Mid-Terms are around the corner but CIEE students are still living it up in this Spring Semester Update!
This month, my classmates and I participated in a scavenger hunt around Taipei. While the activity’s main purpose was to ensure that CIEE students knew how to navigate Taipei’s transportation (which, admittedly, can be daunting at first), I found more pleasure in getting to know my classmates and cultural ambassadors and learning more about familiar places in Taiwan.
On a sunny spring day in the middle of March, my roommate and I walked to the McDonald’s Gate (so-called because of the McDonald’s restaurant facing the gate) at about 10 a.m. The cultural ambassadors were already there at 9:30 a.m. and were talking amongst themselves about the activity’s logistics. After quickly greeting me, the ambassadors turned back to their conversation about the day’s plans. I chatted with a few of my classmates for about five minutes before one cultural ambassador welcomed everyone and asked us all to separate into teams of four CIEE students, with 2-3 cultural ambassadors as leaders.
After gathering with my team, Ana*, a friendly first-year Slavic language major, handed me our first “mission” in a letter-sized brown envelope. The “mission” was a riddle that my classmates and I had to solve. We eventually determined that we needed to board the Brown 18 bus in order to arrive at our next site: the Blue 18 line.
On our way to the Blue 18 line, my classmates and I chatted with the cultural ambassadors. We used a mix of English and Chinese, depending on our Chinese language ability, to chat about cultural ambassadors’ weeks, plans for the summer, and scavenger hunt logistics. Once we reached the Blue 18 line, we opened the next “mission” envelope, which said to take a group photo at the Taipei 101 shopping area (AKA ATT) and “have fun”. My group and I walked around, went window-shopping, ate churros and French fries, and took pictures.
Someone then opened the second “mission” envelope, which contained another riddle that said that we had to go to Exit 1 of East Door (東門) station. Upon arriving there, we opened an accompanying envelope that said that we had to take a picture of ourselves pointing to Taipei 101, eat Mango Ice (芒果冰) and Fried Scallion Pancakes (蔥抓餅), and record ourselves ordering in Chinese. We split into two groups, and my group went to eat Mango Ice. One of the cultural ambassadors mentioned that we should go to a Mango Ice place that the locals like instead of the one that many tourists visit.
Finally, our third “mission“ envelope guided us to National Taiwan University, where we finished our traditional Taiwanese snacks and walked around the outdoor festival. Small children (小朋友, or “little friends” in Mandarin Chinese) and their families rode bikes and played as we looked for a comfortable place to sit down. Although we were all tired from walking around all day, I feel like we all enjoyed that day’s activities. For me, I found new places that I might not have traveled to otherwise.
I can’t wait for our next activity!
After coming to Taipei, Taiwan, I have encountered a wonderful culture in terms of how to maintain a life-work balance. The Taiwanese are the best people I have seen, when it comes to balance their lives, work, and even diets. They are so balanced, that they drink warm water, instead of cold, in order to maintain the balanced temperature within their bodies. Before coming to Taiwan, an island with 23 million people, I expected it to have a quite stressful, rushed, and "speedy" environment. It is the total opposite, people are so calm, and even the Metro station is a place to relax. The train/Metro-station is surrounded by healing music, in order for the citizens to have their attention down to their feet before/after a long work-day.
Family Visit & Spring Break
My dad Erik and his girlfriend Maria came to visit Taiwan for 1.5 weeks, thus staying in Taipei for the two weekends, and bicycling in Taiwan the weekdays between. The feeling of having family visit from the other side of the globe is unbelievable and surreal. Over the two last years I have seen family and friends probably less than the average 20 year old, but then it feels even more special when re-united. Also, I am not planning to live on the other side of the globe forever. Down below are some of the places we went during our Spring Break.
Matsu Festival & Pilgrimage
This is definitely my biggest culture shock so far. Amongst of the places we went, but that there is no pictures of in this post, is the Matsu Festival. In Taiwan people volunteer to walk a 9-days long pilgrimage, where they are following their God Matsu. This experience had me face the biggest cultural shock in Taiwan so far, because the spirituality was at a whole other level. There was fire-crackers, people dressing up after their God, and families leaving food outside their homes, locals that wandered with the Matsu figure, in order to get blessings for life.
