Thoughts of a Canadian Exchange Student

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.

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Getting a Cell Phone and the ARC

Posted in ARC, Chinese, Exchange, Miscellaneous, Phone, Taiwan by J on August 31, 2007

As a foreigner, it’s a bit harder to get a cell phone in Taiwan because you need a bunch of identity cards to get a SIM card. Despite that, it’s not impossible (bring someone who knows Mandarin! I brought my volunteer, or rather, my volunteer brought me). I got a SIM card with my passport and a secondary identification card even though they ask for the ARC (Alien Resident Card).

So, a form or so and 300 NT later, I was now the new proud owner of a cell phone that worked in Taiwan! The 300 NT is for the prepaid plan at Chunghwa Dianxin (中华电信 / 中華電信). I don’t know about the contract plan, but I think that may be harder to get than the prepaid plan. Also, you have to sign up for two years usually, but I heard that you can sign up for one.

The ARC bit wasn’t too bad. Just go to the right building, I forget which, take a number, fill out the form, bring your passport, pictures, student ID / admission letter (this will work if you don’t have a student ID yet), 1000 NT and wait. If you don’t have photocopies of your passport, there’s a machine there that you can use. When it comes to your turn, after checking through all the forms, you’ll be told to come back a week later to pick up the ARC, and that’s it! Hmm, the building’s not too bad to find because there’s a lot of foreigners that come in and out of it. Make sure that you bring someone that knows Mandarin for this part because it’s difficult to do if you don’t know Mandarin…

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!

Shida Night Market II

Posted in Bicycle, Food, Night Market, Outdoors, Taipei by J on August 30, 2007

I again went to the Shida Night Market, however this time, I tried some food. It was more fun as I went with someone. I tried out the food stall where you pick your own food in a basket (sanitary?) and then they cook it for you. It was pretty fun because they then take the basket, chop up the big items and then cook it in this big vat of something that’s kept at a roiling boil. Food comes out well done at the end of this process.

Unfortunately, I picked up too much food. Hehe. So, my food in the bag (that’s where they place it when you take out: directly into a small shopping bag) ended up in the trash. Next time, I might just pick out 3-4 items instead of something like 7 items… My eyes were bigger than my stomach.

Other than that, it’s a big bonus to ride your bike there because walking may take about 30-40 minutes. Riding a bike takes about 10-15 minutes, so there’s more time to enjoy yourself at the night market.

Chiang Kai-Shek Memorial and the MRT

Posted in Bicycle, Chinese, English, Outdoors, Rant, Sightseeing, Taipei, Transportation by J on August 30, 2007

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I think it’s the haze in the garden at CKS Memorial making this picture hazy.

Today, I decided to check out the CKS Memorial. It’s quiet there and the gardens alongside it are nice to sit in. There was even this really good harmonica player. And pigeons. They look different here.

However, the fun didn’t begin there, but began when I decided to head back to NTU because I had to go to the washroom. I decided this at about 4:30pm.

I had gotten myself out to the CKS Memorial on the MRT (Mass Rapid Transit) no problem, so going back should have been just as easy. I made the mistake of staying on one stop too long, so I got off at Dingxi Station. (I heard them announce a stop that I wasn’t expecting.) Okay, fine. I just have to head back the other way. I asked a few people to double check that I was going the right way.

I was now back at Guting Station. The signs baffle me in the MRT stations, really. I on another train which I think is the right one. The first stop that I hear announced is Dingxi Station. Again. Frick.

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I like the gate.

Again, I exit and ask around. How did I end up at the same station yet again?? I sit and think and come up with the idea of asking my volunteer. I don’t have a cellphone. Thank goodness a really nice high school girl lent me her cell for a little bit. The directions from my volunteer didn’t really help as they were the same as before, but the call reassured me.

Back again to the platform and back again to Guting Station. When I get off, this same high school girl asks me which station I’m going to. (1. I was surprised to see her, as I didn’t know she was on the same train as me previously and 2. She remembered me?) Luckily for me, she was going to the same station. So I followed her to the right platform this time and ended up where I wanted to go.

I am ever so grateful to her. Ouch, my head hurts from all that Chinese I had to use. Actually, it isn’t that but more that I was just getting more and more frustrated that I couldn’t figure out how to get to where I wanted to go when I got to the CKS Memorial so easily. The good out of this is that I’m starting to understand the MRT system, however, I think it would have been easier on me if I just understood how it worked before I got on a train.

