While Rosey and Dolo are both occupied with calls from home, I thought I would take a minute to sit down and write. It has been a week since I left Colorado Springs and what I week it has been— full of ups and downs and everything in between.
The excitement and curiosity of the first couple days seemed to delay our jet-lag, catching up with us a few days later, right when you’d expect it to subside and right when our schedule was the heaviest. It was Monday that I returned home, after navigating the city for the first time alone, with tears in my eyes only to find the others in the same state, locked out of our room and feeling like we were drowning ourselves in water way over our heads. That day we had woken up early, taken the MRT (Taiwan’s version of the subway) to meet Allen, our partner in the Dance and Disable Project, and gone to visit the two centers that we will be working at for the next few weeks (although I only had time to visit one, because the rest of my day was filled by travelling to another side of town to go have my first rehearsal with the 4 Taiwanese dancers that I will be working with as part of my thesis). The Dance and Disable Project is going to be a big part of our residency here at TAV, which in collaboration with the Shin-Lu Foundation, we will be leading somatic movement workshops with mentally disabled adults of varying kinds and severities, mainly those with Autism and Downs Syndrome.
At the first site, we met with the head personnel at the center and observed some of the activities of the members at the center. The language barrier prevented us from having any sort of communication with either the personnel or the members, and only a fraction of the meeting was translated for us. Basically, we established our class schedule and who will lead which classes (Dolo and I will lead classes at one center and Rosey and Allen will lead classes at the other) and were given protocol and warnings both for teaching people with mental disabilities and for doing so as foreigners. Although Rosey and I both have experience working with people, particularly youth, that have experienced emotional and physical abuse and/or neglect, mental disabilities is a very new arena for us. This combined with the inability to communicate through verbal language with either the students or those we are working under is intimidating to say the least. Now we are in stages of solidifying the structure of the workshops and plans of how to execute them. Our first class is next Wednesday, which also happens to be my birthday. Despite our list of fears, I have a feeling that we are going to be fine, and that this project is going to be both difficult and hugely valuable in ways we cannot even predict.
The same day, as I mentioned earlier, I had my first rehearsal with Hsui-Ping’s dancers. Originally, I was to have between 6 and 10 dancers and have around 8 rehearsals before my showcase, but conditions now allow for only 4 dancers and 5 rehearsals, which is not very many, especially considering only one of them can understand me when I speak and my attempt at counting to eight in Chinese sounds like a dying cat counting down (or up I guess) to her death. One of them, Sylvia (the one who can speak English), so nicely met me at TAV and led me across town to the studio where I met the others and led a moderately productive 2-hour long rehearsal, considering the circumstances. I have a new-found respect and empathy for foreign choreographers and teachers, it was oddly one of the more difficult things I have ever attempted to do. An hour or more later, after losing myself in Asia both figuratively and literally, I finally found my way out of the Taipei Main Station and walked home to find my similarly distressed and hungry patrons waiting for me to unlock the room so we could fall face-down on our beds, cry a little and turn on some Grey’s Anatomy and probably some angry girl music. After a little while of sulking and venting, we re-centered ourselves and regained our capacity to appreciate where we were and what we were doing.
The last week has been so jam packed it is difficult to recap. Basically, the next few days hit us with some personal crisis’ from home, which being across the world during has been both a blessing and a curse. We have finally been able to start rehearsing for the show we are performing in a couple weeks in Southern Taiwan for a performing arts high school as well as the town’s governor, although we have been relocated to the mirror-less and carpeted piano room for our daily rehearsals because the dance studio has a hole in the floor. We go back and forth as to whether it or our concrete studio is a better rehearsal space. We have seen some of our Taiwanese friends that we know from the CC dance program— I-fen, Jeff and Mauro, and they have all been so great, helping us settle in and become culturally attuned. We have had more interesting food experiences, which although we finally found out that our location in the city, the governmental district, is an awkward place to find food, our taste buds have yet to adjust to the foreign tastes and smells that in all honesty we find mostly repulsing. I-fen and Jeff took us to a night market for dinner the other night. Unfortunately, the fantastic carnivalesque atmosphere, that in the states manifests itself on some annual occasions but in Taipei is an everyday occurrence, was sadly annihilated by the wretched smell of stinky tofu lingering over the entire area. Yesterday was Rosey and Dolo’s birthday, and out of desperation caused by a combination of hunger and homesickness, I ventured out early and came home bearing breakfast and goods from McDonald’s and 7-Eleven. Never in my life did I expect that either could be so satisfying.
I think it is fair to say that being here so far been quite an experience. My senses seem to be on overdrive at every moment I am awake, as there is so much to see, to feel… to experience. Though I know you learn a lot in school, I think I have learned more in a week being here than I do in a month of being in school: about myself, about relationships, about culture, art, language (to say it in general terms)… and most interestingly the intimate inter-workings of them all. I have felt the full-spectrum of emotions, from the highest feeling of ecstasy, to the lowest of fear, sadness, frustration and desolation. With help from supportive e-mails and Facebook chats (which I cannot emphasize enough how much I appreciate), my often overly anxious disposition is cooled by the reminder to keep the big picture in mind. Being in a place so far from home puts a lot into perspective, forcing me to re-evaluate so much of the tradition and resources I as an American am so privileged to have, yet am so disabled by; and at the same time reminds me of all of the minute details of home that I seldom or never take the time to think about, let alone appreciate.
So for now, at the end of week 1, I am missing home and loving being here.