August 27 Journal
After 25+ hours of flights and layovers, and a delayed flight that had my next flight being held up for me, I finally arrived safely in Kaohsiung ... and the greeting I received at the airport could not have made me feel more comfortable. I felt as if I had just gotten home from that long trip, instead of arriving in a completely foreign country. One Rotary officer even spoke a little to me in Spanish! I was so surprised and happy that she did that.
The first thing I noticed after leaving the airport that night was that my trips abroad (especially the trips to Japan) really helped prepare me for this trip. I haven't yet experienced any culture shock. Also, had I not gone to Japan, I think I would be fairly uncomfortable here, in the rural township of Daliao, as every single person that I walk by stares with astonishment at the only foreigner this town has probably ever seen...me. Many people back home told me that I was lucky; they said that my dark hair and eyes would help me blend in with the people of Taiwan, but they couldn't have been more wrong. In fact, I really don't think these traits make much of a difference, because my appearance is still very different from theirs.
However, my family here in Taiwan is very similar to my family back home, in so many ways. I felt like they were really related to me the moment we met. Here are some of the similarities:
1. My host family, just like my real family, is very caring with each other; Xiao Yi (my 7 year old host brother) always holds my hand when we're walking somewhere, and Jin Wen (my 16 year old host sister) links arms with me. The parents also hold the children's hands a lot too.
2. Jin Wen and Xiao Yi really show their love for each other and get along, just like my real brother and I.
3. Xiao Yi is exactly like my real brother, but younger and a little more hyper. He's hilarious! He is constantly talking, which is really helping my listening and comprehension skills.
4. My host family is multilingual; everyone speaks Taiwanese and Chinese. Ba (which means Dad in Chinese) also speaks Japanese, while Ma also speaks an indigenous Taiwanese language. My family back home can all speak Spanish and English, my parents also speak French, and my dad can speak Portuguese as well.
The weather here is also very similar to the weather back home; it's in the 90s here, but according to the weather channel, it feels like it's 105 degrees.
Although my families and the weather may be similar, the food here really is different. However, there hasn't been one thing I haven't liked. The first day I arrived, I ate what I think was jellyfish, but I'm still not sure. It was delicious! The second day here, I went to a night market, which has many small street stalls that sell 小吃 (xiao chi) which are small snacks. I ate goat sausage, tiny conchs (which were definitely my favorite food so far!), spicy grilled squid on a stick, tiny octopi, fresh and fried oysters, snails, a soup with seaweed and tiny fish, and for dessert, chunks of the best mango I've ever had on top of shaved ice. And yesterday, I went to a BBQ party with my host sister and her friends, and ate chicken hearts (among other things like shrimp and beef)!! I tried one chicken heart, wondering if I'd like it or not, and I liked it so much that I ate 5 more...haha. Ironically, the most distasteful thing I've eaten here was a greasy, grisly fried chicken leg my host sister got for me from McDonalds, along with soggy french fries.
I can't wait to start school! My family took me a few days ago to see the route along which I'd be going to school. I'm going to ride on bike about 15 minutes to get to the MRT (mass rapid transit) station, then get on and ride the MRT until the ninth stop, after getting off, I'll walk another ~5 minutes to arrive at my school, 高雄高商 (Gao Xiong Gao Shang). My school is huge...I can't believe how big it is; it's about 9 stories tall! I visited it again yesterday and met my principal and the other exchange student, who is from Finland. Everyone was so kind.
Also, one of these past days, I think I came close to experiencing what it feels like to be one of the locals here in Daliao. It's probably as close to feeling like a local as it'll ever get, since I'm probably always going to be stared at. That day, I went with my host sister, Jin Wen, to play basketball with her friends. We got on our bikes and rode down the narrow, winding road that leads to Daliao's Junior High School and the basketball courts. On the way there, as usual, cars and scooters barely, yet expertly, missed us as they drove by us. As usual, the warm, muggy air had my hair sticking to the back of my neck. As usual, Jin Wen and I yelled 你好 (hello) to Zen Ma, the best cold tea seller in Daliao, and we passed her on our bicycles. Then, when we arrived at the basketball courts, Jin Wen and I played a little as we waited for all of our friends to show up. Once they arrived, we all played together for a while, and then Jin Wen and I sat down and let the guys play amongst themselves. Then, she and I walked back down to Zen Ma's little street shop to buy 20 cent, ice-cold, large cups of green tea.
That night, after returning home and showering, my host mother, Jin Wen, and I went out onto the street so I could meet the neighbors. Here, on Lane 100, Daliao Township, the neighbors all congregate around a single, sturdy wooden table. They sit on small wooden chairs, drink tea and eat sesame seeds, and play some Taiwanese board game which I still haven't come close to figuring out. They also speak by mixing Taiwanese (the local dialect) and standard Chinese, which can be slightly confusing at times. Although they were all meeting me for the first time that night, they all accepted me with open arms. In fact, I have never felt more at home, so far from home. I was sitting with them around the wooden table, drinking tea and sweating, speaking Chinese and listening to them speak Taiwanese, laughing at their jokes and even telling one or two, and swatting flies and petting the dog that hangs around there. These people have shown to me that the Taiwanese people are indeed the most open and kind hearted people I've ever met. There is absolutely nothing I'd trade for this experience here in Daliao, with these amazing, admirable people.
And before I finish, I'd like to thank my Chinese tutor and friend, Yen Fen Wu. Had it not been for her, I would be completely lost these days, not being able to understand the language and perhaps culture of this wonderful country, Taiwan.
Furthermore, I'd like to thank Rotary for giving me this once in a lifetime opportunity!
Until next time (I'll have pictures next time, I promise),
September 28 Journal
Staring out the window of my bus on my way to school one of these past days, I realized that I am completely at home here in Taiwan. I could read many of the signs I passed. It didn't faze me that the bus came close to hitting a number of people on bikes, walking, and on scooters. The sight of an outside market, with live seafood, slabs of mysterious meats, stray dogs, and elderly women butchering chickens was an everyday sight. The hundreds of school kids crossing the street in matching uniforms was normal. For the most part, the Chinese conversations of the students and children around me flowed through my ears almost as if it were English, and the Taiwanese conversations between the elderly sounded nicely familiar. When I ate lunch at school that day, I happily devoured the pig blood with rice, stir fried 'mater convolvulus' (a vegetable that apparently has no common English name … this is what came up when I translated it from Chinese), fried fish cake, and sausage. Actually, all the food here, which was so different to me at first, has become my comfort food.
This past month, I've eaten duck's tongue and throat, pig blood with rice (which was named the world's strangest food … it's not strange to me at all now), duck blood blocks, pig and chicken feet, and an entire goat meal, which included stir-fried goat, boiled goat, goat stomach and goat soup (my favorite!). I was also fortunate enough to eat the famous Taiwanese oyster omelet and Taiwanese stinky tofu. I must admit, though, that stinky tofu is the one food I have not yet liked here. I tried it on three different occasions and each time it tasted worse … haha. There are probably other strange foods I've eaten that I've forgotten to write down because it all seems so normal now.
I've done many things this past month, including starting school. I started on September 1st and I am in Class 1-11. The 1 means I'm in first year (equivalent to sophomore year) and the 11 just means I'm in the eleventh first year class. I love my class!!! All my classmates (45 of them) are very caring, friendly, and always positive. There's never a day when they seem down. My first days of school, however, were crazy! The second day I attended school I had to give a self-introduction in front of the whole school (2,000+ students...) and of course, I missed my bus and had to take the MRT to school, so I was almost late … and of course I tripped while walking up to the stage to give my introduction. But all was well in the end, and no one cared about my tripping, or that I was nervous so my speaking wasn't that great.
Also, there are many differences between my school here and my high school in the U.S.:
There are only blackboards in the classes.
The teachers, who change classes instead of us, use microphones to lecture with.
