(10/29) Winnie Takes on Taiwan

Once I was back at school on Tuesday after the my adventure in Chaiyi and Taipei, the rest of my week was spent in anxious anticipation for the arrival of Winnie, my best friend from college. She’s spending a month abroad traveling with another friend of in Asia and she managed to work out her schedule so that she could spend a week in Taiwan visiting me! Although I knew I’d be working for most of the week, I did my best to plan out a packed weekend in Taipei hitting up all the main tourist attractions.

10/26 Winnie’s Arrival!

On Friday I took a train to Taipei city and met Winnie at our hostel for the weekend. It was easy enough to imagine her being in Taiwan but it kind shocked me when she was actually there standing right in front of me. It was as if my life back in the States had finally collided with my new life in Taiwan. It was in this moment that I realized how much I’ve changed and grown since graduating 1/2 a year ago.

For one, I feel much more confident in myself and my ability to navigate new and challenging situations. Although I’m embarrassed to admit it, throughout my time at Bates I hardly had to do anything to take care of myself. I relied on the Bates meal plan during the school year, and my college roommates handled most of the upkeep of our house (I just cleaned when it was my turn and payed my rent every month). I navigated a short 1/2 mile walking distance to class, the dining hall, and occasionally traveled off campus with Carter or other friends to romp around in the mountains or by the ocean. I realize how much more independent I’ve become. Since coming to Taiwan I’ve been faced with many different challenges that haven’t always been easy to solve, yet I’ve been resourceful and used my (limited) Chinese to find a solution. I’m not afraid to converse with others in Chinese, something that was always a struggle for me even when studying abroad in China.

However, at the same time seeing Winnie suddenly threw me back to being in my senior year at Bates College. I realized how much I’ve missed being with my friends from home and how easy it was to slide back to the same conversations and habits from before.

The first night, we went the night market and reminisced about sailing as we often do. I made a vow to myself that I would introduce Winnie to all my fave foods from Taiwan so we started out strong with some scallion pancakes (蔥油餅) and bubble tea (珍珠奶茶). We also tried some real good sweet potato balls which I haven’t had before. We didn’t stay out too late because I knew she was tired and we had a big adventure planned for the next day. We were going to the Pride Parade in Taipei, the biggest gay celebration in all of Asia. IMG_0815

10/27 Chiang Kai-shek Memorial and Pride Parade

We started out the morning by going to the Chiang Kai-shek Memorial in Taipei. It was only a short metro ride from the hostel and coincidentally, was right near the start of the parade. I hadn’t been before and I was pretty shocked by the pure size of memorial. There are several gates and one large structure in the middle of the square. There was a construction project on the main structure so you couldn’t quite see the intricate stone carvings but despite this it was still pretty awe-inspiring. Amy and I walked to the top of the large structure and found two guards standing there. We unfortunately missed the change of guard but it was still very cool! Next we walked through the museum and learned more about the role Chiang Kai-shek played in Taiwanese democracy and independence. The last thing we did was walk around the grounds of Liberty Square, around the outside of the structures.


After touring the memorial, Winnie and I met up with Francis, an ETA from Yilan that also went to Bates. Together we made our way to the parade route. Somehow we got wedged between the gate and the starting point and couldn’t move, much to the dismay of the traffic director who was insisting that we get out of the way. However, we had front row seats which was quite nice! And we kept getting free stickers, face paint, and ribbons.


After the parade was over it took us about 30 minutes to get across the street and out of the crowd because there were so many people! We walked around for a bit and got some food with some of the other ETAs that had traveled to Taipei for the parade. Although we had ambitious plans both Winnie and I were pretty tired and so after hitting up the night market for a second time we decided to go to bed for the night.

10/28 Maokong and 鼎泰豐

The next day we went to Maokong, the same place that I went to last time in Taipei. Once again it was pretty spectacular and this time we rode the crystal floor gondola up to the top. I got one of the macha ice cream desserts I’ve been craving ever since I didn’t get one during the last trip. We also walked to the temple this time which had a spectacular view of all of Taipei.


