Around December, it was time to change host families. I was a little apprehensive about this as I’d met the family before, and although warm, they spoke no English. I knew immediately that either my Chinese would improve rapidly over the next few months, or my ability to play charades would be unparalleled worldwide. Quite honestly, I would have been happy to have stayed with Tracy Ah-e and Huang SuSu for the entire year. But other people in the Rotary wanted me, and they would have lost face if I didn’t go stay with them, so there was nothing to be done about it. I was quite lucky in that respect compared to other students. I only had three different families throughout the course of my stay, as opposed to some who were changing homes on a basis of every three or four weeks. Can you imagine packing and moving and getting used to a new area of a completely unfamiliar city every three or four weeks? The Lin family’s daughter, Vivian, had gone to Brazil the year before. She loved it there and often expressed an intense desire to return as soon as possible. With as much as she had to study every day in Taiwan, I don’t particularly blame her. Brazil must have been very freeing. Studies have shown that students from the US who go abroad tend to be MORE studious when they return. I would imagine the reverse is true when students from Taiwan and Japan go overseas and experience not having to spend 16 hours of every day in a classroom setting. Vivian and Li-Wen. Li-Wen was a PISTOL. She was anxious to show off at any opportunity, and would routinely do just about anything for attention.
Li-Wen, getting ready to throw down in some sort of ruler-based war. You know how schoolkids here (at least in my experience) pull on their eyelids to chants of “Chinese, Japanese, American Knees”? Yeah, they do the same thing in Taiwan. But in reverse. THIS IS WHAT YOU LOOK LIKE, ROUND EYES!
My second host father. He was an art teacher at a local art school, which is the same one that Vivian attended. He taught mostly chinese calligraphy, and it was something he was apparently quite well known for. He tried to teach me some, but the language barrier was impossible to overcome, especially when I was taking classes with a different calligraphy teacher who taught me things a completely different way. We ended up getting frustrated with one another after about an hour, and never made another attempt. He’d just watch and ‘tut’ at me when I was doing my calligraphy homework.
My second host mother, eating dinner. This was the first host family I had that attempted to feed me until I exploded. They were both very insistent that I call them ‘mom’ and ‘dad’, which was hard for me, especially due to the time of year. The Rotary has charted the way student’s years typically go, and it follows a pattern–a very good first 3-4 months, and then around December and especially the holidays, the honeymoon vacation period ends and students become incredibly homesick and depressed. If a student is going to go home early, it’s usually during that period of time; the depression cycle lasts around two months. Of course I went into things thinking “I’ll be different”, but I couldn’t fight it. I missed home, and I even missed the things that had become familiar to me over the previous four months. It was very hard to call them ‘mom’ and ‘dad’ at a time when I was acutely aware that my mom and dad were across the Pacific.
This was the bathroom in my second host family’s apartment. This was the thing that MAJORLY skeezed me out about this particular living situation. Notice the green bucket? That’s covering their shower drain. I believe this is the first time I’d ever seen a shower where there was no tub or any enclosure whatsoever. Consequently, water was EVERYWHERE. The floor & toilet seat were constantly soaking wet. I’d do a mental facepalm every time I stepped into the bathroom in stocking feet, directly into a puddle. SQUISH. My socks and the hem of my pants were always wet over the entire course of time that I lived there. Christmas is an interesting holiday in Taiwan, if only because the majority do not hold christian beliefs and therefore they have all the trees in public and the santa mythos without any of the semantics arguments.
A giant tree in front of Shin Kong Mitsukoshi, constructed out of glass bottles. If Fight Club took place in Taiwan, this is one piece of corporate art that I guarantee would be shards in so many people’s eyes in a matter of seconds. A bunch of exchange students got all gussied up and went to a christmas dance party; it didn’t matter that we went out in public looking like that, because EVERYONE went out in public looking like that. It was an uncertain time of year for a lot of us, if not all of us, but we made our way through it the best we could, and ultimately, I believe we all became stronger people because of it.