Thoughts of a Canadian Exchange Student

The Penghu Islands (澎湖群島)

Posted in Culture, Food, Outdoors, Sightseeing, Taiwan, Thoughts, Transportation, Weather by J on December 29, 2008

The sand colour is golden.

The Penghu Islands (澎湖群島) were visited: June 13-15, 2008

For a short trip after school ended, I went with some friends to the Penghu Islands. The Penghu Islands used to be called the Pescadores way back when and very importantly, in 1895, after the Qing lost the Sino-Japanese war, Taiwan and the islands were ceded to Japan in the Treaty of Shimonoseki. Along with Taiwan, the islands were also given back to China together in 1945. How’s that for history tinkering with what belongs to who? Anyways, I digress.

I swear that the Penghu islands would’ve been very pretty if only it hadn’t rained the whole time that we were there. I seriously have some bad luck with going on trips and encountering bucket loads of rain. However, through the rain (with some squinting to keep the drops from falling into my eyes), I could still see that it was a beautiful place.

After the very short flight from Taipei to Penghu (you can’t take pictures at the airport because it doubles as a military site), we were taken to our accommodations as per our package. It was a nice room with your basic amenities – a typical Taiwanese place to stay.

The view from our accommodations.

Hm…if you happen to be unable to persuade people to rent you scooters and if you don’t have one of those international driving licenses that you converted to a Taiwanese driving license ahead of time in Taipei, I advise you to wait until you have one before going to Penghu because it is difficult to see much if you don’t have your own transportation. In our case, as we were totally unable to get a scooter, we came up with a creative solution which entailed our own personal chauffeur. We hired a taxi to take us everywhere we needed for the next day. The people from Penghu in the more bustling area of the island were really nice in helping us call a taxi when we were near our wit’s end that rainy, rainy night we first arrived.

Note on how to get the most out of a trip to the Penghu Islands: Transportation!

Oh, the food! I really do love seafood, and it was fresh and fantastic. I really do need four stomachs. And I give kudos to my friend who barely eats seafood at all who gamely tried everything we put on her plate. Yay!

Anyways, the next day we stayed on the island that we landed on and went to Gold Beach for some water fun. It was still raining… so there weren’t many people there, but it was still fun bumping around behind the jetskis that towed us towards the horizon. Although, I think I liked the activity that was free of charge best. One thing though: rain + spraying water stings a bit on the face. It’s like snow blowing into your face when you ski or board. Ouch.

So, to wrap up my short trip:

I really liked what I saw of Penghu. I genuinely hope to go back someday and explore even more of the islands. It was more than a little ironic that our little group got to see the teaser trailer after the movie: It was sunny the day we left. Hah!

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Dragon Boat Festival at Xindian (新店的端午節)

Posted in Culture, Food, Home, Observations, Outdoors, Sightseeing, Taipei, Transportation, Weather by J on December 29, 2008

The Dragon Boat Festival at Xindian (新店的端午節) was watched on: June 8, 2008

For the first time in a long time, I went to see dragon boat races during the Dragon Boat Festival, duanwu jie (端午節). And to top it off, I got the chance to see it in Taiwan! The whole atmosphere felt very different from the races put on in Vancouver. In Vancouver, it’s a medium to large sized cultural event that showcases Chinese culture after May’s annual month long “Asian Heritage Month”. However, it’s not quite as festive as the festival in Xindian. As I clearly like Taiwan so much, perhaps I’m projecting a much more favourable image upon the festival in Xindian. But, I really must say that it seems to be celebrated with more people than in Vancouver. (It probably has something to do with the difference in sheer population numbers.)

Also, this was the first time that I remember actually hearing the story of why the Dragon Boat Festival exists. In the past, I thought it was just a time to race in the Dragon Boats. I don’t remember even eating sticky rice, zongzi (粽子), for the occasion. But, in Xindian, I did! However, I really do love the zongzi from home the best.

The story that I heard goes something like this:

A couple hundred years before common era (BCE), Qu Yuan, one of greatest poets in the area now known as China, committed suicide by throwing himself into a river. As the people admired him so much, they paddled out in boats to make noise with drums to scare away the fish and also threw food into the river so that the fish wouldn’t eat his body. Apparently, this is where the tradition of eating zongzi and dragon boating started. The day of his death, the fifth day of the fifth month (lunar calendar), is now remembered as duanwu jie, or the Dragon Boat Festival.

Talk about glory after death. Confucian scholars did well for themselves.

Mmm… Ice cream.

So, on that sweltering day at Xindian where you could almost feel yourself melting with the heat and the amount of people along the waterfront, my friends and I walked along the promenade and looked at the wares the vendors offered. Although the ice cream looked really good, I went with the old standby: sausages. (We went for ice cream went we got back to Taipei.) And even though we weren’t supposed to stop and watch the races from the bridge, as it was uni-directional at different periods of time and you had to wait for your turn to cross to the other side, I managed to snap a shot of a race that was underway. As it was really much too hot to be outside for long, we didn’t stay long in Xindian. Thank goodness for the air conditioning in the MRT (捷運)!

