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。

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。