As if removing myself from the hot sun and beaches of the Philippines for cold and rain in Taiwan wasn't enough I decided to add another curveball to the mix. While my 'volunteer' work at Seaside consisted of drinking with the workers I couldn't have done more of a 180 by plopping myself at an English school with 30 some children everyday. I thought I was going through culture shock with my first two days in Taiwan, and that was before you add in all the kids. To be quite honest I wasn't happy, there were multiple occurrences of checking flight prices and wondering if I could leave Taiwan early; plus it didn't help that Caroline was continually reminding me of the fun I could have been having at Seaside. I've come to realize that it takes me a few days to transition into my new environments so as much as I wanted to leave I told myself to wait it out, things would surely get better.
n all fairness my unhappiness had nothing to do with the DADA school or the people that run it; John, Ching and Sunny are some of the friendliest Taiwanese I've met and tried there best to make me feel at home. The obvious highlight of my first few days was Ching's amazing cooking, I was continually looking forward to lunch and dinner (stark difference from what I experienced with meal times at Seaside). Also, upon noticing that I was freezing Ching gave me one of her jackets to wear and offered blankets, coffee and hot tea. The cold was the biggest contributor to my crabbiness and it didn't help that on my first night the hot water was broken and I hadn't yet found the extra blankets in the apartment.
Speaking of the apartment, that's another highlight to this gig. I do have to share a room with the other volunteer but we have a full kitchen, living room (with a TV I haven't attempted to use), fast WiFi, two bathrooms (hot water optional) and there's plenty of space for morning yoga. The schedule is long (12-9) for volunteer work but it's really not work, I've been able to work on my blog, read, and plan my travels while at the school. Ching described our jobs as being the 'fun ones' while her, Sunny and John have to be 'mean'. In my first week I've read to students, helped direct them through role play activities, corrected papers, tested spelling and played games.
Christmas Eve brought some added fun at school as we hosted a party for the kids in the afternoon. Each student brought a gift to exchange, we played various games and there was a talent show. Although it was nothing like the Christmas experience I would've had at home with my family I enjoyed every minute of it.
There were ups and downs with each day but as the week went on I became more and more content with where I was at (until Caroline sent more pictures and messages). I got more comfortable with my hosts, adjusted to my new routine and continued to enjoy the delicious food. Finally on Friday afternoon (already looking forward to the weekend) I was gorging myself on Curry (seriously so good) when John asked if I'd be joining them at the pool. Errr, umm maybe? Was my stuttered response, which ultimately evoked a laugh from John, "Well we leave at 7". I was leaning towards saying no and enjoying an early end to my 'work day' but a small voice told me to go for it - or maybe that was Sunny. Either way, I'm sooo glad I did, the pool doubled as a spa and was filled with curious Taiwanese who were all too eager to stare at me. Although this is nothing new to me it threw Jessie (the other volunteer from Hong Kong) for a loop, "They're all staring at you"....yeah, I know. I guess it didn't help that not only was I the only white girl but I was also the only girl in a two piece swimming suit, oh and throw in a few tattoo's and a belly button piercing, I was asking for it.
Even with the staring I had a great time at the pool with John, Jessie and almost 10 of our students. The first hour was spent in the pool working on our swimming skills (mine end at the front stroke), ending with a few relay races. The kids were then all too eager to take us over to the spa area and show us around. Kim worked hard at finding Jessie and I a "massage chair" and although it was crowded eventually succeeded. We moved from back jets, to shoulder waterfalls and ended with a jet aimed for the rear (not sure about that one). We ended (or so I thought) with a short session in the steam room, but upon exited John dumped some freezing water on me and then instructed me to get back in the hot spa. As I squirmed and shrieked at the vast changes in temperatures John simply assured me "It's good for you".
Joining the students at the pool definitely gave me more of a bonding experience that I had been missing throughout the week. I found some frustration throughout the days as Jessie can speak Mandarin and connect with the kids on a different level than I am able to. With a language barrier there is only so much you can get through in the first few days of knowing someone which only reaffirms the fact that I have to stick around for a while. On my first day I thought I'd be leaving by the weekend (for good) in search of a 'change of scenery' I'm not content on sticking around for another week and likely until the end of my visit to Taiwan (with some breaks of course). Here's to hoping that the cold stays at bay, the food continues to please and I can make a few more friends at the DADA school.
This country has a smell, I can't describe it and I actually don't know what it is, but as soon as I step out of the airport I know I've arrived. The land of night markets, bubble tea and so, soooo much food, your tastebuds will be tired.