Monday, October 8, 2012

Taiwan: Nearly One Month Later- Part One

 On Languages, Teas, Beaches and Ghosts

It is a little challenging to give my first actual update on being in Taiwan. I want to share with you all I have seen and felt, but feel like this can be a hard mission to complete. It is so new on the one hand, so the essence of everything can be challenging to describe. On the other hand, it feels like I have been here forever already and so may miss some things in my descriptions, since it seems almost familiar to me in ways too, but I will try to give you all the highlights!  I am so excited and happy to be here! I have started learning the language (do not know much yet, but will get there!) and have started an English/Chinese group for language exchange.

When I first arrived- before making the decision

I was terrified. I did not know if I would do well and if this was the right choice at first. But after lots of prayer and trusting God, I felt an amazing peace and clarity; I knew it was the right decision. I still need your prayer though- for a strong start and my developing skills as a teacher, the ability to love and connect to the kids and families and to reach them where they are so they can learn more about God’s love. I always need and appreciate your prayer!

Landing in a New Land- My New Home for the Year

Getting off the plane, was happy the flight was finally over and was excited to get settled and meet everyone and see the school and my new home.

I met one of my Taiwanese coworkers who was waiting for me at the airport when I walked out with a sign with my name on it!

It was decided that we would spend the night in a hotel in Taipei, since it was too late to get all the way to the school.

We talked for a while, I had many questions about the school and we talked in general about life in Taiwan. She was very enthusiastic and willing to let me know what she could to help, and I was glad I would get to work with someone so kind and helpful. 

 We finally went to sleep though, as we had to get up and travel the remaining way in the morning. (I later learned she was quite happy to meet and welcome me- it was a nice short break for her to get away, even for a bit! She had jokingly said that she would encourage me to sleep as late as I wanted, as this was her “vacation” :)

After a good Taiwanese buffet breakfast, we were on our way. The high speed rail got us to our city in just an hour and we were picked up in the school van- painted yellow as it is used as a bus for the school.

Arriving in Style, The City of Chicken Rice and Pineapple

We switched to my coworker’s car, as they wanted me to arrive in comfort (and style?) The air conditioning was definitely appreciated. We dropped my stuff off in my new room, and went off to get lunch with all of my new coworkers, after meeting everyone that I would be working with- both the national Taiwanese teachers and Team Taiwan- the other foreign teachers here- both at the middle school/high school and the elementary school- where I am working.

I got introduced to what the city is “famous” for- (the term used loosely in Taiwan to describe what a city is known for- not as movie star famous, as we would know it, but what the locals are proud of. Taiwanese tend to ask foreigners what food their cities or states are famous for- so instead of explaining that every city or state doesn’t necessarily have a famous food- I hereby claim Taylor ham as the food for New Jersey- as it cannot easily be found elsewhere, that I have heard of. Taylor ham, egg and cheese breakfast sandwiches. They seem to like the sound of them and it makes me hungry for a good breakfast sandwich myself. I will have to make my own version of it here.

Back to my first lunch- we went to get a lunch of chicken rice- what the city of Chiayi is famous for- that and pineapples- many different varieties, even some new ones that they have made here that are unique to the area. (Pineapple tangent- since this a famous food here and quite delicious- some of the best pineapple I have tasted!  The two main kinds of pineapples here are the Golden Diamond Pineapple and the Milky Pineapple, which describes their colors. The golden yellow- diamond pineapple is very sweet and juicy while the milky pineapple is milky white, sweet, fragrant and low in acidity.End tangent.)

The chicken rice was a good meal and the newcomers (another foreign teacher, Tracy,  had arrived just a week before me) were given the best part of the chicken and the kind we ordered had some spice sauce added to it just for flavor, and not to make it majorly spicy in the slightest. In Taiwan, drinks are not served at restaurants for the most part; you go to the tea stands which line the streets to get your choice of a big cup of cold tea for less than a US dollar. (No one would normally order a hot tea in the hot weather here). It is a unique part of Taiwan and something I definitely appreciate- it is fun to order a different fruit version of tea or drink every time you go. I can now order my own tea in Chinese and even was able to order different teas for myself and two friends the other day! Super excited about learning more of the language!

We then returned to the school and I was to start observing classes. I am teaching 5th grade mainly, as well as some 2nd grade and kindergarten classes. For my first observation of the 5th grade class, they were working on interview writing, so they interviewed me to find out more about their new teacher. They enjoyed learning about where I am from- and how much wildlife is there- bears, deer, even cougars and wolves and snakes, oh my! I told them the story of Jungle Habitat as well, which they seemed to enjoy, hearing about escaped animals running loose in the hills near my hometown.

They enjoyed hearing about my travels and asked what my favorite countries were. (Thailand, after Taiwan, of course!)  They also enjoyed asking me questions about if I was dating or married and how old I was which is common for Asian students to be very curious and amused with.

Thailand beach- where I stayed. May be returning soon....?

