Please forgive me if I don't translate this into Chinese. I have a lot on my mind right now, and translating this into another language just seems like saying the same thing twice. If you're having trouble with any of this, feel free to ask me about it in the comment section below.
So I won an award today. This award was for serving the Taitung County Government for nine years as an English teacher. Starting in 2006, I worked at Tung Hai Junior High School for two years, and then transferred to Tung Hai Elementary School - where I still work - for an additional seven years. I've worked in some other places besides, but Tung Hai JHS and ES were my main jobs.
To be honest, I was kind of depressed when I found out that I'd be receiving this award. It is, after all, an award for nine years. Nine years is a long time, and it made me a little sad to think about how much older I am now, how much time has passed, and how fast my kids are growing up. Of course I understood nine years as an achievement, but when I was informed about the award my first thought was that time is always marching on relentlessly. I realize that this is a pessimistic kind of argument, but I'm just trying to explain the feeling.
Added to this feeling was the idea that I didn't really deserve the award at all. If you are familiar with public school teaching in Taiwan, you will know that most Taiwanese teachers only receive this award when they are ten years in, not nine like me. The awards are thus ordered by decade, with citations offered for ten, twenty, thirty, and forty years. There is also another award for teachers who are retiring, which I suppose is the greatest award of all.
Yet for me and one other teacher, the two longest-serving foreign teachers in Taitung County, there was a special award created. In Chinese, this award is referred to as the 外籍教師特別貢獻獎, or "special achievement award for foreign teachers." Both myself and the other teacher have been here nine years, and this, along with our status as foreign teachers, prompted the special designation.
Now I could be cynical about the whole thing and say: "Hey, they only gave me this award because I'm a foreigner, and I've been here the longest!" I could bemoan the fact that true merit is rarely rewarded, and that an award for being a foreigner and having been around the longest fails to recognize how well (or how badly) I do my job. I could also argue that the Taitung County Government is now promoting "International Education" in Taitung, and the award I received was part of this promotional effort.
But then again, the Taiwanese people receiving awards could have done exactly the same thing. This is the problem with large organizations (like county governments) giving people awards - the awards are of necessity generalized, and often miss the individual contributions of those awarded. What, for instance, if I had done my job for ten years, but everyone knew I was a terrible teacher? Or what if I had revolutionized the teaching of English in Taitung County, yet I was only rewarded with the same piece of paper as someone who'd been wasting space for the same length of time? Awards are always going to disappoint some people, and the larger the group of people, the larger the possibility of that award losing its intended value.
So yes, I won an award, and I'm happy to take it at face value. In other words, I'm happy to accept it. Maybe they did just give it to me because I was a foreigner. Maybe they did give it to me for self-serving reasons. But awards are often like that, and the reasons and motivations behind any award won't bear close inspection.
So even though I haven't been here ten years yet, and even though my years of service make me feel old, I have been around, and being recognized for it is enough. I don't need to look into the reasons behind my award, because in the end they don't matter. And besides, maybe my winning the award actually does have something to do with my doing a good job.
Nine years is a long time. Yes it makes me feel old, but I'm satisfied with the encouragement and appreciation I've received during all this time. It tells me I'm wanted here. It tells me that I'm part of something. It also reminds me of the more personal congratulations I received after the awards ceremony, and these, in themselves, were enough. I know that there are people still happy to have me around, and for their sakes I will try to do the best I can.
And besides doing your best for those you care for, what else is there?