Thoughts of a Canadian Exchange Student

An Experience with a Taiwanese Guy (Part IV)

Posted in Chinese, English, Learning, Miscellaneous, NTU, Phone, Taipei, Taiwanese People, Thoughts, University by J on September 19, 2007

After consulting some Taiwanese people about what they thought was going on, I decided to make it clear that I didn’t really want to participate in a language exchange with him.

So, in a text message back (SMS) on the evening of the 15th, I said, politely, as I learned it isn’t nice to give a straight out refusal here, that I was already busy that weekend. Also, I wrote that I already had someone else to practice with (which was true).

Lastly, the most important of all the things I’ve learned from this experience with him was this phrase: “You are a nice guy.” (你是個好人) Basically, this means that, “you are a nice guy, but I have no interest in you.” Apparently, this is very quickly understood by Taiwanese guys. So, I put this at the end of my SMS to make the situation very clear. Useful phrase. Let’s hope that I don’t have to use it again.

If he really wanted to have a language exchange with me, he could’ve cleared things up with me after this message that he had no sort of intentions that followed along these lines. On the other hand, he could be quite embarrassed about it all, but if he could just ask me for my cell phone number (a foreigner, to boot!), I have reason to think that he’s quite bold.

To justify my actions: I think those were the vibes that I was getting from him, but if this happens again, I think that my “Taiwanese Feelings Gauge Radar” (TFGR) will be more fined tuned. Everyday, my TFGR gets better every time I talk to anyone Taiwanese. =)

So, to finally, finally close this long story:

I haven’t heard from him since.

P.S. I heard that the Taipei 101 area has some good looking guys (帥哥/shuai ge). Haven’t been there yet. =P It’ll be perfect to practice using my radar!

An Experience with a Taiwanese Guy (Part III)

Posted in Chinese, English, NTU, Phone, University by J on September 19, 2007

The next day, I got a call from him.

Shock!

He just wanted to know how my day was going, if I got to see the clubs at NTU or not (it was clubs day), if I had free time that night to go out for dinner, if I had time to go out on the weekend with him, that he would help me with any PTT troubles I had… What?!? Remember, I thought I’d never hear from him again after the dinner from the night before.

(PTT is this really MS-DOS or mIRC looking bulletin board system that is the hub of NTU internet life, basically an old-school forum)

Umm…

I made an excuse to get out of going out. Yay! I was in the clear!

Yeah right.

Later that night, I got a text message from him asking if I’d like a Chinese teacher and if I could teach him English. Uh… What a baffling situation! It sure didn’t feel like he wanted to practice English. Yes, he could be shy about his English skills but to be able to just ask someone for their phone number after a few minutes, in my book, takes guts… so, my gut feeling said, “no, sorry, no way, no how”.

Then, I forgot about the text message until late Saturday night.

An Experience with a Taiwanese Guy (Part II)

Posted in Chinese, English, Exchange, Food, Learning, NTU, Observations, Rant, Taiwan, Taiwanese People, Thoughts by J on September 19, 2007

On Thursday, the 13th, I went to dinner with him. Smartly or un-smartly, I brought a friend along with me under the pretence that our dinner needed to be facilitated by someone who’s Chinese and English were at a level so as to help with any barriers created by my poor Chinese and his poor English. Actually, I was just kind of nervous as to what exactly he thought this dinner would be because I hadn’t met many Taiwanese people before.

My friend and I met him at the front gate of NTU. He didn’t know my friend was coming until he saw my friend. So, the three of us went over to Gongguan and went to this little Western style cafe. It was much nicer than the regular places I’d been going to.

I ordered some toast thing and my friend ordered risotto and he ordered… I forget. I have trouble remembering his face and what he looks like. Continuing on, we made small talk and whatnot but the things that I remember from the conversation are slightly odd because normally I’d expect someone from Taiwan to be much more conservative.

——–

#1 Weird thing:
He asked me if I came to Taiwan to look for a husband.

(Ehhh??? [By the way, this is not a Canadian “eh”. I have no idea where my American roommate gets the weirdest ideas about Canada. Like, for example, how it’s reaaaallly cold. Not where I live. Geez. And for goodness sake’s we lock our doors!] Strange question, something I might ask in jest, but nothing I’d ever expect a Taiwanese guy, of all people, to ask!)

#2 Weird thing:
We almost solely used Chinese to communicate with each other.

No matter how much my friend and I invited him to practice speaking in English, we spoke almost entirely in Chinese. I invited him to practice English 3 times and my friend asked once.

#3 Weird thing:
I found out he was a PHD student at NTU and for the life of me, I have no idea why his English was so poor.

It’s strange because to graduate from NTU, you have to be able to pass (I don’t know what a pass is) an English exam. I spoke to someone who had failed 3 times before. Yikes! It’s hard enough to take university exams in your own language, but to have to take one in another language in order to graduate is rather demanding! The expectations of regular students here is really, really high. However, I understand why. NTU students need to be competitive in the world market and without at least useable English, it’s hard to break into the international realm. At least, that’s my understanding of the world.

