(2/16) Philippines and Singapore

Day 1: Mt. Batulao and the Philippine Sea

My dad and I arrived in Manilla on February 4th and because of the Chinese New Year, the next day was a vacation day for my dad’s company. We got up early the next morning and after a delicious and filling breakfast headed out to meet our driver for the day, Juan. Juan is a wonderful human being and as you will see, he became much more than just our driver. He became our tour guide and companion for the rest of the trip.

Our plan for the morning was to head to a mountain about an hour away and hike, and do one more hike on our way back to the hotel for the evening. However, when we arrived at the first “jumpsite” as Juan liked to say, we discovered that the path was closed for restoration. Unsure what to do, we got back in the car and brainstormed a new plan. Juan decided to take us to his sister’s house on the beach because her husband owned a boat and then take us out to an island just off the shore. However, he warned us that this was the local spot and we might not be allowed to go to the beach because we were foreigners. When we arrived, we were greeted by curious Filipinos who were confused why we were on the local beach but after Juan explained to them in Tagaytay that we wanted to go to the island, they happily let us in.

Half an hour later, we found ourselves flying across the ocean on a very cool boat constructed out of an old car engine and some pretty legit engineering. The weather was hot but absolutely beautiful and the sea spray felt amazing. When we arrived, we were greeted by a large group of Filipinos who brought our boat to shore. We jumped out and hopped into the water for a quick swim. It was one of the first times I’ve been able to swim since being out of the US and the water was a beautiful crystal clear color. After a refreshing swim, we wandered the island exploring the nooks and crannies and searching for shells. I was surprised by the vast quantity of trash thrown all over the island. Although I was only in the Philippines for a few days, I noticed that trash disposal seems to be a common problem which is rather unfortunate.

After heading back to shore, Juan took us to his home! He showed us his garden and we met his son. We tried to convince his son to come hiking with us but he had other plans for the afternoon. Juan is growing cashews and several other fruits and nuts. After a quick tour, he took us to Mt. Batulao, a beautiful mountain close to our hotel. Although it was late, a guide was still willing to take us up to the top (one of the requirements for this hike was to have a guide). Juan hiked with us too in his sandals. On the way he told us that his older brother, who had sadly passed away a year ago, had always encouraged him to hike but he never had the chance to before because we was so busy working. He was so happy to join us and he was a positive and wonderful companion to have on the trail. The hike was quite steep but thankfully the evening was approaching and the weather had cooled down a bit. We climbed up for about an hour and a half over several peaks marked by signs. It was an exhausting but rewarding hike, and the views stretched for miles. We made it back to the bottom just as the sun was setting and enjoyed a peaceful dinner out on the patio overlooking Taal Volcano.

Day 2: Taal Volcano

The next morning my dad had to head out early for work but Juan still came and picked me up for another adventure. Today he was going to take me down to Lake Taal to hike the island mountain. We had been admiring this volcano for several days because our hotel was situated on the edge of the lake and during breakfast and dinner we could see the volcano clearly. The drive down was steep but we slowly made our way to a place Juan knew were we could charter a boat to take us out to the island. The boats again were just like the one we had been in the day before and the lake breeze and waves splashing against the poles of the boat felt wonderful.

When we arrived on the island, we were met by our guide for the day. We decided not to ride horses up and instead opted to hike the volcano. The hike was steep, dusty, and hot but we made it in good time and stopped at the top to admire that views of the lake. Unlike the island we had visited the day before, this site was quite crowded with foreign tourists speaking English, Chinese, and all sorts of other languages. I met a group of Jehovah witnesses from the US who had been living in Taiwan for 11 years, and they shared some sweet pomelo with me as we rested in the shade. I also learned that our guide had lived in Taiwan for several years working in Taoyuan at some kind of a cloth  factory. She spoke some Chinese too! While we hiked, she pointed out several locations were steam was coming out of the rocks or water and the lake was boiling because the volcano was still active. She told us that in 1977 the volcano had erupted, causing several people to die because it happened during the night.

After heading back to the boat and back to shore, Juan took me up to a very high scenic area where I could see all across Manilla. He pointed out Mt. Batulao, the island we had been to, and his home. We ran into several school groups and a few people asked to take photos with me at the top.

Afterwords, we headed back to the hotel so I could change for dinner. My dad’s coworkers were taking him out to dinner at a fancy restaurant and they had invited me along. Juan dropped me off and I waited for the rest of the group to arrive. The restaurant was unlike any other place I had eaten at before. There was a beautiful cocktail garden with glowing orbs where we started before heading to the main table. The food was delicious and my dad’s coworkers were very sweet. I even tried raw meat! Juan drove us home after for the evening, and we packed our stuff because it was our last night in the Philippines.

The next morning we woke up at the crack of dawn to make it to the airport in time. We were lucky to catch the sunrise and the beautiful Taal Lake was glowing in the early morning sun. It was sad to say goodbye to Juan, our newfound friend and guide. He promised that if we came back we could meet him again. He also told us that we had inspired him to hike more, and the next weekend he would take his son to Mt. Batulao!


Day 1: Botanical Gardens and Hawker Stalls

My only knowledge of Singapore before traveling to the country was from reading the book crazy rich Asians. Though I really enjoyed reading this book, it did not give the most well rounded perspective of what Singapore is like so I wasn’t quite sure what to expect. When we arrived, my dad had to go to the office first thing so our taxi dropped me off at the hotel and I checked us in. It is SO HOT in Singapore. It felt strange after being in Japan but I quickly tried to readjust my internal thermometer.

After checking in, I decided to walk to the botanical gardens that were right near the hotel. Although it was only about 15 minutes of walking, by the time I arrived I was dripping sweat. I only had about an hour so I headed directly to the orchid exhibit. I didn’t know this before but apparently Singapore is very famous for their orchid cultivating techniques! They make many different types of hybrids and name them after celebrities that come to visit Taiwan. There is even one named after the Obamas!

After walking through the gardens for a while, I headed back to the hotel and met up with my dad. We went to the Newton Hawker Center to get some food from the stalls. It was so crowded and there were giant lobsters, Indian food stalls, Chinese food stalls, craft brewed beer, and everything in between. We settled on some Indian food and some beer and I ate until I was completely stuffed. After dinner, we headed down to the waterfront promenade in hopes of catching some fireworks but just missed them. Thankfully there were fireworks all week because of the Chinese New Year so we had plenty more opportunities to see them. We wandered along the shore and gawked at the incredible architecture along the way.

Day 2: Gardens by the Bay

The next day we headed to the gardens by the bay first thing in the morning. Although it was crowded, we were able to sneak by many of the crowds. We started off the morning on the Skytree walk. Again, what an architectural marvel like most things in Singapore! Next we walked through the gardens and stopped at sculptures to take many pictures. We finished the morning by walking through the two large glass showcase areas called the cloud forest and the and the flower dome. So many incredible flower arrangements!

