I know it’s been ages since I last posted. Note that I used ‘posted’ and not ‘wrote’ – I’ve actually tried to start countless blog posts but haven’t found the courage and enough comprehensive thoughts to finish any of them. The past year and half and I was on hiatus from this blog was very eventful and challenging, and I’m ultimately glad that I’m able to spend some time to type this blog post up.
I’ve moved back to Taiwan after having spent a year in Dubai. I’m now here for Substitute Military, a type of military serve that you can either choose or get picked to do as a Taiwanese young man facing compulsory services. Since I was educated abroad, I applied for Substitute Military, Ministry of Education branch with my foreign diploma and I will be teaching English to disadvantaged children for the next year. The location is yet disclosed since we need to go through two parts of training: first the Basic Military Training for 16 days and then the Professional Training for 14. This blog post is my written diary entry while I was in base for the first part of the training. It’s a bit embarrassing to read through again, especially at the beginning, but I want to keep the material as raw as possible in order to capture the truest emotions and experiences. Well, without further adieu, here it is.
Try not to judge too hard though 😛
October 9th, Friday, Day 3
[09:00] Today’s the third day in base and last night was the second night in a row that I cried myself to sleep. Wasn’t expecting that really.
I’ve always thought of myself as a strong and independent fella, at least mentally. Oh boy, we’re currently watching a PSA about depression. The mom is relentlessly caring for her daughter who is the main protagonist. She’s been acting weird, and it’s obvious that she has depression.
Anything about ‘mom’ just drives me bonkers right now; it doesn’t matter how difficult she can be sometimes or how much she butts into my life, I know I can always count on her to be there for me. I miss her lots, and it hasn’t even been three full days in base yet.
Ok, I can’t keep watching this video anymore. I thought I had cried everything out last night. I couldn’t even call my parents in the short five minutes I had my phone because I was so afraid I’d have lost it on the spot. I miss home; I miss my family; I miss the people I love.
It’s quite ironic that everyone else around me thought this was such a big deal except me. I had thought: it’s just 16 days! I had lived abroad for nine years by myself before, this is absolutely nothing. But this is everything I’m afraid of – a bunch of dudes. Taking orders. Being yelled at no matter what you do. Unreasonable requests with no questions asked. No freedom. Freedom. Being unable to eat when hungry or go to the restroom when needed is a horrific thing. It makes you feel so small and helpless.
October 10th, Saturday, Day 4
[08:40] Today’s October 10th, aka Taiwan’s 4th of July. Just realized that everyone else I know here (in Taiwan) is enjoying their long weekend since they had yesterday off too.
Did I mention that I tried to faint yesterday morning to get out of this military service? I am anemic, but I exaggerated the symptoms a bit to try to freak the staff out. They’re a bit more experienced than I had expected though. We ran another 3K this morning, but I think my body’s doing better than yesterday.
I called my loved ones last night, but I couldn’t tell my mom that I miss her. I wanted to, but a sudden wave of sadness overwhelmed me right before the words came out of my mouth. Afraid that my tears would break free from my eyes like Arianna Grande, I kept my mouth shut. Maybe in a couple of more days I’ll be able to tell her that I miss her.
After the brief calls last night, I didn’t have enough time to take a shower anymore because I had to re-sew my name tag onto the running shorts. There I was, at 10pm, laying there filthy as ever, thinking how much of a failure I was to be able to do nothing right. I am trying so hard, but I’m failing even harder. Now I’m just wondering will I ever get used to this lifestyle or will I give up before I do?
[16:13] We’re now sitting in the cafeteria for our forth and last class of the day. Today actually went by surprisingly fast, but I fear the nights the most. As soon as it hits 9pm, the chaos starts because everyone is running around to take a shower and to call their loved ones within 40 minutes. They tell us 40 minutes but we actually only have about 25 before we get yelled at to go to sleep.
Part of me is thinking maybe the reason why I’m having such a tough time is that I have absolutely no control in anything. Yes, I miss my family, I miss Instagram, and I miss FaceTiming at 2am but maybe what I cannot stand losing is my freedom. Freedom, didn’t I write about freedom yesterday too?
I’m also making some friends here. Well, I know their assigned numbers only, not their names, does this still make us ‘friends’? Mine is 123 – it’ll be a good story to tell my kids one day.
October 11th, Sunday, Day 5
[08:41] Oops, I forgot to keep writing yesterday. Honestly, one doesn’t really have a lot of leisure time here to write or do anything personal. I’m supposed to be in class right now haha!
