December 30, 2005

Year-end greetings

So little time and so much to do, sigh...! I checked my to-do list in Yahoo Calendar finding that I had got more than 20 things to do for the days to come. I think I have to make my new year's resolution into a long list.

A good news of mine is returning to Xin Zhu again, while I am not there for any cram school courses this time; I am going to teach somewhere at the science park, which is definitely a new challenge to me. The program will run about three months or so, and one biggest problem is whether I should drive down there by my own car or just take the public transportations.

The science park is actually just a jump from the highway ramp though, I wonder if there will be any highway bus stations over there. I am kind of reluctant to take my own set of wheels paying the toll for four times in all-- two for the south bound and the rest for the north bound. Hey ...listen up, I just wish to save up a little. Would you try and be in my shoes please? No offense guys.

The year of 2005 is going to fade. Aren't you craving to take part in the new year countdown tomorrow night? It's gonna be more exciting than last year if you've ever gone to the previous fireworks display at the Taipei 101. Whatever you will be doing at the year end, I just wish you all a happy new year!!

December 29, 2005

Repost: Love -- by Bruce Lin

When Carl was 2, his mother read him children's stories before tucking him in. Then he was too young to understand anything about the stories, but he liked it. The mother's voice was better than any lullabies.

The mother often had tons of workload in the office and needed to continue to work after office hours. She was always exhausted when it was around 10 o'clock at night, but reading Carl stories was the last job in a day – and also the most important, however silly those children's stories were.

Gradually, those words from the mother lips started to take shape in various forms – castles, forests, monsters, unicorns, princesses, witches… – a wonderland was thus created by the mother and it drifted into Carl's dreams every night.

Carl is 10 now and he loves to read. Reading is such a major part in his life that he can't sleep without doing some reading. He knows that there are more than just castles or monsters hidden in sheets of paper.

Many parents think money can buy their children knowledge. It can't always. Love can.

*Carl is not his real name.

December 27, 2005

Hillary for 2008

People said that Hillary is making a bid for the presidency in 2008. If she is, she will be the "first" first lady becoming the first female president in the United States. Unlike other men who are not big on the idea of her, I am always of the opinion that women will be on top and show the men how things should be run in the world. Hillary has what it takes to become a president. I heard that she comes from a strict family that had instilled determination into her from an early age. Therefore, she had strived to be a different person since her childhood.

She has been pro-choice and support women's right. A recent poll showed that 60% of Americans think it is high time for a female president. If she runs for it, she does it just in the nick of time.

However, it goes without saying that in her future she will definitely be faced with lots of challenges from her Republican challengers. She has many skeletons in her closet such as the scandals during the Clinton Administration. It has been a controversy whether she should be the one to blame for standing by her husband. Everything she did will be under a microscope whatsoever. To win over her rivals will be a tough nut to crack.

December 26, 2005

Repost: Barriers to English (1) – Fear -- by Bruce Lin

I once met a French guy who told me that he did not like to talk to some Taiwanese whose English was not good. Wait a minute, I thought, This guy's English had a strong French accent and was very difficult to understand, and he complained about our people's English! And he taught English!!

Another time, I was talking to a Japanese client over the phone. The connection of the phone line was good but something did not seem right. The client talked on and on and on in his Japanese-accented English – and the way he spoke made me question my English ability. Wait a minute, I'd been studying English hard and now this guy seemed to force me to adjust my English to suit his Japanese – or Japanese English, for that matter. And, why did he sound so confident? Where was that confidence from?

Most students I met, on the other hand, fear English. Likewise, it is a big question as to where the fear is from. The statement “My English is not good” is being heard over and over again, and it has become tiring to hear it. It sounds like asking for people's pity. Normally, you get it when asking for it.

But, just for a minute, and for the so many minutes that will follow, let's pretend our English is good. Think of the two great pretenders I met – the Frenchman and Japanese – who showed no fear when they talked; they didn't give a damn; they simply expressed. So when we speak, try to speak with force; when we write, write with ease, regardless of our English proficiency. You don't need to have good English to do so; no one does. With time, that pretending will become reality.


December 24, 2005

Just wanna say....

Merry Xmas!!

December 22, 2005

A sample letter

Dear grandpa,

How's everyhing going? The season changes so fast, so it is getting colder and colder now. Being the dearest granddaughter of you, I would suggest you dress more lest you should come down with a cold.

