Sunday, March 24, 2019

Things To Come

Rain dampened what I had planned for the previous weekend, so not much happened. But it is always good to have those rainy day activities. Like watching movies with a new friend crammed on a bottom bunk in the dorm, while eating noodles from a 7/11 convenience store. Or by planning a new trip for the long break we have coming up! 

Mitsui Outlet Park

This coming week we have roughly five days off, which I extended into nine, for a "spring" break of sorts. I am getting very excited as time draws near. The plan is to visit three different countries. Hint: one I needed a visa for. πŸ˜‰The rest of the details I am going to keep a secret for my next blog! And get ready for more pictures! Like I said before my friend and I planned this all just a few days ago, and well there are a few things that I would do again if I could go back in time. 

1. I would have planned it earlier. Yes, the tickets were still very cheap, and the planning went well. But if I would have done it earlier, it may have been even less expensive. And I would have more time to prepare. I am a major procrastinator, and this is one time I really think I would have less stress about getting ready if I would have done it earlier. 

2. I would have payed more attention to the dates on the applications. All of the flights need information on your passport, that's no surprise. But sometimes different applications have different ways of formatting the date. Sometimes it's Month/Day/Year, and other times it's Day/Month/Year. I definitely flipped some numbers and had to run down a rabbit hole to try and fix it. So, just something to be aware of.

3. I would have checked visas sooner. With the planning it earlier comes the issue of visas. I got extremely lucky and my visa application was a simple online $20 USD app that processes in two days and I receive it upon arrival at the airport. Some other friends didn't quite have that luck, and had to make a last minute appointment to visit an embassy to get their visa, which luckily the embassy was in our city. Here is a site where I found all my visa info for any country:

Nonetheless, it has all seemed to work out. It is hard to convey how excited I am! And I just continue to hope that everything goes smoothly along the way... and if not, well that's part of the adventure! 

Other little things I recently been thinking about and have forgot to mention in previous posts-
The exchange rate for USD to New Taiwan Dollar (NTD) is really good. It is approximately 1:30. This makes things mostly cheaper than in the U.S., but other things, mostly clothing, they have increased the price so it is roughly equivalent to back home. 
Another thing is the outlets here are the same as in the U.S. I brought a universal converter with me, but I haven't used it once! I am sure it will come in handy for other travels though! 
Lastly, the clothes I brought with me are wearing out pretty fast. Holes have started to appear in pants and shirts feel thinner. It makes me sad, but then again now it's time for some local shopping! πŸ˜„

To be honest, I don't know how I am going to leave this place and all the new friends I have made. It already makes me sad, and we still have three months! 

Cheers to the rest of semester,

Wednesday, March 20, 2019

The Good and The Bad

Going abroad requires a lot of adjustment, no matter if it is a short vacation or a long trip. Food, languages, transportation, and cultural differences just to name a few. Being in a place that is so different (as this is my first time in Asia), and for an extended time (this is the longest I have been in a different country) some things have been easier to adjust to than others.

The Bad.
And by bad I don't mean things I hate, or the worst things in life; just some simple dislikes or annoyances I've encountered that are different here than in any place I've been. Some simple, and others a little more complex.

My hair. Nothing I try to do with my hair works. Straightening it, curling it. I guess that's just the humidity, which I have experienced before, but it's just become an extra nuisance. It's like my hair is wavy, but too frizzy to wave properly, and therefore randomly poofy and everywhere. I am really considering chemically straightening it!

The garbage trucks. Everyone knows about the ice cream man in the U.S. You're friendly neighborhood family driving around playing a nice jingle to excite children with the thought of a tasty treat. Well here, there aren't any ice cream men - only garbage trucks that play the same tune over and over again at incredibly early times in the morning while picking up the trash. Friends and I have speculated that maybe it is to alert other cars that the truck has stopped on the street. Either way, the tune will forever fester in my mind.

Dorm living. This is my first experience living in a dorm, and it can be challenging. I have all emotions about being in a room with three other people, stacked on top of each other in bunk beds. I think they are amazing people, and there is so much to learn from being so close with them. On the other hand it is hard. Everyone has different sleep rhythms, shower times, class times, and tidiness habits. Being in such close proximity can be overwhelming - yet what a great support system and communication experience. This should be under the "good" list too!πŸ˜„

Walking. Of all the things to get used to, walking everywhere is another (welcome) challenge, haha. I guess I didn't realize how lazy I was before, or maybe it's just that my home state requires you to drive everywhere because of the long distances. I get tired and sometimes dread the walk, and also wish for instant teleportation. The other fact is that I am sweating a lot in this heat and humidity, which will only get worse, and I feel kind of gross after walking a lot, haha. Regardless, it is becoming more normal, and I think of it as hiking practice! Plus, I need all the exercise I can get with all this tasty food!

