Looking back

I am looking out on the 6 p.m. traffic in peripheral Shanghai from the ninth floor of a hotel room, with white linens and a shower, as I write this. I intended to close my Taiwan journey sitting in the Taipei Taoyuan airport before the beginning of my next adventure, for poetic effect, but never quite got around to it. My last string of posts ended abruptly, I know, but too much has happened since then, even before the close of my exchange, for me to recount. Suffice it to say that there were moments of euphoric laughter, subdued joy, simmering discontent, and helpless disgust. I can’t say that the experience was all it was promised to be, nor can I say that I magically transformed into an outgoing, child-loving, charismatic leader ready to save the world. But I did grow in other ways: I learned to take risks, to work through imperfection, and to strive to see beyond face value. But I have neither the patience nor the time to write a common app essay about my growth and struggles and the epiphanies and reflections from this journey. I would have left this blog unfinished, to tell the truth, but for the fact that I must thank the people who made this experience truly unique and life-changing.

Despite the various factors that ultimately undermined this experience for me, I have nothing but fond thoughts and memories of the many people whom I will remember long after I forget the other details of this trip. The AIESECers in Taiwan and Yale, of course, made this trip happen, and I am grateful for that. But my host family, Luna, Nick, and Trista, had no obligation to house and feed me, yet they truly made my first month in Taiwan special and I am sincere when I say that I will remember them, and hope to keep in touch. They are inextricably linked to my impression of Taiwan, and it is a sweet, nostalgic one already.

Then, there are Kanchih laoshi, his wonderful wife, Jimmy, Ferniza, and Xiao Buding. I think of them as my second host family, after the countless times I squeezed into the back seat with the kids after school, or to go travel on the weekends, or to watch the sunset in some local secret and enjoy a delicious dinner afterwards. I wish my two “families” all the best and I can’t wait to hear about the dear kids as they grow up!

Of course, the teachers at Beishi were always kind and considerate, trying to make me comfortable and happy at all times. Wan laoshi and Bohan, you really made me feel at home during my first days at Beishi. Thank you for your friendship, and all the best in the future! Lily, thank you for your constant help and support. You went above and beyond, even taking Bambi and I around Tainan on our last weekend. Principal Lin, you were the first staff member I met in Taiwan, and you did everything you could to help me and make me comfortable throughout. There are countless other people at Beishi whom I appreciate and remember, and I hope that we may meet again someday. Thank you for all you have done.

Finally, there are my fellow EPs. I have said what I needed to say to you already, but I must repeat that the friendships I formed with you are perhaps the most special and lasting part of this experience. I would love to thank each of you again, but I don’t think that’s quite necessary, or appropriate, now, especially as most of you will never read this. But if there is one person I must mention, it is Bambi. Bambi, you were my companion and friend from the very beginning. We went through so much together, starting from the uncontrollable laughter in that apartment in Tainan, to the countless #stupidthingswedidinTaiwan, to the hardest goodbye of my whole trip on the steps of Angels’ Hostel in Taipei. It will be hard, but I really do hope we keep in touch and meet again, either in Canada, Thailand, or anywhere else. Finally, just one comment: go bravely onward towards 12 o’clock, and we’re sure to find our bubble tea someday 😉

And now I am looking forward to going home after nearly nine weeks on the other side of the world. Since leaving Taiwan, I’ve visited the Ministry of Foreign Affairs of China (the People’s Republic, that is), stayed in five-star hotels, and debated every aspect of Chinese and American life with my fellow “student leaders” of the inaugural Zhi-Xing China Student Leaders’ Academy. And yet, every time I buy bubble tea in China, I miss the night market in Madou, and every time I toss another plastic water bottle in the trash, I remember the meticulous waste sorting in Taiwan. But anyhow, every story has its close, even if life continues, and this must be the end of Aiesec Taiwan Blog. See you again someday, beautiful island!

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Last week of school!

It is a curious property of time, that when one is living through it it may feel unbearably slow, yet when one is looking back upon it it seems as though there is a gap in memory where those weeks were meant to be.

Three weeks ago, one of my first classes consisted of sixth-graders preparing for an end-of-year activity day for their juniors–they were cutting cardboard, drawing targets, writing schedules, creating scripts. Three days ago, Beishi’s newest alumni returned to the school to make it happen. As far as I can tell, it was a blast–but I must say that I had more fun at West Bench Elementary’s sports day and fun day than I did manning the baseball English challenge. I wonder if our great loves are simply meant to change as we change.

