Samantha Mandel
2004-05 Outbound to Taiwan

Hometown: Gainesville, Florida
School: Eastside High School
Sponsor: Gainesville Rotary Club
Host: Tali Kuo Kuang Rotary Club, District 3460, Taichung, Taiwan

Septemeber 28 Journal

I think it has been about a month since I arrived in Taiwan, give or take a few days and I am finally starting to feel really at home here. Apart from catching some kind of stomach virus a few days in, I have been adjusting very nicely and having an amazing time. In my host family here I have two host parents who I call Mama and Baba (they would be highly offended if I called them anything else), a host sister who is currently an exchange student in Colorado, and two little brothers, Zhi Jia and Zhi Wei, aged 10 and 13. Never having had brothers before, this has been quite an experience! Their hobbies include watching TV, playing on the computer, and wrestling almost into my lap. They’re both rather adorable, and their behavior towards me is certainly different from what I would expect of little brothers in the US. Taiwanese people are sticklers for protocol and respect; hence, my brothers call me Jie-Jie (big sister) and do everything I tell them too (most of the time. I am still working on them not to make my towels soaking wet every time they shower. As their towels are always wet, they don’t understand why I want mine to be dry.) Just this morning, Zhi Jia handed his English homework to me with a grunt to be checked, and got a round chastising for not saying “Please Jie-Jie, would you be so kind as to check my homework for me?” I have found that living with two brothers does tend to make life infinitely more exciting, and as Mama and Baba treat me as if I were in truth their daughter, I feel very much at home. In fact, I’ve never had anyone worry about me as much as Mama does. She and Baba went out together one morning, and when she returned I asked her if she had fun. “Of course not!” she said. I asked her if she didn’t like visiting her friends, and she explained that she did, but as Zhi Wei, Zhi Jia, and I were at home, she couldn’t have fun because she was so worried about us.

I have found the accepting and welcoming attitude of my parents to be shared by most of the people here. I had four host families before I came, but so many people like me here that I now have five and counting! I also have numerous offers to stay a few days to a week at people’s houses, just to see what it's like. I have also found a similar welcome at my school.

My school is called Ming Tai and has six buildings all seven stories tall. It was founded in 1945, but before that was the site of formal gardens, and before that the residence of my vice principal’s family going all the way back to the Qing dynasty! Parts of the formal gardens still remain, and many students go there on break time to study.  My school also houses its own museum, with some documents that are over 150 years old! As befits a school with such an exceptional history, it is not a normal high school but a variety of vocational programs. I am taking classes across vocations and across grades, which leaves me with a schedule that includes everything from Chinese cooking to Web Design to Teaching Media (for people who aspire to be kindergarten teachers to learn to make their own materials) to Music. However, no matter what class I’m taking, I am the center of attention. When Al said that we would not have a sign on our foreheads that proclaimed us exchange students and that we would have to seek out opportunities, for me at least, he was wrong. Every break time the entire class clusters around my desk to ask me questions, stroke my hair, and introduce themselves to me. As I have had seven schedule changes, the introducing part is still necessary in some of my classes. I have twice been stopped by teachers walking between classes and asked if I could spare five minutes to come and give a speech to their classes because their classes are so curious about me. While giving an impromptu speech in Chinese in front of a classful of students can be intimidating, it’s well worth it to hear some of the questions afterward. The first question all the girls have is “In America, do you have a boyfriend?” and the first question all the boys ask is “Do you think I’m handsome?” One boy even asked me for my cell phone number (which I still don’t know). Other questions include “Do you live on an orange farm in Florida?” and “Can you see dolphins from your house in Florida?” They all want to tell me their English names, which tend to be rather outrageous. Some of the most amusing were Yoyo, Porjay, Biky, and Zildjian. Most of the students and teachers are also eager to demonstrate their command of English. Unfortunately, as in the case of my Teaching Media teacher who translated something she’d written on the blackboard as an “adhibition of quadrates”, I usually find their Chinese a lot easier to understand than their English. My Chinese has been progressing very rapidly, and while I am still far from fluent, I am now able to communicate what I want to say fairly well. I am also learning to read and write Chinese characters. While the reading comes fairly naturally to me, remembering how to write Chinese characters is quite a task! However, the people here applaud any effort I make, which, while embarrassing, can also be encouraging!

I have also gone on several trips while I’ve been here. I took a trip with my host family to a town called San Yi to look at some of the most beautiful wood carvings I’ve ever seen, and I also visited my host grandparents who live on a rice farm. That was certainly an experience! I’ve also gone shopping with two classmates, Shuwen and Wanzhen, and another exchange student, Ada, who doesn’t go to my school. Going shopping probably made me realize more than anything else that I am in a foreign country. Shopping turned out to be a series of roadside, open air shops that can only be reached by walking between fast moving cars and equally fast moving motorized scooters. My Taiwanese friends absolutely could not understand why on earth Ada and I would prefer to cross one of the busiest streets in Taizhong at a crosswalk when the light had turned red. When we explained that walking across the middle of a street with cars moving 80 miles an hour or more would be suicide, they told us unconcernedly that we could just walk between the cars! After that they took us to a fourteen story department store that really seemed more like an amusement park, complete with indoor playgrounds and whole floors of games. Despite all this, the first thing my friends insisted that Ada and I see was the bathroom. I know that sounds really odd, but it was truly incredible. Decorated as if it were underwater, it was complete with disco lights, 3-D fish wallpaper, and mini children sized toilets.

Besides all that, I have also attended three Rotary meetings so far, and gone to five barbecues in the last week to celebrate the Moon Festival, which was on Saturday. This is a national holiday in Taiwan, which is celebrated by praying (in the temple which is a wing of our house), eating moon cakes, and, of course, barbecue! Needless to say, I have thoroughly enjoyed myself this month and look forward to more wonderful experiences here.

