Lauren, outbound to Taiwan

Wait, what’s today? Are you serious? There’s no way it’s January 2016. Let me check all seven of my calendars again…

Yup, it’s 2016… and this is only my second journal. Which means I’m in some trouble. But hey, instead of making excuses about how busy I was (am) in the hustle and bustle of daily Taipei life, I shall dive straight into the crazy stuff I’ve been up to. There’s a lot, so I won’t be as detailed as my last journal. All in all, I’m sure you guys will be satisfied. Just note, these are in loose chronological order - I’m using my camera roll to recall most of these because there’s been so much stuff.

So in October, my Chinese class took our first field trip. We went to a traditional market that sold anything from entire chickens to live fish tied up in waterless barrels. It was what the kids call “culture shock”. After this, we went to the local university, which happened to be the most famous university in Taiwan. We toured the campus and then walked through a history museum about the Aboriginals of Taiwan. It was pretty interesting! There was a pretty scary story about a scalping tradition that gave me shivers...

Later that month, my host club’s sister club in Japan came to visit us. I’ve been taking Japanese, so I was asked to introduce myself by my host father. I actually did alright (I guess, they understood me at least!), and it was a pretty fun night. We even ate some Japanese dishes that were delicious! Mostly fish, but hey, fish is great.

And in November, I went on one of biggest trips yet - I stayed a night in Yilan with my Taiwan classmates on a school trip. This adventure was packed and I have pictures to prove it. We got at school at seven and loaded up several school buses (the whole entire school was divided into three different field trips). We took an hour to drive to the coastal city, where we boarded a boat and sailed to Turtle Island. Inhabited by few and rich with historical culture, we explored the caves, crossed lakes, and hiked in the hot sun.

Despite being a bit motion sick, and my partner having an asthma attack without being able to communicate it with me (so basically while everyone was trying to help I was just freaking out trying to figure out what was happening?) it was pretty fun! Then we went to a beach, where as a class, we pulled in a giant net of fish. It took everyone pulling the rope out and then going back for more until finally, we brought in our pitiful basket of eight fish (plus a crab). It was still really amazing and we had a lot of fun doing it. After this, we went to try to local seafood that the area was famous for.

Once sufficiently stuffed to the max with fish and equipped with ice cream, we headed to a local museum and learned more about the culture there. Finally, we headed out for the event we had all been anticipating. The night market! We only had thirty minutes, so we quickly bought some food before being ushered back to the buses. But it was my first market and it was incredible!

The hotel was wonderful, though my classmates had no intention of sleeping. Dancing, KPop, candy, and fun. Also breaking glasses by accident and having to be forced to bed by our concerned homeroom teacher. The next day we woke up groggy but managed to get ready on time. We ate breakfast but had some time to spare afterwards, so we played a Taiwanese card game with KPop cards. My classmates even taught me some slang (though I can’t say all of it was necessarily stuff I would use often). The rest of the day was more subdued. We went to a wine/cake factory and observed the production, something Yilan was popular for. Then we went to an arts market filled with Taiwanese artisans and DIY activities. We made traditional Taiwanese bracelets (with a modern spin on them) before heading home. It was a great trip and I got much closer to my classmates.

After that, the exchange students immediately were thrown into Rotary activities. A Halloween party, which was pretty ordinary (and Western). But afterwards, on my way home, I got lost for the first time in the city. It was a rainy night and I was dressed like a zombie apocalypse survivor. I called my host sister but my signal was horrible so I ended up asking for directions in Chinese (quite nicely I might add). He answered in English and directed me to the station I needed to go to. I ran in the dark and barely caught the last bus, making it home just before curfew. It was a great night.

Not too long later, Rotary took us on the Yingge Pottery Tour, something I was excited about since I saw previews at the orientation. Yingge is a city famous for it’s history with pottery. After an hour train ride, we were taken to a building where we made our own pottery on spinning wheels and painted cups. After this, we went to the local market and browsed dozens of shops filled with unique pottery. I was amazed by the beautiful artwork (it made me wish my bowl was a little cooler…) Then, we went to a museum where we perused the history of pottery in Taiwan. It was pretty amazing, and much more interesting then you would’ve thought.

Not long after, my Chinese class took another field trip. This time we went to a local temple where we learned about Taoism. We learned how to pray, the Grandfather (the “deity” of the religion, but as the name suggests, more of a comforting family figure to talk to your feelings about), how to use divination blocks and sticks. It was wonderful, as I love visiting the temples. Then we went to another traditional market and ate amazing food.

