(12/30) The Family Takes on Hualien

Like Carter’s airport adventure, my family did not have the smoothest trip to Taiwan. Their flight was delayed getting out of the US and this made them just late enough to miss the last train to Hualien. This was somewhat of a disaster because there is no other way to get to Hualien, or at least that’s what I thought. In a crazy turn of events, they somehow managed to convince an Uber driver to take them all the way from Taipei to Hualien. They arrived pretty late but Carter and I picked some snacks up at the night market for dinner and we also picked up their key for the hotel. It was so amazing to see them after so long and my little brothers looked so different after just a few months of being apart!

(12/23) Datong Dali Trail

The next morning we got an early start and headed to pick up a rental car. We stopped at my favorite breakfast place that we fondly call fat guy and got food to go, and headed off to Toroko Park for some hiking! I had heard from some of my coworkers about the Datong Dali trail. This area of the park is home to the Toroko people, and although many of them have moved down to the Xincheng area for convenience and better access to schools and work, a few members of the tribe still live up in the mountains. We stopped at the visitors center and got a map, but much to our dismay they told us the trail was closed and that it had been all season. I was very surprised because my coworker had just hiked it a few weekends before! We decided to start via the Shakadang Trail  that met up with the Datong Dali trail, and see whether or not it was open. The Shakadang is one of the most beautiful trails in Toroko Gorge, and also one of the most popular. Despite the cold rainy weather, the trail was packed. We wound beneath rock outcroppings and climbed between stones.

When we reached the entrance to the Datong Dali trail, we ran into a group that was hiking down. They told us the trail was definitely open so we started the climb up. This part of the trail was quite treacherous and we found ourselves slipping on wet rocks and hanging on to ropes as we balanced our way across the river. We made it to the intersection of Dali and Datong and branched off to Dali. Not long after, we reached Dali village and stopped for a quick picnic. It’s a small village with a beautiful scenic backdrop and a few small guest houses and gardens. The old church still stands there and is a magnificent structure in contrast to the mountainous landscape. After that it was time for the trek back to the visitors center. The route down was incredibly steep and we came across a large group struggling to climb down.

Tongmen Christmas Spectacular

We made it back by about 16:30, with just enough time to run home and shower and prepare for our next adventure, the Tongmen Christmas spectacular. Gina and I go to Tongmen to teach English to the youth group every other Sunday, but this time we were going to their Christmas celebration to perform Silent Night, the song we taught them for the past couple of weeks. They had invited my whole family to come as well and since we wouldn’t go to our regular Church service in the US, this was a way to still be at Church for the holiday. It turned out to be much more of a party than we had expected. When we arrived, we were immediately given chairs and someone ran out with snacks and drinks. Within the first five minutes, we were singing Happy Birthday to Jesus in English, Chinese, and the Toroko language. After that someone ran out and delivered cake to everyone in the crowd.

Shortly after, the dancing began. People of all ages performed ranging from pre-K youth to a group of older women. We were happily clapping along when suddenly we were dragged from our seats and pulled on stage for an impromptu dance party! Soon, it was time to perform our own song. We sang Joy to the World and were greeted with encore demands, so we quickly came up with a second song. Afterwards, a very dramatic version of the Christmas pagent was performed by the youth group with awesome song and dance numbers. The last song was Silent Night which was beautifully performed by all of our students.

The best part of the whole adventure was that for the first time Gina and I felt that we had been recognized as more than just English teachers. We had become friends to the community and when they introduced my family to the crowd, they called us friends. It was really exciting to see the connections we made finally taking root in Tongmen. Furthermore, Some of the community members made the connection that I taught at Fu Shi Elementary school. Because the staff and students at this school are also members of the Toroko Tribe, these two communities are very close. The next day at school. Many of my coworkers heard about my adventure in Tongmen and reached out to me to say thank you for giving my time to their family and community. Two deans and a homeroom teacher at my school actually grew up in Tongmen and were so happy to hear I was there teaching. I look forward to seeing this connection grow stronger!

