Patricia "Patty" O'Brien
2008-09 Outbound to Taiwan
Hometown: Palm Coast, Florida
School: Matanzas High School, Palm Coast, Florida
Sponsor: Flagler Palm Coast Sunrise Rotary Club, District 6970, Florida
Host: Tainan Castle Rotary Club, District 3470, Taiwan

Patty's Bio

 Let me begin by saying: Sa-wat-dee, Kon-nichiwa, Ni hao, Griass God, and Bonjour! These, of course, are all greetings from (just a few of) the possible counties I’ll be living in next year. And trust me, there is no possible way to describe my emotions; to simply say ‘I’m excited’ would be a complete understatement.

Now to the introduction: My name is Patricia O’Brien, yet I generally go by Patty or Patty Anne. I’m 16 years old and currently a sophomore at Matanzas High School. I participate in the clubs CMPS (Community Problem Solvers), FPS (Future Problem Solves), and Leo’s club (basically just an under branch of the Lions club). I also spend a lot of my free time drawing, painting, and (my personal favorite) sculpting, which, unfortunately, I can only do in my art class. Now, add all that up to my school load and it’s needless to say, “I’m a very busy girl”, but I wouldn’t have it any other way. I love having something to do, anything to do, which has me constantly taking risks and trying new things when the world gets too dull. I guess you could say my life motto is “Life was meant to be lived” and I tend to live up to that at the fullest.

I’m not sure how to describe myself besides saying that I’m a ‘typical Floridian girl’. I love hanging out with friends, going to the beach, and adventuring out of the house to see and do things. I would also consider myself to be a friendly and outgoing person. I love meeting new people and making new friends. I enjoy my alone time too though; I usually spend it reading, journal writing, catching up on schoolwork, or doing my art things.

Now, there is no way I can introduce myself without talking about the important people in my life, my family. I have two wonderful parents, a bright, funny sister, and an amazing best friend (who’s practically another sister). Through out the application and interviewing process my family has stuck by my side to encourage me, share in my excitement, and listen to me ramble for hours on end about how much I want this. I truly believe they want this for me almost as much as I want it for myself, what more could I ask from them?

I’ve already fallen in love with being an exchange student and I can’t wait to meet the other 2008-09 exchangees. It is here I feel I should say: thank you SO much for this amazing opportunity Rotary! I’ll do everything I can to represent this state, our country, and the organization in the best way possible!

Until next time (when the journey really begins),

Patricia O’Brien


August 10 Journal

 I’ve yet to set foot on the island of Taiwan and already I feel like I have morphed into a new, older, and more adventurous person. If I were to go back a year and stand next to the old “me”, applying to be what I am now, you would see two complete strangers.

Of course, the immediate differences would be noted on my appearance. For years I had long locks reaching towards my belly button and braces covering my smile. Not anymore. My braces are due off in a few days and I had my hair chopped off around my shoulder and chin yesterday. I love this new mature and grounded “me”. I feel ready to take on every new adventure and tackle every new hardship thrown my way. And for this, I thank Rotary.

I can hardly imagine the way my life will be in Tainan, Taiwan. My first host family, among everyone else I’ve talked to there, seem like the kindest and most loving people I could have ever hoped for. And, believe it or not, I’m not afraid. All I feel racing through me is an eagerness to explore and a bottomless need for change. But, I guess that’s what makes me an exchange student…

It’s less then eleven days now.

(Soon to be) from the other side of the globe,

Patty


August 29 Journal

 I must have started, erased, and restarted this journal entry a hundred times now. It’s impossible to find the perfect opening, a quick intro that sums up the feelings I hold concerning my new surroundings. If at all possible, I feel everything. Every emotion to ever touch me, throughout my whole life, is now regathering in the pit of my stomach. The best way to explain this is to say that I am completely overwhelmed, but in a good way.

I love Taiwan, it’s a mystery I’m dying to further explore.

Although there are many things that take getting used to, I refuse to use the term “dislike”. There are only things I love, things I like, and things that are an “aquired taste”. This open mindset has helped me to try and retry many things.

