Thursday, May 3, 2012


I'm behind schedule...again! No point in dwelling on it, let's get to the good stuff .

As all of you who have read my previous blog know, I have changed host families. I am extremely lucky because they love to bring me to awesome places. I moved on February 28th and we started our activities almost right away. Take a look:

1) March 1st: New Host Mother's Birthday.

Me and My Host Mother

2) March 4th: Bai Bai
Today I went to a Bai Bai ceremony for my host grandma who died last year. The ceremony was very quick and simple. We prayed to Buddha, went to my host grandmother's grave and gave a moment of silence, and then we burned money as a religious offering (not real money). It was a very elegant procedure, and it showed a lot about their cultural and religious beliefs.

3) March 10th/11th: Taiwanese history museum/YEP Conference.

Dutch Merchant's trading map. Taiwan was a Dutch colony in the mid-1600s and was a very important trading post.

4) March 16: Skipped school and traveled to Taipei.
No school! Today my host father had a meeting up in Taipei so I tagged along. The day was pretty boring, all I did was sit in meetings while they talked about sales inventories and communications issues. The cool part about it was that the Asia Correspondent for my host dad's company was a really nice lady from Switzerland who didn't speak Chinese so I got to experience an English-to-Chinese business deal. Which is nice.

5) March 17-18: He Huan Shan Mountain
This was our first big trip. We left pretty late on the 17th and ended up having to drive up the mountain in the dark. I personally believe that I handled the insane ascent fairly well: I was only in danger of wetting myself three or four times. We spent the night chilling in our hotel playing cards and watching Rush Hour 1 and 2 (not very culturally enriching, I know). The next day we went to the peak of the mountain and then later saw a sheep-shaving and horse-back-riding show(they didn't shave the sheep while riding horses although that would be tremendously amusing). We then made our departure and took a side detour to Taichung to visit the biggest night market I've ever seen. All-in-all it was a very fulfilling trip.
The view from my hotel

Taichung Night Market
6)March 21: Went to Taichung with host mom and aunt
Skipped school again! This time I went my host mom to chill with her sister and her sisters' friends. It was a very relaxed day because we spent the day just sitting around and talking. They are all very intelligent, kind people and I'm glad I made their acquaintance.
My Aunt and Host mother's friends

7) March 25: Liu Duei and hung out at the Harbor
My host mother, host brother, and I started out the day by going to a cultural center called 6 domes which wasn't very special aside from the awesome black swans in the pond. From there we met up with  one of my host mothers' friends in Kaoshiung. We spent a few hours "ripsticking"(the funny looking skateboard thing in the second picture), playing frisbee, and playing a lacrosse-esque game. After that we rented some bikes and rode around the Kaoshiung harbor, visited the British embassy, and ate some delicious ice. It was supposed to be a very short trip, but we played it by ear and had a lot of fun.
Cool pond in the Culture center with black swans!
Playing at the Harbor with my host brother.

8) March 30/31 Sun Moon Lake:
Another big trip. This time my host parents took me to the gorgeous Sun Moon Lake. We stayed at a very simple hotel with a great view of the lake(top picture). The next day was chock full of activities. We started by riding gondolas across the entire length of the lake giving us a beautiful, unobscured birds-eye view of the landscape. We  then proceeded to a cultural reservation for Taiwanese aboriginals designed to give the public an idea of how the indigenous tribes lived. We got to travel through various tribes' traditional houses and witnessed a marriage ritual of the Paiwan tribe as well as a performance showing every tribes' spiritual rituals. After that, we were all pretty cultured-out so we went to an amusement park based after the Japanese show "One-Piece." Oddly, the amusement park was part of the cultural center. It was definitely an awesome trip.

Top: The view from my Hotel
Bottom: Gondolas
9) April 5,6,7: Went to Penghu
This was one of the regrettably few trips that had been planned for us exchange students. We toured the islands of Penghu on a number of buses and boats. Surprisingly, we didn't see very many of the famously beautiful places in Penghu including the Twin Heart Stone Weir. It was a little disappointing, but just being around my fellow exchange students made up for it. The 2nd day also redeemed the trip. We spent half the day swimming, tubing, and eating pizza on the beach. That day was definitely an experience that will live with me for a long time.

10) April 22/23: Went to Alishan Mountain
This was by far my favorite trip, but you'l have to wait until my next blog to hear about it!

Well, that's all for now folks. I hope you enjoyed it! I certainly have been enjoying myself these past few months! If you want me to elaborate on any of my trips just shoot me an e-mail at Thank you all and see you next time.

