a few words about miss chelsea elizabeth...

she likes: making kites, dancing in the rain, adventures, little-while friends, letters, whole-leaf tea, crayons, bare feet, jumping in rivers/streams/creeks/waterfalls, language, catching the clock as it changes numbers, sleepovers, trains (big or small), cuddling & waking up before the sun rises, among other random things.

oregon-born, seattle-raised, bellingham-bred and franco-refined, she had moved back to the states from her affairs across the atlantic & now resides in columbia city with french husband & love of her life rémy. they spend most of their time taming the garden, taking care of their three chickens & two cats, and preparing the urban homestead for a new little chick of their own.

Saturday, July 7, 2007


i asked you never to contact me again. i haven/t had any problems until this dream you orchestrated. i woke up & felt. i felt. anything. for the first time in a long long time.

i feel numb. or maybe numb isn/t the right word. motionless. emotionless. life has been this blurred dream for the past three or four months. like a watercolour i spent years creating. layer upon layer upon layer. & then i hung it on the wall to dry & all the colours bled. & now it/s just a mess of runny blues and greens intermixed with purples and reds, all rust & mud in streaks down the wall.

like trying to run in a dream. that/s how i feel in taiwan. my limbs too heavy to move. the air too heavy to breathe in. stuck. just trying to stay alive is exhausting.

we wake. the sun rises so early here, the streets fill so quickly with sound. until mid-afternoon, when the heat gets too unbearable, it/s difficult to distinguish the time. i assume it/s early, but it/s not. eleven thirty. it/s been months since i/ve slept in that late. granted, i probably fell asleep around four a.m., so it/s somewhat excuseable. this is my first day off in what feels like a very long time. it feels good to be home. in tainan. to sleep on my own mat. funny how quickly our definition of "home" changes.

taipei. how to describe my past week... there/s something about taipei that just makes you want to steal. something in the air, perhaps. the smog. the incessant buzz of scooters & honking of horns, the swerving of taxis & the begging. or the heat. maybe it/s the heat. the humidity.

in taiwan, you sweat more than you thought humanly possible.

danshui was pleasant. the most beautiful campus i/ve ever seen. we stayed in "the white house." upstairs. downstairs was an overpriced cafe that sold mediocre food. i know this because we were to have dinner with the principal of our school on thursday. he had missed the opening ceremony so it was to be his treat. he didn/t show.

my first day teaching was the most challenging day of my life. i cried. a lot. dance teacher. i/m the peppy american dance teacher. i spent hours choreographing a dance. they love cheer & they love pop music. so i made a cheery, poppy dance to a britney song. day one. first period after lunch. i do the dance. blank stares. deer in headlights. not to mention the first half of the day was pulling teeth & saving face until almost all of me had disintigrated.

i hate the education system here. they desensitize & deindividualize each class until almost nothing distinguishable remains. they all wear plain, oversized, cheaply made, probably overpriced uniforms. the girls wear pleated skirts & grey shirts. the boys slacks & polos. all the girls have knee-socks & side-swept bangs. a student said it best. he was trying to guess my age.
-twenty-five, he guessed.
-no way.
-no way, he continued.
a look of genuine astonishment. so you/re only four years older than me? he asked.
-looks like it.
-but... he paused. but you seem so much older. his tone changed. anger. frustration. he raised his voice, drawing attention. everyone here, he continued, everyone here looks so young. even adults! even adults here get mistaken for kids sometimes! but everyone in america looks so... here everyone looks the same. everyone. all the girls look like... like little dolls! but you, you look... so mature. like an adult. each person is their own beautiful person. not like here. where everyone looks so much alike there is no beautiful anymore.
-why? why do you think that is?
-because that/s what they teach us here! they teach us to all be the same! they force us to! i mean, look, even what we wear has to be the same! they make us all wear the same plain drab uniforms. & eventually we lose our individuality. if we even ever had it.

