Connie has already left for work early, and after a few minutes David wakes up and pokes his head of tousled brown hair into the door. "Up?" he says in characteristic quietness. I nod and walk out of the guest room, where David is already putting on his sandals. "Lets go get something to drink". Because one cannot drink the water from Taiwanese faucets, all beverages must be purchased from the local groceries or, more commonly, from the hundreds of 7-11s that are on most street corners. We take the elevator downstairs and out of the heavy, metal reinforced door that leads to the street. Just outside of the door the street is lined with parked scooters waiting to take their respective owners into the jaws of death. It is already sweltering, and the David comments that it is probably about 30 degrees. Quickly realizing that I am not familiar with celsius yet, he does the conversion for me: "about 85, 90 degrees". Scorcher, and humid to boot. We cross the busy street which i cannot pronounce and walk about 100 yards to the nearest convenience store. We pass through the glass sliding doors which "whoosh" open like Star Trek doors, escaping the sweet smell of gasoline and hot pastries that float out from the open-air bakeries. The store is white and clean. I go to the back where the drinks are kept and am instantly befuddled; nothing is in english, and so I must make my selections based on the color of the liquid within the bottles. I see a familiar face - an apple! I know what an apple is! I grab the drink and make my way to the counter, where the register reads "$40.00", which is a little over a dollar. I pay the lady with 4 ten dollar coins and we leave. My first official purchase in Taiwan. Apple juice.
Next stop: breakfast. Along the way I discover that my purchase was made perhaps a bit too hastily, as my apple juice contains chucks of apple in it. I don't believe we have apple juice with apple chucks in the States. I wasn't even aware that this was an option. It's not bad, though, so I play it off like i really WANTED apple chucks in my apple juice. Breakfast is had in a tiny little open-air shop a couple doors down from the convenience store. Absolutely everything is in Mandarin, and there are no pictures. Even though David is from Austin, he has been studying Chinese for the last year, and he can read and speak enough to get by. Thank God for David, who orders us "Dan Bing", which are onion pancakes, eggs and sausage all rolled into a sushi-like roll and covered in sweet sauce, as well as turnip cakes, which are sweet and have a texture like cooked new potatoes. The entire meal costs us about $60.00 NT, or a little under $2.00 US, and is very filling. During breakfast David teaches me my first Mandarin word. As we leave the shop I give the tiny Taiwanese woman my money, mumbling a less than confident "xiexie", which is pronounced "shi-shi" (like profanity except without the "t"). I am on my way to becoming fluent. The tiny woman smiles warmly, appreciative of the effort I have made to become part of her world. It would be easy to be an arrogant American, to not bend and not learn and not make the effort. But what would that accomplish? What am I to get in return if I never surrender any of myself? I feel like too many people will never take that risk, and therefore will never receive all that life is begging to give them.
We make our way back to Connie and David's apartment, where I shower an prepare for my teaching demonstration. I would be lying if I said I wasn't nervous, but I'm pretty good with the little ones and I know I will do fine. I put on my worn-in jeans and t-shirt and as we walk out the door to go to the school, David hands me a helmet and says "don't forget this". What? Is it hailing? Meteor shower? Why on earth would I need a.....oh shit. Apparently the school is about a 20 minute walk...OR a three minute scooter ride. "So this is how I die" I think to myself as we take the elevator down to the street and I climb on the back of David's 125cc black motor scooter. (On a side note, I don't feel like two grown men riding on a scooter would go over so well in the States. One would probably earn nicknames that would haunt them their entire lives. However, in Taiwan, this is perfectly acceptable behavior.) As we accelerate into traffic, I can feel the adrenaline entering my veins, my muscles tensing for the impact that is sure to come at any second. But no, it doesn't come, and although we swerve alarmingly close to other scooters, cars, pedestrians, etc., we somehow make it to the school alive. In truth, once I silence the voice in my head that is screaming "BAIL! BAIL! Save yourself!", it is actually a little fun. Not like "haha" fun; more like "Indiana Jones just barely escaped with my life" fun.
The Miro International School is located in a large building and looks, from the outside, like any other Taiwanese store. Once inside, the interior is modern, clean, and professional, with a large emblem declaring the name of the school above the reception desk. Connie takes me to the office where I am given a stack of oversized books, one from which I will read to the kids as my lesson. I choose "How Will the Weather Be Today?", mostly because it has a lot of pictures of animals. I am taken to the second floor, where a small classroom of five year olds anxiously await me. As Connie gives me last minute instructions outside of the door, I can see 12 sets of tiny curious eyes peering at me from within. Showtime. I enter as a whirlwind of enthusiasm and high fives. I am showering praises, contagious and cartoonish. "What color is the water?!?! What does the cow say?!?!?! HIGH FIVE!!!!" They love me. They are laughing and jumping out of their chairs. The principal, hearing that an insane American has infiltrated one of her classrooms, comes to sit in and witness the scene I am making. She seems a little disturbed, but overall pleased with my teaching techniques. I leave the classroom sweating and smiling, and the kids seem genuinely upset to see me go. Connie tells me that the other teachers and her principal are impressed, and I am officially offered the job of teaching the youngest kindergarten class immediately. Contracts are drawn up, and starting Monday I will be a full time teacher at Miso International School and have a full-time job for the first time in my life. At 25 years old, I may have finally reached adulthood? As if that would ever happen...