(12/24) The Night Market 夜市

Although I had to work all day, I had the chance to share my favorite restaurant in Hualien (Greenland) and the night market with my family. There is nothing quite like a night market in the US. They were overwhelmed with the colors, food, and games that were everywhere. My friend Shelly from Taichung was visiting and she got to meet my family. We played an exciting game of archery and toured through stalls (apparently my mom has the best form out of all of us…)

(12/25) Christmas at Fu Shi

On Tuesday, my family woke up early to drop me off at school and headed off for another morning in Toroko. In the meantime, we did some last minute prep for our Christmas assembly. Demi and I had been working out the details for this assembly since the end of October. We taught each grade an English Christmas song and dance routine and we practiced for many weeks leading up to the event. My family also had some time allotted to perform, “Mary Did You Know” the Pentatonix version.

Right after lunch, my family rolled up to the school. I know the moment they arrived because the dean ran into the office and shouted, “Foreigners!” I went out to see my family all decked out in their Christmas shirts and hats. The kids saw them and initially freaked out because they were so overwhelmed. My family is so much taller than the average Taiwanese person and the size combined with the number of people was definitely overwhelming. We went to the auditorium to practice and had a few moments to prepare our song. During break my students’ curiosity got the better of them and they crept into the auditorium to see my family. Some were bold enough to ask a couple of questions but others just peeked through the door.

Finally, it was time to perform. The students piled into the auditorium buzzing with excitement. My family and I started off the performances and it was a hit! Next each class performed their song and dance. I even got a bit emotional watching them proudly performing in front of their teammates. The last group was the first and second grade. Right after they danced, Will came out from behind the door dressed as Santa! They were a bit skeptical at first but after he threw the first handful of candy they all started screaming. At the end the principal made some announcement and handed brand new English books to all the students! Then, each student was given a gift that was donated from another school in Hualien. Last, they all posed for a picture with my family post-assembly.

Overall it was quite a success. Demi gave my family a cake as a thank you gift which was very sweet, and during our music class the 6th graders gave my family a tour of the school. Finally, it was time to go. The sixth graders all stood on the school balcony and waved goodbye to us.

Christmas Night and Dinner

We stopped at 七星潭, a beautiful beach near the Hualien city on the way home from Toroko. We were there around sunset and we took some sweet pictures and enjoyed the crazy waves. When we headed back to Hualien, we decided to eat my favorite noodles for dinner (which my family loved). It wasn’t quite the same as our roast beef, vegetable and potato dinner with Christmas cookies but it was still delicious. We then headed back home to open some presents. Although it was definitely not the traditional Christmas, it is one that I will never forget because it was filled with love, community, and family. I was finally able to actualize the stories of my school and students that I had only been able to describe and share through photos and it was a really beautiful experience.

(12/23) Carter Arrives in Taiwan!

It’s been a while since I wrote a post because I’ve been busy preparing for the holidays and planning for my family and Carter to come to Taiwan! And finally, the long-anticipated arrival of Carter and the family is here 🙂

12/18 Luggage in Japan?

I met Carter at the airport on Wednesday the 18th. He took FOREVER to come out and I couldn’t possibly figure out what could be taking him so long until he informed me that his luggage was still in the airport in Japan. He had been trying to negotiate with the people at the desk to figure out where to deliver his luggage to, but he had no idea what my address was so he advised them to call me. Unfortunately, even though I had contacted the English speaking line, the person on the other end didn’t speak English so well so we did almost all of the communicating in Chinese, despite my very limited language skills. Throughout this whole process we were also trying to get back to the hostel, and we ended up getting on the wrong train, it was a whole mess. But we made it! All that mattered to me was finally get to see Carter again after such a long time.

The next morning we left bright and early so I could make it back in time for work (and by that I mean that it actually wasn’t “bright” and early because it was still dark outside). When we arrived in Hualien, Carter and I split so he could wait for his luggage (which unfortunately never came) and I could go to school. That night I took Carter to the climbing gym to meet all my friends there and show him my new skills (even though he still showed me up…).

