October 21, 2012
This is so surreal to looking on the RYE Florida page and seeing my name on the side where the current outbounds are. I've been here almost two months now and I figured I was already late enough to catch you up to speed on what's been going on in Taipei. Let me just start off by saying that flying here is not fun... At all it took almost 16 hours of air time to fly halfway around the world. I was greeted at the airport by around 15 people including all of my host moms and dads my club counselor and his wife my host brother and then a couple of people who I am still not sure who they were. After that I enjoyed my first dinner in Taiwan..... I dove into the culture pool head on for this, my dinner consisted of but not limited to: Stinky tofu-like the name says it smells horrid-some boiled cow heart, then some what I thought was fish but it was sheep stomach. Let's just say that was an experience all of its own, it's safe to say I wont be trying that again for a while. So the whole first week I am here my little brother keeps saying on Saturday we go fishing, so I assume that we are going to go to a river or the ocean, but no again I was mistaken. Fishing here consist of a pool in which you stick a baited bobber in to catch, are you ready.... Shrimp, yes we were fishing for shrimp in which after instead of bringing home we cooked them right then and there. Speaking of which the Taiwanese enjoy fresh fish at a restaurant, like you pick out the fish, lobster or shrimp out of an aquarium tank and they take it to they kitchen cook it then serve it to you, right then and there.
Speaking of food, well I can really indulge in too much because everything has ingredients I can't have which is upsetting because I was looking forward to go on an eating spree but sadly this cannot happen. But on the bright side I joined culinary club at school and I am learning how to make and prepare all kinds of interesting fare. On the list of things I can eat is called hot pot in which you sit at a table with a pot in front of you and throw everything you want into the pot and cook it.... It's safe to say that it is delicious and I plan on eating it many more times. What I do not plan on trying for the third time is stinky tofu, all form of it, it is just not appealing to me a much as it is to others. Also on the lists of no need to try a third time: pig heart, intestines, pigs blood cake, chicken feet and all types of animal stomachs.
I have made a lot of new friends here during my past couple of months and some of the guys I am just as close as people back home. Unfortunately I don't get to hang out with my classmates very often as they are always busy studying for their next test which are a daily occurrence. Weekends are no better because they have Saturday school and Sunday school.... So much school here. On the list of my favorite expeditions I have gone on is one day I decided that I wanted to go up in the mountains with a group of 6 other guys and go hike up a small river. It was nice because even though Taiwan is a island I have spent little to no time at all in the water. Another one of my "genius" ideas was to get in a breakdance battle with some students... Now I'm not saying we lost, I'm just saying that we may or may not have technically "won" mainly because we just kind of ran away from the five guys all spinning on their heads. Also another one of my great ideas was to get an Asian haircut which consist of shaving the sides of my head and a whole lot of gel to hold it up there. It's safe to say I'm currently letting it grow back out to normal length. My friend Braden is exactly like me, he dives and pole vaults, the only difference is he is from Pennsylvania which is far from similar to Florida. If you know me back home then you know that if there were two of me then we'd do some crazy things. Well that happens an example of which is we needed to see if we could come home from the pool on the MRT shirtless because there is no signs that say we can't. So the next thing i know i am sitting on a packed MRT with no shirt and everyone was staring at me. Turns out you aren't technically not allowed to do it, it is just frowned upon. Another thing we did was when we went back to the river we ended up wearing speedos and water shoes on, yet again we got some strange and perplexed looks from the locals(except for one old man who was wearing the same thing).
My Chinese is progressing surprisingly quick. I can hear and read very well but I do not speak so well compared to the Taiwanese on any level. But my listening has gotten to the point where my host family will speak entirely in Chinese and I can comprehend it for the most part. When I can speak Chinese I do, and I try to seek new opportunities to try to perfect it in real world situations. So I get "lost" a lot and ask for directions even though I already know where to walk I just want to work on getting my speaking perfect. Reading actually is the most surprising thing to me because it is not that hard to remember for the most part the only major problem is writing it down seeing as my english handwriting is far from perfect.While my Chinese has grown my English is starting to fade besides my ACT vocab, but the more colloquial terms seem to fade the most because no terms are used in the same part of the country or world. A great example of this is when I was at the beach with some friends I couldn't think of the surfing term for when you get held under by a wave, I later had to text someone back home to relearn it is called being pinned.
My host family is now my family and I call my host mom just mom so when I get off the phone and say "alright mom i'll be safe, love you" the other exchange students think I am talking to my mom back home but I have to explain its my host mom but it shocked me when I found out no one else calls their host mom just mom. My family life is good when I eat dinner I talk about my day and my plans for the next couple of days and ask everyone how everything is going with them. I get along with my host brother and he an I go out sometimes ( when he isn't studying to get into a good high school). I also go to places with them such as the mountains, the beach and other Rotarians houses or events.
