A new month dawns along with new circumstances and experiences. At my high school three exchange students and myself hired a teacher to come twice a week for three hours each day to teach Chinese. We want to learn more Chinese as well as fill the excess time at high school when we don’t do anything with something productive. It’s really nice having that extra bit of Chinese help to move along our progress!

Something new introduced to me by my host family was a nearby public library a ten-minute walk away and an elementary school that has a running track open to the community. Oh what a great discovery those were! The first with books I could entertain myself with on the long bus/subway rides and the second as a convenient exercise opportunity I’ve been craving for so many months. Total score! Yet another great way to start the month!

What’s the weirdest thing you’ve ever eaten before? Snail? Pig’s blood? Shark? How about snake? That last one I participated in by visiting HuaXi night market, a place famous for eating snakes. And not just snake meat I should point out. Nope, the tray placed in front of me was much stranger. First you begin with a bowl of soup containing both Chinese medicines and snake meat still attached to the bone. It was a challenge trying to figure out how the heck you eat the meat off the bone with chopsticks. Even my host parents were puzzled! I decided combing it with my teeth was best but then bones liked to frequently sneak off the spine and head for my throat. It took a bit of skill to eat it for sure! Afterwards there were five small shot glasses, each a different color and drink. Each beverage just sounded so weird like snake bile, snake fermented wine, snake blood and even snake venom! I tried every one but how I survived from snake venom without being poisoned is beyond me. XD Snake is not a common food at all in Taiwan and many people (my host mother included) are squeamish of even tasting it. The snake meat tasted exactly like chicken, therefore it was tasty and of course provided a very interesting experience for me.

As you might know, stinky tofu is a very well known food in Taiwan. Some foreigners quite like it and others just simply detest it. People fall into one of those two extremes. For me, I’m on the ‘like it’ side. So I was delighted when my host father acquainted me with a stinky tofu truck that comes to our neighborhood on Friday nights. Arriving in the late hours somewhere around midnight, a loudspeaker attached to the truck announced its presence by hollering out a couple Chinese advertisements. We brought our own bowl and the people at the truck fried us up some tofu, added some sauce and included pickled cabbage. Boy it was tasty! Twas really late to eat some but still so good as a monthly treat.

Rotary district 3480 (my district) took its exchange students on a trip to the National Palace Museum. Here there is numerous upon numerous works of art and history from China. Note how I said China and not Taiwan. That’s right, the National Palace Museum only contains Chinese things. It’s because it was originally established as the Palace Museum in Beijing’s Forbidden City in 1925 but later in 1931 the Nationalist Government ordered the museum to evacuate its most valuable pieces out of the city to prevent them from falling into the hands of the Imperial Japanese Army. So Taiwan was then graced with 693,507 pieces of Chinese artifacts that cover 8,000 years of history. And my oh my were they beautiful! Collections of jade, bronze, calligraphy, ceramics, paintings and more were all just stunning. It’s a huge building but even so, not all of the art pieces are displayed just because there’s just that many!

Yet another Rotary trip with my district took us to see the Taiwanese government. At the ‘Legislative Yuan, R.O.C.’ we viewed a debate room and a conference room as well as watch a video that rapidly stuffed our minds full of information concerning the layout and jobs of the Taiwanese government. Whoo it was a lot to take in but all very swell and educational.

One day my host family set up an entire morning endeavor to create dumplings together. Ingredients for this food included small circular dough disks and a heaping bowl of stuffing. They taught me how to form the dumpling and together we made hundreds of them. Seriously, hundreds! Once I got the hang of it, I started to play around with the design and establish my own unique style of dumpling. My host grandmother’s was very distinguishable, being very round and plump at the bottom. Mine on the other hand was narrower and had frilly folds on the top, looking just like a pretty hand fan. No matter the design, they all came to the same end result, being yummy! Now that I know how to build Chinese dumplings, I bet y’all can guess what food I want to try and make back in America.

To speak of something else Chinese (because you can’t expect me to write a report without mentioning it, am I right?), my host family accompanied me on a search to find a traditional Chinese dress. Surprisingly the task was really hard since there are few shops that offer such clothing. When you do find one of the rare shops, the selection is small and may not contain what you desire. Personally, I’m on the lookout for a nice long traditional dress but haven’t yet found one. Though I did stumble upon a gorgeous short black with blue accent dress that I fell in love with. Needless to say, I purchased it and now my unique Taiwanese object collection has increased by one beautiful dress.

Last by not least coming at the end of March, Easter! Easter is virtually non-existent in Taiwan except within Christian churches dispersed throughout Taipei. Regardless, this holiday both the commercial and Christian versions were inserted into my life with the help of my real parents and Taipei church family. I asked my parents to ship me a box of a couple famous American Easter candies so I could introduce them to my host family. The requested couple of candies by me were transformed into STUFFING THE BOX FULL TO THE BRIM by my parents. With all the necessaries like chocolate bunnies, Easter eggs, marshmallow Peeps, jelly beans and more, I effectively exposed my host family to what the commercialized mountain of sweets version of Easter is like. To go along I also taught them the religious historic story of Easter to which they respectfully listened to. Though they of course preferred the sugar Easter better for scrumptious reasons.

Another month down and only two more remain of my exchange. The approaching return flight date is a splash of cold realization but at the same time an encouragement to see and do even more than what I already am. These last two months shall be savored and enjoyed to the fullest with the best cultural exchange possible! 

Andrea Clark