After we finished up at the gardens, we walked through the waterfront to see the famous merlion statue that is the official mascot of Singapore. On the way we passed through a spiraling Helix metal bridge, past the art and science museum shaped like a lotus flower, and of course the Marina Bay Sands Hotel with the giant boat deck that seems to be precariously resting on top of the building. We stopped and bought some coconut ice cream, and headed to see the battlebox after for a tour. This was probably my dad’s favorite part of the whole trip, I could see how excited he was about the history. The battlebox or the Fort Canning Bunker is a bomb proof structure built right near the waterfront district in Singapore. During WWII, this was the British underground command centre. It was in this structure that the British army made the heartbreaking decision to surrender to the Japanese army and allow them to take over Singapore and Malaysia. It marks “the darkest” period in Singaporean history according to our tour guide. It wasn’t until recently that the battlebox was rediscovered and tours were brought through the area. In the beginning of the tour our guide promised us that whoever answered a trivia question correctly would win a prize, so of course my dad won!

After the tour we headed back to the hotel and drove to find some chicken rice for dinner. My friend from Singapore had recommended a place so we went there even though it was quite far away! The chicken rice was quite good and a famous Singaporean dish. We caught a taxi and headed to the Marina Bay Sands hotel because we were determined to catch the fireworks. We decided to get tickets to the top observation deck and view the fireworks from overhead as they lit up the waterfront area below. Although we had to wait for a while, we got drinks and enjoyed the views and the water show and laser show. Finally it was time for the fireworks. They were spectacular! It was worth the wait and thanks to some strategic planning, we even beat the crowds home.

Day 3: Little India and Chinatown

My dad’s coworker met us in the morning to take us to the famous Budda Tooth Relic Temple in Singapore. Although the actual temple was build fairly recently, it is still quite famous because the entire casing for the relic is made out of gold. When we arrived, I was wearing a dress and had to put on a cloth to cover my legs. My dad’s colleague is Buddhist so the tour he gave us was very in depth and personal. While we were walking through the museum, there was a chanting ritual happening on the first floor that went on for the whole day!

After we finished touring the temple, we traveled through Chinatown stopping to look in shops and buy some sugarcane juice. Singapore is a very unique country because it has a large population of people that speak Chinese, English, and Hindi. There is a intersection of many different cultures in this tiny and unique country, which meant that within a 15 minute drive we could travel from Chinatown to Little India and see a completely different culture. Little India was filled with color and bustling crowds. I’ve never been to India before so I was excited to see this part of Singapore. We tried to visit a Hindu Temple but it was closed so we walked around the outside admiring the architecture.

That evening we headed to the Botanical Gardens again because my dad hadn’t had the chance yet to see it. We saw some black swans and admired the beautiful flowers. For dinner, we decided to eat on the garden grounds in a restaurant outside, overlooking the gardens. The food was prepared so beautifully!

Our last stop of the night was the Singapore zoo for the night safari. This was one of the top tourist destinations in Singapore because there are very few zoos in the world that provide visitors to see nocturnal animals active at night. There were soooo many people once again speaking a variety of languages. Although we showed up about an hour late for our ticket time, we still got into the line just fine and made it. It was rather difficult to see some of the animals in the dark lighting but it was overall a very cool experience!

After our safari we headed home to bed. After enjoying some herbal tea in the VIP room at the top of the hotel, we packed our bags and headed to bed a bit early because it was our last night and were leaving the hotel at 4:30 the next morning.

Day 4: Back to Taiwan

We rose too early and made our way to the airport. As we got closer I felt a wave of sadness, realizing the next time I’d see my dad would probably be back in the US in the middle of July after my Fulbright grant was complete. I still had about half a year ahead of me away from my family and away from home and although I was excited to get back to my students and teaching, I was a bit homesick.

After a sad farewell, I made my way to my gate. I sat for a while feeling lonely but distracted myself by beginning to plan some of my class projects for the second semester. I missed my students and I was ready to get back to school. Chinese New Year vacation was an incredible adventure filled with new foods, good friends, beautiful sights, crazy adventures, and the best visit from my dad 🙂 There are enough memories from this adventure to carry me through the second half of my Fulbright teaching adventure, and I am refreshed and ready to start the next half of my position as a teaching assistant!

(2/9) Chinese New Year with Dad!

1/29 Yuzawa

I split with the Jenna, James, and Sarah in the morning and headed to Yuzawa, activating my JR pass along the way. Throughout the trip, I had been a bit skeptical about the much anticipated J-Pow, that is, some of the best skiing in the entire world according to ski magazines and websites I had been following. However, thus far there was no snow and the weather was hardly cold enough for snow to last should there be a storm. I dozed off on the train and woke up in Yuzawa. I looked out of the windows in shock. There were several FEET of snow. I was astounded that just an hour train ride out of the city and into the mountains could bring me to a place with such drastically different weather. As I scanned the station for my bus, I ran into a Chinese father and his daughter. They told me they were also planning on heading to Naeba Ski Resort and we got on the bus together. Meanwhile, a blizzard was building around us and as we drove up to the resort, we watched the mountains of snow on either side of the slopes grow above the windows of the bus. The traffic lights were covered with snow so it was impossible to tell whose turn it was to go. Thankfully, our driver seemed to have everything under control and only skidded out one time. I made it to my guest house in one piece.

The guest house was a cozy place buried in a blanket of snow. The owner was a Singaporean couple (goodness knows how they were surviving the cold) and they spoke perfect English. They set me up with a ticket deal and cheap rentals. I cozied up for the rest of the afternoon to ride out the blizzard as half of the ski area was closed. Later that evening, my newfound Chinese friend messaged me and asked if I would be willing to teach his daughter a ski lesson in the morning. I happily agreed to meet them at 8:30 am the next morning.

1/30 Naeba lessons

I met my student at 8:30 the next morning, excited and ready to go. Quickly realizing I had overdressed, I looked out over the blindingly white slopes on a different place than the night before. The mountains disappeared into the horizon and blue skies contrasted starkly with the white snow fields. My student was a first time 4 year-old and although we was excited to ski, she was nervous and tired easily. I taught her for two hours but found it difficult to capture her full attention and found myself using all my teaching tricks to keep her occupied. But she learned to stop and (sort of) turn by the end of our lesson! Her dad was thrilled and although he couldn’t ski, he had a great time photographing our lesson.

The rest of the day I had to myself to explore the slopes. Elaine, my host sister from Taiwan, had recommended Naeba but she had warned me that the terrain was not the most exciting in all of Japan and that there were less trails than Bretton Woods. However, I was happily surprised. The mountain was very tall and the whole upper section was open for free skiing through a snowfield. Although the conditions declined throughout the day, there was fresh powder from the day before and very few people on the slopes. I was flying down the mountain (in not so great ski gear) but nevertheless flying! I even crashed a few times, something I haven’t done in the past few years while skiing. There were several lifts but I spent most of my time skiing off the gondola because there was never a line and I had access to most of the mountain from the top.

After an exhilarating day, I headed back to the hotel for some dinner and a shower. Much to my excitement, I realized the guesthouse was actually equipped with a Japanese style bathhouse! There were showers and a heated pool to soak in with a beautiful view of the resort. I went to bed warm and cozy, ready for day two.

2/1 The Dragondola

The second day was a bit colder and cloudier, unfortunately blocking the views of the mountains in the horizon. Nevertheless, I was up early and ready to head to Kagura, the ski mountain connected to Naeba by the longest gondola in Japan. I only had to upgrade my tickets by 10 USD to access this whole new mountain!