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Under construction.

Hmm… what was that last thing I wanted to write about?

When I was waiting at one of the stations, I struck up a conversation from a man from New Zealand hoping that he was also going to Gongguan Station because identifiable foreigner = possibly studying Chinese = possibly going where I want to go. Unfortunately, he wasn’t going to Gongguan Station. What irks me is that after telling him I was from Canada, he asked me where my bloodline was from. My bloodline – how caveman can you get? I told him, and he basically implied that I can’t really be Canadian. Maybe I took his comment too offensively because I asked him where his bloodline was from. Really, if you’re not a stereotypical [insert nationality] then you can’t be that nationality? That’s just bull.

If he meant his comment in the way that it’s harder to justify being Canadian as on account of how I look and that he was sympathetic to that problem… I seriously doubt that. Especially because of the way he stated his comment. Anyways, that’s the end of my rant. Needed to get that out. (He also asked me how old I was. That was creepy.)

At the end of this all, I did enjoy this adventure. I made it back to the dorms over an hour later with my bladder dying. I rode very fast on my bike to get back to the dorms.

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Macro!

PS Do you like my pictures?

Laundry and the Shida Night Market

Posted in Bicycle, Chinese, Food, Observations, Outdoors, Taipei by J on August 30, 2007

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Yesterday, after discovering that doing laundry takes a whack load of time and that not pouring enough detergent into the wash doesn’t get your clothes that clean, I went to hunt for the Shida Night Market on my bike. Doing laundry’s pretty cheap in the dorms: 10NT per wash and another 10NT per dry.

Armed with my trusty map of Taipei, my bike and some mosquito repellent I started to cycle around looking for the night market. Needless to say, I got lost a few times because I couldn’t find the street signs. They don’t have them at every street corner – not that I saw anyways. But that’s perhaps because it was dark.

After a long while of cycling around, I found the Shida Night Market. It’s quite different from the night market at home because instead of stalls that are set-up in neat rows, the Shida Night Market is made up of real storefronts and street vendors combined. It’s like walking through alleys of people. I’m trying to say that it was quite crowded, but it was interesting nevertheless. Lots of young people here, most likely because of this night market’s proximity to the nearby universities.

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Next time I go, I’ll make sure that I go with someone that knows Chinese because I saw some really cool food stall things which I found out later that you can pick up your own food and they’ll cook it for you. However, as I didn’t know then what was going on with all that raw-ish food laid out, I passed up the chance.

After that, I went back to the campus and took a night ride around and snapped some pictures. I like the one on the top of this post best, but I don’t know why the sky turned out so light. I have no idea what that building is on campus. (I did manage to eat later: instant noodles. What a fantastic diet. =P) So, that I think, was quite fun.

What else…Taipei feels quite safe: there’s almost always some people around to ask if you really need help. Hmm…I think that I’ve learned my lesson about too much bike riding all at once because today, my bum’s quite sore. Eep!

The Internet

Posted in Dorms, Exchange, NTU by J on August 29, 2007

In order to first get onto the internet, you must pay your dorm and internet fee, which can be paid at the Post Office/Bank Thing on campus. It’s in a little plaza area where there’s a convenience store and 7/11 upstairs. After that, set-up your internet stuffs and after about 10 minutes or so, you should be ready to go!

Oh, and the internet in the exchange student dorms is not wireless. Just thought I’d let you know.

So, now I have internet! This makes me happy.

The Rest of the Day

Posted in Bicycle, Chinese, Looking Taiwanese, Money, NTU, Phone, Shopping, Taipei, Transportation by J on August 28, 2007

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My bicycle.

Let’s see, where did I leave off? Oh yes, being frustrated and bitter after a fruitless search for that Holy Grail of a bank. Maybe I am cynical but I know that I’m definitely sarcastic.

Anyways, my volunteer (notice the lack of names?) saved my butt. Really. I think I may have given up and just got a ticket home had we not agreed to meet up.

