Shanti: Culture and Trip Reflection

Hi all, it has been a little while since I have gotten back to New Zealand, but I still want to post my third instalment of my adventures. One of my favourite things about studying in Taiwan was being able to immerse myself in the Culture and Language. Being back in New Zealand, I have really been able to appreciate the improvement I have made in both my confidence and ability in speaking Mandarin. I definitely recommend doing a 360 exchange program or language exchange if you enjoy travelling.

Apart from just daily life, the Chinese Language Centre at NCKU also organised some cultural trips especially for the University of Auckland students. These trips are definitely in my top list of memories of my time in Taiwan. In addition to the cultural excursions, we also had different cultural classes and electives that we could choose from.

Full Day Trip:

As part of the program organised by the University of Auckland and the National Cheng Kung University Chinese Language Center, we were taken on a full day trip to Kaohsiung (高雄), a city one hour North of Tainan. First, we were taken to Fo Guang Shan Buddhist Museum, a massive complex that houses multiple shrines, pagodas, and even a Starbucks. I often go to the Auckland branch of Fo Guang Shan Temple, so I was pleasantly surprised to find that it was on the itinerary. At the museum we were also taught the traditional ceremonial way of serving and drinking tea.

Photo from the Fo Guang Shan Buddhist Museum

Next on the list was lunch at a themed restaurant. This restaurant had a massive model train going through it, with tables and seating inside. The rest of the restaurant had a strong Japanese influence, something I had found to be common throughout my travels in Taiwan. This is something that initially surprised me, as I did not know too much about the relationship and current sentiment between Taiwan and Japan. However, with Japan ruling over Taiwan for 51 years after the Treaty of Shimonoseki, much of the development of Taiwan is attributed to this time.

After lunch, we went on a ferry ride to the 红毛港文化园区 (Hongmaogang Cultural Park). This cultural park preserves remnants of a small fishing and shrimp farm village. Called “Hong Mao” or ‘red hair’, in reference to the Dutch, the park features old buildings and photos of what life was like before the development of the area into an international port. The people who once lived there were relocated, but the cultural park keeps the history alive.

 

Half Day Trip:

The half day trip was an optional tour available to all students at the Chinese Language Centre. On this trip, we went to some historical sites around Tainan, including the first school in Taiwan, and the Old District Court. The first school in Taiwan was a Confucian temple and though the main structure is currently under restoration, we were still able to see the outside courtyard. The half day trip was actually the second time I had been there. The first time I went, we also explored the surrounding streets, one of which has a cute market that has lots of stalls selling homemade items, a few hidden restaurants and a palm reader.

One of the outer buildings of the first school in Taiwan.

The Old District Court was built during Japanese rule and is now a Judicial museum. It also features an interesting sculpture which is an inverse clock tower, reflected on the shiny tiled ground. It’s a bit hard to describe but I will put a photo below. Lastly, we went to the Grand Mazu Temple that was constructed in 1664. This temple definitely felt like it had a lot of history surrounding it and I took the time to wish for a good year while I was there.

Cultural Classes:

As part of the University of Auckland language program, our group had several cultural classes and experiences. One of the most interesting experiences was the Taiwanese foot massage. To say it was relaxing would be a bit of a lie. My feet definitely felt different after, but the actual process was a bit painful to be totally honest. As well as the actual massage, our overall health was assessed from how our feet were looking. I was told that I should sleep more and earlier, something I already knew but still need to work on.

One of my favourite cultural classes (maybe because it involved food) was our cooking class. As a group we went to a nearby high school to cook some Taiwanese food, Sweet and Sour pork, crispy fried mushrooms and some classic 真祖奶茶 (pearl milk tea). This was a fun hands-on activity and it was good practice listening to the instructions in Mandarin with minimal translation. Another more hands-on activity was stamp engraving. In this class we carved our names onto slabs of stone, which could be coated in ink and stamped on to paper as a signature. Stamps were widely used, mainly for high class as an official signature or to show one’s rank (such as in the army). Later on, stamps were also used by everyday people who were illiterate, in order to sign documents.

In addition to the organised cultural activities, we were also given the opportunity to choose an extracurricular class with the other Chinese Language Center students. I chose 书法 (calligraphy). I found the classes really relaxing and my characters improved somewhat over the lessons.

 

Studying Abroad: A Reflection

I am so happy that I took the opportunity to study abroad. The experience not only improved my Mandarin speaking skills, but it also gave me more insight into Taiwanese culture. Because the program was part of a University of Auckland Summer school paper, I was able to gain 15 points towards my Chinese degree as well as explore another country for a month.

C1班, my class of three weeks.

One thing that really helped me in terms of funding my study abroad was the Prime Minister’s Scholarship. These scholarships are awarded to students and others who are going to Asia (or Latin America) so that Kiwis like me can learn more about the cultures of their destination country. The scholarship also aims to strengthen the ties between New Zealand and these two regions, as well as promote New Zealand’s education system. So if you are interested in going on exchange, or one of the many overseas opportunities that the University of Auckland provides, I fully recommend applying for a Prime Minister’s Scholarship. There are both individual and group scholarships available. If you have any questions, the 360 International office team are always there to help.

