People Honk Smarter in Taipei

My host mom is driving in her white SUV and is trying to make a left turn on a two-lane street. The oncoming traffic hasn’t had a gap in probably 20 seconds. My host mom edges the front half of the car into the opposite lane, then when the cars in front of us slow, she continues the left turn.

I used to flinch but now I don’t. I used to flinch because it seemed dangerous, but also because I was anticipating an angry honk from the driver we just cut off. The honk never came. I don’t think I’ve heard an angry honk in my time here in Taipei so far.

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(I asked for permission before taking this photo of the dog co-pilot)

Sure, there have been many honks, but they weren’t mean honks. If we are about to swerve into another car in the adjacent lane, there’s a honk. If we wait too long at a fresh green light, there’s a honk. But there’s no honk when we cut someone off.

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When you honk at someone for blocking you and your entire lane, you are really just saying, I’m sort of pissed off at you, because you’ve already stopped your car and honking doesn’t solve anything. In America, I’d heard a lot more “hate honks” than in Taipei. Here, its been oddly quiet whenever someone is disrespected in traffic.

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Took a Break from Posting on the blog

I haven’t made a post on this blog for almost four months now, and I’m trying to figure out why.

It’s not like anything big has happened since January that is taking up my time. My laptop and iPhone are still working fine.

I just haven’t thought of anything to write about because Taiwan is starting to become “home”. It will never be home because home is where my family is, but I have become so accustomed to living here that every day is a non-event. I now wake up and am not surprised that I’m in a tiny room filled with the sound of traffic. I don’t long for a home-made veggie-packed omelette in the morning because I know I can now get a triangle sandwich and soy milk at the 7-Elevens that are on every street corner.

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I also feel physically different than I was before I came to Taiwan. I have the small beginnings of a paunch. The muscles that I worked on so hard last summer on have slowly disappeared, especially in my arms. My hair has grown longer because I’m trying to be Taiwanese-style trendy. My back is stiff from sitting in class for so long. There are other health changes that I’ll get into in later posts (nothing serious at all, don’t worry).

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So I’ve become accustomed to almost everything in my day to day life. That’s why it’s been hard for me the last four months to post anything on this blog. I hope to start up again starting now, since my time in Taiwan is nearing its end.

Unexpected Happiness at Yong An Market

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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).

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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.

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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

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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.

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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.

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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.

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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

“Aruba!”

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.

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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.

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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

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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.

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

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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.

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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.

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We let go on the count of three.

Second Trip To Yi Lan Pt. 2

My favorite part about my second trip to Yi Lan was going to the ocean. Yi Lan is on the East coast of Taiwan, and is about a one hour drive away from Taipei.

At the beach, the waves were the largest I think I’ve ever seen in person. I tried to take some action shots with my iPhone, but iPhones only specialize in close-up photos.

The sand at this beach was more like black pebbles and less like the brown thin sand that we have in America. There are lots of pieces of driftwood and beautiful stones on the beach.

At the base of the wave in the picture below, you can see a black semi-circle. That is a flat rock that is being lifted up from the beach by the wave. When the waves come in really hard, you can see rocks flip up into the air like small fish.


 

Unfortunately, the beautiful sea turned into a scary scene the next day.

We’d just picked up a Vietnamese study abroad college student from the Yi Lan train station so we took her to the beach again because it’s a must-see location. The sky was getting dark and the wind was picking up because of a typhoon that was traveling North along Taiwan’s East coast and heading for Japan. Rain drops occasionally dropped down but then went away.

I snapped this photo of the sunset (but it is cloudy so you can’t see the sun).

The waves look small but if you look at the bunch of trash rags on the ground in the bottom right area of the photo, that bunch of rags was about the length of a human. So the waves are the height of an adult or higher. They look pretty close because they are extremely large waves, but they are actually far away.

I took the photo right after arriving at the beach. I walked through a wall of people who were lined on the edge of the sand, looking out into the waves and took the photo. The family friend that I was with overheard some people in the crowd who were speaking Taiwanese (which I can’t understand) and I was told that the undertow of the waves had pulled in a 60+ year old woman.

We all sat down on a hill overlooking the waves and watched as emergency workers arrived at the scene and had nothing to do but walk up and down the beach. The waves were too dangerous to do anything. I can’t imagine how frustrating it must’ve been for the family members of the old woman. It was very horrifying to look at the waves and imagine the body of the woman within the grey tumult. We left when it got too dark.

Just a day before, we were walking along the steep shores and letting the waves touch our feet, and today the same waves killed somebody.