Of course, we all have uniforms. There are three different uniforms that we wear on certain days. On Monday, Wednesday, and Friday, we have to wear the "exercise uniform," which is a white shirt with blue pants and any sneakers of our choice. On Tuesday, we have to wear a more formal, white collared shirt with dark navy blue dress pants, and "pixie," which are just formal, black shoes. And on Thursday, we have to wear the same formal, white collared shirt with a skirt (our school's skirt is pink, white and blue plaid), socks, which have to be at least above our ankles, and our black "pixie."
As in many countries, we, not janitors, clean the school. Each student must do one of the following: sweep, mop, take out the trash, clean the windows, clean the blackboard, sweep outside, or wipe the desks (which is my job).
Hardly anyone asks questions during class.
Along with the uniform, students aren't supposed to dye their hair, wear jewelry, or wear makeup...
The students don't form cliques as much as the students in the U.S., and everyone in the class gets along with each other.
School lasts from 7:30 in the morning to 4:10 on two days a week, and until 5:10 three days a week.
During the school week, I have three days in which I have Chinese lessons. On Monday and Tuesday morning, I have about 30 minutes to an hour of one-on-one Chinese conversation with a teacher at the school, and on Wednesday I have one-on-one tutoring with another teacher. Because of this, I feel that my Chinese is really improving. In fact, about 60~70% of the time, I can understand what is being said, or at least the main idea of people's conversations. Though, my speaking is not yet as good as my comprehension, of course. But I really feel that the time I spent back in Florida studying Chinese really helped me so much. If I hadn't studied Chinese back then, I feel like I'd probably only be comprehending about 20~30% of what is being said most of the time.
Apart from school, I attended a Rotary meeting in the beginning of September, and a Rotary get-together/dinner in the middle of the month. At the Rotary meeting, I did a self introduction with a PowerPoint and met many Rotarians. Everyone was so kind and happy to meet me! And last week my Rotary Counselor (Teacher Hong) took my host sister, another Rotarian's daughter, and me to Kaohsiung's history museum. We had so much fun! I went there to prepare for a Chinese presentation that I will do in December, introducing the city of Kaohsiung.
The last thing I want to talk about in this journal is the diligence of Taiwanese doctors (especially when they're also Rotarians), schools, Rotarians, and the Taiwanese people in general. Earlier in the month, I got H1N1, aka the swine flu. I came home from school one day feeling like I was extremely lacking energy, so I went immediately to take a nap. When I woke up, Ma and Ba noticed that my face was pink, so they took my temperature and learned that I had a 104 degree fever. They then took me to one of the only American-trained doctors in the area. Not only was he also a Rotarian, but he also spoke Spanish! I was so surprised (I've actually met about three or four people here who can speak Spanish)! Anyway, after a test at the doctor's, they found that I did indeed have H1N1. Unfortunately, because I got H1N1, I couldn't go to school for about 4 days and I couldn't go to the District 3510 inbound orientation. However, I was able to go back home that night, but the next morning I woke up with another 104 degree fever, so I had to be taken back to the doctor's. Thankfully, all is well now and I feel better than ever here in cozy, home-y Taiwan.
Thank you again to the Rotary Clubs who are supporting me: Rotary Club of Kaohsiung North and the Rotary Club of Clearwater East; thanks to my family and friends for their support and love, and for understanding that I'm not at all homesick :p and thanks to my wonderful Taiwanese host family and my amazing new friends here in Taiwan.
Until next month,
October 29 Journal
It's time again for my monthly update! This month was filled with a special holiday, a trip to northern Taiwan, a trip to southern Taiwan, new cultural experiences, much time spent with friends and family, and very many ups and no downs :)
I'd like to start this journal with a few lists I've compiled regarding Taiwan.
First, some things I love about Taiwan:
My host family. I truly believe I am the luckiest exchange student in the world to be placed with this family. I have a 15 year old host sister who I can relate to and talk to about anything, a 7 year old host brother who doesn't care if I make mistakes when I speak (and who understands me even if I do make mistakes), and two loving host parents who spend so much of their time, energy, and love on me. My whole family is always home and chatting with me, correcting my mistakes (and explaining what those mistakes are and how to fix them), teaching me how to cook and read and write, and teaching me more about myself and my life than I could have ever imagined. They inspire me everyday to work hard and study well to learn Chinese, because it is very important for my life now in Taiwan, my future, and my future career and schooling.
My classmates. Since I stay in the same class all day, everyday, my classmates already feel like another family. They are caring and friendly, and are always willing to help me if I have any questions or problems.
My Rotary club. They have many activities every month, in addition to their meetings, and they are always inviting me and including me in virtually everything they do. And all the members are very, very kind to me.
Going to school. I can honestly say that I've ever been so happy to wake up at 6 a.m. on weekdays to go to school as I am now!
The fact that I don't have to wear makeup or pick out my clothes for school. I realize now how nice it is to not waste time on those things and instead study Chinese, chat with my host family and experience life.
People immediately speak to me in Chinese and don't speak English unless I really don't understand what they're saying, even though no one assumes I'm Taiwanese (many people here have told me I look Middle Eastern).
Taiwanese food. To prove how much I really love eating Taiwanese food, I'm going to tell you all that I've already gained almost 10 pounds here. I arrived in Taiwan weighing about 103 pounds and am now 111...and it's only been two months!
Some things that may have seemed a bit different at first, but that I'm now used to:
升旗 (Sheng Qi). This literally translates as "hoisting the flag" and is when all the students of the school have to sit outside twice a week for a 20~30 minute ceremony. Not only did it used to be extremely hot, but the humidity was almost unbearable. Sitting under the sun with sweat literally dripping down your neck, back, arms and legs was not comfortable. When I asked my friend why we couldn't sit inside the auditorium during these times, she said that it's because it would be too comfortable, and she said that Taiwan's schools are still traditional in that they see their students almost as if they were soldiers. Actually, during these ceremonies, we salute, stand, sit and turn at the same time, and, of course, sing the national anthem while Taiwan's flag is being raised. It's a very nice ceremony, and now that the weather is starting to cool down a bit, I am loving it more and more, as well as the students' pride and love for their country, flag, and school.
Even though we usually have an hour nap at school, the 8+ hours of being at school really got to me when I first started school; I was always super tired and had to sleep at around 8:30. Now, however, I'm going to sleep at around 10:30, like many of my classmates. Haha~
Not drinking anything until after I'm finished eating. And the drink may not be what people from the United States are used to; many times the drink at the end of a meal is hot soup. If I drink something while eating a meal now though, I get full so quickly and lose my appetite, so I prefer to drink last.
Speaking in different languages. One of my friends at school can speak decent Spanish. And when he asks me questions about Spanish in English, I don't know whether to reply to him in English or Chinese, and sometimes I accidentally reply in Spanish!
The traffic. There are tons and tons of scooters (kind of like motorcycles but smaller and not as dangerous), bicycles, aggressive drivers (that includes bicyclers and pedestrians...haha), and cars that don't drive in their designated lanes or put their blinkers on. Everyone starts driving at least 2 or 3 seconds before the red light turns green, some people don't even stop at red lights, sometimes the stop lights at major intersections don't work at all, and sometimes all the turn signals for every direction are green at the same time.
And the last list, which I guess you can consider advice learned from (culture-shocked?) experience:
Never just bring a bikini to swim in when going to the beach or pool. Bring extra clothes to wear and swim in; and if you really want to wear a bathing suit, make it pretty conservative.
Don't bother styling your hair unless you have some kind of supernatural hair products that can withstand the 150% humidity. Once, when I straightened my hair in the morning (and used hair product to try to keep it straight), I got to school and people asked me if I curled my hair or if it was naturally that wavy...