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Hula hooping to baseball words

In the afternoon, Kanchih laoshi took us to the Madou Daitian Temple, featuring a formidable dragon with a huge slide pouring out of its mouth, journeying from heaven to hell. Our host parents said they often came to play here when they were young: “You may think it’s not much, but in little Madou back then, this was really all we had and we loved to come here.” But for me, the temple was still beautiful and would definitely be a prime tourist attraction in most places in Canada. I guess in this case, I would have happily adopted someone else’s childhood love, even if it had faded for him. Unfortunately, the big slide was closed by the time we got there, but there were little slides composed of metal rollers that the kids were going down again and again sitting on plastic boards. I happily joined in!

Wednesday was Trista’s big day. She takes dance lessons and Wednesday was their performance at Nanyuan Farm, where a fancy dinner was being held for some officials and politicians. Luna bought me 碗糕, pronounced Wa Gui, a specialty in Madou that I have been hoping to try for a long time. I expected the glutinous rice ball to be sweet, but found that it is actually savory and eaten as a meal, not dessert. Later, we took advantage of the bamboo rafts floating around in the pond and, while my rowing was very clumsy, I miraculously did not fall in.

Trista’s dance group was wonderful and I knew she had been working extremely hard to follow her passion! I felt it rather heartless of the fancy officials to be sitting at their fancy tables eating their fancy cake and not offer any to the kids who had been dancing in the sweltering heat and mosquitoes all evening. So much for servants of the people.

Wednesday and Thursday, Bambi and I spent at Anye planning for the summer camp with the other EPs, Perrin, Rachel, and Nam. I am surprised at how close I feel to them already and how much fun we had together! I learned that they, too, have experienced that feeling of futility and meaninglessness of their work so far, and the disillusionment with the promises we heard regarding our ability to make a difference or become strong leaders. But perhaps it was partly my fault for setting my expectations too high and not thinking about how I would actually attain all that I expected. But hopefully we will feel better after the summer camp.

Today is the last day of school and the kids had a flea market, selling things they had brought from home for charity. I have said goodbye to most of the teachers, though some will still be around next week during the camp. It is odd to say goodbye, but I am looking forward to the next phase of my exchange!

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Buy something, Principal!

Anping, Sun Moon Lake, Taichung, Dongshi

Yep, it was a busy weekend. But before that, let’s talk about Friday afternoon classes. The grade one class was making play-doh Jigglypuffs, and Bambi and I were invited to join in. Bambi made some creative hair, while mine had really chubby arms…

Kanchih laoshi drove us to Tainan, where Bambi and I caught a bus to Anping district. We were eventually the only ones left on the bus, as it was quite a long way to Anping, but the bus driver was really nice and talkative and pointed out where the famous fort and treehouse were, as well as Anping Old Street, Taiwan’s oldest street. Unfortunately, the fort was about to close by the time we got there, so we went to the treehouse instead and walked through the museum in the old salt warehouse, which summarized Anping’s salt trade from before Dutch colonization to the present.

Then, we walked around the outside of Fort Zeelandia, bought some sticky sesame candy, and had bubble tea and oyster pancakes for dinner.

 

Finally, we caught a bus back to Tainan train station and waited in the nearby department store for Kanchih laoshi. I was actually feeling pretty accomplished for navigating the city on our own, until Kanchih laoshi called and told us he was at Meng Shi Dai department store. I told him which entrance we were at, only to learn that our department store wasn’t Meng Shi Dai! Feeling rather silly, we then waited for another 10 minutes and finally met up with Kanchih laoshi. I blame my mistake on the fact that I’ve never lived in a city with so many mega department stores in such close proximity.

The next morning, Kanchih laoshi drove Bambi and me to the high speed rail station at Chiayi. From there, Bambi and I covered the 1 hour 20 minute car drive to Taichung in 20 or 30 minutes, and then took a bus to Sun Moon Lake. We had bought a combo pass that included high speed rail, bus, boat, and gondola lift tickets for NTD$1230, so we went around the lake on the shuttle boats and greatly enjoyed the scenery, food, and mild weather.

In the afternoon, we returned to Taichung and found our hostel. We learned that bus rides in Taichung are free for fewer than 10 km, but there is no subway system. After settling in a bit, we braved the complicated Google maps directions and crammed buses to Feng Chia night market.

