Thoughts of a Canadian Exchange Student

My Congee Adventure

Posted in Food, Home, NTU, Rant, Taipei, Taiwan by J on November 4, 2007

congee

Image borrowed from a website that I googled.

On a tip from a friend, deprived from congee as I was, I tried out the non-descript congee stand nearby NTU. Run by a Guangdong person (廣東人)the flavour was quite similar to the congee at home because Guangdong is where a lot of the early Chinese immigrants emigrated from. Thus, many overseas Chinese communities have a Guangdong flavour.

History lesson aside, by ordering my standard that I judge all congee places by, “thousand year old egg and lean pork congee” (皮蛋瘦肉粥)I expected something half-decent. I had been getting used to this… icky thing that I’ve come across in the Taiwanese places I’ve tried. A little too spicy, a little too watered down, etc.

And it was in the gold!

And thus, my congee adventure came to a close. (What adventure?)

An Experience with a Taiwanese Guy (Part II)

Posted in Chinese, English, Exchange, Food, Learning, NTU, Observations, Rant, Taiwan, Taiwanese People, Thoughts by J on September 19, 2007

On Thursday, the 13th, I went to dinner with him. Smartly or un-smartly, I brought a friend along with me under the pretence that our dinner needed to be facilitated by someone who’s Chinese and English were at a level so as to help with any barriers created by my poor Chinese and his poor English. Actually, I was just kind of nervous as to what exactly he thought this dinner would be because I hadn’t met many Taiwanese people before.

My friend and I met him at the front gate of NTU. He didn’t know my friend was coming until he saw my friend. So, the three of us went over to Gongguan and went to this little Western style cafe. It was much nicer than the regular places I’d been going to.

I ordered some toast thing and my friend ordered risotto and he ordered… I forget. I have trouble remembering his face and what he looks like. Continuing on, we made small talk and whatnot but the things that I remember from the conversation are slightly odd because normally I’d expect someone from Taiwan to be much more conservative.

——–

#1 Weird thing:
He asked me if I came to Taiwan to look for a husband.

(Ehhh??? [By the way, this is not a Canadian “eh”. I have no idea where my American roommate gets the weirdest ideas about Canada. Like, for example, how it’s reaaaallly cold. Not where I live. Geez. And for goodness sake’s we lock our doors!] Strange question, something I might ask in jest, but nothing I’d ever expect a Taiwanese guy, of all people, to ask!)

#2 Weird thing:
We almost solely used Chinese to communicate with each other.

No matter how much my friend and I invited him to practice speaking in English, we spoke almost entirely in Chinese. I invited him to practice English 3 times and my friend asked once.

#3 Weird thing:
I found out he was a PHD student at NTU and for the life of me, I have no idea why his English was so poor.

It’s strange because to graduate from NTU, you have to be able to pass (I don’t know what a pass is) an English exam. I spoke to someone who had failed 3 times before. Yikes! It’s hard enough to take university exams in your own language, but to have to take one in another language in order to graduate is rather demanding! The expectations of regular students here is really, really high. However, I understand why. NTU students need to be competitive in the world market and without at least useable English, it’s hard to break into the international realm. At least, that’s my understanding of the world.

——–

At the end of this dinner, I left with the feeling that I’d never see him or hear from him again. The time spent together was fine, but when I was thinking back on it and asking people about usual Taiwanese meetings, it wasn’t the most normal of meetings. Meh, another experience to add to my books.

So! That was that!

Or so I thought.

An Experience with a Taiwanese Guy (Part I)

Posted in Bicycle, Exchange, Learning, NTU, Observations, Rant, Taipei, Taiwan, Taiwanese People, Thoughts, University by J on September 19, 2007

Here’s an interesting little story about something that happened to me within the space of 5 days.

Here goes nothing.

On the 11th, after taking the person with the dog bite to the clinic, I biked over to the post office to see how much it would be to send something home to Canada. Everyday that I spend here, I realise more and more that my Chinese is rather inadequate for most things but, the important thing is that I know how to ask. Yay. Back to the main story. I actually didn’t find out how much it would cost to send something home because at the counter, they told me that it was weight dependent and didn’t give me a base price. Oh well.