November 4 Journal

Now that I have been in Taiwan for about two months, I feel like I have more or less settled into my life here. At school, I can now go to the bathroom over break time without the entire hallway surrounding me, but there is no question that I am still the #1 school wide celebrity! When you think about it this is really understandable, since, no matter how long I’ve been here, I am still immediately recognizable in any crowd because of my Caucasian features. I find that, now that I’m not surrounded everywhere I go, I rather like the attention because it opens the way for me to have lots of friends here. My classmates are all incredibly friendly, and from what I heard, I think the whole school would like to go on an exchange if Rotary would let them. I think Taiwanese students are in general more open minded than Americans, and they are definitely less ethnocentric. More and more as I’ve been away from America, I’ve seen that Americans believe themselves to be the supreme model not only of a smoothly functioning democracy, but also of culture. When told of other countries’ customs that differ from their own, Americans tend to be derogatory. Because I grew up American, I am used to this and expected Taiwanese people to be the same way about Taiwan. However, Taiwanese people seem to be incredibly open to the concept that “different” doesn’t necessarily mean “bad.” More than once, when I have told my host family of a differing custom in America, they have said “That’s really interesting, maybe we should do things that way in Taiwan.” This open-mindedness is probably one of the reasons why I get along so well with most people in Taiwan. If I have any problems at all at school, my teachers strive to accommodate me, and my classmates try to accommodate me in any way they can.

Despite everyone’s helpfulness, I felt a little bored at first in school because I didn’t really understand what was going on. However, now that my Chinese has gotten a little better, I have tried to involve myself in activities around the school. I act as assistant coach for my classmates who are training for an English contest, and I have started accepting some of the numerous invitations from friends to visit their classes for one or two periods. Invariably, this means that the teacher asks me to give a little speech to the class, and then he/she will try to hold a normal class for a little while the students all ask me questions and pass me notes, and then he/she will give up and declare what I call “Interview Samantha” time. Answering questions from lots of people that may not necessarily make a whole lot of sense is something I have become very good at it. Every time I have an available moment, students gather around me to ask me questions, and since my school has upwards of three thousand students, it seems like I am talking to a different group every time. Besides getting used to answering questions, I have also gotten used to comments about my appearance. For instance, one girl said to me “Your nose is so big.” All of the girls around her murmured agreement, and I, rather offended, was about to make some caustic remark back when she said “I wish my nose was that big.” I stood dumbfounded for a moment, and then, not sure I’d heard aright, said “You think big noses are pretty?” They all said “Of course, why, don’t you?” I have also received comments that express surprise that I don’t have the beginnings of a moustache on my upper lip, as all my female classmates do, that I look like Barbie (??), and that my face looks just like an apple. This last had me laughing for quite a while before my host mother explained that it was an expression. She said it’s because when I’m embarrassed, hot, or in the sun, my cheeks get red and, as I had already noticed, Taiwanese people simply do not get red in the face. Apparently they also think this is very attractive. All I can say is that everyone wants what they don’t have.

I suppose the point I’m trying to make is that, as the only Caucasian in my school and neighborhood, I am constantly on show. If I do anything at school, be it so small as picking up a pencil, someone is bound to ask me why. Also, along with the feeling of being on show, I have had the completely new experience of finding myself to be the most liberally dressed person in a crowd. In America, I usually feel that I am one of the more conservatively dressed people, if not the most conservatively dressed, at school. Here, we wear a school uniform, but I go out shopping and swimming with my classmates on the weekend. I don’t own a bikini; I only wear one-piece bathing suits, but I still felt half-naked when I went swimming with my friends. The collar of my bathing suit was high in the front, but it dipped about halfway down my back. I would never have thought twice about this in America, but my classmates stared at me and asked if everyone in America was so “daring” in their dressing. I also felt uncomfortable the first time I went shopping with friends. I could only imagine what would have happened if I were a “normal” American and wore a bikini to swim. Warned by my experience with the bathing suit, I wore my most conservative clothes, but since we would be walking outside a lot I brought my sunglasses. In the entire press of people window shopping in the street, I was the only one wearing sunglasses. The girls I was shopping with (who will be my host sisters when I go to my second host family) oohed and aahed over them, and their little half sister and brother, who we brought along, wouldn’t move until they were allowed to try them on. I was rather amused when the little brother pronounced that he liked them and wanted to wear them. I had to gently explain to him that my sunglasses were definitely meant for a female and he might look a little silly wearing them. However, I did end up letting the little sister, Chian-Chian, wear them for most of our walk. In general, I’ve been having a lot of fun here, and between Rotary meetings, traveling with my host family, going out with friends, and school (7:30 AM to 4:30 PM) I have been incredibly busy! I sincerely believe that my year here is going to be one of the highlights of my life.

November 11 Journal

Ni hao! I know it has been only about a week since I wrote my last journal but I have since gone on a three day Tea Tour around Taiwan with Rotary and I want to write all about it before I forget. It was not only incredibly fun, the whole thing was one long laugh after another.

It started early (too early!) Friday morning when my host parents took me and another exchange student, Ada, to a rest stop where we would meet the other exchangees. Because Taiwan is so incredibly small, all the inbounds in Taiwan go on trips together and we all fit onto one bus with seats to spare. On the bus, everyone spoke English, even though everyone was not necessarily from an English speaking country.

I thought it was amusing when I met some German exchange students who couldn’t speak Chinese at all, but spoke perfect English! I also thought it was funny when some exchange students told me that before they came to Taiwan, their English was very poor, but it has gotten much better over here from constant practice. I was surprised to learn that most students, whether native English speakers or not, spoke English with their host families. I guess they’re still learning a foreign language abroad. Although I spoke English to most of the exchange students, I spoke Chinese with one student whose English wasn’t quite conversational (but whose Chinese was excellent!), I spoke half French and half English with the French and Quebecois girls, half Spanish and half English with a Mexican exchange student, and even compared some phrases in Swedish with a Danish student. I think by the end of our trip, I deserved to win a prize for Most Confused!

Our first stop was at Shui Li Civic Office, where they told us the “County Mail” would be so kind as to address us. It took about fifteen minutes of puzzling about the meaning of “Mail” before some bright student finally said “Oh! They mean countymayor!” When we got there they seated us in an auditorium and introduced the mayor, other important men, and the reporters. I found the fact that there would be reporters taping us a little surprising, but they kept mostly to the background. Then they asked one student to translate for the mayor, because he had studied Chinese for a year at the university in America and probably spoke better than any of us. However, the mayor spoke a mixture of Chinese and Taiwanese, and so of course all of us, translator included, had no idea what he was saying. Our tour guide therefore translated into our “translator’s” ear and he would repeat what she said into the microphone. When asked why she didn’t just translate herself, our tour guide replied that she was too shy. After that, they took us to visit a hydroelectric power plant and we watched a movie in English about the workings of the plant (which of course nobody watched. We all told the mayor that it was very interesting, though.).

