Many Sunburns – Even More Memories

See below for English

蘭嶼對我有很深的印象。在這個部落格不能討論每一天的活動,所以我只要討論對我有最深的印象的東西。

我從來沒有那麼多中文!星期五我坐火車去台東。Winnie的父母歡迎我住在他們的家。他們太好了!雖然不會說英文,可是對我很友善和耐心。他們先請我吃飯然後陪我去鐵花村。我覺得鐵花村是一個非常特別的地方。原來是太懂的火車站,可是現在是一個公園。每一個星期五和六人們要來鐵花村聽音樂,買手工東西,吃飯,喝酒,和跟朋友們聊天。那天晚上有一個非洲鼓表演。鐵花村讓我想起來德州,因為德州常常有這些活動。

星期六我很早來得起去福岡港口坐船。我聽說船很不舒服,可是我覺得我不容易的暈船。唉…我沒暈船,可是很多人暈船了。我覺得很噁心。

最後,我很高興地下船找到我的旅舍的人。我住在“蘭嶼看海的日子”,是一個很可愛的旅舍。他們也很友善,就是一個問題。一個人都沒說英文!老闆是蘭嶼人(達吳族),當然對蘭嶼很熟悉。我們見面的時候的看起來很緊張有一個外國人住在他的旅社,因為他不會說英文。他不知道我的中文水平怎麼樣。他連說冰水/熱水都說得很慢。哈哈。老板是我的浮潛和夜光的導遊。因為我不會騎摩托,所以我坐在他摩托的後面去浮潛的地方。騎的時候跟他聊天,他就發現了我聽得懂的說話。他說他們達吳族不是台灣人。我覺得聽他說的話很有趣。我覺得達吳族跟台灣人的關心跟台灣人跟重任的關心有一點像。他們都覺得不是另外的。

我跟蘭嶼人看起來很不一樣。我是外國人。我就是一個人。再說,我不會騎摩托。在蘭嶼大家都會騎摩托,所以人們看到一個年輕外國女生騎腳踏車爬山,就覺得有一點奇怪。大家告訴我如果我想去一個地方,可以坐公共汽車去那邊。可是我沒聽進他們的建議。覺得環島一共不過是三十八公里,可以自己騎腳踏車。第二天我一共起了三十八公里,可是沒環島,因為怕水不夠喝。我騎來騎去,如果看到有意思的東西,就停車。我騎的時候路人常常對我說“加油!”有時候問我要不要他們拖我。

“你一個人自己來蘭嶼嗎?”沒有一個人沒問我這個問題。“對。就是我。”雖然有時候跟朋友們一起旅行很好玩,可是我覺得一個人自己旅行是一個非常寶貴經驗。一個人自己旅行的時候,你除了不要靠另外的人以外,還常常交新朋友。在蘭嶼我碰到了很多有意思的人。星期六吃完飯的時候,跟一個從花蓮的女生聊天。她的口音很重。我告訴她“對不起我聽不懂。怕你的口音跟臺北的口音很差。”她覺得這很幽默,就笑一笑。

雖然我跟很多人聊天,可是對我有最深的印象的人一定是最後一天吃早飯的女孩子。星期一我很早地爬不起來。我非常累因為前天騎了很多,但是聽說附近有一個很有名的遭飯店賣飛魚飯團叫阿力給早餐。他們六點開門,可是常常六點半已經就售罄。所以我五點半騎到阿力給早餐等他們開門。我等的時候,老闆的女兒坐在我的旁邊看我。覺得她差不多三,四歲。她沒說話,就是看到我笑。她幫我拿到早飯。吃的時候她的姐姐來了。姐姐差不多六歲。姐姐對我說,“你有什麼夢想?”我原來聽不懂。覺得她問我我從哪裡來的,因為每一個人都問我那個問題。然後她說,“你想做什麼?”那時候我以為她問我我那天想做什麼。所以我對她說,“今天我要回家,所以我沒有很多時間做活動。”她說哦,“我想去{什麼地方,我聽不懂}。”我騎到旅舍的時候,在想一想姐姐說的話。我發現她說的意思。夢想就是 “dream,” 而且“你想做什麼?”的意思常常是“你長大想做什麼?”我突然覺得很後悔,因為希望我告訴她我將來想做什麼,不是我那天要做什麼。

星期一我會去台東。坐船的時候碰到了有些說英文的外國人,跟他們說話。覺得說英文很奇怪因為我三正天都沒說英文。

會到太懂的時候Winnie的父母再歡迎了我。他們請我吃很好吃的煎交和臭豆腐,而且帶我去海邊的公園。我們一邊吃一邊聊天我在蘭嶼的經驗。覺得我很勇敢一個人去蘭嶼。我離開台東的時候對叔叔和阿姨很感謝。他們對我有很幫助歡迎我來他們的家和帶我去很多地方。

現在我不敢相信我一個人去蘭嶼住三天。好像不是真真的生活。雖然有時候我想家而且死整天都不用英文,可是我非常感謝有這個機會去台東和人蘭嶼探險。我不但提高了我的中文水平,而且得到了無價的經驗。

For the first time I felt that writing a blog in Chinese was more fitting than in English.  Why? Because for the 4 days I flying solo away from Taipei, I did not speak a lick of English.

My Taiwanese friend, Winnie, had kindly asked her parents if I could stay with the two of them in their home in Taidong during my connections to and from 蘭嶼Lanyu (Orchid Island).  Winnie’s parents warmly greeted me to their home in in Taidong Friday night.  They generously treated me to dinner and showed me around Taidong, a rural city set on the Southeast coast of Taiwan where the pace of life is considerably slower than Taipei and even Gaoxiong.

