September 17, 2010 9 Comments
Thanks for posting that, Jackie
…Adventures in Asia
July 23, 2010 7 Comments
During the past week I did a few very Asian things: (1) I took pictures in a Japanese photo-booth and decorated them (2) I ate weird flavored ice cream…twice (3) I went to cram school.
I did this once before with my friend JiWon in South Korea and the concept in Taiwan seems mostly the same. You, along with some of your best friends (preferably Asian), go into a small photo booth where you are given 5 chances to strike your best pose. Then, run around the side to the touch-screen computer and choose the best 4 pictures. You have 70 seconds to decorate each picture with fluorescent-colored backgrounds, hearts, stars, and cutsie phrases. When times-up, you then choose how many pictures you want and–voila! A sheet of your photos are spit out of a slot on the side of the photo-booth machine. Price: $200NT and lots of goofy laughs.
(2) Strange ice cream
In general, ice cream is not on the top of most Taiwanese people’s favorite dessert list (if there exists such a thing).
Most prefer shaved ice （挫冰） to actual ice cream, which is why, I think, most home-grown Taiwanese ice cream is very watery and leaves a sort of bacterial-soap aftertaste. Don’t get me wrong, I am a HUGE fan of shaved ice, but sometimes the summer just calls for a large scoop of mint chocolate cookie dough ice cream and hot fudge sauce on top straight of the Halo Pub tub…whoo…gotta hold my horses. Princeton is only a week away
Anywho, I was very excited to read about Taipei Snow Ice King, a little ruddy-duddy hole-in-the-wall homemade ice cream shop located just outside of Ximending famous for dishing up some very strange flavors. I was so excited, I went twice. First time my friends and I more or less played it safe and tried: sweet corn, almond, guava, and litchi flavors. Next day, my other friends and I were slightly more adventurous and tried: bitter melon, oolong tea, sweet rice wine pudding with longan, and red bean. My favorites were a tie between the sweet rice pudding and the red bean; each was very fresh and tasted so much like the real thing–but better! That was probably my problem with the bitter melon flavor (except it wasn’t better); it tastes fine at first, but the bitter aftertaste hits you full-force. Blech! They have an English menu if you ask and offer 70+ different flavors. Other strange types that we failed to try include: soybean curd, pig’s feet, Taiwan beer, tomato, and mustard.
(3) Cram School/Buxiban (補習班).
Cram school is a Taiwanese phenomenon (though China, Korea and Japan can all give them a good run for their money
as well). Basically, all students attend extra classes at cram school every day (and sometimes on the weekends and during summer vacations) after the regular school day to “get ahead,” or rather at this point, merely to keep up with fellow students. Just about any and all subjects are taught in the cram schools and an average class size can range from 100-400 students.
My friend Carl took me to Cram School Street, aka Nanyang Jie 南陽街 near Taipei Main Station to check it out. He pointed out the ones he used to attend and even took me and my friend Jon up to see one. His old teacher wasn’t there at the time, so we didn’t stay very long, but it was interesting to see the other side. The place was very utilitarian overall in appearance albeit for a giant list of student names descending down the entire hallway, denoting class ranks and which university they got into. Talk about (unhealthy?) competition. To what extent is it really helping them?
For me it is difficult to imagine such a life spent studying all of the time. Already I am tired of so much schooling. 台灣的學生太用功.
In other news, official count-down is one week. Here is what is left on my list of things to do:
At least 3 more new teashops in Maokong
Hand shaved noodles
Burmese food on Burma street
Beijing duck to-go from that place I heard about near Shida
Tainan – eat a lot of food and visit a couple of temples
Jade Mountain – hike (if not possible, go to Alishan)
Hike Maokong from NCCU
Hot springs in the rain and/or fry an egg on the sidewalk by the springs
Learn how to play mahjongg
Check out the tombs on the mountain by my apartment
Buy a bamboo hat
See a show at the National Theater
Unfortunately, on a limited budget and limited time, I don’t think I will be able to accomplish too much. But that’s okay with me. Just means I will be back sometime in the future
July 22, 2010 3 Comments
One of the most unique things about Taiwan is its garbage.