Carter takes on Fu Shi

The next day was a long anticipated day for my school, the day my coworkers and students got to meet the infamous Carter! Since the first day of school all my students were constantly asking me whether or not I had a boyfriend, what he looked like and when they found out that I did they would not stop pestering me to find out if he would visit. When I finally told them when, they could hardly contain their excitement. Two of my fifth graders found out that their birthday coincided with Carter’s arrival and when I informed them that I would bring him to school, they were ecstatic for what they thought was the best birthday present ever.

Carter and I rolled up to school fresh and ready to teach (although Carter was looking a bit rumpled because he was going on day three + in the same clothes). We made a beeline for the office and looked out the window to see 70 faces, essentially the whole school, peering into the office to catch a glimpse of Carter. It didn’t take long for the students to overcome their initial shyness, and within the first period they were flocking him. I always joke with Carter that I have to take a fighting stance when I leave the office so that I don’t topple over when my kids run from every direction to hug me, and he couldn’t agree more. The younger kids were clinging to his legs and he was constantly surrounded by a mass of kids yelling at him in Chinese. The office wasn’t even a safe zone as students lined up to come to my desk and ask me to sign off on their English passport book. Some of my coworkers actually had to tell the students to wait outside because the line was too long. Around lunchtime, we suddenly were swarmed with first and second grade students who I don’t even teach. They were running into the office with little Christmas cards that they had made in art class, and to my surprise they were giving them all to Carter! Even though they don’t have English class, their homeroom teachers had taught them to spell “Welcome to Taiwan” and “Hello!” in English. In total Carter got about 15 cards, more than half of the 1st and 2nd grade classes. Throughout the rest of the day, cards kept coming from other students.

Takoyaki and Buddha Heads

When we arrived back to my apartment, we anxiously awaited the arrival of Carters missing luggage. It was 4:55 and we had a train to catch at 5:26 to Taitung. We waited and waited, and I called the delivery guy who insisted that he was only a few minutes away. The luggage finally arrived at 5:20. Carter grabbed the bag, threw it on his shoulders, and together we sprinted to the train. We managed to just barely make it and arrived just as the last people were climbing aboard. I was huffing and puffing, and my bag wasn’t even that heavy! Carter’s however, weighed a million pounds because of all the food and gifts he had brought from the US for me so he was a little grumpy. But we were off to Green Island!

When we arrived in Taitung, we flagged down a taxi driver. He insisted on becoming our personal chauffeur for the rest of the weekend and brought us to the ferry, back to our hostel, and then back to the train station. We stayed at the same hostel as before, the “Enjoy Sleep” hostel with the very sweet owners. They helped us set up our tickets to the boat, our hostel on the island, and a scooter to rent. Because we got into Taitung a bit late, we decided to hit up the Night Market for dinner. As we were walking around exploring, we ran into three students who were filming a video for a school assignment. They practically attacked us and asked us if we would help them with their project. They were all in graduate school studying tourism, and their assignment was to introduce a non-local to some aspect of local culture. We quickly agreed and they dragged us all around the night market buying us Takoyaki fried Octopus balls (章魚燒), flower tea, and a delicious Custard apple, or Buddha head fruit (荔枝). I even got to help make the Takoyaki! It was awesome, and all the food was free! I sure hope they get an A+ on their assignment, Carter and my acting skills alone should have given them at least a B+….


Green Island Pt. 2: Pony the Trusty Steed

The next morning we took off for Green Island on the ferry. The weather was stunningly beautiful, warmer than it had been for several weeks. However, the seas were definitely more rocky than the last time we had traveled to Green Island. Carter and I were fine outside on the deck but many people were getting seasick and throwing up on the boat. Towards the end Carter was getting a bit nauseous but we we made it! When we arrived some people from the hostel picked us up and brought us right to the hostel. It was a great location with awesome facilities, and the hostel was also a dive school! They gave us a quick introduction to the area and then we got our scooter for the trip. The first thing we did was tour the island. We took off and went to all the viewpoints and down to the beaches. We hiked across the mountain and picnicked on the rocks. It was an adventure to drive Carter around on our small scooter which we fondly named 小馬 or pony. She was quite a sport and took us all over the island. In the evening, we watched the sunset and stopped at the saltwater hot springs (one of two in the whole world!)

