Thoughts of a Canadian Exchange Student

Transforming

Posted in Chinese, Looking Taiwanese, Miscellaneous, Taipei, Taiwan, Taiwanese People by J on September 19, 2007

I’ve recently decided something.

I will change how I look into something that will help me blend in better than I already do. This way, I can go against stereotype – as long as I don’t open my mouth and start speaking in Chinese. My accent and pronunciation totally gives me away. I think that this will be a fun experiment.

Hmm what else needs to be fixed/changed… I need to stop liking exercise and being outside: I’m much too dark. I wonder what sort of psychological and emotional shifts this experiment will change. Hmm…

I think I’ll go almost all out (need a cushion). When? Sometime before I leave Taiwan. Also, I need some time to play out my experiment, too. Also, to do it all at once or gradually, I don’t know. I think I’ll just leave it up to my mood and daring in the near future.

That is all.

Informal Learning

As mentioned before, day by day, my Taiwanese Feelings Gauge Radar (TFGR) gets better and better. But first, let’s just examine what I mean by TFGR.

I find it difficult to tell if Taiwanese people are actually nice or if they’re just being polite. Just now, in the library, I had no idea how to get on the wireless network. So, I asked. This girl helped me out to the extent of looking it up on the internet about how to get on, helping me to try to get on and even pointing me in the direction of the building on campus that could help me out. People at my university at home wouldn’t go this far to help someone out unless it was a friend. Was she being nice, or was she being polite?

Interestingly, or perhaps not so much anymore, she took me for an American that was coming back home to study in Taiwan. You can see a bit of my rant about this in my post: “An Experience with a Taiwanese Guy (Part I)”

At home, I’m used to things like if you’re asked if you want something or not, you’ll get it regardless if you want it or not. For example, if someone is getting everyone rice, and you say that’s enough rice in your bowl (about 1/2), it’ll be topped up regardless of your wish. It’s just courteous. Another example from home that I grew up with is fighting over the bill. Let’s say that you’re out for dinner with friends and when the bill comes, (if you’re not poor students), you argue over who gets to pay the bill. Getting to pay is a kind of trophy. These actions are considered polite and the right thing to do.

Here in Taipei, it’s different. Perhaps it has to do with urban youth or something like that. However, I’ve noticed that things you say here are taken at face value despite underlying intentions. For me, that was a large jump to make when dealing with other people who look Asian.

So, every time that I come into contact with more and more Taiwanese people, I like to believe that my Gauge is being tweaked to be a little better.

And why the radar part? Aside from being able to gauge how Taiwanese people are feeling at the moment, with Radar, I’d be able to forecast what sort of emotions and mannerisms would be coming my way. Thus the naming of the TFGR, the Taiwanese Feelings Gauge Radar.

A handy little tool because every day here, I go out and practice speaking and just talking to people using Mandarin despite how stupid I feel most of the time for looking Asian (Taiwanese) and not being able to speak or read Mandarin. I know, it’s my problem. Students here at NTU are really nice! Or polite. I still haven’t gotten my gauge tweaked quite right, yet.

However, I have a riot here every day =). I love it in Taipei and especially being at NTU. For example, watching the “typhoon” yesterday from the under the covered area in front of the main doors of the Main Library for a few hours. (The library was closed on account of the typhoon.) It was so luxuriously warm that I didn’t mind the light rain falling on my books. It was a very wet day though. I no longer regret bringing my rain jacket from home. Hehehe!

So! I’ll let you know how good (or bad) I think it is by the end of my experience/adventure here!

*Note: The TFGR is patented by me. Haha!

Danshui (淡水)

Danshui MRT Station

Danshui MRT Station

What to say about Danshui? I’m afraid that I was let down a little bit. I was expecting something like Steveston but what I found at Danshui was far, far from that. This might have had to do with a number of factors:

  1. It was Saturday. Inference: Lots of people.
  2. I went by myself. Inference: More fun with other people.
  3. Taiwan is small. Inference: Everyone has a limited number of places to choose to go to. Hence, inference #1.

Anyways.

I enjoyed the MRT ride out to Danshui a lot. You could feel the excitement from the passengers building as we neared Danshui because they all started to speak more and more loudly. Also, the scenery as we neared Danshui was very lush and green. A stark contrast to all the cement of Taipei, although, Taipei is colourful. My own excitement was also increasing because I started to see something that resembled a blue sky. Blue sky!! Actually, it was a very pale blue, but nevertheless, it was blue!

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Can you spot the McDonald’s?