Our next stop was at Shui Li Snake Kiln Pit, where we handmade pottery. After that we went to Tonpo where we bathed in the hot springs. We were a little shocked to find out that there were separate springs for boys and girls. Our guides told us “But of course! It would not be appropriate for boys and girls to bathe together!” However, the two springs were on either side of a rock wall with loose rocks piled all up the sides. Lots of the girls climbed up and talked over the walls to the boys on the other side. However, the boys just relaxed in the spring. After all, since all the girls were coming to them, why should they bother to get up? So, when two girls decided the spring was too hot and showered and changed early, we told them to give us their bathing suits. We all got down from the rocks, and then we threw their bathing suits into the boys’ spring. Seconds later we had six male heads peeking over the wall, looking all around to see whose bathing suits they were.

After some more activities, we were taken home by our assigned host families. They had found a host family in Shan-An for every two exchange students. I was assigned with Ada, and our host family gave me my first ride ever on a motorized scooter when they took me to their house (no helmet, no jacket, nothing). I found it rather exhilarating, but it was dark when they took me. The next morning when I saw the steepness of the hill that we had zoomed down and the sharpness of the corners that we had taken without slowing down, I felt my knees go a little weak.

My host family is probably what I will most remember about my trip. Ada’s mother is from Hong Kong, so she doesn’t look any different from the rest of the people in Taiwan. However, when I came in the house, my new host brother and sister started shouting, “waiguoren”, which means “white person”, or literally “foreigner”. They followed Ada and me upstairs and whispered behind their hands “Look, she’s picking up a brush. Wait, what’s she doing now? Do you think all waiguoren do that? Hold on, she’s walking across the room. Better be quiet.” Ada and I give each other a long look, because of course we could hear clearly every word they were saying. Finally, I asked them what their names were and they both jumped and said “She talks!” I felt like I was in a circus and the ringmaster had just announced the talking monkeys. When they told me their names with exaggerated slowness, I told them mine and they jumped again and said, “How can she understand what we’re saying?” That launched a long discussion of how it was possible that waiguoren could speak Chinese until finally Ada ventured a quiet “We can hear what you’re saying, you know, and we understand too.” That launched a flurry of worried whispers and finally the little girl asked “Do you understand Taiwanese?” I looked her straight in the eye and said “Oh yes, of course we do.” More whispers, and then “But if you understand both Taiwanese and Chinese, how can we talk without your understanding?” Ada and I both gave elaborate shrugs and turned our faces away to hide our smiles. When they didn’t go away after fifteen minutes, I asked them, “We’re kind of like a show, huh?” When they both nodded seriously, I shut the door. Only when we still heard them discussing our every move did Ada and I realize that we had closed the door but left the window open. When we closed the window and still heard them discussing our every move, we decided to open the door while standing behind it, so that they would look into an empty room (a childish trick, I know). However, as it turns out, they had been watching us through the crack where the door meets the wall, so of course they knew exactly where we were. Then I started down the hallway to go to the bathroom and their eyes followed me with this puzzled look on their faces. I announced, “The show is now going to the bathroom.” They both gave little “Oh’s” of understanding and turned back to watch Ada.

Things went on this way for a long time and then we were finally ready to go to bed when our host siblings announced that our host mother was taking us to see our “exchange student friends”. So, Ada and I changed out of our nightgowns. As it turns out, we were going to see a couple of exchange students who couldn’t speak Chinese and needed a translator. After about fifteen minutes of translating, Ada and I were ready to go home, but our host family had disappeared! So we played blind man’s bluff with the little household children and I overturned a carton of soy sauce on my new blue pants until our host family arrived (at one o’clock in the morning!) to take us home. When we returned home our little brother told us that if we heard scratching on the wall we were not to worry because our bedroom was next to the cat’s bedroom. Ada and I just looked at each other. However, apart from the fact that I found a toy gun, a plastic bag, and a dirty sock under my pillow, and apart from the fact that the cat meowed all night long (I swear it was inhumanly loud), I slept like a rock.

The next morning, Ada and I met our host grandmother. As soon as I saw how old she was, I had a sinking feeling that she couldn’t understand any Chinese. I was right; she only spoke Taiwanese. After a few futile attempts to communicate with us, she left the room. Literally about a few seconds later, she reentered by the door that led out to street. Ada and I look rather confusedly at each other, and once again she tried to talk to us, even though she must have ascertained last time that we didn’t know much Taiwanese beyond “hello” (liho). Then when she came in again, I realized with a start that we had actually been talking to two different grandmothers! I leaned over to Ada and whispered, “I thought they were the same person.” “So did I”, she whispered. “I was wondering how she went around the back of the house that fast.”

After that little faux pas, the rest of the day went fairly well. We visited Chun-Tai Zen Temple, which is the largest Zen Buddhist temple in Asia, we handmade paper and fans at Kang-Shin Paper Mill, and then had an impromptu talent show by the exchange students. One boy did taichi, and when I asked what that was I was told “That’s what old people do in the morning.” (??) Next up was lunch, or, as the schedule they gave us said “Sample the local cuisine.” Unfortunately, the “local cuisine” turned out to be McDonalds. That night, our host family took us to visit some hot springs with some other inbounds and a former exchange student in Argentina who was traveling the world (and with us just for the weekend). The hot springs were a lot of fun, but we got in at one in the morning again.

The next morning, Ada and I were so dead on our feet from two nights of four hours sleep that we could barely roll out of bed. However, our little host sister was apparently unaffected by the lack of sleep, and was bouncing off the walls! She was bored, and with no one else up, she focused her attentions on hapless Ada and me. She chatted to us in very rapid Chinese, and decided to teach us not one, but two new card games. We tried to explain to her that we couldn’t speak Chinese, much less learn new card games at this hour of the morning, but she would not be dissuaded. So, we took the cards she gave us, put random cards down, took them back when she said they weren’t right, and congratulated her when she gleefully announced, “I win! You two don’t play very well.” Then our host mother came downstairs and said that she had a treat in mind for us. She told us that she’d let us walk to the meeting place today so that we could enjoy the beautiful scenery. I almost swooned at the mere thought of walking up that steep hill carrying all my luggage. She went out of the room before Ada and I could tell her that that would be a nightmare walk at any time, but we were absolutely fried this morning. Luckily, we (or I ) were so slow getting ready that she told us regretfully that we would have to go in the car or we’d never make it on time. Ada and I put on our most regretful faces and told her that it was all right.