My arrival to Taiwan was not ideal. I was sick and tired. Upon arriving at my first host family’s house, I vomited. Not the best first impression…

I brushed my teeth and went to sleep in a daze, not taking in any sights for the night. I woke up around 3:00 AM and finally took in my surroundings. My bedroom is on the 23rd floor of a building and I have a wall to wall window over-looking the city. It’s so beautiful. On the stories below me there is a shopping mall, a HUGE book store, and a Starbucks. It’s like heaven. <3

The other day my host family took me to a very nice Japanese restaurant to meet with their friends. We had our own room in the restaurant and after about five minutes, the other family arrived. They had two daughters, eleven and nine, who raced to see who could sit across from me. The oldest won and stared at me for a long moment before saying, “Oh! You’re so BEAUTIFUL!” I nearly fell out of my seat laughing. Once I got myself together I told her she was beautiful too, and I believe that comment made her day. <3

Every where I go people stare, point, and tell me I’m gorgeous. It’s soo… odd. In America I was just another teenage girl, but here I’m a fair-skinned, curly-haired, Beauty. You wouldn’t believe how many times I’m stopped in the street by people pleading to take a picture with me. I feel like a star.

After a full day wandering throughout the city I begin to forget how different I am (believe it or not) and once I return home and catch a glimpse of myself in the mirror, my face shocks me. It’s as if I expect myself to magically morph into a tan, slanted-eyed girl.

Actually, since I’ve been here I’ve only seen one other white person. It was an older woman and my eyes flew to her the same way everyone here notices me; she stood out like a sore thumb. It was interesting to see the contrast though, to finally understand how I look to the Taiwanese.

Today, eight days since my departure, I took my first trip through the city alone. It was amazing. With every step I took into the unknown, my heart would skip a beat. Since I didn’t have any bread crumbs to mark my way, I developed my own system of traveling; I used the Seven Elevens. You see, Seven Eleven is found on EVERY corner here in Taiwan… So, as I made my way through the streets I made mental notes, for example “Turn right at the brick Seven Eleven, Go straight until I hit the white Seven Eleven… Turn left at the two story Seven Eleven… And when I hit the pink Seven Eleven, I’m almost home.” It’s a very amusing way to get around…

The food of Taiwan is… impossible to describe. It would like trying to describe “American food”… Taiwan is mix of Chinese and Japanese for the primary dishes, yet has influences from Korea, Europe, Thailand…. It’s like all these different cuisines came together to become “Taiwanese”… See?… it’s hard to explain.

Maybe it’s just my girly-ness kicking in, but I have to say one of my favorite aspects of Taiwanese culture is the clothing! The common fashions would be what we consider “Grunge”, “peasant”, “girly”, and “earthy” all rolled into one. Good thing clothes are so cheap here, or I would be completely broke by now. Hehe

So, With much love from my world,

Patty


September 3 Journal

 I’m going to Japan . Let me repeat that… I’M GOING TO JAPAN!

That’s right, this October I’m packing up and heading out to spend a week or two in Japan … I’m not sure just where in Japan I’ll be… But that doesn’t even matter, because I’M GOING TO JAPAN! Whoot!

Well, now that I got that bundle of excitement off my chest… I’ll fill you in on my recent adventures. Starting with… the first day of school…

So, let me begin by saying school in Taiwan is the nothing like school back here in the states… For example… here are a just a FEW differences:

Matanzas High School:

+ 7:30 AM to 2:30 PM

+ You can wear anything as long as it’s not showing your booty or too much cleavage, and you can pair it with any type of shoes you want. (Ah, flipflops are heaven <3)

+ The student body is made up of both boys and girls

+ The students switch classes every period.

+ You pretty much get to select the classes you want to take.

+The school has many clubs, sports, and activities for after hours.

Deguang Catholic Girls' High School:

+ 7:30 AM to 7:00 PM

+ You have to wear a school uniform, sailor style, paired with solid black or white sneakers. (I have Sailor Moon flash-backs daily)

+ As it says in the name, we are all girls.

+ Teachers switch classes every period. (which is good… because there’s no way I’m going up and down 6 stories every hour)

+ After lunch is nap time, which lasts for an hour.

Anyways, my first day of school wasn’t even a real “school day”. In Taiwan, they hold a huge opening ceremony on the first day to celebrate the upcoming semester. Basically, the principal gets up and speaks for hours, and then the middle school students perform some traditional dances…

So, I sat in the auditorium (the very first row), for what felt like an eternity, and listened to the Chinese music and speeches fly over my head. Honestly, I didn’t have the slightest clue what they were saying… so I started to doze off when I finally heard my name being called. They proceed to have me climb onto the stage (Which caused me to trip and fall… like most things in the world), handed me the microphone, turned me to face the THREE THOUSAND students before me (it was like an endless sea of Asian faces), and told me to speak... My heart stopped; I was certain that I was about to make a complete fool of myself.

