It is strange to think that I have been in Kinmen for four months. Time has truly passed by incredibly quickly. Each time I feel that I have begun to understand a little more about life on Kinmen, a new experience shows me that I still have a long way to go - and that's the best part! A year and a half ago I had no clue where I was going to be placed as a Fulbright English Teaching Assistant. In fact, I really had no idea whether or not I was even going to be lucky enough to have the opportunity to come to Taiwan! Thankfully, Fulbright Taiwan (a non-profit institution dedicated to promoting cultural and educational exchange between the United States and Taiwan) decided to give me a chance. I have grown to love Kinmen, and I cherish my moments here.
When I began the Fulbright application process as a third year university student I was not sure where in Taiwan I was interested in applying to. I read about Yilan, Taitung, Taichung, and different grantee's experiences while teaching. I thought "wow, what an opportunity to immerse myself in a new culture!" To me, there is nothing more exciting than being dropped in the middle of a new culture, a new place, and a new environment. I couldn't wait to begin writing my application! ?Surfing the internet I came across a few blogs which referenced a relatively new location in Taiwan which was sponsoring Fulbright grantees, Kinmen, and I knew that I had to apply.The rich historical and cultural factors which make Kinmen so special drew me in.
Thinking back to those first searches on the internet is strange. Kinmen was a small picture, a paragraph on a blog post, a location on YouTube, a tiny island on a map, and now I am here. I am living, I am teaching here - writing an English language submission for the local newspaper, and enjoying every moment.
I remember when I discovered that my application had been accepted. As I read the congratulatory email I slowly smiled and laughed. I didn’t stop smiling until I fell asleep later that evening. Lives work in mysterious ways. As a kid I would have never guessed that I would be living in Taiwan after college. In fact, nothing that I could have dreamed of would have been better than coming to live and teach in Kinmen. I am precisely where I was meant to be, and where I need to be. In that way, I am glad that we often don't know what our future holds for us, because such incredible surprises are worth more than any carefully laid plans.
Scooters, People, Home by Sam Jeong
When I found out I was coming to Taiwan for the year, two things excited me: stinky tofu and scooters. Call me crazy, but stinky tofu is one of the best things to have hit my tongue (and my nose). I could go on, but I will save it for another article. Scooters, though… I experienced my first scooter ride in Yunnan, China, and will never forget how the wind whipped through my hair and how the lush greenery rushed past me. I could not wait to get my own scooter. In August, when time came for me to take the scooter exam, I walked in confidently to the exam room, took the written exam, and failed.
Then failed again.
Then failed again.
I failed the scooter written exam three times. The first time, I got 68 points (85 is the passing score), then 78 points, then 84 points. Embarrassed, I bitterly vowed to myself that if I did not pass on the fourth try, I would remain forever scooter-less. For the next two weeks, I studied hard. Demerits for speeding?One.CPR ratio?15 compressions to 2 breaths. How to deal with an acid burn? Neutralize it with a strong base. No matter how odd the questions, I committed them to memory. I was determined to pass.
On the day of the exam, a sweltering Friday afternoon in September, I walked into the testing center for what was hopefully the final time. I had called earlier to ask for a delayed exam in order to accommodate my teaching schedule, and I was the last person to take the exam. The examiner, Wen Hong, warmly greeted me, took my papers, and personally escorted me down to the exam room. Wen Hong had been the examiner for all of the Fulbright 外師 this year, and was known for his kindness. I was glad to have him as my examiner.
For the exam, I agonized over each question and triple-checked my answers. My heart 辟里啪啦ed as I shakily clicked the review button, and when a green Congratulations! appeared on the screen, I threw up my hands up in the air and bellowed, “YES!” Wen Hong, who had been nervously waiting for me, put his face into his hands when he heard me scream, then after realizing it was a scream of victory, did a torso-twist of some sort that I had never seen before. He was genuinely excited for me—maybe even more so than me.
For the driving test, Wen Hong let me practice three or four times on the actual course. He walked me through each step, gave me pointers, and shouted words of encouragement. When I passed, he grinned as he signed my papers, and proudly handed it over to me.
Perhaps it is interactions like these that make me truly appreciate living on Kinmen. People actually care and are invested in what I do. I lived in Shanghai all of last year, and felt like a mere one in 24 million. Here on Kinmen, though, with the support of my 21 wonderful fellow Fulbright teachers, two fantastic coordinators, and the local Kinmenese, like Wen Hong, I do not feel alone. I am reminded of that fact every time a stranger nods and smiles at me and every time I strike up a conversation with a restaurant owner. It may not matter much to them, but it means a lot for me.
Funnily enough, I decided to not get a scooter until the end of the marathon in order to keep active. If you see me, a Korean American male sweating heavily on a yellow bike, please stop and chat with me! I may ask you directions to your favorite stinky tofu joint.
I am learning to call Kinmen home, and am so glad to be doing so.