(8/26) Scoot Scoot, Spontaneous Surfing, and Tofu

Scooter Examination

For all of August we have been learning to ride scooters in preparation for the examination. Unlike in the US, scooters are the primary form of transportation in most parts of Taiwan and for some of us it may be the only feasible way to actually get to our elementary school. We’ve been practicing for about 2 hours every day. On Friday, August 17th, we all arrived at the driving test site to get ready for our exam. Two of the ETAs from Hualien decided not to come because they did not feel ready, but the rest of us arrived early to practice. It was raining as I pulled up on my bike and the test track was filled with small pools of water. I was definitely nervous because I hadn’t been on a scooter in the rain before.

Before we even took the driving portion of the test, we had to pass a physical examination and a written examination. Thankfully the physical examination was simple. Studying for the written examination turned out to be incredibly difficult because even though we could take an English version of the test, there were thousands of potential questions and many of them referred to street signs that were written in Chinese characters. On top of this, many of the English translations for the questions were confusing and didn’t make sense. For example, one of the questions was; “Choose the correct order while trapped on a train track: Push – Press – Run; Run – Push – Press; Press – Push – Run.” What does this even mean?! I don’t know but the correct answer is press push run in case you were wondering. There were also many questions about exact turn radius of a scooter for a variety of scenarios. Six out of the seven ETAs from Hualien passed the written test and so we moved on to the on road examination. The video below shows what we needed to do to pass the examination. The straight line test was by far the hardest. If you crossed the line at any point of the course a horribly loud siren blared to indicate your failure. However, because multiple people were taking the test on the same track at the same time so it was confusing to tell who had failed.

I went first and thankfully I passed!!! So now I am officially a licensed scooter drive anywhere in Taiwan, watch out everybody! However, I decided I liked riding my bike more and so unlike the other five ETAs that passed, I did not get a scooter.


Me right before I entered the scooter testing area

Surfing at 北濱 (Beibin) Beach

After passing our scooter tests it was the weekend. On Saturday Gill, our coordinator, told us about this opportunity to collect a bag of trash at 北濱 beach in Hualien and in return, go surfing or Stand Up Paddle-boarding for free. I wasn’t sure where and when the surfing would be because every time I’d walked along the coast in Hualien City if I even started to think about swimming it was like people could smell my idea and they would warn me that it was far too dangerous.

I couldn’t pass up the offer so I hopped on my bike and booked it down to the beach. After collecting a bag of trash, I returned to the van and asked for my free surfing voucher. I quickly realized I had misinterpreted the event and I actually needed to go surfing right away to redeem my prize. And to my shock, people were actually in the water! So I took off my Birkenstocks and grabbed a board in my regular clothes and took off, despite the fact that I’d only ever been surfing one time before. I met a man visiting from France who had also gotten a free surfboard rental and together we pretended we knew what we were doing for an hour. Although I only got up on the board one time, it was a blast. However, I learned my lesson about sunscreen and from now on I’m never leaving the house again without it. I was brutally sunburned and as I made my way back home, it was as if I had committed a terrible crime. People would stop me or point at me from across the street and say loudly to their friends, “曬斑!” (“sunburn”)! People are very careful with the sun here and will take any extreme measures to keep their skin pale.



On Monday instead of a regular orientation lesson and training, we got to participate in a cultural event. Gill organized a trip to 羅山 (Luo Shan) where we got to make homemade mud volcano tofu and visit 六十石山風景區 (Sixty Stone Mountain). This location was about as far south as you can go in Hualien Province before hitting Taitung Province and to get there we drove in a van winding through the mountains for about two hours. It was a dreary day and the wind and rain battered the car as we made our way to羅山. 羅山 tofu is created by mixing a soybeans paste and water from the mud volcanos nearby. The addition of the water from the mud volcano helps the tofu to congeal. It is then pressed and served hot. Families in this area have been making this tofu since the 1920s but the industry was lost for a period of time and has recently been revived through agritourism.

We got to actually create the tofu from scratch, starting with whole soybeans grown at the farm! The process went something like this:


The grinding stone and Mr. Lin adding soybeans and water 


Grinding the soybeans into a paste that is collected in a bucket


The paste being heated and stirred in a large saucepan


The mixture foaming as it gets hotter


Mr. Lin pouring the mixture into a bowl with a cheesecloth to filter out the solid pieces


Sifting out the solid pieces to obtain only the soybean milk


The soybean milk returned to the stove with the added mud volcano water that causes the mixture to congeal


The congealed mixture added to two boxes to press

Pressing Tofu

Me pressing the tofu into a square shape and removing the excess water


Mr Lin pulling back the cloth and revealing our tofu


Finished tofu and soymilk that was rapidly consumed by our group! 