The rest of the day went by pretty fast. We visited Shan-An tea factory and learned how to make tea cakes (they tasted horrible!) and then were allowed to visit Chi-Chi village for exactly ten minutes because we’d taken so long at the tea factory. After that we all went home content, but thoroughly exhausted. I realize that this was an incredibly long journal and if you actually read through to the end, I would like to tell you that I’m very impressed.

Zaijian! (goodbye)

Zhang Wenting (that’s my Chinese name)

December 22 Journal

Li ho! I have been in Taiwan for a little over three months now and have moved to my second host family. I was a little bit worried at first about switching families because I liked my first family so much, but I love my second family! My family includes Mama, Baba, twin sisters aged 17 named Hsiao Chu and Hsiao Jia, a little sister named Chian-Chian (age 7), and a little brother named Shang-Un (age 5). This is a rather unique experience for me, never having lived with small children before, but I have become very close with Chian-Chian. I call her Meimei, which means little sister and I call Shang-Un Didi, which means “little brother”. The two of them have accepted an extra older sister rather naturally. Since the family actually has seven children, three of whom no longer live at home, I suppose they’re used to a large family. In Taiwan, families tend to live together, and so we also live with Amma, my “host grandmother”, and my “host uncle”, “host aunt”, and “host cousins” live upstairs. The cousins are referred to by the family as the “upstairs children”, something that never fails to amuse me. Taiwanese children tend to be very sweet and well-behaved, so for the most part the children are very pleasant. Yesterday when I walked home from the bus stop Meimei, Didi, and the upstairs children were all playing ball in the driveway. The second they caught sight of me they dropped all the balls and raced over to give me a big group hug, shouting “Jie-Jie! Ting-Ting Jie-Jie!” It’s surprising how little things like that can make you feel really accepted and comfortable in your host country. It makes me feel special every time my little host siblings make a show of affection for me because I know that these people are really as much my family as my family in America, and that however long I am away, I will always have friends and family in Taiwan. Actually, I have so many host families that I sometimes have problems with the traditional Taiwanese forms of address to other people. For instance, I have five host mothers and I call them all Mama. This means that when my first and fourth Mamas came to pick me up together once, I had an interesting problem. I wanted to ask fourth Mama something, but when I said “Mama?” both of them turned to look at me. I finally ended up pointing at the Mama that I wanted. Also, tradition has it that when you thank people you address them by name. I wanted to thank them for picking me up, so I said “Xie xie, mamamen.” which literally means, “Thank you, Mamas”. Unfortunately, the Taiwanese have a strict grammar rule that says you only use the plural “men” where people are concerned. This limits the list of things that you can make plural to teachers, classmates, sisters, and brothers. I think I am the first person ever to use the word “Mamas” in Taiwan!

Aside from all that, I have also seen and done some really interesting things since I went on the Tea Tour. A week before I changed families my first host family took me to a famous tourist town called Lukang. There, they sell every kind of traditional Taiwanese food, tea, and artwork that you can think of. All of the goods are handmade by expert craftsmen who you can watch at their work (I liked the sandalmaker). I got pictures taken by a professional photographer of me in traditional Chinese clothing and traditional Chinese poses. Of course, by the time he was done, I had a small audience of passers-by who had come to watch, and had to wait a few more minutes before taking off the clothes because my audience was not done taking pictures of me! I was also asked several times while I was walking on the street if I could spare just a few minutes to stop and take pictures with people. I really was somewhat of a novelty, especially since I speak Chinese. People would address questions about me (of which there were many) to my host mother, and would jump when I answered them. My statement that my host mom was my mother invariably caused confusion, which was funny since in Taiwan it’s not polite to directly ask strangers personal questions. I had a hard time not laughing watching people beating around the bush trying to find out how a woman who was obviously Taiwanese had a waiguoren daughter. Finally, I will explain that I am an exchange student, and then I will explain what an exchange student is, and then what Rotary is and why I wanted to come to Taiwan, and then whoever I’m talking to will finally nod in understanding and beam and say “Welcome to Taiwan!”

Almost as interesting as visiting Lukang was being on the Taichung local news. I had already written articles both for my school and Rotary newspapers about my life as an exchange student, and suddenly one day my Chinese teacher tells me “You should do something with your hair tomorrow. Reporters are coming to film you for our local news station.” The reporters wanted to film me in class with my classmates, but unfortunately the period they came I was having my one on one lesson with my Chinese teacher. They asked me if there was a class I usually had classes with, and I told them there was. The only problem was, that class was having English class with the only waiguoren teacher in the school, a Dutchman whom the students call “Ronald Laoshi”, or literally “Ronald Teacher”. The reporters decided that this was not what they had in mind, so they asked which textbooks I had with me. I had my math textbook from earlier in the day, my Chinese textbook, and my history textbook. So they ended up seeking out my history teacher, who was teaching a class full of students I had never seen before. They plopped me in an empty desk and said “This is good. We’ll film her here.” The teacher announced to the class “Well, class, this is our new student, Ting-Ting.” I stood up and bowed, a little embarrassed, and everyone clapped. Then the teacher resumed his teaching and I tried to look normal with three cameramen moving around my desk and adjusting their cameras to get a better shot. Then one of them told me to chat with my deskmate. This was a little awkward since I’d never seen her before. Later, I explained to the class that I found it a little awkward to talk to them since we didn’t know each other. “That’s not true”, they told me. “You may not know who we are, but we all know who you are.” Never has a truer thing been said. While I know only those students whom I have class with (which is a considerable amount), every one of the three thousand students in my school knows exactly who I am.

A few days after I had my television debut, I changed host families. After I’d been with my second host family for about a week, they took me to see the fongyuan. All I could say was that I picked the right year to come to Taiwan. While my first time shopping at the yeshi, or night market, was pretty incredible, the fongyuan exceeded all my expectations. It is a religious celebration that occurs once every twenty years in Taiwan. They have a period where they cannot eat fish or meat, and then they celebrate their renewed ability to eat these foods by three days of fongyuan. There were exhibits of manikins in traditional Chinese costumes mounted on spectacular pyramids and interspersed with dead pigs that were held in traditional poses. All the manikins and their clothing were built entirely of food, such as fish, meat, candy, etc. The pigs, all of them real, had been mounted so well that it looked almost as if they must be fake. In another exhibit, manikins dressed in traditional costumes of Japan, Korea, and China performed traditional dances and kung fu on an even larger pyramid. People loosed lanterns into the air with prayers written inside. The lanterns work almost like hot air balloons except that nobody pilots them. They float up into the night sky until they are just pinpricks of light, carrying the people’s prayers to distant places.