We met at SL (Shen Li / Victory) which is a “we carry everything” type of store. Very close by too, which is a great thing. So, across the street we went and back into the same bank as yesterday with the same greeter and same teller. The irony! Or just regular work hours. Taiwan Fuban Bank. I could also be from Hong Kong, apparently. So, my traveller’s cheques were finally changed after taking off about 300NT of my 400USD in fees. Whatever. At least this time, I wasn’t told to go to some far away (read: sketchy) place to get them changed, by the same teller, no less! All in all, it was a very long process. However, I did get what I needed, and that is the bottom line. Note to self: Look more foreign.

After this and a quick scooter ride (they look so sketchy and dangerous. But it was fine riding on it because my volunteer’s a good driver), we arrived at the bike shop. There, I bought a second-hand bike at 900NT, a lock at 100NT and some foot rest add-on thingys (80NT) so a person can stand on the back of your bike which you ride. As I found out later, they are quite useful. The bike shop is fairly close to the IYC/Guoqing dormitories, maybe a 6 minute walk. It runs on the road that is parallel to Xin Hai Road and is on the left side when you face up the road.

After, we went to get a cell phone, but alas! I need an ARC (Alien Residence Card) to get a SIM card. However, I bought a cell phone for about 2000NT and will get the SIM card afterwards. This shop is just outside the Main Gate of NTU. Again, very close.

And that basically wrapped up the afternoon of my day which was, by far the most productive of it and not wrapped up in frustration and lack of understanding of another system, another way of doing things.

A Quick Overview of these Two Posts:
So, in total, these two posts covered:
– Changing Traveller’s Cheques
– Getting a second-hand bicycle
– Getting a cell-phone
– What the dorms look like
– Some other dorm stuff
– Where to buy stuff you need (Shen Li / Victory)

The First Few Days

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Hello!

I’m finally here in Taiwan!
What to say…

I like it so far, but it’s extremely frustrating at times because of my inadequate knowledge of Chinese. That and I don’t really like to ask for too much help, but it looks like I will really have to or I will run out of money. Cash is the best thing to have here, and the easiest too. What’s really neat about Taiwan is that there isn’t any tax. All of that is included in the price, so you pay what you see.

I must make a comment about the weather and time zone change. I was jet lagged but by staying up until it was dark, I think I’ve adjusted quite easily to the time change. The weather is warm… very warm in fact, but I also think I’ve adjusted quite well.

So, the frustrating bits now. The money was difficult and I’ve made some boo boos (not about money). Like walking over 5km to get to a store and then buying stuff (bulky I might add and unnecessary to walk so far) and not having a bag to bring it back in. In Taiwan, or maybe just the stores that I went to, they don’t give out shopping bags. Edit: It seems that if you buy enough, you’ll get a bag… but what about that day I bought a pillow, 4 bowl noodles, 2 bags of pads, flip flops and pens from that 5km away store?? I’m thinking I’ll need to get a bike. A VERY good idea because I’ve walked so much in the past 2 days that biking seems like a very good idea.

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The First Day

The plane ride was great! The plane had 2 levels to it and was enormous and very smooth. I had the chance to sit beside some Taiwanese guys (brothers) from Kaohsiung during the long 12 hour flight (which passed by quickly because of all that sleep I got). Fun to talk to them.

The first day I was here, the day that I landed, I was hit by the heat and humidity. Think of stepping into the Aquarium’s tropical zone. Whew! Interestingly, you can only get your baggage after you get through the passport checkers. They don’t tell you that you’re supposed to fill out a disembarkation card. So! What happened was I got to the head of the line, and without a word, I was sent back to the end of the line to fill out one of these babies. It was a long line.

After getting my baggage and stuff, my volunteer and my volunteer’s friend picked me up. They’re a lot of fun to be around and they’re really nice. =)

The parking lots are huge and the spots are narrow. Very narrow.

So, the day was spent eating a bit (the food didn’t bother me! Just the heat was a bit much on the first day.) and getting daily usage stuff. For example, a laundry hamper and some hangers.

Then I got to meet my volunteer’s friend at a restaurant. Hehe! The food was supposedly not spicy at all, but for me, it was quite spicy. Tasty though, so I sacrificed a few taste buds in the pursuit of tastiness.

Then to print out my dorm and internet fee bill at NTU’s computer science department with my volunteer. Apparently, we’re expected to print out the bill ourselves as exchange students, but we don’t have internet or access to a printer. Strange. Edit: I checked my handbook again, we’re supposed to go to the Student Housing Section of the Administration Building. Whoops. Oh well. The computer science building’s nice.