I got on the second gondola of the morning and rode for 20 minutes to Kagura. I was so high above the ground and it was rather nerve wrecking to be alone so high above the mountains. When I arrived at Kagura, I began to ski my way across the resort. The mountain was huge! It put Sunday River to shame I must say. I finally made my way to the area I’d been searching for; an out of bounds tree skiing field. I was a bit nervous on my first ride up because I discovered that most other skiiers had brought skins and backpacks but soon realized that they were headed up to the higher peaks that the lifts didn’t reach. The powder was above my knees and it was incredible. I crashed a couple of times (which can be partly attributed to my non-powder skis) but skied until the lift closed at 12.

I spent the rest of the day slowly making my way back to Naeba along the mountain, trying to hit as many trails as possible. Unfortunately I didn’t have an English map so there was some guesswork in the plan but thankfully I didn’t get lost. By mid-afternoon the snow picked up and I had to take a break because I couldn’t see the slopes any longer. The snow never fully went away so I headed back not too much later. One very cool thing about the lifts was that they were enclosed with a plastic bubble to keep the wind and weather out. I’d love to see more of those back home!

That evening back at the guesthouse, my dad met me! Although it had only been one month since I’d last seen him, it felt longer and it was good to be back with my family. We ate dinner at a delicious restaurant just around the corner and excitedly talked plans for the next few weeks of travel, as well as news from back home.

2/2 Dad takes on Naeba

We woke up the next morning with a plan to head back to Kagura, but the weather got the best of us and closed the gondola down. Additionally, the Naeba gondola was shut down and the lower lifts were the only thing left open. Although initially disappointed that I couldn’t show my dad where I’d been skiing, I was ultimately grateful because the blizzard was much larger than anticipated. The wind was whipping snow in our faces and it was hard to see. Despite this, the skiing was still phenomenal. We explored all the trails that I hadn’t done at Naeba because I had been skiing at the top. These trails presented new challenges with even deeper snow, little to no visibility, and unexpected moguls and divots. We both took several tumbles and my dad insisted that I was trying to kill him on several occasions. One time we were convinced we were about to get dragged into an imaginary avalanche but we made it to the bottom in one piece and discovered that the avalanche was a figment of our imagination.

Later in the afternoon, we headed back to the guesthouse to change and gather our things. Then we said goodbye to Naeba and took a bus back to the train station, and began our journey to Kyoto. I joked that I only had one week of winter but it was a memorable one that made up for the humid rainy weather in Taiwan!

2/3 Kyoto Shrine Day

We arrived in Kyoto late on Friday and slept in a bit Saturday morning. We had two days in Kyoto and decided to spend the first one traveling around to all of the Shrines in and around the city. We stopped at one right near our hotel on the way to breakfast before heading to the Golden Pavilion or Kinkaku-ji. Although the park was quite crowded, we were overwhelmed with the serenity and beauty of the temple just sitting on the edge of a small pond. The reflection in the water was mesmerizing and despite the crowds I felt a sort of calmness. Although the temple was reconstructed several times because of fires, the original design dates back to the late 1300s.

Our next stop was the Bamboo Garden. I had seen so many pictures and heard many stories so I had high expectations for this place. Although it was beautiful, it was so crowded with tourists and somewhat underwhelming. We did walk through a beautiful traditional Japanese garden on the way back that was beautiful however! Nevertheless, it was a good adventure and our short visit gave us time for perhaps the most impressive shrine in Kyoto, the Fushimi Shrine.


We reached the Fushimi Shrine in early afternoon. This shrine is truly an architectural marvel. There are hundreds of orange arches leading up a mountain winding through graveyards and smaller shrines along the way. The hike was longer than expected and after a few hours of fast walking we were quite tired and hungry. We headed back to Kyoto near our hotel and tried to make one last shrine stop but unfortunately the gates were closed for the night. We decided to head to Gion for dinner and get some Yakitori from a small restaurant in one of the many alleys of the old city area. It was a cozy atmosphere for a chilly night. Afterwords we explored the city a bit and and we were even lucky enough to catch sight of a few Geisha secretively slipping through the streets.

2/4 Nara

We headed out early in the morning to catch a train to Nara, the old capital of Japan. We had just grabbed our seats when suddenly I heard a voice call out, “Becca?!” It was Helsa and her mom Jane, my Taiwanese host family. We had been planning to meet up for dinner but I didn’t realize that we were both heading in the same direction. Unfortunately they were not going Nara and instead heading to the Fushimi Shrine but we made plans to get some good Japanese kobe and wagyu beef for dinner.

When we arrived in Nara, we were suddenly flocked by Japanese people asking to be our tour guide for the day. We were bewildered by the number of people willing to take us around the city and explain the history to us in English for free! They were stationed at every temple and shrine along the way and brought a binder filled with pictures of some of the statues inside of the closed temples. We stopped at the Kofuku-ji temple, the Tōdai-ji temple, the Kasuga Shrine, and several others.

As we walked through the temples and shrines, we noticed a somewhat unusual crowd of people clustered in the front of several temples in what appeared to be a line. At one temple, we witnessed Geisha dancing and at another there was a large bonfire right in front of the temple! Although we didn’t figure out what was happening that day, when I headed home I looked it up on Wikipedia as any good researcher would and discovered that it was the weekend of the bean throwing festival. This always happens right before the start of spring in Japan, and beans are thrown to symbolically purify temples and homes by removing evil spirits.


The fire in shrine

My favorite part of Nara however wasn’t the temples and shrines, it was the deer. As we walked through Nara Park, we discovered deer everywhere. They were walking right up to us and sniffing around, hoping for a treat. There were ladies selling deer crackers so we bought a couple and we were instantly surrounded by deer all begging for crackers. The way they begged was quite unique, they would bow there heads repeatedly until we fed them a cracker, a Japanese custom of saying thank you. They were so cute! We spend the rest of the day being followed by deer, even all the way up to the gates of temples. The reason for the deer abundance is because deer are seen as sacred messengers of the gods.


A few deer just sitting in the park

That night we met up with Helsa and Jane in Gion for a last delicious meal of kobe and wagyu beef, a famous Japanese dish. It was a perfect end to both of our adventures in Japan as Jane and Helsa headed back to Taiwan the next morning and we were off to the Philippines the next day. Goodbye for now Japan but I will be back!



(2/2) Midyear Conference and Tokyo

As Fulbright ETAs in Taiwan, there is only one time during the year when we can leave the country and that is during the Chinese New Year holiday. It’s our ‘winter vacation’: a three-week break from the end of January until the beginning of February. Some people choose to go back to the US while others use the time to travel around Asia. Three other ETAs and I had been planning a trip to Japan in the months leading up to the break and we were eagerly anticipating our adventure outside of Taiwan.

Mid-Year Conference

However, before we could leave we had one more thing to attend: the Fulbright Midyear Conference. This was a four day event hosted at the Great Root Forestry Resort, a spa and hot springs resort in New Taipei City. This event was an opportunity to get to know the other sites and hear more about what other ETAs are doing around Taiwan. At the end of the day, I was really grateful to have the opportunity to work in Hualien. I think we are lucky to have a smaller group of ETAs and as a result we are a close-knit group (both geographically and socially). We are also lucky to have a good coordinator and a beautiful location.