Yet, the second I opened my mouth to say “Ni Hao”, the whole crowd broke out into a very long “Awwwwwwwwwww”, followed by a jumble of compliments like, “She’s so CUTE!”

After they finally settled down some, I began to tell them little things about myself in Chinese. Mainly just, “I come from America, from Florida …” “I’m learning Chinese, but very slowly…” “I’m happy to be here……” and so forth.

I swear, with every Chinese word I said, they would break into a huge applause and cheer. I’m not sure if I’ve ever been a brighter shade of red.

The next day was my first day of classes, if you could even call them that… As an exchange student, I have the easiest possible schedule. I’d type out the whole thing… but I have eight periods a day, that change for each day of the week... and it’s really not that exciting of a list. To sum it up though, I have a lot of Chinese classes and free time. Also, instead of getting out at 7:00, they let me go at 5:00. Whoot!

This is only for the first half of the year though. Next semester, when my Chinese is much better, I have to attend the regular classes with the Taiwanese students.

On to more interesting things now… Sitting in homeroom today, my classmates surrounded me, then began playing rock-paper-scissors to see who had to ask the first question. (Taiwanese girls are so shy!) The loser giggled nervously for a long time, and I thought she was going to run out the door… but then she finally asked me, in very broken English, “Do you haaaaaave…. a… Boyfriend….?” I nearly fell out of seat laughing. EVERYONE asks me this…

I mean, I’m from the other side of the planet… they could ask me ANYTHING about the culture… food… even the pop-culture… but no, they’re all dying to talk about American boys. It’s hilarious.

Well, I have Chinese lessons in a few moments, so I’m going to have to cut this short.

Until next time,

Patty


September 23 Journal

 You may, or may not, have been wondering where I’ve been these past few weeks. Honestly, I don’t have much of an excuse for not writing; I do indeed see a computer everyday. However, my mind has been reduced to a similar structure as jelly, and I’m quite sure that I’m possibly the worst or most passionate exchange student here.

My understanding of the culture, although never complete, is vast enough to where I can safely say that Taiwan and I mesh perfectly together. I couldn’t imagine my life without this place; it’s as if I’m no longer that silly girl longing to have a taste of life. Now, I feel as if I have finally become the person I’ve always wanted to be, yet never mustered up the courage TO be, until now.

So why do I feel like the worst possible exchange student? Well, I must admit, I’m struggling with the Chinese language. Big time. Perhaps I’m not being fair to myself, a good portion of the other exchange students come from other Asians countries, such as Indonesia and Thailand, and have studied the Chinese language for far longer then I have. Yet, I constantly find myself comparing and feel as if shrinking in their presence.

It’s not that I don’t TRY, honestly I do, but sometimes it’s near impossible to wrap my mind around Mandarin. Lately I’ve actually been considering the reasons WHY I’ve had my difficulties and I’ve come to the conclusion that I’m trying too hard. I completely understand how all of you back home will find this comment absurd, but I’ve realized that I’ve been looking at Chinese in a far too literal way. You can’t take two languages as polar opposite as Mandarin and English and expect the direct translation to make sense. It never will. So what is my new approach to all of this you may ask? I’m going to leave my English out of it altogether. The only way to learn this hassle of a language is to relate it to things, thoughts, smells, touch… but never words. By strictly keeping my memory at Chinese-into-picture, I eliminate the translating process and thus, save myself a whole lot of confusion.

Maybe I sound a little full of myself, to consider me among the most passionate exchange students in Taiwan, but I couldn’t imagine anyone loving this island greater. In fact, some exchange students in my city spend a great deal of time crying and longing to poof home. This of which, gets under my skin and makes me want to shake them… the only reason their exchange isn’t as amazing as they had hoped, is because they refuse to adapt to the culture. They’re in their right, I suppose; Taiwan is a very hard place to settle into. Those first two weeks were a constant struggle, fun beyond belief, but a struggle nonetheless. The food is like nothing I’ve ever been faced with. Yet, smells and tastes that had made my stomach turn just a short time ago, now fill me with hunger and desire. I guess my “acquired taste” theory was right, thank-you-very-much. :]

I’m sure you all are far more interested in what I DID over what I THINK, so I’ll begin my recap now… starting with, the week before, and the day of, the 21st.

