Thoughts of a Canadian Exchange Student

Japan: Osaka (大阪)

Glico man

The Glico man of Dōtonbori Street

Osaka was visited on: June 30, 2008

Osaka is a large and dense city. Even though I use the words large and dense, somehow they still feel like an understatement. Upon arriving in Osaka from Kyoto, it felt somewhat like I was relieving the day I arrived in Taipei from Vancouver – a little bit confused and completely overwhelmed (in a good way) by something so different. Suffice to say, Osaka and Taipei are both large and dense cities. (Both cities have a similar population of about 2.6 million people.)

Hep Five Ferris Wheel

Hep Five Ferris Wheel (Gigantic thing inside a mall.)

Although we only spent a day in Osaka, and spent it mostly shopping in malls and stores ^^, (did you know that we discovered the fabulous Book-Off store in Osaka only to find that there’s one downtown in Vancouver?), we had some baked octopus balls takoyaki and a very good time. Even though I’ve had takoyaki many times I still don’t quite like it. I’d rather eat octopus by itself.

Oh! Osaka’s transportation system is definitely very unique! It’s partially oval. I could not believe my eyes at the number of different routes and connections that were available. Since we only had a day to check out Osaka, we mostly stuck to the tried and true method of getting around: walking. If we had more time, it’d have been fun to try and figure out how the whole system worked.

Osaka at night

Osaka at night.

At night, like Taipei, Osaka is alive with people. Kyoto, like Vancouver, seems to shut down earlier. We wandered around Dōtonbori Street (道頓堀) admiring the neon-lit signs that lit up, moved and came to life. And down the centre of the street were all these parked and unlocked bicycles. Coming from Taipei, you have no idea how tempting it was to take one of those un-rusted, in-full-working-condition-with-the-brakes-not-shot bikes XD. As we had to catch a train back to Kyoto, we didn’t stay too long at night.

After another day and a bit in Kyoto visiting temples like the Chion Temple and the Yasaka Shrine, we headed back to Taipei. And that was the end of our Japan trip!

F4 in Osaka

In Osaka Station: F4 and Taiwan welcome you!

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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!

An Experience with a Taiwanese Guy (Part I)

Posted in Bicycle, Exchange, Learning, NTU, Observations, Rant, Taipei, Taiwan, Taiwanese People, Thoughts, University by J on September 19, 2007

Here’s an interesting little story about something that happened to me within the space of 5 days.

Here goes nothing.

On the 11th, after taking the person with the dog bite to the clinic, I biked over to the post office to see how much it would be to send something home to Canada. Everyday that I spend here, I realise more and more that my Chinese is rather inadequate for most things but, the important thing is that I know how to ask. Yay. Back to the main story. I actually didn’t find out how much it would cost to send something home because at the counter, they told me that it was weight dependent and didn’t give me a base price. Oh well.

Back up a bit, though.

Before I went in to ask at the counter, I tried to find a brochure at the post office that listed the rates and whatnot of sending post internationally. I found one. But, I couldn’t read it. Oh what a conundrum illiteracy is!

I did the next best thing to being literate. I asked someone to read it for me. Hehe. So, I went out of the post office and in the little patio/sitting area outside, I looked for someone to help me. I picked a person at random.

I have no idea what it is, but every time I ask for help here, people are just so helpful. Cultural thing about being polite or cultural thing about enjoying to help people? Other exchange students have noted how trusting the Taiwanese are about money among other things. For example, if you bought 5 pens but lied and said you were only buying 4 at the counter, the cashier would believe you. I guess this observation comes from more cynical people (and I’m not?) because I expect nothing less than honesty. However, other people (Americans) also say, not observe, that Canada is a safe place and very honest. Hah! I guess that’s a good stereotype, though.

He read it for me and told me that the brochure didn’t give me the rates for international packages but rather mail rates for packages within Taiwan. Hey, at least I was partially right. Go pictures!

At this point, here is where I went into the post office to ask at the counter, following this guy’s advice. After I exited the post office, I heard someone calling 同學,同學 (tongxue, tongxue). This is a term used to talk to someone who is your schoolmate, please correct me if I’m wrong. Until I felt a tap on my shoulder, I had no idea that he was calling me.

Cool! Someone wanted to talk to me!

So, after we had a quick chat about who we were etc. I think I give out information too easily, but I believe that I was being courteous by answering all his questions. As well, I have a need to prove that I’m not Taiwanese. I need a solid way to say this, but so far, the best I can come up with is that I’m Canadian, not Taiwanese and I’m Cantonese. However, I hardly ever get to say the last part because by that time they think I’m a person that just doesn’t identify with their Taiwanese roots. Also, I don’t really feel like I’m the last one anyways since I can’t speak Cantonese much at all, but if it’s what it takes to prove that I’m not Taiwanese…

I’d like to just be me and not have people automatically think that I’m a stupid American (why never Canadian or anything else if I speak English fluently?) that has lost touch with their cultural (Taiwanese) roots. I’d just like to be Canadian. *scoff* However, I’m not stupid. I know that I can’t ever just be Canadian. I don’t look Canadian. Argh.

Ranting aside, after the conversation finished, I went to get my bike so that I could return back to the dorms. And then he comes over. Asks me for my cell phone number so that we can do something like a language exchange. Okay! My Chinese needed practice (even though I already have someone to practice with. I also wanted to meet more Taiwanese people my age, too.). And then, with a mind of its own, my mouth asks if he’s free to have dinner with me on Thursday, the 13th. I’m under the idea that it’d be good to get to know him a bit first before investing time in a language exchange with him.