One of the stops was the old train station (no longer in use) that has now been converted into a park area.  Every Friday and Saturday night the town hold what’s called 鐵花村 (Rail Flower Park? The translation is beside me…).  The park was decorated with paper air balloons that local students had made and there were local artists selling jewelry, soap, coffee, food, drinks, and more.  There was also live music. That night featured an African drum group – not the typical music you would expect to find in Taiwan but it was totally awesome.  All-in-all it reminded me something you would find in a small town in Texas.  In fact, the whole town of Taidong kind of reminded me of the small town of Gruene, Texas.

Saturday morning I jumped on board for the bumpy, sea-sick-inducing, two and a half hour ferry ride to Lanyu.  I’ll just say, I was fine, but there were many people around me not having a fun time…and we were all happy to get off that boat.

My host greeted me at the harbor with a big sign that said 蘭嶼看海的日子Ponthier Sierra.  My host didn’t know if I could read the hostel’s name and she also didn’t know which name was my first and which was my last, so she put them both on the sign haha.

Lanyu is 32km around and is home to one of the 14 aboriginal tribes in Taiwan – the Tao.  My hostel was run by two people – a Tao man and a Taiwanese woman.  The woman spoke a few words of English, but nothing more than what my Chinese dictionary could provide.  The Tao host on the other hand, did not speak English and appeared slightly concerned when he found out there was a foreign girl staying by herself at his hostel.  He did not know how much Chinese I actually understood and at first spoke so slowly and simply that he even explained to me how to use the “cold” and “hot” water dispensers (which were clearly labeled with blue and red).

Later, when we went snorkeling with the rest of the hostel residents (of which all were Taiwanese couples in the 20s or 30s), I rode with him on his motorcycle-scooter.  He finally realized that I can actually communicate in Chinese and quickly warmed up to my questions about the island and Tao culture.  From what I gathered (some could have been lost in translation) there are about 4,000 Tao people but only about 1,000 currently live on Lanyu – the rest have moved to Taiwan for work or education.  He also was adamant that “我們達吳族, We Tao” are not Taiwanese.  The Tao come from a completely different ancestral line than Taiwanese and are more common to aborigines on Australia or Hawaii than they are to Taiwanese and Chinese.  I found this interesting and reminiscent of the conversations you sometimes have when you ask a Taiwanese if they are Chinese.  “No, we are Taiwanese! Not Chinese!”

I spent two nights and one full day plus 2 half days on Lanyu.  I went snorkeling, owl watching, ate lots of flying fish (LOTS of flying fish) and basked in all the glorious (and extremely strong) sun that the Southern Pacific has to offer.

Everywhere I went, I stood out.  I stood out not only because I was the young, foreign girl traveling by herself, but also because I was the young, foreign girl traveling by herself grunting it up the island hills on a janky old bike.  Everyone on Lanyu drives a motorcycle-scooter.  Even if you don’t have a license, you drive a scooter.  But me, being the rule-follower that I am, opted for the eco-friendly and sweat-intensive bike.

Like I said, the island is 32km around or 38km around by the main road.  Everyone told me I could not make it around – it’s too far they said.  It’s too hilly they said.  No, I did not bike around the whole island (I ran out of water), but I did bike a total of 38km in one day, so I consider myself 很厲害(rough trans: pretty intense).  Everywhere I biked locals along the road would cheer for me saying “加油!Keep going! You can do it!” or sometimes even offer to tow me along on the back of their scooter.

Despite the constant burn in my thunder thighs and my increasingly more severe sunburn, the bike gave me the level of freedom that I had been hoping for on Lanyu.  If I came across something that looked cool, I could stop and explore.  If I wanted to go get food down the road, I didn’t have to wait for a bus or deal with crowded public transportation.  By the time I left Lanyu, I had found “my” spots.  Spots where the people passing by too quickly on their scooters wouldn’t have noticed.

I find traveling alone gives me the confidence to ask strangers for help or engage in conversations I otherwise wouldn’t have bothered to start.  My first dinner I sat with an older woman from Hualien.  She was a jolly woman and chuckled when I apologized for having a hard time understanding her because her Taiwanese accent was not the type that I was accustomed to hearing in Taipei.  I also chatted a fair amount with a Taiwanese couple staying in the hostel with me, several shopkeepers, and breakfast owners.  However, the conversation that left the deepest impression on me was on my last morning with two young girls.

Monday morning I dragged my sore bones out of bed at 5am to peddle over to a breakfast shack that supposedly sells famous 飛魚飯團flying-fish rice balls.  Though the shop opens at 6am, they almost always sell out by 6:30am.  When I arrived at 5:30am the owner warmly welcomed me to sit down while I waited for them to open.  Meanwhile, his daughter (maybe 3 or 4 years old) innocently sat down next to me with her breakfast and looked at me quietly with a curious face.  She brought me my food and continued to smile.  Later, her older sister (maybe 6 years old) came over too.  She then asked me “你有什麼夢想?” I was at first caught of guard.  I thought she asked where I was from as that is the question that everyone on the island asked me.  The she rephrased her question “你想做什麼?” Oooh, “What do you want to do?” To which I replied that I was going back that day and didn’t have much time to do something.  I asked her the same and she said she wanted to go [somewhere], but I couldn’t pick up on where that somewhere was.

Later, as I biked back I realized that she wasn’t asking me about what I wanted to do that day.  夢想(meng4xiang3) means “dream” and her follow-up question by direct translation means “What do you want to do?” But the implied meaning is often “What do you want to do when you grow up?”  I think (and I will never know for sure) that she was asking me what I wanted to be when I grow up.  What do I want to do? Where do I want to go?  I suddenly became overwhelmingly sad at the idea of missing out on a chance to have a child-like conversation with a Tao girl I would never meet again.