After we had finished sightseeing, I got to go on my second motorized scooter ride ever! Mama drives very fast, and I don’t think she knows what the word “straight” means. Riding with her was like riding on a roller coaster, and all in all, I was very satisfied.

That weekend, I attended the interviews for prospective outbound students. Although we did not make the interviewees dance the hokey pokey, we still had a lot of fun. For instance, we asked every student why they would like to go to whatever country it is they want to go to. Most of the students answered in a monotonous, pre-rehearsed voice, “I want to study a foreign culture and learn a foreign language.” One student, however, told us that he wanted to go to his chosen country because “The atmosphere is very clean over there.” I thought that was a rather odd reason to want to be an exchange student, but I gave him points anyway for the one and only original answer!

The interviews were really a lot different from what I remember about the American interviews. For one thing, they were a lot shorter, and the atmosphere was a lot more serious. For another, many students actually brought musical instruments or examples of their artwork to the interviews to show the Rotarians their particular “special talent”. I found the not necessarily harmonious music blaring from the next table a little distracting, but I also found it vastly amusing. It was nice to see some of the inbound and Rotex students again, and I look forward to getting to know most of our future outbounds better in the future.

Finally, last weekend I went to Taipei for the first time since arriving at the airport there to attend an inbound student Christmas party and a Rotary Youth Exchange Program Inbound Student Mandarin Speech Contest (what a mouthful!). I am pleased and proud to say that I took second place at the speech contest. I felt like this was really an accomplishment because I placed above two students who had been in Taiwan for almost a full year, and one who had studied Mandarin for a full year at university in America. Also, I’d like to point out that, at fourteen, I was the youngest student at the contest, and the third place winner, at fifteen, was the next youngest student. Who says younger children don’t make good exchange students? As a prize, I got a really neat trophy (it has a disco light on the top!) and a coin that, as far as I understand it, was issued by the president of Taiwan this year. Apparently there are less than one hundred issues of this coin, which bears special symbols. I liken it to our fifty states quarters, except that these coins are rarer.

I had barely gotten back to my seat after receiving my trophy when my second host mother told me happily that she’d told my first and fourth host families, Rotary, and both teachers who had helped me with my speech at school. I was a little upset because all of those people had worked very hard to help me have the best speech possible, and I felt that I wanted to tell them of my achievement myself. However, I now realize that, as my Rotary club’s only exchange student, how I perform in a Rotary sponsored speech contest is a matter of some importance to the entire club, and protocol demands that they be immediately notified if I place. How I perform reflects directly on my Rotary club, and so my taking second place is something for the whole club to be proud of. This is just another example of the major cultural differences between Taiwan and the US, for while I think an American Rotary club would be proud of their student, I don’t think the student’s performance would be a matter of face to them. All I can say is, I’m glad I didn’t know this before I did my speech because it would have made me incredibly nervous, and I’m pleased not to let all the people who have given me such a wonderful exchange down. Rotary, my host families, and my family in America have all worked very hard to give me an incredible experience, and I’d like to say a big thank you to all those who have made my exchange possible.

March 15 Journal

I know it has been a very long time since I have written, but this is perhaps because I have been so busy here absorbing my host culture. Christmas and the New Year have passed since I last wrote, but both of these holidays pale here before the significance of Chinese New Year. This was very unusual for me since I am used to Christmas being a major holiday and Chinese New Year a remote memory of visiting San Francisco’s Chinatown when I was a little girl. However, here it is just the opposite. Kids would wish me a “Marry Christmas” (no, I did not make a spelling error, that’s how they spell it here) whenever their class had a Christmas party. Most of them don’t realize that Christmas actually has a specific date and is not a holiday season that lasts for close to a month like Chinese New Year. Chinese New Year, or guonian is on February 8th and 9th, but people will start their phone conversations withXinniankuaile! (Happy New Year) for at least a month after the fact.

Taiwanese people have a lot of misconceptions about Christmas that emanate from comparisons between Christmas and Chinese New Year. For instance, Taiwanese people will count themselves as being one year old when they’re born, and then they become a year older every Chinese New Year after they’ve finished eating a special food called tangyuan. I have never seen little children eat anything so fast in my entire life! A week before Chinese New Year my host father said to me “So, let me get this straight. You’re sixteen in America and fifteen in Taiwan, right?” I said “I don’t know what kind of wacky arithmetic you did, but I’m fourteen in America and fifteen in Taiwan.” We went back and forth for a long time and I finally figured out that he thought we are also one year old when we’re born and then we become a year older on Christmas. When I told him he was mistaken, he said “So when do you become a year older? I thought Christmas was your biggest holiday. Do you become a year older on Halloween?” He was very surprised to learn that we actually use our birthdays. “But then everyone becomes older at different times!!” he said. All I could say was “Well, that’s the idea.”

Another misconception Taiwanese people have about Christmas is that it is an American cultural holiday in the way that Chinese New Year is a Chinese/Taiwanese cultural holiday. When I tell them that since I come from a mixed background my family celebrates Christmas and Hanukkah, they say “Hanukkah? What’s that?” They are all very surprised to hear that Christmas is a Christian holidays and that there are many “real” Americans that don’t celebrate Christmas. They’re equally surprised to learn that a large part of Americans are not Christian. There are only a few Christian Taiwanese people. Most are Buddhists and at the same time worship a variety of gods, depending on whether they are ancestrally Chinese or if they areyuanzhuming, one of the aboriginal peoples of Taiwan.

However lacking in festivities the Taiwanese may have been over the Christmas season, they certainly made up for it over Chinese New Year. They have especially tasty little tradition called homebao. These are little red envelopes that people who work and make money give to those who don’t work. These are usually given by family members, and since I am an exchange student with five host families, I have a lot of family members. I actually calculated the total amount of money I made in red envelopes and it came to about $280 in American currency. I also made $25 in gambling. This is not what you think! It is a Chinese New Year tradition for families to gamble among themselves with cards or dice. We played dice: the family against my host father. Since Baba kept rolling incredibly low numbers, everyone except him made the equivalent of at least $10 American dollars. He kept borrowing from Mama in the hopes that he’d win his money back. (He never did.)

