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45. What my Taiwanese Classmates taught me

Every day we can learn something new, especially if we just pay attention and look around us.  

During this year I have been very blessed.  I have been surrounded by beautiful kind hearted people who have taught me many things; some scholar subjects, some about culture and others about life.

This year, during the moon festival, my Taiwanese friend Kao-Tien invited me to his house to celebrate the festival with his family.  I learned a lot about Taiwanese culture and the meaning of the Mid-autumn Festival.

Mid-autumn Festival or the Moon festival is very important in the Taiwanese culture. The theme of Mid-Autumn Festival is reunion.  The moon is round, the moon cakes are round, and the lanterns are round too, “round” in Chinese, Yuan is the symbol of Reunion.

I did not only learn about Taiwanese culture and the festival story, but also about family unity and how Taiwanese enjoy their moments together.  Kao-Tien lives in a very nice house in Neipu County.  His house is also a farm, where his family cultivates Jujube and also raises chicken.  He has an older brother and a younger sister. His older brother is married and his wife lives with the family in the same house.

It is my third year in Taiwan now, times flies so fast. There is lots of things that I still curious about this beautiful place.  

As a foreigner, when the first time I arrived in Kaohsiung airport I felt so lonely and always worry that I can survived or not.  I'm worrying how to get new friends, since I do not know anybody in Taiwan.  However, I met lots of nice people here, my department office staff, dorm-mate and also classmates.  

Hence, I joined international program, I just have view Taiwanese friends in class.  But I have several friends from my lab-mates.  We meet every week during the study meeting class. They are very nice people; they always teach us how to speak simple words, especially for buying a food and other stuff. Else, without and hesitations they introduce about their culture and guide us to some hospitality in Taiwan.

The latest thing that they taught me was how to cook Tang Yuan Soup.  In the first day of winter usually they has winter party, which is eat Tang Yuan soup together with their friends or family.  Actually it is not the first time to me to eat Tang Yuan.  I ate that several times before.  But I never make it by myself,  just bought it from the store.  However last week, my Professor invites all her students to cook and eat Tang Yuan together.  It were the first time for me.  

I have learnt a lot from my Taiwanese classmates, they have taught me about some few Taiwanese culture and the holidays celebrated here in Taiwan.  I actually learnt about the moon festival which is around September or early October and that here in Taiwan the celebration of the new years is different from the way we celebrate our new year

The Chinese new years is celebrated between the 30 of January and February 20, which of course surprised me a lot.  My classmates have also taught me about the places around here in Taiwan the climates, that in the southern part of the country is more warmer than the northern part of the country around Taipei and have been telling me about some few places I should see here in Taiwan before I leave, like the Taroko national park, the view of the Taipei 101, and the traditional temples in Tainan, which I have been there before and was really nice, and Kenting as well.  They have been suggesting that I go for it during the spring time as it is so nice in those season and we also close from where we are here in Pingtung .

I enjoyed my stay in Tainan and see the beautiful temples there. Some of my classmates are always inviting me to their home town so that they can show me the beauty of their home town and what they have which I am looking forward to as I am going to be learning more about the places around and their culture as well from the different places and  parts of the country.

This year has been an incredible year for me. Going to live in a foreign country is always difficult, but if you have good friends that difficulty passes quickly and you can start enjoying life in the new country you are living.    In this semester I had mostly foreigner classmates, but had the opportunity to take an English class in another department where I have more Taiwanese Classmates.  Her name is Drin Zhen, but she prefers to be called Bamboo.   

Bamboo is a nice Taiwanese girl who is finishing her master in Teaching English as a Second language.  She is originally from Taichung, but has been living in Neipu for the last 5 years since she also studied her bachelor degree in National Pingtung University of Science and Technology.

One Sunday in November 2016 she invited me to Neipu town to introduce me some of the landmarks and special places in the town.

First Bamboo took me to eat tan-yuan at a very traditional place in the old street in Neipu. The tan-yuan in this place is very special, the store has been open for more than 100 years. Tan-yuan is made with glutinous rice and is served with a sweet sauce of red adzuki beans and a bit of wine.  For me eating sweet beans is really weird,  because in my culture we would normally eat beans salty, but it was very good, I really liked.

After eating the tan-yuan we went to the most representatives temples in Neipu. There are two temples together. The first temple is dedicated to the Deity Matzu, also called in Chinese the Tian-Hou Gong.  Bamboo explained that this temple was very old;  it was built in the Ciing Dynasty and was a temple built with authentic Hakka style.  We could see how Taiwanese performed their prays to the deity and ask for answers. Bamboo explained me the process of asking the Gods for something and then throwing some sticks to get the answer.

When I was a child, I dreamed that one day I would study abroad.  Fortunately, my dream came true. Four months ago, I moved to Taiwan – (Ilha Formosa) is a beautiful island country in East Asia to pursue my doctoral degree.  I could still recall many moments when I was struggling for certainty, confidence, and competence as well as questing for my identity.

My experience was not unique to many Taiwanese friends.  For in my educational advancement, Taiwanese friends helped me to find ways to reduce uncertainty in order to make a smooth transition to the new Taiwanese environment.  For instance, I recalled one incident,“Moving far away from my homeland to a new country, without family and friends being around, to face the challenge of loneliness and establishing a new friendship network.  When coming to a foreign country most people tend to look for their countrymen first for socialization (I realized after few days I don’t have any countrymen) but I got love and confidence to survive in this new globe (Taiwan) after interacting with friends specially, Taiwanese friends.  Generally, I’ll forget my loneliness if I see Taiwanese innocent face saying the word 謝謝”.

