Final weeks in Taiwan
by Rosalie Chan, Web and News Editor
Teaching has officially ended, and the tour around Taiwan has begun. I am currently at the Sun Moon Lake Youth Hostel Activity Centre. But before I arrived here, we had to say our goodbyes, and a lot of crazy things have happened.
On the last day of teaching, Friday, we had our closing ceremony. Our class sang its songs, the levels 3 and 4 classes did RT (readers’ theater) and the level 2 class ended up demonstrating the fly swatter game because RT was too hard for them. We got so many hugs from our students. Then we got back to our classroom, and Tiffany and I finally revealed that we could actually speak Chinese. I’m pretty proud because we’re the only teachers that went through the entire two weeks without the students’ discovering that we can speak Chinese. Once we said that though, our students said that it felt like we were different people. I also think they liked us better once they knew we could speak Chinese. We dumped the rest of our prizes on the table, and we let them take a whole bunch of prizes. Then we got more hugs and questions from our kids, and they started running around outside. During this time, an accident happened to Jeff, one of the teachers in our group. All of a sudden, I started hearing all these kids say that Jeff got into a car accident, and his entire leg was bleeding. Our entire teaching group was freaking out, and one of the adult teachers got the students together to clarify what happened.
Jeff was getting chased by the students, and he ran out onto the street. Then he got hit by a car that was making a turn. The lady who was driving the car didn’t even honk her horn or drive slowly around the corner, and according to the students who saw it, she didn’t break until she hit him. Also, this wasn’t her first time getting into an accident. Jeff got sent to the hospital, and we waited and said good bye to our kids. They got really attached to us, and they felt sad we were going back to America. After school, we went to the grocery store and stationery store to buy gifts for our teachers and host families.
When Jeff returned, we immediately got up to see how he was doing. He had bandages all over his right leg and arm, and he couldn’t walk, but he did not break any bones. We were all relieved that the injuries were not as bad as they could have been, but I still feel really bad for him because he can’t walk, shower or go on the tour.
We went back to our host families’ homes, and then we went back to school for the farewell party. Unfortunately, Jeff left to go back to his family and relatives, so he was not there. At the party, we gave presents to the director and our teacher Christine, ate food, played card games and watched the kids sing karaoke. We didn’t know any of the karaoke songs because they were either in Chinese, Japanese or really old English songs. The only ones we knew were Christmas songs and “Tong Hua.” Before we left, we said goodbye to Christine and her son Panda. Panda is so cute (yes, I know his English name isn’t really a legit name, but he apparently really likes pandas). He’s in 5th grade, and he loves everyone in our teaching group. He was having everyone sign his T-shirt and balloon. He also really likes karaoke, just like Christine, although he sings really loudly and off-tune. Christine has been really helpful, and she is also really fun to be around; we will definitely miss her. I can’t believe teaching is over. Although I have had headaches and frustration, I could not have asked for a better experience.
We spent our last night with the kids in our host family. We gave them presents, watched TV, played Uno and packed. I will seriously miss them so much.
I’m tired, but I will write some more later.
Too much has happened in the past week since we left Cheng-Wen Elementary School, and now AID has ended. I already miss it, and I’ve been looking through photos and reminiscing all the memories from AID.
The last week has been a blast because we’ve been touring around Taiwan with AID friends. Where to start? Well, Saturday, we said goodbye to our host family and Cheng-Wen Elementary School to begin our bus ride towards Kaohsiung City Task Committee, where we checked in. AID has two tours: the central tour and the southern tour. Our group is going on the central tour.
Once we all checked in and ate lunch, we went to Tao-Mi Eco Village. We basically walked around and looked at different plants and the beautiful scenery. The place has a lot of trees and lily pads, and it also had a mini zip-line, where you ride on a large wooden dragonfly across a marsh.
That night, we stayed at Sun Moon Lake Youth Hostel Activity Centre. The four girls in our group share a room. At night, our bus prepared for a talent show. Each bus has to do something for the talent show on Wednesday night, so our bus, Bus D, decided to create a skit that parodies training at Chientan and to sing and dance to “We’re All In This Together.” I never realized how long and difficult of a song that was to sing because in all honesty, the only words I know to that song are “We’re all in this together.” It’s a start, right?