I think that studying abroad was such a great opportunity, not just to learn, but also to make new friends and to travel. In Taiwan I made new friends, not only with those from our University of Auckland group but also with our language buddies and fellow Chinese Language Center students. It was great to hang out with people around the similar ages as us and to get some inside scoops of the modern Taiwanese youth culture, as opposed to just historical and traditional culture. It was a bit of a sad departure, but I’m super keen to go back to Taiwan to visit. After I finished my course, took the opportunity to do a bit of sightseeing in Taiwan, and I also visited Singapore. This was my first time travelling alone, so it was a great opportunity to use my Mandarin skills with no one else around to help me. Because New Zealand is quite far from many countries, it was also good to travel while I was already in the area. Solo travel, though initially quite daunting, was both a challenging and enjoyable learning experience. I definitely recommend doing some sightseeing if you study abroad.

Over the my few years at university, so many people have told me to make the most of my time at university, because once you graduate and start working, you will most likely be stuck in a full-time job with little opportunities to travel. So I am giving whoever is reading this the same advice, take up the opportunities while you are still studying and go on 360 exchange and/or study abroad!

– Shanti Truong-George, 張湘婷。

Elise: Just call me 姐姐

Just call me 姐姐

A story about overeating, spending Christmas in a country that doesn’t celebrate it,  and finding family in the most unlikely of places

Part one: Stomach: 0, Taiwanese Delicacies: 5000

A week ago now I had the privilege of staying with a Taiwanese host family for the weekend, who welcomed me into their home and treated me to a weekend of culture, sightseeing, and lots and lots of food. Bǎoshùn 保舜, Yújūn 俞均 and their three year old son, Bǎiyù 柏𦱀 (or English name, Aiden) were an absolute delight.

Meet Bǎiyù (Aiden). He loves cars, the word “no”, and Westlife’s early 2000’s hit “My Love”

Bǎiyù, like many three year olds, loves the word “no” (or the Chinese equivalent “Bù yáo 不要!”), the movie “Cars”, and openly talking about anything toilet-related. He also can sing the entire chorus of Westlife’s early 2000’s hit “My Love”, and has an English vocabulary more extensive than native speakers I’ve come across at the same age or older. What really captured my heart was the fact that Bǎoshùn, Yújūn and Bǎiyù referred to me as Jiějiě 姐姐, which is Chinese for ‘older sister’. As someone who doesn’t have younger siblings, nor many young cousins I get to see on a regular basis, this was incredibly touching and made me feel so welcome. Besides being treated to watching Cars with Bǎiyù, I was lucky enough to spend time reading out loud the English homework books he gets sent home from kindergarten and singing English nursery rhymes to him.

Along with their hospitality and patience when it came to teaching me vast amounts of handy new Chinese vocab, Bǎoshùn and Yújūn treated me to another wonderful aspect of Taiwanese culture which was ensuring I left the weekend with a few extra kilograms (quite literally) under my belt. I’m generally quite hearty of appetite, but tradition of going the extra mile to ensure a guest never goes hungry can put the biggest of eaters to shame. Prior to departing for the homestay, I made the mistake of ordering a big breakfast of two danbing 蛋饼 (a delicious Taiwanese egg-crepe – this will be covered in an upcoming food-dedicated blog), presuming it might be a while before I ate again. I could not have been more wrong. Upon pickup, Bǎoshùn and Yújūn informed me that we were going to the annual fire service appreciation day, as Bǎoshùn works for the Taiwan Fire Department. There, they treated me to choudoufu 臭豆腐 (stinky tofu), winter gourd with lemon, sugar and lime, and strawberries with condensed milk. Just when I thought I couldn’t fit any more, I was informed it I was lunch time! Without further ado, it we hit the road, stopping en route to pick up a 500ml wax gourd ice tea (delicious) and ended up at a vegetarian restaurant to sample three different types of fried rice. Then, more closely resembling a balloon than a human, I somehow made it back to the car and back to their wonderfully beautiful home, where we all slipped into a food coma for a few hours.

Bǎoshùn, Yújūn, Bǎiyù and I with our homemade hotpot dinner

Much to my surprise, upon waking I was hungry, again! My body seemed to have recognised the need to turbo-charge its food processing systems and activated my second stomach, a hallowed space typically reserved for desserts. Dinner would be a traditional homemade Taiwanese hotpot, which they made vegetarian especially for me. In Taiwan it actually works out cheaper to buy dinner than it is to make it and many people lead incredibly busy lives, so a home cooked meal was a really, really kind gesture. Bǎoshùn and Yújūn led me through two traditional markets to get fresh vegetables and tofu for the hotpot, and once home refused all my offers of assistance to prepare everything. Instead, they thrust into my hands a plate of freshly made inari (Japanese rice-stuffed tofu skin) as an appetiser, and popped on a movie for Bǎiyù and I. Once the hotpot arrived, I was a wild beast unleashed, thrilled to be faced with so many fresh veggies. I must have eaten an entire head of cabbage, a small plantation of bok choy, and Southern Taiwan’s entire supply (plus reserves) of tofu and mushrooms, until it was time to collapse into a food coma once again.