Another guonian tradition is something called dasao, which I liken to our spring-cleaning. When I asked my sister Hsiao-Chu what dasao meant she said “It means you clean everything.” When she said everything she meant everything, from the car to the dog to the window screens to the ceiling (have you ever seen anyone mop the ceiling before?). We even shined the leather on all the leather furniture in the house (which made the furniture so greasy that we had to sit on the floor for a day). We had ample time to do all of this since we had a month off from school for Chinese New Year. All of Taiwan closes down for about ten days during Chinese New Year, which means that I traveled around more of Taiwan in a week long period than I have for my entire stay here.

First, I went with Rotary to Nantou, and later to Taipei. There, we visited the tallest building in the world, Taipei 101. They have the fastest elevator in the world. It goes 80mph, which was fast enough to make my ears pop. They only let people go up to the 89th floor, but that was high enough to look down on the clouds (an experience that one more usually associates with an airplane). Later, when were eating lunch, a Rotary shushu selected four students, all from different countries, to eat with the chairman of Taipei 101 and to be the speakers later on when we met the mayor of Taipei. I know my Rotary back home will be pleased to know that out of the seventeen American exchange students in Taiwan, I was chosen to represent America. I gave the mayor my name card and a Florida Gator pin and he gave me an autographed name card. All Taiwanese presidents have first been mayors of Taipei and everyone tells me that the current mayor will probably be president someday. So, I think I can safely say that I have the autograph of the future president of Taiwan.

I also went to Lukang over the holidays with Rotary. I’d been there once before with my host parents. First, we had a barbecue…but in the old fashioned Taiwanese way. We actually dug up clods of dirt and built little dirt huts with holes in the bottom into which we inserted wooden boards. When the wood was heated, we used it to barbecue the food. I also learned to bargain in Lukang. Just to make this clear, bargaining is not a part of Taiwanese culture. It is a special privilege given to cute, light-haired exchange students. Every time my friends told me something was priced really expensively I would look at the vendor and say “Oh, but your stuff is so pretty and I really want to buy some to show to my friends back in America but only have (and here I name what I deem to be a reasonable price). My friends couldn’t believe that I was actually bargaining with the vendors (something Taiwanese girls would be far too shy even to attempt). Whenever my friends wanted to buy things they asked me to go up and tell the vendor that I was the one buying and to help them lower the price.

Besides learning to barbecue and bargain, I also got lost. It happened like this: a Rotary shushu gave my host sister Peiying and me a ride to the appointed meeting place. When we got there, we got out of the car, and he drove off with our bags and purses and cell phones and money all still in the car. He wasn’t stealing our things; I just think he was a little distracted. Anyhow, there was nothing we could really do so we just started following our group. After a little while, Peiying asked me where everyone was. I pointed in front of us to the people we’d been following, who, as it turns out, were total strangers. What had happened was that our group had turned onto another street and we had kept going straight. We, unfortunately, didn’t know that at the time. Peiying instantly started to panic, but I remembered someone saying the hotel was just ahead. So I insisted that we go all the way down to the end of the block and then told Peiying to just look at the signs and see which one was our hotel. Of course, none of them was our hotel. Then we walked back up the street because I knew there were people behind us, but there was no one there. Then I realized that I had put our group leader’s cell phone number on the flip side of my nametag. The only problem was, theshushu had driven off with both of our cell phones. So, when a vendor came up to us crying her wares, I asked her if she had a phone. She didn’t, but she was able to give us directions to our hotel (which was two steps away.) We were lost for a total of two minutes, but it was still a very valuable insight into Taiwanese culture for me. Peiying on her own would have been far too shy to ask anyone for directions and kept telling me how brave I was. I have to admit, I did feel a little silly telling her to follow me when I was the foreigner and she the native.

While getting lost was fun in its own unique way, the highlight of my experience in Lukang was watching one of the Chinese New Year parades. The people in the parade were throwing handfuls of candy into the crowd, but every time they saw me they would walk right up to me and give me a generous handful of candy. I thought that was sweet, but I don’t really eat candy. Better than the candy by far was the dragon. I actually ran out into the middle of the parade to get a quick picture with it. I thought the parade people might be upset, but once they saw what I was doing they backed the entire parade up (this parade is miles long, remember), just so that I could get a picture under the dragon’s head. They stopped the entire parade so that I could take as many shots as I wanted. Afterwards, a lot of the parade people came running back because they wanted to take a picture with thewaiguoren.

Shortly after coming back from Lukang, I moved to my third host family. They are just across the street from my first host family, and were not originally supposed to host me. My present host mother liked me so much that she asked special permission to be one of my host families. She talked to my second host mother, asking if I could move to her house within the week. After she got off the phone, my second host mother took me outside to talk to me. I was sure I was in trouble, and was waiting nervously for what she had to say. Then she says, “Ting-Ting, I don’t know if you’re a little princess or what, but everybody wants to host you. You do realize that this means you’ll have five host families?” I don’t mind having a lot of families. I think it’s fun to see how different families operate, and to have lots of host siblings. In my present host family I have three older sisters, Wanling, Shiying, and Peiying (the girl I got lost with). Wanling told me that I could use her English name, which is Barbie. Needless to say, I politely declined. I don’t think I would have been able to call her Barbie with a straight face. Now you know why I usually don’t mention my siblings’ English names in my web journals.

Nothing else really important has happened, but I want to talk about some of the cultural differences between America and Taiwan. These are not differences that I have just discovered in the last two months, but differences that I have been gradually becoming aware of and only now gotten around to writing about. Some of the differences I think of as bad things, and some I think of as changes for the better. For instance, the school buses here would definitely fall under the latter category. They have separate seats for every person (well-padded seats, mind you), foot-rests, curtains for the windows, personalized air conditioning, nets to put things in, and hooks on the seat in front of you to hang bags on. We Americans could really take some lessons from them. However advanced their school buses may be though, they are behind in a lot of other things. Taiwan is by no means a third world country, but they are not as technologically advanced as America. Their washer machines have only one cycle and don’t really get thing clean. Basically all clothes that aren’t T-shirts and jeans have to be hand-washed. My host parents tell me that even then, if you really want to get things clean you should first hand-wash them and then put them in the washer machine. Very few families have dryers, and those that do only use them in the dead of winter because electricity is so expensive. If you forget to wash your uniform in time for school, you can always use a blow dryer. Most families have irons, but again, never use them because of the cost of electricity. No one has dishwashers, and people rarely use soap when washing the dishes. They believe that using soap is bad for their help. Likewise, many people don’t consider using soap a necessary part of washing their hands. Washing one’s hands means to put one’s hands under running water for approximately half a second, and then not even bothering to dry them. The school bathrooms have no toilet paper, soap, or paper towels. Students are expected to bring their own tissues to use toilet paper and, as I said, soap and paper towels are not considered a necessary part of washing one’s hands. Another American tradition that I miss is napkins. At least in my mind, napkins aren’t just a vital part of American polite society, but they also have a practical use, especially when using chopsticks. By the way, have you ever seen anyone eat soup with chopsticks before? What about ice cream?

