A tiny little Chinese man and his slightly taller wife stood amongst a huge (identical) crowd at ‘arrivals’ holding a big plaque with “SOPHIE WONG FROM ENGLAND” written in red capitals. Excited, I made my way over and said (in the cheeriest voice I could muster after 18 hours of travelling) “hey! That’s me!” He stared at me with a crooked, unsure smile and pointed at his sign. I realised… he spoke no English. “Yes, I’m Sophie. Nice to meet you.” He shook my hand, took my suitcase and in silence pointed to the slightly taller lady. “My wife”… I looked at her blankly, she stared at me. “Nee Hao”.
…I was definetly on the other side of the world. People were staring at me (it was the curly hair I’m sure of it) and I didn’t understand a single word or sign at that airport. I followed them, in silence out into the car park. As we slowed down, I realised the bright yellow minibus with colour butterflies and pandas along the sides was my ride into Hsinchu City. As the old man put my suitcase inside, I frantically looked in the back of my Taiwan Guide Book for the ‘useful phrases’ section, hoping to communicate even just a few words with this nice couple who had driven out at 10 ‘o’ clock at night to pick up a strange girl with curly hair. I pointed to “how long will the journey take?”… the wife read the translation. “ahhhh” she said and then stuck her index finger up proudly. I nodded, “shay shay” I said (the only mandarin I know, meaning thank you) and got into the van.
It was at this point that I started talking to myself, and continued to do so till about 5am that night. After realising I had the wrong adapter and thus couldn’t charge my dying phone or my dying laptop, panic set in and nothing I did could calm that very weird feeling of being completely alone. I couldn’t speak to anybody here and I couldn’t speak to anybody back home. I tried to be rational and think of different plans of actions. What would Beyonce do? (I’m a survivor) I went downstairs to reception and showed the nice girl my phone charger. “Do you have?” I asked her. We spent the next 20 minutes conversing over Google Translate. I.e. I typed in English, she read in Chinese. She replied in Chinese, I read in English and so on. As it turns out, she didn’t have one. Surprise surprise. Back in the hotel room, I put my ipod on and somehow – through the manic panic – told myself it’ll all get sorted and finally fell asleep.
I was awoken a few hours later by my hotel phone. “Sawfie, is that you? Are you ready? We have driver for you!” I jolted upright, told the nice lady I was ready, rushed around like a headless chicken, met the little old guy downstairs and got back into the bright yellow van. From that moment, I instantly felt better than the night before. In the bright sunshine, everything just seemed okay. I got to the school, was welcomed literally with open arms (several hugs from random Taiwanese women) was given my bowl and spoon as a gesture to come and eat at lunchtimes with them, a chinese Carmex, a chilled bottle of lemon water, some Lichee fruit, chinese bread and a 15 page employment contract. The school has a swimming pool, a tree house, rabbits, chickens and bunkbeds in each class for nap time everyday. I was shown my classroom, subjected to a 45 minute meeting on the very fine details of the job and then bam, I was employed. Around the table at lunch an hour later, 5 Taiwanese women and I shared soya milk for starters and beef noodles as a main. Somehow these tiny weeny size 6 women managed to clean off their bowls in no time, whilst I struggled to finish even half. Portion size is taken very seriously in Hsinchu.
The rest of the day consisted of locating adapters (check), exploring the local streets and street vendors, planning lessons like my life depended on it, skyping those I already miss like crazy and over hearing a chinese couple having sex at 2 in the morning. Fun times.
Tomorrow I am apartment hunting with one of my new found Taiwanese pals from the school. With a little bit of luck (we can make it through the night) I will secure an apartment tomorrow and move myself in ready for school on Monday morning. 24 hours in and and soph is settling in to the city.