Taiwan: Week six

Monday 16 January–Sunday 22 January

The final day of class

Monday, 16 January, was my final day of class. I gave a final presentation on some differences between the US and New Zealand before saying 再見 (goodbye) to my teachers 許老師 and 林老師, and my classmates, Noah, Ashleigh, Takahiro, Nicole, Araceli, Daryll, Yung and Asuka for the last time. It was a moving experience, as I will likely never see some of them again. But I’m happy that we’re all connected on social media, so we won’t lose contact.

Last dinner with Sky and bowling

Sky and I had our last dinner at a restaurant specialising in delicious spicy hot pots. Then we visited a dessert place for sweet jelly in warm milk. Simonah and her language partner Amy invited us for bowling afterwards, which was so much fun! I managed to get a strike, but Sky upstaged me with two strikes. In the end, we scored 86 points each, which was very wholesome. Simonah got third place, while Amy came in fourth. Afterwards, we all posed for the camera like veritable superheroes.

Visit to the indigenous school

It was an early start on Tuesday, 17 January. Bleary-eyed, we hobbled onto the bus to the indigenous school. About an hour later, I woke up from a pleasant nap and was amazed by the stunning mountains I saw out the window. Imagine getting a view like that every time you look out your classroom’s window! Shortly afterwards, we arrived at the school, where the delightful children welcomed us with incredible warmth. Amelia, our NCKU friends and I headed to the classroom for the five grade one and two students. It was such a joy teaching and playing with them. We were all struck by their curiosity and boundless energy. Fortunately, the children enjoyed my performance of “Fruit Salad” by The Wiggles. The rest of the lesson Amelia and I gave involved highlighting New Zealand’s position on a map relative to Taiwan, introducing some typical New Zealand fruits, and then asking the children to recall the fruits we’d presented. Tessa taught one of the kids how to say “slay”, which was priceless. The school organised delicious food for us, and we slept through the night in classrooms with supplied sleeping bags and mattresses. The trip was a fantastic experience, and I’m incredibly grateful to the school for hosting us and to NCKU for organising the trip.

A local elder later showed us around the village. Most striking to me was the stunning mountain scenery and the incredible number of spiders that loomed over our heads, where they patiently waited for a hapless insect to fly right into their webs. But I couldn’t shake the suspicion that the spiders were about to hop down on us to give us terrible bites.

On Wednesday, we left the school for another. There some elders showed us how to make traditional Paiwan flower crowns. Then the elders taught us how to do a traditional dance, which was great fun. Afterwards, we toured another village, got a group photo, and then hopped on the bus back to Tainan for our final night in the city that had been our home for the past six weeks.

Last night in Tainan

NCKU hosted a lovely dinner to celebrate our completion of the study programme. The food was delicious, and I was humbled to receive my completion certificate. It was certainly challenging to eat this baby octopus, though.

Later that night, I met Amelia, Amy, Sky, and one of Amelia’s classmates at the trendy night café Sky had introduced me to a couple of weeks before. He and I drank coffee and played on the arcade machine together, destroying evil planes and tanks. It was an awesome, chill time. Then we headed to Legends Bar to send it one last time together. We had a lot of fun, and it was sad to say goodbye to Amy and especially Sky, knowing I was unlikely to see either of them for a long time. But I was so grateful to Sky for looking out for me and being my best friend in Taiwan. We’ll meet again one day and remember the fun times we shared. I’d love to show Sky around Auckland if he comes to visit!

Travelling to Taipei and saying goodbye to 陳老師, Juliette, Simonah and Yina

We had another early start on Thursday, 19 January. Charlie and I packed up our dorm and confirmed with the staff that it was clean. Then 陳老師 (Teacher Chen) met us outside and escorted us onto the bus to Taoyuan International Airport, where we would say goodbye to her and Juliette, Simonah and Yina. Those three had chosen to fly back to Auckland on 19 January rather than on Thursday, 26 January, like the rest of us. The bus had a karaoke system built in, so we all had a great time belting out tunes together. Singing karaoke always reminds me of Selle, and I couldn’t help but get excited about reuniting with her in just a couple of weeks.

陳老師 had looked after us so well over the past six weeks, and she gave an emotional speech from the front of the bus, sharing that she was very proud of us and that we would always be in her heart. After that, she generously gave each of us 紅包 (red paper envelopes containing money as a gift). 陳老師 once again left us blown away with her kindness.

