Thoughts of a Canadian Exchange Student

Tainan (台南)

oden

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!

Keelung (基隆)

Posted in Culture, Night Market, Outdoors, Shopping, Sightseeing, Taiwan, Transportation, Weather by J on December 22, 2008

Keelung

Keelung (基隆) was explored: May 25, 2008

Keelung (基隆) is another nice place close to Taipei. EDIT: I think it’s a suburb of Taipei (It’s a city, as was kindly pointed out to me in my comments section.) A major port city in the northeast of Taiwan, I found Keelung to be much less of a tourist place than Jiufen (九份) and Wulai (烏來). Anyways, when my friend and I hopped on a train bound for Keelung, we had no idea it would rain so hard. Luckily for us, it stopped raining part way through our time in Keelung. So, we were only soaked head-to-toe half as thoroughly as we could’ve been.

Buddha's hand

After arriving in Keelung, we got on a bus to take us out to the area around the Keelung harbour to find the cave that had the Buddha’s hand inside. Although it was hot outside, despite the torrents of rain, the cave was cold. It reminded me of the movie The Goonies but our treasure was less of a monetary reward than a spiritual one. Well, actually, it was just out of curiosity that we wanted to see the hand. It sounded better to privilege the metaphysical over the physical, that’s all. XD

We finally found the hand after walking around in the cave for a bit. It was slightly creepy because

  1. There was no one else there
  2. The lights were sensor lights, so you couldn’t se what was ahead of you
  3. Bugs! OMG the bugs!

The cave was really fun, though! For in-depth coverage of the Buddha’s hand, take a quick peek at this article by Richard Saunders of The China Post.

seafood

Shopping was good. Somewhat cheaper than Taipei. But the food! We had fresh crab and snails and other seafood. All delicious. Although, we didn’t eat any frogs. I’ve had frogs at hot pot, and they’re okay. The texture is kind of like free range chicken meat, but stringier.

It was really quite nice to be near a harbour, and all the seafood that came with it. I really wish that I had four stomachs. But, if I did, I’d be a herbivore because cows don’t eat seafood.

frogs

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.

ISWAK 2 Autograph Session (惡作劇2吻的簽名會)

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L-R: Jiro Wang (汪東城), Joe Cheng (鄭元暢), Danson Tang (唐禹哲)

帥哥!帥哥!Hot boys are out and about in Taipei! For example, Jiro Wang (汪東城) on the left looks really handsome in person. Actually, more than anything, he was more pretty than handsome. But still, very good looking. And, he carries off his clothing very well.

Deciding to join some friends in checking out what an autograph session (簽名會) was like, I found myself at the Shilin Night Market (士林夜市). We were all waiting for the It Started With a Kiss 2 [ISWAK2] (惡作劇2吻) cast to come out.

After a bit of a wait (we waited for 4 hours, but we got there early), the cast came out. Unfortunately, Ariel Lin (林依晨), the actress who plays the main character, Xiangqin (湘琴), wasn’t in attendance.

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Smiley, smiley!

I thought it quite funny that when the cast was posing for the fans to photograph them, they would all turn as one mass towards one side when the emcee shouted out, “turn left…right…centre!” But I have to admit that it is quite an intelligent approach to satisfying fans.

Also, to have the opportunity to handshake (if you wanted) the real people behind the fantasy world of television was neat in itself. After all, stars are no less human than we are.

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Smiley, smiley!

A note on the fans:

I was so surprised that fans came from many different places to see these stars. Yes, they are quite famous, but wow! In addition to the majority of high school students that were there, there were even people from Japan and Korea in the audience! I have reason to think that some of them possibly flew in (an airplane) to have their ISWAK2 gear signed. Or they could have been foreigners who just happened to be in Taiwan at the time. Maybe Taiwan’s entertainment industry can do for Taiwan what Korea’s entertainment industry did for Korea.

Anyways, some of the fans’ ISWAK2 signs were so impressive. They were mostly all handmade, and this one sign had a huge picture drawn in the likeness of one of the stars. The dedication! However, this dedication is also kind of frightening at the same time.

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Pretty, pretty!