The next morning it was an all systems go on stomach attack! We kicked things off by heading to the most famous breakfast place in Tainan, Yao Yan Grilled Sandwiches, for an enormous dangbing stuffed with potatoes, cabbage and corn, paired with an iced soymilk. With my tummy slightly more full than I’d like it to be (again) we hit the road, jet-setting further South for a 4km waterfall walk. At the waterfall they presented me with a wax apple (a bizarre but delicious fruit) and some nori, both of which I politely stored in bag for later having not yet recovered from breakfast. Whilst a noble attempt to allow for digestion time, it was all in vain as no less than thirty minutes later, we arrived at another vegetarian restaurant for lunch. Sooner than you can say “splitting my pants”, an enormous curry with rice, an iced lǜchá 绿茶 (sweetened green tea) and a soup arrived in front of me on the table.  I bravely conquered a quarter of the meal, but eventually had to admit defeat and took the remainder in a doggy bag.

The next location on our outing was an immensely beautiful Taoist temple clad almost entirely in gold. Defying my expectations of a food-free activity, the temple canteen offered incredibly pungent real fruit durian ice cream, a must-try according to Bǎoshùn. Once again I boldly ignored all of my body’s satiety cues in the name of new culinary experiences, and downed an entire cup. On the way back home we grabbed a some mung bean soup, a somewhat unappealing-looking but entirely delicious sweetened drink containing (you guessed it!) mung beans. Just when my stomach thought the assault was over it was time for Tāngyuán. Tāngyuán are a delicacy eaten on Winter Solstice, made of glutinous rice and stuffed with sesame, peanut, red bean and more. After having no less than 9 Tangyuan (they’re small but those babies pack a punch), I finally had to cry out “TÀI BĂO LE 太饱了!” I’m full!). With a full heart, a full stomach and a new arsenal of Chinese vocabulary, they dropped me back to the dormitory.

Part two: Finding family among the unfamiliar

On top of a Taiwanese firetruck, definitely all feeling preeeeetty cool

Bǎoshùn and Yújūn’s generosity didn’t stop with filling my stomach for the weekend. Bǎoshùn invited me to bring along some of my classmates for a tour of Taiwan’s oldest fire department and to practice our Chinese. As a result a motley crew of eight people, all stemming from different countries, descended on the Taiwan East Fire Department where Bǎoshùn spent two hours giving us an exclusive tour of his fire department and its museum. We ended on the rooftop of what eighty years ago was Tainan’s tallest building. Along with being such a unique experience, it was a reminder that home can be found anywhere, you just have to find it in the people you surround yourself with.

A group of UoA students, our new friend, Sami, and  my language buddy, Josh, on one of our many group dinners

In addition to Bǎoshùn’s kindness, the people I have met so far on this trip, both from UoA and other Chinese students from the Chinese course have in many ways become family too. The group of students who came to the fire station stem from all around the globe, are all different ages, stages and have vastly different backgrounds, which turned out to be the perfect connective tissue for a really wonderful day out. Following the fire station, we even found an amazing vegetarian Dim Sum restaurant and sat and talked for hours about life, our countries and plenty of other good stuff. Similarly, the UoA students on this trip have formed a great support network, from giving each other tip offs on good places to eat, going to the gym together, organising outings and even studying together. On Christmas night we took a break from studying (we had class on Christmas Day, as it isn’t a holiday in Taiwan) to have a Secret Santa gift exchange, followed by a visit to a local shaved ice shop around the corner. Admittedly I didn’t really miss Christmas as things felt so un-Christmassy; although other people may have found it harder than I. I think the Secret Santa effort was really significant for making everyone feel a little more connected and at home, in a situation far removed from the norm.

The final example of non-family family I’ve been blessed with in my short time in Taiwan is in the language buddy we were each assigned at the start of the trip. The language buddies are  Taiwanese students who are also studying at NCKU, and who we catch up with twice a week. I was expecting this to be more tokenistic, but my buddy, Jùnxiáng 俊翔 (Josh), has made a real effort to seek out Taiwan’s best vegetarian eats and come up with fun activities for us to do whilst practicing our respective languages. This weekend he even accompanied another University of Auckland student and I to Jiufen, as his family are from the area. His parents kindly picked us up and had rice balls and milk tea waiting in the car for us, ferried us to Jiufen, and later welcomed to his grandmother’s house in Riufen. She fed us yam soup and his parents then drove us all the way back to Taipei so we could catch our train back to Tainan. Similarly, all of the other language buddies have also been incredibly kind and welcoming; from introducing us to their friends, taking us around some of Tainan’s best eateries and KTV places and even bringing us treats. I’m constantly amazed at how enthusiastic they are to spend time with us, and having locals to show us around has really taken our Taiwanese experience to the next level.

My time here is coming to an end far more rapidly than I would like, and I really, really don’t want to go home. The people, the language, the university – everything just feels right. In addition to enjoying the satisfaction of seeing myself improve day by day, I’m really enjoying having the luxury of focusing 100% on Chinese, instead of feeling pulled in a million different directions at once. I hope to use this as a motivation to figure out how to better balance work, and life, and Chinese, so to use my language capabilities even better when I inevitably come back!