The Good.
So many things are "good" here! I feel so blessed to have this opportunity every time I walk out my door. And am really enjoying everything, even things from the "bad" list above. Here are a few weird things I wanted to share that I am enjoying!

Claw machines. As a kid everyone has memories at random places of them begging their parents for a quarter or two to put into the machine to see if the mechanical claw could grab a stuffed animal. Here there are claw machines on every block, open 24/7, with 25+ machines inside! It is fun and enjoyable to go sweat a little as you try to position the metal claw just right to hopefully get a stuffed animal, backpack, keychain, hat, or any other assortment of random stuff inside.

Dumplings. Haven't I already mentioned dumplings before?! So good. I can't get enough of them. Every flavor, cooked every way, and in every shape! And did I mention how good they were?! πŸ˜‰ I highly recommend them. Come to Taiwan just for the dumplings! 

The buses. Convenience mixed with a cheap fare, I can't complain. The bus system here can take you anywhere on the island. And you pay with the same easy card for each of them. They may be crowded, and not quite all of them have air conditioning, but I appreciate the ease it provides in getting around in a place where I can't drive.

By no means is this the same for everyone! Some of my friends here have really been struggling with missing their family and friends, while that isn't a huge issue for me (yet haha). I am definitely beginning to see that collectively as a group of students study abroad there is a lot of camaraderie, as we are all in the same situation together. We are all here to support each other and be supported. It's kind of like summer camp, but we aren't kids anymore, haha. It's a huge learning experience in patience, respect, and self realization. I highly recommend trying to go abroad. No it's not always easy, but you come out stronger in the end. It's great. 😊

And now here are some pictures of places I have been to this past couple weeks and, oh ya, some food!! I think I did more eating this week than anything else, haha.πŸ˜„
Some Dumplings

Hot dog fried with fries... yes it's a thing!

A delicious montage of mystery 

Miso Pho soup mix

Wax Apples

At the National Museum of Natural Science
They also had animatronic dinosaurs too... so cool!

At the National Museum of Natural Science

At the National Museum of Natural Science

At the National Museum of Natural Science

Sushi conveyor belt at Sushi Express

Hot and Sour Soup

Fountains at my university
Mud Skipper At Gaomei Wetlands
Gaomei Wetlands

More dumplings

Very old temple in Lukang

Temple in Lukang

Temple in Lukang

The statues of gods inside temple

Temple pond with koi fish and turtles 

Market in Lukang

Lion face painting

Larger temple in Lukang

Hot dog wrapped with egg in honey mustard sauce
It's better than you think!

Tan Yuan... hot gooey rice balls
filled with seaseme and peanuts
on a bed of ice with a sweet syrup

Fried Chicken under fresh greens and cheese sauce

Custard filled pastry with bruleed sugar

Traditional hot dog with greens on a rice bun

Strawberries covered in hardened sugar


Taiwanese burger:
bacon, cabbage, sour relish, peanuts, and parsley

Also, I am officially sick. Just a cold, but I feel pretty bland. It seems like all of us international students are passing it around. I am definitely thankful that I haven't dealt with any jet lag or food related illnesses... I can settle for a cold!

Here's to getting better in all aspects,

Sunday, March 10, 2019

An Unexpected Experience

I cannot believe it is already been almost a month since I have arrived in Taiwan. Time has flown by, and I hope that these next four months can slow down just a little. 

I would have posted this blog last night, but something completely unexpected and crazy happened! You'll have to read to the bottom to find out - I wanted to stick to chronological order. 

The previous weekend was a long, four day weekend for a national holiday in Taiwan called the 228 Peace Memorial Day. Basically, there was an anti-government stand by the Taiwanese people against China. The Chinese government violently suppressed it which ended in thousands of people being killed. It all began on February 28 (228), 1947. To honor the deceased and what they they stood for, it has become a national holiday which all the people here respect. 

