Trip Start Jun 19, 2008
37Trip End Ongoing
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I left Chicago on June 19 around 8pm and departed for Los Angeles. It was very difficult to say good-bye to everyone, but at the same time, very comforting to know that I have a lot of support from so many friends and family in Wisconsin.
My plane arrived in Los Angeles around 10pm western time. During the flight I had made small talk with the man sitting next to me and told him I was going to Taiwan to teach
The flight to Taiwan was very long and difficult (13.5 hours on a plane). However, I was seated next to some very interesting and polite people. One man was from Taipei and was doing business in the United States for his shipping company, and the other was an architect from Dallas who was going to Malaysia to visit a friend of his. They were both very nice, and the man from Taipei even stayed with our group until we found our ride just in case we needed a Chinese translator.
Once we got our luggage and made our way through customs (which was surprisingly simple: two men with gloves on waving to us as we walked past them) we went into the lobby and found Jilda, the woman who hired all of us
The drive to Taichung was very interesting and allowed us to see a lot of the countryside. The hot and humid weather, combined with millions of people, make the air quality in Taiwan very polluted and difficult to breathe (I have had a number of sneezing spells). The highways are not much different than those here in the states and there are a lot of colorful busses decorated with Asian animation transporting people from city to city. However, once you get into a major city, there are TONS of mopeds that are driving EVERYWHERE. (The sidewalks are purposely built unevenly and stores place huge bars in front of their walkways to make driving mopeds on them next to impossible).
We arrived in Taichung around 9am and were taken to our hotel, which was built to house teachers at a nearby high school. The hotel is nothing extremely fancy, but does have all the necessities: bed, television (with two English-speaking channels), phone, air conditioning, toilet, sink, shower, closets, and a rock-hard bed/pillows. Our hotel rooms had "welcome posters" with our names hanging from them, and a gift basket with a variety of treats and candies to make us feel welcome
After we were settled in our rooms, we decided to go for a small walk in the neighborhood surrounding our hotel- only going straight so we wouldn't get lost (thankfully, Jilda gave us each a small card with "I'm lost" written in Chinese, along with the hotel's address and her phone number). It was hot and humid and made for a very muggy walk, so we stopped at the local 7-11 (which are at practically every street corner) and made our first Taiwanese purchases. I bought some sort of fruit-tea drink that had a picture of a pink fruit on it and a whole bunch of Chinese lettering.
We then came back to our hotel and took a small nap. Afterwards, we all got tired of waiting for the South Africans to arrive, so we decided to go for another walk to find some lunch, eventually stumbling on a McDonalds about a mile away from our hotel. Although it does seem rather odd to choose McDonalds as our first meal in Taiwan, we were all rather reluctant to have street food, as we did not want to be suffering from stomach flu during our first week.
It was surprisingly very simple to order food at McDonalds- just say what number meal you'd like along with "Coke"
We walked back to the hotel and met-up with our mentors (known as "Super buddies") shortly afterward. The Super Buddies briefly introduced themselves, and then gave us helmets where we hopped on their mopeds and went off to an outdoor mall where we went out to dinner.
My Super Buddy is named Steve. He is from Toronto and this will be his second year teaching in Taiwan. It was definitely a sight to see the two of us on his moped, as he is a shorter individual and I am much taller. Also making things interesting is the fact that the only helmet that would fit me was pink. So we made quite the spectacle cruising the streets of Taiwan with my long legs dangling off the back (emergency brakes as some called them) and my pink helmet. Steve has nicknames for every one of the teachers and gave me the name "Big Dutch."
We ate at some small taco restaurant at the mall, and then the Super Buddies took us out for drinks shortly afterward. Everyone here (including the locals) is extremely nice and welcoming. They said that their year(s) here have gone by so quickly and they have experienced so much that they can't wait to see what's in store for us. It has been a great start to the trip and I am anxious to see what is coming up next!