Back up a bit, though.

Before I went in to ask at the counter, I tried to find a brochure at the post office that listed the rates and whatnot of sending post internationally. I found one. But, I couldn’t read it. Oh what a conundrum illiteracy is!

I did the next best thing to being literate. I asked someone to read it for me. Hehe. So, I went out of the post office and in the little patio/sitting area outside, I looked for someone to help me. I picked a person at random.

I have no idea what it is, but every time I ask for help here, people are just so helpful. Cultural thing about being polite or cultural thing about enjoying to help people? Other exchange students have noted how trusting the Taiwanese are about money among other things. For example, if you bought 5 pens but lied and said you were only buying 4 at the counter, the cashier would believe you. I guess this observation comes from more cynical people (and I’m not?) because I expect nothing less than honesty. However, other people (Americans) also say, not observe, that Canada is a safe place and very honest. Hah! I guess that’s a good stereotype, though.

He read it for me and told me that the brochure didn’t give me the rates for international packages but rather mail rates for packages within Taiwan. Hey, at least I was partially right. Go pictures!

At this point, here is where I went into the post office to ask at the counter, following this guy’s advice. After I exited the post office, I heard someone calling 同學,同學 (tongxue, tongxue). This is a term used to talk to someone who is your schoolmate, please correct me if I’m wrong. Until I felt a tap on my shoulder, I had no idea that he was calling me.

Cool! Someone wanted to talk to me!

So, after we had a quick chat about who we were etc. I think I give out information too easily, but I believe that I was being courteous by answering all his questions. As well, I have a need to prove that I’m not Taiwanese. I need a solid way to say this, but so far, the best I can come up with is that I’m Canadian, not Taiwanese and I’m Cantonese. However, I hardly ever get to say the last part because by that time they think I’m a person that just doesn’t identify with their Taiwanese roots. Also, I don’t really feel like I’m the last one anyways since I can’t speak Cantonese much at all, but if it’s what it takes to prove that I’m not Taiwanese…

I’d like to just be me and not have people automatically think that I’m a stupid American (why never Canadian or anything else if I speak English fluently?) that has lost touch with their cultural (Taiwanese) roots. I’d just like to be Canadian. *scoff* However, I’m not stupid. I know that I can’t ever just be Canadian. I don’t look Canadian. Argh.

Ranting aside, after the conversation finished, I went to get my bike so that I could return back to the dorms. And then he comes over. Asks me for my cell phone number so that we can do something like a language exchange. Okay! My Chinese needed practice (even though I already have someone to practice with. I also wanted to meet more Taiwanese people my age, too.). And then, with a mind of its own, my mouth asks if he’s free to have dinner with me on Thursday, the 13th. I’m under the idea that it’d be good to get to know him a bit first before investing time in a language exchange with him.

Eep! I realised it AFTER I said it that… this was a VERY forward invitation. Stupid, stupid, stupid mouth. These sort of things just roll naturally out of my mouth.

And that’s the end of Part I.

Danshui (淡水)

Danshui MRT Station

Danshui MRT Station

What to say about Danshui? I’m afraid that I was let down a little bit. I was expecting something like Steveston but what I found at Danshui was far, far from that. This might have had to do with a number of factors:

  1. It was Saturday. Inference: Lots of people.
  2. I went by myself. Inference: More fun with other people.
  3. Taiwan is small. Inference: Everyone has a limited number of places to choose to go to. Hence, inference #1.

Anyways.

I enjoyed the MRT ride out to Danshui a lot. You could feel the excitement from the passengers building as we neared Danshui because they all started to speak more and more loudly. Also, the scenery as we neared Danshui was very lush and green. A stark contrast to all the cement of Taipei, although, Taipei is colourful. My own excitement was also increasing because I started to see something that resembled a blue sky. Blue sky!! Actually, it was a very pale blue, but nevertheless, it was blue!

