Taiwan, A Country of Warmth

Yuheng L., Bachelor of Business (Dean’s Honours)
Fu Jen Catholic University, Taiwan (Semester 2, 2017)

I have always imagined Taiwan to be a warm little country which is often neglected by the international society. Due to political reasons, Taiwan is isolated internationally. It is not part of the UN and has only 20 countries of diplomatic relations (FYI: China has 175). However, Taiwan is not an underdeveloped country of any sort. Taipei has a well-built metro system and there is a High-Speed Rail throughout the west coast of Taiwan. By car, it takes 4 hours to get from Taipei to Kaohsiung but it only takes an hour and a half on the HSR. It is very convenient to travel around Taiwan where many people travel around the island as a challenge (mostly on a bicycle) every year. For me personally, one of the places I loved the most was Tainan (South Taiwan). It is an amazing city with great food and a lot of historical sites, mostly from the era when they were ruled under the Japanese Empire. It has a lot of cultural characteristics unique from other cities.

Taiwan also has a comparatively low cost of living. Dining out can be very cheap (it can be very expensive too, if you choose to do so), where a meal could be around AUD $3-4. Their wages, however, is much lower than Australian standards. Their minimum legal hourly wage is roughly $6, which makes things much cheaper than Australia. I lived in the campus dormitory for the entire semester and it only cost me around AUD $380.

It was not long until I faced difficulties. Immediately on the day after my arrival, a lady shop owner began speaking Taiwanese Hokkien to me. Luckily, I was with my exchange buddy (whom FJU has arranged before my arrival) at that time and he was able to communicate with the owner on my behalf. I am very grateful for my exchange buddies and my dorm roommates who helped me out a lot upon my arrival. I immediately felt the warmth and helpfulness of the Taiwanese people on my first couple of days. Listening to my roommates’ stories was very interesting as they all came from different backgrounds, one being in the army for 5 years after high school, another being a Bruneian of Taiwanese descent. Having chats and laughter, with the occasional disagreement, every night was definitely a memorable experience – something that I won’t experience at home.

One of the things that I really enjoyed is joining the basketball team of my faculty. There are yearly tournaments between faculties and between departments. Our team trained regularly and apart from having fun, I believe it is a great way to develop relationships. It shows that the university culture there is quite different too. Sports and other club activities are a vital part of their university life, where people gather together. I could see evidence of a more collectivistic society based on their university culture. Apart from that, the close relationship between classmates is something special. It feels exactly like high school where classes are held in small classrooms rather than large lecture halls. The teachers know every student, therefore, as soon as she saw my unfamiliar face I was immediately asked to introduce myself. They welcomed me and invited me to have lunch together on the first day of class. I felt like I could blend in to their culture instantly with their friendliness.

There is no way I could talk about Taiwan without mentioning food. There is so much food around campus to the point I could even get hot food at midnight. The entire campus is approximately the size of the Kelvin Grove campus, however, there are 5 different blocks of canteens! Plus, with the number of restaurants outside of campus, there is absolutely no need to worry about what you need to bring for lunch.

Taiwan is a country with a lot of warmth. There is a common saying of ‘The Most Beautiful Scenery in Taiwan is its People.”, and I recognized that it is true throughout my journey. I have made great friends during these past few months and I surely miss the moments I had with them. If you are looking at going to the Asia-Pacific region, or if you would love to pick up the Chinese language, I would surely recommend Taiwan as an exchange destination.

The Next Instalment – Taiwan

 

Trip to Taipei Prison

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.

Workshop on Sustainability Pizza Party

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.

 

Liya Farm, where we got to work planting rice!

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.

Waiao Beach

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.

HeHuanShan

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.”

 

 

 

Taiwan – the First Month

Taipei 101

Even before I started my first day at university, I was certain one of my goals was to study abroad. Now at the beginning of my 3rd year it has finally kicked off; I am spending an entire semester at the National ChengChi University in Taipei, Taiwan. My choice in coming here was supported by the New Colombo Plan Mobility Grant which will greatly enhance my capacity to experience, engage, and enjoy Taiwan to its fullest potential.

I left home on 12 February and began the 20 hours of travel. Yes, the Asia-Pacific region and it still takes that long. Partially because the cheapest flight had a six hour layover in Singapore (Changi is the best airport in the world, so amongst the movies, butterfly gardens, and sunflower gardens I really didn’t mind).   I also didn’t fully realize until I made the trip how far down Australia is and how far up Taiwan is. It was literally the same flight time as for most of the Europeans. However, when it came to jet lag the time difference was only two hours, so that was a piece of cake.

Some of the other international peeps that are here at NCCU on exchange this semester.

While living here I am staying in the International house run by the university. The location is prime, a five-minute walk from university, and we are at the east edge of the city, bordering the scenic rainforest mountains. The river also runs just by the university, its entire stretch has walkways, parks, and basketball courts every 100 metres or so, hence Wednesday night is progressively becoming Basketball night among the I-house residence. It’s also easy access to the city, provided you take the bus heading in the right direction. I confess the whole ‘driving on the right side of the road’ sent me a long way in the wrong direction on my first attempt at going into the city.

