Taiwan – The Third Edition

Path to Oyster Island

Taiwan just keeps throwing more and more cool surprises at me. The weekend of 7-9 June was the Dragon Boat Festival, celebrated in many countries across Asia, and with its heritage stemming from China. On this weekend the Professor for my class ‘Workshop on Sustainability’ takes a handful of students on a trip to Kinmen Island.

Kinmen is a county (state, as we’d call them in OZ) of Taiwan; however its geographical location puts it about 10 km from mainland China with 150km of ocean between it and the rest of Taiwan. The historical significance of this island is huge. It was occupied by Japan during the Second World War then, as a result of the Chinese civil war, Chiang Kai-shek’s Kuomintang (KMT) Government occupied the island as they fled to Taiwan.  Claimed by both the Peoples Republic of China (PRC) and the Republic of China (ROC), the island was a place of war and bombing for a long time. In the mid-90s the Taiwanese Government returned control to a local Kinmen government where it has since been a county of Taiwan. There is a lot to see on the island, and the whole weekend was jam-packed with nonstop visits to different forts and museums.

Zhaishan Tunnel

It was an hour’s flight from Taipei and upon landing our Professor met us, quickly ushering us to the bus and to our first stop. We met the Director of Social Services, Tung Shen, who is a Kinmen native, passionate about sharing and promoting the area. He had kindly sponsored our trip by providing one of the night’s accommodation and our transport all weekend. After thanking him we were off to lunch and to explore some old tunnel systems. Our second tunnel visit was the most impressive, Zhaishan Tunnel. It was built for U-boats to enter and since the war has been repurposed for orchestras on a number of occasions due to its acoustics.  That night we were invited to join a Dragon Boat Festival dinner hosted by Tung Shen. We had a large spread of local food and got to try the locally brewed, Taiwanese icon, Kaoliang liquor.

The TEAM

The next day was race day and we’d been given some old 2014 Kinmen Marathon merchandise to make us look like a team. Our class was all foreign students and none of us had ever stepped foot in a dragon boat. The Festival started with lots of local performances before getting into the races. We were entered in our first social race at 11:30. We studied all those who came before us trying to learn how dragon boating was done. Eventually, our time came.  We started off hyped but the excitement had dwindled into nervousness in the 25 minutes it took for us to get the boat in position at the starting line. When the race started our focus was consistency and synchronicity; our aim wasn’t to be the fastest, just to stay in a straight line. Halfway there we’d found ourselves picking up quite a bit of speed finishing in second place! Despite the 12 seconds behind first place, not being last gave us a burst of adrenalin and fueled us for round two. We had some lunch and met some cool locals while waiting, and at 3.00pm we boarded the boat and this time we were able to get the boat in position at the same rate as our contestants. The gun went off and so did we, the world zoned out and all we were thinking

Liberty Times

was “Row, Row, Row!” We got to the end seemingly at the same time as every other boat. Over the moon, we raced ashore to find our time was the fastest by less than 1 second! (That wasn’t enough to recover the 12 seconds we were behind in the first race). But the idea of winning the heat was awesome and it left our Professor speechless! However, he will now think twice before giving the motivation to students “if you win a race, I will give you 10 extra points towards your overall grade.” Our attendance as foreigners drew a bit of excitement and we starred in a few newspapers which was pretty cool!

 

That night we caught the ferry over and stayed on little Kinmen (otherwise known as Little K), which is an island about a quarter of the size just next to main Kinmen. Our accommodation was a tiny AirBNB within walking distance of the beach, a perfect place for us to celebrate our win and admire the beautiful sunset. The next day we explored and learned more about the forts and battles that took place on Little K and back on Kinmen until it was time for some to depart. However, I was not one of them. A mate and I stayed on another two nights to do a bit more exploring. Our accommodation was a homestay that our Professor lined up for us. They cooked us an awesome dinner and we exchanged small conversation over Google Translate. Hiring electric scooters (with a top speed of 25kmh) we pottered around the island, visited a folk village, and climbed The Mountain on the island. We also caught up again with some teachers that we met at the Dragon Boat Festival.

Kinmen is such a unique part of the world. The locals have a strong sense of identity, seeing themselves as Kinmenese before being Taiwanese or Chinese. The opportunity to go and have such an immersive experience is something I am truly grateful for. This mini trip inside my much larger adventure is definitely going to stand out as a highlight.

 

 

 

Kinmen Daily News (https://www.kmdn.gov.tw/1117/1271/1272/306893)

Liberty Times Net (https://news.ltn.com.tw/news/life/breakingnews/2815461)

Mountains and the hustle and bustle of Hong Kong

Millie G., Bachelor of Creative Industries
Hong Kong Baptist University, Hong Kong (Semester 1, 2017)

Host University

Situated between the mountains behind it and bustling Mong Kok in front of it, HKBU was a wonderful place to undertake my studies in HK. There was such energy about the campus, with market and uni club stalls almost every day of the week, and countless activities to get involved with. The assessment style was quite different to what I was used to doing Creative Industries at QUT. They preferred smaller, cumulative presentations and tutorial involvement to one or two larger pieces of work, and almost all of the presentations and essays were on topics of our own choosing. I was slightly disappointed to find that the units were pretty different to what was described on the syllabus, but I enjoyed them nonetheless.