…Oh, and just when you thought Bǎoshùn, Yújūn and Bǎiyù weren’t lovely enough, they’ve just taken me out to dinner again to a beautiful hotpot restaurant because Bǎiyù the other day asked “Elise 姐姐在哪里?” (Where is sister Elise?). Furthermore, they’ve also invited me to spend New Year’s Eve with them! Time to sign off now; this blog is long enough, my tummy is full of hotpot, and my heart is melting.

Shanti: Food, food, food! And my homestay experience.

It is Monday of our third week of classes and it feels like time is flying by so quickly, only two weeks to go before I head off home. It feels too soon. More and more, I am feeling at home here in Tainan, I wish I could stay a little longer. I’m still unsure if I’ve gotten used to doing oral reports twice a week, the amount of homework, or waking up at 6:05 AM to go to my 8 AM class every day. But overall, I feel like I am no longer treading my way through the day, after the next week I might just be able to swim.

Many things have happened since my last blog, but this one will be focused mainly on food and my (un-met) goal of trying a different kind of food every day. As mentioned earlier, I’m beginning to feel at home here, which means that I’ve got my own little routine going. This also means that I’ve been lazy and stuck mostly to what I know or tried initially. Thankfully, my homestay parents helped me in my mission and took me to eat as much 傳統 (traditional) Tainan foods as we could in my short time with them. 

My host family and I at Jingzijiao Wapan Salt Fields

I guess I will start with boring you with an in-depth look into my not-so-exciting routine: 

Breakfast: 豬排吐司加蛋 (Pork on toast with egg). Inside they put grated cucumber, corn and barbeque (?) sauce. The bread is lightly toasted with the crust taken off. It takes about ten minutes to make (if I get there before all the kids from the neighbouring school take their orders). I also get an iced coffee which is ready-made and surprisingly good. All in all, it is $85NT ($4.25 NZD). If I decide to skip breakfast or feel especially tired I will buy a mochaccino from a coffee chain called Louisa (similar to Starbucks or Gloria Jeans). Though they remind me of coffee in Auckland, espresso coffee here is an expensive treat as a large cup is $90NT ($4.5) which is more than the price of my usual breakfast. 

Lunch & Dinner: It really depends…
Recently I’ve been going to a small canteen where you can choose one type of meat and four (or more) vegetable dishes. This meal goes from $65NT ($3.25) and goes higher for additional meat or veggies.
But there are lots of different food places close to uni, even a vegan place, so I can always try something new. Another go-to is 牛肉麵 (beef noodle soup) which I mentioned in the last blog, which is around $100NT ($5). There are two places I go to, one by uni and one close to our dorm. Near to our dorm is also a Japanese curry place that has really good chips and tonkatsu.

What I have noticed here is that most food vendors have rotating shifts. One row of shops will have many different stalls operating at different times. First are the breakfast vendors which are usually small stalls along the roadside. There was one breakfast store near our dormitory that opened at 4.30AM! Next are the lunch stores, that are usually indoor and have some seating. Then in the evening, the dinner places will open, which can be a mix of roadside stalls and seated eateries. Obviously, times will cross over, and places will serve both dinner and lunch, but it is not unusual to see many shops with closed doors for most of the day, only to open for a few hours.

Tainan is known as the food capital of Taiwan, with most of the famous dishes originating from its ancient capital. And most of them are Street food. While in Tainan I have been able to try quite a few things. Our dorm was quite close to the Da Dong Night Market (大东夜市) which is open on Mondays, Tuesdays and Fridays. Arriving at any night market can be very overwhelming with all the smells, sights, sounds and PEOPLE. Luckily, the first time I went there weren’t that many people so it wasn’t unbearably overwhelming. It was also closed. But, there still were few stalls opened in the usual area and I was able to get my hands on my first traditional Taiwanese snack – Stinky Tofu! I must say, after this first try I wasn’t that convinced but I have since tried it again and I must say, it is kind of growing on me…

Dumplings, egg pancakes and turnip cakes near Cheng Kung University

This week we had an optional homestay experience. This experience was set up with by the NCKU Chinese Language Center, who also helped us UoA students to receive a group scholarship from the Taiwan Ministry of Education to help pay for our tuition fees. I am super glad I went on the homestay experience. My homestay family live in Tainan, and they have two young sons, both under 10, who had their favourite thing to say “不行!No, no, no!” Which they always said cheekily whenever they were asked to do something. My host family could speak English but only used it when really needed. This definitely helped improve my Chinese listening skills as well as my vocab. Since the stay was over the weekend, we had two days together and my host family took me to see some of the historical sights in Tainan, as well as try some local food. The first place we went to was 安平 (Anping) and Fort Zeelandia. This area was once occupied by the Dutch who built a fort on top of a hill by the coast. Eventually the Dutch were driven out by a man named Kongxia who claimed the fort for himself. Presently, Fort Zeelandia is now surrounded by reclaimed land, so the sea that it once looked out on is nowhere in sight.

At Fort Zeelandia with my homestay younger brothers.

During the day the area around Fort Zeelandia has a day market that sells food, products, and also has some games you can play. Here I tried a fried fish cake as well as a very traditional oyster fritter. I am not the biggest fan of oysters but found the fritters really nice. I later tried a pork and vegetable bun and 豆花 (sweet tofu). The tofu was not as sweet as I expected and it came with some red beans and small tapioca balls.