I read in the newspaper the other day that the elderlys should be more careful when rising in the early morning. They are more likely to suffer from a stroke if they get out of bed too fast. I am beloved of you, so I really care about you and your health. You should always have a normal nightly schedule. Don't eat too much meat. If you do, go for something healthful as well. Green vegetables, fruit, more water, and just to name a few, will keep you in good shape at times. In any case, we should always do things to keep ourselves fit and healthy.

Christmas is around the corner, so here I wish you a merry Chistmas and happy new year!!

Lovely yours,


lest (conj.) 以免
come down with 生病
rise 起床
be likely to 有可能會
suffer from 受苦於
be beloved of 被愛
nightly routine/ schedule 作息
fit and healthy 健康

December 21, 2005

Repost: Energy Flow -- by Bruce Lin

I have this writing course in which students read for 90 minutes and use 30 minutes to write their reflections on what they read. I don't care what they write, as long as they write.

During the writing session, the students, especially Mark*, would ask me how to spell certain words. One time he didn't ask me any spelling questions; he just buried himself in the desk and I could see his pen running fast on the paper – the pen virtually led him. Suddenly, Mark rose from his seat, charged toward me, and shot out his hand giving me his writing, his face pumping red. “That was fast,” I said to him. It was not just fast; it was a lot. Normally, it takes a student about 30 minutes to come up with a half-page; there Mark gave me two full pages in 20 minutes.

Mark wrote about his recent breakup with his childhood sweetheart – so recent that it happened only a few hours earlier. He went to her school to pick her up but there she suggested splitting up, saying things like “you are too good for me” and “It’s nobody's fault,” the kind of lines we are all too familiar with from third-rate TV soap operas. Helpless and powerless, he didn't know how to react. Mark went home, lay down, and tried to understand the situation. It wasn't easy. He rose and started to dial, but the phone was not answered. He continued to dial and dial and dial…until the girl's phone was out of power from the constant ringing. Mark rushed out of his place heading straight to her campus to look for her, but she was not in the library; she was not in the gym; she was not in the restaurant; she was not in the dorm. Mark kept running, sweat mixing with tears. It was hell.

He concluded his writing with a climax – he finally spotted her riding on another guy's motorbike, holding onto him tightly. “It was a strange feeling,” Mark wrote.

Grammatical mistakes aside, Mark's writing was, mama, at full throttle. Every word was jumping and charged with high voltage. There was so much energy in it that there was no escaping it. Reading it was like reading Apple Daily. Actually, it was better than 10 Apple Daily articles combined. I told Mark that the writing was very good. He looked at me, spacing out, unaware that he had just done a good work.

Mark didn't come to the class in the following week. One month later, he showed up with a smile and said hello to other students. It seemed he was back to his normal self. He told me that he just had a 3-week vacation in Hawaii. I asked him: “Is everything okay now?” “Everything is fine,” said Mark, his face beaming.

*Mark is not his real name.

December 19, 2005

Notice for all

As I noted that less and less of you are willing to pay a visit to my personal Web site:, I decided to go for some changes on it. I deleted some of the contents which can't draw your attention to it, such as "about me", "online resources", etc. What has been left now is the "Daily learning" part which I still think useful for everyone. One the other hand, it will be easier for me to maintain the site that way.

Steve has posted his first article on this BLOG. I can't thank him enough for his help. It may seem too long to finish reading it in a snap, but please be patient. His work is worth a reading.

Last but not the least, does anyone who can advise me of the following question?
What are the things that can represent Taiwan best, but not weighed more than 2 kilograms?
I am currently working on a secret project, so your opinion is highly prized. Thank you very much.

December 18, 2005

Repost: The Beautiful Woman -- by Bruce Lin

When we first met, she spread out a big piece of paper on the desk with the song lyrics of "Smoke Gets in Your Eye" she transcribed earlier and wanted me to read those lines for her. Every word she wrote down was as big as a giant beetle: they were big and clearly written. Then, she took out an antique recorder and awkwardly pressed the "record" button, and I started to read those lyrics for her. In the MP3 era, it's neat to see people using this old gadget.

