Thoughts of a Canadian Exchange Student

Good-bye Taiwan (再見台灣)

Taipei 101

Dawn breaking over Taipei and Taipei 101. (台北和台北101的日出)


Yilan

Taiwan’s breathtaking natural beauty. (台灣的蠻好看的自然風景)


NTU National Taiwan University

NTU at dawn. (台大的日出)


Although I left in July…
Good-bye Taiwan, and thanks for everything.

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Taking the MRT or the Automobile (坐捷運或坐車子)

Posted in Home, Outdoors, Sightseeing, Taipei, Taiwan, Thoughts, Transportation, Weather by J on December 31, 2008

giraffe in mrt

It’s a GIRAFFE in the MRT station!

To take the MRT (捷運) or the car to get to where you want to go… decisions, decisions. Of course, in Taipei, it’s infinitely more interesting to take public transit. Not only is it faster to get to main areas of Taipei, you get to see interesting things when you do. For example, you see an advertisement like the one in the photo above. I really had to do a double take when I saw the ad. A GIRAFFE in the MRT?! Genius. Although, I don’t know if these ads for the Very Fun Park were very successful or not.

car

Cruising along the highway to Yilan (宜蘭).

And, if you want to get out of the city, a car is the best option. Buses are okay, but they really don’t give you the freedom to go anywhere you want. The picture above was from when I went to a quiet beach in Yilan (宜蘭) with some friends. There was no one there but us. And the waves that were apparently larger than usual due to a typhoon somewhere past the horizon. And the rain that came upon us as we were lying on the beach. So, in this case, the car is a fantastic option. No matter how much I would like to save the environment. In conclusion, transit advertisements rock. Now only if Vancouver had ads on the buses that advertised something more interesting than safer sex.

zebra in mrt

A zebra too?!

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!

Japan: Kyoto (京都)

Gion

Gion

Kyoto, Japan was visited: June 27 – July 2

Since Taiwan is so much closer to Japan than Canada, it made perfect sense to hop over there for a short vacation.

The Places We Visited:

On the recommendation of a friend, we stayed in a guest house called Uno House. It has a nice location in the northeast of Kyoto and the price was very agreeable. We stayed in a private room. I guess my favourite part about the guest house was that it was like a sort of maze inside and that it seemed quite traditional. We even slept on the floor on futons. Although I didn’t know any Japanese (but thank goodness I could read some Chinese, so helpful when taking busses), we managed to get around fine.

For me, Kyoto was all about the castle, the temples, the shrines, the spiritual symbols (and some shopping, too!). Thanks to the gracious help of my friends, I got to see some of the best parts of Kyoto within a short amount of time.

Kinkaku-ji

Kinkaku-ji

The places that we went to were:

For a map to see where all the places are: http://kyoto.asanoxn.com/info/kyotomap.htm

Ryōan-ji

Ryōan-ji

Funny thing, it was raining most of the time we visited these sites… I swear the rain clouds followed me from Vancouver to Taipei to Kyoto XD. I really liked visiting all these places, and the most funny thing was that since they’re all major tourist sites as well as places of quiet contemplation (supposedly), the contrast between the noise of the tourists and the quiet of the sites was, well, funny. ^^ Outside of our first day in Kyoto, the weather for the rest of our trip was very good, very sunny, and very hot.

Torii at Heian jingu

Torii gate for Heian jingū

Of all the sites that we went to, I liked the Nijō- (seriously, a castle in the middle of the city?? Cool!) and Kinkaku-ji the best (Gold. Building.). Nijō-jō had nightingale floors for protection against night attackers. When an invader walked on these floors, due to their special construction, they’d squeak. No matter how lightly I tried to step, I could only make the floor squeak when I walked on the floorboards. Very cool and ingenious. The site of the Kyoto Imperial Palace is actually much larger than it seems because the boulevard leading up to the palace is massive. The vastness of the boulevard neutralizes the largeness of the palace. Ryōan-ji was very nice, but I don’t think I’m meant for Zen Buddhism. I didn’t draw out much meaning from sitting at the rock garden. Ginkaku-ji was under renovation when we went, so there was much to see. Oh, Heian jingū was pretty cool. The torii gate was so big! I was pleased to find that the shrine was orange. I thought that they were supposed to be brown for some reason.


Chion Temple

At Chion Temple

The day that we went to Chion Temple, we had the opportunity to see practising monks. When we were walking around the temple grounds, after the many stairs to get up into the temple grounds, we heard the chanting of monks, and on a whim, we joined a line and went inside a building to take our turn in turning something around (like turning a totem pole or something). That was interesting. The main hall was the best, though. It was very dark and shady inside, a welcome respite from the heat, and you couldn’t wear your shoes inside. The prayer area was very large and solemn. It was difficult to see the relics that you’d pray to. It was just massive inside that one building. Oh, and at Yasaka Shrine, we had a glimpse of practicing shrine maidens, miko!


