And so a new year dawns upon us! The first month of 2013 was quite spectacular as a whole. Many new sights were seen and many memories made with fond feelings within each one.

During the first part of January two outstanding occasions took place. One was at a Rotary event among District 3480. A culture class was held over the ancient Chinese art of calligraphy! That was my first time ever learning calligraphy and trying it. We were provided brushes, ink, paper, the whole sha-bang. A guest lady teacher came and instructed all the exchange students in how to conduct our hands and movement. Even the smallest of motions could make an immense difference in the final product.

The endeavor to get my calligraphy looking as graceful and lovely as the teacher’s took a bit of practice. But through trail and error I’m proud to say I got the hang of it! To end our lesson we were each given a piece of red paper to paint lucky Chinese characters on for the coming Chinese New Year. It was a great experience to have and a treasured lesson to learn. The art of calligraphy does require skill and practice but now that I’ve got a handle on it, there’s nothing stopping me from pursuing it!

My mind was blown away throughout the second mentioned occasion. It was a play held at a building called ‘NK101.’ The performance was titled ‘Formosa Fantasy: The amazing night of Taiwan.’ Let me tell you, the title did not lie in any way whatsoever. Composed of four parts (religion, night market, modern dance and aboriginal) each held a rich part of Taiwanese culture executed in a breathtaking way. Here I was exposed to a fascinating part of Taiwanese religion called “ba jia jiang” (Infernal Generals in English) that provoked me into inquiring my host family for more information over them. Along the way I learned a lot about Taiwanese culture I had never been exposed to. For that I have NK101 to thank for. It is very possibly my favorite experience in Taiwan yet filled with laughs, amazement and dancing. Dancing with the actors mind you! They grabbed members of the audience to join in the aboriginal dance and I just happened to be one of the lucky ones! It was awesome!

The second half of January was the start of winter vacation from school. It’s very much an exciting time for exchange students because the break time can be used to explore much of Taiwan that school days don’t permit. Such an example would be visiting a day market with my host grandmother. This type of market is mainly for buying food and is only open during the weekdays at noon. Here my host grandmother will buy the ingredients she needs for cooking meals. I enjoyed accompanying her and helping by rolling the cart around holding our purchased goods.

With my host family or friends, I visited several museums all holding unique items and information. One of such was a miniature museum displaying various scenes or building scaled down to an adorable size anywhere from a Buckingham Palace to Roman ruins to a simple yet elegant bedroom. They all were very well designed and a pleasure to view. I emitted squeals upon the sight of tiny cakes, itsy-bitsy sushi plates, etc. The place was just filled with petite bits of cuteness!

Another museum was a sweet exhibition held at a place called “The Story House.” Traditional Chinese pastries were the topic covered from history to shapes to smells. A surprising bonus was many free recipes given out on small pieces of paper. Though they are written in Chinese I think it’ll be great fun decoding it and trying to make them back in America! I’m a fan of baking so this is definitely up my alley!

Yet another educational place was a miner’s museum. It spoke mainly about Japan setting up mining sites for gold in Taiwan. Nearby was the Jioufen market, a narrow street filled with small shops that wind up the mountain. Numerous things can be found in this street like Taiwanese treats or various do-dads. One sweet was a thin tortilla sprinkled with a sugary peanut dust topped with scoops of ice cream. Roll it up like a burrito and you have a Taiwanese dessert! It’s a very interesting concept, no?

Thanks to the free time of winter break I was able to go on three different hikes through Taiwanese mountains, Mount Teapot, Mount Thumb and Mount Genliao. Before going on each I had imagined some upward slopes and fairly horizontal walks through forests. I was sorely mistaken! A hike here is code for ‘a bunch of stairs.’ The level of difficulty for each hike is based on how steep the stairs are. Some were merciless but others just fine. The views at the top usually are quite spectacular as they overlook the surrounding city. One hike was spent on a foggy day so there wasn’t much of a view but I am now able to say I ate a Taiwanese cloud!

So far winter vacation has been fantastic as I am able to see more of Taiwan than I ever have before. I definitely appreciate this opportunity and will take advantage of it! Until next time, take care everyone!