Article for Rotary Club

I went with my host mother to her local Rotary Club meeting and they were discussing the magazine that they put out every week for the club.  It’s apparently hard to get people to write articles for the magazine because not enough people have time to contribute.  I had mentioned to my host mother that I have a minor in professional writing, so she asked if I wanted to write an article for them.  I had to do it in one day, so it’s a bit rough, but here’s what I sent to them:

For the past 20 days I have been touring Taiwan with a group of Americans, all of us from Pennsylvania. We have been hosted by the Taiwanese rotary clubs, who are taking us to many different local sites and showing us places in Taiwan that most visitors do not get to see.  So far I have seen very generous, intelligent, and protective people who are doing everything they can to give us a window into their lives.

Though the schedule has been heavy and the hours have been long, we have managed to enjoy ourselves a great deal. I realize it is not easy to cram an entire culture into a one-month trip, but we are doing our best to experience as much as possible.   So far we have seen historical buildings, beautiful landscapes, interesting museums, and impressive factories.  Most recently with the local club, we have been to the M Radio Station and the National Taichung Theater.  I have learned how radio stations work, the technology behind creating playlists and conducting interviews, and the details about applying for a job and succeeding as a DJ for a radio station.  I have seen incredible architecture and the unique functions of the new theater building—as well as all the special artistic touches included by the designer.  For me, this is a testament to the spirit of the Taiwanese people, who are willing to take risks and incorporate new technology fearlessly.

We were also taken to the Taichung National Museum of Fine Arts very recently. I found these artworks to be a wonderful reflection of what makes Taiwan so unique. It has a great mixture of traditional art—like paintings, drawings, and sculptures, but it also has these fascinating modern mediums—virtual reality and optical illusion works made of light and glass. This says to me that the Taiwanese people are not afraid to experiment.  They are curious.  They look to the future, but honor the past.

Finally, before we left our most recent host families, we were invited to experience the new Divecube Hotel which has recently opened in Taichung City. It is one of only three diving hotels in the world and is a marvel of engineering. It allows you to practice scuba diving right in the middle of the city, with a large pool that does down over 20 meters.  The instructors showed us how to use the equipment and went with us as we explored underwater caves and a sunken ship designed inside the depths of the pool.  It was incredible.  I have never had such a surprising and exciting day!  And afterwards they served us delicious desserts and coffee at the hotel restaurant.  Again, a great example of Taiwan, which seems very traditional on the surface, showing that they are also on the cutting edge of the hotel industry.

It is this combination, this wonderful balance, that I most admire and envy.  It is this spirit that I would like to take home to Pennsylvania and share with my friends and family.  I hope the friendships I have made in Taiwan will last after this week, when I will head back to the United States.  I definitely believe that the things I have seen and experienced in your country will stay with me for the rest of my life—and I very much hope I will be able to come back to Taiwan again soon!

And since I figure an article is as good as a blog post, that’s all you folks are getting until I blog again…

~Hillary

Another Beautiful Day in Taiwan

Well, we’ve been a bit busy for blog posts the last few days, but hopefully we will be slowing down in the next 10 days to leave a bit more room for resting up, blogging, and seeing a few more tourist-y locations.  I’m just going to hit the highlights of the last week or so to catch you up to speed. I figure, if I took a picture of it, it surely must be interesting enough to entertain you folks!

Ok, absolutely have to mention the amazing dough factory we went to.  Taiwan has these traditional figurines made out of dough that they’ve been making for years.  You used to be able to eat them, but now it’s turned into more of a children’s toy thing and there are too many chemicals to eat it.  The dough is kind of like playdough (except more malleable) and kind of like model magic (except it dries a lot harder).  It’s great stuff and I bought a ton of it to bring home with me.  I anticipate using it up pretty quickly, but that’s fine.  I got a card to buy even more online!  The factory was set up with a small museum and show room and we saw all sorts of things made out of the dough, from tiny gods to giant toadstools, to miniature men selling dough figurines. We also saw some of the very old ones in various stages of decomposition, which was pretty cool looking, let me tell you!  Pictures to follow!  We also each got a small replica of ourselves made out of dough by the master dough sculptor and owner of the factory.  Very cool!

