Halfway through my first trip to Taiwan, I shared a blog post titled “A Beginning in the Middle.” For the first three months of my time in Tainan and Taipei, I had been searching for the ideal way to start a blog, writing and rewriting, rethinking and revising and restricting my thought process with the need for a sense of clarity. My eventual decision was that a late beginning, no matter its form, would be better than no beginning at all.
The words that I wrote then resonate again:
I overthink beginnings, considering the endless options that could lead to endless possibilities. Each choice could change the way others perceive the stories I tell, altering the impact of my words. This first post on my blog feels like the equivalent of a handshake with my readers; if I cling too firmly, you’ll see that I’m nervous — if my hand is too limp, you’ll know that I haven’t done this before.But even if you can’t predict how something begins, you lose something if you don’t start at all. I may be starting this blog a few steps into my journey, but I still want to forge a path. After all, once the story has begun, it can only grow; the narrative can change along the road even if it began on a different note. Handshakes improve with practice.
Four months ago, I began my second beginning in Taiwan. I arrived on the island of Kinmen in August, and each day after led to copious notes in notebooks, Word documents, stray bits of paper and the margins of sketchbooks. After enough reflection, I thought, I would determine how to start my new blog. A haphazard introduction was fine for my first trip, sure, but returning to Taiwan as a college graduate meant I should be more organized and deliberate. At this point in my life, I should know how to start a story.
Days and months passed. I received messages from friends and mentors, asking about my time in Taiwan. Start your blog, I told myself, and then you can reply; you should form a cohesive narrative, or your thoughts won’t make sense. But for the past year and a half, I have been thinking more in poetry rather than prose. I’m structuring my life in boxes, yet the contents spill through and mark the edges of their neighbors. My journals change from linear prose to pages marked with sketches, Chinese vocabulary words, to-do lists, and images from each day. I’m finding narratives in fragments and clarity in disorder.
That disorder leads to notes, sketches, and photographs, which lead to journals with scattered contents, which leads to lists upon lists. I still can’t decide how to organize this page — there is no central theme to my time here, and my thoughts about Kinmen and life after fluctuate every day. For now, I will forget order and style to focus on fragments and lists, journal entries and messages to others. I’ll borrow from what I’ve written up to this point and add new footnotes, reflections, and images.
So to begin, some general notes about my life here up to this point:
- I’m a Fulbright English Teaching Assistant at a school in Kinmen, a small island off the coast of mainland China. I teach twelve classes of 176 students of grades 1 through 6 — out of those classes, I teach four alone and eight with one of three local English teachers, and class size ranges from fifteen to twenty-four students.
- I live and teach in a small town called Shamei, surrounded by historical buildings and farmland. Shamei wakes up and goes to sleep early, so breakfast options abound, but my roommates and I tend to visit other towns for dinner since most places are closed by five o’clock. People can get nearly anywhere on Kinmen in a twenty-minute scooter ride, though if — like me and one of my roommates — someone doesn’t have a scooter, the bus and bike are fairly convenient options for transportation.
- Each Thursday, I teach a Shrek-themed English lesson at a different school on Kinmen as part of “English Village,” a camp for all the fifth-grade students on the island. The students rotate weekly, so we have a chance to meet every fifth-grade student on Kinmen at some point in the year. Two other ETAs and I lead a Shrek-themed class in making “Shrek’s dirt cups,” decorating gingerbread men, playing review games to rescue Fiona and Donkey from the castle, and chorusing “What are you doing in my swamp?”
- I host a biweekly English writing and speaking workshop for college students with four other ETAs at National Quemoy University, one of two universities on the island. Along with the college workshop, I intermittently help out with English storytelling at the Shamei Library.
- When I’m not working or lesson planning, I spend much of my time in Kinmen writing, reading, exploring the island, and meeting new friends. In the first few months, I’ve explored a series of abandoned buildings around Kinmen, performed with a local dance troupe at the Wind Lion Festival, visited a traveling night market, befriended the baristas at my favorite coffee shop on Kinmen, and wandered the streets and fields of Shamei with some of my first graders.
- Though Kinmen is an hour-long flight away from mainland Taiwan, I’ve had a few opportunities to visit the main island and see old friends. I’ve visited Kaohsiung twice and Taipei thrice, and I look forward to traveling to new cities and seeing friends in others I haven’t flown to yet.
Now that I’ve begun my blog, I plan to post weekly. I have a few ideas that incorporate teaching notes, journal entries, poem snippets, and other scattered bits of writing, but I’m open to suggestions if readers want to hear about specific topics. Please let me know if you’d like to learn about anything specific here in Taiwan or Kinmen; I’m always up for an excuse to do some research.