School Life Pt. 9: Refuge

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On rainy days, umbrellas are great shelters for phone-users.

 

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Taiwanese Students Prepare to Meet Japanese Students

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I signed up to be a tour guide for incoming Japanese students from a sister school. I did not think it would be a huge time commitment. Maybe one or two info sessions before the Japanese students come, and an entire busy day of showing them around the school and Taipei. But no, the teachers at my school who are organizing this event are giving us so much preparation. I expected to go through probably one-fourth of the preparation that we are actually going through right now.

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In America, whenever we had foreign students visit our school for a day, we would just receive an email a few days earlier explaining the situation, and would be given a reminder to come say hi to the students at a designated time. The students would be given a tour of our school. No big deal.

In my school in Taipei, we are treating this like a huge event. But this is a sister school, and it happens every year, so I guess it is a big deal.

Today we were taught how to make eye contact, shake hands firmly, and introduce ourselves in English to the Japanese students. The teacher had us look into the eyes of the people sitting around us for 10 seconds without breaking eye contact. Next was shaking hands. Then introducing ourselves.

The teachers kept reminding us (threatening us) that we should be outgoing with these Japanese students, and to have the guts to speak in broken English. To help, we were given a short list of small talk topics like the weather in Japan and if it was their first time in Taipei.

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In America these things come naturally as teenagers become adults. But in Taiwan, I think students don’t have as much exposure to formal settings because they spend more time studying instead of doing extracurriculars. You rarely can find a student here that is participating in a volunteer organization outside of school.

On a related note, my host mom and I were talking about air hostesses and found out that they are completely opposite to the students here. My host mom said Asian air hostesses are generally younger, more attractive, and more welcoming to customers when compared to American air hostesses. American air hostesses are generally older and less welcoming (by welcoming I mean the Asian concept of being sort of subservient in a way).

Anyways, I can’t wait for the Japanese students to come to our school and see how the two cultures interact.

Writing Tools in Taiwanese Schools

The major writing utensil in American schools is the No. 2 pencil. Sometimes its portrayed as a big yellow wooden one with a juicy pink eraser, and nowadays I see more mechanical pencils.

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A group of foreigners found in Taiwan: mechanical pencils, No. 2 lead, a Bic ballpoint pen, and two pink erasers.

 

 

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New additions to my pencil case. In the back is a white-out dispenser. The largest pen was handed out as an advertisement for a cram school. Free pen!

 

Students in Taiwan rarely use pencils. They use pens all the time and therefore need white-out as an eraser.

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One theory of mine is that Chinese characters are closer together. Writing one Chinese character takes up the space of two English letters. Looking at a paragraph of Chinese characters looks like a solid block of ink while looking at English paragraphs, you can often see each line. Students here have to be much more precise when they write. Therefore, they use pens.

And they are different from the  pens that I used in America. The pens can be ballpoint but super thin. You can’t really see the ball on the tip of the pen like you can with pens in America. The pens make scratchy sounds when you write really fast, like the quill in Harry Potter and the Chamber of Secrets.

 

School Projects

In school, Wednesday is my project day.  I spend nearly four hours in the same laboratory, the first two with six students from 204 (Juniors) and the last two with seven classmates from my homeroom 104 (Sophomores).

Both groups are full of the smartest of both classes, yet we were hindered by lack of resources and direction. The only computers we could use were at the school library, a two minute walk across the high schools campus. We had to think of an idea to pursue, use a lab notebook that wasn’t checked by the teachers, and use materials that we bought ourselves or spend class time going to nearby shops to buy them.

The teachers helped to varying degrees.

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When you can’t afford Christmas lights you make your own.

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We used this hot needle (right) and a “high quality solder” (left) to connect the LED legs to the insulated wire.

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Homemade Christmas lights that don’t work very well.

 

204’s teacher basically ran the entire show. He designed an aquaponics setup that got more and more complex as the weeks went on. It’s a layer of pebbles with probably ten seedlings planted on each level.

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Behold the magical machine! (The teacher put a bottle of his own urine into the system to add ammonia. I found out after moving around pebbles for five minutes and scrubbed my hands and forearms very thoroughly.)

So the 204 teacher plans the project and we do the dirty work.

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Digging worms in the compost heaps behind the school building.

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Of course we are using chopsticks here to dig out plants.

 

 

 

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The teacher comes out to help us.

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

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The one piece of fancy equipment we used was a microscope.


 

104’s project was even worse because the teacher let us do everything.

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So yeah… We are dripping shampoo on sloped surfaces (now on balloons inflated to varying tensions) to observe Kaye’s effect.

