Familiar Places, New Beginnings, Same Me.

University in Tainan has plunged me into the kind of growth I’d never experienced in New Zealand. Who celebrates their 21st with friends they’d only met two weeks prior? Who tries yoga for the first time soundtracked to Taylor Swift at the university park? Who else has had the pleasure of learning cup music with Taiwanese elders? I’ve learned so much about myself and the way the world works. I’ve learned that life doesn’t wait for anyone. I’ve learned that growth is a journey, not a destination.

My 21st birthday dinner at a renowned Tainan beef noodle restaurant and good company!

I’ve also had the privilege of visiting De Wen Indigenous Primary school. Under the guidance of our teachers and our partner NCKU students, we designed a little “curriculum” teaching the Mandarin and English of various fruits. What I underestimated was the manaakitanga that we Kiwis and the delegation of NCKU students would receive. Formally, we were teachers. However, the experience was far more an exchange, where Henry and I had the privilege of our five and six-year-old students teaching us their indigenous origin story. The experience highlighted to me that indigenous empowerment looks different in every region of the world and my own place as tauiwi in building an empowering future for mana whenua. I also noticed that tuakana/teina relationships are far more significant here than in mainstream New Zealand culture. It’s fascinating how cultures develop into different spectrums!

The mountain view from De Wen Indigenous Primary School

There’s a good chance that this will be the last time I’ll see some of my classmates. I’ve never known a place to call home so transient; if I come back to study at Cheng Keung University as soon as my full-year papers allow, almost all of my classmates will have finished their three, six, and year-long programmes. It reminds me that what makes a home is the people, not only the place. I’ve settled in fast thanks to the manaakitanga and aroha extended by the programme directors, Shu-Qing and Shu-Ling, and my classmates of Class E2; Teacher Lin, who’s always giving me tips to improve; Bonnie, who’s been my rock; Kathy, my language partner; and the beautiful NZ delegation who’s with me, who I know I can always laugh and cry with.

Having fun at a photobooth with Bonnie

On the other hand, thank whoever came up with social media. Otherwise, I’d have to hope to have chance encounters in a world of eight billion people! I’m looking forward to meeting with some of my friends in Taipei for 春節 (Lunar New Year). We thoroughly plan to eat well, visit historical sites and have happy little accidents while exploring, which will inevitably lead us to more learning and excitement. 

It’s bittersweet, saying goodbye to a home you’ve only known for five weeks. We left our student dorms behind as we set off for Taipei. I said goodbye to our south-facing deck that allowed us to catch the golden sunsets, the beautifully unrestrained amount of cupboards in our room, and to the elevators, in which Bonnie and I always took our morning selfies. See you soon / 再見 / Hei konā mai,Tainan!

The view from the rail as we enter Taipei

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