Thursday, July 12, 2012

Sunset over Kaohsiung

I could just see it through the opening between the parking garage pillars of the HSR: streaks of orange and magenta transforming the Kaohsiung sky into a bowl of rainbow sherbet. Though I knew that time was of the essence, and that we needed to get downstairs and get my bags taken care of, I couldn't help but pause: this would be my last Kaohsiung sunset.

As I write this, it's still July 11th, and it's still sunset--but I am now waiting for my final flight in SeaTac airport after an 11-hour flight, and it's almost 9pm, not just before 7. Time zones and day-length differences strike again.

I teared up twice on my journey: once, just a few minutes after I saw the sunset in Kaohsiung, as I said goodbye to the world's best host family; and once, about an hour ago, as I caught my first glimpse of American soil. And that pretty much sums it up: tears on both ends, for both reasons. Happy and sad. Good and bad. C'est la vie.

As I am, now, officially in America for good, I am no longer 百合, and so this blog has come to an end. Going forward, I will still blog, but less frequently, and on subjects which have yet to be determined. Nonetheless, though it's empty now, here's a link to my new blog, for whenever I begin posting about my more-mundane life Stateside.

I'll cherish forever my time in Taiwan; I truly cannot imagine where I would be had I not gone; I don't want to think about a version of my life in which I hadn't met all the amazing people and had all the amazing experiences that I have met and had over the past year. But all good things must end; even the most perfect day has a sunset, followed by darkness.

Wednesday, July 11, 2012


I'm trying to preemptively force my body into a US time zone. The only problem: it's not working.

It's 10:44am, July 10 right now. That's the time back home, and that's what I keep telling myself. The thing is, here it's 1:44am, July 11, and that's the time my worn out body is screaming at me to pay attention to. I tried to plan for this, trying to sleep between 2pm and 7pm this afternoon (aka 11pm-4am, Stateside), but it just resulted in an odd dream in which I was home and had completely blanked out on my entire journey, and in my waking up early feeling ill-rested.

And, now, I can tell you there is no way I'm staying up another 9 hours or so, until an "appropriate" West-coast bedtime. What's more, that's probably a good thing: if I went to bed in 9 hours, I'd miss my planned breakfast with Fonda and Esther, and I'd end up missing most of my last day in Taiwan AND likely missing my train/flight, in addition to not being ready to go, since my bags are still in need of some re-packing, and I am certainly not capable of finishing it tonight.

So...yeah. I'm going to go to bed now, I think. So much for advance time zone shifting...I leave tomorrow!

Monday, July 9, 2012


I opened my mouth, and shut it again. Recalibrated. Opened it again. "Careful!"

It happened first with the ubiquitous "mmn"; then "thank you," I think, and spread quickly to "really?" and "yeah!": in my mind, they existed first and foremost in Chinese. Someone gives me something? 謝謝 (Xie xie)! Someone says something unbelievable? 真的嗎 (Zhen de ma)? I need to confirm that something is correct? "mmn" or 對阿 (dui aa) will do the job just fine.

小心 (xiao xin) as my go-to word is new for me, though, and it has the advantage (?) over the others of concerning situations in which you really don't have time to translate before speaking. If you're telling someone to be careful, you usually need to do so immediately--and, really, that's the reason why 小心 made its way into my vocabulary in the first place: being an elementary school teacher gives you ample times when you need to caution people quickly, and be sure that they understand you.

We talked in our Fulbright sessions earlier this year about the tenets of language learning; one of the goals towards which we strive as English teachers is for English words to come naturally. This is referred to in the language teaching community as automaticity. And yes, automaticity is great, and yes, I'm more than a little excited that, for some words at least, Chinese has supplanted English in my mind.

But when, as happened in Australia, I found myself about to caution someone in Chinese, I started wondering about the dangers of these substitutions. No wonder second (or third, or whatever) languages are lost so easily if you don't use them! Seems to me like a natural defense mechanism: if you hold a rarely-used language at the forefront of your mind, you run the risk of not being able to communicate with those around you at a moment's notice--and that is, after all, the main purpose for which language was developed.

I'd just like to take this moment to apologize in advance to all my friends in America, for the moments when Chinese will almost certainly slip from my mouth instead of English. Just give me a few months and, I'm sure, I'll recalibrate.

Sunday, July 8, 2012

Being Atayal

Fake pearls hung down in strands from her red and purple headband, milky arrows pointing down to the black lines tattooed on her cheeks. Beneath, stripes of red and purple weave intermingled down her torso; then, after a break for a pair of pale knees, down her legs, to the terminal point: a pair of black Converse. I looked in the mirror at the strange, confused apparition looking back, blonde hair strangely camouflaged with the headband that surrounded it; pale complexion not quite meshing with the garishly bright colors of the costume. I was no Atayal. But it was fun to try to look like one.

Today consisted almost entirely in moments like this, moments of fun and cognitive dissonance as I learned about Taiwan's aboriginal cultures and pondered my own mixed colonizer-and-colonized heritage at the Taiwan Indigenous Culture Park in Pingtung.