When crossing the street, always look very, very, very carefully, even if it seems like there are no vehicles coming. I've never been in direct danger of being hit by a vehicle, but I'm always aware of the constant danger of Taiwanese traffic.
When someone says something you don't understand, don't pretend you understand; the Taiwanese will always be happy to explain it to you in more simple Chinese.
Now, I'd like to talk about the festival that took place this month. The Mid-Autumn Festival (中秋節) is one of a few big annual celebrations in Taiwan. It's a time to spend with family, admire the moon, eat barbeque (pork, fish, beef, goat and other meats), mooncake and youzih (kind of like a grapefruit, but not very bitter or sour), and drink hot tea. The Mid-Autumn Festival takes place on the 15th day of the 8th lunar calendar month, which was Saturday, October 3rd this year. That day, my host family and I departed our house in Daliao a little before noon, and began our drive South, towards Pingtung County, where my both of my host parents' parents live.
We first stopped in the rural town of 萬巒 (Wan Luan), which is my host mother's hometown. There, we visited her mother and a sister of hers, I listened to them speak Hakka, and then my host family and I ate pig feet, and pig thigh which is that area's famous food. After lunch, my host dad drove us to his hometown, 四重溪 (Sih Chuang Xi). His hometown is close to Kenting, which is definitely one of Taiwan's most beautiful places. It's near the ocean, rural, filled with fresh air, decorated with traditional houses and buildings, and surrounded by towering, lush, green mountains and a rushing river. We stayed in his hometown until Sunday, and there met with my host father's older brother, and his brother's wife and two children. During those two days in 四重溪, I learned to play Mahjong (a VERY popular game in Taiwan), saw the true, rural life lived by both Taiwanese and Aborigines, prayed for the deceased at a temple, made friends with my host father's family, laughed a lot, learned new things, and ate all the typical foods that are eaten during the Mid-Autumn Festival.
Also, two weeks ago, my host mother took me with her on her company outing. It was so fun! She and many of her co-workers went on two buses (equipped with karaoke of course) on a trip to northern Taiwan. The bus ride was half the fun; I made a few good friends with some of my mother's co-workers and learned so much from them (from some phrases in Taiwanese, to certain aspects of Taiwanese culture). On the way north, we stopped at a national park to hike up a mountain and view some waterfalls. After that, we continued our trip up to Tao Yuan, near Taipei. There, we stayed in a hotel, which also had a spa and hot spring! We stayed there one night, and the second day, we all went to see Chiang Kai Shek's son's coffin. It was a very interesting experience. There were two soldiers standing outside the room with the coffin who weren't allowed to blink or even move anything at all for an hour at a time. And when we entered the room, we weren't allowed to talk.
The park in the surrounding area was also very beautiful. After seeing the coffin, we went to another historic area and market. My friends and I bought Taiwanese 小吃 ("small-eats"), played games (similar to the ones at the Florida State Fair), won a bubble-blowing gun, and rode around on bicycles that we rented that day. We departed after a couple hours and were on our way back to southern Taiwan. On the drive down, we sang Chinese and Taiwanese songs, ate chicken feet and oranges, chatted, and joked. Finally, around 7, we arrived at Kaohsiung city, and then my host mother took some of her coworkers and I out to eat goat, which has become my favorite meat :)
Finally, I'd like to say that there are times here in Taiwan when I really feel like I'm Taiwanese. Like when I was sitting in my host father's parents house, around a small table, playing Mahjong with my host sister and her cousins, listening to the adults speaking Taiwanese, and joking with them in Chinese. Or when I'm at school, chatting with my friends (in Chinese of course) about Taiwanese culture or asking them questions about some things I don't understand. Or when I'm riding on my bike in the morning to my bus stop and people are no longer staring at me like they did two months ago. Or even when I'm at the 7-11 down the street buying milk and bread for the next day's breakfast, while texting my Taiwanese friends. I feel like I really fit in with this culture. I can't recall any moments here when I felt really frustrated because of the difference in cultures, languages or religion. There may be many differences, but I understand fully that they will not change, and that there is no reason they should change. Taiwan honestly feels like my second home; I feel so comfortable here. My host family feels like they're my real family, I definitely connect more with my Taiwanese friends than the other exchange students, I feel like I've known my Taiwanese friends my whole life, when I hear Chinese, it sometimes just sounds like English, and life just feels completely normal. Time is already flying by and I am begging it to slow down so I can relish my life in Taiwan just a little longer.
I truly can't thank Rotary, and the Rotary Clubs of Clearwater East and Kaohsiung North, enough. "Thank you" will never be enough to show you all how thankful I am for this experience. Nevertheless, 謝謝你們!! Thank you all!! :)
Until next month,
November 27 Journal
Another month has passed here in Taiwan, and winter is nearing. The weather is finally cooling down! ...for the most part...although it sometimes gets up to 85 in the middle of the day. And life here is still a breeze, so easy to adjust to, and so easy to love. I'm honestly enjoying being here so much. Really, when there's so much to learn, so many people to be with, so much fun to be had, a language to learn, I don't want to waste any time sulking around. I only have 8 or 9 months left, after all.
This month I took a special trip to Ping Tung County to visit the Taiwanese Aborigine Cultural Park. When we arrived, the day was cold and rainy, and seemed just like the perfect day to try and ruin our trip. But what my family and I got to see that day made up for the weather...in fact, what I saw that day moved me to tears and made me feel a much stronger pride in my own indigenous heritage (my father is half Indigenous American).
The entrance fee to the park was free that day, because that day (November 14th) was meant to honor the recently named, fourteenth "official" aboriginal tribe of Taiwan, the Sakizaya tribe. While walking around the park that day, we realized that there were almost no people there, even workers. We looked around at the old houses of aborigines from many years ago, with cliffs and mountains as a backdrop. The mist and light rain actually made for a different sort of beauty in that landscape. Then, we took a small bus to the performance center, where we watched the tribes' traditional dances and singing. We were able to watch an amazing performance by each of the fourteen tribes, all having their individual movements and singing. But what really moved me was the lyric-less performance by the Sakizaya tribe, telling about their history.
Long ago, Chinese people came to Taiwan from mainland China, and like Europeans did to Native Americans, the Chinese overpowered, dominated, controlled, and killed many of Taiwan's indigenous people. The Sakizaya tribe was especially in danger because they were notably strong-minded and spirited and did not like the intrusion of the Chinese at all. Unfortunately, though, they couldn't really fight back because their human strength was no match for the Chinese's weaponry. Therefore, when the Chinese came to attack the Sakizaya in 1878, the remaining tribe people fled to another tribe (the Ami tribe) for safety. Since the Ami didn't try to fight against the Chinese, the Chinese didn't attempt to harm them, and therefore the Sakizaya were safe hiding with the Ami. The Sakizaya have been with the Ami since that time, and it was not until 2004 that the Sakizaya began fighting for their own identity again, saying that they were not the Ami people, but rather, their own tribe.
The performance we witnessed that day at the Cultural Park, was the first performance by the Sakizaya tribe, finally being able to express their own culture and tradition. After a speech by the current Sakizaya leader (in their language), speaking about the importance of this day for them because they were finally being recognized as their own tribe, the Sakizaya performers jumped for joy, laughed and cried, expressing their happiness that day. For their performance, they wore their own traditional clothes, hummed their own tunes, and danced their own dances.
All in all, that day really impacted me and educated me more about the history of the original inhabitants of Taiwan. I am so thankful we went to the park that day, and were able to watch that emotional and breathtaking event.
