Thoughts of a Canadian Exchange Student

Kaohsiung (高雄)

Posted in Culture, Food, Night Life, Outdoors, Sightseeing, Taiwan, Transportation, University, Weather by J on December 31, 2008

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Sunset watching at Sizihwan (西子灣) in Kaohsiung (高雄).

Kaohsiung (高雄) was visited: July 6 & 7, 2008

The moment the train pulled into Kaohsiung, we made a beeline for Sizihwan / Sizih Beach / Xiziwan / 西子灣 to try and see the sunset. (There’s a lot of variation on the English spelling of this place.) Located within Sun Yat-Sen University (even the university is hidden behind a tunnel), it’s not the easiest place to find. But! When we did find it, we were happy with what we found. It’s a lovely bay, except for the amount of people and garbage there.

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Sizihwan (西子灣) in Kaohsiung (高雄)

Somehow, we were very lucky when we went to visit Sizihwan. That night was the opening night of the summer festival! A concert was being held that first night with many famous stars! For example, Mayday (五月天) would be playing (we didn’t get to see them), Kenji Wu (吳克群), Aska Yang (楊宗緯), Penny Tai (戴佩妮), Landy Wen (溫嵐) and more. The whole thing was sponsored by Tsingtao Beer (青島啤酒), so of course I wanted to support Taiwan by drinking some of their beer.

Tsingtao beer

Tsingtao beer (青島啤酒)

The best part of the whole experience was just chilling out on the beach for a few hours watching the sun go down (it’s what Sizihwan is famous for!) and listening to a concert playing out in the background. I loved the fact that there were police at the beach to make sure that Tsingtao drinking people didn’t want to go for a swim that they might never surface from. We left a bit early to avoid the crowds heading home and to check out Love River (愛河) before hitting the sack for the night.

Love River

Love River (愛河)

We stayed at a place called the International Friendship House. It’s run by Melissa, a Canadian ex-pat. Melissa is friendly and helpful – she knows Kaohsiung! And if Chinese isn’t your strong suit, you’re in luck because Melissa speaks English =). Although we only stayed long enough to grab a shower and get some rest in the dorm styled room, I really recommend this place if you’re looking for a nice, clean and affordable place to stay while you’re in Kaohsiung. Another plus is that it’s easy to access from Kaohsiung’s new MRT system.

Dragon and Tiger Pagodas

Dragon and Tiger Pagodas (龍虎塔) at Lotus Lake (連池潭)

The next morning, we raced against time to take a look at the Dragon and Tiger Pagodas (龍虎塔) at Lotus Lake (連池潭). Inside both the dragon and tiger, you’re immediately surrounded by Chinese paintings. They’re of the fierce, folksy kind. Anyways, after entering through the dragon’s mouth, we practically ran to the top of one pagoda and came back down and exited through the tiger’s mouth. There really wasn’t much to see because they’re doing renovation work on Lotus Lake for the 2009 World Games that’ll be held in Kaohsiung in July. So, Lotus Lake was drained.

Next stop, Chiayi’s Alishan (嘉義的阿里山)!

Kaohsiung harbour

Bye-bye Kaohsiung!

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Tainan (台南)

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Tainan (台南) was explored: July 5, 2008

A couple of days after returning from Japan, my sister and I set off to visit some places in Taiwan. I didn’t have too much time left before I had to return to Canada.

Our Adventure in Tainan (Or, the Kindness of the Taiwanese):

Getting to Tainan was a fantastic little adventure! We took the high speed rail, gaotie (高鐵) from Taipei to Tainan. Sitting on that train was really something else. Such a fast, smooth ride, I just stared outside the window the whole time watching the train outpace all the different kinds of weather that everyone else had. I remember watching as we approached storm clouds and in the time it took to turn my head around to watch it go the storm go by, we were already past it.

