Category Taiwan

Taiwan Part Twelve: Action, Adventure, Amnesia

In December, Beth and I went to some sort of Science Fun Fair Mystery Spot Park Thing. I *think* we went with her host family, or someone in her Rotary, because I really don’t recognize any of the people besides us in the picture. Regardless, it was a day of adventure, danger, and fun.

The shirt I’m wearing is the t-shirt of my class. It also may be indicative of my mental age; at any given moment, I’m likely to act like a two-year old.

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Beth, posing with the Science Fun Fair Mystery Spot Park Thing’s mascot.

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This thing almost killed me. Don’t laugh. Seriously. So it’s a wheel that you run on, to what purpose I could not say. What I did not realize is that the faster I ran on it, the more it tried to suck me underneath and into the swampy bogwater. Such shrieks as I uttered have likely ne’er been equaled at that park before or since.

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Here’s Beth’s head on a plate–but where’s her body? It’s a Science Fun Fair Mystery Spot Park Thing SECRET. In the middle of this park, they had what appeared to be a playground, with large plastic dinosaurs posing in happy cartoon stances. It was like an educational museum for kids who would be too frightened by menacing dinosaur skeletons, with little informational plaques in front of each one. As there really wasn’t anyone else there, we decided it would be a shame if we did NOT take advantage of the moment and ride the dinosaurs. Could you NOT have done it? I didn’t think so. Don’t judge. I hear you judging!

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It took me about six tries to get up on this thing. It was far too tall and too slippery for me to pull myself up on the side, so I had to literally run up the tail to scramble aboard. I felt like a much fatter, much clumsier Fred Flintstone, but I did it, dammit. Emboldened by our mastery over the Reptile Gods, we continued to explore the park, when lo, out of the brush came that thing which man fears most: a dino wearing a bow tie! The horror! The horror!

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There was no way I could escape this beast by the power of my own two legs–I would need a powerful steed, swifter than the wind, and more furious than a hungry wildebeest. Luckily, there was an electric dog nearby!

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My life will never be the same, after witnessing the majesty of the Taiwan Science Fun Fair Mystery Spot Park Thing. Don’t your lives also feel enriched as well, now that you’ve shared in the experience?

Taiwan Part Eleven: Upheaval

Around December, it was time to change host families. I was a little apprehensive about this as I’d met the family before, and although warm, they spoke no English. I knew immediately that either my Chinese would improve rapidly over the next few months, or my ability to play charades would be unparalleled worldwide. Quite honestly, I would have been happy to have stayed with Tracy Ah-e and Huang SuSu for the entire year. But other people in the Rotary wanted me, and they would have lost face if I didn’t go stay with them, so there was nothing to be done about it. I was quite lucky in that respect compared to other students. I only had three different families throughout the course of my stay, as opposed to some who were changing homes on a basis of every three or four weeks. Can you imagine packing and moving and getting used to a new area of a completely unfamiliar city every three or four weeks? The Lin family’s daughter, Vivian, had gone to Brazil the year before. She loved it there and often expressed an intense desire to return as soon as possible. With as much as she had to study every day in Taiwan, I don’t particularly blame her. Brazil must have been very freeing. Studies have shown that students from the US who go abroad tend to be MORE studious when they return. I would imagine the reverse is true when students from Taiwan and Japan go overseas and experience not having to spend 16 hours of every day in a classroom setting. Vivian and Li-Wen. Li-Wen was a PISTOL. She was anxious to show off at any opportunity, and would routinely do just about anything for attention.

Li-Wen, getting ready to throw down in some sort of ruler-based war. 0004k6ak You know how schoolkids here (at least in my experience) pull on their eyelids to chants of “Chinese, Japanese, American Knees”? Yeah, they do the same thing in Taiwan. But in reverse. THIS IS WHAT YOU LOOK LIKE, ROUND EYES!