She became a regular in my class. She raised questions, took notes, and read English out loud in class. Her pronunciation was not correct yet every word was loud. From time to time, she would operate her little machine to record class sessions. Those tick-tick sounds of the machine showed so much of her urge to learn.

Sometimes she complained that the words in the class handouts were too small. That's easy; I just augmented the font size of the words and printed the handouts for her again. With font size 36, every word looked bigger even than her "Smoke Gets in Your Eyes" handwriting; they were now big enough to be "exploding in your face." She was happy.

She told me she wanted to talk to her great-grandson when he came back from the US. The boy loved her, but there seemed to be a little communication problem. “This year will be different!” She said.

Somehow people stop learning when they pass certain age, as if learning is responsibility of the young. Many do nothing but watch TV all day long after they retire; they are often labeled as “couch potatoes” – I think “couch zombies” is more like it. She was different; that fire was still burning in her eyes, and would continue to blaze for quite some time. Wasn't she a beautiful woman? She IS THE beautiful woman.


December 16, 2005

Better Late Than Never

Surprise! Surprise! I finally find the time to post to the blog. Unfortunately, I have the time because I am sick with a severe cold and have to quarantine myself from my family. With nothing to do in the locked bedroom (well, actually I am supposed to clean up this messy room, but I am just too lazy to do it. After all, I am weak with a cold!) I thought ranting on how miserable I am would be the best way to spend time. Plus, this posting will double my blog from one article to two. Hey, it’s better late than never!

Come to think of it, I am always miserable in the month of November and December. While others are in happy mood to welcome the holiday season and the New Year, I am dreadful for experiencing yet another "it's the tradition" crap put together by merchants. According to the "tradition," there are turkeys to roast, cards to mail, stocking to stuff and trees to cut, but benefiting who? What would we gain by upholding the "tradition?"

Take, for example, Thanksgiving. It was supposed to be a day celebrating the generosity of indigenous American (or commonly known as Indians) to the pilgrims for helping and teaching pilgrims surviving the harsh winter in North America. However, as history has shown, many years later pilgrims returned the ultimate favor by conducting genocide against Indians and grabbing most of their land.

Fast forward to today. Many countries around the world now celebrate thanksgiving as well. But have you noticed that people from these countries now think that Thanksgiving is a day to "give thanks to ... (you fill in the blank)" and not really knowing the origin of day nor the dire consequence Indians suffered after they landed a helping hand to their new neighbors fresh off the boat from Europe? I thought thanks should be given on a daily basis to everyone around you who help you have a better day or help the world to be a better place to live. People deserve more than one day to be thanked!

What about Thanksgiving dinner? Don't even get me started. Americans have turkey for Thanksgiving because turkey is a native game bird. It was one of the primary poultry available in North America. It is understandable that pilgrim did it then. There were not that many other animals to come around. However, with the availability of a variety selection on food, why should the turkey be singled out to be slaughtered for the day? Who should turkey thank for the atrocity? Furthermore, what in the hack does the rest of the world also eat turkey on this day? I can live with the "tradition" claim that Americans wants to make, but Asians and Europeans? C'mon, are you in Asia and Europe really that gullible and willing to buy in the "tradition" presented to you by the American poultry farms? Eat a cob of corn for the sake of the bird and you will have one more soul to thank you on this holiday.

Of course, December comes with the Christmas. I have no bone to pick with the bona fide Christians to celebrate the birth of Christ. But I do not think Christ would agree with the merchants taking his birthday as a marketing vehicle to sell, sell, sell. If you are like a Franciscan Priest, buying gifts to distribute to the poor (now this is actually what Santa Clause is all about), then you have all my respect and my comment in this entry is not directed to you. However, if you are buying gift for friends and family just to celebrate (and please this time to reflect what exactly are you celebrating about), then I suggest you to do it on a more meaningful day - say on a birthday or an anniversary. On Christmas, instead of wasting money on buying gifts that can be bought after Christmas at half price (yep, I already heard the buzz about the big post Christmas sale at Macy's), spread your love, buy toys and books for the poor and disadvantaged children, or buy clothes for the poor and serve a meal at a homeless shelter. Now, that is a meaning way to celebrate Christ's birthday.

Try not to cut down too many trees by not having a Christmas tree or sending Christmas card for a change. The mother earth will thank you. Instead, call your friends on a regular basis instead of sending them a card once a year. Human relations are built upon trust and closeness, not the once a year card sending protocol.