To enjoy the long weekend, my friends and I saw some wonderful sites in the Taichung area. The first was Rainbow Village. The village was home to a war vet who wanted to brighten things up. He started indoors and painted beautiful color popping pictures of animals, plants, and people. Then he began to paint the outsides of all the small houses. Even though the village is only comprised of six smaller sized houses, to fully cover each in creative paint is a huge feat. The city wanted to demolish the area, but it the village was already growing in popularity. Many people protested, and it became a protected area and great tourist attraction. It was bustling when we visited, complete with ice cream stands and a children's playground. I was truly impressed! 

The next day we went hiking in Dakeng, which is comprised of beautiful hiking trails on the outskirts of Taichung city. These trails are known for their challenging hikes and beautiful views. But, we chose a slightly easier trail up which was a paved road, a very steep paved road, that was lined with local people selling things from soup to veggies to local sponges. It was a very hot day and we sweated the whole way up. Back down was another story. We took a different trail down. And when I say trail, I mean steps. Many, many steps. Some were board walk style, others were just a two inch pieces of wood that were supposed to hold the washed-out dirt into place, therefore leading to descending hundreds of steps only walking on our toes! I am pretty sure everyone's calves were shaking after that! haha Nonetheless, with good company everything is enjoyable! 


The fun news is that I started my Chinese language course! It is really a different language, but a welcome challenge. Repetition, repetition, repetition! Some differences between Chinese (Mandarin) and English are: no plurals, no feminine/masculine, no past/present/future tense, it's tonal, and symbolic, along with some other differences as well. And this is why a lot of Chinese speakers have trouble with the English language, and sometimes don't put plurals or make other similar mistakes. One week in and we have learned numbers, the pronunciation of vowels and consonants, and how to introduce ourselves. Again, I am looking to the future and can't wait to see how far I will make it in four months.

Hand in had with this, are the number of diverse accents around me with all the international students. Switching back and forth between them is sometimes difficult, and my brain is working hard. I can feel it! Everyone says things slightly differently with different tones and pronunciations, and if you are expecting one way it can throw you off. Now, when I call my mom or friends back from the U.S. I feel like conversation is just so... easy! It's definitely is a good exercise.

Now, time for the insane story you've been waiting for!

Since midweek the weather has entered a world of perpetual rain. Last night I was at my friends apartment watching a movie when we heard two loud bangs. At first we were confused because locals light off fireworks here frequently, but these bangs were strangely loud so we went to look out a window. That's when we saw that there had been a car crash across the street from their apartment. People were stumbling out of the two smashed cars. We quickly we ran downstairs and outside to see if we could help. As we arrived to the scene we were trying to tell the few people we passed to call the police, but none seemed to understand, and even as we pointed at the crash and they realized what happened they just went back to their business. There was a convenience store across the street and there was a guy just sitting there playing games on his phone. Did they not want to help? Maybe it was because it was 12:30am or maybe it was just a cultural difference. Regardless, I found it strange.

We rushed into the convenience store to try and get the cashier to call the police, but he didn’t speak English. As my two friends went to see if the people at the site of the crashed needed help, I googled the emergency number for the police on my phone and showed it to him, which he then understood and finally called. I then ran across the street to catch up with my friends to see if the people needed help - and remember it is pouring rain. In one car was a father and a daughter, probably a teenager, and the other was just one man. The daughter was freaking out and limping, and crying and only saying the words "I scared."  The dad and the other guy seemed okay, and were talking on their phones to what I am assuming was the police. The single guy was just standing in the rain so I gave him my umbrella, and then proceeded to help the crying and shaking girl across the street to the convenience store to sit down. Everyone came back under the overhang of the convenience store, and we were trying to reassure her and make sure the police were coming. 

Looking back at the vehicles, we noticed one car was on fire under the hood. I immediately thought that if the car blew up we would have more of an issue, and headed into the convenience store to ask for a fire extinguisher. Again, the cashier didn't speak English, but thankfully a woman who was at the check out spoke a little. She came outside with me and I pointed at the fire and made many different hand signals for a fire extinguisher. At last, she got it and asked the cashier for one. He gave me the extinguisher. -And this is where I am truly so happy I had chemistry lab prep training on putting out fires.- I ran across the street, with a friend holding an umbrella over me, and successfully used it to put out the fire under the hood from a safe distance. I never in my life thought I would use that chemistry training, never. 

We went back across the street, and comforted the girl while the police and other first responders arrived. The lady who spoke a little English helped tell the police what all happened. They checked the father, daughter, and other man for injuries. Thankfully no one was badly injured - only bumps, bruises, and scrapes. They checked out the cars, and filed reports. The lady told us the police were thinking that the other man had been drinking, and the rain probably didn't help his impairment while driving. We asked if they needed statements, which they didn't. The people thanked us, and we parted and headed back to the apartment. 