Later we went to Jingzaijiao Tile-paved Salt Fields. Salt is produced here by pouring saltwater over the tiled ground. The sun eventually evaporates all the water and salt is left behind. Here, I tried a salt ice cream, a very delicious tea egg and some skewered fish balls.

One of the highlights of my homestay was going to the Ten Drum Rende Creative Park. This is place is an old sugar factory that was initially bought by a drumming group as a place to practice. But now, it is a cultural park with all sorts of cool installations and activities. There are multiple cafes, a small train, climbing wall, flying fox and a swing that looks over the whole park. The drumming group still practices and performs at the park. They have a special stage built within the factory, on top of the old production line. The drum performance was amazing, I didn’t know that drums could make such a wide the range of sounds. As the musicians played, the still working machinery also began to turn and move.

Before the drum performance.
Within the old factory that has art installations, cafes and even an area where you can play laser tag.

Lastly we went to a restaurant to have some hotpot. This hotpot broth was one I’ve never tried before, usually eaten during winter, the broth was made from ginger, duck meat and alcohol. Both the ginger and alcohol are meant to warm up your body during the winter. Additional ingredients include cabbage, mushrooms, fishballs and jelly made from pigs blood. The overall flavour of the broth was quite strong and bitter.

A hot pot for a Winter night.

Overall, I really had a great time with my homestay family. I was nervous at first as to how it would be, but they were very welcoming and nice. It was good to be in a family situation after spending most of time by myself or with friends. My two homestay younger brothers reminded me of my cousins back at home, especially how they also watched Youtube videos of games and toys, something I found really interesting. I also really enjoyed seeing some sights around Tainan, which I hadn’t really been able to do without a car, and I am really thankful to my homestay family for taking me to such cool places. I definitely improved my Chinese skills and also learnt a lot more about Taiwanese culture.

That is all for this blog post, thank you for reading!

– Shanti Truong-George, 張湘婷。

Shanti: First Impressions of Taiwan and National Cheng Kung University

大家好!My name is Shanti and I am currently on a study abroad in Tainan, Taiwan, all thanks to the Prime Ministers Scholarship for Asia and the University of Auckland! I am currently in my second year of learning Mandarin Chinese and I am super excited to be here to practice my Chinese, not only in the classroom but in daily life.

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The morning sun on the pond outside the National Cheng Kung University Chinese Language Centre.

 

A week has passed since I landed in Taipei, and so far I have already seen some sites, learnt about Taiwanese culture, ate lots of food, and had my first week of Chinese classes. It has been quite difficult with the lack of English spoken by the locals, but everyone is super friendly and have all been patient with me while I struggle to figure out what I want to say. Coming to the end of the first week I’ve memorised a few set phrases to use when buying food and already my vocabulary has grown; not only with Mandarin but a couple of Taiwanese words as well.

Unfortunately, the first two days in Taipei and two days in Tainan were all raining. The temperature was a cool 17℃, coming from a warmer 20℃ in New Zealand and a hot 30℃ (!!!) stopover in Singapore. I was not prepared for the cold so I had to pile on all of the thin jumpers I had brought along with me. Luckily now, the rain has stopped and the temperature is a nice 25℃. 李老師, my Chinese teacher says the temperature “還是很冷” – It’s still cold.

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Rain outside the Taiwan National Museum in Taipei

 

Taipei: Landing in Taiwan by myself was a little daunting, but luckily the express train from Taoyuan airport was super easy to get on and ride to Taipei. While walking from the train station to my accommodation I fell in love with all the alleyways and small streets that sprouted off the main roads.  In my one and a half days in Taipei, I managed to eat some 牛肉麵 (Beef noodles), a Taiwanese specialty. I also tried some 小籠包 (Soup Dumplings) at Din Tai Fung and visited the Taiwan National Museum that is situated in the 2/28 Peace Park. Some of the exhibits were closed but I was able to see a range of Taiwanese flora and fauna that had been collected by Japanese naturalists. 

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One of the many small lanes in Taipei

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牛肉麵 – Beef noodles, in Taipei on my first day.

 

Tainan: After travelling on the highspeed rail for 3 hours to Tainan  (very smooth), other UoA students and I were met by our language buddies, who took us on a bus to our dormitory. Tainan is known as the food capital of Taiwan, so I’ve been trying lots of new food and I aim to try at least one new food every day for the rest of the month. So far in Tainan, I’ve tried stinky tofu, soup dumpings, 牛肉麵 (beef noodle soup),  鱔魚意麵 (fried eel with noodles) and 地瓜球 (fried sweet potato balls). In the future, I will have a post dedicated to all my food adventures so stay tuned!

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大东夜市 – Da Dong Night Market, the place to try stinky tofu and other Taiwanese streetfood.

 

Classes: Cheng Kung University is made up of nine different campuses, separated by several roads. In the morning along these roads, you can see small makeshift breakfast stands out of trucks, which sell egg pancakes, toast and of course milk tea. For the first week, we were split into three classes of only University of Auckland students. These classes allowed us to familiarise ourselves with traditional characters which we don’t learn at UoA. In addition to this, we had individual tutoring and hangouts with our language buddies that allowed us to further revise the class content and practice speaking.  Next week we will be joining the 10-week winter language program and will be in the same classes as other international students. As part of our program, we have cultural classes and excursions which I will dedicate a whole blog post to. 

