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.
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.