My experience living in Taiwan has been wonderful so far. Since I arrived from Honduras, I have visited a few places but I could like to explore more of Taiwan beauty, from the national parks, beaches, temples, forests, etc.

The first thing that you notice is that Taiwanese are extremely polite, affectionate, agreeable, courteous, discreet friendly, funny, gregarious, honest, optimistic, patient, and always willing to help, especially with foreigners. People kindly help you whenever possible, and the ones, who don’t help you is because they really don’t understand you, I realize something particular about this culture, and that is Taiwanese culture in particular are very shy.

Before I came here, I asked about culture shock, I know most students will be inclined to write about the difficulty of the Mandarin Chinese, or the food especially ‘stinky Tofu’, or culture, but for this opportunity I am going to talk about some of the wonderful experiences with my Taiwanese friends. Firstly I can say that I am glad to have this amazing opportunity to share most of my classes with people like Taiwanese students, from who you can learn a lot of important things, starting to learn and practice mandarin, I now talking with then if the best way to improve this amazing new language, even if it is really funny when you try to say new words and maybe the pronunciation is wrong but those people will always try to help you and they encourage you to be more positive and never give up.

The most I have learnt from my classmate is her religion and how different it is from mine.  She is Buddhist and I am Christian, and because I am open minded I didn't mind learning about her religion. She taught me a lot about religion but the most I have learnt is how to control being anxious and stressed about school, and she took me with her to see beautiful places, that had to do with Buddhism. Also got to practice my Chinese and learn Chinese culture in the process.

What I have learnt in Buddhism is meditation is one of the most important aspects they learn to do. It is a way of staying in the present and learning to clear your mind. The first time I tried out meditation was in a Buddhist class I used to take with her at school, which I went to practice Chinese. At first I didn't know what to do, but she explained to me to try and clear my mind and only think of positive thoughts. I tried and after we were done it improved my mood the rest of the day. I was able to focus better on my school work and classes and I felt happy.

After this experience I continued going to the class and doing meditation and practicing Chinese. After taking this class for a few months I noticed that my mind set started to change and I was able to clear my head when I was over whelmed with school or missing home.

Besides the meditation, she invited me to go on a trip with her to the most beautiful place in Taiwan. This place is called 中台禪寺 / Chung Tai Chan Monastery.  It is situated in Puli town, Nantou County.

It had beautiful landscapes and interesting stories behind each sculpture.  My favorite places that I got to see was the entrance to a nearby Chung Tai Museum (中台山博物館)  housing Buddhist relics and statues. There was a golden statue which is called the Milefu (彌勒佛) at the entrance, and inside is the Hall of Heavenly Kings protected by 4 very tall 12meter-high guardian statues.

Before I had the eye opening opportunity to live with Taiwanese or have friends from Taiwan, I had had Asian friends back at home. The difference was that they didn't speak Mandarin or any Asian language fluently. And if one did, s/he didn't grow up hugged by the eastern hemisphere's rich culture. Thusly, befriending Taiwanese has been such a life changing experience worth telling the world.

The first and foremost thing that I learned from my friends was how much honesty is valued here. Although I had just had the pleasure of gaining their acquaintance, I found out that if I had forgotten my wallet, or any valuables near them, even if we had just met, they'd run behind me trying to give me back. This is probably what caused me to start opening up to my Taiwanese friends, in particular, my roommates.

        They pushed me to want to help others and do things for others the way they were always wiling to help me out.  It was this way that I started to discuss English papers with them, as well as Chinese phrases.  They would share with me things I would never learn in my formal classes. For instance, they'd often come "home" telling what's trending in Taiwan; sharing who their favorite artists were; talking about things young people do in Taiwan for fun; even sayings and slangs young people now use that wouldn't be used before.

I knew before coming to Taiwan that I was entering some sort of realm of a completely different culture from what I was accustom to in Belize. But, I didn't grasp how existentially different our cultures are until I arrived here. There are several aspects in which the Taiwanese culture differ from Belizean culture. Some of which includes their dietary behavior, exercising habits, class participation, social skills and study habits, just to name a few.

My Taiwanese roommates would have an orange or a guava for dinner, and that would be sufficient enough for them. They would eat a yogurt, or if they are feeling daring, a sandwich for breakfast. In contrast, or me breakfast is not breakfast if it doesn't have frijol, huevos and tortillas. Therefore, I've had to adapt to the type of breakfast that I can purchase around my university, which unfortunately never includes frijoles. I admire that they are very into fitness and practicing a healthy lifestyle. I would observe people running on the track and field 12:00am in the morning, which I thought was a little strange.

“I think if I've learned anything about friendship, it's to hang in, stay connected, fight for them, and let them fight for you. Don't walk away, don't be distracted, don't be too busy or tired, don't take them for granted. Friends are part of the glue that holds life and faith together. Powerful stuff”. – Jon Katz

From the moment I got out of the airport, I was faced with one of the biggest challenges so far, language. Just imagine how hard can be to know your new home without know more than two words in Chinese.  Thanks to my Taiwanese friends I have known many "secret" places for the majority of tourists; I think that without them life in Kaohsiung would be very boring and monotonous. Although they are quite busy with their personal life, they have managed to make me a little place to take me as if we were friends for years, that need a coffee to catch up about so many adventures after lived one away from the other.

I have taught that not is need have a language in common to be able to die of laugh. They have also taught me that not only am I (as a foreigner) somewhat intolerable about the weather of the city. They too have shown me places that had never known if any foreign had shown me the city. They are completely happy to know my language and of course, have taught me to trust in Taiwan and that everything here is easy, safe and whenever you can, fast.