Thoughts of a Canadian Exchange Student

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.

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2 Responses

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  1. its that girl said, on August 29, 2007 at 1:48 pm

    Happy you’re enjoying the experience so far!
    I look forward to reading and hearing more about it ^^

  2. Helen Cheng said, on August 29, 2007 at 9:53 pm

    about the shopping bags – did you ask for one? because although some stores don’t provide them readily anymore, usually a bag is available for 1NT if you ask. this wasn’t the case several years ago, but taiwan has recently decided to be more environment-friendly. a lot of ppl do bring their own shopping bags to grocery stores and such though. =)

    No, I didn’t ask for one. I don’t know how to yet, but I will soon!

    where is that water machine located? it looks great! is it free?

    Yes, it is free. Well, you pay dorm fees, right?

    also, thank goodness for those random shelves outside in the hallway…a place to put shoes!!

    haha I’m so excited about seeing everything in person tomorrow!


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