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Can you spot the McDonald’s?

While I was riding the MRT to Danshui from Gongguan, I was thinking to myself, “surely all these people that got on so early will get off at Taipei Main Station and thus, there will be less people going to Danshui.” I couldn’t have been more wrong. But, I digress.

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When I arrived in Danshui, I proceeded to explore without a plan, really. I just wanted to get a feel for what Danshui was. After a couple of hours of non-stop walking, I came to the conclusion that Danshui is a mix of a few things at home. Danshui is a mix of Playland without the rides and the better Night Market all condensed into a few long and narrow streets.

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There were horses and ponies to ride. There were carnival games to play. There was delicious food to eat. My gosh! The food! It was fantastic! I had stinky tofu, a really tall ice cream thing (more like ice milk, but good nevertheless) and squid. I loved the stinky tofu. It tasted so good. However, the clincher was the squid. If I ever go to Danshui again, I want more squid. I also had some sugar cane drink, but I don’t think it’s to my fancy.

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1) Tall ice cream. Or milk thing. 2) Sugar cane drink.

Also, I’m glad that my Chinese is to a level where I can read enough to pick what sort of basic food I want and good enough to ask for what I want. The best part is that I can just say, “I want this one” when I don’t know what it is. Yay for Chinese! (I’m still bothered by the fact that I’m taken for granted as being Taiwanese.)

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Squid.

Hmm…I forgot to take a picture of the squid splayed out on the stick, but it was so cheap compared to the stuff at home. It was only 50 NT which is approximately $1.60 CDN. And yes, I am trying to make a few people jealous. Haha!

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Looking out to the water.

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A boat tour you can take.

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I have no idea who these people are.

Aside from the food, I actually felt some sun on my face in Danshui. It was glorious. The sun cast shadows over everything and I reveled in it because so far in Taipei, I think that this has only happened once or twice. And the wind! The wind carried a hint of the sea and fresher air. I really liked that. Despite these reminders, I can’t shake the feeling that Danshui, most of all, feels like a tourist trap for the people of Taipei because just outside that little tourist area is just another regular city. I realise that Steveston, too, is a tourist attraction. However, the difference is that Steveston feels like a tourist attraction rather than a tourist trap.

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This picture lies to you.

 

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Sanitized.

 

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Maybe Danshui should look something more like this.

 

Danshui is what, I believe (I must add this to indicate my bias) city people want the “seaside” to be, not what it actually is. Manufactured. Sigh. On the other hand, I was quite happy when I saw some shacks and whatnot. Rundown as they were, it didn’t feel so manufactured as the “park” and the “boardwalk” (it was stone). And, oh, the park. There was more stone and cement than greenery. I’m afraid that my pictures make Danshui look better than it actually is.

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At the end of the day, despite all of these complaints about Danshui, it wasn’t bad. It didn’t conform to my idea of what it should have been but it was okay. For one thing, it was the most greenery I’ve seen outside of Taida’s campus despite being more cement than greenery. Also, I liked observing the crush of people that fit within such a small area. It’s just wow that so many people don’t mind being so close together. I like it. It gives me a sense of security for there’s always someone to help you out if you need it. You just have to ask. So, please enjoy my pictures of Danshui and try out the food! Oh, and go with friends too… on a weekday. Gotta love the MRT!

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Blue sky!

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The seaside.

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View of Danshui from inside the MRT.

P.S. I love how the way I ordered my pictures wash out near the end after starting off so vibrantly. It very nearly mimics how I felt about going to Danshui yesterday. I really liked that MRT ride home (dorms) because it reminds me of the bus rides home (Canada) from school at the end of a long day. Mmm… fresh air.

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Lots of cement.

Clubbing at Luxy

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It sure rains a lot in Taipei.

After all that stamp collecting yesterday, I slept. But when it came time to get ready, I was so excited! My first time! Almost all the exchange students in the dorms were going. My goal: Get picked up. Yay!

However, that didn’t happen.