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National Cheng Kung University’s Chinese Language Center

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Doing homework at our dorm with classmates Elise and Molly.

First week
My University of Auckland classmates and I with our teacher 李老師 after our first week.

 

Thank you for reading all this way, I am excited to share more with you!

– Shanti Truong-George, 張湘婷。

 

Elise – PMSA Taiwan

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If you’d asked me where I thought I’d be spending summer at the start of this year, I can guarantee you that “Taiwan” would not have been the answer. So how on earth did this come to fruition? Well, with any good story I think it’s best to start at the beginning; which in this case is 18 year old Elise.

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18 year old me at graduation – ready to take on the world but with absolutely no clue how

 

The year is 2014, permanently straightened hair is in, Calvin Harris’ “Summer” is being blasted from every available sound system, and I’m just about to finish my high school career and launch myself onto society as a real life WOMAN!!! Life is pretty great, oh, except for the fact that I have no idea what I want to do, I’m torn between studying law or attending broadcasting school, and almost every influence in my life is pushing me towards immediate tertiary study. As an NCEA overachiever, this would have been the obvious choice, however it just didn’t feel right. All I knew I was really passionate about was learning languages, and had thoroughly enjoyed a two month exchange to Germany the previous year; an experience which felt more “right” than all my 13 years of schooling. As a result, I threw caution to the wind and decided to forgo tertiary education right away, worked a multitude of part time jobs for 5 months before embarking on a flight to Germany for 9 months of work and travel.

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Me in Germany circa age 17, feeling very sophisticated in my “big girl” coat

Fast-forward to 2017 and the giant of tertiary education was calling for me once again. I wasn’t particularly willing, however two years of working low paid jobs across two different countries (including a stint of four months where I didn’t have a single day off and worked 60-80 hour weeks), had shown me that a qualification truly did open doors for progressing more rapidly in the career direction I was interested in. That being said, I had no idea of my ideal job title, but just knew that I wanted to have a job where I could utilise my German fluency, potentially learn other foreign languages, have travel opportunities and do something media related. I also realised that I was only going to be doing a law degree because I thought it would make other people think I was smart (which for me just wasn’t a good enough reason), and that broadcasting school was a little too specialised for my somewhat non-specific interests. Driven to leave Christchurch by a desire for greater opportunities, warmer weather and a fresh start, I chose to study a double major of Communications and Politics & International Relations at the University of Auckland.

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Pictured here at just one of my many pre-uni jobs. Sadly the face paint was just a one-off

Despite all of this, I’m incredibly embarrassed to admit that my attitude entering university could at best be described as “reluctant” and at worst be described as “arrogant and ungrateful”. After two years of living in the “real world”, entering university felt like I was putting my life on hold. I thought that my degree was essentially going to be three years spent swanning around just to get a piece of paper to prove to “the Man” that I was capable of doing jobs I was semi-already doing anyway. (Slight tangent: attending university has not only provided me with opportunities I otherwise wouldn’t have had access to, but has also greatly improved my writing and analytical skills and completely changed my understanding and view of the world #noregrets). Therefore, I decided that student life needed to be over as quickly as possible, so I undertook summer school, multiple 5 paper semesters as well as many internships and media-related jobs throughout my degree.

 

By the start of 2019, I had a lengthy CV of career-relevant experience (apologies for the humble brag, but girl’s got a story to tell), and was just one 5 paper semester away from finishing my Bachelor’s degree in two and a half years instead of three. I couldn’t believe it – I’d done it! So, of course, what better time for the irritating-but-usually-right voice from within to pop up? Throughout my rush to finish university, aside from one Spanish paper in first year, language courses hadn’t fitted within my timetable. I realised that I was only going to get more time-poor as time went on, and if I was serious of fulfilling my lifelong dream of becoming quadrilingual (for no other reason than the fact I thought the word had a ring to it), I needed to start my next foreign language as soon as possible. As much as I’d loved learning Spanish, a quick scour of many local international roles on job sites were increasingly calling for Chinese fluency. Additionally, between my knowledge of German and English, I knew I could pick up Spanish relatively quickly, however it was going to be now or never for learning an Asian language.

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One week’s worth of new vocab

So how has it been learning Chinese? Well, I can honestly say it is the most challenging thing I have ever done. Although the grammar (so far at least) is relatively simple compared to German, the sheer amount of learning and study required is incredibly difficult, especially when trying to balance it with other uni work, seven jobs, the gym, maintaining a social life and of course the general life admin involved in adulthood when you don’t live at home. When learning European languages, you can read the word and have a vague idea of how to say it, or hear the word and have a vague idea of how to write it, and you just have to remember what it means. With Chinese, you read a character, and not only have to remember what it means, but also have to remember what sound it makes and how to write the character itself and its phonetic equivalent in pinyin (English alphabet) with the tone marks in the correct places. The first semester my A-grade accustomed ego took a heavy (but probably much needed) humbling blow. I couldn’t believe what I had gotten myself into and spent many sleepless nights stressing that this might actually be the first paper I fail in my life. I was too stressed with all my other commitments to dedicate the time to revising vocabulary that I had the luxury of doing so with German, and as a result consistently felt like the bottom of the class. About half way through the semester I decided to pull it together and establish a bit of a routine. This was successful some weeks, other weeks less so, but I managed to restore some of my shattered confidence and drag my grade up to being slightly more satisfactory.