Anyway, Sunday was a blast. We went to the aborigine culture amusement park. I hung out with friends from my teaching group, Calvin, Cynthia, Darwin, Marissa, Tiffany the entire week. At the park, some of us started with the UFO, which is the highest drop in Taiwan. The UFO slowly takes you up, as you revolve slowly and enjoy the view of the mountains and amusement park. Then it stops at the top, and as you wait for the drop to happen, you question why you went on this ride. Then, the drop. It goes silent. Once it registers that you’re dropping, then you either scream, laugh or stay quiet. Next, we all went on the Mayan adventure roller coaster, which was a blast. Due to the rain, we all got wet on that ride. Throughout the day, we went on different rides, from kiddie rides to the indoor space mountain roller coaster to revisiting the UFO and Mayan Adventure.
In the afternoon, we rode the cable car above the mountains and Sun Moon Lake. This is the highest cable car ride in Taiwan. Sun Moon Lake is a famous tourist spot in Taiwan, and the lakes are named that because they are shaped like a sun and a moon. It’s very beautiful. We made a stop, where we watched Taiwanese aborigines perform dances. Then we rode the cable car to the port, where we visited Ita Thao, streets filled with shops and food stands. As we browsed the area, we bought tea and sausages, which are famous there.
At night, aborigines came to our hostel to demonstrate aborigine dances and songs. However, one man started off by singing Justin Bieber’s “Baby.” Afterwards, they showed us traditional aborigine dances, and at the end, the entire room joined in a dance, where we all cross arms and hold hands. It’s interesting to learn about the aborigine culture, especially since normally, I associate Taiwanese culture with Chinese culture. The school we taught at had some aborigines, but for the most part, it’s a diverse mix of different types of people in Taiwan. Some schools mostly had aborigine kids, and the volunteers who taught there learned much more about the culture.
On Monday morning, we went to a handmade paper factory. The tour guide gave us a tour around the place, and we watched people in the process of making paper. Then we learned how to make paper fans. Not the kind where you just keep on folding a piece of paper back and forth, but the Chinese kind that is round. We made prints on one sheet of paper and got a premade print for the other side. The teacher was really pro at it and made it look easier and faster to make than it actually is. We had to glue the prints on each side, trim it and then glue a piece of ribbon around the edge of the fan. My fan kind of ripped while I was trying to trim it. Still, it was fun. The only thing that kind of sucked was that we were looking forward to making fans so we could use them for the trip (it gets extremely hot in Taiwan). However, our counselors collected them, so we had to go back to using our nametags and brochures to fan ourselves.
Speaking of the heat, during my stay in Taiwan, I picked up the habit of using an umbrella, even when it’s sunny. I remember that before AID started, I thought it was weird that Taiwanese people used umbrellas in the heat, but now I understand why. I often use the cheap pink umbrella that AID provided us not just for rain, but also for shade.
Anyway, in the afternoon, we went to Hugo Assam Tea Farm to learn how to make black tea. We had to keep rolling the leaves until all the juice came out and until the leaves became withered. While we waited for the leaves to bake, we painted tea canisters. The teacher there told us that if we succeeded, the tea would be black, but if we failed, we would get green tea. I haven’t tried my tea yet, but I like green tea, so it’s all good.
We stayed at Chitou Youth Activity Centre in Sitou that night. I actually went to Sitou before, so as we drove through the forest, I kept on seeing familiar places. Once again, I roomed with the girls in my teaching group, and Marissa and I did this difficult abs exercise video. Then, we all watched a movie together.
On Tuesday morning, we went on a 5k hike in Sitou, which involved walking up tons of stairs and walking through a skywalk in the forest. At the end, we walked on two bamboo bridges. I remember coming here last year. One bridge can only fit five people, and the other can only fit 10 people.