We actually went to the wrong club firstly. It took a lot of trouble to get into this wrong club… they even asked for our passports. Bah. Not a smart idea to flash your passport around, as I learned. When we arrived at the right club, Luxy, we only had to show our student ids. I’m so glad that we got them today.

Hm… the inside decor was nice. However, I don’t really like hiphop, so I didn’t really like the dance music that they were playing. The music in the other room was better for it was more alternative, but there weren’t very many people in it. Therefore, with a friend, we decided to leave (after checking out the whole club) and come back to the club later when the rest of the people we went with wanted to leave.

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The 3 bubble tea places.

Now, the more fun parts began. We went walking around at night looking around. Taipei’s awesome for this. Warm temperature with places open to shop and eat in. In the alley/road directly behind Luxy, there were 3 bubble tea places all lined up beside each other. Apparently, different places call bubble tea different things, as in California, they call is boboa or something like that.

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Eating the red bean dessert in the MRT station. Not my hand.

We went around taking pictures, talking and exploring generally. My friend? brought this weird fruit thing I’ve never seen before from a street vendor and I bought a red bean dessert. It was soooo good! There was hardly any sugar in it, so it wasn’t as sweet as the standard Taiwan desserts I’ve been having, and that was really good. Mmmmm…

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Inside the very clean MRT station.

The biggest bonus of not staying in the club was finding Burt’s Bees! I sure hope that it’ll help soothe the multitude of mosquito bites that I have. It smells gooood. Also, hanging out in the MRT station at night is cool because it’s so well lit, clean and well, doesn’t feel like a crime area like the public transportation stops at home do.

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No idea who this is. Luxy washroom.

Apart from that aside, when we went back there were more people than when we originally arrived. Many drunk people. Many smoking people. Many… dare I say it? Skanky people. This is interesting because it seems exactly like the clubbing culture at home, or rather, my perception of it. Perhaps it seemed like a club at home because Luxy is known more as a foreigner club, or something like that.

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I like this photo. Luxy washroom.

The washroom at Luxy was nice. I have no idea who those people are in the pictures that I took. I was a bit bored, so I decided to be productive. However, I sitting right where the cigarette smoke from the ashtray wafted towards me. Now, I don’t mind smoke wafting towards me if it’s of the campfire kind, but… eww cigarette smoke.

Went we got back to the dormitory at 2:30 am (is it really that early to leave a club?), I immediately took a shower and went to bed for I had class at 8 am this morning. My clothes still smell, though. So, for my first time out clubbing, it was okay, but I don’t think I’ll really do it again because it isn’t my type of fun. So, no getting picked up for me. Unfortunately. Hah! I prefer wandering the streets at night and being able to hear people when I talk to them.

So, clubbing wasn’t really clubbing for me, was it?

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A bubble tea place.

Stamp Collecting Day (Registration Day)

Posted in Chinese, Exchange, Looking Taiwanese, NTU, Observations, Rant, Transportation, University by J on September 5, 2007

Today was Stamp Collecting Day. In other words, it was exchange student registration day. After class, a classmate and I went to get ourselves registered. Hehe, today, it decided to rain intermittently – heavily, yet again. But that’s besides the point.

It was a lot of fun to do, this registration, because it was like a treasure hunt, almost. Firstly, you get your form for registration and basically follow the steps in your exchange student handbook to get to the treasure: your student identity card. This card is useful because it’ll allow you to get the MRT Easy Card which allows you a 20%, I think, discount on riding the MRT (Mass Rapid Transit) every time you use it. So, instead of paying a minimum of 20 NT each time to use the MRT, it’d be 16 NT. Being a student is good.

Anyways, it was like a treasure hunt because we went from all these different places (the Administration Building, the Student Housing Section, back to the Administration Building, the Post Office, the Administration Building, etc.) to get stamps so that we could get to our Holy Grail.