Or rather, its garbage collection (although I’m sure you’d find some pretty funky stuff in its garbage too).
First, there is the Maiden Call (9:30pm on the button in my neighborhood):
(I take no credit for the production of that video, but it was masterfully executed )
…Then, the garbage minions duly arrive.
You must separate plastic bottles from other plastic, cardboard, paper, and your old rotting foodstuffs. This is all highly confusing to the wee foreigner even after a year’s time, but the friendly recyclables collection men are always there to help.
I have to say, as annoying as it is in many ways (ie: the awful tinny music that is everywhere to be heard around the entire island of Taiwan; the mysterious dearth of public trash bins around the city; the fact that I’m roused out of my room on the 6th floor with no elevator at 9:30 at night; the fact that I *ewww* have to touch my trash), the system works and it really makes you conscious of the waste you produce every day. Back home in the US, it is very easy to be blind to all of the crap I throw out–and usually not separated in to the proper bin either; just throw it in the trash bag, put it on the side of the road and–like magic!–it’s gone! The recycling system Taiwan has managed to implement is really remarkable. When there is a trash bin to be found, there is usually a recycling bin right next to it. All of the waste bins on my university’s campus are separated into four different types, with only one actual “trash” bin. Taiwan also charges a small fee for every plastic bag used in grocery stores, convenient stores, etc. In addition, there are also special blue garbage bags I have to purchase in order to be able to throw out my trash (no charge on recyclable products).
I’m not sure if a similar system could work in the US, but small things–like a tax on plastic bags (which some places have already implemented) or a tax on garbage bags (but not recyclables) could perhaps go a long way.
July 11, 2010 Leave a comment
Yesterday I took a trip down to Taichung (2 hours away from Taipei by rail; about 3 hours by bus) and met up with my friend Singing and her older brother who live in the area.
We first went to get some culture and stopped at the National Taiwan Museum of Fine Arts where Singing is interning for the summer. The museum is very modern and is, according to Singing, the only national fine arts museum in Taiwan–all of the others are privately owned. We checked out two exhibits: the first, the 14th Biennial Print Exhibition in the ROC and the second, a new exhibition by a French artist on Hyper-perception. Both featured, in my opinion, very dark and rather mentally twisted themes.
We jaunted next across town to a large night market to pick up dinner and snacks. One large cup of fresh watermelon juice is only $10NT there!!!!!
Finally, we 到了ed:
The game featured the Sinon Bulls (the home team) versus the La New Bears (from Kaohsiung). Sadly, it was a shame for the home team; they went down 8-4 in the last inning. Of course, I didn’t really care either way–I had a great time explaining the rules of the game to my German friend and learning baseball terms in Chinese. (Did you know that “ball” and “strike” in Chinese are 壞球 and 好球–literally “bad ball” and “good ball”–haha, that makes more sense to me than the English does!). The best part was getting to observe the crowd. Never have I ever witnessed such a rowdy fan base–for both teams–at a baseball game. They are LOUD. Each team has its own cheering squad and pep band while fans chant, bang together inflatable bats and blow horns.
Check it out:
With a Taiwanese student ID, tickets were only $150NT and we could pretty much sit anywhere we wanted. We watched the game at the older baseball field in Taichung, so the stadium itself wasn’t much to look at–it reminded me more of one of the community college baseball fields back home. The field is part of the National Taiwan College of Physical Education, a school set up only for athletes. There is a newer stadium in another part of the city that is much newer and nicer, but apparently games are rarely played there unless they are really important.
After the game we still had a short hour to check out a little more of the night market. I asked Singing if there was any food specific to Taichung to try and she took us here:
To eat this：
The combination of salty, sweet and sour was a little too strange for my tastebuds. Though I am happy to have tried it, I think I’ll stick with my “normal” shaved ice next time.