When we got back, we went to the Taipei 101 district for dinner. Francis had suggested that we go to Din Tai Fung (鼎泰豐), the most famous soup dumpling restaurant in all of Taiwan. The entire basement of Taipei 101 was a cafeteria and a large area was devoted to this restaurant. Winnie and I waited in line for only about 1/2 an hour which is pretty lucky. We  had the most spectacular soup dumplings I have ever eaten. This is actually the second time I’ve been to this restaurant (which is an internationally famous chain). The first time was when I was in Taichung during high school.


More than anything, what I wanted to show Winnie was Hualien, the place in Taiwan where I spent the vast majority of my time. Check out my next post to hear about our Hualien adventures!

(10/22) Mgay Bari

October 15th is the Truku holiday Mgay Bari. The teachers at my school described this day as a time of Thanksgiving for the Truku Peoples when they give thanks for the crops and harvest that they were granted during the year. After a week of some of the highest and lowest moments of my time in Taiwan, I have begun to reflect on the many ways I am so incredibly thankful for the opportunity I’ve been given through the Fulbright program and my school to become part of a community and that has welcomed me with open arms. Furthermore, I am thankful to be safe and taken care of and heartbroken thinking about the individuals deeply impacted by the train crash on 10/21.

10/15 Mgay Bari

The week started on a high note with the celebration of Mgay Bari. All of my students traveled by bus to the location of the festival before I even arrived at school. I learned that the festival had began at 4 am that day and was going to continue well into the night. By the time I arrived, people had already been dancing and singing for hours and hours. Witnessing this event as a foreigner was privilege. My students were very excited to have me there at the event and eagerly tugged me around to different vendors and performances. I happily obliged, but the sight of me definitely caused some amused stares. However, people were so kind! One of my colleagues introduced me to some of her family members and shared many different types of food with me. I ate a sweet potato, some sticky rice in a bamboo stick, and a small cake.

There was also a small hut that was a traditional style community building at the festival, similar to the one at our school. There was a small fire burning when we went in and one of my colleagues and I sat around the fire and ate some smoked meat. There was a woman weaving a scarf in the corner that looked absolutely beautiful. Afterwords, we went outside and started to dance. One of the first grade students grabbed my hand on one side and together we all danced around in a circle. After we cleared out, students from all different schools filled the area and began to play the drums. They were playing the same songs that I knew and I was so proud to see my students all dressed up and performing together. The fifth and sixth graders stayed through the day but I went back with the third graders to teach an English class. Overall the celebration of Thanksgiving gave me the opportunity to reflect upon the community I’ve been lucky enough to join and contribute to here at Fu Shi Elementary School. The fact that my colleagues and students were willing share a very special cultural day is very heartwarming and I will continue to work hard to learn from them and share my own life and story.

10/19 Chaiyi

The rest of the week continued in a rather uneventful manner. Throughout the week, I was communicating with my Dad’s colleague and friend Vivian from work. She had invited me to visit her family in Chaiyi for the weekend. This was perhaps the farthest place in all of Taiwan from Hualien, about a 4.5 hour trip. But I was very excited to see them. Vivian had planned every moment of the weekend with great detail. She had even sent me a full power-point itinerary with pictures and descriptions for every activity. I left for Chaiyi on Friday evening, first taking a high speed train to Taipei, and then an even higher-speed train to Chaiyi. It is somewhat miraculous that you can travel halfway around Taiwan by train in just 4.5 hours, and that it is impossible to just cut across Taiwan from Hualien to Chiayi.

When I arrived in Chaiyi, I was met at the train station by Vivian’s son David. He had a sign that said “Ms. Becca” and easily found me in the sea of travelers. I quickly realized that he had impeccable English and it was so easy to talk to him! He introduced me to his grandparents and together they took me to the night market in Chaiyi. We ate some delicious bbq on the street and I also tried a famous sweet soybean and peanut dessert.