It wasn't the easiest thing I've ever done leaving my family and friends behind to go to a place halfway around the world. I was never really homesick but some things back home got me really upset like the passing of one of my friends, but I knew I was going to pull through it I had to pull though because I know it is for the best. Home is here now, streets that were once so foreign to me are now so familiar, the same goes for sights. I am no longer weirded out when my fish still has a head on it, I actually think its wrong without one. I don't think twice when I order things in Chinese because I am confident in what I am saying. I feel that my new Rotary family here isn't just confined to Taiwan any long but has merged with back home to make one single family. I look back at myself a year ago and can't believe that I am now the one in Taiwan, no more research about the island, no more anticipating where I am going to live in my new home, no more questioning myself if I made the right choice to come here. I realize that this year I going to be perhaps the most life changing year in life, and I am so appreciative of it. Thank you Rotary Youth Exchange Florida for allowing me to come to where I now call home.扶輪社台灣. Thank you mom and dad promise that I will not let any of you down.
January 24, 2012
As you all already know the holiday season is dwindling down and things will return to normal once again. The thing is in Taiwan western holidays have a very strange place in this society. The holidays are openly displayed from Halloween all the way up to Christmas which may seem normal but the thing is nobody celebrates these holidays. There were no little children running around apartments dressed as their favorite super hero. No turkeys or mash potatoes, for the most part there are no ovens in this country so these dishes are not easily made. There was trees and lights everywhere for Christmas but no Santa in the mall. The biggest surprise is how fast stores transform themselves from one holiday theme to another. There is a general merchandise store by my school and I was walking down there to get some Halloween stuff on sale which would be usual in America. To my surprise the shop has already been transformed into a thanksgiving shop, the next day. Meaning there was no sale the store just simply took down the items and stored them for next years ex-pats.
I realize that it is not cold in Florida for Christmas but it is still much colder than here. It has been in the mid 70's this winter except on some rainy days where it will dip down to low 60's. Yet everyone here is bundling up with 3 jacket when they step out the door. My host Mom is convinced that I will be cold as I walk out of the house with only my hoodie on in 70 degree weather, no matter what I say I normally leave the house wearing the scarf she puts around my neck. The only thing is it rains…. A lot we had three straight weeks of rain, its not nice rain it is whipped at you from all directions due to the wind tunnel effect the buildings have in this city. The sun is not really out here because of overcast and when it is it is not out long because sunset is around 5:15, I miss the Florida sunshine I will say that.
I am now officially on winter break now and I will have to admit it feels weird not having a long time off of school since August. Seeing as I haven't had much time off I really haven't traveled much around the island but I am really hoping that I get to during this next month. ,Although I have not traveled to much I have learned a lot about Taiwanese culture through countless classes but more importantly through the art of calligraphy. This alone has been a huge experience to see the almost ceremonial set up for this ancient art. I expect to do a whole lot more because of Chinese New Years coming up and we rewrite the seals of the household. I did get off for the western new years, which was really unique because exchange students from all over the country came to Taipei to see the fireworks around Taipei 101. There was around 200 exchange student in the same general area which was nice for us but the Taiwanese people near us were very confused because large groups of foreign teenagers were together. We also had a little mini Florida reunion I got to see Dakota and Gentry. Unfortunately we didn’t get to see Nicole because she was away with her host family but she had a good time and that is all that really matters.
Since I last wrote I have also moved host families which was one of the more emotional periods of my exchange thus far. It reminded me much of when I left Florida to some extent. My mother after taking care of me in the beginning where I was much like a child had realized that I had to move on to what was next in life for me. I really enjoy my new host family, they are very kind people and they speak almost exclusively in Chinese to me so my Chinese skills have improved. I do not have any host siblings in this new family which is a new experience because I am the youngest of three in my family back home so not having siblings is kind of strange to me. I enjoy it though because my family likes to spend time with me and help me.
On the opposite side of that I had to make my first rounds of goodbyes by acknowledging that my two Australian friends would no longer be with us. It was hard on us to see them leave but then I thought about how hard on them it actually is. They have to say goodbye twice since their exchange is January to January. Once to the friends that would be leaving them and once when they are leaving their friends. But that is the exchange cycle so we all knew it was going to happen eventually. It is still weird going to rotary events and looking around to find them but of course they are not there.
I am really excited for Chinese New Years, it takes place in the beginning of February this year. Everyone is telling me about how much fun it is and how much it means to this country. I can't wait for all of the festivities that the Chinese New Years celebration brings in. It is going to be very nice to spend a lot of time with my host family too, and I feel that I will grow closer to them. As of right now my host parents are keeping me out of the loop for what is going to happen and what we will do on New Years because they want to surprise me.