Our first stop was Ming Lun Dan Bing, a egg crepe shop that Bai Han and the internet highly recommended. There were throngs of people outside, and when I asked a lady where she had gotten her number, a worker told us they were out of tags and we would have to go elsewhere. But the lady told us she would try to buy some for us as she was next in line–another example of the friendliness that seems universal here.

There were a lot of clothing stores there. The clothes and especially shoes were incredibly cheap by North American standards! However, the market was crammed and lines for food were painfully long, so we gave up on our quest for hu jiao bing and di gua qiu. While the takoyaki was delicious, I think I prefer the night market just outside our doorstep.

Sunday morning, we went to the National Taiwan Museum of Fine Arts. Admission was free and reviews online had warned me that the museum was very modern and Taiwan-focused. After my underwhelming experience at the Kaohsiung museum and Chimei, I wasn’t expecting much. I ended up witnessing the most beautiful modern art I have ever experienced.

The sculptures, oil paintings, watercolors, calligraphy, seal engravings, ink paintings, and special exhibitions were all quite well done and enjoyable, which is already saying something for me in a modern art museum. But what really enchanted me was U-ram Choe’s Stil Laif exhibition. The accompanying explanations were beautifully written, especially when they told a story or painted a sci-fi world, and I could almost believe that some of the pieces were, in fact, the living and breathing organisms that the writing claimed they were. Capturing them in a lens is to bottle up a sweet ocean breeze to bring home.

After the museum, we walked to nearby Dawncake bakery and tried some of their delicious pineapple cakes. We each bought two boxes, only to realize later that they will have expired by the time we leave because there are no preservatives. I gave a small box to my host family to eat and refrigerated the large one so that they can maybe last me for a while as snacks.

Anticipating a long bus ride to the HSR station, Bambi and I headed over early and ended up catching an earlier train to Chiayi. However, Kanchih laoshi’s family was out, so we went to the National Palace Museum. We decided it wasn’t worth the $150 to go in for half an hour, but the premises made for a nice walk.

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National Palace Museum

After we were picked up, we went to Dongshi district in Chiayi, a seaside wharf famous for oysters. We were just in time for the sunset, and then we enjoyed some delicious oyster pancakes.

Today, I went to grade five again. They were making chicken and vegetable curry for lunch and sweet potato balls for dessert, all with the sweet potatoes they had planted in the school garden in February. It was a lot of fun cooking with them and feeling useful! They were quite impressed that I could cut an onion without bawling. A parent also brought some delicious sausages, and the school ordered drinks–I had what I think was lemon aiyu. The curry was delicious, but I especially loved the sweet potato balls because they were just so Q and we put them in a milk tea sweetened with unrefined sugar.

In the afternoon, the principal of Anye drove Bambi and me to Anye to discuss next week’s summer camp with the three EPs at Anye and AIESECERs from NCKU. I feel that the weeks leading up to now have been rather confused and unorganized regarding this summer camp, but I’m feeling a bit better now that I’ve met the other three EPs who are in the same boat and seen the schedule and plan for the camp. The AIESECERs have planned pretty much everything, leaving us with little freedom to run it ourselves, which surprised me. However, it’s less work for me, which is both good and bad.

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Anye Elementary School

It turns out I’ll still be in Beishi every day this week except for Wednesday because of various circumstances, I suppose, so I’ll try to make the most of it while I can!

Last full week at Beishi

Monday was my third night market in Madou. It was hard to believe that just as the night market came to life in the muggy afternoon two weeks ago, I had come to this street having just met a multitude of friendly strangers and wondering what life would be like in this rural village on an island. Now, my experience is halfway over and, writing on Friday, I have met and taught all of the 64 students in grades one through six, and even outstayed the five new alumni at their school. But leaving aside these reflections, let’s talk about food.

I bought 肉圓, or pork dumplings with thin, glutinous-rice wrappers, for dinner, then went out again after dark with Bambi and Kanchih laoshi’s family to enjoy wonderfully Q 地瓜球 and wonderfully cheap 紅茶清冰. Q is a Taiwanese way to describe that delicious chewy texture that I’ve always loved in glutinous rice desserts like mochi and fruit jellies without knowing how to name it, and 地瓜球 are small fried donuts made of the island-shaped sweet potatoes common in Taiwan. 紅茶清冰 was iced black tea with a type of ice sweetened with banana flavor or something similar, like ice cream but lighter and probably healthier. It was NTD$20, or fewer than CAD$1, but Kanchih laoshi said that when he was a child, he could buy the drink for NTD$5.