I had never been in a situation like that before. There was no time to think. It all went by so fast. And this all happened in less than 45 minutes. We were all soaked and a little shaky afterwards! 

Nonetheless, your past experiences prepare you for the future. Whew! 
Be safe out there,

Monday, March 4, 2019

Taipei, Taiwan - Sweet Surprises

Friends can come from all areas of the world. Truly, I have met so many wonderful people in and from other countries, and I appreciate their differences and welcoming spirits. But, sometimes the sweetest surprises come from friends right from home. Literally, the babysitter from across town! haha

My hometown is a small town in Montana. And the odds that someone, who not only went to my hometown and my local church, but also used to babysit me as a kid, would be living in the same small country of Taiwan are very slim. What a sweet coincidence! So, this previous weekend I went and explored with her and her husband in Taipei, Taiwan. (Which they are totally famous here for teaching English on TV! Pretty cool, right?)

Taipei is located on the northern part of the island, about a two hour bus ride from the city of Taichung, which I reside. The best way I have found to describe it is like the "New York City" of Taiwan, complete with skyscrapers, a lovely metro system, many city parks, and many more foreigners. It's like the business city: people in suits and very posh boutique shops. Taichung on the other hand, is more... well, regular! No metro, only one airport, smaller ratio of foreigners, and is a quaint, yet still very charming big city. It still has skyscrapers, has slightly more smog, and has less rain. Nonetheless, I can see the draw of Taipei to the majority of travelers. It is absolutely beautiful, with so much to see and do.

I hopped on a bus with some friends, who were also going to Taipei that weekend, and we headed for the northern part of the island. The bus was very elegant, smooth riding, everyone had manners, the air conditioning was great, chargers for your phone, TV's, and it was so clean. We hopped on this bus for roughly 7 U.S. Dollar (USD) per person. 😱I was super impressed; that isn't something you necessarily get in the U.S. Another mode of transportation on the island is the high speed rail, which sounds so cool. I would like to try that at least once, and when I do you all will be the first to know how it goes!

We arrived in the main bustling terminal of Taipei, and made our way outside. After dropping off our excess things at the hotel we were staying at for the night, we proceeded to explore the local area on foot. While walking through this beautiful lush park, called the 228 Peace Memorial Park, admiring the beautiful craftsmanship of the gardeners and maintainers, we noticed a large building with people going in and out and wondered what it was. We weren't going to go in, but in all spontaneity (which is such a great thing to have while traveling), we decided to see what it was all about. What another sweet surprise - it was a museum (I wish I could remember its name)! Equivalent to $1 USD, we explored the many different scientific, historical, and natural exhibits, and were able to use the same ticket for another museum a block away. This one was called the Land Bank Museum, which was a historical bank for the city and had a humongous dinosaur exhibit too!

We then rested, and headed out for food in the evening. Of all the places that popped up on Google as recommendations, we found Nala's, a Mexican food place. As soon as I read that, I realized how much I really enjoyed a good burrito and that I really wouldn't be seeing any of that in Taiwan. One friend, who is also from the U.S., shared the same feeling. We began to drool. Mexican food it was, and it was delicious. Though while walking there, sweet serendipity found us, and we stumbled upon the National Chiang Kai-shek Memorial Hall. A very large gate sat across a large temple over an even larger courtyard, surrounded by two large exquisite buildings. It was definitely worth the stop.

The next day my friends and I had our first temple experience at Longshan Temple. Observing another belief system and religion has its own mystical beauty. Incense was heavy in the air, quite prayers humming about, colorful fruit baskets and flower bouquets lined tables in offering, all mixed with the constant scuffle of feet as people moved in to say their words to the idol of their god. No detail was left out in the creation of the temple; every wall, nook, and crevice was filled with carvings and symbols. Really, so beautiful.

