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.
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 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.
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!