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.

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.


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).


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.


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


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













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.


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.


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?



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.

School Life Pt. 7: Little Pee Scientist in Class

School Life Pt. 1School Life Pt. 2School Life Pt. 3School Life Pt. 4School Life Pt. 5School Life Pt. 6

The scientist studied the yellow vials closely, without any sign of fear whatsoever.

Other students saw that there was nothing scary about the yellow vials and they gathered around.

The urine test is something that we don’t have in American schools.

I was shocked at first because I’d never seen urine in a classroom, let alone being handled by students. However, students here are put in charge of a lot more things than students in America are. InTaiwan, students grade each other’s tests, collect homework from the entire class, clean the classrooms, carry the lunch food to the classrooms, and a lot more. I think this is a very efficient schooling model. Things get done a lot quicker this way.

Unexpected Happiness at Yong An Market


I finally got the chance to go to a traditional market with my host mom. It wasn’t my first time going to an outdoor Asian market, so I knew it would be very crowded.

But every seller there was very very cheerful. They were yelling at the top of their lungs, advertising and selling their vegetables at the same time. Yet they were all laughing and you could see that they were all much more alive then the cashiers at Walmarts (or Carrefour).


The carrots here are gigantic compared to the ones in America. They are more triangular and extremely thick at the end.

My host mom had three or four merchants that she always goes to. One for fish, two for beef, one for clams, and a some more for vegetables. They wondered why her son suddenly got so tan. Was it the sun? She had to explain to each seller that I was an exchange student.


I was just very happily surprised that the market was so full of cheerfulness. I look forward to going there again soon.


The Sad Cats at Hou Dong Cat Village


The cat in the guardhouse was already knocked out cold.

Now that I think about it, most of the cats were in a daze. The first cat that I saw in Hou Dong (猴硐) was on the long wooden bridge with arched concrete suppers underneath. It was on its side, head down against the floor. A tourist walked by with two small poodle dogs and the cat didn’t even open its eyes.


There are two cats in this photo.

We walked up a mountain through Hou Dong’s Cat Village, and there were tourists everywhere. Cats were on the walls sleeping. One motley cat was walking along the top of a short wall and a tourist tried blocking it. It ducked under her armpit and kept walking. She then used her entire upper body to block the cat. The cat stopped walking and turned its head down at a very sharp angle, like it’s neck was broken. When the tourist moved to the side, it continued walking.







We saw two cats dressed in vests sleeping inside a cage and a heavily made-up woman walked out of her house and told us that the two cats, like the other cats in the village, sleep during the day and wake up in the night. The cats were originally brought here to kill mice. In the last two years, over 200 cats have died because of stray dogs, disease, and lack of sleep (the woman said that tourists poke the cats awake to take photos with them). Ever since a newspaper/magazine article came out about the Cat Village, the place has been extremely crowded.



A family gets some peace and quiet.

I felt sorry for the cats but I wondered why they choose to sleep in plain sight of the tourists. Perhaps that’s how they get cat food? I just hope that the cat population stops declining and that the cats get enough sleep. I guess humans aren’t the only ones feeling sleepy.


School Life Pt. 6: “Aruba!”

School Life Pt. 1, School Life Pt. 2, School Life Pt. 3, School Life Pt. 4, School Life Pt. 5


The last time I went to school in Taipei, about 7 years ago, I was amazed and confused by the screams of “Aruba!” that occasionally burst from the class. What is this non-Chinese word doing in the classroom?

Last time I was in Taiwan, I asked a classmate what “Aruba!” was and they said it was when you grab a dude by his four limbs, hold his legs open, and run his crotch into a tree trunk. I was SO confused. But it was so bizarre and out of place in a Taiwanese classroom that I still remember it till this day.

Then today, seven years later, I heard “Aruba!” again in class, because we were talking about midterm grades with our teacher. I asked what “Aruba!” was and got the same answer. Then, because we are in high school now, I got a demonstration as well!

Both students pictured below were fighting full-heartedly to escape the Aruba. The evil mastermind that is holding the doorknob in the back is the one who wanted to demonstrate Aruba for me.IMG_6383

This was the first student that was captured for Aruba purposes. A classmate thoughtfully took of his glasses and set them aside so that they wouldn’t be crushed in the upcoming struggle. The student being suspended in the air kicked ferociously and he was set down relatively soon.


Then the mob honed in on another student who had initially been assisting in the Aruba. He was much smaller and lighter than the first classmate.



This time, the mob got closer to completing the Aruba but this student used his hands to stop the completion of the act.

I tried looking up what Aruba was and found that it is an island in the southern Caribbean Sea. On the wikipedia page called Capital punishment in Aruba, I found out that there used to be tons of different gruesome types of capital punishment in Aruba, but now many of them are outlawed. The list is freakishly long and after reading a few I’m glad that I didn’t live in Aruba in ancient times.

I still don’t really know why students in Taiwan know about Aruba. Is it from a famous movie or book? When the students explained it, they just said that everyone knows about it, and that they’d learned about it a long time ago.

Flying Paper Lanterns in Ping Xi


Arriving in Ping Xi, a district on the edge of New Taipei City, we were immediately in the center of a tourist trap

We took a 1.5 hour train ride eastward from Taipei City to Ping Xi, which is surprisingly still in New Taipei City. We came here for one main attraction: sky lanterns (天燈). You can see one in the photo above.

It was a Tuesday during midterms for high schoolers but Ping Xi was still very packed. After getting off the train, we followed the train tracks to the lanterns. The train tracks were literally a few feet from the sidewalk that led to the lantern shops. There was no protection from the trains except for railroad or lantern shop staff that would blow a whistle whenever a train was about to zoom by. The train tracks were swallowed up by tourists as soon as the train rolled past.

The apartments next to the lantern shops have wire nets protecting their windows and balconies from lanterns.


You are supposed to write your wishes on the four sides of the sky lantern.


The lantern shop worker in the blue sleeves and black and red vest just let go a lantern for a customer

The lanterns are multicolored or single-colored, and each color has a meaning, ranging from luck, wisdom, health, muscles (?), love, and good grades on an upcoming test. Because my friend and I are exchange students, we chose the color purple for getting good grades on tests, although we broadened the meaning to learning Chinese quickly.


The exchange student from the Czech Republic is thinking of starting a Youtube channel with his travel videos. I put the link to my blog. Below, we both said we miss our pets back home (in Chinese and Czech).

After writing on all four sides of the purple lantern with a calligraphy brush, the lantern shop staff member supervising us brought the lantern to the center of the rails and he lighted the fuse-thing inside the lantern.


We let go on the count of three.