using them for teaching classes that aren’t supposed to be learning English. When registered to part of that school, you are supposed to stay in that part of the school and not leave, wander into the Kindergarten, and then wander back. If you’re caught in the kindergarten while the government is visiting, questions will be asked.

No books in English may be in the kindergarten. No pencils may be in the kindergarten, because the kids that age shouldn’t be learning to write yet. No whiteboards are allowed in the classrooms, because you’re not supposed to teach children that age. They should just be playing. There are different zones, the play zone, the reading zone, etc.

Getting this? Have you spotted the problem yet?

This is Asia, the continent where the school systems make the rest of the world cringe in fear. I teach children from the age of 2… Actually, I know for a fact at least 5 of them weren’t 2 when I started. And I actually do teach. These kids are learning English, and they have to sit still for 40 minutes to have flashcards put in front of their noses so they can learn basic sentence patterns about fruit, the weather, feelings, etc. Kids from about the age of 4 are expected to be able to use scissors and to write their ABCs, their names, and very basic words. Who sends their children to this type of kindergarten? Rich people. Official people. Doctors, diplomats, business men and, you guessed it, government officials. The same people who made the rules saying that the kindergartens should be a place for playing.

Until I manage to work out how to insert one, please imagine a facepalm gif here.

The crazy thing (as if this wasn’t enough) is that all of this is, to a level, enforced. I’ve been around for several government raids where I’ve been hurried out of the classroom and sent to hide in the bushiban. One person I know at a different school, who hadn’t been teaching long, had to hide in the toilet. Unfortunately they then forgot he was there until four hours after the government had left. In my first few weeks of full time teaching, before I got my visa, I was in the illegal part of the school (yes, an entire part of the school shouldn’t even be there because it’s a fire hazard) when the government officials downstairs heard us stamping around and got through the door. We, myself, my kids, and two other classes with their teachers were all hurried into the tiny end classroom and the kids were told to be silent. A government official burst through the door with one of the head CTs shouting “you can’t do this” or similar in Chinese, and throwing herself in front of him as he took pictures on his iPhone. He didn’t seem to concerned about the fact that he’d just walked in on an Anne Frankesque scene of three white teachers and a lot of confused children huddled into a tiny space.

The reason he wasn’t concerned is becasue he wasn’t looking for foreign teachers that day, he was just looking for illegal parts of the building. Same as the people who come to look for foreign teachers aren’t concerned about illegal parts of the building or whiteboards and books in the kindergarten.

There’s only one time I’ve witnessed a full raid, but luckily we were given about a week’s notice so a ‘field trip’ was organised for me and my kids. And the illegal kindergarten teachers who don’t have early childhood degrees. And another class of kids. Because not only do we have illegal white teachers, illegal Taiwanese teachers, illegal books and whiteboards, we also have an illegal number of children and an illegal number of classrooms. So I watched for two days as Uncle stripped all signs of English from the kindergarten, and all signs of children from my classroom. Then on the day, we were shipped off to a different part of the city, ushered in, and left in a classroom for 3 hours with nothing to do. Then we were taken back to the school, and everything continue as normal.

It’s not all fun and hide-and-seek-games, either. At a different one of our branches, government officials dressed up as parents, came in, and took pictures of a girl teaching. She was deported. If you ask your recruiter before you come (because the illegal thing is mentioned on the internet, and you may have seen something about it) they’ll laugh and brush past it. If you ask your school, they’ll laugh and brush past it. But it is real, and it is scary, and it was very stressful to teach in that environment for a year where suddenly everyone would be shouting at you to run as music went off and people hid. Okay, it may not happen too often that people get deported, but all it needs is that one time and it could be you. The fact that the schools don’t seem to consider you may not be happy with this is, frankly, just disrespectful. A lot of teachers aren’t even aware that their job is illegal. To reiterate, go through this flow chart:

Are you teaching children younger than grade 1?
|                               |

yes                             no
|                               |

illegal                         legal

Simple as that.

I quite frankly don’t understand it. If it seems confusing and farcical, it’s because it is. But teachers have been deported, the government are getting sneaker, and it is a risk. Even if the manager of all the branches of your school does take all the local police out drinking.

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You want to pay ME? Teaching ESL as an introvert – the highs and lows

I have a very quiet voice. I’m a quiet person, a little reserved, and self-promotion isn’t something that comes naturally to me. And now I spend about 30 hours of my week standing in front of other people instructing them on how to talk. And then taking their money for it. As expected, these don’t exactly go hand in hand.