The finished project was so simple yet delicious and in a few short minutes the entire square of tofu was demolished. We happily returned to the vans full of tofu and warm soybean milk.

Our next stop was 六十石山風景區. This is a particularly famous tourist destination in the late summer and early fall because of the fields of beautiful orange flower blossoms. Many Taiwanese people come here to take wedding photos! Unfortunately because of the storm, we were unable to see the scenery through the clouds but the flowers were still gorgeous.



The view from the top of the mountain obscured by clouds

Group flowers

Some the the ETAs from Hualien 

Despite the ran it was a fun outing and a great way to end orientation in Hualien. Stay tuned to hear more information about my first few days of school!

(8/19) Taiwan Orientation and Travel


The second week in Taiwan, we traveled to Taipei for a two day orientation with all of the other ETA Fulbrighters in Taiwan. We flew out of Hualien (which seemed quite silly because it was a two hour train ride) on Thursday morning. The topics from the first day of orientation included an overview of the history and various policies of Fulbright led by the president Dr. Volke, information from AIT (American Institution in Taiwan), a panel about culture shock and mental health concerns, and a welcome dinner with a guest speaker. There were many opportunities to meet with the ETA’s from the other locations in Taiwan as well and we all discussed opportunities to stay with each other while traveling to new locations.

The best part of the day was perhaps the dinner buffet and the evening speaker, Andrew Ryan. He was a former Fulbrighter who had remained in Taiwan after his year ended and worked as a broadcaster on a radio show. He talked about the importance of engaging in Taiwanese culture and getting to know the community. He now stars in a TV series with a blind Taiwanese man who is an incredible dancer. I think one of the most important takeaways from his lecture was that there are other ways to engage with people and culture that don’t involve seeing.

The second day of orientation included a talk about diversity, sexual harassment, special education in Taiwan, and professionalism. I was particularly intrigued by the diversity talk. It focused primarily on diversity within our group of ETAs and how to teach students about diversity in America. However, I would have liked to know more about diversity within Taiwan, particularly the diverse Indigenous populations. Here are a few photos from the conference posted on the Fulbright Taiwan Facebook page!

Taipei orentation

Me asking a question about Indigenous diversity in Taiwan

Taipei Orentation group

A photo of the Hualien ETAs with TEFL advisors, President and Vice President of Fulbright, and several distinguished guests

Because we were already in Taipei, the rest of the ETA’s and I decided to spend the weekend sightseeing in the city. We booked a hostel for the weekend and after the conference ended on Friday, headed to the hostel. The first stop of our trip was Shilin night market, a 5 minute walk from our hostel. It was huge! As soon as we entered the market, we were immediately enveloped by the smells of stinky tofu among various other street foods. Gina got a fried squid that we all tried and Karina got stinky tofu (yuck!). There were also games galore including archery, ring toss, fishing with real goldfish, pinball etc.


One of the many games (with live animals)


The various street foods available at Shilin


An image of the underground gaming area in Shilin Night Market

Saturday:  貓空 

The next day we traveled across Taipei to Wenshan district and took a gondola ride to  貓空(Maokong), a small mountain that was famous for its tea production.  貓空(Maokong)literally translates to mean no cats, but we actually saw so many cats on the mountain! The gondola ride was incredibly beautiful. At the top we ran into several other Taiwan ETAs from different provinces and ate a delicious lunch with tea at one of the restaurants on the way.


Jenna and Lauren, two other Hualien ETAs riding with me on the gondola


Views from the gondola


Views from the restaurant where we stopped for lunch

Most of the other ETAs decided to go back a early but Gina and I stayed for a bit longer and hiked on some of the paths. There were so many different types of fruit and tea growing and many farmers were busy at work harvesting plants. We accidentally got in line for the glass floored gondola for the ride back which was terrifying considering that Gina and I are both afraid of heights. We left just as the sun was setting over Taipei and WOW is all I can say.


Farmers working in the field at 貓空 (Maokong)


The glass floor in our Gondola 


The incredible views from of sunset on Taipei, with Taipei 101 in the distance

Sunday: Shifen (十分) Waterfall and Lanterns

On Sunday I met up with Shelly, one of the students that participated in the Taiwan/US exchange program I was part of in in high school. She told me she was taking me to one of her favorite places near Taipei where we could launch lanterns! When we got there, it was pouring so we decided to send postcards to some of our good friends in the US. Next, Shelly got me some peanuts and chives wrapped in ice cream which was a bit strange but nonetheless interesting. After that we found one of the things I’ve been searching for ever since I arrived in Taiwan… delicious scallion pancakes!!! The older lady that was cooking definitely knew that my mouth was watering and she asked me if I thought her scallion pancakes were beautiful (to which I said absolutely).


