Taiwan: the island of street food, boba, and night markets. Taiwan has always been near the top of my must-visit countries so I’m glad that IES finally gave me that opportunity. As we landed in Taipei we were driven in a Karaoke bus complete with a speaker system, plasma screens, microphones, mood lighting, and disco ball which was an interesting experience. After arriving at the hotel we had a delicious banquet organized by the program waiting for us in the main dining room.
So how does Taiwan stack up against Shanghai? Taiwan definitely has many differences and similarities with Shanghai. The city of Taipei actually seemed a lot smaller than what I imagined. I guess I’ve grown too accustomed to the towering sky scrapers in Shanghai. Taipei actually has no really tall buildings except for the Taipei 101 which you can spot from all over the city.
The infrastructure/organization of the city is definitely worth a mention. All of the cars followed the traffic rules! It was nice being able to cross the street without having to constantly worry about becoming road-kill. It was almost shocking to see cars actually yielding to pedestrians (instead of honking a lot and almost running people over, as is commonplace in Shanghai). Two other things about how “civilized” Taiwan was also struck me: people lined up in single file lines to get onto the trains and let everyone off first, and everyone always stayed on the right side of the elevator to let people walk by. Speaking of people, the people of Taiwan are incredibly friendly. I had heard this before, but it was only during this trip that I truly understood what that meant. For example, if my friends and I ever looked puzzled, random people both young and old would ask us (in perfect English btw) if we needed help getting anywhere.
The 5 star Fullon hotel we stayed at in Taiwan was AMAZING! My favorite things about the hotel were: the sauna, pool, shuttle service, breakfast buffet, and the room (of course). The breakfast was delicious every morning and the hotel’s shuttle bus service (that runs throughout the day) takes you to convenient locations around the city. It was also pretty easy to get around the city by metro/bus. That Fullon hotel was definitely one of the nicest hotels I’ve ever stayed in.
Though short lived, having access to Facebook was amazing. I felt like I could finally reconnect with friends/family abroad. It was also nice being able to ‘friend’ my new NCCU friends. As a self-admitted internet addict, I really appreciated the speed of looking things up (without all the incessant image/page/search blocking censorship that we get in China).
Our hosts were from NCCU and were really nice. Right from the start I was really impressed with how organized their program was compared to how IES has been in the past. The students were our age, very friendly, and more than willing to help with questions/suggestions.
Where to begin… For most of the trip we had mandatory scheduled lectures where we would listen to professors talk about topics like Taiwanese government, politics, currency etc. for about ~3 hours at a time. Even though this was an “academic trip” I felt like the lectures weren’t educational at all. Quite honestly, they were extremely boring and frustrating because they were wasting our valuable time in Taiwan and there was no way out. I don’t know why the program was set up like this. I’ve had a lot of friends in other IES programs that are fun and well organized. Because we were stuck in a poorly organized program, many students (including myself) risked getting in trouble with the program to ditch in order to make the most of our experience in Taiwan. Due to much unrest, we also convinced the coordinators to give us 1 more half day off, which I appreciated. What I did with my free time I’ll go over later, but the time I spent with the program was painful. The organized trips were also equally frustrating and disorganized but, for the sake of time and IES’ reputation, I’ll keep my descriptions short. J
The Taipei Aviation Museum- We were supposed to visit the museum but, under the suggestion of the coordinators, we went to an air traffic control center instead. It was basically a two hour office building tour lead by people who, unfortunately, couldn’t speak much English. The cool control rooms were closed off because of military practice. This was after a few of those lectures and a two hour bus ride to the headquarters… fun
The Taipei Zoo/Taroko Gorge- Even though it was raining, it was nice because we were given access to the “behind-the scenes” of the zoo, seeing animals up close and personal and exhibits normally not open to the public. Taroko Gorge is a famous national park in Taiwan and was something I had always wanted to visit/hike around. The “hike” we were supposed to do ended up being two 20 minutes walks along the side of the road. I was pretty upset but I didn’t let that get in the way of the stunning view from the drive/walking. Even though we didn’t get a chance to hike any trails, the natural features were breathtaking. I got some pretty nice photos there too.
“Whale Watching”/Hualien Beach- IES surprised us and made it dolphin watching instead. Almost comically, the program decided to starve us all day and then feed us all McDonalds in preparation for the boat ride.en what I’ve heard because I actually didn’t go on the dolphin boat ride. I had a friend who gets sea sick easily so we decided to go to Hualien Beach instead (good thing she didn’t go on the boat!). We biked along the coast on a tandem bike which was a lot of fun. There was a military base right on the coast too and we had almost 20 fighter jets fly over us (incredibly loudly) every few minutes. There were a bunch of food trucks (similar to the ones in California) that sold various street food snacks from the back of vehicles. That may sound strange or unsanitary but I assure you it wasn’t! haha. I tried a Taiwanese snack called大腸包小腸 (dàcháng bāo xiǎocháng) which was basically a small sausage wrapped in a bigger sausage (made of rice) with vegetables, Taiwanese pickles, and spicy sauce. Delicious!
Normally I wouldn’t mention convenience stores as a place I visited but I think Taiwan 7-Eleven’s are an exception. If you visit Taiwan you’ll notice that there are 7-Elevens everywhere. In some places it seemed like there was one after every other store. They have a great selection of drinks and pre-packaged foods that are really convenient. Throughout the trip I was addicted to their fruit/nut trail mix. Taiwan’s Japanese influence is pretty evident in the products/snacks that they offered. For paying, you can use your Taiwan metro card to pay there too which is another plus.
Despite my previous qualms, the Taiwan trip was incredible (especially with all the things I did in our free time!). I’ll dedicate the entire next post to “what I did in my free time”/Taiwan Highlights.