I have various issues with teaching. Not with my students: the adults are wonderful, and interesting, and make me think; the kids are cute and funny and I laugh so many times each day. My issues are all internal and revolve around social anxiety.

Before I started teaching English, I was a literature student. I sat indoors and read books all day, and occasionally went to seminars where I didn’t say much. One on one with other people, I was good. In groups, well, it depended on the day. Then I came to Taiwan and started teaching, and it was such a learning curve for my social skills I don’t even know how to start describing it. Here’s a rundown of the issues I’ve experienced with how I am naturally, and how I need to be to teach.

1. Wait, I talk with you for an hour then take your money?

The question for beginner teachers is always, am I charging too much? Too little? What’s a fair amount? Add in a nervous disposition and a want-to-please personality and it’s a recipe for a highly-strung disaster. There’s such a tense moment when stating a price, and negotiating working hours. Then there’s having the confidence to organise a lesson, to pull a student back to the subject if the lesson strays, and to keep to time. Basically, to act like a teacher. This might not seem a big deal in text, but when you’re just starting out and your student is twice your age? It’s a one-way train to a land of sweaty palms and self-doubt. A few times I’ve drastically over-prepared a lesson and gone along to it with a large amount of material I haven’t used, because I’ve been so nervous about coming across well and making the student feel they’re getting value for money.

2. All the little children

Have you ever stood, clutching flashcards, in front of 17 two year olds? If so, you’ll know how terrifying it can be. I’ve had moments where I’ve lost control and have had 3 jumping on my back, several more fighting with each other, more stealing my teaching materials and ripping them/throwing them/hiding them. My teaching assistants are off in a corner dealing with the one who’s crying so hard she’s projectile vomiting, and the one who just wet himself. That’s only 11 accounted for, the other 6 are making escape attempts or are also screaming.

Just another day at the office.

The amount of nervous energy this takes is in no way small. And that’s just the morning. To keep them interested and engaged I have to be SO UPBEAT AND OUTGOING AND EXCITED ALL THE TIME. For an introvert, even without everything going on, it’s utterly exhausting.

3. Talk, talk, talk

After a day, a week, and definitely a month of 5+ hours of constant talking a day, when I finish work I just want to not talk anymore, or see people, or do things. This makes a social life pretty hard. I’ve found that the longer I work, the less I want to see friends. Social contact is becoming more of an effort for me than it’s been for years. At University, social contact was a break from work. Here, it almost is work.

I’m becoming far more selective in my social contact, and far more aware of what recharges and what further takes my energy. 7 months of teaching with only 1 week off in that time? In some ways I’m getting used to it – I have more energy than I did to start with, and it’s far less of an adrenaline rush these days – but in other ways I’m tired. My introvert side needs a week of talking to and seeing hardly anyone, so that I can feel normal again.

…….

Before I started teaching I wondered if I would cope. I’m now working more consistently than I ever knew I was capable of. It’s a test of endurance for a normal person, let alone someone who used to be unable to leave the house or make eye contact. I enjoy it. I enjoy the teaching, the students… but it’s hard. Some things are suffering:  And when I have my next week off in another 5 months’ time please don’t call me, text me, or email me. I’ll be in the mountains somewhere, alone, with my thoughts.

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The New Year resolution revolution.

Today a woman stopped me in the street on my way out of the metro, as I was trying to cross the road to get to my apartment, and food. “Do you know how to be happy?” she asked, smiling unnaturally and handing me a flier. I’ve been homesick all week thanks to working Christmas, I haven’t had a day off other than Sundays in several months, and I’m going through an ‘I hate my job, I’d rather be anywhere else but here’ phase. It will pass, but strangely enough when my blood sugar is on a downward spiral and there’s a strange woman keeping me from my food… that’s not something I remember.

I think I may have muttered ‘no,’ rather offishly, and looked pointedly at the lights willing them to change.

She handed me a leaflet: ‘Keys to a Happy Life.’ As I walked up the stairs I realised she was a Jehovah’s Witness. They’ve made it to Asia now? Where do I have to move to escape them?

Which, of course, has me thinking about happiness. My personal happiness project has slipped a little this month, thanks to aforementioned burn out and lack of festive spirits. I’ve been mainly focusing on getting out bed in the morning, and on not crying at work when a kid makes my life difficult on Christmas day, and I look on Facebook to see friends and family having Christmas as it should be. Whatever, it’s been hard, but it’s not like I ever thought it would be easy.

