The summer right after you graduate high school is a strange limbo. It feels like you are just anticipating your new life as a university freshman. I originally planned on lounging around with friends, but my parents had other plans. I would be in the country I had unappreciatively been visiting every other summer since the first grade: Taiwan. However, this wasn’t just a family vacation. I would be attending the Expatriate Youth Taiwan Summer Camp, which I would later find out to be nicknamed “Love Boat.”
On Chientan Campus
The camp itself was a month long culture and language program in Taipei (Taiwan’s capital) made for Taiwanese or Chinese kids, ages 14-18, who lived overseas (usually American, Canadian, and European). We spent about the first two weeks on the Chientan campus learning Mandarin Chinese, sorted into levels 1-6 depending on how well we knew the language. I was sorted into level 2. Mind you, I grew up in an area where they shut down the Chinese school for lack of Asians anywhere near my age group. So, I could speak and understand from speaking with my parents, but my reading and writing level extended to my name, numbers 1-10, and 小心 (be careful).
Along with the Chinese classes, we had a choice between taking traditional calligraphy and painting (which I chose), kung fu, or Diablo, which is a type of yo-yo, for our culture class. Occasionally, during our time in Chientan, we would further our cultural learning by watching films based in Taiwan or learning to sing a song like this gem.
In all honesty, I didn’t learn much Chinese in class nor did I learn much from calligraphy class other that I shouldn’t do it professionally. I actually learned more about the culture and polished up my Chinese speaking skills when we snuck out of the camp to explore the city.
As mentioned before, the camp has the nickname “Love Boat.” The purpose of our camp, according to a press release, was to improve and enhance our knowledge of Taiwanese and Chinese roots. However, the camp got its nickname from vacation-like attitude the students took throughout the camp and, of course, the hook-ups that inevitably occurred. There are articles online that illustrate the camp as a way for parents and government to match Taiwanese descendants to find each other and get married. Regardless, there was a huge amount of “love” going around because of the freedom after bed check.
When I say sneaking out after bed check, I mean walking right out of the front door without being seen by certain camp counselors. With Taipei night life right at our fingertips, it was incredibly difficult to resist. There were so many night markets, restaurants, and clubs that opened up an entirely new aspect of Taiwan I had not yet seen.
In an attempt to shorten this post, I will only share two of my favorites.
One MRT stop away was Shihlin Market, one of the biggest night markets in Taipei, filled with so much life. Lining the crowds were cheap food vendors, video arcades, and shops of almost anything you could think of, from clothing to cute stationary.
We were also close to Ximending, a famous district known for the shopping and clubs as well as being the main LGBT district of Taiwan. The first time I went to the shopping district was to get my first tattoo in the famous Tattoo Street. I would return to Ximending many more times for Party World KTV or Karaoke Television, a place you get an entire room, fully equipped with comfy couches, a menu, a large table and TV to match, and microphones, to a group of friends and sing really off-key to old songs for about three hours for only about 400NT to 600NT ($13-$20) per person.
In the remaining week, we got an overload of Taiwanese culture, as we travelled around the entire country, hitting major Taiwanese landmarks and destinations, eating at whatever local restaurant had enough room for our massive group, fully equipped with Lazy Susan tables. Taiwan is fairly small, not making it difficult to travel around the whole country. However, on this weeklong trip, we travelled to at least two locations per day. We started out at the National Center for Traditional Arts, to Taiwan’s southernmost point at the Eluanbi Lighthouse, and ended in the Old Street in Danshui (Tamsui) District back in Taipei.
Again, for the sake of the length of this post, I’m going to cut down to some of my favorite stops.
On day 3, we stayed in Kenting, Taiwan’s first national park. The area is best known for its beautiful beaches. Unfortunately for our group, there was a big storm throughout the day. Though, that didn’t stop us from exploring the beach later that night. But, another fun thing about Kenting is its night market. The storm throughout the day did not keep massive amounts of people from coming that evening. There are so many vendors selling small souvenirs, activities, and so many delicious Taiwanese snacks.
Mid-tour, we stopped by Taiwan’s Drum Culture Village close to Tainan. The village was formerly a sugarcane factory and converted to a cultural drum village after the Japanese rule. Because we took the tour, we had a brief drumming lesson and then a special performance by the Ten Drum Art Percussion Group.
Throughout the tour, we basically hiked until our feet bled. One of my favorites was hiking in the Xitou Nature Education Area, which is well within the mountains of Taiwan. There is so much wildlife and foliage, especially when compared to Taipei and any city we had encountered. There was also an option to go on the Sky Walk, which is 22.6 m aboveground, allowing maximum observations of the forest.
Although I might not have taken full advantage of the classes provided by the camp, Love Boat 2012 is an experience I could never forget. The amount that I learned about my native country on the month-long program outweighed anything I picked up on from the previous eighteen years. The amount of tradition and life within Taiwan is abundantly clear, and you really just have get out there to experience it and learn.