So…a lot has happened in the three weeks since I last posted. Quick updates: Every week the weather forecast has been promising rain every day for the next ten years but now it is finally promising a week of sun starting this Sunday, I tried out the campus calligraphy club, I rode the Maokong Gondola up to Zhinan Temple, some friends and I took a few weekend day trips together, and now I have my daily breakfast order memorized (in Chinese) :))! I’m also now two-thirds into my semester here, and it’s flying by quickly!
One of the most exciting things was the three-day trip to Yilan Country, which is in northeastern Taiwan, about an hour to an hour and a half away from Taipei. I went with the other students in my program, as well as the Cultural Ambassadors. We checked out a night market, went to a tea farm and made our own green tea ice cream, rode bikes along a river, relaxed on the beach, and hiked to a waterfall, making for a busy but super fun three days! It was a great chance to see more of Taiwan and to also get to know everyone better.
Right after returning from Yilan, we had to start studying for our Chinese language class midterms. It definitely spurred frequent trips to the library, the consumption of not-so-healthy snacks from Hi-Life (the convenience store conveniently located on the first floor of our dormitory), and only minimal hyperventilating, but the actual midterm itself wasn’t too painful. For the test, we had a written part (fill-in-the-blanks, multiple choice, reading comprehension) and a speaking part, but it was a lot of what we had been doing in class, so our daily classroom practices definitely helped prepare us for the midterm. And I daresay my Chinese is improving because of it! Today one of the Cultural Ambassadors told me she noticed an improvement in my Chinese from when she first met me, which was one of the best things she could have told me! It’s also been getting easier to get around and even read the signs and menus—who would have thought that living here for two months could have done that?? 😀
Our reward for successfully completing the midterm came in the form of a traditional Taiwanese-style barbeque that Friday night. In the typical barbeque party in Taiwan, they don’t stand at grills flipping hamburger patties—instead, we set up small grills that six to eight people would stand or squat around, grilling anything and everything that could go on a stick, kebab-style. We grilled tofu, corn, Taiwanese sausage, sticky rice cake, and lots and LOTS of mushrooms! It was raining that night, so we all set up the little grills under a bridge and had the barbeque there, where we chatted and ate until we were more than full. Usually families will hold these kinds of barbeques during the Mid-Autumn Festival, and in a way our barbeque was kind of family-like, with everyone crowded around the grills and sharing sticks of BBQ pork. It was all about sharing and togetherness. A lot of Taiwanese culture surrounding food is like—on not-too-busy nights, meals are occasions to share with people you care about. The tables are usually round and set with a rotating “lazy Susan” (not sure what they call it in Chinese) and dishes for everyone to share, maximizing the “togetherness” feel. Even in a big city with over 2.6 million people, you can still find pockets of family and togetherness, one of the things I love about the culture here!