There were several teacher sharing sessions and I got some great ideas for my own classes as a result. We were also able to hear from the scholars at the conference about their research in Taiwan which was very eye opening. At the end of the conference, Fulbright had a speaker who had retired from working in the foreign service come to talk to us about the tumultuous relationship between Taiwan and China. We all left the conference feeling a little more uneasy than we had been before about Taiwan and China’s political relationship. Overall it was a rewarding experience and a chance to catch up with ETAs from other sites that we hadn’t seen since Thanksgiving.

First stop… Japan 1/23!

Sarah, James, Jenna and I had a flight to Tokyo immediately after the conference that brought us into Tokyo at 6:00 am the next day. After an awkward conversation at the ticket counter during which I found out my bag was overweight and tried to put on as many articles of clothing as possible in the airport to lower my baggage weight, we were off. Unfortunately because we were all seated in the emergency row our chairs did not decline so we had a pretty sleepless night to start our trip. Nevertheless we were as enthusiastic as ever when we arrived and quickly got to business trying to find our way to Hostel DEN. I must say… perhaps the most frustrating thing about Tokyo is that the subway system is privatized and as a result there are many different intersecting lines that require different types of tickets to ride. Furthermore, although two different privately owned lines are going from the same station, you sometimes have to walk all the way out of the station and enter through a new gate to transfer lines. We were so confused when we first arrived but by some stroke of luck we ended up on the right train headed to our hostel and got off at the correct stop.

Hostel DEN in Ginza is an amazing place to stay and I would recommend it to any traveler. There is a kitchen, lounge, and reading space on the first floor. Each bed is comfortable and has its own curtain, the staff speak English fluently, and the entire hostel is quite neat and clean. However, the most fantastic part about this place is that each bed comes with an UNLIMITED DATA mobile device that guests are allowed to take out into the city and use for maps and online guides. Unfortunately because we did not know this, James and I both got SIM cards and Sarah got a wireless wifi router for the time we were in Japan.


Enjoying Raman as our first meal

We started out the day with raman because what better option for our first meal? Then, I headed off to the Imperial Palace to walk around the gardens. It was a beautiful day and I happened to stumble right into a free English tour and got a very detailed explanation of the history of the palace from a very sweet older man. The garden and park are open to the public, but the current emperor resides in a private section of the imperial palace. The actual building burned down several times throughout Japanese history and has been rebuilt, or in some areas not rebuilt. Unfortunately it wasn’t Japanese Cherry Blossom blooming season, but there were still several beautiful flowerbeds.

After I quick nap, I made my way to Akihabara, the “electronic district of Tokyo” with the rest of the crew. Although I know little about manga, anime, and Japanese video games I was nonetheless enthralled by the insane SEGA buildings filled with floors of video games and vending machines. There were people (primarily men) who looked like they had been at those machines for hours and didn’t flinch for a second when we walked by. We walked through stores selling anime figurines and past several maid cafes. It was unlike anywhere I had ever been and I was pretty overwhelmed.

Shinjuku and Yuta’s home 1/24

The next day we slept in a bit to catch up from our travel. We decided to head to Shinjuku and explore the city for a bit before heading to Yuta’s house which was much farther outside of the city. Shinjuku is a big commercial shopping area and it was quite crowded when we arrived. As we were walking down the streets, we came across two young girls that were being followed by a flock of men. They were holding posters and immediately came up to me. Although they spoke to me in English I had no idea what they said and awkwardly said “What?” The flock of people began to surround me. I panicked and looked at James, Sarah and Jenna for help. They all ignored my pleading eyes. The girls then asked me if I wanted to join them on their walk to which I said, “Uhhh no thanks!” Sadly they walked away back into the crowd and their followers looked at me disdainfully. I turned to James and asked him what had just happened, to which he replied, “Those were probably idols! Why didn’t you say you liked fan music and take a picture with them?!” I had no idea what idols are, but it turns out that they are young women (and sometimes men) that are viewed by society as flawless, innocent, and angelic individuals. They sing and dance, and are idolized by Japanese people for their appearance and lifestyle. Young girls often aspire to be like idols, but the consequences of an idol making a mistake and breaking their angelic facade are high so they are forced to lead very constrained lives. And…. unfortunately I missed my opportunity to worship one.

I had enough of the Shinjuku area quickly so we headed to the Shinjuku Gyoen National Garden. The garden is a traditional style Japanese garden and has beautifully shaped trees and small ponds and bridges. However we didn’t stay for long because it was already time to head to Yuta’s home for a traditional family style Japanese dinner. We met up with five other ETAs and some TEFL advisers there and prepared the meal. The dinner was delicious and was accompanied by sake which made it an even more joyous celebration of Fulbright family. After a fun night of games and chatting we headed back to our hostel in Ginza for the night.

Mori museum and Odiba 1/25

Before we left for Japan, we had found and researched an exhibit through the Mori Art Museum called teamlab Borderless. We got our tickets before we got to Tokyo so they didn’t sell out and we were excited to see the interactive digital exhibit. It was definitely the most surreal museum experience I have ever had. Once we entered the building, we were immediately brought into a room with flowers covering the floor, walls, and ceiling. The flowers grew where we walked and slowly shifted when we moved past them. In another room we found ourselves surrounded by stars in space, and in another we watched a storm of lights from inside of a room covered in LED lights. We drew fish and watched them swim by on the wall as part of the exhibit. The most incredible exhibit in my opinion was a completely mirrored room with hanging lanterns that changed color over time. The mirrors made the display feel endless and I felt as if I was floating in space. The pictures hardly do the museum justice.

The next adventure of the day was a tour around the Odiba area one of the main waterfront sections of Tokyo. We saw the life-sized Unicorn Gundam Statue, an anime character, and toured through the Diver City mall. I went to Hello Kitty World and got an adorable shirt. We finished off the night in Harajuku, a colorful street that is near Shinjuku and home to many animal cafes, crazy outfits, and sweet desserts. I got a massive cheese corn dog and best of all, I got to visit the cat cafe and cuddle with many cats. Overall, an awesome and adventure filled day.

1/26 Temples and Shrines and Kitties oh my!

Although we had done plenty of exploring in Tokyo already, one thing that Sarah, Jenna, and I felt we had neglected were the various shrines and temples throughout the city. We decided to devote Saturday to exploring these religious sites with our first stop being the Meiji Shrine near Shinjuku. Unfortunately most of the shrine was under construction so we didn’t get to see it, but we did get a poem fortune! It was around brunch time when we arrived so we stopped at Flippers for pancakes and HOLY COW they were some of the best pancakes I’ve ever had in my entire life. We even arrived at the perfect time to avoid the crowds.

The next stop was the Gotokuji Shrine a little ways outside of the city, famous for many small cat figurines. This temple might have been the birthplace of the cat figurine which brings good luck and fortune to whomever places it but this is just one story. The temple is quite old. The last stop of the day was the largest and most famous temple that I visited in all of Japan. It is called the Sensoji Temple and apparently was completed in 645, making it one of the oldest if not the oldest temple in all of Japan. Despite the fact that we went right as the temple building was about to close, it was still incredibly crowded. And quite cold. Needless to stay we didn’t stay for too long. We grabbed some dinner and went to a bar after, where we met two other foreigners who were living full time in Japan. Apparently I accidentally ruined one of the guys pick up girls strategies when I told him that he dropped his wallet. In Japan according to him, if you are interested in a girl you leave your money and cash just SITTING on the floor of a bar and hope that she tells you it accidentally slipped out of your pocket. He was trying to catch the attention of a cute Japanese girl behind us but alas I messed up his plan.

