It’s 12:30 a.m. nearly two weeks after I arrived and I am just now finding some spare time to get around to updating all of you! Our schedules are packed, but in the past 12 days we’ve all had some truly amazing experiences. Because it’s late, and there is a lot to say, this post is just going to be a list – longer ones to follow later 🙂
My Top Experiences in Asia (so far):
1. Layover in Tokyo – One of my good friends from high school lives in Tokyo and agreed to meet me at the airport at 6 am to catch up for an hour. It was great to see an old friend, not to mention the fact that I was greeted with many thoughtful gifts from both Momo and her dad (& an ice cream tea treat after.) Definitely a great start to this long journey!
2. Arriving in Taipei – We were greeted with hundreds of security guards, television crews, paparazzi-type photographers. It turns out this was the reason:
3. A Chinese Name! After many failed attempts, I finally have a real Chinese name! The application for the program required a Chinese name, but since this is my first attempt at the language, I was clueless as to what names I could chose. Thinking I had outsmarted the system, I copied and pasted a section from my admission letter where it stated “Full Name: and some unknown Chinese characters”. Based on assumption, I thought I was automatically given a name, but it turns out that it was actually just a direct translation of “full name” into Chinese. So, for the first week my Chinese name was in fact “full name.” Great way to start 🙂 During my Chinese class, we were given real names, which like many names in the United States are divided into three parts: the family name and two first names (in that order). I am now known as 麥嘉文 or (Mài jiā wén ) The coincidental part of it all is that Mai, or my last name in Chinese, means “wheat”, which is eerily similar to the meaning of “Miller” despite the fact that our names were randomly chosen by our teacher!
4. Opening Ceremony Dinner – For me, so far, Taiwan means food. And lots of it. The first day of our program concluded with an seemingly endless supply of delicious food and great company! Here is just a sampling of all that was offered “family style”. Chopsticks are not my friends – but for means of survival, I get by.
5. Scooter City – Although it’s not possible, I’d be tempted to say that the number of scooters (mopeds) that exist in this city outnumber the actual population. They are paired on the streets with equally fearless pedestrians which leads to a harrowing traffic system that more or less resembles the game Frogger. Riding on the back of one, though, is exciting! A few of my new local friends took us to a fantastic restaurant one evening that included a night ride on the back of one of these devices. Seeing the city (which looks like a gigantic Chinatown NYC) at dusk, passing by temples next to food stands and other juxtapositions that this city has so far represented was one of the best experiences I have had here!
6. A Trip to the Night Market – To continue along the lines of food (apologies for inducing any cravings!), we spent one of our first nights in Tainan perusing the famed Night Markets that featured fair-like food stands with an amazing assortment of exotic eats and treats. With the help of our language partners (which I will explain in an upcoming post) we navigated the stands and were guided to the most famous of Taiwanese food – some more tasty than others. The most memorable item, which might I mention, is highly regarded in Taiwan, was Stinky Tofu. It takes a strong stomach and nose to get past the stench which polluted the air from quite a distance away. I had to actively try not to gag – it smelled like the pig pens at fairs (times 10!). The taste is more subdued, but it was not tasty (and not worth the smell!) Some other treats of the evening included, sugar glazed tomatoes, Mango cream puffs, sausages, ducks blood (Not quite adventurous to try that..), crickets, and other unspeakable items. Here’s a glance at what night market life is all about!
7. Cultural Seminar: Chinese Painting – As an additional part of this summer program we have to attend weekly cultural sessions, which are actually fascinating! This past week’s was Chinese painting where we tested our hand at the ancient Chinese art. Our teacher, a Chinese painting master and Taiwanese funny man, instructed us through humor how to paint a quality picture without 30 years of experience. With using only black paint and varying amounts of water to dilute the color, this was my result:
8. Saturday Field Trip around Tainan – Not only are our weekday schedules chock-a-block, we also have weekend activities, which usually include trips to area sites around Taiwan. This past weekend we went on a temple sightseeing-spree, followed by a lagoon cruise in an oyster farm, a short stint at a beach and another 8 + course meal in a very fancy restaurant (I’ll spare you more food pictures 🙂 )
For two weeks, we have done quite a lot and slowly (very), but surely, my Chinese is progressing. Soon, I hope to be able to say more than my name, hello and thank you. I’ll update you more in the coming days, now that I am starting to get settled into a real Taiwan lifestyle 🙂
– Jiā wén