Gion back alley

A Gion back alley

After wandering around for a bit, we ended up in Gion without knowing it. I thought I was just in some very old section of Kyoto. Despite not knowing that I was actually in Gion (I got tired of looking at the map), I was very impressed by the whole area. It felt like what Japan had been before skyscrapers and all the industrialization the world experienced. Oh, this fall I watched a 1936 film called Sisters of the Gion (祇園の姉妹) (good film), and I realised how important the district was to the geisha culture. Although we didn’t see any geisha in the area, when we were walking by the establishments, one of the doors was open and I took a quick glance inside. It looked like the traditional houses in Japanese movies. I wonder how the whole area prevents fire hazards… For that matter, I wonder how the place we stayed in, Uno House, prevented fire hazards…

Food:

The first night in Kyoto, we ended up eating at a yakitori place. It was probably a pub or late night sort of place – like a more upscale version of an university pub. We figured out that yakitori was basically chicken grilled on a skewer. Haha! The whole menu was basically chicken. We had the chicken knees with sake.


Sushi

Sushi!

We also had sushi while we were in Kyoto. The restaurant’s waitresses were dressed in traditional Japanese clothing – something that the Vancouver restaurants don’t do. Although, I think we may have offended them when we asked for wasabi. Are we not supposed to eat it with sushi? Anyways, it was very good. Kyoto’s and Vancouver’s sushi are both very good. But, Kyoto’s sushi is miles better than Taipei’s. Sushi Express? Nooo~ Sadly, we didn’t get around to eating any eel while we were in Japan.


Colonel in Kyoto

The Colonel in Kyoto

Some Thoughts:

Kyoto is a quiet, beautiful and clean place. It’s vastly different from the hustle and bustle of Taipei, even though we stayed over the weekend. Kyoto felt very subdued and relaxed. From what I saw, the clothing that the people wore in Kyoto was much more subdued in colour and style than the clothing in Taipei. The clothing in Taipei pops loud, bright and vibrant colours. There’s also no scooters zipping in and out of traffic or night markets.


Downtown Kyoto at night

Downtown Kyoto at night

As Kyoto as a city is really old, maybe that’s also why it was more relaxed. Kyoto was the capital city of Japan from 794-1868 and Taipei became the capital of Taiwan in 1895. Or even more likely, what the cities supposedly represent probably had/have a larger impact. Kyoto’s old name was Heian-kyō (平安京), meaning the capital of peace and tranquility. Although today, Kyoto is no longer the (symbolic) political centre of Japan, its value as a cultural capital seems to have carried on up to the present day. On the other hand, Taipei is the economical and political centre of Taiwan. People gravitate towards Taipei for its opportunities and this makes the city a locus of change, transformation and energy. Anyways, irregardless of the actual economic and political situations in Kyoto and Taipei, Kyoto seems like the happy, stately elderly people that you see advertised in marketing campaigns and Taipei seems like a young adult brimming with endless possibilities for the future.


A Kyoto back alley

A Kyoto back alley

Kyoto also reminded me an awful lot of Vancouver. Actually, it felt so Vancouver-like with its integration of nature and urban structure. Vancouver’s nature spots, for example, Stanley Park, despite looking wildly grown is actually carefully shaped by human hands to keep that wild-untouched-by-human-hands look. Kyoto has a more domesticated, sculpted-looking kind of nature. As both cities integrate nature and urbaness seamlessly, despite the difference in their respective ages (Vancouver was established as a city in 1886), they’re just so similar. It’s such a surreal experience to be able to slip into a park in these cities and the whole urban feel melts away into the background. I’d like to go back when the cherry blossoms are in bloom. It’d be fantastic! (As long as it doesn’t rain. XD)

Dragon Boat Festival at Xindian (新店的端午節)

Posted in Culture, Food, Home, Observations, Outdoors, Sightseeing, Taipei, Transportation, Weather by J on December 29, 2008

The Dragon Boat Festival at Xindian (新店的端午節) was watched on: June 8, 2008

For the first time in a long time, I went to see dragon boat races during the Dragon Boat Festival, duanwu jie (端午節). And to top it off, I got the chance to see it in Taiwan! The whole atmosphere felt very different from the races put on in Vancouver. In Vancouver, it’s a medium to large sized cultural event that showcases Chinese culture after May’s annual month long “Asian Heritage Month”. However, it’s not quite as festive as the festival in Xindian. As I clearly like Taiwan so much, perhaps I’m projecting a much more favourable image upon the festival in Xindian. But, I really must say that it seems to be celebrated with more people than in Vancouver. (It probably has something to do with the difference in sheer population numbers.)

Also, this was the first time that I remember actually hearing the story of why the Dragon Boat Festival exists. In the past, I thought it was just a time to race in the Dragon Boats. I don’t remember even eating sticky rice, zongzi (粽子), for the occasion. But, in Xindian, I did! However, I really do love the zongzi from home the best.

The story that I heard goes something like this:

A couple hundred years before common era (BCE), Qu Yuan, one of greatest poets in the area now known as China, committed suicide by throwing himself into a river. As the people admired him so much, they paddled out in boats to make noise with drums to scare away the fish and also threw food into the river so that the fish wouldn’t eat his body. Apparently, this is where the tradition of eating zongzi and dragon boating started. The day of his death, the fifth day of the fifth month (lunar calendar), is now remembered as duanwu jie, or the Dragon Boat Festival.