I think I sound better than just two days ago. I’m definitely doing better now: called my grandma again last night and told her that I might not be able to call her every night. Over here, we have from 21:00 to 21:40 to organize our beds, make phone calls, log our phone activities, and take a shower. And this is not taking into account of the queues to do everything! I think being able to tell my grandma my intense schedule was a relief of pressure for me. Without exterior expectations, I hope I’ll be able to focus on what I need to do in base better.
Yesterday was definitely a good day – I was able to make a couple of calls, say a couple of ‘I love you’s, take a nice, long shower to make up for the day before (even though some idiot took my shorts like literally WTF?), find a lost bag that would have lost me eight points, and most importantly not one single teardrop! Go me!
Now I have myself more or less sorted, I’ll be focusing my energy on running the 3K exam (I had previously thought it was 18 minutes but someone’s telling me now it’s 20. Although neither should be a problem, I definitely prefer the latter!) and the written exam. I’ll be spending these lecture times to write here and to study; hope my Chinese doesn’t fail me!
[10:20] It’s in-between classes right now, and I’m looking around. Everyone’s making friends quite easily, but sometimes I’m really struggling to find common topics with them: girls, college experiences in Taiwan, and cultural references. Oh well, I’ll try harder.
[16:24] Just checked the score sheet… I’m at negative six points right now!? WTF?! I’ve heard that they take points off like crazy in the first week to scare you and then they add them back during the second week, but I’m still quite pissed that I’m trying so freaking hard to fold my sheets nicely and they’re still not up to par. WHYYYYYY?! Ugh, the pressure is real.
[20:00] I’ve already taken a shower?! I hope all remaining days have such chill evenings please! After dinner, my team was appointed to clean up the cutlery for 163(?) people again tonight even though we’d done them last night. Some idiot complained that the dishes were ‘a bit too dirty,’ so they’re being extra tough on checking these now. We spent about an hour scrubbing these metal plates, I’m writing here with the final strength from my fingers.
October 13th, Tuesday, Day 7
[13:57] Today is the seventh day, which means tomorrow marks the one week anniversary. To be honest, I kind of wish time was going by a little faster. This morning I went to check in at the Ministry of Education, the branch I’ll be serving for the next year. Shit gotta go.
[15:55] Oh God, what a day. Anyways, so I went to check in , and then there I was, sitting under the knife-life sun for two straight hours. My arms are now two boiling lobsters attached to a otherwise rather pale body. I don’t even have the courage to check my ears. While sitting there, being yelled at because I think everyone just loves yelling at substitute services guys, I was listing to a brief explanation of what “Professional Training” life would be like. To explain a bit: I’m currently in “Basic Military Training,” and then I’ll have a weekend to go home, see my grand parents and drink some boba tea. After that, I’ll come back here to base for another night before heading to the professional training location for the Ministry of Education. It’ll be another 14 days before I get distributed based on how well I do in the countless tests that are coming our way. At first I was hoping for an easier time, but judging by how the guys were talking to us earlier this morning, chances of that are pretty thin. I’ve gotta do some research.
To be honest, I’m a bit down actually because I cannot stand being yelled at anymore. They yell at you no matter what, even if you’ve done nothing wrong. It makes absolutely no sense, but whatever I’ll have to power through. My lobster arms hurt.
[16:43] So I’m sitting here wondering how they managed to get 160-something Taipei City boys to listen to only around 6 officers. Now this is very interesting because I kind of have a theory, but let me kind of get all the details out of the way first. They start yelling at you as soon as you get off the bus from the train station at base, which did come off as a surprise to me. Now, you have to understand that Taipei City boys, myself included, are known to be very ignorant and very well protected by our parents who would do anything to go against to government in order to protect their kids. This being said, I’m quite surprised that everyone just submitted to authority, especially since these officers are only about the same age as all of us. They yell at you for no reason and for absolutely everything, so I’m pretty sure I’m not the only one feeling like this, so much agony.
So why did/do we all submit? The entire military system is designed for you, especially the rookies, to follow and follow only. If you dare to question anything, even if with the right reason, the punishment is beyond severe and more often than not unjustifiable, not that they’d need to justify anything to anyone. It’s so sever that it makes being right in one argument or disagreement with your supervisor worth nothing. But is this an admirable ideal we should be preaching to all (compulsory military) young men of Taiwan?
I see the benefits of it – easier control, faster decision making, more effective team management to name a few, but aren’t two brains better than one ultimately? Four hands can definitely do more things than two, but wouldn’t two brains be able to come up with even more effective management methods and more sound solutions than one? This is a question I’m still pondering on, and I hope to find my answer before I leave base.