Big Dong

Thursday, April 12, 2012


Hello everybody!! I'm really sorry about the long gap between post, but I have been really busy lately. I will be doing two blogs this week. This first one will be about updates and to let you know that I'm still alive, and the second one will cover all of my latest advetures. *Witty Comment, cool introduction, blah, blah, blah* Ok let's do this.

February was a pretty normal month. I made some improvement on my Chinese and all that good stuff. I read some pretty awesome books which are probably the main reason for the long delay. But the main awesomeness in this month was another trip to Taipei. As you may know, my host father owns a fairly large chain of restaurants in and around Tainan City. What you may not have known is that he also co-owns a restaurant on the 87th floor of Taipei 101 and, if I do say so myself, it is very High-end (pun intended). On February 25th, my host family and I rode up to Taipei in style. We all wore our most ravishing clothing. We took the incredibly luxurious first-class on Taiwan's High Speed Rail traveling at a smooth 186 m/ph. We sipped on the best wine the island had to offer as we watched the stunning countryside go by. We then disembarked a mere 90 minutes later, and, looking very suave in our apparel,... hailed a cab. 5 minutes later we reached our destination, and take the worlds fastest elevator. It went from level 1 to the 87th floor in less than 40 seconds which I believe is scientifically equivalent to the speed of smell... or something. Anyway, that was all cool, but the restaurant definitely topped it. The interior decorations themselves must have cost a fortune. All around there were intricate pieces of art made entirely of feathers from various birds. In our VIP room our "wall paper" was peacock feathers. The food was not as great as I thought it would be considering the lowest price to eat there is $300 per person, but I think my host father's main focus was the atmosphere. By far the coolest thing about this million dollar restaurant was the toilet-placement. The urinals were put right underneath a wall-length window where I could look down on all of Taipei while I "relieved myself." Awesome.

Alright so more awesome news, I have changed host families! On February 28th, I packed up all my stuff, walked the entire 3 minutes to my new house, and unpacked! I walked in the door and BAM! Everything went into turbo-mode. I 'm now speaking chinese all day everyday, I have gone to so many places recently that I've lost count, and I've learned more about Taiwanese culture than ever before. Obviously, I am very happy that I changed families because even though I love my first host family and they were great to me, this family definitely has a lot more to offer me in terms of the quality of my exchange. Not only that, but they are really cool people as well.

Okay so I know that this blog was really short considering it's been almost 4 months since my last one, but don't fret! I'm compiling a lot of pictures and information of the trips I've gone on recently and I will put it all in a very long blog for you guys by Next Tuesday.
Peace Out,
Tom Richter

Tuesday, January 24, 2012


       Hey everybody! Hope your holidays were as great as mine! I am actually in the midst of the most important holiday in Taiwan. It is currently the 2nd day of Chinese New Years, but I'll talk about that later. I was debating on which Holiday to start with because they were all.. unique. Let's start with Christmas which makes sense because it's the first in the chronological order, and I suppose I had every intention of starting with it from the beginning I guess I just said that I debated which one to start with because it was an almost creative way to introduce to you that my Holidays were a little strange. Anyway... I digress.

      The entire week leading up to Christmas felt weird. I was still in school, I had to finish writing a speech, and there was no festive mood among the masses. The only real decoration was a big sign on the Department store entrance that said, "Marry Chrismas." They either misspelled it a little or maybe they were advertising to people the chance to join Mr. and Mrs. Chrismas' hands in marriage. Who knows? Anyway, Christmas came in the blink of an eye without any of the usual excitement on my part. Christmas day was.. different. I got up at the usual time: 12:30 P.M, and went to the department store with my friends. The high point of the entire day was that I bought my German friend and I ridiculous hats that gave the already oogly-eyed Taiwanese people a reason to oogle at us. (Fun fact: Oogle is not a word.) While I wouldn't say that I particularly enjoyed Christmas this year, it was very unique.

   I realize that I said my holidays were great. I did not lie. This year's New Years was by far the coolest New Years I have, or probably will have in my life. My rotary district took all of the inbound exchange students up to Taipei to celebrate. We arrived at 4:30 P.M on New Year's Eve and much to my surprise, we were let loose upon the city with just the promise that we would be at the bus at 2:30 A.M and no supervision. I went along with 30 or so of my fellow exchange students and we explored the great city of Taipei for a few hours then we went to a park near a little pond. At this pond, we met up with an enormous group of Rotary exchange kids from all around Taiwan. There were kids living in Taichung, Taoyen, Taipei, and Kaoshiung: about 150 of us in all. For the rest of the night, I partied, mingled, danced, and even sang (a little) with kids from all over the world. Cool? Hell yeah. Then at 12 was the grand finale. It would be easier to show you than tell you: Here's the link.
So that was my New Years.