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My second host father. He was an art teacher at a local art school, which is the same one that Vivian attended. He taught mostly chinese calligraphy, and it was something he was apparently quite well known for. He tried to teach me some, but the language barrier was impossible to overcome, especially when I was taking classes with a different calligraphy teacher who taught me things a completely different way. We ended up getting frustrated with one another after about an hour, and never made another attempt. He’d just watch and ‘tut’ at me when I was doing my calligraphy homework. 0004f624

My second host mother, eating dinner. This was the first host family I had that attempted to feed me until I exploded. They were both very insistent that I call them ‘mom’ and ‘dad’, which was hard for me, especially due to the time of year. The Rotary has charted the way student’s years typically go, and it follows a pattern–a very good first 3-4 months, and then around December and especially the holidays, the honeymoon vacation period ends and students become incredibly homesick and depressed. If a student is going to go home early, it’s usually during that period of time; the depression cycle lasts around two months. Of course I went into things thinking “I’ll be different”, but I couldn’t fight it. I missed home, and I even missed the things that had become familiar to me over the previous four months. It was very hard to call them ‘mom’ and ‘dad’ at a time when I was acutely aware that my mom and dad were across the Pacific. 0004b9yq

This was the bathroom in my second host family’s apartment. This was the thing that MAJORLY skeezed me out about this particular living situation. Notice the green bucket? That’s covering their shower drain. I believe this is the first time I’d ever seen a shower where there was no tub or any enclosure whatsoever. Consequently, water was EVERYWHERE. The floor & toilet seat were constantly soaking wet. I’d do a mental facepalm every time I stepped into the bathroom in stocking feet, directly into a puddle. SQUISH. My socks and the hem of my pants were always wet over the entire course of time that I lived there. Christmas is an interesting holiday in Taiwan, if only because the majority do not hold christian beliefs and therefore they have all the trees in public and the santa mythos without any of the semantics arguments.

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A giant tree in front of Shin Kong Mitsukoshi, constructed out of glass bottles. If Fight Club took place in Taiwan, this is one piece of corporate art that I guarantee would be shards in so many people’s eyes in a matter of seconds. A bunch of exchange students got all gussied up and went to a christmas dance party; it didn’t matter that we went out in public looking like that, because EVERYONE went out in public looking like that. It was an uncertain time of year for a lot of us, if not all of us, but we made our way through it the best we could, and ultimately, I believe we all became stronger people because of it.

