Going Native in Taiwan

I wanted to give them all a nice vocal warm-up.

After a lengthy presentation by a Paiwan leader, punctuated by some gorgeous singing, the hundred gawky high school kids who were attending the Paiwan School for Hunters formed a circle and performed a round dance.  Then Sakinu, who was head of the school, had them each stand on a rock and shout their names.
“I am Chen Pi Yi!”
“Not good enough.”
“Is that your true sound?” he admonished her, “I don’t believe it. You have to know what you sound like.”

Circle dancing at the School for Hunters.

He does have a point. Kids in Chinese society are taught to be invisible, to never raise their voices, to never have opinions. I’m not certain if he would enjoy the complete reverse in America, but the Western teachers I’ve talked to here in Taiwan all are frustrated that they can’t get a peep out of their students.

On the other hand, all these kids really needed some vocal lessons. Their voices cracked and screeched from trying to shout out their names. And I actually didn’t know if I could state my name loudly in Mandarin either – the language is in a higher register.

A guy operating a camera said to me that the shouting names exercise could take at least 45 minutes.

Throughout all the shouting, I was struggling not to fall asleep. Jet lag has been hitting me in a weird way this trip. I seem to fall asleep between 7:00 and 9:00 at night and then I’m wide awake until 4:00 in the morning. I was also self-conscious that since I didn’t fully understand that I was going to be attending summer camp, I’m wearing the wrong city things. A button has just come off my 1960s dress.

The exercise ended with two mousy girls who had been singled out for not shouting their names loud enough. When they still couldn’t say their names as loudly as Sakinu wanted them to, he had the entire camp huddle around them, giving them encouragement.

“WHO ARE YOU?” Sakinu kept shouting at them in English.

They still couldn’t perform to his satisfaction, so Sakiunu had the entire camp gather around them again and everyone shouted at once, “I AM CHEN PEI YI!”

Meeting after the kids were dismissed – I slept here with twelve other ladies.

It was definitely something that would be frowned on in the States, but Chinese culture places a huge emphasis on shame. Humiliation is considered a sound teaching tool. I later bunked with Wen Lin, one of the group leaders, and she said that when she first attended she too couldn’t pronounce her name to Sakinu’s satisfaction. She harbored no rancor over it. As far as she was concerned, he’s the teacher so he’s right.

It started to pour as we unrolled sleeping bags. The tented tarp outside blew down and Wen Lin hopped up to remove the lamps that had been strung along the underside. A woman who had just returned from the bathroom plugged in a hair dryer and the lights flickered on and off as she dried her hair. The irony of drying your hair in an indigenous campground was lost on her and all the other women, who asked me whether I wanted to dry my hair too. No, I just really wanted to go to sleep. Which I did, listening to a heavy thunderstorm  that made everything I have for the next month slightly damp.

I woke up as ten women wearing black shirts and brown pants hopped down from the sleeping area, off to secure some breakfast. Looking groggily around, I was confronted with a wall of skulls that looked like a display from the Killing Fields. Right, the Paiwan were headhunters, forgot about that.

I’m sleeping next to this wall. They’re fake. I think. But I did notice all these things nearby that looked suspiciously like human teeth.

I got up to use the bathroom up the mountainside, noticing some birds that looked like swallows with red throats. They’re probably called something like Formosan Red-Throated Pips and they seemed to have no problems proclaiming so, “I AM A PIP!!! I AM A PIP!!!” Or maybe, “I AM A TITMOUSE!”

I sat down to write on a low wall created with a pile of slate, which is apparently traditional Paiwan architecture. Next to me, a couple of giant snails were having breakfast. I noticed a dead snail nearby, its shell upside down, and I wondered if it had starved to death because it couldn’t turn upright. There’s a metaphor in there somewhere. A white moth landed on a protruding piece of slate by my feet and was perfectly still. It looked dead, but after a few minutes it flew off – I suppose it must have taken a nap.

The women are back with breakfast. One beckons me over – soybean milk and a not-bad Taiwanese version of French toast. The sun is coming out of the clouds. It’s a gorgeous day in Paiwan country. I think I’ll go hiking.

Meeting House and bunkhouse. It has platforms on both sides for sleeping. The low walls are made with pieces of slate. 

It was huge. It was hungry. 

On the hike.

A bird I saw on the hike. Someone later told me that they’re endangered. 

The slab steps were slippery so I took off my slippers. A butterfly came to say hello. 

So lushly orange! A Rukei guy appeared out of nowhere and told me the Chinese name for it, which I promptly forgot 

On the road leading back to the School for Hunters.