Wednesday, June 12, 2013

Huge update on life

I totally have neglected my blog for the past... year. But now that I have some time I need to do an update on life. 

I finished my trip in Cambodia and then made my way towards Thailand. While in Thailand I visited Bangkok and traveled around there for a while, buying random street vendor goods and just bumming around. Thailand was my time to relax after running all over the jungles of Cambodia and visiting all the sites that I saw. I made my way towards Koh Tao an island of the coast of Thailand. I was trying to make my way towards the full moon party but I had some issues. I rented a scooter and drove around the island and went to a private beach where I was climbing on rocks. While I was on the rocks I cut my foot and hands open on the coral and was bleeding everywhere. Luckily there was a medical facility on the island and I went to them and they patched me up and gave me some medication. 

The next day I decided it would be fun to go scuba diving. This was the first time I was in open water scuba diving. During my scuba diving trip I purchased two dives and the first dive was beautiful. I saw so many different types of fish and have never been so deep down in my life. After that dive we went on another dive and this time when I went down I could not regulate my ears properly and the pressure built up in my head so badly that I almost passed out underwater. Luckily my guide was experienced enough to help me up to the surface and I was able to try to get the water out of my ears. Try as I might, this never worked. The instructor told me to give it a day and see how I was in the morning, if I was in pain I should go to the medical facility. If I was in pain, was an understatement I was in incredible pain all night and into the next day. I was rolling around all night in so much pain that I couldn't even shed a tear. I went back to the medical facility and they gave me medication and I walked around the next couple days like I was drunk, I had no motor skills from the pain and my balance was nonexistent. I wasn't instructed to stay on the island but I figured it would be in my best interest so I would not get seasick. I was stuck there until I went back to Bangkok and waited for my flight. 

Basically after Thailand, my life in Taiwan ended very abruptly in January. I rented out an apartment down the street from school where I lived next door to a Korean guy. We became good friends and we had fun trying to decipher many different characters around Taiwan (from the washing machine to the menus). My second semester included a Taiwanese wedding in the middle of Taiwan. The groom was a friend of Papas and I was his 'date.' The wedding was a ton of fun and it was a very interesting staying in a Taiwanese families home for a couple days. I stayed with Papa and his parents. Next door to them was his Aunts house, she had a fun story. She currently is reitired but makes 包子 for all the neighbors. She originally only was baking for a few friends and family, but then the whole neighborhood caught on to her amazing baking skills and she now makes hundreds per day, so much for being retired. 

During the wedding I was eating a lot of great foods. So of the classiest Taiwanese foods I had ever seen. Papa asked me one question, what I wanted to drink. I had two choices, Gaoliang and whiskey. I wanted to try to impress the locals so I chose the Gaoliang. I was given a whole bottle of Gaoliang to myself. This was a long day, to say the least. Papa had me participate in the wedding by first singing a song to the group. I was accompanied because I had some stage fright, as this was my first official time singing to a group of people that were not in a KTV. I rocked the stage and everyone enjoyed my singing skills (even though they were poor). The next part that I participated in was the toast ceremony. I was taken with the bride and groom around to every table to toast each table of people that came. They were basically trying to see how much I could drink and how much I knew about refusing an older person in Taiwanese culture. I had a plan, I saw that the tea we had looked oddly similar to the whiskey. After drinking about 5-6 cups of whiskey I told Papa to get me a bottle of tea and pretend that I was drinking whiskey. Apparently this is a very Taiwanese move to do, sneaking fake alcohol to not disappoint people. I don't know if this is true but it made me laugh and is something unforgettable. 

My second semester in Taiwan included another full-time Chinese course. This time I was with two Panamanians, a German, and a couple others. This was a fun, but very challenging class. Again I struggled to get the material into my brain but the teacher I had was the sweetest woman in the world. She required us to learn a song and sing it in a KTV. So one day after class we took a field trip to a KTV and sang out hearts out. She was accompanied by her husband who was just another typical Taiwanese man, extremely open and so nice to us. I had many low experiences in this class, just due to frustration, but I persevered and learned a lot of Chinese.