Taiwan Part Ten: Tushuguan — The Great Escape

It didn’t take long for any of us to realize we weren’t going to learn a whole hell of a lot in our respective high schools. We spoke the equivalent of chinese baby-talk, and with all of the cooing and attention we were receiving from our classmates, they weren’t learning much either. One by one, we removed ourselves from the classroom whenever possible, always aware of where the ‘jiowguan’ or ‘guards’ were, so as not to be reported to the Rotary. I found myself especially frustrated around the 2000 elections, because I expected to be able to open the Taipei Times and find out who the conclusive winner was. Everyone remembers what a giant clusterfuck THAT election was, and it was extremely difficult to find any current information. While the US president may just be a figurehead and a puppet for stronger, hidden political forces, I wanted to know who our figurehead was going to be. It was then that I discovered the tushuguan (library). The library had the regular library things–books, magazines, and current newspapers, but more importantly than that, it had a computer lab with internet access. Ploddingly slow internet access, but internet access nonetheless. From here I was able to find out current news, and contact my boyfriend, whom I’d sorely missed over the past few months. Letters were not an effective form of communication, ESPECIALLY letters with packages. I had more packages seized by customs that year than I actually received. It always infuriated me to think that some postal employee somewhere was rocking out to MY cds. The tushuguan became the place to be–as Jessica stated in our yearbook, “What do I like about Taiwanese high school?? I love the tushuguan!! I love the tushuguan so much. She is my best friend in the world. It’s hard to read in this picture, but underneath the Chinese, they have written in English, ‘Your good taste has been torn into pieces, too!’ Those administrators, always suspecting the exchange students when it came to tomfoolery. And perhaps they were right to do so. Muli spent her time in the tushuguan pondering ways to torture Hello Kitty. 0003qkza Those of us at 中正高中 were a little more…constructive. Yes. I’m not even sure how it came about, but one day we decided the time had come to start building forts. It’s possible that with all of the babytalk, we had regressed to our 5-year-old selves. s640x480 It was not a fantastic fort, and we really weren’t sure how we could construct a better one with our limited materials. That was when Raul told us about the abandoned second floor of the tushuguan. Let those words sink in a little bit. Abandoned second floor of the tushuguan. … Lo, we were like unto the gods from that day forth. We immediately set upon building another fort. A bigger, better fort. 0003gf33 Oh Raul and Beth, why must you always hurt me so? Lucas got wind of our fort activities and came up to check things out. 0003kyxy He was always very high-energy to the point of ADD, and VERY VERY forthcoming, which made him endlessly entertaining and also a tad creepy. I think this photo is an excellent representation of both. We completely took over the second floor of the tushuguan after that day. We’d have ‘girl parties’ upstairs which basically amounted to dancing to Madonna on top of the tables and bitching about things that were going on. We ALL bitched A LOT. But we were also each other’s built-in support system. We listened to each other bitch, and sympathized, because we understood what they were going through. We listened to everyone bitch because we wanted to make sure that someone would listen when WE had to bitch. But our time in the tushuguan was definitely more ‘dance party’ than ‘dear abby’. Eventually, we assembled the materials to make a truly spectacular fort. 0003b43q 0003d483bethfort0003x344 The three of us came up with a series of songs and dances with which to establish dominance over our new territory. There was a lot of semi-melodic shouting of “TAI-WAN FO-OORT” and some walking like egyptians and some mashing of potatoes. BEST. FORT. EVER. After we built our ‘secret’ lair, we further determined we needed superhero identities. Taiwanese superhero identities. The Taiwanese are very…out there with their bodily functions. No hiding or muffling or holding it in, whatsoever. You’ve got to fart? Let ‘er rip. There was what appeared to be bloody spit all over the sidewalks from the betelnuts (more on this in a future post). The thing that skeeved me out the most (besides the practice of putting used toilet paper in a garbage can next to the toilet instead of flushing it) was the way my host families, my second one ESPECIALLY, would ‘clear their sinuses’ in the shower. The apartments had fairly thin walls. Imagine the sound of someone hawking a loogie. Now imagine it continuously for upwards of ten minutes. NOW imagine being next in line for a shower and what you’re probably stepping on. Yeah, eww. So, henceforth, we were Super Burper (Beth), Super Farter (Emilie), and Super Loogie (me), fighting against the forces of good taste everywhere! 0003t47s Beth and I got into a dramatic argument about the best tactics with which to take out Miss Manners, our arch-nemesis, with our superpowers. 0003wf6q Super Farter and I test out our newfound superpowers out the window at the jiowguan. 0003fcwd Being a superhero is hard work, so I took a power nap, while Super Farter practiced her patented Death Stare in order to protect our valuable resources of Wheat Thins. Eventually we tired of our tushuguan activities, and were ready to take our superpowers out into the real world. This, my friends, is when Raul taught us to jump the wall and escape. Raul was basically the Jedi Master of school avoidance, but he would only teach us lessons when we were ready to learn them. It was very important to make sure a guard wasn’t watching, as the guard’s station was very near the lower, jumpable, section of wall, but eventually we turned it into an art form. 0003ytzb 0003px42 Later, we discovered a hole in the wall surrounding the school back by the track, possibly for drainage, but large enough to fit through, and found ourselves in a rice paddy, which made for a soggier but somewhat easier escape. I had a very Office-Space revelation. “I don’t like school. I don’t think I’m going to go anymore.” I felt I could see and do more things, and absorb more culture, if I wasn’t stuck inside for 8 hours every day. Around January, I stopped attending school altogether.