     Next up is Tom's birthday! Woohoo! It was a rather quiet day, and nothing happened until about 6 P.M when my host father took the family to one of his restaurants to celebrate Chinese New Year's Eve, but we'll talk about that later. During dinner there was a nice magic show and some traditional Taiwanese and Chinese drums and magic shows. After dinner we retired to my house and had a nice little party with my two host families. Not a big, flashy day but I enjoyed it.

   As I have previously stated, today is the second/third day of Chinese New Years which lasts 7 days here.  The evening of the New Year's Eve is considered the first day which makes sense if you don't think about it. This first day is reserved for immediate family, and it is traditional for family members to give each other a little red envelope full of money. I racked up a whopping $3,000. Ok so it was Taiwanese dollars so about $100 US dollars. Still not bad though right? Yesterday's focus was the female side of the family, and I would have spent the day with my host mother's family but they live in Japan so I hung  so out with my host Grandmother's side of the family and went to a few buddhist temples. Today was the father's side of the family and I spent the day playing cards with his family and made a lot of money with poker, and then lost it all with a few new "games" they taught me. I didn't really understand it because it was in rapid Chinese, but I could have sworn that one of the games was called "Take the foreign guy's money." Oh well, it was a good time. I have yet to learn the focus of the last few days seeing as I just go with the flow here and the internets machine isn't giving me any useful results, but I will be sure to inform you in my next blog. So that was my holiday season in a But Shell, (Blog Nut Shell, maybe that shouldn't become a saying) and as you can see it was awesome at times, and boring at times, but it was certainly unique.

In other news, I gave two speeches in the last two months and I'm pretty proud of myself, here are the links:
       The first speech was for an exchange student competition for whose Chinese was the best. I got 4th out of 28! Secret: Everyone who didn't get 1st, 2nd, or 3rd got a certificate saying that they got 4th, but don't tell anyone that. The second speech was to all of the next-year-outbound students explaining my American life and America in general. I actually gave that one twice, once to my Rotary club and then to the Outbounds.

Thanks again to my sponsors for giving me this opportunity! Thanks everyone for reading Big Dong's blog. I miss all of you guys!

Fun Facts:

In Japan, a black cat crossing your path is good luck.

In Chinese the phrase "Next week" is translated directly as "Down week" This is simply because on a calendar, the following week is the one located below the current week.  "Last week" is likewise translated directly as "Up week."

Ok this one is a little complicated. I noticed that when someone from Europe or America emphasizes parts in a story, they will use their right hand to gesture the beginning of the story and their left to depict the end. It is the opposite for Asians. When I was discussing a movie with my host mom recently, I noticed that she kept saying the word for "end" but was shaking her left hand. Not even thinking about it, I was confused and unconsciously assumed I had misunderstood, but it turns out I didn't. My host sister did the same and she was speaking English. I puzzled over this until I came up with the slap-yourself-in-the-face-that-was-so-obvious answer: they read right-to-left. When you look at a book in Chinese from the middle, the beginning is on the right and the end is on the left.

Taipei 101 from the park with the lake:

Saturday, December 10, 2011

Three Months in a foreigner country and horrid grammar to prove it!

      Hello people of Earth! Has it been over a month since we last talked? Geez, it feels like just two weeks ago. It's kind of a strange phenomenon here, it feels like the days are creeping by, but yet every time I look at the date it seems to have jumped 5 or 6 days into the future. Three months have came and went in the blink of an eye, thankfully I don't think the memories will fade that fast.

     Speaking of thankfully, it was Thanksgiving recently! Despite 98% of people here not having a clue as to what that holiday is (Europeans included), I had a great time. My English teacher and YEP chairman took me out for turkey where I met her American friend and we chatted for hours about important American stuff like history, politics, and how many licks it would actually take to get to the center of a tootsiepop.

     Anyway, I had a lot to be thankful for this year. I am very thankful to all of the people who made this experience possible: Rotary for being crazy enough to allow me in their program, sponsors for being crazy enough to fund a 16 year old's year-long excursion, and of course for my parents who were crazy enough to let me go halfway across the world on my own for almost an entire year while I live with complete strangers. I'm also very thankful to my amazing host family who really made me feel like a true Lee, and the other exchange students who I've met on this trip, they have been there for me through the ups and downs of the past three months and have become like family to me. Enough sappiness! Let's move on to some updates, shall we?