My classmate and I ended up with these people who lived off campus, actually my classmate lives off campus too, so that complicated things a little bit. After filling out an electronic form and getting our first stamp and another at the housing section (bring your receipt!), because they live off campus, these exchange students hadn’t paid the internet fee, which is mandatory to pay. They only paid 400 NT, whereas mine was 600 NT. Boo. Perhaps they’ll use the internet less because they live off campus. So, in order to get our next stamp, we had to go to the Post Office to pay the fee first and then we could get the stamp.

The last stamp should have been rather easy to get, but we got to the room just after 12 pm. Which means… in Taiwan, they don’t work from 12 – 1 pm. Gah! Instead, we just went out to lunch and came back later. And voila! We got our student id card.

Haha! The most ironic thing is that within 2.5 weeks we have to go back and get another card because NTU is switching student cards now. Fortunately, we only have to switch our card and not do the treasure hunt again. But, it was fun! Actually, thinking back, it was rather easy to do except that I ran into some fun obstacles that let me get to know people better. So, all good!!

As well, we got a form to register in classes. As exchange students, we basically get the professors to sign the forms, and we’re in! That is, if we can get their signatures. My regular NTU classes are up in the air because I don’t know if I registered properly online, and that has me a bit worried. However, I think that it will all turn out okay, and if worse comes to worse, I’ll just study Chinese and become very good at it!

So, I think that was chock full of information and I shall stop the post…now.

PS Bloody mosquitos. I ABHOR YOU!!

PPS Oh, and I’m not Taiwanese. It was funny today, because the volunteers from NTU (Taida) in the group of people I randomly joined up with thought that I was a volunteer helping out my classmate. So did the people at the offices! They speak too fast for me. Booooo. Just because I look Asian… Haha! Today, I was asked if I was Asian because I come from Canada. So, how ever could I be Canadian and Asian at the same time?? However, this time, it was much more nicely put. It was rather funny this time. Foreigners are treated very well here. Indeed they are.

Dormitory Life and Eating Out (Constantly)

Posted in Dorms, Food, Miscellaneous, NTU, Observations, Outdoors, Rant, Taipei, University by J on September 4, 2007

I quite like dorm life, especially the socializing aspect. I can’t wait until everyone knows each other better and all the drama starts and we start to feed off each other. BUAHAHAHAHAHA! Okay, no, that’d be horrible.

I like it though, here. I especially like the toilets because they remind me of my time camping out where I got to bury my own stuff and use leaves and moss. Those were really fun times. =) So anyways, those squat toilets, I’ve come to like them a lot over my initial surprise upon seeing them in person during my first day here in Taiwan. Almost all of the restaurants I’ve been to are squat toilets too. I’ve noticed that the nicer the restaurant is, the nicer the squat toilet is.

Hehe, in the dorms, there’s a common toilet paper roll (nice quality toilet paper though!) where you grab what you think you need and then bring it with you into the stall. For some reason, our toilet paper usually runs out really quickly unlike the other washroom. No idea why.

I like having the opportunity to call upon friends (people, really) when I want basically and intruding upon their space and having fun while doing it. It’s very convenient. However, it’s not quite so good for my Chinese because as I’ve mentioned before, English is the medium. The medium is the message. Haven’t read it, but does it mean that the colonialism of the English has won out, or is it just because of practical uses now? There’s my attempt for the day to sound coherent and intelligent. =)

The rooms are okay, still, however, I abhor, ABHOR, the mosquitos. They love me so much here in Taiwan that even when I wear long sleeves and long pants and cover up almost completely, they’ll bite me on my forehead. I now have two on my forehead. Eep. And no, I don’t scratch or rub or don’t practice any form of aggravation towards them. Seriously, though, bugs are everywhere. Lizards too. Well, I’ve only seen one. And I’ve seen one cockroach scuttle away when I was walking out at night.

