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Teaching in Taiwan:
Kaohsiung is lively city
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Elise and Alex Snavely

Sunday, September 29, 2013

By HOLLY KOZELSKY - Bulletin Accent Editor

Katherine Cumberland has been living in Taiwan, a nation off the coast of China, for four years. (Taiwan broke from China after World War II.)

She is an English teacher at a private school. Elementary school students go to her school after their regular school day.

She first went to China with the Fulbright program to teach for one year in a public school. When her time was up, her pastor asked her to stay in China to lead the children’s ministry at church. She has done that for the past three years, as well as teach at the private school.

Cumberland, 32, lives in Kaohsiung, the second largest city in Taiwan, with a population of more than 2 million. The port city “does a lot of business with America,” she said. “A lot of international companies have been here.”

Cumberland shares an apartment with a roommate. Most people, even the wealthiest, live in apartments, she said.

“My apartment is very similar to what I would live in in the US, but actually, more luxurious than what I could have in the U.S.,” she said. “Housing here is cheaper.”

Apartments there have most of the modern conveniences as here, with one notable absence — ovens. Instead, people use small convection ovens kept on their countertops.

Like most everyone else, Cumberland gets around on a scooter. “They’re everywhere,” she said, and the drivers “drive a little bit crazy. Scooters drive up on the sidewalk, through the park.”

Entire families get around together on a scooter: “The dad driving, the mom sitting on the back holding the baby, a kid standing in front, and the older kid riding on the back hanging on to his mom for dear life,” she said.

There’s one serious downside to driving a scooter: exposure to rain. Cumberland lives in an area called Typhoon Alley, where typhoons hit on a regular basis. It’s a hassle to put on and take off the “full-on rain gear,” and drivers still get wet, she said.

Kaohsiung has a metro (subway train), but it isn’t convenient. Its tracks just form a large X across the city. There are buses also, but their service is “not reliable,” she said.

Taiwan has free national health care. It’s so easy to access that “no one tries to heal themselves,” she said. People go to the doctor even for minor issues such as colds or headaches.

“In America, we wait until we’re mostly dead before we go to the doctor,” she added.

Because she is in Taiwan on a work permit, Cumberland qualifies for the national health care plan, she said.

Shopping in Kaohsiung can be just like in the U.S.: it has grocery stores and other stores, including two Coscos. However, it also has markets that are fun to shop in, she said.

Open-air vegetable markets are in full swing almost every morning. They sell fresh produce at reasonable prices.

The night markets are alive with an “almost carnival atmosphere” sights and sounds and smells, Cumberland said. All kinds of things are for sale at booths and in stands: “different types of tea, clothing, types of (inexpensive) electronics” and food. There are “all different kinds, Thai food, won ton, everything Chinese that you can imagine and a lot of things that you couldn’t.”

She eats out often because the food is good and inexpensive, she said.

Taiwan and China have a bit different flair and style than America: “Everything in Taiwan is cute,” she said, “much cuter than in the U.S. Now, there is a six-story inflatable rubber ducky sitting in the harbour. It’s a tourist attraction. Everyone has been down to see it.”

The character Hello Kitty is popular in Taiwan, as is a cutesy little cartoon bear named Rilakkuma. Many of the characters and other pop culture phenomena in Taiwan come from Japan. “Taiwan has a love affair with all things Japanese,” Cumberland said.

Cumberland will be in Martinsville in November for a visit, then may return to live here in the summer, she said.

Cumberland is the daughter of Tim and Debbie Cumberland of the Bible Gift Shop in Martinsville.


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