[20:55] We just had a quite pleasant and small trip wit the officers. We went all the way to the computer lab to take psychiatric exams, testing how healthy we’re all doing mentally. At first, I had to ask an officer to type my name for me cause I have forgotten how to type Chinese completely… how embarrassing. The exam went by quickly, and when they showed us the results individually, I wasn’t all that surprised to see that I have “mild to severe OCD.” I mean, ok fine I can be kind of high maintenance sometimes but I can also agree with others quite easily right? I DON’T WANT TO BE MONICA BING! I’M ALWAYS RACHEL!
October 15th, Thursday, Day 9
[08:28] Maybe the reason why I’m suffering from thinking that time’s going by so slowly is because I had a mental milestone of “gotta at least make it half way though” and now I don’t have any anymore. A day for you, a decade for me (cough cough *RENT*). The exam is on Monday. Gotta study now, xoxo.
October 19th, Monday, T-3 Days
[10:01] I didn’t get to write again till now. I think they’re trying to cram everything before we leave, which is why we’re so damn busy. Later today we have the remains two of three exams with the 3K out of the way yesterday morning. One of them is a paper test, which is what I’m most stressed about. After that, we have a “Basics” exam where we will get tested on how to turn left, right, and backwards correctly – trust me, it’s a lot tougher than it sounds. Let’s just hope I don’t make any mistakes then I should be fine! Alright, I’ve gotta go study now. Write you later!
October 20th, Tuesday, T-2 Days
[09:24] Heyyy. The past couple of days were a bit stressful, and I wasn’t able to make any phone calls either. Anyways, after some intense cramming and a brief nap since I wrote yesterday, it was exam time. One of the staff was nice enough to apply for ‘intense care’ for Chinese reading for me because, well, sometimes I’ll be reading things and I won’t be understanding anything. The exam was easier than I had expected because the exam questions were the same as the past exams, which I had been studying. There were a couple of questions I wasn’t too sure on, but when I checked after the exam, I was still able to get them right 🙂
Because of the location where we (this other Aussie from the team and I) took the exam, we were unable to join the rest of the team for the “Basics” part. We were exam individually as opposed to with your assigned row. That threw me off my game and made me incredibly nervous. Even right before the exam when we were practicing, the officer said that my postures were really good, but during the exam, right when I was about to finish the last leg movement of turning backwards, I stepped forward to close the turn rather than backwards.
“Shit!” I instantly said and at the same time I could hear the exam officer going “Welp.”
I immediately raised my right hand and asked if I could do the turn again, but the office just responded saying that it wouldn’t change the result. By this time, tears were about to burst out of my eyes. The pressure of getting good grades in order to be able to select a good location is immense, and I couldn’t believe that one stupid turn was going to mess everything up. I finished the turn anyways, and thanked the exam office while he was walking out.
Stressed out of my mind, I was unable to focus for the rest of the day until around 20:00 when they gathered all of us to the classroom and started passing down our grades to us. Turns out I didn’t do half bad and that my Basics grade was actually higher than most people in the class! Maybe it’s the almost crying part or that the exam office pitied me, but either way I got a nice score 🙂 I won’t bore you with the grade details, but just take my word for it haha!
October 21st, Wednesday, T-1 Day
[09:28] One more day. By this time tomorrow. I’ll be preparing to leave this hell for 2.5 days. I cannot wait to leave, but I hope I don’t countdown the time that I have during this weekend. It’s nice to have met some friends here, but will we keep in touch? We have 16 days of our lives in common, and our topics are all about how annoying the officers are… haha!
[17:12] About to have my last supper here at base. I absolutely cannot wait. Earlier this afternoon I was sent to downtown Taichung for a hospital trip because my toes were swelling up. It was meaningless because the doc barely saw me for 2 minutes and just gave me more antibiotics, but I was able to waste five hours going there and coming back. We went on a bus and I sat at the window seat, seeing life outside of this base for the first time in 15 days. Fifteen days and I have already forgotten what freedom is and how it feels. I miss it. I want to be able to make decisions for myself again and be able to manage my own schedule. After three days off, I’m then off to two weeks of Professional Training. I hope it’s not as strict as base, but I’ll have to do some research.
October 22nd, Thursday, T-5 Hours
[11:15] Just sitting around the dorm waiting for lunch now. Time is creeping very slowly, but I’m eager to just pack up and leave. Some people are staying a bit later and there’s even some that will need to stay for another night because of their grades. I feel bad for them, but am actually a bit glad that I don’t need to spend another night here until Sunday. I’m really going to enjoy this weekend; haven’t decided if I want to do everything or do absolutely nothing. Maybe the latter since I really need some time off from doing things. I think I’ll need some time to regroup myself and to gather my scattered thoughts together; hope this diary will help when the time comes. I’ll also need to mentally prepare myself for the Professional Training part, but definitely not tonight! Alright, write you late xx
If you are trying to find me, just find the only one smiling like an idiot