Our adventure really started when we disembarked from the gaotie. One of us accidentally misplaced our ticket, so when we tried to pass through the gates, we weren’t able to. So, after talking to an attendant, we waited until the train we had taken stopped at Kaohsiung. The train was searched for the missing ticket, but unfortunately we had no luck. We ended up paying full price for another ticket from Taipei to Tainan so that we could leave the station. Ai~

High Speed Rail

Taiwan’s High Speed Rail (高鐵)

Oh, another funny thing. I had forgotten to ask my friends that we were meeting up with in Tainan for the address of the place we were to spend the night at. And, as the communication wasn’t so clear between us, we ended up spending a while in the station trying to figure things out. Also, as my Chinese isn’t so great, I had a bit of a trying time to figure out where to go. And, what’s more, I knew absolutely nothing about Tainan, nor did I have a map. The ones in the station weren’t too helpful. I was trying to do the whole spontaneous adventure thing, and I really did get it! ^^

After spending a while at the information booth trying to get some help on how to get out of the gaotie station into the actual city portion of Tainan a well dressed older lady spoke to me. (My sister thought she looked like a snobby rich woman.) She asked me where we were going. I told her that I didn’t know. At that point in time, my friend called me on my mobile, and completely unexpectedly, this older woman spoke to my friend and helped us figure out where exactly where we were supposed to go. I couldn’t believe the kindness of this woman.

Outside the Tainan Confucian Temple

Outside the Tainan Confucian Temple (台南孔廟)

To my shock, after speaking on the phone with my friend, this woman offered to drive my sister and I to where we needed to go! In her words, since she was at the gaotie station to pick up a guest that she had to drive into Tainan, she might as well take us. Now, if this was Canada, we’d be entertaining visions of dismembered bodies the instant she offered to take us in her car. I have to admit some of those pictures did creep into my head, but seeing as we really did need some help (the heat was making things worse), we took it. And besides, Taiwan feels so much more trustworthy for some reason.

So, we followed her and her guest out to her car. Our jaws just about dropped when we saw that it was a new Mercedes-Benz. To this day I still can’t believe that she let our extremely sweaty selves sit in her car and seemed to make no bones about it at all. While making some light conversation in the car with the lady and her guest, the extent of her kindness was truly revealed. She said that if we already didn’t have a place to stay, she would’ve let us stay at her place.

Although my sister and I wished to repay her with more than just a “thanks” we can only hope that we have the opportunity to pay such a kindness forward. Thank-you.

Chikan Tower

Chikan Tower (赤崁樓)

The Places We Saw:

After dropping our luggage off, we headed out to eat some food. We ended up eating 2 NTD Taiwanese oden. Oden is food on a stick cooked in a Japanese style hotpot. Yum! It tasted better than the stuff you can buy at the omnipresent 7-11 stores.

Chikan Tower

Chikan Tower (赤崁樓)

For our first stop, we checked out Chikan Tower (赤崁樓). Built in 1683, Chikan Tower is like a big mansion to explore. In emphasis of this point, while we were visiting, there was this lively little boy from who knows where that ran up and down and all about the stairs and the bannisters. It almost seemed as if Chikan Tower was his home. I had a fun time half playing hide and seek with him and looking at the site itself. He was kind, too. There were carp in the water and as he was feeding the fish, he gave us some stuff to feed the fish too.

Afterwards, we went to the Tainan Confucian Temple (台南孔廟) and managed to take a quick peek around the red buildings before it shut its gates for the night.

Musical Theatre

Musical Theatre

After meeting up with some more friends, we wandered around somewhere in Tainan and came across a musical theatre. It was so cool because there were so many people gathered outside in front of the temple watching the theatre. As it was sung in Taiwanese, I didn’t understand a single word, but it was nevertheless entertaining because while it had some sort of traditional folk singing, they suddenly burst into a rap, complete with a chorus line! If you’ve ever seen Hong Kong Lunar New Year films that take place in the ancient past, you’ll have some idea of what we saw.

After the show, because we were all feeling adventurous, we went in search of Fort Zeelandia (熱蘭遮城), now Fort Anping (安平古堡) in the dark. When we found it, we quietly hopped the fence and stealthily ran to check out the fort. While playing with our shadows on the watch tower at the top of the fort, we could hear the strains of the musical theatre that we had just left. It was awesome that we had the fort to ourselves at night.