1/27 Imperial Palace Runs, History, and Shibuya

I decided to go for a morning run around the Imperial Palace because of the beautiful weather. Apparently in Tokyo, this is the place to run. It was a zoo! I almost got tramped many times. At one point I was entirely convinced that I had accidentally crashed a 5k race because there were people holding up signs with the mileage and cheering people on, but it turns out that they just do that every day! After a satisfying run, I headed to the history Edo Tokyo Museum with Jenna and Sarah to learn about the history of Tokyo and Kyoto, a place we would all be visiting sometime in the near future. We learned about the many fires that destroyed Tokyo throughout the years and the how the capital city moved from Kyoto to Tokyo. We also learned some of the devastating effects of the World War II bombing in Tokyo and how the city had to be completely rebuilt. Japan has a history filled with hardship, innovation, and creativity. It was really fascinating to learn about.

After the museum, we headed to Shibuya to see the famous crossing and grab some dinner. Although I wasn’t quite sure what to expect, I was shocked by the number of people pouring across this one street in every direction. We ran into an incredibly flustered foreigner from America who told us he had made a plan to meet his friends at the Shibuya crossing… what a horrible mistake. We tried our best to help him, hopefully he made it! After dinner we grabbed some beers in the area and met up with the wallet dropped friend who showed us around a few of his favorite places in the city.

1/28 Mt. Takao and the Last Night

I decided to take my own day to explore Mt. Takao, a small hike about an hour outside of the city. I was hoping to catch some views of Mt. Fuji and to be honest, I was itching to get out of the city. The weather was beautiful and along the way I was often greeted with a friendly hello and wave. When I reached the top, I was surprised to find vending machines everywhere just like the rest of Japan! There was a stunning view of Fuji as well. I was so excited I made several people take photos of me in front of the mountain.

I made it back to Tokyo earlier than expected and decided to wander around the Ginza area for a bit. I explored the KitKat store and got some unique flavors, and found some cheap coffee samples. After a bit, I met up with the rest of the crew in Roppongi. Both of these places are very ritzy but we enjoyed looked at the cool architecture and the views of the Tokyo tower from the city. We headed back to the hostel for a chill last night to reflect on our Tokyo adventure. It had been a whirlwind of traveling and miraculously we got on the correct subway every time (except the one time everyone put me in charge of navigating). Tokyo is overwhelming, impeccably clean, high tech, and an amazing place to visit. It was time to say goodbye for the next chapter of the journey… skiing in Yuzawa and meeting my Dad for the Chinese New Year!

(1/6) Around the Island: A New Years Adventure

Taichung City (12/26)

I managed to scrounge up a few vacation days and get a nice break to take my family around Taiwan on an adventure. So the day after Christmas, we took off for our first stop of the adventure, Taichung. It had been a long time since I had last been to Taichung my junior year of high school. I felt like I was rediscovering the city as we walked around the downtown area. A wall of flowers triggered a memory of taking selfies with Elaine and Shelly and when we stopped for bubble tea my mind flashed back to my friend Alexis and I drinking as many bubble teas as possible during our short time in Taiwan. In our wanderings we came across a Kirin beer event that was handing out free cans of beer. They even had a mechanical beer can that spun around trying to throw the rider off. Naturally, we all had to take a turn riding and we attracted quite a crowd.


We met up with my host family for dinner that night and once again my worlds were colliding. I had never imagined that it would be possible for these two families to meet because of the sheer distance between the US and Taiwan. They took us to a delicious dinner with the most exquisitely prepared dishes and we enjoyed exchanging stories of Taiwan and the US. Sadly Elaine, my host sister, wasn’t there because she is currently in college in the US. We learned that Stephen will be moving to the US soon for work, closely followed by the rest of his family. After dinner, we wandered around the city on our way back to the hotel. We stopped at a night market and took a few moments planning our next adventure to Sun Moon Lake!

Sun Moon Lake (12/27-12/28)

The next morning, Shelly met us at our hotel and we called a cab to take us to Sun Moon Lake for the next few days. It was a beautiful day and we arrived nice and early for a full adventure. We bought a boat pass and used this as our transportation for the day. Our first stop was the Ci’en Pagoda, a nine story structure with incredible views of the lake and surrounding mountains. Next, we headed to the the gondola that travels over the lake. I had crazy flashbacks to riding the gondola in high school with the exchange group, and Shelly and I even managed to dig up an old picture. Once again I was in awe of the fantastic views. After a delicious dinner with Shelly, she headed back to Taichung for the night and we went back to the hotel for some drinks and mochi on the porch.

The next morning, we got up early and rented bikes to ride around the lake. Our first stop was the Wenwu Temple right on the lake, a huge and majestic structure.

Afterwords, we continued around the lake on the windy road until we reached a small hiking spot and stopped for a quick walk down to the lake water. After returning to our bikes, we continued on the somewhat less desirable part of the road. We were vying for space with cars and turning around blind corners. But eventually this section ended and we made our way to the bike path! This portion of the adventure was filled with hazards, but this time they were in the form of other bikers! There were definitely a few people that were swerving and unstable on bikes, and others that were just simply not paying attention. The views were amazing and it was easy to forget that you were riding on a very crowded bike path. One man even hit my mom when he was biking! Luckily everyone was unharmed and we made it back in one piece. After some pb&j sandwiches and bubble tea, our driver met us at our hotel and it was time for the next leg of the adventure, Kenting National Park!

Kenting National Park (12/29-12/30)

While our ride to Kenting was uneventful, our driver spent the first segment of the journey trying translating everything he said in Chinese into English using his translating app. I found it quite funny because I could understand him so finally I replied to him in Chinese and from then on I was the translator (which was a bit stressful). He brought us to our hotel at Kenting, a huge resort with people everywhere. I was honestly surprised to see how crowded it was. Although most people were on break for a few days because of the new year, I had not anticipated such a large crowd, especially because the weather was less than desirable. It was extremely windy and drizzly, enough that I had to borrow Carter’s jacket to stay warm. We got Kenting late that evening so our main exploring happened in the night market. It was a very different atmosphere than Dong Da Men Night Market in Hualien and felt more similar to Shilin night market in Taipei. People were everywhere! I was a bit overwhelmed. It was also quite touristy and one thing that set this place apart from Taipei was the large number of street bars. They were like food trucks, but instead of selling food you could buy a drink and sit on a stool right there to drink it. Not quite like the US!

We met our driver in the morning and he took to sailboat rock. I was a bit surprised with how much trash was surrounding this beautiful outcropping. We didn’t stay long because of crowds and took off for the Eluanbi Lighthouse next. I had originally thought that this park was just a lighthouse but soon discovered that it was much more than that. There were many paths leading through a forest and amazing ocean views. It started raining heavily while we were there which drove away some of the crowds. After the lighthouse, we made our way to the southernmost point of Taiwan (and of course the family had to stop for a quick geocache). We drove around the coast, stopping at some beaches and the windiest place ever! It was crazy how the wind just whips from the ocean with nothing to block it before it roars across Taiwan.