The final cultural difference I would like to mention is the Chinese preoccupation with catching cold. They believe that getting a cold is due to literally being cold. This means that a typical Taiwanese person will wear three layers when it’s 80 degrees Fahrenheit out. If I dress in a shorts and a T-shirt, (which in America would be considered weather appropriate) they tell me to hurry up and put a sweater on or I will catch a cold. I continually tell them that I’m fine and I won’t get a cold. They grudgingly acquiesce. If I utter so much as one sneeze, whatever the reason, they are completely vindicated. Once I’ve sneezed, they’ll brook no arguments. They hustle me inside and make me put a few more layers on and drink hot tea. The desirable temperature for your hands is so hot that you’re actually sweating. If my hands are cool, they’ll make me put another layer on, saying that my hands are “cold”, and if my hands are actually cold, they use the word “icy”. Also, they think that if you’ve just been exercising and you’re sweating, standing under a fan or drinking cool beverages are terribly dangerous to your health. After I practice Japanese dancing in the hot attic room of my second host family and go to drink cool water, the Rotary ayis will all crowd around with concern and ask if it mightn’t be better if I drank hot tea. While this is annoying at times, I also find it amusing. If I am caught in a short-sleeved shirt in a temperature less than ninety degrees, I am almost guaranteed to have every single person I talk to start the conversation with, “Aren’t you cold? Won’t you catch a cold?” I understand that it is people’s concern for me that leads them to ask these questions, so I don’t mind. It is all part of the experience!

Sincerely,

Zhang Ting-Ting

P.S. I made the local newspaper. You’d think the whole town knows who I am by now!

June 13 Journal

So much has happened since I last wrote. Time really does fly when you’re on exchange. It seems unbelievable to me that it’s almost time for me to go home. Anyhow, starting from where I left off last time, at the end of March I attended a Rotary event called the nianhui. This is an annual two-day Rotary festival where all the Rotarians in Taiwan get together, along with some Rotarians from nearby Asian countries, and basically share culture and activities with each other. Every Rotary club puts on a show, all the Rotarians dress to the nines, and everyone sets up booths to promote their Rotary club’s programs, etc. I actually ended up performing twice. The first time was with all the ladies in my Rotary club, doing traditional Japanese dancing and wearing kimonos and the like. I really stood out, because not only was I the only dancer under forty, but of course I’m Caucasian. Our dancing teacher had me lead the dance or would position me smack in the middle of the stage whenever she could so that people would be sure to notice me (as if I wasn’t going to be the center of attention no matter where I stood). Because the auditorium was so big, there were overheads on either side of the stage to give close-ups on the dancers. My friends told me later that the cameramen focused on me for most of the time.

On the second day all of the District 3460 exchange students were scheduled to sing a song in Taiwanese. While we were waiting for the show before us to finish, I went backstage to find some tissues. I was wearing my qipao (Chinese traditional dress) and before I could get any near the tissues performers surrounded me and started clamoring for me to take pictures with them. I could do nothing but acquiesce. Fifteen minutes later, one of the stage crew comes running backstage to find me, telling me that I’ve got to hurry and get my microphone on because it’s almost our turn! We actually had those microphones that you slip over your head, just like pop stars wear. All I can say is, being a foreigner in Taiwan is good practice for anyone who wants to be a celebrity when they grow up.

In April, I went on the six day Culture Tour with Rotary. Because my district, 3460, hasn’t yet fully broken away from the mother district in Taipei, 3480, I actually belong to both districts and so can participate in all of their trips and activities. This means that I actually got to go on two culture tours, once with District 3480 and once with District 3460. On the 3480 trip, there were also three university Rotary Ambassadorial Scholarship students with us, which was interesting (especially for them, since when they were invited on the trip they didn’t know that there were going to be upwards of eighty high school students along).

Anyhow, we drove around the whole country, looking at temples and mountain scenery. We also watched the aborigines perform their traditional songs and dances, ate Hakka food, and spent a day at the beach. As to the accommodations, one of the nights we stayed at a five star hotel, complete with its own beach, indoor swimming pool, and water park, and another night we stayed at a hotel where the air conditioning was broken, there were no towels or soap in the bathroom, the room was infested with mosquitoes, the shower water had one temperature: freezing, and the coverlets on the bed were thick enough to be used in winter. The general opinion among the exchange students was that maybe one was supposed to balance out the other. 

Just a few days after we got back from the 3480 Culture tour, I went on the 3460 Culture Tour. This was similar to the 3480 one, but more fun, since there were less people in general and most of them were people I knew. Both trips included all the outbounds for that year, and although I was unfamiliar with most of the Taipei (3480) outbounds, many of the Taichung (3460) outbounds were my host siblings. This is because of a rule in Taichung that says if your child becomes an exchange student, you have to host a student for a year. The Taichung Rotarians are a very close-knit group, and they believe that with anyone they don’t know (i.e. any non-Rotarian family), they can’t guarantee exchange students’ safety. Therefore, 100% of the 3460 outbounds are the children of Rotarians, and every one of my five host families was a Rotary family. I didn’t realize this at first and when my friends questioned me about the exchange program I told them that anyone could apply, and I gave them our Rotary chairman’s email, who wrote back saying that they would have to go through Taipei since Taichung only took Rotarians’ children. That was a little embarrassing for me, since I had been encouraging a lot of my friends to apply. Also, I felt like it took something out of the experience, not only because all of my families lived in the same area, were friends with the same people, and lived very similar lifestyles, but because a lot of times on Thanksgiving or Christmas or on someone’s birthday, I would go to show my host family something of the way Americans celebrate these things and they would say “Oh we know, our last exchange student showed us that.” All of my families had hosted at least one American student before, in some cases two, and most of the gifts I brought or cultural experiences I shared they had already seen or heard of before. That made me feel less special, almost like I wasn’t achieving the purpose of my exchange, which is to exchange cultures. I still get the benefits, I still learn about Taiwanese culture, but it’s like I’m not holding up my end of the bargain. I think that when exchange students always go to the same few families, the whole experience becomes unremarkable and everyday to them and, especially with students from the same country, they tend to have a deja-vu attitude. This can really affect the experience for the exchange student. Also, I recently discovered that my monthly allowance was not, in fact, paid by my Rotary club but by my first host family, because their daughter is an exchange student in America now. The Rotary rule in Taichung is that if your child goes out for a year, you pay the allowance money for the incoming student. This made me feel a little uncomfortable since, in my view, the whole point of the exchange program is that it is a scholarship program, and students whose families might not otherwise be financially able to send them abroad for a year can still participate. With student’s families having to host and pay allowance money, however, students can only go out if their families are financially well off in the first place.