Now, all my friends and family whom were dreading this exchange can tell you that the 21st marked my one month anniversary of my departure abroad… and ironically enough; it also happened to be my 17th birthday. Go figure.

I’ll tell you now, I dreaded that day like the plague. Just thinking about it made me well up with tears. Actually, just a week before, I had been sitting in my English conversation class when we began the unit on “Holidays and Birthdays”. We all had to answer basic questions and I held myself together until finally the teacher read out loud, “How would you feel if you were alone on your birthday?” My flood gates opened right then and there.

As it turns out, I had plans that night to go to the night market with a group of classmates after school, yet at the last minute they changed the plans and decided instead to spend the evening at one of the house of one of the girls. We played Uno, ate Taiwanese BBQ, her father tried to set me up with her brother, and they brought out a cake. Of course, I’m an oblivious girl and my first thought was, “Oh we’re having cake to celebrate the Moon Festival! Yummy!” That is… until they began to sing “Happy Birthday”. It was such a simple gesture, but it was so touching that I didn’t even mind that it was the funniest tasting cake I’ve ever had. <3

Of course, that was not the end of it. Ah, fool me once, shame on you, fool me twice… Well, that’s exactly what happened.

The Friday before my birthday (occurring on Sunday) went by like any other Friday. I went to the library, helped out in English class, had nap time… and so forth. Then, last period came. Generally, this time is reserved for clubs, tests, studying… so I didn’t find it out of the normal that the class was taking a test… then Vivian (my closest friend here) came over and said she was done and said she would take me outside to spare me my boredom. Honestly, I was completely tired and would have rather slept, but I gave in and we went down stairs. We walked through the school museum, went to the band room (where a few people played songs just for me), and walked around the track… Being a silly little girl, I didn’t think anything strange of the phone calls Viv kept getting; I just plowed through, talking aimlessly about nothing in particular. Finally, she said we should go upstairs, which is a big task I might add… try going up and down 4 flights of stairs 5 times a day… Not fun. Anyways, we go to the room and Vivian cracked the door open, talked to someone, and then shut it again. Suddenly, she turned to me with a look of horror and said that we were in trouble because the teacher had come back and we had left without permission. I was dreading facing the wrath behind the door; our homeroom teacher can yell like no other… But when the door burst open, all I saw were 54 girls singing “Happy Birthday”, a huge CHOCOLATE cake, the chalk board decorated beautifully, and cards and presents. Tears swelled my eyes as I repeated “xie xie” to everyone. I’ve never been so touched in my life. Finally, I felt ok with my birthday. <3

Of course, I had more plans for the ACTUAL day of my birthday… I had invited Vivian over and she, my mama, Kim, and I went out to a BEAUTIFUL Japanese restaurant, where I received my third cake. Then, Viv and I spent the whole day walking through the city and shopping.

I wasn’t even shy about all the people staring; I’ve gotten used to it a long while ago.

Which I will go ahead and agree with Kyle and say: we are treated like royalty here. Being a fair skinned, big eyed American in Taiwan is just as magnificent as glowing gold and floating in the air. I’m treated like a complete and total princess. I’ve had strangers beg to take a picture with me, shop owners give me free things, random people blow me kisses, and my host family spoils me as if I were their own baby girl.

Recently, I received a pair of sneakers from a family friend (who I though was odd to ask for my shoe size..) valued at $100 US dollars. Apparently he is the owner of a HUGE company (over 80,000 employees) that produces the materials used for major shoe brands, like Nike…

How on earth will I adjust back to my American life?

Anyways, I have plans to go to Sun Moon Lake tomorrow and the following day. It’s BEAUTIFUL. Google it, you’ll see… it’s paradise. <3 I’ll be sure to tell you all about it soon!

From my side of the globe to yours, Patty


December 25 Journal

 I haven’t written since the end of September…? Seriously..?

You know, the funny thing is that, before I came I promised myself that I would be one of those outbounds that updated their journal all the time and documented every little interesting thing to happen in their life. However, that proved to be a lot more challenging than previously thought.