Thanks, Singing, for showing us around! Next time, baseball game in the USA!! I will miss you
June 17, 2010 5 Comments
Your flight is a week away and you are super excited to start your study abroad in Taiwan. Your suitcase is already filled with cotton t-shirts, sneakers, a supply of deodorant, a toothbrush, a Chinese-English dictionary, your passport and visa, and of course a good stash of quality dark chocolate.
But what about your mental suitcase?
Before you embark on any relatively long-term project abroad you need to be prepared for new customs, new thought patterns, new tastes, new language, new beliefs, new sounds–new everything. Basically, you need to be prepared for culture shock.
One major point to note:
• Culture shock does not come in one shape and size. We all come from our own different cultural backgrounds, so naturally our experiences among new cultures will also be different. Therefore, some of the following coping mechanisms might work for you while others might not. Also, some of what you experience in Taiwan may be very stressful to you, but may be wholly insignificant to your friend.
And now, a short mental checklist (to be edited and updated periodically):
• Taiwan’s weather is mad-eye MOODY. (Please excuse the really bad HP allusion).
Spend one day in Taipei and you may experience blue sunny skies, sweltering humidity, torrential downpours and cold damp temperatures. If this does not eventually affect your mood, you are not human. Also, weather forecasts are useless; my rough guestimation is that they are correct maybe 10% of the time.
o How to Cope: Learn from the locals—always carry an umbrella (they sell them everywhere here for $100NT). They protect you not only from the rain, but also from the brutal sun. I would also recommend always having a plan B. You may plan an amazing five day trip to the Kending complete with hiking, sandy beaches and surfing for yourself and your best friend who has traveled all the way from the U.S. to visit you. Then it rains. It pours. It downright monsoons. (Believe me, it happened). This is where an alternate itinerary (like visiting the hot springs and checking out the local aboriginal culture) comes in handy so you won’t be too disappointed. Also, pack appropriate clothing and allergy medications before you arrive.
• Not everyone in Taiwan speaks English. Big surprise this one, I know. But I’ve also come across a handful of foreigners who continually bemoan the fact that they cannot understand the locals and the locals cannot understand them. If you weren’t already aware, the official language in Taiwan is Mandarin Chinese, though many people also speak Hoklo (or “Taiwanese”) and other indigenous languages. Sometimes you may experience being in a supposedly English-taught class and the professor will begin to speak in Chinese. Don’t panic. Understand that there are some local students in class that might not fully understand a concept or idea unless explained in their own language. However, if this becomes a problem (ie: the professor persists in repeatedly speaking Chinese for long lengths of times), then talk with the professor privately about your concern and if it still does not change, speak to a representative in your school’s international office (at NCCU, the OIC)
o How to Cope: Study a little Mandarin before you arrive. This doesn’t have to be much—just enough to learn about the four tones and maybe a little about the history of the language. Learning a few basic phrases, such as how to properly say ‘hello’, ‘thank you’, ‘this one’ and ‘I want/I don’t want’ wouldn’t hurt either. You will most likely learn a lot more once you get here and there are plenty of friendly people willing to help, but you will feel a lot more comfortable if you have some background in the language beforehand.
• Wearing surgical masks. Many people in Taiwan, as well as throughout East Asia, wear surgical masks. (They even come in fancy colors and patterns now!).
Coming from the West, we are often suspicious of people who cover their faces; it implants a spatial separation we are generally uncomfortable with, and also may suggest sickness or disease (as my Dad remarked, it reminds him of those old doomsday sci-Fi flicks about the plague). However, people here sincerely believe wearing a mask will either protect them from getting sick, or will prevent them from spreading germs. Whatever the validity of the claim may be, remember the context. East Asia’s recent experience with SARS and H1N1 scares has prompted many to prepare for the worst. Moreover, with so many people living in one place, the Taiwanese are very wary of the potential of one virus.