In the afternoon, we went to Jiji train station. We didn’t spent that much time there. We just walked around and looked at the food stands and shops there, and we bought iced tea. Next, we went to Lukang Temple and Old Street, where we browsed the food stands and shops and visited the temple. Darwin, Marissa and Tiffany chose to bai-bai, which is to venerate ancestors with incense sticks.
At night, we went to Feng Chia Night Market, the most famous night market in Taiwan. Although it was raining, I wish we had more time there. We had fun browsing the shops, and we also had foods such as shaved ice, ai-yu, French fries, tien-bu-la and Taiwanese popcorn chicken.
At night we stayed at Taichung City Hotel. After days of staying at hostels, we were amazed at how nice the hotel was, and we were looking at all the rooms on the floor. Cynthia and I roomed together.
On Wednesday morning we visited Bei-Pu Hsiang, where we browsed the streets and bought food. I got a watermelon shake and a Taiwanese pastry with cream inside. Then, we learned how to make Hakka ground tea and green tea mochi. We had to roll the mochi in crushed peanut powder, and for the tea, we had to grind up different ingredients, such as tea, peanuts and sesame seeds. We ate the mochi and drank the tea with ice.
In the afternoon, we visited Daichi Old Street. Before going, we crossed a white suspension bridge. Like other old streets we went to, Daichi had many shops and food stands. However, what’s unique about this place is the old Chinese stone architecture. The stores were in stone buildings with carved dragons and Chinese characters.
Next, we went to Marks of the Jiangs, a place in the mountains with many different statues of Chiang Kai-Shek, the leader of the Nationalist party who brought the Republic of China to Taiwan. We walked around, looking at all the different statues, comparing the different facial expressions of C.K.S. and taking pictures by the statues and the scenery at the park.
We stayed at Fuhsing Youth Activity Centre that night, and the talent show also took place that night. It was way more fun to watch than perform. Honestly, for our act, the first one to perform, the skit took up most of the time and it pretty much made our show. The skit was really funny. Other buses did dances and songs. One bus did Chinese yo-yo, and the counselors also did a dance.
On Thursday morning, we went to a place nearby to go zip lining, walk on cables and climb down a wall. Zip lining down the cable was fun, and when walking on the cable, we kept on falling back. After lunch, we rode the bus to Taipei. I fell asleep on the bus, as usual. Before closing my eyes, I saw mountains, but when I opened my eyes, all I saw were the tall buildings and busy roads of Taipei.
First, we went to Eslite Bookstore, the best bookstore ever. One of the first changes I noticed about being in Taipei was the bathrooms. See, down south in Taiwan, most of the toilets are squatting toilets. Before, when I went to Taiwan, I would always choose the normal sitting toilets over the squatting toilets, but this time, I had to use squatting toilets because they were often the only ones available, so I’ve gotten really pro at using them. I mean, if you think about if, they’re also cleaner because you don’t need to touch anything, even if sometimes they leak onto the floor. Still, my bathroom standards dropped, and I now consider a bathroom nice and decent if it has toilet paper. Anyway, in Taipei, there are more normal toilets, and the stalls actually have toilet paper.
Anyway, back to Eslite bookstore. I’ve gone to Eslite multiple times before, but it’s awesome. It not only has books (and not only in Chinese, but in English and other languages), it has restaurants and different stores. It’s like a mall and a huge bookstore in one. Being the nerd I am though, I spent most of the time at Eslite reading.
Next we walked to the Taipei 101, the tallest building in Taiwan. It used to be the tallest building in the world, until the Burj Khalifa in the United Arab Emirates beat it. Our group spent our time at the food courts and the mall at the 101. We didn’t get to go to the top of the building, but it was still fun just hanging out at the mall.
We returned to Chientan Youth Activity Center to stay for two nights. Yep, back there, once again. We ended up getting rooms switched, but it didn’t really matter because our group ended up hanging out together at night, staying up late to talk and play cards.
Well, I’m back in the U.S. I came back on Saturday, but I miss Taiwan and AID and all the people I’ve met so much already. It feels like so long since AID ended.
