As we approach the halfway mark of September, school is officially in session and we are in full-blown work mode. Slowly but surely I am adjusting to waking up early every day and working for 8 hours (my first full-time job!) Most of us have also started taking Chinese classes at Fo Guang University in Yilan City, so we are definitely keeping busy. I take Chinese class on Monday nights, and I like having a full day on Mondays because it makes me feel like I’m starting the week off on the right foot. Plus, my favorite dumpling place that I have discovered is right near the university (yum…. spicy Korean dumplings).
My birthday was also last week, and the other ETA’s and my co-teachers Ellen and Alice threw me a surprise party. What a great way to kick off 24!
And, in other exciting news, I finally passed my scooter test! The driving portion didn’t seem nearly as daunting the second time around, and my co-teacher Ellen took me to buy a scooter right after I passed. I’ve been driving to school for almost the past two weeks now, and I’m beginning to learn my way around. Although sometimes I manage to get lost when I’m only two blocks from my apartment…
It’s definitely an adjustment getting used to how people drive on the roads here. Scooters whiz in between and around cars, and cars often drive in the opposite lane to get around slow scooters and pedestrians. In general, it seems like the rules of the road are like the pirate code; the rules should be seen more as guidelines and honestly most people just ignore them.
My roommate Michelle, who is from Pennsylvania, commented that most drivers here, scooters and cars alike, often make a “Pittsburgh left.” What this means is that when you are at a red light waiting to make a left turn and the light turns green, everybody guns it to make the turn even though oncoming traffic has the right of way. Left turns are definitely one of the more challenging parts of driving here, and you have to be really careful when you make them. Sometimes on scooters you make what’s called a “hook turn,” which is a driving technique created to avoid having scooters make dangerous left turns when there is oncoming traffic.
But as I get more used to the traffic and driving on a scooter, I am definitely starting to appreciate the freedom that having a scooter allows. You can maneuver easily down the narrow and crowded streets, and now I have more freedom when it comes to exploring Yilan and the surrounding areas.
Our past few weekends have been really full, too. One nice, rainy Saturday, my coworker Roxy and her family took me out to eat and for an adventure to Su’ao, where there is a really pretty beach. We went to a tea shop overlooking the ocean where we sipped on tea and ate cheesecake, ice cream, and brownies. I like rainy days, and the cafe we were at spoke to my inner literary nerd. It was the type of place I could see someone going to on cold, overcast days as they sipped steaming tea and wrote their novel. I think I’ll be back!
And, last weekend we took our first trip to Taipei. The Fulbright orientation brought together all the ETA’s and researchers from across the country together for two days. It was also very rainy in Taipei! A lot of our weekend consisted of running from place to place in our flimsy rain ponchos, trying not to mess up our nice hair and makeup. I didn’t get the chance to explore too much of the city, but the proximity of Yilan County to Taipei means that its much easier for us to travel there than it is for people in some other locations. We are only a 1 hour ride from the city on the bus, and buses leave to and from Taipei every 10 minutes, no reservation needed! I’m looking forward to going back and exploring the city at a more leisurely pace.
We also got to visit the Chiang Kai-shek Memorial Square, which was renamed Liberty Square in 2007 to emphasize Taiwan’s transition to democracy. The whole complex is an enormous piece of architecture and a popular tourist attraction, and an interesting place to see and to learn about the history and culture of Taiwan. There is also a pretty little park off to one side where you can escape from the hustle and bustle of Taipei.
Finally, yesterday we got to meet our host families! In Taiwan, we don’t live with host families, but in Yilan County we do get paired with a family who will take us to different cultural events and spend time with us based on our hobbies. I met Annie, my host mom, and she took me to see a surfing beach a little north of Wai’ao where I had gone surfing before. It was awesome because the beach was right up against the mountains, and the lush green foliage combined with the multi-colored blue water made for quite an impressive, paradise-like sight.
And finally, an update on the coffee situation. I have realized that what people in Taiwan refer to as an “Americano” is actually what we in America would call black coffee, which makes it different from our version of the Americano. Now that I’m learning the lingo, ordering coffee has become a bit easier.