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Black tea with ice, starring Kanchih laoshi’s daughter

Tuesday night, some of Luna’s friends invited us to a hotpot restaurant. I had a tonkotsu broth with deep sea fish as my main protein, as well as the complementary shellfish, fish balls, vermicelli, and vegetables. We had tea jelly for dessert, and I liked it so much that Luna gave me hers, too.

Wednesday, I was thinking about how I could make a difference because my feeling of futility has been nagging at me for the past week. With only a few days left before summer camp, I couldn’t do much in terms of actively teaching them vocabulary through games and snatches of conversation, and there was no way I could build up a foundation of English from scratch. Yet, without a solid foundation and desire to learn, anything I or their teachers or future volunteers like me can do will only be drops in a leaky bucket. It was then that I realized that there is no visible push for the kids to read at this school. And as I thought about the tireless effort put in by West Bench Elementary to foster a love of reading, and how it was perhaps thanks to it that I am such a bookworm, I realized that the best thing I could do for the kids is to convince the school to start pushing for English reading.

Accordingly, I asked Bambi what she thought and she agreed, so I broached the subject with director Lily while trying not to appear condescending or overstep any invisible lines–after all, perhaps she would think it was not my place as a temporary volunteer to suggest long-term changes to how they run the school? But she seemed to support my idea, and I laid out a tentative plan for how to incentivize the students and achieve optimal learning outcomes while not turning them off with too much work. She seemed happy with it and I know that encouraging the children to read more will make a huge difference long after I am gone, but my only regret is that I will not be able to implement and enforce it myself and can only hope that the administration and teachers will see the benefits of English reading and persevere despite the inevitable difficulties that will arise in such an initiative.

Thursday, Bambi and I went to nearby Jia Zhong Elementary School, the principal of which had previously brought the 3D printers to Beishi. We were to give our cultural lessons to the 53 students there. The directors who picked us up said their school was small and the families’ were not as well-off as those at Beishi, but, as I have learned to expect in Taiwan, the elementary school was still huge and nice by Penticton standards.

The kids were shy, but ended up asking a lot of questions. Some highlights were: “Why are there so many rivers in Canada?” “How many pianos are there in Canada?” and the ever-popular “What’s your favorite color?” But at least they didn’t ask Beishi’s favorite, “Do you have a boyfriend?”

Meeting these kids really made me realize how much has changed in these three weeks. When I first came to Beishi, the kids were just as strange and shy to me as the Jia Zhong students were, yet now, I know almost all of them at least somewhat and I like to think I have some pretty solid friendships with several. I don’t think I played with most of my elementary school classmates as much I do with the kids at Beishi.

The principal gave Bambi and I each two 3D-printed keychains, which I especially liked: one was the character 安 inscribed within an apple, a visual pun for the word peace, and another was of 平安, also peace. I wonder if someone had told him about my love for apples, and my name, 安. Moreover, he gave us each a huge bottle of mulberry vinegar, a specialty of Xiaying, their district in Tainan. He had also given a bottle to Beishi, so Director Lily let us try some when we got back. They drink the vinegar directly after diluting it with water, so the vinegar taste was quite strong and it was a bit odd, though not entirely unpleasant, to be drinking vinegar. However, after a few sips, the vinegar taste sort of disappeared and there was only the fresh, sweet taste left, and it was quite nice. Nonetheless, I will probably give mine to Luna because I have to save space in my suitcase for pineapple cakes!

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Mulberry vinegar

At lunch, the Grade One teacher tried to hit a fly on a window pane and with a great clang, it shattered…So the resident all-purpose savior Bo Han (actually I think his name is Bai Han according to Facebook…) had to take the remains out.

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Damage control

In the afternoon, Miss Yan, the English teacher, let Bambi and I teach two periods to the fourth grade as their final English exam was over. I was ecstatic at the chance to teach instead of just sitting at the back like usual, and of course I tried to pitch the idea of English reading by telling them stories. Bambi and I read them The Giving TreeGreen Eggs and Ham, and If You Give a Moose a Muffin. We would each read one page, and then I would translate, and I read most of the rhymes in the Dr. Seuss while getting the kids to read along as the rhymes went on. By the end, I was quite tired, especially as my throat was still not in top condition, but they were two of the most fulfilling classes I’ve had here–perhaps because I still can’t resist a good story, or because the kids loved the stories and participated quite willingly, or perhaps because I was able to put my plan into motion though I will not delude myself into thinking that they will all suddenly take to independent reading.