This semester also was the time that I said goodbye to foreign exchange students and hello to all Taiwanese friends. I did not want to use a lot of English so I made huge effort to become friends with Papa and his friends. This was one of the best ideas I have ever had. I learned a lot of Chinese and really learned how some Taiwanese students live in college.  

Dana and myself had a nice Christmas dinner together. This was my first Christmas away from family so she opened her heart up to me. This was another huge experience that I was not ready for. In Taiwan we did not get Christmas off so I did get a little homesick during this time. Dana and I went to the grocery store and picked up a chicken. The chicken came as a surprise to both of us. When I looked closely at the chicken I saw a head inside. After looking closer, I saw two feet. Dana had already said that she would cut the head off (which was done with a pretty dull knife). So I was in charge of cutting the feet off.

During my last night in Taiwan, which I remember far to vividly. I returned the scooter that I purchased (and had a blast driving around Taipei) and then went to Hoydea with Papa and all my other friends. We had some drinks, stayed there until about 3 or 4 am and then went to a midnight snack breakfast stand where we waited until 5 and we left for the airport. When it was time to finally leave for the flight I said my goodbyes and felt horrible leaving. But I had to do it sometime. 

So I came back from Taiwan and about a week or so later I returned to Illinois State University to finish my undergraduate degree. Speeding ahead a little bit, I took a class that taught me the most out of any class that I have taken at ISU. This class was called Political Science Professional Development. In this class I was taught basic resume writing skills and received information on graduate school. I still have hopes to maybe go back to Taiwan for graduate school but I need to take a bit of time to decide before I make my decision. This class also taught me about internships. I knew for a while that there are three things that are needed in order to get a good job: a degree, study abroad, and an internship. I have/am working towards two of the three of those. I did not yet complete an internship and this was on my list of things to do.

My professor told us about a few internship possibilities and said if we were a junior, that we should consider doing one. Like before going to Taiwan I did think about applying to some but never really thought I would follow through with it.

I ended up applying to do some political research in the middle of nowhere Montana. The organization is called Project VoteSmart. I finished the application, sent it off and a few weeks later I was being asked to do an interview for the position. I got the call and was told that the internship would be very testing on my patience and that it is located 6000 feet above sea level, 40 minuets down a dirt road to the nearest 'town.' 

After finishing my first real interview I was told to get back to them if I wanted to take it. I decided that it would be another crazy experience, like Taiwan, so I took the opportunity to spend the summer in the middle of nowhere. 

When school was finished I had one week to relax at home and then after my birthday, I was off to Philipburg, Montana. 

Friday, August 31, 2012

Huge update 3: Dalat, Vietnam

A few days later I moved my way to Dalat, Vietnam. This area really was a great place to be. I reminded me a lot of Taiwan. It is set up in the 'Central Highlands' of Vietnam and was a lush green area on the side of a mountain. This took me away from the craziness of Ho Chi Minh City for sure. This is a slower paced area and more locals are around with less foreigners.

While on the bus heading there I was seated next to a Vietnamese girl who is my age and we got to talking. Turns out she lives in Dalat and studies in Ho Chi Minh City. So we decided that we would meet up one day and she would show me around the area a bit.
Dalat night market in the background
foreground is racing RC cars

When I arrived I stayed in the worst hotel I have ever seen. A motorbike picked me up at the bus station and drove me to some really horrible place. I don't remember the name but I know I didn't really sleep at all because everything looked like it was out of the 1970's and very dirty with bedbugs. So I kind of slept but didn't at all. The next morning I went out on a mission to find a new place. Found a beautiful one and settled down there for the next few days.

On the day that I found the good hotel I went for a walk around the day market to see what was being sold and bought. Went through shops to see what locals eat and drink. Nothing too out of the ordinary but still had a lot of fun doing it. That night I went out to the night market they hold on the main street. This city is really beautiful because it is lit up at night and has a really nice river in the middle of the town. The town is quiet in the daytime but so busy and hectic at night.