Despite all this, I did have a good time on the trip, especially since our first activity was to visit an amusement park with some really neat roller coasters. They had one that climbed up to a peak and turned a 90-degree angle and just hung suspended for a few seconds before it dropped straight down. I’d never been on a roller coaster that was actually vertical before I came to Taiwan. Also, I had moved to my fourth host family just before I went on the trip, and my new sister and I wore matching clothes, which everyone thought was really cute. In my new host family, I have three host sisters, Chiawei (16), Chiaying (12), and Chiaming (11). We also have a Vietnamese maid, which is nice, even though she can barely speak Chinese, which makes it kind of hard to communicate.

Another major event that has happened over the past few months is that I finally met the mayor of Taichung. Rotary figured that since we had already met the mayor of Taipei we should at least meet the mayor of our own city. I got his autograph in addition to that of the mayor of Taipei (who, by the way, will be running for president in three years time. My prophetic soul!). Afterwards, I went shopping with the other exchange students, since we don’t get to get together very often. I regretted that the next day though, when I saw how far I fell behind in cheerleading. Recently, I’ve been getting involved with a lot of activities with my school, including our intramural class cheerleading contest, traditional Chinese model dancing with the cosmetology program, and performing for the middle school students who come to see the school. The cheerleading is an annual tradition at Ming Tai High School that has been going on for more than twenty years. Since students don’t change classrooms like we do in America, but instead stay with the same class throughout high school, it is possible to have a lot of contests between classes. The cheerleading contest is one of these. We actually choreograph all our own moves, and rent pompoms and cheerleading outfits, etc. Everybody thought it was really funny that in all the cheerleading pictures taken, you could instantly pick me out just by looking at people’s bellies, because I have a white fish belly while most Asians have darker skin tone. I really do stand out in a crowd, whether you’re looking from the top, in which case I stand out for my hair color, or from the middle, in which case I stand out for my skin color.

Traditional Chinese model dancing was part of the program for the second semester “show” at my school. For the first semester show I watched in awe as the dancers performed, for the second semester I was given the opportunity to be a part of it. All of the dancers in my group wore traditional qipaos, two in red, two in blue, two in purple, and only me in hot pink. I was the center stage dancer, even though I don’t think I danced half as well as they did. At one point, I even got down off the stage and went among the audience, blowing kisses, etc. I did trip on the hem of my skirt a few times (the skirt was too long and my high heeled shoes were too big, so the skirt kept catching in the back of the shoes), I managed not to fall flat on my face. I’d never worn anything with heels bigger than a half-inch before, and it was all I could do when I was going downstairs off the stage not to go head over heels. All the same, it was a lot of fun, especially the false hair (which was at least a foot high and extremely heavy). I wish someone had been there to videotape the seven of us trying to go to sleep over naptime without being able to put our heads down because that would ruin our make-up, not being able to put our heads back because of the false hair, and not being comfortable with our heads straight because of the weight. We finally got to sleep with our heads tilted forward. The funniest thing though, was that since I was the center stage dancer, I had an understudy. One time when I had a schedule conflict between the cheerleading contest and one of our dance performances, my understudy had to go up and dance. The only problems was, my false hair was spray painted gold to match my real hair, and you can imagine how that looked on someone with black hair!

Another of my school activities was performing for the middle school students. Most middle schools will take their students on a trip to visit every high school in town, and since there are twenty something middle schools here, that’s a lot of students. Every high school, of course, wants to recruit the best students, and Ming Tai does this by making a show of everything new or different about the school. Well, you bet that an exchange student classifies as both new and different, so they asked me to sing an English song and make a little speech to the middle schoolers. I agreed to this, but they also asked me to go down among the students when I was done and shake hands and blow kisses with them. “You know, just like big celebrities do.” They told me. Well, that I did not agree to.

Another thing that I’ve been involved with in school is that whenever the principal is entertaining distinguished guests I am invited to come and chat with them for a while, because guests are invariably impressed that the school has an American exchange student and that she speaks such good Chinese. Sometimes, if the guests are foreign, I am even called in to act as interpreter. In one case, a dance troupe from Sri Lanka came to perform at our school and I was called in to interpret for them, as they spoke excellent English but no Chinese. I was seated next to them while they watched the show so that I could explain the various acts to them, otherwise they would have missed a lot of the unique aspects of the performance. One of the most interesting of these events, however, was when the vice provost of a Kansas university called Fort Hayes State University came to our school to promote their long distance degree program with Taiwan. It was interesting because I was at a unique advantage, being able to understand, both linguistically and culturally, both what the vice provost said and what her translator said. The vice provost, Ms. Eliot, gave a normal, easy-going, American presentation, and her translator translated less than half of what she said and turned it into a stiff-backed, very formal, very correct Taiwanese presentation (you know, the kind that puts you to sleep within five minutes). Ms. Eliot’s presentation was actually very lively and energetic and interesting, but you would never know it from her translator. Any jokes, teasing comments, etc. he completely left out of his presentation. Later, when the school officials took Ms. Eliot to see the drinks mixing studio, she completely flustered one poor girl who was in the middle of practice for her bartender’s license test. At first, she couldn’t get the lemon properly affixed on the glass, and when she did Ms. Eliot said “Oh good job! I knew you’d get it!” (in English of course). Then Ms. Eliot actually went over and gave her a hug and started telling her how well she’d done and the poor girl didn’t know what to do because teachers in Taiwan just don’t behave like that. She just stared straight ahead the whole time, with her face getting steadily redder and redder. Then Ms. Eliot went and stood on her tiptoes and settled her chin on the drinks mixing teacher’s shoulder, asking him if she could taste the drink. I thought the teacher’s eyes were going to pop out of his face.