After returning to the Grade One class, their teacher, too, told me I could do what I would with them that period, so I read Green Eggs and Ham again and then played charades. It was interesting, and maybe sobering, to see that the first-graders seemed to understand and enjoy the story to pretty much the same degree as the fourth-graders, who have supposedly had three more years of English education. Or perhaps it’s just a timeless story!

When we got back to my temporary home, Luna mentioned that I could go to the nearby Carrefour if I was bored or wanted snacks. I was eager to see a Taiwanese grocery store because, as my Grade 12 history teacher said, grocery stores can often reflect a society better than the superficial streets and attractions can. It was a small Carrefour, of which there are many in Taiwan, and the inside was impeccably clean and tidy–which I know cannot be met with in the large and powerful People’s Republic of China. I was, however, a bit disappointed at the smaller-than-expected snack selection and the higher-than-expected prices. I bought some pineapple cakes, though I could not find the sublime ones that the shushu had given me in week one, as well as some mango puddings and bananas.

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Mango pudding

Today, I walked into the office and found a drawing on my desk. I don’t know who put it there, but it seems like a sweet gesture!

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A mystery drawing

We are going to Sun Moon Lake and Taichung on the weekend, and I can’t wait to see this famed attraction!

 

Chimei Museum, Danei Village, Moon World, and Buddha Museum

We had originally planned to go to Sun Moon Lake this weekend, but since it was raining, Bambi and I went to Chimei Museum in Tainan City on Saturday. Kanchih laoshi drove us there and lent me an umbrella, which I proved extremely useful. My sore throat and constantly running nose were bothersome, but it was still a good experience.

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Chimei Museum

The appearance of the grounds and building was beautiful, but the exhibitions were a bit unexpected. There were huge corridors full of weapons and armor from around the world throughout history, models of animals from the different continents, separate exhibitions on land birds and waterfowl, sculptures, paintings, sketches, and musical instruments. I found this organization interesting, as the subjects were so specialized and separate, yet housed in the same building. The musical instruments galleries were probably my favorite, though there was no mention of carillons except for a brief note in the mechanical instruments section.

To get back to Shan Hua Station, where Kanchih laoshi would pick us up, Bambi and I took the train from the nearby station in Bao An Village. It is a tiny village near the museum and the train station is like those one might see in a 20th-century TV series about everyday life in rural China.

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Bao An Station

After picking us up, Kanchih laoshi took us and the kids from both families to Danei village, another small and mostly abandoned village that a resident beautified with amazing cartoon murals. It was amazing!

Then, Kanchih laoshi bought some fresh mangoes he saw outside a house. As soon as we got back to Madou, I went to bed and slept for 13 hours!

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When I woke up the next morning, my throat was no longer sore, but my nose was still stuffed up. After finishing Spirited Away with Nick and Trista, we joined Kanchih laoshi’s family and went to Moon World. The mountains there are barren of life because of high mineral content, and their clay-like texture means that they frequently erode and change shape due to the rain.

Then, we drove to Kaohsiung and had dinner at a seafood restaurant. We had ten dishes, all of fish or shrimp. Although my sense of taste was a bit blunted due to my cold, I could still tell that everything was delicious. I especially enjoyed the hot fish soup!

After, Bambi and I each bought a mango ice cream bar, while the kids shared a small tub of ice cream.

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Finally, we went to Fo Guang Shan Buddha Museum, a huge complex founded by Hsing Yun Da Shi. We didn’t get to see much before it closed, but the story of its founder was quite interesting, though I couldn’t help but take it with a grain of salt. Admission was free and I think it’s worth a visit, even for non-Buddhists.

It was a busy weekend!

Grade Three and Graduation

Thursday and Friday I spent with the Grade Three class. One of them had her birthday on Thursday and gave candy bags to all her classmates, and even had one for me! It had been so long (one and a half weeks) since I’d had chocolate and I realized how much I missed it!

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Birthday goodie bags

During their Taiwanese class, I followed along with a textbook and it was intriguing to see the similarities and differences between the dialects. As I had noticed before, they use bopomofo instead of pinyin and even when they do spell the words out, the system is different in terms of both the letters they use and the tone markings. If I read the Chinese characters while Taiwanese is being spoken, I can hear many similarities, but if I have nothing to follow along with, then I have no idea what they are saying.