The next day I rented a motorbike, something I have never done before in my life so I thought I would give it a try just in case I wanted to buy one when I got back to Taiwan. I was nervous but got the hang of it very fast. It was difficult at first because it was rainy and I didn't know what to expect on one. But I went for a ride through the hills of Dalat to see what else I could find outside of the town center. There is not much outside but some beautiful mountain scenery. I made my way on the bike to see a waterfall. The waterfall was not much to look at but still was a cool place to see indigenous Vietnamese.

Dalat Watefall
The next day I just walked around a bit until the night when I met up with the friend I met on the bus. She showed me around the night market and told me about all the local foods of Dalat. We tried many different foods. She paid for a lot of it which I felt really bad about, I tried to offer to pay but she refused. One thing about many Asian cultures is that when they refuse you just accept it so you don't make them upset. I have found that, it isn't really getting upset but disappointed, Asians like to treat people but don't always like to be treated (same goes for South East Asia). But we ate egg pancakes that were just very thin egg with spices on it. She bought me some lychee for the bus and some more traditional Vietnamese foods.

The next day I had to leave Dalat to head back to Ho Chi Minh City to head into Cambodia, I found as I was going that I could have taken a bus from there but I was at the wrong place, so 8 hours sort of wasted. It wasn't fully wasted because the same girl who showed me around was on my bus again so we were able to eat together before we had to part ways.

Stay tuned for Huge update 4: Phnom Phen, Cambodia

Huge update 2: Malaysia and Ho Chi Minh City, Vietnam

I was planning a trip for a while and decided that I would kind of vagabond the trip. I was not going to make any plans ahead of time other than the flights. So I departed Taiwan on July 1st and knew I was going to be gone until August 7th.

I had really a strange feeling about leaving Taiwan, it hurt to leave but I knew I wanted to see more countries. This really told me how much love I have for this country that I was leaving. Taiwan has become my home. I decided that I would travel alone and meet people as I go. Disclaimer: South-East Asia is not a place to travel to alone because most people travel in groups and there are few hostels, so it is hard to meet people.

But my first destination was to Vietnam, a country that I really wanted to visit and was very interested in seeing what it had to offer. My flight left Taiwan and was headed for Malaysia first, when we landed I wanted to see the Petronas Towers since I had about a 10 hour layover. So I got off the plane and went to the train station that was going to take me there. I ate a little then had to take a subway out. The problem was I didn't have enough money so I went to the ATM and my card was denied, called the bank so they could add Malaysia to my bank card so I could get money out and by the time they did... all the ATM's were closed for the night (I think for security reasons). So I had to 'sleep' in a train station with homeless around me. Needless to say, I didn't sleep.

When the station opened back up I got back to the airport and waited to head to Ho Chi Minh City / Saigon.

First meal in Vietnam:
pho bo, with my favorite Saigon Beer.
I could talk for hours and days on all of this, but I won't I will be brief and to the point (but it still might be a little long). I land in Ho Chi Minh City and it seemed like I was landing on a dirt runway. It didn't feel the safest but I landed fine and got out and grabbed a cab to the hostel I wanted to go to. The hostel was great, I loved it and stayed many nights. It was the NGOC Thao Guest House. The people were so nice and helpful. I highly recommend them.

Ho Chi Minh was a very crazy city, with way more motor bikes than Taiwan. The funniest thing, and possibly the most dangerous was that they have to wear helmets there. But they get around that by using 'Nike' hats with a little padding inside and a chin strap. I have to say, they did look pretty cool and I wanted to buy one but they were not going to save you from a crash. I traveled around a little to see a bit of the area I was in, which was District 1; otherwise known as the party district. I didn't plan that but didn't really mind either.