• Noise. Forget the stereotype of the quiet little Asian man. Taiwanese people are LOUD–and all the more so when they share a big meal together. Want evidence? Simply mozy on over to any restaurant, bar or cafe in Taipei. More significant, however, is noise tolerance in general. Be prepared to encounter high levels of noise due to traffic, the garbage man jingle, trucks blaring advertisements for political candidates, construction at 8AM, neighbors arguing and fireworks.
o How to Cope: Pack some earplugs just in case and your own mp3 player. Find a quiet spot in the city and visit it at least once a week.
• I’d like some food with my oil, please. One of the most difficult quirks about Taiwan that I’ve had to adjust to is the liberal amount of oil they use in cooking. You can readily find most anything in some fried form–deep-fried, stir-fried, pan-fried–you name it, they fry it. Most vegetable dishes are also fried and, I’ve found, usually drowning in oil to the point where all nutritional content has disappeared. Be prepared to have to adjust to local flavors–it may be difficult to find the foods you are used to eating, especially for those with certain dietary restrictions. But before you write off Taiwanese cuisine as a whole, make sure you try as many different types of foods here as possible: night market snacks, different regional and aboriginal cuisines (including from mainland China), as well as Taiwan’s international food scene.
o How to Cope: Bring some spices and local foodstuffs from home that don’t go bad. Buy fresh vegetables and other produce and cook your own food. This is always the best method to eat healthier, and more critically, to eat exactly what you want to eat. True, this is also difficult for students who live in the dormitories where cooking is forbidden, but students can still purchase fresh fruits and vegetables, wash them and eat them raw. You can also ask for your food to be prepared with less oil when you order. Of course, obviously not *everything* is fried or cooking with oil. Look for steamed, boiled or grilled options (you usually won’t find baked/roasted/broiled because most people don’t use ovens).
• Smile for the Camera. No use beating a dead horse. Refer to my recent post for a fuller explanation.
o How to Cope: Taking a word of advice from good friend Daniel, when and if this happens, kindly decline and explain to the person who is asking that you are a resident of Taiwan and that not all foreigners like to have their picture taken.
• Food is not served all at once. When you go to a Western-style restaurant with a group of friends, be prepared to wait a while for your food. Often your friend’s meal will come out and you will have to wait up to twenty more minutes or more for your own to follow. This is mostly due to the tradition of family-style eating. If you go to a Taiwanese style restaurant or eat in someone’s home, all of the food will be put on plates in the center of the table and you will be expected to share and serve yourself. Thus, dishes typically do not come out all at once because everyone can begin eating once the first dish is served. For some reason, this has translated over to almost all of the restaurants in Taiwan.
o How to Cope: Inform the waiter that you would like all of the dishes to be served at the same time (this sometimes does and sometimes does not work). I would better suggest, however, that you do like the locals and eat once your meal is served. Don’t worry about “being polite”–that Western custom simply does not apply here. Also, I would recommend telling the waiter that your want your drink first or served with the main meal; often, drinks are otherwise served last, like dessert. Bon appetit!
And finally, the two universal coping mechanisms: (1) Learn how to practice cultural relativity—the ability to put yourself in someone else’s cultural “shoes”. What does this entail? Trying to think about the reason *why* people behave the way they do here. What is the value behind the action? What does this person believe? For example, before you accuse someone for being stupid to put shrimp in your “vegetarian” stir-fry, put yourself in their cultural mindset. Many Taiwanese do not consider fish or shellfish to be meat. Learn from these experiences. This time, politely inform them that you also cannot eat shellfish and can they please make a new dish. Next time, make sure you make it clear exactly what foods you cannot eat when ordering and again politely ask them to repeat it back to you to make sure the order is correct.
Cultural relativity means that an observer cannot condemn any practice in which culture engages. In other words, cultural relatively does not allow us to judge another culture, even when its practices are inhumane. Cultural respect requires us to be aware that our own ways are not the only ways, but it allows us to judge others when warranted.