——–

At the end of this dinner, I left with the feeling that I’d never see him or hear from him again. The time spent together was fine, but when I was thinking back on it and asking people about usual Taiwanese meetings, it wasn’t the most normal of meetings. Meh, another experience to add to my books.

So! That was that!

Or so I thought.

Typhoon Fun? Dorm Problems

Posted in Dorms, English, Exchange, Miscellaneous, NTU, University, Weather by J on September 18, 2007

Here’s the rundown of what happened on Typhoon Night:

I went to hang out in another room and then went to 7-11 at 2 something in the morning for some food with a few people after a night of studying. We came back and sat around and chatted amidst the whirling sounds of the wind and the lashing rain (no, it wasn’t really lashing). No drinking for me.

At about 3:00 am in the morning, as we sit in the lounge of the 2nd floor, we hear the loudspeaker system spark to life. What the…

For a while, some drunk people were speaking on the loudspeaker system. The horrible thing was they were speaking in English. This for one thing, implicates the announcers because it meant that they were foreigners. Secondly, announcing that they live on the 2nd floor and were exchange students wasn’t a smart move. In the lounge, we were groaning at the stupidity of it.

Blessedly, it went off after a while.

Later that day, I heard some more details:

  • there was an angry letter posted on the door of the 2nd floor in fairly fluent English: some Taiwanese grad student was pretty upset
  • there are cameras in the dorms (I had no idea!)
  • PTT was covered in angry messages within minutes of the announcement. These messages basically said to throw the people out of the dorms.

I think that if this happened on a weekend, people would be less angry. (Probably not.) But what made the situation horrible was that as a result of the typhoon, there was no class the next day, so people thought they could sleep in. Instead, they were rudely woken up by this announcement.

At the end of all this, I believe it’s a wake up call for the people that live at the IYC because now, rules will be much stricter. Oh well. The dorms are still good.

Banking & All Administrative Work: DONE!!!!

Posted in Chinese, English, Exchange, Money, Taiwan by J on September 17, 2007

Today, I went to the bank to finalllly get a bank account. I brought along a friend that could speak Chinese with me, just in case. (I actually found out that you can get an account at Hua Nan Bank without having the actual ARC card. You just need the ARC receipt.)

A bank account is a good idea. Another good idea is figuring out all your financials before you go away on exchange. It makes your life so much easier. Also, bring enough money with you to set you up for the first 2 months or so. I brought about $1500 USD. I’m still okay with it, but because of so many large ticket items (dorm fee, ARC fee, etc.) that you have to pay for in the first little bit you’re here, that money quickly dwindles. Therefore, you have less money for things like food, clothes, etc.

The whole process of getting a bank account at Hua Nan Bank isn’t that hard, but you have to put a lot of trust into the teller that’s filling out all the forms for you, especially if you don’t read Chinese that well or speak it that well either. I was lucky to have a teller that could speak a bit of a English, but I still would’ve liked to have known exactly every little thing that was going on. Oh well.

Basically, the process consisted of signing, signing and more signing. I highly recommend using a chop (that stick with your Chinese name on it) because I opted to sign Western style instead. And signing my name over and over again wasn’t as good as I’d thought it’d be.

Also, get an ATM card. Gooood idea. Other than that, you need $1000 NTD to open an account with Hua Nan Bank and that’s it. Oh, I chose Hua Nan Bank because there’s an ATM machine on the first floor of my dorm. Convenient.

So now, with the banking done, all my administrative work is done here in Taiwan! Yay! Well, for the most part anyways. I still have to get National Health Insurance after 4 months of staying here but, that’s no biggie.

So, what I had to get done here was (in no specific order):

  • Exchange Student Registration: free
  • Cell Phone, SIM Card: 2200 + 300 + refills (300-500)
  • Bank Account: 1000
  • ARC Card: 1000
  • Phone Cards (international and domestic, for when you don’t have a cell phone): 500, 200, 100 etc
  • A Bike, lock, step things: 1000 + 200 + 80
  • MRT Easy Card (the new NTU student ID cards will come with the Easy Card): 500
  • Switching Traveller’s Cheques
  • Changing Money

I think that’s most of the administrative stuff I had to do in the first bit I was here. Hope it’s of some use to other people. I know that it reiterates a lot of things in the handbook but it’s nice for me to see all the things that I’ve completed since coming to Taiwan. Actually, the exchange student’s handbook more thorough, go through that instead. DONNNNEEEE!!!!

Clubbing at Luxy

P1010725
It sure rains a lot in Taipei.

After all that stamp collecting yesterday, I slept. But when it came time to get ready, I was so excited! My first time! Almost all the exchange students in the dorms were going. My goal: Get picked up. Yay!

However, that didn’t happen.

