Thoughts of a Canadian Exchange Student

Yehliu Geological Rock Park (野柳)

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

Yehliu

The potential rain.

Yehliu Geological Park (野柳) was explored: July 9, 2008.

Yehliu Geological Park (野柳) is one of those beautiful places that’s a bunch of fun to explore and play around in with your friends. Not only is is close to Taipei (just a bus ride away!), it’s really cheap, too. As a student, it was only 25 NTD for me. ^^

And surprise, surprise, there were rain clouds hovering nearby. (It must be the season.) Luckily, they didn’t come over towards us. The right side of the park was heavy with darkness and the left side was bright as could be. The side of the light won. Although, if the darkness did win, it might have been a welcome respite from the heat and humidity. And no, when we got to the top of the “pirate’s hill,” it didn’t get any cooler. It was as if we were too short to reach the breeze or something. Haha~ Anyways, I had a very fun day in the park!

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First view of the rocks. Totally sunny.

It’s definitely a place for imagination. One part of the geological park almost seems like you’re climbing a pirate’s hill searching for treasure. In other parts, there’s neat shaped rocks that you can climb on and make funny faces. And there’s even rocks that are shaped like tofu (豆腐)!

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A pirate’s hill?

Although I don’t recommend it, we did somewhat subvert the rules. We put one foot over the red line! “Gasp! Shock!” Oh, but the really gross thing was that in the area that I went over the red line, there were all these black little dots on the rocks. When I moved towards these dots, they started moving! It was like a black tide of bugs swarming away from me. Thank-you for swarming away! Imagine if they swarmed towards me. So. Many. Bugs. Ick.

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Tofu rocks

Oh! Don’t forget to take a picture with the famous Queen’s Head (女王頭) because it’ll be gone soon due to erosion! It’s a rock shaped like the head of an Egyptian queen, and it really does look like the head of a queen. Yehliu is a cool wonder of nature.

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The Queen’s Head

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Wulai (烏來)

Posted in Culture, Food, Money, Outdoors, Shopping, Sightseeing, Taiwan, Weather by J on December 22, 2008

Wulai Hot Springs

Wulai (烏來) was explored: May 3, 2008

Wulai (烏來) is famous for its hot springs, and luckily for the residents of Taipei, Wulai just a short bus ride away from Taipei. Although I’ve heard that Beitou (北投) also has very nice hot springs, I really enjoyed the hot springs at Wulai. Perhaps it was because Wulai is a bit farther removed from the city than Beitou.

The hot springs:
If my friends and I didn’t want to spend any money, we could have gone to the hot spots in the river, but because we could, we opted to rent a room with a private hot spring tub for a few hours. After shopping around the hotels in Wulai, we settled on a room that had a bed, a TV, and a nice bath. Split between four friends, it wasn’t too expensive either. It was about 300 NT each for 2 or 3 hours. I don’t know what is the going rate for hot springs, but I think we were able to have a pretty decent price because the day that we went was very hot. (It’s ironic that I’m writing this sitting beside 28cm of snow.)

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Atayal designs and mountain boar sausages.

A hot day + hot springs. Hahaha~ I think going to the hot springs on a hot day just made us more tired and hungry than usual. So, when we went to dinner later, it tasted that much better. Dinner was great! We had mountain boar and some sort of mountain vegetable. We tried to eat food that we couldn’t find in Taipei. It was a little more pricey for food than in Taipei though.

What I like about Wulai is its proximity to Taipei, and its representation of the Atayal culture. But it felt very much a tourist’s place. It was like I had seen all the knick-knacks before. However, if it was the first tourist place I had gone to, I’d have been enchanted.

Be sure to eat some mountain boar sausages! Mmm… sausage~

Shilin Night Market and KTV (士林夜市和好樂迪KTV)

Posted in Culture, Exchange Students, Food, KTV, Money, Night Life, Night Market, Shopping, Taipei, Thoughts by J on January 17, 2008

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Oyster omelette place. The neon lights. Hunky dory. Taipei is neato.

Shilin Night Market (士林夜市)

This time, I actually went to the real Shilin Night Market (士林夜市)! And not just the area just off of the Jiantan MRT station (劍潭車站) when I went to see the ISWAK 2 promotion. And the other time, I accidentally went to the wrong one at the Shilin MRT station (士林車站).

Food was good, just like last time. The bunch of us ate at the oyster omelette shop where the star of Taiwanese drama, Corner With Love (轉角*遇到愛) was taught how to make oyster omelettes. Yay! I used to watch that show in Canada. The oyster omelettes were GOOD. Oyster omelettes = 蚵仔煎。

After, some shopping at Shilin. Lots of things to buy.

KTV

080117-holiday.png VS 080117-partyworld.png

Lastly, KTV from near midnight to 5-6 ish in the morning. Wow! 6 hours at KTV! This time, I went to a Holiday KTV (好樂迪) place instead of a Party World KTV place (錢櫃PartyWorld). Apparently there’s only 2 KTV chains in Taipei…or so I’ve heard.

Anyways.
I had a lot of fun at KTV.

I’m finding more and more it’s the company you keep and the attitude you have towards things that make things cross over into the very fun category.

For about 400 NTD, the whole 6 hour KTV experience was quite an affordable affair. The buffet was pretty good, too. I still can’t believe we made it through 6 hours of KTV. Wow.

And one of the lovely things we did was have breakfast together. Last time that happened was when we came back from Mint and had a very late night snack. Eating together beats watching television and playing videogames by a longshot. Yatta!

My friends are awesome for knowing about all sorts of things in Taipei and whatnot. Because of them, I think Taipei is really growing on me.

Lounging at Mint

Posted in Culture, Money, Night Life, Taipei by J on December 26, 2007

Mint

Humbly lying beneath Taipei 101 is a fantastic little lounge called Mint.

I went there with a bunch of friends on Ladies’ Night, and we all really enjoyed ourselves. It’s quite a classy place compared to Luxy and Lava. Despite having only 5 varieties of drinks to choose from, they were quite good. The dance floor, while a tad small, is lit up with colourful lights from beneath.

I liked the bathrooms! In each stall there is an individual sink.

Overall, the mood just oozes elegance within the darkness of the night. With only 100 NTD charge females, I’ll be sure to check out Mint again.

Lin Family Mansion (林本源園邸)

Posted in Culture, Money, Outdoors, Sightseeing, Taipei, Taiwan, Transportation by J on December 12, 2007

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With some free time on my hands, I headed over to Banqiao (板橋) on the MRT to check out the Lin Family Mansion (林本源園邸).

This toasty afternoon, I arrived just in time to participate in a guided tour of private areas of the mansion. Tours are indeed useful (free, but entrance is 50 NTD for students).

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I spent most of the afternoon just wandering around the grounds of the mansion, and as you can see in the model of the mansion, it is HUGE. As I was walking through it, I kept thinking about how pleasant it would be to live within this compound but also about how it would be also somewhat stifling. Stifling because to uphold all that tradition…

Nevertheless, it is beautiful inside and outside the buildings. I especially liked that when you were in the midst of the compound, you’re not able to see the modern city life that surrounds this mansion. The rumble of traffic ceases to be even white noise.

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For my first time in a place like this, I quite liked it! I just wonder how the Lin family lived in such dark quarters for rooms. The windows were merely vertical slats that allowed hardly any light through. Perhaps they spent more time outdoors?

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!!!!

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.

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.