I just realized that it is too late for me to send out any card to long lost acquaintances and have them receive cards before Christmas. Well, I guess I will search through my piles of old cards to see if I can recycle some of them. It is better late than never.

December 14, 2005

MIT or foreign-made?

The year-end shopping season has been on for weeks. This time I decide to pick up a digital camera for the family. What? Isn't that right? Haven't I got a digital one yet? No, and that is for sure. Now I am about to choose one that is within my budget limit. I maintain the thought that it can't be neither expensive nor inexpensive. The truth is, I don't wish to afford one that will badly hit my pocket, or the one that has insufficient performance in operation due to its low price.

Anyhow, I am trying to be in the market of the one with the max photo quality at about 5 or 6 Megs, whose price ranges from 5000 NT to 8000 NT. There're indeed some models that meet my demand, but here comes the other question -- should I get a MIT, a.k.a. made in Taiwan, or a Japanese fancy stuff? Comparing with the differences of the two products, I found that they can't compare. Most of the Japanese stuff are oriented around the so-called high-end products such as SONY, Panasonic, Nikon, Canon, etc. While the cameras made by the local manufactures are reckoned to be at the low-end level.

Since Taiwan has been doing as a OEM for other name-brand manufacturers in the world for decades, I tend to give them some credits now. One of my students told me that he just got a BanQ camera for 5000 NT from the computer show last week. He said he felt ok while using the camera and surprised by the stability of it. So, it isn't a bad idea to be a patriot now. Here we go! Acer, Premier and BenQ.

December 13, 2005

Repost: Mistakes -- by Bruce Lin

Josh* was in the reading room reading a thick book. There were other kids in the same room playing computer games or chatting, but Josh didn't seem to get bothered. I went over to him and found that he was reading the English version of “Harry Potter and the Goblet of Fire,” the fourth installment of the Harry Potter series. It was surprising. However popular Harry Potter was, it was difficult even for an adult to read, and Josh was only 8. Curious, I asked Josh if he could understand the book. He said: “Well…just some…”He blushed. I pointed at some words on the page to know if Josh knew them, and he either shook his head or guessed them wrong. Finally, I pointed at “reckon” and Josh replied: “Maybe…it means ‘think.’”Josh was right this time, though he was not so sure.

It's easy to make out the situation: Josh focused on the words he knew – rather than whining on the words he didn't know – to make sense of the Harry Potter story.As I had just learned, it's unlikely that Josh would know most of the words in the book. However, those few words he knew gave him enough clues to somewhat brighten up the story.

On the other hand, many adults – especially smarter ones – often complain that there are too many words in English; they have this preoccupation that it's important to know many words in order to read.Probably those unknown words in a text make them feel insecure and reading becomes repulsive. In the end, they end up reading very little because of the fear. Uncertainties stop them from moving forward.

I don't know what that is, but there must be something in the society that educates people to limit their perceptions – maybe it is the unacceptability of mistakes. In the competitive business world, a tiny human error can cause an unrecoverable disaster.

But reading is a different matter. Imagine reading as an adventure in which you will never get punished for making mistakes – and those mistakes are important stepping stones for you to climb higher and to explore more. Josh was only 8 and knew little; he could only use his imagination to guess the part he did not understand when reading Harry Potter. I don't think he was some kind of child prodigy; he simply had no fear of the unknown – his na鴳e curiosity was not yet polluted by the adult rationality. To be sure, he might understand only very little from the book, but his attitude in learning was already better than most adults. He did not complain that he did not know this or that word when reading.

Because he did not know how to.

*Josh is not his real name.

December 11, 2005

Sleeping with grandma

Brian and I hold the following conversation one night:


"What's up, Brian?"

"Could you do me a favor?"

"What is that, son?"

"Hmm...I just want to tell you....I am afraid of sleeping alone."

"Son, you have to sleep by yourself. You've grown since you were out of the the kindergarten."

"But...I'm just so frightened when I sleep."

"Why do you think so? What makes you be afraid of?"

"I am just afraid of....the dark."

"I know that, so I always turn the little light on, right?"

"But..I am still scared."

"Actually, you don't sleep alone most of time. Grandma is always here with you."


"Come on. Be a big boy now. I know you can do it."

Minutes later..


"Now what?"