Mr. Bean, sad story this man has he wishes everyone
just forget about the war. He has been writing a diary
since he was in the war and will publish it once he dies.
A couple days after arriving I went on my first trip, Cu Chi Tunnels tour. The Cu Chi Tunnels were tunnels that the North Vietnamese (now just Vietnamese obviously) made during the war against the French for independence and then continued during the 'American War' or the 'Vietnam War' as I know it by. We had a guide for the tunnels, Mr. Bean. This man has an extremely sad story, one that is a real tearjerker. He was a soldier for the United States during the war and then finished his tour of duty in New York. Upon leaving he burned his passport and said he would never come back to the US because he told us, 'I am not an American, I am Vietnamese'. The love he had for his country was great, as do all Vietnamese. Very few, if any, hold a lot against US tourists or the US in general. As Mr. Bean told us, they want to move on and so should the US. He said both sides were wrong and should not have gone to war. From most that I talked to, they didn't care what the government became, as long as they were still Vietnamese at the end of it. The tunnels were really cool but sad, we saw tanks that were blown up by Vietnamese, weapons the Vietcong used and heard stories of how the sides tried to outsmart each other.

One story stands out to me the most. The VC taught their dogs to smell Americans, because Americans smoked Marlboro Cigarettes. So the VC taught the dogs to sniff out Americans by that smell. Eventually the Americans caught on so they would drop their cigarette butts in the tunnels and the dogs would turn on the VC thinking them to be Americans. Another story was that the VC didn't have shoes or lots of weapons. So they would cut up tired and make shoes out of them. During the night they would sneak into the American base they dug under and steal their weapons and ammo. The only problem is that tire tracks have treads on them to show which direction people are coming. So the VC would wear them in one way and walk out with them on the other way, so it would seem that the VC never left the base. To me, this was all a mental game, who is smarter.

VC sniper pit, a tight squeeze
While on the tour I was able to go into a sniper pit that the VC made. The pit was so tight and small, pretty much everything in the country was small and showed just how to outsmart the Americans during the war. Make things small and Americans can't come in. We also saw many, many booby traps. Some of the most disgusting things to see but I have to admit, they were highly inventive. The highlight of the tour is going into the tunnels. Tourists are not allowed in the real tunnel because it is too small. There was one part of the tunnel that was carved about 3 cm bigger to accommodate Westerners. Having that said, they were still very, very small. Americans during the war would have to crawl on hand and knees to fit through, some on their stomachs. It was a game of hide and seek. While in the tunnels I got extremely, extremely claustrophobic. The tunnel we went through only lasted 100 meters but had levels that you went down, first was 3 meters down, then 6 meters, then back up to 3. At each drop there were emergency exits, I thought of taking them whenever I saw one. Luckily, I made it out at the last exit. At the end of the tour we were brought to a shooting range where it is one of the only few places you can shoot some weapons. I shot the AK-47, first gun I have ever shot, and let me tell you, I am a horrible shot. The very end of the tour is watching a 1960's propaganda movie, which is obviously propaganda but still very cool to see.

View inside the tunnels


After that tour I headed to the War Remnants Museum. Which used to be called the 'War Crimes Against US and Puppet Government'. This was just the beginning of all the sad museums I was going to see on the rest of my trip. This museum contains many vehicles that were shot down by the VC and North Vietnamese during the war and some land vehicles too. Inside the museum, which is another propaganda place but really none of it is false, shows all the chemical crimes, physical crimes, and other crimes the US did during the war. Granted the crimes the North Vietnamese did were not shown, but the museum hits close to home too because it shows US soldiers who have had children with deformities due to Agent Orange.

Meeting with Thuy Ngoc in the park across from
my guest house
A couple days later, while traveling around I got lost and was trying to find my way back when a huge downpour happened. I managed to hide under a balcony and after standing there for a bit security came out and tried to help me. He found I knew no Vietnamese and called someone younger out to help me. This girl told me her name was Thuy Ngoc to come inside and she could help me. This was the nicest thing because when I came inside I found it was a college and she and all the students embraced me and loved the chance to speak English. They taught me some games until the rain stopped and then I went on my way but decided I would meet up with the girl before I left Ho Chi Minh city and buy her a drink. One thing to note about Vietnam is that everything is cheap, but to Vietnamese it is still expensive. So to buy someone something really is a grand gesture of friendship that they don't forget.

