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.