At the beginning of this post I said I didn’t speak English for 4 whole days, but I take that back.  I did bump into some foreigners on the boat back to Taidong.  They came to Lanyu for bird-watching.  Speaking in English felt very strange – almost wrong.  I felt the need to speak slowly and really enunciate.  But they were from the UK and US, so was I just speaking slowly for myself?  Aside from that conversation, I used Chinese from the time I left Taipei Friday afternoon to the time I returned Tuesday afternoon.  I have never gone that long speaking only Chinese.  Winnie had told me that her parents did not speak any English and I had heard that English was hard to come by on Lanyu, but it never completely registered in my mind the magnitude of what that meant until the trip began and I realized 我沒有辦法!There was no way of communicating other than in Chinese! I got to the point where even when I was out exploring the island my thoughts were in Chinese and I even started talking to myself in Chinese!

This experience made me realize that my Chinese is actually better than I thought it was and gave me confidence to know that I can certainly survive just fine in a Chinese speaking area.  It also made me reflect on how far my Chinese has come since I arrived in Taiwan.  Prior to arriving, the idea of becoming fluent in Chinese seemed impossible.  I could not fathom becoming fluent, even with a semester abroad.  But now, after going through a truly “immersive” experience, the illusion of fluency does not seem so illusive after all.  Heck, all it takes is removing any means of communication other than Chinese.  Challenge?  Challenge accepted.  Now who’s going to provide my remote Chinese-speaking island when I go back to the States?

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New Shoes

I have searched high and low for a new pair of running shoes since I landed in Taiwan. But of course, not just for any pair of running shoes — Nike Air Zoom Structure Women’s US size 9. That’s what I am looking for. In Taipei it seems like there are more Nike stores than there are Starbucks (a lot) and yet, finding the shoe is not the problem. Finding the SIZE is the problem.

I have looked high and low. Ive looked in Taipei and in GaoXiong and even in between in Tainan. All with no avail. Size 8? No problem. Size 8.5? No problem. Size 9.5? Why of course, yes I found that too. But no 美國九號。

Until yesterday. On the way to the Le Hua Night Market I found my glorious Nike Air Zoom Structure size 9 — and on sale! I felt like a little kid on Christmas morning it was such a welcome surprise. I couldn’t wait to test them out the next morning.

But this morning when I happily bounced along my normal river running path in my new shoes, I suddenly came down with an overwhelming feeling of melancholy. Why? Because of the new shoes. Not because they were uncomfortable or didn’t meet my expectations, but because the need for new running shoes meant something more.

I haven’t needed a new pair of running shoes for quite some time now, since the stress fracture in my foot cut my cross country season short and continued to nag from October to the week before I left for Taiwan mid-February. But now, 6 months later, I’m running consistently enough that I need a new pair of shoes. Up to 23 miles a week and throwing in a couple interval workouts too. And who do I want to share this excitement with? My teammates.

I haven’t been too homesick since landing 9 weeks ago. Yes, I miss my family and friends, but skype has been a modern day savior to help with that. And yes, despite all the delicious food in Taiwan, I do miss having my own kitchen and space to cook and eat the food I’m used to. But what I really miss the most right now, is waking up at 6am to meet my teammates for a morning workout on the trails or doing long runs around Lake Norman with Anna while chatting about whatever random things come to mind (usually food related) or picking each other up after collapsing across the finish line or walking into Commons all sweaty and sticky and going en mass to fill our bowls with salad and cereal. These are the moments I miss the most. And these are the moments that I’ve been missing for much longer than my 9 weeks in Taiwan.

I’m just about at the halfway point here in Taiwan, but this post is not a red (or white?) flag signaling I need a rescue. It’s just something that’s been on my mind lately and needed to be put into writing. Taiwan is still awesome. I am still uncovering hidden jewels around every corner, learning new things, experiencing once in a life time opportunities (currently coming back from participating in a pilgrimage for one of the most popular local goddesses, Mazu), and meeting people with incredible world views that I would never have bumped into elsewhere.

Life is good, life is very good — just could use a few fasty cats to share it with 🙂IMG_6779

Home!

Well, not my home. But still a home.  We had Monday and Tuesday off from classes because of national tomb sweeping day, so I went with Joyce (my roommate) back to her home in southern Taiwan.  Here are my daily thought from my 5 days in 高雄 KaoHsiung/GaoXiong。

GaoXiong Day 1 – Friday April 1, 2016:

Last night Joyce and I took the high speed train from Taipei to GaoXiong (KaoHsiung). We arrived at 11:30pm where her mom and brother picked us up. I felt bad because I was so tired I could not for the life of me think in Chinese, so I couldn’t adequately introduce myself and thank her mother for hosting me.

This morning Joyce and I left home about 9am and headed off on my first motorcycle/scooter ride ever (sorry, no pictures).  We went to a breakfast place where we had 燒肉泡菜三明治. Basically a thin piece of pork with egg, kimchi, sweet mayo on white bread. Add a coffee in there and you have one interesting combination for breakfast. Can’t say the after taste of coffee mixed with kimchi is too pleasant. It was delicious in the moment nonetheless, and so filling too! Then we went to the art and culture harbor where we spent a good amount of time looking around the eslite book store. I was in awe of how many books about coffee there were! I wanted to buy them all! Or at least the one with 100 coffee shops in Taipei, but alas, I refrained. I learned in one of the books that they actually grow coffee in some southern Taiwanese cities!IMG_6318

The harbor area was very nice. I was so happy to see the ocean (well, the Taiwan Strait) It is very open and pleasant for just strolling along. It used to be used as a shipping harbor, but since has turned into mostly commercial leisure yacht boats. In general GaoXiong follows my expectations of what a Southern city might be like – the streets are more open, fewer buses, and more people on mopeds. However, what I didn’t realize is that although GaoXiong is the second most populated city in Taiwan – only next to Taipei, it is definitely more of a residential city than a tourist destination. You don’t see too many foreigners, there aren’t as many international restaurants, and things are much more spaced out.

