At 1:00 p.m. on a rainy Monday afternoon, Ms. Angel Lin, a Tech Cube project administrator, guides me on the short walk around the block to the site where Taipei American School’s new robotics and science building is slowly taking shape. As we walk, she explains that with their sealed-off worksite, Tech Cube workers have no contact with TAS students or faculty whatsoever.
The entrance to the construction site is surprisingly inconspicuous, tucked away behind a few makeshift metal screens in a grove of trees behind school. As I enter the site headquarters, a temporary yet sturdy white cabin, I am introduced to two project workers, looking at ease in their light blue uniforms: Sun Hong-jun, and Jiang Chang-yu.
Though neither has ever met a TAS student apart from myself, both speak with admiration about the well-roundedness encouraged by the American school system. From the headquarters, we have a perfect bird’s eye view of TAS’s immaculately mowed Lower Field and bright blue track. As he looks out the window, Jiang, the older of the two, says, “You can mix studying, playing, and athletics all together here. I think it’s really important to have these types of experiences–being part of a team, leadership.” Sun smiles as he recalls the contrasting harshness of his Taiwanese local schools. “Our school was much stricter than yours,” he says. “My teacher used to have a bucket full of all the things they’d hit us with. Wooden bats, bamboo canes–once one broke, they’d just grab the next one.”
Regarding the daily slog of building the Tech Cube, scheduled for completion in December 2018, Jiang explains that “Our work is highly dangerous…we often get up really high, so we can’t mess around–we have to be totally concentrated.” Sun adds that one main downside of construction work is the irregularity of their holidays. While TAS students and teachers spend their Saturdays and Sundays relaxing with family or, alternatively, scrambling to finish last-minute college applications, the construction workers remain at school, toiling away in their hard hats. Sun says, “We schedule our own holidays here and there. But a lot of the time, my day off falls on a weekday, and there’s nobody free to hang out with me or keep me company.”
While the younger Sun spends his free time unwinding, surfing the Internet or watching movies, Jiang’s passion is roasting coffee. “I love coffee,” he says. “I drink four to five cups of black coffee per day. I don’t like outside coffee, though—Starbucks, Mr. Brown. I buy my own beans, and roast them myself.” He pauses thoughtfully, and addresses three other colleagues also sitting at the table: “Actually, I could bring some of my coffee over here sometime, and we could all drink it together.” Good-natured laughter ensues, but the man sitting next to Jiang interrupts, “I’ve had the coffee he roasts before. It’s actually really good!”
Hoping for some profound words of wisdom to close the interview, I ask them whether they have any message for TAS students. There is a long silence. Then Sun says, “Well, sometimes they kick soccer balls in here. Just tell them that we’ll pick it up for them and give it to the security guard.”