War Reunification Palace, a chopper like this blew up
two areas of the building and the government
wants people to know about it.
A day or so later I went off to the Reunification Palace which was the site that marked the end of the Vietnam War. When the Americans up and left, the Vietnamese were still fighting and eventually the war ended by the North Vietnamese storming this Palace that, if I understand correctly was the home of the President of South Vietnam. There were a ton of cool rooms to see here and reminded me a lot of the White House tour I went on in December. At the end you get to see another propaganda film, which I always love seeing so I watched it all.

Ho Chi Minh City Post Office
Notre Dame Cathedral in Ho Chi Minh

Stay tuned for Huge update 3: Dalat, Vietnam

Huge update 1: Dragon Boat

First, I have neglected my blog long enough. I haven't written for a while for a few reasons, all July I was traveling around in Vietnam, Cambodia and Thailand. The other reason for the neglect is that I was just being lazy for a while.

This blog will span about 4-5 blogs. First I want to talk about the end of the semester and the beginning of the summer. Blog number two will be Vietnam, then three Cambodia and four will be Thailand.

The end of the semester wrapped up nicely, I got all great grades. Grading in Taiwan is different than in the US because no one, and I mean no one will get higher than about a 92%. But I got lucky and got all A's and B's (which was expected). Chinese, which I wasn't sure if I was going to even pass was passed with a solid B.

After the semester ended we were getting ready for a big event that takes place every year in Taiwan: The Dragon Boat Festival. This event has a history, that might be botched by me but from what I understand is this: Long ago there was a man who drowned in a river (or lake, something) and the people didn't want the fish to eat his body so they raced out and dropped 粽子(zhongzi) down into the water. 粽子 are a rice dumpling that is wrapped with either a bamboo leaf or seaweed, in Taiwan it is traditionally bamboo leaves. The dumplings then are steamed and have a mix of meat, rice and egg inside. I don't like them too much but I know many people that do, the only problem with them for me is that I don't like egg that much. But after a while these dumplings were no longer thrown into the waters they were just eaten as tradition. But nowadays the tradition has steamed into a race where teams from all over the country and all over the world come out and race in boats up a river, or lake. 

My good friend in the middle 阮柏緯.
There are a few dragon boat teams at my university but the one that I became the most friends with was the 文山 (WenShan) dragon boat team. I had a couple international friends that joined the team so I began to hang out with the team at a bar nearby and other places that they went. I was sort of adopted by the team and they were my first large group of Taiwanese to hang out with, I also kind of became their camera man as well. 

Fast forward a bit to race day. I watched them race two times and needless to say, it was extremely hot outside. I hung around with the team while they waited for their race to start and they were very kind to allow me to sit around with them, they even 'force' fed me. I didn't want to impose on the team because they were the ones racing not me, but even the elder team members told me I should eat with them. This is how Taiwanese are, they are always helpful and kind. To me, this race went very well, but they did not end up winning. It has to be said though that this race was a worldwide race, so people from all over the world participated and I got to see the Mayor of Taipei along with some representatives from other countries

That night they all went out to eat at a really nice place and, of course they dragged me along. It might sound like I am making excuses but they really did want me around which was so nice of them to keep inviting me places. 

The next day was race number two for them. This day was even hotter and there was little to no shade anywhere. But the day was beautiful and I got there a few hours early to hang out with the team and take some pictures of them warming up and they again, fed me and watered me. After a few hours they were up to bat and their first race went extremely well, they won but did get disqualified for dropping their baton in the water. Not only did the baton fall in but the person at the head of the boat did too because the bot actually broke. But the first races video is here:

The second race everyone knew was going to be a difficult one because they were racing against the Taipei firefighters. The firefighters had one rule while being at the race, they could not talk. They could not talk even to each other in the tent. They were dead silent from the moment the day began. This was their strategy to mentally be strong and put pressure on other teams. They were successful in looking powerful because everyone was talking about them all day. But the race began and once again the 文山 team were doing amazing and racing their hearts out. But in the end they did end up not winning that race and the firefighters did win. The second race video is here:

To talk for a moment about the sport itself and compare it to other sports I will say this. The fans, the teams, the players are all extremely respectful. These races do give people a lot of money and that is an incentive to do well. But one thing I noticed, and maybe it is because I am not close to many athletes in the US or have met the wrong ones, there is a little tension between the teams like there should be because everyone wants to win but there isn't a lot. If I can compare it to a sport it would be like major league sports in the US, the players all respect each other, sure there are some exceptions but for the most part they do. Everyone wants 'their' team to win and that is where the fans can be obnoxious at times, but here at these races, the fans just cheer on their teams and always congratulate the winning team and never have hurt feelings or be angry, even if the team is from Mainland China and the team advocates to take back control of Taiwan, which one team was. 
Gilberto and Emmaida, couple of my Mexico buddies

After the second game everyone just went to the bar that we have become accustomed to going to and had some drinks and just talked.