As we rode around on the scooter, Joyce gave me little history tidbits. For example, GaoXiong was originally the southern capital when the Japanese first colonized Taiwan. They were the ones who arranged the streets in the city, so they are very straight and logically laid out. Joyce was so happy to be back in GaoXiong where she could travel around easily on her scooter, have room to move, and eat the cheap food she grew up on.

In the afternoon we visited Joyce’s all-girls high school. Her teacher asked her to come talk to the senior students about college and offer any advice. Since I was with her she figured I could also talk a little about life in American high school/going to college in the U.S. At first the class was really shy, but after I finished my little 2 minute speech expecting to pass on the stage to Joyce, it quickly turned into a game of “let’s ask the foreigner as many questions as possible.” These ranged from “Why did you choose to go to school so far away from home?” to “How do you describe Taiwan to Americans?” to “Do you have a boyfriend?” Naturally, at an all-girls school, these 17 year old girls are curious about what dating is like in America haha. Though the most interesting thing was when I answered how American high schools are different from Taiwanese ones. I explained how there is more of an emphasis on extra curricular activities in America to which a girl followed up asking if I think that’s why Americans seem to know what they want to do with their life so early. Many of these girls don’t have time to participate in extracurricular activities aside from marching band or a few other school programs as classes run from 7 in the morning until 6 at night.  They’re especially stretched thing right now when they are preparing for their college exams and have to cram study for every subject – even if they aren’t planning on pursuing that subject in college.

It was really sweet going back to Joyce’s high school because you can tell she was really respected and loved there by both students and faculty/staff. The younger students really look up to her and the teachers were all happy to see her. We visited her marching band supervisor in her office where we spent a good 30 minutes joking around and chatting. There were about 5 people in the office (it was essentially the security guards’ office too) and they all took turns saying my name because none of them could say it right the first time. That’s been a common reaction when I introduce myself – actually every time it’s been that way. Never knew my first name was so difficult to pronounce. And forget about my last name. Heck, I can barely pronounce my last name correctly.

Day 2:

Tainan round 2!

IMG_6339Anping

Taijiang National Park (missed the boat ride we wanted to take…bummer)

Back home for dinner

Joyce’s mom made an incredibly delicious steamed fish. While Joyce was in the shower, I got to talk a good amount with her mom about food in Taiwan and how many students want to be bakers because of the one famous Taiwanese baker that won the international bread competition. Joyce is an incredibly talented pianist. Never have I seen someone be able to listen to a song and then come up with the notes for that song just from hearing the song. It’s incredible!

Joyce’s mom feeds me sooo much omg I’m going to get so fat. But I did just eat a delicious mochi-like thing – It’s soft rice mocha filled with a layer of matcha paste and a strawberry in the middle. It comes in different flavors like red bean, taro, and green bean, but the matcha was definitely the best combination.

When we started talking about breakfast and coffee Joyce mentioned that her teacher said the Taiwanese coffee industry is booming like nothing else. It has just continued to grow and grow and hasn’t peaked yet. There just seems to be more and more supply and a demand to keep up with it. Then her mom brought out a giant box of coffees.  Looking forward to my morning cup of Joe now.

 

Day 3: Church with Joyce and her mom and brother. Large Baptist church in Gaoxiong. About 2,000 people among the 4 sessions.

Then drove into farmlands to 美濃 MeiNong, a Hakka village. They grew all sorts of things from bananas to sugar cane to tobacco to pineapple, but they are most famous for their cherry tomatoes. We walked around 中正湖 Zhong Zheng Lake. It was a really beautiful lake. Joyce’s mom really likes the farmland and seems to be at peace out there. It sounds like she took the kids there a lot when they were younger.

 

Day 4: Aboriginal Culture Park in Pingdong. While I cringed at the idea of turning a culture into a theme park, I must admit it was a very helpful way to learn about the different tribes in a concentrated setting. There are 14 recognized tribes all over the island that still very much exist today. Most live in the mountains, but some like the Tao on Lanyu or the Amis in Hualien are coastal tribes and rely on the ocean. I was really blown away by how different each tribe is from the rest. This island is so small, yet there can be such significant differences between the 14 tribes. The aboriginal people on Taiwan are believed to be related to the aborigines in Australia and even connected to Hawaiians in some way! Pretty neat stuff.

That night I had dinner just with Joyce’s mom because Joyce and her brother had previous plans for dinner. Joyce was concerned that the two of us wouldn’t be able to communicate but we managed just fine! First we talked some more about the aborigines and Taiwan ancestry in general. Basically you can break the ethnic groups down to 5 groups. (In order of immigration/landing)

  • Aborigines (native to the Island)
  • 大陸人Mainlanders (Han Chinese)
  • 客家Hakka
  • 外省人”People from outside the district” 1945 Chiang Kai-Shek followers (mostly soldiers from 關東)
  • Taiwanese mixed with 越南Yuenan

Add in centuries of Dutch, Portuguese, and Japanese colonization and you have an interesting mix of people on this island.  One of the big discussion topics is the “Taiwanese Identity,” meaning what is it, how was it formed/is forming, and what factors play into that?

