A Story of War (Part 2):

After getting a full view of the battlefield from the fighter jet, I felt over-qualified to be joining the infantry on the Taiwanese main assault. The skirmishers had gone in already, I’d flown above the battle and missed most of my Japanese targets, and now we were going in for the first frontal ground attack.

The commanders gathered us into attack squads of about 10 each. Training with the commanders since last weekend, I’d come to realize that they were incompetent. They were hesitant to give any orders, had little control over the Taiwanese infantry, and preferred to wait for the generals to step in instead of just doing something first and questioning it later. Last saturday, I’d almost complained to the generals about the commanders’ incompetence.

We were thirty minutes late to intercept the incoming Japanese troops. We were quickly briefed, again, on this new weapon called “water dumplings”.

“How do you use this weapon on the Japanese? With English?” The commander of my squad said, half testing us, half hoping that we would tell her what to do.

“You wrap the filler with the wrapper, then nuh-nuh-nuh,” one soldier said, gesturing with her hands, intentionally failing in the last part of her sentence, just like the commander, because she had split intentions. Half was her being scared of being correct, and half was her not knowing the words in English. I wanted to jump in.

“Yeah,” the commander said, suddenly seeming like a soldier herself, lowering herself to our status by not taking control.

The enemy was upon us and we frantically deployed the “water dumplings”. They were coated in an incendiary called “Taiwanese culture” which made the new weapon even more devastating.


The weapon seemed to be effective, as you can see in this action shot. Look at their cheeks! Water dumplings!


With my 99% English ability and one squad member’s 70% Japanese ability, we successfully stopped the enemy from advancing using the water dumplings dripping with Taiwanese culture.

After the smoke cleared, my squad was still good for the most part, but a few members had some burns. The Japanese enemy was hit more than we were, which was good, and they had fled toward the hills in the distance. The commander stumbled next to me and pleaded that we continue with the attack. We trudged forward, the generals rumbling past us in their jeeps, and the commanders lagging behind us with the weight of their fears and insecurities.

A Story of War (Part 1): Japanese Students Finally Meet Taiwanese Students


It felt very much like an army camp before a battle. Teachers running around everywhere, students getting into groups, lining up, repositioning, lining up again, waiting for the army of Japanese students to arrive.

The numbers of the “enemy” were far greater than our own, but I have to say, we were much better equipped. Most of the members of our Taiwanese battalion had 50% English ability, although it depended on the moment; if you are too afraid to use this mighty weapon, it is exactly the same as not even having your English ability in the first place. The Japanese army had most of their infantry at a surprisingly low 15-20% English ability (because they were the enemy, I’m exactly sure about the number). They won the numbers game however; we were outnumbered perhaps 5:1.

While the Japanese students came onto the battlefield, I was a pilot standing in the middle of a line of infantrymen, all of us clapping our hands, applauding them for their courage to face us on the battlefield. I was disguised well. But one Japanese student saw it on my face, and gave me a high-five as he walked by.

I sat still during the first stage of the battle in one of the 300 seats in the auditorium, where the leaders of both armies attacked and counterattacked through microphones and translators. The principals of both schools tried matching artillery strikes, but somehow failed to make a real connection. Then they sent in the air force, and I was up.

I had prepped my shooting skills with another teacher a few days before, and even went to the flight simulator every night for the past week, so I was confident that I would be well prepared. However, the weapon I was using felt wrong. English? I was going to give it my best shot either way. I am a pilot, after all.

Everything went silent and became clear, as what usually happens when I’m in the cockpit, poised above the opposing force.  I unleashed my full 99% English ability on both the Japanese and Taiwanese troops. My bullets and rockets missed for the most part, which was sort of expected. I was then surprised to see another pilot flying next to me, holding a more practical weapon, a 70% Japanese ability. Most importantly, she had the will to use it, so she hit almost every single member of the Japanese army.

We landed on the airstrip, hustled back to the 300 seats in the auditorium, and immediately slung on our packs and grabbed our rifles. We were now infantrymen.

High School English Competition in Taipei

This Friday, I went to an english competition with four students from my school and two teachers. The students were second-year of high school-ers (高二) or Juniors in America. Two were in for an essay contest, two were in for a speech contest.

The speech contest consisted of a two minute prepared speech, followed by a picture-prompted speech five minutes after your first one, giving you only five minutes to craft a short speech from the picture you were given.

I wasn’t allowed to watch the speeches because only teachers were allowed, but a teacher had already planned on taking me on a campus tour of a nearby catholic university.

We got back in time for the awards ceremony, which was very bizarre for these reasons:

1). The style of teaching in Taiwan is very scolding-based. In class, especially with our homeroom teacher, we are constantly being told what we’ve done wrong (as a class; a teacher will rarely single out a single student in front of a whole class unless the student acts up during the scolding).

There were four judges, and they had embraced this style of teaching. And since they all spoke really good english, I began feeling slightly angry. It felt wrong to be scolded in the Asian style in English. It was like I was back in America, listening to judges at a competition give the usual congratulatory speech and suddenly be talked down to like an idiot.

I hadn’t competed, and I knew the competitors who had just finished were used to getting chewed-out, but it felt wrong to be scolded like this in English, because I’d never heard something like this before.

2). Each judge said something along the lines of: “Please be strong and continue studying English after this bad experience.”

One of the judges actually called this a “bad experience”. They gave a lot of tips on what to do if you get stuck in the middle of a speech.