Onwards and upwards, and here comes 2015. There are many arguments for why New Year’s resolutions don’t work. The easiest comparison to make about them is that they’re like diets. They’re a short-term fix rather than a lifestyle change, and people quickly slip and pile back on the pounds, or the broken resolutions. Here’s a link that will send you to a study on New Year’s Resolutions, with the statistics that 60% of them fail, mainly after the first week. A plethora of articles across the internet advise making small changes that are attainable. This seems logical enough. But I’m going to go back to the Happiness Project here for inspiration, or what I termed my ‘Buddhism Project‘.

Sure, setting a small goal may be easier to keep, but it’s also easier to discard. I like the idea of stepped changes. Like Gretchen Rubin adds a new set of changes every month, I like to have an end goal that is fairly considerable, but broken down into manageable steps. Losing a total of 40 pounds can be broken down into 3-5pounds a month, for instance, which is achievable and also allows room for failure on one or two of the months.

Another article, published only about 15 hours earlier than this blog post, says that New Year’s resolutions are procrastinating something you should be starting today. Sure, if it’s losing weight or quitting smoking maybe. I personally like the idea of a concrete date to make a change, though, and here’s where the revolution aspect of resolutions comes in: using the last few days of the old year to properly take time to reflect on your life is valuable time to think over what realistically needs changing, and how to do it. I like the word revolution for its double meaning: typically we think of revolutions as an uprising against a political power, but the word originally come from the Latin ‘revolutio,’ meaning turn around. A new year is a fresh start, a revolution, or a turn around. A reason to look at what hasn’t been working, and what has been working but could work better. I like to think of it as a chance to refocus: to look at where I’ve gone off track this year, and to work on pulling things back in.

For me, this year has been somewhat stale. This may seem odd as I’ve graduated and moved to Asia in 2014, but in terms of having a direction in life I’ve actually backtracked. This was mainly due to a messy break up and my somewhat rash decision to flee the country when, excuse the phrase, I was so confused about what was happening in my life that I couldn’t tell my arse from my elbow. Suddenly I was in Taiwan going ‘how did I get here? What?’ Strangely enough, this is a common story here. In many ways this year has been a huge turning point in my life, but most of it has been spent trying to figure things out, remembering how to be alone, getting good at being alone again, losing the ability, regaining it, and dealing with a full time job involving lots of very very small humans who don’t speak my language.

In conclusion, I’m currently working on my list of New Year’s resolutions. Nowhere does losing weight feature, or quitting smoking. I don’t smoke so that’s a no-brainer, but you get the principle. My main challenge is to be more productive with my time, so that I can manage to fit a life of my own in around my job. I’m starting with getting up earlier. Not much earlier, just an hour or so. Then I’ll try and be productive in that hour. Then I’m going to get up a little earlier still until I can fit in a decent amount of exercise, or a blog post, or some Chinese. I’ve been working on phasing out TV series’ (on my laptop, I haven’t watched an actual TV in a long time) for a while. It’s going pretty well, but then it’s an ongoing process, not sudden cold Turkey.

While there’s no reason not to do this throughout the year, I personally like the concrete milestone provided by the New Year, and the inevitable reflection on the past year that we all find ourselves doing. I don’t believe New Year’s resolutions are worthless, or procrastination. They’re a way of starting as you mean to go on, of staging a revolution against what isn’t working, and of turning around and refocusing the things that are but could do better.

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Tales from the classroom #1: reflections on teaching

Teaching day in, day out, can get pretty tiring. So something I’ve started doing at the end of each day is taking time to remember my favourite moments. I’m nowhere near diligent enough about doing this, as sometimes the last thing I want to do in the evenings is remember that I teach children and I’ll have to see them again soon. Nonetheless, it is a good practice to keep, and in the spirit of keeping it, here are a few of my favourite anecdotes.