The next significant thing that I did was go for a night walk by myself. I thought that I was immune to mosquitos. Apparently that was not to be because the next day I found many, but thankfully, I’m not ballooning up as much as I do at home. The pills might be helping… or I have something built in. I like to believe the latter. Yessss…

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The next day…

I spent the day looking for a place to change my traveller’s cheques to no avail. Yesterday was the day I did the very long trek to that store (over 2 hours of walking). I think the bus or MRT would have been better. Anyways, I figured out by the second day that flip flops are necessary, especially for the shower (which has a detachable head). The toilets are interesting, but I do say that I got tired of squatting over one and my legs almost gave out. I’m glad that they didn’t.

I also met my new roommate, again from France like the one that just departed this morning. She’s quite nice and easy to talk to.

Other than that, after cleaning out the wardrobe and closet thingy, I finally moved my stuff into the room. I can’t run away as easily anymore. Exchange students are friendly. I think it is because for the most part, we are all alone and want some companionship. I’ve noticed that people with similar backgrounds tend to band together: Just like at home.

Today

After anther long walk and looking for another bank to go to, I was told that this bank, Hua Nan Bank (on campus) wouldn’t change my traveller’s cheques. To do this I’d have to go to Taiwan First Bank. Which I looked for and couldn’t find. Sigh. I really need to ask for help, and I will. I need to. Save me from myself and my so-called independence!! As that phrase echoes and rings down an empty hallway.

On the bright side, I found places to eat at on campus and well as got a general feel for Taida. It feels bigger than my campus at home, but probably because walking feels more difficult. I think I will miss autumn.

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Commentary

Taiwan is so green! It reminds me a bit of Hawaii in how the trees cover the hillsides. But what was most shockingly duplicated many times over was the contrast between the prosperity between the rich and the poor. There was this gleaming new building, like Aberdeen mall, however, directly across the street from it were these old, decrepit looking housing things. I saw this throughout my travel into Taipei and during my walks around. It’s so different because the poverty and ugliness isn’t shoved away quite so much like at home. However, I haven’t seen many bums around. Perhaps this is because Taipei is in transition.

I must say that I don’t think I’m in that honeymoon stage that people talk about when one arrives at a new place. I’m not jumping for joy that I’m here, but I don’t loathe it either. It’s like living at home almost, except in Chinese because I do pretty much the same things as I did at home. That is, I go explore by myself and do whatever I want. I’m trying to keep level-headed about everything so I don’t have that “loathing/superiority stage” that people say happens after the honeymoon stage.

People can’t tell that I’m not Taiwanese. Which is good for my Chinese but horrible if I really need something complicated to be done. I want to seem like a foreigner at least!! (What a contrast to my previous thoughts that I would stand out too much.)

Also, in the IYC dorms, where I live with the rest of the exchange students (we all mostly live on the second floor and regular NTU students live on the higher floors) English is the lingua franca basically. I’m envious of those that can speak English, Chinese and their own language among others.

The room itself is okay. It’s not quite as small as I thought it would be but it’s too white for my tastes. Slightly clinical. I have the upper bunk, a bit hotter but I think it’ll come in handy during the ‘cold’ season because I get cold easily. Which should explain why I brought a scarf and fleece. Thank goodness I didn’t bring my long underwear. That would have been unnecessary.

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Closing

So! Bring cash, lots. Or have easy access to getting some. The banks will readily change American dollars (cash) into Taiwan dollars, but not traveller’s cheques. Also, get a bike. Unless you like walking for a long, long time to get to places. Or learn how to use the bus and MRT. Which I will soon. Oh! And make sure to get phone cards to call long distance and locally. They somehow don’t take coins to make calls at the pay phones or anything. The long distance card I bought was 500NT – not too expensive. The local card I bought was 100NT. And the food place down in the basement of this dorm is pretty good! It’s cheap (25-30NT) for a nicely cooked ham, egg and stuff sandwich. I like the sweetness of it. And the Lo Pak Go is good too. Mmmmm… I think I should go eat now or I’ll skip lunch again. Bye!

Oh, last thing of note: I love the water machine. It has water come out cold, warm or boiling (100 degrees Celsius) which is VERY VERY handy. Although, buying drinks on campus isn’t too much either, today I just bought a bitter tea thing for 17 NT. Not bad.