After months of searching for ESL teaching jobs which would accommodate a couple in the same school, or at the very least in the same town, back in 2012, we finally had an offer from one of Taiwan’s largest language schools. We pretty much immediately accepted and only weeks later were in Taipei ready for a crash course of teacher training. Even when we were on the training course, we had absolutely no idea what part of Taiwan we would be living in.
Like many ESL teachers in Taiwan, we accepted a conditional contract offer over the internet. As part of this arrangement, the contract is only signed if you pass your teacher training course in Taipei. You can specify beforehand three location preferences but there’s no guarantee that you’ll be located there and you won’t find out until the last day of training. Luke and I were so desperate to be located together that we decided to make an open application, not specifying any desired locations.
This could have totally backfired on us. Fortunately, it didn’t.
“Guys, you’re gonna be in LuoDong!” one of the happy teacher trainers called over to us.
Luke looked over at me: “Where’s that then?” I shrugged. After studying Taiwan cinema in my last year of university I knew about a fair few locations around the island, but I had never heard of LuoDong. The happy teacher trainer waved a map in our face, pointing to a small town part way down Taiwan’s east coast. “LuoDong – it’s in Yilan county,” he said. We smiled and asked what it was like there. He replied, “nice!” Another teacher trainer chimed in: “LuoDong? It’s real nice.” “Have you been?” Luke asked. They both shook their heads.
We rushed back to our hotel room to do a Google search on LuoDong. The wikiTravel page on LuoDong was empty. There were a couple of photos on Google images of apartment buildings and green space. The results were sparse, so I searched Yilan instead. Images of a menacing looking white snake appeared all over my screen. I slapped my laptop screen down and looked at Luke horrified. I was relieved to hear that Yilan county isn’t populated by these scary white snakes, even if they have the same name. In fact, Yilan county is beautiful.
Luke and I lived and taught in the small town of LuoDong for the whole year. When we walked to work in the morning we could see mountains in the distance. Just a 20-minute scooter ride and we were at the ocean. We didn’t have a grand view over LuoDong’s sports park from our apartment like some of our friends did, but we lived in town right next to a health store which made the most delicious green juice, the best scallion pancake place in town and just around the corner from a sweet red bean soup shop.
Eating vegetarian and vegan in LuoDong became easier and easier as we explored. We ate baked sweet potatoes from street vendors, cheesy omelettes in LuoDong’s night market, vegetable dumplings, daylily noodle soup, Japanese curry, white rice and veggies, red bean bread, mango ice – the list goes on. Our town had six vegetarian restaurants in walking distance, including an organic farm-to-table place, all of which had vegan options too. Let me tell you, we always had full bellies.
For a little while we thought that there wasn’t much to LuoDong other than the night market and the sports park, but it turns out that there’s some awesome cultural places there. There’s the LuoDong Cultural Working House, which is a shining example of modern Taiwanese architecture and previously hosted the Golden Horse awards, widely considered as the Chinese language equivalent of the Oscars. The National Centre of Traditional Arts just down the road is a great place for finding traditional crafts and watching cultural performances. We had to perform a lion dance there at Chinese New Year with our school too.
When it comes to nature, hiking trails in the surrounding mountains are plentiful. Although, no matter how fit you are, there’s always a 60+ year old Taiwanese guy with a walking stick who’ll overtake you on a steep incline. Another great spot is the very quiet Chingshui beach, where we heard you can enjoy bio-luminescence on summer evenings. A couple of stops north on the train takes you to the hot spring town of Jiaoxi where you can relax in the hot spring water during the winter. Take the train south and you’ll reach Suao cold springs, which are perfect for cooling off in the summer time.
LuoDong is all the more memorable for me because it was the first place that Luke and I had a home together. Before coming to Taiwan, we’d lived away at university but that was it. Local life in LuoDong suited us well – and, after travelling around most of Taiwan, there wasn’t a place that I would rather have lived. We made some good friends during our time living and working in LuoDong, which made our experience there all the sweeter. I’ll never forget that small town on Taiwan’s east coast.
Want to hear more about what life as an expat teaching English in Taiwan is like? Look out for my upcoming interview series Teaching in Taiwan.