Now, on another note, the Chinese language. Many people back at home told me I was crazy, that Chinese was the hardest language to learn in the world, and that learning a European language would be so much easier. I must disagree...not all European languages are as easy as they may have thought. Basque, Hungarian, Russian, Icelandic; all languages that make my knees shake. Chinese, on the other hand, is not as hard as many people seem to think. The basic grammar is fairly simple. It follows the Subject-Verb-Object pattern that English does. There aren't really any verb tenses: present, past, future, etc, a verb always stays the same. There are no verb conjugations or cases according to gender or number, and there are only a few articles. The pronunciation is fairly easy for me now, although there is one sound I used to have trouble pronouncing; the Ü, which isn't present in English. Writing and reading also comes pretty easily for me, and anyone can learn it; it just takes time and patience (Chinese characters are really not as scary as they may seem). And learning vocabulary is just like learning vocabulary in any other language.
The only thing that hinders me on occasion is the difference in tones. The word "Ma," pronounced with 5 different tones all mean completely different things. Sometimes the tones sound very similar. For example, if you say the word "ma" with a high tone (just slightly high pitched), it means "mother." "Ma" with a rising tone (starting at normal pitch and then making the pitch higher), means "flax/hemp." "Ma" with a dipping tone (starting at middle pitch, falling to a low pitch, and then rising again) means "horse." "Ma" with a falling tone (starting high and then falling to a lower pitch) means "to scold." Finally, "ma" with a neutral tone (just normal pitch) at the end of a sentence makes that sentence a question.
Now that I've probably convinced you that Chinese really is hard, let me tell you that Taiwanese has eight different tones, and Vietnamese has nine different tones, as do some northern Chinese dialects...so standard Chinese really isn't hard when compared to some other languages. And the tones just come naturally after a while; you don't really have to think about it while talking.
On the same note, my English is already becoming a little strange. I spoke English for the first time in a while when I talked to my parents on skype the other day...and I felt myself pausing occasionally and struggling to get words out of my mouth. I said "eat medicine" instead of "take medicine," and when explaining something about Chinese to my mother, I used "然後," instead of using it's English counterpart, "and then." Also, I have one classmate that one day spoke to me in English and I when I spoke with her, I caught myself making a few mistakes like "I also am," and "I don't think so, too."
Moving on, school is still going extremely well, and I'm loving it more and more with each passing day. I feel so comfortable at school and I really am so close with my classmates. They're all the kind of people who can comfort other classmates when they cry, laugh with them, joke with them, and make them feel good when they're down. And that also goes for my homeroom teacher, 程老師 (Teacher Cheng). He is really special and I can see that he's making an impact on these 15 year olds' lives. His style is different from many teachers here. When a student falls asleep in class, he asks if he/she is feeling ok, what time he/she went to sleep the night before, if they've been struggling with homework, and I've even heard classmates say they're so glad that the teacher can lend an ear for any problems they may be having, whether it be family, relationship, life, or friendship problems. He really cares about all of his students, and there are always past students of his stopping by to say hello.
Next month my school is having their annual school festival, honoring the anniversary of the day the school was built/established. For the festival, every class must participate in the sports day, which is similar to the field days we had in elementary school, and every class must also participate in the other activities. For the festival, my class is doing a fashion show and we are making all the clothes out of paper. My friend told me that it's class 1-11's tradition to make a paper fashion show.
Lastly, I'd like to say good luck to all the 2010-2011 outbound candidates!! 加油!! I hear there are many from my high school applying :) I'm so glad to see so many people are going for this wonderful opportunity. This really is a once in a lifetime, life-changing experience; there's really nothing like being able to live an experience like this at such a young age...learn a new language, learn a new lifestyle, learn new things, meet new people, eat new things (haha), see the world through other people's eyes, gather information to make opinions, learn more about the world, learn more about yourself and about others.
Probably one of the most significant things I have learned here is that people, under the skin, really are quite similar...if not exactly the same. Sure, there are cultural and language differences, but when you look beyond that and look into a person's heart, thoughts, sentiments, feelings and emotions, you realize that we're not as different as we seem from the outside.
So, in conclusion this month, I'd like to say "thanks" again to everyone; to my parents for their undying love and support :), to my Taiwanese friends and family, my Taiwanese classmates and teacher, to the Rotary Clubs of Clearwater East and Kaohsiung North, and to the past exchange students who mentioned Rotary to me...thank you so much. Thank you, Rotary. 我非常愛台灣 <3 天天都很開心!!
Wo xia guh yue zai xieh
I'll write again next month
December 25 Journal
I wake up at 6:30 on Sunday morning; a brisk breeze blowing in through my open window and rooster calls coming in from the small land plot on the end of our street. I walk downstairs and my mother and I eat a small breakfast together, chatting about what foods we plan on buying today at the market; fish and mussels, fresh chicken (always killed just an hour or two before being sold), green vegetables and probably some pineapple.
At around 7, we step out our front door and the soles of our shoes silently greet the old cement road, like every other day. I stretch my arms and take a deep breath, wrinkling my nose a little at the faint smell of the perpetual pollution cloud that lurks around this area of town. As my mother and I get onto our bikes, my little brother stumbles out to us, both shoes untied, rubbing at his tired eyes...he says he wants to go with us and see what we're going to see, too. He climbs up into the seat in the front of my mother's bike, now just a little too small for him; his legs hang precariously close to the front wheel.
The time-worn wheels of our bicycles take us down that old bumpy road, across a tiny intersection, and when we pass two small buildings on either side of the road, my viewpoint opens up to crisp, green vegetable fields on all sides, sparkling with early morning dew. I take another deep breath, this time enjoying it much more. There is the slight smell of vegetation...and nothing else; no pollution or chemicals, since the vegetables grown here have no pesticides. Here, there are only a few scattered cement buildings in the background, no cars, a handful of people, fresh air and a stray dog or two. There's an elderly woman on the side of the road, calling out to the few passers-by, asking us if we'd buy a bundle of corn for twenty cents; a faded, slightly warped straw hat shading her aged face from the rising sun.
I feel elated as I glide on my bicycle down the road, maneuvering around the small potholes here-and-there. The warmth of the sunshine fights for my attention against the sharp whip of wind against my face; the distant barks of dogs rise up countering the buzzing sound of a motor scooter up ahead, turning and driving down another street I hadn't been down before. As my mother and I continued on our bikes, a flower field appeared in the distance, at first just a small patch of color, and soon growing into 花海 (Hua hai), its name, which means "an ocean of flowers" in Chinese.
Fluorescent orange, vivid pink and bright white flowers wave at us, flowing from side to side in the breeze. There are unmanned food stands and kiosks, which will be emitting the delicious smells of roasted squid, grilled corn, fried fish cakes, and fresh squeezed orange juice in the afternoon, when the street will be filled with people from all over who came to see the beauty of my town, Daliao. --
This month passed by even more quickly than the last. So much is has been happening: my school had its annual school festival, I gave my first Chinese speech, I took a trip to Sun Moon Lake, and I spent a lot of time learning new things, experiencing more and more, and of course, being thankful for this experience :)
My school's annual festival was like nothing we have in schools back home. If anything, it was somewhat like the field days we used to have in elementary school. It lasted two days; the first day started off very interestingly, with a show of each class' special costumes. Our class won first place in the costume contest out of all the first years! My classmates are very skilled and I'm so thankful they were so helpful and helped me with my outfit, or I think it wouldn't have been able to participate in the costume parade :) haha~ I was dressed as a Chinese legendary character named Ba Ye, and my friend dressed up as Qi Ye, another legendary character; their story is very intriguing:
-- Qi Ye and Ba Ye used to be very good friends, so good that they said they couldn't live without the other. Every day they met at the same time to drink tea under a bridge. One day, Ba Ye was early waiting for his friend as usual, and suddenly the weather changed; it began to rain very hard, making the water of the river under the bridge rise quickly. Qi Ye was on the way to the bridge when it began to rain, so he ran all the way back home to get an umbrella for he and his friend. Meanwhile, the water of the river kept getting higher and higher, but Ba Ye didn't dare to move, because he was afraid that Qi Ye wouldn't be able to find him, and he didn't dare break their appointment. Seeing as Ba Ye was extremely short, he was drowned. When Qi Ye arrived he saw that Ba Ye was drowned, he was so sad that he decided to hang himself from a tree. When the Devil saw the way the two friends kept their promises, he was moved and asked God if these two could be made into the messengers of death, and God agreed. So Qi Ye and Ba Ye are said to be the messengers of death, those who take bad souls and bring them to Hell. --
After our costume parade, the rest of the day was composed of running contests, like three legged races and relay races. The second day (Saturday), had more races (our class got third place in the girls' relay race!!), each class sold drinks and foods, and there was a fun performance by all the school's clubs, including the Aborigine Club, the Dance Club, the Martial Arts Club, and the GuQin Club (the GuQin is a traditional, Chinese stringed instrument).
