Thoughts of a Canadian Exchange Student

Taipei 101 (台北101)

Posted in Observations, Outdoors, Sightseeing, Taipei, Taiwan, Thoughts, Weather by J on November 30, 2007

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Urban sprawl. Quiet. Beautiful.

Thoughts that ran through my head as I took a gander down on Taipei.

From certain views, Taipei reminded me of the Kowloon Walled City, something I’ve only seen in pictures (Photo 1, this is Taipei). From another glance, the glow from the street lamps seemed to run like molten lava towards Taipei 101 (Photo 2). Looking into the sky, it seemed like you could almost be floating in the air because there isn’t any (completed) taller building in the world (Photo 3). Back on the ground, the whole Xinyi district (信義區) reminded me of home’s downtown (Photo 6).

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How I got to be looking down on Taipei on a beautiful “winter” day was quite an accident. I didn’t have any plan to go up to Taipei 101. My only plan for that day was to find the movie theatres where the Golden Horse Film Festival was being held so that I wouldn’t be lost for the day after next’s showing of Lost in Beijing (蘋果).

After going about 20 minutes in the wrong direction (after asking for directions) and finally finding the correct theatre, I glanced at the sky and decided to go up to the top of Taipei 101.

On a side note: the mall is just wow. If you’re a name brand shopper, you’d go crazy with happiness inside Taipei 101.

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So, 350 NTD poorer, I ascended to the top in a very cool elevator. It reminded me of those elevators in the Minority Report or anything futuristic like that because it took us to the top so fast. I don’t even think I had to pop my ears.

Inside the 89th floor observatory, Taipei 101 is a very touristy area. I walked around the circumference a few times trying to figure out how to get outside until I found that at the entrance to get to the outdoor observatory on the 91st floor, you had to pay another 100 NTD.

So, out I went. (Ambiguous, no?)

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Outside on the outdoor observation deck was glorious. Just the day before, it had rained, so the skyline was particularly clear. As I was up top just as dusk was settling over Taipei, I had the opportunity to watch the city painted in a multitude of colours. Ranging from a green-blue to an orange beginning to be punctuated by lights, so many beautiful hues gradually gave over to darkness where the lights, not the sky, gave the city its colour.

Up top, you can only hear the whistling of the wind through the metal guard rails and feel the whipping of the wind around you. It’s so quiet. And when you’re looking out and seeing the city laid out before you, it feels as if you can achieve anything.

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I say that going up to Taipei 101, probably one of Taipei’s biggest tourist attractions, is well worth the 450 NTD. Although, most people don’t spend that long up there, it is one of those things where you go to say that you’ve been there. Also, even if you’re afraid of heights, the metal guard rails are high enough so you’ll feel safe. If you just stay within the indoor observatory, it feels even safer because it’s like you’re inside a bubble. So, go to Taipei 101 when you come/go to Taipei! (Free Taiwan tourism promotion.)

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Taiwan’s National Museum of History (國立歷史博物館)

Posted in Culture, Observations, Sightseeing, Taipei, Taiwan, Thoughts, Weather by J on November 23, 2007

071123 - Taiwan's National Museum of History

Student entrance fee: 10 NTD

That was the most memorable thing about the museum. Nah, I’m just kidding. However, the extremely inexpensive ticket price was a nice bonus.

So on a rainy Friday afternoon with a bunch of friends, as an alternative to the Taipei zoo, we went to the National Museum of History. A nice quiet way to spend a contemplative afternoon.

Inside the museum, you can check out Taiwanese puppets (they’re a lot larger than you think they’d be. Some of them look kind of scary.) and quite a few artifacts from Southeast Asia and so on. The really cool things are the masks that depict women gone astray in Southeast Asian society. Those masks are quite fearsome and kind of ugly too, I might add.

Also very cool were the little items on one of the upper floors where there were letters and notes written in the smallest of Chinese characters on miniature sculptures. What skill and patience it must have taken to create those things!

A few hours later, a bit tired from looking at so many things from times past, we all took a break in a little sitting area that housed some tables and chairs within the museum. This area overlooked a pond and had a decent view of some greenery within Taipei. A quiet spot to sit and think and contemplate. You can’t hear the traffic inside.

Something else: If you look carefully on the map of Southeast Asia, the label for Taiwan is a little bit different from all the rest. The Taiwan label has been taped on on top of the original name. I’m assuming that underneath, the original label said something like “R.O.C” which stands for the Republic of China. I wonder if the name was modified before or after Taiwan became actively involved in trying to attain a United Nations membership. The map on the opposing wall has the same alternation.