Of course, I have to mention our trip to Sun Moon Lake, allegedly one of the most beautiful places in Taiwan, though I can’t swear to it quite yet.  There’s still 11 days left!  We rode bicycles along the edge of the lake and saw the culture center with some examples of aboriginal art and went to a famous restaurant nearby that overlooked the lake.  If you take the elevator in the back up to the top of the restaurant, you can stand on a clear glass platform and look out over the water.  It was very beautiful, though a few members of our party found it pretty frightening.  (Sorry, Michey!)  We wound up running out of time to see everything, so we are going to try very hard to go back again before we leave to see the aboriginal village!

We also went to a tea factory and along the way we stopped to see a bunch of monkeys begging for food from the people on the side of the road. There was an adorable baby monkey eating what looked like a waffle and a bunch of grown-ups eating fruit.  They came very close, but we were warned to back away because apparently they are pretty strong and will try to steal any purses or bags they get their hands on.  I’m guessing they have some kind of deal with the local mob–they seem pretty organized.

Anyway, we did get to the tea factory and had a quick tour and delicious tea.  The owner showed us a tea ceremony, his tea plants, and also his left hand.  I know what you’re thinking–but wait, there is a story here.  When the owner was 8 years old, he was harvesting tea and two of his fingers got sliced off in the machine.  Instead of being justifiably cranky, he has turned his lost fingers into a whole marketing campaign.  His tea is known as two-finger tea and he has two little sliced-off finger tip mascots!  You can buy little pillows and cases and such all shaped like this guy’s severed fingertips!  He even has a t-shirt of him as a child with his fingers bleeding and him crying.  He’s really made it work for him!

Besides, these awesome trips, we’ve gone to a gourmet farm-to-table restaurant, seen a museum full of carved wooden statues, taken pictures in the most expensive temple bathroom in Taiwan, and ridden a sugar cane train, so we are definitely keeping busy.  I’ll try to update a bit more regularly, but wi-fi isn’t always easy to come by!   So, until I blog again,

~Hillary

 

 

 

 

 

 

Beautiful Music

At our dinner tonight, Level gave us a taste of traditional Taiwanese music on a carved wooden flute.  He also played a few other pieces after many cries for an encore.  Here’s a sample!

Busy Day in Changhua

Today was a fun-filled and very full day, so I will be giving you the highlights followed by a slightly more in-depth discussion of what we’ve learned about local government so far.

We began this morning with a trip to a ribbon factory in Changhua City–or perhaps Changhua County–it’s not precisely clear when the one becomes the other.  We travelled with our tour guide, Alice, on a be-tasselled bus that doubled as a karaoke parlor, which definitely passed the time! The ribbon factory was set up more as a tour of the products produced than the production process (say that 5 times fast!) and that was fine with me because there was fabric and ribbons galore–much of it shiny.  After a quick nod to the machines, we skipped down a long aisle full of ribbon and fabric to wind up at a well-stocked gift shop.  I bought 1 of everything.  We then dyed a small ribbon, tied a bow, and had some lovely milk tea ice cream. Then I bought some more stuff (so much fabric!!)  At that point we were late, so we had to hurry down a rainbow-colored walkway to the bus, which was now guarded by turkeys!

Did they attack us?  You bet they did!

But we made it to the bus, and then it was on to a local bakery which we were told had been in the same family for 9 generations.  They gave us samples of pork-filled steamed buns and delicious soft sponge cake and we all ate more than we should have!  (Especially Duke–there is a picture as proof!)  We saw the bun-making process, but then had to hurry along to the nearby Lukang Longshan temple.

This temple was much older than the others we’ve seen.  It has been declared an historical site, so there must be permission from a committee to alter it, thus it is a lot older looking and less colorful. I thought it was just as nice but in a more formal way–like the way an ancient cathedral is different than a modern church.  The temple contained a rare standing Buddha left over from the Japanese rule.  After snapping a few pictures, we had to rush off again to grab a coffee in the Lukang historic district.

Naturally where there is coffee (and tea!) there are shops, and so I bought a few more absolutely necessary items–including a pair of embroidered red shoes, a wooden puzzle, and a Russian stacking doll!  We then ran to catch the bus because we were already running late to see the famous Changhua Railway Roundhouse!