"I just came up with a good idea."

"What is that?"

"You sleep with grandma and I sleep with mom. Let's have an exchange."


December 09, 2005

Long time no see, Sir.

Guess what? I was running into an old acquaintance of mine on the street the evening before while returning to the cram school for the following night class.

We passed by each other in the first place. I caught his eye and felt like I must have seen this guy somewhere before. He might also have got the same feeling by the way he looked at me. We stood there for few seconds, and suddenly I realized that I was kind of knowing who he was-- someone I knew back to my life in the military. He was the Fu-Dao-Zhang, the officer in the army as a right-hand man for the company commander. It had been an entire fourteen years since I last saw him. Though we were not in the same company, sometimes we needed to meet each other for duties distribution for the division.

He told me he was still an officer but no longer served in army camp- he worked as a Jiao Guan in school, which meant he was in charge of students' security and activities on campus. He must regulate their behaviors to prevent them from getting off the track in their school lives. I told him how I had been doing these days and the school I taught was a jump from where we met. In any case, I feel so happy seeing him last night. That was exactly a coincidence.

December 08, 2005

Iron -- by Bruce Lin

When we first met, Paul* told me that he knew nothing about English. I thought he was being modest. Later I found out he was simply being honest.

Paul was chief of a government organization overseeing more than a hundred staff. Busy as he was, he had never learned English and never needed to. But that, of course, was then. He told me that gradually he was being “confined” by his subordinates who more or less knew some English. He felt belittled when English was needed. “It’s like putting myself in a house without windows,” he said.

Paul was in his early 60s, and teaching him English was unlike teaching a young kid. My first challenge came when helping him to pronounce the alphabet, but his iron lips make pronunciation learning difficult: for hours of our first lessons, he couldn’t even pronounce sounds like [v] or [z], no matter how hard I tried. This is not gonna work, I thought.

But Paul also had an iron will. He knew he had to kick those learning barriers; otherwise, they would kick him. Paul listened to the English CDs every day trying to imitate those sounds. The second week I saw Paul, he sounded like a different person. One month and four classes later, he already learned all the phonetic symbols. Those sounds he pronounced were struggling to get out, but they were about right.

I noticed that to Paul studying English was not like studying; it was more like breathing, breathing the air that had long been missing. After the English alphabet, he started to learn simple words like “cat” or “book” – he was slowly opening up the window to breathe.

Now I am teaching Paul simple sentences such as “This is a computer” or “Today is Monday.” He awkwardly recites those sentences over and over again, seven days a week. He reads English before going to bed, and he has English dreams full of those sentences.

Still a long way to go and Paul knows it. But he believes that he is able to communicate in English in 4 months. That does not sound too far-fetched, considering the iron will he has. A man of determination, you know, is capable of anything.

*Paul is not his real name.

December 07, 2005

older or elder?

Yesterday a student of mine had a question for me: when saying "my older brother" or "my elder brother", which is better?

Elder is a comparative form, which means the elder of two people, especially brothers and sisters, is the one who was born first. See the following sentence:

My elder brother always finds faults with what I did.
I am the elder of the two.

However, it is more usual to say older. In such case, elder can be replaced with older.

My older brother always finds faults with what I did.
I am the older of the two.

December 06, 2005

That ain't right.

I found that I have made a big mistake when instructing people to use "as follows". It is used to introduce a list of things that you will mention next. Here are the sentences I made:

SARS used to break out in Taiwan a couple of years ago. It had claimed many people's lives throughout the island during its raging. To prevent us from getting SARS, my suggestions are as follows: wearing a mask all the time, cleaning your hands before eating, taking your temperature on a regular basis, etc.

Please note that you have to use "follows" instead of "follow" to indicate many things in the passage. Let me apologize again for the mistake I made earlier in my classes. Sorry about that.

December 05, 2005

Repost: Violent Joe's 3 Percent -- by Bruce Lin

On the typhoon day, let’s meet a 14-year-old typhoon boy Joe.

Joe looked stupid, but he wasn't. When Joe sat there in the class, it seemed the purpose was simply to sit there: his eyes were wide-open, but his mind was obviously setting somewhere else, wherever that was.

But sometimes, maybe 3% of the time, probably on a whim, Joe was suddenly attentive and asking me questions, and I would grab those precious moments to answer them. He could understand conjunctions or make sense of subordinate clauses in a matter of minutes. When Joe was quick, he could be really quick.

