Cheerless Perspective

I can’t understand why people still read this weblog. I mean, it is so full of doom-and-gloom that I don’t believe it would be interesting to anyone. However, some diehard readers have sent me email, letting me know that they’re still reading my entries here. It isn’t my goal, but this entry should be the final nail in the coffin and serve to lose all of them. I appreciate all the words of encouragement that I’ve received, and I think that through reading my weblog entries, some people have come to understand me better than some of the family members and closest friends. However, a lot of things have been brewing up inside of me for a while, and I am set to make the mother of all negative weblog entries now. Nobody has the desire to read about a lot of depressing notions. Besides, I am confident that this will turn out to be an extremely long entry and will undoubtedly bore the pants off of anyone attempting to read it.

As I stated, I’ve had a lot of inner angst lately. I use the word “lately” liberally here, for this pervasive sadness has accompanied me for several years. I can’t remember a time when I was happy for very long. Yes, there were moments, like when my sons were born, but no long, drawn-out periods of great bliss. For the most part, each day has been worse than the day preceding it. I have a lot to be thankful for certainly. I tend to look at the cup as being half empty rather than half full.

Last summer’s happening is a perfect example of this. That is when I found myself without a job. I had been working as a high school teacher for five years at Chih-yung High School in Dajia. The high school is a mere 15-minute drive from my home in Cingshuei. Although the high school is at the lowest-possible academic level (i.e., anyone can enter, regardless of their high school entrance test scores), I tolerated it, choosing to focus on improving my techno-skills in presenting multimedia lessons to the students with the latest gadgetry. I was fortunate to have a reasonably modern listening lab as my classroom, complete with headsets, monitors, and testing consoles for all the students. I strived to use the latest electronic presentation means I could get my hands on to incorporate in my teaching. As time went on, I learned a lot about the various media I was using and felt at ease using it in my classroom. I felt very positive about the things I was doing. It came as a big surprise at the end of last school year, when I was notified that my contract would not be renewed for the next school year. The shock of that news stressed me out immensely.

Friends and family members tried to convince me that it was a good thing. I can’t tell you how many times people told me the “one door closes; another door opens” line. However, I couldn’t get past the unfairness of the whole thing. In my mind, I had been a very good teacher there. The school administration had never had a problem with me.

On the contrary, I was given high-praise various times during my time there. No reason was provided to me as to why I wasn’t welcome there for the sixth year of teaching. It was just told to me that the Principal (and part-owner of the school) ordered it to be that way. At the time, there was one other foreign teacher there. He did not return the next school year, either. However, it was by choice that he didn’t return, opting instead to return to his homeland of New Zealand. In the next school year, only one foreign teacher worked there. I don’t know how the school felt about him, but suspect he was probably treated equally as bad, too.

The things I had to deal with at Chih-yung were troubling. Much of it led to my belief that there is racism in Taiwan. I could find no other answer to the questions that arose as to why that school mistreated me like that. From the beginning, the administration there treated us as inferior employees, choosing not to involve us in every teacher meeting and social event. We were not monitored in the least. I could have been teaching Portuguese, instead of English, for all they knew. I never once had a review. Despite that, I endeavored to be the best English teacher I could be. I tried everything to reach those under-achieving students that attended Chih-yung. My actions ran the gamut from severe punishments to over-the-top praise to get results from the students there. It was all to no avail, though. They had already been burned out to the point of not caring far before I began teaching them. Sadly, the system made them only worse. The best teacher in the world couldn’t have ignited a fire under them.

I asked the school administration how I was doing several times. Even though they had no idea, they told me I was doing a great job. There was never much communication beyond that. Our classrooms were as far away from the administration’s office as they could be, at the top of a 6-story building in the corner of the campus. We learned about special happenings from the students. Often, we learned that our classes had been canceled only when students didn’t show up. Rarely was there ever any notice of events. We were given a schedule at the beginning of the semester, but changes were frequent, and updates were not. Still, whenever the school needed a teaching demonstration or a picture for their recruiting paraphernalia, they came to us. During my last year at Chih-yung, I gave a teaching demonstration which was attended by all the English department teachers, save one. The head teacher didn’t attend. Neither did anyone else from management. I was later told that it went very well. It was at that time when I began wondering about my future with the school. Why were they praising me from hearsay, instead of experiencing my demonstration for themselves? Little did I know that my concerns were not without warrant.

I guess that Chih-yung High School’s administration was tolerating me just like I was tolerating them. Their tolerance was a bit less than mine, though, as those who readily gave me praise, before it was decided that my contract would not be renewed, gave me the cold shoulder, after. I don’t know what had been going on behind closed doors, only what I saw – an abrupt change in how I was treated. Those who I thought were supportive of me there treated me as their worst enemy, once the decision came down that I was no longer welcome. It wasn’t a pleasant farewell. I still harbor bitter feelings for how I was treated there.

My wife, Shu Mei, was not supportive at that point. The truth is that she has never been supportive when I needed it. (I hesitated to use the word “never” but couldn’t think of one instance where sought-after support was received from Shu Mei.) This is a very cold, harsh fact because I feel confident that I have given her the support she wants during times of turmoil. For example, I encouraged her to have faith in our marriage repeatedly during our first year of marriage. I needed to. Otherwise, we would have been divorced. It was during that first year that Shu Mei asked for divorce six different times because I voiced disagreement with her. Four of those six times weren’t even what could be classified arguments, just disagreements. To Shu Mei, a simple disagreement by me was cause for divorce. With Shu Mei, it is either her way or the highway.

Shu Mei possesses an over-abundance of stubbornness and selfishness. As long as I agree with her, everything is fine. The second I utter a word contrary to what she is saying, things get very messy. Typically, Shu Mei will get very upset and shut down. She has gone four or five days without saying a thing to me. When I try to break her silent treatment, with encouraging words, she goes into a very hating tirade, verbally assaulting me with a barrage of put-downs, followed by a demand for a divorce. With Shu Mei, there is no gray area, only black or white. The last time we disagreed, she told me that I am an ugly man and she hated everything about me. This kind of mistreatment has been going on for seven years. All the while, I have hoped that she could see that all is not so terrible, but I am finding it increasingly difficult to continue doing that.

Much of the difficulty I continue to face with Shu Mei stems from our background differences. A lot of our background comes from culture, but the brunt of it comes from how we were raised. Shu Mei seems to be continuing in the same manner as her parents did, while I am venturing away from some of the things mine did. Shu Mei was raised in a bizarre family, from my perspective. Her father is the quintessential man’s man. He has the demeanor of a prideful king, choosing to socialize with those on his same economic level and no one else. According to Shu Mei, he only spoke to his wife and two sons, ignoring his two daughters altogether. That condition remains to this day. If my wife calls his house and he answers the phone, he just hands the phone to his wife and doesn’t speak to Shu Mei. When we attend social functions at his house, it is the same. He literally disavows the existence of his two daughters. Shu Mei says that he shows his acceptance and love for them in other ways. He has given them material things in their life. Shu Mei claims that she has had no problem with that situation. At first, I didn’t believe she could feel that way, but now I’m inclined to think she’s honest. She has assimilated that atmosphere into our family, with her taking the role and temperament of her father.

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