Thoughts of a Canadian Exchange Student

Discover Taiwan (發現台灣)

Pigs and Octopuses

Discover Taiwan (發現台灣) took place on: May 5, 2008

This art activity was part of a Discover Taiwan (發現台灣) event put on at NTU for the really big kids. These modelling clay figurines were a lot of fun to make because we had the chance to indulge our inner child. Granted though, my figurines look a lot better now than what I would’ve made when I was little. (Mine are the octopus and pig in the front row on the far right.)

I wanted to write this post because I noticed something about the link between education, creativity and art. A few months before this event, I remember looking at some cards some elementary school kids drew in thanks for something, probably a Christmas event (聖誕節), and what struck me was that while they all could draw very well, all their cards looked eerily similar. What was drawn on the card was similar, what was written on the card was similar and the style that it was drawn in was also similar.

Does this mean that the education system that Taiwanese children go through de-emphasizes creativity and individuality at the expense of what is deemed to be “right” type of art for the occasion? Or does it mean that the kids really had no idea what to draw and just followed an example card that the teacher created? What are the implications for the future of Taiwanese society?

Although this example seems to pander to the general Western stereotype that East Asian cultures are all about conformity, I think that those that are creative and keep their creativity from being squashed in the system are just as creative or even more creative than those children in a system that encourages them to be creative. It’s just another type of conformity if everyone is creative. Neither system is better than the other; they’re just different.

Those at NTU are plenty creative. =)

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Hong Kong & Macau (香港和澳門)

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The Hong Kong night skyline.

I went to Hong Kong and Macau:

The food… the FOOD! It was great. Just like at home.

Hong Kong:

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The Kowloon Walled City Park.

I saw many beautiful things. The Hong Kong skyline is magnificent. The Kowloon Walled City Park is relaxing. (Who knew Hong Kong had so many parks!)

I saw A LOT of the Hong Kong MTR. I felt like a mole because I spent so much time riding the subway. Efficient, though.

I rode on a tram! I rode on the Mid-Levels Escalators! I rode on an elephant! (Ok, just kidding about the last one.)

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The junk.

I got to see a junk! Too bad it was on a motor engine instead of wind power. (Its tourism business’d sure go down if it ran on the wind.)

Macau:

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Largo de Senado Square (Macau Main Plaza).

Eating my Po-tart. (Portugese egg tart.) Mmmmmm… delicious.

Seeing Largo de Senado in real life.

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At the Tsim Sha Tsui Promenade (尖沙嘴). The display for the Beijing 2008 Olympic games.

Guess what I didn’t mention? You get a cookie if you’re correct.

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.

Winter Solstice (冬至)

Posted in Culture, Exchange Students, Food, Learning, Night Life, Taipei by J on December 22, 2007

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I was almost done when I remembered to take a picture…

Previously unknown to me was the Chinese celebration of the Winter Solstice [Dongzhi] (冬至). It’s a nice little celebration where families are supposed to gather together and eat tangyuan (湯圓) which are balls of glutinous rice in soup. I like mine in red bean soup with black sesame inside the tangyuan (紅豆芝麻湯圓) [pictured here]. So with a couple of friends, for the first time, I celebrated Dongzhi!

Clubbing at Lava

Posted in Dorms, Exchange, Learning, Night Life, Taipei by J on December 13, 2007

For my second experience going clubbing, it was on the total opposite end of the spectrum as compared to my first time.

I liked it!

I guess it’s true that you have to try things more than once before you can totally write them off as being horrid.

The Green Island Trip (綠島)

The place we stayed at on the island.

The place we stayed at on the island.

This post needs to be subtitled. Thus, it shall be subtitled by the following:

The Green Island Trip: An Exercise in Group Synergy

I liked the trip a lot! However, I think that was a result of not being particularly attached to any certain group of people (I felt). I know that for others it wasn’t quite as fun as it could have been. I’d like to suggest that this was so for a few reasons:

  • A lot of people went on this trip together (17 people)
  • There were a bunch of different groups put together
  • Communication was spotty at times
  • Different cultures were put together (Taiwanese, Cantonese, Japanese, American, Canadian)

Despite this, I thought it was interesting to watch, observe and take part in all the seen and unseen developments that happened over the Mid-Autumn Festival break at Green Island.

