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Sleepy Rhino



December 13th, 2009


Sleepy Rhino
I haven't updated in so long that it feels pointless to do so now. It has been just over two months, the longest time that I have gone without writing here. Which is not to say that I have not been writing at all. Quite the opposite rather, as I have been jotting down lots of quick thoughts in my diary and penning my usual plethora of emails to friends.

I think the end of this blog is in sight. Everything on here feels a piece of a version of me that does not exist anymore. I have grown up beyond the rants and self pitying garbage that litters the pages here. Even typing right now feels like something else, like my heart is no longer in this writing. Perhaps when there is time I will search out a new location for the thoughts all sizes of J Cecil.

October 11th, 2009

the holiday season

Sleepy Rhino
It's Thanksgiving weekend in Canada, the last holiday before the Christmas season.  Being overseas for T-giving is not so much of a big deal but I anticipate being in Taipei for Jesus' birthday will be.  I have been away from family and friends for one previous Christmas, in 2005, and recall it as a wet, cool, Saturday morning where the markets went on as usual.  I wonder what the atmosphere will be like here.  It will be a Friday and I have plans to get drunk as a skunk.

October 4th, 2009

I watched "Adventureland" right before leaving Canada and it is a film that I keep thinking about.  There are a lot of things that I liked about it. The characters are as close to real people as I have ever seen in a movie in that they all have their pluses and minuses; they feel complete and developed with nary a thinly sketched character in sight, with the exception of Frigo.  "Adventureland" also captures that ephemeral feeling of summer better than any work of fiction I've encountered since "The Mysteries of Pittsburgh", a novel by Michael Chabon.  James, the protagonist of "Adventureland", takes a little time to find his way at the park but once he does he goes all out for the partying, dating, mischief making scene and by the time he has found his feet amongst his summer crew they have all dissipated to new lives.  That is the summer of a twentysomething, at least to me.

While all of these parts add up to an excellent film it is the central lesson, that life is what we make of it, often inelegant, but always moving forward, that keeps me thinking about "Adventureland."  James has high aspirations.  He wants to go to graduate school to become a writer like Charles Dickens, roving around the world writing journalistic pieces.  It sounds like a fantastic dream but it is a silly one; Em, James' girlfriend in the movie, says as much to him when she questions why he would have to go to school to become a writer.  In that one small scene I felt my own odd goals brushed away too.

But it is was a good feeling.  It is a good realization to know that life is moving on, maybe not as I envisioned it, but not so bad either.  At the film's end we are left with James in New York, where he has followed Em.  He is committed to her, to trying to make things work, and willing to take any old job to pay the rent to be with her.  In that way it is a movie about becoming a man, about taking chances and making the best of what happens.  It was important for me to see "Adventureland" before coming back to Taipei.  It has taught me to keep moving forward at all times, chin up and optimistic.  

September 28th, 2009

I talked to my roommate yesterday morning about work life in Taiwan.  She is American-Chinese so I consider her opinion on the matter to be better than any outside observations on the matter.  I mentioned how it took me a solid week in July to recover from the go go go atmosphere of Taipei and the feeling that I always had to be busy.  For reals: I spent a week walking in Northumberland Forest listening to birds and critters scampering around to feel whole again; I couldn't relax.

She said that Asian life was not always this way.  It used to be more laid back, years prior to western influence, when men would ponce around at a more genial pace.  In fact, she reckons that it is due to the infusion of western culture and mores into Taiwan that has made the pace of life faster here.  People I teach with are at work twelve hours some days, heaps of teachers do tutoring in their "off" hours, professional courses - consisting of 3 hour lectures once a week for several months at a spell - are mandatory.  The only significant break in the year is Chinese New Year, a couple weeks off in January or February depending on the lunar calendar.  Perhaps that infamous Chinese will to succeed has been sharpened by the desire to be as well off as the west.  I don't know.

But the counter to this work hard attitude is this: Taiwanese retire earlier than their western counterparts.  While I face the full on truth that I will likely be working until age seventy, folks in this neck of the world work into their fifties.  In a way, it is ironic: I think of how Taiwanese and Koreans work, just always at the desk doing something, putting in the long hours, not necessarily being as efficient as westerners, yet in the long run they have more retired time than westerners.  So perhaps that is more efficient.  