10/20 DIY Day

The next day Vivian met me at 10:30 am and picked me up for a jam packed day of adventuring. She brought her sister and her sister’s daughter along as well and our first stop of the day was a DIY wooden chopsticks place. It was called 愛木村 which translates in English to something like the “love wood village” and it is a very famous spot in Chaiyi. There was a whole game room that was designed from carved wood. There was also a place to hang wishes for good luck, and a variety of beautifully carved wooden stamps that I added to my stamp journal (side note, in many destination locations in Taiwan there are stamps and ink pads for tourists. I started keeping a small journal were I stamp these and write a small reflection so I can remember certain places). After walking through the building, we got to go to a DIY class where we carved our own chopsticks! It was harder than I had anticipated but thankfully I figured it out and now I have my very own pair of chopsticks. We also stopped at a very famous fruit juice place called 御香屋for a drink. 御香屋  had a loooong line but I believe the tea was definitely worth the wait because it was quite delicious.

After 愛木村 we traveled to a Korean restaurant where we met up with the rest of Vivian’s family. We had bibimbap (one of my favorites) and Korean bbq! I found out that David hadn’t come earlier that day because he had been busy with homework and a morning class to study science (yuck school on the weekend)! He was whisked off again in the afternoon for more class and homework so Vivian, her sister, her niece and I traveled up into the mountains of Chaiyi county to visit the Taiping Suspension Bridge. It was quite long and stretched across a valley between a few mountains. The road to get there was quite precarious and I was rather carsick by the time we arrived. But what an incredible view! 


Our next stop was even further up into the mountains and the road seemed to be nearly impassible. But we made it! We stopped at a place called Amber coffee, a DIY coffee shop and farm were coffee beans and leaves were growing. We learned how coffee beans are processed and we even got to peel, roast, and grind the beans for a delicious cup of coffee. It was amazing! I never knew that coffee plants turn red before they are harvested, and that inside a shell are two beans that are then held with another shell. We roasted them over a small stove until they turned brown. When they were roasted to the right temperature, we ground them up and packaged them to bring back home. In the meantime, they made us a cup of coffee from the beans that they had already ground and processed. It was delicious! We also got a waffle to share.


After the drive back it was nearly dinner time. We went to a place that had famous seafood and I ate some delicious fish. After dinner Vivian and her son took me to a different night market that was famous for its games. We played this one game where we tried to catch fish with nets that were made out of paper. I ended up catching about three but of course I didn’t bring them home. We also rode on some bumper cars, tried to knock over cans, and tried to throw a ring on a bottle. I ate some squid which has really grown on me and might be one of my new favorite foods. After a little while, we headed back to get some sleep before the next day at Alishan!

10/21 Alishan and the Train 

Alishan is one of the top tourist destinations in Taiwan. It is a beautiful National Park that is fairly difficult to access because it is far up in the mountains. A while ago there was a logging industry in the area that was accessed by a train that stretched through the mountains. However, when the land was put aside as a National Park, the logging ended and the train was converted into a mode of transportation for tourists. Its very difficult to get tickets on this train because it is so popular so Vivian was lucky to snag some last minute for me, herself, and David. The other way to access the park is by taking a bus or driving on a very windy road.

Our train left at 9:00, and we were sure to take many pictures of the train pulling into the station (a must photo opportunity in Taiwan). Over the course of 2.5 hours, we went through 30 tunnels and went around the mountains many many times. It was quite the adventure. I sat alone because Vivian was only able to get separate tickets so I didn’t understand much of the narration but I enjoyed the sweeping views of mountains and valleys on the way around the mountain.

When we arrived at the last stop, Vivian guided us to a taxi that she had reserved for the day. The driver had ordered us boxed lunch so we wouldn’t waste any time eating because we had a short time frame (I had to be back in time for a 5 pm train and it took two hours to get to the train station). The actual park barred visitors from driving so we took a bus once we were inside the park to a trail-head. Alishan is most famous for a few hikes that take you into the mountains were visitors can go to see the sunrise. Unfortunately we didn’t have time to do the sunrise hike but we did go to see the old growth forest and some of the lakes. It was surprisingly cold up in the mountain and I was thankful I had packed my sweatshirt. The vegetation in the park was unlike any other place I’ve been to in Taiwan and this was very cool to see. It reminded me of Redwood National Park back in the US and the trip made me a bit nostalgic for non-tropical climates.

