March 17-18 (Depending on where you count the time-zone shifts)
Another in-flight Blog. I’m getting better at this. We’re racing against the darkness again… We’ve actually flown fast than “night” and will be emerging ahead of night into the light within the hour. Which is crazy. I’m time traveling!
If I were to actually write in detail about our entire Spring Break Experience, or even just a detailed account of our first few days at Fu Hsing Kang, the Taiwanese Political Warfare college, then I’d be writing you guys a book. But I hope that between Joe and I, I can manage something that will suffice. First thing’s first; I finally got my milktea at Coco and my bowl of beef noodle soup. Amazing. Those two foods will never be replaced in my eyes. And I was greeted by most of the familiar sights of Asia once we were there; the sings, the chatter of many foreign tongues, reminding me that now –I- was the foreigner, the sea of ivory faces and dark hair, the smells, the summer-like weather… I was like a kid at Christmas. Back again.
Fu Hsing Kang treated us like we were genuinely foreign diplomats. The sheer time and energy that they’d put into making every second of every moment during our stay enjoyable was nothing less than jaw-dropping. In just four days, we saw Taipei 101, the world’s third tallest building, from the top, the Taiwanese version of the Tomb of the Unknown Soldier, the Royal Palace Museum, Botanical Gardens, the Grand Hotel, the Shilin Night market, Downtown Taiwan, an art market/historical district, two different national parks (one with an amazing temple at the top), the Dharma Drums Buddhist Center for World Peace, Japanese Hotpot/Traditional Taiwanese dinners and the Tamsui beach/boat ride. Try saying all that in one breath. It’s hard.
Not to mention an extensive and informative tour of campus, presentations by every department (they have four main majors), and separate presentations by their Art, Music, and Drama departments. And a barbeque in our honor, and a Kareoke party. I literally have so much respect for these guys. There was a core group of seven students, ranging from Freshman Charlie to Senior Jill, that were with us most of the time. All of these kids had amazing English ability. Their English names, which will be easier for my non-Chinese speakers here (as seen in the picture below, left to right) are:
Debbie, who was a very close friend to me personally, and always caring for us, Freshman Charlie, a very shy but very lovable guy that always had something nice to say, Jill, our marathon runner who united everyone with her giggly personality and amazing art skills, Bill and his best friend Kevin (aka “Kevin Jackson” because he knew, like, every line to every Michael Jackson song) who were our dynamic duo, and Richard aka “Dick”, who wasn’t afraid to good-naturedly mess with us. Not pictured, because he’s the one taking the picture, is Wilson, our amazing photographer all week who, at an end of the week school-wide celebration held (again) in our honor, proved that he had some amazing break-dancing skills.
We were followed around all week by a caravan of cameras, microphones, and video equipment.. it was so strange. Like I said, we were treated like diplomats. So. Many. Group pictures! By the time we got to ROCMA, the Republic of China Military Academy, we were effectively de-sensitized to people taking pictures of us. Like, I’m an avid photographer but kinda camera shy and by Thursday, I was completely fine with it.
The goodbyes, of course, were incredibly hard. At least for me, and I’m pretty sure Joe felt the same. We grew really close with these guys over break and so the train ride was a somewhat sad one. But even though ROCMA turned out to be a lot less planned and a lot more self-exploration, it was a bare-bones and very realistic look at how the Taiwanese military works. And I’m not gonna lie, Norwich doesn’t hold a candle to some of the restrictions that ROCMA cadets face. Four formations per day, barbed wire and genuinely armed guards, no leaving base on the weekdays, and carrying “practice rifles” everywhere. I mean everywhere. It was surprising. Well… it was surprising in that having just come from FHK, which is only a little more strict than Norwich (and bearing in mind that we had VIP treatment), but it wasn’t in that this is how they normally operate. It’s an actual military base, after all.
We did have a really great day there on our last day, however, when we let campus and actually rented bikes for the day. Although none of us had ridden bikes in quite a while, weaving in and out of South Taiwan’s traffic and narrow streets some because not only doable but exhilarating. We hopped a ferry (on our bikes, that was different) over to Cijin island and experienced some amazing scenery and one heck of a fresh seafood dinner. (And when I say fresh, I mean like within five minutes of being alive, sea-side family run restaurant.) Add to this that my passion for photography did not go unnoticed; the Taiwanese Lieutenant who escorted us around (a VMI grad, though we forgave him for that!) has an extensive knowledge of photo-taking and personally lent me, and coached me through using, numerous pieces of equipment, such as a 40-year old manual lens (you could see the aperture open and close when you looked through it), tripod, and remote. It was so much fun getting used to the old-fashioned way of picture-taking. I learned a lot!
I also realized by different strengths and shortcomings in language. Not having used Chinese very often since the summer, I found that there were some things that I frustratingly could not remember. Others, however, I could, and I’m starting to get a lot better at realizing things or “getting the gist” of what people are saying. A long way to go, but closer every step.
If I had just one thing to take away from this break, it’s the unforgettable feeling of being treated so well by total strangers, and a desire to make sure that one day, I return to that part of the world not as an onlooker, but as someone there to really make a difference.
And now, off from Newark to Burlington! Classes tomorrow…..
CPL Feightner, Band co. '15