Day 5: Beach! Whooo it may be a little different from the beaches I’m used to, but it made me miss home nonetheless. The weather was beautiful, the water was warm (cold to Joyce’s standards), and the atmosphere was refreshing. We walked up to an old fortress and lighthouse where we could see the entire isle. Yes, the beach was actually an island just a few hundred meters off the coast of GaoXiong.

Other thoughts:

I ran the last 3 days each morning. But the only place to run nearby without having to drive was at the middle school where Joyce’s mom teaches. The track was 200m so it was really monotonous. But the kicker was that because this weekend was a holiday, all the gates at the school were closed…On the first day I couldn’t find a way to get in, but there were dozens of kids playing basketball on the inside, so I knew there had ot be a way to get in! Finally, I saw a boy with a basketball hop over a wall about 5 feet high…so I followed. The next day the same boys were shooting hoops, but this time they brought a little step stool with them. How convenient 🙂

The interaction that occurred 3 times a day:

媽:”你吃飽了嗎?“

我:“我吃飽了” “Wo chi bao le”

Translation:

Joyce’s Mom: Are you full?

Me: Yes, I am full.

*gives more food.  Then an hour later has desserts for me.

I think I am going to be perpetually in a state of “chi bao le”

There Is life Outside of Taipei?

Aside from flying into the neighboring town of Taoyuan, I haven’t left the Taipei city limits for the entire 4 weeks that I’ve been in Taiwan. But there is so much in Taipei to explore that it’s easy to forget that it’s just one of many cities on the island.

This weekend we hopped on a bus for a 3-day CIEE trip to Tainan, the southern capital of the island. Like many countries, the North and the South are significantly different. My professor on Friday is from KaoHsiung, a southern city, and kept telling our class with a chuckle, “You really need to go to the south, it is SO different.” Northerners often laugh at the South for being chaotic and more loosely run. In contrast, Taipei and the North are typically seen as more uptight and organized. The prime example of this is the use of street signals. In Taipei both cars and people (to my surprise) obey traffic signals. In fact, J-walking is even illegal and enforced in some major intersections. The South, on the other hand, uses traffic signals as a mere “reference” or some even say they are “for decoration” haha. Yet, you rarely see any accidents. It reminds me a lot of Italy and the North-South divide, but maybe less competitive.

Tainan is the third largest city in Taiwan and is on the coast about a 4 hour drive on the highways or a 1.5 hour ride on the high-speed railway. We left Friday afternoon and stopped halfway at the Gaomei wetlands. Unfortunately we just missed the sunset by a few minutes, but still got to walk out onto a windy, rickety boardwalk that led about a quarter mile into the wetland.

Around 10:30 we finally made it to our…hostel? I’ll back up a little bit. On the bus ride, Christie, the CIEE director, informed us that we would be staying at a temple for the first night. It’s common for temples to host travelers/have a B&B, so I didn’t think too much of it. But what I didn’t expect was to pull up to the hostel only to be greeted by this:

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And this:

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The temple was for the Taiwanese folk goddess of healing, Mazu. These two figures stand guard outside the temple to search for those that need healing. The green one can see for miles and miles and the red one can hear for miles and miles. The temple hostel was simple but welcoming and got the job done.

Saturday was one jam-packed non-stop day. Started out with a nice jog around the area. Ran through some farmlands, smelled some wild onions, bumped into a pack of wild dogs – quickly, but calmly avoided eye-contact and ran the other direction praying not to hear barking behind me – and ended running in circles on a 200m elementary school track.

At our first stop in Tainan city we learned about the folk figure, the “Sword-lion,” a lion-like animal holding a sword in its teeth that serves as the protector of the city. We also painted our own little lion guy.

Red = prosperity, Green = health, Yellow = Everything. You can tell what my priorities are at the moment.

Our guide, Song Laoshi gave us some brief background on Tainan. Historically, Tainan is most known for its old-style fortresses and temples built during the Dutch occupation in the early 1660s. It also served as the island’s capital through the mid-1800s.

A lot of the Dutch influence can also be seen in the architecture like this building, the National Museum of Taiwan Literature. We also saw a Confucius Temple and Chihkan Tower (sounds like “Chicken Tower”), and ancient fort used during the Dutch era.

I realize I said Tainan is most known for its fortresses and historical significance, but that is more on a global scale. If you ask any Taiwanese person, Tainan is most famous for its food. Most notably it’s 小吃 or snacks. The main streets of Tainan are lined with street vendors selling everything from grilled squid to ice cream burritos to roasted bugs.

“Coffin Bread” a famous Tainan dish with a base of fried bread that’s been hollowed out and filled with seafood soup. The Taiwanese version of clam chowder in a bread bowl.

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Coffin Bread

Ice cream burrito (for lack of a better term). Definitely one of the most unique things I’ve had so far, but so refreshing and yummy! Starts with a wrapper that’s sprinkled with shaved peanut candy, cilantro, and 3 scoops of sorbet (sour plum, pineapple, and taro).

Dinner was no less of a foodie adventure. Our hotel for the night (not the temple hostel) was just a block walk from one of the most famous night markets in Taiwan, Flower Night Market花夜市. The best way to describe this night market is that it is a big carnival – every. single. night. Fried food everywhere (fried fish, fried chicken, fried sweet potatoes, fried mushrooms, fried stinky tofu), food on sticks everywhere (chicken, beef, pork, squid, mochi, corn), sweet beverages everywhere (bubble tea, milk tea, taro milk, sweet potato milk, fresh pressed juice, cane sugar juice), unknown food everywhere (can’t name any, because, well, they’re unknown), carnival games, trinkets and gadgets, and so so much more. There were even people from Serbia selling cakes and others making “Mexican style burritos.” It puts any county fair in the U.S. to shame.