Of course, I can’t make up for the lost time… However, I can offer you two things: 1. This will be the most lengthy entry in the history of Youth Exchange (perhaps not, but I intend to try) 2. You have my promise, full-on vow, that I will try much harder in the future.

First off, I’d love to address the future outbounds of 2009-2010. I haven’t even reached my half-year mark and I’m already jealous of you all. I’d trade my entire Poke’mon card collection (and mind you, I have nearly all of the first editions) to go back to the beginning of my exchange, back to the second I got Taiwan, and re-do everything I didn’t do well enough. I’d start with studying Chinese at least 4 hours a day. Seriously, you lucky kids coming to Taiwan have NO CLUE what you’re in for. We have a lot of exchange students here from Indonesia and Thailand that have been studying Chinese for years, and you’ll come here with your itty-bitty knowledge (probably waaaay off tone) and get your butt handed to you. I’m not trying to scare, just warn you. I might anger a few of our other outbounds with this next comment, but I think language-wise, Taiwan is the one of the hardest; right up there on the scale with India, Thailand, and Japan. Argue all you want, but we have TONES. Plus, Taiwan doesn’t only speak Chinese. A LOT of people speak Taiwanese, which has eight tones compared to Chinese’s four… and then we have the people that speak Japanese… and to top it all off we write in Traditional Chinese, NOT simplified.

I’ll admit, I wish I could hand pick who gets to come to my country. Right now, I feel as if there’s a lot of “dead weight” exchangees here… I get so annoyed when I’m sitting in a room and hear others go on about how they hate Taiwan. Seriously..? I get the urge to shake them and yell, “Then why are you here?!?”

Taiwan is a HARD place, there’s no changing that fact. The culture is tight, social behavior has solid boundaries, and the adults will keep you on a tight leash. Adjusting is the key to cracking this place. You can’t isolate yourself. I began doing that a few months back, as I felt the rising language pressure, food pressure, behavior pressure… and so forth… If you retreat and lower your efforts, no one is going to pick you back up. They have high expectations here, if you fall below them, you might as well go home.

My biggest nightmare is actually getting sent home. I’m trying my hardest, and feel as though I’m among the mid-top of the kids from the Americas… but I still don’t think I’m good enough. I eat what I’m given but I still can’t do certain things… Have you guys tried red sushi before…?

Well, in Taiwan, people like to color their sodas and such, just for kicks, or to please kids… whatever… Well, it’s no secret that I love sushi, so, as a special treat from my Chinese Teacher, for getting a 98% on my Chinese test (Squeeee!), she brought me in some sushi. Well… among the sushi were a few red rolls wrapped around… something or another... and I was like, “Oh pretty, Red sushi!” and I popped one in my mouth and was, right away, overtaken by this strong taste of iron. So, I broke my own rule (the Never Ask What I’m Eating rule) and asked my classmate what it was. Well, it wasn’t food coloring, I can tell you that. Turns out, it’s a famous Tainan dish where they mix the rice in RAW DUCK BLOOD until it’s nice and gooey, then they wrap it around stuff. So, I ended up doing one of the rudest things you could do in Taiwan; I spit it out. My classmate was the only one to bear witness, so I got away with it. There was a moment of silence as I tried to make my insides remain, well, inside. Then, my classmate leans over and asks, “Well… if you don’t want to eat it… can I have it?” Yup, lovely. She gobbled them all down within seconds. GEH

Can you believe these people think that I’M insane for mixing peanut butter and jelly…?

Speaking of sushi though… let's roll back in time to mid October when I, da-da-da-dun, went to JAPAN. I’ll tell you, as giddy as I was for that trip; I was dreading the plane ride. I honestly think I could go my whole life without ever stepping foot on another plane. You should see my frequent flyer miles… Well, anyways, I get to Japan with the whole Rotary gang and their wives. I’m the only exchange student along; however, one couple brought their two children, a little girl (8) and a little boy (5). I was quickly appointed Keeper of the Children and they became my BFFs.

I’m not sure how, but me and Taiwanese kids get along so perfectly. Like, we can cross the language barrier within seconds and make up our own way to communicate. We talk through motions, games, and sound effects… it’s amazing.

So, as we practically lived on the tour bus all day, and went from site-to-site, I kept the little duo quiet and happy. We pretended to be ninjas, animals, secret agents… everything.