I also was fortunate enough to have my Host club take me on a trip to Sun Moon Lake (日月潭)! It's one of Taiwan's most beautiful places and it was such a great experience going there. There is a group of aborigines that used to inhabit the whole lake area (the Thao tribe), but now the lake basically belongs to the Taiwanese government. However, the aborigines still live there (although there are only 600 left), and there is even a small island in the middle of the lake, said to be sacred to the Thao, and it's forbidden for anyone but the aborigines to step on the island. The water of the lake is pristine blue-green, and it is surrounded by lush mountains. The air is fresh and the land around it still maintains a rugged beauty to it, despite the hotels here and there spotting the lake's banks. I was so happy I was able to go there and see the beauty of Sun Moon Lake first-hand. The photos I took really do no justice to the beauty there.
Last week, I gave my first Chinese speech. When I heard it had to be 7 minutes long, I thought "Oh no, I can't do that..." but in the end, I had to correct my speech 3 or 4 times to make it short enough~ haha. I even surprised myself by getting first place out of the fifteen exchange students in my district, 3510! But the next time we have a speech, I will prepare more, so that I can say the speech without any papers or cards in my hand. It was really fun to write my speech about all the experiences I've had, all that I've learned, and the people I've met. The other exchange students also had great speeches; they had everyone laughing! And it was so fascinating to hear and see the experiences, thoughts, and new knowledge of the other exchange students here in Taiwan. (If you want to see the actual speech, here's the youtube link:
A lot of people have been asking me what Christmas is like in Taiwan. It's pretty different from Christmas in the U.S. For example, students still have to attend class, and workers still have to go to work. Also, there are some people that give gifts, and some that have dinner with their families, but it depends; some people feel December 25th has little or no significance whatsoever. Here in Taiwan, Christianity is a minority religion, Buddhism and Taoism being the major religions, so Christmas doesn't have the same significance to many here that it does to many in the United States. A lot of people here still see it as a fun day to celebrate and spend time with family, or exchange a card and some chocolate, but it usually isn't more than that. Please don't take my description as a complaint, though! We exchange students are all around the world in different countries to learn new people's way of living, new customs and cultures, so I see nothing saddening or melancholy in not being home for Christmas. I'm here with a wonderful family, wonderful friends, and I'm living a life I wouldn't change for anything. Also, I know my biological family is back at home, happy and safe, so no worries :)
Happy holidays everyone & happy winter vacation!
January 31 Journal
I'm sitting in my new host family's living room (which I'll talk about soon), writing my sixth journal. The days are flying by and I feel like I'm fighting to keep time on my side...five months have already passed and I only have about six months left here on this beautiful island of Taiwan.
Seeing the new outbounds for this year, I remember this time last year when I was wondering what it would be like to live in Taiwan, only about a month after learning Taiwan was indeed my final destination...how would life change for me? Who would I meet? How would living at such a distance from my home (literally and metaphorically) change my perspectives, outlooks, and interests? How long would it be until I could speak the language? What would school be like? What if I couldn't connect with the Taiwanese people the way I connected with people in the US, because of all the different barriers between us? There were so many questions I was dying to ask. Look at me now, though: more knowledgeable and independent, living in a new country! I feel like I've gotten a few years older here, in only a few months.
I was able to understand and communicate well after three months (although I don't consider myself fluent yet, after five months). This was the biggest step for me so far here. The acquisition of the basic language really took me to a new level; I was no longer the guest, the foreigner, the person who didn't understand what was going on, the person excluded from most conversations, the person being talked about in whispers. I no longer felt as reserved with my thoughts and opinions as I did in the beginning. It was easier to speak my mind or to lighten the mood with a joke or two. I was able to go places and do things on my own without feeling helpless as my host sister spoke for me.
Then, came more and more notions of the language. I learned bits of Taiwanese here and there, the slang came easily, I learned to understand what was joking and what was serious, and I heard people using lines from famous movies like Cape No. 7 in their conversations, and even started using some famous quotes as well. People started asking me, "How do you know how to say that?" or, "I never thought I'd hear a foreigner saying that!" Haha~
In February or March last year, I began learning Chinese with a Taiwanese friend/ex-student of my mother's, Yen Fen Wu, and let me tell you all, I am so-so-so grateful to her for her help with learning Chinese. If I were you, 2010-2011 outbounds, I would definitely start learning the language now, just as everyone else is advising you to do. And for people coming to Taiwan, there are tons of interesting, funny, sad Taiwanese dramas which you can watch for free at www.mysoju.com, which really help with language learning! I really advise one-on-one tutoring, though. It may not be as readily available, but this is the fastest way to learn a language (for me, at least), in combination with self studying. Self studying is great to do in one's free time. I studied from my own text and phrase books, listened to a bunch of Taiwanese music (trying to understand the lyrics) and of course, watched tons of Taiwanese dramas.
There are other things which I've been unconsciously adjusting to here in Taiwan, like the way I wear my clothes, the way I talk, or even the way I walk and carry myself around. And the biggest compliments I receive now are the ones from people saying, "You're not Taiwanese? Oh, but you grew up here, right?" or when I went to another family reunion, "So you're the Chen's first daughter! You're so grown up now!" or "Wow, I almost mistook you for a foreigner, you look a little like one." They seem a little over the top, and I know not everyone thinks I'm Taiwanese, but these compliments really make me feel so happy :)
But still, the language is one of the most important elements of blending in. Even at the monthly Rotary meetings, and the occasional Rotary events I go to, I’ve been able to speak without preparing too much beforehand. HINT to outbounds: you should prepare at least a little something to say for every Rotary event, meeting, party or whatever it may be. I’ve learned the hard way that I always need to know what to say when I’m suddenly called on to give a “short” two minute speech in Chinese...haha~
Besides that, like I mentioned before, I've moved to my second host family. It was hard to move from the wonderful first family I had here, especially since I moved from that little town of Daliao to the middle of Kaohsiung city, very close to my school, and this is the first time in my life that I've lived in a city this big. When I look out the window of our apartment on the seventh floor and see city scape as far as the eye can see, I feel a rush of excitement~ It's so different from every place I've ever lived in!
And I love my new host family, too :) My host mother is so kind, caring, and understanding, and her son, Yahng-Yahng, is a little shy, but also has a warm personality, and reminds me of my own little brother. We have agreed on a special schedule: Tuesday and Saturday are English days, where we must all speak English, Thursday is Taiwanese day, and the rest of the week is for speaking Chinese.
This past week I was also chosen, along with one rebound student who went to Germany two years ago, to be interviewed on a Taiwanese radio station! What a surprise!! ...and I was so nervous...but in the end, it was fine, and our interview will be aired on Taiwanese radio in the morning of February 9th.
One of the last things that has been going on this month is that every Saturday and Sunday morning, all the other exchange students and I am learning two things: 1) Kung Fu, and 2) Ba Jia Jiang dance.