While I was riding the MRT to Danshui from Gongguan, I was thinking to myself, “surely all these people that got on so early will get off at Taipei Main Station and thus, there will be less people going to Danshui.” I couldn’t have been more wrong. But, I digress.

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When I arrived in Danshui, I proceeded to explore without a plan, really. I just wanted to get a feel for what Danshui was. After a couple of hours of non-stop walking, I came to the conclusion that Danshui is a mix of a few things at home. Danshui is a mix of Playland without the rides and the better Night Market all condensed into a few long and narrow streets.

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There were horses and ponies to ride. There were carnival games to play. There was delicious food to eat. My gosh! The food! It was fantastic! I had stinky tofu, a really tall ice cream thing (more like ice milk, but good nevertheless) and squid. I loved the stinky tofu. It tasted so good. However, the clincher was the squid. If I ever go to Danshui again, I want more squid. I also had some sugar cane drink, but I don’t think it’s to my fancy.

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1) Tall ice cream. Or milk thing. 2) Sugar cane drink.

Also, I’m glad that my Chinese is to a level where I can read enough to pick what sort of basic food I want and good enough to ask for what I want. The best part is that I can just say, “I want this one” when I don’t know what it is. Yay for Chinese! (I’m still bothered by the fact that I’m taken for granted as being Taiwanese.)

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Squid.

Hmm…I forgot to take a picture of the squid splayed out on the stick, but it was so cheap compared to the stuff at home. It was only 50 NT which is approximately $1.60 CDN. And yes, I am trying to make a few people jealous. Haha!

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Looking out to the water.

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A boat tour you can take.

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I have no idea who these people are.

Aside from the food, I actually felt some sun on my face in Danshui. It was glorious. The sun cast shadows over everything and I reveled in it because so far in Taipei, I think that this has only happened once or twice. And the wind! The wind carried a hint of the sea and fresher air. I really liked that. Despite these reminders, I can’t shake the feeling that Danshui, most of all, feels like a tourist trap for the people of Taipei because just outside that little tourist area is just another regular city. I realise that Steveston, too, is a tourist attraction. However, the difference is that Steveston feels like a tourist attraction rather than a tourist trap.

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This picture lies to you.

 

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Sanitized.

 

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Maybe Danshui should look something more like this.

 

Danshui is what, I believe (I must add this to indicate my bias) city people want the “seaside” to be, not what it actually is. Manufactured. Sigh. On the other hand, I was quite happy when I saw some shacks and whatnot. Rundown as they were, it didn’t feel so manufactured as the “park” and the “boardwalk” (it was stone). And, oh, the park. There was more stone and cement than greenery. I’m afraid that my pictures make Danshui look better than it actually is.

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At the end of the day, despite all of these complaints about Danshui, it wasn’t bad. It didn’t conform to my idea of what it should have been but it was okay. For one thing, it was the most greenery I’ve seen outside of Taida’s campus despite being more cement than greenery. Also, I liked observing the crush of people that fit within such a small area. It’s just wow that so many people don’t mind being so close together. I like it. It gives me a sense of security for there’s always someone to help you out if you need it. You just have to ask. So, please enjoy my pictures of Danshui and try out the food! Oh, and go with friends too… on a weekday. Gotta love the MRT!

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Blue sky!

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The seaside.

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View of Danshui from inside the MRT.

P.S. I love how the way I ordered my pictures wash out near the end after starting off so vibrantly. It very nearly mimics how I felt about going to Danshui yesterday. I really liked that MRT ride home (dorms) because it reminds me of the bus rides home (Canada) from school at the end of a long day. Mmm… fresh air.

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Lots of cement.

Stamp Collecting Day (Registration Day)

Posted in Chinese, Exchange, Looking Taiwanese, NTU, Observations, Rant, Transportation, University by J on September 5, 2007

Today was Stamp Collecting Day. In other words, it was exchange student registration day. After class, a classmate and I went to get ourselves registered. Hehe, today, it decided to rain intermittently – heavily, yet again. But that’s besides the point.

It was a lot of fun to do, this registration, because it was like a treasure hunt, almost. Firstly, you get your form for registration and basically follow the steps in your exchange student handbook to get to the treasure: your student identity card. This card is useful because it’ll allow you to get the MRT Easy Card which allows you a 20%, I think, discount on riding the MRT (Mass Rapid Transit) every time you use it. So, instead of paying a minimum of 20 NT each time to use the MRT, it’d be 16 NT. Being a student is good.