Our driver was the real MVP of the day and in addition to driving was also our tour guide, personal photographer, and historian. Although I didn’t understand much of what he said, I caught bits and pieces and translated them for the family. He brought us on a narrated car ride along the coast which I understood next to nothing of but he helped translate little things like “rabbit” which we discovered meant the rock looked like a rabbit. He brought us to a good noodle place for lunch, and afterwords to the eternal flame, a place were natural fire comes out of a pile of rocks (so naturally we made popcorn to eat!) Afterwords he gave us a quick history lesson about the the construction of the wall in the late 1800s to defend the Island from invasions. Although I didn’t gather much of his explanation, I did learn about how Japan invaded Taiwan and massacred a large number of Indigenous peoples and this led the Chinese Emperor Qing building the wall and working towards a peace accord between Han Chinese settlers and Indigenous peoples. The last stop of the day was a place were we had the opportunity to feed and see Sika deer at a zoo. They were not so thrilled to have visitors and wanted to be left alone but they were so cute 🙂

The next morning was Kenting National Park Day. After our adventerous first day, our driver decided that he would accompany us on all our adventures the next day and gladly brought us on a tour of the park area. We walked through caves and observed towering trees. We spent our last night in Kenting enjoying a bar on the beach and getting some snacks from the night market. Despite the rain, wind, and crowds we had a blast at Kenting National Park and hopefully I’ll make it back sometime with warmer weather!

Kaohsiung and Taipei (12/31-1/1)

We headed back to Kaosiung for the night and stayed near the Pier 2 art area. Although we got in late, we still had time for a nice Italian dinner (I miss Western food sometimes) and a tour of the art district. There were so many unique sculptures and someday I hope to come back to explore in the daytime. However, Kaohsiung was more of a layover for the next big adventure: Taipei City! We had decided to go to Taipei during probably the most crowded time of the year. It was going to be New Year’s eve and Taipei 101 is the place to be with fireworks, a light show, and a performance from a very famous Taiwanese singer. However, we had a whole day of exploring before it was time to embrace the fireworks madness.


Will posing with one of the Pier 2 sculptures

After we arrived at the hotel and checked in, our first stop was the Palace museum. This is a very famous place because there are numerous national treasures from China housed in this museum. Shelly met us and together we all explored the area but it was very unfortunate timing. The whole place was a zoo! Although this was expected due to the time of year, it was nevertheless overwhelming and we didn’t stay for too long. Our next destination was the Songshan Cultural Creative park, a quick stop for lunch and some souvenirs. After that, on to the Chiang Kai-shek Memorial Hall. What is somewhat disturbing is that while touring this hall, there was only one article that mentioned the White Terror, a nearly 40-year period of martial law in Taiwan. People who dissented to the KMT party under the leadership of Chiang Kai-shek were imprisoned, disappeared, or were murdered. I find it kind of shocking that something this egregious seems to disappear in the explanation of who Chiang Kai-shek was and the role he played in Taiwanese history. But then again, Taiwan is definitely not the only country to have a painful history that remains obscured for whatever reason.

We headed back to the hotel to change and discuss our plans for midnight. Shelly recommended heading closer to 101, while my mom worried that this would be a prime location for some kind of an attack. I assured her that Taiwan was a much safer place than the US and finally she agreed. The closer we got, the more excited we became. Our family has only ever celebrated New Years in front of the TV watching the ball drop. While there is nothing wrong with this, it was a completely new experience to be surrounded by so many excited and hopeful people who were ringing in the New Year together. We grabbed some drinks at 711 and watched as A-Mei took the stage and sang about partying for three nights and three days. Suddenly, the countdown began. The New Year exploded with fireworks shooting from the sides of the 101 building and LED lights flashing through scenes of Taiwan. To say it was incredible would be an understatement. We were close enough to have an unobstructed view and watched in awe as the show continued for six minutes. Then, the LED lights shut off. We looked at each other in disbelief, which only lasted for a few seconds, before we started sprinting towards our hotel to beat the crowds.

About 1/2 mile into our sprint of 2 miles, I was dying to go to the bathroom. Luckily, we were near a subway station and rushed in. This turned out to be a brilliant move. We were already in the station and despite our original goal to avoid the subway at all costs, we discovered that thanks to traffic controls, it wasn’t too overwhelmed by people. We had managed to sneak in just in time. So we hopped on the subway and headed back to our hotel. It was not even the most crowded ride I’ve had in Taiwan! We dropped Shelly off at the bus station, and she headed back to Taichung while we walked across the street to our hotel. Despite our relatively quick journey, it was still late and we decided the best option would be to sleep in the next morning.


The not too crowded subway ride back

Taipei day two was a bit bittersweet. I wasn’t ready to go back to school the next morning, and I certainly was not ready for my family and Carter to leave. It’s amazing how in just a few weeks it can feel like you’ve never been separated from someone. Conversations and interactions are so natural, and it feels so easy for them to integrate into your new life and space. This is how it felt for me to have my family and Carter in Taiwan. And now that they had integrated into my Taiwan life, it felt like I was losing part of myself when they left again. But we still had one more day! We decided to start off the morning with a hike up Elephant Mountain. Despite the clouds, We still got some clear views of the city and Taipei 101. It was a totally different beast from the night before, this time sleek and silver.

After a quick hike, we headed to Taipei 101 for Din Tai Feng dumplings. It was well worth the wait and we even tried the chocolate ones (which might have been one of the greatest desserts I’ve ever tasted). Our early meal left us pretty full so we didn’t need another dinner. But we still needed to try one essential thing… so after some quick souvenir shopping in the underground mall, we headed to Shifen night market for stinky tofu! This went over just about as well as I expected and everyone hated it. But I made up for it with candied strawberries and Shao bing, pancakes cooked over a fire on the inside of a barrel, one of my favorite foods in China.


Enjoying dumplings being made at Din Tai Feng

The Goodbye (1/2)

It was about this time that I started to feel quite sad. Carter and I headed back so he could have some time to pack and say goodbye, while my family went on to try to find one more temple. I still hadn’t reached the halfway point for my time in Taiwan, and before this moment I had only viewed this as a positive fact. But in this moment, I realized how easy it is to be around people who really know you. There was no language barrier and I was not a foreigner to them. I didn’t need to be extra enthusiastic or look and be my best self. This is hard and draining, and although I have loved nearly every moment of my time in Taiwan, its not easy.  I wasn’t ready to dive back into this for another six months.

For some reason I found this goodbye harder than the first goodbye. Although I can’t quite explain this, I think it was that I was finally feeling whole again and rediscovering a part of me I hadn’t realized I had missed so much. I said goodbye to my family the night before because I knew it would be an early morning the next day. Needless to say, the next morning at Taipei Main Station saying goodbye I was a mess. I definitely attracted some looks as I sobbed my way over to my train to Hualien, and took off looking forlornly out the window. I knew I just needed time to readjust back to my routine and school schedule, and seeing my students would definitely remind me of my purpose and place here in Taiwan. But for now, I just needed time to be sad and reflect. Thankfully, Chinese New Year was just around the corner and it would soon be time for a much longer and needed rest.

