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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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!

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. =)

Term 1 is Ending! The Final Push

Posted in Academics, Culture, Exchange, Exchange Students, NTU, Taiwan, Thoughts, University by J on January 6, 2008

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The year starts off slightly off-centred. A new adventure to be found every day!

A news brief to kick off the new year…

With this week left before the finals start, it’s starting to get a little… how shall I say this? It’s time to turn the gas on! Vroom, vroom!

Reporting on other areas:

This month has been the preparation and steeling of feelings, for people are departing throughout this month. Many of whom I will probably never see again. But hey! At least there’s the internet… and visitation rights.

So, in culmination, in contrast to December’s mostly party-like atmosphere (as much as we could make it), January looks to be a balance between send-offs and school.

Finally a posting related to academics.

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.

Xitou (溪頭) / Nantou (南投) / NTU Experimental Forest Trip

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The hike picture.

What a lovely little weekend trip arranged by the IYC/Guoqing Dormitory (國青宿舍). On a very well-planned trip for the exchange and international students at NTU, we went to Xitou (溪頭) in Nantou County (南投), which is close to Taichung (台中). Xitou is part of the NTU Experimental Forest.

The first day, we set out from Taipei bright and early Saturday morning. I swear, food was the centrepiece of everything. From the first breakfast to the last dinner Sunday evening, we were extremely well provided for. The food was delicious! If you can imagine having practically a 10-course meal at a Chinese restaurant at every meal then you’ve imagined what we ate those two days. Well, just add the Taiwanese twist to it, and you’ve got it!

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Would you willingly hurl yourself off a cliff?

For our first stop on our way to Xitou, we stopped at the Puli Brewery for lunch. Mmm… food.

As a surprise, we were offered the chance to go paragliding!! Unfortunately, the people allowed to go paragliding were limited. Despite that, it was a gorgeous day out to spend time lounging on a grassy field.

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The prettiest thing about Sun Moon Lake in the dark: Their hotel.

After paragliding, we were shuttled over in the tour bus to Sun Moon Lake (日月潭). Apparently, it’s a very famous spot to visit in Taiwan. Ironically, by the time we made it to the lake, it was already dark. We didn’t get to see much of anything, but the boat ride was almost romantic. Aren’t all boat rides with 40 other people supposed to be romantic? Hah!

Oh, and be sure to eat some of the best tea eggs (茶葉蛋) in all of Taiwan while you’re at the lake. They’re better than the 7-11 ones.

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The view from the accommodation place.

At the end of the day, we settled into our lodgings up on a mountain nearby. Supposedly it was cooler. Maybe being a Canadian makes me think everywhere is warm on Taiwan, winter or not. You know, because after all, Canadians live in igloos.

Canadian jokes aside, after a crispy and fun night, the next morning there were some tours to be had where we were staying. We had the option of hiking up to a pagoda or listening to a presentation about the making of tea. I went on the hike: The food needed to be worked off.

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The bamboo bridge.

As a last activity before we went back to Taipei, we all piled into the bus and went over to explore the main part of the NTU Experimental Forest. I ended up in the group that went to take a look at the University Pond. Although we didn’t get to see the famed Sky Walk, the bamboo bridge was pretty cool. It’s rebuilt every year and it swings and sways and bounces as you walk across it. To make it even more fun, people completely disregard the sign that says that only a maximum of 10 people are to be on the bridge at a time. I really wanted to jump up and down on the bridge as I went across it…

And before I knew it, we were back in Taipei!

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Temples, Temples, Temples

Posted in Academics, Chinese, Culture, NTU, Observations, Outdoors, Sightseeing, Taipei, Thoughts, University by J on December 6, 2007

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Taipei Confucius Temple

Thanks to a field trip arrange by my Chinese philosophy professor, with my class, we had the opportunity to take an actual look inside a Confucian temple. With a tour guide! In English! (See National Palace Museum post for why one should have a tour guide. You’ll be bored otherwise.)

When we were watching the film of one of the biggest Confucian ceremonies, Teachers’ Day, I remembered that in September of this year I didn’t go! NOooooOOoo, it looked so cool. So… ritualized and filled with meaning. As well as having special music played for it.

The Confucian temple itself was under construction (due to termites?), but that didn’t detract from the vibrant colours of the decorative adornments or from the Southern style swallow-tail architecture. At least that’s what I think the guide said.

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Ritualized clothing for the Teachers’ Day ceremony.

After, we just crossed the street and, voila! We were in a Daoist/Buddhist temple. The Bao’an (大龍峒保安宮) temple was more 熱鬧 (lively) than the Confucian one. I was surprised that the Daoist and the Buddhist philosophies were combined into one temple. Actually, I was just very surprised overall that, if you wanted to, you could do an extremely quick tour of hitting up the Confucian, Daoist and Buddhist philosophy within 15 minutes.

From a very secular viewpoint, both temples were beautiful. Something new to learn everyday.

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Bao’an Temple

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.

Autumn Commentary

Posted in Exchange, Miscellaneous, NTU, Observations, Outdoors, Taipei, Thoughts, University, Weather by J on October 2, 2007

NTU Main Library

NTU Main Library

Between summer and autumn here in Taipei, I’d definitely choose autumn. The sunny days here are just gorgeous. Yesterday, there was even a rainbow. In the fall, there’s a blue sky, a light breeze, and green things. Somehow, I have a hunch that green things don’t change colour here: No reds, oranges or browns. Something I miss, but autumn here feels like a perfect (almost, for nothing can be really perfect) summer day at home.

NTU Campus

NTU Campus

I’m writing here in what I consider to be the most beautiful part of Taida’s (NTU) campus and again I’m struck by the similarity to my university campus at home. Large, beautiful (for the most part), people don’t care what you do. Just an hour ago, I climbed a tree that was beside my picnic table right after eating my thousand -year-old egg with lean pork congee (疋蛋瘦肉粥). No one cared. If they did, they spoke about it until after I left. (There were lots of ants in that tree… hopefully no ants in my pants!) Now, I lie on a bench outside. I was told that if you do this here it means that you’re homeless. It’s possible.

Taipei 101 from NTU Main Campus

Taipei 101 from NTU Main Campus

It’s eternally green here. Not a complaint but a statement. I don’t quite know how exactly I feel about that – it might contribute to helping have a proper excuse about being in summer mode all year long. By this I mean being lazy and procrastinating more than I would in a colder climate. Can surroundings really influence a person that much? I just think it’s an excuse for myself. But a pretty good one at that. (Where’s those scientific studies to back me up? Practically every point of view has a “scientific” study to back it up. Hah.)

However despite this all these differences that I find, I really enjoy Taiwan.