Of course, I shouldn't take her ideas as the be-all and end-all.  I will talk with some of my local friends and return to this idea in a future post.

September 18th, 2009

reflections on the summer

Sleepy Rhino

With the exception of all but ten days I spent the entirety of the calender summer in Ontario.  If now-me was to go back in time seven years to twenty-year-old-me and tell him that he would spend his summers in Canada while wintering in a near tropical climate I am sure that my younger version would be pleased.  I recall walking down Division Street in Kingston on winter mornings, the cold air stinging my throat and freezing my nostril hair, dreaming of better weather.  "Why would people ever settle in Ontario?" I used to ponder on those fresh days. 

I dreamt up an international lifestyle on those mornings, a condo in Montreal with a roof top patio for summer and a beach house in Central America for the rest of the year.  While I am not quite there yet - a room in my parents' house in small town Ontario and a shared apartment in downtown Taipei hardly qualify - I am closer to realizing that dream than I was a year ago.  The thought of that makes me smile.

But this post is about reflections on my near three months in Ontario not the last seven years of my life.  What have I learned?  A few things. 

I have learned to appreciate the brevity of a visit.  Sometimes a ninety minute beer or a patio lunch or an afternoon at the beach is all that I need to reconnect with a friend.  It used to be that I thought a two day weekend, at minimum, was necessary to catch up but it's not; sometimes it just takes the effort to see someone.  That is enough.  Friends are busy with careers, significant others, and asssorted responsibilities that mean two, three days of hanging out cannot be done as often anymore.  Besides, once you get past the questions about career, family, significant other, and recent fun there is not a lot else that needs to be discussed.

Also, I have learned that a man should be fun, optimistic, and suppress his complaints if he expects people to hang out with him.  That is kind of obvious but dudes don't have time for drama if they only get to see you for a bit.  So I suppress those dark thoughts in the company of others.

Finally, I have learned to always look on ahead.  Time only moves in one direction so it is useless to get caught up in what has happened.  I am looking for three things in life right now: furthering my career, finding a girlfriend, and having some fun.  The past three months have given me a lot of fun but little in terms of my career or finding a ladyfriend, so I move on to Taipei hoping to catch up those two areas.  My goal is to work hard and keep on plugging away.  Next year I would like to teach in a country that celebrates Christmas so that I might come back to my hometown for that wonderful season.  Along with my three goals, that is the overarching aim of my departure to Taiwan this time.  Wish me luck.

August 27th, 2009

I don't mind looking for work.  Going to websites and digging around like a detective is not the worst thing in the world, plus you can eat chips and do it from the comfort of your home.  It can be entertaining to come across a bizarre listing and imagine what that job would be like.  I can also be enlightening to come across a well paid job and understand just how much more experience and education I need to get to that level.

What I don't like and the swoops and downturns of job hunting.  One night I thought I had a lead and sent off a host of well thought out questions; ten hours later I received an email informing me that the position had been filled.  At least in that situation the employer was clear with me so my expectations were let down quickly, the job forgotten.

No, the worst part of job hunting is the application abyss.  I spend a couple hours putting together the package, writing the right cover letter, and emailing it off only to receive nothing in return.  It is as if I wrote something down only to test my structure and vocabulary skills then burnt it in front of my face.  I would enjoy, just once, getting an email back from a perspective employer saying, "You need more experience for this position," or "Here is the resume of the person we hired, just so you know."  Of course, that will never happen.  And that is the worst part of job hunting.

August 25th, 2009

It's interesting how much self confidence is dictated by your economic prospects.  Like two weeks ago I thought I was going overseas to work a well paying job and I felt good about myself.  My charm was on, smooth words flowed out my mouth, and I could find the silver lining in the darkest of clouds.  Now I've teetered in the other direction.  This past weekend, at my cottage with some family and friends, I felt cut off at the knees and tongue.  Nothing I said seemed insightful or funny and when my older bro embarassed me in front of everyone I could feel nothing but bitterness.  I think my outward temperature change was due to my flip flop from international man of mystery to old dude who lives with his parents.  The lesson: keep on keepin' on.