We headed back later that afternoon and I sadly said goodbye to Vivian and her family. They were so kind and generous and I hope I will have the chance to see them again soon! The taxi driver dropped me off at the train station just in time for my train and I began my 4.5 hour journey back to Hualien. As I was drifting in and out of sleep, I got a phone call from Vivian. She started to explain that a train was down in between Yilan and Hualien and she wasn’t sure if my train would still be going. I tried to look up more information but I couldn’t find anything so I decided to wait until I got to the train station to sort things out. I was shocked by the chaos that was unfolding in the train station when I arrived. I tried to go to the help desk and in the meantime accidentally walked through a live broadcast. I couldn’t tell what was happening because there was no information in English. There was a line a mile long for tickets, and when I went to the information desk they told me that the only thing they could do was exchange or refund my ticket (and they didn’t speak English very well). I had no idea when the next train would be moving again or what had happened. My phone was on 5% battery and I couldn’t find an outlet anywhere.

At this point I was in a small state of panic. I had no idea when/how I could get home because there were no more flights out of Taipei to Hualien for the night, and the road is nearly impassible between Yilan and Hulien (regardless, I didn’t have a car). Finally, I found an outlet and some of the other ETAs back in Hualien shared a news article and I got in contact with Gill. There was a horrific accident on a train bound for Hualien in which a train had derailed, and they where still trying to help injured and trapped passengers. I learned that at least 10 people had died but they were unable to get an accurate number at the time.

No one thought that the trains would be up and running again for at least the night, if not the next few days. I planned to stay in Yilan for the night but after talking to Gill she told me to stay in Taipei in case the only way back was by plane from Taipei. I got ahold of an ETA in Taipei City who very generously offered me a place at her apartment for the night. Meanwhile, I tried to find any way to get back to Hualien. It was no use, all of flights were booked, there were no trains running so I couldn’t plan anything. My co-teacher contacted me to make sure I was okay because she was afraid I might have been traveling back on the train that crashed. I told her that I was safe and she told me that the government had allowed an emergency day for all people who were trapped in Taipei or other places because of the accident. Knowing that it was okay to miss school on Monday put me at ease, and after a little while I decided the best option was to wake up early and get an update on the situation. However, I couldn’t stop reading articles about the accident and thinking about the poor people injured and the family members of those killed in the accident. The few hours I did sleep I had nightmares about trains crashing.

More information about the train accident

10/22 Back to Hualien

The next day I woke up early and began the journey back. I ran into a man on the way to the train station that told me some trains were up and running, but the best option was to take a bus to Yilan and then catch a train from there to Taipei because the train station was packed with the numerous people stranded in Taipei. I read a news report that estimated 10,000 people were forced to seek alternative travel options because of the train accident. I decided this was the best option because I wasn’t particularly thrilled with the idea of taking a train, especially because they still had not determined the cause of the accident. The man showed me the station and helped me get tickets to Yilan. When I got to Yilan, I was surprised to find that I could easily get a train ticket back to Hualien so I got on a train from the station. We drove right by the accident on our way back and it was a horrifying sight. The train cars were tangled with the wires beside the track and many were completely upside down. The whole way back I clutched my seat trying not to think about the accident. When I finally got home later that afternoon, I collapsed into bed and took a much needed nap.

I couldn’t help but think how thankful I was to be safe and to have a community of people who were there to support and help me when I had nowhere to go and no idea what to do. My classmates, my coworkers, other ETAs, and Vivian and her family were all doing everything they could to help me get home safe and sound. Although I lost some faith in public transportation, I gained some valuable insight and learned that even on the other side of the world, there’s a community of people who are there for me no matter what.






(10/14) 雙十 and 運動會

Although you might not be aware of this fact, in Taiwan it is not the year of 2018. It is the year of 107. Why 107 you might ask? Because Taiwan has been quasi recognized as an independent country for 107 years. If you subtract 107 from 2018, you arrive at the Revolution of 1911, a tumultuous time in Chinese and Taiwanese history. On October 10, 1911, the Wuchang uprising began the a string of battles that resulted in Taiwan’s independence. Today in Taiwan, people celebrate the National Independence day 雙十(double 10) on October 10th.

