Dear MeiGui: What time is it really?
Originally published in The China Post, 12/21/08
I am definitely feeling culturally discombobulated. What is it with clocks in Taiwan?
It is very convenient to be able to look out the window of any bus anywhere on the route to work and immediately see the time. Quite frankly, it seems every business in Banqiao has a giant round clock prominently displayed on the inside wall. The problem is that my kindergarten also has a clock prominently displayed on the inside wall. In this way, my employer can easily check what exact time I walk through the front door, and instantly determine whether or not my arrival is early enough.
Officially, my employment contract states that I need to be at the school by 8:30 in the morning, but in practice my kindergarten insists that teachers arrive at least 15 minutes earlier than that. The earlier one arrives, the less grief suffered. However, it’s not easy for me to get out of bed. No matter how hard I try, I’m never more than five or ten minutes early for my shift.
This plethora of clocks is starting to make me paranoid? What’s their purpose? Is this some kind of tactic to intimidate workers?
-- Late Arrival in Banqiao
Dear Late Arrival;
Actually, businesses put clocks on the walls that face inward for reasons of Feng Shui – an ancient Chinese art and science that reveals how to balance energies in any given space to assure health and good fortune.
The homonym in Chinese for “rotate” (轉) -- as the hands of a clock do -- is “earn money” (賺); so a prominently displayed clock can bring prosperity to a business. However, should the clock face outward toward the street it would bring misfortune to the business, as money would just pass on by the front door.
And of course, a big clock always is helpful when keeping tabs on your workers’ promptness.
-- Prosperity comes to Feng Shui advisors, MeiGui
Working as an English teacher for me isn’t that bad. The kids are all really cute, and so are my co-teachers. Plus, I work in a private elementary school, which offers an awesome salary along with three-months of paid vacation every year. Between the students, the chicks, the money, and the fun, you’d think I’d be the happiest guy on the planet – yet still I’m dissatisfied.
I feel my potential is not being challenged. I wasn’t born to be an English teacher in a foreign country; I was born to be a witty short story writer and novelist. I worry I’m missing my true calling by passing my days here in Taiwan.
If you were me, what would you do? Go back to Seattle to give writing another shot or continue on in an inadequate job.
-- Dissatisfied in Taipei
And I wasn’t born to answer the questions of the self-deluded; yet here I am. I have more questions than answers for you: Why can’t you write in Taiwan? What happened to the writing-thing in Seattle?
Maybe it’s best that I borrow a passage from one who was truly a great novelist.
“And you claim you want to be a writer, too. You’re only a (English teacher). An expatriated (English teacher). You ought to be ironical the minute you get out of bed.” -- The Sun Also Rises, Ernest Hemingway.
-- By the way, is your school hiring? MeiGui