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Taiwanese book

Friday was the big day: graduation. During the day, the grade six class approached me during a break and gave me a photo of me teaching one of first culture classes here, and on the back they had written their thanks in English. I was so moved!

After class, everyone stayed at school and enjoyed the feast the cooking staff had prepared. There was so much food! I ate so much, but this photo can’t do justice to how beautiful everything was.

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Graduation dinner

Unfortunately, precisely after eating my fourth dessert (a delicious, mochi-like ball filled with red bean paste and glazed with something that tasted like milk tea), my throat started hurting and I just had a feeling I had gotten a cold. But there was nothing I could do about it, so the night went on and the ceremony began.

Due to the threat of rain, it was held in the audio-visual classroom (the room I once described as a small lecture hall) instead of outside in the park. Continuing with the comparison, it was as full as the seminar version of intro to macro on the first day of shopping period. Bambi and Kanchih laoshi’s family found some seats, but they were too far away from the door and the way was blocked by many parents and relatives standing or sitting on stools. Since my job was to run between that room and the library, where most of the students were gathered, to let them know when it was time for the next group to prepare for each performance, I decided to stand near the door instead.

I don’t think I was really necessary since everything was being live streamed to Youtube and the teachers in the library could see what was going on at all times, but I was glad to feel like I had something to do, anyway. I’ve been getting a similar feeling for a while now; often, when the kids are having math or science or social studies, there is nothing for me to do except for sit there and watch them. I’ve been using that time to work on Professor Monteiro’s research and I realized I worked almost 13 hours last week. When I asked Director Lily, she said she would try to find me some materials to translate, but that hasn’t happened yet. While I’m having a great time here and everyone is wonderfully kind, I can’t help but feel that I am not making much of a difference.

But regardless of me, the ceremony went much better than the two rehearsals and all the kids shined in their sparkly costumes and excitement.

At the end, the new graduates thanked their teachers and presented them with flowers on stage. Then, Tang and Jackie (two sixth-graders) ran to where Bambi and I were sitting and gave each of us a flower, as well! This gesture, too, was unexpected, but so, so sweet.

When we returned, Nick and Trista immediately fell to opening Nick’s gifts that he had received for “graduating” from preschool. He got a Transformer, a backpack, a picture book, a pencil case, and a mechanical pencil. Also, his preschool diploma is nicer than any I’ve ever gotten, including my A.R.C.T. However, it occurred to me that I don’t think I ever received my high school diploma…I wonder if I’m simply amnesiac, or if it got lost in the mail, or if I was supposed, at some point, to have picked up from somewhere…Hopefully employers will just take it for granted that I completed high school!

Anyway, it’s strange to say, but I think I will miss the five sixth-grade kids. I only spent two weeks with them, but I feel they were the first ones to make me feel at home in this school and this nation (I originally wrote country, but since that is disputed, I will write nation, for that is certain). What will they become in a few years? Who will they be? Will I ever see them or hear of them or think of them again? And, if so, will everything have changed? Will I still think Jackie is cute when he is a twenty-year-old car mechanic in rural Taiwan who can’t even pronounce his job title in English, and will he and Tang still be best friends? Will Joanna become just another struggling Asian immigrant with imperfect English, although she is considered good compared to her classmates, if she does go to Canada like she hopes?

It should be exciting to consider the prospects of children, but to me, it is daunting and a bit sad. What do they have to look forward to? What do I have to look forward to? I am sure we will each find out for ourselves. I wish them all the best.

Typhoon season, 3D printing, and chess

Monday was a dark and stormy night. The rain came suddenly, catching the night market vendors scrambling to dissemble their stalls before the rain came pelting down. The palm trees swayed in a frenzy and the skies poured all night long. It’s been raining on and off since, but the schoolchildren rather enjoy it, standing just under the shelter of the building to feel the cool spray blown in by the wind.

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Inside, life is going on with new activities every day. Yesterday, the school brought in three 3D printers and I designed two key chains, one of Trista’s name and one of Makkachin from Yuri on Ice. However, class ended before mine could print, so I have yet to see how they turned out…

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The fourth-graders love to play Chinese chess, but not the strategy-heavy war game, xiangqi, which I am somewhat familiar with. Their version is called banqi, or half chess, since the kids only use half the xiangqi board. It relies more on luck, but it is still fun and challenging; I have earned the status of chess master among the children, but I think my victories are mostly due to the many pointers the kids give me in every match against their classmates.

