Already into 2018! It’s been a while since the last journal entry because I felt like there hasn’t been too much to write about. The holiday season is quite different form what I’m used to in America. Thanksgiving, Christmas, and New Years were fairly uneventful.
What was had been really fun was a trip I got to take with my school to 鳳林 Fenglin. It was a camp for elementary schoolers from Taipei and Fenglin. There were students from my school that came as camp counselors. The camp was about learn about one of the aboriginal tribes, the Truku (pronounced Te-lu-ku).
After meeting at the translation with all the elementary schoolers, we left for Fenglin. It was my first time taking the train such a long distance and with so many people getting on the train at once there was a bit of a jam of people trying to find a space for their luggage and their seats. When we arrived at the Fenglin train station, it was clear how far out of the city we were. The air was so clean, you can notice the difference. It was really quiet (besides all of us) and there were hardly any other people. We loaded our bags in some pickup trucks and squeezed into cars to drive to the school. After getting organized into our groups there were a few presentations on Truku culture. We learned how to say ‘good morning, good afternoon, and hello’ in Truku, as well as a story about one of their traditional foods and I think a brief history on the area we were in.
The second day there were several actives planned for the elementary schoolers. The morning was games and the afternoon was more cultural actives. First a language class where we learned some more phrases and how to count to ten. Then a dance class and a music class. In the evening we had barbecue. As part of their culture they kill a pig so I got to see a pig die up close and personal. The way they do it is tie front legs back and have a rope in it’s mouth to keep it up. Then after a prayer it’s a knife straight to the neck to bleed her out. They held under the hole to catch the blood so they can make soup with it. After the pig is dead they use a flamethrower to clean the body and they scrape off the top layer of skin with a shovel. Watching the pig getting butchered was pretty interesting too! First the head gets chopped and set over to the side where will shave all of the meat off. Then they make a long incision down the stomach, where they first pull out the intestines before opening the body and start cutting pieces out. Two men chopped up the ribs while another worked on cutting the spine out. I kept watching as they continued to take apart the pig, but before they finished we were ushered inside to participate in a talent show. Both elementary schools had a dance performances with Xilin Elementary (the Fenglin school) doing a traditional dance and Xiushan (the Taipei school) dancing to a pop song. The high schoolers also danced to a song and as the exchange students we sang to a couple songs. After the show and dinner we got to talk with some of locals and everyone was super nice!
The morning we went out to a local attraction. In the afternoon we went to do some more cultural actives: pottery and making mochi. The pottery was pretty fun, as we were allowed to make what ever we wanted, all of the exchange students coincidently picked sea animals. The mochi was also really interesting, as the way it’s made, you take a huge stick and pound rice. It takes a lot of strength to do, and I was only about to try for a fairly short time. That night we went on a hike into the mountains to search for frogs. The best part of that was when we all stopped and were completely silent, listening to the sounds of the woods around us.
The elementary schoolers were paired up today, so they spent the morning with their buddy. For the high schoolers, we got to go to a farm and help pick some of the food we were going to have for lunch. We picked a lot of peas, and we also got to pull up taro plants, which is the main ingredient in the bubbles for bubble tea. I was really surprised, because I hadn’t looked up a picture of the plant before, but they resemble potatoes and the inside is white. When we got back, we mashed the taro up in a similar way to the mochi from yesterday. We mixed it with sweet potato and made a soup with it. After that we had barbecue and KTV. Elisa and I decided to go for it and sing a song and when we saw Five Hundred Miles, we immediately picked that one. Unfortunately for us, it was not the version that we know and instead is a different song with the same name. We could barely sing we were laughing so hard. The kids came back in the afternoon and we had an obstacle course set up to race in. Each team would try to get to the other side, but when you run into the opposing person, you face off in rock, paper, scissors, losers has to turn around. I was really lucky, because when I went to run, I won every round of rock, paper, scissors and broke the tie for my team! For dinner one of the locals invited the high schoolers to their house where we had a home cooked traditional meal.
More cultural activities today! In the morning we got to do archery, and it is definitely harder than it looks! Some of the kids from Fenglin were really good, while many of the Taipei kids had a hard time even just shooting the arrows. Afterward we learned how to build animal traps using only rocks, sticks, and a little bit of string. We had another talent show this night too, which each group either dancing or singing to two songs. It was fun and at the end of it they thanked the high schoolers for helping out. Afterwards we got to talk with some of the adults again and ended up paying with their kids for a bit. Tomorrow we were leaving for Taipei and I didn’t want the night to end.
Our last day in Fenglin. The morning we took a hike up the mountain and got to see the gorgeous scenery. Living in Florida, the land is so flat that everyday in Taiwan I still lose my breath at the sight of the mountains. After getting back to the school, they let everyone put on tattoos that were like the traditional ones members of the tribe would get, and they gave everyone from Taipei a Truku name. We then loaded of stuff up, went to the train station and returned to Taipei. This was probably one of the best weeks of exchange so far, and I was really sad when it ended. Sometimes it’s the things that you think might not be too fun, or that you don’t even know what’s going to happen that are the parts that you enjoy the most.
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