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.