And everything is SO cheap!!! I haven’t even mentioned that fact yet. Food here is easily a third of the price as in the States. So with so much cheap and delicious food to try, the best way to tackle the night market is with a group of hungry friends.

Snap-shot of a night market experience:

Go with hungry friends. Enter at nearest opening. Gape at the sea of people. Walk forward. Taiwanese buddy says, “Oh! This is yummy!” Buy it. Eat two bites and pass around. Continue on. See something that looks good – no idea what it is. Friend also thinks it looks good. Start frantically asking other friends who else wants in on this thing like you’re some auctioneer. “Oyster egg omelet thing 60NT$ anyone else want some? Going once, going twice – we have a third! Ok, 20NT$ each (about 66 cents).” And continue pattern until you physically cannot eat anymore. Then fight the crowds for one more thing because you can’t help yourself. SO fun and delicious.

The craziest thing was seeing the vacant night market lot the next morning and realizing that it’s just a parking lot no larger than half a football field, but how it holds probably close to 200 food vendors and another 200 other vendors plus thousands of hungry locals and tourists.

Lastly, Sunday was a little more mellow. We headed out of town early and stopped at the Baihe Film and TV Town, which is basically the Taiwanese equivalent of Universal Studios minus the rides. Many Taiwanese and Japanese filmmakers have used the facades. Later we made another stop on our way back at the National Palace Museum of Southern Taiwan. It just opened at the beginning of the year so we were lucky to be some of the first to see the exhibits.

All-in-all, quite a fun and exhausting weekend. I’m typing this on the final leg of our bus ride back to campus looking around at all my classmates passed out in uncomfortable broken-neck positions. And now I’m thinking that a nap doesn’t sound half bad either. So, until next time my foodie friends.

 

 

Chestnuts Roasting On An Open Fire

Ok, maybe not an open fire, but that’s the jingle I had running through my head as I skipped (metaphorically) across the bridge back to campus with my bag of warm chestnuts, Taiwanese honey, fresh fruits and vegetables, and garlic.

*I apologize in advance if this post contains typos or grammatical errors: I should be starting a paper right now but just have to quickly share this adventure while it’s fresh in my mind.

A little bit of a food/lifestyle update: despite my desire to continue living off of white rice and noodles for the next 4 months, my stomach seems to be telling me the opposite. Came down with a little stomach bug last week and realized I may have been a little over ambitious with the local food…So I decided to take matters into my own hands and get back into the kitchen…except the kitchen is limited to a microwave, a toaster, and a rice cooker. Fortunately, you would be surprised how much you can do with a rice cooker.

About a 10 minute walk from campus is a small bridge that leads from one side of the river to the other. For some reason students don’t really go over there. I guess it’s just because there is already so much to eat and do on our side. Anyway, Winnie (one of our Taiwanese buddies) pointed out an organic grocery store to us the other night and I noticed that their prices were actually better than the conventional store by our school. After class today I headed over there to buy some honey for my morning coffee. The store owners were so sweet and chatted with me a bit and were shocked when I said I was from America because they couldn’t tell where I was from haha. They also gave me the VIP discount, which I greatly appreciated J

I was planning on just heading straight back to campus, but noticed just outside the store was a small street with vendors selling produce and other knick-knacks. When I got closer I realized it was a full-on day market! It reminded me a lot of the markets you see in Japan that just keep going and going and going. There were people selling all the daily basics – fruit, vegetables, bread, fish, meat, etc. As well as coffee, candy, local street food favorites, clothes, household supplies, and so much more. It was clearly a local place and for that reason I did not want to take any pictures – just soak it all in instead and try to chat with some of the vendors.

I ended up buying some broccoli, baby bok choy, garlic, a Taiwanese sweet potato, and some bananas. The lady at the fruit shop was so funny and told me in Chinese to remember them and come back and told me I was pretty (complimenting as a marketing tool – quite common).

But the highlight of my purchases was the chestnuts. At the entrance, I was greeted by one of my favorite smells – roasted chestnuts. The guy gave me a sample, and I told him I would walk around and come back. When I was on my way out, I felt bad and told him that I would come back next week and buy some. He grumbled and had the saddest look on his face…As I walked back to campus, for some reason I couldn’t’ stop thinking about the dang chestnuts. Not only how sad the guy looked, but also how good that chestnut tasted. I stopped walking. Literally contemplated the pros and cons of spending an additional 100NTD (about $3USD) and ultimately pivoted around and headed back to buy my dang chestnuts.

I walked up to the roasting booth, told him I came back! And the look on his face was priceless. “It’s not next week!” He said. I told him they were too yummy to wait and happily accepted the extra scoop that he added to my bag.

Reading back on this post, I realize this really does not seem all that exciting, but it was just one a happy coincidence stumbling on this local treasure full of all my favorite things. And those chestnuts! They were just so delicious! Roasted chestnuts are hard to come by back home and when you do find them, they are seasonal and pretty expensive. But here, they are at every street market, $3 a bag, and so so fresh. They are like a cross between a nut and a bean. Creamy like a bean, but very nutty in flavor like, well, a nut. Funny that after all the awesome food I’ve had in Taiwan so far, I’m obsessing over a single, unadorned nut or vegetable or bean or whatever it’s considered.

Now if you excuse me, I’m going to start my paper. But first, finish my bag of roasted chestnuts.