August 22nd, 2009

I recently turned down a teaching position in the Middle East due to fears that I would fail a drug test.  Having tainted urine or blood would have landed me in prison for four years.  This test popped up on me.  In my job interview a month ago I was told that they would be testing for HIV and other communicable diseases but not dope.  After firing off a few emails earlier this week I found out that narcotics would be looked for and I withdrew my teacher status. 

The interesting thing is that marijuana stays in your system longer than hard drugs.  There is no strict timeline as to how long weed stays around in your body - it depends on factors like body weight, how often you exercise, what your intake is - but it could be up to ninety days.  Hard drugs do not stay in the human body for nearly as long.  When viewed this way it almost seems as if drug testing is a kind of class warfare.

Who smokes pot?  It is the most affordable of all drugs so it tends to be lower to middle income people who indulge.  Who does coke?  Higher income individuals since it is costly and affords a short term high that must be maintained by constant bumps.  Yet the irony is that traces of the harder drug stays in the human body for a far shorter time period than marijuana. 

Consider too the behaviour of people who take these narcotics.  The worst thing that a pothead can do is drive a car while stoned or stay up late watching movies and eating junkfood.  What does a cokehead get up to?  I cannot say based on personal experience but from hearing stories I have learned that cocaine does agitate people, encourage alcohol consumption, and lead to more aggressive behaviours. 

Which drug is more harmful to society and individuals?  Why does it appear to me that this is another case of the rich - business owners and bueraucrats who give the tests - going after the non-rich?

August 7th, 2009

on sunglasses

Sleepy Rhino
Today has been a lazy one.  I will look back on this post in a few months and say, "Man, I should have been a bit more active that day, wasting the prime of an Ontario summer."  Oh well.  When folks are busy working it is difficult to find interesting things to do.

So lazy day means a lazy post and one thing that struck me at the beach last night is how I don't like talking to people while wearing sunglasses.  Any time I chat with someone outside on a sunny day I always lift my lenses to show my eyes.  I think there is something honest and sincere about making eye contact so it bothers me when folks talk back behind darkened, obscured eyes.  It makes me question the authenticity of the speaker and think, "Geez, what is this guy hiding?"  It is just another pet peeve of mine and a reminder to always make people feel important when conversing with them; there is no better way to do so then by showing your eyes, in my opinion.

August 5th, 2009

tying up some loose ends

Sleepy Rhino

I feel as if I have finally gotten some closure over leaving Taiwan.  On June 30th, when I left the country for summer vacation in Canada, customs officials at Taoyuan Airport in Taipei stopped me.  When I did not present the requested Alien Resident Card they fined me $240 Canadian and put a stamp on my passport saying I could not return to Taiwan for one year.  The worst part of the deal was traveling home alone afterwards for twenty-six hours with the knowledge that my secure August job had vanished into thin air.

My school began the appeals process and my contact wrote that it would be a "miracle" if I could get back into the country this year.  So I went about my business and found another teaching job, this one in Abu Dhabi, which starts at the end of this month.  In the meantime my school in Taiwan bumbled along and nobody provided me with any information for the month of July, with the exception of a brief phone call and two short emails.  I thought the ruling would stand.

However, it was overturned and I received an email from my contact two days ago saying that they looked forward to my return.  Too late though, as I had signed a contract a week prior to make my move to Abu Dhabi official.  The interesting thing is that my school still does not understand my situation.  My contact wrote a few platitudes about me as a teacher and how important I am to the school family, blah blah blah, and then simply suggested that I go to the consulate in Toronto to begin my documentation.  Now, bureaucrats are difficult to deal with at the best of times but my school was asking me to proceed with the original plan even though I'd been kicked out of the country.  It would be funny were there not other foreign teachers working at my previous school right now.

I do not think they know what they are doing there.  For instance, my boss called me about a week ago to confirm that I was not returning.  When I said that there was too much risk involved on my behalf she asked if my cousin, freshly minted out of teacher`s college, would like a job!  I felt like saying, "You expect me to recommend your school to family when you messed up the basic paperwork needed to work there?  Are you simple or do you just think that all Westerners are?"

So it is that my time there has wrapped up.  It has not concluded in a fashion that I like but, as I am learning, rarely does that happen in life.  Instead we are left with loose ends all over the place and it is our own duty to tie these up in the best way we know how. 

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