After our grand adventures in Taipei, Winnie and I made our way back to Hualien by train. When we arrived I took her to my favorite walking/ running trail in all of Hualien. It’s right along the water and I discovered that it is especially beautiful around sunset. Along the way we spontaneously decided to walk to the brand new and famous Starbucks in Ji’an. I didn’t realize quite how far it was however… and as a result we ended up walking almost 5 miles whoops! And even though neither one of us got exactly what we wanted because the barista didn’t understand us… it was sooooo worth it for the views.
One of the best parts about Winnie being in Hualien for me was taking her to all of my favorite restaurants and having her try all different foods. I successfully made a reservation over the phone at my favorite Korean place as well which I’ve been unable to accomplish up until this moment so this was definitely a highlight of the week. Tuesday I had to go to work, so Winnie took the day to travel around Toroko Gorge.
Wednesday was Halloween and something I’ve come to realize throughout my grant is that my students and coworkers view me as some kind of an American cultural icon. While this is entirely inaccurate and I cannot represent the culture of an entire country, I am in this difficult position where I don’t have the vocabulary to entirely explain this concept, and I also need to educate my students about American holidays and culture. It’s particularly difficult to explain how diverse America is and that we don’t have universal holidays that are celebrated by all members of the society. However, it is easier for my students to understand this as members of an Indigenous group, who have their own cultural events and customs.
Although I’m going on a tangent here, I had an interesting conversation with a few of my coworkers about Indigenous groups in the United States right after Halloween. It was very difficult because none of us had the vocabulary in each other’s native language to explain colonialism and the horrific history of they many ways Indigenous people have been, and continue to be, oppressed in the United States. My coworkers mentioned that they thought black people were the Indigenous groups of the United States. I quickly explained that they were misunderstanding and that there are many, many Indigenous groups that have lived in the US for thousands of years before black and white settlers arrived. This was a surprise to my coworkers and I think there was a moment of solidarity as my coworkers, many of whom are members of the Toroko tribe. Their community has experienced settler colonialism as a result of Japanese colonial rule, mainland Chinese rule, just to give a few examples. Their stories are very similar to the ways Indigenous people in the United States have experienced settler colonialism.
Anyways, jumping back to Halloween, I found myself holding an assembly the day before Halloween at my school wearing a giant pumpkin hat and dancing to the monster mash. I then taught all of the students at the school to say “Trick or Treat” and my co-teacher prepared bags of candy for all of the homeroom teachers. The students were told to go “Trick or Treat” around the school. It was pretty funny because if the students were unable to accurately say “Trick or Treat” their homeroom teacher would send them back to Demi and I and we would teach them again. So for most of the day I had little children running into the teachers’ office frantically asking me how to say “Trick or Treat” the right way, sometimes multiple times.
For the actual day of Halloween, I got to bring Winnie to school because it was a camp day. We went to Fengbin that day and threw the students a Halloween Party. We painted their faces and gave them candy, it was so much fun!
On Thursday, Winnie came to my school 富世 to see my students. They were all sooo excited to see her and kept trying to ask a million questions despite the fact that she doesn’t speak a speck of Chinese. Nevertheless, we had fun and my co-workers were also excited to meet my friend. I accidentally introduced her to my students as either a capsize instructor or a transvestite instructor because I mispronounced the words for sailing which was rather awkward but thankfully we quickly moved past that embarrassment. Thursday was also Winnie’s last day in Taiwan so we went to the night market to celebrate. It was pouring so we took a cab to the best noodle place I know of in Hualien where they hand pull the noodles right in front of your face. Then we walked to the night market. Although it wasn’t a clear night the view of the ocean was still beautiful. We played some archery and won some socks, and then headed back home for the night.
The evening was pretty bittersweet. I wasn’t ready to say goodbye to Winnie, I felt like we hardly had any time to catchup. Which I suppose is the way it will be for most all of my college friends moving forward, a rather unfortunate fact of life. But at least there will always be social media and the occasional visit or Bates reunion. On Friday morning, she packed up and caught the train while I made my way to school as usual. It was a cultural day at school and I wish Winnie could have been there to see it. My students all performed their drum routine and we made mochi, a famous Taiwanese dessert with sticky rice on the outside and a variety of flavors on the inside. I accidentally offended some of the visiting teachers when I didn’t understand the gift giving culture and tried to regift a necklace but thankfully they were patient with me and our school’s Dean saved me by providing a gift to give back.
Instead of staying home and being sad about being alone again, I decided to spend the weekend adventuring. My coworker invited me to join him and his family on a hike which I gladly accepted. He is a volunteer in Toroko Gorge National Park so he knows his way around the area quite well. He took me, his son, and his wife on a hike from the starting location 綠水, a beautiful part of the gorge where a suspension bridge extends across the chasm (the same bridge that Elaine and her family had taken me to see before!) The trail was actually extremely teacherous. Because it had rained for most of the week, it was very slick and river crossings were higher than usual. There were ladders, rods, and ropes all over the trail as well.
At one point during the hike, we passed by some other hikers, all police officers, who had been on a backpacking trip. As they were greeting us, one of the men suddenly tripped and flipped over a log and tumbled a ways down the hill. Luckily, he was in a spot where there wasn’t a dropoff but he was injured because he had smacked his head on the log. Thankfully he seemed to only be dazed for a bit and then stood back up. But afterwords, my co-teacher explained to me that the hiker had been startled to see me there as a foreigner hiking with a Taiwanese family and as a result, he had misstepped. I felt horrible but I suppose there was nothing I could really do to avoid that.
The whole way up my co-worker’s son kept asking, “我們快到了嗎?” or the Chinese version of “Are we there yet?” which I found quite amusing. When we got to the top we heated up water and made instant noodles for lunch. It was surprisingly cold near the top so I was thankful for the noodles and the warm fleece I had carried. The view was pretty spectacular. We stopped and took pictures from a cliff where we could see across Toroko Gorge National Park. The structure we stopped at was an old cable that was used for logging many years ago.
When the hike was over my co-worked dropped me off at home and exhausted, I crashed for a loooong nap. However not too long because that night was a Jazz concert with famous musicians visiting from all over the world and myself and the other Fulbrighters were VIP guests. It was a very talented group and we had a blast bopping along to the music in our seats.
I decided Sunday needed to be a day of rest and rejuvenation so I spent the day catching up on work and preparing for the next week. Although I was feeling lonely and incredibly sore from the hike, overall I was satisfied with a week well spent with the best company adventuring in Hualien.