When You Come To A Fork In The Road…

One of the great things about Taipei is that it is surrounded by mountains. There are dozens of day hikes nearby just a quick ride on the MRT (Mass Rapid Transit). This past drizzly and foggy Saturday Corbin, Carole, and I decided to take advantage of our first free weekend by taking a hike up one of Taipei’s most popular peaks – Elephant Mountain 象山.

Elephant Mountain is a fairly short hike – we were told only about 30-45 minutes from base to peak – but is almost entirely composed of steep staircases like these:

Despite the stairs, we made it up in under 25 minutes – pretty impressive if I might say so myself. The view from the top was great and we stopped to jump on the famous boulder and take the typical “I conquered this mountain” picture.

But, when we got to “the top” we realized that it really wasn’t the top of the mountain. It was just a famous spot that has a great view of the city. A nearby map showed a much more complex system of trails that lead to various other peaks. Among them was Mu Zhi Shan 拇指山. We estimated how long it would take to get to Mu Zhi Shan and figured it would be about another 45 minutes to the top and an hour to get back down. Given that it was still early, we decided to give it a shot.

The trail continued to be staircase after staircase after staircase, but lead into some really beautiful parts of the mountains. At one point we actually stumbled on a local folk religion temple where a couple of people were chanting before their dinner.

As we trekked along, there were several off shoots of the main path that led to scenic overlooks. We took a few of these paths but always returned to our main path to Mu Zhi Shan – except for one.

Still feeling adventurous, we followed a path up a steep winding staircase, but this one didn’t seem to lead to an overlook (at this point, I don’t know why we didn’t turn around). We kept going until about 10 minutes later we reached a little rest area with a table and a hand drawn map on a white board (wish I had taken a picture of the map to show how ridiculous it was). The map showed Mu Zhi Shan to the right, so we logically took the path to the right, but it still didn’t feel right – or correct. Fortunately, a few minutes later we came across three Taiwanese hikers (2 women and a man all maybe in their 60s) who started pointing and shouting at Corbin and Carole’s running shoes saying something about how they shouldn’t be wearing those because they’ll slip and fall. Meanwhile, I asked the man where Mu Zhi Shan was and they all three started laughing and saying, “Mu Zhi Shan? Mu Zhi Shan is not this way!” (In Chinese). The man told his companions to go ahead as he proceeded to take us back to the poorly drawn map to show us that we had to go left, not right, to go up and around to get to Mu Zhi Shan.

He gave us a few directions like “go 10 minutes up this path, then you will see [something in Chinese that we couldn’t understand] then make a right and you’ll see [something] go another 10 minutes to get to Mu Zhi Shan. Carole and I nodded and felt like we got the most of it. Seemed pretty straight forward, but he kept asking, “Do you understand?” Even though we replied yes, he didn’t seem convinced and kindly escorted us to the base of the path. Apparently the first object he was talking about was a hand railing. We thanked him kindly and he let us loose from there. About 2 minutes later we came across this:

Then another rope and another precarious climb then this view:

Finally, about 20 or 30 minutes later we reached a wider path and made a right. And after another 15 or 20 minutes we reached a sign that said 拇指山 “Thumb Mountain.” So that’s what Mu Zhi Shan means… As the three of us struggled to all fit on the peak at one time to take a picture, we realized why it’s called Thumb Mountain.

OK, yay we made it to the top! We had officially accomplished Corbin’s goal of hiking into the clouds, and were above Taipei 101 (the tall building in most of my pictures). But now, the fun part – getting back down. The man who helped us made it seem very straight forward, once we got to the top we would just have to continue following the path back down and cross Elephant Mountain again and be on our merry way. Which sounded great because it was already almost 6:00pm and starting to get dark.

In an attempt to wrap this long story up – I’ll just say the paths were not very well marked and we did not come down the same way we came up. We did not see Elephant Mountain, nor did we see anything that looked remotely familiar. We did see a shrine built into rock and an old man sitting pensively on a bench to which we wondered how the heck he was going to get down or if he was going to get down at all.

We ultimately came across a sign that pointed towards some street name, which we happily accepted as our exit. It dropped us off near some odd mix of a temple, restaurant, home, and antique shop underneath a highway. We had absolutely no idea where we were; we were tired, our legs were shaking, and the only thing we had eaten in the last 6 hours was a small banana that Corbin generously let Carole and me split. With no direction or idea of where to go, we looked up, saw Taipei 101 in the distance and walked in the most direct path towards the massive skyscraper as if it were the North Star.

A MUCH earned dinner:

 

 

1 day Later…

IMG_5858What a beautiful day! Who wants to go for a hike?!?! Ha. Ha.

First Week of Classes

National Chengchi University (NCCU) classes began this week. They run a little differently than what I’m used to in that all classes are taught once a week in 3 hour time periods. …Not sure how I feel about that yet, but it does open up my schedule quite a bit.

If I’m being honest, my classes got off to a rough start. My first class on Monday was called The History of Taiwan After WWII. It is a graduate level course taught through the Master’s Program in Asia-Pacific Studies. I was really looking forward to this class because, judging from the syllabus, I felt it would give me a good overview/understanding of why Taiwan is politically the way it is today. The end of WWII marked the beginning of the Chinese Martial law era in Taiwan — a time that I really do not know much about, but was certainly a foundational period for the development of the modern democratic state. Especially in the context of the recent presidential election (Tsai Ing-Wen became the first female president of Taiwan this past January), I am very curious about what historical factors influenced today’s Taiwan-China relations.