(2) Learn to develop empathy. This is hardly a conscious act, but it should be an obligation. Cultural empathy refers to the ability to accurately understand the experiences of people from diverse cultures and to convey that understanding responsively. When you are empathetic, you are able to develop an emotional and psychological bond with another person or social group. Ultimately, you become “other”-oriented and THAT is an invaluable life skill.
Don’t let your ignorance be an excuse. Being mentally prepared will enable you and the others around you to have a smoother and more enjoyable experience abroad.
For those who are already here, perhaps take some time to reevaluate your own attitudes and behaviors. I know I could definitely benefit from an attitude readjustment every so often as well. Nobody likes a complainer and it is all to easy to fall into the trap of being negative about everything. It’s not *that* bad and, if it is, then go home. Nobody is forcing you to be here.
Also, for those who are already here, what are some other cultural quirks you have encountered in Taiwan and how did you learn to cope?
For those who are now mentally packing, don’t let any of this alarm you. You are about to embark on an exciting journey full of wonderful and surprising experiences that only Taiwan can uniquely supply. Be proud of taking the leap and being adventurous–you will not regret it!
See you on the other side.
January 8, 2010 2 Comments
As an American expatriate…in Taiwan, I felt the title was appropriate.
Sun Moon Lake is considered to be one of Taiwan’s foremost scenic spots as well as one of Taiwan’s top tourist traps. I’d say it is a healthy combination of both:
The views and landscape are excellent…
But then you also get a lot of these people…
Mainland Chinese tourists who like to take multiple pictures of me and my friend, Marlies, because we are the only two white girls on the boat.
The main “downtown” area of Sun Moon Lake is really just one street with many over-priced hotels and restaurants, as well as a Starbucks, Ten Sen’s Tea House, and a 7-Eleven. Marlies and I arrived around 7:30pm on a Wednesday night (yes, we missed the sunset) and most of the places were already closing down, so we amused ourselves by going from hostel to hostel to hostel trying to negotiate the lowest price we could find. And it was amusing…one woman tried to sell us a “love” room complete with an open glass door to the restroom and heart-shaped pillows that said “I Love You” on the bed.
Ultimately, we settled on a room for $1000NTD in one nondescript hostel (non-lake-view side and breakfast not included) after the landlady came running after us shouting “Cheap room! Cheap room! You come stay here!” Despite her forwardness–which usually turns me off from such people–she was extremely kind and helpful, offering advice about things to do around the lake and even running out to the station at nearly midnight to check the bus schedule for us. Taiwanese hospitality never fails to amaze me.
Somehow, we managed to get ourselves out of bed and down to the lake by 6am the next morning–armed with hot coffee and tea from 7-Eleven of course because that’s what you’re supposed to do at Sun Moon Lake right?
And then we waited.
And waited some more.
And that darn sun still wouldn’t come up over the mountain.
So we talked with the locals…
And then around 7:15am the sun finally poked its head up. But you already saw that picture.
The rest of the morning was spent taking a boat ride around the lake and then taking a short hike up to one of the tea farms. Overall, I enjoyed being on the boat; but if you go, don’t expect it to be a normal cruise. This had full-fledged tourist trap written all over it: included were ten minutes of boat ride, thirty minutes to explore a smaller island with a lot of stairs and a small temple and lot of Chinese tourists and a big group of Falun Gong members to bother those Chinese tourists, five more minutes of boat ride, ten minutes on the “floating island” which is really just some rafts with plants growing on them (innovative agricultural techniques, yes, but must I be shepherded off the lovely boat to go see it? I think not), and then about twenty more minutes back on the boat to where we started from. Yeesh.
The tea plantation was pretty cool, though.
And that was the conclusion of my Sun Moon Lake trip. Roughly 18 hours in somewhere-nowhere-Taiwan.