It was a very amazing trip; each night, we stayed in a different hotel. The second was the most gorgeous of them all… it was right IN FRONT of Mt. Fuji and it had a spa and hot springs facing the mountain… you could just relax and take in the scene… Ahhhh… Heaven.

Oh, this was actually my second visit to a public bath (aka getting naked with strangers), and I’ve gotten quite used to it. I guess I should mention my trip to Sun Moon Lake, which actually came before Japan… but my mind is obviously very unorganized… so please bear with me.

Well, although Japan was over-all amazing, there is one memory that sticks out the furthest that was quite less then “amazing”. It was the last day of our trip, we’re riding in the tour bus for a few hours, then stop for a quick visit at this famous temple… we all get out, walk around, I play with the kids, and then we all visit the gift shop. I pick out a couple little things for my friends, then I turn around and everyone is GONE. Not like, they walked back to the tour bus without me and I had to run to catch up… they went back to the tour bus without me and LEFT.

I was alone at the temple for, oh say, over a half hour..? (I might be lowering the time to make my Rotary sound less neglecting…XD ) Finally, I started to get all teary and had my “helpless little girl face on” and people began asking me if I was ok, did I need help… and all I could do was speak Chinese to them.

Oh, I’d like to point at that when you’re a foreigner in Japan, and start speaking Chinese, they think you’re a complete idiot who studied the wrong language before your trip… I obviously don’t LOOK Taiwanese…

Well, it was actually the tour guide that noticed my absence and they came back and he raced down to get me. I was so happy I could have kissed him, but of course I didn’t because that’s COMPLETELY taboo in Asia.

We made our flight and all was well. I even got the most amazing present from the parents of the two kids. It was this stuffed Bunny with these cute dresses… I know, I know, I’m not five; but I love it like a five year old would. XD

I’ll admit, I was extremely happy to return to Taiwan and I now see that Rotary was completely right; Taiwan suits me better then Japan. Uh, not that I ever questioned you guys…. *darts eyes*

Ok, now to the details of my Sun Moon Lake trip. I went right up into the MOUNTAINS of central Taiwan. It was the most beautiful scenery I have ever seen in my life. Ever. More beautiful then Japan..? Of course, but I’m completely biased… so don’t take my word for it.

I went to an AMAZING Buddhist temple, with a gorgeous view of the lake and mountains… I spent late hours at the spa, swimming with strangers in my birthday suit… It was paradise.

Oh, have you ever been the only white girl in a room full of naked people? Everyone STARES. Like, I’m used to that in a normal Taiwanese setting; but this was pretty awkward.

Well, Halloween had me a little bummed out, seeing as it was one of my favorite holidays back in the States. However, my school arranged this HUGE Halloween celebration. Correction: my school decided to have ME arrange this huge Halloween celebration… A TV news crew came (I have a link to the video somewhere…) and I had two newspaper interviews. No lie. For the next few days I had people come up to me and be like, “OH! You’re THAT girl! I read about you!” I also had to give a speech to my WHOLE school (roughly 1000+ girls) about how we celebrate it, why, and so forth. During this all, I had to “dress up” and since I didn’t bring a costume, I made do with wearing everything I owned, doing crazy hair and make up, and then calling myself a “Freak” for Halloween.

Believe it or not, the holiday that really hit the hardest though was Thanksgiving. I fell into a huge slump and craved turkey like crazy. I probably would have killed for a bowl of stuffing and a can of cranberry sauce…

Then, came Christmas; twas very interesting. And, by “interesting” I mean it doesn’t exist here.

They did hold a Christmas Party / mandatory Chinese speech contest; isn’t that a back-handed gesture? I actually did well enough to place and win a little prize, so it was all good.

OH. So we went up to this “farm” in the mountains for the weekend. They had pigs just running around, and roosters and chickens everywhere. Very cute, until they slaughter, gut, and roast a little piggy right in front of you, then try to serve it up as dinner. Lovely.

Well, there’s this nature trail up through the mountains with more stairs then the Eiffel Tower. More stairs then THREE Eiffel towers… Very exhausting.