About a week later the team invited me to a KTV with the team, which is where I coined the phrase 'but I am not on the team', whenever they would do something nice for me. It was all in joking fun because I knew they wanted me around and I wanted to be around them. Like I said before, I was adopted by them. This KTV was funny because there were no English songs but 'Happy Birthday' and 'Hey Jude'. This didn't stop those who don't speak Chinese well from having fun though. So we still ate, drank and had a blast listening to drunk Taiwanese sing and have fun. It was a great experience and one that I won't forget.  

Overall, if I was planning a travel guide to Taiwan, which I am sure some people might use my blog for, I highly recommend seeing the Dragon Boat festival. No matter where you are in Taiwan, there will be one near.

Tuesday, June 12, 2012

KTV's and crazy weather

The last post was a long time ago but not too much has happened since the last post. School is still going on but life has still been great.

The biggest event that has happened was my attendance to a KTV with some Taiwanese friends. Before heading to the KTV (karaoke party) I only knew one of them. I had helped one with a final project and then was asked if I would like to meet some of her friends and attend a KTV. I was not too sure because it was a little pricey. I'm not sure if I could chalk it up to just being money, I was a little scared to go. The thing that scared me the most was that I would be in a room with only Taiwanese for hours and I didn't know what to expect at all. I am not scared of Taiwanese at all but when you are meeting a whole group of twenty new people you get a little apprehensive. But either way, I decided to go and meet more Taiwanese and maybe meet some people that I can get to know for the next semester of school.

The KTV began at 9:30 pm and after getting some drinks for the KTV room we all sat around in a circle and introduced ourselves to everyone because it was a graduation and birthday party and most didn't know each other. I decided to do mine in Chinese just to fit in with everyone else who was doing the same. Everyone was so nice and supportive of me no matter if I got tones right or not. After this we started eating, talking and singing. We sang all night, until 3:00 am. I didn't sing much but did sing come Celine Dion and then Coldplay, but then I mainly listened and talked to everyone I could and get to know them more. Everyone I met was extremely nice and spoke to me in English whenever I could get the chance to talk to them, which was more than helpful and way too nice. After many drinks, many songs, and many new faces to meet, we all left and went back home.

After the KTV not much went on until a couple days ago when I went to another area of Taipei that I never went before. This Saturday was a really hot day and I went with a friend of mine to see the Taipei Contemporary Art Museum. Before heading there we went for a walk to see a Confucius Temple which was very big and beautiful, but unfortunately way too hot to take any pictures. Then we walked around the town a bit more before deciding to head to the museum to cool off. When we arrived at the museum there was only one problem, after walking all day in extreme heat we were way too tired to look at art so we both decided we should leave and head to the night market to get some food. There wasn't too much to report for this day but it was still a fun day and we got to get out of Muzha for a bit (the district my school is in).

The next day I was up very late Skype-ing, until about 5 am. All of the sudden I thought my bed was breaking because it was shaking, then I thought why am I shaking so much, finally I came to the conclusion: EARTHQUAKE. This was a huge earthquake, I don't really care about the numbers but about the amount of locals that wake up because it is so big that they are scared. The earthquake scared me and gave me a bit too much adrenaline for 5 am so I went to get some breakfast and settle down a bit.