Day two we decided we would give snorkeling a try. The hostel took us to the same place I had been at before, but this time it appeared to be only Carter, me, and one other girl. It was her first time swimming so the instructor devoted most of his energy to her. Meanwhile, Carter and I swam off on our own. This time, because there were so few of us in the water, the fish swam so close to us and we had an unobstructed view. It was amazing! When we finished, we only had a few hours left before we had to go so we grabbed some lunch, and took 小馬 for a last adventure around the island. The trip back to the mainland was less choppy than before but just as warm and sunny. When we got back, we wandered on the beach for a bit and got some delicious scallion pancakes.

Returning to Hualien

The time flew by and suddenly it was time to head back to Hualien to meet the rest of my family who were also coming out to visit Taiwan over the holidays! Thankfully, luck had been on our side for our adventure. Carter’s bag made it just in time for our adventure and we had amazing weather for our two day mini-vacation. Looking back, showing Carter around my school and taking him to one of my favorite places in Taiwan has become one of the best memories I’ve had so far. Although I doubt I’ll be back to Green Island, I’ll always think of it as a little paradise and getaway adventure spot here in Taiwan. 

(12/2) Friendsgiving and Toroko Marathon

Taiwan does not celebrate Thanksgiving. To be entirely honest, because the foundation of Thanksgiving in America is directly linked to the long and horrible history of colonialism, this is one of my least favorite holidays to celebrate. It felt wrong to teach my students about a celebration in the US in which Indigenous people, like my students themselves, become the subject of a story of thanks for friendship and food shared between Indigenous peoples and setters when in reality the relationship was violent settler colonialism. My Chinese language capabilities definitely don’t allow me to explain this complex issue to my students so I did my best to avoid the conversation altogether and skip teaching Thanksgiving to my students. Perhaps this was a missed opportunity but in my opinion it is important to share this information correctly instead of continuing to twist the true story of Thanksgiving as we have for years in the US. My students and coworkers did ask for a few pictures of our typical Thanksgiving dinner, so I shared some of those.

However, it was still difficult being so far away from home during this time especially when my whole family was together for the first time in a while. To overcome this feeling of missing home, all of the Hualien ETAs decided to hold a friendsgiving potluck. We all made or brought different dishes to share and came together and spent the night recognizing how close we had come already for the 4 months we’ve been in Taiwan. One of our advisers also came for the dinner because it was a workshop day and that was a great opportunity to bond with him. I made a sweet potato apple dish, and someone managed to find cheese which was incredibly exciting.

The next week, we had a Thanksgiving dinner and workshop for all Fulbright Taiwan grantees and advisers. It was hosted at the Howard Hotel. The first part was a career development workshop, followed by a presentation and dinner. The workshop was informative and inspiring but what we were all looking forward to most of all was the Thanksgiving buffet which finally arrived just a few hours later. A delicious all you can eat buffet, with unlimited drinks! It was exactly what all of us had been dreaming about for the past few weeks while drooling over instagram and facebook posts from friends back home. Before Dr. Volke had even finished his speech, we were already sprinting to the food to make sure we made it first.


However, there was one major caveat. As I began piling food on my plate, I had to remind myself that the next day, I was running the Toroko Gorge Half Marathon. That’s right, a group of us had signed up to run 13.1 miles the day after stuffing our faces at the Thanksgiving dinner. To make matters worse, we had to wake up at 4:00 am the next day to make our train to the gorge. So we tried not to gorge ourselves too much on food (see what I did there)… We had to eat fairly quickly so that we could make it to the train in time. After a quick dinner, we all literally ran to the train station. I quite nearly lost my dinner in the sprint, but we made our train and started the journey back. We got back to Hualien and James (another ETA running the half marathon) and I were in bed by 11:30. However, I was so hyped for the run that I couldn’t sleep at all! I am fairly confident I didn’t get a lick of sleep all night, but somehow I managed to drag myself out of bed at 4:00 the next morning.


My favorite time of day

We took the most crowded train I’ve been on in my entire life and then a shuttle bus to the gorge. It was still completely dark outside and Toroko Gorge felt like a different place without the towering mountains. We dropped our bags off and made our way to the bathroom line which took a half hour to get through. During this time, the sun began to rise and it was one of the most beautiful sights I’ve seen in Taiwan. Pink light reached across the gorge, illuminating just the tips of the towering peaks.