        School Update: I switched into normal classes in order to become more of a regular student instead of just an Asian Eye Magnet. It worked. In the past two weeks or so, I've made more friends than in the entire two and a half months before, which is nice. Unfortunately, I haven't gotten on the good side of any teachers since my switch because I just sit in the back and read or sleep, but, eh, c'est la vie. They don't get mad at me as long as I make an effort to listen, which I do, until I get a headache, at which point I put my head on my desk and try not to snore too loud.

      Chinese Update: My Chinese is not as far as I had expected it to be at this point, but then again I had no experience with this sort of thing before so my guess was just a shot in the dark. My host family and my Taiwanese friends say they are impressed with my progress so that's a good sign. What has surprised me the most about my Chinese is that I find it much easier to read the language to write it, speak it, or even understand other people speaking it. In the beginning, I anticipated that I wouldn't be able to read at all but it has turned out to be the easiest aspect of the language. It's the easiest because each word has a character and in Taiwan that character will always look the same. On the other hand, however, when people speak, almost everyone has their own little way of saying it. There are three main ways to say almost every Chinese word here: the way they say it in Beijing, China, the young Taiwanese way, and the grunt. For example Ch is how you would pronounce the word for Eat in Chinese in China, but here some people say Ts and most old Taiwanese people just mumble something aggressively. A lot of people mix and match which method they like per word so that everybody has his or her own style. I think this might have resulted from not having a set alphabet. Luckily, I am getting really good at understanding the first two methods, but the third still throws me. As for writing, I haven't given it much effort because there aren't many circumstances that I've needed it, and every time I try, I forget how the character looks. It's like what happens when you misspell a word: if you read it, you would understand it, but you just can't seem to picture the word in your mind. Speaking is coming to me, but with difficulty. In Chinese everything is based on tones. If you speak without the tones, absolutely no one will understand you except-and this is strange but true-for another foreigners.

       After school update. Everyday after school I go to a gym with my good German friend Julian, then I go home and eat dinner and go back to the same area to do karate. It's pretty taxing considering that I have to ride my bike for 90 minutes everyday, but it's better than sitting around being bored. I can't really hang out with my Taiwanese friends because they don't get out of school until 9:30.
       Family update. They are the best family I could hope for, very nice and very cool. I will switch in February and only have two host families this year because unfortunately my Danish friend Jonas got sent home :(.

       Stuff I have to do update. I have to give two speeches within three weeks,  the first is next weekend and it's three minutes about whatever I want to talk about, and the second one is about my family, friends, my country and culture: it's thirty minutes long. Both are in Chinese.

        Overal exchange update: I'm having a great time with the exchange kids, I'm learning a lot about the language and culture, I'm making Taiwanese friends, and I'm loving the experience. I've got a lot to do, most of which is stressful but hopefully it will help me in the future.

          I Have a Homework Assignment for You! I need lots of pictures for my 30 minute speech Powerpoint so if you think you have any good pictures to send me don't hesitate! It could be of you and your family (if I know you), pictures of you and me, of my family, of great places in the country, you eating at McDonalds (for the stereotype),  you refusing to eat at McDonald's (to go against the stereotype), anything that you think would be helpful! The deadline for the speech is January 4th. My email is The more pictures the merrier, thank you!

      That's all for now everybody! I'm Tom Richter and this is my blog. Miss you all!


Tuesday, November 1, 2011

Happy Halloween!

              Happy Halloween everybody! Or as my English teacher pronounces it: Happy Heroin! I hope you guys enjoyed celebrating Halloween this year, and if you "celebrated" the second pronunciation of it, I hope you enjoy jail. Anyway, my Halloween was uneventful with not a piece of candy in sight. I bought myself a stick of extra-sugary Mentos in order to celebrate, but other then that the day passed just like any other.

