TAIWANderful Taipei! Study Abroad: Taiwan heads to the biggest city in Taiwan

Master’s student and Student Services Coordinator, Kate Broderick is studying in Taiwan for a three-week intensive study of Chinese language and culture, based at Tunghai University in Taichung. The program was made possible by a scholarship from the School of Arts and Communication at Florida Tech. She will be chronicling her experience over the next three weeks on our blog.

The sun was high in the sky when I woke up this morning—even though it was the early hour of 6:00am. The sun in Taiwan is an even earlier riser: full daylight starts around 4:45am. Despite the early hour, I sprung out of bed, eager to start the day. Today we were going to Taipei, the capital city of Taiwan.

Taipei is two hours by car from Taichung. Eric and I were travelling with a group of exchange students from South Korea. The bus quickly became a karaoke studio (called KTV over here) , as the Korean guys serenaded the bus with the latest KPop hits—they were fantastic, and I admit I fell a little bit in love with them. We reached the city around 9:00am and stopped at the Mengjia Longshan Temple (艋舺龍山寺) first built in 1738 by Chinese immigrants. The trip to the temple was the first time in the two weeks I’ve been in Taiwan that I had the thought, “wow. I’m in a foreign country, completely submerged in a foreign culture.” We don’t have anything remotely similar to the Longshan Temple. The temple equally is devoted to folk gods, such as Matsu, the sea goddess, and Taoist and Buddhist deities. Devotees don black cloaks, light incense and bring fresh fruit and cookies as offerings to their chosen god. The major altar is an to Kuan Yin, the Buddhist goddess of mercy. The US bombed Longhan Temple during WWII (the Japanese occupied Taiwan at the time, and were reportedly using the temple as munitions storage). The entire temple burned to the ground, accept for the statue of the goddess, which remained mysteriously unharmed despite the utter decimation of the room that formerly housed it.

Amidst the air thick with burning incense and chatting of prayers, I heard someone speaking English. I literally almost walking into him before I realized that the English speaker was in fact the Hollywood star Rob Schneider, currently on his honeymoon with his gorgeous and friendly new wife. Stumbling into a Hollywood star in the middle of an ancient temple was perhaps the most surreal and bizarre experience I’ve had to date. Globalization, I thought. The world is literally too small.

After our world wind tour of Longshan Temple, we proceeded to the Chiang Kai-Shek Memorial Hall (國立中正紀念堂). It is located across the “Freedom Plaza,” which is surrounded by the National Opera House and National Library. Inside is a mixture of memorabilia commemorating Chaing Kai-Shek, the first president of Taiwan, including his Cadillac, and modern exhibitions such as the work of Dali.

After the Chiang Kai-Shek Memorial Hall, we stopped at Din Tai Fung, the most famous dumpling restaurant in Taiwan. This is where anybody who’s anybody eats, I’ve heard. The dumplings were brought out in round bamboo containers and were filled with pork, shrimp, vegetables, or red bean filling. The kitchen is elevated and surrounded by glass on all sides, so you can view the clean efficiency of the chefs as they prepare the dumplings. It was like watching a conductor lead an orchestra.

Din Tai Fung is located on the lowest level of Taipei 101, the second tallest tower in the world (recently surpassed by a building in Dubai), and the tallest building in Asia. The elevator ride to the top level takes just 45 seconds, making it the fastest elevator in the world. Standing in the elevator is a truly unique experience—you cannot tell that you are moving. The room is completely still, and your stomach doesn’t lurch the way it does on an airplane; however, the entire time your ears pop as you ascend higher and higher into the sky. The second you step off the elevator, you feel slightly giddy, as if the change in elevation hits you all at once (at least I did!). From the observatory, you are able to see all of Taipei and the mountains that lay at its edge. The top level is home to the wind damper, a metal object that looks like a round lego piece, but in fact is the weight of almost 200 elephants. It is five stories high, and an engineering marvel, designed to protect the building against wind and earthquake damage.

After Taipei 101, we headed to the National Palace Museum, home to many of China’s and Taiwan’s historical artifacts. When the republic government of Taiwan fell to the communist party, the presidency relocated to Taiwan, bringing many of China’s historical treasures to Taiwan. This remains a point of contention between China and Taiwan, although lately the nations have eased tension over this fact. In my humble opinion, the liberation/theft was a justified act of providence—during the Cultural Revolution in China, a war was declared upon historical artifacts and most in China were intentionally destroyed (which is why China is anxious to have the remaining artifacts in Taiwan returned, as few exist within China itself these days). The two most famous pieces of the National Palace Museum are the Jadeite Cabbage, a single piece of jade delicately carved into the exact replica of a cabbage, and the meat-shaped stone, a piece of agate carved to simulate a piece of meat covered in soy sauce.

We finished our day in Taipei at the Shilin night market. The night market is a mixture of permanent stores, food vendors, and booths snaked throughout a section of the town. You can buy almost anything at the night market in terms of food (such as stinky tofu), clothes (such as angry bird flip flops), and toys (such as the “poo-poo man”). My group sampled the oyster omelet (called “e a jian” in Taiwanese), and finished with a mango shaved ice mountain.

I met up with Fuyu/Jocelyn at the Shilin night market. She was one of the exchange students of ASI: Taiwan 2011, a three-week long study at Florida Tech for students of Taiwan, the sister program of my studies in Taiwan this summer. I had been facebooking with Jocelyn when she found out we were coming to Taiwan, so it was the highlight of my day in getting tp meet her in person.

After a long day, we once more hopped on the bus headed back to Tunghai University. I had been intimidated to talk to the Korean exchange students (they are also at Tunghai to study Chinese, so I didn’t know if they spoke English or not, and the only Korean I know how to say is “Don’t go! I love you!”—not really useful in this context), but Ivy, my Taiwanese buddy, and I finally connected with the Korean students on the return bus ride.

I hesitate to say this, usually, but all in all, I think today was a perfect day. I can’t wait to see what adventures the next week brings.

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