What was most confusing about the start of the race was how runners were supposed to navigate the crowd. We had assumed that the route went directly into the gorge, and this area was completely flooded with runners from all different categories. We figured that the full marathon runners had still not started the race because we hadn’t heard a starting gun or seen anyone running by. Therefore, we weren’t particularly concerned that the half marathon was set to start in one minute and we were just getting out of the bathroom line. However, I suddenly heard the words 開始! and we looked over to see runners running through the starting gate in the opposite direction that we had predicted. We all looked at each other in surprise and sprinted to the start. Just like that, the race had begun.

Since we hadn’t had a chance to start the race with the other runners, we found ourselves weaving in and out of the crowd trying to catch up to runners that were moving at our pace. It was more difficult than I had imagined because of the sheer number of runners. I definitely elbowed a few people by accident and I had my feet stepped on more than once. Usually in longer distance races, there becomes a point when the crowd begins to thin as runners spread out. This was not the case for the Toroko Marathon because where the crowd would normally start to thin, we caught up with the full marathon runners. Then when we reached the halfway point, we met up with the 10k runners. So the entire race I was weaving between runners. The upside of this is that I was passing the vast majority of the runners, which really made me feel good about my running pace.


We were lucky to have an absolutely beautiful day for running. The sun was bright and there were very few clouds in the sky. Several times while running I nearly tripped because I was gawking at the stunning scenery. I took several pictures while running. The route we took ran right by my elementary school, circled around through a back entrance into the gorge and then traversed through several tunnels. A bit past the halfway point, we started to climb. At first I thought I was starting to burn out because I was so fatigued. However, when I reached the turn around point, I suddenly realized how steep the climb had been. In total, we climbed over 2,000 feet! Luckily, it was all downhill from there. I caught up to James right before the end and we finished at about the same time, 1:56 minutes. My goal had been under two hours and if possible, under 9 minute miles and I managed to achieve both of these goals! I nearly collapsed I was so tired in the end, but I found James and we went to get our certificates. I somehow managed to get 5th place out of more than 400 people in my division!


After that it was time to utilize the free gear that marathon events usually have. James and I skipped from table to table, grabbing free drinks, energy bars, and candy. We couldn’t quite muster the courage to eat the boxed lunch because our stomachs were a bit queasy but we ate plenty in snacks. In the afternoon, we made our way back to Hualien. At the train station parking lot we were surprised to find a circuit of tents set up with vendors selling crafts, drinks, and food to the runners. Gill who had also run the half marathon told us that our ticket was good for 100 NTD that we could redeem at any vendor. I’m not particularly sure how that works but I was really happy to see some of my students at these tents. Perhaps this is how the marathon event staff tries to give back to the community surrounding the gorge, the community where all my students live.


Finally, James and I boarded the train back to Hualien. Exhausted we collapsed onto our seats. I was just about to doze off when I noticed a phone notification from my co-teacher Demi. It was a picture with my name and race time on a sheet of paper, and a message asking if this was me. I responded, yes it was and she quickly called me. In Chinese she explained that I forgot to pick up my 錦標. I looked at James and asked her, what is a 錦標? At this point almost everyone in our car on the train was looking at me. Some of them were laughing, and Demi said, 禮物 which I understood as present. She told me that she’d get it for me and bring it to school. After I hung up, she sent me a picture of a trophy and some other small prizes. Although I was far from the fastest person, I still was pretty excited to actually win a prize. And best of all, it came with socks and a little running pouch! It even came with a handling glove for the trophy which I found highly amusing. It is now proudly on display in my apartment.


Overall, there was much to be thankful for this weekend. During this weekend I took a moment to reflect about how lucky I am to have the opportunity to come to Taiwan and learn/ teach English through Fulbright. I am so grateful to be accepted into my school community and to get to work with and learn from an incredible group of students. I’m thankful that my body is strong enough to support me on my many adventures, and that I am living in one of the most beautiful places in Taiwan.