Heavy historical identity notes aside, though, it was a lot of fun! James, Margaret, Emily and I watched a singing and dancing performance in the style of the Amis people; we wandered around looking at the many traditional architectures of Taiwan (my favorite is that of the Rukai, which features stacked slate, though the Amis' raised bamboo great rooms are pretty cool as well); we (okay, I) swang on a swing designed way back in the day to keep kids from messing up traditional ceremonies; we made music on traditional instruments; we laughed about the fact that every single replica house had a modern fire extinguisher inside and in easy sight; we tried on chime backpacks and danced around with them on; we saw and heard traditional firecrackers be set off; and, yes, we put on temporary tattoos and traditional clothes and took pictures.

Rukai architecture

James and Emily are Seediq (of recent movie fame); Margaret is Saisiat; I'm Atayal; we all have Atayal tattoos.
I AM Atayal. Shut up, I was adopted. ;)

Quite a lovely day, all told. Being Atayal, even if only completely falsely and superficially, is quite a bit of fun!

Saturday, July 7, 2012


Just got back from a lovely evening with Chialing, which featured delicious street food, milk tea, a Starbucks run (which we've been saying we'd do for months and hadn't), a movie, and more tea. The movie, it should be noted, was entirely in French with Chinese subtitles, so that I spent the majority of it debating whether I'd understand more trying to equate the French with Spanish, or trying to read the rapid-fire Chinese. And the food, while delicious, has left me feeling a bit queasy--just too much of it--so that's it from me tonight. Off to bed.

Friday, July 6, 2012

Back "home" and Internet-less

So here's the thing: my apartment no longer has Internet. As I write this, I'm sitting in Brunch across the street, one eye on my battery meter as it drops closer and closer to the point where it will automatically shut down.

The pros of this situation:
  • Harder to distract myself while packing;
  • Much more likely to spend fewer than 8 hours a day on the computer;
  • New time requirements for my blog will mean less late-night typing
The cons of this situation:
  • I have no Internet in my apartment. That pretty much sums it up, but if you want more, here:
  • I have to buy a coffee/tea whenever I want to check my email;
  • I have infinitely fewer opportunities to get in contact with people (internationally and nationally; my phone's almost out of funds, too);
  • When I start forcing myself back onto a US time schedule (which I'm thinking of doing starting maybe Monday or Tuesday), I'll be up all night with nothing to do;
  • Updates and photos will take longer getting posted.
And that's still the short list. Anyway, since I have yet to finish editing my Australia photos (and my computer's battery is running low), here is, at least, my just-updated "final days in Taiwan" (sniffsniff) album.

As for today, it consisted almost entirely in travel. I was up and out of my hostel by 6am; one local train, one express train, one flight, two buses, an MRT ride and a walk later, at 5:30pm, I arrived back home in Kaohsiung. Along the way, much ado was made about various forms of cash--I was carrying three (AUD, NTD, Japanese yen)--and trying to keep the coolest coins from each. I ended up making a small purchase specifically so I could get more Japanese change--some of their coins, the value of which I haven't been able to determine, have holes in them!

Another, erm, interesting moment came with the appointment of a sign at the entrance of my Osaka-Taipei flight telling me to "enjoy your "safe" and "comfortable" flight"--hardly encouraging.

AND--and if I had more time/wasn't feeling quite so lazy I would have led with this and made it a post of its own--I realized that hearing spoken Chinese and seeing Chinese signs is a comforting, homelike thing for me now. Being in Japan, even for a very short time, made me remember how awkward it is to not know a single word of the language being spoken around you (especially disorienting was the fact that Japan uses some Chinese characters, though mostly of the simplified variety, in its writing), and it let me see how far I've come in this year in Taiwan. The trilingual announcements at the airport (Japanese/Chinese/English) were great for showing me that I can now safely say I'd probably be alright if they had cut out the English--and that was a wonderful realization.

Well, it's about time I pack up and head back to my Internet-free home--and then get to work packing for my return to my other home.

Thursday, July 5, 2012

Adventures in Internationalism

This morning, I cuddled a koala in Cairns and chatted with a girl from South Korea. An hour ago, I ordered a full set meal out of a vending machine in Osaka. I then walked to a 7-11 to use the ATM, and came back with a Starbucks drink called "Seattle latte". And then, a few minutes ago, I checked my Facebook and Gmail to see that I had new contacts from new-made friends from Germany, the Netherlands, Sweden, Belgium and New Zealand waiting for me--and that beside the constant stream of new requests from my Taiwanese students.
I ordered this...
...using this.
Tomorrow morning, I will discover what Japan thinks a Seattle Latte tastes like. Hooray!

This random interlocking of different people, locales and customs might just be my favorite thing about international travel, and, from what I've seen of it, at least, of solo travel specifically. When you're traveling in a group it's easy and natural to stay in that group; when you're traveling alone, you can't help but reach out, see new things, meet new people, and get a much fuller sense of the world as a result.

This is just a short post--it's 11:45pm here in Japan, and I have to leave my hostel by 6am tomorrow if I want to make my flight on time (which I do)--but I thought I'd take advantage of my free Wifi here to make a quick note on my travels, and shed light on why my travels are only just beginning.