Aaaaanyway, so this class…was not exactly what I expected. The professor’s English was not very good and he was openly insecure about it. Furthermore, the syllabus he had posted did not match how he described the course in person. Instead of discussing the history of Taiwan from a political perspective, he planned to use Taiwanese film (which took off in popularity after WWII) as a lens to understand the cultural history. While this does sound interesting, it is not what I was expecting and I honestly could not sit for 3 hours on a Monday night (7:00-10:00pm I might add) listening to him stumble through his powerpoint. In the end, there weren’t even enough students enrolled in the class so the whole course had to be cancelled. Maybe not the best first impression of academics in Taiwan…

But, fortunately, first impressions are not always representative of the whole experience!

Tuesday was my first Chinese class. These are taught separately from the NCCU courses and are for CIEE (my U.S. program) students only. They are three times a week in 2-hour sessions in a class of 3 students. My teacher is great. Definitely one of the best (I would say the best, but no one can be better than Gao Laoshi in high school – who, by the way, graduated from NCCU!) Chinese teachers I’ve ever had. She speaks in Chinese the whole time but I can surprisingly usually follow her. I think my Chinese will really improve in this class.

The remainder of my classes so far are Science and Environmental Communication, The Economics of Fair Trade, Economic and Social Change in Taiwan, and Japanese Foreign Economic Relations. But by the end of next week I’ll have to drop one. They are all taught in English by Taiwanese professors (who thankfully, speak very good English) and are mixed international and local students. Many of the professors received their PhD’s from American universities and are highly accomplished writers as well. It is really incredible being in a class with students from all over the world – Japan, Korea, Netherlands, Norway, Czech Republic, France, and quite a few from Germany. Though it is funny being in a class where I am the only native English speaker.

Despite the rocky start to classes, I think I ended up with a good list. Also, all my classes are small (10-25 students) like at Davidson, so I’m looking forward to both this semester’s content as well as getting to know my professors and classmates.

And So It Begins

My gate from LAX to Taipei was the very last one in the terminal. On my way to it I passed by flights departing for Singapore, Australia, Spain, and many more. Looking around I wondered who was going where and what emotions and feelings were running through their minds right at that moment. Were they going home? Vacation? Work? Travel? Were they happy? Sad? Overwhelmed? Relieved? Scared? I could only speculate about other people from my vantage point, but what I did know was how I was feeling. To answer the question I have been asked a couple dozen times, yes. I am excited. Very, VERY excited.

To kick off this blog I figured it would be helpful to just spit out answers to the most frequent questions I’ve been receiving, so here it goes.

Why Taiwan?

I wanted to go somewhere where I could practice Chinese. This narrows is down to basically China and Taiwan. I’ve been to China during high school and did not necessarily feel a strong inclination to spend a whole semester there. However, I continuously hear incredible things about Taiwan and how different it is from the Mainland. Plus, my high school Chinese teacher and many of my classmates are from Taiwan and they always told me about how awesome the food scene is on the tiny island and how friendly the people are. Upon further research I came to find that this miraculous island contains numerous opportunities for both my academic and personal interests: opportunities in the environmental social sciences, vast natural features including sublime mountains that run directly into sandy, blue beaches, and of course, food that can only be described after I’ve indulged in its deliciousness. Do make sure to check out the About page to read more about Taiwan and its background.

What will you be doing in Taiwan?

Studying, of course. The program is called Communications, Business, and Political Economy and is through CIEE (a third party American provider). I will be directly enrolling in classes at National Chengchi University (NCCU) in Taipei, Taiwan. NCCU has some of the best social science programs in all of Asia and is especially known for its business school. Classes roughly will include Social and Economic Change in Taiwan, The History of Taiwan After WWII, The Spatial Development of Mainland China, Economics of Fair Trade, and Mandarin Chinese.

Dorm or homestay?

Dorm with one roommate. I think Taiwanese.

How long will you be there?

Feb 16th – June 26th with plans to travel around Southeast Asia for a few weeks once the program ends.

You said you wanted to go somewhere where they speak Chinese…so do they speak Chinese or Taiwanese there?

While there is a Taiwanese language, its mostly only used by the older generations or people in the southern part of Taiwan. Mandarin is widely spoken, which I am familiar with. However, the tricky thing is the written language. I have learned simplified characters, but they use traditional in Taiwan. It will be an adjustment, but people tell me it isn’t too difficult to pick up.

What are you hoping to gain from this experience?

I have two main objectives in mind.

On the academic side: It would be nice to come out with an idea for a Senior Capstone research project. As an environmental studies major, I am always concerned about how different countries handle and view various environmental issues such as natural resource/wildlife/national park preservation, water use, food security, etc. However, recently I have become more interested in the role that business plays in combatting these issues. Taiwanese people are increasingly more aware of their environment and I wonder what role this plays in Taiwanese-Chinese business relations as well as Taiwan-Global relations.

On the personal side: I feel that Taiwan is the perfect size for a 5 month adventure. It’s not so big that I’ll only be able to see one tiny fraction of the country, but certainly not so small that I’ll get bored. I’m hoping to use my weekends and spare time to travel around and see as much of the island as possible – from national parks to road cycling to hiking to exploring indigenous communities to eating at all the night markets to snorkeling and watching wind surfers off the nearby island – there is a lot to see, do, and eat on this small island.

How Can I contact You?
facebook, email (siponthier@davidson.edu), whatsapp, skype (sierra.ponthier) basically anything except phone 🙂

Physical Address: 
Copy and paste this address and put my name at the top
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That’s all for now, again, take a look at the About page for more information about Taiwan/The Isle Formosa.

Thanks for keeping up with me on this crazy adventure!!!