I’m spending the next few weeks embracing my favorite home sickness cures. I’m spending lots of time at the cat cafe, and I was lucky enough to find a delicious version of vegetarian shepard’s pie!  And of course, spending lots of time with my Taiwan ETA family who I know are always there for me no matter what. Reflecting back, I’m so grateful to have a family and boyfriend who are willing to travel halfway across the world to visit me, despite the expensive plane tickets and for my mom, a terrible fear of flying. I am confident that wherever I go they will always be there supporting me and I’m extremely lucky to have these people in my life. But for now, onward to the coming adventures of Chinese New Year (traveling outside of Taiwan!) and Ben and Hannah’s upcoming visit!


(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.


(11/25) Elections

For the past month, Taiwan has been busy preparing for the 2018 local elections in every province. Hualien has been quite active in these preparations which has been both exciting to watch and extremely inconvenient. My first direct encounter with the election was when I was at Tongmen a few weeks ago.

Every other weekend (give or take) Gina and I travel to Tongmen, a Toroko village about 20 minutes outside of Hualien city. We attend the church service from 10-12, and then we work with the youth group for an hour teaching English through church hymns. The community is incredibly kind and welcoming and has graciously accepted us into their church. The service is in both Toroko language and in Chinese so we understand very little, but the youth that are part of the church help us find the right pages in the hymnal and are very patient with our poor Chinese. For me, the most important part of religion is the community it builds so I really enjoy these visits and getting to know the youth at the church. Additionally, they are quick learners and have incredible voices so it is a very rewarding experience. The last time Gina and I were in Tongmen, we somehow accidentally found ourselves thrown into a political rally. It happened like this:

After the church service, the church minister came to us and said, “Wait here for a moment, we are going to pray.” The Chinese words for “go pray” (去禱告 qù dǎo gào) and “eat cake” (chī dàn gāo 吃蛋糕) are very similar, so I turned to Gina and excitedly told her we were going to eat cake. “Really?” She said. “I thought she said they were going to go pray.” As we stood there waiting, an extremely loud series of bangs rang out from around the corner. Gina and I instinctively ducked, thinking we were under attack. The youth group looked at us funny and told us it was simply fireworks. Suddenly the minister came back and told us and said “Okay time to go!” She grabbed our arms and ushered us around the corner where a group of people were huddled under a tent. A man in a vest with the number 1 stood holding a microphone, shouting out a variety of things that I hardly understood due to the group of people chanting “1號, 1 號!” However, I discovered after a few moments that he was a candidate to represent Tongmen in government. Although we picked up on very little of what he said, when he called out to the foreigners in the crowd we snapped to attention. He as well as many members of his campaign group gathered in a group around us and asked to take a picture. Suddenly we found ourselves chanting his name and number one, which was quite funny because neither Gina or I could actually vote in the election.

I looked around frantically for cake but unfortunately discovered that Gina’s interpretation was correct and we wouldn’t be getting any cake. But suddenly the crowd dispersed and came back with tables and stools.

“What’s happening?” I asked our friend the minister.

“We are going to eat food!” the minister told me excitedly in Chinese. Suddenly huge platters of food came from all over and were placed on the table. The minister turned to us and said in Chinese, “These dishes are traditional Toroko dishes, they all have a special ingredient.”

“Oh really?” I asked. “They look delicious!”

“Yes!” She said. “蝦米! How do you say that in English?”

“Oh… well, 蝦米 is shrimp.” Anyone who knows me well would remember that I am actually very allergic to shellfish. I had already filled my bowl and I looked down sadly, realizing I couldn’t eat one bite. Thankfully Gina agreed to eat both bowls so I didn’t look impolite. When the minister came back and asked if we had enjoyed the food we both chimed in, “Oh yes so much!” When she insisted that we eat more, I quickly replied that I was much too full to possibly imagine eating another bite, despite the fact that my stomach was rumbling. Both Gina and I graciously thanked number 1 for his generosity, and returned to teach our English class.

This was my first encounter with the political campaign but certainly not the last. This was earlier on in the month but as it got closer to the elections, I found myself running into people campaigning everywhere. When biking around the city, I was often passed by blue trucks playing pre-recorded tracks of candidates stating their position. I almost missed my train on the way home from school one time because of a train of cars blocking the road on the way to the Xincheng station. One time when getting ice cream, Isabel and I were completely trapped by a huge mob of people campaigning for Hualien City candidate number 2, in a parade that included brightly lit floats and drummers who performed in the street. “Hey look, my student!” Isabel shouted excitedly. Perhaps the most frustrating part of the whole campaign was the candidate who had his base right across from my school in Xincheng. The week before the election, coincidentally the week my students had a speaking exam, we would hear the deafening sound of fireworks every hour or so across the street. As you can imagine, this made it extremely difficult to capture my student’s attention in the classroom.


However, the other ETAs and I had fun with the election. One night while a parade of different candidates was going by, we cheered loudly for each truck and chanted the candidates number over and over. We definitely caught the candidates off guard, who were quite confused by a group of foreigners cheering loudly from the street. One thing that baffled me was the sheer number of candidates. Candidates were represented by numbers that were assigned based on when a candidate applied to run. In some areas, numbers went up to 18! This was shocking to me. It is still unclear to me how individual candidates are elected when the voting base is so drastically divided by the number of candidates.


Surprisingly, despite the Taipei pride parade, I saw no public campaigning for the referendums that were on the ballot for the election. The ballot included a question about whether or not Taiwan should continue the use of nuclear power or switch to coal power. There were three separate questions addressing LGBTQ+ rights, including two about same sex marriage, and 1 that asked candidates whether or not the Ministry of Education should implement the Enforcement Rules of the Gender Equality Education Act in elementary and middle schools. I personally find this issues to be incredibly important so I was very confused that so much attention was directed to elected individuals and these questions appeared to be dismissed or deemed less important.

Saturday Election Day. Unlike the US, Taiwan does not have an absentee ballot system so all forms of transportation were booked for the day as people tried to get back to their province to vote. I find this somewhat problematic, because people who are overseas are unable to vote. Additionally, students who attend school outside of their province are unable to vote unless they head back to their hometowns, a hassle that can be expensive, and for some students, requires them to miss classes. Although voting is far from perfect in the US, I will say that it was fairly convenient for me to vote this year. I received my ballot by email and resubmitted it by email, something I could have done the same day as the election.

Additionally, in Taiwan polls close at 4:30 on the day of the election, which makes it difficult for people who work on Saturdays to vote. After this time, ballots are counted individually by hand. On Saturday evening, candidates awaited the results anxiously. On my evening run, I passed by three separate candidate offices and saw a crowd of people sitting inside, watching the live count screen. As I was about to go to bed, I checked to see the referendum results. Much to my dismay, all three questions that addressed LGBTQ+ rights were shut down. Same sex marriage was denied, and it was decided that the Gender Equality Education Act does not need to be enforced in middle and high school. Sadly, the results were about 7:3 against same sex marriage and the Gender Equality Education Act. Taiwan is an extremely empathetic country, so I found it difficult to learn that something I view as a human right has been denied to LGBTQ+ individuals citizens in Taiwan. However, the lack of attention directed at towards this question and the ambivalent attitude many voters appeared to have made this result not particularly surprising. This decision made me feel both sad and isolated here in Taiwan, and I can only imagine how members of the LGBTQ+ community feel about this decision.