We walked around a viewed the roundhouse, but unfortunately no trains came to turn around during our visit.  We took some photos, poked around some very cool train engines, and then it was back to the bus for our meeting with the magistrate of Changhua county, Wei Ming-ku.

Our meeting with the magistrate involved a large group of his staff making themselves available for an hour so we could ask a few questions related to our work. Because I work for disability, Lisa for the library, Duke for dam safety, and Claire as a private farmer, there were a number of relevant topics.  The overview seemed to be that the county and the city have completely separate budgets and staff.  They seem to try to stay out of each other’s way–at least in the case of libraries. We drove past a Changhua county library and a Changhua city library sitting side by side and performing what were likely very similar services.  Disability in Taiwan is managed partially by the county with government doctors performing examinations to determine who should be awarded money based on income and severity.  There is a public transportation system designed for disabled people to allow them to get around, which is free for disabled people below a certain income.  After the Q&A session, were were given gifts of tea and alcohol and rushed on our way to the rotary meeting next door!

We arrived at the meeting just in time to grab pizza from Pizza Hut–which is not exactly the same as at home, but close enough.  It was delicious!  We inhaled the food as the powerpoint was set up and chatted with the Rotary members.  Shout out to my new friends, Tom and Ploy–recently married and recently Rotarians!  We gave our speeches with only a few technical difficulties and accepted flags and awards from the Rotary Club as well as a brief lesson on how to fill out postage information to send items from Taiwan to PA.

That’s right!  We have already accumulated enough swag and souvenirs to fill a box, so the club arranged for us to mail part of it home!  They are so thoughtful!  We definitely needed it–I’m down to only 1 suitcase and 1 carry-on now, so I’m pretty happy.  Granted, I’m mostly happy to be able to fill another suitcase with presents, but still, VERY happy!  Can’t wait to head out tomorrow, so I’d better get to bed.  It must be noon in PA because it is midnight here!

Goodnight until I blog again,

Hillary

 

1 Week in Taiwan

Well one week has passed by in sunny (and occasionally rainy) Taiwan.  I’ve made great progress with chopstick usage and the VERY few Chinese phrases I know are tripping easier off the tongue.  I still can’t spell them, but hey, baby steps!

Big recent events–we attended the 24th anniversary of our friend Joy’s rotary club. There was a beautiful reception and everyone was wearing their best dresses and suits. We were all in the team uniform–navy blue jackets and grey slacks–which was a shame because everyone else literally glittered. It was an amazing.  There was a central catwalk that rose from the floor to about 2-3 feet high and all the important rotary members walked down it with their husband/wives and were applauded.  We met up with a lot of our new friends and had a delicious dinner with a particularly memorable creme brulee cheesecake. Mmmmm. Cheesecake.

We also attended the big annual rotarian conference earlier today.  It was held at a local university and everyone was called up on stage to shake the hand of the rotarian president, Joy.  It must be noted that the motto for this conference was ‘Joy to the Rotary’ and that can’t be a coincidence!  After shaking his hand and taking a few photos, there were a bunch of speeches, which most of us could not understand, so we were allowed to wander off. My host family took me out to shop for baby gifts–including some red envelopes that you put money in and tuck into the baby’s blanket.  Since we had a little time to kill, we also looked at a few fabric stores and I spent some of that sweet tax return money!

Afterwards, we headed to the baby party to celebrate the 1 month birthday of my host family’s niece.  She does not have a name yet, as according to Alice–the daughter of my host parents–the baby has to be examined by a fortune teller.  The fortune teller will look at the birthdate and other factors and determine how many characters are to be used for the baby’s name. Then the parents can arrange and rearrange them until they find a pleasing combination.   I told her about babynames.com, but she just laughed.

