Archive | September, 2011

Temples, Turtles & Trekking

30 Sep

Last weekend I participated in a school planned trip to PenBay and Little Liuchiu Island. There was not so much of a defined ternary, but we did know a few things in advance:

–       we were going to see a temple

–       we were going to get on a boat & go to Little Liuchiu Island

–       we were going to snorkel & sea kayak

–       we were going to PenBay Leisure center to wind surf & enjoy the beach

Golden Gates to the Donglong Temple

Well I have to say I appreciated the offer of the trip from the exchange office and it looked like it would be a great trip, 3500NT ($110 CDN) for all transportation, accommodation, and food. Sadly, there was a very low level of organization and leadership which resulted in much wasted time. All in all I think we spent a total of 7+ hours WAITING for things to happen, people to tell us where to go, or buses/boats to arrive.

Turtle Jelly - Photo by Marga R. Martinez Rubio

Though the trip was a bit of an epic failure, we did manage to pull together and enjoy ourselves! The stop at the temple was very interesting, as we were waiting to go to our next stop; there were some shops for us to try local food and drinks. Well I was with a group of people who were introduced to the ancient Chinese Medicine turtle jelly… yes I ate turtle (but it is supposed to have amazing healing powers and be good for your digestion, put some honey on top and it didn’t taste too bad either.)

Arriving at the island much later then anticipated resulted in limited time for snorkeling, but I figured it would still be a great experience so I went with the other few exchange students who thought so as well. I am so glad that I decided to still go, the snorkeling was great, and we even swam with a HUGE sea turtle for the longest time. I know you are thinking it, so I will just put it out there: yes, I ate turtle and swam with a turtle all in the same day, and yes it was a bit of a strange feeling.

Seafood on the BBQ

The rest of the evening was filled with a great outdoor BBQ at our hotel, buying out most of the booze from the 7-11, and then another late night run for more drinks, as we had highly underestimated the drinking abilities of many exchange students from France, Mexico, Finland, Sweden, Germany, Holland, and last but not least Canada!

I have to say it was a little difficult to get up for the 8:00AM departure for breakfast and touring the island. My head hurt a little bit and we began our day by

hiking the coral rocks, being yelled at by our tour guide, who might I add was Chinese speaking, I learned so much :S  The island was very beautiful, but I have a feeling if we had rented scooters and toured it on our own it would of taken half the time.

Back on the boat we go hoping for an afternoon at the PenBay Leisure centre, but at this point we are hearing rumors that there is no beach/windsurfing. Great… we arrive to find out that we are actually going on a bike tour to the PenBay Leisure center, but when we get there swimming is forbidden and no wind surfing allowed, we will have one hour to look around, and then back on the bus so we go home. Ok then.The bike ride turned out to be really fun and was a nice way to finish the day. We also had another tour guide here, but this time she could speak English, and I am so glad she could, because she was hilarious. Lines repeated over and over during our bike ride included:

“Drive as SLOWWWLY as possible!!”

Forbidden Swimming Beach at Dapeng Bay

“One by one!! One by one!!”

I’m guessing the racing we were doing and riding in pairs caused the repetitiveness of these statements, but it was pretty funny!

Nothing is planned for this weekend, maybe some museums or park tours tomorrow? But the typhoon that is near by is causing some strange weather, so we will see tomorrow. Next weekend I am planning on going to Hong Kong with a group of about 10 people. This will also include a day trip to Macau and I am currently contemplating doing the World’s tallest bungee jump with a free fall over 6 seconds long!

Road Trippin

20 Sep

The last week here has been full of many frustrations in regards to course selection and getting enrolled in classes, so it was really nice to get out of Kaohsiung and go see some new sights! My first excursion was with a trip to Lugang organized by the school and then the second was with a group of about 20 other exchange students to the popular beach town south of Kaohsiung called Kenting.

Lugang – Temples/Museums/Masks

Our first stop of the day was the very popular Longshan Temple for tourist and locals alike. Luckily we traveled to Lugang on the Mid-Autumn Full Moon Festival. This is a very important National Holiday in Taiwan where many people BBQ and eat moon cake, they also go to the temple and give thanks for the past year and pray for a healthy and prosperous year to come. This temple was very beautiful but also very busy due to the fact that it was a holiday. After the temple we were given some free time to shop around. I stumbled upon a shop of a local artist who makes hand painted fans, they were all incredibly beautiful and I couldn’t resist making a purchase.