Finally, I left instantly to get back to school because-
That day, our school’s sister school from Japan sent students to visit! I rushed back just in time to greet them. Each school did a performance, before we all went back to our homerooms followed by a class each. My classmates were very shy, so I hopped around helping everyone get comfortable (since I was familiar with all of it). One girl in particularly followed me around everywhere talking to me in a mix of small Japanese words and English. It was really fun! Then we escorted them all to the Shilin Night Market where we spent the evening showing them our Taiwanese culture. Once it got late, we led them back to their hotel and traded gifts. Finally, I headed home with lots of Japanese candy.

Not too long after, my school held a fair where we made food and listened to music as a big fundraiser. My homeroom teacher noticed how bored I was, so I actually got to help out a lot before getting really sick and going home. Still fun though!

Our Chinese class also had all the exchange students participate in a talent show to show off our Chinese skills. So, I and two of my friends performed on ukuleles while singing a lovely Taiwanese love song. It was super cute and we did well.

Christmas came and went with little celebration as expected. I got pretty homesick, but I kept it on the down low since my family in America was practically in pieces. But hey, guess what I got on Christmas morning? Essence of Chicken! I won it in the Rotary Christmas party raffle (I didn’t mention the Christmas party but it was fun. Mostly just karaoke, santa hats, and choking on octopus. I turned blue and nearly passed out but no one understood so I had to pull it out myself before anyone realized I was actually dying). Turns out it was a chicken soup-like thing that’s supposed to make you grow stronger.

New Years was a blast though! First off, we didn’t have school, which is always great. We had our placement test for our Chinese classes and then we went to Ximen to waste time. I bought some clothes as a Christmas present for myself before we all headed to the Taipei Grand Hotel. Why? Well…

Rotary organized us to do a giant dance thing. We were divided into two groups and each week of November, we practiced our dance. I was apart of the hip hop group, A.K.A. the actual shame of the event (I tried learned the dance but it became harder to participate when I got a concussion - a story I don’t remember that well). Nonetheless, we danced on New Years and I only tripped twice. It was amazing… Then the Lion group dance, and everyone forgot about our performance. The Lion dancers actually dances a traditional Taiwanese story that made sense with New Years. It was really cool to watch! They released us at 8 so we were free to go wherever for New Years.

I tagged along with a group I trusted and we made our way to Linguang. There, we climbed a mountain (about twelve flights of stairs in heeled boots. With a headache. I can’t begin to explain the pain I went through that night). Nonetheless, we got a great view of the Taipei 101 (despite the fact a bunch of tall people blocked my way). It was beautiful and probably the best New Year’s I’ve ever had.

And finally, we reach January. The first weekend I spent with my Japanese friend Nao at her first host family’s house. She was moving to her second host family, so I went to her going away party. We had a feast of Taiwanese food before making Japanese dessert. I helped her load her stuff in the car and went to her second host family where I was invited to dinner. We watched the news and discussed politics before I headed home.

Then midweek I changed host families. My new host family lives in the mountains outside of Taipei, a twenty minute bus ride to the MRT station. And the bus only comes once an hour. This was all fine and dandy until the weather decided to turn into freezing rain everyday. Hasn’t changed, by the way.

Nonetheless, I love my new host family! The mountain home life is totally different from mid-city apartment building life, and both are drastically different from my life in America. I love it!
So, that’s my recap about the adventures of the last month. This is where most of you can feel free to clock out, as now I get into the emotional nitty gritty updates.

My Chinese is going well. I feel like I’m really learning a lot. I can communicate my feelings, ask for directions, make small talk, make new friends, and even sing new songs! The culture feels second-nature to me now, and I feel so normal. It’s strange, as I find myself doing things that I would a. never think of doing in the last year and b. never have the opportunity to. Like for instance, eating flaming hot fish meat off it’s face (directly under the eyeball), with spices so hot that your nose runs. Or maybe competing in dance competition in front of the whole school to a military song remixed with three different KPop songs.

It’s just hard to believe how much I’ve changed in this amount of time. It’s strange thinking that a year ago I was at an Outbound Orientation, terrified to make conversation with people and talking to Rotex thinking “Will I actually be doing this? Is this real?”. If this was a cheesy, cliche message to myself back then, I’d say “Yes, it’s real. Also study your Chinese. I’m serious. No really, go do it right now.” But this isn’t a cheesy message. This is now.

Anyways, this is getting really long and my host parents are home. Like I said, I’m crazy busy (which is good right?). But hopefully, I’ll be able to update more often so I don’t have to explain every journal in a four page recap. Also, if any future outbounds are reading this, HIT ME UP. You guys are probably thinking, similar to how I was, that you’ll never need to worry about updating. “Pfft,” you think, “Like it would be difficult to update ONCE a MONTH.” And to that I say, good luck.

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