Ba Jia Jiang is a very interesting part of Taiwanese and Chinese culture. From what I've heard from most of my Taiwanese friends, no one really knows what Ba Jia Jiang originally was and where it came from. However, most people know that the Ba Jia Jiang (which roughly translated means Eight Warriors) were evil warders who took part in a very old, traditional Chinese performance, where they wore beautifully elaborate clothing and had their faces painted in bright colors forming frightening patterns. For example, sometimes they use red paint to make the illusion that they are frowning, or use black to make their eyebrows stand out and just make their faces look very threatening. They surrounded a spirit medium, who would be mutilating himself. The Ba Jia Jiang carried fans with Chinese characters that would protect them from evil spirits, and they were not allowed to smile or joke. They would be there to ward off any evil spirits and they had a special walk/dance that was very distinctive, which the exchange students and I are learning now.
Unfortunately though, the performance is now sometimes tied with violence and gangs. Many of the performers nowadays are adolescent boys who self mutilate and inflict violence on other performers, sometimes throwing knives and other sharp objects in the air just so they will land on their own heads, or on the heads of others. They become this way during the performance in a religious fervor, thinking they're in a state between human and god, between reality and magic.
There are so many interesting things I'm learning here in Taiwan!
So that's about it for this month, and if anyone has any questions about coming to Taiwan (or even about exchange in general), feel free to e-mail me and I'd be happy to try to answer all of your questions as best as possible
Until next month!
March 21 Journal
It really feels like I just finished writing my last journal yesterday...and I didn't even write a journal last month, the reason being that I wanted to wait for my father to come before writing again. My father came on February 28th and stayed here in Taiwan with me until March 10th!! I was so happy to have him here and to show him around to many places around beautiful Taiwan. We were really lucky and were able to see many cultural aspects that are especially Taiwanese.
Last month had Chinese New Year! My new host mother took me to her father's house in Pingtung City. There we met with all of her sisters and her younger brother, and all of their children. The first night, we ate a traditional Chinese New Year dinner (tons and tons of delicious Taiwanese foods), and I ate "long life vegetable," which is a long, leafy green vegetable that one is supposed to eat without biting it into pieces, in hopes that his or her life will be long. On the second and third day of the New Year, we spent much time with the family and even went to pray for the deceased family members (my family is Buddhist). I accompanied my host mother, her three sisters, her younger brother, and some of their children to pray at a temple and cemetery. We used incense and at the end of the ceremony burned paper money (no, not real money) so that the deceased could use it. It was a very interesting experience.
Two weeks ago, all the exchange students from District 3510 (Kaohsiung, Pingtung) had a performance at the 12th annual District 3510 Rotary conference. I mentioned in my last blog that all of the exchange students were practicing a dance every Saturday and Sunday from 10-12 at Central Park here in Kaohsiung city, and all of our practice since January was for this very performance. We learned BaJiaJiang, a very traditional Taiwanese dance, as well as a few other dances that were more contemporary (Lady Gaga, etc). The practices every weekend were really fun, and actually helped me get closer to the exchange students. My first family lived in Daliao, which is very far from the actual city of Kaohsiung, where the rest of the students live, so for the first five months of my exchange I had very little contact with the rest of the students. But now that I live in the city, and also due in large part to the weekly dance practices, I got to know the exchange students a lot more. I have also been using a lot of language recently; the exchange students selected me to be the dance leader, and so I’ve had to translate everything our teacher says, into English and into Spanish for the South American exchange students. The students all understand most of what the teacher says, so little by little, I've noticed that I don't need to translate as much as I had to in the beginning.
Another exciting thing is that my father came to visit me!! He arrived on Sunday, February 28th at around 10:30 p.m. The following day I took him to Xizihwan, which is near the port/coast area of Kaohsiung, and then took him by ferry to the small island in the port area. We invited a friend of mine and the three of us ate grilled squid, giant shrimp, fried scallops and drank cold, sweet tea (since the weather was similar to Florida summer weather).
My father and I were even lucky enough to stumble upon a procession of worshipers, which I realized was a performance of the real BaJiaJiang. The men in the front took large swords, metal-spiked clubs and mace-like weapons to their backs and foreheads. Their blood was wiped on “paper hell money” and then burned in piles on the ground, which the men then walked upon. The fourth man in the procession had a black piece of cloth covering his eyes, and when I asked why, I was told it was because he was supposed to have had the spirit of a god inside of him, so he was able to walk the distance to the final temple without looking at the path he was supposed to walk. The performance was very interesting and I was so happy we were able to see such a traditional Taiwanese cultural aspect. These types of performances are becoming rarer and rarer and I have some Taiwanese friends who have never seen something like this.
My father and I also went to visit my school, went to Cheng Ching Lake, Lotus Lake, Kenting, the largest Buddhist temple in Taiwan, and even the largest Taoist temple in all of south Asia. I had been to most of the places before, so it was fun to play the role of the tour guide and show my father the beauties of this place I now call home.
The time when my father was here was flawed, however, by a 6.8 magnitude earthquake that occurred in south Taiwan, near where I live. I have experienced only one other earthquake during my time in Taiwan, and that time it occurred very far away, on the east coast of Taiwan, while this one was much more serious. My father and I were visiting my first host family and we were eating breakfast when I began to hear the windows shaking. All of a sudden, my first host father shouted “Earthquake!” and as we ran downstairs and out of the house, I heard things falling behind us and glass breaking. Even when we were standing outside, and the whole situation felt a bit safer, my legs were quivering because the ground didn't stop shaking for about another 10 seconds. The feeling was definitely unsettling; my head felt uncontrollably dizzy and I felt like I needed to sit down quickly or my legs would buckle.
The same day of the earthquake, we went to visit the giant Taoist temple, which was situated in the town next to the area where the earthquake’s epicenter was. What we saw was a bit disquieting. The first impression of the temple was a splendor like one I’ve never seen before. The size of the temple and the surrounding temples was very startling, and the vivid green grasses of the surrounding grounds gave the whole place an extremely free, peaceful, tranquil feeling. It was also very quiet and beautiful, as there were no people to be seen. However, when we walked in through the gates, I began to notice little details that proved the gravity of the earthquake. The paths on the grounds were lined by hand-carved, stone statues of Taoist gods and goddesses, but little by little I became aware that a few here and there were chipped, some broken, and some even fallen and completely crumbled on the ground. As we approached the massive main temple, I noted the central gate had huge architectural flaws resulting from the earthquake. As I observed it more closely, it looked like it could topple with any type of stress applied to it. The main temple had pieces of concrete, whole wooden busts, and brick fragments sprinkled all over the area around it.
Near the end of the time my father was here, my current host mother drove us two hours south to Kenting. This was the second time for me to go to Kenting, and it was just as fun and fresh as the first time! The ocean was beautiful and the drive there was also very scenic. My father said that many of the areas in South Taiwan remind him of Costa Rica, where he is originally from. We were able to go to two different national parks and even to the night market, where we happened upon a Peruvian man selling handmade leather jewelry. He, my father, and I all spoke in Spanish~ haha. The national parks were stunning and for the first time in a while, I saw wild monkeys!! They were so cute :)
Apart from the earthquake, my father’s visit was one of the highlights of this month and I felt so happy, and even proud to show my father around south Taiwan!
Also, I just learned last week that on April 9th-11th (two days before my birthday, April 13th haha) we exchange students will all be going to Penghu Islands!! These islands (previously called "Pescadores"--meaning fishermen in Spanish) are situated off the west coast of Taiwan, between Taiwan and China, and are absolutely beautiful! I'm really so happy that we have so many opportunities to travel to so many places in Taiwan :)
I'm looking forward to the last FOUR months of my stay here...I can't believe there are only four months left. I'll make sure to treasure these last four months with all I have and make the most out of it. I was at the exchange student's weekly gathering yesterday, where we practice for another performance in May (all of Taiwan's Rotary is going), and when we found out our friend from Ecuador is leaving next month, our Korean friend began crying. As we were trying to comfort her, the air around us seemed to change as a feeling of sorrow swept through every one of us. Time has really flown by, and even though we were warned about this from the beginning, it's really an unsettling feeling thinking about how we will pretty soon be leaving all of these unforgettable memories behind us, though we will still always have them in our hearts and minds. We exchange students, no matter where we're from or where we go all make similar great friendships and have so many memories and emotions that we will carry with us for the rest of our lives.