Next time, if there is a next time, I’d suggest a smaller group of people (if the same people were to go) and clearer communication. I felt that communication at times wasn’t too clear perhaps because of cultural differences. Certain actions could have been misconstrued as impolite by one person when another thought they were being polite. Lastly, clearer communication would be facilitated by proper introductions. In this way, the potential of group synergy could have been realised.

However, I’d like to just note that this is from a Westernized point of view, so on my part, I’d like to acknowledge that there is also bias and misunderstanding. Still, though, I had a bunch of fun on this trip and I think that watching and taking part in the group(s) was a useful and enlightening experience.

Other than that, please enjoy the pictures and the commentary about the trip!

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To kick off the trip, we traveled down the west coast to get Taitung (台東).

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(L-R)
1) Early morning on Green Island. Pretty little waterfall.
2) Early morning on Green Island. Gosh, steep hill!
3) Early morning on Green Island. Don’t think that I went to that pagoda.

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1) The docks at Taitung. There’s a wall around most of the harbour with a painted mural that for a moment, I thought were real sea creatures were in the harbour.
2) One of the boats that ferries you between Taitung and Green Island. They’re killer on the waves, so much in fact that the first time we went on them almost everyone threw up. I didn’t.
3) The road back to the place we were staying at.

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1)The goats kept walking away (agonizingly slowly) from me. Snooty things! XP
2) Pretty Green Island. It’s really green.
3) Lizard!

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1) The crab is different from the ones at home..
2) No, really, it’s _not_ a cliff.
3) Sharing a moment in the pondering of the world beyond.

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1) What a cute sign! Hard to decipher at first glance, though.
2) The steps to the ocean. We had golf carts that day. No longer stuck by lack of transportation!
3) Trying to capture the fantastic lightening storm.

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1) Golf cart racing at night. I like this shot. We couldn’t rent scooters.
2) Apparently, I scared them when I jumped in front of the carts to take the picture. This is the backside.

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Coming ‘home’ to Taipei.

Commentary on NTU’s Main Library’s Study Facilities

Posted in Academics, Exchange, Home, Learning, Library, NTU, Observations, Transportation, University by J on September 19, 2007

Right now, I’m sitting in the basement of NTU’s Main Library. It’s alright. I actually much prefer the study facilities of the libraries at my university because it is much more comfortable. Here, the study areas actually promote study. They do this by having straight-back wooden chairs, lamps and only one electrical outlet per table, each of which, seats 6 people in total. However, this suits NTU’s studious atmosphere and most likely helps keep the school’s reputation as the top – and most difficult to get into university – in Taiwan.

At home, the libraries have multiple electrical outlets, extremely comfortable chairs, study space everywhere in places that look like an English gentleman’s reading room. Mind you, this is Canada, so some of the study spaces are in imitation of places abroad and have a sense of newness rather than tradition to them. I guess the state of my university’s libraries’ study spaces is indicative of the laid back feel of my university. Unless it’s exam time: Everyone’s a bit anxious then.

After checking out all 5 floors + the basement of the Main Library, I settled myself down in the study space in the basement. To enter basically anywhere that has books or study spaces in the Main Library, you need to have your student id card. You scan it before the gate to get access, much like swiping your card at the MRT stations to get the platforms.

Also, something interesting here is that in this particular study space (I don’t know about the others) is that when you swipe your card to enter, you’re assigned a spot to study in. You can change your spot once you get inside on a computer, but wow. There’s a couple hundred spots in this basement study area. The chart makes the study space look bigger than it actually is. At home, you just try to find a free spot wherever you can.

This orderliness is also something reminiscent of the MRT stations here because when people wait for the MRT, they will wait (for the most part) within the indicated waiting lines outlined on the floor of the platform. Again, I think this really promotes the work hard, study harder mentality that I’m imposing on NTU students right now.

Anyways, I still prefer my own study facilities at my university’s libraries because here, it feels too functional, too prison-like, too uniform (but it’s the most economical!). The dorms are more comfortable, thank goodness, but it’s harder to think there, that’s all. It’s a trade-off. However, go to the 24 hour room! (It’s the room that I’m in and I’ve already spent over 7.5 hours here this afternoon and tonight already. =))

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!