Taiwanese history is very long and complicated and I will stop now before I say something incorrect or something that upsets the delicate political balance that exists today in Taiwan (if I have not done so already that is) but it is safe to say that October 10th is an exciting day to be in Taiwan. Because of the 6.4 magnitude earthquake that hit Hualien last February, Taiwan decided to host the national Taiwan fireworks show right here in Hualien in hopes of bringing more tourism revenue into the city. This was a huge deal and the city has been buzzing with excitement since this announcement.

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A sign displayed all over Hualien celebrating 10/10

Earlier this year, the president of Fulbright announced that a select few representatives of Fulbright would have the opportunity to go to the President’s personal 雙十 party. The ETAs had drawn straws to see who would be invited and I drew the lucky straw! Unfortunately Fulbright accidentally invited too many people and a few weeks later I found out I was disinvited. At least I can say for a short time I was invited to one of Taiwan’s biggest parties of the year! Overall I was happy to have the chance to stay in Hualien for the National fireworks show.

To make things even more exciting,  I learned 雙十 was also going to be my school’s 運動會 or sports day! I envisioned my elementary and middle school field days and excitedly pictured running around the track racing my students and wearing funny shirts. Although my friends and roommate all had the day off from school, I was happy to hang out with my students and besides I got the next day off instead! On October 10th, I began my daily commute the same as always. I woke up, chowwed some cereal, walked to the train station, got on my train, walked to my bike, and began the two mile bike ride to school. However, As I approached my school I wondered if I had somehow taken a wrong turn. This couldn’t be it, there were cars parked for miles and giant inflatable arch, and food vendors, and people approaching from all directions. My student’s parents were all there! I panicked and took a second look. Nope, this was it. I was not mentally prepared for this and tried my best to sneak in. I arrived and found two hats and two shirts on my desk. One was bright yellow and said Fu Si on the outside which was awkwardly spelled incorrectly. I quickly put it on and went out to the track to see what all the commotion was.


A few of the many tents and vendors set up for  運動會

I was fascinated by the amount of energy and resources my school put into sports day. My students had been preparing a song and dance routine for two months and each grade prepared a flag and and a small chant. I thought, wow how cute! Then apon closer examination I realized the signs they were carrying said things like “Don’t drink and drive!” and “Brush your teeth!” A personal favorite of mine was the fifth grade chant. One of my fifth graders stumbled along, struggling to drag something across the track. I quickly realized he was carrying a giant inflatable cigarette!


My students performing their dance routine

After they parade, the games and dancing began. All of the students lined up to compete in races. Competitions were organized by grade and gender. All of the events were centered around running with some added activities like jump rope or hackysack. The final student event was a massive relay race in which the students divided into two teams and created two stations on either side of the track. Every student participated by running the baton halfway around the track. I cheered on the students from the sidelines.


My students trying to figure out if my eyes are actually blue or if I wear colored contacts

After student events, the adult games began. They had races divided by age group adults all the way up to 80+ years participated! There was a division designated for wheelchairs and even one for golf carts as well! It was hilarious. After they competed, both adults and students headed to the prize table. All of the prizes were household items like toilet paper, soap, soy sauce, cooking oil, and rice. As I headed back to the train at the end of the day, I gathered up my belongings. One of my staff members told me to hang on a second and took me to the auditorium. She proudly pointed at a box. “It’s for you!” I tried to give it away but in the end wound up teetering home on my bike trying to balance a gall of soy sauce in the teeny tiny basket on my bike.


My sports day prizes

Once I got home it was time to begin the 雙十 festivities. I rode my bike to Meilun where I met my friend Isabel. Together we met up with some of her coteachers and arranged a picnic on the roof of her elementary school that overlooks the harbor. The show was fantastic! It lasted 36 minutes and was the biggest fireworks event I’ve ever seen.



The next two days I had off from school so the fireworks were the start to a blissful and relaxing rainy weekend. Happy Birthday Taiwan, I sure am lucky to have the chance to celebrate with ya here in Hualien!