The Artist & The Fan

The rest of the day was filled with tours of a Folk Art Museum, originally the home of a local wealthy family and is now filled with many historical daily-life articles. We also visited a local temple where they had just begun their traditional rituals, the woman were dressed in all black and were drumming and singing. Families come to bring fruit, fake money and light incense to communicate with the gods.

Local Temple

We were shown how to ask the gods questions and even got to try. The process is very lengthy, you drop to blocks that are flat on the bottom and rounded on top. In your mind you think about what you are asking the god and drop them, if they land one up and one down then you can pick a stick with a symbol on the bottom to guide you to your answer, if they both land up or both land down, then you must start again. At the back of the temple there was a beautiful pond and an area where they were giving out a celebratory snack, it consisted of a syrupy broth and then rice balls. You were to eat 6, no more/no less to have a lucky and healthy year to come. It was really nice to take part in local traditions; it really shows what a rich and beautiful culture the Taiwanese have. Just before we left we were dropped off at another location and we were rather confused as we thought the day was over. We were actually taken to classrooms where we were shown how to paint masks and then got to paint them ourselves and take them home. It was a long day that started verrrry early, but I am glad that I went.

Kenting – Scooters/Beaches/Beautiful Views

This weekend adventure started with a two-hour taxi ride from the MRT station in Kaohsiung to our hotel, The Green Tunnel in Kenting (which turned out wasn’t actually in Kenting, but it was close enough, clean & even had a pool). This taxi cost 400NT = just over $10 CDN, so ridiculous! Once settled in our hotel we found the first scooter rental place we could find and rented 8 to get us all around for the weekend. Next stop, THE BEACH! At this point in my head I am here on a holiday, but oh wait… I think I originally came for some thing else, right; school starts this week. Nanwan beach was full of jet skis, banana boats, tubes, and tractors to transport all of these too and from the water. It reminded me of my family campout when everyone is trying to get their campers parked in the spot they want, it was the similar situation here, but instead of trying to miss trees the tractor driver is trying to miss people. We didn’t partake in renting any of the water sports, but I am glad we didn’t because the way the workers were rotating the jet skis in and out like is was no big deal made me feel that the machines we not in tip top shape.

Tractor taking the jet ski to the water

In the evenings we explored the downtown Kenting area for dinner and drinks, and a little shopping of course. We did notice though, that the prices here were wayyyy more expensive than Kaohsiung, total tourist trap. Also, to my surprise there were no normal pubs in this lovely tourist town. From the outside they look like your average disco with music pumping and dinner menus posted out front, however; they are all places with live dancers, who also happen to be (as the French would say) “ladyboys.” Complete shocker! So we found ourselves a nice patio outside to have a few drinks and then called it an early night.

Kenting National Park

The second day we took the scooters up into the hills of the Kenting National Park. This was absolutely stunning! We parked our scooters at the top of the mountain and started our walk around the Sheding Nature Park. Many were worried about snakes and spiders but the only wildlife we came across were some of the most beautiful butterflies I have ever seen and thousands of Chinese Hawks in the sky migrating south to Indonesia. This day finished off at Little Bay beach that had bigger waves and a was a little bit more crowded, but just as beautiful as the day before. All in all it was a wonderful weekend away and I was glad to come back ‘home’ to Kaohsiung. Actually, I was glad we made it back alive to Kaohsiung as our driver on the ride back to the city completely disregarded all traffic rules and regulations. Sure we had “After the Sunset” on the movie screen to try and distract us, but there was no way you could miss what an idiot our driver was. I have never wanted to kiss the ground more than when he dropped us off at the Airport MRT station, and due to the fact they keep the MRT so clean here I actually could have.

Welcome to Taiwan

9 Sep

Well, I have survived the first week here and I might even be starting to get used to the heat. You could say that I have become acquainted with some of Kaohsiung city and I am able to navigate the MRT (subway system). Luckily there are many people here who are willing to help you learn, if they have been here for two years or two days every one is really great about sharing advice. We are all in the same scenario or they have been in the same situation at one point or another so it is really good to know you have people who are so willing to help. It is all about good karma, so when new people arrived after me I was there to help them out as well.