For example, I saw one fan that was situated further back tell one that was further up front that standing wasn’t allowed because it was the sitting section. Actually, it was more of a fierce finger wagging, “no,” and a subsequent hand motion motioning downwards. Surprisingly, the one further up front obeyed.

Later, as we were all packed in very close together in a small space, I started thinking about what would happen if these fans started to riot…

The ISWAK2 autograph session was certainly an interesting experience!

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The multitude begins early on in the afternoon…

The Outdoors Club (登山社團)

Posted in Clubs, Food, Night Life, Night Market, Taipei, University, Weather by J on September 26, 2007

NTU Sports Centre

NTU Sports Centre

Fortunate accidents are great things. I was on my way to join the Cycling club and in its place, ended up joining the Outdoors Club 登山社團 (which is much more suitable for me).

So, I took part in one of their first activities: indoor bouldering. Bouldering is indoor rock climbing without ropes and is not even 7 feet up. You’d hit the ceiling if you went any higher. Actually, no, you’d start to climb upside down. Which is rather hard to do.

So, I met my goal of completing this one route that it took me many tries to do: It felt so good to finish it. For most of the people though, it was rather easy to do. However, my poor physical ability is kind of embarrassing, though. Actually, the most embarrassing thing were my soft hands. Ahhhhh!!!! My piano hands!

The best part about all of this was meeting new people (as everyone says), getting some exercise (that wasn’t biking around campus) and seeing a different part of Taipei.

I also walked around in this pseudo night market place where I finally had my first 珍珠奶茶 in Taiwan. It was good! I also tried a little bit of this cold and sweet noodle dish. I thought it was okay. Only okay probably because I’m not used to eating at night as well as eating cold noodles. Lastly, it was my 2nd scooter ride that night.

And that’s the end of the un-cohesive rambling.

P.S. The photo is from the day before the barbeque when I was first shocked by how blue the sky in Taipei could be.

Gongguan Night Market (公館夜市)

Posted in Miscellaneous, Night Market, NTU, Observations, Outdoors, Shopping, Taipei by J on September 1, 2007

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My new underwear.

I like the Gongguan Night Market. Actually, I like night markets in general now (but not the stinky tofu smell – but I still want to try to eat it!) Especially since I got some underwear and socks from there. Yay!

I got three pairs of underwear for 100 NT!! I got a yellow one, a blue one, and a black striped one. All 3 were kinds I haven’t had before. So, I’m very excited about them. Also, I got 3 pairs of socks for 100 NT! I guess this is rather cheap for this stuff because the quality isn’t so bad either. I remember looking at underwear at Walmart where it was approximately the same amount of money, but the quality was much shoddier.

In general, shopping here is much cheaper and easier to access than at home. However, that might have to do with the location of NTU more than anything else. But what I really like is that most things are within walking, biking or MRT distance in the city here. At home, you usually need a car or wait a long time to bus.

What I especially like is that everything fits me here. Really! The shoes fit my feet, the clothing fits my body. It’s all good! No more hemming clothing and whatnot. On the flip side, for people that fit the clothing in their own country but not here in Taiwan, it isn’t so great. But yeah, they fit!

Last note: The strangest thing that I heard that night was music coming from, not the ice cream trucks, but the garbage trucks. Hehe!

Shida Night Market II

Posted in Bicycle, Food, Night Market, Outdoors, Taipei by J on August 30, 2007

I again went to the Shida Night Market, however this time, I tried some food. It was more fun as I went with someone. I tried out the food stall where you pick your own food in a basket (sanitary?) and then they cook it for you. It was pretty fun because they then take the basket, chop up the big items and then cook it in this big vat of something that’s kept at a roiling boil. Food comes out well done at the end of this process.

Unfortunately, I picked up too much food. Hehe. So, my food in the bag (that’s where they place it when you take out: directly into a small shopping bag) ended up in the trash. Next time, I might just pick out 3-4 items instead of something like 7 items… My eyes were bigger than my stomach.

Other than that, it’s a big bonus to ride your bike there because walking may take about 30-40 minutes. Riding a bike takes about 10-15 minutes, so there’s more time to enjoy yourself at the night market.