Shifen Waterfall


Shelly trying to stay out of the rain 


Shifen Waterfall

The next stop in Shifen was the street where lanterns are launched. It is right in the center of the town and on top of the train tracks that travel directly between the buildings. Shelly and I purchased a lantern together and each decorated two sides. Different colored lantern correspond with different wishes, so we decided to go for a pink one that symbolized a happy and healthy life.


My side of the lantern! The English meaning is for Taiwan and the United States to develop/maintain a good relationship 


Also my side: I wrote love for family and friends, and for my Chinese language skills to get better


Shelly and I launching our lantern with some help from a shopkeeper 

This adventure was the end of my time in Taipei for the weekend. I was happy to return to Hualien to escape the busy streets of Taipei but I’ll be back before too long for more adventures!

(8/12) Elaine and Her Family Come to Hualien on August 4th and 5th

The first week in Taiwan was filled with paperwork, unpacking, and jet lag. After landing in Taipei, we spent the first day filling out forms and taking pictures to apply for our ARC. In the evening we flew to Hualien and immediately moved into our apartments. One of the perks of jet lag was that I was wide awake at 4:30 am for the rest of the week, so I decided to make the best of it and go out and explore before the day began. I ran through Hualien and took this picture one day from the base of 美崙山 (a small hill in the city the locals refer to as Mickey Mouse Mountain because of the statue of Mickey Mouse at the bottom of the mountain).

View from the Dragon Bridge on the way to Mickey Mouse MountainIMG-7023

I also ran to 北濱 park a few days later, a bike path along the coast of Hualien with stunning ocean views.

北濱 park ocean views running route hualienDespite the beautiful views, one of the major downsides of Hualien is the insane humidity and very high daily temperatures. Any sort of physical exertion results in sweat pouring from every inch of my skin. Thank goodness for a laundry machine right inside of my apartment!

After finishing up the first week of orientation, we had the weekend off to explore Hualien and get accustomed to our surroundings. I was particularly excited for the weekend because Elaine and her family were taking a trip from Taichung to Hualien to visit me! For some context, in during my junior year of high school my family hosted Elaine for two weeks in the US as part of a foreign exchange program that was run through my high school. In return her family hosted me in Taichung a few months later. This was my first exposure to Taiwan and I can say without a doubt that this experience influenced my decision to come to Taiwan this year! Elaine has been attending a US college and stayed with my family over Thanksgiving break. When they found out that I’d be spending the year in Hualien, they planned a trip to visit me!

One of the crazy parts about traveling in Taiwan is that even though the island is fairly narrow, the mountains across the middle are too steep to travel safely and so most people take the high-speed train around the edge of the island to get to the other side. So even though Taichung is right across from Hualien, to travel between these locations people take a high speed train to Taipei and then another one to Hualien, circumnavigating all of the mountains. In total it took them more than five hours to get to Hualien. They met me on Saturday morning outside of my apartment in a rental car and told me they were taking me on an adventure to see some cool rocks and find clams. We drove to Lichuan clam farm, a very touristy spot in Hualien. They had clam flavored everything: bread, soup, tea, even ice cream! Too bad I’m allergic to clams…

Lichuan clam farm pick your own clams! IMG-7033Next, we drove through the mountains to a place where sugarcane used to be grown. Apparently they have famous popsicles which were very tasty. Our next stop was 石梯坪 or Shitiping. The name translates to rock ladder which is a pretty accurate description. It was so beautiful! According to my host family the rocks are volcanic and were worn down by the waves to form interesting crevices and caves.

石梯坪 (Shitiping) rock formationsIMG-7054 (1)

We went to the Fengbin Sky Bridge next, or 豐濱天空步道. This is a very popular tourist destinations that stretches over the rocks and water and has a section that is entirely made of glass!

View from 豐濱天空步道 (Fengbin Sky Bridge)IMG-7101.JPGOur last stop of the day before dinner was a cave that looks like a car. Apparently it was featured in a magazine in a car advertisement so it is a very famous site. It was a cool cave, and you can sort of see the car reference…

Elaine, Helsa, their mom and I posing in front of the “car” cave

IMG-7585Dinner was probably my favorite part of the entire day. Elaine’s dad invited all of my friends from Hualien to join us at an amazing restaurant that specialized in Aboriginal food. It was perhaps the most beautiful and surprising assortment of food that I have ever seen.

