The Island Playground

I haven’t posted in a while…a long while. No holiday updates,no new years themed retrospection or introspection no post about midterms and finals week(s). So, I’m not sure quite where to begin, but I am going to attempt to summarize the past three months in one post (with lots of pictures).

Besides keeping myself ridiculously busy, the past three months has been kind of a roller coaster. My roommate(s) and best friends moved out, I almost up and left myself (a combination of my friends leaving and chronic holiday homesickness). Now, 2015 has been everything I could ask for so far, it has left me with a sense of determination I’ve never had before. Of course, aimless determination, to just do things that I want to do, because I want to do them, to have some kind of aim or direction, well, that would be very…not me.

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Bye bye Xing Xing!

To start, the boring part, work update. This coming week is final exams then we have a weird half week of classes after finals, and then Chinese New Year break. Of course they can’t just let the kids off after finals, they have to stay in school for one more week after finals. This past week was torture for students and staff alike. You could see the long 22 week semester taking its toll.

I decided a review game would be the best way to go, a little relief and a little studying at the same time. In one of my classes one of my students asked me, as I was drawing the game board, “Teacher what is that?” I said “We are going to play a game to help us review.” He rolled his eyes and said “Teacher I think some of us would prefer to just study” I later saw this student working on an art project that was due the next class period, which was what he really wanted to use my class for. The art project was anime. Going through oral examinations with each student individually and watching them suffer (much to my delight) during finals week has given me insight on their lives and personalities.

Firstly, middle school is a volatile time. Everything is determined by your peers, especially when you are from a culture that already has a pack mentality, anything single move out of the norm is instantly analyzed and could leave you ostracized from the group in a matter of seconds.

Secondly, they have the strangest mix of mature and immature. My students have the maturity level of western 5 and 6 graders, they watch Disney cartoons and hold stuffed animals in class. But when it comes to school and testing they treat it like they have the most important job in the world and society as they know it will collapse if they do not get straight A’s. That is probably what their parents tell them when they lock them inside their rooms on weekends and force them to study. But then if they get a 100, they get an i-phone 6, or an LV bag, or something absurd that a middle school-er does not need. Then the student is happy, and the cycle of ridiculousness continues. qiguai!

It is so hard to face cultural things like this that you don’t understand and not compare it to your own culture as worse or problematic. But the truth is I look at my students and I pity them. They have so much pressure and work to do that they do not have time to be kids, no time to be kids makes for very boring adults, which is exactly what the bourgeois workforce demands, a league of hard-workers who are designed to follow orders. As long as education systems around the world keep operating in this way, life as we know it, and all the problems society faces will never change.

Thirdly, I hate them as much as I pity them.I had to do oral examinations with my nightmare class, the last period of the day on Christmas. I’m pretty sure one of my classes has been calling me “the cow” and one 7th grade class threw a temper tantrum when I told them we would not be having a Christmas party because their behavior was terrible. See? Maturity level.

I don’t know who was more relieved for finals, me or the students.

Since New Years my social life has now become my adventure life and it has improved immensely. This part will be in pictures.

Before the new year we went river tracing to a wild hotspring in Gugong.

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New Years was a long weekend so my friend invited me along on his travels to Orchid Island to go free diving with his buddies. It turned into quite the adventure.

Our original plan was to get to Taitung Thursday night, camp on the beach, then do a really early morning hike to watch the first sunset of 2015. Our car broke down 40 outside of Taichung and we got towed to my friends friends place in pingtung. We ended up staying there for the night and drove the next morning to the Taitung airport to try to make the first flight to Orchid. We got there and picked up the other friends. The flight was delayed, delayed, canceled, same with the next three. So we ended up bumming around Dulan and camping on the beach and making it to Orchid the next day.

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As soon as we got there we changed and went diving, literally, we were in the water within 30 minutes of arrival. I had a lot of trouble with the water pressure and only made it a few meters down before my head wanted to explode. but it was still so cool! There were so many different kinds of fish, and eels, and even a water snake (which I later found out was extremely poisonous).

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After lunch they went out for another dive session while I went out for a run.

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That night they went diving again, this time hunting for fish and lobster.

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The next morning we took a scooter around the island and dove one more time before heading back to mainland Taiwan.

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We got back to Taitung and drove up in to the countryside where we would stay at another friends of my friends farm. We had dinner with a group of local farmers who all swapped goods and each brought their own products to dinner. Living simply brought on a whole new meaning, kitchen sink and bathroom outside so that the kitchen waste water could be used for the toilet. A couple that lived in the mountains for months at a time. It was so nice to see a group of Taiwanese who care so deeply and are so connected to the beautiful environment Taiwan has when most don’t.

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We stayed there one night then went to LiSong hostpring, known as the most beautiful hotspring in Taiwan. We spent at least 3 hours sitting in the hotspring. It was exactly what I needed before returning to work on Monday morning.

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Since then I have been going rock climbing about twice a week either bouldering or on the wall at Chung Hua University. Hopefuly soon I will be able to be confident enough in my ability to go on some real rocks.

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This weekend I went to Kenting to participate in the Kenting Half Marathon. It was a challenging course and I ended up finishing under two hours as was my goal, but just barely, 1:59:01. But just a half marathon wasn’t enough, I had to get a surfing lesson in too.

 

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and falling...

and falling…

and some exploring made a very windy uphill bike ride to the southernmost point of Taiwan…SAMSUNG CAMERA PICTURES

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When I think about all the things I have done in 2015 that I love to do, I cannot believe I ever considered leaving Taiwan early (let alone leaving at all!).

Taiwan is a giant playground for all ages, you just have to know how to play.

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