Finally we come to last night, last night we had a down pour; the downpour lasted about six hours of rain and this was non-stop downpour, rain like I have never seen. We woke up this morning all confused and thought what happened. Finally posts started showing up on Facebook about classes being cancelled. I really didn't want to go to class so I thought it would be nice if they were canceled. I checked my email and saw I got an email from AIT (American Institute of Taiwan), which is an unofficial embassy. They told us to stay inside because roads, schools, government agencies, and shops were all being ordered to stay closed. Needless to say, I was a bit happy that class was canceled but the real fun began when I saw the river bank. I really can't describe it but a picture sure can.

In the matter of less than a week we have had: KTV, flash floods, downpours, flooding rivers, earthquakes. Pretty eventful week if you ask me.

Friday, May 11, 2012

中山女中 and 立法院

During the past few weeks I have done a couple things that really couldn't make up a whole blog post so this will have a couple updates that don't really follow the order of the blog.

All the girls
On Friday May 4th I went with my buddy to an all girls school in Taiwan (中山女中). I was invited to this school to give my perception on something dealing with American Culture. This probably was the hardest thing I have had to do in Taiwan because I have trouble describing America to other people because I have many perceptions of it, not to mention that I had to make it interesting for seventy-seventeen year old-Taiwanese girls. My buddy told me that they like Lady Gaga, a lot. So I decided to cater my speech to Lady Gaga while spinning it in an American Culture way. Lady Gaga works hard to speak out for those who do not have a voice and creating the American dream though equal rights; this is something that many do not know about her outside of America. The speech went for 45 minutes and then had a question and answer for any other questions. Taiwanese girls are very pensive, especially in a high school English class where they might not feel confident talking in front of their peers in English. The question and answer went well and I was given a great welcoming afterwards with a picture taken with all the girls. After I was done some of the girls came up to learn more about me and where I come from without their peers watching. This was nice because I knew that they were actually interested in me and I felt like I accomplished what I had come for. Eventually we had to leave and we got our overly-generous payment (1000NTD) and we went out to a great, and expensive, dumpling restaurant in Zhongxia Fuxing Station (忠孝復興站).

Giving the speech
Few of the girls who came to talk afterwards

Mario, Gilberto and Emma making
their famous burritos
The next update is something that went on this week that happens every year at NCCU (國立政治大學), the World Festival. I didn't see much of it because my Chinese class conflicts with most of the events but I did participate in two. The first was a photo competition that was held for all exchange students to tell what they feel about Taiwan through a short paragraph and a picture. Sadly I did not win but a lot of people did say they really enjoyed my pictures that I posted. The second was really fun to walk through, even though I had a short time to do so. This was the food festival where all the countries have food from their countries and share the tastes of their countries with everyone else. I had to go for the French crepes and the Mexican burritos. Everything was so interesting and fun to see, if I had more time I could have easily eaten at every place.

So many people and so much food

The last small update happened today. This morning I headed to the Legislative Yuan (立法院) with my class I have on Tuesday's: Democracy and Democratization in Taiwan. The Legislative Yuan is the law making body of Taiwan and is very interesting to me since I am a political science major. The trip began early in the morning, well 9 am (early for me). We all met up and went into the Legislative Yuan. The trip began kind of unfortunate. In the beginning we were brought into the chamber and listened to some talks by the KMT (ruling party) talk about US beef but then we were promptly kicked out because a vote was about to begin. They kick everyone out just so there is no worry of lobbyists attempting to lobby in the chamber. Then we met with our professors uncle, who has worked in the Yuan for over twenty years. He showed us a film about the Yuan and the process of law making in Taiwan. The system is very similar to the US but just unicameral. When we finished the film we were brought to the cafe inside and were given tea and then brought to a small museum where we saw some old documents regarding the Yuan and even saw a chest that held the documents when the KMT brought them from China in 1949. The next stop was our professor's uncle's office where we sat for a little bit and learned more about the Yuan and then his uncle gave each of us a little parting gift, a mug stamped with a picture of the Yuan.

Kaohsiung weekend trip (週末到高雄)

Life has been a series of ups and downs lately. There are things that are starting to get to me when living abroad, mainly missing family and friends. When I speak to friends on Facebook or Skype I just remember how much fun I had at home, but this does not mean I am not having fun here, I am. It is a normal feeling but just one that bugs me from time to time, I wish I could just live in two places at one time.

