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!
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.
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.
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.
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).
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.
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!