It didn’t take long for any of us to realize we weren’t going to learn a whole hell of a lot in our respective high schools. We spoke the equivalent of chinese baby-talk, and with all of the cooing and attention we were receiving from our classmates, they weren’t learning much either. One by one, we removed ourselves from the classroom whenever possible, always aware of where the ‘jiowguan’ or ‘guards’ were, so as not to be reported to the Rotary. I found myself especially frustrated around the 2000 elections, because I expected to be able to open the Taipei Times and find out who the conclusive winner was. Everyone remembers what a giant clusterfuck THAT election was, and it was extremely difficult to find any current information. While the US president may just be a figurehead and a puppet for stronger, hidden political forces, I wanted to know who our figurehead was going to be. It was then that I discovered the tushuguan (library). The library had the regular library things–books, magazines, and current newspapers, but more importantly than that, it had a computer lab with internet access. Ploddingly slow internet access, but internet access nonetheless. From here I was able to find out current news, and contact my boyfriend, whom I’d sorely missed over the past few months. Letters were not an effective form of communication, ESPECIALLY letters with packages. I had more packages seized by customs that year than I actually received. It always infuriated me to think that some postal employee somewhere was rocking out to MY cds. The tushuguan became the place to be–as Jessica stated in our yearbook, “What do I like about Taiwanese high school?? I love the tushuguan!! I love the tushuguan so much. She is my best friend in the world.” It’s hard to read in this picture, but underneath the Chinese, they have written in English, ‘Your good taste has been torn into pieces, too!’ Those administrators, always suspecting the exchange students when it came to tomfoolery. And perhaps they were right to do so. Muli spent her time in the tushuguan pondering ways to torture Hello Kitty. Those of us at 中正高中 were a little more…constructive. Yes. I’m not even sure how it came about, but one day we decided the time had come to start building forts. It’s possible that with all of the babytalk, we had regressed to our 5-year-old selves. It was not a fantastic fort, and we really weren’t sure how we could construct a better one with our limited materials. That was when Raul told us about the abandoned second floor of the tushuguan. Let those words sink in a little bit. Abandoned second floor of the tushuguan. … Lo, we were like unto the gods from that day forth. We immediately set upon building another fort. A bigger, better fort. Oh Raul and Beth, why must you always hurt me so? Lucas got wind of our fort activities and came up to check things out. He was always very high-energy to the point of ADD, and VERY VERY forthcoming, which made him endlessly entertaining and also a tad creepy. I think this photo is an excellent representation of both. We completely took over the second floor of the tushuguan after that day. We’d have ‘girl parties’ upstairs which basically amounted to dancing to Madonna on top of the tables and bitching about things that were going on. We ALL bitched A LOT. But we were also each other’s built-in support system. We listened to each other bitch, and sympathized, because we understood what they were going through. We listened to everyone bitch because we wanted to make sure that someone would listen when WE had to bitch. But our time in the tushuguan was definitely more ‘dance party’ than ‘dear abby’. Eventually, we assembled the materials to make a truly spectacular fort. The three of us came up with a series of songs and dances with which to establish dominance over our new territory. There was a lot of semi-melodic shouting of “TAI-WAN FO-OORT” and some walking like egyptians and some mashing of potatoes. BEST. FORT. EVER. After we built our ‘secret’ lair, we further determined we needed superhero identities. Taiwanese superhero identities. The Taiwanese are very…out there with their bodily functions. No hiding or muffling or holding it in, whatsoever. You’ve got to fart? Let ‘er rip. There was what appeared to be bloody spit all over the sidewalks from the betelnuts (more on this in a future post). The thing that skeeved me out the most (besides the practice of putting used toilet paper in a garbage can next to the toilet instead of flushing it) was the way my host families, my second one ESPECIALLY, would ‘clear their sinuses’ in the shower. The apartments had fairly thin walls. Imagine the sound of someone hawking a loogie. Now imagine it continuously for upwards of ten minutes. NOW imagine being next in line for a shower and what you’re probably stepping on. Yeah, eww. So, henceforth, we were Super Burper (Beth), Super Farter (Emilie), and Super Loogie (me), fighting against the forces of good taste everywhere! Beth and I got into a dramatic argument about the best tactics with which to take out Miss Manners, our arch-nemesis, with our superpowers. Super Farter and I test out our newfound superpowers out the window at the jiowguan. Being a superhero is hard work, so I took a power nap, while Super Farter practiced her patented Death Stare in order to protect our valuable resources of Wheat Thins. Eventually we tired of our tushuguan activities, and were ready to take our superpowers out into the real world. This, my friends, is when Raul taught us to jump the wall and escape. Raul was basically the Jedi Master of school avoidance, but he would only teach us lessons when we were ready to learn them. It was very important to make sure a guard wasn’t watching, as the guard’s station was very near the lower, jumpable, section of wall, but eventually we turned it into an art form. Later, we discovered a hole in the wall surrounding the school back by the track, possibly for drainage, but large enough to fit through, and found ourselves in a rice paddy, which made for a soggier but somewhat easier escape. I had a very Office-Space revelation. “I don’t like school. I don’t think I’m going to go anymore.” I felt I could see and do more things, and absorb more culture, if I wasn’t stuck inside for 8 hours every day. Around January, I stopped attending school altogether.