One day, Joe's father came to the cram school and peeped through the classroom window; there he saw Joe was spacing out again. Joe's father was furious. After the class, right in front of everybody, he scolded Joe for not being attentive in the English class and for wasting the tuition fee he paid. Joe didn't take it well; he doubled the volume and yelled back – he was virtually screaming at his father, saying things like his father's inconsideration and all that. The father's face turned blank. He turned around, got out of the school, and got in his car. Joe, still shouting and yelling hysterically, was one step behind. He went over and kicked his father's BMW repeatedly like a piece of junk. Not saying a word, the father just drove away, leaving Joe there crying and screaming, with tears smeared all over his face. We teachers and students were puzzled by the scene.

Other students told me that this happened a lot. It always started with the father's criticism to Joe, and Joe would get offended easily, but the situation had never got so out of hand. Of course, gossips about the father being powerless or Joe reckless followed. I don't know; maybe Joe was tired of never getting credit for any progress he had made.

Shortly afterward, I was at the bus stop. Joe walked toward me. He looked calm now.

"Weijen…I…can you lend me some change to take a bus?"
"So, you didn't get in your father's car." I struggled through my pocket for coins and gave him 15 dollars.
"I need only 10…I have some too. Here." He returned me the 5 dollars.
"Boy, next time…don't shout at your father in public,” I said, “do that at home." Joe gave me a bitter smile.

His bus came, he hopped on the bus and off it went. He did not say "bye bye" to me; he was not in the mood to say "thank you" either.

I don't understand. Did Joe have to make such a scene in front of everybody just because of his father's negative remark? Did it matter that much that Joe had to stay attentive in class all the time? If Joe didn't learn English well, so what? No big deal, really; life goes on. Joe still had that 3 percent of time paying attention. The percentage should increase when he gets older. It will.


*Joe is not his real name.

December 02, 2005

Son in father's eyes

Brian is six and half years old now and I still remember he was two when we moved back here from the States. He can't remember a thing about his life before two. When our friends found out that he was born overseas, they always thought that our son was able to use English well. Yet, he doesn't fit that stereotype of an ABC, America Born Chinese. Frankly, I don't even teach him any English words, not to mention him speaking to me in it.

Why not this way? That's the second question followed. Well, on the one hand, I am not in a hurry to do so at this point, because I have got the merit of being a teacher myself. On the other hand, I don't really want him to be under any pressure in learning, especially kids like his age don't even understand why they are at school now.

He should focus on learning his native language to begin with. That's the first thing first that I hope he can do well. To tell you something, when he handed me the first test result of the Bo-Po-Mo-Fo, the Mandarin Chinese phonetic symbols, I was so dumbstruck to see the score -- 69 only. He doesn't seem to know how much these test scores mean to him as he being in the first grade only. What can I say?

December 01, 2005

Reposted: Yosemite at Tiffany's -- by Bruce Lin

Tiffany told me that she started learning English when she was 13, and that was also the year she first read National Geographic magazine (國家地理雜誌).

Of course she couldn't read the magazine then; she couldn't even understand simple English. But she was so drawn into those beautiful pictures of Yosemite National Park (優勝美地國家公園) in the magazine that it seemed the size of her heart mattered more than did her ability. She looked up all those words one by one in a dictionary. After one month, she finished the article. She only had faint idea of what the article said; a brilliant start nevertheless.

Pretty soon, those school grammar books could not satisfy her curiosity; she had to go to bookstores to find other books. While other students were struggling with English, Tiffany just wanted to know more through the language, however ineffectively. At 16, she entered Taipei First Girl High School without much trouble, as she did Department of Foreign Languages and Literatures of National Taiwan University 3 years later.

Now, Tiffany, an English teacher, is in her early 50s. She has published many books on English learning and owns a small English school. I met Tiffany only once at a friend's company and the conversation last for about 30 minutes.

If there were no Yosemite National Park or National Geographic magazine for Tiffany, there were still English tests, pushy teachers or parents, but, to be sure, they would not be as effective as the attractions of Yosemite.

Would it be nice if everyone could, intentionally or accidentally, find his or her own Yosemite as early as possible?

*Tiffany is not her real name.