Eep! I realised it AFTER I said it that… this was a VERY forward invitation. Stupid, stupid, stupid mouth. These sort of things just roll naturally out of my mouth.

And that’s the end of Part I.

NTU’s Club’s Day

Posted in Bicycle, Clubs, Home, NTU, Observations, University by J on September 14, 2007

I had no idea so many people could fit into such a seemingly small space.

Here I was on Friday morning at the NTU Sports Centre which by no means is small, but the sheer number of people crowded into the gym sure made it seem so. Here at NTU, people seem so much more into their extracurricular activities than people do at home, probably because this is a surefire way to make friends as NTU students are the best test taking students pulled from schools across Taiwan.

But wow! There were a lot of clubs, everything was in Chinese, but there was a lot of energy. You could feel it in the fact that in the aisles between the booths you could barely move. It took my friend and I about 15 minutes to get from one end of an aisle to another in what would normally only take less than a minute to traverse the same distance.

Also, there were even clubs that were outside the Sports Centre. There were clubs that ranged from martial arts (so many!) to photography to helping out the aboriginal peoples that live in Taiwan. As long as you find your club, you’ll have a niche. Unfortunately, there wasn’t an Ultimate club. Boo.

However, since I have so much love for my bike, I think I’ll join the Cycling club. We’ll see, though.

Exercise and Dog Bites

Posted in Bicycle, Miscellaneous, NTU, Outdoors, Taipei, University by J on September 11, 2007

This incident happened to someone in my dorm. Let this be a warning to those of you who might like to exercise outside in Taipei. So, on with the story!

This person went out for a run just before lunch time and came back as I was coming into the dormitory. When I went to chat with the dorm supervisor, this person came into the room. To this person’s credit, there was no screaming or tearing up.

Anyways here was what was relayed to us:
– out running
– saw a stray dog, did not touch it, ran past it
– dog started to give chase, tried to run away
– dog jumped up and bit the upper leg/butt area
– ran back to the dormitory

So, as I really seem to like riding my bike a lot, I offered to give this person a ride to the medical clinic on campus. Very good balance on the back of my bike. Later on, I heard that this person had to get a shot and take antibiotics in case of rabies and the like. Now, it’s only indoor exercise: Away from the stray dogs!

Orientation and Bike Love

Posted in ARC, Bicycle, Exchange, Home, NTU, Outdoors, University by J on September 10, 2007

The Orientation

This orientation was put on by NTU. They had the International Student and International Exchange Student Orientation at the same time, I’m glad that the building was large enough. Lots of people but registration went off pretty smoothly.

I think I should have paid closer attention to the agenda I was sent because I felt it was quite a long orientation, but that probably had to do with the fact that I didn’t know what was coming next. Actually, just looking at the schedule again, it was rather short but felt long. The water in bubble tea cups (sealed on the top like bubble tea at home!) was cool.

It was mostly standard information like:

  • an introduction
  • some words from the Foreign Student Association
  • information for exchange students (which would have been much more useful way earlier on, for example, the ARC information)

However, the best thing about this orientation was seeing 2 of my friends from my university at home! I haven’t seen them since the exchange orientation back at home sometime in April. I was very happy. =)

The campus tour, I felt, was interesting but also rather useless for me because I’d already been around campus so much on my bike already that seeing it again felt redundant. (Despite this, I still manage to turn down the wrong roads fairly often. How does this ever happen??)

The reception dinner was the best part. The food was very, very good, well, what I could eat of it. The buffet was disorganized, so there was a huge swarm towards the food that made it difficult to get much of anything at all. It was a totally Western style dinner, but the most memorable thing about the food was the pizza. Somehow, the pizza was quite different and beats any pizza at home! It was sweet and salty and just a bunch of stuff that I’ve never had on a pizza before, but I forget what exactly was on it, sorry.

After!

My Bike

After dinner, my most favourite part was riding back to the dorms on my bike. With 3 people on it. You can see my bike in an earlier post. Anyways. One of my friends from my university came up with the idea with having the three of us from my university ride back in the dark. Okay. *lets breath out*

It actually worked!

One pedaled, the other stood on the back (which is normal) and I sat on the crossbar in between the pedaler. That was such fun! Too bad my friend’s legs gave out afterwards… well, the legs got really tired, is all. So, we walked back.

Ack! We had no one to take a picture of us. Tai kelian (太可憐).

However, that’s not the end of the story.

After, to send my friend back to Gongguan, we used my bike. With my friend pedaling. With someone on the back. For the first time. Oh. My. Gosh.

HAHAHAHAHAHA!

We lost balance fairly quickly and crashed into the wall just outside the guard station by NTU’s back gate where the guards were watching us. Aiyah! They laughed at us for our silliness, well, I do admit it was funny. To remember this night of new biking (3 on one bike and crashing into a wall), I got a nice scrape on the back of my calf from when we hit the wall. I don’t think it’ll scar, though. Hopefully.

I think I’m kind of easy to break. Just a little bit. Booo… and that was the end of Orientation Day! (Notice that Orientation Day is just about equal to My Bike? This means something like that Orientation was just as important as something that shouldn’t be considered so important. Whatever =P.)

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!