Overall, I am glad that elections are over. It’s nice to have peace and thankfully giant posters of candidates faces will be removed from billboards soon and I can escape the feeling of constantly being watched.

(11/11) 慢慢練習, Keep Trying, Slow and Steady

Recently, I’ve been trying to slow down. I’m what you might call a “fast-paced” individual, that is to say, I generally move throughout my day at a rapid pace. This “gogogo” mentality can be positive sometimes because throughout the course of one day, I can often accomplish many things and still have energy to go for a run in the evenings after work and classes. However, it can be a bit of a hazard when biking through the city or running in traffic. I also tend to inhale my food which frustrates my friends who discover that by the time their food has been served at a restaurant and they’ve started to eat, I’m done with my entire meal. I’ve found that I spend the vast majority of my time looking towards the future and forgetting to stop and appreciate moments as they come. So in order to remedy this problem, I’ve decided to slow down and document moments of my day and take some time to reflect on these moments.

I started out this week by reflecting on with my commute to work. When I tell Taiwanese people what school I teach at every day, their initial reaction is always, “喔太遠” or “Oh, so far!” It is true that my school is definitely the farthest of any ETA from Hualien city and as a result, I need to be out of my apartment on my way to school before my roommate is even awake. I typically spend my morning calculating exactly how many minutes I have until I need to be out of bed and out the door, and deciding whether or not I can risk a 3-5 minute detour to 711 to stop and buy coffee before I need to be at the train station. Once I arrive at Xincheng, I bike like a maniac to school and constantly check my watch in order to get there before 8:15, even though this endeavor depends entirely on whether or not my train arrives on time. While this daily routine may improve my math skills, I forget to stop and look around which is a shame because I have a spectacular commute. This week I decided to turn things around by taking in the sights on the way to work.


The view looking out from the Hualien train station.


A peek at Toroko Gorge from the Xincheng Station

I also wanted to stop and document the stunning backdrop of my school, which is just on the edge of Toroko Gorge. I often take this for granted and forget how lucky I am to look out of my classroom every day to this.


View from the second floor classrooms


A side view of my school on a sunny day


A view directly from the English classroom

While I was in the mood for reflection, I decided that it was time to stop and reflect about what my actual purpose as an ETA is in Taiwan. It’s easy to lose sight of the impact ETAs have on the community we briefly become a part of throughout the year when everyday becomes a mundane routine of waking up early for work and planning lessons to teach English. In a workshop this past week, two of our advisors asked us what our mission as an ETA in Hualien was. After a heated argument between all ten Hualien ETAs that lasted for at least half an hour, we finally came up with a definition. “As Hualien ETAs, we become a part of communities that we will both carry with us and leave behind. We seek to build lasting relationships rooted in understanding. Together, we believe in learning through a sharing of culture.”

I have recently discovered that I cannot measure my success as an ETA by how well my students do on tests, or how much their English language improves because this isn’t a fair evaluation. My elementary school 富世 lacks many of the resources larger schools have and my students often don’t have the means to go to after school 補習班 (remedial) english classes like some students in Taipei or even Hualien City. Additionally, my school has different priorities than many of the other schools in Taiwan because the curriculum emphasizes a celebration and preservation of Toroko Indigenous culture. While this sometimes takes away from English class time, this is an important part of the identity of my students and therefore learning about Toroko culture through Toroko language classes and traditional drumming and singing should take priority over English language fluency. However recognizing this makes it difficult to understand how I can contribute to my school community in a meaningful way.

I was asked in my last Fulbright report to say how I wanted my students to remember me after I was gone. After some consideration I decided that I wanted my students to remember me as a teacher who cared about their lives both inside and outside of school, and a teacher that motivated and inspired her students to pursue their passions and care about learning. I’m the first ETA to ever be placed at this elementary school, and therefore my students, much like me, don’t know exactly what to expect from me. Many of them come from difficult family situations. I discovered this when I ate lunch with the first grade class and asked them about their families. At least half of the students told me that they lived in a single family home and didn’t have either a mother or a father, and afterwords their homeroom teacher explained that their parents had died or walked away from their families. Other students bring extra lunch food home every day for their families. Many students rotate between the same three or four outfits every day.

That being said, in my entire life, I’ve never had students who were so excited to see me every day. Every time I leave the office I have to physically brace myself for the attack of the 1st and 2nd graders who come running from every direction and tackle me in a massive group hug. These are the students that I don’t even teach because they haven’t started learning English yet. I’ve developed a special handshake with each of my forth graders and each time I see them in the hall they immediately get into handshake stance. My students have so much spirit and energy, and I hope that they can see how much I want them to succeed and care about learning.

One day in my extra help class after school, I was teaching my students English words for careers. The textbook chose the words, “doctor, teacher, nurse and police officer” for the students to learn. The lesson we were supposed to teach was, “Is your mother/father/brother/etc. a doctor/teacher/nurse/etc.?” After going around the room, every question asked was answered with a resounding, “No, she’s not” or “No, he’s not.” Demi and I switched to Chinese to learn what their family members did and one boy said that his father worked at 711. Another girl finally exclaimed, “My mother, father, brother, and sister all work cleaning houses and I don’t want to do that when I grow up!” Demi and I struggled to find words and quickly asked, “Well, what do you want to do when you grow up?” She didn’t have an answer which surprised me because when I was her age I spent countless hours daydreaming about all of the different things I could do when I grew up. Other students reacted similarly until one boy said, “I want to be an astronaut!” After a few moments other students started to contribute their answers, and the mood quickly lightened in the classroom.

I want my students to know that I support them and that I want them to believe in themselves. I can sense that many of them have a bleak outlook on life. It is true that they have to work incredibly hard and opportunities aren’t presented to them in the same ways they are for other students. But they can still accomplish great things both inside and outside of their communities and I want them to know that, as do many of the other teachers at 富世. Therefore, I don’t view my purpose so much as to make my students fluent in English and to help them to test well because I know I will not be able to achieve this goal in the course of one year. Instead, I think my purpose is to make my students excited to learn and to care about their successes. I want them to see English not as a subject thats important for them to know but as a tool of communication they can use talk to other people like me about who they are and why they themselves and their community is important.

It’s already November, and already 1/3 of my Fulbright grant has passed. Although the days seem long and I sometimes find myself counting down the minutes until I can get home and into bed, the weeks are flying by and it’s important to stop and think about what I can do in these next few months to fulfill my purpose. I’m working to strengthen my relationships with both my students and my coworkers, and I am also working hard to improve my fluency in Chinese to better communicate and understand the people I interact with. As Taiwanese people often tell me, Its time for me to “慢慢練習” which literally translates to, “practice slowly” but I take to mean, “keep trying, slow and steady!”

(11/4) Halloween and Hikes


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.


The most spectacular view in all of Hualien City according to me


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.


Weekend Hiking

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.