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At my internship in India with the PMSA group scholarship at the beginning of 2019

As tempting as it was to say goodbye to my Chinese career, my parents didn’t raise a quitter, they raised a masochist, so naturally I decided to throw myself into a second semester of learning this impossible language. Whilst still incredibly stressful, frustrating and littered with many occasions of imposter syndrome, my brain appeared to have gotten into the swing of things, and was slowly wrapping itself around the concept of characters. It was during this semester that the opportunity arose for a language course in Taiwan over summer, which seemed an excellent opportunity to more rapidly progress my Chinese. The total course fee, which was the same price as a usual course fee, included cultural outings, a local student language buddy, course books, two one on one tutorials per week plus five small group courses, a specific language based elective and unlimited cultural classes in things as as Chinese painting, calligraphy and Tai Chi. In addition, I realised that this course was eligible to be funded by the Prime Minister’s Scholarship for Asia. I had been fortunate enough to have an incredible experience in Mumbai at the start of the year with the PMSA group scholarship, interning at an NGO, so decided it was definitely worthwhile applying for the PMSA individual scholarship for this trip, which I was fortunate enough to receive.

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classic candid shot at one of Taipei’s many free (!!!!!) tourist attractions

It’s only taken me 1,338 words to get here (but who’s counting?) but that’s essentially how I came to be in Taiwan. Which, by the way, is one of the most underrated places I’ve ever visited. It’s incredibly clean, safe and efficient, pretty much all of the tourist attractions are completely free and the people are unbelievably helpful and friendly. Everything is really cheap,  the food is delicious, and people don’t hassle you on the streets or at the markets. In Taipei, the metro (MRT) is wildly efficient and the intercity high speed rail (HSR) is incredible. Admittedly the city where I’m taking the language course, Tainan, has less efficient local public transport, but a lot of stuff is within walking distance and every Taiwanese city has rental bike stations where the first 30 minutes are usually free. As far as language goes, it’s definitely been a challenge. When I first went to Germany on exchange, I had been learning the language for around three years, so had a pretty solid proficiency under my belt. As I’ve only been learning Chinese for less than a year, I’m finding I’m lacking a frustrating amount of vocabulary and struggle to understand when people talk really fast, which is always. In addition to this, everything in Taiwan (including our course material) is written in traditional characters which are worlds apart from the simplified characters used in mainland China, that we learn in NZ. That being said, I’ve made a real effort to refrain from speaking English whilst being here, and although I certainly have made plenty of mistakes, I definitely feel myself slowly improving. In fact, starting next week, I’ve been moved up a class at the intensive course. To be completely honest, I think it might be a bit advanced for me, but I’m going to give it my best shot and if I get moved back down, it’s no big deal. I’m just happy to be here.

TLDR? (too long, didn’t read)

  1. You don’t have to go to university straight out of high school
  2. Study something because it feels right and because you want to, not because society tells you you should
  3. University/other tertiary education is not everyone but it does open doors
  4. Take up as many opportunities to travel whilst studying as you can – you’re killing two birds with one stone, and apply for the PMSA to fund it – it’s such a rare and generous opportunity
  5. The best way to improve at a language is to be confident and not overthink. People are not judging your mistakes, they are generally just thrilled to hear you trying to speak their language!
  6. Don’t get sucked into speaking English – many people across the world speak some English and naturally want to practice it, but you will only improve if you commit to speaking the language itself, plus you will be able to immerse and understand the culture far far better
  7. Chinese is really really hard, but also immensely rewarding

 

Jane: Summer Internship in Taiwan – #3

Regretfully, this will be my last post on my internship in Taiwan. It’s been a eye-opening experience for the past two months and I’ll definitely miss it. It would me hard to summarise a two month experience in a blog post but I’d like to share some of the things I’ve learnt and discovered so read on, friends.

Through this programme, I was able to complete part of my practical work requirements overseas. Having to settle down in a new environment was a challenge but I was very grateful for the help of my student host and fellow interns. It feels so cliché, but I honestly do think this experience changed me. It pushed me out of my comfort zone and forced me out of my shell – there’s no one there to do things for you so if you want something you get it yourself or ask for help. I had to interact with people in a unfamiliar language but in the end I am more confident in conversing in chinese. I learnt that it’s okay if you don’t really know what you’re doing, all you need is a little initiative to get the information you need.

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Was it worth the hassle of getting hold of documents and stress of travelling? Very much so. Would I do it again? Most definitely. Travelling around Taiwan and exploring new places during the weekends was something I really looked forward to during the dull week. Don’t tell my supervisor but I was actually planning for weekend trips in the lab when I was supposed to be working (in my defense though, I was waiting for the machine to do its thing). I’ve made friends out of necessity with my fellow interns but sometime in the evenings we spent playing whatever sport that was available or random card games to fill our time, that friendship changed into something I will cherish.

Should you go for it? HELL YES. And you definitely will not regret it.