We actually went to the wrong club firstly. It took a lot of trouble to get into this wrong club… they even asked for our passports. Bah. Not a smart idea to flash your passport around, as I learned. When we arrived at the right club, Luxy, we only had to show our student ids. I’m so glad that we got them today.

Hm… the inside decor was nice. However, I don’t really like hiphop, so I didn’t really like the dance music that they were playing. The music in the other room was better for it was more alternative, but there weren’t very many people in it. Therefore, with a friend, we decided to leave (after checking out the whole club) and come back to the club later when the rest of the people we went with wanted to leave.

P1010743
The 3 bubble tea places.

Now, the more fun parts began. We went walking around at night looking around. Taipei’s awesome for this. Warm temperature with places open to shop and eat in. In the alley/road directly behind Luxy, there were 3 bubble tea places all lined up beside each other. Apparently, different places call bubble tea different things, as in California, they call is boboa or something like that.

P1010738
Eating the red bean dessert in the MRT station. Not my hand.

We went around taking pictures, talking and exploring generally. My friend? brought this weird fruit thing I’ve never seen before from a street vendor and I bought a red bean dessert. It was soooo good! There was hardly any sugar in it, so it wasn’t as sweet as the standard Taiwan desserts I’ve been having, and that was really good. Mmmmm…

P1010732
Inside the very clean MRT station.

The biggest bonus of not staying in the club was finding Burt’s Bees! I sure hope that it’ll help soothe the multitude of mosquito bites that I have. It smells gooood. Also, hanging out in the MRT station at night is cool because it’s so well lit, clean and well, doesn’t feel like a crime area like the public transportation stops at home do.

P1010754
No idea who this is. Luxy washroom.

Apart from that aside, when we went back there were more people than when we originally arrived. Many drunk people. Many smoking people. Many… dare I say it? Skanky people. This is interesting because it seems exactly like the clubbing culture at home, or rather, my perception of it. Perhaps it seemed like a club at home because Luxy is known more as a foreigner club, or something like that.

P1010751
I like this photo. Luxy washroom.

The washroom at Luxy was nice. I have no idea who those people are in the pictures that I took. I was a bit bored, so I decided to be productive. However, I sitting right where the cigarette smoke from the ashtray wafted towards me. Now, I don’t mind smoke wafting towards me if it’s of the campfire kind, but… eww cigarette smoke.

Went we got back to the dormitory at 2:30 am (is it really that early to leave a club?), I immediately took a shower and went to bed for I had class at 8 am this morning. My clothes still smell, though. So, for my first time out clubbing, it was okay, but I don’t think I’ll really do it again because it isn’t my type of fun. So, no getting picked up for me. Unfortunately. Hah! I prefer wandering the streets at night and being able to hear people when I talk to them.

So, clubbing wasn’t really clubbing for me, was it?

P1010746
A bubble tea place.

Cantonese and KTV

Posted in Chinese, English, Exchange, KTV, Observations, Taipei, Transportation by J on September 2, 2007

For the first time ever, I went to KTV. KTV is basically Karaoke in an enclosed room where you and your friends can enjoy yourself eating, drinking and singing. There are TVs, microphones and a mini stage where you can perform for each other.

At Ximending, basically a night hang-out hub for high school students just off the MRT station, Ximen, was Party World. Apparently, it’s one of the most expensive KTV places around. It was about 450 NT for 3 hours with food and drink. I forget how much food and drink you had to order up to. This means it was about $15 CDN. I was later told that to go to KTV in Canada, it’s about $25 per hour. So, Taiwan is rather inexpensive for Canadians. For now.

Oh, I guess for all those EAP students I went with (Californians), it was a bit less. The interesting thing about most of the EAP students is that most are Taiwanese, although, a few aren’t. With the other people I went with, there was another Canadian and a smattering of people from other countries.

Anyways, entering Party World was like going into a nice hotel. The KTV room inside was a very nice sound proof room with dark, earthy colours. Much of what you’d expect from the inside of a cruise boat or a nice reading room.

I didn’t sing this time, however, I’d like to be able to sing something in Chinese next time. The nice thing about KTV is that it doesn’t matter if you don’t sing so well because the only people that are watching and listening are your friends who are there to have a good time, like you.

What was really neat was that despite the fact that all of us at Party World were in Taiwan to learn Mandarin, some were united by Cantonese as being the most comfortable language to speak in. While English is used the most within all the exchange students, some just aren’t as comfortable speaking and using English. So, we had lots of Cantonese song at KTV. =) It was nice to hear some Cantonese.

So, this was done the night before my Chinese classes started – at 8:00 am. But between doing this and staying in my room sleeping early… I’d choose KTV.

Chiang Kai-Shek Memorial and the MRT

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

P1010709
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.

P1010690
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.

P1010695
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.

P1010706
Macro!

PS Do you like my pictures?

The First Few Days

P1010656

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.

P1010658P1010657P1010655


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…

P1010683

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.

P1010660P1010661P1010659

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.

P1010682

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.