What I really like though, is the warmth that envelopes (I almost used embalms, but that’s the wrong word) you when you step outside at night. It isn’t cold here and that’s what makes it so fun to go out at night, plus, many people go out at night. Disastrous for homework and studying, though. In general, I really like the lifestyle here, but I could do with better air quality and clear skies (clear of pollution). Sometimes, no, often, when I wipe my skin with something white, like a tissue, it comes off brown. o.O

Eating out… I’ve tried a bunch of restaurants now, basically student friendly ones (read: economical read: cheap) and I enjoy the food here. Makes my stomach a bit queasy from time to time, but it’s all good. However, I think these places, and Taiwanese food in general needs to be less fried and covered in sauce because sometimes, it seems so unhealthy. So! There’s lots of places really close to the dormitories to eat at. It’s so cool that they’re basically in an alleyway.

To assuage my guilt about eating like this, I eat fruit everyday. However, I really miss having green vegetables that are lightly flavoured and cooked just right. There isn’t any cafeteria here, per se, but in the basement of the dormitory there is a place that will cook sandwiches and do some simple dishes. Basically a mini restaurant. On campus, there’s a bunch of these around and they’re fairly economical. It’s good to be a student. Hehe. Yay student life!

Inter-Department Competitiveness

Posted in Chinese, NTU, Observations, Outdoors, Rant, Taipei, University by J on August 31, 2007

After the rain, cell phone and ARC stuff, I basically followed my volunteer (read: invited myself along, sort of =P for my volunteer asked me if I wanted to watch, but I felt like I was somewhat imposing) to a basketball game between some of NTU’s graduate departments. It was a lot of fun because by hanging out at that basketball game, I had a fantastic opportunity to practice speaking Chinese as well as see what Taiwanese people do for fun.

That night, I found out that at 10:00 pm, the lights will shut off at the basketball courts automatically and there aren’t very many females attending these games. It’s mostly just girlfriends of the players. I also learned a new word in Mandarin, wu2 liao3, 無聊 which basically means boring. However, being at the basketball game wasn’t boring at all, I thoroughly enjoyed myself just chatting and watching people play basketball.

I was surprised that during summer vacation students still competed against each other because I don’t think inter-department (faculty) competition is such a big thing at my university at home.

Lastly, I learned that calling people taimei 台妹 or taike 台客 isn’t a compliment as I previously thought. It actually means quite the opposite. It’s just better to call people piaoliang 漂亮 (for girls) and shuai 帥 (for guys) or haokan 好看 (for both sexes). I am so glad that I clarified that because, well, I could have really offended the person I was talking to about that because I thought I was paying a compliment, but really, I wasn’t. Haha!

Ohoh! This was the night that I got the horrible mosquito bites that I have now. Ugh. The one time (or one of the many times) that I forget to wear my mosquito spray. My bites are now quite ugly – much like red bruises or blistered things or large swollen patches on my body. If the mosquitos like you as much as they do me, wear long clothing or put on bug spray! It’ll save you much hassle later. These preventative measures are alwaaaayyys good. Yes.

The Rain in Taipei

Posted in Home, NTU, Observations, Outdoors, Rant, Taipei, Taiwan, Weather by J on August 31, 2007

I thought that I had escaped rainy weather when I left home: I guess I didn’t do enough research about Taipei because when it rains here, it rains HARD. I found out this interesting little tidbit of information after one of these big rains. Eep!

So what happened was that after lunch with a bunch of exchange students (everyone was from a different country!) at a sushi place across the way from the school’s main gate, I had to go back to the dorms to drop off my newly bought Chinese textbooks. I bought them ahead of time so that on Monday, I’d be prepared for class.

A few seconds after I left the restaurant with someone also going back to the dorms, it started to rain a little bit. Okay, I can handle this. Then it started to rain more. And more. And more. And MORE. As you can see, we were the only people without umbrellas and that surely marked us as people not from Taiwan.

By the time I got back to the dormitory, I was, needless to say, soaked through. However, the most unfortunate thing was you could kind of see through my clothing as I was wearing light blue that day. I was very lucky to get another shower because I had been feeling a little bit sticky, as per usual, that day. The water truly was like being in a shower with the water thundering down around you. Mmmm fun because it was warm at first, but later it got a bit colder – refreshing!