So, you know those creepy swinging bridges you see in movies? The ones that connect one cliff to another with this huge abyss below, possibly plunging straight to the fiery depths of hell…? Well, THAT kind of bridge would look pretty safe compared to the one I crossed… Our bridges did not have a floor; you had to walk across a metal rope (regular width) with one rope for the right hand, and one for the left… then, every half foot there was a rope that connected the hand ropes to the feet rope. So, it looked as if you were walking across a big “V”. Once you cross to the other side, there is a metal swing on a cable (you manually pull it back via rope) that you can ride to the other side of the cliff. This swing does not have buckle… it has nothing… just you, a tiny chair, flying millions of feet above the world, at top speed. Of course, we all rode it a million times. There was this net (falling apart in most places) below the swing and bridge, and if you fell, and were lucky enough to hit at an intact part of the net, you’d live. So, after everyone rides, no one falls, and we deem it safe, we decide to take it to the next level; we put TWO people in the swing at once.

I’m not sure how, but whenever there’s a stupid idea, I get volunteered… probably because they know I won’t say “no”… Geh. Well, I sit in the LAP of this one girl, and we swing across and safely make it to the other side. Since that went smoothly enough, out next plan is to try it with three people… BAD IDEA. Once again, I’m not only one of the people to go; I’m also the one on TOP. Jenna sat down on the swing, David sat in her lap, and then I sat in David’s lap.

Well, we all got into the swing-contraption, tried to adjust ourselves, then decided this is not going to work, so we’re like, “We’re not doing this” and we’re about to get up when the person holding us back lets go of the rope and sends us flying across. We’re not even to the half way point and my butt is completely off. I’m hanging on by two hands, Jenna tried to wrap her feet around my legs, and David, in attempt to grab my waist, pulls my shirt up. So now, I’m WAY UP, going FAST, about to slip, and flashing everyone on the other side.

The setup of this swing is where as you reach the other side, you go about another ten meters and your feet are at level with the ground. So, picture this, I’m BELOW the swing, hanging on for dear life, and Jenna has my legs penned down, so when we get to the cliff, I CRASH into it, and they were still holding on to me so I get DRAGGED the 10 meters. My foot never hurt so much in my life. It’s actually a very pretty shade of purple-black-blue, with a huge knot.

And, needless to say, that was my last trip on the swing, thank-you-very-much. I had to wobble all the way down the mountain and when I got to the Rotarians to get some ice, my foot was nearly swollen stuck into the shoe. I declined medical attention though, because I was pretty sure it was just bruised and it seems to be healing fine on its own anyways.

So, we get home safely from that trip and I spend Christmas Eve at school. Yup, no winter vacation here. However, I can’t complain because my school was the only one that had Christmas day off… Ah, the perks of a Catholic school finally show up. XD We did a Secret Santa in my class, and on top of that I had made Christmas cards for each of my classmates, all 54 of them. It took me DAYS, I had the homeroom teacher lend me a copy of the student-list and I hand wrote all their names in Chinese. They came out very nice, if I do say so myself.

For Christmas Day, I went to Shin Kong (Sheeen Gwang) Mall with another exchange student. This mall is roughly 10 stories high, with the top three floors dedicated to a movie theater and two floors full of only food. It might actually be heaven on Earth… I have no idea how I’ll ever enjoy Volusia Mall again…

And, that’s a basic sum-up of life. Of course, there are many things I can’t share in this journal. A lot of the experiences you have as an exchange student are just so personal and touching that you don’t know how to put them into words. It’s just those little things someone says to you, the feeling you get when you understand a sentence being said, and the warm hug of a friend when they see your eyes tearing up… The little blessings are the reason I love this place so much.

Oh, I expect every single person that’s lucky enough to get Taiwan to email me as soon as possible. I have so much inside things you’ll need to know. Just ask a member of Rotary, they’ll be more then happy to give you my contact information. I’m serious, e-mail me. And, if I don’t respond right away, I might not have gotten it, so send it again. I won’t think you’re rude if you jump all over me with questions. Promise.

Also, I’d like to thank my parents, the MV (you know who you are), my friends, Rotary, both in Taiwan and in Florida, for all the support they’ve given me these past few months. I swear I won’t let your hard work go to waste.

Best wishes from my side of the globe, 歐派蒂

P.S. I’d also like to thank Al for not sending me a threatening email about my journal-laziness. I’m sure you were cursing my name over there and wondering why I seemingly fell off the face of the earth… I had to muster a lot of courage to open that Christmas email; I was convinced it would hold some sort of ultimatum… You can officially take me off your hit list now.

P.P.S. I’d also like to point out that this entry came to roughly seven pages on MS Word, which is a fairly decent attempt at lengthy.