Glowstick Memories

So. It looks like I’ve officially graduated.

I have to wonder whether it really means anything. Taiwan’s system classifies the grades neatly into 6/3/3 sections, but then our bilingual department also uses the somewhat illogical and faintly sexist freshman-sophomore-junior-senior naming thing, in which the big jump happened last year.

Neither of these naming issues, of course, really matter. Shakespeare says, “A rose by any other name would smell as sweet.” Nor, I would think, do the different color of uniforms we have to wear (pink, if you didn’t know.) But AP classes probably count for something.

I am going to take AP Biology. Why did I pick AP Biology anyway? It seemed like a reasonable default choice. I guess I would like to know something more about the mysteries of life and consciousness to guide my philosophical side, and many of the other courses looked too murderously intense. The perfect stepping stones into the giant hamster wheel of overachievement that everybody is crazy about here. But then I learned I still received eight chapters to study by myself during summer vacation, alongside the English reading assignment. Oh well, so much for relaxation.

You know, I used to think of this issue, about all the academic work we students pile onto ourselves and all the ensuing stress and chaos, from a strange detached third-person viewpoint. Not everybody has a mind that is fit for all that brainwork. Some people have to do the artistic, imaginative things. Some people cannot function optimally in our intense learning environment. Somehow, imperceptibly, according to my apparently not-all-that-bad grades, I put myself in the crazy book-grinding category, and I am having second thoughts.

I don’t feel the energy for all this intense future yet… The past is still so close, so vivid, so attractive. Our graduation trip, for instance.

Yeah, okay, fine, I admit it, what follows is a rough record of our graduation trip that has been stuck in draft limbo for approximately forever, and I was trying to segue into it. I’m a perfectionist, what can I say?

Our trip’s schedule was packed airtight, so there was just about no spare time. Even the time on the bus, which must have totaled at least half a day, were mostly used to get back all the sleep time stolen from us. And steal time they did! On the first day after we were collectively forced into a little dark room with seizure-inducing neon lights and made to dance, where “dance” means “imitate our guides’ incoherent moves with glowsticks and scream at the top of our lungs twice a minute”. Occasionally the tour guide would try to get somebody to take over his spot and everybody would retreat like pigeons from a monster truck. A fixed group of about five people dared to step onto the chair, including me, who received this remark from the guide with the microphone: “It seems like the guy in front of the first group does t’ai chi in mornings at the park.” This might, or might not, be an accurate description.

Anyway, the little time we did have left was barely enough for anything interesting. I got to solve way too many crosswords with JP, including at the beach, where we screamed answers at each other standing in the sand. Also, we played with a strange deck of trivia cards I found in a certain drawer called “Quiz Me Famous Americans”, which somehow ended up entertaining a ridiculous number of people for a ridiculous length of time. Each card has a bunch of clues for a famous “American” (the totum pro parte definition, i.e. the U.S.), ranging from “I lived from 1929 to 1968” to “I gave the ‘I Have a Dream’ speech”. The answer that was guessed most often was probably Adolf Hitler (yes, as a joke. I think.) And then, at the end of the second day, for no reason whatsoever, was the shower-as-quickly-as-possible competition, complete with a healthy serving of inappropriate jokes.

We spent about four hours around noon during the first and third days at two separate amusement parks. I did not take many extremely exciting rides, partly because of my own paranoia surrounding my medical unfitness and partly because AT refused to do any of them, except for the pirate ship after a whole lot of coaxing, which left me feeling dizzy too. I did go on one roller coaster that went upside-down for a while and knocked your head around, but that was all. As a substitute, we went to the haunted houses and the Ferris wheels (both parks had one of each). There was also a 4D theater show where the seats moved around and sprayed dry ice at appropriate moments, the plot of which involved a kid and his cat who miss the bus and decide to get to school with jet packs. They did so successfully after zooming around buildings, crashing through an office, causing large-scale traffic obstructions, and being eaten briefly by a gigantic underground mole.

Anyway, both of the places we stayed were nice, although we didn’t have much time to enjoy them. The first night was the freaking glowstick party and the second night was the night-market traversal; both mornings saw us on the bus ridiculously early. I remember being awoken at 4:30 the second day, for some reason, by a chorus of three separate alarms (breakfast, which I somehow remember included fries and eggs, started at 6:30). The second morning involved lots of sightseeing in various places under impossibly hot conditions. While we visited a place with natural gas leaking from below ground and creating a natural flame, we also got to enjoy the accompaniment of ear-puncturing cannon shots every five seconds. It turned out that I was abnormally tolerant of loud noises.

After checking into hotel #2, we went to the beach. Many more people opted out of this, so together we built moats and dams and sandcastles with our class inscripted in various ways, and tried to get wet to a controlled degree, somewhat failing. After deciding that I needed to start drying out, I whipped out a crossword, as I have mentioned, and somehow attracted a bunch of classmates and seniors. We screamed answers at each other while waiting. “Oh, EPONYM!!!”

Hotel. Dinner, followed by a few games of Uno and then a walk around the night-market, where our group counted two Hi-Lifes, two 7-Elevens, and two Family Marts. Where other than Taiwan do you get so many convenience stores? After an hour and a half of walking, our longest (read: only) stop was at the second Hi-Life, which had a big cartoony backdrop to its tables, and, more importantly, air-conditioning. We bought snacks that could be found in any other store across the country and ate/drank for twenty minutes. At the last minute, I bought a BBQ stick of some clam relative just to make the trip sort of worth something. It was good, but I still think it was a waste of time to try to get us uncultured ninth-graders to try to appreciate this.

Bus home. Two movies. One was called Trespass — a movie in which a bunch of guys rob an apparently rich family, and every single person waves lethal weapons (mostly guns, but there are knives, syringes, cars, and lighters) at every single other person and drops the F-bomb every two seconds. It got to the point where the subtitles would just say “F***! x4” when that sequence of words came up. Well, actually, how the subtitles translated the expletives was interesting, to say the least. The other was Mr. Popper’s Penguins, which I cannot comment meaningfully on because I had watched it before and I phased out.

Also, on the bus rides, there was a lot of karaoke. I can never get tired of karaoke. Everybody else can, though. Segments of our karaoke found their way into our graduation video. Hey, another perfect segue.

Two other things marked our graduation: the dinner and the ceremony. The dinner was an awkward, not-really-enjoyable buffet (whoa, am I finally getting the ability to criticize food?), followed by “guess-the-baby-picture” and a couple performances by classmates. The ceremony was three hours of waiting in uniforms below stage for approximately twenty seconds of waiting on-stage for some guy with a very long title to hand you your award. The award titles don’t even make sense. Alright, one might argue that I should know more people from the upper grades and that would let me actually get into the mood. But, having loaded a bunch of new free games onto my iPod after seeing what other people were doing during the equally boring rehearsal, I got to entertain myself the introverted way.

And now, after the crushing finals, while I skip the very last day to start trying to push my biological clock back by two hours each day for the upcoming IMO, it’s over.

Okay, I give up. I don’t know how to end posts like these properly either.

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