School Life Pt. 4: Teacher Appreciation Day

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

Teacher’s Day was supposed to be celebrated on 9/28, but since that’s a Sunday, our school celebrated it two days earlier. After further research on Taiwan’s Teacher’s Day, I learned that 9/28 is Confucius’s birthday. Since Confucius is the most respected teacher for the Taiwanese, Teacher’s Day on 9/28 makes sense.

We were all ordered to go to the athletic field in the morning (where we have the flag raising ceremony every Tuesday morning) and we listened to a student ensemble then a teacher talked to us about why we should thank the teachers. By this time, the chatter from the crowd of 3000+ students had already swallowed up the sound of the microphone.

Most of my classmates were studying for physics:

We were ordered by the teacher with the microphone to give our teacher shade with an umbrella and some cool breeze with a fan. Our class leader held the umbrella over our teacher’s head while the vice leader fanned our teacher with a folder.

The students were then told to give our thank you card to our homeroom teachers that we’d prepared earlier in the week. Each class had a giant card for their homeroom teacher.

The photo above is badly focused because I had to take the photo really quickly. There were school policemen walking up and down throughout the giant grid of students at all times, and phones aren’t allowed during school. Here’s a better photo, but the student who presented the card had already backed away in embarrassment from showing appreciation to our teacher:

Somehow our vice leader’d brought a chair down three flights of stairs and he’d offered it to our teacher. He sat in it for a few seconds then said he preferred to stand:

The chairs in our classrooms are super tiny and you can’t slouch in them, otherwise the top of the chair back will poke you uncomfortably.

Teacher’s Day was a new experience for me because there isn’t one in America (I think??). After the ceremony in the morning, it wasn’t really mentioned in class for the rest of the day.

School Life Pt. 3: Grilling Meat

School Life Pt. 1

School Life Pt. 2

My classmates’d planned to go grilling meat since the Mid-Autumn Festival (the Taiwanese way of celebrating the festival is to grill meat while people in China celebrate with duck and moon cakes) when I told my classmates that I’d had hotpot instead of grilling meat.

It was the day after a typhoon so there were still lingering showers, and we walked for about 20 minutes in the rain to a grilled meat restaurant.

These two classmates are a good team. These two didn’t even look up from the screen whenever we crossed streets :

At the grilled meat restaurant, we each payed NT$500 for unlimited meat, soda, and ice cream. The meat was raw and sliced thinly and came in large plates.

Each table had two grilling pots, which were filled with hot coals and topped with a metal grill mesh. We were each given a pair of metal tongs but one student took over the grilling and kept bragging about his expertise. None of us complained though, because it was like having our own personal chef.

He liked to slap the meat with the tongs. When the oil from the meat dripped onto the coals, flames would pop up.

Everyone’s favorite was bacon and in Chinese it’s pronounced like “Pagan”. It was the thinnest and therefore grilled the fastest and held the most flavor when you dipped it in sauce.

My classmates all had a great time. One table was noticeably more lively because the people at the other table were addicted to their smartphone game.

We were given ice cubes to extinguish any flames caused by dripping oil. We might’ve been using them incorrectly:

In the end, we’d all gotten too much smoke in our faces and stepping outside into the rain was soothing. Overall, I enjoyed grilling meat. Although there weren’t any vegetables and it was slightly expensive, I had a good time with my classmates and laughed a ton, which always happens when we’re together.

School Life Pt. 2: Typhoon Fung-Wong and Acnes Facewash

School Life Pt. 1

Last night it rained pretty hard because of an incoming typhoon. I’d just gotten back from a very windy and cold day at the Formosa Fun Coast waterpark on a Rotary trip. On the news there was a little box in the bottom-right corner that listed which areas of Taiwan where school and work were canceled.

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The rain was continuously pouring throughout the evening. But my school was not canceled.


Looking out the window today at school, I could see so many raindrops falling near and in the distance that I imagined surface of the earth was getting pushed down by the weight of the raindrops.

All the students came to school prepared:

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On another note, today in class we were all given Acnes face wash packets:

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As one of my classmates said, it was more of an advertisement because there was one slim gel packet wedged inside of a paper card that was plastered in info about the product.

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Back to the typhoon: The older sidewalks on the walk back home were greener than I’d remembered them being:

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I bet I looked so stupid bending down and taking photos of the ground, but I could’ve sworn the sidewalk looked so much greener than before.

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The temperature at school today was tolerable because of the rain so we didn’t use the AC for the first time this school year!