My high school in the U.S. did not do science projects. For me, science fairs are events straight out of elementary school. In the U.S., I participated in a summer camp that paired me with a university professor for four weeks. I worked in the professor’s lab doing what an undergrad researcher would do. At the end, I made a printed poster and had a poster session. It was much more professional and more directed. I followed the professor and learned about real areas of science through hands-on experience. In Taiwan, we are struggling to get by with few supplies and little to no direction from the teachers.

I Crave Traditional Breakfasts in Taiwan

There are two types of breakfast in Taiwan: Western and Chinese. Western breakfast is popular among young people and are sold on main streets while Chinese breakfast is more popular with older people and is sold in side streets and alleys.

Western breakfast: Sandwiches, always cut triangularly, very white bread, no crust. It is often three slices of bread. Ingredients often include this like ham, fried chicken, egg, and 肉鬆 (the best I can describe it is meat powder). Very few sammiches have vegetables.

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Here was a not very tasty western breakfast that cost NT$70. I’d ordered the same thing as my classmate. That is my Lactaid pill.

Chinese breakfast: Soymilk, stuffed buns, 饅頭 (buns without stuffing), dumplings, 蛋餅 (translates to egg wrap, basically egg and your choice of meat filling (often tuna) wrapped in an crepe-like pancake). I like Chinese breakfasts because it is warm (sandwiches aren’t) and I can drink soy milk (I am lactose intolerant).

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Pan fried dumplings with soy sauce and hot sauce, plus soy milk in the background.

One cool thing that I slowly realized eating breakfast here is that the soy sauce is almost always soy sauce paste. It is thicker and easier to dip into because it sticks better than watery soy sauce.

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Egg wrap with soy sauce paste inside a typical breakfast carry-out container.

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Breakfast is cheap here. I can get one egg wrap and a medium soy milk for NT$40 which is less than $2 USD. 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

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A fancy breakfast with dumplings, white carrot cake, and egg with basil. And soy sauce paste of course.

I drink soy milk every morning instead of milk or coffee because I am lactose intolerant, as I mentioned before. Soy milk at a breakfast shop always comes in a paper cup with a plastic covering like the ones on bubble tea. People here don’t usually drink cold soy milk, and I get mine warm.

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The jokes on all the soy milk cups in this shop were really bad. This one says: Q: What color is spiderman? Red? Wrong! A: He’s white! Spider man (is a Caucasian). 

Gu Guan’s Utopia Holiday Hotel

We were in Tai Zhong (台中, literally translates to Middle of Taiwan) with my host mom’s chi gong exercise group for only night. The hotel’s main attraction was the hot springs.

The water from the faucet and bathtub smelled of eggs because of the sulfur in the spring water that the hotel was using. I knew nothing was wrong with the water but it still made me feel unclean.

The hotel overlooked an almost dried up river and the hotel looked magical at night.

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This was taken on the wooden rope bridge that spanned the river.

 

After staying in the hot spring for forty minutes (according to the eighty year old chi gong health gurus, that was too long) and realizing that staying still in a freezing cold spring isn’t that bad because your skin will eventually be surrounded by a thin layer of warm water, we stumbled upon a praying mantis. Because of me but mainly because of my Czech exchange student friend, that praying mantis is most likely blind now and possibly dead because of being blind.

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It began swiping its claws at our phones. Then my Czech friend grabbed his camera from his room to take photos. Things turned a little cruel from then on.

After taking a few photos, my friend began using the camera not as a way to take photos but more as a way to blind the praying mantis. He brought the camera close to the bug, the lens a couple centimeters away from the ground and the flash unit right in the face of the praying mantis. Then it was click click click.

I took a video of the praying mantis, and sadly, when watching it later, saw that the praying mantis was wiping its eyes with his claws. It was also turning its head away from the camera. But our photos are more important than it’s puny little life, right?

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Sorry…

School Life Pt. 8: New Game Called Deemo

This weekend we went to Academia Sinica in Taipei, which is a pretty big research park. On the bus ride there and back, one classmate brought his Sony tablet on the giant tour bus and sat in the back playing Deemo.

Deemo is a game that’s like Guitar Hero, with buttons flowing down towards you like the credits of Star Wars in the opposite direction. There aren’t six strings like guitar hero. Instead there is a ghostly white line at the bottom of the screen, and you’re supposed to tap the dots as they hit the line.

The whole theme of Deemo is creepy and under worldly, with zombie-like characters that are supposed to look cute. There is a story line to the game but I don’t really want to know what it is.

This entire week, Deemo has been appearing on the phone screens of classmates in between classes and during lunch and nap time. You can hear eerie piano music if you walk to the far end of the classroom, where classmates are clumped against the cabinets, obscured by desks and chairs from the eyes in the hallway.

It’s hilarious to see some students become possessed by the creepy music and tap ferociously at their screens. In high schools in America, social media was much more important than games. Phone games were seen as childish. But in Taiwanese high schools, games are just as important as social media. Girls play phone games here too.