Anyways, it was like a treasure hunt because we went from all these different places (the Administration Building, the Student Housing Section, back to the Administration Building, the Post Office, the Administration Building, etc.) to get stamps so that we could get to our Holy Grail.

My classmate and I ended up with these people who lived off campus, actually my classmate lives off campus too, so that complicated things a little bit. After filling out an electronic form and getting our first stamp and another at the housing section (bring your receipt!), because they live off campus, these exchange students hadn’t paid the internet fee, which is mandatory to pay. They only paid 400 NT, whereas mine was 600 NT. Boo. Perhaps they’ll use the internet less because they live off campus. So, in order to get our next stamp, we had to go to the Post Office to pay the fee first and then we could get the stamp.

The last stamp should have been rather easy to get, but we got to the room just after 12 pm. Which means… in Taiwan, they don’t work from 12 – 1 pm. Gah! Instead, we just went out to lunch and came back later. And voila! We got our student id card.

Haha! The most ironic thing is that within 2.5 weeks we have to go back and get another card because NTU is switching student cards now. Fortunately, we only have to switch our card and not do the treasure hunt again. But, it was fun! Actually, thinking back, it was rather easy to do except that I ran into some fun obstacles that let me get to know people better. So, all good!!

As well, we got a form to register in classes. As exchange students, we basically get the professors to sign the forms, and we’re in! That is, if we can get their signatures. My regular NTU classes are up in the air because I don’t know if I registered properly online, and that has me a bit worried. However, I think that it will all turn out okay, and if worse comes to worse, I’ll just study Chinese and become very good at it!

So, I think that was chock full of information and I shall stop the post…now.

PS Bloody mosquitos. I ABHOR YOU!!

PPS Oh, and I’m not Taiwanese. It was funny today, because the volunteers from NTU (Taida) in the group of people I randomly joined up with thought that I was a volunteer helping out my classmate. So did the people at the offices! They speak too fast for me. Booooo. Just because I look Asian… Haha! Today, I was asked if I was Asian because I come from Canada. So, how ever could I be Canadian and Asian at the same time?? However, this time, it was much more nicely put. It was rather funny this time. Foreigners are treated very well here. Indeed they are.

The Rest of the Day

Posted in Bicycle, Chinese, Looking Taiwanese, Money, NTU, Phone, Shopping, Taipei, Transportation by J on August 28, 2007

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My bicycle.

Let’s see, where did I leave off? Oh yes, being frustrated and bitter after a fruitless search for that Holy Grail of a bank. Maybe I am cynical but I know that I’m definitely sarcastic.

Anyways, my volunteer (notice the lack of names?) saved my butt. Really. I think I may have given up and just got a ticket home had we not agreed to meet up.

We met at SL (Shen Li / Victory) which is a “we carry everything” type of store. Very close by too, which is a great thing. So, across the street we went and back into the same bank as yesterday with the same greeter and same teller. The irony! Or just regular work hours. Taiwan Fuban Bank. I could also be from Hong Kong, apparently. So, my traveller’s cheques were finally changed after taking off about 300NT of my 400USD in fees. Whatever. At least this time, I wasn’t told to go to some far away (read: sketchy) place to get them changed, by the same teller, no less! All in all, it was a very long process. However, I did get what I needed, and that is the bottom line. Note to self: Look more foreign.

After this and a quick scooter ride (they look so sketchy and dangerous. But it was fine riding on it because my volunteer’s a good driver), we arrived at the bike shop. There, I bought a second-hand bike at 900NT, a lock at 100NT and some foot rest add-on thingys (80NT) so a person can stand on the back of your bike which you ride. As I found out later, they are quite useful. The bike shop is fairly close to the IYC/Guoqing dormitories, maybe a 6 minute walk. It runs on the road that is parallel to Xin Hai Road and is on the left side when you face up the road.

After, we went to get a cell phone, but alas! I need an ARC (Alien Residence Card) to get a SIM card. However, I bought a cell phone for about 2000NT and will get the SIM card afterwards. This shop is just outside the Main Gate of NTU. Again, very close.

And that basically wrapped up the afternoon of my day which was, by far the most productive of it and not wrapped up in frustration and lack of understanding of another system, another way of doing things.

A Quick Overview of these Two Posts:
So, in total, these two posts covered:
– Changing Traveller’s Cheques
– Getting a second-hand bicycle
– Getting a cell-phone
– What the dorms look like
– Some other dorm stuff
– Where to buy stuff you need (Shen Li / Victory)

The First Few Days

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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.

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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…

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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.

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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.

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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.