Anyways, to sum up this little adventure takes only a sentence or so: The National Museum of History is a place to admire and appreciate the past as well as different cultures. However, at the same time by reflecting on the past you reflect on your own past as well. It’s a good place to get some thinking done.

Taiwanese Aboriginal People’s Concert (原住民音樂會)

Posted in Bicycle, Night Life, NTU, Observations, Outdoors, Taipei, Taiwan, Taiwanese People, Thoughts, Weather by J on November 10, 2007

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A slightly awkward title, but it seems to do the job of describing what I saw at Da’an Park (大安森林公園). The aboriginal people that performed ranged from the Hakka to aboriginal groups that have long been a part of Taiwan.

After a quick bike ride to the park from NTU and settling into some seats, the slightly chilly evening kicked off with different musical acts from different aboriginal groups. However, the climax with all of the groups together was quite cool. It showed some sort of harmony altogether thing. I wonder if any of these groups of people warred against each other in the past.

Interestingly, this show defied my expectations of what a aboriginal show would. There was not only more traditional music to showcase the culture of the different aboriginal peoples that were there, there were even music acts that included rapping and modern musical instruments like the guitar.

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I’m glad that I was asked out to go check out this event because now I have a slightly fuller picture of what “Taiwan” is all about. Thought: Are shows like this supposed to show the success of the Taiwanese aboriginal peoples in integrating into modern day Taiwan but at the same time still keeping their own unique identity? Most likely. I wonder exactly how “successful” they have been and what “success” is defined as. I think a similar situation exists in Canada concerning the First Nations people.

Also, hanging out with people is fun too. I just need to dress a bit warmer next time. Yay for free outdoor music concerts!

Mail from Home

Posted in Exchange, Home, Miscellaneous, Thoughts by J on November 8, 2007

home mail

This picture embodies what it feels like to receive mail and packages from home. Email, too.

Thank-you.

(Borrowed image.)

My Congee Adventure

Posted in Food, Home, NTU, Rant, Taipei, Taiwan by J on November 4, 2007

congee

Image borrowed from a website that I googled.

On a tip from a friend, deprived from congee as I was, I tried out the non-descript congee stand nearby NTU. Run by a Guangdong person (廣東人)the flavour was quite similar to the congee at home because Guangdong is where a lot of the early Chinese immigrants emigrated from. Thus, many overseas Chinese communities have a Guangdong flavour.

History lesson aside, by ordering my standard that I judge all congee places by, “thousand year old egg and lean pork congee” (皮蛋瘦肉粥)I expected something half-decent. I had been getting used to this… icky thing that I’ve come across in the Taiwanese places I’ve tried. A little too spicy, a little too watered down, etc.

And it was in the gold!

And thus, my congee adventure came to a close. (What adventure?)

A Taiwanese Halloween

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The Taiwanese do not celebrate Halloween.

As I also found out, nor do many Europeans. It is almost a wholly North American activity. Strange, I thought it was celebrated almost the world over; it must be that North American ethnocentrism creeping in.

Despite being just another North American activity, we celebrated here at NTU with a Halloween Music Party (萬聖節音樂會)

and reversed trick-or-treating.

Halloween kicked off with many of the exchange students and some Taiwanese students taking pictures in their costumes in the main lobby of the dormitory. There were many colourful costumes. For example, I rented my costume from a costume shop in Ximending (西門町), as did most everyone else. However, the most inventive costume, a hedgehog, was hand-made. That costume won the top prize in the Halloween costume contest.

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As a large group, we proceeded to make our way to the Student Activity Center, Huoda (活大)

from the dormitory while handing out candy to anyone we encountered along the way. This reverse trick-or-treating (normally, we go to doors and then get candy from the dwellers) was odd at first, but then quickly warmed up to. By the ones who were giving out the candy (us).

Actually, I think we scared a lot of the students that were still around at 6 pm on campus Wednesday night because they were avoiding and staring at our group as we were saying, “Happy Halloween!” (in Chinese). Hmm… Perhaps our (rather) large group was scary and a curiosity because we were all dressed for the Halloween occasion.

Afterwards, after some fun at the Male Dormitories where they had games and trick-or-treating at doors prepared for us, the music concert came next. All in all, quite a fun night!

Ironically, despite the fact that most of our costumes weren’t scary (as they are supposed to be, as Halloween is a night of ghouls), I’m sure that we gave some people quite a scare because it was something so out of the ordinary. Hah! It also marked all of us as totally foreign. I hope that next year’s Halloween at NTU is as fun for more people as it was for us.