Top, left to right: fish rice balls and some type of shellfish; pork with white carrots; our server showing my friends how to eat periwinkle out of the shell; barnacles! 

After dinner my friends and I attended a dance and music performance put on by several aboriginal groups including the Toroko peoples and the Amis peoples. It included a variety of music from all different genres and incredibly beautiful costumes.

The next morning I met Elaine’s family once again and we headed straight to the beach (with a quick stop to get mochi, a Taiwanese gummy rice dessert with different fillings). We stopped at a beach right out of Hualien city. Unfortunately I don’t remember the name of this beach but it is very similar to many of the other beaches of the coast in Hualien. The rocks are beautiful and perfectly smooth. I thought about taking one but then was told that it is actually illegal to take rocks from any beaches in Hualien!

Beach viewsIMG-7132

The next stop was Toroko Gorge. Many people visit Hualien just to see the gorge. It is the most popular tourist destination in Hualien, and one of the most popular tourist destinations in all of Taiwan. Because Taiwan (more specifically the eastern seaboard) is located on the convergence of two tectonic plates, there are frequent earthquakes that I hopefully will not experience and large mountains. Toroko is no exception! The gorge is named after the Truku peoples, an Indigenous group that lives in and around the gorge. It is stunningly beautiful in my opinion. Although we didn’t hike much, I got a great tour of most of the roads in the park and got to hike up to the water curtain. Along the road there were many signs that warned of frequent rock falls. The road is often closed after a typhoon or other extreme weather. Elaine’s dad told me several times that the roads and many of the tunnels were hand carved by military workers years ago. I could not imagine hammering straight through rock!

Some view from the gorge off the road


The hike to the water curtain was definitely the most exciting part of the day. We had to walk through a tunnel that was nearly pitch black for a long ways! Unfortunately part of the trail was closed because of water damage but we had a good hike anyways.

Views from the hike to the water curtain 

Having a family like Elaine’s in Taiwan takes away some of the homesickness I feel being so far away from home. I know they are watching out for me while I’m here and they often check in to make sure I am happy and safe. It was hard to say goodbye, especially because Elaine will be traveling back to the US in just a few short weeks. Her Dad recently took a job in the US and will also be traveling to Chicago later this year. However I know I will have the chance to see them again soon and I look forward to traveling to Taichung once again!



(8/5) Goodbyes and Hellos

Saying goodbye was particularly hard when, for the first time in my entire life, I knew it would be at least 11 months before I’d be back. I was a bit nervous but my nerves were nothing compared to the last time I traveled abroad. This time more than anything, I was excited to start the long anticipated year as a Fulbright ETA.

My journey technically began back in the spring of 2017 when I decided to apply for a Fulbright scholarship. I submitted the application in the fall of 2017 and began to wait. In January I was informed that I had made it to the semi-finalist stage of applications. While I waited to hear if I would be a finalist, my classmates and friends were applying to jobs and accepting positions. Finally in the end of March while cracking down on the final stages of my thesis, I got the email notification that I had been accepted to the Fulbright Taiwan. Since that time I was applying for medical clearance filling out paperwork and desperately trying to figure out what to pack. And finally, the time came to say goodbye.

My family (Mom, Dad, Will, and Owen), Will’s friend and foreign exchange student David from Germany, and Carter came to see me off on my flight. Although Ben and Hannah weren’t there, the scene was fairly similar to just a few months earlier when we saw Ben off to the airport on his way to hike the PCT. We took the classic Ferguson family selfie, said a tearful goodbye, and I was off just as the sun was beginning to set over Boston.

The flight was long but fortunately I ran into several other Fulbrighters on the way and we made our way to Taipei together. As we landed, the sun was rising over the skyscrapers of Taipei and I could spot Taipei 101 off in the distance. Although it sounds disgustingly cliche, I couldn’t help but think the sun was setting on my time in the US for now and just beginning to rise on my time in Taiwan.


Last Goodbyes from the Airport

Welcome to my blog!

It has been VERY BUSY over here in Hualien! To update you all on my whereabouts, I arrived in Taiwan on August 1st to teach English in the city of Hualien as a Fulbright ETA Scholar. I’ll be here for the next 11 months with nine other ETAs! We are all teaching English in separate Elementary schools in the area and will be living in three separate apartments throughout the city.

Because I just created this blog, I’ll add some posts to describe what I’ve been up to for these past few weeks!


IMG-7235“A world with a little more knowledge and a little less conflict”  -Fulbright Taiwan