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Today I finally had the long-awaited placement test and orientation for Zhengda. I discovered once I had toiled and sweated my way up to the top of the hill, that there is indeed a shuttle bus on campus, costing NT $1 a trip (about 3 cents). I’m glad to hear it, but I’m curious as to how the 249 other people knew?

The placement test went reasonably well — I was feeling quite smug for the listening and reading comprehension sections, but then I hit the grammar questions and the essay, and all of the characters I know deserted me. The essay topic was “An unforgettable event” and I rambled on about all the unforgettable events which hadn’t happened to me — marriage and babies and the like — because I couldn’t think of anything unforgettable in my life that I could write about in Chinese in 150 characters!

After paying my fees, I grabbed a zhua bing from outside uni (with zhua bing everywhere, I am going to be a teletubby by the time I leave Taiwan) and went home. I had the same weird sleeping pattern as the previous night — 11pm-1am, 6am-8am, nothing but nightmares — so I felt like crap and needed to pass out. However after my nap, I hit the pool again for a short and refreshing swim in the rain. Today I was the only person there! I borrowed a board (“fu ban” apparently?) and practiced my flutter kick which is lamentable. I need to build up strength in my legs again, so I can start running again without my knee bearing all the brunt.

During Orientation they had this Canadian woman come in and give a sort of speech/Q&A about studying in Taiwan. She has been in Taipei for 2 years with her kids and husband (her 3-yr-old came too and speaks Chinese and is so adorable… I’m jealous!), but as she acknowledged herself, being a mum and part of a church group here, her life is probably not that representative of the average student. I didn’t hear anything I didn’t know already, and I was thinking afterwards about what I might have said were I asked to give a talk.

I think my main advice would be to smile. Smile smile smile at everyone. That sounds really cheesy but in fact, this is how the Taiwanese people around me start talking to me. When they see me on the street, they stare unabashedly at me, unsmiling and somewhat imposing, especially the older people with their betelnut-stained teeth and frowning faces. But as soon as I smile and nod and say hello, they grin at me and will often ask me questions and tell me I am very beautiful and very clever (which isn’t exactly true, but is very sweet of them). Sometimes they even give me fruit. But the important thing is that I get to interact with people here, to practice my Chinese, and to build up my confidence and feel more at home, rather than hide away in my western bubble (like I did in China…).

Tomorrow Cici gets here at last! I can’t wait for our Supermates reunion. I’m going to try and take us at least to a few places in the 4 days we have — the hot springs in the mountains, the ocean, the teahouses at Jiufen… and a houseparty where we can get messy. I’m supposed to be working on our holiday planning right now actually… I will report back with pictures galore.

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