So even though I hadn’t listened to the speeches, I could tell that it did not go well for the majority of the contestants. But I can believe it, judging from the English level of the Taiwanese students here and how shy they become when they speak English.


Giving out the awards was awkward because everyone had been scolded beforehand. The girl who won first place began crying, and I think it was the first time I had seen someone cry while getting an award, in real life, not on TV.


A Short Tour of an Organic Farm

A few weeks ago Rotary took 50 of us exchange students to an organic farm on the outskirts of Taipei. After taking a tour of the farm, we sat down at stone tables, four to a table, and were taught how to dye cloth naturally.

By this time we were all tired.

We were taught how to do many things “naturally” at this organic farm, and many exchange students did not appreciate it fully. We were given a smoothie made of pineapple, apple, and five types of green veggies (all organic), plus a mysterious juice that the farmers said would help digestion. There was a very solid layer of green foam on top of the juice when we drank it, and I think most of the exchangers thought it was ok. Then they gave us yams, sweet potatoes, and half the exchangers did not eat it because it was very starchy and sweet and yellow (I’ve seen mostly carrot-orange yams before).

Anyways, to naturally dye cloth, we put leaves and their flower buds on one half of the square cloth, folded it triangularly, and hammered it with a rubber mallet.


Once you saw the leaf juices showing through the cloth, you could unfold the cloth and see this:


The next activity we did was try to build a traditional sweet potato oven. Things became very surprisingly messy now.

A rotarian began digging an open spot in a field of weeds and then we knew we would be building a mud oven for real. A farmer asked us to walk over to a small creek that looked stagnant and pick up slabs of river dirt to make into an oven.

I was hesitant to help (so were 45 of the other exchange students) at first because my thinking was that river mud could be manure or the excrement of local animals or people. And all sorts of things live near the river (a very tiny crab, white but covered in mud, once crawled out of a block of the mud once). Why did we need river mud?

The very small number of helpers found it easy to grab the river mud once their hands had gotten dirty once (once your hands are dirty, you might as well continue transporting the river mud). I joined in a few minutes later because a Canadian rubbed my hands dirty with her nasty muddy hands.


We were supposed to put the sweet potatoes inside the fire, and then collapse the walls and let the heat from the walls cook the sweet potatoes, but we didn’t get that far. Once the walls of the mud igloo had gotten about 10 inches high, it dawned on all of us that we would not be able to complete the top of the dome because it would just collapse. The mud just didn’t stick together as well as it needed to. We put some pieces of wood inside the half built dome, lit it on fire, and let the smoke rise up around us for the effect. The exchangers, the ones who hadn’t helped with the mud and still had energy as a result of standing around looking at us, began dancing to pop music in the blowing smoke.

We left the farm early, maybe because of the failed “natural” sweet potato stove. I was happy, because two other exchangers and I were rushing to catch the 5:50 showing of Interstellar. It turned out to be a very awesome film.

Going Abroad Makes You Less Judgmental

First, a picture of my class during lunch watching a video about HIV/AIDS. This is the first time the TV has been used this year. Every classroom’s TV turned on and played the same video at the exact same time. Everyone was fixated on the TV for the entire lunch period.

Back to the title topic.

Today on the way home from school I was walking alongside a park. It was cold (61 degrees Fahrenheit- but with the humid air in Taiwan, it felt much colder (I had on a cap and a scarf in addition to my long sweatpants and jacket school uniform)), but there were still people running and walking around the park with tank tops and shorts.

For exercise since I’ve gotten to Taiwan, I’ve ran around the park 3-4 nights so far, but mostly have done pushups and abs workouts in my room, or recently have started climbed the stairs in my apartment building. There are always people running and walking around the park, no matter what, except when its raining (people associate wet hair with getting a cold here). Finding time to exercise is difficult, because my school starts at 7:30, sometimes 6:45, and ends at 5, sometimes 6, and I’m tired from walking home every day.

Cutting to the point, I saw a man jogging in jeans, a polo, and normal sneakers. If I’d seen this man  three months ago, before I’d gotten to Taiwan, I would have scoffed at him, and thought what an amateur, he’s not even dressed properly for exercise. In America, I had plenty of time and space to go on runs. The traffic wasn’t so bad in my hometown that I had to worry about the time spent waiting for my sister after dance class, or for a carpool parent who’s late. I could easily get home, relax, then drive back to pick someone up. Long waits aren’t necessary in small towns where you can get back home from the center of town in 15 minutes.

But now, when I even have trouble finding time to exercise, I can understand why he isn’t dressed for exercise. Perhaps he’d just finished his shift at work and is waiting at the park for his child to finish school. Maybe he’s taking advantage of every minute that’s given to him, efficiently using the 10-15 minutes of waiting for his child to exercise. Also, the traffic in Taipei is horrible, so the dad could have been getting some exercise in while he was near a public park (hard to find open space in Taipei compared to American cities).

I guess it took a change of scenery for me to realize that every person lives in a different context, on a different timeline with different rules and events. Coming to Taiwan put a big curve in my timeline, bringing it closer to the jogging man’s, so that’s why I didn’t judge him today.

Taiwanese Students Prepare to Meet Japanese Students


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.



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.


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.


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




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.


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.


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


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


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.


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.


Digging worms in the compost heaps behind the school building.


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





The teacher comes out to help us.












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


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

IMG_6516  IMG_6517


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.

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.


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.


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?