I wanted to call this one “Going to Prison on Exchange” but for fears of sounding too much like clickbait (and QUT probably wouldn’t be too much of a fan of the title.) I will just address it first in this next instalment of my Taiwan exchange.
It’s not as dramatic as it sounds but going to Taipei prison was as bizarre for us as it is to see in an exchange blog. Tuesday mornings I have a class called Workshop on Sustainability which primarily teaches Circular Economy and Corporate Social Responsibility. However, being all exchange students, the Professor takes the opportunity to focus and educate us on everything Taiwan. One week, with absolutely no link to course content, he took us to check out Taipei’s operating prison. We met earlier than normal and took a karaoke bus to the southern part of Taipei, in what was still a fairly urban built-up area. We started off with a debrief from the warden, who spoke about the history and facilities. They have all sorts of prisoners there, staying from a few months up to life; it wasn’t a high security place but neither was it a light one. We were then told to leave all our stuff in the conference room and we began our tour. From inside it was hard to tell it was a prison, it really was designed to reintegrate people into a functioning society.
Unless prisoners took school or university classes in the education centre, they worked on site in manufacturing, pottery, arts, or in catering. We even got to try some tea and biscuits you can order in bulk for catering, (and it really was quite good.) It was a rare and random experience to go to Taipei Prison, but that’s why Workshop on Sustainability is fast becoming one of the favourite subjects of my whole degree. Instead of mid-semester exams, we had a guest lecture from the ministry of education which was followed by a pizza party with him. Workshop on Sustainability is full of surprises.
NCCU has a heap of programs that aid in exposing exchange students to Taiwan. One of the student clubs called International Youth has hosted a welcome dinner, a day out exploring the Zoo and Gondola near the Uni, and a cooking and arts night. A highlight is a weekend trip to the east coast city, Yilan. Early Saturday morning we boarded the bus and travelled to our first destination, Linmei Shipan Trail, an absolutely stunning waterfall. We visited the National Centre for Traditional Arts before checking into (and completely booking out) the 5 Season Hotel and ate stinky tofu at Luo Tong Night Markets. The next day we had a traditional university student breakfast; Maccas, before heading to a rice farm. We learnt all about the traditional farms and also got to plant some rice in knee-deep mud.
We then also made our own lunch “from rice we’d grown earlier” grinding it down, mixing it up, and cooking it into noodles! Post-lunch we hit up the beach, the light drizzle we’d had the entire day ceased with perfect timing. Waiao Beach is a black sand beach facing the great Pacific Ocean where we enjoyed some Bubble Tea (well the tea part, I’m still warming up to the bubbles.) The weekend was an extraordinary time, seeing awesome things and making a heap of new friends with other Internationals on exchange AND a stack of local students that came along!
As well as Uni organised sight-seeing, I have been on a few wild adventures of my own on the Brampcycle (that’s the name for my bike.) A weekend arrived that started on a Wednesday (thank you bulk public holidays.) I took this opportunity to take my first little riding trip and it was to a small city call Hualian. Located on the East Coast it was about five and a half hours ride away. I left as soon as class ended on Tuesday; my prediction was an ETA of around 6:30. Still a good hour away from arriving the sun began to set, which should be all well and good except for the fact that my headlights weren’t making any difference to the ever-darkening road. Eventually I pull over to sus things out and sure enough, my lights aren’t actually on at all…because the bulb is blown. Street lights aren’t exactly a thing on this regional mountainous road; in the dying light I have never ridden with so much stress in my life. I make it to the next town using another car’s tail lights to light my way. There I manage to find a workshop that was just closing and two very kind men helped me out and set me on my way. Eventually, I make it to Hualian (a lot later than expected) and check into my accommodation. I spent the next couple of days there seeing some of the most epic scenery so far! Taroko National park…my writing could never do justice to how beautiful and vast this gorge is. I also travelled up to HeHuanShan (Shan = Mountain) where I got to hike to an altitude of 3416m. Don’t be too impressed though – you start at 2900m. This is one of Taiwan’s 100 Great Mountains with a height over 3000m, and luckily for me, it’s the one you can do without the hassle of a permit.
Taiwan is so full of natural beauty and I really am so fortunate to be seeing as much as I am! The only downside is that every place I see and learn about comes with a strong recommendation of two more places that I then want to go see. I think the quote from Aristotle can easily also apply to traveling; “The more you know, the more you know you don’t know.”