I departed from my school friends, and headed to meet my hometown friends. As I stated before, Taipei has a metro system. Of all the metro systems I have been on, I would say this one is the cleanest and smoothest running of them all. And everyone is so kind if you are lost or don't know which way to go. So, in the nature of winging it, I hopped on for a ride. > One of the best things about the island of Taiwan is that there is a universal payment card called an "easy card" which allows you to pay for lots of things, and it works anywhere in Taiwan. Buses, convenient stores, metro, and so much more. < Meeting up with them was such a sweet reunion! And we were off! We explored Dahu Park, which consisted of beautifully maintained shrubs and a gorgeous bridge which is pretty famous. Never had I been on a bridge with steps up all the way up and down it, pretty cool. Then we went swimming. What a different experience! The public pool was made up of a large lap pool, a hot pool, a cold pool, and a jet pool. When I say jet, these just aren't any ordinary jets like in hot tub. There were at least eight different jet sections, and each produced a different kind of bubbles in different areas. Also, water spouts with intense flows added to the massaging capabilities. It was great - kind of like a kiddie-pool back in the states, but for adults! The swimming attire is also different here. Suits need to be much more conservative, for girls shorts, and a tank (made of spandex-like swim fabric of course), and for guys tight swim shorts that hug the leg, and both have to wear swim caps (which can be the same fabric as the suits). We went to two places to swim that weekend, and both had slightly different rules, and another group of students went to the beach and bikinis were fine there. So, I recommend if you are going swimming, just ask the attendant what is appropriate, or just observe what the other swimmers are doing. 

After resting a while we headed to the lantern festival downtown Taipei. The Lantern Festival is the end of the celebration of Chinese New Year, which is a long celebration welcoming in the lunar new year. There is a main Lantern Festival which marks the end, but each city has festival activities throughout the weeks to showcase some truly amazing lanterns and for people to enjoy food and art. Each year the animal changes, and there are twelve animal cycles. Back home we have one small Chinese restaurant, and from the place mats on the table, I knew the year I was born was the year of the pig. And, what another sweet chance that this year is also the year of the pig!🐷 I truly didn't know what to expect. Not only was there hundreds of cute pig themed lanterns made by schools and professionals, but there was art exhibitions, light shows, live music, and great food all throughout the evening. 

It's funny, Pokemon Go is a huge game all over the world, and especially here in Asia. When it first came out (I think in 2016) I played it quite regularly but ended up deleting the app from my phone. It was a sweet connection that my friend also played it, and after re-downloading it again, we were able to have fun running after different Pokemon and enjoying it together.

The next day we went out and looked at a boiling lake and soaked in a more traditional hot springs pool at a place called Beitou. It was magical. Fun fact, the hot water comes from a thermal valley heated by a volcano, and the rocks there are actually slightly radioactive with the element Radium! This is one of two places in the world where these rocks, called hokutolites, are found -crazy! The cool rain was coming down and hitting the hot water, creating a thick layer of steam which made an other-worldly feel to the very peaceful area. Down the stream from there was a local hot springs pool made to soak, with three different temperature hot pools, and a cold pool. This is meant for alteration, switching from cold to hot, moving the blood around in your body. After this sweet soak, we toured an old Japanese style bath house which is now a museum. It was a beautiful place. You know how you see in the old Japanese movies people sitting on their knees on mats made of fine grass? I always thought those looked so hard to sit on and without cushion. But to my surprise, they were much more comfortable and padded then I thought! 

 My wonderful hosts let me stay the night again, and the next day I was out to travel on my own. I toured the Taipei 101 building which is famous for several things. At one point in time it was the tallest building in the world, holds the world record for the fastest elevator, and has the largest tuned mass damper inside (which helps stabilize the building during earthquakes and storms). It was a beautiful view at the top. Next, I visited the Rainbow Bridge which is a huge scenic walkway across a small river. And last, I visited the National Palace Museum, which has more Chinese books, art, and pottery than mainland China itself. > This was because many Chinese came to Taiwan long ago, and of course moved their belongings with them. And later on in history, the Chinese government in the mainland had much of the old world items destroyed and burned. Therefore meaning the best way to discover about old China is through the relics in Taiwan. < 

After saying goodbye to my lovely friends, I headed on the bus home, which concluded a very sweet long weekend.
They were absolutely the kindest hosts! Even before I came they answered all the weird questions I had about the island and were more than willing to share the best advice. Like not all bathrooms have toilet paper in each individual stall which could be a western toilet or just a "squatty potty" (as I have termed it), or a room on the 4th floor of a building is probably cheaper because in the Chinese language the word for four is close to the word for death, yikes! Plus they took me to some delicious food stops as well! Tofu, I always thought was gross, but now know that it can be very delicious if cooked correctly! I can't thank them enough for opening their home to me.

Next time hopefully I'll have some Chinese language tips to share! 
Adventure awaits,