Across the Flower Garden Night Market

Across the Flower Garden Night Market (花園夜市)

For our last stop, before we headed back to our accommodations, we went to the Flower Garden Night Market (花園夜市). Completely outside and filled to the brim with stalls selling everything imaginable, Flower Garden Night Market embodied “Night Market.” It was loud, it was crowded, there was every manner of shoes, clothes and games situated in its environs, the food was delicious and it was everything that I imagined a night market should be.


Tainan Park

Tainan Park (台南公園)

The next day we all split up and headed toward different directions. While waiting for our train to Kaohsiung from Tainan, we took a quiet breather at a park near the Tainan train station. Tainan Park (台南公園) was quite quiet and provided some shade and respite from the heat. However, it was really odd that we only saw young males, probably Filipinos, at the park. They were leering at us… Yikes!

And then that afternoon, we were on our way to Kaohsiung!

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!

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.

2008 Pinghsi Lantern Festival (平溪天燈)

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What a beautiful night to check out the Pinghsi Lantern Festival (平溪天燈).

I ended up following a large group of new exchange students to Pinghsi. First, we took the MRT to the end of the Muzha line (the Taipei Zoo) and subsequently got on a bus to Pinghsi.

A comment on the systematic bus system: cool!

To get on the bus going to Pinghsi or back to Taipei, you can either stand or get a seat. There are two lines for this. Obviously, the line to get a seat is much longer. The ride to Pinghsi take 1.5 hours. The flat rate there and back is 150 NTD

At Pinghsi, it is much like a night market, except that this ‘night market’ centres itself around railway tracks, is in a mountainous area and has bajillions of firecrackers, fireworks and sky lanterns setting off into the night air. It all makes for a loud, noisy, and charming view.

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A concert of sorts

On this night, you can buy a sky lantern, paint it full of hopes and wishes for the future and then send it off into the sky. It reminds me of New Year resolutions, but not quite so doomed to failure.

Also, there was some sort of concert in an adjoining area of the ‘night market’ area. I was only able to catch a teensy bit of it, but it looked nice. Actually, more that it looked cool and dangerous. I saw a bit of fire tossing. Flash, flash, flash!

One a closing note: Where do all these lanterns end up the next day?

2008 Lantern Festival at National Dr. Sun Yat-sen Memorial Hall (元宵節:國父紀念館)

Posted in Culture, Exchange Students, Night Life, Outdoors, Sightseeing, Taipei, Weather by J on February 17, 2008

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The night of touching down in Taipei, I headed out to take a look at the lanterns at National Dr. Sun Yat-sen Memorial Hall. Despite the insistent rain, many people were out to admire the lanterns. I must say, regardless of which school level produced the lanterns (the elementary, the secondary, or the university school level), all the lanterns were very well done.

I think it would have been fun to have been able to participate in this competition myself. My lantern display probably would be filled with wacky things.

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

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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.

Clubbing at Party Room

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Inside this huge, out of this world mall named The Living Mall (京華城), there are 2 clubs on the 12th floor to choose from. That night, we went to Party Room. Checking out Plush will be for another time. Also, I think I’ll have to go take a look at the mall in the daytime. It is so cool looking.

We went in with a huge group on Ladies’ Night (a long line up to get in). 17 of us in total, mixed company, sending off a friend. So, as a matter of course, we rented out a booth to sit and lounge at.

Observation
Oh, oh! Something really funny that I saw while I was dancing near the front with my friends was that when I looked behind us, there was this sea of guys barely moving their shoulders or anything…just staring at the front. That was kind of creepy. Quite robotic like.

Party Room Disadvantage
However, one downside to Party Room was the drinks. They were decidedly awful. Any of the cocktails I got were, in plain, gross. Only the beer was passable because those weren’t made up by the bartenders. Perhaps the bartenders were new or something.

Transportation
Taxis in Taipei. They are so convenient (and cheap)! Especially if the public transportation is closed down. I just realised it’s like having your own personal chauffeur. Oddly, they all seem to be old men driving the taxis. Well, I guess that isn’t quite so odd.

An aside:
I just made the connection today the reason they were showing My Chemical Romance (an American rock band) on the overhead screens all night long. Apparently, they’re going to be performing at the club very soon.

Last thought:
This progression of liking this sort of night life is an interesting phenomenon. A sort of letting go and having control at the same time. Who would have thought?

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.