 

Yangmingshan – National Park.

My first week here was great.  I spent a lot of time getting my bearings just by exploring the city. On the first Friday we ventured on our first out-of-town trip.  We took the bus to a town called Jiufen, where the entire city is located on the slope of the mountain. Located to the north-east, the town is famous for its scenery. We spend the arvo roaming the markets followed by hiking to the top of Keelung Mountain. Unfortunately, Taiwan’s rapidly changing weather got the better of us and almost just as we arrived at the top it became a total white out. However, if you do find yourself in Taipei this is 10/10 on the must-do list of places to visit.

Chicken Butt. 5 for the equivalent of $2AUD, and despite my concerned face it turned out to be delicious!

My adjustment to the lifestyle here has been an adventure. With no real cooking facilities at I-house eating out is the norm, and as it turns out that is the Taiwan way, for every meal. The idea of buying breakfast every day sounds like a mortgage in Australia but here, not only is it affordable, but it’s such a social way to start my day. I wander down to the place I’ve picked out as ‘my local’ and grab two of the best Taiwanese omelet pancake things with special soy sauce I’ve ever tried. My other food experiences have all been fabulous, not so stinky-stinky tofu, whole fried squid, chicken butt, lots of dumplings, Baozi and bubble tea! Taiwan has such a diverse range of authentic Asian cuisine available there is no shortage of food to try and enjoy. Not all shopping has resulted in such positive results though. The language barrier caused me some confusion; turns out it was not washing liquid that I bought on my first attempt, but bleach.   I’m sticking to my story that my bleach-splattered clothing is an Australian craze…

Lantern Festival with some of my local buddies.

The highlight of week two was having the chance to experience Taipei’s lantern festival.  We traveled to a neighboring town called Pingxi which is where they hold the sky lantern side of the celebrations. We arrived late in the afternoon and already we could see lanterns flying off sporadically all over the place. We explored the town which was completely taken over by markets and festivities. Eventually we found ourselves at the small show grounds where there was a huge stage with live music. Every half-hour there was a coordinated release of lanterns, sending over 100 up into the sky all at once. What a truly magical sight to see!

Sky Lantern Festival in Pingxi

Now we are well and truly in the swing of a daily routine. Classes have begun and for that I spend four days over at the campus. For the remaining three days of the week I now have access to a motorcycle which has opened up a world of opportunities when it comes to accessibility and traveling about the island. The university social clubs have many trips and camps lined up for our opportunity to meet locals and see the sights. I have done so much in the time here already and I have literally only just begun!

What to expect in Taiwan: Transport and food

Food

Because Taiwan have a lot of roadside stalls and night markets, food pricing are so much cheaper compared to in Australia. Road side stalls are considered a big part of Taiwan culture. On the weekdays, the night markets could be open from 4 in the afternoon till say about midnight. And, for weekends, it could open at 3 in the afternoon till 3am the following day.

Transport

One thing good about the train station here were that they had announcements in multiple languages such as English, mandarin, Hakka and Taiwan language. Thus, making it easy for foreigners to know which stop they had to go down. This made travelling much easier in Taiwan.

Even on the Train maps, it has both English language and Mandarin, so it is much easier to plan trips around Taipei..

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What to expect in Taiwan : Cultures & household practices

 

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Most Taiwanese goes to a temple to pray, be it Buddhist or Taoist despite other minority religion. When I was there, I had the chance to go to a Temple Fair, where people from one temple would go to another temple to perform rituals, it was a big event, and we travelled from North of Taiwan which is Taipei to the extreme South of Taiwan. The event lasted for two days one night. It was quite an experience as it was something new to me.

Household Practices

Fortunately, I had applied to go to National Chengchi University with another mate also studying at QUT. We both rented an apartment near the Uni and I remembered clearly when I moved into the apartment, if we had trash, there was a specific room to throw rubbish at. I quickly realised that they were very environmentally friendly, they had their garbage split into different kinds, this was very seldom seen in Singapore and for Australia, we do have it, but it seemed that Taiwan was more precise in doing such.

What to expect in Taiwan : Language and Lectures

There was a country that I had always had in mind to stay for a few months, and that country was Taiwan, and it happened to be one of the countries under the list that QUT has partnership with. I have been to Taiwan before, but it was only for a week, and I did not get the opportunity to learn the culture and practices of Taiwan completely in such a short period of time. I wanted to go back there. National Chengchi University is named as one of the top three universities in Taiwan and it was well known for its Business faculty.So, I chose this university for my exchange program.

Language

When I reached Taiwan, I needed a little bit of time to adapt as everyone was either speaking in mandarin or some in their native languages. Although I was capable of conversing in Mandarin, but I was not as fluent.

Lectures

When going for lectures, I realized that their classes we different from QUT, while in QUT most subjects would be lectures followed by tutorial on each subject. But for NCCU, they did not have lectures and tutorials split. Both were being held in one lesson. And, for most subjects in QUT, lectures would comprise of more than 100 students depending on each individual subject, but for NCCU, each class would only comprise of about 50 or less students, which was something new to me as I was already used to having lectures and tutorials separately. The campus at NCCU was quite big as compared to QUT.