Host Country

I am so incredibly happy with my choice of HK as my exchange destination!!! For such a small place, it’s incredible the variety of things there are to do – from beaches to museums to night clubs to mountain hiking to temples to shopping to amusement parks, there’s something for everyone. Even just walking around and soaking up the atmosphere of the vastly different districts was something I never got tired of. The city never sleeps with malls staying open till 11 and supermarkets and restaurants till the early hours of the morning. I think this is a big reason why I’ve never felt safer out at night before. I could walk back to my apartment at 2am from another district and there’d still be people minding their own business out at bars and restaurants – there were never any strange people wandering the street. Certainly made a change from Brisbane haha.

Being there in the first half of the year was great as I got to experience the more traditional side of HK culture, being right at the front for the Chinese New Year celebrations and Buddha’s Birthday. While people didn’t speak as much English as I expected (particularly in the more traditional Mong Kok district that I stayed in), the locals are incredibly helpful despite the cultural divide. While supermarket and restaurant/bar prices were comparable to Australia, the cost of things like public transport and market stall goods was significantly cheaper – it was less than one Australian dollar to get the subway to university each day! That was another thing that made HK so enjoyable – their public transport system was so amazing. You could get to literally anywhere using the trains and buses, with services coming every couple of minutes. Living off campus, this made exploring and getting around so easy.

Highlights

Man, literally the whole trip was one big high for me. The city, particularly at night, is so aesthetically beautiful. I honestly had the best time just calling the place my home. But if I had to name a few I’d have to say:

  • My exchange group: The guys and girls I met from all around the world who’d come to HKBU were so incredible. We had so many absolutely wild times together – boat parties, hikes, horse races – you name it, we probably did it
  • Disneyland: It’s true what they say – it’s the most magical place on Earth. While there aren’t a lot of thrill rides there, it has such a beautifully nostalgic atmosphere and we easily filled the entire day

The Unexpected

How clean the city was! You’d always see workers sweeping the street and eating on the trains was strictly forbidden. I can’t recall a time I really saw trash in the street. I was also totally surprised at how there wasn’t much of an adjustment period in terms of when I first got there. I began enjoying myself pretty much as soon as I was left to my own devices haha. Similarly, I was surprised that I didn’t find myself counting down the days till I went home the longer I was there. Everyone I talked to on exchange with me felt the same.

Tips & Advice

  1. As soon as you’re accepted by your host university, start doing the housekeeping stuff involved with that university – I missed out on staying on campus as I waited till I’d finished my semester at QUT to start applying
  2. If you’re giving the opportunity/have the funds, I’d actually totally recommend staying off campus. You feel so much more immersed in your country’s lifestyle/culture, there aren’t any restrictions placed upon your stay, and if you’re like me and relish you’re alone time, this will make your time abroad a lot more comfortable. However you have to be a lot more proactive with meeting people and joining in activities
  3. Always keep the QUT exchange office in the loop with what stage you’re at before, during, and after your exchange
  4. Always check your QUT emails while overseas
  5. Keep a record of how much you’re spending on what in the first few weeks and then base your budget on this moving forward
  6. Befriend local students – they know all the places that aren’t in your travel guide
  7. Take any opportunity presented to you!

My first month as an exchange student at QUT

My name is Shengyi and I’m a sophomore in clinical medicine from Nanjing Medical University. I am undertaking my exchange semester at Queensland University of Technology. I am honored to receive an Endeavour Cheung Kong Student Exchange Program grant from Australian Government, and I appreciate that QUT provided such a precious opportunity for me to learn advanced medical technology.

What Brisbane is like

I arrived in Brisbane on 15th February, and now I have been in Brisbane for nearly a month. My first impression on Brisbane is that everything is in large size. Cars are large, beef burgers are large, and streets are large (wide and spacious). Brisbane is a metropolis. There are many skyscrapers and fancy mansions located near the CBD. Brisbane is scenic city with a landscape of lakes and hills. The ecological environment is fascinating, when I’m walking on the street, I can see Australian egrets and smell the fragrance of sweet-smelling flowers.

The place I live

The campus of QUT is quite close to Brisbane city area. I booked my accommodation months ago and I’m currently living with my friends in Woolloongabba. It is convenient, just a few miles far away from GP and not far to stores.

Orientation week

The first week is the orientation week,during which I participated in a variety of different activities. I took part in Study Abroad and Exchange Student Orientation welcome session and got my student ID card with the friendly assistance from volunteers in the library. During lunchtime, I sat down with my friends on the lawn, enjoying the gentle breeze and the food which only cost two dollars.

At the weekends, I went to the Golden Coast with my friends. I took a lift to the top of Building Q1 (Queensland Number One), which is one of the tallest skyscrapers in the Southern Hemisphere and had a bird’s eye view of Queensland. I was deeply impressed by the Surfers Paradise where there were many tourists and local people surfing in the sea.

Schoolwork

The experience as an exchange student at QUT is splendid. However, I also have to face some challenges in my study. My major at QUT is Biomedical, which means I need to memorize a lot of specialized vocabulary and I have to do preview before each of my classes, otherwise I would have difficulty understanding what the lecture is talking about. As a non-native speaker, I haven’t had a class in English before, so it really takes me some time to adapt to a pure-English environment.