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A stock photo of banqi because I was too busy playing to take a photo…

The school is mostly preparing for the graduation ceremony on Friday, which I’m excited to see! Everyone has put in so much effort in preparation for it. I hope the weather cooperates!

Kaohsiung

Last weekend, Bambi, Andrew (AIESECer from NCKU), and I went to Kaohsiung. On Friday, Kanchih laoshi took Bambi and me to Tainan city to meet up with Andrew and two EPs from Finland. Bambi and I arrived an hour earlier than the meeting time, but we ended up being late to meet them because we ran around for a long time trying to find a SIM card for my cellphone. For future reference: there are a lot of phone shops in Tainan, but only some sell SIM cards for foreign phones, so buy one at the airport!

After a delicious and cheap dinner (I had a seafood, rice, and cheese dish), we tried our first Taiwanese bubble tea. It was delicious and much cheaper than in the U.S., and their smallest size is huge! (Most shops only offer two sizes: medium and large). Taiwanese beverage shops always put your drink in a small bag so that you can carry the cup without warming the beverage or hang the bag from the handles of a bicycle so the drink doesn’t spill. It’s quite convenient, but it probably generates a lot of waste…

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After dinner in Tainan

We then walked around Tainan city and visited the Blueprint Cultural Village. It was cute, but my favorite part was seeing several cats wandering around! Unfortunately, they all stalked away when I tried to pet them.

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Blueprint village

Saturday morning, Bambi, Andrew, and I took the train to Kaohsiung. They first told me to buy an Easy Card at one of the ubiquitous seven-elevens for transportation, and they really are easy! You simply put some money on it and then tap it on a scanner for train, MRT, bus, and even ferry. I know about this last one because we had to take a ferry to get from Kaohsiung to Cijin, an island village with many attractions. Surprisingly, there were very few tourists for such a postcard-perfect island, but Andrew said many schools had graduation ceremonies that weekend and, as we were soon to find out, it was ridiculously hot.

Our first problem was how to get around the island. Andrew had assumed we could bike, but Bambi had never ridden and I was far from confident in my cycling skills. However, it would be painful to walk the 17 kilometers around the island in the heat, there was no public transportation, and taxis would be inconvenient for hopping on and off at each attraction. Finally, I proposed that Andrew and Bambi share a tandem bicycle with Andrew steering in front, while I tried my hand at a regular bicycle. After all, I reasoned, if I hadn’t died biking through Paris at midnight, surely I would be okay biking through a vacation town in broad daylight. To be honest, the fact that Bambi couldn’t bike at all provided some additional reassurance.

Surprisingly, I found myself quite comfortable on my bicycle, even when weaving through the crowded market streets with stalls I could potentially run over while avoiding the cars and ubiquitous motorcycles. The only mishap was when I got a bit too confident and decided to do a few turns on the muddy sand beach near Cijin’s recognizable shell statue, and got blown over by the strong ocean wind. I got a few bruises, but I think Andrew and Bambi were more concerned about it than I was.

Despite the heat, we had an amazing time seeing at Cijin and had a great excuse to try more of the many drinks offered at the many beverage stands.

In the afternoon, Andrew had to leave. I originally offered to take his place on the tandem bicycle and return mine, but Bambi and I discovered that it was too difficult to control. We returned both bicycles and Bambi and I walked to the starlight tunnel and the lighthouse. By the time we returned to the ferry port, we were exhausted!

When we returned to Kaohsiung, we sought out the Liuhe night market. We were an hour early, but we were so hot and tired that we just sat at a street corner waiting, occasionally wondering if passersby would find us an odd sight. Finally, at 6 p.m., we walked over and saw a bustling street full of colorful stalls, vendors calling out their sales pitches, and the aroma of seafood sizzling on grills. After much deliberation, we shared several small deep-fried crabs, a grilled squid, some shrimp-and-egg balls, rose apples, and dragon fruit. I also had some delicious and refreshing papaya milk.

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Squid at Liuhe night market

Miraculously, we managed to get back to our hostel on our own without too much trouble. Sunday morning, we visited the Kaohsiung Museum of Fine Arts. Admission was free and the building was spacious and air-conditioned. Some of the works were quite interesting, but the focus of the museum was abstract and contemporary art, which I’m not a huge fan of.

