Chinese food is delicious. Chinese food for every meal of every day... starts to get a little old. Only 6.5 weeks to go.
It's been raining a rather lot here. No real typhoons yet, but it does make it tough to explore and bike around.
Speaking of biking around, I went back to the magical pool/spa wonderland again, and took a group of students with me. I think that place is going to have to be a once-a-week outing at the least.
Sometimes in Taiwan, you hear an ice cream truck. And you get all psyched, thinking, hey, ice cream! But the truck is not here to bring you ice cream. The truck is here to collect your trash. That's a little disappointing.
I'm getting a lot better at Chinese. I can form several sentences now. Today in class, our teacher worked us through a typical menu, and then recommended a spot for us, challenging us to find it on our own and order something, then come back and tell her about it. A huge group was heading out from school, and everyone was all slow and waiting and... individualistic-traveler-me just decided to start hoofing it. Asked the guard at the gate for directions, asked a girl on a bike for directions, stopped and bought a dong gua niu nai and they told me it was just on the other side of the light. I got there and was torn between hot and sour soup and dumpling soup... until I found hot and sour dumpling soup on the menu. I had just put in my order when the rest of the group appeared. Good times and great success.
Speaking of class, that's been fun. It was really overwhelming at first. I landed one class up from beginning-from-scratch, and thought about going back with the beginners because after class my brain would literally physically hurt from all the exercise and new connections formed. But then I heard they were working on the damned alphabet so I figured I'd tough it out. It's been a good decision. My classmates are real sweethearts, and we help each other out a lot. My teacher is an absolute angel. She brings us treats and rewards us and gives us no homework on days when study companion time is canceled. Class is really hard but really fun.
The first day was a sort of welcoming ceremony. After taking my entrance exam (and doing piss poor) we had a campus tour before the ceremony. There were some local elementary school kids who played some local music on local instruments, a group of ethnic Hakkas who did some Hakka song and dance, some aboriginal high schoolers who did aboriginal dance, some kids who dressed up as giant baby gods and did some dance to techno music, and three dudes dressed up with painted faces who came in to scare out the evil demons to some drumming... lemme tell you, if I had been an evil demon, I'd have run from these scary dudes!
Since then my days have mostly been sleeping until the last minute possible, making it to class at 9 and getting out at 12, lunch, "culture class" which will either be general info on Taiwan, learning to play mah jong, how to make dumplings, or something similar, then study companion time until 4:30 at which point we all head back to the dorms and split off into groups with plans for fun. Last Friday instead of class, exchange students and their study companions all were taken to Gaoxiung, or "Kaohsiung," the second largest city in Taiwan which is between 30 min to an hour away. We were taken to a huge Buddhist monastery complex where we spent a few hours exploring, meditating, and practicing calligraphy. We were given a decadent vegetarian lunch, then headed off to climb a mountain. We were told it was a "quick hike" to the top. We spent at least 30 minutes literally not stopping, heading up these wooden paths with tons of stairs until we arrived at the place where the monkeys chill. We paused for photos then headed up at least another 15. My shirt was completely soaked through, with sweat dripping off the hem. This is Taiwan, yo. The temp is around 30 or more Centigrade at all times, and the humidity is at its nicest when it's below 90%. When we made it back down to the bottom, there was a small temple with a public bathroom where I stripped my shirt off and rinsed it out in the sink. I felt like a new woman, but I think I scared one of our study companions. Sorry for the transgression, yo, but damn it was hot. After that we checked out a market near the beach then drove back.
There have been other great moments. Exploring night markets, organizing volleyball games, eating shaved ice with locals, having some amazing duck for dinner with my roommate, her boyfriend, and his roommate, getting together with a group of students to go see the Harry Potter flick a solid 16 hours before my US friends, getting drunk on red wine, splashing home through the rain, then continuing to play in the rain once back on campus, tons of mah jong games that last long into the night...
The race issue is still in front of my face at all times. Just the other day I rolled up on a Murrikan kid surrounded by three locals and he was laughing, but their faces were quite serious and inquisitive. I asked him what was up. He said, "They just asked me why black people rap all the time." All the time. They never speak normally. All black people rap all the time. They genuinely were wondering about this, and couldn't understand his laughter nor why I simply walked away. There are no black kids in our group of students. I can't imagine what it would be like. I already hate it when people occasionally ask to touch my hair; I hear black folks get it all the time. There are a handful of kids in the program who aren't white, but all are pretty light skinned. There is such a preoccupation with whiteness here, and we all had to submit a photo with our application, I can't help but wonder if any African-Americans applied, and whether their dark skin hurt their applications? My roommate puts a skin-whitening lotion on before she goes to bed every night. People carry umbrellas here - for the sun. You'll see people riding their scooters with their jackets on in this heat, only the jackets are on backward, and it's just to cover their arms from the evil, darkening sun.
The good news is, we can access the rooftop of our dorms. The two things that keep my head right are swimming distances and chilling on rooftops. I have this strange, petrifying fear of heights, and yet I love them. I'm not sure what that's all about, but between the gluttonous water decadence wonderland up the street and the rooftop above me, I think my sanity is in the bank.
Tomorrow morning I get picked up for my weekend homestay. I met the father of the family at the opening ceremony. He seemed like a complete sweetheart, and told me about how his triplet sixth-grade daughters can't wait to meet me. I'm looking forward to a weekend of bonding.