Thoughts of a Canadian Exchange Student

Good-bye Taiwan (再見台灣)

Taipei 101

Dawn breaking over Taipei and Taipei 101. (台北和台北101的日出)


Yilan

Taiwan’s breathtaking natural beauty. (台灣的蠻好看的自然風景)


NTU National Taiwan University

NTU at dawn. (台大的日出)


Although I left in July…
Good-bye Taiwan, and thanks for everything.

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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!

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. =)

NTU’s Guitar Club Performance + Emil Chau (台大吉他社的表演+周華健)

Posted in Clubs, Culture, Night Life, NTU, Taiwanese People, University by J on December 26, 2007

A cool performance at the main student centre (活大). The club played through some songs that I knew, for example, one of Zhang Xuan’s (張懸) songs called “My Life Will.” Although, I quite prefer her “Darling” (寶貝) or “Scream” off her first CD, My Life Will…. I like “Appearance” (模樣) and “Like” (喜歡) off her second album, Oh, dear. dear. I haven’t. (親愛的。。。我還不知道) best.

It was a fun show to watch because the guitar playing wasn’t bad and the singing was good at times. I think a little bit more showmanship from the performers would have made the show slightly more interesting. Although, I didn’t get the little skits in between…apparently it was a club in-joke. Also, just as I was thinking to leave at the intermission, I decided to stay just to see how the end of the show would turn out.

After a neat music-incorporated-play-mood piece, a quite famous NTU alumni (apparently) took the stage. He was great! His name is Emil Chau (周華健) and is from Hong Kong. I really enjoyed listening to the music he sang, both in Mandarin and in English.

Sadly, I had to leave the performance and my friends I was watching it with a bit early because I had another engagement planned. Gah! I forgot to bring my camera that night.

Ice Skating at Taipei Arena (台北小巨蛋)

Posted in Outdoors, Sightseeing, Taipei, Taiwanese People, Weather by J on December 3, 2007

Ice skating!

Something remotely winter-like in the warmth of Taipei!

With a fun group of people who hadn’t really ice skated before, we all went over to the Taipei Arena (台北小巨蛋) on Nanjing E. Road, Sec. 4 (南京東路四段). The Taipei Arena is huge. What I really liked were the massive ads that played across the outside of the arena like a massive banner. However, I doubt as many people look at the ads that play at the arena as compared to the massive neon-lit advertisements of Ximending (西門町). I wonder how much the arena makes because of these ads.

Anyways, for about 200 NTD + 50 NTD, we rented skates and protective equipment for 2 hours, the extra 50 NTD were for the gloves, which apparently are mandatory. I had forgotten the pleasure of gliding across the ice, well, as best as I could manage. There were children doing jumps! = O

It was a great idea. The coldness was just about right and hanging out was great too. I’m glad that I was invited along. Yay for the cold of the ice rink!

Taiwanese Aboriginal People’s Concert (原住民音樂會)

Posted in Bicycle, Night Life, NTU, Observations, Outdoors, Taipei, Taiwan, Taiwanese People, Thoughts, Weather by J on November 10, 2007

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A slightly awkward title, but it seems to do the job of describing what I saw at Da’an Park (大安森林公園). The aboriginal people that performed ranged from the Hakka to aboriginal groups that have long been a part of Taiwan.

After a quick bike ride to the park from NTU and settling into some seats, the slightly chilly evening kicked off with different musical acts from different aboriginal groups. However, the climax with all of the groups together was quite cool. It showed some sort of harmony altogether thing. I wonder if any of these groups of people warred against each other in the past.

Interestingly, this show defied my expectations of what a aboriginal show would. There was not only more traditional music to showcase the culture of the different aboriginal peoples that were there, there were even music acts that included rapping and modern musical instruments like the guitar.

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I’m glad that I was asked out to go check out this event because now I have a slightly fuller picture of what “Taiwan” is all about. Thought: Are shows like this supposed to show the success of the Taiwanese aboriginal peoples in integrating into modern day Taiwan but at the same time still keeping their own unique identity? Most likely. I wonder exactly how “successful” they have been and what “success” is defined as. I think a similar situation exists in Canada concerning the First Nations people.

Also, hanging out with people is fun too. I just need to dress a bit warmer next time. Yay for free outdoor music concerts!

A Taiwanese Halloween

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The Taiwanese do not celebrate Halloween.

As I also found out, nor do many Europeans. It is almost a wholly North American activity. Strange, I thought it was celebrated almost the world over; it must be that North American ethnocentrism creeping in.

Despite being just another North American activity, we celebrated here at NTU with a Halloween Music Party (萬聖節音樂會)

and reversed trick-or-treating.

Halloween kicked off with many of the exchange students and some Taiwanese students taking pictures in their costumes in the main lobby of the dormitory. There were many colourful costumes. For example, I rented my costume from a costume shop in Ximending (西門町), as did most everyone else. However, the most inventive costume, a hedgehog, was hand-made. That costume won the top prize in the Halloween costume contest.

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As a large group, we proceeded to make our way to the Student Activity Center, Huoda (活大)

from the dormitory while handing out candy to anyone we encountered along the way. This reverse trick-or-treating (normally, we go to doors and then get candy from the dwellers) was odd at first, but then quickly warmed up to. By the ones who were giving out the candy (us).

Actually, I think we scared a lot of the students that were still around at 6 pm on campus Wednesday night because they were avoiding and staring at our group as we were saying, “Happy Halloween!” (in Chinese). Hmm… Perhaps our (rather) large group was scary and a curiosity because we were all dressed for the Halloween occasion.

Afterwards, after some fun at the Male Dormitories where they had games and trick-or-treating at doors prepared for us, the music concert came next. All in all, quite a fun night!

Ironically, despite the fact that most of our costumes weren’t scary (as they are supposed to be, as Halloween is a night of ghouls), I’m sure that we gave some people quite a scare because it was something so out of the ordinary. Hah! It also marked all of us as totally foreign. I hope that next year’s Halloween at NTU is as fun for more people as it was for us.

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.

Shampoo Bottles

Posted in Dorms, Exchange, Home, NTU, Observations, Taiwanese People, Thoughts, University by J on September 19, 2007

Every day, I pass by the shelves that sit outside our rooms in the dorm hallways. I usually pay the things that sit on these shelves no heed as I operate on the idea that everyone generally has the same things sitting outside. However sometimes when I have time, I slow my pace and take a look at what actually sits outside everyone’s room.

Recently, I was walking down the hallway and all the shampoo bottles caught my eye. This was a result of last week Monday’s Orientation put on by NTU. My schoolmates from Canada and I were walking to the dinner and well, I had a cloud of flies flying above my head the whole way there. Or so they told me. I’ll choose to believe their words. No matter where I moved or how much I swatted the flies (or tried to), I couldn’t get rid of them. This situation was a result of my fruity smelling shampoo. Flies seem to love that or something. Mmm…

Everyone’s shampoo bottles were different. They weren’t different in that they didn’t do that same thing for everyone’s hair, that is, clean the hair, but all the bottles were like little flags proudly proclaiming where everyone was from.

That was interesting.

When I looked at my shampoo bottle, it had English and French on it. When I walked by the German girl’s room, her shampoo bottle was in German. The same went for the shampoo bottle sitting on the shelf outside the Japanese guy’s room.

So, without actually writing where we were from on name tags on the doors or something like that, if I paid close enough attention, I could decipher who exactly lived inside the room. However, that’s only for now. Once everyone’s shampoo bottle runs out of shampoo, we’ll all become a little bit more immerse into the Chinese language. Oh how we change bit by bit and day by day.