Kaohsiung, Taiwan: South-West Taiwan
Other than that I have been very busy. I am studying like crazy still but did have a chance to run away last weekend for a trip down south to Kaohsiung (高雄). This was a great trip, weather in the low to mid 30's, but very exhausting. I took the high-speed rail down, my first ever trip on a high-speed train. It is a little expensive to go this way but was something I had to do. The train was a smooth ride and much more accurate in relation to departure and arrival. In total I was down in two hours, compared to five on a bus. 

When I arrived I met up with my friend who recently moved down there, Dana, we both decided it would be good to get a late dinner so we headed to the 'Canada Town' of Kaohsiung to a bar. We had some 
delicious fish and chips with a couple beers. The night ended late since we were up late talking. 

Needless to say I didn't think I would clear it
The next morning we were up very early to head to a coffee house to pick up a bike they allowed me to use for the weekend. This is a great part of Kaohsiung, you can bike anywhere in the whole city and easily bike across the city in a short time. Dana introduced me to some of her friends at the coffee house, I got along with all of them very easily but Na was the easiest, she is my age and we were able to talk a bit, but only a little since she speaks very little English and my Chinese is below par. 

When we were done there we set off on our bike tour. We headed up the Love River (爱河) which runs right through the whole city. My goal this weekend was to see monkeys, which are known to hide in this city. Our bike trip was very long and arduous since there are many mountains and hills to ride up and without a bike with gears you are kind of out of luck and have to walk some of the way. We made our way to the coast and worked up the biggest mountain I have ever biked. Up the west coast has a few secrets around it. One secret is all the military that is around there. Kaohsiung is the biggest port so there are many military barracks around to keep it safe. The second thing is the monkeys. After biking for about three hours we made it to the top by a military barracks and ran into our first monkey! While we sat there taking pictures there was a couple more that came and eventually there were three adults and two babies. This was the highlight of the hardest bike ride I have ever done. The monkeys were very protective of one another but in all didn't bother us and allowed us to take pictures of them. 

A view in Kaohsiung

Found one!
After seeing the monkeys we headed down the mountain a bit and tried to find the third secret in the area. This is the secret beach which we were told about the night before. After looking for about an hour we were about to give up when we came upon a place that looked like it might be the place we were told about, turns out it was and we were able to have a piece of a beach to ourselves and get away from the tourist beach. Once we finished cooling off we headed back and went to the night market. Since we were on a bike for nine hours I was extremely hungry so got some good food and we had some more drinks back at Dana's. We talked again into the early morning and then put our heads on a pillow and passed out. 

First scooter ride! (A nervous smile)
The next morning we headed back to the cafe to drop off their bike and get some more tea. We sat and talked for an hour or so and met up with Na who decided to join me in helping Dana tutor a student English. Since Na didn't know much English it was a lesson for her too. So Na took me on my first scooter ride in Taiwan. This was a blast because the laws in Kaohsiung are non-existent so it was kind of a crazy ride. We safely made it back to Dana's and started our lesson with the student. We played a game for the whole hour on punctuation and what each one does and means. We actually all had fun even though 3/4 of us were over the age of seven. 

Night market time!
When the lesson was done Dana and I had to run to meet up with some friends of hers at a hostel for a night market trip. This is the thing I love about Taiwan, which has been talked about before but can be put into words easier now. I love night markets. Going to a night market can easily bring anyone who doesn't know each other to great friends. Food brings everyone closer together, and that is a fact. Joanna was the hostel owner who is one of the sweetest women, the others that came with were a man named Jimmy who has a very similar name and seems like a very similar personality and a couple more of his friends. We had some interesting foods that are home to Kaohsiung, like a soup and rice that is a little thicker than normal, and some food that is home to Taiwan, stinky tofu (臭豆腐). Stinky tofu isn't the greatest thing but is okay, I am not a huge tofu eater but I'll try anything once. When we were done here it was time for my quick trip to end and I 
boarded a night bus back to Taipei, five long hours of snoring Taiwanese (no fun). 

A (secret) spot in Kaohsiung