Taiwanese children and shoes

There have been a series of shoe incidences in my older and younger classes. Walter (2) who can’t speak a work except for ‘uh oh!’ when disaster looms (or when he’s just tipped out someone’s water bottle everywhere) will break ranks to toddle up to me when I’m teaching, expressing his emotion with a mixture of crying/moaning/wailing/shouting. Naturally, I assume something is horrendously wrong and I stop the class to deal with this crisis. The crisis is that the heel of his shoe has slipped off. Mia (also 2) spent the first 2 months of my class not listening at all, but solemnly taking off first one shoe, then a sock, then the other shoe, then the sock, then putting one sock back on, then one shoe, then the other sock, then the other shoe, then taking the shoe off again, then the sock, then the other shoe… You get the idea. It was a process that required a lot of concentration and sometimes help from the other children. Timothy (also 2… Sensing a theme yet?) is one of the newest students in my class and spent the first two weeks being exceptionally distressed about his mum not being there. His response to this distress was, instead of clutching a comforter or soft toy, clutching his shoes as he barrelled (he is by no means small, I call him the kettlebell kid) around the classroom wailing, and occasionally breaking out and dropping his shoes into the bathroom sink.

Meanwhile, in Bushiban, I introduced my children to the game 20 questions. Instead of trying to narrow down their options, they prefer just to attempt mind reading by shouting out answers. The 20 questions pass by very fast. One of my favourite moments was when Dean (approx.8) shouted out the first question of a new round. Except it wasn’t a question, what he shouted at the girl with the answer was: “IT’S A SHOE!” As I pointed out to him, of all the millions and millions of objects and plants and animals in the world, why, just why, did he have such conviction that the answer was a shoe?
Peein’acdotes

When working with small children, bodily functions are unavoidable. Be it rediscovering the hilarity of a fart with a room of 5 year olds, or the constant exposure to pee and poop when working with toddlers (thankfully diaper changes are handled by my classroom assistants) there is no avoiding the messier side of the human body. When I started, the majority of my children were still in diapers. Now the majority (not the vast majority, but a lot more than at the beginning) have been toilet trained and will get up in class, clutch themselves in the relevant places and shout “PEEPEE!” Whereupon they will get rushed out, stripped from the waist down, and thrust against a urinal/onto a tiny toilet. Sometimes they put the pants back on afterwards, sometimes not. I havent established why redressing their nether parts is optional. This process of potty training has not been without hitch. The attempt to potty train Nolan has, at last check, been aborted. I don’t think it lasted longer than a week, because the poor kid kept appearing by me or my c.a and making a helpless noise, gesturing to the pee that drenched his pants and trickled onto the floor. At one point he was going through three pairs of pants… Not three pairs a day, but three pairs in my class, which is 90 minutes long. Eventually, after this had happened for the third time and Nolan was in his final pair of pants, his upbeat spirit gave out. The pants were too large for him, and kept falling down, leaving his tiny buttocks exposed to the elements. He broke down, and helplessly wept, climbing onto my knee and clinging to me for dear life. There is nothing more heartbreaking than a kid who keeps wetting himself.

Sometimes, wetting of pants can provide more hilarious results. Joon, one of my three Korean toddlers, trotted up to me during our Monday play session where I turn them loose to run off their Monday morning steam. He gestured to his pants, which were soaked, and I handed him over to Rachel for a change. So far so good but, I realised, the puddle was nowhere to be seen. Where was the scene of the crime? The mystery was soon solved when I heard “Laoshi, laoshi!!” (Teacher, teacher) being shouted from the play house. When I looked through the door, four of my toddlers were trapped inside by a pee puddle that neatly spread from one side of the doorway to the other, completely trapping them inside.

The final pee tale is one of gender defiance. Sofia (2 again) is my shyest, sweetest girl who spent an entire month being terrified of me and fleeing behind the nearest Taiwanese person whenever I approached, sometimes literally thrashing across the floor for more speed. Fear has now turned into a sort of awed reverence, and she follows me around, shows me her nail polish, and the other day stood watching me write communication books and kissing every one. Sweet. Anyway, I was standing in the bathroom one day when I saw her pull her diaper and panties down. I assumed she was preparing for a pit stop on the toilet, and for some reason didn’t think to question it when she walked towards the urinal instead. It was only when she hiked up her dress and executed an expert hip-thrust forwards that I clued onto what was going on. Clearly, she had watched many a boy use the urinal and she wanted to see what all the fuss was about. Not having the right equipment be damned! she thought. It would have been an admirable gender barrier protest, but she hadn’t hitched her skirt up far enough, and instead of hitting the urinal she just, like so many of these stories, soaked herself. I could have stopped things, I know I could, but I was standing laughing. It wasn’t my finest moment as a caregiver.

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