              In other Big Dong news, my Chinese has been improving and I am now able to read a decent amount of Chinese symbols and I am understanding a lot more of what people are saying to me and about me now, which is nice. I am also diligently practicing piano everyday with pretty good results. I am now able to play three songs! Soo impressive. But I am improving and three songs is better than just knowing how to play the Flintstones which has been my song of choice for the past 8 years or so.
       This past month has flown by, it seems like just yesterday that I posted even though it was over three weeks ago. Everything here is good except for how hard it is to fit in around here. Even though last time I said I was used to people staring at me, I am constantly getting more and more agitated with the fact that anywhere I go, except for my house, there are people staring at me. Knowing I am always being viewed as an outsider is frustrating especially now that my Chinese is improving and I am beginning to feel at home in this country.
            But to leave you on a happy note, starting three weeks ago I have been taking Karate lessons for two hours every night. The class is located on the roof of a little run-down motel about 20 minutes away from my house by bike. ( I'll put some pictures up of it next time).  My teacher says that I am improving very quickly and I have already become an orange belt! If I keep up at this pace I will return home as a brown belt. Now, I know that traditionally it takes a few years to obtain the brown belt and some of you are probably thinking that this place is bogus. Well it is and it isn't. Every two months there is a test that everyone can take to get the next belt. The last test was last Friday and I must say that the sight was pathetic. In a perfect world, one would have to master each kick, punch, maneuver, and dance required to receive the next belt. However my teacher-in an interest to maintain his clientele- decided to pass anyone who bothered to show up, and for those of us who actually put forth real effort, we are rewarded by jumping one belt in advance (instead of getting yellow, I got orange.)

Side Note: Happy 19th birthday Jessie!!

       Well that's all for this brog, seeya next time!
Thomas George Richter the First

Friday, October 7, 2011

One Month!

         Hello my followers! (that sounds creepy). If you are not already aware, I have officially been in Taiwan for over a month! I arrived here hot, sweaty and confused, and here I am 31 days later and now I'm hotter, sweatier, and more confused than ever before! Isn't it great! Ha all kidding aside it was a great month with few if any hiccups, and it appears that the future is just as bright. A special shout out to all of my sponsors who made this amazing trip possible, you guys are  truly the best! I don't know how I could ever thank all of you enough!
         The reason that I have not posted a blog in a while is that I have been extremely busy integrating myself into an entirely different culture while simultaneously learning Chinese, learning Japanese being a full-time student, watching hilarious youtube videos, reading lots of intense novels, and of course fighting crime by night (all true).
     In other news I have decided to create lists of advice for people who are interested in visiting or residing here in Taiwan. Today's list is aptly named Things You Must Not Fear if You Ever Visit Taiwan. Here it is:

                                                                    3 Things you Must not be afraid of:
Sweating: People hear are sweating here 24/7 due to the heat and 80%-and-up humidity. No matter what activity I participate in it is accompanied with sweating, be it sitting, eating, sleeping, or even running a mile. If you fear this: STAY AWAY you will not survive!!!

Being Different: Especially in the Southwest where I live, there are extremely few foreign people and seeing one is rare. What this means is that when you go anywhere in public people will constantly be staring at you. Fortunately I got use to this fairly quickly, and soon I was staring at foreign people too!

Finally, Misunderstandings: These occurrences happen almost as much as sweating and are twice as frustrating. After a while I became numb to being misunderstood when I speak English, but there's nothing quite as frustrating as trying as hard as you can, searching your entire knowledge base, and finally saying something in Chinese and then getting laughed at for saying it wrong or worse not being understood at all. In the beginning I was discouraged from speaking Chinese due to these misunderstandings, but I finally got over it and now i am totally kicking this language's ass! Pardon my Chinese.

So there you have it! I will attempt to post more often, but until next time this has been Big Dong's blog!
Zai Jian! Soyonara!

Thursday, September 15, 2011

3 Weeks!

      I can't believe it's already been three weeks! It feels like such a short time since I arrived here in Taiwan until I think about how many things I've done and then it feels like I've been here for months! As most of you probably don't know, this past weekend was the Moon Festival which is the second biggest holiday in Taiwan(first is Chinese New Year).
     So in celebration my family and three other families went down to Kenting for two days. Kenting is known for it's beaches, warm weather, and great national park. Our first day there we went to the national park where we saw some incredible scenery. After that, we went to a huge night market right outside our hotel, and the other two exchange students walked around for hours playing games and trying really weird food. I got to try stinky tofu which is notoriously the worst food Taiwan has to offer..... I really liked it! While my fellow exchangers were trying not to throw it up, I was thoroughly enjoying that smelly snack.
     We spent the entire next day at the beach just chillin in the ocean and looking at the beautiful scenery as they walked by. I also attempted to teach the others how to body surf. I failed.
     In all it was another great week here in this scorching hot country! I swear it's always 100 degrees F here. If you want to see pictures of my Kenting excursion and of my trip overall check out my Facebook photos. They are just under my photos.