Really, so, so much has happened here. And because of this year, my life, my future has changed...I have changed as a person...for the better, of course :)
Thankfully, I will definitely be coming back next year to Taiwan, whether it be to come back for college or just to visit, so I'll keep my spirits up for now and enjoy my time here at home, in my beautiful Taiwan.
April 21 Journal
It's time for my eighth journal! This time it feels like forever since I wrote my last journal … speaking of time (for the millionth time? haha), minutes, hours, days, weeks are now blurring together. I always seem to catch myself thinking, "did that happen this weekend or last?” Or maybe it's that now that I only have three months before I go home, I'm trying not to think too much about time … I'm at a point in my exchange where I can listen to music I heard throughout my year here and cry :( It's just hitting me now just how much this year means to me, my future, and just my life in general, and how much it has changed me as a person.
I'm sorry but I have to start my journal with a complaint … I've noticed recently that there is something about Taiwanese schools that really bothers me. There are some teachers at the school that are called "drillmasters." They are ex-soldiers/militants who, in addition to teaching, are at school to catch any students wearing the uniform wrong, smoking, holding hands, and/or doing other inappropriate things at school, and then to punish them. However, many of them are nothing but adult bullies in my opinion. Take our class's drillmaster, for example. One time, at the beginning of class, a few students went to the back of the classroom to get their textbooks and the drillmaster yelled out, "I didn't say you could go get your textbooks! Stand in the back of the room, all of you, for the rest of class." One of the boys in the back had his hands behind his back while standing and she interrupted the class just to say to him, "What are you doing with your hands behind you? Get out!! I don't even want to see your face!" Another time, she was calling on random people in the class to answer questions; the first few questions were about the earthquakes that have been happening recently. She asked the first student where the two most recent earthquakes happened (has nothing to do with the class, national security), and when the students didn't know, the drillmaster said, "How can you not know? Geez! Do kids nowadays never watch the news or what?!" She often wastes class time embarrassing students and just bullying the students in general. In any case, this drillmaster is too over the top most of the time, and Taiwanese schools can definitely do without the adult bullies in school. We're not in the army, WE'RE IN HIGH SCHOOL.
So now on to the important stuff...
The beginning of April had a holiday called Qingming Festival (a.k.a. Tomb Sweeping Festival); it's the first day of the fourth lunar calendar month. The days before the actual festival are called cold food days and are special for making and eating spring rolls. Therefore, that day my host mother took me to the traditional market to go buy ingredients for the spring rolls with her. It was amazing to see the spring roll "skins" being made with very sticky dough; the hand of the woman making the skins was super fast and skilled, spinning the dough on the hot metal pan into a flat, pancake looking thing, and then another woman took them off the skillet only after a few seconds. We also bought sausage, lima beans, cabbage, dried tofu, pork, egg, other vegetables, and ground peanut. Then we got home and waited for two of my friends to come over and then the five of us all made spring rolls together, putting all the ingredients together in the freshly made skins, and then ate them! They were delicious :)
During this month, my host mother and I have made sort of a habit of going hiking in the mountains near the outskirts of Kaohsiung, Cai Mountain and Shou Mountain. We usually go very early on a Saturday or Sunday morning and then hike for at least 2 hours. The first time we went, we took my little host brother (11 y/o) and we sort of got lost … well, we went off the well beaten path and walked on a smaller, less walked on path, and then when going back down the mountain, we ran into two soldiers. When we asked them how to get back to the parking, they said we could take the path all the way down, but that at the end, there was only an entrance and not an exit, plus it is only allowed to be used for military personnel, so we may not be able to get out through that way. When I heard that, I almost started laughing … so how were we going to get out? But thankfully, in the end, we ran into an old woman who knew the paths of the mountain very well, and she led us through a short cut that went straight to the parking area. Aside from that little mishap, our hikes are very enjoyable and we can see many types of birds, plants, small animals and even monkeys! I think the monkeys are very cute but the Taiwanese usually don't like them because they say these monkeys can take food from hikers and even though the monkeys are pretty small, I heard they sometimes start attacking hikers if they don't give up the food...(scary)
My 18th birthday was also this month! On the morning of my birthday, the 13th, nothing out of the ordinary happened; I walked to school and class started as usual. At lunch, I started to eat the beef cup-noodles my Finnish friend gave me as a present, and two of my classmates told me to go downstairs to the first floor to eat lunch. When we went down, my whole class was standing there with smiles on all of their faces; they sang “Happy Birthday” to me in English, Chinese, and Taiwanese :’) I was touched! Then some of them handed me hand-made birthday cards, which is how the Taiwanese do cards ~haha. I’d really like to thank my class for doing that for me. It really made my week. Also, the weekend after my birthday, I had another small celebration with the exchange students and a friend at Central Park. We took tons of pictures, just had fun in the park, and played around in the MRT station :) They are really all great friends to me that I couldn't ever forget.
I realized that I have been leaving my thanks out of my past journals, so I'd like to once again say my thanks to the Rotary Clubs of Clearwater East and Kaohsiung North for supporting me, financially, and in spirit :)
A list of a few more things I love about Taiwan:
Watermelon milk, dong gua pearl tea and soup dumplings (xiaolongbao) with lots of ginger and spicy soy sauce
How much people love food here and how walking two seconds in any direction can get you cheap, good food
Actually, walking two seconds in any directions can get you to pretty much anything: the doctor's, night markets, shopping areas, theaters, movie renting stores, etc.
I don't have to worry about shaving my legs (sorry if that's too much information)
Pretty much everything is cheap, cheap, cheap
Taiwanese people are just plain out wonderful people
Taiwanese nicknames: Rock, Banana, Little Fatty, China woman, Duck, etc.
Transportation is amazing! Subway, busses, taxis...all cheap and super convenient
Hair cutters give free massages
And I recently realized Taiwanese people love love love to eat fried chicken and drink watermelon juice with it haha
Until next month, 安娜
May 25 Journal
I walk down San-duo street, from the subway station to my host family’s home like I have been doing most days since January and think back on my year here in Taiwan. I can’t believe nine months have already passed; it was nine months ago that I was saying goodbye to my parents, brother, and grandmother at the Tampa International Airport and having a short, two minute breakdown on the plane to Chicago. Nine months have passed since I stepped off the plane from Taipei to Kaohsiung and in a rushed, confused couple of hours met my first host family, counselor, Rotary chairperson, and then went to eat what I thought was jellyfish (which I learned was actually just pork in a rice-made, gooey, transparent dumpling). Nine months have passed since I’ve met some of the most amazing people I have EVER met: Taiwanese, and exchange students.
Leaving this place is really going to be hard. Like everyone before and after me have said and will say, leaving our family and friends behind at home is ok because we’ll see them soon again, but leaving our family and friends behind in our new home is completely different; who knows when we’ll be seeing them all again.
However, I’ve been working really hard to get all my transcripts, past syllabi, course materials and other things together, and studying Chinese extra hard lately because my new short term goal is to come back for college next August. I have already visited my preferred college (National Sun-Yat Sen University – 中山大學) a few times and have gotten to know the counselor of the school’s foreign language major/studies, as I hope to come back next year and get a Bachelor’s Degree from this university in Foreign Languages.
The things I’ve been doing lately to better my Chinese: I bought a new empty book that is especially made with little squares to practice writing Chinese characters; I’ve been reading the newspaper almost every day at school; I started watching Taiwanese dramas again haha… but they’re really very good since all Taiwanese TV has Chinese subtitles so it’s good for listening and reading comprehension skills; I’ve also been taking practice tests online in preparation for the a big Chinese test I will be taking: the Chinese T.O.P., aka, Chinese Test of Proficiency.