For a more detailed version of the story (and to fill in the parts that I didn’t hear about):
Wikipedia: Folklore Underlying the Dragon Boat Festival

Leofoo Village Theme Park (六福村)

Posted in Culture, Outdoors, Taipei, Transportation, Weather by J on December 28, 2008

Leofoo Village Amusement Park (六副村) visited on: June 7, 2008

In a land that could almost whisk you away from reality, Leofoo Village Theme Park (六副村) near Hsinchu (新竹), gathers four distinct fantasies into one place. There’s a Wild West section, a African safari section (with a zoo), an Arabian kingdom section and a South Pacific section. The park’s maybe an hour or two away from Taipei by bus but as I fell asleep on the way there, I’m not quite sure. Also, if you miss the bus as we did, be prepared to wait a long time for the next one, especially on Sundays.

Overall, I had a really fun time with my friends, but as I was expecting more thrills, ie scary roller coasters, I found that the park was a little tame. But to the theme park’s credit, one of the scariest rides was out of commission. On the positive side, I liked how much space there was allocated to each of the four sections. However, the day I went, all that space spelled irony to me because it was a rainy-sunshine kind of day. But it meant that lineups weren’t that long!

I also really liked the symbols that were chosen to represent each culture. It’s like a Disney movie where the most emblematic things (ok, stereotypes) are chosen to convey what exactly makes that other culture so special and different from one’s own. For example, cowboys and First Nations people (Native American Indians) were key in the Wild West section and in the Disney movie, Pocahontas, Pocahontas was linked to nature and a less environmentally harmful way of living as compared to John Smith’s world of “modernity,” greed and environmental transformation (destruction). I guess what I’m trying to say is that I liked seeing what the (Taiwanese) creators of the theme park thought were appealing cultural fantasies to Taiwanese customers.

If you do go, check out the foreigner/gaijin guy who makes the ice cream in the Arabian kingdom section. I love how he’s a novelty.

And, oh! It was the first time I got to ride on a camel!!

For a description of the rides in the theme park click here:
http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Leofoo_Village_Theme_Park

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

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. =)

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.)

Wulai

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~

ORZ Boyz (囧男孩)

Posted in Culture, Miscellaneous, Taipei, Taiwan by J on October 4, 2008

I’ve been back in Canada for a while now because my exchange is over, but as this pertains to Taiwan I thought I’d write a post. In between school, work and Chinese school, I’ve been seeing some films at the local film festival. And boy are they GOOD! So, I just wanted to share with you what I really liked:

ORZ Boys (囧男孩)
www.wretch.cc/blog/orzboyz

Trailer: http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=dzv0eRdSRIo&fmt=18

“Two mischievous and highly imaginative boys spend a hot Taiwanese summer scheming to enter the seaside kingdom of Orz and escape their troubled home lives.”

Well, I loved this movie the best. I wasn’t bored one bit and I recognized Danshui!! I was actually quite sad to have the movie end, but you know what, the director was at the screening! Not only does this movie reflect on Taiwan’s impoverished children without shoving it your face, it does it in a light-hearted and fun manner.

Those boys are so adorable! Their names were awesome too. “一號” 和 “二號”。Liar #1 and Liar #2. The director said they spent months and months looking for the perfect child actors. It really paid off! They even filmed a scene outside the MRT station doing a snake charmer thing. Okay, so before I give away more of this movie, go see it!!

Maokong Gondola (貓空纜車)

Posted in Culture, Food, Outdoors, Sightseeing, Taipei, Transportation, Weather by J on April 26, 2008

Ah~ If you want one of the easiest getaways from the hustle and bustle of Taipei, hop on over to the Taipei Zoo using the MRT and then go up to take the Maokong Gondola (貓空纜車). The fantastic thing about this gondola is that it costs just as much to take the MRT, which is, not much at all. You can get fantastic views for under 60 NTD (even less if you’re a student!).

So we took the gondola to the Maokong stop (貓空站) and took a look at the temple there. It’s nice and relaxing, especially when you watch the sun go down. It’s a nice quiet place, but fun with friends too. =) They sell ice cream there!

Jiufen (九份)

Posted in Culture, Food, NTU, Outdoors, Shopping, Sightseeing, Taipei, Taiwan by J on April 19, 2008

jiufen baoxiantao

Jiufen has this lovely little “Condom World” store. (保險套世界)

Jiufen (九份) is this little town about an hour away from Taipei. We went there to check it out because, well, it’s a tourist attraction. That and apparently the town was used as a model for Spirited Away. (According to Wikipedia.)

Anyways, I found out it’s a pretty nice place to go shopping and to have some interesting food. The view is really nice too. It’s totally a tourist destination. They sell lots of leather goods at Jiufen and snacks like chips on a stick. What I really liked was this ice cream rolled into a parsley-peanutty wrap thing. It’s so Taiwan. By “it’s so Taiwan” I mean it’s so innovative. I forgot to take a picture!

Oh these were great to eat~

Aside from all the good eats, things to buy, and the view, we also went to take a look at the historic part of Jiufen. Historically, it was a mining town but now, it’s mostly a tourist destination. I hope that there aren’t any malevolent ghosts hanging around!

The ghosts did it!

Oh by the way, if you’re ever near the Zhongxiao Dunhua (忠孝敦化) area in Taipei, the food is great there! There’s a larger variety of food to eat than the food around the NTU campus. See exhibit one:

At a teahouse near Luxy: Mmm… delicious!