December, our esteemed winter month renowned for its holidays regarding Christmas and New Years. These are of course celebrated in many ways and levels in different countries when compared to the U.S.A. Would you like to know the Taiwanese version? I hope so because I’m about to tell y’all!

Beginning with Christmas it is neither an official national holiday nor an unofficial one. The extent of Christmas is through commercialism. Many holiday decorations are put up but not with the same cheer or meaning as in America. Families don’t get together for a Christmas dinner and many don’t even give presents. According to what I’ve heard from exchange students in Taiwan, their host families don’t celebrate this holiday in the slightest. The way that a group of friends and I commemorated our Christmas Eve was through attending a church service. That brings up another point of Taiwanese not knowing the religious meaning behind this holiday. I asked my classmate and she answered, “I think someone was born.”

Nonetheless I invaded Taiwan with a bit of Christmas to give a small snip-it of what it’s like in America. First I secretly made a decorated 3D paper Christmas tree for my host family and wrapped their gifts. During the night, I quietly snuck the tree onto the table and placed the gifts underneath. My goal was to be Santa Claus but of course they knew it was me who did it. Even so, they liked their surprise and their pleasant smiles made the holiday special. At high school I wore a Santa hat all day and gave all my classmates a candy cane while saying the Chinese version of “Merry Christmas.” It’s not much but I wanted to bring a bit of my culture to them.

Onto New Years! Happy New Year by the way! For New Year’s Eve, millions and millions of people gather around in condensed packs to watch Taipei 101 shoot fireworks from its building. This show lasts about three minutes and the fireworks reminded me of a lit up Christmas tree because of the building’s design. It was a very pretty show and so many people went to see it. Getting back home was a chaotic mess as everyone was rushing to get to the subway. Apart from those fireworks, Taiwanese don’t do much of anything for New Years. It’s Chinese New Years that they go all out for. That you’ll just have to hear about in an upcoming Rotary Report!

My high school had its 70th Anniversary celebration by having a ceremony and all the classes setting up festival tents and selling something. The things sold all revolved around food of some sort whether it was hot pot or sausage or a smoking cup of soda (the smoke most likely coming from dry ice). The club I’m in, the martial arts club, had a performance in front of the whole school. During our meetings we learned a ‘grasshopper hand’ routine and a lion dance (the traditional Chinese lion costume manned by one person as the head/front legs and the another as the back legs). It was now our time to show off our hard work! Oh boy was it a blast! I absolutely adore doing such traditional Chinese culture things! Yes, even if I was the back legs of the lion meaning I had to dance bent over in a 90 degree angle and my back was screaming in pain. It still was awesome! Instantly after performing, I wanted to do it again!

There are several places my host family has taken me to see during the weekends. One was a geo park with a famous landmark in Taiwan called ‘The Queen’s Head.” This rock, as the name suggests, is in the shape of a woman’s head with a high-bun hairdo. A favorite sight seeing place of mine is a Buddhist temple in the mountains entirely decorated in seashells and coral. You feel like you’re under the sea! Pictures of dragons and phoenixes adorn the walls completely made out of colored seashells. The temple was truly beautiful and unique. Inside the temple are several different types of objects that bring fortune and luck. Such an example is a large ball, which you rub for luck and rotate to symbolize multiplying your wealth.

One day my host father asked me if I wanted to go bowling with our Rotary district. Open to anything, of course I said yes. I thought it would be cool to bowl for fun with Rotarians. Little did I know it turned out to be a full-scale competition. … Uh-oh! I wasn’t any good at bowling! Thankfully my older sister from my temporary host family was a serious bowler in high school and became my teacher. She helped my status go from ‘complete beginner’ to ‘getting the hang of it.’ Did I win the competition? Of course not! I did however reach my goal of getting a three digit score. That’s victory enough for me!

For Chinese University class, we had our final exam on December 24th. Yeah, a full blown test on Christmas Eve. That’s another difference between Taiwan and America. While in the USA we get a winter break in December, Taiwan continues to have school (including December 25th) and gives the exchange students an important test. Regardless, I am happy to report my final exam result totaled up to a 92.5! Whoo-hoo! I hope I did Texas proud!

At a place called Bali, my host mother took me to see a Taiwanese aboriginal museum. Ever since I was a young girl, I’ve always loved the Native American culture residing in the States. It so happens that this interest also applies to Taiwanese aboriginals! The two cultures are very different mind you but nonetheless fascinating. A legend of the Puyuma Tribe says that a man named Nunur picked up a piece of bamboo for use of a cane. He flowed to the coast from the sea and leaned on the cane to crawl onto the beach but he slowly turned to stone. The bamboo stick that remained grew, the upper part becoming a man and the lower part becoming a woman. The two married and their offspring and began the Puyuma tribe. Isn’t that intriguing?! I hope to learn more about aboriginals in Taiwan because that’s definitely a culture that’s worth checking out!

I hope everyone had a lovely Christmas and an exciting start to the year of 2013! Best of luck to all of y’all! Take care!

Andrea Clark