he continued. about how everyone is scared to act out in any way. to be different. to be isolated. to be recognized. to be distinguished. which is why when the teacher asks a question no one raises their hand. no one will volunteer for activities or for responses. asking them to write down one interesting thing about themselves for an icebreaker activity is like pulling teeth & at the end you have twenty-three scraps of paper with "i/m seventeen" and the occasional "i like music." in the end you have to prostrate yourself in front of them for eight hours a day and your reward is when one student kindof almost maybe half-smiles.

which is why on the first day, during dance period, i couldn/t handle it. no one would even move. deer in headlights. insecure, shit-scared. more awkwardness saran wrapped into one moment than thought possible. and after i had unsuccessfully attempted to teach a dance, a cheer, part of a dance, a dance move & a chant, i figured we could just have a dance party to kill the rest of the time. until we looked at the clock and realized we still had thirty minutes left. thirty. meaning i had only used up twenty minutes. i was sweating profusely, i had just prostrated myself in front of twenty-eight hormone-ridden pubescent taiwanese teens, and i was out of ideas. & that/s when one little realization made everything clear as crystal: i was in hell.

it was one of those inevitabilities. eventually it would be evening & i would be in my makeshift bedroom, sweating buckets & dreaming of things we take for granted in the states, like breatheable air & unmelted chocolate & otter pops. but the worst part was that even after this painful painful period was finished, i had another one to go. a second hour of dance. and i had no idea how getting through another hour of dance was humanly possible. so i did the best thing i could do in the situation: i went to the bathroom & cried uncontrollably.

the rest of the week. progressively better. each day became the most challenging day, but also the most rewarding. by the end of the week it was clear that i was the favourite teacher. that i was the best teacher. & that my students had learned the most. granted, the students had been divided up by language level. i didn/t have the worst. i didn/t have the ones who didn/t speak a word of english. but i didn/t have the best, either. i had the intermediate kids. & i was damn proud of the progress they made.

i/m so tired. this heat exhausts me. more later, i promise. but for now i would give my right hand for a cold beer & air conditioning. this is my mission for the night.

i leave again tomorrow. for a homestay. for a new school. i will miss my first class. they were something else.

i miss sleeping next to you. i miss having someone to touch. i can/t read anyone/s eyes here. & it makes me nervous. & the light from the city keep me from seeing the night sky. i/ve lost my bearings. i need your little dipper to ground me.


Anonymous said...

Ah, the blessing and the curse of awareness (seeing how the outfits impact the student’s individuality and the perception of their age and maturity) - forgive the religious reference - odd for me to use this, but it is so apt. Dear Chelsea, you have a fierce intelligence and keen powers of observation which afford you insights that frequently escape others. A blessing - you will be ahead of the curve on what is happening; a curse - you will know what is going on.

Gma Jan

isthisallthereis? said...

Another nicely written account of your journeys. Hang in there. Someday you will be so glad that you were able to have these experiences. I swear you will.

Anonymous said...

Comme je désire d'être là dans ta chambre en Tainan quand tu rentres de tes cours pour te prendre dans mes bras et te calmer... Je lis tes expériences avec beaucoup d'intérêt et je ne peux guère attendre le moment quand ton prochain histoire commencera avec "Finally in Hamburg!" :-P

Dein dich vermissender Anthony

Natalie said...

*hugs* for bad days :(
but i know you will survive and in the end win over everybody's hearts. that's what you do, overcome adversity against all odds. because you have amazing strength, and i have never seen you fail to do something you've set yourself to. don't know if that makes you feel better..but i love you and miss you so so much.


Natalie said...

p.s. i've made it safely to scotland.
holy shit.
but i'm now much closer to see you when you're in france :)

Debra said...

houla! c'est qui l'allemand, j'espere qu'il est beau gosse héhé. Qu'est-ce que tu me manques ma belle! J'aime bien lire ton blog, c'est mon seul plaisir puisque je ne peux pas voir ton joli visage devant moi :) Un jour très bientot, on vivera an france ensemble et on fera chavirer tous les coeurs des français - entre toi et moi ca ne pourrait pas être trop difficile, non? je t'aime bcp chouchou gros bisous de ta petite ricaine xox

Anonymous said...

I love the story about the boy (still a boy, though he's older than me) - that is the thing we write stories of but never experience... the honesty of a stranger, perfect...