I never finished talking about the last two days of AID. Anyway, on Friday morning, we went on a tour of the presidential office, and in the afternoon, we went to the National Palace Museum and the Martyrs’ Shrine to watch the changing of the guards.
The closing ceremony took place at night, and afterwards, each bus got together with the counselors to share good-byes. Finally, we were told that we were allowed to go out at night. My friends and I went to Shilin Night Market, and we had an awesome last night. We tried different foods such as chicken steak, milk tea and shaved ice, and we tried bargaining there. We came back between 12:30 a.m. and 1 a.m., and we stayed up some more afterwards.
On Saturday morning, it came time to say good-bye. I felt so sad leaving my friends I’ve met at AID. We’ve spent so much time together this past month that it feels like I’ve known them forever. This month went by way too fast, and I will seriously miss everyone so much. In fact, like I said, I miss everyone already.
My mom’s friend picked me up, and then we went out to lunch with her daughters Yuan-Yuan and An-An, and a friend named Albert. In the afternoon, I went to my mom’s friend’s house until my grandma’s friends picked me up at night to take me to my grandma in Zhongli.
On Sunday, I took the train to Taipei to hang out with Calvin, Darwin and Marissa. We watched “The Dark Knight Rises” at Ximen and then walked around the shopping district there. There were a ton of stores that sold cute things like stuffed animals. It was pretty funny because we didn’t really know directions to anywhere, so we were kind of just walking around. For example, when we were first looking for the movie theater, we found out we were walking in the complete opposite direction. Luckily, there are a ton of movie theaters at Ximen. Later we took the MRT to Taipei Main Station and walked around the mall there. We also had a late lunch, but we couldn’t really read the menu so we randomly ordered things. When the waiter came with the food, we weren’t sure whose it was.
We also walked into a building which we thought was a mall, but it was actually a business building. Then we walked to the building next door, which was a huge department store.
Soon, we said good-bye to each other. Overall, it was a really fun day, and I’m glad we were able to meet up after AID.
The last week I spent in Taiwan was not as exciting as the past month at AID, but it was nice because I spent time with my grandma. I stayed at her place the entire week. In the afternoon, we went to the swimming pool and spa together, and at night, we would watch TV together. Also, she would either cook delicious meals or we would go out to eat together, such as at a hotel buffet, a seafood noodle place or a place that cooked food on an iron griddle in front of the customers.
During that week, I also experienced my first typhoon. It was actually a pretty serious typhoon, with heavy rains and wind. It rained so hard that I couldn’t sleep at night due to the noise. On Thursday, all the businesses and classes were closed because the typhoon hit Taiwan the hardest that day. Luckily, on Friday, it left Taiwan.
I used to think typhoons were like hurricanes, and they were very severe. Typhoons can be pretty severe, but I learned that for the most part, they’re like snowstorms in the Chicago area. Yeah, they can both be really serious and sometimes damaging, but for the most part, people are used to those types of storms and just care whether school or work is off the next day.
On Friday, Yuan-Yuan and An-An took the train to Zhongli to see me. I’m not super familiar with Zhongli, so I just took them to the places nearby I knew. We went to Sogo (a Taiwanese department store) and drank coke there, and then we walked through the park to go to a shop that sold xian-bing, a type of meat pastry with meat and soup inside the crust. Next we went back to my grandma’s place, where we ate the xian-bing and noodle soup. For dessert, we had fairy grass jello with lemon juice and yogurt for desert.
They couldn’t stay long and had to go back to Taipei soon, so I took them to the train station to see them off and say goodbye to them. The sad thing is, I don’t know when the next time I will see them is. Who knows when I will be able to visit Taiwan again?
On Saturday morning, my grandma and her friends took me to the airport. We said goodbye, and from there I made my long journey back to the U.S. First I had to fly to Hong Kong, and from there I took another plane back to Chicago.
It feels pretty weird being back in Chicago. I keep replaying memories in my head of this past summer. I can never forget this summer, the summer where I visited relatives I haven’t seen in forever, taught English to Taiwanese students in the countryside, bonded with an amazing host family and met awesome people at AID. The past month has probably been the best month of my life.