Oops. It's been a couple weeks since I wrote on here. I have plenty of good reasons haha. Unfortunately, it is getting to that point in the semester where I have work to do for my classes (boo). I've also been preoccupied with various adventures and shenanigans with my CIEE group. To make it up to everyone, I'll talk a little about what I have been up to.
Did you know they have a Texas Roadhouse here in Taipei? Honestly, it was the last thing I was expecting to see here. I discovered the Texas Roadhouse a few weeks ago while I was on a CIEE scavenger hunt. We were all split into 4 groups; each group had a few of our cultural ambassadors to ensure we wouldn't get lost. We visited three different areas of Taipei on a sunny (oh yeah the sun has finally come back after a couple weeks) Saturday afternoon. First we visited Gongguan, a popular shopping area with lots of restaurants, where someone in my group ate stinky tofu (臭豆腐. I did not try it cause I am still way too picky. Next, we visited Dongmen, another shopping area. We went there to get scallion pancakes as part of the scavenger hunt, but the line was way too long. Our scavenger hunt ended near the Taipei 101. There is this outdoor area next to the 101 where they have a variety of food trucks and smaller restaurants. It was here that I found a pizza truck. For the first time in over a month, I had pizza. It may have been the best pizza I ever had (not something I would've expected to have eaten in Taiwan).
When we were walking around the 101 after eating, my group discovered the Texas Roadhouse. Needless to say, my group freaked out a little. Of all the restaurants to find in Taiwan, it had to be a Texas Roadhouse. We were determined to go there, just to see what it was like.
This past Friday, I finally had the chance to go to the Texas Roadhouse. I was planning on buying a steak until I saw the menu. I couldn't find a steak cheaper than $60 USD (around $1800 NTD). I was crushed. I settled for a cheeseburger, hoping that would help. It definitely did, but it was still pretty pricy. Since most of the food I have had here has been around $3-6 USD, Texas Roadhouse was much more than that. I don't think I will go back there.
Located only 10 minutes or so away from Zheng Da is a mountain called Maokong. They have gondolas here that you can take to the very top; some even have clear glass floors. Despite my fear of heights, I have taken the gondola to the top of Maokong twice since the last time I wrote on here. I haven't enjoyed it in the slightest. The first time I went was on a field trip with my Chinese class. I had such a bad time on the gondola I spent most of the day pretty nauseous. Despite the nausea, I still had plenty of fun at the top. Once you get off the gondola, there are plenty of restaurants and food stands to visit. We went on a pretty cloudy day so the pictures I took don't really do the view justice.
Last week, I went to Maokong again with more of my CIEE friends. This time, they wanted to take the gondola with the clear- glass floor. I don't know why I said yes to that but I did. I spent the whole gondola ride (about 20-30 minutes) staring straight ahead. I never looked down. The gondola sometimes was 1000 feet off of the ground (my friends said it was pretty cool). Thankfully, I made it to the top without any nausea. I guess I just need to avoid looking down. Our group went to a different restaurant, one with an absolutely stunning view of Taipei . Unfortunately, it was dark by the time we sat down to eat so I couldn't get a good picture. The one good picture I did take during that time was taken on the gondola ride. We had a great view of the sunrise during our ride up the mountain.
Besides the adventures, my time has been spent in class and volunteering at a company called Alchemy Tech. We are already approaching the middle of the semester (time is flying) so my classes have started assigning more work. I volunteer at Alchemy Tech every Wednesday for a few hours. Going there and back has really helped me become more comfortable with Taiwan's public transport. I feel semi-confident in my ability to navigate it all now!
I am writing this on the first day of my spring break! (I have no class from Friday to Wednesday). 8 of us in my CIEE group will be spending the break in Hong Kong! At the time of writing, I have not left yet. We have planned out a very busy weekend; there is only so much time to see what's around Hong Kong. I will do my best to take a lot of pictures. I plan on writing about it when I return on Tuesday! I promise it won't be 25 days until my next post.
And to everyone back home in New England, enjoy the snow haha
In addition to the scavenger hunt, CIEE students have also taken the opportunity to engage in a wide variety of activities ranging from Tai Chi to a dance workshop led by one of our own Cultural Ambassadors. Enjoy the pictures below.
“No pain no gain!”
"Be like water?"
“Left foot, right foot, left foot, right foot, left foot...”
“This is not what I ordered at all.”
With much more still in store, be sure to check back for the next update of our newsletter!