Kanchih laoshi picked us up from Shan Hua station and we went to Taiwan’s largest temple with our host families.

Then, we watched the sunset at a salt-making village. We learned that the marshy part of Tainan used to be a small island in the ocean, but eventually became land. Then, the villagers would pump seawater onto the land and wait for it to evaporate, leaving behind the salt.

After watching the sunset, we had some of Taiwan’s famous danzai noodles.

It was a busy weekend!

A Musing, Inspired Perhaps by Something like Culture Shock

I’m a different person when I think in different languages.

In English, I am confident, eloquent, and reasonably outgoing for a committed introvert–the result of a life of various privileges and knowing there to be very little reason to fear anything or anyone.

In this not-quite-foreign culture with its not-quite-foreign language, however, I feel I am again the shy, awkward child who had not yet learned to fake it until she made it. Now that I think about it, these multiple Anne Qi Lu’s have always existed: Mandarin, the language of my home, has always been the language I’ve used to show the most verbally explicit respect, politeness, and deference to the apparently intimidating adults and family members I’ve encountered. With them, I am always the quiet, well-behaved, “乖” child.

This effect is intensified when I am taken out of my home country and flown across the world to a strange land with never-ending strangers who are supposed to be family and who suffocate me with their affection (disclaimer: don’t blame me for these odd and thankless childhood impressions, they simply are).

It is in English, however, that I speak with my peers; it is in English that I learned and grew confident in my strengths; it is in English that I made a leader and a dream-chaser of myself.

So on the first few days at Beishi, I could only express my gratefulness to everyone’s caring with endless “谢谢’s,” while trying my damnedest to make myself comfortable like everyone kept telling me to. When Wan laoshi told me I was rather “害羞,” in the exact words he had used to describe the children’s shyness, I wondered if I had perhaps taken a ride in a time machine.

My first English presentations were like temporary transformations, my confident, “outside” self bursting through and disappearing just as quickly once they were over.

Since Bambi arrived, however, I have become more conscious of this multiplicity of identities. The rapid and frequent transformations necessitated by my new role as translator and interpreter between her and the monolingual staff have made me take notice of my amphibian nature and, I think, helped me become comfortable with this not-quite-new self in this not-quite-foreign culture.

Day 4

This morning was my first time giving the weekly English class and leading the Baseball English activity for the whole school. All the grades gathered in the audio-visual classroom and the class started with a 台语 segment, in which one grade performed skits and told jokes. Everyone was laughing, but I couldn’t understand a thing!

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Taiwanese skit

Next, it was my turn to teach the weekly English phrase: “It is your turn now.”

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Weekly English class

I then started acting out some of the baseball terms and telling the kids it was their turn to do the movements afterward. We sang the baseball song and my first big class was over!

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Demonstrating baseball terms

I continued joining the sixth graders until Bambi, another EP who is from Thailand, arrived. We had lunch with the sixth graders, who were quite curious about Thailand!

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Lunch with Bambi and sixth grade

On Wednesdays, the afternoon is dedicated to various activities, such as art, ukulele, unicycle, and calligraphy lessons. First, we went to art, where the kids were drawing with pastel on colored sandpaper. I tried to draw Nick’s tiger plushy and he seemed to like it, even though it was an awful drawing!

Next, we went to ukulele. It took a while for me to figure out where to put my fingers, especially since the instrument is so small compared to piano and carillon, and it was my first non-keyboard instrument. But, I persevered and can now play a simple progression in C!

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Ukulele

Calligraphy was fun because I could barely write Chinese normally, let alone with a calligraphy brush and ink, and Bambi can’t speak Chinese at all. I tried writing something and the teacher immediately saw that I had never held a calligraphy brush before, and then taught us Chinese and Arabic numbers. It really is an art form!

On our way to unicycle-riding, we were pulled into the library, where a professor was introducing some English teaching techniques. When we entered, it was almost like going into a children’s class, because both tables of teachers fought for us to sit with them–they were playing Scrabble and wanted to win against the other team! We played many fun and simple games and got some great ideas for making English fun. We were just as competitive as kids!

For dinner, Luna took us out for beef noodle soup. I can see (and taste) why it’s so famous!

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Beef noodle soup

Afterwards, Bambi and our host family, the family of the sixth-grade teacher, came over. We went to the public library and talked about our countries and experiences so far. I’ve been learning just as much as I’ve been teaching!