The baby party itself was huge and was held in a wedding parlor. Friends, relatives, and even some local politicians (the mayor of Nantou, according to Alice) were in attendance.  We had delicious food and there was a 3-tiered cake.  All of the small children were invited up on the stage to sing Happy Birthday in English and Chinese, and then we ate all of it.  And it was wonderful. At around 9, we packed it all up–they take their extra food home in plastic bags instead of boxes, and headed back to the house.  Everyone has to be up early tomorrow to send me off to the next host family and (as usual) all my stuff has exploded all over the guest room.  So I should probably do something about that…

Until I blog again…

Hillary

Day 3

Day three is wrapping up and so far no major problems.  Jet lag is almost all gone and the squat toilet has been conquered!  I’ve just had a great shower with awesome water pressure (way better than my house) and I smell like Osmanthus blossoms thanks to the gift of body lotion we were given at the Flying Cow Ranch.  So it is probably the perfect time to summarize the day.

Claire and I stayed with the same host family–Nan Shan–and we woke up at 7 to get ready so our host parents could go to work.  There are many people in the house, so it feels very homelike.  We had toast with jam, boiled eggs, and fruit for breakfast with steamed buns, so I think the family has gone out of their way to find us American food.  We gave our host gifts (actually the night before) and received a set of chopsticks in return.  Then it was a scramble to get on the road.

We were dropped off at McDonalds, which is actually very similar to our McDonalds except the english muffins are softer and the menu is a little different.  We met up with all of our friends to start our tour.  We went to a beautiful museum and saw a huge room full of calligraphy, which was unfortunately wasted on me since I don’t read Chinese. But I am told it was by their most famous artist.  We also saw amazing paintings and art installations of all kinds.  I bought a few postcards at the gift shop and then we had to hurry to get to our next tour.

We travelled to Luking University, which is actually a Catholic university that used to be for girls only.  Now it is a sprawling modern campus and the library has just been updated. It is over 8 floors and has a new writing center that really brought back my college memories.  We saw a robotic hand programmed by local students and used a prism to make a quick hologram out of our phones–very cool!

Next we grabbed a quick lunch (less than 10 courses) and headed to a local factory to see a presentation on geosynthetic materials that are manufactured locally and shipped out all over the world.  These materials are incorporated into the sides of roads, bridges, mountains, rivers, beaches, etc.  They can be used to prevent landslides and stop erosion. It is extremely useful and interesting.  As we were touring the facility, one of our new rotary friends, Max, told me the whole area where we were used to be a beach when he was young. He used to catch crabs with his siblings and now it is all roads and buildings–that is how quickly Taiwan is developing!

After our tour, it was back to our lunch restaurant for dinner and karaoke.  As usual, I ate too much, but this time the songs were much better and I think we did pretty well learning the dances.  Then we hooked up Lisa’s phone and taught everybody the macarena!  I think there are videos of it somewhere…the internet never forgets!

And now it is definitely bed time.  We have a presentation tomorrow and plenty of other plans to squeeze in.  Until tomorrow!

~Hillary

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Day 2

Wow, so far this trip has been pretty action-packed and we’ve just started. It’s currently 6 am and we’re just waking up and will head over to get breakfast around 7.  We’re staying at Flying Cow Farm, a local attraction where families can come and experience farm life–from playing in the fields to feeding baby animals.  It is a very comfortable room with a great view, but we are excited because at 9:00 today we will be heading home with our first host family.

Yesterday we were shown a very interesting powerpoint to help us with important Taiwanese customs that differed from the US.  For one, here in Taiwan they are very serious about separating trash and only putting the correct kind in the correct trash can.  They also do not flush anything down the toilet except waste–not even toilet paper!   That is taking some getting used to!  After the powerpoint we all gave our presentation, had lunch and then the whole group grabbed our luggage and we were off to the Flying Cow Farm.

When we arrived at the farm we took a ton of pictures with the Rotarians so they can use them for their newsletter.  Our goal is to have more pictures than the last team!  We then took a tour all over the farm to learn about their water conservation efforts and recycling. We saw so many adorable baby animals and even fed some goats and rabbits!  Then we had a huge dinner with probably about 10 courses!  Some of it was cooked right at the table and I definitely ate too much.  During the dinner we also did karaoke–everyone got up and sang songs–most of them in Taiwanese or Chinese–but there were a few in English. Then they taught us a few dances and let us sing a few songs–but I’m afraid we really butchered Hey Jude.  (Sorry Beatles fans!)

Then around nine o’clock we headed off to bed to get ready for our next adventure–and now that I’m awake and the sun is up, I am going to go get some breakfast!  Until I blog again…

-Hillary