We arrived at the airport and shared an emotional goodbye with 陳老師, Juliette, Simonah and Yina. The remaining 12 of us then hopped on the metro to Zhongzheng, a central district in Taipei, where Charlie had organised an Airbnb for us to stay for the remaining seven days in Taiwan. After an hour-long trip, we arrived, and we were all very impressed by the quality of the place Charlie had organised. The Airbnb’s mattress and shower were like breaths of fresh air compared to what we’d gotten used to at the dorm.

That night we encountered the North Gate of the wall that had once surrounded Taipei. After the Qing Empire ceded Taiwan to the Japanese Empire in 1895, the Japanese promptly demolished Taipei’s walls to allow for the city’s expansion. Fortunately, many of the old gates remain for us to appreciate today. We finished a big day with a delicious dinner at a Japanese restaurant. I enjoyed my karaage chicken and sashimi very much.

Meeting cousin Daniel and visiting the Chiang Kai-shek Memorial

Before I left for Taiwan, my grandparents highlighted that one of their great-nephews, my second cousin, Daniel, lives and works as an academic in Taipei with his wife and their daughter. So, through his mother, Catherine, my first cousin, once removed, Daniel and I got in touch and arranged to meet in Zhongzheng District. We’d never met before, so getting to know a relative with a solid connection to the country I’d been living in for the previous six weeks was lovely. He told me about his fascinating research into the history of East Asian medicine, a topic he’d studied for 15 years.

After lunch, we visited the Chiang Kai-shek Memorial together, a monumental structure erected in memory of Chiang Kai-shek, the Chinese Nationalist politician, revolutionary, and military leader who served as the Republic of China’s (ROC) leader from 1928 until he died in 1975 — until 1949 in Mainland China and from then on in Taiwan. I was amazed by the scale of the memorial. I took great interest in the museum within the monument documenting Chiang’s life and career, as well as Taiwan’s transition to democracy in the years following his death. After exploring the museum, Daniel and I ascended 89 steps (Chiang’s age at the time of his death) to the memorial hall. A tranquil-looking statute of a giant Chiang gazed down upon us and two guards who were keeping watch. The changing of the guard is a dramatic display of martial discipline. Afterwards, Daniel and I headed down to the grand square at the foot of the monument. As if the whole place wasn’t impressive enough already, a massive theatre, gate and concert hall framed the square. After wandering the square and chatting more, Daniel and I wished each other a happy new year and said goodbye.

Visiting the National Palace Museum

The next day most of us visited the National Palace Museum. It hosts hundreds of thousands of Chinese artefacts and artworks, many of which Nationalists brought from the Palace Museum in the Forbidden City in Beijing during the ROC retreat in the late 1940s. The museum’s collection encompasses 8,000 years of Chinese history from the neolithic to the modern period. I was deeply moved by the artistry and ancientness of the innumerable objects, from an intricate multi-layered ball made of ivory to thousand-year-old bronze Buddhas to stunning porcelain and elegant calligraphy. Other intriguing things included a piece of quartz a man had crafted to resemble a delicious chunk of roasted pork belly and an angry-looking pottery dog made 2,000 years ago. The museum even boasted an exhibition of European rococo treasures that Qing aristocrats had collected during the 18th and 19th centuries. Together the artefacts illustrated China’s rich culture, ethnic and religious diversity and longstanding connections to the rest of the world.

Before I left for Taiwan, my grandparents had encouraged me to visit the museum, which the two of them, being the learned people that they are, had read much about. So, I video-called to show them around, knowing it was a place they could happily spend days in. It was lovely to talk with them about the museum, and they were also pleased to hear about the time I spent with Daniel. It was then time to generously patronise the museum’s exquisite gift shop before leaving for lunch with my friends

New Year’s Eve

A Taipei resident burning paper money for his ancestors

The day we visited the National Palace Museum happened to be Lunar New Year’s Eve. So visited Dihua Street, which featured an enchanting line-up of merchants selling delicious treats, charming handicrafts and, for reasons I am yet to deduce, an inordinate number of nuts. Feeling exhausted, we headed back to the Airbnb to rest.

Visiting Taipei 101’s observation deck

While in Taipei, visiting Taipei 101’s observation deck seemed obligatory. Charlie and I organised tickets for everyone in the morning, but even then, we had to queue for around 20 minutes just to get in the lift. After finally arriving at the observation deck, I was dazzled by the dramatic scenery outside the window. I wished at that moment, like many other moments on the trip, that Selle was with me. That way, we could experience the astonishing cityscape and the fast-approaching sunset together. But we did the next best thing, by video-calling while I was on the observation deck. It was fun showing Selle the view. I can’t wait to go back with her in person. As always, she was the bright light in my day and made the whole experience even more special.

Thanks for reading my sixth post! My final blog post will be up soon.

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