Motor bikes to get everywhere and My First Week of Teaching

 My first weekend consisted of lots of rest, I was so exhausted and jet lagged that I went to bed super early for the first several nights. I enjoyed the experience of riding to church on a motor bike- love the feeling of the wind in your hair and it is a nice way to cool down on a hot day. That is what I enjoyed about Thailand as well- that was the way to cool down there, not air conditioning. A motor bike ride anywhere would allow the breeze to cool you down, but the destination of the beach was of course preferred.

Motorbikes in the city - causing a traffic jam during lunch because of a surprise parade to honor the temple gods

My first week of teaching went well. I was a little nervous at first and tried to get the hang of everything, but it went well and I enjoy teaching my students. The 5th graders can be fun and a bit wild at times. If you have heard that Asian students are always quiet and well-behaved, this is not the truth. There can be a chaotic disorder of noise in the classroom as they all try to speak in Chinese at the same time that you have to learn how to manage and teach while still having them pay attention and get their work done.

 The second graders are very cute, and seem to pick up on the lesson really well. I get them after nap time I believe, so they are still usually in a quieter mood, but they also can get very engaged in the lesson. They also are quite curious and one of the classes asked a lot of questions about God when given the opportunity today, so I may do a question box, as I don't get a lot of class time with them.  The kindergartners can get very excited and love to sing, clap and make noise in general.(This can go both ways, of course- it can add to their involvement and excitement for the lesson or distract them from it.)  If one of them goes to the bathroom, the whole class wants to go. But at this age especially, they do love to help and all want to please the teacher, so they are very sweet. 

Beach Town Exploration, Night Markets and Long Bus rides 

The weekend after that, I went to Kenting, the famous beach town in the South of Taiwan. My coworkers were amazed that I traveled there myself, with no Chinese language, having just arrived in Taiwan. I am even a bit famous for it now, though I don’t take any credit for being brave, as I have lived and traveled in Asia before on my own. It is funny though, to be introduced to new Taiwanese friends and have them ask if I really went to Kenting on my own. :)

In Kenting, I found the only hostel to stay at in the city. I explored a couple of different beaches. When I first arrived, I walked to the South Bay Beach area, which was a crowded popular spot, filled with guys offering rides on jet skis for money and lots of families together playing in the water or sand as well as a group of middle school students on a trip together.

I then explored a quieter and more secluded beach that also had some beautiful scenery around it. The ocean is one of my favorite places to be. When I was in Taiwan visiting last year for only a few days, I made sure to get to the coast of this beautiful island. It was also high on my list for me to get to the beach now after arriving to see it and explore and I definitely intend to do lots of exploring of the coasts around the island. 

 I walked up and down the street to enjoy the night market that goes down the main street of the city. There were lots of stands of different types of foods along with restaurants and clothing stores. There were some sweet potato fries that I enjoyed as well as an Asian version of a Mexican beef taco, which was interesting. I went to try some “traditional” Taiwanese iced tea, but didn’t know what was what and the tea sellers could not help me with that either, so I pointed to a dark rose colored one with some type of dark fruit in it, thinking it would be a good fruit juice typed taste. I did not like the taste at all and did not finish it. Next time, I might stick to a regular black tea if I am not sure of all of the flavors at the night market! It was exciting to explore the night market with the crowds, though slightly annoying at times if I got stuck behind slow walkers.

The next morning, I enjoyed the beach some more. I went swimming and enjoyed the waves. It always makes me laugh when I get pushed around by a wave and love to go out farther to enjoy the bigger waves. I decided to leave earlier rather than later to make the trip back, as it was a long trip home and wanted to get there for a social event with the team.

Rainy Days at the Beach,  Ghost Month and Team Taiwan


It was good I decided to leave when I did, because with barely a warning of drizzling, it started to rain quite hard, so I was glad I had found the nearby bus station to wait under. It was a bit of a wait before the right bus came, but I quickly got back to the main city of Kaohsiung, where I could take the fast train back home from. I made it back in record time and took a nap before the social event: ice cream sundaes and a movie with the team. Mangoes are definitely a topping I would add now to make a sundae complete. We watched The City of Joy, a movie about a poor village in India that comes together to fight back against the gang who ruled their city.

I am so glad for the people on the team. Everyone is very friendly and welcoming and I think it’s a great fit of people. I am excited to get to know everyone better. It was great to talk with a few of the girls and we prayed together spontaneously, after talking about the seriousness of spiritual warfare and how it can be compounded during the Taiwanese Ghost Month- when Taiwanese pray to their ancestors, burn fake money for them and invite them into their homes. This can be a time when demons are invited in and can wreak havoc. Please pray especially hard for the team at this time- that God will strengthen us and make His power perfect in our weakness. Please also pray for the children and other teachers and the school campus- that God would protect everyone here and that He would reveal Himself to them and would work in their hearts, lives and families.

 Stay tuned for Part of Two of My First Month in Taiwan- please sign up for updates. You can easily follow by email up at the top right of this page and be notified of new posts instantly!

What would you like to hear more about in Part Two? Have you had any experience with different religions similar to Buddhism/folk religion or other religions that have strong family ties- how do you reach the people with love?