In order to get to know the city better I feel that I just need to get out there and do things! So far I have seen only a couple places and gone to eat at a few different restaurants, but the city is full of life and there will be much to preoccupy my time with this semester (between classes and studying of course 😛 ). Prior to coming here everyone kept telling me that I was going to love the food, the people and the beauty of the country… well this was all extremely true. Here are a few pictures for you to see what I mean:

The first weekend here my exchange buddy took me to Cijin Island

Trying new food with my buddy's friend… yum yum!

Shaved ice with mixed fruit topping

Inside Famosa Boulevard MRT Station - 'Tunnel of Light'

The NSYSU campus is so beautiful

On the Taiwan tourism website, they say Taiwan is the ‘Heart of Asia’ and I totally agree with this, not because of the location but because of the kindness of the local people, they have beautiful hearts! On my first trip into the city from the school I was walking around a busy street with a few other exchange students trying to decide what food to try from the vendors. We clearly stood out in the crowd and a Taiwanese high school aged student walking with friends comes up to us smiles big and in English says, “Welcome to Taiwan” then walked away. This really touched my heart  ❤

Departures & Arrivals

1 Sep

Sooke Pot Holes

Over the past few weeks I have been saying my good byes, from New Brunswick to Victoria and friends/family scattered in between. I was fortunate enough to have my Dad visit me in Victoria right before I left to help get me and my stuff to the airport and send me away. In the days before hand we were total tourists, enjoyed island adventures to the Sooke Pot Holes and as well as China Beach on the Juan De Fuca Trail. Canada just ceases to amaze me, just look at the picture; made me sad to say goodbye but I have more to look forward to when I come home! See ya in 4 months Canada 😀

So tired & attractive, right?!

YAY I have arrived in Taiwan!!!! My forehead is glistening (aka. Dripping sweat) and I am hauling my luggage up to the second level of the third floor in the International Residence building. It is dark out, smells like a jungle, and I am exhausted. All I want to do is crash in a big soft bed, not going to happen.

I am now almost settled in my room in Kaohsiung, Taiwan. I knew arriving here that the room would be furnished, but have no mattress or pillow and I arrived late in the evening, so there was no way for me to get them last night. My sleeping arrangement last night was my blanket made into a pillow, my mattress cover under me and my top sheet sprawled around me as it was way too hot and sticky to even bother. Woke up once, woke up twice, woke up way too many times… but I knew from my trip to Australia that the best way to beat jet-leg was to get up early and get busy, so by 7:30 AM I had enough of tossing and turning and felt it was time to get on with my day.

Items that I was determined to find by the end of today:

–       mattress or something that resembled one

–       pillow

–       how the hell to turn on the AC in my room (the remote is in Mandarin)

–       if I am feeling hungry, maybe a bite to eat

–       internet cord

–       cell phone (not in a hurry to get one, but will need eventually)

Made my way with a spring in my step to cross all of these items off my list. The spring in my step mainly coming from the fact that the residence building is on the top of Shou Mountain and the National Sun Yat-Sen University (NSYSU) campus is on the bottom (not particularly fun walking back up in +32 sticky/sweatyness, but I will learn to deal with it, mainly because we have beautiful views of Hsitzewan Beach as you can see in the picture).

View from my floor!

First I found a Family Mart (convenience store), International Exchange Office where they told me how to get an internet cord, and upon returning to residence a friend who could speak Mandarin and help me to get a mattress, translate my remote so I can get my AC turned on, and directions to a store where I can get a pillow! Life is good 🙂

With my new friend and map in hand we made our way to find a store that I only had the Chinese name of and no idea where it was. She had heard of if but turns out she does not have a very good sense of direction. So we found someone who could give us directions in Mandarin, she would translate to English, and I would get us there. After this outing we have decided that I am going to teach her how to get around campus and she is going to help me learn Mandarin!

The Mandarin instructions I had taken down, surprisingly people could actually read it!

I basically was able to get everything that I needed, except a cell phone, but that can wait. I have pictures up and my dorm is starting to feel like home. I currently have no room mate, but over the next week they may be moving in. Here are some pictures of my room, and yes I can see the water from my window!

Desk area 🙂

My bed last night 😦

My bed after today 🙂