I recently had the privilege of doing something that I have not done in several years. I was asked to accompany a group of students on an adventure that most kids in the States would arm wrestle for (especially if they could miss three days of school)! This activity is exciting, refreshing and sometimes dangerous. If you are still guessing I will end the suspense now; we went white water rafting.
Now before any of you click the red “X” icon on the top right of your screen because you’d rather watch Kobe and Yao battle it out on the hardwood, let me remind you that we are in Taiwan. So, this means that the trip (and the students) proved to be a little different than an American rafting excursion. When I was younger our youth group would load up a couple of 15-passenger vans, gas up and hit the interstate for a few hour drive to the river, making maybe one stop if we were lucky. For this trip our school rented a 40 passenger double-decker charter bus equipped with our personal AC vents and TV screens for all of the movies we were to watch on this six hour ride (yeah you heard right). Not only did we stop about every half-hour but the drive itself was slow going because we basically hugged a cliff over-looking the Pacific for the majority of the drive. Let’s put it this way, I am very glad that I do not get motion sickness on curvy roads because this one took the cake.
Lunch was an interesting experience unlike any other I had seen. We showed up to the restaurant to find it to be the biggest dining area you could imagine already about halfway full of Chinese tourists. It was very loud but thankfully the language barrier was not an issue on this trip. So, I just waited patiently until we found some tables together which actually only took about three minutes! They wheeled out this huge keg-like barrel of rice where all you had to do was walk up and stick your bowl in the sea of hands and POOF out comes your bowl full of white, sticky rice. Incredibly, as chaotic as this dining experience appeared to be from the outside, the staff was like a well-oiled machine. Plate after plate was methodically brought to our circular table (equipped with a food wheel). Here is where things get very sketchy. This dining style does not cater to those who have issues with sharing germs. As our table ate, we started to help ourselves to more food. But, there were no serving utensils or even extra chopsticks so, yes, everyone was digging into the delicious vegetable, meat and seafood dishes with freshly used chopsticks! Yummy.
When we arrived at our hotel I was shocked and amazed at the location of the place. Nestled in the mountains far away from any scooters or subway stations, I could breathe a lot easier for some reason! The kids unloaded quickly and made their way up to their rooms to hook up the various electronic gaming devices without even looking around at all! The scenery was breathtaking and even more exciting was our proximity to the natural hot springs (more on that later). After assigning everyone to a room and going over some simple rules, we gave them some free time options before dinner. I was thrilled to learn that there was a hiking trail nearby that overlooked the coast, the thought of which gave me an adrenaline rush! However, when faced with the choice of hanging out and playing cards, soaking in the hot springs, or hiking I had the number of volunteers that all of you would predict: zero. So hot springs it was.
Now let me paint you a picture so you totally understand what we had at our fingertips. Imagine being the only group in a small bed and breakfast that also had outside hot springs for your enjoyment whenever you fancy. Yeah, pretty cool huh? There was one hang-up though. They did not provide towels! I thought our Taiwanese teacher who acted as our translator was joking when she told me this. To my horror, it was true and apparently everyone else got the memo because every student who piled in the glorified “hot tub” brought their own personal towel with them. After persisting (more so playing dumb American) I got my way, sort of. The owner of the place gave me her personal towel to use for the week. She did this very graciously but had one adamant stipulation: that I remember to return it to her. I told Rebecca (our translator) to inform her that as much as I like pink and yellow butterflies that I would return her towel before we left for Taipei.
Now many of you have been rafting before and are fully aware of the dangers involved. You may also know that depending on the length, it can be very tiring because of the intense rowing required. Our rafting experience was drastically different. First of all the river was low to begin with. I would estimate the highest rated rapids we scooted over would be a 2 (out of 5). But if the kids could not experience a near-death rapid, at least they could have the joy of their arms turning into noodles after hours of paddling, right? Nope. Our trip was fully equipped with speed boat rafts that not only acted as a rescuer, but a tow boat whenever the kids got a little tired. Basically, all you had to do was stop rowing and hang back and soon you would have the red raft come and save the day. The other American-born male teacher and I were furious! Here we are in a difficult situation, one that most of these rich kids had NEVER faced and what do they learn? When the going gets tough just wait for the speed boat. Ridiculous.
All in all, the trip was a blast and some of the students took pride in working hard on the river and rowing most of the way. On the way home while the kids were singing Chinese Karaoke, I was reflecting on how to sum up this trip, particularly these kids who really frustrate me at times but I have grown to love and appreciate at the same time. All I could come up with is this: they might be lazy but they remember their towels.