Well that’s it for now I will be sure to update once my vacation is over with plenty of pictures and stories to tell.
Sincerely Grant Zwolinski.
Grocery Store preparing for New YearsApril 11, 2013
You know it's crazy, I never thought that I would be able to stand in front of a
Chinese restaurant that I have never been to and read the menu as if it was
English. I didn't even think it was gonna happen the first couple of months in
Taiwan, but now I can as if I have known all along what it meant. Chinese
doesn't seem foreign at all anymore I know that at first I thought it all
sounded the same and looked similar but now I can hear the differences in each
word while it may not be as apparent as English but it is there. It finally
just clicks for me and it is really amazing to know that my hard work has
started to pay off. My speaking could be better but it's close for sure it is
not a very forgiving language when it comes to that.
My winter break was, relaxing to say the least not very eventful because we
didn't leave taipei much. But I got to spend a lot of time with my second host
family and learn about all of the traditions and customs of Chinese New Years.
Such as writing the new seals for the doors on our house, leaning about my host
ancestors and many other things. I got to travel to the south of Taiwan in the
mountains for a few days and visit my host grandparents. I stayed in a 200 year
old house in the mountains and learned how to pick star fruit and betel nut from trees. Well
not actually pick you just kind of shake the tree until the nuts fall off, I got
hit in the face a couple of times for looking up to see if there were any left.
We went to temples for nine days and they showed me the way to pray while
holding incense. It is really funny because the first day my host parents say we
wake up go to the temple to say what I heard as bye bye so I thought I was going
to a funeral the next morning. As it turns out they did not say bye bye but the
Chinese word for pray which sound very very familiar and it seemed fitting at
Also I ate.... A lot, we had a mini feast for every meal for nine days. I
gained about 4 pounds in the course of the new years festival. Everyplace we
would go to that had shrimp my host mom would tell everyone not to worry Grant
will finish all of them, she did this as a joke but as it turns out I probably
had about two and a half dozen shrimp every dinner..... Thanks Mom.Overall it
was a unique opportunity to learn about the largest, most extravagant festival
of the lunar calendar. It's safe to say I said 新年快樂 over 1000 times (it means
happy New Years) while the break may have been relaxing I barely slept the
entire New Years because people would stay up and light huge fireworks in the
middle of the street you would hear a drunk man scream 新年快樂（xin nian kuai le)
then see a huge firework followed by a even bigger boom. Now I know what you are
thinking "Grant we have big fireworks in Florida", yes but these are bigger much
bigger after all they did invent them.
I moved to my final host family and it is very different but nice. I have a host
brother who is about the same age as me and we get along very well, which is
good because we share a room. I also have my first host pet it's a cat... That
weighs about 20 pounds who always is talking and sleeping on my pillow when I
want to go to sleep. I try to move him but he is just soo large it is hard to
grab him to pull him off so I just kind of poke his belly until he moves.I also have two older sisters that are not home very often an a grandma who likes
to tell me I'm too skinny and I need to eat more(in that respect she is very
similar to my real grandma). My host brother is a really nice guy it's just a
shame we do not get to do much together because he is always busy studying for
his next test or at cram school because his school doesn't offer a course. I do
take up every opportunity I can though to hang out with him.
Recently I went on a trip to Kenting ( pronounced kending) for a spring break
sort of thing. The beaches were beautiful the water was so clear and the coral
was beautiful and this is all 20 feet off of the beach. We ended up staying in
tents which was a really good bonding experience for us and we met some other
foreigners that were down there as well. One of them from Spain actually came to
Saint Augustine through a sister city program and knows some people I do. We
both found this crazy because the world ain't as big as some people make it out
to be. I keep forgetting the sun is stronger down here so I keep on getting a
little bit toasty after the beach or a day on the river. The most relaxing part
of the trip was just to get away from the big city and rain to settle for some
wide open spaces and blue skies. I will be returning there shortly for a class
trip and hopefully this time I can go surfing ! It's been way to long since I
last was on a surfboard so it will be funny to see if I can pick it back up
Overall Things over here seem to be winding down a lot as I approach my final 60
days in Taiwan. I'm making new friendships that I know won't last long but they
will be worth it. Trying to do more because I know that there are something's I
haven't done yet an places I haven't seen. Trying to absorb the last bit of
Chinese I can before I leave here because I know it will not be the same once I
am home. Everything is just falling in to place and before I know it I'm gonna
be landing in JAX airport. So for now I am going to live in the current, And
live in the wise words of Ferris Bueller.
Life moves pretty fast. If you don't stop and look around once in awhile, you
could miss it.
Thank you Rotary once again,