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As always, if you have any questions feel free to drop me a message at jpan643@aucklanduni.ac.nz. If you want to see more of what I got up to in Taiwan, check out my Instagram @totorojane ☺️ All the best for the upcoming year!

Jane

Jane: Summer Internship in Taiwan – #2

Hello everyone! Hope that summer is going well for you guys. Time has certainly flown as it is now nearly the end of my internship period. Soon enough I’ll be heading back home! In this post, I thought I’d talk about what my typical weekday looks like and what we get up to during the weekend.

The research project that I am part of involves fuel cells and takes place in one of the labs on campus. I don’t actually have a fixed working time but I usually get to the lab around 9.30 am and leave at 6pm. I would drop by the little stand near the dorms for breakfast and drink my coffee while walking to the lab, a nice 15 minute walk to start my day. For lunch and dinner I would head out with my lab mates or fellow interns to one of the restaurants on the street in front of the university. On Mondays and Thursdays, there is a night market on in a neighbouring town, Dalin. We’d usually take a taxi there on most Mondays. When you’re in Taiwan, a night market visit is a must.

To occupy the evenings, there are quite a number of sports facilities available around campus. Bowling, pool, golf, you name it, they have it! Although the places are not always available due to team practices and what not. For bowling especially, it is quite hard to get a lane as there are uni team practices on Monday and Thursdays and it’s a pretty popular activity to do. Some people would come on in as the center opens at 6pm and leave at 9pm when it closes. But there is always karaoke down the road.

On the weekends, we would usually take short trip to neighbouring cities. We definitely took advantage of the amazing public transport system in Taiwan. Of course, the one city that everyone will know in Taiwan is Taipei. It’s a cool city to visit but everybody knows that’s so I’ll skip it. Here are two lesser known places that I’d like to introduce you to!

Chiayi: half an hour by bus from CCU

This is the closest “big”city from uni although it is much quieter compared to the likes of Taipei. Chiayi is located slightly off the centre of Taiwan and it is usually where visitors would take to train or bus to Alishan Mountain. There are buses hourly buses that go to Chiayi from the campus itself.

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Alishan Forest Railway Garage Park

Admire the collection of old trains park in this garage and take lots of aesthetic picture for the ‘gram. Free admission!

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Chiayi Old Prison

There are tours of the prison conducted by volunteer staff four times a day for an hour. It is in Mandarin though so you might not learn much but the architecture speaks for itself, I’d say. It’s quite a fascinating place to visit as you can really imagine what prison life might have been like. Also free admission.

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Sun Shooting Tower

Watch the sunset over the horizon from the top of the tower. It’s a pretty cool place to hang out, literally and figuratively. Admission to top of tower is 50 NTD.

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Sunset view from Sun Shooting Tower

It was pretty cloudy initially,  we were lucky that the clouds cleared when it did.

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Hinoki Village

This place is made up of cute little Japanese style houses selling different local products like food and knick knacks. Spend the afternoon here stocking up on souvenirs to bring back to Auckland.

Kaohsiung: taxi/bus to Minxiong train station and three hour train journey

We had a long weekend for New Years so we decided to spend it in Kaohsiung, the third most populated city in Taiwan, since Taipei was way too expensive and already booked out. We stayed on Cijin Island, a little island just off Kaohsiung, and spent most of our time there biking under the blazing hot sun and all got a wicked tan (in some cases, a wicked sunburn). We also took a day trip down to Kenting, the southernmost part of Taiwan where we scootered in the rain.

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The southernmost point of Taiwan: Kenting

Take a two hour bus ride from Kaohsiung to Kenting the southernmost point of Taiwan. The best way to get around Kenting is to hire a electric scooter, you can explore the whole of Kenting with it. It was raining when we got there, it’s quite hard to see when you’re being pelted by rain and wind!

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Elaunbi Park

The lighthouse is one of the iconic landmarks of Kenting. Took us a while to find the lighthouse as the signage is pretty small. It’s located in a park which costs 60 NTD to get in. We spent a few hours here exploring the walking trails and getting acquainted with Mother Nature.

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Take a ride on the Ferris Wheel located on top of the Dream Mall. A ticket costs 120 NTD if you show them your student ID. Frankly, I’m not a fan of Ferris wheels, they’re kinda boring but I guess why not see the view of Kaohsiung from high up?

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Cijin Island Lighthouse

Rent a bike and spend the day exploring Cijin Island. A bike is the easiest mode of transport as there are designated bike paths along the coast and to the tourist attractions. You’ll definitely see a lot of visiting families riding by in a four manned pedicab.

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Dragon and Tiger Pagodas – Lotus Pond

Take the convenient Kaohsiung Metro system to go to places such as the Lotus Pond with many pagoda and temples surrounding it. The Dragon and Tiger Pagoda is the most iconic one. It is said that if you go in through the tiger and out the dragon while running without stopping, you’ll have good luck for the year.

There are certainly many more places to be explored around Taiwan these are the two starters I’d recommend. Hopefully this post will show you that Taiwan is a country worth visiting, whether it’s for studies or just sightseeing.

As always, I’ll be happy to answer any questions that you may have. Drop me an email at jpan643@aucklanduni.ac.nz! If you want to see more of what I got up to in Taiwan, check out my Instagram @totorojane ☺️. See you next time!

Jane