I was hoping to take this test the minute I learned I must take this test in order to apply to universities and/or scholarships here, but I found out I was too late to take it in Taiwan (it was May 1st), so now I have to take it in NEW YORK next January/February. It’s very troublesome, but I’m really set on coming back to continue my Chinese studies, so I’m going for it!
Aside from busying myself with college stuff, I’ve also been preparing for a big speech coming up this Friday. I will be one of the two inbound students giving a speech at this year’s Taiwan Rotary Youth Exchange Program Annual Event. I’m a bit nervous, of course, but I know opportunities like these are helping me now and will help me for the future. I can’t wait!
On a bike trip this past weekend, all the exchange students from Districts 3510 and 3470 got together to go on a bike ride in Kaohsiung (my city) and I was given what I consider to be the biggest compliment exchange students could give me. They took one look at me and said, “You’re so Taiwanese!” …it was almost 100 degrees and I was wearing a hat and a black sweater over my clothes to cover from the sun. I was planning on wearing long pants and a mouth cover for extra blockage, but I figured I may pass out from heat stroke and so just ended up using a ton of sun block ~haha. I’m just as worried about getting skin damage/premature wrinkling as the next Taiwanese is.
So to conclude, this past month has been quite the busy one, but I’m actually really liking the busyness as it helps me keep my mind off leaving Taiwan…however, I’m often torn between two emotions: yearning to go back home to Palm Harbor, and yet very reluctant to leave my home, Kaohsiung. It’s almost a scary feeling. I’ll be leaving most of this year behind me on a 20 some hour plane ride.
Why is the expanse between Kaohsiung and Palm Harbor so long?
Until next time, 安娜
July 20 Journal
I leave tomorrow. I can't seem to get the thought through my head. This whole year has pretty much come to an end.
I realized that my past journals have all been about my leaving Taiwan, so now, I think I'll focus on different things...and as a warning, this journal may seem rushed and a bit messy, but that's just because it's my last day in Taiwan, and I'm really busy~
The conference at the end of May went well! My speech went by pretty smoothly (only a few small slips and short blankouts haha), and it was fun to be able to see all the exchange students in the Multidistrict Taiwan--I even saw Steven! The first time I've seen him since the plane ride from San Diego to Taipei. I was also told by a guy I met from Michigan that my accent sounds really south Taiwanese (a.k.a. not very standard Chinese, with a bit of Taiwanese mixed in :D). And this past month I also switched to my third host family! I live a bit farther from the downtown area of Kaohsiung, in the northern, a bit upscale region of "Aozihdi." I have three younger host sisters and a really nice mother and father :)
Another cool thing is that since my mother (my biological mother in the US) is an ESL teacher, she has students from all around the world. One student, Ku- En Chang a.k.a. Alvin from Taiwan, came back to Taiwan to see his family, and he came to Kaohsiung with some friends to see me! It was nice to see a friend from the US :D We all went out to eat dinner and the following day went to sing at KTV (karaoke).
After living in Taiwan for a year, calling it home for a year and now reflecting on this year, I've realized there are a lot of things in Taiwan that you really have to live here for a while to notice; things that I'm sure surprises foreigners here in Taiwan at first, but things that we eventually get used to; things that the tourist will probably not notice; things I noticed the first week I was in Taiwan and the week my father came to Taiwan: The bright red, paper banners with calligraphy hung on the doors for Chinese New Year's but kept there the whole year; the outside markets with bare-handed, elderly, strong women butchering all kinds of bloody meats; 台客- those guys riding on scooters super fast, weaving in-and-out of cars, hair usually an attempted-blonde, white and blue rubber house slippers on their tanned feet, shirtless or wearing a wife-beater, and no helmets or non-buckled helmets; no, those red splashes on the ground aren't blood; knowing when a person really means it, or is just saying it out of "courtesy;" the vicious circle of obsessive studying, cram-schooling, and staying up late imposed on Taiwanese children; when you answer "neither" to the question "do you want to eat rice or noodles," people think you're on a dangerous diet ("you can't get full on a meal without rice or noodles!"); eating so much you feel like you're going to burst, and then having mothers telling you "多吃ㄧ點! 你太瘦了" "eat more! you're too skinny;" squatting toilets are the best! clean and you don't have to touch it with any part of your body; you have to order your food the second you sit down or the waiter will just stand there staring at you until you order; those are stray dogs, even though they have collars--look, it's missing a leg; the difference between the Taiwanese, Chinese, Hakka and many aboriginal languages is very easy to tell; you know the weatherman must be lying when he says it's only 95 degrees outside; you know not to ever really listen to the weatherman because he's only talking about Taipei; those are Thai people, those are Filipinos, those are Vietnamese, those are Indonesians, those are Aborigines, those are Hakka, those are northern Taiwanese, those are southern Taiwanese, those are Japanese, and yes, I can tell the difference; no, there really isn't air conditioning in the homes, schools, some public buildings, some government buildings, etc, and no, they're not going to turn the air conditioning on; walking on the street with scary Taiwanese traffic is the norm; you will get used to the staring; those really loud noises are just firecrackers at 5 in the morning in the middle of the city. (For more of these true blue Taiwanese facts of daily life, take a look at the "You know you've lived in Taiwan too long when..." list on facebook! --http://www.facebook.com/group.php?gid=2220957263&v=info&ref=ts)
....The list goes on and on and on. Taiwan has so many little quirks here and there, but that's what makes it so beautiful :)
And, although I'll be missing my Taiwan more than anything, to be fair to home-sweet-home, here's a list of things I'm mostly missing these days:
1. My family and friends
2. Hearing and speaking English and Spanish
3. DIVERSITY! I miss being in a class of 15 people and 10 are from different ethnic roots, backgrounds, cultures, traditions, etc.
4. My grandmother's Costa Rican food, peanut butter, and REAL orange juice
5. Air conditioning and less humidity
6. Going to college (I go to a community college back in Florida)
7. Going to school around 8 and getting out around 1~2
8. Wearing my own clothes all the time (uniforms are great when I'm too lazy to get ready in the morning, though XD)
9. Not having to walk/ride bike so much in infernal weather
10. Sleep :)
As a last note, I must say, my year has been less than perfect (as every exchange student's has been, I'm sure), but there has been a big mishap that has altered the last feelings of my trip all-together. My airplane ticket was bought from the Taipei Airport, not Kaohsiung. So, unlike all my exchange student friends, I will not be getting a farewell from all my classmates, host families, and friends at the airport, and instead may actually have to take the high-speed rail to Taipei. The fact that I'm not going to be leaving from Kaohsiung really hurts me, because I've called this place home for practically an entire year, there are so many memories here, I've said goodbye to all the exchange students here, and all my friends and families would be able to say goodbye to me here.
I know I've written all my journals this past year to make it seem like this year in Taiwan has been perfect, but as everyone knows it can't possibly be absolutely, 100% perfect, but this year was not about being perfect, it was about experiencing new things, learning new lessons, re-learning old lessons, and seeing life through a different cultural perspective, through other people's eyes.
This will be the last time I write a journal in Taiwan T_T However, I just want to thank the Rotary Clubs of Clearwater East and Kaohsiung North, my three host families, and last but definitely not least, my friends here in Taiwan, and my family back at home for supporting me throughout this whole 11 month stay in the beautiful, tropical, warm island of Taiwan. This year was definitely one I'll remember forever; one that has changed me as a person, and has changed my future :) Thank you everyone.
I LOVE TAIWAN!!
Good luck to the new outbounds and inbounds, and I hope that you all have a prosperous, pleasurable, and memorable year (which I'm sure you all will :D).