Talk about glory after death. Confucian scholars did well for themselves.

Mmm… Ice cream.

So, on that sweltering day at Xindian where you could almost feel yourself melting with the heat and the amount of people along the waterfront, my friends and I walked along the promenade and looked at the wares the vendors offered. Although the ice cream looked really good, I went with the old standby: sausages. (We went for ice cream went we got back to Taipei.) And even though we weren’t supposed to stop and watch the races from the bridge, as it was uni-directional at different periods of time and you had to wait for your turn to cross to the other side, I managed to snap a shot of a race that was underway. As it was really much too hot to be outside for long, we didn’t stay long in Xindian. Thank goodness for the air conditioning in the MRT (捷運)!

For a more detailed version of the story (and to fill in the parts that I didn’t hear about):
Wikipedia: Folklore Underlying the Dragon Boat Festival

Snow Tubing at Cypress Mountain

Posted in Clothing, Culture, Home, Outdoors, Transportation, Weather by J on February 5, 2008

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I dare you to try and fit one of these inside your mouth.

Broke out the long underwear! The fog and snow was fantastic! Just remember the snow tires.

Snow tubing is a lot of fun. You slide down these huge snow slides inside these inner tubes (pictured above). You can go down individually, in twos, with spinning, or without spinning, etc. More people = faster ride down. And the tube tow makes short work of going back up the hill.

Although Cypress is quite fun, I much prefer the snow tubing at Big White. However, snow tubing is fun wherever you go.

$18 CDN gets you 2 hours of tubing fun and includes the tube rental.

Paper Sizing

Posted in Culture, Home, Learning, Observations, Taiwan, Thoughts by J on February 4, 2008

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Paper made from flowers for commercial purposes. It’s a possibility.

As I handed in the last of my papers, during winter break and overseas, I had a situation where I couldn’t find the correct paper size to send to Taiwan. I’m specifically speaking about the A4 paper size (210 x 290 mm).

Here in Canada, when I asked for A4 paper, the store clerks pointed me in the direction of all the 8.5″ X 11″ paper. Turns out that A4 paper is synonymous with 8.5″ X 11″ in Canada. It comes as no surprise that we in Canada use American standards. The problem was solved by cutting down the larger legal size paper to the correct A4 size.

During this little situation, my beef:

“Why doesn’t Taiwan use American sizing?!”

Implicit in this thought is that America is omnipresent (and thereby Canada, by association).

When I went and did some research, I found out that Taiwan actually follows international paper sizing.

Well.

“Why doesn’t Canada use A4 paper sizing?!”

Vancouver Aquarium

Posted in Clothing, Culture, Home, Learning, Outdoors, Sightseeing, Weather by J on February 1, 2008

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Jellyfish.

On a bright, clear & chilly day, we set out for the Vancouver Aquarium. Other than the admission fee taking a large chunk out of your wallet, it was a fairly painless process to gain entrance to the aquarium. Just be prepared for the souvenir photo taking! It’ll feel like an ambush if you didn’t bother to read the sign outside.

Anyways, as I don’t ever seem to wear enough nowadays, we made a beeline to the tropical area of the aquarium. It wasn’t quite as warm as it seems to be in the summer. Darn.

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Bright, pretty fish.

The fish, birds and monkeys were fun to look at in the tropical area, but what was neatest about the indoor section was the new addition. It looks COOL and is COOL because you have the opportunity to learn something new as well as get a hands-on experience about what you’re learning.

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The new area.

I loved watching the jellyfish on display and playing with the interactive displays. It’s a lot more fun than the older section where you just read the information off the displays. There’s even a section specifically designed for children under 8 years of age. The kids can get very up close and personal with the marine life in that section.

Outside, you can watch the many shows that are presented throughout the day. We heard a dolphin show from the underwater viewing area (indoors). It was neat to see what the dolphins did underwater before they burst through the water to show off their jumps to the crowds above. They move so fast that there’s always little water tornadoes that follow their swimming paths.

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Beluga outside.

Also outside, you can touch some of the underwater creatures with your pinky finger as well, you can see the seals, sea otters and the beluga whales! I wonder where the killer whales went… probably the way of the penguins and the polar bears.

The aquarium is nestled in Stanley Park (1000 acres of park!) and is a really big tourist attraction. As we went when it was fairly early in the morning, there wasn’t such a large crowd. However, by about 1pm it was starting to feel a little bit crowded. So, get there early with a full wallet and be prepared for the new, cool interactive section!

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“Chief of the Undersea World” by Haida artist, Bill Reid, greets you.

Indoors

Posted in Dorms, Home, Outdoors, Taipei, Weather by J on January 31, 2008

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I would freeze to death if this was Taipei. There’s no indoor heating in the dormitory.

Oh the weather outside is frightful
But the fire is so delightful

~ lyrics by Sammy Cahn
from “Let it Snow”


Although I spend a lot more time indoors, and move less than before (yet consume more), it’s all excusable.

There’s indoor heating.